WORKS OF THE LAW

The works of the Law or Torah

3 O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Just as Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. Therefore, recognize that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the nations will be blessed in you.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer. 10 For all who are of works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all the things written in the book of the Law, to do them.” 11 Now, that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “the righteous one will live by faith.” 12However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, “The person who performs them will live by them.” (Gal3:1-12)

For some such as Luther, this will have been a favourite passage of Scripture. Less so for me, not because I don’t agree and delight in every word of it but because I know this whole area of Paul’s teaching has been misunderstood, for some fatally so. Everything is fine, providing one understands the context of Paul’s anti-Law tirade. It is the Torah, or rather the perverted idea that righteousness before God can be obtained by keeping it. That notion is perverted because it fails to recognize that man by nature is incapable of keeping the letter of God’s Law in view of the flesh – or as Paul aptly refers to our earthly vessel, the body of this death. Still worse, says Paul, it implies that Christ had had a wasted death (v21).

“Works of the Law” = Torah

That Paul is referring here to the Torah is indisputable. He describes it as “the Book of the Law” (v10), that is why it needed to be kept to the letter. And later in the chapter, when referring to the promise given to Abraham Paul states that “the Law which came 430 years later, cannot invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God”. That covenant promised that all nations would be blessed through Abraham, as would all those who “believed” (v9). But as ever, Abraham’s own faith was attested and his righteousness affirmed by what he did (Heb11:8). Faith invariably results in doing what God would wish us to do . That is effectively to respond to God’s law (with a small “l”). “Faith alone” is therefore a meaningless concept – as James indicated, faith that is alone is dead (2:17). And as affirmed in the previous post, James in his epistle just like Paul was referring to faith that justifies before God (2:24). Indeed, good works are so intrinsic to saving faith that Jesus does not even mention the latter at all in his definitive passage on final judgement (Mt25). Yet as I also explained last time, the “sheep” were justified by faith that prompted their acts of kindness, not the perfection of the deeds themselves. They were incapable of being performed to perfection in view of the flesh.

Love for neighbour – Paul’s summary of the law (Gal5:14)

The latter point leads us to consider what Paul really thought about God’s law: “I delight in God’s law in my inner man but I see another law in my bodily members warring against the law of my mind bringing me into captivity to the sinful law that is in my body” (Rom7:22,23).  Such delighting [συνήδομαι] is not so surprising when one grasps that the spirit and intention of God’s law can be summed up in one phrase: love for one’s fellows (Gal5:14). If that is entirely absent, one is not truly human. It in turn explains Christ’s favour towards the Mt25 sheep, who by their acts of kindness (however incomplete and inadequate) had fulfilled the spirit of the law. And such is true of all people by nature, providing they are not the seed of Satan (Mt13:38; Mt15:13; Mt25:41*; 1Jn3:12). For the person Paul depicted in Rom7 had yet to be delivered (“saved”) from the “body of this death” – the “this” referring to the inner conflict he was describing which disrupted his relationship with God), which is what Paul means by “die” and “death” in this context.

But if like Saul of Tarsus one does go on to encounter the grace of the gospel: “Don’t you know that we who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Our old self was crucified with Him in order that our body of sin might be disempowered such that we would no longer be under its sinful dominion. For what purpose? “So that the requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who no longer walk according to the flesh but according to the spirit” (Rom8:4)

Torah abolished by the Cross

The bible is essential, but unlike our Jewish forefathers the Christian no longer needs to refer to the book of Law; it is written in the heart. “For this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put My laws into their minds and write them on their hearts (Heb8:10). As for the Book of Law: Thank you Jesus: “Having cancelled the written code with its regulations that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross” (Col2:14NIV). But God’s law itself is to be delighted in. Those like King and Psalmist David who were after God’s own heart have always done so: “Blessed is the man that does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly or stand in the way of sinners but his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law does he meditate day and night” (Ps1:1-2). Back to Galatians and Paul declares that the Law (Torah) is not of faith (v12) yet the law that he spoke of in Rom7 he declared to be spiritual (v14).

Paul’s tripartite anthropology

Regrettably, some of Paul’s teaching in this area has been distorted by mistaking the human spirit for the Holy Spirit, perhaps the most important passage being (Rom8:1-17 interlinear). If you examine every reference to spirit (πνεῦμα) and observe the English translation as to whether it is spirit or Spirit, you will see it always infers the Holy Spirit (“Spirit”). Then examine the Greek and it is a very different story, and consequently has a different meaning, especially and critically verse 13. For writing to Christians, Paul declares “If you live in accord with the flesh you are about to die; but if by the spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, then you will live. Actually in this case (no pun intended), even if Paul were referring to the Holy Spirit it is still the “you” that has to mortify the flesh aided by the Spirit. In most occasions in that Rom8 passage the Greek specifies πνεῦμα (implicating the human spirit) rather than Πνεύμα (Holy Spirit or Spirit of Christ) except in the case of vv9&11 which is clearly referring to the divine personage.

The Greek text in question derives from the earliest Byzantium manuscripts, crucially drafted before the likes of 4th / 5th century Augustine and Jerome denied the tripartite nature of humanity that had been accepted by the earliest Church. Jerome was primarily responsible for the Latin Vulgate bible utilized by the Roman Catholic Church. Some later Catholic versions I have seen (e.g. New American Bible) rightly differentiate spirit from Spirit in this passage – not so, the New Jerusalem Bible. The 16th century Protestant Reformers utilized the aforementioned Greek Textus Receptus but they disregarded the early scribes’ casing of πνεῦμα/ Πνεύμα. That was to suit their own theology having, like Augustine and Jerome, rejected the Ancient Church’s (not to mention Paul’s) tripartite anthropology (e.g. 1Thes5:23).

The mystery of lawlessness

I have certainly mentioned this before and shall no doubt have to do so again as we proceed through the Pauline epistles. For it entirely changes the meaning of his teaching, affirming the believer to be very much involved and responsible for (in Paul’s language) working out his own salvation with fear and trembling – not believing it will invariably be accomplished by the Holy Spirit. In the process it brings Paul in line with every other contributor to Scripture (including Jesus and James) rather than making him out to be the extraordinary maverick that the long-held historical renderings infer.

As the late-called apostle to the Gentiles, there are legitimate distinctives to Paul’s teaching that he on two occasions refers to as “my gospel”. These pertain to the Gentiles’ unforetold spiritual inheritance and the consequential breaking down of divisions by abolishing the Torah (Eph2:13-15), a passage referring to reconciling Jews with Gentiles, not the sinner with God. Such is the context of the apostle’s anti-Law (rather than anti-law) rhetoric here in Galatians as we shall continue to discover – and with some trepidation weigh up the fuller implications of this extraordinary yet fore-ordained mystery of lawlessness.

[*Mt25:41 For “angels” in this context read human agents or messengers – Greek: ἀγγέλοιςG32 ]

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Related post: On spirit and letter

GAL2:16 FAITHFULNESS OF CHRIST

11 When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For prior to the coming of some men from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and separate himself, fearing those of the circumcision. 13 The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews? 15 “We are Jews by nature and not sinners from the Gentiles; 16εἰδότες δὲ ὅτι οὐ δικαιοῦται ἄνθρωπος ἐξ ἔργων νόμου ἐὰν μὴ διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, καὶ ἡμεῖς εἰς Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν ἐπιστεύσαμεν, ἵνα δικαιωθῶμεν ἐκ πίστεως Χριστοῦκαὶ οὐκ ἐξ ἔργων νόμου, ὅτι ἐξ ἔργων νόμου οὐ δικαιωθήσεται ⸃ πᾶσα σάρξ [Gal2:11-16]

Paul’s rebuke of Peter

The first part of the passage is relatively straightforward. Paul is confronting Peter and other Jewish believers because they stopped socializing and eating with Gentiles for fear of some who had come into the Church insisting that non-Jews be circumcised and followed other requirements of the Torah. So, whilst Peter and the like excused themselves from such requirements (i.e. lived like Gentiles), they were effectively expecting Gentile converts to live like Jews. That, as Paul rightly called it, was hypocrisy.

