For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
What did Paul mean by “man’s gospel”? He did not mean a false gospel, or a corrupt gospel, or something fleshly and worldly. He meant to differentiate the way that he became a believer from the way that people ordinarily became believers in that day, and he wanted to differentiate between his gospel message and the one the other believers ordinarily proclaimed in his day.
-D. Thomas Lancaster
“Sermon Three: Paul’s Gospel (Galatians 1:11-24)” pg 33
The Holy Epistle to the Galatians
I’m depressed. I’m hitting walls I didn’t know were there, probably because I don’t have much of a formal education in theology or Bible studies.
But let’s go back to the beginning.
Last night was my scheduled Wednesday night conversation with Pastor Randy. I arrived at his office as he was finishing his dinner salad for our discussion on Chapter Three of Lancaster’s book. We ended up talking about topics that didn’t directly relate but were nonetheless interesting (Revelation and the rapture, and the age of the universe, but those are topics for a different time).
As I said in my previous blog post, we’ve been searching for some common ground on the definition of “Torah,” and that does figure heavily into last night’s conversation and this missive.
We focused on Paul’s “my gospel.” Pastor Randy and I agreed that Paul literally wasn’t preaching a separate gospel from the one taught by the other apostles or the one that we have with us today. The differentiation, as we both understood it, was how Paul received the gospel vs. just about everybody else. Paul didn’t take lessons from James and Peter, he received his information, at least initially, directly from Jesus through supernatural means.
“As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’ Now those who were with me saw the light but did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me. And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.’ And since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus.
“When I had returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance and saw him saying to me, ‘Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’ And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves know that in one synagogue after another I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you. And when the blood of Stephen your witness was being shed, I myself was standing by and approving and watching over the garments of those who killed him.’ And he said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’”
–Acts 22:6-11, 17-21
According to Lancaster (pg 36), the difference between man’s gospel and Paul’s gospel is that Paul’s gospel teaches:
- Gentiles can inherit eternal life.
- Gentiles can become part of the Kingdom of Heaven.
- Gentiles can experience resurrection from the dead.
- Gentiles have standing among the people of God (i.e., Israel) without becoming Jewish.
It certainly seems to me that Paul “pioneered” the idea that Gentiles could become full covenant members of “the Way” without having to convert to Judaism, but did Paul write his letter before or after Peter’s encounter with Cornelius in Acts 10? Assuming it was after, did Paul know about that encounter? And how do we know that Jesus gave Paul specific instructions relative to the Gentiles that no one else had, particularly by the time he was writing his Galatians letter?
I’m not saying it’s impossible, but Paul still had to come under the authority of the Jerusalem Council, so he couldn’t “shoot from the hip” as far as his ministry to the Gentiles was concerned. The whole point of Acts 15 was putting the status of Gentiles in the Way to the test to determine if they had to convert to Judaism or not. Even if Paul’s authority came directly from Messiah, he still had to respond to James and the Council of Apostles as the Master’s primary representatives in our world.
But that’s not what worries me.
Pastor and I got around to talking about what Jesus did for the Jewish believers (what he did for the rest of us should be obvious…but apparently it isn’t). I said that he fulfilled the Messianic promises and gave hope for redemption, not only for individual Jews but for the redemption of national Israel. So what did the Jews do for salvation before Jesus? Did the sacrifices in the Temple and earlier, in the Tabernacle save?
No, of course not. Faith is what saves. That goes all the way back to Abraham. It wasn’t the sacrifices as such, but due to their faith, the Jews were saved and they fulfilled the requirement of the sacrifices out of obedience. It’s always been about faith in God, otherwise millions upon millions of Jews who had lived before the birth of Christ would have been set up for failure.
Pastor Randy agreed.
And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.
I added the emphasis above to make a point.
I’ve probably heard of the Christian Doctrine of Election before, but never in any real detail. According to Paul (Ephesians 2:8), “for by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” OK, I get that. There’s nothing I can do to earn salvation. No matter how many good deeds I commit, that doesn’t add any “bonus points” to my “salvation score.” Only by the grace of God am I saved.
But what’s my part in the deal? It’s not like I just sit around watching television and God comes over and randomly “zaps” me with salvation. Don’t I do something? Well, Paul did say, “saved through faith.” That is, I have to choose to have faith in God through Christ in order to be saved.
But Pastor Randy asked if even the act of choosing to have faith a “work.” That seemed kind of a stretch to me. In order to be a part of anything, it really helps if you contribute something, even just a tiny bit, so as to have a sense of “ownership” in the process, including salvation.
