Monday, January 31, 2011

1914 - A House Built on Sand (Jehovah's Witnesses)

Anyone who has ever had any interaction with a Jehovah's Witness (JW) will likely have noticed the extraordinary emphasis they place on the year 1914A.D. This is because this date is foundational to their whole existence. In this year, the JWs claim Jesus was installed as King in Heaven, which ushered in 'the end times' of the world, and was "confirmed" by the outbreak of World War I. (Though the JWs have revised their position a few times on just what would happen this year, the date has remained the same.) The JW's entire claim to power is that they were the only ones to correctly predict this date, based on "properly" interpreting Bible "prophecy," and as a result, their leaders were officially awarded by God the status of "Governing Body" (GB).

The GB is also termed The Watchtower Society, and is to be thought of as God's official spokesmen and teacher for all true Christians - akin to the Catholic Magisterium (though the GB is an impostor). The implications are clear: if the GB is genuinely God's official Spokesman for believers, then all Christians have a duty to accept and submit to everything they teach. Thus, a JW who comes to accept the GB will logically trust whatever the GB teaches over and above that of a non-JW interpretation of Scripture. With that in mind, arguing any given doctrine with the JW is essentially a very steep, up-hill battle, since they often wont even consider the reasonableness of a Christian's claims (the JWs are technically non-Christians) or be open to any non-JW literature at all. 

Those who have friends or relatives entrapped in this non-Christian organization should also realize that the primary (and very effective) means of controlling members is by a strict rule of shunning that goes on in this organization, so to even question the GB will often end up resulting in an ex-JW being sternly shunned by his parents, family, and friends. This fear-mongering is an added level of "security" that the Christian apologist must carefully navigate so as to not scare away any potential planting of seeds of hope in the JW's mind. While you should never speak openly of this reality to JWs (who are already worried enough), you must keep it in the forefront of your mind. Without saying it, you should always give off the impression you are their friend and that they can speak to you should they ever leave the Watchtower. (I've even been told by ex-JWs that, as a JW rule of thumb, they are taught that if a Christian tells them something that "makes sense," it's the devil trying to deceive them.)

The most effective way to plant seeds in the JW's mind is to undermine the credibility of the Governing Body by focusing on their dishonesty, since an organization built on lies cannot be operating in God's favor. It's no secret to anyone who has studied up on the JWs will know that there is no shortage of lies and errors in their teachings (e.g. see here). Given that the whole basis for their existence rests on the year 1914A.D., that is a particularly important doctrine to focus on.

It is very important that all such apologetics be based on official JW literature, this ensures that the JW you are speaking with will trust the source. A great source is the JW book "What does the Bible Really Teach?," it is an important book the JWs issued to be mass-produced for potential seekers to get an "introduction" to their teachings. Appendix 10 of that book is entitled "1914 - A Significant Year in Bible Prophecy," which will now be used to examine the JW reasoning for this calculation.

The following are key points behind this doctrine, as taken directly from that Appendix (red highlights by me to indicate key points):
  • As recorded at Luke 21:24, Jesus said: “Jerusalem will be trampled on by the nations, until the appointed times of the nations [“the times of the Gentiles,” King James Version] are fulfilled.” Jerusalem had been the capital city of the Jewish nation—the seat of rulership of the line of kings from the house of King David.
  • How and when, though, did God’s rulership begin to be “trampled on by the nations”? This happened in 607 B.C.E. when Jerusalem was conquered by the Babylonians
  • The ‘trampling’ would end when Jesus became King. When would that grand event occur? Jesus showed that the Gentiles would rule for a fixed period of time. The account in Daniel chapter 4 holds the key to knowing how long that period would last. It relates a prophetic dream experienced by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. He saw an immense tree that was chopped down. Its stump could not grow because it was banded with iron and copper. An angel declared: “Let seven times pass over it.”—Daniel 4:10-16.
  • Revelation 12:6, 14 indicates that three and a half times equal “a thousand two hundred and sixty days.” “Seven times” would therefore last twice as long, or 2,520 days. But the Gentile nations did not stop ‘trampling’ on God’s rulership a mere 2,520 days after Jerusalem’s fall. Evidently, then, this prophecy covers a much longer period of time. On the basis of Numbers 14:34 and Ezekiel 4:6, which speak of “a day for a year,” the “seven times” would cover 2,520 years.  
  • The 2,520 years began in October 607 B.C.E., when Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians and the Davidic king was taken off his throne. The period ended in October 1914. At that time, “the appointed times of the nations” ended, and Jesus Christ was installed as God’s heavenly King.* [*From October 607 B.C.E. to October 1 B.C.E. is 606 years. Since there is no zero year, from October 1 B.C.E. to October 1914 C.E. is 1,914 years. By adding 606 years and 1,914 years, we get 2,520 years.]

Now to examine these points to see if they are Biblically accurate and logically sound:

1) Luke 21:24 needs to be read in context, and I quote from the JW's official (but corrupt) New World Translation Bible (highlights by me):
20 “Furthermore, when YOU see Jerusalem surrounded by encamped armies, then know that the desolating of her has drawn near. 21 Then let those in Ju·de´a begin fleeing to the mountains, and let those in the midst of her withdraw, and let those in the country places not enter into her; 22 because these are days for meting out justice, that all the things written may be fulfilled. 23 Woe to the pregnant women and the ones suckling a baby in those days! For there will be great necessity upon the land and wrath on this people; 24 and they will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled on by the nations, until the appointed times of the nations are fulfilled. (Luke 21:20-24 NWT)
Taken plainly, Jesus is predicting a future event, not a past event that is still unfolding during His very lifetime! Some time after Jesus teaches this, Jerusalem will be surrounded by armies, the inhabitants will begin fleeing, since those days will see Jerusalem being sacked and the inhabitants will be tortured and will be led captive.

