Was Paul a universalist?


It seems that universalism—the idea that God is somehow present in all people, or that all will experience ‘salvation’ without differentiation—is the widespread and mostly unreflected assumption of many in the C of E. I offered a critique of this a couple of years ago, in response to a comment made by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and had previously questioned the idea of Sam Wells that we should ‘forget about hell‘ (though he didn’t welcome the questions).

Michael McClymond recently published an exhaustive history of the idea of universalism in a two-volume work The Devils’ Redemption, and offered some fascinating reflections in an interview with Christianity Today.

Universalism isn’t just a theological mistake. It’s also a symptom of deeper problems. In a culture characterized by moralistic therapeutic deism, universalism fits the age we inhabit. As I argue in the book, universalism is the opiate of the theologians. It’s the way we would want the world to be. Some imagine that a more loving and less judgmental church would be better positioned to win new adherents. Yet perfect love appeared in history—and he was crucified.

Universalism seems, then, to be fundamentally out of sync with the New Testament narrative of God’s loving initiative in Christ provoking some to faith and others to offense and even hatred. Because of its incongruence with the gospel narrative, universalism is, to my mind, not the first step off the path of orthodoxy, but perhaps—in Kevin DeYoung’s words—“the last rung for evangelicals falling off the ladder.”

Every definition of heresy implies some correlative definition of orthodoxy—of which there are many. I’m not particularly concerned with whether universalism is termed a heresy, because to me the labelling question diverts attention from the main issue, which is showing why universalism is theologically untrue and pastorally unhelpful.

In the light of this (and provoked by a recent conversation), I here offer an extract from a dictionary article I recently wrote, on universalism in Paul, which will be included in a revised form in the forthcoming new edition of the IVP Dictionary of Paul and his Letters.


Universalism within Christian theology is most commonly understood as the belief that all of humanity will experience the salvation of God and be redeemed in the new creation. This has been argued on philosophical, theological and textual grounds, and is found as early as Origen (De Principiis 1:6.1) and Gregory of Nyssa (A Treatise on First Corinthians 15). 

Contemporary claims that Paul had a universalist outlook appear to be driven in Western commentary by the cultural offence of particularity in salvation, which differentiates between those who respond to the invitation of God with faith, and those who appear to refuse this invitation. They rely either on a re-reading of the key texts in Paul, or a dismissal of texts articulating particularity based on a Sachkritik reading in which Paul’s theological position is contradictory and incoherent, so that we select the views expressed in certain texts and prioritise those over the theological position of texts which appear to say something different. 

The key texts offering a universalistic understanding of salvation are those passages in which Paul refers to ‘all’, including Romans 5.12–21, Romans 11.32, 1 Corinthians 15:20–28, 2 Cor 5.19, Philippians 2.5–11, Ephesians 1.9–10, and Colossians 1.20. Additionally, within the Pastoral epistles we find ‘all’ language in 1 Tim 2.4, 6 and 4.10. We will consider these texts in turn, and locate them within Paul’s wider theology; I do not here differentiate between ‘Paul’ and so-called deutero-Paul, but rather take the whole corpus of Pauline literature together. [The full article addresses each of these texts in turn.]

Romans 5.12–21

The universalist claim in relation to Romans 5.18 is that, since the scope of sin reaches to ‘all’ people, the scope and reach of salvation must, in the same way, apply to ‘all’. To assess this, we need to understand the place of this passage in Romans, and the way Paul uses the language of ‘all’.

Romans constitutes Paul’s exposition of the gospel to a mixed Jewish-Gentile community that he has neither planted nor visited, and the tensions and questions between Jewish and Gentile believers are evident throughout. Chapter 1 rehearses classic Jewish condemnations of Gentile culture, demonstrating the need of Gentiles for forgiveness of sins, and in chapter 2 Paul turns to the Jew who is also in need of forgiveness, for it is clear that the law alone cannot save. This is demonstrated negatively in chapter 3 by Scripture itself, and positively in chapter 4 by the example of Abraham, who was justified by faith and so is ‘the father of us all’ (Rom 4.16), both the Jew who sins with the law and the Gentile who sins without it. This is important background to the language of ‘all’ and ‘many’ in chapter 5.

Paul’s language of ‘all’ introduces this section, and in Rom 5.12 and 18 it functions to offer both a contrast and a parallel. The contrast is in verse 12 between the ‘one’ who brought sin and death into the world (Adam) and ‘all’ who are affected by death because ‘all’ have sinned. We should note here the similar wording with Rom 3.23, where ‘all’ has the clear emphasis of ‘both Jew and Gentile’. The parallel is then introduced in verse 18: as one trespass (Adam’s) brought sin and death to all, so one righteous action (Christ’s) has brought forgiveness and life. 

Paul fills out the discussion with a switch to the language of ‘many’; as Marshall notes (2004, p 61), ‘many’ is used in a Hebrew sense to contrast with ‘one’, and has the same rhetorical force as ‘all’. This can be seen in the close parallels throughout these verses:

Rom 5.12one personall people
Rom 5.15one trespassmany died
one personabounded for many
Rom 5.18one trespasscondemnation for all
Rom 5.19 one disobediencemany sinners
one obediencemany made righteous

In this sense, the ‘universalist’ reading has a strong appeal; Paul is using comprehensive language for the scope of salvation in Jesus. It is not possible to reject this by claiming that ‘many’ is narrower in scope than ‘all’ in this passage.

However, the universalist claim faces serious obstacles. 

First, it is clear that Paul is not talking about categories of humanity simpliciter. Humanity ‘in Adam’ is not condemned merely on the basis of its status, but because ‘all sinned’ (Rom 5.12), which is the means by which death has spread to all. To borrow later theological categories, ‘original sin’ is not for Paul about people being guilty because of what Adam has done, but because of what they too have done. In other words, condemnation and salvation cannot be explained by group categories alone; it is related to responsible action. If death comes through sin, then life comes through repentance and faith at every point in Paul’s writings. 

Secondly, the language Paul uses for salvation has a strong sense of present realisation. Whether we take the language of ‘justification’ as a forensic declaration in the Lutheran tradition, or as the future verdict brought forward into the present in line with ‘New Perspective’ readings, Paul is clear that ‘justification’ is a present reality both in theology and experience. How could this justification then be universal, when it is not universally experienced? Those offering a coherent universalist reading (Talbott, 2004 and Parry 2012) must argue for a post-mortem experience of purging, repentance and forgiveness for which there is simply no evidence in Paul.

Thirdly, in this passage the comparative greatness of forgiveness is not found primarily in its scope, but because of its nature: where death was the appropriate recompense for sin, the gift of life is unmerited and undeserved. Paul uses the language of charisma and dorema in verses 15 and 16 respectively, but both are related to his central theological idea of charis. John Barclay (2015) has demonstrated the contrast between Paul’s understanding of God’s charis and contemporary understandings of gift-giving in the first century, in which gifts were given to those who merited them by their worth, and in which the conferring of a gift also conferred an obligation. The gift of life in Christ is offered without consideration of merit, which is what makes God’s gift/grace so remarkable. However, Barclay argues, it is not without the obligation of response; God’s charis is unconditioned, in the sense that there is nothing we can do to merit it, but it is not unconditional, for it requires the response of faith if it is to be received.

Marshall summarises this vital connection between salvation and faith and the problem it poses for the universalist reading:

So the ‘many’ and the ‘all’ are indeed all people, but the gift becomes a reality for them only when they believe. People do not experience the gift of salvation until they become believers; apart from Christ they do not receive the gift of the Spirit, they do not have peace with God, and they do not share in the fellowship of the body (op cit, p 62)

1 Corinthians 15:20–28

This passage contains what is often thought to be the most compelling text for a universalist reading in Paul: ‘As in Adam all die, so in Christ will all be made alive’ (1 Cor 15.22). This is the text from which both Origen and Gregory of Nyssa took their universalist readings, and it is commonly cited today. However, as Wilson (2016) highlights, there are in fact four elements of this passage which have been used to argue for universal salvation. It is worth noting from the outset the similarities with Romans 5, where there is an implicit contrast between the one progenitor and the universal effects of his action, and the antithetical parallelism between the act of Adam and the work of Christ.

First, Weiss (1910) argued that the sequence in verse 23–24 should be interpreted as Christ first, those who are in Christ second, and then all others, not yet in Christ but who will receive life of God, third. This relies on translating τέλος as meaning ‘others’ rather than ‘the end’, which is not plausible, and assumes that there is some post-mortem process by which people can receive the gift of life, which Paul never suggests. 

Secondly, Origen (De Principiis 1.6.1) argued that the language of ‘everything being put in subjection to him’ (verse 28) implies salvation for all. However, ‘subjection’ is not the same as salvation; Paul depicts this subjection as including ‘destruction’ (in verse 24); and if all God’s enemies are subjected to him, and this means salvation, then this implies that the (personified) force of ‘death’ is also ‘saved’—which does not make much sense. 

Thirdly, the language of ‘all’ in verse 22, if taken to mean ‘every individual person’, would imply universal salvation. As with the ‘all’ passages in Romans 5 and 11, the grammar of verse 22, taken on its own and out of the context of Paul’s argument, looks universal: the ‘all’ who are in Adam are the same ‘all’ who are made alive in Christ. But it is clear, even in the immediately surrounding verses, that Paul’s concern here is not with the destiny of all humanity, but with the hope for believers. This section of Paul’s rhetoric, from verse 20, is a response to the hypothetical counter-argument from verse 12: if there is no resurrection, Christ was not raised, your faith is in vain, and those who have died in Christ have perished. The response, starting ‘But in fact’ (Νυνὶ δὲ) relates precisely to the destiny of those who are ‘in Christ’. Indeed, the whole argument is framed in terms of ‘the resurrection of the dead’, an explicitly apocalyptic framework which, within both Jewish and Christian theology, involves the dead being raised, judgement, and separation between those who live and those who perish. 

And the verses that follow run parallel to and offer a commentary on verse 22. How will ‘all in Christ’ be made alive? First, Jesus at his (past) resurrection; then, at his return (ἐν τῇ παρουσίᾳ) those who belong to Christ; and then the end. Paul is quite explicit here that it is those who are already ‘in Christ’ who will be raised; this summary statement mentioning only the righteous being raised accords with much OT expectation, though is a contrast to Dan 12.2 and Rev 20.13, in which both righteous and unrighteous are raised after which judgement divides them. 

The implication of v. 23 is that it is those who already are Christ’s people who will be resurrected when he comes (cf. 1 Thess 4:14, 16). There is nothing said to imply that some (other) people will become Christ’s people after he has come (Marshall, 2004, p 69).

Fourthly, the language of ‘death being destroyed’ has been claimed to mean that all humanity must receive the gift of life in Christ: ‘[t]he destruction of the “last” power effects salvation for all human beings, not just some of them’ (de Boer, 136). Wilson describes this as ‘the strongest argument’ for seeing universalism in this passage, since it does not depend on a discussion of the scope of the ‘all’ referred to earlier. 

One possible reading would be to see Paul as following the tradition in Dan 12.2 and Rev 20.13f, where (personified) Death and Hades give up their dead, are themselves destroyed, and the dead are then judged. This tradition is also found in other Second Temple texts—1 Enoch 51:1–2; 4 Ezra 7:31–35; LAB 3:10 and 2 Bar. 21:23, none of which has a universalistic outlook. 

When set against this backdrop, the destruction of death which Paul refers to in 1 Cor 15:26, rather than implying a soteriological universalism, could in fact be a necessary precursor to the divine judgment of all humanity (Wilson, 810).

But it might be more natural here to note that Paul’s concern in these verses is not with the post-mortem destiny of any particular group, but of the cosmic and magisterial triumph of God, through the resurrection of Christ, at the parousia. Although most commentators defer consideration of this until the citation in verse 54, it is clear that Paul is dependant on the language and ideas of Is 25.6–8. The triumphant hope that God ‘will swallow up death forever’ is a series of ‘all’s—all peoples, all nations, tears from all faces, all the earth. The Septuagint expands this to six ‘all’s, by repeating ‘all nations’ and referring to ‘all tears from all faces’. This looks like just the kind of universalism some read in Paul—yet the immediate context of the preceding and following verses is of God’s judgement of Israel’s enemies and their complete destruction. If Isaiah’s ‘alls’ are universal in their acclaim, but not universalistic in their vision of redemption, then we must surely say the same of Paul’s language in 1 Cor 15.

For Paul, the defeat of death was an essential and climactic part of Christ’s cosmological victory, but it did not negate the judgment of all. Thus, while Paul could say with certainty that all who are in Christ will be “made alive,” he could not (and does not) say the same of every single human being (Wilson, p 812).

Resolving the tension in Paul

Those who argue for a universalist position in Paul frequently note that their reading of the more ‘universal’ texts stands in sharp tension with other texts in Paul which talk about judgement and destruction. The most notable explicit examples are 2 Thess 1.9, ‘They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction…’ and 2 Thess 2.10 ‘those who are perishing because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.’ Yet the theme is deeper than these specific examples; Paul consistently describes the possibility of people perishing without salvation as both a motivation for his missionary preaching and his concern to protect the gospel from the error of false teaching. The truth must be preached far and wide in order that as many as possible might be saved, a motivation which makes no sense if Paul believes that salvation is universal regardless of response. Paul’s anguish at the situation of his fellow Jews who have not put their faith in Jesus (Rom 9.1–3) only makes sense if their decision had real consequences. 

Robin Parry (2012) notes this tension:

Clearly my interpretation is underdetermined by the texts, so I cannot claim that it is obviously the only way to interpret that matter. I am not so much exegeting the texts as trying to draw out the logic of New Testament theology as I understand it and its implications for those texts. In the process I may be offering ways of reading the texts that go beyond what their authors had in mind (p 140).

The question then is how to resolve the apparent contradiction between wider themes in Scripture, or even within Paul, and what particular texts actually say. 

Richard Bell (2002) is happy to accept that Paul is simply contradictory: in Romans 5 we are offered a vision of universal salvation; then in Romans 11, it is clear that not all Gentiles will be saved, but all Jews will be. 

A more philosophical approach is that of Sachkritik, as deployed in different ways over the last 100 years. It involves a critical assessment of what a biblical text actually says in the light of what the critic believes is the overall message of the gospel. Bultmann deployed this approach in his discussion of Barth’s theological exegesis, and it eventually led to Bultmann’s approach of demythologising the New Testament to recast it in terms more acceptable to modern presuppositions. It is now used by Douglas Campbell and others to reject parts of Scripture in the light of their own modern understanding of what the gospel means. 

Reception historians can see from these three strategies how all historically critical theologians claim either more or less continuity with their scriptures while recognizing that much in them is incredible, and inapplicable to modern Christian identity (Morgan, 2010).

Given that this approach makes the assumption both that the New Testament texts are incoherent (in that their particular details do not accord with their overall message) and that the modern critical interpreter is in a better position than either the writers or the first interpreters to discern what the message of the gospel really is, it cannot escape the criticism of Marshall:

The major weakness in the universalist view is thus that in attempting tempting to explain the few texts which it interprets to refer to the salvation of all people it has to offer an unconvincing reinterpretation of texts about God’s judgement and wrath and to postulate an unattested salvific action of God in the future. (Marshall, 2004, p 72)

It is important to note here that we have not addressed the debates around the nature of judgement, in particular the question of whether the unsaved experience eternal conscious torment or annihilation. Neither have we addressed the question of the destiny of those who have not heard or had a chance to respond to the gospel, or the belief in the immortality of the soul. Although these issues are often cited as reasons for leading to a universalist position, it does not logically follow. They are distinct issues which need their own discussion. 

There is a better way to read Paul and the whole narrative of Scripture:

Biblical ‘universalism’, therefore, consists in this, that in Christ God has revealed the one way of salvation for all men alike, irrespective of race, sex, colour or status. This biblical ‘universalism’ (unlike the other sort) gives the strongest motives for evangelism, namely, the love of God and of men (Wright, 1979, p 58).

Bibliography

Barclay, John. Paul and the Gift (Eerdmans 2015).

Bell, Richard ‘Romans 5.18–19 and Universal Salvation’, New Testament Studies 48, pp. 417–432 (2002).

Boring, Eugene ‘The language of universal salvation in Paul’ JBL 105.2 pp 269–292 (1986)

de Boer, Martinus The Defeat of Death: Apocalyptic Eschatology in 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 5 (Sheffield: JSOT, 1988).

Dunn, James, Romans 1–8 Word Biblical Commentary 38a (Dallas: Word, 1988).

Greever, Joshua ‘Was Paul a Universalist? Reading Texts in Context’ Credo Magazine 9.4 (2019).

Gundry Volf, J. M. Paul and Perseverance (WUNT 2.37; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1990).

Ludlow, Morwenna Universal Salvation: Eschatology in the Thought of Gregory of Nyssa and Karl Rahner (Oxford: OUP, 2000).

Ludlow, Morwenna ‘Universalism in the history of Christianity’ pp 191–218 in Universal Salvation? The Current Debate ed Robin Parry and Christopher Partridge (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004).

Marshall, I Howard, The Pastoral Epistles International Critical Commentary (London: T and T Clark, 1999).

Marshall, I Howard, ‘The New Testament does not teach universal salvation’ pp 55–76 in Universal Salvation? The Current Debate ed Robin Parry and Christopher Partridge (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004).

Moo, Douglas, The Epistle to the Romans NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996).

Morgan, Robert ‘Sachkritik in Reception History’ Journal for the Study of the New Testament 33(2) pp 175–190 (2010).

Peterson, David, Romans: Evangelical Biblical Theological Commentary (Bellingham: Lexham Press, 2020).

Parry, Robin (= Gregory MacDonald) The Evangelical Universalist. (Eugene: Cascade Books, Second Edition, 2012).

Paul, Ian, ’Reconciled Reconcilers: “Reconciliation” in the New Testament’ in Good Disagreement ed Andrew Atherstone and Andrew Goddard (Oxford: Lion Hudson, 2015).

Talbott, Thomas ‘A Pauline interpretation of divine judgement’ pp 32–54 in Universal Salvation? The Current Debate ed Robin Parry and Christopher Partridge (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004).

Weiss, Johannes Der erste Korintherbrief (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1910).

Wilson, Andrew ‘The strongest argument for universalism in 1 Cor 15.20–28’ pp 805–812 JETS 59.4 (2016)

Wright, N Thomas ‘The Letter to the Romans’ pp 396–770 in volume 10 of The New Interpreter’s Bible (Nashville: Abingdon, 2002).

Wright, N Thomas, ‘Towards a biblical view of universalism’ Themelios 4.2 54–58 (1979).


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262 thoughts on “Was Paul a universalist?”

  1. You mention engagement with the ABC. I wonder whether there is a rule at work whereby the higher in the hierarchy one rises, the more awe-ful do one’s responsibilities feel, and the more appealing universalism seems. It’s tough enough having the cure of souls for a parish-load of (largely) unbelievers, but a country-load is terrifying. It would be much easier to sleep at night thinking “they” are all saved. Universalism might be the CofE curse because we are pastorally, rather than missionally, constituted. Thank God for those bishops and other senior leaders who remember the core roles.

    Reply
    • For sure…but once again we are caught in the transition from the Christendom context of the BCP to our present reality. And yet you could hardly describe the BCP as ‘universalist’!

      Reply
  2. Thanks Ian. As the “recent conversation”, you know I agree with what you are saying and like you I am concerned about how a denomination that is (or behaves/speaks as if it is) universalist fairs in being missional.

    Do you have any thoughts about the Anglo-Catholic take on this topic? What is the Anglo-Catholic equivalent of evangelical conversionism?

    Reply
    • Indeed!

      The real puzzle is how we can be being encouraged in evangelism, on the one hand, but having a universalist outlook affirmed on the other. If we believe in the latter, why would we bother with the former…?

      My understanding is that the equivalent to ‘personal conversion’ would be institutional affiliation, which is effected through a. the catechumenate and then b. the liturgical rites of admission.

      Does that make sense?

      Reply
      • The argument would presumably be we evangelise to bring people into the good now of the salvation they will later inherit. However, how likely is it that any would embrace suffering for the gospel if they were going to be saved anyway,

        Reply
        • Regarding the missional imperative then if I understand the universalist argument correctly, then the idea here is that all will be judged yet for those who are cast out after judgement, then there is still a way to being reconciled to God post-mortem that depends on the response of the post-dead yielding their wills to Him.

          This sounds a lot like the idea of purgatory however, if you accept the idea that salvation could still happen after death, yet you are cast out to an unpleasant state until you repent, then the missional imperative is still there.

          I think the Bible does not give us a clear idea of the state of the dead except in somewhat oblique and metaphorical ways that can be difficult to unravel.

          Reply
  3. The New Testament is full of warnings about failure to reach your destination. The failure of most of the Israelites who left Egypt to reach the Promised Land is used as a warning by Paul in 1 Corinthians 10. Writing in the Greek world with its fervour for athletics, Paul also often compares life to a race, and what counts is how you cross the line, meaning your faith at your death. Immediately after using the athlete analogy, Paul suggests that he himself could lose salvation: “I discipline my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27). Merely because he was not wont to talk about fire or flames does not mean he was a universalist.

    Reply
      • Ian, in one of your sermons I listened to, you specifically mentioned that Christians are secure in God. How then can you say that even the apostle Paul could lose his salvation? Surely that makes him and us completely insecure as it seems it completely rests with us?!

        I really dont understand that line of thought.

        Peter

        Reply
    • Why should your faith at the time of your death matter more than your faith at any other time in your life? Makes no sense to me.

      Reply
        • I am not familiar with Ian’s sermon re Paul losing his salvation. However 1 Corinthians 9: 27 quoted above does not say he will lose his salvation; it refers to being “disqualified for the prize”. By way of comparison, read 1Corinthians 3: 10 – 15 especially verses 14 and 15!
          2 Corinthians 5: 10 speaks of the Christian under judgement, but 1Corinthians 11:32 also reminds us that he/she is *not under condemnation* (cf Romans 8:1).
          Incidentally, virtually all of the quotations in the main post re universalism are based upon Paul. I wonder what *born again universalists* make of * Jesus* and judgement?

          Reply
          • Colin – ummm … please remind me – what is a `born again universalist’?

            Thanks for pointing out Romans 8:1 – crucial for this discussion.

          • The resurrection suggests that Jesus was the born again universalist doesn’t it?
            With God all things are possible.

          • Andrew Godsall – when you write this, you aren’t influenced by things that Karl Barth wrote, by any chance?

          • It’s not a sermon, I was pointing out his agreement with Anton’s comments above, and I found it odd given his mention of being secure in a sermon. My point to Ian is how can anyone be ‘secure’ if they believe they could lose their salvation due to themselves.

            You really shouldnt talk about security in God if you believe you could lose your salvation. Based on such a view, God gives no guarantees and therefore no security.

