Wednesday, June 11, 2014

"Means" A Matter of Context

"We know, from the Holy Scriptures, that God employs his truth in the regeneration of the soul." (J.L. Dagg)

Just what does it take to come to the gospel means position with regards to how sinners are eternally saved? Must one forsake the reading of the scriptures, instead devoting his time to reading the works of Calvinists? Must he abandon the Word of God, exchanging it for systematic theologies, or base his beliefs upon confessions of faith maybe? To hear some speak, this is true. Such a one told me once that in leaving the anti-means paradigm I was walking away from the "simplicity that is in Christ" (2 Cor. 11:3); that in my desire for knowledge I had devoted too much time studying other resources and "crossed the Rubicon", so to speak. Well, take it from one who has come to such a position that this is complete and utter nonsense. Hopefully I speak on behalf of other ostracized ones out there who have traveled a similar path when I state that conviction that effectual calling is by "His Word and Spirit" is derived from the Bible, and the Bible alone. One need not read a lick of Calvin, Owen, Hodge, Spurgeon, Edwards, Dabney, etc. to see this taught in God’s Word. He doesn’t have to have access to John Gill’s Body of Divinity or Calvin’s Institutes as I’ve often heard it claimed! He can arrive at this position if he were stranded on a desert island with only his Bible in his hands. And he could do this through use of the most elementary rule of bible interpretation available to the common man: CONTEXT.

The average Christian often takes this rule for granted when reading God’s Word, for it is simply a no-brainer that a sentence should be considered in the light of what surrounds it. The fact that the majority, whether they incline towards Arminianism or Calvinism, agree that one must hear the gospel to be saved based upon seemingly clear passages which teach it (e.g. Mark 16:16; Acts 16:30; Romans 1:16) shows that something else must be at work in the anti-means mind which denies it. As a former advocate of this system I now know that it is only when one approaches these texts with an anti-means prejudice are they interpreted to mean something contrary to what the vast majority of Bible readers see when reading them; namely, sinners must have faith in Christ to be saved, and that faith comes from gospel revelation.

It cannot be denied that there are such texts in the Bible which may be denoted as "means" passages. This is clearly established through the usage of the prepositions “by”, “through”, and “with” in connection with the gospel. There are two main questions which need to be considered here however. First, is the context of those passages where the gospel is set forth as the means dealing with matters of eternal or only temporal consequence? Second, with respect to those passages where eternal salvation is under consideration, is the gospel set forth as the means whereby it is affected, or something else? It shall be our business in this posting to seek an answer to these questions. We will not invoke the anti-means premise which says that if an instrument is used then it CAN’T BE referring to eternal salvation or if it is eternal salvation then the gospel CAN’T BE the means, for they hinder us from accomplish our specific goal, which is to settle the matter by context. If the passage is couched in language suggesting of eternal salvation, or the gospel is evidently proven to be the means whereby it is affected, then any premises must be discarded in favor of this basic hermeneutic of contextual interpretation. The honest Bible reader must acknowledge that the context of a passage is more important than some preconceived notion we might bring to it.

To the law and to the testimony we now go.

Is the context of gospel means passages dealing with matters of eternal or temporal consequence?

TEXTS: Romans 1:16; 6:17; 10:1; 11:11-15; Eph. 1:13-14; 2 Thes. 2:13-14

All must agree that these are gospel means passages for the texts mention it specifically. I could refer to more, but I choose these for the specific reason that it cannot be denied that they all depict the gospel or Word of God as affecting SOMETHING, and the surrounding context explicitly deals with either the matter of salvation or condemnation. To the average Christian there is no need to engage the question of whether eternal or some temporal salvation is under consideration as he has not been ingrained in the Hardshell manner of partitioning the Bible. He recognizes that eternal salvation is the dominating theme of the Bible, and that these passages are to be placed in that category with minimal deliberation. To the anti-means mind though, this is a question to pursue. Or should I say it WAS a question to pursue, for the universal answer has been given that eternal salvation is NOT under consideration. Sadly, it was not because of sound hermeneutics which led to such a conclusion, but because of a preconceived bias that would not tolerate the alternative. And that, reader, is the whole problem.

