The Reign of the Servant Kings*
A Study of Eternal Security
And the Final Significance of Man
By JOSEPH C. DILLOW
[* NOTE: All words placed inside blue brackets, are not part of the author’s writing. They are
added by the editor to help clarify the author’s meaning and strengthen scriptural teachings.
Bold type, underlining and highlighting passages, are used throughout the book to
place emphasis on important statements. It is recommended that Dr. Dillow’s
writings be compared with R. Govett’s exposition in: “Christian!
Seek the Rest of God In His Millennial Kingdom.” - Ed.]
Schoettle Publishing Co.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Foreword [Page xiii]
Preface [Page xv]
Abbreviations [Page xvii]
Acknowledgment [Page xx]
PROLOGUE [Page 1]
CHAPTER 1. INTRODUCTION [Page 7]
Grace under Fire [Page 7]
The Abuse of Grace [Page 8]
The Theology of the Reformers [Page 8]
The answer to Carnality [Page 10]
Front Loading the Gospel [Page10]
Back Loading the Gospel [Page 11]
The Eternal Security of the Saints [Page 14]
The Experimental Predestination [Page 14]
The Partaker [Page 20]
CHAPTER 2. INTERPRETATION AND PERSEVERANCE [Page 25]
Theological Exegesis [Page 27]
Illegitimate Total Transfer [Page 29]
Theological Science [Page 38]
CHAPTER 3. THE INHERITANCE: OLD TESTAMENT [Page 43]
The Old Testament Conception of Inheritance [Page 46]
An Inheritance Was a “Possession” [Page 47]
An Inheritance Could Be Merited and Lost [Page 48]
Two Kinds of Inheritance Are Promised [Page 52]
God is Our Inheritance [Page 52]
An Added Blessing to the Saved [Page 53]
The Inheritance and Heaven – New Testament Parallels? [Page 55]
The Inheritance – Promises and Conditions [Page 57]
Conclusion [Page 58]
CHAPTER 4. THE INHERITANCE: NEW TESTAMENT [Page 61]
An Inheritance Is a Possession [Page 61]
An Inheritance Is Meritorious Ownership of the Kingdom [Page 63]
An Inheritance Can be Forfeited [Page 63]
Inheriting the Kingdom [Page 75]
The Inheritance in Hebrews [Page82]
The Inheritance [Page 82]
The Rights of the Firstborn [Page 84]
Two Kinds of Inheritance [Page 85]
Conclusion [Page 90]
CHAPTER 5. THE INHERITANCE REST OF HEBREWS [Page 93]
The Rest of God [Page 94]
The Rest Is the
The Rest Is Our Finished Work [Page 96]
The Partakers [Page 102]
Entering into Rest (Heb. 4: 1-11) [Page 106]
The Warning (4: 1-2) [Page 106]
The Present Existence of the Rest (4: 3-7) [Page 107]
No Final Rest under Joshua (4: 6-9) [Page 107]
How the Rest is Obtained (4: 10-11) [Page 108]
Conclusion [Page 109]
CHAPTER 6. SO GREAT SALVATION [Page 111]
Usage outside the New Testament [Page 111]
Usage in Secular Greek [Page 112]
Usage in the Old Testament [Page 112]
Usage in the New Testament [Page 114]
Salvation of the Troubled [Page 114]
Salvation of a Life [Page 116]
Salvation of a Wife [Page 126]
Salvation of a Christian Leader [Page 126]
Reigning with Christ in the Kingdom [Page 127]
Salvation in the Book of Hebrews [Page128]
Conclusion [Page 132]
CHAPTER 7. INHERITING ETERNAL LIFE [Page 135]
Given freely as a Gift [Page 135]
Earned as a Reward [Page 135]
Conclusion [Page 143]
CHAPTER 8. JUSTIFICATION AND SANCTIFICATION 1 [Page 147]
The Greater Righteousness [Page 147]
Both Are Part of the New Covenant [Page 149]
A Disciple Does the Will of God [Page 150]
The Tests of 1 John [Page 157]
The Readers of John [Page 157]
The Gnostic Heresy [Page 158]
The Purpose of the Epistle [Page 162]
The Tests of Fellowship with God [Page 163]
The Mark of the Beast [Page 175]
CHAPTER 9. JUSTIFICATION AND SANCTIFICATION 2 [Page 177]
The New Creation [Page 177]
The Christian Cannot Live in Sin [Page 179]
Dead to Sin [Page 180]
Sin Will Not Have Dominion [Page 183]
Slaves of Righteousness [Page 184]
Faith without Works Is Dead [Page 187]
What Is Dead Faith? [Page 187]
Salvation Is NOT by “Faith Alone” [Page 188]
By Their Fruits You Shall Know Them [Page 194]
Only Believers Go to Heaven [Page 199]
The Implied “All” [Page 203]
Christians Have Crucified the Flesh [Page 204]
He Who Began a Good Work [Page 205]
A Note on “that faith” in James 2: 14 [Page 207]
CHAPTER 10. THE POSSIBILITY OF FAILURE [Page 209]
The New Testament Warnings [Page 209]
The Reformed View of the Warnings [Page 218]
They Are a Means of Securing Perseverance [Page 218]
They Apply Only to Professing [i.e., regenerate] Christians [Page 239]
Conclusion: Why Are the Warnings Given? [Page 243]
CHAPTER 11. FROM CALVIN TO
John Calvin (1509-1564) [Page 248]
Saving Faith [Page 248]
The Basis of Assurance [Page 250]
Calvin’s Doctrine of Temporary Faith [Page 254]
Theodore Beza (1519-1605) [Page 261]
William Perkins (1558-1602) [Page 263]
Jacobus Arminius (1559- 1609) [Page 265]
It became apparent at the Synod of Dort in 1618 that the Calvinists and the Arminians had reached a stalemate concerning the doctrine of salvation which was destined to last for centuries. The Arminians, in their exegetical approach to certain problem passages, viewed the loss of a [regenerate] believer’s [eternal] salvation as a real possibility for those who fail in a consistent walk with Christ Jesus. On the other hand, the Calvinist with a consistent biblical theology maintained that [regenerate] believers in Jesus Christ could never lose their eternal salvation. For almost four centuries there has been a breech between there two major systems of theology. It may well be that both systems, Calvinism and Arminianism, there has been a reductionistic error committed in understanding the meaning of salvation. Each of these theological systems appears to have defined the term salvation narrower than God intended by emphasizing one aspect of salvation at the expense of another.
The concept and meaning of salvation in the Scriptures is multidimensional. For example, when we look at salvation with respect to deliverance from sin, there is a past aspect-justification, deliverance from the penalty of sin, and a present aspect-sanctification, deliverance from the power of sin, and a future aspect-glorification, deliverance from the presence of sin. There are many works today explaining in great detail the doctrine of justification [by God’s grace] salvation. There are lesser number of works seeking satisfactory explanations of the doctrine of sanctification salvation. There are almost no works in our generation explaining the doctrine of glorification salvation. This area of study has remained a virtual vacuum. Yet it seems that in expanding the implications of the doctrine of glorification salvation and the judgment seat of Christ there is an acute biblical solution for this four hundred-year debate between the Calvinist [theology] and the Arminian [theology]. Although a [regenerate] believer can never lose his justification [by faith alone - his initial] salvation, there are dimensions of [God’s future millennial] glorification salvation that may be lost or gained if we take seriously passages as Romans 14: 10, 1 Corinthians 3: 15, 2 Corinthians 5: 10, and 2 John 7-8. The danger of loss is real and to be taken with appropriate fear and reverence in light of the [millennial and] eternal implications.* The opportunity of reward, on the other hand, with the glories of ruling and reigning with Jesus Christ in His coming [millennial] Kingdom, are presented in the Scriptures as a great motivation for holy living in the present.
[* NOTE. The first three references here all apply to regenerate believers: 2 John 7-8 would appear to include apostate believers, whom Christ will confine, for the duration of “the thousand years,” in “Outer Darkness” (Matt. 8: 12; 22: 13; 25: 30 cf. Rev. 20: 10, R.V.).]
It is precisely at this point that Joseph Dillow has performed a monumental service to the Body of Christ. The Reign of the Servant Kings may just be the solution to the debate [and the apparent ignorance existing amongst Bible teachers] between two major systems of theology [Page XIV] which have dominated church history for four centuries - [to this present time]. I have personally studied through the manuscript several times and found myself most enthusiastic with Dr. Dillow’s exegetical clarity and consistent biblical theology. His contribution to the disciplines of soteriology [i.e. biblical teachings relative to salvation – past, present and future] and eschatology - [i.e., biblical teachings relative to last things or end-time events] - are to be applauded. I heartily commend this study to you for gaining growth in accurately understanding your position, practice, and place with Jesus Christ, both now and in His coming kingdom rule. God has spoken and He does not stutter. Therefore, we need to be diligent in our study - [and ask the Holy Spirit for His help (Luke 11: 13)] - to come to a clearer meaning of what God meant by what He has spoken in His Scriptures.
Earl D. Radmacher, Th.D.
* * *
There are few issues which are as capable of raising the temperature of theological discussion as the issue of whether or not the saints will necessarily persevere in holiness. The Westminster Confession (1647) has taught us that true faith inevitably results in a holy life and that justification and sanctification are always united. Indeed, the magnificent Reformed tradition, which has contributed in no small way to the growth and expansion of the church since the Reformation, has had perseverance in holiness as one of its essential tenets.
is also well known that the Remonstrants (1610) rejected that point of
Calvinism and went to another extreme - conditional security. Both were struggling with the
relation between faith and works.
What do we make of a man who claims to have placed his trust in Jesus
Christ but whose present life style is a complete contradiction of the faith he
once acknowledged? The
large portion of Christendom has accepted variations of the Arminian view. We may note that the Roman Catholic Church
has long held to these ideas and so has the Wesleyan tradition, in some form or
other. In view of the fact that God has
given to the church the gift of teaching, we must not easily dismiss this vast
body of exegetical literature simply because it disagrees with the Reformed
tradition or with our own personal [or denominational] exegetical
conclusions. To do so is to cut
ourselves off from the expression of the gift of teaching in the
Part of the problem may be that the disputants on the question of perseverance in holiness perceived only two interpretive opinions when confronted with the many passages which seem to indicate that there is something conditional in the [regenerate] believer’s ultimate destiny. The warning passages [throughout the Scriptures (e.g., Acts 5: 3, 9, 32) and] in Hebrews for example, have entered prominently into the debate. As might be expected, the exegetical literature, in general, has divided along two lines; either these warnings apply to those who merely professed faith and subsequently fell away from a profession, thus proving that they never “possessed” faith to begin with, or they apply to true Christians who, through the sin of unbelief, forfeited their justification [by faith alone].
Is there a third opinion? Is there an interpretative stance which can be completely faithful to the text and at the same time draws upon the exegetical contributions which the Holy Spirit has made to the church through the able, scholarly work of men from both traditions? Is there a view of these warnings and others in the New Testament which maintains, with the Calvinist tradition, that justification [by faith] can never be forfeited and at the same time, allows, with the Wesleyans, that justification and sanctification are not inextricably united and that there is indeed something conditional to the [regenerate] believer’s ultimate destiny?
The answer to the question is yes. In the pages to follow [there are 650 pages in the author’s book] I will attempt to chart a middle road between the traditional Reformed approach and that of the Arminian. I accept the Reformed position that those who are truly born again can never lose their [eternal] salvation. But I also accept the Arminian position that the warning passages of the New Testament (e.g., Heb. 6) are directed to true Christians, not merely [nominal or] professing Christians. There is a real danger here.* However, contrary to the Arminian, the danger is not loss of [eternal life or] heaven but loss of reward there [during the “Age” to come] and severe divine discipline in [intermediate] time.
[* By “intermediate” time is meant time between the “First Resurrection” and the “Great White Throne” judgment of those whose names will be found written in “the Book of Life,” (Rev. 20: 5, 11, 15).
See Heb. 9: 27 where mention is made of a prior Judgment of the dead which commences before Christ’s return and the “First Resurrection” of those who will reign with Christ, (1 Thess. 4: 16; Rev. 20: 4, 5). This judgment by Christ, before “the thousand years” commence, will determine who (from amongst the dead in the underworld of “Hades” Acts 2: 27, 34), are “accounted worthy to obtain that world [age] …” (Lk. 20: 35, A.V.) – i.e., the Lord’s coming millennial reign.]
The issue of whether or not the saints will necessarily persevere and whether or not true faith is indestructible is a complex interpretive issue involving numerous passages in the New Testament, indeed one’s whole system of theology as well. Because of this, the following discussion will take us into many different areas of biblical theology. An entire view of the Christian life is under consideration in the following chapters.
One final note. Throughout this book I refer to the merit which the [regenerate] believer can obtain by means of his good works. In the theology texts, merit is often used in two different senses. It is either construed as a strict legal relation in which the believer by his works pleases God in his debt or as a more general term for the notion that God rewards us according to our works but not because of them. Unless stated otherwise, it is the latter sense which is always intended. God is not obliged to reward us at all. That He chooses to do this, and in accordance with the general correspondence to our faithfulness, is an act of pure grace, not of debt.
Joseph C. Dillow
15 January 1992
* * *
LXX The Septuagint Version, With Apocrypha – Greek and
NASB New Ameridan Standard Cible.
NIV New International Version.
Bible, New King James Version.
AG Arndt, William F., and Gingrish, F. Wilbur. A
Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature.
AS Abbott-Smith, G. A Manuel Greek Lexicon of the New Testament.
BDB Brown, Francis; Driver, S. R.; and Briggs, Charles A. Hebrew
and English Lexicon of the New Testament.
DM Dana, H. E., and Mantey, Julius R. A Manual
Grammar of the Greek New Testament.
NIDNTT Dictionary of New Testament Theology. Edited by
Colin Brown. 3
ISBE International Standar. 5
LS Liddell, Henry George, and Scott, Robert. A
1907; reprint ed., revised and augmented by Henry Stuart James and
MM Moulton, James Hope, and Milligan, George. The
Vocabulary of the Greek Testament. One-vol. ed., reprint ed.,
NISBE International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Rev. ed.
Edited by Geoffery W. Bromiley. 4 vols.
TDNT Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Edited by Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich. Translated by Geoffrey W.
Bromiley. Index compiled by
Ronald E. Pitkin. 10
TWOT Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. Edited by R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Aecher, Jr., and Bruce K.
Waltke. 2 vols.
ZPED Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible. Edited by Merrill C. Tenney
Bible Knowledge Commentary. Edited by John F. Walvoord
and Roy Zuck. 2
EGT Expositor’s Greek Testament. Edited by W. Robertson
Nicoll. 5 vols. Reprint ed.,
Lange’s Lange, John Peter. Lange’s Commentary on the Holy Scriptures. Translated and edited by Philip
Schaff. 12 double vols. 1968-70; reprint ed.,
NICNT Bruce, F. F., gen. ed., The New
International Commentary on the New Testament. 15 vols. To date.
TNTC Tasker, R. V. G. gen. ed.
The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries,
BibSac Bibliotheca Sacra
GTJ Grace Theological Journal
JBL Journal of Biblical Literature
JETS Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
JGES Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society
Creeds of Christendom. 6th ed. Edited by Philip Schaff. 3 vols. 1876; reprint ed. Of Harper and Row 1931 ed.,
In 1973 the writer was given a set of tapes by Zane Hodges on the book of Hebrews. Those lectures resulted in a change of perspective on that book and ultimately to a different way of looking at the New Testament. I would like to thank Professor Hodges for the profound impact he has had on my understanding of the doctrines of eternal security and rewards.
I would like to express appreciation to Wendall Hollis for his faithful assistance in editing this manuscript. His contribution in helping me to think clearly and critically about the issues involved has been a significant aspect of this project.
Also, special thanks to my secretary, Leslie Smith, for her many hours of proofreading and typing and her many helpful suggestions. Any errors which remain are, of course, my own responsibility.
* * *
Shrouded in darkness, the early earth lumbered silently through the heavens. Its aimless journey had already consumed aeons of cosmic time. It was before … the Beginning. 1 No one could have guessed that this planet would one day become the moral centre of the cosmic conflict of the ages.
1 The writer is assuming a widely held view that Gen. 1: 1 refers not to the absolute but to a relative beginning. The entire known universe, including the sun and stars and atmosphere, etc., came into existence [by the Word of God] out of nothing in Gen. 1: 1ff. The earth itself, however, apparently already existed at this time. The angels were created and some of them fell in the pre-Gen. 1: 1 universe. When God begins His creative work, the earth is already in a judged condition. This is not to be confused with the “gap theory” which teaches a gap between Gen. 1: 1 and 1: 2. Rather, the gap is between the original creation in eternity past (Jn. 1: 1-2) and the re-creation of Gen. 1: 1 which occurred about six thousand to twelve thousand years ago. In the pre-Gen. 1: 1 universe an entirely different set of natural laws prevailed. It is not germane to the purpose of this book nor does the book’s central thesis depend upon this view. For this reason the writer will not defend it here. The interested reader is referred to Bruce Waltke, Creation and Chasos (Portland: Western Conservative Baptist Seminary Press, 1974), pp. 31-36.
A universal tragedy had occurred. The Morning Star, known as Lucifer, 2 God’s perfect one, full of wisdom and beauty, 3 the angelic being whom God has appointed as ruler over the ancient cosmos, 4 … had fallen. The prophet Ezekiel paints a picture of divine grief in his woeful description of this betrayal (Ezek. 28: 11-19). Lucifer had been given everything. Yet he became proud. 5 He concluded that God’s gifts were more important than the giver, that dependence upon God and obedience to His revealed will were not necessary. He became the Satan, God’s adversary. 6 He was cast to the earth, and the earth was judged. 7 At that time the earth, from which he ruled and upon which he lived, 8 became without form and void (Gen. 1: 1-2).
2 Isa. 14: 12-17.
3 Ezek. 28: 12.
4 Ezek. 28: 14.
5 Ezek. 28: 17; 1 Tim. 3: 6.
6 The word “Satan” means “adversary.”
7 Ezek. 28: 17.
8 Ezek. 28: 13.
The angels looked on, the Lord declared:
We shall give this rebellion a thorough trial. We shall permit it to run full course. The universe shall see what a creature, even the greatest can do apart from God. We will set up an experiment, and permit the universe of creatures to watch it, during this brief interlude between eternity past and eternity future called “time.” In it the spirit of independence shall be allowed to expand to the utmost. And the wreck and the ruin which shall result will demonstrate to the universe, and forever, that there is no life, no joy, no peace, apart from a complete dependence upon the Most High, possessor of heaven and earth. 9
9 Donald Barnhouse, The
Invisible War (
The Lord of Hosts could have destroyed this rebel immediately. He could have answered this challenge with raw power. The Satan has said that pride and independence were acceptable. But instead, Yahweh brought into existence a plan which would forever answer this satanic alternative - a plan which would involve God Himself in a moral demonstration of His love and grace. The King Himself would one day demonstrate the superiority of His ways - dependence and servanthood.
For millions of years mournful silence and darkness reigned in Satan’s world. Had God forgotten? Had He decided to ignore this challenge to His sovereignty? Had He decided to look the other way? The silence of God was deafening. The darkness was universal. The earth belonged to the Satan. 10 The angelic sons of God yearned for the darkness and silence to be broken. 11
10 See Lk. 4: 6-7; 2 Cor. 4: 4; Jn. 16: 11; 12: 31; Eph. 2: 2.
11 And they shouted for joy when it was (Job. 38: 7)!
Suddenly - it was!
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning - the first day (Gen. 1: 3-5).
“At last!” thought Michael, God’s archangel. “Our Lord will once again rule here!”
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground (Gen. 1: 26).
“But,” said Michael, “what is this? A man? This creature is so weak, so inferior to the Satan. Why has the King placed HIM in Satan’s world and told HIM to rule there? How can such an insignificant creature, much lower than the [Page 3] angels, 12 possibly accomplish the divine purpose? Surely I great mistake has been made!”
12 Ps. 8: 5; Heb. 2: 7.
What is the significance of man? That question has been on the lips of both poet and philosopher since man first began to think about these things. Thousands of years later as the shepherd David gazed upwards into the brilliantly star-covered sky, he was crushed to the ground with the sense of his own insignificance and exclaimed (Ps. 8: 3-4):
When I consider the heavens,
the work of thy fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
WHAT IS MAN THAT YOU ARE MINDFUL OF HIM?
David’s mind, apparently reflecting on the divine commission in Genesis, received a flash of illumination (Ps. 8: 6-9):
You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honour.
YOU MADE HIM RULER OVER THE
WORKS OF YOUR HANDS;
YOU PUT EVERYTHING UNDER HIS FEET …
Oh Lord, our Lord,
How majestic is your name in
all the earth!
