Charles Taze Russell – “Don’t read your Bible”

What would you say if I asked you to quit reading your Bible? Or, how would you respond if I told you that you were permitted to read your Bible, but, it had to be in conjunction with my “Scripture studies” or “Scripture helps” – how would you respond? As someone who loves God, I personally would respond that the words of Jehovah God are plane in the text of Scripture, and as a result, I would trust Jehovah Himself to guide me in my path of both knowing Him and loving Him.

Charles Taze Russell believed differently, opting for the first and second solutions above, rather than the latter. In his work, The Watchtower, from Sept. 15, 1910, Russell proclaims the following;

Charles T Russell

In short, Pastor Russell’s message is both quite simple and disturbing, and it can be summarized as follows; “If you read the Scriptures alone, you will come away with a much different message than if you read the Scriptures through my interpretative lens.” If you are a Jehovah’s Witness reading this today, please prayerfully consider what Russell is asking of you. He wants you to abandon your privilege of reading the Bible, in lieu of reading his words. Is this the mark of a true prophet? It certainly is not, because Russell in this quote attempts to draw the reader of Scripture away from God and His revealed word, and to himself, which is the mark of false teaching and a false Gospel.

Deut 13.6-10 ~ “If your brother, the son of your mother, or your son or your daughter or the wife you embrace or your friend who is as your own soul entices you secretly, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods,’ which neither you nor your fathers have known, 7 some of the gods of the peoples who are around you, whether near you or far off from you, from the one end of the earth to the other, 8 you shall not yield to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him, nor shall you conceal him. 9 But you shall kill him. Your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. 10 You shall stone him to death with stones, because he sought to draw you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

Mark’s of a Cult – Charles Taze Russell and the Jehovah’s Witnesses

 

Abstract Laws

Just a quick note. This morning I was engaged in a conversation with one of my high school students at the local Christian school regarding a research paper which he presented refuting naturalistic materialism. Interestingly, he has picked up on the transcendental argument for God’s existence (TAG) and what he presented in the paper is wholly correct, namely, that naturalists like to speak about the laws of logic, as if their worldview is rationalistic to the core, but, they cannot account for these same abstract laws. How does one account for a universal, abstract (non-material) and invariant laws such as the laws of logic from a naturalistic perspective? They certainly cannot be accounted for by biology, because what happens in your brain is different from mine, and what takes place in our brains can hardly be referred to as universal law. If one wishes to claim that laws of logic are simply conventions of society, it makes me wonder why other societies have not developed alternate laws of thought. Can you imagine a society which did not adhere to the law of non-contradiction? It would not even be able to function, and we would call them, “irrational,” thus demonstrating that the laws of logic/thought are in reality, universal, abstract and invariant laws…laws which naturalistic materialism cannot account for.

President Obama and Worldview Reflection

When President Obama addressed the American media and people this week, the true issue was not gun control, nor the mass killings that have happened in recent years. Instead, what should have struck the majority of listeners is the massive lack of reflection on his own worldview – because that ultimately is the issue at hand. I understand the President’s philosophy regarding closing background check loopholes (note, I did not say I agree with him). However, in the midst of his speech, he mentioned how the mass killings at Sandy Hook and other places absolutely infuriate him, even to the point of tears, as viewers observed.

With this in mind, the question remains, where is the reflection on his own worldview? Meaning, why is it unacceptable that people are killed in unjustified violence in a classroom, movie theater or workplace, but, it is totally acceptable if this takes place in the exam/procedure room at a Planned Parenthood? Is it wrong to ask the President to apply the same standard of morality and justice to the “physicians” at the Planned Parenthood, as he would have applied to the/a gunman who opened fired on that same building? Why is the value of the one group of people, greater than the other? Inconsistency is the sign of a failed argument. And on this issue, our President, and others who support his policies, are inconsistent and demonstrate a total lack of awareness in regards to critical thought.

I agree with the President on one point – these senseless killings must stop. However, the basis for our agreement is totally different. I, like all who truly name Christ as Lord and Savior, see value in all people because they are made in the image of God…to include those in the womb. Hence, all human life is to be preserved and protected via the 6th Commandment, unless of course, someone forfeits that right by attempting to unjustly harm or take the like of others. The President, and others who hold his position, arbitrarily choose what life is of value, and what life is not. This is inconsistent, subjective and immoral. Hence, we had on full display this week, the worldview of those who know the truth about God, yet, “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom 1.18).

Sermon (12/27/15): “Let Us Move on to Maturity”

Sunday’s sermon, which was preached from the text of Gal 2, speaks to the issue of our Christian walk heading into this new year. May the Lord bless you as you listen, and may He speak to you through His preserved text.

“Let Us Move on to Maturity”

For more sermon audio from Auburn Road Presbyterian Church, CLICK HERE

 

Updated: More Watch Tower Error

(Please Note: if you would like an edited and expanded PDF version of this study for reference purposes, click the following link: More Watch Tower Error)

Today I spent nearly an hour and a half with a Jehovah’s Witness couple speaking about the gospel and imputation, among other things. In doing so, I picked up the latest edition of the Watch Tower publication, What Does the Bible Really Teach?, and was shocked, even by Watch Tower standards, to see how many errors were on each page in reference to Jesus, His deity and eternality. Take for example the two paragraphs below, which can be located on pages 41-42 of the publication in question;

      Jesus is Jehovah’s most precious Son – and for good reason. He is called “the firstborn of all creation,” for he was God’s first creation.* (Colossians 1:15) There is something else that makes this Son special. He is the “only-begotten Son.” (John 3:16) This means that Jesus is the only one directly created by God. Jesus is also the only one whom God used when He created all other things. (Colossians 1:16) Then, too, Jesus is called “the Word.” (John 1:14) This tells us that He spoke for God, no doubt delivering messages and instructions to the Father’s other sons, both spirit and human.

