According to the Calvinistic teaching of Total Depravity (and total inability), the unregenerate person cannot do anything good—they cannot even have faith in Jesus.
Therefore, even if God graciously gave faith to an unregenerate person, it would not matter because the person—as an unregenerate—would not be able to believe! God’s gift of faith to the person would be ineffectual.
To get around this, Calvinists often teach that regeneration precedes faith. That is, before God gives a person the gift of faith so that they can believe in Jesus for eternal life, God knows that He must first remove the problem of “total inability.” So God sovereignly regenerates the person before He gives them the gift of faith so that they are now able to believe when God gives them faith.
To say that regeneration precedes faith means that God gives new life before He grants the gift of faith. Only in this way can the newly regenerated person exercise the gift of faith they have been given.
Sound a little strange? Let us hear how Calvinists explain it:
When Christ called to Lazarus to come out of the grave, Lazarus had no life in him so that he could hear, sit up, and emerge. There was not a flicker of life in him. If he was to be able to hear Jesus calling him and to go to Him, then Jesus would have to make him alive. Jesus resurrected him and then Lazarus could respond. [Similarly,] the unsaved, the unregenerate, is spiritually dead (Eph. 2). He is unable to ask for help unless God changes his heart of stone into a heart of flesh, and makes him alive spiritually (Eph. 2:5). Then, once he is born again, he can for the first time turn to Jesus, expressing sorrow for his sins and asking Jesus to save him (Palmer, Five Points, 18-19).
Abraham Kuyper observed that, prior to regeneration, a sinner ‘has all the passive properties belonging to a corpse … [Therefore] every effort to claim for the sinner the minutest co-operation in this first grace destroys the gospel, severs the artery of the Christian confession and is anti-scriptural in the highest degree.’ Like a spiritual corpse, he is unable to make a single move toward God, think a right thought about God, or even respond to God – unless God first brings this spiritually dead corpse to life (Boice and Ryken, Doctrines of Grace, 74).
Man is dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1). He cannot make himself new, or create new life in himself. He must be born of God. Then, with the new nature of God, he sees Christ for who he really is, and freely receives Christ for all that he is. The two acts (new birth and faith) are so closely connected that in experience we cannot distinguish them. God begets us anew and the first glimmer of life in the newborn child is faith (Piper, Five Points, 35).
The Reformed view … teaches that before a person can choose Christ … he must be born again … one does not first believe and then become reborn. … A cardinal doctrine of Reformed theology is the maxim, “Regeneration precedes faith” (Sproul, Chosen by God, 10, 72).
A man is not regenerated because he has first believed in Christ, but he believes in Christ because has been regenerated (Pink, The Sovereignty of God).
The Calvinist says that life must precede faith, and is logically the cause of faith. Faith did not cause the new birth, the new birth caused faith (Cole, “Which Comes First In Conversion–Life or Faith?”).
Calvinists put the new birth before faith, since they believe that spiritually dead humans cannot exercise faith and, therefore, need to be born again before they can believe (Olson, Beyond Calvinism and Arminianism, 39).
… Regeneration logically must initiate faith (MacArthur, Faith Works, 62).
Reformed theologians … place regeneration before faith, pointing out that the Holy Spirit must bring new life before the sinner can by God’s enabling exercise faith and accept Jesus Christ (Killen, “Regeneration,” 1449).
The reformed view of predestination teaches that before a person can choose Christ his heart must be changed. He must be born again … one does not first believe, then become reborn. … In regeneration, God changes our hearts. He gives us a new disposition, a new inclination. He plants a desire for Christ in our hearts. We can never trust Christ for our salvation unless we first desire Him. This is why we said earlier that regeneration precedes faith (Sproul, Chosen by God, 72, 118).
A man must be born again in order to exercise faith (Wells, Faith, 58).
The Reformers taught not only that regeneration does precede faith but also that it must precede faith. Because of the moral bondage of the unregenerate sinner, he cannot have faith until he is changed internally by the operative, monergistic work of the Holy Spirit. Faith is regeneration’s fruit, not its cause (Sproul, Willing to Believe, 23).
And a long quote from R. C. Sproul:
After a person is regenerated, that person cooperates by exercising faith and trust. But the first step is the work of God and of God alone.
The reason we do not cooperate with regenerating grace before it acts upon us and in us is because we can- not. We cannot because we are spiritually dead. We can no more assist the Holy Spirit in the quickening of our souls to spiritual life than Lazarus could help Jesus raise him for the dead.
When I began to wrestle with the Professor’s argument, I was surprised to learn that his strange-sounding teaching was not novel. Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield – even the great medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas taught this doctrine. Thomas Aquinas is the Doctor Angelicus of the Roman Catholic Church. For centuries his theological teaching was accepted as official dogma by most Catholics. So he was the last person I expected to hold such a view of regeneration. Yet Aquinas insisted that regenerating grace is operative grace, not cooperative grace. Aquinas spoke of prevenient grace, but he spoke of a grace that comes before faith, which is regeneration.
