Wednesday, December 19, 2018

A Nightmare OFF Elm Street

It was only a dream; well, more like a nightmare!

I awoke with a start on that Sunday morning as a result of the dream. While not reality, the dream did contain foreboding images and sounds which would not depart from my brain. Sensing something amiss, my wife asked me what was wrong. I told her I was in a bad mood because of the dream.

For the remainder of that day, I could not clear my head of the horrible events I witnessed in my sleep. Some of my family interpreted my quietness and the absence of interest in variable events of the day to mean I was angry. But, that was not the case. It was not anger that troubled me; it was fear. This fear arose out of what I envisioned in my dream and the possibility it may foretell the future.

I’ve never been one to put much credence in the interpretation of dreams. Usually, I simply dismiss any which I recall once awake. God once revealed Himself to our ancestors in dreams, but I’m not convinced He does so today. If He would give us a dream for some purpose, that vision must align with the words of Scripture. God’s revelation has been sealed for centuries; no new revelation is being given, only illumination of His revealed Word. Therefore, I lay no claim that this horrific dream was God-sent.

Nevertheless, it remains with me days later. I’ve struggled with whether to share the content of the dream or to keep it to myself. Furthermore, I’ve struggled with what, if anything, I can do about it.

I’m writing this article to explain what I dreamt and attempt to do something positive from it.

First, the reader must have some background on our family. My wife and I have nine, grown children. All eleven of us, at one time or another, have professed Jesus as our Lord and been immersed. Furthermore, we have eighteen grandchildren ranging in age from one to twenty-five. Some of them have also made professions of faith in Christ.

I must also confess I have developed a ridiculous fear of crowds (ochlophobia) over the past decade. On occasion, if I am in a large group of people, I become extremely nervous and have an urgent need to extricate myself from the situation. At times, I have successfully managed to control the fear. But, I never know beforehand if I can do so.

With that knowledge, I begin my recollection of my dream. It came to me in two distinct parts.

First, my entire family were visiting Disney World. We were walking around when my ochlophobia began. After attempting to control it for a brief time, I told my family I must leave them and return to the hotel room. To my dismay and surprise, some of them laughed at me, some mocked me, and others yelled at me for not seeing a doctor about my condition. None of this mattered to me, and I departed for the solitude of the hotel room.

Second, while relaxing in my room and recovering from my panic, I began to hear voices. I sat up in my bed and distinctly heard the voices of some of my family. Someone was shouting, “Dad, please help me.” Another screamed, “Grandpa, help!” The voices became louder in volume and more in number.

Concerned for my family’s well-being, I leapt from my bed, threw on my shoes, and bolted for the door. Meanwhile, the voices were growing louder than before, repeatedly pleading for my help. I was quivering from fear, wondering what might be happening to them.

Then, I flung open the door to the room.

On the other side of the door was a massive chasm, the bottom completely out of sight. Far down in that hole, orange flames and smoke were clearly visible. The sound of steam was now added to the crying voices of my family.

Across the chasm on the far ledge stood some of my family, both children and grandchildren. Not all were there, and I could not make out any of their faces. Yet, I knew they were the source of the pleas for help.

Standing in the doorway of my room, I watched as my family members, one by one, were pushed into this pit. Even as they fell, they were screaming for my aid, begging me to rescue them.

I could do nothing.

Then, I awoke.

I trust the reader now understands why this dream has dramatically affected me. I suspect such a dream would haunt any parent. The larger and more important question is what can I do with it? Simply forgetting the dream is not an option, at least, not one for me.

Now that all our children have left our home, they must live their own lives. I have no authority over them and cannot demand their obedience to my religion. I do my best not to offer advice to any of them unless asked. Some of them remain active in local churches, hopefully a sign of their true faith. Others, however, appear to have abandoned the faith, or, at least, no longer consider it of importance. The only help I can offer my child is, first, that I will pray for you, and, second, to exhort you either to return to the Lord you once professed or to truly seek Him for the first time. For when the judgment comes, and we stand on opposite sides of God’s throne, there is nothing I can do to help you. Screaming for my assistance will prove useless. Jesus is your only hope.

