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Welcome to Answers To Tough Questions

ANSWERS TO TOUGH QUESTIONS (ATTQ) orbits around and is stirred by the great commandment (Mathew 22: 34-36) and the great commission (Mathew 28:18-20).  It’s these twin pillars which have birthed my vision.  Answers to Tough Questions exists to strengthen and come alongside the local Christian church in its mission to make disciples of the nations.  This is accomplished in the following ways: Through Seminars, Preaching engagements, Theology courses, Apologetics courses, Ethics courses, Comparative Religion courses, and online resources which focus on: apologetics, theology, philosophy, and culture.

I’m often asked why I focus on these areas.  Here are the following reasons: Apologetics strengthens the Christians’ ability to evangelize winsomely and boldly. Theology strengthens the Believers’ capacity to grasp the Bible’s core ideas. Philosophy strengthens the Disciples’ facility to think critically. Culture challenges Christ’s Followers to live authentically in its milieu. I’m glad you have stopped by.  Take some time to look around the site and the resources that are available to you and your church.  Please let me know how I can serve you.

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Selected Book Summaries From the REFORMATION & MODERN PERIOD_Martin Luther: On Christian Liberty, Justification, the Church Fathers and the Scriptures

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Luther, On Christian Liberty[1]

In his letter On Christian Liberty, Luther addresses Pope Leo X and

affirms that he has never thought any evil concerning his person, but regards him highly and his dispute is not over morals, but over the word of truth.  The Church of Rome “Babylon” doesn’t want reform, and the pope is as Daniel in that Satanically ruled city, the “seat of all pestilence”.  He views Luther’s chief nemesis, John Eccius, as the enemy of peace, evidenced by their exaltation of the Pope (i.e., only via his authority one can be saved, and he alone has the right to interpret Scripture).  Instead of trusting those who exalt him, Luther implores the Pope to trust the ones who humble him.

The Christian is the Freest Lord of All

For Luther, the Christian is the freest lord of all, and subject to none, but is also the most dutiful servant of all and subject to all (Paul’s example used: 1 Cor.9: 19; Rom.13:8).  He argues that mere outward pious acts do not make one justified or liberate the soul, but rather the risen Christ and his word (Jn.11: 25; Mt.4: 4).  The soul can do without everything but the word of God.  Through the word salvation is realized (Rom.1; 10:9; 10:4; 1:17) and the sinner liberated (Rom.3: 23).  This justification is by faith alone, hence, the Christian’s primary concern must be to grow, not in reliance on works, but in strengthening one’s faith.  Luther cites Jesus when confronted by the Jews what the work of God was, “to believe on Him whom He hath sent…” (Jn.6: 27-29).

Commands Teach Us What is Good, But They Do Not Help Us Obey

Precepts (commands) teach us what is good “thou shall not…” but it does not empower us to obey.  Once one understands the aforementioned, that person is ready to believe the promises of God, which by faith aids the obeying of commands, “the promises of God give that which the precepts exact” p.11 (see; 1 Tim.1: 9).  To disbelieve God’s promises is the highest form of insult toward Him, while the converse is the greatest honor toward the Almighty (1 Sam. 2:30).  Among other things Luther makes a case for the priesthood of all believers and sees the system that separates “laity” from “priest”,  “clergy” etc., as bad because the notion is not biblical.

Why Are Good Works Commanded?

To the objection: “if faith is everything, and by itself suffices for justification, why then are good works commanded?  Are we then to take our ease and do no works, content with faith?”  Luther affirms no!  Pertaining to his freedom, man is justified (inwardly) subject to none, but concerning his works (outwardly) he is subject to all and the servant of all.  For Luther, those who belong to Christ crucify the flesh (Gal. 5:24), in his words: “Good works do not make a good man, but a good man does good works” p.18 (Mt.7: 18).  He continues and asserts that good works prior to justification profit the non-believer nothing concerning salvation.  But Luther wholeheartedly embraced the doing and teaching of good works to the highest degree, especially directed toward others (Phil.2: 1-4) as imitators of Christ (Phil.2: 5-8).   The works, which overflow from the joy of being justified, the believer is not concerned with recognition or recompense from friend or foe.  Luther then uses the Virgin Mary, and St. Paul as examples of the aforesaid life.

Justification is the Grounds for Love

For Luther, the man justified by faith in Christ is the one who serves his neighbor by love.  The liberty of the justified is a freedom from all sins, laws, and commandments (1 Tim.1: 9), and a liberty from believing that good works makes one right before God.

 Luther, Table Talk on Justification[2]

In Luther’s Table Talk on Justification, he begins by asserting that it is impossible for the papist to understand this article.  One remains a child of God even though periodically he sin or be tempted, for he is the Shepherds lamb.  Christians make the best use of natural wisdom and understanding because through faith, their reason furthers their understanding of things divine, not so with the unregenerate.  Their understanding is darkened because it strives against faith.

For Luther, the workmen who continuously is improving his craft, is like the righteous who constantly strive to increase their faith.  Faith and Hope are distinguishable in that, among other things, the former; it looks to the word and promise of truth, whereas the latter; looks to that which the Word promises (i.e., the good or benefit).  Again, faith is necessary for salvation because man is justified by it before God through Christ the Lord.  Justification is the key doctrine for all theological disputation; one cannot merit it, it is an inheritance from the Father, it bears the fruit of generosity toward neighbor, it produces virtues (the greatest being patience) and good works in the believer.  Luther understands that a believer’s good works are incompletely good, because they proceed from a weak obedience.

Luther, Table Talk on the Church Fathers[3]

In Luther’s Table Talk on the church Fathers, he does not want to be too critical of the Fathers.  He considers Chrysostum a rhetorician whose exegesis goes awry concerning the message of the text.  On the one hand, Luther’s disgust with the following fathers are because justification is nowhere to be found: St. Jerome; for his writings are cold, Ambrose; for his books are poor, Augustine; for his inattention to faith in Galatians or Romans and his apparent siding with the Church’s authority.  On the other hand, Luther appreciates the writings of Epiphanius; who compiled a church history, and Prudentius; who is the best of Christian poets.