Given all this, the first two points of JW reasoning above are quite dubious, for not only did they rip Luke 21:24 out of context (not even quoting the full verse), they apply this to a 600 year old past event that was still unfolding even throughout Jesus' own lifetime. The JWs are mixing history here, falsely applying this future event to the Babylonian sacking of Jerusalem hundreds of years earlier, to which the Jews had already long returned and settled back into Jerusalem and even built the Second Temple there which lasted until 70AD. A far more objective and balanced interpretation is given in the Haydock Biblical Commentary on Luke 21, verse 24:
Whoever reads Josephus's history of the calamities which befell Jerusalem before its destruction, will find none of these terrible menaces unfulfilled. Seventy thousand were carried away captives in this war. After the soldiers were weary of killing, Titus ordered the finest of the young men to be kept to adorn his triumph.  ... After Jerusalem had been taken and destroyed by the Romans, another city was built from its ruins, called Ælia, after the name of the emperor Ælius Adrian. This was inhabited by pagans and some Christians for the Jews were forbidden even to come near it, for more than two or three centuries. Tertullian informs us, that they even bought, at a great price, permission to see it at a distance, and drop a tear over the ashes of their ancient and ill-fated country. Thus was Jerusalem trodden under foot, till the time of the nations was accomplished; that is, till Christianity, in every nation, had triumphed over the persecution of paganism.
This, to me, is a very plausible fulfillment of Christ's prophecy and warning, and fits the teachings of this chapter. Whether there is another fulfillment of this in the future is unclear, but I wouldn't rule it out without further examination.

The next problematic statement is the JW claim that "607 B.C.E." is "when Jerusalem was conquered by the Babylonians." Where do the JWs come up with this figure? Not from Scripture, for Scripture doesn't give us such dates. Rather, this date is derived from purely secular documents and fragments of documents, each with their own level of uncertainty and questionability. It's not a stretch to say God wouldn't have left believers guessing or relying on such "evidence" to derive such a critical date, especially when such scholarship didn't even exist until about 100 years ago! And worse yet, the very secular scholars who the JWs rely on for this date in fact give a different date for the conquering of Jerusalem by the Babylonians at approximately 587BC. But the JWs wont have any of this, and dogmatically stick with 607BC because that's what's needed to make their math "work". Any reasonable individual would note that God wouldn't have us rely on dates established by such guesswork, and reason tells us all ancient dates are approximate at best.

Moving on, the JWs say: "The ‘trampling’ would end when Jesus became King." This statement contains two serious problems: (1) nowhere does Luke 21 or any other passage say this; and (2) Jesus is already King (e.g. the sign posted on the Cross says Jesus was King of the Jews, and Matthew 28:18 says "all authority in Heaven and Earth has been given to me"). The JWs virtually invented this (and the other requirements) out of thin air, and such claims are wholly bogus. (This "installment as King" is part of their modifying their account of just what was to take place in 1914A.D., since it originally was to mark Christ's Second Coming, which they now say is simply Christ's "invisible presence," but that's for another time.)

Just when you thought things couldn't get any more weird, the JWs jump to Daniel 4, to Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar's dream, particularly the mentioning of "seven times". First of all, I encourage all to stop and read this chapter of Daniel. It has nothing to do with these so called 'Gentile times' of trampling, and doesn't even apply to the Jewish kings or lineage, but strictly to Nebuchadnezzar himself. The Prophet Daniel explicitly says:
"20The tree that you beheld [in your dream], that grew great and became strong and the height of which finally reached the heavens... 22 it is you, O king [Nebuchadnezzar], because you have grown great and become strong, and your grandeur has grown great and reached to the heavens, and your rulership to the extremity of the earth." (NWT)
And as Daniel continues, he comments upon the cutting down and says the "seven times themselves will pass over you" (verse 26) applying this punishment and time period to Nebuchadnezzar only. As the chapter concludes, it says Nebuchadnezzar eventually repented and was restored as king, fulfilling the prophecy that the stump of the tree was not to be cut but remain until the "seven times" had passed. The JWs continue to invent things out of thin air and violate the clear and explicit teachings of Scripture, contradicting Daniel's own official interpretation and fulfillment of this prophecy!

The second half of the JW argument is essentially one big math problem, something Scripture never advocates (since the Bible is not a secret-code book). First, the JWs proceed to determine what exactly "seven times" means. They come upon Revelation 12:6,14, which says '3.5 times' equals '1,260 days', and thus 'doubling' that would yield '7 times' equal to '2,520 days'. While this so-called math is 'right', that doesn't mean the two passages can or were ever intended to be combined. For example, Daniel 12:7,11, says '3.5 times' is equal to '1,290 days' (i.e. 30 days more than Rev 12), which will obviously screw up the JW's math if applied! This problem of mixing-and-matching figures will become more apparent in the next step the JWs make.

After "concluding" that the 7 times of Daniel 4 is "equal" to 2,520 days, the JWs immediately say: "But the Gentile nations did not stop ‘trampling’ on God’s rulership a mere 2,520 days after Jerusalem’s fall. Evidently, then, this prophecy covers a much longer period of time." Rather than stop and ask if maybe it is they who are doing the math wrong and falsely applying the Daniel 4 prophecy, they reason that since 2,520 "days" doesn't result in anything, well then, we should keep searching until we make this number mean something! It's a text-book case of the logical fallacy known as bait-and-switch. The use of the term "evidently" by the JWs is an implicit admission that things are not as clear as they were telling us, and that we must proceed to guess at just what this 'important' number means.

Upon setting out to make 2,520 "days" mean something 'significant', the book goes onto say: "On the basis of Numbers 14:34 and Ezekiel 4:6, which speak of “a day for a year,” the “seven times” would cover 2,520 years." As with the previous calculations of 2,520 "days," the JWs jump to the conclusion these days must actually be years. And in "support" of this they appeal to Numbers 14:34 and Ezekiel 4:6, giving the reader the impression this substitution is valid and warranted. But upon examining those two verses, they are not concerned with prophecy, especially not this Daniel 4 prophecy (which doesn't apply this at all), but rather a calculation used to dole out an immediate punishment. One is not free to simply substitute a-day-for-a-year on demand, especially when 2,520 and 1,260 "days" is already symbolic.

Finally comes the grand math-equation:
607BC + 2,520 years = 1914AD
On this equation rests the whole foundation for the Watchtower organization. While the "math" here works quite fine when doing simple addition, a fatal flaw exists within that equation. To highlight that flaw, I present a parallel equation:
2feet + 3meters = 5feet
What's wrong with this measurement? The units are inconsistent, even though the numeric digits add up correctly. As a result, the "answer" is totally bogus. In the case of the JW "math," the dates 607BC and 1914AD are based on the Roman Calendar consisting of 365-days-per-year, while the 2,520 "years" are Biblical years that did not consist of 365 days but rather 360! The result is:
607RomanYears + 2,520JewishYears = 1914RomanYears
Thus, the JW's - God's alleged Spokesmen - fell into a blatant math error right in the midst of their most important calculation! In their rush to build a case, they fell right into a blatant pitfall. The condemnation of Scripture is readily apparent, as St Paul says (in his quote of the Prophet Job): "God catches the wise in their own craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are brought to a quick end" (1 Cor 3:19).