These giants of Christian history derived their view from Holy Scripture. The key phrase in Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians is this: “…even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace have you been saved)” (Eph. 2:5). Here Paul locates the time when regeneration occurs. It takes place ‘when we were dead.’ With one thunderbolt of apostolic revelation all attempts to give the initiative in regeneration to man are smashed. Again, dead men do not cooperate with grace. Unless regeneration takes place first, there is no possibility of faith.
This says nothing different from what Jesus said to Nicodemus. Unless a man is born again first, he cannot possibly see or enter the kingdom of God. If we believe that faith precedes regeneration, then we set our thinking and therefore ourselves in direct opposition not only to giants of Christian history but also to the teaching of Paul and of our Lord Himself (R. C. Sproul, “Regeneration Precedes Faith”).
What are your thoughts on the idea that regeneration precedes faith? Have you encountered this idea before? Do you believe it matches up with what Scripture teaches? Weigh in below!If you want to read more about Calvinism, check out other posts in this blog series: Words of Calvinism and the Word of God.
Stephen Butler says
I find your posts on Calvinism really helpful. Thanks for all the great insights and your teaching.
Brian Midmore says
Consider Abraham. God’s speaks to Abraham who believes God and God reckons to Abraham righteousness. Now Abraham was not just believing an abstracted proposition but he believed God. So through the word of God faith was made in Abrahams heart whereby he was justified. There is truth in the Calvinists position but to argue that Abraham was ‘born again’ prior to his believing seems to be going a bit too far since he was justified after his believing.
Let’s consider Abraham. All those ‘faith’ ‘believed God’ and ‘justified by’ are mixed mumbo-jumbo here. Abraham’s faith was his putting trust to God in all his life, that is, he believed IN God. With Isaac, he believed God, believed what God had promised. His obedience to God’s request just proved his right standing before God. No, he was not ‘justified’, whatever the English word means. It was not an example of ‘justification by faith’, theological jargon, which both Catholic and Lutheran understand differently with the former confused as sanctification.
Could it be the story of Abraham is allegorical, not historical?
Abraham is asked to give up all he holds dear, not only his most cherished “possession” Isaac but his own ideas of morality and his father identity. Isn’t this the only way we can approach God in faith—acknowledging ignorance, inability, and humbly surrendering all to Him?
Never fear, the story ends as it must—God’s morality exceeds ours—isaac won’t be lost. What we surrender to God is returned with blessing.
The story is an imaginative, dramatized version of the old saying —a bowl that is full can’t receive. We must empty ourselves before coming to God. If you’re a laissez-faire believer who thinks, “I have faith” the narrative tells you faith goes beyond your limitation. And if murdering a child isn’t a limitation for you, it’s not faith that you have but a psychopathic condition.
This is the problem with Biblianity, the story’s okay, imaginative but clumsy. Grant it historicity and it’s an abomination.
Abraham not historical? Then why would anyone bother about ALL things?
Ounbbl, are you saying that your faith depends on certain stories being historical fact? I doubt that you were persuaded to seek God by some cunning historical argument. Most people who seek God do so because they are seeking God.
Gerrie Malan says
I recently had the privilege to read a study of the Summerian and Abrahamic histories that pointed out formidable evidences of Abraham as the link between that civilization and Israel. Among these are specific incidents at specific times, compared also with the Septuagint. The study is in Afrikaans unfortunately (by a physicist and not a biased thologian).
According to the ancient Book of Jasher which is mentioned in Joshua 10:13 and 2 Sam 1:18, Chapter 9, Abram went to Noah and Shem at the age of ten, where he remained for 39 years and was taught the ways of the Lord. Shem appears again later in Abraham’s life as Mechizedek.
Yes, very interesting the connection between Hebrew sacred texts, Summerian and Babylonian. Friedrich Delitzsch, the German Assyriologist gave an interesting series of lectures on the subject as far back as 1902 in front of Kaiser Wilhelm II and a select audience of German theologians and leading academics that caused a scandal at the time. The were printed in a volume, and translated into English. The book is called Bable and Bible — worth tracking down. The volume I read includes several rebuttals of Delitzsch’s conclusions, so it’s very interesting to see a wide a range of views. Wilhelm criticized Delitzsch for straying beyond his mandate. What’s quite revealing is what isn’t contested, or what is admitted to as shared knowledge among the theologians which I think would still come as a bit of a surprise to most laity. I think the interpretation of the evidence is very much in the eye of the beholder.
Brian Midmore says
Yes there is a big debate as to what justification means. The problem with the word justification is that it conjures up for us all the wranglings, disunity, bitterness, rejection and plain murder of the reformation. Justification has a massive amount of baggage around it. I read it to mean ‘coming into God’s family as a full covenant member’. When Abraham believed God he became the first member of the people of God, the father first of the Jews and then of the Jews and Gentiles in the Messiah.
