LET’S START AT THE VERY BEGINNING

“Creation made in an instant” according to the deuterocanonical Old Testament book of Sirach

Few if any Christians these days will regard the opening chapters of Genesis as in the remotest sense a scientific account of the creative processes. Even fifth century Augustine was unsure about the six days of creation, siting the deuterocanonical book of Sirach which referred to creation being made in an instant (Creavit omni simul – Big Bang?!); apart from which a “day” is of course a measurement derived from the heavens which were deemed to have been created on “day” #4.

But what must not be regarded as purely figurative or symbolic in the Genesis account is the fact that man was made in God’s image (Gen1:26,27). Yet as Paul affirms God is invisible (Col1:15; 1Tim1:17), so that “image” must relate at least in part to God’s character or nature. Even fallen man is to be regarded in such a way according to Genesis (9:6). Of course, that image has been besmirched by the Fall but not obliterated. And for the Christian, potentially he/she may attain the mind of Christ (1Cor2:16). God’s nature then cannot be entirely unfathomable to human reason for faithful Christians already partake of the divine nature (2Pet1:4) – it’s God’s ways and methods that the Bible indicates are inclined to be incomprehensible, and so they have been according to this disclosure.

Returning to the divine nature, if man has been made in God’s image, and that is being restored in the Christian such that he/she may have the mind of Christ, it follows that such noble qualities that mankind at his best can possess must mirror, in measure, those same qualities possessed by God as they are delineated in Scripture, and  have also been acted out in the earthly ministry and Passion of Jesus, the incarnated Word. God’s love, compassion and forgiving nature combined with His hatred of injustice, debauchery and cruelty may be different in degree but cannot be different in nature from how man understands such qualities, contrary to the teaching of certain influential theologians of the past in order to justify their paradoxical conceptions of God’s “love” within their theology and the dire cosmic outcomes that derive from it. When on the other hand nature and outcome are seen to tally, regardless of the means to attain it and Scripture finally coheres such that the teaching of Yahweh, His Son and each apostle coalesce, then shall not the mystery of God have been completed? (cf. Rev10:7-8)

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Related post: Protoevangelium

THE CHURCH’S ROLE WITHIN DIVINE PROVIDENCE

There are aspects concerning broader providence that have eluded Christian theologians ever since a comprehensive biblical framework was first established, especially through the influence of Augustine (Hippo) in the fourth/fifth century. He more than any other individual has impacted upon the subsequent course of theological thought in the West. Consequently, many Christians have understood that the Church and faithful Israelites before her are the exclusive groupings that God intended to reconcile to Himself or could benefit from His saving purposes. l show in my book that whilst Israel and the Church were indeed to be set apart from the world, that was in order that God, as it were working from within, would enlighten and bring healing to His world through His chosen people, not exclusively for them. Like Israel before her, the Church was to be His royal priesthood, but the latter would consist of individuals drawn from every nation elected on the basis of free grace into an exclusive covenant sealed with Christ’s blood. By participating in the sacred mystery (Christ in me, the hope of glory) such could be purged from sin even whilst their souls inhabited “the body of this death”, as Paul aptly described the temporary “vessel” the soul inhabits whilst on Earth.

The Church would serve as Christ’s mystical Body on earth in the present and its faithful adherents were destined to share in their Master’s eternal reign as His corporate Spouse. What Paul refers to as the fellowship pertaining to the mystery hidden in God through the ages (Eph3:9) was that Israel that had been foretold in earlier prophecy to fulfil such a priestly and kingly destiny was to be supplanted (or in effect augmented) by an international assembly we know of as the Church (cf. Rom11:25). Such was Paul’s gospel (cf. Rom16:25) which even fellow apostle Peter had scarcely grasped for it cannot have been clearly explained to him or any other disciples who had accompanied Jesus during His earthly ministry that the Gentile nations were not only to be enlightened by the Good News of the risen and glorified Jesus but receive an “identical spiritual gift” to that of believing Jews (Acts11:17,18) so as to share in the “inheritance reserved for the sanctified” (Acts26:18), a fact which itself has radical implications to overall providence.

That is the overall picture. I intend in subsequent posts, complementing the methodology employed in my book* in which I started with Paul’s revelation regarding the role of the Gentiles and considered its past and future implications, here to go more concisely and sequentially through the Old and New Testament, identifying the various interpretative “glosses” that have led to the mystery of God’s munificent providence being sustained for so long. This will appear subversive to conservative Christians, at least until it is recognised that such has been God’s intended journey for the Church, i.e. that the mystery I am alluding to and its final resolution is itself cryptically inferred in certain scriptural prophecy, including, I believe, “The Little Book” of Revelation chapter ten.