Then the fun begins, and it starts with the translation. In the quoted passage I have retained the Greek for verse 16 (i.e. what Paul actually wrote) as a reference point for those with some familiarity with biblical Greek. [Given the availability of interlinear translations, all that is needed to verify most of the points I raise is a good grasp of English grammar and some awareness of how, say, the genitive case was utilized in biblical Greek, discoverable on the internet].

Gal2:16 & the faithfulness of Christ

And so to the translation, but as ever there are options (i.e. ambiguities) concerning exactly how verse 16 should be translated. The translation utilized by most bible versions results in a double tautology, i.e. Paul would appear to be saying the same thing three times in the same verse – viz. “believe in Christ” (x3). “ἡμεῖς εἰς Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν ἐπιστεύσαμεν” can only be referring to the believer’s faith in Christ. Not so, “διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ” or “ἐκ πίστεως Χριστοῦ” which more commentators are coming to recognize should be treated as a subjective genitive. That is, it is not referring to a believer’s faith in Christ but to Christ’s own faithfulness in fulfilling His mission to rescue humanity. [You can see some typical discussion on the subject HERE]. Then there is the conjunction ἐὰν μὴmeaning “if not” i.e. unless or except, which has almost uniformly been disregarded in English translations [commented on HERE]. Taking these points on board, Gal2:16 should in fact read along the lines: “But knowing that a person is not justified by works of the Law except (or apart from) Jesus Christ’s faithfulness, so we have believed in Jesus Christ in order that we might be justified by Christ’s faithfulness and not by works of the Law – for no flesh can be justified by the works of law”.

Paul not to contradict Jesus’ teaching on final judgement

The yardstick I am applying throughout this process is that Paul’s teaching on faith and justification must cohere with that of Jesus, as well as every other apostle for that matter. If there appears to be a conflict, as there usually is with regard to the definitive Mt25 (sheep and goats) passage on final judgement, then either Paul (as some dare to say) is a false apostle or his teaching has been substantially misunderstood. I am affirming it is the latter. So when theἐὰν μὴ conjunction is included in v16 [which it should be – Paul wrote it, it is a part of Scripture], the inference is that works can justify in view of Christ’s saving work. But then surely that accords with Jesus’ teaching in Mt25 – the only reason provided for the “sheep” being accepted into God’s Kingdom was their acts of kindness to those in need, whom Christ as Son of Man Himself represents (Mt25:40).

But can works in themselves justify a man? By no means! “For no flesh is to be justified by works of law” (v16b). At first sight that appears to contradict what Paul has just stated in v16a. But note the change of subject from “man” (ἄνθρωπος) to “flesh” (σάρξ). Of course, σάρξ can and does sometimes represent incarnate man as a whole (e.g. Phi1:22) but more often with Paul “flesh” is referring to what I have described as the procreated intellectual vessel (i.e. body plus brain minus spirit). Paul and Peter also refer to this entity as our earthly tent or vessel (2Cor5:1; 1Thes4:4; 2Pet1:13-14) – i.e. that which is left behind when the spiritual part of us returns to God (Eccles12:7). Unlike the whole person, that fleshly part of us is morally bankrupt: “For I recognize that there is no good whatsoever within me, that is in my flesh, for the willingness to do good is indeed present but the ability to fully accomplish it (κατεργάζεσθαι) is lacking” (Rom7:18).

Paul and James concur at last

This in turn reconciles Paul with James and the writer to the Hebrews, both of whom more obviously challenge Luther’s notion of faith as primarily a trust/reliance/assurance regarding the saving work of Christ. For James writes: “Someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” (2:18). If James is to be believed (of course Luther didn’t believe him) it affirms that faith cannot be as Evangelicals usually define it. For how can one demonstrate the fact that one is “relying on Christ’s merits” or “ceasing from one’s own efforts to be righteous and looking to Christ’s finished work on the Cross” or suchlike by one’s works? Such a substantiation could equally suggest the contrary. Ah, say some, Paul and James are speaking of faith in different contexts. But clearly Paul is writing concerning faith that saves or justifies a man before God, but so is James (2:14). Likewise, the writer to the Hebrews makes clear that faith is a virtue (11:4-40) and that it pertains to seeking a reward from God (especially v6). On the face of it, it may appear that Jesus (in Mt25) and James (ch2) are suggesting that justification is on the basis of works, but that is absolutely not the case as I shall explain.

Justification by faith nothing new

Paul affirms it, justification is and always has been based on “πίστις” – faith or faithfulness. “For as it is written ‘the righteous shall live by faith’” (Rom1:17). But where is it written? In the prophecy of Habakkuk: “Behold, as for the one who is puffed up, his soul is not right within him; but one who is righteous will live by his faithfulness” (Hab2:4). “אֱמוּנָה” means firmness, fidelity or faithfulness as I have translated it. As can be examined HERE,  of the 48 occurrences of the word in the NASB , only once has it been translated as faith and that is here in Hab2:4! You will observe from the other references that it is a quality that God Himself possesses so it is most assuredly a virtue. By relating justifying faith to this verse in Habakkuk Paul is affirming that a person is justified before God in view of a virtue he or she possesses, viz.  אֱמוּנָה / πίστις / faith / faithfulness. However, unlike the Deity, humans only possess it to a degree, never to perfection. But I know a Man who does, and it is on the basis of His faithfulness that a person who exercises their own faith or faithfulness is ultimately/meritoriously justified before God [ἐκ πίστεως Χριστοῦ]. Hence “a person is not justified by works of the Law except (or apart from) Jesus Christ’s faithfulness” (Gal2:16a).

Works of themselves cannot justify

And contrary to what Jesus and James might appear to be saying, man is not justified by the works themselves. For the Mt25 sheep cannot have perfectly fulfilled God’s law of love for neighbour to its letter, but they had fulfilled the spirit of the law, as indeed must all those who are to avoid perdition (Gal5:14; Rom13:8; Rom2:13; Mt25:45). If the “sheep” had been justified by works, perfection would have been required. But (we might all agree), fallen man is incapable of such perfection in view of the flesh – hence “No flesh can be justified by works of law (Gal2:16b). That is why by the grace of God, at the universal/historical level man is justified simply by exercising a quality he possesses by nature: faith or faithfulness to the light provided to him in his spirit. It functions through the conscience such that  “When Gentiles who do not have the Law instinctively perform the requirements of the Law, these, though not having the Law, are a law for themselves in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience testifying such that their thoughts either accuse or defend their actions (Rom2:14-15). That is why the “sheep” did what they did – however imperfectly, they demonstrated love/compassion (Greek: ἀγάπη) because their “hearts” (inner man) and consciences prompted them to do so (Rom7:22).

So that is faith and justification in the historical and universal context. And as Mt25 indicates it determines whether or not one is finally accepted into God’s Kingdom. As I am more widely adducing, whether or not one is in the Covenant of Promise determines in what capacity one enters the Kingdom (cf. Rev19:7). In terms of those who through God’s elective choice are in that exclusive covenant, the criteria has changed. Their justifying marker had previously been the Law – circumcision and observance of Torah, but now it is by faith in Christ. The Law had been provided as a schoolmaster to prepare for the faith that was to come (Gal3:24). But some were not content – they had no desire to be marked out as a child of God through the merits of an accursed crucified Messiah, thank you very much. They would sooner be identified as God’s chosen people through circumcision and their own Torah observance – “the deeds of the Law”.

