Is the Bible Sufficient
By Andre Bustanoby M. A., Th.M
I have no doubt that the Bible is God’s revelation to man. It is truly authoritative. When we say that the Bible is the only rule of faith and practice we don’t mean that it is the only source for divine information. The principles and teachings of the Bible give us a road map to the true faith—faith that agrees with scripture and faith that does not.
The Apostle Paul dealt with this problem in the early church. They strayed into Greek Gnosticism and Jewish legalism. “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” (Gal. 3:1 NIV). A problem arises, however, when the word “sufficient” is attached to the Bible and a theory of counseling. A theory called “nouthetic counseling” claims to rely only on the sufficiency of scripture.
The word “nouthetic” (Greek nous) refers to “understanding” God’s declarations in the Bible. The fundamental teaching is “the sufficiency of scripture.” Though nouthetic counseling faithfully teaches the saving work of Christ by faith through God’s grace, when it comes to human needs, particularly the need of body and soul, it is wrong. The no-medication-rule for emotional and mental problems is just the beginning of false teaching. As you read on in the book you will see that several biblical doctrines are compromised--the doctrines of God, of Christ, of the Holy Spirit, of the Bible and of man all are impacted by what is seen as “God’s way” as opposed to “man’s way.”
I have watched the development of this Jay Adams’ theory since the early 70s when I earned my M.A. in Marriage and Family Therapy from a secular institution. I’m well acquainted with the theory’s failure and its danger—a story I begin with in Chapter I with the suicide of Ken Nally.
I took my theological training at Dallas Theological Seminary from
1957-1961 (Th.M.) and was in the pastorate from 1961
to 1973. In 1973 I built a private
practice as a marriage and family therapist in suburban
Most recently I was barred from teaching and membership in a church that practices nouthetic counseling. I disagreed with their Church Vision Statement that promotes “the sufficiency of scripture.” So I find myself in a pretty good position to tell the story of what nouthetic counseling and the sufficiency of scripture have become and answer the question, Is the Bible Sufficient for Counseling? Please understand that I’m not questioning the Bible as an authoritative reference. The first question to be answered is whether the Bible is our only source of information for counseling, particularly on emotional and mental matters. The second question is, How does this affect other Bible doctrines?
The sufficiency of scripture sounds so correct to Bible-believing Christians that they don’t think twice about questioning it. And even though they don’t
know what nouthetic counseling is, when they are told that it is counseling from the Bible, that’s usually good enough.
Is it? Don’t be deceived. It played the major role in Ken Nally’s suicide.
One other word of caution—it’s about The Biblical Counseling Foundation, www.bcfministries.org. This organization follows the same philosophy as nouthetic counseling. This shows up in STANDARDS OF CONDUCT AND CODE OF ETHICS FOR BIBLICAL DISCIPLERS/COUNSELORS, Article I, C, 1-3 which, after accepting “the general practice of medicine” says, “The ministry to the mind, the spirit, and the soul is based on the unalterable and completely sufficient Word of God.” Again, after recognizing “occasional” need for medication for the body, it says, “the disciple/counselee [will] refrain from taking substances that lead to dependence or that substantially affect or alter the mind or behavior.” This is nothing other than the nouthetic counseling sufficiency of scripture theory.
Let me give you an overview of where I’m going with the book. You also can get some idea from looking at the table of contents. Here is a short take on each chapter:
1. Who Is Responsible for Ken Nally’s Suicide? The responsibility for Ken Nally’s suicide is clear—the nouthetic counselors and their view of “the sufficiency of scripture.”
2. Nally’s Counselor Preaches A Defense. Nally’s primary counselor, the Rev. John MacArthur, preaches a defense of his work, a defense totally inadequate.
3. Another Counselor On the Defense. Another sufficiency advocate, a local pastor, raises a defense which is just as inadequate.
4. Self-Love: Is It Biblical? The pastor mentioned in chapter 3 wrote a booklet called, “Self-Love: Is It Biblical?” He claims that self-love is not biblical and its ultimate result is suicide.
5. What Is Biblical Psychology? Starting with a limited body of facts
(Genesis to Revelation), starting inward and looking outward, it doesn’t have the “fuzziness” of secular psychology which starts with an unbounded outward approach and moves inward with explanations. For this reason biblical psychology is more likely than secular psychology to establish a body of facts or truths, systematically arrange them, and establish general laws.
6. Franz Delitzsch On Biblical Psychology. Based on the unity of scripture and limited to a closed canon (Genesis to Revelation) it is self-verifying.
7. Believer and Unbeliever: A Common Ground. This idea of a common ground is unthinkable to the nouthetic counselor. We see here where there is no common ground and where there is a common ground.
8. The Difference Between the Word of God and Scripture. This may surprise some readers, but this is part of the problem when nouthetic counselors make the scripture not just sufficient but the only source for dealing with emotional or mental problems.
Though the Bible is our authoritative resource to make sure we’re on the right track, God speaks not just through the Bible. How, when and where? Here’s the answer.
9. Fallen Man As a Rational Creature. Though fallen in sin, man is still the image of God. What is this image and what does this mean in terms of living his life here on earth?
10. The Rational Unbeliever and Naturalistic Theism. Naturalistic
theism differs from biblical theism, but they are correlative.
Though the rational unbeliever does not respond to the gospel in
biblical theism, he is able to understand God’s revelation of
Himself in creation and nature.
11. The Rational Unbeliever and Knowing God. The unbeliever can actually know God, though not in a saving sense. This is the story of my salvation.
12. Grace for the Sinner; Mercy for the Miserable. The God of mercy has been overlooked. Yes, the Bible does permit medical solutions to emotionally overwhelming problems.
13. Are All Mental and Emotional Problems Spiritual Problems? No, though the nouthetic counselor thinks so and condemns the use of medication as a human substitute for a spiritual solution. Our physical or physiological condition may be the problem. But, then again, the “problem” may not be a problem at all. A look at the emotional life of Jesus tells us otherwise.
Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . –i-
Contents . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . –v-
CHAPTER I. Who Is Responsible for Ken Nally’s Suicide? . . . 9 The Nally Suicide Case . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
What Was Ken’s Problem ? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
CHAPTER II. Nally’s Counselor Preaches A Defense . . . . . . . . 13 Proof-Texting and Problem Preaching . . . . . . . . . 13
The Issue of Common Grace . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
Is the Bible Bigger Than God? . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
The Implications of Psalm 138:2 . . . . . . . . . . . 19
CHAPTER III. Another Counselor On the Defense. . . . . . . . . . . . .20
The Insufficiency of MacArthur On
Psalm 19 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20
An Attempt To Separate Naturalistic and
Biblical Theism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21
A Better Exegesis of Psalm 19 . . . . . . . . . . . . .24
Christ the Messenger . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25
The Hrema of Christ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .25
The Word of Christ to Abraham . . . . . .26
I Lay My Isaac Down . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27
A Proper Understanding of 2 Timothy . . .29
A Proper Understanding of Philippians 4:6-7. . 32
CHAPTER IV. Self-Love and Suicide? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41
The Call To Love . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41
Love by the Unbeliever . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41
Love by the Believer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43
The Condemnation of Wrong Self-Love . . . . . .47
The Condemnation of Self-Effacing Love . . . . 47
The Condemnation of Narcissistic Self-Love . . 48
The Pastor’s Solution . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .52
CHAPTER V. What Is Biblical Psychology? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .54
Criticism of Secular Psychology . . . . . . . . . . 54
User Problems With Biblical Psychology . . . . 55
The Advantage of Biblical Psychology . . . . . . 57
CHAPTER VI. Franz Delitzsch On Biblical Theology . . . . . . . . . . . .64
Prolegomena . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .64
History of Biblical Psychology . . . . . . . .64
Idea of Biblical Psychology . . . . . . . . . .64
Method of Biblical Psychology . . . . . . . 66
The Everlasting Postulates . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 68
The False Pre-existence . . . . . . . . . . . . . 68
The True Pre-existence . . . . . . . . . . . . . .70
The Divine Archetype . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 72
CHAPTER VII. Believer and Unbeliever: A Common Ground . . . . .76
Van Til On Common Ground . . . . . . . . . . . . . 77
Where There Is No Common Ground . . 78
Where There Is Common Ground . . . . . 78
Common Grace and Natural Revelation . . . . . 79
Common Grace and Natural Revelation Can
Point the Unsaved To Christ . . . . . . . . . . . . . 80
Healing for the Body . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 81
The Life of Believers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 84
The Conscience of the Unbeliever . . . . . 84
The Magi and the Birth of Jesus . . . . . . 85
Kuyper On Common Grace . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 86
Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 87
CHAPTER VIII. Difference Between the Word of God and Scripture. .89
The Meaning of “The Word of God” In
Hebrews . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 91
Christ the Word . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 91 A Contradiction With
Revelation & 21? . . . . . . . . . . . .93
The Old Testament Jehovah Is the
Pre-incarnate Christ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 94
Christ/Jehovah Speaks Salvation . . . . . . . . . . 94
Abel Was Justified by Faith . . . . . . . . .95
Justification by Faith in
Christ Still Speaks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .96
Christ Still Speaks To Believers . . . . . . 97
Christ Still Speaks To Unbelievers . . . 100
CHAPTER IX. Fallen Man As A Rational Creature . . . . . . . . . . . . .102
Man: The Image of God . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .102
Man: A Rational Creature . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .105
The Rabbis Had Their Sufficiency
Of Scripture Too . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .106
All True Teaching Is From God . . . . . . . . . . .108
God Even Has Taught Farming! . . . . . . . . . . .109
Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 110
CHAPTER X. Rational Man and Naturalistic Theism . . . . . . . . . . . 111
What Is Naturalistic Theism? . . . . . . . . . . . . . 111
Rational Man and the Interpretation of
Naturalistic Theism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 115
When There is Contradiction . . . . . . . . . . . . . 118
The Correlation of Biblical and Naturalistic Theism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .119
CHAPTER XI. Rational Man and Knowing God . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 124
Knowing God In First Corinthians 1:18-25. . . 124
Knowing God in Romans 1:18-32 . . . . . . . . 125
The True God . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 126
Knowing and Understanding . . . . . . . . 127
Wanting to Know & Understand More 128
Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .129
The Story of My Salvation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 131
CHAPTER XII. Grace for the Sinner; Mercy For the Miserable . . . . . 133
The God of Mercy Overlooked . . . . . . . . . . . . 133
Mercy To the Miserable . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 136
No, Doctor, I’m Not Depressed . . . . . . . . . . . . 139
Hypocrisy In the Church . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 141
Ken Nally Could Have Been Helped . . . . . . . . 143
CHAPTER XIII. Are All Mental and Emotional Problems Spiritual
Problems? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 145
Nouthetic Counseling: Danger to the Aged . . 145
When a Problem Is Not a Problem . . . . . . . . 148
The Emotional Life of Jesus . . . . . . . . . . . . . 150
Jesus Learned Obedience Through
Suffering . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 150
Jesus’ Mental and Emotional Life
Was Without Sin . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 151
When the Hurting Doesn’t End . . . . . . . 153
Addendum Notes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 157
Scripture Index . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Who Is Responsible for Ken Nally’s Suicide?
In 1979, twenty-four-year-old Californian Kenneth Nally put a shotgun to his head and killed himself. Who is responsible?
As is often the case with long-standing laws, the law governing this case produced an unexpected decision by the California Supreme Court. After almost a decade of litigation, the court did not find the church counselors guilty.
Lawyers for the church argued that the constitutional protection of the free exercise of religion does not allow a civil court to judge the adequacy of pastoral counseling. Though the court’s seventy-page judgment had much to say, this is what it really boiled down to. It is the separation of church and state.
We cannot do anything about the legal judgment in this case, but I hope that by writing this book I will encourage the church to do something about nouthetic counseling and its view of the sufficiency of scripture. Let the church judge itself (1 Corinthians 6:1-11).
In reading the case, don’t miss the fact that three weeks before he actually killed himself, Ken Nally attempted suicide and said that he would succeed the next time—which he did. This warning was not enough to wake up the church counselors nor has it changed anything in the church’s view of the sufficiency of scripture. In chapters two and three we shall see this in the sermons of the church’s pastor, The Rev. John MacArthur
The Nally Suicide Case
Judith Cummings, Special To the New York Times, published the following
report titled, “Suit Against Clergy In a Suicide Case Is Reinstated.” Here is her report of the appeal trial before it went to the California Supreme Court.
The case was filed by Walter J. Nally
and his wife, Maria, of
was a result of incompetent counseling of
The parents said church counselors failed to tell them their son was suicidal after he told the counselors he wanted to kill himself. When the counselors did seek outside professional help it was in the words of the Nallys’ lawyer, “too little, too late.”
A lower court originally dismissed the suit against the church and four of its pastors, but that dismissal was reversed. The case then went to trial in Superior Court in 1985. Midway through the trial, Judge
Joseph Kalin ruled that the parties had failed to establish a valid case, ending the proceeding. A “Malpractice” Tag was rejected.
In the decision Wednesday, the appellate court rejected the “clergy malpractice” label that it said had become attached to the case over the years in law reviews. Instead, the court said that the basis for suing should more accurately be construed as “negligent failure to prevent suicide and intentional or reckless infliction of emotional injury causing suicide” which “happened to have been committed by church-affiliated counselors.” The facts of the case remain to be tried in court.
What Was Ken’s Problem?
Kenneth Nally graduated second in his high school class and was a basketball star. In 1979, he had completed college, and was considering law school. He attempted suicide; three weeks later, in April 1979, he took his life with a shot gun.
He had been mentally ill as a teen-ager, according to court records, and his condition worsened.
In 1974, he began attending the fundamentalist
The Nallys said the church counselors failed to insist that Kenneth get psychiatric help after they realized he was suicidal and that the pastors
failed to tell them early enough that Kenneth had vowed to repeat his suicide attempt.
They also contended that the church’s fundamentalist teachings encouraged the suicide by giving Kenneth intense guilt. Earlier in their courtroom efforts, they had presented data meant to show that
the church represented itself as being able to counsel serious psychological problems solely through the Bible’s teachings. A “Blanket Immunity” [was] cited.
The church said the First Amendment protected its right to counsel people according to its religious views. The appellate court said the church had not stated in its defense that to have referred Kenneth Nally to a psychiatrist earlier would have violated any of its religious beliefs.
To the Nallys’ lawyer, the court’s rejection of the label clergy malpractice is a semantics issue. “The real significance is that clergymen who counsel are being held accountable and don’t have a blanket immunity, which until now has been assumed,” Mr. Barker said. “We still have to go to court and prove they did something wrong and we’re prepared to do that.”
And go to court they did! When the case went to the California Supreme Court it found, as in other cases, that a church cannot be sued.
This is quite remarkable given the evidence through the nine years of litigation. Testimony showed that the suicide occurred just three weeks after the first attempt, and that the counselors were warned!
Ken’s father, Walter Nally, testified that Ken asked the Rev. MacArthur if he would go to heaven if he committed suicide, and MacArthur said he would! The court also heard testimony that MacArthur told Ken that he was depressed because of sin in his life.
That last sentence is a key issue. To the nouthetic counselor, there are no psychological or physiological issues in the Christian life. Anything said by
psychologists or psychiatrists is “the wisdom of man” not the wisdom of God. It should therefore be discounted. As one nouthetic counselor said, “The Bible doesn’t speak of mental health or mind altering drugs. Do you believe the Bible or the wisdom of man?”
Here is the fundamental problem--the confused theology of the nouthetic counselor on the sufficiency of scripture. In the chapters to come we shall see how confused it is.
Nally’s Counselor Preaches A Defense
In 1997, almost ten years after the California Supreme Court ruled that
The sermons in print total thirty-seven pages, which would be about an fhour’s preaching time for each sermon. The reader who wants to read the sermons can get them on the web at http://www.biblebb.com/files/MAC/80-18.HTM http://www.biblebb.com/files/MAC/80-19.HTM .
Proof-Texting and Problem Preaching
These sermons are a good example of a common preaching error. They would deserve an “F” in a seminary homiletics course. The only reason I say this is that one of the greatest abuses in preaching that is not usually picked up by the average listener is “proof-texting” by the preacher. The listener just gets the uneasy feeling, Where is he going with all this?
Proof-texting is the preacher coming to the Bible with a theory and finding all the texts that seem to support his theory. The most obvious evidence of proof-texting is the violation of the context in which the text is found. The context has nothing to do with the theory he is espousing.
MacArthur says he is going to preach on “The Sufficiency of Scripture” (the theory he comes with). Then he warns us that we might have a difficult time following him:
Now I’m going to give you a lot of Bible passages, I don’t expect you to look them up. But this is very, very important and very foundational. So I want you to at least write them down and be sure you get the tapes so you’ll have them for future reference. But don’t
try to follow me in looking them all up, you might get lost. I’ll tell you the ones that are important to turn to (Sermon I, p. 6).
We see here the most obvious proof of proof-texting. He’s not going to stay with the context of the text. Furthermore, we shall see that he mixes up the sufficiency of scripture with the sufficiency of God.
I have no problem with the statement that God is all sufficient to
provide all I need for my life as a Christian and as a human being. I dare not do as Job and ask, God, What do you think
you’re doing? (Job 3). I agree with the Apostle Paul. The clay doesn’t say to the
Potter, Why have you made me this way? (
In this first sermon on the sufficiency of scripture, MacArthur uses the words “sufficiency” or “sufficient” forty-four times. But in twenty-six of these quotes the context shows that the reference is not to scripture but to the sufficiency of God. Here is one of his statements in which he does this:
A good starting place to give us a sort of a general feeling of what we want to get into would be in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. And I want to mention one verse to you and quote it and then I want to comment on it. Second Corinthians 3:5. Listen to what it says, very short so listen carefully: “Our sufficiency is from God.” Did you hear that? “Our sufficiency is from God.” Now we could preach off of just that statement at great length. Our sufficiency is not from men. Our sufficiency is not from human wisdom. Our sufficiency is not from human resources. Our sufficiency is from God. Our sufficiency . . . what does that mean? That means our capability of living life in God’s plan to the maximum is from Him. In other words, we—because we are Christians—live in an environment in which the resources for life are divine [emphasis mine] (Ibid. pp. 6-7).
MacArthur misses the truth that this is what Acts 14 & 17 point to as God, the resource of life for human beings, not just for the spiritual needs of believers. All the resources for us to survive as human beings are provided by God.
Okay? They’re divine. We live in a sphere, at a strata, at a level which human wisdom does not feed . . . for which human wisdom cannot provide resources [emphasis mine] (Ibid. p. 7).
MacArthur misses again. Acts 14 & 17 refer to human needs for survival that God meets, without which would make “spiritual needs” moot. We wouldn’t be alive to live a spiritual life here on earth. Human needs are understood by rational man who is the image of God, able to respond to human needs—though he gives God no credit for being the real supplier.
Now I want you to understand in what I say this morning that I am not saying that there’s nothing outside the Bible that has any value. There are many things that have value. God’s common grace, that is the grace of God on all men, will create certain things in our human environment that are very helpful [emphasis mine] (Ibid.).
The Apostle Paul uses a better word than “helpful.” He says that God “gives all men life and breath and everything else” (Acts NIV). I’d say that these things are a little more than “helpful.”
But when it comes to matters of spiritual life, all we need to know is revealed in the Word of the living God and ministered to us by the Spirit through that Word. And outside the Word of God we do not have to look for a sufficiency that is not in the scripture. That is sin [emphasis mine] (Ibid).
First of all, in Chapter V I show that “the Word of God” is not the same as the scripture. Secondly, how can MacArthur say that it is sin for us to look for life and breath and everything else outside the scripture? I know that he doesn’t categorize these things as “spiritual needs,” but without them, we would not have spiritual needs. We would be dead!
It is not to say that there’s nothing in the world that isn’t helpful. There are many helpful things in the world. But those matters which have to do with spiritual life and conduct and ministry are in the Word of the living God and they are sufficient . . . they are sufficient. Our sufficiency as believers is from God [emphasis mine] (Ibid.).
MacArthur and the sufficiency of scripture advocates don’t make themselves clear. They don’t make it clear they are talking about spiritual needs, and that they believe that any problem with the emotions or with the mind are spiritual problems, not to be met with medications. They don’t acknowledge that human needs for survival are common grace gifts and point the unbeliever to God’s grace of salvation in Christ.
The Issue of Common Grace
Whenever common grace is mentioned, I’m astounded that those who teach the sufficiency of scripture put it outside “the spiritual life.” If by God’s
common grace I don’t survive as a human being, as I have said before, spirituality is moot. I have already gone home to heaven.
In Acts 17 Paul speaks of common grace in detail:
He [God] is not served with human hands as if he needed anything, because he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything else [emphasis mine] . . . . God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each of us. For in him we live and move and have our being. As some of your own poets have said, “We are his offspring” (Acts -27&28 NIV).
When MacArthur puts common grace outside of the spiritual life he doesn’t realize what he is saying. How about thanksgiving? I don’t mean the holiday. I mean giving thanks to God. Does this have anything to do with the spiritual life? The Greek word, eucharisto, means, “prayer of thanksgiving.” It is literally, “good grace” (eu--good; karis—grace).
I don’t think that MacArthur saying that common grace is “nice” or “helpful” really meets the standard of a prayer of thanksgiving. It’s amazing how a preacher like MacArthur doesn’t understand this, but unbelievers did in Paul’s day. In Acts we’re told that a few men and a woman became followers of Paul, and a number of others did. One of them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, and a very influential citizen.
The purpose of common grace is God’s testimony to unbeliever and believer alike. To the unbeliever it is saying, “I am a God of grace and I have more grace to give you (the saving work of Christ). To the believer He is saying, You have a standing in grace in Christ. You are a saint. Now, by faith, claim that power and live it. Tell others that in common grace you met the God of efficacious (saving) grace.
In Chapter VIII, where I tell the story of my salvation, I point out that it was God’s common grace that led to efficacious (saving) grace and my salvation.
Is the Bible Bigger Than God?
Though many more things in MacArthur’s sermon fail to properly explain the role of the Bible in God’s revelation of Himself and His work, I think that MacArthur’s closing prayer is a fitting conclusion to this critique.
At the close of his sermon, MacArthur offers a prayer that says in part,
“. . . we know that You said Yourself that I have exalted my word above my name . . . .” His reference to “my word” is a reference to scripture. This is clear from the rest of the prayer in which he says, “Father, save Your church from the heinous sin of believing we have an insufficient Bible” (Sermon I, p. 18).
How can the Bible be bigger than God –exalted above His name? Is this statement actually in the Bible?
Yes, it is, and I can thank my former pastor, the Rev. Brian Hamrick,
MacArthur quotes the King James Version that says, “Thou has magnified thy word above all thy name.” Brian says that the NKJV says the same, but the ESV and the NIV do not. They equalize “the word” and “the name of God.” The NIV says, “You have exalted above all things your name and your word.”
This is a Psalm of David, an “echo” of Second Samuel 7 and First Chronicles 17. In those historical books David tells Nathan the prophet that he wishes to move God’s ark and place of worship out of the tent-like tabernacle into a glorious temple made of cedar.
God speaks through Nathan and says to David in essence, No, you are not going to do this for me. I am going to do something for you:
The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He [Solomon] is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. . . . Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever (2 Sam. 7:11c-13 & 16 NIV).