     Is the firstborn Son equal to God, as some believe? This is not what the Bible teaches. As we noted in the preceding paragraph, the Son was created. Obviously, then, he had a beginning, whereas Jehovah God has no beginning. (Psalm 90:2) The only-begotten Son never even considered trying to be equal to his Father. The Bible clearly teaches that the Father is greater than the Son. (Read John 14:28: 1 Corinthians 11:3) Jehovah alone is “God Almighty.” (Genesis 17:1) Therefore, He has no equal.[1]

     As we first approach the text in question, let us look at the first two sentences of paragraph one, namely, where the text reads that Jesus was Jehovah’s “first creation.” The basis for this teaching is the text of Col 1.15, where the term “firstborn” is utilized of the Son. However, is a literal understanding of this term appropriate to the context? Not at all. First, the term in question, πρωτότοκος (prototokos), is defined by BDAG as “to having special status associated with a firstborn.”[2] Hence, in this context, πρωτότοκος is not referring to birth/birth order, but rather, birthright. Notice how Louw-Nida handles this word in context, “87.47 πρωτότοκοςc: pertaining to existing superior to all else of the same or related class—‘superior to, above all.’ πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως ‘existing superior to all creation’ Col 1:15.”[3]

This understanding of πρωτότοκος as referring to birthright or as one who receives inheritance is confirmed just three verses later in the Colossians text, where Paul writes of Jesus, “that in everything he might be preeminent” (Col 1.18). Note how the Colossians text both confirms and explains the context in which πρωτότοκος is to be understood. In short, the use of this term is not speaking to Jesus “being created” or “born” in the literal sense (how does a spirit give birth?), but rather, it is being used to explain that Jesus is the preeminent one of all creation who is “heir of all things” (Heb 1.2). Finally, note the Exegetical Summary of Colossians concerning this term;

πρωτότοκος (LN 10.43; 13.79; 87.47) (BAGD 2.a. p. 726): ‘firstborn’ [BAGD, Herm, LN (10.43), Lns, NIC, NTC, WBC; CEV, KJV, NAB, NASB, NIV, NJB, NRSV], ‘existing first’ [LN (13.79)], ‘existing before’ [LN (13.79)], ‘superior to’ [LN (87.47)]. This noun is also translated as a verb phrase: ‘to take precedence’ [TNT], ‘to rank above’ [SSA]; as a noun phrase followed by an adjective: ‘first-born Son, superior’ [TEV]; by a clause: ‘his is the primacy’ [REB], ‘he existed before God made anything at all and is supreme’ [NLT].

QUESTION—What is meant by πρωτότοκος ‘firstborn’?

It was a title of the Messiah [ICC, Lt, NIC, SSA, TNTC]. It means that Jesus is the eternal Son of God and thus is God [Lns] and not a created being [EG, Lns]. It does not refer to Jesus’ birth as a human being [Alf, TH], but to his relation to God as the eternal Son of God and his heir [TH]. ‘Image of the invisible God’ refers to Christ’s relation to God, and ‘firstborn of all creation’ to his relation to the creation [Lg, Lt, My, WBC].[4]

     Seeing how πρωτότοκος does not and cannot mean what the Society claims, this now leads us to another flaw in Watch Tower theology, namely, that Jesus is the creator of “all ‘other’ things.” The New World Translation (NWT) inserts the term “other” into the text arbitrarily, with no justification from the New Testament Greek text. The Greek of the New Testament Scriptures reads as follows, “ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ ἐκτίσθη τὰ πάντα” (Col 1.16, SBL GNT, see also the NA-28), with a literal rendering of this clause being “because by him were created all things.” Note that the Greek text reads that Jesus is the creator of “all things,” not “all other things” as the NWT claims.

By inserting the term “other” into the text, the Watch Tower attempts to apply temporality to the Son, thus rendering Him a created being (the word “other” is likewise inserted without justification from the Greek at the end of verse 16, verse 17 and verse 20. See also Philippians 2.9, where they insert “other” as in, “every other name” without justification, where the Greek reads, “every name”). However, in reality, He is the creator of ALL THINGS in both Heaven and Earth (the Greek term panta “all things” is all-inclusive),[5] thus indicating that He is Yahweh (YHWH) the Son, very God of very God – the creator God if you will.

On this note, if Jesus is a created being, and the creator of “all things,” I question where Jesus was when He was created according the Society theology? After all, it could not have been in Heaven, as the Watch Tower proclaims on page 41 of the same publication, where it states, “The Bible teaches that Jesus lived in heaven before he came to earth.”[6] I likewise am left to wonder how Jesus, being the creator of “all things” (again, not “all other things” as the NWT claims), created Himself. Meaning, it is one thing for the society to claim that the Father created the Son, but, it is quite another thing to prove such a thing, especially when the text of Colossians clearly proclaims that if it exists in any realm (either spiritual or physical), Jesus created it. Finally, note the words of Thomas Constable and Norman Geisler in the following screen shots regarding the issue of Jesus being the “firstborn”[7] and creator;[8]

pho 1

2

Moving on, the third error of the first paragraph of the Watch Tower publication is noted when, in citing John 3.16, the text states that Jesus is the “only begotten Son” of the Father. The publication goes on to say “This means that Jesus is the only one directly created by God.” There is an error of both translation and logic in such a statement. First, over the course of recent years, it has been discovered that the term μονογενής (monogenes) DOES NOT mean “only begotten,” but rather, “the only one of its kind within a specific relationship, one and only, only . . . to being the only one of its kind or class, unique (in kind),” as noted by BDAG.[9] Louw-Nida confirms this understanding when it proclaims of this term, “58.52 μονογενής: pertaining to what is unique in the sense of being the only one of the same kind or class—‘unique, only.’”[10]