Man was to rule! It was the lesser creature who would be crowned with glory and honour. It was the inferior creature who would be placed in rulership over the Satan’s world! The glory, honour, and sovereignty which the Satan had stolen in independence and unbelief would be regained by the inferior creature living in servanthood and faith! In this way pride is rebuked. It was God’s purpose that the lesser creature living in dependence upon God would obtain a higher position than the superior creature, who had stolen his by independence and unbelief. Years later the Saviour would say, “he who is least among you all - he is the greatest” (Lk. 9: 48).
God intends to humble the proud and independent in a
unique way. He intends that the lower
creature, man (created lower than the angels and hence [Page
4] lower than Satan), should achieve
the highest position (“all things in subjection under
His feet,” Heb. 2: 8). Thus the lower creature would achieve by
independence upon God a higher position than the higher [angelic] creature, Satan, achieved through independence. For “it is not to angels that He has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking” (Heb. 2: 5). Out of the least, God will bring the
greatest. It was as MAN that the Saviour defeated the enemy. It was as MAN that He silenced the principalities and powers. It was as MAN that He will reign the future
This future kingdom is the subject of hundreds of passages in the Old Testament. It is a glorious reign of servant kings which extends to “all the works of His hands.” (This may suggest that one day mankind will rule the galaxies!) The lion will lie down with the lamb, universal righteousness will reign, there will be no war. Disease will be abolished, and the world of Satan will be placed under the rule of the Servant King and His companions (Heb. 1: 9).
Consistent with His divine purpose, God chose to establish His Kingdom through
the elevation of an obscure and insignificant Semitic tribe,
The controlling principle of the biblical philosophy of history rests in the precept of the second before the first. God often chooses the “nothings” (1 Cor. 1: 26, 27). Only in this way is the self praise of man destroyed. It is a pervading characteristic of the whole course of redemption that God chooses the younger before the elder, sets the smaller in priority to the greater, and chooses the second before the first. Nor Cain but Abel and his substitute Seth; not Japheth bur Shem; not Ishmael but Isaac; not Esau but Jacob; not Manasseh but Ephraim; 13 not Aaron but Moses;14 not Eliab but David; 15 not Old Covenant but the New; 16 not the first Adam but the last Adam. 17 The first becomes last and the last becomes first. 18 The great nations are set aside, 19 and God elects to establish His purposes through two insignificant mediums, the Israel of God (the believing remnant of the last days) and the body of Christ (the invisible church [of the firstborn*]).20
13 Gen. 48: 14.
14 Ex. 7: 1.
15 1 Sam. 16: 6-13.
16 Heb. 8: 13.
17 1 Cor. 15: 45.
18 Mt. 19: 30.
19 Dan. 2: 7ff; Rom. 1: 24, 26, 28.
[* See G. H. Lang’s “Firstborn Sons Their Rights and Risks.”]
20 Rom. 8: 20-22.
But the first Adam, deceived by the serpent, chose the path of the father of lies, and acting independently, contrary to His design, fell into sin. As a result, the sons of men were born in need of a redeemer.
It is here that the beauty and symmetry of the divine plan became evident. Not only did God purpose to elevate the role of a servant and the disposition of trust, but He gave His Son, the Second Man and the Last Adam, 21 as a saviour. He who is of the essence of God became a servant. He “made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant” (Phil. 2: 7). He obeyed finally and completely; “He humbled Himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross” (2: 8). And in this way, living by exactly the opposite set of principles from Satan, He achieved higher glory:
21 1 Cor.
15: 45. There are only
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2: 9-11).
Those who would rule with Him must find their lives in the same way: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2: 5). The future rulers of God’s creation must, like their King, be servants now. There will be no room for pride or hubris, only a heartfelt desire to extend the blessing and glory of God throughout the created order. Unlike the Satan and his modern day followers, they will have no desire to be lord over their subjects. Instead, like their Lord, they will desire only to serve those over whom they rule:
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave - just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt. 20: 25-28).
They will be greatly loved and valued by their subjects. Instead of disobedience there will be servant-hood, to God and to others. The second Adam put it this way, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. … Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Mt. 5: 3-5).
We [if we overcome] are to become the servant kings. That is our destiny. This destiny was often called “salvation” by the prophets. 22 This was not a salvation from hell, but the glorious privilege of reigning with Messiah in the final destiny of man. In the eternal plan, only those who strive to be servants now can qualify for this great future privilege then. In order to be “great” in the kingdom of heaven,* to rule there, we must first become humble like a little child. 23 “The greatest among you will be your servant. For whosoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Mt. 23: 11-12).
[* Lit. “the kingdom of the heavens.” Presumably this is a reference to resurrected saints, who will be able to access the heavenly sphere of Messiah’ millennial kingdom. He says they will be “like angels being sons of the resurrection” (Lk. 20: 36, NASV).]
22 A discussion of the various meanings of “salvation” will be undertaken in chapter 6.
23 Mt. 18: 4.
If God’s eternal plan evolves around demonstrating the moral superiority of humility and servant-hood, it is of the utmost importance that we learn the lesson now. All Christians are not servants, and only those who are will be great in the [coming] kingdom. Only those sons of God who are “sons indeed” will be co-heirs with their coming King in the final destiny of man. Many who have been saved by the King are not presently living for Him. Many who have begun lives of discipleship have not persevered. They risk forfeiture of this great future. But we are “Partakers (Gk. metochoi) of Christ, [only] if we hold our confidence firmly to the end” (Heb. 3: 14). However, those who are obedient and dependant servants now and who persevere in discipleship to the final hour will be among Christ’s metochoi, the servant kings, in the thousand-year kingdom of the Son of Man. All Christians will be in the kingdom, but tragically not all will be co-heirs there.*
[* See Chapter 20.]
It is by losing our lives that they find their ultimate significance. 24 Each act of service is not only an expression of God’s eternal purpose but is preparation and training for our final destiny. Yes, the final answer to the Satan’s rebellion, and the ultimate meaning of human existence, is to be found in the future [millennial] reign of the servant kings. But who are thy, and how do we join their company? Let us begin …
24 Mk. 8: 35.
* * *
No doubt there
are millions who have professed the name of Christ and continue to live in such
a way which gives no evidence whatsoever that their profession is real. In fact, a widely reported opinion poll
survey indicated that over fifty million people in the
1 George Gallup, Jr. and David Poling, The Search For America’s Faith (Nashville: Abingdon, 1980), p. 92.
In the clearest possible terms the New Testament writers presented the unconditional nature of the gospel offer:
And let one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes, take the water of life without cost (Rev. 22: 17 NASB).
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting [Gk. aionian] life (Jn. 3: 16 NASB).
Yet explicit statements such as these are sometimes difficult to accept. Could something as important as our eternal destiny really come to us only through believing and be “without cost”? One cannot profitably speculate on the eternal destiny of many who have acted in a way that brings shame to the gospel. But this type of behaviour by people who claim to be Christians certainly makes one anxious that the clearest possible presentation of the gospel [of God’s grace] be made.
Grace under Fire
There are two powerful influences which have caused this hesitation to accept the unconditional freeness of saving grace.
The Abuse of Grace
The first is the deplorable state into which Western Christianity has fallen as we move to the end of the twentieth century. This has caused many to wonder, Is the teaching of free grace healthy?
There has always been sin in the church, but the presence of the media, television evangelists, and the news and information explosion has highlighted certain hypocrisy as never before. Furthermore, Western culture has become so thoroughly secularized and godless that simply living in it has resulted in many Christians getting mud on their feet. The church, instead of being a beacon of light, has often been penetrated by the very abuses which it speaks against.
A lamentable situation such as this is bound to provoke thoughtful and even angry reactions within the church who are understandably upset about empty professions of faith which have not resulted in any change of life.
One such reaction has recently come from the able pen
of John MacArthur, pastor-teacher of
Why does such a situation like this exist in the church today? In MacArthur’s opinion it is due to the well-meaning but misinformed teaching that salvation is being offered without the necessity of accepting Christ as both Saviour and Lord at the point of saving faith. He feels that many leading Bible teachers are saying “the only criterion for salvation is knowing and believing some basic facts about Christ.”2 The fallout of this thinking, he says, is a deficient doctrine of salvation; justification is not necessarily and inevitably linked to sanctification. People feel they can pray a prayer, receive eternal life, and then go on sinning.
The answer MacArthur feels, is to include the notion of submission to the lordship of Christ as the antidote to a defective view of faith. This leads him into some views of the nature of saving faith and of the conditions for salvation which, to many, would seem to be an extreme reaction in the opposite direction from the “easy believism” he so vigorously attacks.
The Theology of the Reformers
The second major influence which has caused many to ask, Is free grace healthy? Is a persistent theological tradition going back to John Calvin. Calvin and the Reformers who followed him told their readers and parishioners that [Page 9] faith alone saves, but true faith is a faith which results in a life of works. In fact, the final proof of the reality of faith is whether or not a man perseveres in good works to the end of life. Known as the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, this teaching emerged in its mature form 3 during the Protestant Reformation.
3 Traces of this teaching can be found in 1 Clement and the Apostolic Fathers.
One has only to read Calvin’s Institutes
to see immediately that he laboured under a great burden to defend the
Reformation against the criticism that a faith alone, grace alone gospel would
lead to moral laxity. When perusing
these great volumes, the “atmosphere” is
pungent with anxiety to demonstrate that the gospel of free grace will not led
to license but will, to the contrary, result in a life of holiness. However, in order to make his argument “air tight” Calvin
went beyond the Scripture and taught
that the gospel will necessarily and inevitably guarantee
a life of holiness. This subtle change in the gospel was
readily accepted by the Reformers because it completely negated the Catholic
attack. When a person who claimed to be a Christian and yet was living a carnal
life was set up by the Catholics as an example of the product of Reformation theology,
the Reformers could now simply say he was not a [regenerate] Christian at all.
If he was, he would not live like that. When one was
in the midst of a debate which was ripping apart the fabric of
Having successfully separated from Catholicism and
established the Reformation churches, the next attack came from within. Pelagianism manifested itself in resistance
by Protestants in
4 R. T. Kendall, Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), p. 143.
This debate about eternal security has not been a brief affair. In fact, it has gone on for several hundred years and continues to some extent today. When a discussion endures that long, issues are more precisely defined, and positions harden. The very length and intensity of the debate has contributed in no small [Page 10] way to the traditional acceptance of opposing positions. Lest the reader doubt this point, consider the typical seminary student, the future teacher of the sheep. When a position differing from his own background or perhaps from that of the seminary which he attends is presented, he is likely to “check it out” by opening up the standard theology texts which support his view and learning the ancient arguments against his opponents. Thus, traditional arguments are passed on from book to student, from professor to pulpit, and from pulpit to the parishioner when he becomes a pastor. Pressed for time in the seminary, and without it in the church, he rarely has opportunity for original study which might challenge traditional interpretations.
The Answer to Carnality
To prevent abuse of the gospel [of God’s saving grace], two widely held solutions are offered. Some, harkening back to the Colossian error, insist that the cause of the problem is that man needs more than initial salvation in Christ - a “fullness” beyond our salvation experience, a second work of grace to finish the complete beginning. However, some of the most notable examples of the present hypocrisy have appeared within the groups which offer such a solution and by the very leaders who teach it. The other solution, and the one which this book addresses, is the tendency to “front-load” and “back-load” the gospel.
Front Loading the Gospel
Front loading the gospel means attaching various works of submission and obedience on the front end and including them in the conditions for salvation. These works are supposedly created in the heart by God. This is commonly done among those who maintain that submission to the lordship of Christ is a condition of [the Christian’s eternal] salvation. Faith is redefined to include submission, and a man becomes a [regenerate] Christian not by “hearing” and “believing” but by believing and promising God he will submit his life to Christ. This is not to deny that true faith certainly involves a disposition of openness to God and cannot coexist with an attitude of determination to continue in sin. But that is not what those who teach so-called “lordship salvation” mean. Rather, their view is that a man must resolve to turn from all known sin and follow Christ absolutely. It seems that works enter through the front door, and another gospel is taught. But surely this God-created submission to lordship is a work, and works in the human heart whether from God or man do not save [eternally]!
Back Loading the Gospel
A far more subtle change in the gospel, however, occurs when some back-load the gospel. Back loading the gospel means attaching various works of submission as the means of achieving the final aim of faith, final deliverance from hell [meaning “the lake of fire”] and entrance into heaven. This is what has been done in the more extreme expressions of the Reformed doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. While it is often claimed that a life of works is the necessary and inevitable result of true faith, it is also maintained by some that works are the means of achieving our final destiny. Of course, it is not always stated as blatantly as that. These works, we are told, are different than the works which the unregenerate perform to obtain merit with God. These works are the gifts of Christ and the fruits of regeneration. Calvin resisted a similar theology during the Reformation:
The Sophists, who delight in sporting with Scripture in empty cavils, think they have a suitable evasion when they expound works to mean, such as un-regenerated men do literally, and by the effect of free will, without the grace of Christ, and they deny that these have any reference to spiritual works. Thus, according to them, man is justified by faith as well as by work, provided these are not his own works, but gifts of Christ and fruits of regeneration. 5
5 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge, 2 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), 3. 11. 14.
Calvin would no doubt be appalled to learn that there are many in the church today and who bare the name who expose this very sophistry! To the prosaic mind, the doctrine of perseverance in holiness sometimes seems to be expressed in a way that teaches that sanctification is a means of justification. The English puritans often came close to this, and at least one of their luminaries, William Bradshaw (1571-1618), explicitly taught what others implied. 6
More recently, Arthur Pink has maintained that God requires that true Christians must “keep themselves” or risk eternal damnation. 7 Yet he unequivocally maintains the “absolute and eternal security of the saints.” 8
7 Arthur Pink, An Exposition of Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1968), p. 610.
8 Ibid., p. 599.
He is attempting to show that God preserves His children through means - works. He quotes John Owen, that prince of the Puritan expositors, with approval, teaching that works are a means of salvation:
But yet our diligent endeavour is such as indispensable means for the end, as that without it, it will not be brought about. … If we are in Christ, God hath given us the lives of our souls, and hath taken [Page 12] upon Himself, in His covenant, the preservation of them. But yet we may say, with reference unto the means that He hath appointed, when storms and trials arise, unless we use our diligent endeavours, we cannot be saved. 9
9 John Owen, Hebrews, cited by Pink, p. 600.
It seems that Pink, Bradshaw, and Owen are simply being honest about their understanding of the Reformed doctrine of perseverance. In their preoccupation with means they have forgotten that God has already told us what the means of [eternal] salvation are and what they are not. Works are not a means, whether on the front end or the back end. The only means necessary for obtaining [that] salvation is faith, and faith alone.
He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit (Ti. 3: 1).
The “means” are the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, and not our good works:
For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast (Eph. 2: 8, 9).
The means are one - faith. This faith is apart from any means involving works. How else can Paul say it? When Pink and his modern followers, reacting to the moral laxity in the church, back-load the gospel [of God’s grace] with means, they are flatly contradicting Paul, if words have any meaning at all. In so doing, they seem to be preaching “another gospel” (Gal. 1: 9).
We might ask, “Has loading the gospel with additional means and conditions achieved any more notable moral results than those who add nothing to it?” The answer seems to be no. There is just as much moral laxity in the history of those confessions who have stressed perseverance as in those who have not. One only has to read the works of the English Puritans to see the burden these godly men felt over these same issues in their churches. This approach has been tried before without success, and it is hardly the answer to our present dilemma. Robert Dabney, an articulate proponent of this very doctrine, laments the deplorable state of the Presbyterian Church in his day (1878). The New Testament saints, he says, “did not, like so many now, sit year after year in sinful indolence, complaining of the lack of assurance, and yet indifferent to its cultivation.” 10
10 Robert L. Dabney, Lectures in
Systematic Theology (1878; reprint ed.,
The problems of spiritual lethargy and spiritual abuse are widespread. The various proposals for correcting them have been tried before, and there seems to be no useful purpose served in continuing with the old answers such as lordship salvation and perseverance in holiness. It seems to me that these problems are rooted in some very fundamental biblical misunderstandings. Could it be that the Protestant Reformation was incomplete and that this lies at the core of a raging modern controversy concerning the freeness of God’s grace? Perhaps this unfinished beginning is also a significant cause of the carnality found in many churches. Here is the key to our modern dilemma. The Reformers feared free grace and, as a result, did not take the Reformation far enough. That is, their doctrine of the saint’s preservation in holiness compromised the free grace of God. Because the doctrine of justification by faith alone was potentially vulnerable to the charge of promoting license, the Reformers simply could not let go of the notion that works played a necessary part in our final arrival in heaven. Unable to accept that a regenerate man could live a life of sin and still be [eternally] saved, they included works on the back end of the gospel [of God’s grace] as the means (result?) of [eternal] salvation.
If the saints must inevitably and necessarily persevere in godliness to the final hour, then the doctrine of rewards and chastisement at the judgment seat of Christ becomes murky. How can a man who has persevered in holiness be chastised? Since all who are regenerate will be rewarded anyway, perhaps many settle into spiritual dullness thinking all is well with their souls and there are no negative consequences to pay. And if the doctrine of [divine] punishment for a carnal life is vague and if the doctrine of rewards is reduced to a promise of something that everyone will get anyway, then key motivations for living the Christian life are compromised.
Most important, however, is that fact that the motivation of gratitude for unconditional acceptance is lost. This is because in the Reformed system the most likely possibility for the continually sinning Christian is that he may not be a true Christian at all. While some advocates of this doctrine would not intend this, the practical result is often continual introspection and doubt as to whether or not one is really unconditionally loved and accepted in God’s [redeemed] family, apart from any works at all! Yet, paradoxically, those who advocate this view say our motivation should come from gratitude. But how can gratitude emerge from the heart of one who is continually re-examining whether or not he is truly accepted?
A new Reformation may be needed in Western Christianity which sets forth the magnificent freeness of God’s grace as the only sufficient motivation for godly living.
It is obvious that the question of eternal security is inextricably involved with the question of free grace. If eternal life is truly offered “without cost” and salvation once received can never be lost, it might seem that some would take the grace of God for granted and live unfaithful lives. All motivation is lost, it is feared, to persevere in the life of faith. For the man who claims he is a Christian and who lives a sinful life, the Arminian warns him that he is in danger of losing his [eternal] salvation. The English Puritans, on the other hand, simply say he never had salvation to begin with and he had better re-examine his foundations; he is in danger of hell [i.e., “the lake of fire”]. Only the man who perseveres in a life of good works to the final hour, they said, is truly saved.
The Reformed doctrine of the perseverance of the saints was an out-growth of the accusations that the Reformation would logically result in moral laxity. It also provided a powerful means of refuting the Arminian teaching of conditional security. The intent of this book is to demonstrate that this doctrine is not only absent from Scripture but could, if not carefully stated, compromise the freeness of the [saving] grace of [a merciful, long-suffering and forgiving] God. This is a book about the eternal security of the saints, a doctrine which the writer feels has good scriptural support. Yet this doctrine has laboured under amazing exegetical contortions at the hands of its advocates. The seeming twisting of numerous [accountability] Scriptures in order to get them to align with a particular view of perseverance can only be described (if politically inclined) as “voodoo” exegesis. The history of interpretation must, of course, render the final verdict, but if one had to chose between Arminian and Calvinist interpretations of the relevant passages, the writer’s opinion is that the Arminian view is eminently more successful and true to the text. Fortunately, one does not have to chose between either of these interpretations, and it will be the burden of this book to chart a third and mediating path.
This investigation will lead us into many related doctrines, such as the relationship between justification and sanctification, assurance of [eternal] salvation, and the relevance of the warning passages [addressed to all who are regenerate] in the New Testament. Can a true Christian commit apostasy? Does the New Testament teach the existence of the carnal Christian? In addition, we will examine all of the passages commonly brought to bear on the question of eternal security and consider both Calvinist and Arminian exegesis.
The Experimental Predestinarian
It is important at the outset of our discussion that we define our terms carefully. Some, for example, maintain that historically the doctrine of perseverance meant only that no true Christian would ever commit apostasy. While there may have been some who limited the doctrine to this mere continuation of belief, [Page 15] the vast majority of the Reformed confessions and the theological works definitely viewed perseverance as a perseverance of good works.
According to the Protestant creeds. From the earliest post-Reformation creeds, perseverance was always connected with a life of practical victory against sin as well as continuation of faith. 11
“Since we are so weak in ourselves that we cannot stand a moment while our deadly enemies - the devil, the world, and our own flesh - assail us without ceasing, be pleased to persevere and strengthen us by the power of the Holy Spirit, that we may make firm stand against them, and not sink in this spiritual war, until we come off at last with complete victory” (“The Heidelberg Catechism,” Schaff, 3: 355).
Perseverance is a complete victory in the spiritual war against sin and not just a refusal to commit apostasy. Furthermore, this perseverance is ultimately God’s work, not ours. It is God who will “persevere and strengthen” us.
