Old Testament Christology, a Biblical Theology of Genesis 3:15


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As I give this overview of some key Messianic prophecies in this lesson I will be doing so via Biblical Theology.  Rather than examining Messianic prophecies separately I will show the development of Messianic prophecies that build upon Genesis 3:15.  Here is a basic definition of biblical theology to explain this approach by Geerhardus Vos,

“Biblical Theology deals with the material from the historical standpoint, seeking to exhibit the organic growth or development of the truths of Special Revelation from the primitive pre-redemptive Special Revelation (Revelation prior to the recording of Scripture, prior to Moses) given in Eden to the close of the New Testament canon[1]”.

Biblical theology is distinguished from systematic theology because it seeks to show the development of a doctrine or motif in scripture progressively i.e. Paul’s theology of Justification in the Pauline epistles, whereas Systematic Theology organizes theology by doctrine logically rather than tracing the development of the doctrine gradually with progressive revelation compared to Biblical theology.  The analogy of a seed developing into a tree helps to give a mental picture to understand what Biblical Theology is as a discipline in Theology,

“The organic process is from seed-form to the attainment of full growth; yet we do not say that in the qualitative sense the seed is less perfect than the tree.  The feature in question explains further how the soteric (salvific) sufficiency of the truth could belong to it in its first state of emergence: in the seed-form the minimum of indispensable knowledge was already present.  Again, it explains how revelation could be so closely determined in its onward movement by the onward movement of redemption…But redemption, as is well known, is eminently organic in its progress.  It does not proceed with uniform motion, but rather is ‘epochal’ in its onward stride (it isn’t a straight line of development, but has sharp peaks at certain points i.e. Isaiah 53)[2]”.

This is not a novel approach to studying scripture, but is well attested by Reformed Confessions demonstrating that reformed theologians didn’t study theology only systematically, but also observed the progressive nature of revelation as the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith explains covenant theology via the progressive revelation of the covenant of grace as first promised in Genesis 3:15 and inaugurated by the shed blood of Christ in the new covenant,

1689 LBC Chapter 7 Paragraph 3: This Covenant is revealed in the Gospel; first of all to Adam in the promise of Salvation by the5 seed of the woman, and afterwards by farther steps, until the full6 discovery thereof was compleated in the New Testament; and it is founded in that* Eternal Covenant transaction, that was between the Father and the Son, about the Redemption of the Elect; and it is alone by the Grace of this Covenant, that all of the posterity of fallen Adam, that ever were7 saved, did obtain life and a blessed immortality; Man being now utterly uncapable of acceptance with God upon those terms, on which Adam stood in his state of innocency[3]”.

Before proceeding to examine some Messianic prophecies I need to define a few important terms for studying Messianic prophecies, you may not use all of these terms in evangelism, but they are important to know for doing any research on Messianic prophecies.  The Old Testament was written in Hebrew with a few small portions in Aramaic, during about the 7th century the Masoretes added vowel points to the Hebrew Text, which was passed down orally and is what you will find in a Hebrew Bible today.  Related to this is an important point on textual criticism for the Old Testament called the Qere (what is read) and Ketib (what is written).  Textual criticism is the study of comparing ancient manuscripts of a document to examine places in which the manuscripts differ (textual variants), so that the original text can be derived from the manuscripts and distinguished from scribal errors i.e. minor spelling errors of similar letters.  This is significant for some Messianic prophecies as I will discuss later with the Shiloh prophecy in Genesis 49:10; here is a basic definition of the qre and ktib from the renown Hebraist and Arabist Joshua Blau,

“In some cases, words in the text of the Bible [Old Testament] are unvocalized (called ktib, i.e. “written” in Aramaic), because the version represented by them has been rejected by the Masoretes (as אסור Genesis 39:20).  The version preferred to that of the ktib, called qre (i.e. “read” in Aramaic), is written, fully vocalized [with vowels], on the margin of the Biblical text (as אֲסִ֯ורֵ֥י ibid).  As ill-fortune would have it, in many Bibles the ktib is exhibited in the text with the vowels of the qre (!) (as אֲסִ֯ורֵ֥י ibid), and the unvocalized qre on the margin (as אסירי ); yet one has always to bear in mind that only the vocalization of the qre is traditionally transmitted, whereas the proper vocalization of the ktib can only be surmised[4]”.

In addition to the Hebrew Old Testament, the Masoretic text (sometime abbreviated as MT) there is also the Septuagint (abbreviated as LXX), a Jewish ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament dated between 200-400 BC.  Lastly, there are the Aramaic Targums, Jewish paraphrases/translations of the Old Testament, this was important for Jews at the time because by about 2,000 BC Aramaic was the language of international trade in the ancient world, hence the need for Aramaic paraphrases/translations of the Old Testament after the exile when many Jews had forgotten Hebrew and were more familiar with Aramaic.

Genesis 3:15 occurs within the context of God’s judgment upon Adam and Eve having broken His command not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17), but in the midst of God’s pronouncement of judgment comes a glimpse of hope with the promise of a coming seed of the woman that will crush the serpent’s head, as God pronounces judgment on the serpent (Genesis 3:14-15) often called the “first Gospel”:  “And enmity I will place between you and between the woman and between your seed and between her seed, he himself will crush you (2ms) (on the) head and you (2ms) yourself will strike him (on the) heel”.

Jewish objections to this passage include viewing the curse on the serpent as referring to the natural hatred that women have of serpents such as Nahum Sarna suggests,

“This curse seeks to explain the natural revulsion of humans for the serpent. Clearly, when it entered into conversation with the woman, it could not have been so regarded; indeed, it posed as her friend, solicitous of her interests[5]”.

However this ignores the common usage of ’ēbāh in the MT, which according to HALOT means, “enmity or hostile disposition[6]”.

The use of this word both in Genesis 3:15 and its other occurrences in the OT suggests that this refers to more than merely a dislike of snakes but a real adversarial enmity with the serpent.  The second common objection is that seed is used collectively and therefore cannot refer to the Messiah in this passage, but this ignores other uses of zera’ as HALOT says it can refer to both descendents and a descendent[7], also the seed that will crush the serpent is described using the third person masculine pronoun in this passage hū’ in both the MT and Targum Onkelos, and autos in the LXX, if the seed were collective in this passage then a plural pronoun would have been used instead of a third person singular pronoun.  Paul commenting on this passage in Galatians 3:16, he applies this text to Christ specifically as the seed prophesied in the text.

