Authority and Knowledge

Authority and KnowledgeOxford 2

By Rousas John Rushdoony

 When men discuss epistemology, it is their desire to be as “objective” and “scientific” as possible, and to convey the impression that theirs is a concern with conclusions open to all men by any fair standards. The most reprehensible position for them is one which offers itself as an infallible truth, to be accepted on authority. They will assure you that it is precisely this kind of dogmaticism in Christianity that repels reasonable men. The goal of philosophical and scientific inquiry should be clearly ascertainable facts which are open to all thinking men. The conclusions should be readily provable or open to testing and verification in order to be acceptable.

Travel Trend Myanmar TourismThe offense of Biblical faith has been its radically divergent position. Instead of beginning with man and man’s reason, it begins with God and His revelation. Instead of bringing all things to the judgment bar of man’s mind, it takes all things to the infallible word of God for a standard. The humanist regards such an appeal as the ultimate in intellectual bankruptcy and as a kind of scholarly obscenity. More than a few churchmen have agreed with the enemies of the faith at this point. They insist that they accept the authority of God’s word; they do regard it as valid knowledge, but only because it meets the requirements of their reason and Aristotle’s logic. Thus, Carnell declared:

Granted that we need revelation from God to learn how He will dispose of us at the end of our lives, are there not many revelations which vie for our approval? How shall we make a selection, when we are not God? We can answer this in a sentence: Accept that revelation which, when examined, yields a system of thought which is horizontally self-consistent and which vertically fits the facts of history. When viewing the Bible, the Christian says, “I see a series of data in the Bible. If I accept the system as it is outlined, I can make a lot of problems easy.” Bring on your revelations! Let them make peace with the law of contradiction and the facts of history, and they will deserve a rational man’s assent. A careful examination of the Bible reveals that it passes these stringent examinations summa cum laude.1

A number of comments can be made about this sorry statement. To cite a few, first, Carnell manifested a curious view of Scripture, if our “need” for it is “to learn how He will dispose of us at the end of our lives.” This is a humanistic approach and misses the entire thrust of Scripture. Second, there are not “many revelations which vie for our approval,” Carnell to the contrary. Prior to the Christian era, there was no purported revelation outside the Scriptures. What we call “the sacred books of the East” made no claim for themselves that is comparable to the idea of revelation. Since these books did not begin with a sovereign and omnipotent God, they had no word coming from such a God. The “sacred books of the East” are religious and philosophical writings, some of them atheistic, but they are not revelations.

Only after the beginning of the Christian era do we get ostensible revelations, in clear imitation of Scripture, such as the Koran and the Book of Mormon. The idea of a revealed word is Biblical. Only a sovereign, omnipotent, predestinating God can speak an infallible word, and the idea of such a God and such a word is not present outside the Biblical tradition.

Third, and most important, ultimacy and authority in Carnell’s system rest in “a rational man’s assent,” in the supposedly autonomous reason of man. What of that man’s sin and his radical hostility of God, his unwillingness to acknowledge God in any form or manner? Man’s reason is clearly affected by his sin and is used in man’s warfare against God. Carnell’s god is clearly not sovereign. The test of rationality is not the absolute rationality of God but the fallen reason of man. The God and the Bible who pass Carnell’s test summa cum laude are not the God and the Bible of Christian orthodoxy.

How true this judgment of Carnell is appeared in his study of Christian Commitment, An Apologetic (1957). It made no mention of the Bible, of its inspiration as a means of knowledge and a source of moral law. It is an exercise in existentialism and is an unhappy and painfully embarrassing effort. Initiative in salvation is given to man, which is consistent with the primacy of authority given to man’s reason. “The minimal elements in fellowship oblige us to believe that God is under the same necessity to extend his life to the humble as he is to withhold it from the proud.”2

Carnell does not seem to be aware that necessity outlaws grace. If man can compel God to a necessary action, then man is sovereign. All of Carnell’s efforts to play the rationalistic game added only to the credit of the humanists rather than to the cause of Christ. For the philosopher is first of all a creature made in God’s image who is either in obedience to God or in revolt against Him. We have seen how radically religious the presuppositions of epistemology are. They begin, not with “the facts” but with an act of faith.

Hear Max Stirner begin and end with an affirmation of absolute and ultimate authority, infallible authority:

…To the Christian the world’s history is the higher thing, because it is the history of Christ or “man”; to the egoist only his history has value, because he wants to develop only himself, not the mankind-idea, not God’s plan, not the purposes of Providence, not liberty, and the like. He does not look upon himself as a tool of the idea or a vessel of God, he recognizes no calling, he does not fancy that he exists for the future development of mankind and that he must contribute his mite to it, but he lives himself out, careless of how well or ill humanity may fare thereby…They say of God, “Names name thee not.” That holds good of me: no concept expresses me, nothing that is designated as my essence exhausts me; they are only names. Likewise they say of God that he is perfect and has no calling to strive after perfection. That too holds good of me alone. I am owner of my might, and I am so when I know myself as unique. In the unique one the owner himself returns into his creative nothing, out of which he is born. Every higher essence above me, be it God, be it man, weakens the feeling of my uniqueness, and pales only before the sun of this consciousness. If I concern myself for myself, the unique one, then my concern rests on its transitory, mortal creator, who consumes himself, and I may say: All things are nothing to me.3

Stirner, as an anarchist who believed in the ultimacy and absolute authority of his own will, had only contempt for atheists who were afraid to practice incest or bigamy. These men are still Christians, he held, because they acknowledge a law above their will, and a word beyond their word.4

Can we say that Freud, who shattered the idea of rational man, broke with the idea of an ultimate authority or word? True enough, Freud regarded reason as fraudulent in its claims and as a façade for dark, subterranean forces in man, but when we examine Freud’s doctrine of the unconscious, we find another form of the humanistic doctrine of infallibility.

Freud’s unconscious cannot lie. It is a perpetually true and pure spring of truth that wells up out of the hidden nature of man. Man’s’ id’ knows no inhibition in itself. It tells the truth, and the only problem a man has is to locate the proper psychoanalytic interpreter of his private well of infallibility. In an earlier era, men talked naively, and in semi-biblical language, of the divine right of kings, or of parliament, and some still talk of the ‘divine right of the people’ (vox populi, vox dei). Now the same doctrine of infallibility has a more sophisticated and a disguised format, but the content is the same.

Let us turn again to Sartre as he writes on epistemology:

The world is human. We can see the very particular position of consciousness: being is everywhere, opposite me, around me; it weighs down on me, it besieges me, and I am perpetually referred from being to being; that table which is there is being and nothing else. I want to grasp this being, and I no longer find anything but myself. This is because knowledge, intermediate between being and non-being, refers me to absolute being if I want to make knowledge subjective and refers me to myself when I thinkto grasp the absolute. The very meaning of knowledge is what it is not and is not what it is; for in order to know being such as it is, it would be necessary to be that being. But there is this “such as it is” only because I am not the being which I know; and if I should become it, then the “such as it is” would vanish and could no longer even bethought. We are not dealing here either with scepticism —which supposes precisely that the such as it is belongs to being — nor with relativism. Knowledge puts us in the presence of the absolute, and there is a truth of knowledge. But this truth, although releasing to us nothing more and nothing less than the absolute, remains strictly human.5

“Knowledge puts us in the presence of the absolute, and there is a truth of knowledge.” Sartre gets no further than himself, existential man, in his “knowledge.” Where existential man is ultimate, “all human activities are equivalent.” Man must free himself from external goals, from the idea of “values as transcendent givens independent of human subjectivity.” In fact, “it amounts to the same thing whether one gets drunk alone or is a leader of nations.”6

Philosophy offers us simply an alternate authority, another word and another reason in the stead of God’s absolute rationality and God’s infallible word. Infallibility is not denied: it is transferred and concealed. Authority is not replaced by reason and science but simply transferred to reason and science, asking us to bow down before new gods, and to question them not, since they are by definition the essence of reason and true knowledge. The new breed of prophets gives us, with the utmost aplomb, their new word and asks us to bow before it, or to think only in terms of it. Max Planck declared, “Whatever can be measured exists.” This is not a conclusion but a presupposition, and it tells us how we are permitted to investigate reality, and also what reality is, i.e., that which can be measured. A. Einstein, B. Podolsky, and N. Rosen, in writing on “Can Quantum Mechanical Description of Physical Reality Be Considered Complete?,” in Physical Review, vol. 47 (1935), p. 777, stated:

The elements of the physical reality cannot be determined by a priori philosophical considerations, but must be found by an appeal to results of experiments and measurements. A comprehensive definition of reality, is, however, unnecessary for our purpose. We shall be satisfied with the following criterion, which we regard as reasonable. If, without in any way disturbing a system, we can predict with certainty (i.e. with probability equal to unity) the value of a physical quantity, then there exists an element of physical reality corresponding to this physical quality.7

These men have not, like Stirner, declared themselves to be infallible. They have declared that “the elements of physical reality” cannot be discovered or determined by “a priori philosophical considerations,” and certainly not by religious consideration. This latter is so preposterous they feel no need to mention it. We are asked to think that their thinking is a posteriori, after the facts, a reasoning from the facts to causes rather than vice versa.

Christian thinking which is faithful to its premises is neither a priori nor a posteriori, because it sees both causes and facts as derivative from the sovereign and ontological Trinity who is the maker of all things.

Having renounced a priori thinking and philosophy, these men then give us a “reasonable” criterion, an a priori conclusion and a presupposition. Basic to that criterion is a concept of reality as measurable and a closed system in terms of that. Within that closed system, there are openings for many possibilities, but the door is authoritatively and infallibly closed to the sovereign God of Scripture. The fundamental presupposition of the world view of these men is as authoritatively committed against the ontological Trinity as Scripture is to the triune God.