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Related post: Church God's husbandry   &   God's munificent providence

GOD’S MUNIFICENT PROVIDENCE

Once a certain mystery of the apostle Paul has been apprehended, the rest of the Bible can fit into place and God’s munificent providence be perceived. That mystery pertains to the fact that a multi-racial fellowship (the Church) has been established to replace a nation (Israel) to act as God’s royal priesthood for the world (Ex19:5&6 cf. 1Pet2:9). Many Christians will be aware of that but less so the fact this was entirely new revelation, a subversion of Old Testament prophecy and most importantly that gospel salvation as we have come to understand it had not been envisaged for the Gentile nations in the current epoch.

Paul actually spells this out in Romans chapter 11 but no one appears to have taken him at his word (especially vv11,12,15&30). The providential implications are immense and the fact that they have been eluded has impacted on how the rest of Scripture has been interpreted since the time of Augustine (4th/5th century). These are the providential mysteries and biblical/doctrinal tensions I will be identifying and resolving, working systematically through the Bible. These posts are intended to complement what has been set out in topical form in my book:

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JOHN 9 – GOD DOES NOT CONDEMN THE IGNORANT

And Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.” 40 Those of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these things and said to Him, “We are not blind too, are we?” 41 Jesus said to them, If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains. (Jn9:39-41NASB)

Jesus’ reference to the blind seeing and those who see being made blind is almost certainly a prophetic reference to the contrasting fortunes of Jews and Gentiles. The former’s fortune was to be chosen as God’s special people and provided with the light of Torah – God’s Law for divine worship and humane living. Most Gentiles remained in the dark about the former (divine worship) but were never entirely in the dark concerning the latter. That was in view of “natural law” through which they received an innate sense of right and wrong provided through the spiritual faculty of conscience. As Paul asserted (when rightly translated) many Gentiles although not having the Law did by nature the things contained within it, thus becoming a law for themselves (Rom2:14-15). 

But the main point to be drawn from this passage is the fact that the Man Christ Jesus (and He is the only Person that matters in this context -Jn5:22) will never condemn a person for what he is ignorant of – not least the true Gospel: “If you were blind, you would have no sin…”  In view of historical cultural and religious formation exacerbated by division amongst the churches and the doctrinal confusion resulting from it , the vast majority of people who have ever lived (including some who believe themselves to be Christians) are blind to the Gospel and, unless spiritually aided, can never apprehend the true Faith.

Yet that vital concession to ignorance does not mean that wickedness will go unpunished. For as was better understood and articulated by the earliest Christian writers such as Justin Martyr, Clement, Irenaeus and Origen ( but later rejected by Augustine and some of his contemporaries), through a principle of natural law, those who wilfully and wholeheartedly reject the innate light of reason they have received (Jn1:9), resulting in a total indifference towards the promptings of their conscience and the needs of their fellow man will be condemned to post-mortem punishment (Mt25:31-46).

That teaching of Jesus recorded by Matthew is the definitive passage in the Bible on final judgement yet it is a narrative in which religious faith is not mentioned. Those who have grasped what I have been saying above will already discern why that should be, whilst those who have followed more of my blogs or read my book* should also discern that this concession in no way detracts from the vital role of the Christian Gospel within divine providence and salvation history. For only those who respond to that true Gospel can be saved from what Paul describes as “the body of this death” so as to know Life of an eternal nature, even at the present time in order to serve and worship the living God in spirit and in truth. And in terms of the soul’s eternal destiny, only the disciples of Christ will be spiritually cleansed renewed and prepared to participate in Christ’s glorious reign in the ages to come: “The ones who are to receive royal authority are the saints of the Most High and their kingship will be for ever and ever and ever” (Dan7:18).

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Related post: proportional punishment

CHILD OF THE DEVIL

37 “I know that you (unbelieving Jews) are Abraham’s descendants, but you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you. 38 I speak what I have seen with My Father, and you do what you have seen with YOUR FATHER.”39 They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham. 40 But now you seek to kill Me, a Man who has told you the truth which I heard from God. Abraham did not do this. 41 You do the deeds of your father.” Then they said to Him, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father—God.”

42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of Myself, but He sent Me. 43 Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.

45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me. 46 Which of you convicts Me of sin? And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me? 47 He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God.”