            Peter

          • Colin

            Your interpretation of 1 Cor 9:27 may well be right. Many agree with it. I am more inclined to think it refers to reprobation or condemnation ie a falling away from salvation/grace largely because the word appears to be strong… rejected, disqualified, not standing the test. Both views are true in the Christian life.

            What is the crown/victor’s wreath that will last forever (v25)? Is it for coming first? Or is it for finishing? How is the metaphor working?

          • With God all things are possible.

            Well, not all things. Not logically impossible things. God can’t make a four-sided triangle possible, or a planar triangle with interior angles adding up to one hundred and sixty degrees. You can’t just put ‘God can’ in front of nonsense and have the result make sense.

          • With God all things are possible.

            What’s more, Mr Godsall, you in particular don’t believe that with God all things are possible. We know this because you have in the past written that, for example, you don’t think it is possible that God could still a storm, or influence the forces of nature in any other way.

            So anybody tempted to be taken in by Mr Godsall’s spin here, don’t be: he doesn’t even believe it homself.

        • Peter – I (for one) agree with you entirely on this – the Wayne Gretzky comment was simply an aside, trying to lighten things up a little.

          Reply
      • What matters is faith throughout life. There may be hiccoughs but he that endures to the End shall be saved. How do I know I’m saved? Because I am trusting Christ (with a trust that seeks to follow). How do I know I’m saved tomorrow? Because I am trusting Christ tomorrow. How do I know my faith will hold firm? Because I trust the Lord to keep it firm? Tied into this trust is staying away from what will make me fall.

        The Bible also makes a distinction between stumbling (a temporary failure like Peter’s denial) and a permanent falling away (like Judas’ betrayal). Remember Judas followed Jesus for three years yet he was an apostate.

        Reply
        • So you don’t think it possible that the first thing Jesus did on his descent into hell was to go and pull Judas out?

          Reply
          • Andrew

            You know there is no reason for thinking this… nor, I think, that he descended into hell.

          • So you don’t think it possible that the first thing Jesus did on his descent into hell was to go and pull Judas out?

            It’s possible, of course, but I know of no reason to think it actually happened. Do you know of any such reason?

          • I think Andrew may be making reference to 1 Peter 3:19

            Whatever this verse implies or means..

          • I think Andrew may be making reference to 1 Peter 3:19

            Yes, but (1) ‘proclaiming’ isn’t ‘pulling out’ and (b) assuming He did, as well as ‘proclaiming’, pull some out of Hell, there’s no reason to think Judas was one of those so pulled (though equally no reason to think he wasn’t; we have quite literally zero information either way).

          • The Ballad of the Judas Tree, by Ruth Etchells

            In Hell there grew a Judas Tree
            Where Judas hanged and died
            Because he could not bear to see
            His master crucified

            Our Lord descended into Hell
            And found his Judas there
            For ever hanging on the tree
            Grown from his own despair

            So Jesus cut his Judas down
            And took him in his arms
            “It was for this I came” he said
            “And not to do you harm

            My Father gave me twelve good men
            And all of them I kept
            Though one betrayed and one denied
            Some fled and others slept

            In three days’ time I must return
            To make the others glad
            But first I had to come to Hell
            And share the death you had

            My tree will grow in place of yours
            Its roots lie here as well
            There is no final victory
            Without this soul from Hell”

            So when we all condemned him
            As of every traitor worst
            Remember that of all his men
            Our Lord forgave him first.

          • The Ballad of the Judas Tree, by Ruth Etchells

            Was Ruth Etchells there when this happened, then? Is she giving an eyewitness account, in verse form, of something she witnessed happening?

        • Judas following Jesus did not mean he was a believer, one who had ‘saving faith’. So you cant use Judas as an example of someone who was genuinely saved by God who then lost that salvation.

          “How do I know my faith will hold firm? Because I trust the Lord to keep it firm” – so it depends on God. I agree, it’s a gift. And once accepted, God does not take his gift back. Otherwise grace is a joke.

          Reply
          • Peter – you are absolutely correct on this. Judas plays a similar role to the character played by Ian Richardson in `Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy’, whose loyalty was always for the KGB and never for MI6. His grief at the end of the last episode, when the mole has been uncovered, is because he got caught – also perhaps some remorse that people died as a result of the information he gave – but he never repented of his allegiance to the KGB.

            There is no evidence in the NT that Judas was ever `saved’; indeed, John’s gospel informs us that he stole from the money bag. He may have had remorse when he saw that Jesus was crucified, but he was with Jesus throughout the whole of his ministry and there is absolutely no evidence of repentance unto remission of sins on his part, even though he had a first hand view of the Messiah – and an extremely privileged glimpse of heavenly things.

            I do not `judge’ or `condemn’ Judas, and if it really turns out that he had a fine `inner being’ and is now in heaven, then nobody would be happier than I. Unfortunately, this mitigates against huge swathes of Scriptures, most importantly Psalm 109, which is a Messianic psalm. We are told that it is Messianic in the Acts of the Apostles – so we can have a level of confidence that when we read `When he shall be judged, let him be condemned: and let his prayer become sin’ these are the words by which God condemns Judas – and the attempts to suggest otherwise that we read elsewhere on this thread are simply Christian illiteracy and attempts to exchange the truth for a lie.

        • Hi John

          I just want to comment on your question “what is the crown”

          Paul answers this in Philippians “you are my joy and crown”

          Reply
      • Well, your ultimate fate is settled at your death (Hebrews 9:27).

        We are really discussing eternal security (once saved, always saved). I believe it is untrue and unbiblical. Paul exhorts gentile members of the congregation at Rome to “consider the goodness of God to you, provided that you continue in his goodness; otherwise you will be cut off” (Romans 11:22). Paul is making a point about relations between Jewish and gentile believers, but these words disprove the universality of “once saved, always saved”. Peter says of certain people that “If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning” (see 2 Peter 2:20-22). Hebrews 6:4-6 says that “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance”. Only believers – the saved – share in the Holy Spirit. Hebrews 10:26-29 also warns that fire lies ahead “if we deliberately keep on sinning after receiving knowledge of the truth – then there is only expectation of judgement and raging fire…how much more severely does someone deserve to be punished who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that has sanctified them…?” Anybody who has experienced sanctification must have been a believer. The entire Letter to the Hebrews is a sermon against “once saved, always saved”, because it is warning ethnic Jewish believers who were beginning to suffer persecution for their faith in Christ that they must not revert to Judaism (which was not a persecuted religion at that time).

        Claims that God does not let his faithful out of his grasp are based on a misunderstanding of Christian freedom; Christians have their freedom not to sin restored to them in Christ (a freedom lost at the Fall). But freedom means freedom to choose whether to sin or not. Our helper against temptation is the Holy Spirit, who can bring victory every time but who does not force us to heed Him. The New Testament says that there is no point in praying for people who wantonly abuse the freedom not to sin granted to them in Christ (1 John 5:16), so this does go on.

        James (5:19-20) states that saving a believer from serious error saves him from death. James means, obviously, the second death, which is hell (Revelation 21:8). Finally, the Greek verb tenses used in the New Testament more often denote a continuing action than conventional English translations indicate; for example, ‘we who are [being] saved’ and ‘we who [continue to] believe’. So the assurances are to continuing believers. To settle whether they apply to those who once believed but now do not, the verses studied above are the relevant ones.

        Proponents of “Once saved, always saved” quote scriptures such as “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). But who is “you”? The faithful; but what if someone ceases to be faithful? There is also Paul’s rhetorical question in Romans 8:35-39, “What can separate us from the love of Christ?” followed by a list of things that cannot separate us. But we can separate ourselves from God. Proponents point to John 10:27-28: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” Jesus is affirming that no third party – Satan or anyone else – can do that, but we are capable of leaving the flock of our own accord. Paul often says that believers are slaves of Christ, but even a slave can disobey if he is willing to take the consequences; a slave is not a robot. As for Jesus’ words to Pharisees, “a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever” (John 8:35), He next states that believers are set free from slavery to sin, but he does not speak of the sonship of believers, only of his own sonship. Believers are granted the right to become sons of God according to John 1:12, but if they prefer to lapse into a life of sin then they are free not to exercise it.

        Reply
        • I could quote just as many verses or more that negate everything you’ve said.

          Your understanding of Jesus’ words in John is odd – ” My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” To argue that we can leave the flock is nonsense. Jesus is explicit – He has given them eternal life, that is why they cannot perish because eternal life is, by definition, ever-lasting. And that starts now. He has closed his fist over them. They have moved from death to life. God does not undo the rebirth.

          Reply
  4. [i]Universalism isn’t just a theological mistake. It’s also a symptom of deeper problems. In a culture characterized by moralistic therapeutic deism, universalism fits the age we inhabit. As I argue in the book, universalism is the opiate of the theologians. It’s the way we would want the world to be. Some imagine that a more loving and less judgmental church would be better positioned to win new adherents. Yet perfect love appeared in history—and he was crucified[/i]

    Since when does following Jesus’ command in Matt 7:1 make you a universalist?

    Reply
      • [i]It depends what you embrace doesn’t it. What you deem acceptable.[\i]
        But when you decide whether something is acceptable are you not judging the other person?

        Reply
        • Jesus’ words about judging have of course often been misconstrued and misapplied, and taken to mean that we are not to pass any kind of unfavourable judgment or verdict upon anybody. Matthew 7:1 is altogether misapplied by those persons who would desire to make that moderation, which Christ recommends, a pretence for setting aside all distinction between good and evil. We are not only permitted we are even bound, to condemn all sins: unless we choose to rebel against God Himself, to repeal His laws, to reverse His decisions, and to overturn His judgment seat. If this were a prohibition of the passing of any unfavourable judgments, then Christ Himself would come under the censure of His own words, as witness His stern and scathing judgments on the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:13-29. Not only so, He warns against giving what is holy to dogs and casting pearls before swine, and this involves judging who are dogs and who are swine! It is not the exercise of the critical faculty by which we distinguish between good and evil that Jesus prohibits,but the habit of censoriousness and carping criticism which can be so damaging and hurtful in human relationships. Consider the following references: 1 Corinthians 2:15; John 7:24; 1 Corinthians 4:5; 1 Corinthians 11:31; 1 Corinthians 5:3, 12, 13; Romans 14:4, 10, 14; Hebrews 5:14 to see how the two different senses of the word are to be taken.

          Reply
          • I like what Lesslie Newbigin wrote on this: “the question of eternal salvation and judgement is not a basis for speculation about the fate of other people: it is a an infinitely serious practical question addressed to me”

          • Yes Paul made judgements of others on a regular basis, including a fellow apostle Peter!

            I think the point is that yes, one should look to one’s own soul’s fate first, as that is all that is within your control, and leave others to look to theirs; but also, it is good to seek and proclaim truth though all means (including argument, which Paul and Peter did a lot of!).

            The thing Andrew is misunderstanding here — and I’m not saying he’s doing it deliberately in a disingenuous attempt to mislead — is that he’s equivocating between setting out the criteria for judgement, and pronouncing we think whether a given other person meets those criteria or not.

            The former is a good and noble thing to do, because it enables people to look inside their own hearts and judge themselves, which we should all be doing constantly. The latter we should not ever do.

          • Newbigin thought that there was only one question relating to judgment and salvation? There are many questions relating to these topics.

          • Christopher: where is there any suggestion that Newbigin thought there was only question relating to these topics? As so often, you make assumptions which the texts in front of you don’t propose.

          • where is there any suggestion that Newbigin thought there was only question relating to these topics?

            Well, the quote begins:

            ‘ the question of eternal salvation and judgement’.

            ‘The’, definite article. Not ‘a question’ or ‘one of the questions’ but ‘the [singular] question’.

            That’s certainly a suggestion that Newbigin thought there was only one question. Of course we’d have to know the context to know for sure whether that’s what was meant, but just on the evidence before us right now, there is certainly prima facie that suggestion.

          • Christopher: presumably you’ve read some Lesslie Newbigin or are familiar with his work? He was described, I think by Geoffrey Wainwright, as one of the top ten most significant Church leaders of the C20. You would be surely aware that his view of salvation and judgement would not be contained in one question.

          • Andrew Godsall – well, I for one had never heard of Lesslie Newbigin, but if he *does* reduce it to one question, then he is right! – at least according to the `plain man’s’ understanding.

            The question is `how can I get into heaven?’ and the answer is `any way you can!’ and we know that this is through the atoning work of Christ on the cross at Calvary, where he *did* descend into hell, met sin and death head on and conquered it on our behalf.

            There are only lots of questions here if one is a middle class intellectual; in plain man’s language it reduces to one question , which is an infinitely serious and practical question, as Lessie Newbigin pointed out.

  5. Thank you Ian for posting this and writing your article.

    I tend to view original sin as imputed or incorporated guilt; We don’t simply sin like Adam, we sin in Adam. Adam’s one sinful act condemns us all and makes us subject to death. Why do babies die? They do not die for their own sin. They die because they are part of Adam. Of course we prove we are part of Adam by acting like Adam. Our own sin condemns us.

    The parallel is with Christ. We are righteous because his death (the one act of righteousness) is imputed/reckoned to us. We are incorporated into him and so are justified. As those who are part of Christ we act like Christ. Our life of righteousness vindicates us (in the sense of demonstrating we are in Christ).

    Romans 5… two men… two acts… two consequences

    The relationship between faith and works is a difficult one. We are justified by faith and we are justified by works. Works are the fruit or proof of our justification. We must never be careless and think we van live any way we like as long as we have ‘faith’ or a ‘conversion moment’ or have been confirmed. Had Paul fallen away from following Christ then he would hav demonstrated that the seed of God’s word had never really taken root in his heart. He keeps himself from such a danger by tenaciously following Christ. It is not possible to be saved then lost but it is possible to think you are saved and be lost. The ultimate proof of salvation is perseverance.

    Reply
  6. While I agree with the general idea that there is something very wrong, I’m not so sure that the dividing line comes on `universalism’.

    The parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke’s gospel shows us that there are people who do not go to heaven and end up in torment – so, if you believe the bible (and I do), universalism is dead wrong. The parable also gives a good indicator of who is `in’ and who is `out’. I think the key point is that the rich man was not enthusiastic about the heavenly life; the only good thing about it was that those in heaven escaped the wrath of hell.

    This may be what John the Baptist means when he talks about a `brood of vipers’ who want to flee the coming wrath.

    The angel points out to the rich man that if he were to go back and warn his friends, it wouldn’t actually make any difference to their final outcome; they have given ample demonstration that they are not enthusiastic about the things of heaven.

    As far as `church’ goes – I therefore feel that the best thing it could be doing is to try and show forth the active benefits of a life `in the Spirit’; the heavenly life should look attractive – and, while the imperatives are very important, it is even more important to ensure that forgiven sinners (which is what the Christian community is) understand the dichotomy presented in the wretched man of Romans 7:14-25 and don’t get discouraged if the `old man’ seems to win a few battles from time to time; there is an inner man who delights in God’s law and the heavenly life. In fact, we all understand the imperatives without having to be told.

    But I’m not at all sure that `universalism’ pinpoints the dividing line – there are people (as the rich man and Lazarus parable shows) who simply wouldn’t thank you if you pointed out to them that they were saved – especially when they also begin to understand something of the heavenly life (about which the rich man in the parable was distinctly unenthusiastic).

    Reply
    • I’m not really sure that the parable of Lazarus and the rich man is really a resource for determining eternal outcomes. One obvious issue is that the story conflicts with the more general idea that there will come a time of general resurrection followed by judgement. The parable apparently has the judgement immediately post-mortem, while the rich man’s brothers are still living and have the opportunity to repent.

      Reply
        • Geoff – those who don’t want it – well, I think that the Holy Scripture makes it clear that they are headed for a horrible outcome (c/f rich man and Lazarus parable – also, huge swathes of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, where the Lord says that he has passed judgement on huge swathes and is going to execute this judgement).

          We have to wonder why do those who are decidedly lukewarm about holiness want to affiliate themselves with church? Also (of course) how to evangelise so that people want to repent and turn from their sins and actually welcome holiness.

          Reply
  7. Hello Jock,
    I think you and Ian’s article raises key questions for evangelism.
    But also.deeper questions of what the evangel of Jesus is and why it matters.
    Even in the wholesale brokeness of Covid and war,is there a turning to or from God?
    In the relative prosperous ease in the West, is Jesus merely a means to a *value added* life? A sort VAJ?
    Is this the only life there is?
    Is Holiness of God seen as Beautiful? Glorious? His Goodness?

    Reply
  8. Isn’t it amazing how Scripture weaves together without embarrassment God’s choice of us and our choice of him. Undoubtedly God’s choice of us is previous and paramount yet often the focus is on our choice of him. Sovereignty and responsibility they once called it. Twins that run through Scripture. If I trust it is because God has called me: if I refuse to believe I do so all on my own.

    Yes much more could be said but are not these words true?

    Reply
  9. Neither have we addressed the question of the destiny of those who have not heard or had a chance to respond to the gospel.

    In my opinion the question is inseparable from the one discussed, and Paul deals with it. Acts 14:15-16 implies that God will judge individuals on the basis of what they know about him. Likewise Acts 17:30: God ‘overlooked’, on the last day will judge less harshly, the generations that did not know about Israel and the Messiah. In BC times he was known through the creation (also Rom 1:20, Acts 17:24), but also, through the whisperings of one’s conscience. Those who lived in accordance with the law written in their hearts (same terminology as Jer 31:33 but different context) will be justified.

    Consequently, Paul does teach a kind of universalism. Not, to be sure, that everyone will receive eternal life, but that those who do not have the benefit of forgiveness of sins in the gospel will be judged according to their works (Rom 2:6-7): of these, some will be granted eternal life after being punished for their sins and some will not, as Jesus also said (John 5:29).

    Salvation is about being saved from judgement for the bad things one has done, a fearful prospect. Those who are saved are not so judged: Jesus will forgive the bad things and reward the saved according to how well they have lived. Some will be rewarded more richly than others. This period of reward is the age to come, the kingdom on earth, which ends when Jesus delivers the kingdom to God the Father.

    Reply
    • Steven

      In the Romans 2 and John 5 passage I think ‘judged according to works’ applies to all humanity. To have done ‘good’ will include repenting of sins, trusting in Christ, being true to the apostolic gospel, holy living etc’. To have done evil will include ‘failing to trust and serve God according to the light he has given and sinful patterns developed’.

      ‘Those who live according to the whisperings of conscience… law written on hearts… will be justified’. Indeed. But none will. The conclusion towards the end of ch 3 is that none is good. None seeks after God. The whole world is guilty. It is a terrible thought.

      Reply
      • I’m not wholly clear how your comment relates to my own; maybe you’re being supportive. Scripture, Old Testament and New, holds out a fair number of examples of people who are characterised as righteous and God-fearing (Noah, Melchizedek, Abraham, Lot, the midwives in Ex 1, the righteous in Ex 23:7, I Ki 8:32, Matt 13:17 etc, Job, John & Elizabeth, Simeon, Cornelius). Job 15:14 says no one is righteous, yet only a little later (ch. 17) the book speaks of the upright, the innocent and the righteous. “No one is righteous” in Romans 3 has to be understood with all this in mind. Similarly with the Hebrew and Greek words translated “eternal”. Or “begot” in the genealogies. Reading Scripture with an absolutist mind just turns one into a fool, and may even lead to depression. Scripture does not support the doctrine of total depravity, if that means that every human being is totally depraved; the doctrine does not accord with human experience; and it does not help us relate to people. People outside Christianity do sometimes hear and obey the voice of conscience.

        Reply
        • Total depravity simply means that sin has infected every part of our nature. It influences our thoughts, affections etc. it does not mean we are as sinful as we could be but it does mean that ‘the flesh’, our nature as born into this world, will not submit to God indeed cannot.

          Reply
  10. Ian stated, “To borrow later theological categories, ‘original sin’ is not for Paul about people being guilty because of what Adam has done, but because of what they too have done. In other words, condemnation and salvation cannot be explained by group categories alone;”

    The correct exegesis of Romans 5:12-21 is critical. Why did death reign ‘from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression,…’? It could not be because of their personal sins, because ‘sin is not imputed when there is no law’ (it must have been God who did not impute sin before the law). Therefore it must have been because of Adam’s sin. So ‘all sinned’ (verse 5:12) must mean ‘all sinned in Adam’.

    Also, 5:16 and 5:18 make it clear that we all face God’s condemnation because of the ‘one offence’ of Adam. Of course we also face condemnation for personal sins committed ‘after the law was given’.

    Also Ian’s view is not only contrary to the Bible but also to Article 9.

    Phil Almond

    Reply
  11. Phil

    I’m largely with you. I would only say that sin existed before law (clearly) but was not treated with the same gravity (not imputed) as it was when law was given. The law identified right and wrong and gave disobedience the gravity of transgression (a broken command).

    All sinned in Adam… all righteous in Christ (that is all who are in Christ).

    Reply
  12. ‘Neither have we addressed the question of the destiny of those who have not heard or had a chance to respond to the gospel.’

    My comment on this is that because of the Fall and Original Sin we all face the wrath and condemnation of God from birth onwards. So those who die before having a chance to respond to the gospel are already condemned. God has chosen before the foundation of the world who he plans to save and those only will be saved. But it also true that the gospel invitation is genuine and sincere to elect and non-elect alike. How can both these be true? That is one of God’s secrets. As Calvin comments on Ezekiel 18:23, our eyes are blinded by intense light so we cannot certainly judge how both these can be true.

    Phil Almond

    Reply
      • Penelope

        I don’t think I’m quite in agreement with Phil here. He seems to be saying that any who die in infancy are lost. There is little warrant for such a view. In fact the Bible seems to function with some kind of age of responsibility.

        However, where I suspect Phil and I will agree is in the cause of death in the world. I take it all death, certainly human death, flows from Adam’s sin. Death in the Bible is the wage of sin. We all die because we are all children of Adam. If a child dies it cannot be because of its own it must be because of Adam’s sin. We are all ‘in Adam’ and inherit the consequences of that. Being a member of a family brings inescapable consequences. Corporate responsibility works in all sorts of ways in our modern life. Should our Prime Minister declare war on Russia we are all at war with Russia.

        Left to ourselves as fallen people none of us would choose God. We have a nature that hates God (since God is absolute good we must be moral monsters) . Perhaps to recognise that we are from one perspective like the ‘undead’ or ‘daleks’ or ‘living dead’, in other words ‘monstrous’ will help us see our selves as God sees us. How do you feel about pedophiles or child killers etc ? Perhaps a holy God sees us with some of the revulsion we look on these folks. Yet perhaps we look at pedophiles etc and recognise they are victims of their own backgrounds and lusts and we may feel pity. We may in love reach out to help even while revolted by their behaviour. I think this illustrates God’s love.

        If however we refuse help and love our pedophilia then we should not be surprised if we end up in prison for life.