There are a few potential objections which the JW might try in desperation:
(1) Claim that the math still "works" in pointing out 1914AD is when the world radically changed, namely the start of World War I, and thus such "details" of inconsistent units are irrelevant. This is desperation pure and simple, since nothing excuses blatantly incorrect math errors, especially God's chosen organization.
(2) Claim that the Jewish Year eventually catches up with the Roman Year, since there is a Jewish Calendar that is 354 days-per-year but makes up for lost days by adding an extra month at regular intervals. While there is a Jewish Calendar that is 354-days-per-year (with extra months added at regular intervals), this is a "modern" calendar that only really began to be in use around 70AD and has undergone various changes. Further, there is no indication that it just-so-happens to match up precisely to October 1914AD. More importantly, it is not a Biblically based calendar, nor does it excuse the still inconsistent units. According to the Bible, the only Jewish Year indicated was 360 days-per-year. This can be shown two ways: (a) Genesis 7-8 shows that 5 months consists of 150 days, thus indicating a month is 30 days (not 29 days-per-month as the 354 calendar requires); (b) Revelation 11:2-3 indicates 1,260 days equals 42 months, which divides out to 3.5 years (thus 3.5 'times' when applied to Rev 12) at 360 days-per-year.

Before I conclude, while I was preparing this article, I came across another devastating detail by accident, as I was simply reading over Revelation 11:2-3,
1 And a reed like a rod was given me as he said: “Get up and measure the temple [sanctuary] of God and the altar and those worshiping in it. 2 But as for the courtyard that is outside the temple [sanctuary], cast it clear out and do not measure it, because it has been given to the nations, and they will trample the holy city underfoot for forty-two months. 3 And I will cause my two witnesses to prophesy a thousand two hundred and sixty days dressed in sackcloth.” (NWT)
I was stunned when I read this, because verse 2 speaks of a time when the Gentile nations "will trample the holy city," a clear reference to the trampling of Jerusalem Jesus spoke of. Further, the Greek word for "trample" is only used 5 times in the New Testament, and the only time trampling of a city is used is here and (you guessed it) Luke 21:24!! But why are the JWs going to Daniel 4, which doesn't speak of trampling, yet avoid Revelation 11:2, which clearly speaks of trampling Jerusalem by Gentile Nations? The answer is clear: the time frame Scripture gives for this trampling is 42 months (1,260 days), exactly half of what the JWs claim it needed to be! And after doing some further investigation into this verse, it turns out the JWs ignore any connection with Luke 21:24 (for obvious reasons) and instead claim it is actually a literal 42 months, and this trampling took place between 1914AD and 1918AD when their GB leadership was being jailed for alleged legal offenses. This all too convenient JW response and interpretation is simply ridiculous and clearly done out of desperation. 

Hopefully one will begin to truly grasp just how important the year 1914A.D. is for the JWs and just how far they will go to "defend" their doctrine. As was the goal of this article, the objective reader will see that the JW's logic from start to finish is utterly fallacious, erroneous, and deceptive. It is clearly a man-made scheme, inspired by Satan, which has sadly engulfed the minds of many and hurt many families along the way. The good news is that effective apologetics for this group is on the rise, and no doubt seeds will be planted with prayer and careful preparation. The sad news is that most JWs are ignorant, and deliberately kept that way, and are under the constant fear of shunning should they begin thinking for themselves. Thinking for oneself is the cornerstone of Catholic Christian apologetics, because with the Truth on our side, we have nothing to fear or hide from!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Note to John Piper: Don’t Equate Whole Bible with Theologically Accurate

John Piper - a man I generally respect, though don't often agree with theologically - made some embarrassing comments on his blog in a brief reflection he posted on January 19. The title of his post is: "Don’t Equate Historically Early with Theologically Accurate" The post is short enough that I feel it's worth posting here in full:
Beware of imputing advantage to antiquity. Seventy years after the death of Jesus the churches had neither the collected New Testament nor a living apostle. It was a precarious and embattled time.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Debate Index Page

This post will host all the essays to all the debates I take part in.
It will be updated periodically (so the date of this post can change).

Eternal Security Debate (versus Vocab) - January 2011

Debate Introduction and Format
Affirmative Negative
Opening Essay Opening Essay
Rebuttal Rebuttal
Cross Examination Questions Cross Examination Questions
Cross Examination Answers Cross Examination Answers
Concluding Essay Concluding Essay

Eternal Security Debate - Vocab’s Concluding Essay

Eternal Security Debate 
Vocab’s Concluding Essay (link)

As I reviewed the debate between Nick and I on the very important question of "do the Gospels teach that salvation can be lost", I felt a sense of sadness creep over me. I didn’t think “Oh, look how great I did” or “Nick was untouchable” or anything like that. No, the main thing I kept on thinking is how tragic it is that so many people for so long have been utterly confused about the very nature of God’s saving work through Jesus Christ. I sincerely wish that Rome was *not* utterly confused about salvation. Yet, I must admit that this is indeed the case.

We can see Nick’s faithful adherence to the teaching of Rome in his opening statement, when he makes it clear how he feels about the idea that God promises to preserve and uphold those whom from all eternity he has set his gracious love upon:
“Among the various heresies that arose at the time of the Reformation, one of the most notable was the doctrine of “Eternal Security” - the teaching that the Christian cannot lose his salvation.”
Nick, as a faithful follower of Roman dogma, is barred by his presuppositions from accepting the biblical teaching on the nature and efficacy of God’s salvation. For example, Rome conflates justification and sanctification and confuses adoption with regeneration.  Nick, whom I honestly do respect and like, is obliged to follow suit and be confused, conflated, and confounded as well when it comes to soteriology in general and the ordo salutis (order of salvation) in particular.  

Here is one place I where  think we saw this: Nick aptly and accurately describes Rome’s view of salvation as being analogous to “getting hired in order to eventually become worthy of a paycheck.” Props to Nick for being frank but we are left wondering how this framework meshes with the grace-based salvation found in the pages of Scripture … the answer is that it does not. Anyone who has read both opening statements, rebuttals, and cross-examinations will discern we are dealing with classic merit theology versus grace theology in this debate. Does Nick truly think any human would ever be “worthy of a paycheck” from God? I just can’t get away from the fact that much of Nick’s presentation is intensely man-centered in its outlook.

