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The Fear of Man

broken chains

There is nothing more paralyzing than the fear of man. It is the height of irrationality and idol worship. Paul the apostle warned against man-pleasers (Gal. 1:10), and the wisdom of the Proverbs warned against the ensnaring quality of fear, relative to men (Prov. 29:25). For Paul, the fear of men, expressed by seeking to gain their approval, was an impediment to faithful, gospel ministry (Gal. 1:10). Christ’s servants are to minister with unmitigated courage, and uncompromising convictions. The last thing the servant of Christ must succumb to is the fear of those to whom he ministers.

The Greek term for fear, φοβος, is where we derive our English term ‘phobia’. Often those who possess certain phobias are paralyzed with fear. The idea of overcoming such fears is unthinkable to them. God has not given believers the spirit of fear, but of love, of power and of a sound mind (2 Tim. 1:7). Believers are not to be terrified by the society around them, the men and women who govern that society, unqualified usurpers and infiltrations in the church, false teachers, or any other aspect of creation. The only sanctioned fear for believers in Scripture is the fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of knowledge. This fear is properly understood as reverence and awe, turning us toward the obedience of His commandments, drawing us to worship Christ, and instructing us in the ways of righteousness and truth (Psalm, 111:10; Prov. 1:7, 3:7, 9:10, 15:33).

Fear of man indiscriminately enslaves those who practice it. For example, during the ministry of Jesus Christ, in the Gospels, it is often written that those who believed the works of Jesus did not confess him for fear of being expelled from the synagogue (John 9:22, John 12:42). John the Apostle recorded that there were some, among the religious leaders who were believers of Jesus, however their fear caused them to refrain from confessing Him (John 12:42-50). The false religious system, during the time of Christ, thrived in an environment of intimidation, hero-worship, and enslavement to external things. The Pharisees, who were consummate ministers of Satan and lovers of money, ruled with iron fists. It was in this environment that the Lord Jesus Christ came to serve as the Good Shepherd (John 10), who gave His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45).

Fear of man eliminates discernment, counteracts wisdom, and assails the promises of God. Because the Israelite spies were afraid of the Nephilim, they forfeited an early foray into the land of Canaan (Numbers 13). Instead of measuring the situation before them according to God’s standards, they measured their adequacy based on their comparison to the Nephilim (descendants of Anak). As a result, they reported that they were “like grasshoppers in their sight” (Numbers 13:33). Although it was wise for the Israelites to survey the obstacles before them, it was unwise to merely assume their own demise, since God had promised they would possess the land. How often do modern Christians esteem men over God? How often is this pseudo reverence given to creatures instead of the Creator who made them?

Fear of man belongs to the animals. It is a post-Noahic flood sanction, and Noahic Covenant provision. In Genesis 9:1, God said to Noah:

“The fear of you and the terror of you will be on every beast of the earth and on every bird of the sky; with everything that creeps on the ground, and all the fish of the sea, into your hand they are given.”

God has never sanctioned mankind’s fear of other human beings. Jesus prohibited the disciples from lording authority over the Gentiles, like the pagan rulers (Matthew 20:25; Mark 10:42, Luke 22:25). However humble Christians must submit themselves to every human institution (1 Peter 2:13); it is a show of meekness and servitude to God, not panic, social concession, or pragmatism. When human beings fear one another, they readily identify themselves as animals. This would also imply their agreement with the pseudo-sciences known as naturalistic evolution and social Darwinism. Equally, the only brute beasts that are meant to be captured, relative to men, are habitual false teachers who are raised up for the purpose of deceiving others (2 Peter 2:12), or the wolves Jesus cautioned against in the Gospels (Matthew 7:15).

The fear of man is the pinnacle of irrationality, because believers are kept secure by the triune God (Psalm 56:4, 118:5-9; Hebrews 13:6). No person in the created order possesses the sovereign power of God, therefore no person stands as ultimate judge or vindicator of men. The fear of man is dangerous because it deifies man and attempts to (impossibly) dethrone God. Deifying man is the epitome of pride and the height of blasphemy, especially since there is explicit, biblical distinctions between God and men (Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29). God is the only self-existent being (Exodus 3:14; Psalm 106:48; John 8:58) who dwells in unapproachable light (1 Tim. 6:16) and is thus undisputed ruler over all. Those who fear men ascribe such perfections to mere mortals and bow to them as if they are worthy of such acclaim.

Any construct within orthodox Christianity that promotes the fear of man as a means of ‘godly ministry’ must be resisted, exposed and continuously rejected, whether these constructs are offered under the guise of academic prestige, discipleship fads, or even personal empires often disguised as churches. Fear of man chains the practitioner to the consciences of those whom he fears. Fear of man also eradicates fruitful, bold, and uncompromising ministry because it is impossible to please all men while simultaneously aiming to please God (Gal.1:10). The approval of men is a possible consequence of faithful ministry, but it is not the promise of faithful ministry. Naturally, faithful ministers and faithful believers often upset the order of enslaving organizations and persons.

Fear of man is the incubator of compromise and the petri dish of apostasy. The Lord Jesus Christ pronounced a curse upon those who, through enslavement to others, received their acclaim and were unanimously spoken well of by their contemporaries (Luke 6:26). This lot does not belong to those who fear the Lord. Contrastively, Jesus pronounced blessing upon his disciples when they were maligned, insulted, excluded, and persecuted for righteousness’ sake because of the one whom they follow (Matthew 5:11). The one who fears the Lord is God’s free man. He is God’s courageous man. Those who fear men are slave to every manner of corruption, both inwardly and outwardly. Fear of man is also one of the catalysts for practicing sinful partiality, which the apostle James explicitly warned against the in the Scriptures (James 2:1-13).

The fear of man also removes all discernment and, in the life of the church, functionally, eliminates the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:9). The fear of man promotes elitism, hierarchy, celebrity, and inevitably authority with men, divesting the Scripture of its authority. It is not only crippling to the church, collectively, but it also cripples the individuals who serve the body. Similar to the military industrial complex, fear of man produces an evangelical industrial complex where its addresses are the result of fear mongering, and its effectiveness is measured by the subjective esteem of men, who are motivated by their fear of one another.

The antithesis to the fear of men is the fear of the Lord. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7). Men who fear the Lord, depart from iniquity, they do not rush into evil (Proverbs 16:6). Therefore, resisting the fear of man as a believer is sanctifying and promotes growth in holiness. Believers are like Christ when they fear God and do not place their fear in men. Fear of men is unsanctioned because man, as fallen creature, cannot be fully trusted to exact perfect justice and perfect righteousness. Such perfections belong to God alone in Christ, by His Spirit.

Fear of man restricts and redefines biblical evangelism, discipleship, while also assailing the imperatives of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). Fear of anyone or anything, as a common trajectory, may bear evidence that one does not know the God of salvation (Psalm 27:1). Often, the Lord Jesus Christ, Himself, uttered the words ‘do not be afraid’ (John 6:20; Matthew 14:21). Since Jesus Christ is God in human flesh, those who follow Him have no reason to be afraid. Jesus Christ has promised trouble in this world, but He has also promised those who have saving faith in Him will overcome the world and its troubles, since He has overcome the world (John 16:32-33). Those who fear, as signified by the Hebrew term יראה (yirah), ascribe reverence to the object of their misplaced affections. Men are never told to prostrate before other men, whether literally or figuratively, whether before world leaders, church leaders, under any circumstance. Such affection is idolatrous and in numerous places, prohibited in Scripture (Genesis 11:1-9; Exodus 20:4; Leviticus 26:1; Daniel 3:8-18; Acts 10:25, 12:12-15; Rev. 19:10, 22:9).

The biblical Christian, whether minister or laity, must not capitulate to fear and must redirect all fear toward them away from themselves to the triune God (Acts 10:25, 12:12-15). Those who truly belong to Christ do not bask in the glory of others (Luke 16:15; John 5:44). Biblical Christians must be vigilant in this area, since all spheres of life, to some degree, promote fear of man as a means to achieve one’s goals. The fear of man is not only a temptation in secular society, but it is also pervasive in the church. There is no church, ministry, business, school, or entity that is exempt from enlisting the fear of man as a barometer of efficiency. Fear of man is a tactic of the cults, and a weapon of unprincipled usurpers who often hijack pulpits, and beguile the unstable. May the Lord grant us courage, and this freedom in Him, to fear Him alone, not men. God’s freemen are among those who do not fear others. God’s freemen are slaves to righteousness and truth, not to fear and instability. Since believers receive an unshakable kingdom, and serve the living, biblical Jesus Christ, there is nothing or no one to fear. Jesus reminded His followers not to fear those who can even kill the body, but to fear the One who can destroy both body and soul in hell (Matthew 10:28; Luke 12:4).

Doron Gladden

On Predestination, Double Predestination and Limited Atonement

ordo

The word προορίζω proorizó “predetermine was used no less than six times in the New Testament (cf. Acts 4:28; Romans 8:29, 30; 1 Corinthians 2:7; Ephesians 1:5, 11). The term was comprised of the preposition (πρό) “before” and (ὁρίζω) horizó to which the English word “horizon” was derived. Therefore, προορίζω literally means “before horizons.” The word ὁρίζω as a verb means “I define, determine, appoint, decree, I separate, mark off by boundaries; I determine, appoint, designate” and was found no less than seven times in the New Testament (cf. Luke 22:22; Acts 2:23; 10:42; 11:29; 17:26; 31; Romans 1:4).  It is right for one to think of the preposition (πρό) “before” in juxtaposition with (ὁρίζω) not in the sphere or domain of time (i.e. chronological succession of moments measured by and constrained to a point of origin (i.e. beginning period) and a point of cessation (i.e. ending period) but rather as God’s eternal decree. Eternity is not a measurement of time. Instead, eternity is static – that is, eternity is a fixed state. From the Word of God, predeterminism or predestination is always to be understood from the perspective of God’s eternal decree. Therefore, to think God’s thoughts after Him (that must be the desire of every single Christian), the best subject to begin in the discussion on predestination is the doctrine of God inseparably connected to the Glory of God (i.e. the Person of God – namely His Self-Existence in unity and harmony with all His attributes inseparably constrained to the work of God – namely “everything that God does will remain forever” cf. Ecclesiastes 3:14). Pointedly, it is not pride for one to think God’s thoughts after Him. Instead, it is an act of humility for one to think God’s thoughts after Him, because in so doing, one focuses attention on what God thinks not what man thinks – and in turn, one aligns one’s thoughts with the Word of God. If a person claims that thinking God’s thoughts after Him is prideful or could lead to pride then that person does not want to surrender their own thoughts to God and abandon their own opinions for the Word of God (cf. Isaiah 55:7-9).

The Doctrine of God and the Decree of God to Create Humanity

To start, the paramount attribute that defines God is His Self-Existence, and because He is Self-Existent all His attributes work at maximum capacity forever. All God’s attributes are Supreme because He is the One and only Supreme Being Who eternally exists in Three distinct Persons, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit (i.e. God is One in Three distinct Persons, each Person is fully God and there is one God – cf. 2 Timothy 2:5). Each Person of the Triune God is one in essence/substance, co-equal and God is three distinct Persons (cf. John 10:30; 1 Corinthians 8:6). This is the unity of the Divine essence in three Persons and in this one essence are Three persons, yet so that neither is there a triple God, nor is the one essence of God divided. The reader is encouraged not to read this essay any further unless the reader fully believes and is willing to defend, die for, and never depart from the sound doctrine of the Trinity – namely, the truth that God the Father, Son, and Spirit, are one God, and yet the Son is not the Father, the Holy Spirit is not the Son and the Father is not the Holy Spirit. When Jesus said in John 10:30 “I and the Father are one” He taught that He is one in essence, one in nature, one in being yet distinct in Person. Therefore, in John 10:30 Jesus made a declaration of His absolute Deity. So there are three distinct Persons in one essence, not three qualities in one and the same person.  One God in Trinity and Trinity in unity, neither confounding the Persons, nor separating the substance.

To restate, God is Self-Existent and all His attributes work at maximum capacity forever. It is important to state that God is not a robot or a machine that can be taken apart and isolated in sections. Rather, God is a unity not a unit. The Unity of God refers to His Being, one and only, inseparably constrained to all His attributes. Because of God’s attribute of unity there is no dichotomy in God between His attributes. There is unity in God between all His attributes. The Unity of God means that there is one God and that the divine nature is complete, unbroken, undivided and indivisible.

In 1445 B.C., An Angel of the LORD appeared to a man named Moses in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush, on a mountain, in the wilderness of Mount Sinai (cf. Exodus 3; Acts 7:30-36). God spoke to the man Moses from the midst of the bush. At this miraculous event, Moses inquired of God’s name. God personally revealed His name to Moses when He said, “I AM WHO I AM . . . . This is My name forever, and this is My memorial-name to all generations” (Exodus 3:14b; 15b). “I AM WHO I AM” not only reveals God’s name but also who God is, namely that God is Self-Existent and therefore eternal. Because YHWH is God’s name forever and His memorial-name to all generations, Exodus 3 teaches that God is perpetual and that God attributes to Himself alone divine glory, because He is Self-Existent and therefore eternal; and thus gives being and existence to every creature. In order for one to be Self-Existent means that one has always existed without beginning and ending. In other words, to be Self-Existent means that there was never a point in which one came into existence and there will never be a point in which one will go out of existence, that is, cease to exist. This is why the historical narrative of the burning bush on Mount Horeb is one of the most memorable historical events recorded in the Word of God because it is where God revealed to man His name and the chief attribute that describes who He is, namely, Self-Existence. Inseparably constrained to this, that fact that God revealed His name to man also indicated that God is a Personal Being and not a force.

The reason why God’s name “I AM WHO I AM” has the meaning of Self-Existence is because in the context of Exodus 3:14-15 God said, “This is My name forever.” The word “forever” in Hebrew is   עולם (o-lawm’) and means permanent, forever and ever, everlasting, all successive, eternity. Eternity is not a measurement of time. Eternity is forever. On the other hand, time is a measurement because it has a beginning and an end. According to Webster’s Dictionary time is defined as “a period during which something exists or continues: an interval comprising of a limited and continuous action, condition, or state of being: measured or measurable duration.”[1] God’s existence is immeasurable. His state of being cannot be measured.

God is the Creator (cf. Genesis 1-2). Man is the creature made in God’s Image (Genesis 1:26-28). Genesis 2:7 describes the event of God the Creator creating man when it reads, “Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” Man as the creature, made in the Image of God, depends on his Creator God for existence. As creatures of the Self-Existent Creator God, each individual person has an immortal soul. In that sense man is eternal (with an immortal soul) but man is not self-existent (see Isaiah 48:2). There was a point in time in which man came into existence, but man will remain forever because man is a being which God created, and the Word of God says that everything God does remains forever (Ecclesiastes 3:14). God has written eternity on the hearts of all men (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

The Apostle John recorded in John 14:9 how the Self–Existent Infinite God is knowable when he recorded Jesus’ conversation with Philip; “Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” What is more, in the Gospel of John the Lord Jesus Christ made specific claims to deity, identifying His Divine Nature with the “I AM” of Ex 3:14-15. For example, the seven “I AM” statements in John are as follows, namely, (1) “I am the bread of life” (6:35), (2) “I am the Light of the world” (8:12), (3) “I am the door of the sheep” (10:7, cf. v 9), (4) “I am the good shepherd” (10:11; cf. v 14), (5) “I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25), (6) “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (14:6), (7) “I am the true vine” (15:1 a). Concerning Jesus Christ’s Self–Existence, commentator Lenski claimed that the grammar of John 8:58 indicated Jesus’ Aseity when he wrote,

As the aorist sets a point of beginning for the existence of Abraham, so the present tense “I am” predicates absolute existence for the person of Jesus, with no point of beginning at all. That is why Jesus does not use the imperfect ἤμην, “I was”; for this would say only that the existence of the person of Jesus antedates the time of Abraham and would leave open the question whether the person of Jesus also has a beginning like that of Abraham (only earlier) or not. What Jesus declares is that, although his earthly life covers less than fifty years, his existence as a person (ἐγώ) is constant and independent of any beginning in time as was that of Abraham…. Thus with the simplest words Jesus testifies to the divine, eternal pre-existence of his person.[2]

God is infinite. The Infinite God is comprehensible and immanent. What is more, the Infinite God is transcendent, that is, He is beyond everyone and everything – so, in that sense He cannot be fully grasped yet He is a Personal Being who is knowable and in Whom all other beings depend on Him for their existence. God is independent and self-sufficient – He depends on no other being. He is the Creator of all and He owns everything (Genesis 1:1; Psalm 24:1; Nehemiah 9:6). Isaiah 40:28 reads, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth Does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable,” and shows how all these attributes of God (Eternality, Self –Existence, Creator, Omnipresence [All present at all places – there is no place where God is not], Omnipotence [All powerful], Omniscience [All knowing – there is nothing that God does not know]) are inseparably constrained to one another – specifically God’s Self-Existence and Him as Creator. This is why God is unique because only God can be Self-Existent and Infinite, and only God can be the Creator. Only God can be the Creator because if He were to create another god – that god by definition would be a creature. Isaiah 40:28 emphasized God’s incommunicable attributes – that is, those attributes that belong to God alone. This is important because God’s Eternality and God as the Creator are emphasized together in Isaiah 40:28. Some infralapsarians teach God’s primary purpose to glorify Himself was by His attribute as Creator. However, the Glory of God is the summation of all God’s attributes and all the attributes of God work at maximum capacity forever. Therefore, to state that God’s “primary purpose” to glorify Himself was by His attribute of Creator is to compartmentalize God by isolating one of His attributes independently from His other attributes. Instead, God’s attribute of Creator was exercised in harmony with all of His other attributes.

Moreover, there is no dichotomy in God between His attributes – all His attributes work at maximum capacity forever. Isaiah 57:15 “For thus says the high and exalted One Who lives forever, whose name is Holy, ‘I dwell on a high and holy place, And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit In order to revive the spirit of the lowly And to revive the heart of the contrite.’” This is important because God’s Eternality and God’s attribute of Holiness are emphasized together in Isaiah 57:15. Supralapsarians teach that God’s primary purpose to glorify Himself was by His attribute of Holiness and Wrath (Anger) through double predestination and that double predestination logically preceded God’s decree to create humanity and then permit the fall of man to bring about His plan of double predestination. However, the Glory of God is the summation of all God’s attributes and all the attributes of God work at maximum capacity forever. Therefore, to state that God’s primary purpose” to glorify Himself was His attribute of Holiness through double predestination is another way to compartmentalize God by isolating one of His attributes independently from His other attributes. Instead, God’s attribute of Holiness was exercised in harmony with all of His other attributes.