There can be, with scientists, polite palaver to the effect that God is an open question, but their presuppositions and methodology ensure that God cannot be considered. While operating on the assumption of a world which is rational and orderly because it is undergirded by the eternal decree of God, they insist on speaking of chance and probability rather than anything which points to and presupposes God.

The given, the presupposition, in any system of thought is held to be authoritatively and infallibly true. Reality is defined in terms of the presupposition, and all reasoning is circular reasoning in terms of what is implicit in the given. The thinking of the Greek philosophers is riddled with mysticism, occultism, and esoteric concepts. Aristotle had a public doctrine in his writings and an esoteric one for his pupils, and he assured Alexander the Great that the published writings did not reveal the secret doctrine.8

However, we are solemnly assured that “reason” and science were born with the Greeks because their premises were radically humanistic. This is the criterion of rationality, humanism. The hidden doctrine of modern thought conceals its infallible faith that God cannot exist, i.e., the God of Scripture. The other side of the coin is that the ultimate authority is scientific man.

Our politics today is the politics of infallibility. Dewey’s idea of the Great Community, the ideas of the democratic consensus, and the Marxist concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat all have as their presupposition a doctrine of the infallibility of an elite group who represent the general will. The immediate source of this doctrine is in Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), who held that “the general will is always right and ever tends to the public advantage.”9

All the murderous arrogance of modern political man stems from this doctrine of infallibility. All the attempts of the scientific and intellectual elite to rule man stem from their belief that they are this voice of the general will.

The doctrine of infallibility does not disappear when men deny it to God and His Word; it accrues to men. In the hands of men it becomes a doctrine of oppression. Thus, we need not apologize for the doctrine of infallibility, nor for an appeal to authority. These are common to every school of thought, and it is dishonesty to deny it. Carnell’s appeal was to reason, to his existential being as expressed therein. Stirner bowed low before his ego, scientists to themselves and their methodology, and the modern world in its political and social life to the general will. As a result of the doctrine of the general will, man has become group-oriented, and his standards and tastes are derived from the group.

Octavius Brooks Frothingham (1822-1895), a thinker of the Religion of Humanity, expressed plainly the essence of modernism as a belief in the infallibility of the hour and its demands. His “God” was Hegel’s world-soul expressing itself in every historical era and having no law or standard beyond the hour, so that the historical moment was and is the infallible voice of history, “God,” or spirit. Of course, what that inner meaning or expression of the historical moment is depends on the elite thinkers. According to Frothingham, on the infallibility of the historical hour, The interior spirit of any age is the spirit of God; and no faith can be living that has that spirit against it; no Church can be strong except in that alliance. The life of the time appoints the creed of the time and modifies the establishment of the time.10

This is the faith of modernism in religion, politics, the sciences, the arts, and every other area. The creeds all have their moment of truth, and they then pass on. Yesterday’s truth cannot be considered seriously today. Honor Calvin indeed, or Augustine, Aquinas, or Luther, for each expressed the truth of their hour, but pass on to the present and its needs. To separate ourselves from the infallible historical moment is death or at best irrelevance. As Frothingham stated it:

Humanity has but one life, breathes but one atmosphere, draws sustenance from one central orb. To be reconciled with humanity, to feel the common pulse, is life; to be alienated from humanity, to have no share in the common vitality, is death. The slightest material separation is felt disastrously.11

Isaiah had a better word: “Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils: for wherein is he to be accounted of?” (Isaiah 2:22).


 1. Edward John Carnell, An Introduction to Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1952), 178.

2. Edward John Carnell, Christian Commitment, An Apologetic (New York: Macmillan, 1957), 251.

3. Max Stirner, The Ego and His Own (New York: Modern Library, n.d.), 386f.

4. Ibid., 47f.

5. Sartre, Being and Nothingness, 218.

6. Ibid., 626f.

7. Cited in Levi, Philosophy and the Modern World, 557.

8. Benjamin Farrington, Greek Science, Its Meaning For Us (Penguin Books, [1944] 1949), II, 156.

9. J. J. Rousseau, “The Social Contract,” Book II, chapter III, in Sir Ernest Barker, ed., Social Contract, Essays by Locke, Hume, and Rousseau (London: Oxford University Press, [1947] 1958), 274.

10. O. B. Frothingham, The Religion of Humanity, 3rd ed. (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1875), 7f.

11. Ibid., 130.

Excerpt from ‘The Word of Flux’ by Rousas John Rushdoony. See more at

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Pretended Revelations and Alien Spirits

astronomy“Try the Spirits”

By Rev. Rousas John Rushdoony

 It is [often] our unhappy disposition to approach Scripture selectively, in terms of our needs and interests. As a result, we tend too often to overlook passages which do not appeal to us, or to concentrate on others which arouse our curiosity. One such text is I John 4:1-4:cloud

  1. Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.
  2. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:
  3. And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.
  4. Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.

light and darknessThere is no reference here to any “direct” spiritualistic confrontation between believers and these false, demonic spirits nor between them and the Holy Spirit. The problem was this: the early church was plagued with a rash of “spiritual” preachers. The Greco-Roman world believed in the goodness of the spirit, whereas the Bible teaches that God made all things, “physical” and “spiritual,” very good (Gen. 1:31). Because of the Fall, all things are equally fallen. In Christ’s redemption, the whole man is saved, and, at the end of the world, with the resurrection, our bodies and “souls” are fully sanctified and perfected in and by Him. Greco-Roman salvation was in essence from the material world into a spiritual estate, or from the world of the flesh into the world of ideas, or the spirit.

The entrance of these “spiritual” preachers led to Docetism and Gnosticism, which sought to improve or modernize the faith by making it more scientific (Gnosticism), or more “spiritual” (Docetism). The Gnostics sought to reinterpret the Bible in terms of a Hellenic evolutionary world-view in which spirit or mind was the greater and truer reality. The Docetists held that the incarnation was not real; God simply used the form of a man, Jesus of Nazareth, as a veil or mask through which to speak and act; the union of God and matter was unthinkable. For them, the Christ or Logos had spoken in and through Jesus, but they would not confess that “Jesus is the Christ.” Supposedly, they had a higher, truer, and more holy confession, one less demeaning to God.

Thus, we see two great confessions emerge out of the battles of the early church, confessions required of every believer. The first, is cited by Paul in Philippians 2:9-11, “Jesus is Lord,” or, “Jesus Christ is Lord.” As against the claims of civil rulers and of states to be sovereign or lord, to be man’s Moloch (king) or Baal (lord and master), the church required the confession that Jesus Christ alone is lord or sovereign. The Christian had not only to confess that “Jesus is Lord,” not Caesar, but that there is only “One lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph. 4:5). To confess one lord meant to challenge the sovereignty of the state.

Second, we have the confession now set forth by John, “Jesus is the Christ.” The incarnation is real; God became man, and Jesus Christ is, as Chalcedon later declared (451 A.D.) in terms of this continuing confession, very God of very God and very man of very man. Here were two confessions and two battle lines. Jesus is the incarnate God; He is the lord or sovereign over all things. The true prophet or preacher is the one who sets forth Jesus Christ as incarnate God and as lord or sovereign over all things in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:18-20). Because there are many false prophets or presbyters at work in the world, John says, we must test or try every spirit to see whether it is of God. The testing is in terms of faithfulness to this confession. This confession is the witness of the Spirit, and of the written word of God. We are not to believe every spirit; because a thing is spiritual does not make it holy. “Christian Science” is a very “spiritual” religion; it denies the very reality of matter, and, in fact, of all things except Universal Mind, or God. This does not make it a more holy religion, for it is in fact a false one.

As against the Holy Spirit, we have a world of fallen spirits, many of whom are ready to talk in a semi-Christian sense, but without Christ, and we have had many false revelations of heaven and things to come which have a purported holiness, but not the Christ. Indeed, one of the great plagues of the church over the centuries has been the stream of false prophets who have advocated a “higher” and more “spiritual” way. One such man, the Abbot Joachim of Flora, created a legion of cults over the centuries to plague Christendom. We have had a stream of cults advocating antinomianism, a contempt for marriage and the family, fostering socialism, despising property as materialism, and more. Some of these groups were the Bogomils, Cathars, Albigenses, the Spiritual Franciscans, the Brethren of the Free Spirit and the Apostolic Brethren, the Taborites, the Adamites, the Waldessians, and others.1

All too often, Protestants have assumed that they have a kinship to these groups, a false belief, when their real kinship is to certain aspects of the early and medieval church which they sought in terms of Scripture to restore. Some other groups arose in the early church to deny that Jesus is the Christ in the Biblical sense, holding, not that God became incarnate, but rather that man in Christ incarnated himself, or better, spiritualized himself into God. “Our Savior was therefore…a man who became God, rather than God who became man: this is the dogma corresponding to Pelagius’ theory in the sphere of human conduct.”2

All too many of these heretical and apostate groups have strongly stressed “spiritual” religion, and the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit in these cults has been separated from the Word, and “new” revelations have been offered. Unhappily, the reaction of the church to such movements has been to distrust the doctrine of the Spirit, and, as it were, to try to put the Holy Spirit into a straight-jacket to prevent further “outbreaks.” John, however, tells us that the answer to the false spirits is the Holy Spirit.

