Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Predestination: A Series on Election, Part 3 – Unconditional Election

The next point in Calvinism is Unconditional Election. This is really the meat and potatoes of Calvinism. It's the idea that God has already chosen who is going to be saved and who is going to be lost. The word “elect” in the Bible is always a reference to those who are saved. Unconditional election means that God has ordained the elect to be saved only according to His divine will and is not conditioned upon anything that we have done.

Of the five points, this one probably has the most compelling Scriptural support. There are several passages that can be used to support the idea of election but the following are perhaps the most persuasive:

Ephesians 1:4-5, 11, “just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself,according to the kind intention of His will..... also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will.”

Romans 9:10-16, “Not only that, but Rebekah’s children were conceived at the same time by our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses,“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.”

What I find especially interesting is Paul's letter to the Romans, when he says that God loved Jacob above Esau even “before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad.” At first hearing, it seems a clear cut example of God simply choosing one person over another. Jacob certainly had not done anything before he was born to earn God's favor so he received God's mercy unconditionally. Yet as clear cut as it might seem, we must still consider these passages in the light of the rest of Scripture. Look at the following passages:

1 Timothy 2:3-4, The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

Acts 17:30, The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent,

If God has already ordained that only some people will be saved and the others lost, how can He simultaneously not want anyone to perish? Perhaps it is because God is omniscient and already knows who will accept Him and who will not. Peter said that he was elect, “according to the foreknowledge of God” (1 Peter 1:1-2). It could be that God elects those He knows will believe and makes plans for them even before they are born.


God is not capricious. Because of His love and mercy, He has made salvation available to everyone; but because He is also just and holy, He has laid out a very clear method of redemption. God will have mercy upon whoever believes in His Son – even the most vile sinner.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Predestination: A Series on Election, Part 2 – The Total Depravity of Man

As I discussed in my last post, the 5 points of Calvinism are summarized with the acronym, TULIP. The letters stand for:
  • Total depravity of man
  • Unconditional election
  • Limited atonement
  • Irresistible grace
  • Preservation of the saints
Fundamental to Calvinism is the idea that mankind is totally depraved. He is a hopeless sinner who is not only completely unable to do good works but also lacks even the desire to do good. Therefore, a man is totally without any power to even call on God to save him. According to Calvinism, a man lacks the ability or desire to be saved in the same way a dead person lacks the ability or desire to come out of the grave. It's impossible.

There are some verses in the Bible that support this concept:

John 6:63, It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing

Romans 3:10-11, as it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one; There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God.” (Paul is paraphrasing Psalm 14)

Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?”

John 6:44, No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.

If I read only these verses and nothing else in the Bible, I would have to agree 100% that a man could not and would not come to God by his own will. However, there are other verses that we must consider.

Joshua 24:15, “If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

1 Kings 18:21, “Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.””

Isaiah 1:18, ““Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the Lord, “Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool.”

As clearly as the first passages seemed to say we are unable to come to God, these other passages seem clearly seem to say we have a choice. I admit that it seems to be a dilemma. I think the key to understanding all verses in harmony hinges on the realization that God is sovereign but even the sovereignty of God is a difficult subject to grasp.

My point here is not to establish which verses are “correct.” The fact of the matter is that all the verses are correct. Neither am I trying to suggest what is the more likely understanding. Like I've already said, I only intend to discuss the different points of view. As we can see, Scriptural support for either view can be found. It would be rather narrow minded of us to cling dogmatically to one or the other and “explain away” the opposing verses. A better course of action would be to trust that God is loving, merciful, and just and know that He will always do what is right.


We need to simply trust in Jesus as our Savior without worrying about whether or not we were predestined to do so.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Predestination: A Series on Election, Part 1

God is sovereign. He controls everything – big and small. Proverbs 16:33 says, “The lot is cast into the lap, But its every decision is from the Lord.” A bird does not fly, a leaf does not fall, and a man does not take a step except that it should be the will of God. However, this begs the question: if our every action is subject to God's will, how then can we be held accountable for our sins? Does that mean a lost person was ordained to be lost or a saved person ordained to be saved? This is not a new question but one that has raged for centuries. I guess there are a lot of different nuances concerning the idea of predestination but there are basically two schools of thought: Calvinism and Arminianism.

Calvinism is named for John Calvin, a 16th century, French theologian. He argued that people are “pre-destined” to be either saved or lost. Actually, the idea of predestination preceded Calvin by centuries but he codified the idea into five, succinct points, often referred to by the acronym, “TULIP.” He argued so successfully that his name has become synonymous with predestination.