The specific occasion of the discussion of perseverance in the Canons of Dort (1619) was the controversy with the Remonstrants who denied this doctrine. The Canons make it explicitly clear that, even though a believer may lapse into carnality for a time, he will always return to repentance:
By such enormous sins, however, they very highly offend God, incur a deadly guilt, grieve the Holy Spirit, interrupt the exercise of faith, very grievously wound their consciences, and sometimes lose a sense of God’s favour, for a time, until on their returning into the right way by serious repentance, the light of God’s fatherly countenance again shines upon them. 12
12 “The Canons of the Synod of
A lapse is only an “interruption” and lasts only “for a time until.” The doctrine of perseverance guarantees, not just that the [regenerate] believer will not apostatize but that, when he backslides,
[God] perseveres in them, the incorruptible seed of regeneration from perishing or being totally lost; and again, by his Word and Spirit, he certainly and effectually renews them to repentance, to a sincere and godly sorrow for their sins, that they may seek to obtain remission in the blood of the Mediator, may again experience the favour of a reconciled God, through faith adore his mercies, and henceforward more diligently work out their own salvation with fear and trembling. 13
13 Ibid., 3: 593-94 (5. 7).
When the believer falls, God “certainly and effectually” renews him to repentance so that he will more diligently work out his own salvation with fear and trembling. The assurance that God will always enable them to persevere in good [Page 16] works by providing a way of escape when they fall (5. 11) stimulates believers to persevere in piety, patience, [i.e., perseverance] prayer, and in suffering (5. 12) and makes them more careful to continue in the ways of the Lord (5. 11). 14
14 The French Confession of Faith (The Gallic Confession (1559) makes it clear that the perseverance of the saints is specifically a perseverance in the “right way” (Art. 21). “We believe also that faith is not given to the elect not only to introduce them into the right way, but also to make them continue in it to the end. For as it is God who hath begun the work, He will also perfect it” “The French Confession of Faith,” in Schaff, 3: 371).
The Westminster Confession refers to the fact of perseverance in the following manner:
They whom God hath accepted in His Beloved, effectually called and sanctified by His Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace; but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved. 15
What did the
Nevertheless they may, through the temptations of Satan and of the world, the prevalency of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of the means of their preservation, fall into grievous sins, and for a time continue therein: whether they incur God’s displeasure, and grieve his Holy Spirit; come to be deprived of some measure of their graces and comforts; have their hearts hardened; and their consciences wounded; hurt and scandalize others, and bring temporal judgments upon themselves. 16
16 Ibid., 3: 637 (17. 3).
What is prevented by the Holy Spirit is “final” falling, and falling is clearly a falling into grievous sins, not just apostasy. Furthermore, perseverance guarantees that such falling is only temporary and, as stated in the Canons of Dort, can last only “for a time.”
According to the Reformed theologians. When we turn to the discussions of perseverance in the writings of the Reformed theologians, it is likewise clear that a perseverance in fruit bearing is the meaning, and not just perseverance in [Page 17] faith. 17 For example, Calvin, in his discussion of perseverance and the good works which God works in us (Phil. 2: 13), says that God “supplies the persevering effort until the effect is obtained.” The effect is the willing and the working of His good pleasure. In fact, he says, in our perseverance in good works “we go on without interruption, and persevere even to the end.” 18 For Calvin, the perseverance of the saints was much more than preventing their apostasy from faith; it was a positive sanctification in good works.
18 Institutes, 2. 3. 9.
In his chapter on perseverance in Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Reformed theologian John Murray, “is endurance to the end, abiding in Christ, and continuance in his Word,” 19 For Murray, the doctrine of perseverance is not just a teaching that the true Christian cannot commit apostasy but that he cannot “abandon himself to sin; he cannot come under the dominion of sin; he cannot be guilty of certain kinds of unfaithfulness.” His whole chapter is a sustained argument that perseverance cannot be separated from a life of works. He says, “Let us appreciate the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints and recognize that we may entertain the faith of our security in Christ only as we persevere in faith and holiness to the end,” 20 For Murray, as for all the Calvinist creeds which preceded him, the doctrine of the saints’ perseverance is the doctrine that those who are truly saints will persevere in faith and holiness to the final hour.
19 John Murray, Redemption – Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955), p. 155.
20 Ibid., p. 155.
He further argues against the Arminians that such a doctrine cannot lead to antinomianism “because, by definition, it means persevering in holiness and not in unholiness. … It not only promotes but consists in strenuous and persevering efforts after conformity to Christ.” 21
21 Gerstner, p. 404.
The outstanding Reformed theologian of the nineteenth century Charles Hodge clearly asserts the true definition of the Reformed doctrine of perseverance:
In must be remembered that what the Apostle argues to prove is not merely the certainty of the salvation of those that believe; but their certain perseverance in holiness. Salvation in sin, according to Paul’s system, is a contradiction in terms. This perseverance in holiness is secured partly by the inward secret influence of the Spirit, and partly by all the means adapted to secure that end - instructions, admonitions, exhortations, warnings, the means of grace, and the dispensations of his providence. 22
22 Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 3 vols. (London: James Clarke, n. d.; reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Eerdans, 1977), 3: 112-13.
The various instructions, warnings, and exhortations in the New Testament have as their objective continuance in good works and holy living, not just the prevention of apostasy.
Robert Dabney, the well-known Reformed Presbyterian
theologian who lectured at Union Theological Seminary in
23 Dabney, Lectures, p. 688.
24 Ibid., p. 692.
Similarly, Louis Berkhof defines perseverance as “that continuous operation of the Holy Spirit in the believer, by which the work of divine grace that is begun in the heart is continued and brought to completion” 25 This, of course, closely approximates the Reformed definition of sanctification. It is not just the prevention of apostasy but the growth in holiness Berkhof intends to convey in his doctrine of the saints’ perseverance. Like Hodge, he argues against the Arminians’ charge of antinomianism by saying:
It is hard to see how a doctrine which assures the believer of a perseverance in holiness can be an incentive for sin. It would seem that the certainty of success in the active striving for sanctification would be the best possible stimulus to ever greater exertion. 26
25 Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (London: Banner of Truth, 1941), p. 546.
26 Ibid., p. 548.
Minor Premise: I have believed and have some evidences.
Conclusion: I am saved.
This approach to assurance is “experimental.” The Hypothesis “I am saved” is being tested by an experiment.
The second distinguishing mark of those within this tradition has been a strong emphasis upon eternal predestination. In addition, these Puritan divines placed unusual emphasis on the doctrines of particular grace and limited atonement, a logical (but not exegetical!) extension of predestination. A helpful label then would include the words “experimental” and “predestination.” R. T. Kendall has suggested the label “Experimental Predestinarians,” which will be used throughout this book. 30
30 Kendall, English Calvinism, p. 9.
This book will discuss three basic theological approaches to the questions of security and perseverance. While labels often import connotations not shared by those designated, they are nevertheless helpful in distinguishing between positions. In this book the term “Arminian” refers to those followers of Jacobus Arminius who have held that it is possible for a true [i.e., a regenerate] Christian to lose his [eternal] salvation. For them the warning passages (e.g., Heb. 6) refer to regenerate people. The term “Calvinist” will refer to those who feel that one who is born again [i.e., the regenerate believer] cannot lose his [eternal] salvation and will necessarily and inevitably continue in good works until the end of life (the “Experimental Predestinarian”). The warning passages, according to the Experimental Predestinarian, are addressed to unregenerate people who have professed faith in Christ but who do not possess Christ in the heart. The designation of the third [scriptural] position will similarly be derived from a person, although this person is not mentioned by name but by his distinguishing characteristic:
For we have become partakers of Christ,
if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm unto the end (Heb. 3: 14 NASB).
The word “Partaker” will designate the third theological approach to security. The Partaker is one who, like the Calvinist, holds to the central security of the [regenerate] Christian but, like the Arminian, believes the warning passages in the New Testament apply to true [regenerate] Christians. The Partaker is the Christian who perseveres in good works to the end of life. He is the faithful Christian who will reign with Christ in the coming messianic kingdom. He will be one of the servant kings. What is in danger, according to the Partaker, is not a loss of [his eternal] salvation but [Page 21] spiritual impoverishment, severe discipline in time, and a forfeiture of reward, viz., disinheritance in the future [millennial Kingdom]. For the Partaker the carnal Christian is not only a lamentable fact of Christian experience but is explicitly taught in the Bible as well.
A comparison and contrast between these three theological positions - the Arminian, the Experimental Predestinarian, and the Partaker - will constitute a major portion of this book. It will be helpful to state at the outset the precise distinctives of the Partaker doctrine.
The Partaker view of eternal security may be summarized as follows:
1. Those who have been born again will always 31 give some evidence of growth in grace and spiritual interest and commitment. A man who claims he is a Christian and yet never manifests any change at all has no reason to believe he is justified (Mk. 4: 5, 16, 17).
31 This is true because (1) at conversion a person has repented, changed his perspective about sin and Christ and is therefore predisposed to allow Christ to change him; (2) he has been flooded with the new motivations toward godliness accompanied by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit; and (3) the parable of the soil says that of the second man there was growth, a kind of fruit. But he may soon after quench the Spirit, walk by means of the flesh, and thus fail to give visible evidences of these initial inner workings. A life of sanctification will not inevitably and necessarily follow [initial] justification.
of salvation is found only by looking onward to Christ and not by looking
inward to the evidences of regeneration in the life. As the gospel promise and the beauty of the
Redeemer are held before the believer’s gaze, assurance is the result of such
contemplation. The fruits of faith are
helpful as secondary confirmations of one’s regenerate state, but their absence dose not necessarily
invalidate a man’s salvation. If a
believer is looking biblically and dependently to Christ, a lifestyle of [wilful] sin will be
psychologically, spiritually, and biblically impossible (
3. It is possible for true [regenerate] Christians to fail to persevere in faith and, in remote cases, even to deny the faith altogether (Heb. 10: 26, 35). While initial growth is taught in the New Testament, it is possible for a true Christian to lapse into carnality and finish his course walking as a mere man. The automatic unity between justification and sanctification maintained by the Experimental Predestinarians is not taught in Scripture.
4. The warning passages of the New Testament are intended by the New Testament writers to address regenerate people, not merely [Page 22] professing [regenerate or unregenerate] people, and to express real dangers to the regenerate. The danger, however, is not the loss of [eternal] salvation but severe divine discipline ([premature] physical death, [Acts 5: 3-10] or worse) in the present time and loss of reward, and even rebuke, at the judgment seat of Christ.
5. A life of good works is the obligatory outcome of justification but is not the inevitable outcome (Rom. 8: 12).
6. Those whom God has chosen before the foundation of the world and efficaciously called into saving faith and regenerated by His Holy Spirit can never fall away from [initial and eternal] salvation, but they shall be preserved in a state of salvation to the final hour and be eternally saved. This preservation is guaranteed regardless of the amount of works or lack thereof in the believer’s life (Jn. 6: 38-40).
7. The motive for godly living is not to be found in either fear or losing [eternal] salvation (Arminian) or wondering if one is saved (Experimental Predestination). Rather, it is to be found, negatively, in the fear of disapproval, and positively, in gratitude for a salvation already [fully purchased by Christ and] assured and in anticipation of hearing the Master say, “Well done!” The doctrine of [millennial rather than] eternal rewards usually has a more prominent place in scriptural inspiration towards a life of good works in the Partaker view than in the Arminian or Experimental Predestinarian (1 Cor. 9: 24-27; 2 Cor. 5: 10; Jn. 8). 32
32 John MacArthur, for example, has only one sentence devoted to the subject in his entire book on discipleship, p. 145.
For those who may assume that this is either the direct teaching on the logical implication of the Partaker position, please withhold judgment until you [Page 23] have finished these pages! Like our Experimental Predestinarian friends, we would have serious doubts about the salvation of a man who claims to be a Christian and gives little or no evidence of it in his life. We would not give assurance of salvation to such an individual. We, too, are concerned about those who seem to think they can pray a prayer and live indifferently to Christ’s claims and yet maintain the fiction that they [will inherit the coming kingdom and] go to heaven anyway.
There is no question that there seems to be a general lack of vitality in many parts of the Western church today. Whether or not many who profess Christ are truly regenerate, none can say with certainty. However, we can all agree that the problem of spiritual lethargy, lukewarm Christians, and even carnality is widespread and must be addressed. It may be that a major cause of this difficulty is that we have not challenged our congregations with the sobering realities of our glorious future. It is mankind’s destiny to “rule and have dominion,” and that destiny has not yet been fulfilled. However, if the Partaker view of perseverance is right, only those Christians who [are granted repentance unto life, and] who persevere in a life of good works will have a share in this future [millennial] glory. For the unfaithful Christian, there will be shame and profound regret when he stands before the Lord at the Judgment Seat of Christ.*
[* See Heb. 9: 27. Presumably, this judgment will take place before the Lord returns, and before the First Resurrection!]
In the Experimental Predestinarian view, all who are Christians will be rewarded, and some more than others. Thus, they have created a version of Christianity where complete commitment is optional and not necessary. All that can be lost is a higher degree of blessedness, but all will be blessed. Could it be that this happy ending has lulled many into thinking they can continue into their lukewarmness with no [millennial or] eternal consequences to pay?
To answer this question, we must consider some fundamental thoughts. It appears that interpretive principles are at the root of much of controversy between the Calvinist and the Arminian.
* * *
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Interpretation and Perseverance
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In recent years it has become quite fashionable to speak of the power of paradigms. Originally a Greek scientific term, today the word “paradigm” more commonly refers to a perception, a model, or a frame of reference. It is the way we “see” the world. The reason the paradigms are said to have “power” is that they determine how we perceive things. They are lurking in the background of virtually every conclusion we make. We seldom question their accuracy, and we are usually unaware that we even have them. We commonly assume that the way we see things is the way they really are. Our attitudes, behaviours, and even our theology often grow out of these assumptions. The way we see things unconsciously affects our conclusions. This is why two theologians can look at the same data and come to radically opposite conclusions. It is not that the facts are different, but the paradigms which they bring to the facts determine the interpretations.
Covey illustrates this phenomenon with an experience which happened to him one
Sunday morning on a subway in
The man sat down next to him and closed his eyes, apparently oblivious to the situation. The children were yelling and throwing things, even grabbing people’s papers. It was quite disturbing. And yet, while all this was going on, the man sitting next to him did nothing. It was difficult not to feel irritated. Covey could not believe that this man could be so insensitive as to let his children run wild like that and do nothing about it, taking no responsibility at all. It was easy to see that everyone else on the subway felt irritated too. So finally Covey, with what he felt was unusual patience and restraint, turned to him and said, “Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little more?”
The man lifted his gaze as if to come to a consciousness of the noise for the first time and said softly, “Oh, you’re right. I guess I should do something [Page 26] about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what to think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either.”
Covey continues: “Can you imagine what I felt at that moment? My paradigm shifted. Suddenly I saw things differently, and because I saw differently, I thought differently, I felt differently, I behaved differently. My irritation vanished. I didn’t have to worry about controlling my attitude or my behaviour; my heart was filled with the man’s pain. Feelings of sympathy and compassion flowed freely. ‘Your wife just died? Oh, I’m sorry! Can you tell me about it? What can I do to help?’ Everything changed in an instant.” 1
1 Stephen R. Convey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989), pp. 30-31.
In order for some readers of this book to share the author’s conclusions, they will need to undergo a paradigm shift. Such a shift often happens after we have reflected on things and sincerely tried to see them from a different point of view. It is “Aha!” experience we feel when things fall into place for the first time. Our perceptions change and, with them, how we interpret the data of our sensory experience.
All interpreters of Scripture bring certain paradigms to their reading of the Bible. These paradigms are “givens.” They are things we do not need to think about. They are “obviously” true. Often we are unaware we have them until data which challenge them is presented. At that point we can either reinterpret that data within the framework of our old paradigm or begin to do some fundamental [and independent] thinking. Perhaps our paradigm is wrong.
About fifteen years ago the writer underwent such a paradigm shift which has resulted in a different way of understanding numerous difficult and often perplexing passages in the New Testament. He concluded that his theological traditions sometimes hindered, rather than illuminated, his understanding of the Bible. The reader is invited on a journey of discovery, a journey which will take him to familiar passages. Yet as he travels, he will be asked to consider the data from a different point of view.
Such a request is difficult to make due to the very nature of this book. It is a book of polemical theology. From beginning to end the author is attempting to persuade the reader of a particular point of view. Having been exposed to these kinds of books himself, the writer knows full well that his own initial reaction to such presentations is to continue to interpret the data from the perspective of his settled paradigms. It is usually proper and natural that we do this.
As the reader journeys to various sections of Scripture and is asked to see the same data from a different paradigm, he will often have the thought, Yes, but [Page 27] what about the other passage and what about … ? Those desiring to get the most out of this book will need to hold their opinions until the last page. A complete index to every scripture reference is included. Hopefully, passages which seem to contradict certain interpretations will be found in this index.
We now commence our journey with a discussion of two exegetical issues which must first be cleared away if we are to correctly understand how the New Testament writers viewed the perseverance of the saints. The paradigm shift begins.
It is widely recognized that differing canons of interpretation play a determinative role in theological discussion. The entire difference between the Premillennialist and Amillennialist views of Old Testament prophecy, for example, are basically differences in interpretive approach. The Amillennialist feels he has no New Testament justification for spiritualizing the Old Testament predictions and applying them to the church. He believes the New Testament authors did this. The Premillennialist feels that no New Testament author would have spiritualized a prophetic utterance so that its meaning differed from the intended meaning of the original author.
What is not widely recognized, however, is that this same hermeneutical difference underlies much of the dispute on the doctrine of perseverance. What is the ultimate determinant of the meaning of a particular text: the intent of the original author or a comparison of that text with other texts (selected by the interpreter)?
Possibly aware that strict attention to the intended meaning of texts could yield theological conclusions at variance with his, Charles Hodge vigorously protests, “They [Arminians] seem to regard it as a proof of independence to make each passage mean simply what its grammatical structure and logical connection indicate, without the least regard to the analogy of Scripture.” 2 No doubt his Arminian opponents would view this as a caricaturization. They, too, are interested in the analogy of Scripture.
2 Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 3 vols. (London: James Clarke, n.d., reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), 3: 167.
Should the single intent of the original author be the primary determinant in our theological constructs? It seems that the answer to that question is obvious. Yes! If the intent of the original author does not determine meaning, then someone else’s intent, that of the interpreter, takes over, and all controls are lost. It is not accidental that the bible theology movement has tended to agree with the Premillennialist in the fact that the New Testament teaches the future [Page 28] existence of a literal earthly kingdom. Their emphasis upon the will of the writer of the book yields such a conclusion.
The Protestant doctrine of the analogy of faith has, in practice, sometimes become what might be called “theological exegesis.” What started as a valid attempt to allow other Scriptures to help interpret the meaning of obscure passages has gradually become a method of interpreting obviously clear passages in a way that will harmonize with a particular theological tradition. Instead of permitting each text to speak for itself, the theological system determines the meaning. For example, consider a common interpretation of Rom. 2: 6-7:
Who will render to every man according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good see for glory and honour immortality, eternal [Gk. “aionian”] life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation.
Now there is nothing obscure about this passage at all. It says that those who persevere in doing good will obtain eternal life. However, because that seems to involve a contradiction with the doctrine of justification of faith alone, our theological system is brought in to save the day:
A person’s habitual conduct, whether good or evil, reveals the condition of his heart. Eternal life is not rewarded for good living; that would contradict many other Scriptures which clearly state salvation is not by works, but is all of God’s grace to those who believe (e.g., Rom. 6: 23; 10: 9-10; 11: 6; Eph. 2: 8-9; Titus 3: 5). A person’s doing good shows that his heart is regenerate. Such a person, redeemed by God, has eternal life. 3
3 John A. Witmer, “Romans,” in BKC, 2 vols. (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1983), 1: 445.
It may be true that a person’s “habitual conduct” reveals the condition of his heart, but the text is not addressing that issue. According to Paul, eternal [Gk. “aionian”] life is “rewarded for good living.” How else could he say it: “God will render to every man according to his deeds”? Shouldn’t we let this stand? 4
4 How this can be reconciled with Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith alone will be considered in chapter 7, “Inheriting Eternal life.”
Although Turretin demanded that “an empty head … must be brought to Scripture,” 5 it is, of course, impossible to remove the analogy of faith from our exegesis; indeed, it would not be proper to do so. All of us approach the Bible with certain theological pre-understandings, certain paradigms. Even when we are conscious of them, it is still difficult to negate their controlling influence. Johnson is correct when he observes:
It seems reasonable that the agenda we set for ourselves, the problems for which we seek exegetical solutions, reflect our understanding of tension and harmony with what the rest of what Scripture clearly teaches. And is not the exegetical question that we ask just as important as the exegetical means we use to answer that question? 6
5 Turretin, cited by H. Wayne Johnson, “The Analogy of Faith” and “Exegetical Methodology: a Preliminary Discussion on Relationships,” JETS 31 (March 1988): 76.
