Paul's Passing Thoughts

Making Your Choice From The Authority Smorgasbord

Posted in Authority by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on January 15, 2018

“Eventually, one central issue brought him to the doorstep of the Eastern Orthodox church. ‘The issue of authority,’ he explains. ‘I felt I was flying by the seat of my pants as a Christian. I would read Scripture and come to conclusions myself. At some point, I felt I had to submit myself to some authority outside of myself.'”

How does one decide what “religion” is the correct one?  How does one find objective truth amid the whirling maelstrom of subjectivism?  Whether it is Baptist or Catholic or Islam or in this case Eastern Orthodox, the progression of thought always begins with the assumption of mass incompetence – man’s “depravity.” If one begins with the premise that man is metaphysically unable to know truth, the conclusion is that he is therefore epistemologically disqualified from being able to make a correct ascertaining of truth.

Once you have bought into the assumption that man is not qualified to make a reasoned decision regarding truth, he MUST then relegate this decision to some authority. The irony then is that whatever “authority” is chosen is STILL a completely subjective decision. Man is still the one choosing which “authority” rules his life.

So who is ultimately to decide which “authority” is the correct one? It comes down to whichever one has the biggest stick, or which one is the most effective in its ability to use force to compel others into compliance. This is always the end result of this progression of thought: a force that must compel dictated good in the name of “God” or “allah” or “buddha” or whoever.

The thought process of the individual in the article linked below is a perfect example.

~ Andy

Theron’s Story: Why I Left Evangelicalism for Eastern Orthodoxy
https://trevinwax.wordpress.com/2006/11/08/therons-story-why-i-left-evangelicalism-for-eastern-orthodoxy/

How To Debate A Calvinist: Part 2 – By John Immel

Posted in John Immel, TANC 2017 by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on November 15, 2017

The following is part two of a five-part series.
Taken from John Immel’s second session at the 2017 Conference on Gospel Discernment and Spiritual Tyranny
~ Edited by Andy Young

Click here for part one
Click here for part three
Click here for part four
Click here for part five

 

(Click here for original session 2 video)

To have a rebuttal for the Calvinist juggernaut of destruction, you have to learn to argue the central roots of their claims. They want to argue for the right to an alternate reality, one that is not this reality as we know it and can observe for ourselves here on this earth at this time. They will use different argumentative techniques to accomplish this, top of the list being making a claim to “orthodoxy”, which is ultimately a claim to authority.

But as we saw in part one, their definition of orthodoxy has no identity, because at any given moment they can make whatever claim they want about the source of that orthodoxy.   You end up with endless “both/and” propositions, which is a violation of Aristotle’s Law of Identity.

 

The “Objective” Truth
When you call them on the fact that they are not appealing to an objective truth the conversation goes something like this – In my comments to Paul Dohse on Paul’s Passing Thoughts in regard to GraceWriterRandy I made the following observations:

“No matter how often you peg Randy into a Calvinist corner he will waive the magic wand of his whim and side step the issue because HE doesn’t believe that. He is not intellectually accountable to any objective standard. No matter how many scriptures you stack in service to illustrating progressive justification he will never concede. No matter how many times you quote Calvin, or Luther or any of the Neo Cal luminaries to illustrate the doctrinal error endemic to the protestant house of cards he will pretend they are some fringe inconsequential distributors of non essential doctrines.”
(source: https://paulspassingthoughts.com/2017/04/28/the-protestant-house-of-cards/comment-page-3/#comments)

To suggest that one is not intellectually accountable to any objective standard are fighting words to Calvinists! When you begin challenging the Calvinist infrastructure of authority that’s when they start to get fussy. But it is very important you understand the intellectual “sleight-of-hand” they will use to attempt to fool you.

After making the above comment on the blog, this was Randy’s response:

“John
A. I am intellectually accountable to one objective standard and one objective standard alone.
B. That standard is the Word of God interpreted according to widely accepted principles of interpretation.
C. It is that standard I intend to rely on.”

Let us dissect part A. My challenge is that Randy is not intellectually accountable to an objective standard. Randy’s rebuttal – he is accountable to the “objective” Word of God; specifically, a book. Here is the sleight-of-hand: Because there is a book that is metaphysically existent, the contents of the book qualifies as objective. Because the book exists, he is accountable to something that everyone can perceive, therefore he is accountable to the objective. Because the book contains God’s words, Randy’s mind is accountable to its content. So then it logically follows that Randy’s ideas are the product of an objective standard. The book exists, therefore the rational standard is objective.

