January 2004, Volume IX,
Scripture Twisting (2)
II Peter 3:16 speaks of "unlearned and unstable" people who
"wrest" the Scriptures "unto their own destruction." The man who wrests
Scripture is not neutral; he comes with a preconceived false view. He does not
want God’s Word to condemn him and/or others, so he twists it. He wants
Scripture to support his views, so he twists it.
The Greek word used here means to torture. Scripture is
tortured, like a man put on the rack, in order to force it to say what the
torturers want it to say. Picture a cruel tormentor in a torture chamber: "If
you do not say what I want you to say, I will tighten the thumbscrew or suspend
you from the rafters." The Scripture twister—the spiritual equivalent of the
Grand Inquisitor—likewise tortures the Word of God in order to extort a
confession from it. By misquoting a text or ignoring vital words, by
disregarding the context or the analogy of faith or the clearer passages which
speak on the same subject, the Scripture twister perverts the Word of God.
Violence is done to the divine oracles out of hatred for the truth in order to
serve the lie.
The Scripture twisters of II Peter 3 twisted God’s Word in
its doctrine of the last things: Christ’s second coming, the final judgment and
the renewal of heaven and earth. In denying the Christian hope, the Scripture
twisters destroy the incentive to godliness provided by Christ’s return (11-14).
Thus their false doctrine serves their sinful "lusts" (3)—always an attraction
of heresy. These false teachers hold the wicked Worldview of the ungodly world
that "all things continue as they were from the beginning" (4). They oppose the
worldwide flood and find it hard to believe that Christ will return on the
clouds of heaven to purge the world with fire (7, 10-12). Moreover, the godly
lifestyle required of Christ’s followers is too cramped for their fleshly
Thus these heretics resort to Scripture twisting. They
dismiss the gospel accounts of Christ’s power and glory at His transfiguration
as "cunningly devised fables" (1:16), for the transfiguration points to His
glorious coming (1:16-18). They twist Paul’s letters and the "other scriptures"
of OT and NT (3:15-16), especially those parts which speak of the end of the
world. The narrative of the flood is "willingly" ignored (5). The final
"judgment and perdition of ungodly men" (7) is an unpalatable truth, as is the
doctrine that "the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up"
(10). "What about our beloved sins!" their flesh cries out. Thus, not content to
have any part of God’s Word oppose them, they twist OT and NT—gospel, epistle
and prophecy—to fit their sinful views and their carnal lifestyles. Many today
do likewise. Next time (DV), we will consider the ways in which they twist the
Scriptures. Rev. Stewart
Unfulfilled Prophecies (1)
But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my
name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name
of other gods, even that prophet shall die. And if thou say in thine heart, How
shall we know the word which the Lord hath not spoken? When a prophet speaketh
in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the
thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it
presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him (Deut. 18:20-22).
The reader who sent in this passage for discussion remarked
that there are at least two instances in Scripture which tell us of a true
prophet whose prophecy did not, in fact, take place. First, in Jeremiah 18:7-10,
God is said to repent of a determination to destroy a nation that was evil. The
Lord follows this with a warning that he will once again "repent" from doing
good to that nation, if the nation which was spared forsakes God’s ways and
turns again to evil. The key issue is the meaning of God’s repentance.
The second instance which seems to contradict the statement
in Deuteronomy 18 is a concrete example of Jeremiah 18. It is the instance of
God’s "change of mind" after Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah. Jonah
had preached, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown" (Jon. 3:4). But
Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah, and God spared the city (10). It
seems from this that the prophesy of Jonah was not, in fact, fulfilled—in
contradiction of God’s Word in Deuteronomy 18. This is another example of God’s
The Scriptures frequently speak of God’s repentance: Gen.
6:6-7; Ex. 32:14; Judg. 2:18; I Sam. 15:11, 35; II Sam. 24:16; and often in the
prophets. (However, between I Samuel 15:11 and 35, which speak of the Lord’s
repentance that He had made Saul king, verse 29 declares, "the Strength of
Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent.")
All these examples, while not in every case connected with
specific prophecies, nevertheless demonstrate that Scripture frequently speaks
of God’s repentance, also in connection with His Word through His prophets. One
can say, therefore, that the rule of Deuteronomy 18 holds true for all
prophecies, except those which are not fulfilled because God repents of what He
did or said He would do.
Stating this, however, is not a sufficient answer to the
question. What about Deuteronomy 18? We must ask the question: What does it mean
when Scripture tells us that God repents?—especially when in other places
Scripture most emphatically tells us that God does not repent. Moreover, God is
immutable or unchangeable: "I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of
Jacob are not consumed" (Mal. 3:6).
The repentance of God is usually said to be a figure of
speech called an anthropomorphism. This huge word means that God is frequently
pictured in Scripture in such a way that human body parts, human activities, and
human emotions are ascribed to Him. He is said to have eyes and ears, to see and
hear, to have a right hand, to walk through the earth and even to sleep.