6 Ibid., pp. 76-77.
There is no question that there has been a heavy influence by the analogy of faith in the interpretations that follow. A Reformed background has informed the writer’s pre-understanding of numerous passages. The problem is that this background seems to conflict with the plain sense, thus creating the tension of which Johnson speaks and so setting the exegetical agenda for this book.
The analogy of faith, therefore should only be viewed as one element of the exegetical process. It should not dictate our exegesis. Rather, it is part of valid exegetical procedure, but its use should be postponed until a very late stage.
Illegitimate Totality Transfer
Another exegetical error which has tended to obfuscate the clarity of vision of the disputants over the doctrine of perseverance is what James Barr calls illegitimate totality transfer:
The error that arises, when the “meaning” of a word (understood as the total series of relations in which it is used in the literature) is read into a particular case as its sense and implication there, may be called ‘illegitimate totality transfer,’ 7
7 James Barr, The Semantics if Biblical Languages (London: Oxford University Press, 1961), p. 218.
Kittel’s famous Theological Dictionary of the New Testament has been severely criticized from this vantage point by Barr. Kettel, contrary to popular perception, is not just a dictionary. He tells us in the introduction that external lexicography (i.e., meanings derived from dictionaries and concordance usage) is not his purpose. Rather, his burden is what he calls “internal lexicography.” 8 By this he means “concept history.” His burden is to present the “theological idea” behind a word. The result is that we do not always get from Kittel the meaning of the word but the theology of it as perceived by the writer of the particular article. Users of this dictionary often make a mistake of citing Kittel as a lexical rather than a theological authority. While this is sometimes justified, these volumes need to be read with discrimination.
8 TDNT, 1: vii.
As an illustration of this faulty procedure, it will be helpful to consider its application to one of the key words utilized by Experimental Predestinarians in support of their idea that submission to the lordship of Christ and perseverance in that submission to the final hour are the necessary evidences of the truly regenerate.
Regarding repentance, a person could hold the view that repentance means “turning from sin” and is a necessary ingredient of saving faith and still deny Reformed doctrine of perseverance. However, it seems that those who believe that repentance is a condition of [eternal] salvation and that it means “turning from sin” are sometimes guilty of Barr’s illegitimate totality transfer.
Most would agree that the basic meaning of metanoeo is simply to “change the mind.” 9 But often Reformed writers go beyond this meaning and read into it the notion of “turn from sin.” In some cases they base their appeal on some standard theological dictionaries. Yet these lexical authorities have often been guilty of a “theological idea” kind of lexicography. They have in mind a theological idea of repentance, that it involves turning from sin and conversion, and they read that theological idea into the various texts they quote.
For example, in support of this idea that repentance is a “repudiation of the old life and turning to God,” 10 one writer cites Behm’s article in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Behm claims that repentance “demands radical conversion, a transformation of nature, a definitive turning from evil, a resolute turning to God in total obedience.” 11 Behm seems to be using an incorrect procedure, however, in order to come to the conclusion that metaneo, “repent,” means to “turn from sin.” Consistent with the stated purpose of the dictionary, Behm is looking for the concept of repentance and not the meaning of the word. In so doing, he has an idea in mind, conversion, and believes that conversion and repentance are interchangeable ideas.
11 Johannes Behm, “metanois,” in TDNT, 4: 1002.
Yet he candidly admits, “The Greek word offers no true linguistic or material basis for the N.T. understanding of metanoeo and metanoia as conversion.” Furthermore, he says that “the LXX does not use this word in translating the O.T.” and that metanoeo is “rare in the LXX” and is used for “to regret” and “to change one’s mind.” When he comes to the Old Testament, he says, “the prophets do not invent a special word for true repentance but make do with the common word for return (shub).” 12 The problem is that shub is never translated in the LXX as metanoeo.
12 Johannes Behm, “metanoia” in TDNTA, pp. 639-41.
After admitting that neither the Greek word nor the Old Testament gives him any basis for equating repentance with conversion, or turning from sin, he concludes that it will interpret the New Testament usage of the words in light of the Old Testament concept of conversion. He does this even though he has admitted that in no place in the Old Testament are the words used for that concept! 13 He says that the usual meaning is “‘change of mind’ or ‘conversion’ with the full OT nuance.” 14 But he has given no evidence that conversion and repentance are ever equated in the Old Testament. 15
13 Because he is looking for a theological idea rather than the meaning of the word, Behm feels free to go to any passage in the New Testament which contains the idea - turn from sin - and use it to support his notion that repentance means to turn from sin. For example, he appeals to Mt. 5: 29-30 and 10: 32 where the words metanoeo and metanoia are not even used and uses these passages to define the meaning of these words (p. 643)! A pronounced illustration of faulty procedure of his use of Matt. 18: 3, “Unless you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.” He wants “converted” to be equated with “repent,” but it is a different word. Furthermore, the idea of becoming like a little child does not mean to turn from sin but to be humble and trusting like a child. Children normally are not viewed as needing to turn from sin, so this is not the likely meaning of repent when applied to them.
14 Behm, TDNTA, p. 642.
15 This writer is not the only one who has noted this
faulty methodology in Behm’s article.
Sauer, a very articulate Experimental Predestinarian, in an excellent
doctrinal dissertation observes, “Behm commits a
lexical faux pas that has far reaching consequences in his article on
repentance” (R. C. Sauer, “A Critical and
Exegetical Re-examination of Hebrews 5: 11-6: 8”
Goetzman experienced the same difficulty in his frustration over the lack of Old Testament support for the idea that repentance means “to turn from sin.” He, like Behm, wants to equate it with conversion but admits that “we are not helped by the LXX. It does not use the noun.” 16 In fact, the “thought of turning round, preached especially by the prophets and expressed by the Hebrew verb shub, is rendered by epistrepho in Greek.” 17 So, contrary to Behm, the prophet does not “make do” with the Hebrew word shub. Behm has a theological idea of conversion in mind and needs an Old Testament word which is consistent with this idea, so he goes to shub. Never mind that metanoeo is never the translation of shub; it must be equated with repentance anyway because the theological idea of repentance is equated with conversion! Basically, his procedure boils down to assuming, before looking at the evidence, that repentance is part of a group of words suggesting the theological idea of turning from sin, then going to the Bible and finding words which speak of turning. He then equates repentance with those words. The justification is that they are all part of the same “idea.” But [Page 32] how does one know what the idea is unless he first considers each word independently? 18
16 J. Goetzmann, “Conversion,” in NIDNTT, 1: 357.
18 Sometimes appeal is made is made to Th. 1: 9 where the conversion experience of the Thessalonians is described as “turning”: “You turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” This then is used as proof that metanoia includes the idea of turning, and yet the word metanoia is not even used in 1 Th. 1: 9! Often repentance is connected with epistrepho, “to turn.” A study of this word is interesting, but it is irrelevant to the meaning of metanoia. The only possible connection with repentance is a theological tradition that says repentance must be “turning.” Then a Greek word which does mean “turning” is found, equated with repentance, and offered as proof that repentance means turning! This is what Barr means by theological idea of lexicography. Interestingly, Goetzmann’s article on metanoia is not even listed under “repentance” but, rather, under “conversion.” Ignoring Colin Brown’s introductory warnings about the dangers of Barr’s “illegitimate totality transfer” (p. 10), Goetzmann, like Behm, pursues the theological idea kind of lexicography.
It seems that metanoeo is used in different ways in the New Testament and in the Greek Old Testament, the LXX.
1. A change of mind (Heb. 12: 17; Jon. 3: 9-10; 4: 2; Amos 7: 3, 6; Joel 2: 13-14; Acts 2: 38).
2. As a virtual synonym for reliant trust of faith (Acts 20: 21).
In Acts 20: 21 repentance and faith are united in the same verse. Because they are both joined by one article, it is possible (but not necessary!) that the essential quality of the two words is stressed with the second simply a further description of the first: 19
19. The Granville
Sharp rule of grammar. See DM, p.
147. While this rule does not apply to
plural nouns it ALWAYS applies to
singular nouns. See Daniel B. Wallace, “The
Solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of [the] repentance toward God
and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ (NASB).
Thus, repentance and faith can be used in some passages as synonymous. This is easy to explain because any time one shifts his trust from himself to God and believes that Jesus is God, he has changed his perspective; he has repented.
3. A turning from sin as a preparatory stage prior to saving faith (Mt. 4: 17; Lk. 3: 3), or possibly, a challenge to “get right with God” (Mt. 12: 41).
It is not always clear what Jesus and John meant when they said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” It could simply mean confess your sins and turn from them and prepare to receive the coming Messiah. This would simply mean that the call to confession is, in this instance, preparation for saving faith. It could also mean what an evangelist today might mean by “get right with [Page 33] God.” When confronted with broken lives, he appeals, “Friends, your only hope is to get right with God.” If they ask how to do this, he says, “First, you must become a Christian, and then you must live like it.” He would then give them the gospel and challenge them to come to Christ through faith alone and receive forgiveness. Then he would challenge them to live the Christian life and give them practical counsel. The entire challenge may be termed repentance. But repentance is not a condition of [eternal] salvation in this sense but a condition of “getting right with God,” which includes faith plus submission to His lordship.
The word “salvation” means “rescue or deliverance.” However, the context obviously determines what kind of [“salvation”] or deliverance is in view.* Sometimes it refers to deliverance from hell [i.e. the eternal place, after resurrection of the unregenerate, “when the thousand years are finished” (Rev. 20: 7, R.V.) in “the lake of fire” (verse 15)], sometimes from a temporal danger, and sometimes from a disease, i.e., a healing. Similarly, the semantic value of metanoeo is only “to change the mind.” Context must determine what the change is about. It could be a change of verdict about who Christ really is (Acts 2: 38), or it could refer to a change of mind about sin, and hence a contextually added nuance [i.e., variation in meaning] of a turning from sin.
[* See also Matt. 16: 18, for deliverance from “Hades” - (where the disembodied souls of the dead presently are “in the heart of the earth,” (Matt. 12: 40), awaiting the time of their Resurrection) - and “Death.” See Acts 2: 31-34; 1 Cor. 15: 20, 54ff., etc., R.V.). Compare with 1 Pet. 1: 5, 9ff. R.V.).]
Now it is clear that, in contexts where the meaning is “to change one’s mind about sin,” the word is not being used as a condition of final deliverance from hell [i.e., “the lake of fire”]. We know this must be true for two reasons: (1) in no passage where “repentance” is used in the sense of “to turn from sin” can it be demonstrated that it is a condition of [one’s eternal and God-given] salvation, and (2) it is impossible that it could be because the Bible everywhere attests that [this] salvation is by faith alone, and without cost [to us]:
I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life
without cost (Rev. 22: 17 NASB).
And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes
take the water of life without cost (Rev. 22: 17 NASB).
But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly,
his faith is reckoned as righteous (Rom. 4: 5 NASB)
Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law,
or by hearing with faith? (Gal. 3: 2 NASB)
Faith occurs by “hearing” and is the opposite of any work, and so [eternal] salvation comes to us “without cost.” If we have to pledge something to God, such as a life of submission, then how does this differ from a work? Even if God works in us to enable us and motivate us to pledge submission, this is still a work, either God-enabled, or human. One thing is that, whatever the condition of [eternal] salvation is, it is not a divine work in us or a human work. If we have to pledge something of ourselves to God, such as turning from sin, how can [that initial] salvation be without cost? If one has to give up something, pledge something, or commit to do something, how can it be said that [the] salvation [which Christ has purchased for us in full] is a gift without cost? In fact, it would appear in the [Page 34] Experimental Predestinarian system that it costs us everything, our entire life. Therefore, repentance, understood as a turning from sin, cannot be included in saving faith or added to it.
The preceding paragraph has alluded to a common Experimental Predestinarian view that repentance is worked in us by God and hence, even though it is a work in us, and not a human work. Apparently thinking that only human works can be prohibited as conditions of salvation. Experimental Predestinarians believed they have escaped the charge of a works salvation. But when does God work this work of repentance? If it is the result of salvation, then repentance is not a condition of [that] salvation. On the other hand, if it precedes salvation, then reformation of life precedes faith and regeneration and so is a condition of receiving it. Indeed, we are then making sanctification (i.e., “turning from sin”) a condition of receiving our regeneration.
No doubt our Experimental Predestinarian friends would reply that these events are compressed to a point in time, but there is a logical sequence. That is precisely the problem, the logical sequence and not the time which transpires. As long as repentance precedes salvation, then a work precedes regeneration and is a condition of grace, even though it may be a divine work. If it follows, it is not a condition. It should also be pointed out that few follow the Calvinists on this point - that a man can be saved before he believes. Would it not be better to base our doctrine of the conditions of salvation on something more substantial than this obscure and controversial point of Westminster Calvinism?
It is clear that “turn from sin” cannot be part of the semantic value of the word metanoia because there are passages in which that sense is impossible. 20 For example, in Heb. 12: 17 the NIV translation reads:
Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind [Gk. metanoia], though he sought the blessing with tears.
20 Trench agrees, “This
is all imported into, does not etymologically nor yet by primary usage lie in,
the word” (Richard Chenevix
Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament [
Esau was either unable to change Isaac’s mind or unable to change the decision he himself had made. He was unable to reverse the situation. Esau found his act was unalterable. There is no possibility that repentance could mean turn from sin here. It would be a non sequitur to say, “Esau could not turn from sin” and then say “though he sought the blessing with tears.” His tears would seem to indicate that he had changed his mind, but it was too late.
Consider the LXX use of metanoeo in Jn. 3: 9-10 and 4: 2 where God changes his mind about destroying Nineveh and about laying waste to Israel’s [Page 35] spring crop (Amos 7: 3) and farm land (Amos 7: 6; Joel 2: 13-14). Now it is clear that turning from sin cannot be part of the semantic value of the word, or God turns from sin. These passages make it clear that repentance is simply to change one’s mind. 21
21 See Behm, TDNTA, p. 641. That “turn from sin” is not part of the semantic value of the word metanoeo is proven by the fact that in the LXX it is said that God repented (Gk. metanoeo in 1 Sam. 15: 29 and Jer. 4: 27-28).
One writer forcefully insists, “No evangelism that omits the message of repentance can properly be called the gospel, for sinners cannot come to Jesus Christ apart from a radical change of heart, mind, and will.” 22 Would it not follow then that the Gospel of John, which never mentions repentance, cannot properly be called the gospel? Nowhere does the apostle present any other means except “believe” as a means of [eternal] salvation. If repentance and surrender to the lordship of Christ are necessary means of [eternal] salvation, the gospel of John would be incapable of achieving its intended aim (Jn. 20: 31).
22 MacArthur, p. 167.
When advocates of this position insist that faith includes the notion of repentance, they are again committing the error of the illegitimate totality transfer, this time in regard to faith. Beginning as they do with the theological idea that [eternal] salvation must involve submission to Christ’s lordship and realizing that “faith” does not mean that, they import into it the conclusions of their views on conversion, turning from sin, and repentance, and make faith a very pregnant concept indeed! There is no place, however, in John’s gospel where the concept of turning from sin or submission to Christ’s lordship is either stated or implied in the gospel offer. The fact of reformation of life may have occurred in the case of the woman at the well does not argue that a commitment to reformation was part of the gospel offer. It only shows that she responded to the free offer in grace with the anticipated gratitude which normally follows the [eternal] salvation experience. The response cannot logically be assumed to be part of the cause.
However, if we understand repentance in its basic sense as “a change of mind” or “change of perspective,” then it is easy to see why the word was not included in John’s gospel. Anytime a man believes, a certain change of mind is involved. In fact, the change of mind demanded in the New Testament is to trust in Christ instead of institutional Judaism. That is why repentance can be used by itself, and when it is, it is virtually a synonym for faith. The problem of Experimental Predestinarians is that, even though usage of the standard lexicons admit that the words are primarily mental acts and not volitional surrender, they must be made to mean volitional surrender in order to square them with the Reformed doctrine of perseverance and with the notion that discipleship is a condition for becoming a Christian.
Space cannot be taken here to adequately discuss the question of the meaning of repentance in the New Testament. 23 The point here is simply that the procedure used to settle the question is sometimes faulty. It is acceptable to combine words like “turn” (Gk. epistrepho; Heb. shub) and “conversion” and “repentance” into a theological concept of repentance? Can we then invest the Greek word metanoco with all these ideas and then read them into the usages of the word throughout the New Testament? The answer according to James Barr is no. This pregnant meaning of “repentance” is far removed from its semantic value, “change of mind.” This new sense, now “great with child,” has given birth to a theology of faith and [initial] salvation which is far removed from the simple gospel offer.
This practice of going through the concordance noting in various contexts, adding all the usages up, reading them into the semantic value of the word, and carrying that freighted new meaning into other contexts is an illegitimate totality transfer. 24 It is quite common to hear the theological discussion, “The usage is predominantly this, so it is likely that this is the sense in this particular passage.” One must be careful when using such a statistical approach. As Louw has pointed out, “A word does not have a meaning without a context, it only has possibilities of meaning.” 25
24 Barr, pp. 206-62.
25 J. P. Louw, Semantics of New Testament Greek (Philadelphia: Fortress; Chico, CA Scholars Press, 1982) p. 40.
of use only suggests a probable meaning which would be suggested to a reader in
the absence of any contextual indicators as to what it meant. “Open the trunk”
would probably be understood by most Americans as “Open
the rear end of the car,” unless the context had placed them in the
attic of the house. Those from
Suppose, for example, an “exegete” had been reading a mystery novel which involved many chapters of discussion regarding the contents of the trunk in the attic. The size of the trunk, the colour of the trunk, and, most important, clues to its contents were the subject of pages of intrigue. Then a bit unexpectedly he reads, “He went to the driveway and opened the trunk.” Our exegete “knows” theologically that “trunks” refer to boxes in the attic. From usage, therefore, he assumes that it must have been temporarily moved to the driveway. It is statistically more probable that the coloured box of a certain size is meant. So theological exegesis is brought in to force the word “trunk” to mean “box,” and the illegitimate totality transfer is made to speculate on its colour, size, and other characteristics. After the required footnotes, which establish that the author has read and interacted with the “literature,” and discussion of the use of the word “trunk” by “this [Page 37] particular author in all prior examples,” we are told that apparently the box was moved to the driveway even though there is no mention of this in the text. The absurdity of this is at once apparent. The meanings of words are primarily determined by the usage of a particular context and that has more force than a hundred usages elsewhere. Trunks in driveways are the posteriors of automobiles! The context determines the meaning. The study of usages helps determine the range of known meanings but not the meaning in a particular context. A good exegete of the above story would know that usage establishes that the word “trunk,” when connected in context with an automobile, regularly signifies a storage area in an automobile [or car], not in an attic.
An error related to the so-called illegitimate totality transfer is what Barr calls the illegitimate identity transfer. This occurs when a meaning in one context is made to be the meaning in all other contexts. The discussion of “trunk” above illustrates this. But perhaps a biblical illustration will be helpful. James Rosscup appears to commit the error of the illegitimate identity transfer in his attempt to define the meaning of the “overcomer” in Rev. 2-3. 26 In 1 Jn. 5: 4 it seems clear that the overcomer is a Christian and that all who are Christians are, in a particular sense, overcomers. Those who know the Lord have, according to John, overcome by virtue of the fact that they have believed and for no other reason. In Revelation, however, the overcomer is one who has “kept the word of My perseverance” (Rev. 3: 10) and who “keeps My deeds until the end” (Rev. 2: 26). As a result of this faithful behaviour, the overcomer receives various rewards. Rosscup, in the interests of the Reformed doctrine of perseverance, wants the overcomer in 1 John (all Christians), when in fact, as will be discussed later, it refers to tests of our walk and fellowship with God. This can be twisted, but the natural sense is surely to be found in the purpose statements in the opening verses. All who are overcomers in 1 John, therefore, may or not be walking in fellowship; all who are overcomers in Revelation are. An overcomer in 1 John is simply a Christian [who has believed the gospel of God’s grace]; an overcomer in Revelation is a persevering Christian.