It is the Spirit of God whom we know when we hear a faithful confession and preaching of Christ. We cannot cope with a world of fallen men and evil spirits apart from the Holy Spirit. Only by the Holy Spirit comes a true confession and faithful preaching. To confess Jesus Christ is to confess all His history, and the every word of Scripture which He requires (Matt. 4:4). John has already made this clear:

  1. And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment.
  2. And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us. (I John 3:23-24)

The test is the totality of God’s revelation as it culminates in Christ as against pretended revelations of alien spirits. Of this test Westcott said: The test of the presence of the Divine Spirit is the confession of the Incarnation, or, more exactly, of the Incarnate Savior. The Gospel centers in a Person and not in any truth, even the greatest, about the Person. The Incarnate Savior is the pledge of the complete redemption and perfection of man, of the restoration of ‘the body’ to its proper place as the perfect organ of the spirit. Hence the Divine Spirit must bear witness to Him. The test of spirits is found in the confession of a fact which vindicates the fullness of life. The test of antichrist was found in the confession of a spiritual truth (ii.22f.).3

Every spirit that does not confess that Jesus is the Christ come in the flesh is not of God. Such a spirit manifests rather the spirit of antichrist, or antichrist, which is already at work in the world (I John 4:3).

It is necessary at this point to consider the meaning of antichrist. Few terms in Scripture have been more inflated with meaning. Very commonly too, it is assumed that the man of sin in II Thessalonians 2:3-4 and antichrist are one and the same person; there is no reason for such a belief. First, the man of sin comes from within the church and leads a falling away within the church, where he rules and exalts himself above God. Second, antichrist means perhaps as many assume, a false Christ, or, more likely, one opposed to Christ. The usual assumption is that he is a false Christ, but anti is far better understood as against Christ. Third, it is an error to assume that there is a single historical person meant by antichrist rather than every person who is opposed to Christ. The Biblical references to antichrist are the following:

Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. (I John 2:18) Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. (I John 2:22) And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world. (I John 4:3) For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. (II John 7)

Very literally, an antichrist is anyone opposed to the Messiah, and the God of the Messiah; it is anyone who denies the reality of the incarnation. The fact of history’s last age, i.e., from the first to the second coming, is that the enmity against God now focuses on the incarnate Son. To deny Him is to deny the Father. All who deny Him are liars, deceivers, and antichrists, according to John.

We are called to overcome them, i.e., the antichrists (I John 4:4), “because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.” He that is in the world, i.e., who dwells in the hearts of men, is Satan, and He that is in us is the indwelling Spirit. The prince of this world has been cast out of our lives, and the world is under judgment by Christ the King (John 12:31). Christ came to save the world (John 3:16) and to make it again God’s Kingdom. Because of His victory, we can say, “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (I John 5:4).

Calvin very tellingly saw the meaning of these verses. To cite his comments in part:

“Believe not every spirit…The word spirit I take metonymically, as signifying him who boasts that he is endowed with the gift of the Spirit to perform his office as a prophet. For as it was not permitted to any one to speak in his own name, nor was credit given to speakers but as far as they were the organs of the Holy Spirit, in order that prophets might have more authority, God honored them with this name, as though he had separated them from mankind in general. Those, then, were called spirits, who, giving only a language to the oracles of the Holy Spirit, in a manner represented him. They brought nothing of their own, nor came they forth in their own name. But the design of this honorable title was, that God’s word should not lose the respect due to it through the humble condition of the minister. For God would have his word to be always received from the mouth of man, no otherwise, than if he himself had appeared from heaven. Here Satan interposed, and having sent false teachers to adulterate God’s word, he gave them also this name, that they might more easily deceive…Try the spirits. As all were not true prophets, the Apostle here declares that they ought to have been examined and tried. And he addresses not only the whole Church, but also every one of the faithful. But it may be asked, whence have we this discernment? They who answer, that the word of God is the rule by which everything that men bring forth ought to be tried, say something, but not the whole. I grant that doctrines ought to be tested by God’s word; but except the Spirit of wisdom be present, to have God’s word in our hands will avail little or nothing, for its meaning will not appear to us; as, for instance, gold is tried by fire or touchstone, but it can only be done by those who understand the art; for neither the touchstone nor the fire can be of any use to the unskillful. That we may be fit judges, we must necessarily be endowed with and directed by the Spirit of discernment.”

Men like to think of themselves as self-sufficient. They like to shut the door on the world and live unto themselves. They forget that they did not come into an empty world but are the heirs of the ages. The world of technology, roads, houses, and books is a world we have inherited, and every day we gain more as heirs because other men are at work. For food, light, water, and clothing, we are daily dependent on other men’s work. The world was not empty when we came into it, and we dare not use it without leaving an increased inheritance as wise stewards thereof. We are even less self-sufficient in the things of our minds. Not only do men past and present influence us, but we are surrounded as well by spiritual powers.

Only a fool believes that he is immune to influences and powers. If we are not faithful to God’s enscriptured word and His Holy Spirit, we will be under the power of alien spirits. We are therefore commanded to test the spirits, and, even more, “Prove all things: hold fast that which is good” (I Thess. 5:21).

Even more, we are called to be the people of God, and to be the temples of the Holy Ghost, the third person of the Trinity. For us to follow after wayward men and spirits, or to lean on our own understanding (Prov. 3:5), is not only foolishness compounded, but the madness of sin.


Excerpt from Systematic Theology Vol. I: by Rousas John Rushdoony; pgs. 348-353

1. See Igor Shafarevich: The Socialist Phenomenon. (New York, New York: Harper and Row, (1975) 1980).

2. F. W. Bussell: Religious Thought and Heresy in the Middle Ages. (London, England: Robert Scott, 1918). p. 701.

3. Brooke Foss Westcott: The Epistles of St. John. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1952 reprint). p. 140.

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Can Man be Holier than God?

MOn Being Holier Than God

By Rousas John Rushdoony

 It was about the middle of the 1960s that this incident occurred. In a smaller city proud of its churchianity, a young man ran off with a married woman. Now his young wife was a thoroughly Christian woman, highly intelligent,Travel Trend Myanmar Tourism attractive, and gracious. The only “advantage” the other woman had was an appetite for sin. The young man in time broke with his new love, lived with another woman, married still another, divorced her, was involved with sexual orgies, robbed a couple of widows, and a warrant was out for his arrest. Because he had obtained a Mexican divorce, not recognized as valid in his state of original residence, a lawyer counseled his original wife to get a divorce lest he take the house from her; it represented her work and savings. When she did, church after church turned on her and excluded her like the good Pharisees they were. One noted pastor treated her with particular coarseness. Was this unusual? Hardly. Recently a man told me that his son’s wife, a flagrant adulteress, had left him, but he was penalized by the church for getting a divorce.

Now, under certain circumstances, divorce is permitted by God’s law. But more and more churches are refusing to recognize this, nor will it do to remind them that God speaks of Himself divorcing His bride, Israel. There are many facets to this Phariseeism, but one of them is clearly the influence of the myth of evolution. An evolution of Biblical religion is clearly in the minds of many. Dispensationalism is one form of this, and it has arisen together with the Hegelian-Darwinian ideology. Some prominent churchmen have said in my hearing that the Old Testament should be cited only where confirmed in the New. Some have insisted to me that a reliance on the Old Testament is a step backward in the history of progressive revelation.

In 1996, Andrew Sandlin reviewed in the Chalcedon Report a little book by the Rev. Jim West, ‘Drinking with Calvin and Luther,’ a good-humored account of the views of some great churchmen on alcoholic beverages and a critique of those who insist that the Bible is against such drinks. There are many in the church who take a strong stand against all alcoholic beverages. When, in another state at the other end of the country, I preached on John 2:1-11, Jesus turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana of Galilee, I received a very frosty reception.

The reception to Sandlin’s review of Rev. West’s book brought a strong reaction from a handful of people. One critic commented as follows:

“Christians need to be held to a higher standard than the Bible.”

For many years now, I have heard like comments made with regard to a variety of subjects, especially God’s law, which was supposedly given for a backward, primitive people, the Hebrews! The arrogance of such a view is staggering and anti-Christian. Can man be holier than God? And where does man derive his idea of this greater holiness if not from some new god, himself? In too many ways, churchmen manifest a sanctimonious loyalty to original sin, to their will to be their own god and their own source of law, morality, holiness, and justice (Gen. 3:5).

In the Eastern Orthodox churches, theosis, man’s deification, is seen as the completion of salvation. The Protestants who insist on a higher holiness, or a higher standard, than the Bible’s are setting themselves up as gods over God. Some insist that to hold to the validity of God’s law is to take a step backward in the history of holiness and justice. Many who echo this view have never thought of its implications, but some who have do indeed hold to this opinion and are aware of its meaning. Theirs is an arrogance like that of Job’s friends, to whom he said, “No doubt but ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you” (Job 12:2).

What is clear with regard to Satan is that in his three great appearances, in Genesis 3, in Job 2, and in Matthew 4, he clearly regards his morality as superior to God’s. He is there to correct God and to rectify God’s mistakes. Now we have a like protest: People believe that Christians need a higher standard than the Bible. It’s amazing how “advanced” churchmen have become — that they feel they can correct God and improve on His morality!

