WHAT IS THE ROLE OF ANCIENT NEAR EASTERN STUDIES IN INTERPRETING THE BOOK OF GENESIS?

International Area Studies

 

THE ROLE OF NEAR EASTERN STUDIES IN THE INTERPRETATION OF THE BOOK OF GENESIS

 

Where the Crawdads Sing by Dalia Owens has dominated the best seller list for the last two years. The beautiful written book traces the life of Kya. Kya is raised in the swamp just outside of a town. Kya’s family and upbringing are also very different from anything the townspeople could understand. It is a story of life, love, uniqueness, and determination. Kya’s love life is complicated and although the book is not a crime-mystery novel, Owens weaves the mystery of murder into the narrative. The book can be summed up in one statement. The people from the town cannot understand Kya because they either can’t or don’t want to see her in her context. She is from the swamp. She has grown up in a twisted situation. She loves nature more than architecture. The book’s climax shows the difference between the two men that Kya loved. Although she held onto the memory of one, the one who steps into her world is the one the gets to share her life and really get to know her.

Kya’s life illustrates a truth must be understood by anyone desiring to understand a historical event or history in general. It is impossible to truly understand and engage with an event of the past without being willing to step into that event’s world. If you stay in the town you will never understand what and why things happen in the swamp. Much like Kya, Owens described her heart and life and then secondarily explained that life by detailing the smells, sights, and sounds of the swamp.

The book of Genesis is like Kya. Beautiful, intriguing, extremely important, and situated in a very real historical time and place. Genesis is part of the special revelation of God. The truth of Genesis stands on its own concerning truth and meaning. God in His grace has given, if we desire, many sources outside of the Biblical text to bring context and clarity of meaning. The purpose of this paper is to argue that while ancient near east studies shed light on the Biblical narrative, they are secondary sources in understanding the complete storyline of scripture.

 

         Genesis Decoded 

Before discussing ancient studies as they connect with the Book of Genesis, it is appropriate to consider a brief overview of the book. The word Genesis comes from the Greek word geneseos which can literally be translated as the “history of origin.” The author of Genesis had no qualms about making the bold statement that the book of Genesis is the true history of the beginning of all things. This is not to say that other documents in the ancient world claimed the same authority. Much of Genesis mirrors the customs and culture of its Mesopotamian origin. Like other documents of its time, the Genesis narrative highly values genealogies, and the placement of people groups. With the geographical descriptions of activity in the chapters of Genesis, the author clearly placed the activities such as the tower of Babel, the lives of the patriarchs, and the pre-Egyptian/Canaanite dwelling in Mesopotamia.

It is widely accepted that Moses wrote Genesis and the entirety of the first five books of the Bible or the Pentateuch. 1 Kings 6:1 claims that the fourth year of Solomon’s kingship over Israel marked the four hundred and eightieth anniversary of the Hebrew’s wandering in the desert after exiting Egypt. Moses writing that the Israelites spent forty years in the desert, it can be assumed that Moses wrote Genesis and the rest of the Pentateuch between 1446 and 1406 c. Objections to Moses as author of Genesis include his writing of early creation events that clearly took place long before he or anyone else could give a first hand account. Another objection is that the Genesis narrative includes the death of Moses.  Most scholars are satisfied with the conclusion that origin texts where orally passed down through the people of God and another author completed the books by adding his account of the end of Moses’ life.

The book of Genesis is the bedrock of the entire Bible. It is always a mistake to divorce the old from the new testaments. Genesis gives an account of the beginning of all things, including His promises. It is clear that although God’s glory is shown in his creation, the book of Genesis sets the stage that the Bible will be about Him and about His redemptive story and glory. One of the only times the Trinity is mentioned in the Old Testament is in the first chapters of Genesis where the God or in the Hebrew Yahweh says, “let US make man in OUR image”. This is not to be misunderstood as a form a polytheism. God’s declaration to Moses that, “I am” is His name underscores the theme set forth in Genesis that God is one God. The Hebrews would learn the importance of this as they repeated the Schema. Moses wrote about the monotheistic nature of His God when he and his ancestors were surrounded only of polytheism. As polytheistic creation myths without fail, were believed to have created out of anger, love, and competition with their fellow gods, Yahweh creates by Himself for Himself. Polytheism remained the primary belief system from the ancient near east all the way to antiquity. Interestingly, some religions today hold to some type of polytheistic foundation.

The creation story Genesis 1:1-2:3 ends with the beauty of a creation in which God is good. In 2:4-11:26, Adam and Eve rest and exist in the garden of Eden, the inner place of all creation. In chapter 3, sin enters world through the sins of pride and dishonesty. The human couple had been seduced by a snake to turn away from the commands of God. The consequences of sin would be death, God predicts His already developed plan that Jesus would come and conquer sin and death, crushing the head of the serpent. 4:1-16 tracks the progression of sin through the murder of Abel by his brother Cain and onward. Eventually God has had enough (6:1-8). Seeing the wickedness of mankind He decides to send a flood to cover all the earth and kill every human being. In 6:9-20:22 God shows his grace on a man named Noah and his family by saving them from the flood waters. This picture of a gracious God will remain a theme throughout the Bible, even to the end of Revelation. In 11:27-25:11, As mankind continues to build new cultures and traditions, God calls a man named Abram to go out and be the father of a new nation in which God will set apart for Himself. God gives him a new name, Abraham. Again, this theme of God setting a people a part for Himself will mirror the early Church and those saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus many years later. The following chapters of Genesis show how God’s promise works out in the faithful and sometimes unfaithful family of Abraham. God is always keeping his promise. Genesis ends with the death of Joseph, Jacob’s son whose brothers sold into slavery and then became the second most powerful man in Egypt. Before his death, Joseph witnessed the reuniting of his family as they moved into the land of Goshen, a province of Egypt. Genesis stands unique to its counterparts in that instead of laying down the foundation of a God who wants man to serve him so He becomes powerful, Genesis depicts a God who is already all-powerful, but choses to commune and covenant with mankind out of grace. Genesis’ defense of a monotheistic God who eschatologically held the future in his hands would be the foundation of the Biblical God Christians and Jews acknowledge today.

 

 

                                          A Stern Warning

 

In Jarod Diamond’s book Guns, Germs, and steel, he makes an argument that the origins and advantage of people groups around the world are affected by factors outside of their control and outside of their genetic composition. Even in writing the book, he feared that his work would be misunderstood to be a study in why some people groups such as near east and Europeans, advanced quicker that other people groups around the world. He was well aware that if not read carefully, his book could be used to fuel racist mindsets in a belief that some people groups were more genetically evolved than others. His concern and explanation appears multiple times in the book. He is not wrong to be concerned.

