Monday, September 12, 2011

"Contradictions in the Word of God": #3- Can Salvation be Attained by Works?

Can Salvation be Attained by Works?

This is the 3rd question asked on the video which claims to reveal contradictions in the Word of God.  The two answers given are "No", using Galatians 2:16 and Romans 3:28 for support, and "Yes", referencing Matthew 19:17; Luke 10:26-28; James 2:24.

I began to answer this alleged contradiction and then decided my time constraints at the present would prevent me from fully elaborating on the matter. This particular question needs a solid and careful response.  It is an important question for each person to consider.

The question has been debated by Protestants and any other religious group (including Roman Catholics) for centuries. Sometimes it is framed a bit differently by saying that Paul (the author of Romans and Galatians) disagrees with James. So, can salvation be attained by works?

The correct answer to this question is a “what do you mean”? Terminology is important with any question and that goes for this one. What do you mean by “salvation”? What do you mean by “attained”? What do you mean by “works”?

My guess is the question being asked is something like: “Can a man earn a right relationship with God and receive eternal life by doing certain good deeds ?” The answer to that question is a resounding “NO”.

The passages in question (and there are many similar ones on both sides) do not contradict each other. Obviously the individual(s) who put together the little video did not do much research. If they truly believed this question was a serious issue on the faithfulness of the Scripture, they would have spent a little effort seeing what Protestant scholars have said on the matter over the past 500 years.

Since I do not have the time at present to answer the question in depth, I am providing some references to responses by a few, good Protestant men on the matter. I would encourage you to listen to them and see if they provide an answer to what you believe is a contradiction in the Scripture.

Furthermore, if, after listening to their responses, you would like to discuss this specific question in more detail, please let me know.

  • Dr. John Piper, current pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, briefly shares his understanding of the doctrine of justification by faith alone here. He also addresses the alleged contradiction between Paul and James here.
  • The 19th century English Baptist pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, preached on this topic and you may read his sermon here.
  • Dr. John MacArthur is the current pastor of Grace Community Church in southern California and has addressed the matter in two sermons from James chapter 2.  His first is on dead faith and may be found here.  His second is on living faith and may be read here.

Friday, September 9, 2011

"Contradictions in the Word of God": #2 - Does Yahweh Tempt People?

The question:  “Does Yahweh Tempt People?"
The answers:  “No, He would never do that.” “He tempted Abraham.”
The Biblical references:

Genesis 22:1 – And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham...

James 1:13 – Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man.

“Hey, would you like to go to the ballgame tonight? I have a free ticket and it’s yours if you want it.” “Well, I probably should spend the time catching up on some things around the house. The offer is very tempting.”

A temptation or the act of tempting is not always one with an evil connotation. Even the English definition of the verb “tempt” makes this clear: “entice (someone) to do something against their better judgment.” For example, tempting me to attend a ballgame rather than catching up on things around the house is to entice me to something against my better judgment. But it is not a temptation to do evil.

The Hebrew word for “tempt” in Genesis 22:1 has the basic definition of “to try, to prove, to make a trial”. The Greek word for “tempt” in James 1:13 has the basic definition of “to test, to put to the test, to try.” The word used in James 1:13 is also used in Hebrews 11:17 in reference to Abraham in Genesis 22:1.

“By faith Abraham, when he was tried...”

The word, at times, does mean to entice one to evil but the context of the usage must determine whether the temptation is a temptation to do evil or a temptation to prove, i.e., to test.

The James text makes it clear that the author is describing God’s nature and that He does not entice people to evil. As he writes, “...God cannot be tempted WITH EVIL, neither tempteth he any man.” God does not tempt men to do evil acts.

But the context of Genesis 22 makes it very clear that God is testing Abraham, putting his faith on trial, not enticing him to do evil. Verse 12 indicates this entire affair was a test of faith, not a temptation to do evil.

