Defending the Inerrancy of Scripture with Skeptics

Defending the Inerrancy of Scripture with Skeptics

How would I defend the doctrine of biblical inerrancy to either a skeptic or a non-evangelical Christian? Although the aim of my discussion with either party would be the same, the approaches would need to be different. However, there would be some overlap in my method of debating either persuasion.

For example, you should practice active listening because it is twice as important to listen as it is to speak. Often, when we are in a defensive posture during a conversation, we will not truly listen to the other side’s argument. We should listen not to be convinced of the claims, but to realize where their objections originate. For the skeptic, listen to find out if they are atheist, agnostic, or a person with religious leanings.  On the other hand, listen to the non-evangelical Christian, to determine their objections to the doctrine of inerrancy? What passage(s) are problematic to them? Actively listening to your counterpart with respect will only improve your ability to convince the other person. What good is it to “win” the argument and lose the opportunity to win a person to Christ? Even people with whom we disagree are created in the image of God, considered valuable by the cross of Christ, and are worthy of our listening ear.

Secondly, beyond my undivided attention, I would present to both parties a clear definition of what I mean by the term inerrancy. Millard Erickson defines inerrancy as, “the Bible: when correctly interpreted in light of the level to which culture and the means of communication had developed at the time it was written, and in view of the purposes for which it was given, is fully truthful in all that it affirms.”[1] By listening to make sure I understand their objections and defining my position, I lay the foundation for a potentially fruitful conversation.

How would my conversation with a skeptic differ? No matter if the skeptic is an atheist, agnostic, or a person with religious leanings, the conversation needs to begin on common ground. General revelation is this common ground. As Scripture declares, a person that denies the existence of God has suppressed the truth (Rom 1:18) revealed through nature and the constitution of man as a moral being.

Therefore, after making a case for the existence of God, one can progress to arguing this God has revealed Himself to humanity through not only the Incarnation of Christ but the written word as well. One can look to the uniqueness of the Holy Bible. Its composition from over forty authors from all walks of life, written in approximately 1,500 years, its accurate prophetic utterances, and the unifying theme of Christ’s redemption is present throughout its pages. This argument fails to mention the longevity of the Bible, despite severe opposition. Therefore, when speaking with a skeptic who clings to logic and reason, it is paramount that the Bible’s claims of being the very word of God are neither illogical or unreasonable. However, it still must be received by faith, but not a blind faith.

As far as the skeptic, is adherence to biblical inerrancy necessary for Christian belief? This question is a slippery fish. The Bible is clear faith in Christ alone is what brings salvation to sinners (Jn 1:12; Jn 3:16; Rom 5:1). However, how would a person hear and receive the gospel message, if the means of the message (a.k.a. the Bible) is not fully reliable? Of course, the Spirit of God is what quickens our hearts through the hearing of the message, but would not the Spirit also convince of inerrancy too? Regardless, faith is given by the Spirit, which draws sinners to the Father (Jn 6:44,63).

Therefore, in theory, the doctrine of biblical inerrancy is not necessary for Christian belief. A person convinced of the Gospel’s simple message of faith may not be fully persuaded that record of Scripture was accurately preserved. Nevertheless, that fishy question is quite slick, because how would you know the message of salvation was preserved? How could one be assured of their right standing with God? What kind of God could not preserve an accurate revelation of Himself? As one can witness, the denial of biblical inerrancy does devolve into endless questions and doubts. This notion brings us to the next point of discussion concerning the non-evangelical Christian and their objections to biblical inerrancy.

First, for clarity’s sake, the non-evangelical Christian is one that acknowledges Jesus Christ and accepts the claims of the Gospel but admits the Bible does indeed contain errors. Thus, God has not pristinely preserved His special revelation to humanity. Much of the previously stated argument applies to this situation as well. Evidently, a non-evangelical Christian would affirm the authoritative nature of the Bible (or at least to some degree), but how could the God-breathed Scriptures be divorced from inerrancy? Again, the fish flops!

For this individual, I would argue that one’s position on the doctrine of inerrancy greatly affects what one believes (doctrine). What if the inspired biblical writers “fudged” on the details included (regardless if intentional or not)? What would that say about the nature of the inspiring Spirit? How could we trust God? Although, in theory, I have proposed one could be a Christian without adhering to the inerrancy of Scripture, how could you define what is Christian? For all that we know about Christ is taught through Scripture. It is possible this individual would appeal to the traditions of the Church, but historically the Church they appeal to has affirmed the doctrine they are attempting to refute! I still smell something fishy. It’s clear the denial of the Scripture’s truthfulness is frustrating to faith or doctrine.

Furthermore, how does this repudiation of an inerrant Bible affect their lifestyle practice? How could a person define what a Christian lifestyle is? Historically, the Bible has been the standard by which Christians have measured there walk with God. The Apostle James gave the analogy of the Word being a mirror (Jam 1:23). If the Bible’s message contains errors, I assume the image depicted in its reflection would be distorted; much like one’s reflection in a carnival mirror. A brief look at the history of any Christian denomination or sect, which rejects the inerrancy of the Word, reveals they ultimately begin to apostatize. Therefore, the belief that Scripture is, not only authoritative but inerrant is pivotal to the practice of fruitful Christianity.

How does this issue touch ministry practices? It will disturb ministry efforts as well. As already stated, the person is a non-evangelical. This title designates that the proclamation of the Gospel is not at the forefront of their effort.  How could this be if they believe the Word of God to be an accurate depiction of God’s commands? What one believes determines what one does. When the trustworthiness of Scripture is in question, all begins to crumble because the foundation has shifted.

In conclusion, the doctrine of inerrancy is vital to the Church and Christian life. Although one may believe the Good News and be a Christian, while denying the inerrancy of the Bible, complications are bound to follow. During the writing of this post, I referred to the questions being as slippery as a fish, but I do not think a flopping fish is the issue at all. Instead of struggling to handle slippery questions, we need to realize the slithering serpent that is at the root of the debate, who from the beginning, posed the poisonous question, “Did God really say…?”

[1] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 201-202.

 

Gifted for the Common Good

Gifted for the Common Good

Text: 1 Corinthians 12:1-11

Summary of the Text: In the passage, Paul begins to address another issue concerning the Corinthian public worship; the use of Spiritual gifts. He discusses the declaration of the Spirit, the manifestation of the Spirit, and the distribution of the gifts.

The Proposition of the Sermon: What are the Spiritual gifts and their purpose? Individuals within the  Body of Christ are gifted for the common good of the whole Church.

 

Introduction

            Have you ever overheard another person’s conversation on the phone? It is a one-sided discussion, or at least it is from your perspective. You could liken this letter to the Corinthians (and other epistles too) to such an eavesdropped “telephone conversation.”  We can hear the Apostle Paul’s statement loud and clear, but the Corinthians’ comments are muffled mutterings from the other end of the receiver.  We can only hope to follow the dialogue by picking up on the contexts clues.

However, we have reached a highly controversial portion of Paul’s conversation with the Church at Corinth. There seems to be more confusion and disagreement about Spiritual gifts in the church today than ever before. What are the gifts? Are they for today? If so, how are they to operate in the church today? These questions are only the beginning of the discussion.

Regardless of the fact of the one-sided nature of the “conversation,” the discussion is complicated even more because many people do not view the following verses in their complete context (1 Cor 12-14). PLEASE HEAR THE WHOLE OF PAUL’S DISCUSSION ON THE SPIRITUAL GIFTS! (This is not to mention Romans 12.) The following series of sermons will follow the progression of Paul’s letter concerning the matter, so please understand, I may not answer the question you are longing to hear in this sermon. However, I hope to give clarity to the debated topic of Spiritual gifts by analyzing the letter’s contents and allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture. The Holy Spirit is plain-spoken through the pen of Paul, “I do not want you to be unaware” (12) (or ignorant) concerning Spiritual gifts.

