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Was Anyone Saved at the Cross? – A Biblical Presentation and Defense of Particular Redemption – Vintage

We say Christ so died that he infallibly secured the salvation of a multitude that no man can number, who through Christ’s death not only may be saved, but are saved, must be saved, and cannot by any possibility run the hazard of being anything but saved. —Charles Haddon Spurgeon

There was a time when I called myself a “four-point Calvinist.” There are a lot of people who use that term, and, almost all the time, the one point of the five that they reject is the terrible, horrible, “L”. Limited atonement. There is just something about the term that doesn’t sound right. How can Christ’s atonement be limited? And that is exactly what I said until I began to seriously think about the whole issue. It is my experience that most of those who reject the specific, or limited atonement of Christ, do not *really* believe in the complete sovereignty of God, or the total depravity of man, or the unconditional election of God. Most objections that are lodged against the doctrine are actually objections to one of the preceding points, not against limited atonement itself. The “break” in my thinking came from reading Edwin Palmer’s book, The Five Points of Calvinism. [Edwin H. Palmer, The Five Points of Calvinism (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980) pp. 41-55.] In doing a radio program on the truth of God’s electing grace, I was challenged by a caller in regards to the death of Christ. “Why would Christ die for the whole world if God did not intend to save everyone?” I looked at my co-host, and he looked at me, and I made a mental note to do more study into that particular question. I grabbed Palmer’s book as soon as I returned home, and began to read the chapter on the atoning work of Christ.

I became a full “five-pointer” upon reading the following section:

The question that needs a precise answer is this: Did He or didn’t He? Did Christ actually make a substitutionary sacrifice for sins or didn’t He? If He did, then it was not for all the world, for then all the world would be saved. (Palmer, The Five Points of Calvinism, p. 47.)

I was faced with a decision. If I maintained a “universal” atonement, that is, if I said that Christ died substitutionarily in the place of every single man and woman in all the world, then I was forced to either say that 1) everyone will be saved, or 2) the death of Christ is insufficient to save without additional works. I knew that I was not willing to believe that Christ’s death could not save outside of human actions. So I had to understand that Christ’s death was made in behalf of God’s elect, and that it does accomplish its intention, it does save those for whom it is made. At this point I realized that I had “limited” the atonement all along. In fact, if you do not believe in the Reformed doctrine of “limited atonement,” you believe in a limited atonement anyway! How so? Unless you are a universalist (that is, unless you believe that everyone will be saved), then you believe that the atonement of Christ, if it is made for all men, is limited in its effect. You believe that Christ can die in someone’s place and yet that person may still be lost for eternity. You limit the power and effect of the atonement. I limit the scope of the atonement, while saying that its power and effect is unlimited! One writer expressed it well when he said,

Let there be no misunderstanding at this point. The Arminian limits the atonement as certainly as does the Calvinist. The Calvinist limits the extent of it in that he says it does not apply to all persons…while the Arminian limits the power of it, for he says that in itself it does not actually save anybody. The Calvinist limits it quantitatively, but not qualitatively; the Arminian limits it qualitatively, but not quantitatively. For the Calvinist it is like a narrow bridge that goes all the way across the stream; for the Arminian it is like a great wide bridge that goes only half-way across. As a matter of fact, the Arminian places more severe limitations on the work of Christ than does the Calvinist. (Lorraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1932) p. 153.)

Therefore, we are not talking about presenting some terrible limitation on the work of Christ when we speak of “limited atonement.” In fact, we are actually presenting a far greater view of the work of Christ on Calvary when we say that Christ’s death actually accomplishes something in reality rather than only in theory. The atonement, we believe, was a real, actual, substitutionary one, not a possible, theoretical one that is dependent for its efficacy upon the actions of man. And, as one who often shares the gospel with people involved in false religious systems, I will say that the biblical doctrine of the atonement of Christ is a powerful truth that is the only message that has real impact in dealing with the many heretical teachings about Christ that are present in our world today. Jesus Christ died in behalf of those that the Father had, from eternity, decreed to save. There is absolute unity between the Father and the Son in saving God’s people. The Father decrees their salvation, the Son dies in their place, and the Spirit sanctifies them and conforms them to the image of Christ. This is the consistent testimony of Scripture.

The Intention of the Atonement

Why did Christ come to die? Did He come simply to make salvation possible, or did He come to actually obtain eternal redemption (Hebrews 9:12)? Let’s consider some passages from Scripture in answer to this question.

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost (Luke 19:10).

Here the Lord Jesus Himself speaks of the reason for His coming. He came to seek and to save the lost. Few have a problem with His seeking; many have a problem with the idea that He actually accomplished all of His mission. Jesus, however, made it clear that He came to actually save the lost. He did this by His death.

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst (1 Timothy 1:15).

Paul asserts that the purpose of Christ’s coming into the world was to actually save sinners. Nothing in Paul’s words leads us to the conclusion that is so popular today—that Christ’s death simply makes salvation a possibility rather than a reality. Christ came to save. So, did He? And how did He? Was it not by His death? Most certainly. The atoning death of Christ provides forgiveness of sins for all those for whom it is made. That is why Christ came.

Christ’s Intercessory Work

But because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them (Hebrews 7:24-26).

The New Testament closely connects the work of Christ as our High Priest and intercessor with His death upon the cross. In this passage from Hebrews, we are told that the Lord Jesus, since He lives forever, has an unchangeable or permanent priesthood. He is not like the old priests who passed away, but is a perfect priest, because He remains forever. Because of this He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him. Why? Because He always lives to make intercession for them.

Now, before considering the relationship of the death of Christ to His intercession, I wish to emphasize the fact that the Bible says that Christ is able to save men completely. He is not limited simply to a secondary role as the great Assistor who makes it possible for man to save himself. Those who draw near to God through Christ will find full and complete salvation in Him. Furthermore, we must remember that Christ intercedes for those who draw near to God. I feel that it is obvious that Christ is not interceding for those who are not approaching God through Him. Christ’s intercession is in behalf of the people of God. We shall see how important this is in a moment.

Upon what ground does Christ intercede before the Father? Does He stand before the Father and ask Him to forget His holiness, forget His justice, and simply pass over the sins of men? Of course not. The Son intercedes before the Father on the basis of His death. Christ’s intercession is based upon the fact that He has died as the substitute for God’s people, and, since He has borne their sins in His body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24), He can present His offering before the Father in their place, and intercede for them on this basis. The Son does not ask the Father to compromise His holiness, or to simply pass over sin. Christ took care of sin at Calvary. As we read in Hebrews 9:11-12:

When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.

When Christ entered into the Holy of Holies, He did so “by his own blood.” When He did this, we are told that He had “obtained eternal redemption.” This again is not a theoretical statement, but a statement of fact. Christ did not enter into the Holy of Holies to attempt to gain redemption for His people! He entered in having already accomplished that. So what is He doing? Is His work of intercession another work alongside His sacrificial death? Is His death ineffective without this “other” work? Christ’s intercession is not a second work outside of His death. Rather, Christ is presenting before the Father His perfect and complete sacrifice. He is our High Priest, and the sacrifice He offers in our place is the sacrifice of Himself. He is our Advocate, as John said:

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:1-2. [This passage is often used to deny the specific atonement of Christ; yet, when the parallel passage in John 11:51-52 is consulted, it is clear that John means the “world” to be taken in the same sense that is explained for us in Revelation 5:9-11, where Christ’s death purchases for God men “from every tribe and language and people and nation,” that is, from all the world.]

Christ’s atoning death is clearly connected with His advocacy before the Father. Therefore, we can see the following truths:

1) It is impossible that the Son would not intercede for everyone for whom He died. If Christ dies as their Substitute, how could He not present His sacrifice in their stead before the Father? Can we really believe that Christ would die for someone that He did not intend to save?

2) It is impossible that anyone for whom the Son did not die could receive Christ’s intercession. If Christ did not die in behalf of a certain individual, how could Christ intercede for that individual, since He would have no grounds upon which to seek the Father’s mercy?

3) It is impossible that anyone for whom the Son intercedes could be lost. Can we imagine the Son pleading before the Father, presenting His perfect atonement in behalf of an individual that He wishes to save, and the Father rejecting the Son’s intercession? The Father always hears the Son (John 11:42). Would He not hear the Son’s pleas in behalf of all that the Son desires to save? Furthermore, if we believe that Christ can intercede for someone that the Father will not save, then we must believe either 1) that there is dissension in the Godhead, the Father desiring one thing, the Son another, or 2) that the Father is incapable of doing what the Son desires Him to do. Both positions are utterly impossible.

That Christ does not act as High Priest for all men is clearly seen in His “High Priestly Prayer” in John 17. The Lord clearly distinguishes between the “world” and those who are His throughout the prayer, and verse 9 makes our point very strongly:

I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours.

When Christ prays to the Father, He does not pray for the “world” but for those that have been given to Him by the Father (John 6:37).

For Whom Did Christ Die?

There are a number of Scriptures that teach us that the scope of Christ’s death was limited to the elect. Here are a few of them:

Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28).

The “many” for whom Christ died are the elect of God, just as Isaiah had said long before,

By his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. (Isaiah 53:11)

The Lord Jesus made it clear that His death was for His people when He spoke of the Shepherd and the sheep:

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep….just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep (John 10:11, 15).

The good Shepherd lays down His life in behalf of the sheep. Are all men the sheep of Christ? Certainly not, for most men do not know Christ, and Christ says that His sheep know Him (John 10:14). Further, Jesus specifically told the Jews who did not believe in Him, “but you do not believe because you are not my sheep” (John 10:26). Note that in contrast with the idea that we believe and therefore make ourselves Christ’s sheep, Jesus says that they do not believe because they are not His sheep! Whether one is of Christ’s sheep is the Father’s decision (John 6:37, 8:47), not the sheep’s!

…just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God….husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:2, 25-27).

Christ gave Himself in behalf of His Church, His Body, and that for the purpose of cleansing her and making her holy. If this was His intention for the Church, why would He give Himself for those who are not of the Church? Would He not wish to make these “others” holy as well? Yet, if Christ died for all men, there are many, many who will remain impure for all eternity. Was Christ’s death insufficient to cleanse them? Certainly not. Did He have a different goal in mind in dying for them? [I am not here denying that the death of Christ had effects for all men, indeed, for all of creation. I believe that His death is indeed part of the “summing up of all things” in Christ. But, we are speaking here solely with the salvific effect of the substitutionary atonement of Christ. One might say that Christ’s death has an effect upon those for whom it was not intended as an atoning sacrifice.] No, His sacrificial death in behalf of His Church results in her purification, and this is what He intended for all for whom He died.

He who did not spare His own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring a charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us (Romans 8:32-34).

The Father gave the Son in our place. Who is the “our” of this passage? The text says that it is “those whom God has chosen,” that is, the elect of God. Again, the intercessory work of Christ at the right hand of the Father is presented in perfect harmony with the death of Christ—those for whom Christ died are those for whom He intercedes. And, as this passage shows, if Christ intercedes for someone, who can possibly bring a charge against that person and hope to see them condemned? So we see what we have seen before: Christ dies in someone’s place, He intercedes for them, and they are infallibly saved. Christ’s work is complete and perfect. He is the powerful Savior, and He never fails to accomplish His purpose.

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).

Are all the friends of Christ? Do all own His name? Do all bow before Him and accept Him as Lord? Do all do His commandments (John 15:14)? Then not all are His friends.

While we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good (Titus 2:13-14).

Both the substitutionary element of the cross (gave himself for us) and the purpose thereof (to redeem us…to purify) are forcefully presented to Titus. If it was the purpose of Christ to redeem and purify those for whom He died, can this possibly not take place?

She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).

Christ will save His people from their sins. I ask what Edwin Palmer asked me before: Well, did He? Did He save His people, or did He not?

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20).

This is the common confession of every true believer in Christ. We died with Him, our Substitute, the one who loved us and gave Himself in our behalf.

We have seen, then, that the Word teaches that Christ died for many, for His sheep, for the Church, for the elect of God, for His friends, for a people zealous for good works, for His people, for each and every Christian.

Perfected and Sanctified

One could quite obviously fill entire volumes with a study of the atonement of Christ. [The reader is strongly encouraged to make the effort to read completely a work that stands as a classic in the field: John Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ from Banner of Truth, for a full discussion of the issues surrounding the atonement of Christ.] It is not our purpose to do so here. Instead, we shall close our brief survey of Scripture with these words from Hebrews 10:10-14:

And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifice, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

While we have seen many logical reasons for believing in limited atonement, and we have seen many references to Christ’s death in behalf of His people, this one passage, above all others, to me, makes the doctrine a must. Listen closely to what we are told. First, what is the effect of the one time sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ? What does verse 10 tell us? “We have been made holy,” or, another translation would be, “We have been sanctified.” The Greek language uses the perfect tense here, indicating a past, and completed, action. The death of Christ actually makes us holy. Do we believe this? Did the death of Christ actually sanctify those for whom it was made? Or did it simply make it possible for them to become holy? Again, these are questions that cannot be easily dismissed. The writer goes on to describe how this priest, Jesus, sat down at the right hand of God, unlike the old priests who had to keep performing sacrifices over and over and over again. His work, on the contrary, is perfect and complete. He can rest, for by His one sacrifice He has made perfect those who are experiencing the sanctifying work of the Spirit in their lives. He made them perfect, complete. The term refers to a completion, a finishing. Again, do we believe that Christ’s death does this? And, if we see the plain teaching of Scripture, are we willing to alter our beliefs, and our methods of proclaiming the gospel, to fit the truth?

What of Faith?

One common belief needs to be addressed in passing. Many who believe in a “universal” or non-specific atonement, assert that while Christ died for all, His atonement is only effective for those who believe. We shall discuss the fact that faith itself is the gift of God, given only to the elect of God, in the next chapter. But for now, we defer to the great Puritan writer, John Owen, in answering this question:

To which I may add this dilemma to our Universalists:—God imposed his wrath due unto, and Christ underwent the pains of hell for, either all the sins of all men, or all the sins of some men, or some sins of all men. If the last, some sins of all men, then have all men some sins to answer for, and so shall no man be saved; for if God enter into judgment with us, though it were with all mankind for one sin, no flesh should be justified in his sight: “If the LORD should mark iniquities, who should stand?” Ps. cxxx. 3….If the second, that is it which we affirm, that Christ in their stead and room suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the world. If the first, why, then are not all freed from the punishment of all their sins? You will say, “Because of their unbelief; they will not believe.” But this unbelief, is it a sin, or not? If not, why should they be punished for it? If it be, then Christ underwent the punishment due to it, or not. If so, then why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which he died from partaking of the fruit of his death? If he did not, then he did not die for all their sins. Let them choose which part they will. (John Owen, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, (London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1985) pp. 61-62.)


Some object to the doctrine of limited atonement on very pragmatic grounds. “The doctrine destroys evangelism, because you cannot tell people that Christ died for them, because you don’t know!” Yet, we ask, is there an advantage in presenting to men an atonement that is theoretical, a Savior whose work is incomplete, and a gospel that is but a possibility? What kind of proclamation will God honor with His Spirit: one that is tailored to seek “success,” or one that is bound to the truth of the Word of God? When the Apostles preached the Gospel, they did not say, “Christ died for all men everywhere, and it is up to you to make His work effective.” They taught that Christ died for sinners, and that it was the duty of every man to repent and believe. They knew that only God’s grace could bring about repentance and faith in the human heart. And far from that being a *hindrance* to their evangelistic work, it was the power behind it! They proclaimed a *powerful* Savior, whose work is all sufficient, and who saves men totally and completely! They knew that God was about bringing men to Himself, and, since He is the sovereign of the universe, there is no power on earth that will stay His hand! Now there is a solid basis for evangelism! And what could be more of a comfort to the heart that is racked with guilt than to know that Christ has died for sinners, and that His work is not just theoretical, but is real?

The Church needs to challenge the world again with the daring proclamation of a gospel that is offensive—offensive because it speaks of God saving those whom He will, offensive because it proclaims a sovereign Savior who redeems His people.

An In Channel Debate on Purgatory – James White vs. Various RC Participants – Vintage

On Thursday evening, January 3, 2002, James White was to engage in an in-channel debate with a Roman Catholic from Australia who went by the nick of “velleity.”  Velleity had challenged James in the chat channel on December 30th.  Here is the log of the challenge:

[19:00] <velleity> het NA27 how about you an me have a debate sometime in the future under strict rules?

[19:00] <NA27away> Sure, vell: Resolved: Not A Single Person at the Council of Nicea Believed as Dogma All Things Rome Demands Faith in Today.  πŸ™‚

[19:01] <velleity> when would you like to argue this?

[19:01] <velleity> set a date

[19:01] <NA27away> Well, I head to Long Island January 17th, to it would be best before then….maybe a Thursday evening?

[19:02] <velleity> unless you lookingh for an extemporaneous debate?

[19:03] <velleity> just you and me..no intepolations from the spectators

[19:03] <NA27away> Fine with me.

[19:03] <NA27away> This coming Thursday, then?

[19:03] <velleity> time?

[19:04] <velleity> when you lose..you have to pay a penalty….

[19:04] <NA27away> lol

[19:04] <NA27away> I don’t intend to, vell.

[19:04] <velleity> king charles the 1st never intended to lose his head either

[19:05] <NA27away> And who will “judge” the debate?

[19:07] <velleity> don’t you have those protocols set up??

[19:07] <NA27away> For discussions in a chat channel?  Uh, no.  πŸ™‚

[19:07] <velleity> or do you just declare yourself the winner always??

[19:07] <NA27away> < sigh >

[19:09] <NA27away> Are you interested in discussing that topic this coming Thursday evening or not?

[19:10] <velleity> the topic is rhetorical

[19:10] <velleity> you had better qualify it I think

[19:11] <NA27away> Seems straightforward enough, but if you don’t like that one, suggest another.

[19:13] <velleity> how about we reword the topic?

[19:14] * NA27away has no problem with debating any of the Marian dogmas, too. πŸ™‚

[19:14] <NA27away> Or purgatory.

[19:14] <NA27away> The Papacy.

[19:14] <NA27away> Justification.

[19:14] <NA27away> Election

[19:14] <NA27away> :_)

[19:15] * velleity chooses purgatory

[19:15] <NA27away> lol

[19:15] <NA27away> Bad move.  But anyway….what was your suggestion for rewording the other, anyway?

[19:15] <velleity> never mind..purgatory it is

[19:16] * velleity snickers (this will be a push over)

[19:16] <NA27away> That’s what Fr. Peter Stravinskas thought.  πŸ™‚

[19:16] <velleity> I may even remain conscious for the greater part of the debate

[19:17] <NA27away> Your arrogance does not put you in good stead, I assure you.

[19:17] <velleity> nor does your hubris NA27

[19:17] <NA27away> I defeated Stravinskas in May of 2001 on the subject.  To my knowledge, you have never engaged the topic in a meaningful manner.  At least I know what Rome teaches on the subject. 

[19:18] <velleity> well your knowledge is about to be expaned…

[19:18] <NA27away> I have a history to point to.  I don’t believe you do.  Hence, to proclaim yourself victor before the debate has begun is foolishness.  Be that as it may, when shall we begin?

[19:18] <NA27away> That would be “expanded.”

[19:19] <velleity> just a word of advice though if I may..try not to let your limbic systems take over your proprioceptions..it is not helpful in debates

[19:19] <NA27away> lol

[19:19] <NA27away> What time do you wish to begin?

[19:19] <velleity> your call

[19:20] <NA27away> What time zone are you in?

[19:21] <velleity> nope I wish to totally vanquish him..not just slaughter him πŸ™‚

[19:21] <NA27away> Suggest a format.  Be glad to work it out.  What time zone do you live in?

[19:22] <velleity> I’m in Sydney Australia

[19:23] <velleity> abut we can set the rules now ok?

[19:23] <NA27away> Gracious.  Well, we can begin anywhere from 6-7:30PM MST as far as I’m concerned.

[19:24] <velleity> or you want only your rules?

[19:24] <NA27away> How about fifteen minutes to present an opening position….you can use prepared statements, but you can’t flood (i.e., you need to use a delay in posting).  I would suggest a 4000ms delay so that people can keep up with the scrolling text.

[19:25] <NA27away> Then ten minutes to rebut, no scrolled text.

[19:25] <velleity> done

[19:25] <NA27away> Then fifteen minutes each for cross examination.  No grand standing.

[19:26] <NA27away> Then five minute closing statements, no scrolled text.

[19:26] <NA27away> Then open it to the room for discussion. 

[19:26] <NA27away> Both participants can post unedited versions on their respective websites.

[19:26] * NA27away hopes everyone is logging this. πŸ™‚

[19:26] <velleity> define cross examination..I suggest we alternate…viz…proposition /response etc

[19:27] <NA27away> Cross-examination in a debate involves one side asking questions of the other; questions only, no rebuttal or comment, just questions.

[19:27] <NA27away> Right, we will moderate the channel so that it will be just you and me.

[19:27] <velleity> like being tired to a tree..shooting fish in a barrell πŸ™‚

[19:27] <NA27away> That would be “tied.”

[19:28] <velleity> no tired in your case

[19:28] <NA27away> One thing is for certain: you are not my equal in spelling or typing.  πŸ™‚

[19:28] <NA27away> OK, so, when do we begin Thursday evening, sir?

[19:28] <NA27away> I assume it is sir?

[19:28] <velleity> or modesty

[19:28] <velleity> set the time

[19:29] <NA27away> OK, as 6:30PM would be 8:30PM EST, and a number of our regulars are in the EST, that would be good.

[19:29] <NA27away> It is currently 7:28PM MST, in case you wish to know.

[19:29] <velleity> 8.30pm est it is

[19:29] <NA27away> Excellent.  See you then.

[19:29] <velleity> can hardly wait πŸ™‚

[19:30] <velleity> hardly a challenge

[19:31] * NA27away shakes his head and chuckles.

[19:31] <velleity> if it was a tennis match I’d remove the strings from my racket to make it fair

Well, when 6:30PM Thursday came, there was no sign of velleity.  To the date of the posting of this article, I have heard nothing from this challenger.  However, we had more than fifty people in channel, all looking for a debate on purgatory.  A Roman Catholic using the nick Christian said he would take up the challenge, if velleity did not show.  With that background, we present the “debate that almost was,” hoping that it will still be useful to those who take the time to read through it.

