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The Trinity, the Definition of Chalcedon, and Oneness Theology – Vintage

I. Introduction
The doctrine of the Trinity requires a balanced view of Scripture. That is, since the doctrine itself is derived from more than one stream of evidence, it requires that all the evidence be weighed and given authority. If any of the foundational pillars of the doctrine (monotheism, the deity of Christ, the person of the Holy Spirit, etc.) be ignored or even rejected, the resulting doctrinal system will differ markedly from the orthodox position, and will lose its claim to be called “biblical.” For centuries various small groups have rejected the doctrine of the Trinity. In modern times these groups have frequently attracted quite a following; Jehovah’s Witnesses as the modern heirs of Arius have over 3 million people actively engaged in their work; the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) are heirs of ancient polytheism and mystery religions, and nearly 10 million adhere to their teachings. A smaller number of people, however, cling to the third-century position of modalism – the teachings of men such as Sabellius or Praxeas or Noetus. Though fewer in number, it is this position, popularly called the “Oneness” teaching, that prompts this paper’s clarification of the Biblical position regarding the doctrine of the Trinity and the Person of Jesus Christ. Oneness writers strongly deny the doctrine of the Trinity. In the words of David K. Bernard,

“The Bible does not teach the doctrine of the trinity, and trinitarianism actually contradicts the Bible. It does not add any positive benefit to the Christian message….the doctrine of the trinity does detract from the important biblical themes of the oneness of God and the absolute deity of Jesus Christ.”[1]

The attack on the Trinity launched by Oneness writers can be divided into two camps. There are some writers who know what the doctrine is and disagree with it; unfortunately, many others don’t know what it is and attack it anyway, normally misrepresenting the doctrine in quite obvious ways. For example, one writer, while ridiculing the use of the term “mystery” in reference to the Trinity said, “When asked to explain how God could be one and three persons at the same time the answer is, “It’s a mystery.” “[2] Of course, the doctrine of the Trinity does not say God is one person and three persons or one being and three beings, but that within the one being of God there exists eternally three persons. It is easy to see why many find the doctrine unintelligible, especially when they trust writers who are not careful in their research. This Oneness teaching is quite attractive to the person who wishes, for whatever personal reason, to “purge” the faith of what they might consider to be “man’s philosophies.” There are a number of Oneness groups in the United States, located primarily in the South and Midwest. The United Pentecostal Church is the largest of the Oneness groups in the U.S.; others include the Apostolic Overcoming Holy Church of God, the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, and the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith. Each of these groups has thousands of followers, many of whom are quite evangelistic in spreading their faith. Given that many of the issues that Oneness addresses are not familiar ground for most Christians, it is good to examine these issues in the light of Biblical revelation and theology so that the orthodox Christian will be able to “give a reason” for the hope that is within us. This survey will be broken into four sections. First, the important aspects of the doctrine of the Trinity relevant to the Oneness position will be examined. These would include the Christian definition of monotheism, the existence of three persons, the pre-existence of the Son and the internal operations of the Trinity. Secondly, vital issues relevant to Christology will be addressed, such as the Chalcedonian definition, the unipersonality of Christ, and the relationship of the Father and the Son. Thirdly, the Oneness position will be defined and presented, and finally that position will be critiqued.

II. Trinitarian Concepts

The very word “Trinity” is made up of two terms – “tri” and “unity.” The doctrine travels the middle road between the two, and neither can be allowed to predominate the other. Trinitarians have but one God – the charge of polytheism or tritheism leveled at the orthodox position ignores the very real emphasis, drawn from the Biblical witness to one God, on monotheism. This can be seen, for example, in the definition of the Trinity given by Berkhof:

A) There is in the Divine Being but one indivisible essence (ousia, essentia). B) In this one Divine Being there are three Persons or individual subsistences, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. C) The whole undivided essence of God belongs equally to each of the three persons. D) The subsistence and operation of the three persons in the divine Being is marked by a certain definite order. E) There are certain personal attributes by which the three persons are distinguished. F) The Church confesses the Trinity to be a mystery beyond the comprehension of man.[3]

Twice the emphasis is made that the essence or being of God is indivisible. There is but one being that is God. The doctrine of the Trinity safeguards this further by asserting that “the whole undivided essence of God belongs equally to each of the three persons.” This follows logically on the heels of asserting the indivisibility of the being of God, for if three Persons share that one being, they must share all of that being. The Father is not just 1/3 of God – he is fully Deity, just as the Son and the Spirit. The Biblical evidence for monotheism is legion, and it is not within the scope of this paper to review all those passages. The Shema might be sufficient to demonstrate the point, for this recital begins at Deuteronomy 6:4 with the words, “Hear, O Israel; Yahweh is our God; Yahweh is one.” This concept of monotheism separates Judaism (and Christianity) from any kind of polytheistic religion. Given monotheism as a basis, it must be stressed that the bald statement of monotheism does not imply nor denote unitarianism. When the Bible says God is one, this does not mean that God is unitarian (i.e., uni-personal) in his mode of existence. Frequently individual writers will quote from the many passages that teach that there is one God and will infer from this a denial of the tri-personality of God. This is going beyond what is written. It is vital, if justice is to be done to the Biblical teaching, that all of the witness of Scripture be given due consideration. If the Bible presents more data that clarifies the meaning of God’s “oneness,” then this information must be taken into account. Does, then, the Bible indicate the existence of more than one Person in the divine nature? It most certainly does. John Calvin expressed the proper balance well in the Institutes:

“Again, Scripture sets forth a distinction of the Father from the Word, and of the Word from the Spirit. Yet the greatness of the mystery warns us how much reverence and sobriety we ought to use in investigating this. And that passage in Gregory of Nazianus vastly delights me: ” “I cannot think on the one without quickly being encircled by the splendor of the three; nor can I discern the three without being straightway carried back to the one.” Let us not, then, be led to imagine a trinity of persons that keeps our thoughts distracted and does not at once lead them back to that unity. Indeed, the words “Father,” “Son,” and “Spirit” imply a real distinction – let no one think that these titles, whereby God is variously designated from his works, are empty – but a distinction, not a division.”[4]

Before looking at the particular Biblical data, it is good to make the same emphasis as made by Gregory via Calvin – though this paper will emphasize the triunity of God, this is only because of the object of clarification, that being the Oneness teaching. Balance demands that both elements – the existence of three persons as well as the absolute claim of monotheism – be maintained. The Christian church maintains that the terms Father, Son and Holy Spirit refer to actual Persons, not simply modes of existence. As the popular, short definition goes, “There is within the one being that is God three co-equal and co-eternal Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Spirit, the Spirit is not the Father, etc. Each is eternal – the Father has always been, the Son has always been, and the Spirit has always been. No person precedes the other, no follows another. Charles Hodge said in reflecting on the early church councils,

“These Councils decided that the terms Father, Son, and Spirit, were not expressive merely of relations ad extra, analogous to the terms, Creator, Preserver, and Benefactor. This was the doctrine known as Sabellianism, which assumed that the Supreme Being is not only one in essence, but one in person. The Church doctrine asserts that Father, Son, and Spirit express internal, necessary, and eternal relations in the Godhead; that they are personal designations, so that the Father is one person, the Son another person, and the Spirit another person. They differ not as allo kai allo, but as allos kai allos; each says I, and each says Thou, to either of the others. The word used in the Greek Church to express this fact was first prosopon, and afterwards, and by general consent, hupostasis; in the Latin Church, “persona,” and in English, person. The idea expressed by the word in its application to the distinctions in the Godhead, is just as clear and definite as in its application to men.”[5]

Some Oneness writers have gone so far as to say, “To say that God is three persons and find substantiation for it in the Scripture is a work in futility. There is literally nothing in the Bible that supports God being three persons.”[6] However, as the Church throughout the ages has seen fit to reject the modalistic presentation, there must obviously be some reason for this. Such reason is found in the teaching of Scripture itself. The Bible presents a number of categories of evidence that demonstrates the existence of three Persons all sharing the one being that is God. First, the Persons are described as personal; that is, the attributes of personhood and personal existence are ascribed to the three. Secondly, clear distinctions are made between the Persons, so that it is impossible to confound or confuse the three. The second Person, the Son, is described as being eternal (as is the Spirit, but in this context, given the denial of the eternal nature of the Son by the Oneness position, and the acceptance of the eternality of the Spirit by the same group, this point is more tangent to the issue) and is differentiated in this pre-existence from the Father. Finally, we see real and eternal relationships between the Persons (the opera ad intra.) One of the characteristics of personal existence is will. Few would argue the point in relationship to the Father, as He obviously has a will. So too, the Son has a will, for he says to the Father in the Garden, “not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39) The ascription of will to the Persons indicates the ability to reason, to think, to act, to desire – all those things we associate with self-consciousness. As we shall see later, there is a difference between nature and person, and one of those differences is the will. Inanimate objects do not will; neither do animals. Part of the imago dei is the will itself.

Another aspect of personhood seen to exist with each of the Persons is the ability to love. In John 3:35 we read that “the Father loves the Son…” This is repeated in John 5:20. In John 15:9 the Father loves the Son, and the Son in return loves those who are His own. In Jesus’ prayer to the Father in John 17, we are again reminded of the Father’s love for Jesus in 17:23, and in verse 24 we are told that this love between Father and Son has existed from all eternity. That love marks every word of Jesus concerning the Father is beyond dispute, and is it not fair to say that the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Church is an act of love as well? Hence we see that the persons described in these passages (and in many others) are capable of love, a personal attribute. It might be argued that these personal attributes are simply applied to the three manifestations of God, but that this does not necessarily mean that there are three Persons. However, the Bible clearly differentiates between the three Persons, as the brief survey to follow demonstrates. One of the more well-known examples of the existence of three Persons is the baptism of Jesus recorded in Matthew 3:16-17. Here the Father speaks from heaven, the Son is being baptized (and is again described as being the object of the Father’s love, paralleling the Johannine usage), and the Spirit is descending as a dove.[7] Jesus is not speaking to himself here (as many non-Christian groups tend to accuse the Trinitarians of making Jesus a ventriloquist), but is spoken to by the Father. There is no confusing of the Persons at the baptism. The transfiguration of Jesus in Matthew 17:1-9 again demonstrates the separate personhood of the Father and the Son. The Son’s true pre- existent glory is unveiled for an instant in the presence of the Father in the cloud. Communication again takes place, marked with the familiar love of the Father for the Son. Both the deity and the separate personhood of the Son is clearly presented in this passage. The Father spoke to the Son at another time, recorded in John 12:28. Again, the distinction of person of the Father and the Son is clearly maintained.

Some of the most obvious passages relevant to the Father and the Son are found in the prayers of Jesus Christ. These are no mock prayers – Jesus is not speaking to Himself (nor, as the Oneness writer would put it, is Jesus’ humanity speaking to His deity) – He is clearly communicating with another Person, that being the Person of the Father. Transcendent heights are reached in the lengthiest prayer we have, that of John 17. No one can miss the fact of the communication of one Person (the Son) with another (the Father) presented in this prayer. The usage of personal pronouns and direct address put the very language squarely on the side of maintaining the separate personhood of Father and Son. This is not to say that their unity is something that goes far beyond simple purpose; indeed, given the background of the Old Testament, the very statements of the Son regarding His relationship with the Father are among the strongest assertions of His Deity in the Bible.

But, as stated before, the doctrine of the Trinity is pre-eminently a balanced doctrine that differentiates between the being or nature of God and the Persons who share equally that being. If there is more than one God, or if there is less than three Persons, then the doctrine of the Trinity is in error. Striking is the example of Matthew 27:46 where Jesus, quoting from Psalm 22:1 cries out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” That the Father is the immediate person addressed is clear from Luke’s account where the next statement from Jesus in his narrative is “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46)[8] Some early heresies (predominately gnostic in character) had to posit some kind of “separation” of the Deity from the human Son at this point (and indeed, some Oneness writers could be accused of the same problem). That this is the Son addressing the Father is crystal clear, and the ensuing personhood of both is inarguable.

One of the high-water marks of Synoptic Christology is to be found in Matthew 11:27. Here the reciprocity between the Father and Son is put forth with exactness, while at the same time dictating the absolute deity of both. The relationship of the Father and Son is the topic under discussion in both John 5:16ff and John 8:12ff. The Apostle again walks a tight line in maintaining the distinct personhood of Father and Son while asserting the full deity of Jesus Christ. Outside of a Trinitarian concept of God, this position of John’s is unintelligible. Important in this discussion is the fact that in the very same passages that the Deity of the Son is emphasized his distinction from the Father is also seen. This causes insuperable problems for the Oneness position, as we shall see. In John 5:19-24, Jesus clearly differentiates himself from the Father, yet claims attributes that are only proper of Deity (life, judgment, honor). In John 5:30 the Son says He can do nothing of Himself, yet in 37-39 he identifies Himself as the one witnessed to by the Scriptures who can give eternal life. Only Yahweh of the Tanakh can do so.

Hence, the deity spoken of by Jesus is not the Father dwelling in the Son, but is the Son’s personally. This is seen even more plainly in chapter 8. Here it is the Son who utilizes the phrase ego eimi in the absolute sense, identifying Himself as Yahweh. It is the Son who says He is glorified by the Father (v. 54) and yet only four verses later it is the Son who says, “Before Abraham came into existence, I AM!” Clearly the Son is fully deity just as the Father. And what of the Spirit? Jesus said in John 14:16-17 that the Father would send another (Gr: allos) comforter. Jesus had been the Comforter for the disciples during His earthly ministry, but He was about to leave them and return to heaven where he had been before (John 17:5). The Holy Spirit, identified as a Person by John (through his usage of the masculine ekeinos at John 16:13), is sent both by the Father (John 14:16) as well as by the Son (16:7).[9] The Spirit is not identified as the Father, nor as the Son, for neither could send Himself.

Hence, it is clear from this short review that the Scriptures differentiate between the Person of the Father and the Person of the Son, as well as differentiating between these and the Spirit. The next area that must be addressed is the Biblical teaching of the pre-existence of the Son, or, as often referred to by Oneness writers, the “eternal Son theory.” That the Son, as a divine Person, has existed from all eternity, is a solidly Biblical teaching. Most denials of this teaching stem from a misunderstanding of the term monogenes[10] or the term “begotten” as used in Psalm 2:7. Such denials cannot stand under the weight of the Biblical evidence. Though other passages could be examined, we will limit the discussion to seven Biblical sections that clearly teach the pre-existence of the Son as a Person within the divine being. What may be the most obvious passage is found in Colossians chapter 1, verses 13 through 17. Here the “beloved Son” is described as “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn (Gr: prototokos) of all creation.” He (the Son) is then described as the Creator in what could only be called exhaustive terms. Certainly, if the Son is the creator, then the Son both pre-existed and is indeed eternal, for God is the creator of all that is. It will not do to say that this passage says that God created all things for the Son who was yet to exist; for verse 16 is emphatic is announcing that it was “in Him” that all things were created (the usage of en is the instrumental of agency). Without doubt the Son is presented here as pre-existent.

The same can be said of Philippians 2:5-7, the Carmen Christi. This passage has spawned literally hundreds of volumes, and an in-depth exegesis is not called for here. Rather, it is obvious that the Son is presented here as eternally existing (huparchon) in the very morphe tou theou – the form of God. This One is also said to be “equal with God.” Note there is here no confounding of the Persons (just as throughout Scripture) yet there is just as plainly an identification of more than one Person under discussion. It was not the Father with whom the Son was equal who became flesh and “made Himself of no repute”; rather, it was the Son who did this. The opening chapter of the book of Hebrews identifies the Son as pre-existent as well. Verse 2 echoes Colossians 1:13-17 in saying that it was “through the Son” that the worlds were made. This Son is the “radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His being.” Again the distinction of the Son from the Father is maintained at the exact same time as the absolute deity of the Son is put forward, a balance found only in the doctrine of the Trinity and not in non-Christian theories. The Son, verse 3 says, “upholds all things by His powerful word.” This is directly analogous to the final statements of Colossians 1:17, and demands the continuous and eternal existence of the Son to make any sense whatsoever. In light of this, it is clear that the interpretation of verse 5, which quotes from Psalm 2, that asserts a beginning for the Son misses the entire point of the opening of Hebrews. In its original context, this passage did not indicate that God had literally fathered the king to whom the Psalm was addressed; certainly, therefore, such a forced meaning cannot be placed on this usage either. Rather, the writer of Hebrew’s purpose is to exalt the Son and demonstrate His superiority even to the angels, going so far as to clearly identify the Son as Yahweh in verses 10 through 12. It would be strange indeed if the writer tried to show the real nature of the Son by saying that He, like the angels, was a created, non-eternal being. The Lord Jesus Himself never attempted to say He had a beginning, but was instead aware of His true nature.