The word ‘justify’ is not a scriptural word. It is a typical KJV biblish, translating it from Latin. Actually those reading KJV and following KJV vocabulary have not been divorced from Catholic culture and mindset.
NT Wright says justification is covenantal faithfulness, or something like it. The problem in his statement and thought is in the verb ‘is’, since ‘is’ can mean whatever one can think of. No, justification is NOT covenantal faithfulness; it is shown in God’s covenantal faithfulness.
The core sense of ‘being righteous; standing in right relation to’ is ‘being worthy’; God takes us as the one being worthy – worthy to His name.
absolutely incorrect. Abraham was JUSTIFED BY FAITH and we are children of abraham by faith and are justified by OUR faith the SAME way.
Romans 5:1 – Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ
Galatians 2:16 – Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
Romans 4:5 – But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
John 5:24 – Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.
Ephesians 2:8 – For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God
John 1:12 – But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name
I would just point out that Ephesians 2:8, that the grace and the faith to believe are gifts from God, not of ourselves.
How do you interpret Romans 8 & John 6?
Where did “Abraham’s faith” come from, what is the source?
Did Abraham choose God or did God choose Abraham?
You’re getting your reformed ordo salutis out of ordo. A Calvinist, whether modified or traditional, would separate regeneration from justification and both would place justification AFTER faith. Within the traditional calvinist system, Abraham was regenerated, which enabled him to have faith, which then justified him—or was “counted righteous”, however you want to roll it.
sorry abraham was never born again, the Holy Spirit was not given until Christ was glorified.
Joel Kessler says
Arminians do too, it’s called prevenient grace to choose. I think Roger E. Wilson would call it “Freed Will.”
When you change your view from historical to allegorical, and consider context as well, there’s no longer any need to quibble over details and interpretations, because the whole picture is seen clearly and beautifully. Both Biblical stories of Lazarus are excellent examples. Even the name, which in Hebrew means “God has helped,” indicates allegory rather than historical coincidence.
Regeneration causes faith. The Calvinists got that part right. Though regeneration and faith are not the same, they cannot be separated any more than the Christ can be separated from Jesus – although those are not the same either.
It is not faith that is the gift, but the Holy Spirit, which regenerates, and which IS identical to the Christ (but not identical to either Jesus or God). It is not limited to those whom God chooses. It is available to everyone. Of course, as with any gift, the recipient is free to use it, to put it away, or to dispose of it.
By the way, would-be evangelists should keep in mind that although the Holy Spirit has the divine qualities of being unlimited and endless, you can’t re-gift any of yours, because everyone has been or will be offered their own, straight from the source and tailor-made. You can’t even tell anyone else about theirs, except in the most general of terms, because it is uniquely their own; and though it is “cut from the same cloth” as yours, it is individually styled, tailored and fitted. God, not you, will present it to each individual in the right way, at the right time and place. All you can do is wear yours, and wear it well; so people will see it and want their own.
Lutek, you’re such an interesting fellow. I’m with you on the historical/ allegorical front, but what’s this strange teaching about the Holy Spirit? You’ve completely lost me. Sounds like something copyrighted and delivered by Amazon.
I’ll give you my take. This three in one trinity is supposed to me a mystery. Here’s what the Catholics say:
“The Trinity is the term employed to signify the central doctrine of the Christian religion — the truth that in the unity of the Godhead there are Three Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, these Three Persons being truly distinct one from another.” And here’s the Athanasian Creed: “the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet there are not three Gods but one God.”
Mysterious huh? Until you understand the etymology of person is persona, which can mean mask or assumed character. It’s why in law a corporation is a person: more than one individual can share the same mask. The contrary is also true: one person can wear many masks. Right there, solved, the “mysterious” trinity .
But why draw the line at trinity? Why not sevenbillionity?
The theological idea that one person (you mean God, right?) can wear many masks is not unique to Christianity.
The Christian concept of trinity became established only decades or centuries after the crucifixion, but as I understand it, Jesus’ comment that “I and the father are one” was meant to apply as a guide and example to all of us.
I’ll be happy to explain my thoughts on that further, later, if need be, but I have other things to deal with this morning, so if you reply and I don’t answer for a while, don’t take it personally!
But why draw the line at trinity?
For the same reason that Dao De Jing says: “Dao gives birth to One, One gave birth to Two, Two gave birth to Three, Three gave birth to all the myriad things.” stanza 42
The hidden heart of all theology is mathematics, essentially process and geometry. Zero is an infinite void, the mysterious unknowable source of all. One creates a point, two points create a line, three points create a surface, but not until four points do you have a solid form., the tetrahedron. To put it another way, all forms unfold from a primordial trinity.
You’re right, many theologies are developed from this unfolding geometrical process.
You wrote: “The theological idea that one person (you mean God, right?) can wear many masks is not unique to Christianity.”