Now, in 1 Corinthian 12:1-11, Paul begins to speak to the Corinthian congregations’ concerns about Spiritual gifts. It appears there is complete chaos in the public worship service at Corinth. The gifts were being used in competition against each other; instead of helping one another. Would it be surprising if the Corinthians were dividing up in the “spiritual elite,” which operated in the more spectacular gifting, as opposed to the ones who did not possess a magnificent gift? I believe that is the case!

Therefore, Paul explains that all gifts (flashy or understated) are given for the common good of the church. In this sermon, we will investigate the declaration of the Spirit, the manifestation of the Spirit, and the distribution of the gifts to reveal that all are given for the spiritual welfare of the Church.

The Declaration of the Spirit vv. 1-3

In vv. 1-3, Paul makes known the declaration of the Spirit, which in turn allows us to see the Spirit’s role of testifying of Jesus. In these verses, I would like to make three points. The first point is concerning the word “gifts” in v.1. Paul states, “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware” (1).  This verse could be rendered, “Now concerning spiritual brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant.” In most translations, the word gift is italicized. This indicates that in the original manuscripts this word is not there but has been inserted by translators to help the modern reader grasp the gist of the passage. Could this reveal insight into the dilemma at Corinth? Could there be certain “Spiritual brethren” which the Spirit manifest more mightily through and thus cause attention to be drawn to them? It is possible. However, regardless of the rendering, Paul is clear that he did not desire the church to be ignorant.

The remaining two points are drawn from vv. 2-3. Paul writes, “You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus is accursed’; and no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (2-3).  The second point deals with why Paul mentions “mute idols” and “Jesus being accursed.”  D.A Carson writes,

Pagans believed that the gods were capable of influencing their objectives against others in areas of life such as athletic competition, matters of the heart, business and politics. This was done in pagan worship through the use of curses against their opponents. Sometimes they were written on lead, deposited in the temple and wells and sworn in the name of a god. A curse tablet found in the temple of Demeter in Corinth read, ‘Hermes of the underworld [grant] heavy curses.’ Jesus be cursed can be translated ‘Jesus [is] a curse’ or ‘Jesus [grant] a curse’ for the two words are lit. ‘anathema Jesus.’Cf. 16:22 ‘let him be anathema’ where the verb is in the present tense. Were the Corinthian Christians using the name of Jesus as a curse against opponents in the same way pagans did with there gods? Is Paul saying that no person speaking by the Spirit of God curses others with ‘anathema Jesus’ in order to disadvantage them? Only those led by the Spirit will affirm that Jesus is Lord. Christians were meant to be using their gifts for the blessing and the welfare of others 1

This ‘anathema Jesus’ statement may have been formulated by a misunderstanding of how Jesus was accursed for us.

The final, and most significant, point is located at the end of v. 3. Paul states, “…and no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (3). In this statement, Paul reveals the revelatory role of the Spirit of God. It does not matter how grandiose a manifestation is if it does not point to the fact that Jesus is Lord. It is not the Spirit. For further clarification, the Apostle John records Jesus’ teaching concerning this testimony of the Spirit in his Gospel. First, he writes, “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me,” (NASB Jn 15:26).  Later it is recorded,

“But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. 16:14  “He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. (NASB Jn 16:13-14)

The biblical role of the Holy Spirit is to testify of Christ. He will magnify and glorify Christ, not any other. If the attention is given to a man or any other, no matter how supernatural the occurrence, it is not godly. Christ alone is to be honored!

In summary, this portion of the passage, Paul explains it is not his desire (I also believe the Spirit’s desire) that believers be unaware (or ignorant) of the gifts of the Spirit. If a supernatural manifestation occurs, it will only point to Christ and His redeeming work. No exceptions.

The Manifestation of the Spirit vv. 4-10

            In this section (vv. 4-10), Paul addresses the manifestation of the Spirit. I would like to divide these verses into two subsections. The first part can be identified by Paul’s use of the word varieties (διαίρεσις or diairesis) 2 in vv. 4-7.  The second section is vv. 8-10 and is a list of supernatural gifts of the Spirit.

Varieties of Gifts, Ministries, and Effects vv. 4-7

In vv. 4-6, Paul makes three enlightening statements concerning the spiritual gifts.  In these three comments, Paul explains there are varieties of gifts, ministries, and effects. In this portion of the sermon, these terms will be investigated for insight into Paul’s understanding of the gifts of the Spirit.

First, what does Paul mean by varieties? The NLT rendering of the passage brings clarity to what is meant by varieties. It states,

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us” (NLT 1 Cor 12:4-6).

In short, Paul is giving a set of divisions or categorical list of the gifts. This list in 1 Corinthian 12 is not an exhaustive list. The reason these types of gifts are mentioned here is, more than likely, due to the situation at Corinth.

Secondly, Paul states, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit” (4).  What does Paul mean by the word “gifts?The word translated “gifts” is the Greek word χάρισμα (or Charisma). It means, “a gift of grace, a free gift” 3  For Paul, these gifts, regardless of type, are given by the Spirit of God through the means of grace. They are not earned or learned. (Again, please remember this Corinthian list is not a comprehensive inventory of all the gifts. See Romans 12:3-8 for more gifts).

Furthermore, Paul writes, “And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord” (5). “Ministries” comes from the διακονία (diakonia). It means “service, ministry.” 4 It is where the word “deacon” originates. I believe Paul is here alluding to the five-fold ministry gifts listed in Eph. 4:11-13. There he states,

But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, “WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH, HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES, AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN.”  (Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.) And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,  for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; (NASB Eph 4:7-12).

God gives gifted people to the church. (Could this sway the translation debate on v.1?)

Furthermore, Paul writes, “There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons” (6).  The word rendered “effects” (ἐνέργημα or energêma) 5 is rendered as activities, operations, or workings in various translations (see ESV, KJV, and ASV).  Energema is where our English word “energy” is derived. Therefore, these spiritual “activities” are energized by the Spirit of God for the purposes of God within the Church. The use of this word by Paul paints a picture of what is happening at Corinth. Could it be the Church at Corinth were enamored with these supernatural effects (or manifestations of the Spirit)? Absolutely, it is evident in later passages that Corinth has an issue with the supernatural signs.

Finally, Paul argues, “But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (7). No matter what “category” the spiritual gift falls in, it is given for the betterment of the community of faith. Also, it is important to note, that the “manifestation” or display of the Spirit is not to say the Spirit was absent without an exhibition of the gift. The Spirit is always present in the life of the believer, but at times of manifestation, the Spirit is more apparent.

In summary of this subsection, Paul uses three informative words, which shed light on the gifts of the Spirit. There are a variety of gifts, ministries, and effects all given by God to the Body of Christ. These grace-endowments are given to the Body for the welfare of the entire Body and not merely individual members (although they may be beneficial to the individual). Also, regardless, of the manifestation, if it is of the Spirit, it will testify to Christ and His work. The Holy Spirit will not speak against the Christ and His Word.

Supernatural Manifestations of the Spirit vv. 8-10

In vv. 8-10, Paul gives nine supernatural gifts given to the church by the Spirit of God. They are recorded as follows: word of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, effecting of miracles, prophecy, distinguishing of spirits, various kinds of tongues, and interpretation of tongues. We will examine each in the order Paul presents but it may be useful to note that some categorize these nine into three groups. There are the revelation gifts (word of wisdom, word of knowledge, and distinguishing of spirits), power gifts (faith, healings, and miracles), and utterance gifts (prophecy, tongues, interpretation of tongues). In this section of the study, I would like to give attention to the definition of these gifts and if possible give examples from Scripture. (I will only survey these gifts, especially tongues  and interpretation of tongues, because the utterance gifts will be dealt with in detail later in 1 Cor 14.)