The context of Paul’s anti-law rhetoric

So notwithstanding what was affirmed above concerning justification being by faith not works, it is this scenario of Torah observance usurping faith in Christ as the marker for covenantal justification that is the context of Paul’s apparent anti-law rhetoric in Galatians. This is clearer later in the letter where he asks “How is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles, to which you want to be enslaved all over again? For you meticulously observe days and months and seasons and years” (4:9-10).  As I stated in the previous post, the Law (Torah) has become redundant – not so the law, the spirit of which must be fulfilled. And so it shall be wherever πίστις is present and active. Paul’s problem was that some in the Galatian church had failed to grasp that “in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love” (Gal5:6NASB). Many Christians today “get” the former point, less appreciate the latter. Nor do they discern that “being justified in Christ” is far from the end of the story (vv17-21 next post).

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PAUL VERIFIES HIS GOSPEL

2 After an interval of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also. 2It was because of a revelation that I went up; and I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but I did so in private to those who were of reputation, for fear I might be running or had run, in vain. But not even Titus, who was with me, though he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. Yet it was a concern because of the false brothers secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy on our freedom which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to enslave us. But we did not yield in subjection to them, even for an hour, so that the truth of the gospel would remain with you. But from those who were of considerable repute (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no favoritism)—well, those who were of repute contributed nothing to me. But on the contrary, seeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised (for He who was at work for Peter in his apostleship to the circumcised was at work for me also regarding the Gentiles), and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we might go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. 10 They only asked us to remember the poor—the very thing I also was eager to do. [Gal2:1-10]

As a result of the revelation Paul had referred to earlier (2Cor12:2), the apostle returned to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Titus. At the time Jerusalem was effectively Church Headquarters. That later transferred to Rome which as the Book of Acts indicates in its final chapter had always been God’s intention for the Church. For He knew what was to take place in Jerusalem in AD70, as foretold by Jesus. Such a siege would have impeded the Church’s work and evangelism for decades if not centuries. We know also that Peter died in Rome. Paul effectively affirms Peter (Cephas – note 1) to have been Christ’s chosen leader of the twelve apostles a few verses later where he writes “(the God) who was at work for Peter in his apostleship to the circumcised was at work for me also regarding the Gentiles”. For the subsequent calling of Paul to be an apostle to the Gentiles was a part of the secret plan hidden in the Father that Paul was in the process of revealing (Eph3:9) – a grasp of which is key to understanding the context of the Church and gospel salvation within broader benign providence to which I referred at the end of the previous post.

Paul verifies his understanding of the gospel

Paul writes that he verified the gospel he had been preaching to the other apostles “for fear I might be running or had run, in vain” (v2). That seemingly odd phraseology harks back to what I quoted from in the previous post concerning Paul’s depiction of the Christian pilgrimage as a race to be run and a prize to be attained (1Cor9:24). Such a description will appear particularly strange to those who, like myself in the past, understood the Christian’s position to be far removed from “running and competing in a race for a prize”. For me it was “standing in the grace of God, and resting in the Saviour’s merits, trusting in His completion of the course on my behalf”. Such psychological semantics are of themselves futile as I will continue to demonstrate. Jesus’ teaching should already make that clear, providing it is not regarded as simply “a preparation for the gospel of Paul”. So, to be on the safe side I shall demonstrate the point from the teaching of Paul. Then shall Jesus, Paul, James, Peter, and the gospel writers be at one with each other. And when that is demonstrably the case, we shall know we are in receipt of the fulness of truth.

This early part of the letter hints at what Paul’s epistle to the Galatians shall primarily concern: the distortion of the gospel by “false brethren” who had “sneaked in to spy on the freedom we have in Christ” (v4). Freedom from what? From the law? – no, from the Law [cf. Rom2:13; Rom8:4 Textus Receptus (“spirit” not “Spirit”); Gal5:14; James2:8]. [Proof texting has its limitations and is potentially dangerous; the four texts I have just quoted are mere clues or pointers – proof would be a fully coherent biblical synopsis and I believe such has now been provided].  The clue from the Galatian 2 passage is Paul’s reference to Titus who as a Greek had not been circumcised and (Paul asserts) was not required to be circumcised (v3; note Gal4:9-10 – that affirms more clearly that Paul is referring to the Torah, not God’s law in general as having no role in gospel salvation).

Light has also been shed on this matter by the discovery of Dead Sea Scrolls in the mid-twentieth century. It provides insights to the nature of first century Judaism (and more to the point the predisposition of the Judaisers Paul was dealing with). It clarifies what Paul meant by “faith” and enlightens concerning Paul’s reference on a number of occasions to the faith of Christ usually translated as faith in Christ (except the KJV). As earlier indicated, it is a distinction that is important in perceiving the broader benign providence being outlined. But as ever, I will primarily be relying on Scripture to interpret itself.

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Note 1 “Cephas” is Aramaic for “rock”, not stone as many bibles translate the name – [see Biblehub]. Likewise, the Greek form – Peter (Πέτρος) means a boulder, rock or piece of a rock larger than a stone, a stone being “λίθος”. Peter’s name could hardly have been translated into the Greek as πέτρα (a substantial rock) for that is a feminine noun. Λίθος (stone) on the other hand is masculine so if it were intended that Peter be distinguished as a stone rather than a rock the New Testament writers would have translated his name as λίθος (stone).

Related post: The True Gospel

PAUL’S PERSONAL TESTIMONY

13 You will have heard of my former way of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it; 14 and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions. 15 But when He who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace was pleased 16 to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus. 18 Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him for fifteen days. 19 But I did not see another one of the apostles except James, the Lord’s brother. 20 (Now in what I am writing to you, I assure you before God that I am not lying.) (Gal1:13-20)

Called through God’s grace

Paul was conscious that God had set him apart at birth to be “ἀπόστολος” – a delegate or messenger of God, and that message was the Gospel or “Good News”.  Paul does not speak of being called to God’s grace but through God’s grace (v15). He knows his election was entirely unmerited – he had persecuted the church and had wished to destroy it (v13). But having been elected, that is where the “all of grace” paradigm ceases. As I highlighted from Paul’s previous epistle, the Christian is set a course to run which is not dependent on grace alone but requires personal discipline and effort. What? ” Did you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win!” (1Cor9:24).

Luther’s notion that salvation consists of “being certain of God’s favour” can hardly be squared with Paul’s teaching and still more obviously diverges from that of Jesus (e.g. Mt 5:28-30). Jesus makes clear that personal effort and discipline is required to keep the procreated intellectual vessel (body and brain) in check. But so does Paul: “I keep a tight control on my body, and bring it into subjection: so that having preached to others, I myself should not be disqualified”. (1Cor9:27).

In terms of being certain of God’s favour, Paul had no assurance of future glory until he was virtually on his deathbed, knowing at that point that he had completed his course (2Tim4:7-8). In the meantime: “Brothers and sisters, I do not regard myself as having taken hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Likewise, all who have been perfected should have such an attitude; if in any respect you have a different attitude, may God reveal that to you as well” (Phil3:13-15).

In terms of what had been disclosed to the apostle, God had not only revealed His Son to Paul but in Paul (ἐν ἐμοὶ v16). That was reflected in the fact that Christ was evident in every facet of his life and behaviour. For Paul was no longer “the chief of sinners”; the context makes clear that had pertained to his previous activity as Saul of Tarsus (1Tim1vv13&15). As Paul he had told the Corinthian churches regarding himself and his fellow workers “our exalting is in the testimony of our conscience that in godly sincerity and purity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God we have conducted ourselves in the world” (2Cor1:12).

Paul’s personal testimony

Paul could claim to be as valid an apostle as those Jesus had appointed during His earthly ministry. But as the thirteenth faithful apostle there was a greater spiritual/supernatural element both to his appointment and tutelage. For he had been commissioned by the risen and glorified Lord on the road to Damascus. We are told he then spent time in Arabia, the details concerning which have not been provided but no doubt would have involved further revelations. As a result, he did not need to “consult with flesh and blood” (v16) concerning the message he was to preach. Remarkably, it was a further three years before he acquainted himself with Cephas (“the Rock”, i.e. Peter – v18) and to a lesser extent with James. As we shall see, there are aspects of the Gospel that even Peter had not fully appreciated which led to Paul needing to reprove him (chapter two).