But just because somebody thumps their modern-day ESV doesn’t make the ideas extracted from the words objective any more than touching a rock makes a sculptor understand how to create a statue. Randy is doing what Calvinist defenders do; they are mixing and matching metaphysical expectations with epistemological conclusions. This is fundamental error. He is casually overlooking the rational individual processes required to grasp the “objective” words written on the page.

Consider the number of cognitive conceptual integrations that you must perform in your mind to get to any doctrinal conclusions. How many conceptual integrations must one go through just to get to the point of literacy? How many things to children need to learn to do intellectually before they understand the concept of “See Spot run”? And we haven’t even gotten to the point of them understanding “For God so loved the world,” and the implications behind reading a Bible passage.

This is the sleight-of-hand that Calvinists do constantly. They want to pretend that there is no individual conceptual understanding, any individual cognitive process, therefore this “Word of God” leaps fully-formed into their mind, and then they are appealing to something that is “objective.” This is absurd.

Randy is conflating literacy with objectivity, and that is foolishness. How can something be “objective” that requires the ability to read – which is a highly subjective process – before the standard can even be realized? The fact is, literacy is just the beginning of the long epistemological and conceptual chain through which an individual must progress before they end up with a formal doctrinal declaration. There is an ocean of intellectual conclusions that you must get to before you arrive at any advanced doctrinal assertion.

Or said another way, hundreds of highly individual cognitive evolutions are integrated with incalculable subjective conclusions long before a person can declare intellectual solidarity with any writing. They have no awareness of the individual decisions they make to arrive at their conclusion. This is what this looks like:

At the end of the day, what they think is the definition of “Biblical,” which is why you never gain any traction in any conversation with a Calvinist, because what they think is the authority. Then to add insult to epistemological injury, they think that what they think is “objective.” This is the fraud underneath the entire body of logic. This is why they fight so hard over the right to interpret.

Let’s go on to part B of Randy’s response.

“That standard is the Word of God interpreted according to widely accepted principles of interpretation.”

The obvious question should be, widely accepted by whom? This betrays that Calvinists really think that objectivity equals consensus. Historical precedent. I believe what I think everybody else has always believed. Anybody who is anybody has always believed this, therefore this is accepted principle. So, truth is determined by democratic majority? Randy is actually saying that his so-called “objective standard” is determined subjectively. The moment he claimed “widely accepted principles”, he unwittingly inserted subjectivity into the equation.

This argument is not unique to GraceWriterRandy. He is useful as an anecdotal example, but you will see this same argument leveled over and over every time you attempt to engage a Calvinist in this type of discussion. But this is the central theme of Calvinism; the dirty little secret of their preconception of orthodoxy.

Reformation theology is a commitment to “what everyone has always believed.” This is the classic myth in historic Christian theology, that somehow everyone always believed all this stuff. This is simply not true. It is only true in the alternate realty to which they are constantly trying to compel you. But the reality is that there has never been a timeframe in human history where every Christian on the planet agreed with every single doctrine.

Let’s just take a cursory look at interpretive events in history:

  • From the 1st century to roughly the 3rd century there was no “Bible” to interpret.
  • From the 6th century to the 13th century, allegory was the primary interpretive method.
  • Systematic theology of the Wayne Grudem kind did not show up until roughly the 14th century.
  • Modern higher critical methodology (the endless parsing of Greek roots that so many Bible teachers are fond of) doesn’t show up until Friedrich Schleiermacher in the 18th century.

So the question then is, which one of these interpretive methods is the definitive interpretive standard? The reality is that no Calvinist can answer this, because at the end of the day this is an intellectual black hole; if you fall into this you don’t get out.

We haven’t even begun to discuss the long convoluted process of translating from Hebrew to Greek to Latin to German to English and the dozens of English variants that we currently have in the modern age. We haven’t considered the part when a Protestant king decided to take a red pen to a whole collection of books and make the current 66-book canon the standard for current Christianity. (In reality, the books know as “The Apocrypha” were originally cut out because they would have made the Bible to expensive to publish.)

