Tag Archives: Theology

Why the Law Cannot Save

“Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law… for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” (Galatians 2:16)

Many Christians fall into the error of believing that the reason the Law cannot save is because no one can keep it perfectly.  Scripture asserts, however, that even if one kept the Law (i.e., any system of works) perfectly, it cannot justify a fallen creature before God.

All men since Adam are born (even conceived; cf. Psalm 51:5) under the condemnation of God.  This is because, in the Garden, all men sinned in Adam (Genesis 3:6; Romans 5:12).  Adam was not merely our representative or federal head, he was our seminal head (Cp., Hebrews 7:9-10); this is even true for Eve because of the way God took her from the “rib” of Adam (Genesis 2:21-23), which is why all men are condemned “in Adam”, not “in Eve”.  It is for this reason that it is impossible that fallen man could be justified by keeping the Law (Romans 3:20); even if he refrained from sin perfectly from the moment of his birth until the time of his death, he would still stand condemned before God for his participation in the primeval sin of Adam (Romans 5:18).  No system of works or law-keeping can ever erase this past event of history, in which all descendants of Adam participated, and for this reason salvation must be by grace (Ephesians 2:8-9; Galatians 1:6-9).

Consequently, any denial that the Fall was a real, historical event must be rejected as anti-Biblical.  Such a view is not merely error, but heresy—it strikes at the very heart of the Gospel of Grace.  By denying that the sin of Adam was a real, historical event in which all men participated, the basis of the universal need for a Savior is destroyed, and works-based righteousness (in contrast to salvation by grace) becomes a theoretical possibility.  BUT THIS SCRIPTURE CATEGORICALLY REJECTS (Galatians 2:16; Romans 3:20)!

Man’s need is for a new Head.  Just as “in Adam” all men are sinners and stand condemned before God, “in Christ” we can be seen by God as being just as righteous as He is (1 Corinthians 15:22; Romans 5:19).  We are born “in Adam”; being placed “in Christ” as our new Head is accomplished by the new birth (John 3:7; 2 Corinthians 5:17), appropriated by faith in Christ (Romans 2:24-25).  Have you put your faith in Christ and been born again?  If not, you stand condemned in Adam, for “in Adam all die” (1 Corinthians 15:22).


The Rapture — A Necessary Inference

With the rise of Dispensationalism in the 19th century, the use of a literal (i.e., grammatical-historical) hermeneutic to interpret Scripture began to be employed in an increasingly consistent manner in all areas of Biblical revelation.  This new (or renewed) consistency in the use of a literal hermeneutic naturally led to new insights in many areas of theology.  As an example, a literal hermeneutic applied to prophetic passages in the New Testament led students of the Bible to conclude that the Rapture of the Church was a phase of the return of Christ that had to be distinguished from the 2nd Coming.  That is, the yet future return of Christ will actually be comprised of two distinct events separated in time:  1) the Rapture of the Church, in which Christ comes in the air to receive His Bride and take her back to heaven with Him (e.g., John 14:1-3; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), and 2) the 2nd Coming, in which Christ comes from heaven with all His saints to establish His kingdom on this present earth and personally reign over it for a thousand years (e.g., Matthew 24:30; Revelation 19:11-16; 20:4-6).

From its inception the idea that the future return of Christ would be comprised of two phases received two principal criticisms.  First, that there was no place in the New Testament that explicitly taught that there remained two future “comings” of Christ, separated in time; thus, such an understanding was based on inference alone.  Second, that this understanding of the return of Christ was a “new” doctrine; since it had never before been taught or believed by Christians of previous generations (neither the Reformers, nor the Church Fathers before them), it was very unlikely to be true.  These two criticisms will each be briefly addressed.

Regarding the first criticism, it is obvious that nowhere in the New Testament is it explicitly asserted that there remain two future “comings” of Christ.  The understanding that there are to be two comings, a Rapture event that is distinct and separated in time from the 2nd Coming proper, is indeed an inference.  Nevertheless, it is a necessary inference!  A rapture event distinct from the 2nd Coming is a necessary inference from all the New Testament passages regarding the return of Christ, some of which reveal He will come for His saints in the air and return with them to heaven (Rapture), others that He will come with His saints from heaven to the earth (2nd Coming).  There must be two phases to this return, separated in time, since all that is said concerning it cannot be fulfilled in a single event.  This is entirely analogous to the Old Testament passages regarding the Coming of Christ.  Nowhere in the Old Testament does it say that there would be two Comings of Christ (Messiah).  However, revelation is given of Messiah suffering and dying for the nation (e.g., Psalm 22; Isaiah 53), along with revelation of Messiah setting up His kingdom on earth and reigning over it forever (e.g., Psalm 2; Daniel 2:44; Zechariah 14:9).  These two bodies of revelation could not be fulfilled in a single “Coming”, so from the Old Testament perspective it was a necessary inference that Messiah would come twice [1] (i.e., the 1st Coming and the 2nd Coming proper; since the Rapture exclusively pertains to the Church, it was a mystery unrevealed in the Old Testament).