The Fathers must be read with caution.  Luther asserts this because: First, their exegetical methods draw attention away from the Gospel of Christ.  Second, their writings are used in a way that undervalues the teaching of Christ’s apostles.  Third, Augustine noted; the laws of the Jews brought less trouble to the church than the ordinances and traditions of the bishops.  For Luther, faithful Christians must heed the words of Christ and those who stray from them in their teaching, should be shunned.

Luther, Table Talk on the Scriptures[4]

In Luther’s Table Talk on the Scriptures, he views the Bible as the highest and best of all books.  He understands that rulers have tried to destroy the Bible, and its survival is seen as an act of God alone.  Luther compares it to the writings of Homer, Virgil, and the like, and concludes that there is no comparison, regardless of how fine and noble these antiquated books may be.  He is thankful that finally, the Bible is written in the German language for all to read and understand.

Part of the reason Luther sees the Bible as superior to the rest is because of it’s divine content of virtues and gift’s.  The Scriptures abound in comfort for those undergoing trials and tribulations.  They should be studied and judged not by mere reason alone, but in humility bathed with prayer.  Moreover, for Luther, the one who has mastered the principles of the text will not err in its interpretation, but will rather silence his adversaries.  He also affirms that the Bible is to trump the authority of the fathers, regardless of their value.  Again, Luther sees that the knowledge of God in Scripture supercedes any of the other sciences whether philosophers, or jurists for the effect it has on our eternal destiny.

Luther understands that there is no harder discipline of knowledge to master than that of divinity, even though worldly wisdom would hold the contrary position.  He sees the worse thing that could possibly happen to Christians is for the Word of God to be taken from them or falsified.  Among other things, Luther continues lauding the Scripture’s magnificence and comments on the many books of the Bible with the respective authors intended message (Judges, Proverbs, John, Paul, etc.), and the is a discussion on the different genres (example: Gospel parables).  For Luther, the ablest teacher of the Word is the one who so familiarizes with its every text, that the context, verse, and meaning of the passage are known.

[1] Concerning Christian Liberty: by Martin Luther 1520, “The Harvard Classics”, Volume 36 (New York: P.F. Collier & Son, 1910, Pages 353-397)

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

Selected Book Summaries From the REFORMATION & MODERN PERIOD_Aquinas: Summa Theologica 1.1. The Nature and Extent of Sacred Doctrine[1]

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“Science: The Only Means of Knowledge”

In Aquinas’ The Nature and Extent of Sacred Doctrine, he deals with ten points of inquiry.  First, he answers the view that philosophical science is the only means we need to get at knowledge, because to seek anything above reason is prohibited (Ecclus.3: 22).  Moreover, knowledge is grounded in ontology, even the knowledge of God.  Aquinas points out that inspired Scripture (2 Tim.3: 16) instructs us in the knowledge of God, the grounds of which is not human reason, but divine revelation.  It is specifically sacred doctrine that is necessary for salvation.  Again, Aquinas understands that natural and sacred theology, have their respective means of discovery and their epistemic complementary value.

“Sacred Doctrine Cannot Be Science”

Second, there is the objection that sacred doctrine cannot be science for all sciences come from self-evident principles, whereas sacred doctrine proceeds from articles of faith, which are not self-evident nor do all men accept them (2 Thes.3: 2).  Furthermore, science deals with facts and does not concern itself with personal biography, as does sacred doctrine.  Aquinas references Augustine and asserts that sacred doctrine is the only science that begets saving faith.  It not only nourishes and protects said faith, but it also strengthens it.  We must also remember that two kinds of science obtain; the science that is known through the natural light of intelligence (i.e., arithmetic or geometry), and that which proceeds from the higher light of science (i.e., the science of God).  Moreover, the principles of any science are self-evident or can be reduced to the conclusions of higher science.  Again, the principal reason individual facts are treated in sacred doctrine, are for moral exhortation, so that the authority of the men handing down divine revelation may be established.

“Sacred Doctrine Cannot Be One Science”

Third, there is also the view that sacred doctrine cannot be one science, because science treats only one class of subjects, whereas sacred doctrine considers both creator and creature.  Hence it cannot be one science.  However, Aquinas asserts that sacred doctrine primarily focuses on God, and on his creatures secondarily, so far as to accentuate God as their originator and sustainer.  Aquinas appears to have a more integrative approach to science.

Other issues Aquinas tackles considers whether or not sacred doctrine is speculative or practical, whether it is the same as wisdom, whether it is a matter of argument, how it is compared with other sciences, etc

[1] St. Thomas Aquinas: The Summa Theologica, Translated by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province, (Benzinger Bros. Edition, 1947).

Selected Book Summaries From the REFORMATION & MODERN PERIOD:  Anselm, Cur Deus Homo[1]

 

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In Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo, he divides the work into two short books.  The first book contains objections raised by unbelievers because of their view that the faith is unreasonable, and responses by Anselm to their objections.  The second book contains the purpose for which man was created and accentuates that its realization can only be obtained in the God/Man.

Responding To the Contemporary Critics: “It’s Dishonoring to God”

Book One: Responding to the Objections Raised by Infidels.  This work begins with Boso (the one asking the questions) raising the objection that “we do injustice and bring dishonor to God…” when we claim that Jesus was born of a virgin, needed the nourishment of men to grow, grew tired and fatigued, and last of which was crucified among thieves.