Another frustrating thing I found in re-reading through our respective essays was that Nick assumes Roman Catholic theology left-and-right. This handicaps his exegesis in a way I do not think he appreciates. This may be why he makes rather bold and sometimes overconfident statements to the effect of “my exegesis clearly shows how passage A is in line with Roman Catholic teaching on subject B and Vocab’s interpretation is impossible” (note, this is not a direct quote from Nick but rather my paraphrase of several of his statements and attitudes).

Nick regularly reads Roman Catholic doctrine into his interpretations and this may explain his tendency to list large numbers of passages, give a two-sentence opinion on them and then say “see, this proves my point!” Then he quickly moves onto the next passage and repeats the process. Depending on how one counts the passages, in his opening statement Nick listed at least 21 passages in such a manner. Now a person inclined to agree with Nick may think, “well, that just proves how many times the gospels teach us that we can indeed lose the salvation God has given us.” But stop for just a minute and reflect that each essay has a 2,000 word limit. How much space does this leave for serious exegesis? Not much, and that is why all Nick can often provide us with is a brief opinion on each verse. Does he assume we just automatically agree with all his mini-commentaries?

Let me provide one demonstration of what I mean from Nick’s opener:
Matthew 7:13f. “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” This states that to enter Heaven, one must persevere on the “narrow” and “hard” road. This indicates Salvation is not secured until one perseveres and thus falling away is possible.
Where in the text are Nick’s claims found? Nowhere! It seems he has selected a proof text text that offers no proof. It’s not the text’s fault, of course, it simply is not speaking about the issue of eternal security (or insecurity) but rather describing the path to heaven, as it were. Barnes comments:
"Few go there. Here and there one may be seen - traveling in solitude and singularity. The way to death, on the other hand, is broad. Multitudes are in it. It is the great highway in which people go.” 
The text simply doesn’t lean one way or the other when it comes to eternal security because it is speaking about something else. Remember, Nick’s opener has 20 more “proof-texts” similar to this one! In his future debates, I humbly suggest that he list less passages and spend more time galvanizing his position by thoroughly exegeting each one. Furthermore, it is not impressive to list 21 passages in favor of one’s position unless, well, they are actually in favor of your position! This means it is not enough for a basketball player to attempt a high number of three-pointers, he must actually make some for them to count towards a victory.

One key issue that Nick never satisfactorily dealt with was his incomplete definition of eternal life. If a person goes  back and reads they will see for the most part Nick just tells us what it is supposed to mean and he also tells us that the true definition of eternal life is that no, it is not eternal when you get it (because if it was, how could you lose it?) but  becomes eternal when you die; that is, if you make it. Now I am not 100% sure if I am explaining his position on this correctly and I apologize if I am not. 

The reason I am having trouble in this regard is because I am confused how he can have eternal life not be eternal, especially when believers are said to possess it already it in this life numerous times in the gospels. Instead, it seems as Nick is telling us that Jesus basically says, “Here is a great gift (for some reason called ‘eternal life’), now good luck holding onto it and not breaking it up, because once you do, that’s it. I’ll give you another one if you like but you’ll have to try really hard to get it – and keep it, for that matter. Oh, and by the way, there’s not a whole lot I can do to help you out, so it’s mainly up to you.”

The testimony of the gospels also seems to contradict Nick’s understanding of “eternal life”: One such place is John 10:26–30 (another is John 5:24), where Jesus says, “you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” Note how Jesus defines eternal life here: “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”

Nick’s claim that this actually means only that Satan and the Pharisees have no snatching power does not stand up to scrutiny and further has no basis in the text; in fact, it seems to contradict the text directly: “no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” One more consideration from John 10:29 is that "any man" is an indefinite pronoun in Greek. This means it could accurately be translated as "anything" or “anyone.” This of course would include Pharisees, the Devil, or the person themself.

Does John 6:36-40 Really "Fit Nicely" w/the Roman Catholic Position As Nick Claims?
I also think John 6:36-40 was never dealt with in a meaningful way: “But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

One big thing I must remind the readers of is Nick’s dubious claim about how the present tense in John 6 and related passages proves the Roman Catholic point. Nick essentially tells us that this means John is saying “yes, you can lose your salvation.” He brought it up a number times as if it was a knock-down argument and yet you will notice he never really substantiates the claim, rather he simply states it as a matter of fact. Worst of all, the last he brought it up was after I had already dealt with it and he simply ignored what I had written in my response and made the claim again. This is not the way to conduct a profitable debate! If all this was not problematic enough, we have the fact that his idea about the present tense use is simply wrong. What do I mean? Simply that every time John refers to false believers, he differentiates them with the aorist tense. I encourage Nick to go back through John’s gospel with a reverse-interlinear that has a parsing code and he will see this most certainly is the case. This tells us John has already included a grammatical cue for his readers when he speaks of false belief and it’s the aorist tense, not the present. This fact alone renders Nick’s idea moot.

I add this next paragraph as a "side note": during this debate I have cited from a number of scholarly commentaries (I am not saying that makes me "right" but rather I am just stating a fact from our debate). However, there is one more ‘commentary’ I have not cited: John’s. In 1 John 2:19, John wrote this: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” This would seem to function as a help in understanding what John meant when he wrote his gospel.  

In my rebuttal and cross-ex I wrote on Matthew 7:22-23 and John 10:14 and asked Nick a question about these two passages. I really hope that our readers and yes, Nick himself would go back and re-read Nick’s answer to this challenge (Question #5) and honestly weigh if his answer during the cross-examination is a satisfactory response derived from a straight reading of the passage. I humbly submit to you that his answer fails on all counts. Once again, I pray the Lord is holding me back from debate showmanship here – I sincerely desire that the truth be heard and received by God’s people and would feel ashamed if my own defects got in the way. With that being said, re-read the question and answer in relation to this passage, I implore you.