So how many leaps of infallible logic does a Calvinist have to make to arrive at the notion that they, sitting in the 21st century in America speaking English with a laptop-based Strong’s concordance, have to arrive at the final recitation of truth for all mankind? Frankly the arrogance here is stunning.

If we are really going to arrive at truth by democratic majority, then a billion Chinese can’t be wrong. Buddha and Confucius must have been right. The earth must still be flat because that truth was widely accepted.

Lastly let’s look at part C to GraceWriterRandy’s reply.

“It is that standard I intend to rely on.”

So Calvinists like to pretend they are intellectual giants and autonomous thinkers, but the central forum of theology and orthodoxy is intellectual subordination. Do you see the fundamental problem? Randy wants to pick what he decides is the authority.

Here’s the problem; if you are a Calvinist and you preach submission to authority, you have no right to the words “I think.” The moment those words come out of your mouth, you have betrayed your own body of doctrine. What you should say is, “I submit my mind to John Piper”, or C.J. Mahaney, or Al Mohler, or any one among the number of self-appointed authoritarian “scholars.” But that ultimately leads to the problem of, to whose mind am I submitting? This question they never want to answer.

In Western thought, the intellectual pedigree follows this progression: We begin with the Pythagoreans and the soul/body dichotomy. Next is Plato followed by Plotinus, the one who grafted in the whole Pythagoean idea of the soul/body dichotomy into mainstream Christian orthodoxy. It is the idea that flesh is so overwhelmingly evil and totally unredeemable. This is the origination of the concept of pervasive total depravity. This becomes Augustinian pervasive depravity, and from Augustine we go to Luther, and from Luther we go to Calvin.

So here is the dirty little secret – Calvinists are not independent thinkers!

All they have done is become masters of the logic of better minds. (As evil as Calvin was, he was not a stupid man. What he was able to formulate, and the systematic presentation of his ideas, is an unrivaled intellectual achievement.) All intellectual roads intersect at Luther and Calvin. Their root doctrines are the Heidelberg Disputation, which was the summary version of Reformed Theology, and Calvin’s Institutes of Christian Religion, the formal presentation of Reformed Theology. This is the heart and soul of all modern-day Christianity.

Every argument – from Al Mohler or Ligon Duncan or C.J. Mahaney or Tulian Tchividjian, to your local pastor to your mini-tyrant overseeing your care group – is not an original thought. The origin of their thinking is found in Luther and Calvin. This is why they accept no proof but their own proof. They accept no definition other than their own because their mind is the doctrinal plumb line. They presume that they understand everything in the Bible correctly and you don’t. Their singular rational standard is their own doctrinal assumption. They reserve the sole right to determine what is “Biblical.”

Since there is no such thing as objective truth, how then do Calvinist persuade? They don’t persuade; they compel. How can you make a rational argument when your fundamental premise is that the mind of man is corrupt? So they must force people to agree, and they do this with “authority.” You are universally guilty – of what? Sin. And because everybody is guilty, they need someone to dictate what “good” is. Those who dictate do so over people who are incompetent – those who are intellectually incapable of understanding the truths that they understand. And the underlying argument that ties all of these assumptions together is an appeal to authority.

A few bold men will suggest that they have authority by virtue of their existence, but most people like to hedge. It goes like this – “I don’t have authority, but that book over there has the authority.” They borrow the authority from the Bible. Here is how you respond to this nonsense – books don’t have force; men use force. The Bible doesn’t have any authority. It cannot reach out and swat you on the head or lead you blindfolded to a mass grave and shoot you in the back.

Any appeal to authority is really an appeal to the moral right to use force. This is the key concept – moral authority. This is the pretense that Calvinists use with impunity; the expectation of their own moral virtue.

But if man is pervasively depraved, and all men commit sin, then how can pervasively depraved men make any claim to morality?

Here is how they get around this. Individual men will sin, but groups of men will sin less because they are in a group. All the men in the group will somehow keep each other accountable. Preachers are pretty good at packaging and marketing this. We kind of like the concept that this group of elders is somehow mutually responsible in keeping each other from sinning. They pretend that they are innocent bystanders in this cosmic predestination of truth. They didn’t want the responsibility, but lo and behold, the mere reality that they are where they are is evidence that God ordained them to this burden of leadership.