Let’s go back to David’s Psalm (138) in which he glorifies God for this promise—and that is exactly what he says in verse 2. The word used in the Hebrew is emer. It is a promise. This word is different from debar, the verb, “to speak,” and the noun, “word.”
What David is saying is, You have magnified your promise above your name.
Someone will ask, But doesn’t this mean that His promise greater
than His name? In
a sense, yes—but with qualification. All of God’s promises to
There is an old expression that still is true: A person’s name and reputation are only as good as the promises he keeps.
This interpretation is confirmed by the close of the Psalm: “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever—do not abandon the works of your hands” (Ps. 138:8 NIV).
The Implications of Psalm 138:2
The Bible is not bigger than God. God’s promise of an eternal kingdom with Jesus Christ on the throne of David, though revealed in the Bible, has not been fulfilled. It is The God who will make this happen, who is bigger than the Bible that says it is going to happen. And in this sense, God is still bigger than the Bible.
In Chapter V, “The Difference Between the Word of God and Scripture,” I shall get into this deeper.
I am not saying that God does not use the Bible to teach us the way of salvation and sanctification or that it’s not authoritative. I am saying that God’s revelation of His person and work are not only found in the Bible, but found in the person and work of Christ who has yet to fulfill God’s marvelous promises yet to come. God is bigger than the Bible.
Another Counselor On the Defense
As promised, Pastor MacArthur preached his following week’s sermon once again on “The Sufficiency of Scripture.” Having announced that his subject would be a continuation of the previous week (Part I), he said, “Only this time, rather than dealing with it by looking at many passages, I want to focus on one passage, Psalm 19 [emphasis mine}.
Hold your hat! You’re in for another roller coaster ride through the Bible. In seventeen pages of sermon he quotes fifty-nine Bible references and spends a great deal of the rest of his quote in Psalm 119 instead of on his announced text, Psalm 19.
On the first page of Chapter II the reader will find the website where the sermons can be found. Again, I must press the point that what we have here is another example of proof-texting, which is fundamental to false teaching. Please understand that I’m not maligning the Bible. I’m concerned that the Bible is so badly abused by someone who should know better.
The Insufficiency of MacArthur On Psalm 19
Two very important truths are ignored in this sermon.
The first is that verses 1-6, which speak of God’s “speech,” “knowledge” and “words,” which are practically ignored. There are fourteen verses in this Psalm. MacArthur’s sermon spends less than one page on these verses, which is the first half of the psalm.
The second truth, though mentioned, is not developed. It is the purpose of the Psalm. The true purpose is to glorify God’s written word beginning with the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. Though the voice of God is glorified in the written word, it by no means discounts God’s voice in creation.
Albert Barnes gives an excellent preface to Psalm 19 in his commentary:
This very beautiful psalm is designed to illustrate the superiority of revealed truth above the light of nature in showing the character and
perfections of God. In doing this, there is no attempt in the psalm as there should be none on our part in explaining it, to undervalue or
disparage the truths about God revealed by nature. All that could not be said in regard to the works of creation, as illustrating the Divine perfections, is really admitted by the psalmist (vers. 1-6); and yet this is placed in strong contrast with the revelations disclosed in the “law of the Lord,” that is, in his revealed word (vers. 7-11). The revelations of nature, and the higher revelation by inspiration, belong to the same system of religion, and are alike designed to illustrate the being, the perfections, and the government of God. The friend of religion should claim the one as well as the other; the defense of the Bible as a revelation from God should not lead us to disparage or undervalue the disclosures respecting God as made by nature. He who asserts that a revelation is necessary to mankind, and who maintains that the light of nature is not sufficient for the wants of man, should nevertheless concede all that can be known from the works of God about the Creator; should rejoice in all that truth; and should be willing that all should be learned about God from his works. When this is admitted, and all this learned, there will be still an ample field for the higher disclosures which revelation claims to make.
Nor did the psalmist apprehend that the revelations about God which are made in his works would be in conflict with those which are made in his word. He evidently felt, in looking at these works of creation, that he was learning truths which would in no manner contradict the higher truths communicated by revelation; that the investigation of the one might be pursued to any extent without showing that the other was needless or bringing the truth of the other into peril (Vol. I,
p. 166, Notes On the Old Testament, Psalms I, Baker Book House,
An Attempt to Separate Naturalistic and Biblical Theism
You will note above that Barnes speaks of God’s revelation of Himself in nature. Those who speak of the sufficiency of scripture do not accept the doctrine of naturalistic theism (God’s person and work revealed in nature)
being on an equal plane with biblical theism (God’s person and work revealed in the Bible). The reason for this is that if they did, they would
have to open the door to what God has been teaching unbelieving man about philosophy and science, particularly psychiatry and psychology.
In Chapter VII I shall deal further with naturalistic theism (sometimes called naturalistic revelation). But I need to say something about it here because I have to challenge the nouthetic counselors on devaluing God’s revelation of His person and work in nature.
Nouthetic counselors pillory psychiatry and psychology as man’s way of solving emotional or mental problems which they call “spiritual problems.”
Though scientists don’t always get their science right, there are a lot of preachers who don’t get the Bible right. When we get them both right, we’ll see the agreement that exists between naturalistic theism and biblical theism.
Evidently, the Apostle Paul accepted them both as having a right to exist together. In my introduction I mentioned that I was barred from teaching in a church that holds to nouthetic counseling and the sufficiency of scripture. When I questioned the pastor about this in an e-mail, he wrote back and said this:
General revelation [naturalistic theism or revelation] speaks of God’s existence, his power, and our responsibility to Him as God. It doesn’t give us the specifics for life issues or how to be saved. (Romans 1,
Psalm 19, Acts 17). If it did, then men could be saved apart from the gospel. Romans says, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
I wrote back and asked him more about this and for an estimate of the possibility of our working together. He replied:
. . . . the vision statement of [name of church] says: God expects our church to be based on the sufficiency of scripture. We believe that in the Bible, God has given to all individuals all they need to handle life in a manner that pleases Him. (See Psalm 19:7-11; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:3-9).
That is my view as well as the view of the elders. It would not work to have a member who fundamentally disagrees. While I appreciate
you very much we would not be able to work together. That would cause a great deal of confusion to our congregation.
Note that Psalm 19:1-6 is not included in the church vision statement. Naturalistic theism is not accepted. The reason he stated in his previous
It doesn’t give us the specifics for life issues on how to be saved. If it did, then man could be saved apart from the gospel. Romans says, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
The NIV actually says, “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Rom. NIV).
I wrote back and asked him to explain Romans 10:17. If naturalistic theism is not on a par with biblical theism, then how come the Apostle Paul puts the two of them together?
I then explained it this way:
Read down to the next
verse, Romans 10:18. Paul quotes
Psalm 19:4. Speaking of
This was not just the
Israel of Christ’s day. It
The pastor never replied to my e-mail nor has spoken to me since, even though I have asked him to talk. Is refusing to talk to a sincere brother in
Christ an example of the sufficiency of scripture? Matthew 18:15-20 tells us what should be done, and this is not it!
A Better Exegesis of Psalm 19?
Given the fact that I have been critical of the treatment of Psalm 19 by two pastors, it is incumbent upon me to give my own exegesis or find a better
one. I have found a better one than I could produce. It is the exegesis of the Apostle Paul on Psalm 19:4 found in Romans 10:17-18.
For background we must understand that Paul in Romans
9-11 is dealing with the problem of God’s apparent rejection of
What then shall we
say? That the Gentiles, who did not
pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but
Paul anticipates an argument excusing
This is true:
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them . . . (Rom NIV).
Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ (Rom. NIV).
now we can give
But I ask, Did they not hear? (
He then answers his own question:
Of course they did:
Their voice has gone out into all the earth
Their words to the ends of the world (Rom. 10:18b NIV).
This is a quotation of Psalm 19:4. What is Paul getting at?
Christ the Messenger. Paul argues first of all that there was a
Someone may argue, Yes, when
Christ came to earth and preached to the Jews, they heard the message. But where does it say that
Their voice [the word of Christ] has gone out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world (Rom. NIV).
This is a quote from Psalm 19:4 speaking of the message of Christ in creation. Yes, the pre-incarnate Christ was there at creation, Himself the creator and speaking forth His message.
The Bible is very clear on this. The message came “through the word of Christ.” The Greek grammar means literally, “through the agency of Christ” (dia with the genitive). In answer to the question, How shall they hear without a preacher, we have it here. Christ was the preacher at the very beginning of time.
The Hrema of Christ. But the critic may ask, But what was the message? Was Christ just exhibiting His glory and power as God? No. He had a specific message to give.
This is why the Greek text speaks of the hrema of Christ rather than the logos of Christ. There’s an important difference between these two words. Christ as the logos (word) of God is the complete expression of all that God
is. The word hrema (word) on the other hand is a message from a messenger.
Logos speaks of all that God is. Hrema is a particular message from God, just a part of what He and His work are all about.
But the critic returns. Ah! But what was that message? The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament says that the message in verse 18 is “the proclamation of the Gospel [to all the earth went out the sound/utterance of them]. The “them” are the words of Christ (vol. IX, p. 295n83).
It should be quite obvious that this was what the message was. Paul has been saying that in order to be saved there must be a messenger and a message for someone to believe. The context makes it clear that the message is justification by faith—the Gospel message.
The Word of Christ to Abraham. Now think back in the Bible whom you remember as the great example of justification by faith. It was Christ’s message to Abram, the progenitor of Israel. Notice—the pre-incarnate Christ spoke to Abraham. The key passage is in Genesis 15:
After this, the word of the Lord [Jehovah] came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.”
But Abram said, “O Sovereign Lord [Jehovah], what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”
Then the world of the Lord [Jehovah] came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
Abram believed the Lord [Jehovah], and he credited it to him as righteousness (Gen. 15:1-6 NIV).
You may wonder why I bracket the word “Jehovah” after “Lord.” The Hebrew text actually uses the name Jehovah. This is extremely important.
The pre-incarnate Christ is Jehovah (see Chapter V).
Paul in Romans 10:17 says
So then, when Paul asks the question, Did not
What we see here in Romans 10 and Genesis 15 is that the Gospel message is not just given by God through the Bible. It came with Christ the messenger in creation and the word of Christ in Psalm 19:4. Before the Bible was written, it came directly to Abram in Genesis 15 where Christ/Jehovah actually spoke to him.
This is why in my introduction I pointed out that those who speak of the sufficiency of scripture are wrong when they claim that God’s message of salvation is only through scripture. Abram was justified by faith before the scripture existed.
For the nouthetic counselor to invalidate naturalistic theism as important to Christian living and cling only to biblical theism cannot be justified by what we have seen. The reason why nouthetic counseling is so dead-set against naturalistic theism is that it may have to consider that psychiatry and psychology have a place in God’s scheme of things.
I Lay My Isaac Down. There’s another truth here that reinforces the importance of naturalistic theism. Note that after God promised Abraham a son (Gen. 15:4), His evidence that He could do it, proof, if you will, is stated in the next verse:
He [God] took him [Abraham] outside and said, “Look at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” And He said to him, so shall your offspring be” (Gen 15:5 NIV).
The result? Abraham believed God. Why? If God could do what He did in the heavens, He certainly could give an old man and his wife a son!
But there’s more to this matter of faith reinforced by the testimony of the stars. In Genesis 22 God tests Abraham’s faith by telling him to sacrifice his son Isaac.
We are told that Abraham laid Isaac on a sacrificial altar. How could Abraham do this when God promised that through this son he would have offspring as numerous as the stars? The answer is, “Abraham reasoned, that God could raise the dead . . .” (Heb. NIV).
His reasoning was sound. The God who could put millions of stars in the heavens could do anything—even raise the dead to fulfill His promise!
Abraham’s faith was reasonable—as is our faith! And the reasonableness of our faith is based not only on what we see in scripture but what we see in creation and nature.
We cannot dismiss naturalistic theism as unrelated to justification by faith. It is God’s assurance that He can keep His promises if He can do so many other fantastic things in His creation.
I had a marvelous spiritual experience as I was writing this book. My faith was deeply moved by a song the church choir sang called, “The Day I Lay My Isaac Down.” Here are the words:
I have a prayer as pure as gold
That where You lead me I will go
And I'll embrace the holy plea
Each time your Spirit calls to me
And in that hour, and in that time
When I must lose my will in Thine
My true devotion will be found
The day I lay my Isaac down
Each sacrifice You call me to
I'll die to self, I'll live for You
Take up the cross, forsake the crown
The day I lay my Isaac down
Lamb of Love, Thy blessed friend
Nailed to the altar for each sin
There in my place Your Son was bound
The day You laid Your Isaac Down
Each sacrifice You call me to
I'll die to self, I'll live for You
Take up the cross, forsake the crown
The day I lay my Isaac down
Take up the cross, forsake the crown
The day I lay my Isaac down
I thank God for what the Bible teaches about justification by faith. But I think that tonight I’ll listen to what Jehovah said to Abraham. I’m going to go out, look at the stars, and take up the cross, forsake the crown, and again, I’ll lay my Isaac down.
A Proper Understanding of 2 Timothy 3:16
Another matter dealing with naturalistic theism is a proper understanding of 2 Timothy 3:16. This passage does not teach that the Bible is the sole source of spiritual truth. It has the authority to help us be sure our understanding from other sources is correct. But it is not the sole source.
In my correspondence with the pastor whose church barred me from membership, I challenged their use of 2 Timothy 3:16 in their church vision statement. They misinterpret the word “sufficiency.”
An important biblical truth, often misunderstood, is stated in this passage:
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correction and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim. NIV).
First, notice the person who is becoming “thoroughly equipped.” It is “the man of God.” The man of God is not merely a believer. He is a believer who is walking in the Spirit!
There are two kinds of believers–carnal and spiritual. The carnal believer is unmoved by God’s word, which is why he is carnal, or worldly.
Paul had this problem with the
Further proof that “the man of God” is a Spirit-filled Christian, not just a carnal believer, is borne out by use of this phrase in the Bible. “Man of God” appears in the Old Testament 77 times in 71 verses, and is applied to twelve godly individuals –Moses, David, Elijah and Elisha being some of them.
In the New Testament, “man of God” is used by Paul of Timothy (1 Tim. ). There he is contrasted with “those who have wandered from the faith,” carnal believers.
The very grammar of the expression, “the man of God,” ho tou theou anthropos (Greek text), makes this clear. “Of God” is in the genitive case. This is literally, “the godly man.”
This distinction between the godly man and the carnal man is important because most Christian counseling is done either with unbelievers or carnal Christians.
In twenty-five years of Christian counseling, I had very few godly clients. The godly clients I did see had problems with an ungodly spouse or family member. With them, I was able to use Scripture to deal with the problem because they were responsive to it.
Once, again, Chafer has a helpful statement:
That within the Christian which lusts against the Holy Spirit, creating various problems, is termed in the New Testament the flesh. Careless
Christians are not concerned with the Person and work of the Holy Spirit, or with the exact distinctions which condition true spirituality; but these distinctions and truths do appeal to those who really desire a life that is well-pleasing to God. Satan has pitfalls and counterfeit doctrines in the realm of the deepest spiritual realities. The majority of these false teachings are based on a misapprehension of the Bible teaching about sin, especially the sin question as this is related to the
believer. The Scripture is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect (full-grown), thoroughly furnished unto all good works (2 Tim. 3:16-17); accordingly in the same epistle believers are urged to the end that they might “study” and “rightly divide” the Word of Truth. It should be noted that two of four of the values of the Scripture in the life of the “man of God,” as recorded in the above passage, are “reproof” and “correction”; yet how few, especially of these who are holding an error, are of teachable spirit! It seems to be one of the characteristics of all satanic errors that those who have embraced them seem never inclined honestly to reconsider their ground. They read only their sectarian or misleading literature and often carefully avoid hearing any correcting teaching from the Word of God. This difficulty is greatly increased when their error has led them to assume some unwarranted position regarding a supposed deliverance from sin, or personal attainments in holiness. A “correction” or “reproof,” to such seems to be a suggestion toward “backsliding,” and no zealously minded person would easily choose such a course as that. Much error is thriving along these lines with no other dynamic than human zeal, and the Word of God is persistently distorted to maintain human theories. Many of these errors are reproved and corrected when the fundamental distinction is
recognized between the Christian’s position in Christ and his experience in daily life. Whatever God has done for believers in Christ is perfect and complete; but such perfection should not be confused with the imperfect conduct of daily life (Chafer, Systematic Theology, VI, pp. 265-66).
A second observation in 2 Tim 3 is important. Biblical theism (the person and work of God revealed in Scripture) is offered to the godly to thoroughly equip them, not to exclusively equip them. If both naturalistic theism and
biblical theism are correct, then we can learn from the Bible and the sciences. But the nouthetic counselor wants nothing to do with the sciences. They are “man’s way.”
I had my Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary before I took my M.A. in marriage and family therapy in a secular setting. I was amazed how, in some cases, the psychological approaches they taught harmonized with scripture. It was an excellent example of how some psychologists, studying
God’s creation, advanced psychological principles that worked. Naturalistic theism must harmonize with biblical theism.
This was not always the case, however. But it happened often enough that I silently praised God because unbelievers were learning something from God’s creation.
A Proper Understanding of Philippians 4:6-7
A passage of scripture that attracts nouthetic counselors is Philippians 4:6-7. It seems to support the contention that all emotional problems are spiritual problems with a spiritual solution. In this case, the thinking will go, If you’re anxious, pray about it and you have your solution—the peace of God.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:6-7 NIV).
Over the past sixty years of serious Bible study I can’t remember a passage of scripture I have found so difficult to understand. And for the reader who is used to “proof-texting” scripture, I hope that my exegesis will help your understanding not only of the passage but of a better way to study scripture.
Context, Context, Context! Though there are many rules of biblical interpretation I find that the most neglected one is context. How does the immediate subject matter (in this case, Philippians 4:6-7, anxiety, and
praying about it) relate to the larger context of the paragraph in which it’s found? And how does that paragraph relate to the outline of the book of the Bible in which it is found (context) and the historical purpose for which that book was written (historical context). I hope I can shed some light on these questions.
The Historical Purpose for the Philippian Letter. I found Thiessen’s Introduction To the New Testament extremely helpful in getting an overview of why the letter was written and understanding the passage in question.
Paul’s message to the Philippians was a letter of thanks rather
than a doctrinal treatise. This
dearly loved church had sent him help to support him while he was in prison in
Given the nature of the letter, we cannot expect a careful doctrinal outline as we see in Romans or Ephesians. But what Paul has to say in his warning about antinomianism in -4:1, that false teaching must be considered in the exhortations that follow in 4:4-9. Remember, context!
From just 4:6-7alone, it sounds like the nouthetic counselor is correct. Emotional problems such as anxiety are spiritual problems. So he will ask you if you are going to solve your spiritual problem God’s way, with prayer, petition and thanksgiving or man’s way with a tranquilizer or anti-depressant? Let’s see if I can answer this question, particularly God’s way vs. man’s way.
1) Historical Context. Let’s start with the historical context. First, what
is “antinomianism.” This is a compound word made up of anti (against) and nomos (law). The law in question is the Mosaic law, including the Ten Commandments. Certain Greek philosophers rejected the ethical demands of the law. This rejection led to false teaching that promoted the acceptance of immorality.
The theory was that no human being (including the God/man Jesus Christ) could possibly keep the moral teachings of the law. Human flesh
was totally unable to do it. So the antinomians spiritualized Christianity into one precept—the love of God. They taught that any moral
statements of the law were impossible for human flesh to obey. They believed their deep, mystical “spiritual” relation to God was all that was required. They exalted this idea to such a height of “spirituality” that their overwhelming love of God required no regard of the moral precepts of the law in their outward behavior.
2) Warnings Against Antinomianism in the Text. This historical
background helps us understand the admonition by Paul to follow his example of the Christian life. He told them:
Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things (Phil. -19 NIV).
Paul is warning here about the antinomians. They are only interested in pleasing their flesh. They don’t have to control their behavior. They think they have a spiritual relationship with God that is so magnificent that behavior has no meaning in the Christian life. They go so far as to take pride in this view: “their glory is in their shame.” But “their destiny is destruction.” They are not Christians.
3) Christianity Involves Both Salvation and Sanctification. Our position
in Christ is made up of both salvation (justification by faith) and sanctification (holiness). This is brought out in the next two verses:
But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends (Phil. 3:20-4:1 NIV).
The antinomians said that true spirituality is achieved by separating the fleshly body that is sinful from the soul who loves God. Behavior of the flesh doesn’t count--only their mystical spiritual love for God.
Paul says that what we do with the body does count. Though our behavior doesn’t contribute to our salvation it is evidence that we are saved. Paul doesn’t say it here, but Jesus not only will transform our lowly bodies when we meet him in heaven, it is by that power that he can transform us day by day into a growing spiritual maturity that is shown in our behavior here and now.
The Case of Euodia and Syntyche. Keeping context in mind, Paul’s admonition to Euodia and Syntyche fits right in. He continues:
I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life (Phil. 4:2-3 NIV).
The disagreement between these two women is not specified, but their behavior is in question. Remember that the antinomians are still an issue in the context. They think nothing of their immoral behavior. They actually glory in.
Paul is saying that Christians don’t behave this way. He is using the disagreement of these women to make the point of difference between antinomians and Christians. Syzygus (his name means “yokefellow”) is asked to help settle the womens’ dispute.
Paul’s Answer To Antinomian Theology. Without any words of transition such as “therefore” or “so then,” Paul says:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near (Phil. 4:4-5 – NIV)
Note that he doesn’t say “rejoice” once but twice. He’s speaking of the attitude of Christians, particularly with these two women. People who argue are not gentle nor are they known for their rejoicing.
What a paradox. Paul is in prison. What does he have to rejoice about? What does he have to be gentle about? The answer is that he believes God knows what He’s doing.
Paul is looking beyond the present circumstances. “The Lord is near.” He is saying, Let’s quit arguing and get on with the work of the gospel with the right attitude—the Lord is near! He knows that the problem of his imprisonment will be taken care of in the Lord’s time. In the meantime, he is at peace.
He now moves into the passage in question:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:6-7 NIV).
Paul has been talking about the dispute between Euodia and Syntyche. The word “anxious” means “having a divided mind.” These two women can’t agree or find a solution that they can agree on.
We should understand that “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding” is a peace that God gives us that is beyond our comprehension, and it is a peace that we are incapable of generating by ourselves. Only God can give us this peace. This is Paul’s peace in prison. God knows what He is doing, and in time the prison problem will be solved.
Now the following is very important. Note that after he says that we should pray and that God will provide peace, he says that there is more to consider:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you
have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you (Phil. 4:8-9 NIV).
A major reason I found this passage difficult to interpret is that in verses 6-7 the peace of God is promised to those who pray. But then in verses 8-9 he says that there is more—“Finally, brothers . . . .” If by prayer the peace of God that passes our understanding relieves our anxiety, why does he say what he does in verses 8-9? More?
Note in verses 6-7 we have “the peace of God.” But in verses 8-9 we have “the God of peace.” What’s the difference?