(Jn8:37-47NKJV)

The three soteriological categories

I indicated in the previous post that there are not two but three soteriological categories resulting in three post-mortem destinies. However, there are two primary or archetypal categories of people, both of which are referred to in the above passage. But they are not (in New Testament terms) Christian and non-Christian, rather they are those who are derived from God and those derived from Satan [Greek: ek tou theou (verse 47 above) and  ek tou diabolou (1Jn3:10 cf. Gen3:15). Also, it is to be noted that whilst the New King James version I have quoted distinguishes between Christ as “proceeding forth” from God (v42) and other people being “of God” (v47), Jesus’ words (translated into Greek by John) make no such distinction: both are ek tou theou meaning derived from (literally “out of”) God – check for yourself on the Biblehub HERE)

Of course, ultimately there is one Source for everything and everyone – the Creator God from whom all (even the devil) originated. For Satan is not a rival deity but a corrupted creature – one who has been temporarily granted extraordinary powers (cf. Lk4:6; Mt13:25,38) including the ownership and control of certain individuals. Scripture defines His adopted children (or seed) in various ways.

Scriptural definitions for children of the devil

i) Twice dead, plucked up by the roots (Jude12)

ii) God shall remove their names from the Book of Life (e.g. Rev20:15)

iii) Devoured by Satan (1Pet5:8, cf. Gen4:7)

iv) Those who have forfeited their soul (Mat16:26)

v) Having gone in the way of Cain (Jude11) (cf. 1Jn3:12) or departed from the path of righteousness (OT Wisdom literature)

vi) “Goats” – humans devoid of compassion (Mt25)

vii) Not having retained God’s seed or image (1Jn3:9)

viii) Those who destroy the Earth – God shall destroy them at final judgement (Rev11:18)

ix) Those who cause or encourage others to sin: the ensnarers (Mt18:6NKJV)

x) Having had their conscience seared (i.e. it no longer functions) (1Tim4:2)

xi) Devoid of truth (cf. Jn8:44)

xii) Belonging to Satan – i.e. a child of the devil (Jn8:44)

xiii) Planted by Satan (Mt13:39; 15:13)

xiv) Messengers or agents (not “angels”) of Satan (Mt25:41)

xv) The desolate ones (Dan9:27)

xvi) The servants of Satan (2Cor11:15)

xvii) Vessels fitted for destruction (Rom9)

Identifying a child of the devil

The point is that there are billions of non-Christians in the world who are none of the above. On the other hand we can define children of the devil by all of the above. And that is in spite of them being far from amorphous from the human perspective. For some like Jesus’ opponents in the above passage appear highly respectable , even devoutly religious (albeit they had murderous intentions v40). Others may be more obviously amoral, in particular psychopathic like their archetype Cain. All such will be wholly indifferent to truth; all will be wholly devoid of genuine compassion or empathy regardless of whether they appear to act charitably which will only be for show, never from the heart.

Not fully human

In a very real sense these people are no longer human. That is because they no longer reflect anything of God’s moral character but that of their father the devil. And these are the people who are to be ignominiously removed from the Earth “when our Lord Jesus Christ shall return to Earth with all His saints” (1Thes3:13). The latter refers to His faithful disciples living at the time and those resurrected having “died in Christ” (1Thes4:16-18)

Not “of God”

So when Jesus says “He who is of God hears God’s words”, He is referring to those who were “of God” from birth having been planted by the Father (Mt15:13). It is not referring to the “saving grace” that some of God’s seed go on to receive in their lifetime through a personal association with Christ. This is indicated in the parable of the wheat and tares, the key verse being Mt13:38 – the field in which the seed is planted represents the world not the Church as so many commentators try to make out.

None of the tares “get saved” and become wheat – they were tares from their seeding and remain so because they are not “of God” but planted by the enemy. (All this will make little sense to “traducianists” considered in an earlier post who do not regard the human spirit/soul  as planted by God into every new human life but (effectively) a spiritual entity contained in human sperm, i.e. transmitted from their parents).

God shall remove them from the earth

Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted” (Mt15:13) – this is referring to the tares Jesus had spoken of in His parable recorded by Matthew two chapters earlier. What they will be uprooted from is clearly the Earth where they have resided as indicated above. For such is the immediate fate of those Jesus, Paul and John refer to in general terms as “children of the devil”. However, they may not always be distinguishable to us. But acknowledging their existence is essential if one is to grasp the length, breadth and height of God’s loving providence. For these “vessels fitted for destruction” serve an essential part in God’s amazing plan for humanity.