But here is the sleight-of-hand. The revelation is the authority, and they are mere servants of the authority.   These mere servants are claiming to have an exemption from the very moral corruption that obligates you to their control.

But the reality is if you believe in pervasive depravity, you still have to overcome depravity. So the intellectual hedge goes like this. Individuals are flawed. Therefore to prevent individual error, we will join a group for checks and balances. In essence, we in a group will borrow each other’s righteousness. Just a few paragraphs ago I told you they want to borrow the authority of the Bible and apply it to themselves. Now they are going to actually borrow the righteousness of other people.

But do you see the glaring problem with this assertion?

If, because of pervasive depravity, man doesn’t have any righteousness, how can you borrow what someone doesn’t have?

How did the group arrive at the substance of ethical action? If you start with the premise that no man can know what “good” is, how is that you get together and suddenly have an understanding of what “good” is? Someone had to identify it. Someone had to measure good action so there was a qualification to join the group. This is the bait-and-switch they constantly put on; the endless violation of the Law of Identity. One minute they are immoral, wretched beasts, and the next minute they have become part of the group, and they are now moral people borrowing each other’s righteousness.

Reformed theology says that man overtly rejects good, but somehow a group of preachers possess good. So riddle me this: if man is hostile to God, how can a group of men be benevolent towards God? If man cannot measure his own moral action, how can he measure a group’s moral consensus? If individual man is a moral and intellectual criminal, how does a group become rational giants and paragons of virtue?

The answer: It is insane to argue that a group of totally depraved men are qualified to define morality. The folks in the asylum are not less insane because they are in the same geographic location. Group morality means morality is proximity.

Here are the takeaways:

  • Calvinists evade reality because reality is their enemy.  If “A” is “A”, then their doctrine collapses.
  • Calvinists can make no claim to objective truth.
  • Calvinists must evade their own intellectual processes.
  • Calvinists are not independent thinkers. You should not fear their arguments.
  • Calvinists do not have morality, so you should never fear their moral condemnation.
  • Calvinists have no authority because they do not have the right to compel you to think anything.
  • Calvinists are morally bankrupt.

Here is a test: The next time you hear a Calvinist begin talking about how much of a wretched sinner he is, agree with him. Then watch how fast they argue their own moral virtue.

…To be continued


Click here for part one
Click here for part three
Click here for part four
Click here for part five

Clay Pots Can Know Truth

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on February 21, 2017

Originally published April 11, 2016

Even though my wife and I left the institutional church for good almost 2 years ago, there are still times where I must make the obligatory visit. Going in to visit family is one of those times. I am thankful that the church in which my wife grew up is not steeped in the vileness of Calvinism. Nevertheless, Protestant orthodoxy runs far and wide. Needless to say, as a graduate of the Christian school she attended for 13 years she has nurtured many close relationships with those who were her teachers and peers. So for us the visit is merely a social call and not for purposes of “worship”. Not being a particularly “social” person myself (I am an introvert by nature, and social events suck the life force out of me) I suffer the preaching while reminding myself that it will all be over soon.

Such was the case last weekend as I found myself once again sitting in an adult Sunday School class led by a layman of the church who is without a doubt kind-hearted and well-meaning, but who knows no other way to interpret the Scriptures than what he has been taught all his life. This particular class is right now making its way through the book of 2 Corinthians. The week we were there they were up to chapter 4. Take a look particularly at verses 6 and 7.

“For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” ~ 2 Corinthians 4:6-7

If we are good Protestants, we will look at these verses and see that clearly, this passage is drawing a contrast between our weakness as fragile clay pots and the power of God, right? I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. And if you have been a reader of PPT for any time, what should be obvious to you are the Protestant talking points and root assumptions: man has no ability, even the saints; there is nothing good in us; we are just worthless clay pots; any good we do is simply Christ doing it through us.

Now don’t get me wrong here, aside from the assumptions of total inability and the idea of the subjectivity of objective good works being performed outside of us, we can acknowledge that God does help us through His spirit. That in and of itself would not necessarily be a wrong application to make, but in the context of this passage it is a novice approach at best. The importance of understanding scripture in the correct historical context cannot be over emphasized. And these were my exact thoughts as I sat there squirming in my pew. There is so much richness to this passage that is being lost simply because people are conditioned to faulty interpretive assumptions.