The second major messianic prophecy in the Pentateuch is Genesis 49:10, a prophecy for the tribe of Judah given before Jacob passed away giving both patriarchal blessings and curses to his sons, which translated from the Masoretic Text is: “A scepter will not depart from Judah nor a scepter from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him belongs the obedience of the peoples.”  Nahum Sarna gives two predominant Jewish interpretations of Shiloh,

“The present rendering, that of the Yalkut and Lekaḥ Tov, takes shiloh as a combination of shai, “tribute,” and loh, “to him.” Several ancient versions understand it as in late Hebrew shello, “that which belongs to him[8],” that is, until he obtains the monarchy,[9]” and the second view is that Shiloh is a messianic reference, “An early tradition, found in texts from Qumran, in the Targums, and in rabbinic literature, sees in shiloh a messianic title, although no biblical passage supports this. It has even been noted that the numerical value of the consonants y-b-ʾ sh-y-l-h, “Shiloh will come,” is equal to that of mashiaḥ, “messiah”: 358 [the Rabbinic references he gives in the footnote are: 4QGe[10]n. 49:10, Sanh. 98b, Gen. R. 98:13, Lam. R. 1:16. [11]][12].”

There are two messianic interpretations of this passage; the first is given by E.W. Hengsetnberg, a well known 19th century conservative OT Lutheran theologian.  He observes the similarity of Shiloh with Solomon’s name in Hebrew and argues that Shiloh is an adjective meaning peace based off of his view that Shiloh comes from the noun Shilon for rest,

“The analogy of the name shlmh which is formed after the manner of shīlh, indicates that it has here an adjective signification, and, like Solomon, Shiloh denotes “the man of rest,” corresponds to the “Prince of Peace” in Is. 9:5, and, viewed in its character of a proper name, is like the German “Friedrich’ = Frederick, i.e., “rich in peace,” “the Peaceful one[13]”.

I side with the messianic view of Geerhardus Vos and others who view Shiloh as composed of three parts, translated together as “he to whom it belongs”, Vos explains this position well,

“I resolve the word Shiloh, after leaving off the vowels, into the three characters sh-l-oh.  Then sh- is taken as the abbreviated form of the relative asher; l-, I take as the preposition lamedh; the –oh at the end of the word is the suffix of the third-person singular bearing the possessive sense of “his.”  Taken cumulatively, this yields the rendering “he to whom[14].”

This interpretation is also supported by an intertextuality with Ezekiel 21:27,

“That this is not an arbitrary or prejudicial explanation appears from the passage in Ezekiel that must evidently be accounted for as a conscious echo of the Jacob-blessing…the mysterious characters sh-l-oh reappear here.  It is true, the subject to which, in each case, the relative belongs differs as between Genesis and Ezekiel; but it differs only in form, not in substantial meaning  In Genesis it is the scepter and the judge’s staff held by Judah, while in Ezekiel, it is designated as “the government[15]”.

In addition to this, the translation of Shiloh as “to whom it belongs” is supported by the qre of this passage is shīlō[16], which supports the translation “to whom it belongs” explaining that the final he in Shiloh is used to mark a vowel, rather than being consonantal, so the messianic view of “to whom it belongs” is supported by the Hebrew Text, whereas you have to change the Hebrew root to shlmh to defend Hengstenberg’s position.

The last prophecy that will be examined concerning the Messiah in the Pentateuch is Numbers 24:17-19.  This messianic prophecy comes in the last of Balaam’s three blessings that he gives to Israel instead of the curses that King Balak of Moab had commanded Balaam to call upon the nation of Israel.  All of the New Testament references to Balaam describe him as wicked warning believers not to follow in his ways (Jude 11, 2 Peter 2:15, Revelation 2:14).  Even in spite of Balaam’s greedy motives to curse Israel to gain a great reward from King Balak of Moab (Numbers 22:15,), in the Lord’s providence Balaam’s curses become blessings to Israel (Nehemiah 13:2) and Balaam utters a messianic prophecy  despite the fact that Balaam by no means is a prophet.  Numbers 24:17 translated from the Masoretic Text: “I see him, but not now, I see him but (he) is not near, A star will come from Jacob, and a scepter will rise from Israel, and he will smash the corners of Moab, and he will tear down all the sons of Seth.”

Baruch Levine in the JPS commentary series gives the Jewish interpretation of this passage, arguing that it refers to David rather than Christ because of the parallelism between kokāb “star” and šēbeṭ “staff”,

“some commentators have taken their cue from kokāb “star,” and sought a parallel meaning for šēbeṭ, citing Aramaic šebiṭ, “the name of a star,” referring to a meteor or shooting star that leaves a “tail” in its wake, having the appearance of a staff or scepter (Babylonian Talmud, Berakot 58b, Levy IV, 496, s.v. šebîṭ), extending the usual meaning of Hebrew šēbeṭ.  Alternatively, one could take a cue from šēbeṭ in its figurative connotation of “sovereign, head,” namely, one who bears a scepter.  Thus Genesis 49:10: “The ‘scepter’ (šēbeṭ) shall not depart from Judah, nor the magistrate (meḥoqeq) from the issue of his loins[17]”.

This interpretation still runs into the same dilemma as Genesis 49:10, that the conquest described in this passage exceeds the size of what David’s kingdom ever was, and Levine’s second interpretation does support a messianic view of the passage connecting it to Genesis 49:10. By comparing other ancient translations it is clear that this is a messianic prophecy in addition to the clear allusions to Genesis 3:15 and 49:10, according to the LXX the Hebrew word šēbeṭ (scepter/tribe) is replaced with anthrōpas (man), and Targum Onkelos has mɘshīḥā’ (the messiah)[18].

The root mḥts occurs in Numbers 24:17 to describe the Messiah crushing Moab which is similar to Genesis 3:15 which describes the Messiah crushing the head of the serpent using the Hebrew verb shūp. James Hamilton suggests that one of the problems avoiding connecting Genesis 3:15 with similar passages (such as Numbers 24:17) is the word-concept fallacy, that because a word isn’t used therefore the concept isn’t present, and applied to Genesis 3:15 because the word shūp is used exclusively in Genesis 3:15 to describe the defeat of the serpent’s seed, therefore it can’t be connected to other passages using a different Hebrew word[19].  If that method were employed for basing messianic passages solely on the occurrence of the noun for Messiah, then the only messianic prophecies in the Old Testament would be Psalm 2:2 and Daniel 9:25,26, but the Messiah is clearly mentioned in other prophecies without having to use the Hebrew word māshīaḥ.  Hamilton lists several occurrences of the root mḥts which allude to Genesis 3:15 showing that it is within the semantic domain of shūp: Judges 5:26 uses the root mḥts to describe Jael crushing Sisera’s head[20], in Habakkuk 3:13 it describes salvation coming by your Messiah (’et-mɘshīḥekā) who crushed the head of the house of the wicked[21], In Psalm 68:22 [English 68:21] Yahweh’s triumph over his enemies is described, “Surely God will crush  the heads of his enemies…[22]”, and Psalm 110:6, “He has shattered (the) head over a broad country”.