The main point this writer is making is this – to only focus on one of the attributes of God to the neglect of the others concerning the eternal decree of God is not rendering an accurate portrayal of the Being of God, the Glory of God and the Work of God – there is no dichotomy in God between His Being, attributes, and work. For the infralapsarian or the supralapsarian to claim “the primary way God glorified Himself in relation to the world was only through His attribute of Creation or only His attribute of Holiness” is to create a caricature of God that is not completely accurate because all of God’s attributes work at maximum capacity forever – and the glory of God is the summation of all His attributes. At this point, this writer absolutely stresses the absoluteness of the necessity to maintain, and be in fear of, the fullness of the sound doctrine of the Holiness of God as well as to maintain absolute fullness of the sound doctrine of God as Creator. This is absolution of Holiness and Creator – that is, God is Self-Existently Holy and Self-Existently the Creator. In no way does criticizing the supralapsarian school of the eternal decree of God diminish or minimize God’s attribute of Holiness. Instead, it is the supralapsarian scheme that diminishes God’s attribute of Holiness because it renders that particular attribute in isolation from the rest. God is absolutely forever Holy. It is the purpose of this writer to maintain the Holiness of God. The Holiness of God is the moral character of God. God’s Holiness is eternally invested with all His attributes – that is, the attributes of God are unified, interconnected, integrated, interrelated, and interdependent – namely, His Self-Existence, Self-Sufficiency, Independence (Aseity), Omni-benevolence, Omnipotence, Omnipresence, Omniscience, Graciousness and Goodness, Holiness, Justice, Righteousness, Wrath (Anger), Transcendence , Immanence, Immutability, Impassibility, Impeccability, Incorporeality, Incomprehensibility, Infinity, Jealousy, Love, Mercy, Mystery, Oneness, Providence, Simplicity, Sovereignty, Veracity. What is more, the reader must know that a person has right thoughts about God when that person’s thoughts of God agree with what the Word of God teaches of Him – that is, when we think of His Being and attributes as the Word of God teaches. Thus thinking God’s thoughts after Him (e.g. predestination – the Eternal decree). Thinking about God rightly is to think about all of who God is concerning the unity and summation of all of God’s perfections.

Theodicy and the Decree of God to Permit the Fall of Humanity

The overall context of the book of Romans must be considered to draw out the authorial intent of one of the main passages at hand that is used by many to argue for double predestination (i.e. Romans 9:22-23 – which is discussed in length near the conclusion of this article). The overall theme of Paul’s epistle to the Romans is the righteousness of God and the righteous person shall live by faith (cf. 1:16-17). Therefore, Paul’s epistle to the Romans mainly focuses on soteriology (i.e. the study of salvation). For example, Romans 1:18-20 is about God’s charge against all men both Gentiles and Jews and as such concerns man’s need of righteousness. Romans 3:21-5:21 is about the righteousness of God in justification and Romans 6:1-8:39 is about the righteousness of God in sanctification. Romans 9 is about individual election and Romans 9-11 is about the Righteousness of God concerning Israel’s past, present and future. Most Israelites today are under God’s divine righteous judgment but in Israel’s future there they will be under the righteousness of God’s salvation of Israel (cf. Romans 11). The key word in Romans is δικαιοσύνη (righteousness) and is found no less than 34 times as a noun (cf. 1:17; 3:5, 21, 22, 25, 26; 4:3, 5, 6, 9, 11 x2, 13, 22; 5:17, 21; 6:13, 16, 18, 19, 20; 8:10; 9:30 x 3, 31; 10:3 x 3, 9:31; 10:3 x 3, 4, 5, 6, 10; 14:17). The verb form of righteousness δικαιόω (I make righteous, I defend the cause of) is found no less than 15 times in the book of Romans (cf. 2:13; 3:4, 20, 24, 26, 28, 30; 4:2, 5; 5:1, 9; 6:7; 8:30 x 2, 33). Romans is about the righteousness of God through the active obedience of Christ’s life (cf. Romans 5) and His propitiatory penal-substitutionary death on the cross for the sins of the elect (cf. 3:21-26) and His resurrection from the dead for the justification of the elect (cf. Romans 4:24-25; 10:9-10). Romans is about the imputation (i.e. charge; put to one’s account) of Christ’s personal righteousness to the account of the believing sinner. The righteousness of Christ is the basis of salvation and the requirement for salvation is faith in the personal righteousness of Christ alone to save one from the wrath of God, not works (cf. Romans 3:20-22; 30-31; 9:30-33). The believing sinner is then justified by faith alone in Christ alone and justification is the act that God performs in declaring His righteousness (i.e. the righteousness of Christ) to the account of the believing sinner, and as such the believing sinner is declared righteous before God and acquitted of all condemnation. God defends the believer’s position in Christ (e.g. “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us” Romans 8:33-34). The evidence that salvation has taken place, that is the fruit of salvation, is a reflection of God’s work in a person in defending the believer’s position of righteousness in such a way that the believer defends God’s righteousness. For example, the apostle Paul (a justified person by faith in Christ) defended God throughout the entire epistle with rhetorical questions which he then answers for the purpose of defending the righteousness of God in all areas that are discussed in Romans (cf. 2:3-5; 3:5-6, 9, 27-30; 4:1-3; 5:1-21; 6:1-4, 15-16; 7:1-3, 7; 8:31-35; 9:14-15 emphasis added).

That means that the book of Romans is about Theodicy. Theodicy is a Greek term that literally means “God-just.”[3] Theo means “God” and dicy or dikē means “just.” The Greek root for just is found in the Greek word for righteousness, namely, “δίκαιος, ία, ιον.”[4] Δίκαιος is an adjective which is defined of God as, “just, righteous, a just judge” (cf. John 17:25; Rom 3:26).”[5] The same word is described of God the Son, the second member of the Trinity, namely the Lord Jesus Christ (God in human flesh), in 1 John 2:1 which reads, “we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” In the Context of 1 John 2:1-2 it is Jesus who is an advocate with the Father against sin. Consequently, it is Jesus Christ who satisfies God the Father’s wrath toward sin. This propitiation is through the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross.  Δίκαιος is also used to describe the excellent innocence of Jesus Christ in Lk 23:47. The Lord Jesus Christ is the ultimate standard of righteousness and perfection.

The opposite of righteousness is the word “ἀδικία” (unrighteous) and it is described of fallen man in Romans 1:18. The alpha privative on “ἀδικία” indicates non- “dikē” or non- justice/righteousness. The word ἀδικία is used in 1 John 5:17a which reads, “All unrighteousness is sin”. Early in 1 John 3:4 the author defined sin when he wrote, “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness”. In the next verse, the author identifies the Lord Jesus Christ as being the one who came to take away sins and the one who has no sin in Him when he writes, “You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5; cf. Heb 4:15). Therefore, God is righteous and He will judge unrighteousness (i.e. sin). He cannot judge unrighteousness if He is not righteous and He is not righteous if He has any unrighteousness or created unrighteousness. To this effect, the Apostle Paul under the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit made an explicit theodicy argument when he wrote, “But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He? (I am speaking in human terms.) May it never be! For otherwise, how will God judge the world?” (Romans 3:5-6; see Isa 10:1-4). This is important because there are supralapsarians that teach God is the author of sin, in as far as He created sin for the purpose to display His glory through His attribute of wrath. One particular supralapsarian argued that God is the author of sin when he wrote, “What I’ll do is create something worthy of my wrath, something on which I can exhibit the glory of my wrath . . . I am not accusing God of sinning; I am suggesting that he created sin  . . . It was God’s desire to make his wrath known. He needed, then, something on which to be wrathful. He needed to have sinful creatures (R.C. Sproul Jr., Almighty Over All; Understanding the Sovereignty of God [Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999], 52-7).”  It is blasphemous to suggest that God created sin. At least, Sproul Jr. tried to show how the lapsarian debate is connected to Theodicy. There are many supralapsarians that argue that their system does not suggest that God is the author of sin. On the other hand, it makes sense why supralapsarians try to argue that their system does not suggest that God is the author of sin because (1) they know that to suggest that God is the author of sin is blasphemous and (2) they have already compartmentalized God’s attributes so they compartmentalize doctrine and claim that theodicy is not innerconnected to the lapsarian debate. However, Sproul Jr. is honest to take supralapsarianism to its logical conclusion.

How does supralapsarianism compartmentalize God’s attributes? The supralapsarian view emphasizes that God’s primary purpose in relation to the world is to glorify himself by saving some people and damning others by displaying His attributes of Holiness and Anger (Wrath). However, in the attempt of the supralapsarian school to uphold the specific attributes of God’s Holiness and Anger (Wrath), the system actually denies the Holiness of God. For example, Psalm 5:4 reveals that the presence of evil does not abide with God, for sin is contrary to God’s nature, when it reads, “For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness; No evil dwells with You.” Why would God create that which is contrary to His nature? If God created sin then He approved of it, but then that would contradict Habakkuk 1:13a-b which reads, “Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, And You can not look on wickedness with favor.” After God created everything He said in Genesis 1:31a the following, “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. . .” Moral Light has no fellowship with moral darkness (cf. James 1:17; 1 John 1:5). God could not have created sin because James 1:13 reads, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He himself does not tempt anyone.” In James 1:13, namely “μηδεὶς πειραζόμενος λεγέτω ὅτι Ἀπὸ Θεοῦ πειράζομαι ο γαρ Θεὸς ὰπειραστός εστιν κακῶν, πειράζει δὲ αὐτὸς ουδενα,” There is an alpha privative attached to the Greek word for tempted that describes that God cannot be tempted by evil. The word is ἀπείραστός and is an adjective nominative singular masculine that describes that God is not able to be tempted. The word ἀπείραστός is a hapax legomenon (i.e. a term that is recorded only once in the NT) and because it is only found once it has a unique theological significance, namely it is not a part of God’s nature to tempt. It is contrary to God’s nature to be tempted by evil. James 1:13 is found in the same context as 1:17 which reads, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” Within the same context as James 1:13 is the theological context of God described as unchangeable. This means that God is unchangeably not able to tempt anyone in light of His Self-Existence. Therefore, God could not be the author of sin related to the origin of sin or any present manifestation of sin.

Sin is not eternal. Therefore, sin could not have been created by God. Sin had a point of origin and sin will have a distinct point of cessation (i.e. end). Sin’s origin occurred in the angelic realm (see discussion below in this article). Sin’s cessation will happen at the end when the devil and his angels are put in the lake of fire, that is the eternal fire prepared for them (cf. Matthew 25:41), as well as those of mankind whose names were not written in the book of life of the Lamb having been slain from the foundation of the world (cf. Revelation 18:3; Revelation 20:15). Everyone will spend eternity in one of two places. The elect will spend eternity with Christ in Heaven because He eternally exhausted God’s wrath towards their sin when He died in their place on the cross, Christ paying the debt they owed for their sin in penal-substitution and Him being raised from the dead for their justification. The non-elect will spend eternity in Hell fully exhausting God’s wrath toward their sin and paying God back for their sin forever. No one will be sinning in Hell but rather those there will be paying God back for their sin. Therefore, sin is either destroyed and comes to an end in the second death by God or sin was destroyed by the death of Christ (God in human flesh) on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. In agreement with Scripture and with this writer, the late biblical expositor James Montgomery Boice argued against the error and complete non-sense to suggest that moral evil is eternal when he wrote,

Where does sin come from if it does not come as the Bible declares . . . . To the knowledge of this present writer, in the whole history of ideas of the human race there have been only two other answers given, and one of them is not really an answer at all while the other is inadequate. The first answer is the eternality of evil. That is, evil has existed from the very beginning of things, just as good has existed from the beginning; therefore, all life is characterized by this mixture. But this is actually no answer because, as we can easily understand, it is simply a denial of the problem. It is the denial that sin or evil had a beginning.[6]

The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is critical to the discussion concerning the eternal decree and Theodicy. In Genesis 2, the LORD God put the first man in the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep (cf. Genesis 2:15). In Genesis 2:16-17, the LORD God gave the man a commandment with a prohibition – “The LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.’” Some believe that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was a figure for potentially unlimited knowledge, it being a good tree, but man was not to eat it because it would result in man obtaining human autonomy (a law unto one’s self) and as such man would know unlimited knowledge apart from God. However, man did not receive unlimited knowledge after he transgressed the commandment (cf. Genesis 3:7; 22). It is true that the nature of the serpent’s temptation in Genesis 3 was a temptation to personal autonomy because that was the nature of the first sin in the angelic world – namely personal autonomy apart from God – thus one’s attempt to dethrone God’s reign over one’s self (c.f. Isaiah 14:12-16). However, the fruit was not the fruit of Sovereignty because the man and the woman did not become like God in Omniscience but rather lost their innocence by sinning against God’s command. God could very well be mocking the serpent’s temptation in Genesis 3:22b-d when the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil . . . .” The first man and woman were in a state of innocence and they lost their innocence when Adam sinned. Man could only obtain the knowledge of good and evil from the tree through experience, not Omniscience. Only God is Omniscient and has knowledge of good and evil but never evil through committing it because God is Self-Existently perpetually morally perfect – God cannot sin. God does not sin. God has never sinned. God will never sin. Therefore, the commandment prohibition from God for the man not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil has three points:

  1. It is a command from God (therefore a violation of God’s command is sin cf. 1 John 3:4).
  2. Because the command is a prohibition it represents the Creator’s predetermined will for man to respect the limitations God had set for man toward evil (this maintains that God has decreed all things to come to pass, even that it was His permissive will to allow evil to enter into the creation – yet God is not responsible for sin. Instead, sin is the violation of God’s commandment. The responsibility for sin is with the creature who disobeyed not with the Creator who set the restriction toward evil).
  3. The warning and promise of death for disobedience (“for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die”). This represented God’s will to maintain His holiness and wrath – anger, wrought harmoniously with all of His attributes, to prescribe judgment to restrain evil and ultimately destroy evil – even the death of death through the death of Christ and Christ’s subsequent resurrection from the dead to provide deliverance to some from God’s judgment on evil.

To end, the parameters established by the Creator for man to respect – that is, the commandment not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, showed God’s Sovereign will and man’s culpability to be held morally and legally responsible for transgressing the commandment (cf. Romans 5:12-14). When Adam sinned, the paradise and innocence was lost; everything changed. Mankind’s current post-fall condition did not exist when Adam was originally created.

The late five point Calvinistic systematician Louis Berkhof denied that God is the author of sin when he wrote the following,

God’s eternal decree certainly rendered the entrance of sin into the world certain, but this may not be interpreted so as to make God the cause of sin in the sense of being its responsible author . . . . In light of all of this it would be blasphemous to speak of God as the author of sin. And for that reason all those deterministic views which represent sin as a necessity inherent in the very nature of things should be rejected. They by implication make God the author of sin, and are contrary, not only to Scripture, but also to the voice of conscience, which testifies to the responsibility of man.[7]

Next, the argument that suggests that God “needed, then, something on which to be wrathful. He needed to have sinful creatures (p. 57)” denies God as necessary being – that is, the only being in which all other beings depend on Him for their existence. The reason why this denies God as necessary Being is because it makes God dependent on man to make decisions concerning His eternal decree. Therefore, to suggest that God “needed, then, something on which to be wrathful. He needed to have sinful creatures (p. 57)” is anthropocentric, that is theology that places man at the center.

High five point infralapsarian Calvinism argues that God is not the author of sin. Instead, High five point infralapsarian Calvinism argues that it was according to the standard of God’s will to allow sin to enter into the creation, thus maintaining that God is sovereign over sin and sin could not have occurred unless God decreed it so – yet He is not its culpable Creator. In other words, sin could not have entered into the creation unless God allowed sin to enter into the creation, yet God is innocent and judges fallen angelic beings and fallen man responsible. Sin is not a pre-existent eternal thing. Sin is not material. On the other hand, sin is an unprincipled, dishonorable, immoral, corrupt decision that resolves itself volitionally (i.e. the act of the will) resulting in the exercise of the will evidenced by a visible action. The Apostle John defined sin as lawlessness when he wrote the following through inspiration by God the Holy Spirit– “everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4).

If God did not create sin, then where did sin come from? The Word of God teaches that sin originated in the angelic realm and then with man. The derivation of sin (i.e. origin of sin) must be qualified by a distinction between two classifications in the creative order, namely the angelic order and the order of mankind. The Word of God explains how sin originated in both of these two orders and the distinction between the subsequent consequences for each. Concerning the former order the Word of God offers insight to the origin of sin in the angelic realm. Isa 14:12-15 describes the first sin in the Angelic realm when the text reads,

How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, You who have weakened the nations! But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, And I will sit on the mount of assembly In the recesses of the north. ‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ Nevertheless you will be thrust down to Sheol, To the recesses of the pit.

In the overall context of Isa 14, it referred to a human king of Babylon upon whom God pronounced judgment. Within the taunt against Babylon, God moved from the physical ruler of Babylon to the spiritual ruler of Babylon who was influencing the human ruler. Likewise, in Ezekiel God pronounced judgment on the physical king of Tyre (Ezek 28:1-10) as well as the spiritual ruler who was influencing the human king of Tyre (Ezek 28:12-19). Some might argue that because of the prophetic literary genre of Isaiah and Ezekiel that the language of “How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning” (Isa 14:12a-b) and “You were in Eden, the garden of God . . . You were the anointed cherub who covers” (Ezekiel 28:13 a-b; 14a) was figurative. However, in Gen 3:14-15 God pronounced judgment on the physical serpent first (v. 14) and then on the spiritual serpent who influenced the physical serpent (v. 15). All three of these examples are oracles of judgment delivered from God on an unrighteous fallen angelic being.

The unrighteous fallen angelic being judged in Gen 3:15; Isa 14:12-15; and Ezek 28:12-19 is identified as Satan the devil. Revelation 12 records the history of the dragon in which Satan is identified as follows; “And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.” The description of Satan as a serpent is a direct reference to Gen 3:15. The angels who fell with the devil fell because they joined with him in his rebellion. Ezekiel 28:16 explains the devil’s ability of persuasion when the text explains that, “By the abundance of your trade You were internally filled with violence, And you sinned; Therefore I have cast you as profane From the mountain of God. And I have destroyed you, O covering cherub, From the midst of the stones of fire.” This referred to the origin of sin, namely that the cherub who was originally blameless (cf. Ezekiel 28:15) wanted to make himself like the Most High (Isa 14:14b). Morally, he turned from righteousness to unrighteousness by volition of his will (cf. Ezekiel 28:15). Satan wanted to dethrone God and when he attempted to do so he led one third of the angels to fall (cf. Rev 12:4). Louis Berkhof offered the biblical answer to the origin of sin when he wrote the following;

Sin originated in the angelic world. The Bible teaches us that in the attempt to trace the origin of sin, we must even go back of the fall of man as described in Gen 3, and fix the attention on something that happened in the angelic world. God created a host of angels, and they were all good as they came forth from the hand of their Maker, Gen 1:31. But a fall occurred in the angelic world, in which legions of angels fell away from God. The exact time of this fall is not designated, but in John 8:44 Jesus speaks of the devil as a murderer from the beginning (kat’ arches), and John says in 1 John 3:8, that he sins from the beginning.[8]

It takes childlike faith to accept a biblical Theodicy that vindicates God. The Christian believes with a childlike faith that God is not the author of sin but rather understanding that it is Satan that is the author of sin. Childlike faith is the prerequisite to having a correct understanding of Theodicy because Jesus said the following in Luke 10:18-21 when the text reads,

And He said to them, ‘I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning.  Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.’ At that very time He rejoiced greatly in the Holy Spirit, and said, ‘I praise You, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight.’