That’s the confusion right there. It’s one individual can have many personas. This is what we see with all these discussions about what different verses mean, and no agreement is every reached. It’s a language game. it’s like politicians never mean what we think they say. We think of a person as an individual, but in theology and law (which followed the theological lead) a person and an individual are different things. When theologians and lawyers were talking about persons, they’re talking personas. That’s why I keep telling people they’re in the Tower of Bable. I’m not trying to be rude. They’re reaching for heaven, but they are confused by language. That’s the design. It’s inbuilt that people will turn to God, so the powerful want to control things. It’s what we explored in our discussion on China’s plans for Chinese Christian Theology (https://redeeminggod.com/christian-unity-and-the-church/#comments)
Anyway, I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts about the Holy Spirit when you have time. You always have thoughtful and interesting views.
Thanks for your kind compliments, TUF. I enjoy our exchanges as well.
Your latest comments cover a lot of ground, but I’ll limit my reply to my thoughts on the Holy Spirit, because we’re already getting off the topic of this thread.
It would be very difficult for me to explain my conception of the Holy Spirit without explaining my thoughts on the Trinity, so here’s the whole package, culled from one of my previous posts elsewhere on this site, with a few minor changes and clarifications:
God the parent – the original, creative source and force as well as the ultimate purpose or “final cause”, i.e. Alpha and Omega (encompassing both male and female, and thus beyond gender)
God the progeny – the divine nature not Just of Jesus, but when manifested within any human being (and within any being at all to some degree, though in a different way)
God the Holy Spirit – The spiritual state of being and acting in pure love ( and/or peace, harmony, wisdom, knowledge – insert your favorite divine adjective here)
Three different aspects of God (the ground and source of all being, ultimately beyond description and comprehension). I believe that God has other “personas” as well, but I’m limiting this to the Christian idea of Trinity.
I think though, that what you really want to know is how I arrived at that. I won’t go into details here, but I will tell you that it has to do with a rejection of inerrancy, a synthesis of diverse theological thought and literature, and considerations of context, history and human nature. And of course, prayer, meditation and a modicum of personal, mystical experience. Needless to say, the results will always be incomplete and imperfect, so I’m always open to further input.
Jeremy Myers says
Thank you, Stephen Butler!
Joel Andrew Kessler, I wouldn’t say that prevenient grace is the same as the idea that regeneration precedes faith. Certainly, it would be God acting on behalf of mankind before mankind can do anything, but there is a difference between actually regenerating someone before they believe, and enabling they to believe so that they can be regenerated.
Joel Andrew Kessler says
Ya i see what your saying.
Gerrie Malan says
In his book Introducing Christian Doctrine Erickson (1992:288) wrote “(…) election is an expression of the sovereign will or good pleasure of God. It is not based on any merit in the one elected. Nor is it based upon foreseeing that the individual will believe. It is the cause, not the result, of faith.” So here too, one has the idea of regeneration and only then faith.
Whichever way one looks at the above, it means in simple terms that if an individual is not on God’s list of pre-elected individuals, it serves no purpose at all to bring him or her the Gospel of the Kingdom of God proclaimed by Jesus of Nazareth and His apostles. And one cannot overlook the words ‘good pleasure of God’ in this context. Wow! The words ‘God is Love’ are written on so many pulpits, and now we are asked to believe that it was God’s good pleasure to condemn people up front, that it pleased Him to do so?
Many Reformed Baptists in England be-tween the middle of the eighteenth century and the middle of the twentieth emphasized God’s sovereign grace in election to such an extent that they became uncomfortable with general declarations of the gospel. As far as they were concerned, unbelievers should not be told to repent and believe the gospel since they were dead in trespasses and sin, and might not in any case belong to the elect.
This again serves to accentuates why accurate interpretation of the Bible is a non negotiable.
Who determines the accurate interpretation of the Bible—the Catholic or Orthodox traditions with their patristic traditions, or one of the thousands of protestant denominations?
Gerrie Malan says
My answer to this question is simple: not one of us can transfer the responsibility for what we believe to another (whether teacher, preacher, parents, or whoever). Yes, one needs to realise that you cannot escape your individual responsibility for what you believe.
To this end the Bible itself gives us an important principle in Acts 17:11, which describes the fact that the Jews in the city of Berea were more open-minded (more noble) than those elsewhere. They readily welcomed (or received) the word from Paul, but then studied the Scriptures daily to check whether Paul was speaking the truth. As a result many of them, including a number of prominent Greek women and some men, became believers. Please note that the Bereans measured Paul’s word by the Scriptures and not the Scriptures by his word.
The implication is that the individual should practice Paul’s advice to young Timothy (Tim 2:15) to diliigently present himself approved to God, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth.
Therefore I do not accept single views easily, but study a wide range of translations and Hebrew/Greek word studies, and after forming my view, also seek ancient writings from the cultures in which the Bible was written. Modern technology has provided us with such and we cannot put forward the same excuses our ancestors would have been able to do.
In conclusion to your question, in my case, the denomination called Gerrie Malan has to shoulder that responsibility instead of blindly following a denomination’s decisions.