Anselm’s response: we neither dishonor nor bring upon God any injustice by those things we claim, but instead we do praise and proclaim the inexpressible height of his mercy.  Through the incarnation, God does more deeply demonstrate his mercy and love toward us, for, as by one man’s disobedience death reigns, so also by one man’s obedience life should be restored.  Moreover, as sin had its cause in woman, so also it was fitting that through woman the author of righteousness be born from her, and in the same way the devil conquered the first Adam by the eating of the tree, so also the last Adam vanquished Satan by his suffering on the tree.  Again, Anselm explains that redemption could not have been realized through any other being other than God (whether angelic or human) because if any other being should rescue man from eternal death, man would rightly have to be that redeemers servant.  The problem however is that both angels and man were designed to serve only God through eternity.

“The Incarnation Seems Inconsistent with Reason”

Another objection raised against the incarnation by Boso is that it seems inconsistent with reason for the Almighty to “stoop to things so lowly, that the Almighty should do a thing with such toil”.

Anselm responds by accentuating that God’s will ought to be sufficient reason for whatever he does because his will is never irrational, regardless of our inability to understand.  Furthermore, to think that it is unreasonable for the Almighty to stoop so low and embrace so much toil is to misunderstand our faith.  For we assert that the Divine nature is indubitably impassible, He cannot be un-exalted, nor does he toil in anything He desires to effect.  Moreover, the Lord Jesus Christ is very God and very man, one person who has two natures.  Hence, when we speak of God enduring humiliation or suffering, it only refers to the feeble human constitution, which Jesus assumed.  In the incarnation, there is no debasing of the Deity, but rather there is the exaltation of man’s nature.

 “Why Should the Most Just Man be Punished for the Guilty?”

Something that also seems unjust and lacking wisdom for Boso is that the most just man should be punished for the guilty.  Not only does God deserve condemnation for such an act, but this also argues against his omnipotence and justice.

Anselm responds by asserting that God neither put the innocent to death for the guilty, nor impelled Jesus to die and suffer against his own will for man’s salvation.  Instead, Jesus willingly laid down his life.

Boso objects by citing many texts that demonstrate Jesus’ submission to the will of the Father, and as such, that this act was one of obedience to the Father’s will, not Jesus own free will.  Anselm clarifies the misunderstanding between doing something at the demand of obedience as opposed to what he suffered because of his perfect obedience.  For every rational being owes the demanded obedience to God and the Father claimed it from Jesus (in his humanity).

It would be unjust for God to demand death of a sinless man for whom God created to be happy in Him.  Furthermore, it would not be right for God to make miserable by death a creature who is without fault, for that is not the goal of his creation.  Rather than being compelled by God to die, Christ suffered death of his own accord, and by yielding up his life, Jesus is not offering an act of obedience, but rather on account of obedience in maintaining his holiness, he met death.

And when a scripture like “God did not spare his own son, but gave him up for us all”, it simply means that God did not rescue him, not that he sent him to die.

“Sin’s Meaning & It’s Relatedness to Satisfaction”

Now concerning the meaning of sin and how satisfaction for sin is realized, Anselm first explains that sin is not rendering to God his due.  The debt man owes to God is to be subject to His will.   By neglecting the aforesaid, man robs God and dishonors Him, thus sinning.  To make satisfaction for the offence and be cleared of fault, a repayment of honor to God must be made in return.  This is a debt every sinner must settle, yet is unable to repay on his own.  Anselm continues the theme by pointing out that God would be unjust not to punish the unjust for their sin.  For by not executing his justice, God would then not differentiate between the guilty and the innocent, and this is unbecoming of Him.

Anselm also deals with how God’s honor exists in the punishment of the wicked, how man cannot be redeemed without satisfaction for his sins being made, and how Jesus the God/Man necessarily realized the rescue for mankind.  Moreover, how it’s impossible for the devil to be saved and how great God’s compassion really is.

[1] St. Anselm, “Cur Deus Homo,” Basic Writings, (Translated by S. N. Deane, Pp.191-302, © 1962 by Open Court Publishing Company, 2001 Printing).

Selected Book Summaries from the PATRISTIC & MEDIEVAL PERIOD_ St. Benedict, The Rule of St. Benedict[1]

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The Centrality of Prayer

In his Rule, St. Benedict starts off the prologue by placing fervent prayer as the pre-eminent act before starting any good work so that it may be brought to perfection.   He then admonishes his disciples to not harden their hearts as the Israelites did when they heard God’s voice, to learn the fear of the Lord, and to work while it is still day.  Yet, like Paul the apostle (1 Cor.15: 10) as they see the progress and fruit of their work, they are not to boast of themselves, but are rather to give thanks to God for supplying the grace needed to accomplish their tasks.  Since disciples are in a battle, critical to holy obedience is the preparation of both heart and body.  And that which is impossible by nature, the disciple is to ask the Lord for his grace to help.  The purpose of the regulations is not intended to be harsh, nor burdensome, but where strictness obtains, it is to safeguard love and amend faults.

The Rule’s Impact

Benedict calls it a rule because it regulates the lives of those who obey it.  He starts off the rule by explaining the four different kinds of monks that exist and that his order (the cenobites) live in a monastery and serve under a rule and an abbot.  The Abbot must exemplify the character of Christ and make Jesus’ teaching the anchor of all that’s instructed to the disciples, understanding that God’s stricter judgment awaits those who teach.  The primary manner in which the Abbot is to teach is not by mere words, but rather through example.  Furthermore, the Abbot is to show no favoritism and when teaching, he must use argument with the undisciplined, he must use appeal with the docile and obedient, and with the negligent and disdainful he must use reproof and rebuke.  Above all else, the Abbot must not treat lightly his duties by being distracted with the temporary things of the world.

