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Vol. 5, No. 10
Oct., 1996

The Mystery of Iniquity

by Glenn Conjurske

“The mystery of iniquity,” says Paul, “doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall that wicked one be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming.” (II Thes. 2:7-8).

Observe, the mystery of iniquity works with the purpose of revealing the wicked one, the man of sin (verse 3). This is the antichrist, and his revelation of course assumes the culmination of the program of which he is the embodiment and earthly head. Verse 4: he “opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped, so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.” This is the religious aspect of the mystery of iniquity. More of the same is seen in Revelation 13:3 & 4. “And all the world wondered after the beast, and they worshipped the dragon which gave power unto the beast, and they worshipped the beast.” It is “all the world” which thus worships the beast, and the devil who gives him his power. “And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” (Verse 8). This is the devil's end and aim in the mystery of iniquity. The culmination of the religious aspect of the mystery of iniquity will be one world religion, with the man of sin as its Messiah, and the devil himself as its god, receiving the worship of the whole world.

But the devil will never accomplish this except by force. By means of deception he may secure the voluntary worship of most of the world, but he will never receive universal homage except by force. We read therefore, “And he had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed. And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads, and that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark.” (Rev. 13:15-17). To secure and enforce the religious aspect of the mystery of iniquity there is, therefore, and must be, a political aspect also, the culmination of which will be seen in one world government, with the man of sin at its head. “And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion, and the dragon gave him his power, and his throne, and great authority.” (Rev. 13:2, Greek). This is all political. We plainly see in the leopard, the lion, and the bear, the elements of the political empires of the book of Daniel, and in Rev. 13:7 we are told, “And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them, and power [authority, as in verse 2] was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations.” This is universal dominion, or one world government, persecuting the saints of God, and enforcing one world religion. All of this is the end and aim of the devil's program for the human race. This is the end of the mystery of iniquity.

But this man of sin is not yet revealed. The whole program works in mystery, that is, in secret----for so the Greek word means. The devil does not avow his purposes, but works secretly----clandestinely----in the dark----on the sly----behind the scenes.

Now there are two powerful forces on the earth today which embody the secret workings of the mystery of iniquity. Those forces are internationalism and ecumenicalism, embodying respectively the political and the religious purposes of the devil. The United Nations and the World Council of Churches are among the concrete expressions of those forces, and these are among the most sinister entities on the globe.

But the world does not perceive these things to be sinister. Just the contrary. It supposes them to be the embodiment of all that is most noble. Love! Brotherhood! Humanity! These----and of course Peace! Peace!----are the watchwords of these sinister forces. This is the mystery of iniquity.

But we are told there is one that “letteth” (II Thes. 2:7), or “withholdeth,” as the same word is rendered in the sixth verse. There is something which restrains or hinders the working of these sinister forces. Paul says (verse 6), “ye know” what it is, and he therefore does not concern himself to tell them. We, therefore, may not know it so well as they did. Paul refers to it in the neuter, “what,” in verse 6, and the masculine, “he,” in verse 7. Who or what is it? I believe it is and must be the working of God himself, for nothing else could begin to restrain the forces of Satan, unless it were angels. But frankly, there is something more important than to define the agent of this restraining, and that is to understand its nature. This restraining, according to verse 6, has one end in view: “that he might be revealed in his own time.” (So the Greek.) That is, the workings of the devil are hindered by God, so that he might not bring his purposes to their culmination until such time as they may fulfil God's purposes.

Now to understand the nature of this divine restraining, we must step back and survey the workings of the mystery of iniquity from the beginning. For understand, this mystery of iniquity has been at work since the dawn of human history. It has always been the devil's purpose to bring about one world government and one world religion, with himself at the head of both, that he might thus usurp the place which belongs to God. The final (though short-lived) success of the mystery of iniquity is portrayed in Revelation 13, where we see the universal dominion of the beast and the dragon, and all the world worshipping both. But we see the same hand in Daniel 3, in the great empire of Nebuchadnezzar, ruling over “people, nations, and languages,” and enforcing, on pain of death, the universal worship of Nebuchadnezzar's image. It is true that such a state of things----even if God had not defeated it by his three faithful witnesses----was only a very partial success of the devil's purposes, and such as could never have satisfied his ambitions. Nothing less than the subjection of the whole world will satisfy the devil, but surely we see the same hand at work in his partial successes as will be seen in the complete triumph which is depicted in Revelation 13. We see the same hand in the “Holy Roman Empire” of the dark ages, and in numerous other attempts at universal dominion and enforced religion throughout history.