One last overlooked OT text in this trajectory of the first messianic prophecy of the skull crushing seed of the woman is Psalm 110:6, most likely due to its traditional translation (heads/chief) which blunts the significance of this messianic prophecy.

David uses the word head (singular in Hebrew) to describe the federal head of the wicked one, referring to Satan as the federal representative of the evil seed, just as John describes Cain as being from the seed of the Devil in 1 John 3:10-12.  Hengstenburg, a conservative Lutheran OT Theologian and commentator sees the connection with the singular head in Hebrew with other Old Testament passages, building his biblical theology based on intertextuality (similar occurrences of the same phrase in other verses in the Bible),

“That the rōsh [head] is used in its proper sense and cannot be translated: a head over great lands, is clear not from the ’al [upon/on]—against the assertion that it must necessarily have been rbh v‘sh ‘rts [רבה ואש ארץ] [this is an argument from liberal scholars that the Hebrew is corrupted here and Hengsetnberg is providing their proposed emendation/correction] comp. Ps. 47:2—but from the clause, “he shall raise the head,” in ver. 7, and from the parallel passage, Ps. 68:21, “God smites the head of his enemies, the hairy head of him who walketh in his sins,” and Hab. 3:13,—comp. ver. 14, rōsh māḥats  occurs in like manner in the sense of a breaker of heads.   On our verse we should compare the expanded description in Rev. 19:11 ss., comp. 16:1, ss.[23]

Although Hengstenberg missed the Messianic reference alluding back to Genesis 3:15 with the same language of crushing the head of the serpent Martin Luther (an Old Testament scholar by his academic training) did observe this motif in his lectures on the Psalms and understood Psalm 110:5-6 as referring to Christ crushing Satan, the federal representative of the wicked,

“Behold, in that He (Christ) preserves the soul, He is at his right hand, but in that He delivers him into the other’s hand, Satan comes to be at his left hand. Again, the devil stands at the right hand of the ungodly (Ps. 109:6), because he possesses them according to the soul and hinders them in the things that are for the salvation of the soul, though he may advance them on the left hand, that is, in temporal things[24]”.

Some commentators although not acknowledging the Messianic reference in verse 6 have shown some parallels between Psalm 110:5-6 with Psalm 2, which prophesies about Christ’s kingly office,

“Of special importance are the traditions that make their appearance in vv. 5* and 6*. Here Psalm 2 is to be considered an explanatory parallel. Corresponding to the melachim [kings] we have melache-erets [the kings of the earth] in Ps. 2:2*. Beside bǝyōm-appō yādin [in the day of his anger he will judge] we are to place the explanation of Ps. 2:5a*: az yedabber’ ēlēmō bǝappō [then he will speak to them in his anger][25]”.

These brief observations on Psalm 110:6 show that verses 5-6 have important messianic implications testifying to the Kingship of Christ, so when we observe the New testament quoting Psalm 110 we have a better foundation to understand that Psalm 110 refers to both Christ’s office as a Priest after the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:1-4), but also a conquering King (Psalm 110:5-6).

It has been demonstrated that the Messianic witness of the Pentateuch testifies to an organic nature of Messianic Prophecy in the Old Testament starting with Genesis 3:15 as each messianic prophecy cumulatively builds and expands upon previous messianic prophecies providing stronger evidence for the Messiah than viewing each messianic prophecy in isolation.  As the case is with Numbers 24:17, it demonstrates there is much stronger evidence for this prophecy to be viewed as messianic when it is compared with Genesis 3:15 and Genesis 49:10, and Psalm 100:5-6, along with other OT passages building on similar motifs of the Messiah,  being fulfilled in the person of Christ: the skull crushing seed of the woman, Shiloh, he to whom the scepter of the tribe of Judah belongs, the star and scepter who has dominion over all nations, the King at God’s right hand, and the head crusher of the evil one, Satan.

[1] Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1975), v-vi

[2] Ibid, 7

5 Gen. 3:15.

6 Heb. 1:1.

* 2 Tim. 1:9; Tit. 1:2.

7 Heb. 11:6, 13; Rom. 4:1, 2, etc. Act. 4:12; Joh. 8:56.

[3] W. J. McGlothlin, Baptist Confessions of Faith (Philadelphia; Boston; Chicago; St. Louis; Toronto: American Baptist Publication Society, 1911), 239

[4] Joshua Blau, A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew (Gottingen, Germany: Porta Linguarem Orientalium, 1976), 21-22; for more resources on OT textual criticism a useful introduction is: Kelley, Page H., Daniel S. Mynatt, and Timothy G. Crawford. The Masorah of Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia: Introduction and Annotated Glossary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998), and a more thorough and technical treatment is: Emmanuel Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible 3rd Edition Expanded & Revised (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012)

[5] Nahum M. Sarna, Genesis, The JPS Torah Commentary (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989), 27

[6] HALOT, 39

[7] HALOT, 283; Walter Kaiser explains how both the individual and collective aspect of the seed can be taken into account with the principle of corporate solidarity, “However, the very fact that the noun “seed” is a collective  singular deliberately provides for the fact that it may include  the one who represents the whole group as well as the group itself.  The fact that there is such a one specified in this text as a male descendent of the woman opens up this text to its messianic possibilities.” Walter Kaiser, The Messiah in the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995), 39

[8] Also Alfred Ralph’s LXX translates Shiloh as τὰ ἀποκείμενα αὐτῷ, “whose it is.”

