Thursday, June 29, 2006

Rants from Singapore (June 2006)

Oyster Biology and Anglican Theology

Note: This is a rant on this article from Reuters.

The idiom, “the world is your oyster,” has apparently taken on a new meaning according to a marine biologist turned bishop. With a doctorate degree in squid and oyster biology, the learned Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori – who is currently the bishop of the Diocese of Nevada in the U.S. Episcopal Church – elucidates her view of same-sex relations, “I don't believe [that homosexuality is sin]. I believe that God creates us with different gifts. Each one of us comes into this world with a different collection of things that challenge us and things that give us joy and allow us to bless the world around us.”

Although we do not know if there were any previous transference or counter-transference between Schori and oyster during her research years, we do know that the immense insights provided by oyster biology has ostensibly revolutionized human sexuality, not mentioning Christian ethics and theology in the U.S. Episcopal Church. Biologists understand that the European oyster and the Olympia oyster of the American Pacific Coast are hermaphrodites. These bivalve mollusks, in contrast to heterosexual humans, are able to play the role of father and mother simultaneously.

Not to be intimidated by these tiny Ostrea edulis, Schori has declared that it is not immoral for the man, or the woman, to play father and mother – all at the same time. According to Schori, the loving father of one family can likewise be the loving mother of another – and this is a gift from God to bless “the world around us.” I wonder if the Singaporean government agrees with her observations, given the declining birth rate and increasing number of divorces. Nevertheless, who would deny the good bishop this wonderful “gift” for her own family?

“God creates us with different gifts,” Schori firmly reassures the laity who have no prior knowledge of oyster physiology. Some men and women are gifted to act like humans, while others are predisposed to act like monkeys or oysters. “Each one of us comes into this world with a different collection of things” so as to “bless the world around us.” Some come “into this world” with a pair of shells, some with a preference for similar anatomical structures, and some even have pearls in their mouths. But all these gifts, according to bishop Schori, are to bless the world around us. The pearl oyster is arguably one of God’s most beautiful gifts to mankind. But the human with the sexual preference of oysters is not even allowed into the nation of Israel (Deuteronomy 23:17). Perhaps, the ultimate “blessing” for Schori would be to see her very own children emulating her philosophy of human sexuality, and practicing it in the homophile world.

Equipped with intimate details of mollusks, Schori continues, “Some people come into this world with affections ordered toward other people of the same gender and some people come into this world with affections directed at people of the other gender.” Following her line of thought, it is no wonder that some “come into this world with affections ordered toward other” species as well, be it mammals, nematodes or bivalves. For Schori and all who agree with her, the world is your oyster, metaphorically. For there is no lack of men today who are “gifted” with affections “ordered toward” other men.

While Yahweh destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah in the Old Testament for their decadence and immorality, Schori gives us new revelation that God has changed His mind about sodomy. Schori does not perceive homosexuality and lesbianism as abominable sins condemned by the Bible. She argues, “The Bible has a great deal to teach us about how to live as human beings. The Bible does not have so much to teach us about what sorts of food to eat, what sorts of clothes to wear - there are rules in the Bible about those that we don’t observe today.” It seems that, according to Schori, making a choice between chilli crabs and caviar for lunch is the same as choosing either a man or woman as a spouse.

Contrary to the exciting claims of Bishop (Dr) Schori, the Apostle Paul warned, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).” The purported “gifts” of Schori come under the category of sin in the Bible, and God calls these “gifts” an “abomination” and “confusion” (Leviticus 18:22-24). Whereas Schori proclaims that “the great message of Jesus” is “to include the unincluded,” this inclusion without the preaching of repentance is condemned as a false gospel (Galatians 1:8-9).

Paul cautioned, “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ (Colossians 2:8).” If Schori’s philosophy is correct, then the Apostle had erred (cf. Romans 1:24-32).

This wicked world is indeed the sinner’s oyster, but such “vile passions (Romans 1:26)” should be relegated to the world of oyster sexuality and reproduction.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Opening a Can of Worms: The Problems of Textual Criticism Part 4

Concluding Thoughts

Alas, God’s Holy Word has been made a slave to the science of textual criticism (1 Timothy 6:20). True believers of Christ cannot worship at both the altar of faith and the altar of scholasticism. The exclusive, pedantic adherence to scholarly methods, coupled with the rejection of the logic of faith, will result in the following theological tragedy: the inerrancy of Holy Scripture will be replaced by the inerrancy of the hypothetical autographs.