In the real “Lord’s prayer” of John 17, he states in verse 5, “And now you glorify me, Father, with the glory I had with you (para seauto) before the worlds were made.” Jesus is here conscious of the glory which He had shared with the Father in eternity, a clear reflection of Philippians 2, Hebrews 1, and, as we shall see, John 1. As Yahweh declares that he will give his glory to no other (Isaiah 48:11) yet another identification of the Son as being one with the Father in sharing the divine name Yahweh is here presented. This glorious pre-existence of which Jesus here speaks is also seen in John 14:28 when Jesus, having said He was returning to the Father, points out to the disciples that they should have rejoiced at this, for rather than His continued existence in His current state of humiliation (the “being made of no repute” of Philippians 2), He was about to return to His glorious position with the Father in heaven, a position which is “greater” than the one He now was enduring.

Many passages in the New Testament identify the Lord Jesus Christ as Yahweh. One of these is John 8:58, where, again speaking as the Son, Jesus asserts his existence before Abraham. As pointed out above, it does not do to say that this was simply an assertion that the deity resident within Him pre-existed (in Oneness teaching, the Father) but rather it was He as the Son who was “before Abraham.” In John 3:13 Jesus said, “no one has gone up into heaven except the one who came out of heaven, the Son of man.”[11] Jesus’ own words indicate that He was aware of His origin and pre-existence. What is also interesting is the name for Himself that is used – the Son of Man. One would expect the Son of God to be used here, but it is not. Jesus was one Person, not two. The Son of God was the Son of Man. One cannot divide Him into two Persons.

The most striking evidence of the pre-existence of the Son is found in the prologue of the Gospel of John. This vital Christological passage is incredible for its careful accuracy to detail – even down to the tenses of verbs the author is discriminating in his writing. It again must be asserted that, without a Trinitarian understanding of God, this passage ends up self-contradictory and illogical. John defines his terms for us in verses 14 and 18. In verse 14 he tells us that the Logos of whom he has been speaking became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. He also tells us that it is Jesus Christ who, though clearly not the Father Himself, is the one who “makes the Father known” and who is, indeed, the monogenes theos[12] the “unique God.” That verse 18 has under consideration two separate Persons is beyond disputation. That these two Persons are the Father and the Son is just as sure, for John so identifies them. With this in mind, the first three verses are crystalline in their teaching. John asserts that the Logos was “in the beginning,” that is, the Word is eternal. This Logos was “with God” (Gr: pros ton theon.)[13] This latter phrase can only refer to personal contact and communion, a point to be expanded on in much of the Gospel of John. Hence, from this phrase, it is clear that one cannot completely identify the Person of God (in John’s usage here, the Father) with the Logos (i.e., the Son). However, he goes on in the third clause to provide that balance found throughout the inspired text by saying, “the Word was God.” The NEB renders this clause, “and what God was, the Word was.” Perhaps Dr. Kenneth Wuest came the closest when he translated, “And the Word was as to His essence absolute deity.” By placing the term theos in the emphatic position, and by using that term itself (rather than theios – a “godlike” one), John avoids any kind of Arian subordinationism. At the same time, John does not make logos and theos identical to one another, for he does not put an article before theos. By so doing he walks the fine line between Arianism and Sabellianism, subordinationism and modalism. Finally, John asserts, as did Paul before him, that the Logos is the Creator. “Through him were all things made which have been made.” This is exactly the point of Colossians 1:15-17 and Hebrews 1:2. As John identified the Logos as Jesus Christ, the Son of God, then his testimony must be added to all the others in proclaiming the pre-existence of the Son. Having seen the pre-existence of the Son, then we are forced by the Biblical data itself to deal with the internal relationships of the Persons who make up the Godhead. Though many Oneness writers would object to the terminology utilized to discuss this subject, it is they, not the Trinitarian, who are ignoring the Biblical material and its clear teaching. Though an in-depth discussion of the opera ad intra is not warranted in this paper, it might be good to point out that we are obviously here not discussing simply an economic trinity. All of the above evidence points to real and purposeful distinctions (not divisions) within the Being of God that are necessary and eternal, not temporal and passing. God has eternally been trinal and will always be so. The relationship between the essence of God and the Persons is not a subject of Biblical discussion directly; but we are forced to deal with the issue nevertheless – by the Scriptural testimony itself. G. T. Shedd expressed it this way:

“The essence…is not prior, either in the order of nature or of time, to the persons, nor subsequent to them, but simultaneous with them. Hence, the essence is not one constituent factor by itself, apart from the persons, any more than the persons are three constituent factors by themselves, apart from the essence. The one essence is simultaneously three persons, and the three persons are one essence. The trinity is not a composition of one essence with three persons. It is not an essence without distinctions united with three distinctions, so as to make a complex. The trinity is simple and uncomplex. “If,” says Twesten,… “we distinguish between the clearness of light and the different degrees of clearness, we do not imply that light is composed of clearness and degrees of clearness.” Neither is God composed of one untrinal essence and three persons.”[14]

With these Trinitarian concepts in mind, the specific Christological questions must now be addressed.

III. Christological Concepts

“Therefore, following the holy Fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance [homoousios] with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer [theotokos]; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation [en duo phusesin, asungchutos atreptos, adiairetos achoristos]; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence [hupostasis], not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the Fathers has handed down to us.”[15]

In 451 A.D. the Council of Chalcedon formulated this definition of the Person of Christ. The council was called as a result of the controversy concerning the relationship of the divine and the human in the Lord Jesus.[16] The Nestorian controversy, monothelitism, the Eutychian controversy, and others, had precipitated the council. It can be safely said that we have yet to get beyond Chalcedon in our theology – modern orthodox Christological formulations have not proceeded beyond the Chalcedonian definition. Chalcedon’s emphasis on the two natures but one person in Christ was anticipated in its main elements by the Athanasian creed. A portion of that creed reads, “He is perfect God and He is perfect man, with a rational soul and human flesh…Although He is God and man, He is not two but one Christ…because He is one person.” The relationship between the divine and the human in Christ is as unique as the God who brought this situation about. Indeed, to understand this relationship one must first define the terms being utilized, and this was one of the main contributions of Chalcedon. Schaff noted that one of the main importances of Chalcedon was

“The precise distinction between nature and person. Nature or substance is the totality of powers and qualities which constitute a being; person is the Ego, the self-conscious, self-asserting, and acting subject. There is no person without nature, but there may be nature without person (as in irrational beings). The Church doctrine distinguishes in the Holy Trinity three persons (though not in the ordinary human sense of the word) in one divine nature of substance which they have in common; in its Christology it teaches, conversely, two nature in one person (in the usual sense of person) which pervades both. Therefore it cannot be said: The Logos assumed a human person, or united himself with a definite human individual: for then the God-Man would consist of two persons; but he took upon himself the human nature, which is common to all men; and therefore he redeemed not a particular man, but all men, as partakers of the same nature of substance. The personal Logos did not become an individual anthropos, but sarx, flesh, which includes the whole of human nature, body, soul and spirit.”[17]

In his discussion of the Person and work of Christ, Dr. Berkhof gives the following information:

“The term “nature” denotes the sum-total of all the essential qualities of a thing, that which makes it what it is. A nature is a substance possessed in common, with all the essential qualities of such a substance. The term “person” denotes a complete substance endowed with reasons, and, consequently, a responsible subject of its own actions. Personality is not an essential and integral part of a nature, but is, as it were, the terminus to which it tends. A person is a nature with something added, namely, independent subsistence, individuality.”[18]

What does all of this mean? It means that when Jesus spoke, He spoke as one Person, not two. One cannot say that, when claiming deity, Jesus’ “deity” spoke, or when He referred to His humanity, it was His “human nature” that spoke. It can be seen from this that natures don’t speak – only Persons do. And, since Jesus is one Person, not two, He speaks as a whole Person. Hence, when Jesus speaks, He speaks as Jesus. This is in direct contradistinction to Oneness teaching that is fond of making either the Deity in Jesus speak (whom they identify as the Father) or the humanity (the Son). The two natures (divine and human) make up but one Person, Jesus Christ. The divine nature is the Son of God, the eternal Logos. The Chalcedonian definition defines the unipersonality of Christ.[19] Jesus was a true Person; he was not non-human, nor less than human, nor a multiple personality. He had two natures, but those natures were made personal by only one Person, the Word made flesh. Hence, though Jesus may say things that indicate his two natures, what he says represents His whole being, not a certain part thereof. One might well ask the question, what does Scripture say concerning this question? How does the Bible present this teaching? Stuart Olyott answers that question:

“It does so by three strands of teaching. The first is its entire failure to give us any evidence of two personalities in our Lord Jesus Christ…In all that is recorded of our Lord Jesus Christ there is no word spoken by him, no action performed and no attribute predicated of him, which suggests that he is not a single indivisible person…A second line of biblical evidence is found in considering the terms in which the New Testament writers wrote of Christ…There is not a hint that two personalities came to redeem them that were under the law, but one. Both natures are represented as united in one person…But there is a third line of scriptural proof which settles the issue beyond question…It is the fact that what can be true of only one or the other of Christ’s two natures is attributed, not to the nature, but to the one person. He is spoken of in terms true of either one or the other of his natures.”[20]

Olyott gives a number of Biblical examples. Acts 20:28 is cited. Here Paul speaks of the Church of God which “he purchased with His own blood.” Christ’s blood, of course, was part of his human nature, yet this attribute (the blood) is predicated here directly of the divine nature (“God”). “What could only be true of his human nature is said to have been accomplished by the divine person. There is not a human Christ and a divine Christ – two Christs. There is but one Christ.” (p. 105) Another example is 1 Corinthians 2:8 which speaks of the fact that the rulers of this age “crucified the Lord of glory.” Again, though Christ died in human terms, it is the divine Person who is said to have been crucified. No hint is given whatsoever of two persons in the one Jesus; rather, Christ is one Person composed of two natures. But could the term “Father” simply refer to the divine nature in Christ, as Oneness writers assert? The New Testament does not allow for this. As we have already seen, the Biblical witness sharply distinguishes between the Father and the Son. We have seen that Jesus Christ is unipersonal; He is one person. It is just as clear that the Lord Jesus Christ is never identified as the Father, but is shown to be another Person beside the Father. A large class of examples of this would be the greetings in the epistles of Paul. In Romans 1:7 we read, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”[21] 1 Corinthians 1:3 is identical, as is 2 Corinthians 1:2. Galatians 1:3, Ephesians 1:2, and Philippians 1:2. Nowhere does Paul identify Jesus as the Father. Even more significant in this respect is what is known as Granville Sharp’s Rule. This rule of Greek grammar basically stated says that when two singular nouns are connected by the copulative kai, and the first noun has the article, while the second does not, both nouns are describing the same person. There are a number of Granville Sharp constructions in the New Testament that emphasize the deity of Christ, most especially Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1. But, no Granville Sharp construction ever identifies the Father as Jesus Christ. The care taken by Paul and the other apostles in differentiating between the Father and Jesus Christ speaks volumes concerning their faith. Some might object to the Trinitarian doctrine of Christ by saying that if we say the Son is (to use a human term) “begotten” eternally by the Father (i.e., there is a relationship that is eternal and timeless between the Father and the Son) that we are in effect positing either subordinationism or tri-theism, depending. Dr. Shedd replied as follows:

“But if the Father is unbegotten, does it not follow that he alone is the absolute Being? and is not this Arianism? Not so. For one and the same numerical essence subsists whole and undivided in him who is generated, as well as in him who generates; in him who is spirated, as well as in those two who spirate. There can therefore be no inequality of essence caused by these acts of generation and spiration.”[22]

Such language seems, to many, to be foreign to the “simple” message of the Gospel. But such an objection ignores the heights of Ephesians 1, as well as the object under discussion – that being the very Person of the Lord of glory. One writer expressed it this way:

“Jesus cannot be analyzed and calculated. But whoever speaks of him in human words is entering into the realm of “rational” speech. There is no unique language for the realm of the incalculable and the “irrational.” Thus, where we express “eschatological history,” the origin and the goal, God’s reality in the man Jesus, our language collapses; it becomes paradoxical. We could also say that our language then expresses awe. It says those things which leave men “speechless.” Its terms are not then a means for grasping but rather for making known that we have been grasped. It is not then a form of mastery, but testimony to the overpowering experience which has come upon man.”[23]

IV. Oneness Theology Defined Having examined some of the pertinent issues relevant to Christian theology, the statements of Oneness exponents themselves will now be examined. The following material is taken from original sources and materials. Following the definition of the position, specific objections will be dealt with. David K. Bernard presented a paper at Harvard Divinity School in 1985. In this paper, Bernard provided a good summary of Oneness teaching:

“The basis of Oneness theology is a radical concept of monotheism. Simply stated, God is absolutely and indivisibly one. There are no essential distinctions or divisions in His eternal nature. All the names and titles of the Deity, such as Elohim, Yahweh, Adonai, Father, Word, and Holy Spirit refer to one and the same being, or – in trinitarian terminology – to one person. Any plurality associated with God is only a plurality of attributes, titles, roles, manifestations, modes of activity, or relationships to man.”[24]

He added in his book, The Oneness of God,

“They believe that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are manifestations, modes, offices, or relationships that the one God has displayed to man.”[25]

Hence, from Bernard’s statements it is clear that the Oneness position adheres to the classical modalistic terminology of such ancient writers as Praxeas of Sabellius or Noetus. However, it would be an error to think that, from the Oneness perspective, the Father, Son and Spirit are one Person. To see exactly what this position is stating, it would be good to look at statements regarding each of the “Persons” as seen by the Trinitarian perspective. First, the question can be asked, “Who is the Father in Oneness theology?”

“The term Father refers to God Himself – God in all His deity. When we speak of the eternal Spirit of God, we mean God Himself, the Father.”[26]

“If there is only one God and that God is the Father (Malachi 2:10), and if Jesus is God, then it logically follows that Jesus is the Father.”[27]

Hence, from this perspective, God is the Father. All that can be predicated of God is predicated of the Father and the Father only. This shall be seen more clearly as we examine the other required questions. “Who is the Word in Oneness theology?” This question receives two answers from Oneness writers – there is a seeming contradiction in response to this question. John Paterson identified the Word as the Father Himself:

So we conclude that the Word was the visible expression of the invisible God – in other words, the invisible God embodied in visible form;…From the Scriptures quoted it should be obvious that the Word was not merely an impersonal thought existing in the mind of God but was, in reality, the Eternal Spirit Himself clothed upon by a visible and personal form…”[28]

In distinction to this, other writers put forward a non-personal “Word”:

“The Logos (Word) of John 1 is not equivalent to the title Son in Oneness theology as it is in trinitarianism. Son is limited to the Incarnation, but Logos is not. The Logos is God’s self expression, “God’s means of self disclosure,” or “God uttering Himself.” Before the Incarnation, the Logos was the unexpressed thought or plan in the mind of God, which had a reality no human thought can have because of God’s perfect foreknowledge, and in the case of the Incarnation, God’s predestination. In the beginning, the Logos was with God, not as a separate person but as God Himself – pertaining to and belonging to God much like a man and his word. In the fulness of time God put flesh on the Logos; He expressed Himself in flesh.”[29]

Bernard further added in The Oneness of God:

“The Word or Logos can mean the plan or thought as it existed in the mind of God. This thought was a predestined plan – an absolutely certain future event – and therefore it had a reality attached to it that no human thought could ever have. The Word can also mean the plan or thought of God as expressed in the flesh, that is in the Son. What is the difference, therefore, between the two terms, Word and Son? The Word had pre-existence and the Word was God (the Father), so we can use it without reference to humanity. However, the Son always refers to the Incarnation and we cannot use it in the absence of the human element. Except as a foreordained plan in the mind of God, the Son did not have pre-existence before the conception in the womb of Mary. The Son of God pre-existed in thought but not in substance. The Bible calls this foreordained plan the Word (John 1:1, 14).”[30]

Thomas Weisser adds, “The Logos of John 1 was simply the concept in the Father’s mind. Not a separate person!”[31] But Robert Brent Graves muddies the water even more by stating, “Only when we begin to take John at his word that God “became flesh” can we begin to understand the power and the authority of Jesus Christ.”[32] Hence, one group of Oneness exponents seem to be saying that the Word was the Father Himself, but manifested in the flesh (Paterson and possibly Graves) while others see the Word as simply the plan of God put into place at the opportune time. Asking the further question, “Who is the Son in Oneness theology?” might shed some light on the Word issue as well. The answer to this is unanimous – the Son is the human aspect of Christ. The Son is a created being who is not in any way divine. The Son did not pre-exist, and indeed, the “Sonship” of God will cease at a time in the future.[33] Important for Oneness teachers is the idea of a begotten Son (see footnote #10 and discussion at that point).

