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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. Last week we showed that justification is a legal declaration of God. As the apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 2:16, we “know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.”[1] At the end of our session last week Dr. Spencer, you noted that the Roman Catholic view of justification is called analytic justification and the reformed, or biblical, view is called synthetic justification. How would you like to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: I first want to remind our listeners that how we are justified is not some unimportant, esoteric discussion about a trivial technical point of doctrine. We are dealing with the central question for all men and women; namely, “How can a sinner be justified, or declared righteous, in the sight of a holy and just God?” Justification is the heart of the issue and the differences here are critically important. If you are wrong in your understanding of justification, it may well be that when you stand before God to be judged, you will hear those terrible words, “Depart from me!” And that would mean eternal destruction. Our whole reason for doing these podcasts is to lead people to Christ and to strengthen the church. But the path to salvation is narrow.

Marc Roby: Near the end of his famous Sermon on the Mount, we read in Matthew 7:13-14 that Jesus himself admonished us to, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

Dr. Spencer: Those verses are very important. I don’t know anyone who enjoys conflict – well, maybe some lawyers I know – but, seriously most people don’t like conflict. We would like to be able to say it doesn’t matter what someone believes, just so long as he is sincere and a nice person, he will go to heaven. But that is not the truth. And, in fact, if we think about it for a few minutes, we wouldn’t really want that to be true. It would require that God change his just character, and his character is perfect, so we should never want that. The bottom line is that there is one and only one way to heaven. Calling yourself a Christian and even faithfully attending a church, no matter what denomination, will not save you. So, there is nothing more important than understanding what God says about how we can be justified.

Marc Roby: Very well. Getting back then to this issue of analytic and synthetic justification, what do you want to say about these different views?

Dr. Spencer: We should begin by briefly reminding our listeners of what these terms mean. The terms analytic and synthetic come from philosophy. An analytic statement is true by definition; in other words, it is a tautology. So, for example, the statement “All bachelors are unmarried” is an analytic statement. The subject, bachelor, contains within it the information contained in the predicate, “unmarried”, so the sentence tells us nothing we don’t already know from just the subject. Synthetic statements however, can be either true or false. If I tell you that my car is blue, that statement may be true or false because the predicate, “blue”, adds information to the subject, “car”. [2]

Marc Roby: And how does all of this apply to justification?

Dr. Spencer: Well, in the Roman Catholic view, no one is declared just in God’s sight until that person actually is just. You could say that God analyzes you and determines that you are, in fact, just, or righteous, and so he declares that to be so. His declaration doesn’t change anything; you were just and he simply recognized that fact. That is analytic justification.

Marc Roby: In other words, God justifies the just.

Dr. Spencer: Yes. But that is unbiblical. In Romans 3:23-24 we read that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Which tells us that God justifies sinners, not righteous people.

Marc Roby: And there are no righteous people as Paul noted; all have sinned. Every single human being outside of Christ is a sinner.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And in Romans 4:5 we read that “to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.” Which is even more explicit. God “justifies the wicked”.

Marc Roby: That verse ended by saying why God justifies the wicked; it said that “his faith is credited as righteousness.”

Dr. Spencer: And that is the point we were making last time, but using different words. This justification is synthetic. It is not based on analyzing the person and determining that he is, in fact, righteous, it is based on imputing to him a righteousness that is not his own, what has been called an alien righteousness.[3] As it says in Romans 3:21-22, “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.”

Marc Roby: In these verses Paul wrote that this righteousness “comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” And in the previous verse we looked at he wrote that God justified the wicked because “his faith is credited as righteousness.” These two expressions are obviously speaking about the same thing.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, they are. They are both speaking about being united to Christ by faith and the double imputation that results from that union as we noted last week. Paul’s main point in Romans Chapter Four is to show that Abraham, the father of the Jews, was justified by faith and not by works. The Jews at that time thought that “Abraham was perfect in his deeds with the Lord and well pleasing and in righteousness all the days of his life”[4], so Paul was arguing against this view. He quoted Genesis 15:6, which says that “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” And he then argued, in Romans 4:4-5, “Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.”