Childlike faith, not human wisdom, is the prerequisite for understanding that the origin of sin began in the angelic world because in the context of explaining the fall of Satan, Jesus gave praise to God the Father for revealing this unseen spiritual history and reality to unlearned grown adults. The people identified by Jesus as infants in Lk 10:21 are adults who have not been educated by man-made systems of higher education, those systems that seek to rationally give an answer to the problem of moral evil but fail to understand it because God has hidden it from them.

The origin of sin in the human race is recorded in Gen 3. The spiritual serpent used the physical serpent to tempt Eve to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that God had commanded Adam not to eat from (cf. Gen 3:1-7). The serpent succeeded in deceiving the woman (2 Cor 11:3; 1 Tim 2:14). She ate the fruit, gave it to her husband with her, he ate and that was the first sin. The first Adam was our representative (Vicar-federal headship) in the Garden and because of Adam’s sin, God judged the entire human race by imputing Adam’s sin to the entire scope of humanity. To impute means to charge or credit to one’s account.[9] Imputing sin is not the same as being the author of sin. Original sin was credited to every single person’s account who has ever lived on this earth except the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the One who was to come, namely the Seed of the woman (Gen 3:15), born of a virgin and conceived by the God the Holy Spirit, and the Second Adam (Rom 5:15c-e, 16c, 17c-d, 18b, 19b, 20c, 21c).   Also, Adam was the seminal head of the entire scope of humanity. This means that Adam, being the first man, contained the entire human race in his loins or semen. Therefore, sin is very much a part of man’s status and nature (Gen 3; 6:5; 1 Kgs 8:46; 2 Chron 6:36; Ps 51:5; 58:3; Prov 20:9; Ecc 7:20; Jer 17:9; Jn 2:25; Rom 3:9-12; 23; 5:12-15b, 16a-b, 17a-b, 18a, 19a; Eph 2:1).

Augustine of Hippo argued against a false model of Theodicy known as Dualism. Dualism teaches that “good and evil are coeternal opposites, either originating in a common first principle, or eternally existing as opposite principles.”[10] Concerning the nature of God, Augustine refuted the Manichaeans when we wrote, “For sins, which do not preserve but vitiate nature are not from Him; which sins, Holy Scripture in many ways testifies, are from the will of those sinning.”[11] R.C. Sproul explained Augustine’s answer to the problem of evil when he wrote,

To avoid the ontological necessity of evil, Augustine turned to free will. God created man with a free will, in which he also enjoyed perfect liberty. Man had the faculty of choosing what he wanted. He had the ability to sin and the ability not to sin. He freely chose to sin out of his concupiscence (an inclination that leans to sin but is not sin). As a result of the first sin, man lost his liberty but not his free will. He was plunged, as a divine punishment, into a corrupt state known as original sin, losing the ability to incline himself to the things of God…Fallen man is in bondage to sin. He still has the faculty of choosing, a will free from coercion, but he now is free only to sin, because his desires are inclined only toward sin and away from God. Now, ‘the ability not to sin,’ is lost and in its place is ‘the inability not to sin.’[12]

There must be a distinction between the will of man pre-fall and post-fall. Augustine is absolutely right concerning this matter. Pre-fall man’s will was in perfect harmony with the will of God because man freely chose to live according to the only will, namely God’s will. Post-fall man’s will is in bondage to sin and freely choses sin. James Montgomery Boice explained the problem of sin as it relates to the will in fallen creatures when he wrote,

Before Satan’s fall there was only one will. It was God’s will; it was perfect. After Satan’s rebellion there were two wills—Satan’s and God’s—but, of course, only one of the two was perfect—God’s. When Adam and Eve were created there was an immediate problem as to which of the two they would follow. Satan thought he would get Adam and Eve to follow him. Although he got them to rebel against God, he did not succeed in getting them to follow his will. So, there now were four wills, each going its own way and only one of them (God’s will) remaining perfect…. Today there are billions of wills, which explains the constant conflicts in the human race. But it is still the case that only one, the will of God Almighty, is perfect and totally desirable.[13]

God is Sovereign over evil and uses it to accomplish His purposes. Concerning the way things are Post-fall, it was God who had decreed calamity (cf. Isa 45:7). However, there is a distinction between moral evil and what man calls physical evil (e.g. wars, famines, earthquakes, hurricanes, etc.) Post-fall, calamity is the consequence for moral evil. Nevertheless, God uses evil to accomplish His purposes for good as is the case in Gen 50:20 where Joseph told his brothers who wickedly sold him into slavery the following; “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive”.

God will judge sin to be sure and He cannot judge sin righteously if He is the author of sin because He said in Proverbs 17:15, “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous, both of them alike are an abomination to the LORD”. So, there is a great dilemma, namely this – how can wicked man be saved from the wrath of God? The answer to that question and the solution to the problem of evil is found at the cross of Christ. The crucifixion of Christ was the most heinous act of injustice in the history of the world. Concerning Jesus Christ, the only one who lived an innocent sinless life, Peter said to the Jews in Acts “you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death” (Acts 2:23c). Yet the first part of the same verse read, “this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God.” (Acts 2:23a-b). God sent His Son Jesus Christ to the Cross but He holds the lawless men responsible for His murder. In so doing, God maintained and demonstrated His righteousness (Romans 3:25) and maintained and demonstrated His love (Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:10) when Jesus satisfied God’s wrath toward sin in vicarious penal-substitution for everyone who would believe in Christ for eternal life (i.e. the elect). It is by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone not works that man is saved from the wrath of God toward sin. God commands men to turn away from sin (Prov 3:7) but in no way is God the author of sin.

The Decree of God to Predestine/Elect Some Fallen Humans to Salvation and Eternal Life and Predestine Others to Damnation and Everlasting Punishment in Hell

The Word of God teaches that God has predestined and prepared some from humanity for eternal life (cf. Romans 9:23; Ephesians 1:5; 11). Also, the Word of God teaches that those who have not been predestined and prepared for eternal life have been prepared for eternal judgment and destruction (cf. Proverbs 16:4; Ephesians 9:22). Man will remain forever in eternity in one of two places. Consequently, each individual person will answer to their Creator when their time has finished on Earth when they die. After that, individual persons will spend eternity in either Hell or Heaven. To this effect, Holy God has written His Law on every man’s heart (Romans 2:15). As the Creator and Holy God, He has appointed man once to die and then to enter into eternity in which He will exercise His Divine right as final Judge, perfectly consistent with His divine eternal decree to sentence each individual person to spend eternity in Heaven or eternity in Hell.

There have been three major views related to the order of the eternal decree of God – namely, supralapsarianism (e.g. double predestination and limited atonement), infralapsarianism (e.g. double predestination and limited atonement) and Amyraldism (single predestination and unlimited atonement). This discussion has been formally referred to as the Order of the Divine Decrees Debate. This debate is important for many reasons. First, the correct position is drawn from the Scriptures and therefore the correct position is a Christian doctrine. Paul argued by inspiration of God the Holy Spirit that “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Likewise, sound doctrine is inseparably constrained to sound living because the standard of sound teaching is fixed to the standard of godliness (cf. 1 Timothy 6:3). Second, the Christian should pursue thinking God’s thoughts after Him because the Christian has the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16). Also, thinking God’s thoughts after Him is for the mature and evidences that one is following the Apostle Paul’s instruction in Philippians 4:8 – because, God’s thoughts are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, excellent and worthy of praise. Third, God is Self-Existent and therefore you cannot compartmentalize Him by isolating His attributes as if there was a dichotomy in God between His attributes or between His Word and His Character. To this effect, you cannot compartmentalize His doctrine either through the suggestive theory that a doctrinal triage exists with primary, secondary and tertiary doctrines of importance.

The three main positions concerning the order of the Divine Decree are listed as follows:

Three Main Views:[14]

Supra-lapsarian Double Predestination/Limited Atonement

Infra-lapsarian Double Predestination/Limited Atonement

Amyraldism – Single Predestination/Unlimited Atonement

(1) The decree of God to predestine/elect some creatures to salvation and eternal life and some other creatures to damnation and everlasting punishment in hell.

(2) The decree of God to create the world and humanity in it.

(3) The decree of God to permit the Fall of humanity

(4) The decree of God to provide salvation through Christ’s atonement (limited) for the redemption of the elect.

(5) The decree of God to send God the Holy Spirit to apply salvation (the righteousness of Christ) to the elect.

(1) The decree of God to create the world and humanity in it.

(2) The decree of God to permit the Fall of humanity.

(3) The decree of God to predestine/elect some fallen humans to salvation and eternal life and predestine others to damnation and everlasting punishment in hell.

(4) The decree of God to provide salvation through Christ’s atonement (limited) for the redemption of the elect.

(5) The decree of God to send God the Holy Spirit to apply salvation (the righteousness of Christ) to the elect and leave the reprobate to their deserved fate.

(1) The decree of God to create the world and humanity in it.

(2) The decree of God to permit the Fall of humanity.

(3) Decree to provide salvation for the entire scope of humanity through Christ’s atonement (unlimited/hypothetical universalism).

(4) The decree to elect some to believe and to leave in just condemnation those who do not believe.

(5) Decree to apply salvation to those who believe.

The term lapsarian means the fall of humanity. Lapsus is the latin term for fall. Supra-lapsarianism means before lapse “fall.” Infra-lapsarianism means after lapse “fall.” Sub-lapsarianism means under lapse “fall.” Amyraldianism is absolutely incorrect because it teaches a hypothetical universalism. All three of these positions refer to God’s eternal decree, that is, all three of these positions argue that their scheme with the exact understanding of predetermineas defined above – namely, God’s willful decree from eternity before it occurred in time as understood at the foundation of the world. But only one position can be correct. There have been some that have dismissed, for example, infralapsarianism because they misunderstand that infralapsarianism teaches an eternal decree from eternity not an actual chronological sequence of events in time. Instead, infralapsarianism teaches that God decreed these things from eternity and then laid them out in time because they were predetermined by God to come to pass. A helpful analogy (although not completely analogous) is like the blueprints of a building. First, the plan is drawn out and then ordered to be constructed. Then the actual construction occurs because it has been determined. The events that were determined to occur are not from the time form but occur in time because they have been predetermined from eternity. The succession of the events of the Divine Decree happen one after another in time, yet by one single act of God all these events have been ordained from eternity. Therefore, these events in the Divine Decree are not in the mind of the Infinite God as they are in the mind of finite man. Man looks at eternity from the perspective of time, whereas God decreed time from eternity.

It is very difficult to understand or suggest a chronological sequence of events from eternity because eternity is not a measurement of time – eternity is a fixed state. Therefore, the lapsarian debate concerns a logical order of decrees, not a chronological order, and how that is connected to the fall of man (cf. Gen 3), the reprobation of man, the election of some from mankind, and the redemption of the elect from mankind (all of these events predestined before the foundation of the world). To use the metaphor of morphism, man is a finite creature under the strain and authority of time. One way the metaphor called morphism can be used is anthropomorphism – that is, attributing human qualities to someone or something. One form of anthropomorphism is from John 10 “no one can snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” God the Father does not have human hands because He is Spirit – what the verse means is that God is Omnipotent (All powerful) and if He has the elect no one is powerful enough to take away their salvation because they cannot lose their salvation. Terminology like “before the foundation of the world” is like kairomorphism. (This writer did not merely “make up” this word to make an argument but discovered and put together two already existing Greek words to describe an already existing concept concerning its phenomenology). Kairos καιρός is the Greek word for “appointed time; opportune moment; the supreme moment”. (This writer borrowed the Greek word καιρός to demonstrate how eternity impacts events that occur in time). For finite creatures to understand succession of moments in eternity, (eternity is not a measurement of time it is a fixed state), one can use “before the foundation of the world” as a way for finite creatures to understand that which was decreed “before” time existed. The word “before” from our perspective is loaded with connotations of time, but “before” from the perspective of eternity does not have the meaning of time. The problem arises when one falls into a Chronocentric (time-centered) way of thinking – that is, thinking about eternity as if eternity is not fixed but rather a measurement of time. Another Greek word for time χρόνος (chronos) was used for the English word chronology. Supralapsarianism does not work because it is linear not circular. To demonstrate that supralapsarianism is linear, by way of example, in order for one to have thought of the first decree, that is, “the decree of God to predestine/elect some creatures to salvation and eternal life and predestine other creatures to damnation and everlasting punishment in hell” one would already had to have thought to plan to create these individuals. On the other hand, if the decree is eternal it would make more sense to suggest a logical order instead of a chronological order.

The decree of God makes more sense with infralapsarianism because it is more consistent with how the Word of God is laid out – it begins with God and ends with God. Not all circular reasoning is illogical. All circular reasoning is illogical to the person who begins with a Chronocentric (time-centered) way of thinking. As finite creatures made in the Image of our Creator we do know eternity because it is written on our hearts – “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven . . . He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 11). Unfortunately, man suppresses the truth about the Existence of God and therefore the truth concerning eternity, even though it is written on their hearts and evident within them – “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood though what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:18-20). It is inconsistent with the nature of the Holy God of Justice in harmony with all of His attributes for Him to recognize as sinners men destined for eternal punishment in Hell and then actively decree the fall to take place to apply sin to carry out His plan of reprobation and also apply sin to the elect to carry out His plan of salvation for the elect. God’s Sovereignty is not abstract or arbitrary. Instead, in Ephesians 1:11, the Apostle Paul wrote through the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit that the standard of predestination is His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will – therefore, God’s eternal decree is not arbitrary (i.e. based on random choice or unexplained sudden desire) but instead it is the standard of the purpose of God who is working all things according to His counsel. God’s plan is not arbitrary but thoughtfully and eternally planned.

Double Predestination – Romans 9:22-23

The grammar in Romans 9:22-23 makes a case for double predestination and limited atonement, but does it make a case for supralapsarianism or infralapsarianism double predestination? Romans 9:22-23 teaches double predestination because there are two fixed fates for two types of people – that is, the non-elect are destined for reprobation and will suffer Divine wrath for eternity and the elect are destined for justification and as such are saved from the wrath of God. Justification is the act in which God declares His righteousness to the account of the believing sinner. Because of the grammar in Romans 9:22-23 the passage does not teach supralapsarianism. For example, the Apostle Paul maintained God’s Sovereignty over salvation and reprobation when he wrote, “So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires” (Romans 9:18) – And when Paul explained the fairness of the situation he wrote,

You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? (Romans 9:19-21)

Then Paul asked the following question: “What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?” (Romans 9:22). Next, Paul wrote, “And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory.” (Romans 9:23). The two categories of people namely “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction” and “vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory” have different words in Greek used for “prepared.” For instance, the Greek word “prepared” from “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction” out of verse 22 is κατηρτισμένα, a perfect participle passive accusative neuter plural from the verb καταρτίζω (I fit together, prepare). Because the voice of this participle is passive the subject receives the action. If the voice was active the subject performs the action. Paul used a completely different Greek word and form (i.e. a verb and not a participle) for “prepared” in verse 23 for “vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory” – namely, προητοίμασεν from the Greek verb προετοιμάζω (I prepare beforehand, predestine). The word used for “He prepared beforehand” from verse 23 is not a participle like the word “prepared” (κατηρτισμένα) from verse 22. Instead, the word used for “He prepared beforehand” from verse 23 is a verb. What is more, it is in a different tense (i.e. Aorist) and is in a completely different voice – namely, active voice. God is clearly the subject that peforms the action to the object of verse 23 because the “vessels” of verse 23 are in the accusative case  – the accusative case is the case that designates the direct object in Greek and functions to show the direction or extent or end of an action. The direct object is shown in verse 23 to be governed by the active verb “He prepared beforehand” where God is the subject, the verb is active, showing the subject performing the action on the direct object – namely, “vessels of mercy . . . for glory.” Paul maintains in Romans 9:22-23 the wrath of God, though he showed a distinction in the Greek tenses that cannot be ignored. God actively prepared vessels for glory (i.e. the elect). On the other hand, vessels are prepared for destruction, where the voice is passive or middle because these vessels are storing up wrath for themselves – “But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Romans 2:5). Paul wrote, “you are treasuring up to yourself wrath” (literally), and there “in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” The non-elect are destined for reprobation in God’s court and the sentence of the judgment of God but they prepared this themselves and God is not responsible for their sin. Instead, man is responsible for preparing himself, treasuring up wrath for himself (cf. Romans 2:5), and consequently are objects of the wrath of Almighty God. Although the Gospel message of the Lord Jesus Christ goes forth and God commands all men everywhere to repent “because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:31), those who are reprobate refuse to repent. Man must be born again to have the ability to repent, yet everyone is responsible to repent of their sins and turn to God. The word reprobate in the King James Version is from Romans 1:28 which reads, “And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper” (for ἀδόκιμος “fail to pass the test; unapproved” cf. 1 Corinthians 9:27; 2 Corinthians 13:5, 6, 7; 2 Timothy 3:8; Titus 1:16; Hebrews 6:8).  The word reprobate is an adjective and was used to describe the mind of a person dead in their sin – that is, total depravity. In Ephesians 2:1-3 Paul wrote that everyone is in a state of total inability (depravity) concerning their minds “Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.” – and Paul wrote that to describe who believers once were before conversion just as the rest of mankind. From the entire lump God only extended His grace to some (these are known as the elect); the rest He left in their condition and did not extend either the grace of unconditional election or the propitiatory vicarious penal-substitutionary atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ who is “. . . the Lamb having been slain from the founding of the world” (cf. Revelation 13:8).

Divine Election – Ephesians 1:4-6, 11

            In Ephesians 1:3-14 the Apostle Paul did not contrast reprobation and election like he did in Romans 9:22-23. Instead, in Ephesians 1:3-14 Paul wrote of the doctrine of Divine Election, not Divine Reprobation. Nevertheless, the Eternal Decree of God is not arbitrary (i.e. random; chance; uniformed; illogical; capricious). God never works in an arbitrary manner concerning choice. Instead, Ephesians 1:5 explained the standard of God’s predestination of some to election when the text reads, “He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will.” The Greek preposition κατὰ (according to) here is used with the accusative case and it means standard. Therefore, the “good pleasure” or “kind intention” of God’s will is the standard that He predestined some for divine adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself. The kind intention of His will is a genitive of source – that means, the kind intention comes from His will.  Likewise, Ephesians 1:11 explained the standard of God’s predestination of some to election when the text reads, “also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will.” Again, the Greek preposition κατὰ (according to) was used here with the accusative case to show the standard of predestination – that is, “His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will.” God’s standard is His purpose and therefore is not arbitrary. Moreover, God’s “the counsel of His will” means that God’s will is not influenced by anything or anyone outside Himself. There is no outside force of “chance” dictating God’s decree. There is no necessary being other than God – therefore, God does not rely on any creature for information to make a decision. Predestination is the cause of election. Also, predestination is inseparably constrained to election as well as the sound doctrine of the atonement (cf. Ephesians 1:7 emphasis added).  And God willed to glorify Himself (God’s Glory is the summation of all His attributes) to demonstrate His grace and mercy by extending His grace and mercy on undeserving persons – these are known as the elect. The righteous, holy demands of His justice and wrath (anger) toward sin were propitiated by the cross work of Christ. Therefore, the sacrifice of Christ on the cross maintained and demonstrated God’s holiness, justice, love, grace, mercy, etc. For those whom He elected He will accomplish His purpose for them  – that is, “just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him . . .” (Ephesians 1:4). Election is an extension of grace and as such election is not a legal term. Election is destined to result in justification. Justification is a legal court room reality. Therefore, those who are elect will be justified (cf. Romans 8:33-34 emphasis added; 29-30).