Dr Bart Ehrman apparently understood the importance of the preservation of Scripture. Unfortunately, instead of embracing the doctrine of preservation, he chose to abandon the evangelical faith in rejecting the verbal, plenary inspiration of Scripture:

"As I realized already in graduate school, even if God had inspired the original words, we don’t have the original words. So the doctrine of inspiration was in a sense irrelevant to the Bible as we have it, since the words God reputedly inspired had been changed and, in some cases, lost. . . . the only reason (I came to think) for God to inspire the Bible would be so that his people would have his actual words; but if he really wanted people to have his actual words, surely he would have miraculously preserved those words, just as he had miraculously inspired them in the first place. Given the circumstance that he didn’t preserve the words, the conclusion seemed inescapable to me that he hadn’t gone to the trouble of inspiring them." (Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, page 211.)

If we do not have the Word of God today, then our faith is in vain, and all the old-line fundamentals of faith are subjected to the scrutiny of unbelieving scholarship and philosophy (Colossians 2:8). If we cannot say that the Bible we possess is the preserved, inerrant and inspired Word of God, the textual scholars will decide for us what inerrant scripture is. Subjecting themselves to the ultimate authority of manuscript evidence and human scholarship, textual critics have substituted the authority of God’s Word with the supremacy of men’s intellect. They are “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive (Ephesians 4:14).”

Ultimately, textual critics must concede with infidels that there is no perfect authority for the Church today. Criticizing the Church’s subservience to the Westcott and Hort theory, M S M Saifullah, cAbd ar-Rahmân Robert Squires & Muhammad Ghoniem wrote:

“We have already seen above that the textual criticism has destroyed the concept of ‘textus receptus’ and ‘original text.’ The New Testament text that we have in our hands today is the work of a committee which decided on the readings which it thought are ‘original.’ The Church and textual criticism were antipodes. Therefore, any one who ventured into this field was condemned or ignored. The bravery of modern day Christians towards the textual criticism (“Who is afraid of textual criticism?”) is similar to the roar of a paper tiger. Since they can’t get away with the devil of textual criticism, they might as well try to befriend it. This is precisely what they did after the fall of ‘textus receptus’ during the time of Westcott and Hort. . . . In conclusion, it is quite clear that the Church did not like the idea of seeing the variant readings and abandonment of ‘textus receptus’ which was revered throughout the Christian world as the ‘inerrant’ word of God. The abandonment of ‘textus receptus’ overthrew the doctrine of inerrancy of the scriptures at hand. It was replaced by the inerrancy of the hypothetical 'original' manuscript. . . . We have discussed the response of Muslims and Christians to the textual criticism of the Qur’an and the Bible. Muslims have always been careful of how the Qur’an should be read and written. Detailed rules were formulated to achieve the transmission both orally and written. The Christian Bible on the other hand did not have any such rules and had to live a life of 'living text' which was constantly changing at the whims and fancies of the scribes and the leaders of the Church. And naturally when textual criticism was applied, the Church was up in arms. Very soon it was realized that the beast of textual criticism is here to stay. And the modern day Christians missionaries boastfully say, “Who is afraid of textual criticism?’” (M S M Saifullah, cAbd ar-Rahmân Robert Squires & Muhammad Ghoniem, Who Is Afraid Of Textual Criticism? Internet; accessed 08 May 2006; available from, emphasis mine.)

It is notable that even unbelieving Muslim scholars are able to discern the logical inconsistencies and paralogisms inherent in so-called Christian textual criticism. The academic notion of verbal, plenary inspiration is, evidently, functionally incompatible with the concept of a “living text which was constantly changing at the whims and fancies of the scribes and the leaders of the Church.” The evangelical doctrine of inerrancy was effectively relegated to the realms of theoretical discourses, and the traditional text of the New Testament was replaced with an unfolding, eclectic text that will never be the infallible Word. Unavoidably, modernistic textual scholarship will require radical revision in order for it to be compatible with the evangelical doctrine of Scripture.

Dr Edward F. Hills, who was trained as a textual critic in Harvard University, comprehended the potential threat posed by rationalistic textual criticism to a believer’s faith. In his book The King James Version Defended, he warned Christians that “ . . . the logic of naturalistic textual criticism leads to complete modernism, to a naturalistic view not only of the biblical text but also of the Bible as a whole and of the Christian faith. For if it is right to ignore the providential preservation of the Scriptures in the study of the New Testament text, why isn’t it right to go farther in the same direction? Why isn’t it right to ignore other divine aspects of the Bible? Why isn’t it right to ignore the divine inspiration of the Scriptures when discussing the authenticity of the Gospel of John or the Synoptic problem or the authorship of the Pentateuch? . . . Impelled by this remorseless logic, many an erstwhile conservative bible student has become entirely modernistic in his thinking. But he does not acknowledge that he has departed from the Christian faith. For from his point of view he has not. He has merely travelled farther down the same path which he began to tread when first he studied naturalistic textual criticism of the Westcott and Hort type, perhaps at some conservative theological seminary. From his point of view his orthodox former professors are curiously inconsistent. They use the naturalistic method in the area of New Testament textual criticism and then drop it most illogically, like something too hot to handle, when they come to other departments of biblical study.” (Edward F. Hills, The King James Version Defended, page 83, emphasis mine).

