The God of Peace

The second Advent focus is peace. Peace means so much more than the kids are quiet and not arguing so I can read my favorite book. It’s also more than an absence of war between nations. What follows is an article I wrote a few years ago about the true meaning of peace.

In November 2012, my family and I went to College Station for an RUF (Reformed University Fellowship) reunion. RUF has been on campus at Texas A&M for more than 25 years. The best part of the whole weekend was hearing my former campus minister, Chris Yates, preach. I am so thankful for him and his family and for all I learned in my years at RUF.

Pastor Yates preached from 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24:
Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.(NASB)

While I’m not going to summarize the whole of his excellent sermon (you can listen to it here), I want to share and expound on one of the points he made.

Pastor Yates opened by discussing what it means that God is a “God of peace.” Since it comes in the opening or closing parts of Paul’s letters, it is easy to skim over it and not really consider the importance of those words. What kind of peace is Paul referring to? Political peace? No, there wasn’t political peace in Paul’s day any more than there is today. How about world peace? Is there world peace? Was there then? No, there isn’t and wasn’t. Well, since Paul isn’t lying, it must mean something else. What other kind of peace is there?

Pastor Yates then pointed us to the verse in Luke 2:14:

Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased. (NASB)

And then to the hymn, Hark the Herald Angels Sing:

Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”

The peace that Paul refers to is the peace of “God and sinners reconciled.” What joyful news this is! As the country preacher once said, “God ain’t mad no more!”

This was such a timely reminder for me. I had had a particularly difficult week, and not just the disappointing election results. In troubled times, it is easy to despair. But when we remember that God, through the work of Christ, has defeated sin and death and has reconciled us to Himself, we can lift our eyes and rejoice. When we remember that God is still at work, in the world and in our lives sanctifying us, we can be at peace. Because we are at peace with God, we can be at peace in our lives. What better news is there?

In our culture, it’s in vogue to treat this glorious gospel message with disdain, and not just outside the church. Plenty of scholars, theologians, and pastors will say that it’s wrong to focus on the salvation of God’s people. As Peter Enns has said, “The gospel is not about how you get saved.” They say we’re missing the big picture of the work that God is doing to redeem the cosmos. As Dr. Tim Keller has said:

The whole purpose of salvation is to cleanse and purify this material world. … [T]he whole purpose of salvation is to make this world a great place. … God sees this world as not a temporary means to an end of salvation, but actually salvation is a temporary means to an end – to the renewal of creation. Saving souls is a means to an end of cultural renewal.

It seems to me that while it is certainly true that God is at work in the world and that there is an ultimate renewal/restoration/re-creation coming that will include the whole of the creation, that as a culture we’ve lost sight of the depths and seriousness of our sin. The weight of our sins, from Adam down to the believers yet to be born, was so severe, the cost of our sins was so high, the chasm between God and man brought about by our sin was so great, that the Son of God DIED to pay the penalty. Let me say that again. The Son of God DIED. Because of me. Because He LOVES me. Because He has called me by name and written my name on the palm of His hand. Do you not feel the weight of that? Is there anything that could possibly be better news?

Apart from Christ, we are sinners, separated from God, bearing the weight of our sins, unable to save ourselves, but that’s not the end of the story. The God of peace has come, has redeemed His people, is at work sanctifying them Himself, and will come again to present them as holy and blameless. This Sunday, I was reminded of His love for me, of all He has done, is doing, and will do for me. Oh, what joy!

When we sang “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted” that Sunday, these words struck me anew:

Ye who think of sin but lightly,
Nor suppose the evil great,
Here may view its nature rightly,
Here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the Sacrifice appointed!
See Who bears the awful load!
’Tis the Word, the Lord’s Anointed,
Son of Man, and Son of God.

Thank God for the peace He’s given us through Christ!

Read the Bible in a Year and Journals

For the last several years, I have been reading the Bible through each year. I’ve used several different plans, and there are elements of each that I’ve really enjoyed. But a few years ago I wanted to do something different. I like the idea of reading each book through so that you get a good feel for the flow of the book. But I really don’t like to wait until the last third of the year to read the New Testament. I love reading the Wisdom Literature, but I think I appreciate them more in smaller portions.