Long discussion short, Pastor Randy says that God preselects individuals to have faith. Thanks to Adam and Eve, we are all born into a state of sin as our basic nature. We can’t help it. We have no say in the matter. But here’s the kicker. Supposedly, we also have no say in the matter in regard to being saved. By nature, we all would reject Christ if given a choice, because of that nature. Only God implants faith in a human being and only those human beings who God has “programmed” to be capable of faith will ever be saved.
The rest of humanity, not so much. Fires of hell for them, no matter how many times they hear the words of the gospel.
One of my favorite sections of the Bible is the sequence that describes Jacob wrestling with the Angel. From a Jewish point of view, this gives human beings a broad license to “wrestle” with God on ethical and moral issues. We can actually debate God if we think He’s advocating for a position that is unfair or unjust. After all, Abraham did it in the matter of Sodom and Gomorrah. God doesn’t seem to mind.
But am I wrestling with God or with a specific Christian doctrine? I’m definitely wrestling with Pastor Randy. It was one of those times when I was acutely aware that his education in religious matters far, far outstripped my own, and I was absolutely fighting under my weight. It was like I was Justin Bieber trying to go a couple of rounds in the boxing ring with Mike Tyson.
I was going to get slaughtered.
Saying, “Hey, that’s unfair” or “That’s not right” doesn’t cut it if I can’t support my position from the Bible. God doesn’t have to be fair. He told Job that after all the arguing had stopped. He who makes the universe makes the rules. Fairness doesn’t come into play.
But in the aforementioned debate between Abraham and God, Abraham invoked God’s attribute of justice. If God is just, can He perform an unjust act?
If God is just, is it right for him to automatically condemn some and probably most of the entire human race across all of history to eternal damnation and horrible, flaming agony, while preserving only a remnant…and absolutely none of those human beings have a choice in the matter?
Think about it. It’s all Adam’s and Eve’s fault. They are the only ones who ever had a choice. According to “Divine Election,” if you’re saved, it wasn’t your choice, you just got lucky. If you’re not saved, same deal. You just have really crummy luck.
This is why atheists say Christians are crazy and even cruel. I mean, it’s one thing if Jesus offers me the free gift of eternal salvation and I throw it back in his face. Then I can see how I’d deserve condemnation. But to never even have a shot at it?
Pastor Randy, at one point, shared how incredibly grateful he is to God for choosing him for salvation. That’s good for him and maybe good for me, but what about the poor, dumb, characters out there who are among the unchosen and don’t even realize what they’re facing…and if they did, there is absolutely nothing they can do about it. No amount of repenting of sins, turning to God, professing faith in Christ will save them.
Of course, according to Pastor Randy, they wouldn’t desire to do any of that anyway, but no one is born with that desire if we are all born in original sin. What’s the difference between Pastor Randy, who came to faith early in life, and me who came to faith after the age of forty? Was my program from God somehow slightly defective that it waited so long to start to run? I’d heard about Jesus for decades before I came to faith. How come my program didn’t kick in before it did?
However, there are other perspectives. According to Richard Land in his article at ChristianPost.com:
First, we must understand that the Bible reveals two different kinds of election, and much confusion has resulted from failing to see this distinction. Abrahamic Election is substantially different from Salvation Election. Abrahamic Election (Gen. 12:1-3) explains how God chose the Jews to be His chosen people. Salvation Election pertains to God’s elective purpose in how He brings about the eternal salvation of individual human beings, both Jew and Gentile, in both the Old and New Testaments.
Abrahamic Election is corporate, is to special people status, and is not related to anything. Salvation Election is individual and is to eternal salvation. In God’s providence, He has chosen to reveal His dealings with His people more fully in the New Testament. In doing so, a third difference between Abrahamic (corporate) and Salvation (individual) Election is underscored. God revealed in the New Testament that Salvation Election is somehow intertwined with, and connected to foreknowledge in a significant way (Rom. 8:29-30; 11:2; I Pet. 1:2).
“There is no question here of predestination to Heaven or reprobation to hell; …. we are not told here, nor anywhere else, that before children are born it is God’s purpose to send one to heaven and one to hell….The passage has entirely to do with privilege here on earth.” (Ironside, Lectures on the Epistle to the Romans, p. 116)
What if the Bible is telling us in the concept of “foreknowledge” that God does not just know all things that have, or ever will happen, as if they were the present moment to Him, but that He has, and always has had, the “experience” of all things, events, and people as a punctiliar present moment?