In v. 8 Paul writes, “For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit;” (8).  Since there is controversy over what these two gifts are, I will begin with what is not debatable. First, the wisdom (σοφία or sophia) is defined as “skill, wisdom.” is defined as “a knowing or knowledge” 6 and knowledge (γνῶσις or gnosis) 7 Apparently, there is a difference between the two gifts just because of their separate listing. An important consideration is that knowledge is the accumulation of facts and wisdom is the application of that knowledge. However, this is wisdom and knowledge given by the Spirit of God. I do not believe Paul is speaking of mere human mental acquisition and application here, but spiritual endowments.

Therefore, the word of wisdom is the supernatural ability to speak forth the wisdom of God. One writer states, “This gift describes someone who can understand and speak forth biblical truth in such a way as to skillfully apply it to life situations with all discernment.” 8  This gift is not limited to the New Testament era. For Old Testament, examples think of Solomon and Daniel. For New Testament instances look to  Stephen in Acts 6:8-10.

Furthermore, the word of knowledge is the supernatural ability to know facts, which are humanly impossible. We see this gift operating within the New Testament. First, with Jesus. For instance, Jesus knowing Nathaniel was under the fig tree (Jn 1:45-51) or the coin in the fish’s mouth to pay the temple tax (Matt 17:24-27). But that was Jesus, right? What about Philip’s knowledge about the whereabouts of the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8? Or the announcement of Cornelius’ arrival in Acts 10?  What about the Apostle Paul’s revelation of the shipwreck in Acts 27? Again this is not book-smarts, this is revealed supernatural knowledge given by the Spirit of God for the purposes of the Gospel.

In v. 9, Paul states, “to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit” (9).  First, all believers have the gift of faith (πίστις or pistis) 9, but this would be understood more clearly as “water walking faith” (Matt 14:22-33) or “mountain moving” faith. A great endowment of faith given at the specific time for a particular purpose. A modern-day example would be George Mueller. The gift of faith is the ability to believe God regardless of situation or circumstance.

Furthermore, the “gifts of healing” is given to some members of the church. Adam Clarke writes,

Gifts of healing simply refers to the power which at particular times the apostles received from the Holy Spirit to cure diseases; a power which was not always resident in them; for Paul could not cure Timothy, nor remove his own thorn in the flesh; because it was given only on extraordinary occasions, though perhaps more generally than many others. 10

Is there any need to review all the healings in the Gospels and Acts? Also, attention should be given to the plurality of the word gifts.

In v. 10, Paul gives the remaining five spiritual gifts under consideration. Paul writes, “and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues” (10).  First, what is the “effecting of miracles”? This gift often gets lumped in with the gifts of healing. However, it is a separate grace endowment. The word rendered miracles is δύναμις (or dunamis). [11, New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, (Anaheim, CA: Foundation Publications, 1998), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “1411”] This term is synonymous to “explosive power.” Some have stated that this is etymologically linked to the word “dynamite.” Second, is the gift of prophecy (προφητεία or propheteia) 11  In the Bible, there are two types of prophecy; forth-telling and foretelling.  Forthtelling is more akin to preaching and proclaiming the Scriptures. However, there is the prophecy which falls into the foretelling category (See Acts 11:28; 21:11). Third, the “distinguishing of spirits” is the ability to discern whether a spirit is demonic or godly. Finally, then there is “tongues” and “interpretation of tongues.” The gift of tongues is the ability to speak in a language, which is unknown and foreign to the speaker. Therefore, the gift of interpretation is the ability to understand the tongues as mentioned (see Acts 2). (As stated previously, more attention will be given to prophecy, tongues, and interpretation of tongues later in 1 Cor 14.)

In summary of this section, Paul lists a group of supernatural spiritual gifts in vv. 8-10. The fact these are supernatural “effects, activities, or workings” of the Spirit should imply these are not regular everyday occurrences. However, God does in His sovereignty distribute the gifts to serve the church in its global mission. It would be erroneous to expect these incidents as normative, but also as much incorrect would be the view of them never happening. This thought brings up the next section of consideration from the test; the distribution of these gifts.

The Distribution of the Gifts v. 11

            As mentioned above, God dispenses these gifts at His sovereign pleasure. This statement is not to negate the factor of human volition in operating of the gifts (See 1 Cor 14:32). If human error were not a factor, then Paul would not have needed to write on the subject. However, the gifts are given by God for His purposes.

            Does everyone possess all the gifts? No. Paul writes, “But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills” (11). God is the is the Giver and chooses to who receives what gift. God alone knows what we have need of and gives the manifestation of the Spirit as He desires (v.7). It is erroneous to assert that all believers should possess a particular gift.

Conclusion

In conclusion, what are the Spiritual gifts and their purpose? Individuals within the Body of Christ are gracefully gifted by the Spirit of God with endowments for the common good of the Church.  We have witnessed the declaration of the Spirit of God in vv. 1-3, the manifestations of the Spirit in vv. 4-10, and the distribution of the Gifts in vv. 11.

 

 

  1. D. A. Carson et al., New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1998), 1180.
  2. New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, (Anaheim, CA: Foundation Publications, 1998), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “1243”.
  3. New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, (Anaheim, CA: Foundation Publications, 1998), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “5486”.
  4. , New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, (Anaheim, CA: Foundation Publications, 1998), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “1248”.
  5. New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, (Anaheim, CA: Foundation Publications, 1998), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “1755”
  6. New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, (Anaheim, CA: Foundation Publications, 1998), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “4678”
  7. New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, (Anaheim, CA: Foundation Publications, 1998), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “1108”
  8. GotQuestions.org, “What are the spiritual gifts of the word of wisdom and the word of knowledge?” GotQuestions.org, January 04, 2017, accessed February 03, 2018, https://www.gotquestions.org/word-wisdom-knowledge.html.
  9. New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, (Anaheim, CA: Foundation Publications, 1998), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “4102”
  10. Adam Clarke , Commentary on the Bible by Adam Clarke: 1 Corinthians: 1 Corinthians Chapter 12, accessed February 03, 2018, http://www.sacred-texts.com/bib/cmt/clarke/co1012.htm.
  11. New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, (Anaheim, CA: Foundation Publications, 1998), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “4394”.
Table Manners: Coming ‘Together’ for the Lord’s Supper

Table Manners: Coming ‘Together’ for the Lord’s Supper

Text: 1 Corinthians 11:17-34

Summary of the Text:  In this passage, the Apostle Paul rebukes the Corinthian congregation for having divisions and factions, which were becoming obvious during the Lord’s Supper; a meal which should reflect the selfless attitude of Christ and the unity of the believers.

The thesis of the Sermon:  How should the church behave during the Lord’s Supper? The church should ‘come together’ in a time of self-examination during communion while celebrating the unity found in Christ.

Introduction: 

No East or West 

In Christ there is no East or West,

In Him no South ot North,

But one great fellowship of Love

Throughout the whole wide earth.

In Him shall true hearts everywhere

Their high communion find

His service is the golden cord

Close-binding all mankind.

Join hands then, Brothers of the Faith,

Whate’er your race may be! –

Who serves my Father as a son

Is surely kin to me.

In Christ now meet both East and West,

In Him meet South and North,

All Christly souls are one in Him,

Throughout the whole wide earth. 1

What a lovely poem about Christian unity! The audience of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians would, more than likely, given lip-service to this verse. However, their actions around the table of the Lord painted a scene of disunity and selfishness.