It is interesting in our debate that Nick misused Matthew 5:13, attempting to make it a “you can lose your salvation text”, when the real meaning packs quite the theological punch: if those calling themselves the church in the world no longer act as salt and light, then what good are they? The answer the Reformers were forced to give was that those claiming to be salt and light during their day – Rome –  were no longer fulfilling Jesus' commands and therefore were not following Jesus. We needed a Reformation because the institution claiming to be salt and light … was not. Many 16th century European scholars and peasants would have agreed and we have seen that so do the gospels.  

In closing, I would like to rewind back to the concept of adoption in the New Testament. I have studied this concept in detail (and hope to do more so in the future) and have learned a great deal from these studies. Why? One reason is that my wife and I have been called to illustrate this truth of the gospel message by adopting several children here in the Phoenix area. So when the New Testament talks about adoption … well, as a real-life adoptive parent, I can ‘get’ this: when my wife and I adopted our son, Malachi, we chose to make him our own – and we could never un-adopt him. His former identity has been expunged and he has new privileges, new responsibilities, new allegiances, new family members, and a new identity. It is a permanent and wonderful gift we are pleased to give him – just like how God bestows upon all those he makes his own all the wonders of being in His family. 

God never kicks out his children, so to speak, so I praise God that I have been made eternally secure in the sustaining power of the triune God. Praise God for making his people secure in his strong Hand! Praise God for his eternal security and Praise God for adoption! 

Monday, January 24, 2011

Eternal Security Debate - Nick’s Concluding Essay

Eternal Security Debate - Nick’s Concluding Essay

This final essay of mine will consist chiefly in analyzing Vocab’s Rebuttal Essay as well as his Cross-Examination Answers to my questions.

Vocab’s Rebuttal Essay.

He began by claiming I cited too many proof texts (21) and “often without an adequate justification.” I would respond by saying that I believe I commented adequately upon every text I cited, showing the main idea behind why I cited it. I was be open to seeing which texts didn’t have “adequate justification,” but, unfortunately, Vocab avoided most of my texts and didn’t really give my texts a fair look in the first place. His reasons were as follows:

(1) First, he said: “Many of them are parables or metaphors.” I honestly don’t see how this makes as big of an impact as he claims. Christians have always understood they are to draw the principles and lessons from Christ’s parables and metaphors, without taking everything in a “wooden-literalist” fashion. Vocab even says “many” of the texts I cited “are not dealing primarily with issues of salvation,” yet if anyone looks at my list they will see salvation is indeed a very clear theme (even if only a secondary theme in a few of them). The only passage he examined here was Matthew 5:13, but even as Calvin notes in his commentary: “After having reminded them to what they are called, he pronounces against them a heavy and dreadful judgment, if they do not fulfill their duty.” The phrase “thrown out and trampled” has no other significance than to cast off into hell (as even your link indicates).

(2) Second, he said: “Many of his interpretations assume Roman Catholic dogma.”
I would deny this is relevant in the same way my Rebuttal opened by addressing how my rejection of Sola Scriptura is irrelevant. The only passage Vocab cited in this section was Matthew 26:33, of Peter’s denial of Christ, which I called “a cardinal sin.” Vocab responds by saying: “Note the assumptions ... where did ‘cardinal sin’ come from in regards to this passage?” I only used the term “cardinal” to emphasize the monstrosity of denying Christ! If Vocab wants to claim denying Christ is a minor sin and has no bearing on one’s salvation, I think that puts him in a far more dubious position (e.g. Mat 10:33).

(3) Third, he said: “The use of the present tense does not prove his case.” He seems to have missed my point, which was that it simply corresponds to what is currently a reality, not a completed/finished one. Thus his alleged proofs from John 6 and John 10 that salvation is “secured” is a grammatic-fallacy, since at most they are saying salvation only currently exists as long as certain conditions are currently being met. As for the claim John speaks of “the false faith of counterfeit believers,” the very notion of “false faith” is a Reformed invention. (Astonishingly, Vocab says the believers in John 2:23 and 8:30 are “counterfeit believers”!)

The next proof text of mine Vocab addresses is Matthew 10:28, which he says is non-salvific. While the context certainly is of God’s Providential care of disciples against persecutions, the very point is that though God allows this, He puts a check on them (i.e. loss of earthly life) - where as the contrast is made to God’s punishment for turning to sin is destruction of body and soul in hell - clearly speaking of salvation.

In addressing John 13:8, Vocab correctly understood me. While I do not deny any deeper meaning, the plain, literal account of the event is none the less true: unless Peter (note this is after Mat 16:16-17) submits to Jesus literally washing his feet, Peter would have no share with Christ. Either Jesus was serious in His warning, and thus contradicted the notion salvation is eternally secure, or He was making a false threat. Clearly, only the former is possible.

The last proof text Vocab analyzes is John 15:1-10. He claims the individuals of verse 2 and 6 were never saved to begin with. The two key points in this lesson is that (a) Jesus is speaking to His disciples at the Last Supper (after Judas left), and (b) the text speaks of branches “in” Christ, which makes no sense if they never really believed. How can someone be “in” Christ and be “thrown away and wither” if they never were truly connected to the Vine to begin with?

Vocab goes onto defend his appeal to John 6 and John 10. First, in regards to “snatching” from the Father’s hand, Vocab fallaciously argues that “no one” must logically mean literally everyone. That’s simply ignoring context and making a leap of logic. Just the way the passage is worded, “no one is able to snatch them” indicates the “no one” and “them” are two different groups. Reading verses 10:26, 10:10, and especially 10:12b (it's the “wolf” who “snatches,” using the same Greek word as 10:28f), Jesus is cleanly speaking of external forces, principally Satan and persecutors. Next Vocab speaks on Judas’ salvation, specifically John 13:18, noting that Judas was not among the “elect” in that passage. This is irrelevant, for that in itself doesn’t mean he was never saved at any point. In short, I am not conflating the the term “election” with 13:18 and 6:70. (Also: see my answer on Vocab’s question about Judas.) Lastly, Vocab focuses on the term “eternal life” (as John uses it) but he seems to miss my point that while yes it is a current possession, it’s not in itself a securing of entrance to Heaven. Thus, I agree largely with Vocab’s analysis and proof-texts on the phrase, but he seems to not realize that he’s reading more into the phrase than what is actually true. To highlight my point, which he apparently doesn’t see, John typically speaks of having “eternal life” now, while the other three Gospel writers speak of receiving “eternal life” in the future. Thus, the term is being used two different ways, one speaking about ‘final salvation’ and the other about one’s current (intimate) relationship with the Trinity - and the two cannot be conflated without causing exegetical problems.