After looking through the various Bible reading plans available, I decided to create my own. My plan alternates between Old Testament and New Testament books, but completes one book at a time. On the weekends, my plan has readings from the Psalms on Saturdays and a chapter from Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, or Song of Songs on Sundays. Enjoy and happy reading!

Theology Gals has published two Bible Study Journals to use with your daily Bible reading. The first has a version of my Bible reading plan included in the journal: Bible Study Journal. The second has journal pages for you to take notes, to write out memory verses, or to keep track of questions for further study. Prayer list pages alternate with the journal pages: Bible Study and Prayer Journal.

Saying Farewell to the ESV

When I first was introduced to the ESV, I was very impressed by it. I had grown up using the NASB and hadn’t ever been very fond of the NIV. So, I was pleased by a new “word-for-word” translation option. The translation was smooth and fairly easy to read. It also appeared to be the preferred translation for many books, websites, churches, etc.

My husband and I eagerly purchased Reformation Study Bibles, downloaded the ESV Study Bible on our Nooks, and started using the ESV as our default translation on the YouVersion Bible app. When our oldest two boys joined the church as communing members, we presented them with their own ESV Reformation Study Bibles with their names engraved on the covers.

When I was researching Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS), I discovered that the ESV Study Bible’s notes strongly advocate for ESS. This shouldn’t have been too surprising since Dr. Wayne Grudem was the editor for the Study Bible and is one of the leading proponents of ESS. After discovering that Dr. Grudem was on the oversight committee for the ESV translation, I was uncertain, but I knew he was just one man among many on the committee. I hadn’t noticed any real problems in the translation itself.

Last September, however, Crossway announced that they had made new changes to the text and that those changes would be the last ones made. The ESV text would be permanent as of 2016. While it might be a poor decision to determine that you’ll never need to update a translation, I really didn’t have any objection to that part of Crossway’s statement. What was much, much more concerning to me was a couple of the new changes that were now going to be permanently set in stone:

Permanent Text (2016) ESV Text (2011)
Genesis 3:16
Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.
Genesis 4:7
Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.

In making these changes, the ESV had decided to change the translation of Genesis 3:16 and 4:7 to reflect a particular interpretation of the passages. I plan to write more soon on the origin and history of this interpretation, but for now I’ll just summarize my concerns using an excerpt from an article by Wendy Alsup and Hannah Anderson:

In the height of the battle against feminism in the 1970s, Susan Fohproposedthat the similarity between 3:16 and 4:7 was that a woman’s desire toward a man was similar to sin’s desire to destroy Cain. It was, dare we say, contrary to him. This connection is problematic for many reasons, including the fact that the language of Genesis 4:7 is unclear and may actually refer to Abel’s good desire toward Cain.**

Worse, from an interpretive standpoint, Foh used the confusing and obscure text of Genesis 4 to project something backonto the clearer Hebrew in Genesis 3. In contrast, a straightforward chronological reading of Genesis 1-4 actually affirms the lexical definition of the preposition ‘el as “for” or “toward.”  In terms of the fall, the woman’s desire for children, her desire for her husband, and the man’s efforts at cultivating the ground are all good things to be pursued in fulfillment of the Creation Mandate; but post-Fall, these good desires are thwarted with painful consequences. Just as the man’s desire to produce fruit from the ground is rewarded with sweat and pain, a woman’s desire to produce children from her own body is rewarded with sweat and pain. Just as the man turns to his attention to the earth looking for fruitful relationship, a woman turns toward (not away from) a man seeking fruitful relationship. (We will explore this more in Part 3.)

The only way translators can justify rendering ‘el as “contrary” is to assume something negative about the womans desire based on the use of desire in Genesis 4:7-8. But such a novel change relies solely on commentary, not on accepted definitions to the Hebrew ‘el. (emphasis original)

They go on to explain why this translation has bad implications:

Our first concern about the latest rendering of Genesis 3:16 is that it does not fit the larger rhetorical frame of the passage. It implies a sinful motivation for the woman’s desire rather than describing the broken context in which she finds herself. It also disrupts the parallelism of the text. God speaks to the woman about how the Fall affects her. He then speaks to the man about how the Fall affects him. Rendering 3:16 as “your desire shall be contrary to your husband” injects a statement about the woman’s nature when there is no corresponding statement about the man’s nature in terms of his work. We believe there is no parallel statement because Genesis 3:16 should not be read as an indictment of the woman’s desire.

