The Doctrine of God’s Immutability, Divine Impassibility (James 1:13-18) & the Christian Worldview


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I will be giving an overview of God’s immutability, that God does not change, as well as the related doctrine of God’s impassibility, that God does not have passions or emotions like humans and the implications that both of these doctrines have for apologetics.  I will focus specifically on James 1:17 as a classical text describing both God’s immutability and impassibility.  Both of these attributes are listed in chapter 2 of the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, of God and the Holy Trinity, and it also provides a warning that we do not limit who God is to what our minds can fully comprehend because our finite minds will never fully understand an infinite God,

Chapter 2 Paragraph 1: The Lord our God is but one only living and true God[1]; whose substance is in and of Himself[2], infinite in being and perfection; whose essence cannot be comprehended by any but Himself[3]; a most pure spirit[4], invisible, without body, parts, or passions, who only hath immortality, dwelling in light which no man can approach unto[5]; who is immutable[6], immense[7], eternal[8], incomprehensible, almighty[9], every way infinite, most holy[10], most wise, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of His own immutable and most righteous will[11], for His own glory[12], most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him[13], and withal most just and terrible in His judgments[14], hating all sin[15], and who will by no means clear the guilty[16]”.

This text occurs in the larger context of James’ description of temptation and how man is easily drawn away by his own passions and lusts, falling into sin, which James then contrasts with God’s immutable nature,

James 1:13-17: “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted 1by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.  Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow[17]”.

Before exegeting verse 17, I want to briefly discuss the preceding context and how it strengthens the argument in defense of God’s Immutability and Divine Impassibility.  James hones in on a key contrast with verse 13-15 by using an attention grabbing device (metacomment) in verse 16, Do not be deceived my beloved brothers.  Verse 16 is sometimes viewed as starting a new paragraph in the book (pericope) since it has the common features of an imperative with the vocative brothers, however Runge demonstrates that this serves as an attention grabbing device (metacomment) which contrasts the preceding verses about the source of temptation from within, one’s own desires, with God, the immutable giver of good gifts and source of heavenly wisdom.   Also making this start a new section would unnecessarily separate verses 16-18 from the preceding and following verses in James 1[18].  Peter Davids refers to it as the hinge of the paragraph (pericope) unifying the contrasting sections of James 1:13-15 with James 1:17-18,

“The reason for this uncertainty is clearly that it is a hinge verse: the admonition not to err picks up the problem of 1:13 and carries it forward to its contrasts in 1:17, tying the two paragraphs together.[19]

These factors show that verse 17 is not starting a new paragraph separate from the preceding verses (James 1:13-15), but is intimately connected to it, and James uses various devices such as the attention grabbing device (metacomment), use of the same Greek words in verses 13-15 are used in verse 17-18, as well as other stylistic differences to strengthen the contrast in the text.  The contrast is not just on the theological level, but is enforced by contrast in the Greek grammar of James 1:13-17 as well.

James is describing the immutability of God in verse 17, and specifically what has been referred to in classical protestant theology as the impassibility of God.  James Dolzeal gives a useful explanation of this essential doctrine and how it relates to God’s immutability,

“Impassibility is simply a subset of divine immutability.  Numerous biblical passages witness to God’s unchangeableness: “I, the LORD, do not change” (Malachi 3:6); God is the “Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow” (James 1:17).  Though many have insisted that such passages only indicate God’s ethical immutability- nothing more than his constancy of character – and not necessarily ontological immutability, the classical understanding of immutability argues that God’s ethical immutability requires his ontological immutability as its foundation.  How could a God whose very act of being is liable to change possibly guarantee that his purpose and promises will not change?  God repeatedly ratifies his covenant promises by swearing according to his own life (e.g., Num. 14:21, 28’ Heb. 6:13).  If his life could undergo changes, even non-essential changes, then presumably so could those oaths that have been staked upon it.  The reliability of God’s unchanging promises is built on the reliability of his unchanging act of existence-his very being[20]”.

This is not a peripheral doctrine but is a necessary doctrine (sina qua non) of God’s very being because if God is not immutable then God’s revelation isn’t either, so we would have no confidence in God’s Word since it would be equally subject to change if God himself is mutable rather than immutable.  Some who object to the classical doctrine of God’s impassibility cite passages such as Genesis 6:6, where it states that God repented, and erroneously conclude that God repented, and therefore has emotions like his creatures.  To properly interpret these passages about God repenting i.e. Genesis 6:6, we must interpret them in light of all that Scripture says about God’s attributes i.e. Numbers 23:19, “God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” and 1 Samuel 15:29, “Also the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind.”  God’s repentance is an anthropopathism, attributing to God what is proper to man in order to describe God’s attributes analogically, just as the description of God stretching out his arm in the Old Testament is an anthropomorphism describing God’s omnipotence, not stating that God has a physical arm[21].  We rightly acknowledge that Mormons are abusing Scripture when they cite passages about God stretching out his hand or describing other actions of God via anthropomorphisms as meaning that God therefore must have a literal physical body, and if we are consistent in using the same hermeneutic, then we should examine passages describing God repenting in the same way.  Likewise descriptions of God repenting do not show a change in God because God is immutable, His love does not fluctuate as man, nor his anger.  God’s love and attributes are the execution of God’s decrees in time, not unpredicted reactions to men[22].  Here is Henry Ainsworth’s exposition of Genesis 6:6 and how he explains the statement God repented,

“[On Genesis 6:60 It repented Jehovah: This is spoken not properly, for God repenteth not, 1 Sam.15:29 but after the manner of men, for God changing his deed and dealing otherwise than before, doeth as men doe when they repent…it grieved him: The Scripture giveth to God, joy, grief, anger, &c. not as any passions, or contrary affections, for he is most simple and unchangeable, Lam. 1:17 but by a kinde of proportion, because he doeth of his immutable nature and will, such things, as men doe with those passions and changes of affections.  So hart, hands, eyes, & other parts are attributed to him, for effecting such things, as men cannot doe but by such members.  God is sayd to be greeved, for the corruption of his creatures: contrarywise when he restoreth them by his grace, he rejoiceth in them, Isa. 65:19, Psal. 104:31. Of these phrases spoken concerning God, the Hebrew doctors write thus: For as much as it is clear that (God) is not corporall or bodily thing; it is also cleare, that not any corporall accident (or occurrence) dooth befall unto him: neyther composition, nor division, nor place nor measure, nor going up, nor coming down; nor right hand nor left hand; nor face…neyther is he changeable, for nothing can cause him to change[23]”.

This is not merely a doctrine derived from Greek philosophy, but is clearly derived from James’ discourse.  James uses the same Greek words in verse 17 with the preceding verses in 13-16 connecting them together as a unit and making the contrast stronger between man being easily drawn away by his lusts, where as God is immutable and impassible. Those who seek to deny divine impassibility or redefine it must be willingly to examine their traditions in light of Scripture.  The fact that James is presenting God’s immutability via negation “with whom there is no shadow or variation of change” (James 1:17[24]) does not undermine his affirmation of divine impassibility because it is consistent with James’ discourse and the contrast between Man’s mutability affirmed in James 1:14-15, contrasted with a denial of God’s mutability (James 1:17).  James also used the same type of negation in James 1:13 to deny that anyone is tempted by God because God is not tempted from evil things, James uses an alpha privative to negate the root concept of temptation (ἀπείραστός); an easy example of this is the word atheist in English which means non-theist i.e. someone who does not believe in God. This is the same contrast in verses13-15 to show the fact that God is not mutable (not tempted, ἀπείραστός) and subject to temptation in contrast to humans created in God’s image who are susceptible to temptations [we are dragged away and enticed by our own lusts (James 1:14)].  Also the comparison with Greek translation of Psalm 135 (abbreviated as the LXX) shows that the phrase, whom there is no variation or shadow of change (James 1:17) corresponds to his mercy endures forever (LXX Psalm 135:7).  The LXX uses the Greek word heleos for mercy which is used to translate the Hebrew word ḥesed, God’s covenantal loyalty[25].  Here is a chart comparing the similarities between James 1 and Psalm 135 in the Greek Septuagint (click on the chart to enlarge image):

James 1 chart


God’s mercy (heleos) presupposes the immutability of God and divine impassibility, God’s mercy cannot be everlasting if God is mutable.  The Old Testament and New Testament clearly distinguish God’s attributes from his creation, God is not like man and is separated by an infinite gulf in terms of God’s attributes compared to the attributes of his creatures[27].

This has deep implications for pastoral theology in the context of James discourse because God’s immutability is directly contrasted with the preceding depravity and mutability of man who is easily swayed by his own lusts, so God remains faithful and immutable during our trials and the source of heavenly wisdom sustaining believers in the midst of trials.  Thomas Manton gives the following illustrations to stress the importance of God’s immutability based on James 1:17 which is a necessity for God to faithfully comfort believers struggling with temptations,

“God, and all that is in God, is unchangeable; for this is an attribute that, like a silken string through a chain of pearl, runneth through all the rest: his mercy is unchangeable, ‘his mercy endureth for ever,’ Ps. 100:5[28]”.

“But God doth not change; there is no wrinkle upon the brow of eternity; the arm of mercy is not dried up, nor do his bowels of love waste and spend themselves.  And truly this is the church’s comfort in the saddest condition, that however the face of the creatures be changed to them, God will still be the same.  It is said somewhere that ‘the name of God’s immutability is an ointment poured out.’  Certainly this name of God’s immutability is an ointment poured out, the best cordial to refresh a fainting soul[29]”.

A neglected verse in understanding the exegetical implication of James 1:17 for the doctrine of divine impassibility is the verse following it, James 1:18,

“In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures[30]”.

God’s immutability in all of its subcategories such as divine impassibility is rooted in the divine eternality of God, so that God has eternally been the same whereas as everything that is finite, everything that has been created by God, has a point of origin and as a result is by nature mutable.  This is not a novel interpretation, 6th century early church Greek Father Oecumenius made this observation in his commentary on the book of James defending God’s immutability based on God’s Divine Eternality,

“Here James reminds us that God is immutable, which is not true of us. For if we have been born it is clear that we have also been changed. How can something be immutable if it has gone from nonbeing to being? Furthermore he adds that God has given us birth by the Word of Life, lest we might be tempted to think that his Son was also born in the same way as we are. But according to John, all things were made by the Son, which means that he was not born along with us who have been made by him2[31]3. Commentary on James[32]”.

A.A. Hodge makes a similar argument in his exposition of the Westminster Confession of faith demonstrating that God’s divine eternality presupposes his immutability and impassibility because God is not bound by time and does not undergo change as creatures do,

“By affirming that God is eternal, we mean that his duration has no limit, and that his existence in infinite duration is absolutely perfect.  He could have no beginning, he can have no end, and in his existence there can be no succession of thoughts, feelings, or purposes.  There can be no increase to his knowledge, no change as to his purpose.  Hence the past and the future must be immediately and as immutably present with him as the present.  Hence his existence is an ever-abiding, all-embracing present, which is always contemporaneous with the ever-flowing times of his creatures.  His knowledge, which never can change, eternally recognizes his creatures and their actions in their several places in time; and his actions upon his creatures pass from him at the precise moments predetermined in his unchanging purpose.  Hence God is absolutely unchangeable in his being and in all the modes and states thereof.  In his knowledge, his feelings, his purposes, and hence in his engagements to his creatures, he is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. “The counsel of the LORD standeth for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations.” Psalm 33:11[33]”.

James directs believers to the only sure and consistent foundation that is immutable in the midst of trials which is God who perfectly provides for believers and gives heavenly wisdom reflecting his nature which is omniscient and immutable.  In contrast to man’s feeble weakness to become easily ensnared James directs his audience to the fountain of true wisdom which comes from God rather than earthly wisdom which is only external in its appeal, but disguises itself with outward allurements when its true internal nature is death.  Just as James alludes to LXX Psalm 135:7 that God’s mercy endures forever, this provides encouragement for believers since it is founded and guaranteed due to God’s immutable nature (James 1:17) that He will not fail to follow through with his covenantal faithfulness to the elect founded in God’s eternal decrees.  James affirmation of God’s impassibility is not a dry orthodox doctrine that is impractical for believers or that makes God some cold distant observer, but rather provides hope during the dim trials of life since we still sin as believers and can be drawn away by our sinful passions, but God is not subject to change by passions or emotions as man since he perfectly executes his divine decrees and is not caught off guard by the actions of men.  When we seek heavenly wisdom we stand on a firm foundation unshakable by the tempests of life, but when we trust in our own strength and earthly wisdom, then we are easily tossed around by our own passions and quickly fall into temptation.  This is due to our underestimation of the power of sin and our failure to trust in God’s Immutability and Sovereignty as the source of heavenly wisdom.

[1] 1 Corinthians 8:4,6; Deuteronomy 6:4

[2] Jeremiah 10:10; Isaiah 48:12

[3] Exodus 3:14

[4] John 4:24

[5] 1 timothy 1:17; Deuteronomy 4:15,16

[6] Malachi 3:6

[7] 1 Kings 8:27; Jeremiah 23:23

[8] Psalm 90:2

[9] Genesis 17:1

[10] Isaiah 6:3

[11] Psalm 115:3; Isaiah 46:10

[12] Proverbs 16:4; Romans 11:36

[13] Exodus 34:6-7; Hebrews 11:6

[14] Nehemiah 9:32-33

[15] Psalm 5:5-6

[16] Exodus 34:7; Nahum 1:2-3; The Baptist Confession of Faith & Baptist Catechism (Birmingham, AL; Solid Ground Christian Books & Reformed Baptist Publications of the Association of Reformed Baptist Churches of America), 6

[17] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Jas 1:13–17

[18] Runge, Steven E. Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament: A Practical Introduction for Teaching and Exegesis (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2010), 112

[19] Peter H. Davids, The Epistle of James: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1982), 86; “This also rhetorically supported by the contrast in syntax since James uses syndeton in James 1:14-15 contrasted with his style of asyndeton in James 1:16-18.  It is also consistent with other occurrences of the specific imperative Μὴ πλανᾶσθε in 1 Corinthians 6:9, 15:33, and Galatians 6:7, which are used at metacomments to get the reader’s attention and stress the importance of what follows after it. “Ropes comments that μὴ πλανᾶσθε is “used to introduce a pointed utterance … as in 1 Cor. 6:9, 15:33, Gal. 6:7” (James Hardy Ropes, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle of St. James [ICC; Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1916], 158); Moo remarks that James “does not want his readers to make any mistake about what he is about to say about God as the source of all good gifts” (Douglas J. Moo, The Letter of James [PNTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000], 76),” cited by ibid, 112

Lastly, it is also supported by lexical cohesion in a chiastic form that contrasts James 1:13-15 with James 1:16-19 such as the contrast of giving birth to death, ἀποκύει θάνατον (James 1:15), with God giving birth to believers, ἀπεκύησεν ἡμᾶς (James 1:17), and both ἀποτελεσθεῖσα (James 1:15) and τέλειον (James 1:17) based on the root τέλειος.  Mark Taylor, A Text –Linguistic Investigation into the Discourse Structure of James (NY: T&T Clark International, 2006), 105

[20] James E. Dolzeal, “Still Impassible: Confessing God without Passions JIRBS 2014, 129-130

[21] Samuel Renihan, God without Passions: A Reader, 34

[22] Ibid, 27

[23] Henry Ainsworth, Annotations Upon the first book of Moses, called Genesis (M.P., 1616), 46-47, cited in ibid, 66-67

[24] This is called apophatic theology

[25] “The divine exercise of  חֶסֶד is based on God’s covenantal relationship with his people (1967, 102); חֶסֶד is the “essence” of the covenantal relationship (1967, 55)”. Willem VanGemeren, ed., New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997), 211

[26] Ibid, 46-47; I have slightly modified the chart adding in some more Greek, quoting from James 1 and LXX Psalm 135 to make the parallels clearer.

[27] “God is not quantitatively more than we are in being, knowledge, and will.  Nor is he simply qualitatively other than we are.  The best way to express the divide between God and creation is to say that he is quidditatively other than creation.  Quantity gets at the idea of “how much,” and quantity gets at the idea of “what kind.”  God is not just one kind of being within existence as creatures know it.  Quddity gets at the “whatness” or “essence” of things.  From this perspective, God is something altogether other than creation.  He does not exist, know, or will as we do, but as God, according to a divine mode of existence or being (i.e., as Creator)  For that reason, nothing that is truly in God can be predicated properly of the creature, and conversely nothing that is truly in the creature can be predicated properly of God”. Sam Renihan, God without Passions: A Reader (Palmdale, CA: Reformed Baptist Academic Press, 2015), 23

[28] Thomas Manton,  A Geneva Series Commentary: James (Litho, Great Britain: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1962), 113

[29] Ibid, 114

[30] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Jas 1:18.

[31] 23 PG 119:464–65 (PG = J.-P. Migne, ed. Patrologia Graeca. 166 vols. Paris: Migne, 1857–1886)

[32] Gerald Bray, ed., James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 16–17

[33] A.A. Hodge, The Confession of Faith (Carlisle, PA; The Banner of Truth, 1992), 50-51

Divine Impassibility & Apologetics, the Inconsistency of Dr. K. Scott Oliphint’s Covenantal Apologetics


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I want to start off saying that I have profited from the books that I have read from Dr. K. Scott Oliphint on apologetics, and I am not arguing that his resources and writings are altogether useless. However I do want to present the concern that his denial of the classical doctrine of God pertaining to Divine Impassibility undercuts the immutability of God and as a result opens up a can of worms that if followed consistently undermines the biblical foundation for apologetics.  This view is most explicitly presented in Dr. Oliphint’s tenet referred to as Covenantal Condescension.