Let us examine the passages then allowing nothing but mere context to answer the question.

1) "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek." (Rom. 1:16)

In the first chapter of Romans, after writing that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation the Apostle Paul informs us of the wrath of God against the ungodly. He unfolds this starting in v.18, his thoughts culminating in the second chapter where we read of the “day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (2:5). The point of the Apostle in Romans 1:16 is to announce the salvation that is able to rescue a sinner from this woeful fate. That the salvation of Romans 1:16 cannot be disconnected from the wrath of God which the Apostle does here describe is proven by verse 18. This salvation exists "For" (because – KF) the wrath of God exists! Thus, Paul is revealing in v. 16 the method by which sinners find an escape from the impending wrath of God he will write about two verses later! Now if Paul is delineating the eternal wrath of God against the ungodly, culminating in the great judgment described in 2:1-10, then he must be announcing in 1:16 the salvation which is able to counteract this fate! If the judgment is eternal, then likewise must be the salvation! If Paul intended to convey to his audience in 1:16 that the purpose of the gospel is only to get a time salvation then what we should find is only a temporal wrath and judgment conveyed in the verses which follow! Only an anti-means Hardshell Baptist or possibly a Universalist would affirm, in the light of such a solemn portrait of God’s eternal wrath upon the ungodly, that the Apostle Paul precedes it all by telling us how to get a time salvation! God has provided a temporal salvation for sinners because the eternal wrath of God is against them???!!!

2) "But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you." (Rom. 6:17)

This passage doesn’t receive as much attention from the anti-means party as do James 1:18 and 1 Peter 1:23, the reason being there is no easy word upon which to place the time salvation twist. The word of truth mentioned by James and the word of God mentioned by Peter are possibly ambiguous and therefore grant a little space for the anti-means mind to argue against gospel regeneration. In this passage, however, we are confronted with "doctrine", a clear reference to the body of truth, or the message of the gospel. It certainly is not referring to Jesus, as the no-means view would love to say! Combined with the context’s clear description of the transition of going from death to life and it becomes, we think, an impossible task to squeeze this into the category of some sort of temporal salvation. According to Paul, the saints were once the servants of sin, an obvious reference to the unregenerate state. But now they are free from it and the servants of righteousness (v.18). Thus the text focuses on going from death to life, old man to new man, servants of sin to servants of God, and not some fictional state of "already regenerated but unconverted" to "regenerated and converted", as the anti-means, time salvation heretic argues with all gospel means passages! The text is without a doubt saying that the doctrine was instrumental in the regeneration of the saints, a matter of eternal consequence!

3) "Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved." (Rom. 10:1)

What salvation is Paul praying for his Jewish brethren to receive in this tenth chapter, a temporal one or an eternal one? The average Christian would reply without hesitation that it is the same one described in chapter nine, and would find it incredibly strange that someone would feel that the Apostle Paul would do an about-face on his readers! However, the anti-means view does not see this contextual flow as firm evidence that the tenth chapter must be the same salvation as that which Paul has been unfolding. But what indeed does the context say?

The previous chapter is arguably one of the most profound in all the Bible, powerfully describing the sovereignty of God in salvation and reprobation. Towards the end of the chapter the Apostle tells us that a remnant of Israel will be saved (v.27), and that such a salvation involves attaining to the law of righteousness (v.30-31). The chapter ends with a quotation from Isaiah that whoever believes in Christ shall not be ashamed (v.33). What a preposterous idea that the Apostle Paul in the very next breath laid aside any notion of context, and without given any evidence that he is about to do so, proceeded to write on a "kind" of salvation different than the one he had heretofore been erecting! And that the only way for a Bible reader to know this is to have a premise in mind, nowhere taught or explained in scripture, that if men are praying for salvation, or if it involves gospel instrumentality, that it can’t be talking about eternal salvation!

