Where We See How to Allow Fallen Human Tradition to Over-Rule Scripture…

Sola Scriptura

I have been following a debate between James White and Brian Brodersen concerning the real meaning of 1 John 5:1a.  James White contends that Pastor Brodersen did not take into account the Greek behind the English translation of this verse (1 Jn 5:1a) when he answered a caller’s question on the Pastor’s Perspective radio show.  Now I know you probably do not want to read a bunch of Greek stuff, but I promise you that if you follow it you may have a very changed view of what an accurate preacher must pay attention to in his studies…

The initial charge is here at about 7:31, although to get the full context of the charge please listen to the whole thing.

The issue between Dr. White and Brodersen is about the correct translation of the text in the original of 1 John 5:1a.  The text in question is,

Πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων ὅτι Ἰησοῦς ἐστιν ὁ χριστός, ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ γεγέννηται… (1 Jn 5:1a, NA27)

My own literal translation of this text is:

‘Each the one ‘having faith’ that Jesus is being the Christ, from out of the God he has already been born…’

The first issue is my wording ‘having faith,’ this is essentially the same as Dr. White’s.  Yes, the word we both translated as ‘having faith’ is a participle, or verbal adjective; but in Greek participles can, and often do, stand in for the main verb of the sentence.  As noted grammarian Daniel Wallace has said, “…the participle can be used as a noun, adjective, adverb, or verb (and in any mood!)”[1]  In this sentence, it is clear that the ‘having faith’ is the verbal action of the sentence; therefore, that participle is standing in as the finite verb (main verb.)  When that happens, the tense of the participle takes on a completely different flavour…  What was once something utterly dependent on previous verbs now becomes something that influences later verbs.  In this sentence, though it hardly matters, since the previous verbs are all clearly present test, as is πιστεύων.  Therefore, from the context (technically John is speaking about something that happens all the time (gnomic present)), we have something that shows itself in the present time; someone is now having faith that Jesus is (currently) being the Christ is some who has already been born from out of God.  This would reflect the normal use of the perfect tense verb γεγέννηται, or ‘He has (in the past) been born of out of….’  This is pretty clearly a statement that regeneration precedes faith.  However, Brodersen disagrees…  His response is here:

Interestingly Brodersen tries to claim the context of 1 John changes the meaning of these words.  However, he does have to go to someone else (Dr. Joe Holden)[2] for the Greek translation.  Doctor Holden agrees with him, but in the process makes some critical errors in his own approach.  He claims we are reading the text with our theological system rather than reading the text neutrally; but while trying to show this he really shows that this is exactly what he is doing.  He claims that this verse has nothing to do with initial salvation by going to 1 John 4:7, nearly a chapter previous.  However, when he tries to exegete this passage we find it has exactly the same Greek construction.  Most interpreters would take this to show that John has a habit of using participles as finite verbs (because he does have such a habit in this epistle.)  Instead, Holden tries to change the meaning of this verse to match the tradition he wants to uphold.

Yes, there is a strong idea in 1 John of showing your faith as both Holden and Brodersen contend, but in both 4:7 and 5:1 John is trying to tell us why this must be so.  He is saying that since we were regenerated to have faith, we will be different; we are now different people and no longer the sin-minded people we were naturally born to be.  That is one of John’s main arguments, and one confirmed by his description of Jesus’ word in the gospel of John 6:44.  This is the place where John quotes Jesus as saying, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”  We are ‘Drawn’ (ἑλκύσῃ – He led us away through force as an act of His choice) by God making us different people rather than the fallen and depraved wretches we once were.[3] These are directly linked ideas in 1 John, and something that must never be manipulated by substituting tradition for exegesis the text (the tradition is that of Calvary Chapel, also called Arminianism)

As John precedes his discussion of how regeneration changes more than just our ability to have faith, he eventually comes to chapter 4, verse 17.  Here John begins discussing the fact that we can have confidence on the Day of Judgment, because Jesus was in this world as we are now.  He came here and went back to the Father; the world could not truly kill Him even though it tried.  Then in verse 18 John continues this exploration of the fear we might have by explaining that perfect love casts out fear.  As we are being perfected (a clear reference to ongoing sanctification coming out of salvation) we will no longer fear judgment.  Then in verse 19 John says, “We love because he first loved us.”  This is clearly taking the topic back to our regeneration for salvation; and how the very process of our salvation ensures that we will act differently.  Then he shows with a specific example how, since we are now very clearly different, we must by necessity act differently; we love our brother if the regeneration we have was real.