Our difficulty with these texts is the result of our modern usage of “temptation” to denote something evil and the older English translations which sometimes uses “temptation” without referring to evil. The three verses listed above are quoted from the King James Version. Their translation of Hebrews 11:17 indicates even they understood the Genesis 22 text to be a test, not a temptation. Modern English translations correctly understand the usage of the original words and have clarified their meanings with their translation. Here are a few examples:

Genesis 22:1

ESV: “After these things God tested Abraham...”
NAS: “Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham...”
HCSB: “After these things God tested Abraham...”

Hebrews 11:17

ESV: “By faith Abraham, when he was tested...”
NAS: “By faith Abraham, when he was tested...”
HCSB: “By faith Abraham, when he was tested...”

James 1:13

ESV: “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.”
NAS: “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.”
HCSB: “No one undergoing a trial should say, ‘I am being tempted by God.’ For God is not tempted by evil, and He Himself doesn’t tempt anyone.”

Does God tempt people? Yes and no. He tempts them in terms of testing their faith but He never tempts them in terms of doing evil. To successfully battle the temptation to do evil, you need to be born again, a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, indwelt by His Spirit. Are you? If not, I plead with you to turn from your sins and flee to Christ now.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

"Contradictions in the Word of God": #1 - How Long Does Yahweh's Anger Last?

This may be the first of several posts on the subject of supposed Biblical contradictions.  I have been challenged by a younger man who, it appears, doubts the Scripture as well as questions God although I am not certain how deep that questioning goes.   Is he an athiest?  I don't know. 

The alleged contradictions presented to me are ones that have been hurled at the Bible for centuries to no avail.  I doubt if I present anything new to the debate in these matters and am certain anyone with internet access (i.e., you if you are reading this post!) can find others who articulate responses to these contradictions much better than I can.  Nevertheless, I will respond to at least a few of them over the coming days as time permits.  Also, I will try to be as brief as possible. 

"How long does Yahweh's anger last?"  "Forever or not forever."  The references given for this "contradiction" are Micah 7:18 and Jeremiah 17:4.  The Scripture contains similar verses for each of these so I will simply stick with these two in my response.

First, the anger (or wrath) of God is a very real attribute just like His love. His wrath is the nature of God which intensely hates any and all sin. God responds to sin with His wrath.

Jeremiah 17:4 states "... for in my anger a fire is kindled that shall burn forever". The Hebrew word translated "forever" comes from the word "what is hidden", especially "hidden time" or "long time". It is used to describe eternity (or forever) but the basic understanding of the word is "for a long time."  But there is nothing wrong with translating the word as "forever".

The context of Jeremiah 17 reveals the Lord is responding to the sin of Judah. They have sinned and God announces the loss of their heritage and their servitude to enemies. God's wrath, as a result of their sin, is upon them forever.

But the context of Micah 7 is entirely different. In verse 18 of that chapter we read, "Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love."

Now we see the love and mercy of God in contrast to His wrath. He pardons sin and restrains His wrath because of His love. But this is not the same audience. These individuals are the remnant, not the rebellious we see in Jeremiah 17. These have turned from the sin and are now trusting their Savior. For them, God's wrath does not last forever.

There is no contradiction between these two verses (or similar verses in the Scripture).  God's wrath will remain FOREVER upon those who refuse to repent of their sins and trust in Christ. Jeremiah 17 is absolutely correct for those individuals. They will experience the wrath of God forever in the abode of Hell.

But for those who have trusted Christ, God's wrath has been appeased by the death of Christ (Romans 3:23-25). For this "remnant", we longer live under His wrath and will never experience. Praise God "he does not retain his anger forever!"

So, the question is not one of contradiction. Rather, the question is in which group are you? Based on your skepticism of God's Word, I fear you are in the same position as those in Jeremiah 17. I fear, young man, for your soul. Even now, the wrath of God is upon you (John 3:36) and it will remain upon you forever.

But there is hope and His name is Jesus! I encourage you to consider Him, ask for God to forgive you of your sins, and throw yourself on His mercy. He will save you from the wrath of God!