Good answer. Tall order, but good.
Gerrie Malan says
Thank you, I agree and appreciate.
Gerrie Malan says
During a televised church service I stumbled upon some years ago, Dr. Ravi Zacharias told the story of a clockmaker who saw a man set his watch by the clocks in the shop window every morning. Curious, he later asked the man about this and was told the man was the time-keeper at a nearby factory. His watch wasn’t very good, and so he set it each morning by the clockmaker’s watches. The clockmaker then confessed his clocks weren’t keeping time too well either, and he set them each afternoon by the factory’s closing time whistle! Zacharias concluded that if two wrong things synchronize themselves by each other, they get ‘wronger and wronger’ all the time. Sadly, this is such a valid illustration of a number of Christian doctrines of today.
Even better answer.
Gerrie Malan says
Glad you enjoyed it.
That’s a great story about the clocks, Gerrie.
Your comment about the Bereans fits with a thought I had recently. Present-day Christianity seems to value Jesus over God, scripture over Jesus, Paul over scripture, and later theologians over Paul. That seems to me to be exactly the inverse of the way it should be.
Can we ever be completely sure we have a fully accurate interpretation of the Bible? If so, how?
Gerrie Malan says
The one challenge for us lies in the situation that we have 66 books, written over some 1400 years on three continents. To correctly understand we need to try and put ourselves in the place of the original readers and audiences. Of course that is no small task.
Our second challenge is to overcome the power of the man-made doctrinal traditions of the past centuries. This too, is more than just a challenge.
In the end, however, I at least have to do my best to know the truth, which is not dependent on either my acknowledgement or knowledge of it.
Could it be that for the faithful the truth isn’t found in understanding something external like the Bible, but that truth is found in understanding the self in front of God?
Gerrie Malan says
The second part of your statement is certainly true. One may be the best and most accurate theologian in history, but God says He looks upon the heart! And in Messiah we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).
But then all Scripture is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting and for training in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16). It is the lamp for our feet and the light upon our path (Ps 119:105). The revelation of His words brings light and gives understanding to the inexperienced (Ps 119:130).
What is precious to me, is that you and are many miles apart and yet we are both facilitating learning in one another. That is so different from the overwhelming, prescriptive “thus saith the Lord unto you” approach the institutional church world is sadly noted for.
Grace to you!
“To correctly understand we need to try and put ourselves in the place of the original readers and audiences.”
We need to understand the writers’ situations, motivations and backgrounds, too. No small task, indeed!
if I may dare to express an opposing view (opposition being an Anglican vice) balderdash!
The truth of the text is not to be discovered by somehow imaginatively transforming ourselves into ancient Galatian converts or Hebrew tax collectors of the Roman state. Who is to say that their technique of discourse analysis was much ado? Nor do we need to conjecture about the authorial motivations, highly suspicious as they are, of the Hebrew prophet as he glorified his national war god and chastened the chosen race. The truth of the text is found in the lives of it’s believers, past and present, what manner of folk their scriptures have transformed them into. And this is the test that no one wants to apply. Excuse after excuse are sure to follow. “They weren’t really Christians.” “We are all born in sin.” Lines one and two of the hallelujah chorus sang by the Christian brotherhood as they sharpen their knives.
Instead of introspection, goes the theologian’s cry, let us rake over historical artifacts, dive into ancient lexicons, reframe cultural narratives, negotiate our way around words, vague and obscure, like so many corporate hacks rewriting the law. Anything, but look at the mirror of actuality. The truth of the Biblically inspired life as it is lived. “Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?” This is the test for your interpretation: are you an ungodly monster waging war under a vandalized cross or a humble penitent living in faith, dependent on the love of God? You believer, are the truth of what you believe.
I may have drank too much coffee.
Gerrie Malan says
It has nothing to do with imaginative transformation and everything with resources at our disposal compliments of modern technology. Simply taking heed of recorded explanations of ancient idioms and orientalisms can already prevent much misunderstanding.
We cannot deny that the lives of people that you accentuate are influenced heavily by how they understand the Bible, often due to their preacher’s explanations. This has led to many misplaced atrocities, abuses and excesses in the name of Christ. It continues even today – or would you say it is OK for the announcer at a mass meeting in South Africa of a world-travelling evangelist to state the Lord has shown him the first xxx of people who donated $x000 within the next two minutes will become millionaires within 48 hours. This is an extreme example I know, but there are many, many examples on various levels. And in the eye of the beholder we are talking of good people leading godly lives.
As to what is being preached and taught: Consider the example of one of the early ‘church fathers’, Origen, who was a Gentile Christian from Alexandria. He is noted for writing Bible commentaries for other Christians in the Greek speaking world. Origen regarded the Hebrew text and Hebraic themes as raw data which was to be interpreted using the tools of Greek understanding. Steve Maltz (2009) writes of him:
“A favourite theme of his was to re-interpret the Old Testament in the light of the New Testament, using techniques from Greek philosophy, married with insights from early Christian tradition and other writings. His driving principle was that the Bible contained three levels of meaning, corresponding to the body, soul and spirit. You can see the influence of Plato here, particularly when he adds that the ‘body’ level of meaning, the literal meaning of the text, is for the more simple minded whereas the ‘soul’ and more particularly the ‘spirit’ levels of meaning are for the more enlightened readers”.