As we discussed in Part 2, you can only arrive at a negative reading of the woman’s desire if you read negativity back into the passage from Genesis 4:7-8. But such a reading is highly prejudicial because it implies that the woman’s desires by their very existence are contrary to her husband. Because the rest of the passage is read as a statement of fact about this post-Fall world, the sentence “your desires shall be contrary to your husband” will also be read as a statement of fact. The rhetorical affect is to create suspicion around every desire that a woman has.

After a flurry of articles and blog posts, Crossway announced that the 2016 ESV text would not be permanent. While many were relieved to read this, some of us noted that nothing was said about the controversial change to Genesis 3:16 and 4:7. Would that be changed? To date, nothing has been said regarding changing these passages back. I know that published text takes time to be changed. As such, I expected that the ESV Bibles published last year would reflect the “contrary to” translation. And they do. This includes the big six-volume ESV Reader’s Bible.

I had hoped that maybe the online versions could be and would be changed. But so far, they haven’t. The current edition of the ESV on the website gives this translation for Genesis 3:16:

To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16 ESV)

The same is true for the major online Bible websites that offer multiple translations. The 2016 edition of the ESV with “contrary to” is the one in use.

I found this very discouraging. But it wasn’t the only reason I had for changing translations. In the Trinity debate this summer and the aftermath this fall, one of the discussions was over the interpretation of “monogenes.” Is it “only begotten” as the older English translations have it? Should it be “only,” “one and only,” “unique” as most of the recent translations, including the ESV, have it?

Lee Irons wrote to argue for “only begotten” as the preferred translation and many seem to be in agreement now. I’m glad for that. How many of us have memorized John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son …”? Somehow it doesn’t sound quite right “For God so loved the world, He gave His one and only Son …”. Granted that’s mostly personal preference, but there is a strong theological truth missing when we leave out the “only begotten.”

Between the “contrary to” in Genesis 3 and 4 and the missing “only begotten” in the New Testament passages, my husband and I decided that the ESV wasn’t the translation we wanted to use as a family. To be clear, we’re not dogmatic about it. Our church and many of our friends still use the ESV, we aren’t complaining about it or demanding change. But for our own devotions individually and as a family, we’ve decided to switch to the New American Standard (NASB). We have four main reasons for doing so.

  1. The NASB translates monogenes as “only begotten.” Given the Trinity debate this summer, I see the benefit in reinforcing this fundamental truth that Jesus is the only begotten of the Father.

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16 NASB)

2. The NASB does not translate Genesis 3:16 and 4:7 to say “contrary to.” In fact, I really like the way the NASB translates the passage. Especially the “yet”:

To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, In pain you will bring forth children; Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16 NASB)

3. As you can see in the NASB and ESV verses quoted here, the NASB capitalizes the divine pronouns whereas the ESV does not. While it isn’t necessary, it is something I prefer. I find it helps keep track in a passage on who is talking.

4. In all translations, it’s necessary to add words at times. This is true in any translation from one language to another. What I appreciate about the NASB is that it tells you when words have been added by italicizing them. This allows the reader to consider how the translators have added things for clarity. It also is very transparent. The reader knows what words aren’t actually there in the original language.

A good example can be found in Ephesians 5:21-22:

and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:21-22 NASB)

I thought it was interesting to note that in verse 22, “be subject” has been added so that the sentence makes sense. Considering that there is much discussion about what connection there should be between verses 21 and 22, I think it worth noting that verse 22 follows on referring to verse 21 in the original Greek. The literal translation is: “Wives, to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” Without verse 21, verse 22 just wouldn’t make sense. Knowing which words have been added can enhance Bible study.

So for these various reasons my husband and I have switched from the ESV to the NASB. I know that the NASB, or any other translation, is not without problems. But for now, we are content with our decision. Now, to find someone to put a new binding on my old NASB. More than twenty years of backpacks, college retreats, and Bible study has left it being held together with tape. Maybe for my birthday …


Why Did Jesus Come?

As Christmas is almost upon us this year, I’ve been thinking about why Jesus came to earth. In reading the Scriptures this week, I was struck again by the clarity of this statement:

But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
(Matthew 1:20-21 ESV)

“For He will save His people from their sins.” What beautiful words.