Dire consequences of misreading Paul

More fundamentally for Christians today, there are aspects of Paul’s teaching in Galatians, especially the whole area of what he meant by “being justified by faith rather than through the deeds of Law”, a misreading of which has resulted in profound doctrinal errors being incorporated into Western theology. The leading protagonist had been Catholic Bishop Augustine of Hippo. Regarded by the later Protestant Reformers and consequently by many Evangelicals today as Paul’s most faithful interpreter of the first millennium, the African Bishop’s misreading of Paul’s teaching on law and grace, shaped by over-reactions to the errors of Pelagius [note 1] obscured the bi-fold nature of God’s economy of grace and the vastly more benevolent providence that flows from it. The angel’s message of joy for the world (Lk2:10) had, in terms of providential outcomes, been turned into a cosmic horror show.

It was primarily through Augustine’s influence that the existence of the human spirit and the natural law related to it, largely accepted by the pre-Nicene Church, came to be rejected by the mid-first millennium, certainly in the more dogmatic formularies of the Latin Church. Augustine concluded it was God’s wish that the bulk of humanity remain under condemnation, destined for eternal torment “in order that it might be shown what had been due to all” (De Civitates Dei XXI chap. 12). For he had got right the fact that Scripture indicates that proportionally few would come to a saving knowledge of Christ whilst in mortal flesh. Paul’s language throughout, including references alluded to above indicate that to be the case. Such is borne out by the subsequent course of cultural and religious history. Hence the vital need at this time to set out the context of gospel salvation within overall providence. With God’s help I believe such has been provided in The Little Book of Providence. (Now in what I am writing to you, I assure you before God that I am not lying.)

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Note#1: I am in the process of demonstrating that both Pelagius and Augustine were flawed in their respective assertions regarding free will and original sin. Fallen human nature is inherently corrupt as Augustine asserted but it is not the God-given soul that is the SOURCE of the problem but the temporary procreated intellectual vessel (body and brain – cf. Rom7:22-23). Such is the nature and consequence of original sin – not the imputation of Adam’s guilt to every soul such that even infants who die unbaptized must share the misery of the damned: “experiencing sensual pain through eternity, albeit to a mild degree” (Augustine again). In terms of free will, Pelagius was right to assert that man by nature is perfectly capable of choosing to perform actions that are righteous and pleasing to God (cf. Mt25:40). That is in view of his spirit-derived faculties, especially the conscience (cf. Rom2:14,15). However, as Paul also observed in Rom7, the spirit (or inner-man) is ever inclined to give in to the flesh (“the body of this death”) unless empowered by the Spirit of Christ. Therefore only the Christian is enabled “to possess his vessel in sanctity and honour” (1Thes4:4). And only the Christian can be saved (Rom5:10 & 7:23-24) – free to serve the living God even whilst in mortal flesh, during which time he/she can be fitted for eternal glory.

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THE TRUE GOSPEL

A letter to the Galatian churches

1 Paul, an apostle (not sent from men nor through human agency but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead) and all the brothers who are with me. To the churches of Galatia: Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forevermore. Amen.

I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel, which is not (a gospel). For there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or a messenger from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! I say again: if anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed! 10 Am I to seek the favour of God or am I striving to please people? If I were still trying to please people I would surely not be a servant of Christ. [Gal1:1-10]

Quest for the true gospel

Delving into Galatians, we come straight away to the heart of the matter – the true gospel and how it was perverted by some within the Galatian churches. The key issue is to identify the precise nature of the subversion that Paul was addressing (posts to follow). For he is shocked and disturbed (“amazed” v6) by what he has discovered so he addresses the issue from the outset. But firstly, I will comment on his opening greeting.

The two-tier benefits of the Atonement

In verse 4 he refers to Jesus Christ as the One “who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age”. Reflecting on that – if Christ’s death was exclusively to pardon sin, in what sense would that rescue the believer from the current evil age? It might rescue him or her from future punishment at God’s hands but that is not what Paul has just stated. As considered in a recent post, Christ’s atonement was unlimited, providing pardon and propitiation for all true humanity (1Jn2:2 & 3:12 ). What is limited is the number who are “saved” by participating in the life of Christ (Rom5:10).

They and only they can be delivered from the power and malign influence of the current age and its structures (κόσμος) over which the Evil One still holds sway (1Jn5:19NASB). What is more, those experiencing the participatory benefits of the Atonement, being enabled by the Holy Spirit are empowered to order their lives as God would wish them to whilst still in mortal flesh – Paul’s “body of this death” (Rom7:24-25). Hence: “He died for all so that those who live would no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose on their behalf” (2Cor5:15).

Paul’s extraordinary repetition

I have made the point previously that Paul is not inclined to waste his words. That is why a verse we shall come across in the next chapter (2:16) is demonstrably mistranslated in many English versions of the bible. The translators have failed to differentiate between “διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ” referring to the faithfulness of Christ” and “εἰς Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν ἐπιστεύσαμεν” referring to the Christian’s faith in Christ. Most translations effectively make Paul out to be saying the same thing three times over in that one verse. More importantly it obscures a lexical distinction that is vital to understanding Paul in the context of the broader benign providence I have been outlining.

But here in the opening chapter of Galatians Paul is repeating himself and blatantly so: “If we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to YOU, he is to be accursed!” [repeat]. But why have I highlighted “you”? From Paul’s perspective the key word would have been “we” (Paul and his fellow workers). Not so today – for it refers to the gospel the Galatian churches will have heard from Paul. Regrettably that is not necessarily the gospel you or I may have heard from those who first evangelized us. Indeed, I know that to be so in my case – the Spirit has revealed it to me. And He repeated Himself fourteen years later as I disclosed a few posts ago, albeit revealing new facets of the error and its originators.

A gospel subverted

For many, my presentation of the gospel will be in Paul’s words “contrary to what you have received”. But I say again, the “you” Paul refers to pertains to the first century Christians to whom he was writing. So in the present day context I would say: If I should proclaim a gospel contrary in nature and tenor to that which I firmly believe the Galatian churches heard from Paul, let me be accursed. And if I present a message that the churches of the late first and second century would fail to recognize as the Gospel, likewise [note#1].

Of course, what the Galatians, Ephesians, Romans and every other late first century church first heard from Paul is the point of contention. For it is dependent on the interpretation of his writing. If that is sometimes abstruse (which it undoubtedly is), it is because Paul was writing pastoral letters, not constructing an orderly comprehensive theological treatise.

But what the second century church unitedly understood by the gospel has been more comprehensively and intelligibly recorded by the likes of 2nd century Irenaeus and 3rd century Church historian Eusebius. It is available on internet for anyone to examine. I delight in such writing, for it affirms God’s intelligible goodness and universal justice. It acknowledges effectual free will (to do good and perform that which is pleasing to God, not to be saved in the gospel sense). It affirms a tripartite theology resulting in a positive role for natural law (which I have recently shown is not unconnected to the Atonement for it is Christ’s law – Jn1:3). Most significantly in the context of the process in hand, it portrays a sacerdotal church, hierarchal in structure, administering sacred mysteries that were understood to be indispensable for salvation.

For thanks to the internet and the availability of digital printing, there is no longer anywhere for intransigent defenders of any particular tradition to hide. Nor is it as easy for the Christian laity (ordinary believers) to be shielded from historical realities that challenge their pastoral overseers’ assertions.