God’s Peace and Solution to Anxiety. The difference is that we have two problems that need to be solved. The first is our feeling of anxiety that is relieved by prayer and “the peace of God that passes understanding.” We are anxious. We pray about it. God gives us the feeling of peace because we are trusting Him. He knows what He’s doing. But it is a peace that we don’t understand because the problem that caused the anxiety still exists.
Where do I get this from the context or text? It is the only possible explanation of what Paul says in verses 8-9.
When we compare verses 6-7 and 8-9 we see two problems. The first, in verses 6-7, is the feeling of anxiety that is relieved by prayer. The second, in verses 8-9, is the solution to the problem that is causing the anxiety. The peace of God (v6-7) relieves the feeling of anxiety. But the God of peace (verses 8-9) is what removes the problem that is causing the anxiety.
Where do I get this? Look at verses 8-9 again.
Paul says, “Finally, brethren . . . .” The Greek is literally, “For the rest . . . .”
Our English idiom would be, “But there is more . . . .” More to what? More to the problem of anxiety.
You have prayed, and the feeling of peace has come to you—even though you don’t understand why you should feel at peace. The problem that produced the anxiety still exists.
Paul is saying, Now, are you ready to do something about the problem? There is more:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you (Phil. 4:8-9 NIV).
Did you notice the repetition of the words “whatsoever?” Seven times in verse 9! There is a rule in Bible interpretation that we pay attention to repetition. It stresses something we should pay attention to!
The Greek word is hosa. It means, “whatever things.” Paul is not referring just to the Bible when he says this. Yes, the Bible—but also to creation and God’s common grace. They are the works of God we see in our lives today.
The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament puts it this way:
In the Philippian passage Paul is deliberately making no restriction so that the eyes of the readers will be open to what seems to them to be true, just and noble, to what is serious and noble and worthy of reverence, no matter where it may come from [emphasis mine] (Vol. VII, p. 195).
Did you get that? No matter where it may come from! The God of all truth and peace is everywhere in his creation making these things happen through His common grace, and He wants believers to have their eyes open to whatever things are evidences of God’s work in the world, not just the Bible.
The God of all truth is everywhere in His creation showing truth and virtue even in the lives of unbelievers. When God shows His virtue at work in creation, be it in the believer or unbeliever, we must accept it as God’s work. Antinomians, take note—if God can make an unbeliever virtuous, then it is possible for God to make the believer virtuous. Let’s look at these works of God.
1) Truth. Whatever is true in life is true because it comes from the God of truth. As the pharmacy industry rose to its present heights in this century, whatever is true and workable in terms of pharmaceuticals is true and workable because God has ordained it in His common grace.
2) Noble. The second word is “noble.” It is that which is respected, honored and revered as true. If a pharmaceutical has not been given a good reputation by the medical establishment to deal with anxiety or depression, then it does not deserve our consideration.
3) Right. The third word is “right” or “righteous.” Again, if something is right or righteous, God will let the believer see that it is so. We can put it on our list as a possible solution to our mental or emotional problems.
4) Pure. The fourth word is “pure.” God’s solutions to our problems cannot violate His holiness. Purity and holiness go together.
5) Lovely. The fifth word is “lovely.” That which is truly made lovely by God will attract the godly soul. It will have also the approval of the following words.
6) Having a good report. The sixth word, or phrase, is “having a good report.” That which has a good report will be considered lovely and a solution usable as something from God.
God is at work in his creation providing man through common grace with many solutions to his problems, even emotional or mental problems. If anything we see in life today is “excellent or praiseworthy” (has virtue or praise), it is evidence of a work of God.
Remember the twofold problem and solution here. Anxious feelings are solved by prayer and the peace of God that passes understanding. The solution to what is causing the anxious feelings require us to do something else—to logizomai, to “think about such things,” the list of six words.
The word “think” is an unfortunate translation. The Greek word logizomai means to reckon or count it a fact—the six things mentioned in the list. It’s
not merely positive thinking. It’s faith in the fact that God is at work in His creation today through common grace.
The word logizomai is the same one used by Paul in Romans 6:1-14 where he speaks of our victory over sin through Christ. When we are born again, we die to sin through our crucifixion with Christ. We are told to “count” (logizomai) ourselves dead to sin (Rom. ). It is in the Greek imperative tense—do it! Our experience of death to sin comes by faith as day by day we walk in that faith.
This word in Philippians 4:9 also is in the imperative tense. God in common grace offers us solutions to the problem causing our anxiety. He not only wants to give us peace, He wants to show us how to remove the problem. His list of works in the world should suggest something. Count them a fact!
The word “practice” in verse 9 is also in the imperative tense. Do it! But we do it by God’s power—the God of peace.
We have here the answer to the two major issues in the passage.
First, the feeling of anxiety is not only removed by the peace of God but also the cause of the anxiety is removed by faith in the “whatsoever things” listed as works of God’s common grace in the world.
Second, when we practice the Christian life by logizomai, we testify to the antinomians that they are wrong. The flesh, through God’s gracious provisions in efficacious grace and common grace, can deal with sin and practice holiness. And here the God of peace takes care of the problem that is causing the anxiety.
Self-Love and Suicide?
The other day I received a phone call from a member of the church that I mentioned in my introduction and in chapter three. This was the church that rejected me because I disagreed with their nouthetic counseling. The phone call was about a booklet the pastor had written titled, “Self-love: Is It Biblical?”
The caller sounded troubled and said that she wanted to read part of the booklet to me. Here’s what she read:
The person who takes drugs or gets drunk loves self. Other
people around them may be devastated. God’s name is blasphemed. But they want what they want. Someone else says, “I cannot do anything right. I cannot succeed. I am no good.” “I” invites pride and focus on oneself. Then the ultimate act of self-love is suicide. “I just want to get out. I cannot stand it any longer.”
She sounded greatly relieved when I told her that this is not what the Bible teaches. I told her that the Bible tells us fifteen times to love our neighbors as ourselves. If self-love is a sin and suicidal, how can Jesus Himself encourage us to love others as we love ourselves?
The Call To Love
Self-love and the call to love others as a proper, normal human behavior, is expected of both unbelievers and believers.
Love by the Unbeliever. One of the most remarkable statements of Jesus to an unbeliever is found in Mark 12:
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating.
Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to
him, “You are not far from the
Read that again: You are not far from the
If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers (Jas. 2: 8-9).
It is obvious that loving our neighbor as we love self is not a sin. The sin is in showing favoritism.
The woman on the phone let me borrow the booklet in question to read. In fairness to the pastor I wrote him an e-mail and asked him if he still held the position that suicide is the result of self-love. He never replied.
The suicide of Ken Nally and this woman’s concern urges me to address this subject which is both false doctrine and false psychology.
The major problem with the booklet is that it does not distinguish
between love that is the result of the new birth and the “renewing of the
and love others as we love ourselves.
Love by the Believer. The booklet ignores the command of unbelievers to love their neighbor as themselves. It speaks only of Christian responsibility.
The booklet sets forth three principles to follow. The first, “Principle #1: man’s problem is not low self-esteem, it is high self-esteem.” This principle is introduced with the following statement:
God’s command to Christians relating to self is clearly stated in Romans 12:3: For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.
Please listen very carefully Do not think of this as being hard-hearted or insensitive to people. We are never to ignore others’ hurts or excuse those who hurt them. But the real answer to life’s problems and the emotional baggage we
often bring over from our childhood is not to learn to love ourselves. The Bible never once tells us to love ourselves. It never once tells us to esteem ourselves more highly than others. The Biblical warning is, “Do not elevate yourself. Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought to think.”
The booklet then introduces the first of his three principles—the problem of high self-esteem.
This is not what the Apostle Paul is saying. Paul is speaking to Christians about evaluating their spiritual gift. “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought . . .” (Rom. 12:3b NIV). The command has nothing to do with self-esteem. It has to do with a proper estimation of our spiritual gift:
Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you (Rom. 12:2b-3 NIV).
We are to make sober judgment according to “the measure of faith that God has given you.” God not only helps us understand what our spiritual gift is but also the measure or degree of giftedness. Not everyone with the same spiritual gift has the same measure or degree of giftedness. What is more, the scripture warns us against having too low an estimation of our spiritual gift.
Read the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30. A “talent” in the context is an amount of the master’s money, and the entrusting of some of it to three different servants according to the ability of each (Mt. 25: 15). To one, five talents are given, to another, two and another, one.
The ability of each to invest the talent is judged by the master, and according to that judgment, an amount of talents is given.
There was no problem with the servant with the five talents and the one with the two talents. Obviously, they accepted the master’s judgment and lived up to it.
The problem was with the man with one talent. He was given one talent according to what the master regarded was the measure of his ability. Did he accept the master’s judgment? No! He saw the master as a “hard man,” expecting more of him than he was able to produce. He did not trust this master’s judgment. He trusted his own humble judgment! He did not have the measure of faith in his master’s judgment that he should have had.
Romans 12, speaking as it does about spiritual gifts and the different measure of the gift, does not deal with the issue of self-love. Romans 13 is where Paul deals with this subject:
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing
debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the
law. The commandments, “Do not
commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not
steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there
may be, are summed up in this one rule:
“Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the
fulfillment of the law” (
The following is a quote from William R. Newell’s notes on Romans:
Verses 8 to 10: To none owe anything, except to love one another. The word “owe” here is the verb of the noun “dues”
in verse seven. The connection is direct. When you pay up all your dues, whether
private debts or public, you have only this constant obligation before
you—to love one another.
Love must still remain the root and spring of all your actions. No other law is needed. Pay all other debts. Be indebted in the matter of love alone.
Paul continues, For he that loveth the other hath fulfilled law.
Notice carefully that it is love, and not law-doing which is the fullness (Greek, pleroma) of law! The one who loves has, without being under the law, exhibited what the Law sought! For the law said: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself; and lo, love has, from another principle, even love and grace, zealously wrought no ill to others. Love, therefore, is shown to be the fullness (not, “the fulfilling”) of the law. It is only those not under the law that are free to love others. Love, and not righteousness, is the active principle of Christianity. And lo, one loving, has wrought righteousness! Thus, only those not under law show its fullness. Of course, the believer is in a “new creation,” and is to walk by that infinitely higher “rule of life” (Gal. -16), and not by the Law. Nevertheless, in loving he has fulfilled the lower law!
The Condemnation of Wrong Self-Love
Though nouthetic counselors disparage psychology as man’s view of humanity, psychology has it right. There are people who disobey God by thinking less of themselves than God does. They believe that God’s measure of them is not correct! This we saw in the one talent man.
The Condemnation of Self-Effacing Love. There is a psychological test in the book by Timothy Leary called Interpersonal Diagnosis of Personality (New York: The Ronald Press Company, 1957). It tests eight different personality types, each with an adaptive (normal) expression and a maladaptive (abnormal) expression. The normal personality, Modest, is compared to the abnormal personality, Self-effacing, which has the following traits:
· extreme manifestation of weakness
· lack of verbal and physical assertiveness
· extreme self-criticism
· continual rumination over whether his behavior is right or wrong
· acceptance of depression as an excuse for immobility
· gives up easily
In my book Being A Success At Who You Are (Zondervan, 1985), I quote Russ Llewellyn’s 1971 article in Action magazine called “Down With the Worm!”
Jesus taught the value of man. He confronted those who despaired of the worth, saying, “You can buy two sparrows
for a penny; yet not a single one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s consent. As for you, even the hairs of
your head have all been counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth much more than sparrows” (Mt. -31).
Llewellyn then adds that Psalm 22, a Messianic Psalm, teaches us that when Jesus said, “I am a worm and no man,” He let us know that in order to be despised as worthless He had to be treated as less than a man—a worm.
That God created man in His image provides unimpeachable evidence that man is valuable. James recognized this when he condemned the cursing of people because man is made after the likeness of God. Moses [sic.] provided capital punishment on this premise: “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God made he man.”
Man’s worth is an inherent, created worth. God guaranteed the recognition of this when he fixed the penalty that life must be forfeited when life is taken.
To use Christianity to bolster a maladaptive personality is spiritually sick behavior. But because this behavior resembles the Christian ideal of modesty, the self-effacer is permitted to continue his sick behavior in the church (pp. 122-23).
The Condemnation of Narcissistic Self-Love. Several ancient tales are told about the Greek lad, Narcissus. The most likely one is that he was condemned by the gods to self-love for spurning the love of the nymph, Echo. He fell in love with his image in the water. One
of the stories said that he died drowning trying to embrace the beautiful self he saw in the water.
Neither the ancient story nor modern psychology see the narcissistic personality disorder as suicidal because of mistreatment. Actually this personality is the one who damages other people because he regards himself as the most important person and the one to be catered to.
In the book I mentioned above called the Interpersonal Diagnosis of Personality the Interpersonal Check List used to identify a
personality lists the following maladaptive traits of the narcissistic personality:
· always giving advice
· acts important
· tries to be too successful
· expects everyone to admire him
· manages others
Even the following traits in the check list that may, for the more balanced personality, not be maladaptive the narcissist pushes them to an extreme that are way out of line. If you put the word “extremely” after each adjective, you’ll get the idea:
· able to take care of self
· can be indifferent to others
· self-reliant and assertive
· likes to compete with others
In the booklet that I have been referring to, the pastor in question offers the following solution to the problem of self-esteem:
PRINCIPLE #2 The solution to man’s basic problem is not high self-esteem or low self-esteem, it is how he esteems God.
The “biblical proof” of this statement is his exegesis of Ezekiel 18.
The word of the Lord came to me: “What do you people mean by
quoting this proverb about the
“‘The fathers eat sour grapes,
and the children’s teeth are set on edge’?
“As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign
Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in
According to the booklet, “God says the proverb is not true. Just because the father does something does not mean that the children will be affected.”
Read it again! God does not say, The proverb is
not true. It says, “You shall
no longer use this proverb in
no longer true?
The reason is that
This was an old, old proverb, and very true when established. Let me explain.
This proverb rises out of God’s words at the giving of the Ten
Sin may be forgiven, but the consequences remain. The psalmist says, “You were to
By the time of Ezekiel’s prophecy 850 years had passed since the
warning was given by God at Sinai.
out. The proverb no longer fits. You are being punished for your own sins!
This truth stands today. God may not be punishing us for the sins of our fathers. But our fathers’ sins resulted in a failure that has had a tremendous impact on the human race!
Is this not what happened in the fall of our father Adam? Read Romans 5:12-20. This is what the whole story of the imputation of sin by Adam and the imputation of the righteousness of Christ is about.
All of us still suffer because of Adam’s sin. We die! Even believers die. Though the imputation of sin is set aside by faith in the cross of Christ, we still die. But praise God there is a resurrection to a glorious heavenly life as the bride of Christ.
When psychologists speak of the consequences of bad parenting, this is what they are talking about. And even when a person becomes a Christian and in Christ is able to experience “the renewing of the mind,” it is often very difficult for the person who has experienced bad parenting. As a Christian counselor for many years, I had primarily a Christian clientele, many of whom struggled to feel the love of God the Father when they felt just the opposite from a human father. They could intellectually grasp God’s love for them. But the difficulty was in feeling it.
The Pastor’s Solution
According to this booklet that we have been examining the pastor who wrote it offers a solution:
PRINCIPLE #3 A Christian’s proper view of self comes from an understanding of who he is in Christ.
He then quotes Colossians 1:9-14. If I were going to use this argument I think I would go to Ephesians where in the first three
chapters Paul speaks of our position in, with or through Christ twenty-five times.
I thoroughly agree that our position in Christ is one of salvation and sanctification (holiness). We are complete in Christ! But we must distinguish between our position in Christ and our possession of that holiness by a walk of faith. We are saved by an act of faith in the saving work of Christ. But a holy life is experienced only by our continual reckoning by faith that it is so (Rom. 6:1-14 NIV). This is why we have spiritual Christians and carnal Christians. Carnal Christians don’t walk by the power of Christ but by the guidance of their sin nature.
We still have a sin nature that battles with us and exhibits itself in us with at least eight personality disorders. To say that self-love is unbiblical and even suicidal is neither biblical nor psychological truth. Indeed, our sin nature may erupt in a narcissistic personality disorder or a self-effacing personality disorder or any of the other six personality disorders. All of these “disorders” are sin and are not merely dealt with by “understanding who we are in Christ.” It’s a matter of showing the power of Christ by faith in our walk evidenced by keeping “the royal law” (Jas. 2:8-9).
What Is Biblical Psychology?
In the last chapter I compared biblical theism and naturalistic theism—the revelation of God’s person and work in the Bible and in nature. The nouthetic counselor minimizes naturalistic theism to the point that it has no value in Christian counseling.
In this chapter I want to compare secular psychology with biblical psychology. The nouthetic counselor dismisses secular psychology as man’s way, not God’s way. I must say, however, that there is some justification for his negative reaction to secular psychology.
Criticism of Secular Psychology
Philosopher Tomas Kuhn elaborates on a common criticism of secular psychology—its fuzziness as a science. According to the Wikipedia Encyclopedia:
Kuhn suggested in 1962 that psychology is in a pre-paradigmatic state, lacking the agreement on facts found in mature sciences such as chemistry and physics. Because some areas of psychology rely on “soft” research methods such as surveys and questionnaires, critics have claimed that psychology is not as scientific as psychologists assume. Methods such as introspection and psychoanalysis, used by some psychologists, are inherently subjective. Objectivity, validity, and rigor are key attributes in science, and some approaches to psychology have fallen short on these criteria. On the other hand, greater use of statistical controls and increasingly sophisticated research design, analysis, and
statistical methods, as well as a decline (at least within academic psychology departments) in the use of less
scientific methods, have lessened the impact of this criticism to some degree [see article, Psychology, controversy as a science in The Free Wikipedia Encyclopedia].
Statistically, pulling psychology together as a science seems impossible. A search of the Pubmed research literature reveals that, to date, 167, 244 articles were written on the brain and 2,918 were written on consciousness (29% of these articles also include “brain” in the database entry.
The statistical possibility of putting just these two subjects together in some understandable fashion is exponentially overwhelming. Given this reality, Kuhn is right. This science is more than fuzzy when we consider the dictionary definition of science:
A branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws.
User Problems With Biblical Psychology
The nouthetic counselor has nothing to say about biblical psychology. Perhaps it’s an antinomy to him. How can we put together the words “biblical” and “psychology?” They are not a contradiction. But there are problem with biblical psychology, though, of a different kind than those we have with secular psychology.
I speak here of “user problems” rather than problems with biblical psychology itself. As a system, I think that we have an excellent one. But because it is theological demanding, I’m not sure that the average church counselor, teacher or Bible student has the training to follow and understand it.
A major failure I see in the church is that those who would counsel or teach do not have a good theological background in the understanding of scripture. The difficulty is obvious even in basic doctrines.
Some time ago I was talking with a Sunday school teacher about his class, and I asked him what he was teaching.
He told me, “Biblical Doctrine”
“What doctrine?” I asked.
“We’re on the doctrine of the trinity right now.”
“How are you explaining the trinity?”
“I explained that there is one God who is a trinity, three persons; the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
“I see. Three persons. This sounds like three Gods. What do you mean?
The conversation ended there. He was either irritated with me for exposing his lack of knowledge or embarrassed that he was teaching a Sunday school class for which he had no answer.
I told him the Bible teaches that God is one in essence with three separate responsibilities in redemption. The plurality is seen in the Hebrew word for God—Elohim. When the Sunday school lesson gets to anthropology, the doctrine of man, how is he going to explain body, soul and spirit? Let me give you an example of the task the teachers faces.
Lewis Sperry Chafer in his Systematic Theology deals with immaterial man in his chapter on anthropology (Vol II, pp. 192-199) Here the teacher has a task of putting together ideas in a teachable way. How would you handle the following?
When the Bible speaks of immaterial man it uses five words to describe the elements of immaterial man: soul, spirit, heart, flesh, mind and conscience. Now keep in mind that these five are elements.
These elements are used by four faculties of immaterial man: intellect, sensibility (emotion), volition (the will) and conscience.
Here we have five elements used by four faculties of immaterial man. What are the statistical possibilities of the total use of all these elements by all of the faculties? Mathematically, it would
be five to the fourth power or 625 possibilities! This is just one small task of explaining human behavior.
How many Bible counselors or teachers are educated in theology, psychology and mathematics enough to make biblical psychology understandable.
The Advantage of Biblical Psychology
Biblical psychology has a distinct advantage over the science so called. It’s facts are limited to the pages of the Bible between Genesis and Revelation. It has been systematized into the discipline of Systematic Theology. Though the task of arriving at some basic laws to guide us in counseling is huge, we still have a greater possibility than the secular psychologist has.
Though it is true that Chafer says the five elements together probably make up the “ego,” and that any one of them can stand
for the ego, it makes the problem a little easier. But we still have to explain why different elements are named.
As far as the systematizing of the doctrines, it helps us in our work, but the job is still mammoth in developing laws of biblical psychology. Here are the nine divisions of systematic theology that has a bearing on biblical psychology:
· Bibliology (the Bible)
· Theology Proper (the person and work of God)
· Angelology (angels)
· Anthropology (man)
· Soteriology (salvation)
· Ecclesiology (the church)
· Eschatology (final things)
· Christology (Christ)
· Pneumatology (the Holy Spirit)
Though I have spoken of my concern over the nouthetic counselor’s ban on medications affecting behavior or the mind, my concern goes far deeper. Every one of the nine doctrines listed above involves man to some degree. Unless they get their house in order, the nouthetic counselor is going to come up with some false teaching in every one of these nine doctrines.
I recently spoke to a pastor about the inroad of a course from the Biblical Counseling Foundation, which I warn about in my introduction. He just laughed and said, We just dismiss this ban on prescribed mind or behavior altering medications.
I think I lost him when I tried to explain that the issue is larger than that. The nouthetic counselor wrongly interprets the other biblical doctrines listed above.
Though we may justifiably criticize secular psychology as a science, the church needs to judge itself on nouthetic counseling and show the false teaching for what it is.
Biblical psychology, as we shall see, has an enormous advantage over secular psychology. Let me enlarge on some of its advantages.
First, though the entire Bible is open to the subject of biblical psychology, because the canon of scripture is closed (nothing can be added to it), the facts stated are from the Author of life itself, Jehovah. Because nothing can be added to it, articulating the facts is possible.
This does not mean to say that the nouthetic counselor is right: the scripture is “sufficient,” the only source for counseling? No! We shall see in the coming chapters that other biblical doctrines come into play that show his further errors. The Bible itself teaches that it is not the only source of divine guidance.
Being limited to an authoritative document, the Bible, there is a limited body of facts. What is more, many of those facts are of no interest to the secular psychologist who has no interest in spiritual things.
How should we understand ourselves as Christians?
Are we more than just a body?
What does the Bible say about what parts make us up as human being?
Does the Bible teach that there is a soul part of the human being as distinct from the body?
What does the Bible teach that a soul is?
How does man as a being relate to the spiritual realms or dimensions?
How does man relate to God?
What happens to us when we are born again?
When we are resurrected will we remember what we did on earth?
What happens to us when we die?
What is the soul?
If there are 2 parts besides the body as those who hold the 3 part views maintain then what is a spirit as distinct from the soul, what is its nature and characteristics?