Sadly, Bart Ehrman is a fulfilment of Dr Hill’s earlier warning. Dr Ehrman has “merely travelled farther down the same path which he began to tread when first he studied naturalistic textual criticism of the Westcott and Hort type,” and has eventually arrived at the broad way that leads to eternal perdition and unbelief.

This concludes my current thoughts on this subject matter.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Opening a Can of Worms: The Problems of Textual Criticism Part 3

The Way Forward for Textual Criticism

In the area of contemporary textual criticism, what are some factors that might contribute to the development of a mature and faith-based method of collating manuscripts? In the following paragraphs, I would like to mention certain points, which might be considered for future dialogue.

Firstly, we must address the issue of preservation of Scripture. Our Lord Jesus Christ, obviously, never owned the autographs of the Bible. Did our Lord, then, ever question the inerrancy of the apographs He had? In fact, Jesus was absolutely confident that not one jot or tittle of Holy Writ would ever be lost (Matthew 5:17-18), not even in the apographs. No honest student of the Scripture can ever claim that Jesus did not believe in an inerrant Bible (Matthew 4:4, 5:18, 24:35, Mark 13:31, Luke 21:33, 24:44, John 10:35). Yet our Lord did not possess the autographs of Scripture. Neither did the apostles possess the autographs of the entire biblical canon.

Secondly, in a very practical sense, we must explore the doctrinal implications and ramifications of verbal, plenary inspiration for the Church today. Whenever the word “Scripture” appears in the Bible, does it refer to the autographs or the apographs? In 2 Timothy 3:14-17, we read the following words of the apostle Paul:

But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

Paul admonished Timothy to continue (verse14) in the Holy Scriptures that he had known since he was a child (verse15). The Holy Scriptures, which Timothy possessed, were copies of the original Hebrew Old Testament texts. Timothy obviously did not own the autographs of the Old Testament. The apostle Paul referred to these copies as Holy Scriptures. When Paul wrote verse 16 under the inspiration of God, we observe that there is not a single verb in the past tense. Paul said, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God”; the Scripture, which Timothy knew from childhood, is presently inspired.

It is remarkable that 2 Timothy 3:16 was written in the present tense. Paul could have written, “All scripture was given by inspiration of God”; this might imply that Scripture was perfectly inspired only at its original writing. But the grammatical structure of verse 16 (“All scripture is given by inspiration”) unequivocally states that the verbal, plenary inspiration of God’s inerrant Word extends to the words of the apographs.

John MacArthur Jr., in his New Testament Commentary on 2nd Timothy, comments on 2 Timothy 3:16:

“In addition to the many other specific biblical references to the inspiration and authority of Scripture—some of which are mentioned below—it is important to note that similar Greek constructions in other parts of the New Testament (see, e.g., Rom. 7:12; 2 Cor. 10:10; 1 Tim. 1:15; 2:3; 4:4; Heb. 4:12) argue strongly from a grammatical perspective that all Scripture is inspired is the proper translation.” (John MacArthur Jr., MacArthur's New Testament Commentary: 2 Timothy)

It is not only the message, but also the very words of Scripture that are inspired. Modern textual scholarship insists that the inspired, inerrant Word of God is found only in the autographs. While the apostle Paul emphasized that, “All scripture is given by inspiration”, skeptics suggest, “All scripture was given by inspiration”. The bible-believing Christian affirms that “all scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16), whereas textual scholars believe it was given.

Although Timothy had only copies of the Old Testament books, the apographs he owned were considered by Paul to be inspired Scripture! If the words of the apographs were inspired, they must also be inerrant and infallible. God’s inspired Words cannot contain error!

Besides, whenever the apostle Paul preached in the synagogues (Acts 13:16, 13:46, 14:1, 17:2, 17:10, 17:17, 18:4, 18:19, 19:8), he did not use the autographs of the biblical canon. The Berean church (Acts 17:11), the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:34-35) and the first century Christians did not possess a Bible made up of autographs. Is it, then, true that they did not have the inspired, inerrant, and infallible Scripture? God forbids. It is a fact that whenever the word “scripture” occurs in the Bible, it never refers to the autographs alone.