Robert Brent Graves says,

“Although some religious authors have depicted Christ as an “eternal Son. Actually the concept of an eternal Son would not allow the possibility of a begotten Son; for the two would be a contradiction in terms.”[34]

For the Christian to understand just what the Oneness position is asserting, it is necessary that, before continuing looking at each Person individually, we must look to Jesus and the Oneness teaching concerning Him. The key to understanding this theological viewpoint is found in the teaching that Jesus is both the Father and the Son. Paterson explains as follows:

“Therefore, when we say that Jesus is both God and Man, we mean that He is both Father and Son. As the Father, He is absolutely and PURELY God; as the Son, He is absolutely and PURELY Man. When Jesus claims to be God, it is with respect to His Essence as the Eternal Spirit, the Father; and when He says, “My Father is greater than I” (John 14:28), it is with respect to His created nature as Man, the Son…In this connection, let me make this point crystal clear – the doctrine enunciated in this booklet emphasizes the very real humanity of Christ; it is not at all the same as teaching that the Father IS the Son, or that the Son IS the Father. Such teaching is confused, illogical, and unscriptural – but when we say that Jesus is BOTH Father and Son, BOTH God and Man, that is a vastly different matter.”[35]

Likewise, Bernard states,

“Oneness believers emphasize the two natures in Christ, using this fact to explain the plural references to Father and Son in the Gospels. As Father, Jesus sometimes acted and spoke from His divine self-consciousness; as Son He sometimes acted and spoke from His human self-consciousness. The two natures never acted in conflict, for they were united into one person. Aside from their emphasis on the two natures of Christ, Oneness teachers have given inadequate attention to many areas of Christology. Some have made statements that sound Apollinarian because of failure to define and use terms precisely, but Oneness scholars overwhelmingly reject this implication. If carefully developed, Oneness may be seen as compatible with the Christological formulation of the Council of Chalcedon, namely that Christ as two complete natures – deity and humanity – but is only one person.”[36]

Despite Bernard’s assertion, the Oneness position patently denies the uni-personality of Christ. To maintain the uni-personality of God, the Oneness position has to make Jesus into two persons, the Father and the Son. Even Bernard demonstrates this when he says, “Sometimes it is easy to get confused when the Bible describes Jesus in these two different roles, especially when describes Him acting in both roles in the same story…He could speak as man one moment and then as God the next moment.”[37] As we’ve seen, natures do not speak, only persons do. Bernard seems aware of the weakness of the Oneness position at this point, for he is much more willing to admit the depths of the subject than most Oneness writers. He says,

“While the Bible is clear in emphasizing both the full deity and full humanity of Jesus, it does not describe in detail how these two natures are united in the one person of Jesus Christ. This, too, has been the subject of much speculation and debate. Perhaps there is room for divergent views on this issue since the Bible does not treat it directly.”[38]

Bernard is one of the few Oneness writers who does not directly attribute the doctrine of the Trinity to Satan. He seems aware of the fact that the Oneness position avoids the supposed “philosophical language” by basically ignoring the issue that was faced squarely at Nicea and Chalcedon.

This viewpoint gives a unique twist to what otherwise might sound somewhat like orthodox teaching:

“From the Bible we see that Jesus Christ had two distinct natures in a way that no other human being has ever had. One nature is human or fleshly; the other nature is divine or Spirit. Jesus was both fully man and fully God. The name Jesus refers to the eternal Spirit of God (the Father) dwelling in the flesh. We can use the name Jesus to describe either one of His two natures or both. For example, when we say Jesus died on the cross, we mean His flesh died on the cross. When we say Jesus lives in our hearts, we mean His Spirit is there.”[39]

But what Biblical support can the Oneness teacher gather? One of the favorite references is Colossians 2:9, which, in the King James Version (which seems to enjoy predominance in their camp) reads, “For in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” For them, the Godhead would refer to all that makes up God, i.e., the Father:

“According to these verses of Scripture, Jesus is not a part of God, but all of God is resident in Him. If there were several persons in the Godhead, according to Colossians 2:9 they would all be resident in the bodily form of Jesus.”[40]

However, even here the position is foundationless, for the Greek term, theotetos, is best rendered “Deity” and refers to the being of God – “that which makes God God” is how B. B. Warfield expressed it. Not only this, but the same epistle had already clearly differentiated between the Lord Jesus Christ and the Father in 1:3, and had asserted the pre- existence of the Son in 1:15-17.

The many passages that teach the pre-existence and separate personality of the Son cause the Oneness position great difficulties, as can be seen from the attempts to fit these passages into the system. Hebrews chapter one gives a good example:

“Hebrews 1:2 states that God made the worlds by the Son. Similarly, Colossians 1:13-17 says all things were created by the Son, and Ephesians 3:9 says all things were created by Jesus Christ. What does creation “by the Son” mean, since the Son did not have a substantial pre-existence before the Incarnation? “Of course, we know that Jesus as God pre-existed the Incarnation, since the deity of Jesus is none other than the Father Himself. We recognize that Jesus (the divine Spirit of Jesus) is indeed the Creator. These verses describe the eternal Spirit that was in the Son – the deity that was later incarnated as the Son – as the Creator. The humanity of Jesus Christ could not create, but God who came in the Son as Jesus Christ created the world. Hebrews 1:10 clearly states that Jesus as Lord was the Creator. “Perhaps these scriptural passages have a deeper meaning that can be expressed as follows: Although the Son did not exist at the time of creation except as the Word in the mind of God, God used His foreknowledge of the Son when He created the world.”[41]

Elsewhere Bernard added,

“According to Hebrews 1:2, God made the worlds by the Son. Certainly, the Spirit (God) who was in the Son was also the Creator of the worlds. This passage may also indicate that God predicated the entire work of creation upon the future manifestation of the Son. God foreknew that man would sin, but He also foreknew that through the Son man could be saved and could fulfill God’s original purpose in creation. As John Miller stated, “Though He did not pick up His humanity till the fulness of time, yet He used it, and acted upon it, from all eternity.” “[42]

Likewise, the problem of Jesus’ prayer life elicits some intriguing interpretation:

“The prayers of Christ represent the struggle of the human will as it submitted to the divine will. They represent Jesus praying from His human self-consciousness not from His divine, for by definition God does not need to pray. This line of reasoning also explains other examples of the inferiority of the Son in power and knowledge. If these examples demonstrate a plurality of persons, they establish the subordination of one person to the other, contrary to the trinitarian doctrine of co-equality. “Other examples of communication, conversation, or expression of love between Father and Son are explained as communication between the divine and human natures of Christ. If used to demonstrate a distinction of persons, they would establish separate centers of consciousness in the Godhead, which is in effect polytheism.”[43]

“Do the prayers of Christ indicate a distinction of persons between Jesus and the Father? No. On the contrary, His praying indicates a distinction between the Son of God and God. Jesus prayed in His humanity, not in His deity…How can God pray and still be God? By definition, God in His omnipotence has no need to pray, and in His oneness has no other to whom He can pray…Some may object to this explanation, contending that it means Jesus prayed to Himself. However, we must realize that, unlike any other human being, Jesus had two perfect and complete natures – humanity and divinity.”[44]

The above hardly squares with Bernard’s earlier statement that the two natures are joined into one person. Communication between natures is illogical; between persons it is normal. If Oneness teachers wish to maintain a surface acceptance of Chalcedonian definitions, they should at least make it clear that they are defining terms in a completely different way than orthodox theology.

Finally, a common element of Oneness-Pentecostal writing is the criticism of the usage of non-Biblical terminology to answer the questions of God’s existence and being. This is a common attack utilized by many anti-Trinitarian groups. Why use such terms as “nature” or “person” or “ousia” or any of the other terms borrowed from philosophy? Doesn’t this indicate a reliance upon pagan sources? we are asked. Though this point will be answered more fully below, it might be pointed out that the Oneness position is faced with the same choice as the Trinitarian – questions can be put to their position that cannot possibly be answered in solely Biblical terminology. Either these questions must be ignored or they must be answered by using words or phrases not drawn directly from the Scriptural witness. In summary, the Oneness position asserts that God is uni-personal. All the titles of Deity are applicable to the one being who is God – Father, Lord, King, Holy Spirit, Jehovah, etc. The Son of God is the manifestation of the Father in the flesh. The Son is not eternal nor pre-existent. Jesus is the Father and the Son – Father in his divinity and Son in his humanity. Hence, the Trinity is said to be a misunderstanding of the Biblical teaching, and many Oneness writers attribute the doctrine to pagan sources.[45]

V. Brief Criticism and Reply

Since the opening of this paper dealt with the Scriptural witness concerning the doctrine of the Trinity, space need not be taken in rebutting many of the statements of the Oneness position. The following points should focus on the particular problems:

A) The Oneness position cannot explain logically or Biblically the clear references to the pre-existence and Creatorship of the Son such as Colossians 1, Hebrews 1 and John 1.

B) This position fails to demonstrate any kind of identification of Jesus Christ as the Father, and ignores or inadequately explains the many references that demonstrate the personal distinctions of Father and Son.

C) This position relies heavily on assumed and unproven presuppositions, such as the uni-personality of Yahweh. These writers tend to be very selective in their choice of facts, which can also be seen in their easy rejection of textual evidence that contradicts their position.[46]

D) The Christological formulation of the Oneness position is untenable and without Scriptural support. There is no evidence that Jesus was two persons, nor that the two “natures” communicated with one another.

E) The understanding of the Logos given in Scripture is totally lacking in the Oneness perspective. The clear personal nature of the Logos must be sacrificed to maintain the system.

F) The position asserts historical claims[47] that are not solidly based in fact.[48] For example, Oneness writers will assert that the “three persons theory” was a late innovation, while noted patristic authority J.N.D. Kelly has noted,

“Before considering formal writers, the reader should notice how deeply the conception of a plurality of divine Persons was imprinted on the apostolic tradition and the popular faith. Though as yet uncanonized, the New Testament was already exerting a powerful influence; it is a commonplace that the outlines of a dyadic and a triadic pattern are clearly visible in its pages. It is even more marked in such glimpses as are obtainable of the Church’s liturgy and day-to-day catechetical practice.”[49]

These criticisms, substantiated by earlier references, are sufficient to allow the student of Scripture to reject the Oneness position as holding any real claim to being a “biblical teaching.” The only remaining question is the validity of the criticism regarding the usage of non-biblical language and terminology. It has already been pointed out that any theological system that makes any kind of brave attempt to answer the inevitable questions that arise when the nature, attributes and being of God is discussed will have to utilize non-Biblical terminology in framing its answers. Why? First, since the Scriptures themselves rarely ask these questions, and the questions themselves are often derived from non-Biblical sources and utilize non- Biblical language and categories of thought, the honest respondant will have to express truth in such as way as to both be intelligible to the questioner, as well as be honest with the subject. The important question is, are we willing to sacrifice the true teaching of Scripture on the imaginary altar of slavery to the limited terminology of the Biblical writers? Benjamin Breckenridge Warfield aptly addressed this very question:

“The term “Trinity” is not a Biblical term, and we are not using Biblical language when we define what is expressed by it as the doctrine that there is one only and true God, but in the unity of the Godhead there are three coeternal and coequal Persons, the same in substance but distinct in subsistence. A doctrine so defined can be spoken of as a Biblical doctrine only on the principle that the sense of Scripture is Scripture. And the definition of a Biblical doctrine in such un-Biblical language can be justified only on the principle that it is better to preserve the truth of Scripture than the words of Scripture. The doctrine of the Trinity lies in Scripture in solution; when it is crystalized from its solvent it does not cease to be Scriptural, but only comes into clearer view. Or, to speak without figure, the doctrine of the Trinity is given to us in Scripture, not in forumulated definition, but in fragmentary allusions; when we assemble the disjecta membra into their organic unity, we are not passing from Scripture, but entering more thoroughly into the meaning of Scripture. We may state the doctrine in technical terms, supplied by philosophical reflection; but the doctrine stated is a genuinely Scriptural doctrine.”[50]

References: 1. David Bernard, The Oneness of God, (Hazelwood, Missouri: Word Aflame Press) 1985, p.298 2. Thomas Weisser, Three Persons from the Bible? or Babylon, (U.S.) 1983, p. 3. 3. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1941) pgs. 87-89. 4. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, John McNeill, ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press) 1960, pp. 141-142. 5. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 3 Volumes, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company) 1986, 1:459. 6. Weisser, Three Persons, p. 2. 7. The particular responses of the Oneness theologians will be noted at a later point in the presentation. 8. The words of Jesus at Matthew 27:46 have come in for many kinds of interpretation. Unfortunately, many of the theories have compromised both theology proper, as well as Christology. That the Father never was separated from or abandoned the Son is clear from many sources. The second person is utilized by Jesus, not the third in verse 46. Immediately on the heels of this statement Jesus speaks to the Father in the vocative (“Father, into your hands…”). Whatever else Jesus was saying, He was not saying that, at the very time of His ultimate obedience to the Father, that the Father there abandoned Him. Rather, it seems much more logical to see this as a quotation of Psalm 22 that is meant to call to mind all of that Psalm, which would include the victory of v. 19ff, as well as verse 24 which states, “For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.” 9. It would be a grave error to identify the Father and the Son as one person, or to say that Jesus is both the Father and the Son, simply due to their mutual work and actions. As there is only one God, overlapping of work and action is hardly to be thought unusual, and does not indicate an identity of person but rather an identity of nature. 10. James Hope Moulton, George Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company) 1930, pp. 416-417. See also Barclay Newman and Eugene Nida, A Translator’s Handbook on the Gospel of John. (New York: United Bible Societies) 1980, p. 24. 11. The variant reading “…who is in heaven.” is opposed by P66 and P75 along with Codex Sinaiticus and Vaticanus. These witnesses are joined by the Coptic versions, a few uncials, minuscules, and Fathers. 12. The reading monogenes theos is strongly supported by the manuscript witnesses. This is the reading of P66 and P75 as well as the original reading of Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, a few other uncials, and a large number of the early Fathers. That there is good reason to see monogenes huios as an assimilation to John 3:16 is obvious; just so, that monogenes theos has no logical antecedent is just as true. 13. Some try to render this as “the Word was pertaining to God” on the basis of the occurrence of pros ton theon in Hebrews 2:17 and 5:1. However, this attempt fails for the two instances in Hebrews are different syntactical constructions; the presence of the neuter plural article before the phrase in Hebrews changes the subject to an assumed “things.” Also, John 1:1b represents a sentence structure using the verb form en while this is not so in Hebrews. 14. William G. T. Shedd, Shedd’s Dogmatic Theology. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers) 1980, pg. 253. 15. As cited by Henry Bettenson, Documents of the Christian Church. (New York: Oxford University Press) 1963, pp. 144-145. 16. For a discussion of the Council of Chalcedon, see Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company) 1910, 3:740-762. 17. Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 3:751. 18. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company) 1941, pp. 321-330. 19. See Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Doctrine of the Person and the Work of Christ, Section III, “The Unipersonality of Christ.” 20. Stuart Olyott, Son of Mary, Son of God, (England: Evangelical Press) 1984, pp. 103-105. 21. Some Oneness writers such as Robert Brent Graves have attempted to assert that the copulative kai found here and in the other epistolary greetings should not be translated in its normal sense of “and” but rather as the equative “even.” Hence, Graves translates 1 Cor. 1:3 as “Grace to you and peace from God our Father even the Lord Jesus Christ.” That there is no scholarly support for such an assertion is clear, for Graves would hardly be consistent and say “Grace to you, even peace…” which would be required should he follow his own suggestion through. 22. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, p. 303. 23. Otto Weber, Foundations of Dogmatics, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company) 1962, 2:116. 24. David K. Bernard, Essentials of Oneness Theology, (Hazelwood, Missouri: Word Aflame Press) 1985, p. 8. 25. Bernard, The Oneness of God, p. 15. 26. Bernard, The Oneness of God, p. 98. 27. Bernard, The Oneness of God, p. 66. 28. John Paterson, God in Christ Jesus, (Hazelwood, Missouri: Word Aflame Press) 1966, p. 29. Bernard, Essentials in Oneness Theology, p. 22. 30. Bernard, The Oneness of God, p. 103. 31. Weisser, Three Persons, p. 35. 32. Robert Brent Graves, The God of Two Testaments, (U.S.) 1977, p. 35. 33. See Bernard, The Oneness of God, p. 106. 34. Graves, The God of Two Testaments, p. 44. 35. Paterson, God in Christ Jesus, p. 22. 36. Bernard, Essentials in Oneness Theology, p. 19. 37. Bernard, The Oneness of God, p. 88. 38. Bernard, The Oneness of God, p. 90 39. Bernard, The Oneness of God, p. 86. 40. Bernard, The Oneness of God, p. 57. 41. Bernard, The Oneness of God, p. 115. 42. Bernard, Essentials in Oneness Theology, p. 21. 43. Ibid., p. 22. 44. Bernard, The Oneness of God, pp. 176-177. 45. See Weisser, Three Persons, pp. 17-28. 46. Bernard rejects, for example, the reading of monogenes theos at 1:18 by saying, “We do not believe these variant readings are correct…This verse of Scripture does not mean that God is revealed by God, but that God is revealed in flesh through the humanity of the Son.” Here theology determines textual criticism. 47. Bernard, The Oneness of God, pp. 236 ff as an example. 48. Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of Christianity, 2 Volumes, (New York: Harper and Row) 1975, 2:144-145 gives a brief account of the origins of the modalistic teaching. 49. J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, (New York: Harper and Row) 1978, p. 88. 50. B. B. Warfield, The Works of B.B. Warfield, 10 volumes, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House) 1929, 2:133.