        Reply
        • He seems to be saying that any who die in infancy are lost.

          I assume you mean:

          ‘So those who die before having a chance to respond to the gospel are already condemned.’ ?

          I don’t read that as saying that any who die in infancy are lost. ‘Condemned’ is not the same as ‘lost’; we are all condemned, but we are not all lost.

          Indeed hardline predestination Calvinism has less trouble with the fate of those who die as infants than a lot of Christian traditions. Romans have to worry about whether they were baptised or not; traditions which rely on a mature commitment like Baptists even more so; but for a believer in predestination it’s quite simple. Those whom God has chosen to save are saved whether they die seven minutes after birth or seventy years, and whose whom God has not elected are not saved.

          Reply
        • “He seems to be saying that any who die in infancy are lost.”
          Hi John
          No, I am not saying that. Sorry if I gave that impression. I am saying that all who die in infancy before committing personal sin die because of Adam’s sin. But God in his grace and mercy is able to apply the death and resurrection of Christ to infants without their personal repentance and faith. Indeed some theologians have gone so far as to say that all infants who die before sinning are among the elect. I don’t assert that because of lack of Biblical warrant. But I do acknowledge it might be the case.

          Phil Almond

          Reply
          • “But God in his grace and mercy is able to apply the death and resurrection of Christ to infants without their personal repentance and faith.”
            Ah I see. What’s the cut off age? When does infancy stop?

          • Andrew – I think the cut off point is 93. We all remember how the ying tong song starts …..

            There’s a song that I recall
            My mother sang to me.
            She sang it as she tucked me in
            When I was ninety-three.

      • Hi Penelope

        I believe what I believe because I am convinced that a true exegesis of the Bible supports what I believe. I don’t believe it because I want it to be true. I am constrained to believe it because I believe the Bible is a true revelation of God

        Phil Almond

        Reply
        • I know you believe your reading of the Bible to be true. But it makes your God a capricious monster. I cannot worship a capricious monster nor venerate texts which purportedly portray him as such.

          Reply
          • I know you believe your reading of the Bible to be true. But it makes your God a capricious monster. I cannot worship a capricious monster nor venerate texts which purportedly portray him as such.

            But you do realise that the fact that you personally find such an idea distasteful is no argument at all that it is not true? There are lots of things that I find utterly distasteful that are, nonetheless, true.

            By the way, any more ideas on how an abstract noun like ‘insights’ can do something like possibly ‘inaugurate’ or ‘initiate’ things? If so please reply at https://www.psephizo.com/sexuality-2/can-the-c-of-e-ever-bridge-its-differences-on-sexuality/#comment-403857 so as not to clutter up the discussion here.

          • Penelope – no doubt, Vlad Putin also believes his reading of the bible to be true ……

            (I am seriously worried about the mental health of anyone who can write `….. because of the Fall and Original Sin we all face the wrath and condemnation of God from birth onwards. So those who die before having a chance to respond to the gospel are already condemned ……’)

            By the way, no doubt the `universalists’ on this thread think that Vlad is saved and that he has a nice warm cuddly `innermost being’, which will be revealed in the next life.

            (Vlad does – at the very least – pretend to be a Christian – I remember seeing him on the TV on 10th April 2010 in a church crossing himself, with an incense burner being waved about in the background by an orthodox priest with a beard the size of a rhododendron bush – when they were getting the Russian reaction to the Polish president crashing his aeroplane).

          • Hi Penelope
            Are you willing to identify which texts in the Bible are not true? That is, which texts if true make God, in your view, a capricious monster?

            Phil Almond

          • Jock

            I’m not a universalist. I’m agnostic on who will be saved, so those saved may include Putin. At present I would send him to Hell myself, but that is because I am a sinful human.
            ‘S’ I didn’t say, I think, that Philip’s god couldn’t be true, I said that I wouldn’t worship such a god. Would you?

          • Philip
            There are texts which I find problematic. But that’s not quite what I said or meant to say.
            I was suggesting that if you believe the Bible to be true and your picture of a capricious god to be true, you must find him in the Bible.

          • ‘S’ I didn’t say, I think, that Philip’s god couldn’t be true, I said that I wouldn’t worship such a god. Would you?

            I’m not so egotistical to think that it matters one jot in the grand scheme of things what I personally would or wouldn’t worship. Whereas the truth matters a great deal.

          • “I’m not a universalist. I’m agnostic on who will be saved,…”
            My position exactly and the Orthodox position.

          • Penelope – I’m entirely with you on this one.

            I am a Christian and I know that I am saved. However, if I were to get to heaven and discover that God *really* found new born babies nasty and horrid monstrosities on account of this weird and wacky commodity known as `original sin’ – and had decided to throw them into outer darkness because of this, even though they hadn’t thunk any sinful thoughts, uttered any sinful words or done any sinful deeds, I might be strongly persuaded to hand in my ticket.

            I don’t see anything at all in Scripture that even presents a prima facie case that God might be like this.

          • ‘S’
            I didn’t say it mattered. At all. Simply that, if true, such a god is not worth being worshipped. Such a god is actually a demon.

          • I didn’t say it mattered. At all.

            Right, good. We’re in agreement then. What you or I think doesn’t matter. Only what is true matters.

  13. “How can both these be true? ” They can’t as these two propositions are mutually contradictory.

    I think it’s a bit of a cop out to quote Calvin like this and just leave it as God having his ‘secrets’. We need a better explanation than that.

    Reply
    • Chris

      It is sincere in that there is a genuine sense God wants all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth? The gospel is a genuine invitation to believe. Yet none will come. Men love darkness rather than light and will not come to the light because their deeds are evil. Of course, while this grieves God’s heart it does not surprise him. Thus he has determined that he will save and will draw a great number to himself. He has set his love upon a vast multitude from humanity and draws them decisively to himself.

      There is a little book by John Piper very good on this subject. Overlook the title. https://www.desiringgod.org/books/five-points

      Reply
      • John, that’s a better apologetic than Phil’s but it still doesn’t quite cut it. I think it boils down to whether you think we really *do* have free-will or not. Or that God has created humans as fully autonomous creatures- or that his grace overrides our free-will because he elected us before the foundation of the world. That in truth, he decided to draw you or me to him and not Fred Bloggs down the road who he crossed off the list before he was born.

        I think if if you subscribe to Calvinism in its purist form then you must accept that any real notion of free will is really an illusion. You only think you have it. You must also accept that God arbitrary favours some and not others. I think Calvinism assents to this notion through its concept of limited atonement. That’s how I understand Piper’s take on all this.

        When I did my training of Baptist history at college, there was a strain of Baptists that thought that there was no need for missional imperatives as it might interfere with God’s elective grace. Reading this post of Ian’s struck me that this is where they might have found common cause with the Universalists!

        Reply
        • I think Calvinism assents to this notion through its concept of limited atonement.

          And irresistible grace. In fact, all of the middle letters of TULIP.

          I think the way Calvinists reconcile these ideas with free will is:

          1. All humans would, naturally, in their uncorrupted state, of their own free will, choose God over Hell.

          2. But, all human beings have corrupted wills so that they instead naturally (and of their own free will) choose Hell over God.

          3. God can, by grace, restore a human being’s will to its uncorrupted state and allow them to choose Him.

          4. God has chosen some subset of humanity on whom to bestow this grace. This choice is not made because of any merit of the humans thus chosen and is not conditional on anything they do or say or believe or anything at all within their power (so none of them should boast or feel proud of being saved, because it was nothing to do with them) (unconditional election).

          5. Jesus’ death and resurrection provides salvation for those who were so chosen, and no one else; this must be the case otherwise some humans who God had intended to save would instead not be saved, which would mean God’s plans for them were thwarted, and this cannot be because it would mean God was not sovereign (limited atonement).

          6. Those who are so chosen, then exercise their free will and inevitably choose God (irresistible grace).

          7. Those not chosen exercise their equally free will and choose to go to Hell.

          So this, allegedly, reconciles free will with the ULI of TULIP, because everyone acts according go their free will; God’s grace simply determines whether the will they freely exercise is their natural will or their corrupted will.

          I find it unconvincing, because I don’t see how a corrupted will can be said to be ‘free’: Jesus came, after all, to set us free from sin, which implies that those who were not saved by the limited atonement are not free, but still slaves to sin, and if they are slaves to sin how can their choice of Hell be said to be free? (I guess the rejoiner is that they choose to be slaves, but I fear that at that point — if you can choose to be a slave — the words ‘slave’ and ‘chose’ have lost all meaning).

          So I think that God’s grace must give the ability to choose God, but also the ability still to choose Hell. And that, then, is the choice which free will (ie of a will by grace made free, ie, no longer a slave of the sin which compells us to choose Hell) allows us to make.

          On the other hand that does have some unpalatable consequences of its own: chief among them being that when you lose unconditional election you are effectively saying that those who freely choose God are in some sense superior to those who freely chose Hell, because they made the right choice — they passed the test. Yes, they were only able to make the choice because of grace, but others got the same grace and still made the wrong choice. And that doesn’t seem at all right to me, because it shouldn’t be possible to think oneself better for having been saved. But I haven’t yet worked out a way to keep U, but lose L and I (T and P are independent of this whole question, of course, and Arminius reaffirmed T and was ambivalent on P).

          Reply
          • Hi S

            There are a lot of points here. I’ll comment on a few.

            1. True.

            2. True. Though I doubt that in their mind many think of choosing hell. However, it is true human nature (the flesh) is hostile to God and will not come to him (Roms 8).

            3. Basically true although the new birth is more than a return to Adam before he sinned and is eternal life, the life of God himself… the divine nature (morally that is). It seems God calls in such a way as enables life.

            4. Sort of true. The person hears the call ,believes the gospel, repents of sin, follows, Christ, perseveres in faith, but all these activities are the result of God’s activity in him.

            5. Difference of opinion exist about ‘limited atonement’ or better ‘definite atonement’. I think Christ provided an atonement sufficient for all however it is efficient for the chosen. Redemption is sufficient for all but only the elect are redeemed.

            6. Not so keen on how this is put. I don’t in many ways like the term ‘free will’ particularly in this kind of discussion. A will is bound by its nature. It is free to act only according to its nature. Thus while God calls all men to come to him none will; their will acts according to their nature. For anyone to come to Christ the Holy Spirit must work in his heart in a way beyond our understanding to make the dead live.

            7. It is true that men choose to not believe. Few would think of this as choosing to go to hell. Where I think you begin to stray away from the thinking of TULIP is with the concept of ‘free will’. Reformed and I think biblical thinking does not think in terms of ‘free will’. The will is bound.

            In humanity in the flesh the will is bound by sin. In the renewed heart with a new nature that nature is ‘bound’ by holiness. The Christian has two natures/hearts/lives. He has the flesh which can do nothing but sin and he has the new life of God, the new nature, which cannot sin but always acts to please God. Free will as a term can be confusing. Natural will and corrupted will are also confused terms. In a fallen world natural will and corrupted will are the same. I’m not sure what a natural will is. Is it the will Adam had before he sinned? It’s not a term with which I am familiar.

            As you say a corrupted will is not free but no Calvinist would say it is, rather the opposite. Your reasoning about unregenerate people being slaves of sin would have full calvinistic agreement.

            ‘So I think that God’s grace must give the ability to choose God, but also the ability still to choose Hell’.

            Some hold this view? I’ve an inkling it may be the Roman Catholic view but I may be mistaken. However, I don’t think it is the biblical view. I don’t see this teaching in the Bible. I don’t think God brings humanity to some kind of neutral state and leaves them to decide. Rather the picture is that in those chosen he brings them through completely to salvation. Whom he calls he justifies and whom he justifies he glorifies.

            Moreover, as you rightly point out this would leave our salvation as something we have achieved, at least in part. We have been sensible and trusted Christ. But God will allow no flesh to glory in his presence. Salvation must be fully of God. God works in us both to will and to do.

            Read Piper’s booklet. It is really very good.

          • Where I think you begin to stray away from the thinking of TULIP is with the concept of ‘free will’. Reformed and I think biblical thinking does not think in terms of ‘free will’. The will is bound.

            Yes, I agree. My point was to explain the Calvinist view and where I differ from it, and it seems I have managed to do that?

            Some hold this view? I’ve an inkling it may be the Roman Catholic view but I may be mistaken.

            It is, I think, the Arminian view. And while it has its problems, I still don’t find the Calvinist view convincing; not least because the Calvinists I know don’t act like Calvinism is true. They are forever trying to tell people about Jesus and exhorting them to repent and be saved. If Calvinism were true, surely that would be pointless? If people cannot choose whether to repent or not, if their will is bound either to sin or God due to whether they are unconditionally chosen or not, then why encourage them to repent? Either they will or they won’t, but they can’t choose which.

          • Hi S

            I don’t think it is inconsistent for the Calvinist to preach. God has not only ordained the end (someone being saved) but he has ordained the means to the end (the preaching of the gospel). A Calvinist (not a term I like) preaches the gospel with confidence because he believes it is God who changes human hearts. What chance would the gospel message have of changing anyone if it weren’t backed up by the mighty power of God bringing someone to faith.

            Certainly none will turn to Christ who have never heard about Christ. We must avoid letting our misguided logic get in the way of what is true.

            Read Piper and the verses he points out.

          • A Calvinist (not a term I like)

            It’s one I use only for brevity. If you have another equally concise term you prefer I’ll happily use it.

            preaches the gospel with confidence because he believes it is God who changes human hearts. What chance would the gospel message have of changing anyone if it weren’t backed up by the mighty power of God bringing someone to faith.

            Well, none. But it’s not so much the fact of Calvinists preaching that seems to me inconsistent with predesinationism but the message they preach, which majors on exhorting people to turn away from sin and make Christ their Lord. Now to be clear this is a message I think should be preached more often! But if the world really is divided into two types of people, the elect who cannot but choose to turn themselves to God and the non-elect who cannot choose God due to their nature, who is the audience for this message supposed to be? If the first, then they are preaching to the choir. If the second, then they are preaching in vain. And while I’m a big believer in doing the right thing even if it is in vain, I don’t get the impression that’s what they think they are doing.

            We must avoid letting our misguided logic get in the way of what is true.

            We’ve got to be careful here. Valid logic cannot ever of itself be ‘misguided’. Valid logic is misguided only when it proceeds from false premises. Which is to say, everything derived by valid logic from true premises must be true. So logic, properly used, can’t ‘get in the way of what is true’ because anything derived by valid logic from true premises is true.

            The only way logic can get in the way of what is true is if there’s a flaw in the logic: either one of the logical steps is invalid, or one of the premises is false. In which case it must be possible to locate the flaw.

            So saying ‘misguided logic’ is a little dangerous because it implies that logic can be in and of itself misguided, which it can’t; ‘misguided logic’ must be contrasted with properly applied valid logic, which, far from getting in the way of what is true, shows us what must be true.

          • Hi S

            When we preach to the unconverted (elect or non-elect) we are not preaching to the choir. God’s word comes to everyone as ‘a savour of life unto life or death unto death). Those who are not the elect will prove this by turning away from the message. To them it is a savour of death unto death. The elect on the other hand will hear the message and believe (think of the parable of the soils Matt 13). Or think of it in terms of Israel in Roms 11.

            What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, 8 as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.’

            Every aspect of the gospel plays a part in God’s saving plan for our lives. It is the word that gives life and the word that develops life. God communicates himself and his plans to us through a word.

            Concerning logic.

            I wasn’t intending to say that logic is intrinsically misguided. Logic can be good or bad, valid or misguided. What I mean is that we must try to use logic along the tramlines of the Bible’s own reasoning or logic. If we get too far removed from this we run into problems.

            The logic you were questioning was preaching if God chooses. If we read the Bible and discover God both chooses and advocates preaching then we believe and then ask our questions. When we preach as Jesus did that men must repent and believe. Firstly we are impressing upon everyone their responsibility to turn to Christ. We are not standing at a burning house without urging those within it to get out. If they choose to stay then the responsibility lies with them. If, because the Holy Spirit gives authority to your urging to get out, a number leave then your message has saved them. Illustrations fall down but I think it has validity.

            Incidentally they do choose. The unbeliever chooses his unbelief. The one who gets converted chooses to trust though at that point he is unaware that God has been working in him to make the choice he does.

          • When we preach to the unconverted (elect or non-elect) we are not preaching to the choir. God’s word comes to everyone as ‘a savour of life unto life or death unto death). Those who are not the elect will prove this by turning away from the message. To them it is a savour of death unto death. The elect on the other hand will hear the message and believe (think of the parable of the soils Matt 13).

            I’m obviously not making myself clear. Let me try one more time. The Calvinists I’ve heard preach as if they are trying to persuade their listeners to repent and put their lives under Christ’s Lordship. But the elect don’t need to be persuaded (because they will inevitably respond) and the non-elect cannot possibly be persuaded be (because they will inevitably reject the message).

            And as all of humanity falls into one or other of these camps, who can they possibly be trying to persuade?

            What I mean is that we must try to use logic along the tramlines of the Bible’s own reasoning or logic.

            I don’t understand. Logic is logic. Syllogisms, modus ponens, modus tollens, the fact that two mutually contradictory propositions cannot both be true. There are no ‘tramlines’ apart form these. There is no special ‘Bible logic’. Logic is universal.

            We are not standing at a burning house without urging those within it to get out. If they choose to stay then the responsibility lies with them. If, because the Holy Spirit gives authority to your urging to get out, a number leave then your message has saved them. Illustrations fall down but I think it has validity.

            But that’s not the situation, with predestination. With predestination, then those destined to get out of the building will get out whether I urge them to or not; and those who stay are unable to leave, no matter how much I urge. So what am I doing there?

            Incidentally they do choose. The unbeliever chooses his unbelief. The one who gets converted chooses to trust though at that point he is unaware that God has been working in him to make the choice he does.

            Again this is where you seem to stop making sense to me. I simply can’t reconcile ‘The unbeliever chooses his unbelief’ with, above, ‘Reformed and I think biblical thinking does not think in terms of ‘free will’. The will is bound.’

            How can one choose if one’s will is bound? If one’s will is bound, then one is like a train running on pre-laid tracks. If the tracks bend off to the left, then the train turns to the left; it cannot turn to the right. But also it did not choose to turn left, because it could not have done otherwise.

            The concept of choice implies that one could have chosen otherwise. If one couldn’t have chosen otherwise — if one was bound to choose in a particular way — then one didn’t really have any choice at all.

            And that’s as true if you think the reason for the lack of choice is that one’s will is bound through predestination, as it is if you think that one couldn’t have chosen otherwise because there is no God, there is no will, and the world is just spinning particles obeying the laws of physics in a dance whose last steps were determined when the music struck up at the beginning of time.

          • S

            A problem with this website is linking to previous comments. Still Ian generously allows the discussion, I’ve been trying to work out how to format for italics but can’t seem to work out how (not a logical enough mind).

            S, I understand the point you are making but (at the risk of upsetting you) I think you are using flawed logic. It is not true the elect do not need to be persuaded. They do. And God’s chosen way is through the gospel message. Paul argued and debated with people. He wrote ‘knowing the terror of God we persuade men’. The OT prophets used all kinds of methods to get God’s word across to the people. God has not nay ordained the end (salvation) but he has ordained the means to the end (preaching, prayer etc). This is what I mean by allowing the logic of Scripture to speak. On the one hand it repeatedly teaches God ordains and God chooses but on the other hand it reveals the need for evangelists and reasoning and persuasion.

            Perhaps true logic is universal but there is little agreement about what is true logic. There is flawed logic which we all so easily fall into. When I speak of biblical logic I mean we should follow the contours of biblical thought. Now it may be ‘logical’ to say that if God chooses to save someone then he is going to get saved and there is no need for others to do anything to facilitate this. This sounds logical but it is not biblical logic for biblical logic shows God has ordained the means through which someone will be saved and that normally involves other people, love, prayer, preaching etc. I spend time answering your queries because I hope to persuade you of a view I believe is profoundly biblical and at the heart of the gospel.

            Burning house. No they wil not get out of the house whether I give a warning or not. The warning is integral to their salvation. They need to be warned of the danger and told to flee. If I don’t do it God will send someone else to do it. At the risk of confusing matters if the watchman (the OT prophet) did not warn of the danger then God would require the blood of those not warned at the hands of the watchman.

            The will is bound. This simply means it acts according to its nature. A fallen nature (the flesh) will always choose unbelief. It hates God and will make choices that reject God. But a nature is not separate from a person. Your nature is who you are. If you are an unbeliever, unless God performs spiritual surgery on you, you will always reject God. You hate God. You are invincibly opposed to God. You love darkness rather than light. You love sinning so much you are a slave to sin. You gladly let the devil dupe you because you love what he offers. You are Captain of your own ship and will give the helm to no-one. Your heart is deceitful and desperately wicked.

            Choice doesn’t necessarily mean you could choose otherwise. I may present you with two railway destinations but you have overwhelming personal reasons why you will choose one – that is where the woman is you are going to have an affair with. If it was Groundhog Day you would choose the affair destination every time. Yes its an illustration and has weaknesses but it illustrates how the heart works. You have not grasped the biblical view of humanity until you grasp that the flesh is hostile to. God. It doesn’t submit to God, indeed cannot. Those in the flesh cannot please God (Roms 8). Allow that Scripture to burrow deep into your heart.

            Choice – choice exists in the sense I’ve outlined above but I’ve never argued we are free and are a kind of spiritual blank slate. We ought to choose right but don’t (Read Roms 7 for an insight to inability). What makes life meaningful and not random is that it is God’s world and he is in control and if anyone calls upon him he will be saved. The elect are the whosever will and the non-elect are the whosoever wont.

            Did God call all the people of Mesopotamia or only Abraham? Did God choose Ishmael or only Isaac? Did he elect Esau or only Jacob? You must face what Scripture says about these people. Romans 9 must be faced. Shape your theology through what the bible teaches not dodgy logic that may well be flawed.

          • A problem with this website is linking to previous comments. Still Ian generously allows the discussion, I’ve been trying to work out how to format for italics but can’t seem to work out how (not a logical enough mind).

            Use HTML tags: <i>this is in italics</i>.

            S, I understand the point you are making but (at the risk of upsetting you)

            Do not ever worry about upsetting me. As if, with the horrific events happening right now in real life to real people in Ukraine, I’d ever be upset about anything written on the inter-net!

            I think you are using flawed logic.

            Especially don’t be worried about accusing me of using flawed logic. If you’re wrong and my logic is not flawed I won’t be upset, and if you’re right and my logic is flawed then I want to know as soon as possible so I can correct it.

            It is not true the elect do not need to be persuaded. They do.

            Hm. This is where I’m not sure you’re right. As I understand it the claim of Calvinists (you haven’t given another term so for brevity I will keep using that one) is that those who are elected by God will, once His grace regenerates their will so it is no longer corrupted, inevitably, in their hearts, turn to God. Their repentance follows their regeneration, and their regeneration follows their election, as surely as day follows night. It is impossible for someone to be elected by God to be saved, and not repent. No more could that happen than water could not be wet.