Repentance is one of these anthropomorphisms.
Anthropomorphisms are not always the kind of figure of speech
we may think. For example, Scripture speaks of God’s right hand, to which
position Christ is exalted. But we must not think of our right hands as being
the real right hands, and God’s right hand as the figure. It is the other way
around. God’s right hand is the real right hand, and our right hands are only
figures. The same is true of every anthropomorphism. God’s eyes are the real
eyes; our eyes are the figures. We are created in the image of God. In a certain
sense, our whole creation was in the image of God.
Now, when we apply the idea of anthropomorphisms to God’s
repentance, then we must remember that repentance in God is quite different than
it is in us. In us, repentance involves a change of mind. We decide to go to
someone who has offended us in order to speak harsh and bitter words to that
individual. But, on further reflection, we decide not to do this after all. We
repent of our plan. Or we give some money to someone who seems to be in need,
but, when that person simply squanders what we give, then we repent of having
given that person money. This too involves a change of mind. But in God this is
not so. He never changes or alters His plans. He never does something which He
later regrets. He never has "second thoughts" about a course of conduct upon
which He has decided. Nor does He threaten someone and then change His mind.
What repentance actually is in God is difficult for us to
understand, for God is so high above us that we cannot fathom His ways. We are
slaves of change; God never changes. Nevertheless, there is something we can say
about this. When God determines in His eternal and unchangeable counsel on a
course of action, He decrees the entire sequence of events in all their details.
Let us use the illustration of Hezekiah. Through Isaiah the
prophet, God revealed to Hezekiah that he would die. Hezekiah prayed earnestly
that his life would be spared. God seemed to change His mind and extended
Hezekiah’s life by 15 years (Isa. 38:5). God determined the first word to
Hezekiah, but He also determined Hezekiah’s prayer, and He even determined the
extension of Hezekiah’s life in answer to the king’s prayer.
Why was all this necessary? Hezekiah had no son—probably
because he had not married. (See II Kings 21:1, where we are told that Manasseh,
Hezekiah’s son, took the throne at the early age of 12). God was saying to
Hezekiah: You have neglected your covenantal responsibilities in not marrying
and producing a son to continue the royal line of David—which would end in
Christ. What would happen if you die? Prof. H. Hanko
The Lukewarm Church (1)
A reader asks for an explanation of Revelation 3:20—"Behold,
I stand at the door and knock ..."—a text often cited in support of free will
and resistible grace. This is part of God’s word to the church of Laodicea (Rev.
3:14-22) which we shall examine first.
Christ describes the Laodiceans as neither cold nor hot but
lukewarm (15-16). At first reading we might think that this church could have
been better ("hot") and could have been worse ("cold"). However, the Lord says,
"I would thou wert cold or hot" (15). Thus it is worse to be lukewarm than to be
cold. How could this be if it is simply speaking of a church’s "spiritual
temperature?" The church here is described not simply with regard to its
temperature but with regard to its temperature as a drink. A hot cup of tea or
coffee is refreshing as is a cold glass of lemonade or milk, but a swig of
lukewarm tea or milk is repulsive. We spit it out. Christ said of the
Laodiceans, "because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue
thee out of my mouth" (16).
But what did He find so disgusting and offensive about the
Laodiceans? "Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have
need of nothing" (17). Laodicea was a market town at the confluence of two
rivers and at the intersection of three important roads. It was the site of a
civil court and a famous medical school, and was "noted for its banking and for
its manufacture of clothing from the local black wool" (Leon Morris). Whether
because of the church’s (presumed) material wealth or the flattering preaching
of its minister(s) or something else, the church wrongly evaluated her spiritual
condition. She thought she was "rich" and therefore had "need of nothing" (17).
Christ found her pride highly repulsive and threatened to spew her out of his
mouth as one would a lukewarm drink.
He tells the church her real condition: "thou art wretched,
and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked" (17). As "the wretched one" she
is in need of mercy ("miserable") for she lacks spiritual wealth ("poor"),
understanding ("blind") and clothing ("naked"). Of course, this describes all
Christians according to their old sinful nature, but the Laodiceans did not see
and confess this. Instead, the church said that she was "rich ... and had need
of nothing" and thus she "[knew] not" her misery (17).
Throughout the NT age, congregations in various lands are
well characterised by the strengths and weaknesses of the seven churches in,
what is now, western Turkey (Rev. 2-3). Does a church faithfully, fearlessly and
consistently teach the total depravity of man including the utter wretchedness
of the believer according to his old man (Rom. 7:24)? Do the members truly
believe in total depravity so that they confess it in their prayers, worship and
evangelism? Or do the members think that they are good people, certainly no
worse than, and probably a lot better than, their neighbours? "We are very
comfortable and God must be pleased with us." But they are utter strangers to
heartfelt confession of their wicked thoughts and nature. This is a lukewarm,
"Laodicean" church, the sort of church Christ spews out of His mouth. Rev.
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