The prophecy of Enoch

Removing a category of people from the Earth features in the opening verse of the ex-canonical Book of Enoch. He allegedly wrote it for the benefit of “the elect and righteous who will be living in the time of tribulation when all the wicked and godless are to be removed” (Enoch1 ch1 v1). Early Church Fathers such as Clement, Irenaeus, Origen, Augustine and Tertullian regarded this is literature as inspired and a genuine work of the Patriarch.

That is because the New Testament directly quotes from it (Jude14,15). But I am clear that the Church rightly excluded Enoch from the biblical canon. For it was not intended for the churches during their earthly pilgrimage. Rather, as stated in its introduction it was for “the elect and righteous living in the time of tribulation; when the wicked and godless are to be removed”. And it is that “wicked and godless” that are the children of the devil. I examine Enoch in more detail in my book, a free PDF of which is available HERE

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Related post: the children of God   &   Cain - son of the devil

JOHN6:44 PREDESTINATION AND MILLENNIALISM

No one IS ABLE to come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I shall RAISE HIM UP on the last day. (John6:44)

The doctrines of predestination/election and premillennialism are hinted at in this verse although there are far more substantial and explicit texts to support both which we will come across as we progress through the New Testament. Paul refers on a number of occasions to the fact that Christians are predestined or called according to the purpose of God’s will and that their election was a matter of divine choice, not any foreseen or actual merit on their part. But for what purpose was their calling according to that same Apostle? – it was to establish a people who through self-discipline and applying the resources of celestial grace progressively become conformed to the image of Christ (Rom8:29). Such will become His joint-heirs (no less) provided they “suffer with Him in order to be glorified with Him” (Rom8:17 cf. Greek text). It is not, I suggest, as Augustine first proposed and I for many years believed as a Calvinist – that “the elect” were the proportionately small minority arbitrarily chosen by a deistic divinity to be delivered from eternal misery in Hell. For all things were created through Christ and for Christ and what a sovereign God wants He is bound to get, especially if it were the case that human free will is incapable of choosing or even desiring what is good as Augustine and the later Reformers asserted. Their cosmic horror story is anything but “Good News” and is thankfully contradicted by the Bible as a whole as I am in the business of demonstrating.

Free will?

Predestination may appear to be incompatible with any notion of effectual free will in spiritual matters. Not so if one understands that the bulk of humanity were neither predestined for the glories awaiting Christ’s faithful disciples nor in Paul’s words are mere “vessels of wrath fitted for destruction” (Rom9:22) aka the children of the devil considered in earlier posts. In other words the predestination/free will conundrum can only be resolved by acknowledging three rather than two soteriological categories, the biblical foundation for which is a central theme of my book*. For as our featured verse indicates human free will is indeed  incapable of apprehending the Gospel of Christ unless divinely enabled but it is by nature capable of responding positively to the light Christ has provided to every person (Jn1:9NKJV) being  the principles of  sound reason and humane living operating through the spiritual faculty of conscience – God’s law planted in the heart (Rom2:15) by which all people shall be judged (Mt25:41-46).

Such sentiments and interpretations will be alien to many but they would not have been so to 2nd/3rd century Christian theologians such as Justin Martyr, Irenaeus and Origen. Such widely understood principles of natural law, in view of their ubiquity, must have underpinned the gospel message imparted by the apostles and their immediate appointees to the late first and second century churches. These early assemblies’ doctrinal unity was affirmed by Irenaeus (earlier post), and in turn documented by the Church’s first historian Eusebius (AD263-339) who explicitly affirmed a positive role for natural law. Thanks to the resources available in the digital age such vital historical truths can no longer be concealed. Study for yourself (perhaps starting with Eusebius) and you will quickly discern that what I am saying with respect to natural law, judged by so many to be heretical was the prevailing understanding of the churches prior to Augustine’s novel interpretations regarding the consequences of “original sin” based on his particular reading of Paul’s teaching.

So what is original sin?

Original sin is a biblical reality (cf. Rom5:14) but not as Augustine came to understand Paul’s references to “death” as being a damnable state of the soul from birth. Rather it pertains (in Paul’s language) to the “body of this death” referring to the temporary “vessel” or “tent” the soul inhabits as a result of Adam’s demise, the instincts of which war against the nobler instincts of the “inner man”, mind or spirit (Rom7:23). As Paul goes on to affirm the Christian alone is enabled by celestial grace to “possess his own vessel in sanctity and honour” (1Thes4:4). Such I have come to understand is what the Bible actually means by “being saved” or raised to “eternal Life”. As part of God’s redemptive plan for His earthly creation He chose to establish a people to serve and worship the living God in spirit and truth whilst still incarnate: so that His Son’s Church may become like Israel before her “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own special people, to proclaim the praises of Him who called them out of darkness into His marvellous light” (1Pet2:9).