N.T. Wright and others in the progressive/New Perspective crowd believe that believers have gotten too caught up with salvation and sin as it relates to individuals:

the normal Western Christian view: that salvation is about “my relationship with God” in the present and about “going home to God and finding peace” in the future … to make the point once more as forcibly as I can, this belief is simply not what the New Testament teaches.

N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, pg. 196

Instead, Wright believes:

The New Testament, true to its Old Testament roots, regularly insists that the major, central, framing question is that of God’s purpose of rescue and re-creation for the whole world, the entire cosmos. The destiny of individual human beings must be understood within that context-not simply in the sense that we are only part of a much larger picture but also in the sense that part of the whole point of being saved in the present is so that we can play a vital role (Paul speaks of this role in the shocking terms of being “fellow workers with God”) within that larger picture and purpose.

N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, pg. 184

As a result, N.T. Wright explains Matthew 1:21 this way:

Matthew agrees with his Jewish contemporaries that the (Babylonian) exile was the last significant event before Jesus; when the angel says that Jesus will “save his people from their sins,” liberation from exile is in view. Jesus, David’s true descendant, will fulfill the Abrahamic covenant by undoing the exile and all that it means.

N.T. Wright, The Meaning of Jesus, pg. 159

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see great comfort in Wright’s interpretation of the passage. We were a people in exile, however, our exile was not merely from the promised land, but a much greater one. We were exiled from the very presence of God. Every believer who is aware of his sin knows how desperate his situation is apart from Christ.

I find that I much prefer Matthew Henry’s discourse on this passage:

In the reason of that name: For he shall save his people from their sins; not the nation of the Jews only (he came to his own, and they received him not), but all who were given him by the Father’s choice, and all who had given themselves to him by their own. He is a king who protects his subjects, and, as the judges of Israel of old, works salvation for them. Note, those whom Christ saves he saves from their sins; from the guilt of sin by the merit of his death, from the dominion of sin by the Spirit of his grace. In saving them from sin, he saves them from wrath and the curse, and all misery here and hereafter. Christ came to save his people, not in their sins, but from their sins; to purchase for them, not a liberty to sin, but a liberty from sins, to redeem them from all iniquity; and so to redeem them from among men to himself, who is separate from sinners.

Matthew Henry, Commentary on Matthew 1

Maybe I’m overemphasizing the work that Jesus did in reconciling God and man. Then again, maybe Wright et al are seriously under emphasizing the gravity of sin and what it cost Him to save us from it.

The Black Sea Flood isn’t Noah’s Flood

Last week, a story popped up that scientists had discovered evidence of a significant flood in the Black Sea region:

Ballard believes melting glaciers contributing to a rise in sea level might have caused the flood. But it was a theory proposed by two Columbia University scientists that prompted him to take his team to the Black Sea, a 168,500-square-foot body of water bordered by Turkey, Russia, Ukraine, Romania, and Bulgaria. The scientists speculate the now salty sea was once a freshwater lake surrounded by farmland. They think a rising Mediterranean Sea flooded the area by cutting a channel through the Bosphorus.

Ballard and other scientists who have investigated the flood point to stories about similar events in several religions and cultures. To them, the multiple stories lend credibility to the probability of a flood event but do not offer evidence of biblical truth. Contrary to the scientific speculation, the Bible says in Genesis that God caused the flood by sending rain on the earth for 40 days and 40 nights.

Of course, this story isn’t really new. The Black Sea has been the source of research and speculation regarding Noah’s flood for several years. The problem, of course, is that the Black Sea flood can’t possibly be the flood from Genesis for many reasons. Dr. Tas Walker explains in an article available here:

Now, in real life, claims need to be justified. We can’t even use a credit card until we prove who we are. Banks want our signature because its unique characteristics are easily recognised. They want to be sure they have identified us correctly.

So too, we need to be sure that Ballard, Ryan and Pitman have identified Noah’s Flood correctly. Of all the floods in the world, how would we recognise Noah’s Flood? We need to compare their signatures. And the Bible is the only place where the signature of Noah’s Flood is found. Unfortunately, when it comes to signatures, Ryan and Pitman have not carefully matched their characteristics with the Bible. Carelessly, they have given credit where it is not justified.