Gerrie Malan says
Augustine of Hippo followed later, and, building on the Bible interpretation techniques of Origen and others, he stated that readers were to look at the ‘spirit behind the literal texts, to grasp the mind of God through ‘spiritual understandings’ (Maltz, 2009). When I think of the original doctrine of the apostles, and considering viewpoints such as the above of ‘church father’ Origen,I cannot help but regard the term ‘church fathers’ as a very unfortunate man-made creation indeed.
The philosophical types in ancient Greece took the view that sin was caused by ignorance, and thus to find virtue, with furrowed brows they endeavored to be wise. Socrates, who knew nothing, sort to end that mistaken hope.
Modern Christian’s with their nit-picking exegesis, their discourse microscopes, their myriad alternative interpretations, are not repentant sinners seeking God, but the judge and jury with God in the dock. Did he command genocide, support slavery, and in demanding his debt of flesh is he Shylock’s archetype? “Look here chaps, if you read it this way, He actually sounds rather nice!” Seeking a “correct interpretation” the modern Christian aims at being the savior of God.
i said it once, and because it’s fun I’ll say it again, balderdash!
Man can sin even though he knows it’s wrong. Wisdom won’t save us, nor accurate scriptural interpretation, only faith—faith in God. It’s not in the knowing, it’s living in faith. Interpretation is not a foundation of the spiritual life, rather the spiritual life is foundation for interpretation, indeed the only interpretation of consequence.
I think I’ve finished saying my bit.
“The truth of the Biblically inspired life (is) as it is lived.” You’re right about that, Trouble. And just to be fair to our non-Christian brothers and sisters, and to stir the pot a bit, lets also state that the same applies to the Q’uran-inspired life, the Tao-inspired life, the Dhammapada-inspired life, etc. But Gerrie’s point is also critical. People’s understanding of their religion’s scripture greatly affects their demonstration of the “truth of their text” in their daily lives. Putting all their faith in church (or mosque or temple) authorities rather than in the one true spiritual Authority more often than not leads to atrocities, abuses and excesses.
However, Origen had a point about levels of understanding of scripture, though in my view there are two, not three. I see soul and spirit as the same thing, and mind as belonging to the realm of body; that is the physical. The modern problem is that though society is generally hung up in a materialist worldview, the literal meaning is no longer in step with our knowledge of the material world. So the simple, literal interpretation, instead of leading to the more sophisticated, “spiritual” view, often leads to rejecting God completely.
Yes, of course Gerrie makes a valid point, and oddly I suppose so do you, but I’m having fun being obstinate. There’s too many definitions and contextually. I’m in a stubborn mood. I want to focus on faith. There’s little agreement in all these discussion, and even when there is it’s just shifting positions. I don’t care if you’re for baptism by emersion or apple juice, are you aware of your limitations as you stand before God or holding up you’re homework expecting an A+? The context is not ancient history, in the life of the believer Christian or not, as they live today.
Too many typos. It will take too long to correct. Shame. I was in full flow.
You’re having fun being obstinate. I’m having fun “holding up my homework” and Christians are having fun “being the savior of God.” (That’s even more fun to say than “balderdash.”)
Forgive us, Father, for we know (not) what we do.
“Forgive us, Father, for we know (not) what we do.”
Lutek, that is A+. Go to the top of the class. Very good.
Gerrie Malan says
Thanks Lutek. I am really surprised by TUF’ response as I have not only accentuated the individual’s personal responsibility, but also that God stated He looked upon man’s heart. Thus an adulterer and murderer like David is called a man after God’s own heart. But God also indicated through the prophet Isaiah that Jerusalem approached Him with their mouths to honor Him with lip-service, yet their hearts were far removed from Him and their worship consisted of man-made rules (Is 29:13).
I do not intend to expand on the soul-spirit topic except for saying that I also do not see them as separate things. The only reason I mentioned it was to illustrate that Greek philosophy was of the opinion the laity (idiots) were only able to understand the superficial things while they were “anointed” to really understand the Scriptures.
Gerrie, sorry if I irritated you, I’m just enjoying pushing a point. I do find that this blog is focused too much on definition and not on what it means to live a faithful life. I do appreciate what you’ve written.
One thing I was talking with Lutek about on another thread is the difference between words like self, soul, spirit and person. Each has a specific theological meaning which very few people seem to know.
If you would be kind enough, I’d like to know what difference Origen claimed between spirit and soul, and in which work I might read it.
Gerrie Malan says
No problem. I’ll have to go through my backups, but I was originally pointed towards Origen, etc. by Steve Malz – Maltz, S. 2009. The Stubborn Stains Of Greece. http://www.hebrewroots.com/node/290. 6 September.