26 James E. Rosscup, “The Overcomers of the Apocalypse.” GTJ 3 (Fall 1982); 261-86.
Rosscup reasons that, since the overcomer in 1 John is a Christian, it must be the same in Revelation. This, however, is importing a contextually derived usage, “justified [by faith alone] saint,” into the semantic value of the word and then taking this pregnant new meaning to another context [that of persevering unto the end]. An overcomer is simply a “victor,” and the word itself does not even imply that the victor is a Christian; he could be a victor in the games.
summary, meanings are to be derived from
the context. To use the analogy of
the elephant’s nose, the context includes such references as
It was Calvin who first formalized the science of theology. He insisted that interpretations had to have a scientific justification. The allegorizing of the Middle Ages was rejected, and sound canons of hermeneutics were embraced for the first time since Augustine. By scientific justification we mean, first of all, that, in order for an interpretation to be true, it must be grounded in the objective data of history, lexicography, culture, grammar, and context. But secondly, it must submit to a “falsifiability criterion.” If contrary data invalidate it, it must be given up.
Karl Popper has made the “falsifiability criterion” a principal pillar of modern scientific investigation. In order for a theory to have any scientific value, it must be capable of being proved wrong. When dealing with an induction, we cannot always be sure that we have collected all the data, so the possibility of invalidation must always be part of a theory, or it is not a scientific theory. Similarly, a theological “theory” which is incapable of falsification is questionable in terms of its explanatory value.
The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints certainly qualifies as a valid scientific theory. It has been argued by capable men on the basis of a particular interpretation of many biblical passages. It qualifies as a scientific theory because it is capable of falsification. If there is one example in the Bible of a person who was born again, fell away from the Lord, and persisted in disobedience up to the point of physical death, then the theory of the saints’ perseverance has been disproved and must, if we are honest, be abandoned. Deny this, and all theology is as worthless as straw.
In about A.D. 1300 William of Ockham introduced the scientific principle that whatever explanation involves the fewest assumptions is to be preferred. Called Ockham’s Razor, it posits that any theory which, when confronted with contrary evidence, must supply secondary explanations in order to justify its existence is a bad theory. The continued introductions of secondary assumptions in [Page 39] order to explain the theory in the light of seemingly contradictory evidence results in a crumbling house of cards. The efficiency (explanatory value) of any theory is simply the number of facts correlated divided by the number of assumptions made.
In theology, when a particular theological position must be maintained by secondary assumptions, it is worthless. This is pre-eminently the case with the Experimental Predestinarians’ doctrine of the saints’ perseverance. When confronted with apparently contradictory evidence that a true saint in the Bible has persisted in disobedience, they will often offer the secondary assumption, based to their system [of false interpretations] that he could not really be a true saint at all. Or when warnings are addressed to “little children,” “brethren,” “saints,” and those “sanctified forever,” a secondary assumption, not supported by the text, is brought in to say that these terms refer to “wheat and tares” and the specific descriptions are only the language of courtesy, not of fact. This continual addition of ad hoc explanations, which are either not alluded to in the texts in question or are specifically refuted by them, renders the theory useless. It becomes incapable of falsification because any data contrary to it is simply negated by additional assumptions. Text after text is often ignored in this way until the whole edifice verges on collapse like the proverbial house of cards.
Theology is a science; in fact, it was once known as the queen of the sciences. Every science is composed of two things, facts and their interpretation. The facts of astronomy do not constitute astronomy, and the facts of chemistry or history do not constitute chemistry or history. Science is the facts plus their correlation and interpretation. The Bible is no more a system of theology than nature is a system of chemistry or physics.
The task of a theologian is to collect, authenticate, arrange, and explain the facts of revelation. The natural scientist does the same to the facts of nature. When he does this, however, he must not modify one experimental fact in order to accommodate it with another apparently contradictory one. Instead, he searches for higher synthesis, larger than each fact, which will explain both. The Protestant doctrine of the analogy of faith has sometimes been extended to justify the modification of the obvious meaning of a text, the “experimental fact,” in view of other facts.
The theologian must show how facts in one part of Scripture correlate and explain facts in another part, but he must not modify the facts in order to do so. The chemist does not manufacture facts; the theologian does not either. He must take them as they are. He will systematically gather all the data from revelation on a certain subject and then draw general conclusions. The Bible is to a theologian what nature is to a scientist. Our duty is to collect the facts of revelation, arrange them, and apply them to the hearts of our students. False theories in science and false doctrines in theology are often due to errors of fact. Furthermore, [Page 40] this collection must be comprehensive. An incomplete induction led men to believe the sun moved around the earth.
Most important, as the student of nature must be honest, so must the theologian. Recently Time magazine reported that an Australian scientist had been found guilty of scientific fraud. 27 When some of the experimental data did not fit his theory, he rejected or falsified or ignored the data. Time asks, “Why should such a distinguished researcher fix evidence?” The investigating commission suggested that he “had been overcome by a desire to make the facts fit his theory about the drug.” The group’s conclusion: “Where a passionately belief held belief overrides scientific objectivity, and the scientist yields to the temptations to publish as facts things which he does not believe to be true, scientific fraud is committed.” Who among us, as students of the Word, has not at one time or another been tempted to make the biblical facts fit our theological theories?
27 Alan Atwood, “Case of the Phantom Rabbits,” Time (December 5, 1988): 37.
If we come across biblical data that seem to contradict our system, we must be honest and reassess our system, and not reinterpret that fact in the light of the [often cherished but flawed denominational] system. It is a life-long work. Our goal is not to defend the viewpoint of the denomination but to know the mind of God [and all truths revealed throughout His word].
The [Christian] theologian, perhaps even more than the natural scientist, is susceptible to the temptation to be dishonest with the facts because his facts are much more important. They concern [millennial as well as] eternal issues and not just the periodic table of the elements. It is not to be implied here that those who disagree with the writer’s particular interpretation are “dishonest.” But after reading the writings of the Experimental Predestinarians, studying their passages in the Greek New Testament, and interacting personally with their advocates, this writer is convinced that there is something going on here besides exegesis. An interpretive framework has so dominated their minds that their method of exegesis cannot always be called exegesis. It sometimes appears to be an honest attempt to explain away passage after passage in order to sustain a theory of the saints’ perseverance at all costs. The motivation for this is pure, if unconscious. It lies in the nagging fear that, if this doctrine is abandoned, there is no answer to the Arminians with their denial of eternal security, and even more important, there is no answer to the charge of being antinomian. Indeed, to give up the doctrine of perseverance is, according to Experimental Predestinarians, to turn the grace of God into lasciviousness.
of course, that does not necessarily follow, but there is no question that in
some cases carnal believers will do just that.
This is why Paul was charged with antinomianism (
We must derive our doctrine from the Bible and not make the Bible teach what we think is necessary. If a man denies that an innocent man can die for the sins of the guilty, he must deny that Christ bore our sins. If a man denies that the merit of one walk can be imputed to another, then he must deny the scriptural doctrine of justification. If he believes that a just God would never allow a heathen to go to hell [i.e., “the lake of fire”], then he must do so contrary to the doctrine of Scripture. It is obvious that our whole system of revealed truth is useless unless we commit to derive our theology from it and not impose our theology upon it. If the Bible teaches the existence of the [regenerate but] carnal Christian, then our system of theology must be adjusted to accommodate this fact. “It is the fundamental principle of all sciences, and of theology among the rest, that theory is to be determined by facts, and not facts by theory. As natural science was a chaos until the principle of induction was admitted and faithfully carried out, so theology is a jumble of human speculations, not worth a straw, when men refuse to apply the same principle to the study of the Word of God.” 28
28 Charles Hodge, Theology, 1: 14-15.
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The Inheritance: old Testament
Stephen Covey has recently written a book which is the result of years of research in the success literature of the past two centuries. In addition, his insights have been gleaned from his twenty years of experience worldwide as a management consultant to numerous corporations. He is a recognised expert on principles of personal and organizational leadership development. His experience and studies have led him to the discovery that there is a common denominator among all highly effective people - seven habits. The second habit is “begin with the end in mind.”1
1 Stephen R. Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989), p. 96.
Imagine yourself driving to the funeral of a loved one. As you get out of the car and enter the funeral parlour, there are numerous flowers, friends, and relatives. Gentle music is playing in the background. The sense of sorrow and grief permeates the air, and there are many tears. As you walk down the aisle to the front of the church to look at the casket, you gasp with surprise. When you look into the casket, you see yourself. All these people are here to honour you! This is your funeral, three years from today. These gathered friends and relatives are here to express their love and appreciation.
Still stunned by what you see, you take your seat and wait for the services to begin. Glancing at the program, you note there are to be four speakers. The first is to be from your family both immediate and extended - representing children, brothers, and grandchildren, nephews, nieces, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. They have come from all over the country to be present at this event. The second speaker is your best friend. He is someone who can give a sense of who you are as a person. The third speaker is someone from your office. This person will, of course, have perspective on what kind of boss you were and what kind of employee you were. Finally, an elder from your church will be called upon to share a few personal comments.
Now think about this scene! What would you like these speakers to say about you and your life? What kind of husband, father, employee, Christian would you like their words to reflect? What contributions and achievements would you like these people to remember? Look carefully at the people around [Page 44] you. What difference does it make to them that you lived or died? What impact have you had on their lives?
Now, Covey counsels, take a few moments and jot down the thoughts which come to your mind - the answers to these questions. If you thought deeply about this scene, you discovered something about yourself that you may not have known before. You discovered some of your deep, fundamental values. To “begin with the end in mind” is to begin today with the image, picture, [and] paradigm of the end of your life as the frame of reference or the criterion by which everything else in your life is examined. By doing this, each part of your life can be examined in the context of the whole according to what you have concluded is most important to you. By keeping the end in mind, you can clearly evaluate whether or not on any given day you have violated your deepest values. You can determine whether that day, that week, that month has or has not contributed toward the vision you have of life as a whole.
People often get caught up in the trap of having success at the expense of things which are really more important to them. People from all walks of life struggle daily to achieve higher income, higher position, higher honour only to fine that the achievement of those goals, while not wrong in themselves, blinded them to the things which they feel at a deeper level are more important to them.
If you carefully consider what you want said at your funeral regarding you, you have stated your definition of success. It may be different from the definition you thought you had in mind. Many people have spent their lives climbing various ladders only to discover when they get to the top that the ladder was leaning against the wrong wall.
The biblical writers everywhere counsel the Christian to begin with the end in mind, to see life from the perspective of our final accountability before God. One day, at the judgment seat of Christ, we all hope to hear the words “Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your Lord.” The general term for the end in mind used in the Bible is the “inheritance.” The more material aspects of it are gradually enriched as revelation progressed through the Old Testament toward the magnificent New Testament challenge to “inherit the kingdom.”
It may seem surprising that a discussion of the saints’ perseverance should begin with a study of the inheritance in the Old Testament. It is therefore appropriate that at the outset of this discussion the writer set forth his understanding of the inheritance of the saints and its relevance to the doctrine of perseverance.
There is a difference between inheriting the
3. The inheritance is not to be equated with heaven but with something additional to heaven, promised to those believers who faithfully obey the Lord.
4. Just as Old Testament believers forfeited their earthly inheritance through disobedience, we can also forfeit our future reward (inheritance) by a similar failure. Loss of inheritance, however, does not mean loss of [eternal] salvation.
5. Two kinds of inheritance were enjoyed in the Old Testament. All Israelites who had believed and were therefore regenerate had God as their inheritance but not all inherited the land. This paves the way for the notion that the New Testament may also teach two inheritances. We [the regenerate] are all heirs of God, but we are not all joint-heirs with Christ, unless we persevere to the end of life. The former refers to our [eternal] salvation and the latter to our reward.
A child of
[* See “Firstborn Sons Their Rights and Risks,” by G. H. Lang on this website.]
The relevance of these conclusions to the doctrine of the saints’ perseverance is obvious. First, if this is in fact the Old Testament view, it surely must have informed the thinking of the New Testament writers. If that is so, then many passages, which have been considered as descriptions of the elect, are in fact conditions of obtaining a reward in [the coming kingdom of] heaven.* For example, Paul warns the Corinthians, “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God”2 If “inheriting the kingdom” means “going to heaven,” then Paul is saying [Page 46] no wicked person can go to heaven. Such an interpretation would be consistent with the Experimental Predestinarian system which says that the permanently carnal Christian is a fiction. If, on the other hand, “to inherit the kingdom” refers not to entering heaven but to possessing and ruling in the kingdom as it does in the Old Testament, then an entirely different interpretation of the passage emerges. Instead of warning merely professing Christians that they may not be [regenerate] Christians at all, he is telling true Christians that, if they do not change their behaviour, they may be in the kingdom [in a spiritual sense] but they will not rule there.
2 1 Cor. 6: 9.
This chapter is rather complex. It may be that the reader would prefer to tentatively accept the propositions listed above and skip to the next chapter.
The Old Testament Concept of Inheritance
numerous passages of the New Testament, believers are called heirs. We are told that we will “inherit the kingdom,” “inherit
eternal life,” and that the Spirit is the
“earnest of our inheritance.” Commonly,
these passages have been taken to refer to our final deliverance from
hell. A severe problem develops,
however, when one carefully examines the usage of the term “inheritance” in the Old and New Testaments.
When used of
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.”
Because the inheritance in this system is [assumed to be] in heaven and since we are, according to the passage, to earn it as a reward,3 Calvin resolved the problem by appealing to Gen. 15: 5 (the promise of a seed) and Gen. 17: 1 (the seed given based on obedience) and concluded:
Did Abraham by his obedience merit the blessing which had been promised him before the concept was given? Here assuredly we see without ambiguity that God rewards the works of believers with blessings which he had given them before the works were thought of, there [Page 47] still being no cause for the blessing which he bestows but his own mercy.4
3. The Greek is antapodosis, and it means a “recompense” or “repaying, reward; cf. AG, p72. The LXX, for example, used the word in Ps. 19: 11: “In keeping them [the words of God] there is great reward.”
4. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge, 2 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), 3. 18. 2.
The problem is that Genesis clearly says that there was a cause for the [divine] blessing - Abraham’s obedience.5 Calvin has turned the text upside down to mean precisely the opposite of that which the original author intended. What we see is a promise of reward in Gen. 15: 1 and a recognition that all of God’s promised blessings go only to those to those who are obedient. An inheritance came to the firstborn son by virtue of his birth. But whether or not he actually secured it depended upon his obedience and his father’s choice.
5. Gen. 22: 18: “[They] shall be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”
If we are obedient, then God promises to bless us. The content of our obedience varies with the blessing to be received. If the blessing is final deliverance from hell [i.e., “the lake of fire” Rev. 20: 15, R.V.], then the only “obedience” or “work” is that of believing (Jn. 6: 29). If, on the other hand, the blessing is a richer spiritual life or reward in the future, the work is faithful perseverance (2 Cor. 5: 10).
New Testament writers frequently refer to the inheritance of the saints by
quoting passages referring to the
An Inheritance Was a “Possession”
Nothing is more fundamental to the meaning of the Hebrew word nachala, than the idea of possession.6 The land of Canaan was Israel’s promised possession.7 Leonard Coppes commits the error of illegitimate totality transfer when he attempts to add the idea of “permanent possession as a result of succession,”8 The notions of permanence and succession are found in some contexts,9 but they are contradicted in others and are, therefore, not part of the basic significance of the word.10 Craston avoids this error when he summarizes: [Page 48] The Old Testament terms for heir, inheritance, do not necessarily bear the special sense of hereditary succession and possession, although they are found in laws concerning succession to the headship of the family, with consequent control of the family property (Gen. 15: 3-5; Num. 27: 1-11; Num. 36: 1-13; Deut. 21: 15-17.11
6 As, p. 248. The Greek words cited here have the same sense, “possession.”
7 1 Cor. 16: 18; Josh. 18: 20; Num. 26: 53; Deut. 4: 38; Ps. 105: 11.
8 Leonard Coppes, “nichala,” not TWOT, 2: 569.
9 E.g., Lev. 25: 46.
10 Coppes himself admits this when he refers to “those many passages where the idea of possession was conceived as a permanent and not entailing the idea of succession (1 Sam. 26: 19),” 2: 569.
11 R. C. Craston, “Inheritance,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), p. 561.
It is clear, for example, that, when the psalmist says, “Rise up, O God, … for all the nations are your inheritance” (Psalm 82: 8), he does not mean that God receives the nations upon the death of His parent!
filial succession of property is not part of the semantic value of the word.12 Leon
Morris correctly insists that, even though the word properly denotes property
received as a result of death, the Old Testament concept of inheritance has no
implication of hereditary succession, as it dies in classical Greek. Rather, he says, the term refers only to
sanctioned and settled possession.13 The fact that a son
became an heir in no way guaranteed that he would obtain the inheritance. The father had the right to insist that the
son meet the conditions of the inheritance or to give it to another. The
obvious illustration of this is that the exodus generation was promised an
12 See also Gen. 15: 7-8; Deut. 16: 20; Lev. 20: 24; Isa. 57: 13; 54: 3. Jeremiah says, “Therefore I will give their wives to other men, and their fields to new owners [Heb. their fields to those who will inherit them]” (Jer. 8: 10). Those who inherit are simply “owners.”
13 Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 1998), p. 317, citing in part, comments from F.J.A. Hort, The First
Epistle of St. Peter (
An Inheritance Could Be Merited and Lost
Nothing could be plainer from the Old Testament presentation of the inheritance than that it was often merited or fought for. Babb comments:
In many instances of Biblical usage, the theological meaning of the word goes beyond the legalistic. Apart from any legal process, it may characterize the bestowal of a gift or possession upon his people by a merciful God, in fulfilment of a promise or as a reward for obedience. 14
14 O. J. Babb, “Inheritance,” in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, p. 701.
That the believer’s inheritance is his reward in heaven and not heaven itself has been held by many within the Reformed faith. 15 In view of the New Testament doctrine of justification by faith alone, it seems curious that so many have therefore equated the inheritance with final deliverance from hell [i.e., “the lake of fire.”] This is even more surprising because the New Testament itself, almost without exception, presents the believer’s inheritance as something merited or earned.
15 Shedd, for example, writes: “This
is proved by the fact that the reward of
the Christian is called an inheritance (Matt. 25: 34; Acts 20: 32; Gal. 3: 18; Eph. 5: 5; Col. 1: 12). The believer’s
reward is like a child’s portion under his father’s will. This is not wages and recompense, in the
strict sense; and yet it is relatively a
reward for filial obedience” (William G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic
Theology, 3 vols. [
We see the idea of merit related to the inheritance in its earliest references. Abraham is told that failure to obey the work of circumcision will result in forfeiture (Gen. 17: 14). Caleb will inherit the land because he followed God “wholeheartedly” (Num. 14: 24):
“But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit, and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it.”
“I, however, followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly. So on that day Moses swore to me, ‘The land on which your feet walked will be your inheritance and that of your children forever because you have followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly:’” (Josh. 14: 8-9).
contrast to those Israelites who disobeyed, Caleb merited an inheritance, the
17 See Ex. 23: 30; Deut. 2: 31; 11: 11-24; 16: 20; 19: 8, 9; Josh. 11: 23; 1: 6-7.
will have success in their battle to inherit the land only on the condition
that they are “strong and
courageous” and that they “obey all the law” that Moses gave them. 18 Furthermore, they are promised “rest”
(victory after the conquest of the
18 Josh. 1: 6-7.
19 Ps. 37: 9-11. “Hope” does not refer to saving faith. David was already a saved man. It refers to the attitude of a saved man who continues to trust and does not give up. A man who perseveres in faith.
From these examples it will appear that the dominant Biblical sense of “inheritance” is the enjoyment of a rightful title of that which is not the fruit of personal exertion.20
20 B. F. Westcott, The Epistle to the
“the fruit of personal exertion” is found in
scores of passages. It is evident from
numerous Old Testament passages that
Major Premise: The land is the inheritance.
Minor Premise: The land will be obtained only on the condition of faith plus obedience.
Conclusion: The inheritance will be obtained only on the condition of faith plus obedience.
only can the inheritance be merited by obedience, but it can be lost by
disobedience. Even Moses was
excluded from the
21 Nothing is said regarding whether or not he forfeited
his heavenly reward [or millennial
of course he did not. The New Testament
uses the experience of
generation of Israelites similarly forfeited their inheritance rights and were
sold as slaves into
Our inheritance has been turned over to aliens,
Our homes to foreigners (Lam. 5: 2).
22 Of course, the Abrahamic promise guaranteed the ultimate possession of the land by the final generation of Jews who return to the Lord in faith just prior to the second coming. However, the generation of the Babylonian captivity forever lost their inheritance. An inheritance can be lost.
classic example of the forfeiture of one’s inheritance rights was the case of
Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn, who lost his inheritance rights. 23 The
possibility of the forfeiture of the
23 1 Cor. 5: 1-2
24 1 Cor. 28: 8
It is instructive to note, when studying the inheritance in the Old Testament, that a distinction was drawn between inhabiting the land and inheriting it or, to put it in other words, between merely living in the land and possessing it. Abraham, for example, inhabited the land, lived there, but he never inherited it (Heb. 11: 13). He lived there, but he never owned it (Gen. 21: 33; 35: 27). 25
25 There is a difference between living in the land and inheriting, owning, the land. “May he give you and your descendants the blessing given to Abraham, so that you may take possession [Heb. yarish, “to inherit”] of the land where you now live as an alien” (Gen. 28: 4). Jacob did not own the land, i.e., he had not inherited it, but he lived there.
the Old Testament the ger, the
alien, was someone who “did not enjoy the rights
usually possessed by a resident.” 26 The ger had,
according to the lexicon, ‘no inherited rights.”