Dan Corner, Evangelical Outreach, and Debates – Vintage

UPDATED INFORMATION!  Dan Corner just won’t give up.  In May of 2001 Dan tried to “spin” his refusal to debate me on the real issues with a new Audio offering.  Click here to listen to my response to Mr. Corner as it was aired on the Dividing Line Webcast.

A number of months ago I was sent a URL to Evangelical Outreach, the ministry of one Dan Corner (  I visited the site, noted a few basic errors in the foundational approach of Mr. Corner, and left an e-mail on the subject.   This brought about a quick correspondence, and that was it.  Then, Mr. Corner released a very lengthy book on his central doctrinal concern: what he calls “Once Saved, Always Saved,” or OSAS.  This again resulted in a few e-mails back and forth, the last dated 4/16/98.  In these e-mails, Mr. Corner challenged me to debate the issue of OSAS.  I informed him clearly that I would be glad to debate, but that we should start where it is logically necessary to start. That is, OSAS is a belief based upon other beliefs, and since Mr. Corner and I do not share those other beliefs, we would first have to debate them before addressing OSAS.  Those other beliefs would be the sovereignty of God in predestination and election, and the deadness of man in sin.   So, I provided him with a counter offer: let’s debate those issues instead.   He declined.

It is interesting to note how his last note of 4/16/98 ended:

Again, my original offer stands. I will gladly debate the subject of my

new book with you, Morey, Hunt, Ankerberg or Hanegraaff. Please do NOT

tell anyone I’m unwilling or misrepresent me in some other way.

So Mr. Corner wants to make sure that he is not misrepresented, and we can surely all understand such a desire.  I have never had any intention of doing so, hence, there’s no problem on this end.

Then, a few days ago, Mr. Corner popped into my e-mail world yet once again.  But this time, he was in a different mode:

Date: Sat, 01 Aug 1998 22:42:47 -0400


Organization: Evangelical Outreach <>


Subject: You’re about to be exposed

Dear Dr. White,

Greetings in Jesus’ name.

I’m having a radio interview out of California in about a week and a

half. I plan to expose you and others as some who have refused to

publicly debate me on the subject of once saved always saved in an

equally timed, fair exchange of ideas.

Of course, if you change your mind by then, I won’t include you along

with the others, but I sincerely doubt that you will since you

apparently are afraid do debate this particular issue with me.

Contending for the faith (Jude 3,4),

Dan Corner


Evangelical Outreach, PO Box 265, Washington, PA 15301

“For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning

of our confidence stedfast unto the end” (Heb. 3:14).

I found the approach interesting: titling one’s message “You’re about to be exposed” does not exactly bode well for the “temperature” of the ensuing dialogue.  But I thought my response was pretty fair and straightforward:

< chuckle >

Hi again, Dan. Been a while since I’ve gotten a note from you.

You need to realize, Dan, that the number of folks talking about “exposing” me for this or that is legion. 🙂 Just do a good web search on my name sometime. You’ve got your Roman Catholics, and your Mormons, and your Jehovah’s Witnesses, and your atheists, and especially your King James Only type folks. The list is long and distinguished! So, someone “threatening” to “expose” me is almost humorous.

However, what is not humorous is the fact that you know the statement is untrue. While you claim your book is “irrefutable,” you know that I *have* invited you to debate. I have invited you to debate on the fundamental issues that give rise to the one topic you have made your life’s work, or so it seems. I have explained, logically and biblically, that the issue of the perseverance of the saints or the perfection of Christ’s work as Savior is based upon more fundamental questions, specifically, the sovereignty of God in election and predestination, and the nature of man as sinner, specifically, his deadness in sin. You have refused to debate those issues against me, insisting that I skip past the fundamental issues of disagreement, and debate an issue that can never be resolved unless the basics are covered first.

I would liken your position, Dan, to that of a person who insists that I debate him on the subject of the procession of the Holy Spirit without first addressing the issue of the Trinity itself. In fact, I recently got a series of e-mails from a fellow who denies the deity of Christ and the person of the Holy Spirit. Now, wouldn’t you agree that it would be very silly of me to debate this person on whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son without first discussing the more fundamental issues of the deity of Christ and the personality of the Holy Spirit, and the Trinity itself? Such seems obvious.

In the same way, as I have explained to you, the perseverance of the saints is a divine truth plainly presented in passages such as John 6:37-40. But any meaningful discussion requires that the *foundation* of the truth be debated, that being the *ability* and *willingness* of God to save perfectly in Christ. Jesus said that it was the Father’s will that He lose NONE of those given to Him by the Father. If you deny the Father is even *able* to give any to the Son, so as to entrust their salvation into His hands, you are obviously not going to see or accept the teaching of such passages.

So, Dan, let’s be honest. I do radio programs all across the United States on a weekly basis. If I wanted to threaten folks with “exposure” as you have done to me, I could do it with far more regularity than you could ever hope to do. But I refuse to behave in such a manner. I know I have invited you to debate the real issue, and you have declined, preferring to stay with the one issue you have made your crusade in life. If I wanted to go on nationwide radio and “expose Dan,” I could do it. But I have no interest in such things. I know, and you know, and most importantly, God knows, that I have responded to your challenge in a biblical and logical manner. If you are an honest man, you will say on that radio interview, “James White, being the Reformed theologian he is, has insisted that we debate election, predestination, and the deadness of man in sin before addressing the issue of the perseverance of the saints, and I have declined his invitation.” If you are not an hoenst man, you won’t bother being accurate in what you say. In either case, Dan, God knows the truth. I hope you will do what is right.


His response made me wonder about the time I had invested in the above response:


Date: Wed, 05 Aug 1998 11:09:43 -0400


Organization: Evangelical Outreach <>


Subject: Smokescreen Jim & OSAS

Dear Dr. White:

Your time is quickly running out before you get exposed as one who will

not debate the believer’s security with me. I have no doubt that you

would gladly do it in a flash if you thought you could refute my

arguments. Since you can’t and yet you want to save face – you have

created both a smokescreen and an excuse not to debate this issue that

you think is related to the Gospel!

Contending For The Faith (Jude 3,4),

Dan Corner


Evangelical Outreach, PO Box 265, Washington, PA 15301

“Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin;

and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers” (Jam. 1:15,16).

I asked Mr. Corner if he’d mind if I put his rather blustery e-mails on our web page.   No response.  Instead, this arrived:


Date: Thu, 06 Aug 1998 10:25:38 -0400


Organization: Evangelical Outreach <>

To: James White <>

Subject: A DEBATE Challenge …

Dear Dr. White:

Greetings in JESUS’ holy name.

Please know my past email was not a “taunt” as you suggest. You describe

yourself as a Reformed “theologian,” you hold a doctorates, are an

experienced debater and believe people like myself are editing the

gospel, yet you won’t debate me on the subject of the believer’s


If you thought you’d win, you would debate me in a flash. But you refuse

to enter the debate arena with me. I believe you’ve read over my new 761

page book and/or some of the articles on our website dealing with this

issue, and you realize that your chief arguments are demolished and that

there are too many arguments laid out for a conditional security that

you cannot deal with. Consequently, you are trying to cloud the issue

rather than declining because you are fearful.

By the way, Reformed theologian Arthur Pink contended for OSAS without

such a heavy emphasis on predestination, etc. as you seem to believe is

essential to do such.

If you want to debate this issue, respond quickly. I am going to expose

you for the gospel’s sake if you don’t.

Contending for the faith (Jude 3,4),

Dan Corner

I replied:

>Dear Dr. White:


>Greetings in JESUS’ holy name.


>Please know my past email was not a “taunt” as you suggest. You describe

>yourself as a Reformed “theologian,” you hold a doctorates, are an

>experienced debater and believe people like myself are editing the

>gospel, yet you won’t debate me on the subject of the believer’s


Dan, I’m not going to spend too much time repeating myself. We have both challenged the other to a debate. I have challenged you to debate the central and foundational issue that separates us: God’s sovereign predestination and man’s deadness in sin. You have refused my challenge. You have challenged me to debate the believer’s security, and I have refused yours. I, however, unlike you, have given a reason: logically and rationally, the topic I have challenged you on *precedes* the topic you have presented to me. Hence, if you truly wished to address the issue, you would go at it from the logical starting place, not a place way down the line of logical reasoning.

>If you thought you’d win, you would debate me in a flash.

Let’s turn this around, Dan. Would your reasoning hold if you put it this way?
Dan Corner has been challenged to debate predestination and the deadness of man in sin by James White, Director of Alpha and Omega Ministries. Mr. Corner has declined. Obviously, if Mr. Corner thought he could win, he’d take up the challenge in a flash.
Does that logic work, Dan? Or shall we conclude that you refuse to use the same standards with others that you use with yourself?

>But you refuse

>to enter the debate arena with me. I believe you’ve read over my new 761

>page book and/or some of the articles on our website dealing with this

>issue, and you realize that your chief arguments are demolished and that

>there are too many arguments laid out for a conditional security that

>you cannot deal with. Consequently, you are trying to cloud the issue

>rather than declining because you are fearful.

< chuckle > Well, it would be easy to start playing these games, Dan, and psychoanalyzing each other. But I won’t do it. I’ve not even seen your book, Dan, nor have I done anything more than read a couple articles on your site (as you will recall, I e-mailed you quite some time ago with problems with one of the articles I read). I have every confidence in my beliefs, and in fact, am teaching on John 6 right now in Bible Study. You seem absolutely desperate to avoid dealing with the facts I have presented to you concerning the logical priority of God’s sovereignty and the nature of man over your OSAS issue. All of your e-mails utterly ignore that, and, when we post these e-mails on our site, anyone else can see the same thing.

>By the way, Reformed theologian Arthur Pink contended for OSAS without

>such a heavy emphasis on predestination, etc. as you seem to believe is

>essential to do such.


>If you want to debate this issue, respond quickly. I am going to expose

>you for the gospel’s sake if you don’t.

Again, Dan, if you are honest man, you will let anyone know the truth as it really stands. If you are not, there’s no reason to debate a dishonest person anyway. BTW, we air a program every Thursday in one of the largest markets in the nation (WMCA, covering New York City). I wonder if I should do a series of programs on this subject, and include your e-mails as examples? Might be an interesting discussion.

To make your threats and taunts a little more vacuous, let’s try this:

Dan Corner is hereby challenged to do a three-part debate series against James White:

1) God’s Sovereignty and Predestination. White would affirm that the Bible teaches that God decrees whatsoever comes to pass, and that He has an elect people who will be saved in perfection by Jesus Christ their Savior. Corner would deny.

2) Man’s Deadness in Sin. White would affirm that the Bible teaches that man is dead in sin, a slave to sin, and unable to come to Christ outside of the sovereign drawing of the Father.

3) The Perseverance of the Saints. White would affirm that the Bible teaches that the elect of God are saved perfectly by Christ, and since the very faith that is theirs is a divine gift of God, it cannot fail, but they will persevere and enter into heaven.

Details on place, time, etc., would have to be worked out. Obviously, I am handing all the advantage to Mr. Corner, since I am affirming in all three debates. But the challenge stands, and if Mr. Corner declines, we would strongly recommend that he not go about saying that it is Dr. White who is unwilling to debate him.

This e-mail, along with the others from this week, will be posted to our website,, for all to read.


If anything more develops on this topic, we will post it here.

James White

August 6, 1998

On November 1st, Dan resuraced and sent the following:

Dear Jim

Greetings in Jesus’ name.

We thought you should know that you have been awarded the Skull and Crossbones Award in our latest apologetic quarterly because of your unscriptural teachings about the believer’s security. You can view your page on the Internet at http/

In case you were wondering, I would still like to debate you on the subject of my book, that is, the believer’s security. By a debate, I mean an equally-timed, fair exchange of ideas with an impartial, unbiased moderator.

Defending The Faith (Jude 3,4),

Dan Corner

To which I replied:



Why thank you! To be so honored for standing for God’s grace is truly wonderful! We shall link to it immediately so that people can see what you have done.

Of course, Matthew 5:11 applies here as well, since, of course, you are lying about me. That’s not unusual—false teachers do that all the time. But, just in case you have a conscience that is not seared as yet, let me again correct your falsehood: *IF* you would bother to read what I have written, and *IF* you would read the e-mails I have sent to you (our recent conversations are posted on our website—we will link to you, will you link to our reply?), then you would know that I do not turn the grace of God into a “license for immorality.” In fact, I quote from my book, _Drawn by the Father_, pp. 30-31, to illustrate your misrepresentation:

“The One Coming”

This phrase simply repeats the subject of the preceding clause, and we have already examined the rich meaning seen in the description of the Christian as the one who “is coming” to Christ. But lest we overlook, in our proper zeal for the truth of the eternal nature and security of salvation, the danger of false profession, let us remark again that the tremendous promise that is here given, and which will be further amplified in the following verses, is not for those who do not truly trust, truly believe, truly *follow* Jesus Christ. There is no foundation in this passage (or any in God’s Word) for one who does not truly love Christ, does not truly desire to follow Him, to be with Him, to honor Him and to glorify Him, to claim “eternal security.” Simply walking down an aisle, shaking a man’s hand, praying a prayer, or being baptized in a baptistery is not necessarily the same as coming to Christ and believing in Him. Surely, many have truly come to Christ through a prayer, or in an evangelistic service. But the simple *performance* of these acts does not make one a Christian. A one-time faith is not saving faith, nor are strong feelings that last but a night the same as trusting Christ as Lord.  Faith that saves lasts, and those who have this kind of faith are coming and believing in Christ. These, *and these alone,* will persevere, and these alone can claim the wonderful words  that are hear spoken by Christ.

I’m sorry you are so blinded by your crusade that you cannot accept correction. I’m sorry you are willing to be downright dishonest. I do hope and pray God will deliver you from this delusion that has become your primary thrust. But all of that aside, your misrepresentation is clear, and I call you to be honest enough to admit it, and deal with reality.

>In case you were wondering, I would still like to debate you on the subject of my book, that is, the believer’s security. By a debate, I mean an equally-timed, fair exchange of ideas with an impartial, unbiased moderator.

Oh, I wasn’t wondering. You know I have challenged you to debate the ENTIRE issue, and, as many have noted, it is you who is unwilling to do so. I know this is true; God does, too, and anyone who really cares, knows it as well.