Ryan and Pitman thought the Black Sea flood was Noah’s Flood because it was very large, overwhelming some 100,000 km2 of land the size of Texas. But large as this was, it was still only a local flood in the Black Sea area, not the world-wide Flood described in the Bible (2 Pet. 3:6–7).

The biblical flood was so huge that it covered the then highest mountains (Gen. 7:19). But the Black Sea flood simply raised the local water level some 150 m to where it is now. Not even the ‘known’ world was submerged because there was still plenty of dry land left to live on in the area. Even to cover the nearby Krymskiye Gory mountains on the adjacent Crimean Peninsula, the water level would need to have risen a further 1,500 m. The Black Sea flood was not Noah’s Flood, because it did not cover the highest mountains.

And missing from the Black Sea flood is Noah’s Ark—that colossal ship described in the Bible, 140 m long, 23 m wide and 14 m high (Gen. 6:14–16). Ryan and Pitman, aware of this omission, suggest that there were hundreds of arks—thrown together in a few minutes by local farmers ripping their post huts apart to build puny boats to escape the rising waters! But why would they have needed boats at all? With waters rising each day at 15 cm, and creeping only a couple of kilometres across the land, they could have escaped at a leisurely stroll.

Because the waters rose so slowly, Ryan and Pitman say the people would have had plenty of warning. Once the farmers realised the water was not going to subside they would have built boats to escape. Wasn’t Noah warned about the Flood? Voilà, the Black Sea flood matches! Not at all. The Bible does not say Noah was warned by rising water levels. No, God warned Noah years before there was any sign of a flood (Gen. 6:13–14). Anyway, rising water levels would not have given sufficient time for Noah to build the huge Ark and load the animals. The warning that Ryan and Pitman make so much about does not match the warning in the Bible.

With a local flood there would have been no need to save the animals and birds as the Bible records (Gen. 6:19–21). The idea of birds being threatened by the Black Sea flood is ludicrous because they could easily have flown out of the way. As for the animals, most would have migrated out of the area as the waters slowly crept onto the land. Even if some animals drowned, no species would have been threatened with extinction because other individuals would have lived outside the inundated areas. The Black Sea flood was not Noah’s Flood, because it did not destroy all the animals and birds as the Bible describes.

Neither did the local Black Sea flood drown the people in the area—they were simply displaced from the land. Ryan and Pitman suggest that many of these displaced people migrated to Europe. But, the Bible clearly states that everyone outside the Ark perished, and ‘only Noah was left and those with him on the ark’ (Gen. 7:23). The Black Sea flood was not the Flood of the Bible, because the people were not destroyed.

Nor does the source of water match. For the Black Sea flood, the water gushed sideways through a localised channel, but for the biblical Flood the water came from the fountains of the great deep and the windows of heaven—below and above (Gen. 7:11–12).

The Black Sea flood does not match the record in the Bible. Not one characteristic agrees.

And the Black Sea flood did not go down—that is why there are plans to look for settlements under the water. But the biblical flood receded off the earth while the Ark and its cargo rested on the Mountains of Ararat (Gen. 8:3–4). It was two months before Noah could see the nearby mountains emerge (Gen. 8:5) and another four months before the whole earth was dry enough to unload (Gen. 8:13–14). The Black Sea flood was not Noah’s Flood, because the flood waters have not receded.

So, the signature of the Black Sea flood does not match the record in the Bible. Not one characteristic agrees. The differences are so great that we wonder why the proposal has been entertained at all.

The reason why it matters is that these scientists know that the Black Sea flood doesn’t match the details for Noah’s flood, but they just don’t care:

Ryan and Pitman know that their link between their Black Sea flood and Noah’s Flood does not fit with the Bible. So, how do they justify their claim? Simple. They say that the Bible got it wrong. Their Black Sea flood was the real flood. The biblical record is a poorly assembled compilation of the flood legends that arose from their Black Sea flood. They claim it was their flood that was burned into the memories of surviving generations and recounted by word of mouth for thousands of years. After becoming more and more distorted, the stories were eventually written down. So by branding the biblical record a ‘myth’, they feel justified in disregarding all its details. They simply say that they do not read the Bible literally.