With what premise then should we begin? First, let us understand that the dominant philosophy of the 1st century was a Platonic gnosticism which was nothing more than yet one more manifestation of the dualism that had dominated all philosophy in man’s attempt to explain the world since perhaps the beginning of time (I suggest you read the transcripts from John Immel’s 2013 TANC Conference sessions if you think that’s an over-generalization).

For the most part, Gnosticism can be summed up like this. Spirit is good and flesh (the physical) is evil. Objective truth can only be found in the spiritual realm. Since man is part of the physical realm, he has no access to objective truth (the “gnosis”). The only way that man can know truth is for a select few to bring it to them. These select few are the Philosopher Kings. They are the pre-ordained ones who have been given the “gnosis” by the “divines”. Therefore, the logical conclusion is that these “mediators” then are the only ones who have the right to rule the masses by virtue of the fact that they are the only ones who can know truth. This is the root system of thought behind ALL tyrannical systems, both political AND religious, for centuries!

Having this as a basis for our study, let us now consider chapter 4 of 2 Corinthians. Verses 1 through 7 present an exercise in rhetoric though a series of contrasting hypothetical assumptions for the purpose of presenting an argument. Let’s look at verses 1 and 2.

“Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not; But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” ~ 2 Corinthians 4:1-2

This is our first clue that the apostle Paul is offering a refutation of Gnosticism. Key words include “hidden things” and “manifestation of truth”. Understand who the audience is. Paul’s letters to the assemblies were most often written in response to address some issues that had come to his attention. Remember, one tenet of Gnostic philosophy is that truth is hidden and cannot be known. It would appear as if there were false teachers who had brought this Gnostic teaching into the assemblies there in Corinth and were trying to blend it with Christianity. Notice Paul refers to the “hidden things of dishonesty”, “walking in craftiness”, and “handling the word of God dishonestly”. These are all trademarks of Gnosticism. These false teachers were twisting the word of God to fit their Gnostic orthodoxy, all the while stating that the reason it was true was because these things were “hidden” from the masses and only they were qualified to bring it to them, and they used scripture to support their views.

What is Paul’s contrasting argument?

“…commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God…”

He left truth up to their conscience. In other words, he expected his listeners to think. Paul said, I don’t want you people just to believe me because I say so. I don’t want you to believe me because I present myself as an authority. I expect you to use the faculties of reason and come to the conclusion on your own if what I preach is true or not.

 Verse 3 is a critical statement.

“But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost:” ~ 2 Corinthians 4:3

This is a profound statement regarding the gospel. God did not reveal himself through His word for the purpose of keeping it hidden, revealing it only to a select few. This is a direct assault on Gnosticism. Gnosticism taught that truth is hidden from the physical realm. But God said, no, I want you to know truth because you are lost and I want to you be reconciled to Me! That is the gospel- Be reconciled to God! That means that man CAN know truth and DOES have access to it. Paul said what we preach is not some hidden truth because that would be counter-productive. It would be antithetical to God’s purpose for the doctrine. That is what distinguishes what we preach from those Gnostic false teachers.

Verse 5 brings us to yet one more distinguishing characteristic of Gnosticism, and that is a narcissistic self-promotion.

For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.” ~ 2 Corinthians 4:5

Remember, only a select few were ordained to have access to the “gnosis”. As a result, these individuals felt that they were superior to the ignorant masses, perceiving themselves as having the right to rule over them. If you want to get to heaven, if you want to have salvation, then you do what I say, or else. Notice how the truth then becomes subordinated to authority. Persuasion is not necessary where power is used. The focus shifts from the message to the one delivering it. But Paul said, I don’t come to you with any desire to promote myself. You don’t get to heaven by doing what I tell you to do. You were saved because you were born again when you believed in Jesus Christ!

And that brings us back to the passage we looked at first.

“For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” ~ 2 Corinthians 4:6-7

This is perhaps the most scathing rebuke of Gnosticism. The fact that believers are referred to as “earthen vessels” is a testament to the metaphysical reality of the New Birth. Now granted, the word “earthen” in the Greek does mean a piece of pottery. But that just makes the argument all that more powerful. A clay pot is made from the “earth”. It is a part of the physical realm. To say that something that is part of the physical realm can know truth is a slap in the face to Gnosticism!