If the 3 part views are correct then how do the spirit and soul relate to one another?
Does the soul exist in the body or the spirit part of the human or in both during life and only the spirit parts at death?
What form do people take when they die?
Will we remember what we did during this life after death?
Will we be conscious and be able to think in the afterlife?
What is the nature of our
experience of the
What happens to the human being when he or she dies?
What will we look like in the Resurrection? Will we look like mature adults in the prime of our lives or some other way. How will those who died as infants appear?
Does the body look like the spirit part?
Soul/Mind – Brain Issues
What is the relationship between the soul and the body?
What is the relationship between personality and the soul?
Words, Meanings and Scripture
What do Hebrew terms like Nephesh, Leb, Lebab, and Basar mean in the contexts in which they occur in the Old Testament Scripture?
What do Greek terms like Pneuma, Psuche, Soma and Sarx mean in the contexts in which they occur in the Septuagint and the New Testament Scriptures?
Functions of the Different Parts
Is conscience a part of the spirit or the soul?
Is the consciousness and human ability to be aware or to direct attention an attribute of the soul or spirit part of the human being?
These are not issues you will find in the inquiry of secular psychologists.
Second, this body of facts has been systematized into a branch of study known as Systematic Theology. A major division of this system, for the purpose of the study of psychology, is anthropology, the doctrine of man. We still must pay attention to the nine divisions already listed that have a wealth of information on the human mind, the mental process and human behavior.
Third, the history of biblical psychology is older than the science of psychology. Delitzsch doesn’t start out his history with Genesis because he gets into this in his “Everlasting Postulates.” I shall pick this up in the next chapter. Cohn, in “A Brief Survey of The History of Biblical Psychology,” gives us the following information (see email@example.com).
In the creation of the Old Testament, the Hebrew Torah (first five books of the Bible) and the Tenach (the Old
Testament), [see addendum note 1], reveals much about human
beings and human nature. The same must be said about the New Testament.
After the close of the New Testament canon (the
approved books of the N.T.), the oldest written source on biblical psychology
was the writing of Tertullian—De Anima (on the Soul) in Latin. Perhaps his view of biblical psychology
can be summed up in his statement to the Greek rhetorician of
Habuit Deus materiam longe digniorem et idoniorem, non apud philosophos aesitimandam sed apud prophetas intelligendam.
I have to boast here in my fifteen-year-old grandson Beau. He was the Latin translator for this book. He says:
The meaning is hard to capture in English, but literally it means roughly: “God possesses topics/subject matter/ (wisdom?) far from man’s esteem and capability, not near/associated with/akin to the consideration of the philosophers, but near/associated with/akin to the prophets.
The theme is that God reveals Himself in ways not fitting to man’s intellectualism and ‘wisdom,’ but that He makes His nature and revelation known in part to His people in ways confounding to rationalism and higher criticism.
Melito, Bishop of Sardis, wrote a short treatise on the soul, body and mind.
Later in church history German theologian Mangus Freidrich Roos (1727-1803) wrote Outlines of Psychology drawn from the Holy Scriptures (Fundamenta Psychologiae ex sacra Scriptura Collecta). His work was so influential that Franz Delitzsch, another great German theologian, called Roos “the father of modern Biblical Psychology. Delitzsch himself wrote A System of
Biblical Psychology, which you will find frequently quoted in this and the next chapter.
Franz Delitzsch On Biblical Psychology
I have defined and described biblical psychology as more than the systematic doctrine of anthropology. It actually involves all nine systematic studies of doctrine in the entire Bible
I shall not attempt to review all of what he says in his entire book. He says much of what I have already written gleaned from the theologies of Chafer, Hodge and Strong and Wallace’s Greek grammar.
Delitzsch’s first two sections are the focus of this chapter. In them he explains his system of biblical psychology.
History of Biblical Psychology. In the last chapter I covered Delitzsch’s history of biblical psychology from the Second to the Nineteenth Century. Delitzsch handles it this way because in his “Everlasting Postulates” he goes back and starts with Genesis. We will come to that in his next section. So I shall start with his next item in the prolegomena.
Idea of Biblical Psychology. The following quotes will help you grasp the essential point that the Bible is self-verifying.
For all that Scripture tells us on the spiritual and psychical constitution of man is in harmony with the work and the revelation of redemption, which are the special burden of Scripture, we deny so little, that we gather from it rather the idea of biblical psychology as distinguished from the
empirical and the philosophical psychology of natural science. . . (Ibid. p. 14).
For all great questions—How is man’s soul related to his spirit? How is man’s spirit related to God’s Spirit? Is the substance of man’s nature trichotomic or dichotomic? How is man distinguished as Nature and as Ego?—all these and many other psychologic questions are there attempted to be answered from Scripture; while, nevertheless, it is maintained that Scripture teaches nothing upon the whole subject. Now, therefore, whether it be called teaching or not, Scripture certainly gives us, on all these questions, the announcements which are necessary to a fundamental knowledge of salvation; and these announcements are to be exegetically investigated—are, because they are of a psychological nature, to be psychologically weighed—are to be rightly adjusted, so that they may cohere among themselves, and with the organism of the personal and historical facts of redemption. And here at once is a system; to wit, a system of biblical psychology as it lies at the foundation of the system of facts and the revelation of salvation; and such a system of biblical psychology is so necessary a basis for every biblical summary of doctrine . . . . [There is] from the beginning to the end, from the doctrine of the creation to the doctrine of the Last things, a special psychologic system . . . a special complex of psychological representations, absolutely supports it (Ibid. pp. 14-15)
It is essential to see the importance that Delitzsch’s system puts on the total involvement of scripture, and not the “proof-texting” that is so common when psychological issues are addressed. The unity of scripture is all-important.
Note further that these announcements are to be “exegetically investigated.” How many counselors, how many Sunday school
teachers—and even pastors—are sufficiently trained to give a good exegesis of those things related to psychology? This is the great failure of proof-texting. It is not exegesis.
There is a clearly defined psychology essentially proper to the Holy Scripture, which in like manner underlies all the biblical writers, and intrinsically differs from that many-formed psychology which lies outside the circle of revelation.
Therefore the problem of biblical psychology may be solved as one problem. We do not need, first of all, to force the biblical teaching into unity; it is one in itself.
The biblical psychology thus built up is an independent science, which coincides with no other, and is made superfluous by no other in the organism of entire theology (Ibid. pp. 17-18).
The system that Delitzsch advances is that it involves the entire scripture, it is part of the unity of scripture and thus it is self-verifying.
Method of Biblical Psychology. Delitzsch now says of the method:
Since the Holy Scripture regards man not from the physiologic point of view of nature’s laws, but everywhere as in definite ethico-historical relations, we shall adopt the historical mode, and prosecute the history of the soul from its eternal antecedents to its everlasting ultimate destiny. Thus conceived of, the matter of psychology divides itself into the following seven heads:--1. Eternal Presuppositions. 2. Creation and Propagation. 3. Fall. 4. Present Constitution.
Regeneration. 6. Death and
Delitzsch in this last paragraph is saying exactly what we saw in Chapter III. The biblical psychologist must pay attention to two books: the book of nature and the Bible. Naturalistic revelation does not contradict biblical revelation.
He goes on and warns against that which I have repeatedly warned against—proof-texting:
Finally, it is not sufficient, by way of adducing proofs, to pick out individual texts from Scripture; but there is necessary, generally, inspection and inquiry into the entire scope of Scripture, that we may not fall back into the faults which made the ancient manner of referring to Scripture proofs, unhistorical, one-sided, and fragmentary (Ibid. p. 20).
Delitzsch’s methodology stands in contrast to secular psychology in another way. The experimental physical investigation (scientific method):
advances from without, inward, and has there before it a limit beyond which it cannot now or every pass. The mode of evidence of the revelation, which gives itself to the internal
experience, goes, on the other hand, from within, outward, and has no other bounds than those which it places to itself in accordance with man’s attainment in culture and need of salvation (Ibid. p. 21).
Delitzsch’s historical method—the history of the soul from eternity to eternity—in no way discounts or ignores the book of nature. He says, “The book of nature and the book of Scripture are precisely two books which from the beginning were intended to be compared with one another” (Ibid. p. 23).
For, for the most part, in our apologetic argument for the Scripture, which is associated with the exegetic-historic argument from Scripture, we shall rely partly upon undoubted facts of our own inward life, and partly upon well-attested facts of psychical occurrence without us. In respect of the former, we here upon the threshold make the avowal, that, in order to its right treatment and understanding, biblical psychology presumes above all, that the student has personal experience of the living energy of the word of God which is declared in Heb. iv. 12 to divide asunder the inward man with the sharpness of a two-edged sword (Ibid. p. 24).
The Everlasting Postulates
In giving us an introduction to his system of biblical psychology, Delitzsch introduces one further word of guidance—everlasting postulates [self-evident truths].
The False Pre-existence. Delitzsch says that “the history of the soul, like all temporal history, has its beginning and ending in eternity” (Ibid. p. 41). There is, however, a false notion of pre-existence:
That is the false notion of pre-existence usually associated with the doctrine of the Metempsychosis, which, originating with Pythagoras and Plato, gained currency not only in the Jewish Alexandrianism and Essenism, but also in Pharisaism, in the Talmud and the Cabbala (Ibid. p. 43).
The Talmud is a collection of Jewish law and tradition consisting of the Mishna and Gemara. The Cabbala is a system of esoteric philosophy developed by rabbis, reaching its peak in the Middle Ages and based on a mystical method of interpreting the Scriptures.
The Talmud teaches that
the Messiah will not come till the souls in “the super-terrestrial abode
of souls, have all together entered upon earthy existence. Manasse ben
Delitzsch says clearly that:
Scripture knows no creation of man other than that which comprises the body and the soul, which it records in Gen. i. and ii.; that it knows of no self-determination of a human soul, which could have preceded the self-determination of Adam, embracing as it did all human souls with it; that it traces back every moral destination under which man is found, no further than to Adam, and to the connection with our fathers and forefathers, by means of that procreation which entails it. These three fundamental principles, occupying the Scripture from beginning to end, substantially exclude the false doctrine of pre-existence. But with what propriety do we speak of the false doctrine? Is there, then,
also a true one? Decidedly there is How else could Jehovah say to Jeremiah, Priusquam te formarem in utero, novi te?—Even before you were formed in the womb, did I not know you? (Jeremiah 1:5) (Ibid. p. 45).
The True Pre-Existence. Delitzsch now speaks of the true pre-existence:
According to Scripture, there is a pre-existence of man, although an ideal one; a pre-existence not only of man as such, but also of the individual and of all; a pre-existence not only of the human soul, but of the entire man, and not merely of the entire man in himself, but moreover of the individual, and of all, in the totality of their constitution and their history; a pre-existence in the divine knowledge, which preceded the existence in each individual consciousness; a pre-existence, moreover, in virtue of which man and humanity are not only a remotely future object of divine foresight, but a present object of divine contemplation in the mirror of wisdom (Ibid. p. 46).
He elaborates on this as follows:
1) We perceive and acknowledge on scriptural ground, that the idea of man as such is an eternal idea of God; for when Elohim says (Gen. i.26), “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” that it no decision come to in time but only the revelation of an eternal purpose: for the whole six days’ work was a priori intended to concentrate itself finally on the man, and the man as such was thus the substance of God’s eternal plan even before the beginning of the temporal carrying into effect even before the
beginning of the temporal carrying into effect of this plan (Ibid. p. 48).
2) Not only was man, as such, an integral element of the divine plan: moreover, every individual, in the totality of his nature and of his life’s history, was a subject of eternal divine knowledge, and on that account also of eternal divine will, as says the Psalmist (cxxxix. 16), “Thine eyes did see me as embryo, yet being imperfect; and in Thy book were they all written, the days which were still to be fashioned, when as yet there was none of them . . .” (Ibid.).
3) The Scripture says to all who believe in Christ that God
has pre-appointed and foreseen them. . . . All these, with their future temporal relation, were everlastingly present to the knowledge of God, and were the object of His election, of His predestination, and briefly of His special loving purpose (Ibid. p. 49).
4) For the eternal Son of God may rightly be called Jesus
Christ in His relation to the future humanity, because the fact of the incarnation happening in time is for God an eternally present fact (Ibid. p. 50).
5) On the ground of such disclosures, we say that man and humanity are an everlastingly present object of divine contemplation in the mirror of Wisdom.
We have not pointed out in what scriptural sense a pre-existence assuredly belongs to humanity, and to every individual of it. The whole history of time, with all the
beginnings that enter upon it, and their development from the beginning to the end, in which divine providence and creative
freedom so marvelously weave into one another, is present from eternity before God and that in so concrete, although ideal, an objectivity, that even from eternity the Son of God has given Himself to be the centre of this history (Ibid. p. 54).
The Divine Archetype. Looking now toward the divine archetype Delitzsch says:
We must thus seek to have a clear understanding of how far the Trinity itself is the original type which comes to representative manifestation in that wisdom, and especially in man, in order that we may understand the nature of man (Ibid. p. 55).
The nouthetic counselor needs to read the next paragraph over and over:
In order to apprehend the nature of the ideal-world, the nature of the world of the actual, and especially the nature of the human soul, it is first of all essential to apprehend the nature of God, so far as it is gnoston, i.e. so far as it is permitted us to apprehend it, on the one hand in Scripture, on the other hand in the creatures themselves; for not Scripture alone, but, moreover, the works of God existing from the foundation of the world, reveal to us far more than the one simple truth that God is (Ibid.).
Please note the words “for not Scripture alone.” God’s works, naturalistic theism, reveal far more than the truth that God is.
In his development of this subject, Delitzsch speaks first of the trinity. The trinity is to be understood not only in relation to
creation, but much more, the conscious will of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is all important to understand:
1) The conscious will of the Father, itself stimulating itself, finds its satisfaction only in comprehending itself in the exactly counterpart conscious will of the Son; and while the latter lovingly turns back to the former as to the bosom of its origin, and the mutual operation of both is diffused as if by breathing itself forth, there arises a third conscious will, which concludes the unfolding of the nature of the Godhead—that of the Holy Spirit . . . (Ibid. p. 57).
After developing this truth he goes on to say:
2) There is certainly an analogue of the relation of phenomenon to Being, or of the external to the internal in God; to wit, an everlasting glory . . . its source of origination in the three persons of the Godhead, whose combined reflection it is, eternally caused by the Father, eternally mediated by the son and eternally effectuated by the Holy Ghost (Ibid. pp. 58-59).
When scripture speaks of the Doxa of God, it is “the glorious appearance of the absolutely holy nature of God” (Ibid. p. 60). But we have more in the revelation of His being:
It still further discloses to us the mystery, in giving us to understand, that as, according to his self-revealing nature, God is threefold in persons, so this His essential revelation is sevenfold in powers (Ibid. p. 61).
Delitzsch elaborates on this from Isaiah 11:2 and Zechariah 4:1-6 and the seven spirits, the seven powers, originating from the Father, “the Father of lights” (Jas. 1:17) operating in the Son (Heb. 1:3) and perfected through the Holy Spirit (see addendum note 2 on the significance of the number seven).
When Delitzsch speaks of God’s Doxa as being His Ego, it reminds me of Proverbs 20:27. The NIV margin translates this, “The spirit of man is the Lord’s lamp.” According to Keil on Proverbs this speaks of the “self-conscious personal human spirit” in contradistinction to the spirit of the beast who though animated as a living creature has no sense of self-consciousness.
We see the “Divine Archetype” coming to light:
Here we have attained the result which we proposed to ourselves at the close of the preceding section. God is All. All has its original in Him. He is I, and Thou, and He, and it. As I, the Father is the primal source of the Son. The Son, as Thou, is the object of the Father’s love. The Spirit, as He, is the emanation of the love of the Father and the Son. The Doxa as It, is the reflection of the Triune, and the origin of the Kosmos. We apprehend now the threefold personal and the sevenfold dynamical, the personally living, and the living archetype of the everlasting Ideal-Model,--in itself, indeed, impersonal, but effected by the personality of God, and wholly interpenetrated thereby,--including, moreover, the human soul and humanity in the image of God (Ibid. p. 64).
Having set forth his system of psychology, Delitzsch goes on to show how The Creation, The Fall, The Natural Condition of man, The Regeneration, Death and Resurrection and Consummation all speak to the subject of psychology from scripture. Though we can
learn from naturalistic theism, the book of nature, the important difference between “experimental physical investigation” and the Bible is that while science starts outward and proceeds inward, revelation begins inward with a closed canon given by the Author of creation and the Maker of man and permits us by biblical psychology to do what science can only attempt to do—deal with a body of facts or truths, arrange them systematically, and show the operation of general laws.
Believer and Unbeliever: A Common Ground
To the sufficiency of scripture advocates the idea of a common ground between believer and unbeliever is unthinkable. In Chapter II I raised this issue in MacArthur’s defensive sermon. He said that as Christians we:
. . . live in an environment in which the resources for life are divine . . . . We live in a sphere, at a strata, at a level which human wisdom does not feed . . . for which human wisdom cannot provide resources.
A little further on in his sermon he says:
But when it comes to matters of spiritual life, all we need to know is revealed in the Word of the living God and ministered to us by the Spirit through that Word. And outside the Word of God we do not have to look for a sufficiency that is not in the scripture. That is sin.
But MacArthur is not the only sufficiency advocate to advance this view. The pastor whom I mentioned in the preface who said that I had no place as a member in his church because of the sufficiency issue, said in an e-mail:
As to the NANC covenant [National Association of Nouthetic Counselors], if you want to argue that it’s wrong because it says that all secular practices are not reflections of common grace, you are correct. But that doesn’t nullify the fact that secular theories are systematically flawed. Again, while they may contain a nugget of truth once in a while, they are still built on a foundation of sand.
Ultimately, it’s correct to say that an unbeliever can’t truly be helped by biblical counseling. We might give him some pointers on communication so that he can have a better marriage but if he never sees his real need (of a savior) we’ve put a band-aid on his problems. He only received a surface cleansing.
We have already seen how common grace has been rejected as evidence of a commonality between believer and unbeliever. Now we see that any common ground is rejected.
Van Til On Common Ground
Cornelius Van Til, for years a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary in the Chestnut Hill district of Philadelphia, has stoutly defended in classroom and by pen a strong Reformed-Calvinistic system of
apologetics (defense of the faith) stressing revelation. The reader may be interested in the fact that this is also the seminary of Jay Adams, the original promoter of the nouthetic counselor theory.
Bernard Ramm, in his Types of
Apologetic Systems (Van Kampen Press,
Speaking of man’s re-interpretation of God’s knowledge (thinking God’s thoughts after Him), Van Til says:
A true philosophy or a true science is a reinterpretation of the meanings God has already given his creation. It is only when we adopt this analogical epistemology [re-interpretation] that we can form a genuine connection between general and special revelation for the unity of general and special revelation is to be found in the fact that all human interpretation is regarded as re-interpretation of God’s self-conscious interpretation, in nature and in the Bible [emphasis mine] (Ibid., p. 192).
In his discussion on “faith, reason, and science,” Van Til does not accept the traditional division between faith and reason in the sense that reason is a faculty used for apprehending empirical, historical and factual data, and faith for apprehending supernatural disclosure. This division is pagan because all facts are revelational of God. There can be no specifically secular knowledge as over against spiritual knowledge (Ibid. p. 198).
In his apologetic Van Til makes it very clear that God not only has created all things but He has also given meaning to all things by revelation. Man’s
job is not to figure out what something in God’s creation means. As Van Til says, this is pagan. All facts are already made meaningful through revelation.
When Van Til speaks of common ground he means a territory of human thought shared by believer and unbeliever where they can agree on some proposition about the universe.
Where There Is No Common Ground. The believer makes the God of the Bible, His creation and the meaning He gives to it, the foundation of his theory of fact. The unbeliever, however, even though he may believe in God, does not do this. He does not make the God of the Bible, His creation and what it means the basis of his theory of fact.
Van Til says that because of this the unbeliever really knows nothing truly. How is it, then, that scientists, both believers and unbelievers, can work together and develop an amazingly progressive technological society?
Van Til admits that the very existence of knowledge in the mind of an unsaved man is an enigma save on the grounds of borrowed capital. “Borrowed capital” is the meaning that God gives to His creation that the unbeliever accepts and may not even know that it is a biblical concept or has revelational roots in God’s creation.
Where There Is Common Ground. Unsaved men do know something—some very important things. We live in a society that ethically, judicially, technologically, and medically is flourishing as the result of the work of believer and unbeliever alike. How do we explain this? Van Til says this:
There is common ground in common grace. It is true that the saved man and the unsaved man have no common area of knowledge, no facts in common. But on the other hand the non-Christian is in the image of God and is accessible to God. God has provided by common grace the possibility which is an actuality for a cooperative society and civilization for Christians and non-Christians to co-exist in. This in turn enables the Christian to apply gospel pressure on the unsaved
for its history is the long suffering of God, the munificence of God, the witness and blessing of a Christian home.
The fact that man is in the image of God enables him to have the intellectual capacity for truth. It gives him ethical capacities to respond positively and negatively.
I will have more to say about man in the image of God in Chapter VI. Here I first want to expand more on the details of common grace
Common Grace and Natural Revelation
I am including in this discussion of common grace, “natural revelation” (also called “naturalistic theism” and “general revelation”) because common grace, as a work of God, is revealed through nature, His creation. It stands in contrast with biblical revelation, that which God reveals in the Bible.
The unbeliever does not understand the biblical message of the gospel, but he does understand the creation in which he lives. Indeed, unbelieving man has observed God’s work, copied it and claimed it as his own invention.
Common grace is the unmerited favor of God to all men, believer and unbeliever alike. It differs from efficacious or saving grace which is God’s salvation to those whom He calls (Rom. -30).
Contrary to the Arminian view of common grace, it has nothing to do with God’s giving to all men the ability to believe on Christ if they will. The biblical view of common grace is God’s testimony of His gracious gift of
good things that meet the human needs of mankind. By so doing He is saying, See, I am a gracious God. I want you to know I have even more grace to offer—the salvation of your souls through Jesus Christ (Acts ).
We must also remember Jesus’ warning: “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mt. NIV). God’s common grace may be able to help a man gain the world, but he needs efficacious (saving) grace to save his soul.
Matthew is writing to the Jews, making the point that they, the chosen people, are not the only objects of God’s common grace. The entire world of unbelieving men also has seen the testimony of this gracious God.
He (God) causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and
sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Mt. 5:45b NIV).
The Apostle Paul repeats this truth in Lystra where the people worshipped Paul and Barnabas as gods because of the healing miracle. But they rushed into the crowd and said:
We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you
good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to
the living God, who made heaven and earth and everything
in them. In the past, he let all nations go their own way. Yet
he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown
kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their
seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your
hearts with joy (Acts 14:15b-17 NIV).
His point in referring to common grace is the same as Matthew’s. He is saying, Don’t think that some of us are so special that God has turned his
back on the rest of the world. He is still at work in the world working through common grace, leaving testimony that He is a gracious God who has even more grace to give in the saving work of Jesus Christ.