27 Moses named his son Gershom in memory of his stay in Midian (Ex. 18: 3) where he lived as an alien without inheritance
rights. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob lived
as strangers in
26 Harold Steigers, “ger,” in TWOT, 1: 155-56.
27 BDB, p. 158.
The Levites, in particular, were told that they would have no inheritance rights in the land:
The Lord said to Aaron, “You will have no inheritance in their land, nor will you have any share among them. I am your share and your inheritance among the Israelites:” (Num. 18: 20). 29
29 See also Num. 18: 23-24
It is therefore perfectly proper to think of living in a land where one had no inheritance or property.
Two Kinds of Inheritance Are Promised
The Old Testament presents two inheritances (possessions)
which the people of God will enjoy. All
will have God as an inheritance, but only some will “possess the land.” All who know
the Lord [as personal Saviour] have Him as “their God.” But only those who obey the Lord wholeheartedly, as Caleb did, will have an
inheritance in the
Old Testament presents two inheritances (possessions which the people of God
will enjoy. All will have God as an
inheritance, but only some will “possess the land.” All who know the Lord have Him as “their God.” But only
those who obey the Lord wholeheartedly, as Caleb did, will have an inheritance
God Is Our Inheritance
First, the inheritance is God Himself. The Levites, in contrast to the rest of the nation, were to have no inheritance in the land (Deut. 14: 27):
The priests, who are Levites - indeed the
whole tribe of Levi -
are to have no allotment or inheritance with
30 See also Josh. 7: 14; 14: 1-5; 18: 7.
The prerogative of having God as their inheritance went not just to the Levites but, like the Levites, to all who know the Lord. The psalmist viewed God as his kleros (“lot, portion, inheritance,” LXX): 31 “The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and my cup; thou didst support my lot:” (Ps. 16: 5 NASB). In other places David says:
31 J. Herrmann, “kleronomos, cynkleronomos, kleronomeo,” in TDNT, p. 444
“My flesh and my heart may fail
But God is the strength of my heart
And my portion [kleros LXX] forever:” (Ps. 73: 26).
“The Lord is my portion [kleros];
I promised to keep thy words:” (Ps. 119: 57).
“I cried out to Thee, O Lord;
I said, ‘Thou art my refuge,
My portion [kleros] in the land of the living:’” (Ps. 124: 5).
God is the people’s portion mow, and He will be their inheritance in the future as well:
This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they shall be my people (Jer. 31: 33).
only will God own His people, but
they will possess Him. The references to “I am the God of Abraham,
Isaac, and Jacob” convey a similar thought. Not only do the people have an inheritance in
the land, but God Himself is theirs.
This applies to those within
The Inheritance Is an Added Blessing to the Saved
believers have God as their inheritance, but not all (e.g., the Levites, the alien,
and the patriarchs, and those who died in the wilderness) have an inheritance
in the land. That inheritance is an
added blessing to the saved. The New
Testament writers often refer to the believer’s inheritance. In so doing, they embrace the imagery of
addition to the passages mentioned above which show that Canaan was the
inheritance that went to the already justified children of
Gen. 15: 1-6 Abraham is
promised an heir and in Gen. 15: 18 an
Abraham’s faith is recorded here because it is foundational for marking the covenant. The Abrahamic Covenant did not give Abraham redemption; it was a covenant made with Abram, who had already believed and to whom righteousness had already been imputed. 32
32 Allen P. Ross, “Genesis,” in BKC, 1: 55.
While Abraham received justification by faith alone, it is clear that he could only obtain the inheritance [sometime later] by means of obedience (Gen. 22: 15-18).
the Israelites, conquering
is sometimes erroneously stated that inheriting the land is to be compared to
the believer’s entrance into heaven.
just as important, the inheritance of the Old Testament was offered to those who were already justified, who would receive
something in addition to heaven if they would obey. This is seen first of all in the fact that
the nation which left
33 Surprisingly, some
have contended that the absence of a fully developed Old Testament doctrine of
heaven is proof that
By faith the people passed through the
By Faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around them for seven days (Heb. 11: 29-30).
His favourite phrase, “by faith,” is applied in 11: 30 to the believing generation which entered the land and in the rest of the chapter to Abel, Enoch, Abraham, Moses, and others who are all regenerate. 34 He therefore views the exodus generation as a whole that way. Paul had the same view:
34 Heb. 11: 4, 5, 7-8, 11, 17, 20-24.
[They] drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert (1 Cor. 10: 4, 5).
Israelites, as a nation, seemed to reveal their regenerate condition when they
will do everything the Lord has said” (Ex.
19: 8). They had “bowed down and worshiped” and trusted in the blood of the Passover Lamb (Ex. 12: 27-28),
had by faith crossed the Red Sea, and had drunk (i.e., “trusted in,” Jn. 4: 13-14; Jn. 6: 53-56) that spiritual rock which was Christ, yet they never obtained
[*NOTE. In Num. 14: 22, 35, 36 (where
the word “all” is used), it would appear that all
the accountable generation, (who had sheltered under the lamb’s blood
T.Kendall, pastor of Westminster Chapel in
It would be a serious mistake to dismiss the children of
35 R. T. Kendall, Once saved Always Saved (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1984), p. 155.
It would not be surprising then if the New Testament writers similarly viewed the inheritance of the saints from a two-fold perspective. All regenerate men have God as their inheritance, or as Paul puts it, are “heirs of God” (Rom. 8: 17; Gal. 4: 7). That heirship is received on the basis of only one work, the work of believing. But there is another inheritance in the New Testament, an inheritance which, like that of the Israelites, is merited. They are also heirs if the kingdom; and joint-heirs with Messiah (2 Tim. 2: 12; Rom. 8: 17). 36
36 These passages will be developed in the section on inheritance in the New Testament below.
The Inheritance and Heaven - New Testament Parallels?
outstanding commentaries and theological works have attempted to equate
entrance into the
37 Arthur W. Pink, An Exposition of Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1968), p. 196.
38 A. B. Davidson, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Edinburgh: T. * T. Clark, 1959), pp. 91-92. By the term “salvation” Davidson means the Christian’s final deliverance from hell [i.e., from ‘the lake of fire’], a meaning far removed from the Old Testament world in which the writer to the Hebrews moved.
have often drawn the parallel between
The occupation of the earthly
39 Anthony A. Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), p. 279. Hoekema gives no evidence substantiating this assertion.
40 Patrick Fairbairn, Typology
of Scripture (1845-47; reprint ed.,
more singularly inappropriate parallel could hardly be found. An
inheritance which could be merited by obedience and forfeited through
disobedience is hardly a good “type” of heaven. Both aspects
are, it would seem, an embarrassment to those of the
Reformed persuasion. On one hand, the forfeiture of the inheritance through
disobedience contradicts the doctrine of the eternal security of the
believer. On the other hand, the works
required to obtain the inheritance in the Old Testament contradict the doctrine
of justification by faith alone.
moving from his former Pre-millennial position into Anti-millennial teachings
and interpretations] explains
the works problem by viewing
If … the rest meant heaven, it would be against all Scripture analogy to assume that all the Israelites who died in the wilderness were excluded from future happiness. And there are many other difficulties which will at once suggest themselves. 41
41 F. W.Farrar, The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews in
Those from the Arminian tradition could immediately point out that the failure to enter the land can refer to a loss of [eternal] salvation. They too, however, must struggle with the problem of the works involved in obtaining it.
Only by allowing inheritance to mean “possession”
and acknowledging that it can be merited can the parallel drawn out by the New
Testament authors be explained. The
inheritance is not salvation in the sense of final deliverance from hell but
the reward which came to the faithful in
The Inheritance - Promises and Conditions.
From the earliest references the inheritance was promised to Abraham and his descendants upon the basis of a divine oath.42 But a tension is apparent. They were told that, if they “do what is good and right in the LORD’S sight” (Deut. 6: 18), they would have victory over the Canaanites and possess the land (Deut. 11: 22-25). Even though the inheritance has been promised on an oath, it will only come to them of they “carefully follow all these laws” (Deut. 19: 8-10). How is this tension to be explained?
42 Gen. 12: 7; 15: 18-21; 26: 3; 28: 13; Ex. 6: 8.
The parallel with Abraham may suggest an answer. As pointed out above, Abraham was already a
saved man when he received the promise of the inheritance. Therefore, it was not the act of saving faith
which guaranteed Abraham an heir (Gen. 15: 4-5)
or the inheritance of
The angel of the LORD called Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I sware by myself, Declares the LORD, ‘that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the [Page 58] sky and as the sand of the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations of the earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me” (Gen. 22: 15-18).
The passage is instructive in that it clarifies that the inheritance which has been given unconditionally to the descendants by oath will only be obtained by each one personally when he obeys. What is true for the “father of those who believe” is true of his descendants. The unconditional nature of the Abrahamic blessing is available for each generation of Israelites. But only that generation which appropriates it by faith will enter into those blessings. God never promised anything to a generation of rebels. It is to the “Israel of God” (Gal. 6: 16), the believing remnant of the last days, that the promise will finally be fulfilled (Rom. 11: 26ff). 43
43 Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Toward an Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978), pp. 93-94. In 1 Kings 8: 25 we see a similar parallel with David.
The inheritance, while given to the descendants in general by
promise, was obtained by individuals or groups of people only by
obedience. This was seen in the like of
Abraham above and is forcefully illustrated in the experience of the Israelites
and their attempted initial entrance into
These people as a group are saved people, the people of God. While some may not have been saved, only two of
them will inherit because only two out of two million met the conditions. Thus all the rest will go to heaven [after the millennium and their resurrection] but forfeit
their inheritance [in the land]. This thought is in the mind of the writer to
the Hebrews in Heb. 3: 7ff where obtaining the inheritance is
equated with “entering rest.” The instant they accepted the Passover, were
circumcised, and by faith moved out of
It has been seen that the Old Testament notion of inheritance does not always include the idea of a guarantee. The Israelite became an heir by birth, but due to disobedience he could forfeit the firstborn privilege. It was necessary that [Page 59] he obey if he would obtain what was promised. We are therefore alerted to the fact that the inheritance is not something which comes automatically to all who are sons but only to those sons who are obedient. The inheritance was something in addition to [eternal] salvation and was not equated with it. It was obtained by victorious perseverance and obedient faith.
With this background in mind we are now in a better position to understand the New Testament teaching on inheritance.
* * *
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The Inheritance: New Testament
We must begin with the end in mind. Only then can we bring the daily details of life into proper perspective. This lesson is wonderfully taught through the example of a high school junior, Kay Bothwell. Kay was greatly admired by both Christians and non-Christians alike. Not only had she given her life to Christ, but she had also allowed Christ to be formed in her.
One day she was given the following assignment in her English literature class: “State how you would spend your time if you knew this would be the last week of your life.” Her essay read as follows:
“Today I live. One week from today I die. If a situation such as this came to me I should probably weep. As soon as I realized there are many things to be done, I would try to regain my composure. The first day of my suddenly shortened life I would use to see all my loved ones and assure them I loved them all very much. On the evening of my first day I would ask God, in the solace of my room, to give me strength to bear the rest of my precious days and give me His hand, so that I could walk with him.
On the second day I would awaken early in order to see the rising sun, which I had so often set aside to gain a few more moments of coveted sleep. I would continue throughout the day to visit family and friends, telling each one, “I love you. Thank you for the part you’ve played in my life.”
On the third day I’d travel alone into the woods, allowing God’s goodness and creation to surround me. I would see, undoubtedly for the first time, many things I had not taken the time to notice before.
On the fourth day I would prepare my will; all sentimental things I possess I would leave to my family and friends. I would spend the rest of the day with my mother. We have always been very close, and I would want to especially assure her of my deep gratitude for her tremendous impact on my life.
On Friday, the fifth day, my life almost ended, I would spend the time with my pastor, speaking with him of my relationship with Christ and seeking advice [Page 62] for my final hours. I would spend the rest of the day visiting those who are ill, silently being thankful that I know no pain and yet I know my destiny.
On Saturday morning I would spend my time with a special friend who is going through a difficult time with her broken family and seek to comfort her. The rest of Saturday I would spend with my treasured grandparents and elderly friends, seeking their wisdom and sharing my love. Saturday night I would spend awake in prayer, knowing that God was by my side. I would be at peace now, knowing that because of Christ I was soon going to spend an eternity of heaven.
Upon waking on Sunday morning, I would make all my last preparations, and then taking my Bible, I would go to church to spend the last hours in worship and praise, seeking to die gracefully and with the hope that my life had influence upon others for His glorious name. The last hour would not be spent in agony but the perfect harmony of my relationship with Jesus Christ.”
One week almost to the day after she
handed in this essay, Kay Bothwell was ushered into eternity when she was
killed in an automobile accident just outside her home in
For the last week of her life, at least, Kay Bothwell lived life with the end in mind. Like the imaginary funeral referred to in the preceding chapter, the essay in the literature class helped her think through what was really important in life. For the readers of the Old Testament, the revelation becomes more specific, and it is referred to as “inheriting the kingdom” and “entering into rest.” The New Testament concepts of inheritance and rest will be the subjects of the next two chapters.
Old Testament usage and understanding necessarily informs the thinking of the New Testament writers. It would be surprising indeed if there was no continuity of thought between their understanding of an inheritance and that found in their Bible.
This chapter will try to demonstrate that just like the Old Testament there are two kinds of inheritance presented in the New. All believers have God as their inheritance but not all will inherit the [millennial] kingdom. Furthermore, inheriting the [coming] kingdom is not to be equated with entering it but, rather, with possessing it and ruling there. All Christians will enter the kingdom [i.e., on a spiritual sense - Christ ruling in their hearts], but not all will rule there, i.e., inherit it.
There are four words related to the inheritance idea in the New Testament: the verb “to inherit” (kleronomeo) and the nouns “inheritance” (kleronomia), “heir” (kleronomos), and “lot, portion” (kleros). Every usage of these words will be referred to in the discussion below. However, since the [Page 63] conclusions parallel Old Testament usage in a striking way, we will organize them under the same categories.
An Inheritance Is a Possession
Like its Old Testament counterpart a kleronomia is fundamentally a possession. 1 How it is acquired or passed on to one’s descendants is not intrinsic to the word. The word does not always or even fundamentally mean an estate passed on to a son at the death of a parent, as it does in Gen. 4: 7. To include those contextually derived notions within the semantic value of the word itself is, again, to commit an illegitimate totality transfer. Arndt and Gingrich define it as an “inheritance, possession, property.” 2 Abbott-Smith concurs that it means “in general, a possession, inheritance.” 3 Rarely, if ever, does it mean “property transmitted by will.” 4 Vine observes that “only in a few cases in the Gospels has it the meaning ordinarily attached to that word in English, i.e., that into possession of which the heir enters only on the death of an ancestor.” 5
1 This seems to be the sense of “inheritance, property” (klernmia) in Mt. 21: 38; Mk. 12: 7; Lk. 12: 13; 20: 14; Acts 7: 5; and Eph. 1: 18.
2 AG, p. 436.
3 AS, p. 249.
4 Ernset De Witt
5 W. E. Vine, An Expositary Dictionary
of New Testament Words (1939; reprint ed.,
The Inheritance Is Meritorious Ownership of the Kingdom
Also like their Old Testament counterparts the words for inheritance in the New Testament often involve spiritual obedience (i.e., faith plus works) as a condition of obtaining the inheritance. Becoming an heir (kleronomos) can occur through filial relationship, 6 through faith, 7 or through some king of works of obedience. 8 The acquisition of the inheritance (kleronomia) is often related to merit. 9 In nearly every instance the verb “to inherit” (kleronomia) is often related to merit. 9 In nearly every instance the verb “to inherit” (kleronomeo) includes, contextually, either the presence or absence of some work or character quality as a condition of obtaining or forfeiting the possession. 10 In view of the fact that [Page 64] works are associated with the acquisition of the inheritance, is a prima facie doubtful that the inheritance could be equated with entrance into heaven as is so often done. Yet in order to sustain the idea of perseverance in holiness, Experimental Predestinarians interpret the passages as descriptions of all true Christians. Theological exegesis is thus brought in to make every one of these texts say something that they not only do not say but that is in fact contradictory to the rest of the New Testament.
It is plain that the New Testament not only teaches the existence of the carnal Christian 11 but of true Christians who persisted in their carnality up to the point of physical death. 12 They will, having been justified, [think they are, and will] be in the kingdom; however they will not inherit it. 13 Vine points out that the term is often used of “that which is received on the condition of obedience to certain precepts (1 Pet. 3: 9), and of faithfulness to God amidst opposition (Rev. 21: 7).” 14 Only the obedient and faithful inherit, not all who are saved. It is a “reward in the coming age” and “reward of the condition of soul which forbears retaliation and self-vindication, and expresses itself in gentleness of behaviour.” 15 Vine points out that it is “the reward of those who have shown kindness to the ‘brethren’ of the Lord in their distress.” 16
11 See Chapter 14, “The Carnal Christian.”
12 Acts 5: 1-10; 1 Cor. 5: 5; 3: 15; 11: 30; Heb.10: 29; 1 Jn. 5: 16-17.
13 Gal. 5: 21; Eph. 5: 5; 1 Cor. 6: 9.
14 Vine, p. 588.
15 Ibid. See Mk. 10: 30; Mt. 5: 5.
16 Ibid., p. 589.
A rich young ruler once asked Jesus, “What good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” “Having” (echo) eternal life is equated with “inheriting” it in the parallel passage in Mark where the word kleronomeo is used rather than echo, demonstrating to the rich young ruler, at least, the equality of the terms (Mk. 10: 17). Jesus understands his question as “how to enter life,” i.e., how to get to heaven (v. 17). It therefore appears that Jesus is equating “inheriting eternal life” with “entering into heaven.” However, that conclusion is too hasty. Several things should be mentioned.
First, consistent with its usage throughout the Old and New Testaments, the verb kleronomeo in this passage implies obtaining a possession by merit. It cannot, therefore, mean to obtain heaven by faith. Second, the rich young ruler is reflecting first-century Jewish theology and not the gospel of the New Testament. The Rabbis taught that works were necessary in order to inherit eternal life, 18 and they were partially correct. Eternal life could be earned when viewed as an [page 65] enriched experience of that life given [after faith in Christ] at regeneration. The rich young ruler, however, was unaware that eternal life could be had now [as a “free gift” (Rom. 6: 23, R.V.)]. One could enter into it immediately by faith and not have to wait until the final judgment, where an enriched demonstration of it could be rewarded to faithful discipleship [during the time of Messiah’s millennial reign]. It is to this possibility that our Lord begins to direct his attention.
18 See William E. Brown, “The New Testament Concept of the Believer’s Inheritance” (Th. D. dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1984) for discussion.
Third, Jesus understands what he is really asking. He is asking how he can enter into heaven. Jesus says, “It is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 19: 23). In the rich young ruler’s mind entering heaven, inheriting eternal life, and having eternal life were all the same thing, and all meant “go to heaven when I die.” Jesus neither affirms nor denies this equation here. 19 He understands that the young man wants to know how to enter life, or enter the kingdom. Rather, He moves to the heart of the young man’s question … and his problem. How good does one have to be to merit heaven? Christ leads him to the conclusion that one would have to be perfect if one wants to obtain eternal [Gk. ‘aionian’] life by works. He does this by pointing out to him that, if he wants to get to heaven by being good, then he must keep [all] the commandments. It is true that, if a man could keep [all] the commandments, he would merit heaven. The problem is, of course, that no one [apart from Jesus Himself] can. This is what Jesus wants the young ruler to [understand and] see.
19 The fact that these terms were synonymous to the rich young ruler does not mean that this is the teaching of Scripture. Error is often accurately repeated under inspiration. Recall the Satan’s words, “You will surely not die.”
modern parallel to the young man’s question might help to elucidate the
story. Consider the common situation of
a man enmeshed in Catholicism all his life.
When he thinks of going to heaven and achieving rewards there, it is all
mixed together in his mind. Both
entrance and rewards are based on works.