My grandchildren prove a special burden. I have exercised extreme caution over the years with meddling in their lives. Their parents, not me, are responsible for their upbringing. Even in the realm of religion, I have reluctantly refrained from saying very much about Christ and salvation so not to override their parents’ views. Yet, I fear some may not be learning about the danger that awaits them and their need for Christ. What might I do to respect their parents but assist my grandchildren? Well, as with your parents, I will pray for you, grandchild. The Lord often moves in mysterious ways and He can reach you even if your parents attempt to block His influence. Second, I will pray for your parents. I will pray that, perhaps, they will have a similar dream in which they are standing in the door and watching you being pushed into eternal punishment. I will pray they come to their senses in the matter of God, sin, Jesus, salvation, and eternal judgment. They have the responsibility to share those things with you.

Lastly, I will pray that, when judgment day comes, all my family, each one, stand on the same side of God’s throne, believers in Jesus, prepared for eternity.

Oh, and yes, we do live just off Elm Street!

Love and Marriage

I have known couples who claim they no longer love their partner and want out of their marriage. I have known men and women who have lost the love of their spouse and seek to find love with another while still in a marriage with the former. Among the unbelievers of the world, such actions are expected. When God is not the true foundation of one’s marriage, anything might result in a divorce.

Unfortunately, I have seen professing Christian couples in the same situations. Christians who claim to love Jesus and are married to a spouse who also professes love for Christ claim they have lost the love of their partner. They seek ways out of their marriage. Sometimes the marriage is ended by an adulterous act.

I believe one of the key problems in such relationships is that the two individuals do not fully understand what love truly is in marriage. This article is addressed primarily to married couples who profess to be Christians. So, if you are not a follower of my Lord, you will likely dismiss what I have to say as the thoughts of some old, bigoted, man. So be it.

Marital love is a diverse subject. I do not profess to be an expert, but my wife and I are approaching our forty-sixth anniversary. Therefore, I believe I have some experience in this matter. The characteristic of this invisible fixture of marriage takes many different forms. Love begins as an attraction then transforms into a friendship, a companionship. Subsequent to marriage (in accordance with God’s counsel), marital love becomes primarily sexual love. It continues to metamorphose as the marriage endures the passing years and as children are born. But, there is one aspect of marital love that must never change or replaced. It is that attribute which permits for a long, happy, loving marriage: forgiveness.

True marital love is a forgiving love.

Be honest, Christian reader. Each spouse sins in their marriage. In fact, we sin every day if not every hour. And, some of those sins are against our spouse. From a human perspective, our sins range in seriousness from telling a little white lie (perhaps to conceal a surprise party) to adultery. From God’s perspective, every sinful act, no matter how important it may seem to us, will be judged, found guilty, and punished by our Creator. God does not like liars any more than He likes adulterers. Scripture abundantly and clearly teaches we are sinners and stand condemned.

But Christian husband or wife, remember why you are a believer. First, it is because God the Father chose you to be given to God the Son. Second, His Son willingly came to earth, lived, then died in your place on the cross to pay the penalty of your sin. Third, God the Spirit changed your heart and mind, enabling you to repent of your sin, believe in Christ, and receive full forgiveness for all your sins. As Scripture teaches, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Now, if God can forgive you of your sins, Christian, how can you fail to follow the example of your Master and not forgive the sin of your spouse? What type of Christian are you? Does your moral standard exceed that of Jesus? Are you somehow more perfect than He who forgave you? I suggest you carefully read Luke 7:41-50 and Matthew 18:23-35.

Let me answer some anticipated questions.

1. “What if I forgive my spouse and they commit the same sin against me?”

Have you never repeated your forgiven sin? Did God forgive your sin only the first time you committed it, or did He do so every time you commit it? Are you superior to God? Jesus said we are to forgive “seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21-22) and He didn’t mean only 490 times.

2. “Didn’t Jesus permit divorce in the case of adultery? Well, my spouse committed adultery, humiliated me, and I want a divorce.”

We can debate the alleged passage on the certificate of divorce. However, let us save that argument for another day and accept the idea that Christ does permit divorce in the event of adultery. Then I have three thoughts to share. First, He permits it; He does NOT command it. Second, He has called on us to grant forgiveness “seventy times seven”. Third, most likely your wedding vows (made to each other AND to God) included the words “until death do we part”. Nothing was said about divorce. To obtain a divorce is to abandon the vow you made before God. The Bible does not speak well of one who breaks his vow (Deuteronomy 23:21).