So their link with Noah’s Flood is totally arbitrary. They need a flood, so presto, pluck Noah’s Flood out of the air. It is a good flood to pick, because it sells lots of books. Furthermore, the scientists love it. By saying that Noah’s Flood was a local flood they think they can dismiss the implications of the real global Flood described in the Bible, viz. that God judges human sin.

So many in the scientific community are pleased with “evidence” that there might have been a flood, but certainly not a global one that killed all but eight people, and, sadly, a great many scholars and theologians are too.

” the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole”

We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture. And the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it does abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God: yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts (WCF Chapter 1, V).

Back in January, I started a “Bible in a Year” reading plan. I’ve done these before, but this year I did one that was slightly different. It’s a chronological reading plan. The idea is that your reading schedule is based on the historical order of events. For example, Job, who most likely lived after the flood but before Abraham, is read between Genesis 11 and 12.

For me the most helpful part of reading the Bible this way was putting together the history with the corresponding prophets. The books of the prophets are interspersed with the histories of 1 and 2 Kings and 1 and 2 Chronicles, as well as the various Psalms that fit with particular historical events. This helped me understand the flow of the history so much more than simply reading straight through. By the time I reached Malachi, my heart ached over how unfaithful we have always been as a people, I rejoiced in how merciful and faithful God has always been, and I longed for the coming of the Messiah. It was amazing to see God’s promises unfold.

But the most encouraging thing about reading the Bible this way was the examples over and over again, in both the Old and New Testaments, of the consistency of the whole of Scripture. It is amazing to read the same event described in Kings, Chronicles, and Jeremiah or in the Gospels. At times the focus or the length of the account is slightly different, but on the whole the the “consent of the parts” is striking. I know there are so many “scholars” who rejoice in pointing out the apparent inconsistencies and purported errors that Scripture contains, but only someone intentionally blinded to the truth can deny the beauty and majesty and absolute glory of the Word of God. There is no written word that compares to it.

If you would are interested, you can find a pdf document with the reading plan here. You can use it with whatever translation you prefer.

Justification by Faith Alone: The Doctrine upon which the Church Stands or Falls

While there is some debate as to whether or not Martin Luther said those exact words (in Latin or German, of course), it seems very clear that the doctrine of justification by faith alone is central to the Reformation. It breaks my heart to hear pastors, elders, and others who are the spiritual descendants of the Reformers treat this vital doctrine as if it doesn’t really matter all that much. Our ancestors in the faith, those in Germany, Geneva, France, England, etc., fought and died horrible deaths because they believed that Scripture clearly teaches that we are justified by faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone, to God alone be the glory. We must not treat our birthright so lightly.

Pastor Wes White has an excellent post with quotes from many of the Reformed Fathers on the subject of justification by faith alone. Here is an excerpt from his post:

However, as I have read classic Reformed theology, I have found that they generally did believe in a central dogma. They believed that it was justification by faith alone. This did not mean that it was a theological axiom from which all other theology was deduced. Rather, it meant:

  1. That the purity of this doctrine was basic to purity in all other doctrines.
  2. That any error in this doctrine was extremely dangerous.
  3. That this doctrine, above all, was to be defended, explained, and meditated upon.
  4. That this doctrine was the foundation of all true religion and holiness.
  5. That the true Church could not be maintained without this doctrine.

In this post, I would like to demonstrate this from the writings of several different theologians from several different regions and eras.

Here is one of my favorites quotes:

Thomas Watson (1620–1686, England), A Body of Divinity, 226: “Justification is the very hinge and pillar of Christianity. An error about justification is dangerous, like a defect in a foundation. Justification by Christ is a spring of the water of life. To have the poison of corrupt doctrine cast into this spring is damnable.”

You can read the whole post here.

Calvin on Ephesians 4

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.

Ephesians 4:11-14 ESV

This passage of Scripture came to mind today, and I thought it might be interesting to read Calvin’s teaching on these verses. From his commentary on Ephesians:

Tossed to and fro, and carried about. The distressing hesitation of those who do not place absolute reliance on the word of the Lord, is illustrated by two striking metaphors. The first is taken from small ships, exposed to the fury of the billows in the open sea, holding no fixed course, guided neither by skill nor design, but hurried along by the violence of the tempest.