[18:42] <NA27> Greetings! Thank you for being here in #prosapologian this evening.
[18:42] <NA27> This is truly a momentous topic, as it demonstrates with clarity the vast differences
[18:42] <NA27> between the God-centered gospel of Scripture and the man-centered
[18:42] <NA27> sacramentalism of the Roman system.
[18:43] <NA27> Very few know the history of the development over time of this doctrine of purgatory.
[18:43] <NA27> Let’s review, then look at the scant number of Biblical passages Rome has cited in
[18:43] <NA27> defense of this doctrine, and close by noting the vast number of Biblical passages
[18:43] <NA27> that teach contrary to the fundamental elements of the Roman Catholic doctrine of
[18:43] <NA27> purgatory, most specifically, the teaching of Holy Scripture that Christ’s death is
[18:43] <NA27> complete, perfect, finished, and fully propitiatory.
[18:43] <NA27> The sole Jewish source cited, even by the 1994 Catholic Catechism, is 2
[18:43] <NA27> Maccabees 12:39-45, wherein we read of a group of Jewish fighters, all of whom
[18:43] <NA27> were idolaters. They carried pagan idols under their clothing, and God struck them
[18:43] <NA27> down as punishment. This uninspired book, rejected as canonical by such notable
[18:43] <NA27> early Fathers as Melito of Sardis, Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, and Jerome, as
[18:43] <NA27> well as Pope Gregory the Great and at least fifty other major ecclesiastical writers
[18:43] <NA27> up to the time of the Reformation, including Cardinal Cajetan, the prelate who
[18:43] <NA27> interviewed Luther, says that the Jewish leader offered prayers and sacrifices for
[18:43] <NA27> these dead soldiers. It seems that any connection at all with the dead is sufficient at
[18:43] <NA27> this point, for obviously, since idolatry is a mortal sin, and would not send one to
[18:43] <NA27> purgatory, but to hell itself, this passage is hardly supportive of the doctrine we
[18:43] <NA27> examine tonight. At the very best it would have to be said that the passage
[18:44] <NA27> indicates an error in thinking on the part of the Jews, but given its highly unusual
[18:44] <NA27> nature, and the fact that no canonical Scripture supports it, its very use begins to
[18:44] <NA27> illustrate for us the highly questionable nature of purgatory as a dogma of Christian
[18:44] <NA27> faith.
[18:44] <NA27> When we come to the earliest centuries of the Christian church, we find no doctrine
[18:44] <NA27> of purgatory. What we do find fairly early on are prayers for the dead, often cited as
[18:44] <NA27> evidence of at least an implicit concept of purgatory. Yet, as historians such as Le
[18:44] <NA27> Goff point out, these primitive prayers are actually contradictory to the modern
[18:44] <NA27> concept of purgatory. They pray for their loved ones that they might have
[18:44] <NA27> refrigerium, refreshment, and yet this is couched in terms of the pleasures of
[18:44] <NA27> paradise, a state defined as “peace and light.” Mohrmann comments that
[18:44] <NA27> refrigerium referred to “heavenly happiness,” and that, “Among later Christian writers
[18:44] <NA27> refrigerium is used in a general way to denote the joys of the world beyond the
[18:44] <NA27> grave, promised by God to the elect.” Neale, upon collating and studying ancient
[18:44] <NA27> liturgical sources, concluded, “(1) that prayers for the dead…have been from the
[18:44] <NA27> beginning the practice of the Universal Church. (2) And this without any idea of a
[18:44] <NA27> purgatory of pain, or of any state from which the departed soul has to be delivered
[18:44] <NA27> as from one of misery.” The ease with which modern apologists for Roman
[18:44] <NA27> Catholicism point to these prayers without taking serious note of their character, and
[18:45] <NA27> the lack of a meaningful context by which to make them truly supportive of their
[18:45] <NA27> case, should give us reason to examine their claims more carefully. Indeed,
[18:45] <NA27> Tertullian, upon making reference to making oblations on the anniversary of
[18:45] <NA27> someone’s death frankly admitted, “If you look in Scripture for a formal law
[18:45] <NA27> governing these and similar practices, you will find none. It is tradition that justifies
[18:45] <NA27> them, custom that confirms them, and faith that observes them.” (De corona militis
[18:45] <NA27> 3.2-3). What a strange, strange statement if, in fact, the passages Roman Catholic
[18:45] <NA27> apologists cite are, in fact relevant. Evidently, Tertullian recognized that this was
[18:45] <NA27> merely a practice, not a doctrine, let alone a dogma. How time transformed this
[18:45] <NA27> simple practice into something wholly different!
[18:45] <NA27> The chief architects of the earliest concepts that lead to purgatory only decrease our
[18:45] <NA27> confidence in the doctrine. In the East we have Clement of Alexandria and Origen.
[18:45] <NA27> Both wrote extensively, and much of what they said would not be believed by almost
[18:45] <NA27> anyone here this evening, Catholic or Protestant. Both engaged in allegorical
[18:45] <NA27> interpretation that was devoid of meaningful exegetical content, and while Origen did
[18:45] <NA27> know both Greek and Hebrew, his view of Scripture as having all sorts of levels of
[18:45] <NA27> meaning led him to ignore the literal, historical-grammatical meaning and focus
[18:45] <NA27> upon an allegedly higher, “spiritual” meaning. Both likewise were influenced more
[18:45] <NA27> by Plato than by Paul, leading to a strange, and in fact unorthodox, theology. Both
[18:46] <NA27> men were led into wild speculations, especially in regard to the idea of a corrective,
[18:46] <NA27> punitive, cleansing of the soul. This idea came primarily from Greek philosophy and
[18:46] <NA27> dualism, surely not from Scripture.
[18:46] <NA27> At the same time non-canonical, gnostic-influenced works, such as the Apocalypse
[18:46] <NA27> of Peter or Paul, likewise presented a concept of the afterlife derived not from the
[18:46] <NA27> Bible but from Greek philosophy. These works, despite their non-canonical status,
[18:46] <NA27> deeply influenced the rise of purgatorial thinking in the middle ages.
[18:46] <NA27> In the West we find Augustine strangely giving credence to a concept of purgation
[18:46] <NA27> as well, though, as he likewise believed in predestination and election, and the idea
[18:46] <NA27> that saving faith is a gift of God, he melded these concepts into a strangely
[18:46] <NA27> inconsistent whole that led him to believe that such sufferings would only avail for
[18:46] <NA27> the elect and none others. He was influenced in his thinking by his mother’s dying
[18:46] <NA27> request to be remembered in his prayers.
[18:46] <NA27> But most importantly we find, a full half millennia after the founding of the Church,
[18:46] <NA27> Gregory, bishop of Rome, known as Pope Gregory the Great today. This man’s
[18:46] <NA27> theology was a mess: he was at best a semi-Pelagian who gave tremendous weight
[18:46] <NA27> to the idea of merit and works; he did not believe man was dead in sin, but only
[18:47] <NA27> wounded or sick; he was ignorant of both Greek and Hebrew and knew absolutely
[18:47] <NA27> nothing of biblical backgrounds as well. He would not have made it out of any
[18:47] <NA27> decent undergraduate Bible program today. Yet, he wrote extensively, putting his
[18:47] <NA27> manifest ignorance on paper. One of his works, completed after he became Pope,
[18:47] <NA27> was a work on Job, filled with the most inane and silly allegorical interpretation.
[18:47] <NA27> Schaff gives us an illustration of Gregory’s thinking in this work:
[18:47] <NA27> The names of persons and things, the numbers, and even the syllables [of the book
[18:47] <NA27> of Job], are filled with mystic meaning. Job represents Christ; his wife the carnal
[18:47] <NA27> nature; his seven sons (seven being the number of perfection) represent the
[18:47] <NA27> apostles, and hence the clergy; his three daughters the three classes of the faithful
[18:47] <NA27> laity who are to worship the Trinity; his friends the heretics; the seven thousand
[18:47] <NA27> sheep the perfect Christians; the three thousand camels the heathen and
[18:47] <NA27> Samaritans; the five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred she-asses again the
[18:47] <NA27> heathen.
[18:47] <NA27> Ironically, this same work contains Gregory’s rejection of Maccabees as a canonical
[18:47] <NA27> work. But it was another work of Gregory, the Dialogues, that is of importance to us
[18:47] <NA27> tonight. These dialogues between Gregory and the Roman archdeacon Peter
[18:47] <NA27> abound, as Schaff says, “in incredible marvels and visions of the state of departed
[18:48] <NA27> souls.” Gregory admits that he is transmitting hearsay only and did not, himself, see
[18:48] <NA27> any of these alleged visions. This is the work, however, that becomes foundational
[18:48] <NA27> to the development in the middle ages of the doctrine that became dogma at the
[18:48] <NA27> Council of Florence yet 900 years in the future.
[18:48] <NA27> And so we have the beginnings of what would, eventually, become the modern
[18:48] <NA27> dogma of purgatory: scattered references from Origen the allegorist who believed
[18:48] <NA27> even Satan himself would be saved and who likewise believed in the pre-existence
[18:48] <NA27> of souls; Tertullian who became a Montanist; Augustine who was deeply influenced
[18:48] <NA27> by his mother’s request and whose exegesis of Matthew 12 ignored the simple
[18:48] <NA27> parallel passage in Mark 3 that, as we shall see, renders Matthew 12 irrelevant to its
[18:48] <NA27> use by Rome today, and most importantly Gregory, who could not even read the
[18:48] <NA27> original languages, offered allegorical interpretation in the place of true exegesis,
[18:48] <NA27> and who passed on hearsay stories about visions of the afterlife that became central
[18:48] <NA27> to the development of the concept of purgatory during the Middle Ages. Indeed, did
[18:48] <NA27> not Peter warn us about what happens when untaught and unstable persons distort
[18:48] <NA27> the Scriptures?
[18:48] <NA27> Time precludes delving much into the development of the actual dogma of
[18:48] <NA27> purgatory, primarily in the 12th century, and its elevation to the status of dogma by
[18:49] <NA27> the Council of Florence in the 15th century, a council history shows to have been
[18:49] <NA27> political in nature, one that could hardly be said to have seriously considered
[18:49] <NA27> anything of an exegetical or biblical nature. Indeed, Florence spent more time
[18:49] <NA27> worrying about where to put the chairs for the seating of the Greek delegates than it
[18:49] <NA27> did on the study of the Bible. Yet, the modern Catholic church views Florence as
[18:49] <NA27> the 17th ecumenical council, and the modern catechism relies upon Florence and
[18:49] <NA27> Trent to define purgatory in section 1031.
[18:49] <NA27> I don’t know about you, but such a history does not recommend it to my thinking as
[18:49] <NA27> something worthy of my faith and assent. I cannot help but think of the words of
[18:49] <NA27> Scripture, “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not in accordance to this
[18:49] <NA27> word, there is no light in them.” And so we now turn to the few passages that have
[18:49] <NA27> been pressed into service by Rome to substantiate the dogma that is purgatory.
[18:49] <NA27> We have already addressed 2 Maccabees 12 in our previous comments. That
[18:49] <NA27> leaves, primarily, Matthew 12:31-32 and 1 Corinthians 3:10-15. Let’s begin with
[18:49] <NA27> Matthew 12…
[18:49] <NA27> (Matthew 12:31-32) “Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be
[18:49] <NA27> forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. [32]
[18:50] <NA27> “Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but
[18:50] <NA27> whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age
[18:50] <NA27> or in the age to come.
[18:50] <NA27> The context, of course, is that of the unforgivable sin, not purgatory. Roman
[18:50] <NA27> Catholics seem to believe the final phrase, “either in this age, or in the age to come,”
[18:50] <NA27> while not specifically mentioning purgatory, at least opens up the concept of
[18:50] <NA27> forgiveness of sins after death, “in the age to come.” But what is missed by Roman
[18:50] <NA27> Catholics at this point is the fact that what Jesus means by this important phrase is
[18:50] <NA27> clearly explained by reference to the parallel passage in one of the other synoptic
[18:50] <NA27> gospels, that being Mark. Note how he records the same discussion:
[18:50] <NA27> (Mark 3:28-29) “Truly I say to you, all sins shall be forgiven the sons of men, and
[18:50] <NA27> whatever blasphemies they utter; [29] but whoever blasphemes against the Holy
[18:50] <NA27> Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”–
[18:50] <NA27> Jesus is not, then, referring to the possibility of cleansing in the future, but is instead
[18:50] <NA27> speaking of an “eternal sin,” one that has no forgiveness whatsoever. If the Roman
[18:50] <NA27> interpretation of Matthew 12 is valid, *then Mark’s rendition is not.* Obviously, this
[18:50] <NA27> cannot be, hence, it is the Roman interpretation that must be rejected. And so we
[18:51] <NA27> turn to the key passage:
[18:51] <NA27> (1 Corinthians 3:8-15) Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each
[18:51] <NA27> will receive his own reward according to his own labor. [9] For we are God’s fellow
[18:51] <NA27> workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. [10] According to the grace of God
[18:51] <NA27> which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is
[18:51] <NA27> building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. [11] For no man
[18:51] <NA27> can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. [12]
[18:51] <NA27> Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood,
[18:51] <NA27> hay, straw, [13] each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it
[18:51] <NA27> because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each
[18:51] <NA27> man’s work. [14] If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive
[18:51] <NA27> a reward. [15] If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself
[18:51] <NA27> will be saved, yet so as through fire.
[18:51] <NA27> Time is short, and I’m sure we will spend a good deal of time looking closely at this
[18:51] <NA27> passage during the rest of the debate, but allow me to make a few basic points.
[18:51] <NA27> Verse 8 provides the first reference to “reward,” and it is clearly in the context of the
[18:51] <NA27> Christian leaders who labor in the work of ministry. It will be significant to note that
[18:51] <NA27> the phrase “receive a reward” in verse 8 is identical in terminology to the same
[18:52] <NA27> phrase in verse 14. Since in this context we know that the planting and watering
[18:52] <NA27> mentioned goes back to Paul and Apollos, the topic remains consistent throughout
[18:52] <NA27> this passage. Paul then speaks of himself and Apollos as “God’s fellow workers,”
[18:52] <NA27> and they labor in this high calling in God’s field. He uses two terms, field and
[18:52] <NA27> building, but picks up only on the second, “God’s building.” A fellow worker of God
[18:52] <NA27> works in building God’s building, and that building is the church.
[18:52] <NA27> This then brings us to the main passage. Verses 10-15 give us an illustration
[18:52] <NA27> of how weighty it is to minister in the church, and how God will someday manifest
[18:52] <NA27> the motivations of the hearts of all those who have engaged in that work. Then in
[18:52] <NA27> verses 16-17 Paul adds a further warning, speaking of God’s certain judgment upon
[18:52] <NA27> those who do not build, but instead tear down, or destroy. There is an obvious
[18:52] <NA27> movement between 10-15 and 16-17, for in 10-15 the metaphor remains the
[18:52] <NA27> construction of a building upon a foundation; in 16-17 this switches to the metaphor
[18:52] <NA27> of the temple of God, already constructed. Further, in 10-15 the “certain ones” are
[18:52] <NA27> those who are indeed building upon the foundation, even if they have less than
[18:52] <NA27> perfect motivations or understanding; the certain one in verses 16-17 is not building
[18:52] <NA27> anything at all, but is instead tearing down and ruining what has already been built.
[18:52] <NA27> This distinction is important as well, as we shall see.
[18:52] <NA27> Two classes of people are seen in the text: those who have built upon the
[18:52] <NA27> foundation with gold, silver, and precious stones, and those who have used inferior
[18:53] <NA27> things, wood, hay, and stubble. The first class of things is precious and withstands
[18:53] <NA27> fire; the second class are combustible and are not valuable. Obviously, the terms
[18:53] <NA27> are figurative: Paul and Apollos had little real gold, but their works in building the
[18:53] <NA27> church were precious and would withstand the testing of God’s omniscience. Unlike
[18:53] <NA27> the one who is destroyed by God in v. 17, these are all Christians, and all enter into
[18:53] <NA27> God’s presence. This is a judgment regarding the QUALITY AND NATURE OF
[18:53] <NA27> THEIR WORKS. The fire, we are told, reveals “of what sort” (Gr: hopoion) the work
[18:53] <NA27> is. ALL leaders face this test, from the most godly to the least (if this is purgatory,
[18:53] <NA27> does that mean there are no saints who work in the church?).
[18:53] <NA27> Now, in regards to the Roman misuse of this passage, let us note some important
[18:53] <NA27> things.
[18:53] <NA27> 1) There is nothing in this passage about temporal punishments for sins.
[18:53] <NA27> 2) There is nothing in this passage about purgation or cleansing.
[18:53] <NA27> 3) The passage refers to a testing of WORKS not of souls or persons.
[18:53] <NA27> 4) Verses 14 and 15 are in direct parallel, showing us that the receiving of a reward
[18:53] <NA27> in v. 14 is the direct opposite of “suffer loss” in v. 15. All these Christian workers are
[18:53] <NA27> saved people, members of God’s elect: yet some will receive a reward and others
[18:53] <NA27> will suffer loss. In neither case do we see anything even remotely similar to the
[18:53] <NA27> concept of satispassio, the suffering of atonement, so as to be cleansed and enter
[18:53] <NA27> into the presence of God.
[18:54] <NA27> Calvin addressed the use of the passage by Rome in these words:
[18:54] <NA27> It remains, that we give an answer in passing to the Papists, who endeavor from
[18:54] <NA27> this passage to prop up Purgatory. “The sinners whom God forgives, pass through
[18:54] <NA27> the fire, that they may be saved.” Hence they in this way suffer punishment in the
[18:54] <NA27> presence of God, so as to afford satisfaction to his justice I pass over their endless
[18:54] <NA27> fictions in reference to the measure of punishment, and the means of redemption
[18:54] <NA27> from them, but I ask, who they are that pass through the fire? Paul assuredly
[18:54] <NA27> speaks of ministers alone. “There is the same reason,” they say, “as to all.” It is not
[18:54] <NA27> for us but for God to judge as to this matter. But even granting them this, how
[18:54] <NA27> childishly they stumble at the term fire. For to what purpose is this fire, but for
[18:54] <NA27> burning up the hay and straw, and on the other hand, for proving the gold and
[18:54] <NA27> silver. Do they mean to say that doctrines are discerned by the fire of their
[18:54] <NA27> purgatory? Who has ever learned from that, what difference there is between truth
[18:54] <NA27> and falsehood? Farther, when will that day come that will shine forth so as to
[18:54] <NA27> discover every one’s work? Did it begin at the beginning of the world, and will it
[18:54] <NA27> continue without interruption to the end? If the terms stubble, hay, gold, and silver
[18:54] <NA27> are figurative, as they must necessarily allow, what correspondence will there be
[18:54] <NA27> between the different clauses, if there is nothing figurative in the term fire? Away,
[18:54] <NA27> then, with such silly trifles, which carry their absurdity in their forehead, for the
[18:55] <NA27> Apostle’s true meaning is, I think, sufficiently manifest. Calvin, J. (2000). Calvin’s
[18:55] <NA27> Commentaries (electronic ed.). electronic ed. (1 Co 3:10). Garland, TX: Galaxie
[18:55] <NA27> Software.
[18:55] <NA27> Hence, as Roman Catholic McBrien admits, “There is, for all practical purposes, no
[18:55] <NA27> biblical basis for the doctrine of purgatory. This is not to say that there is no basis at
[18:55] <NA27> all for the doctrine, but only that there is no clear biblical basis for it.” (Webster, 114)
[18:55] <NA27> Thus I end my case, and look forward now to the interaction that can only clarify and
[18:55] <NA27> enlighten the truth. Thank you for reading along.

[18:55] NA27 sets mode: +v Christian
[18:55] <Christian> applause
[18:55] NA27 sets mode: +v Sebond
[18:55] <Christian> wow
[18:56] <NA27> Have you chosen to go it alone, or will others be joining you?
[18:56] <Christian> Methinks it would be nice to have a partner, since I do not have a prepared statment
[18:56] <Christian> It was a lot to respond to
[18:56] <NA27> I have voiced Sebond….do you wish someone else to join you?
[18:56] <Sebond> I prepared nothing. I was expecting vel to show.
[18:56] <Christian> me2
[18:57] <NA27> Se: I understand that.
[18:57] <NA27> So does everyone else.
[18:57] <Christian>