It is not the ink or the physical writing materials of the autographs that are inspired per se, but the words on the autographs. Those very same inspired words are found on the apographs. All scripture - autograph and apograph - is inspired of God (2 Timothy 3:16). The Bible is indubitably clear with regard to the extant inerrancy and inspiration of Holy Writ. Inspiration can never be rationally divorced from the doctrine of preservation. The Westminster divines, recognizing the logical relationship between inspiration and preservation, declared that the inspired Scriptures in the original languages are by God’s “singular care and providence, kept pure in all ages (Westminster Confession of Faith I:8).”

As a point of interest, I would like to digress a little, and mention an excellent article I read in the recent edition of The Standard Bearer (Volume 82, Number 17, June 2006), entitled “Modern Heresies: Higher Criticism 2.” In this article, Professor Herman Hanko wrote:

“The church of all ages has confessed that Scripture is the Word of God and the standard of truth and holiness. Yet the bitter attacks against Scripture have forced the church to define more precisely what it means that Scripture is the Word of God. To do this involves defining more precisely what is meant by inspiration. . . . Scripture is given to the church by God, word for word. Scripture is verbally inspired, fully inspired, totally that which the Holy Spirit wanted written. Hence, Scripture is both infallible and inerrant. (Pages 393-394, emphasis mine)”
I applaud the Protestant Reformed Churches in America for their high view on Scripture, and their courage in defending vital Christian doctrines against modernistic assaults. I agree and affirm wholeheartedly that “Scripture is given to the church by God, word for word,” and that “Scripture is verbally inspired, fully inspired” - each and every word of God has plenary inspiration.

However, if textual criticism ought to be swallowed wholesale by evangelical Christians, then allow me to direct a question to all evangelical scholars: “Which local church, or which generation of Christians, in all of Church history, has ever possessed all the words of this verbal plenary inspired Scripture?”

If indeed “Scripture is given to the church by God, word for word,” which local church on this planet has ever possessed all of Scripture “word for word?” Is it true, then, that the verbal plenary inspiration of Scripture is only limited to the non-existent, hypothetical autographs which neither Jesus nor the apostles ever possessed?

Contemporary textual scholarship must soberly consider the logical ramifications of the doctrine of verbal, plenary inspiration. Otherwise, evangelical textual criticism would degenerate to mere human philosophy and empiricism. But the Christian ought to work with the logic of faith; that is, logic derived from the faith in God that He will preserve His inspired words.

To be continued in Part 4

Friday, June 16, 2006

Opening a Can of Worms: The Problems of Textual Criticism Part 2

Logical Fallacies of Textual Criticism

Avoiding further circumlocution, I will state my point very simply: textual critics will decide which are, and which are not, the words of God. While the Church once possessed the Masoretic Hebrew and the Greek Received texts as Scripture, this certainty and confidence in having an unchanging text is replaced by an allegedly superior, eclectic text, which is perennially updated to give us the unchanging Word of God.

Indeed, the logical fallacy of contemporary, evangelical scholarship is astounding. Let me furnish some examples:

Statement A: “While we do not have the autographs today, we are confident that the Bible is inerrant and infallible.”

Logical fallacy A: If the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture apply only to the autographs, and not to the apographs, does it not necessarily mean that what we possess today are not inerrant and infallible? Furthermore, which Bible is inerrant and infallible - the autographs or the one in our hands?

Statement B: “The inspired Word of God contains no errors.”

Logical fallacy B: The inspiration of Scripture is verbal and plenary. This means that each and every word given to the Church is inspired, inerrant and infallible. But these words are, according to textual critics, lost to antiquity. The words of the Bible today contain scribal errors and copyist mistakes, and no sane textual critic will admit that he is absolutely confident that every word and sentence of the Bible today is a perfect reconstruction of the autographs. Also, can any textual critic give us the assurance that a particular variant reading is the original Word of God? The textual critic may claim that a particular variant is closest to the original reading, but can he affirm that it is the original reading? Hence, by logical deduction, can we say that the Word of God as we have it today is inerrant and infallible?

Statement C: “Although there are scribal errors in our Bibles today, they do not affect the fundamentals of faith. The Bible is still inerrant and infallible.”