Common Grace and Natural Revelation Can Point the Unsaved To Christ
Though common grace and natural revelation can save no one, Scripture makes it clear that they can point souls to Christ. God has, indeed, left a testimony to unbelieving men that He is a gracious God. This truth, nouthetic counselors do not believe. The NANC Membership Covenant says:
We deny that secular theories and practices are manifestations
of General Revelation [naturalistic theism or revelation] or Common Grace.
Theologian Augustus Strong has it right when he says:
To despise the works of God is to despise God Himself.
Perhaps the nouthetic counselor doesn’t understand that the “discoveries” of unsaved men are really plagiarism of God’s revelation in common grace and natural revelation (which they call, General Revelation).
Let biblical revelation now testify to the truth of natural revelation’s message to the world of our gracious God.
Healing for the Body. In Second Corinthians 12:7-10 where Paul speaks of
“the thorn in his flesh,” and First Timothy where Paul advises Timothy to “use
a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your oft infirmities, “we
see a connection between biblical and natural revelation. Two-thousand years ago, as well as
today, there were some cures that only God could render. Paul’s infirmity was probably
eye-disease, common in the
But then, as today, there were infirmities that could be treated with man’s “discoveries,” that really are their discovery of God’s work in nature. Wine was an ancient medication, as common as aspirin today. Here we have the appeal to two cures for infirmities. One is a direct cure from God and the other is given through man by way of natural revelation—a “discovery.”
The nouthetic counselor needs to realize that he has a serious contradiction in his view of healing. He accepts the idea of using medical treatment for the body but not for the emotions or the mind.
This is made clear by the Biblical Counseling Foundation in its STANDARDS OF CONDUCT AND CODE OF ETHICS IN Article I, C, 1-3 which, after accepting “the general practice of medicine,” says, “The ministry to the mind, the spirit, and the soul is based on the unalterable and completely sufficient Word of God.” Again, after recognizing “occasional” need for medication, “the disciple/counselee [will] refrain from taking substances that lead to dependence or that substantially affect or alter the mind or behavior [emphasis mine].
James addresses both emotional and physical sickness and says:
Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven (Jas. -15 NIV).
Though James advises prayer for three kinds of sickness we must realize that the first one, “trouble” in verse 14, is “dejection” (Gk – kakoptheo). It is an emotional problem, but is not overwhelming. This probably is why prayer rather than large amounts of wine was advised (Prov. 31:6-7).
The second and third mention of sickness are physical. In verse 15 the sickness is “weakness” (Gk—astheneo). In verse 16 it is “disease”
(Gk--kamno), both probably beyond the ability of the medical help of the day. Prayer was advised.
Certainly God was able to intervene through the elders’ prayer of faith, but that gets us into another subject. I simply want to state here that I find nowhere in the Bible that emotional and mental problems are not to be handled with medication while the bodily problems can.
Is there a contradiction in scripture? James says all three of these problems are handled with prayer. How does one know when to apply medication (Prov. 31:6-7) and when to pray? I think in Proverbs the seriousness of the emotional problem is evident while James speaks of a lesser emotional problem—dejection.
This is the kind of distinction that should have been made in the Nally case. When someone attempts suicide and threatens success the next time, it calls not only for an antidepressant but also hospitalization for protection until the antidepressant starts to work.
Even in the case where “weakness” and “disease” (Jas. -15) are the problem it is not sinning against God the seek medical help rather than pray. Sometimes both are called for.
In 1967 my mother showed symptoms in speech disorder that indicated a physical problem. She underwent exploratory surgery on the brain. The doctors discovered massive terminal cancer. I was her pastor at the time, and my dad asked me to break the news to her. The doctor agreed.
After she got out of recovery and was fully conscious she asked me about the results. When I told her, she was somewhat startled and said, “Oh!”
Mom, we believe that God can heal anything. We are told to call the elders of the church and pray. But you are the one to make the decision. Will you pray about this tonight, and I’ll come back tomorrow to see what the Lord tells you.
She agreed, and after visiting with her a while, I left. The next day I came
Back and asked,
What did the Lord have to say?
She smiled, looked out the window and then back at me. She finally said softly and sweetly,
The Lord wants to take me home.”
Mom was dead in eight weeks.
I believe that if God had wanted to heal her to His glory He would have told her to call the elders of the church.
My other observation about the James passage about prayer in time of weakness. This was the Apostle Paul’s prayer in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. He had a “thorn in the flesh,” He prayed three times for the Lord to remove it.
God had a different solution. He gave Paul the power of Christ to bear it. God wanted Paul to boast in the power of Christ. And Paul did that. “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. NIV).
The reason why I get into these extended issues over healing is that the nouthetic counselor’s treatment of the subject is too simplistic. Sometimes medication is called for in treating the emotions (Nally). Sometimes prayer is sufficient (“dejection”). Sometimes surgery is needed for the body. Sometimes the prayer of the elders is needed for God to do the impossible.
In the two cases I mention, the Apostle Paul and my mother, the answer was not healing. For Paul, it was grace to bear the “thorn in the flesh.” For my mother, it was home to glory. She could hear, as the song says, “A band of angels coming after me, coming for to carry my home.”
The Life of Believers. Another testimony that the Holy Spirit uses
is the life of believers. We read in 2 Corinthians, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him [emphasis mine]. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life” (2 Cor. -16 NIV).
Through believers, God spreads an odor of the knowledge of Him. To some unbelievers, it is the fragrance of life, and they are saved. To others, it is the smell of death, and they gasp at the odor of their condemnation.
This is very similar to what is taught in John 16. The ministry of the Spirit is to enlighten the world of sin, righteousness and judgment. To some, the
enlightenment results in salvation. Others hear the declaration of judgment from the Holy Spirit.
This is not biblical revelation. It is nature’s revelation through the Holy Spirit to unbelievers who observe Christians in the world that we share with them.
The Conscience of the Unbeliever. Another evidence of natural
revelation in the life of the unbeliever is in Romans 2. Paul,
reproaching the Jews for their pride in the law, which they did not keep, speaks of the Gentiles who through natural revelation in conscience are more in touch with God than the Jews. He says, “Indeed, when Gentiles, who do
not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even through they do not have the law, since they show that the
requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them” (Rom. -15 NIV).
Imagine that! Here are moral unbelievers who have a conscience about what is expected of God. Again, we have the work of the Holy Spirit convicting the world of sin, righteousness and judgment. And when we add to this Proverbs 20:27, we can see that the work of the Holy Spirit is through the spirit of natural man: “The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord.” The Holy Spirit uses man’s own spirit to shine upon the obedience or disobedience of conscience.
The Magi and the Birth of Jesus. In Matthew 2 we have the
amazing story of the Magi, the Wise Men, looking for the one “born King of the Jews” (Mt. 2:2). These were Persian astronomers who saw a star rising in the east declaring this message to them. How did they know that God was speaking through this phenomenon, saying that the King of the Jews was born? The Holy Spirit was speaking through nature.
It took them two years to arrive in
Not only were they led to where Jesus was (Mt. ), they were also warned in a dream not to go back to Herod and report their
finding. Most dreams are ignored, but this one was different enough to make the Magi know that God was speaking.
The point is that of natural revelation. The Magi were led to Jesus and to defy Herod by a star and a dream.
Wise men still are finding Jesus by following the star of natural revelation that points to Jesus. Natural revelation in common grace does not save. It speaks of God’s greater grace in Christ and is God’s way of reaching out to the unbeliever with this message.
Kuyper On Common Grace
Dr. Abraham Kuyper, another Reformed-Calvinistic great, has written extensively on common grace—three volumes titled De Gemeene Gratie. He makes some important additions to what has already been said on
These remarks come from, Common Grace, by Cornelius Van Til, (1947, Printed
In addition to what has been said before about the difference between efficacious or saving grace and common grace, Kuyper speaks of the restraint of sin in the unbeliever:
Thus, common grace is an omnipresent operation of divine mercy, which reveals itself everywhere where human hearts are found to beat and which spreads its blessing upon these human hearts (Ibid. p. 16).
The Apostle Paul speaks of the Holy Spirit as the restrainer in 2 Thessalonians 2:5-12. When the restrainer is taken out of the world at the rapture and the beginning of the tribulation, God’s unrestrained judgment breaks loose on earth.
Kuyper then adds another element to common grace, a progressive element in human society:
Yet common grace could not stop at this first and constant operation. Mere maintenance and control affords no answer to the question as to what end the world is to be preserved and why it has passed
throughout a history of ages. If things remain the same why should they remain at all? If life were merely a repetition why should life be continued at all? . . . Accordingly there is added to this first constant
operation of common grace . . . another, wholly different, operation . . . calculated to make human life and the life of the whole world pass through a process and develop itself more fully and richly (Ibid. p. 17).
Though there was objection to these views by two of the Reformed Church’s pastors, the 1924 Synod of that church spoke favorably of Kuyper’s views. The Synod reported the following:
Concerning the first point, touching the favorable attitude of God toward mankind in general, and not alone toward the elect, Synod declares that it is certain, according to Scripture and the Confession, that there is, besides the saving grace of God, shown only to those chosen to eternal life, also a certain favor or grace of God which He shows to his creatures in general (Ibid. p. 19).
The Synod then backed up their statement with the following scriptural
support: Ps. 145:9; Matt. 5:44, 45;
Luke 6:35, 36; Acts 14:16, 17; 1 Tim. 4:10;
Concerning the second point, touching the restraint of sin in the life of the individual and in society, the Synod declares that according to Scripture and the Confession, there is such a restraint of sin (Ibid. p. 20).
The Synod then backed up their statement with the following scriptural support: Gen. 6:3; Ps. 81:11, 12; Acts ; Rom. , 26, 28; 2 Thess. 2:6-7).
Concerning the third point, touching the performance of so-called civic righteousness by the unregenerate, the Synod declares that according to Scripture and the Confession the unregenerate, though incapable of any saving good . . . , can perform such civic good (Ibid. p. 21).
The Synod then backed up their statement with the following scriptural support: 2 Kings , 30; 2 Kings 12:2 (compare 2 Chron. 24:17-25); 2
Kings 14:3 (compare 2 Chron. 25:2 and vss. 14-16, 20, 27); Luke ; Rom. (compare vs. 13. Also Rom. 10:5 and Gal. 3:12).
I have attempted to show the harmony of God’s naturalistic theism, the revelation of His person and work in creation and nature, with the revelation of Himself in scripture:
1) Natural revelation must agree with biblical revelation in principle. There must be no contradiction between the two of them; that is, in the meaning of both.
2) When God speaks through natural revelation, there must be someone to hear. When the context includes the unbeliever, he hears God speak it is through the Holy Spirit. Even the unbeliever hears of sin, righteousness and judgment and sees God’s hand held out to him in grace (Jn. 16:8-11; Acts ; ).
3) Natural revelation is self-interpreting. What the Scripture says is
clearly understood by the unbeliever (Rom. -20). It results in his believing it and being led to Christ or subduing and perverting the truth.
4) I must say one more thing about common ground in natural revelation. Paul says in Acts 17, “Therefore since we are God’s children . . .” (Acts ). Believer and unbeliever have a common ground by virtue of common creation (see addendum note 3).
Counseling must embrace both natural and biblical revelation—all of God’s works, not just what we decide is definitive and what is not. Does what we see as a work of God in His creation agree with the principles of scripture? This approach offers an opportunity for counseling God’s way.
The nouthetic counselor’s fundamental error is that God speaks on spiritual matters only through the scripture. They do not see that natural revelation is also “spiritual” guidance.
The Difference Between the Word of God and Scripture
How can there be a difference between the Word of God and scripture when God speaks through both? I shall attempt to explain it in this chapter. It is essential, however, that unless we understand the difference between the two, we will make the mistakes the nouthetic counselors make in their view of the sufficiency of scripture. I touched on this subject in Chapter II.
The nouthetic counselors’ view of the sufficiency of scripture sees the entire Bible, Genesis to Revelation, as sufficient to give men the knowledge of salvation and the power of Christ to live the sanctified life. No other word or deed from God is used to convey this message.
My first observation is that thousands of years passed without scripture being available to man in his own language through which he could study and grow in faith. What did he have before then to give him the way of salvation and spiritual growth?
My second observation is the real meat of this chapter. There is a gross misunderstanding among many Christians as to the meaning of “the Word of God” and “scripture.” Because of their failure to understand the difference there is a failure on the part of nouthetic counselors to understand the place of God’s revelation of Himself in nature and His reaching out to unbelieving man in common grace.
Cramer in his excellent Biblico-Theological Lexicon of New Testament Greek explains the difference. He says that there is:
a distinctively N.T. expression, ho logos tou theou, [the Word of God] or ho logos kat’exokee, the word of gracious announcement, the word of the gospel, denoting all that God says or has caused to be said to men. . . .
Ho logos tou theou [the Word of God] denotes all that God has to say to men, and indeed as this is made known in the N.T. revelation of grace, and thus, as we have seen, the expression is always used to
denote the N.T. announcement of salvation; comp. 1 Pet. i. 23-25.
Let me pause here and stress what Cramer is saying. The expression “the Word of God” [ho logos thou theou] is unique to the New Testament. It is the N.T. announcement of salvation, the word of the gospel. He then refers to 1 Peter. Here we see a significant difference in the use of words for “word” of God. Peter says,
For you have been born again, not by perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word [logos] of God (1 Pet. (NIV).
Note that the Greek for “word” is logos. The logos of God is not scripture. The logos of God is none other than Christ—the living Christ through whom we are born again (Jn. 1:1-3; 3:3). It is significant that Peter uses the words “born again” for he leaves no doubt that he is referring back to the work of Christ in John 3:3
We have two important truths here, both of which point us to Christ as the logos [Word] of God.
First, as Cramer tells us, that this expression is unique to the New Testament—the announcement of the gospel.
Second, the use of “born again” by the logos of God leaves no doubt that this is Christ. The Greek grammar also reinforces this. It says that we are born again “through the logos,” [dia logou]. Dia plus the genitive is saying, “by means of the logos.” Though John may point us to Christ as the way, we are not saved by John . We are saved by the logos, the living Christ. It is He who is the living seed, not scripture.
After speaking about being born again by the Word (logos) of God, Christ, Peter then says:
All men are like grass and their glory is like the wild flower. The grass withers and the flower falls, but the word [rhema] of the Lord
[Kurios] stands forever. And this is the word [rhema] that was preached to you (1 Pet. -25 NIV).
Here Peter gives us a classic difference between the Word of God and scripture. We are born again by the logos [Word] of theou [God], who is Christ. The message of salvation, the word rhema that was preached, came from the Lord [Kurios]. This is the scripture.
Simply put, the logos [Word] of God that saves is Jesus. The rhema [word]
of the Lord [Kurios] is scripture. The word “Lord” was used as a substitute for the sacred word Jehovah—the God of promise.
Now what is the significance of this? It is obvious that it challenges the view of the sufficiency of scripture. God is bigger than the Bible. Scripture does not save. Scripture is merely the message (rhema) of salvation that points to the living Christ, logos, who is the agent of salvation.
Just remember: logos is Christ; rhema is the spoken message of salvation by Christ written in scripture.
The Meaning of the Word of God in Hebrews 4:12-13
Christ the Word of God. Having seen Christ, the Word of God, in Peter, it’s essential that we now connect it with Hebrews 4:12. This oft quoted passage in modern times is usually used to refer us to the Bible, but this was not so in the early days of Christianity. And we shall see that “The Word of God” refers to Christ in Hebrews 4:12-13, not the scripture.
The word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Heb. -13 NIV).
The attentive reader will say, Wait a minute! If Christ is The Word of God, how can He be referred to as “it”—“it penetrates . . . it judges . . .” NIV).
The translation in the NIV is not a good one. The KJV is more accurate, true to the Greek text that doesn’t use the word “it.” The Greek text says,
“. . . piercing even to the dividing asunder . . ., and is a discerner . . . .”
The fact that this is a reference to the living Christ is supported by verse 13 in the Greek text.
First of all, the text does not say, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight . . . .” The word “God” is not used. The Greek says that the work of the Word of God manifests every creature “before him.” The antecedent to “him” is Christ! And again, all are naked and open to the eyes of “him.”
This does not say that the Word is a double-edged sword. The living Christ is a knife, not sword (machaira), performing surgery. It says He is sharper than a double-edged sword, opening up the very deepest part of man and is letting him know what He sees! This is where the convicting work of the Holy Spirit falls on both believer and unbeliever. It falls on the believer, as to his spiritual walk. It falls on the unbeliever, as to sin, righteousness and judgment.
Second, the position of the word “living” in the Greek text is in the emphatic position. The Word of God is not words on a page. No matter how authoritative they may be, they do not have the power of the living Christ who is doing the surgery.
Third, the writer of Hebrews begins verse 14 with “therefore,” or “since this is true,” we have a great high priest, Jesus Christ, in the heavenlies. This carries us back to the theme in 1:1-3 where we are told that God “in these last days has spoken by his Son.”
Fourth, if the writer of Hebrews wanted us to know that he is speaking of the Bible, he would have used the words, hiera gramma, “holy scriptures,” which are used in 2 Timothy 3:15. Instead, he uses the special designation for the living Christ: the Word of God.
A Contradiction With Revelation & 21? These Revelation passages do use the word “sword,” rhomphia, for that which comes from the mouth of Christ at the battle of Armageddon. Does this contradict what is said in Hebrews 4:12?
No, it doesn’t. We have three different functions of Christ in Hebrews and in Revelation: Christ a surgeon, Christ a warrior and Christ a ruler.
In Hebrews, divine surgery is described. The knife that is used is not said to be a sword. It is said to be sharper than a double-edged sword. The sword here is a machaira. It is a fighting weapon which would not be used for surgery. That which is used for surgery has to be much sharper. Here Christ is a surgeon.
In the Revelation passages divine judgment is going on. Here the word “sword” is used, but it is not a machaira, a fighting weapon. It is called a rhomphia. According to the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, “. . . from the way these Thracian [rhomphia] were carried it would seem that they were lances, spears, or javelins, not swords” (VI, p. 993). This is why Young’s concordance calls it “a brandishing weapon.” It could be used as a weapon, but an army carrying them into battle would be a frightening sight to the enemy as the weapons glittered in the sunlight. “Brandishing” is a good definition. Here Christ is a warrior.
This description of Christ with a rhomphia from his mouth may also look like “an iron scepter” that is carried by a ruler (Rev. 19:15b). Here the word for “scepter” is rhabdos. Again, the Theological Dictionary is of great help: “Christ as ruler of the world holds the scepter of God in expression of His legitimate divine government” (VI, p. 970). Here Christ is a ruler.
From Hebrews and Revelation & 21 we have Christ as a surgeon, a leader of a conquering army and a ruler with a scepter. Multiple analogies of Christ are common in scripture.
The Old Testament Jehovah Is the Pre-incarnate Christ
This concept is important to our understanding of justification by faith in the Old Testament because it shows the continuity of God’s plan of salvation.
Justification by faith is not just a New Testament doctrine. It is found from Genesis to Revelation.
I’m not a covenant theologian. But as a dispensationalist (see addendum note 4) I believe that God has one plan of salvation for all from eternity to eternity. To understand this, we must understand that Christ is the Jehovah of the Old Testament where souls are justified by faith. Chafer says:
To have both Deity and
humanity in view as in Jeremiah 23:5-6 is certain evidence that it is of Christ
that the prophet writes when he says, “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord [Jehovah], that I will rise unto David a
righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute
judgment and justice in the earth.
In his days
shall be saved, and
It is Christ who is made unto the believer righteousness (1 Cor. ; 2 Cor. ) . . . . Psalm 102, which names Jehovah at least eight times, is quoted in connection with Christ in Hebrews 1:10 ff. thus,
“And, Thou Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thy hands.”
This, by the way, lends further weight to the truth that Christ was speaking to man from the very beginning of creation. No, they didn’t have “the sufficiency of scripture.” They heard the voice of Christ.
Christ/Jehovah Speaks of Salvation
When we think of justification by faith we usually think of Abraham who, according to Genesis 15:6, was justified by faith. Let’s go back to the creation of man and the message of justification by faith to the first human beings in Genesis. Long before there was any scripture, the pre-incarnate
Christ, who is called the Word of God in the New Testament, was teaching justification by faith as Jehovah, “the Lord of promise.”
Abel Was Justified by Faith. The first thing we should see is the truth that Abel, the son of Adam and Eve, was justified by faith:
By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, who God spoke well of his
offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead (Heb. 11:4 NIV).
I ask the nouthetic counselor how this could be—justified by faith when the scripture didn’t exist? Here’s why it is so important to see “the Word of God” in Hebrews 4:12-13 as the message of salvation from Christ/Jehovah to the first human beings. When we read in Psalm 19:1-3 about creation speaking, it is the Word of God, Christ/Jehovah, speaking the message of salvation in creation. Yes, the message was still shrouded in “mystery” (Ephesians 3:1-13) (see addendum note 4), but it was given by “the God of promise, Jehovah,” who would fulfill that promise in the crucifixion of Christ.
This is very important to understand in the doctrine of salvation. The redemptive work of Christ was still a “mystery” to Old Testament believers, a mystery to be revealed thousands of years later. Yet these people were justified by faith. Faith in what? Faith in the promise of Christ/Jehovah, the God of promise. This message was the message of Christ from the beginning and called forth the faith of those justified by faith from day one.
Justification by Faith in
Adam and Eve. But there were other events that made clear what God’s solution was.
From what we read in Genesis 1-3, God made it clear that he was going to do two important things. In He made it clear that He was going to deal with the tempter. He also provided a solution to man’s sin in : “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.”
Griffith Thomas in his commentary on Genesis has this to say:
The announcement of enmity between the serpent and the woman, and between her seed and his seed, is the first message of Divine redemption in its antagonism to, and victory over, sin. This is indeed
the Protevangelium, and is the primeval promise which is taken up again and again henceforward in Scripture, until He comes Who
destroys him that has the power of death, and casts him into the lake of fire.
Redemption is not only promised in word, it is also pictured in deed. Man attempted to cover his shame by the leaves of the fig-tree, but this was far to slight a covering for so deep a shame. No human covering could suffice, and so we are told with profound significance that the “Lord God made coats of skins and clothed them” This Divine clothing took the place of their own self-made clothing, and now they are clothed indeed. The mention of skins suggests the fact and necessity of death of the animal before they could be used as clothing,
and it is more than probable that in this fact we have the primal revelation of sacrifice, and of the way in which the robe of righteousness was to be provided for them (Genesis: A Devotional Commentary, W. H. Griffith Thomas, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, 1963, p. 51-52).
The speaker in Genesis is none other than Christ/Jehovah (called there, Jehovah/Elohim, Jehovah/God, or the God of Promise. The shed blood of
the animals was the first blood we saw in answer to sin—blood sacrifice which would be finalized by Christ on the cross. All this was before there was any “sufficiency of scripture.”
Christ Still Speaks
If Christ spoke prior to the writing of scripture, if he spoke during the writing of scripture by the prophets and apostles, now that we have the scripture should we say that Christ has ceased to speak?
Christ Still Speaks to Believers. The Upper Room Discourse the night before Jesus died gives us some significant information on this. There are several passages in this discourse that warrant our attention.
1) John 14:6 NIV
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Jesus is answering Thomas about “the way” to that place that Jesus speaks of in verses 1-4. The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT) has a very long discussion on “the way” (hodos) in this passage (Vol. V, pp. 78-84).