The terms have even more than one meaning, e’g’ spirit can mean attitude or strength. But there’s much more to it. If you wish to email me (email@example.com) I can send you an ebook.
Gerrie Malan says
Origen’s book is On First Principles. You can also read a discussion on http://mphilliber.blogspot.com/2010/05/origen-and-interpretation-of-scripture.html
Thanks. I’ll read the links first.
Gerry, on David the man after God’s own heart, he was called that because he was very quick to accept guilt as the Lord had exposed, and he wanted to be restored to fellowship with his God. In David sinning, that could not be said to be according to God’s heart, for God cannot countenance sin. But as David was truly grieved and repented, confessed and forsook sin, this is what pleased the Lord. And that was the consistent with David’s earlier years and later years, according to the light that he had.
I expect you meant something like that.
It makes perfect sense to me!
On the topic of new birth before faith.
Calvin’s perception as indicated in his quote in the beginning, raises a question. Lazarus’ dead body did not house his spirit or soul while it remained in the tomb. The spirit/soul leaves the body at death and goes to a place designated for believing, or other for unbelieving souls, as the Scriptures show. Was Jesus speaking to the dead body or his spirit? It is plain to me that Jesus always addressed the real person inside the physical frame in real life. Jesus knew better than anyone the spirit realm as distinct from the physical realm. My understanding is that Jesus spoke to the spirit/soul of Lazarus which would be the animating principle of his life, which re-entered his corpse – at this point ‘he’ came to life. If this is so, then Calvin’s illustration is not a good one to explain his teaching.
Paul says in Romans 10:13 that whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. Then he explains the divine process by questions. In that process – preaching, hearing, believing, calling, believing comes before calling. While we must believe to be saved, Paul shows here that we cannot be saved unless we call upon the Lord which comes after believing. If being saved is the same as being born again, then new birth comes after believing according to the Spirit by which Paul was writing.
bob free says
I agree,and why would Jesus plead with many people and pharasees to turn to him. Jesus says i do and say these things in order that you might be saved.Why Does God command all people everywhere to REPENT if we cannot. acts 30-17. There were people who believe in GOD an didnt know the holy spirit, cornelius was not First Regenerated but BELIEVED and when Peter arrived then the spirit fell on him.yes after He believed. Then was baptized. We are all dead spiritually, but by Grace Thru Faith we all can believe an Faith comes by hearing so when we hear we can come to Christ,thats why HE told us to go out and preach,was this only for the elect, i doubt it, sends paul to athens of all places where many religions flourished, iF all these people were so Dead that they cannot hear or make judgements WHY send anyone!!
I found this study to be helpful on this topic. This in particular addresses Sprouls claims about Luther, Augustine and such as agreeing with him. This is actually not entirely true. http://danmusicktheology.com/faith-precedes-regeneration/
C. Scott says
I must say that first paragraph borders on the silly. Biblical understanding, in the tradition of Calvin, teaches that the will of man cannot choose God without God first choosing the man, and neither once chosen by God can the man ultimately refuse our savior. Thus the man is regenerated. Our will is not greater than God’s. Our regeneration is not our task. You err in what you think Calvin taught my friend.
What makes sense? Regeneration precedes faith, or faith precedes regeneration?
All of mankind has a first birth, and until he exists he or she can’t do anything right, because they don’t exist? Once he or she exists however, there is now the potential for a second birth, as Jesus described to Nicodemus, (John 3) but because of Adam’s sin all of man is born spiritually dead, incapable of faith, why because dead people don’t do anything, much less have faith. In other words, you may exist physically, but you don’t exist spiritually because your Dead in your trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2). You must first be born again in order to receive anything or as Jesus put it, “See the kingdom of God” and therefore “Enter the kingdom of God” at the appointed time.
Faith Precedes Regeneration:
Spiritually dead people don’t have faith. According to this view, a spiritually dead and therefore non-existent person has the ability to do something even though he or she doesn’t even exist? Do you see the problem here? Jesus did not use a metaphor, or allegory, He said man must be born from above. It’s clearly a work of God. In the same way no man has a say about his “natural” birth, he certainly has no say concerning his spiritual birth. Both are of God alone. Scripture is quite clear that a man’s spirit is dead, or spiritually non-existent, rendered incapable of somehow mustering up an ability to believe God.
I enjoy reading your stuff, as well as NT Wright, Christopher Wright, and a fair amount of other theologians in that genre. I am not a calvinists, nor do I believe regeneration (being born again) proceeds faith. I realized not too long ago, for that theory to fit with their system, they would by necessity say that being born again happened to all OT saints. It seems that much of the prophetic promises point to it only as something that will happen in the future (Ezek 36, Deut 30, Jer. 31), and not something that has been happening in the past. I am pretty interested in exploring this theory more and was wondering if you could point me to any resources critiquing and/or defining this position.
myth buster says
Acts makes it abundantly clear when regeneration occurs: at Baptism. It is written, “Repent and be baptized,” and in another place, “Rise, and wash away your sins, calling on the Name of the Lord.” Paul, though a believer, was still dead in his sins until he submitted to be baptized.