An example of how this term is rendered in modern day scholarship can be seen in the following. In their discussion of the term monogenes as found in John 1.18, textual scholar Philip M. Miller, in a book edited by Greek scholar and textual critic Daniel B. Wallace, renders the terms monogenes theos as “unique God,” as opposed to the older and incorrect rendering of “only begotten.”[11] Moreover, nearly every modern translation of the Bible notes the change from “begotten” to “only/unique,” as seen in the ESV, LEB, NIV, HCSB and the NET. In fact, in large part, the only translations to hold on to the “begotten(ness)” of the Son when monogenes is concerned are those translations that have been highly influenced by King James tradition, with the exception of the NASB. Hence, the NWT and the Watch Tower publication in question are simply wrong in reference to this verse, the use of this term, and how monogenes applies to Jesus.

But, there is more, namely, a thing can only “beget” that which is in its nature to “beget” (see the law of identity). This is noted by the famed textual scholar Bruce Metzger when, in his scathing review of the NWT, proclaims,

We don’t use the words begetting or begotten much in modern English, but everyone still knows what they mean. To beget is to become the father of: to create is to make. And the difference is just this. When you beget, you beget something of the same kind as yourself. A man begets human babies, a beaver begets little beavers, and a bird begets eggs which turn into little birds. But when you make, you make something of a different kind from yourself. A bird makes a nest, a beaver builds a dam, a man makes a wireless set . . . . NOW that’s the first thing to get clear. What God begets is Cod; just as what man begets is man. What God creates is not God; just as what man makes is not man.[12]

     With Metzger’s comments in mind, it’s noted that God cannot beget anything other than that which matches perfectly His own nature. And, in this sense, He cannot beget begetting another God, for He alone is eternal and infinite. Hence, as noted by Metzger, even if the term “begotten” was correct in texts such as John 3.16, it would certainly not imply that Jesus was some sort of created being, or little “g” god-like being. Instead, it would imply that Jesus Himself was very God of very God, just as the terms “one and only Son” imply in the text of John 3.16.

Moving on to paragraph two, the publication states that the Son is not equal to the Father. This is a deceptive manner of presenting Jesus and His relationship to the Father, and it certainly cannot be answered with a simple, “the Bible nowhere teaches this” sort of response. First, Jesus is “God” (Jn 1.1c), “the unique God” (Jn 1.18.), “the Lord of me and the God of me” (Jn 20.28, per the words of Thomas, this is the literal Greek rendering), “the great God and Savior” (Titus 2.13 and 2 Pet 1.1 – see the Granville Sharp Rule on these verses), “God over all, blessed forever” (Rom 9.5) and so on. Hence, ontologically (in the nature of His being), Jesus is certainly equal to the Father in every sense – He is God. Next, in Philippians 2.6, the Greek term isa is used of the Son, indicating that He indeed IS equal to the Father, seeing how for all eternity, He existed in the morphe or “form” of God – a quality that only God possesses. Moreover, Jesus is Yahweh (the Son), as noted in Heb 1.10-12 where the text of Ps 102.25-27 is used to describe the Him – verses which can only pertain to YHWH.

The same is true of Phil 2.10-11, where the text of Isa 45.23 is applied to the Son, for He is the one that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess because He is the one who possesses “the name above every name” (Yahweh). Likewise, in John 12.41, the apostle proclaims of the Son, “Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him.” This is a reference to Isa 6.1 (LXX), where the prophet Isaiah sees the Lord sitting on the throne. Isaiah was speaking about Yahweh, and John tells us it was Jesus. Also, Colossians 2.9 tells the reader that in Jesus, all the fullness of deity dwells bodily. Put another way, that which makes God, God, dwells bodily in Jesus. He is likewise the perfect reflection of the very essence/nature of God according to Heb 1.3. Thus, He perfectly reflects the attributes of God, namely, eternality, omniscience, omniscience and so on. And the list could go on. In short, there is no shortage of verses proving the absolute deity and equality of the Son to the Father – for in their personhood, they are both fully YHWH.

However, within the “economic Trinity,” terms utilized to speak to the relationship of duties between the three members of the Triune God-head, the Son and the Holy Spirit are willfully submissive to the Father. Hence, it their duty or role, and via the incarnation, where Jesus empties Himself by taking on human flesh (Phil 2.7), the Son proclaims “the Father is greater than I” (John 14.28). This is not a proclamation of inferiority, but rather, it’s a declaration of willful submissiveness, as a son has to a father. Using a human example, in the marriage union, the husband is the head of household and the wife is to be willfully submissive to this position (c.f. 1 Cor 11.1-3). Yet, is the husband greater ontologically? Certainly not. Again, a son is to be submissive to his father, but in the nature of their being, is either of them greater? Not at all. And thus was see what theologians have proclaimed throughout the centuries, that the Father, Son and Spirit are equal in their ontology, yet, the Son and the Spirit are submissive regarding their roles, with the Father sending the Son, and the Father and the Son sending the Holy Spirit. Hence, another error in Watch Tower theology is exposed.

Finally, as noted in the second paragraph of the publication, the Society proclaims that Jesus “had a beginning,” a view which we have already dismantled. However, they failed to take into account a set of verses which I have already touched upon, namely, Ps 102.25-27, which reads, “Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end.”

These verses speak to the immutability of YHWH, and the fact that He does not and cannot change. It likewise identifies YHWH as the eternal God, who has no beginning and no end. And it’s these very same verses which speak to the existence of the Son as eternal YHWH, where in Heb 1.10-12, the text reads, “And, ‘You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end” (Heb 1.10-12).