Many examples in history can be cited where history is used to divide mankind. William Shire’s lengthy chronicles on the The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich serve as a reminder how evil individuals can be when they misread history. Hilter combined northern European myths with pseudo history to support his view of Aryan superiority. The book of Genesis, along with the rest of the Bible, is not the history of one people group for one people group.

Much of the Bible, especially the old testament beginning with Abraham seems to deal primarily with the Jewish or Israelite people. Genesis must be read in a larger context than simply a Jewish document. Much later in history, in the book of Acts, Jews make the mistake of seeing the old testament, its teaching, and its promises as strictly Jewish. Paul, Peter, and other apostles had to teach the Jews that the meta-narrative of scripture was for everyone. It is prudent to study the secondary sources of history outside of the Biblical text as God’s sovereign movement in all the earth and in all people for His purpose.

Modern Obsession With History

 

There are now three History Channels on basic cable. You can watch History, History Military, and even History Vault. Given many programing hours are given alien shows, reality tv, and pseudo history, the desire for the public to be entertained by history is growing. Netflix has beefed up their historical documentary choices as well. YouTube boasts tens of millions of hits on historical documentary uploads. Most of the non-fictional books on the shelves are historical compared other types of literature such as self-help books and others. David McCullough, writer of many historical books including his wildly famous biography John Adams, said in an interview that American are craving history like never before. There are generally, two types of history that people enjoy. They enjoy modern history, the American revolution onward to World War II, or ancient history, specifically the empires and key figures of Greece and Rome. This trend could be why so many evangelicals are ignorant to the details of the reformation, since it took place in a less popular timeframe.

Americans don’t mind blurring the lines between history and myth. This is nothing new. Homer’s Odyssey was widely understood as fictional, yet his contemporaries believed that the story also included truth. In 2019 Neil Gaiman wrote Norse Mythology which gave a more accurate view of characters like Oden, Thor, and Loki than were saving the world as avengers. Most people in the 21st century would consider the myths noted by Gaiman as fun to read, but false. A thousand years ago and more, the Norse would have considered some of the facts of these myths hard to believe. Nevertheless they believed their origin story and the origin stories of their Gods found in those accounts enough to trigger the worship of their gods. The Romans had their own origin myths as well. The Roman origin myth says that twin brothers Romulus and Remus were raised by a she wolf. Through antiquity, there were statues of the brothers feeding from Wolf. The Legend goes on to say that Romulus killed Remus and then went on to establish what would be the city of Rome. This tension between family members that play an important role in creating civilizations and creation stories in general was not unusual. Much like the Norse, the Romans were generally skeptical of their origin myth while at the same time believing that some or much of the story must be true.

The interest in history, particularly ancient history brings about different reactions in regards to spiritual ideas. This is especially true when studying origin stories and very ancient history. One would think that an interest in ancient history would cause reflection in every aspect, but it doesn’t. Many times, the study of ancient history cause one of two reactions. The first would be an individual that studies it almost like fantasy, such as Lord of The Rings or the Harry Potter series. The second response would be an introspective look at one’s own beliefs and what they can glean from the spirituality and humanity of the ancients. Both responses, although the first being most concerning, must be addressed. A strictly fantastical view of ancient History will cause the one who studies to have a hard heart seeking to only know the facts. An example of this would be an obsession with the early conquest of Rome and particularly that of Julius Caesar and his conquering of Gaul without stopping to consider the religious, economic, humanitarian disaster that was caused. The second individual must be careful to view ancient history in its entirety.

 

 

 

Context

 

       Webster defines context as the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed. Understanding context is key to most situations we are assessing in life. History must be viewed in this context. The further back the history being studied, the more intentional the search for context must be. Human beings detect context all the time. When facts are thrown at the public through 24-hour news and social media outlets, context should be determined. Many times, this does not happen. The western world in 2020, tends to look at every historical event through its own cultural realities.

There is a fear of context. Sometimes cultural context makes people feel very uncomfortable. No doubt, any modern progressive thinker studying the ancients will be nauseous at the prevalence of human sacrifice, slavery, conquest, treatment of woman, children, and a dizzying amount of what would be considered horrendous human rights violations today. This makes it hard to objectively study any ancient people group. When it comes to the Bible, readers may fear that digging too deep into the context, especially of the Old Testament, would make it impossible to study God and the other characters when they lived in such a vulgar context. The old question of God’s goodness becomes even more troubling in a world of the ancients. Thinking about the ancients as violent and backward, must be tempered with the reminder that every generation has been equally depraved. This depravity shows itself in different ways from age to age. The book of Genesis should be read without fear.

There is an ignorance of context. Many times, when a person reads or studies ancient history rather than ignoring context, they are unaware of it. This seems to not make sense, but is a reality. As mentioned before, non-academics in the western world see themselves at the center of all things. Looking for context requires someone to take themselves out of their own reality and step into the reality of those who lived in ancient times. An ignorance of context will leave the reader blinded to the richness of the history he or she is studying. Anyone serious about learning what they can about ancient peoples, must be aware of the importance of context. The book of Genesis must be read with a keen eye on cultural context.

Literary and cultural context must be considered when studying ancient texts. It cannot be overstated that ancient texts need to be read and studied knowing what genre they are. Genre determines whether a piece of writing is a poem, a collection of wisdom, a biographical narrative, or historical. In his book Interpreting Eden, Vern S. Poythress devotes an entire chapter to the explanation Genre as it has to do with the book of Genesis. He acknowledges that genre can fuzzy at times, especially in stories that have been passed down through oral traditions. Much of the confusion in reading origin stories is an inability to distinguish between genres. The Bible is made up of a multitude of genres. It must be understood that some genres overlap, such a historical poetry. Genesis chapter one would be an example of such a text. Literary context serves as a road map to understanding ancient text, including the book of Genesis.

Understanding the cultural context of a text is also a crucial skill when studying Genesis or any other ancient texts. Texts from different cultures are like music. Listening to some types of music take your mind to the part of the world in which it was written. The Norse wrote different from the Celts and the Aztecs wrote differently than the Assyrians or Babylonians. After the conquests of Alexander the Great, Greek culture, including language, influenced every people group from Europe and Northern Africa to the steps of India. The Greek influence remained strong into the rise and absolute power of the Roman empire. The original languages in which the Bible is written show evidence of the Greek influence among both the Jews and the early church. The Old Testament was written in ancient Hebrew while the New Testament was written largely in common Greek. While the early Jewish influence is clearly evident in the Old Testament and into the Gospels, the Greek influence shows up in both the writing and the cultural norms of the early church as it expanded and grew. Understanding all the possible context of what is being studied is crucial in ones pursuit of understanding what is being written and why it is important. The book of Genesis read in context allows for an understanding of theology and anthropology. Though most scholars would not place history alone as the genre of the book of Genesis, there is still much history to be learned.