[18:57] <NA27> If you don’t wish to engage the topic with me directly, we can simply remove moderation and discuss it with everyone….
[18:57] <Christian> Bigscott
[18:57] NA27 sets mode: +v BigScott
[18:57] <Christian> NA…
[18:57] Stv_inout is now known as StevenD
[18:58] <Christian> Unfortunatly, my statement will mainly be a resoponse
[18:58] <NA27> I really do not want you to feel like you are on the “hot seat” without preparation.
[18:58] <Christian> instead of a statemtn
[18:58] <NA27> OK, feel free to begin. I will shut up.
[18:58] <Christian> is that ok?
[18:58] <NA27> YEs.
[18:58] <BigScott> Well, I came to watch and did not prepare for a “debate” but I can try…
[18:58] <Christian>
[18:58] <Christian> I would like to first comment on a couple of things…
[18:58] <Christian> First of all, I wish you would have started with Mcbriens quote, because it is right on
[18:59] <Christian> There is no clear biblical basis for the doctine
[18:59] <Christian> There need not be
[18:59] <Christian> As far as Macc… you quote people who feel it is not canonical
[18:59] <Christian> I say that the canon is not smoething that is voted upon
[19:00] <Christian> The estblishment of SS is another topic
[19:00] <Christian> Purgatory is…
[19:00] <Christian> The best way to understand the true philosophical understanding of it is this….
[19:00] <Christian> When we die, we are either saved or unsaved…
[19:00] <Christian> The unsaved go to hell
[19:01] <Christian> The saved go to heaven, where they are before the brilliant light of God
[19:01] <Sebond> Excuse me for interrupting, but it should be pointed out that the American hierarchy has said that McBrien’s work on Catholic teaching is at best suspect.
[19:01] <Christian> (he got purgatory right )
[19:02] <Christian> If you have ever spent time in a very dark room, and had someone turn on the lights, then you know that your eyes strain, anbd depending on howlong you were there will determine the pain
[19:02] <Christian> and the adjustment period
[19:03] <Christian> Saved people are the same way…
[19:03] <BigScott> James what was the section from Matthew you quoted?
[19:03] <Christian> Sin is darkness… The more we have the more comfortable we are in the darkness…
[19:03] <Christian> If our sin is not enough to condemn us, then we stand before God when we die
[19:03] <Christian> If our darkness has been great, so too will our strain and adjustment
[19:03] <Christian> But we are saved
[19:04] <Christian> That is it… plain and simple
[19:04] <Christian> The thing with truth, is that it cannot be contradicted with other truth
[19:04] <Christian> The Scriptures do not contain all truth
[19:04] <Christian> That was not its purpose
[19:04] <Christian> Definitions of heaven, hell, saints, trinity, etc were not included in it
[19:04] <Christian> because it is a book of salvation
[19:05] <Christian> The truth of purgatory does not contradict scripture…
[19:05] <Christian> Just like the Trinity doesn’t, but it is not clearly defined wither….
[19:05] <BigScott> ~nas matt 5:26
[19:05] <Latreuo> 12 Matthew 5:26 “Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent. (NASB)
[19:05] <Christian> Someone else can jump in
[19:06] <NA27> Y’all still have 7:30 left for your opening presentation.
[19:06] <BigScott> Come out of where? What was this parable referring to?
[19:06] <Christian> take it scott
[19:07] <BigScott> OIC, this is not “open” yet, you’re letting us present…
[19:07] <Christian> right
[19:07] <NA27> Yessir
[19:07] ENielsen: Can you make a positive presentation for purgatory, Scott? That might be helpful, IMO
[19:07] <Christian> (pretty hard without prep, huh Scott )
[19:07] <BigScott> Well, again, not really “prepared” as White was, but lemme try….
[19:07] <NA27> After that time period, we will do 10 minutes of cross-examination.
[19:08] <Christian> Sebond?
[19:08] <BigScott> First off, we must readily admit that Purgatory is not explicitly taught from Scripture…
[19:09] <BigScott> The implicit verses, some of which White has already presented, plus Matthew 5:26 (and context) is another…
[19:09] <BigScott> combined with Rev. 21:27, we see that nothing impure can enter heaven…
[19:09] <BigScott> ~nas Rev 21:27
[19:09] <Latreuo> 12 Revelation 21:27 and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (NASB)
[19:10] <NA27> 3:30 remaining….
[19:10] <Christian> I believe we are probably done…
[19:11] <Christian> Lets start the conv
[19:11] <BigScott> So, with “implicit” scriptural teachings… we are reliant on Authority – which is really where any Catholic/Evangelical (or otherwise) debate must truly begin…
[19:11] <NA27> OK, I erred above: we originally scheduled a time of rebuttal before the cross-examination.
[19:11] <BigScott> np James
[19:11] <Christian> hmmmm
[19:12] <NA27> I had scheduled 10 minutes….how about just 6 so we can get to cross?
[19:12] <Christian> why don’t we do a Q&A first
[19:12] <BigScott> If the Church has the Authority to “bind and loose whatsoever…” then when we receive such a teaching FROM the Church, there is no question about it.
[19:12] <NA27> It is customary to have a chance to rebut before cross examination.
[19:12] <Christian> we already kinda did that… but ok
[19:12] <BigScott> I agree, let the rebuttal happen first…
[19:12] <Christian> go ahead… we will rebut your rebuttal
[19:12] <Christian>
[19:12] <NA27> OK, let me start my 6:00….and I will not be using a script. Just typing from now on….
[19:13] <BigScott> thank you!
[19:13] <Christian> good…. its your turn for your fingers to hurt
[19:13] <NA27> A few items, of course. First, Jesus is not talking about purgatory in Matthew 5; the prison was a debtor’s prison, which has nothing to do with the concept of temporal punishments for sins.
[19:14] <NA27> Second, I believe the historical information I have presented completely undercuts what Scott was just saying about church authority. Unless one just blindly practices sola ecclesia and says, “Well, whatever Rome says, I’ll believe,” the issue of whether a dogma or doctrine has *any* claim to historicity and apostolic origination *is* relevant.
[19:14] <NA27> And this dogma, obviously, does not.
[19:14] <NA27> Next, both of the passages I addressed, in Matthew and 1 Corinthians, *have* been used in official RC documents as supportive of purgatory. They must be rehabilitated by the RC side this evening.
[19:15] <NA27> But most importantly, I would like to point out the primary problem with purgatory. You see, the entire idea of satispassio (the suffering of atonement one undergoes in purgatory) is contradicted by every single word of Scripture that speaks of the perfection of the work of the Lord Jesus Christ as the perfect substitute for the people of God.
[19:16] <NA27> There is nothing, absolutely nothing, in all of Scripture to warrant the idea that when I have Christ’s righteousness imputed to me, and I have ALL of my sins imputed to Christ, that there is still something left over so that I can die justified, yet impure, needing to go to purgatory before entering into the presence of God.
[19:17] <NA27> While your story about the light is interesting, Christian, it finds no basis in the Bible’s teaching about the substitutionary atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, whereby I have been PERFECTED (Hebrews 10:10-14).
[19:17] <NA27> Let’s remember:
[19:17] <NA27> ~nas 2Cor 5:20-21
[19:17] <Latreuo> 12 2Corinthians 5:20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (NASB)
[19:17] <Latreuo> 12 2Corinthians 5:21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (NASB)
[19:17] Hendrik [askme@dial-4.r5.ncsdny.infoave.net] has joined #prosapologian
[19:17] <NA27> The righteousness of GOD, gentlemen….not a righteousness needing satispassio to be perfected.
[19:18] <NA27> Hence, the true refutation of purgatory: it contradicts the plain teaching of what it means to be right with God. Combine this with the fact that the passages cited fail, and the historical issues I have already raised, and you can see why purgatory cannot command the faith of the Christian heart.
[19:18] <NA27> Thank you.
[19:18] <NA27> You now have 6:00.
[19:18] <Christian> Ok…
[19:19] <BigScott> Lee would like to have voice too…
[19:19] <Christian> First of all… lets clear this up… Catholics believe that any talk of time, before, after, here, there in the afterlife is poetic and imperfect
[19:19] NA27 sets mode: +v Lee
[19:19] <Lee> pax
[19:19] <Christian> You do not GO to purgatory and THEN heaven
[19:19] <Christian> (I only have 3 points)
[19:20] <Christian> Secondly, I am saying nothing about Christs sacrifice… Paul said that we are perfected when we accept Christ
[19:20] <Christian> I am perfected, but not perfect
[19:20] <Lee> am i on?
[19:21] <ENielsen> Yes, Lee
[19:21] <Christian> Lastly… Christ’s allows us to stand before God in heaven as saints… If the light analogy doesn’t work for you then imagine purgatory is when you get to heaven and God runs up to you and hugs the hell out of you
[19:21] <BigScott> Lee, did you have something to add?
[19:21] <Lee> ~nas matthew 5:8
[19:22] <Latreuo> 12 Matthew 5:8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. (NASB)
[19:22] <Christian> hmmm
[19:22] <Christian> scott?
[19:22] <NA27> Anything else?
[19:23] <Christian> I’ll go
[19:23] <NA27> You have about 1:30 left….
[19:23] <Christian> Heliocentricity was also not taught by the apostles or scripture, but it is true
[19:23] <BigScott> lost Lee… anyway… what is a debtor’s prison? Is this not an analogy to the end, or is this to only be read one way?
[19:23] <Christian> not all truth is in scripture, and there is much more for us to discover
[19:24] <Christian> It does not conflict with scripture… that is the key point
[19:24] <NA27> OK….
[19:24] <NA27> During cross-examination, the person asking questions does just that….only asks questions. No argumentation from the questioner, OK>
[19:24] <Christian> ok
[19:24] <BigScott> I agree, the point the Protestant would have to make is that the Catholic position is contrary
[19:24] <NA27> The ones answering do so as briefly as possible.
[19:25] <NA27> Shall I go first for 10:00 or do you wish to start?
[19:25] ENielsen sets mode: +v Lee
[19:25] <Christian> you may go
[19:25] <NA27> That OK with you, Scott?
[19:25] <BigScott> sure
[19:25] <NA27> OK….Christian, you said, <Christian> The Scriptures do not contain all truth
[19:26] <NA27> correct?
[19:26] <Christian> correct
[19:26] <NA27> Could you explain that in light of the following?
[19:26] <NA27> ~nas John 17:17
[19:26] <Latreuo> 12 John 17:17 “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. (NASB)
[19:26] <Christian> Sure… God’s Word is Truth and is found in Scripture and elsewhere
[19:27] <NA27> OK….You also said, <Christian> You do not GO to purgatory and THEN heaven
[19:27] <NA27> Correct?
[19:27] <Christian> correct
[19:27] <Christian> not preciesly
[19:27] <NA27> Could you please explain this in light of the fact that Rome has granted indulgences, measured in days, weeks, etc., and in light of the Sabbatine Privilege?
[19:28] <Christian> Yes… We have been imprecise in our language about an existance that is beyond our understanduing
[19:28] <Christian> The RCC no longer does that
[19:28] <NA27> Are you familiar with the Sabbatine Privilege?
[19:28] <Christian> Hmmm…
[19:28] <NA27> Any of you?
[19:28] <Christian> Would you like to explain it?
[19:29] <Christian> (turn time off)
[19:29] <Sebond> MAY I explain the measurements, please?
[19:29] <NA27> Shall I voice AKAJerry for assistance?
[19:29] <NA27> Scott?
[19:29] <NA27> Yes, Sebond, please.
[19:29] NA27 sets mode: +v AKAJerry
[19:29] <BigScott> http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13289b.htm (Sabbatine privilege)
[19:30] <AKAJerry> Oops. I was elsewhere….
[19:30] <Sebond> Okay, you’ll see often an indulgence for three years, five year, two weeks, whatever.
[19:30] <NA27> The Sabbatine privilege, which had the support of many Popes, involves the wearing of the scapular, and the promise of Mary to descend into purgatory and remove anyone who dies wearing the scapular on the Saturday after their death….
[19:30] <AKAJerry> Was the question about Sabbatine privilege?
[19:30] <AKAJerry> I am familiar with it a bit.
[19:30] <Sebond> Okay, this does NOT refer to time in purgatory.
[19:31] <BigScott> the wearing of the scapular, faithfully, carries a promise… the key word there is “faithfully” as opposed to “superstitiously”
[19:31] <Christian> NA was it ever doctrine?
[19:31] <NA27> OK, is it your position Sebond that Rome has never measured indulgences in terms of time?
[19:31] <Sebond> What it does refer to is the time of penance done by the early Christians when penances were severe.
[19:32] <NA27> OK….Lee quoted Matthew 5:8, which says….
[19:32] <NA27> ~nas Matt 5:8
[19:32] <BigScott> NA, indulgences are measured in time, but no one knows the exact time of Purgatory… or IF time is even relative
[19:32] <NA27> Is it Lee’s position that we are made pure in heart by suffering in purgatory?
[19:32] <NA27> Thank you, Scott.
[19:32] <NA27> I can’t interact with you during cross.
[19:32] <Latreuo> 12 Matthew 5:8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. (NASB)
[19:32] ENielsen sets mode: +v Lee
[19:32] <BigScott>
[19:33] <Lee> the clean of heart see God
[19:33] <Sebond> so, an indulgence of, say, three years is a penance equivalent to a penance done by an early Christian lasting three years.
[19:33] <Christian> ay ay ay
[19:33] <Christian> this is not working…
[19:33] <Christian>
[19:33] <Lee> the clean of heart are those who are sinless
[19:33] <NA27> I have 3:00 left.
[19:33] <Christian> This is not a good format for people who aren’t prepared with canned statements
[19:33] <Lee> since sin cannot enter heaven
[19:33] <NA27> Christian: Are you the blessed man of Romans 4:8?
[19:33] <Lee> since sin is disobeying God
[19:33] <NA27> ~nas Rom 4:8
[19:33] <Latreuo> 12 Romans 4:8 “Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.” (NASB)
[19:34] <Christian> I hope to be
[19:34] <BigScott> We hope to be
[19:34] <NA27> Sebond?
[19:34] <BigScott>
[19:34] <Christian>
[19:34] <AKAJerry> You can be. And should be.
[19:34] <Lee> i dont see how that says the sin can enter heaven?
[19:34] <BigScott> answer James’ question… that’s all that is on the table now
[19:34] <NA27> If you are the blessed man, how can you go to purgatory, since the passage refers to imputation of sin? If God does not impute sin to you, how can you have to undergo satispassio in purgatory?
[19:35] <Christian> I will not “go to” purgatory…
[19:35] <Lee> if you commit sin you must then be forgiven right or cleaned of your sin
[19:35] <BigScott> The man who has gone through Purgatory, his sins will not be taken into account.
[19:35] <Christian> As I said, purgatory is an adjustment
[19:35] <NA27> Scott: So it is your position that Romans 4:8 is referring only to people who have died?
[19:35] <Christian> God doesn’t see my sin, and reveals himself to me… but that doesn;t mean that my sin wasn’t really darkness for me
[19:35] <NA27> IT has not application to the living?
[19:35] Chemnitz is now known as Finagler
[19:36] <BigScott> ALL in Purgatory will not have their sins taken into account.
[19:36] <Lee> so if God either forgives your sin or takes it under no account since God is just there must be a reason for this
[19:36] <BigScott> NA, not necessarily…
[19:36] <NA27> I would like to follow up, but my time is exhausted.
[19:36] <Lee> ~nas romans 4:7-8
[19:36] <NA27> You now have 10:00…..
[19:36] <BigScott> some can “serve” their Purgatory here and now
[19:36] <Christian> go ahead
[19:36] <Latreuo> 12 Romans 4:7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, And whose sins have been covered. (NASB)
[19:36] <Latreuo> 12 Romans 4:8 “Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.” (NASB)
[19:36] Chemnizt is now known as Chemnitz
[19:36] <Sebond> Dr. White, I am busy preparing a question for you. I am playing meatball apologetics. I hope you understand.
[19:36] <Christian> NA…
[19:36] <BigScott> NA, question for you…
[19:36] <NA27> Yes, Christian?
[19:36] <BigScott> what is your followup?
[19:37] <BigScott>
[19:37] <Christian> go ahead scott
[19:37] <Christian> hmmm
[19:37] <BigScott> NA – what is your followup?
[19:37] <NA27> It’s not my time.
[19:37] <Christian> Oh I get it
[19:37] <Christian> lol
[19:37] <Christian> JUST ANSWER THE QUESTION!!
[19:38] <Christian>
[19:38] <Christian> NA – Was the Trinity taught by the Apostles?
[19:38] <NA27> Christian: Yessir.
[19:38] <Christian> How do you know this?
[19:38] <Lee> since God is Just would we say that one sin is the same as sinning 1000 times? i would say no because for each sin we commit to be forgiven we must make amends, since sin cannot enter heaven
[19:39] <BigScott> OK, so can Matt 5 be interpretted as analogous to Purgatory, or MUST it be just an earthly reference?
[19:39] <NA27> Because the Scriptures teach monotheism, the existence of three divine persons, and the equality of those persons. The NT is incoherent outside of a Trinitarian understanding.
[19:39] <BigScott> Christian, that’s a bit off topic…
[19:39] <Christian> (he says that purgatory is not apostolic)
[19:39] <NA27>
[19:40] <NA27> 6:30 to go….
[19:40] <ENielsen> <BigScott> OK, so can Matt 5 be interpretted as analogous to Purgatory, or MUST it be just an earthly reference?
[19:40] AKAJerry will ask a question.
[19:40] <Christian> I’m not sure where to go with this… I don’t feel like we have really exchanged any debate tonight
[19:40] <Lee> so how does a man who has sinned 1000 times become justified as a man who has sinned 1 time, God does not have to prove anything to us but God is Love and he wishes to show those in heaven that He is Just and Good, so that each man who sins will be made aware or is aware of their transgressions
[19:40] <NA27> Shall I answer that one?
[19:40] <BigScott> OK, I asked one… but go on
[19:41] <NA27> No, Scott, Matthew 5 cannot be interpreted as analogous to purgatory for numerous reasons; there is nothing in the context that would lead one to that understanding, first of all.

[19:41] <NA27> It is likewise contradictory to the teachings I have already presented regarding the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.
[19:41] <NA27> Shall I now answer Lee’s question?
[19:41] <Christian> How does it contradict, NA?
[19:41] <AKAJerry> Am I voiced?
[19:42] <Lee> so then the man who has sinned 1000 times must feel the remorse for his sins all 1000 of them, to call them to mind to regret his actions in disobeying God
[19:42] <NA27> AKA: Yes.
[19:42] <ENielsen> Yes, Jerry
[19:42] <BigScott> so, part of that context, vs 22…. is talking about the judgment… are we totally out of context?
[19:42] <AKAJerry> Just checking. Thanks.
[19:42] <Lee> and realize that for his actions Jesus died
[19:42] <NA27> Lee: The answer to your question is found in the simplest assertion of the gospel: that all have sinned, and the only way of salvation is to be clothed in the seemless robe of Christ’s perfect righteousness, which is mine only because of the perfection of His death.
[19:42] <Christian> Amen NA
[19:43] <NA27> Christian: It contradicts because it posits that satispassio can cleanse me from the punishments of sins.
[19:43] <Christian> Now how does that contradict Purgatory?
[19:43] <BigScott> And the Catholic has no objection to that line of though NA.
[19:43] <Lee> so is 1 sin equal to 1000 sins?
[19:43] <NA27> Because Rome continues to teach that I can be justified and die impure, Christian. That is Trent, btw.
[19:43] <NA27> Scott: That is a retort, not a question.
[19:43] <BigScott>
[19:43] <Christian>
[19:43] BigScott bites his tongue
[19:44] <AKAJerry> Ok….
[19:44] <AKAJerry> James….
[19:44] <NA27> Lee: No, but all the sins of all the elect were placed upon their perfect substitute, who bore them in our place, so that there is nothing we can do to add to what He did: my satispassio is meaningless.
[19:44] <AKAJerry> Oops. Nevermind. I’ll wait.
[19:44] <NA27> Yes, Jerry?
[19:44] <Lee> if you are justified and you lie if you truely understood and loved God why do you continue to lie? does that show that you really recoginze what has jesus done for you?
[19:44] <Christian> LOL
[19:44] <AKAJerry> Finish with Lee.
[19:44] <Christian> this is a mess
[19:44] <Christian> too many people!
[19:44] <Christian>
[19:44] <Lee> if you realized that for your lies Jesus died you would sooner die then sin again
[19:44] <NA27> Lee: Justification is the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to me: sanctification is the process whereby I am conformed to the image of Christ. While intimately connected, they are not synonymous.
[19:45] <NA27> Jerry: Let’s finish with your question.
[19:45] <Lee> or am i wrong?
[19:45] <AKAJerry> Ok…
[19:45] <BigScott> Jerry’s turn…
[19:45] <AKAJerry> James, are you familiar and agree with what I believe Luther said that a believer is both just and sinner?
[19:45] <NA27> Yessir.
[19:45] <NA27> It is actually an Augustinian concept.
[19:45] <AKAJerry> So if you die tonight do you die a sinner?
[19:45] <AKAJerry> Ok…
[19:46] <Lee> argh
[19:46] <NA27> A sinner clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, AKA.
[19:46] Lee [~chatter@ppp-98-115.dialup.umbc.edu] has quit IRC (Window destroyed)
[19:46] <NA27> OK. Time to wrap things up….
[19:46] <Christian> lol
[19:46] <AKAJerry> So if you die a sinner do you go to heaven a sinner.
[19:46] <AKAJerry> ?
[19:46] <AKAJerry> How much time?
[19:46] <NA27> We were going to have some pretty lengthy closing statements, but let’s cut it down to say, 3:00 each side, OK?
[19:47] <Christian> lol
[19:47] <Christian> ok…
[19:47] <AKAJerry> Is the 10 up?
[19:47] <NA27> Yessir, it is.
[19:47] <AKAJerry> Ok.
[19:47] <NA27> 3:00 closing statements OK?
[19:47] <NA27> Then we will remove moderation, and everyone can chat.
[19:47] <NA27> Do you wish to go first, since I had the privilege of doing so at the beginning?
[19:47] <StevenD> The deluge

[19:47] ENielsen sets mode: +v Lee
[19:47] <AKAJerry> I’m not closing.
[19:48] <BigScott> Go ahead James….
[19:48] <NA27> Christian? Scott?
[19:48] <BigScott> 3 minutes
[19:48] <NA27> Go first, or just go?
[19:48] <NA27>
[19:48] <NA27> OK….
[19:48] <NA27> I believe any meaningful discussion of purgatory always takes us to the most important point….
[19:48] <NA27> That is, does God save perfectly, or is He dependent upon us and our actions?
[19:48] <Sebond> Hebrews 12:14 speaks of a holiness, without which no one will see the Lord. Now my question to Dr. White is this. Is this holiness merely an imputed righteousness, and if so why does it come in a passage that explicitly talks of discipline and training?
[19:49] <Christian> lol
[19:49] <BigScott> let James close folks
[19:49] <NA27> I hope those who have observed this debate this evening have been able to see the vast gulf that separates the gospel of free grace from the system that includes within it the idea of cooperation with grace.
[19:49] <Sebond> sorry.
[19:50] <NA27> Monergism and synergism are not big fancy words that theologians alone throw about: they speak to whether God is free to save perfectly, or whether He has limited himself to man’s actions, man’s will, man’s response.
[19:50] <NA27> The doctrine of purgatory is unbiblical, as we have seen; it is a-historical, and that was not even challenged; and more importantly it is contradictory to the teaching that the righteousness by which we stand before God is a perfect one, needing no addition, suffering no subtraction.
[19:51] <NA27> I am thankful to Christian, Scott, Lee, Sebond, and AKAJerry for helping out in velleity’s absence.
[19:51] <NA27> And I thank all of you (60 right now!) for sticking around.
[19:51] <Lee> i didnt finish i think half my stuff got crashed

[19:51] <NA27> Your turn. 3:00.
[19:51] <Christian> Thank you NA…
[19:51] <Christian> For this debate…
[19:51] <Lee> what was the last thing i said that got through
[19:51] <Christian> First thing… People must undersatnd that purgatory is not about salvation
[19:51] <Sebond> Dr. White, you won the debate hands down. Vell will get a sound thrashing if he ever shows again.
[19:52] <Christian> Christ’s work was perfectly accomplished
[19:53] <Christian> I believe Dr. White said it best… we are sinners clothed in Christ
[19:53] <Christian> when we die
[19:53] <Christian> Sinners are used to the darkness…
[19:53] <Christian> Despite our sin, Christ brings us to the father…
[19:53] <Christian> That is His perfect work
[19:53] <Christian> Purgatory is OUR reaction to being before God
[19:53] <Christian> Scott?
[19:54] NA27 sets mode: -m
[19:54] CStar changes topic to “Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Soli Deo Gloria (www.aomin.org/proschat.html)”
[19:54] CStar: -#prosapologian- [NA27] issued [TOPIC]
[19:54] <NA27> Thank you gentlemen.
[19:54] <BigScott> working on something….
[19:54] NA27 sets mode: -v Sebond
[19:54] <buzz> Debate is over.
[19:54] <AKAJerry> thank you NA
[19:54] <Lee> when jesus died where did he go right into heaven?
[19:54] <OrtaDug> GEe
[19:54] NA27 sets mode: -v Lee
[19:54] <tollhouse> May I ask a couple of questions?
[19:54] <cds> You’re welcome NA..
[19:54] <cds>

[19:54] ENielsen sets mode: -vvv AKAJerry BigScott Christian
[19:54] <OrtaDug> I am sick to my stomache
[19:54] NA27 sets mode: -v Latreuo
[19:54] <Sebond> The debate is over, Christian, and it was a disaster for us.

The Great Calvinistic Conspiracy – The Berean Call’s T.A. McMahon Comes Out Swinging – Vintage

As listeners to The Dividing Line know, a book is being written that embodies a written exchange between myself and Dave Hunt on the subject of Reformed theology or “Calvinism.” This book grew out of the publication of Mr. Hunt’s What Love is This? Shortly after the book came out I wrote an open letter exposing some of the many, many problems with the book (click here for this letter). This led rather quickly to the book project that is now a little over half completed (a title for the book has not yet been decided).

Over the months since the book came out I have noted a series of letters published in The Berean Call regarding the issue. I have spoken to a number of folks as I have traveled who have written to Mr. Hunt and asked to have their names removed from his mailing list. Their reasons were all the same: What Love is This is a poorly researched, badly argued, often shrill attack upon a straw-man caricature of Reformed theology. Some knew that Dave had been warned, repeatedly, by numerous persons, that he was in error in regard to his understanding of Reformed theology and that he just was not “listening” to what was being said to him. As a result, many are simply disgusted that he would rail in print at a system about which he knows little while claiming to know more about it than most who confess it.

Just recently I logged onto thebereancall.org to check Dave’s traveling schedule. I was hoping to get him to appear with me on a major radio station to discuss our upcoming book and the issues in general. As I scanned the main page I discovered that, as it had been pretty much since April of 2002, the main topic was the reaction to What Love is This? But this time the accusations were getting quite serious. Since I have been one of the most vocal opponents of What Love is This? I wish to take a few moments to respond to the article by T.A. McMahon.