The next is taken from straws, or other light substances, which are carried hither and thither as the wind drives them, and often in opposite directions. Such must be the changeable and unsteady character of all who do not rest on the foundation of God’s eternal truth. It is their just punishment for looking, not to God, but to men. Paul declares, on the other hand, that faith, which rests on the word of God, stands unshaken against all the attacks of Satan.

By every wind of doctrine. By a beautiful metaphor, all the doctrines of men, by which we are drawn away from the simplicity of the gospel, are called winds God gave us his word, by which we might have placed ourselves beyond the possibility of being moved; but, giving way to the contrivances of men, we are carried about in all directions.

By the cunning of men. There will always be impostors, who make insidious attacks upon our faith; but, if we are fortified by the truth of God, their efforts will be unavailing. Both parts of this statement deserve our careful attention. When new sects, or wicked tenets, spring up, many persons become alarmed. But the attempts of Satan to darken, by his falsehoods, the pure doctrine of Christ, are at no time interrupted; and it is the will of God that these struggles should be the trial of our faith. When we are informed, on the other hand, that the best and readiest defense against every kind of error is to bring forward that doctrine which we have learned from Christ and his apostles, this surely is no ordinary consolation. …

Let us therefore confidently expect that we shall reap the advantage which is here promised, — that all the impostures of men will do us no harm. They will attack us, indeed, but they will not prevail. We are entitled, I acknowledge, to look for the dispensation of sound doctrine from the church, for God has committed it to her charge … .

Calvin on the Creation of Eve

In his commentary on Genesis, John Calvin answers objections to the manner in which Eve was created:

Although to profane persons this method of forming woman may seem ridiculous, and some of these may say that Moses is dealing in fables, yet to us the wonderful providence of God here shines forth; for, to the end that the conjunction of the human race might be the more sacred he purposed that both males and females should spring from one and the same origin. Therefore he created human nature in the person of Adam, and thence formed Eve, that the woman should be only a portion of the whole human race. This is the import of the words of Moses which we have had before, (Genesis 1:28,) “God created man… he made them male and female.” In this manner Adam was taught to recognize himself in his wife, as in a mirror; and Eve, in her turn, to submit herself willingly to her husband, as being taken out of him. But if the two sexes had proceeded from different sources, there would have been occasion either of mutual contempt, or envy, or contentions. And against what do perverse men here object? ‘The narration does not seem credible, since it is at variance with custom.’ As if, indeed, such an objection would have more color than one raised against the usual mode of the production of mankind, if the latter were not known by use and experience.

Science Departments More Conservative Than Religion Departments

Recently, I read Ken Ham’s book, Already Compromised. A significant part of the book is the results from a survey of Christian colleges and universities that Answers in Genesis conducted. The most interesting part of the book, for me, was the comparison between the Science and Religion departments on the subject of origins. One might think that at Christian colleges and universities the Religion departments would be more likely to support young earth and 6 day creation. But, that’s not what the survey showed.

Only 57% of the Religion department professors believed that God created in 6 24-hour days. On the other hand, 71% of Science department professors answered that they believed in a literal 6 days of creation (Ham, Already Compromised,49). When it comes to old-earth versus young-earth, the Religion department professors believe in an old earth by 78% compared to 15% who hold to a young earth. The Science department numbers are considerably different with 57% professing belief in a young earth and only 35% believing in an old earth (50).

So why the difference? One of the things that I’ve read by so many religious scholars on the subject of origins is that the science of evolution and long ages is so proven that we’d be foolish not to accept it. But that doesn’t explain why so many of the men and women who are professors in the various science fields, with PhD’s in the sciences and experience with the scientific method, do not accept the “current scientific consensus” on the age of the earth and evolution.

My own husband is a good example of this. He has a PhD in Inorganic Chemistry from a major, public university with a highly respected Chemistry program. He does not accept the long ages and evolutionary theories of the scientific consensus. He believes that God created in 6 literal 24-hour days less than 10,000 years ago. He is very familiar with the research and the evolutionary theories, but he doesn’t find them compelling.

Maybe it would be a good idea to consider why many Christians with science backgrounds don’t buy into the scientific consensus on the age of the earth and evolution.