Without going into all the exegetical details, let me simply mention the significant statements:
a) Jesus’ answer is in response to Thomas’ question about the way (Jn. 14:5).
b) Jesus’ answer, “I am” (ego eimi) is emphatic. It reminds us of Jehovah’s answer to Moses as to whom he shall say has sent him to Pharaoh (Ex. ). Indeed, the pre-incarnate Christ who spoke to Moses now speaks to the disciples.
c) The three terms “way, truth and life” are not of equal worth according to TDNT. “What is meant is that Jesus is the way inasmuch as He is the truth and the life.”
What I’m getting at here is the importance of Jesus as the truth as much as the way and the life. I am The Truth! Truth is the very nature of God. Being God, it must mean everything that is truth. Whatever is true is true because God is truth! There is not man’s truth and God’s truth. Yes, there is man’s wisdom—the application of the truth—that does not understand the way of salvation. There is no other truth whether it be revealed in creation, the history of man, the words of the prophets and apostles, common grace or the scripture. Even the truth spoken to the unbeliever is understood by him (Jn 16:8-11; Rom. -21).
In Romans 1 it is said that the truth can be rejected or perverted. But in Acts 17:34 God uses the truth of common grace by the Holy Spirit to break through unbelief. God truly reaches out and calls to salvation.
Those who make the scripture the only source for the message of salvation and spiritual growth are wrong. They are rejecting and denying The Truth as
God continues to speak today. God shows the way of salvation to those who will have nothing to do with the Bible
2) John 14:16-17 NIV
If you love me you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor [Paraclete] to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth.
Jesus is about to die. In the Upper Room Discourse He prepares His disciples. Though He is “going away,” another Comforter will be sent to them to be with them forever. Two observations are important:
a. The word “Counselor,” literally, “Paraclete,” is one called along-
side to help. The reference is to the Holy Spirit. He will be with them, and they will learn that He will dwell in them and “guide them into all truth” (Jn. ).
So far, the disciples understood only the Old Testament teaching of the Spirit who came and went as God used Him to empower people for certain tasks. On the Day of Pentecost, fifty-days later, they would understand The Spirit of Truth not only leading them but dwelling in them.
b. The word “another” is significant. It means that the replacement
for Jesus will do what Jesus did—come alongside to help and would not speak of Himself but speak the words of Christ. This is why He is called “The Spirit of Truth.” He represents Christ.
It has been debated what the Spirit of Truth will do. Will He teach the disciples “all truth?” Will He lead them in the way of truth? Will His teaching and leading involve just “spiritual truth?”
The word “another” suggests that the Spirit, though He will only follow Jesus’ words and directions, will do exactly what Jesus did. Jesus led the disciples into spiritual truth in His teaching. But He also led them in the way they should go in their ministry, both geographically and ideologically. The Spirit teaches; He gives directions. It reminds me of this statement to the disciples:
I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am
going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may being glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it (Jn. -14 NIV).
These believers are no different than believers today. We want to know where God wants us to go and what He wants us to do. This is why Paul could say:
. . . continue to work our your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose (Phil. -13 NIV).
The word “work” is the Greek word from which we get our word “energize.” God energies us to do his will (to know what to do) and gives us the energy to do it. If you really want to do what God wants you to do or go where He wants you to go, He will speak to your heart, not just through scripture, but also through people and circumstances and make it clear. You will have the energy to know and do! Certainly anything that comes from outside the scripture (circumstance, counselor advice) must be checked for agreement with scripture in principle.
3) John 16:12-16 NIV
I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that
belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.
Chafer has much to say on this passage in his Systematic Theology:
It is revealed, then, that in the process of divine instruction Christ originates and sends the message that the individual Christian needs, and this is heard by the Spirit and from Christ conveyed to the mind
and heart by the indwelling Holy Spirit. The Spirit may choose to employ a human teacher or a printed page or any other means by which He can bring the message to the attention of the believer for whom it is intended. . . .
It is significant that, as indicated above, He works thus in the inner consciousness of the unsaved by enlightening them, and also teaches from within those who are saved and who are adjusted to Him. . . .
A second feature of this teaching ministry of Christ through the Holy Spirit as revealed in this context is the listing of the measureless field of truth which He will disclose . . . “all truth” (Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. V., p. 156).
In the hermeneutics (interpretation) of natural theism, what we “hear” from creation, must agree with scripture. The same is true with “all truth.” We must not take the word of an advisor, the printed page or even circumstances that run contrary to the teaching of scripture (see addendum note #5).
I have to say that this is why I have written this book. The issue of “all truth” is involved, sacred and secular. Does nouthetic counseling and its view of the sufficiency of scripture agree with scripture? No it doesn’t. It says that the Bible speaks only of spiritual truth This is why I must say what it is: false teaching.
Christ Still Speaks To Unbelievers. Jesus made it clear in His Upper Room Discourse the evening before His crucifixion that He still speaks to unbelievers.
When he comes [the Paraclete], he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment; in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned (John 16:8-11 NIV).
The unbeliever cannot understand the way of salvation by himself (1 Cor. ; 2 Cor. 4:3-4). To aid us in our witness of the gospel to the unbeliever, the Spirit convicts them of sin, righteousness and judgment. Chafer notes:
A preliminary work must be wrought in the heart of those who are unsaved before they can enter, by their own choice, into any saving relationship with Christ. The preliminary work is not a part of their salvation, but is rather an indispensable preparation for it (Ibid. p. 153).
Not only does Jesus show us that He still speaks to unbelievers through The Spirit, the Apostle Paul also speaks of this. Thayer in his lexicon says concerning the truth (aleitheia):
. . . it also refers to the true notions of God which are open to human
reason without his supernatural intervention: Ro. 1.18; also the truth of which God is the author, Ro. 1.25 (ref)
This is extremely important in helping the nouthetic counselor understand that his view of the sufficiency of scripture is flawed. Though the unbeliever cannot understand on his own the way of salvation, he is convicted by God’s speaking of sin, righteousness and judgment. There are other truths that he understands as a rational man. This we see in naturalistic theism (natural revelation) in Romans 1 and in common grace in Acts 14 & 17.
Fallen Man As A Rational Creature
Though the unbeliever cannot rationalize his way to salvation, the scripture makes it clear that the image of God was not lost in the fall. In Chapter IV we saw that the image of God is essential to the unbeliever’s understanding common grace. Modern medicine and technology that we enjoy are God’s gifts to the rational mind of man in common grace.
Man: The Image of God
Lewis Sperry Chafer in his Systematic Theology makes it clear that man did not lose the image of God in his sin and spiritual fall.
This is the written account of Adam’s line.
When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female; at the time they were created, he blessed them and called them “man.”
When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, and his own image; and he named him Seth (Gen. 5:1-3 NIV).
After quoting this passage Chafer says:
This important passage (Gen. 5:1-3) is to be recognized primarily by the truth there asserted, which is true of all the human family. Due consideration will be given later to the injury which the fall imposed; but the fact abides, as everywhere witnessed in the Word of God, that unregenerate, fallen man bears the image of his Creator. The importance of this disclosure could hardly be overestimated. There is no implication that man is not fallen or that he is not lost apart from redemption. It is rather that redemption is provided because of what man is. The truth that man bears the image of God enhances the reality both of his lost estate and of final doom if unsaved. The sublime and majestic record is that God created man, not a mere unidentified order of beings. His individuality is paramount and he is supreme among all creatures of the earth. He is made in the similitude
of God. There could hardly be a doubt that Genesis 9:6 and James 3:9 contemplate man in his present estate. The passages declare:
“Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God made he man.” “Therewith bless we God, even the father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.’ To sin against man either by murder or by slander is reprovable on the ground of the divine image being resident in man. A sacredness appertains to human life. Man must respect his fellow man, not on the ground of kinship, but on the ground of the exalted truth that human life belongs to God. To injure man is to injure one who bears the image of God (Systematic Theology, Lewis Sperry Chafer, Vol. 2, pp. 167-68, Dallas Seminary Press, Dallas, TX).
The critic may say, All right. So we value man’s humanity as evidence of the image of God. But how does this make him a counselor to those of troubled mind and emotion. Are these not spiritual problems solvable only by those who are born-again?
God sometimes solves human problems through the rationality of unsaved human beings that He created in His image! This is what is missing in the thinking of the sufficiency of scripture theorists.
A typical example of resistance to such thinking is a response to an e-mail I got from the pastor of the church referred to in the introduction—the one that shunned me. I mentioned in my e-mail to him that the Apostle Peter is an interesting study in psychology. The pastor’s reply was:
Because there may be truth in some scattered areas of psychology does not nullify the fact that psychological systems are flawed at their very foundation. Their basis is not that man is sinful and needs redemption. Their goal is to help people through their pain so they will be better able to function in life . . . .
As to the NANC covenant [National Association of Nouthetic Counselors], if you want to argue that it’s wrong because it says that all secular practices are not reflections of common grace, you are correct. But that doesn’t nullify the fact that secular practices are
systematically flawed. Again, while they may contain a nugget of truth once in a while, they still are build on a foundation of sand.
Do you see the contradiction here? Medications are not a gift of common grace, because mental and emotional problems are spiritual problems. But there are some gifts of common grace that are acceptable. I don’t see this distinction in the Bible.
There is also a contradiction on psychology and psychiatry. They are built on a flawed foundation, though “a nugget of truth once and a while” is seen. Again, where is this taught in the Bible? It sounds like they’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Some gifts of common grace; some nuggets of truth from the sciences—but throw it all out because it’s on a flawed foundation!
The nouthetic counselor is absolutely out of his field when he is going to determine what is a spiritual problem and what may be a physical or physiological problem. Many are absolutely untrained to determine the interaction of the immaterial and material parts of man.
Ramm, writing about Van Til’s apologetic, adds this to the importance of our understanding the image of God:
The image of God provides for common ground. The fact that man is in the image of God enables him to have the intellectual capacity for truth. It gives him ethical capacities to respond positively and negatively. Van Til gives this doctrine a novel twist. Just as the believer has an old man and a new man, so the unbeliever has an old and a new. In the unbeliever the old is the vestiges of the original image of God and the new is fallen human nature. The non-Christian’s old man knows God and moral responsibility. The non-Christian’s new man rebels against the knowledge of God, tries to corrupt it, and lives in sin. The specific information in the old man is (i) a sense of Deity, (ii) a knowledge of creaturehood, and (iii) a knowledge of responsibility. “It is to his old man we must make our
appeal” in evangelism. We appeal to what the non-Christian suppresses. But, Van Til admits, in the final push just as it takes the
grace of God to make a man see the truth of the gospel it takes the Spirit of God “to give the man the ability to accept the truth as it is
presented to him in apologetic reasoning (Types of Apologetic Systems, Bernard Ramm, Van Kampen Press, Wheaton, IL, 1953, p.206).
Man: A Rational Creature
Chafer points out the importance of this truth. Man is not only in the image of God, but he is a rational creature in the image of God. Chafer says:
Two exceedingly important truths emerge from the vast array of theological writings regarding the image in which man was created, namely, (a) that fallen man bears the inalienable image of God, and
(b) that man is injured by the fall to the extent that only redeeming grace can rescue him (Ibid., p. 169).
The reader will probably agree on the second point. The problem comes with agreement on the first point—fallen man the image of God.
The sufficiency of scripture theorists are unwilling to see that something very important abides in fallen man—his rationality.
This does not mean that he can rationalize his way to God. It means that he has the capability of knowledge and rational thinking outside of his relationship with God—that which is within his human sphere of existence.
Chafer, speaking of these rational creatures God has created in contrast with the rest of creation, says:
So to know, as to be conscious of knowing, and to feel the pleasures of knowledge; so to know, as to impart knowledge to others; so to know, as to lay the basis of future and enlarging knowledge, as to discover the efficient and the final causes of things; and to enjoy the pleasures of discovery and certainly of imagination and taste,--this is peculiar to rational beings (Ibid. p. 165).
Though man lost his ability to understand the way to salvation, much was retained in his rational capacity. Chafer speaks of this:
Above all, to know the great Creator and Lord of all; to see the distinctions of right and wrong, of good and evil in his law; to have, therefore, the consciousness of integrity and of well ordered and perfectly balanced passions; to feel the felicity of universal and unbounded benevolence; to be conscious of the favor to adore him; to be grateful to exert hope without limit on future and unceasing blessings; all these sources of felicity were added to the pleasures of intellect and imagination in the creation of rational beings. In whatever part of the universe they were created and placed, we have sufficient reason to believe that this was the primitive condition of all; and we know, assuredly, from God own revelation, that it was the [original] condition of man (Ibid.)
The sufficiency of scripture theorists reject the truth that unsaved man is the image of God, capable of bringing to God’s creation a rational view of human need.
Rationality and wisdom are not the same. Paul spoke of this to the Corinthians:
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe” (1 Cor. -21 NIV).
Man’s wisdom and intelligence does not comprehend the saving work of Christ. But his rationality, preserved as the image of God, can understand God’s creation and how it works to the survival of the human race.
The Rabbis and Their Sufficiency of Scripture
On the one hand, the sufficiency of scripture counselors don’t want to make a distinction between wisdom and rationality because they don’t want to see
their clients going to psychologists for advice or to psychiatrists for drugs that influence the mind and emotions. But on the other than, they cannot ignore man as a rational being created in the image of God.
The Rabbis of Jesus’ day had this problem too, but they ignored the obvious contradictions just as the nouthetic counselors do today.
The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament has an excellent, though lengthy, article on this pharisaical behavior (Vol 1, p. 701). But here’s the essence of it:
Even though the Rabbis recognized that non-Jews had knowledge, that there were even educated men who knew a great deal about the world around them, that were ethical and civic minded, they refused to show any gratitude for it and really ignored it.
To the Rabbis, The Torah (first five books of the Bible) was their scripture. And their attitude was that of the sufficiency of scripture theorists today. All help is found in the Torah, and if you do not know the Torah and its solution to your problems, you know nothing. I hear the sufficiency of scripture advocates saying today what the Rabbis said. Unless you know the Bible and its solution to your problem, you know nothing.
Yes, the Pharisees held to the sufficiency of scripture. But it didn’t keep them from spearheading the movement to crucify Christ.
The nouthetic counselors today have the sufficiency of scripture. But they were responsible for the suicide of Ken Nally. And I know of three cases in a local church that created unnecessary pain, and even talk about a lawsuit, because the nouthetic counselor said the medications that were being taken were man’s way of attempting a solution and the medications should stop.
This is the church I was barred from. When I appealed for a hearing on the matter based on Matthew 18:15-20, it was refused.
All True Teaching Is From God
If all teaching of knowledge is not from scripture, then where does it come from? The scripture is clear on this. It is from God. Again, the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament comes to our assistance in its article on paideia (education, learning, instruction). Again, the article is lengthy. But the last paragraph says a lot:
God is the stern Judge who punishes and chastises. But He does so as a Father who in love severely disciplines His children. God’s demanding and educating power also extends beyond the confines of the covenant people to the Gentile world: “He that chastiseth the heathen, shall not be correct, he that teacheth man knowledge?” Ps. 94:10. The same claim is to be seen in Ps. : “Be instructed, ye judges of the earth” (Ibid., Vol. V. p. 605-06)
God corrects even the heathen and teaches them knowledge. They don’t read the book called the Bible. But they hear God when He speaks and corrects. Though I spoke of conscience in Chapter IV, it bears repeating in this context. The Apostle Paul says of the Gentiles:
This is what the Apostle Paul speaks of when he talks about the Gentiles:
All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they
are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them) (Rom. 2:12-15 NIV)
Even in spiritual matters, unbelieving man is not without the witness of God. No, not from scripture. The Gentiles didn’t have scripture, but they had conscience.
God Even Has Taught Farming!
Though I think I have made my point about the rationality of man, I was quite intrigued by a statement in Isaiah. God even has taught farming to rational man! See Isaiah 28:23-29.
Those whose eschatology may be different from dispensationalism
need not accept the dispensational view to accept what Isaiah is saying. I see “the day of the Lord”
as God’s dealings with
. . . the Lord, the Lord Almighty, has told me of the destruction decreed against the whole land (Is. 28:22 NIV).
Though destruction is spoken of, there is a word of comfort at the end.
The point of what Isaiah is saying here is that there is a spiritual analogy in the details of farming that are taught to the rational man. But there is an end to the plowing and threshing. It is time to make bread. “All this also comes from the Lord Almighty, wonderful in counsel and magnificent in wisdom.”
The point of the parable about end times is explained this way by Delitzsch:
Jehovah punishes, but it is in order that He may be able to bless. He sifts, but He does not destroy. He does not thresh His own people, but He knocks them; and even when He threshes, they may console themselves in the face of the approaching period of judgment, that
they are never crushed or injured (Biblical Commentary On the Prophecies of Isaiah, Vol. II,
pp. 16-17, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company,
Nouthetic counseling and its attendant sufficiency of scripture is not devotion to the faithfulness of scripture. It is, in fact, a denial of the two
doctrines of man, the image of God and a denial of naturalistic theism, which I shall take up in the next chapter.
Rational Man and Naturalistic Theism
The study of theism (God’s person and work) falls under the Systematic Theology category of Theology Proper. God has revealed His person and work to all of mankind. He has done it the Bible. But He also has done it apart from the Bible and in the life of Christ, which is the subject of this chapter.
What Is Naturalistic Theism?
I briefly defined naturalistic theism in Chapter IV and its connection with common grace. Let me contrast naturalistic theism with biblical theism. Biblical theism properly states that God has revealed Himself to modern man in the Bible. The Bible and history also tell us of God’s revelation of Himself in the person of Jesus Christ.
Naturalistic theism speaks of God’s revelation of His person and work through creation and nature. Sometimes it’s referred to as natural revelation.
A problem arises when the nouthetic counselor maintains that the Bible is the only source of the revelation of God to modern man, or that there is nothing in natural revelation that can show man the truth of justification by faith. This is not correct. Three passages of scripture speak of it.
The first is in the Psalms:
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where the voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world (Psalm 19:1-4 NIV).
The NIV has a misleading footnote in verses 3 & 4. It says that verse 3 should be translated, “they have no speech, there are no words; no sound is heard from them.” It says verse 4 should be translated, “their line [not voice] goes out into all the earth.”
While the footnote is a literal translation of the Hebrew, it doesn’t explain what is being said. In fact, it sounds just the opposite of the English translation. The word translated “line” is the Hebrew word qav meaning, “a rope” or “string.” The line, in this case has reference to a harp string that sounds forth the message of God. This is why it is translated ‘voice,” which is not a translation of qav (“line”) but an interpretation—though a justified interpretation (Gesenius’ Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon). The point is that God speaks through His creation. Rational man hears His voice and understands.
The second passage of Scripture is in Romans:
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse (Romans 1:18-20 NIV).
Here, the apostle alludes to Psalm 19. God has spoken through creation to all men, unbelieving men included—even speaking of His eternal power and divine nature. Rational mean hears the voice of God in nature
The third passage that has a bearing on naturalistic theism, the revelation of God in nature, apart from the Bible, is in Acts 17:16-34. I have referred to this passage before on the subject of common grace. The two work together. Common grace emphasizes the gift, what it is. Naturalistic revelation emphasizes where it is coming from—the God who is reaching out to man.
The Apostle Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill is long. Because of this I’ll only quote the relevant parts.
In this passage Paul calls the attention of the Greeks on Mars Hill to their altar “TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.” Paul tells them that the one whom they worship, the unknown God, he, Paul, will proclaim to them:
. . . the God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one
Man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring’ (Acts -28 NIV).
Paul is speaking here of the evidence of God in His creation. This is naturalistic theism. To rational man, an “effect,” creation, demands an explanation of its “cause,” Jehovah, God.
The result of this sermon was the conversion of some of the Greeks,
even Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, the
supreme tribunal of
The interesting thing about this sermon is that what we commonly call “the way of salvation,” personal faith in the atoning work of Jesus Christ is not mentioned. At any rate several people were saved through a message on naturalistic theism. The truth we are left with is that Paul’s teaching of naturalistic theism was enough to precipitate the saving work of God. There was a messenger—Paul. There was a message—God is reaching out to you; you see it every day in nature.
The reason why I point this out is that the sufficiency of scripture advocates say that while creation reveals God, it doesn’t give the message of salvation. What do they say about Abraham’s justification by faith? What do they say about these Greeks who were saved?
While it is true that Paul devotes all of Romans 4 to Abraham’s justification by faith, he closes the chapter by saying, “The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from
the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.”
Paul is saying that even though Abraham didn’t believe specifically in the saving work of Christ, he was saved by the pre-incarnate Christ, “The Jehovah of Promise,” who one day would die for him.
On this side of the death and resurrection of Christ, the specific object of our faith is the Christ who died and rose again for our justification. But how were people saved in the Old Testament? By faith in Jehovah, who was the
pre-incarnate Christ. Even though their prophets spoke of the coming Messiah, they didn’t understand the atonement.
The point I’m making is that denial of the message of salvation in creation and prior to the writing of the Bible is to deny that Abraham and many of his heirs were justified by faith—they were saved!
Lewis Sperry Chafer has an excellent statement on this in his Systematic Theology under Theology Proper:
. . . there are two distinct fields of theistic research—(a) that which is within those fact which obtain in the sphere of creation, or nature, and is subject to human reason; and (b) that which, though incorporating all that is disclosed in nature, is extended to include the limitless, absolute, and all-satisfying revelation set forth in the Scriptures of Truth. The former investigation is rightly designated naturalistic theism, and the later Biblical theism.
Theology Proper enters every field from which any truth may be gained relative to the existence and character of God, or the mode of His Being. However, in view of the basic twofold division of the human family into saved and unsaved with their varying, attending abilities to comprehend divine truth there is peculiar advantage in a division of the general subject of theism into that which is naturalistic and that which is Biblical.
The unsaved, natural man, though unable to receive the things of God, is, nevertheless, everywhere confronted with effects which connote a
Cause and with design which connotes a Designer. To such a one, naturalistic theism with its restricted appeal to creation and reason is peculiarly adapted. To the devout student who, being saved, is able to
receive the “deep things of God,” there
is none of the ultimate or consummating
satisfaction in naturalistic theism that he experiences in Biblical
theism. He should, notwithstanding,
neglect no part of the divine revelation.
All that belongs to naturalistic theism is part of the divine
revelation. All that belongs to
naturalistic theism is of vital importance to the theological student in view
of the fact that, to a limited degree, God is revealed in His creation (Ps.
-20), and in view of the fact that unregenerate men, especially the educated, are groping in the sphere of these truths which belong in the circumscribed realm of naturalistic theism. To discover, exhibit, and defend all that which may be known concerning God, is a task which Systematic Theology assumes. It is the function of naturalistic theism to adduce such arguments and to reach such conclusions as are within the range of reason; while it is the function of Biblical theism to recognize, classify, and exhibit the truth set forth by revelation. These two fundamental sources of erudition, though wholly dissimilar as to the method they employ and the material they utilize, do, nevertheless, coalesce as the essential parts of the one grand theme—Theology Proper.