Impressed with the evangelistic sermon he hears, he approaches the
evangelist and says, “How good do I have to be to
obtain my heavenly reward?” By “heavenly reward” he means two things: entrance into
heaven and rewards in heaven. They are
joined in his thinking. The evangelist
does not go into distinctions between
rewards and entrance because he understands what the man is really after; he
wants to know how he can have assurance of going to heaven. So the evangelist says, “If you want to go to heaven by being good, here is what you
must do.” Now when the evangelist
says that, he is not equating “heavenly reward” with “go to
heaven”; in a similar way Jesus is not equating “entering the [eternal]
the young man says, “All these
have I kept from my youth,” Jesus
sensitively moves to the heart of the matter by pointing out one he has not
kept. “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and
give to the poor; and [Page 66] you will have treasure
in heaven; and
come and follow Me.” Had he
perfectly kept the commandments, he would be willing to part with his
money. But he was not willing to part
with all his money and follow an itinerant teacher around
this point some have felt that Jesus was asking the man to submit to the
lordship of Christ in order to become a Christian. All interpreters have experienced difficulty
here. Why does Jesus not explain the
faith-alone gospel He came to offer? An
adequate answer is found in the parallel passage in Mark. There the Lord explains, “Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter
20 This reading is not found in most ancient texts but is found in the majority of Greek manuscripts. Whether it is valid or not, it represents a very ancient view of the Lord’s words and is one that fits very well with the context.
After informing the rich young ruler that he must sell all he has if he would obtain eternal life, 21 the disciples ask; “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” (Mt. 19: 27). Peter’s question deals with rewards. That they saw a connection between leaving everything and obtaining some reward is obvious. And in His thrilling answer Jesus confirms their theology:
21 Jesus is no doubt using the law lawfully to convict this man of the sin of trusting in riches instead of the good teacher alone for salvation.
I tell you the truth, at the
renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have
followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of
A difficulty now arises: since eternal life is usually equated with regeneration [i.e., being given at the time of first faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour], how can it be obtained by abandoning father, mother, home, children, and the other things listed? The answer is, as will be argued below, that every time [Page 67] eternal [Gk. ‘aionian’] life is presented in Scripture as something to be obtained by a [regenerate believer’s] work [after his/her initial faith and acceptance of it through faith alone in Christ Jesus as Saviour (Jn. 3: 16)], it is always a future acquisition. It becomes synonymous in these contexts with a richer experience of that life given freely at [the time of a believer’s] regeneration. The point here, however, is that “to inherit” can be - [and is in this instance] - used as a meritorious acquisition. There will be differences in heaven [and during Messiah’s coming kingdom-reign*], some first and some last, and those who are first are those who have inherited, who have left [when called upon by God, are ready, obedient and willing to leave] all for Him. Only the reference to eternal life [in this context: “When the Son of Man sits on HIS glorious throne”] could lead interpreters to forget that the subject matter is discipleship [and the future millennial inheritance and rewards] which is [are] based on [their] works, and not on [their] regeneration which is [always] based on [Christ’s finished work and on] faith alone.
[* Keep in mind: God has made mention of two kingdoms throughout
the Holy Scriptures. The first of these
will appear in manifested glory, when
Messiah return from heaven to this earth, and sit on David’s throne in
A major theme of the Sermon on the Mount is rewards. The Saviour says, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit [kleronomeo] the earth” (Mt. 5: 5). The subject matter is our reward in heaven: “Rejoice and be glad because great is your reward [misthos] in heaven” (Mt. 5: 12). The idea of rewards is repeatedly emphasized in the Sermon, which is addressed primarily to the disciples (5: 1). 22 The word misthos basically means a “payment for work done.” 23 Jesus is speaking of the inheritance here as a reward for a humble, trusting life. There is no indication that all Christians have this quality of life. In fact, it is possible for a Christian to become “saltless” (Mt. 5: 13) and be “thrown out.” True Christians can lose their saltiness, their testimony for the Lord. When they do, they [may] forfeit their [inheritance on earth and their] reward in heaven. Furthermore, He specifically says the disobedient believer who annuls “one of the least of these commandments” will be in the kingdom (Mt. 5: 19) but will be “least” in contrast to “great” in that kingdom.
23 AG, p. 525.
What is the content of our inheritance reward? He says it involves inheriting the earth. No doubt this goes back to the [divine] promises to David and his “greater” Son:
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the end of the earth your possession. You will rule them with an iron septre; and you will dash them to pieces like pottery (Ps. 2: 8-9).
We can become joint rulers with Christ over the nations according to John:
To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations – “He will rule them with an iron sceptre; he will dash them to pieces like pottery” (Rev. 2: 26).
To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcome and sat down with My Father on His throne (Rev. 3: 21 NKJV)
The apostle Paul echoed a similar theme when he said, “If we endure, we shall also reign with him” (2 Tim. 2: 12).
So it is the meek who will be rewarded with rulership with Christ in the coming millennial kingdom.
Another passage which refers to the inheritance as a reward is found in Col. 3: 23-24:
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart … since you know that you will receive an inheritance [kleronomis] from the Lord as a reward [Gk. antapodosis].
The inheritance is a reward which is received as “wages” 24 for work done. Nothing could be plainer. The context is speaking of the return a man should receive because of his work, as in an employer-employee relationship. The inheritance is received as a result of [the ‘disciples’] work; it does not come as a gift. The Greek antapodosis means repayment or reward. 25 The verb antapodidomi never means to receive a gift; it is always used in the New Testament as a repayment due to an obligation. 26
24 receive = apolambano, to receive, especially as wages, AG, p. 93. The word often means to receive something back that is due, not as a gift. See Lk. 6: 34; 18: 30; 23: 41; Rom. 1: 27.
25 AG, p. 72. They relate it to Rom. 2: 5. Paul speaks of our receiving at the judgment a recompense based upon our works.
26 See Rom. 11: 35; 12-19; 1 Th. 3: 9; 2 Th. 1: 6; Heb. 10: 30. See the article by P. C. Boettger, “Recompense, Reward, Gain, wages,” in NIDNTT, 3:134-36.
An Inheritance Can be Forfeited
In several passages Paul speaks of the possibility of not “inheriting the kingdom.”
Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit [kleronomeo]
And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (6: 11).
entering the kingdom has often be equated with
inheriting the kingdom, there is no semantic or exegetical basis for the
equality. Even in English we acknowledge
a distinction between entering and inheriting.
A tenant, for [Page 69] example, may live on to enter a landowner’s great estate, but he does
not own or inherit it. To inherit simply means to “possess,” and the distinction between possession of
there is no reason to assume that entering the kingdom and living there is the
same thing as owning it and ruling in it. The
heirs of the kingdom are its owners and rulers and not just its residents. Kendall agrees, “In
other words, salvation is unchangeable but our inheritance in the
27 R. T. Kendall Once Saved Always Saved (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1984), p. 92.
28 R. C. Lenski, The Interpretation of 1 and 2 Corinthians (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1963), p. 247.
Yet there is a real danger. It is possible for [regenerate] Christians to lose their inheritance. The Epistle to the Hebrews illustrates this from the life of Esau:
See that no one is sexually immoral or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit [kleronomeo] this blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears (Heb. 12: 16-17).
Esau forfeited his inheritance, but he was still Isaac’s son. He did not forfeit his relationship to his father. Furthermore, at the end of his life Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau regarding their future (Heb. 11: 20). As Eric Sauer put it:
Doubtless, birthright [inheritance right] is not identical with sonship. Esau remained Isaac’s son even after he had rejected his birthright. In fact, he received, in spite of his great failure, a kind of secondary blessing (Gen. 27: 38-40b). 29 *
29 Eric Sauer, In the Arena of Faith (Grand Rapids: Eedrman’s, 1966), p. 152.
* See also G. H. Lang’s “Firstborn Sons Their Rights And Risks.
A Christian can deny his inheritance rights. 30 This should not come as a surprise because the inheritance in the Old Testament could be forfeited through disobedience. This fact surely informed the viewpoint of the New Testament writers! While this is not the same as losing one’s justification [by faith], the consequences for eternity are serious. The apostle tells us that at the judgment seat of Christ our works will be revealed by “fire” (1 Cor. 3: 13): “It will be revealed by fire [Page 70] and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.” It is possible for a Christian’s life work to be burned up because the building materials were wood, hay, and stubble. Only those works done in obedience to the Lord, out of proper motives and in dependence upon Him (Gold, silver, and precious stones), will survive the searing heat! Some will survive with very little to carry with them into eternity. As Paul put it:
30 This interpretation assumes that the readers of this epistle are genuine Christians and not merely professing ones. This point will be established in chapter 19 and 20.
If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames (1 Cor. 3: 15).
The position of being a child of God is, indeed, not forfeitable, but not the total fullness of the heavenly birthright [inheritance]. In this sense there is urgent need to give diligence to make our calling and election sure. “For thus shall be richly supplied unto you the entrance into the eternal [Gk. aionian] kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1: 10-11). 31
31 Ibid., p. 154.
are therefore not surprised to read in 1 Cor. 6: 10 that unrighteous Christians will lose their
inheritance in the
But does the passage refer to unrighteous Christians, or does it refer to non-Christians who may have been loosely associated with the church and whose lack of perseverance in holiness has demonstrated that they were not true Christians at all?
We are told in verse 9 that the “wicked” (Gk. adikoi) will not inherit this kingdom, and in verse 1 the same word is used for non-Christians (cf. 6: 6). In fact, the contrast between the righteous, dikaioi, and the unrighteous, adikoi, is common in the New Testament, 32 and those whose lives are characterized by adikia are in some contexts eternally condemned. 33. But this kind of argument assumes that adakoi is a kind of technical term for those lacking the imputed righteousness of Christ. The illegitimate identity transfer is committed to import the contextually derived suggestion of one kind of consequence of being adikos into the semantic value of the word. However, it is a general term for those (Christian or non-Christian) lacking godly character. 34 Both [regenerate] Christians and non-Christians [i.e., nominal Christians] can be adikoi. In fact, in 6: 8 the apostle declares that the Corinthians are acting like adikoi (he uses the verb form adikeo) just like the non-Christians of verse 1. [Page 71] Robertson and Plummer are correct when they say, “The word [“wicked” in verse 9] is suggested by the previous, adikeo [“you cheat and do wrong,” verse 8], and not with the adikoi, [“the wicked,” of verse 1.”] 35
32 See 1 Pet. 3: 18; Acts 24: 15; Mt. 5: 45.
33 See Brown. Cf. Rom. 1: 18, 29; 2: 8; 2 Th. 2: 10-12; 2 Pet. 2: 13-15.
34 See usage in Lk. 16: 10-11; 18: 11; Heb. 6: 10.
35 Archibald Robertson and Alfred Plummer, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the First Epistle of
St. Paul to the Corinthians, 2d ed., International
Critical Commentary (
Exegetically this seems better for three reasons. First, the verb form of adikoi in verse 8 is the near antecedent and one normally looks there first. And second, the phrase in verse 9 is not the same as “the wicked” in verse 1. In verse 1 the noun has the article, and it is definite, referring to a class. But in verse 9 it is without the article. “The articular construction emphasizes identity; the anarthrous construction emphasizes character.” 36 Because the same word is used twice, once with the article (verse 1) and then without (verse 9), it may be justifiable to press for this standard grammatical distinction here. If so, then the adikoi of verse 9 are not “the wicked” of verse 1. They are not of that definite class of people who are non-Christians. Rather, as their behaviour traits they are behaving in an unrighteous manner or character. In other words, the use of “the wicked” in verse 1 signifies “being,” but the use of “wicked” in verse 9 signifies not being but “doing,” and that was their problem. According to the adikeo of verse 8, they continued to walk as “mere men” (1 Cor. 3: 4).
36 DM, p. 140.
Finally, it is highly unlikely that the wicked of verse 9 could be non-Christians because Paul says, “Do not be deceived,” the wicked will not inherit the kingdom. Why should Christians think that non-Christians would inherit God’s kingdom? Lang is surely correct, “Wherever inheriting is in question the relationship of a child to a parent is taken implicitly for granted: ‘if children then heirs’ is the universal rule.” 37
37 G. H. Lang, Firstborn Sons: Their Rights and Risks (London: Samuel Roberts, 1936; reprint ed., Miami Springs, FL: Conley and Schoettle, 1984), p. 110.
Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong [adikeo], and you do this to your brothers (1 Cor. 6: 8).
Here Paul uses the verb form, adikeo, of the adjective adikos. He says in verse 8 that they “cheat and do wrong,” and then in verse 9 he warns them concerning the eternal [Gk. ‘aionian’: that is, in this context, should be understood as age-lasting] consequences of their behaviour. He is not warning non-Christians that they will not inherit the [eternal] kingdom; he is warning Christians, those who do wrong and do it to their brothers.* It is pointless to argue that true [regenerate] Christians could never be characterized by the things in this list when Paul connects the true Christians of verse 8 with the individuals in verse 9. It is even more futile to argue this way when the entire context of 1 Corinthians describes activities of true Christians which parallel nearly every item in verses 9-10. They were involved in sexual immorality (6: 15); covetousness (probable motive in lawsuits, (6: 1); drunkenness [Page 72] (1 Cor. 11: 21); dishonouring the Lord’s table (1 Cor. 10: 11: 30 - for this reason some of them experienced the sin unto death); adultery (5: 1); and they were arrogant (4: 18; 5: 6). Yet this group of people that acts unrighteously, adikeo, and that is guilty of all these things has been washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 6: 11)! They were washed and saved from all those things, and yet they are still doing them. That is a terrible inconsistency which grieves the apostle through all sixteen chapters of this book. His burden in 6: 9-10 is not to call into question their [eternal] salvation (he especially says they are saved in verse 11 38 but to warn them that, if they do not change their behaviour, they will, like Esau, forfeit their inheritance [in Messiah’s coming kingdom].* As Kendall put it, “It was not salvation, then, but their inheritance in the kingdom of God these Christians were in danger of forfeiting.” 39
[*That is, all who are regenerate will inherit God’s eternal kingdom - the mew creation mentioned in Rev. 21: 1). But that kingdom will be created after God destroys His present creation by fire (2 Pet. 3: 10) - “when the thousand years are finished” (Rev. 20: 7, R.V.). Therefore the regenerate believers’ inheritance in Messiah’s millennial kingdom can be lost! This coming kingdom should therefore be understood as an inheritance given to believers as a reward for their good behaviour; and not as something which they will automatically inherit on the basis of Christ’s imputed righteousness alone!
It was this inherited blessing which the writer of Hebrews had in mind, when he mentioned Esau’s loss of his Firstborn position within the family: he bartered it away to satisfy his natural appetite; and, in later life, he was unable to recover that loss “(for he found no place of repentance),” – (i.e., he was unable to get his father Isaac to change his mind) - “though he sought it diligently with tears” (Heb. 12: 17, R.V.).]
38 He has said they are “sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints” (1 Cor. 1: 2) but that they were carnal (1 Cor. 3: 1, 3).
This, of course, does not mean that a person who commits one of these sins will not enter heaven [after Jesus returns to resurrect the holy dead (1 Th. 4: 16)].* It does mean that, after he commits such a sin and persists in it without confessing and receiving cleansing (1 Jn. 1: 9), he will lose his right to rule with Christ. Those walking in such a state, without their sin confessed, face eternal [Gk. ‘aionian’ i.e., ‘age-lasting’] consequences if their Lord should suddenly appear and find them unprepared. They will truly be ashamed “before Him at His coming” (1 Jn. 2: 28).
[* Always keep in mind: there are two future and general resurrections unto immortality - (with the exceptions of the “Two Witnesses” of Rev. 20: 11). We cannot, unlike our Lord Jesus Christ, enter into the presence of God in heaven, - (as disembodied souls without an immortal body of “flesh and bones” Lk. 24: 39) immediately after the time of Death! Our ‘spirit,’ ‘soul’ and ‘body’ are all going to be reunited.
We never read in Scripture of the resurrection of the body, or of the resurrection of the soul, or of the resurrection of our animating spirit! Why? Because it is God’s purpose to have the whole man (or woman) to be redeemed from the grasp and power of Death: and this will take place at the time of their Resurrection. It is not just one or two parts of those who are deceased who will be resurrected! All that Death has separated will one day be reunited at the time of Resurrection! Search and see. This is what we learn from studying the inspired word of God: and this is a foundational truth of Scripture, and one which our Lord Jesus, and His chosen Apostles, taught all the people.]
The parallel passages in Gal. 5: 19-21 and Eph. 5: 5-6 are to be interpreted the same way. In both passages we see the notion of merit and obedience connected with the [millennial] inheritance. In neither, however, is there any contextual justification for assuming that those in danger of losing their inheritance are non-Christians who have only professed faith in Christ. That is a theological notion, delivered from the doctrine of perseverance in holiness, which must be forced into the text. If inheriting the kingdom in these texts refers to going to heaven, then the apostle’s sublime exaltation to these believers is reduced to the banal observation: “remember, non-Christians do not go to heaven.” A profound thought! And one which would have little relevance to these Galatian Christians who “belong to Christ Jesus” (Gal. 5: 24). 40 Surely R. T. Kendall is correct when he says:
40 The fact that these believers “have crucified the sinful nature” can hardly refer to the idea that all Christians have sacrificially negated the impulses of the flesh. The unexpected occurrence of the active voice may be parallel with 1 Cor. 9: 22, “I have become all things to all men in order that by all means I might save some.” The passage refers back to Rom. 6: 1-11, our joint-crucifixion with Christ at initial salvation, which must be put into experience by reckoning and yielding.
Are we to say that anybody who does any of these things (e.g., envying, strife) is not going to heaven? Not at all. But such things as [Page 73] ‘covetousness,’ ‘foolish talking,’ as well as sexual immorality forfeit one’s inheritance in God’s kingdom.” 41
In Mt. 25: 34 we find once again that inheriting the kingdom is conditioned on obedience and service to the King, a condition for removed from the New Testament teaching of justification by faith alone for entrance into heaven:
Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father; take your inheritance [lit. inherit the kingdom, kleronomeo], the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world.
Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous eternal life [lit. ‘… go forth to the aionian cutting off: but the righteous to aionian life.’]” (Mt. 25: 46).
Why are they being granted this blessing? Because (gar, verse 35) they ministered to Christ’s brethren, the Jews, during the terrible holocaust of the great tribulation (25: 35-40). Here inheriting should be given its full sense of reward for faithful service as the context requires. 42
42 “Entering eternal life” in Mt.
25: 46 is
similar to “inheriting the kingdom” in 25: 34. It does not refer to entrance into life at
regeneration; these sheep are saints already.
Subsequent to becoming saints, they will enter into eternal life. As will be discussed in chapter 7, they are entering into
an enriched experience of that life they have already received at regeneration,
available to the faithful believer.
Alford says, “the zoe here spoken of is not bare existence,
which would have annihilation for
its opposite; but blessedness and reward” (Henry Alford, The Greek
Testament, ed. Everett F. Harrison, 4 vols. (1849-60; reprint
But there are only two categories of people mentioned as being at this judgment, not three. We see only sheep and goats, Christians and non-Christians, and not two categories of Christians and one of unbelievers. Why are there not two kinds of sheep, the faithful and the unfaithful? There are three reasons. First, the unfaithful sheep are not mentioned because our Lord is speaking in broad terms, and the focus is on the reward to the faithful. As a group the believers surviving the tribulation are viewed in terms of their expected and anticipated performance, faithful sheep. That some were faithful and some were not in no way negates the general offer of the inheritance to the sheep. All would understand that not all sheep have been faithful and that technically only the faithful sheep receive the inheritance. It seems to this writer that to argue otherwise is a wooden use of language that would prevent men from ever speaking in general terms or risk being misunderstood.
Earlier in the context He has told us that there are unfaithful Christians: the wicked hypocritical servant (24: 48); the foolish virgins (25: 2); and the wicked servant (25: 26). All three of these unfaithful Christians are sheep, saved people, as will be argued elsewhere. 43
43 See chapter 17.
Second, there were not many unfaithful sheep there. The persecutions of the Antichrist, made one very careful about becoming a believer.
But, third, the separation of the faithful from the unfaithful does not occur at this time but afterward. After the kingdom has begun and all those [accounted worthy] who are born again have entered it, the wedding feast occurs. At that time the separation of the wise and the foolish virgins occurs. 44 Because God does not deal with the unfaithful believer at this time, they are not mentioned.
44 See discussion in chapter 17.
Is this a case of special pleading? Is it not clear that the term “sheep” is all that is mentioned and that there is no reference to faithful and unfaithful sheep? In reply we would say that there are many things about these sheep which are not mentioned which are nevertheless taught elsewhere in the Scripture. It is not mentioned that the sheep are distinguished elsewhere into various classes according to different degrees of reward, but they will be. Some receive five cities and some ten. It is not mentioned that they will receive resurrection bodies at this time with varying degrees of glory, but [if “considered worthy” (Lk. 20: 35)] they will. 45 It is not mentioned that some will sit on thrones and some will not. It is not mentioned that some will be great in the kingdom and some will be least. Everything does not have to be said in every verse! If the distinctions among sheep are taught elsewhere and not contextually denied here (and they are not!), there is no exegetical reason for not assuming their presence in this passage even if they are not specifically mentioned.