            So then: no, they do not need to be persuaded. The persuasion is superfluous. At most, the persuasion is supervenient (you know that term, right?) upon the election. It is an epiphenomenon, as some people argue consciousness is upon neurological events.

            And God’s chosen way is through the gospel message. Paul argued and debated with people. He wrote ‘knowing the terror of God we persuade men’. The OT prophets used all kinds of methods to get God’s word across to the people.

            Indeed. And this is one of the things which leads me to think that Calvinist predestination must not be true. Because if Calvinist predestination were true, there would have been no need for any of that. Paul would not have needed to argue or debate: those who were elected would have believed him without need for persuasion or debate, and those not elected would have ignored him no matter how much he argued or debated.

            Perhaps true logic is universal but there is little agreement about what is true logic.

            Um, you’re wrong here, I’m afraid. There is almost universal agreement about what is true logic. Propositional logic, the predicate calculus. I don’t think you could find any real disagreement that, say, modus ponens is true logic, or anyone claiming that non distributio medii is not a logical fallacy.

            There is flawed logic which we all so easily fall into.

            Well, yes, there are logical fallacies that are easy to fall into if one is not careful. But logic without flaws, when applied to true premises, must yield true conclusions.

            When I speak of biblical logic I mean we should follow the contours of biblical thought.

            Again I must object to the idea that there is such a thing as ‘biblical logic’. Applying logic to biblical subjects is the same as applying it to everything else: it’s the application of universally-agreed logical constructions like sylogisms, modus ponens, modus tollens, etc.

            Do you have an example of ‘the contours of biblical thought’ so I can see what you’re getting at here?

            Now it may be ‘logical’ to say that if God chooses to save someone then he is going to get saved and there is no need for others to do anything to facilitate this.

            Not so much ‘logical’ as I understand this to be one of the core claims of Calvinist predestination. God’s grace is irresistible; those on whom God elects to bestow His grace will inevitably be saved.

            This sounds logical but it is not biblical logic for biblical logic shows God has ordained the means through which someone will be saved and that normally involves other people, love, prayer, preaching etc.

            Okay, but as I understand it these are not the causes of the person being saved (that is God’s irresistible grace) but they are epiphenomenons superveneing on the effectual cause of salvation, which is God’s grace and God’s grace alone.

            I spend time answering your queries because I hope to persuade you of a view I believe is profoundly biblical and at the heart of the gospel.

            And I appreciate it; the church I now attend is strongly Calvinist, and so a discussion like this which will either expose the flaws in my thinking so that I can agree with them or will allow me to sharpen my arguments for whenever the subject comes up, is hugely useful.

            Choice doesn’t necessarily mean you could choose otherwise. I may present you with two railway destinations but you have overwhelming personal reasons why you will choose one – that is where the woman is you are going to have an affair with. If it was Groundhog Day you would choose the affair destination every time.

            Nevertheless, even if I would always choose destination A over destination B, I could have chosen otherwise. Nothing makes it logically impossible that I would choose destination B. Therefore I have a choice.

            But if I simply could not choose destination B — whether that is because, as some believe, the choices I make are simply the result of the laws of physics acting on the molecules of the neurons in my brain, or, as Calvinists believe, my will is bound to choose destination A — then no, I cannot be said to have ‘chosen’ destination A, any more than the train itself, guided by the tracks, ‘chose’ to go to destination A. My arriving at destination A is simply to outworking of forces in existence before I was, and I am merely their pawn, moved on the board with no choice of my own in the matter at all.

            You have not grasped the biblical view of humanity until you grasp that the flesh is hostile to. God. It doesn’t submit to God, indeed cannot. Those in the flesh cannot please God (Roms 8). Allow that Scripture to burrow deep into your heart.

            I don’t like the translation ‘flesh’. It sounds too much like gnostic dualism, dividing humans into a physical body which is bad, evil, corrupt, weak, in which is trapped a mental soul, which is pure, good, true (and leads on to things like the trans ideology where the body is ‘wrong’ if it doesn’t match what the ‘spirit’ perceives itself to be, and should therefore be reshaped to match the ‘spirit’). As both Arminians and Calvinists agree, a human cannot be dividing into corrupt flesh and pure spirit; total depravity means that both body and soul are corrupted.

            I prefer the translation ‘human nature’: the human nature is hostile to God. It doesn’t submit to God, indeed cannot. Those in the human nature cannot please God. That I do believe and don’t think I have written anything contradicting it.

            What makes life meaningful and not random is that it is God’s world and he is in control and if anyone calls upon him he will be saved. The elect are the whosever will and the non-elect are the whosoever wont.

            But — unconditional election — according to Calvinists, only those elected by God can call on Him. Salvation is not offered to all; it is only offered to those whom God has elected, and by effectual grace he then causes them to call upon Him, and thus they are saved. Those who are not elected cannot call upon God and be saved; they don’t get a choice (and neither, as it happens, do the elected — irresistible grace, they cannot choose not to call upon God).

            Romans 9 must be faced.

            It must indeed, but — I’m afraid — I’ve read it several times and I can only quote C. S Lewis:

            ‘I cannot be the only reader who has wondered why God, having given him [St. Paul] so many gifts, withheld from him (what would seem so necessary for the first Christian theologian) that of lucidity and orderly exposition.’

            Shape your theology through what the bible teaches not dodgy logic that may well be flawed.

            If my logic is flawed, then you will be able to point to either the logical inference I have made that is invalid, or the premise I have accepted that is untrue. If you do so, I will accept that I am wrong.

            As for your logic, I agree that it is entirely consistent — provided you give up the claim that either the elect or the non-elected chose their fate. That’s the one bit I don’t think I can make work. But I don’t see how you can both hold to unconditional election and irresistible grace, and claim that the elect chose to be saved. If grace is irresistible, then they didn’t chose. Because if something really is irresistible — I mean in the logical, metaphysical sense, not in the loose ‘oh I wouldn’t resist that woman’ sense — then in no way could I be said to have ‘chosen’ it.

        • Chris I’ve found Kallistos Ware very helpful on this tension between genuine free will and the love of God. He looks of course at Orthodox as well as Western traditions but in end comes to this conclusion which I think chimes in with your own approach – forgive me if I’m wrong about this!

          “Our belief in human freedom means that we have no right to categorically affirm, “All must be saved.” But our faith in God’s love makes us dare to hope that all will be saved.
          ‘Is there anybody there? said the traveler, Knocking on the moonlit door.’ (Walter de la Mare)
          Hell exists as a possibility because free will exists. Yet, trusting in the inexhaustible attractiveness of God’s love, we venture to express the hope—it is no more than a hope—that in’the end, like Walter de la Mare’s Traveller, we shall find that there is nobody there. Let us leave the last word, then, with St Silouan of Mount Athos: “Love could not bear that… We must pray for all.” “

          Reply
          • But our faith in God’s love makes us dare to hope that all will be saved.

            Although Jesus said the opposite. I’m sure that the disciples also dared to hope that the temple would not be destroyed again, but Jesus told them that it would be. Jesus is pretty clear that the world is not as we would hope.

            I mean you might think that a religion whose central event involves an innocent man being executed would know not to to fall into false hope that the world is how we would wish it were!

            So yes we can hope but we also must know that we hope in vain.

        • Chris

          A will is free to act according to its nature. What the heart is determines the will. I don’t particularly like working with TULIP but it does help in this case to understand something of the biblical picture. I freely follow my nature but my nature is fallen (Total depravity). It loves darkness rather than light. The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. The flesh (fallen human nature) is hostile to God and doesn’t submit to God indeed cannot (Roms 8). It cannot because it is invincibly opposed. God would have all men come to him but none naturally (according to their nature) do. When faced with the call to trust and follow men naturally cross themselves off any list.

          God does choose to save some (unconditional election). However, it is not a case of him crossing people off a list but creating a list that he puts some on. Some he has decided to make the special objects of his love. Out of a wicked rebellious humanity God steps in determined to save some – many.

          I won’t comment on Limited atonement (definite atonement) save to say that while the atonement is sufficient for all in its application it is efficient for those he has chosen. For them redemption is not only potential but actual; they are redeemed.

          God in grace reaches out to those dead in trespasses and sins and calls some by his Spirit in such a way that they repent and believe and receive new life (irresistible grace). He in some way performs a miracle of rebirth. All men are called to believe but some receive a special call that produces faith. When we read Scripture we find again and again God announcing he will save. He will circumcise uncircumcised hearts. He will draw to himself.

          Perseverance of the saints. Those whom God calls he justifies and those he justifies he glorifies. The point of this chain in Romans 8 is that it is all of God.

          This brief overview is my understanding but it lacks the full glory of all the strands of the bible story that provide the rich tapestry of redemption.

          Reply
        • Chris Bishop – well, I know that I am saved – and within this context, my `innermost being’ (c/f Romans 7:14-25) has `free will’ and this free will conforms to the will of God.

          I can’t say how I got saved, but I am saved – and that is where I am. I am aware that there is absolutely nothing within me which makes me better than the next man or woman – those people who seem to comprehensively reject Christ, but there it is.

          I am well aware of the `old man’ at work, but at the same time I take Paul’s assurance of being `dead to sin’, that we are `more than conquerors’ in Him.

          I also know that God commands us to proclaim the gospel of repentance to remission of sins – and that this does make a difference. I also know of the power and efficacy of prayer and that this also makes a difference; the example of Moses praying to God to relent, when he vows to destroy Israel and to make Moses a great nation.

          So we are called upon to (a) live a Christian life, (b) preach it out and (c) pray – and we’re told that such witness is effective in changing the mind of God.

          I also think there is some confusion about what Calvin actually believed. Although `double predestination’ was significantly developed by John Calvin, I don’t think it was in any way his central idea. Calvin’s definition for `double predestination’ is given near the end of book three of the Institutes, but it is buried there rather obscurely and although he believed it was true, he also said it was a `dreadful and horrible decree’. So if the hallmark of a Calvinist is adoration of Double Predestination, or making it centre of one’s theology, then John Calvin was not a Calvinist – and I get the impression that he would have been very happy if someone could have come up with a different solution.

          So I’m not prepared to write off Calvin just because of what the `Calvinists’ say and because of their stupid acronyms such as `TULIP’ which were brought in several centuries later – and which give a very distorted view of the man’s theological perspective.

          Reply
          • Jock

            Not so keen on the acronym myself. Especially ‘limited atonement’ which can be a bit misleading. However, it does serve to develop some important truths which are at the heart of ‘calvinism’ and more importantly of the gospel.

            Its many years since I read Calvin. As you say he is so much bigger than any narrow views of him we may have.

            As for double predestination I’m not sure of Calvin’s explanation (was he supralapsarian or infralapsarian – there seems to be some debate here). I am infralapsarian. That is I believe that God’s decree to save assumes the fall. When Paul speaks of the potter making from the same lump some to honour and others to dishonour he is speaking of ‘marred clay’ or a fallen humanity. He speaks of mercy and hardening which assumes a fallen humanity. From this clay he has mercy on some and hardens others. The Bible has a very realistic view of humanity. Humanity is not good. If the greatest good is God and humanity persistently refuses him then what does that say about the human condition. We can say that God did not decree any to go to hell. He did decree some to go to heaven and the others he passed over. To be in hell is ultimately one’s own choice.

          • I thank everyone for their comments. It is refreshing to see an intelligent, meaty theological discussion going on here about these important issues. However with the exception of ‘S’, most have reinforced my view that under Calvinism, free-will is an illusion. We only think we have it. The acronym TULIP which many reformed theologians (and I have read many, and thanks for all the refs BTW), seem to have elevated to the same level as Holy Writ, presents a nice set of logical propositions, but I do not think it fully matches up to what the Scripture tells about the *character* of God as revealed in Jesus.

            Just a few points: In the first tenet of Calvinism, man is totally depraved and cannot respond to God unless God gives him grace to do so. This is logically connected with the 4th point which is irresistible grace –which means just that- a person *cannot* resist the grace that draws them to salvation. They are assimilated (sounds a bit like the Borg from Star Trek doesn’t it?), into the family of God. They *cannot* resist it. Now I think it was ‘S’ somewhere on this thread who pointed out that grace in this way is grace that is forced onto the individual whether they want it or not.

            Now Calvinists believe that God will elect some people for salvation and obtain receipt of his irresistible grace and not others. From this we can conclude that God clearly has his favourites for which it would seem that only fraction of the total human population in history is eligible – for reasons known only to God himself, and we must hope and confirm evidentially, that we are one of them, and not like Fred Bloggs down the road whose outward behaviour leads us to conclude the opposite (although we could be wrong). Calvinists console themselves with the thought that since only God knows the elect. let’s not worry too much about those who aren’t on the list and preach the Gospel to all as the non-elect is God’s issue not ours. I think that is how they approach evangelism.

            And this lines up nicely with the third tenet of Calvinism, in which Christ’s death on the cross was limited only to the Elect and that does not include Fred. Logically, nice and consistent isn’t it?
            And then-we see what the character of God is like as revealed in the Bible. Yes- he executes judgement on humans, sometimes in a fearful way and makes covenants with them but we also learn other things about Him as well. He can change his mind due to human intervention, he is capable of persuasion as Moses found. He asks the children of Israel to make choices by exercising their will (e.g. ‘choose this day.. ‘) and so on.

            He also changes his mind due to the response of human actions. Now Calvinists might argue ‘well God knew how Moses and the Patriarchs and the Prophets would respond so fundamentally, it was his grace all along and not their wills at work. And then in the NT we see the character and nature of God most fully revealed in Jesus which is fully inclusive and embracing of all. Jesus called people to repentance from sin and gave then choices expecting them to exercise their wills. Some followed him and other didn’t. The Calvinist will then say ‘ah yes- but God was giving then irresistible grace to obey- they only thought they were exercising their wills’ (as it appeared to them).
            Now it does seem to me that that Jesus manifested in the most fullest terms the forgiving and loving nature of God which is why I don’t think one can dismiss Andrew G’s assertion that Jesus may well have forgiven and redeemed Judas. We don’t know of course, but we cannot rule it out. It is in Jesus where we learn the most about God’s character and how he operates among humans.
            And then there is the moral argument (which is not new or course), is why has God has decreed pretty much most of the human race in history to eternal ruin by accepting some and passing over others. One argument I have heard from Calvinists is that by doing so, God can display his glory and justice by making a spectacle of them all suffering in hell. Do any here believe this? Hmm.

            So I still remain of the view that if you are a pure Calvinist, then free-will is an essentially illusory notion although it may not appear to be so from our point of view, despite the various theological contortions that have to be made to square it with God sovereignty. Putting it all down to a ‘mystery of God’ is to my mind, a cop out.

            I sometime wonder if Jesus was presented with the 5 points of Calvinism- what would He say do you think? Any suggestions?

          • Christopher – I think that Andrew G.’s suggestion that Judas may have had a fine `inner being’ and been saved after all is knocked out by Psalm 109. Since this very psalm is quoted by the apostles towards the beginning of Acts in the context of Judas, I think we can safely infer that it really is giving us God’s thoughts on Judas.

            Of course, whether or not `free will’ is illusory or not all depends on what you mean by `free will’. If we believe that we have been saved, that we are `in Him’, that he will never let us out of his hand, then – of course – we don’t believe that our `free will’ extends to rejecting Him. We do believe that we have `free will’, by which we mean perfect freedom to serve Him. As an illustration – after Moses revealed the meaning of the dreams to Pharaoh, Pharaoh made him the second highest ruler in the land – and Moses had perfect freedom to do whatever he liked in this context. What he did was to build enormous store houses and collect huge quantities of grain during the time of plenty – and then operate an enormous scam, giving people back their own grain at enormously inflated prices so that by the end of it the people of Egypt had been absolutely (insert rude word) and Pharaoh owned absolutely everything.

            If we are `in Him’ we have prefect freedom `in Him’. The `innermost being’ that Paul talks about in Romans 7:14-25 will make use of its perfect freedom, but rejecting God is not one of the things that our `innermost being’ actually wants to do.

            I think that once we are `in Him’ we have to change the specification of the problem. We’re no longer interested in rejecting Him – that is not the issue; we should be discussing how to use our perfect freedom in Him to serve Him.

          • Jock, I agree that this can well be used as evidence for what happened to Judas but it is recording Peter’s thoughts on what happened to Judas.

            Whether or not this is what actually happened to him in the long run and whether he met Jesus post-mortem, is still open to question if you take a universalist perspective.

          • Chris

            It’s hard to make comments follow on sequentially so I hope you see this.

            1. I hope you agree that our responsibility is to believe what the Bible says and build our understanding on that.

            2. Calvinists would all agree that man does not have a free will. The notion is odd anyway. Man is fallen and is in the flesh which means he will not submit to God and indeed cannot. (Roms 8). Man can only act according to his nature. Morally he is no more able to change his nature than a bird is capable of becoming a fish. He is a free agent to act according to his nature but that nature will never lead him to choose God. He hates God. He does not naturally seek God.

            3. Some may have elevated TULIP and the likes to the level of Scripture. I hope I haven’t. It is some time since I’ve engaged in discussion on the topic. The question, however, is whether TULIP accurately expresses some important biblical truth and I think it does. I may tinker with some of the words used but that aside I think it expresses Scripture. Paul says something close to it when he says…. Those he predestinated he also called and whom he called he justified and whom he justified he glorified. In each stage of the salvation chain God takes the initiative,

            4. Grace is not forced is largely true. God does not bring us to himself despite our will but by changing our will (heart). Sometimes this is a gentle process for many it has been kicking and screaming as the hounds of heaven have pursued them. Human logic can get in the way of human experience. However, this is a case where language can get in the way ‘irresistible’ is not meant to convey a brutal fight but simply that God will have his way. Persistent grace. Certain grace. Conquering grace.

            5. God has favourites. Yes. Not because of anything worthy in us but because he has set his love on us. In grace that cannot be explained he has chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world. The rest of what you say in that paragraph is nominally true but cynically expressed. All of us preach because we believe people need to be saved and we love them enough to reach out to them. The non-calvinist doesn’t know if they will believe or not and leaves it up to them. The calvinist doesn’t know whether they will believe or not and leaves it up to God. Knowing people as I do I think it is highly unlikely my few words or a preachers sermon occasionally heard is likely to make any impact whatsoever. I am only encouraged to continue because I believe that God works a miracle and takes that small piece of data in a sea of information and uses it in a powerful way to create new life. That seed, so easily blown away, falling often on difficult soil will sometimes result in God given life where the soil has already been prepared by the farmer. Paul was told to by God to go to Philippi for God had ‘much people in the city’. Ie The elect.

            6. Limited atonement is an unfortunate term. Particular redemption is better. There was no limit to the value and worth of the death of Christ. But who is it intended to save and we find ourselves back at a particular reference to the elect. Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.

            7. You now begin to move away from TULIP issues to the immutability of God. Can God who says, I am the Lord, I change not… can he change his mind? Is language f God changing his mind anthropomorphic or does he actually change his mind. This is not a question particularly awkward for calvinists. It is a question all strands of theology must face. For me the answer lies in recognising an anthropological metaphor may be at work but it is also I have no problem with the concept of God situationally changing his mind. Thus Israel sins grievously and God says he will judge them. However, they repent and God ‘repents’ of the harm he was about to do to them. In these kind of narrative passages we are not being asked to think of the bigger questions of divine choice and eternal purposes. We are looking at events on the ground as it were. We are seeing something of the nitty gritty of God’s engagement with people.

            8. Jesus. It simply won’t do to say that Jesus was fully inclusive and embracive of all. It is true he reached out to all but once rejected many received his disapprobation. Think of the woes pronounced on the religious leaders. He told his disciples if they went to a city and they were rejected to wipe the dust of the city off their feet. And there was sometimes a particularity about what he did. When he went to the pool he only healed one man. He told a woman he come only to the lost sheep of the tribes of Israel. He asked a gentile if it was right to take the food designed for the children (Israel) and give it to the dogs (gentiles). I want to affirm with you the generous love of God expressed in Jesus but we must remember this context. There is particularity with God. He chose Israel from among all the nations. To be sure they were intended to display his redemption to the nations but he chose them nevertheless.

            9. Chris, I’m sorry to see you buying in to Andrew G’s suggestion. Andrew is wrong in this and many other issues I’ve seen him comment on. He is seriously wrong. There is not the slightest suggestion that Judas is redeemed. We can quite categorically rule it out. There nothing to indicate it in Scripture. While alive there is no sign of repentance (regret yes but not repentance) . His suicide reveals his spiritual state. Nor is there such a thing as postmortem conversion. But we are getting far away from TULIP. Universalism is not a legitimate option; it is heresy.

            10. God has not decreed any to eternal ruin. Humanity has chosen ruin all by itself. Hell was prepared for the devil and his angels not for people. He has chosen to save some. Why not all? We are not told. What we know is that God is good, wise, righteous and loving. We know that the judge of all the earth will do right. We must trust and leave these questions to God. Who are you (who am I) to question God? God is God and we are creatures. We need to know our place. Hard? Yes. But it is what faith is called to do rather than invent fanciful ideas such as universalism. Stay away from it Chris. It will destroy your faith. Build on what is revealed and do not speculate on what is not revealed and is in conflict with what is revealed.

            11. Mystery is not a cop out but a perfectly acceptable eapproach. I’ve already suggested as much in the previous paragraph. Paul says ‘who are you to question God’ (Roms 9). He speaks about God being inscrutable and his ways beyond searching out. His thoughts are not our thoughts. There is much that we do not know and can’t explain.

            12. `I think Jesus would say that TULIP was substantially correct and reflected biblical teaching.

            Blessings

          • I sometime wonder if Jesus was presented with the 5 points of Calvinism- what would He say do you think? Any suggestions?

            To presume to put words in the mouth of Jesus? Who do you think I am — Sir Tim Rice?

            My best guess, he would say: ‘You aren’t sure whether you can make a free choice? Well, if you had to make a free choice, would you freely follow me? Or not? Then do that.’

          • 4. Grace is not forced is largely true. God does not bring us to himself despite our will but by changing our will (heart).

            That doesn’t make it less creepy. Quite the reverse.

            However, this is a case where language can get in the way ‘irresistible’ is not meant to convey a brutal fight but simply that God will have his way. Persistent grace. Certain grace. Conquering grace.

            Which drives home the point: there is no choice. You will be conquered by grace. You cannot choose not to be.

            There is not the slightest suggestion that Judas is redeemed.

            Right.

            We can quite categorically rule it out.

            Wrong.

            With no evidence either way, we can neither rule it in nor rule it out. We must simply admit that we do not know and have no way of knowing Judas’s ultimate fate. Same as with almost every other human being in the entire history of mankind.