In 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, Paul scolds the Corinthians for having divisions [schismas or schisms] and factions [hairesis or heresy], which were evident during the Lord’s Supper; a meal which should reflect the selfless attitude of Christ and the unity of the believers. This sermon will explore the factors surrounding this passage and endeavor to reveal the proper approach the church should use while celebrating the Lord’s Supper.

To do this, the sermon will consist of three sections. First, we will examine the problem of disunity at Corinth. Second, the pattern of communion delivered by Paul to the church. Third, we will consider the purpose of the Holy Meal in the life of the believer today.

The Problem at Corinth vv. 17-22

In this section, Paul shifts to another issue with the Corinthian public worship services. A point Paul is obviously annoyed by. He writes, “…I do not praise you” (17) … “Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you” (22).  Paul is profoundly disturbed by the Corinthians.

What is the issue Paul being unhappy with? He writes, “…because you come together not for the better but for the worse” (17).  Instead of being an edifying assembly the Corinthians worship services are driving a wedge between them! Paul elaborates

For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; an in part I believe it. For there must be factions among you, so that those who are approved may be evident among you (18-19).

These divisions (or schismas) and factions (or Hairesis) were dividing the believers at Corinth into competing parties rather than complementary members.

First, the statement “when you come to together as a church…” needs some explanation. Although we have sanctified the term “church” (or ekklesia), in Paul’s world the term could be used for any type of gathering of people. However, the Evangelist Matthew use the word ekklesia in a new way in Matthew 18:20. He writes, “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst” (NASB Matt 18:20). The presence of Christ within the gathering made it a sacred assembling.

During this sacred gathering, the Early Church practiced having a love-feast or agape meal (think of a spiritual potluck) and the Lord’s Supper was the pinnacle of the meal. The first half of the gettogether would consist of a shared meal (see Acts 2:42), which lead up to sharing of the Communion meal. However, the Corinthians were divided at a meal, which was meant to reveal the unity in Christ. Ben Witherington III writes,

These divisions seem to have created been created by some of the well-to-do members of the congregation treating the agape meal like a private dinner party, perhaps a banquet followed by a drinking party (convivium). The result of this was that the social stratification of the congregation was overemphasized and exacerbated. A serious division between the haves and the have-nots was thus threatening the fragile unity of the Corinthian community. 2

Witherington further explains customary etiquette at such dinner. He states,

It was the normal practice to rank one’s guest in terms of social status , with those of higher status eating with the host in the dining room and others eating elsewhere an getting poorer food. 3

It is easy to see if this were the case at Corinth that these practices were an affront to the Gospel’s message of unity among the classes!

Furthermore, in verses 20-21, Paul paints a picture of the situation at Corinth. He writes, “…for in your own eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk” (21). There is a debate to which is the proper interpretation of these verses. Some argue that the well-to-do member were not waiting for the poorer members to arrive before they began the feast (see verse 33). On the other hand, some say it was merely that the wealthy members were consuming what they brought instead of sharing with the less fortunate congregants. (In my opinion, it could have been a bit of both!) Whether the individuals are eating before others have a chance or eating what they brought, it is equally disgracing to the purpose of the gathering. This meal was an opportunity for all to share a common meal without distinctions of a class being drawn. We can witness Paul’s disgust in the Corinthian division by looking at the rhetorical questions he leveled at them in v. 22.

For clarity, let’s put it in the modern vernacular. The Corinthian congregation was full of social cliques. The haves was not sharing with the less fortunate. They were even having a big potluck (or church social) to rub it in! Should this be? God forbid! Paul states earlier in the letter, “Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread” (NASB 1 Cor 10:17).

On a side note, Paul has a positive point about the divisions and factions. In verse 20, he writes, “…so that those who are approved may become evident among you.” These schisms and heresies allow for the true believers to rise the surface.

The Pattern of Communion vv.23-26

In verse 23-25, Paul recounts the Last Supper shared between Jesus and his Disciples. Paul states he has, “…received from the Lord…” this pattern of communion. He also has shared this with this congregation in the past at some point in time. They know better than to partake in this sacred meal like they are doing.

Although selfishness was witnessed in the Corinthians meal, Paul directs them to the most unselfish act of Christ, which is commemorated in the Lord’s Supper. As Baptists were practice two ordinances, believers’ baptism and communion. The Lord’s Supper is a symbolic act of obedience whereby members of the church, through partaking of the bread and the fruit of the vine, memorialize the death of the Redeemer and anticipate His Second Coming. 4

Of course, the matter of how Christ is present in the communion meal has been a subject of heated debate. Catholics adhere to the doctrine of transubstantiation where it is believed the element physically change into the body and blood of Christ. Luther suggested consubstantiation where the elements, although not changed, are the literal body and blood by faith. David Guzik offers some great commentary on the intense argument over how Christ is present in the Eucharist.  He writes,

John Calvin taught that Jesus’ presence in the bread and wine was real, but only spiritual, not physical. Zwingli taught that the bread and wine are mere symbols that represent the body and blood of Jesus. When the Swiss Reformers debated the issue with Martin Luther at Marburg, there was a huge contention. Luther insisted on some kind of physical presence because Jesus said this is My body. He insisted over and over again, writing it on the velvet of the table, Hoc est corpus meum – “this is My body” in Latin. Zwingli replied, “Jesus also said I am the vine,” and “I am the door,” but we understand what He was saying. Luther replied, “I don’t know, but if Christ told me to eat dung I would do it knowing that it was good for me.” Luther was so strong on this because he saw it as an issue of believing Christ’s words, and because he thought Zwingli was compromising, he said he was of another spirit (andere geist). Ironically, Luther later read Calvin’s writings on the Lord’s Supper (which were essentially the same as Zwingli’s) and seemed to agree with Calvin’s views. 5

As Southern Baptists, we align more with Reformers like Zwingli. Zwingli states,

We believe that Christ is truly present in the Lord’s Supper; yea, we believe that there is no communion without the presence of Christ. This is the proof: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt 18:20). How much more is he present where the whole congregation is assembled in his honor! But that his body is literally eaten is far from the truth and nature of faith. It is contrary to the truth, because he himself says: ‘I am no more in the world (Jn. 17:11), and ‘the flesh profiteth nothing’ (Jn. 6:63), that is to eat, as the Jews then believed and the Papists still believe. It is contrary to the nature of faith (I mean the holy and true faith), because faith embraces love, fear of God, and reverence, which abhor such carnal and gross eating, as much as anyone would shrink from eating his beloved son…We believe that the true body of Christ is eaten in the communion in a sacramental and spiritual manner by the religions, believing, and pious heart (as also St. Chrysostom taught). And this is in brief the substance of what we maintain in this controversy, and what not we, but the truth itself teaches. 6

The Purpose of Communion vv. 26-34

The Apostle Paul has already acknowledged the unity expressed through the meal in 1 Cor 10:17. However, there are individual responsibilities for every communicant. The first responsibility is capture in v. 26.  Paul writes, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (26). While partaking in this meal, the believer is look back to Christ’s death (“…which is for you…v.24) acknowledging the sacrificial atonement Christ has provided them for there sins. Not only is the believer to look back with grateful hearts but also look forward with hope for the Second Coming. Both looking back, and forward are done in faith. The purpose of the ordinance is for reflection of both realities. The believer’s eschatological state of “already/but not yet” is captured beautifully in the communion meal.

The second responsibility of the communicant, it to not only observe the past sacrifice and future hope but to look internally at oneself. Paul states, “But the man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat the bread and drink of the cup” (28). Communion should never be taken in a state of rebellion to God’s word. It is a time to reflect inwardly in repentance. Once this inward examination is complete, the believer is to look outwardly. Not in judgment but in a spirit of unity and brotherhood. Brothers lovely correct each other, if and when it is needed. This time of eschatological reflection and examination is the purpose of communion.

