Monday, October 25, 2010

Does 1 John 2:2 contradict Calvinism?

"and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world."- 1 John 2:2.

There have been many interpretations of this text throughout church history.  Some see this text as a basis for universalism, the idea that all men without exception will be saved.  Others see the "ours" in the "propitiation for our sins" as a reference to the Christians John was writing to, and the "those of the whole world" to refer to all of humanity.  This then is the basis for what is called universal atonement.  An interpretation strongly clutched by my Arminian/synergistic brethren.  Universal atonement says that the Cross of Christ did not secure the salvation for anyone in particular, and that it only made salvation possible for all men.  The Reformed see "those of the whole world" as a reference to Christians throughout the entire earth.  It is the position of this author that the Reformed stance is the most consistent.  In giving an apologetic for this interpretation it will be vital to define the word "propitiation", and to look at similar texts by the pen of John that are similar in context.

In 1 John 1, John is writing  about the Word of life which is Jesus, and that walking in the Light cleanses us from sin.   Then in 1 John 2:1-2"1My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world."   In V.1 we are told that "we" have an  advocate (gk. paracletos) with the Father.  Advocate means to come alongside in an intercessory manner.  "My little children" and "we" are references to Christians.  Only they have an advocate with the Father, that is what it means to be Christian.  Non-Christians don't have this privilege.  The propitiation is only for the ones that have an advocate with the Father.  This is what is meant by propitiation for "our" sins, the "our" refers to Christians, and "those of the whole world" refers to those who have an advocate with the Father throughout the entire earth.  Paul confirms that Christ's intercession and atonement is only for God's elect in Romans 8:33-34, V.33 "Who will bring a charge against God's elect?...V.34 "Christ Jesus is He who died...who also intercedes for us."  The "us" is God's elect.

"Propitiation: A sacrifice that bears God's wrath to the end and in doing so changes God's wrath towards us into favor" (Grudem Systematic Theology, 1252).

A great many when reading 1 John 2:2 overlook the meaning of  "propitiation" (gk. hilasmos).  If the "world"(gk. kosmos) is universal here, then it means that God's wrath has been satisfied on behalf of the elect and non-elect.  Then the question must be asked: on what basis are the non-elect condemned?  The proponents of the universal atonement position will say "Well it is on the basis of their unbelief."  But such a response is unconvincing since God's wrath has been satisfied on their behalf, and their unbelief would be part of that satisfaction. "For the wages of sin is death," Romans 6:23.  People are condemned ultimately based on their sin.  To say that people are condemned because of their unbelief misses the point, this is like saying a gunshot victim died because he didn't go the the hospital.  Although the victim might have survived if he went to the hospital, that isn't the cause of his death.  It was the gunshot, not his lack of hospital care.  If we take the universal position on 1 John 2:2 than we are left with the grim prospect of God demanding double payment for the sins of the non-elect.  After having the non-elect's sins payed for, they are then left in eternal condemnation to "repay", so to speak, for their sins again.  A grim prospect indeed, John must be using "world" in a different way than the universal atonement position assumes.

Scholars have identified about 14 different uses of the word "world" throughout John's writings.  A brief analysis reveals how John uses "world" in various ways.   It cannot be just assumed that "world" is universal, and that it always means the same thing whenever ever it is used.  In the same chapter as 1 John 2:2,  1 John 2:15 says, "Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him."  If we take "world" to mean all of humanity here, this means that were not supposed to love them.  This is certainly not the case.  In context John is referring here to the "world" as a present evil system and not to all of fallen humanity.  John 17:9, In the glorious high priestly prayer of our Lord, Jesus says, ... I do not ask on behalf of the world..."  Why? because Christians are not of the "world"!  Words like "world" and "all" are often used in the New Testament to emphasize the fact that salvation has been brought to Jews and Gentiles.  They were used to correct the Jewish mindset that the Messiah would only come to save the Jewish nation.  To get a better insight into what is meant in 1 John 2:2 we must look at other texts that have been revealed by God through John.  The following two texts are significant because they both discuss the atonement and the objects of that atonement:

"And they sang a new song, saying,"Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.  You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth."-Revelation 5:9-10.
Notice that the scope of Christ's atonement here is specific, it is has purchased "men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation."  It doesn't say that Jesus purchased by His blood every man "from every tribe and tongue and people and nation."  The specific objects of His atonement are then made "to be a kingdom and priests to our God," "You have made them," "them" refers to the ones He purchased by his blood "from every tribe and tongue and people and nation."  The Reformed see "them" as a parallel concept to the "world" in 1 John 2:2.