Regarding the second criticism, it is conceded that the notion of a Rapture that is distinct and separated in time from the 2nd Coming was a new understanding that emerged in the 19th century as a result of Dispensational Theology’s emphasis on the use of a literal hermeneutic in prophetic passages of the Bible.  The earlier/classical Dispensationalists, including Darby, Scofield, and Walvoord, were all honest in admitting that Dispensationalism’s doctrine of the Rapture was a new understanding of Scripture not held by the Reformers or Church Fathers [2].  While many today are expending great energy in an attempt to find quotations from early Christian writers that indicate they believed in a Rapture that was distinct from the 2nd Coming, there is no necessity to do so.  Even if a few such genuine quotations are found [3], it will only serve to highlight the truth that Dispensationalism’s doctrine of the Rapture was an extreme, minority view held by virtually no one prior to the modern era.  But this in no way negates the validity of the doctrine.  Remember, the vast majority of Jewish believers failed to properly infer that the Old Testament taught Messiah must come twice, including the disciples of the Lord Himself, for which He rebuked them rather harshly (cf. Luke 24:25-27)!

In summary, Dispensationalism’s doctrine of the Rapture as distinct and separated in time from the 2nd Coming is a necessary inference from Scripture.  The fact that it is an inference in no way relegates it to being a second-class doctrine, nor does it mean that we cannot have full assurance of its certainty.  Furthermore, the fact that this particular doctrinal truth has only been recognized rather late in this present age is not a valid argument against its veracity.  God’s truth has been available on the pages of Scripture from the very moment it was recorded, but as Dr. Hannah notes “it is apparent that doctrinal development has taken place over the centuries and will continue to do so” [4].  Brethren, let’s boldly proclaim the doctrine of the imminent return of our Lord Jesus Christ (i.e., the Rapture) as the blessed hope of the Church (Titus 2:13)!

Endnotes:

[1] Some ancient Jewish rabbis, struggling to reconcile these two bodies of revelation regarding Messiah, postulated that there would be two Messiahs, a Messiah “ben Joseph” who would come to die for the nation, and a Messiah “ben David” who would come to reign over the nation.  Obviously this was not correct, but it nevertheless demonstrates their recognition that not all the revelation given in the Old Testament regarding the Coming of Messiah could be fulfilled in a single event.

[2] Although it is generally conceded by virtually all Church historians that the Church was predominantly Premillennial in eschatology for its first three centuries (until Augustine).

[3] Most such quotations that are offered are of a rather vague character, open to various interpretations.

[4] John Hannah, Our Legacy:  The History of Christian Doctrine (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2001), 27.


Inerrancy and the Biblical Covenants

The denial of Biblical inerrancy is a heresy that has plagued the Church to an increasing degree for the past several centuries; indeed, it continues to be debated by contemporary theologians.  For the Bible-believing Christian, the logical argument for the inerrancy of Scripture is straightforward:  1) God is true, and it is impossible for Him to lie (Romans 3:4; Hebrews 6:18); 2) God “breathed out” the Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16); therefore, 3) the Scriptures are true.  Moreover, the Lord Jesus declared that “[God’s] Word is truth” (John 17:17).  To assert that the Word of God is truth is infinitely more than to affirm it to be merely true.  That God’s Word is truth demands that it is not only true, but that it is the standard against which the veracity of every proposition is to be measured (Isaiah 8:20; Acts 17:11); how could Scripture be such a standard if it contains errors?   Scripture’s testimony to its own inerrancy is clear; so clear, in fact, that Harold Lindsell proclaimed in The Battle for the Bible that no one who denied Biblical inerrancy could properly be called an evangelical.

While such Scriptural arguments have no influence with unbelieving critics, Neo-orthodox and Liberal theologians who have desired to continue under the mantle of evangelicalism have felt the need to defend their denial of an inerrant Bible.  The Neo-orthodox defense has been to assert that the totality of the 66 books of the Bible is not the Word of God, but merely contains the Word of God.  Thus, any alleged error can be conveniently ascribed to a portion of the Bible that is not (in their reckoning) the Word of God; in this way the Neo-orthodox theologian can have at the same time an inerrant Word of God and a Bible that contains errors.  Difficulty arises immediately, however, in objectively determining what parts of the Bible are the Word of God.

The Liberal defense has much in common with that of Neo-orthodoxy, but there are differences in approach.  The Liberal who wishes to be considered an evangelical will generally affirm that the Bible is free of error when it addresses subjects related to the gospel and other purely “spiritual” matters, but he allows for errors in non-soteriological areas of Biblical revelation.  The commonality with the Neo-orthodox position is obvious in that both approaches result in a Bible that is inerrant in some places and errant in others.  Again, the problem is that no objective way of “rightly dividing the Word of truth” into its inerrant and errant divisions can be formulated.