Unhappily, there are deep roots to the antinomianism which separates holiness from obedience to God to make it a mystical union with the Holy Spirit. Over the centuries, men have invoked the Spirit to vindicate their disobedience. Somehow, a mystical union with the Spirit places a person beyond simple faithfulness. I have heard of more than one adulterous pastor damn anyone calling attention to his sin as an affront to the Spirit’s vessel. One false argument is that perfect obedience places one beyond the law. But if I steal nothing for thirty years, am I then beyond the law in the thirty-first year? Such thinking goes back over the centuries. One example was the able St. Irenaeus, who wrote:

96. Therefore also we have no need of the law as pedagogue. Behold, we speak with the Father and stand face to face with Him, become infants in malice, and made strong in all justice and propriety. For no more shall the law say: Thou shalt not commit adultery, to him who has not even conceived the desire of another’s wife; or thou shalt not kill,to him who has put away from himself all anger and enmity; thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s field, or his ox, or his ass, to those who make no account whatever of earthly things, but heap up profit in heaven. Nor an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, to him who counts no man his enemy, but all his neighbours, and therefore cannot even put forth his hand to revenge. Nor will it demand tithes of him who has vowed to God all his possessions, and who leaves father and mother and all his kindred, and follows the Word of God. Nor will he be commanded to leave idle one day of rest, who is constantly keeping sabbath, that is, giving homage to God in the temple of God, which is man’s body, and at all times doing the works of justice. For I desire mercy, He says, and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than holocausts. But the unjust man that killeth a calf in sacrifice, as if he should immolate a dog, and he that offereth fine flour, like swine’s blood. But every one that shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved; and no other name of the Lord has been given under heaven whereby men are saved, but that of God who is Jesus Christ the Son of God, whom even the devils obey, and the evil spirits, and all rebel powers.1

St. Irenaeus assumed, first, a perfect sanctification on the part of man which is impossible this side of heaven. Second, he assumes further that this perfect sanctification places a man beyond the law, in some higher state of being. Neither view is Biblical. Third, Irenaeus insists that the law has been abrogated.2

While Ireneaus wrote against the Gnostics, in his view of God’s law he was in their camp. He held that faith and charity supersede the law, but he did not say how charity was to be defined apart from the law.3

Gnosticism exalted the spiritual realm and despised the material, whereas, from the Biblical perspective, both of these spheres are alike fallen, and the answer to man’s problem is not spirituality nor materialism but redemption through Christ’s atonement. Satan is a purely spiritual being, and this does not make him good. Very spiritual people can be doing the devil’s work! Hell is full of devils and men who believe themselves to be holier than God. For that matter, our churches, educational institutions, political bodies, and our streets have their quota of such “holy” people.


Excerpt from Institutes of Biblical Law, Vol. III, Intent of the Law; by Rousas John Rushdoony, pgs. 165-167.

  1. St. Irenaeus, Proof of the Apostolic Preaching (New York, N.Y.: Newman Press
  2. Translator, Joseph P. Smith, S.J), p. 106.
  3. ibid., pp. 14, 181, 123.
  4. ibid., p. 101.

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A Death-Blow to Theonomy?

crossHey Theonomy, What about Luke 16:16?EmilyCarr-Indian-Church-1929

by Dr. Joel McDurmon

Feb 2015

Some understand Luke 16:16. to be a death-blow to ‘Theonomy’ because they think it means that, “the law and the prophets” (allegedly) ended with the ministry of John [the Baptist]. The quick and obvious response is simply to read verse 17. There is much more to it. I also recalled my commentary, Jesus v. Jerusalem which follows below.

One of the things that is an absolute must when interpreting the olivet discourseGospels is to see the larger contexts in which the authors relate their various scenes. Luke almost always ‘cues us’ as to Jesus’ immediate audience. Sometimes Jesus is talking only to his disciples, sometimes directly to the Pharisees, and sometimes, to the people around him in general. These are important cues and Luke gives them regularly.

In this passage (Luke 16: 16), the relevant larger context begins in verse 15:1—with Jesus befriending sinners, eating with them, and preaching parables about reaching and receiving the least (or worst) of them. Then in verses 16:1–13, Jesus turns to his disciples and teaches a parable that justifies building relationships with the heathen; even at the loss of personal capital. Then, [Jesus] follows the relevant immediate context—still part of the same larger context—when the eavesdropping Pharisees pipe-up. From this point to the end of Chapter 16, Jesus is pressing them regarding judgment upon them according to the Law. It is in this immediate context that the relevant verses appear.

Not only does verse 17 indicate that the monumental, world-altering transition mentioned (in verse 16), does not mean discontinuity of “the Law and the Prophets,” the larger context does the same — in various ways. In particular, I want you to pay close attention near the end of the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus: what is the standard by which these men are to be judged? What is the revelation these men are expected to believe; and which is expected to be sufficient for them? Resurrection from the dead—miracles? Not here, according to Jesus/Abraham. The standard would be, Moses and the Prophets. “If they do not hear ‘Moses and the Prophets,’ neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (16:31).

Luke does not refer directly to the Law or Moses often. That these two references appear here together in the same discussion by Jesus, shows a remarkable unity of context—in fact, they tie together the two ends of Jesus’ response to the Pharisees in [Luke] 16:15–31. Thus, 16:29 and 31 reinforce what is said in verse 17. Jesus is thus, hardly invoking discontinuity of the Law in verse 16. That would make nonsense of the rest of the context. In fact, it would make nonsense of the whole larger context of Jesus’ lawsuit against Israel/Jerusalem that begins in Luke 9:51. No, in fact, Jesus teaches here that the Law will remain as the standard at least until the ‘Day of Judgment.’

The question remains, of course, how the Law functions and is to be used during this age of the Kingdom (since Jesus has fulfilled it—Luke 24:44). But the transformation and new application of the Law is a different question altogether from the alleged abrogation of it in 16:16. That allegation, we can safely say, is disproven.

[I refer you also to the larger excerpt from my commentary (Jesus vs. Jerusalem, pp. 92–99). It is longish. Print it out and take your time. Or opt to go for the whole book instead.]

Divorce and Disinheritance (Luke 16:14–31)

It is clear that the Pharisees understood what Jesus was saying, for they “ridiculed him” (Luke 16:14). Surely they understood Him to be defend­ing His fellowshipping with sinners and tax collectors, and then telling the disciples to nourish relationships among the “unrighteous” as well. “Ridiculed” in verse [14] translates the Greek exemukterizon. A mukter is a nose. The verb literally refers to turning up one’s nose, though it was apparently a colloquialism for scorning and mocking in general. But here it could have a more literal application: the Pharisees thought themselves too pure, too righteous to mix with those “sinners” who didn’t meet their standards. They literally walked around with their noses turned up at these people, and now they did the same thing to Jesus who practiced befriending sinners.

Kingdom and Divorce

Jesus’ response shows that such pride and arrogance was the very sin of these Pharisees. The response is two-fold: the first part is direct application of the Law, the second part parable. In the first, He tells them:

“You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. The Law and the Proph­ets were until John; since then the good news of the king­dom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void. Everyone who di­vorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband com­mits adultery” (Luke 16:15–18).

Jesus then proceeds directly into the parable of the rich man and Laza­rus. We will discuss this parable in a moment; for now, it is important to acknowledge the continuity of the response from verse 15 through 31. In fact, the full context of the whole scene stretches from 15:1 through 17:10, and the reader should seek to interpret everything in that section as part of the same context. But Jesus’ current interaction with the Pharisees cov­ers verses 14 through 31, and should be understood as a single coherent response. This may seem a bit troubling in that Jesus appears to be jump­ing between different topics rapidly: first on the Pharisees’ pride, then the Law and prophets, then the seventh commandment, then a parable about heaven and hell. But, to see it this way, is to miss the thread of meaning that ties the whole response together, and in fact, is to charge our Savior with a lack of coherence we should not expect from the Author of the Law itself.

Instead, we need to see the common theme on which all of this hangs, and it is this: the Pharisees (indeed Israel) ignore God’s Law in the name of being the only keepers of the Law, and there is a judgment coming in which God will judge them according to the true depravity of their hearts. To see how this theme holds throughout, let us examine the first part of Jesus’ remarks:

First, Jesus responds by rebuking their covetousness. The text has al­ready told us explicitly that they were “covetous.” The word is literally “lovers of money” (philarguroi), the same word used in 1 Timothy 6:10: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.” They had, after all, just been provoked to ridicule from Jesus because they eavesdropped on the parable of the unjust manager: Jesus had just told the disciples that sometimes it is better to lose money than not have friends. Who in the world would teach that we should sometimes forgive people’s debts? (Luke 11:4.) These Pharisees had no idea how profound the issues of money and debt really are. They lived only by surface appearances, and now Jesus exposed that: “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (16:15).

Second, Jesus rehearses the true nature of the Kingdom Law (again). The law and the prophets were until John (the Baptist), but since then, the Kingdom of God is preached (v. 16). Jesus is not teaching an “end of the Law and a be­ginning of something nicer” lesson here; for that would contradict the very next verse: “it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void” (v. 17). No, Jesus is arguing that the Kingdom that was announced long since, in the Law and prophets, has arrived since the ministry of John the Baptist. It [is] here now. It [is] time to understand the fullness of the Law and the Kingdom now, and yet so few did. Instead, “everyone forces his way into it.” The RSV captures the spirit of this verse slightly better: “everyone tries to enter it by force.” This recalls the image of the many standing outside beating on the door of the narrow gate (13:25). Instead of repenting, the Pharisees ridicule and impose burdens on others. By forcing down others, they vaunt themselves as the heirs of the Law. Had they understood the true spiritual depth of the Law (see Matt. 5–7; Luke 6:20–26), they would have understood that God’s Law demands perfec­tion of the heart; they would have therefore seen that they themselves were also wretched sinners and needed repentance.

Despite their shallow external treatment of the Law, God judges the depths of the heart (v. 15). And that perfect Law is eternal: it would be easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for the slightest part of that Law to fail (v. 17). Indeed, the Jews were about to witness the passing away of their “heaven and earth,” Jerusalem. And the passing away of Jerusalem would come as a result of judgment according to the very Law they had for so long ignored and abused. And while to some it may seem a stretch to refer to Jerusalem as “heaven and earth,” Jesus will more explicitly make this application in Luke 21:32–33: after describing the coming destruction of Jerusalem vividly, Jesus adds, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” This is a clear reference to Jerusalem that would in fact (“will”) pass away, and would do so within Jesusgeneration. The meaning is certainly the same in Luke 16:17. The Law itself was eter­nal, and would stand as the bar by which Jesus would sue that generation’s adulterous expression of the Law.