But there was a time early in the history of man when the devil came much nearer success than ever he has done since. I refer to the tower of Babel in the land of Shinar. His success was an easy matter at that time, for the world was not then so vast and unwieldy as it has since become. “And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and they dwelt there. ... And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven, and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” (Gen. 11:1-4). Their purposes were directly contrary to God's. They were moved perhaps by a desire for peace and security, and certainly by pride----the same pride which moved Nebuchadnezzar when he said, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?” (Dan. 4:30). This is the same pride which permeates all of modern society, whether its education, its religion, its art, its science, its entertainment and sports, or its manufacturing and commerce.

But while man's pride says, “Let us make a name for ourselves,” the devil uses that human pride to advance his own purposes. The men who built the tower of Babel were but pawns in the devil's hand. Both Scripture and history testify to the Satanic character of the whole operation. In Zechariah 5 we read of an ephah, “And behold, there was lifted up a talent of lead, and this is a woman that sitteth in the midst of the ephah. And he said, This is wickedness----[ j v in the LXX, the same word as `iniquity' in II Thes. 2]. And he cast it into the midst of the ephah, and he cast the weight of lead upon the mouth thereof.” (Zech. 5:7-8). The woman in the Bible is the symbol of religious wickedness. She it is who hides the leaven in the measures of meal in Matthew 13. She is the great whore of the book of Revelation.

Zechariah continues, “Then lifted I up mine eyes, and looked, and, behold, there came out two women, and the wind was in their wings, for they had wings like the wings of a stork. And they lifted up the ephah between the earth and the heaven. Then said I to the angel that talked with me, Whither do these bear the ephah? And he said unto me, To build it an house IN THE LAND OF SHINAR, and it shall be established, and set there UPON HER OWN BASE.” (Verses 9-11)

“Her own base” is Babel, “in the land of Shinar,” where the devil once came so near the culmination of his purposes for the earth. This is his base.

Now as to “he who now letteth,” what hindered the devil from the accomplishment of his purposes at the tower of Babel? The scripture says, “And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language, and this they begin to do, and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech. So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth, and they left off to build the city.” (Gen. 11:5-8).

It is plain here that it was the Lord which restrained them, and I wish to call particular attention to the nature of that restraint. The Lord observed, “The people is one, and they have all one language.” This suited their purposes too well, and it suited the devil's purposes exactly. So long as the people were all one, having all one language, it were a fairly easy thing for the devil to build his one world empire with its one world religion. God therefore confounded their tongues, and scattered them abroad. It was thus he restrained them, and so restrained the working of the mystery of iniquity, and by that one act he set back the devil's purposes by five thousand years. By this means the world was made unmanageable, and the devil effectually hindered from bringing about his world empire and world religion.

Yet the same mystery of iniquity which was working then is working now. The devil's purpose has never changed. All of the attempts which history records of building empires----a prominent element of which has been enforced religion----are so many manifestations of the devil's working. Yet all of them have fallen far short of his ultimate purpose. The world has been too large----too unwieldy----to be brought together under one government. Satan must first as it were shrink it down to a manageable size. He must first bring the world together. He must re-establish the communication which was destroyed by God at the tower of Babel. And within the past century he has done so. This he has done first by means of travel and exploration, so that the peoples which God had scattered abroad upon the face of all the earth have learned of each other's existence and whereabouts. Commerce and international relations have been established throughout the world. All of this has been taking place for centuries, but at too slow a rate ever to accomplish the devil's purposes. Travel was slow, and communication limited.

As the time began to draw nigh, therefore, for the revelation of the man of sin, the Lord (so it appears) was pleased to withdraw something of his restraining hand----to give the devil, as it were, a longer rope. The devil has used it to great advantage. First came the steamboat, then the railroad, the telegraph, the automobile, the airplane, the telephone, the radio, and computer and satellite communications, so that global communication is no longer a matter of months or years, but only of seconds. All of this was prophesied concerning “the time of the end” in Daniel 12:4. “Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased.” God scattered and separated the race. The devil has brought the world together again----without God, of course. Misguided saints have hailed all of this “progress” as the work of the Lord and as an unmixed blessing, but I have no doubt that it is the work of the devil. God has had no more to do with it than he did with the building of the tower of Babel, or Nebuchadnezzar's “great Babylon.” The kingdom of God never stood in any need of the modern means of global communication. It needed nothing more sophisticated than the apostles had, for God is not building any world empire here and now. It was the devil who needed it. It was he who inspired and engineered it, and it is he who will make full use of it, to bring about his one world government and his one world religion. This is the world, concerning which the Bible says, if any man love it, the love of the Father is not in him. By means of modern travel and communications the devil has effectually reversed the geographical and linguistic restraints which the Lord put upon his purposes at the tower of Babel.

To be sure, he has yet other obstacles in his way. He cannot yet say, “The people is one,” as he could at Babel. Nationalism and national sovereignties stand still in his way, as do the numerous and diverse religions of the world, but we may be sure that he is at work to overcome them. Internationalism and ecumenicalism are his tools, and he is as busy as ever. God restrains him still, and will surely do so until his time is come for the manifestation of the man of sin.