Marc Roby: That’s a strong statement. If Abraham earned his justification, then God would have been obligated to justify him and would not have said in Genesis 15:6 that his faith was credited to him as righteousness.

Dr. Spencer: In fact, given that the argument is part of God’s infallible word, it isn’t just a strong argument, it is definitive. You quoted Galatians 2:16 in your opening statement today and it says, in part, that “by observing the law no one will be justified.” The Bible is clear that no one outside of Jesus Christ has ever lived a sinless life, and no one ever will. But a sinless life is necessary to be perfect in righteousness. It is only the perfect imputed righteousness of Christ that can save; and that can only be ours if we are united to him by faith. It is an alien righteousness. Our justification is synthetic, not analytic. We are united to Christ by faith and it is on the basis of his perfect righteousness that we are justified.

The free book that we offer to all listeners of the podcast, Good News for All People, is, in essence, an exposition of the passage we have been considering from Romans Chapter Three and I strongly recommend it for those who want to consider this topic in more depth.

Marc Roby: And our listeners can obtain a free copy of that book by going to our website, whatdoesthewordsay.org, and clicking on the button to request a copy. Are we done talking about the difference between synthetic and analytic justification?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we are. But I also want to point out that it is possible and, in fact, quite common, to fall into the other ditch as well.

Marc Roby: What do you mean?

Dr. Spencer: Well, we noted earlier that the path to heaven is narrow, and we could add that there are ditches on both sides. On the one side you can error like the Roman Catholic Church does and think that you can earn your salvation in some way, but it is also very common to believe that your own righteousness doesn’t matter at all. That view is frequently called antinomianism, which simply means to be against the law.

Marc Roby: And I would say that although they may not admit to being antinomian, that view is the most common view among Protestant churches today.

Dr. Spencer: I think that’s obviously true. The minute you say anything about good works being necessary, most professing protestants today will accuse you of being legalistic. In other words, they will accuse you of rejecting the idea that we are saved by grace alone. They will say that you are adding your own good works to the requirements for salvation. But that view is completely wrong.

Marc Roby: Well, for one thing, we aren’t saying that your works are the basis for your salvation. As you said a moment ago, we are justified on the basis of Christ’s perfect righteousness.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s right. They ignore the difference between salvation and justification. Although these two terms are sometimes used as though they were synonymous, salvation is a more general term that refers to the whole process of being saved, beginning with God’s electing love in eternity past and culminating in our receiving our glorified bodies and living with God in perfect happiness for all eternity future. Whereas justification only refers to God’s legal declaration that we are justified in his sight. We would say that our own good works are necessary for salvation, but not for justification; although even our “good works” are only done and accepted by grace as we will discuss in a later podcast. Justification is by grace alone through faith alone; period. Nothing is added to the requirements for justification.

Marc Roby: How then would you explain, I’m tempted to say justify, the statement that our good works are necessary for salvation?

Dr. Spencer: Well, they are necessary proof that we have truly been justified. We have argued that justification is a legal declaration, it does not refer to a process of actually making us just. We are sinners before we are justified and we are still sinners after we are justified. But there is a huge difference nonetheless, a radical change must have taken place or we would not have truly repented and believed and God would not have justified us. We must have been born again, in other words, regenerated.

We discussed regeneration in Sessions 149 and 150 because it comes early in the order of salvation. Our listeners may remember that the order we have been using is: effectual call, regeneration, repentance and faith, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, and glorification.

Marc Roby: And no one can repent and believe unless they are born again, which is why it comes before repentance and faith in the order of salvation.