That makes a bit more sense and satisfies my personal value of justice. We all have free choice and can choose to accept or reject Jesus. God just knows what choice we’ll make because, while history and our lives seem like a movie that he have to live through frame-by-frame, God sees everything all at once, as if it were a snapshot.
I doubt that’ll satisfy Pastor Randy, and he admits agonizing over this issue before coming to a final decision, but if I have to err, I’d prefer to err on the side of mercy and compassion.
Because if Pastor Randy is right, how does anyone know if he’s really saved?
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
Obviously, not everyone who thinks they’re saved is really saved. Mistakes will be made and errors encountered. What if someone who isn’t supposed to be saved becomes convinced and believes they have faith in Jesus. Maybe they really don’t, but they think they do. It’s not like they’ve made an internal error in thinking, they just aren’t “programmed” to be saved. It’s impossible, from a Divine Election point of view, for that person to be saved.
So on the last day, they find out, “Oops, I’m condemned” and appeal to Jesus and he blows them off, just like that.
Not that it was the person’s fault because they had no choice in the matter!
You can see why I’m depressed and a little disgusted. I think I can remain a Christian and still not have to marry the “Divine Election” theory because if that were the only option, my faith would hang in the balance.
In my last blog, I said:
No human being is a perfectly neutral, objective observer. We all tend to read the Bible, even in its original languages, in terms of what we already “know” about it; that is, what we already believe is says. We translate the ancient Greek and Hebrew text in a manner usually consistent with those beliefs and that means we generally never surprise ourselves with the outcome.
The Bible is the Bible, but doctrine is man-made. The fact that there’s more than one way to interpret how people get saved means there’s more than one way to view the Bible, and thus, God. Right now, I’m a little too upset to go into cold, dispassionate research on this matter, weighing the pros and cons. Right now, if God really is programming us like little widgets, deliberately condemning people to eternal damnation for no better reason than they were just born as human beings in a fallen world, then I am up for a good old fashion wrestling match with God.
I’ll probably lose…but so have billions of other human beings out there. They never had a chance.
18 thoughts on “Lancaster’s Galatians: Sermon Three, Paul’s Gospel, and the Unfair Election”
Thank goodness that isn’t the only viable option, how terrible indeed…
Of course, that’s natural to happen if one’s view of the World to come is ultimately based on the idea that Yeshua came to save us from Damnation/Hell, to grant us Eternal Life/Heaven.
However, if one believes that Yeshua came to save us from sin itself (rather than damnation), and therefore death itself, giving us life in the Messianic Kingdom (a physical reality), saving us from literal death in Gehenna, then this so called “problem” is pretty much brushed aside, a theological error.
I for one, take the stance that G-d will save all men, through the life of Yeshua, each in their own time.
I am so, so sorry. It’s truly very frustrating.
Thanks. I’ll feel better by tomorrow…I think.
Does not Scripture teach that one’s final salvation depends on the state of the soul at death? As Yeshua himself tells us, “He who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt. 24:13; cf. 25:31–46). One who dies in the state of friendship with God (the state of grace) will go to heaven. The one who dies in a state of enmity and rebellion against God (the state of sin) will go to hell.
Did not Yeshua die on the cross freely for our sins….. and has He not returned to heaven to appear before God on our behalf? Has He, Himself, not provided for our salvation? (And while that does not mean there is no process by which this is applied to us as individuals, surely, we do have assurances.) And yet, while we, like Adam and Eve, can become unreconciled with God and need to come back and be reconciled again with HIM … is that not ALWAYS an option?
That’s what I always thought, Pat. I just can’t believe that God would deliberately set up most of humanity for automatic failure as a consequence of Adam’s and Eve’s sin. On Yom Kippur, in the days of the Tabernacle and Temple, the High Priest would enter the most holy place, and offer atonement for the entire nation!
Why offer salvation for the Gentiles if only a fraction of us can “get in”?
I’m missing something about the supposed difference between Lancaster’s summary of the gospel as he believes Rav Shaul perceived it and some summary of a presumed “man’s gospel” or some other alternative to Rav Shaul’s. Now, there is a suggestion that would distinguish between the gospel entrusted to Rav Shaul for the Gentiles and the gospel entrusted to Kefa for the Jews (viz: Gal.2:7). This would envision an overlapping common core of elements between them plus elements of application that would be distinct for each group of the bi-lateral ecclessia defined by the halakhic decision presented in Acts 15. But it would be unjust to dismiss the circumcision version of gospel as a human one while only Rav Shaul’s uncircumcision version was divinely delivered from heaven. Hence the human gospel that Rav Shaul invoked in Gal.1:11-12 must refer to something else. He does, after all, refer to “another gospel” later in the letter, which he dismisses as not really a valid alternative. Dr.Mark Nanos suggests that it was a kind of good news offered by Jews of the local communities to accept and absorb these new non-idolatrous G-d-fearing non-Jews who had attached themselves to a Galilean Rabbi. They offered circumcision and acceptance, but were thus interfering with Rav Shaul’s good news that non-Jews could be acceptable to HaShem as non-Jews, without circumcision and its Torah responsibilities, and with an alternative opportunity for even greater merit as described for voluntary Torah-observant “b’nei nechar” in Is.56.