Man's natural love of liberty stands also directly in the way of the devil's purposes, but there are numerous sinister tendencies at work in the world today which are evidently designed to habituate men to a tame submission to authoritarian governments. In America this is seen in such things as zoning laws, building codes, safety regulations, and a thousand and one restrictions by scores of government bureaus and agencies. If all the restrictions to which the American people tamely submit today had been enacted by Congress two centuries ago, there would have been a second revolution. But by little and little men have become accustomed to bondage to the government, while they are taught also to look to that government as their great provider and benefactor. This is a necessary part of the mystery of iniquity. It has been at work for many centuries, and will yet work on, till it finds its culmination in one world government under the man of sin. No vote of the “religious right” will stop its working, not even in America.

Meanwhile let none of the children of God dream that these modern scientific attainments, modern global communications, and the modern idealogy concerning international brotherhood are the work of God. Not so. It was God who confounded the tongues of men. It was God who scattered the race abroad upon the face of all the earth. It was God, that is, who scattered and separated the peoples of earth, and took such steps as effectually prevented their communication and their reunion. It is the devil who works to undo this stroke of the Almighty, and bring the world together again under one head. This has been his end and aim from the beginning. He has now, within the past hundred years, very largely brought it to pass, and modern attainments and principles have placed the final victory within his reach, for the first time since the tower of Babel. This program he peddles under the noble names of progress, peace, and brotherhood, while his own purpose in it is of course kept out of sight. This is the mystery of iniquity.

The Judgement Seat of Christ

by Glenn Conjurske

Of the judgement seat of Christ Paul writes, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in the body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” (II Cor. 5:10). But a good many Fundamentalists today hold that there is no “judgement seat of Christ” at all, but only a “reward seat.” This they affect to base upon the supposed meaning of the Greek “Bema seat,” where (we are told) the rewards were distributed at the Olympic games. Of course there was no mention of any evil-doing there, the whole purpose of the “Bema seat” being to reward those who had done well.

All of this is used, of course, to support the modern antinomian notions of salvation and sanctification, which everywhere exclude the Scriptural doctrines of human responsibility. Sin, it is confidently affirmed, will never be brought up at all at the “Bema seat,” for that has been put away for ever by the cross of Christ, and blotted for ever from the memory of God. We appear there only to be rewarded for the good we have done. As for “whether it be good or bad,” this (we are told) is rendered from a defective Greek text. The true text, truly translated, means only “good or worthless----good or useless”----but sin will surely not be brought up against us there. There will be only praise there for our good, with no censure for our evil.

But the meaning of the Greek is not the real foundation of these notions at all. The alleged meaning of the Greek is only dragged in by the tail, to lend support to doctrines already held, before the Greek was thought of. And worse, when the Greek is examined, these assertions concerning its meaning are found to be false. To that I shall turn shortly, but first this:

I believe as surely as anyone that our sins have been put away for ever by the blood of Christ, but that does not alter the fact that we shall yet be called to account for them, and suffer loss for them. To David it was explicitly said, “The Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die,” but this assurance could in no way abrogate the solemn judgements which the prophet had already pronounced against him. “Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house. ... I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun.” (II Sam. 12:14, 10 & 11). David's sin was put away, and he was assured that he should not die, but for all that he must yet bear the responsibility for his sin, and suffer some very severe strokes for it. Our sins are put away, and we shall not be condemned for them, but there are more kinds of judgement than condemnation. Every man judged guilty in court does not die for it, yet there is some penalty to pay.

But I turn to the Greek. As for the ' , the “Bema seat” as some will have it, which administers only praise and reward, and no censure or judgement properly so called, the same word is used a dozen times in the New Testament, and usually of a judgement seat in the proper sense of the term. In John 19:13 we read, “When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called the Pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gabbatha.” This “Bema seat” was no “reward seat,” but a judgement seat, from which the governor pronounced judgement upon criminals. His business there was not to praise Christ, nor to reward him, nor even to acquit him, but to condemn him. “Then delivered he him therefore unto them to be crucified.” (Verse 16). This he did from the “Bema seat.”

Again, “When Gallio was the deputy of Achaia, the Jews made insurrection with one accord against Paul, and brought him to the judgment seat, saying, This fellow persuadeth men to worship God contrary to the law.” (Acts 18:12-13). These Jews did not bring Paul to the “Bema seat” that he might be rewarded, but condemned. “And when Paul was now about to open his mouth, Gallio said unto the Jews, If it were a matter of WRONG or WICKED LEWDNESS, O ye Jews, reason would that I should bear with you, but if it be a question of words and names, and of your law, look ye to it, for I will be no judge of such matters. And he drave them from the judgment seat.” (Verses 14-16). This makes it plain enough that wrong and wickedness were the matters considered proper to be adjudged before the “Bema seat.”