No easy path to reunification

But as a first step it is surely right and just that the hearts of the fathers be turned towards the children. And half a century ago, the Roman Catholic Church from which the children of the Reformation had departed, pleasingly and seemingly without precedent acknowledged a measure of error: “We humbly beg pardon of God and of our separated brothers and sisters, just as we forgive them that trespass against us” [Unitatis Redintegratio 21st Nov 1964 – para 7]. But she surely needs to go much further and acknowledge the historical fallibility of the Roman Catholic Church regarding matters of substantial importance, albeit not directly pertaining to gospel salvation (in the inclusive sense – note 2). Such errors include much pre-Conciliar teaching on God’s perceived intentions towards those outside the Catholic Church. That had profoundly detracted from God’s intelligible goodness, His loving nature and providential care.

For let us be frank, the Catholic Church’s earlier narrow Augustinian-derived providential perspective had been subverted at Vatican II and necessarily so. Yet precisely how “all people of good will” are justified in God’s sight was not underpinned or integrated with the rest of Scripture, nor could it be without substantial deconstruction. In its present form, the Church’s more benevolent teaching will also be perceived by many as detracting from the essentiality of gospel, church and sacrament. But not, I humbly submit, as reformulated within the Little Book of Providence. Regarding the Eastern Orthodox Church, in a very positive sense she is the proverbial elephant in the room within these considerations, indeed within the whole Reformation debate.

As for yours truly – “Am I to seek the favour of God or am I striving to please people? If I were still trying to please people I would surely not be a servant of Christ”.

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  • Note#1 There would be aspects the 2nd century church would not be familiar with partly in view of authentic development/insights through the centuries and partly because Scripture indicates there are concepts that were never intended to be grasped until the very end. But fundamentals such as divine and human nature, saving faith, free will, the role of natural law and the sacraments cannot have been turned on their head.
  • Note #2. All that was necessary for salvation has been provided but not all deemed to be necessary is in fact necessary.

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2COR13 EXAMINE YOURSELVES

13 This is the third time that I am coming to you. On the testimony of two or three witnesses every matter shall be confirmed. I have previously said when I was present the second time, and though now absent I say in advance to those who have sinned in the past and to all the rest as well, that if I come again I will not spare anyone… Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless that is you fail the test? But I expect that you will realize that we ourselves do not fail the test. Now we pray to God that you do nothing that is evil; not so that we ourselves may be shown to have been right, rather that you do what is virtuous so that we will appear to have been in error (concerning you). For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. For we rejoice when we ourselves are weak, but you are strong; this we also pray for, that you become mature. 10 For this reason I am writing these things while absent, so that when present I need not use severity, in accordance with the authority which the Lord gave me for building up and not for tearing down. 11 Finally, brothers, rejoice, mend your ways, be comforted, be like-minded, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All the saints greet you. 14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen. (2Cor13:1-2;5-14)

Regrettably Paul must end his second letter to the Corinthian church on a stern note. He urges them to mend their ways, to mature, and above all, live in peace with each other so that “the God of love and peace shall be with them” (v11). As I mentioned a few posts ago, we have evidence to show that such is unfortunately not how things turned out [Letter from Clement, Bishop of Rome c. AD96]. At the same time Clement (almost certainly the fellow worker Paul had referred to in Phil4:3) made it clear at the start of his letter that this was the result of a minority party within the church who nevertheless managed to wreak havoc.

Examine yourselves regarding the Faith

Paul had urged individual members of Corinthian church to “Test yourself as to whether you are in the faith – for don’t you realize Christ is in you, unless of course you fail the test” (v5). So how were they to test themselves – by questioning themselves along the lines of whether they were truly “looking to Christ’s finished work at Calvary and resting in the merits He had accrued on their behalf”? As we shall see, that cannot be the case. Still less, “boldly trusting in God’s grace, so certain of God’s favour that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it” (à la Luther). If you have read carefully through this epistle and certainly if you have taken any note of my comments on it, it is evident that cannot be what Paul will have had in mind.

Cooperating with grace

Such psychologically focussed analysis opposes the whole tenor of his teaching and evangelism. That had emphasized righteous living and self-control in the light of the judgement to come as a trembling Governor Felix had discovered (Acts24:25). And it was Paul’s emphasis with respect to his own salvation and ministry: “That is why I strictly discipline my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others I myself will not be disqualified” (1Cor9:27NASB). His pastoral dilemma with the Corinthians had not been their failure to rely on God’s grace but their behaviour: “strife, jealousy, bad tempers , selfishness, slanders, gossip, arrogance, disturbances, impurity, sexual immorality and indecent behaviour” – and that was just the previous chapter (12:20-21).

Christ in you – the hope of glory

It is why the apostle goes on to challenge them: “Don’t you realize that Jesus Christ is in you, if indeed you pass the test of being in the Faith?” (v5). Christ being in someone means they become like Christ and behave more as He would do. It is not a question of being able to say or sing: “Here in the grace of God I stand” – it concerns what one does and what one is. Or rather, it pertains to what one has become through the grace of God. For, don’t misunderstand me, apart from God’s enabling grace, the Holy Spirit’s energies and participating in the means of grace there is not a chance that anyone could be “presented faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy” (Jude1:24). But it is a case of cooperating with God’s grace, not merely resting in it. For as that same apostle had also written to fellow-worker Titus: “the grace of God resulting in salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age,  looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ (Tit2:11-13). Hence the benediction: “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen” (v14).

Related post: False Apostles

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FOURTEEN IN THE BIBLE

The number fourteen – its significance in the bible and in my own life

The number fourteen in the Bible is symbolic of salvation or rescue. It happens to be twice seven, a number which itself represents divine power and perfecting in the sense of making complete. Thanks to the internet tools at our disposal, we can easily analyse how and when fourteen (or any number) occurs in Scripture. What is important is not so much frequency but context. For example, in the NASB, “fourteen” or “fourteenth” occurs 45 times whilst “fifteen” of “fifteenth” occurs 37 times, but the key is the context of each occurrence. Fourteen more frequently has the more obvious symbolism. Bible gateway lists every occurrence HERE.

Defeating Satan’s seed

The first reference to fourteen years (Gen14:5) concerns the defeat of certain satanic hybrids (Rephaim, Zuzim and Emim) that occupied the territories that would eventually become the promised land. These hybrids/giants originated from the union of the fallen watchers with women referred to in the opening verses of Gen6, and that union was the ultimate reason for the universal flood. Such a drastic remedy had been needed to rid humanity of these hybrids’ corrupting influence. But, as God well knew and intended, they resurfaced again through the seed of Ham (who had uncovered his father Noah’s nakedness) transmitted through his accursed son Canaan. For whilst Noah, his wife and children will have been genetically pure, at least one of the sons’ wives was not.

 As referenced in the previous post this is another example of God utilizing Satan and his seed (Gen3:15) for His own ends. This time it would be so that the territories (i.e. the promised land) He had reserved for His chosen people could legitimately be ethnically cleansed. Bible narrative affirms that God had insisted that all men, women and children of these territories be destroyed in His peoples’ battles with the Canaanites. Cruel and Harsh? No, quite essential, not only for the destiny of His chosen people and to protect the familial lineage of the Messiah, but for the rest of humanity. [The Book of Enoch elucidates – see below]. These hybrids and the people they contaminated had also been responsible for the tower of Babel and the activities of Sodom and Gomorrah – again through the seed of Ham.

God so loved the world that He would later send His Son to redeem it. However, for the best of reasons He does not love Satan and his seed – they have never benefitted from His redeeming purposes for the world, for their patriarch wishes to ruin it and its inhabitants. Consequently, Christ’s Passion does not avail for such as these.  That only benefits (at two levels) those who are of God, having been created in His image; people who are demonstrably human (Mt25:40; 1Jn4:7). I have focussed on this first reference in the bible to fourteen for a failure to grasp the reality of the satanic strain within humanity (who are no longer in the form of giants) distorts the perception both of divine and human nature. And that is exactly what has happened within Western theology. For, on various fronts, what in reality is three has been diminished to two (cf. 1Thes5:23; 1Jn5:6-8; 1Jn2:2). Arithmeticians may take the point.