And what is the result of that? Paul uses the word translated “excellency”. In the Greek it is the word υπερβολη (hoo-per-bol-lay) from which we get our English word “hyperbole”. Hyperbole is using extremely outrageous statements to make a point. Paul says that the truth of the gospel sounds outrageous, but it can be known because it is reasonable because physical, frail clay pots have the ability to know it. This serves to demonstrate that its power comes directly from God and not from those who would place themselves as mediators between God and man.

Think about that for a moment. The power of the gospel is in its ability to persuade. It isn’t some self-appointed authority who demands compliance through the use of force. It is God who persuades through the preaching of His word. That means man has the ability to reason and understand it. This can lead a man to be persuaded that God is who He says he is. He can be persuaded to choose to forego his present life and put his faith in God and become a born again new creature who is the righteous offspring of God.   For the apostle Paul to declare that our REAL, righteous new-creaturehood is contained in earthly, physical containers is the antithesis of Gnosticism!

Andy

Truth – The Single Most Important Piece of Equipment in the Believer’s Inventory

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on August 8, 2016

“Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” ~ Ephesians 6:11

The most important piece of armor in the believer’s inventory is Truth.

Truth must be equipped first.

Truth is the belt to which all the rest of the armor is fastened.

Without truth, the rest of the armor is ineffective in its ability to protect the believer!

(It is also interesting to note that Truth is mentioned separately from the Word of God (the sword))

Andy

Clay Pots Can Know Truth

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on April 11, 2016

Even though my wife and I left the institutional church for good almost 2 years ago, there are still times where I must make the obligatory visit. Going in to visit family is one of those times. I am thankful that the church in which my wife grew up is not steeped in the vileness of Calvinism. Nevertheless, Protestant orthodoxy runs far and wide. Needless to say, as a graduate of the Christian school she attended for 13 years she has nurtured many close relationships with those who were her teachers and peers. So for us the visit is merely a social call and not for purposes of “worship”. Not being a particularly “social” person myself (I am an introvert by nature, and social events suck the life force out of me) I suffer the preaching while reminding myself that it will all be over soon.

Such was the case last weekend as I found myself once again sitting in an adult Sunday School class led by a layman of the church who is without a doubt kind-hearted and well-meaning, but who knows no other way to interpret the Scriptures than what he has been taught all his life. This particular class is right now making its way through the book of 2 Corinthians. The week we were there they were up to chapter 4. Take a look particularly at verses 6 and 7.

“For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” ~ 2 Corinthians 4:6-7

If we are good Protestants, we will look at these verses and see that clearly, this passage is drawing a contrast between our weakness as fragile clay pots and the power of God, right? I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. And if you have been a reader of PPT for any time, what should be obvious to you are the Protestant talking points and root assumptions: man has no ability, even the saints; there is nothing good in us; we are just worthless clay pots; any good we do is simply Christ doing it through us.

Now don’t get me wrong here, aside from the assumptions of total inability and the idea of the subjectivity of objective good works being performed outside of us, we can acknowledge that God does help us through His spirit. That in and of itself would not necessarily be a wrong application to make, but in the context of this passage it is a novice approach at best. The importance of understanding scripture in the correct historical context cannot be over emphasized. And these were my exact thoughts as I sat there squirming in my pew. There is so much richness to this passage that is being lost simply because people are conditioned to faulty interpretive assumptions.

With what premise then should we begin? First, let us understand that the dominant philosophy of the 1st century was a Platonic gnosticism which was nothing more than yet one more manifestation of the dualism that had dominated all philosophy in man’s attempt to explain the world since perhaps the beginning of time (I suggest you watch all 5 of John Immel’s sessions from last year’s 2015 TANC conference if you think that’s an over-generalization).

For the most part, Gnosticism can be summed up like this. Spirit is good and flesh (the physical) is evil. Objective truth can only be found in the spiritual realm. Since man is part of the physical realm, he has no access to objective truth (the “gnosis”). The only way that man can know truth is for a select few to bring it to them. These select few are the Philosopher Kings. They are the pre-ordained ones who have been given the “gnosis” by the “divines”. Therefore, the logical conclusion is that these “mediators” then are the only ones who have the right to rule the masses by virtue of the fact that they are the only ones who can know truth. This is the root system of thought behind ALL tyrannical systems, both political AND religious, for centuries!