          • John,
            Many thanks for your long and considered reply. To respond to some of your criticisms.

            1. Absolutely so. I think here is very little else from which we can formulate our understandings on this.

            2. Glad to see that you agree that we don’t have free will but puzzled why you think the notion should be odd. You state that we only have free will according to our nature. That depravity makes it impossible for us to respond to God in any shape or form without the help of God’s grace. So when our eyes our ‘opened’ so to speak we are the able to respond to God. Yet there are some who’s eyes are opened but then choose not to respond to God. I think we find this in the rich young ruler who obviously saw Jesus as the key to eternal life but made the choice not to follow him because it meant giving up his riches. So I think you can still refuse not to respond to God even if God is drawing you to himself by his irresistible grace (which in that sense wouldn’t be irresistible), so I don’t see why the notion should be thought odd. Glad to see you clearly state that Calvinists don’t believe in free-will though.

            3. I hope you haven’t either!

            4. I think what you are saying here is just a play on words to soften their import. ‘Irresistible grace’ or ‘persistent grace’ – the result is the same and since we have no free will then, we are compelled in the end to accept it – although it may not seem like it to us.

            5. I am glad you accept that God has favourites. Yet you do me a disservice by implying I am cynical about this – I am not. I am simply pointing out the relentless logic that TULIP has which points us to this conclusion. This raises the wider question as to what the love of God really means. It implies that God does not love everybody- only those he has prepared for salvation. There is of course, a moral ambiguity here that does not sit well with our own inbuilt notions of fairness and integrity. But then the Calvinist may argue that God is sovereign and can do what he likes. It makes God out to be somewhat capricious, where someone is destined for eternal ruin before they are created because they are not on his list. Maybe that is what he is really like? Perhaps he likes to show his sovereignty in this way to display his glory.

            6. I’m afraid this is really another play on words to lessen the starkness of their import. There is a limit to the value and worth of the death of Christ. For Calvinists, it is limited to those who are predestined to be saved. It is of no value to those who are not, as God has decreed them not to be be redeemed. For the non-elect it is a bit like having a train ticket that isn’t valid for travel.

            7. Yes I think I mainly agree with you here, but I would ask again if those who were influencing God were doing so because they were exercising free-will of whether they only though they were, since God had foreordained it all beforehand.

            8. Perhaps I did not make myself very clear. By saying that Jesus was fully inclusive and embracing of all I meant that he died for the sins of the whole world. TULIP implies that isn’t true and was limited only to the elect. In I Tim 2:4 it states that it is God who wants *all* people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. I do see how this statement can be true if he favours some for salvation and not others.

            9. I am not buying into anyone’s suggestion. I think Andrew’s suggestion is worthy of consideration but on the evidence we have, I agree it that unlikely that Judas was saved although as ‘S’ says it is not possible to prove it.
            On the subject of universalism, then this is the topic of Ian’s post and I think these ideas need to be tested against scripture. The only thing I will say about it at this stage is that I think that Evangelical Universalists do believe in Judgement which means that they do have a missional imperative. That we are all judged and receive punishment or rewards according to what we have done.
            Where they differ I think, is what exactly the state of the dead is, what happens post-mortem and whether there is any prospect of a reconciliation beyond death. I think CS Lewis explored this idea in ‘The Great Divorce’ and he may have had a lot of sympathy with them, but it is not a doctrine I would expect Calvinists or Baptists like me to accept.

      • But if “God wants all men to be saved” then He could choose to save all men if His choice determines salvation rather than any choice the human makes. This is why so many Christians are not Calvinists.

        Reply
          • But the implication of Calvinism is that whatever God wants, God gets. But He clearly doesnt, thus implicating human free will when it comes to salvation.

    • Chris
      If they are not both true then either: neither is true or one is true and the other is not. Which, in your view?

      God does have his secrets, like “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain”

      That God determines the wicked deeds of men but is not responsible for their sin is such a mystery.

      Phil Almond

      Reply
  14. ‘Neither have we addressed the question of the destiny of those who have not heard or had a chance to respond to the gospel.’

    Guilt is incurred because we fail to respond in faith and obedience to whatever revelation of God we are given. It is the responsibility of each person to respond to the knowledge of himself that God has given. However, the reality is that none respond to God in faith. Knowing God they glorify him not as God. No one seeks God, (Roms 1-3). The light God gives humanity they reject. And so the wrath of God is revealed from heaven (Roms 1:18). The gospel is God’s way of drawing men to himself. By this word, in electing grace, he draws those he has chosen to himself in a way that does not do violence to his righteousness but instead celebrates it,

    The particularity of Christianity is a stumbling block. God called one man Abraham from idolatry. There were countless others he did not call. He chose one son Isaac and not the other Ishmael.; from the same womb he chose one twin, Jacob, and rejected the other, Esau. He chose one nation, Israel, to be the son he loved and no other nation. Only in Christianity has the message gone into all the world. In that world there are those whose hearts the Lord has opened, those who have been ordained to eternal life. Why will I be in heaven and my next door neighbour won’t? Is it because I have had the discernment and good sense to believe and my neighbour has not? If so, then I will have a reason to boast and God will allow no flesh to glory in his presence. Salvation from beginning to end is God’s work. He loves; he chooses; he calls; he justifies; he grants faith and repentance; he keeps; he glorifies.

    Reply
  15. In our natural state none of us wants God for Himself.
    Five or so years I was asked by a friend to go through predestination with him.
    I had struggled with the question for a number of years and couldn’t find anyone who wanted to touch the topic with s barge pole. I was training as a local preacher in the Methodist church at that time.
    But some self-directed study led me away from what I came to know as the Arminian position, set up against Augustine, and consequently led me away from Methodism.
    Inevitably, the study led onto looking into free will bondage of the will (Luther) and the so called 5 points and the Sovereignty of God.
    As a lay person, I used a variety of resources, including those from Piper. The booklet John Thompson mentions is good, and freely available. It will not cover the topic in sufficient depth for some.
    But it rearranges the acronym in a helpful way, to more aline with the way we come to faith, a short order of salvation if you like.
    Oddly, throughout it all I read almost nothing of Calvin.
    Anyway my friend and I spent two years, two hours each week delving into the topic(s) for and against, as I pulled the teaching together.
    I said this before in other comments section, but I concluded that taken as a whole system and following the order applied by Piper, the five points hold together like the digits of one hand.
    The difficulties seem to arise where points are pressed out of shape to arrive at what I’d call cartoon Calvinism or hyper-calvinism, such as double predestination.
    Some resources such as Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem and Dr Sam Storms web site consider arguments for and against. Storms site doesn’t have it all in one place – there is s need to search around it.
    For what it is worth, the whole topic is coherent in retrospect, looking back from a position of salvation, rather than forwards to determine who will and won’t be saved. And that, to me fits, with Ian’s earlier article distinguishing between indictatives and imperatives. What God has done through who he is, in His Goodness.

    Reply
    • Thanks Geoff. An interesting journey. My own ‘conversion’ to these ideas came in a Brethren context where both calvinistic and a popular evangelical Arminianism happily coexisted. One of the first books I read was AW Pink’s ‘The Sovereignty of God’. This is free online. It is not a big book but fairly robust. After reading it I was pretty much convinced. The sheer number of texts cited was impressive. J I Packer’s little book ‘Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God’ was also helpful and an easy read. It helped to integrate evangelism and prayer with divine choice. A more demanding read which I have never read is D A Carson’s Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility. Grudem’s Systematics is helpful in all sorts of areas. For me Piper has a way of making some of these truths (particularly God’s glory) really live.

      For me the vital root truth reformed thinking stresses is the complete sovereignty of God. Everything starts with God. Arminian variations tend to make man primary with God fitting in to our choices. When we think of will and choice God must be prior and primary.

      Reply
      • Arminian variations tend to make man primary with God fitting in to our choices. When we think of will and choice God must be prior and primary.

        I think that’s an unfair parody of Arminianism. Next you’ll be calling it semi-Pelagianism. In an Arminian view God is distinctly prior and primary: God’s grace is needed prior to any free choice, so God’s action is primary. All we can choose is whether to respond or not to God’s prior action in calling us out of sin, which is clearly a secondary action only possible because of God’s primary one.

        The sheer number of texts cited was impressive.

        I prefer quality over quantity!

        Reply
        • S

          If you say that in the last analysis salvation comes down to man’s choice and not God’s then you are making man sovereign.

          As I remember Pink’s texts were largely contextually appropriate. Read it and see.

          Reply
          • If you say that in the last analysis salvation comes down to man’s choice and not God’s then you are making man sovereign.

            Yes, I’ll accept that Arminianism does make each human being sovereign over their own destiny.

            But they are only in that sovereign position because God allows them to be. Had God not provided His grace, they would not be sovereign.

            Therefore God’s act of providing His grace is both prior and primary sovereignty.

            So it is wrong to say that Arminianism ‘make[s] man primary with God fitting in to our choices’. That’s an unfair parody. Man is clearly secondary because we only have our sovereignty over our fate because God first, in His prior, primary act, used His sovereignty to grant us the grace which allows us to exercise sovereignty.

            In effect in Arminianism God delegates his sovereignty to each of us to allow us to choose our own fate.

      • Ah, yes John, that takes me back – A W Pink. That book was probably the first strong, wrestling, encounter I had, followed by Piper.
        The local Christian bookstore had some of Pink’s books almost out-of -reach on the top shelf, along with Lloyd -Jones hardback series on Romans. (I couldn’t afford those, nor a hardback series by Spurgeon on the Psalms.)

        Reply
        • Ha

          When I first started dating the girl who has long been my wife I discovered she owned all MLJ’s commentaries on Romans and may have owned the Ephesians ones too. I quickly transported them to Dundee where i was studying at the time. Working through those along with Stott, Hodge and Haldane (and probably FF Bruce) laid down a firm foundation for life. I suspect the choice is too varied today and wit a bit more of a liberal tinge than I may like in some of the weightier ones.

          Reply
  16. Two ways to come to an epiphany/ salvation:
    Wrestle with the Angel like Jacob. This discussion typifies the process.
    Or
    Have Elisha fall on you hands to hands, feet to feet, face to face. This is the way the Spirit often works -bringing life to corpses.
    People in the second category seldom reflect on the process, they are simply glad for the intervention of the Paramedic/Paraclete

    Reply
    • Hello Steve,
      It seems that you adhere to the view that you had nothing to do with your salvation, played no part. Dead in your trespasses and sins. A closest calvinist, perhaps.
      Did Jesus have anything to do with it? Did our Father?
      Over the years, do you really give no thought to it, as you have migrated from the Brethren, if I recall correctly.

      Reply
      • Hi Jeff
        Grandfather was the Brethren.
        I think that we are like the dead child who is brought back to life. We are the lost coin, we can’t extricate ourselves from the crack in the floorboards. We are the lost coin. Impressive, golden, embossed with ‘the likeness’ but unable to do anything . We are the pearl that Jesus gave everything to acquire.
        But our struggle , like Jacob’s , may be just our unconscious dreams . Our real thoughts but only that. Not really effecting change . All our best efforts are in the end just brain activity in a moribund body. God knows and cares enough to dig up the lost treasure or look for the lost sheep.
        Got to go for a walk so stopping here!

        Reply
        • I also think that when one finds the discussion of theology drifting into contradictions it is a sign that the dream is coming to an end. The conscious mind is saying “hang on a minute, this is not making sense “ then poof, the mind waketh from slumber.
          The wrestling stops. The angel is seen for what He is. Awake oh sleeper…
          Ultimately it is the Angel, the Spirit of the Lord who finds us and either jumps us to life or wrestles all night long until we submit.

          Reply
  17. Given the various scholarly names referred to in preceding posts, it might be of interest to trace some of the pertinent issues back to two historic documents. The former will be relevant to those following a firm “Calvinistic” line regarding the doctrine of predestination; the latter, less well known but I believe it to be of real significance to the ongoing discussion.
    The first statement of faith is *The Westminster Confession of Faith* ( completed in 1646 – Presbyterian/ Puritan)
    Concerning its teaching on predestination, there are three major concerns to bear in mind:
    First, the decree is based upon theistic issues in general terms,i.e. upon God and creation – not upon the doctrines of salvation or the Trinity.
    Secondly, it teaches the principle or *double*predestination, i.e.to foreordination to death as well as life. This necessarily follows the first principle above.
    Thirdly, the decree is addressed to individuals whose destinies are consequently pre-determined.
    ( At this stage, I have tried to make these three points as succinct as possible).

    The second statement of faith is the *Thirty Nine Articles* of the C. of England (completed in 1571 and although finalised in the Elizabethan period, its authorship can be traced back to Thomas Cranmer). The 39 Articles are much less rigorous in their presentation than the WCF. Nevertheless, Article 17 in particular provides background material that is both cogent and relevant to the topic under consideration:
    The first point to bear in mind is that, unlike the WCF, the doctrine does not appear under the heading on God and creation, but among the Articles on *salvation*.
    Secondly,therefore, the corollary of this principle is that Article 17 only speaks of single decree predestination – to life! It is not the case that Cranmer does not believe in condemnatory predestination. Rather he wants to firmly assert the centrality of Jesus Christ and the abundant blessings that accrue for those who are predestined and called : justification, adoption, recreation in the image of Christ, “walking religiously in good works and at length by God’s mercy, they attain to everlasting felicity”. Do read it all!
    Does this appear somehow quaint, insubstantial, inadequate to you? Then read on! “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ —– for he chose us *in him* before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. *In love, he predestined us to be adopted as his sons -through Jesus Christ* ” [Ephesians 1:3 -5].
    Finally, where the arguments lead us to forget the centrality of predestination through Christ, all too often have I witnessed theology degenerating into a philosophical exercise of determinism versus free will. We need to remember in the words of the Apostle Paul concerning our heavenly Father, ” How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutible are his ways”. To know that my destiny is in the hands of my heavenly Father is in itself an indescribable blessing!

    Reply
    • to forget the centrality of predestination through Christ, all too often have I witnessed theology degenerating into a philosophical exercise of determinism versus free will

      This stands out. Thanks Colin.

      Reply
    • Colin – I think that Romans 9:22-24 may have some bearing on what you say here; `Article 17 only speaks of single decree predestination – to life’.

      Paul does not state *explicitly* in the Romans passage that God makes vessels for destruction; the phrase is *passive*. He does say, in the *active* voice, that God prepared the vessels for mercy and glory. This distinction is important. It is the same as that made by Jesus in Matthew 25:34 and Matthew 25:41 between the kingdom prepared for the faithful from the foundation of the world and the everlasting fire prepared, not for people, but for the devil and his angels; I think the distinction is pertinent to the point you are making.

      Reply
  18. Tempting as it is to continue this discussion I think it is probably time to bow out. I think we have explored some of the issues fairly fully for blog comments. I have found it worthwhile to engage with some of the problems others find in TULIP. TULIP itself does not matter to me but the underlying truths do. I am not a card carrying calvinist. Labels often divide. Yet I do agree with many ’calvinistic’ or reformed doctrines particularly regarding divine sovereignty and so soteriology. I regard God’s sovereignty as fundamental and something he never relinquishes. I think a regard for his sovereignty keeps us from many errors and is intrinsic to a proper fear of God. Thank you for a warm and courteous discussion and where I fell below this standard I’m sorry.

    John

    Reply
    • Hello John,
      Many thanks for your comments, the work you have put into it.
      I find that the comments section is not conducive to setting out a position that can coherently trace the various arguments, especially seeking to intermittently follow from the confines of my phones screen.
      I too am not keen on reducing the discussion to Calvinism or WCF, as I wouldn’t say I subscribe to either. I know next to nothing about the WCF.
      What remains apparent is the present – day push back against the Sovereignty of God. Sometimes the very idea of what many perceive as Calvinism evokes not merely discussion but open hostility.
      Yet when takes discussion takes some may find that they adhere to 4 points, or as one visliting Welsh preacher said post sermon, he was probably 4.5.
      But as Colin points out as did Packer in his Knowing God book, Sovereign God, astonishingly is a believer’s Father as we become adopted, brought from death to life,
      from enemies of God.

      I also think that Arminianism is the watershed of the flow of Open, or Process theology.
      What many on both sides of this discussion agree on is that not everyone is saved.

      Maybe, John Piper’s most recent book Providence, freely downloadable, will be a source of futher thought and refection.
      I agree that he carries a burden to expound the weight of the Glory of God.
      Yours in Christ,
      Geoff

      Reply
      • Yes. I agree with this Geoff. I have Piper’s ebook but yet to read it. The danger of calvinism is it becomes doctrinaire and dead (and perhaps obsessed with cultural transformation in some quarters). The danger of Arminianism is losing sight of a sovereign God and becoming open to Open theism and Process theology as you say.

        Reply
  19. Hi Penelope

    Are you willing to say which of my posts on this thread causes you to use the language you have used about ‘my god’? And why? Please give detailed exegesis if possible. Thanks.

    Phil Almond

    Reply
    • This is the post. I think the detailed exegesis to demonstrate that the god of the Bible is this capricious monster is rather up to you. But I don’t really want to hear it. You believe this. It is enough. “My comment on this is that because of the Fall and Original Sin we all face the wrath and condemnation of God from birth onwards. So those who die before having a chance to respond to the gospel are already condemned. God has chosen before the foundation of the world who he plans to save and those only will be saved. But it also true that the gospel invitation is genuine and sincere to elect and non-elect alike. How can both these be true? That is one of God’s secrets.”

      Reply
      • Hi Penelope
        You have quoted one of my March 5 posts (8.09 pm), missing out the bit at the end (for some reason?: “As Calvin comments on Ezekiel 18:23, our eyes are blinded by intense light so we cannot certainly judge how both these can be true”.

        I have given my exegesis on Original Sin and condemnation for all in an earlier March 5 post at 6.58 pm.

        My “God has chosen before the foundation of the world who he plans to save and those only will be saved” is based on Ephesians 1:4-7, Romans 8:28-30, Romans 9:21-23. I fear you are not taking seriously Romans 9:20 – “Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?”

        Phil Almond

        Reply
      • I don’t particularly. I want/have a Catholic faith.
        But my criticism is not of evangelicalism. It is of what appears to be (I’m no expert here) ultra Calvinism. I would certainly reject that. Double predestination is one of the cruellest tenets.

        Reply
        • I want/have a Catholic faith.

          What you should want — what we all should want — is not an evangelical faith nor a Catholic faith but always and only a faith in the truth.

          I would certainly reject that. Double predestination is one of the cruellest tenets.

          Again: you do realise that something being cruel is no argument against it being true? Lots of true things are cruel. If you want to reject something you need a better reason than ‘it’s cruel’.

          Reply
          • But S – the way that Philip Almond presents `original sin’ doesn’t have any basis at all in Scripture. In fact, his presentation of `original sin’ sounds more like the Catholic scholastics of the middle ages than anything else.

            Sin is something you do – thought, word or deed – rebellion against God. If you go down the apostle Paul Romans route, then you are `in Adam’ through your solidarity with Adam in your rebellion against God.

            The way that Phil presents it, as some sort of weird and wacky commodity which a new born baby possesses, which makes the baby absolutely horrid in the eyes of God – and worthy to be cast into `outer darkness’ really is quite unsustainable and it’s very difficult to see how anyone can believe that Scripture is saying this.

            It sounds pretty close to the medieval scholastic theology – but at least with them you could cure the baby of its `original sin’ by dunking some magic water on it and uttering some magic words (which, apparently, still goes on in some churches today).

            I don’t think that Phil even entertains that possibility.

            As I said, I’m with Penelope on this one (and – my goodness – I never ever thought I’d find myself saying this)

          • But S – the way that Philip Almond presents `original sin’ doesn’t have any basis at all in Scripture.

            And that is a good argument against a proposal.

            But ‘it is cruel’ is not a good argument.

            As I said, I’m with Penelope on this one (and – my goodness – I never ever thought I’d find myself saying this)

            It’s not enough to be right though — you have to be right for the right reasons. If your bad arguments lead you to the conclusion that happens to be correct, they are still bad arguments, and you have no reason to think that your conclusion is correct (even if, like the stopped clock twice a day, you do happen entirely coincidentally to be right this time).

          • The way that Phil presents it, as some sort of weird and wacky commodity which a new born baby possesses, which makes the baby absolutely horrid in the eyes of God – and worthy to be cast into `outer darkness’ really is quite unsustainable and it’s very difficult to see how anyone can believe that Scripture is saying this.

            Hm. You’re not, I hope, claiming that babies are born pure and sinless, and that it is only by being exposed to the fallen word that they start to become ‘infected’ by sin?

            Because that would either be gnosticism or some kind of Rousseauian ‘tabula rasa’ idea, neither of which is compatible with Christianity.

            If our corrupted human nature is essentially in rebellion against God, then that corruption is present from — indeed before — birth.

          • S – but it is the one who sins (and does not repent) is the one that dies. Ezekiel 18 (the whole of it) is quite clear. It isn’t some wacky concept of `original sin’ that is the problem; it is sin – as Ezekiel puts it

            “He eats at the mountain shrines.
            He defiles his neighbor’s wife.
            He oppresses the poor and needy.
            He commits robbery.
            He does not return what he took in pledge.
            He looks to the idols.
            He does detestable things.
            He lends at interest and takes a profit.

            This is what Scripture says – the whole business of getting cast into outer darkness because of `original sin’ (which has not expressed itself through `sin’) is not present in Scripture.

          • but it is the one who sins (and does not repent) is the one that dies. Ezekiel 18 (the whole of it) is quite clear. It isn’t some wacky concept of `original sin’ that is the problem; it is sin

            Can I just check to be clear — why is what you’re saying not Pelagianism?

          • S – it isn’t Pelagianism, because I’m not the one making claims to `free will’ (whatever that is) – as my other comments on this thread make clear.

            I know what Scripture tells me about people who sin and don’t repent; I know what Scripture tells me about people who sin and *do* repent; I know that repentance is a gift that comes through the atoning work of Christ descending into hell, meeting sin and death head on and conquering it on our behalf so that we are `more than conquerors’ in Him.

            I know that He assumed – and healed our fallen nature.

            For a new-born, I simply don’t see anything in Scripture to suggest that they stand condemned because of some nasty horrid commodity known as `original sin’. Sin is what you think, say and do.

          • For a new-born, I simply don’t see anything in Scripture to suggest that they stand condemned because of some nasty horrid commodity known as `original sin’. Sin is what you think, say and do.

            Okay. So when St Paul writes, ‘all have sinned’, you think he’s not including newborns in that ‘all’?

            If so, at what age do you think people tend to begin to sin?

          • I don’t. A God who is love can be wrathful. But Godself cannot be cruel. It is impossible.
            You say only truth is important. So, if it were true that God is cruel then God becomes a god. Demonic. No one should worship such a god. Though some, undoubtedly, do.
            To paraphrase Desmond Tutu, I do not wish to go to a cruel Heaven. Indeed a cruel Heaven couldn’t be Heaven. It would be Hell.