 

What is Near East Studies and Why do they matter when Studying the book of Genesis?

MA-in-Ancient-Israel-Studies-Archaeology-and-History-of-the-Land-of-the-Bible

 

            In the first chapter of his book Against the Gods, John D. Currid explains both a basic history of ancient near eastern studies and its relationship with scripture. His thoughts are incredibly valuable. He divides the history of near eastern studies in four concise time periods. He calls the first period, the beginnings of research in the Ancient Near East (1798-1872). This period of near eastern studies largely came from both interest and accidental discoveries. From the conquests of Napoleon in Egypt to the rise of modern empires such as the Ottomans, nation states were becoming both interested in their territories finding history as they went. Specialist began to form companies or groups to excavate. The larger ancient civilizations such as Egypt and Babylon gave up their treasure more so than ancient Canaan and other smaller or older people groups. Before this time, history of the near east came from the Bible and from ancient b.c. historians such as Herodotus.

The second time period (1873-1905), Currid calls the period of suspicion. The western world was becoming suspicious of everything. The search for archeological items became a search for evidence that would bring the Biblical amount into question. Groups that found new evidence that could run contrary to the Bible were lauded as heroes. During this time, documents containing flood theories and pre-Genesis writings were seen as something that could change a way to think. This type of study mirrored the feelings left over from the enlightenment.

The study of ancient near history saw new horizons in 1906-1940. This time period was marked by discoveries in ancient near eastern area thought before to be lost. Much of the Hittite and Assyrian relics were found. This was also the golden age of linguistic discovery. Thousands of clay tablets from all over the region were discovered and allowed translators to put a voice to the near eastern people. Language served as a road map to greater understanding.

1945-present has been an age of synthesis. Currid claims that the discovery of new artifacts, architecture, and linguistic tablets has slowed down. With the exception of the discovery of artifacts at Elba (Tell Marddikh). This discovery from Northern Syria was met with great expectation. There were hopes that the tablets found would clarify or mention the activity found in Genesis, especially the lives of the Patriarchs. Much was learned and gathered from this relic that had existed during the glory days of a civilization destroyed, probably by a neighboring empire, in c. 3000 b.c. Virtually nothing was learned that could collaborate with the Bible. This makes sense given the tablet was dated 450 years before the life of Abraham and the other Patriarchs. Much was still learned from the discovery. Beyond shining moments like Elba, study has been less about digging and more about observing. Throughout the history of studying the near east, the Bible and its detail have stood the test of time. One might argue that discoveries that seemingly contradict scripture and then were found not to contradict scripture only strengthen the resolve of those who believe in the historicity of Genesis and the rest of the Biblical text.

The Biblical text is different from its surrounding cultures and similar as well. Similar in the sense that Genesis was written in a real time among real people. As was discussed, many cultures allow for adherents to blur the lines between fact and myth. Even with debate over the interpretations of several passages, no serious reader of Genesis could conclude it was written with any other intention except a factual account of what really happened. For example the ancient text Enuma Elish shares many attributes of Genesis 1-38. It tells the tale of Marduk’s rise to be the ultimate god in the Babylonian pantheon. A close reading of this Summarian text differs from Genesis in that details concerning the god are clearly purposefully mythical or at least written with little or no detail. A precursor to gods like Zeus, Marduk ascends to be the most powerful of all the gods. The reader is left to question the humanity and divine nature of Marduk. Marduk is to be worshiped, but it is unclear how one is to divide their worship between rest of the pantheon. Contrast this with God in Genesis. He is and always was. He does not ascend, He is already there. There is no pantheon of gods, He is not created and everything else is. The God in Genesis is clearly the one to worship. There are no other gods. Where the story of Marduk leaves ambiguity for the reader, Moses clearly defines God. Any conversation with a skeptic of Christianity will bring up the Gilgamesh epic as proof that the flood account in Genesis is fabricated and stolen.  Although there are similarities such as the god’s creation, the anger they had for humanity, and then the flood. In reality the epic is not the only text that has been discovered with parallels to the early events of Genesis. Most notably the flood. In 1974 clay tablets containing writings that were similar to both Genesis and the epic of Gilgamesh were discovered. They were found in what is modern Northern Syria. The tablets were dated around c. 2500 B.Sc. Immediately, these were hailed as a find that would challenge the Genesis account. In reality they held very little information and became useful to language specialists and archeologist than theologians. There was not enough information to cause a stir. As with most of the ancient research and findings. They don’t prove events wrong, but build convincing arguments for the Genesis account. The Story of Marduk fits perfectly in a narrative that monotheism was different from the rest of the region. The epic Gilgamesh confirmed that the idea of a flood was not phenomenon that Moses made up. The more that is found, the more the Biblical account is supported or even clarified. Letters by the name Mari were found and dated to the time of the patriarchs. The letters astonishingly showed that names such as those of the patriarchs were common. This discovery obliterated the argument that Genesis was a faulty document with the Genesis author placing Jewish names, such as Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph into the text when those names were not in use.

 

The Flood: A short case study

            Skeptics attack some portions of Genesis over others. Obviously, they attack the more miraculous or outlandish claims. Within the narrative, these would include but not be limited to the creation story, a historical Adam and Eve, the call of Abram, and the ascent of Joseph to the second most powerful man in Egypt. Exodus and the following books continue the narration of these seemingly fantastical stories. Jews and then Christians must accept that there may be portions of their holy book that must be taken in faith. This does not mean the text is not true. The truthfulness of the flood story has probably been attacked more than anything in scripture short of the resurrection of Jesus. It simply does not sit with people that God would; a. become so angered by humanity that He would drown them b. truly cover the entire earth with water and c. pick just one man and his family to be saved. Usually when something like the Biblical flood is attacked, the argument goes as follows: There is no evidence or eye witnesses to testify that such an event has ever happened, therefore chances are, it didn’t happen. The biblical account of the flood is attacked this way and also a more perplexing way. It is attacked with an argument that goes like this: There is a multitude of ancient near east texts that describe a flood, therefore, since the Biblical account is not the only account, it is not true. The second argument is hard to read because it makes no sense. Rather than use the other flood stories to attack the historicity of the Genesis flood, let us look at two prominent flood narratives from the ancient near east and compare them to the Biblical text. Any two of the many flood narratives would be interesting to compare to Genesis, but these two stories are more prominent than most. We will look at the Sumerian flood story and the Epic of Gilgamesh.