Then in chapter 5 John again begins to show why we must be different (exactly as he did in 4:7); we were regenerated in order to have faith, so it follows that if we are different, we will act differently, because in Christianity the renewed mind always leads a different life.  None of this changes anything in the interpretation of this passage by Dr. White or myself, in fact it strengthens it.  Nevertheless, it is interesting that we see here the traditions of the Calvary Chapel form of Arminianism so heavily influenced them that they are left unable to exegete a clear passage of Scripture.  This is something that we must seriously take into account by honestly asking ourselves, “Is my pastor able to exegete a passage without his tradition so clouding the meaning that when the Bible clearly says something, he still allows for it to say what his tradition demands?”  Yes, we all have blinders on about specific issues. However, this is an extremely clear verse; one that completely refutes any claim that faith precedes regeneration.  The text teaches exactly the opposite.  If you are someone who claims to teach believers and you only read English (and use the NIV as Brodersen seems to as he keeps quoting it), you might be stuck with your traditions…  Is that the kind of teacher Christ wants for His church?  Or would Jesus want someone who can and does look past his own traditions and toward the text of Scripture?

[1] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics – Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Zondervan Publishing House and Galaxie Software, 1999), 613.

[2] Doctor Holden is the President of Veritas Evangelical Seminary and a one-time student of Dr. Norman Geisler, who currently is Chancellor of Veritas.  In fact, Dr, Giesler was his advisor for his MA Thesis titled An Examination and Evaluation of the Jesus Seminar View of the Gospel, Sayings of Jesus Christ.  Doctor Geisler is also a noted Arminian, so would find full agreement with the Calvary Chapel tradition.  Geisler is the author of the book Chosen But Free: A Balanced View of God’s Sovereignty and Free Will, currently in its 3rd Edition (as of 12/15/2014)

[3] There is much more to God’s ‘Draw’ or ‘Call’ than we are able to go into in this post.

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Fear and Trying to Study Scripture

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Last time I wrote about Rick Warren’s attempt to make peace with the world, and in doing so how he ignored a great deal of Scripture.  This led me to ask, ‘Instead of only complaining, how can I help believers not do this?’  Well, the only real help I can offer is to tell people to study the Scriptures daily.  But does saying ‘study this’ really help?  Do people know how to do this in a way that is pleasing to God?  I must say that for the church generally, this is not the case; people do not automatically know how to study the Scriptures in the way that will help them see what God is saying to them.  You see, God’s words were not written directly to us; they had a different intended audience.  More, the Scriptures were written 2000 or more years ago in three languages (Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek) that we do not speak.  They addressed cultures that were very different from ours, with expectations we have never heard of, let alone make for ourselves.  Further, Scripture itself tells us that we are unable in ourselves to understand what is written, (1 Cor 2:14) and so, must rely on supernatural aid to actually understand the words written for our benefit. (1 Cor 2:12-13)

This makes it sound almost impossible, and something that most people will simply be unable to do!  Who wants to learn THREE Languages, study thousands of years of culture and turn into a spirit because “…he is not able to understand them [the Scriptures] because they are spiritually discerned?” (1 Cor 2:14c, ESV)  However, this is a great over-reaction, but it seems to be the one Pastor Warren made when he made his comments.  He chose not to study the topic because he thought he knew the answer.  In this, we see the first thing we must avoid, and that thing is fear.  When we stand before the Scriptures far too often people make the error of fear, and this fear always leads to arrogance.

The first form of fear is that Scripture will be too complicated for us to understand, and so we become arrogant in our ignorance and think that we must already know enough.  This results in asking questions like: ‘God would never make such hard material necessary, would He?’ Or, ‘Why would God require so much work in study for something that is a free gift?’  Both of these questions betray a fear of having to do work in study.  That fear leads directly to an arrogance of the knowledge we do have, so in the end we end up thinking that we really do not need to study because that is just for eggheads, nerds and other forms of pastoral life.

The second error is the fear of thinking something you believed in the past was wrong, and that could never be, because after all, I have been a Christian for (insert however long) and learned it already from (insert from whom you learned it.)

Both of these fears (the fears that we are wasting time because we already know enough and fear of being wrong) lead to a massive block in our ability to understand God’s truth.  This block is present because we have already decided that we do not want to know it because we are afraid of work or afraid of being wrong.  This is one of the things the First Corinthians passage was talking about; both are examples of trying to understand with the wrong spirit.  You are trying to understand through a prism of sin instead of through the Holy Spirit’s gift of illumination.

Therefore, the very first principle of studying Scripture must be coming to the work knowing you need to know.  Either through more work or knowing that you might have been wrong and therefore need correction; but, regardless of reason, you need to know.  This is very hard to do, but as believers, we must all have this exact form humility if we have any chance of understanding Scripture.  After all, God certainly knows more than we do, and any place where we disagree with Him we are wrong.  We must do more than just say this; we must repent of our wrong attitudes and live as though we believe it.  Therefore, we must approach the Bible first with humility, asking the Lord to cause us to learn His truth through our humble personal study.  We must also be willing to set aside our fleshly beliefs (such as it is too much work, or that we already know), and fully examine the Scripture to find the truth; all the while remembering that the truth is not native to us, and comes only as a gift from God.

We will look at further principles in future entries, but for now be humble before your God and admit you do not know it all and must learn from the Great Teacher!