Storm of Controversy

It seems the folks at The Berean Call did not realize how many of their readers were Reformed in their theology prior to launching their attack upon Calvinism in May of 2000. Note the words of McMahon:

In all of our years of addressing critical issues impacting the body of Christ (from The Seduction of Christianity to dealing with the cults to decrying evangelical compromise with the Church of Rome to explaining true Islam), nothing has come close to the number and severity of mean-spirited responses we’ve received regarding our perspective on Calvinism.

The first thing I would note is that I find What Love is This? a very “mean-spirited” book. Now, what do I mean by that? I find something “mean-spirited” if it shows no concern for truth or fairness in its representation of the views of others. Evidently, that is not how The Berean Call interprets mean-spiritedness. In fact, it is just this issue of how to define “mean-spirited” that prompts my writing of this response. Note McMahon’s words:

In many of the letters, Dave has been characterized as a liar, a deceiver, a destroyer of the faith, and worse. We’ve been told that he is woefully ignorant and therefore incapable of understanding and presenting true Calvinism. Again, the level of hostility transcends any responses to any controversial subject we’ve ever addressed in the past. That’s hard to fathom from those who profess to have the gospel and the Spirit of Christ.

Now, read this citation carefully again. You will note that for McMahon, identifying Dave Hunt’s ignorance of the issues he has chosen to engage is on the exact same level of mean-spiritedness as calling Hunt a liar, deceiver, or destroyer of the faith. Of course, this is irrational. Every one of us is ignorant of many things. Saying I am ignorant of complex mathematical mechanisms for engaging in the study of physical chemistry is not the same as calling me a liar or a deceiver. That should be obvious to anyone. And the problem with the entire response of The Berean Call is that they are interpreting the refutation of Hunt’s work with “mean-spiritedness.” Ironically, that is the spirit of the age. While Hunt does not spare anyone from his own criticisms, now “the shoe is on the other foot” so to speak, and evidently he does not like it.

Let me be frank with everyone. While I find Dave Hunt a personable man, and believe he speaks the truth on many issues, I have always found his research methodologies questionable at best, and his conclusions are often tenuous, at least to anyone who wishes to think critically and carefully. Many enjoy listening to his rambling presentations, where he starts on one subject, and ends ten subjects down the road (he has considered this a criticism: it is a factual observation that any person who has ever heard him speak at a conference knows is completely accurate). But in the process he will often make statements that are highly questionable that would never stand up in a debate. In his various books Dave has shown a consistent ability to “see” in a source only what he chooses to see: even when the context militates against his own conclusions, he just doesn’t “see” that portion of the information. This results in very skewed writing, no matter what the subject being addressed.

Further, Dave is not a scholar. In fact, he is proud of his lack of training in biblical languages, historical backgrounds, etc. (and the requisite training in the use of source materials in a proper and fair way that goes along with those studies). His tradition eschews that kind of study as being “elitist,” and surely that attitude resonates with many in evangelicalism today where, due to post-modern influences, everyone’s opinion is considered equal to everyone else’s. While no one would think for a moment that Joe Schuller, recent high school graduate and second-string burger flipper at Roy’s burger shop, is in any position to offer meaningful opinions on the proper methodology of improving the operation of a thermonuclear reactor (i.e., his opinions are NOT equal to those of a professional who has worked in the field for decades), when it comes to “religion,” everyone’s opinions are equal. This idea comes from two sources: post-modernism, which denies there is any absolute truth in religion anyway, and from a wrong-headed misinterpretation of the priesthood of the believer. Joe Schuller’s opinions on the proper hermeneutic approach to the book of Hebrews in light of the impact of Septuagintal syntactical and lexicographical backgrounds are not equal to those of a biblical scholar who has studied the topic. Hopefully that is understandable to all.

Dave Hunt admitted in our radio encounter in the summer of 2000 that he had never read any of the Reformers. That alone would be sufficient basis to preclude him from writing a book on the subject. But to put out such a book in a matter of months after making that admission is simply irresponsible. And I say this with a clear conscience, for I told Mr. Hunt this long before his book saw the light of day. I, and many others, tried to reason with Dave. We tried to explain where he was missing the entire point of the topic. We tried to warn him he would be exposing himself to very damaging refutation if he pressed on with this new crusade of his. He refused our counsel. Barely three months after our radio discussion I wrote the following (October 23, 2000):

I would very much like to review the book of which you speak. However, I feel it is my responsibility to be very open in telling you honestly that I do not believe you should publish on this topic. The reason is simple. Given the character of the article in your newsletter, and your direct admission that you have not read any of the key works on this subject, either those produced at the Reformation, since then, or even before then (Augustine’s anti-Pelagian writings, for example), you are truly in no position to speak to the topic. It is simply not possible to give a meaningful rebuttal of a position that you do not understand. It would be like my seeking to write a book on advanced calculus: while I might, with sufficient study, be able to do so, I could not even begin to do so given my current level of study of the subject. I’ve never even cracked the binding of an advanced calculus text, let alone delved into the subject to any depth.

On the radio program we did together a few months ago I started out by asking you how you explained your siding with Rome on the key soteriological battle of the Reformation, that being the conflict between Roman synergism and Reformed monergism. You began by admitting your ignorance of the Reformers and their writings. Might I suggest that there is no reason to critique a position without reading the original documents in which the position is espoused? Surely you cannot believe that the likes of Calvin, Beza, the crafters of the Westminster and London Confessions, John Owen, Francis Turretin, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Charles Hodge, William Cunningham, B.B. Warfield, J. Gresham Machen, John Murray, and modern writers such as R.C. Sproul or John Gerstner, have never heard your objections before, can you? And since volumes exist responding to those very issues, how can you reiterate them without doing the requisite work that would give you the necessary standing to do so?

Further, please be aware that the strength of the Reformed position is exegesis. It is not by accident that the Puritans, for example, thorough-going Calvinists that they were, emphasized so strongly a knowledge of the original languages of the Bible. Their ministers were required to be thoroughly capable of “rightly handling the Word of truth.” It is the exegesis of the text of Scripture that gives rise to the Reformed faith. Arminianism, on the other hand, is a philosophical position that arises from certain alleged philosophical necessities. It does not come from the exegesis of the text.

This came out clearly in our discussion. When faced with passages such as John 6:37-39, you immediately left the text and went elsewhere. Arminianism has no meaningful counter-exegesis to offer to John 6, or Romans 8, or Ephesians 1.

So I would strongly encourage you, Dave, to refrain from attempting to address a topic that you have already admitted is not an area of your study. I wrote God’s Sovereign Grace and Drawn by the Father in 1990. I wrote The Potter’s Freedom in 1998/99. I have dealt with this subject, and your objections to it, for many years now. At the very least I have taken the time to study the issue sufficiently well to be able to address it fairly. I do not believe your recent article, nor our discussion on the radio, show that you have yet done the work necessary for the writing of a book on the subject.

Needless to say, I did not see the manuscript that had been offered. But I produce this now so that any person of honesty will know that I did, in a Christian manner, warn Dave Hunt that he was going to damage his own reputation and that of his ministry if he did not heed the warnings I, and others, were giving him. He did not listen, published the book, and must now live with the consequences, for his book contains far too many falsehoods to be ignored. The matter now is one of God’s truth and the service of Christ’s Church.

Suppression? Or Rejection of Bad Writing and Research?

McMahon continues:

Another grave concern is a concerted effort to suppress the distribution of What Love Is This? Over the years, we’ve experienced resistance by Christian bookstores to offer some of Dave’s titles. However, Loyal Publishing has reported that entire chains have not only refused to carry What Love Is This?, but some chains have consequently refused to carry any of Loyal’s books, even those which they previously offered. The folks at Loyal are a small yet godly (and gutsy) group. Therefore, it grieves us deeply that they are suffering financial setbacks for their commitment to our Lord through what Dave has written.

I cannot comment on whether entire chains of bookstores have, in fact, dropped Loyal’s line, nor whether this is because of Hunt’s attack on Calvinism. Personally, I doubt it. Many bookstores will not carry my books either, and mainly because the big bookstore chains are ecumenically minded and I am not. Many bookstores are now carrying Roman Catholic books, scapulars, rosaries, etc., courting the Catholic “market.” My books do not make them enough money to warrant the danger of “offending” a portion of their “market.” Indeed, just recently I heard a radio advertisement for a local “Christian bookstore” where, if you would say to the cashier “I clap for Jesus,” you’d get 10% off your purchase. Someone who will stand in a line and look at a cashier and say “I clap for Jesus” is not going to be picking up a copy of The God Who Justifies or The Potter’s Freedom anyway. I suspect the same is true here with reference to Dave’s book.

Be that as it may, what is truly amazing about this section of McMahon’s comments is the implicit idea, stated openly later, that there is some “Calvinist conspiracy” to suppress this book. Such an assertion is, at best, humorous. Criticism of poor research and argumentation is not suppression. Is it just barely possible that it has become known that this book is simply bad? Might that be part of the reason? Of course, that would be relevant to only a small number of bookstores, in light of the fact that most of the best-sellers are, likewise, theologically bad. A store that hawks The Prayer of Jabez (and the six dozen related trinkets) for a buck could really care less whether Dave Hunt did his homework or not. So I imagine the real reason lies elsewhere.

If Loyal had sent this manuscript to a group of scholars and had simply asked, “Is this work solid?” even the most Arminian of them would have informed the publisher that it was not. I am certain (though I have not discussed it with him) that John Sanders, a self-described Arminian scholar, would have pointed out many of the very same factual or logical errors I have. Did Loyal do this? I have no idea. What I do know is that I and others can document that we tried to help Dave Hunt by first pointing him to solid materials and then, failing that, tried to warn him against publishing on a topic beyond his field of study. If Hunt did not share this with his publisher, that is between the two of them. The folks at Loyal will be forced to confess that I have been very up-front with them from the start regarding our own project with them (the debate book follow-up between myself and Dave Hunt). I informed them from the start that I still do not believe Dave capable of engaging in serious exegetical work on this topic. I said they may well be criticized for putting Dave in the position of having to respond to my exegetical presentations. I have again sought to act in the utmost of integrity. Thus far, the folks from Loyal have been fair in dealing with me despite the fact that I am obviously one of the most vocal critics of Hunt’s book.

There is surely no reason at all to not carry other Loyal books just because one discovers that Hunt’s book is as bad as it is. That attitude would be far too simplistic to commend itself. But, of course, publishing houses realize that when you publish a really “bad” book, it can mark you for quite some time, whether that is fair to your other projects or not.

McMahon continued:

TBC has also been hit by a decline in donations, which we are trying to offset by cutbacks in some of our outreach programs, particularly radio.

Again, as one who tried to warn Mr. Hunt, I can only say that this is what happens when you engage in a crusade without doing your homework. Perhaps Dave did not realize that Reformed folks would make up a large percentage of those interested in apologetics. I cannot understand how he would be unaware of this fact, but it seems he was. In any case, it should be remembered that the content of What Love is This? is not only bad on the level of argumentation and research, it is bad on the level of rhetoric and harshness. Dave has never been content to simply say, “X is wrong.” It is his way to say “X is wrong, silly, and dumb; and if you believe X, you are not only losing your mind, you are on a bobsled to hell as well.” Recognition of this element of Hunt’s writing, and how people will respond to it, is missing from McMahon’s thinking. It is as if Hunt produced this innocuous work that basically just tried to offer a different way of looking at things and the Calvinists have gone nuts. Such is simply not the case. What Love is This? presents no positive case for its own assumed position (which is derived from Hunt’s tradition). From front to back it is a non-stop exercise in rhetorical negativity that often approaches the level of “shrill.” And someone is surprised that those it (falsely) skewers might withdraw their support of TBC?

Search the Scriptures?

Certainly not all Calvinists would condone the treatment we’ve been receiving and a few have written us to that effect. Yet we are astonished at the animosity prevalent in the majority of their responses. Moreover, since Calvinists account for a small percentage of evangelicals, it’s troubling to see how much power and influence they have in the evangelical community, especially when opposing something which is critical of their theology. Why can’t such important issues be brought before the church and every believer be encouraged to search the Scriptures to see which teachings are true to God’s Word?

I’m not sure about anyone else, but it sounds like that paragraph is asserting that these unnamed, animosity-filled Calvinists are using their “power and influence” to suppress Dave’s book because they do not want these issues examined “before the church.” If that is, in fact, what is being asserted, I must point out that such is simply ridiculous. Indeed, the common element of the letters that have been published in The Berean Call has been “You are attacking a straw man” not “We need to keep your insightful arguments away from people!”

We have invited Dave Hunt to debate this topic in public before video cameras a number of times. Mr. Hunt has always said he would do so, but so far, we have failed to establish a date. Obviously, from our perspective, it would be very wise to schedule a debate for the time period immediately after the completion of our current book project. A video tape/book combination would be the perfect fulfillment of the final quoted sentence, for it would be the best way to bring “before the church and every believer” these issues so that they would be encouraged to “search the Scriptures to see which teachings are true to God’s Word.” Since some believers prefer to read, they would gravitate toward the book; since others find the give and take of debate more useful in determining who is speaking the truth, they would look toward the video tape of the debate. In either case, we have invited Dave to do a Friday night/Saturday debate comprising sections that would allow us to focus upon each of the central issues. We continue to stand ready to engage in this debate as soon as this book project is completed which could be in a relatively short period of time. More than one church has expressed interest in holding such a debate, so finding a forum would not be difficult to do.

Further, if Dave would prefer to be joined by others, such as Mr. McMahon, or others, that would be fine. I prefer to debate alone, but would not mind debating two or three or more on the other side. As long as the time frames are equal and there is plenty of direct, open, meaningful cross-examination, I’m sure a framework could be worked out.


The comments made in McMahon’s article leave the impression that unChristlike “Calvinists” are on the rampage, seeking to destroy TBC and suppress What Love Is This? Unfortunately, Dave Hunt’s response to my own open letter proves that what they mean by “mean-spiritedness” is in reality nothing more than the factual exposure of the errors that fill Hunt’s work. Remember, after reading my lengthy open letter, which is filled with citation after citation, Dave Hunt actually asserted that I had not provided any examples to back up my allegations! This kind of response has puzzled many a person who has read both sides, and lead many to conclude that Mr. Hunt is simply not willing to deal with the facts. But in any case, it is not mean-spirited to say “Dave Hunt’s book is really bad, and here is why….” Only if we care little for truth would we even think in such a fashion.

I would imagine TBC can produce some less-than-kind letters from people who call themselves “Calvinists.” Believe me, Alpha and Omega Ministries can produce quite a pile of nasty e-mails from Dave Hunt’s fans. Shortly after I first critiqued Hunt’s work one such man landed on top of me with all fours, and even posted nasty reviews at amazon.com just for the fun of it. There is no shortage to folks who are not overly nice on a personal level. Any Calvinist who has gone beyond the correction of factual and logical errors and engaged in vituperative insults should be rebuked. But in the very same way, painting the vast majority of Reformed believers the way Dave Hunt does in What Love is This? and as T.A. McMahon does in this main page article is just as wrong.

Let’s lay aside such issues and get back to what is truly important to the church: does the Bible teach monergism or synergism? It is a vital issue. It impacts our view of God, the gospel, ourselves, the church, and the means and purposes of evangelism. That is why we take such a strong stand on the topic. It is not mean-spirited to speak the truth: it is mean-spirited to God to consider His truth less important than the “feelings” of those who have a strong attachment to their traditions and might be “offended” by the exposure of their errors.

James White

John 15, the Vine and the Branches, and an Example of Cultic Scripture Twisting Provided by Martin Smart, One of Jehovah’s Witnesses – Vintage

One of the most disturbing tendencies of modern believers is the ease with which they can be shaken by the mere appearance of what looks like an argument against their position.  Rather than examining the arguments of unbelievers in the context of the calm assurance that comes from a thorough knowledge of the faith, many today have drunk deeply at the well of modernism, and secretly believe that “no one can really know” the truth in the realm of “religious topics.”  A recent series of e-mail articles/arguments by one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Martin Smart, illustrates this problem with great clarity.  Mr. Smart, like most Internet apologists for the Watchtower, fills his posts with citations from recognized, scholarly sources.  This alone is enough to shut down the critical thinking skills of many post-modern Christians, for the idea is, “Well, if it cites scholarship, it must be right.”  The great possibility that 1) scholarly sources can be misused, or 2) you can cite scholarship to prove points that are utterly irrelevant to the actual debate, does not seem to present itself to the thinking of many today. 

Recently Mr. Smart began promoting his understanding of John 15:2 as decisively refuting the Reformed understanding of salvation.  This is not, in itself, unusual, as Arminians have been using John 15 to deny the perfection of Christ’s work of salvation for generations.  But it is the way he has gone about it that provides us with a useful example of why we must think clearly about apologetic issues and arguments.

We first present a basic, brief, but hopefully helpful discussion and exegesis of the passage, focusing upon the essential elements of Jesus’ words.  Then we will provide links to Mr. Smart’s messages.

(John 15:1-8)  “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. [2] “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. [3] “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. [4] “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. [5] “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. [6] “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. [7] “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. [8] “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.

The most important element of any meaningful exegesis comes from recognizing the context and purpose of the passage.  Ignoring context is the chief reason for errors of interpretation.  Making lists, as Mr. Smart did, of a phrase and then assuming the phrase is not impacted by its context is a good example of this kind of error.

John 15 comes in the heart of Jesus’ ministry to the Apostles on the night of His betrayal.  It likewise is sandwiched in the middle of an extensive dialogue that, importantly, discusses the role of the Spirit in the Christian life.  Jesus is preparing the disciples for the crucifixion, resurrection, and His ascension into heaven, and the coming period of the Spirit’s work amongst them.

In these particular verses the Lord uses a common means of illustration: horticulture.  It is obvious this was one of His favorite means of communicating great truths, as his audience would surely be able to relate personally to the application.  There are many parallels, as we shall note, between Jesus words to His disciples here in John 15 and the parable of the soils (Mark 4:2-20) and other Synoptic passages (Mark 11:12-14, 19-21).  The same points Jesus made there to the crowds are made in this passage to His disciples in an even more intimate and vital context.

Finally, it should be noted that Jesus intended His words to bring joy to the heart of the disciples.  He said, “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.”  The intention of the passage is to bring joy to the disciples, especially in light of the events they were about to witness, the sorrow they were about to bear. 

John 15:1-8 breaks naturally into two sections: 1-3, the introduction of the analogy to be used, that of the Vine, the Vinedresser, and the Branches, and 4-8, the discussion of abiding in Christ and bearing fruit.  With these things in mind, let us look closely at Jesus’ words.

Point First: The Vine, the Vinedresser, the Work of the Vinedresser      

Verse 1:

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.”

The first words from the Lord’s mouth remind us of the prevalence of the “I am” sayings in the Gospel of John.  I am the light, I am the bread of life, and here, I am the true vine.  John 15 flows naturally with the rest of the gospel, repeating in a fresh way themes struck throughout.

Next, the Lord claims to be the true vine.  There have always been false Messiahs and pretenders.  But there is only one true vine, one true source of spiritual life and nourishment.

The allegory of a vine and a vineyard was not unknown.  Isaiah recorded just such an illustration seven centuries before:

1  Let me sing now for my well-beloved A song of my beloved concerning His vineyard. My well-beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill.

 2 He dug it all around, removed its stones, And planted it with the choicest vine. And He built a tower in the middle of it And also hewed out a wine vat in it; Then He expected it to produce good grapes, But it produced only worthless ones.

 3 “And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, Judge between Me and My vineyard.

 4 “What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it? Why, when I expected it to produce good grapes did it produce worthless ones?

 5 “So now let Me tell you what I am going to do to My vineyard: I will remove its hedge and it will be consumed; I will break down its wall and it will become trampled ground.

 6 “I will lay it waste; It will not be pruned or hoed, But briars and thorns will come up. I will also charge the clouds to rain no rain on it.”

 7 For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel And the men of Judah His delightful plant. Thus He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; For righteousness, but behold, a cry of distress.

The next issue, often overlooked (except by those who spend a lot of time speaking to Oneness Pentecostals!) is the clear distinction of the Father and the Son here, both as to identity and function.  The Son is the Vine to whom the disciples are joined in vital union.  The Father is the Vinedresser, the one who lovingly cares for the branches and assures growth and purity.  There is no room for modalistic confusion here!

The vinedresser, in the ancient context, was responsible for the care of the vine, always seeking to produce maximum fruitfulness.  This involved the examination of the branches, pruning, cleaning, etc.  The duties of the vinedresser are laid out in the next verse.

Verse 2:

“Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.”

This verse describes the standard work of the vinedresser, in this case, the Father.  What is described would be known to anyone who had ever stopped for even a moment to observe the worker in the vineyard.  The vinedresser engages in his work so as to increase the productivity of the vine.  Without the vinedresser, the vine would become wild, and its productivity would decrease greatly.  There is a purpose in the work of the vinedresser that is paramount.

The Vinedresser attends to only one vine, the true vine.  Because of this singularity and particularity, the only branches to which the Vinedresser’s attention is turned are those related to this one vine.  The Vinedresser does not tend to many vines, but just one.

The Vinedresser engages in two activities here.  First, fruitless branches are removed.  Fruitful branches are pruned or cleansed, and that for a purpose: more fruit-bearing.  Both actions, in reality, promote more fruit-bearing, as a fruitless branch is, by definition, worthless and useless.  Some have suggested that “take away” may simply mean “to lift up,” so that it may have more opportunity to bear fruit. But this is not the meaning of the text.  The issue is the work of the Vinedresser, and the Vinedresser removes “deadwood” from the vine for the betterment of the vine and branches.  Throughout Jesus’ parables a branch or plant or tree that is without fruit is abnormal, defective, and does not indicate spiritual life.  Note, for example:

(Mark 11:12-14, 19-21)  On the next day, when they had left Bethany, He became hungry. [13] Seeing at a distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to see if perhaps He would find anything on it; and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. [14] He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!” And His disciples were listening….When evening came, they would go out of the city. [20] As they were passing by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots up. [21] Being reminded, Peter said^ to Him, “Rabbi, look, the fig tree which You cursed has withered.”

(Mark 4:2-20)  And He was teaching them many things in parables, and was saying to them in His teaching, [3] “Listen to this! Behold, the sower went out to sow; [4] as he was sowing, some seed fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate it up. [5] “Other seed fell on the rocky ground where it did not have much soil; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of soil. [6] “And after the sun had risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. [7] “Other seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. [8] “Other seeds fell into the good soil, and as they grew up and increased, they yielded a crop and produced thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.” [9] And He was saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” [10] As soon as He was alone, His followers, along with the twelve, began asking Him about the parables. [11] And He was saying to them, “To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, [12] so that WHILE SEEING, THEY MAY SEE AND NOT PERCEIVE, AND WHILE HEARING, THEY MAY HEAR AND NOT UNDERSTAND, OTHERWISE THEY MIGHT RETURN AND BE FORGIVEN.” [13] And He said^ to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How will you understand all the parables? [14] “The sower sows the word. [15] “These are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown; and when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them. [16] “In a similar way these are the ones on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; [17] and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away. [18] “And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, [19] but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. [20] “And those are the ones on whom seed was sown on the good soil; and they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.”