3. “What is one spouse is physically abusing the other?”

Certainly, no one should permit their partner to physically harm them. Flee from them. Seek a restraining order. More importantly, pray for them because anyone who behaves in such a manner is likely not a true believer in Christ. They need salvation.

In today’s world, it appears commonplace for marriage partners to tire of one another and find reasons to divorce. But, when Christians divorce, they bring harm not only to themselves and their families, but also to their testimony of faith. Ephesians chapter five teaches our marriage is a visible illustration of Christ and His bride, the church. Christ forgives His bride every minute of every day. Praise God, He never divorces us! Foremost in the loving relationship between Christ and His church is forgiveness. The same should be true of our relationship.

Christian readers: if you have sinned in your marriage, seek God’s forgiveness, seek your partner’s forgiveness, and turn from that sin. If you are the partner sinned against, forgive your partner when asked and pray with them, for them, and for your marriage. Begin rebuilding your marriage on the basis of that forgiveness. Ultimately, doing so is best for you, your family, and your witness for Jesus.

True marital love is a forgiving love.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Christmas Truly Means - Christmas 2018

Thanksgiving is past, December is here.
 The weather is cold, and Christmas is near.
Excitement will grow as the days roll by,
 Energetic kids from a sugar high!

The shoppers racing from that store to this,
 Seeking perfect gifts; no bargains they miss.
The music blares out, all hours of the day,
 Holiday singing is what they do play.

Decorations up, snow adds to the fun.
 The cards are all sent, thank goodness that’s done!
But, what have we learned, from all of this stuff?
 How to become mad and get in a huff?

Why do we permit, these yearly routines,
 To obscure Christmas, what it truly means?
Instead of presents, dwell upon God’s gift
 Our depressed spirits only He can lift.

Our judgment coming, He alone can free
 Providing ransom upon Calvary.
And, for that alone, each of us can say,
 We are so grateful, to have such a day.

Christmas truly means, our Savior is born
 And, so, when we rise, on that blessed morn,
Look past the gifts and tree and all the fun
 To see Lord Jesus, God’s begotten Son.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Spurgeon on Regeneration

The greatest English speaking pastor of history has said much on the subject of regeneration. Given recent barbs and "theories" flying around Facebook in recent days, I thought I would simply share a couple of paragraphs from ONE of his sermons ("Regeneration" from March 3, 1857).

First, what he had to say on regeneration as a result of baptism (emphasis added):

But some say all are regenerate when they are baptized. Well, if you think so, stick to your own thoughts; I cannot help it. Simon Magus was certainly one exception; he was baptized on a profession of his faith; but so far from being regenerated by his baptism, we find Paul saying, "I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity." And yet he was one of those regenerates, because he had been baptized. Ah! that doctrine only needs to be stated to sensible men, and they will at once reject it. Gentlemen that are fond of a filigree religion, and like ornament and show; gentlemen of the high Beau Brummel school will very likely prefer this religion, because they have cultivated their taste at the expense of their brain, and have forgotten that what is consistent with the sound judgment of a man can not be consistent with the Word of God. So much for the first point.

Second, to those who wish to give man credit in his choosing his regeneration with his so-called free will, he has a couple of paragraphs on that as well (again, emphasis added):