For an overview of divine impassibility see some of the following resources on my blog:

Divine Impassibility is not merely a scholarly debate about abstract concepts of God, but as Puritan Thomas Manton affirmed is a comfort to saints since our hope in God’s gracious provision to sinners in the Gospel rests on God’s immutability, that God doesn’t change.  Otherwise our justification and all of the benefits of redemption are contingent and mutable with no sure promise that they will last for tomorrow if God Himself is mutable,

“God, and all that is in God, is unchangeable; for this is an attribute that, like a silken string through a chain of pearl, runneth through all the rest: his mercy is unchangeable, ‘his mercy endureth for ever,’ Ps. 100:5[1]”.

“But God doth not change; there is no wrinkle upon the brow of eternity; the arm of mercy is not dried up, nor do his bowels of love waste and spend themselves.  And truly this is the church’s comfort in the saddest condition, that however the face of the creatures be changed to them, God will still be the same.  It is said somewhere that ‘the name of God’s immutability is an ointment poured out.’  Certainly this name of God’s immutability is an ointment poured out, the best cordial to refresh a fainting soul[2]”.

I now proceed to examine some statements regarding Dr. K. Scott Oliphint’s view of Divine Impassibility present in his most recent book on apologetics, Covenantal Apologetics: Principles & Practice in Defense of Our Faith.  I found Dr. Oliphint’s other book on apologetics useful that I read, the Battle Belongs to the Lord: The Power of Scripture for Defending our Faith[3], which was a good introduction to apologetics, but has the same problem as Covenantal Apologetics because it is impossible to separate your understanding of theology from you apologetics since your theology determines you apologetic methodology, and since Dr. Oliphint’s view of covenantal condescension and a modified view of divine impassibility play a predominant role in his understanding of Christology and Doctrine of God, they will make an impact on his apologetics.  A key tenet to Dr. Oliphint’s apologetic is that in Christ’s condescension/incarnation he laid aside the use of certain attributes and took on new covenantal attributes in the incarnation part of his interpretation is based on a misinterpretation of Philippians 2:6-11,

“The Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, did not unduly hold on to what was rightfully his, but instead he “emptied himself.”  By that Paul means that the Son became what he was not; he, as Paul says elsewhere, “became poor” (2 Cor. 8:9) that we might become rich.  He did not, we should emphasize, become something other than God.  God cannot deny himself (2 Tim. 2:13).  But he emptied himself of his prerogatives as God in order to take on the burdens, and ultimately the penalty, that sin brought into the world[4]”.

While Dr. Oliphint’s interpretation of Philippians 2:6-11 by itself may not appear like much, but it paves the way for a modification of the classical doctrine of divine impassibility by admitting that Christ’s attributes have in some way changed in the incarnation because he no longer had the divine prerogative to use them freely.  He makes it appear harmless, that Christ merely limited himself, so that there is no limitation in God, but he doesn’t follow this through consistently in his methodology.  Oliphint further expands on his view of divine condescension in response to an atheist objection by Anthony Kenny that God cannot be immutable and omniscient (all knowing) because in order for God to know time he would be gaining knowledge of time, and therefore changing and no longer immutable.  Dr. Oliphint uses his view of covenantal condescension in his attempt to explain how humans can have knowledge of God,

“In other words, the only reason that any of us, Kenny included, can have any knowledge of God is that he has seen fit to “condescend” to us.  Now what might condescension mean?  As we have seen, it surely does not mean that he determined to occupy a place, or space, in which he was initially absent.  Instead, it means that God took on characteristics that were required (by him, not by us) for him to interact with that which he had made.  Those characteristics were properties that he did not have to take on, because he did not have to create.  This is what “voluntary” means.  But given his determination to create, and because his character is so “wholly other” than creation (in that he is immutable, infinite, eternal, etc.), he “stoops down” (as Calvin put it) by relating himself to that creation and to us.  And that “stoop” requires that we be able to relate to him, to know him, to interact with him, and he with us as people made in his image.  But in no way, or at any moment, or on any occasion does it change who God is as God.  He does not stoop down simply by becoming one of us.  He stoops down by remaining who he is, even while he takes on characteristics that did not obtain when there was no creation[5]”.

Although Dr. Oliphint claims that Calvin argues for a similar position he did not, and argued for a more consistent view of the Greek verb kenaō “to empty”.  Calvin argued that Christ veiled his glory, not that there is any ontological change in the person of Christ in the act of emptying,

“Christ, indeed, could not divest himself of Godhead; but he kept it concealed for a time, that it might not be seen, under the weakness of the flesh. Hence he laid aside his glory in the view of men, not by lessening it, but by concealing it[6]”.

A common objection to this position might be that Christ did show his glory via his miracles and signs during his earthly ministry, so how can it be claimed that he veiled his glory?  Calvin explains that Christ made a clear distinction in terms of his glory shown to his disciples before and after his resurrection, and even with the transfiguration they were not allowed to tell anyone about it until he had been raised from the dead,

“It is also asked, secondly, how he can be said to be emptied, while he, nevertheless, invariably proved himself, by miracles and excellences, to be the Son of God, and in whom, as John testifies, there was always to be seen a glory worthy of the Son of God? (John 1:14.) I answer, that the abasement of the flesh was, notwithstanding, like a veil, by which his divine majesty was concealed. On this account he did not wish that his transfiguration should be made public until after his resurrection; and when he perceives that the hour of his death is approaching, he then says, Father, glorify thy Son. (John 17:1.) Hence, too, Paul teaches elsewhere, that he was declared to be the Son of God by means of his resurrection. (Rom. 1:4.)[7]”.

I accept Calvin’s view as the most consistent with the flow of the passage taking into account the flow of the discourse (Philippians 2:1-11), while also avoiding dangerous ontological speculations.  Tota scriptura (all of Scripture) must be taken into account when exegeting this text, so that an artificial theology is not constructed on this single verse while ignoring and contradicting the rest of scripture.

Despite Dr. Olihpint’s claim that God does not change as a result of covenantal condescension his view clearly undermines both the classical doctrine of God’s impassibility and God’s immutability since God is contingent upon creation to take on new properties to be able to relate to his creation.  God is therefore not eternally God because he has gained new attributes to relate to his creation, this makes Oliphint’s whole approach wide open to assaults from opposing worldviews and if Kenny, the atheist objector he is responding to, is perceptive enough to pick up on this he could easily employ it as an argument against Christianity because Dr. Oliphint’s divine condescension view undermines God’s immutability, and by implication, that would make the Bible unreliable and therefore there would be no foundation for apologetics because there would be no foundation for Scripture if it is based on the nature of a mutable god.  Dr. Oliphint makes his denial of divine impassibility and immutability even more explicit later in his book in response to an atheist objection he uses his covenantal condescension tenet as a means to account for how God reveals himself to his creation,

“Now, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, once this God creates, he also condescends to relate to his creation.  To put it simply, he takes on the property of Creator, which he did not have prior to his creating activity; God is now related and (self-)bound by something that did not previously exist.  Not only so, but as he issues commands to his creation, he takes on the property of sovereign authority over what he has made[8]”.

It might appear that this statement by Dr. Oliphint is acceptable since he makes it less explicit by saying that God is (self-)bound, to avoid making it appear that God is somehow bound or limited by his creation.  However this is a direct assault on God’s immutability and impassibility because God is limited in his attributes, which would make God cease to be God, and be more like his creation.  This makes God mutable and bound by the limitations of its creaturely nature.  We cannot take the doctrines of God’s immutability and Impassibility for granted as Thomas Manton states that it is a comfort for saints in the midst of temptation, likewise it is a necessary foundation for evangelism and apologetics because no other worldview can account for God’s immutability, and since the doctrine of God’s immutability also presupposes the doctrine of the Trinity both are closely connected for us to have a solid foundation for the Gospel and for the Christian worldview.

[1] Thomas Manton,  A Geneva Series Commentary: James (Litho, Great Britain: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1962), 113

[2] Ibid, 114

[3] K. Scott Olihpint, The Battle Belongs to the LORD: The Power of Scripture for Defending our Faith (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing), 2003

[4] K. Scott Olihpint, Covenantal Apologetics: Principles & Practice in defense of Our Faith (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2013), 65

[5] Ibid, 82

[6] John Calvin and John Pringle, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 56–57

[7] Ibid, 57

[8] K. Scott Olihpint, Covenantal Apologetics: Principles & Practice in defense of Our Faith (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2013), 190

A Historical and Theological Analysis of the Neonomian Controversy in 17th Century England Part I


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The following is from a research paper that I wrote in my undergraduate studies, but due to its length I’ll be posting it in parts according to its 4 Basic divisions:

  1. Historical Introduction to the Neonomian controversy in 17th Century England
  2. An Analysis of Richard Baxter’s Covenant Theology & Doctrine of Justification
  3. An Analysis of Benjamin Keach’s Federal Theology & Doctrine of Justification
  4. An Analysis of John Owen’s Federal Theology & Doctrine of Justification

By studying how Benjamin Keach, a particular Baptist and signatory of the 1689 Confession of Faith, and John Owen, a prominent Puritan theologian, responded to aberrant views of the doctrine of Justification such as Richard Baxter (whom I particularly discuss in this paper) it helps believers to understand the relationship of the law and Gospel distinction to one’s covenant theology and to respond to modern neonomian errors such as the Federal Vision Movement and the New Perspective on Paul, who although they have nuances, are indebted to Richard Baxter for their neomonian tendencies.  Some of the terminology is technical out of necessity to clearly define terms since neonomians redefined confessional terms and it is important to also provide the historical background of influences to the neonomian and confessional positions regarding how they viewed God’s law and covenant theology.

Introduction & Thesis

nomista: But, I pray you, sir, consider, that though I am now thoroughly convinced, that till of late I went on in the way of the covenant of works; yet seeing that I at last came to see my need of Christ, and have believed that in what I come short of fulfilling the law he will help me out, methinks I should be truly come to Christ.  Evangelista:  Verily, I do conceive that this gives you no surer evidence of your being truly come to Christ, than some of your strict papists have.  For it is the doctrine of the Church of Rome, that if man exercise all his power, and do his best to fulfill the law, then God, for Christ’s sake, will pardon all his infirmities and save his soul[1].”

In the 17th century many divisions occurred amongst those who claimed to be Confessional with the neonomian and antinomian parties, along with the confessional party such as Owen and Keach[2].  This controversy was fierce as the neonomians charged the confessional party as being antinomian while the confessional party charged the neonomians as returning to Catholicism, but it also provided better clarity for future generations to have a firm understanding of the doctrine of justification and its necessary components.  As neonomianism still had remnants after Baxter’s death and has been revived by some today claiming to be confessional it is necessary that we examine how Keach and Owen responded to Baxter, so that we can give an informed and Biblical response to neonomian errors concerning justification in our day and avoid the errors of the neonomians’ over reaction to antinomianism.  This controversy also demonstrates that it is not enough to affirm justification through faith alone, all of the terms concerning justification and imputation must be clearly defined since the neonomians would merely redefine the common usage of these terms found in the 17th century Reformed confessions.  This study will first give an overview of the historical predecessors to neonomianism and provide a brief survey of antinomianism, then Richard Baxter’s doctrine of justification will be analyzed, the chief 17th century proponent of neonomianism, followed by John Owen and Benjamin Keach’s responses to neonomianism and affirmations of the confessional position of justification.

Historical Introduction to the 17th Century Neonomian Controversy

In response to the Catholic doctrine of justification that God infused righteousness and accounted men justified based on their evangelical righteousness, the three primary 17th century Reformed confessions affirmed that justification is based on Christ’s imputed righteousness, not on evangelical obedience[3].  They also carefully defined faith as the instrument of justification but not the efficacious cause which is God alone[4].  The Reformed confessions affirmed the necessity of good works as part of sanctification, but that these good works could never be the basis of justification[5]. They also carefully distinguished the order of faith and repentance that faith precedes repentance because repentance must be done by faith, “This saving repentance is an evangelical grace, whereby a person being by the Holy Ghost made sensible of the manifold evils of his sin, doth by faith in Christ humble himself for it with godly sorrow, detestation of it and self-abhorence[6]…”  All of the 17th century confessions affirmed the normative use of the moral law, that it remains as a rule of faith for believers, but not as a covenant of works to obtain justification through their obedience, both confessional puritans such as John Owen and some of the neonomians affirmed this 3rd use of the moral law, while it was denied by the antinomians[7].

The position of the neonomians cannot be properly analyzed without an overview of the antinomians, to whom they were responding.  The chief problem of the antinomians was their confusion of justification and sanctification: “Put succinctly, they erroneously used the categories of justification when speaking of sanctification, and consequently ascribed qualities of perfection to the latter which belong only to the former[8].”  As a result of the failure to distinguish justification from sanctification by antinomians, they denied any necessity of good works for sanctification because believers were already righteous due to Christ’s righteousness imputed to them.  On this basis they saw no need for evangelical righteousness in sanctification by producing good works and believed that Christians could attain perfection[9].  The two primary proponents of Antinomianism in the 17th century were Tobias Crisp, who wrote Christ Alone Exalted, and John Eaton, Honey-comb of free justification by Christ alone, which sparked responses from Richard Baxter and the neonomian party.  The Antinomians denied the Reformed position simul iustius et peccator and affirmed that when a sinner is justified he ceases to be a sinner[10].  In the midst of the antinomian controversy orthodox divines who responded to the neonomians were often accused of being antinomians even though they carefully distinguished their position from the antinomians[11].

Richard Baxter’s position on justification was not novel, it was based on his covenant theology which was influenced both by Amyraldianism and Grotius.  He was preceded by a similar neonomian development within “holy living” Anglican theology in the 17th century that is often overlooked because their works are not as well known as Richard Baxter’s[12].  Jeremy Taylor, an Anglican bishop, viewed justification as conditional to the extent that a believer has mortified their sins[13].  He clearly denied that believers are justified based on legal righteousness, Christ righteousness imputed to believers, “…but our faith and sincere endeavors are, through Christ, accepted instead of legal righteousness: that is we are justified through Christ, by imputation not of Christ’s, nor our own righteousness, but of our faith and endeavors of righteousness, as if they were perfect[14]…”  This reflects Baxter’s view that the condition of the Gospel covenant is lighter (or imperfect) obedience whereas the covenant of works required perfect obedience.  Based on Jeremy Taylor’s views on the conditions of the Gospel covenant he placed repentance and good works before justification, as the grounds of it, rather than being part of sanctification[15].  Hammond and Thorndike both denied that Christ’s imputed righteousness was the formal cause of justification and affirmed that justification is based on the more lenient conditions of the new covenant, “That which makes our justification to be what it is, is God’s acceptance of our faith, repentance, and sincere endeavors as righteousness under the more lenient terms of the new covenant on account of the righteousness of Christ[16].”

The two predominate philosophical views from medieval scholasticism that influenced Baxter and the orthodox divines such as Benjamin Keach and John Owen were nominalism and realism.  Realism affirmed the reality of universals, which was denied by nominalism.  This had a significant impact on how Richard Baxter formulated the law of God in comparison to Owen and Keach because realists viewed God’s law as eternal and immutable whereas nominalists argued that God’s law was mutable[17].  Realists argued that God acted according to his nature, whereas nominalists accused realists of making God’s decisions bounded and that God could choose to do anything[18].  Baxter denied that the chief end of man to give all glory to God could only be achieved one way because God could use different laws or covenants to achieve that goal. God could either require perfect obedience to his law or accept sincere imperfect obedience[19].  Baxter affirmed voluntarism within his covenant theology, therefore God’s covenants with man are mutable and even though God is immutable that doesn’t require his covenants to be immutable[20].  Nominalists affirmed voluntarism, that God’s free choices determine what is intrinsically good, whereas realists affirmed intellectualism, that good decisions are determined by God’s intellect, based on his reason and moral nature[21].  These two views, nominalism and realism, are contrasted well with the views of Baxter and Keach on the final judgment juxtaposed.  According to Baxter at the final judgment men are judged by their works irrespective of their merit, so God can call imperfect works good.  For Keach men are judged by their works only on the basis of Christ’s perfect works of his active obedience imputed to them[22].

[1] Edward Fischer, The Marrow of Modern Divinity (Ross-shire, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2009), 111

[2] The confessional view is found most explicitly stated in the Salvoy Declaration of Faith Ch. 11, which is adopted verbatim in 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith Ch. 11, there are intentional additions to the SDF 11 from WCF 11 being more specific such as specifying that Christ’s active and passive obedience is imputed in SDF 11.1 and 1689 LBC 11.1, but WCF 11.1 only states that Christ’s obedience and satisfaction are imputed.