Conclusion

            In conclusion, discussion on the divine decrees (e.g. infralapsarianism vs supralapsarianism) is absolutely a primary issue because the doctrines of Predestination, Divine Election, Theodicy, the Fall of humanity, the Atonement, etc. are all interconnected with the discussion. The person who tries to doctrinally triage these doctrines to tertiary levels of importance is compartmentalizing God’s Word and that is because they have compartmentalized God and His attributes. It is extremely important for the Christian to not compartmentalize God. Maintaining the chief attribute that defines who God is – that is, His Self-Existence, is not compartmentalizing God but instead it maintains that because God is Self-Existent all of His attributes work at maximum capacity forever. This also maintains God’s glory as the summation of all His attributes. This also maintains the unity of God – that is, all of God’s attributes are interconnected, integrated, and interrelated yet distinct without any dichotomy between any of the attributes of God. Concerning the accurate position on the divine decree, infralapsarianism is more compatible with the Word of God concerning the order of the Divine Decree from Eternity because (1) infralapsarianism is more compatible with how the Word of God is laid out; and (2) infralapsarianism maintains double predestination and limited atonement without suggesting that God is the primary source or culpable author of sin. God is completely Sovereign and He eternally decreed the destinies of every single person who has ever lived, yet He is not responsible for sin. What is more, God did not create sin for the purpose to decree sin to enter into His very good creation for the purpose to apply sin to persons so He could judge them. Instead, the non-elect are destined for reprobation and are responsible for their own sin and are treasuring up wrath for themselves in the day of wrath, because Paul wrote, “What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?” Non-election is not a court room term. Reprobation is a court room term, and as such, a person’s legal status before God. The non-elect did not receive an extension of grace; therefore when the non-elect go before God at the great white throne judgment they will be judged according to their deeds (cf. Revelation 20:12), their names will not be found in the book of life and they will be thrown into the lake of fire (cf. Revelation 20:11-15). Legally reprobate, in the end the non-elect will be found to have never repented unto salvation and never to have believed the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. The non-elect will be found to have refused God’s command to repent (this does not mean Arminian foreknowledge where God sees into the future who would and who would not repent and believe and based on that condition God then electing some and passing over others). The non-elect ultimately will have refused to repent even though “God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31). The Lord Jesus Christ is the Man of righteousness whom God has appointed. He is the God-Man, Second Person of the Triune God, two natures perfectly united in one Person; Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, and “this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power” (Acts 2:23-24). God predetermined the Lord Jesus Christ to die on the cross in substitution for everyone who would ever trust in Christ to be saved from the wrath of God. And, God holds the godless men responsible who put Him to death. The elect are the recipients of redemption found in Christ Jesus, of the active obedience of His life, His cross work as the propitiation for their sins, and His resurrection from the dead for their justification.

E. V. Powers

For an extensive argument on the extent of the atonement (i.e. the decree of God to provide salvation through Christ’s atonement (limited) for the redemption of the elect) click on the following links from TBCRI:

https://bcri.wordpress.com/2015/07/16/did-christ-die-for-everyone-or-only-for-the-elect-an-essay-on-the-extent-of-the-atonement-by-eric-powers/

and https://bcri.wordpress.com/2015/07/23/the-extent-of-the-atonement-a-case-for-particular-redemption-in-the-johannine-literary-corpus/

 

[1] Philip Babcock Gove, “Time,” Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged (Springfield: G. & C. Merriam Co., 1971), 2394.

[2] R.C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel, (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1943), 670-71.

[3] Sinclair B. Ferguson and David F. Wright, New Dictionary of Theology, The Master Reference Collection (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 679.

[4] Bruce M. Metzger, Lexical Aids for Students of New Testament Greek, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 14.

[5] William Arndt and F Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: A Translation and Adaptation of the Fourth Revised and Augmented Edition of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Wörterbuch Zu Den Schriften Des Neuen Testaments Und der Übrigen Urchristlichen Literatur, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), 195.

[6] James Montgomery Boice, Genesis: An Expositional Commentary, paperback ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006, 1998),  162.

[7] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1946), 220.

[8] Ibid., Berkhof, 221.

[9] Paul used imputation positively to explain that the righteousness of Christ has been credited to the believer’s account (Romans 4:22-25).

[10] James Mook, TH 605 Theology I; Lesson 35 (Unpublished course notes: The Master’s Seminary, 2014), 370.

[11] A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church; First Series. Vol. IV (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 1980-1983), 357.

[12] R C. Sproul, The Consequences of Ideas: Understanding the Concepts That Shaped Our World (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2009), 62-63.

[13] James Montgomery Boice, Genesis: An Expositional Commentary, paperback ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006, 1998), 154.

[14] Modified chart based on lists from, Michael J. Vlach, THEOLOGY III: MAN, SIN, AND SALVATION; APPENDIX 1 – The Order of the Divine Decrees Debate (Unpublished course notes: The Master’s Seminary, 2015), 261-5.

 

Glorification

ordo

The sound doctrine of glorification completes the ‘Ordo Salutis’ as it relates to the doctrine of salvation. It is the believers’ blessed hope (Titus 2:13; Romans 5:5). Glorification is a consummative reality, as believers are, at their death or return of Christ, outfitted with glorified bodies to enjoy eternal, unmitigated, and unbroken fellowship with God forever (1 Cor. 15:42-44). The Westminster Catechism expresses this reality as the ‘chief end of man’. Redeemed sinners, glorified in Christ, are brought to full reconciliation, by the work of the Holy Spirit, through grace alone, by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. Therefore, glorification is a Trinitarian work of God. Since its inception points to the eternal decree, it cannot be thwarted by human, creative, demonic, or angelic scheme. It is impossible for God to lie (Titus 2:1; Hebrews 6:18), therefore it is a sealed work, and an unbreakable promise. Paul called this reality, “a hope that will not make us ashamed” (Romans 5:5).

Although it is conceptually observed by Christians as a process, and encompasses time and space, it is a monergistic work of God that has been completed before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4) and therefore transcends time and space. Glorification is the eternal decree of God whereby He elects unto Himself sinners and reconciles them to Himself causing them to be pure, blameless, holy and without sin. It is to such persons that He grants imputed righteousness based upon the merits of Jesus Christ, and not of any human merit whatsoever. These merits include His perfect, sinless life, and His sacrificial death on the cross by substitutionary atonement whereby He made propitiation for our sins (1 John 2:2) (Romans 5:8; Ephesians 1:7) and His resurrection from the dead for our justification (Romans 4:24-25). Glorification is the work whereby God the Father, by His Son, and the work of the Holy Spirit, brings the believer from justification, through sanctification, and at His coming or the death of the Christian, the believer is conformed to the perfect image of Jesus Christ, from faith to faith (2 Cor. 3:18; Romans 1:17). Reconciliation is the proper notion because every person is created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26), however not every person will be reconciled to God (Matthew 7:13-14; Revelation 22:15). We do not become ‘Christ’, as this is false teaching of the cults and the humanists. Instead, we are made ‘like’ Him in perfecting holiness. Therefore, one distinction between God and man, is that Christ is not ‘made like’ God, He is God (John 8:58). He never sinned, and thus never possessed the intrinsic need to be sanctified (cleansed from sin) or justified, because He is the justifier and One with God the Father.

Glorification

Glorification is an eternal reality. It is called such because God is eternal and reigns in righteousness from everlasting (eternity) to everlasting (eternity) (Psalm 90:2). Glorification, like all other biblical doctrine, is wed to God’s perfections. In other words, glorification tells us who God is in the scope of time from our perspective and throughout eternity. God is not bound by time. He created time. What is revealed about this heavenly doctrine is given to us through Jesus Christ in Scripture. It was Jesus who explained the Father to us (John 1:18). John the apostle used the term εξηγασατο from the root word ‘εξηγση’ (exegesi’) from which we derive our word ‘exegesis’. The term literally means ‘to lead out’. This means that Jesus did not read meaning into the person or work of God. He was not a mere teacher, nor a philosopher who attempted to explain things about God to His contemporaries. Jesus, perfectly, explained or demonstrated the meaning of the Father. If one saw Christ, they saw the Father (John 14:7-9). Contrast with the idea of eisegesis whereby one reads meaning into an event or situation, typically from his own opinion, preference or analysis. Eisegesis carries the connotation of bias and does not consider the original intention of the author. However, exegesis considers the intention of the author. It draws out the mind of the source and conveys authorial intent. In this case, because Jesus Christ is God, He alone can perfectly convey the mind of God the Father, and the intentions of the Holy Spirit. How much more must we consider that the doctrine of glorification is best explained by the One who is God the Son. This is important to understand because Scripture tells us that we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16). God has written eternity on the heart of every human being (Ecclesiastes 3:11). The creation also groans for the consummative glory of the Lord’s coming (Romans 8:22). The Revelation of Jesus Christ in the Holy Scripture revealed the last things to take place, as Jesus Christ serves as the culmination of history.

The doctrine of glorification also supposes the eradication of sin, destruction of the earth, judgment and eternal punishment of the wicked, as well as the glorious second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Glorification is a reminder that the Christian is not ‘home’ as a citizen in this fading, wicked, and evil world system (Hebrews 13:14). Instead the believer is home inasmuch as He is reconciled to God and reigning with Him in His kingdom to come. It is God’s pleasure to give the kingdom to His Christ and His joint-heirs (Luke 12:32).

Why is glorification necessary? It is not necessary in the sense that God needs anything from His creation. He is self-sustaining, self-existent, and glorious apart from men (Isaiah 42:8, 48:11). Since He is Spirit and eternal, the ‘I Am’ (Exodus 3:14; John 8:58), the necessity of glorification does not mean creatures are a primary, secondary or tertiary cause of His glory. God is glorified in Christ. His glory transcends man, is all-consuming, and is seen in the face of Jesus Christ because Christ is the exact representation of His nature (Hebrews 1:1-4). The Lord offered a glimpse of His eternal glory to a few, choice disciples at the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36).

Glorification is necessary for the elect because every person born is alienated from God and culpable for sin against God, because of Adam’s sin. Every sin committed, by thought or deed, demands full punishment. Eternal punishment is necessary because the One offended is eternal, and equally as judge, He must preside over the sentence rendered against unbelieving sinners for all eternity. Therefore, man cannot enter the presence of God and gain His pleasure by personal merit or religious appearance. If anyone were to enter the presence of God based upon anything apart from the way of salvation through Christ alone, then they would be immediately judged for entering the kings court as a damned rebel. Sin is an offense or transgression against the infinitely Holy God and demands punishment. God in His mercy offered propitiation through Jesus Christ to the elect of God. Consequently, while His wrath demands justice, punishment and appeasement, He is also merciful. His mercy demands forgiveness, blessedness and eternal reconciliation with sinners. Justice and mercy is only met together in Jesus Christ. Glorification is the reality of eternal blessedness and fellowship.

A warning against heresies and false teaching is in order. Glorification does not mean that one must escape because matter (creation) is inherently evil and man is good. In fact, man is not inherently good, but wicked (Romans 3:3-10), while the creation was initially good- very good (Genesis 1:31), although cursed as a consequence for sin (Genesis 3:18). God is not reconciling good people to Himself, out of an evil material planet. He is reconciling wicked people, whom He transforms by the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ. God grants to those whom He draws to the Son, His righteousness and has imputed their sin to the account of His Son. The sinner is thereby imputed the righteousness of Jesus Christ, by infinite unmerited grace, as a free gift of God. This exchange is the reason by which God can be both merciful and just without compromising His holiness.

There are also those who suggest that the full glory of God will not be enjoyed by the biblical Christians in heaven. This is subtle false teaching, because the Scriptures teach that we will be like Him and we will know Him as we are known (1 Corinthians 13:12; 1 John 3:2). While we are being conformed to His image, on this earth, we still bear in us vestiges of sin that will be eradicated in glory. As a result, we will enjoy Him without bearing our sin nature. We will be perfect in our worship, knowledge, and fellowship. Teaching that suggests otherwise is to be completely rejected and such teachers should be rebuked as short-sighted peddlers of temporal and fading glory.

There are also those who speak of glorification as it only relates to the temporal realm. In other words, glorification is seen as humanistic triumph and tranquility in the present world. In this world we will have trouble, and yet we possess a faith that overcomes the world, because Jesus Christ has overcome the world (John 16:33). Specifically, there are those among the neo-orthodox and unintended purveyors of this dangerous teaching that suggest God’s glory is captive to man’s experience with Christ. They proclaim the glories of God as if they may be mystically and intuitively conjured. This is sometimes taught by men and women of every denomination who suggest this view is often more practical for day-to-day living. However, this is unscriptural because glorification, as we have mentioned, begins with God, not men. Man’s reconciliation is an effect. The primary cause and motivation for glorification is that God the Father is presenting to His Son a redeemed, royal priesthood that will worship Him forever. Although redeemed sinners will experience this, their experience is not the chief objective. Although glorification will be unspeakably wondrous for believers, it is the glory which He has always had that will be on display. Therefore, this glory trascends our appropiation of it in the temporal sense. This must be said as such that God is glorified in vessels of wrath and vessels of mercy.

Although glorification reminds us that we ultimately triumph in Christ (Revelation 19:15), we inherit His blessed glory after we have suffered the reproaches for being a disciple of Christ in this world (Matthew 10:22; 1 Peter 2:21). There are those, like their Corinthian predecessors, who bypass genuine triumph in favor of  triumphalism. There are those among the heretics in Word-Faith, so-called moderate Charismaticism, continuationism, and more overt forms of New-Age practice that suggest we are presently living in the reality of consummated glorification. This is false teaching and satanic to its core. Although, for believers, the reality is that we are going to be glorified because of our salvation in Christ, this promise has not been manifested. No amount of escapism, positive thinking, positive speaking, compromise, or ecumenism will reduce the reality that this world, unbelieving sinners, and the satanic hosts are all perishing and awaiting destruction. Triumphalism suggests that we are living now as we will live in the age to come. Paul rebuked this thinking in Corinth (1 Corinthians 4:8) and Thessalonica (1 Thess. 4). In Thessalonica, believers had become lazy and passive in hope for eternal glory. In Corinth, false teachers pronounced that believers already possess the glory that they awaited, while Paul, the believers with him and fellow apostles suffered for Christ (1 Cor. 4:8). False teachers went as far as suggesting that Christ had already come and thus Christians could live in the glorified state (2 Thessalonians 2:3). Some today, who teach the false prosperity gospel, and those who may teach reformed teaching but aid and abet Charismatic false teachings, find their lineage among the same false teachers of the previous age in regards to an overealized doctrine of glorification ‘now’.

Glorification equally points us to the eschatological reality that Jesus Christ is coming again to establish His blessed kingdom, trample upon the wicked, destroy the heavens and the earth, and establish a new heaven and earth whereby He will rule and reign over the nations. The one who says eschatology is not important, does a disservice to the doctrine of glorification, because it is a doctrine concerned with the last things and also the eternal state. What is more, the last things deal with eternity. Humankind will spend their existence in eternity, far more than the temporal realm. There are those who teach that they may compromise and reduce their ministries to fraternizing with errorists, as well as professing Christians who live as such while sinning against the blessed One. There are those who, of religious or non-religious persuasion, persecute biblical Christians implicitly and explicitly while running their ministries and lives like glorified autonomous kingdoms. To them this blessed doctrine does not belong because they have received their earthly reward in full from men. The standard of God’s saving work is perfecting holiness. It is not sinfulness, wickedness, partiality, compromise, or reductionism.

There are lastly those who are among the legalists and antimonians who defame the glorious doctrine of glorification. The legalist lowers the bar of God’s holiness so as to attain glorification by futile actions. The antinomian suggests that remaining in sin so that grace may abound is the way of sanctification and ultimately leads to eternal bliss in heaven, where perfection awaits (Romans 6:1-2; Romans 7). The proper understanding is that God justifies the sinner, whereby He declares the sinner not guilty based upon the life, death and resurrection of Christ. He declares the sinner cleansed and righteous, based on imputed righteousness, whereby the meritorous sinless life is charged to the account of the believing sinner, and the believing sinner’s transgressions are charged to the account of Christ, while Christ remains a perfect, sinless, substitute for transgressors. The wrath of God is satisfied in this regard, for those who repent of their sins and place their faith in Jesus’ Christ alone. Trusting that He alone is Lord and Savior, and renouncing their sin. The one who remains in sin, has no part in the glorious kingdom to come. Among them are idolaters, fornicators, adulterers, homosexuals, the covetous, drunkards, revilers, swindlers. These do not include merely acts, but thoughts. One must be born again and regenerated so as to be glorified. Although glorification is an act of God, by the sheer power and wisdom of His counsel, believers are commanded to war with sin in their flesh so as to kill sin and inherit perfection. Perfection cannot be attained in this life, yet it is pursued because the believer is indwelled by the perfect Spirit of God to aid in the war against sin, and conformity to Jesus Christ. This blessed doctrine is the only hope that Christians possess. It is the culmination of all Christian duty and the true desire of everyone who names the name of Christ. However, glorification is only a reality for those who flee wickedness and confess Jesus Christ as Lord, God, and Savior to the glory of God the Father.

-Doron Gladden

The Ministry of False Pretense: A Commentary on 3 John 9-10

liar3 John 9-10 recorded the belief and behavior of a certain church congregant named Diotrephes. Diotrephes could have been a leader of the church that occasioned the letter of 3 John or merely a layman who held a majority support of his fellow congregants in exercising mutiny against the author of 3 John – that is, the Apostle John. The main debate among scholars concerning 3 John 9-10 is whether the occasion of the author’s intentions to summon Diotrephes was due to Diotrophes’ position on church government (polity), or a doctrinal heterodox problem of Diotrophes.[1] The following commentary will expound upon who Diotrephes was, what activities Diotrephes was responsible for, why Diotrephes was specifically mentioned by name and why he deserved a public rebuke, where Diotrephes carried out these actions, and how Diotrephes accomplished his activities. The Scripture of 3 John 9-10 reads as follows:

I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say. For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, he himself does not receive the brethren, either, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them out of the church.