Neither is a man regenerated, we say, in the next place, by his own exertions. A man may reform himself very much, and that is well and good; let all do that. A man may cast away many vices, forsake many lusts in which he indulged, and conquer evil habits; but no man in the world can make himself to be born in God; though he should struggle never so much, he could never accomplish what is beyond his power. And, mark you, if he could make himself to be born again still he would not enter heaven, because there is another point in the condition which he would have violated—"unless a man be born of the Spirit, he can not see the kingdom of God." So that the best exertions of the flesh do not reach this high point, the being born again of the Spirit of God.     And now we must say, that regeneration consists in this. God the Holy Spirit, in a supernatural manner—mark, by the word supernatural I mean just what it strictly means; supernatural, more than natural—works upon the hearts of men, and they by the operations of the divine Spirit become regenerate men; but without the Spirit they never can be regenerated. And unless God the Holy Spirit, who "worketh in us to will and to do," should operate upon the will and the conscience, regeneration is an absolute impossibility, and therefore so is salvation. "What!" says one, "do you mean to say that God absolutely interposes in the salvation of every man to make him regenerate?" I do indeed; in the salvation of every person there is an actual putting forth of the divine power, whereby the dead sinner is quickened, the unwilling sinner is made willing, the desperately hard sinner has his conscience made tender; and he who rejected God and despised Christ, is brought to cast himself down at the feet of Jesus. This is called fanatical doctrine, mayhap; that we can not help; it is scriptural doctrine, that is enough for us. "Except a man be born of the Spirit he can not see the kingdom of God; that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." If you like it not, quarrel with my Master, not with me; I do but simply declare his own revelation, that there must be in your heart something more than you can ever work there. There must be a divine operation; call it a miraculous operation, if you please; it is in some sense so. There must be a divine interposition, a divine working, a divine influence, or else, do what you may, without that you perish, and are undone; "for except a man be born again, be can not see the kingdom of God." The change is radical; it gives us new natures, makes us love what we hated and hate what we loved, sets us in a new road; makes our habits different, our thoughts different, makes us different in private, and different in public. So that being in Christ it is fulfilled: "If any man be in Christ he is a new creature; old things are passed away, behold all things are become new."
Amen and Amen!

Monday, July 23, 2018

Ode to the Preterist

I once heard a preterist defend his view,
          He claimed events in Revelation were past,
All the prophecy had been fulfilled, it’s true,
          Twas of little worth for those days that are last.

When asked to explain his interpretation,
          He referred to Matthew chapter 24.
For all those events in that generation
          Had to be accomplished, all finished for sure.

So, I asked, when did the Son of Man return
          For that is what Jesus said in that chapter.
The preterist did not bat an eye but turned
          “Why, that was Titus the Roman conqueror.”

Staring at him, I was confused and amazed.
          “Do you truly believe Titus was that man?”
“Sure, that is all the Lord meant.” I stood there dazed!  
          “He attacked Jerusalem and the Jews ran.”

I did my best to restrain my emotions,
          But soon knew that I wasn’t up to the task.
My eyes swelled up, my mouth began its motions,
          In laughter and this foolishness, I would bask.

“Laugh if you will,” he exclaimed, “but I am right”,
          “I have all the proof I need here in my hand.”
And when I looked I saw a book he held tight,
          “Sproul agrees with me; great is he in the land.”

My laughter did not cease, oh no, it did not.
          It only increased with this revealing news.
I simply dropped to my knees right on the spot,
          Dying from laughter over his end time views.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Breathe on Me: A Brief Examination of John 20:22

Last Sunday evening as we worked our way through John chapter 20, we encountered a couple of verses which raised questions: first, verses 6-7 (which I will, from this point forward, refer to affectionately as “Jay’s verses”) and, second, the verse examined by this post. I might add that verse 23 is also a very interesting Scripture to ponder.

The Text in Question

“And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” John 20:22; King James Version.

It is Sunday evening, the very Sunday on which Christ arose from the dead. The disciples are in a locked room in the city of Jerusalem (except for Judas Iscariot, who is dead, and Thomas, who is absent) for fear of the Jews. Suddenly, Jesus appears in their midst and greets them with a wish for peace. In verse 21, he calls them to the mission of spreading the Gospel. This call is followed by our verse.

In the original, the verse is a mere ten words. Here is the Greek version translitered into English.

Kai touto eipon enephusesen kai legei autois, Labete pneuma hagion.

Translating directly from the text: “and this having said he breathed on and said to them, Receive spirit holy.”

The verb rendered “breathed on” is an imperative expressing a command or a prohibition. Contextually, Jesus is giving the disciples a commandment. However, there is nothing in the verb or in the statement which tells us when that reception is to take place. In other words, Jesus did not say, “Receive NOW the Holy Spirit” or “Receive TODAY the Holy Spirit”.

What Does John Mean?

So, is Jesus breathing on them and commanding them to receive the Spirit indicative of His actual dispensing of the Spirit? Is He giving them the Spirit at this very moment? If so, how do we reconcile this giving on Resurrection Sunday evening with the coming of the Holy Spirit fifty days later, on Pentecost?

Personally, I have “flopped” around on my understanding of this verse. I’ve taught the Gospel of John in college and in church multiple times as well as preached through the entire book once. My review of various commentators over the centuries has led me to divide the primary interpretations of the verse into four groups. There are differences even within groups. Nevertheless, here are my four divisions and some of the comments made by others holding that interpretation.