So much for the words prior to chapter ten. What of those after? It is equally devastating to the notion that chapter ten is not referring to eternal salvation. It begins with Paul referring to the same exact Israel he was praying for (11:1-4). We’re told, however, that whereas not all of them were saved, yet there was a current remnant which would be (v.5). And the salvation of which they would be the recipient is described in unmistakable language: "And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work." (v.6)

Every anti-means Hardshell Baptist I know refers to this passage emphasizing that eternal salvation is by grace, and can’t be mixed with works, yet he fails to recognize that this is the exact same salvation that Paul was writing about in chapter 10!!!! Verse 7 makes it absolutely clear that the salvation which national Israel (chapter ten) sought for is the exact same salvation as that received by the remnant (chapter 11)! The election obtained the salvation (11:7). Which one? The one which the rest of the nation did not! If the salvation obtained by the remnant is described as eternal in verse 6, then this must be the same exact salvation that the rest of the nation didn’t obtain! And since the same nation is under consideration in chapter 10 and 11 then the salvation concerning them must be the same! This is crystal clear to anyone who is not wedded to a previous agenda and refuses to acknowledge it!

Thus, the salvation obtained by the remnant of Israel is the same as that for which Paul was praying (10:1)! It is the one achieved by hearing the gospel and being brought to faith in Christ (10:14-17)! Context says that the salvation of Romans 10 is the same as that in chapters 9 and 11. To assert that Romans 10 exists in a vacuum in that the salvation it describes is different than that of chapter nine and 11 is to destroy the unity of the Apostle’s thought regarding salvation and the nation of Israel beginning in 9:1 and ending in 11:32.

4) "I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy. Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness? For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office: If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them. For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?" (Rom. 11:11-15)

Here we see that salvation came to the Gentiles through the fall of the Jews. It should not need arguing that this is eternal, for what anti-means mind says that time salvation came to the Gentiles through the fall of the Jews? Even I never heard anything that far-fetched. So when we read 3 verses below of Paul’s desire to be the means of saving some of his Jewish brethren (v.14), how could anything else be under consideration than this same exact salvation? Does context mean anything, or does the Hardshell premise that if the text mentions means then "it can’t be talking about eternal salvation" have precedent? If the latter, then are we to imagine an implicit change between the "kind" of salvation in verse 11 from that in verse 14! We could say that and yet still claim that verses should be interpreted by context????

Is it not clear that the Apostle Paul is expressing his desire to be the means whereby some of his Jewish brethren would be eternally saved?

5) "In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory." (Eph. 1:13-14)

We see the same thing with this passage as we did with Romans 10 in that it is surrounded by a powerful and unmistakable revelation of the sovereignty of God in saving sinners. It is simply astounding to imagine that anyone could surmise that this passage concerned a different kind of salvation than that which is described all around it. It is true that some Calvinists (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, for instance) do not feel that this passage had to do with regeneration proper, but rather the assurance that progressively comes to the Christian afterwards. Yet the difference is that these men nevertheless believed that this was part of the believer’s continued salvation to glory. They had not a grid which disconnected the present life from eternal salvation, claiming it was part of another optional life that the regenerated man may or may not receive. The connection between the present life and that which is to come is established when the Apostle says the Holy Spirit (received now – KF) is the earnest until the redemption of our bodies. The context is clear as to the placement of this text in the category of eternal salvation.

6) "But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ." (2 Thes. 2:13-14)

Paul here gives his thanks to God for the election of the believers at Thessalonica. This he states in contrast to the grim portrait he displays prior. Whatever be the correct eschatological view of the coming Wicked one, the verses are clear that eternal damnation is the fate of those who "received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved" (v.10). They will be "damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness" (v.12). What we see here is similar to what was viewed in the first chapter of Romans, only in reverse order, for whereas Paul in that letter revealed the salvation available from God (v.16) which could deliver a sinner from His wrath (v.18-2:10), here we see him first declaring the doom of the ungodly in v.12 followed by the deliverance of some from it (v.13). Again, if the Apostle is describing eternal condemnation in v.7-12 then eternal salvation must be under consideration in the very next passage. If the condemnation is eternal, likewise the salvation! It is not some temporal salvation for which Paul is giving thanks, but the salvation which can rescue a sinner from the doom described above! This is obvious to anyone who is willing to let the context speak, and has not a previous commitment to defy it. What a violation of the most basic rule of Bible interpretation to cast all of this contextual evidence away simply because of an anti-means mind which refuses to see what is as clear as day. God has elected men to salvation. They are effectually called to it “by the gospel”.