To start, the author of the 3 John addressed himself in the first person when he wrote, “I wrote something to the church.” Kostenberger claimed that the major purpose of 3 John was to recommend godly leaders and incoming missionaries sent by the author when he wrote, “It is safe to conclude, then, that one of the major purposes of 3 John is to provide a letter of recommendation for the elder’s emissaries in general and for Demetrius in particular, as well as to put Diotrephes in his place prior to John’s anticipated visit.”[2]

There is not much known about the prior letter mentioned in 3 John described as “something to the church.” It could be that the conduct of Diotrephes, namely rejecting this first letter, occasioned this second letter of 3 John. Or it is likely that this letter referred to in 3 John is none-other than 1 John or 2 John. The equivalent personal nature of 2 John and 3 John, was that the author identified himself the same way in both (“the elder”) and that both are explicitly addressed to individual persons, could represent 2 John as the identity of the missing letter referred to as “something to the church.”[3] Albeit, one can deduce that the nature of the letter was intended for the entire congregation “to the church” whereas 3 John has a personal address to Gaius (see v.1). This local church is the scene where Diotrephes carried out his actions. To end, whatever was written at first to the original recipients of 3 John was clearly rejected by Diotrephes[4] because of how the rest of verse 9 reads, specifically, “but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say” (3 John 9 b-c).

The name Diotrephes was a Greek name which meant “nourished by Zeus” (the supreme deity of the Greeks; among the Romans – “nourished by ‘Jupiter’”).[5] The Apostle John, to all intents and purposes, labeled the root problem of Diotrephes when he identified Diotrephes as one “who loves to be first among them” (v 9c).  Richard Lenski described the construction of Greek grammar, at this point, to describe what drove Diotrephes. Lenski wrote, “We make the attributive adjective with its genitive a relative clause. The sense is: ‘the ambitious Diotrephes.’ The Adjective means that Diotrephes loves to be first, to be considered the leader. He wants to be a boss, a dictator, a lord of all the rest.”[6] Diotrophes’ motivation for leadership is what Jesus Christ described and commanded His disciples not to exhibit when He said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave” (Matthew 20:25-27). Diotrephes did not display true Christian leadership by lording it over others. For one to lord it over others in Christian leadership is to deny the Lordship of Jesus Christ because one thinks one is Lord. Not only did Diotrephes reject the leadership of Jesus Christ over His Church by loving to be first, he also by consequence rejected apostolic authority because the following clause reads, “does not accept what we say.” Lenski claimed that the present tense indicated the entire attitude of Diotrephes.[7] This is who Diotrophes was, namely, a man with an ongoing practice of an ambitious insubordinate manner.

Verse 10 began with the occasion of why Diotrephes was specifically mentioned by name and deserved a public rebuke. For example, the text reads, “For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does,” The Holman Christian Standard Bible rendered verse 10a, “This is why.” One will notice in verse 10b that the Apostle John was completely resting in the providence of God concerning his arrival to Gaius’ church because the text reads, “if I come.” Commentator Canon Brooke suggested a different view when he wrote, “The writer perhaps speaks somewhat less confidently (ἐάν) of his coming than he does of the arrival of false teachers in the Church to which 2 Jn. is addressed (εἴ τις ἒρχεται). But the difference between the two constructions cannot be pressed.”[8]

The next clause of the verse is “I will call attention to his deeds which he does.” The first half of the clause referred to a public address before the congregation[9] and was the heart of the sentence. The second half of the clause referred to the content of the public address before the congregation. Here, the Revised Standard Version rendered verse 10c, “I will bring up what he is doing.” Upon his arrival, the Apostle John determined to publically address Diotrephes by name and rebuke him for his actions. “His deeds which he does” answered what activities for which Diotrephes was responsible.

What was explicitly mentioned from the text were the following six vices which were characteristic of Diotrephes’ lifestyle and practice in the church. These six sins were: unjustly accusing the apostolic authority and those affirmed by apostolic authority, using wicked words to add to the unjust accusations, not being satisfied with this (unjust accusations and wicked words), not receiving brethren, forbidding others who want to receive the brethren from receiving the brethren, and excommunicating the brethren and their supporters from the church.

The first of the sins of Diotrephes was “unjustly accusing,” Instead of “unjustly accusing” the NIV renders verse 10d as “gossiping.” James Montogmery Boice explained the etymology of the verbal participle “gossiping” (φλυαρέω) when he wrote the following;

Second, John says that Diotrephes was “gossiping maliciously” (v. 10). That is, not content with a rejection of John’s authority, Diotrephes went on to justify his rebellion by explaining falsely why the counsels of John should not be followed. The Greek verb that is here translated “gossiping” comes from a root that was used of the action of water in boiling up and throwing off bubbles. Since bubbles are empty or useless, the verb eventually came to mean indulgence in empty or useless talk. This was the nature of Diotrephes’ slander, though, of course, the words were no less evil in that they were groundless.[10]

In other words, the best understanding of “unjustly accusing” is nonsense talk like babbling bubbles from a brook. But it was worse than mere nonsense talk because Diotrephes was adding to the nonsense “wicked words.” This was the second sin of Diotrephes. The Greek adjective used here to describe Diotrephes’ gossip was (πονηρός) and meant “bad, the negative moral quality of a person or action opposed to God and his goodness” and as a noun it is the title of Satan.[11] One could argue from the use of language that Diotrephes was being “nourished” (reference to the meaning of Diotrephes) by Satan in using Satan’s words to attack the Apostle John, apostolic authority, those affirmed by the apostle John (“us”), and ultimately God.

The third sin of Diotrephes was being “not satisfied with this.” The word used here was άρκέω and meant “to be content, enough”.[12] It was as if Diotrephes was not content with slandering the godly men but hungry to do them more harm. This lead to the fourth sin of Diotrephes – namely, “he himself does not receive the brethren, either” (v. 10g-h). An appropriate cross reference is John 13:20 which reads, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.” The fact that Diotrephes was not receiving apostolic authority and true Christian brethren was directly correlated to not receiving the Lord Jesus Christ.

The fifth and sixth sins of Diotrephes were described as follows, “and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them out of the church” (v. 10i). “Diotrephes excommunicated loyal believers because they failed to side with him in his rejection of John’s authority.”[13] Here Brooke marked the present tense indicating not just a one-time incident of casting out brethren but an ongoing practice.[14]

The liberal view on the authorship of 3 John was that the epistle was not written by the Apostle John but rather it was written by a disciple of John whom liberal scholars identified to be the “the elder” (v. 1)[15]. The very nature of the dispute, according to those that hold a human authorship of 3 John as not the Apostle John, was that of a strong personality clash and distinction of whether the apostolic office with its authority should be carried over into the next generation[16] or whether there should have been a “new and emerging order of the monarchial episcopate.”[17] Diotrephes, according to this view, was in support of a non-continuation of the apostolic office in authorial institution of leadership as he wanted to be the lead bishop. This view makes Diotrephes a cessationist (regarding the office of apostle). It is very likely, that continuationists today could accuse those who believe the apostolic office has ceased (the cessationist) of being Diotrephes’. “The elder”, according to this view, wanted to keep the right to ordain elders in the local church so that there would not be an anarchical congregational rule.[18] However, this is not correct because the nature of Diotrephes’ actual conduct was defined objectively in the text of 3 John. The text explicitly read that Diotrophes “who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say.” Therefore one can argue as does Boice the following;

This is the original and greatest of all sins. It is the sin of Satan, who was unwilling to be what God had created him to be and who desired rather to be “like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:14)… For Satan’s attempt to exalt himself, that one shall be made low (Isa. 14:15).[19]

Diotrephes’ conduct was not in accord with apostolic authority and therefore not in accord with the Bible. Consequently, the life and conduct of Diotrephes was more compatible with a charismatic redefinition of New Testament church authority – that is, more compatible with continuationism than cessationism. The criminal act called false pretense is the intentional misrepresentation of the facts in order to acquire someone else’s property or to protect one’s position or property which one has seized by manipulation. Diotrephes was an example of one who conducted the ministry of false pretense. It is a sin to lie (cf. Leviticus 19:11; Colossians 3:9). God hates lying and hypocrisy (cf. Proverbs 12:22). Proverbs 14:5 reads, “A trustworthy witness will not lie, But a false witness utters lies.” It is even more wicked to claim that lying is wrong, when you are living a lifestyle of lying because to live that way is hypocrisy.

In conclusion, it has been said what you believe affects your behavior. Diotrephes thought he should have been in charge of the church and therefore had a covetous desire to be the man in control. This belief of his to rule led to slander, leading to more and more wickedness. The final evil was his practice of excommunicating true brethren and therefore opposing the work of God and His gospel in the local church. Matthew Henry warned against those who in Christian leadership practice tactics like those of Diotrephes’ when he wrote,

The pastor is not at absolute liberty, nor lord over God’s heritage. It is bad to do no good ourselves; but it is worse to hinder those who would. Church-power and church-censures are often abused. Many are cast out of the church who should be received there with satisfaction and welcome.[20]

It is clear that Diotrephes was trying to be something that he was not. This was the root of his deeds. The deeds were the fruit of his deception. He was not the one affirmed by apostolic authority in 3 John. What is more, Diotrephes did not exhibit the characteristics of the godly Christ following example of servant leadership described in 1 Timothy 3:1-13. The emphasis of the word “truth” throughout the epistle of 3 John as the overall context of the epistle sheds light on orthodox belief being directly correlated to orthoprax behavior. This is evident by the contrast of two type of people described in 3 John 11 which reads, “Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God.”

by Eric Vanver Powers

Works Cited

Boice, James M. The Epistles of John; An Expositional Commentary. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000.

Brooke, Canon A. The International Critical Commentary; The Johannine Epistles. Edinburgh: Clark, 1976.

Burge, Gary M. The NIV Application Commentary; From Biblical Text to Contemporary Life: Letters of John. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.

Dodd, C.H. The Johannine Epistles. New York: Harper, 1946.

Goodrick, Edward W. and Kohlenberger III, John R. The Strongest NIV Exhaustive Concordance. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999.

Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible. Peabody: Hendrickson, 2008.

Kostenberger, Andreas J. A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.

Lenski, R. C. H. The Interpretation of the Epistles of St. Peter, St. John and St. Jude. Minneapolis: Ausburg Pub., 1966.

Lieu, Judith M. The Theology of the Johannine Epistles. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Stott, John. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries; The Letters of John. Leicester: InterVarsity Press, 1988.

Strauss, Lehman. The Epistles of John. New York: Loizeaux Brothers, 1962.

Strong, James. The New Strong’s Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible; Expanded with the Best of Vine’s Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010.

Jones, Russell B. The Epistles of James, John, and Jude. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1961.

[1] Gary Burge (The NIV Application Commentary: From Biblical Text to Contemporary Life; Letters of John. [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996], 247), offers these two theories on the nature of the tension in 3 John in his commentary.

[2] Andreas J. Kostenberger. A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009),

[3] R.C.H. Lenski holds the view that the missing letter referred to in verse 9 of 3 John is the epistle of 2 John. R. C. H. Lenski. The Interpretation of The Epistles of St. Peter, St. John and St. Jude (Minneapolis: Ausburg Pub., 1966), 584.

[4] John Stott goes as far as to propose that Diotrephes destroyed this missing letter when he writes, “The letter in question must, therefore, have been lost, possibly because Diotrephes destroyed it,” (John Stott. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries; The Letters of John. [Leicester: InterVarsity, 1988], 229).

[5] James Strong. The New Strong’s Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible; Expanded with the Best of Vine’s Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010), 190.

[6] Lenski, 586.

[7] Ibid., 586.

[8] Canon Brooke. The International Critical Commentary; The Johannine Epistles (Edinburgh: Clark, 1976), 189.

[9] Lenski, 587.

[10] James M. Boice. The Epistles of John; An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000), 171.

[11] Edward W. Goodrick and John R. Kohlenberger III. The Strongest NIV Exhaustive Concordance (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 723.

[12] Ibid., 990.

[13] Boice, 171.

[14] Brooke marks the present tense indicating not just a one-time incident of casting out brethren but an ongoing practice when he writes, “(ἐπιδέχεται τοὺς ἀδεφούς)… But the present indicates a general practice rather than a particular incident… (ἐκ της ἐκκλησίας ἐκβάλλει)… Again a policy or practice is described rather than a single incident.” Ibid., Brooke. 190.

[15] This was the view of C.H. Dodd regarding the authorship of 3 John. Dodd wrote, “It is unlikely that he is to be identified with John the Apostle, the son of Zebedee.” (The Johannine Epistles. [New York: Harper, 1946], 1xix).

[16] C.H. Dodd connected his view of 3 John authorship (not being the Apostle John but an unidentified elder) with the author’s desire for the office of apostleship to continue in affirming who and who cannot be in leadership when he wrote, “The Presbyter (if we have rightly identified him as one of the group which perpetuated the element of apostolic tradition at one remove) naturally stood for the element of apostolic authority in the appointment of ministers” 163. Dodd is wrong concerning the authorship of 3 John. However, Dodd is right to point out that Diotrephes “shows himself to be no Christian” because of the nature of Diotrephes’ conduct. Ibid., 166.

[17] In his commentary, James Montgomery Boice referenced Dodd on the view of Presbyter conflict. 171.

[18] Ibid., Dodd 162.

[19] Ibid., Boice

[20] Matthew Henry. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible. (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2008), 1976.

Jesus’ Warning against the Pharisees (Matthew 23:1-12)

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Exposition of Matthew 23:1-12

Introduction: Overall Context

Although multitudes followed Jesus Christ with awe, wonderment, and curiosity, during His earthly ministry, one specific group of men followed Him with relentless persistence. They were sent by their father to cling to his teachings. Concerning their righteousness, no one among men could ascribe to a higher attainment on their own (Matthew 5:20).

They did not need an appeal to follow Jesus because they were prophesied as ones who would not abandon their consistent three-year pursuit. They were witnesses to His words that were distinct from their own. No one was closer in proximity to Christ, and their witness to his miracles and signs, except for His immediate disciples. In His presence, they pronounced themselves to be gatekeepers of all pious devotion and traced their lineage through Moses to Abraham. Jesus spoke directly to them, and used them as examples to the multitudes and His intimate disciples. The tenderness that Jesus Christ spoke to the flock, and to the lost among the house of Israel, was not granted to the Pharisees and Sadducees. His forerunner, John the Baptist, and Christ Himself, introduced them to the multitudes as ‘brood of vipers’ (Matthew 3:7, 12:34) and descendants of Abraham, only according to the flesh (Matthew 3:9).

Jesus pronounced that upon their hands all the righteous blood of the prophets would be placed. To them He ascribed son ship to Satan (John 8:44-45), and pronounced anathemas of the worst kind. Messiah proposed to the multitudes that the Pharisees’ self-deception, false teaching, and murderous hatred gave evidence to their status as objects of wrath and non-citizens of the heavenly kingdom. Not only were they seething with anger toward Jesus Christ, but they also labeled Him and the blessed Holy Spirit ‘instruments of Satan’. They proudly accepted payment from the betrayer Judas, sharing common interest and common lineage with him to their forefather, the old serpent.

The following passage was written during the culmination of their enmity and the height of their covetous influence. Ancient historian, Josephus, wrote that the Pharisees proposed themselves to be divinely inspired by God.[1] They also held tremendous power over the multitudes and were archrivals to the Sadducees[2], whom they joined as common foes against Jesus Christ and His disciples. Among them also were the Scribes, who were responsible for safeguarding and interpreting the theological implications of the Law. Jesus’ warning in this passage culminates with the anathemas he pronounced directly to the Pharisees.

Warning Against the Pharisees and Sadducees

1 Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, 2 saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses;

The setting is in the temple courtyard. The same crowd from the previous verses and successive verses (Matthew 24) are with the Lord. Among them are Jesus disciples’, to whom he places the emphasis of his discourse in vv. 8-10.[3] This verse followed Jesus’ confounding argument that the Son of David is “Lord” over David. Explicit in Jesus’ revelation was the reality that Messiah would come as conqueror over His enemies. To this point in the Gospel canonical context, Jesus made it unmistakably clear that the Pharisees and scribes were archenemies and severed from the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 8:12; Luke 20:8; John 8:42-47). Their interests were completely antithetical to the purposes of God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. At the outset of John the Baptist’s ministry, the Pharisees failed to exercise preparatory repentance and faith in the coming Messiah as the means for entry into the coming Kingdom. Jesus’ warning to the crowds and His disciples demonstrated the eternal chasm between Pharisaism and His Teachings. Jesus warned that the Pharisees and Scribes ‘seated themselves in the chair of Moses’.
Seat of Moses
There are at least four interpretations of ‘Seat of Moses’ proposed by scholars and commentators:

(1) The “Seat of Moses” was an actual piece of synagogue furniture upon

which authorized interpreters of the Torah sat.

(2) The expression is a metaphor

referring to the fact that the Pharisees had assumed the role of being

the Law’s interpreters.
(3) The “Seat of Moses” was a specially designed chair

(used as a stand) upon which the Torah scroll was placed when not in use

during the synagogue service.

(4) The expression refers to the social position

of the Pharisees as those who control access to the Torah.[4]

The question is, essentially, was the Seat of Moses figurative or literal? An argument in favor of a literal seat is bolstered by archeology. Archeological findings have unearthed 1st century synagogues with a stone-hewed seat that was positioned in the front of the Synagogue.[5] Although there are not many Synagogues that have been discovered with the literal chair, enough have been uncovered, throughout Israel, lending credibility to their existence during the ministry of Christ.[6]

It is unlikely, hermeneutically, that Jesus, after expounding upon reality in the preceding verses (i.e. literal Son of David-ref Matthew 22:41-46) and succeeding verses (literal Pharisaic authority, literal curses-ref. Matthew 23:13-36) would revert to a figurative example. The parabolic judgments throughout the Gospel of Matthew typically followed a consistent pattern. Namely,‘ (1) Parable-concealment (2) befuddlement (3) disclosure to intimate disciples (4) antagonism from opponents.’[7] In this passage, Jesus did not announce that He was speaking in hyperbolic or parabolic language, as was His custom, nor did He explicitly identify the Seat of Moses. Instead, Jesus immediately began to explain the consequence of sitting in the seat of Moses. Another plausible argument is that it was customary for Rabbis in Israel, during this period, to sit in front of their followers while teaching.[8] Given their propensity for over-literal showmanship and flare for feigned piety (Matthew 23:5), it is not unreasonable to conclude that the religious leaders occupied a literal, prominent chair in the synagogue (Matthew 23:6). This would have symbolized their “authority” over the multitudes, as they visibly advertised themselves as the gatekeepers of the Mosaic Law.