            The Sumerian flood story was found inscribed on a tablet that dated back to the Old Babylon period or the second millennium B.Sc. It was found in 1890 as a part of a 35,000 piece set. The tablet gives an early “historical” event of the Sumerian people. The inscription on the tablet could be addressed to either the Sumerian people or all of humanity. In the story, the gods create all of creation. The gods also created cities in which they chose specific humans to rule. One of the kings was named Ziusudra. Ziusudra is told by one of the gods that all of the gods have decided that there will be a great flood that will kill everything on earth. After a break in the text, it picks back up with the flood lasting for seven days and seven nights. After the flood, Ziusudra sacrifices to the gods. He is then granted god like eternal life in the place of the rising sun.

Though the Epic of Gilgamesh has similarities to both the Biblical and Sumerian texts, it is unique as well. It is widely thought that many flood text from the ancient near east borrow from this text. The story was found as a part of 12 tablets discovered in the ancient ruins of Nineveh. The story is a conversation in which a man named Utnapishtim talks to Gilgamesh. Utnapishtim gives an account of a god giving incredibly detailed instructions that a flood is coming, how he is to be saved, and even the dimensions of the boat he is to build. After he builds the boat, he closes the door. He gathers his family and they ride out the world wide flood which lasts six days and six nights. When the seventh day comes the boat lands on the mountain of Nisir. Utnapishtim, much like Noah, eventually sends a dove, swallow, and raven. The raven does not return showing that he and his family may exit the boat. Upon stepping on dry land, he makes a sacrifice to the gods. One of the gods gives Utnapishtim and his wife eternal life to be like gods.

It is no wonder that these types of accounts can shake ones faith in the Biblical text. There is nothing to fear. If a flood truly covered the entire earth, stories, legends, and heroes would be understandable. It could be that through word of mouth these stories were true in that there was a flood and then added mythical elements. John Currid correctly asserts that we should look at the difference between the Biblical flood story and the other ancient near east flood stories. It is important to note that the Genesis flood story stands on its own compared to other stories that have similarities.

The difference between the Genesis account and the other flood stories is that Genesis is the only story in which a monotheist God is totally sovereign. The characters in other stories are partners with the gods and eventually become like gods, or gods. The God of Genesis decides to destroy mankind based on their unholiness and His absolute holiness, He chooses Noah, He shuts the door to the ark (something both characters in both myth stories do own their own), He makes the waters come and make them go. Currid quotes the Epic of Gilgamesh showing the difference between these weak mythological gods and the God of the Bible. “The gods were frightened by the deluge, and, shrinking back, they ascended to the heaven of Anu. The gods cowered like dogs and crouched against the wall. The gods all humbled, sit and weep.”[1]Who exactly is being punished in these accounts. What does it mean to be a god and how powerful are they? It seems to be as easy to become a god as to follow instructions from one. In Genesis there are no gods, there is a God, the only God. He controls all and is never afraid. How can the God of Genesis be so different from the gods of these other flood stories. There are two main differences. In the non-Biblical ancient near east flood stories, men are like gods, and gods are like men. For every god described there are both divine and human characteristics. The gods always answered to someone. They need the sacrifices of men. They must consult with a pantheon of gods. They are never truly all powerful. They are never truly free. The God of the Bible exists within Himself, needing nothing, possessing what theologians call the non-communicable attributes in which He alone maintains.

The purpose of this paper was to argue that while ancient near east studies shed light on the Biblical narrative, they are secondary sources in understanding the complete storyline of scripture. Studies in the ancient near east are rich and profitable. To fervently study the accounts and histories of civilizations and people groups is good as long as it does not become an obsession. A student must be patient and well versed. He or she must not approach the study of history as simply a tool to entertain. It is also important not to confuse the study of civilizations with the study of the Bible which spans through many civilizations and thousands of years. The Bible, and Genesis for that matter, stand alone. The message of the Bible is ultimately the message of the Gospel. There may be some similarities between Genesis and ancient near east history and that is helpful. In the past, as now, the Biblical narrative sets itself apart from any other form of history by describing a God who saves, when human beings can do nothing to save themselves.

 

 

           

 

 

 

          

           

 

 

 

 

           

           

 

 

          

 

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Stark, Rodney. For the Glory of God: how monotheism led to reformations, science, witch-hunts, and the end of slavery. New Jersey: Princeton Univ. Press, 2004.

Greenblatt, Stephen. The Rise and Fall of Adam an Eve. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2018

Poythress, Vern S. Interpreting Eden: a guide to faithfully reading and understanding Genesis 1-3. Wheaton: Crossway, 2019.

Currid, John H. Against the Gods: The polemical theology of the Old Testament. Wheaton: Crossway, 2013.

Alexander, Desmond T. The City of God and the Goal of Creation. Wheaton: Crossway, 2018.

Waltke, Bruce K. Genesis a commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001.

Shire, William. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: a history of Nazi Germany. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2011.

Bauer, Susan. A Brief History of the Ancient World. New York: W.W. Norton, 2007.

Diamond, Jared. Guns, germs, and steel: a short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years. New York: Vintage, 2019.

Owens, Dalia. Where the Crawdads Sing. USA: Penguin USA, 2020.

Gaiman, Neil. Norse Mythology. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019.

ESV study Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton: Crossway, 2011.

Dawkins, Richard: The God Delusion. London: Black Swan, 2016.

[1] The epic goes on to make the gods out to be weak in their need of a sacrifice saying, the gods smelled the savor…the gods gathered like flies around the sacrifice. Contrast with Yahweh who accepts Noah’s sacrifice because Yahweh deserves it, not because He needs it.

 

Salvation by Grace by Matthew Garrett: a book review

SALVATION BY GRACE

 

__________________

 

A Book Review

Presented to

Dr. Shawn Wright

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

 

__________________

 

In Partial Fulfillment

of the Requirements for 25177

 

__________________

 

by

Matthew Douglas Woodburn

Mwoodburn004@students.sbts.edu

7/19/19

*I affirm the honor code.

 

Barrett, Matthew. Salvation by Grace: The Case for Effectual Calling and Regeneration. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2013

This book is written by Dr. Matthew Barrett who earned his PhD from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is now the assistant professor of Christian studies at the California Baptist University. He also serves as the executive editor of Credo Magazine.