The millennial age

As for a further terrestrial age, that is explicitly referred to in Revelation but it is also indicated by Jesus’ statements in Jn6:44&54 that His faithful disciples shall be raised up on the last day. As the Bible makes perfectly clear everyone is to be raised up eventually so what is the Lord’s point? Surely that only Christ’s faithful disciples shall have a part in the first resurrection that will initiate that age (Rev20:6). Such an age is also a corollary to what I now understand Paul to be saying about the nature of the current epoch in which non-Jews from every nation are being added to the “Israel of God”. Many prophecies and divine promises set out in the Old Testament will remain unfilled until Christ returns in glory with His saints.

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Related posts: Predestination and free will & children of the devil  &  The millennial age

THE LAST SUPPER

51 I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” 52 Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. 54 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.

55 For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink56 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me58 This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.” (Jn6:52-58 NASB)

Choice of translation

I have chosen the NASB for unlike some versions it is faithful to the Greek text John actually scribed. Some other translations attempt to tone down Jesus’ reference to Himself being food and drink (especially v57: “He who eats Me shall live because of Me”). They prefer we should understand it in a metaphorical or figurative sense of feeding on Christ, as one might feed upon the works of Shakespeare for entertainment or inspiration or feed upon someone’s insecurities: so (they believe) one might figuratively speaking feed on Christ by reading the Bible or through prayerful contemplation.

FACT: Τρώγω utilised in vv56,57 and 58 literally means to gnaw, munch or crunch. As can be confirmed in Bible-hub’s Greek concordance HERE the word is never used metaphorically in the New Testament. That is what so shocked Jesus’ listeners: “How can this man possibly give us His flesh to eat?” (v52). So those who take the bread and wine of the Eucharist to be purely symbolic have a problem. That is especially in view of verses 54 and 56. Feeding on Christ’s flesh and drinking His blood in the sense that Jesus/John intended determines whether or not one is “in Christ” (v56), whether or not one will be raised at the last day (v54b) and as considered in my last post whether or not one possesses Life of an eternal quality (v54a).

The last supper – how literally should Jesus’ words be taken?

So can we be sure what Jesus really meant by eating His flesh and drinking His blood? I have already shown it cannot be purely figurative. But nor can it literally mean “Here I am, take and eat Me like a bunch of cannibals”. There is obviously a mystical element, but in some meaningful sense we must feed on Christ.

Neither does the process have to be explained scientifically anymore than the feeding of the 5000 from a few loaves and fishes can be explained scientifically. It simply cannot – such is the nature of miracles and the work of the Holy Spirit. But I adduce in my book that from these words of Jesus recorded by John and crucially from the evidence we have from the writings of the earliest Christian writers, some of whom were the immediate successors or students of the twelve disciples, the understanding was that the bread and wine they consumed at the Eucharist (at the least) contained or actually became the flesh and blood of Christ. Quoting from my book:

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Historical witness to the real presence

 “Moving backwards from the fourth century, Cyril of Jerusalem  understood that through theEucharist a Christian becomes “concorporeal and consanguineous with Christ30Clement (3rd century) declared:“Those who partake (of the Eucharist) are sanctified in body and soul; by the will of the Father, man is mystically united to the Spirit and to the Word31.  From the 2nd century, Justin Martyr speaks of the bread and wine offered at the altar as “that from which our blood and flesh are nourished through its transformation, which is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh”32.

From the end of the first century, Ignatius, tutored by John refers to heretics of his day; “they abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not admit that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ who suffered for our sins. Those who speak against this gift of God incur death.”33a The bread of the altar being “the medicine of immortality and the antidote to death33bIn terms of the Eucharist as sacrifice, Augustine, thoroughly orthodox in this area regarded the Mass as the “highest and true sacrifice…, Christ being at the same time Priest and Victim”34.

The Didache

Even in the oldest post-Biblical authentic writing available (the Didache c. xiv approx. AD96) refers to the “breaking of bread” as a sacrifice and related with the prophecy in Malachi (1:11); the pure offering with incense being offered by the Gentiles. The Malachi prophecy was understood by the early Fathers to be foretelling the universal and perpetuated daily sacrifice35 to be provided under the New Dispensation. Moving to the present day, the Eastern Orthodox Church whom we have observed was a relatively stable element in the sixteenth century debacle has historically regarded the Divine Liturgy as “the awesome sacrifice entrusted to the Church to be re-enacted and given to the faithful for the nourishment of their faith and forgiveness of their sins”36.