1. John is viewing a unified event.

This interpretation views no conflict between John 20:22 and Acts 2. Both events are the same event being described by different authors in different ways. Luke, in Acts 2, describes the specifics of the coming at Pentecost in a chronological, historical manner. But, John views the resurrection, the ascension, and the giving of the Spirit as a single event. In other words, the evangelist is not concerned about the chronology and merely joins the future coming of the Spirit at Pentecost to his discussion of the resurrection.

Gerald L. Borchert, a 20th century scholar, holds this position.

“From my perspective, however, the arguments offered by Measley-Murray and Burge are to be preferred because they fit more faithfully into the style and logic of the writings by the Johannine evangelist. … the evangelist views the life of Jesus as a whole. Therefore, chronological sequences are not of primary concern to him. John viewed the resurrection, the gift of the Spirit and the ascension of Jesus as a unified event.”

I agree with Borchert in one sense. Of the Gospel writers, John is the least concerned with chronology. He is sharing those truths he knows to draw people to Christ. But, I find this interpretation to “strain” the text. Specifics are given here. It is, without question, Resurrection Sunday. The subsequent event with Thomas flows chronologically (eight days) after this one. To “shove” the thought of Pentecost into verse 22 is a bit too much for me. Furthermore, Jesus breathed on them and “said”. Nothing of the kind happened at Pentecost. Surely, this is not the correct interpretation.

2. Jesus gave the Spirit to indwell the disciples.

While the New Testament teaches the believer receives the indwelling Holy Spirit at his regeneration (new birth), we are at a transitional moment of history. In the Old Testament, we saw the Spirit come upon individuals and then depart. Jesus has yet to ascend and then send the Spirit. These disciples have been born again during their time with Christ (implication of John 15:3) but have yet to receive the indwelling spirit. This verse reflects the coming of the Spirit TO THEM.

Arthur W. Pink, 20th century Biblical scholar, appears to hold this position, if I am reading him correctly. In his commentary on the Gospel of John, he writes:

“This was supplementary to ‘Go tell my brethren.’  … From this moment the Spirit dwelt within them. We have been accustomed to look upon the change which is so apparent in apostles as dating from the day of Pentecost, but the great change had occurred before then. … What happened at Pentecost was the baptism of power, not the coming of the Spirit to indwell them!”

I understand what Pink is saying but I have a couple of issues with this interpretation.

(1) Jesus said He must go before He would send the Spirit (John 16:7). He is still present with them, so I would think sending the Spirit now makes His previous comment false. One might get around this difficulty by interpreting Jesus’ “going away” as His death, but that seems a stretch to me.

(2) What happens to poor Thomas? He’s not there! Does he not receive the Spirit until later? Does Jesus perform the same act (though unrecorded) eight days later?

No, I have difficulties with this understanding.

3. Jesus gave the Spirit to the disciples for apostolic ministry.

In verse 21, Jesus has just commissioned his apostles to proclaim the Gospel. This verse is a continuation of that commission. First, he breathes on them, symbolic of their commission. Then, He commands them to receive the Spirit meaning to receive the Spirit’s gifts necessary to carry out that ministry. The full, indwelling, powerful Spirit will be given at Pentecost. In other words, Jesus gives them the measure of the Spirit they require for Apostolic ministry. The full giving of the Spirit awaits Pentecost.

Church history has several Biblical scholars holding to this or a similar position. The great Reformer, John Calvin, expressed such a view in his New Testament commentaries.

“Because no mortal man is fit for such a difficult office, Christ institutes the apostles by the grace of His Spirit. … He testified by an outward symbol when He breathed on the apostles; for it would be meaningless if the Spirit did not proceed from Him. … The Spirit was given to the apostles now in such a way that they were only sprinkled with His grace and not saturated with full power. For when the Spirit appeared on them in tongues of fire, they were entirely renewed.”