Dr. Spencer: And the converse is also true as I noted in Session 149; anyone who has been born again will, without a doubt, repent and believe. In fact, the whole order is guaranteed once God has chosen someone to be saved. We see this in the famous passage in Romans 8:29-30, where Paul tells us, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”

Marc Roby: And when Paul says God “foreknew” certain people, that really means that he has fore-loved them. He knows every single person and everything about every person, so to say that he foreknew someone would not limit the group of people in any way.

Dr. Spencer: And that emphasizes yet again that the source of our salvation is the love of God. But, to stay on topic, every element in the order of salvation is certain to occur in the life of every single individual whom God fore-loved and predestined to be saved. That process begins in the life of a believer with the effectual call and regeneration, which then necessarily result in repentance and faith and also in sanctification in the life of every true believer. God justifies us based on our faith, which unites us to Christ. But we would never have truly believed if we had not been born again first. And the instant we are born again we are radically changed; new birth is the beginning of the process of sanctification.

Marc Roby: And hence, good works are essential proof that this process is truly underway.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. We are justified by grace alone through faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone. And that forms a good segue into discussing the third side of the triangle of salvation.[5]

Marc Roby: Now we haven’t spoken about the triangle of salvation yet today, so perhaps I should briefly remind our listeners of what that is. This triangle shows the relations between God the Father, Jesus Christ and an individual believer. God the Father is at the top, Jesus Christ on the bottom left and the believer on the bottom right. The left side, connecting Christ and the Father, represents the fact that Christ propitiates or appeases the wrath of God for us, and the right side, connecting the Father to the believer, represents the fact that the Father then declares us just, or legally righteous, based on the work of Jesus Christ. We have already spoken about both of these. The bottom side, connecting Christ to the believer, represents the fact that Jesus Christ redeems us.

Dr. Spencer: And we pointed out in Session 176 that redemption refers to paying a ransom to free a prisoner or a slave. As James Boice wrote, “The Greek word at the base of the major word group meaning ‘redeem,’ ‘redeemer’ and ‘redemption’ is luō, which means ‘to loose’ or ‘loosen.’ It was used of loosening clothes or unbinding armor. When applied to human beings, it signified the loosing of bonds so that, for example, a prisoner became free. At times it was used of procuring the release of a prisoner by means of a ransom.”[6]

Marc Roby: I know that some theologians have objected to the idea of a ransom being paid for our salvation.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true, and Boice deals with that objection. He has a rather lengthy, and very good, discussion of this, which I encourage interested listeners to read.[7] But I’m going to skip most of it and simply point out the most important conclusion.

Marc Roby: And what is that?

Dr. Spencer: The biblical view of man is that he was created sinless. Adam and Eve enjoyed perfect communion with God in the garden prior to the fall. But when they sinned, which we must remember was deliberate rebellion against God in response to the devil’s lie that they could become like God … In any event, when they sinned, their natures were changed. God had told Adam, as we read in Genesis 2:17, that “you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” And that is what happened. Death is not the cessation of existence. As we have discussed before[8], the biblical idea of death is separation. And Adam and Eve were immediately separated from intimate fellowship with God. In addition, they immediately started the process of physically dying, which leads to the separation of the body and spirit[9]. And that is the state we all inherit from them. We are sinful creatures bound to physically die and then face judgment.

Marc Roby: We are in the estate of sin and misery as the Westminster Shorter Catechism phrases it.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. In any event, the Bible describes this state of sin as slavery. In John 8:34 we read that Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” And in Romans 7:14 Paul refers to himself in his unregenerate state as having been “sold as a slave to sin.” But when we are born again, we are freed from slavery to sin. We are also freed from being under the dominion of Satan, who is called the ruler of the kingdom of the air in Ephesians 2:2, and we are freed from the sting of death as Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:55-56.

Marc Roby: That makes me think of the glorious symbolism in the sacrament of baptism. We are said to have died with Christ and to have been buried with him, which refers to being done with our old way of life. But then, praise God, we have also been raised to new life with him.