Logical fallacy C: If the words of Scripture are not preserved for us today, and if our Bible as we have it contains copyist errors scattered throughout its text, how can we be sure which words are in the autographs and which are not? It is God’s Words that are inspired, not just the message of His Words. But according to the theory of textual criticism, the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture exist only in the hypothetical autographs. The syllogistic deductions of textual criticism inevitably lead to this conclusion: in essence, the Bible that the church possesses today is not inerrant and infallible Scripture. This conclusion, in any case, affects the fundamental doctrine of verbal, plenary inspiration of Holy Writ.

Who can, therefore, blame Dr Ehrman for arriving at the logical conclusion of naturalistic textual criticism? He rants, “It would be wrong . . . to say - as people sometimes do - that the changes in our text have no real bearing on what the texts mean or on the theological conclusions that one draws from them. We have seen, in fact, that just the opposite is the case. (Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, page 208)” Is it, then, true that Dr Ehrman’s faith in textual criticism has partially attributed to his apostasy from the true faith? The “theological conclusions” he drew would include questioning the deity of Christ and the veracity of Scripture.

As Evangelicals, we have to agree that, at the very least, every jot and tittle of Scripture is the very Word of God. The psalmist proclaimed: “I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy name for thy lovingkindness and for thy truth: for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name (Psalm 138:2).” If God has magnified His Word even above His name, I would be very worried if any of His Words are no longer available for us today, for it brings into question his omnipotence. An omnipotent, omniscient and omnisapient God must be able to preserve His Words for his Church.

Again, if man requires each and every Word that proceeds out of God’s mouth, it is a serious, if not fatal, logical error to claim that God has failed to preserve His every Word. For “it is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4, cf. Deuteronomy 8:3, Luke 4:4).”

To be continued in Part 3

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Opening a Can of Worms: The Problems of Textual Criticism

An Introduction to the Problems

Part 1

Recent attacks on Christianity have come from two fronts, namely, the Christological and the textual fronts. Revisionist hypotheses such as Dan Brown’s novel, The Da Vinci Code, attempt to reinterpret the person of Christ and His life. As Christology is intimately intertwined with other salient Christian doctrines, various fundamentals of faith are indirectly affected.

More insidious than this assault upon Nicene Christology is Brown’s egregious denunciation of the historical, biblical canon. This controversy should reasonably be classified under textual and canonical matters, or more specifically, higher criticism. Of late, the subject of lower criticism, also known as textual criticism, has served as fodder for critics of biblical inerrancy.

The arena of textual criticism is, I believe, usually beyond the reach of the rank and file Christian. Consequentially, serious critiques of the text of Scripture, such as Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why by North America’s leading textual critic, Bart D. Ehrman, are inevitably difficult for the layman to answer.

Ex-evangelical Dr Ehrman, who once adhered to the inerrancy of Scripture, now questions its veracity in his book Misquoting Jesus:

“How does it help us to say that the Bible is inerrant word of God if in fact we don’t have the words that God inerrantly inspired, but only the words copied by the scribes - sometimes correctly but sometimes (many times!) incorrectly? What good is it to say that the autographs (i.e., the originals) were inspired? We don’t have the originals!” (Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, page 7.)
Although Dr Ehrman calls himself a “happy agnostic,” and now believes that man simply ceases to exist at death - “like the mosquito you swatted yesterday” - I think his question is a fair one. If what Christians have today is a constantly evolving text called the eclectic text, which is updated every couple of years by textual scholars, is there any practical value in calling the "Bible" inerrant and infallible? In effect, Dr Ehrman is tacitly admitting that: without divine preservation of the original words of Scripture, which is inerrant and infallible, what we have today is a flawed reconstruction of the autographs at best – the demise of which is admitted by every textual scholar.

Tragically, Dr Ehrman’s conclusions are the logical deductions of modern textual criticism. And he is definitely not alone when he claims that the autographs are irrecoverable. Dr Ehrman is simply reiterating the sentiments of various textual critics. Renowned textual critic, F.C. Conybeare, commented in 1910, “The ultimate text, if there ever was one that deserves to be so called, is forever irrecoverable.” (History of New Testament Criticism, p. 129). Again, in 1947, R.M. Grant said, “ . . . it is generally recognized that the original text of the Bible cannot be recovered.” (“The Bible of Theophilus of Antioch,” Journal of Biblical Literature, vol. 66, page 173).

The naturalistic theory of textual criticism explains that the autographs were lost or destroyed since antiquity, and the only way to reconstruct the autographs is via an indeterminate process of manuscript collation and emendation. According to the Westcott and Hort theory, the oldest manuscripts - which are allegedly closest to the autographs - were only rediscovered in the 19th century. Despite losing these manuscripts for almost 1900 years, the Church has finally recovered these Alexandrian manuscripts, which are nevertheless imperfect. The collation of Greek manuscripts and emendation of the eclectic text for the last few centuries had produce an ever-changing Bible for Christians. Nevertheless, this Bible is still evolving towards a better text, which ought to be closer to the autographs, although it never will be an exact replica of the originals.