 

                           Introduction

Throughout the years a debate has raged between thoughts concerning monergism and synergism. Addressing this debate, Barrett looks primarily at the doctrine of effectual calling. Barrett along with effectual calling, spends time defining and placing in the Biblical order of salvation total depravity, election, and regeneration. The book explores all of these doctrines as they are inexplicably tied together. From a Reformed point of view, which he understands as correct, Barrett defines effectual calling. Barrett uses Scripture to defend his view. As with a traditional reformed understanding of the Gospel, Barrett argues that effectual calling takes place before regeneration and made possible through irresistible grace. This grace being irresistible and the fact that all are not saved, the effectual call is only meant for the elect. Barrett devotes a portion of the book to specifically address Arminian theology as it has to do with a Biblical view of grace. He in particular, examines the Arminian view of prevenient grace. Libertarian free will is also considered. Barrett argues that the Arminian view of grace and free will is unbiblical. Barrett openly admits that many theologians have been uncomfortable “picking a side” in the Effectual calling debate and have tried to find middle ground. Barrett respects the heart behind these attempts to build bridges between the views, but holds fast to what he believes of the Biblical, reformed definition for the entirety of salvation.

 

Table of Contents

Foreword: Bruce Ware and Thomas Schreiner 

Introduction: The Contemporary Debate

Chapter 1: Monergism in the Calvinist Tradition

Chapter 2: Total Depravity and the Bondage of the Will

Chapter 3: The Scriptural Affirmation of the Effectual calling

Chapter 4: The Scriptural Affirmation of Monergistic Regeneration 

Chapter 5: Arminian Synergism in Theological Perspective 

Chapter 6: The Inadequacy of Arminian Synergism 

Chapter 7: The Failure of Recent Attempts at a Middle Way

Conclusion 

 

Chapter 1: Monergism in the Calvinist Tradition 

Barrett begins his discussion by digging into church history. When many Christians consider debates concerning Christian theologies of grace, they tend to think of recent theologians. When it comes to predestination, many modern Christians think about about John Calvin and to a lesser degree other giants of the reformation. Barrett makes clear that the roots of the doctrine of predestination lay many generations earlier than the life of Calvin. These are the beliefs and writings of Augustine. It is important to understand that debates and conversations about Augustinianism, Semi-Augustinianism, Pelagianism, and Semi-Pelagianism rage and divide the church today. Theologians must understand that the typical evangelical Christian may not understand or use the terminology in this book. Never the less, these debates are still taking place and must be addressed. 

Barrett does a case study in Augustine’s view of sovereign grace. According to Augustine, humans are totally depraved and their wills are enslaved to sin, being unable to not sin. Sin is a chain in which human beings do not have the key. It is Luther’s bondage of the will and Edwards definition of complete depraved affections that help clarify this view. Even though human beings are totally depraved, they are responsible, moral agents. That human being are unable to not sin yet are held responsible for their actions is Biblically compatible because in God’s sovereignty He shows His grace by choosing to change the will of some human beings, thus breaking their bondage to sin. The breaking of this bondage is also the gift of faith. As Paul says, salvation comes, “by grace through faith.” Those elected are then able to put their faith in Jesus and will put their faith in Jesus. This was Augustine’s modernistic view that God saved and elected by grace.

Augustine’s theological rival Pelagius rejected original sin. He also denied the total depravity teaching that there was no Biblical evidence of a person’s will be in bondage to sin. People in his view, had total free will. He accepted the need for grace, but taught that grace was a result of or worked with the free choice of human beings. In terminology, Pelagius held to a form of monerism as well. Augustine’s view, monergism was divinewhereas in Pelegius’ view, monergsim rested in the free will of human beings. 

Throughout the generations, debate raged between those followers of Augustinian thought and the other works-based theology. As the Catholic Church became more prominent in works and tradition based theology, the Protestant Reformation took flight. Martin Luther introduced his ninety-five thesis to his peers and then argued in The Bondage of the Will that salvation is by faith alone, not by works was Biblical. He also argued that this “faith” was a gift given through God’s grace. John Calvin then repeated the notions of Augustine. Calvin further clarified the doctrines of grace that had been forgotten throughout the centuries and then re-examined in the Protestant Reformation. Calvin taught that the general call of the gospel is universal, but uniquely, the effectual call of grace was for the elect. This doctrine was paramount to any theology that made God the giver of salvation. Jacob Arminius was the chief critic of the reformers historical view of grace. Arminius believed that God gives prevenient grace to every human being. With this type of grace, all human beings have the ability through their free will to cooperate with God in gaining their salvation. Arminius’ theology was synergistic. He followers put forward a document including five cannons of salvation theology covering election, prevenient grace, resistible grace, and when conversion takes place. The Calvinists responded to the Arminian claims through the Cannons of Dort. The main thrust of the Cannons stated that the Arminian soteriology was unbiblical. The gathering stated that total depravity led to modernistic regeneration. Dort restated the doctrines that Augustine have written about hundreds of years before. The will of man is in total bondage to sin. Human beings have free will but are unable to choose God over the things of this world. The ability to put one’s faith in Jesus as the sole author of human salvation comes through God’s gracious sovereign gift. 

 

Chapter 2: Total Depravity and the Bondage of the Will

The doctrines of original sin and total depravity must be interchangeable to be coherent. Total depravity is not simply a lack of “goodness”. The total depravity of a person affects their will. They are unable to do good because they love evil so much. Even in this, a person has a will, a free will. It is important to define what this free will is. Human beings are not evil nor absolutely corrupted, but their will is absolutely inclined toward evil because of the depravity of their souls. The Bible is clear that men are dead in their sins and that man can do nothing to please God. The Bible calls the works of men “dirty rags.” Paul says that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. He also says that no one seeks the Lord. Human beings are slaves to sin. Again, human beings have free will, but the will is in bondage to sin until God’s effectual call. Through His grace elects to soften their hearts.

The original sin or total depravity of human beings affects their will. They are unable to see the need to turn to God. They cannot follow His commands or glorify Him in other ways. Even though God has chosen, throughout history to glorify Himself through degenerate human beings. The lost man’s will is captured by a total love for evil. The law of God, to a depraved man is not only unachievable, but undesirable. Though Satan’s influence is not what condemns the sinner to hell, it is Satan who has captured the desires of the lost. 

Barrett spends times discussing the impact of the writings of Jonathan Edwards concerning free or libertarian will. After the works of the reformers, it can be argued that the writings of Edwards are the most important works concerning the subject of effectual calling. He argued that the will always chooses what it wants and apart from God’s grace, its inclination is toward evil. People are blinded by their sinful natured. Human beings have free will, but are blinded as to even seeing the goodness of God. 

Many evangelicals run from the doctrine of total depravity and (and election). It is easy to feel that these doctrines lead to despair. In reality, if it was left for humans to figure out how to chose what is right, humans will always be unable to chose what is right. These doctrines provide hope as they allow for God’s sovereign grace to do the work. 