What if you neglect these responsibilities? Paul writes, “Therefore whoever eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthily manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord” (27). Paul is clear that God chastises irreverent believers who take lightly the Lord’s Supper (see vv. 27, 29-30). What does Paul mean “in and unworthily manner”? Does this mean you have to be perfect or sinless? No. D.A. Carson explains,

In this particular context, the unworthy eating of the bread and drinking of the cup has to do with their attitudes and actions towards each other, especially the needy who have suffered acute embarrassment. Attention is being drawn to their status and circumstances in the meal, in a community where these social divisions were meant to be abolished in Christ (cf. 1:30). They were guilty of sinning against, or possibly the grounds of, the body and blood of the Lord. All must test of examine themselves before they participate. In this context, the examination has to do with attitudes of a party spirit and lack of compassion towards the ‘have-nots.’ 7

If you are guilty of this nonchalant attitude while partaking of the Lord’s Supper the penalty can be severe (see 30-33).

Conclusion

In this passage, the Apostle Paul rebukes the Corinthian congregation for having divisions and factions, which were becoming obvious during the Lord’s Supper; a meal which should reflect the selfless attitude of Christ and the unity of the believers. The Corinthians possibly acknowledging the brotherhood of Christians with their words but not their deeds. Let us not follow their example, but Christ’s model.

We, as believers, should reflect backward to Christ’s death on the cross and forward to His triumphant return. As well as, look inward for self-examination, while embracing the unity in Christ as we partake in communion. Let us have Table Manners: Coming Together in Unity for the Lord’s Supper.

 

 

 

  1.  Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s Ultimate Book of Illustrations & Quotes (Nashville , TN: Thomas Nelson , 1998), 598.
  2. Ben Witherington, Conflict and community in Corinth: a socio-rhethorical commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 241.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Baptist Faith & Message 2000, www.sbc.net
  5. David Guzik, “Enduring Word Bible Commentary 1 Corinthians Chapter 11,” Enduring Word, , accessed January 27, 2018, https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/1-corinthians-11/.
  6. Zwingli’s Distinctive Doctrines, accessed January 27, 2018, http://biblehub.com/library/various/creeds_of_christendom_with_a_history_and_critical_notes/_52_zwinglis_distinctive_doctrines.htm#1.
  7. D. A. Carson et al., New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1998), 1179.
Expelled: A Case for Excommunication in 1 Corinthian 5

Expelled: A Case for Excommunication in 1 Corinthian 5

  Should a person be expelled from a church communion? Often, in the minds of modernity, the word “excommunication” conjures up disparaging images of a bygone puritanical society ostracizing an individual for a simple mistake or even false allegations. The idea that an individual can be removed from their place of fellowship is downright repugnant for many. However, this paper intends to illustrate, the conjured imagery of black-robed clerical bullies ousting members does not do the biblical practice of excommunication justice. In fact, although there may be obvious abuses of power within church history, the motivation behind expulsion should be for the betterment of all that are involved. This was indeed the case in Paul’s handling of an unrepentant individual who had done the unthinkable in 1 Corinthians 5.  By examining the Apostle Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 5, it becomes apparent that church discipline, namely the excommunication of an unrepentant member, is not only biblical but necessary at times.

The Need for Discipline (5:1-2)

History of Immorality in Corinth

First, before addressing the extremely grievous situation found in 1 Corinthians 5, it is important for argument’s sake to paint the historical scene at Corinth. The ancient city of Corinth was known for its monumental temples, prosperous ports and also its rampant immorality. Corinth was Greco-Roman boomtown, where one could obtain great success in business and stoop to all-time lows with its excesses. Paul Weaver writes, “… there is one subject matter that was intensely problematic and for which the city was notoriously known. This was the issue of ‘immorality’ (1 Cor 5:1-12; 6:9-11; 6:12-20; 7:1-9; 10:6-8; 2 Cor 2:5-11; 12:12-21).”[1]  Indeed, in the Corinthian culture, there was a freedman mentality that desired to possess all the pleasures of the flesh, which was once unattainable. In Corinth, the sky was the limit economically, even if one was wallowing in the gutter of immorality.

In verse 1, Paul reveals this immoral behavior was present in the lives of some in the ecclesia.  Paul writes, “It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you…” (KJV 1 Cor 5:1a).  French Arrington explains,

Many of the converts among the Corinthians had not made a final break with their old lifestyles. Christ had called them out of vice and sin, but those who had not made a clean break were slipping back into their old pagan ways. Word had circulated that fornication had crept into the church. In the New Testament the word fornication is used for unchastity and illicit sexual relations of all kinds.[2]

In fact, Paul’s concern for the fornication taking place at Corinth was not a new subject for the ears of the members of this ecclesia. Paul references at lost letter in verse 9 where he had previously addressed the issue of fornication and associations with the immoral. By these facts, it is clear the Corinthian culture, and the Christian worldview was on colliding paths. For the Christians at Corinth, they would need to abandon the history of immorality for a future of chastity. Even if it meant separation from those brethren caught in the indulgences of the flesh.

The Current Corinthian Crisis

First, although Paul addressed the issue of immorality in the past, the current situation in Corinth was even worse than in past incidences. Paul continues in writing in verse 1, “…and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife” (KJV 1 Cor 5:1). Paul is addressing a man marrying his step-mother in this verse. Arrington comments, “This is implied by Paul’s choice of words – ‘his father’s wife’ rather than ‘his mother’ (5:1).”[3]  Many scholars believe this relationship was, more than likely, instituted as a means to secure financial gains by not returning the great dowry given by the bride’s family. The return of these gifts in cases of the death of the husband or divorce were customary in Corinth. This marriage appears to be a contractual agreement to save face in the Corinthian culture.

Paul expresses unbelief in the acceptance of this marriage when he compares it to marriages among the Gentiles. The Jewish members of this congregation should have known that this type of relation was forbidden under Mosaic Law (Lev 18:8; Deut 22:30; 27:20). However, Derek McNamara states, “According to Roman law, it was illegal for a son to marry a step-mother (Gaius Inst. 1.63). However, Andrew Clarke suggests that as a tactic in preserving his deceased father’s estate this man married his step-mother.[4]” In short, not only were the Jewish congregants guilty but also the members from a pagan Roman background knew better too. No matter how the Corinthians wanted to spin this situation, it was simply unjustifiable.

Secondly, Paul gives a greater insight into the gravity of this incident in the Corinthian ecclesia. Paul pens, “And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you” (KJV 1 Cor 5:2). The Apostle Paul was baffled by the Corinthian congregation’s inaction. By keeping silent and not disciplining this gross offense the church had, in essence, endorsed this behavior. Weaver states,

They ought to have shown signs of great grief for this immoral behavior, and this sinning brother, but instead they chose not to act, and by not acting illustrated their great pride. It is probable in light of the instruction given in 6:12-13 that they had adopted the attitude that “everything is permissible.[5]

The offender and those around him were showboating this grave offense. As mentioned by Weaver, many have argued this was due to their misunderstanding of liberality in Christ. Albeit, this offender should have been removed from fellowship according to Paul.

Furthermore, scholars have posed that the Corinthians’ refusal to correct this offender may have been the result of the social status of the particular individual. Previously, the possibility was discussed that this marriage was arranged to retain wealth and status. If this is true, the offender was probably a well-to-do member with great influence over the ecclesia. It is possible the conventions of patronage and benefaction prevented the congregation from addressing this heinous sin. Nevertheless, the offender and congregation were unrepentant. This inaction provoked the Apostle Paul to issue an edict for excommunication.