[3] WCF10.1, WSC Q.33, SDF 10.1, 1689 LBC 10.1

[4] WCF 10.2, SDF 10.2, 1689 LBC 10.2; HC Q.21, OC Q.21 [Question numbers were not originally included in the Orthodox Catechism, but they have been included in the recent re-print by RBAP and are included here for reference]

[5] WCF 16.5, SDF 15.3, 16.5, 1689 LBC 15.3, 16.5, HC Q.86, OC Q.91

[6] SDF 15.3, 1689 LBC 15.3

[7] WCF 19.5-6, SDF 19.5-6, 1689 LBC 19.5-6

[8] Ernest F. Kevan, The Grace of Law: A Study in Puritan Theology (Grand Rapids: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 2013), 95

[9] “The Papists made sanctification into justification, and the Antinomians made justification into sanctification.” ibid, 99

[10] ibid, 98; both John Eaton and Tobias Crisp argued this based on Ephesians 5:25-27, and antinomians in general commonly cited Numbers 23:21 and Jeremiah 50:20 in support of this view arguing for a distinction between God knowing sin and seeing sin, “But this distinction was put to a rather sophistical use by John Eaton who, on the basis that an object has to be present to be seen but not to be known, proceeds to argue that the sins of believers are “abolished.” ibid, 100

[11] “By the Baxterian Party I expect to be called an Antinomian, for that hath been their Artifice of late, to expose the True Ancient Protestant Doctrine about Justification, &c. but others who are sound in the Faith, will (I am sure) acquit me of that Charge. Benjamin Keach, The Display of Glorious Grace or, the Covenant of Peace Opened in Fourteen Sermons (London: n.p.,1698), accessed February 20, 2014,,  v

[12] “Baxter, then, differs from the classical Anglicans who held that the imputation of Christ’s righteousness is the formal cause of justification.  His views on justification are, in fact, remarkably like those of Taylor, Thorndike, and Hammond.”  C. Fitesimons Allison, The Rise of Moralism (New York: The Seabury Press, 1966), 157

[13] ibid, 64

[14] ibid, 66

[15] “A holy life is the only perfection of repentance, and the firm ground upon which we can cast the anchor of hope in the mercies of God through Jesus Christ.” ibid, 68

[16] ibid, 117; Hammond explicitly placed repentance and evangelical works prior to justification, “He calls the sinner powerfully to repentance: if he answers to that call, and awake, and arise, and make his sincere faithful resolutions of a new life; God then 4. Justifies, accepts and pardons his sins past…” ibid, 97

[17] Ernest F. Kevan, The Grace of Law: A Study in Puritan Theology (Grand Rapids: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 2013), 67

[18] Tom Hicks, “an Analysis of the Doctrine of justification in the Theologies of Richard Baxter and Benjamin Keach” (PhD diss., Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2009), 142

[19] ibid, 147, “Thus, the medieval nominalists were able to claim that God does indeed reward obedience with justification and eternal life, but not because obedience is itself intrinsically worthy of reward. Rather, God justifies and rewards obedience “graciously” by virtue of his own covenantal stipulations, which stipulations might have been other than what they are. In this nominalist construct, God’s gracious covenant did not require perfect obedience, but only a person’s best or sincere faithful efforts” ibid, 145.

[20] ibid, 148

[21] ibid, 146

[22] ibid, 149

¿Por qué Soy Bautista Reformado?


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Un bueno serie de predicaciones explicado las creencias distinctivos de bautistas reformadas como el confesionalismo y el federalismo. Las predicaciones son por Pastor Eduardo Flores de la Iglesia Bautista Reformado en Costa Rica:

La predicación acerca del federalismo Bautista reformada (número doce) toma el punto de vista del federalismo 1689 en vez del federalismo presbiteriano de uno pacto de gracia por medio de varios administraciones y también compare el federalismo 1689 con el dispensacionalismo y el federalismo presbiteriano:

You-tube video Lessons on Evangelism & Apologetics


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These are video lessons from me leading the Masters College Evangelism Society as President of the Society for the Fall semester of 2014 and Spring semester of 2015. Some of these lessons I have updated, which is why there are links to more recent posts on my blog in the description boxes of some of the videos to the more recent sermons that I have preached.  Some of which are summaries of the content in the videos, whereas others cover topics not discussed in the video lessons such as a more thorough overview of role of the local church to the Great Commission and a more in depth overview of the doctrine of vocation:

An Introduction to Apologetics


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This is the sermon transcript for the sermon I preached July 19th, 2015 at Grace Reformed Baptist Church, Palmdale, CA.


  1. Introduction & Exposition of Acts 17
  2. General Principles of Apologetics
  3. MUCH acronym for apologetics

1. Introduction to Apologetics & Exposition of Acts 17

The term apologetics is derived from the Greek word apologia, which is used in 1 Peter 3:15, probably the most well-known verse on apologetics, “Sanctify Christ as Lord, always being prepared to give a defense (ἀπολογία) for the hope that is within you, yet with gentleness and reverence”.  It does not mean to apologize for something, but rather, “to give a speech of defense, reply, the act of making a defense[1]”.  There are 3 important New Testament passages pertaining to Apologetics: Romans 1:18-21, Acts 17, and 1 Peter 3:15, but since Acts 17 implements the methodology of the other 2 passages I will focus on Acts 17 to demonstrate Paul’s methodology for apologetics, which provides the apostolic model for apologetics.

It is important to keep in mind Paul’s use of the OT to properly understand the Apostle Paul’s apologetic approach at the Areopagus address to the Athenian philosophers (Acts 17:22-34).  Paul only had the Old Testament canon as the basis for his apologetic methodology, this is testified by Paul’s frequent allusions to Isaiah and the Old Testament, even though he was trained in Greek philosophy and could have engaged the Athenians on common ground Paul refused to do so,

Although Paul is addressing an audience which is not committed or even predisposed to the revealed Scriptures, namely educated Gentiles, his speech is nevertheless a typically Jewish polemic regarding God, idolatry, and judgment! Using Old Testament language and concepts, Paul declared that God is the Creator, a Spirit who does not reside in man-made houses (v. 24). God is self-sufficient, and all men are dependent upon Him (v. 25). He created all men from a common ancestor and is the Lord of history (v. 26). Paul continued to teach God’s disapprobation for idolatry (v. 29), His demand for repentance (v. 30), and His appointment of a final day of judgment (v. 31)[2]”.

The previous context before Paul Areopagus address in Acts 17:22-34, verses 16-21 describes Paul’s burden for the lost when he was in Athens, his spirit was being provoked, the verb is in the imperfect tense, so it denotes a process describing Paul’s burden for the lost, and as a result of Paul’s burden he reasoned with both Jews and god fearing Gentiles (Greek converts to Judaism) in the synagogues (Acts 17:17).  This reflects the pattern mentioned by Peter in 1 Peter 3:15 that apologetics is to be done with gentleness & reverence, a true burden for the lost, not merely a desire to win arguments.  In verse 18 Paul is ridiculed by the stoic philosophers for his vain babbling, and others criticized him for preaching Jesus and the resurrection, so Paul has the same methodology at Athens as he wrote to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 1:18-21[3]; Paul proclaimed the Lord of Glory, Christ, he was unashamed to do so.  As Paul begins his sermon to the Athenians in verse 23 he mentions the Athenians’ object of worship and their altar to an unknown God, both of which have their basis in the Old Testament, Paul has not abandoned a biblical framework in order to engage on common ground with the Athenian philosophers.  Paul also contrasts the ignorance of the Athenian philosophers with the truth of the Gospel which he proclaims to them in verse 23, Bahnsen commenting on this verse explains this antithesis in Paul’s methodology,

“Paul started with an emphasis upon his hearers’ ignorance and from there went on to declare with authority the truth of God. Their ignorance was made to stand over against his unique authority and ability to expound the truth. Paul set forth Christianity as alone reasonable and true, and his ultimate starting point was the authority of Christ’s revelation. It was not uncommon for Paul to stress that the Gentiles were ignorant, knowing not God. (e.g., 1 Cor. 1:20; Gal. 4:8; Eph. 4:18; 1 Thess. 4:5; 2 Thess. 1:8). In diametric contrast to them was the believer who possessed a knowledge of God (e.g., Gal. 4:9; Eph. 4:20). This antithesis was fundamental to Paul’s thought, and it was clearly elaborated at Athens[4]”.

Verse 24 where Paul declares that the Lord of heaven and earth made the world and all that is in it, he is again grounding his statements in the Old Testament even though his audience is not Jewish due to his authority being God’s Word for both his proclamation of the Gospel and his apologetic.  Verse 25 continues the progression of his argument; God is self-sufficient and sovereign, not dependent on man (Psalm 50:7-15 is alluded to by Paul).  In verse 27 it is important that we understand what Paul means by the statement, “that they would seek God,” because this conditional clause (if…then statement) in the Greek denotes only a remote possibility, so Paul is not suggesting that fallen man can reason to God[5].  Verse 28 is crucial in understanding how Paul is using extra biblical sources in his sermon, this verse has the causal conjunction, for (γάρ), in the first clause, connecting it to the previous verse, expanding upon the fact that God is not far from man, so man cannot presume to be innocent by ignorance (Romans 1:18-21).  Paul quotes from 2 Greek philosophers, Epimenides the Cretan, “for in Him we live and move and exist,” and his other quote is from Aratus, “as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children,” both demonstrate that he is showing that they must borrow from the Christian worldview to make sense of their beliefs, and he proceeds in verse 29 to show how their worldview is insufficient and contradictory by worshipping idols and the creation rather than the Creator of all things.  Paul was not seeking common ground by quoting from Greek philosophers because if he was, then he just demolished the common ground in the following verses, rather Paul understands that the statements by the Greek philosophers can be true such as man’s dependence upon God and that we are sons of God, but only in terms of a Christian worldview can these concepts be adequately accounted for.  It is upon this basis that Paul proceeds to call his audience to repentance, having shown the futility of their worldview and their inconsistency, “why would you worship idols and altars rather than the God who created all things?”

“Paul did not utilize pagan ideas in his Areopagus address. He used pagan expressions to demonstrate that ungodly thinkers have not eradicated all idea, albeit suppressed and distorted, of the living and true God[6]”.

“Men are engulfed by God’s clear revelation; try as they may, the truth which they possess in their heart of hearts cannot be escaped, and inadvertently it comes to expression. They do not explicitly understand it properly; yet these expressions are a witness to their inward conviction and culpability. Consequently Paul could take advantage of pagan quotations, not as an agreed upon ground for erecting the message of the gospel, but as a basis for calling unbelievers to repentance for their flight from God[7]”.

In verse 31 Paul unashamedly declares that all men will stand before God on judgment day, and that Christ will administer the judgment, the one whom the Greeks mocked for being raised from the dead.  Paul’s argument for the resurrection is not consistent with either the classical or evidential approach since he didn’t give evidence to persuade the Greeks, who deny the resurrection in their worldview; rather he declared the truth of Christ’s resurrection based on the authority of Scripture.  As we have examined the plethora of allusions to the LXX (Ancient Greek translation of OT, also called the Septuagint) of Isaiah demonstrate that Paul consistently applied the same methodology laid out in Romans 1:18-21 in his Areopagus address, he did not use a separate set of presuppositions to find common ground with Greeks versus when he was preaching to Jews, with both the authority of God’s Word and the contrast between Yahweh and the false Gods (Isaiah 40-45) was in the forefront for Paul and his methodology to apologetics.

2. General Principles for Apologetics

An essential tenet of a biblical apologetic is the importance of sola scriptura in apologetics is that theology must always take precedence over philosophy, a skilled apologist is a skilled theologian, one who knows the Bible thoroughly.  The apologist who places philosophy at the forefront and theology as secondary may claim victory when discussing the Kalam Cosmological Argument with an atheist or agnostic, but will be completely unprepared to respond to a Jehovah’s witness who may know the Bible better (even though he has incorrect theological conclusions) than the philosophically trained apologist who is deficient in his understanding of the word of God.  A related aspect of the sufficiency of Scripture in Apologetics is the crucial relationship between general revelation (nature) and special revelation (Scripture).  We must stand on the sufficiency of Scripture, special revelation, which clearly explains the Gospel, in contrast to general revelation i.e. nature, which is only sufficient to condemn us, but not to provide saving knowledge of the Gospel.  The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith recognized Scripture alone as providing saving knowledge of the Gospel in contrast to general revelation,

1689 LBC chapter 1 Paragraph 1: “1. The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible1 rule of all saving Knowledge, Faith, and Obedience; Although the2 light of Nature, and the works of Creation and Providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom and power of God, as to leave men unexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and His will, which is necessary unto Salvation.3 Therefore it pleased the Lord at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal himself, and to declare that His will unto his Church; and afterward for the better preserving, and propagating of the Truth, and for the more sure Establishment and Comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan, and of the World, to commit the same wholly unto4 writing; which maketh the Holy Scriptures to be most necessary, those former ways of Gods revealing his will unto his people being now ceased[8]”.

Also in Chapter 20 of the 1689 LBC, specifically addressing the Gospel, this point is reiterated concerning the necessity of special revelation, Scripture, for saving knowledge of the Gospel:

1689 LBC Chapter 20 Paragraph 2: “2. This Promise of Christ, and Salvation by him, is revealed only by3 the Word of God; neither do the Works of Creation, or Providence, with the light of Nature,4 make discovery of Christ, or of Grace by him; so much as in a general, or obscure way; much less that men destitute of the Revelation of him by the Promise, or Gospel;5 should be enabled thereby, to attain saving Faith, or Repentance.[9]

The second major tenet for a biblical apologetic is the necessity of understanding presuppositions and how evidence is interpreted.  Evidence doesn’t determine whether someone’s argument is valid because all evidences are interpreted by our presuppositions, our necessary starting point or assumptions, which for Christians means that we begin with the fact that the one and only Triune God has revealed Himself infallibly in Scripture (Psalm 96:5, Isaiah 40:18-26[10]), whereas the naturalist typically affirms only that which can be understood by observation via our senses and reason is valid.  Debating with someone over evolution for example depends on the presuppositions of each side since a naturalist will based on their presuppositions not allow for any supernatural explanation regardless of any evidence presented for it.  Bahnsen summarizes the necessity of understanding this crucial element of apologetics,

“The unavoidable fact is – regarding of how intensely some apologists lament or decry it – that nobody is a disinterested observer, seeing and interpreting facts without a set of assumptions and pre-established rules.  All men have presuppositional commitments prior to theory examination of various hypotheses [i.e. presuppositions = the filter through which we see the facts or a lense/glasses through which we observe them].  In the nature of the case, apologetics requires that we argue with the unbeliever in terms of each other’s most basic assumptions.  We must challenge each other’s final standards.  This means that we must contest the grounds on which our opponent stands, showing that only within the context of the Christian worldview could he know anything at all[11]”.


Summarizing how we can implement Paul’s method in Acts 17 can be conveniently explained by the Acronym MUCH, which Gene Cook Jr. came up with to explain this apologetic methodology succinctly.  M stands for Morality; in the Christian worldview we have a standard for absolute morality because God’s law reflects his perfect righteousness and because God is immutable, we know that God’s standards for morality are not going to change.  In contrast all unbelieving worldviews that say something is immoral, or an atheist arguing that the Old Testament is immoral has to borrow from the Christian worldview because they have no standard for absolute morality within their own worldview.  By demonstrating the folly of their worldview we point sinners to the law of God and present the Gospel to them.

Worldview Questions for Morality:

  1. Is there an objective standard of morality, where does it come from?
  2. How do you get morality from evolution, does morality evolve?

U stands for uniformity of nature, which is just the concept for the fact that God is Sovereign and sustains his creation, so that observable patterns in nature are not random actions, but the outworking of God’s decrees[12].  This means that there is not a competition of the Bible vs. Science because without the Sovereign God of Scripture there is no basis for science since science presupposes stability, so that experiments can be repeated.  Rather than arguing about different facts for and against evolution with an atheist we should ask them how they account for the stability/uniformity in nature in their worldview, and then point them to the Sovereign God of scripture and that God not only created all things, but also gave man a moral law to obey, to transition to the law and Gospel.

Worldview Questions for Uniformity of Nature:

  1. How do you know the laws of science will be the same tomorrow?
  2. On what Basis can you assume that you will be able to repeat the same scientific experiments tomorrow and get the same results?
  3. How do you know the sun will rise tomorrow?

C stands for abstract concepts such as logic, laws of mathematics, and science, which are absolute and do not change because they reflect God’s omniscience and immutability, all absolute standards are based on some attribute of God + God’s immutability, God is not subject to these laws as some external entity, rather they reflect his perfect attributes.

Worldview Questions for Abstract Concepts:

  1. What is the basis for logic and reasoning in your worldview?
  2. Does absolute truth exist?
  3. Are the laws of mathematics absolute and universal (apply everywhere), or could 2+2 = 5 instead of 4 somewhere else?
  4. How do you get logic from evolution, does logic evolve also?

H, Human Dignity, based on the fact that we are created in God’s image and therefore have inherent value separating man from the rest of creation (in contrast to evolution). This category of MUCH also presupposes objective morality because if there is no objective morality, then there is no ethical basis for treating man with human dignity because man was created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27, 9:6).

Worldview questions for Human Dignity:

  1. If we are here as a result of evolution, where does human dignity come from?
  2. If you believe that the world was created as a result of the Big Bang, why do you go to marriages and funerals which assume human dignity, when we are nothing more than space dust in your worldview?
  3. How do you get human dignity without absolute morality in your worldview?