          • I don’t. A God who is love can be wrathful. But Godself cannot be cruel.

            Your obsession with stupid terms like ‘Godself’ has led you into writing something ungrammatical there. Try replacing it with what it should be:

            ‘But Himself cannot be cruel’.

            See? Ungrammatical.

            You say only truth is important. So, if it were true that God is cruel then God becomes a god. Demonic.

            So? That doesn’t mean it isn’t true. It just means you wish it weren’t true. Lots of things I wish weren’t true, are.

            Of course, some things that may seem to us to be cruel may in fact not be cruel, if we knew the whole situation. Lots of things surgeons do would seem incredibly cruel, if we didn’t know that they were being done for a good purpose. The problem may be our lack of understanding.

            Indeed a cruel Heaven couldn’t be Heaven. It would be Hell.

            Well, those may be the only choices.

          • Jock

            I’m not quite sure where you are coming from on this thread. You agree that Paul teaches that Adam’s sin has made us all guilty and subject to death. If we die it must be because of sin. Whose sin leads to the death of babies? I think that all Phil is saying is that we are ‘in Adam’.

            I’d need to look at the Ezekiel passage again but is the background not something like this. The generation to whom he wrote thought that the calamities that were overtaking when were all inherited guilt. The iniquities of previous generations were catching up. Of course the OT had taught this idea… iniquity of fathers visited to third or forth generation. In fact in every day life this is what happens the sins and failures of previous generations come upon the ones that follow.

            However, Ezekiel wants to point out that they shouldn’t blame the past generations. The judgements that fall upon them arise directly from their own sins.

          • S – in response to your Romans 3:23 question; no I don’t, because it is not in the context of Paul’s argument.

            Romans 3:23 is, in some sense, a punchline, following an argument that he starts with Romans 1:18. In Romans 1:16,17 he is talking about a righteousness by faith and is excluding all possibilities of a righteousness by human endeavour. Romans 1:18-32 could be classed as `the bad pagan’ or `Don Juan’ type figure. He uses the third person here, those who enjoy sin and hedonism and could not care less about the things of God (and therefore wouldn’t be listening to Paul). Romans 2:1-16 could loosely be described as `the good pagan’ and Romans 2:17-3:8, the religious man trying to achieve righteousness by upholding the law. The conclusion Romans 3:9-20 is that all these fail.

            It is into this context that he then puts the verse `all have sinned’, and he is referring to all the categories of people whom he has dealt with from Romans 1:18 through to 3:22; he isn’t pulling a rabbit out of the hat and referring to something that simply hasn’t been mentioned – let alone dealt with – in the letter up to that point.

            Paul is a logical writer and when he introduces punchlines they are in relation to the preceding arguments that he has built up; he does not pull rabbits out of hats.

            In this setting, with Romans 3:23 and the preceding logical argument that he has built up, there is absolutely nothing in the preceding to suggest that he is considering a weird and wacky concept of `original sin’ which does not refer to sin as wicked thoughts, wicked words or wicked deeds. He is talking about responsible people who either sin and don’t care about it (Romans 1:18-32) or who sin and do care about it – and want to establish a righteousness through good works or religious observance – and in Romans 3:23, he is pointing out that this doesn’t work.

          • in response to your Romans 3:23 question; no I don’t, because it is not in the context of Paul’s argument.

            Okay, fair enough, that’s a reasonable reading, just wanted to be clear.

            So if I understand you, when I was born I was without sin. So presumably I did not need salvation. I did not need Jesus to die for me.

            But now I am a sinner. I do need Jesus to die for me. So — what changed? At what point did I become a sinner, and in need of salvation?

            Is it a sudden thing — like, the first time I had a selfish impulse, put my own will ahead of God (presumably when I first demanded to be fed?) — was I instantly in need of salvation?

            Or is it a more gradual process, where I started off not needing salvation at all, but each day I needed a little bit more salvation until today when I need, oh, so much salvation? Or have I conceptualised this in totally the wrong way? Please help me understand your thinking here.

        • Jock

          The Orthodox don’t believe in original sin. So, if you don’t believe in it you are not a gnostic.

          Reply
        • ‘S’

          So, I see you are quite happy to worship a demon. Because reasons.

          I don’t think it’s worth giving any more of my time to your ridiculousness.

          Reply
          • So, I see you are quite happy to worship a demon. Because reasons.

            Um what? I never wrote that. I wrote that the fact I wouldn’t be happy to worship a demon makes it no more or less likely that such a demon exists.

        • Double predestination has two strands one biblical the other not biblical. Supralapsarianism assumes that God decided what kind of ‘clay’ each person would be. It assumes he decreed that some would be good and some would be bad. This to my mind has no biblical support. Infralapsarianism assumes that when God was choosing to have mercy on some and to harden others he was considering an already marred clay (fallen human beings). In this case all deserve judgement but some are shown mercy and others determined to disobey are hardened in their choice. Clearly this is a very abbreviated .

          Reply
        • S

          I hope this comment is not rude. It’s become apparent to me that logical thinking for you is a big thing (I’m slow but I eventually get there). I’m kind of assuming you have a degree in a philosophical course on logic. I guess I would simply say don’t lean to heavily on this. I here you say in response that logic can always be trusted. Well yeas unless the logic is flawed. But more, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, we ‘know’ by more than pure reason. Also the science of logic is ultimately a human philosophy and its rules are not written in tablets of stone… al science is by its nature a journey.

          Think of how he church bought into Aristotle and Hegel for example and the misdirection that caused. I am not opposed to reason, clearly not (unless it be reasoning that disagrees with mine…smile). Anyway reflect on this observation and forgive me if I’m way off field.

          Reply
          • John,
            I see that logic can replace God’s revelation in and through scripture and by the Spirit of truth revealing the person who is Truth. Like intellect it can amount to a counterfeit God something we trust and rely on.
            What is clear is the ingrained, almost visceral opposition to the Sovereignty of God which, to me, is itself is prima facie evidence of the reallity of the universality of the fall.
            And it is evidence of Adam swallowing the lie the God is not Good who can be trusted in the whole of life, through death. And further evidence that humanity is in thrall of self sovereignty, that is * in Adam*, rather in the last Adam, a new humanity in Christ.
            An illustration I’d use for being in Adam, would be Russian dolls, or humanity is in effect genetically, spiritually disposed towards God as Adam’s progeny, disobedient, rebellious, and disbelieving in the Goodness of God but subliminal believing the father of lies, in his insidious character defamation of God.
            That is the root of human opposition to the Sovereignty of God, who is indeed Our Father who sees and inhabits eternity in all his Goodness.

          • I here you say in response that logic can always be trusted. Well yeas unless the logic is flawed.

            That’s obvious, isn’t it? You can always trust logic unless it’s flawed logic.

            But more, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, we ‘know’ by more than pure reason.

            Do you mean by this that there are things which are true, but cannot be proved by logic? Well… yes there are. In fact Kurt Gödel proved using logic that there are things that cannot be proved using logic, so we know that it must be true.

            Because the fact is that while not everything that is true can be proved by logic, nevertheless everything that can be proved by logic (valid logic proceeding from correct premises) must be true.

            In other words, there are definitely things that are true that cannot be proved by logic. But if something can be proved by logic, then it cannot be false.

            The set of the things that can be proved by logic is a strict subset of the things that are true.

            I’m trying to say this as many different ways as I can, am I getting it across?

            Also the science of logic is ultimately a human philosophy and its rules are not written in tablets of stone… al science is by its nature a journey.

            Logic is not science. If by that you mean natural science. Logic is not empirical; it doesn’t deal, like the laws of physics, in contingent truths. Logic is superior to science because it deals in necessary truths.

            Which incidentally is why you’re wrong to say that ‘logic is ultimately a human philosophy’. It isn’t. Logic wasn’t invented by humans; it was discerned by humans, but even before there was a human existing in the universe, logic truths were still true, just like when two rocks fell next to two other rocks on the planet before any single-celled organism had appeared, that made four rocks. For if logic were a human philosophy, then mathematics, which is a branch of logic, would be a human philosophy. But mathematics is not a human philosophy; therefore we know that logic is not a human philosophy.

            That’s logic by the way. It’s called modus tollens or ‘denying the consequent’. If A, then B implies that if not-B, then not-A. Or for an example, I come through the door and my umbrella is dry as a bone. If it had been raining outside, then my umbrella would be wet (if A then B). My umbrella is not wet (not-B) therefore it must not be raining (not-A).

            [Unless the premise is false, and I walked to the doorway through some kind of poly-tunnel]

            And that reasoning is not a human philosophy: it is simply true, and must always be true, anywhere and any time in the universe and even beyond the universe in eternity.

            Think of how he church bought into Aristotle and Hegel for example and the misdirection that caused.

            I’m not that knowledgeable about Hegel, but where Aristotle speaks about logic, he’s not wrong. Where he’s inaccurate is when he ventures away from logic into the realm of empiricism (ballistics, for example — you wouldn’t want Aristotle spotting for your artillery batteries).

  20. John,
    I have very much valued your input on this. However on practical, evangelistic terms does it really matter?
    As long as we are faithful in preaching the gospel as we are called to do, it should not be our main concern wondering if people are of the elect or not, or whether we hold a Calvinistic or Arminian understanding of their salvation. Our main aim is to get the gospel out. It’s what happens on the ground that is the main thing.

    And as for ouselves, then our responsibility must be to make sure and affirm our calling, and evidence the fruits of the Spirit in our lives.

    Reply
    • I think that Thomas Paine had it right when he wrote:

      “Another set of preachers tell their congregations that God predestinated and selected, from all eternity, a certain number to be saved, and a certain number to be damned eternally. If this were true, the Day of Judgment is past: their preaching is in vain, and they had better work at some useful calling for their livelihood.”

      Reply
      • Hi William
        Not so. God has appointed the means to bring his elect to glory: by preaching the gospel, which Christ and the Apostles followed. But I do agree that predestination to life and predestination to eternal death are not mirror images. “God did not deliberately make some people that they might go to hell. That is a lie! It is not taught anywhere in the Scripture” (Lloyd Jones in commentary on Romans 9 page 200). But he also correctly says on page 201: “The Apostle is asserting that the whole of humanity, everybody born into this world from Adam, is already lost and under condemnation – everybody. But God chooses some to salvation, and others he hardens and consigns to perdition.” The doctrine of Original Sin really is fundamental. Packer correctly says in ‘Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God’, “The belief that God is sovereign in grace does not affect the genuineness of the gospel invitations or the truth of the gospel promises. whatever we may believe about election, and, for that matter, about the extent of the atonement, the fact remains that God in the gospel really does offer Christ and promise justification to ‘whosoever will’.” And Calvin got it right (whatever he said elsewhere) when he said, ” Besides, it is not surprising that our eyes should be blinded by intense light, so that we cannot certainly judge how God wishes all to be saved, and yet has devoted all the reprobate to eternal destruction, and wishes them to perish. While we look now through a glass darkly, we should be content with the measure of our own intelligence. (1 Corinthians 13:12.) When we shall be like God, and see him face to face, then what is now obscure will then become plain.” This really is a very great mystery. We must bow humbly before God, acknowledging that what seems to us to be contradictory is not so to him. He has his secrets.

        Phil Almond

        Reply
        • God wishes all to be saved, and yet has devoted all the reprobate to eternal destruction, and wishes them to perish.

          I don’t know what you mean by ‘eternal destruction’. If ‘irrevocable’ destruction, OK, but in past comments you have indicated eternal torment, and Penelope has rightly rejected that as monstrous. ‘Wishes them to perish’ goes against II Pet 3:9. I don’t think you respect Scripture as much as you think, but read into it what you are predisposed to read. God will, I agree, punish and destroy those who are thoroughly evil, but that is because that is justice, not because God wishes them to perish independently of that justice. God does not harden them; they harden themselves – that is the effect of persistent sin, as I know from personal experience and personal observation.

          As for original sin you might reflect, with less dourness, on the other elements of the story, viz. Gen 3:15 (the promise of an adversary to Satan), Gen 3:19 (Adam did not die immediately, so there was still some point in living), Gen 3:20 (Adam called Eve the mother of all living), 3:21 (God covered their sin-tainted bodies) and Gen 4:2-7 (God accepted Abel because his sacrifices atoned for sin, and God was ready to accept Cain if he would but learn to master the sin crouching at his door).

          You do not explain how the doctrine of original sin is fundamental, but yes, we are all descended from Adam and therefore share in his corrupted nature. However, because of Darwinism not everyone believes Adam is the primogenitor of all humanity, yet it remains true and evident that all human beings sin and therefore need a saviour. This ground has been covered in other comments. A couple of OT scriptures recognise that early childhood is a period before one knows good and evil. Theology needs to be nuanced enough to take that into account.

          It is also clear enough that while God will judge and punish those who do not have faith in God and his goodness (most clearly revealed in Jesus), he will not necessarily condemn (destroy) them. It will depend on their works. What is a great mystery is not the contradictory thing you describe as a mystery, but God’s great mercy. That is why he said to the adulterous woman, “Neither do I condemn you. Sin no more.” On what basis did he not condemn her? This was before the crucifixion, and apart from calling him “Lord” (which may indeed be significant), she did not indicate that she had not repented, nor that she would sin no more. John could have gone on to say whether she lived a pure life after that, or whether she became a disciple, but he leaves it at that.

          Reply
          • Hi Steven
            Several points in reply:
            You start by quoting a part of the quote from Calvin. I included that because I think he is right to say it is a mystery (‘blinded by intense light’) how both statements can be true that God wishes all to be saved and also that God has elected only some to be saved. See also Kuiper’s ‘God-centred Evangelism’. That answers your point about 2 Peter 3:9. See Romans 9: 18 ‘So therefore whom he (God) wishes he has mercy, but whom he wishes he hardens’. I’m sorry – I don’t understand why you refer to the Genesis passages. The doctrine of original sin is fundamental because it is the supreme vantage point from which we can grapple with the whole of human experience and the human condition, with all its sin, heartbreak and sorrow, and which should exhort us all to grasp the wonderful truth that God sincerely invites us all to submit to Christ in his atoning death and life-giving resurrection, to be delivered from the wrath and condemnation which faces us all from birth onwards. Jesus said ‘Neither do I condemn you’ on the basis that in his death he would bear her condemnation – I think calling him ‘Lord’ is indeed significant.
            Phil Almond

          • Most scholars agree that that John passage isnt original to the text of John’s Gospel, so it’s unwise to use it for theological clarity.

          • Peter
            I am one scholar who does accept the authenticity of the text, so I do not consider using it unwise in this context. Moreover, there are gospel episodes from which the same point could be drawn. Are you saying that the episode conveys something out of keeping with what is revealed elsewhere? If so, do indicate what.
            Steven

          • I think he is right to say it is a mystery (‘blinded by intense light’) how both statements can be true that God wishes all to be saved and also that God has elected only some to be saved

            Well, I mean, one possibility is that God wishes for all to be saved but is unable to save all, so only saves some. But I can’t imagine someone who majors on the sovereignty of God would accept that. I certainly wouldn’t.

            So, we get to: God wishes for everyone to be saved, nothing prevents God from saving everyone, but nonetheless some are not saved.

            The only way that can work is if God chooses not to save everyone, even though He wishes they would be saved.

            Now, there are often good reasons for not doing things that we wish would be done (and being God, it has to be a good reason — we can’t say that he meant to save everyone and simply forgot about some, thought that might be a reason why you or I didn’t do something that we very much wished to do).

            Arminians have a reason: they say that God didn’t save everyone because that would have meant overwhelming people’s free will (with irresistible grace), and that God would rather we had the freedom to choose Him willingly, out of love, rather than turn us into His robots.

            Now I’m not saying this reason isn’t without its flaws, nor that it doesn’t have some unpleasant implications. But it is at least an explanation, and therefore, in the absence of not just a better explanation but any explanation at all from the Calvinist side (and ‘it’s a mystery’ doesn’t cut it, I’m afraid) this means I prefer the Arminian explanation over the Calvinist one that seems to me to put an irreducible contradiction into the Biblical text that doesn’t need to be there, and then tries to handwave it away with ‘it’s a mystery’.

          • Peter – I am not a scholar – but I’d say that Steven Robinson’s rendering of the woman taken in adultery is quite consistent with the general message about Jesus from the gospels.

            She did call Jesus `Lord’ and – well – there isn’t a single Christian who has `sinned no more’. So it adds up and makes sense.

          • S

            If God wills not the death of any and if many die there must be a reason why this will is not implemented (as you suggest). You suggest he wishes to give human freedom to choose. This comes up against the absence of such a suggestion in Scripture in the passages where his sovereign will is discussed.

            It also comes up against the problem that this make salvation ultimately a decision of the independent will of man thus undermining God’s sovereignty and giving fallen human nature a reason to boast before God something God will not allow. Perhaps too we should note it comes into conflict with every other aspect of salvation. All others are of God. Divine choice… calling… justification (redemption , reconciliation, etc… ) sanctification… glorification … We are told that faith and repentance indeed all spiritual qualities are a gift from God; God works within to will and to do. Yet here we have a key element and apparently it is all of man.

            Most importantly the question is what does the bible have to say about why one is saved and is not. The answer is found in Romans 9.

            As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

            14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
            19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—

            This is the Scripture that must be believed and whose implications must be grappled with.

          • This comes up against the absence of such a suggestion in Scripture in the passages where his sovereign will is discussed.

            That is an issue, but not a knock-down argument: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

            It also comes up against the problem that this make salvation ultimately a decision of the independent will of man thus undermining God’s sovereignty and giving fallen human nature a reason to boast before God something God will not allow.

            I don’t think that’s true. Can someone rescued from a sinking ship in a storm boast before the lifeboat’s crew because they ultimately made the decision to be rescued? Of course not. If the lifeboat had not launched, they would certainly have drowned. Though the final decision was theirs — they could have shouted, ‘Screw you!’ to their rescuers and diver into the waves — their salvation is entirely dependant on the lifeboat. Similarly even if the ultimate decision to accept God’s salvation is in the hands of each individual human, they are only in that position thanks to God’s work — so they cannot boast before God about it. so I don’t think that objection works.

            A more serious objection is that given by ‘Jock’ below that it would allow those saved to feel superior to others who aren’t saved, because they were smarter, or morally superior, in that they accepted God’s salvation. I agree this is a serious problem for the Arminian position. Though I do wonder if anyone who feels proud of themselves for being saved is really saved at all… perhaps the solution is that anyone who thinks they are saved because they are smarter / more moral / better than the Hell-bound, will in fact find themselves in Hell alongside those they wrongly regarded as their inferiors. But that’s mere speculation.

            Perhaps too we should note it comes into conflict with every other aspect of salvation. All others are of God. Divine choice… calling… justification (redemption , reconciliation, etc… ) sanctification… glorification … We are told that faith and repentance indeed all spiritual qualities are a gift from God; God works within to will and to do. Yet here we have a key element and apparently it is all of man.

            I think this is just spelling out my response to your earlier point about boasting before God, where I pointed out that even if one key point of salvation was up to the individual, they cannot boast because every other necessary piece in the chain that leads to salvation is God’s doing.

            Most importantly the question is what does the bible have to say about why one is saved and is not. The answer is found in Romans 9.
            […]
            This is the Scripture that must be believed and whose implications must be grappled with.

            Yes, I agree it must be grappled with. I don’t think it’s as clear as you apparently do, though, but I do agree there are definitely parts in that which suggest that it is God who causes those who reject salvation to reject it (‘he hardens whomever he wills’). But I still think this is in tension with the action of trying to explain and exhort people to respond.

            I don’t have a clinching argument for Arminianism; but I haven’t yet seen a clinching argument for the opposite yet either.

        • I think ‘S’ assessment of the contradictions inherent within Calvinism and the nature of free will is an accurate one. IMO you cannot appeal to God’s ‘secrets’ in order to mask them.

          Reply
          • Chris Bishop – I didn’t read the post by S carefully, but I think that the contradiction you point to is something that every believer experiences. I know, looking at my own life history, that I have been brought to faith purely by the grace of God. The words of Anders Nygren `when one hears the Word of God and is conquered by it, that is faith’ ring true. I cannot proudly look to anything in and of myself: I cannot say, `I am saved because I was smart enough to accept Jesus as my saviour, unlike those muppets over there who were stupid enough to reject it.’ No; I see clearly that it was not through my own smartness or wisdom that I made any decision; I was compelled.

            On the other hand, the forces I was subjected to, particularly that 3 out of my 4 grandparents were Christian, both my mother and father, who led me in the right direction, the preaching and bible exposition that I heard, were all crucial in order to get me there.

            I also know that God wills everybody to come to Him and that we should be preaching it out so that people hear the message, etc ….

            But the ideas that (a) I am in Him because I was somehow smart enough – or because of anything inherent in me is obviously wrong and (b) the idea that I could somehow be taken out of his hand is also obviously wrong and (c) that He wills anyone to eternal destruction is plainly wrong.

          • Jock,
            I don’t think that one comes to Christ becauase they are ‘smart’ . They do so out of a conviction that they need to be saved. Now it may be of course, that the HS that is doing this. But it is humility (not my will but yours) that is needed here, not smartness and we submit to the will of God or we choose not to.
            But has John has pointed out, Romans 9 is the key plank in the Calvinist argument that has to be addressed.

          • Chris – well, I don’t consider myself a Calvinist in the sense of the definition being used here (namely one who subscribes to the five point job), but I do consider myself a `Calvinist’ in the usual sense, of people who think that Calvin did some very good work, on which they have built some of their own theology. In this sense Arminius was a Calvinist and so was Schleiermacher, so perhaps this isn’t saying very much.

            As far as Romans 9 goes, I did make the following small point in response to Colin McCormack further up the thread – I thought that Colin made a very important point. I added (Romans 9:22-24)

            Paul does not state *explicitly* in the Romans passage that God makes vessels for destruction; the phrase is *passive*. He does say, in the *active* voice, that God prepared the vessels for mercy and glory. This distinction is important. It is the same as that made by Jesus in Matthew 25:34 and Matthew 25:41 between the kingdom prepared for the faithful from the foundation of the world and the everlasting fire prepared, not for people, but for the devil and his angels.

            I have found this distinction between active and passive voice quite useful – although I agree that it doesn’t go the whole way.

          • S

            To decide to take the lifebelt and to reach out and do so means you can say you played a part in your own rescue. It is a part about which you can boast. God will not allow this possibility.

            The point about every key stage of salvation seen as one in which God takes the initiative and that Paul stresses this in Roms 8 to reassure believers that their salvation is safe because it is in God’s hands shows how highly improbable it is to say the least that actually there is one link which lies in our hands.