The 17th century Puritan George Hutcheson, thought highly of by C. H. Spurgeon, appears to teach this interpretation. In his commentary on the fourth Gospel, Hutcheson writes:

“In the next place, Christ who sends them doth also furnish them with the gifts of the Spirit for that office, some fruits whereof, before that full measure was let out upon them, Acts, ii … This breathing on them when he communicated this furniture, being an extraordinary sign of his communicating this extraordinary furniture, is therefore not to be imitated by any in ordinary who have not the dispensing of those endowments”

Leon Morris, a 20th century Anglican writer, speaks similarly in his commentary on John. He writes:

“Having commissioned them Jesus bestows on them the equipment they will need for the discharge of their commission. … John is not writing as though there were a series of gifts made to individuals. Rather, he speaks of a collective gift made to the church as a whole. … But the important thing is not this, but the presence of the Holy Spirit within them. … It is false alike to the New Testament and to Christian experience to maintain that there is but one gift of the Spirit. Rather the Spirit is continually manifesting Himself in new ways. So John tells us of one gift and Luke of another.”

The gift, to which Morris refers, is the gift to forgive or retain sin (see verse 23).

I prefer this interpretation to the two previous ones. Jesus is not technically giving the Spirit to them now. The Spirit will come later. Furthermore, these men are special since they will hold the office of Apostle. Certainly, Christ, in his commissioning them to service, could endow them with special spiritual gifts. I’m not certain, though I agree with Morris that Christ is merely giving to them the authority of verse 23.

Yet, I have a problem once more with Thomas. He is overlooked, again, in this interpretation. Did he have to wait until Pentecost to be endowed as an Apostle? Does Christ make a second visit and breathe on him?

Another thing about these previous two interpretations: one must be careful NOT to interpret the “two givings” of the Spirit as normal for Christians. The concept of the “second blessing” may be read into these views of the passage. Someone might teach that we receive the Spirit at conversion but receive His power at a second giving (“baptism of the Spirit”). Even if this were true for the Apostles (either interpretation 2 or 3), this was a UNIQUE moment in history. Like the crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, or Pentecost, these events happen once and only once. They are not the “norm” for a believer.

4. Jesus symbolically proclaimed the future coming of the Spirit.

This interpretation views Jesus’ breathing on His followers and His subsequent remarks as prophetic. He is, once more, foretelling of the future coming of the Spirit. For now, He does not give the Spirit to indwell the men. Nothing is given to the disciples apart from the promise of the coming Spirit.

The 18th century Baptist pastor, John Gill, agrees with this understanding as he has written in his commentary.

“… meaning not the grace of the Holy Ghost in regeneration, which they had received already; but the gifts of the Spirit, to qualify them for the work He now sent them to do, and which were not now actually bestowed; but this breathing on them, and the words that attended it, were a symbol, pledge, and confirmation, of what they were to receive on the day of Pentecost: hence it appears, that it is the Spirit of God, who by His gifts and grace, makes and qualifies men to be ministers of the Gospel.”

Also, 20th century scholar William Hendriksen follows this line of reasoning.

“This blowing had symbolic significance. It symbolized a particular gift of the Holy Spirit. In a sense, that gift is given to the entire Church. Nevertheless … it is to be exercised by the officers, by them alone, by them corporately. This particular gift which is here indicated is that of forgiving or retaining sins, which in this connection must mean, declaring that someone’s sins are either forgiven or retained.”

Hendriksen, like Morris, refer to the gift given as the one listed by Christ in verse 23. But, as I read Hendriksen, unlike Morris this gift remains future until the day of Pentecost. What transpires in verse 22 is merely symbolic.

Modern day pastor John MacArthur also views the verse in this way.

“These disciples, of course, were already regenerate men (John 15:3). So the fact that they still were waiting to receive the Holy Spirit indicates that the Spirit’s relationship to individual believers in the new covenant era is profoundly different from His Old Testament ministry. … Jesus’ actions here indicated the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that was about to occur, completing the transition between the two covenants. … When Jesus breathed on them at this point, however, it was a powerful illustration … The simple act of breathing on the disciples was thus a meaningful emblem on multiple levels.”

In a sermon preached April 7, 2012, John Piper communicates this interpretation.

“So here in John 20:22, Jesus performs a kind of acted out parable. ‘He breathed on them and said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit.’ He didn’t say, Receive him at this very moment. He said in effect: Realize that my breath, my life, my word will be in the Holy Spirit.”