Tools for Good Works Grounded in One’s Love for God

Concerning the tools for good works, Benedict points out that the great commandment on which all good deeds are grounded: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.  The restraint of speech is especially cherished so that sin is avoided (Prov.10: 19) and vulgar speech is abated.  Moreover, the twelve steps to humility first begin with the fear of the Lord.  One is to constantly remember that God sees their deeds and motives.  The second step is for a man to not delight in his desires or will, but rather to make God’s will his desire (Jn.6: 38).  The third step requires one to submit to his superiors in all things for the love of God, while the fourth step admonishes the disciple to submit even though being unjustly treated, for it is the one who endures to the end that will be saved.  Again, whether verbal, mental, or actual’ all sins must be confessed to the Abbot, the disciple must be grateful for the lowest tasks and see himself as a poor and worthless workman.  Furthermore, this workman must realize and confess that he is inferior to all and of less value than they.  The eighth step to humility is that the monk is only to do what the common rule of the monastery endorses and the example set by his superiors.  Again, a monk must control his tongue and remain silent unless spoken to.  He must not speak loudly with laughter or raise his voice, but instead he is to speak gently, seriously, and with becoming modesty.  Finally, the monk is to walk about with his head down at all times judging himself as a sinner who desperately needs Gods mercy to save him.  All these steps can only be realized through the power of the Holy Spirit’s grace being imparted to one.

The Reading of Scripture

Among other things the rule emphasizes the way, manner, and the days in which one is to read the scriptures and the catholic fathers.  Much attention is given to the Psalms and text memorization.  There is a specific procedure for the evening, morning and midday prayers, for the singing of the psalms, and for how one is to do their work.  Moreover, how to deal with the poor and excommunicated brothers is also addressed, as well as the proper and improper way for monks to interact with each other in the monastery.  Benedict ends his rule by reminding the monks that the rule is only the beginning of perfection, but by displaying the virtues in the rule, one displays that he has the beginnings of the monastic life.

[1] The Rule of St. Benedict In English; Editor Timothy Fry, O.S.B., (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1981 by the Order of St. Benedict).

Reflections From 1 Corinthians_CHAPTER 7:12-16 MARRIAGE, SINGLENESS, & DEVOTION TO CHRIST Part 2  

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Paul now addresses the spouse married to an unbeliever.  The married are to remain married but if there’s desertion or divorce they are to remain as they are and not cling to another.  To the unmarried, they are to remain single, but if they lack self-control, they are to marry.  To the married who are with an unbelieving spouse Paul says:

12 But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13 And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away.

For Paul, when one spouse converts to Christ it’s their duty to stay together and not divorce because of conversion so long as the spouse consents to live together.  This issue was difficult then and remains unto today.  Emotions run high, words are spoken, insults are unleashed, and at times physical abuse occurs.  This can be a difficulty and tricky situation to navigate but there’s a reason for the command:

14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy.

Puzzling as it may be, here’s my best shot at getting the point.  Biblically one is not redeemed because of another’s trust in the living God.  For personal repentance is required of each one to be rescued from God’s wrath.

Second, the allusion to “unclean” and “holy” are OT themes where being set apart is a sign that one is part of the covenant community and thus  males were to be circumcised, the people were to eat kosher foods.

Third, taking part of said activities were signs one was part of the covenant community but did not guarantee one was part of the remnant (i.e., real regenerated believers in heart evidenced by their obedience to Yahweh).  That is, not all Israel was saved evidenced by their recalcitrant lives and while their lineage is Jewish not all were sons of Abraham (i.e., not all had the faith of Abraham).

Fourth, as it was then, so it is today where people partake of the covenant communities activities but remain unbelievers.  So what does Paul mean by “unclean and holy”?  Perhaps being around the believing community does offer an opportunity for genuine faith to arise in both spouse and children.  Again, even if they don’ have genuine saving faith, the Christian theist’s worldview has an impact on them that aids mirroring the image of God and somehow they are “clean and holy”

This text is tough to decipher, nevertheless when a text in Scripture is puzzling, the wise way to proceed is to use what is clearest in Scripture to deal with and try to understand the more difficult passages.  Paul continues:

15 Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace. 16 For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?

Paul notes several things here.  First, the previous verses on “clean and holy” can’t mean someone is in the covenant family because he addresses the issue of “saving” one’s spouse.  Personal repentance and faith is a necessary condition for salvation, thus one can’t be “saved” on another’s faith in Christ (e.g., your parents faith).

Second, Paul wants believers in this situation to understand that while being in this present evil age, believers married to non-believers will at times experience desertion or divorce.

Third, sometimes spouses believe that if they persevere in the marriage they will be able to save their spouse via example, but Paul reminds them that this is never a guarantee.  It may happen, but it may not.

Fourth, the bondage that such a believer may experience is not what God has designed for them but instead His peace.  What could this mean?  Minimally, once we were God’s enemies but now are his friends because of Christ, wrath is no longer ours to bear.  This peace is to be mirrored in our relationships.  He’s saying, “If they want to leave, let them go and cling to Christ”.

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Reflections From 1 Corinthians 7:6-11_MARRIAGE, SINGLENESS, & DEVOTION TO CHRIST Part 1

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Paul continues to develop his thought on marriage and singleness and considers: whether one is married to an unbelieving spouse or not, whether one came to Christ from Jewish or Gentile roots, whether they are redeemed being a slave or a freedman, whether they are a virgin or not, he considers when one is permitted to remarry and by implication when remarriage is prohibited.

Whatever state in life the believer finds themselves in, they are to primarily concern themselves with pleasing the Lord.  Paul aims to encourage Christians to let the eternal kingdom of God be the governing factor in their lives instead of the temporal situations in which they find themselves.  He starts off by saying:

But this I say by way of concession, not of command.”   

What’s the difference between these two terms?  A concession is permission to do something, or being allowed to act a certain way (L&N §13.141), whereas a command here does not infer the giving of detailed instruction but of having the right and authority to command subjects to obedience (L&N § 37.42).  Paul is making it clear that if what he refers to (the forthcoming concession), the Corinthian believers do not obey, they are not violating God’s decree which the apostles have been distinctly charged to dispense as Christ’s authoritative ambassadors.

Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that.”    

The term “wish” is a way of describing desire which is a state of affairs that does not necessarily exist, one which may even be impossible, but nevertheless it is felt.  When Paul says, “I wish that all men were even as I myself am”, I don’t think he is referring to his apostleship, nor to his character traits, but to him being unmarried where his devotion to Christ is less distracted.

Paul reveals that he is not married (we are not sure if he was married, a widower, abandoned by his spouse because of his conversion to Christ, etc.) and desires that the Corinthian church not only be single but also self-controlled.

It is not unreasonable to think that Paul was previously married and abandoned because of his conversion to Christ Jesus.  Being a Hebrew of Hebrews, zealous for the Jewish traditions unlike any of his contemporaries, he would have been an amazing “catch” in that culture, the pride of family, wife and nation.  Yet this monotheistic zealot was converted on that appointed day and his world was turned “up-side down”.

If that was the case and more, then may the weightiness of his words not escape us where elsewhere he declares, “I have counted all things as rubbish for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ…”, “to live is Christ and to die is gain…” etc.  Paul’s supreme treasure above all else was truly Christ; above status, possessions and human relationships.

This is who is speaking and we do well to carefully consider what he is saying and what he means.  Thus, while Paul discloses his personal desire, he understands that not everyone is like him because God (the infinite self-existent one and source of all life) gifts us all with varying talents and abilities.  He now addresses the unmarried and widows:

But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I.  But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion

Note that in verse 1 Paul affirms that “it is good for a man not to touch a woman” (i.e., not commit sexual immorality), and uses the same phrase “it is good” for the unmarried to remain single.  Paul is not disparaging marriage but rather accentuating something that seems to be counter-intuitive—in an age of sexual immorality, if you are single believer, then stay single.

While it’s good to abstain from fornication and adultery God has nevertheless given the human race sexual desire that longs to express itself.  Is Paul encouraging abstinence at all costs?  No.

While it is good to remain single, if there’s a lack of self-control, Paul says get married.  It’s better than burning in passions and falling into sexual expression that is outside the confines of marriage.  Now Paul addresses those married:

10 But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband 11 (but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife.

Several items stand out here.  First, Paul here makes a distinction between the Lords instruction and his.  This could be understood to mean that the former is to be obeyed, and the latter can be dismissed.  The problem with that interpretation is that Paul is clearly God’s called apostle, his authoritative spokesman in a way the rest of us are not.  So to think that Paul’s views are a “take it or leave it” proposition does not logically fit.

Second, one could see verse 6 linked to this where Paul distinguished between a command and a concession, between what must be obeyed and what may be obeyed.  The problem though is that the Lord’s instructions, as Paul’s instructions, come with authoritative force which a concession does not possess.

Third, many understand this distinction between the Lord and Paul to mean that Jesus himself previously addresses the issue and thus taught on it (e.g., Mt.5:32; 19:3-9; Lk.16:18, etc.) and thus Paul gives the Master’s instructions on said topic.  Yet, when the Lord Jesus does not give instruction on a particular topic Paul says, “I not the Lord”.
That is, the distinction is not one of authority but one of subject.  This third option seems to make the best sense.

Moving on Paul discourages the immoral act of abandoning one’s husband, and the husband is also commanded not to divorce his own wife.  Both husband and wife are in a position to act immorally by severing the union and both are in a position to honor Christ in their marital union.

Marriage is an amazing gift that like others requires maintenance, care, nurture and sometimes restoration. When the required care and understanding (here time must be invested) are not practiced, like a car needing an oil change before the engine blows, so too the marriage union when it’s neglected the immorality of desertion and divorce seem to follow.

Selected Book Summaries from the PATRISTIC & MEDIEVAL PERIOD Augustine, On Nature and Grace[1]

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            Augustine’s treatise On Nature and Grace was a response to the pernicious views of Pelagius’ concerning the grace of Christ.  He addresses the letter to Timasius and Jacobus, whom he calls ‘my beloved sons’.  Augustine’s manner in confronting the heresy is done graciously, not vehemently, for he does not judge the motives of his zealous rival, but rather his writings.

God’s Righteousness through Christ Alone

He begins by speaking of God’s righteousness, which comes not through the law, but only through Christ Jesus.  This righteousness makes one a Christian, that is, if he needs it.  But if one, by virtue of his own righteousness, needs not Christ’s righteousness, then the death of Jesus was in vain.  But if Christ’s death is not in vain then human nature cannot of its own merit, escape the wrath of God.  Said escape can only be realized by faith in Christ.

Our Corrupted Natures

Although our nature was created whole and sound, it was corrupted by original sin, which was committed by free will, and now requires Divine rescue from it’s fallen state.  This rescue is gratis, not merited, it’s a justification freely given by God through Christ’s sacrifice.   For because of original sin, all mankind is justly under God’s wrath, and as such needs a Savior, so that they can be ‘vessels of mercy.’

Pelagius’ View of Man’s Ability to not Sin

Pelagius advanced the argument that actually all men sin, but its possible that they can abstain from it.  Augustine responds that just because something is possible, it does not follow that it can actually happen.  Moreover, one is not unrighteous because of his own choice [Pelagius], but rather because of his inability to choose to be righteous.  To affirm the former, rather than the latter, would make the cross of Christ of none effect and prove one to be a liar (1 Jn.1:8).  Pelagius corrupts (Jam.3:8) to support the above notion by making an interrogative note: “Can no man, then, tame the tongue?” as opposed to “No man can tame the tongue.”  James wrote this of the tongue, emphatically, not interrogatively, so that we would petition God for his mercy and grace.  Augustine rightly points to (Jam.3: 10) to support his conclusion of our need for God’s grace to tame our tongue.  Furthermore, Augustine points out that in the Lord’s Prayer, we are commanded to ask for pardon from past sins, and to be kept from future transgression.  But, if we do not need divine assistance in the matter, why then are we commanded to ask for help?  It seems foolish therefore, to ask for something we have.