"'But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, "You know nothing at all,
nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish.  Now he did not say this on his own initiative, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but in order that He might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad."-John 11:49-52.
Here we have Jesus' death bringing about a particular end.  The end being that He gathers the "children of God who are scattered abroad."  These are ones that have been given to the Son by the Father (John 6:37-44).  John 10:11, "I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep."  Here Jesus' life is laid down for a specific people, His sheep.  The shepherd chooses the sheep, not the other way around.  Here again we find a parallel concept to the "world" found in 1 John 2:2, that is the "children of God who are scattered abroad."

This is why the Reformed position is the Biblical position, it is because the Bible presents the atonement as definite and not potential.  It is personal and not general.  Does God really only love those who love Him?  Is His love conditional?  No, He loves whom He chooses to love (Romans 9:11-13).  Can we really say that the precious Blood of Christ comes to no avail for some? Could He really be the propitiation and not the advocate.  No, He is the advocate for those whom propitiation is made.  Is it even possible that the wrath of God being poured out on His beloved Son would somehow, in any way not be effectual?   From all of eternity, the perfect unity in the One Triune God being broken in some sense at the Cross, only to be rendered non-redemptive by the sinner is absurd.  Will their be any condemned sinner in hell yelling "I have rendered Christs' Blood ineffective, He tried to save me but I wouldn't let Him."? Certainly not.  The incalculable cost of the Cross should make us all meditate about this doctrine deeply.  Our redemption is costly, may we never say that Christs' Blood is ineffective in any way.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Does 1 Timothy 2:4 teach "unlimited atonement"?

Discussion of the scope of the atonement of Christ is important.  That is why Christians fight so vigorously for their particular interpretation of this doctrine.  Is the atonement limited or unlimited, and for whom is it intended?  It can be easy to get bogged down by just asserting the "plain meaning" of the text and not giving any foundation for it.  Scripture interprets scripture, and that is why we cannot simply quote a verse without giving the context, this especially is the case when speaking of weighty matters like the atonement of the Son of God. It is also essential that other texts that speak to the issue at hand must be taken into account.  Sadly, some passages are bandied about without assessing the issues within the text; for example, 1 Timothy 2:4 "who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth."  At first glance, it might seem that hundreds of years of reformed theology have just gone out the window with the "simple reading" of this text.  A closer examination of the context surrounding it reveal otherwise.

In 1 Timothy 1 Paul was warning Timothy about teachers that didn't have correct doctrine. Then Paul speaks of others who have been cast out of the church because of their conduct.

 Then, in 1 Timothy 2:1-7 Paul says:

"1 First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men,2 for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.3 This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior,4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.5  For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,6 who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time."

In the end of V.1 we get the first use of the phrase "all men."  Then Paul tells us what he means by "all men" in V.2, "kings and all who are in authority."  Paul is saying that all classes of people, even those in authority, should be the objects of prayer.  But why does Paul have to say this?  There are some reasons of note:1. Paul was implying that the false teachers from chapter one were teaching the people not to pray for those in authority, 2. Paul has to command that the those in authority should be prayed for, because those in authority were persecuting the church, hence the church wasn't praying for those that persecuted them.  So Paul is speaking here of a class of people, namely "kings and all who are in authority."  This has bearing on how we interpret V.4, "who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth."  Here in V.4, "all men" means the same thing it did in V.1.  Namely that it refers to "all" different classes of people, not every single person ever to live.  Paul isn't commanding that prayers be made for every single individual in the whole entire world.  Rather, he is urging them to pray for the people that they had been neglecting to pray for.  Not that praying for the whole world is wrong, Paul is just not specifically commanding prayer for every single individual in V.1. V.5 Paul then bases this admonition to pray in the fact that Jesus is the only way to be reconciled to God.  V.6 This is then linked to the mediation and atonement of Christ.  If this mediation is on behalf of every single individual, does it not follow that Christ's mediation fails for some, since all are not saved? If "all" means every person ever to live in V.4, then is it not the case that God's purpose is frustrated by the sovereign will of man?  If we are to take the "all" in these texts as extensive, then it follows that the "ransom" spoken of in V.6  is merely a potential one.
The same thing is going on in Colossians 3 as in 1 Timothy 2:4.  Colossians 3:11 "a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all."  Paul is speaking again about classes of people.  He is saying that the Gospel renews all different kinds of people.  He is obviously not saying that Christ is renewing every single "Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman."