            At the end of the day you are not going to be convinced until you allow the sheer weight of biblical evidence for a God who is sovereign in creation, providence and redemption to convince you. You need to read Scripture with eyes prepared to see and I’m not sure at this point you are ready to see. Scriptures don’t come much clearer than Romans 9.

          • Sorry… not very intelligible.

            The fact that each stage of salvation is one where God takes the initiative so stressing to believers that their salvation is secure because it is entirely in God’s hands shows how improbable it is that there is one link in salvation which lies in our hands alone.

            If this were so then it would mean God could not chose those he wished to save and make his own for his choice is entirely contingent on our choice of him.

            The proper picture of the drowning man is that God in Christ jumps into the water, grabs us and pulls us out. That’s a real rescue.

  21. Much truth in this Chris. However, truth, all truth shapes us and turns us into the kind of people God wants us to be. Grasping God’s sovereignty and its implications is life shaping and hopefully keeps us from being too easily tossed about with every wind of doctrine. In many ways its not an either or but a both/and.

    As I think I said earlier I grew up in a church context where a mixture of views on this kind of topic existed and did so comfortably. It was a good model.

    Reply
  22. Hi Jock
    You posted “… the way that Philip Almond presents `original sin’ doesn’t have any basis at all in Scripture”
    In a March 5 post I gave my exegesis of Romans 5:12-14, 16, 18. If you think this exegesis is wrong I invite you to say where it is wrong and give your exegesis.

    Phil Almond

    Reply
    • Hello Phil,

      So you want an exegesis that I agree with on Romans 5:12-14, 16, 18? So here it is. It isn’t `original’ at all; to claim it as such would be a `sin’, but not a very `original sin’, since plagiarism is something that has been done before.

      It follows the line of a very good series of sermons I heard 1988-89. Here it is.

      We can take 12 and 18 together; the bit in between (13 – 17), while very important, is a parenthesis.

      Romans 5:12,18 `Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin and in this way death came to all men because all have sinned, consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.’

      Paul is seen to be saying ‘As sin came into the world through one man, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all people.’ This then is the basis of the argument. As death came through Adam, so life has now come through Christ. Adam and Christ are not regarded *simply* as historical individuals (although clearly they both are for Paul’s argument to make sense); they are representative figures and each stands for the whole race as a single body, the old and the new humanity respectively. When condemnation and death came upon Adam, they came upon him as representative head of the race and thus the condemnation and death was equally valid for all people who were ‘in Adam’. Conversely, what Christ has done is a representative work involving, and shared by, all who are in him.

      The idea of representative figures and the principle involved is illustrated by the story of David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17:9, 1 Samuel 17:51) in which it was agreed by both armies that a victory for either warrior would count as a victory for his whole side. When the Philistines saw Goliath defeated, they understood that the God of Israel was victorious. They understood that the God of Israel was behind the defeat of Goliath; in Goliath they recognised their own defeat and they fled. In the same way, Adam lost his battle and his side ‘lost’ in him. His side are those who *express their solidarity with him by sinning*; Romans 3:23 `for all *have sinned* (note – have actively sinned; not have had sin imputed to them because they have `sinful flesh’ or some quantity known as `original sin’ in them; they *have sinned* and this tells you the scope of what Paul is addressing here). But Christ won and all his side gained the victory in him. They express their solidarity with him and become part of the ‘winning side’ by believing in him. The entrance of death into the world and its consequent universal prevalence was entirely the result of sin. Death (Romans 6:23) is, as Paul puts it, the wages of sin. This is clearly the construction he places on the Garden of Eden story of mankind’s disobedience. Death is the direct consequence of sin and guilt and is the evidence of how seriously God takes sin. The universal spread of sin to all people is due to the fact that all people have sinned.
      As Romans 5:13,14 show, the Fall was the factor that linked together sin and death. Sin is not
      imputed where there is no law, as was the case in the period between Adam and Moses. Knowledge of sin comes by the law (Romans 3:20). But sin is still sin, even when there is no commandment to make it sinful beyond measure (Romans 7:13) and its consequences still become evident. Death reigned among people throughout this period and this fact is for Paul indisputable evidence that Adam’s sin had fateful consequences for them. The cause of their death was not disobedience to an express commandment, but rather that, *by sinning* (not simply having sinful flesh that was disposed towards sinning), they expressed their solidarity with Adam by partaking of his fallen nature and in so doing participated in a humanity that had come under the curse and shadow of death. By participating in the fallen nature, we stand in an organic relation to Adam in the same way as a tree stands in organic relation to its roots. The tree; trunk, branches, roots and all, is one unit. We are guilty in him.

      By sinning, we express solidarity with Adam and Adam is our representative figure. By believing in Christ, we express solidarity with Christ and he becomes our representative figure. The consequences of the respective acts of Adam and Christ are transmitted to those they represent.

      In Romans 5:15, the relation between Adam and Christ becomes one of contrast rather than
      comparison. The ‘much more’ indicates that the gift of grace in Christ is incomparably greater than the condemnation that comes from Adam. The point is made in a series of three contrasts (Romans 5:15,16,17), driving home the conclusion that the power of Christ’s saving work is mightier than the disastrous consequences of Adam’s sin. The effect of the free gift on man is much greater than that of the trespass, because the correspondence is not merely between one man’s disobedience and another’s obedience. It is rather the contrast between one man’s disobedience and the action of God in the obedience of another. The grace of God is at work in what Christ has done; it is this that lies at the heart of the ‘much more’.

      Romans 5:16 gives a similar contrast. On the one side, it was the first act of transgression that led to the judgement and condemnation of all. On the other, the free gift stands over against not one act of transgression, but many. So much greater was the task that faced Christ. He accomplished it in abounding measure.

      Romans 5:17 makes another observation, contrasting the respective sides with another ‘much more’. On the one hand, death is said to reign over man in the old order. The corresponding statement is not that life (or righteousness) reigns in the new; rather that it is those who receive the free gift who reign in life. The excess of grace means that those who were reigned over by sin are not only set free (which would correspond to the status quo), but are themselves made to reign. Christ is concerned not merely to undo the damage done by Adam and restore the original, but to do something incomparably greater. He inaugurates a truly new order, in which man attains a destiny that was not possible before. The prodigal son is immeasurably better off on his return to his father’s house than he was before he left home.

      The parenthesis in Romans 5:13-17 elucidates Paul’s argument sufficiently to allow him now to state it in conclusive form in Romans 5:18. Adam’s one act of transgression is contrasted with Christ’s righteous act, the one leading to universal condemnation and the other to universal justification, which leads to life. Christ’s ‘righteous act’ is what he accomplishes in his life, death and resurrection; his work of atonement in which righteousness is embodied. The force of contrast is between two mutually exclusive orders of existence.

      Reply
  23. Hi Jock
    Thanks for your post. I note you say “Adam’s one act of transgression is contrasted with Christ’s righteous act, the one leading to universal condemnation and the other to universal justification, which leads to life.”

    Two points. Firstly, in my view the one act of Adam’s transgression means that we all face God’s condemnation from birth onwards. Is it that view that you are disagreeing with?

    Secondly, in my view Christ’s righteous act does not lead to universal justification; because it is only they who “receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness” who shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ (5:17). And this free gift will only be received by those whom God has chosen to salvation before the foundation of the world.
    Phil Almond

    Reply
    • Phil – 1) in short – yes. We face condemnation *when we sin* – it is by sinning that we are `in Adam’ and I don’t see anything in Paul’s treatment that indicates that he is dealing with the pathological case of a new-born who hasn’t had the opportunity to sin – in thought, word or deed.

      2) I’m inclined to agree with you – I don’t go along with universalism myself (although if I get to heaven and discover that it turns out to be true I don’t think I’d be unhappy about it – I know that what goes to heaven is the `innermost being’ – Romans 7:14-25 – which will be without sin).

      But – getting back to the point – I don’t see any need to introduce a doctrine of `original sin’ and I don’t see Paul dealing with the situation where people haven’t actively sinned – there is nothing in Paul to indicate that sin is being imputed by some commodity known as `original sin’ to those who haven’t sinned in thought, word or deed.

      Reply
      • Jock Thanks for a frank reply. ‘So therefore as through one offence to all men to condemnation….’ (5:18) this must mean that Adam’s one offence resulted in condemnation for all men. I don’t see any way that conclusion can be avoided.

        Phil Almond

        Reply
      • But – getting back to the point – I don’t see any need to introduce a doctrine of `original sin’ and I don’t see Paul dealing with the situation where people haven’t actively sinned – there is nothing in Paul to indicate that sin is being imputed by some commodity known as `original sin’ to those who haven’t sinned in thought, word or deed.

        Is this a problem of terminology? Surely Paul’s point is that, due to the corruption of essential human nature that is the result of sin (whether or not one thinks there was a literal, singular Adam), there exists no human being who has not sinned, at least in thought.

        As I understand the doctrine of ‘original sin’, it’s not that guilt is imputed to us because of something someone else (Adam) did.

        Rather, it’s that the Fall, and the resultant corruption of human nature, is the origin of sin.

        That is, the ‘original sin’ is not a sin that we are being blamed for. Rather, it’s ‘original’ in the sense that it is the origin, or source, of our sin.

        The sins we are guilty of, and are convicted for, are ours alone. But we do them, and think them, because our natures are corrupted by the Fall. Therefore the Fall is the sin which is the origin of all our sin — and hence the ‘original sin’.

        Reply
        • (Part of the problem is that the word ‘original’ has several meanings: it can mean ‘the origin or source’, it can mean ‘the thing of which something else is a copy’, it can mean ‘the first instance of a thing’, or it can mean ‘something novel’, or, as Jim put it:

          I’ve been looking for an original sin
          One with a twist and a bit of a spin
          And since I’ve done all the old ones
          Till they’ve all been done in
          Now I’m just looking
          Then I’m gone with the wind
          Endlessly searching for an original sin

          )

          Reply
          • S – or, as Tom Lehrer put it (Vatican Rag)

            Get in line in that processional,
            Step into that small confessional.
            There the guy who’s got religion’ll
            Tell you if your sin’s original.
            If it is, try playin’ it safer,
            Drink the wine and chew the wafer,
            Two, four, six, eight,
            Time to transubstantiate!

        • S
          “As I understand the doctrine of ‘original sin’, it’s not that guilt is imputed to us because of something someone else (Adam) did.”
          I think you are mistaken there.

          Jock
          Another argument for what I believe is the correct exegesis is in my March 5 post:
          Why did death reign ‘from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression,…’? It could not be because of their personal sins, because ‘sin is not imputed when there is no law’ (it must have been God who did not impute sin before the law). Therefore it must have been because of Adam’s sin. So ‘all sinned’ (verse 5:12) must mean ‘all sinned in Adam’. So Adam’s guilt is imputed to all his descendants

          Phil Almond

          Reply
          • Why did death reign ‘from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression,…’?

            Because they had sinned in other ways, obviously. They just hadn’t sinned in the same way Adam did. But they had sinned.

          • ‘But sin is not reckoned not being law’ (5:13). So they must have died because of Adam’s sin.

            Phil Almond

          • ‘But sin is not reckoned not being law’ (5:13). So they must have died because of Adam’s sin.

            Can you exlpain what ‘sin is not reckoned not being law’ means? I must confess I am not sure at all sure what it means. I hesitate to say that it seems to barely be English, but it seems to barely be English.

          • ‘not being law’ = ‘when there is no law’ (the AV and Marshall’s literal translation). ‘From Adam until Moses’ confirms this.

            Phil Almond

          • S
            I apologise for the confusion. I should have mentioned that ‘not being law’ is Marshall’s literal translation of the Nestle text. I am not surprised that what Paul says here about personal sin not being reckoned before the law was given is hard to swallow – even the ablest commentators seek a different understanding. But he did say it.

            Phil Almond

          • I should have mentioned that ‘not being law’ is Marshall’s literal translation of the Nestle text.

            Literal translation? What does that mean? Don’t tell me this Marshall has just looked up each Greek word in a dictionary and written down one of the English words it corresponds to, in order? You do know that’s not how translation works, right?

            But anyway. I asked what ‘sin is not reckoned not being law’ means, could you explain the whole phrase please, not just three words.

          • Hi S

            Here are translations of 5:13 in three versions

            To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. (NIV)

            for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. (ESV)

            For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. (AV)

            Phil Almond

          • Hi S
            If you look at Strong’s Greek site at 5:13 you will see various views. Meyer takes the view I have expressed. I should point that Lloyd-Jones seems to disagree with me (his view is not on strong but in his Romans 5 commentary) but is not easy to follow. He points out that the word translated ‘imputed’ is not the same word used about Abrahams ‘believed God and reckoned to him as righteousness’ and L-J makes a lot of that.
            Phil Almond

          • sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law.
            […]
            sin is not counted where there is no law.
            […]
            sin is not imputed when there is no law.

            Okay, so I suppose the question is: what does it mean for sin to be ‘charged against one’s account’ / ‘counted’ / ‘imputed’?

            Because we’re clear that, for example, gentiles were not under the law, right? But Paul is also clear that they have sinned and their sin separates them from God, yes? So whatever ‘imputed’ etc means, it can’t be the effect of sin which causes us to need to be saved from sin and death.

          • S – yes, understanding what is meant by `law’ here is important and not so easy to put a precise definition on. What I mean is: we know what is meant, but it will always be possible to pick holes in any definition that anybody tries to formulate. Also, there seems to be a difference between `law’ and `the law’ and `the righteous requirements of the law’.

            But I think that Romans 2:14, with the `law unto themselves’ is important here – people basically have the good moral principles written on their hearts and minds – even though they may not have the written code delivered in the form of 10 commandments by God to Moses.

            So even though there may not be an express written code, there is a law, written on the hearts and minds – and sin is imputed when a person breaks this law.

            In all cases, Paul is actually addressing the question of responsible people; he isn’t addressing the question of people who (for some reason – for example being a newborn) do not have this.

          • So even though there may not be an express written code, there is a law, written on the hearts and minds – and sin is imputed when a person breaks this law.

            Right, so that applies in all times, then, and to all people?

            In all cases, Paul is actually addressing the question of responsible people; he isn’t addressing the question of people who (for some reason – for example being a newborn) do not have this.

            Hang on — where do you get this idea of a ‘non-responsible person’ from? I don’t think there’s any such thing. All humans are responsible.

          • S – well, for your first point, I believe that all people at all times have known that the sort of thing that Vladimir Putin is currently doing is morally despicable – you don’t need the ten commandments to tell you that.

            How God deals with people who haven’t heard the gospel – well, that is probably a question for theologians – but *we* have heard the gospel and *we* know that we have an obligation to live by it and preach it out.

            If you remember – the whole business started with Phil indicating that a new-born who dies is destined to the eternal fire on account of some wacky commodity they possess known as `original sin’, through which `sin’ is imputed to them – even though they haven’t perpetrated any actual sin either in thought word or deed. I think we see a class of person who can’t really be considered as `responsible’ in any way; they are incapable of articulating thoughts, words – or indeed of perpetrating any wilful act of defiance.

            As Penelope pointed out, this `original sin’ business, when applied to new born children in the way Phil did, makes God just plain nasty. It is also being wise beyond Scripture.

          • If you remember – the whole business started with Phil indicating that a new-born who dies is destined to the eternal fire on account of some wacky commodity they possess known as `original sin’, through which `sin’ is imputed to them – even though they haven’t perpetrated any actual sin either in thought word or deed.

            Well, they might not possess some whacky commodity known as ‘original sin’ — I agree that’s mad — but they are still human, and therefore their will is corrupted and aligned against God, and therefore they are, if not redeemed by Christ’s blood, certainly destined for Hell.

            I think we see a class of person who can’t really be considered as `responsible’ in any way; they are incapable of articulating thoughts, words – or indeed of perpetrating any wilful act of defiance.

            Ah, but the point is that if they were capable of thoughts, words or deeds — and in the case of newborns, they will be soon enough — they would do so in defiance of God. They are therefore guilty, not innocent. Sin is a matter of the alignment of one’s soul, not of one’s capacity to act on that alignment.

            As Penelope pointed out, this `original sin’ business, when applied to new born children in the way Phil did, makes God just plain nasty.

            It would if it were about God choosing to punish newborns for the sin of someone else, then it would. But as with so much else, Penelope is wrong about this. Newborns are destined for Hell not because of something someone else did, but because their corrupt natures are — like yours, like mine, like ours were since before we were born — in rebellion against God.

          • I believe that all people at all times have known that the sort of thing that Vladimir Putin is currently doing is morally despicable

            You think? I think that’s wrong. I think the Spartans, for example, would quite admire Putin’s intentions (though not his massive incompetence). Imperial Romans, too.

          • S – well, when Paul writes (Romans 2:14-15)

            `(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.)’

            he must be referring to somebody.

            As I indicated, I don’t see how Scripture justifies what you take from it (in the way that God deals with – for example – newborns), you’re being wise beyond Scripture – and, as Steven Robinson pointed out, attributing God with characteristics which look monstrous.

          • As I indicated, I don’t see how Scripture justifies what you take from it (in the way that God deals with – for example – newborns),

            Neither can you point to anywhere that the Bible unambiguously contradicts it, though, can you?

            you’re being wise beyond Scripture – and, as Steven Robinson pointed out, attributing God with characteristics which look monstrous.

            I think ‘monstrous’ is the wrong word. I’d go with ‘terrible’, in the original sense of ‘inspiring terror’ — and remember, we ought to be scared of God, right? Terror is the correct reaction of evil creatures like us when faced with perfect justice.

        • Original sin within a reformed tradition means not simply that we inherit Adam’s nature but that we inherit his guilt. His one act of disobedience constitutes all as disobedient, This is necessary for the parallel that the one act of righteousness constituted all (in Christ) as righteous.

          We are righteous not because we act like Christ and have his nature but because his death constitutes us as righteous.

          Adam and Christ are heads of two humanities and their representative act (disobedience/obedience) has consequences for all incorporated in their humanity,

          Reply
  24. The act of will that produces salvation must be like throwing oneself out of a burning, smoke filled building in the belief that they will be caught safely on the way down. Even so, after being rescued, many probably attempt successfully to renter the building to grab something precious— and then find themselves, as Paul would say — shipwrecked.

    Reply
  25. Hi S
    It is generally agreed that 5:12-21 is one of the most controversial passages in the NT. And maybe 5:12-14 is the most controversial, in the sense that there are several plausible exegeses. The key option is what does ‘all sinned’ (last two words of 5:12) mean. Does it mean personal sins of all or does it mean all sinned in Adam. I have given the latter view which I think is right (Meyer agrees with me) but I realise that Lloyd-Jones and Cranfield both disagree with me. I am going to review the options in detail, including Schreiner and Moo and others. Of course 5:12-14 is not the only support for my view. 5:16 and 5:18 are clear that Adam’s sin resulted in us all facing God’s condemnation.
    Phil Almond

    Reply
    • 5:16 and 5:18 are clear that Adam’s sin resulted in us all facing God’s condemnation.

      Yes, but that’s not in dispute. The disagreement is about the mechanism. The question is, did Adam’s sin result in us all facing God’s condemnation because somehow we must suffer the punishment for what Adam did?

      Or did Adam’s sin result in us all facing God’s condemnation because the Fall (symbolically represented by the sin of a single man called ‘Adam’) corrupted human nature throughout all history, meaning all of us are sinners in our own right, and therefore in our own right must suffer the punishment for our own sinful natures?

      The latter seems the more plausible to me.

      Remembering of course that God does not decide to punish sin — God must punish sin as part of His just nature. Hell is not the punishment for sin like fifteen years is the punishment for calling the Ukraine war a war in Russia, Hell is the punishment for sin like third-degree burns are the punishment for sticking your hand in a fire. God can no more not punish sin and still be God than a fire could not burn flesh and still be a fire. Justice is an essential part of God’s nature like heat is an essential part of the nature of a fire.

      Reply
      • Except that God can decide not to punish according to his nature, whereas inanimate fire has no capacity of choice. In fact, the core of the gospel is that God is willing to set justice aside and in our place punish a mediator. If God himself sinned, he might have to punish himself according to his own just nature, but when we are considering those that he has made, it’s a different situation: he is punishing them according to their nature, not his. It is always open to a judge to exercise mercy rather than justice.

        And what is your conception of a just punishment for any particular misdoing? One week in ‘hell’ – ten years – eternity? The answer will help clarify what you mean by ‘justice’, and it may be we are really talking about your conception of justice rather than God’s. When I listen to some Christians pronouncing on the subject, I am just enormously grateful that they are not the ones in Parliament framing the laws and on the judicial benches deciding the sentences.

        When we look for how God sees things, we find that he is more merciful than some on the evangelical wing might suppose (e.g. consider Matt 12:41). Mercy is part of the law, not outside it (Matt 23:23). If someone does something wrong but repents, justice requires that he still be punished. God, by contrast, deals with the repentant on a different basis.

        Reply
        • Except that God can decide not to punish according to his nature, whereas inanimate fire has no capacity of choice. In fact, the core of the gospel is that God is willing to set justice aside and in our place punish a mediator.

          So the sin is still punished, that’s the point. If God could just decide not to punish sin, then there would have been no need for Jesus to die. Jesus had to die because God cannot simply decide not to punish sin, so Jesus bore the punishment in our place.

          And what is your conception of a just punishment for any particular misdoing? One week in ‘hell’ – ten years – eternity?

          It’s not about ‘any particular misdoing’. It’s about the orientation of one’s soul. Sin is not any particular action (think of how, for example, sins are things like wrath, envy, gluttony, sloth, not things loke murder or rape or theft) but is wanting to be in charge of your own life, rather than submitting to God — and the just punishment for wanting to reject God and be your own master is that you get exactly what you wanted: an eternity without God, which is what is called Hell.

          If someone does something wrong but repents, justice requires that he still be punished. God, by contrast, deals with the repentant on a different basis.

          Yes, but He is only able to do that because Jesus bore the punishment that ought by rights to have gone to the repentant sinner. The punishment still has to happen.

          Reply
          • In my opinion the distinction between sin and the orientation to sin as a quibble and not justified by biblical usage. ‘Sin’ is frequently in the plural.

            Likewise, I don’t see a biblical basis for ‘an eternity without God, which is what is called Hell’.

            Also, just supposing that that was the reality, it wouldn’t be justice. As I said, we are really talking about your conception of justice rather than God’s. And the conception is monstrous. As Nietzsche said, look too long into the abyss and the abyss looks back at you.

          • In my opinion the distinction between sin and the orientation to sin as a quibble and not justified by biblical usage. ‘Sin’ is frequently in the plural.

            But there must be a distinction between temptation to sin and sin, because Jesus was tempted but did not sin.

            Likewise, I don’t see a biblical basis for ‘an eternity without God, which is what is called Hell’.

            I don’t think there’s anything that rules it out either though, and the Bible is notoriously imprecise about what exactly Hell is (which is how you can have annihilationists, etc, which you couldn’t have if there were a clear Biblical refutation).