It was never intended that the Church delineate essential matters such as the real presence from Scripture alone. Rather, they were part of the sacred Tradition passed on from the apostles to their successors within the Church. For she is the sole depository of apostolic doctrine and the pillar and ground of the truth (1Tim3:15).

References:

30. Cyril of Jerusalem: Mystagogical Catechesis IV,3

31. Clement: “The instructor of children” – “Faith of the early Fathers” Vol 1:410 (W Jurgens)

32. St Justin Martyr – Apologies, chap. 66

33a)  St Ignatius: Letter to Smyrnaeans chap. 7;   b) Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians chap. 20 both utilizing the “shorter version” deemed as more reliable

34. Augustine: De Civitate Dei  Book X chap. 20

35. Cyprian (A.D.200-258)  Epistle 53 para 3 – affirms daily sacrifice of Eucharist 

36. Greek Orthodox Arch-Diocese of America – Fundamental Teachings

[Quote from “Fellowship of the Secret” – Chapter One]

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Related post: False Apostles

JOHN 4 THE SAMARITAN WOMAN

Then the woman of Samaria said to (Jesus), “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. 10 Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water? 12 Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?” 13 Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” . . . 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. (Jn4:9-24NKJV)

The two themes I want out to draw out from this passage have been underlined (vv14+22). The first concerns the nature of “eternal life” and what the Bible means by it. Many understand it to refer to “going to heaven when you die” which is absolutely not the case albeit those who possess it will do just that. But not only they, for as this passage makes clear “eternal life” is a gift of God that was not available until the Word of God became incarnate. It pertains to a state of being not a heavenly destination: “the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” For “this is eternal life, that they might know You the only true God and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (Jn17:3). Eternal life pertains to experiencing a living relationship with Jesus Christ whilst still incarnate – a privilege offered to the Christian alone. That is not to say it does not impact upon one’s eternal destiny for it prepares those who possess it jointly to inherit with Christ “an exceeding and eternal weight of glory”, a concept currently beyond human comprehension (2Cor4:17).

Those who do not possess this divine gift (the vast majority of humanity) are described by Paul as being “dead”, inhabiting as they do “the body of this death” considered in the previous post. Their souls will not be delivered from this condition until their spirit is freed at death: “Then the dust will return to the Earth as it was and the spirit will return to God who gave it” (Eccles12:7). In the meantime, though most (not all) aspire to live worthy lives, like Paul before his conversion “I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members” (Rom7:23). That is the nature of the spiritual death Paul was referring to – not “damnation” (which pertains to those who are dead in the Pauline sense in body and spirit – Jude1:12) but the concupiscent instincts of the flesh conspiring with the more noble instincts of the “inner man” resulting in an inability to serve and worship God “in spirit and in truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him” (v23). For that to happen individuals need to be “saved” from the ravages of their earthly vessel, Paul’s “body of this death”. Those predestined to do so are chosen “not on the basis of any works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Tit3:5).

Jesus the Jew

You (Samaritans) worship what you do not know; WE know what WE worship, for salvation is from the Jews” In case anyone should be in doubt the Man Christ Jesus regarded Himself as a Jew: “We (Jews) know what we worship”. Jesus was the Jewish Messiah who came “to save His people from their sins” (Mt1:21) – “His people” being the Jews. Others might be pardoned (i.e. saved from the punishment their sins deserved) but that is not what this particular verse is saying – it is speaking of deliverance from the power of sin. Many may “go to Heaven when they die” but under Plan A only the Jews were to be saved in the gospel sense that I have been describing above. This is to all intents and purposes spelt out by Paul himself in Romans 11 (vv11,12,15 and 30) if only the apostle were believed and taken at his word! He summarises the situation in Eph3:8-11, the “fellowship of the secret (plan)” passage that my book focusses on as well as in the following passage from Colossians:  “The secret which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but NOW has been revealed to His saints to whom God willed to make known the riches of the glory of this mystery AMONG THE GENTILES which is Christ in you, the hope of glory  (Col1:26-27).

In terms of salvation history this is the age of the universal church offering salvation to Jew and Gentile alike – but that was not the published plan set out in the Old Testament as Paul has just confirmed (“the secret (plan) which has been hidden from ages and from generations). When the full implications of this mystery are grasped it has profound implications to broader providence. It is also able to resolve numerous scriptural and doctrinal tensions as hopefully I demonstrate in my book (freely available as a PDF HERE).