Once more, in Acts 25:6-7 we read that Festus, “sitting on the judgment seat commanded Paul to be brought. And when he was come, the Jews which came down from Jerusalem stood round about, and laid MANY AND GRIEVOUS COMPLAINTS AGAINST PAUL, which they could not prove.” These were false charges, no doubt, but they prove plainly enough what manner of things were ordinarily considered at the “Bema seat.”

These examples show us plainly enough that the modern affirmations concerning the nature of the “Bema seat” are just fictions and fables, neither more nor less. These were no “reward seats,” but judgement seats.

Well, but does not John 5:24 say, “He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but is passed from death into life”? Why, yes, it does, if you are determined to translate it that way. Yet this in itself will not establish your doctrine. You must next insist upon a particular interpretation of the word “judgement.” You must hold that it refers to the process of judging, and not to the sentence passed, or the execution of the sentence. But the usage of the word “judgement” ( v ) in the New Testament certainly does not require any such interpretation, even if we insist upon rendering it always “judgement.” Consider:

Matt. 23:33----“How can ye escape the judgment of hell?”

Hebrews 10:27----“fearful looking for of judgment.”

Jas. 2:13----“He shall have judgment without mercy.”

Rev. 14:7----“The hour of his judgment is come.”

Rev. 18:19----“In one hour thy judgment is come.”

It is plain in these examples that “judgement” is sometimes the pronouncing of the sentence, and sometimes the execution of it. Perhaps the old translators were not wholly incompetent, therefore, when they rendered it “shall not come into condemnation”----or “damnation,” as all the early English Bibles had it. But they had no particular theology to maintain by their translation, such as you have. To maintain your theology you must first translate the text according to your theology, and then interpret the translation according to your theology, and then use the interpretation to support your theology. This is not wise.

And whatever else you may wish to do with II Cor. 5:10, it is perfectly plain that “we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ,” and there receive for the things done in the body, both good and bad. And let it be understood that “every one of us shall give account of himself to God.” (Rom. 14:13). This is not merely the ungodly, but “every one of us.” Can anyone be so infatuated as to suppose that there will be no sin brought up when we are thus required to give account of ourselves? Will this be one grand boasting session, with everyone giving account of his good deeds only? Methinks I would as much shrink from that as from giving account of my sins. The notion is also directly contrary to common sense.

But what saith the Scripture? “But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” (Matt. 12:36-37). Could anything be plainer than this? We shall give account of both the good and the evil, and the judgement issue accordingly in both justification and condemnation. Some, of course, will entirely exempt the godly from this “day of judgment,” but who then are those who are “justified” by their words?

Of course I know very well that none of the godly will be condemned to hell at the judgement seat of Christ. Still they will be judged according to their works. It is not merely that their works shall be judged, while they stand by as spectators. “Every one of us shall give account of himself to God.” Peter says, “If ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man's work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear, forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things,” etc. (I Pet. 1:17-18). He writes thus to the godly, who call upon the Father, and know that they were redeemed, for every man, including the godly, shall be thus judged. “Every one of US shall give account of himself to God.” And he says not that God will judge our works, but that he will judge according to our works. It is the persons who are judged.

Some, who are more dogmatic than thoughtful, cannot understand how this can be. They suppose that if we were to be judged according to our works, we must all be condemned to hell. This is very much insisted upon by some who contend that we shall never be judged at all. But this, I am bold to say, is the reflection of a very shallow system of theology, which is entirely ignorant of one of the most important doctrines of Scripture. It knows nothing of evangelical righteousness. It perceives nothing of gospel worthiness. “They shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy,” says the Lord. (Rev. 3:4). This is not legal worthiness, but it is real worthiness nevertheless. And David prays, “Judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness, and according to mine integrity that is in me.” (Psalm. 7:8). And again, “I was also upright before him, and I kept myself from mine iniquity. Therefore hath the Lord recompensed me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in his eyesight.” (Psalm 18:23-24). This is not legal righteousness, nor imputed righteousness either, as is obvious on the face of these texts, but evangelical righteousness. It is personal and practical. The understanding of this doctrine is the key to the understanding of the book of Job, of many of the Psalms, and indeed of much of both the Old and New Testaments. But antinomians cannot penetrate this mystery. They can find no righteousness in the Bible but legal or imputed, and they must therefore wander through Scripture as a man lost in the woods, whose compass points always to his own belt buckle.

The apostle John lends his support to this doctrine also, saying, “And now, little children, abide in him, that when he shall appear we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming. If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him.” (I John 2:28-29). It is not imputed righteousness which shall give us confidence before him at his coming, but our abiding in him and doing righteousness. And what could make us ashamed before him at his coming, if no sin were to be brought up there?