The Case for Excommunication (5:3-9)

The Command to Remove Unrepentant Offender

            In Paul’s mind, the Corinthian ecclesia is taking on water, and if left unattended this deluge of immorality will spread to all compartments sealing the fate of the vessel. In verses 3 – 6, the Apostle reiterates the command of the Captain of his soul. He writes,

For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed, In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? (KJV 1 Cor 5:3-6).

The authority to expel an unrepentant member was given by Christ Himself (Matt 18:15-20). This passage is reminiscent of Christ’s teaching concerning the issue of church discipline in the Gospel of Matthew.  It appears Paul has in previous letters (and possible visits) has followed the prescription of Christ and now it is time for drastic measures. Paul commands the congregation to expel the unrepentant man from the fellowship.

Secondly, since the Corinthians hesitated to discipline this man because of his status, Paul employed a tactic to grasp their attention. Paul uses the conventions of patronage and benefaction to his advantage. McNamara writes, “In this case, the use of the apostle’s power is exercised in shaming his patron’s client who has engaged in an openly incestuous relationship. Paul is setting the example for the Corinthians as he shames the man who has shamed Jesus their super-patron.”[6] Paul was using the Corinthian culture and logic against them revealing the need for discipline. This rebellious man had brought shame to Christ. Being unrepentant, he was to be put to open shame in hopes of inducing genuine repentance.

Furthermore, it would be wrong not to address the problematic phrase “To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh” (KJV 1 Cor 5:5).  There have been a plethora of interpretations, but Barth Campbell explains the most popular three understandings. He writes,

Most commentators opt for one of three understandings of Paul’s disciplinary sentence (paradounai to satana). (1) Some believe that the delivery to Satan will eventuate in a wasting physical illness suffered by the sinner. (2) Others believe the expulsion to lead to the destruction of the transgressor’s sinful nature. In either instance the repentance and ultimate salvation of the offender eventually ensue, even though Satan is the instrument of the effective discipline. (3) Still others regard the sentence pronounced by Paul to mean physical death at Satan’s hand. [7]

No matter which interpretation one espouses the result is the offender will be ultimately, “saved in the day of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Mario Philip writes, “The phrase, ‘in the day of the Lord’, implies that the salvation spoken of is of eschatological significance. The clause, ‘in order that the spirit be saved’, indicates both the purpose and result of handing over the offender to Satan.”[8] Although Paul wants this person ousted from the fellowship to keep its integrity, he is still genuinely concerned for this person’s eternal salvation.

Reasons for Removal and Old Testament Symbolism

Although it has already been mentioned that Paul wants to cut out this infection in the body of the ecclesia at Corinth in hopes of future reconciliation, in verses 5-8, Paul illustrates the urgency of excommunicating the unrepentant offender by linking it to practices in the Old Testament. The two symbols mentioned are leaven and Passover. These images depict the separation from sinful practices that God’s holiness demands. The first image is that of leaven. The second image is the Passover meal (pascha), which consisted of a lamb without spot or blemish. Dean O. Wenthe writes,

By linking this statement [pascha or Passover Lamb] to the “old leaven-lump” imagery, Paul certainly underscores the urgency of having the offending incestuous party dealt with and removed. In a word, the apostle brings out and rightly stresses the obedience dimension of the Passover state of affairs.[9]

For Paul, the judgment would quickly fall on the offender (and if not addressed the congregation too), much like the in the days of old. The unrepentant sinner must be removed for the sake of holiness.

Secondly, Paul’s allusion to the ecclesia being the Temple of God cannot be overstated (1 Cor 3:16, 17). Sean McDonough writes, “These same Corinthians have already been labeled the temple of God in 3:16, an image which is picked up again in 6:19, though in the latter case it may refer to the individual rather than the corporate body.”[10] This fact had to be in the minds of the original readers of this epistle. Brian Rosner explains, “An important motif of exclusion from the community in the OT and early Judaism is temple and holiness; sinners were excluded to maintain the sanctity of God’s temple.” All of the imageries mentioned above, which would have resounded in the Jewish member’s mind, reveal why in Paul’s mind the offender must be removed from the community. For Paul, the standard is still holiness unto the LORD.

Community and Culture (5:9-13)

            In this section, Paul must have assumed the next question drawn was how the Corinthians could be a separate and holy people while living amidst the filth of Corinthian culture. It is a fair question; how do these teachings affect relations with the outside world? In verses 9-13, Paul reveals the extent of church discipline. First, church discipline involves only members of the community. Paul writes, “I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world” (KJV 1 Cor 5:9-10). The matter of dealing with sin is an internal ecclesial matter. The sinners outside the church were expected to act like unregenerate men, but it was not to be so among the brethren.

If one who claimed to be a Christian was living in open, flagrant sin, Paul tells the congregation to not fellowship with this individual. This may seem harsh, but Paul has the overall integrity of the fellowship in mind. Not to mention this action was to bring the erring person to repentance. Wayne A Meeks writes, “To shun the offender, especially at common meals – the Lord’s Supper and others – would be an effective way of letting him know that he no longer had access to that special fellowship indicated by the use of the term brother.”[11]

Secondly, church discipline involves all church members (v.11-13). Paul does not show respect of persons and states that all members, regardless of social standing, need to follow Christ’s commands for church discipline. If a person is unrepentant, the sanctity of the fellowship is in jeopardy if no disciplinary actions are taken.

Conclusion

            In conclusion, as one can see, a brief study of 1 Corinthians 5 reveals that excommunication is not only biblical but necessary. Although many churches may shy away because of the unpopularity of this practice, it is clear they are not following Christ’s protocol if there are unrepentant brethren in their ranks.  Later in 1 Corinthians, Paul writes, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (KJV 1 Cor 11:1). After examination of this passage in light of Christ’s command in Matthew 18, Paul was following Christ in the excommunication of this man. However, even in the act of excommunication, the motivation should be to bring the person to repentance, thus, restoring one to right fellowship with God.  Despite the atrocious applications throughout history, excommunication – if applied properly – is still a viable form of church discipline.


[1] Paul D. Weaver, “Ancient Corinth, Prostitution, and 1 Corinthians 5-7,” Journal Of Ministry & Theology 19, no. 1 (Spring2015 2015): 116-155, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed September 4, 2016), 116.

[2] French L. Arrington, Divine Order in the Church, (Cleveland, TN: Pathway Press, 1998), 42.

[3] Ibid., 42.

[4]Derek Michael McNamara, “Shame the incestuous man: 1 Corinthians 5,” Neotestamentica 44, no. 2 (2010 2010): 307-326, ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed September 4, 2016), 307.

[5] Paul D. Weaver, “Ancient Corinth, Prostitution, and 1 Corinthians 5-7,” Journal Of Ministry & Theology 19, no. 1 (Spring2015 2015): 116-155, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed September 4, 2016), 114.

[6] Derek Michael McNamara, “Shame the incestuous man: 1 Corinthians 5,” Neotestamentica 44, no. 2 (2010 2010): 307-326, ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed September 4, 2016), 314.

[7] Barth Lynn Campbell, “Flesh and Spirit in 1 Cor 5:5: An Exercise in Rhetorical Criticism of the NT,” Journal Of The Evangelical Theological Society 36, no. 3 (September 1993): 331-342, ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed September 4, 2016), 331-332.

[8] Mario Phillip, “Delivery into the Hands of Satan–A Church in Apostasy and not Knowing it: An Exegetical Analysis of 1 Corinthians 5:5.” Evangelical Review Of Theology 39, no. 1 (January 2015): 45-60, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed September 4, 2016), 53.

[9] Dean O. Wenthe, “Exegetical study of 1 Corinthians 5:7b,” Springfielder 38, no. 2 (September 1974): 134-140, ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed September 4, 2016).