In both parables, the plants that appeared to have life but had no fruit are consistently shown to be false, and those represented by these plants, to be false professors.  The parable quoted above explains to the apostles why they saw so many who would follow for a while, but then would fall away.  These were the seeds that fell upon ground that would not produce living plants that produce fruit.  The fact that the Lord Jesus utilized this kind of imagery cannot be ignored in interpreting John 15.

There is a very important play on words in verses 2 and 3 that cannot be brought into English with clarity.  In verse 2 the unfruitful branches are ai[rei; the fruitful branches are kaqaivrei; that is “pruned” with the root meaning of “cleansed,” and then in verse 3 Jesus says to the disciples that they are already kaqaroiv because of the word He has spoken to them.  We will see that this is a vital element of the interpretation, giving us a key interpretational element.

Verse 3:

(John 15:3)  “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.”

At this point Jesus steps out of the language of a parable for just a moment, using the play on words just noted above.  He specifically applies the parable to the disciples, and in doing so, makes it clear that he is addressing only those who are truly disciples indeed, those who are “clean,” i.e., the fruitful branches the Vinedresser prunes to make more fruitful.  “You” is plural.  “Clean” means “pure” as in “blessed are the pure in heart” (Matthew 5:8).  This is the same term Jesus used earlier in John 13:10-11.  Here, though, he says not all of them are “clean” because Judas was still present.  Judas was an unfruitful branch…lots of leaves, no fruit.  He was “taken away” by the Father.  Obviously, the “son of perdition” was a pretender, not a true disciple.  It follows, then, that all the fruitful branches are “clean,” and only the fruitful branches are “clean.”  That means only fruitful branches are Christians, for the means of the cleansing is the speaking of the Word, which is the very means of regeneration and salvation (John 17:17). “because of the word which I have spoken to you.”  The means of the cleansing of the apostles was the preaching of the Word of God by the Lord Jesus.  Paul spoke of the same concept in Ephesians 5:26, where, speaking of the Church, he wrote, “so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.”  Jesus therefore identifies the Apostles as clean, fruitful branches, but they are so because of what Jesus has done for them, not because of what they have done in and of themselves.  The “word” which the Lord Jesus spoke to them was not His own, but was the Father’s (John 12:49, 14:10).  Hence, the Father has, through the Word, “pruned” these branches, making them fruitful.  In the same way, the Father has “taken away” the unfruitful branch, Judas.

So at this point we can already see in the words of the Lord Jesus that the issue of the fruitless branches has been decided: they are not Christians at all, for they were never “cleaned” by the Word.  They are false professors, surface-level disciples, the shallow or rocky or thorny soil of Mark chapter four.

Point Second:  Abiding in Christ, Bearing Fruit

Verse 4:

(John 15:4)  “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.”

“Abide” is in the imperative mode.  It is a command, not a suggestion. Yet, the verb would be carried into the second half of the clause, “and I in you.”  How can the normal meaning of the imperative follow here?  Is this a command to do something?

Daniel Wallace notes the use of the Aorist Imperative, Constative (Wallace, pp. 720-721).  This use of the aorist imperative emphasizes the importance, urgency, and priority of the command, which is a general precept.  Hence, the sense is, “It is vital and fundamental that you abide in Me and I in you, for apart from me, you can do nothing.”  Jesus is not saying, “I command you to exercise your greatest effort to abide in me, and if you don’t, you’re dead meat.” We are in Christ Jesus only because of the work of God in placing us in Him (1 Cor 1:30).

The branch’s ability to do what it is designed to do (bear fruit) is completely and totally contingent upon another, that being the vine. The life-giving sap flows from the vine to the branch, resulting in the creation of fruit.  In the same way, the believer who bears fruit never does so on “his own,” but only as grace flows from Christ into his or her life.

To be able to “do” anything as a Christian requires intimate union with Christ.  True fruit–not just foliage without fruit–comes only from the life that is in close intimate union with Christ.  Only as God’s grace produces fruit do we truly glorify God. 

Verse 5:

(John 15:5)  “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”

Verse five summarizes the preceding verses and makes the clear application.  He is the Vine, we the branches.  A promise is given here that determines the categories in which verse 6 must be read.  Jesus specifically asserts that the person in whom He abides, and who abides in Him, bears much fruit. This is the positive assertion: if you are in Christ, fruit is the inevitable result.  Hence, unfruitfulness indicates not being in Christ in the first place, unless this promise is null and void!

The negative aspect is found in the last clause: apart from Christ, there is no fruit.  Nothing.  We can do nothing apart from Him.  Obviously, therefore, any work that is done to the glory of God is done through the grace and power of Christ.  We can take no credit, no glory, for it is all done in Him, through Him, and for Him.

Verse 6:

(John 15:6)  “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.

If there is no vital union with Christ (which is what abiding means, note the absence of the term in verse 2) there is no spiritual life.  The term translated “dries up” is the exact same term found in the parable of the soils in Mark 4:5-6:

(Mark 4:5-6)  “Other seed fell on the rocky ground where it did not have much soil; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of soil. [6] And after the sun had risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away.”

In the parable in Mark this term is used by the Lord of the growth found in the “rocky soil.”  Jesus’ own interpretation of His words is, “and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away.”  Hence, the Lord indicates two things about these people: they have no “root” and they do not “abide in the vine.”  These, therefore, have not been “pruned” by the Father, they bear no fruit, and are hence those described by John in 1 John 2:19:

(1 John 2:19)  They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.

The doom of the false professors, while not in any way supporting the idea that salvation is contingent upon what we do rather than upon what Christ has done, is not by this consideration lessened in the slightest.  It is vital that we examine ourselves and not ever engage in haughty pride, but in humility of mind serve the Lord Christ.  

Verse 7:

(John 15:7)  “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”

This is a conditional sentence, with the conditions being expressed in the first two clauses. The first condition is abiding in Christ, the second having His words abiding in us as well.

It is not insignificant that Jesus here introduces the element of doctrine, subsumed under the term “words.”  He speaks of the indwelling of God’s truth within our hearts.  These very words are the means of our cleansing, as seen in verse 3, and they are “spirit and life.”

The believer who does not feast upon the words of Christ has no basis upon which to claim the promise of this verse.  What we “wish” for will be conditioned upon our continuously abiding in Christ, and upon the impact His word has in changing our hearts, our minds, and our priorities.  John the Apostle, who recorded for us these words in John 15, provides us with his understanding of them when he writes in 1 John 5:14, “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.”  We know the will of Christ by abiding in Him and having His word abiding in us.

But the promise then is, if we are abiding in Him, and His word abides in us, He shall grant the desires of our hearts!  This is not a blank check with which we force God to do this or that.  Instead, it is a promise that God will fulfill His work within us.  That is, if we ask, “God, make me holy” He will do just that.  If we pray “God, make me like Christ,” and that is our desire, He will do it.  To even consider the idea that this means we can say, “God, give me more of the things of the world so I can be happier” is to completely miss the context in which these words were spoken.

Verse 8:

(John 15:8)  “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.”

Here we learn how to glorify the Father: bear much fruit.  It is often the prayer of Christians to live in such a manner as to glorify God.  Here we are given direct teaching as to how to do this.  Bearing fruit is the means of proving or displaying discipleship.  There is no meaningful way of demonstrating the reality of discipleship outside of our manner of life.  This is exactly the point of James in James 2:14-24: the demonstration of said faith by consistent actions.

“Who are the disciples of Christ?”  They are those who bear the fruit of righteousness to the glory of the Father.  Obviously, then, we observe again the fact that fruitless branches are not, by definition, disciples.  This is why they are taken away.

Summary of Exegesis:

So what can we say regarding the teaching of the Lord Jesus in John 15?  And specifically, why should any Bible-believing person reject the idea that the words of the Lord, especially regarding fruitless, rejected, and burnt branches, lead us to believe that salvation is anything less than the perfect, infallible work of a Perfect, Infallible Savior (John 6:37-39)?

The words of the Lord Jesus do not lead us to believe the branches which are taken away (v. 2) and burned (v. 6) are disciples.  In fact, one cannot maintain such an interpretation in light of the following considerations: 

1) Christ differentiates between those who are “clean” by the Word which is spoken to them and the branches that are taken away: there is no such thing as a true disciple who is not cleansed by the Word;

2) The Lord limits the realm of true discipleship to those who abide in Him.  The branches taken away in v. 2 and burned in v. 6 do not abide in Christ and hence are not disciples; 

3) Jesus gives no indication that there is a major exception to verse 5, where there are those who abide in Him and yet do not bear fruit (reinforcing the distinction inherent in the entirety of the passage);

4) the Lord defines fruit bearing as the only evidence of discipleship (v. 8).  Since the branches that are taken away and burned bore no fruit, it follows inevitably that they are not, by Jesus’ own definition, disciples;

5) Jesus spoke these words not to cause His disciples sorrow but to give them joy (15:11).  The centrality of the Father and Son in bringing out the fruitfulness of the Vine brings joy; interpreting these words so as to refer to true disciples losing their salvation does not;

6) the focus upon Christ as the source of all spiritual life picks up the same theme found in John 6 (as the Bread of Life).  It is completely backwards to take a passage that presents the work of the Father in glorifying Himself in bringing forth fruit in Christ’s people and see it as a passage teaching the opposite, that is, the Father’s failure to bring forth fruit and hence lose one-time true believers.

Now, with these things in mind, let’s turn to the writings of Martin Smart on this passage.  His attempt to turn John 15 against the truth of the perfection of the work of Christ as Savior is a wonderful example of how Jehovah’s Witnesses, and especially their unofficial apologists, can twist and distort the Scriptures, and especially, in his second installment, how they will often attempt to present themselves as masters of scholarly material, when in reality, they are using it to prove what is not in dispute:


You answered the question about eternal salvation and being in Christ the same way that James White answered it when I brought it up in his chat room (my nick was Arminian at the time.) When he found out who I was he was mad and thought I had mis-represented myself but I replied by asking just how my views differed from the Arminian position. I am interested in what you have to say on this. I think he was a bit peeved at me at the time because I had set him up with the same question that I asked you with regards to being “in Christ” and eternally saved and he did not have an answer for this. 

Now I will fill you in with where I am going with this.   An examination of all of the instances of  EN EMOI with respect to being “in Christ” is educational:

EN EMOI with respects to union with Christ

Matthew 10:32 “Everyone, then, that confesses union with me [EN EMOI] before men, I will also confess union with him before my Father who is in the heavens;

Mark 14:6 But Jesus said: “Let her alone. Why do YOU try to make trouble for her? She did a fine deed toward me [EN EMOI].

Luke12:8 “I say, then, to YOU, Everyone that confesses union with me [EN EMOI] before men, the Son of man will also confess union with him before the angels of God.

John 6:56 He that feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood remains in union with me [EN EMOI MENEI], and I in union with him.

John 10:38 But if I am doing them, even though YOU do not believe me, believe the works, in order that YOU may come to know and may continue knowing that the Father is in union with me [EN EMOI] and I am in union with the Father.”

John 14:10 Do you not believe that I am in union with the Father and the Father is in union with me [EN EMOI]? The things I say to YOU men I do not speak of my own originality; but the Father who remains in union with me [EN EMOI MENWN] is doing his works.

John 14:11 Believe me that I am in union with the Father and the Father is in union with me [EN EMOI]; otherwise, believe on account of the works themselves.

John 14:20 In that day YOU will know that I am in union with my Father and YOU are in union with me [EN EMOI] and I am in union with YOU.

John 15:2 Every branch in me [EN EMOI] not bearing fruit he takes away, and every one bearing fruit he cleans, that it may bear more fruit.

John 15:4 Remain in union with me [MEINATE EN EMOI], and I in union with YOU. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it remains in the vine, in the same way neither can YOU, unless YOU remain in union with me.

John 15:5 I am the vine, YOU are the branches. He that remains in union with me [hO MENWN EN EMOI], and I in union with him, this one bears much fruit; because apart from me YOU can do nothing at all.

John 15:6 If anyone does not remain in union with me [MENH EN EMOI], he is cast out as a branch and is dried up; and men gather those branches up and pitch them into the fire and they are burned.

John 15:7 If YOU remain in union with me [MEINHTE EN EMOI] and my sayings remain in YOU, ask whatever YOU wish and it will take place for YOU.

John 16:33 I have said these things to YOU [EN EMOI] that by means of me YOU may have peace. In the world YOU are having tribulation, but take courage! I have conquered the world.”

John 17:21 in order that they may all be one [hEN WSIN], just as you, Father, are in union with me [EN EMOI] and I am in union with you, that they also may be in union with us, in order that the world may believe that you sent me forth.

John 17:23 I in union with them and you in union with me [EN EMOI], in order that they may be perfected into one [EIS hEN], that the world may have the knowledge that you sent me forth and that you loved them just as you loved me.

The on I wish to focus on and which appears to be inconsistent with the views of 5-point Calvinism is the usage in John chapter 15.

John 15:2

Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. (NASB


Please note that these ones to not merely claim to be “in Christ” but it is the Christ himself who claims they are EN EMOI.

That EN EMOI is in apposition to KLHMA is obvious when the whole section John 15:1-17 is taken into consideration. There are TA KLHMATA which remain and there are TA KLHMATA who are taken away. Before this sorting out takes place both classes of TA KLHMATA are EN EMOI.

The damage this does to the Calvinist position should now be obvious.


Martin Smart

After posting this, Mr. Smart likewise forwarded a much expanded presentation to the same list, replying to an orthodox list user who replied to the above.  The reader will notice a proliferation of “scholarly references.”  But notice one thing in particular: rarely are the references actually relevant to the topic at hand.  This is a hallmark of the JW apologists on the Internet: they glory in providing reference after reference as if the possession of such resources means they are using them in a relevant fashion.  As we shall see, Mr. Smart does not make his case.


I understand that there are some commentators that take your view on this passage.  I think I can provide convincing evidence that their views are not based on the natural sense of the Greek language or the context of Jesus' parable but is purely driven by their theology.  Because of this I will not merely provide the opinions of commentators, but will also give the reasons why the Greek language cannot be interpreted the way you interpret John 15:2 by using leading Lexical and Grammatical sources and also prove that the elements of the parable should not be interpreted the way you interpret them. In short I believe these arguments are "special pleading."  

I had said:

John 15:2
Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. (NASB) PAN KLHMA EN EMOI MH FERON KARPON AIREI AUTO KAI PAN TO KARPON FERON KAQAIREI AUTO INA KARPON PLEIONA FERH (GNT)

Please note that these ones to not merely claim to be "in Christ" but it is the Christ himself who claims they are EN EMOI.

Both the Greek of John 15:2 and the imagery of the vine prohibit the understanding that the branch that does not produce fruit was never "in Christ" to begin with.

Part of your analysis was to assume that the vine in Jesus' illustration was similar to a bean plant you encountered in Botany. This is not a good comparison; For more detail on this see the quotes below from the Translator's Handbook of the Gospel of John by Nida. It is likely that this vine is a grape vine because Jesus and his disciples had just finished with the Passover and also because a grapevine is pruned every season and produces fruit.  However, even if it was some other type of vine that fits the agricultural profile of Israel in Jesus' day it is clear that a branch by definition is part of (or in) the vine as a whole.  

The branch that does not produce fruit is as much a part of the vine as the branch that does produce fruit. Consider the Greek of John 15:2. The first mention of branch (PAN KLHMA) is the one that does not produce.  The second mention is actually an anaphoric reference to the first.  KLHMA is not repeated in the verse. Therefore the first occurrence of KLHMA applies to both types of branches. The branches are identical except for their productivity.  The very definition of a branch of a vine militates against the interpretation that it is not attached to the vine.  Since Jesus Christ is the one who says that both productive and non-productive branches are "in me" (EN EMOI) the natural and normal reading of this passage proves that these branches are not counterfeit branches.  The vine is a real vine and this includes the branches. This is supported by the leading grammatical and lexical resources for Koine Greek, see below.

KG: Your previous posting (of the other verses using en emoi) was indeed educational. As I figured, en emoi ('in me') changes meaning with context. En is a primary preposition which can carry several conntations depending on the context. I've included some extra scriptural occurences of En Emoi (which do not match your preconceived notions) in order to expand on the point:

Mt. 10:32 Then everyone who shall confess Me (i.e. a state of oneness 'in' or 'in relation to') before men, I will also confess him before My Father in Heaven. Usage: in (positional)

Mt 11:6 And blessed is the [one], whoever shall not be offended in Me. Usage: because of (instrumental)

Mark 14:6 But Jesus said: "Let her alone. Why do YOU try to make trouble for her? She did a fine deed toward me [EN EMOI]. Usage: toward (relational)

Lu 22:37 For I say to you that this that has been written must yet be fulfilled in Me: "And He was numbered with the lawless." [Isa. 53:12] For the things concerning Me also have an end. Usage: in relation to (relational) *note: 'for the things concerning Me' actually clarify the meaning of 'in me' in this passage.

Joh 6:56 The [one] partaking of My flesh and drinking of My blood abides in Me, and I in him. Usage: in (relational)

After the comments I received from the first poster I went back and re-compiled the list and this time focused on just the gospel of John. This does not mean that I do not consider then as signifying unity. It just means that I will focus on John's usages. John used the phrase EN EMOI 14 times in his gospel. In 13 of the occasions he uses it with reference to believers (Jn 6:56; 10:38; 14:10,11,20; 15:2,4,5,6,7; 16:33; 17:21,23) and in one instance he uses it of Satan with the negative particle OUK. (Jn 14:30)  The leading lexical and grammatical sources view the instances in question differently than you do.  BDAG further notes that John and Paul both use EN EMOI or EN XRISTWi in a consistently "technical" sense which has a different meaning that the one that you posit for John 15.  These sources also specifically mention John 15 as having this meaning which is different that the one you propose.

Lexical Evidence
Considering that most of the examples are from John, it seems reasonable to focus on John because Bauer-Danker-Arndt-Gingrich Greek Lexicon (BDAG,3rd edition, 2000) states in the entry for EN, on page 327 that it has a particular sense in both John and Paul.  See the entry below.

You categorize EN EMOI in John 6:56 as "relational" with a different sense than does BDAG.  BDAG considers this sort of "relation" to be a category of being "in Christ" which is indeed a "close personal relation."

BDAG, page 327C defines the major category #4 as a "marker of close association with a limit, in." Therefore all the categories below are examples of in something defined by what follows EN. Underneath entry number 4 is found

a. fig., of pers. to indicate the state of being filled or gripped by somth: in someone = in one's innermost being ... abides J 6:56

b. of the whole, w. which the parts are closely joined. MENEIN EV TH AMPELW remain in the vine J 15:4

g. Esp. in Paul or Joh usage, to designate a close personal relation in which the referent of the EV-term is viewed as the controlling influence... and of Christians 1J 3:24; 4:13 15f; .. be or abide in Christ J14:20; 15:4f ... 1J 2:24 - in Paul ... EV XRISTWi.

There are other categories of EN listed in BDAG, however one cannot accurately exegete a text by taking the smorgasbord approach and selecting the definition that fits one's theology.  BDAG has a category (#8) that appears to be how you interpret John 6:56 and the examples in John 15 which they call "in connection with."  I am willing to consider any reputable Lexical source which supports your view, however until you supply the reference I will assume that none exists.  If you wish to employ your lexical definitions, the burden of proof is upon you to provide them.

Grammatical Evidence
, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, page 175, 4. Dative After Certain Prepositions – b. Significance states: When a dative follows a preposition, you should not attempt to identify the dative’s function by case usage alone. Rather, consult BAGD for the specific usage of that case with that preposition.”  Therefore Wallace supports the views I quoted with respect to EN EMOI in BDAG.

In addition, A Translator's Handbook of the Gospel of John (Barclay M. Newman and Eugene M. Nida) page 481 Nida takes John 6:56 as "in union with."  In addition on page 479 it says regarding John 15:2:

Some scholars contend that the Greek term translated vine really means “vine stalk,” and that the vine stalk must be clearly distinguished from the branches. However, most exegetes understand this term to include both stalk and branches, since the branches can be regarded as part of the vine, in the same way that believers may be regarded as part of Christ; that is, they are in him even as he is in them.

Every branch in me must be rendered in some languages “every branch that is a part of me” or “every branch that is attached to me.” However if it is necessary to explain the relation of in me by a separate clause, the structure may become relatively complex, for example, “He breaks off every branch that is a part of me that does not bear fruit.”  (e.a)

I place commentary in the last position on purpose.  It is the least valuable and most theological driven evidence that one can use in exegesis.  
The Gospel of ST John, BF Westcott, page 217

Every branch in me* that beareth not fruit he taketh away. [*in me – Even the unfruitful branches are true branches. They also are “in Christ” though they draw life in him only to bear leaves (Matt. xxi. 19)]

KG: Now we deal with John 15:2. You write:

MS: That EN EMOI is in apposition to KLHMA is obvious when the whole section John 15:1-17 is taken into consideration. There are TA KLHMATA which remain and there are TA KLHMATA who are taken away. Before this sorting out takes place both classes of TA KLHMATA are EN EMOI.

KG: 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 5 "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.

KG: John 15:4-6's usage of the passage clarify John 15:2. The meaning is relational, not positional. To expand on Jesus' parable- the branches must, by their nature, stay 'in relation' to Christ. Even non-believers who keep a 'Christ centered life' (playing church) talk the talk about being blessed and actually ARE- usually by nature of the fact that the principles of the Christian life 'work'.

Nida quotes John 15:4 as "Remain united to me, and I will remain united to you" and goes on to say:

And I will remain united in you may also be understood as a comparison "as I remain united with you," since the Greek conjunction kai may mean either "and" or "as."  If the clause is interpreted as a comparison, then the first clause is most appropriately understood as an imperative, for example, "continue to be a part of me even as I am a part of you" or "continue to be joined to me even as I will remain joined to you."  However if the second clause is not to be considered a type of comparison, in most languages a conditional relation would be more appropriate, for example, "If you remain joined to me, I will remain joined to you."
 Most translations are literal, maintaining the imagery either of "living in" or "abiding in."  This meaning is essentially that of 6.56 ("to live in fellowship/union with").  Since the spatial concept of one person living in another person may be difficult, it is better to follow TEV and translate "remain united with me."  (Nida 481 e.a.)

Therefore Nida states unequivocally that "living in" is the literal rendering and that this is equivalent to "union with."  Nida's view is also supported by BDAG.

KG: Your assumption that en emoi is used in a strictly soteriological instead of relational sense here is unwarranted by the context and in light of other passages.

The parable employs the phrase EIS PUR (into the fire). Every instance of EIS PUR in the GNT has the sense of the destruction (consumed by fire) of the wicked.  The use of  PUR with KAIW at John 15:6 proves that the fire is not for the purpose of refining but for destruction.  This can also be seen by the use of EIS KAUSIN (related to KAIW) at Hebrews 6:8 where the unrepentant former Christians are consumed by fire.

The lexical evidence supports this view.  Note that BDAG speaks of the fire at John 15:6 as one that consumes the branches.  This is not a cleansing, but a complete destruction.