Dr. Spencer: And that symbolism expressly uses the idea of being a slave to sin, especially as it relates to the ethical change that takes place in us and the concomitant release we experience from the power and dominion of sin. Romans Chapter Six speaks about the change that takes place when a sinner is born again and baptized. At the end of Chapter Five Paul argued that the law was never intended to save anyone. Rather, the law actually increased our sin and guilt. Because of our sinful nature, when we are told not to do something, that is the first thing we want to do. But then Paul declared, in Romans 5:20 that “where sin increased, grace increased all the more”. His point was that our greater sin leads to God displaying even greater grace in saving us. But this can be misunderstood, just like modern antinomians misunderstand our being saved by grace. And so Paul answers them in Romans Chapter Six.

Marc Roby: Let me read the first seven verses of that chapter: Paul wrote, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.”

Dr. Spencer: That wonderful passage speaks about our union with Christ, it speaks about our old self and that we should no longer be slaves to sin, and it speaks about our having been freed from this slavery. And in our next session, I want to begin with this passage and speak about Christ as our Redeemer.

Marc Roby: That’s a wonderful topic to look forward to. So, let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We enjoy hearing from you.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] John Frame, The History of Western Philosophy and Theology, P&R Publishing, 2015, pg. 187

[3] R.C. Sproul, Faith Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification, Baker Books, 1995, pg. 107

[4] Book of Jubilees, translated from the Ethiopic, by George H. Schodde, E.J. Goodrich, 1888, pg. 69, (available at: http://matrixfiles.com/JerryKirk/Book-of-Jubilees-from-the-Ethiophic.pdf) also see Mathew, Romans: The Gospel Freedom (Volume 1), Grace and Glory Ministries, 2011, pg. 182

[5] James Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised in One Volume, InterVarsity Press, 1986, pg. 323

[6] pg. 323 (note: his book prints the Greek word as lyō, which is a printing error, so I’ve corrected it to luō.)

[7] Ibid, pp 324-330

[8] See Session 102 pages 1 through 3

[9] See Session 104 pages 2 and 3.

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by beginning to look at the proper way to interpret the Bible. Dr. Spencer, let me start by asking you a question that I suspect a number of our listeners may have. I know how to read and can think for myself, so why do I need any rules to help me understand the Bible?

Dr. Spencer: I think the answer to that question has two parts. First and foremost, because of the supreme importance of the topic, we want to be extremely careful to be sure that we understand the Bible correctly. The possible consequences for not correctly interpreting a newspaper article, or even something far more important like a medical textbook, cannot be compared with the eternal consequences of misinterpreting the Bible.

Marc Roby: But some people will point out that we are saved by faith in the person of Jesus Christ, and a true Christian has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, so my salvation is not based on my being a great theologian, it is based on my relationship to the person of Christ.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. But, you must have a relationship with the true Jesus Christ. In 2 Corinthians 11:3-4 the apostle Paul expressed his deep concern for the church in Corinth. He wrote, “I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.”[1]

This warning highlights a very important point. We know Jesus only because someone came and preached to us, whether it was spoken or in writing makes no difference. The essential point is that we learn about Jesus Christ and salvation from the Bible, either directly, or indirectly. But, there are many distortions out there, what Paul calls “a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached.” All you have to do is look at all of the competing claims of people who call themselves Christians to know that is true.

Marc Roby: I don’t think anyone can dispute that there are a lot of differing views about Jesus and what he taught. And our understanding of what the Bible teaches has eternal consequences, in 2 Peter 3:16 we read that people distort the Scriptures to their own destruction.

Dr. Spencer: And that is precisely the reason we need to be very careful in this area. Not only is what we believe of supreme importance because our eternal salvation at stake – that was the first part of the answer to your initial question, but we also have a large number of different ideas being presented to us and we need to be sure that we can correctly ferret out which ones are right and which ones are wrong. So, the second part of the answer is that we need a methodical and thoughtful way to deal with what can be a complex and controversial topic.