 

Chapter 3: The Scriptural Affirmation of the Effectual Calling

The effectual calling is the only way for human beings to respond to God. This call is for the elect. This is the only type of call that clearly reveals the gospel. When the gospel is clearly revealed to the elect, it is irresistibly accepted. It is important to note that preaching is still important and necessary when discussing the effectual calling. Preaching is part of the general call. This is the call that goes out to all, the proclamation of the good news of the gospel. Without the effectual call human’s beings are unable to accept the good news of the general call. In Romans 8, Paul is clear that election comes before justification and glorification. Faith comes after grace. The order of salvation clearly, Biblically, makes the effectual call necessary any sort of justification that leads to complete salvation. 1 Corinthians 1:23, 24 says that those who are “effectually” willfully accept the gospel. Paul says that human beings are saved by grace through faith so that no man can boast. In Romans 9 and Galatians 1, Paul makes clear the doctrines of election. Romans 9 goes further to say that election and the call are unconditional. Peter spends time in his writing to address calling and election as well. One cannot exist without the others. In John 6:35-64 Jesus teaches that nobody can come to the Father except the ones the Father gives Him. John 17 also says that predestination, followed by an effectual call, will cause the elect to believe. Effectual calling is a result of unconditional election. Again, free will is present and causes each individual to be accountable for their actions. The affections can be swayed toward the choosing of an irresistible grace brought about by and effectual monegeristic calling.

 

Chapter 4: The Scriptural Affirmation of Monergistic Regeneration

The Bible is clear that individuals are dead in their sins and cannot respond to God apart from the effectual calling. God must act in order for the evil affections of man to change and be saved. Regeneration follows the effectual calling. Human beings must be called out in order to be changed within. Regeneration is instantaneous even when people are not total aware of the moment it takes places. Regeneration is the Holy Spirit’s changing one’s heart so that a heart can be moved by the Holy Spirit, into the process of sanctification. Upon regeneration a person can receive the Word of God and the clarity of the gospel. The Holy Spirit is the cause of the moment of regeneration. 

Even in the Old Testament, God required that a person’s heart be changed. In the book of Deuteronomy, God speaks of a heart, regardless of circumcision, be changed. In these passages God saves by faith. Both in Hebrews and in Romans, the authors speak of the Old Testament as being saved by faith, but that faith be caused by God. Regeneration is evident in God’s action to make some people’s hearts hard or otherwise. God’s sovereign choice is evident in Ezekiel 37 and the illustration of “dry bones.” In this passage God alone makes dry bones alive and active. This is the perfect illustration of God’s monergistic work. 

Total free will outside the effectual calling of God is not a reality. These arguments like many, become problematic for Arminians. Arminians use passages such as John 1:12 to show faith comes before calling. Upon a closer look, John 1:13 clearly shows that human beings become children of God by God’s will alone. God is always only responsible for salvation. In Ephesians 2:8 we read that all of salvation, including faith, is a gift from God.

 

Chapter 5: Arminian Synergism in Theological Perspective 

All reformers including Jacob Arminius believed in total depravity. Even Arminius rejected Semi-Pelagianism. Arminius and his followers believed that human beings were slaves to sin. Wesley also took this position. The difference between the Arminian and Reformed view has to do with the doctrine of prevenient grace. Prevenient grace is the doctrine that God opens the eyes of all men to chose to put or not put their faith in Jesus. In this, men cooperate with God for their salvation. This is not Biblical. In this doctrine, God is no longer part of a monegeristic process. Arminians cannot make a case for total depravity. If so, man would not and could not be responsible for his actions. Arminians then place grace at the center of every decision to follow Christ, not as part of an effectual call, but as a means to libitarean free will. This is a will that through prevenient grace is granted to all. People must respond. People are able to respond to the general call. Synergism is evident in this doctrine as God commands people to respond, but is not the center and cause of regeneration that allows for the response. 

 

Chapter 6: The Inadequacy of Arminian Synergism

It is important to note that many Arminians throughout the ages are divided over the issue of total depravity. One such view would be that all human beings are totally depraved, but are, through prevenient grace given the ability to respond to the gospel and be saved. Others would say that total depravity cannot exist or human beings would be unfairly judged for sins that can not help but commit. John Wesley, probably the most notable “modern” Arminian theologian would use verses like John 1:19 to support prevenient grace claiming the meaning to be God’s giving light to all men. John 3:19-21 says that God shows man’s condition. This verse can be read as God’s light falling over or extending to all men or only men who are effectually called. Other verses in John such as 12:32 use the word draw. Cross-referencing with other verses in which John uses similar phrases, it makes John 1:19 hard to read as a light that shines on all men. Arminians view prevenient grace as being a gift from God that allows all men to have a liberated will to choose Jesus as their savior. This view denies a Biblical view of the effectual calling by the Father and regeneration by the Holy Spirit. 

 

 

Chapter 7: The Failure of Recent Attempts at a Middle Way

It has become popular for modern theologians to try to bridge the divide between the Arminian and reformed views of soteriology. Much of this discussion surrounds effectual and general grace. Millard Erickson has stood out as a man who argues that people are totally depraved, so God effectually calls the elect, who then are presented the gospel, convert, and thenare regenerated. Lewis and Erickson echo this salvific order. Kenneth Keathly differs from those men in claiming that salvation is resistible. Interestingly, Keathly claims his views are monergistic. These types of claims are confusing to those reading what these men wrote. Both Reformed and Arminian theologians have claimed that these men’s writings at least partially defend their point of view. No matter the effort, these men, when Biblically pressed cannot completely defend their views. Looking deep into their work, it is clear that along withdrifting from Biblical truth, many times, they play fast and loose with historic terminology. 

 

What I loved:

1. I loved Barrett’s attention to detail.
2. The book gave credence to multiple points of view.
3. The book defined a thesis and supported/ proved it throughout the book. 

What I struggled with:

1. The specifics and definitions of monergism are, at times, left behind and become lost in conversations about others theological topics.
2. The book tends to repeat itself. This is primarily true of the first four chapters.
3. Arguments among modern thinkers trying to bridge the gap between Arminianism and Reformed thought should have been given more space in the book. These arguments are important to understand as they are growing in popularity and are very dangerous because of their confusion of terminology and Biblical content.

 

I would recommend this book for anyone curious or wanting to fully understand Effectual Calling and Regeneration. This book would not be considered an easy read. It would be helpful to have read a few articles or non-academic books on the topic if you are not an academic. Overall, I was challenged to read my Bible more deeply concerning these issues.