John 6, the Father and the Son, Salvation, and Roman Catholic Apologists – Vintage

“James White Has Been Proven Wrong So Many Times, It Isn’t Funny”

So runs part of the headline on Scott Windsor’s “response” to his appearance on our webcast.  I swore I would not even waste my time looking at it.  Many felt I had wasted an entire program a few weeks ago having an amateur “apologist” on the program, Scott Windsor, to discuss John six (click here to listen).  I did so for a reason many could not possibly understand: I have tried, repeatedly, for almost fifteen years, to reason with Mr. Windsor, all to no avail.  I have provided him with resources, information….you name it.  But, Scott simply doesn’t hear the message.  So when I heard that Scott had spent many hours crafting a “response” to our debate (why do folks feel the need to “respond” to debates when they were in them?), I told a friend of mine, “I’m not even going to look.”  And at first, I didn’t.  But Mr. Windsor kept making reference to it, and even sent me an e-mail in which he again asserted he had proven me “wrong” numerous times, so I finally gave in.  Maybe it was a moment of weakness, I don’t know.  But here is the article I looked at:  click here

Any person who listens to the program will find the majority of the written “response” most telling.  The problems with its are so manifold it is about as difficult to respond to it as it is to rebut Gail Riplinger: it takes three pages just to set up all the background and context errors made by the author under review, so that any response ends up being an exercise in frustration (let alone as exciting as chewing aluminum foil while watching paint dry).  Some of the alleged errors are simply humorous they are so obviously the result of Mr. Windsor’s lack of comprehension of what it was we were supposed to be talking about in the first place.  But, in the midst of scanning through the article, I ran across a few citations of Robert Sungenis.  In fact, right as I started looking at the article, Scott Windsor himself dropped into our chatroom, so we started discussing the problems with his article.  One of the issues I raised with him was the “24th” error he alleged in my comments.  Here is what his article alleges:

69. Scott:

  • Let’s go on to this other point though, Jesus turns to the 12 and I assume you would agree that these are part of the elect, the called, the drawn. (James responds “right.”) And He turns to them and says, “Will you also leave?” He gave them a choice! Was He only kidding when He said that?

70. James:

  • Oh, wait-wait-wait-wait-wait! This is where we have to look at what the Scripture actually says. There is a way in the Greek language that you can phrase a question that expects a negative answer, and that is the way Jesus phrased this.

71. Scott:

  • He may have phrased it that way, but He still gave them a choice.

  • “The Greek wording does not use the type of wording used with a rhetorical question.”
    (Telephone conversation, Robert Sungenis, February 6, 2001).

  • Obviously it was not purely a rhetorical question, because Peter answered Him!

    Now I immediately chuckled since it seems Mr. Windsor is unaware of the difference between a question that expects a negative answer and a rhetorical question.  They are, of course, not the same thing, and his response assumes they are.  We demonstrated in the chat channel that indeed the particle mh when used with a question assumes a negative answer: we cited three different Greek grammars (Mounce, Davis, and Perschbacher) that all said the exact same thing and fully substantiated the assertion I made.  As anyone can see from listening to the program, Mr. Windsor tried to insert the concept of free will into John 6:67, and I pointed out the form of the text does not support his position.  I did not attempt to make any positive point on the basis of the passage: I had already done so in John 6:37ff.

    So it was clear that Mr. Windsor, being unable to deal with the original text himself, had decided to depend upon Robert Sungenis.  In fact, when faced with the joint citation of two of the above three grammars, Mr. Windsor commented,

    <BigScott> again… I don’t know the Greek…. I asked someone who did (actually a couple people who did and both concurred)… so I defer to Sungenis

    So Mr. Windsor invests in Robert Sungenis greater authority in the Greek language than established, proven and published grammars.  I’m thankful Mr. Sungenis does not claim such a position for himself, but for some reason Mr. Windsor is comfortable making such a blind leap.  Now while I wish to focus upon a later issue wherein Mr. Sungenis provides a lengthy section of Mr. Windsor’s article, I should note in passing that when I wrote to Mr. Sungenis about this particular issue, I was most surprised by his response.  He attempted to say that mh does not always have to indicate a negative response.  He provided one example that he said indicates a positive response, John 7:31.  However, upon examination, Mr. Sungenis is obviously in error:

    But many of the crowd believed in Him; and they were saying, “When the Christ comes, He will not perform more signs than those which this man has, will He?” (NASB)

    Mr. Sungenis interprets this passage to mean, “Yes, Christ will perform more signs” than those Jesus did.  Yet this is not the obvious meaning of the text at all.  Instead, Mr. Sungenis has completely missed the clear statement that these are the words of believers in Jesus.  They are responding favorably and were saying that surely the Christ would not perform more signs than Jesus had performed, hence, Jesus was the Messiah.  As A.T. Robertson put it,

    Will he do? (mh poihsei). Future active indicative of poiew with mh (negative answer expected). Jesus had won a large portion of the pilgrims (ek tou oclou polloi) either before this day or during this controversy. The use of episteusan (ingressive aorist active) looks as if many came to believe at this point.

    Whether these were true, regenerate believers or not is not the issue at the moment; their statement is properly translated by the NASB, which recognizes the form of the question.  Not only does Robertson contradict Sungenis regarding the use of mh, but he also recognizes the obvious fact that these people are indeed arguing for Christ, not against Him.  Sungenis is simply in complete error at this point.

    With this in mind, I would like to turn to the assertions made by Mr. Sungenis in the body of Mr. Windsor’s “response” to our debate.  I believe his words provide an excellent opportunity of testing both the validity of my oft-repeated claim that consistent Roman Catholics are not able, due to what I might call “epistemological ham-stringing,” to engage the text in its native context (i.e., to engage in meaningful exegesis), and hence that this is supportive of my belief that Rome teaches sola ecclesia, the Church as the highest and final authority in all things.

    John 6:37-39 and the Sovereignty of God

    Before we can meaningfully examine, and refute, Robert Sungenis’ position, we must first understand what it was I was attempting to say.  One can listen to the program and hear that in the course of five minutes I presented the standard Reformed understanding of this passage.  But, for those who may not have access to the Real Audio recording, I provide here the section I wrote on this passage from my rebuttal of Norman Geisler titled The Potter’s Freedom:

    The setting is important: Jesus speaks to the crowds gathered in the synagogue at Capernaum.  They have followed Him there after the feeding of the five thousand the day before.  They are seeking more miracles, and more food.  Jesus does not pander to their “felt needs,” but goes directly to the real issue: who He is and how He is central to God’s work of redemption.  He identifies Himself as the “Bread of life” (v. 35), the source of all spiritual nourishment.  In our modern setting we might not feel the force of His words as they must have felt them that morning.  “Who is this man to speak this way of Himself?” they must have thought.  Not even the greatest prophets of Israel had directed people to faith in themselves!  Not even an Abraham or an Isaiah would claim to have come down from heaven, nor would they ever say “the one coming to Me will never hunger and the one believing in Me will never thirst.”  We must attempt to feel the sharp impact of these words just as they were spoken.

    The blessed Lord was quite blunt with His audience.  He knew they did not possess real faith.  “But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe” (v. 36).  They had seen Him with their eyes, but unless physical sight is joined with spiritual enlightenment, it profits nothing.  Often the importance of this statement is overlooked.  Verse 36 is a turning point in the chapter.  Jesus now explains their unbelief.  How is it that these men could stand before the very Son of God, the Word made flesh, and not believe?  Anyone who does not take seriously the deadness of man in sin should contemplate this scene.  The very Creator in human form stands before men who are schooled in the Scriptures and points to their unbelief.  He then explains the why, and yet so few today will listen and believe.

    All that the Father gives Me will come to Me.”  These are the first words to come from the Lord in explanation of man’s unbelief.  We dare not engage in hopscotch across this text and ignore the very order of teaching He provides.  The first assertion is one of complete divine sovereignty.  Every word speaks volumes.

    “All that the Father gives Me.”  The Father gives someone to Christ.  The elect are viewed as a single whole, [footnote: The neuter form pa’n is used when the entire group is in view; when each individual person comes into view with reference to their response of faith the masculine participle ejrcovmeno” is used, showing the personal element of faith.] given by the Father to the Son. [footnote: Two tenses are used by the Lord in this passage: here the present tense is used, “all the Father gives (divdwsin) Me….”  In verse 39, however, the perfect tense is used, “all that He has given (devdwken) Me….” ] The Father has the right to give a people to the Son.  He is the sovereign King, and this is a divine transaction.

    All that are given by the Father to the Son come to the Son.  Not some, not most, but all. 

    All those given by the Father to the Son will come to the Son.  It is vital to see the truth that is communicated by this phrase: the giving by the Father to the Son precedes and determines the coming of the person to Christ.  The action of giving by the Father comes before the action of coming to Christ by the individual.  And since all of those so given infallibly come, we have here both unconditional election as well as irresistible grace, and that in the space of nine words!  It becomes an obvious exercise in eisegesis to say, “Well, what the Lord really means is that all that the Father has seen will believe in Christ will come to Christ.”  That is a meaningless statement.  Since the action of coming is dependent upon the action of giving, we can see that it is simply not exegetically possible to say that we cannot determine the relationship between the two actions.  God’s giving results in man’s coming.  Salvation is of the Lord.

    But note as well that it is to the Son that they come.  They do not come to a religious system.  They are coming to Christ.  This is a personal relationship, personal faith, and, given that the ones who come are described throughout the passage by the present tense participle, it is not just a coming that happens once.  This is an on-going faith, an on-going looking to Christ as the source of spiritual life.  The men to whom the Lord was speaking had “come” to Him for a season: they would soon walk away and follow Him no more.  The true believer is coming to Christ, always.  This is the nature of saving faith.

    “And the one who comes to Me I will never cast out.”  The true believer, the one “coming” to the Son, has this promise of the Lord: using the strongest form of denial possible, [footnote: Here the aorist subjunctive of strong denial, ouj mh; ejkbavlw e[xw, “I will never cast out.”  The idea is the emphatic denial of the possibility of a future event.] Jesus affirms the eternal security of the believer.  Jesus is the one who gives life and raises His own up at the last day.  He promises that there is no possibility whatsoever that any one who is coming to Him in true faith could ever find Him unwilling to save.  But this tremendous promise is the second half of a sentence.  It is based upon the truth that was first proclaimed.  This promise is to those who are given by the Father to the Son and to no one else. Of course, we will see in verse 44 that no one but those who are so given will be coming to Christ in faith anyway: but there are surely those who, like many in that audience in Capernaum, are willing to follow for a while, willing to believe for a season.  This promise is not theirs.

    The promise to the elect, however, could not be more precious.  Since Christ is able to save perfectly (He is not dependent upon man’s will, man’s cooperation), His promise means the elect cannot ever be lost.  Since He will not cast out, and there is no power greater than His own, the one who comes to Christ will find Him an all-sufficient and perfect Savior.  This is the only basis of “eternal security” or the perseverance of the saints: they look to a perfect Savior who is able to save.  It is Christ’s ability to save that means the redeemed cannot be lost.  If it were, in fact, a synergistic relationship, there could never be any ground for absolute confidence and security.

    Many stop at verse 37 and miss the tremendous revelation we are privileged to receive in the following verses.  Why will Christ never cast out those who come to Him?  Verse 38 begins with a connective that indicates a continuation of the thought: verses 38 and 39 explain verse 37.  Christ keeps all those who come to Him for He is fulfilling the will of the Father.  “I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.”  The divine Messiah always does the will of the Father.  The preceding chapter in John’s Gospel had made this very clear.  There is perfect harmony between the work of the Father and the Son. 

    And what is the will of the Father for the Son?  In simple terms, it is the Father’s will that the Son save perfectly.  “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.”  It is vital to remember that this continues the explanation of why He does not cast out the one coming to Him.  We must see this for some might be tempted to say that the Father has entrusted all things into the hands of the Son, and that this passage is saying nothing more than the Son will act properly in regards to what the Father has given Him.  But the context is clear: v. 37 speaks of the Father “giving” the elect to the Son, and v. 39 continues the same thought.  Those who are given infallibly come to the Son in v. 37, and it is these same ones, the elect, [footnote: Jesus uses the neuter pa’n again to refer to the elect as an entire group, though the fact that this group is made up of individuals is seen in their being raised to life and in their individually coming to Him.] who are raised up at the last day.  Resurrection is the work of Christ, and in this passage, is paralleled with the giving of eternal life (see v. 40).  Christ gives eternal life to all those who are given to Him and who, as a result, come to Him.   

    We must ask the Arminian who promotes the idea that a truly saved person can be lost: does this not mean that Christ can fail to do the will of the Father?  If the will of the Father for the Son is that He lose none of those that are given to Him, does it not follow inexorably that Christ is able to accomplish the Father’s will?  And does this not force us to believe that the Son is able to save without introducing the will of man as the final authority in the matter?  Can any synergist (one who teaches, as Dr. Geisler does, that God’s grace works “synergistically” and that man’s free will is a vitally important part of the salvation process, and that no man is saved unless that man wills it) believe these words?  Can one who says that God tries to save as many as “possible” but cannot save any man without that man’s cooperation fully believe what this verse teaches?  It is not the Father’s will that Christ try to save but that He save a particular people perfectly.  He is to lose nothing of all that He is given.  How can this be if, in fact, the final decision lies with man, not with God?  It is the Father’s will that results in the resurrection to life of any individual.  This is election in the strongest terms, and it is taught with clarity in the reddest letters in Scripture.

    Verse 39 begins with “This is the will of Him who sent Me,” and verse 40 does the same, “For this is the will of My Father.”  But in verse 39 we have the will of the Father for the Son.  Now we have the will of the Father for the elect.  “That everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”  Amazingly, many wrench this verse out of its context, misunderstand the reference to “every one who beholds…every one who believes in Him,” and say, “See, no divine election here!  Any one can do this.”  But it is obvious, when the text is allowed to stand as a whole, that this is not the intention of the passage.  Who is the one “beholding” the Son and “believing” in Him?  Both these terms are present participles, referring to on-going action, just as we saw in “the one coming” to Christ in verse 37.  Jesus raises up on the last day all those who are given to Him (v. 39) and all those who are looking and believing in Him (v. 40).  Are we to believe these are different groups?  Of course not.  Jesus only raises one group to eternal life.  But since this is so, does it not follow that all those given to Him will look to Him and believe in Him?  Most assuredly.  Saving faith, then, is exercised by all of those given to the Son by the Father (one of the reasons why, as we will see, the Bible affirms clearly that saving faith is a gift of God).

    This, then, is the position I have presented over the course of the past decade in previous books, in The Potter’s Freedom, and in brief on the webcast with Mr. Windsor.  In response, Mr. Sungenis is quoted as saying:

    The perfect tense of dedooken is not crucial. White is taking it to mean that the Father chose everyone without their free will, but the text does not say that.

    From our perspective, it is very easy to interpret this as the Father having given to Jesus those who responded to the grace the Father gave them. They respond by their free will.

    In fact, the next verse, John 6:40, uses “sees” and “believes” in the Greek present tense, active voice, showing that the people are seeing and believing at the present time, by their own wills (Greek active voice, not passive), and it is the Father’s will that each one who does this will be raised on the last day.

    This is also significant since the “last day” in John 6:40 is pivoting off of the “last day” in John 6:39, showing that the “have given” of John 6:39 must be related to the those who chose to “see” and “believe” in John 6:40. If anything, there is a dynamic relationship here, not one weighted to the Father making all the decisions.

    Also, the verb “give” in John 6:37 (“All that the Father gives to me will come to me”) is a Greek present tense, not a perfect, which shows that the action of “giving” is occurring presently, and is not confined to whatever White conceives the perfect tense of 6:39 to be saying. The “give” of John 6:37 is the same Greek word as the “has given” of John 6:39, only a different tense.

    Moreover, we can say the same about 6:37 as we did about 6:39, that is, those the Father “gives” to Jesus are those who have responded to the Father’s call by their free will. The Father gathers these people and brings them to Jesus.

    In the final analysis, one cannot say what period of time the perfect tense of John 6:39 refers to, since the text does not give a reference point. It is very easy to abuse the perfect tense, because we don’t always know when the action of the perfect tense starts.

    White is assuming that the perfect tense refers to a time long before the coming of Jesus. But all we can tell from the verse is that the action of the perfect tense occurs before the future tense occurrences of “I shall not lose” and “I shall raise him up.”