[10] Sean M. McDonough, “Competent to judge: the Old Testament connection between 1 Corinthians 5 and 6,” The Journal Of Theological Studies 56, no. 1 (April 2005): 99-102, ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost(accessed September 4, 2016), 101.

[11] Wayne A. Meeks, First Urban Christians:The Social World of the Apostle Paul. n.p.: New Haven : Yale University Press, c1983., 1983, LEE UNIV’s Catalog, EBSCOhost (accessed October 8, 2016).


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Arrington, French L., Divine Order in the Church. Cleveland, TN: Pathway Press. 1998.

Campbell, Barth Lynn. “Flesh and Spirit in 1 Cor 5:5: An Exercise in Rhetorical Criticism of the NT.” Journal Of The Evangelical Theological Society 36, no. 3 (September 1993): 331-342. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed September 4, 2016).

McDonough, Sean M. “Competent to judge: the Old Testament connection between 1 Corinthians 5 and 6.” The Journal Of Theological Studies 56, no. 1 (April 2005): 99-102. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost(accessed September 4, 2016).

McNamara, Derek Michael. “Shame the incestuous man: 1 Corinthians 5.” Neotestamentica 44, no. 2 (2010 2010): 307-326. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed September 4, 2016).

Meeks, Wayne A. The first urban Christians : the social world of the Apostle Paul. n.p.: New Haven : Yale University Press, c1983., 1983. LEE UNIV’s Catalog, EBSCOhost (accessed October 8, 2016).

Phillip, Mario. “Delivery into the Hands of Satan–A Church in Apostasy and not Knowing it: An Exegetical Analysis of 1 Corinthians 5:5.” Evangelical Review Of Theology 39, no. 1 (January 2015): 45-60. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed September 4, 2016).

Rosner, Brian S. “Temple and holiness in 1 Corinthians 5.” Tyndale Bulletin 42, no. 1 (May 1991): 137-145. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed September 4, 2016).

Weaver, Paul D. “Ancient Corinth, Prostitution, and 1 Corinthians 5-7.” Journal Of Ministry & Theology 19, no. 1 (Spring2015 2015): 116-155. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed September 4, 2016).

Wenthe, Dean O. “Exegetical study of 1 Corinthians 5:7b.” Springfielder 38, no. 2 (September 1974): 134-140. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed September 4, 2016).

A Dynamic Faith: A Glimpse at Salvation in James

A Dynamic Faith: A Glimpse at Salvation in James

Introduction

            Is the Apostle James guilty of propagating a rogue soteriology of works? Many biblical scholars, especially since Reformation, have wrestled with the content of the epistle he penned to the twelve dispersed tribes centuries ago. Allen Cabaniss writes, “Because of Luther’s flippant remark that it was ‘an epistle of straw’ in comparison with the Pauline correspondence, it has endured a kind of official disdain.”[1] However, is this a fair assessment of how James viewed salvation? In fact, how does the Apostle James view the soteriological experience? By examining key passages in the Epistle of James, one can correctly interpret James’ soteriological view of a dynamic faith, thus revealing the important biblical connection between orthodoxy and orthopraxy.

For the ease of communicating the author’s point to the reader, this work will utilize the metaphors of seed, root, and fruit as it focuses on James 1:17-21; 22-27; 2:14-26. Within these pericopes, one can find the source (or seed) of salvation in James’ theology, the source (or root) of good works in the lives of believers, and argument for the necessity of works (or fruit) as evidence of genuine faith.

The Seed of Salvation is the Word (1:17-21)

            First, to build a foundation on which James erects his soteriology he identifies the source of salvation. He writes, “In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures” (NRSV Jas 1:18). It is apparent in this verse; James sees salvation as a gift from God by the “word”. This “word of truth” is the gospel of Jesus Christ. God sows the seed of salvation in the heart of the individual believer. Alexander Stewart states, “Salvation, at every stage, requires both God’s saving initiative in bringing Christian’s forth by the word of truth (1:18) and their reception of that word (1:21)…”[2] The notion of the reception of the word brings another vital aspect of James’ salvation experience.

Secondly, God initiates salvation by sowing the seed of the word, but humans must respond in repentance. James writes, “Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls” (NRSV Jas 1:21). The welcoming of the seed of salvation produces repentance or the first works of salvation. Alexander states, “The holistic human response envisioned by James primarily indicates persevering, wholehearted obedience and devotion to God.”[3] It is the “implanted word” or the gospel message, which the individual obtains the power to experience dynamic salvation. For James, it is the liberating seed, which when allowed to take root produces the works of salvation. This brings up the admonition James puts forth to his audience, “But be doers of the word…” (NRSV Jas 1:22), which will be the topic of the next section.

The Root of Good Works is Salvation (1:22-27)

            First, once upon receiving the “implanted word”, the individual must continue to interact with it. James writes, “But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act – they will be blessed in their doing” (NRSV Jas 1:25). Is James teaching a legalistic salvation? No. Howell Haydn explains,

He who calls himself the “slave” of Jesus Christ (Jas 1:1) must have accepted his ideals; James’ conception of the meaning of his Master’s life and teaching. Therefore, the law in the heartfelt obedience to which James finds the noblest ideal of Christian living was the moral law as Jesus deepened it. …The emphasis therein is not upon the letter of the law, but upon its spirit; to obey its mandates is not only to refrain from the sinful act forbidden, but also and especially to master the evil passion of the soul from which the act proceeds. [4]

Thus, the “perfect law of liberty” is not the ceremonial Jewish commands of the Old Testament, but rather the gospel message of love. For James, salvation is only complete and fully experienced when one receives and follows the commands of Christ.

However, James is not advocating a list of rules to follow in order to enter salvation. He is arguing that the actions viewed in a believer’s walk is a result of having received the word and allowing is to take root. John MacArthur explains, “James is not merely challenging his readers to do the Word: he is telling them that real Christians are doers of the Word. That describes the basic disposition of those who believe unto salvation.”[5] James continues by illustrating the actions of one with a pure religion by bridling their tongues, caring for orphans and widows, and displaying a personal piety. Witnessing how the reception of the seed of the word is the source of all good works in the believer’s life it is time to look closer at the fruit, which proceeds from this root.

The Fruit of Salvation is Works (2:14-26)

            First, how does James recognize genuine faith?  In other words, what is the fruit of salvation? James clarifies the importance of works as the evidence of a person’s salvation experience. He begins by stating, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you?” (NRSV Jas 2:24).  Although, many have argued James is negating salvation by faith, this could not be further from the truth. James is refuting a workless faith. Many have used the term “mental assessment” to describe the faith James disputing.

For clarification, the NASB translates this verse as stating, “What use is it, my brethren if someone says he has faith but he has not works? Can that faith save him?” (NASB Jas 2:14).  The contributors of the New Bible Commentary: Revised edition write, “The claim to faith is unsupported by evidence of its reality, for there is no discernable evidence…”[6]  The Apostle views salvation as a dynamic experience, which manifest itself through good works. If these acts are non-existence, the person does not possess true saving faith. After illustrating the absurdity of this false faith claim, he states, “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (NRSV Jas 2:17). Warren Wiersbe writes, “People with dead faith substitute words for deeds. They know the correct vocabulary …but their walk does not measure up to their talk.” [7]Simply put James teaches works will accompany genuine saving faith.

Secondly, James further illustrates the importance of an active faith by introducing an objection to his claim for faith and works. He writes, “But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith” (NRSV Jas 1:18). Jane Heath in her work, The Righteous Gentile Interjects, give two plausible interpretations of this interlocutor. They are as follows: 1) the interlocutor has heard James’ challenge to the person who claims faith but has no works, and challenging James as to whether he really has faith. James replies by appeal to his works. 2) The ‘someone’ attributes faith to one person, works to another, and it is precisely in thus dividing them James finds fault in him.[8] Either assumption reveals the importance in the soteriological framework of James the interconnectedness of both faith and works.