In the following discussions the author assumes no originality in the presentation of rational argument or in the discovery of revelation. Much that presented has been the contention of writers on these subjects from the earliest times. In fact, so general are many of these lines of thought, that to quote an original author would be difficult indeed, if not impossible. Since reason is native to man and revelation is largely an acquisition without which the majority of man have had to live and labor, it is proper that the findings of reason should be weighed before those of revelation (Systematic Theology, L. S. Chafer, Vol. 1, pp. 139-140, Dallas Seminary Press).
Rational Man and the Interpretation of Naturalistic Theism
There are generally well-set rules for the hermeneutics, or interpretation, of the Bible as written revelation. But given the fact that naturalistic theism is
not written, how do we know when we are correct in our interpretation of what we see? Most conservative theologians agree on at least three fundamental rules.
The first is, whatever meaning we attach to nature’s revelation, it must agree with biblical revelation in principle. There must be no contradiction between the two or them; that is in the meaning of both.
The second is, when the Bible says that God speaks through natural revelation, there must be someone to hear. When the context includes the
unbeliever, he does hear God speak. In this dispensation it is the voice of the Holy Spirit within.
The third is, natural revelation is self-interpreting. When God speaks to the unbeliever through nature’s revelation, it is understandable by the unbeliever because of his rational ability. But whether or not it is believed is another matter. He may subdue or pervert what has been revealed.
When Psalm 19:1-4 says that the heavens declare God’s glory and the firmament His handiwork, there must be someone to hear and understand the declaration. It is not just the believer who understands. The psalm declares that every language in the entire earth speaks this message. Romans 1:20-21 makes it clear that the invisible qualities of God, His eternal power and Godhead, are “clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that unbelievers are without excuse.
Acts says essentially the same thing. “God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.” The assumption Scripture makes is that which God declares is heard by the unbeliever.
John 16:8-11 tells us that the Holy Spirit will “convict the world of sin, righteousness and of judgment.” The Holy Spirit speaks; the world of unbelievers hears. Again, the issue is whether or not they will believe.
At the end of this chapter I will speak to the point that common grace and natural revelation can point souls to Christ. I will also elaborate on other scriptures. But this will give the reader some direction as to where I’m
going. Simply put, if God declares, there must be someone to hear. And the Scripture makes it clear that it is not just believers but unbelievers who hear.
In all three references above, it is unbelievers who are addressed, who hear and understand, some to salvation, some to condemnation.
I find it ironic that the word nouthetic comes from a Greek word which can refer to Scripture, but more generally it refers to understanding God’s declarations. It is from the word nous, which is the word in Romans 1:20, translated, “understood.” The understanding by the unbeliever in that
passage is not an understanding of biblical revelation but an understanding of God speaking through natural revelation.
The Holy Spirit gives men two levels of understanding. The first, in Romans 1:20, nous, is purely an intellectual process. It is a function of rational man. Rational, unsaved man, observing creation, understands God’s existence, even His eternal power and Godhead. But what will he do with this understanding? He will either step forward by faith, as Hebrews 11:3 says, and be led to the saving work of Christ. Or, he will suppress the truth and pervert it with wickedness.
Romans 1:18-21 put together with John 16:8-11 and Hebrews 11:3, show us that the work of the Holy Spirit in unsaved man is to put before him a decision for or against Christ. Will he accept the Spirit’s teaching about God’s testimony of creation and by faith, believe? Or will he again, as Adam, rebel and subdue and pervert the truth.
Every man who is critical of the idea that he is going to hell because of Adam’s sin faces exactly the decision that Adam had to make. Will he believe what God tells him today, here and now, or not? Will he rebel and subdue and pervert the truth, of which Paul accuses him in Romans 1?
A book on hermeneutics (interpretation) does not come with the Bible, but something far better does—the Holy Spirit (John 16:8-15). He gives unbelievers the opportunity to believe what He says is the meaning of what they see in creation. If God speaks, men must hear. They will hear and understand. But will they believe it?
When There Is Contradiction
We must be aware, however, that a contradiction may appear between biblical and natural revelation because what we see in nature we have
wrongly interpreted or what we see in the Bible we have wrongly interpreted.
Let me illustrate this. I spoke in Chapter IV of Paul’s advice to Timothy to use a little wine. This is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but why did Paul say
he prayed three times that God would remove his infirmity (2 Cor. 12:7-10), but God told him that His grace was sufficient, and that His strength was made perfect in weakness. Yet Paul advises Timothy to use a little wine for his stomach’s sake and his frequent infirmities (1 Tim ). Paul prays about his infirmities yet advises Timothy to drink a little wine!
Yes, tongue-in-cheek. But I find no contradiction. And don’t tell me that the “wine” Christians drank in the first century wasn’t alcoholic. I wrote a book on the subject, published by Baker Book House titled, The Wrath of Grapes, dismissing such an idea. It’s out of print, but I’ll get you one if you write me. I’ll have more to say about this in Chapter IX.
Let’s face it. The Bible, let alone natural revelation, is often misunderstood.
This is the major fault I see in nouthetic
counseling. The National
Association of Nouthetic Counselors (NANC) says the
following in its Membership Covenant (January 1—
Biblical counselors affirm the value and usefulness of God’s revelation, including both Special and General Revelation [biblical and natural revelation]. God has chosen to reveal those truths that must be believed and practiced in order to please Him only through Special Revelation, now recorded exclusively and completely in the Scriptures.
But the covenant ends by saying:
We deny that secular theories and practices are manifestations of General Revelation or Common Grace. We affirm that they are, in
fact, attempts to substitute the “discoveries” of rebellious human thought for the truths revealed in Scripture, and are, therefore, in competition with a proper interpretation of General Revelation and with biblical counseling. They cannot be integrated with the Faith once for all delivered to the saints [emphasis mine].
If this is so, then an unbeliever can’t be helped by a nouthetic counselor until he is saved. This idea is in direct contradiction to the teaching of Scripture.
Indeed, natural revelation, properly used, is not the discovery of rebellious human thought; it is rebellious human thought plagiarizing God’s natural revelation. There are a number of instances where unsaved people, faced with natural revelation that agreed with Scripture, saw the light or were convicted of their doom. I will speak of this shortly.
I first must say that some psychology is false. I need not go into detail
about its contradiction to scripture, particularly the cultural acceptance of homosexuality and premarital sex, clearly condemned by scripture. But there is some psychology that is useful to Christian counselors, not only because it does not contradict Scripture, but that it also proves workable (one question scientists in any science want to confirm).
Grant E. Metcalf of “Bartimaeus Alliance of the Blind,” has published a series of my blogs. In the first one, “Charlie Taught Me Something About Prayer,” I mention a principle of psychology that is valid. It is “operant conditioning.” This is as proved a psychological principle as Pavlov’s “conditioned reflex.” Read the blog if you’re curious. The blog website address is http://bartimaeus.us/andy . The Alliance Home Page address is http://bartimaeus.us/ .
The Correlation of Biblical and Natural Revelation
In spite of the “contradictions” between natural and biblical revelation that misinterpretations raise, there is definitely a correlation or agreement between the two. This suggests to me a correlation or agreement of
hermeneutics. How we interpret biblical statements about biblical revelation (God-breathed Scripture) must be the same as biblical statements about
natural revelation. Perhaps some quotations from noted theologians will help explain.
Augustus H. Strong. Baptist theologian Augustus H. Strong in his Systematic Theology speaks of this issue in his Prolegomena. Space does not permit more than snippets to give an idea of what I mean. It would be well for the doubter to read his entire Prolegomena.
l. Scripture and Nature. By nature we mean not only physical facts, or facts with regard to the substances, properties, forces, and laws
of the material world, but also spiritual facts, or facts with regard to the intellectual and moral constitution of man, and the orderly arrangement of human society and history (p. 26).
Quoting Bushnell he says, “Nature and the supernatural together constitute one system of God.”
(a) Natural theology.—The universe is a source of theology. The Scriptures assert that God has revealed himself in
nature. There is not only an outward witness to his existence and character in the constitution and government of the universe (Ps. 19; Acts ; Rom. ), but an inward witness to his existence and character in the heart of
every man (Rom. -20, 32; ). The systematic exhibition of these facts, whether derived from observation, history or science, constitutes natural theology (p. 27).
Here, then, are some quotes Strong offers from other theologians:
There are two books: Nature and Scripture—one written and the other unwritten . . . . To despise the works of God is to despise God himself . . . . Nature is not so much a book, as a voice . . . . The direct knowledge of spiritual communion must be supplemented by knowledge of God’s ways gained from the study of nature . . . . Books of science are the record of man’s past interpretations of God’s works.
(b) Natural theology supplemented.—The Christian revelation is the chief source of theology. The Scriptures
plainly declare that the revelation of God in nature does not supply all the knowledge which a sinner needs (Acts ; Eph. 3:9) (Ibid).
(c) The Scriptures the final standard of appeal.—Science and
Scripture throw light upon each other. The same divine Spirit who gave both revelations is still present, enabling the believer to interpret the one by the other and thus
progressively to come to the knowledge of the truth . . . (Ibid).
The Spirit of Christ enables us to compare nature with Scriptures, and Scripture with nature, and to correct mistakes in interpreting the one by light gained from the
other (Ibid, p. 28).
(d) The theology of Scripture not unnatural.—Though we speak of the systematized truths of nature as constituting natural theology, we are not to infer that Scriptural theology is unnatural. Since the Scripture have the same author as nature, the same principles are illustrated in the one as in the other [emphasis mine] (Ibid.).
With Strong’s support, I say again that the hermeneutics of natural theology must be the same as the hermeneutics of biblical theology. Both theologies have the same author.
J. Dwight Pentecost. Another theologian who writes about natural theology and its correlation with biblical theology is J. Dwight Pentecost.
His book The Divine Comforter: The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit, has an excellent chapter on “The Ministry of the Spirit to the World.”
He points out that most believers are primarily concerned about the work of the Spirit in the believer but neglect the truth of the work of the Spirit to the world of the unbeliever. He goes on by saying:
And yet, the Word of God reveals the fact that the Holy Spirit
had a ministry that began at the time of creation, and which
has continued unchanged down through the ages. This is His ministry to the world in general (Ibid. p. 66).
Speaking, then, of the lawlessness of society, he asks how it is that we see some unbelievers today living good lives—morally upright and respectable.
(a) His answer is that God is the restrainer of sin. How does He do this? By the power of the Holy Spirit through means:
the authority given to government, the revelation of coming judgment, the voice of the Spirit which is conscience, and the life the believer lives before the world (Ibid p. 75).
I shall speak of this lastly with specific references to scripture and comments on it. Natural revelation can point the unbeliever to the scripture and the way of salvation in Christ. Again, as Strong points out: “There are two books—Nature and Scripture.
(b) Pentecost says further that God works in the world by reproving or convicting the world of sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:8). It is important that we see that it is the Holy Spirit doing this. The Holy Spirit is a voice that speaks both through nature and through Scripture.
(c) A third area of the Spirit’s work to the world is in
revealing Jesus Christ as the Savior. Jesus, speaking of the Holy Spirit said, “He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you” (Jn. ) Speaking of His resurrection He also said, “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men until me (Jn. ). Pentecost says, “How is He drawing men? It is by the Spirit of God restraining, convicting and revealing Jesus Christ as the Way, the Truth and the Life” (p. 78).
This to me answers a criticism offered twice by reviewers. They say that if I were applying natural revelation to definitive sciences such as brain
chemistry or mathematics, they would have no problem. Chafer includes philosophy in his statement, and that is no more a definitive science than psychology. Shall we say that the interpretation of the Bible is a definitive science? More sermons are preached just like MacArthur’s than you can imagine. Though the methodology of Bible study, exegesis and homiletics is taught in seminaries, few students really master it and become good Bible teachers.
Rational Man and Knowing God
Before I leave the subject of the unbeliever who still bears the image of God, I must say one final word. It is absolutely essential that though unbelieving man as a rational creature may be able to understand a great deal about God through natural revelation, his rationality is not enough to save him.
As I have said throughout the earlier chapters, natural revelation and the testimony of the Holy Spirit through natural revelation, may convict the unbeliever of sin, righteousness and judgment, but it is only by faith in the atoning work of Christ on the cross that can give the unbeliever eternal life. Here, it is essential that we understand the difference between knowing God’s eternal power and godhead and believing that He sent Christ to die for our sins.
Knowing God in First Corinthians 1:18-25
Pauline theology is rich in its teaching of
man’s knowledge of God. In
dealing with factionalism at the
. . . the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved (see note 6 in addendum on “being saved”), it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; and the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God [the God—ton theon] made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God [the God] the world through its wisdom did know him [the God]. God [the God] was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those [who are the called], both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of
God (see note 7 in addendum). For the foolishness of God [the God] is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God [the God] is stronger than man’s strength.
I shall explain “the God” insertions shortly. But before I do, let me point out from the context that Paul is talking about a saving knowledge of God in Christ. It does not come by man’s wisdom but by faith in the work of Christ on the cross. Human wisdom finds this foolish. But, there is such a thing as human wisdom. Verse 21 makes this clear:
For in the wisdom of God [the God] the world by [its] wisdom did not know him [the God, as the author of salvation] (1 Cor. NIV).
God has to let the world know Him as the author of salvation through the foolishness of preaching. Rational man may understand the existence and even power of God. The Holy Spirit may even convict him of sin, righteousness and judgment. But it is by believing the gospel that man is saved—given eternal life.
The reason why I insert the article, “the” in the Corinthians passage is that in Greek it has a specific meaning. Whenever the article is used, it stresses identity. Paul is saying quite clearly that human wisdom does know the God of creation—the true God. As Thayer says, “ton theon—the one, true, God in contrast to the polytheism of the Gentiles” (Joseph Thayer, A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 117).
Human rationale will never grasp salvation through the cross of Christ, but human rationale does know the difference between the true God and idols.
While I agree with the nouthetic counselor that salvation is by grace through faith, I must say that the nouthetic counselor does not understand that there
is such a thing as human reason that does know there is one true God, Jehovah. This is forcefully proclaimed by Paul in Romans.
Knowing God In Romans 1:18-32
It is true that human wisdom or knowledge is not enough to save the lost. But it is enough to justify God’s condemnation and the imputation of
Adam’s sin (Rom. -21). When the Arminian claims that it is not fair of God to condemn the whole human race for the sin of Adam, he does not understand Romans 1.
Adam knew the God, Jehovah, who created him. But Adam chose to repress that truth and close his mind to what he knew of God in his decision to eat of the tree. What Paul is showing us in Romans 1 is that every unbeliever since Adam is guilty of the same sin—knowing the God; but closing his mind to what he knows, he suffers condemnation for it. The unbeliever demonstrates that he would have done the same as Adam if he had been created first instead of Adam.
Let’s look, first of all, at Romans 1:18-23. Again, I’m going to insert the meanings of the Greek text that are not evident in English. When the Greek article, “the,” is present, Paul is talking about the identity of Jehovah, the true God. When the article is absent, it stresses the quality of God. For example, “The wrath of God” [no article “the” with God] means God-like wrath, the kind of wrath that only God can deliver.
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the
godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their
wickedness, since what may be known about God [the God—ton
theon] is plain to them, because God [the God] has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world [His] invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
For although they knew God [the God], they neither glorified him as
God [His eternal power and Godhead, the quality of God] nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools
and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God [the God] for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles (Rom. -23 NIV).
Let me point out three important truths of Romans 1.
The True God. The first one I mentioned already in the previous
section in 1 Corinthians 1:21. Though the world, through human rationale,
cannot be saved, it can through human wisdom know the one true God.
This is what Paul is saying in Romans 1:21. They knew the God. As Thayer says, “ton theon, the one, true, God in contrast to the polytheism of the Gentiles” (Ibid.).
Knowing and Understanding. The second thing to notice is the use of the words “known” in verse 19 and “understand” in verse 20.
The word translated “known” is the Greek noun gnosis. Thayer translates this, “To become acquainted with” (Ibid).
The word translated “understood,” Robertson translates, “Being perceived (nooumena) . . . , to use the nous (intellect) (Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, IV, p. 329).
Take note of the difference between what Paul is saying in First Corinthians 1 and in Romans 1. While it is true that rational man’s intellect will never save him, man’s stifling of what he knows is enough to justify God’s condemnation of the unbeliever.
Paul is saying, that rational man does see the truth of the one, true God, even His eternal power and divine nature. But man sins once again by subverting and perverting his knowledge of God. The point I’m making is that the unbeliever does know some important things about God. In order for God to condemn man today as he did Adam, this knowledge must be real.
Now the nouthetic counselor may say, So what? It doesn’t save and transform the lost by the new birth.
The answer to “so what” is to go back to Chapter IV and read what I say about common grace and naturalistic revelation in Acts 17:22-33. This knowledge of the true God is the basis of Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill and results in the salvation of a high Greek official, Dionysius, a woman names Damaris “and a number of others” (Acts 17:34).
Nature’s revelation and common grace must be part of our theology of
counseling. Sometimes, as in the case of Paul’s sermon, God will use these
doctrines to bring the lost to Him.
Wanting To Know And Understand More. This brings me to my third observation. While Romans 1 condemns those who subvert and pervert what they know of the true God, Paul in Acts 17 and Romans 1, shows us that there are unbelievers who may or may not want to know and understand more about the one true God than human wisdom permits.
Paul continues his condemnation of the unbeliever by saying:
Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind to do what ought not to be done (Rom. NIV).
The word for “knowledge” here is not the gnosis which we saw they already have. The word for knowledge here is epignosis. The prefix to this word gives it an intensive meaning.
Not only do the unbelievers subvert and pervert the knowledge they already have, the last thing they want is more knowledge of God, a closer look at God. Trench artfully describes the difference between the two words gnosis and epignosis. He points out that epi, prefixed to gnosis, being intensive,
“. . . is bringing me better acquainted with a thing I knew before, a more exacting view of an object that I saw before afar off” (Richard Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament, p. 269).
My point is this.
In addition to the condemnation Paul speaks of in Romans 1:18-27, there is a further condemnation in verse 28. Not only does the unbeliever want to
subdue the truth of his gnosis, he wants nothing to do with epignosis—more enlightenment about God. So God hands him over to depravity.
. . . God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to
be done (Rom. NIV).
He then lists seventeen sins of the depraved mind! The unbeliever deserves
death—eternal separation from God in hell. Here we have a repeat of
Adam’s sin—he knows but subdues what he knows and hates the idea that he might know more!
But there is an upside to this also. It is Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill in Acts 17. Not every unbeliever who has a gnosis of God will stifle it. When faced with the truth of nature’s revelation and common grace, the unbeliever may find God using these truths to bring him to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
The reader may wonder if this view indicates a drift toward Arminianism—that the unbeliever may not have a hardened heart toward the gospel, that he may understand it through human wisdom.
Not in the least. The issue of the hardened/unhardened heart demands careful examination. But First Corinthians 1 makes it clear that human wisdom declares the cross foolishness. But belief may come through the Holy Spirit’s conviction of sin, righteousness and judgment (Jn. 16:8-11).
What I am getting at is for the Christian counselor to have a proper attitude toward the lost client. Let the counselor use the example of the Apostle Paul in Acts 17 and point out that Christianity is a reasonable faith. Human reason may not save, but our attitude might be used by God to touch the heart of the unbeliever.
For a Christian counselor to do this, he must include natural revelation and common grace in his theology of counseling. This is why I say that the nouthetic counselor is not a biblical counselor.
It is extremely important to understand what the rational man who is made in the image of God is capable of and what he is not capable of. In the Romans passages quoted earlier, it is clear that he is capable of gnosis and even epignosis. He can see, hear and understand the what that is out there in God’s creation. He can even understand God’s eternal power and Godhead, and God is willing to give him more gnosis—epignosis.
But the unbeliever wants nothing to do with his creator. He is repeating
Adam’s sin. He accepts all the goodness and knowledge of His creator, but then he turns his back on Him.
This is why in spite of the evil we see in the world we see so much progress in the non-spiritual world of technology—things. Though man is made in the image of God and has a gnosis (knowledge) of how God’s creation works, he has no God-given wisdom, sophia, of why God has created things this way. To understand why, we must understand God’s wisdom in all its fullness.
It was because of
These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men. Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish. Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the Lord, who do their work in darkness and think, Who sees us? Who will know? You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! He did not make me? Can the pot say of the potter, He knows nothing? (Is. 29:13-16 NIV).
The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament says that the Jews did not understand God’s plan of salvation. They thought that the Law was a demonstration of the divine plan of salvation, and keeping the Law was the guarantee of membership of the saved community.
In contrast, Paul proclaims Christ as the “end
of the law” (
history and for membership of
). In Paul’s sense, then the concluding wisdom saying in R.
11:33-36 are to be vitally related, materially, to the function of Christ in salvation history (TDNT, Vol. VII, p. 518).
Don’t miss those last words—Christ in salvation history. If you don’t grasp this, go back and read the work of the pre-incarnate Christ/Jehovah in Chapter V.
The wisdom of God is not a product of natural birth. It is the product of the new birth through faith in Christ as Savior.
The Story of My Salvation
With this I close with my own testimony of how God used naturalistic theism, the witness of the Spirit in my heart and biblical theism.
I was seventeen, a senior in high school, ready to graduate. One February evening I decided to go to the movies. The film was terrible. I don’t remember anything about it except that I came away from the theater feeling very depressed.
It was night as I walked home. The sky was brilliant with stars. I remember
looking up, seeing the magnificence of God in His creation, and, thinking of the movie, I said, God, there must be more to life than just this.
A month later,
asked me if I was ready for eternity. I was stunned. I knew I wasn’t. I asked him what the Bible had to say about it. He quoted John 3:16:
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that
whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting
It hit me like a light coming on in a dark room. I knew that Christ died on the cross for sinners. But for the first time in my life I realized that he did it for me. With tears running down my cheeks, I opened my heart to the
saving work of Christ.
God is still speaking to unbelievers. Some, refusing to believe, will confirm God’s righteousness in turning them over to a depraved mind. But there will be others who are not satisfied with gnosis. They want epignosis—a closer look at the true God and His son, Jesus Christ, as in Acts 17. And, as those in Acts 17, they will believe. May our attitude toward the lost be that of God’s to us in our lost estate—longsuffering and mercy.
Grace For the Sinner; Mercy For the Miserable
What went wrong with the Nally counseling? The Appellate Count that overturned the dismissal of the trial said that the basis for suing should more accurately be construed as “negligent failure to prevent suicide and intentional or reckless infliction of emotional injury causing suicide” which “happened to have been committed by church-affiliated counselors.”
The God of Mercy Overlooked
I’m going to agree with the “sufficiency of scripture” theorists that there is a scriptural solution to the problem of the soul overcome by trial. I’m sure, however, that the sufficiency advocates will find reason to disagree with me, if for no other reason than legalism because of what I say in this chapter.
The sufficiency theorists overlook an important truth in scripture. It is the “mercy” of God.
We are well-acquainted with the “grace of God” in the salutation of twelve of Paul’s epistles, two of Peter’s and one of John’s (2 Jn.). Grace, as you know, is unmerited favor. Theologians call this “efficacious grace.” It has to do with the efficacy of God’s work in our salvation and sanctification.