To be continued in Part 2

Monday, June 12, 2006

A Primer to the “Carnal Christian” Theory Part 4

What does 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 really teach?

From a single passage of Scripture, proponents of the “Carnal Christian” theory conjured up three classes of humanity, the natural man, the spiritual Christian man, and the carnal Christian man. This passage is found in 1 Corinthians 3:1-4:

“1And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. 2I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. 3For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? 4For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?”
Unlike the epistles to the Romans and the Galatians, 1 Corinthians is not primarily a doctrinal epistle. Although all Scripture contains doctrine (2 Timothy 3:16), 1 Corinthians was not written to lay doctrinal foundations. Paul’s immediate concern in writing this epistle was to deal with practical problems in the young Corinthian church.

Due to schisms within the church at Corinth, the apostle was obliged to treat the Corinthians as children or babes in the knowledge of sacred truths (1 Corinthians 3:1-3). Some preferred Paul as their teacher, others Apollos (1 Corinthians 3:4). The apostle, however, clarified that Apollos, his fellow apostles, and himself were only God’s instruments for bringing them to the knowledge of the truth. All their sowing and watering of the seeds were useless unless God gave the increase (1 Corinthians 3:5-8). From the first to the fourth chapters of 1 Corinthians, Paul was dealing with the danger of schisms and divisions arising out of a wrong esteem for preachers from whom they had heard the gospel. Instead of recognizing their unity in Christ, they were forming factions and opposing parties within the church.

As with all the other problems within the Corinthian church - for example, the disorder at the Lord’s Supper, immorality and lawsuits - such divisions were the result of carnality, the outcropping of that remaining principle of sin in all believers which Paul described in Romans 7:21-23. We understand that the Corinthian Christians were imperfectly sanctified, as are all Christians to a lesser or greater degree.

Paul is not teaching that the Corinthians were characterized by carnality in all areas of their lives. He is not expounding a separate, lower class of “Carnal Christians”, but reproving a specific act of carnality in just one aspect of those factious Christians. Paul’s foundational epistles - the epistles to the Romans and the Galatians - had clearly laid out a bipartite division of all humanity. To read a new class of “Carnal Christian” into the text of 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 is to violate a cardinal principle of basic hermeneutics: a single passage of Scripture must be interpreted in the light of the whole.

A Christian may be fleshly in one or more areas of his life, and also at various periods of his pilgrimage on Earth. But it is inconceivable that a born-again child of God, who is sanctified by the Holy Spirit, can remain carnal in all areas of his life for all his life!

The “Carnal Christian” theory intimates that sanctification and submission to the Kingship of Christ is an option. Thus, this aberrant teaching makes it possible for unregenerate, sybaritic “professors” to claim a saving attachment to Christ when they are really on the broad way to hell. “Redemption would be a mockery without sanctification; for sin itself, and not the external wrath of God, is the cause of misery here, and eternal death hereafter. Hence, to deliver the fallen son of Adam from his guilt, and leave him under the power of corruption would be no salvation.” (R. L. Dabney, Systematic Theology (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1985 [1878]), 664.)


This hedonistic culture will not hesitate to embrace the “Carnal Christian” theory, for the theory assures a materialistic, profligate generation that they can remain in their carnality, and yet acquire a “fire-insurance policy.” The unregenerate person is thereby misled into believing that he can proclaim the name of Christ (Matthew 7:21-23), and yet continue to enjoy “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16).” But the Bible proclaims that God is able to take away our stony hearts, and to give us new hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26).

Is it, then, possible for a true Christian to have no desire in obeying the thrice-Holy God (1 John 2:3-5, John 14:15)?

Ernest Reisinger exclaimed, “How in God’s name did we come to huckstering off Jesus as some kind of hell-insurance policy, when the Bible announced Him as Lord and exalted Him to a throne? The New Testament preachers preached His lordship, and sinners received Him as Lord. There is not one example of Christ being offered any other way . . . God-centered evangelism proclaims the biblical message of the lordship of Christ at the outset, not as a second work of grace, or an act of optional consecration later.” Ernest C. Reisinger, Today’s Evangelism: Its Message and Methods (Phillipsburg, NJ: Craig Press, 1982), pp. 25, 27.