Furthermore, James refutes the notion of just receiving orthodox teaching without actions. He writes, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe – and shudder” (NRSV Jas 1:19). Faith is more than proper knowledge. MacArthur states, “There is a faith that may be commended as orthodox and yet have no more saving value than the faith of demons.”[9] James advocates true faith will move one from orthodoxy to orthopraxy. C. Ryan Jenkins states, “James…was contrasting a dead faith (which is only intellectual assent) with a living faith that produces works and subsequently vindicates that profession.”[10] He illustrates his point by alluding to the actions of the Old Testament characters of Abraham and Rahab.

This dynamic faith, which progresses beyond orthodoxy to orthopraxy, spans the breadth of the entire epistle. For example, a true believer will avoid the sins of partiality, sins of the tongue, the misuses of riches, personal piety, and the caring for orphans and widows. This is only to name a few areas James’ soteriology overlaps with personal actions in the epistle. However, how does this epistle compare to the canon of the New Testament?

Relation to the New Testament

            First, since much ink has been spilled over the relation between the James and Paul’s view of salvation, it is only logical to begin at this point. Although, some would contend there is a discrepancy between the two biblical authors, this is only a misconception. Both authors are looking at the same coin, but from opposite points of view. Ritchie Smith writes,

The decisive fact is that James and Paul regard faith and works – true faith and good works – are inseparable, though Paul emphasizes the one and James the other. Paul affirms that works without faith are dead; James affirms that faith without works is dead. Paul discovers no value in works except as the fruit of faith; James discovers no value in faith except as the root of works. [11]

This is no contradiction between these two authors when it comes to salvation only different vantage points.  Paul writes, “For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works” (NRSV Eph 2:10). It is apparent Paul too; realized the seed of the word and once this seed takes root it produces good works.

Secondly, many fail to see the correlation the Epistle of James has with the Gospel of Matthew. Matthias Konradt states, “Despite the affinity between the texts, their fates have been extremely different: whereas the Sermon on the Mount always belonged to the basic texts of Christianity, the epistle of James was marginalized for the most part.”[12]  So, what is the affinity Konradt mentions? Massey Shepherd explains,

So much attention has been given to this passage in James in relation to the Pauline doctrine of justification, that it is commonly overlooked how exactly James’s doctrine fits the teaching of Matthew. Not only do the Q sayings of Matt. 7:21 and 7:26, already treated in the discourse on hearing and doing, apply here, but there is a fundamental similarity in the teaching of James with the peculiarity Matthaen parable of the Two Sons (Matt. 21:28), not to speak once more of the “works of mercy” suggested by the judgment scene of Matt. 25:31.”[13]

When one correctly understands the argument that James is putting forth it is easy to see he is not a heretic propagating a rogue gospel of works. He is one voice, although often misunderstood, in the cacophony of New Testament writers.

Conclusion

            In conclusion, James is not submitting to a salvation of works, but rather a salvation unto works. In his soteriological view, God gives the new birth by the seed of the word of truth (1:18). Once this word is received or allowed to take root in the believer, it is the source of good works. The fruit of salvation is discernable works, which has direct relations to the “implanted word” (1:21). After examining key texts, true salvation leads to a dynamic faith, which bridges orthodoxy and orthopraxy.

LISTEN TO THIS SUBJECT AS PRESENTED AT WEST GREEN BAPTIST CHURCH 


           

[1] Allen Cabaniss, “Epistle of Saint James,” Journal Of Bible And Religion 22, no. 1 (January 1954): 27-29. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 11, 2016), 27.

[2] Alexander Stewart, “James, soteriology, and synergism,” Tyndale Bulletin 61, no. 2 (2010 2010): 293-310, ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 4, 2016), 303.

[3] Alexander Stewart, “James, soteriology, and synergism”, 294.

[4] Howell Haydn, “Three Conceptions of the Christian Life, A Study in the Epistles of James, I Peter, and I John”, The Biblical World 23 (1),  University of Chicago Press: 16–23, http://0-www.jstor.org.library.acaweb.org/stable/3141050.

[5] John MacArthur, “Faith according to the apostle James,” Journal Of The Evangelical Theological Society 33, no. 1 (March 1990): 13-34, ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 4, 2016), 17.

[6] Donald Guthrie et al, New Bible Commentary: Revised (Grand Rapids, MI: Inter – Varsity Press, 1967), 1228.

[7] Warren Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2003), 864.

[8] Jane Heath, “The Righteous Gentile Inteijects (James 2:18-19 and Romans 2:14-15),” Novum Testamentum 55, no. 3 (July 2013): 272-295, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed April 4, 2016),275.

[9] John MacArthur, Faith According to the Apostle James, 17.

[10] C Ryan Jenkins, “Faith and works in Paul and James,” Bibliotheca Sacra 159, no. 633 (January 2002): 62-78. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 4, 2016),66.

[11] Smith, J. Ritchie. 1899. “The Gospel in the Epistle of James”. Journal of Biblical Literature 18 (1/2). Society of Biblical Literature: 144–55. doi:10.2307/3268971.

[12] Matthias Konradt, Review of A Spirituality of Perfection. Faith in Action in the Letter of James; Has God Not Chosen the Poor? the Social Setting of the Epistle of James; Logos and Law in the Letter of James: The Law of Nature, the Law of Moses, and the Law of Freedom, Journal of Biblical Literature 122 (1). Society of Biblical Literature: 182–89. doi:10.2307/3268102, 184.

[13] Massey H. Shepherd, “The Epistle of James and the Gospel of Matthew”, Journal of Biblical Literature 75 (1). Society of Biblical Literature: 40–51. doi:10.2307/3261520, 45.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Cabaniss, Allen. “Epistle of Saint James.” Journal Of Bible And Religion 22, no. 1 (January 1954): 27-29. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 11, 2016).

Guthrie, Donald et al. New Bible Commentary: Revised. Grand Rapids, MI: Inter – Varsity Press, 1967.

Haydn, Howell M.. 1904. “Three Conceptions of the Christian Life. A Study in the Epistles of James, I Peter, and I John”. The Biblical World 23 (1). University of Chicago Press: 16–23. http://0-www.jstor.org.library.acaweb.org/stable/3141050.

Heath, Jane. “The Righteous Gentile Inteijects (James 2:18-19 and Romans 2:14-15).” Novum Testamentum 55, no. 3 (July 2013): 272-295. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed April 4, 2016).

Jenkins, C Ryan. “Faith and works in Paul and James.” Bibliotheca Sacra 159, no. 633 (January 2002): 62-78. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 4, 2016).

Konradt, Matthias. 2003. Review of A Spirituality of Perfection. Faith in Action in the Letter of James; Has God Not Chosen the Poor? the Social Setting of the Epistle of James; Logos and Law in the Letter of James: The Law of Nature, the Law of Moses, and the Law of Freedom. Journal of Biblical Literature 122 (1). Society of Biblical Literature: 182–89. doi:10.2307/3268102.

MacArthur, John. “Faith according to the apostle James.” Journal Of The Evangelical Theological Society 33, no. 1 (March 1990): 13-34. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 4, 2016).

Shepherd, Massey H.. 1956. “The Epistle of James and the Gospel of Matthew”. Journal of Biblical Literature 75 (1). Society of Biblical Literature: 40–51. doi:10.2307/3261520.

Stewart, Alexander. “James, soteriology, and synergism.” Tyndale Bulletin 61, no. 2 (2010 2010): 293-310. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 4, 2016).

Wiersbe, Warren. The Wiersbe Bible Commentary .Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2003.