How do hope you see the impact of the verses before us. Jesus, the Son of God, is being described with verses of eternality and immutability that can only apply to YHWH God, thus confirming the point of this study, that Jesus is in fact, YHWH the Son. So, using the Watch Towers publication title, “What Does the Bible Really Teach?,” we can proclaim that the Scriptures teach that there is only one God, YHWH (Isa 43.10), and that three persons are identified as both God and YHWH, thus confirming the teaching of the Trinity in the pages of Holy Writ.

 

     [1] What Does the Bible Really Teach, (Brooklyn, NY: Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society), 41-42.

     [2] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 894.

     [3] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 737.

     [4] Martha King, An Exegetical Summary of Colossians, 2nd ed. (Dallas, TX: SIL International, 2008), 50-51.

     [5] QUESTION—What is meant by τὰ πάντα ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς καὶ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ‘all things in the heavens and on the earth’?

It refers to all created things [Alf, Ea, EG, EGT, ICC, Lg, Lt, My, SSA, TH, TNTC], both animate and inanimate [TH]. It includes everything in the heavens and on the earth [Herm, Lns, My], that is, in the universe [Ea, LN, Lns]. It means the inhabitants of heaven and earth [NIC]. It emphasizes the fact that absolutely everything is included [Lns, NTC, SSA, WBC]. Martha King, An Exegetical Summary of Colossians, 2nd ed. (Dallas, TX: SIL International, 2008), 53.

     [6] Ibid., What Does the Bible Really Teach, 41.

     [7] As the ESV Study Bible Properly notes, “firstborn of all creation. It would be wrong to think in physical terms here, as if Paul were asserting that the Son had a physical origin or was somehow created (the classic Arian heresy) rather than existing eternally as the Son, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, in the Godhead. (See the article on The Trinity.) What Paul had in mind was the rights and privileges of a firstborn son, especially the son of a monarch who would inherit ruling sovereignty. This is how the expression is used of David: “I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth” (Ps. 89:27).” Crossway Bibles (2009-04-09). ESV Study Bible (Kindle Locations 238294-238298). Good News Publishers/Crossway Books. Kindle Edition.

     [8] For a free copy of this PowerPoint, see https://appliedapologetics.wordpress.com/2014/03/23/colossians-1-15-20-powerpoint/

     [9] Ibid., BDAG, 658.

     [10] Ibid., Louw-Nida, 591.

     [11] Daniel B. Wallace, Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2011), 73.

     [12] Bruce M. Metzger, The Jehovah’s Witnesses and Jesus Christ, (Theology Today), 77.

 

THE BINDING OF THE COVENANT: AN EXEGESIS OF HEBREWS 6.1-8

INTRODUCTION

     Often ignored in this modern era of Christianity is the covenantal aspect to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. In fact, one would be hard pressed to find academic resources which describe the Biblical narratives in covenantal form at this time in redemptive history. Yet, this neglect of modern scholarship does not dismiss the covenantal truth’s which are found in the pages of holy writ. Truths which very often, help to shed light on many passages which can be difficult, or in some cases, impossible to understand without the covenantal paradigm.

The goal of this current study will be to flush out the often unspoken covenantal nuances of the Hebrews 6 text. In doing so, this study will attempt to demonstrate the covenant implications of the text, by both a direct exegesis of Hebrews 6.1-8, and, by the broader teaching of covenant inclusion within the pages of Scripture. Ultimately, this essay will conclude that the individuals spoken about in the current text as “falling away,” were in fact true, non-converted members of the Covenant of Grace who had indeed, “tasted of the Heavenly gifts.”

OVERVIEW OF TOPIC

       Prior to proceeding to an exegesis of the Hebrews 6.1-8 text, multiple topics must first be considered in effort to shed light on the main thrust and message of the text itself. These items will include, (1) the worldview of the original recipient, (2) the presuppositional grid of the original reader, (3) OT continuity with the NT, (4) covenantal inclusion and (5) apostasy, as a means of understanding the make-up/identity of those identified in the text.

THE WORLDVIEW OF HEBREWS

     One thing which becomes obvious by even a cursory reading of the Epistle to the Hebrews, is that the original audience was well acquainted with the practices and teachings of the OT Scriptures. This is noted by Kostenberger when he states that “The author presupposed that his readers were thoroughly familiar with OT teaching, including the Levitical ritual, the priesthood, and the pattern of the tabernacle.”[1] Thomas and Black concur with Kostenberger when they proclaim of the epistle, “Considerable evidence supports the idea that Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians. The frequent appeals to the Old Testament, the presumption that the readers knew Jewish ritual (see Heb. 9), the warning against returning to Judaism (see Heb. 6:1–2), and the early tradition for the title point to the Jews as the intended recipients.”[2] In short, the original audience of Hebrews was thoroughly acquainted with and immersed in the Judaic worldview.

The Presuppositional Grid and Old Testament Continuity

With this in mind, it is also helpful to note that the original recipients of this epistle would not have viewed the text of Hebrews through a strictly western lens, as is often the case today by both scholar and layman alike. Rather, the information relayed in this epistle would have been written in the form of and interpreted via the lens of the OT Scriptures. Hence, the original audience would have filtered what follows in the epistle through their Jewish, yet Hellenized, presuppositional grid. A grid which would have seen efficacy, yet incompleteness in the OT system of redemption and covenant. In addition, this was also a grid which looked forward to the same “covenant head,” Jesus Christ, in the old era of redemptive history; a teaching which became a reality in the days of the original audience of Hebrews, or shortly after.