The Passover

Skimming through the other references to fourteen in the bible, undoubtedly the most significant one in the Old Testament is the Passover (Ex12:18). It commemorates the Jews’ deliverance from the bondage of Egypt and is celebrated on the fourteenth day of the first month. That in turn was a foreshadowing of the Christian Pasch when through the sacrifice of the Lamb of God and the application of the merits of His blood, a way was made for humanity to be freed from the bondage of sin.

Regarding the animals involved in the various Jewish sacrifices, the seven-day Feast of Tabernacles is noteworthy in the numerical context. On each day the number of male lambs to be sacrificed remains at fourteen whilst the number of other animals varied by the day. In the aptly entitled Book of Numbers we read in the 29th chapter that on the first day of the seven-day feast, 13 bulls, 2rams and 14 lambs were to be offered. On day two it was to be 12 bulls, 2 rams and 14 lambs. On day3 it was (you’ve guessed it) 11 bulls, 2 rams and 14 lambs and likewise down to day seven when 7 bulls 2 rams and 14 lambs were sacrificed. The bulls, usually representing peace/reconciliation with God reduced day by day but the number of the day plus the number of bulls is always 14, likewise the number of lambs representing atonement for sin.

New Testament

In the opening chapter of the New Testament, the genealogy concerning “the generations of Jesus Christ”, focusses on the number fourteen. In summary Matthew records: “So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations”.

In the most detailed account in Acts of one of Paul’s shipwrecks, the apostle recounts that their deliverance came on the fourteenth day, the whole ship’s company being spared (27:33-35). And in my previous post Paul recounted that it was fourteen years since he had had his revelation from God.

Why fourteen?

Returning to the Old Testament there is a verse which perhaps most clearly affirms the significance of the number fourteen: “Solomon held the feast at that time, and all Israel with him, a great assembly from the entrance of Hamath to the brook of Egypt, before the Lord our God, for seven days and seven more days, that is, fourteen days” (1Kings8:65). Note the longwinded account of the period being “seven days and seven days more, that is fourteen days”. It is surely to affirm that fourteen is significant because it is twice seven. The perfecting work of God symbolized by the number seven is doubly enforced.

Personal significance

If you read my brief testimony in the previous post you may have noticed that fourteen years (or its multiples) has been significant in my spiritual journey, in fact on reflection since the day I was born. That was the day after my father’s 42nd (3×14) birthday. Like his, my birth was on the last day of February which would normally be the 28th (2×14) but in my case it was the 29th, 1952 being a leap year. In non-leap years I celebrate my birthday on the 28th for, after all, I was born in February, not March. On the spiritual front I was converted in 1970 and remained at the church of my conversion for fourteen years before relocating for work purposes from London to Liverpool (late 1984). That was not especially significant in terms of my spiritual development although my home church had been strictly conservative Evangelical whereas the assembly I moved to in North West England was more Pentecostal (dancing in the isles and the like). My perspective was certainly broadened at that point.

Far more significant was what happened fourteen years after that – Christmas Day 1998. That was the first spiritual encounter I referred to in the last post resulting in my conversion a year later to the Catholic faith. Rounded to the nearest whole year it was then a further fourteen years (Spring 2013) that the second more powerful spiritual experience occurred. That did not affect my denominational allegiance, but it did mean I could no longer support all the Roman Church’s teachings. That especially (hopefully exclusively) applied to those distinctive doctrines that had resulted from Augustine’s substantial input back in the fifth century. In virtually all cases, the doctrines I no longer supported had historically been rejected by the Eastern Orthodox Church. What is more, the harshest of these had effectively been rescinded at Vatican II [concerning the eternal fate of those outside the Catholic Church and unbaptized infants].

That second spiritual encounter occurred almost immediately after I had started writing my first book. At that point I changed its title from “The Gospel of the Kingdom” to “The Fellowship of the Secret” (quoting Eph3:9KJV – mystery/secret same word in biblical Greek). For I came to understand that what Paul was indicating in Ephesians 3 and Romans 11 had wondrous implications to divine providence and also the nature of the age to come; implications that previously I and seemingly everyone else appear to have been unaware of.

So what?

The reason for this seemingly self-indulgent supplementary testimony was prompted by the previous post concerning Paul’s vision and his reference to fourteen years. For unlike the prophets and apostles of the bible I have not been given cast-iron affirmation that what I am seeking to impart through my book and in these posts is from God and is what He intends the churches to hear at this time. Consequently, I have to look for signs and affirmations, including what some Christians would describe as God-incidencies. But having done so I am convinced that what I have been shown is genuinely prophetic. That does not rest on this observation that 7/14/28 have been extraordinarily significant numbers in my life. My primary conviction arises from the two experiences with the Holy Spirit I have mentioned and to a lesser extent the numerous supernatural (likely demonic) audio-messages that have been opposing or seeking to mock what I am doing.

The litmus test

But as previously intimated, the litmus test for any biblical insight, especially one as expansive as mine is its ability or otherwise to provide a coherent synopsis of the whole bible. Better still if in the process it helps to explain or throw light on the ultimate mystery of the universe. That from a Christian perspective is surely the context of evil and suffering within the providence of a God who the bible declares to be love personified. If you have read “The Little Book of Providence” (freely available as a PDF) and are convinced in your mind and conscience that it fails to achieve that, it may safely be ignored. Otherwise continue to watch this space.

And if, as appears to be the case for more Christians today, you are open to examining  the end-time prophecies of the Book of Enoch, then do so.  That literature was revered as inspired by the early fathers of the Church yet it was rightly excluded from the biblical canon in view of the degree of variations in manuscripts. But note the opening verse: “The words of blessing from Enoch by which he shall bless the elect and the righteous who will be alive at the time of tribulation when all the wicked and godless are to be removed (from the Earth)” (Enoch1 ch1 v1). The book throws considerable light on matters referred to at the start of this post concerning the fallen angels’ interactions with humanity. And, as indicated in its opening verse, the book claims to be especially relevant to the generation of Christians who shall live to see the Parousia – on account of what shall be revealed to them.

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PAUL’S VISION

12 I will now go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ, who fourteen years ago—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—who was caught up to the third heaven. And I know how such a man 4was caught up into Paradise and heard unutterable words, which a man is not permitted to speak…

In view of the extraordinary nature of the revelations and to keep me from exalting myself, I was given a thorn in the flesh, an agent of Satan to torment me. Concerning this I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in distresses, in persecutions, in difficulties, in behalf of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong. [2Cor12:1-4;7-10]

Paul’s vision and the “third heaven”

Although Paul refers to the individual in the third person, it is clear that he is the man who had been caught up into heaven. That follows from the fact that a “thorn in the flesh” was given to Paul in view of the visions and revelations he had received. In terms of the apostle’s reference to “the third heaven”, that is most likely simply a point of clarification. For as well as referring to the realm in which God dwells with His angels and the souls of the departed, “heaven” in the bible can also refer to the earthly atmosphere (as in Gen8:2) and the stars and planets beyond it (Gen22:17). So, Paul is unlikely to be referring to a particular department or hierarchy within God’s heavenly habitation.

But that is not to say that that realm is in any sense egalitarian. For angels and human souls once resurrected are material entities occupying a particular space. They cannot all be proximate to the divinity. There is already a hierarchy (in terms of proximity and involvement with the Godhead) within the angelic realm (e.g. Lk1:19). Jesus is adamant that such will be the case with redeemed humanity, and, after all, He should know (Mt19:28-30; Mk10:40; Rev3:4).  

A thorn from whom?