Jeremy Myers says
This isn’t a post about baptism. Use the search function at the bottom of this page to find other articles here on the website about baptism.
Mike Manners says
I remember as a 12 year old in 1980 at a Lutheran Summer Camp accepting Christ as Savior. I just read “The Late Great Planet Earth” by Hal Lindsey and there was an invitation to turn to Christ at the end of the book. I accepted that invitation even at that young age. WHAT gave me the power or ability to believe that Jesus was Lord at that moment? Was it my own choice? Was the Holy Spirit there giving me the ability to accept? At what point does God’s Predestined Election towards a believer and that believers limited Free Weill meet?
The example scripture given in this article, Jesus did not tell Lazarus to come alive physically or spiritually, Jesus told Lazarus to come out of the tomb.
Have you considered John 5:28-29. It would appear that comparing it with your exegete of the story if Lazarus that when these people in the tomb hear Jesus voice and are made alive/regenerated/born again as a result of the command of Jesus to come alive (in your view I.e. spiritually regenerated) then why if they are spiritually born again at this point do some of them still go off to judgement (damnation)?
Ezra Cayson Jr says
Is it proper topray to become born again first to believe.
David Venz says
As a calvinist, I 100% believe in regeneration preceding faith. I believe that 1 John 5:1 also attests to this truth. The grammatical structure of this verse is the same as 1 John 2:29 and 4:7 which read respectively, “everyone who practices righteousness is born of God’ and “whoever loves has been born of God”. 1 John 5:1 reads “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God”. No true christian would say that belief in God would come through practicing righteousness or loving but rather that these would be the results of being born of God so why would that not also be the the case in 5:1? All three verses are saying that being born of God is the preceding action to the resultant action. This does clarify the meaning of John 3:3
they practice righteousness because they are born again, they are new creations, there is not support in this scripture for the calvinistic heresy of regeneration before faith.
the biblical outline and timeline regarding salvation is clear.
one hears the gospel
one chooses to respond to the invitation of the gospel by faith and is saved and born again by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, a new creation at the same time.
Valerie Hayward says
I don’t believe Calvinism is correct. Although God says HE is the One who will choose to have mercy on some and choose to harden others, THAT is in line with His general purpose and plan: see Romans 9:14-21.
The truth lies in us having a CORRECT of view of Israel, His first chosen people in what Paul is saying in the next verses: Romans 9:22-33.,
Paul states that God chose Israel and though He has NOT finished with them, He ALSO chose (predestined) the Gentiles to be saved as well. (This had been a mystery; to the Jews; something generally unknown — although God did foretell it.)
Paul had to explain it from scratch to the Gentiles.
All Scripture in Old and New Testaments, dictates that man has ALWAYS had a choice to choose the right way not the wrong way and follow God from the start by His clear words on this to Cain in Genesis 4:7.
The church is made up of believers; Jew and Gentile.
The unsaved Pharisees and scribes said Jesus ate with sinners; outcasts. Such love He showed them.
And God’s message is John 3: 16-17., addressed to the whosoevers and to the world NOT “God so loved the elect that He gave His only begotten Son that the elect that believe in Him might be saved. ” (which Calvin, a hard, hard man believed. )
1John 4:7-14 proves that God is love NOT the God of Calvin limited favouritism, but the life of the believer saved by faith being continually transformed by the step by step walk of sanctification after the initial regeneration when we are first born again according to Romans 10:9.
Walking by faith as born again believers indwelt by the Holy Spirit is a still hard slog sometimes… in spite of Philippians 4:13. How much easier it is to believe: “Well, I’m the King’s kid, I can’t go wrong in the end can I.”
Clifford Alloway says
Who are the children born of the spirit? Galatians 4 uses the account of Issac ad an allegory to salvation. It’s interesting because Abraham and Sarah were dead reproductively speaking. Abraham had faith then their reproductive parts were regenerated to be able to have a child, romans 4:19-20.
The order is clear faith then life.
The types of Christ are in this order also, see the manna, water, the serpent on the pole etc. Christ thought the same order that in order to have eternal life one must eat and drink the bread of life and living water.
The calvinists teach one is freed to believe, yet the Exodus account shows Israel was freed from death looming over the male children and freed from slavery after they believed and applied the Passover blood of the lamb.
This order is supported by Romans 6:17-18 where sinners obey the gospel doctrine by faith and are then freed.
There is no support from types of Christ or His teachings, nor any doctrinal teachings. It is a false teaching.
Clifford Alloway says
Meant taught and not thought above.
regeneration before faith is one of the most ridiculous UNSCRIPTURAL heresies I have ever heard.
It has nothing to do with the gospel, what it means to be born again, or have any credence to biblical theology.