Ultimately, the “Carnal Christian” heresy denigrates all the three persons of the Godhead: it scorns the atonement of Christ by implying that His death does not liberate the sinner from the power of sin; it demeans the regenerating work of the Spirit by teaching that the Holy Ghost cannot lead the child of God in victorious, holy living; it ultimately ridicules the Father by calling Him a liar and an impotent God (1 Peter 1:2).

This post concludes my brief discourse in this subject matter.

Monday, June 05, 2006

A Primer to the “Carnal Christian” Theory Part 3

What does the Bible say about the division of humanity in Galatians 5?

After a brief study of Romans chapter 8, let us now turn our attention to another doctrinal passage of the New Testament. Galatians chapter 5 contrasts the works of the flesh and that of the Spirit. The tension and struggle between the flesh and the Spirit is clearly described in this passage. The apostle wrote,“16This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. 17For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. 18But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law” (Galatians 5:16-18, emphasis mine).

Matthew Henry rightly observed “that there is in every one a struggle between the flesh and the spirit (v. 17): The flesh (the corrupt and carnal part of us) lusts (strives and struggles with strength and vigour) against the spirit: it opposes all the motions of the Spirit, and resists every thing that is spiritual. On the other hand, the spirit (the renewed part of us) strives against the flesh, and opposes the will and desire of it: and hence it comes to pass that we cannot do the things that we would. As the principle of grace in us will not suffer us to do all the evil which our corrupt nature would prompt us to, so neither can we do all the good that we would, by reason of the oppositions we meet with from that corrupt and carnal principle.” (Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Hendrickson Publishers, 1991, page 2303)

Paul exhorted the Galatians to “walk in the Spirit”, and to embrace serious, practical godliness. The “flesh” is the term Paul often used to describe what remains of the “old man” after a person is saved. It refers to unredeemed humanness, the part of a believer that awaits future redemption at the time of his glorification (Romans 8:23).

MacArthur elucidates that this struggle between the Spirit and the flesh is a diurnal occurrence for the Christian; it happens every day on a regular basis:

“It is only in the lives of believers that the Spirit can fight against the flesh, because it is only in believers that the Spirit dwells. Only a believer can truthfully say, “I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind” (Rom. 7:22-23). Only in believers are the unredeemed flesh and the Spirit living in the redeemed self in opposition to one another, so that believers may not do the things that they please. Believers do not always do what they wish to do. There are those moments in every Christian’s experience when the wishing is present but the doing is not. The Spirit often halts what our flesh desires, and the flesh often overrides the will that comes from the Spirit.” (MacArthur’s New Testament Commentary: Galatians)
The Spirit of God leads those who are redeemed by Christ Jesus. When God saves a sinner, the Holy Spirit enters simultaneously (cf. Rom. 8:9). And the moment He enters He begins to lead the new Christian in the way of fruitfulness (Gal. 5:22-23), holiness (5:16), truth (John 16:13-15), and assurance (Rom. 8:16).

In Galatians 5:19-21, Paul described the works of the flesh, “19Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 21Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God (emphasis mine).”

Did Paul entertain the thought that “they which do such things shall loose some rewards”? Although Paul admitted that there is an ongoing tussle between the flesh and the Spirit (cf. Romans 7:14-24) within a genuine Christian, Paul never once mentioned that there is a separate class of Christians. According to Paul’s understanding, there exists no “Carnal Christian” whose entire inclination is towards the flesh, and is devoid of any desire to obey the “doctrine which is according to godliness (1 Timothy 6:3).” The Scripture teaches unequivocally that people who habitually engage in wicked, sinful behavior are not truly regenerate.

The great preacher, Charles Spurgeon, concurs, “If the professed convert distinctly and deliberately declares that he knows the Lord’s will, but does not mean to attend to it, you are not to pamper his presumptions, but it is your duty to assure him that he is not saved. Do not suppose that the Gospel is magnified or God-glorified by going to the world ... and telling them that they may be saved at this moment by simply ‘accepting Christ’ as their Savior, while they are wedded to their idols, and their hearts are still in love with sin. If I do so, I tell them a lie, pervert the Gospel, insult Christ, and turn the grace of God into lasciviousness” (Charles Spurgeon, Today's Evangelism, pp. 25-26).

Those who have never submitted their lives to the lordship of Christ, and are constantly rebelling against the Word of God are not truly believers. According to Galatians chapter 5, it is apparent that the true child of God has a constant, innate desire to obey Him. While the indwelling Spirit of the Christian constantly wars against the flesh, the unregenerate person will have no such struggle between the flesh and the Spirit.