Vocab’s answers to my cross-examination questions.

In the first question, I asked him how he can believe in “perseverance” if salvation is eternally secure. His first comment was merely a restating of my question, not a response, while his second comment is non-sequitor. If someone is entitled the race trophy before they finish the race, then how does it make sense to say they must finish the race to be worthy of the trophy? This is an accurate analogy to my question. And my question wasn’t about making God “absent from the equation” as Vocab insinuates, since it’s a given that God is always part of the equation. The issue is whether God allows some not to Persevere, which I maintain the Bible clearly teaches (just as God allows Christians to still fall into sin). In all he says, I think he failed to grasp my point: the question was strictly on logical grounds, not on theological ones. I was trying to see whether he had a logical foundation before applying this to theology, and after his response, I maintain that Vocab’s position has no answer to this plain logical contradiction.

In my second question, I asked Vocab to list one passage from Matthew, Mark, and Luke that he believed most strongly teaches Eternal Security. His first text was Matthew 7:21-23 (which I’ve addressed elsewhere), yet this is merely speaking of someone never saved in the first place. How can this be “strong proof” for being eternally saved? As for his appeal to Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, there are various ways it can be interpreted since it leaves many questions open. For example, it doesn't account for the fact everyone starts off unsaved. One generally accepted reading (e.g. Calvin's) is that this is speaking of those inside the Church. The question is, then, are the weeds those who never believed to begin with (similar to Mat 7:21-23), or are they Christians who became corrupted? If the former, then the parable isn’t focused upon persevering and/or losing salvation in the first place. If the latter, then Eternal Security is refuted, since the theme is the devil sneaking in to corrupt the good (which is my interpretation).

His second text was Mark 10:29-30, but astonishingly, I actually referenced this very passage in my opening essay since I believe it actually strongly refutes Eternal Security.

His third text is Luke 6:47-49 and Luke 15:3-7. I don’t see how the first text supports eternal security at all, and in fact suggests conditional security since the individual must always be keeping Christ’s commandments. The second passage truly cannot suggest Eternal Security, else how is it possible the one sheep got ‘lost’ in the first place? The moral is focused upon a stray Christian needing repentance to get back into the fold, which is illogical and impossible in an Eternal Security theme.

All in all, I believe Vocab failed significantly to show strong and solid proof for Eternal Security in Matthew, Mark, or Luke, and is basically hanging his hat on the two passages from John (which I believe I’ve adequately explained a few times already).

The third question I asked Vocab was concerning Our Lord’s command to pray to God to “forgive us our trespasses,” which Vocab explicitly (and rightly) affirmed is part of the Christian’s regular prayer life. He said: “The reason we must regularly ask for forgiveness is because we regularly sin. We would be wise to remember that our personal fellowship with God is in view in these verses and not salvation from sin.”
If the Christian still sins, and needs forgiveness for those sins, then how is salvation secure? That’s impossible, and a contradiction Calvinist theology has always had trouble with. This is compounded by the fact Protestants don’t believe in the distinction of mortal versus venial sin, and thus all sins are equally serious! If a person is before God with unforgiven sins, then they cannot be saved, much less secure. I don’t understand how Vocab can separate “salvation from sin” and “personal fellowship with God,” since the two are directly related.

The fourth question I asked was how he interprets Matthew 18:23-35. The most basic question is: was the first servant really forgiven by the king in the first place? The plain reading of the text indicates yes. This parable isn’t that complicated, and Vocab’s own quote from My Blomberg confirms the gist of the parable. Thus, Vocab is still left answering how that forgiven man ended up damned.

The fifth question I asked him was how he interprets Luke 8:13 and Matthew 24:12-13. He begins by quoting Luke 8:18, not realizing Jesus is on a different lesson by that point! More importantly, he believes the person never really believed in the first place, but what point is there in the text saying someone “believes for a while” if in fact the person never believed even for a while? That indicates a “never-really-believed-in-the-first-place” reading is impossible. Vocab says: “This group displays a nominal, superficial, emotional, and non-saving faith.” But where does the text, or the chapter, or the NT ever speak of a “non-saving faith”? Vocab’s comments on Matthew 24:12-13 is essentially the same fallacy. If they never had true love, then it cannot ‘grow cold’. Ironically, he goes onto say: “If one does not persevere then they will not be saved no matter what they professed because they were never saved anyway.” Note the failure to distinguish between present and final salvation (as my thesis does do) here and throughout his comments. Without this distinction, Vocab’s comment results in a blatant logical contradiction (since future and past salvation are conflated).

Concluding thoughts.

In conclusion to this debate, I would like to thank Vocab for persevering with me in seeing this debate to the end (pun intended). We both have been busy these last few weeks, but we’ve managed to find the time to talk on this important subject. In consideration of all the evidence provided, I would sum up my case as follows: (a) I’ve provided Scriptural texts that confirm my thesis, (b) I’ve asked questions that Vocab’s thesis couldn’t sufficiently answer, (c) I was able to sufficiently address his rebuttals and questions, and (d) Vocab’s prooftexts essentially consisted in special pleading on two passages in John’s gospel. Thus, I think the audience will see that, from logical and Scriptural standpoint, my thesis is found true: the doctrine of Eternal Security is false and unbiblical.

(p.s. Since these are the final Essays, the Comment Box is now open - with the hope that those commenting have read the entire debate)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Eternal Security Debate Vocab’s 5 Cross-Examination Answers

Eternal Security Debate 
Vocab’s 5 Cross-Examination Answers (Link)

1) To “persevere,” as I see it and based on how Scripture uses the term, means to endure various trials and sufferings without falling away (or get up when you fall) until you cross the "finish line." How can you believe in Perseverance when you believe the Christian is eternally Saved the moment they believe? In other words, if there is nothing that can harm the Christian in regards to the status of their salvation (the moment they first believe), how is the concept of Persevering logically valid?
In this whole question there is a fallacy of thinking that unless one can lose their salvation, then one cannot persevere. It’s akin to saying that unless a son can lose his sonship, then he is not a son in the first place. This makes it tough to answer this question from Nick when it comes pre-packaged with multiple layers of misunderstandings, primarily as a result of Nick holding to a Roman Catholic view on soteriology. 