    Although it is possible that the perfect tense refers to an event in the mind of God before the world was created, there is absolutely nothing in the grammatical text itself that demands that interpretation. That interpretation is simply commandeered from other passages they see as teaching absolute predestination, which they then place in John 6:39.

    That fact, coupled with the present tense didoosin in John 6:37, and the present tense, active voices of “seeing” and “believing” in John 6:40, leans the interpretation to a present interaction between the Father and man, not an exclusive action by the Father in the distant past.

    What shall we say in response to this?  A striking  fact to note is that Mr. Sungenis assumes the presence of “free will” in the exact same way an Arminian does (and Mr. Windsor did).  Yet, the text never makes reference to such a concept, and instead denies the very heart of that concept in 6:44.  He asserts, “From our perspective, it is very easy to interpret this as the Father having given to Jesus those who responded to the grace the Father gave them. They respond by their free will.”  Yet, there is nothing about God giving “grace” to anyone, nor is there any reference to “free will.”  The point I made in the program is completely skipped by Mr. Sungenis in his response, that being the fact that the giving of the Father to the Son preceeds the coming of those so given to the Son.  Further, the context of the passage, that being the unbelief of those who are hearing His words, is ignored as well.  Instead, a foreign context of “free will” theology is inserted out of nowhere, and the text is left in a jumbled mess.  In fact, the reader may well notice that Sungenis’ interpretation does not follow the flow of the text: it skips from one section to another, even making 6:40 determinative in the meaning of the words that come immediately before it, rather than following the logical method of realizing that 6:40 is to be interpreted in light of what comes in 6:37-40.  In fact, it is unfair to say that Mr. Sungenis is even offering exegesis here: he is offering Mr. Windsor a way around the offered exegesis, but is not actually exegeting the passage at all.

    Now we can summarize this response as follows:  1) the perfect tense does not tell us this took place in eternity (i.e., it could take place as a result of human action); 2) John 6:40 indicates that man actively believes, and 3) the use of the present tense “give” in 6:37 refutes the interpretation White makes of 6:39.  Let’s respond to each of these arguments in turn.

    “The perfect tense is irrelevant” argument. 

    I emphasized the use of the perfect tense with Mr. Windsor because he was inserting into the text his concept of free-willism, and limiting God to the role of responding to the actions of man. In fact, he introduced a very unusual, very difficult to understand idea of how men are given to Christ “at the last day.”  I pointed out this was impossible, since the action of giving by the Father obviously comes before the “last day.” Look again at the text:

    “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.

    Obviously, “raise up on the last day” is a terminal action: the danger of “losing” then must come before the last day.  The giving, therefore, is logically prior to the last day, which contradicts what Mr. Windsor was trying to say.  Further, and naturally, the “giving” would precede the experience of danger on the part of any who might otherwise be lost, hence, it precedes (as is seen in 6:37) any action on the part of those who are so given.

    Mr. Sungenis divorces this passage from the context.  As I noted in my exegesis, 6:38-39 explains the glorious claim of 6:37: “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.”  Why do all who are given by the Father to the Son come to the Son?  And why will He not cast out the one who comes to Him?  Verses 38 and 39 explain this in the text, but not in the attempted explanation offered by Mr. Sungenis.  He joins Mr. Windsor in reversing the order of the action of 6:37 (i.e., he makes the giving of the Father dependent upon the coming of the believer, when the text says it is the other way around).

    The perfect tense makes sense in the context in which it is used: Christ came to do the will of the Father.  Surely Christ knew, when He came to earth, what that will was, did He not?  Are we to actually believe that what Jesus is saying here is that He came to perform a general salvation of an unknown group, so that the text really should say, “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He will give Me upon the basis of their free will action I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day”?  How would that be relevant to the assertion of 6:37?  Remember, Jesus is explaining the unbelief of the crowd: how would this explain their unbelief, since such would involve the assertion that they have the very ability to believe that is denied to them in 6:44 and 6:65?

    Instead, the Father’s will is obviously well known to the Son.  He is entrusted with God’s elect, and His unlimited power and salvific ability explain His assertion in 6:37: not only will He never cast those who are given to Him by the Father out, but all who are given will come to Him, since He has the capacity to bring this about!  If this were not the case, nothing in 6:39 would make any sense.

    Mr. Sungenis says the perfect tense is not “crucial” to the passage.  Then why does he later lay weight upon the present tense of the same verb, if the verb tenses are not crucial?  (Mr. Windsor said on the program that discussing these issues was really irrelevant anyway.  Mr. Sungenis seems to disagree).  The perfect tense tells us that the Son has already been given, at the time of the speaking of these words, a people.  Mr. Sungenis neglects to note the use of the neuter pa’n as the object of what has been given to the Son.  As I pointed out in my exegesis, it is a people, a whole, that has been entrusted to the Son.  [We will see this helps us to see the consistency of the use of the present tense in 6:37 below as well.]  This people is defined by God’s act of giving, not by any human act of “free will.”  The perfect tense points to a completed action.  Mr. Sungenis says that we cannot tell when this action took place.  That is quite true, but we can surely determine that it took place prior to other actions.  It took place prior to the coming of anyone to Christ; and it takes place prior to Jesus’ action of “not losing” those who are given to Him.  I certainly do believe that this giving took place in eternity past: but as I said on the program, I prove that by direct reference to such passages as Romans 8:29-30 and Ephesians 1:3-11.  The key in John 6 is that the giving results in the actions of coming and believing.

    So in summary, the perfect tense is surely very important: it not only refutes the erroneous application Mr. Windsor made (and which Mr. Sungenis did not repeat–we truly wonder what he thought of it), but it does communicate to us vital information concerning the absolute freedom of God in giving a people unto the Son.  The people of God have been given to the Son.  What a tremendous truth!

    John 6:40 indicates that man actively believes

    The single most common means of attempting to get around the meaning of John 6:37-39, which so strongly precludes the insertion of human will and effort into the sovereign work of salvation, is to literally turn the text on its head and read it backwards.  That is, rather than following the natural progression of thought, from the topic of unbelief in 6:35, through the assertion of v. 37, into the will of the Father in 38-39, and then into verse 40, they start with an a-contextual interpretation of 6:40, and then insist that the preceding verses cannot bear their natural meaning because of their assumed, but undefended (and indefensible) interpretation of that one verse. 

    There is no doubt on anyone’s part that 6:40 clearly presents man as active and believing.  That is not even relevant to the debate, since no one is asserting that man does not believe in Christ as an active agent.  Note the plain assertion of the text:

    “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”

    The “free will” argument is clear: “beholds” and “believes” are active verbs.  Men behold the Son, men believe in the Son.  Hence, it is argued, this act of beholding and believing forms the basis upon which God elects.  Such an explanation takes a partial truth (the elect surely come to Christ, behold Christ, believe in Christ) and turns it upside down in clear violation of the text.

    The careful reader, however, will note that 6:40 follows 6:35-39.  Hence, if the flow of thought means anything, we already have the identity of those who will come, behold, and believe, established in these preceding verses.  Remembering that Jesus is explaining the unbelief of those who have seen Him work miracles, we have the identification of those who do come to Christ as those who are given to the Son by the Father (6:37); the same ones who will be infallibly raised up by the Son as per the Father’s will (6:38-39).  We have already been told in 6:37 that those the Father gives to the Son come to the Son: coming is active.  Believers believe.  Saving faith is a gift of God, given to His elect people.  Indeed, Augustine put it well long ago:


    Faith, then, as well in its beginning as in its completion, is God’s gift; and let no one have any doubt whatever, unless he desires to resist the plainest sacred writings, that this gift is given to some, while to some it is not given. But why it is not given to all ought not to disturb the believer, who believes that from one all have gone into a condemnation, which undoubtedly is most righteous; so that even if none were delivered therefrom, there would be no just cause for finding fault with God. Whence it is plain that it is a great grace for many to be delivered, and to acknowledge in those that are not delivered what would be due to themselves; so that he that glorieth may glory not in his own merits, which he sees to be equaled in those that are condemned, but in the Lord. But why He delivers one rather than another,–” His judgments are unsearchable, and His ways past finding out.” (On the Predestination of the Saints)

    So it is completely true that every believer believes, every believer comes to Christ.  But the wonder of the passage is that every single one given by the Father to the Son, all, without exception, look to Christ in faith and receive eternal life.  It is a gross misuse of the passage to turn it into a proof-text for “free will” by removing it from its context and turning it backwards.  Such is very much like those who read the words of Jesus in John 8:47: “He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God,” and hear it saying the opposite if what it actually says.  When tradition is allowed to over-ride the text, people hear the text saying the opposite of what it really says: they hear it say, “the reason you do not belong to God is because you refuse to hear,” rather than what it actually says, the reason they do not hear is because the pre-existing condition which allows them to hear, that of belonging to God (being of the elect, being one of Christ’s sheep) is not present.  So too, here in John 6, while verse 40 is surrounded by the testimony of God’s sovereignty (6:37-39, 44-45, 65, etc.), those who exalt man’s will due to their traditions refuse to listen and understand.

    The use of the present tense “give” in 6:37 refutes the interpretation White makes of 6:39

    The final element of Mr. Sungenis’ attempt to derail the exegesis of John 6:37-39 and its witness to the truth of sovereign election and divine predestination is based upon the use of the present tense “give” at John 6:37.  Jesus says, “All that the Father gives (present tense) Me will come to Me.”  Sungenis comments:

    Also, the verb “give” in John 6:37 (“All that the Father gives to me will come to me”) is a Greek present tense, not a perfect, which shows that the action of “giving” is occurring presently, and is not confined to whatever White conceives the perfect tense of 6:39 to be saying. The “give” of John 6:37 is the same Greek word as the “has given” of John 6:39, only a different tense.

    What shall we say to this?  Does the use of the present tense in 6:37 mean the perfect in 6:39 cannot have reference to the same divine act we see in Ephesians 1:4-6?  Not in the least.  So then, why is “give” in the present in 6:37, but the perfect in 6:39?

    The answer is not difficult to see.  John 6:37 speaks of the person coming to Christ in faith.  All that the Father is giving Him, as a result of being given, will come (future tense) to Him.  This fits perfectly with John 6:44, where the Father is actively (and effectively, without failure), drawing those He has given to the Son to Christ.  Sungenis’ point, however, is fully refuted by simply thinking about the use of the present in context.  In John 6:37, the present tense giving results in the future tense coming.  Sungenis’ idea is that our “free will” decision predicates and informs the “giving” of the Father, so that it is our choice that determines the Father’s choice.  But the text refutes this clearly.  Those who will come will do so not out of some mythological “free will” but due to the gracious work of the Father wherein He will draw them to the Son: and the Father performs this miracle of grace only in the lives of those He gives to the Son. 

    Now, it seems Mr. Sungenis is insisting that the present tense here must be emphasizing an on-going action (though, for some reason, the normal meaning of the perfect is said to be less than definitional in 6:39), which while possible, is not the most logical syntactical choice.  In fact, given his position, Sungenis would have to assert a kind of “iterative present” understanding of this present tense verb, since the action of “giving” would be dependent upon the free-will actions of men.  This makes the future action of coming determine the present action of giving, just the opposite of what the text indicates.  Instead, the fact that this present tense is used in tandem with a future tense (gives/will come) throws the emphasis upon the timing of the action into the future, hence the normative translation “All that the Father gives me” (NASB, NIV, KJV “giveth”, NRSV) rather than the unusual “All that the Father is giving me….”  While not fully a “gnomic” present, surely it exists in the same general area, stating a general truth of the Father’s giving of a people to the Son, and the emphasis lies squarely upon the result of that giving, the coming of the elect to Christ.  Contextually this is the point: those who stood before the Lord in unbelief, who, despite seeing miracles, would not come to Him, did not because they were not given to Him by the Father.  This explains their continued unbelief.  To throw the emphasis in 6:37 upon the present tense rather than the future action is to miss the context; to miss the weight of the perfect in 6:39 in defining the will of the Father is likewise an error.  

    Mr. Sungenis responded to this article.  Our reply to that response is over 200K in length, and can be read here.

    1 Cor 3:10-15: Exegesis and Rebuttal of Roman Catholic Misuse – Vintage

     10     According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it.
    11     For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
    12     Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw,
    13     each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work.
    14     If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward.
    15     If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

    This passage of Paul’s first epistle to the church at Corinth has prompted much discussion down through church history.  The context of the preceding ten verses is really quite simple: Paul is discussing the problems that exist in the Corinthian congregation.  He has used harsh words with them, referring to them as “men of flesh” and “infants in Christ.”  He refers to the strife and jealousy that exists among them.  He zeroes in on their partisanship: the fact that they are saying “I am of this Christian leader or that one.”  He reminds them that leaders are but servants of the Lord, and that it was the Lord that even gave those servants the opportunity to preach the gospel to them.  He writes in verse 6, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.”  God used Paul and Apollos as means, but the growth was caused by God, not by the Christian leaders themselves.  At this point then Paul begins to speak of the role Christian leaders have in the work of the Church.  Note his words:

    8     Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor.  9  For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.

    Verse 8 provides the first reference to “reward,” and it is clearly in the context of the Christian leaders who labor in the work of ministry.  It will be significant to note that the phrase “receive a reward” in verse 8 is identical in terminology to the same phrase in verse 14.  Since in this context we know that the planting and watering mentioned goes back to Paul and Apollos, the topic remains consistent throughout this passage.  Paul then speaks of himself and Apollos as “God’s fellow workers,” and they labor in this high calling in God’s field.  He uses two terms, field and building, but picks up only on the second, “God’s building.”  A fellow worker of God works in building God’s building, and that building is the church.

    This then brings us to the main passage.  Verses 10-15 give us an illustration of how weighty it is to minister in the church, and how God will someday manifest the motivations of the hearts of all those who have engaged in that work.  Then in verses 16-17 Paul adds a further warning, speaking of God’s certain judgment upon those who do not build, but instead tear down, or destroy.  There is an obvious movement between 10-15 and 16-17, for in 10-15 the metaphor remains the construction of a building upon a foundation; in 16-17 this switches to the metaphor of the temple of God, already constructed.  Further, in 10-15 the “certain ones” are those who are indeed building upon the foundation, even if they have less than perfect motivations or understanding; the certain one in verses 16-17 is not building anything at all, but is instead tearing down and ruining what has already been built.  This distinction is important as well, as we shall see.

    10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. 11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

    Paul continues the context, insisting that by God’s grace he has laid a foundation, knowing that others would build upon that same foundation.  This foundation, of course, refers to the work of ministry in building up the church that he has engaged in.  But there is an element of personal responsibility that is part of ministry in Christ’s church: a man must be “careful” how he builds upon the foundation, which Paul reminds us is holy.  The only foundation of the church is Jesus Christ Himself.  So just as we are to have an attitude of fear and trembling when considering that it is the holy God who is at work within us, working out our salvation (Philippians 2:12-13), so the minister is to recognize that ministry in the church is a holy task, and he must “look well” (a literal understanding of the Greek) upon how he goes about this work.  This leads to further expansion upon this thought in the following section.

    12 Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work.

    The first thing to see in v. 12 is that we are still talking about the same group: Christian workers.  Those under discussion build upon the foundation.  We will see that in vv. 16-17 Paul refers to a different group, those who do not build, but instead tear down.  So we have one group who build upon the one foundation, but with different quality “materials.”  Now obviously, the terms gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay and straw, are all figures of speech, metaphors.  Christian leaders are not known for having an abundance of gold, silver, or precious stones, let alone is the “building” being done here a literal activity either.  These are terms referring, as Paul himself puts it, to “the quality of each man’s work.”  Some labor selflessly and in obscurity with motivations pure and honorable, while others have mixed motivations, tinged to a lesser or greater degree by selfishness and vainglory (cf. Phil 2:3-4).  During this lifetime we cannot necessarily know which Christian leaders, even within the bounds of orthodox teaching and practice, are doing what they do with motivations that are pleasing to God.  But Paul is reminding us that such will not always be the case: God will reward those who have labored diligently for His glory in that day when all the secrets of men’s hearts will be revealed.

    Paul says that each man’s work “will become evident, for the day will show it.”  The nature of the Christian minister’s work will be plain and clear: the lack of clarity that exists during this lifetime will no longer cloud our vision at the judgment.  What a tremendously sobering thought for those who labor in building upon the foundation of Jesus Christ!  God, who searches the hearts, will reveal our true motivations on that day! 