The remorse or shame that an unsaved person experiences must not be confused with the spiritual warfare that occurs within a Christian. Although the sinful activities that the heathen indulges in might disappoint or disgust him, these sins are entirely consistent with his intrinsic nature as a child of God’s wrath (Ephesians 2:3). Beyond whatever conscience that might remain in his sinful state, there is no genuine spiritual warfare within the unregenerate person.

Paul wrote, “24And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. 25If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:24-25). Since the flesh is ‘crucified’ in the sense that it does not reign over us or hold us in inescapable servitude, we now live in the realm where Christ reigns over us by His Spirit. We should now live according to the Spirit, and not the flesh.

To be continued in Part 4

Thursday, June 01, 2006

A Primer to the “Carnal Christian” Theory Part 2

What does the Bible say about the division of humanity in Romans 8?

In Romans chapter 8, Paul contrasts two diametrically opposed systems of thought. In other words, the apostle expounds a bipartite division of humanity: the carnal man, and the spiritual man. There is no mention of a second-class, carnal Christian who walks like an unregenerate man.

The Apostle Paul, in Romans 8:4-9, explains:

“4That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. 5For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. 6For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. 7Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. 8So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. 9But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.”

Romans 8:7 states that the carnal mind is in enmity against God; it refuses to submit to the law of God. However, the Christian is not in the flesh, but in the Spirit. Paul is adamant that they who are in the flesh cannot please God. He continues to reassure his readers that “ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you (Romans 8:9).” Contrasting those that are “in the flesh,” and those that are “in the Spirit,” Paul makes no further distinction with regard to Christians. He warns, “For to be carnally minded is death (Romans 8:6).” There is no doubt that those who are “carnally minded” are unbelievers.

Commenting on Romans 8:5-13, John MacArthur Jr. writes, “But those who are according to the Spirit, Paul says, set their minds on the things of the Spirit. In other words, those who belong to God are concerned about godly things. As Jonathan Edwards liked to say, they have “holy affections,” deep longings after God and sanctification. As Paul has made clear in Romans 7, even God’s children sometimes falter in their obedience to Him. But as the apostle said of himself, they nevertheless “joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man” (Rom. 7:22). Despite their many spiritual failures, their basic orientation and innermost concerns have to do with the things of the Spirit. . . . The opposite of that reality is also true: But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. The person who gives no evidence of the presence, power, and fruit of God’s Spirit in his life has no legitimate claim to Christ as Savior and Lord. The person who demonstrates no desire for the things of God and has no inclination to avoid sin or passion to please God is not indwelt by the Holy Spirit and thus does not belong to Christ.” (MacArthur’s New Testament Commentary: Romans 1-8, emphasis in the original.)

Can a Christian be indwelt by the Holy Ghost, and yet exhibit no evidence of sanctification? Is it possible for a regenerate man to have no fruits of the Spirit? The Apostle Peter declared in 1 Peter 1:2 that Christians are “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ”. It is obvious that sanctification is not an option. God does not redeem a person with the precious blood of Christ, only to allow him to remain under the power of sin!

The Bible contains many imperatives requiring obedience and holiness in God’s people. For example, the writer of Hebrews taught, “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). The Greek word for “follow” or “pursue” indicates an intense pursuit or a dedicated striving after. The writer of Hebrews was exhorting Christians to strive for holiness, for without this process of sanctification, “no man shall see the Lord.”

Gordon Clark explains, “In the Greek text peace is feminine; holiness, or the process of becoming holy, is masculine; the relation pronoun which is masculine singular; therefore the verse says that no man can see the Lord without going through the process of becoming holy.” (Gordon H. Clark, What do Presbyterians Believe? (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1965), 135).

This passage teaches that those who are justified are progressively made holy in order to be prepared to come into God’s presence. Although Christians are not justified by any meritorious work, true Christians have a faith that works. A professing believer may be well acquainted with all the theological jargon, familiar with the Reformed Confessions, passionate in aiding the poor, impeccable in church attendance, and zealous in evangelism. Yet without personal holiness and sanctification, such a professor is spiritually dead and destined for perdition.

In Romans 8:14, did Paul write, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are spiritual Christians”? There are no two classes of Christians! Romans 8:12-14 states, “12Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. 13For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. 14For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (emphasis mine). The inevitable conclusion of Romans chapter 8 is this: the Spirit of God leads all Christians. Christians are in the Spirit, not in the flesh. The proclivity of the believer’s heart is to please God, and to obey His Word. The believer may stumble and fall every now and then, but they will continue to strive towards holiness and perfection. Like the Apostle Paul, they “delight in the law of God after the inward man” (Romans 7:22).

To be continued in Part 3