The Implication of Predestination

predestined-sola-gratia

THE IMPLICATION OF PREDESTINATION

 

__________________

 

A Research Paper

Presented to

Dr. Shawn Wright

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

__________________

 

In Partial Fulfillment

of the Requirements for 25177

 

__________________

 

by

Matthew Douglas Woodburn

Mwoodburn004@students.sbts.edu

6/28/2019

*I affirm the honor code

 

 

THE IMPLICATION OF PREDESTINATION

 

In order to be intellectually and Biblically honest, a belief in the doctrine of predestination must be accompanied by a belief in the election and reprobation of mankind.Throughout this paper, I will discuss at length predestination, election, and reprobation. It is my intention to show that it is impossible to have a correct understanding of these terms without seeing a necessary correlation between them. Each theological concept exists because of the others. I will give a few intro thoughts. I will define God and man as a foundation to defining the order of salvation. I will briefly define predestination. I will then spend time discussing the both election and reprobation in relation to each other and predestination. Finally, I will close the paper with the awesome implications of Good that come for this doctrine and how this looks in the glory of God and the good of man.

 

                 An Honest Search for Truth

It is easy to take theological terms and discuss them exclusively. Many Christians do not consider the systematic importance in which all Biblical theology must be studied. Some of this is due to general lack of confidence and effort concerning the Bible. The modern Christian tends not to care about the details of theology (Ware 2004). This is compacted by the lack of importance many churches, teachers, and preachers put on the discipline of working out one’s understanding of God through diligent study of the scripture (Bucer 1555). Theological terms are then separated from their context. They are neither put into this Biblical or systematic context. We must dig deep into our understanding of Biblical concepts, in order not to become prideful in knowledge, but to be in awe of the glory of our great God.

In searching for truth, one must explore all possibilities. As with science and philosophy, theology is to be tried and discussed. Benjamin B. Warfield felt it necessary to lecture in a way that brought clarity to different views of the plan of salvation (Warfield 1914). We must not be passive in our search for theological truth. We must first, fervently begin our quest. We must gather our information. We must come to conclusions. These conclusions must be taken with the humility that the Word of God may prove us wrong. We must also, no matter how uncomfortable it may be, accept the implications of our conclusions. Finally, we must rest in our convictions and allow them to guide our hearts, mind, and actions. Throughout the centuries, this method has led men of faith to great conviction (George 2013). Many died for their convictions. In this same vein, before considering predestination, election, and reprobation it is crucial to first understand the Biblical definitions of God and man. These truths are the foundation by which we can begin our journey develop our convictions concerning predestination.

 

The Bible, The Word of God

            Understanding the Bible in its original form as the actual Word of God is foundational to any Christian theological argument (J. M. Frame 2002). The Word of God is God’s speech (Grudem 1994). God declares His will. He demands nature to do what He wills and then nature responds by doing it. God’s Word speaks directly to human beings. The Scripture is full of God speaking to individuals. God’s speech manifests audibly and privately as a still small voice heard within a person’s heart. God also speaks to groups of people.

The Scripture verifies or makes invalid any spiritual message individuals may hear. The Bible is the special revelation of God. What the Bible says always trumps the nudges or voices a person may attribute to God. The written word is, after all, addressed to individuals. Hundreds of examples in Scripture will show God’s use of scripture to communicate directly to the Biblical characters. In the same way, more examples show the text speaking directly to the soul of its reader (J. Frame 2013). Paul tells Timothy that all scripture is powerful and useful in all things.

The Bible is the final revelation of God. This means that there will never come a book, sermon, or vision given that will contradict the Bible. If so, it is heretical. Concerning the importance of the written Word Wayne Grudem says, “First, there is a much more accurate preservation of God’s words for subsequent generations. Second, the opportunity for repeated inspection of words that are written permits careful study and discussion, which leads to better understanding and more complete obedience. Third, God’s words in writing are accessible to many more people then they are when preserved merely through memory and oral tradition” (Grudem 1994). These definitions are not meant to serve as apologetics for the legitimacy of Scripture. This paper does not have room to discuss the historical formation of the Bible. Instead, this section is meant to build a foundation for the predestination argument as it relates to scripture and scripture’s primacy through Biblical doctrine.

 

God’s Providence and Man’s will

There is much to be said about God’s providence. For the purposes of this paper, we will explore Biblical teaching that God uses all things to fulfill His will. Although evil does not come from Him, He uses the evil of this world to work toward His glory. Romans 8:28 says that, “God causes all things to work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.” In God’s providence He has decided to allow his creatures to be responsible for their own wickedness. Isaiah 66:4 says, “They have chosen their own ways, and they delight in their abominations; so I also will choose harsh treatment for them and will bring on them what they dread. For when I called, no one answered,  when I spoke, no one listened.
They did evil in my sight and chose what displeases me.” When I spoke, no one listened. They did evil in my sight and chose what displeases me.” It is by the trusting of the text when we wrestle with the fact that God is both sovereign over humans and also holds them responsible for their actions and the condition of their heart (Ware 2004).

In regard to free will, the Bible never uses the term “free will.” (Grudem 1994)John Calvin speaks to the matter of free will saying, “Man will then be spoken of as having this sort of free decision, not because he has free choice equally of good and evil, but because he acts wickedly by will, not be compulsion. Well put, indeed, but what purpose is served by labeling with a proud name such a slight thing.” (Barrett 2013)We are then free to chose God, yet unable. Our desires and inclinations make it impossible to be saved outside of the work of God. The predicament of Biblical free will is there is complete spiritual bondage from the sinful nature of man.

Sin is any failure to conform to the moral law of God in action, including thought and attitude, or nature (Grudem 1994). Sin is the natural outflow of a person’s will that is completely blinded by an inclination toward evil. Sin is more than an action. Sin is the wholeness of a person who lives in rebellion to God. Paul says that all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God. This of course, is an obvious statement. If there is a God, He is more glorious than His creation. The standard of reaching that type of glory is impossible (Ware 2004). Human beings are damned by their nature. Human beings cannot escape this nature anymore that a person can exchange their DNA for another person’s DNA. It is no wonder Paul continually uses the illustration of being brought into the family of God when speaking of salvation. The person is of one DNA, of one family, then miraculously changed and brought into the family of God. Sin is not a part of life to be considered lightly. Paul says that the wages of sin are death. Scripture is clear that the man consumed by sin (any man not saved by God’s grace) is to be punished (Owen 2006). It has been debated whether “death” for the one unsaved after life is a state of annihilation or simply to not be in God’s presence. Both of these perspectives are unbiblical (J. Frame 2013). Sin must be punished because righteousness exists perfectly in God. Justice is served when righteousness is preserved by the punishment of sin. This punishment is reprobation.