Almost immediately after Calvin lived, a Dutch theologian named Jacob Arminius began arguing that man, though sinful, still has a free will and can choose to accept or reject Christ. His idea of “free will” is identified by the term, Arminianism. His views became very popular but still remained the minority view in the church until the time of John Wesley in the 18th century. Today, most protestant churches would identify themselves as believing in free will or Arminianism.

There are certain matters of doctrine that are critical to orthodoxy. For example, I do not believe anyone can be a Christian unless he believes in a literal, physical resurrection. Other matters are trivial, like whether or not the wine Jesus made at the wedding in Cana (John, chapter 2) was alcoholic or not. In my opinion, the difference between Calvinism or Arminianism falls into the trivial category. If a person confesses Jesus as his Savior, what difference does it truly make if he did it of his own free will or if he had been predestined to do it? I'm certainly not going to challenge his profession of faith over it. Unfortunately, many churches do argue over it.

I thought it would be interesting to have a short series discussing the issue. I don't intend to endorse one view over the other (though I do have my personal opinions). Instead, I want to simply present the Scriptural arguments for and against the five points of Calvinism. I want it to be more informative in nature rather than persuasive. Perhaps the only thing I would like to persuade people of is that they may see the issue in the same, non-constroversial light that I see it.


Please check back.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Too Quick to Forgive

The Bible commands us to forgive. Sometimes, though, someone may have committed such a great wrong against us that we have trouble forgiving him. In those cases, we feel justified in holding a grudge. Nevertheless, the Bible is clear – if the sinner repents, we are to forgive him.

Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”
Luke 17:3-4

The words of Jesus are clear: we rebuke the sinner but then we forgive him if he repents! Christians, in general, tend to be very forgiving. In the case of our personal dealings with other people, it's probably always the best thing to do. Don't hate. Don't hold a grudge. Just forgive. However, from a political perspective, I believe we're a little too quick to forgive.

I was reading and article online about the Fire Chief in Atlanta who was just fired for having written a book (completely on his own time) that discussed his Christian perspective on sexual morality. Considering that this is a municipality, a governing body, punishing a person for expressing his religious beliefs, I don't see how this is not a violation of the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment. The mayor of Atlanta said, I will not tolerate discrimination of any kind within my administration. Now that's funny. I guess he means, “discrimination of any kind against gays.” He seems to have no problem with personally discriminating against Christians.

Now, I hold government bodies to a different standard than I do private employers. I believe the state cannot be allowed to discriminate at all. We could not, for example, have a fire department that refuses to enter a black neighborhood or a police department that refuses to arrest white people accused of crimes against blacks. On the other hand, I believe private individuals and employers should have the right to discriminate. If this fire chief worked in another capacity for a private employer, I wouldn't be arguing that his rights were violated. However, I would still hold it against that employer.

The fire chief article included a link to the Duck Dynasty fiasco that happened about a year ago. I don't watch the show, but I understand one man on the show expressed his religious beliefs about gay marriage and A&E, the channel which carries the show, tried to drop him from the show. Cracker Barrel, a restaurant chain that offers southern style cuisine, also said it would no longer sell Duck Dynasty merchandise. Well, the backlash they received from the public was so severe, both reversed their decisions within 48 hours.

Since both A&E and Cracker Barrel are private businesses, I believe they were acting in their rights. They shouldn't face government fines for their decisions but these employers need to be held accountable by the public. Frankly, I'm getting sick and tired of businesses discriminating against Christians for the sake of tolerance toward gays.

When A&E and Cracker Barrel made these decisions, the public let them know they didn't like it. But even though they reversed themselves, I wonder how repentant they were. A NY Daily News article quotes A&E as follows:

We at A&E Networks expressed our disappointment with his statements in the article, and reiterate that they are not views we hold,” the network’s statement continued. “But ‘Duck Dynasty’ is not a show about one man’s views.”

Hmm. That doesn't sound very repentant. To me it sounds like they're saying, “We still hate Robertson's views but we're going to keep him on the air because we don't want to lose all the viewers who agree with him.” I would have liked to hear something more like, “We were wrong and acted rashly. Robertson expressed his deeply held religious beliefs and we should have respected his right to do so. We believe in tolerance and that should include tolerating even those views different than ours.”