[9] Nahum M. Sarna, Genesis, The JPS Torah Commentary (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989), 336

4QGen Manuscript of Genesis from Qumran, cave 4, “Qumran text 4Q Patr. 3f (Lohse Qumran 246, 247): עד בוא משיח הצדק צמח דויד “until the one anointed with righteousness comes, the scion (offshoot) of David.” HALOT, 1478

Sanh. Sanhedrin

Gen. R. Genesis Rabba

Lam. R. Lamentations Rabba

[11] Nahum M. Sarna, Genesis, The JPS Torah Commentary (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989), 336

[12] ibid, 337

[13] E.W. Hengsetnberg, Christology of the Old Testament. Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1956), 69

[14] Ibid, 99; Walter Kaiser argues for the same interpretation of Shiloh as Vos, and adds that both the LXX and Targum Onkelos support this translation of Shiloh. Walter Kaiser, The Messiah in the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995), 51.  HALOT after giving the three possibilities of what Shiloh refers to sides with Vos and Kaiser’s position viewing Shiloh as referring “to whom it belongs” and points out that the Qere in the Masoretic Text is שִׁילוֹ HALOT, 1478

[15] Geerhardus Vos, Edited by James T. Dennison Jr, The Eschatology of the Old Testament (Philsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2001), 99

[16] שִׁילוֹ

[17] Baruch A. Levine, Numbers 21-36, The Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday, 2000), 200

[18] Jame Kugel provides some additional ancient translations of Numbers 24:17: the translation of Targum Neophyti of Numbers 24:17, “A king is destined to arise from the house of Jacob and a savior and ruler from the house of Israel,” and the Peshitta, “A star shines forth from Jacob and a leader from Israel.”  James L. Kugel, The Bible As it Was (Cambridge; Massachusets: Harvard University Press, 1997), 489

[19] Hamilton, James, “The Skull Crushing Seed of the Woman: Inner-Biblical Interpretation of Genesis 3:15”,The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 10.2 (2006), 34

[20] ibid, 35

[21] ibid, 37

[22] ibid, 37, this is my own translation of Ps. 68:22 from the MT

[23] E. W. Hengstenberg, John Thomson, and Patrick Fairbairn, Commentary on the Psalms, vol. 3 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1869), 340–341

[24] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 11: First Lectures on the Psalms II: Psalms 76-126, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 11 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1955), 369–370;   Henry Ainsworth takes a similar view, but views the head as referring to the Antichrist who will be overthrown or as a more generic term equivalent to the plural as in evil rulers, “the Head,] Antichrist, the man of sin, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, 2 Thes. 2:3,8, or head for heads, and land for lands, that is, all wicked governors wheresoever”.  Henry Ainsworth, Annotations on the Pentateuch or the Five Books of Moses; The Psalms of David  and the Song of Solomon (Ligoner, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, republished in 1991 [1612]), Vol. II: 632

[25] Hans-Joachim Kraus, A Continental Commentary: Psalms 60–150 (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1993), 352

Worldview Apologetics for Witnessing to Muslims



For witnessing to Muslims we must be aware of their key presuppositions, not just the fact that Muslims deny the Trinity and Deity of Christ for example, but why they deny them, so that we can confront their presuppositions directly and avoid getting side tracked when witnessing to Muslims.  Before proceeding further it is necessary to briefly address the view of the Quran and Hadeeth in orthodox Islam, what are they and what role do they play in Islamic theology. According to orthodox Islam the Quran eternally existed in the Arabic language and was later revealed to Muhammad who recited it and his followers passed it on via oral tradition and it was later written down and recorded after Muhammed died.  Their view of scripture is dictation, Muhammad was in no way the author of the Quran in orthodox Islam (a view taken by liberal Muslim scholars), Muhammad was merely a medium to present the revelation.  The Quran is divided into chapters (surah) and verses (ayah), the Quran is not written in chronological order, but more topically based, there is an Arabic name for each chapter of the Quran giving its main theme.  There is a twofold distinction of surahs written in either Medina or Mecca.  Meccan surahs reflect Islam prior to Muhammad political rule and Medinnan surahs reflect Islam once Islam has gained political power, which accounts for some of the differences between some sections of the Quran.  In addition to the Quran are the Hadeeth, recordings of the saying and teachings of Muhammad, they expand upon the majority of the verses in the Quran and there by provide an early commentary and authoritative explanation of key passages.  The 2 primary and most reliable Hadeeth are called Saheeh al Bukhari and Saheeh Al Muslim.

Here is a summary of the major presuppositions that Muslims believe which are important for witnessing to Muslims.  I’ll be focusing on Tawheed since this is crucial to how every Muslim views the Bible and how they view their salvation.

  1. Tawhid/Tawheed– Allah is one in being and person (precludes polytheism and the doctrine of the Trinity), this includes the teaching that Allah has no son. This is represented in the well known basic Islamic statement of faith, the shahadah, “there is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger[1]”.
  2. Breaking Tawhid is known as shirk, associating partners with Allah.

III. The Quran addresses Jews and Christians (called Ahl-al-Kitab in Arabic, Ahl-al-Injil, used to refer to Christians specifically), but the OT & NT are considered corrupted[2], while the Arabic text of the Quran has eternally existed in the Arabic language and was revealed to Muhammad and written down after his death, and preserved with no changes.

  1. The Quran Denies the crucifixion of Jesus [Jesus is referred to as Isa in the Quran], Surah 4:157-158
  2. Islam claims to be in continuity with the teachings of the previous Abrahamic religions (Judaism and Christianity), and Muhammad is the final prophet in the chain of prophets from Adam to Isa [Jesus] culminating in Muhammad
  3. In recent Dawah, the Apostle Paul is attacked as the originator of the corruption of Christianity, creating the doctrines of the Trinity and Deity of Christ.

VII. There is no assurance on judgment day for Muslims, assurance of salvation is dependent on whether Allah is merciful and will let them go to heaven, scales of good and bad works weighed to determine whether someone goes to heaven or hell.

As Christians we affirm monotheism, but it is important to understand that according to tawhid Unitarian monotheism is presupposed (Allah is one being and one person), so even a plurality of persons that is one substance (the doctrine of the Trinity) is still considered a violation of Tawhid.  The Trinity is perceived by Muslims as not being much different from the polytheism of Hinduism.  Here is a basic definition of the nature of God’s oneness (Tawhid) in Islamic theology,

“The Unity of God according to the Qur’an, implies that God is One in His person (dhāt), One in His attributes (ṣifāt) and One in his works (af’āl).  His Oneness in His person means that there is neither plurality of gods nor plurality of persons in the Godhead; His Oneness in attributes implies that no other being possesses one or more of the Divine attributes in perfection…[3]”.

Examining the Quran’s teaching of the doctrine of tawhid, the most important Surah is Surah Al-‘Ikhlas (112:1-4), “Say, “He is Allah, [who is] One, Allah, the Eternal Refuge.  He neither begets nor is born, Nor is there to Him any equivalent”.  This verse uses the same semitic root for the verb “to beget” as occurs in Isaiah 9:6, making this verse an explicit denial of the incarnation of Christ.

In contrast to tawhid, is shirk, which is a violation of tawhid by associating partners with Allah, whether that is the Trinity or polytheism, and even extends to mystic forms of idolatry.  Muhammad Ibn ‘Abdul-Wahhab defined the grave nature of shirk as follows,

“The opposite of complete tawheed is defined in Islam as shirk, Shirk literally means to take partners with Allah in any aspect of His divinity.  Shirk is the antithesis of Islam, which is based on the belief that full acceptance of tawheed leads to eternal salvation and corruption of tawheed leads to damnation[4]”.