If some will extricate themselves from this difficulty by divorcing the judgement seat of Christ from the coming of Christ, the Scriptures will not bear them out. “Stablish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh. Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned. Behold, the judge standeth before the door.” (James 5:8-9). It is the judge who is coming, “the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom.” (II Tim. 4:1). “Behold I come quickly, and my reward is with me.” (Rev. 22:12). The coming of Christ and the judgement seat cannot be separated, and “reward,” it should be pointed out, may designate a recompense for evil as well as for good. It does so without question in II Pet. 2:13, where we read of some who “shall utterly perish in their own corruption, and receive the reward of unrighteousness.”

But we must yet consider the phrase “good or bad.” The Greek texts of the modern critical editors reject V in favor of ' , with little enough reason. Of the old uncials, ' is the reading of a and C alone, standing against p46BD, and almost all the later mss., uncial and cursive. A and I are defective. I may perhaps be pardoned for suspecting that the real reason the critical editors adopt ' here is that it sets aside the reading of the Textus Receptus and the Byzantine tradition, and for my further suspicions that those editors would unhesitatingly accept the testimony of p46BD against aC, if the former were also against the common text. Even Hort takes aC over BD----here.

But suppose our own notions of textual criticism are all a dream. Suppose it is quite proper to take the testimony aC against B and the rest of the world, and we must have ' after all. This will not lend one tittle of support to the antinomian notions which men endeavor to found upon it. If we read V , this word is commonly used for evil all over the New Testament. As for ' , excluding II Cor. 5:10, it is used but four times in the New Testament. Those four are these:

John 3:20----“Every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.”

John 5:29----“They that have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation.”

Tit. 2:8----“having no evil thing to say of you.”

James 3:16----“For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.”

Now in the light of these plain scriptures, it is the merest tomfoolery to contend that ' does not designate moral evil, or evil in the proper sense of the term.

Let us then hear the conclusion of the whole matter. The old and common views of the judgement seat of Christ, which have prevailed among the godly the world over and world without end, are founded upon sound and unimpeachable interpretation of Scripture. The antinomian notions with which some men seek to overturn these views are based upon nothing more solid than the will to have it so. Those notions empty the Scriptures of their plain and indisputable meaning.


A Further Illustration of the Use of the Aorist Tense

by Glenn Conjurske

In examining a facsimile reprint of the ninth-century Codex G of Paul's Epistles,* I have run across a very interesting confirmation of what I have advanced on the meaning of the aorist tense. At the end of each epistle there is a note informing the reader of the ending of that epistle, and the beginning of the next. Though these notes vary somewhat in form, all but one of them employ the word j . A facsimile follows, of the note which appears at the end of Ephesians.

That is, in modern Greek characters, .

is of course aorist, while is present. Translated literally and accurately into English, this will read, “[The] epistle to [the] Ephesians HAS BEEN FINISHED; [the epistle] to [the] Philippians BEGINS.” It will plainly enough appear that any attempt to make this aorist equivalent to the simple past tense in English will effectually destroy its obvious sense. To say “The epistle to the Ephesians was finished” would not display the meaning of the Greek, but only the ignorance of the translator. The aorist does not inform us that Ephesians was finished, once upon a time, but that it is finished.

The reader will observe that I have used the auxiliary “has” in the translation which I have given, and this I have done purposely, as this is generally the most proper means of expressing the aorist in English. Yet even this often leaves something to be desired, as it certainly does in the case before us. “Has been finished” may properly convey the meaning of the Greek, but it is rather stiff in English. What we really want to express the meaning literally, accurately, and idiomatically in English is, “The epistle to the Ephesians is finished----that to the Philippians begins.” The aorist tense simply states the fact----“is finished.” There is no thought whatever of any past event, and to say “was finished” must immediately raise the questions in the English mind, When? Where?----for the simple past must refer to definite time and a past event. There is obviously no such thought in the aorist tense as it is used here.

But further. I do not recommend translating the Greek aorist by the English present except where it is actually necessary. Nevertheless, as I pointed out in my article on the aorist in a previous number, we will often strike much nearer the meaning of the Greek aorist by translating it as a simple present in English, than if we were to translate it as a simple past. The case before us is full proof of this. To say, “The epistle to the Ephesians was finished” gives a meaning which is manifestly wrong. “Is finished” is strictly correct. And though it may do a little violence to strict grammar, it will do no violence to the intent to render this, “The epistle to the Ephesians ends; that to the Philippians begins.”