This presuppositional grid would have likewise included seeing a great deal of continuity and discontinuity between the old and new eras of redemptive history. For example, the author consistently speaks to the similarity of the OT sacrificial system in relation to the new in the form of types and shadows, thus, communicating both of the afore mentioned elements to his original readers. This continuity would have likewise been noticed and understood via the Jewish concept of covenant and covenant inclusion. A view which saw a true and legitimate corporate reality to the inclusion of family members as the people of God.

Covenant Inclusion

As noted above, the original audience of the Hebrews Epistle would have viewed much of the Christian faith through the OT paradigm, and in this sense, they would have assumed many nuances about a particular text, teaching or event, that may be lost to a mostly gentile audience. One of these issues which looms large in reference to the current study, is in regards to how the Jewish Christian would have viewed the members of their household. In short, like the Jews of old, the audience of Hebrews would have viewed their family member’s/covenant children as members of the Covenant of Grace (Gen 3.15), whereby God has promised in days of old to be not only a God to the individual believer, but also, to their children as well (Gen 17.7).

With this in mind, per the OT Scriptures, it can be seen that there is both an objective manner in viewing the covenant people of God (the people of Israel in general, those circumcised, regardless of faith),[3] and a subjective way of viewing/identifying the people of God (those who have faith in YHWH, the elect and/or remnant reserved by YHWH). In the former case, Abraham was father to both Ishmael and Isaac, both covenant members in the general sense. However, it was only Isaac, the child of promise, who, as the OT narrative continues, both professes and demonstrates faith in YHWH. Likewise, both Jacob and Esau were children of the covenant in an objective, general sense. Yet, as Paul demonstrates in his teaching on the doctrine of election in Romans 9, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Rom 9.13, ESV).[4] Hence, by these two examples, and many others, it is noted that there was both an objective and subjective manner in viewing covenant members via the Jewish Scriptures and worldview; with both circumcised believer and unbeliever (wither personally or corporately) and the members of the particular household being viewed as the “people of God” (Isa 1.2, Jer 2.20).

This point is brought out by Lusk when he proclaims of David in Ps 22, “Before a child of the promise can do any good work or make any kind of profession, God is already his God . . . The covenant child is included in a faith based covenant relationship with God.”[5] Likewise, Calvin, in his commentary on Gen 17.7 proclaims the following regarding the identification of the objective covenant people of God when he states;

There is no doubt that the Lord distinguishes the race of Abraham from the rest of the world. We must now see what people he intends. Now they are deceived who think that his elect alone are here pointed out; and that all the faithful are indiscriminately comprehended, from whatever people, according to the flesh, they are descended. For, on the contrary, the Scripture declares that the race of Abraham, by lineal descent, had been peculiarly accepted by God.[6]

Finally, on this issue and in relation to this new age of redemptive history, the Westminster Assembly addressed this issue in its Directory of Public Worship when it wrote that the baptized Christian, whether “of age” or infancy, is entitled to “the outward privileges of the church, under the gospel, no less than the children of Abraham in the time of the Old Testament; the covenant of grace, for substance, being the same . . . That children, by baptism, are solemnly received into the bosom of the visible church, distinguished from the world, and them that are without, and united with believers . . . That they are Christians, and federally holy before baptism, and therefore are they baptized.”[7]

Apostasy

     While it can be demonstrated that the OT Scriptures utilize the term covenant in both a broad and narrow fashion, it is likewise true that within the old era of redemption, there were those who were in covenant with God, yet, possessed a hardened heart towards Him in reflection to their inward disposition. One reading of the Book of Judges or Hosea brings this concept to the forefront, and nearly the entirety of the Major Prophets speaks to the issue of covenant Israel’s rebellion as the bride of YHWH. However, this is not simply a OT concept. Instead, the NT Scriptures are replete with this very teaching, whereby one could be in objective covenant with God, yet, unregenerate or not “born again.” For example, in His conversation with the Jewish opponents of His day, the Lord Jesus proclaimed “I know that you are offspring of Abraham” (Jn 8.37), whereby He followed these words with “If you were Abraham’s children” (v 39), with the culmination of His thoughts on this topic being “You are of your father the devil” in verse 44. Hence, Jesus’ Jewish opponents were both “in covenant” with God, yet, they were adulterators of that same covenant relationship.

Moving on, this concept of “in/out of covenant” is not limited to the Gospel accounts, but rather, the apostle Paul proclaims in Rom 2 the following, “For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical” (Rom 2.28). And again in Rom 9, he states, “For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel” (Rom 9.6), thus indicating that you could be a child of Abraham in one sense, yet rebellious of heart and God hating in another sense. Moreover, if one considers the issues in both the Epistle’s to the Corinthians and Galatians, and notes how the apostle addresses these churches’ corporately, despite the rank sin and false teaching which existed within these local assemblies, they may be hard pressed to deny that there is an objective/corporate aspect to being in covenant with God.

What all of these verses and/or situations have in common is a failure of the subjective or personal aspect of covenant relationship (faith within covenant) to matchup with that which is objective, namely, the outward inclusion in the Covenant of Grace. Hence, when one comes across passages such as these, which speak similar to individuals “being truly in the vine of Christ,” who are later “cut away and burned” (Jn 15.1-17), the reader’s thoughts should look backwards into the nature of covenant via the OT Scriptures to discern what the author is speaking to. In short, the OT people of God realized that one could be in covenant, yet fall away, possibly never to be restored because of hard-heartedness, and thus, become apostate. These were individuals who, although that were outwardly members of the Covenant of Grace, were never changed on the inside via the Spirt of God working effectually in their hearts.