JOHN1 NATHANAEL, A MAN WITHOUT GUILE

Jesus sees Nathanael under the fig tree

What is striking as one reads carefully through the gospel accounts is Jesus’ contrasting attitude towards the people He encountered, all of whom were to one degree or another sinful. It might astonish many that in calling His disciples there is little if any reference to their sinfulness. He did not ask His disciples to “acknowledge their lost estate”, simply to follow Him (Mt4:19).  Yet these were ordinary working men. Yes, Simon Peter was conscious of his own unworthiness when he became aware of his Lord’s divinity (Lk5:8), but Jesus’s only recorded comment concerning the moral state of His new recruits was a positive one and that concerned Nathanael: “Behold, an Israelite indeed in whom there is no guile”. This cynical joker was by no means perfect (Jn1:46) but those who are perfect such as the incarnate Word, look for the good in people and love and praise them for it (Mk10:19-23).

This reinforces what I was writing about in an earlier blog concerning God’s character and His regard for fallen human beings; in particular whether He ever has a positive regard towards their character or behaviour. Jesus acted towards Nathanael like the good-hearted magnanimous Man that He was yet at the same time we can be sure He acts and thinks like God the Father, being “the exact expression of God’s substance” (Heb1:3). But can such a comparison with the Father be made to Jesus during His earthly ministry? Seemingly so: “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (Jn14:9): the key phrase being “have I been with you so long?” – Jesus is not the compassionate face of God, He is the perfect reflection (Greek: eikon) of God ‘s character as a whole even during His earthly ministry, albeit the true effulgence of His glory was only revealed to a few of His disciples at His transfiguration . And it is to be the God-Man Jesus who will judge humanity “for the Father judges no man but has committed all judgment to the Son (Jn5:22).

As for Christ’s intelligible justice, He assures us He will apply standards we can well understand: “For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you” (Mt7:2). As Matthew also affirmed Christ is benevolent towards those who are benevolent to others – all shall enter His heavenly Kingdom regardless of their indiscretions for which He paid the price on His cross: “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did (this act of kindness) to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me” (Mt25:40).

But then, as that same passage affirms, there are the “goats”, or as they are referred to elsewhere “the children of the devil” – Satan’s seed (see earlier post). Part of my task is to demonstrate from Scripture that such a description and the fate associated with these people is not referring to the vast swathe of humanity not predestined  to be those, who through a faith that is given and drawn by the Father come to a personal knowledge of Christ in advance of His Apocalypse (cf. Jn6:44; Eph1:11,12; Rev1:7).

Related post on Nathanael

JOHN1:16 – GRACE FOR GRACE?

“Doctor of Grace”?
ὅτι ἐκ τοῦ πληρώματος αὐτοῦ ἡμεῖς πάντες ἐλάβομεν καὶ χάριν ἀντὶ χάριτος   -   John1:16 (original text)

Once again it has been necessary to set out the verse as John wrote it, and for the usual reason: variable translations. The (New) King James Version is again on the money:  “And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace“.

The Greek preposition ἀντὶ can mean a number of things, “upon” not being one of them, yet that is how most modern versions of the Bible render the verse, i.e. as grace upon grace in the sense one would say blessings upon blessings – more of the same. But that is something the preposition  ἀντὶ would never portray. ἀντὶ expresses the idea of substitution or replacement – in this case one form (or source) of grace replacing or enriching another, not more and more of the same commodity; that sense would utilize the preposition ἐπί (upon). Again, expertise in biblical Greek is not required, the matter can be ascertained in this page from Biblehub carefully observing the 17 occurrences of ἀντὶ in the Bible and comparing it  with the use of ἐπί (HERE). You will observe that only in this verse has the preposition been translated in the sense of more of the same. Arguably the NIV has the clearest rendering: Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. Even that is ambiguous: ἀντὶ is more typically used as in 1Peter3:9 – “Do not render evil FOR evil”, i.e. one person’s evil replacing another – clearly a different meaning from “Do not render evil upon evil” which would entirely miss the point of the teaching.

There are obvious theological motivations for translating the verse as most versions have, namely the post-Augustinian perspective that man by nature is devoid of any grace or God-given enlightenment until and unless he receives the celestial variety via conversion to the Christian faith. My previous post indicates why that is not the case. It requires an understanding that a part of man, even in his fallen state, is received directly from God/Christ – that spiritual part which survives the body and brain at death and returns to its Creator:  “Then the dust will return to the Earth as it was and the spirit will return to God who gave it” (Eccles12:7). What God provides is rarely if ever devoid of grace, albeit “the exceedingly abundant grace which is in Christ Jesus” (1Tim1:14) is required for those who are to be saved from the ravages of “the body of this death” whilst still incarnate (previous post) so as to be fitted for the glory that awaits them as joint-heirs of Christ. I am contesting that this is what the Bible and Paul in particular actually mean by “being saved” rather than “going to Heaven when you die” (cf. Mt25:31-46; Lk16:25). I am aware that such proof texting is quite inadequate to make the case – a fuller, more coherent analysis is set out in my book, but note also the witness of the earliest Church Fathers (see NOTE below).