So based on Islamic theology, when Christians present the Gospel to a Muslim they perceive the Gospel as an invitation to commit [major] shirk and be eternally damned.

The first of the three categories of tawhid is Unity in Allah’s Lordship (Tawhid ar-Rububiya), Rububiyah comes from the Arabic word Rabb for Lord, it is a declaration of the unique sovereignty of Allah[5].  Quranic support for oneness in Allah’s lordship is well attested,

“Allah created all things and He is the agent on which all things depend[6]” (Surah 39:62).

“And Allah created you all and whatever you do[7]” (Surah 37:96).

“And no calamity strikes except by Allah’s permission[8]” (Surah 64:11).

Rububiyah also precludes charms and wearing Quranic verses because of its pagan practices, only Allah is to be viewed as sovereign and a Muslim is to trust in nothing or no one else but Allah.

The second category of Tawhid is that Allah is one in his name & attributes (Tawhid al-Asma’ waṣ-ṣifat), which can be divided into 5 categories.  The first is the unity of Allah’s names and attributes; Allah’s attributes are only those attributes to Allah in the Quran, and all of God’s attributes are absolute, free from any human deficiencies, and therefore qualitatively distinct from human attributes rather than only being distinguished quantitatively[9].  The second aspect is similar, Allah cannot be given any new name, he can only be called by what he calls himself or Muhammad calls him in the Quran.  The third aspect is that Allah cannot be given any attributes of his creation, and some descriptions of Allah hearing or seeing are to be understood as Allah’s abilities being perfect, not synonymous with man’s abilities.  The fourth aspect precludes giving any of the names or attributes of Allah to man, Dr. Abu Bilal cites Hebrews 5:5-6 and 7:1-3, attributing eternality to Jesus as an example of breaching this aspect of Tawhid[10].  The fifth and last aspect of Tawhid al-Asma’ waṣ-ṣifat teaches that the names of Allah can only be given to another if it is prefixed by ‘abd, “slave of/servant of,” because in their indefinite form they represent perfection which belongs to Allah alone, not even Muhammad can be called by a divine name with this prefix and calling oneself an ‘abd of Muhammad or anyone else is a violation of Tawhid[11].                                                                                                                                            The third category of Tawhid is Oneness in Allah’s right to be worshipped (Tawhid al-‘Ibadah), which must be accompanied with the former two categories to be considered complete Tawhid in Islam.  Dr. Bilal Phillips explains why this third category is the most crucial category of Tawhid,

“All forms of worship must be directed only to Allah because He alone deserves worship, and it is He alone who can grant benefit to man as a result of His worship.  Furthermore, there is no need for any form of intercessor or intermediary between man and God[12]”.

This is emphasized in the first Surah of the Quran (Surah al-Fāṭiḥah), which must be recited by Muslims 17 times each day, “It is to You [Allah] we worship and You we ask for help[13]” (Surah 1:5).  Islam teaches that this is the view of both previous Abrahamic religions (Judaism & Christianity), that all of the prophets (including Jesus) taught Tawhid,

“Abraham was neither a Jew nor a Christian, but he was one inclining toward truth, a Muslim [submitting to Allah]. And he was not of the polytheists[14]” (Surah 3:67).

“And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me[15]” (Surah 51:56).

Also this third category of Tawhid combines the political aspect of Islam (Sharia) with its theology because ‘Ibadah means total obedience, and because Allah is the ultimate lawgiver this requires implementing Sharia law, all secular forms of law demonstrate disbelief in Allah’s divine law and is shirk[16].  Dr. Abu Bilal advocates this even more forcefully that Muslims cannot be neutral concerning the implementation of Sharia in government,

“Hence, a significant part of Tawhid al-‘Ibadah involves the implementation of Shariah, especially in lands where Muslims form the majority of the population…The acceptance of non-Islamic rule in place of Shariah in Muslim lands is shirk and an act of kufr [disbelief in Allah].  Those in a position to change it must do so, while those unable to do so must speak out against the rule of kufr and call for the implementation of Shariah[17]

Another crucial aspect of tawhid is how the Quran expresses the doctrine of the Trinity since the Trinity is considered shirk, breaking tawhid, it ought to have a proper understanding of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity given that the Council of Nicaea had already occurred in the 4th century, so the Christian position on the doctrine of the Trinity was unambiguous at the time of Muhammad, 600 AD.  However the Quran reveals otherwise, demonstrating the author of the Quran did not understand the doctrine of the Trinity,

And [beware the Day] when Allah will say, “O Jesus, Son of Mary, did you say to the people, ‘Take me and my mother as deities besides Allah?'” He will say, “Exalted are You! It was not for me to say that to which I have no right. If I had said it, You would have known it. You know what is within myself, and I do not know what is within Yourself. Indeed, it is You who is Knower of the unseen.  I said not to them except what You commanded me – to worship Allah , my Lord and your Lord. And I was a witness over them as long as I was among them; but when You took me up, You were the Observer over them, and You are, over all things, Witness[18]” (Surah 5:116-117).

Notice that not only does the Quran teach that all of the prophets accepted Tawhid, Surah 5 also gives an explanation of how the Quran understands the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, according to Surah 5:116-117 the trinity consists of Allah, Jesus, and Mary, which is found nowhere in the Bible.  Another important Surah in the Quran that attempts to describe the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is Surah 4:171-172,

“O People of the Scripture, do not commit excess in your religion or say about Allah except the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, was but a messenger of Allah and His word which He directed to Mary and a soul [created at a command] from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers. And do not say, “Three”; desist – it is better for you. Indeed, Allah is but one God. Exalted is He above having a son. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth. And sufficient is Allah as Disposer of affairs.  Never would the Messiah disdain to be a servant of Allah, nor would the angels near [to Him]. And whoever disdains His worship and is arrogant – He will gather them to Himself all together[19]” (Surah 4:171-172)

This is not something novel in Islamic theology, but is testified by early primary Islamic scholars such as the renown Islamic commentator Ibn Kathir,

“Believe that Allah is One and Alone and that He does not have a son or wife.  Know and be certain that ‘Isa [Jesus] is the servant and Messanger of Allah.  Then immediately thereafter (“Say not: ‘Three!”), do not elevate ‘Isa and his mother to be gods with Allah.  Allah is far holier than what they attribute to him[20]”.