Marc Roby: I think that answers the question. And, perhaps it would be good at this point to mention that the science of properly interpreting the Bible is called hermeneutics.

Dr. Spencer: And when we put the principles of hermeneutics into practice to do our best to determine what a particular verse or passage means, we are doing what is called exegesis, which means to draw the meaning out of the passage. This can be contrasted with eisegesis, which means to put meaning into the passage, which is an all-too-common practice that any true Christian should work very hard to avoid.

Marc Roby: Alright. So, how should we approach Bible study?

Dr. Spencer: First of all, we must study the Bible believing it to be God’s infallible Word, which is why we spent time establishing that point in past few sessions. If the bible isn’t God’s infallible Word, then we are without a sure guide and are left up to our own subjective ideas of what to believe and how to live a life pleasing to God.

Marc Roby: And, as we have noted a number of times, we must be born again in order to having real saving faith in Jesus Christ and to believe in the infallibility of God’s Word.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. We’ve quoted 1 Corinthians 2:14 before, which tells us that “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

So, that is the first thing we must do to properly approach Bible study. Secondly, we must study the Bible with prayer and diligence. In Luke 11:13 Jesus promised us that our “Father in heaven [will] give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” So, we must come to God in prayer and ask for the Holy Spirit to guide us as we study his Word. And we must note that we are talking about study of the Bible, not casual reading. God has made it abundantly clear in many places in his word that he will not reward those who seek him half-heartedly or according to their own ideas. In fact, he hates their so-called worship.

Marc Roby: Now, that last statement goes against much of what the modern church teaches about God. He is pictured as a loving and patient father who doesn’t hate anything or anyone.

Dr. Spencer: That is a common picture of God, but it is one that is easily shown to be false if you simply look in his word; in other words, if you properly exegete the Word of God. This is a good example of why we need the science of hermeneutics!

For example, let’s look at the prophet Amos. He lived in the 8th century before Christ when the Jewish people were divided into two kingdoms, one in the north – usually called Israel – and one in the south – usually called Judah. This was a time of relative peace and prosperity, much like our own time in this country. And yet, God sent Amos to the northern kingdom to deliver a message of doom to the people. In Amos 5:21-23 we read that God said, “I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.”

Marc Roby: Those are pretty harsh words.

Dr. Spencer: Yes they are. And notice that the people were having religious feasts and assemblies, they were bringing burnt offerings, grain offerings and fellowship offerings as the law required, and they were singing – presumably songs of praise to God. But, they were not doing what was right. Religious activities are not all acceptable to God, they must be done with a clean heart and according to his Word.

I could mention many other passages, but I’ll refrain for now. The point is that this idea of God being like a cosmic grandfather who never gets angry with anyone and doesn’t hate anything or anyone simply cannot stand up to a careful study of his Word.

Marc Roby: Alright. So, we need to believe the Bible to be the infallible Word of God and we need to study it diligently, with prayer. What else do we need to do?

Dr. Spencer: We need to learn how to understand the Word properly, in other words, we need proper hermeneutical principles, which is what we are getting ready to study.

Marc Roby: From where do we get these rules for proper interpretation?

Dr. Spencer: In large measure we get them from the Bible itself, and the ones we don’t get from the Bible itself are part and parcel of normal human communication, which is a gift given to us by our creator God. So, all of them come from God in a sense. Let me explain this as we look at the rules.

Marc Roby: Please do.

Dr. Spencer: The first and most important rule of proper interpretation, or hermeneutics, is sometimes called the analogy of faith, although I don’t find that phrase particularly descriptive. The idea is that Scripture should always be used to interpret Scripture.

Marc Roby: I’m not convinced that statement is completely clear either.