This is why the very next verse jumps to the seventh commandment. Jesus is not switching topics randomly; this is perfectly consistent with His message. This is a divorce lawsuit against Israel. She has adulterated the Law; she has prostituted herself in exchange for the things highly esteemed by men, but which are condemned by God (v. 15). She was an adulterer. She was also a blasphemer since she had left her true love in the name of her true love—ignored God’s Law in the name of the purest expression of the Law. She was a prostitute disguising herself as a pure virgin. Jesus brings the true Kingdom and with it the true Law. True inspection and judgment of that adulteress had come. The threat to this generation who left their love to find another was the verdict of adultery. This is what verse 18 is about. And this is why a parable about heaven and hell follows immediately. Jesus will drive home the point about the eternal nature of the Law and the coming judgment (on Israel).

The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19–31)

There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was bur­ied, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.” But Abraham said, “Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.” And he said, “Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.” But Abraham said, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” And he said, “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” He said to him, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:19–31).

Apart from the obvious context in which Jesus delivers this parable, there are two highly revealing details in it that tell us it pertains to His im­mediate situation. One of these ties the parable directly back to His preced­ing comments about the Law and the prophets and the Kingdom of God. This is Abraham’s response to the rich man near the end of their discus­sion. Burning in hell, the rich man finally realizes that evangelism would be a good thing—perhaps his family should be warned about this awful place. “But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them. . . . If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead’” (Luke 16:29). In other words, “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached” (16:16). This is a very clear connection that shows continuity in Jesus’ discourse. The message is clear throughout: the Day of Judgment has come: if you do not truly believe the ‘Law and the prophets,’ you will be judged by them (cf. John 5:39–47). And that judgment would not consider outward appearances—the rich man’s display of status and wealth were no indication of God’s Kingdom bless­ing—but would be a judgment of the heart (16:15).

The second revealing detail is less direct yet even more interesting: the clothing of the rich man in the parable. “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen” (16:19). While it is possible this is merely meant as a general description of wealth, the rich biblical theology of Jesus’ teachings spur us to dig more deeply. Purple and especially fine linen were the well-known distinctive dress of the priesthood and of the Temple. This is verified, of course, directly in the Law itself (Ex. 25–28; 35–39) and in many other allusions in the history and the prophets. In the parable, these are no casual details. They identify the rich man directly with the chief rep­resentations of old covenant Israel, the high priest and the Temple.

These “priestly” details also play a central identifying role indirectly in other places of the New Testament. They clearly help identify the Great Whore of Revelation 17–18 as Jerusalem: “The woman was arrayed in pur­ple and scarlet” (Rev. 17:4). “Alas, alas, for the great city that was clothed in fine linen, in purple and scarlet, adorned with gold, with jewels, and with pearls! For in a single hour all this wealth has been laid waste” (Rev. 18:4). This idolatrous city was a false priest of God; she was laid to waste. But the true Bride will be pure and worthy of the clothes of the priesthood. The same book tells us, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure” (Rev. 19:6–9). The harlot has no right to wear the priestly clothing, “for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints” (19:9), and unbelieving Jerusalem had no righteous­ness (Rom. 10:1–4).

But the New Bride’s righteousness was not her own, it came from Christ. Christ is the true High Priest, the one who truly has the right to the priestly clothes. For this reason, He is dressed in purple (Mark 15:17, 30; John 19:2, 5) and scarlet (Matt. 27:28) during His sacrifice, though the soldiers had no idea what they were really doing; and He is wrapped in fine linen at His burial (Matt. 27:59; Mark 15:46; Luke 23:53; 24:12; John 19:40; 20:5–7). The Gospels thus present Jesus as the true High Priest, the true representative of true Israel, throughout the time of His sacrifice and offering of Himself to God.

So both directly (in the Law and prophets) and indirectly (in biblical theology) we have a solid witness that purple and linen refer to the repre­sentative priesthood of Israel. It is fitting, then, that as Jesus rebukes the Pharisees—pretenders to the inheritance of Israel—He would make sure they saw themselves (indeed, all of Israel) as the rich man in the parable.

It would be interesting, even more, if the Lazarus here refers to the real Lazarus whom Jesus loved and who had died and was resurrected by Christ in John 11. I doubt this highly, though. Some people have denied that this story is a parable due the fact that it does not begin with an explicit “and he told them a parable.” But this is lazy reasoning: neither the parable of the prodigal son (15:11–32) nor the unjust manager (16:1–9) which He had just told begins with an explicit designation as a parable, and more examples are not hard to find. The rich man and Lazarus is a parable, and we should resist the temptation to read more into Lazarus than the parable itself provides.

With that said, Lazarus would clearly not have been a candidate for ruler of the synagogue. He was a beggar, had no wealth, nothing, was prob­ably diseased since he was covered with sores, and thus by all measures was a social outcast. Yet, just as the rich man’s wealth, Lazarus’ poverty was no measure of his election. Has Jesus not just painted these Pharisees a picture of Job in his misery (Job 2:7–8)? And yet we know that God restored such a man to be the wealthiest man of the east by double in the end (Job 1:3; 42:10–17). So such a man could indeed be part of the elect remnant of God’s Kingdom. Indeed, this is where Lazarus’ name becomes important: it comes from the Hebrew Eleazar, meaning “Whom God Helps.” This man has God’s grace.

The story plays out that both die: Lazarus is carried in Abraham’s bo­som—a true son of Abraham—but the rich man is in Hades suffering torment. Looking up from his position, the rich man begins the dialogue with Abraham. First, he begins with a command: “Send Lazarus to give me water” (16:24). The fallen rich man, even when burning in hell, thinks he deserves to be served by others. Even in judgment he is ignorant of being judged. He remains so arrogant as to think even Abraham should obey his commands. He assumes to impose his own will in place of the will of the patriarchs, and of God. As is usual with the Pharisees and lawyers, they seek to place burdens on the backs of others in order that they themselves may be helped (cf. Luke 11:46).

Abraham refuses the request for two reasons: 1) each of their (Laza­rus and the rich man) positions, was now just as it should be. Judgment had come for each, and the reckoning was that God had now exalted the humble and cast down the proud. Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom and the rich man in torment was all a perfectly just outcome. Besides, 2) there was a great chasm fixed between the two parties over which none can pass (v. 26). The point here is clear: the judgment is final. The application is clear, as well: Israel had her chance while Jesus was there, but once judgment comes there would be no turning back. Judgment is final, and irreversible.

The rich man, however, is not done. He makes a second request, this time less commanding but more desperate: “Send Lazarus back to warn my five brethren” (v. 27–28). He still thinks Lazarus should serve his interests, but at least he is now concerned for others besides himself. Yet Abraham refuses this request also. There is no need for sending Lazarus, the rich man’s brethren (the Jews) already have the best witness that can be given: “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them” (29). The answer is a mini-lesson in itself: the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God, and yet had ignored them and would continue to ignore them to their own destruction. The rich man himself knew them and had ignored them. It was the greatest indictment the Pharisees and indeed all of Israel could receive: that they held God’s own Word in their hand, heard it preached in their synagogues, looked the Word incarnate in the face, heard Him teach in their streets, ate and drank with Him (Luke 13:26), and yet never heard Him, never received Him.

In their unbelief, the Pharisees—the rich man—did not believe this. They demanded something more than the Word. The Word alone was not powerful enough to teach them of the truth to come, to warn them of the wrath to come. “And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’” (19:30–31). Just as the Pharisees and the multitudes had already demanded a sign from Jesus, the rich man demanded a miracle (Matt. 12:38–39; Luke 11:16, 29–30). The Pharisees could not have missed the clear references to themselves all through this parable. Here Jesus portrays their unbelief of the Law-Word of God with masterful irony: these Pharisees, who esteem themselves the highest exam­ple of Abraham’s children in the land, are here placed in hell, arguing with father Abraham over the power of the Law. The punch line, of course, is that they had been opposing Abraham all along (John 8:33–47). Abraham ends the discussion affirming the sufficiency of Scripture: “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 19:31).

The overall meaning is clear: the Pharisees had totally ignored God’s Law and would be judged accordingly. Indeed, Israel had ignored the very oracles with which she was entrusted. Jesus had come—the Kingdom had come—and He was gathering the remnant of the elect from among them, even the lowliest sinners among them. These Lazaruses would be saved; the covetous, unfaithful priests would be damned. Thus, Jesus did not mind mingling among the sinners and tax collectors, nor teaching His disciples to befriend them as well.

Spiritual Applications

There are enduring spiritual lessons here worth mentioning; they per­tain to fallen human nature:

First, we tend to overlook our obvious duties and opportunities for charity in this life (vv. 20–21).

Second, fallen men cry for mercy after the fact of judgment; by this we see that fallen man thinks he deserves mercy even after he has been judged (v. 24). We learn that after judgment, however, is too late, and God will no longer grant mercy to the unjust (v. 25–26).

Third, even in begging mercy, fallen sin­ners burning in hell think that they should be served by other people (v. 24).

Fourth, even when rebuked for their self-deceptions, they still think other people should serve their interests somehow (v. 27).

Fifth, fallen sin­ners burning in hell quickly develop an interest in evangelism (vv. 27–28).

Sixth, fallen man wrongly thinks that displays of power or miracles will convert men’s souls (v. 30).

Seventh, when fallen man has finally exhausted his own devices, he learns that he never once considered the Word of God (v. 28–30) which was right in front of him the whole time.

He also learns that dogs were more merciful than he (v. 21).