The concept of preselecting individuals to have faith or not is contrary to Rav Shaul’s observation to Timothy in 1Tim.2:4. If HaShem desires all to be saved, then He does not select only some of them. Hence understanding the term “appointed” in Acts 13:48 implies a question about how that appointment was determined. Clearly it is not arbitrary. From other passages, it seems that an exercise of trust is involved, suggesting that those who trust HaShem become “appointed” by Him to enter into the salvation/sanctification process. Avraham is the example cited by Rav Shaul for his exercise of trust in HaShem. That trust could not “earn” HaShem’s favor or induce Him to offer promises. But it opened a door that enabled Avraham and his descendants to receive the fulfillments of that promise. The choice of human response to HaShem’s ongoing initiative toward redemption becomes the basis for holding people responsible for their choices, as it demonstrates that they do have a real choice that is valued and evaluated by the Judge-Over-The-Whole-Earth. Therefore I’m afraid I shall have to declare Pastor Randy in error and send him to his room to think about it some more. [:)]
And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
This single sentence is paralleled in Romans 4:1-22; Galatians 3:6-9; Hebrews 11:8-10; Hebrews 11:17-19 (partially, in the case of the author of Hebrews) which tells me it’s pretty important. The same language was used to reference Phinehas in Psalm 106:30-31, so volitional faith appears to be the key. (Here’s a link to all the parallel verses)
Here’s the longer version from Genesis 15:
God presents what he is going to do for Abram and Abram responds with belief and faith. God’s response then is to count it to him as righteousness, which I guess in Christian language means, Abram was saved due to his faith.
As far as the two different Gospels, I understand what you (and Lancaster) are saying and it creates two largely parallel gospels, with variable conditions for Jews (Torah obligation) and Gentiles (no or lesser Torah obligation), but that still wasn’t formalized until Acts 15. As we progress through Lancaster’s book, I know Pastor Randy’s position is that Paul was trying to convince the Gentiles and the Jews that they didn’t have to circumcise their sons and come until the full yoke of the Law. Last night, he said he had no objection to Jews voluntarily observing many of the mitzvot but not as a condition of salvation. I keep trying to say that there are other obligations to God that Jewish people have that aren’t tied to salvation, but being saved is such an “end point” for Christians, that the Jewish relationship to Torah doesn’t seem comprehensible when viewed through that lens.
The “voluntary” comment reminded me of what I often tell “Messianic Gentiles” in terms of their relationship to the Torah. It was interesting hearing it said to me in a different context.
Therefore I’m afraid I shall have to declare Pastor Randy in error and send him to his room to think about it some more. [:)]
I don’t think he’ll go willingly. 😉
I don’t think a doctrine that teaches: “No amount of repenting of sins, turning to God, professing faith in Christ will save them” is at all defensible from a Biblical perspective. He says just the opposite after all.
But I do agree that those whose “eternal address” isn’t with Yeshua wouldn’t think of doing anything like those things anyway. As C S Lewis said: the gates of hell lock from the inside…
“I’d prefer to err on the side of mercy and compassion”
Thankfully, we can’t out do God on either of these counts!
Far too often, when I hear Christians talk about “salvation”, I’m reminded of a quote from the film “The Princess Bride”, in which the character Inigo Montoya tells Vizzini: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” I wish I could explain to them why salvation is not a goal, and certainly not the only goal, but is rather a process and a result of other attitudes and behaviors that are HaShem’s desires for humanity. Perhaps then they might begin to understand how Torah can contribute to the process even though it could never suffice to be the whole of it.
Such a complicated concept! This is a subject that my husband and I have been gnawing on together for quite a while, and I think it was actually pivotal in the recent departure of two families from our chavurah.
I wonder how much idiomatic speech and translation choices figure in this? I wonder what the word “elect” meant to first-century Jews?