And this would have been the paradigm which governed the worldview of the readers/original audience of Hebrews, whereby they realized that there was both an objective and subjective aspect of covenant inclusion/binding, as Schenck notes when, in quoting Calvin, he proclaims, “The covenant of all the fathers is so far from differing from substance from ours, that it is one and the same; the administration of it, however, does vary.”[8]

EXEGESIS OF HEBREWS 6.1-8

      As one approaches the text of Heb chapter 6, they would in grave error if they neglected to survey the prior context of this section of Scripture, namely, chapter 5, verses 11-14. In these verses, the author sets up his chapter 6 discussion by eluding to the genuine and very real possibility of apostasy, as noted in verse 11 where the author proclaims that his readers, at least in part, had become “dull of hearing.” The remainder of chapter 5 speaks to the issue of maturity in the faith, whereby the original readers were lacking development in things spiritual, as indicated in the final clause of verse 12 which proclaims, “You need milk, not solid food” (Heb 5.12, ESV). It is this context that the author uses to address this topic further, in effort to exhort his readers into Christian maturity. And it is the text of chapter 6 which will now be addressed.

(Verse 1) “Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God.” The goal of verse 1 can be seen as an exhortation to mature in the faith, whereby the author proclaims that his readers should “leave the elementary (ἀρχή > arche)” doctrines in effort to advance to Christian maturity. This word, ἀρχή, according to BDAG, carries with it the meaning of “the commencement of something as an action, process, or state of being, beginning,”[9] In this sense, the author is instructing his readers to advance past the basic teachings of the faith, so they can move past or not repeat the repentance from “dead works.” These terms mean, “repentance from useless works. It refers to Jewish works of the law [Alf, TNTC, Wst], which lost their provisional vitality when Christ’s work was fulfilled [Wst]”[10] according to Greenlee. Hence, per the flow of Hebrews thus far, Christ’s effectual work is being highlighted, even in this verse, as supreme, all efficacious and sufficient to save sinners. Interestingly, the use of these terms likewise assumes covenant binding between the original reader and God, a point which is vital the context of apostasy is considered from the previous chapter.

(Verse 2) “and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.” Verse 2 is a continuation from verse 1, where the author explains what these “dead works” look like by his use of types. The various Jewish ceremonial washings of the old era system of redemption never brought final purification. Hence, these forms of βάπτισμα (baptisma > baptism) were simply temporal in nature. Moreover, the “instruction” or διδαχῆς (didaches > teaching/doctrine) regarding the “laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgement” were simply basic or fundamental doctrines in relation to verse 1. Doctrines which were to be considered basic when compared to the overarching teaching of Christ’s atonement, His high priestly role, and the once for all sacrifice whereby He earned eternal redemption for all who believe in Him by faith.

(Verse 3) “And this we will do if God permits.” Verse 3 highlights the sovereignty of God and how it is operative in the life and experience of the believer and/or covenant member. In short, YHWH is the primary mover in all of human experience, and sanctification and the maturity of the Christian are products of God’s in-working within the life of the covenant member. Moreover, it relates to the flow of verses 1-2 in that man cannot advance forward via the older system of redemption. Meaning, the foundation of “dead works” which was established in the OT ceremonial redemptive system did not either improve or ultimately mature or purify the covenant member; this was instead done by faith. In addition, maturity and sanctification is the supernatural work of God which takes place in the heart of the believer; a work of God which culminated in the finished work of Christ when applied to the believer.

(Verse 4) “For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit.” Many theories have been postulated in reference to the following three verses, all of which, in one form or another, have weaknesses when evaluated by the whole of Scripture. Is this verse speaking to one losing their justification because of apostasy?[11] Or, is a warning passage such as this simply a hypothetical, whereby the author uses it to speak to a group of individuals who preside within the church as a “means” of bringing about God’s “end,” whereby he stops any intended apostasy prior to it taking place?[12] It is the position of this paper, via the information previously elaborated upon, that verse 4 begins a discourse not on a hypothetical means to an end, or on one losing their justified status before God, but rather, in reference to those who preside within the covenant, yet, have not embraced the covenant promises by faith.

First, this verse proclaims that it is “impossible” (ἀδύνατος > adunatos) to “restore” (v 6) the individual in question to repentance. With this in mind, if the warning passage is speaking about the loss of justification, it gives no hope for future restoration of the individual who was once objectively regarded as an adopted son/daughter of God; an untenable position. However, if this verse is speaking to those who are unsaved within the covenant (members of the visible church), it follows that these individuals have “been enlightened” to some degree via their covenant status. For example, a child who is raised in a covenant household is considered “holy” or set apart to God via 1 Cor 7.14. These same children, by virtue of their covenant parent(s), would have been enlightened to the gospel of Jesus Christ via the teachings of their family, their church, and in this respect, would have shared to some in the covenant blessings which God had bestowed on the family/church corporately. Hence, in this sense, these same individuals, who lacked faith, have indeed “tasted” of the blessings of God and therefore, the heavenly gift and in this same respect, they would have shared in the blessings and gifts of the Holy Spirit via His pouring out of grace upon the household. This view fits the covenantal worldview of the original audience, and it likewise fits within the paradigm of the OT covenantal system, where both believer and unbeliever existed within the one Covenant of Grace.[13]

(Verse 5) “and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come.” Verse 5 is a continuation of verse 4, whereby the author proclaims that the individual in question “tasted the goodness” of God’s word. This likewise fits the present paradigm, where within the covenant household, the word of God would be proclaimed regularly and religiously; especially in a Jewish household. Moreover, these same individuals would have tasted the goodness of the “powers of the age to come,” by their participation in both family and covenant, and in this sense, they would have been exposed to the “new creation which God will one day accomplish has already begun in Jesus.”[14] Thus, the individual in question has been an actual partaker (γεύομαι > geuomai) in the gifts of God, yet, has not embraced those gifts by faith and as a result, turns away in hardheartedness, never to return.