Obedience to the Pharisees

3 Therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.

The conjunction ‘therefore’ signifies a connection to the previous verse concerning the counterfeit authority of the Pharisees. Although the authority they wielded was feigned and ungodly, it was a real authority nonetheless, in the sense that they did hold influence over the multitudes. The issue was that they did not possess divine authority that led their people to a greater knowledge of God and fellowship with Him. The question one may ask is, “If the scribes and Pharisees are as diabolical as portrayed by Jesus and others, why exhort the multitudes to do what they command?”

Jesus previously clashed with scribal/Pharisee teaching and openly argued against their entire approach to keeping the law.[9] Notably, the successive verses after Matthew 23:12, which includes verses 13-36, commenced the cursing of the Pharisees and the inescapable partition between Pharisaism and the Lord’s teaching. In what sense, then, did Jesus implore the multitudes and disciples to do what they were told by the religious leaders? One commentator suggests:

‘When Jesus refers to the Pharisees positively in 23:2-3a, he indicates that in principle Pharisaism’s quest for righteousness is worthy and admirable. We can, therefore, with the best recent scholarship affirm Pharisaism as something to be held in high esteem. The problem that Jesus focuses on is not Pharisaism but those Pharisees whose practice contradicted their professed quest for righteousness.[10]

Matthew 5:20 read, “”For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus already established that Pharisaic righteousness was not the benchmark for true righteousness; rather it was the standard for judgment. The commentator’s premise must be rejected as erroneous, because it does not consider the gospel and historical context, or the eternal enmity between Jesus and the religious leaders. The religious system was not only false, but also according to Jesus Christ, the pursuit of the system was evidence that those who desired the system were dead in their sins. Jesus did not extol the virtue of the Pharisees in this verse, instead He extolled the virtue of the Mosaic Law, to which the Pharisees sometimes alluded.

Authority of the Pharisees

Did the Pharisees possess actual authority, and to what degree did they exercise authority over the people? The near context rightly suggests that the Pharisees possessed influence over the people of Israel. Josephus not only elaborated on the practical and theological enmity between the Sadducees and Pharisees,[11] he offered contrast between the Sadducees and Pharisees. He wrote that their traditions of men held sway with the people.[12] Also He explained, “ . . . while the Sadducees are able to persuade none but the rich, and have not the populace obsequious to them, but the Pharisees have the multitudes on their side.”[13]

Theologian Noel Rabinowitz argued that Jesus was appealing to the authority of the Pharisees, because they were faithful in their Torah exposition, whereas their interpretation was specious. He explained:

“The synagogue was a focal point of Jewish life. It is therefore inconceivable that a           person could hear the Torah read without being influenced by its exposition as well. In addition, there is (at times) a fine line between what constitutes “reading” and what constitutes“interpreting” the text of Scripture.”[14]

But this does not insinuate faithful, authoritative exposition of the Torah, namely because we recall Jesus as a twelve year old boy confounding the religious establishment in the synagogue. There was a sharp distinction between 2nd temple Judaism, and the teachings of Jesus Christ. This would also indicate a distinction between the true Old Testament and 2nd temple Judaism. Additionally, the multitudes within the Mosaic Covenant Jewish society of 1st century Israel, often exclaimed that the words of Jesus were a novelty to them. We must conclude that the Pharisees were not faithful expositors, but usurpers.

The Pharisees believed their influence and authority to be derived from Moses, and ultimately God. They believed that they were the ultimate free men and sons of Abraham (John 8:33). As consummate deceived hypocrites, the Pharisees considered themselves completely autonomous from the Roman Empire (John 8:33). Their delusion was not only because they were under the governance of Rome, but also because they swore common allegiance, expressed in distinct ways, to the Adversary. They were slaves to sin, and freed from the righteousness of God in Christ (Romans 6:20). In common with the Roman Empire, neither the Jews nor Romans believed that they ruled by mere human chance. While the Romans attributed their conquest to the gods, the Pharisees ascribed their rule to their god. The difference between them is the Pharisees and scribes were more deceived than the Romans, because they thought they were faithful to the God of Israel.

The Pharisees established themselves as the practical ruling authority over Israel, by occupation of the synagogue and immunity from Roman intrusion (John 12:42). Their weapons of choice were fear, intimidation, and subtle immunity from the mighty Roman government. Although there were competing interests between them and the other sects, the Pharisees and the governing Sanhedrin demonstrated their presupposition that they were ruling over a theocracy. Moreover, encroachment by the Romans threatened their rule. The only remedy, as perceived by the Pharisees and scribes, would have been a geo-political Messiah who would overthrow their oppressors once and for all, and install them as sons of the kingdom. Jesus ministered among them, to this point, for three years, and presented Himself as Savior of sinners, not a political revolutionary.

The Pharisees did tell the people things that were virtuous and, sometimes, in accordance with the moral expectation of Mosaic Law[15] (John 8:1-11). However, the Mosaic Law and the traditions of men (Mark 7:13) became a means for salvation and the maintenance of it. Yet, they could not demonstrate moral perfection, nor could the Mosaic Law inherently lead sinners to Christ (Romans 7:7-25). Inasmuch as the Pharisees told the crowds to obey the Law, they were to be obeyed. However, they were not intimately acquainted with the Giver of the Law and His Son, who fulfilled the Law. For this reason, Jesus told the crowds and His disciples to utterly reject the Pharisees.[16] Consequently, the crowds and multitudes were to render the same allegiance to the Pharisees that they rendered to Caesar (Matthew 22:21).

Pertaining to verses 2-4, it may be that Jesus was rebuking the theological foundations of the Pharisees, yet, just as his position on Rome, commending the disciples to render unto Caesar (i.e. rulers). Especially since the Pharisees later pledged allegiance to Caesar during the trial of our Lord. Also, Matthew’s Gospel is specifically announcing the Kingdom and the coming of the King. The issue remains that the Pharisees believed themselves to be gatekeepers of the kingdom, whereas Jesus pronounced Himself the exclusive gatekeeper and Door (John 10).

Just as the crowds and disciples were expected to obey the governing authorities of the Roman Empire (Exodus 22:28; Acts 23:5; Romans 13:1; 1 Peter 2:13), so too were they to obey the Pharisees, as long as they were not being explicitly led against God. However, the antagonism and opposition of the Pharisees demonstrated a foundational flaw and wicked presupposition rooted in their system. They were completely disqualified from the theological, derived and divine authority and were to be rejected because even when they expounded true statements, they nullified any possible connection to Mosaic authority with their behavior.[17] Commentator William Hendriksen aptly wrote:

“Though the Pharisees were guilty of burying the law of God with their actions, refusing to see the fulfillment of the Law, Jesus Christ, they did make true statements concerning, for example, divine decree and providence, the immortality of the soul, the resurrection of the body, the existence of angels etc., even their views on the canon were more orthodox than others. Where they {faithfully} interpreted Moses, their instructions were to be obeyed. However, where they misinterpreted him with their deeds, they were to be wholly rejected as authorities concerning the law.”[18] –(Brackets added)

Also, considering the gospel of John (John 10:34), it would seem to indicate that Jesus was referring to those who believed that they possessed authority for Yahweh, according to Moses, and yet their authority was only to be respected as those of all regimes that God raises up and deposes at His Sovereign discretion (Daniel 2:21; Psalm 75:7).

In essence, the Pharisees were to be considered mere men whose governance was temporal and fading, and damnable[19] (Psalm 82:6-7; John 10:34), compared with the Eternal Son and His unshakeable, everlasting kingdom (Hebrews 12:18-29). Jesus, therefore, concerned the crowds with only the temporal necessity of obedience to what they heard from their leaders, yet He demonstrated that the teaching and practice of the Pharisees ultimately led to Hell. The people owed the Pharisees and scribes temporal obedience as to all regimes in the sovereign scope of God’s plans for human governance. Adversely, to Jesus, they owed eternal allegiance,[20] as He is the fulfillment of the Mosaic covenant, and redemptive history.

Heavy Burdens and Showmanship

4 They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger. 5 But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments.

Jesus declared “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Further, when He mentioned “My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). His invitation was in direct contrast to the rabbinical teachings of the day. [21]

The Pharisees believed in the oral tradition, which taught, “From whoever accepts upon himself the yoke of Torah do they remove the yoke of the state and the yoke of hard labor. And upon whoever removes from himself the yoke of the Torah do they lay the yoke of the state and the yoke of hard labor.[22] In other words, the Pharisees and scribes believed that whoever removed the yoke of Torah subjected themselves to the yoke of hard labor and the yoke of Gentile state rule and oppression. Imagine, then, their horror when Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Jesus’ words would have been perceived as a call to depart from Torah (Matthew 5:17), and an invitation to idolatry, since the Pharisees and scribes believed he was a blasphemer (Luke 5:21; John 10:30-33). However Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for concentrating on the minutia, while neglecting the weightier matters of the Law (Matthew 23:23). The Pharisees also failed to extend mercy with the understanding that they were sinners in need of salvation (John 8:7).

The danger in their oppressive leadership was that they were constantly burdening the people.[23] The Law excited within them a murderous bloodlust and exploitative indifference toward the multitudes who looked to them for religious guidance. The Pharisees were responsible for laying the burdens upon the multitudes, and were callously unwilling to remove the burden, even slightly (v. 4). Contrast the Pharisee placing heavy burdens, unwilling to lift them, and Christ telling the disciples that when His finger came upon the oppressed, the Kingdom of God was upon them (Luke 11:20).

The Pharisees added over 600 extra-biblical commands, according to their own tradition. Jesus rebuked them for invalidating God’s Word as a result (Mark 7:13). Typically, when there is an increase in conforming men to one another, or an increase in indifference, as well as noticeable detachment between teachers and flock, there will exist unbearable burdens for sheep to carry. Jesus’ presence among the religious leaders was a contrast of humble service and genuine self-sacrificial love for the flock. Jesus placed himself against the consumerism and destructive oppression of the Pharisees. They were unconcerned with the burdens of their constituents, and deceived to think they upheld the honor of God.

5 But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments. 6 They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, 7 and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men.

While the Pharisees ignored the masses of people who looked up to them, they were tirelessly concerned with pleasing one another. Their false religious system was propelled by the enslavement of men-pleasers. They lengthened their garments, and wore prayer shawls as an outward demonstration of their religiosity.[24] Everything that they accomplished was solely for human applause and self-glory. Jesus told them in John’s gospel that they did not seek the glory from God the Father, however they sought glory from one another. This was a stinging indictment since God’s glory is seen in the face of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6). Their religious practices were designed to win the approval of other people rather than God.[25]

The religious practices of the Pharisees and their showmanship were rooted in an over-literal translation and misinterpretation of the Old Testament, specifically Deuteronomy 6:8; 11:18.[26] Like their father, Satan, they epitomized vainglory, self-worship, and diabolical greed (Luke 16:14; John 5:14). Instead of pointing to Yahweh and His Messiah, they led people away from Him and to themselves. They pronounced that Christ was a blasphemer (Matthew 12:31-32), and accused His disciples of violating Mosaic Law (Matthew 15:2-3). The Pharisees exploited the multitudes and chained them to their consciences of false religion through manipulation and intimidation (John 9:22; 12:42).

Although the Pharisees sought to win the approval of men, like their father, they had no use for the people, except to exploit them, lead them to destruction, and discard them when their schemes came to fruition. Jesus called them “blind guides” who were leaders of the blind (Matthew 15:21). The chief seats (v. 6) could have been seats of recognition that signaled feigned consecration of the elite, and most pious among the Jews. However, Jesus offered previous rebuttals to their concept of righteousness, as the multitudes were to surpass it, not imitate it (Matthew 5:20).
The Affection of the Pharisees

The Pharisees reveled in the hero worship of the multitudes. Their lust for power and prestige was set against the humility of Christ. The multitudes followed Jesus, however He did not use trickery, intimidation or manipulative means to draw them. Whereby the Pharisees offered servitude to sin and destruction,[27] Jesus promised freedom from the slavery of sin and religious deception. The Pharisees were jealously incensed because Jesus Christ encroached on what they ‘loved’, ‘the place of honor’. He not only countered their lust for prestige, He cursed them for pursuing it because it led them and others away from the exaltation due Him alone (v. 12).


8 But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ.

The instability, deception, and self-love due to embracing false teaching were evident in the Pharisees. Like the modern era, whereby men and women bestow glory upon themselves in the academic, political, and theological arena, the Pharisees’ only use for men was to receive their praises.

A product of their fleshly display was to bestow upon themselves honorific titles and, through their commanding presence, garner ‘respectful greetings’ in the Marketplace. The Pharisees not only forfeited their deferred reward, but they also regarded themselves as masters. In Jesus’ time, “Rabbi” was a respectful greeting that literally meant “my master”.[28] Jesus was not simply rebuking the use of honorific titles. Instead He rebuked the use of such titles that led people to the fear and worship of men. It is similar today with the cults, personality cultists in modern evangelicalism, the papacy, and all other false religions. Wolves, while devouring the sheep, are prone to first receive their worship prior to ushering their people to final judgment. The greeting was not particularly respectful because the Pharisees did not possess respectable qualities. Adversely, the respectful greeting, bestowed on the Pharisees, was received from deceived minds that possessed no other alternative. The multitudes ‘respected’ the Pharisees for the purpose of self-preservation, not adoration. Their ‘respect’ was therefore superficial.

Jesus’ warning against calling men ‘Teachers’ was an injunction against elevating men above oneself and above God. This does not contradict the gift of teachers to the church (Eph. 4:11). However, teacher[29], as used by the disciples in its ancient historic sense, would have meant that the teachers possessed greater authority than their followers.[30] This teacher would have lead the way intellectually and spiritually, as pronounced by the Pharisees, Scribes, and Sadducees of whom false teachers and personality cultists find their natural ancestry. Jesus was not diminishing the spiritual and intellectual value of eternal truth. He was instead commanding that such values must be rooted in Him (Colossians 2:2-3). Jesus commanded his disciples to refrain from such idolatrous endearment to any man, especially false teachers, and reserve their worship for the One and only Teacher, Himself, the Father and the blessed Holy Spirit.[31]

Jesus’ arguments against the terms Leader, Teacher, Rabbi, and Father, must not be taken in the general sense. It would be absurd not to call one’s earthly parent ‘father’. Neither is it inherently sinful to identify leaders and teachers.[32] Instead, taken in their context, Jesus compared their use not with honorific intention , but with divine intention. He did not compare good leaders with bad leaders, good teachers with bad teachers, or good fathers with bad fathers. Instead, Jesus compared such men to the perfect Leader, Father, and Teacher. If the disciples were going to display affection toward their leaders, those men must first belong to God. If those leaders belonged to God, then they would defer the glory that they received to Him alone.

Exaltation of the Humble; Debasement of the Proud

11 But the greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.

The final verse consisted of Jesus’ summarized warnings to his disciples and the multitudes. Jesus did not promise a reversal of earthly treatment. He already warned that the disciples would be mistreated and maligned in this world for following Him (John 15:18-25). He also predicted that the religious establishment would crucify Him and kill some of His followers (Mark 10:33). Verse 12 must be understood as it relates to the end times. Jesus promised that His immediate disciples would rule over the tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28), contrasted with the group of Pharisees, presently ‘ruling’ over Israel, who were to inherit the curses of eternal punishment.[33] The Pharisees exalted themselves and were going to experience the humility of judgment. Jesus instructed His disciples to humble themselves in light of their sufferings and He would exalt them. This promise extends to the disciples and all who follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

The words of our Lord serve as a reminder and encouragement. The religious climate of our own generation is not much different than the 1st century. Those who wield power in government receive acclaim and prestige among men for their moral relativism. Entertainers are exalted beyond proclaimers of God’s truth. Even those in the theological realm boast of their credentials and accolades, receiving glory from one another, maligning those who do not measure to their bar of earthly accomplishment. Humbling oneself, especially when it is not temporally beneficial, is the true test of biblical discipleship. Jesus not only preached the antithesis of His Kingdom and the fading kingdoms of men, He lived as though the antithesis were eternally true.

Conclusion

The passage is a certain culmination that ends the ministry of Christ as Redeemer to the House of Israel. They will not see Him again until they say, “Blessed be the Name of the Lord,” when He sits on the Davidic Throne. The mercy, replete with warnings to come and partake of salvation, is absent. Marching onward toward the crucifixion, Jesus gave the Pharisees over to their greatest affections. While they were promised allotment in hell, the disciples were promised the Holy Spirit and the blessedness of eternal life. The warnings in this passage are not merely warnings about Christian conduct, but merciful cautions in light of eternity. The greatest blessing is to be commended by God, not men. In light of this reality, the entire Christian walk is rooted in humility before God and deference to His glory in all things.

-Doron Gladden

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Blomberg, Craig. Matthew. The New American Commentary Vol. 22, Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992.

France, R T. The Gospel of Matthew. The New International Commentary On the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 2007.

Hendriksen, William. Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew. New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Baker Book, 1973.

Josephus, Flavius. Complete Works. trans. by William Whiston. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1960.
Morris, Leon. The Gospel According to Matthew. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1992.

Neusner, Jacob. The Mishnah: A New Translation. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988.
Pettigrew, Larry. “The New Covenant” The Master’s Seminary Journal 10, no. 2 (Fall 1999): 251-70.

Rabbinowitz, Noel “Matthew 23:2-4: Does Jesus Recognize the Authority of the Pharisees and does He endorse their Halakhah?” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 46, no. 3 (September 2003): 423-47. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed October 15, 2015)

Turner, David L. Matthew. Baker Exegetical Commentary On the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008.

Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament with Scripture, Subject, and Greek Word Indexes. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.

*All Bible verses are quoted from the New American Standard Bible.

[1] Flavius Josephus, Complete Works. Trans. by William Whiston (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1960), 358.
[2] Ibid., 377.
[3] R T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, NICNT. 13 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 2007), 858.

[4] Noel S. Rabbinowitz, “Matthew 23:2-4: Does Jesus Recognize the Authority of the Pharisees and does He endorse their Halakhah?” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 46, no. 3 (September 2003): 423-47. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed October 15, 2015), 424.
[5] Ibid., 424-25.
[6] Ibid.
[7] This was not in every parabolic instance, although it is the pattern of parables preceding Matthew 23:1-12. The parables that succeeded this passage typically ended in Jesus’ clear proclamation of Jesus. Unmistakable, however, was Jesus frequent introductory announcement that He was about to proclaim a parable.
[8] France, Matthew, 859.
[9] Ibid., 860.

[10] Donald Hagner, Matthew 14-28, WBC (Nashville: Thomas Nelson., 2011), 654.

[11] Josephus, Complete Works, 281.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Rabinowitz, Matthew 2:3-4, 428.

[15] France, Matthew, 857.

[16] The Pharisees, as a whole, were severed from grace for attempting to pursue righteousness from the law, like their Judaizer successors. In a Mosaic covenant society, they were binding themselves to the letter of the Law, forsaking the righteousness of God in Christ. (Gal. 5:4). The curses in Matthew 23:13-39 lend credibility to the argument that the majority of the Pharisees, even perhaps those who warmly received Christ as a good teacher, were accursed for their wholesale, habitual rejection of His person (trial of Jesus). The only exceptions are those who repented unto salvation in Christ at Calvary, Pentecost, and thereafter in the present age.
[17] France, Matthew, 860.