The reader will observe in the facsimile which I have given that the manuscript contains a Latin translation in small letters between the lines of the Greek. The Latin reads, explicit epistola ad ephesios incipit ad philippenses. “The epistle to the Ephesians ends; that to the Philippians begins.” Both the aorist and the present are rendered by the present in the Latin: explicit----incipit. We do not advocate the simple present tense here in English, as in this case there is no necessity for it, but it is at any rate a most interesting fact that the Latin translator saw fit to render both the Greek aorist and the Greek present by the present tense in the Latin----and this we believe he did without doing any violence to the sense of the aorist. In English we suppose that “is finished” is the perfectly proper and accurate rendering.

This same form (the aorist passive) of this word appears twice in the Greek New Testament, in Revelation 10:7 & 15:1, in both of which places the Revised Version is obliged to render it “is finished,” against their own principle and their common practice. Thus:

Rev. 10:7----“then is finished the mystery of God.”

Rev. 15:1----“in them is finished the wrath of God.”

That the same form of the same word is properly rendered “was finished” when it is used as a historical definite is demonstrated in Nehemiah 6:15 of the LXX, where we read, “So the wall was finished on the twenty and fifth day of the month Elul,” &c. But it is no historical narrative to inform us of the ending of one epistle and the beginning of another. The aorist therefore has its proper and indefinite sense.


Ï Stray Notes on the English Bible Ï

by the Editor


The Lie

Ever since the New Testament was first translated into English from the Greek, by William Tyndale, English peoples have read in Romans 1:25 that men changed the truth of God into “a lie,” or something equally abstract and indefinite, and this in spite of the fact that the Greek word “lie” has the definite article. Likewise also, in II Thessalonians 2:11, where the Greek also has the article, we have had it indefinite in the English, the early versions having “lies,” and the Authorized Version altering this to “a lie.” God will send them strong delusion that they should believe

“a lie.” But the scholars of modern Evangelicalism have now invited us to believe that this was a mistake, and that we ought to read “the lie” in these texts. Observe:

  Romans 1:25 II Thes. 2:11
William Tyndale, 1526 a lye lyes
Myles Coverdale, 1535
a lye lyes
Matthew's Bible, 1537 a lye lyes
Taverner's Bible, 1539
a lye lyes
Great Bible, 1539 a lye lyes
Geneva N. T., 1557 a lye lyes
Geneva Bible, 1560 a lye lyes
Bishops' Bible, 1568 a lye lyes
King James Version, 1611 a lye a lye
Young's Literal, 2nd. ed., 1863 a falsehood the lie
Alford's N. T., 1869 a lie the falsehood
Darby's N. T., 2nd ed., 1871 falsehood what is false
Revised Version, 1881 a lie a lie
Amercian Standard Vers., 1901 a lie a lie
Goodspeed, 1943 what was false what is false
Revised Standard Vers., 1952 a lie what is false
NASV, 1960 a lie
(marg., the lie)
what is false
(marg., the lie)
NKJV, 1982 the lie the lie

Here, then, is a pretty plain case. Either the ancient translators were mistaken, or the modern ones are. Either the ancient translators were ignorant of the force of the Greek article in these passages, or the modern ones are. The self-confident generation among which our lot is cast will of course suppose without a second thought that the old translators were ignorant, and that the modern ones have at last attained to true scholarship. It is not exactly that wisdom will die with us, but certainly that it was born with us. Just the reverse is true, say I. Let us consider the matter:

If there were any such thing in existence as “the lie,” it would be common knowledge what it is. There would be no two opinions about it. We may speak of the creation, the incarnation, the crucifixion, the Bible, the earth, the sea, the sky, the sun, the moon, precisely because these are established and recognized entities, which belong to the common consciousness of men----or of Christians, as the case may be. But this is not the case with “the lie.” It brings no such established entity immediately to mind, but just the contrary. It sets us immediately to wondering, What lie? All of this is full proof that there is no such entity as “the lie.” All of this stands upon the solid ground of common sense, and must be evident enough to all those who are accustomed to think.

Ah, but our modern translators will put the matter upon the ground of Greek grammar, and thus upon the ground of divine inspiration and divine revelation. “The lie,” they will say, most surely does exist, for the word of God speaks of it in two places. Yes, in Greek, but not in English. In Greek the word of God also says, “Blessed are the poor in the spirit,” and “Blessed are the pure in the heart.” Must we therefore have it so in English? In Greek the word of God says there was silence in the heaven. Why does not the New King James Version say so? The plain fact is this: the notion that we must have the article in English, or may have it in English, wherever we have it in Greek, belongs to schoolboys just learning Greek, but it has nothing to do with wisdom or scholarship. It is true that the use of the article in Greek is often equivalent to its usage in English, but there are cases innumerable in which the usage of the article in the two languages is certainly not equivalent.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, the proverb says, and it is precisely “a little knowledge” which has produced such renderings as “the lie.” Those who possess this “little knowledge” (and no more) must indeed wonder how all of our forefathers could have been so dull, so careless, or so perverse, as to turn the Greek “the lie” into “a lie” in English.