Likewise 12th century Islamic scholar Abu al-Qasim Mahmud ibn Umar az-Zamakh-shari views this passage and the Quran as a whole teaching that Christians view the Trinity as polytheism consisting of the three gods: The Father, Mary, and Jesus,

According to the evidence of the Quran, the Christians maintain that God , Christ, and Mary are three gods, and that Christ is the child of God by Mary, as God says (in the Quran): ‘O Jesus son of Mary, didst thou say unto men: “Take me and my mother as gods, apart from God”?’ (5:116), or : ‘The Christians say: “The Messiah is the Son of God” (9:30).  Morever, it is well known that the Christians maintain that in Jesus are (combined) a divine nature derived from the Father and a human nature derived from his mother…At the same time these words [4:171] exclude (the Christian view) that Jesus had with God the usual relationship between sons and (their) fathers…[21]”.

A major problem with the Muslim argument that the Bible is corrupted is that the Quran commands the Ahl-al-Kitab to judges by their scriptures, but how can they judge by their scriptures if they are already corrupted?  There are two different types of corruption: tahrif al-mana (corruption of meaning) and tahrif al-nas/al-lafz (corruption of the text).  In light of the context of Surah 5:42-48, 65-68 and other Quranic texts which explicitly deny that the words of Allah can be corrupted (Surah 6:114-115, 18:27), and other Surah stating that the People of the Book have concealed the truth (Surah 3:69-72), tahrif al-mana provides the most consistent explanation without making the Quran contradict itself since Surah 5:42-48, 65-68, would be a useless command to the people of the book (Jews and Christians) if the Torah and Injil were already corrupted (tahrif al-nas/al-lafz) by the time of Muhammad[22].  In the context of Surah 5:43-47, the Jews come to Muhammad who is ruling in Medina and ask him about how to judge over a dispute they are having and Muhammad tells them to judge by what God has given them in the Torah, and he addresses the Christians and tells them to judge by what God has revealed to them as well,

Surah 5:43-47 (Surat Al-Mā’idah) “[43]But how is it that they come to you for judgement while they have the Torah, in which is the judgement of Allah ? Then they turn away, [even] after that; but those are not [in fact] believers. [44] Indeed, We sent down the Torah, in which was guidance and light. The prophets who submitted [to Allah ] judged by it for the Jews, as did the rabbis and scholars by that with which they were entrusted of the Scripture of Allah , and they were witnesses thereto. So do not fear the people but fear Me, and do not exchange My verses for a small price. And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed – then it is those who are the disbelievers. [45]And We ordained for them therein a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, an ear for an ear, a tooth for a tooth, and for wounds is legal retribution. But whoever gives [up his right as] charity, it is an expiation for him. And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed – then it is those who are the wrongdoers.  [46] And We sent, following in their footsteps, Jesus, the son of Mary, confirming that which came before him in the Torah; and We gave him the Gospel, in which was guidance and light and confirming that which preceded it of the Torah as guidance and instruction for the righteous. [47] And let the People of the Gospel judge by what Allah has revealed therein. And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed – then it is those who are the defiantly disobedient.”

The argument continues a few verses (ayat) later, Muhammad commands the Christians to test the Quran by what has come before it, the Old and New Testament,

Surah 5:65-68 (Surat Al-Mā’idah) , “[65]And if only the People of the Scripture had believed and feared Allah , We would have removed from them their misdeeds and admitted them to Gardens of Pleasure. [66] And if only they upheld [the law of] the Torah, the Gospel, and what has been revealed to them from their Lord, they would have consumed [provision] from above them and from beneath their feet. Among them are a moderate community, but many of them – evil is that which they do. [67] O Messenger, announce that which has been revealed to you from your Lord, and if you do not, then you have not conveyed His message. And Allah will protect you from the people. Indeed, Allah does not guide the disbelieving people. [68] Say, “O People of the Scripture, you are [standing] on nothing until you uphold [the law of] the Torah, the Gospel, and what has been revealed to you from your Lord.” And that which has been revealed to you from your Lord will surely increase many of them in transgression and disbelief. So do not grieve over the disbelieving people.”

This provides the route by which we directly challenge a Muslims’ affirmation of the authority of the Quran as well as the incorrect view that the Trinity consists of Allah, Mary, and Jesus.  Muslims are using a double standard when they cite Bart Erhman or other skeptics to attack the reliability of the Bible, when the Quran commands Christians to judge by what God has revealed in the Bible.  We can go back to the prophets and demonstrate that the God of the Bible is holy as observed in Isaiah’s vision in Isaiah 6 in contrast to the view of god in the Quran, and God is revealed as perfectly Just (Proverbs 17:15).  A Muslim has no assurance on judgment day that Allah will be merciful and let him or her get into heaven by their own deeds, but as Christians we have a blessed hope, not by our own righteousness by Christ’s perfect righteousness (Romans 3:23-25, 5:1)[23].

[1] Muhammad Ali breaks down the Arabic of the first part of the Shahadah, the Kalimah at-Tawheed, statement of Allah’s Unity, “The best known expression of Divine Unity is that contained in the declaration of la ilaha ill-Allah.  It is made up of four words, la (no), ilah (that which is worshipped), illa (except) and Allah (the proper name of the Divine Being)” Maulana Muhammas Ali, The Religion of Islam (Ahmadiyya Anjuman Ishaat: Columbus, Ohio, 1989), 109.

[2] This was a shift in Islamic Dawah in the 20th century, which did not exist as the majority view of Muslims in preceding centuries who viewed the OT & NT as corrupted in its meaning (tahrif al mana) rather than the actual texts being corrupted (tahrif al-nas), “In the mid-19th century, the Muslim accusation of tahrif al-nass took a kind of quantum leap through the controversy between Indian Muslim scholars and European Christian missionaries in the India of the British Raj…Mawlana Rahmat Alllah Kayranawi (“al-Hini,” 1818-91) is credited with moving the textual corruption accusation forward through a famous public debate and through a widely published book.  Interestingly, the most influential Indian theologian of the modern period, Shah Wali Allah (1703-62), had previously declared that he did not believe in the corruption of the text of the Torah…Rahmat Allah seized upon a strategic plan for publicly confounding European Christian missionaries…For the first time in the history of Muslim polemic, the Indian theologian used works of historical criticism written in Europe to support the claim that Christians themselves knew of the corruption of the Bible.  The substance of Rahmat Allah’s polemic in the debate…appeared in print…in the Arabic Izhar ul-haq…20th century Arabic authors did not add substantially to Rahmat Allah’s polemic”.  Narratives of Tampering in the Earliest Commentaries on the Quran (Leiden: Brill, 2011): 24-25; cited in James White’s book, What Every Christian Needs to Know about the Quran (Grand Rapids, MI: Bethany House Publishers, 2013), 190

[3] Ibid, 109; Islam claims to be the only Abrahamic religion that has preserved Tawhid, “Yet, according to the Islamic Unitarian concept (Tawhid), Christianity is classified as polytheism and Judaism is considered a subtle form of idolatry”. Dr. Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips, The Fundamentals of Tawhid (Islamic Monotheism), (International Islamic Publishing house: Saudi Arabia, 2005), 11

[4] Muhammad ibn ‘Abdul-Wahhab  (author), Sameh Strauch (compiler & translator), Kitab At-Tawheed Explained (International Islamic Publishing House, Saudi Arabia, 2010), 22.