 See more from Dr. Joel McDurmon at



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The Spirit, the Law, and Judgment

cloudThe Spirit, the Law, and Judgment

By Rev. Rousas John Rushdoony

 A central text with respect to the doctrine of the Spirit is 1st Corinthians 2:12-16:Pentecost3

12. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.

13. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.

14. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

15. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.

16. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.

The word translated as judgeth and judged in v. 15, and asAAG discerned in v. 14, is anakrino. It means to examine, discern, judge, and it can have reference as in I Corinthians 6:2 to a court of law, although it is there in noun form. As Paul uses it here, every facet of the meaning is in focus. It is part of the theological foundation for his rebuke to the church at Corinth. All believers have the power of the Holy Ghost; Paul is not here speaking of individuals nor only of church officers. In I Corinthians 6:2, Paul uses another form of the same word, krino: the saints are called to judge and govern the world.

Orr and Walther render anakrino as investigate, i.e., investigate in a spiritual manner, but they suggest also “judicially examine.”60 For Lenski, it means “investigate and value aright.”61

Grosheide renders it judge and stresses all things. The Spirit-possessed man is both able and permitted to judge all things. Because the Spirit Himself searches and judges all things, so too can the Spirit-controlled man.62

According to Hodge, “to judge here means to discern, to appreciate, and to pass judgment upon…the right of private judgment in matters of religion is inseparable from the indwelling of the Spirit. Those who can see, have the right to see.”63 Calvin’s comment on v. 15 stated in part:

reaching out to God“But the spiritual man judgeth all things. Having stripped of all authority man’s carnal judgment, he now teaches, that the spiritual alone are fit judges as to this matter, inasmuch as God is known only by his Spirit, and it is his peculiar province to distinguish between his own things and those of others, to approve of what is his own, and to make void all things else. The meaning, then, is this; “Away with all the discernment of the flesh as to this matter! It is the spiritual man alone that has such a firm and solid acquaintance with the mysteries of God, as to distinguish without fail between truth and falsehood–between the doctrine of God and the contrivances of man, so as not to fall into mistake. He, on the other hand, is judged by no man because the assurance of faith is not subject to men, as though they could make it totter at their nod, it being superior even to angels themselves.” Observe, that this prerogative is not ascribed to the man as an individual, but to the word of God, which the spiritual follow in judging, and which is truly dictated to them by God with true discernment. Where that is afforded, a man’s persuasion is placed beyond the range of human judgment. Observe, farther, the word rendered judged: by which the Apostle intimates, that we are not merely enlightened by the Lord to perceive the truth, but are also endowed with a spirit of discrimination, so as not to hang in doubt between truth and falsehood, but are able to determine what we ought to shun and what to follow.”64

Calvin’s emphasis is not on the individual’s power of judgment but on the necessity of judgment in the Spirit and in faithfulness to the word of God. The prerogative in judgment belongs to God; hence, the spiritual man is the man who is faithful to the whole word of God in and by the Spirit of God. We must note that Paul was writing to a church with serious moral problems; he was thus placing no confidence in private or ecclesiastical judgment as such. He rebukes not only the guilty individuals but the entire congregation for their moral indifference to the problem. Instead of mourning over sin, the congregation was “puffed up” or inflated with pride over their ostensible freedom from the law of God (I Cor. 5:1-2). Hence, Paul stresses the faithful preaching of the cross (i.e., of Christ’s atonement and therefore of the meaning of God’s law and grace) as the source of power (I Cor. 1:18). The problem at Corinth was “fornication.” A man had married “his father’s wife” (I Cor. 5:1), i.e., his step-mother, whom his father had apparently divorced. Hodge ably summarized the situation:

“The offense was that a man had married his step-mother. His father’s wife is a Scriptural paraphrase for step-mother, Lev. 18:8. That it was a case of marriage is to be inferred from the uniform use of the phrase to have a woman in the New Testament, which always means, to marry. (Matt. 14:4, 22, 28; I Cor. 7:2, 29.) Besides, although the connection continued, the offence is spoken of as past, vs. 2.3. Such a marriage Paul says was unheard of among the Gentiles, that is, it was regarded by them with abhorrence. Cicero, pro Cluent, 5,6, speaks of such a connection as an incredible crime, and as, with one exception, unheard of. It is probable from I Cor. 5:7, 12, that the father of the offender was still alive. The crime, however, was not adultery, but incest; for otherwise the apostle would not have spoken of it as an unheard of offense, and made the atrocity of it to arise out of the relation of the woman to the offender’s father. We have here therefore a clear recognition of the perpetual obligation of the Levitical law concerning marriage. The Scriptures are a perfect rule of duty; and, therefore, if they do not prohibit marriage between near relatives, such marriages are not sins in the sight of God. To deny, therefore, the permanency of the law recorded in Lev. 18, is not only to go contrary to the authority of the apostle, but also to teach that there is for the Christians no such crime as incest.”65

Hodge’s comment is of particular interest, because, in his day, Hodge, as against Thornwell, took a weaker view of the force of Biblical law. His comment makes notable our theological waywardness in the intervening years. Three texts in the law in particular speak of the offense cited by St. Paul:

Lev. 18:8. The nakedness of thy father’s wife shalt thou not uncover: it is thy father’s nakedness.

Deut. 22:30. A man shall not take his father’s wife, nor discover his father’s skirt.

Deut. 27:20. Cursed be he that lieth with his father’s wife; because he uncovereth his father’s skirt. And all the people shall say, Amen.

To ‘discover or uncover his father’s skirt’ has reference to a metaphor for marriage, i.e., to cover a woman with the skirt, as in Ruth 3:9. The uncovering refers to the invasion of a sexual relationship and union. How God regards this offense is seen by its citation as one of four kinds of sexual sin under the special curse of God: sexual relations with a step-mother; bestiality; incest with a sister; and cohabitation with a mother-in-law (Deut. 27:20-23).66

We see thus that St. Paul is emphatically making clear the connection between the Holy Spirit, the law of God, and the spiritual man. Thus, where the Holy Spirit is at work, the law of God is the delight of the spiritual man, and, where men resist or despise the Spirit, they resist and despise the law given by that Spirit.

The spirit of the world” is the spirit of resistance to the every word of God (Matt. 4:4). Fallen man is ready to deal with God on man’s terms, to make God a partner, or an ally, but never lord. The church becomes an instrument of the fall when it insists on treating Christ as savior, but not as lord, and sees God as the source of grace, but not law. When we receive the Spirit of God, however, we “know the things that are freely given to us of God” (v. 12). These gifts are His revelations of Himself in His enscriptured word and in His incarnate Word. It is the totality of “the wisdom of God” (v. 7). To reject the totality of that revelation is to reject wisdom; it is to reject God. We cannot receive God on our terms, only on His terms.

In v. 13, Paul says that the things he and the other apostles spoke they taught, not “in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” As Hodge rightly saw, Paul here teaches “verbal inspiration.” The apostles spoke with more than human wisdom, and more than redeemed man’s wisdom. “Paul’s direct assertion is that the words which he used, were taught by the Holy Ghost.”67

The apostles explained the doctrines taught by the Spirit in the words of the Spirit: they combined spiritual things with Spirit-given words, i.e., “comparing (or bringing together) spiritual things with spiritual (words).” In so doing, the apostles knew that the unredeemed man will not receive “the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (v. 14). Thus, it is not only “Christ crucified” (I Cor. 1:23) which is a stumbling block and foolishness to the unregenerate, but all preaching, because the Spirit-given word is declared to men who are dead to the Spirit’s meaning, self-blinded by sin. The essence of true preaching is this, that we proclaim the Spirit-given word to men in the confidence that He who gave the word will give the hearing; so to preach means that we have no confidence in our power, and all confidence in the power of the Holy Ghost.

Now we come again to v. 15. The word anakrino is used again by St. Paul in I Corinthians 4:4; he rejects the judgments passed on him by men in Corinth, and all self-judgment, because “he that judgeth me is the Lord.” We have thus a contrast: I Corinthians 2:15 says that the man who is in the Spirit judges all things, and I Corinthians 4:2-4 insists on the sole validity of God’s judgment. The two are not contradictory. I Corinthians 2:15 has parallels in Proverbs 25:5, I Thessalonians 5:21, and I John 4:1. God alone is the Judge, and all our judgments must be in terms of His law-word (Rom. 2:1-3). The Spirit works in us to enable us, as our Lord requires, to “Judge not according to appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24).