There is a general consensus, however, among all who deny strict Biblical inerrancy, that the portions of both the Old and New Testaments that purport to document the historical record contain errors (perhaps an innumerable multitude of them!).  In spite of the painstaking historical and archeological research of men like Sir William Ramsey, which has demonstrated the accuracy and amazing precision of countless historical facts as recorded in Scripture, the naturalistic bias of the Liberal theologian convinces him that there are historical errors in the Bible.  After all, God used men to record these histories, and men are fallible, so it should not surprise anyone that these histories contain errors—so the thinking goes.  Somehow, the Liberal is not troubled by this particular concession on Biblical inerrancy.  Believing he can still trust God’s revelation regarding the gospel, he readily concedes the inerrancy of historical portions of the Bible.  Is there really any harm in such a seemingly insignificant compromise?  As long as a knowledge of the way of salvation is preserved, is Biblical history really that important?  To address such questions, one must consider God’s purpose in including history as part of the Bible.  Why has He done so?  The answer, in large measure, involves the Biblical covenants.

At the heart of Dispensational Theology is a right understanding of the Biblical covenants.  God has chosen to constrain His relationship with mankind, to a significant extent, through covenants into which He has entered voluntarily, which He has recorded in written form, and which He has preserved in the Bible; these covenants, in chronological order, are the Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Land, Davidic and New covenants.  William F. Albright, dean of American archeologists during the 20th century, is well-known for his observation that the God of the Israelites is unique among all the ancient cultures, in that He entered into covenants with His people.  The Biblical covenants and their progressive outworking in time have profound implications for the veracity of the historical portions of the Bible.

Covenants in the Bible are nothing more than what are termed “contracts” today.  Contracts are implemented to govern relationships between the parties involved, as well as to provide a standard against which to measure the performance of each party relative to their commitments under the terms of the contract.  In Scripture, it is the Biblical covenants that govern God’s relationship with men.  God measures the actions of men relative to their obligations under the applicable covenant(s).  The Mosaic covenant, for example, placed the nation of Israel under the obligation of keeping a huge number of commands (613 by Jewish reckoning).  When Israel failed to keep the terms of the Mosaic covenant, God raised up prophets to indict the nation for breach of contract/covenant (Isaiah 1:2-4; Micah 6:1-2).  The God of Israel took the terms of that covenant seriously and literally.  Other covenants, such as the Abrahamic covenant and it’s associated sub-covenants (i.e., the Land, Davidic and New covenants), are unconditional covenants; while Israel is a party to these covenants with God, no obligations are imposed on the nation under the terms of these covenants.  Thus, one never finds prophets to Israel or Judah indicting the nation for failure to adhere to the terms of the unconditional covenants.

On the other hand, in these same covenants God voluntarily obligated Himself to keep a multitude of promises.  God promised to bless and prosper the nation of Israel in the Mosaic covenant, although His blessing was contingent upon their obedience under the terms of that covenant (Exodus19:5-8; Leviticus 26:3-39; Deuteronomy 28:1-68).  When the nation of Israel failed to honor its commitments under the Mosaic covenant, culminating in the rejection of the long-awaited Messiah as King (Deuteronomy 17:14-15; 18:15-19), God was no longer bound to honor His contingent commitments under this covenant.  Under the unconditional covenants, however, God remains obligated to keep all the promises He has made, irrespective of Israel’s behavior, since God entered into these covenants with no conditions whatever placed on the nation.

What has all this to do with the historical record included in Scripture?  The performance of both men and God under the obligations of the applicable Biblical covenant(s) play out in the course of history.  When God, through the ministry of His prophets, indicts the nation of Israel for its failure to keep the terms of the Mosaic covenant, He does so by calling their attention to the historical record (e.g., Hosea 4, 12-13); Israel’s failure under the covenant is contrasted with God’s faithfulness to His obligations under it, again with an appeal to the historical record (e.g., Deuteronomy 8:1-4).  Consider, however, not the conditional Mosaic covenant that has passed away (2 Corinthians 3:7), but the unconditional covenants that remain very much in effect to this day.  Although men (i.e., the nation of Israel) have no commitments to honor under them, God in the unconditional Biblical covenants has made many promises that He must keep.

The historical record included in the Scriptures is where inerrancy and the Biblical covenants intersect.  Just as God cites the historical record in evaluating men’s performance under the applicable covenant(s), so also men may measure the faithfulness of God with respect to the commitments He has made in these same covenants.  Therefore, the Scriptures must be inerrant, not only in the “spiritual” truths they reveal, but even in the historical record they preserve, for it is against the historical record of the Bible that one measures the performance of God relative to the Biblical covenants.  In the unconditional covenants, God promises to do specific things throughout the history of the world, and the Bible is the inerrant record of history that demonstrates His faithfulness (e.g., Psalm 89; 105).

If the Neo-orthodox and Liberal theologians are correct in their belief that the historical portions of the Bible contain errors, then we have no sure testimony to the faithfulness of God.  “God forbid:  yea, let God be true, but every man a liar” (Romans 3: 4).  Rather, God’s righteous character, demonstrated in history, is vindicated in His Word, which includes an inerrant record of history.  Of course, some of this “history” is recorded in advance, known as prophecy, but it’s historicity is just as sure.  Brethren, don’t compromise on the inerrancy of the Bible, not even in the so-called historical portions of Scripture, for God’s very character is at stake!


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