45 1 Cor. 15: 41-42.
The faithful sheep are now being rewarded with the inheritance. This is the fulfilment of the Lord’s promise: “But he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” 46 They are those who persevered under persecution unto the end (Rev. 14: 12). Jesus has already explained that Christians who annul the least of the commands and teach others to do the same will be in the kingdom but will be “called least” there (Mt. 5: 19). On the other hand, “whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great on the kingdom of heaven.” Being called “great” in the kingdom is to be one of the meek who “will inherit the earth” (Mt. 5: 5). These are those “who are persecuted because of righteousness” to [Page 75] whom belong “the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 5: 5). These are the faithful Christians to whom the Lord Jesus said: “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets which were before you” (Mt. 5: 12). These verses from the lips of our Lord in the same gospel make it clear that the sheep in Mt. 25: 34 are the faithful sheep; otherwise they would not have inherited the kingdom. The unfaithful are not mentioned because they are not relevant here, since they receive no reward. And because inheriting the kingdom is conditioned upon this faithful perseverance, it cannot be equated with justification [by faith] and theologically interpreted as continuation in holiness because a perfect perseverance and obedience would be necessary for that (Mt. 5: 48). George Peters explains:
The Saviour, therefore, in accord with the general analogy of the Scripture on the subject, declares that when He comes with His saints in glory to set up His Kingdom, out of the nations those who exhibited a living faith by active deeds of sympathy and assistance shall – with those that preceded them … inherit (i.e., be kings in) a Kingdom. It is a direct lesson of encouragement to those who live during the period of Antichrist in the persecution of the Church, to exercise charity, for which they shall be rewarded [emphasis is Peter’s]. Hence it follows that the test presented is precisely the one needed to ascertain, not who would be saved (for that is not the train of thought, although connected with it), but who inherit a Kingdom or gain an actual, real relationship in it. 47
47 George N. H. Peters, The Theocratic Kingdom, 3 vols. (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1884; reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1972), 2: 376.
Inheriting the Kingdom
The phrase “inherit the kingdom” has occurred several times in the discussion above. Because of its specific meaning, some additional comment is in order. We find the phrase in Mt. 25: 34; 1 Cor. 6: 9-10; 15: 50; Gal. 5: 21; and Eph. 5: 5. In addition, the phrase “inherit the land” is found in Mt. 5: 5. In each instance we find that, in order to inherit the [Messiah’s coming millennial] kingdom, there must [now] be some work done or certain character traits, such as immorality, must be absent from our lives. The fact that such conditions are necessary suggests that the term is not to be equated with entering the [everlasting*] kingdom which is available to all [regenerate Christians] freely, on the basis of faith alone but with something in addition to entering. Indeed, the very use of the word “inherit” instead of “enter” in these passages suggests that more than just entrance is meant.
[* That is, the kingdom mentioned in Rev. 21: 1, which will be created after “the thousand years” of Messiah’s reign on and over this creation will have expired.). Keep in mind: (1) Messiah has two Kingdoms; and (2) all Christians will not be resurrected when Jesus returns: (1 Th. 4: 16; Rev. 20: 15).]
SCRIPTURE PHRASE CNDITIONS
Mt. 25: 3 take your caring for brothers by giving food
inheritance and drink during the tribulation.
1 Cor. 6: 9 inherit the having none of the following character
kingdom traits: immorality, idolatry, adultery,
prostitution, homosexuality, thievery,
greed, drunkenness, or being a swindler.
1 Cor. 15: 50 inherit the having a resurrection [and immortal]
kingdom body [of “flesh and bones” (Lk. 24: 39).]
Eph. 5: 5 an inheritance having none of the following character
in the kingdom traits: immorality, idolatry, impurity,
Gal. 5: 21 inherit the not having our lives characterized by the
earth acts of the sinful nature.
Mt. 5: 5 inherit the land meekness.
But what does it mean to inherit the kingdom? The Lord’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount gives us a helpful starting point for understanding this great theme:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Mt. 5: 3).
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth (Mt. 5: 5).
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Mt. 5: 10)
The Lord seems to be equating the terms “theirs is the kingdom of heaven” with “inherit the earth.” Eichler, noting this
parallelism observed, “In the
Beatitudes, Jesus puts side by side the
promise of the kingdom of heaven and that of inheriting the earth.” 48 That the term
“inherit the kingdom” is
equivalent to the promise of Abraham that his
descendants will inherit the land
has been noted my many. Robertson and Plummer say, “To ‘inherit the
48 J. Eichler, “Inheritance,” NIDNTT, 2: 300.
49 Robertson and Plummer, p. 118.
“But he who takes refuge in Me, shall inherit the land, and shall possess My holy mountain” (Isa. 57: 13). The prophet exults that in the coming kingdom “all your people will be righteous; they will possess [inherit] the land forever” (Isa. 60: 21 NASB). Throughout the Old Testament the possession of the earth by the righteous is a common theme and refers to the rule of the saints in the future kingdom. 51
51 See Prov. 11: 31; 10: 30; Ps. 136: 21-22; 115: 16; 37: 9, 11, 22, 29, 34. In Psa. 37 the inheriting of the land follows the removal of the evil doers in the kingdom.
Now if the functional equivalence of the
terms “inherit the kingdom” and “inherit the land”
are accepted, then our study of inheriting the land in the Old Testament
becomes very relevant to the understanding of the term “inherit the kingdom” in the New. In particular, we noted that the
The New Testament uses the phrase “enter the kingdom of heaven” eight times. 52 In contrast to
the phrase “inherit the kingdom,”
the [primary, i.e., ‘first in order of importance’ (dict. def.] conditions for entering are faith alone. Entrance is ours through rebirth (Jn. 3: 5) which is ours
solely through believing on His name (Jn. 1: 12, 13). We must have the humble,
simple trust of a child if we are to enter God’s kingdom (Mt.
18: 3), and there is only one work we can do,
the work of believing (Mt. 7: 21; Jn. 6: 40). 53 A perfect righteousness is necessary to
obtain entrance, a righteousness, which comes by faith alone (Mt. 5: 20: 6: 48; 2 Cor. 5: 21;
52 Mt. 5: 20; 7: 21; 18: 3; 19: 23; 19: 24; Mk. 9: 47; Jn. 3: 5; Acts 14: 22.
53 See discussion on Mt. 7 in chapter 9.
54 See discussion on rich young ruler above.
That inheriting the kingdom is different from entering (in the sense of inhabiting) the kingdom seems to be reinforced in the New Testament by Paul’s use of the phrase in 1 Cor. 15: 50.
I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the
It is quite clear to the apostle Paul that men and women in mortal bodies will be in the kingdom. There will be physical procreation and physical death (Isa. 65: 20; Ezek. 36: 11). Furthermore, a multitude of unregenerate men in mortal bodies will rebel at the end of the thousand-year kingdom and will be “devoured,” hardly an experience of resurrected and immortal saints (Rev. 20: 7-10).
Paul’s statement, in order to be made consistent with the rest of the Bible requires that there is a difference between being a resident of the kingdom and inheriting it. Clearly, human beings in mortal bodies do live in the kingdom, but they are not heirs of that kingdom, a privilege which only those in resurrection [and immortal] bodies can share. 55
55 Paul is not saying here that all transformed saints inherit the kingdom, only transformed saints inherit the kingdom. See Peters, 1: 602, where he expects the same view and equates inheriting the kingdom with becoming a ruler in it.
When the apostle declares that men in mortal bodies will not inherit the kingdom, 56 this obviously requires that the resurrection and transformation of the [Page 79] sheep occurs prior to the “receiving the kingdom” and must be simultaneous with the judgment of the sheep and the goats [before their resurrection, (Heb. 9: 27; 1 Cor. 15: 54)].
56 Only resurrected
Since the Scriptures are silent on this problem, one
must be careful how he explains the difficulty.
It is appropriate at this juncture to invoke the analogy of faith and
allow other scriptural examples or teachings to explain what is left unsaid
regarding this judgment. We are told
that the experiences of the Israelites as they journeyed from
An answer at once suggests itself. The entire first generation was judged in unbelief and died in the wilderness, with the exception of those under twenty years of age.
In this desert your bodies will fall - every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who have grumbled against me. Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun (Num. 14: 29-30).
The passage is instructive in several ways. Even though God “swore with uplifted hand” that He would give them the land, they will not receive the land because of their disobedience and unbelief. But equally important it shows that those who had not reached an age of accountability were exempt from the judgment which prohibited their elders from entering the land. 57 In a similar way, perhaps the believing children of the sheep who have escaped the judgments of the great tribulation will constitute a kind of “second exodus” and will be mortal believers who enter into the coming kingdom and who are its subjects, if not its owners. 58
the land does not parallel the
believer’s entrance into heaven; it signifies his willingness to “cross the
58 One must [first and foremost] be born again to enter the kingdom of heaven, Jn. 3: 5.
Assuming that “inherit the kingdom” has become a fundamental equivalent to “inherit the land” in Jewish theology, what precisely does it mean? It appears that the basic meaning of “to inherit” (Gk. kleronomeo) is “to possess, to own.” [Page 80] The lexicons define the word as “to receive as one’s own,” 59 “to acquire, obtain, come into possession of.” 60 An inheritance (Gk. kleronomia) is a “possession, property.” 61 Therefore, when Jesus invites the sheep to inherit the kingdom, He is inviting them to possess the kingdom, to receive it as their own, to acquire it.
59 AS, p. 248.
60 AG, p. 436.
Many times, when the word “possess” is used with concrete nouns, it includes the notion of “to have authority over,” but that is, of course, not part of the meaning of the Hebrew and Greek words for inheritance. Nevertheless, it is difficult to separate this notion from its usage in many contexts. This is particularly obvious when the fundamental notion of inheritance, to receive property, is concerned. Normally, when one receives property, we understand that he has the right to do with it what he chooses. He may sell it, build a house upon it, farm it, or rent it out. It is his to do with what he wants; he owns it. The prerogative of doing what one wants with one’s own is what is normally meant by having authority over one’s own possession. For this reason there is justification in saying that inheriting land will result in a degree of authority or sovereignty over that land after it has been received as an inheritance. This is not to say that “inherit” itself means to rule or have authority over.
However, when one begins to consider the theological concept involved in inheriting the land, and not just the semantic value of the word “inherit,” a justification begins to emerge for investing the phrase “inherit the kingdom” with more than just ownership. Rather, the notion of having authority becomes more prominent. This is implied in the messianic psalm from which Jesus quotes in Mt. 5: 5 (“the meek shall inherit the earth”), the context referring to the coming fulfilment of the Old Testament hope* in the messianic psalm. We are immediately cast into a surrounding sea of ideas about the role of the saints in that future eschaton.
[* NOTE. This “hope,” I believe, is what the apostle Peter had in mind when writing to “the elect”! In his epistle to them he wrote: “If ye should suffer for righteousness sake, blessed are ye: and fear not their fear, neither be troubled; but sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord: being ready always to give answer to every man that asketh you a reason concerning the hope that is in you, yet with meekness and fear” (1 Pet. 3: 15, R.V.). This hope is clearly associated with the inheritance awaiting overcomers in the coming age (Rev. 2: 25-27; Lk. 20: 35): which will only be realized at “the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls (1 Pet. 1: 9, R.V.): and that future salvation will take place at “the First Resurrection” (Rev. 20: 5, 6), when the disembodied souls of the holy dead are released from the underworld of “Hades” (see Mt. 16: 18; Acts 2: 27, 34ff), and reunited to the saints’ glorified and immortal bodies from the grave/tomb.]
Even a cursory reading of the Old Testament passages will attest that God’s final goal for man during that era is not simply to live there and be happy. It is much more than this. His goal is that one day we [who are “accounted worthy to attain to that age” (Lk. 20: 35)] will rule and have dominion over the earth (Gen. 1: 16-28):
What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honour. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet (Ps. 8: 4-6).
Man’s destiny is not just to reside in blessedness in
This seems to receive explicit conformation when Jesus tells the sheep in Mt. 25:34 to “inherit the kingdom.” It appears that Jesus is lifting a phrase right out of Dan. 7:
As I watched, this horn was waging war against the saints and defeating them, until the Ancient of Days came and pronounced judgment in favour of the saints of the Most High, and the time came when they possessed the kingdom (Dan. 7: 21-22).
The contexts are similar, both refer to the coming of a Son of Man (Dan. 7: 13; Mt. 25: 31). In both passages we are in the [great] tribulation period just prior to the second coming where the saints are persecuted. Jesus evidently had the book of Daniel in mind in the Olivet Discourse because He quotes from it in 24: 15 where He mentions the abomination of desolation of Dan. 9: 27. The phrase “possess the kingdom” seems therefore to precisely parallel the phrase “inherit the Kingdom” and is the source of this New Testament concept.
But what does it mean? The Aramaic word in Dan. 7: 22 translated “possess” is chasan, and it means to “take possession.” “It emphasizes strength and riches.” 62 According to the lexicon it means “to be strong, overcome; take possession of,” 63 The choice of the word suggests more than a mere passive receiving but a degree of authority in the kingdom. The idea seems to be confirmed when, in Dan. 7: 27 Daniel clarifies what it will mean “to possess the kingdom”:
62 R. Laird Harris, “chasan,” in TWOT, 2: 1020.
63 BDB, p. 1093.
Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High (Dan. 7: 27).
Possessing the kingdom is therefore the receipt of sovereignty over the nations. One day the saints will rule the world! Ladd says it refers to “rule over all the earth.” 64 The apparent direct borrowing of the phrase by Jesus seems to justify the conclusion that “to inherit the kingdom” means far more than mere residence there; it is to have authority and rulership there. If so, this would fit in well with a broad New Testament theme:
64 George E. Ladd, A theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974). P. 148.
If we endure, we will also reign with Him (2 Tim. 2: 12).
To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations (Rev. 2: 26).
Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? (1 Cor. 6: 2)
There are several phrases which seems to be equivalent to the phrase “inherit the kingdom.” For example, when Jesus tells the faithful servant to “enter into the joy of your Lord” (Mt. 25: 21), this could be understood as an invitation to share in the messianic rule. As such it is possible to understand it as being something different than an invitation to enter the kingdom: rather, it is entrance into the “Master’s happiness,” the messianic partnership. Similarly, as will be explained in the next chapter, the phrase used by the author to the Hebrews, “enter into rest,” is not to be equated with entrance into the kingdom [mentioned in Rev. 21: 1] but with obtaining the inheritance, an honour won on the field of battle.
In conclusion, “to inherit the kingdom” as a virtual synonym for rulership in the kingdom and not entrance into it. George N. H. Peters is correct when he says, “To inherit the kingdom, if it has any propriety of meaning, undoubtedly denotes the reception of kingly authority or rulership in the kingdom.” 65 All saints [at the time of their regeneration] will enter the kingdom through faith alone (Jn. 3: 3), but only obedient saints who endure, who overcome, and who perform works of righteousness (e.g., ministering to Christ’s brethren) will inherit it [in the age to come], i.e., rule there [after the “first resurrection.”].
65 Peters, 2: 573.
The Inheritance in Hebrews
The verb kleronomeo occurs four times in the book of Hebrews. 66 Its usage there is not inconsistent with its usage elsewhere, a reward for a life of faithfulness. The [millennial] inheritance can be forfeited because of disobedience, as in the case of Esau (Heb. 12: 17), and it is only obtained by persevering, i.e., by “faith and patience” (Heb. 6: 12). Jesus has inherited a superior name to that of the angels (1: 4). He achieved this inheritance by perseverance in suffering (Heb. 2: 10; Phil. 2: 9-11), 67 Similarly, His companions (Heb. 1: 9, Gk. metochoi) will “inherit salvation” (Heb. 1: 14) in the same way. We share in that future glory, the inheritance-salvation, only if we remain faithful to the end:
66 Heb. 1: 4; 1: 14; 6: 12; 12: 17.
67 Christ’s obedience as the condition for obtaining His new name, LORD JESUS CHRIST (Phil. 2: 9-11, “therefore”), seems to be a similar idea to His receiving of His inheritance.
We have come to share in Christ [i.e., we are metochoi] if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first (Heb. 3: 14).
So do not throw away your confidence, it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised (Heb. 10: 35, 36).
Perseverance to the end, faithfulness, and doing the will of God are the conditions of obtaining the inheritance-salvation in this epistle, conditions which are absent from the Pauline teaching of obtaining [eternal] salvation (in the sense of final deliverance from hell [i.e., “the lake of fire.”] on the basis of faith alone. As will be discussed below, a different salvation is in view: co-rulership with Christ in the coming kingdom.
To equate the inheritance with [entering] heaven results in a glaring inconsistency. It would mean that believers, by entering the church, are already heirs of the kingdom [which Jesus will return to inherit (Ps. 2: 8). cf. Ezek. 37: 28; Ps. 110: 1-3, R.V.]. Why then are they uniformly exhorted to become heirs by faithful labour when they are already heirs?
The noun kleronomia
is found in two places in Hebrews (Heb. 11: 8; 9: 15). In Heb. 11: 8 it refers to Abraham’s acquisition of the
The final use of the noun is in Heb. 9: 15:
For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal [Gk. “aionian”] inheritance [kleronomia] - now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.
How they obtain this inheritance is not affirmed here, but it is affirmed elsewhere. It is by “faith and patience” [Gk. “long endurance”] (Heb. 6: 12) and “holding firm to the end” (Heb. 3: 14) that we “inherit what has been promised.” To what promises is he referring? Sometimes in Hebrews the promise seems to refer to justification by faith. But in this passage, the conclusion of the warning, we are justified in looking back to 4: 1 where the promise of the remaining [sabbath] rest is in view. This refers to the completion of our task and subsequent entrance into our reward. It appears to have similar meaning in Heb. 11: 9, 13 when it is used of the land promises to the patriarchs. They too were to remain faithful to the end of life, and in so doing, they entered into rest and will one day possess the land. The inheritance should take the meaning it takes elsewhere in Hebrews - ownership of the millennial land of Canaan, the future reign of the servant kings, joint rulership with Messiah in the heavenly country, the millennial land of Palestine. Kaiser insists that the inheritance in Heb. 9: 15 is “the firm possession of the land as Heb. 11: 9 most assuredly asserts.” 68 Christ’s mediatorial work has as its aim that His sons should [during the “age” to come] enter into that partnership with Him. Their achievement of that destiny, however, as explained elsewhere in the book, is conditioned upon obedience [Page 84] from the heart. It is an eternal [Gk. aionian = age-lasting in this context] inheritance because we [if judged worthy] will inherit the land forever. 69 *
68 Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Toward an Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978), p. 169.
* That is, for as long as this earth will remain.
The Rights of the Firstborn
One of the sternest warnings of the New Testament is found in Heb. 12: 12-29. The Writer of the epistle to the Hebrews challenges them to pursue sanctification and cautions that without it no one will “see the Lord.” Some have held that this refers to the “beatific vision” which some Christians will enjoy in heaven and some will not. 70 However, in view of the other references in Scripture to seeing the Lord, it may be best to understand the phrase as referring to a deeper Christian experience. 71 Then he warns them regarding the loss of their inheritance rights.
70 For example, Lang, Firstborn Sons [: Their Rights and Risks], pp. 98ff.
71 In Mt. 5: 8 the peacemakers will “see God,” i.e., they will really know Him and walk with Him. In Job 42: 5 Job came to “see” God as a result of his trial. The meaning is that he came to know Him more deeply and intimately. [cf. Phil. 3: 11.]
See to it that on one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble and by it many be defiled; that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. For you know that even afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears (Heb. 12: 15-17 NASB).
Esau was the firstborn son and therefore by birth had
the rights and privileges described as belonging to the firstborn. The law of the firstborn sheds great light on
the biblical condition for obtaining the inheritance. Among the sons, the firstborn son enjoyed special privileges. When his father died, he received a double share of the inheritance (Dt. 21: 17). During his
life he was pre-eminent among his
brothers (Gen. 43: 33). God
had originally intended to make the firstborn of the sons of
God often violated His own rule regarding the
firstborn blessing. Sometimes this was
based upon grace. Isaac was selected
ahead of Ishmael, the firstborn; and Jacob was chosen instead of Esau for the
blessing of the firstborn. Sometimes the
reversal of the firstborn right to the inheritance was based upon merit. To the
end of his life it was the father’s prerogative to determine the disposal of
his property. 72 If the eldest
son was not qualified, then the father could [Page 85] give it to
the son who was. The Scripture only requires that, if the
firstborn right is denied to the eldest, that it not be a matter of favouritism
(Dt. 21: 15-17). Even though Reuben was Jacob’s firstborn,
the inheritance rights passed to Simeon (Gen.
49: 3-4) and