The Spirit gives us another mind, “the mind of Christ” (v. 16). Paul cites here (and in Romans 11:34) Isaiah 40:13, “Who hath directed the Spirit of the LORD (Yahweh), or being his counsellor hath taught him?” The Spirit, Jehovah, and Christ are plainly equated. Hodge therefore stated, “We have the mind of Christ, therefore, means we have the mind of Jehovah.”68

Calvin is more specific as to the reference, i.e., who “we” are:

“But we have the mind of Christ. It is uncertain whether he speaks of believers universally, or of ministers exclusively. Either of these meanings will suit sufficiently well with the context, though I prefer to view it as referring more particularly to himself and other faithful ministers. He says, then, that the servants of the Lord are taught by the paramount authority of the Spirit, what is farthest removed from the judgment of the flesh, that they may speak fearlessly as from the mouth of the Lord,–which gift flows out afterwards by degrees to the whole Church.”69

Paul is asserting his authority as an apostle who is inspired of the Holy Ghost as he writes to command the Corinthians, because he has “the mind of Christ.” However, in his commentary on the same verse from Isaiah in Romans 11:34, Paul makes a more general application to all believers, according to Calvin. Man, inspired of the Spirit, can know the word of God, but not the secret things of God. Calvin noted:

“This caution, however, is not to be so applied as to weaken the certainty of faith, which proceeds not from the acumen of the human mind, but solely from the illumination of the Spirit; for Paul himself in another place, after having testified that all the mysteries of God far exceed the comprehension of our minds, immediately subjoins that the faithful understand the mind of the Lord, because they have not received the spirit of this world, but the Spirit which has been given them by God, by whom they are instructed as to his goodness, which otherwise would be incomprehensible to them.”70

In commenting on the text of Isaiah 40:13 itself, Calvin stressed the transcendence of God, and the necessity of our submission to Him. “Consequently, as we ought to contrast the power of God with our weakness, so our insolence ought to be repressed by his incomparable wisdom.”71

In brief, while the Holy Spirit raises us up to great understanding and power, this understanding and power is always and totally in submission to the triune God and His word. Insofar as we are in strict conformity to the mind of the Lord as expressed in His every law-word and made known to us by the Holy Ghost, we are beyond the ability of the unregenerate to assess, discern, or judge. The unregenerate man lives in a very limited world. The central part of reality is closed to him, and he is self-blinded to it. The redeemed man thus is beyond the ken of all such. In terms of the law-word of God, and by the light of the Holy Spirit, the redeemed man has the key to the investigation, judgment, and rule of, and over all things, but he himself can be discerned and judged by no man.


Excerpt from Systematic Theology Vol. I: by Rousas John Rushdoony; pgs. 357-361.

60. William F. Orr and James Arthur Walther: I Corinthians. The Anchor Bible. (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1976). p. 258.

61. R.C.H. Lenski: The Interpretation of St. Paul’s First and Second Epistle to the Corinthians. (Columbia, Ohio: Wartburg Press, (1937) 1946). p. 117.

62. F. W. Grosheid: Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans (1953) 1955). p. 74.

63. Charles Hodge: An Exposition to the First Epistle of Corinthians. (Grand Rapids, Mich-igan: Eerdmans, 1950 reprint). p. 44.

64. John Calvin: Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1948). p. 117.

65. Hodge, op. cit., p. 81f.

66. P. C. Craigie: The Book of Deuteronomy. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1976). p. 333.

67. Hodge, op. cit., p. 41.

68. Ibid., p. 47.

69. Calvin, op. cit., p. 119f.

70. John Calvin: Commentaries on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1948). p. 446.

71. John Calvin: Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, Vol. III. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, (1948), 1957). p. 218f.

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Resistance and Disobeying the Law

cops r hereWhen Disobeying the Law is the Righteous Thing to Do

by Gary DeMarsupreme court

“In 1660 John Bunyan disobeyed the law of England by preaching without a license. He was arrested at a church meeting and put in a prison so damp that he said it was enough to ‘make the moss grow on one’s eyebrows.’ There he 10 commandments...converted his prison into a pulpit and wrote the greatest of all Christian classics, Pilgrim’s Progress. He was told that he would be released if he promised not to further violate the law for which he was imprisoned, but he refused to do so. He was arrested two more times for the same act of disobedience.”(1) Bunyan was in good company. Peter and John were arrested “because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead” (Acts 4:2). Even after their release, like Bunyan, they continued to preach the gospel, “for we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard” (4:20).

During the Nazi reign of terror, Jews were hidden from German officials who were carrying out orders from their superiors to round up “non-Aryans,” specifically Jews. Hiding these “enemies of the State” was a crime against “legal” Nazi orders. What would you have done? What would your pastor have done?

It is 1942. The Nazis who control your nation militarily have just announced a new policy requiring all Jews to come to the local city hall and register. The most prominent church leader in your denomination has recommended obedience to all “lawful” directives of the German authorities. He has not recommended disobeying this new directive, and you have no reason to believe that he will. Your denomination will not speak directly to this issue, and you think the civil authorities will threaten to shut down churches or in other ways pressure the church’s leadership to remain silent or even recommend compliance with the order. Then a Jew you know comes to you and asks for asylum. He wants you to hide him in your attic or barn. You know that this would be illegal. Will you hide him or turn him over to the Nazis?(2)

Was it wrong to disobey these laws? In terms of Nazi law, yes. But what about in terms of the Bible? How would your pastor respond if the type of law was passed today? Of course, there were consequences for defying Nazi law. People who hid Jews from the Nazis risked their own lives.(3) Those who spoke out publicly about the Nazi regime were sent to concentration camps.(4)

Resistance movements like those practiced by Christians during World War II have been accepted as morally justified by nearly all ethical thinkers. The Diary of Anne Frank and Thomas Kineally’s Schindler’s Ark (later made into the film Schindler’s List by Steven Spielberg) show the highest praise for those who defied what was a “legal” government policy. In Give Me the Children: How a Christian Woman Saved a Jewish Family During the Holocaust, Pola Arbiser describes how her nanny defied the law and hid her and her sister from Nazi officers. The Jewish community of survivors have characterized these resistors as “righteous gentiles”(5) or simply “Christian rescuers.”(6) As we will see, in biblical terms, these actions were considered to be moral even though they violated Nazi Reich law.

Examples of resistance and persecution hardly seem applicable to our day. We are not under Nazi, English, Roman, or Communist oppression. While no civil official is demanding that ministers obtain a license to preach the gospel, restrictions are being placed on what ministers and Christians in general can say on moral issues derived from the Bible. For numerous examples, see David Limbaugh’s Persecution: How Liberals are Waging War Against Christians (2003).

Will our government plant “spies” in churches to catch ministers who preach from those parts of the Bible where the practice of homosexuality is condemned? It’s happened before.(7) What will be the response of churches in America if the increasingly secular and anti-Christian courts rule that “discriminating” against “legally married” homosexual couples is a criminal act?(8)

The civil rights movement in the United States had its turning point when Martin Luther King, Jr., defied a court order because laws discriminating against blacks were considered to be immoral and unconstitutional. In his account of the civil rights campaign in Birmingham, Alabama, King “speaks of a court injunction obtained by the city administration on April 10, 1963, directing that demonstrations be halted until the right to such activities might be argued in court. Dr. King continues: ‘Two days later, we did an audacious thing, something we had never done in any other crusade. We disobeyed a court order.’”(9)

King defined justice and righteousness in terms of the Bible. The Bible gave King moral certainty that he was right to defy what he considered to be a series of unjust laws. King’s use of Amos 5:24 was directed at the civil authorities who were discriminating in the way they dispensed justice.

If we take the position advocated by some that civil government is the final arbiter of what’s legal, moral, justice, and right, with no higher law binding the magistrate, there can be no higher court of appeal other than the one in power. The most oppressive tyranny must stand as the people turn a blind eye to injustice and retreat behind a doctrine of impotent quietude. As soon as this happens, the State, by default, has established itself as the new god to be honored, worshiped, and obeyed without debate or objection. R. J. Rushdoony describes the inescapable logic of denying a higher law ethic:

“The universe of evolution and humanism is a closed universe. There is no law, no appeal, no higher order, beyond and above the universe. Instead of an open window upwards, there is a closed cosmos. There is no ultimate law and decree beyond man and the universe. In practice, this means that the positive law of the state is absolute law. The state is the most powerful and most highly organized expression of humanistic man, and the state is the form and expression of humanistic law. Because there is no higher law of God as judge over the universe, over every human order, the law of the state is a closed system of law. There is no appeal beyond it. Man has no ‘right,’ no realm of justice, no source of law beyond the state, to which he can appeal against the state.”(10)

The philosophy of Georg F. W. Hegel (1770–1831), followed by Marxists, Fascists, and Nazis, expresses the argument with chilling consistency: “The Universal is to be found in the State. . . . The State is the Divine Idea as it exists on earth. . . . We must therefore worship the State as the manifestation of the Divine on earth. . . . [T]he State is the march of God through the world.” After compiling these statements from Hegel’s works, Karl Popper comments that Hegel’s views mandate the “absolute moral authority of the state, which overrules all personal morality, all conscience.”(11) Once this happens, there is no place to appeal for a redress of grievances.

In 1907, Supreme Court Justice Charles Evan Hughes said, “We are under a Constitution, but the Constitution is what the judges say it is.”(12) Since the Constitution is the “supreme law of the land,” it follows that the law is what the judges say it is. In Tropp v. Dulles (1958), Judge Earl Warren stated that the Constitution must draw its meaning from the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.” Who decides when a standard has evolved into a new standard?: Five members of the Supreme Court. What can the people do given these changes in the foundation of America’s judicial system? It depends on who you ask.