God gave the choice to the Israelites to covenant with Him (“… I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.” Deut. 30:19–20) and I can’t for the life of me imagine why God would ask someone to choose if there is ultimately no choice? I understand I may be confusing individual and corporate salvation but why be good to someone on earth and then turn around and punish them in eternity? I’m talking about people here who believe and act faithfully.
Now I’m thinking out loud … and maybe not doing the best job of expressing myself. But I hope you understand what I’m saying.
@Ruth: To be fair, Pastor Randy says that those who aren’t part of the elect wouldn’t desire to repent anyway.
@PL: A process rather than a point event. I like that. On the other hand, we do enter into a relationship with God that is covenantal and it’s what happens from then on that’s important.
@Anne: Thanks for the quote from Deut. 30, although technically, the Israelites chose at Sinai. Or did Abram choose back at Gen. 12?
Well, every process has a starting point. And it may be hoped that a defined process will produce a planned result (certainly that is the goal). So one may treat the beginning of a reliable process as equivalent to achieving the end product. This may be why the forensic concept of salvation sometimes obscures the process of sanctification which is where the actual redemption or re-valuing or rescuing of a life or a society occurs.
Thus when one chooses life that one may live, or an entire society does so, a covenant or contract is initiated whereby the parties to it agree to follow its correspondingly stipulated process or procedures. Avram chose to trust HaShem. Part of that covenantal process included the preservation of Israel in Egypt and then removing them to establish more than merely a collection of clans and families. Their trust at Sinai ratified the ancient covenantal promise for an entire people, stipulating greater detail about how that covenant would be applied and continually rededicated (not to say renewed) throughout subsequent generations. Yirmiyahu envisioned how that covenant would be renewed in a future time to fulfill it more thoroughly. Rav Shaul envisioned how that covenant would fulfill its stipulation (as expressed to Avraham) to benefit all nations in addition to the covenanted party. The group process continues, as do the individual subprocesses, in an ongoing fulfillment of the covenant agreement.
I think we saw a demonstration back at Eden of what happens when humans choose contrarily to HaShem’s choice, though clearly they were able to do so. That process culminated in a great flood, which only Noa’h and his family survived (which involved more choices). One must infer that HaShem chose to insist that we choose, and continue to do so repeatedly, and that He responds to our choices. THAT is the “Divine Election”. That fact that an imperfect world inspires human selfishness that inhibits trusting HaShem does not imply that He prevents some from trusting Him and accepting His long-standing offer of rescue while others are rescued in spite of themselves. More likely, humans are simply unaware of how many choices they make continually, and they are unable to project the consequences of all of them. That’s why repentence and its re-examination of prior choices is pre-requisite to making better choices. Anyone who has ever tried to rescue a trapped animal has seen how its fear can inhibit any willingness to trust a would-be rescuer. Trapped humans often behave in much the same way, even if they are merely in a psychological trap such as depression. They tend to resist all psychological and emotional help, locked into their own self-perceptions and believing it to be of no use and that they are doomed. Until they can be convinced that a change for the better is possible, and agree to allow efforts to effect that change, they remain unrescuable. If they choose to allow someone to help, they can be rescued (and an entire schedule of “appointments” may be arranged to pursue it). So it is also with the salvation of a soul.
The common name for the belief is “Unconditional Election.” It should be called Arbitrary Election.
It is a terrible belief, one of the worst devised in religion. It has surged recently in popularity via the Neo-Reformed wave fueled by bloggers.
I’ve heard the term before, but it should be called “Utter Nonsense” and “Unbiblical Reflection”. We may hope the wave will pass quickly, while the sane among us remain steadfast on the Foundation Stone. So just wave bye-bye at it and let it pass, my friends.
Oh no! I’m part of a wave! 😉 @Derek
Your pastor Randy seems to be a Calvinist.
Calvinism is one of the most disturbing (and erroneous) christian theologies that I’ve come across.
I extensively addressed the issue of Calvnism on my old blog site and I found that no other topic inspired so many hostile comments:
In your article you write:
“Think about it. It’s all Adam’s and Eve’s fault. They are the only ones who ever had a choice. According to ‘Divine Election,’ “
However the Calvinist view isn’t even as “fair” as that. According to Calvin:
“God not only foresaw that Adam would fall, but also ordained that he should….I
confess it is a horrible decree; yet no one can deny but God foreknew Adam’s fall,
and therefore foreknew it, because he had ordained it so by his own decree” (Cal. Inst.,
b. 3, c. 23, sec. 7).
That’s the disturbing aspect about religion and one that I don’t think I’m going to be able to escape. Humans always have to recreate God in our own image, no matter how honest we’re trying to be. I wonder if it’s worth it?