Pelagius’ View Concerning Our Corrupt Human Nature

Pelagius denies that human nature has been corrupted by sin, for if sin is not a substance, then how can it corrupt human nature?  Augustine responds by first pointing out, that such a view opposes the Jesus who said, “they that are whole, need no physician, but they that are sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”  (Mt.9: 12-13)  Second, even though sin is not a substance, it does not prevent our nature from becoming corrupt.  Augustine continues and explains that we humans are sufficient of ourselves to commit sins, but insufficient of ourselves to be healed from it.  For the penalty of sin is death, and as such we need to choose to stop sinning, but we need to be revived from the grave, before being able to do that.  We need a Vivifier!   Until our souls are revived by Christ’s grace, we are unable to respond to God in righteousness.  To think we need no such assistance reveals our pride and restricts the humble petition for divine grace from being offered.

Augustins’ God-Centeredness for Man’s Healing

Augustine further points out that although God’s purpose in acting is to heal all things, He does not follow the sick patients prescription for its accomplishment.  For in His purpose to endow the Apostle Paul with power, God made sure that Paul was weak because “My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor.12: 7-8).  In fact Paul’s ‘thorn in the flesh’ was given to keep him humble because of the multitude of revelations that God gave him, so that he would not be prideful, and that in the ‘right’ thing.  By doing this to Paul, God is preventing the apostle from boasting in gifts he has received, not earned, and as such, he is being protected from eternal peril.  Now, God in a certain sense forsakes the proud, so that such a one may learn that he has a Master, and thus learns to renounce the pride.

Pelagius’ View of Man’s Equality to God

Pelagius also equals man’s sinless to be equal to God, but Augustine responds by noting that the creature can never in substance become equal to God.  Moreover, Pelagius honors God as Creator but dishonors him as Savior when he holds that Jesus heals us of our past sins, but not the future ones.  Unwittingly, Pelagius is not encouraging that believers be watchful and pray, “lead us not into temptation”; instead he is advancing an independent attitude between the creature and the Creator.  Another argument Pelagius raises is that Abel was sinless on the heels of asserting that not all people’s sins in the Bible were recorded.  Augustine responds, by noting that Adam, Eve, and Cain’s sin are recorded, but to conclude and even ‘add’ that Abel did not sin because it’s not in the text, is a wicked act for the text also is silent on that.

Augustine addresses many other issues concerning how only by God’s grace one can be sinless, that what He commands is not impossible but in no wise removes the need for petitioning his divine help.  He also tackles the issue of free will and its ramifications to the believer’s life.  Toward the end of the letter, Augustine uses other authorities to combat Pelagius’ views, he demonstrates how to exhort men to godly living, and ends the treatise by accentuating the need for the Holy Spirit to help believers walk holiness.

[1] Augustin, Aurelius, Bishop of Hippo, “Treatise on Nature and Grace: Against Pelagius,” The Nicene and

Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Volume V, Pp.121-151, (T & T Clark Edinburgh: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Reprinted in 1997)

Selected Book Summaries from the PATRISTIC & MEDIEVAL PERIOD Augustine, On Grace and Free Will[1]

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Augustine, On Grace and Free Will[1]

In his treatise on Grace and Free Will, Augustine writes to Valentinus and the Monks of Adrumetum concerning the Pelagian notion of free will and grace.  He warns that we must not deny free will when defending grace, nor deny grace while defending free will.  Yet, we must be grateful for what we do know, prayerful for what we do not understand, and charitable with each other in the learning process.

Free Will Grounded on God’s Commands

First, Augustine points out that free will exists by virtue of God’s commands.  That is, free choice of will is implied, for reward and punishment are grounded on the ability to choose righteousness or wickedness (Jn.15: 22).  Moreover, since God has revealed to man His righteousness, those claiming ignorance concerning His precepts have no excuse (Rom.1: 18-20).  Both Old and New Testament Scriptures illustrate our free will (Prov.1: 8; Ps.32: 9; Mt.6: 19; 10:28; 16:24).  Furthermore, those desiring to blame God for their sin are found wanting, for God tempts no man to do evil, but man is tempted to do evil from his own hearts desire (Jam.1: 13-15).

Pelagian View of Man’s Sufficiency to do Good Works

Second, Pelagius held that man is sufficient of himself to do good works.  Augustine responds by claiming that such a view is grounded on mans pride (Jer.17: 5), and prevents him from humbly asking for Gods help (Ps.27: 9).  He then maintains that in order for man to lead a good life, both grace and free will are necessary. Augustine grounds this assertion by demonstrating that faithfulness in marriage and in celibacy are gifts from God (Mt.19: 10; 1 Tim.5: 22; 1 Cor.7: 7, 36-37;).  Moreover, another proof of grace and free will is seen in prayer as it relates to temptation.  For when Jesus says, “Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation” Augustine maintains that both the will (pray) and God’s grace (that you enter not into temptation) are simultaneously at work.  Thus showing man’s insufficiency to do good works, by virtue of the need to pray for assistance.

Pelagius Held That God’s Grace Is Given Due to Man’s Merit

Third, Pelagius held that God’s grace was given to us by our own merits.  For example he quoted, “Turn unto me, and I will turn to you” (Zech.1: 3), to support his position.  However, Augustine points out that even our turning to God, is itself His gift, not our merit (Ps.80: 7; 85:4, 6-7;) and reminds us of what Jesus said, “No man can come unto me, except it were given unto him by my Father” (Jn.6: 65).  Moreover, Augustine argues that grace is not a result of our merits as revealed by the Apostle Paul’s life.  His evil deeds of persecuting the church did not result in condemnation, but rather in mercy (1 Cor.15: 9), and said mercy, or grace, was not in vain, but it was demonstrated by his works, the source of which was God’s grace (1 Cor.15: 10).  In other words, God’s grace and Paul’s free will are seen working together.