Dr. Spencer: I suppose you’re right, it isn’t clear by itself. It needs to be explained. The idea is a direct result of the fact that the Bible comprises the very words of God. The Bible clearly teaches in Deuteronomy 32:4, Matthew 5:48 and elsewhere that God is perfect and therefore his words are perfect, which is also stated explicitly in Psalms 18:30 and 19:7. It also tells us that God cannot lie, which is stated in Titus 1:2 and Hebrews 6:18. So, given all of those facts, it must be true that God’s words will be completely consistent and truthful. As a result, the Bible cannot contradict itself. If we find one part of the Bible somewhat difficult to understand, we should look to see if the same idea is expressed more clearly or completely somewhere else. So, we use one part of Scripture to help us interpret another part of Scripture. This rule is a necessary consequence of the Bible’s own teaching about the perfection of God and his Word.

Marc Roby: Paul also implicitly used this rule when he defended his teachings to King Agrippa and Festus. In Acts 26:22-23 Paul said, “I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen—that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s a good point – he is claiming that his own teaching has authority because it is consistent with the Old Testament teaching.

Marc Roby: Can you give us an example of how this rule works in practice?

Dr. Spencer: Certainly. Let me take a passage that is very often misused in the modern church. In Matthew 7:1 Jesus Christ said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” Now, in the Greek, this is in the imperative mood, which means it is a command, “Do not judge”. I’ve had people quote this to me and then say that it means that we should never judge anyone under any circumstances whatsoever.

Marc Roby: I’ve heard people interpret the verse that way as well.

Dr. Spencer: But, the idea of using the Scripture to interpret Scripture means that you can’t take one verse out of context and use it to justify some doctrine. If you look in the rest of Scripture, you find that such an understanding of that verse cannot possibly be correct. For example, in 1 Corinthians Chapter 5 the apostle Paul is chastising the Corinthian church for allowing a man who was committing sexual immorality to remain in their fellowship and he writes, in Verse 12, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?” This is a rhetorical question and the expected answer is “Yes, we are to judge those inside the church” as becomes completely obvious in the next verse where Paul commands them to “Expel the wicked man from among you.” Now, if Matthew 7:1 really meant that we should never judge anyone, Paul’s command to the Corinthian church would be wrong. But given that all of Scripture is the infallible Word of God we must seek to understand Matthew 7:1 in the light of other Scriptures that also speak of judging. When we do that, we find that it cannot be a blanket prohibition against judging others.

Marc Roby: I find it interesting that Jesus actually gives an implicit command for us to judge others later on in Matthew 7. In Verses 15-16 he says, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.” In other words, we are to judge those who claim to bring God’s word to us and we are to determine which of them are false prophets.

Dr. Spencer: That is a great point. I don’t want to get off track and dive into the topic of judging in any depth right now, but suffice it to say that when you consider what all of Scripture says on the topic you find out that what is condemned is not judging in general, but hypocritical judging of others, or judging on disputable matters, or based on human standards rather than God’s standard.

Marc Roby: That makes good sense.

Dr. Spencer: I think that James Boice gives a good alternate way of describing this same principle of interpretation. Rather than saying let Scripture interpret Scripture, he breaks the principle down into two principles: unity and noncontradiction. He writes that “Taken together [these principles] mean that … (1) the parts of the [Bible] must go together to tell one story, and (2) if two parts seem to be in opposition or in contradiction to each other, our interpretation of one or both of these parts must be in error.”[2]

Marc Roby: That is a good alternate wording of the principle. I can think of another example where this principle comes into play as well. Paul writes in Romans 3:28 that “a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.” And we read in James 2:24, “that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.” Now, if someone is just out looking for contradictions, they might think that they have found one in these two verses.

Dr. Spencer: As you know, these verses were debated at the time of the reformation since the cry of the reformation is that we are saved by faith alone. The Roman Catholic church pointed to this verse in James to refute that idea. But, interpreting Scripture by Scripture will not allow us to pit one verse of Scripture against another, which is Boice’s principle of noncontradiction. Because God is the author, we must seek an understanding that removes the apparent contradiction.