    The revelation of whether one’s ministerial works are precious and lasting, or surface-level and temporary, will be accomplished “by fire.”  Obviously, fire differentiates, at the most basic level, between gold and wood, silver and straw, precious stones and stubble.  The precious elements withstand the fire’s presence, whereas the others are consumed in their entirety.  Given that it has already been established that gold and silver, etc., are figures for the quality of men’s works, so it follows inexorably that “fire” refers to a testing that makes its verdict as clear as the destruction of wood, hay, and stubble by the raging flames of a fire. The works that were not done to God’s glory are destroyed, while those works having the proper character pass through unharmed. 

    14 If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward.  15 If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

    The context continues, unbroken.  Note the repetition of the preceding concept of “building” on the “foundation.”  If a man’s work, built upon the foundation of Christ in the church, remains in the presence of the judgment of God, he receives a reward.  But in direct parallel, if another worker’s labors are burned up, he will suffer loss.  The opposite of the reception of a reward is to suffer loss.  The Greek term Paul uses is translated by the vast majority of recognized translations as “suffer loss,” and there is a reason for this.  Despite the fact that you can render the term as “punish,” its normative meaning, especially in the NT, refers to experiencing the opposite of gain (i.e., loss), and often what is not gained is found in the immediate context of the words use.  For example:

    More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, (Philippians 3:8 )

    Obviously, this does not mean Paul has been “punished,” but has “suffered the loss” of all things.  The same is true in Jesus’ use of the term:

    “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? (Matthew 16:26, see also Mark 8:36, Luke 9:25)

    In 1 Corinthians 3:15, the term is used in a context that provides a direct correlation to the term: the one whose work remains receives a reward, so the one whose work is burned up does not, hence, they suffer loss (for further information on this word, see TDNT 2:888).

    We are reminded, however, that despite the seriousness of the loss of reward for the Christian worker, we are still talking about those who have found salvation in the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ.  Paul tells us that despite suffering loss, these are saved, “yet so as through fire.”  This in no way makes the judgment of the motivations of Christian workers a trivial matter: it is obvious that for Paul, who himself faced this test, it was not.  But it also safeguards against the misuse of his teaching.  No one can argue that one’s salvation is based upon the works one does: this is not his teaching here, nor anywhere else.  A man is justified before God by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to him, and the imputation of the man’s sin to Christ, the perfect substitute, who bears in His body the sins of His people upon Calvary (Romans 3:20-4:8).  But this is not his subject here.  The context has remained constant: the revelation of the motivations of the hearts of Christian workers.

    In a perfect world it would not be necessary to go beyond the mere exegesis of the text to understand Paul’s meaning and intention.  But we do not live in such a world.  In God’s providential wisdom, we live in a time when the church must struggle against false teaching and false teachers (Acts 20:24ff).  Specifically, the truth of God’s sovereign grace is attacked by Roman Catholicism, and its man-centered sacramentalism.  One of the most egregious attacks upon the finished nature of Christ’s work on Calvary is the dogma of purgatory.  We have often engaged in debate on this topic (see, for example, the debate against Fr. Peter Stravinskas on this topic, May, 2001).  Rome attempts to enlist this passage in support of its doctrine, but in the process engages in gross eisegesis of the text, missing its plain meaning, and inserting concepts utterly foreign to Paul’s theology.  Just a few items should be noted that, in light of the preceding comments, should be sufficient for any person not committed to the ultimacy of Roman authority.

    First, the passage is about Christian workers, not all the Christian faithful. 

    Next, the passage says nothing about the purification of individuals.  Works are tested in this passage.  Rome teaches souls are purified from the temporal punishment of sins by suffering satispassio in purgatory: but there is nothing about temporal punishments, satispassio, or suffering of individuals for their sins, in this passage.  All these are extraneous to the text itself.

    Further, the insertion of the Roman concepts into the passage turns it on its head.  Remember, those with works of gold, silver, and precious stones (i.e., Christian workers who had godly motivations) appear in this passage: their works are subject to the same testing as the others.  If this “fire” is relevant to purgatory, then are we to assume that even those with godly motives “suffer”?  Are there no saints involved in building upon the foundation?

    But most telling is this:  the fire of which Paul speaks reveals. It does not purge.  If this were the fire of Rome’s purgatory, it would not simply demonstrate that gold is, in fact, gold, or hay is truly hay.  The sufferings of purgatory are supposed to sanctify and change a persons soul, enabling them to enter into the very presence of God!  If this passage supported Rome’s position, it would speak of purifying the gold, making it more pure, spotless, precious, and ready for God’s presence.  It would speak of the fire removing wood or other “impurities” from a person’s soul, not simply telling us that the works a Christian minister did were or were not done with God’s sole glory in mind.  But the text speaks of a revelation of the quality of a man’s work, which is wholly incompatible with Rome’s use of the passage.

    Modern Roman Catholics have started to move away from the term “fire” (though this was, inarguably, what attracted the attention of Rome to the passage in the first place), and seek to focus more upon the suffering of a loss, so that only the second group is seen as being relevant to purgatory.  Of course, this is made possible by the constant repetition of the assertion, “Rome has never officially declared the meaning of this passage, nor that there is fire in purgatory, nor that purgatory is a place, nor that we experience time in purgatory…” etc and etc.  The fact that one can go into history and determine with great clarity what was taught and believed only a few centuries ago does not seem to matter.

    In a world where serious theology and understanding of God’s truth is rarely found in the words of modern “Christian music,” the exceptions to the rule shine most brightly.  My friend, Derek Webb, sings with Caedmon’s Call.  Their most recent CD, In the Company of Angels, features Derek singing an Isaac Watts classic, I Boast No More.  Consider well these tremendous words:  

    No more my God, I boast no more.
    Of all the duties I have done

    I quit the hopes I held before,

    To trust the merits of Thy Son.

    No more my God, no more my God

    No more my God, I boast no more.
    Now for the loss I bear His name,
    What was my gain I count my loss

    My former pride I call my shame

    And nail my glory to His cross.
    No more my God, no more my God

    No more my God, I boast no more. 

    Yes, and I must, I will esteem

    All things but loss for Jesus’ sake

    O may my soul be found in Him

    And of His righteousness partake
    The best obedience of my hands

    Dares not appear before Thy throne,

    But faith can answer Thy demands,

    By pleading what my Lord has done
    No more my God, no more my God

    No more my God, I boast no more.

    No more my God, no more my God

    No more my God, I boast no more.

    Finally, it should be noted that in Roman Catholic theology, a person sent to purgatory has already been judged to be in need of further purging (sanctification) before entering into the presence of God.  Yet, there is no mention of such a judgment here; in fact, most RC interpretations see this as the judgment itself.

    An Example From Roman Catholic Scholarship: The Jerome Biblical Commentary

    A fascinating example of the divide between what the text says and what a Roman Catholic needs it to say is provided by the Jerome Biblical Commentary.  Note the interpretation provided by this Roman Catholic source:

    10. Developing the metaphor, Paul describes his ministry and the responsibility of all who follow him, as they build upon the foundation he has laid.11. Christ, as the unique foundation, may be an allusion to Is 28:16 or Ps 118:22 (cf. Eph 2:20 and 1 Pt 2:6-8). This Christ, Preached by Paul, dwells in the hearts of the faithful (Eph 3:17) and communicates his Spirit to them. Succeeding preachers must take care how they build on this foundation.13. the Day: The Lord’s Day when Christ returns as victorious judge (1 Thes 5:4). fire: It is to test the quality of various building materials. Fire is the customary biblical metaphor describing the might and majesty of the divine judgment. it: Probably the neut. pron. auto refers to ergon, “work.” The fire tests the work, destroying what is of poor quality and perishable.14. A wage will be paid only for good, durable work.15. The man whose work will not endure the searching test of judgment will suffer a loss. Like one escaping from a burning house, he will be saved, but his work and his reward will be lost. This metaphor clearly teaches the responsibility of ministers of the gospel, who will be rewarded or punished for the manner in which they have fulfilled their ministry. That the preacher will be saved implies that his sins were not serious and have not ruined the Christian community, because God destroys such a one. 

    To this point all is well: the Roman Catholic exegete follows the text, sees the context, recognizes the meaning of the words.  But since Rome has defined more than this in her teachings, something must be said about purgatory:

    Although the doctrine of purgatory is not taught in this passage, it does find support in it. The metaphor suggests an expiatory punishment–which is not damnation–for faults that, although not excluding salvation, merit punishment. When Paul wrote this epistle he was still hoping for the coming of the Lord’s Day in his lifetime. Consequently, he locates this expiatory punishment at the final judgment.

    Where does one find the basis, in the exegesis offered by the commentary itself, for the assertion that there is an “expiatory punishment” in the passage, especially when this involves, in the Roman context, the punishment of the person and not an examination of the works he performed?  All of the elements of Rome’s concept of purgation, including temporal punishments, satispassio, etc., are absent from both the text and the interpretation offered by the commentary itself, and yet we have the unfounded assertion that while the text does not teach purgatory, purgatory finds support within the text.

    Robert Sungenis’ Attempt to Connect 1 Corinthians 3 with Purgatory

                Not long after his conversion to Catholicism, Robert Sungenis wrote an article for the November/December, 1994 issue of The Catholic Answer (the article has been distributed widely on the Internet; here is one location:  In it he attempts to conform the passage to the teachings of the Roman magisterium.  In light of the above exegesis, a brief review of his comments is most useful.

    For Protestants, 1 Corinthians 3:15 certainly ranks as one of the Pauline passages of which Peter comments in his second epistle: “In his writings there are some things hard to understand . . .”

    This simply is not true.  The passage is not difficult at all, and without the insertion of anachronistic Roman Catholic concepts that developed centuries later, there really would not be any meaningful question about its teaching.

    The idea that Christ will someday judge the work of the Christian to determine its value, and that some Christians will suffer for their bad works done on earth but still be saved by fire, presents some difficult and complex ideas of Pauline theology that do not mesh well with the Protestant concept of justification by faith alone.

    Mr. Sungenis, it should be remembered, swung from the Boston Church of Christ to the views of Harold Camping to Presbyterianism, all in a relatively short space of time.  Hence, his recollections of what Protestants “believe” is often rather fuzzy, and hence inaccurate.  There is, of course, nothing contradictory between asserting that the motivations of Christian workers will be made known at the end of time and that those who had pure motives will receive a reward and those who did not will suffer loss (not “will suffer” as in a judicial sense of “satispassio”).  There is nothing in justification by grace through faith alone that is in any way out of harmony with such a revelation of motivations, an opening of hearts.

    Paul’s emphasis on whether one is saved as a direct result of his works seems to defy the very tenets of justification by faith that Protestants thought he established so well in the Epistles to the Romans and Galatians.

    Of course, Paul makes no such emphasis here, or anywhere else.  The judgment is of works relative to reward, not to salvation.  All judged here were Christian workers: their salvation was already a matter of fact.

    As a result, Protestant theologians have formulated surprising interpretations of 1 Cor 3:15 in a desperate attempt to corroborate this obscure passage with the principles of sola fide theology.

    This is little more than rhetoric.  When one considers the highly anachronistic interpretations offered by Rome of all the passages relevant to purgatory, as well as such passages as John 19:26, or Luke 1:28, speaking of “desperate attempts” becomes almost humorous.  In fact, as to the actual interpretation of the passage itself, the Jerome Biblical Commentary is in perfect harmony with Protestant interpretation.  It is only after giving the obvious meaning that it attempts to find a way of attaching a purgatorial concept.

    In these efforts. Protestants find themselves stumbling over Paul’s plain words, and as a consequence, end up producing all kinds of distortions to the text and contradictions to their own theology.

    More rhetoric that lacks substantial backing.

    Classical Catholic interpretation has always understood 1 Cor 3:15 as referring to the state of purgatory in which the temporal punishment due to sins committed on earth is sustained, as well as the purging of all imperfections not acceptable for entrance into heaven.

    Roman Catholic apologists live in a world where double-standards abound.  When speaking to their own followers, terms like “always” abound, as if there is a unified, consistent, easily discerned “tradition” to which to refer.  But, as soon as anyone points out counter-citations from those same sources, all of a sudden we begin to hear either about how that was an early Father speaking “as a private theologian” and “not for the universal church,” or, the spirit of Newman arises to make all historical issues “go away” since we can just rely upon “development” anyway.  While Mr. Sungenis does not identify what “classical Catholic interpretation” is, given what comes after this, we can assume that he is not referring to the position taken only over the past few centuries.

    The doctrine of purgatory has the unanimous support of the Church Fathers who addressed the matter, either in direct references to an intermediate state prior to heaven, or in reference to prayers for the dead. Fathers Tertullian, Origen, Cyprian, Lactantius, Eusebius, Cyril, Gregory of Nyssa, Epiphanius, Jerome, Ambrose, John Chrysostom, Augustine, Gregory the Great, Venerable Bede and second-millennium theologians such as Anselm, Bernard, Aquinas and Bonaventure supported the doctrine of purgatory.

    This is truly a classic example of the utter misuse of historical sources in the service of Rome.  Consider, for example, the breadth of the beliefs represented by Tertullian or Gregory the Great—no serious scholar suggests that what Tertullian believed regarding prayers for the dead, for example, is the same as what Gregory the Great believed about purgation after death.  Not only had there been a number of developments during the intervening centuries, but the sources Gregory accepted as relevant were much wider (and less orthodox) than those used by Tertullian.  To say these all “supported the doctrine of purgatory” is to make a statement that has no meaning: Tertullian speaks of prayers for refrigerium for those who have died.  This is nothing like Gregory; Augustine’s view is different than either one.  Origen’s entire theology was wildly off-base, so throwing him into the mix is hardly a positive thing for anyone interested in truly biblical theology.  And so it goes.  To say these all “supported the doctrine of purgatory” puts words and concepts into the mouths and theologies of men who would not recognize the modern Roman dogma at all.

    Both purgatory and prayers for the dead were upheld by the major councils, beginning with the Council of Carthage in 394 A.D. to the Council of Trent in 1554 A.D. Evidence of prayers for the dead also appeared in inscriptions on the walls of Christian catacombs in the very early years of the Church. In addition, all the liturgies of the early Church, without exception, made references to prayers for the dead.

    What Mr. Sungenis does not mention is that these prayers were requests for refrigerium, that is, for the joy of those who have gone on, not for redemption or release from the sufferings of purgatory!  The “prayers for the dead = purgatory” equation, despite its constant repetition, simply does not support the weight put upon it.

    Despite this evidence, the Protestant Reformation rejected the doctrine of purgatory, as well as prayers for the dead.

    It would be significantly more accurate to point out the exegetical and historical reasons non-Catholics have presented against purgatory than to misrepresent the situation as a mere ignoring of supposed “evidence,” especially when that “evidence” fails muster, as we have seen.

    However, not until the later stages of the Reformation was the doctrine of purgatory rejected outright. Luther, as late as 1519, had said that the existence of purgatory was undeniable.

    The reader familiar with the history of the Reformation cannot help but smile a bit at the phrase, “as late as 1519….”  Given that Luther viewed himself as a faithful son of the Church in October of 1517, and that he went through his greatest period of study, consideration, and writing between 1518 and 1521, to speak of 1519 as “late” in the Reformation is humorous.  In reality, 1519 is “within a matter of months of the posting of the 95 Theses,” and very early in the history of the Reformation.  

    James R. White, a staunch Calvinist and prolific anti-Catholic,

    Remember, “anti-Catholic” is the term RC apologists use to make sure their Roman Catholic readers will be biased against the person they are citing.  If Protestants introduced Roman Catholic apologists as “anti-Protestants” or “anti-Baptists” with such regularity there would be no end to the complaints.  The double-standard has always been, and remains, striking.

    has written the following on 1 Cor 3:15: “But aside from this, nothing can be found to substantiate a concept of purgatory. What is judged is the sort or kind of works the Christian has done. Sins, and their punishments, are not even mentioned. It is works that are judged and put through the fire … we must strongly affirm that this judgment is not a judgment relative to sin but to works and rewards.”

    That’s from The Fatal Flaw, p. 179.

    Similar to White’s view, the typical evangelical/fundamentalist interpretation of 1 Cor 3:14-15 views it as a preliminary judgment for Christians in which those with an abundance of good works will be personally rewarded with a crown, or some other accolade, while those with an excess of bad works will lose their chance for a personal reward. The rewards depend on the type and amount of good work performed.