[1] Arndt, William, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 117

[2] Dr. Greg L. Bahnsen, Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith (TX: Covenant Media Foundation, 1996),227

[3]“For the word of the cross is afoolishness to bthose who 1are perishing, but to us who 2are being saved it is cthe power of God.  For it is written, “aI will destroy the wisdom of the wise,And the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.”  aWhere is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of bthis age? Has not God cmade foolish the wisdom of dthe world?  For since in the wisdom of God athe world through its wisdom did not come to know God, bGod was well-pleased through the cfoolishness of the 1message preached to dsave those who believe.[3]” (1 Corinthians 1:18-21, NASB)

[4] Dr. Greg L. Bahnsen, Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith (TX: Covenant Media Foundation, 1996), 219; from the Appendix, The Encounter of Jerusalem with Athens, A Biblical Exposition of Acts 17

[5] εἰ ἄρα γε ψηλαφήσειαν αὐτὸν καὶ εὕροιεν. The use of εἰ with two optative verbs forms a (double) fourth class condition (always incomplete in the NT), which is normally used to express something that has only a remote possibility of happening in the future. The use of ἄρα and γε further emphasizes the sense of uncertainty (cf. 8:22). Fitzmyer (1998, 609) renders this clause: “perhaps even grope for him, and eventually find him.” Martin M. Culy and Mikeal C. Parsons, Acts: A Handbook on the Greek Text, Baylor Handbook on the Greek New Testament (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2003), 339

[6] Dr. Greg L. Bahnsen, Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith (TX: Covenant Media Foundation, 1996),, 224

[7] Ibid, 225

1 2 Tim. 3:15, 16, 17. Isa. 8:20; Luk. 16:29, 31; Eph. 2:20.

2 Rom. 1:19, 20, 21 etc. ch. 2:14, 15; Psal. 19:1, 2, 3.

3 Heb. 1:1.

4 Pro. 22:19, 20, 21; Rom. 15:4; 2 Pet. 1:19, 20.

[8] W. J. McGlothlin, Baptist Confessions of Faith (Philadelphia; Boston; Chicago; St. Louis; Toronto: American Baptist Publication Society, 1911), 227–228.

3 Rom. 1:17.

4 Ro. 10:14, 15, 17.

5 Pro. 29:18; Isa. 25:7, with ch. 60:2, 3.

[9] W. J. McGlothlin, Baptist Confessions of Faith (Philadelphia; Boston; Chicago; St. Louis; Toronto: American Baptist Publication Society, 1911), 257.

[10] Article by James White on the Trail of the False Gods, Isaiah 40-45:

[11] Greg L. Bahnsen, Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended, 14

[12] Hebrews 1:2-3, “in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,[12]” (NASB)

The Law & Gospel Distinction in the Christian Worldview & Evangelism

This is a sermon transcript for a sermon I preached a few weeks ago for a series on the Christian Worldview:


  1. The Covenant of Works & the Gospel
  2. Richard Baxter’s view of the Covenant of Works
  3. Using the Law-Gospel distinction in Evangelism

1. We must first begin with the crucial law-Gospel distinction because apart from properly understanding the difference between the law and the Gospel and the proper function of each we can easily confuse them and end up mixing the law with the Gospel as the judaizers did[1].  While many in the present would deny that there is a covenant of works in the Bible, a departure from the Biblical doctrine of the covenant of works will quickly lead to an abandonment of the biblical doctrine of Justification based on faith alone (sola fide) and based on the perfect work of Christ alone (solus Christus), both his perfect atoning death, bearing the wrath that sinners justly deserve for their rebellion against God, and Christ’s perfect obedience to the moral law of God on our behalf and his perfect righteousness imputed to the elect.  The covenant of works is mentioned in several places in the 1689 London Baptist Confession of faith, explicitly in chapter 20.1, and implicitly in 6.1 & 19.1,

Chapter 20 Paragraph 1:“The covenant of works being broken by sin, and made profitable unto life, God was pleased to give forth the promise of Christ, the seed of the woman, as the means of calling the elect, and begetting in them faith and repentance;[2] in this promise of the Gospel, as to the substance of it, was revealed, and [is] therein effectual for the conversion and salvation of sinners[3][4].

Chapter 19 Paragraph 1:“God gave to Adam a law of universal obedience written in his heart, and a particular precept of not eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil;[5] by which he bound him and all his posterity to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience;[6] promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it, and endued him with power and ability to keep it[7]”.

Chapter 6 Paragraph 1: “Although God created man upright and perfect, and gave him a righteous law, which had been unto life had he kept it, and threatened death upon the breach thereof[8], yet he did not long abide in this honor; Satan using the subtlety of the serpent to seduce Eve, then by her seducing Adam, who, without any compulsion, did willfully transgress the law of their creation, and the command given unto them, in eating the forbidden fruit[9], which God was pleased, according to His wise and holy counsel to permit, having purposed to order it to His own glory[10]

The doctrine of the covenant of works is presented in Genesis 2:15-17, although the explicit word for covenant is not used, the concept is clearly present,

“Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.  The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die[11]”.

God’s command to Adam is stated without any ambiguity since the phrase translated “you will surely die” is stated with a specific Hebrew construction that denotes certainty, leaving no ambiguity or loophole to the condition.  The verb is not a generic future statement, “you will die” (as Eve changes the original statement to only a future statement in Genesis 3:3), rather the verb is repeated twice and could be translated by the idiom, “dying you will die,” which is used in Hebrew grammar to stress certainty and is therefore translated by the NASB and other English translations as “you will surely die”.

This same structure of blessing for obedience and cursing for disobedience occurs in the Mosaic Law (Deuteronomy 11:26-29).  Understanding the Covenant of Works is not some extra-theological nuance for theologians, but is directly related to the Gospel since although Adam failed to obey it as our federal head, Christ had to obey it to merit eternal life on our behalf (Romans 5:12-18).  If we deceive ourselves and think that we can in any way contribute to our own salvation by partially fulfilling the requirements of prefect perpetual (continual) obedience then we have gravely underestimated the nature of our sin and depravity, as well as the perfect standard of God’s moral law which reflects his perfect righteousness.  A useful example of the importance of this doctrine is given in a conversation between the nomista (legalist) and evangelista (the orthodox pastor) in the classical work on the law and Gospel, The Marrow of Modern Divinity,

nomista: But, I pray you, sir, consider, that though I am now thoroughly convinced, that till of late I went on in the way of the covenant of works; yet seeing that I at last came to see my need of Christ, and have believed that in what I come short of fulfilling the law he will help me out, methinks I should be truly come to Christ.  Evangelista:  Verily, I do conceive that this gives you no surer evidence of your being truly come to Christ, than some of your strict papists have.  For it is the doctrine of the Church of Rome, that if man exercise all his power, and do his best to fulfill the law, then God, for Christ’s sake, will pardon all his infirmities and save his soul[12].”

The legalist (nomista) thinks that he can believe in Christ only to make up for his imperfect obedience to God’s moral law and the demands of the covenant of works, so he makes his justification dependent upon his obedience with the help of Christ, rather than fully resting on the perfect work of Christ to meet the demands of the covenant of works perfectly on behalf of God’s elect.  In summary it can be observed that the covenant of works is foundational for the Gospel because it instructs us that we cannot meet the perfect standard of perpetual & perfect obedience by our own works, and we are therefore dependent on Christ who fulfills the requirement of the Covenant of Works perfectly on our behalf through his atoning death bearing the curse for our disobedience, and his perfect life of obedience unto death, which is imputed to God’s elect.

2. Likewise a well known puritan, Richard Baxter, gravely misunderstood the covenant of works, and as a result deviated from the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone based on the work of Christ alone. He even went to the extent of claiming that we could give the covenant of works a second try (since Christ obtained an easier law for us to meet requiring only imperfect obedience in Baxter’s covenant theology) to gain justification and ended up repudiating the doctrine of Christ’s imputed righteousness and active obedience (Christ’s perfect perpetual obedience to the law of God on behalf of God’s elect). He viewed affirming the imputed righteousness of Christ as resulting in antinomianism (easy-believism) because it eliminated man’s responsibility for obedience.

“This view, to Baxter, was worse than the other; not only did it involve the false conception of imputation, but it rested the case for it on a false premise.  Man is not justified, Baxter insisted, by a fictitious, imputed fulfillment of the law of works, but in virtue of a real, personal compliance with the terms of the new law of grace.  Moreover, the original criticisms of imputed righteousness remain unanswered. [Baxter Quoted by Packer]: “Inculpability Imputed” “seemeth to me to leave no place or possibility for Pardon of Sin”; and an imputed holiness takes away any need for a real one, so that the doctrine must inevitably prove Antinomian”[13].

“And for my own part I think it is the truth, though I confess I have been ten years of another mind for the sole Passive Righteousness, because of the weakness of those grounds which are usually laid to support the opinion for the Active and Passive; till discerning more clearly the nature of satisfaction, I perceived that though the sufferings of Christ have the chief place there in, yet his obedience as such may also be meritorious and satisfactory.  The true grounds and proof whereof you may read in Grotius de Satisfact. Cap. 6 and Bradshaw of Justification in Preface and cap. 13[14].

Baxter reformulated his doctrine of justification based on the concept that Christ rather than fulfilling the covenant of works on behalf of the elect purchased a lesser covenant of works for the elect to fulfill by their partial and imperfect obedience.  This makes salvation dependent on one’s own obedience and therefore justification is not a single act, but a process just as the Catholic view affirms, therefore it can be lost just as in catholicism[15].

“When man had fallen, and God purposed to glorify Himself by restoring him, he carried out His plan, not by satisfying the law, but by changing it. God’s law is thus external to Himself…Baxter held that Christ satisfied the lawgiver and so procured a change in the law.  Here Baxter aligns himself with Arminian thought rather than with orthodox Calvinism[16]”.

“As to the question therefore whether justification be losable, and pardon reversible, I answer, that the grant of them in the covenant is unalterable; but man’s will in itself is mutable, and if he should cease believing by apostasy, and the condition fail, he would lose his Right, and be unjustified and unpardoned, without any change in God.  But that a man doth not so de facto is to be ascribed to Election and special grace, of which afterward[17].”

It can be observed both by the example from the Marrow & Richard Baxter’s deviation from the biblical doctrine of the covenant of works that we must strive to have a biblical doctrine of the covenant of works in order to have a biblical understanding of both the fall and redemption, if we get what happened in the garden wrong, then we will not understand the doctrine of redemption and the Gospel either.  By mixing the law and the Gospel the imputed righteousness of Christ is undermined since works contribute to one’s justification, so the righteousness of Christ imputed to the elect becomes insufficient.

3. Christ clearly applied the law-gospel distinction with the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-30 by using the law of God to show the rich young ruler that despite his affirmation that he had kept the whole law (Matthew 19:20), when he had not perfectly obeyed it which Christ demonstrated by asking him to sell as his possessions (Matthew 19:21), which demonstrated that the rich young ruler had not kept all 10 commandments since he had made his possessions an idol (Matthew 6:19-21). This is the proper use of the law of God in evangelism; we use the law to show sinners their inability to meet its perfect requirements pointing them to Christ and his imputed righteousness as the only means of obtaining justification through faith alone in Christ alone. We can use the Decalogue as a reflection of God’s perfect righteous nature, and as Jesus did, not solely apply this to external acts such as murder, but also tracing them back to their source, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery;’ but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:27-28), also the Apostle John makes a similar statement regarding murder in 1 John, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murder has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:15), Jesus summed up the law in two commandments: to love God with all you heart, soul, and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22:37-39)[18].  No one has perfectly loved God as they ought to for all of their life except Christ.  We can use either one of the 10 commandments or use the condensed form that Christ gave in the 2 greatest commandments to show sinners that they do not meet God’s requirement of perfect righteousness and that they need a perfect mediator to stand in their place.  This can be used for any worldview since everyone has some view in their worldview of fall, redemption, and restoration, so this can be used as a worldview outline, which I will discuss later (i.e. Proverbs 17:15).

[1]If he cannot so distinguish the gospel from the law as to expect all his salvation from the grace of the gospel, and nothing of it from the works of the law; he will easily be induced to connect his own works with the righteousness of Jesus Christ in the affair of justification.  This was the great error of the Judaizing teachers in the churches of Galatia.  They mingled the law with the gospel in the business of justification, and thereby they so corrupted the gospel as to alter the very nature of it and make it another gospel”.  John Colquhoun,  A Treatise on the Law and the Gospel, ed. Don Kistler (Grand Rapids: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1999), 141; Galatians 1:8-9;5:2-4

[2] Genesis 3:15

[3] Revelation 13:8

[4] The Baptist Confession of Faith & Baptist Catechism (Birmingham, AL; Solid Ground Christian Books & Reformed Baptist Publications of the Association of Reformed Baptist Churches of America), 43-44

[5] Genesis 1:27; Ecclesiastes 7:29

[6] Romans 10:5

[7] Galatians 3:10,12; ibid, 40-41 ; I listed chapter 19 before chapter 6 since it is specifically describing man’s obligation to fulfill the covenant of works prior to the fall and not after the fall, so systematically it precedes the fall, which is described in chapter 6 paragraph 1.

[8] Genesis 2:16,17

[9] Genesis 3:12, 13; 2 Corinthians 11:3

[10] Ibid, 15

[11] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Ge 2:15–17

[12] Edward Fischer, The Marrow of Modern Divinity (Ross-shire, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2009), 111

[13] Redemption in the Thought of Baxter, 245-246

[14] Richard Baxter, Aphorisms, 55

[15] “… they, through the observance of the commandments of God and of the Church, faith co-operating with good works, increase in the justice received through the grace of Christ, and are still more justified, as is written,—He that is righteous, let him be made righteous still; and again, Be not afraid to be justified even to death; and also, Ye see how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” Theodore Alois Buckley, The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent (London: Geroge Routledge and Co., 1851), 36

[16] J. I. Packer, The Redemption and Restoration of Man in the Thought of Richard Baxter (Vancouver: Regent College, 2003), 262

[17] Richard Baxter, Catholic Theology, 217; “God by commanding faith and repentance, and making them necessary conditions of justification, and by commanding perseverance, and threatening the Justified and Sanctified with damnation if they fall away; and making perseverance a condition of salvation, doth thereby provide a convenient means for the performance of his own decree…” ibid, 186

[18] A lengthy, but thorough quote by Vos explaining the internal nature of keeping the moral law of God in the Sermon on the Mount, “Much has been preached and written about the internal character of the law-observance which the Sermon on the Mount requires.  Truly, it does teach with powerful emphasis that the righteousness is in the intent and disposition, not first in the outward act, just as sin is not committed first when the hand reaches out to strike, but when anger surges up in the heart.  But we do not, I am afraid, realize with sufficient clearness what is the ultimate reason for this internalizing emphasis.  Why are evil and good with such insistency pushed back into the region of the heart?  The reason is none other than that in the heart man confronts God.  In the recesses of the inner man, where deep calls unto deep, where the lawgiver and the creature are face to face, there and there alone the issue of the righteousness and of sin can be decided.  Nor does this merely mean that the conscience is brought under the direct gaze and control of the will of God.  It is the divine nature lying back of the divine will in the light of which the creature is led to place himself.  The inner man enters, if we may so speak, into the inner forum of the Most High.  There God, besides requiring obedience to his will, is heard to ask conformity to his moral nature.  The law is perceived o coincide with what He is.  The majesty, the inevitableness, the self-evidencing  and self-enforcing power of the eternal are put into it.  To fulfill the law becomes but another form of the imperative, to be like unto God.  It is God’s inalienable right as God to impress his character upon us, to make and keep us reflectors of his infinite glory.  But in a state of sin this can only intensify a thousand times the consciousness of man’s utter inability even to begin to realize what nevertheless is the very core of his need in life, the sole ultimate reason for his existence.  Thus apprehended the range and scope of the moral circle drawn around our being become enormous, so much so indeed that they would almost seem to exceed the possibilities of frail human nature.  So long as man’s moral life is not illuminated by this central glory of the nature of  God, it may remain possible for the illusion to spring up that the sinner can at least aspire towards fulfillment of the law.  He then imagines that the command is relaxed and lowered to the limitations of his abnormal state.  The limitless perspective, all that makes for  the eternal seriousness and solemnity of the values of  righteousness and sin, are forgotten.  “To be righteous” acquires the restricted meaning of being law-like, instead of God-like.  Sin also loses its absolute character of disharmony with the divine nature.  It appears a mere shortness in one’s account, easily rectifiable by future extra-payments.  To all this delusion Jesus puts an end  by the simple word: “Ye shall be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect,” and : “Thus shall ye pray: Thy will be done, as in heaven so on earth.”  And, still further, the purpose of this demand of God-likeness is not to be primarily sought in the desirability for man of patterning himself after the highest example; it has its deeper ground in the right of God to possess and use us as instruments for the revelation of his supreme glory.  If God desires to mirror Himself in us, can it behoove man to offer Him less than a perfect reflection?  Shall we say, that He must overlook the little blemishes, the minor sins, the mixed aspirations, the half-hearted efforts, must take the will for the deed, and an imperfect will at that?  Or shall we confess with the speaker in Job that the heavens are not clean in his sight?  Once this point of view is adopted, our whole estimate of sin and righteousness undergoes a radical change.  We then begin to measure and appraise them in their bearing on God and their value for Him”. Geerhardus Vos, Grace & Glory: Sermons Preached in the Chapel of Princeton Theological Seminary (Grand Rapids: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2007), 45-48

The Trinitarian Foundation for the Christian Worldview


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This is the transcript of the sermon I preached for the evening service for last Lord’s Day giving an overview of the Doctrine of the Trinity from historical and systematic theology:


  1. Introduction, The Necessity of the Trinity in a Christian Worldview
  2. Doctrinal Overview of the key tenets of the Doctrine of the Trinity
  3. Eternal Generation of the Son

I. Introduction, The Necessity of the Trinity in a Christian Worldview

Now it is necessary to go over the definition of the Trinity because most of the time witnessing to a Jehovah’s Witness or a Muslim we pass by each other as ships going in opposite directions when we discuss the person of Christ because we have not properly defined the doctrine of the Trinity and the Unitarians with their presuppositions/assumptions (i.e. that Jesus was only a prophet or Michael the Archangel) interpret key passages on the deity of Christ differently.  I will be focusing more on a historical and systematic overview of the doctrine of the Trinity in this sermon since I will focus on exegesis of key passages in the Christology section.  The Christian worldview is explicitly Trinitarian because the Gospel assumes the doctrine of the Trinity and other theistic worldviews which tinker with the doctrine of God end up undercutting the doctrinal foundation for the Gospel since Only Christ, fully God and fully man, can perfectly fulfill the covenant of works on our behalf as our perfect mediator, which no mere angel or prophet is qualified to do.