In this particular example, it isn’t really that hard. Paul and James are using the word “justify” in two different senses. Paul is using it in the forensic sense, meaning to be declared just, or righteous, in God’s sight. Such justification is by faith alone. James, on the other hand, is using the word in the sense of proving something. So, by saying someone is justified by what he does, he means that what he does proves his faith to be genuine.

Marc Roby: Which is easily seen when you look at all of James Chapter 2.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. When you look at the chapter as a whole, you see what kind of faith he is talking about. He is arguing against the idea that a person can have true faith without any good deeds. James argues that such faith isn’t true faith at all. In fact, in Verse 17 he writes that “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead”. So, when he says that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone, he means that the reality of his faith is proven by what he does. He is also using the word “faith” in a different sense than Paul did. A person may have a mental-assent faith, but if he has no works, he does not have true saving faith, which is trust in Jesus Christ for salvation, and that is the faith that Paul is speaking about in Romans 3:28. When we look at this more carefully, we see that Paul and James are in complete agreement.

Marc Roby: Alright. So we have our first principle of proper biblical interpretation. It can be called the analogy of faith, or we can say to let Scripture interpret Scripture, or we can say the Bible is a unity and cannot contradict itself. This also agrees with the Westminster Confession of Faith. In Chapter 1, Paragraph 9, the confessions says, “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s a very good summary.

Marc Roby: What other principles do we have?

Dr. Spencer: The second principle is that we should interpret the Bible literally. But, that needs some more explanation. The word literal is usually taken mean that something adheres to the primary meaning of the individual words. So, for example, if I were to say to you that it’s raining cats and dogs, that could not be literally true in the common sense of the word literal. What is historically meant by this term in biblical studies however, is that we should interpret the Bible as literature. In other words, we take the ordinary meaning of an expression. In that sense, you would interpret my statement that it’s raining cats and dogs to literally mean that it was raining very hard. The literal sense was stressed by Martin Luther and other reformers in contrast with the standard four-fold procedure in use at the time, called the quadriga.[3]

Marc Roby: How did that procedure work?

Dr. Spencer: The idea of the quadriga is that a verse may have four different meanings: the literal – in the same sense Luther used that term, the moral, the allegorical and the spiritual. In other words, every verse has a normal literal meaning, then it may also have a moral meaning that said something about how we are to behave, an allegorical meaning that revealed something about what we are to believe, and a spiritual meaning that said something about our future hope.

Marc Roby: And, that ladies and gentlemen, could lead to quite a mess.

Dr. Spencer: It certainly can and did. The Puritan theologian William Perkins wrote to criticize the results of using the quadriga to interpret Genesis 14:18-19, where we read that “Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram”. Our listeners need to remember that God later changed Abram’s name to Abraham. In any event, Perkins wrote the following: “The literal sense is, that the King of Salem with meat which he brought, refreshed the soldiers of Abraham being tired with travel. The allegorical is, that the Priest [does] offer up Christ in [the] mass. The [moral] is, therefore something is to be given to the poor. The [spiritual] is, that Christ in like manner being in heaven, shall be the bread of life to the faithful.”[4] (language modernized and terms made consistent with our treatment)

Marc Roby: That is a lot to supposedly draw from just that verse. I can see that there is a lot more to say about what is properly meant by interpreting the Bible literally, but we are out of time for today and will need to continue this discussion next time. I’d like to remind our listeners that we encourage them to email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] James Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised in One Volume, InterVarsity Press, 1986, pg. 91

[3] A. Berkeley Mickelsen, Interpreting the Bible, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974, pp 38-39, also R.C. Sproul, Knowing Scripture, 2nd Ed, InterVarsity Press, 2009, pg. 60

[4] Joel R. Beeke & Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life, Reformation Heritage Books, 2012, pg. 33

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