The thorn in the flesh Paul received will have been a physical ailment or discomfort that he experienced, in his own words “to keep me from exalting myself”. That was in view of the revelations he received which I’ll come to in a moment. But notice God’s economy here – it is symptomatic of the much bigger picture I have been disclosing. It was an agent of Satan who provided this physical misery for Paul and no doubt had a great time doing it. But at who’s instigation? Clearly it was God, for Satan would have been delighted if Paul had exalted himself with pride at what had been disclosed to him. The Lord and His faithful apostle knew better: “I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in distresses, in persecutions, in difficulties on behalf of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (v10).

Satan to be humiliated

The main point I am making is that Satan, not for the first time, effectively acts as God’s unwitting lackey. For as is the case here, the discomfort he or one of his minions is causing is at God’s behest. Old Testament Job was a more substantial example of this extraordinary arrangement (and it is an arrangement – note the dialogue between God and Satan in Job1:6-12). Moving to the global level Satan’s malign activity and the temporary authority he has been given is also at God’s behest (Lk4:6; Jn12:31), fulfilling as it does His purposes for humanity. It is through this mystery that mere children of dust shall come to fulfil a wondrous destiny. It is a destiny that Lucifer and many of his associates simply were not willing to tolerate (cf. Heb2:5-9) whilst other angels who remained faithful are nevertheless intrigued (1Pet1:12).

Mankind’s adversary falls for the bait

The devil’s offensive against God’s humanity project started at Eden resulting in “the Fall”. It was completed at Calvary resulting in the Jewish Messiah being crucified at the insistence of His own people. These appeared to be diabolical victories, yet they will result in Satan and his party’s calamitous humiliation. For, by his successful beguiling of Eve and its dire consequences both for the human race and the One who would be required to redeem it, mankind’s Adversary has unwittingly played right into God’s hands. He has ensured that the One who after the Father had occupied the highest place that heaven affords be incarnated as a Man and become most intimately associated with human beings rather than angels. At the same time, through the evil he released and the suffering that comes with it, the devil has provided the necessary grist (cf. Rom8:17) by which mere children of dust should ultimately come to achieve apotheosis.

Once that mystery has been apprehended, the ultimate mystery of the universe can itself be resolved (cf. Rev10:7). For it becomes evident why the God who is love personified permitted (or as Paul intimates in Rom8:20, facilitated) the process by which evil and its resultant suffering should enter and continue in the world to this day. For God loves humanity so much that He intends that some to whom He provides the necessary means of grace become fitted to be His Son’s corporate Bride (Rev19:7). Rom8:20-21 and more particularly Heb2:10 provide more biblical evidence for what is being presented here – a fuller explanation is set out in the final (seventh) chapter of  The Little Book of Providence.

My spiritual encounter

For I too claim to have received a revelation from the Holy Spirit (two in fact, coincidently(?) 14 years apart). I also received some angry emanations from a very different spiritual source which I have only discussed with one other person, being my closest non-Christian friend. (I had no choice – she personally witnessed it). Such words that were intelligible (i.e. human and in English) were cryptic but I believe I got the gist. But then as Paul wrote, there are words and revelations from the spiritual realm that “should not be spoken of by any man”, and by implication to any man (v3). That is for the sake of faith, intended to be the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things that are not currently seen (Heb11:1).

In terms of exegetical insights which I believe were received under the influence of the Holy Spirit, I am in the process of imparting them. It is essentially an extensive reinterpretation of the bible, especially as it has been understood in the Western Church. That particularly applies to the Protestant Evangelical theology I adhered to for the first 28 years of my Christian life. As you may have noticed, the way I have come to understand matters turns the distinctive teachings of the Reformers on their head. The resulting synopsis has been set out in the aforementioned book.  It is radical for sure, and no doubt poorly written in view of my non-academic background . However, in my own estimation it is entirely coherent. That is surely the litmus test for any claimed new biblical insights, but one that others need to assess. As I have frequently pointed out and hopefully demonstrated from their writings, my interpretations would have appeared far less radical to fifth century Augustine’s Christian antecedents.

Hopefully that will also be the case for more open-minded Christians today, perhaps most especially those within Eastern Orthodoxy. They will already be familiar with the notion of mankind’s deific destiny. And although still officially recognized as a Saint, their Church rejected much of Augustine’s distinctive teaching on law, grace and original sin with its resultant dire prognosis for humanity as a whole. And they are still further removed from the theology and church polity of Protestant Evangelicalism.

“Gospel” means Good News

In contrast to the latter party’s various depictions of what is intended to be Good News, what Paul heard and witnessed within the confines of the third heaven will certainly have been in line with the message of the Christmas angels to the shepherds: glad tidings / great joy / all people (Lk2:10). For what was revealed to Paul clearly filled him with joy, so much so that he needed a satanically imparted physical affliction to keep him from bursting. Nearly 2000 years later we are much closer to knowing more of the nature of that revelation. And it is likely to be worth the wait, for as the same apostle had written earlier: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for those that love Him” (1Cor2:9).

And many more may come to love Him once a certain prophecy has been fulfilled. Namely that the proportional few who currently praise God for what they understand to be His gracious dealings exclusively towards themselves shall be enhanced by many more who come to adore the Creator for what He is (cf. Ps119:7). For such will have been enlightened concerning His munificent providence, His intelligible goodness and  gracious intentions towards all people of good will.

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FALSE APOSTLES

12  What I am doing I must continue to do, so that I may eliminate the opportunity for (such men) to be regarded just as we (apostles) are in the matter about which they are boasting. 13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light15 Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will be according to their deeds. (2Cor11:12-15)

Re chapters 8-10

My previous post concerned 2Cor7. I have skipped through to chapter 11 for the intervening chapters contained little pure theological content. Applied theology for sure; they provided insights into Paul’s pastoral oversight of the fledgling churches. The apostle was pleased at hearing the report from Titus; in particular that the Corinthian church had repented in response to his letter of rebuke. He also urged the church to follow through their commitment to contribute to a collection for the suffering Christians in Jerusalem. Chapter ten continues the pattern of Paul’s letter, as he deals with various matters. He also tackles a personal charge against himself; that he is too unimpressive in person to be a true apostle of Christ. But he was a true apostle, unlike some who should follow him.

Chapter 11

Coming to chapter 11 it is evident that Paul still has concerns about the Church at Corinth.

I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his trickery, your minds will be led astray from sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if one should come and preach another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you would tolerate it very well!” (vv2-4) 

Paul warns of false apostles

Two things concerned Paul; firstly, that false teachers would come along and preach a false gospel; secondly, that the Corinthian Church would fall for it. Consequently, they would be “led astray from sincere and pure devotion to Christ”. Regrettably, history proved Paul to be right on both counts regarding the Church at Corinth. That is affirmed by the letter of Clement, Bishop of Rome to the Corinthians, thought to be penned around 96AD. That re-iterated some of Paul’s concerns and referred to sedition against the established Church leaders.

The letter is almost certainly authentic and offers valuable evidence about the state of the ministry in the early church. But it also provides insights into matters theological. So on a personal note, in spite of its somewhat admonishing tone, Clement’s  letter  fills me with delight. For it is further reassurance that the understanding I have come to regarding faith, salvation and providence is the truth from God. That is not least because the Augustinian-derived “theology of sovereign grace”  built on and reinforced by the Protestant Reformers is nowhere to be found. Indeed I propose that it is barely detectable in  any of the writings of the pre-Nicene Church Fathers. That is all the more significant given that the likes of Irenaeus and Eusebius testified to the unity of doctrine in the churches of the second century.

Seeming servants of righteousness

In terms of the 2Cor passage, Christians of all traditions are likely to agree with Paul’s statement concerning “false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ”. The issues of course are who they are, when they arrived (or shall arrive) and how they should be identified (v13). It is certainly not by their outward manner or seemingly pious teaching. “For even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light so it is hardly surprising if his servants disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end shall be according to their deeds” (vv14,15). In terms of historical figures, for “deeds” read “legacy”; i.e. their impact on the Faith, the Church and the world. As for possible current and future candidates, one should consider motives, manner and above all what is likely to be their impact should they succeed in their endeavours.