Pelagius’ View of Forgiveness & Eternal Life

Fourth, Pelagius also maintained that the only grace that is not given according to our merits is the forgiveness of sins, but that eternal life is rendered by our merits.  Augustine responds by reminding Pelagius that every gift he has is from God, not himself, and that thinking the converse is the womb for pride.  Moreover, the fight and the race Paul the apostle engaged could only be realized through God’s grace and mercy, rather through his own sufficiency (2 Tim.4: 7; 2 Cor.3: 5).  Furthermore, Augustine points out that Paul’s faithfulness resulted from first receiving God’s mercy, “I obtained mercy that I might be faithful” (1Cor.7: 25), not by first showing himself faithful.   Again, the fact that mercy is shown does not negate the need for good works.  For it is impossible to sever faith from the fruit of good works (Eph.2: 8-10).  But good works precede from faith, not he converse.  And as for those who would argue that all we need is to believe, Augustine responds that even the demons believe in God and tremble (Jam.2: 19).

Pelagius’ View of the Law

Fifth, Pelagius maintains that the Law is the grace of God that helps us not to sin.  Augustine argues that the Apostle Paul sees it differently.  Although the commandment is just, holy and good, sin receives its strength through the law against man, for that which is good produces death in man.  The only deliverance from such a death comes from the Spirit’s life (2Cor.3: 6), which helps us mortify the deeds of the flesh, and shows that we are sons of God (Rom8: 14).  The point is not that the law is evil, but that it is good.  However, the law does not aid us to keep the commandments, only grace does this, it alone helps us be doers of the law, not merely its hearers. augustine_360x450

Pelagius’ View of Grace Concerning Past and Future Sins

Sixth, Pelagius also believes that grace only avails for the remission of past sins, not to aid in avoiding future sins.  Augustine reminds him that in the Lord’s Prayer, believers are to ask for pardon from past sins, as to petition for protection from future transgression.  If one could perform the latter without God’s help, then Jesus commanding us to pray in this manner would be empty, and misguided.

Augustine uses other examples of our need for God’s grace: to convert our hard hearts; to deliver our nature’s from the bondage of sin; to aid us in choosing righteousness; etc.  He continues his treatise by reminding us that we love God because He first loved us, that we chose God, because He first chose us, that our wills are also affected by God, that He operates even in wicked men’s hearts as He wills, and finally that the reason God works grace in one mans heart and not in another mans heart lie in His secret judgments.  Therefore, understanding and wisdom must be sought in God.

[1] Augustin, Aurelius, Bishop of Hippo, “On Grace and Free Will,” The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series Volume V, Pp. 443-465, (T & T Clark Edinburgh, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Reprinted in 1997)

 

Selected Book Summaries from the PATRISTIC & MEDIEVAL PERIOD: Athanasius “Defense of the Nicene Definition”[1]

 

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Athanasius Defense of the Nicene Definition[1]

In his letter defending the Nicene Definition, Athanasius concerns himself with several charges laid against the Nicene Council.

Defining Begotten

The term begotten is the springboard from which the Arians viewed Christ not as the Creator, but rather as a creature of the Father.  The first begotten Son, after being created, became the means by which the Father created all other things.  Hence, this creature cannot be the same essence as the Father, and as such is not True God.  Athanasius responds with several arguments.  Two considerations follow.

Man’s Contingency & God’s Necessity

First, he considers man’s contingency and God’s necessity and relates it to our natures.  He points out that in order for man to create there must already exist material, whereas for God to create, he only has to speak the word ex-nihilo.  He continues and points out that man’s generation is in one way, and the Son’s from the Father is another.  Man’s offspring by nature is compounded in begetting children, but God who by nature is uncompounded, is Father of the One Only Son.  That is to say, that the Son is eternally generated from the Father, for in that God ever is, He is ever the Father of the Son.  Athanasius follows this argument and supports it with Scriptures (Mt.9: 27; Heb.1: 3; Ps.36: 9; Jn.14: 9).

Confronting the Arian’s Misinterpretation of Scripture

Second, Athanasius is aware of how the Arians misinterpret Scripture.  They argue for the creation of Christ from Proverbs 8:22 “The Lord created me a beginning of His ways unto His works” and his response is that it does refer to the Son in his humanity, for creation belongs to man.  Moreover, just as we do not lose our proper substance when we receive the Spirit, so Christ did not lose his substance of deity when he became man, but rather he deified and rendered it immortal.  Athansius then continues explaining the Catholic sense of the word Son, and asserts that his name implies eternal.

 The Phrases “From the Essence” and “One in Essence.” 

The Arian’s complain that the terms, “Of the essence” and “One in essence” is not Scriptural.  Athanasius quickly exposes their hypocrisy by asking “why do they [Arians] use phrases like ‘He was not before His generation,’ and ‘once he was not,’ and ‘out of nothing,’ and ‘pre-existence,’ which are clearly not Scriptural.”  He then indicts them of making up fables and mocking the Lord.  He then explains the reason for the usage of these phrases and their meaning.

 “From God”

The phrase ‘from God’ was understood by the Arians to mean that Christ, like men, is the offspring of God.  To combat the heterodoxy, they chose the phrase ‘from the essence of God’ so that the Son would not be seen as a creature, but rather as the Word, which is from the Father, who is the originator of all things, truly from God.  This phrase was installed to prevent any deception from the Arians.