The Doctrine of the Trinity is sometimes called a mystery, this does not mean that it is an irrational or illogical doctrine, but rather it is difficult for our finite minds to fully comprehend just as any other attribute of God.

“The Trinity is a truth that tests our dedication to the principle that God is smarter than we are.  As strange as that may sound, I truly believe that in most instances where a religious group denies the Trinity, the reason can be traced back to the founder’s unwillingness to admit the simple reality that God is bigger than we can ever imagine.  That is really what Christians have always meant when they use the term “mystery” of the Trinity.  The term has never meant that the Trinity is an inherently irrational thing.  Instead, it simply means that we realize that God is completely unique in the way He exists, and there are elements of His being that are simply beyond our meager mental capacity to comprehend[1]”.

We must study this doctrine with humility avoiding the error of rationalism which has caused doubt on key Christian doctrines pertaining to the Trinity such as the eternal generation of the Son and the eternal procession of the Spirit.

“The incomprehensibility of God means that the doctrines of the faith will involve holy mysteries which transcend human reason and contradict fleshly wisdom (not, for instance, chapter 3: ‘Of God’s decree’ and chapter 8 ‘Of Christ the Mediator’).  Such mysteries must be accepted with humility and reverence by an intellect weaned from the arrogant and foolish notion of rationalism that it must or can comprehend the divine Being (Ps. 131)[2]”.

This demonstrates the double standard of Unitarians who deny the Trinity as a logical contradiction because they cannot fully comprehend it, yet they still affirm that God is eternal, which is also a mystery for our finite minds to grasp,

“Rather than thinking of eternity as a long, long time, think of it here as a way of existence that does not involve a progression of events and moments.  That is how God lives.  He defies our categories and our feeble efforts to comprehend Him.  If he didn’t, He wouldn’t be God[3]”.

Also there are important apologetic implications due to the fact that only God is triune in nature this means that ultimately any analogy will break down when we define the doctrine of the Trinity, therefore we should define the trinity how the inspired and inerrant Word of God defines it rather than presuming that our human ingenuity can do a better job,

“This process works just fine for most things.  But for unique things, it doesn’t.  If something is truly unique, it cannot be compared to anything else, at least not without introducing some element of error[4]”.

“When we say, “God is like…” we are treading on dangerous ground.  Yes, we might be able to illustrate a certain aspect of God’s being in this way, but in every instance the analogy, if pushed far enough, is going to break down[5]”.

II. Doctrinal Overview of the key tenets of the Doctrine of the Trinity

For defining the doctrine of the Trinity James White summarizes the doctrine of the trinity in three parts with the following chart:

Foundation One: Monotheism: There is Only One God
Foundation Two: There are Three Divine Persons
Foundation Three: The Persons Are Coequal and Coeternal[6]

The doctrine of the Trinity is more fully explained in the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith Chapter 2 Paragraph 3,

3. In this divine and infinite Being there are three subsistences,4 the Father the Word (or Son) and Holy Spirit, of one substance, power, and Eternity, each having the whole Divine Essence,5 yet the Essence undivided, the Father is of none neither begotten nor proceeding, the Son is6 Eternally begotten of the Father, the holy Spirit7 proceeding from the Father and the Son, all infinite, without beginning, therefore but one God, who is not to be divided in nature and Being; but distinguished by several peculiar, relative properties, and personal relations; which doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation of all our Communion with God, and comfortable dependence on him[7]”.

Notice that the confession uses more precise language to carefully define the doctrine of the Trinity to avoid misrepresentation, for example essence is used in place of being and subsistences rather than persons.  This helps to avoid misrepresenting these definitions since being and person have been used historically by those who deny the Trinity to equate God’s being and persons in terms of human categories, thus distorting the doctrine of the Trinity.  For example one group who denied the Trinity, the Socinians, in the 17th century (1600s) understood persons to refer to someone taking on different roles in a play by changing masks, which is not what the Doctrine of the Trinity teaches since this would means that God merely changes mode of form like water, so the Father becomes the Son or Holy Spirit, but they don’t exist at the same time in this view.  Richard Muller discussing the meaning of person based on its underlying latin word persona, and cautions against incorrect views of the Trinity by not correctly understanding the terms,

“In none of these usages does the term persona have the connotation of emotional individuality or unique consciousness that clearly belongs to the term in contemporary usage. It is quite certain that the trinitarian use of persona does not point to three wills, three emotionally unique beings, or, as several eighteenth-century authors influenced by Cartesianism argued, three centers of consciousness; such implication would be tritheistic… Thus, in trinitarian usage, three personae subsist in the divine substantia or essentia (q.v.) without division and, in christological usage, one persona has two distinct naturae, the divine and the human. This can be said while nonetheless arguing one will in God and two in Christ—since will belongs properly to the essence of God and to the natures in Christ, and in neither case to persona as such. Thus, in the language of the scholastics, persona indicates primarily an individuum (q.v.), an individual thing, or a suppositum (q.v.), a self-subsistent thing, and, more specifically still, an intelligent self-subsistent thing (suppositum intelligens)[8]”.

III. Eternal Generation of the Son

An important, but often neglected doctrine when studying the doctrine of the Trinity is called the eternal generation of the Son.  It is often overlooked or denied because it is misunderstood to teach that the Son was begotten or born as creatures are,

“One place at which the historic doctrine of the Trinity is in danger from such rationalism in our day is in a widespread doubt among evangelical teachers as to the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son and the eternal procession of the Spirit.  This doubt is probably due to the seeming contradiction of asserting that the Son is self-existent God and yet eternally generated[9]”.

This doctrine answers the question of how the person of the Son is related to the Father and explains the language found in the New Testament such as begotten and explains how this language is used to describe the person of the Son.  This is crucial to understand since cults such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses will twist the meaning of firstborn and begotten to support their erroneous views about Christ, and likewise Muslims will quickly appeal to Christ being begotten to deny his Deity.  Stephen Lindblad summarizes the importance of the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son,

“The question the doctrine of eternal generation answers is this: how does the Son have the whole divine essence, but in such a manner that the one common essence is not divided and the distinct persons are not confounded? (in other words: How does the Son eternally exist as a divine person of the Trinity being of the same divine essence as the Father and Holy Spirit, without confusing the persons of the Trinity?) The answer is simple, yet profoundly mysterious: the Son, as to his personal subsistence in the divine essence (i.e., as the Son), has the whole divine essence because the Father personally communicated his whole essence (i.e., the whole divine essence the Father has of himself) to the Son personally[10]”.

Stephan Lindblad further explains the definition of the eternal generation of the Son:

“By being begotten of the Father. He is therefore generated of the substance of the Father. This generation, however, is eternal, so that God the Father was never without God the Son. Likewise, generation is most perfect, so that the Father’s whole essence is communicated to the Son without any diminution, alteration, or mutation, but the whole yet remains in the Father. And, therefore, one is not able to say that the Son’s essence is derived, created, or essentiated from the essence of the Father, since the simple essence that is in the Father is communicated fully to the Son. It is for this reason one may accept the language of certain pious persons that the Son, as he is God, is of himself, that is, the essence that is in the Son is not of another essence, but is self-existent. For it is neither created nor properly speaking generated, as if it were another thing, but the same is communicated[11]”.

William Perkins accepted both the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son as well as the Son’s aseity (self-existence) and saw no contradiction between these two doctrines,

“Although the Sonne be begotten of his Father, yet nevertheless he is of and by himself very God: for he must be considered either according to his essence, or according to his filiation or Sonneship.  In regard of his essence, he is autotheos that is, of and by himself very God: for the Deitie which is common to all three persons, is not begotten.  But as he is a person, and the sonne of the Father, he is not of himself, but from an other: for he is the eternall Sonne of his Father.  And thus he is truly said to be very God of very God[12]”.

Orthodox Trinitarian theologians have been careful while affirming the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son to not stray into speculation of how the Son was eternally begotten as Ussher explains,

“We find it not revealed touching the manner, and therefore our ignorance herein is better than all their curiosity, that have enterprized arrogantly the search hereof; for if our own generation and frame in our mothers womb be above our capacity, Ps. 139:14-15, it is no marvell if the mystery of the eternall generation of the Son of God cannot be comprehended[13]”.

Dr. Sam Waldron gives a good explanation of why this doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son is important for maintaining a biblical doctrine of the Trinity because if the Son has not eternally been the Son (the position of those who deny the eternal generation of the Son say that Jesus became the Son at the incarnation or at his resurrection, but wasn’t the Son prior to the incarnation), then how were the persons of the Trinity distinguished?  This would also make the Son mutable and subject to change, which would be a clear denial of the immutability of God since God would have existed in a binity (2 persons) that later formed a Trinity, when the Son became a separate person in the Godhead.

“Without eternal generation and eternal procession (That the Holy Spirit has eternally existed as a person in the Godhead) … it is impossible to distinguish the different persons of the Trinity.  There are no revealed personal relations or properties.  Even terminology like the First, Second, or Third person of the Trinity becomes illegitimate.  We are left with three colourless, unvarying, indistinguishable persons in the Trinity.  This result smells of the barrenness of human philosophy, not the richness of biblical revelation[14]”.

In other words the biblical doctrine of the Trinity presupposes the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son, along with the eternal generation of the Spirit.  The doctrines of the eternal generation of the Son and the eternal procession of the Spirit simply stated presupposes the immutability of the intratrinitarian relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,

“That they are eternally mutually related as Father and Son and Spirit.  That is, the Father is the Father of the Son, and the Son is the Son of the Father, and the Spirit is the Spirit of the Father and the Son[15]”.

“The peculiar personal property of the second person is expressed by the title Son.  As a person he is eternally the only begotten Son of the Father, and hence the express image of his person, and the eternal Word in the beginning with God.  The peculiar property of the third person is expressed by the title Spirit.  This cannot express his essence, because his essence is also the essence of the Father and the Son.  It must express his eternal personal relation to the other divine persons, because he is a person constantly designated as the Spirit of the Father and the Son[16]”.

These aren’t merely lofty ivory tower theological conjectures, but have been taught throughout Church History and have provided a solid biblical foundation to refute various heretical views of the Trinity throughout Church History, so we shouldn’t quickly ignore them or view them as irrelevant doctrines to our understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity which is, “the foundation of all our Communion with God, and comfortable dependence on him” (1689 LBC 2.3).

[1] James White, The Forgotten Trinity: Recovering the Heart of Christian Belief (MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1998), 20

[2] Samuel E. Waldron, 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith: A Modern Exposition (Grand Rapids, MI; Evangelical Press, 2013), 65-66

[3] James White, The Forgotten Trinity: Recovering the Heart of Christian Belief (MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1998), 42

[4] ibid, 25

[5] Ibid, 25

[6] James White, The Forgotten Trinity: Recovering the Heart of Christian Belief (MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1998), 28; another chart he has showing a triangle diagram of different heresies that result from denying one of the three tenets of the doctrine of the Trinity is found on, ibid, 30

4 Mat. 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:14.

5 Exod. 3:14; Joh. 14:11; 1 Cor. 8:6.

6 Joh. 1:14, 18.

7 Joh. 15:26. Gal. 4:6.

[7] W. J. McGlothlin, Baptist Confessions of Faith (Philadelphia; Boston; Chicago; St. Louis; Toronto: American Baptist Publication Society, 1911), 232

[8] Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1985), 226–227

[9] Samuel E. Waldron, 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith: A Modern Exposition (Grand Rapids, MI; Evangelical Press, 2013), 66

[10] ARBCA circular letter on eternal generation of the Son by Stefan T. Lindblad, 14; here is the full letter for a more thorough overview of the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son:

[11] ibid, 15

[12] William Perkins, A Golden Chaine, § 5, in The Works of That Famous and Worthie Minister of Christ, in the University of Cambridge, M.W. Perkins (Cambridge: Iohn Legat, 1603), 5 cited in J.V. Fesko, The Theology of the Westminister Standards: Historical Context & Theological Insights (Wheaton, Illinois; Crossway, 2014), 180-181

[13] Ussher, Body of Divnitie, 80, cited in J.V. Fesko, The Theology of the Westminister Standards: Historical Context & Theological Insights (Wheaton, Illinois; Crossway, 2014), 182

[14] Samuel E. Waldron, 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith: A Modern Exposition (Grand Rapids, MI; Evangelical Press, 2013), 68-69

[15] A.A. Hodge, The Confession of Faith (Carlisle, PA; The Banner of Truth, 1992), 59

[16] Ibid, 60

The Development of the Marian Doctrines in the Roman Catholic Church


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The following paper and outlines come from a research paper I wrote for a historical theology class in my undergraduate studies.  I thought it would be beneficial to post it on my blog for those who have catholic family members, friends, or coworkers, or who just want to understand what Catholics believe about Mary.  This paper gives an overview of the historical development of where these doctrines originated and the present view of the Roman Catholic Church:

Historical Outline:

Ante-Nicene (Before 325 AD) Development of Marian Doctrines in General:

i. Ante-Nicene Church Father references to Mary as the second Eve

ii. Monasticism’s influence on the virginity of Mary and an increased focus on Mary

iii. Early church fathers’ views on the perpetual virginity of Mary (Jerome, Origen, Justyn Martyr, etc)

iv. Early examples of Marian doctrines in Apocryphal books

Post-Nicene Development of Marian Doctrines to the Middle Ages:

i. Influence of the veneration of the saints on the 5th century on Marian doctrines

ii. Mary as the mother of God (theotokos) at the Ephesus and Chalcedonian Councils

iii. Hyperdulia of Mary [see footnote 45 for Muller’s definition of dulia & hyperdulia]

iv. Marian Festivals: The Annunciation of Mary, The Purification of Mary/Candelmas, The Bodily Assumption of Mary

Council of Trent, Vatican I & II to Present:

i. Pope Pius IX and the Immaculate Conception of Mary

ii. Mary as co-redemptrix and mediator of all graces in the council of Trent, Vatican I & II, Roman Catholic Catechism, and Papal Encyclicals

iii. Doctor of the Roman Catholic Church, St. Alphonse Ligouri, The Glories of Mary; further development of Mary as mediator of all graces and co-redemptrix

iv. Mary’s Titles according to RCC (Roman Catholic Church): Spouse of the Spirit, Queen of Heaven, Co-Redemptrix, etc.

A Synopsis of the Development of the Marian Doctrines in the Roman Catholic Church
I. Typology of Mary by Church Fathers in the 2nd Century: Irenaeus, Ambrose
II. The Development of the Marian Doctrine of Perpetual Virginity
i. Its ultimate source is from Apocryphal writings: for example the Ascension of Isaiah (11:8-14), says this about Mary, “Her womb was found as it was before she became pregnant”
ii. The influence of Monasticism in the early church helped to promote the teaching of Mary’s perpetual Virginity and those who disagreed such as Tertullian, Helvidius, Jovinian, and the bishop Bonosus of Sardica were condemned as heretics
iii. Epiphanius’ response to Marian sects at the end of the 4th century: He condemned those who denied Mary’s perpetual virginity, but also condemned the Collyridians in Arabia, a group of priestesses who offered up cakes to Mary and gave divine worship to Mary
III. The Immaculate Conception of Mary
i. A three-fold process as Schaff observes: I. Perpetual virginity of Mary, II. Mary exempt from actual sin, III. Mary exempt from Original Sin
ii. The Immaculate conception was first affirmed by Pelagius in response to Augustine who believed Mary never committed any actual sin, but still had original sin
iii. The festival of the Conception of Mary, December 8th, 1139
iv. Aquinas’ three-fold view of Mary’s sanctification
v. Duns Scotus’ (AD1266-1308) influence Popularizing the Immaculate Conception
vi. Pope Pius IX declares the Immaculate Conception official Catholic Dogma on December 8, 1854 in an “apostolic constitution” called Ineffabilis Deus
IV. Mary, Mother of God
i. The term theotokos ‘God bearer’ was first used at the council of Ephesus in AD 431 and Chalcedon in AD 451 in response to Nesotorianism
V. Mariolotry of the opponents of Nesotarianism after Chalcedon creed condemned Nesotarianism
VI. Bodily Assumption of Mary
i. Officially declared dogma by the Catholic Church by Pope Pius XII on November 1, 1950, in the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimis
ii. Originally comes from apocryphal sources: Liber qui apellatur Transitus, id est Assumptio Sancta Mariae, which was condemned with other apocryphal books as heretical by by the bishop of Rome, Gelasius I in his decree Decretum de Libris Cononicis Ecclesiasticis et Apocrypha
iii. The festival celebration for the Bodily Assumption of Mary first introduced by Emperor Mauritius (582-602)
VII. Mary as Co-Redemptrix (possible 5th Marian Doctrine, but not yet infallibly defined by the Pope)
i. Vatican II’s definition of Mary’s role as mediator & the terms dulia, latria, & hyperdulia
ii. Development in the Middle Ages: Thomas A. Kempis (AD1380-1471), St. Anselm (AD1033-1109) and St. Bonaventure (AD1221-1274)
iii. St. Alphonsus Ligouri, Doctor of the Catholic Church, The Glories of Mary
iv. John Paul II Encyclical letter, Redemptoris Mater
v. Current Pope, Francis I, on Mary as co-redemptrix:

VIII. Modern Ecumenical Challenges to Christianity

i. Manhattan Declaration
ii. Federal Vision Movement:

Dr. R. Scott Clark’s response:

The Development of the Marian Doctrines in the Roman Catholic Church                                        by Andrew Felts

The Marian Doctrines are an important point of debate amongst current suggestions of ecumenical unity among Catholics and evangelicals.  Many pro-life and other social issue groups can give the false appearance of unity among evangelicals and Catholics, when there is a clear contrast between the two on their ultimate authority and on the Gospel itself.  The Marian Doctrines affirmed by the Catholic Church demonstrate the distinctive authority for doctrine that Protestants affirm, sola scriptura, in contrast to the supplemental tradition of the Catholic Church in which the ultimate authority is sola ekklesia.  By tracing the development of the Marian Doctrines from the early church to the present affirmations by the Roman Catholic Church it will be clear that the Marian Doctrines are not just minor doctrinal differences, but rather undermine the Gospel and the authority of Scripture.