As to what the Bible actually means by grace – more often than not it is referring to God’s favour and kindness towards human beings, but also His enabling power to do what pleases Him. The issue in this context is whether man by nature has any of that commodity such that he is ever able to please God by his actions. The majority of Christians since the time of the Pelagian controversy (4th/5th century) would answer a resounding “NO” as did I for the first 25 or so years of my Christian life, but now my response is more positive. That is not wishful thinking on my part but, humanly speaking, the result of my biblical and (very) early Church history studies, not to mention 50+ years as an adult observing my fellow human beings. I say “humanly speaking” for the new understanding came during what I believe to be a week-long extraordinary encounter with the Holy Spirit that I testify to in my book.

And applying some simple reasoning: does not a true Christian have the mind of Christ? (1Cor2:16) – what pleases him or her in the behaviour of others pleases Christ and His Father. But surely, some will say, “You or I may delight in the noble or compassionate exploits or well-spent life of a non-Christian who leaves the world a better place than he or she found it, but God is different – He is infinitely more holy than we are.” How true – but if you think being more holy means being less tolerant of sin and human weakness, less compassionate, less magnanimous indeed less gracious than man at his best, you haven’t begun to understand the nature of holiness or indeed the Nature of the God whom Scripture defines as love personified (1John4:8) – and  then goes on to  define love itself (1Cor13).

We can also learn from the testimony of the Christian writers of the 2nd and 3rd century who were not wholly dependent on biblical exegesis but in some cases had received the Faith from the apostles themselves or their immediate appointees. In particular Irenaeus, Justyn Martyr and the Church historian Eusebius affirm my positive view of natural law and the tripartite nature of man (comprising body soul and spirit) – concepts which Augustine came to reject [see NOTE below]. But most importantly as far as I’m concerned is the testimony of Scripture as a whole as I endeavour to demonstrate in these blogs and have set out more coherently in my book, a free PDF of which is available HERE.

NOTE

[1] The major theologian of the second century Irenaeus recognised that God in His providence is present with all “who attend to moral discipline, paying heed to the natural precepts of the law by which man can be justified” [“Irenaeus against heresies” Book IV chap 13 para 1]. In a previous post I show how Irenaeus gave witness to the unity of essential doctrine within the second century churches. These were clearly not just his own views but the understanding of the churches as a whole. From the same period Justin Martyr spoke of God’s benevolence towards those who walk uprightly and in accordance with right reason ; “a God who accepts those who imitate His own qualities of temperance, fairness and philanthropy and who exercise their free will in choosing what is pleasing to Him” [first apology of Justin chaps. 43 & 46]. Such a perspective on free will and a role for natural law is affirmed by the witness of Eusebius (AD260-340). Known as the Father of Church History, Eusebius documented the succession of the earliest Christian communities in East and West, commenting on the faithfulness (or otherwise) of some of their bishops, providing in the process an invaluable perspective on the doctrinal understanding of his time. In view of his own perspective on the matter, Eusebius indicates that natural law was subsumed within the theological/anthropological perspective of the early Church:
“The Creator of all things has impressed a natural law upon the soul of every man, as an assistant and ally in his conduct, pointing out to him the right way by this law; but, by the free liberty with which he is endowed, making the choice of what is best worthy of praise and acceptance, because he has acted rightly, not by force, but from his own free-will, when he had it in his power to act otherwise, As, again, making him who chooses what is worst, deserving of blame and punishment, as having by his own motion neglected the natural law, and becoming the origin and fountain of wickedness, and misusing himself, not from any extraneous necessity, but from free will and judgment. The fault is in him who chooses, not in God. For God has not made nature or the substance of the soul bad; for he who is good can make nothing but what is good”. [quotation from “The Christian Examiner”, Volume One, published by James Miller, 1824 Edition, p. 66 – my highlighting]. These early Christian viewpoints and no doubt my own own will appear arcane if not positively heretical to many Christians these days. As I trace in my book, I believe one man is primarily responsible for this ancient seismic shift in doctrinal understanding particularly in the West – Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (AD354-430), aka “the Doctor of Grace”, or from my perspective, Sustainer of the Providential Mysteries.


A book exploring the mystery of divine providence

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