KAUSIS  – BDAG  <file:///D:/Documents%20and%20Settings/Administrator/My%20Documents/My%20Webs/Lexicon/references.html#BDAG> 536A (s. KAIW ) burning h`j to. te,loj eivj kau/sin its (the land’s) end is to be burned over Hb 6:8

KAIW – BDAG 499C 2  to cause someth. to burn so as to be consumed, burn (up) … Mt 13:40 v.l. (for KATAKAIETAI, s. KATAKAIW) J 15:6  

This is completely different that when the preposition DIA  (through) is used with PUROS as in 1 Co. 3:15 and 1 Pet. 1:7 where fire is used for the refining of the Christian for the DOKIMION THS TISTEWS. Here DIA is used as opposed to EIS PUROS.

Therefore, this complete destruction (EIS PUR) can only mean the final complete judgment at the end.

KG: This is further buttressed by the remaining context of the passage:

"If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love.  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete." (v. 7-11)

The usage of "remain in me" cannot be ignored and the lexical evidence for MENW also strongly refutes your position. BDAG, page 630 gives two basic meanings to MENW. One is "Remain, stay, intr a. a pers or thing remains where he, she, or it is. (...) EN TWi AMPELW remain on the vine, i.e. not be cut off 15:4b ... b. intransf. sense, of someone who does not leave a certain realm or sphere" remain, continue, abide ... of Christians in their relation to Christ J J6:56; 15:4 ac, 5-7 ... of Christ relating to Christians Jn 15:4a,5

Thus, the second use of MENW lexically has the sense that Christians choose to remain in Christ.  This applies to 15:4a and 5-7.   Nida, in the quote I provided above concurs.  If the clause is comparative it is an imperative.  If it is not comparative it is conditional.  What you quote above is translated as conditional because of the word "if" in "If you remain in me."  This proves that it is not a given or predestined in any way that the branch that is in Christ will stay.  The conditional is also repeated in "If you obey my commands."  Thus Nida's grammatical analysis which is to be used as a guide for translators agrees with the lexical entry for BDAG.

It is clear that Jesus does not teach the doctrine of predestination here, in fact he refutes it!

KG: The love of Christ and of the Father can be described as the daily nurturing and blessings a believer receives as a result of sustained contact with Christ and other believers. There are some professed believers who also receive these blessings, but do not bear any fruit. Instead, they try to soak up all they can get (i.e.- the Love of the Father). They will be pruned. The love of the Father in this passage has to do with the joy in the believer being complete, not with salvation.

As we have seen, this is no mere "contact."  Both branches are equally in the vine and given the same opportunity to produce fruit.  There are no branches that are not a part of the body of the vine which is the body of Christ.

KG: Further, in light of the parable of the sower, these 'branches' which get broken off are simply an example of the ground Christ spoke of which '...received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy.  But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.' (Matthew 13:20-22, NIV)

You are mixing your parables. Seeds are not branches.

KG: They have a professed faith in Christ and receive similar blessings because of their relationship to the church (via other Christians around them- remember, it was told to the servant not to remove the weeds yet because in doing so, he may also accidentally remove the wheat!). The wheat and tares all continue alongside each other, but which is which is made evident in the end (Matt. 13). Weeds and chaff all grow alongside each other until the end. The Father prunes them from each other- and please note- the chaff 'wasn't once considered wheat' nor was the wheat 'wheat then chaff, then wheat'.

The true vine which is the Christ does not grow "weeds" mixed in with real branches.  They are all legitimate branches.  You are mixing your parables.

KG: In like fashion, there are branches which continue alongside those which are true branches that will be pruned because they will NOT produce fruit. Those branches that are not a part of the The True Vine will 'go out' from them (1John 2:19). If they were part of the True Vine, not just on 'out on a limb' (I made a funny! HA!), they would continue and abide.

The distinction between those who were not of the same sort as the loyal Christians is because they did not continue or remain with them.  The entries from Nida and BDAG show that in this sense it is the choice of the individual to remain or not.  This does not mean that they were not producing fruit in fellowship with Christ and the other believers when they first became a part of the body of Christ as a branch is to the vine.

[I also snipped your example of kidney bean, as it does not fit the profile of the vine in John 15] Nida, page 480 emphasizes that it is important to have the correct imagery when exegeting this passage.

There are several serious complications in translating vine. Some translators make the mistake of selecting a term which indicates merely a vining plant; for example, in one language the term selected identified a sweet potato vine, and in another the term identified a kind of rattan vine which grows in the jungle but does not produce edible fruit. In yet another language the term for vine simply meant a squash vine. Obviously what is necessary is an expression which will identify a plant which produces fruit and continues year after year.

I have given some reasons why I believe that this vining plant is a grape vine.  There is more evidence that what I have given and it is certainly impossible that Jesus was speaking about a bean plant.  Bean plants are not cultivated by having their branches pruned.  Grape vines, however, are very much a part of the Jewish life.

MS: The damage this does to the Calvinist position should now be obvious.

KG: No damage done, actually. Just a little extra work for me to track down some commentaries/do my own personal work on the topic. Thanks for the research opprotunity! More learned men than you have came past John 15:2 with no problem. John Gill’s commentary and Matthew Henry’s are two examples. For you to think that you can overturn a host of other verses with one passage of scripture is the height of arrogance.

I briefly looked at Matthew Henry but not John Gill. Matthew Henry did not go into the Greek at all and to me seemed to be very theologically driven. Also, I consider commentary to be inferior to lexical and grammatical sources, don’t you?

In conclusion, the details of the parable, the relationship of the branch as part of the vine, the lexical meaning of EN EMOI, the grammar of EN EMOI and MENW, all combine to refute the Calvinist position on John 15. 


Without any undue disrespect, Mr. Smart’s presentation is 98% smoke, and 2% dust.  In essence, proving that EN EMOI means EN EMOI (“in Me”) proves nothing.  The translation of the phrase is not at issue at all.  You can cite lexicons forever and never get to the point: that phrases appear in sentences which then form paragraphs, and the meaning of the passage is determined in context, not by isolating a phrase and insisting it must mean what you want it to mean.  Nothing in Mr. Smart’s presentation even begins to take Jesus’ words as a total teaching.  Instead, it breaks the text up into small sections and ignores how they are related to each other. 

This kind of eisegetical procedure is the hallmark of JW apologists.  They are so accustomed to focusing upon such things as John 1:1 and “a god” that they are oblivious to the need to read the language outside of mere words or short phrases.  Syntax and then exegesis are unknown areas to those who engage in the study of the text solely to defend something like the NWT.

A Critical Assessment of the Graf-Wellhausen Documentary Hypothesis – Vintage


While the church has, from its earliest days, recognized that the Old Testament is a part of her heritage, there has by no means been a consensus view with regard to its interpretation. Origen, and others of the Alexandrian tradition, favored an approach to Old Testament theology that saw the entire work as an allegory–beneath any Old Testament text there could be found, if one looked hard enough, an allegorical reference to a New Testament event or person. While such a Christocentric view of the Old Testament is certainly laudable, this approach did not show respect for the fact that the books of the Old Covenant were written within a historical context by historical figures. In the formative years of the church there were various attempts made at criticism of the Old Testament both inside and outside of the church. Some with Gnostic leanings declared the Old Testament to be the creation of a lesser god than the God of the New Testament.1 Porphyry argued against Daniel having written the work ascribed to him, and dated it to the time at which the prophecies were fulfilled (i.e., during the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, 175-163 B.C).  He doubted that anyone could prophecy with that degree of accuracy, so it must be an eyewitness account.2 In the latter years of the first millennium A.D. there were further attacks against the chronology of the Old Testament, especially among Muslim apologists.

It was not until after the Reformation, however, that the level of attack against the fidelity of the Old Testament was raised.  While there were, evidently, questions raised concerning the origins of the Old Testament books, many people looked to the church for their interpretation and for guidance in their understanding of these issues. The Reformation changed things.  The authority of Rome as the interpreter of the Scriptures had been challenged.  On the one hand, this meant that people recognized the fact that Scripture itself is its own interpreter.  On the other hand, this also meant that, in the eyes of some, people had license to develop their own ideas on the meaning and origin of Scriptural books apart from an external authority.3

The rise of humanism aided and guided this adverse development.  Baruch de Spinoza (1632-1677), a Dutch pantheistic-rationalistic philosopher who, like many of his kind, denied the possibility of the miraculous, and hence denied the possibility of divine revelation, rejected the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch.  While various suggestions were made as to who wrote what parts of the Pentateuch, it was Jean Astruc, a French physician who, in a 1753 work entitled Conjectures, proposed that Genesis (and other places in the Old Testament) can be divided based on the name for God used.  Some portions utilize Elohim as the name for God, while others use Jehovah (Yahweh).  Hence, one detects the presence of Elhoistic sections from the hand of one source, and Jehovistic sections from the hand of another source.  J. G. Eichhorn developed Astruc’s theory to the point of recognizing a distinctive stylistic difference between the Elhoistic and Jehovistic authors, even suggesting that their handiwork can be observed elsewhere beyond the book of Genesis.  It is worth noting, though, that Astruc and Eichhorn at least credited Moses as the compiler of these sources.4

W. M. L. De Wette supported the Astruc-Eichhorn documentary theory, and added to this the notion that the copy of the Book of the Law discovered at the time of Josiah constituted the core of the book of Deuteronomy.  Hence, one could identify possibly three sources at work in the Pentateuchal narrative:5 an Elhoistic source, a Jehovistic source, and the book of Deuteronomy.  In 1853, Herman Hupfeld identified a secondary Elhoistic source; that is, a source that used the name Elohim as opposed to Jehovah, yet whose style was unlike the Elhoistic author and more like the Jehovistic author.  This source was called “2nd Elohist,” or E, while the former Elohist was designated “P” in light of his “priestly tendencies.”6

Up to this point, the Elohist document was considered to be the earliest source for the Pentateuch, and this would be dated somewhere between the time of the Judges and the time of King David.  In 1866, there was a radical departure from this view when Karl Heinrich Graf published his book, The Historical Books of the Old Testament.  Influenced by his teacher, Eduard Reuss, Graf proposed that, while the historical sections were relatively old, the priestly laws were inserted after the exile, and hence the basic document for the Pentateuch was not early, but late.7  John William Colenzo (1814-1883) went further and also denied the historicity of any of the historical content of the Pentateuch’s primary document.  In addition to this, he postulated that the Book of the Law discovered during the reign of Josiah was the book of Deuteronomy, and that Chronicles was composed with the sole purpose of promoting priestly and Levitical interests.8  Abraham Keunen voiced his disagreement to this dating scheme.  He held that the Jehovistic document was the basic source document for the Pentateuch, supplemented by the Elhoistic document, Deuteronomy, the exilic laws, and the Priestly document, which was considered to be from the time of Ezra.9

Finally, by way of background, it is important to note the work of Johann Karl Wilhelm Vatke (1806-1882). Vatke, applying principles of Hegelian philosophy, took the position that religions move from a primitive to a more advanced form over time. Applying this position to a study of Israelite history, and incorporating his comparative study of Canaanite and Egyptian religion, he concluded that Israel’s religious life did not deteriorate from a high point at the time of Moses.  Rather, it started as a primitive astral religion, and developed later into a cult of Yahweh.  On this basis, he regarded most of the Pentateuchal foundational document as exilic in date.10

Julius Wellhausen

Julius Wellhausen (1844-1918) is sometimes credited with formulating the documentary hypothesis, but, as is evident from the above, his work was mainly as a popular exponent of the views coming out of the German school of the time.  He studied under Ewald at the University of Gttingen, and later served as professor at Greifswald, Halle, Marburg, and Gttingen.  The work that brought his views to the attention of the public was his Prolegomena to the History of Israel, first published in 1878.  In this book, Wellhausen gives a brief history of how he first became interested in the documentary hypothesis:

In my early student days I was attracted by the stories of Saul and David, Ahab and Elijah; the discourses of Amos and Isaiah laid strong hold on me, and I read myself well into the prophetic and historical books of the Old Testament. Thanks to such aids as were accessible to me, I even considered that I understood them tolerably, but at the same time was troubled with a bad conscience, as if I were beginning with the roof instead of the foundation; for I had no thorough acquaintance with the Law, of which I was accustomed to be told that it was the basis and postulate of the whole literature. At last I took courage and made my way through Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and even through Knobel’s Commentary to these books. But it was in vain that I looked for the light which was to be shed from this source on the historical and prophetical books.  On the contrary, my enjoyment of the latter was marred by the Law; it did not bring them any nearer me, but intruded itself uneasily, like a ghost that makes a noise indeed, but is not visible and really effects nothing.  Even where there were points of contact between it and them, differences also made themselves felt, and I found it impossible to give a candid decision in favour of the priority of the Law.  Dimly I began to perceive that throughout there was between them all the difference that separates two wholly distinct worlds.  Yet, so far from attaining clear conceptions, I only fell into deeper confusion, which was worse confounded by the explanations of Ewald in the second volume of history of Israel.11  At last, in the course of a casual visit in G€ttingen in the summer of 1867, I learned through Ritschl that Karl Heinrich Graf placed the law later than the Prophets, and, almost without knowing his reasons for the hypothesis, I was prepared to accept it; I readily acknowledged to myself the possibility of understanding Hebrew antiquity without the book of the Torah.12

From this account, one can see clearly that Wellhausen’s point of departure from his earlier views was not a critical examination of the texts, but a discomfort that something did not seem right.  It is his testimony that thanks to Ritschl, Graf, and their predecessors no doubt, he gained enlightenment that enabled him to let go of his previous convictions regarding the integrity of the Biblical text.  This paper will, hopefully, demonstrate that at the root of the documentary hypothesis there is not a firmly established, historically defensible presentation of the fragmentary nature of the Torah.  Rather, at its root is a theory based on the application of the naturalistic assumptions of seventeenth and eighteenth century humanists to the Biblical text.  As Walter Kaiser points out, some modern proponents of the documentary hypothesis would like to wish that foundation does not exist, however it must exist for them, or the whole building collapses.13

In 1880, Wellhausen published an overview of his Prolegomena, which was the basis for the 1881 Encyclopaedia Britannica entry on Israel.  The publication of this edition exposed the English-speaking world to German critical scholarship, and it caused a scandal.14  Today, however, Wellhausen’s views, whether challenged, adapted, or accepted at face value, have become integral to any study of the Old Testament.  Even among those who may question the existence of specific J, E, D, and P sources, the questions raised by Wellhausen have caused many to abandoned traditional, and even Biblical assertions regarding the authorship and dating of the Old Testament.15  For this reason, it is extremely vital that those engaged in Old Testament study be aware of Wellhausen’s work, as well as the reasons why the documentary hypothesis as it stands today cannot be held as an adequate explanation of Pentateuchal origins.  Indeed, it is important that the problems of the Graf-Wellhausen documentary hypothesis are presented to the student of the Old Testament, in the hope that, by the grace of God, his confidence in the Biblical record may be strengthened.

The critique presented in this paper will be organized in the following way: firstly, there will be a presentation of the major themes of the documentary hypothesis along with arguments in support of them.  This will be followed by a critique of each of those themes.  The paper will then close with some observations and conclusions.  It should be noted that not every argument and not every theme apparent in the writings of documentary hypothesis supporters will be dealt with; such a task is beyond the scope of this paper.  The purpose of this paper is to present the major themes and arguments in the hope that the refutation of these will provide the basis for critiques of others not covered.

The Elimination of the Supernatural

Wellhausen’s position on the place of the supernatural and divine revelation does not seem to be as cut-and-dried as it might be to many of his modern-day followers.  In his Prolegomena, he does not deny the existence of God, nor does he reject the claims of the Old Testament writers to having received the Word of God.  On the other hand, his obvious willingness to move outside the Scriptures to find naturalistic answers to his questions that were, in many ways, contrary to the Scriptures shows, at best, a highly deficient view of the authority of the Word of God.  Indeed, to arrive at the conclusions he arrived at, one would have to abandon completely the notion of God-breathed Scripture, given the amount of error, myth, and misrepresentation that his view necessarily demands.  Nevertheless, W. Robertson Smith, in his introduction to the English translation of the Prolegomena states quite emphatically that the book is for the person “who has faith enough to see the hand of God as clearly in a long providential development as in a sudden miracle.”16

What is undeniable, however, is that the foundation of the documentary hypothesis is heavily influenced by naturalistic, humanistic philosophy.  Orr reports the view of Keunen, who stated that the religion of Israel is one of many religions, and not anything more; this is, apparently, the view of “modern theological science.”17 In his work, Prophets and Prophecy in Israel, Keunen states:

So soon as we derive a separate part of Israel’s religious life directly from God, and allow the supernatural or immediate revelation to intervene in even one single point, so long also our view of the whole continues to be incorrect… It is the supposition of a natural development alone which accounts for all the phenomena.18

In other words, the moment one admits the intervention of special revelation or the supernatural into the study of the Israel’s religious history, it is at that moment that one is guaranteed to come up with erroneous results.  It is only by considering religious history along natural processes of development that one is, according to Keunen, guaranteed to come up with satisfactory results.  This view was also expressed by Pfeiffer: “The Old Testament owes its origin to the religious aspirations of the Jews.”19

Prior to Pfeiffer and Keunen, Comte (1798-1857), representing what was known as the “Positivist” approach, applied a methodology to the study of religion that was founded on the premise that science, with its verifiable laws of succession and resemblance, can explain all natural phenomena without the need to appeal to the supernatural.  It is evident that this approach of “positive science” greatly influenced the thinking of the liberal higher critics of the nineteenth century.20

In short, the documentary hypothesis emerged out of a time of growing emphasis on the centrality of man in history and nature.  This thought found its apex with Darwin’s speculations on evolution, and this incorporated itself with the view of history adopted by the proponents of this hypothesis.  Such an emphasis on the importance of rationalistic thought and the preeminence of man could not tolerate a view of history that placed God in Sovereign control, and that allowed for His guidance and intervention in the affairs of men. Their rejection of the supernatural was based on the assumption that all things happen as a result of natural phenomena, and therefore they could be assured of a natural explanation for everything.21

The Evolution of Religion

By the time of Wellhausen, the traditional ideas of how religious belief came about were being questioned.  The conservative view that the people of Israel were always monotheistic was replaced with the idea of religion moving through an evolutionary process, starting with primitive man’s belief in spirits, through ancestor worship, fetishism, totemism, magic, and then eventually to defined personifications of divinity as in polytheism, culminating in the elevating of one deity above the others in a precursor to monotheism.  G. E. Wright has given a good summation of how this view of the development of religion was applied by Wellhausen and his followers:

The Graf-Wellhausen reconstruction of the history of Israel’s religion was, in effect, an assertion that within the pages of the Old Testament we have a perfect example of the evolution of religion from animism in patriarchal times through henotheism to monotheism. The last was first achieved in pure form during the sixth and fifth centuries. The patriarchs worshipped the spirits in trees, stones, springs, mountains, etc. The God of pre-prophetic Israel was a tribal deity, limited in power to the land of Palestine. Under the influence of Baalism, he even became a fertility god and sufficiently tolerant to allow the early religion of Israel to be distinguished little from that of Canaan. It was the prophets who were the true innovators and who produced most, if not all, of that which was truly distinctive in Israel, the grand culmination coming with the universalism of II Isaiah. Thus we have animism, or polydemonism, a limited tribal deity, implicit ethical monotheism, and finally, explicit and universal monotheism.22

For examples of Patriarchal animism, the “higher critics” looked to passages such as Genesis 12:6 where the Lord appeared to Abram at the oak of Moreh at the site of Shechem, the oaks of Mamre in Genesis 13:18, where Abram built an altar to the Lord or the stone set up at Ebenezer by Samuel in 1 Samuel 7:12. Also, they note the numerous references to wells, and springs of water in places such as Genesis 14:7, Numbers 21:17f, and Joshua 18:17.23  Apparently, the association of these objects with divine activity was enough to convince the “higher critics” that these things in themselves were seen by the early Israelites to have power to affect the lives of people. It was not that these were simply designated as memorials, but that God actually existed within the object.24

In addition to uncovering traces of animism in the Old Testament, Wellhausen associated polytheistic tendencies with passages where place names were connected with God, Baal, sanctuaries, or Canaanite worship (e.g., Joshua 15:11; Numbers 25:3; Deuteronomy 32:13; Judges 3:7).25  He also “discovered” elements of totemism in the names of people and places in the Old Testament (e.g., Rachel (“ewe”), Caleb (“dog”), Eglah (“calf”)).26  Such totemism, they theorized, developed into ancestor worship. This can be seen, supposedly, in the sanctity of their burial sites (e.g., Genesis 23:1ff.), and also in the teraphim or “household gods.”  Some scholars associated this word with the Hebrew term rph’im, “shades of the departed,” implying that they represented deceased ancestors.27

Among other examples of primitive religion ascribed to early Israel by the “higher critics” was human sacrifice. Keunen suggested that there was a connection between Moloch and Yahweh, since human sacrifice was a part of Moloch worship, and he saw such practice in events such as the offering of Isaac by Abraham (Genesis 22), the killing of the Egyptian first-born (Exodus 13:2, 11-12, and subsequently the concept of offering one’s first-born or first-fruits), the slaughter of Agag by Samuel (1 Samuel 15:33), and the hanging of the seven sons of Saul (2 Samuel 21:1-14).28

The latter stages of Israelite religion, according to Wellhausen, are marked by, at the very least, a henotheism, where Yahweh is regarded as the pre-eminent God above other gods for Israel–a kind of tribal god.29 This eventually gave way to the ethical monotheism of the prophets.30

It is evident that such an attitude toward Israelite history has a major impact on one’s view of the authorship and dating of the Old Testament. Any passages that display an “advanced” monotheistic or henotheistic persuasion necessarily have to be considered to be at the very earliest pre-prophetic; certainly not of the patriarchal, and perhaps only just from the Davidic era. This would further bolster the claim that Deuteronomy is of mid-seventh century origin, since it is very strongly monotheistic (or henotheistic) in tone.31 It is plain to see, therefore, how important such a theory as this is to the documentary hypothesis.

The Late Date of Deuteronomy

About the origin of Deuteronomy there is still less dispute; in all circles where appreciation of scientific results can be looked for at all, it is recognized that it was composed in the same age as that in which it was discovered, and that it was made the rule of Josiah’s reformation, which took place about a generation before the destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldaeans.32

Such was the opinion of Wellhausen, echoing the belief of De Wette that the document recovered during the reign of Josiah was nothing other than the Book of Deuteronomy itself (2 Kings 22). This belief was not merely asserted, but based upon a couple of observations from the text and the period. Firstly, the themes discussed in Deuteronomy reflect both the nature of the reforms that Josiah enacted, and also echo the tenor of prophetic utterance around this time (640-609 B.C.). The call for ethical purity among the people, and the call to worship in one place as opposed to many are echoed in Deuteronomy 12, 14, and 23, for example.

Wellhausen argued that the Jehovistic document lay at the foundation of Deuteronomy, but Deuteronomy itself is clearly later. This is evident from the overturning of previous laws by new ones that focus worship in a central location:

…For example, when he permits slaying without sacrificing, and that too anywhere; when, in order not to abolish the right of asylum (Exodus xxi.13, 14; 1Kings ii. 28) along with the altars, he appoints special cities of refuge for the innocent who are pursued by the avenger of blood…33

Wellhausen thus notes the changes in legislation made in accordance with this “new attitude” toward the one true place of worship for God’s people. Since there is no body of legislation known to Israel since “the book of the Covenant” in Exodus 20-23, the sudden appearance of a document in the reign of Josiah that brings about sweeping reform seems, at least to Wellhausen, very suspicious. Some who follow Wellhausen’s view regard the book to have been a “pious fraud”–that is, certain prophets composed the work under the name of Moses in order to bring about the reforms that Josiah enacted. Others believe it to be a work that was composed in the style of Moses with no intention to deceive.[34]  Whichever view one follows, both necessarily conclude that Deuteronomy is not a Mosaic, mid-late second millennium B.C. work.