I ask the audience to re-read the question and notice how God is absent from the equation – Nick’s focus is all on what the creature can and cannot do. It’s almost as if God is merely a helpless observer or perhaps a zealous cheerleader but the range of his power ends there when it comes to our perseverance. Inversely, the only reason any believer perseveres is only because God preserves them. He does this for his own glory because we were saved (in part) to do good works because this glorifies his name (Matthew 5:16). How do we know this? Because we are in a new and better covenant (Luke 22:20, Hebrews 8)! 

This was promised in the Old Testament in Jeremiah 32:40 “I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.” The promise is clear: this everlasting covenant is God’s doing (“I will make with them”). He will “not turn away from doing good” to us; like, say, taking away our eternal life we have been given via our adoption into his family. And lastly, he changes our hearts (“I will put the fear of me in their hearts”) so that we will not turn from Him (“that they may not turn from me”). What a fantastic love that has been demonstrated on our behalf

It seems so wonderful and “god-like” and yet Rome unwittingly downgrades salvation into cosmic marathon race to the finish where only the strong survive. Newsflash: there are no strong, save God himself and that is why we can endure various trials and sufferings without fully and finally falling away, for He is strong when we are weak.

The way the last part of this question is worded may cause some confusion: “if there is nothing that can harm the Christian in regards to the status of their salvation (the moment they first believe), how is the concept of Persevering logically valid?” I feel I should clarify there are things that can harm the Christian in a very real way and I agree with this excerpt from Bethlehem Baptist’s Affirmation of Faith on God’s Work and Sanctification:
We believe that this persevering, future-oriented, Christ-embracing, heart-satisfying faith is life-transforming, and therefore renders intelligible the teaching of the Scripture that final salvation in the age to come depends on the transformation of life, and yet does not contradict justification by faith alone. The faith which alone justifies, cannot remain alone, but works through love…
Although slavery to sin is broken, and sinful desires are progressively weakened by the power of a superior satisfaction in the glory of Christ, yet there remain remnants of corruption in every heart that give rise to irreconcilable war, and call for vigilance in the lifelong fight of faith.
In wrapping up my answer to this question I quote from John Piper’s TULIP Study Guide (Crossway, 2009, p 102):
Perseverance in faith is necessary for final salvation and is the necessary evidence that we have been born again. This is an important truth and one that is sorely lacking in many churches. However, the necessity of our perseverance is not the whole story; God also preserves and keeps us in the faith (See Jude 24 for a good cross reference). 

2) In your Opening Essay, you said: “The Gospels attest to the preserving work of God in several places.” Since you didn’t really focus upon Matthew, Mark, or Luke, please list one passage from each of these Gospels that you believe most stronglyteaches Eternal Security and explain why you believe those verses most strongly teach that. 
I think Matthew 7:22-23 is a good one from Matthew but since I included it in my rebuttal and my list of questions to Nick (meaning I have pointed it out already), I will list Matthew 13:24-30 as well: 

He put another parable before them, saying, "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, 'Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?' He said to them, 'An enemy has done this.' So the servants said to him, 'Then do you want us to go and gather them?' But he said, 'No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'"

Take note of five things:  
  1. The weeds are weeds and the wheat is wheat – they are not switching back and forth.
  2. The weeds are placed there by the enemy. 
  3. The weeds were never part of the Master’s seed - even though they initially appear to be.
  4. The Master sowed good seed in his field and it came up and bore grain – exactly as it was designed to grow.
  5. The servants are confused but not the Master – he knows who is who and what is what all along.
One other good one in Matthew is Matthew 10:40-42 but I’ll move on now to the Gospel of Mark. For Mark, I’ll go with Mark 10:29-30: Jesus said, "Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life."

Here, Jesus tells us that “there is no one who has left” … “who will not receive” … “eternal life”. Obviously, I truncated the verses to make it stand out more but note we see the phrase “no one” again next to “eternal life”, as in John. This means all will who have done this will receive eternal life. Is it not in essence saying that all true disciples do receive eternal life? How is this all done? We should look back to Mark 10:27  Jesus looked at them and said, "With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God." Salvation is not possible with only man but only possible with God.

For Luke, I’ll just list Luke 6:47-49 and Luke 15:3-7. They are short enough that our readers can simply scroll their mouse over them and the text will pop up right on the screen of the actual blog post. I wish I had time to do a mini-exegesis but this is due tomorrow and this is the last time I will have to work on this today.

As for passages in John teaching that salvation can not be lost, the ones from John 6 and 10 (among others) in my opening statements should suffice. But as an added bonus, I’m going to bring in one thing from another place in the Johnanine corpus from I John 2:19: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” This is a helpful commentary, especially for the passages from John’s gospel.
3) In my Opening Essay I quoted Jesus saying: “If you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” in Matthew 6:12-15 along with its parallel inMark 11:25. (Unfortunately, I misidentified the passage as Matthew 5 instead of Matthew 6, and Mark 10:25 instead of Mark11:25, but you seem to have realized that given what I was speaking on.) The context of the passage I was speaking within was the Lord’s Prayer, especially the petition “forgive us our trespasses”. The question is: do you believe the Lord’s Prayer is a prayer that is part of the (post-conversion) Christian’s regular prayer life and thought? If No, then explain why the Lord’s Prayer (whether verbatim or simply it’s elements) has no place in Christian’s regular prayer life. If Yes, then explain why the Christian must regularly ask for forgiveness from God when they engage in this or similar prayer.
Yes, I think that the Lord’s Prayer is a great pattern of what a Christian’s regular prayer life should entail. The reason we must regularly ask for forgiveness is because we regularly sin. Furthermore, we are commanded to do this here and in other places. We would be wise to remember that our “personal fellowship with God is in view in these verses and not salvation from sin”. This makes sense because “God forgiveness of sin is not based on one’s forgiving others, a Christian’s forgiveness is based on realizing he has been forgiven.” (Bible Knowledge Commentary).

 This idea comports well with Ephesians 4:32. We should think about this for a minute: Ephesians 4:32 tells us we should forgive each other “just as God in Christ has also forgiven” us but Nick seems to be implying we should forgive others because if we don’t we will lose our salvation! One motivation focuses on God’s grace, the other on man’s fear. I think the former is undoubtedly the biblical model.