With respect to those passages where eternal salvation is under consideration, is the gospel set forth as the means whereby it is affected, or something else?

TEXTS: James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:22-23

To my knowledge there is no significant disagreement among the anti-means party that these two verses pertain to eternal salvation. “Begat” (James 1:18) and “born again” (1 Peter 1:22) are generally treated as references to regeneration, and since Hardshells devote much of their apologetics attempting to prove that the “word” in these passages is not the gospel, but Christ, proves that the text is being treated as if it pertains to eternal salvation, more particularly regeneration. Otherwise, they would not be under such pains to do so, for there is no objection that the gospel can be the means for an “unnecessary conversion” (i.e. time salvation). I’m sure (in fact, I know it to be the case) that there are some, who perhaps are a little more learned in the whole ordo salutis argumentation, that choose rather to place these passages in the category of conversion as something separate and distinct from regeneration. And since this is not deemed necessary of eternal salvation, it may be allowed that the gospel is under consideration in these passages.

1) "Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures." (James 1:18)

Men are begotten with the word of truth. Simple grammar proves this to be a “means” text, for it answers the question of how men are begotten. But is the word of truth a reference to the gospel or something else? What says the context?

First, the command is given "let every man be swift to hear" (v.19). Second, "receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls" (v.21). Third, "be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only" (v.22).

Are these not clear admonitions to receive and apply gospel truth? If so, how can it be said that the word of truth in v.18 is something different? I’m tempted to say that the time salvation advocate might admit that the word of v.21 is the gospel so that he might teach from it that we can use the gospel to save our soul’s "timely", but then he would be left with the difficult task of proving how this word is the gospel, but the word of v.18 is not!

Stay tuned to my next posting where I demonstrate the pains to which one goes to claim the word of truth is not the gospel.

2) "Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently: Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever." (1 Peter 1:22-23)

One of the main problems that the anti-means party makes in their approach to this particular passage is their virtual silence on the surrounding text in determining the meaning of the word of God. I can only suspect the reason why it has been given such little attention is because it’s detrimental to the argument that the word of God has reference to Jesus. Surely, the word of v.23 is to be interpreted in light of v.22 which speaks of men purifying their souls by obeying the truth, a certain reference to the gospel! Probably even more convincing is the admonition to "desire the since milk of the word" in 2:2. One of the rules of bible interpretation, which makes perfect sense, is that verses which are possibly ambiguous should be interpreted in the light of those which are clear! If we do that here, then it becomes evident that it is by the gospel that men are born again.

SUMMARY

It ought to be pointed out that in looking at these passages we have only concerned ourselves with the context in which they are placed. Were we to look closer at the verses themselves we would find additional evidence that the anti-means, time salvation view is simply not tenable. Our point in taking somewhat of a bird’s-eye view is hopefully to persuade others of their most glaring error. Either one of two things must be true regarding the passages cited. They are to be categorized based on what the surrounding context suggests or we must propose the silly idea that the Apostle Paul is alternating back and forth between eternal and temporal language, the word of God referring to Jesus in one passage, and the gospel in the next; and that, supposedly under the direction of the Holy Spirit! There is no way around this. If we remain obstinate and still maintain that these passages are nevertheless to be interpreted from their anti-means perspective, then let us be clear on what we are doing at this point. We are not "rightly dividing the word of truth", but butchering it! We are saying that the context is not to be the leading factor as to whether the text is to be applied in an eternal or temporal sense, but rather our pre-conceived premises that we carry to it.

It is a textbook definition of eisegesis.

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