(Verse 6) “and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.” As verses 4-5 indicate, the individual in question has been an actual partaker in enlightenment, the heavenly gift, the Holy Spirit, the word of God and the power of the coming age. Yet, when verses 4 and 6 are viewed together, the text indicates that it is impossible to restore such an individual that falls away from such experiences. Rather, these individuals “fall away,” never to be restored to the faith. These were individuals who at some point, demonstrated enlightenment to some degree, had demonstrated repentance in some form, yet, will forever be lost due to their apostasy.

Moreover, these are individuals with knowledge of the truth, yet deliberately deny it, and in this sense, they likewise deny and hold in contempt the very crucifixion of Christ which would have brought them peace with God (Rom 5.1). On this verse and the condition of those who fall away, Calvin notes, “But I cannot admit that all this is any reason why he should not grant the reprobate also some taste of his grace, why he should not irradiate their minds with some sparks of his light, why he should not give them some perception of his goodness, and in some sort engrave his word on their hearts. Otherwise, where would be the temporal faith mentioned by Mark 4:17?”[15] Hence, Calvin sees no reason why God would not grant some semblance of blessing/enlightenment to the unbeliever, while not imparting to them the genuine article of faith itself and the gift of regeneration.

With these complicating factors in mind, Bahnsen brings clarity on this verse and on the identity of those in view when he proclaims the following;

The tasting here of the heavenly gift refers to having the blessing of the experience of the covenantal community. God from heaven has given gifts to His church, He has blessed the church and the people being described here are within the sphere of the benefits of that church . . . In a sense, the experience of Old Testament Israel is a very clear explanation of what the author of Hebrews is talking about. Here are people who enjoyed the heavenly gift. They were partakers of the Holy Spirit. They were enlightened from heaven. They had all of these blessings in their midst. They had no excuse for turning against God, but yet they did.[16]

Thus, when verses 4-6 are viewed in light of the suggested presuppositional grid of the original audience of this epistle, it fits fully into what and how a Jew of old, or even a first century Jewish Christian, would have viewed these verses.

(Verses 7-8) “For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.” Verses 7-8 help to bring a great deal of clarity to the text which preceded, and it likewise helps to validate the present study, generally speaking. First, it is noted that there are two “types” of “lands” or individuals who “drink” of the blessings of God, (1) those who will believe and respond by faith, and, (2) those who will bear “thorns and thistles.” On this point, it is vital to note that both of these parties in some manner partake in the “rain,” with very different responses. The first produces good fruit, crops and receives the blessings from God associated with those who possess faith. In contrast, those who have “drunk the rain” and rejected the message, are marked by unbelief, identified by “bad fruit” and in this sense, are “worthless,” “cursed” and fit for judgment.

This agricultural analogy is a common literary tool in Scripture, whereby the individual speaker and author compares believer and unbeliever in light of the fruit that may produce. It is likewise commonly utilized in the context of covenant, whereby the author is addressing either faithful and unfaithful covenant members. For example, John the Baptist proclaimed to the religious (and covenantally bound) leaders of his day, “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matt 3.10, ESV). Likewise, in Lk 3, the Lord Jesus, in addressing His Jewish opponents, proclaims in reference to fruit bearing and covenant binding, the following, “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham” (Lk 3.8, ESV).

These uses of exhortation to bear fruit within the covenant community are consistent with the Heb 6 text as a whole. And, like the individual’s in verse 1-8 of the current study, the examples of Matt 3 and Lk 3 present to the reader proof positive examples of individuals who were in covenant with God, yet unconverted, later to fall away. Point-in-fact, these isolated examples of hostility towards YHWH and His covenant, culminated in the crucifixion of the “Lord of Glory” (1 Cor 2.8), whereby these same, objective covenant members later cried in unison, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him! . . . We have no king but Caesar” (Jn 19.15, ESV). This same reality is taking place in the Book of Hebrews in the post-cross era, where, like those covenanted with God before them, both believer and unbeliever subsist within the one Covenant of Grace, where some will be raised up to honor, and some to dishonor (Rom 9.21). Thus, Wilson concludes’

No one truly regenerated by the Spirit of God can ever fall away from Christ. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. At the same time, the Bible is equally clear that professing Christians can and do fall away. When they do, they are not falling from a position of rank unbelief, they are falling into a covenantal unfaithfulness—just as so many of the Jews had fallen. Notice how some of these individuals are described in the book of Hebrews. When a professing Christian falls away, it is a covenantal insult to the Lord he claimed to serve.[17]

CONCLUSION

     Throughout the course of this essay, the author has argued that there is a more consistent manner in interpreting the warning passages of Hebrews. This approach takes into account the covenantal binding that the first century Jewish Christians would have presupposed as they approached the message of Hebrews. Included in this presuppositional grid would have been a tremendous amount of continuity between both the old and new eras of redemptive history, to include the nature of covenant and the members which reside therein.

With this in mind, when the author speaks to individuals being actual and legitimate partakers in Christ and His benefits, who later “fall away,” it is both consistent and proper to assume what the first century audience would have assumed, namely, that within the one Covenant of Grace, to which the New Covenant is an administration, there exists both believer and unbeliever. Hence, this section of Scripture, while speaking to the issue of maturity and apostasy, is likewise speaking to the issue of covenant faithfulness; an issue which permeates the OT Scriptures. Thus, this study concludes that the individuals in question in the Heb 6 text are apostate Christians, who, by virtue of their proximity within the covenant community, never embrace the promises of God by faith, and later fall away, never being restored, despite their having previously witnessed and participated in some graceful operations of the Spirit.