It differs from common grace, which is God’s pity on man’s misery—believer or unbeliever. There are miserable believers as well as miserable unbelievers, not necessarily because of personal sin, but because we all live in a creation that groans under sin that makes life difficult (Rom. -27).
Not only does creation groan, but we also groan because of our weakness. These are not spiritual weaknesses. They are human weaknesses.
Efficacious grace has taken care of the sin problem. And because it is the biggest problem we face, it occupies the most of the New Testament salutations. But God’s pity, shown through common grace, is not usually noticed.
Joy, for example, is usually considered a spiritual issue and is connected with the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. But it is also mentioned in
Acts , not as fruit of the Spirit, but the work of common grace. The food for the stomach and joy for the heart is a benefit of common grace to all men, and it is not to be minimized. The same joy is said about the resurrection of Christ (Acts --see addendum, note 8).
Perhaps this is why twelve salutations of the epistles open with “grace and peace” and three of them open with “grace, mercy and peace.” The three that include “mercy” are First and Second Timothy and Second John. The NIV does not include “mercy” in Titus 1:4, and properly so. There is not good manuscript evidence for its inclusion.
Given the evidence that “grace and peace” are Paul’s “signature” salutation, why should he add mercy (eleos) to both of Timothy’s epistles? And why should John add it in Second John?
Timothy was already an object of God’s grace and is commended for his faithfulness in those epistles. But if he is such a spiritual person, why does Paul invoke mercy in his salutation?
Mercy is “kindness” or “beneficence.” It differs from grace (karis) which is unmerited favor bringing about salvation and sanctification. Trench says this about the two words:
We may say then that the grace (karis) of God, His free grace and gift, displayed in the forgiveness of sins, is extended to men, as they are
guilty, his mercy (eleos), as they are miserable. (Synonyms of the New Testament, Richard C. Trench, MacMillian, 1871, p. 161)
Here’s what I’m getting at. Why, in his salutations to Timothy, in both epistles, does Paul invoke “grace, mercy and peace?” Timothy already has experienced grace. He is saved and living for Christ. Why is mercy invoked along with grace?
Thiessen, writing of Paul’s two epistles to Timothy, says:
Timothy is represented as young, timid, physically weak, in need of self-discipline and encouragement. . . . Timothy was endeavoring to
escape from the duty enjoined upon him. He seems to have excused himself on the ground of his youth (1 Tim. 4:12), poor health (5:23), and a certain distaste for the task (4:15-16) (Introduction To the New Testament, Henry C. Thiessen, Eerdmans Pub., 1955, page 263).
In Second Timothy 1:4, Paul refers to Timothy’s tears. In First Timothy , Paul advises, “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.”
This is interesting. Paul prescribes (by divine inspiration), wine. I thought all emotional problems are spiritual problems. Yes, a little wine—but wine, nevertheless! Paul prayed about his thorn in the flesh (2 Cor. 12:1-10). But wine for Timothy instead of prayer?
Concerning the third mention of mercy (eleos) in the salutation of Second John, we are left mostly to speculation. The “elect lady” was a devout Christian with a church in her house where she also entertained transient missionaries. She was warned, however, that false teachers were a danger to her church and home.
I speculate that the elect lady, being a gracious hostess, may have found it emotionally difficult to deny hospitality to people she suspected of being false teachers. She may have needed more than just spiritual perception
which comes from efficacious grace. She may have needed some common grace, some eleos, or merciful strength to handle the situation.
Another possibility is that John says, “It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth . . .” (v4). The way the Greek grammar reads there is a question as to whether it should be “some of your children walking in truth” or just “great joy of your children walking in the truth.” That could infer that some of her children were not walking in the truth. The joy would be over the ones walking in the truth. This would be an emotional stress that required more than just grace but mercy as well.
The sufficiency of scripture theorists cannot and must not exclude common grace, the eleos, mercy of God for a solution to the overloading of trial in the
life of the believer. Here we have an act of common grace that is as much a work of God as the revelation of scripture. Grace gives peace to the sinner;
mercy gives peace to the human being. Though scripture is a great gift of God’s revelation, it is not God’s only gift.
Trench’s insight into the difference between grace and mercy is important. It is clear from the passages in Timothy that we who are the objects of God’s grace, are saved, sanctified and walking by faith, have our spiritual problems under control. But we are not only spiritual beings. We are physical beings subject to stress of the soul.
Psalm 23 is a good example of the difference:
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters,
He restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake (Ps. 23:1-3).
I have already pointed out that the human spirit has grace for its comfort. But the human body needs comfort—green pastures and still waters. The soul, that is different from the spirit, animates the physical body. It also
needs comfort and restoration. The Shepherd gives the soul guidance in the right paths.
I think this is a better translation than “the path of righteousness.” The Hebrew word tsedeg means “right, as far as direction.” This can refer to
either morals (righteousness) or giving us good direction in easy paths for our survival as sheep. I prefer the concept of “easy paths.” He is going to “restore our soul.” This has to do with giving us a breather. He also has a reputation to maintain—“for his name’s sake.” He’s not much of a Shepherd if His sheep get home mentally and physically exhausted.
Mercy to the Miserable.
The sufficiency advocates overlook an important Old Testament concept in this matter of mercy. I wrote about this in a book published in 1987 titled
The Wrath of Grapes: Drinking and the Church Divided (Baker Book House).
In chapter 5 titled “Does the Old Testament Prohibit the Use of Alcoholic Beverages?” I quote in part here under the heading, “Passages That Permit the Use of Alcohol:”
There are several passages that clearly teach that the use of alcohol is all right. One of them follows Proverbs 31:4-5.
Let us say for sake of argument that a jury of scholars should declare that Proverbs 31:4-5 conclusively teaches that rulers must be total abstainers. That would be fine with me. It would be comforting to know that those who have their finger on the nuclear trigger are clearheaded men or women! But the rest of the proverb seems to leave the door open to the use of alcohol by the common man, particularly those who are miserable:
Give beer [shekar] to those who are perishing,
Wine to those who are in anguish,
Let them drink and forget their poverty
And remember their misery no more [Prov. 31:6-7].
It may be argued that the proverb is talking about the medicinal use of alcohol. But the proverb speaks of both “misery” and “poverty.” Poverty has to do with a broken spirit, not a sick body.
But even prohibitionists are divided on this question. Some say that Paul’s urging Timothy to use a little wine for his stomach’s stake (1 Tim. ) is an example of medicinal use and is the only instance where fermented wine was approved. Others insist that the “wine” Paul had in mind was not fermented.
The Greeks believed in the medicinal use of wine. Though red wine was regarded with particular caution, amber-colored wine was thought to promote digestion. One of the principal branches of Greco-Roman
medicine, diaetetica (from which we get our word “dietetics”), prescribed wine. Hippocrates recommended wine of various
mixtures. He recommended that a patient suffering great fatigue get himself “drunk” once or twice. But the historian reporting this notes:
. . . it has been doubted whether actual intoxication is meant or
only the “drinking freely and to
cheerfulness,” in which the same word is used by
Though Christians may have the liberty to use alcohol, caution needs to be exercised if we say we are “just using it medicinally.” Any time we say we need medicine—whether it be a controlled drug, such as a tranquilizer, an anti-depressant, or alcohol—we ought to take it only under the supervision of a doctor.
It may seem like a strange position in view of the fact that I believe Christians have the liberty to drink. Why supervision? A matter of attitude is involved here. Attitude separates alcohol users from abusers. Alcohol users can take it or leave it. Alcohol abusers need it. If someone says he needs alcohol medicinally, I would suggest that the doctor prescribe a medication that falls under the Controlled-Substances Act. Then there would be less danger of this need getting out of hand with alcohol abuse.
Alcohol is the only hard drug that is not regulated by controlled-substances laws. As such, it ought to be treated with respect and
caution. The Christian who uses alcohol needs to ask some serious questions:
· What is my attitude toward alcohol?
· Can I take it or leave it, or do I need a drink?
· Is the “medicinal use” of alcohol a cover-up for my need for a hard drug?
Whether or not alcohol ought to be included under the Controlled Substances Act or forbidden entirely by prohibition is a separate issue.
The question facing us in Proverbs 31 is whether or not alcohol use is permitted in this proverb. Clearly, the answer is “Yes.”
The wine described here definitely has the ability to make the users “forget their poverty and remember their misery no more” (Prov. 31:6-7 NIV).
The point I wish to make, which also includes Paul’s words to Timothy, is that wine was a medication promoted by the Bible to relieve emotional misery. Trench is quite right: Grace for the sinner; mercy for the miserable. This certainly contradicts the assertion that medication for emotional problems is contrary to scripture.
As I point out in my book, The Wrath of Grapes, it is wise to have a doctor prescribe a controlled medication so it cannot be abused. Alcohol is not controlled, and may be abused. But it was the best the ancients had.
No, Doctor, I’m Not Depressed
I had a very enlightening personal experience along this line. I thought I was losing my mind!
Several years ago I had gone through a year or more of emotional stress. Though I can’t remember all that happened, I remember at the time I could count ten things that were stressing me, none of which I had control of.
One morning I woke up at my usual time, and I remember feeling very strange. Though I was in the same bedroom I had slept in for twenty years, I
didn’t know where I was. This scared the wits out of me. I was totally confused.
Somehow I found my wife who used a separate bedroom. I woke her and said tearfully, “Honey, you need to take me to the emergency room. I think I’m losing my mind.” I explained what had happened, and we were on our way.
The doctor who examined me could find no unusual physical symptoms. He then began to question me about what my life was like. I explained to him
that I’m a retired minister/counselor and that I had been going through an incredible time of stress for over a year.
After some conversation with me and thought on the doctor’s part, he said, “I think the problem is depression.”
I was surprised because I didn’t feel depressed. I told the doctor that I felt emotionally exhausted and confused, but I believed that God knew what He was doing in my life, so I had no problem there.
He smiled and said, “Well, sir, the theological and medical definition of depression are not the same. Though you don’t find fault with God for what you’re going through, the emotional stress you have experienced has taken its toll on your mind and body. What you’re experiencing is a physiological response to your stress. Or, to put it simply, when we reach our stress limit, the mind says, Enough! I’m going on a vacation.
He continued, “You appear to be back from your vacation. And I know it wasn’t a pleasant one. I have two suggestions for you. First, give some thought to how you might reduce the stress factors that are wearing you out. Second, I’m going to prescribe a medication, lorazopam, that will help reduce your stress.”
I’ve never been averse to accepting a doctor’s prescription, even for a mind-bending experience. But I was curious enough to check out lorazopam in my medical health book when I got home. I read the following:
LORAZEPAM – status epilepticus – possible side effects, drowsiness and slowing of heart of breathing rate.
In status epilepticus, the most serious seizure disorder and a medical emergency, the seizure does not stop. Electrical discharges occur throughout the brain. The discharges produce a generalized seizure lasting more than 15 minutes or recurring seizures between which the person does not completely regain consciousness. The person has convulsions with intense muscle contractions and cannot breathe adequately. Without rapid treatment, the heart and brain can become overtaxed and permanently damaged, and the person may die.
Seizures may have serious consequences. Intense, rapid muscle contractions can cause injuries, including broken bones. Sudden loss
of consciousness can cause serious injury due to falls and accidents. The turbulent electrical activity of convulsive seizures that recur without recovery between them can cause brain damage. Most people who have a seizure disorder experience dozens or more seizures in their lives without serious brain damage. A single seizure does not impair intelligence, but recurring convulsive seizures may eventually do so.
People who have at least two unprovoked [no physical or emotional stress] seizures that occur at different times have a seizure disorder.
A diagnosis is made based on the person’s
history and the observations of eyewitnesses. Seizures may be suspected if symptoms
such as loss of consciousness, muscle spasms that shake the body, loss of
bladder control, sudden confusion, and an inability to pay attention occur. However, true seizures are much less
common than most people think; most episodes of brief unconsciousness are more
likely to be fainting (The Merck Manual of
Medical Information, Published by Merk
This information is extremely important to the Christian who may have emotional or mental disorders. Nouthetic counselors want us to believe that
all emotional or mental problems are spiritual problems to be solved by knowing the Bible and abiding by its directions. I hope this changes their thinking.
Hypocrisy In the Church
The nouthetic counselor claims to rest in the sufficiency of scripture but misses a very obvious challenge to his position on this matter of wine spoken of in Proverbs 31 and 1 Timothy 5. But he also misses the parallel between gluttony and drunkenness and the hypocrisy of it. The Bible puts both in the same category. The Pharisees in their criticism of both John the Baptist and Jesus said:
John came, neither eating and drinking, and they say, “He has a demon.” The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say,
“Here is a glutton and drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Mt. ; Lk. – NIV).
The word “drunkard” is correct (translated “wine-bibber” in the KJV). Glutton is a translation of phagos which means “voracious eater.” The dictionary defines “voracious” as, “craving or consuming large qualtities of food . . . , to eat ravenously.”
The next time you see people filing in and out of church, take note of how many are obese. The obese reader is sure to excuse his weight with the claim of how little he eats. But the fact of the matter is that the cause of obesity is very simple:
Obesity is becoming
increasingly common throughout the world.
Obesity results from consuming more calories than the body uses. The number of calories needed varies from person to person, depending on age, sex, physical activity, and the person’s metabolic rate—the rate at which the body burns calories (The Merck Manual of Medical Information, Publisher, Merck Research Labratories, Whitehouse Station, NJ, 2003, p. 915).
A major part of the problem is that the more weight we put on the less we exercise, lowering the amount of calories we burn. Aging also is part of the problem. Less energy tends to reduce the amount of exercise we get.
Just as the wine abuser must discipline himself in the amount he drinks, so the food abuser must discipline himself in his caloric intake. A little food with a lot of calories may make you think you’re not eating much. If the church is going to discipline drinkers how about disciplining the obese?
Drinkers usually don’t arrive at church drunk. It would seem to me that the sufficiency of scripture advocates would discipline the obese if they are going to discipline drinkers.
Ken Nally Could Have Been Helped
In the Nally suicide case the appellate court made it clear that he could have been helped. The court declared that the basis of suing the church should have been “negligent failure to prevent suicide and intentional or reckless infliction of emotional injury causing suicide [which] happened to have been committed by church-affiliated counselors.
According to the Merk Manual of Medical Information:
Suicidal behaviors usually result from the interaction of several factors, the most common of which is depression. In fact, depression is involved in over 50% of attempted suicides. Marital problems, unhappy or ended love affairs, disputes with parents (among adolescents), or the recent loss of a loved one (particularly among older people) may precipitate the depression. Often, one factor, such as a disruption of an important relationship, is the last straw (Ibid. p. 623).
According to Merk, depression as a major cause of suicide needs careful examination because there are physical disorders that can cause depression:
· side effects of drugs
· hormonal disorders
· neurologic disorders
· connective tissue disorders
· nutritional disorders
· cancers (Ibid. p. 615).
For nouthetic counselors to say that emotional or mental disorders are spiritual problems whose solution can be found in scripture shows their ignorance of scripture. If wine was recommended to those overwhelmed
emotionally, if Timothy could be advised to use wine of his “oft infirmities,” certainly a modern antidepressant can be found for those overwhelmed with depression.
Are All Mental and Emotional Problems Spiritual Problems?
No they are not. It was a great lesson to me having gone through the experience of psychological battering and physiological breakdown mentioned in the last chapter.
Nouthetic Counseling’s Danger To the Aged
The Merk Manual of Medical Information warns that hypernatremia (dehydration) is most common among older people, who tend to sense thirst more gradually and less intensely than young people . . . .
The most important symptoms of hypernatremia result from brain dysfunction. Severe hypernatremia can lead to confusion, muscle twitching, seizures, coma, and death. The diagnosis is made by determining that the sodium level in the blood is high [lack of water] (Ibid. pp. 913-14).
Failure to recognize this possibility in church counseling with it’s growing aged population could lead to the pain of foolishly disciplining an aged person for “unspiritual” behavior or even the possibility of an untimely death.
Another danger to the aged is unawareness of a decline in emotional and mental energy which may result in feelings of insecurity.
I discovered something about myself
lately that I finally realized is due to aging. When I was young I was raised in
One of the features of this security operation is to be very alert in crowds and learn to read non-verbal behavior. Probably, this is why between ages thirty and forty I assisted the police in making at least four arrests. I’ll just mention one as an example.
My wife and I were at the ocean in
crowded that day. As I stood in the shallow incoming tide I noticed a man running down the beach toward me. This was not unusual because this is one way people get their exercise and find it easiest to run near the water’s edge where the sand is hard. But there was something different about this runner. He looked anxious.
When he got near me he ran into the water where there was a group of young men. He spoke excitedly to them, and one of them changed bathing suits with him.
Just then a policeman came running up and asked all of us in the area if we saw someone running this way. He told us this person had been molesting girls in the water. I told him I knew where he was and waded into the water and pointed him out.
All this time the guys in the water were watching me. I felt no fear. A cop was on the beach, and other police were arriving.
A crowd gathered as the police signaled the molester to come out of the water. The molester’s friends then started coming after me for fingering their friend. So, I retreated to the side of the cop. The crowd on the beach thought the police were after me until they handcuffed the molester.
When the police started to take him away his friends started after me. I told one of the cops, “My family and I better go with you.” He agreed.
Needless to say, my wife, a gentle soul, was petrified by it all. She didn’t know what was happening except that her husband had created an uproar.
Later, even though she understood, she appealed for me to never do that again.
The point I’m making is that my security operation always makes me very alert in crowds, which takes emotional energy. At this writing I’m seventy-seven years old, and over the past few years I’ve begun to feel anxious in crowds. I finally realized that my security operation is still just as alert to trouble, but I don’t feel quite up to facing physical confrontation as I did when I was younger.
This anxiety has nothing to do with a spiritual problem. It has to do with aging and a growing sense of vulnerability. My solution is to stay away from crowds whenever I can. The amusing thing is that often I have this automatic reaction around church crowds. I know that I shouldn’t feel anxious, but I do. I usually find resting in Psalm 91 a big help.
But even church crowds can get ugly. Have you ever been in one of those congregational or committee meetings—particularly if you’re in a position of leadership. If I know that the meeting is going to be ugly, I’ll take a lorazopam before I go.
I don’t see this as a spiritual problem and using “man’s solution” (medication) to alleviate it. It is purely a physiological problem as a result of aging. My physical body says to my psyche (soul), You’re not up to this.
Remember that the soul has to do with the animation of the body and can make us feel secure or insecure. It isn’t too often I have to do this. But when I feel overwhelmed with what I’m facing, I turn to God’s promise:
No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And
God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted [tried] beyond what you can bear. But when you are temped [tried], he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it (1 Cor. NIV).
I have found that God gives me two avenues of escape to overwhelming anxiety—either leave the crowd or take a lorazopam. Instead of using wine as Proverbs 31 suggests when I’m overwhelmed, I use a controlled substance that cannot be abused because of prescription laws.
I’m sure someone will say, That’s great! You abandon the sufficiency of scripture for man’s way—a pill!
May I ask what makes a pill man’s way? Is the advice of wine to an emotionally overwhelming problem man’s way (Prov. 31:6-7; 1 Tim. )?
You may ask, Whatever happened to the sufficiency of scripture? But is not medication scriptural?
I know the critic’s answer. It is to interpret these passages to make them say
something else—to neutralize their obvious meaning. This is why I call
nouthetic counseling false teaching. Like any false teaching it twists the scripture to fit their theory.
When a Problem Is Not a Problem
Sometimes we face problems that are not problems. Does that sound strange? Let me illustrate it this way.
Suppose your upper body is very weak and you’d like to strengthen it. I suggest we go to a gym and do some weight lifting.
If you’ve never done weight lifting, you don’t know what you’re in for. I usher you to a weight bench where you lie on you back and look up at a set of barbells on a rack. I estimate that you should be able to press fifty pounds, so I put the appropriate weights on each end. Now I tell you, “Push up on the barbells, get them off the rack, and bring them down to chest level.”
When you do, you may complain, “These are heavy.” I reply, “They’re supposed to be heavy. Now press the weight straight up and then back to your chest.”
“Do it,” and when you do, I say, “That’s one repetition.” You complain, “How many do I have to do?” I reply, “I’ll decide that as I watch you. I’m called a ‘spotter.’ I stand here at the rack ready to help you if you falter. Now, again, do another repetition.”
You do it, but barely so. So I say, “Okay, put the barbell back on the rack and take a break.” As your spotter I actually may have to help you rack it.
You ask, “Now what?” I say, “Take a breather, and let’s do some stretching exercises.” After the exercises I say, “Let’s go again.”
You say, “Again!” I answer, “Yup, that’s what body building is all about. Muscle resistance to the weight is what makes them develop strength.”
Does this remind you of any Bible verse? How about James 1:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (Jas. 1:2-4 NIV).
Barbells on a weight bench are to muscle what trial is to spiritual maturity. You must undergo, with perseverance, the weight that is put upon you. You will have aches and pains with any kind of exercise that requires you to repeatedly bear weight—be it barbells or trials. But it results in both physical and spiritual muscle and maturity.
You see, the sweat and the pain of weight lifting or trial is not the problem. The problem is our attitude. Are we willing to pay the price of perseverance under the weight to make muscle.
If you want more on this passage of scripture I suggest you read my message on James 1:1-18 on your computer. You can find it on “Andy’s Corner” in your computer. The address is: http://bartimaeus.us/andy/index.html .
The exposition of James 1:1-18 is the first of four messages on the subject, “Why Christians Hurt.” The four messages are:
· Called To Trial and Perfection (James 1:1-18)
· Called To Suffering (Romans 5:1-5)
· Called To Be A Living Sacrifice (Romans 12:1-8)
· Called To Weakness (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
The point of all these messages is that God has a place for pain in our lives. The problem is not the pain. The problem is our attitude toward the pain.
God doesn’t ask us to bear overwhelming pain. He’s the spotter to keep us from being crushed by the weight. He gives us an escape from it (1 Cor. ). It’s a matter of our willingness to bear the daily pain (perseverance) that puts on the spiritual muscle and makes us the mature, complete Christian He wants us to be.
The Emotional Life of Jesus
Jesus in His earthly life looked like a normal human being. Yes, as a child he was precocious (Lk. -52). But as an adult his neighbors saw him as an ordinary person (Mk. 6:1-6).
Christians know that He came to earth to die a sacrifice for our sins. But not too much is noticed, or importance given, to His earthly life. Two things about his earthly life are important for us to notice.
Jesus Learned Obedience through Suffering. First of all, we are told that Jesus learned obedience through suffering:
During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petition with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation of all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 5:7-10 NIV).
It’s remarkable that the God/man had something to learn. As God He was omniscient—He knew all. Yes, except for one thing. He didn’t know what it was like to be a human being. Yes, intellectually He knew. But He did not know by experience.
As the second person of the trinity He was at one with the Father and the Holy Spirit. But now as a man He took upon Himself the life of a servant to learn obedience (Phil. 2:5-11). But not only was He to learn obedience, it was obedience through suffering. By doing this He was able to become the great High Priest who understands human suffering and is able to give us mercy and grace in a time of need:
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the
throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Heb. -16 NIV).
Jesus’ Mental and Emotional Life Was Without Sin. We know that Jesus was without sin as the God/man. But we need to remember that this means also that his mental and emotional life were sinless also. As the God/