4)  In commenting on my use of “If you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses,” you said in your Rebuttal:
Nick says that “if the believer won’t forgive others, God won’t forgive them.” The best way I have seen this summed up is like this: “Unforgiving means unforgiven.” This means that if a person is unforgiving then they themselves have not known forgiveness. I would also like Nick to tell us if he thinks he himself has perfectly forgiven all those in his life who have harmed him. Is it even possible for him to remember this accurately? Yes, we should be forgiving if we have been forgiven but we are kidding ourselves if we think we can forgive others in a way that meets God’s standard.
One of the most explicit passages that someone can be forgiven and yet turn to sin and be damned is Matthew 18:21-35. I mentioned Matthew 18:21-35 in my Opening Essay, but you didn’t comment upon it in your rebuttal. In light of your comment that a person who wont forgive means they were never originally forgiven: how do you explain the teaching of Matthew 18:23-35 (particularly verse 35) as well as your own admission Christians don’t always forgive?
I am not sure I completely comprehend Nick’s question here but I will do what I can to answer. One important factor in interpreting this passage is that it is a parable. Most modern commentators understand that parables usually have one main point and some of the details may be incidental to the telling of the story. This is not literary hair splitting, for it appears that Nick may be interpreting this passage as an allegory, in which almost every detail of the story has a spiritual meaning.

To see what I mean, check out the end of the story in Matthew 18:34: “
And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.” The ESV has a footnote explaining that jailers mean “torturers” in Greek and most translations denote this. These are guards whose sole job was to torture prisoners. We know that hell is eternal torment, true, but If this is a one-to-one allegory, then who would the torturers be? Certainly not demons! This helps us see that every detail is not an exact parallel. Another example is the fact that he was thrown in jail until he could pay all his debt. But who could pay all that debt (especially in jail)? No one! Lastly, it does not seem likely that Jesus (whom Nick would see as the king, whereas I would be more inclined to just see a story proving a point) would call a true disciple of his a “wicked servant”.

Following Craig Blomberg, we can boil the parable down to this: “God eternally and unconditionally forgives those who repent of so immense a debt against him that it is unconscionable for believers to refuse to grant forgiveness to each other for sins that remain trivial in comparison.” (New American Commentary, Broadman, 1992, p. 282). Nick’s assessment that Matthew 18:21-35 is “o
ne of the most explicit passages that someone can be forgiven and yet turn to sin and be damned” is certainly not well founded.

I encourage the audience to go back and read Nick’s opening statement, you will note that he never provides a solid exegetical basis for the claim but rather assumes his brief description of the passage is equivalent to its true meaning. His commentary runs a mere 50 words, only 19 of which is interpretation; the other 31 are just his description of the parable. I respect Nick and appreciate his zeal but this sort of exegesis simply will not wash.

5) Two important passages I quoted but didn’t see you comment upon were Luke 8:13 (“The ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away.”) and Matthew 24:12-13 (“Because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”) I want you to exegete these two passages (since the passages are similar enough), making sure to touch upon “believe for a while,” falling away, love growing cold, and “will be saved.”
In looking at Luke 8:13, it may help to look at the flow of the whole chapter. One interesting passage from Luke is Luke 8:18: “for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away." It is very telling the text says that “even what he thinks he has,” implying this person does not possess what he thinks he does! The preceding verse is Luke 8:17, which says, “For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light.” In judgment, it will made known those who are truly his own.

Before I end this section of my responses, I should make mention of the context of Luke 8, in that Luke 8:4-15 contain the Parable of the Sower. There are some related points to make here. For  example, verse 12 says the devil takes away the word “so that they may not believe and be saved.” Note that one is saved by believing and that these folks have not yet believed – they are not true believers. The next group receives it with joy (v. 13) but fall away in a time of testing. This group displays a nominal, superficial, emotional, and non-saving faith. It’s important to pick up on the fact that they have no root. It’s obvious they were never saved. The next group (v. 14) are epitomized by the rich young ruler (Luke 8:18-30), who was never a follower of Jesus. Key to understanding all this is that only the last group is called “good soil” (v. 15).

On Matthew 24:12-13 ... those of us who understand the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints to be biblically-based do not believe that every professing Christian remains a professing Christian but rather that every one who is truly Christ’s will be upheld by the power of his sure hand and therefore persevere. In Matthew 24, Jesus is speaking on persecution that will cause many professing believers to fall away. This means they will stop professing and stop associating with true believers – their love will grow cold. The threat of physical violence against them reveals their true colors; we see a similar scenario described in the book of Hebrews.

The phrase “fall away” is from skandalizo and means to stumble or to take offense; it doesn’t necessarily mean “to lose your salvation.” This makes sense in the context of the passage. We should also note the presence of false prophets in the mix. The false prophets are false believers and other false believers will follow them. All of this language makes perfect sense to describe a great shaking up in the visible church due to an increase in persecution. How else could Jesus have said it? 

One does not have to read this discourse as describing true believers losing their salvation – for the text does not demand it. If one already assumes that true believers can and do lose their salvation, then I suppose they would be so inclined to read it that way but that does not mean the text actually warrants such a reading. One other consideration is that the logic of Matthew 7:23: “And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” should factor in as we interpret what Jesus was saying here (incidentally – or not – both texts include the word ‘lawlessness’).

Some Dispensational commentators think the “saved” of Matthew 24:13 does not refer to eternal life but rather physical deliverance. While I do not think that is likely (at all), it is often to helpful to consider rival interpretations before one selects one as the best. In saying this, I know that Nick as a Roman Catholic can not do this because any rival interpretations on this chapter and these few verses do not line up with Roman Catholic teaching. I ask the reader to then consider what is a more legit handling of all the Scriptural data.

By way of illustration, as a Protestant, I could accept as possibly valid a number of views on these verses. An Arminian (as I once was) would actually agree with Nick’s/Rome’s view and so it is not “off limits” for a Protestant to consider that this verse is actually designed to teach us that true believers will lose their actual salvation. Of course, I do not think this view is accurate, but I don’t think those who think this are unbelievers per se. These are just some thoughts I hope folks honestly consider as they examine both of our arguments on these passages.

As a final remark, please keep in mind that Scripture does teach that those who are saved must necessarily persevere; meaning that if they are saved they will and if they are not, then they won’t. So, from both angles one could say perseverance is necessary. If one does not persevere then they will not be saved no matter what they professed because they were never saved anyway. Perseverance is a requirement in a sense but God equips those who are truly saved with a sovereign and sustaining grace that enables them to keep said requirement. Once again, we persevere only because he preserves – shame on us if we dare think we can do it any other way!