Well, we grant that the Greek has the article. Any schoolboy can see that, but it is not everyone who understands the significance of the fact. “A little knowledge” will suffice us to discover the article in the Greek, but it is another matter to perceive why it appears there, or to apprehend whether it ought therefore to appear in the English. To suppose that wherever the article appears in the Greek it ought also to appear in the English is certainly a grand blunder, which we should think no one with even “a little knowledge” could possibly be guilty of. What? Would they have us read in English, “The sin is the lawlessness”? Or, “Is the God unrighteous who taketh the vengeance”?----or, if we are to yeild to the alterations of the NKJV, “Is the God unjust who inflicts the wrath”? And why does not the NKJV read, with the Greek, “The faith without the works is dead”? On the other side, shall the absence of the article in the Greek be cause sufficient to omit it in English? Will they have us read, “If we live in Spirit, let us also walk in Spirit”? Or, “the invisible things of him from creation of world are clearly seen”?

There is no one, we suppose, so ignorant or so foolish as this. And yet the same men who would of course reject all such tomfoolery as this will confidently point to the Greek article in Romans 1:25 and II Thes. 2:11, as certain proof that the New King James Version is more accurate than the old one. Such arguing must be lacking something either of sense or integrity. They will triumphantly point to the article in the Greek, in order to defend their modern translations in certain texts, while they completely ingore the fact that the Greek exhibits the article in many other texts, where the English does not contain it. In Luke 20:38 the NKJV has “the God of the dead,” though “God” has no article in the Greek, while they have simply “God” in verses 21 & 25 of the same chapter, where the Greek has “the God.” This is exactly right, and I have no fault to find with it, but it proves that the presence or absence of the article in the Greek proves nothing regarding the English. There is really no excuse for contending that we must have “the lie” in English because it appears so in the Greek. This is shallow and shoddy scholarship, and so much the worse when those who are guilty of it sport doctor's degrees. The mere presence or absence of the article in the Greek cannot of itself determine whether it ought to appear in the English. We must first understand why it is in the Greek. Our first business is to understand the usage of the article in both languages, before we think of translating the one into the other. This our modern translators and their defenders have evidently failed to do. Though both of the texts under consideration have the article in the Greek, there is no way it can belong in the English. “The lie” simply does not exist.

We may indeed say “the lie” in English, but only where it is abstract, and only where the sentence itself makes it OBVIOUSLY abstract, as in generalizations or proverbial statements We may say, for example, “The lie is the bread and butter of the lawyer.” “Bread and butter” has the article because it is definite and specific, defined by the possessive which follows it, but “the lie” and “the lawyer” have it because they are abstract, or generic. The saying is equivalent to “Lies are the bread and butter of lawyers.” And “lies,” which the early versions had in II Thes. 2:11 is certainly more accurate than “the lie,” which the NKJV has. We are dealing here with a fact which modern scholarship seems to have no perception of, namely, that both the Greek and the English may use the article to express an abstract. V v in I Cor. 13:5 is abstract. Quite literally it is “the evil [thing],” but in the abstract this is equivalent to “that which is evil,” which in turn is equivalent simply to “evil.” We do not want “the evil” in English----indeed, cannot bear it. V v , with the article in the Greek, is exactly equivalent to “evil” in English, without the article. But modern scholarship has never troubled itself to learn why the article is used in particular instances, in either Greek or English.

Now if “the lie” in the Greek New Testament is abstract, it is then equivalent to “that which is false,”----or “falsehood,” or “what is false,” as a few versions have it----which in our texts in English must certainly be “a lie,” not “the lie,” for there is nothing which possibly can give “the lie” an abstract meaning in these texts in English. And thus the popular New King James Version, the product of modern evangelical scholarship, is shown once again to be the product of the ignorance and incompetence of a generation which simply lacks the requisite ability to translate the Bible. We do not say, by any means, The old is perfect. We do say, by all means, The old is better. “A lie” is real scholarship. “The lie” is only ignorance. Not that it required any very deep or profound scholarship to produce the rendering “a lie.” This is not our contention. What we contend is that it requires a profound lack of scholarship to deform these texts with “the lie.” This is schoolboy translation.

Well, but what of the fact that both Young and Alford inserted the article in II Thes. 2:11, a century before the present generation existed? To begin with, their own inconsistency serves to nullify the fact, for they have “a falsehood” and “a lie” in Rom. 1:25. And Young we need not much trouble ourselves about. His version is in general among the most pedantic and inaccurate ever produced in English. Alford has more learning, and a great deal more of common sense, yet he stumbles often enough over the Greek article----has “the evil,” for example, in I Cor. 13:5, where it is certainly abstract, and where we therefore cannot use the article in the English. “Evil” is abstract without it, and to give it an article deprives it of its abstract sense. We cannot speak of “lie” in the abstract, as we do “evil,” but must have “a lie” or “lies.” This the old versions had, and they were surely right, while the NKJV is exactly wrong.