Cracker Barrel was slightly more contrite. Another NY Daily news article says:

You flat out told us we were wrong. We listened. Today, we are putting all our Duck Dynasty products back in our stores. And, we apologize for offending you.... We respect all individuals' right to express their beliefs.... We certainly did not mean to have anyone think different. [They should apologize for their poor grammar. They should have used “differently.”]

Do see what I mean by only, “slightly more contrite”? You told us we were wrong. We apologize for offending you. We didn't mean to have you think we don't respect everyone's beliefs. Where's the part where they said, “We were wrong”?  We're constantly being abused by intolerant businesses and government officials and we accept their non-committal apologies. 

1 John 1:9 says, If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins. What kind of “confession” is it if I said, “Forgive me, God, if I've done anything wrong”? In such a weak prayer you're not even admitting to any sin, let alone confessing one.  If these companies would admit to being wrong, I would forgive them. But since they don't, I won't. They need to be held accountable for their sins. We need to make them see that we won't forgive them until they repent. If we hold their feet to fire every time they make a bad decision, they might become a little more circumspect. Maybe they'd reconsider their corporate philosophies. Maybe they'll stop making such bad decisions in the first place.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

My Translation of Matthew 2

I'd love to blog more often but there are only so many hours in the day. Things like sleeping, eating, and time spent at work are pretty much unavailable for other pursuits. Of course, even my “free time” must be divided among many things and blogging is only a small part of a busy schedule. Another thing I like to invest my time in is translating.

I've thought about making a blog where I post my translations along with comments but another blog is just one more demand on my time which means less time available for anything else. Still, I have made these translations so why not share them?

I know Christmas has just passed but here is my translation of Matthew, Chapter 2. You might call it the RKB Version. :) One thing very different about Greek than English is how in the Greek sentences frequently begin with conjunctions (particularly καὶ and δὲ). I'm torn on how to best render these. I've translated them both here but may revise my translation in the future. I'm thinking about only translating καὶ at the beginning of a sentence as “and” and either omitting δὲ or, when appropriate, only translating it as “now.” I have to think a little more on the matter.

One thing in particular that may be different about my translation than many others is that I try to always pay special attention to the adjectival or adverbial nature of participles. Matthew used participles heavily and many translations change them to simple verbs. For example, καλέσας (kalesas) in v. 7 is a participle which most literally means, "calling."  In the aorist tense, it should be translated as, “when he called” or “after he called.” However, the NIV translates it as “He called.”

Readers are invited to ask questions or offer their critiques.

Matthew Chapter 2

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, magi journeyed from the east to Jerusalem saying, “Where is the one who is born the King of the Jews? For we saw his star in the east and we came to worship him.” And when King Herod heard, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he gathered together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired from them where the Christ would be born. Then they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judah, for so it has been written by the prophet:

'And you Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, you are by no means the least among the princes of Judah. For from you will go forth one who will shepherd my people, Israel.'”

Then when Herod secretly called the magi, he inquired from them the time of the appearance of the star, and when he sent them to Bethlehem, he said, “As you go, diligently search out the child. And when you find him, send a message to me so that when I come, I also will worship him.” And when they had heard this from the king, they went out. And behold, the star which they saw in the east went before them, going on until it stood above where the child was. And when they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding joy. And when they came into the house, they saw the child with Mary, his mother, and falling down, they worshiped him and opened their treasures, presenting to him gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their country by another way.

And when they departed from them, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph saying, “When you rise up, take the child and his mother and flee into Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. For Herod is about to seek out the child in order to kill him.” And when he rose up, he took the child and his mother by night and journeyed unto Egypt, and he was there until the death of Herod, so that the word spoken by the Lord through prophet should be fulfilled which says,

"Out of Egypt I called my son."

Then, when Herod saw that he was betrayed by the magi, he was exceedingly angry, and sending forth, he put to death all the children in Bethlehem and all its borders from two years and under, according to the time he had inquired from the magi. Then the word spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled which says,

A voice was heard in Rama, weeping and great lamenting. Rachel was weeping for her children, and she did not want to be comforted because they were not.”

Now when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt saying, “When you rise, take the child and his mother and go into the land of Israel, for the ones seeking life of the child have died.” And when he rose, he took the child and his mother and entered into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaos ruled in Judea instead of his father, Herod, he was afraid to go there. But being warned in a dream, he entered into the region of Galilee, and when he had come, he dwelt in the city which is called Nazareth, so that the word spoken by the prophets should be fulfilled that he will be called a Nazarene.