[5] Muhammad’s common statement affirms this, “La ḥawla wa la quwwata illa billah.” (There is no movement nor power except by Allah’s will), ibid, 22.

[6] Translation from Abu Philips, ibid, 22

[7] Translation from Abu Philips, ibid, 22

[8] Translation from Abu Philips, ibid, 22

[9] Ibid, 26-27

[10] Ibid, 29-30

[11] Ibid, 30-31

[12] Ibid, 34

[13] Translation from Saheeh International version: http://quran.com/1

[14] ibid: http://quran.com/3

[15] Ibid: http://quran.com/51/56

[16] Dr. Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips, The Fundamentals of Tawhid (Islamic Monotheism), (International Islamic Publishing house: Saudi Arabia, 2005), 39-40

[17] Ibid, 41

[18] ibid: http://quran.com/5/113-119

[19] ibid: http://quran.com/4/168-174

[20] Tafsir Ibn Kathir (Riyadh: Darusalam, 2003), 3:59

[21] Helmut Gatje, The Quran and its Exegesis (Oxford: Oneworld, 2004), 126-127; cited by James White, What Every Christian Needs to Know about the Quran (Bethany House Publishers: Grand Rapids, MI, 2013), 85

[22] For further discussion on this topic see chapter 8, Did the “People of the Book” Corrupt the Gospel? In James White’s book, What Every Christian Needs to Know about the Quran, 165-192

[23] This is a good video from the closing statement of a debate with a Muslim apologist in which James White clearly states the Gospel and contrasts the view of justification on judgment day in the Quran with the Bible:


Similarities between the Theology of Richard Baxter & N.T. Wright – Paul Helm


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Paul Helm posted this useful comparison between the neonomian tenets of Richard Baxter’s theology and N.T. Wright, the leading proponent of the New Perspective on Paul:


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


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This section gives an overview of Baxter’s covenant theology and explains how it lead to his neonomian view.  Baxter has influenced 2 contemporary neonomian views, the Federal Vision Movement & the New Perspective on Paul.  See the preceding section that I posted for the introduction and some of Baxter’s basic presuppositions about the law of God to better understand this section.  Baxter’s theology is dense, so this section is fairly technical.  Some might ask why they have never heard of these statements made by Baxter, or why mots Pastors and theologians are unaware of Baxter’s neonomian tendencies and the best answer would be due to the fact that most of Baxter’s republished works are on practical and pastoral theology, whereas the works I cite from in this section are his writings on theology, most of which have not been republished, and therefore are not as well known in comparison to his Practical works.

An Analysis of Richard Baxter’s Covenant Theology and Doctrine of Justification

Before proceeding to analyze Baxter’s theology systematically from his Aphorisms and Catholic Theology, his political method must first be surveyed since it is his hermeneutical framework in which Baxter explains his doctrine of justification.  Baxter viewed God’s Kingship as being over three domains: mankind, earth, and heaven.  Each kingdom is governed by a separate law: the first the law of nature, the second the law of Christ, and the third has no law since the saints will continue in perfect holiness[1].  Based on Baxter’s nominalist presuppositions he viewed the covenant of works as nullified after Adam fell because man was no longer capable of keeping it so the law of Christ provided a weaker covenant of works, which Christ purchased offering satisfaction to the lawgiver, God[2].  Due to Baxter’s view that the covenant of works was nullified, the elect only had to keep the law of Christ to be justified by their evangelical righteousness: sincere evangelical obedience, faith, and repentance[3].  Although this view is similar to Grotius’ government theory of atonement Baxter differed from Grotius by agreeing with Anselm’s view of the atonement that Christ offered satisfaction to God as God rather than satisfaction made to God as a governor, but not as God[4].  Baxter redefined Christ’s righteousness to signify that believers reap the benefits of it, a lighter law to obey, not that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to them as the fulfillment of the requirements of God’s law[5].

Baxter’s Aphorisms contains his first published statements on his views concerning justification, some of which he later revised.  However they still contain the substance of his doctrinal views concerning justification and it is the most cited work of Baxter by his theological opponents[6].    In Baxter’s Aphorisms he distinguishes justification as part of God’s perceptive will, while the rest of the ordo salutis was part of God’s decretive will, which made justification conditional, dependent on man’s obedience to the Gospel covenant[7].  The baptismal covenant plays a key role in Baxter’s covenant theology because it is the means of entrance into the covenant of grace[8].  Those who enter into the baptismal covenant must persevere bearing good works to be justified, “For our believing consent to the baptismal-covenant putteth us into immediate right to all the benefits of the covenant which we are then capable of, but not to all that we shall be made further capable of hereafter…[9]

Based on Baxter’s view of the law of God and the baptismal covenant he formulated a three-stage view of justification: constitutive, judicial, and executive.  Constitutive justification refers to the initial justification of someone who performs the conditions of the covenant of grace: faith, evangelical obedience, and repentance, and their faith is imputed to them for their righteousness[10].  The second stage, judicial justification, refers to the future judgment, when men are judged according to their works, so their works justify them, whereas the confessional divines refer to this as vindication.  Executive justification is when God gives the benefits of redemption to those who obey the Gospel law, which begins at constitutive justification[11].  Baxter affirms that as a result of the three-fold process of justification someone who is constitutively justified may apostatize if they don’t persevere in keeping the conditions of the Gospel covenant,

“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[12].”

Baxter’s view of the conditions of the covenant of grace is in stark contrast to the position of justification affirmed in the Reformed confessions and he admits that if it weren’t for other differences Protestants would have never separated from the Catholic Church,

“When Bellarmine saith, that our assurance more belongeth to Hope than to faith, and that it is but moral certainty by signs we have of our justification, sincerity and salvation, he so little differeth from the sense of almost all godly Protestants, that were it not through other distances, and partiality, we had never read in Luther’s days, that for this one point alone, we have cause enough of our alienation from the Romanists[13].”