While the text reads as though the Spirit is being given by Jesus to the disciples at this very moment, as I noted above, that is not necessarily the case. Though each of these interpretations present problems, I believe this last one is the best reading of the text. Jesus will ascend (i.e., go away) and He will, then, send His Spirit on the day of Pentecost. These ten men PLUS Thomas will be present along with others when the promised Comforter truly arrives. That is God’s appointed and foretold time for His arrival. From that moment forward, believers receive the indwelling Spirit and His ordained gifts for service at their new birth.

No matter how one interprets verse 22, praise the Lord He DID send His Holy Spirit!

A Filioque Soliloquy

This past Sunday, my pastor preached an excellent message on the Holy Spirit. Obviously, it is impossible to cover this subject in a lifetime, so he was able to merely touch on the subject. In describing our understanding of the third person of the Godhead, he used the Latin term “filioque” and explained it and the history behind it. Later, on a post in Facebook, one of my friends, an Orthodox friend of ours, made a reply to the post and a lengthy debate ensued between my pastor and him. I “laid low” for two reasons: first, I was busy with other items and, second, I made up my mind to write a blog response rather than do “battle” on Facebook. What follows are my humble thoughts on the matter as I read the Scripture. 

What is the Filioque?

The Latin phrase simply means “and the Son”. To see why it plays a role in theology, one must briefly review church history.

During the early centuries of the church, differences arose in the church’s understanding of the person of Christ. Attempting to resolve these differences, several church leaders met at the Council of Nicea in 325. Eusebius of Caesarea proposed the adoption of a creed, the final sentence reading, “We believe also in one Spirit.” The Council used Eusebius’ creed as a foundation and developed an official creed which contained one sentence relative to the Spirit: ““(We believe …) And in the Holy Spirit.”

In 381, a Council met at Constantinople to affirm Nicea as well as address other disputes within Christianity. The creed adopted at Nicea was updated, especially relative to the Holy Spirit. This modified creed (the Niceno-Constantinopolitan creed) expanded the description of the Spirit. This expansion read,

 “And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and the Life-giver, that proceedeth from the Father, who with Father and Son is worshipped together and glorified together, who spake through the prophets:”

It is this creed which is known today as The Nicene Creed. It was officially approved at the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

A regional council (not an ecumenical one) meeting in Toledo in Spain in 589 inserted a phrase into this Nicene Creed, modifying the sentence above. The statement on the Holy Spirit now read:

“And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and the Life-giver, that proceedeth from the Father and the Son, who with Father and Son is worshipped together and glorified together, who spake through the prophets:”

This phrase was adopted by the Church in the western part of the Empire but not in the east. Divisions continued to grow between the western and eastern Churches, especially when it came to papal authority. The two bodies divided in 1054 and the “filioque” in the creed was never adopted by the Eastern Church. It remains one of the dividing points between the two groups even today.

So, What Are We Talking About Anyway?

This subject has to do with the nature of our God and the internal relationships of the Trinity. Clearly, this is a deep subject for we will never fully comprehend the nature of our Creator. From our study of Scripture, we do know:

1. Our God is ONE being.
2. Our God eternally exists in THREE persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
3. Each person is fully God, but each person is distinct (i.e., the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Spirit, etc.).

But why is the Father known as the Father and the Son as the Son if both are equal in essence and eternal in existence? Scripture often refers to the Son as the “only begotten of the Father”, a phrase which has been misunderstood at times in church history. Some believed this phrase meant Christ was created by the Father, that there was a time when He did not exist. But, that is not what is intended. In some way we will never comprehend, the person of God the Father eternally begets the Son. Theologians speak of the Father “generating” the Son who is, therefore, “begotten”. Again, this is a timeless act. Father and Son have eternally existed in this manner. The Father actively generates the second person of the Godhead and the result is eternal filiation.

But, what about the Spirit? Ah, here is where the filioque phrase enters the discussion. Again, Scripture never refers to the Spirit as “begotten”. He is “the Spirit”, not another “Son”. So, there is a different action involved with the “eternal formation” of the Spirit than with the “eternal generation” of the Son. Theologians usually refer to the action as “spiration” and the result as “procession”. God actively and eternally “spirates” the Spirit and the result is “eternal procession”.

Originally, the Nicene Creed indicated this procession was from the Father and the Father only. God the Father spirates the Spirit, hence, the Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father. But, the Western Church (including Protestants), have adopted the modified creed which has the filioque phrase. We understand Scripture to teach that the Spirit proceeds not just from the Father but also from the Son.