Having this as a basis for our study, let us now consider chapter 4 of 2 Corinthians. Verses 1 through 7 present an exercise in rhetoric though a series of contrasting hypothetical assumptions for the purpose of presenting an argument. Let’s look at verses 1 and 2.

“Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not; But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” ~ 2 Corinthians 4:1-2

This is our first clue that the apostle Paul is offering a refutation of Gnosticism. Key words include “hidden things” and “manifestation of truth”. Understand who the audience is. Paul’s letters to the assemblies were most often written in response to address some issues that had come to his attention. Remember, one tenet of Gnostic philosophy is that truth is hidden and cannot be known. It would appear as if there were false teachers who had brought this Gnostic teaching into the assemblies there in Corinth and were trying to blend it with Christianity. Notice Paul refers to the “hidden things of dishonesty”, “walking in craftiness”, and “handling the word of God dishonestly”. These are all trademarks of Gnosticism. These false teachers were twisting the word of God to fit their Gnostic orthodoxy, all the while stating that the reason it was true was because these things were “hidden” from the masses and only they were qualified to bring it to them, and they used scripture to support their views.

What is Paul’s contrasting argument?

“…commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God…”

He left truth up to their conscience. In other words, he expected his listeners to think. Paul said, I don’t want you people just to believe me because I say so. I don’t want you to believe me because I present myself as an authority. I expect you to use the faculties of reason and come to the conclusion on your own if what I preach is true or not.

 Verse 3 is a critical statement.

“But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost:” ~ 2 Corinthians 4:3

This is a profound statement regarding the gospel. God did not reveal himself through His word for the purpose of keeping it hidden, revealing it only to a select few. This is a direct assault on Gnosticism. Gnosticism taught that truth is hidden from the physical realm. But God said, no, I want you to know truth because you are lost and I want to you be reconciled to Me! That is the gospel- Be reconciled to God! That means that man CAN know truth and DOES have access to it. Paul said what we preach is not some hidden truth because that would be counter-productive. It would be antithetical to God’s purpose for the doctrine. That is what distinguishes what we preach from those Gnostic false teachers.

Verse 5 brings us to yet one more distinguishing characteristic of Gnosticism, and that is a narcissistic self-promotion.

For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.” ~ 2 Corinthians 4:5

Remember, only a select few were ordained to have access to the “gnosis”. As a result, these individuals felt that they were superior to the ignorant masses, perceiving themselves as having the right to rule over them. If you want to get to heaven, if you want to have salvation, then you do what I say, or else. Notice how the truth then becomes subordinated to authority. Persuasion is not necessary where power is used. The focus shifts from the message to the one delivering it. But Paul said, I don’t come to you with any desire to promote myself. You don’t get to heaven by doing what I tell you to do. You were saved because you were born again when you believed in Jesus Christ!

And that brings us back to the passage we looked at first.

“For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” ~ 2 Corinthians 4:6-7

This is perhaps the most scathing rebuke of Gnosticism. The fact that believers are referred to as “earthen vessels” is a testament to the metaphysical reality of the New Birth. Now granted, the word “earthen” in the Greek does mean a piece of pottery. But that just makes the argument all that more powerful. A clay pot is made from the “earth”. It is a part of the physical realm. To say that something that is part of the physical realm can know truth is a slap in the face to Gnosticism!

And what is the result of that? Paul uses the word translated “excellency”. In the Greek it is the word υπερβολη (hoo-per-bol-lay) from which we get our English word “hyperbole”. Hyperbole is using extremely outrageous statements to make a point. Paul says that the truth of the gospel sounds outrageous, but it can be known because it is reasonable because physical, frail clay pots have the ability to know it. This serves to demonstrate that its power comes directly from God and not from those who would place themselves as mediators between God and man.

Think about that for a moment. The power of the gospel is in its ability to persuade. It isn’t some self-appointed authority who demands compliance through the use of force. It is God who persuades through the preaching of His word. That means man has the ability to reason and understand it. This can lead a man to be persuaded that God is who He says he is. He can be persuaded to choose to forego his present life and put his faith in God and become a born again new creature who is the righteous offspring of God.   For the apostle Paul to declare that our REAL, righteous new-creaturehood is contained in earthly, physical containers is the antithesis of Gnosticism!

Andy

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