What of “yours truly”?

So, should someone writing as I do fall under suspicion?  Absolutely, without a doubt, no question about it, especially if he or she begins to receive more attention. So, I had better briefly restate my motives and intentions. It is to reveal the thoroughly intelligible nature of God’s goodness and justice; also the magnanimity of His providence towards humanity as a whole. Regrettably, that involves revisiting and deconstructing some established biblical interpretations and doctrines. I have concluded that especially applies to those distinctive doctrines of Augustine that were built upon and reinforced by the Protestant Reformers. The resulting biblical synopsis has been set out in “The Little Book of Providence”.

Related to that task is a quest to heal and re-unite the Church. Surely a worthy end in itself but it is also the only way that a coherent gospel could be presented to the World (Mt24:14). Such will not be achieved by a particular tradition being able to say “Told you so”. There needs to be an acknowledgement of error from all sides, more especially on the western front. No doubt that is because Eastern Orthodoxy has been less influenced by Augustine whilst her own theology is less systematized, less dogmatic and more accepting of mystery.

Errors fatal to the gospel

Some errors have been fatal to the gospel and so frankly are unsustainable. For example, Christian unity and coherent gospel evangelism cannot possibly be achieved whilst there are such fundamentally divergent perspectives on the Eucharist. Are the closely related Roman Catholic Mass and Divine Liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox Church divinely ordained pure re-presentations of Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice at Calvary or are they age-enduring ceremonies of blasphemy? Are the bread and wine merely symbolic or do they actually become for the believer the body and blood of the Lord, essential for ongoing forgiveness and eternal Life?

Reasons to be hopeful

Biblical interpretation alone has not and will not resolve that matter – we have also to examine Church history. I am well aware that the potential implications of doing so will be too drastic for some even to contemplate. Yet I believe a resolution will occur, especially in view of Mt24:14 and Mal4:5-6. In terms of the broader benign providence I have been outlining, Rev10:9-10 and (more speculatively) Enoch93:8-10 and 104:11-13 suggest it is appropriate to expect such a joyous disclosure.

 My involvement came about as a result of what I am clear were (two) encounters with the Holy Spirit. So like Paul I must say “What I am doing I must continue to do” (v12). Thanks to the internet, verifying (or disproving) unexpected new perspectives becomes a practical option for the many. But as the end of the age approaches, the false apostles and deceitful workers Paul warns us about are all the more likely to abound. Again, thanks to the internet, devious “servants of the devil” or more likely the simply deluded will struggle to make much headway. But neither shall intransigent traditionists be able to defend the indefensible for very much longer.

Related post: Examine yourselves

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UNEQUALLY YOKED?

 

14 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. FOR WHAT DO RIGHTEOUSNESS AND LAWLESSNESS SHARE TOGETHER, or what does light have in common with darkness? 15 Or what harmony does Christ have with Belial, or what does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16 Or what agreement does the temple of God have with idols?

For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I will dwell among them and walk among them; And I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 17 Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord. And do not touch what is unclean; And I will welcome you. 18 And I will be a father to you. You shall be sons and daughters to Me,” says the Lord Almighty. 7 1Therefore, having these promises, beloved, LET US CLEANSE OURSELVES FROM ALL DEFILEMENT OF FLESH AND SPIRIT perfecting holiness in the fear of God (2Cor6:14-7:1).

Righteousness unequally yoked with lawlessness

Returning to 2Cor it is interesting in the context of my recent posts that when warning Christians against being “unequally yoked” [Greek: ἑτεροζυγοῦντες] , i.e. partnered with non-believers, the first contrast Paul highlights is between righteousness and lawlessness [Greek: ἀνομίᾳ] (v14). For as recently considered regarding Luther’s Heidelberg theses, the Christian must actually fulfil the spirit of God’s Law. “The requirement of the Law is fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the spirit”(Rom8:4). And unlike many later bible translators, the early scribes who penned the Textus Receptus knew Paul to be referring to the human spirit not the Holy Spirit, hence  πνεῦμα, not Πνεύμα [Rom8:4 Greek – note#1].

Flesh versus spirit

It goes back to Romans chapter 7 where Paul contrasted the instincts of the flesh and the human spirit. For Christians, who Paul reminds us here have collectively become the temple of the living God (v16), there is also a conflict between the flesh and the Holy Spirit.

But that is not what Paul was referring to in Romans 7. For he wrote: “I find a principle that evil is in me, the one who wants to do good  I joyfully agree with God’s law in the inner person  but see a different law in my body.  It wages war against the law of my mind. It makes me a prisoner of the law of sin, the law which is in my body’s parts” (vv21-23).  Clearly, Paul cannot have been referring to the Holy Spirit but his true inner self when he wrote “I joyfully agree with the law of God in the inner person”.

 The problem for the non-believer with whom Paul is saying the Christian should not be partnered is that they have not been provided with the spiritual resources to overcome the instincts of their procreated intellectual vessel (1Thes4:4). That is why Paul in that same passage wrote “Who can deliver me from the body of this death? – I thank God it is through Jesus Christ”. How does Christ deliver (i.e. save) Paul and other true disciples from being “a prisoner to the law of sin that is in the body”? It is by participating in Christ’s life: “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by Christ’s death, now being reconciled we shall be saved by His life”. (Rom5:10). As to what such participation with Christ is saving us from it is indeed that “body of this death” and the lawlessness that results from it.

Working out one’s own salvation

All of which brings us back to the opening verse. “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers; for what do righteousness and lawlessness share together, or what does light have in common with darkness”? (v14). Rather, “having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit; perfecting holiness in the fear of God (concluding verse). Or as Paul says elsewhere: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil2:12).

The course that those who are to be the saints of God has been set is an arduous one. And although dependent on grace it requires personal cooperation with the work of the Holy Spirit as well as self-discipline. We have to cleanse ourselves of all defilements of the flesh and spirit; perfecting holiness in the fear of God (closing verse).  That latter phrase makes it clear Paul is not speaking merely of an act of faith but a personal engagement in the process of sanctification.

No “easy believism” with Paul

Luther had been renowned for saying “Let your sins be strong [or sin boldly] but let your trust in Christ be stronger still”. That is about as valid a piece of advice for the Christian as his redefinition of faith: “A living, bold trust in God’s grace, so certain of God’s favour that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it”.

 If saving faith were merely the possession of the state of mind of being sure of God’s favour; or indeed anything along the lines of “looking to the finished work of Christ and appropriating it to myself”, or “believing in my heart that Jesus had died for me, much of Christ’s own teaching becomes irrelevant and Paul would not have gone on to write what he did. In particular, “I strictly discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified (1Cor9:27). Similarly, “Brothers, I do not regard myself as having attained to it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phi3:13-15).

And what a prize it is for those who complete the course! (2Tim4:7). To be joint heirs with Christ, destined for honours concerning which I hardly dare speak (Rev3:21 &19:7). But then did you not know that those who run in a race all run but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win! (cf. 1Cor9:24).

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Notes

Note#1 The Biblehub I use to verify the Greek text utilizes the highly regarded “Nestle 1904” version of the Textus Receptus. The Protestant Reformers generally followed this when translating the English Authorized Version of the Bible. However in the case of Paul’s epistles they often overturned the casing of Spirit/spirit (Πνεύμα/ πνεῦμα). That was in accordance with their all-of-grace theological perspective. Neither would most have accepted the biblical teaching that man consists of body, soul and spirit (1Thes5:23; Heb4:1).

The LITTLE BOOK OF PROVIDENCE: a seven-part synopsis of the bible

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Related post: Luther law and gospel   &  The theology of sovereign grace   &   Paul's theology of glory   &    Limited atonement?

A book exploring the mystery of divine providence

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