[18] William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew, NTC (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1973), 821.
[19] It must be considered that not every single Pharisee was hostile to Jesus (Luke 7:36; 13:31; Matt. 22:35, although the majority were, in fact, hostile toward Him (Hendriksen, Gospel of Matthew, 821).
[20] Commentator Leon Morris concludes that it was a firm grip on orthodoxy as a means to itself that became an end to itself as a burden among the people (Pillar NT, Matthew, 571). However, I believe this trivializes the sanctifying means of orthodoxy when practiced in the power of the Holy Spirit. It was not orthodoxy that caused the Pharisees to be rebuked by Christ. If it had been orthodoxy, they would have been sons of Abraham joyously embracing the Messiah. Instead they uttered true-isms, while injecting the ‘leaven’ of falsehood and lowering the standard of God’s holiness with their false doctrine.
[21] France, Matthew, 857.
[22] Jacob Neusner, The Mishnah: A New Translation (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988), 679.

[23] This example is more nuanced in the Greek. It occurs a present participle active, which designates constant and continuous action. Specifically, the tense would seem congruent with the progressive present (Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar, 518). The Pharisees were constantly and continuously instructing the people and continuously binding them to heavy burdens (Ibid., 518). Specifically, this example would be in the customary present as it is a habitual action “tying up burdens” that takes place against the people (Ibid., 521). Iterative Present (repeated action) is possible, but unlikely because ‘δεσμευουσιν’ occurs in the indicative mood instead of the imperative mood (Ibid., 520).

[24] David L. Turner, Matthew, BECNT (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2008), 547.
[25] France, 861.
[26] Craig Blomberg, Matthew, NAC, vol. 22 (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992), 341.

[27] There are 3 present verbs in the grammatical structure of verse 5 that signifies continual, and constant action. Namely, the Pharisees were unrelenting and tireless in espousing their destructive teachings and methodology. (See footnote #5 for explanation of the present tense)

[28] Bloomberg, 541.

[29] Gk. διδασκολοs.
[30] France, Matthew, 864.
[31] Ibid.
[32] The clause, ‘Εις γαρ εστιν υμων ο διδασκαλος’ lends further insight into the use of teacher. Simple lexical analysis of διδασκαλος is inadequate given the explanatory nature of this clause. Spefically, διδασκαλος and the other terms of comparison, must be understood as Predicate Nominatives (Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar, p. 47) since they further define the subject of the clause εις. This further explains that Jesus was not commanding complete prohibition of the term, but rebuking the use of the term as divine endearment, while also reminding the disciples and multitudes to consider the preeminent role of the Spirit as supreme teacher. John the Apostle makes the same case in his epistle (1 John 2:27). In both contexts, ‘teacher’ was wrongly applied to false teachers, who were the recipients of divine affection from their followers. ‘How’ the term was used, and to whom it was ascribed, is Jesus’ argument.

[33] This must be understood in keeping with Matthew’s focus on ‘kingdom’. Jesus promised that through the church’s advance, the kingdom of God would constitute the ingathering of believing Jews and Gentiles through apostolic ministry. The disciples would be blessed and honored by all who trace their salvation to Christ through the faithful proclamation of their message. Most of all, they would be exalted by God, not above Him, but to their rightful place as joint-heirs with Him. All who follow Christ partake of the same reality.

The Accuracy of the NT Picture of the Pharisees as Compared to that in Josephus

pharisees

Throughout history there have been many sects that have formulated around a common ideology or purpose unique to that particular sect. The most infamous sect in history was known as the Pharisees. To discover who this particular Jewish sect was and what they stood for there are only two main historical accounts to investigate, namely the NT and that of Josephus’ historical works. This paper is interested in arguing that the NT picture of the Pharisees is converse to that in Josephus’ writings. To undertake this claim there will be an introduction on the biblical content concerning the Pharisees. Then, there will be an introduction on the extra-biblical content concerning the Pharisees. Finally, there will be a discussion of implications in the conclusion. Concerning the biblical content of the Pharisees, a detailed discussion of the origins of the Pharisees and the NT picture of the Pharisees will be presented. Then, Josephus’ picture of the Pharisees will be presented.

By way of introduction, there are two main views concerning the origins of the Pharisees. Some equate the origin of the Pharisees with the biblical scribe Ezra during the occasion of the return of exiled Jews from Babylon (c. 586 B.C.) and the closing chapter of OT History.[1] On the other hand, some associate the formation of the Pharisees to a separatist faction of ethnic Jews. In this view, the origin of the Pharisees began when they separated themselves from their fellow Jews who syncretized with Greek culture (Hellenistic Jews).[2] While examining these two views to unearth the genesis of the Pharisees, one must appeal to the Word of God and its overall Canonical context which goes deeper and further to reveal the Pharisees’ origin. In Matthew 22:41-46; 32-36 Jesus Christ appeals to the OT when the text reads,

Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question: “What do you think about the Christ, whose son is He?” They said to Him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “Then how does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord,’ saying,

‘The LORD said to my Lord,
“Sit at My right hand,
Until I put Your enemies beneath Your feet”’?

If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his son?” No one was able to answer Him a word, nor did anyone dare from that day on to ask Him another question. (NASB)

Jesus Christ is both David’s Creator and his Son. What is more, Jesus Christ quotes Psalm 110:1 for which He is the Messianic fulfillment, namely the one whose enemies are subject under His feet. This is a reference to Genesis 3:15, the protoevengelium where God pronounces judgment on the spiritual serpent. The Seed of the woman is Christ, who will have enmity with the seed of the spiritual serpent and will ultimately crush the spiritual serpent’s head. To this effect, Genesis 3:15 explains the victory of Christ over His enemies when it reads,

“And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.” (NASB)

Throughout the OT Scriptures there was a battle between the Seed of the woman’s ancestral line and the seed of the serpent. A few examples of this enmity included when Amalek, grandson of Esau (Gen 36:12), led an assault against Israel during their exodus from Egypt (cf. Ex 17:8-16). Consequently, God promised to Moses to blot out the memory of Amalek from under Heaven and to have war with Amalek from generation to generation (Ex 17:14-15). In fact, God made the war with Amalek a part of the Mosaic Covenant (cf. Deut 25:17-18). What is more, the Amalekites showed up in Judges 3:13 and 6:3 when they attacked Israel and destroyed their food supply. After Saul became King he was commanded to destroy the Amalekites and their King Agag (cf. 1 Sam 15:1-35). Saul was disobedient and Samuel had to hew Agag to pieces (v. 33). Saul was removed as King for his disobedience concerning the Amalekites and David became King of Israel. David battled the Amalekites during his life and at one particular battle against them only four hundred young Amalekite men escaped David’s sword (cf. 1 Sam 30:17). Lastly, a descendant of Agag named Haman (cf. Est 3:1) attempted to exterminate the entire Jewish race, which if he had been successful, he would have ended the Messianic line of the Seed of woman. However, as God would have it, Haman was not successful and was caught in his own demise (cf. Est 7:10; Ps 10:2).

The reason the OT background is significant to the origin of the Pharisees is because in the same context of Matt 22:41-46, Jesus Christ identified the Pharisees’ origin as also being from the seed of the serpent. Jesus appealed to the entire OT historical narrative context from immediately subsequent the fall of man with Cain and Abel in Gen 4 all the way to the end of OT History in Zech 1:1, in only four verses;

Fill up, then, the measure of the guilt of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell? “Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. (Matt 23:32-36)

The seed of the serpent was both from relatives of Israel (i.e. Esau as their grandfather) and among Israel’s own people (i.e. the fathers of the Pharisees). In either case, their purpose was to stop the Seed of the woman from crushing the head of the serpent (cf. Gen 3:15; Ps 110:1; Matt 22:41-46).

There then was a dichotomy between the truly converted Israelite and the non-converted Israelite, because the seed of the serpent had gotten in among them. The significance of Jesus comparing the Pharisees to Cain in Matt 23:32-36 was because Cain was the first to establish a system of false religious worship which led to the murder of his biological brother Abel. Hence, the Pharisees were responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Therefore, even amongst Israelites there were non–converted Jews who establish false religious systems that killed their own. On the other hand, there were converted Jews who were committed to the true worship of God and His plan for the redemption of man. Biblically, the Pharisees did not originate with Ezra the Scribe. Although Ezra was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses (cf. Ez 7:6), he did not add to the Law of Moses with a man-made system of false religious worship. Conversely, Ezra understood the Law properly in the way that truly pleased God because Ez 7:9c-10 read the following; “because the good hand of his God was upon him. For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.” Ezra was a scribe. There was nothing wrong with being a scribe in and of itself during Ezra’s time. It only depended on behalf of who one was a scribe. The Pharisees had their scribes who wrote for their agenda and would receive the greater condemnation (cf. Lk 20:46-47). On the other hand, God had His scribes that participated in the formulation of the Canon of Scripture (cf. Matt 13:51-52). The Apostles and the biblical scribe Ezra had this in common – namely, God the Holy Spirit chose Ezra to write down what God wanted in the Scriptures. Likewise, God the Holy Spirit used Matthew and some of the other Apostles to write down what God wanted in the Scriptures. Therefore, the Pharisees could not have originated with the biblical scribe Ezra because the NT presented what this writer calls a “battle of the scribes” – that is, the OT and NT together vs the added writings of Pharisees and their scribes.

Probably the most well-known or memorable parable concerning the Pharisees is Luke 18:9-14, the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. Jesus told other Parables about the Pharisees to be sure (i.e. the Parable of the Landowner cf. Matt 21:33-46), but Lk 18:9-14 is the only Parable where Jesus actually used the term Pharisee inside the Parable. Parable is a subset of narrative literary genre. In other words, a parable it is a made-up story inside a story (in Luke’s case a historical narrative) where the people and events which occurred inside the parable represent people and events in the real world. Jesus spoke in parables to teach theological truth (i.e. soteriology in the context of Lk 18). Jesus purposed His parables to only be understood by those who were converted, therefore those who did not understand his parables heard them to their judgment (cf. Psalm 78:1-4; Matt 13:10-15). The reason why the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector showed that the Pharisees did not originate with the biblical scribe Ezra was because Ezra’s prayer in Ez 9:5-6 was more compatible with the Tax Collector’s prayer in Lk 18:13 than the Pharisee’s prayer in Lk 18:9:11-12. Jesus said that the Tax Collector went home justified rather than the Pharisee. In other words, an example of two ethnic Jews in which one was converted by the power of God, the other one not converted but rather reflected the bad fruit of man-made false religion. Consider the similarities of Ezra’s prayer of confession with the Tax Collector’s prayer of confession:

 

Ezra 9:5-6 Luke 18:13-14
But at the evening offering I arose from my humiliation, even with my garment and my robe torn, and I fell on my knees and stretched out my hands to the Lord my God; and I said, “O my God, I am ashamed and embarrassed to lift up my face to You, my God, for our iniquities have risen above our heads and our guilt has grown even to the heavens.” “But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

 

On the other hand, the Pharisees originated during the Maccabean or Hasmonean Dynasty (c.175 B.C. – 67 B.C.). Everett Ferguson offered a historical timeline of the Hasmonean Dynasty beginning with 175 – 163 B.C when the Seleucid ruler Antiochus Epiphanes had control of Judea. The last biblical high priest from the line of Zadok, namely Onias III was deposed from the high priesthood when his own brother Jason bought the High Priesthood from Antiochus Epiphanes. However, Jason did not last long as High Priest due to a man named Menelaus who offered Antiochus IV Epiphanes more money than Jason for High Priesthood. Consequently, Jason was also deposed and there has never been a descendent of Zadok as High Priest since.  This act of corruption caused a great controversy among the Jewish people. Accordingly, two factions arose, namely the Hellenizers (i.e. those who supported Greek Culture) and the Hasidim (i.e. “the Pious” those who did not support Jewish syncretism with Greek Culture). During this time was when the Pharisees (i.e. “the separated ones”) formulated as a Jewish sect. Moreover, in 169 B.C. Antiochus IV Epiphanes and Menelaus plundered the Temple and conducted sacrilege in the Temple. In 166/165 B.C. Judas Maccabee (i.e. “the hammer”) was given leadership from his father Mattathias for the cause of revolution against the blasphemous tyranny of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. In 165/164 B.C. Judas dethroned Menelaus from the High Priesthood. In 160 B.C. Judas died. In 160-143 B.C. Jonathan, Judas’ brother, became the leader of the revolution. From 143-134 B.C. Judas and Jonathan’s brother Simon successfully removed Seleucid control completely from Judea. After Simon died John Hyrcanus became the ruler of the Hasmonean Dynasty from 134-104 B.C. Then from 104 – 103 B.C. Aristobulus I ruled the Hasmonean Dynasty. Next, Alexander Janneus ruled the Hasmonean Dynasty from 103 – 76 B.C. Lastly, from 76 – 67 B.C. Salome Alexandra (i.e. Janneus’ wife) reigned as Queen over Judea. She had two sons who fought against each other for control of the Hasmonean Dynasty, but for the purpose of the discussion of the Pharisees it is helpful to conclude the Hasmonean Dynasty with Salome Alexandra.

As far as etymology is concerned, the term “Pharisees” has historical and grammatical significance in understanding this particular Jewish faction. The Greek term for Pharisees is   Φαρισαῖος, ου, ὁ and has a Hebrew equivalent, namely הַפְּרוּשִׁים. הַפְּרוּשִׁים has the definite article הַ to indicate identification, not classification. What is more, הַפְּרוּשִׁים is the plural form of פָּרוּשׁ. It is in the Qal passive participle indicated by the waw after the second root letter with the dagesh in its bosom. It is used substantively (i.e. “the ones who”). Therefore, the English translation of הַפְּרוּשִׁים is “the separated ones, separatists.”[3] Because the form is passive particle it is necessary to point out that the Pharisees attributed being separated from sinners by an act of God upon them (cf. Lk 18:11 “The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people; swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector’”).

In the Canon of Scripture the term “Pharisee(s)” is only found in the NT. In Matthew, the term “Pharisee(s)” has twenty-nine occurrences. In Luke there are twenty-seven occurrences of the term “Pharisee(s)”. In John there are twenty occurrences of the term “Pharisee(s)”. In Mark there are twelve occurrences of the term “Pharisee(s).” In Acts the term “Pharisee(s)” occurs nine times and it is found only once in Philippians.

Accordingly, the biblical content concerning the Pharisees is extensive. Therefore, this paper will be selective of how much will be covered for the purposes of fulfilling the thesis statement mentioned above. Consequently, Matthew’s historical treatment of the topic will facilitate more than enough of an accurate portrayal of the NT’s picture of the Pharisees.

To start, the Pharisees first showed up in Matthew when they went to John the Baptist to get baptized. However, John the Baptist called them a brood of vipers (3:7). What is more, Jesus Christ said that their “righteousness” was not enough to enter the kingdom of heaven (5:20). The Pharisees questioned Jesus about Matthew’s call to follow Jesus (9:11). The Pharisees are portrayed in Matthew as blasphemous (9:34). Furthermore, they did not understand the Sabbath (12:2). Moreover, the Pharisees plotted to destroy Jesus (12:14). They wrongly called Jesus satanic to their own destruction because they were projecting on Him what was actually true of themselves (12:22-37).

Also, they demanded signs from Jesus (12:38). Additionally, the Pharisees transgressed the commandment of God for the sake of their tradition (15:3). Likewise, they invalidated the Word of God for the sake of their tradition (15:6). They were called hypocrites (15:7). They were destined for lip service but not heart service (15:8). They worshiped God in vain (15:9a). Correspondingly, they taught man-made doctrines (15:9b). They were planted by the devil (15:13-14. cf. 13:38-40). They tested Jesus (16:1; cf. 19:3; 22:34). They could predict and identify the weather by its color (16:2-3), but they were clueless to identify God in human flesh when he was standing and talking right in front of them (16:2-3). They were an evil and adulterous generation (16:4). Jesus warned against the influence of their teaching (16:6-12). One of the few parables that they understood taught their doom (i.e. the parable of the Landowner cf. 21:33-46). They wanted to trap Jesus in what He said but to no avail (22:15). Once again they were referred to as hypocrites (22:18). Jesus pronounced eight woes to the Pharisees in 23:1-36. Finally, the Pharisees lied about the facts concerning Jesus’ cross work and resurrection (27:62-66; 28:8-15). In conclusion, as one can observe from the extensive content in Matthew’s historical narrative of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, the Pharisees are pictured as an extremely evil and wickedly corrupt sect of Judaism. The Pharisees are the antagonists in Matthew’s account whereas the Lord Jesus Christ is the protagonist in Matthew’s account.

There are a few exceptions in the NT concerning the Pharisees that appear on the surface to picture them to be neutral. For instance, they warn Jesus that Herod was seeking to kill Him (cf. Lk 13:31). However, the Pharisees were also seeking to kill Jesus (cf. Matt 12:14). Nicodemus who was a Pharisee was challenged by Jesus with the reality of true regeneration in the new birth (cf. Jn 3) and actually repented because He defended Jesus before the Pharisees, not succumbing to the fear of man (cf. Jn 7:51-52). What is more, the Apostle Paul before he became a Christian was a Pharisee as well, but repented (cf. Phil 3:5-11). In fact, in Acts 23:6-7 Paul appealed to being a Pharisee and one who hoped in the resurrection of the dead to pin the Pharisees against the Sadducees. However, in Acts 5:40 the Council (comprised of both Pharisees and Sadducees) flogged the Apostles.