 “One in Essence”

The phrase ‘one in essence’ describes the indivisibility of the Father and the Son, and it was written by the Council to defeat the twisted heretics, and to show that the Word is not a mutable creature, but rather the Creator of all creatures, of all things.  Moreover, the Council anathematized the Arian doctrine, and Athanasius then challenges the Arians to refute the Council’s position.  If they can, then “anathematize” the anathema of the Council.  If there are those who think the phrase is strange, Athanasius affirms that this is so because they are not understood with the intended meaning of the Council.  Hence, Athanasius is essentially telling the Arians to “put up or shut up.”

Athanasius continues and sites several authorities that agree with the Council on the phraseology, and finishes the letter by grappling with the unscriptural term unoriginate that the Arian’s borrowed from the Greeks.

[1] Athanasius,  “Defense of the Nicene Definition,” The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series,

Volume IV, Pp.150-172, (T & T Clark Edinburgh, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Reprinted in 1996)

 

Selected Book Summaries from the PATRISTIC & MEDIEVAL PERIOD “Athanasius, On The Incarnation”[1]

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The Universe’s Creation

In his letter On The Incarnation, Athanasius first grounds his apologetic of the incarnation on the universe’s creation.  He does this by addressing fallacious views of creation, the first of which is Epicureanism (fortuitous generation).  They contend that everything is its own cause and is independent of any purpose, but Athanasius argues that the diversity of bodies and parts actually supports an intelligent, creating designer.  Then there are the Platonists (pre-existent matter).  They purport that God created the world with the matter that already existed; in other words, God is seen as a mechanic using available material to construct the universe.  Athanasius contends that this view weakens God, for he could not create the material needed to construct the universe.  But He could not in any sense be called Creator unless He is Creator of the material with which all things have been made.  Moreover he accentuates that the world as well as humans were made ex-nihilo and that Scripture attests to this.  But when Adam disobeyed, the promise of death had to be met out.  Yet, in keeping with God’s goodness, He could not allow his creation, especially his image bearers, his rational creatures to continue in a corrupt state.  Thus, he sent the incorporeal immaterial One who has always been, and through the incarnation takes a body of our nature, and reveals Himself, in order to conquer death and restore life back to us.

The Reason for the Incarnation

Second, Athanasius asserts that the reason for the incarnation was to give man the knowledge of Himself.  For, to be destitute of the knowledge of God is equivalent to a purposeless existence.  Hence, in the incarnation man can get a “front row seat” and somewhat understand the Father and their Maker, and as a result have a happy and blessed life.  But man rejected the knowledge of God (which is the equivalent of irrationality for Athanasius) and replaced it with idolatry, witchcraft, and astrology, even though the creation along with the Law and Prophets gave further attestation to the Creator.  Such darkness prevented man from understanding the knowledge of God, and as such, only the Lord Jesus Christ could bring about such knowledge to man.  In His mercy, he condescended to man to save the lost.

God’s Ubiquity Not Affected by the Incarnation

Third, the incarnation affected not his ubiquity, for even though he was in a body, he never ceased being the sustainer of all things.  He maintained the same nature (separate from the creation).  Moreover, his miraculous acts (healing the sick, casting out demons, raising the dead) his death on the cross, and his resurrection from the dead, testified to his dominion over creation and as such, to his deity.  His public death among other things did not show weakness, but rather it demonstrated strength.  It was the means by which he would destroy death, while simultaneously through the resurrection manifest the monument of victory over death.  His public death was also necessary for the doctrine of the resurrection to be believed as a historical event, rather than a mere fable, both by his disciples and those who would later believe.  Christ’s death on the cross, demonstrated his bearing the curse on our stead, for “Cursed is he that hangs on a tree.”  This death and resurrection secures for the believer the joy of life, rather than the torment of death.  For, just as Christ is the first fruits of life, through the resurrection, believers will follow in like manner.  Hence the fear of death to man is overthrown.  Death is swallowed up in victory!

Proofs for the Resurrection

Fourth, the resurrection has many proofs to its veracity.  First of all, the fact that men from all cultures are turning to faith in Christ points to him being alive, not dead.  Second, being the source of life, it was impossible for him not to bring his body back to life.  Third, even if God is invisible, the fact that his works of casting out demons and overcoming idolatry through his people is manifest are proof of the resurrection.  For, demons would scarcely obey in the name of a dead man, but rather in the name of the One risen.

Responding to the Jews Concerning Christ’s Person from the Old and New Testaments

Fifth, Athanasius answers the unbelieving Jews by using the Scriptures to argue for the incarnation with many references.  He starts with the virgin birth (Mt.1: 23, cf; Is. 7:14), and moves on to Moses’ prediction (Num.14: 5-17; Is. 8:4), his living place (Hos. 9:1), his death (Is. 53:3), his birth and death on the cross (Jer.9: 19; Ps.22: 16; Is.9: 10), his miracles (Is.65: 1-2, Rom.10: 20; Is.35: 3) and more scripture.  He then argues from the withdrawal of prophecy and the destruction of Jerusalem (Mt.11: 13; Lk.16: 16), and points to the fact that it was the Lord himself that would save us (Is.63: 9).

Unbelief of the Greeks Addressed

Sixth, Athanasius addresses the unbelief of the Greeks concerning the absurdity of the incarnation and he points out that it is no problem for Christ to manifest in a body if in fact the Logos Manifests Himself in creation.  Moreover, his manifestation in a body is grounded on his relation to Creation as a whole.  Hence, because he wanted to reveal himself to man, he became man.  Another line of argument concerns the reason for the incarnation.  Since man is the only creature that sinned, he would not see or recognize the Creator through his works, so through the incarnation he manifested his works among them.  He continues with many other proofs to counter their scoffing, but ends his letter with an exhortation for those who love knowledge to find it where it only resides: in Christ, where it’s attained through virtuous living that’s grounded in loving the Logos who is blessed forever more.

[1] Athanasius, “On The Incarnation of The Word,” The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series,

Volume IV, p.36 (T & T Clark Edinburgh, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Reprinted in 1996).