The second century marks the beginning of Marian Doctrine with the typology of Mary as the second Eve based on Genesis 3:15 and other texts.  Irenaeus (AD130-202) is the earliest church father to refer to Mary as “the advocate of the virgin Eve[1]”, which is also viewed by Irenaeus as Mary’s role of intercessor[2], however Irenaeus’ understanding of Marian doctrine was not as developed as it would later be by the Roman Catholic Church since he denied the sinlessness of Mary[3] based on John 2:4.  Ambrose (AD340-397) interpreted the gate of the outer sanctuary in Ezekiel’s vision of the temple to refer to Mary in Ezekiel 44:1-3[4], which comes to show that based on an Alexandrian allegorical interpretation just about any text could somehow refer to Mary, as later seen with Pope Pius IX’s use of scripture in support of the Immaculate Conception.

The Doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary originates from Gnostic writings including: Ascension of Isaiah, Odes of Solomon, and the Protoevangelium of James[5]; for example the Ascension of Isaiah (11:8-14), says this about Mary, “Her womb was found as it was before she became pregnant”[6]. The Marian Doctrine of perpetual virginity became popular in the early church as a result of the influence of Monasticism which emphasized the importance of virginity as a demonstration of greater piety and devotion to God, as Christopher Hall mentions, “Hence, the role of women in the early church was circumscribed within specific boundaries. Yet, as we have already seen, women could expand those boundaries significantly through renouncing traditional sexual and domestic roles for a life of Christian asceticism—behavior that fathers such as Jerome encouraged”[7].  As a result of this emphasis on virginity, Mary’s status of virgin extended throughout her whole life, and her marriage with Joseph became regarded as a nominal marriage, without sex[8], and the references in the Gospels to Jesus’ brothers were considered to be from a previous marriage that Joseph had, or Jesus’ cousins[9].  The Catholic Catechism defines the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity as follows:

“The deepening of faith in the virginal motherhood led the Church to confess Mary’s real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man. In fact, Christ’s birth “did not diminish his mother’s virginal integrity but sanctified it.” And so the liturgy of the Church celebrates Mary as Aeiparthenos, the “Ever-virgin.”[10]

Tertullian (AD160-220) was an early church father who challenged this interpretation and argued that Mary had a normal marriage and had children[11], however Tertullian and others who supported the view that Mary had a normal marriage at the end of the fourth century, Helvidius, Jovinian, and the bishop Bonosus of Sardica[12], were condemned as heretics by Jerome for denying the perpetual virginity of Mary[13]. Also at the end of the fourth century Epiphanius (AD310-403) condemned a group known as the Antidikomarianites in Arabia as heretics for denying the perpetual virginity of Mary, but Epiphanius also condemned a heretical sect known as Collyridians in Arabia, a group of priestesses who offered up cakes to Mary and gave divine worship to Mary[14] because Epiphanius said that adoration was to be given to Christ alone, which at least demonstrates the limitations in the early formulation of Marian Doctrines that it hadn’t reached the point later accepted by the Catholic Church of Mary being Co-Redemptrix.  Augustine (AD354-430) took the view that Mary had made a vow of virginity, however even catholic theologian Ludwig Ott says that it is contradictory to be a married virgin[15].  The Alexandrian hermeneutic is again employed by some early church fathers in defense of the perpetual virginity of Mary, for instance Ambrose’s interpretation of Mary as the East gate in Ezekiel’s vision in Ezekiel 44:1-3 is interpreted to mean that Mary’s womb remained closed because the gate was to remain closed after Jehovah had passed through[16].  Also Jerome (AD347-420) interpreted the resurrection of Jesus from the closed tomb to refer to Mary’s womb and Jesus’ birth[17].  The Letter to Anysius, Bishop of Thessalonica in AD 392 states the doctrinal importance of the perpetual virginity of Mary at that time since those in favor of the perpetual virginity of Mary saw it as connected to Christology, therefore they viewed those in opposition to Mary’s perpetual virginity as in opposition to Christ[18]; later councils re-affirmed the position of Mary’s perpetual virginity and condemned those as heretics who disagreed in the Council of the Lateran in 649[19], and the Constitution Cum Quorundam, 1555[20].

The doctrine of Mary’s Perpetual virginity later developed into the modern Roman Catholic Doctrine of the Immaculate conception, which was officially declared to be Catholic Dogma by Pope Pius IX on December 8, 1854 in an “apostolic constitution” called Ineffabilis Deus, which defines Mary’s immaculate conception as follows:

“We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin”[21].

The Immaculate Conception was gradually reached as the final point starting from Mary’s perpetual virginity, followed by the exemption of Mary committing any actual sins, and ultimately, Mary being free from original sin also.  The first church father to teach that Mary was free from actual sin was Augustine[22] during his debate with Pelagius (AD354-420) over sin and grace, but Augustine did not deny that Mary had original sin from the fall[23], unlike his opponent Pelagius who affirmed that Mary had neither actual sin nor original sin.  Pelagius believed that Mary was sanctified in the womb as John the Baptist was, and the term immaculate used to refer only to Mary’s pure character, but not in reference to her conception[24].  The debate over Mary’s Immaculate Conception continued in the Middle Ages when the festival of the Conception of Mary was introduced by the Canons at Lyons in France on December 8th, 1139, and the feast quickly spread throughout Europe[25].  The festival was challenged by Bernard of Clairvaux (AD1090-1153) who opposed the festival as having no authority from the Catholic Church, and because he saw the teaching of the immaculate conception of Mary as diminishing Christ’s position since he alone is sinlessness, and he showed that if followed to its logical conclusion then the parents of Mary must have been without sin, and therefore it should extend back to Eve, proving Pelagius’ earlier argument against Augustine’s position that Mary was only free from actual sin[26].

In the Middle Ages the Dominicans and Franciscans debated over the immaculate conception of Mary, the Dominicans sided with Augustine’s position and denied that Mary had no original sin.  Aquinas (AD1225-1274), a doctor of the Catholic Church, argued that if Mary had been sanctified in the womb, then she would have no need of redemption, and then Christ wouldn’t be the Savior of all men, so she must have been born inheriting a sinful nature just as everyone else; in Aquinas’ three-fold system of Mary’s sanctification he exempts her from the incentive to sin when she was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and that she was freed from the consequences of sin[27].  Seven Popes denied that Mary was immaculately conceived from as early as the 5th century to the 14th century: Leo I (440-461), Gelasius I (492-496), Gregory I (590-604), Innocent III (1198-1216), Innocent V (January 21, 1276- June 22, 1276), John XXII (1316-1334), and Clement VI (1342-1352), but it wasn’t until Duns Scotus’ attack on original sin that the Immaculate Conception began to gain more approval.  Duns Scotus (AD1266-1308) was a professor at Oxford in the 14th century who vigorously attacked St. Thomas and Augustine’s view of original sin, even if he had to use eisegesis to prove his point in defense of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, and Oxford affirmed his position as the school’s position[28], which soon began heated debate among the Scotists (Franciscans) and Dominicans[29].  The Immaculate Conception gained favor with Pope Sixtus IV (AD1414-1484), and the Council of Trent attempted to take a middle position on the issue and stated that it was not intending to affirm the Immaculate Conception as a dogma of the Catholic Church, although it favored Pope Sixtus IV’s position and the Franciscans who affirmed the immaculate conception of Mary[30].  Later dispute arose over whether the term immaculate described Mary or her conception, and the King of Spain asked Alexander VII to clarify the issue, and Alexander VII issued a constitution on December 8, 1661, which defines the Immaculate Conception in similar terms that Pope Pius IX later did, it only lacked the statement that belief in the immaculate conception was necessary for salvation[31].

The primary scriptures used by Pope Pius IX to affirm the Immaculate Conception were: Genesis 3:15, Song of Solomon 4:7,4:12, Ezekiel 43:1-3, and Luke 1:28, but the primary two are Genesis 3:15 and Luke 1:28.  Pope Pius IX bases his interpretation of Genesis 3:15[32] on a revision of the Vulgate which had originally reflected the Hebrew to say that the woman’s seed will crush the head of the Serpent, as Jerome and other church fathers who knew Hebrew confirmed in the translation of the Vulgate, until it was later changed,[33] which justified Pope Pius IX’s statement on this verse: “Mary has crushed the head of the serpent,” i.e., destroyed the power of Satan, ‘with her immaculate foot!”[34]  Luke 1:28 similarly is used in support of the Immaculate Conception based on a theological translation of the Vulgate to say, “Hail (Mary), full of grace,” whereas most English versions translate it as favored one as the NASB, “Greetings, favored one.”  If the Roman Catholic translation of κεχαριτωμένη means “full of grace” and exempts Mary from original sin and all other sin, as Catholics argue, then all believers are exempt also and have this same grace as Mary since the same term is applied to believers’ benefits from Christ’s work of redemption in Ephesians 1:6.  Also the Catholic interpretation of Luke 1:28 tries to make an exception to Paul’s statements about the universal effects of the fall on all men such as Romans 3:23 by exempting Mary from original sin when Paul never exempts Mary.

The next significant development of Marian Doctrine in the early church was the teaching that Mary was the Mother of God, also called theotokos, which means God bearer.  The term theotokos was first used at the council of Ephesus in AD 431 and Chalcedon in AD 451 in response to Nesotorianism.  The use of theotokos, mother of God, in the context of the council of Ephesus and Chalcedon was to respond to the division that Nesotorians made between the two natures of Christ since they claimed Mary was only the mother of the human nature of Christ[35], so the term had a Christological focus in its historical context and was not meant to venerate Mary,[36] and it didn’t denote the additional titles to Mary that were later attributed to her by the Catholic Church such as Queen of Heaven and Co-Redemptrix.  Schaff however demonstrates that although the use of theotokos was able to reject Nesotorianism and preserve an orthodox Christology, the opponents of Nesotarius soon after began to venerate Mary on an idolatrous level of worship,[37] which would leave the path open for further development and exaltation of Mary, which was absent from the pre-Nicene church fathers[38].  Mary’s title, theotokos, continued to be used primarily in liturgy, especially in the Eastern Church by Basil (AD330-379) and Chrysostom(AD347-407)[39].

The next crucial Marian Doctrine is the Bodily Assumption of Mary, and as Pelikan explains all of these Marian Doctrines are necessary so that Mary can be qualified to be the mediatrix of sinners[40].  The Bodily Assumption of Mary was defined as doctrine of the Catholic Church by Pope Pius XII on November 1, 1950, in the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimis as follows,

“Accordingly… by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles, Peter and Paul, and by Our own authority We pronounce, declare and define that the dogma was revealed by God, that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, after completing her course of life upon earth, was assumed to the glory of heaven both in body and soul.  Therefore, if anyone, which may God forbid, should dare either to deny this, or voluntarily call into doubt what has been defined by Us, he should realize that he has cut himself off entirely from the divine and Catholic faith”.

The origins of the doctrine of the Bodily Assumption can be traced back to 5th and 6th century apocryphal sources, which were condemned as heretical by the bishop of Rome, Gelasius I in his decree Decretum de Libris Cononicis Ecclesiasticis et Apocrypha[41], in which he lists specifically the apocryphal book: Liber qui apellatur Transitus, id est Assumptio Sancta Mariae.  The only patristic reference that might implicitly refer to Mary having some special form of death is a vague statement by Epiphanius, “For her end no one knows”[42]. The festival celebration for the Bodily Assumption of Mary was first introduced by Emperor Mauritius (582-602), and after the 9th century became one of the principal feats of the Catholic Church[43].

The last title of Mary is Co-Redemptrix, which as of present has not been infallibly defined by the Pope as a Marian dogma, but is clearly taught by the Catholic Church and its theologians, and it gives a useful understanding for those outside of the Catholic Church of the current development in Marian theology.  Vatican II provides the following definition of Mary’s mediatoral office:

“The maternal duty of Mary toward men in no wise obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows His power. For all the salvific influence of the Blessed Virgin on men originates, not from some inner necessity, but from the divine pleasure. It flows forth from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rests on His mediation, depends entirely on it and draws all its power from it. In no way does it impede, but rather does it foster the immediate union of the faithful with Christ.”[44]

Likewise the Catholic Church uses the terms latria, dulia, and hyperdulia to distinguish veneration and worship.  Latria is worship that is reserved to God alone, whereas dulia is a form of veneration given to the saints, and hyper-dulia is the highest form of veneration, which is given to Mary[45].  This distinction, however, is inconsistent with statements by the Catholic Church about Mary’s position and office, which demonstrate that this answer given at face value by the Catholic Church to appease ecumenical Protestants is vacuous when the teachings of Rome are examined and Rome speaks for herself to explain Mary’s role and status.  Thomas A. Kempis said the following concerning Mary’s role as mediatrix during the 15th century,

“He called Mary “the expiator of all the sins I have committed” and “my only hope”; it was through her mediation that all mercy was granted, and through her intercession that all prayers were heard.  Although Christ in his final hours of need had not sought her solace, mortals were to do so.  Therefore, he said, “do not seek only Jesus,” but “Jesus at your right hand and Mary at your left”[46].

This shows an early example of the development of Mary’s role as mediator prior to the Reformation; likewise St. Anselm (AD1033-1109)[47] and St. Bonaventure (AD1221-1274)[48] had a high view of Mary affirming that there is no salvation apart from Mary.  The most important catholic theologian of the 20th century who wrote about the Marian Doctrines was St. Alphonsus Ligouri, who wrote, The Glories of Mary, and since he is both a saint and a doctor of the church, a title only given to saints who have given particular guidance and insight to the Catholic Church, his writings are not mere opinions of a radical catholic, but affirmations of what Rome teaches about Mary and affirms what Anselm, Bonaventure, and others taught in the middle ages about Mary’s role as redemptrix, and raises her to an even higher status in the development of Marian Doctrines.  Ligouri clearly defines the Roman Catholic teaching of Mary as Queen of Heaven since the Catholic Church views Christ as a strict judge administering justice to sinners, who should go to his more compassionate mother, “Christ is a faithful and powerful Mediator between God and men, but in him men fear the majesty of God.  A mediator, then, was needed with the mediator himself; nor could a more fitting one be found than Mary”[49].  Ligouri continues to define Mary’s intercessory work as follows, which shows the distinction between latria and dulia is meaningless,

“…and therefore miserable will he be, and miserable will he be to all eternity, who, in this life, having it in his power to invoke me, who am so compassionate to all, and so desirous to assist sinners, is miserable enough not to invoke me, and so is damned”[50].

This contradicts Rome’s claim about Mary’s mediation flowing from Christ and being a lesser role of mediation since it makes the salvation of sinners dependent on her work of mediation[51].  Richard of St. Lawrence affirmed that Mary was involved in the Trinity’s work of salvation, “No one comes to me unless my Mother first of all draws him by her prayers”[52].  Pope John Paul clearly teaches what Ligouri affirms about Mary as redemptrix in his encyclical writing, Redemptoris Mater:

“41…Mary, the handmaid of the Lord, has a share in the kingdom of the Son.  The glory of serving does not cease to be her royal exaltation: assumed into heaven, she does not cease her saving service, which expresses her maternal mediation “until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect.”  Thus, she who here on earth “loyally persevered in her union with her son unto the Cross,” continues to remain united with him, while now “all things are subjected to him, until he subjects to the Father himself and all things.”  Thus in her Assumption into heaven, Mary is as it were clothed by the whole reality of the Communion of Saints, and her union with the Son in glory is wholly oriented towards the definitive fullness of the kingdom, when “God will be all in all”[53].