  1. Randy C. Alcorn, Is Rescuing Right?: Breaking the Law to Save the Unborn (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990), 106.()
  2. Gary North, “Editor’s Introduction,” Christianity and Civilization: Tactics of Christian Resistance (Tyler, TX: Geneva Divinity School Press, 1983), xii.()
  3. Nechama Tec, When Light Pierced the Darkness: Christian Rescue of Jews in Nazi-Occupied Poland (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986).()
  4. Basil Miller, Martin Niemöller: Hero of the Concentration Camp (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1942), 112. ()
  5. As reported in Catherine E. Shoichet, “Christian nanny hid Jewish family from Nazis,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution (August 27, 2003), E1 and E6. See Pola Arbiser, Give Me the Children: How A Christian Woman Saved a Jewish Family During the Holocaust (Altona, Manitoba, Canada: Friesens, 2003).()
  6. David P. Gushee, “Christians as Rescuers During the Holocaust,” Must Christianity Be Violent?: Reflections on History, Practice, and Theology, eds. Kenneth R. Chase and Alan Jacobs (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2003), 71.()
  7. [1]“Now, the charge against [Martin] Niemoeller was based entirely on his sermons, which the Gestapo agents had taken down stenographically. . . . [W]ritten laws, no matter how explicitly they were worded, were subjected to the interpretation of judges. The totalitarian principle which governs Nazi Germany, as I have indicated before, includes religion as a function of State. Therefore, by recognizing Christ only as his Leader, Pastor Niemoeller was denying the right to divine leadership to Hitler. His offense was all the more serious because he had exhorted his followers to do likewise” (Leo Stein, I Was in Hell with Niemoeller [New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1942], 175).()
  8. For what may be in store for American churches, see Chuck McIlhenny and Donna McIlhenny, When the Wicked Seize a City: A Grim Look at the Future and a Warning to the Church (Lafayette, LA: Huntington House, 1993).()
  9. Daniel B. Stevick, Civil Disobedience and the Christian (New York: Seabury Press, 1969), 1.()
  10. Rousas J. Rushdoony, “Humanistic Law,” Introduction to E. L. Hebden Taylor, The New Legality (Nutley, NJ: Craig Press, 1967), vi-vii. A revised version can be found in Gary North, Marx’s Religion of Revolution: The Doctrine of Creative Destruction (Nutley, NJ: Craig Press, 1968), 118-119.()
  11. Karl R. Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies: The High Tide of Prophecy: Hegel, Marx, and the Aftermath, 2 vols. 5th rev. ed. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, [1966] 1971), 2:31.()
  12. David J. Danelski and Joseph S. Tulchin, eds., The Autobiographical Notes of Charles Evans Hughes (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1973), 143. Quoted in John W. Whitehead, The Second American Revolution (Elgin, IL: David C. Cook, 1982), 20.

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Anthropomorphic Religion

crossAnthropomorphic Religionwine candles

Rev. Rousas John Rushdoony

(Galatians 4:27-31)

 For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not; for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband.

  1. Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.
  2. But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now.
  3. Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the free woman.
  4. So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free. (Galatians 4:27-31)

devilThe religions of Paul’s day were anthropomorphic, i.e., they remade their god or gods in man’s image. As a result, what was predicated of man had to be predicated of the gods. The church fathers regularly called attention to the absurdities and the immoralities of the pagan gods. Thus, Firmicus Maternus wrote:

It is difficult to make the tally of all their adulteries, and to say who corrupted Amymone, who Alope, who Melanippe, who Chione and Hippothoe. Your god, forsooth, is said to have done these deeds. That very god who, as they maintain, corrects with stern oracles the sins of erring mankind, loves Sterope, kidnaps Aethyssa, ravishes Zeuxippe, woos Prothoe, and fondles Arsinoe in adulterous desire. But of that throng of corrupted women one girl vanished and thus vanquished the amatory god: Daphne was one whom the god who divines and foretells the future could not find nor ravish. Another person lets himself be used as a woman, and then seeks consolation for his womanized body: well, let him consider Liber and how he repaid his lover even after death the libidinous reward he had promised, by an imitation of shameful coitus. If anyone in the heat of preternatural passion arms himself to encompass the murder of his father, let him take Jupiter as exemplar. Whoever thirst for his brother’s blood may follow the pattern of the Corybantes. Those who crave incest should look to the examples set by Jupiter: he lay with his mother, wedded his sister, and, to round to the full crime of incest, approached his daughter also with the intent to corrupt her.1

Such accounts are common in the writings of the church fathers. Some called attention also to the fact some perversions were “invented” by the gods, i.e., Jupiter was cited as “the inventor of pederasty.”2 Jupiter planned the murder of his father Saturn but failed in the attempt.

Why did the philosophically sometimes sophisticated Greeks and Romans, and other pagans as well, accept such gods? The key is Dostoevsky’s comment, If God does not exist, everything is possible. For Dostoevsky, this possibility was a horror. For the epistemologically self-conscious pagans, it was freedom. Their religions were anthropomorphic; hence, their gods acted as degenerate fallen men will act when there is no law over them. They readily explored every repulsive possibility. For the pagans, this was religiously credible. Moreover, since their gods were deified men, these gods revealed what human potentiality is capable of attaining. As a result, their world of desired possibilities represented the developed depravities of fallen men.

Thus, the pagan gods were highly credible for pagan men, whereas the God of Scripture was offensive and impossible. The Greeks and Romans believed in ghosts or spirits; immortality was a common belief among them. The resurrection was difficult to accept, and the church fathers stressed it heavily because it was both basic to the gospel and a stumblingblock to the pagans. But this was not all. Regeneration was for them, as for our modern pagans, another incredible doctrine in its Biblical sense. They believed in man’s potentialities but not in God’s regenerating and renewing power. Closely related to this was the forgiveness of sins. Overlooking sins, winking at them, or trying to continue as though they did not exist, such attitudes were common. Julius Caesar applied it to his enemies, and they lived as a result to kill him. Caesar had hoped that his clemency would elicit a cooperative response from his enemies: he did not expect more than a pragmatic compliance, certainly nothing resembling regeneration. Rufinus (b. A.D. 345) wrote:

Pagans habitually make fun of us, saying that we deceive ourselves if we imagine that mere words can wipe out offences which haveactually been committed. “Is it possible,” they say, “for one who hascommitted murder to be no murderer, or for the perpetrator of adultery to be represented as no adulterer? How then is someone whois guilty of misdeeds like these going to be suddenly made holy? Faith, as I have pointed out, supplies a better answer to such charges than reason. He who has promised forgiveness is King of all things: He who assures us of it is Lord of heaven and earth. Are you reluctant for me to believe that He who made me a man out of mere clay can transform my guilt into innocence? Will He who caused me to see when I was blind and to hear when I was deaf, and who restored my powers of walking when I was lame, prove incapable of recovering my lost innocence for me?3

 Since paganism then as now has no true forgiveness of sins, it cheapens sin as well as forgiveness. Sin becomes an ineradicable part of the human scene, and men accept it with complacence. Forgiveness then becomes a casual unconcern with sin and its consequences.

Paul faced such a world of anthropomorphic religion. Phariseeism was very much a part of it, although morally and intellectually a superior part. Payment for services rendered is basic to the human scene, a necessary part of it. If man is anthropomorphic in his religion, he ascribes to God a mentality like his own: he remakes God in his own human image. God must therefore be bought with works of law. The revelation given by God, His law-word, is thus put to work to serve man’s anthropomorphic theology.

Paul meets this humanism head on. In v. 27, he cites Isaiah 54:1, a statement which defies the humanistic order. The barren woman will have more children than the fruitful wife. The true believer and the true church may seem barren, but to them the Lord gives the great increase. Isaiah refers to Sarah’s long barrenness and sees it as revelatory of God’s sovereign over-ruling of man’s plans in history and in terms of His purposes. The saints in every era, during the Babylonian captivity and after, in the early church and until now, are to see themselves as heirs of the promise in Christ. “The Church is the fruit of God’s sovereign grace, not of human effort.”4

Since Isaiah 54:1 follows Isaiah 53:1-12, the Suffering Servant and His justifying of His people, it is clear that Paul has in mind Christ’s atonement as the great source of the power, growth, and fertility of the redeemed in Christ. Paul is saying that the barren, the Gentiles, will be blessed, whereas “the married wife,” physical Israel, will be set aside for a time because of its denial of grace. Isaiah 54:2 was used by William Carey to set forth his missionary mandate in Asia. Paul’s point in v. 31 is that, whether we are Jews or Gentiles, in Christ we are not reckoned as either but as citizens of the Jerusalem from above. We are, like Isaac, “the children of promise” (v. 28). Just as Ishmael persecuted young Isaac, so too, Paul says, physical Israel is now persecuting the true Israel of God, those “born after the Spirit” (v. 29). What is the solution? The Scripture says Paul, in Genesis 21:10, orders the bondwoman and her son to be cast out (v. 30). Hence, the Pharisees within the church must be cast out. The difference between Phariseeism and Christianity is irreconcilable. “Very important again is the characterization of the dual conflict by means of the words born after the flesh and (born) after the Spirit.”5 The able Lightfoot was again very heavy-footed here with his antinomianism, stating, “The Law must disappear before the Gospel.”6

Paul writes, not about a conflict between the law and the gospel, but between grace and blood. By adoption, an act of grace, the people of Christ, Jew or Gentile, are the heirs of the promise to Abraham, not the physical descendents. Anthropomorphism had projected man’s concept of payment and man’s concept of blood inheritance onto God’s plan. Against this, Paul speaks strongly and clearly. It leads to a humanistic slavery, but we are to be free in Christ (5:1).

The problem of anthropomorphism is very much with us today. Modernism insists on a naturalistic God, i.e., one roughly as subject to a scientific world view as man supposedly is. In the United States, the transcendentalists and Unitarians were vehement champions of anthropomorphic religion. Theodore Parker held, “The orthodox place the Bible above the soul, we the soul above the Bible.”7 Hence, Parker held, “In the soul let redemption be sought.”8

For him, man was his own savior. His anthropomorphism was a radical one. Because man at times needs a God to depend on, therefore, Parker held, God must exist: “I am, therefore God is.”9

This was a logical inference from Descartes’ premise, “I think, therefore I am.” Since Parker, the need for God has been denied by many, but not their anthropomorphism. As the humanists view the universe, they project their emptiness upon it. Because their lives have no coherence, they insist on cosmic meaninglessness and chance, on brute factuality. The psalmist declares:

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.

  1. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge.
  2. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.
  3. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. (Ps. 19:14)

 This psalm, a celebration of the law of the Lord, tells us that all creation speaks of God and His law-word. The humanist, however, suppresses this truth in his injustice (Rom. 1:18). Instead of hearing the heavenly word, he reads his emptiness into the heavens and the earth. The end or conclusion of anthropomorphic religion is empty men and an empty faith.



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