Crucial to understanding Baxter’s view of the conditions of the Gospel covenant, covenant of grace, is the distinction between evangelical and legal righteousness.  The confessional divines excluded evangelical obedience as a pre-condition for justification and affirmed that Christ’s imputed righteousness was the grounds of justification, legal righteousness, but the neonomians argued that evangelical righteousness is the grounds for justification, fulfilling the obligations of the covenant of grace[14].  Baxter quotes the following from a puritan who affirms Christ’s legal righteousness as the grounds for justification and responds to him,

“…And so we are as righteous as Christ himself, because all Christ’s righteousness is ours.  And we have no other, nor need no other righteousness, at least in order to our justification: The righteousness of Christ is it by which we are justified by the law of works…[Baxter’s response]  If these words did offer me any light which we had before received, I should gladly learn, and give you thanks.  But if such talk as this, be all that must show you to be wiser than your neighbors, and such as teach Justification by works, my soul must pity you, and all such poor sinners as are troubled or seduced by you[15].”

Due to Baxter’s denial of legal righteousness as the grounds of justification it is no surprise that Baxter denied the active and passive obedience of Christ because the purpose of the law according to Baxter was to display God’s justice, “The end of the Law is the Law, and that end being the manifestation of Gods Justice and hatred of sin was fulfilled, and therefore the Law was fulfilled[16].”  Baxter denied the double debt paradigm and therefore denied Christ’s active and passive obedience and imputed righteousness which he viewed as the cause of antinomianism removing the necessity for holiness[17].  He cites both Grotius and Bradshaw as influencing his denial of Christ’s active and passive obedience,

“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[18].

Baxter’s first objection is that only Christ’s passive righteousness was needed to satisfy the demands of the law in order that Christ could be qualified for the office of mediator[19].  His second objection is that Christ’s obedience was not always to his duty as to the moral law because Christ was not a sinner and all of Christ’s works were meritorious and satisfactory[20].  Baxter affirmed that the purpose of Christ’s death and sufferings was to be a demonstration of God’s justice of his government tying in his doctrine of the atonement with his view of God’s kingship,

“The true reason of the satisfaction of Christ’s sufferings was, that they were a most apt means for the demonstration of the Governing Justice, Holiness, Wisdom, and Mercy of God, by which God could attain the ends of the Law and Government, better than by executing the Law on the world in its destruction, (as in general was before intimated)[21].”

[1] J. I. Packer, The Redemption and Restoration of Man in the Thought of Richard Baxter (Vancouver: Regent College, 2003), 215

[2] ibid, 224, “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.” ibid, 262 [Italics from Packer]

“To the second I answer, I. God did not lay aside his first Covenant, but man by sin did lay it aside, by making the condition impossible.” Richard Baxter, Catholike Theologie (London: n.p., 1675), accessed February 20, 2014, http://books.google.com/books?id=dbnmAAAAMAAJ&num=13, 153

[3] Redemption in the Thought of Baxter, 222

[4]ibid, 224; Grotius’ influence on Baxter  is undeniable by his citations from him: Richard Baxter, Aphorismes of True Justification (London: n.p., 1649), accessed February 20, 2014, http://digitalpuritan.net/richard-baxter/,  39, 55, 80, 94, 146

[5] ibid, 247; Baxter made the distinction that Christ paid the tantundem (equivalent payment) rather than the idem (identical payment), which was affirmed by Keach and Owen.  Baxter’s view is adapted from Grotius, “According to Baxter’s reading of Grotius, when the law’s penalties, or threatenings, are merely part of God’s preceptive will, and are not part of his decretive will, then those penalties may be dispensed or relaxed without doing damage to divine justice, since divine justice is based on divine government, which is chiefly concerned with the end and only secondarily with the means by which the end is achieved.” 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), 38-39

[6] See Redemption in the Thought of Baxter, 415-417 for a list of Baxter’s retractions and corrections from his Aphorisms.  “In this case I wrote my first book called Aphorisms of Justification and the Covenant, &c.  And being young, and unexercised in writing, and my thoughts yet undigested, I put into it many uncautelous words (as young writers use to do) though I think the main doctrine of it is sound.” Richard Baxter, Catholic Theology, The Preface

[7] “God hath first a will of purpose, whereby he determineth of events: what shall be, and what shall not be, and what shall not be, de facto: secondly, And a Legislative, or Preceptive will, for the government of the rational creature: whereby he determines what shall be, and what shall not be…” Richard Baxter, Aphorisms, 1-2

[8] “It is a true covenant between God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and man, which is solemnly entered in baptism: and this is a covenant of grace, even that proceedeth purely from grace; and of grace, as given by God, and by us accepted.”Richard Baxter, Catholic Theology, 129

[9] Ibid, 204, “Infant baptism began the process of salvation by engaging parents and child to covenant obligations; but this was not the sum of the process, it simply pointed the individual to the greater matter of justification.”  James M. Renihan, “Reforming The Reformed Pastor: Baptism and Justification as the Basis for Richard Baxter’s Pastoral Method,” The Reformed Baptist Theological Review 2, no. 1 (2005): 119

[10] Redemption in the Thought of Baxter, 251

[11] “Thus, justification appears, not as a single momentary event, but as a complex, tripartite Divine act, which begins with a man’s first faith in Christ and is not completed until he has received his whole reward in the world to come.” ibid, 253, this view of increasing in justification is similar to the Council of Trent, “… 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.

[12] 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

[13] ibid, 223; “De nomine some of them deny that this is any merit at all, as well as you.  And their council asserteth it not (that I see) 2. De re: They mean the same thing by Merit of Congruity, which Mr. Rogers, Bolton, Hooker, and the rest call preparation for Christ or for conversion; and so the Council of Trent calls it: which maketh a man a more congruous receiver of Grace than the unprepared, but doth not prove God obliged to his reward.  And do you not hold all this de re?” ibid, 531

[14] WCF 11.1, SDF 11.1

[15] Richard Baxter, Catholic Theology, 488; Baxter continues to say, “Let us see the Concordance.  Here you find it about six hundred times used, besides the words [justify, justifying, and justification].  Shew me how many of these six hundred texts do not speak of such inherent or performed personal righteousness, as is distinct from such as you describe in your sense of imputation.  Try whether one of twenty or forty or an hundred have such a sense.  Lib.  Not if such false teachers as you must be the expositor of them.” ibid, 488

[16] Richard Baxter, Aphorisms, 37

[17] Ernest F. Kevan, The Grace of Law: A Study in Puritan Theology (Grand Rapids: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 2013), 146, “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.” Redemption in the Thought of Baxter, 245-246;  Richard Baxter, Aphorisms,52-55

[18] Richard Baxter, Aphorisms, 55

[19] ibid, 55-56

[20] ibid, 58

[21] Richard Baxter, Catholic Theology, 173

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.  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, http://digitalpuritan.net/benjaminkeach.html,  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: vintage.aomin.org/isaiah4045.html

[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)


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