This is clearly not just hyperdulia given to Mary when she is considered the very dwelling place & incarnation of the Holy Spirit[54], which exalts her status beyond any created being.  A more recent statement by the current pope, Francis I, about Mary was stated on October 10, 2013, where he “venerated” the statue of Lady Fatima, Mary, and he refers to Mary as “untying the knot of sin”, and renews his faith to Mary with the following brief prayer as reported by the Vatican news, “Pope Francis concluded his address by turning to the statue of Our Lady of Fatima, saying: “we thank you for our faith, and we renew our entrustment to you, Mother of our faith.”[55]

This history of the development of the Marian doctrines makes it very clear that there can be no unity among Catholics and protestants on the Gospel when Mary is exalted to a place in the Trinity as the incarnation of the Holy Spirit which undermines Christ perfect role as mediator (1 Timothy 2:5), the author of Hebrews clearly states in Hebrews 7:24 that Christ is able to save forever or to the uttermost those whom he makes intercession for, so salvation is based on the perfect intercessory work of Christ, and not Mary nor any other co-redeemer.  Unfortunately there are still modern attempts to bridge the divide between Catholics and evangelicals especially on moral issues such as abortion and marriage as in the Manhattan Declaration, November 20, 2009[56].  Also the Federal Vision movement shows sympathy to uniting protestants and Catholics, as Peter Leithart’s blog article on November 8, 2013, The End of Protestantism[57], argues for the concept of a Reformational Catholic, seeking common ground between Catholics,[58] however this is impossible with Rome’s view of authority allowing the Pope’s statements ex cathedra to be on par with Scripture and to base doctrine on apocryphal sources such as the perpetual virginity of Mary and Mary’s Bodily Assumption.  This should encourage believers to not be deceived by the façade of unity among Protestants and Catholics on the Gospel due to similarities on moral issues, but rather to faithfully proclaim the Gospel to them, proclaiming the prefect redemptive work of Christ in contrast to the incomplete work of the mass, and the consistency of sola scriptura in contrast to the Catholic Church’s inconsistent view of church tradition, and papal infallibility as its authority, which has been observed to be contradictory in many instances.

[1] Against Herecies 3.22.4

[2] Against Herecies 5.19.1

[3] Against Herecies 3.16.7

[4]  “What is that gate of the sanctuary, that outer gate facing the East and remaining closed: ‘And no man,’ it says, ‘shall pass through it except the God of Israel’? Is not Mary the gate through whom the Redeemer entered this world?… Holy Mary is the gate of which it is written: ‘The Lord will pass through it, and it will be shut,’ after birth, for as a virgin she conceived and gave birth.” Christopher A. Hall, Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 107

[5] J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines (San Francisco: Haper & Row, 1978), 492

[6] Ibid, 492

[7] Christopher A. Hall, Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 47.

[8] CCC 500, “Against this doctrine the objection is sometimes raised that the Bible mentions brothers and sisters of Jesus (Cf. Mk 3:31–35; 6:3; 1 Cor 9:5; Gal 1:19).  The Church has always understood these passages as not referring to other children of the Virgin Mary. In fact James and Joseph, “brothers of Jesus,” are the sons of another Mary, a disciple of Christ, whom St. Matthew significantly calls “the other Mary.”( Mt 13:55; 28:1; cf. Mt 27:56.) They are close relations of Jesus, according to an Old Testament expression” (Cf. Gen 13:8; 14:16; 29:15; etc.)” Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 126.  For a refutation of the use of brother in a more generic sense see Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. III: 416

[9]“The Roman Catholic Church attempts to explain these away as cousins, and therefore not children of Joseph and Mary at all. But the Greek has another word which means cousin, anepsios, as in Colossians 4:10: “Mark, the cousin of Barnabas.” Loraine Boettner, Roman Catholicism (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1962), 157.

[10] Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 126.

[11] Against Marcion 4, 19; De Monogia 8

[12] He was later removed from his office as bishop for not accepting the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity and condemned as a heretic in the Letter to Anysius, Bishop of Thessalonica in AD 392. The Jesuit Fathers of St. Mary’s College St. Mary’s Kansas, The Church Teaches (Rockford, Ill: Tan Books and Publishers Inc.), 204

[13]“Jerome wrote, about 383, with indignation and bitterness against Helvidius and Jovinian, who, citing Scripture passages and earlier church teachers, like Tertullian, maintained that Mary bore children to Joseph after the birth of Christ. He saw in this doctrine a desecration of the temple of the Holy Ghost, and he even compares Helvidius to Erostratus, the destroyer of the temple at Ephesus” Philip Schaff and David Schley Schaff, History of the Christian Church (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1910), Vol. III: 418.

[14] Ibid, Vol. III:417

[15] Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (Rockford, Ill; Tan Book Publishers, 1974), 207.

[16] Philip Schaff and David Schley Schaff, History of the Christian Church (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1910), Vol. III: 417

[17] The resurrection of Jesus from the closed tomb and the entrance of the risen Jesus through the closed doors, also, was often used as an analogy. The fathers assume that the stone which sealed the Saviour’s tomb, was not rolled away till after the resurrection, and they draw a parallel between the sealed tomb from which He rose to everlasting life, and the closed gate of the Virgin’s womb from which He was born to earthly life. Jerome, Comment. in Matth. xxvii. 60: “Potest novum sepulchrum Mariae virginalem uterum demonstrare.” Ibid, 416

[18] “For the Lord Jesus would not have chosen to be born of a virgin if he had judged that she would be so incontinent as to taint the birthplace of the body of the Lord, the home of the eternal king, with the seed of human intercourse…For if they accept the doctrine on the authority of priests that Mary had a number of Children, then they will strive with greater effort to destroy the truths of the faith”  The Jesuit Fathers of St. Mary’s College St. Mary’s Kansas, The Church Teaches (Rockford, Ill: Tan Books and Publishers Inc.), 204

[19] “If anyone does not profess according to the holy Fathers that in the proper and true sense the holy, ever-Virgin, immaculate Mary is the Mother of God… let such a one be condemned” Ibid, 205

[20] “…With our apostolic authority we call to account  and warn… on behalf  of the omnipotent God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, all those  who have asserted or who have believed .. that [the Lord] was not conceived of the Holy Spirit according  to the flesh in the womb of the most Blessed and ever-virgin Mary, but that this conception in no way differed from other men…or that the same most Blessed Virgin Mary is not the true mother of God and that she did not remain a perfect virgin before, while, and forever after she gave birth” Ibid, 206

[21] “The Immacualte Conception,” Papal Encyclicals Online,

[22] “for from him we know what abundance of grace for overcoming sin in every particular was conferred upon her who had the merit to conceive and bear him who undoubtedly had no sin,” Augustine, On Nature and Grace, 36.42 (Corpus scriptorium ecclesiasticorum latinorum. Vienna, 1866), cited by Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1971), Vol. I: 314

[23] “Mary died because of inherited sin, but Christ died for the destruction of sin” Sermon 2 in Psalm 34; see Schaff, Creeds of Christendom Vol. I, footnote #2 on pg. 119-120 for more references from Augustine on Mary.

[24] Phillip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom (Grand Rapids, Mich., Baker Book House,1966),  Vol. I:120-121

[25] Ibid, I:121; Roman Catholic theologian Ludwig Ott also recognizes that the teaching of the immaculate conception wasn’t taught until the twelfth century by the British monk Eadmer, and he recognizes that the theoligans that Schaff cites from the 12th and 13th centuries: Petrus Lombardus, St. Alexander of Hales, St. Bonaventure, St. Albert the Great, and St. Thomas Aquinas, rejected the teaching of the immaculate conception. Ludwig, Ott. Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (Rockford: Ill., Tan Book Publishers, 1974), 201.

[26] Phillip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom (Grand Rapids, Mich., Baker Book House, 1966), Vol. I:121

[27] Ibid. Vol. I:122

[28] Ibid. Vol. I:123

[29] “Taking their lead from Scotus rather than primarily from their earlier master, Bonaventure, Franciscan theologians became the champions of the new Mariology, while many Dominicans, partly in defense of their master Thomas Aquinas, opposed it, although they, too, accepted it by the conclusion of this period, explaining that it was necessary to go beyond Thomas, as well as beyond Bernard and Bonaventure, in this matter.” Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1971),  Vol. IV: 39

[30] Council of Trent Session V: “This holy council declares, however, that it is not its intention to include in this decree, which deals with original sin, the blessed and immaculate Virgin Mary, the mother of God, but that the constitutions of Pope Sixtus IV, of happy memory, are to be observed under the penalties contained in those constitutions, which it renews.” url:

[31] Phillip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom (Grand Rapids, Mich., Baker Book House, 1966), Vol. I:125

[32] Schaff points out that the Vulgate mistranslates Genesis 3:15 to say that the woman rather than her seed, Christ bruises the head of the serpent, “In later times in the Latin church even the Ave with which Gabriel saluted the Virgin, was received as the converse of the name of Eva; though the Greek χαῖρε Luke 1:28, admits no such far-fetched accommodation. In like manner the bruising of the serpent’s head, Gen. 3:15, was applied to Mary instead of Christ, because the Vulgate wrongly translates the Hebrew הוּא יְשׁוּפְךָ ראֹשׁ, “ipsa conteret caput tuum; “while the LXX. rightly refers the הוּא to זֶרַע as masc., αὐτός and likewise all Protestant versions of the Bible.” Philip Schaff and David Schley Schaff, History of the Christian Church (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1910),  Vol. III: 414

[33] Schaff explains the debate among church fathers on how to translate Genesis 3:15, “Jerome himself, the author of the Vulgate, in his ‘Hebrew Questions,’ and Pope Leo I, condemn the translation ipsa.  But the blunder was favored by other Fathers (Ambrose, Augustine, Gregory I) who knew no Hebrew, and by the monastic asceticism and fanciful chivalric Mariolatry of the Middle Ages” Phillip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom (Grand Rapids, Mich., Baker Book House, 1966), Vol. I:114

[34] Ibid, Vol.I:112; Ludwig Ott says that Pope Pius IX’s interpretation of Genesis 3:15 isn’t validated, but it’s still infallible nonetheless which leaves a glaring problem with Roman Catholic Authority if the Pope’s argument is fallible, but the doctrinal decision is still infallible, so then there are no bounds of fallible means by which the Catholic Church will finally arrive at its infallible dogmas, “The Bull “Ineffablis” approves of this messianic-marianic interpretation… The Bull does not give any authentic explanation of the passage.  It must also be observed that the infallibility of the Papal doctrinal decision extends only to the dogma as such and not to the reasons given as leading up to the dogma.”  Ludwig, Ott. Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (Rockford: Ill., Tan Book Publishers, 1974), 200

[35] “His (Nesotorius’) own preferred term was Christotokos, which he set against both Theotokos and Anthrotokos, because it “both removes the blasphemy of [Paul of] Samosata…and avoids the evil of Arius and Apollinarius”: Mary was the bearer of Jesus Christ, the man in whom God the Logos dwelt, not of the Deity.” Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1971), Vol. I:242

[36] James White provides a useful definition of Mary as the Mother of God in its historical context at the council of Ephesus & Chalcedon: “She was used to bring the Incarnate One into the world, but she did not add to or give rise to the Eternal Son who came into the world through her.  Her child was fully divine (hence she is theotokos) but she herself did not give rise to the divinity of her Son.  For this reason there can be nothing about the term theotokos that in any way exalts Mary, but only Christ.” James White, Mary- Another Redeemer? (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers,1998), 48

[37] “The opponents of Nestorius, especially Proclus, his successor in Constantinople († 447), and Cyril of Alexandria († 444), could scarcely find predicates enough to express the transcendent glory of the mother of God. She was the crown of virginity, the indestructible temple of God, the dwelling place of the Holy Trinity, the paradise of the second Adam, the bridge from God to man, the loom of the incarnation, the sceptre of orthodoxy; through her the Trinity is glorified and adored, the devil and demons are put to flight, the nations converted, and the fallen creature raised to heaven” Philip Schaff and David Schley Schaff, History of the Christian Church (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1910), Vol. III:421

[38] “The entire silence of history respecting the worship of the Virgin down to the end of the fourth century, proves clearly that it was foreign to the original spirit of Christianity, and belongs among the many innovations of the post-Nicene age” Ibid, Vol. III:423

[39] “To be sure, dogma had also spoken of her and had defined her as “Theotokos.”  Yet even this dogmatic formula had been derived from devotion and liturgy, which continued to be a seedbed of titles and ideas; for “to introduce the name of  Mary and hymns to Mary into all possible pieces of ancient liturgical treasure was one of the predominant concerns of the Byzantine liturgists.”  The Liturgy of Basil spoke of “the intercessions of the Holy Theotokos,” and the same phrase appeared also in The Liturgy of Chrysostom” Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1971), Vol.  II: 139-140

[40] “Thus also the death (or “dormition”) of the “queen of heaven” proved that she was  a truly human participant in the common lot of all mankind; but her resurrection (which Protestants, of course, denied as unbiblical) set her apart also at the end of her life.  All those experiences of her own life made her uniquely accessible to the prayers of sinners as “mediatrix”- not indeed mediatrix of the justifying grace of God, which came through the merit of Christ alone, but of other graces and blessings, so that devotion to her was inseperable from devotion to him as “the final goal of all her devotions” Ibid. Vol. V:145, I will discuss later the exact nature of Mary’s mediation since Pelikan here accepts what Vatican II says at face value, but upon further examination Mary’s role of mediation is not merely of secondary grace and blessings, but is in fact partaking in the work of salvation.

[41] Catholic theologian Ludwig Ott has no problem affirming that the doctrine of the Bodily Assumption of Mary is based off of apocryphal sources, “The idea of the bodily assumption of Mary is first expressed in certain transitus-narratives of the fifth and sixth centuries.  Even though these are apocryphal, they bear witness to the faith of the generation in which they were written despite their legendary clothing.” Ludwig, Ott. Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (Rockford: Ill., Tan Book Publishers, 1974), 209-210

[42] Epiphanius, Panarion, Haer. 78.23

[43] Philip Schaff and David Schley Schaff, History of the Christian Church (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1910), Vol. III:426

[44] Catholic Church, “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: Lumen Gentium,” in Vatican II Documents (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011), Chapter V: 60

[45] Richard Muller gives this useful definition of the three terms latria, dulia, and hyperdulia: “latria (from the Greek λατρεία): worship; usually contrasted with dulia, reverence or veneration. In medieval theology the distinction was made between the latria due to God and Christ as the Son of God and the dulia due to the saints. Even the Virgin Mary, exalted above the saints as Mother of God, is not worthy of latria. After Albertus Magnus, it was customary to distinguish the high veneration, or hyperdulia, of Mary from the dulia due to saints. In Protestantism, worship of God continued to be described as latria, but dulia was excluded, since the veneration of saints and of Mary was denied. Christ is worthy of worship, but the basis of that worship or adoration is his divine nature. Prayer is not offered to the human nature of Christ.[45]” Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1985), 172.

[46] Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1971), Vol. IV:40

[47] “St. Anselm says, “that it is impossible for one who is not devout to Mary, and consequently not protected by her, to be saved, so it is impossible for one who recommends himself to her, and consequently is beloved by her, to be lost” St. Alphonsus Ligouri, The Glories of Mary (Brooklyn: The Redemptorist Fathers, 1931), 221

[48] “And St. Bonaventure: “He who neglects the service of the blessed Virgin will die in his sins.” Again, “He who does not invoke thee, O Lady, will never get to heaven.” And, on the 99th Psalm that saint even says, “that not only those from whom Mary turns her face will not be saved, but that there will be no hope of their salvation” Ibid, 222

[49] Ibid, 196

[50] Ibid, 43

[51] Likewise here is another statement from Ligouri citing from Cardinal Bellarmine describing Mary’s role as mediatrix: “And who,” says Cardinal Bellarmine, “would ever dare to snatch these children from the bosom of Mary, when they have taken refuge there?  What power of hell, or what temptation, can overcome them, if they place their confidence in the patronage of this great Mother, the Mother of God, and of them?…We fly to thy patronage, O holy Mother of God: we fly to thy patronage, O holy Mother of God.” Oh, how many victories have not the faithful gained over hell, by having recourse to Mary with this short but most powerful prayer!” Ibid, 52-53

[52] Ibid, 166-167

[53] “IOANNES PAULUS PP. II REDEMPTORIS MATER”, Vatican: The Holy See,; Catholic theologian Dr. Mark Miravelle, whose teachings are recommended by Pope John Paul II, says the following about Mary’s role in redemption, “The sanctifying action Mary received at the first instant of her conception was enacted by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Divine Sanctifier, for Mary is the “only one who has become the dwelling place of all the graces of the Holy Spirit.”…It is the Holy Spirit, the Divine Spouse of Mary, who prepares and sustains Mary at each stage of her coredemptive role…Her fiat mihi to the angel is a free “let it be done to me” to an intimate sharing in God’s new plan of salvation revealed by the Angel (cf. Luke 1:31-33)…It is a free “let it be done to me” in cooperating with the Redeemer so intimately that Mary Coredemptrix gave to the Saviour the very instrument of redemption…” Mark, Miravelle, Mary: Coredemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate (Santa Barbra, CA: Queenship Publishing Company, 1993), 5

[54]St. Maximillian Koble says the following about Mary’s Coredemptive role: “Still, their union is so inexpressible, and so perfect that the Holy Spirit acts only by the Immaculata, his spouse… The third preson of the Blessed Trinity never took flesh; still, our human word “spouse” is far to weak to express the reality of the relationship between the Immaculata and the Holy Spirit.  We can affirm that she is, in a certain sense, the ‘incarnation’ of the Holy Spirit” Ibid, 54


[56] R.C. Sproul also expresses concern with the Manhattan Declaration’s ecumenical motives, which is why he didn’t sign it: “The drafters of the document, Charles Colson, Robert George, and Timothy George, used deliberate language that is on par with the ecumenical language of the Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) movement that began in the 1990s. The Manhattan Declaration states, “Christians are heirs of a 2,000-year tradition of proclaiming God’s Word,” and it identifies “Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelicals” as “Christians.” The document calls Christians to unite in “the Gospel,” “the Gospel of costly grace,” and “the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness.” Moreover, the document says, “it is our duty to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness, both in season and out of season.”

