Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
Bookmark and Share

January 2004, Volume IX, Issue 21


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 desires.

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 "repentance."

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. Stewart

If you would like to receive the Covenant Reformed News free by e-mail each month (and/or by post, if you are in the UK), please contact Rev. Stewart and we will gladly send it to you.