    The reader should realize that Mr. Sungenis’ experience of the “evangelical/fundamentalist” viewpoint included such wildly divergent groups as Harold Camping’s “Family Radio” and the Boston Church of Christ.  It is surely not the Reformed, or even scholarly, interpretation of the passage that is here presented.  The passage is plainly about Christian leaders and their building upon the “foundation” that Paul had laid.  Surely there are those who may provide a shallow, or a-contextual reading of the text, but that is hardly relevant to the point at hand.

    The notion of “barely being saved” is even borne out in Protestant translations of the verse which paraphrase it into a description of a man who narrowly escapes from a burning building, (e.g., The New International Version: “He himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through flames”).

    The Jerome Biblical Commentary has, “Like one escaping from a burning house, he will be saved, but his work and his reward will be lost.”  Why would a Catholic commentary “paraphrase” the text as well?

    The most curious aspect about these interpretations of 1 Cor 3:14-15 is that they seem more Catholic than Protestant, and as a result, are not very consistent with sola fide theology. Works are not supposed to be a criterion for how close or far one is from salvation since, in Protestant theology, one is saved strictly by faith, not works.

    Again, Mr. Sungenis’ knowledge of what he calls “sola fide theology” is highly suspect.  The passage does not in any way identify works as a “criterion for how close or far one is from salvation” in the first place; further, in actual historic Protestant theology, one is saved strictly by grace through faith. 

    The logical question that surfaces is: If faith, as Protestants believe, is the only virtue that justifies one before God,

    Of course, the actual position is, “Christ’s work, finished and complete, is the perfect basis of one’s relationship with God.”  The “virtue,” if one will even use such a term, is all of Christ, not of man.

    on what basis can someone’s works advance or retard his chances for salvation? In addition, if works are just “fruits of salvation,” as Protestants teach, why are these works being judged at all, and on what judicial basis are they rewarded or rejected’?

    Because, as the text clearly indicates, it is God’s will to reveal the motivations of Christian leaders at the end of time, and to reward those servants who engaged in His work of ministry with proper motivations.  They are judged on the basis of God’s knowledge of the hearts of all men. 

    “Works” are understood as judicially neutral actions that have no possibility of making one fall under God’s eternal judgment. Hence, anytime the Scripture specifies a judgment for the Christian’s works, Protestants presuppose that the bad works cannot be equated with sin. Since it is believed that Christ paid the punishment for all the Christian’s sins, thus making judgment for sin complete, it is concluded that the judgment for bad works in 1 Cor 3:13-15 must necessarily exclude any evaluation or penalty for one’s sins. Once they are made to be totally separate from sin, Protestant “works” are then available to be judged by their own merits or demerits.

    Note that the context of this referring to Christian leaders is ignored. Beyond this, the statement of the text itself, that the judgment is not in regards to salvation, but to reward, is skipped over.  It is hard to avoid concluding that Mr. Sungenis does not, in fact, believe that Christ paid the punishment for all the Christian’s sins, and this is indeed his position.  As he asserted in our debate on justification in May of 2000, many sons of God will be in hell.  The vast chasm that separates the God-centered gospel of Scripture and the man-centered message of Rome can hardly be more highly contrasted than in these discussions.

    The fact that the “works that are burned” in 1 Cor 3:15 refer to sin can be gleaned from many biblical sources, not the least of which is the immediate and extended context of the passage itself. For example, in verse 17, Paul includes the warning that if anyone destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him. How one builds for God has been a pivotal point of discussion in the preceding context. For example, some are said to build with gold, silver and precious stone, while others build with wood, hay and stubble (verse 12). Apparently, those who persistently and deliberately build with defective materials, and end up destroying the temple of God, will receive the worst punishment – it is stipulated that they will be destroyed by God (verse 17).

    I hope the reader will note well the reverse order of interpretation that leads to this glaring example of eisegesis.  Written and spoken words start at one point and move to the next: we interpret them by starting at the beginning and moving forward.  You interpret verse 1, then verse 2, etc.  Surely, verse 27 may have something to do with verse 1, but you don’t jump in at verse 27 and use the conclusions you come to there to interpret verse 1.  In the same way, the logical means of understanding Paul’s point here is to start at the beginning of chapter three, determine the context, and follow the train of thought through the passage.  When one does this, one realizes that there is a great distinction between 16-17 and 14-15: specifically, in 14-15 we have Christian workers who build, but in 16-17 we have an individual who does not build, but instead, tears down or destroys.  Mr. Sungenis needs to find a way around Paul’s direct point, so he does so by 1) ignoring the context (the revelation of the motives of Christian workers), 2) bringing up issues of sin vs. bad or good works, 3) jumping to verse 17 and taking its warning and inserting it back into a previous (and contradictory) context, 4) turns the building of God into the temple (this transition is made in 16, but Sungenis pushes it back into the previous context), and finally, 5) conflating, against the context of the text itself, 16-17 and coming up with a concept utterly unfounded in the text itself: the creation of a group who “persistently and deliberately build with defective materials, and end up destroying the temple of God.”  Paul nowhere says that those who were builders become those who tear down.  Verses 16-17 emphasize the importance of God’s people as His temple, and His concern for its purity, and the grave danger awaiting His enemies.  Since Paul’s point in the previous verses will not support the Roman position, eisegesis is the last resort.

    Obviously, in light of such harsh punishment, Paul does not view the actions of the brother who deliberately builds with defective materials and eventually destroys the temple as judicially neutral. He has committed a very serious sin which is adjudicated by a very serious punishment. Since the man of verse 15 has also built the temple with defective materials, albeit less destructive than the man of verse 17, his sin is of a lesser degree – but it is still sin 

    Very little of the rest of Mr. Sungenis’ comments are really relevant, since this is the heart of his assertion.  Notice that he speaks of the one destroyed by God as a “brother.”  It is vital that he extend the context of 10-15 to include 16-17 so that he can define the works which are judged as sins which can also bring the final judgment of God.  Without this effort, his entire attempt fails.  But we have already seen that, in fact, this entire effort contradicts the text and is unwarranted.  Sungenis’ position collapses when it is seen as the eisegetical effort it truly is.

    Later in his article Sungenis continues to attempt to turn Paul’s discussion of the revelation of the motives of Christian leaders into a discussion of sin and its punishment.  In passing he says,

    These definitions of sin do not leave much room for the so-called “bad works” of Protestant theology to be anything other than sin. One of the typical ways in which Protestant theologians attempt to show some difference between sins and bad works is by stressing the “motivation” of the action. Hence, James White claims in his book “The Fatal Flaw,”: “For the Christian, the idea of not being able to present to his Lord works that were done for the proper motivation … is a terrifying one indeed.” This is another example of a theological fabrication to make the verse fit into one’s preconceived ideas.

    Given that we have already listened to the apostle Paul himself speak of the testing of the works of Christian leaders so that it might be made known “of what sort” they are (something Paul never says of sins!), we can see very quickly who is actually engaging in the “theological fabrication” so as to fit a text into one’s preconceived ideas! 

    Scripture simply does not teach that bad motivations are sinless.

    This is another common debate tactic: prove what is not disputed.  What Mr. Sungenis fails to allow for is that 1) Paul can address the revelation of who engaged in ministry for proper reasons and who did not without turning the context into one of judgment of sin, 2) that a person can be a Christian, have their sins forgiven completely in Christ, and still have the quality of their works as a Christian revealed in the last day.  Evidently, Paul could never address the examination of the motives of Christian leaders working in the church without at the same time raising the issue of the punishment of sin.

    Following this, Sungenis attempts to draw parallels to other passages, but each one fails the simple test of context: he simply will not allow for the reading of the text provided above.  Of course, given that Mr. Sungenis likewise rejects sola scriptura and embraces the ultimate authority of Rome, I would assert that true textually-based exegesis is not something he can faithfully engage in anyway (i.e., this would involve a fundamental contradiction of his beginning commitment to Rome’s authority).  Under “The Catholic Solution,” Sungenis takes the over-riding thesis he has attempted to argue (mainly from texts other than the one allegedly under consideration), that being that “bad works” are sins (hence, if Christian worker’s motivations are judged, this must mean there is a post-mortem judgment for sin), and says:

    Consequently, since “bad works” are sins, as Catholic theology teaches, then indeed Christians will be judged for their sins and recompensed accordingly. Some will be “destroyed,” some will “be saved by fire,” and others will receive their heavenly reward immediately.

    We again note that this ignores the text’s own distinction between 14-15 and 16-17, and it likewise makes a mockery of Jesus’ ability to save His own.  Of course, Roman Catholic soteriology is very man-centered, hence, the idea that Jesus is able to save completely without human cooperation is not a part of the system.  Note just a few more elements of this article:

    First, it is clear from 1 Cor 3:17 that those who deliberately and consistently build with defective materials in an attempt to destroy the temple of God are to receive the ultimate punishment – they will be destroyed by God Himself.

    There is, of course, nothing in the text that speaks of “deliberately and consistently building with defective materials,” but Mr. Sungenis is certain of it anyhow.  This is pure eisegesis.

    The final destruction Paul has in view refers to eternal damnation (cf., Ezekiel 13:10-16; 22:28-30; Luke 12:47; Hebrews 10:26-39). Second, 1 Cor 3:8 and 3:14 speaks of those whose work survives the test of fire and who will be rewarded according to their labor. The better his work, the better his reward. The reward refers to the eternal state of heaven in which, as Catholic doctrine teaches, those who have been more dedicated to the work of Christ will receive a greater reward or higher place in heaven.

    One immediately has to ask, if this is true, what the “loss” of those “saved by fire” is?  If the “reward” is the eternal state of heaven, and those whose works are burned up do not receive a reward, as v. 15 says, yet they are saved, then where do they go?

    Third, 1 Cor 3:15 speaks of a man who builds with defective material, but it is not to the same degree as the man in verse 17 who ends up destroying the temple.

    One looks in vain for “same degree” or greater degree or anything even slightly relevant thereto in the text.

    Based on the difference in degree, the man in verse 15 is eventually saved, but the man in verse 17 is not. The “fire” endured by the man in verse 15 that eventually leads to his salvation is what Catholic theology understands as the state of purgatory.

    The person who has carefully followed the argument cannot help but see the tremendous self-contradiction the Roman position brings to the text.  Those in v. 14 have their works tested by fire…but according to Sungenis, they receive eternal salvation, since theirs are “good works.”  But wait…if the fire that burns up the works of those in v. 15 is purgatory, why isn’t it for those in v. 14?  See what happens when you force Roman tradition upon a simple Scripture that has nothing to do with what Rome says it is teaching?  The result is endless contradiction.  Despite the glaring contradictions already seen, Sungenis plows on,

    Hence, the three divisions of 1 Cor 3:14-17 are describing: heaven (verse 14), purgatory (verse 15) and hell (verse 17).

    As we have seen, 14-15 both experience the same testing, destroying the glib, and erroneous, distinction Sungenis inserts into the text. 

    The Catholic understanding of mortal and venial sins also comes into play here. The man of 1 Cor 3:17 has committed unrepentant mortal sin, and thus he is banished to hell (1 Jn 5:16). In God’s eyes, blaspheming His name and destroying His Church are very serious sins. On the other hand, the man of 1 Cor 3:15 has also committed sin, but not as seriously or consistently. These types of sins are what Catholic theology calls venial sins (1 Jn 5:17). They do not take away sanctifying grace that leads to eternal life, but one is accountable to God for them, and will suffer the temporal punishment due them either in this life or in purgatory.

    The reader can readily see that in fact this is where Sungenis is deriving his teaching.  Indeed, the text of 1 Corinthians 3:10-17 is more of a hindrance to him, than a help.  Paul knew nothing of mortal versus venial sins, and all the rest of this kind of theology, that Rome imports into the text.  Following this, Sungenis discusses the Greek term translated “suffer loss” and, of course, opts for the idea of “punishment,” though he does not deal with the information we presented above, that being that the context does not support the rendering “punishment,” as the phrase is directly parallel to verse 14.  In Sungenis’ eisegesis, there is a great chasm between 14 and 15, not only regarding this term and its parallel to “receive a reward,” but in regards to the idea of types of sin, rewards, etc.

    The Empty Hand of Faith – Vintage

    “Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness . . . For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants.”

    —Romans 4:4-5, 16

    “That I may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.”

    —Philippians 3:9

    “Faith is chosen by God to be the receiver of salvation, because it does not pretend to create salvation, nor to help in it, but it is content humbly to receive it. Faith is the tongue that begs pardon, the hand which receives it, and the eye which sees it; but it is not the price which buys it. Faith never makes herself her own plea, she rests all her argument upon the blood of Christ. She becomes a good servant to bring the riches of the Lord Jesus to the soul, because she acknowledges whence she drew them, and owns that grace alone entrusted her with them.”

    —Charles Spurgeon, All of Grace

    The single most amazing truth about the Gospel of Jesus Christ is this: it is all of grace. It is the work of God, not of man. It is the story of a powerful Savior who redeems His people, and He does so completely. It is about a sovereign God, a perfect Savior, and an accomplished redemption.

    In the above quoted Scripture we hear the very message of life itself. We first hear about our inability: if we think we can “work” to gain something from God, we do not understand how truly lost we are. The one who works receives only his wages, not righteousness. But to the one who does not come to God with any idea of merit or earning, but instead trusts in the God who justifies the ungodly, that kind of faith is reckoned to him as righteousness. It is a faith that comes with empty hand, claiming nothing for itself, but seeking its all in Christ. This empty-handed faith is the kind of faith that results in a right standing with God.

    Next we hear about God’s ability: since faith comes with empty hand, it finds in the grace of God all that it could ever need or want. God’s grace is powerful, and it brings full salvation to the soul of the person who despairs of anything other than free, unmerited grace. Grace cannot clasp the hand that carries within it ideas of merit, or good works, or any other kind of human addition to grace. “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace” (Romans 11:6). God’s wondrous grace cannot be mixed with human merit. The hand that holds onto its own alleged goodness, or attempts to sneak in a merit here, a good work there, will not find the open hand of God’s grace. Only the empty hand fits into the powerful hand of grace. Only the person who finds in Christ his all-in-all will, in so finding, be made right with God. This is why the Scriptures say it is by faith so that it might be in accordance with grace: in God’s wisdom, he excludes man’s boasting by making salvation all of grace.

    Finally, we see the certainty of salvation: because God saves by His all-powerful and undeserved mercy and grace, the promise of salvation is “guaranteed” or made firm and unmovable to everyone who extends that empty but believing hand to His all powerful and sovereign grace. If salvation was in the least bit dependent upon the sinner, the promise could never be thought of as firm and unmovable. But since faith brings no idea of self-worth with it, and since grace is by definition free and unmerited, then salvation itself is wholly the work of God (1 Corinthians 1:30-31), and hence it is certain, firm and can be “guaranteed.” Only salvation that is God’s work in its totality can fit this description.

    My friend, do you have the kind of righteousness that Paul spoke of in Philippians 3:9, cited above? Or do you have a standing before God that is based upon what you do, rather than upon what Christ has done in your place? Can you understand why a true Christian cannot help but stand in wonder at these words: “Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not impute to him” (Romans 4:8)? Have your sins been imputed to Christ, and His righteousness imputed to you by faith? Do you know what it means to have Christ not merely as Savior in name, but in fact, so that your entire trust is in Him and in nothing you can ever do? Can you honestly say you trust Him with your eternal destiny, and fully believe He carried your sins on the cross, and has given His righteousness to you, so that you can stand before the holy God? It is my prayer that if you cannot claim Christ in this way, you will give consideration to these truths, and God will be merciful toward you so as to grant you true faith to embrace His gospel. May God richly bless you as you seek His truth.

    Remember this; or you may fall into error by fixing your minds so much upon the faith which is the channel of salvation as to forget the grace which is the fountain and source even of faith itself. Faith is the work of God’s grace in us. . .”No man comes to me,” says Jesus, “except the Father who sent me draws him.” So that faith, which is coming to Christ, is the result of divine drawing. Grace is the first and last moving cause of salvation; and faith, essential as it is, is only an important part of the machinery which grace employs. We are saved “through faith,” but salvation is “by grace.” Sound forth those words as with the archangel’s trumpet: “By grace are you saved.” What glad tidings for the undeserving!

    —Charles Spurgeon, All of Grace

    We highly recommend reading Charles Spurgeon’s classic work, All of Grace.