Secondly, the extra-biblical content concerning the Pharisees is most confined to Josephus. Flavius Josephus was an ethnic Jew who lived c. 37 A.D. – 100 A.D./120 A.D (?). Historian J. Julius Scott Jr. offers a brief biography of Josephus when he writes,

Through his father Mattathias, Josephus was of the priestly nobility. He was related to the royal Hasmonean house through his mother. Originally named Joseph, he later called himself Flavius Josephus, Flavius being the name of the family of Roman emperors who were his patrons, and Josephus the romanized form of his Hebrew name. Between his birth and death (c. 37–100) Josephus was a student, sectarian, statesman, military officer, traitor, historian, and apologist for the Jews…. By age fourteen, Josephus claims, his learning was so highly regarded that rabbis consulted him. A couple of years later he began a study of the three primary national sects, Sadducees, Pharisees, and Essenes. For three years, he says, he lived as an ascetic in the wilderness with Bannus, a hermit. He then became a Pharisee. In 64 Josephus visited Rome and obtained freedom for some priests who had been imprisoned there. In that city Josephus was impressed with the grandeur and power of the empire. Back in Judea Josephus found his country headed for war with Rome. Realizing the folly, he sought to steer his nation in other directions. But when only twenty-nine years of age Josephus was placed in charge of preparing Galilee for the anticipated Roman invasion.[4]

After Josephus lost to the Romans he helped his men commit a mass suicide and then being the last man standing Josephus surrendered to Titus and Vespasian and lived the rest of his life in luxury on a private villa spending most of his time writing his historical works. Scott records the end of Josephus’ life when he writes,

After the war Josephus was taken to Rome by Titus, who himself eventually succeeded to the imperial throne. Under Vespasian and Titus, Josephus lived as a ward of the court. Granted a stipend and a villa, he spent much of his time in writing. His fortunes may not have fared quite so well after the death of Titus. With regard to the length of his life, we know that Josephus outlived Herod Agrippa II, who died in 100.[5]

Josephus favored the Pharisees in a positive light because he had once himself belonged to the Pharisees. The two main works in which Josephus recorded content concerning the Pharisees were his Antiquities of the Jews and The Wars of the Jews. In Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus claimed the Pharisees had great power over the multitude and “that when they say anything against the king or high priest they are presently believed.”[6] What is more, Josephus maintained that the Pharisees’ profession was to be righteous and please God.[7] Moreover, Josephus said that the Pharisees lived meanly and despised delicates in diet.[8] Also, Josephus asserted that they followed conduct of reason.[9] Also, Josephus argued that the Pharisees honored the elderly and never tried to contradict them and never question them ever.[10] As far as the doctrines of the Pharisees, Josephus stated that they had a deterministic view but more compatible with “fate” determinism.[11] However, Josephus also claimed that the Pharisees had a syncretistic view of man’s action with “fate” because he wrote that the Pharisees, “say that some actions, but not all, are the work of fate, and some of them are in our own power, and that they are liable to fate but not caused by fate.”[12] Josephus alleged that the Pharisees feared God and are weary to take away the freedom of men.[13] They performed divine worship, prayers, and sacrifices.[14] Josephus said that they exhibited virtuous conduct in the action of their lives and their discussions.[15] Apparently, the Sadducees put up with the Pharisees because they feared the populous who supported the Pharisees.[16] During the reign of the Hasmonean ruler Hyrcanus, Josephus discussed the relationship between the Pharisees and the Sadducees when he wrote the following:

The Pharisees have delivered to the people a great many observances by succession from their fathers, which are not written in the Law of Moses; and for that reason it is that the Sadducees reject them, and say that we are to esteem those observances … which are in the written word, but are not to observe what are derived from the tradition of our forefathers…. But the Pharisees have the multitude of their side.[17]

According to Josephus, the Pharisees were insubordinate to ruling authorities because they refused oaths of allegiance to Caesar and Herod and some were put to death.[18]. Hyrcanus left the Pharisees because their form of punishment was too light for his liking toward one of his enemies.[19]

In The Wars of the Jews, Josephus claimed that the Pharisees valued themselves highly upon the exact skill they had in the law of their fathers.[20] The Pharisees made men believe that they were favored by God.[21] Josephus said that during the nine year reign of Alexandra the Pharisees were the real rulers of the nation. The Pharisees joined Alexandra to assist her in government, appeared more religious than other Jews, interpreted the Law more accurately, and “artfully insinuated” themselves in Alexandra’s favor.[22] What is more, they bound and loosed men at their pleasure in authority.[23] Josephus said that Alexandra “governed other people, the Pharisees governed her.”[24] The Pharisees took revenge on a man Diogenes and all those who assisted Alexandra’s husband when he crucified eight hundred Pharisees.[25]

At this point it should be noted that there was a period of time during the Hasmonean Dynasty that the Pharisees underwent a hostile interval of oppression by the Hasmoneans. It began under the reign of John Hyrcanus who originally joined the Pharisees. However, a member of their group made a slanderous comment that Hyrcanus should quit the priesthood because his mother had conceived him in prison out of wedlock. Because of this Hyrcanus left the Pharisees to join the Sadducees.[26] During the reign of Alexander Janneus who ruled the Hasmonean Dynasty from 103 – 76 B.C. he crucified 800 Pharisees and had their children’s throats cut before their eyes.[27] It was when Alexander Janneus was on his death bed that he felt remorse for what he had done and instructed his wife Alexandra (she inherited the kingdom as his successor) to make amends with the Pharisees. She did reconcile with the Pharisees and it is during her reign that the Pharisees rose to power.[28]

To end, Josephus’ picture of the Pharisees was more of a positive description. He portrayed the Pharisees as a pious Jewish sect with integrity, a zeal to honor God and protector of the common people of their own ethnicity. However, Scott claims that Josephus was particularly partial to the Pharisees when he writes, “Josephus’s references are hardly neutral; he says, for example, that he governed his ‘life by the rules of the Pharisees.’”[29]

In Matthew 15:9 Jesus quoted the OT text to describe the Pharisees when He said, “But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men” (Isa 29:13). According to Jesus the Pharisees’ doctrine was man-made. This is because the Pharisees lowered God’s standard, redefined God’s standard by adding to it so that they could achieve it by their own effort. They were not faithfully upholding the truth of God like the biblical scribe Ezra (cf. Ez 7:9c-10). The Pharisees had extra-biblical writing that was systematically setup as a system. To this effect, part of the Pharisees’ extra-biblical revelation was called the Mishnah. The Pharisees believed that there was extra revelation to the Word of God that was not written but passed down by Moses orally. They believed that throughout the centuries their fathers preserved this oral tradition. However, the oral tradition was an ongoing revelation that God was continually revealing to Rabbis. Butler records that the Mishnah was a progress of an oral precepts set up separate from the testimony of Scripture, not according to the OT but rather the traditions of the Pharisaical elders when he writes the following:

Modern Scholars see the Mishnah as a collection and editing of Jewish case law whose traditions may go back 150 B.C. but primarily from the period of 50 B.C. to 220 A.D. The tradition of the Mishnah appears to begin with the sect of Judaism called the Pharisees, who sought to liberalize the legal system of Judaism by applying regulations for Temple purity particularly with regard to food laws to the entirety of Judaism. This sect may be regarded as liberal since they argued that the entirety of the nation should be righteous before God in ways similar to the priesthood. The Pharisees were largely a lay movement. The major representatives of this party in the Mishnah are Hillel and Shammai who taught around A.D. 50.[30]

Likewise, Ferguson explains the Mishnah when he writes,

Some Pharisees based the oral law simply on tradition: it along with the written law had been delivered to Moses and was transmitted through the succession…. The rabbinic literature preserves competing interpretations, for although the legal decision was according to the majority of the sages, freedom of interpretation was allowed. Opinions of the minority were preserved and studied as part of the tradition, because majority rule was an expedient for practical purposes and not a determination of final truth. Yet respect for the views of the majority of scholars was deeply rooted in the development of Judaism.[31]

The oral tradition of the Mishnah was so unreasonable that the Pharisees considered it a sin if on the Sabbath a Pharisee reached out his hand outside his front door to give bread to a beggar. However, it was not sin if a beggar reached his hand into a Pharisees’ house on the Sabbath and a Pharisee gave him bread. In the context of the Pharisees condemning Jesus’ disciples for picking the heads of grains on the Sabbath to eat He said,

Have you not read what David did when he became hungry, he and his companions, how he entered the house of God, and they ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for him to eat nor for those with him, but for the priests alone?… But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire compassion, and not a sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. (Matt 12:3b-4, 7)

In conclusion, the Pharisees are pictured in the NT as corrupt, an extremely evil and wicked sect of Judaism. Likewise, the Pharisees are represented in the NT as those who set up and propagated a false religious system that leads men into shackles and murders those who rise up against it. Matthew, who covers the Pharisees the most in the NT, portrays the Pharisees as the antagonists whereas the Lord Jesus Christ is the protagonist. On the other hand, Josephus’ picture of the Pharisees is more of a positive description. He portrays the Pharisees as a pious Jewish sect with integrity, a zeal to honor God and heroic defenders of the common people. However, logic declares if there are two different positions on a topic that contradict one another, one position could be wrong, both positions could be wrong, but both positions cannot be right if they contradict one another. Josephus does provide helpful historical background concerning the Pharisees to understand the cultural and political characteristic of the Hasmonean Dynasty and the first century under Roman occupation of Judea. Nonetheless, in the case of the Biblical data the Christian believes the NT to be true over that of Josephus’ account which is biased concerning the Pharisees. The Christian believes God’s testimony over that of man’s because God is not a hypocrite and it is impossible for Him to lie (cf. Num 23:19; Titus 1:2; Heb 6:18).

Today’s Pharisees are those who promote a false pretense to protect their properties and positions. There are religious hypocrites today who “teach as doctrines the precepts of men” (cf. Matt 15:9) and seek to live in a system that has invalidated the word of God for the sake of tradition (cf. Matt 15:6). There are men in leadership in evangelicalism today that God the Father has not planted and as such will be uprooted (Matt 15:13). These are modern day Pharisees who are drunk with the sin of partiality (cf. James 2:9), the sin of the love of money (1 Timothy 6:10), falsely accusing the brethren (3 John 10), and promoting earthly wisdom (cf. James 3:14-16) in both doctrine and practice. On the other hand, standing up for the truth of God is not being a Pharisee. The Pharisees did not uphold the truth of God, instead they added to the Word of God and “nit-picked” through the Word of God and reinterpreted for the purpose of serving their system. It is not wrong to stand for the truth of God and to be a man or woman who promotes plerophory concerning the Word of God – that is, total assurance about particular sound doctrines from the Word of God. Today many sound brothers and sister are falsely accused of being Pharisees because they uphold the truth of God. However, those who make these accusations against sound brothers and sisters are projecting what is indeed true of themselves.

E. V. Powers

Bibliography:

Butler, Trent C. Holman Bible Dictionary: With Summary Definitions and Explanatory Articles On Every Bible Subject, Introductions and Teaching Outlines for Each Bible Book, In-Depth Theological Articles, Plus Internal Maps, Charts, Illustrations, Scale Reconstruction Drawings, Archaeological Photos, and Atlas. Nashville, Tenn.: Holman Bible Publishers, 1991.

Ferguson, Everett. Backgrounds of Early Christianity. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2003.

Josephus, Flavius. Complete Works. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1974.

Meyer, Rudolf. “Φαρισαῖος” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. IX, ed. by Gerhard Kittel and Geoffrey William Bromiley. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1964-1976.

Scott, J Julius. Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2000, 1995.

Picture from: The Passion of the Christ. Film. Directed by Mel Gibson. United States: New Market Films 20th Century Fox, February 25, 2004.

[1] “The way Josephus first mentions the Pharisees (in connection with the reign of Jonathan Maccabeus, but with the assumption that they had been in existence for some time) raises the much discussed question of their origin. Some see the Pharisees’ roots in the biblical Ezra, others in the Hasidim. Recent studies suggest that the Pharisees were part of a general revolutionary spirit of the pre-Maccabean times; they emerged as a scholarly class dedicated to the teaching of both the written and oral law and stressing the internal side of Judaism. In any case, they were clearly one of the groups which sought to adapt Judaism for the postexilic situation” J Julius Scott. Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1995), 195-232.

[2] Rudolf Meyer, “Φαρισαῖος” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. IX, ed. by Gerhard Kittel and Geoffrey William Bromiley (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1964-1976), 11-35.

[3] William Arndt and F Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: A Translation and Adaptation of the Fourth Revised and Augmented Edition of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Wörterbuch Zu Den Schriften Des Neuen Testaments Und der Übrigen Urchristlichen Literatur, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), 861.

[4] J Julius Scott Jr. Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books,

2000), 29.

[5] Ibid., 30.

[6] Flavius Josephus, Complete Works; Antiquities of the Jews (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1974), Ant. XIII, X, 5 (281).

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., XVIII, i, 3 (376).

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid., XIII, v, 9 (274).

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid., (377).

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid., XIII, x, 5 (281).

[18] Ibid., XVII, ii, 4 (358).

[19] Ibid., (XIII, x, 6, 281).

[20] Flavius Josephus, Complete Works; The Wars of the Jews (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1974), Wars. XVII, II, 4 (358).

[21] Ibid. I, v, 1 (433).

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ant. XIII, x, 5-7 (281).

[27] Ibid., XIII, xiv, 2 (285).

[28] Ibid., XIII, xvi, 2 (287).

[29] Scott, Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament, 195-232.

[30] Trent C. Butler, Holman Bible Dictionary: With Summary Definitions and Explanatory Articles On Every Bible Subject, Introductions and Teaching Outlines for Each Bible Book, In-Depth Theological Articles, Plus Internal Maps, Charts, Illustrations, Scale Reconstruction Drawings, Archaeological Photos, and Atlas (Nashville, Tenn.: Holman Bible Publishers, ©1991), 975.

[31] Everett Ferguson. Backgrounds of Early Christianity (3rd ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2003), 537-582.

A Call to True Liberation

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Black Liberation theology supposes that the Africans and African-Americans must be free from the injustices of social, economic, political, and racial oppression.[1] The oppressor is “white” society and its social constructs. It is argued, that since blacks are oppressed, the Jesus of the Bible must come to liberate the oppressed from oppressors. He must serve as the god of black experience and identify with oppressed blacks in order to usher them to the freedom of racial pride and independence. The mission of Jesus Christ, in Black Liberation Theology, is to end racism and poverty. According to this ideology, Blacks must learn to love themselves, so that they can love themselves and function victoriously in society. Its founder, James Cone, attributes his ideas to late Civil Rights Leader Martin Luther King Jr. and Black Muslim, Nationalist, Malcolm X.[2]

In 1963, Martin Luther King, in his most famous speech, called on humanity to join together in order to attain, what he believed was, true freedom. According to sentiments echoed by James Cone, King said:

“. . . when we let {freedom} ring from every village and hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we’re free at last!”

Does God show partiality to the nations?

God calls all people, everywhere, to repent (Acts 17:30). Jesus came first for the Jews, most of whom rejected Him (John 1:11). There is no partiality with God (Romans 2:11). Social political oppression, racism, economic failure and other injustices are not first causes, but symptoms. Every race, to one degree or another, can claim such terrible experiences as their own. Jesus did not come to alleviate social, racial, political, and economic injustices. Although He demonstrated compassion for those who experienced such things, His primary reason for coming to the earth was to set captives free from the bondage of sin and the eternal wage of death and judgment. (Luke 4:18; 5:32; John 3:16-17)

Salvation in Jesus Christ is not only offered to a specific ethnic group or one particular social class of people. To suppose that this is the case, misrepresents the purpose of Jesus’ substitutionary atonement for sinners. If you believe that Jesus only came to save the black race or any other race, as liberation theology teaches, then you are accusing God of the sin of partiality (Romans 2:15). Also, to uphold the teachings of black liberation theology, you also say that God and His apostles are liars:

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
Although great atrocities have taken place throughout the course of human history, it is not because one race is inferior to another. Because mankind has rebelled against the Creator, one expression of their rebellion is to despise the image of God in man (Genesis 1:26-27). Everyone who does not have saving faith in Jesus Christ is a murderer, like their father Satan. He is the archenemy of God and His people (John 8:44).

The cure for racial disharmony is not to stand united across contradictory beliefs systems that each lead away from Jesus Christ as He has revealed Himself in Scripture. Neither is the cure self-confidence, self-esteem and racial pride, because each of those are sins against God as well (John 12:25; Gal. 3:28). Nor is it to experience the atrocities of a particular race so that the Gospel can be more palatable.[3] Several nations were represented at the Tower of Babel, and united in confederation against God with the common goal human achievement and arrogantly reaching the heights of heaven with their accomplishments (Genesis 11:1-9). God confused and confounded their efforts, because their foundation was not built on worship toward Him. Mankind finds their common identity in Adam as sinners against Almighty God. Every unbelieving race and nation is united in their rebellion against God and His Son Jesus Christ (Psalm 2:1).

It is God who has determined the locations and geographical boundaries. However, He commands everyone, from every tribe, nation, and language, to repent of their sins and find their common identity in the Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ. Therefore Christianity is not a “white” religion, “black” religion, or exclusive to any other race. It is absolute truth and an ultimatum to every man, woman, and child who shares common ancestry to Adam, and is alienated from God. In Adam, every person is born spiritually dead, awaiting physical death, and eternal judgment (Romans 5:12; Corinthians 15:22).

Only during the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11) and the reign of the Antichrist is humanity depicted as united together without saving faith in God. In the latter case, they will express the height of their deception and enmity with God by rendering praise to him, while severed from the Lamb

Revelation 13:4-5 “I saw one of his heads as if it had been slain, and his fatal wound was healed. And the whole earth was amazed and followed after the beast; they worshiped the dragon because he gave his authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, ‘Who is like the beast, and who is able to wage war with him?’”

The “Dream” for all persons to gather together in ecumenical unity, and inclusive utopianism is not pictured in the Scriptures. The believing multitudes, however, gather around Jesus Christ at the end of the age. People from every tribe, nation and tongue will worship Jesus Christ because He paid for their sins as a substitute, bearing upon Himself the wrath of God. The people who worship Him at the end of the age are credited His righteousness, and place their absolute faith in Him alone unto salvation for the forgiveness of their sins (Revelation 7:9). Those who are free at last are only those who are slaves to the righteousness of Jesus Christ by faith alone in Him, by the grace God and free from lawlessness and sin, receiving entrance into His Kingdom through the blood of the Lamb. It is only through this “freedom” that every person can unite and be ‘free at last’, rendering worship to Almighty God in Christ Jesus. All other persons, no matter their aspirations in this life, are slaves to sin and will be condemned to eternal punishment for their sins.

What must you do to be saved?

If you find your identity in anything or anyone other than the Lord Jesus Christ then you are dead in your sins and in danger of the final judgment that will include sentencing to hell. Jesus Christ commands you, not to have more pride and feelings of racial superiority. He commands that you deny yourself, hate your life in this world, confess your sins before Him and believe that He died on the cross as a substitute for sins. Since the wrath of God remains on everyone who denies that Jesus came from the Heavenly Father to satisfy His wrath against them, you must be born again.

Jesus does not command you to find your chief identity in this world, but to forsake the lusts of this world and the pride of life. You must humble yourself and cry out for forgiveness. You must forgive those who have caused injustices to you. If you do not forgive others, God will not forgive you (Matthew 6:15). Partiality is a sin against God (1 Timothy 5:21; James 3:17). Man’s primary need as not to be liberated from rebellion against the law of God. Racial harmony is impossible apart from receiving a new heart and new nature by the blood of Jesus Christ. If God has only come to liberate the black race or exclusively any other race, then the atoning work of the cross is a failure and powerless. Mankind’s collective atrocities are eternally consequential and demand eternal judgment.

-Doron Gladden

President and Founder
Biblical Christ Research Institute

[1] James H. Cone, “God and Black Suffering: Calling the Oppressors to Account,” Anglican Theological Review, vol. 90, no. 4 (2008): 710.

[2] Ibid., 701.

[3] James H. Cone, “Theology’s Great Sin: Silence in the Face of White Supremacy,” Black Theology: An International Journal, vol. 2, issue 2. (July 2004): 151.

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