It is critical to realize the impact of this conclusion. As James Orr notes:

If Deuteronomy is a work of the age of Josiah, then, necessarily, everything in the other Old Testament books which depends on Deuteronomy–the Deuteronomic revisions of Joshua and Judges, the Deuteronomic allusions and speeches in the Books of Kings, narratives of fact based on Deuteronomy–e.g., the blessings and cursings, and writing of the law on stones, at Ebal, all must be put later than that age.35

Indeed, as far as questions of dating and authorship are concerned, Deuteronomy is the keystone of the whole documentary hypothesis.36

The Unhistorical Nature of the Patriarchal Narratives

Naturally, if the Pentateuch cannot be dated within the lifetimes of those about whom it is written, then the very historicity of those accounts might be drawn into question. According to many who hold to the documentary hypothesis, the Patriarchs were not historical figures, but were either personifications of the various clans that bear their names, or they were works of fiction.37 They point out that many of the genealogies are given by tribal or clan name, not according to the names of individuals. For example, the so-called “Table of Nations” in Genesis 10 refers constantly either to the toldot, or “generations,” of certain people, or to the benΔ“, the “sons of,” certain people.  This is in stark contrast to, say Jesus’ lineage as presented in Matthew 1:1-17 and Luke 3:23-38, where the genealogy is given from person to person.

In connection with the idea of the evolution of religion, the high ethical values, and “advanced” moral and religious ideals exhibited by the Patriarchs in the Pentateuch call into question their historicity.  If it is to be assumed that religions evolve over many generations from primitive to complex forms, then any display of “complex” religious worship or ideals by that religion’s earliest representatives must surely be a later imposition onto the historical narrative. Wellhausen asserted that Abraham was not even spoken of until the later prophets: “In the earlier literature… Isaac is mentioned even by Amos, Abraham first appears in Isaiah xl.-lxvii.” 38 The implication of this statement is that the stories of Abraham come from the same period in which he is spoken of and referred to as a role model, i.e., the later prophetic era. If there are no direct references to him during the pre-exilic era, then none of the stories about him could be derived from any earlier than the exilic era. In the words of Wellhausen:

It is true, we attain to no historical knowledge of the patriarchs, but only of the time when the stories about them arose in the Israelite people; this later age is here unconsciously projected, in its inner and its outward features, into hoary antiquity, and is reflected there like a glorified mirage.39

Finally, since the existence of the supernatural has been eliminated as an option for the “higher critic,” the stories of miraculous interventions in history (angelic appearances, revelatory divine messages, the parting of seas, and so forth) must be considered as mythical additions to the text in order to heighten their appeal and cast the heroes of the stories as being particularly favored by God, and, hence, to be admired and heeded. For the “higher critic,” one cannot maintain the idea of a God working in history along with an objective, scholarly approach to the Biblical text.40

The Late Date of the Mosaic Law

Due to the assertion that religious belief evolves over time from simple to complex, the view that the Mosaic Law, or the Book of the Covenant as preserved in Exodus 20-23 (with Exodus 20:1-17 forming the Decalogue), was composed at one time by Moses in the mid-second millennium simply had to be false. The ideas expressed in these chapters were not of a primitive religious group, but an advanced ethical people. Also, some of the legislation in these chapters (particularly chapter 22, and also, to some extent, in chapter 23) seems to reflect an agricultural situation. This best fits the post-settlement period of Israel’s history, when they had already established themselves in Canaan. In light of these observations, the Book of the Covenant cannot be original with Moses, and must date somewhere in the eighth to seventh century BC.

Even relatively conservative scholars have conceded this latter point. For example, in his commentary on Exodus for the Word Biblical Commentary series, John Durham states, “That the Book of the Covenant is a disruption of the Sinai narrative sequence, and that many of its laws are more appropriate to the settled life in Canaan than to the nomadic life of the wilderness of Sinai, cannot reasonably be doubted.”41 Also, Wellhausen states:

Agriculture was learned by the Hebrews from the Canaanites in whose land they settled, and in commingling with whom they, during the period of the Judges, made the transition to a sedentary life. Before the metamorphosis of shepherds into peasants was effected, they could not possibly have had feasts which related to agriculture.42

The Existence of Multiple Sources/Editors/Redactors

Astruc and Eichhorn are credited with the identification of the Elohistic and Jehovistic sources based on those two names of God, and the style employed when those names are used. As has already been noted, both Astruc and Eichhorn would still credit Moses as the compiler of these works and, therefore, would not have seen this as evidence of their lateness. However, what had begun with the identification of two underlying documents soon grew. Eventually multiple sources were identified for the Pentateuch (and, in time, other parts of the Old Testament). There was an early E, a late E, the Jehovistic document, and finally Deuteronomy. It was Graf who, utilizing existing theories, differentiated the Levitical code from the Deuteronomic, and ascribed a later date to this Levitical code. He identified the so-called “earlier” E with this Levitical, or “Priestly” code, and hence placed this E document at the end of the process. This “early” E became P, or the Priestly Code, and the sequence was amended to either E, J, D, P or J, E, D, P (there was not agreement whether the former “late” E was earlier or later than J until Kuenen gave the latter sequence his support).43

While Wellhausen cannot be credited with making these divisions, he certainly developed the theory further and gave it popular voice. Much has been written on the alleged contents of these hypothetical sources. Since the documents are hypothetical, evidence is drawn from the texts of Scripture that are thought to represent each document, and these texts are considered in light of their style, the history of the region, geography, and the theory of religious evolution.

The J document is regarded as being from around 850 BC. It contains a history of Judah from creation to the settlement in Canaan. This is evident from the amount of references to territorial expansion and the rise of Judah (see, for example, Genesis 15:18; 27:40; 49:8ff.).44 The E document is considered to be about a century later than J and fragmentary in nature. It supposedly originates from the North, given the prominence accorded to Joseph, and the cities of Bethel and Shechem (Genesis 28:17; 31:13; 33:19f.). Also, it has a distinctive religious and moralistic emphasis, as demonstrated in the story of Abraham offering Isaac. D is considered to be from the time of Josiah, and is identified, by and large, with the Book of the Law discovered during his reign (2 Kings 22:3ff.). For evidence of this, proponents of the documentary hypothesis point to the correspondence between the regulations of Deuteronomy and the nature of Josiah’s reforms. In particular, they note the emphasis on the pure worship of God’s people in one place. Finally, P consists of a variety of laws drawn from different periods in the nation’s history. The various law codes were drawn together to provide a legal basis for the post-exilic community. Lending support to the post-exilic dating of this document is the detailed description of the Tabernacle (Exodus 25-27), and also the detailed descriptions of their complex religious rituals.

Of course, if these documents post-date Moses, then Mosaic authorship cannot be held to any of them. Indeed, the scholar holding to the documentary hypothesis will hesitate to name any particular person mentioned in the pages of Scripture as the sole author of any of these works. They would rather claim that these are documents that were passed from hand to hand through a series of editors and redactors. Information was added, or clarification given parenthetically,45 thus altering the original text. Hence, it is the contention of the liberal scholar that the text of the Old Testament has not come to us unchanged, but has grown over generations according to the events of the time.

The basic J, E, D, and P documents were further divided and refined during the years succeeding Wellhausen’s work. Smend identified two Jahwist documents, Eissfelt identified a “Lay” source (L), Morgenstern discovered a Kenite source (K), Pfeiffer thought he had found a Southern (S) source of non-Israelite origin, and so on. However, the core JEDP sources have remain central to the theory, and are still considered at the foundation of the documentary, liberal, approach to the study of the Old Testament.

Having identified six key areas of the documentary hypothesis, the direction of this work shall now turn to offering a critique of these areas. Before beginning the critique, the reader should note that the original Graf-Wellhausen theory was constructed at a time when archaeological study was in its infancy. Had Wellhausen waited until closer to his death to publish, the reaction may have been quite different. In light of modern archaeological finds, liberal scholars today acknowledge that certain aspects of the theory once held to can no longer be considered tenable.46 There is, however, a stubborn streak in liberalism that refuses to let go of JEDP completely, and many modern liberals still hold to the basic tenets of the theory.47 It is the judgment of this author that the six views identified here for criticism represent popular views expounded by Wellhausen that are still maintained in many liberal circles today.

A Critique of the Elimination of the Supernatural

It is often assumed in liberal scholarly circles that complete objectivity in Biblical studies is not only helpful, but also necessary.48 However, it cannot be denied that true objectivity is impossible for anyone, since each person approaches an issue with his or her own set of presuppositions and beliefs. The scholar ought to try to approach an issue devoid of as much prejudice as possible, but complete objectivity is simply too much to ask. As much as the Christian scholar assumes supernatural intervention in history, the liberal scholar assumes the contrary. For the Christian, it would be contrary to his belief system to entertain the possibility of pure “natural” process without special revelation; the same applies for the liberal with regard to the opposite opinion.

Since the advancement of archaeology over the past one hundred years, many aspects of the liberal position have been shown to be tenuous at best. Indeed, the topics addressed in this paper have been addressed by archaeology in ways that make it more difficult for the liberal scholar to maintain the presuppositions that make his position possible. The arguments contrary to the notion of the natural, evolutionary development of religion beg the question of where the particular, and comparatively peculiar, religion of the Israelites actually originated. Questions regarding some of the unusual aspects of Israelite worship, as well as the stories in the early chapters of Genesis need to be addressed in light of recent discoveries. It is a shame, and is often frustrating that the liberal scholars are so frequently unwilling to offer an honest agnosticism over these issues, and instead attempt to assert their presuppositions all the more forcefully in spite of the evidence.

As much as the liberal scholar would like to dispense of the supernatural, and read the text as a work of human hands depicting events that happened without divine intervention, there are too many questions that he cannot adequately answer for such an assumption to be presumed fact. Questions of this nature will be raised in the proceeding pages. It must also be noted, however that as much as archaeology raises questions regarding the liberal position, archaeology by no means “proves” the existence of God, or even the truth claims of Christianity.

Many details of Hebrew history and religion have been confirmed by the spade of the excavator; yet, the main function of Biblical archaeology is to expose the human environment and furnish a properly accredited background to the study of the ancient Hebrews. It should never be expected to demonstrate the veracity of the spiritual truths implicit in the Old Testament, since archaeology is essentially a human activity and cannot therefore as such confirm theology or open the realm of faith.49

A Critique of the Evolution of Religion

The evolutionary view of religion depends upon the idea that religious expression as a whole evolved through the various stages, noted earlier, at various points in history. According to this theory, during the time of the patriarchs, animism would have been prominent. Certainly, according to this theory, the idea that the patriarchal religion was monotheistic (or even henotheistic) could not be true. However, recent archaeological discoveries have indicated that during the time of the patriarchs, Near Eastern religion was far from animistic. Statues of deities in a triad have been found in what has been described as a temple-like structure at an excavation in Jericho. These were dated to around the third millennium B.C.50 There is also evidence of a highly developed polytheism characteristic of the religions of Egypt and Mesopotamia at this time.

The Mesopotamians of this period had already applied categories of personality to the great cosmic powers that dominated their pantheon, and were worshipping them in temples that were regarded as the earthly residence of the deities.51

Also, it would serve the liberal critic well to note that, at this time, the Egyptians had a pantheon whose head god was Re, and the Canaanites had the god El as their chief deity.

From the archaeological evidence, therefore, it seems that animism was far from prevalent during the patriarchal period. Indeed, any lingering artifacts of animistic religion found during this period must be seen as the exception, and not the rule. The religion of the period was far more sophisticated than Wellhausen imagined.

With regard to the “evidences” of animism noted earlier, one must not confuse references to objects (stones, trees, rivers, etc.) that were used as symbols for the worship of such objects. No indication is given in the Old Testament texts that God could not speak to His chosen mouthpiece without the intervention of these objects. “The staff of Moses constituted the symbol of his authority and was not the source of his inspiration or power.”52

The totemism that was supposedly found in the Old Testament by the higher critics is also unsupported by archaeological evidence. Totemism was practiced largely by North Americans, Africans, and Australians and there is no evidence that the practice spread further abroad. It was certainly not widespread enough to be considered a general phase that all religions passed through. While there may be evidence of Egyptian totemism, at least in some form, this appeared only in the later decadence of the religion, and was probably nothing more than simple animal worship. There is no evidence for anything like even the Egyptian practice of mummifying cats and dogs in Mesopotamia or Sumeria. The ascription of the names of animals or objects to people need be nothing more than the recognition of certain characteristics in that person reminiscent of the animal or object. Apart from further evidence of animism in the ancient Near East at this time, it is speculative at best to read anything else into these passages.

The suggestion that human sacrifice was an acceptable part of Israelite worship is nothing short of ludicrous. The passages cited earlier do not support this view. The command to sacrifice Isaac that was issued to Abraham was clearly a test of Abraham’s faith. The ritual was not completed, at the Lord’s command. Furthermore, the Lord provided an acceptable sacrifice for Abraham to offer in place of his son. Samuel’s killing of Agag does not bear the hallmarks of religious ritual, even though the text says it was done “before the Lord.” This applies to the other passages cited, also. As for the sacrifice of Jephthah’s daughter in fulfillment of the rash vow he made (Judges 11:30-40), there is doubt over whether his daughter was killed or simply offered into the service of the Lord to fulfill the vow. And even if she was killed as a sacrifice, this one incident hardly proves the rule.

… Admitting that the maiden was actually slain as a sacrifice, and not simply devoted, we may be excused… for not accepting the action of this very partially enlightened Gileadite, in a rude age, as a rule for judging of the true character of Israel’s religion.53

The use of the name “El” or “Baal” in place names or names of people has been cited as evidence of early ancestor worship, or polytheism, where the person is elevated to the status of deity. However, it should be observed that such name designations often occurred as a result of a theophany (e.g., Ishmael, “God hears,” because God heard the cries of his mother, Hagar–Genesis 16:10), or a place of religious significance (e.g., Peniel, where Jacob wrestled with God–Genesis 32:30).54 It is also evident from archaeological discoveries that the teraphim, far from being evidence of either ancestor worship or polytheism, constituted, among other things, inheritance rites. It is clear why, therefore, Rachel secretly packed the household idols when she and Jacob left Laban: she was ensuring that she would inherit her father’s property.55

It is also evident from archaeological discoveries that it was entirely possible for monotheism to exist in the time of Moses, and even before that time. Evidence for this can be seen in the practice of contemporary pagan religions of the same time. For example, a Babylonian find from around 1500-1200 B.C. identifies all the major Babylonian gods with the god Marduk. In this text, Zababa is Marduk of battle, Sin is Marduk as illuminator of night, and Adad is Marduk of rain. Similar practices are observed elsewhere by scholars, even in Syria and Canaan.56

There is much more that could be said with regard to this particular issue, and the reader is referred to the numerous articles and books on the subject. Suffice it to say that there is sufficient reason to question the evolutionary hypothesis with regard to religion. The supposition that such a development occurred is too simplistic, especially in light of the archaeological evidence. Yet, as Orr indicates, the liberal position is found also to be internally inconsistent, even aside from archaeological evidence:

How constantly, for instance, are Jephthah’s words in Judges 11:24, relied on in proof that, in the time of the Judges, Jehovah sustained the same relation to Israel as Chemosh did to Moab. Yet this section is declared by the critics not to belong to the older stratum of the book of Judges, but to be a late insertion of uncertain date: certainly, therefore, on the theory, no real speech of Jephthah’s… Similarly, the statement of David in 1 Samuel 26:19, that his enemies had driven him out of Jehovah’s inheritance saying, “Go, serve other gods”–continually quoted in proof that to David Jehovah was only a tribal god–is, with the chapter to which it belongs, assigned by Kautzsch, with others, to a comparatively late date: is valueless, therefore, as a testimony to David’s own sentiments. Is it desired, again, to prove an original connection between Jehovah and Moloch? Kuenen, to that end, accepts as “historical” the statement in Amos 5:26 that the Israelites carried about in the desert “the tabernacle of Moloch,” though the whole history of the wanderings, which, in its JE parts, is allowed to be older that Amos, is rejected by him. A proof of bull-worship of Jehovah from ancient times is found by some in the story of the making of the golden calf in Exodus 32; yet the story is rejected as unhistorical.57

Both in terms of archaeology and internal consistency, the theory of evolutionary development has been shown to be inadequate to enlighten the background of the Old Testament narratives. As will become evident, the very fact that this theory can no longer be taken for granted damages, perhaps irreparably, the whole documentary hypothesis. So much has been laid upon this assumption that to tear it down destroys the whole structure.

A Critique of the Late Date of Deuteronomy

It was noted earlier that, for the liberal scholar, the dating of Deuteronomy depends largely upon placing its origin during the reign of Josiah (seventh century B.C.), and identifying it as the document recovered during that time (2 Kings 22:8). Evidence for this is supposedly found in the reforms of Josiah that followed the discovery of this document that seem to reflect the Deuteronomic legislation, in particular the centralization of Israelite worship in Jerusalem.

The difficulties with this reasoning are plain from the text itself. To begin with, nowhere does Deuteronomy make the claim that Jerusalem is to be the central place of worship. Jerusalem is not named either explicitly or implicitly. Moreover, one must question the assertion that the concern of Deuteronomy is to centralize Israelite worship, such that people could not worship elsewhere. As Harrison points out, “The real force of the contrast in Deuteronomy 12 is not between many alters of God and one, but between those of the Canaanites dedicated to alien deities and the place where the name of God is to be revered… the question is not their number but their character.”58

It would surely be no strange thing for Hilkiah the priest to have recovered the book of Deuteronomy. As is evident from 2 Kings, both kingdoms had slipped more than once into apostasy, and it would not be surprising to learn that the Mosaic law had been lost at that time.59 The problem comes with then hypothesizing that this book of the law was a recent creation by the hands of the prophets to force Josiah’s hand toward reformation. This is to read more into the text than the text itself permits, and the subjective nature of such an assertion is even more obvious when the presupposition of the evolutionary nature of religion is stripped away. If the high moral nature of the Deuteronomic legislation does not necessarily place it at a late date, then there is no reason to suppose that Deuteronomy cannot be Mosaic.

James Orr, writing at the beginning of the twentieth century, raises some very simple yet compelling questions with regard to the liberal theory. For example, how could the priest present to the king a book purporting to be of Mosaic origin when, so to speak, the ink is still wet? Surely such a modern work would not have the look of antiquity and the king, unless he was extremely dull-witted, would not be deceived by such a clear forgery. Also, the text of 2 Kings 22 indicates an awareness of this book’s existence, and the recognition of its authority when it was read. If this book were a novel invention, surely it would not have received such an eager hearing, and be recognized as the book of the law?60

Moreover, as Orr correctly points out, scholars are not in agreement on either the authorship of this work, or its date. Many, including Wellhausen, Graf, Keunen, and Colenso, have no difficulty in asserting that Deuteronomy is a “pious fraud”: a book written at the time of Josiah to provoke reform. Other, more conservative scholars, feeling the force of the “pious fraud” argument, wish to give the work at least some sense of antiquity, so they push its composition back to the days of Hezekiah or Manasseh. However, since they have only their conscience as a basis for this, what is there, apart from an allegiance to the evolutionary theory, that prevents them from assigning its authorship to Moses, or at least to his time?61 Also, if this work is a “pious fraud,” is it one at the hands of the prophets or the priests? Does it reflect a prophetic agenda for moral reform, or a priestly agenda regarding the sanctuary, the priesthood, and the centralization of worship in Jerusalem? Orr suggests that the very fact that there would be a conflict of interest indicates the unified nature of the work apart from either the prophets or priests of Josiah’s time.62

Against the theory of a seventh-century origin for Deuteronomy, Harrison points out that Deuteronomy does, in fact, fit the situation of Israel on the brink of entering the Promised Land. The Israelites were about to enter a land that was under Canaanite rule, and the influence of Canaanite religion would be strong. For this reason, the Lord commanded Israel to destroy all traces of Canaanite worship, so that the pure worship of the Lord would not be tainted by pagan rituals (Deuteronomy 7, and 12, for example).63 The Deuteronomic legislation is clearly preparatory (notice the language in 18:9; 19:1; and 26:1, for example). It is surely presumption to assume that this cannot be the case; only by denying the supernatural and asserting the evolutionary view could one doubt that this legislation was given to Moses to establish the religious framework of the people once they had settled in Canaan.

While it is possible that the reforms of Josiah were influenced in part by provisions in Deuteronomy, the purpose of Deuteronomy went well beyond the reforms of Josiah. As Harrison succinctly puts it, “To set the matter in correct perspective it need only be observed that the reformation of Josiah resulted in an abolition of idolatry, and not in the establishing of a centralized sanctuary, the latter having obtained since the days of Solomon.”64 The suggestion that the purpose of Deuteronomy was fulfilled in the reforms of Josiah surely underestimates the scope of the Deuteronomic legislation, and overestimates the scope of the reforms of Josiah.

A Critique of the Unhistorical Nature of the Patriarchal Narratives

Some of the initial objections to the assertions made regarding the supposed unhistorical nature of the patriarchal narratives have already been addressed in the discussion of the evolutionary theory and the place of the supernatural. There is more that can be said, however, of a positive nature regarding the general historicity of the accounts of the patriarchs.

It is true to say that little is known of the patriarchs themselves outside of the Scriptural record, and archaeology has not helped the Biblical scholar on that front. However, archaeology has provided the scholar with a wealth of information regarding the culture of the early- to mid- second millennium B.C. Near East that enables us to place the patriarchal narratives into this location and timeframe.

To begin with, the account of creation and the flood found in Genesis 1-11 have parallels in Babylonian literature, in particular the AtrahasΔ«s which is dated to about 1800 B.C., though it is based on sources that are probably earlier.65 While some might argue that this document is the source of the accounts in the early chapters of Genesis, it is unlikely that this is the case. This document, and others discovered that are like it, gives insight into the Near Eastern mindset, and the way in which such issues were being discussed at that time. The fact that Genesis 1-11 deals with the same subject matter helps us to place it in this timeframe. However, the numerous points of variation might suggest that Genesis 1-11 serves as, perhaps, an apologetic against some of the myths of creation circulating at that time. For example, in the Babylonian and Mesopotamian texts, creation occurred as a divine afterthought, and initially things were rough but gradually improved over time. The Biblical account, however, states that creation was purposeful, and the creation of man was the apex of God’s creative activity. In Genesis 1-3, rather than being presented with a picture of progression from a hard to an easy life, the text indicates that man was created in perfection with all the benefits of communion with God. However, man fell from this position as a result of sin, and, from thereon, was left to work the ground (Genesis 3:17-19).66 The portrayal of God is also different: the God of Genesis 1-11 is one, omnipotent and holy God, not the multitude of competitive, lustful gods of the other texts.67 Further, as Gordon Wenham points out, “…until the discovery of the Atrahasis epic, it had hardly been appreciated that the command given to Adam to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ showed Genesis rejecting the ancient fear of a population explosion.”68

As mentioned previously, archaeology has been unable to provide parallel accounts of the patriarchal narratives in the Scriptures. However, excavations at and around the site of the ancient royal palace at Mari, the capital of the Semitic Amorites in the eighteenth century B.C., have brought to light some interesting information. In particular, names of Biblical patriarchs were commemorated in the designation of sites such as Serug, Peleg, and Terah.69 Also, from documents and records discovered, it is apparent that names such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Laban, and Joseph were in common use at that time.70 It is also interesting that the occurrence of these names would not fit with a later period.71

The discovery of one thousand clay tablets at the site of ancient Nuzu in central Iraq in 1925 have proven to be very valuable for detailing mid-second millennium Near Eastern customs. In a number of instances, these parallel customs recorded in Genesis.72 For example, the Nuzu tablets provide an example of exchanging inheritance rites for something comparatively trivial (in this case, three sheep). This parallels Esau trading his birthright to Jacob for some stew (Genesis 25: 29-34). Also, the binding nature of Isaac’s blessing, even though it was oral (Genesis 27): the Nuzu tablets confirm that, at this time in Near Eastern society, such oral blessings had legal validity. It was noted earlier that the teraphim, rather than indicating an allegiance to other gods, or ancestor worship of some kind, actually denoted inheritance rights. One of the Nuzu tablets shows that a son-in-law could make a legal claim for the estate of his father-in-law based on his possession of the family teraphim.