          [1] L. Scott Kellum, Andreas J Köstenberger, Charles L Quarles, The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown, (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2009), 20870-2087 Kindle.

          [2] Thomas, Lea and David Alan Black, The New Testament: Its Background and Message, (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2003), 499.

          [3] It is noted that some branches of orthodox theology deny such a teaching, and instead, either (1) see covenantal membership reserved strictly for those who profess the Lord Jesus by faith, or, (2) claim that the Abrahamic Covenant did not in substance, consist of both the regenerate and unregenerate, but rather, the latter covenant was purely nationalistic in nature. On this point, Hodge answers, “The Baptists, especially those of the time of the Reformation, do not hold the common doctrine on this subject. The Anabaptists not only spoke in very disparaging terms of the old economy and of the state of the Jews under that dispensation, but it was necessary to their peculiar system, that they should deny that the covenant made with Abraham included the covenant of grace. Baptists hold that infants cannot be church members, and that the sign of such membership cannot properly be administered to any who have not knowledge and faith. But it cannot be denied that infants.” Charles Hodge, The Covenant of Grace, (Kindle Edition, n.d), 202-206 Kindle.

          [4] As Calvin notes on this verse, both Jacob and Esau were members of the Covenant of Grace, yet, only one of them received the effectual favor of God within this covenant, “He confirms, by a still stronger testimony, how much the heavenly answer, given to Rebecca, availed to his present purpose, that is, that the spiritual condition of both was intimated by the dominion of Jacob and servitude of Esau, and also that Jacob obtained this favor through the kindness of God, and not through his own merit.” John Calvin, Commentary on Romans, (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library), Rom 9.13.

          [5] Rich Lusk, Paedofaith: A Primer on the Mystery of Infant Salvation and a Handbook for Covenant Parents, (Monroe, LA: Athanasius Press, 2005), 4.

          [6] John Calvin, Commentary on Genesis, (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library), Gen 17.7.

          [7] The Directory for the Publick Worship of God. Edinburgh, 1645.

         [8] Lewis B. Schenck, The Presbyterian Doctrine of Children in the Covenant. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1940), 7.

          [9] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 137.

          [10] J. Harold Greenlee, An Exegetical Summary of Hebrews, 2nd ed. (Dallas, TX: SIL International, 2008), 180.

          [11] It is argued by this essay that justification by faith alone, in Christ alone, is the clear message of Scripture and the “good news” of the Gospel. An individual is justified due to Christ’s imputed righteousness (Rom 4.1-7), whereby His active and passive obedience is credited (λογίζομαι) to all of those who embrace Christ by faith. Hence, Jesus functions as a perfect Savior, never losing those who the Father gives to Him for salvation (Jn 6.37-44). Moreover, Christ’s sacrifice functions as a propitiation for the sins of the elect, thereby satisfying the wrath of God (Isa 53). Hence, an individual is viewed in Christ’s righteousness, and not their own, making the loss of justification impossible due to the perfection of the Son and His finished work, thus, bringing “peace” between God and man (Rom 5.1).

          [13] It is vital to note that throughout this section, the author in no way proclaims that these individuals who “fall away” have ever tasted of the heavenly gifts or partaken in the Holy Spirit by faith. It is the position of this essay that unbelievers, by virtue of the proximity to the covenant people of God, or, unbelievers within the church, can and do receive some benefits by virtue of their being associated with the church. For example, as Christ pours our blessings corporately upon His bride, both unbeliever and believer with in the local assembly will be blessed. Using an OT concept of this principle, both Jacob and Esau were covenant members and enjoyed the benefits of their redeemed household. Yet, it was Jacob alone that embraced the covenant promises by faith, with Esau falling away from the grace bestowed on him by virtue of his household position. Hence, the lynchpin which divides those who are in the objective covenant from those “elect” who also preside in the subjective covenant, is faith.

          [14] Tom Wright, Hebrews for Everyone, (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 57.

          [15] John Calvin, Commentary on Hebrews, (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library), Heb 6:6.

          [16] Greg L. Bahnsen, “Hebrews 6:1-6.” GB641. n.d.

          [17] Douglas Wilson, Standing on the Promises, (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 1997), 676-680 Kindle.

Back in the Saddle Again

Blessings to all of you and I do hope this post finds you well. My apologies for not posting for a while, as I was in a transition stage while moving from Montana to Florida. As many of you know, moves such as this can be quite hard and my first priority (humanly speaking) was to get the family reestablished and secure. Having done so (by the grace and faithfulness of God) and having completed my exams with the PCA, I now have an opportunity to address some issues that I find quite interesting regarding apologetics and apologetic methodology.

The first issue I will be addressing over the course of the coming weeks is the issue of self-deception and the denial of God. It is interesting to note in Romans 1.18, that all believers have a true knowledge of the one true (and Triune) God, YHWH, yet they suppress this truth in unrighteousness. Hence, this knowledge is a knowledge of condemnation, rather than a knowledge of exaltation.

Consider how self-deception works by this one simple example: little Johnny has been expelled from his last two schools, and now, at his new school, the front office is calling his mother to inform her that Johnny has been stealing the other children’s lunch money. The mother, in her condition of self-deception, denies that Johnny could ever do such a thing, because after all, he’s a wonderful little child. But, the interesting aspect to this story is that privately, Johnny’s mother will never leave him alone in the same room as her purse, in fear that he will take what is in her wallet.

This is, in a roundabout way, the self-deception of the unbeliever regarding the God of the Bible. They know the truth (about Johnny or God) and they suppress the truth (about Johnny or God) becaue they do not wish to face the reality of their condition. I do hope you will join me as we address this interesting topic, and until that time, may the Lord of glory bless you and yours.