 

Salvation

It is important to spend some time looking at the basic order of salvation. The Biblical order for the salvation is as follows (Grudem 1994) (Dabney 1878) (J. Frame 2013) (J. M. Frame 2002):

  1. Election (God’s choice of people to be saved)
  2. The gospel call (proclaiming the message of the Gospel)
  3. Regeneration (being born again)
  4. Conversion (faith by repentance)
  5. Justification (right legal standing)
  6. Adoption (membership in God’s family)
  7. Sanctification (right conduct of life)
  8. Perseverance (remaining in Christ)
  9. Death (going to be with the Lord)
  10. Glorification (receiving a resurrection boy)

As further insight to this order, Grudem say, “We should note here that items 2-6 and part of 7 are all involved in becoming a Christian. Numbers 7 and 8 work themselves out in this life, number 9 occurs at the end of this life, and number 10 occurs when Christ returns (Grudem 1994). What a beautiful process filled with hope. No doubt, pastors have watched tears stream down the faces of new believers as they begin to understand this process or hold that hand of believers as they die with the hope that God, in His sovereignty has walked them and continues to walk them through this process (Baxter 1652). This step by step guide to the salvation process may not be understood or identified by every believer, but it is a helpful road map for theologians to identify which part of the process is being investigated. This process actually begins with a key theological point not in the list; predestination.

 

Predestination

       Predestination is one of the more controversial terms in Christian theology. It is a term with deep meaning. It is a term that should be handled with care. Instead, the term is misused in both popular evangelicalism and academia. Instead of being used to help better understand the glory of God, the term has been used to separate Christians in a variety of divisive ways. Although those divisive incorrect terms are difficult, the term predestination is used Biblically and can be identified and studied. It is better to correctly define the term predestination. Predestination is an umbrella term including the doctrines of election and reprobation. God predestines the fate of mankind, and all creation in general. Predestination cannot be severed from the doctrine of the sovereignty of God (Dabney 1878). If God is sovereign over all things, He is able to do with all things however he wants. Scripture presents the doctrine of predestination in its relationship to salvation, in this, the order of salvation is worth looking at in context. In Romans 8:28-33 Paul says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”

The “those” in that passage are human beings. God predestined each person or elects each person that result in one of two fates. Although predestination and election have been used as simultaneous terms, for this paper “election” will be used as the contrast to “reprobation”. So as to say God predestined some for election and some for reprobation. There are critiques of the notion that predestination comes from the sovereign choice of God taking into account nothing of the people’s own actions (Picirilli 2002). Referring back to Romans 8:28-33, along with a variety of others verses, we cannot escape the Biblical position that God alone is responsible for election and reprobation. The doctrine of predestination logically leads to a choice that is made. Otherwise the action in the word predestination would not be needed. God is “predestining” His will.

 

Election

As mentioned, the term election here refers to those elected by God to be saved through the atonement of Jesus. A few scriptures show the Biblical position of the existence of election.

 

 

Ephesians 1:4-6

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love hepredestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.

Ephesians 1:12

 In order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.

2 Thessalonians 2:13

But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruitsto be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.

As with the doctrine of reprobation, election if misunderstood can be very damaging to the personal theology of the believer. Predestination in general, can cause feelings of unfairness. In this, we can become distracted by our confusion, ultimately taking our eyes off the God of our salvation (Bucer 1555). Election instead, should be seen as a comfort (Grudem 1994). We no longer have to fear. Death where is your sting! God’s perfect election reminds us that He is sovereign and that He is dominate over His creation. Without his election, we would be left fearfully trusting our good works hoping that we are good enough to earn our way to Him (Wright 2019). Instead he elects, He reaches down to us. Not by anything human beings have done. Before the foundation of creation, God predestined that some would be elected for His glory and their good. What a gracious God!

 

Reprobation

The doctrine of reprobation stirs up unsettling feelings in many believers. If a person struggles with the fairness of the doctrine of election, the struggle will increase seven fold when considering that God’s action of predestination affects the eternal punishment of those who are not elect. It is important to know that reformed theologians come to a fork in the road on this issue. Some say that God predestines some to heaven and then predestines others to hell. This line of thinking is called double predestination. It makes sense that some would come to this conclusion. In these matters, we turn to the scripture. The Bible is clear that reprobation is not God electing innocent people based on His glory for heaven and some for hell. The Bible is clear that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Consulting scripture allows us to have a better perspective on this issue.

Matthew 11:25

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.

Romans 9:22-23

What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory.

Reprobation and election begin on the same premise: all people are fallen and deserving death and hell. Election is God’s choosing, by grace to save some sinners by grace and mercy for His glory. Reprobation is God’s allowing sinners to continue in their fallen state without being saved. Salvation is then as Paul says; first by grace then through faith. It is helpful to consider a line of ten convicted prisoners. All guilty, all deserving prison time. The judge decides to set four prisoners free. Just because those four prisoners are free, does that make them any less guilty of their crime? Is the judge unfair allowing the six to remain in prison? All violated the law. The judge’s decisions to save four does not change the crimes of all ten. But, the fairness question must still be considered. God is just. Is allowing some to be free against the character of God? Election is then made possible through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the atonement for the sins of the elect. At this point we can look back to the order of salvation.

 

Conclusion

In order to be intellectually and Biblically honest, a belief in the doctrine of predestination must be accompanied by a belief in the election and reprobation of mankind. We must connect these three theological concepts for two reasons. First, without a foundational belief and understanding of predestination and its implications, it is impossible to understand how God provides salvation throughout the entirety of the Bible. Second, without an embrace of both election and reprobation we run the dangerous risk, as Christians, to be lazy in our pursuit of Holiness and disingenuous in worshipping our Lord and author of salvation. Predestination is understood by embracing the doctrine election and reprobation. Only a gracious God would choose to freely give salvation to fallen men. Only a sovereign God would have to power to do it!

 

                                

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                      Bibliography

 

Barrett, Matthew. Salvation by Grace. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013.

Baxter, Richard. The Saints’ Everlasting Rest. Banner of Truth, 1652.

Bucer, Martin. Concerning The True Care of Souls.Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1555.

Dabney, R.L. Systematic Theology. St. Louis: Banner of Truth, 1878.

Frame, John M. Systematic Theology. Phillipsburg, NJ: Banner of Truth, 2002.

Frame, John. Systematic Theology. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013.

George, Timothy. Theology of the Reformers, Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2013.

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994.

Owen, John. Overcoming Sin and Temptation, Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006.

Picirilli, Robert E. Grace Faith Free Will. Nashville, TN: Randall House, 2002.

Ware, Bruce. God’s Greater Glory. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004.

Warfield, Bejamin B. Five Lectures, Princeton Summer School: Leopold Classic Library, 1914.

Wright, Shawn. 40 Question about Calvinism. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2019.