Remember, these acts (generation and spiration) are NOT creative acts.  They are not temporal and transient but eternal and unceasing.

Where is This Stuff in the Bible?

When one does theology (as you do when you open the Word), one must attempt to gather all relevant passages on a given subject before formulating a belief on that subject. There is some Scripture dealing with the issue of “eternal procession”.

John 15:26 – But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me.

This is the only verse which claims the Spirit “proceeds” from the Father. Clearly, that’s what it teaches! This verse is the reason the phrase appears in the Creed. But, note also, there is no mention here that the Spirit also proceeds from the Son. So, is the “filioque” incorrect? Does the Spirit only proceed from the Father?

Despite being charged of having adopted the theology of Rome (never been a Roman Catholic), I believe the Scripture supports the filioque phrase. I believe the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. Here are some of my reasons for this position.

1. The words rendered “proceedeth from” above are two simple Greek words, one a preposition and the other a compound verb. “From” is the preposition “para” meaning “alongside” or “away from”. “Proceedeth” is the verb “ekporeuomai”, which consists of the preposition “ek” meaning “out of” and “poreuomai” meaning “to go”. So, you could translate the clause as “which goes out of away from the Father”.

I should also note the verb employed implies a continuous action. The Spirit is going out away from the Father. It is an on-going, not one-time action.

2. In that same verse (and the one below), Jesus teaches He (the Son) will send the Spirit. When you send someone, they “go away from” you.

John 16:7 – It is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.

3. The Bible also teaches us the Father sends the Spirit.

John 14:26 – But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said to you.

Someone will point out that “send” in these verses is not a continuous action and they are correct. Both the Father and the Son “will” (future at the time spoken) send the Spirit.

4. Jesus also says the Spirit receives from Him.

John 16:14,15 – He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you. All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall show it unto you.

In each verse, the phrase “of mine” is literally “out (ek) of me”.

5. The Holy Spirit is referred to as the Spirit of the Father and the Spirit of the Son. Logically to my mind, how can He be the Spirit of both the first and second persons of the Godhead unless both are involved in some way with His Being? How is the preposition “of” (“Spirit of God”, “Spirit of His Son”) in these phrases to be understood?

Rom. 8:9 -But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.

Ga. 4:6 – And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your heats, crying, Abba, Father

Phil. 1:19 – For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

6. Finally, simple terminology seems to dictate the necessity of the filioque. The second Person is the Son because He is eternally generated (begotten) by the first person, the Father. But, if the Spirit proceeds only from the Father, why would He not also be called a Son? Furthermore, the Son does not generate the Spirit, or the Spirit could be called a “Grandson” to the Father. I realize this all seems a bit silly (and perhaps it is), but I believe the fact the third person is known as the Spirit (“breath”) gives some support for the idea He is the “breath” of both Father and Son. Therefore, He proceeds from both.

Does It Really Matter?

Well, yes and no. Since there is some revelation in the Word on the subject, we are bound as followers of Christ and servants of God to try to understand all we can about the nature and being of our Creator. But, we must also remember that the internal “makeup” of the Godhead is a mystery we will never fully comprehend.  

The Eastern Church (and my Orthodox friend) do have a couple of points in their favor for NOT including the filioque phrase.

1. As I noted above, the only verse in the Bible which talks about the Spirit procession is John 15:26 and it only mentions the Father. And, of course, the procession is described as a continuous activity.

2. NO ECUMENICAL CHURCH COUNCIL ever decided on the addition of the phrase. Personally, I do not care what such councils adopt if they are not in alignment with God’s Word.

Nevertheless, I believe the Western Church has the correct understanding. The Father eternally generates the Son. And the Father and the Son eternally spirate the Spirit. He proceeds from both. As noted in paragraph 3 of the London Baptist Confession of 1689 affirms the filioque.

“In this divine and infinite Being there are three subsistences, the Father, the Word or Son, and Holy Spirit, of one substance, power, and eternity, each having the whole divine essence, yet the essence undivided: the Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son; all infinite, without beginning, therefore but one God, who is not to be divided in nature and being, but distinguished by several peculiar relative properties and personal relations; which doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation of all our communion with God, and comfortable dependence on Him.

In conclusion, I believe the Spirit indeed eternally proceeds from both Father and Son. Yet, in the end, I can worship with any believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, whether they accept the filioque or not.