In Mark 10:26-45 Jesus is explaining the need for humility in order to be great in His Kingdom.  Jesus' words in Mark 10:45 are helpful here: "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."  Here Jesus' serving isn't a mere potentiality, and neither is His ransom.  "Ransom" carries this idea of actually paying for the freedom of a slave, and thus resulting in the freedom of that slave.  Notice also that the "ransom" here is for "many" and not all.  This is exactly the testimony of the Bible; that the atoning work of Christ is definite, and it does what it's intended to do.  If this isn't the case, how can one say the atoning work of Christ is perfect when it doesn't reached it's intended goal, which is the salvation of the whole world?  In Isaiah 46, God establishes Himself as the one true God over the idols of Babylon.  In V. 10, God says "... My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure."  If it was God's purpose and good pleasure for the entirety of the human race to be saved, it would happen.  In fact, the intercession of Christ is only for His Bride.  Romans 8:34 "who is the  one who condemns?  Christ  Jesus is the one who died...who also intercedes for us."  Romans 8:33 says who this "us" is--"who will bring a charge against Gods elect? God is the one who justifies."  The "us" is God's elect.  These two texts spell out clearly that the intercession of Christ is only on behalf of His Church.  The reason  a charge can't be put to God's elect is because they have been justified ("He also justified" Romans 8:30).  These verses speak nothing of Christ interceding for the non-elect.  Part of the purpose of God's election is the election unto His intercession.   Intercession and mediation, the ransom and the atonement are all unalterably connected; they are for all kinds of people, but not for every single individual, if it was for every single individual then every single individual would be justified.  Christ intercedes for those He died.  God doesn't try, He accomplishes all of His holy will.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Does Matthew 23:37 teach "resistible grace"?

In discussing issues of soteriology, many resort to asserting the meaning of certain scriptures without offering a Biblical exegesis of the text which is being presented. We all can be guilty of this, so it is important to give a solid interpretation of specific scriptures in light of it's context. One of the big passages that comes up in a discussion of freedom and salvation is Matthew 23:37, "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling." Many look to this passage as a proof text for the doctrine of "resistible grace." That is, that Jesus can offer saving grace to some who will ultimately reject it, and frustrate His purposes in trying to save them. Some see "Jerusalem" and "your children," as individual Jews who are rejecting the saving grace of Christ. As we will see, the context of this passage suggests nothing of the sort. It is amazing that those who promote this position will often miss quote this passage,"... how often I wanted to gather you...," changing "your children" to "you." Due to presuppositional bias, this passage is interpreted to fit a certain understanding about freedom and salvation. The understanding being that Jesus is trying to save them but they were unwilling and so Jesus can't save them now, because man will not allow Him. This is what is called "synergism," the idea that God is dependent on the human will to save. But is this really what Jesus is saying here? Context, like I said, is key.

In Matthew chapter 23 while speaking to the crowds and His disciples, Jesus rips into the scribes and Pharisees for the entirety of the chapter. Jesus announces 7 woes over the leadership of Israel. One of the woes is that the leadership of Israel throughout it's history continually shuts out the kingdom of heaven from the people V.13, "But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in," a theme that is parallel to V.37. When Jesus rebukes "Jerusalem," he is rebuking the leaders of Israel. Prophets were sent to the leaders of Israel, and consequently it is the leaders who kill the prophets who were sent to them. This is what the Pharisees were doing by trying to hinder the message of Jesus. They were shutting out the kingdom of heaven from the children they were supposed to be leading. The phrase "your children," is referring to the people under the leadership of Israel, the Pharisees. In this passage it isn't the "children" who are "not willing", it is the leaders. Throughout the ministry of Christ the leaders were doing everything they could to hinder Jesus and His message. The common people flocked to see Jesus and hear His teaching, but the Pharisees tried desperately to obstruct the progress of Christ and His ministry. Therefore Matthew 23:13, and V.37, are judgment passages directed towards the leaders of the people Israel for obstructing Jesus' ministry. They are not passages that teach man's free will to resist the "effectual grace" of God in salvation. In fact, the specific inner work of the Spirit of God which draws men to salvation is not in view here.

But are we surprised that the Pharisees tried to shut out Jesus and His message? Especially given the 5th woe in Matthew 23:25-26, that they are clean outwardly but their hearts are darkened on the inside? Of course they are unwilling, as sons of Adam they are radically enslaved to a corrupt nature. Listen to the word of our Lord in John 8:43-44, "Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies." How can fallen man turn to the truth of God if he can't even hear it? As children of the devil, fallen sinners are free to do what is natural to them, lie and reject God. John 8:32, "and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." John 8: 34, "... everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin." If we are all free to accept and reject God at our leisure then what are we being set free from here? As slaves to sin, sinners cannot choose anything outside of their nature. Jesus has to set sinners free so they can hear his word. John 8:36, " So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed." Jesus is telling the people that they cannot hear Him because they are not free. They are children of the devil and enslaved to sin.

The unwillingness of the Pharisees doesn't show that God is dependent on them, in fact it leads us straight to the doctrine of "total depravity." It points to the condition of fallen humanity. Unless God shows mercy on the fallen sinner's heart, he will always be unwilling. We know what happens at the end; Jesus conquers death and secures the salvation of His bride. The unwillingness of the leaders of Israel didn't hinder Jesus. Jesus doesn't try, He accomplishes.