[57]; also R. Scott Clark has written a useful response to Peter Leithart here:

[58] Peter Leithart, “A Protestant exaggerates his distance from Roman Catholicism on every point of theology and practice, and is skeptical of Roman Catholics who say they believe in salvation by grace. A Reformational Catholic cheerfully acknowledges that he shares creeds with Roman Catholics, and he welcomes reforms and reformulations as hopeful signs that we might at last stake out common ground beyond the barricade”.


  1. Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000
  2. Christopher A. Hall, Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998, 107
  3. James White, Mary – Another Redeemer? (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers,1998
  4. N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines. San Francisco: Haper & Row, 1978
  5. Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine 5 vols. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1971
  6. Loraine Boettner, Roman Catholicism. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1962
  7. Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. Rockford, Ill; Tan Book Publishers, 1974
  8. Mark, Miravelle, Mary: Coredemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate. Santa Barbra, CA: Queenship Publishing Company, 1993
  9. Philip Schaff and David Schley Schaff, History of the Christian Church 8 vols. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1910
  10. Phillip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom 3 Vols. Grand Rapids, Mich., Baker Book House,1966
  11. Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1985
  12. Alphonsus Ligouri, The Glories of Mary. Brooklyn: The Redemptorist Fathers, 1931
  13. The Jesuit Fathers of St. Mary’s College St. Mary’s Kansas, The Church Teaches. Rockford, Ill: Tan Books and Publishers Inc.

The Doctrine of Vocation & Biblical Principles for Evangelism


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This is the second Sermon that I preached explaining how the preisthood of all believers as traced through the Levitical covenant gives a proper biblical foundation for understanding our priestly duty within the vocation that God sovereignly calls us to do. I focus on the practical implications for this on vocation in the family and occupation at the end.  I only added a few sentences to this transcript for clarification on a few parts. This sermon builds off the previous sermon I posted on my blog, so you should read that sermon transcript, which goes over the Local Church and the Great Commission, before reading through this sermon transcript:

The Doctrine of Vocation & Biblical Principles for Evangelism


  1. The “Radical” Paradigm of Evangelism
  2. A Biblical-theology of the Priesthood of believers
  3. Application of the Priesthood of believers for evangelism & vocation

1.Before tracing the biblical doctrines of vocation of the priesthood of believers in Scripture I want to briefly summarize the novel “radical” view promoted in David Platt’s book, Radical: Taking Back your faith from the American Dream, to provide some contrast in how an unbalanced view of vocation will have significant ramifications for how believers understand their role in evangelism within their vocation.  Here are some quotes from his book giving a summary of his position:

“We have taken this command, though, and reduced it to a calling-something that only a few people receive[1]”.

“What if the very reason we have breath is because we have been saved for a global mission?  And what if anything less than passionate involvement in global mission is actually selling God short by frustrating the very purpose for which he created us?[2]

“It sounds idealistic, I know.  Impact the world.  But doesn’t it also sound biblical?  God has created us to accomplish a radically global, supremely God-exalting purpose with our lives.  The formal definition of impact is “a forcible contact between two things,” and God has designed our lives for a collision course with the world[3]”.

There are two pillars in Platt’s position that make it unbalanced and ultimately guilt driven.  First is that Platt’s ecclesiology, doctrine of the church, is unbalanced because he only accepts a Calvinistic view of salvation often abbreviated by TULIP.  As a result Platt denies a confessional and biblical doctrine of the Church encompassing a biblical framework for the function of the Church as it relates to the Great Commission such as the Lord’s Day and Means of grace as discussed in the previous sermon on the local church & the Great commission.  Evangelism needs to be understood in its context to the local church, not just individually, so that evangelism can be seen in its connection to the Church via the means God has given the Church for the sanctification of believers in their faith and discipleship.  In contrast Platt argues for a more individualistic model of the Great Commission that reduces the Church to more of an organization to fund missionaries to send out, but neglects the importance of the local church in evangelism.  Secondly, Platt ignores the doctrine of the Priesthood of all believers and as a result fails to explain how the doctrine of vocation is related to evangelism creating an unnecessary burden on believers with unrealistic expectations of evangelism and missions.  This is essentially a return to Catholicism by creating a spiritual hierarchy where the only spiritual Christians are pastors and missionaries, but members of the local church with other occupations are viewed as less spiritual in Platt’s view.

  1. An important foundation for understanding the doctrine of vocation is by understanding the biblical teaching of the priesthood of all believers. This is clearly taught in 2 Peter 2:4-9,

“And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.  For this is contained in Scripture:“Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stone, And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.”This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve, “The stone which the builders rejected, This became the very corner stone,” and, “A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense”; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed.  But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;[4]

In order to better understand what this means we need to examine the Old Testament Levitical Covenant which looks at the duties of the priesthood via the covenant God made with Levi, and its fulfillment in the perfect high priest, Jesus Christ.  There are three primary Old Testament passages that refer to this Levitical Covenant, as distinct from the Mosaic Covenant, here are two of those passages: Numbers 25:12-13, and Jeremiah 33:17-22.

Among several occasions in the Pentateuch where this covenant is alluded to, Numbers 25:12-13 is very explicit in referring to this as a distinct covenant.  In the immediate context of these verses God is addressing Phineas, a descendent of Aaron describing God’s particular covenant relationship with the Levites as a priesthood (Numbers 25:10-11).  Then the particular statement referring to the levitical covenant is found in verses 12-13,

“Therefore say, ‘Behold, I give him My covenant of peace; and it shall be for him and his descendants after him, a covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the sons of Israel’ [5]”.

Henry Ainsworth provides a useful exposition of this passage and how it relates to its fulfillment in Christ,

“So God saith of Levi, ‘my covenant was with him, (the covenant of) life and peace; and I gave them unto him, for the fear wherewith he feared me,’ &c. Malachi 2:5.  So in this place Thargum Jonathan [A Jewish Paraphrase of the Old Testament written in Aramaic] paraphraseth, “Behold I decree unto him my covenant of peace, and I will make him the messenger of my covenant, and he shall live for ever, to preach the gospel of redemption in the end of days.”  By which words Phineas in his covenant was a figure of Christ, who is called ‘the messenger of the covenant,’ Malachi 3:1, and hath an everlasting priesthood, ‘after the power of an endless life,’ Hebrews 7:16-17, and hath both wrought and preached redemption in these latter days, Hebrews 1:1-3[6]”.

The next key passage is in Jeremiah 33:17-21.  In the context of this passage Jeremiah is prophesying about the coming Messiah who will fulfill both the Davidic and Levitical covenants (Jeremiah 33:14-15).  Christ is both the fulfillment of the Davidic and Levitical covenants as the perfect priest and king.

Jeremiah 33:17-21:“and the Levitical priests shall never lack a man before Me to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings and to prepare sacrifices continually.’ ” The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah, saying, “Thus says the LORD, ‘If you can break My covenant for the day and My covenant for the night, so that day and night will not be at their appointed time, then My covenant may also be broken with David My servant so that he will not have a son to reign on his throne, and with the Levitical priests, My ministers[7]”.

John Gill commenting on verse 18 discusses how the levitical priesthood is both fulfilled in Christ and how this relates to the priestly service of believers,

“Ver. 18. Neither shall the priests the Levites want a man before me, &c.] The Levitical priesthood has been abolished long ago; that was typical of Christ’s priesthood, and is succeeded by it; who is a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek; and who, having offered up himself a sacrifice here on earth for his people, ever appears in heaven, in the presence of God, on their behalf, making intercession for them; and as long as he continues to do so, which will be always, a man shall not be wanting before the Lord: to offer burnt-offerings, and to kindle meat-offerings, and to do sacrifice continually; that is, to present that sacrifice before him, and plead the efficacy and virtue of it with him, which was typified by all those sacrifices, and has superseded them, being much better than they. Some understand this of a continuance of Gospel ministers unto the end of the world, who succeeded the priests and Levites; but as they are never called priests and Levites in the New Testament; nor were they properly the successors of the priests and Levites; rather it may be applied unto all believers now, who are priests unto God, and offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Christ; but the first sense is best.[8]”.

As I mentioned in the last sermon, Christians do not all have the same duties to the Church, and likewise we must be careful to no draw the wrong conclusion here that since believers are called a nation of priests, that therefore we must all be street preachers or pastors since even in the Old Testament the levitical priests had different duties according to their gifts.  Likewise believers have different duties according to the spiritual gifts that God has given them to be faithful in the vocation God has sovereingly placed them.

3.This is not a peripheral theological discussion in this brief study of the doctrine of vocation and the priesthood of believers since as I mentioned earlier by properly understanding the Old Testament background of the Levitical priesthood, we can better understand Peter’s statement about the church being a nation of Priests (1 Peter 2:9).  Pastor Douglas Van Dorn gives a useful summary of the implications of the Levitical covenant for believers and our priestly function,

“In this way the covenant of Levi continues on forever, in the ordaining of Gentile Levitical priests in the new covenant.  The way these Gentiles are ordained is by undergoing the baptism-clothing ceremony of the priesthood, which was typified in the laws of the Levitical covenant in Exodus 29:4-9, but which are fulfilled now when we are baptized into Christ[9]”.

“But when we are baptized in water, it teaches us most of all that we are now made fit vessels through the sanctifying and washing effects of those waters (Eph. 5:26), to serve before God as his priests.  Baptism is our ordination ceremony into the priesthood, and every believer needs to grasp the practical implications of this important truth.  When we are baptized, God expects us to behave as holy, sanctified priests who serve his holy sanctuary (i.e., Christ and the Church; cf. John 2:21; 1 Cor 6:19; Eph. 2:21) as new creations in obedience and purity.  Our obedience is obligatory[10]”.

The doctrine of the priesthood of all believers also has particular relevance with the vocation of the father’s duties to his family.  He assumes the priestly duties to his family, which are not to be done in isolation from the local church, since both are necessary, and the levitical covenant also provides a useful overview for the Father’s duties to his family as a priest,

“These later institutions should not be viewed in opposition to the original priesthood of a man in his home.  Rather, they work together with a man’s priesthood.  On one hand, we cannot abdicate our family priesthood to the church because we expect the church to be a substitute for our spiritual leadership in the home.  O the other hand, we must not seek to apply our family priesthood in isolation from the church[11]”.

“Such spiritual leadership involves performing in the home many of the functions priests carried out in Israel.  Later chapters will expand on these purposes.  For now, it’s enough to note that the five special roles of the priests of Israel line up nicely with the roles a man should play in his home.  The priests of Israel were intercessors in prayer (2 Chronicles 30:27), communicators of blessing (Numbers 6:22-27)[12], directors of worship (1 Kings 4:2), instructors in Scripture (Malachi 2:7) and judges in holy things (Deuteronomy 17:9, 12).  A man must be each of these things for his family if he is to provide the spiritual leadership in his home.  Such parallels strongly suggest that men are indeed spiritual priests in their home[13]”.

A proper understanding of the doctrine of the priesthood of believers it gives a biblical foundation for the doctrine of vocation, so believers don’t have to feel guilty for not meeting the standards of the “radical paradigm”, such as giving a biblical framework for the Mothers role in the family,

Jeremy Walker, “Let no exhausted mother, with her hands full of home and children, bruise her soul with the conviction either that she has no way of serving Christ in this way or that she is somehow prevented by her children and her home from doing something worthwhile.  Rather, that is the very sphere of her labor.  Her mission field is at her feet (and quite possibly under them and in her arms and on her back and currently drawing something indelible on something irreplaceable).  Indeed, for her to feel falsely guilty about what she is not doing or to transfer that guilt to her children in resentment and bitterness will only prevent the good that she is called to do as a minister to her children[14]”.

Jeremy Walker also gives some examples of how Mothers have been used by God within their vocation to greatly impact the Church such as the Mothers of both Augustine and Charles Spurgeon, whom God used as instruments through which the Gospel was preached to them and they were saved.  Both of whom have had a great contribution to the Church, yet God worked through the ordinary means of vocations to accomplish this.

This is also consistent with Luther’s contribution to the doctrine of vocation since it is not limited to one’s employment only, but encompasses multiple areas of life (family, church, government, & occupation):

“It may seem strange to think that such mundane activities as spending time with your spouse and children, going to work, and taking part in your community are part of your “holy” calling, and that the daily grind can be a “spiritual sacrifice.”  It is not as strange, though, as what currently tears many Christians apart: a “spiritual” life that has little to do with their families, their work, and their cultural life. Many Christians treat other people horribly, including their spouses and children, while cultivating their own personal piety. Many well-intentioned Christians lose themselves in church work and church activities, while neglecting their marriages, their children, and their other callings.  But ordinary life is where God has placed us. The family, the workplace, the local church, the culture, and the public square are where he has called us. Vocation is where sanctification takes place[15]”.

Calling relates to all that God has called us to in life, at work, in the church, at home with responsibilities to your family, and your responsibility to the state and government.  Your vocation is not limited to merely a job that you do for 8 hrs. and then you’re done with your vocation for the day.  Ephesians 2:10 is also an important text for understanding the doctrine of vocation as it relates to the sanctification of believers.  “For we are his workmanship, created for good works in Christ Jesus which he prepared beforehand so that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).  Good works are never the means by which we attain salvation as Paul has already stated in Ephesians 2 that we were dead in our sins (Eph. 2:1), and nothing short of a sovereign act of God can raise dead sinners to life in Christ regenerating their hearts and granting them repentance and faith (Eph. 2:4-6, 8-9).  Our good works are part of our sanctification and they fulfill the second part of the greatest commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves, which is why Luther rebuked pietistic individuals who isolated themselves from society deceiving themselves by presuming to be more spiritual.  Therefore believers are faithful to the Lordship of Christ when they do their vocation with excellence and thereby love their neighbor by doing good works whether that is working in construction or working in a grocery store.  We are not faithful to the Lordship of Christ in our vocation if we witness to coworkers to the neglect of fulfilling the obligations of our vocation because there are proper times when we can witness to coworkers such as during a lunch break, after your shift is over, or by inviting a coworkers over to your house for dinner to talk to them and have the opportunity to witness to them as well.

The Lordship of Christ is significant in calling and vocation because it confirms that God uses ordinary means to accomplish his purposes through believers.  And as we turn to the Lord’s Supper in light of the doctrine of vocation we see that the Levitical Covenant not only helps us to understand our vocation, but also points us to the prefect high priest, Christ, and his atoning death on our behalf.

[1] David Platt, Radical: Taking back your Faith from the American Dream (NY: Multnomah, 2010), 72-73

[2] Ibid, 75

[3] Ibid, 83; Platt even makes the argument that if we say that we are concerned with reaching the lost in the U.S. or in our local town, then we have missed the focus of God’s global plan, so Platt goes to the extreme of neglecting evangelism within one’s ordinary vocation and indigenous missions as well by polarizing his view of evangelism making everything global, “But even if we are doing these things, we would still be overlooking the foundational biblical truth when we say our hearts are for the United States.  As we have seen all over Scripture, God’s heart is for the world.  So when we say we have a heart for the United States, we are admitting that we have a meager 5 percent of God’s heart, and we are proud of it.  When we say we have a heart for the city we live in, we confess that we have less than 1 percent of God’s heart”.  Ibid, 76

[4] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Pe 2:4–9.

[5] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Nu 25:12–13

[6] Henry Ainsworth, Annotations on the Pentateuch and the Psalms (PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1991 reprint), Vol. II: 126

[7] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Je 33:17–21

[8] John Gill, An Exposition of the Old Testament, vol. 5, The Baptist Commentary Series (London: Mathews and Leigh, 1810), 595

[9] Douglas Van Dorn, Waters of Creation: A Biblical-Theological Study of Baptism  (Erie, Colorado; Waters of Creation Publishing, 2009), 134

[10] Ibid, 141

[11] Samuel E. Waldron with Benjamin Hoak, A Man as Priest in His Home (Palmdale, CA; RBAP, 2012), 28

[12] “In some respects this is the most difficult of the five roles of a priest to apply to a man in his home.  Speaking of men as mediators of divine blessing does not equate their mediatorial character with that of Christ.  But, there are principles that apply in both cases”.  Ibid, 56; Waldron gives a useful concise definition of a mediator, “By definition, priests stand in the gap between holy God and sinful man.  Hebrews 5:1 says they are “appointed on behalf of men in things pertaining to God.”  A mediator, then, is one who is a channel or conduit of blessing”.  Ibid, 55

[13] Ibid, 14

[14] Jeremy Walker, The Broken Hearted Evangelist, (Kindle edition), 370

[15] Gene Edward Veith, Our Calling and God’s Glory, Modern Reformation Magazine issue: “Using God” Nov./Dec. 2007 vol. 16 No. 6: pg. 26; online version:


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