            Also, just supposing that that was the reality, it wouldn’t be justice.

            Would it not? Why? Surely it’s very just that a criminal be punished by getting exactly what they want? Even the Greeks knew that — for example, was Midas’s punishment for his avarice not sublimely just?

            As I said, we are really talking about your conception of justice rather than God’s. And the conception is monstrous.

            Pure justice, without mercy, is monstrous, yes. We should quake at the very thought of it. That’s why Jesus came to save us from it, isn’t it? So we don’t have to face justice.

          • But there must be a distinction between temptation to sin and sin, because Jesus was tempted but did not sin.
            Quite. So one may be tempted and not sin. But you are suggesting that a mere inclination to sin, whether or not one sins, is enough to merit eternity in Hell.

            [Me] Likewise, I don’t see a biblical basis for ‘an eternity without God, which is what is called Hell’. [You] I don’t think there’s anything that rules it out either though.
            So you choose the cruellest option.

            [Me] Also, just supposing that that was the reality, it wouldn’t be justice. [You] Would it not? Why?
            No, you can’t see. It’s because a sinful life on this earth goes on for 70 years or so. The punishment you think is perfectly just is for eternity. That is infinitely dispropotionate, and ‘eternity in Hell’ is certainly not exactly what a criminal would want.

            It also means that Jesus did not pay the penalty you say is due for your sins.

            Pure justice, without mercy, is monstrous, yes.
            You wrote earlier that ‘Justice is an essential part of God’s nature like heat is an essential part of the nature of a fire’. So a monstrous quality in your mind is an essential part of God’s nature, and you go on to compound the distortion by saying, in effect, that it’s OK, because God exacted his monstrous justice on Jesus. I don’t assent to any of this; it’s horrible.

          • Quite. So one may be tempted and not sin. But you are suggesting that a mere inclination to sin, whether or not one sins, is enough to merit eternity in Hell.

            I have never suggested any such thing.

            [Me] Likewise, I don’t see a biblical basis for ‘an eternity without God, which is what is called Hell’. [You] I don’t think there’s anything that rules it out either though.
            So you choose the cruellest option.

            I choose the option which seems most likely to me to be true. Truth is all that matters.

            No, you can’t see. It’s because a sinful life on this earth goes on for 70 years or so. The punishment you think is perfectly just is for eternity. That is infinitely dispropotionate, and ‘eternity in Hell’ is certainly not exactly what a criminal would want.

            Sin is setting oneself in rebellion against God. The 70 years or so of sinful life is merely the symptom of a disease which goes far deeper.

            It also means that Jesus did not pay the penalty you say is due for your sins.

            Again, I never suggested any such thing.

            Pure justice, without mercy, is monstrous, yes.
            You wrote earlier that ‘Justice is an essential part of God’s nature like heat is an essential part of the nature of a fire’. So a monstrous quality in your mind is an essential part of God’s nature,

            Sound like you want God to be safe. But as a wise beaver once said,
            ‘Safe? Who said anything about safe? ’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

            I don’t assent to any of this; it’s horrible.

            Whether you or I think something is horrible is irrelevant. All that matters is whether it is true. Plenty of horrible things are true, and plenty of true things are horrible.

      • Hi S

        ‘It is unquestionable that the universal sway of death is represented in 5:12 as resting upon the fact that “all sinned”. In verses 5:15-19 however Paul with unmistakable clearness asserts that the universal reign of death rests upon the one trespass of the one man, Adam. So when Paul says “all sinned” (5:12) and when he speaks of the one trespass of the one man (5:15-19) he must be referring to the same fact or event, that the one event or fact can be expressed in terms of both singularity and universality. It follows that there must be some kind of solidarity existing between the “one” and the “all” with the result that the sin contemplated can be regarded at the same time and with equal relevance as the sin of the “one” or as the sin of “all”.’

        (Summary of John Murray’s line of thought in “The Classic Protestant Interpretation” (page 19) in “The Imputation of Adam’s Sin)

        Phil Almond

        Reply
        • ‘[…]when he speaks of the one trespass of the one man (5:15-19) he must be referring to the same fact or event, that the one event or fact can be expressed in terms of both singularity and universality.[…] the sin contemplated can be regarded at the same time and with equal relevance as the sin of the “one” or as the sin of “all”.’

          So I think that pretty much corresponds with what I think: the story of Adam is a way of symbolically expressing the event of the Fall, which is both universal in nature, spreading throughout all space and time to corrupt all human nature, and a single event in eternity; and as such is mirrored by the crucifixion, which is a singular event that also is universal in nature, spreading backwards and forwards through time to enable the redemption of the entire human race, a redemption which can be claimed by anyone who submits themselves to Christ’s reign.

          I don’t think it has to mean that there was an actual guy named Adam who did a thing for which we all are blamed.

          Reply
          • Hi S
            You only quoted part of the quote I posted. Since the sin of the one is also the sin of all, it follows that we all face the condemnation of God from birth onwards, and that is the reason why infants who have not committed personal sin die.

            Phil Almond

          • Hi S
            You made a flat denial. But you need to engage with the John Murray quote and explain why it is flawed. Also do you deny “that we all face the condemnation of God from birth onwards”?

            Phil Almond

          • But you need to engage with the John Murray quote and explain why it is flawed.

            I thought I did engage with it, and explained why it is not flawed, but correct in saying that the Fall is an event both singular and universal. But it’s not that people who would otherwise be sinless are still condemned because of something some guy called Adam did, firstly because there’s no such thing as someone who would otherwise be sinless — even babies are in rebellion against God — and also because, frankly, there never was a single guy called Adam who ate a fruit in a garden.

            Also do you deny “that we all face the condemnation of God from birth onwards”?

            No, I think I’ve been quite clear that, due to our corrupted nature that means we are set in rebellion against God, we all face the condemnation of God from birth onwards — indeed from before birth.

  26. If I may add my penneth worth.
    The law was absent before Moses…
    Law in this instance is synonymous with God. God was estranged from mankind. What could be perceived of God up until then was equal 8n substance as a footprint is to a foot. When God came in Moses’ time he came embodied as The Law. Now people had more than the impression of God stamped in nature, they had fire and lightning , a trumpet blast etc. Then eventually 5hey had the Law in human form, Jesus. Jesus is the Law.

    Reply
  27. Steven Robinson – earlier you wrote: `In fact, the core of the gospel is that God is willing to set justice aside and in our place punish a mediator.’

    I simply don’t see the `God punished Jesus’ bit here. After all, Jesus prayed to God the Father to strengthen him for his ordeal, which he was about to undergo. Is the prayer `Please strengthen me so that I can endure the punishment beating you are about to give me’? If so, it doesn’t sound very convincing.

    In the crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus descended into Hell, met death and sin head on and conquered it on our behalf and rose from the dead victorious, so that we are `more than conquerors’ in Him.

    I see the initial part of the creation (thanks to Jurgen Moltmann) that firstly God had to create a space without God, a God-forsaken space in which to put the creation, so that it was external to him – and this is basically how radical evil and sin comes about. Christ went headlong into Hell, this God-forsaken heart of radical evil – that is why he cried, `why have you forsaken me?’ – and dealt with the radical evil, sin and death, comprehensively on our behalf.

    The God punishing Jesus bit doesn’t really make much sense to me – I think the transaction was somewhat different.

    We know from Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel about the people whom God really does punish; people whom he called, again and again and again, who understood all the good things of communion with God and who didn’t take it seriously and threw it back in his face – hence these endless passages about the judgement he has firmly decided and how horrible it is all going to be.

    Reply
    • I simply don’t see the `God punished Jesus’ bit here. After all, Jesus prayed to God the Father to strengthen him for his ordeal, which he was about to undergo. Is the prayer `Please strengthen me so that I can endure the punishment beating you are about to give me’? If so, it doesn’t sound very convincing.
      […]
      Christ went headlong into Hell, this God-forsaken heart of radical evil

      You seem to have contradicted yourself here. Being God-forsaken is the punishment for sin. So in fact Jesus was praying for strength to endure the punishment for sin, which was to descend into God-forsaken Hell.

      Again when you write ‘punishment beating’ you seem to be falling into the trap of thinking like God makes up His rules, proclaims them to humans, and then decides to punish those who break them, like a tyrant changing the law on a whim to outlaw, say, calling a war a war, and then locks up people who protest.

      But this is utterly wrong. God does not decide what sin is, nor does God set the punishment; those things proceed logically from His nature as perfect justice. As I wrote above, God can no more not punish sin than a fire can not burn; if a fire were to not burn it would cease to be fire, and if God were to allow sin to go unpunished the He would no longer be just, so,He would no longer be Himself.

      That’s why, in order to rescue us from the inevitable consequences of our rebellion, He had to take on our nature and endure the punishment Himself. In terms of the fire analogy, He wrapped His hands around our hands and let the fire burn His own flesh, so that the fire’s nature was preserved but we were saved from what we deserved for sticking our hands into it.

      Reply
      • S- no contradiction – it is just that you seem to have a definition of `punish’ which doesn’t correspond to the `plain man’s’ definition.

        If someone makes it clear to me that they don’t want to have much to do with me and, as a result, I don’t have any time for them, I wouldn’t call that `punishment’.

        If Jesus voluntarily goes down to hell, the place where God is not – and, in so doing separates himself from communion with God, this can hardly be described (except through great sophistry) as God punishes Jesus.

        Jesus took it upon himself to go to the place where there was no communion with God, the God-forsaken place. That doesn’t correspond to how I would understand God the Father punishing Jesus.

        Mohammed Ali voluntarily stepped into the ring at `The Rumble in the Jungle’ and took a few very powerful hits from George Foreman, before he floored George Foreman with the knock-out punch. That doesn’t correspond to how I understand `punishment’ in the sense of God punishing either.

        Jesus voluntarily descending to Hell, the God forsaken place, also doesn’t correspond to the real punishment we see God meting out to those who have forsaken Him in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, where time and time again the prophet writes, `oh you have been so naughty and flagrantly laughed at my commandments, so now I am going to dip you in a vat of warm marmalade until you turn purple.’ Now, *that* is punishment – and history tells us that these punishments were actually implemented.

        Reply
        • If Jesus voluntarily goes down to hell, the place where God is not – and, in so doing separates himself from communion with God, this can hardly be described (except through great sophistry) as God punishes Jesus.

          Well, you’re just wrong here. Separation from communion with God is the greatest punishment there is. And Jesus voluntarily suffered that punishment in our place, in order to save us from having to suffer it.

          Reply
          • It is Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross that saves us from God’s judgement. Not any trip to ‘Hell’ after death (which isnt even the appropriate word to use if He did). He did what He had come to do and could say “It is finished”.

            I also think it’s odd that you use the word ‘monstrous’ to describe justice. That paints God as a monster which He clearly is not. ‘Terrible’ would be more appropriate as in terror-inducing.

            And I think Steven’s comment above re Jesus didnt receive our punishment means Jesus clearly did not go to ‘Hell’ for all eternity which you claim is the ‘just’ punishment for a limited time of sinful life on earth. The two do not balance on the scales of justice.

          • It is Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross that saves us from God’s judgement.

            Indeed. But that suffering is obviously much more than just physical pain and physical death, because the consequences of sin are much more than that. On the cross Jesus was cut off from His Father; that is the true suffering He underwent on our behalf, and that is Hell.

            I also think it’s odd that you use the word ‘monstrous’ to describe justice. That paints God as a monster which He clearly is not. ‘Terrible’ would be more appropriate as in terror-inducing.

            Yes, on reflection I thought that would be a better word, as I wrote in https://www.psephizo.com/biblical-studies/was-paul-a-universalist/#comment-404873

            And I think Steven’s comment above re Jesus didnt receive our punishment means Jesus clearly did not go to ‘Hell’ for all eternity which you claim is the ‘just’ punishment for a limited time of sinful life on earth.

            Again: the punishment is not for ‘a limited time of sinful life on Earth’. The sinful life is merely a symptom (just as, for example, a murder might be a symptom of wrath; but murder is not a sin, wrath is). The actual sin is a soul in rebellion against God, which is an eternal sin as the soul is eternal; and which therefore has eternal consequences as a soul in rebellion against God gets what it most desires: an eternity without God, and — as God is the source of all joy and all love, an eternity without any joy or any love.

            As for the duration of Jesus’ separation from His Father on the cross, I think you’re falling into the misconception of thinking that eternity is a very very long time. It’s not. Eternity means being outside time entirely. And as Jesus’ crucifixion, as well as being an event within time, also transcends time and exists in eternity. So in fact Jesus was separated from His Father in eternity; He did bear our punishment in full.

        • Hi Jock – are you saying you dont believe Jesus was punished on the cross for our sin? There is such a thing as God’s wrath, and I think that is what Jesus suffered on the cross. He ‘became sin’ and suffered the consequences. It’s a terrible picture, but true. In the garden earlier, he referred to the cup. The cup of the suffering He knew to be approaching. The curse He was going to become.

          Peter

          Reply
          • Hi Peter ‘he became sin for us’ .
            Yes . This is worthy of contemplation.
            Also, it seems to me that The Trinity was split and their fellowship was ripped up at the crucifixion. Each felt the anguish in equal measure. To pitch The Father as Jesus monstrous, cruel father is wrong. It may play into some patriarchal conception of being a father but surely, to see The Father turning against his son is to envision anarchy within the Godhead. Also, where is the Holy Spirit in all this mess? Hiding in the kitchen like some beaten down, cowering, oppressed wife?
            No, Jesus took the cup and drank it.

          • Also, it seems to me that The Trinity was split and their fellowship was ripped up at the crucifixion.

            Yes but…

            Each felt the anguish in equal measure.

            Heresy alert! Patripassianism.

            To pitch The Father as Jesus monstrous, cruel father is wrong.

            Utterly wrong, yes.

            No, Jesus took the cup and drank it.

            Drained it.

          • Peter – I think it’s a question of definitions here because, yes, I know that Jesus became sin and I know that sin incurs the wrath of God. But if we’re not careful, we can get a picture of God saying to Jesus, `excuse me, would you be awfully kind, bend over and let me give you a jolly good spanking for the sins of the world?’ And Jesus meekly agrees to this – and God somehow feels satisfied. This is obviously wrong – and makes God look as if he has the same psychological problems as Eton’s child molesting headmaster of the 1960’s.

            I’m looking more for an idea where Jesus faces sin and death head on, endures a punishing conflict and, just as Mohammed Ali took some huge punches from George Foreman in the `Rumble in the Jungle’, gave the knock out punch and emerged victorious, so Jesus met sin and death head on in a gruesome conflict, landed the killer blow – and emerged as the victor, the conqueror over sin and death, so that we are `more than conquerors’ in Him.

            Yes, Jesus took upon himself the sin of the world; he entered into the fundamental ontological depths of our sinful nature and when he emerged from Hell as the victor, he also took us with him. Sin incurs wrath, so yes – the wrath of God is a vital component in the picture. But, just as Mohammed Ali said, `is that the best you can do, George?’ to the biggest and most powerful punches that George Foreman threw at him, we have Jesus treating sin and death in the same way.

            I would basically like to see a triumphant Jesus – and not a Jesus that looks like a wet drip.

          • But if we’re not careful, we can get a picture of God saying to Jesus, `excuse me, would you be awfully kind, bend over and let me give you a jolly good spanking for the sins of the world?’ And Jesus meekly agrees to this – and God somehow feels satisfied. This is obviously wrong – and makes God look as if he has the same psychological problems as Eton’s child molesting headmaster of the 1960’s.

            And, again, this is because you have the idea of God as setting rules and deciding what punishments people get for disobeying them — which AS I KEEP WRITING is not how it works! CS Lewis has a good bit on this in, I think, Mere Christianity, but unfortunately I have been waylaid away from my library so I cannot right now look it up.

          • S – as you keep writing, it doesn’t work like that – good – glad you agree on that.

            But I do understand English and every time you explain what (you think) it *does* mean, it looks utterly grotesque – I conclude that if God really is that S presents Him, then I prefer to hand in my ticket – and decline to enter eternal communion with Him.

          • But I do understand English and every time you explain what (you think) it *does* mean, it looks utterly grotesque – I conclude that if God really is that S presents Him, then I prefer to hand in my ticket – and decline to enter eternal communion with Him.

            Okay, but as every time you respond you completely misrepresent my position, I can only conclude that either I am incapable of explaining it properly of you are incapable of understanding it, so I guess we have to leave it here and let readers make of it what they will. Perhaps if I can find Lewis’s explanation I will add that, as Jack, unlike me, was actually a professional explainer, and much better at it than I am.

    • Genuine question Jeff.
      How is it that the One on the throne in Revelation completely fades from view and is replaced by the Lamb?

      Reply
      • Hello Steve,
        I’m not too familiar in the study of Revelation.
        However, God is the gospel: diamond-like multifaceted, revealed in themes, echoes, types, symbols, sacrificial systems, festivals, feasts themes, offices. One triune God on the throne, including as the Lamb who was slain, as one scene fades into the next – the curtain into the throne room of God, the Holy of Holies torn top-down through Jesus the Passover Lamb who was slain on the cross. Into his Presence.
        Holy, Holy, Holy all happily Glorious, the whole, full, weight Glory of God, revealed and awaits even as we are raised, glorified with and in Him, in his Presence

        Reply
      • There is a change of focus in heaven between ch 4 and 5. The focus changes from he who purposes to he who executes these purposes. Of course both become the object of heavenly worship and praise in ch 5. In Ch 21 in the New Jerusalem is found the throne (singular) of God and the lamb. In 21:5 we read again of ‘he who sat on it’ (the throne).

        Reply
  28. I’m not a Full-orbed patripassianist. But it is impossible for me to think that the Father sat back during the crucifixion, impassive, like Nero under the light of burning martyrs.
    I will again repeat that the best way to get into 5he shoes of the Father and the Spirit during the crucifixion is to read Revelation’s bowls of wrath as their collective experience , being made sin for us.

    Reply
    • On page 212 of his book ‘Christ Alone’ Professor Stephen Wellum wrote:

      ‘In other words, at the cross, the triune God is acting to save us. In the outworking of God’s eternal plan, the Father demonstrates his love by giving us his Son and allowing the sword of justice to fall upon him. The Son, in glad and willing obedience to his Father’s will, chooses to become our new covenant head in his incarnation, life, and entire cross-work for us.
      In his incarnation, our Lord becomes perfectly qualified to represent us and to act as our substitute. As the Son incarnate, he stands in our place bearing the penalty we deserve, which is his own righteous demand against us. Jesus is not a third party dragged in reluctantly to represent us. He, along with the Father and Spirit, is the offended party, he has the right to demand satisfaction from us. But, in grace, the divine incarnate Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, renders perfect human obedience that satisfies his own righteous requirements against us in our place.’

      And in the Calvinist International website an article by Stephen Wedgeworth “Pastorally Speaking the Deep Things of the Cross…………” which includes, among other statements, the following statement:

      “Both natures of Christ were active in His mediation and atonement, each working according to their respective attributes. On the cross, both of Christ’s natures must be addressed, and while they worked together, their acts were distinct. Whatever is said about Christ’s human nature is unique to the Second Person of the Godhead. Whatever is said about Christ’s divine nature is common to the Godhead. Thus as unfamiliar as it may sound, it is correct to say that Christ’s deity was acting in unity with the Father in the act of judging the sin which Christ Himself bore. Jesus is not only making atonement to the Father. He is making atonement to God, the Holy Trinity”.

      I think the implications of these quotes are:

      That the retribution/punishment of the unsaved will be inflicted by all three Persons of the Holy Trinity
      That all three persons of the Holy Trinity are angry with sinners
      That the retribution/punishment Christ bore in his human nature was inflicted by all three Persons of the Holy Trinity
      That the anger of all three Persons of the Holy Trinity was propitiated by Christ’s death

      This incomprehensible mystery is the same mystery as the following:

      When the Person of Christ was a developing embryo in the womb of the Blessed Virgin he was also the Lord God Almighty who ‘throned in height sublime sits amid the cherubim’: when he lay dead in the tomb he continued as the Lord God Almighty to ‘uphold all things by the word of his power’; when he hung on the cross bearing the sins of all those who have or will ever trust him and their retribution he was also, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit the condemning and punishing God.

      Phil Almond

      Reply
  29. s – per you comment above, there is no Biblical case for believing the human ‘soul’ is eternal in nature. God is the only eternal Being.

    Peter

    Reply
    • there is no Biblical case for believing the human ‘soul’ is eternal in nature.

      There’s no Biblical case against it either.

      Reply
      • So that implies such a view doesnt actually come from the Bible. It is yet another ‘traditional’ view based on a false premise.

        Reply
        • So that implies such a view doesnt actually come from the Bible.

          Lots of things not in the Bible are true. Newton’s laws of motion, for example. Quantum mechanics. The Bible doesn’t contain everything — heck, it doesn’t even record everything Jesus said and did!

          Reply
          • I find it odd that a Christian would argue for the immortality of the human soul despite accepting it isnt taught in the Bible which is supposed to be the reference source for all things spiritual, but compares such a belief to Newton’s laws of motion because both are not in the Bible.

            Bizarre.

          • it isnt taught in the Bible which is supposed to be the reference source for all things spiritual

            Sorry where do you get ‘the Bible […] is supposed to be the reference source for all things spiritual’? (Assuming by ‘spiritual’ you mean metaphysics, which is what we’re talking when we discuss the soul).

            Westminster confession: ‘ The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture’

            Nothing there about the Bible being a complete guide to metaphysics. All things necessary for God’s glory and man’s salvation, yes. But not all metaphysics.

            Thirty-nine articles: ‘ Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.’

            Again, the Bible containeth all things necessary to salvation; it does not containeth all metaphysics.

            And whether the soul is essentially eternal or not is an interesting question, but it is clearly not necessary for salvation. All that is necessary for salvation is the knowledge that ‘it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment’.

  30. S – “The actual sin is a soul in rebellion against God, which is an eternal sin as the soul is eternal; and which therefore has eternal consequences as a soul in rebellion against God gets what it most desires: an eternity without God,”

    Im pretty sure youre talking about salvation, and your understanding of the fate of those who do not receive salvation is dependent on your false belief of an eternal soul. So I think Scripture would have something to say about that.

    Reply
    • Im pretty sure youre talking about salvation, and your understanding of the fate of those who do not receive salvation is dependent on your false belief of an eternal soul. So I think Scripture would have something to say about that.

      It doesn’t, though; nothing in the Bible unambiguously contradicts my position. Unless you can point to something which does?

      (I might also point out that the reason the Bible doesn’t spell out unambiguously what happens to us after we die is that it is not necessary for salvation to know exactly what Hell is like; all that is necessary for us to be saved is is that we know it’s real and unless we accept salvation, we will end up there.)

      Reply

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