These tablets also indicate that it was customary for the marriage contract to require a woman unable to provide progeny for her husband to supply him with a concubine that he may not be deprived of an heir. The concubine would not have the same status within the family as the wife, but it was required that the concubine, and any children she might bear, be made a part of the family. Should the wife subsequently bear her husband a son, this son’s inheritance rights would supercede those of any of the concubine’s offspring.73 In light of this, it is easy to see how the story of Abraham and Sarah falls neatly into the mid-second millennium Near Eastern environment (Genesis 16 and 21). It is clear that when Sarah employed the services of Hagar, this was in accordance with the custom. The hesitation that Sarah had over expelling Hagar and Ishmael is also understandable given the requirement that the concubine remain within the household. However, as Harrison notes:

…it is important in this connection to note that Sarah’s action could have been defended according to the ancient Sumerian code of Lipit-Ishtar (ca. 1850 B.C.), one of the sources underlying the legislation of Hammurabi, which stated that the freedom received by the dispossessed slave was to be considered adequate compensation for the act of expulsion.

Finally, the story told in Genesis 23 of the burial of Sarah and Abraham’s purchase of the cave of Machpelah is given context as a result of the recovery of some Hittite legal texts from Boghazky, which is in modern-day Turkey. In the Genesis account, Abraham is seeking a place to bury his wife. He would like to use the cave of Machpelah, which belongs to Ephron the Hittite. He approaches Ephron and offers to buy the cave, which is on his property, for its full price. Ephron offers to give both the field and the cave to Abraham for his dead. Abraham insists on paying for it, and Ephron concedes, asking four hundred sheckels of silver. Abraham weighs this out for him and takes possession of the property. This entire transaction takes place, as the text notes frequently, “in the hearing of the sons of Heth.”

This narrative has a legal air about it, and some of the details are, perhaps, a little peculiar (the repeated mention of the sons of Heth, Abraham’s desire to purchase only the cave and not the full property, the mention of the trees on the property, to name a few). However, the Hittite legal texts from Boghazky go a long way to help us understand what is going on in this passage. Firstly, Abraham’s request to purchase only the cave and not the entire land could be explained by the fact that under the Hittite law, someone who purchases the entire property of the seller is bound to render feudal services of some nature to the seller. Clearly, Abraham wanted to avoid this. When Ephron insisted on selling the whole property, Abraham accepted and, according to documented custom, weighed the full amount out to Ephron in silver in the presence of witnesses. Hittite law required the transaction to be public. Finally, Hittite custom was to indicate the number of trees on the property, hence the mention of trees in the text.74

This is just a small sampling of the archaeological information that is available to the scholar with regard to the cultural background of the patriarchal narratives. At the very least, the correspondence between the accounts in the Old Testament and the documents recovered from the ground suggest that the narratives could date back to the period of which they speak. It is the opinion of this writer, and many others more adept in this field of study, that the evidence is too great for there to be any further question over the subject.75

A Critique of the Late Date of the Mosaic Law

One of the main reasons for dating the Mosaic Law to the fifth, or even fourth, century B.C. is the evolutionary theory. That is, religion was not advanced enough by this time to account for the high moral and ethical standards exhibited in the Mosaic Law. As noted previously, recent archaeological finds have given scholars reason to question the validity of the evolutionary theory of religion. There is evidence of “advanced” religious practices well into the time of Moses, and even prior to that time. As for the high standards of the Mosaic legislation, “The standards represented by the law codes of the Babylonians, Assyrians, and Hittites… have effectively refuted this assumption.”76

With regard to the agricultural nature of the statutes and their supposed relationship to a time of settlement, it should be remembered that the exodus journey from Egypt to Canaan should only have taken a couple of years. It would have been reasonable to plan for a settlement scenario just a few years in advance. The fact that their journey took much longer as a result of Israel’s sin (Numbers 13) was, at least as far as the Israelites were concerned, unplanned. Also, as Harrison points out, the Israelites were not ignorant of agriculture, even during their wilderness wandering:

… the Israelites at Sinai were in fact the heirs of four centuries of agricultural and pastoral experience in a rich and fertile region of the Nile delta, and… neither they nor their forefathers had ever been true desert nomads in the modern Bedouin sense… What is clear is the fact that there was certainly no need for the Israelites to be settled in Canaan before such laws and regulations could be promulgated.77

The existence of other legal codes at the time of the exodus also lends credence to the belief that the Mosaic Law (or the book of the Covenant, as it is sometimes called) dates somewhere around 1500-1400 B.C. These other codes include the Code of Hammurabi (2000-1700 B.C.), and the Hittite and Assyrian Codes (1400-1200 B.C.), which all display evidence of being “advanced” in nature.78

Of further interest with regard to the dating of the Mosaic Law, as well as Deuteronomy, is the discovery of various treaties and legal documents in the area of ancient Babylon. The suzerainty treaties are of particular interest, since these were treaties enacted between a great king who might rule over an empire, and a lesser king. The treaties had a covenant form, and had a specific structure during the second millennium: a prologue, a historic prelude, stipulations, instructions for preservation of the enactments, and curses and blessings that might come about as a result of keeping or breaking the treaty.79 This form fits both the pattern of the book of the Covenant (Exodus 19-24), as well as the book of Deuteronomy. It is of further interest that the treaty form changed over the following millennium such that first millennium suzerainty treaties omitted two of the aforementioned five sections.80 If the book of the Covenant and Deuteronomy are both written in the style of a suzerainty treaty, this places them both in the second millennium, not the first millennium.

On the basis of the aforementioned evidence alone, there is, no confident basis for dating the Mosaic Law in a time period outside of the mid-second millennium B.C.

A Critique of the Existence of Multiple Sources/Editors/Redactors

From the outset, it should be stated that it is inconsistent with the testimony of the Old Testament texts themselves to deny that sources have been used, and that people other than the main author of the books worked on the texts. The problem that most conservatives have with the liberal approach is not that the liberal appeals to sources; it is that they appeal to hypothetical sources.81 Numbers 21:14 refers to the Book of the Wars of the Lord; 2 Samuel 1:18 refers to the book of Jashar; 1 Kings 11:41 refers to the book of the acts of Solomon. Clearly, sources were being used in the composition of these books. Sources, however, neither deny antiquity, nor do they deny authorship.

It is also evident that while, as conservatives assert, Moses wrote the major part of the Pentateuch, editorial work was done by other hands. Moses clearly did not write Deuteronomy 34, which gives an account of his death. Someone else (possibly Joshua), wrote this chapter, and, indeed, could well have written chapters 32-34, since at this point in the narrative the book of the Law was in the Ark of the Covenant.82 There are other points in the Old Testament where some editorializing may, arguably, have occurred.83 However, the claims of the liberal go well beyond the occasional change or addition. As has been documented, the liberal claims that the entire basis for, at least, the Pentateuch is a collection of late documents that have been edited and worked over to fit the desires of the editor.

It should be clear that by undermining the theory of religious evolution, one of the major pillars supporting the JEDP framework has been taken away. Without this, there is no philosophical reason for dating the documents as late as Wellhausen and his followers would. The only other place that the supporters of the theory can look to support their documentary distinctions is within the style of the Biblical texts themselves.

As previously noted, Astruc differentiated the J and E documents on the basis of the names of God used. This was further developed to identify the documents on the basis of style such that J was a document originating in Judah with concerns in that area specifically, and E originated in Ephraim, and is more concerned with things pertaining to the North. However, critics are not united on this opinion, with some eminent critics placing J in the North as well as E.84 The preference for Southern and Northern places allegedly evident in J and E respectively is simply a myth. Abraham had a home in Hebron (a J location), and yet his first home was in Bethel (an E location). Isaac lived in Beersheba according to both J and E, and E records Jacob’s residence as in Hebron.85 In short, the designations of J and E documents are purely and solely at the mercy of the scholar interpreting the texts. The subjective nature of these designations is beyond dispute, especially when the spurious presuppositions of the liberal critics are removed.

With regard to the different names of God used, Dahse studied the divine names as used in the Greek Old Testament (LXX) and discovered significant variations from their use in the Hebrew text.86 This alone should be enough to question the validity of this approach. Liberal critics had also noted occasions where the divine names were combined (Yahweh-Elohim), denoting, for them, a conflation of the two sources. However, as Cyrus Gordon ably points out, compound names for a deity is not unusual in ancient Near Eastern texts. In an article he wrote for Christianity Today, Gordon cites examples of gods at Ugarit with such compound names: Qadish-Amrar, and Ibb-Nikkal. He also notes the most famous deity with a compound name, the Egyptian god Amon-Re, formed from the joining of the god of the capital city, Thebes, and Re, the universal Sun god, after the Egyptian conquest. Though comprised of the names of two gods, Amon-Re designated one god.87

The P document, according to the liberal critics, is the Priestly document, containing details such as the measurements of the Tabernacle and Noah’s Ark. This document is given a late date because of this style, which, in the eyes of the liberal critics, is characterized by this kind of attention to detail. Cyrus Gordon, again, observed that dating this document late on the basis of style is without basis in fact:

… after a four-year hiatus in my academic career during World War II… I offered a course on the Gilgamesh Epic. In the eleventh tablet I could not help noting that the Babylonian account of the construction of the Ark contains specification in detail much like the Hebrew account of Noah’s Ark. At the same time, I recalled that the Genesis description is ascribed to P of Second Temple date, because facts and figures such as those pertaining to the Ark are characteristic of the hypothetical Priestly author. What occurred to me was that if the Genesis account of the Ark belongs to P on such grounds, the Gilgamesh Epic account of the Ark belonged to P on the same grounds–which is absurd.88

Finally, it has been noted that this kind of documentary dividing had been the practice of literary critics for years before Old Testament scholars took up the art. However, literary criticism as a whole has abandoned the practice because the literary critics acknowledge the highly speculative nature of the exercise. As C. S. Lewis put it, “There used to be English scholars who were prepared to cut up Henry VI between half a dozen authors and assign his share to each. We don’t do that now… Everywhere, except in theology, there has been a vigorous growth of skepticism about skepticism itself.”89 Any student of literature knows that a single author can adopt many different styles according to the needs of the work at hand. To use style, then, as a basis for distinguishing between multiple authors is, at best, a dangerous exercise, prone to error.

This critique has been, of necessity, brief. There is much more that could be said with regard to each of these points, and many more points could be added to these. The foregoing ought to be sufficient, though, to demonstrate that the JEDP theory, or the Graf-Wellhausen documentary hypothesis, is of no value for either the student or the scholar of the Old Testament. So much energy has been employed by liberal critics in dividing up the text of the Old Testament into alleged sources, that the beautiful unity of the whole has been lost in the editing. In the words of C. S. Lewis, “They claim to see fern-seed and can’t see a elephant ten yards away in broad daylight.”90 The work of the Biblical scholar should be the text itself, and not hypothetical sources. Enough time has been wasted chasing shadows; may scholarship regain its taste for substance.


[1]R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, Mi.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1969; reprint, Peabody, Ma.: Prince Press, 1999), p. 4.

[2]Ibid., pp. 5-6.

[3]Ibid., pp. 8-9.

[4]James Orr, Problem of the Old Testament, (Ny.: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1906), p. 197. See footnote 5.

[5]In fact, by this time, it was popular to include Joshua with the Pentateuch to make a Hexateuch.

[6]Harrison, p. 17; Orr, pp. 198-199.

[7]Orr, p. 200.

[8]Harrison, p. 20.

[9]Ibid., pp. 20-21.

[10]Harrison, p. 20; Gerald Bray, Biblical Interpretation: Past & Present, pp. 280-281.

[11]Heinrich Ewald (1803-1875) taught that the books of the Old Testament had gone through the hands of a number of redactors, and divided them into three major works comprising the Hexateuch (pre-exilic), Judges-2 Kings (exilic), and Chronicles-Ezra-Nehemiah (post-exilic). See Gerald Bray, Biblical Interpretation: Past & Present, (Downer’s Grove, Il.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1996), p. 279-280

[12]Julius Wellhausen, Prolegomena to the History of Israel, (n.p. : n.d., 1878, 1883). >From an e-text version available from Project Gutenberg at ftp://ftp.ibiblio.org/pub/docs/books/gutenberg/etext03/prole10.txt. It appears that this book was called a “Prolegomena” since it was intended to be part one of a two-part History of Israel. The purpose of the first volume was to lay the philosophical foundation for the second.

[13]Walter Kaiser, transcript of a lecture given at the Ankerberg Theological Research Institute Orlando Apologetics Conference, 1991: Exploding the JEDP Theory or the Documentary Hypothesis, pp. 10-11. Transcript prepared by the Ankerberg Theological Research Institute, Chattanooga, Tn.

[14]Bray, p. 284.

[15]See, for example, Lester L. Grabbe, Leviticus, (Sheffield, England: JSOT Press, 1993), pp. 16-19, where Grabbe leaves the existence of a “P” document open, but maintains that Leviticus “has undergone a long period of growth with many additions and editings.” He then bluntly states, “scholars are agreed on this point.” Any reading of the works of Harrison, Kaiser, Archer, and others would reveal that this is far from being a universal consensus opinion among scholars.

[16]Wellhausen, Prolegomena.

[17]Orr, p. 12.

[18]Quoted in Orr, p. 13.

[19]Quoted in Joseph P. Free, “Archaeology and Biblical Criticism: Part I: Is Rationalistic Biblical Criticism Dead?” Bibliotheca Sacra 113, no. 450 (1956): 126.

[20]Harrison, pp. 351-352.

[21]See Dr. A. Noordtzy, “The Old Testament Problem Part 1,” Bibliotheca Sacra 97, no. 388 (1940): 471-472, who also notes the increasing tendency (unfortunately prevalent even today) for people to discuss religion in abstract terms, treating it as man’s attempts to reach up to God, or some kind of divinity, and thus regarding all religions of equal worth and purpose, with no intrinsic differences.

[22]G. E. Wright, “The Present State of Biblical Archaeology,” The Study of the Bible Today and Tomorrow, pp. 89-90. Quoted in Joseph P. Free, “Archaeology and Biblical Criticism: Part III: Archaeology and Liberalism,” Bibliotheca Sacra 113, no. 452 (1956): 333-334.

[23]Harrison, p. 353.

[24]Orr, p. 138.

[25]Ibid., p. 354.

[26]Totemism is the belief that there is a relationship between a clan and a group of animals or plants. See Harrison, p. 354.

[27]Harrison, p. 355.

[28]Orr, p. 140.

[29]Suggested, perhaps, in passages such as Psalm 97:9, “For You are the LORD Most High over all the earth; You are exalted far above all gods.”

[30]Harrison, p. 355.

[31]The Shema (Deut. 6:4-5) is only one of many examples of this.

[32]Wellhausen, Prolegomena.

[33]Ibid. It is of interest to note that, since the legislation focusing on this worship center (which is identified by Wellhausen as Jerusalem) begins in Deuteronomy 12, he considered the “original” book of Deuteronomy to be only the section from chapter 12 to chapter 26.

[34]Orr, p. 249

[35]Orr, pp. 249-250.

[36]Harrison, p. 640.

[37]Hence, Wellhausen states, “Abraham alone is certainly not the name of a people like Isaac and Lot: he is somewhat difficult to interpret. That is not to say that in such a connection as this we may regard him as a historical person; he might with more likelihood be regarded as a free creation of unconscious art” (Prolegomena).


[39]Wellhausen, Prolegomena.

[40]Dr. Gerald Larue made the following comment in a debate with Dr. Walter Kaiser in 1987: “Well, this is a bias, and, of course, what you deal with is interpretation. Something happens and somebody says, ‘Well, this is… because God…’ So we have Christian scholars who are higher critics who have written books called The Mighty Acts of God, dealing with the interpretation of history as God acting within the realm of man. The secular historian doesn’t utilize that kind of belief system.” (Transcript from The John Ankerberg Evangelistic Association of a debate recorded for The John Ankerberg Show, 1987: How Was the Old Testament Written? p. 6.)

[41]John I. Durham, Exodus, (Waco, Tx.: Word Books, 1987), p. 281.


[42]Wellhausen, Prolegomena.

[43]Harrison, p. 501.

[44]Ibid. The author acknowledges his debt to Harrison for this summary of JEDP.

[45]For example, the account of the death of Moses at the end of Deuteronomy, or the references to certain things being so “to this day” (Genesis 19:37-38; 22:14; 47:26; Deuteronomy 2:22; 3:14, to name a few).

[46]An example of this is the discovery of cuneiform writing, demonstrating that people were writing at least as early as the time of Moses, if not earlier. This overturned the prior contention that Moses could not have written the Pentateuch since writing had not been invented.

[47]On the John Ankerberg Show, when asked if he still holds to JEDP, Dr. Gerald Larue stated, “I utilize this as the best we have at the moment… Possibly somebody will come up with something better…” (Transcript, How Was the Old Testament Written? p. 6). Given that Dr. Larue is still subscribing to this 120-year-old theory, one is given cause to doubt that he truly believes this to be the case.

[48]Lester L. Grabbe, “Fundamentalism and Scholarship,” in Barry P. Thompson (ed.), Scripture: Meaning and Method: Essays Presented to Anthony Tyrrell Hanson, (Hull, England; Hull University Press, 1987). This principle is the contention behind Grabbe’s article. He argues that Christians cannot truly be scholars since their work is biased from the outset by their faith. This author has encountered this perspective on numerous occasions.

[49]Harrison, p. 93.

[50]Joseph P. Free, “Archaeology and Biblical Criticism: Part III: Archaeology and Liberalism” p. 334.

[51]Harrison, p. 384.

[52]Harrison, p. 387. It is instructive to note that no images of Yahweh have ever been found.

[53]Orr, p. 140.

[54]Harrison, p. 392.

[55]Genesis 31:34; Ibid., p. 393

[56]Free, “Archaeology and Biblical Criticism Part III: Archaeology and Liberalism,” pp. 335-336.

[57]Orr, pp. 121-122.

[58]Harrison, pp. 642-643.

[59]Harrison, citing the work of Cyrus Gordon, notes that ancient Near Eastern law codes were often discarded in actual life. “Mesopotamian judges consistently omitted any reference to law codes in their court decisions, preferring instead to be guided by tradition, public feeling, and their own estimate of the situation confronting them… Thus the rediscovery of lost Sumerian legal codes some centuries after their promulgation would have constituted as complete a surprise to the contemporary Babylonians generally as the finding of the ‘book of the law’ did to Josiah” (Ibid., pp. 647-8).

[60]Orr, p. 257-260.

[61]Ibid., pp. 260-261.

[62]Ibid., p. 262.

[63]Harrison, p. 644.

[64]Ibid., p. 646.

[65]Donald J. Wiseman, “Archaeology and Scripture,” Westminster Theological Journal (Philadelphia, Pa.: Westminster Seminary) 33, no. 2 (1971): 142.

[66]Gordon J. Wenham, “The Place of Biblical Criticism in Theological Study,” Themelios (Leicester, England: IFES) 14, no 3 (1989): 87.



[69]Harrison, p. 106.


[71]Free, “Archaeology and Biblical Criticism: Part III: Archaeology and Liberalism,” p.331.

[72]What follows is a summary of the points made by Free (Ibid., pp. 329-330).

[73]Harrison, p. 108.

[74]Harrison, pp. 111-112.

[75]Harrison, Archer, Kaiser, Free, and Wiseman are but a few of the Old Testament scholars who would support this claim.

[76]Burrows, What Mean These Stones, p. 56, cited in Free, “Archaeology and Biblical Criticism: Part III: Archaeology and Liberalism,” p. 339.

[77]Harrison, pp. 583-584.

[78]Free, “Archaeology and Biblical Criticism: Part III: Archaeology and Liberalism,” p. 338.

[79]Wiseman, p. 144; Walter Kaiser, “Exploding the JEDP Theory or the Documentary Hypothesis,” pp. 6-7.

[80]Kaiser, “Exploding the JEDP Theory or the Documentary Hypothesis,” p. 6.

[81]Ibid., p. 4.

[82]Harrison, p. 661.

[83]For example, the passages referring to things being so “to this day” (e.g., Gen. 19:37; Deut. 2:22; Joshua 6:25; 1 Samuel 5:5 et al.). This is debatable since it is possible that Moses, describing a situation some years ago may indicate that the same was still true at the time of his writing. There are also, however, claims made that the names of certain places have been updated to reflect a more modern usage. For example, the reference to Dan in Genesis 14:14 could possibly be to the Dan that was renamed from Laish in Judges 18:29. Since Moses would not have been aware of the name change, he would have originally written “Laish,” and a later hand updated it to Dan. See Kaiser and Larue, “How Was the Old Testament Written,” pp. 8-9. Such changes are seen by some conservatives as no worse than the way modern Bible translators make use of dynamic equivalence.

[84]Orr, p. 209.

[85]Orr, p. 210.

[86]Harrison, p. 30.

[87]Cyrus H. Gordon, “Higher Critics and Forbidden Fruit,” Christianity Today IV, No. 4 (1959): 132-133.

[88]Ibid., p. 131.

[89]C. S. Lewis, “Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism” (originally titled “Fern-seed and Elephants”), The Seeing Eye (New York: Ballantine Books, 1992), p. 217.

[90]Ibid., 210.

A Brief Bibliography

Free, Joseph P., “Archaeology and Biblical Criticism” Parts I-III, Bibliotheca Sacra nos. 450-452

Kaiser, Walter C., Toward an Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids, Mi.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1991)

Harrison, R. K., Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, Mi.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1969; reprint, Peabody, Ma.: Prince Press, 1999)

Orr, James, Problem of the Old Testament, (Ny.: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1906)

Thiele, Edwin R., The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings (Grand Rapids, Mi.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1983; reprint, Grand Rapids, Mi.: Kregel Publications, 1994)

Wellhausen, Julius, Prolegomena to the History of Israel, (n.p. : n.d., 1878, 1883) ftp://ftp.ibiblio.org/pub/docs/books/gutenberg/etext03/prole10.txt.