A Letter on The Great Revival in Kentucky

[The following is a document of great historical importance, and of great significance, as being written and published by Presbyterians, many of whom have been unfriendly to revivals, and especially to those elements which characterized this revival. The letter was first published in the Connecticut Evangelical Magazine in 1802, with a recommendatory letter from Archibald Alexander, and reprinted in The Presbyterian Magazine, edited by C. Van Rensselaer, in 1855. From the latter, pages 129-135, I reprint it without alteration. ----editor.]




I now sit down, agreeably to my promise, to give you some account of the late revival of religion in the State of Kentucky. You have no doubt been informed already, respecting the Green River and Cumberland revivals. I will just observe, that the last is the fourth summer since the revival commenced in those places, and that it has been more remarkable than any of the preceding, not only for lively and fervent devotion among Christians, but also for awakenings and conversions among the careless. And it is worthy of notice, that very few instances of apostacy have hitherto appeared. As I was not in the Cumberland country myself, all I can say about it, depends on the testimony of others; but I was uniformly told, by those who had been there, their religious assemblies were more solemn, and the appearance of the work much greater, than what had been in Kentucky. Any enthusiastic symptoms, which might at first have attended the revival, were greatly subsided, whilst the serious concern and engagedness of the people were visibly increased.

In the older settlements of Kentucky, the revival made its first appearance among the Presbyterians last spring. The whole of that country, about a year before was remarkable for vice and dissipation; and I have been credibly informed, that a decided majority of the people were professed infidels. During the last winter, appearances were favourable among the Baptists, and great numbers were added to their churches. Early in the spring, the ministrations of the Presbyterian clergy began to be better attended than they had been for many years before. Their worshipping assemblies became more solemn, and the people, after they were dismissed, showed a strange reluctance about leaving the place. They generally continued some time in the meeting-houses, and employed themselves in singing, or religious conversation. Perhaps about the last of May, or the first of June, the awakenings became general in some congregations, and spread through the country in every direction with amazing rapidity. I left that country about the first of November, at which time this revival, in connection with the one in Cumberland, had covered the whole State of Kentucky, excepting a small settlement which borders on the waters of Green River, in which no Presbyterian ministers are settled, and I believe very few of any denomination.

The power with which this revival has spread, and its influence in moralizing the people, are difficult for you to conceive, and more for me to describe. I had heard many accounts, and seen many letters respecting it, before I went to that country; but my expectations, though greatly raised, were much below the reality of the work. Their congregations, when engaged in worship, presented scenes of solemnity superior to what I had ever seen before. And in private houses, it was no uncommon thing to hear parents relate to strangers, the wonderful things which God had done in their neighbourhoods, while a large family of young people, collected around them, would be in tears. On my way to Kentucky, I was informed by settlers on the road, that the character of Kentucky travellers was entirely changed; and that they were now as remarkable for sobriety, as they had formerly been for dissoluteness and immorality. And, indeed, I found Kentucky, to appearance, the most moral place I had ever seen. A profane expression was hardly ever heard. A religious awe seemed to pervade the country; and some deistical characters had confessed, that from whatever cause the revival might proceed, it made the people better.

Its influence was not less visible in promoting a friendly temper among the people. Nothing could appear more amiable, than that undissembled benevolence which governs the subjects of this work. I have often wished, that the mere politician or the deist could observe with impartiality their peaceful and amicable spirit. He would certainly see, that nothing could equal the religion of Jesus for promoting even the temporal happiness of society. Some neighbourhoods, visited by the revival, were formerly notorious for private animosities and contentions; and many petty lawsuits had commenced on that ground. When the parties in these quarrels were impressed with religion, the first thing was to send for their antagonists, and it was often very affecting to see their meeting. They had both seen their faults, and both contended they ought to make the acknowledgments, till at last they were obliged to request one another to forbear all mention of the past, and to receive each other as friends and brothers for the future. Now, sir, let modern philosophists talk of reforming the world by banishing Christianity, and introducing their licentious systems; the blessed Gospel of our God and Saviour is showing what it can do.

Some circumstances have concurred to distinguish the revival in Kentucky, from almost any other of which we have any account. I mean the largeness of their assemblies on sacramental occasions, the length of time they continued on the ground in the exercise of public or private devotion, and the great number who have fallen down under religious impressions. On each of these particulars I shall give you some account.

With respect to the largeness of their assemblies, it is generally supposed that at many places there were not less than eight or ten, or twelve thousand people. At one place, called Cane Ridge meeting-house, many are of opinion there were not less than twenty thousand. There were an hundred and forty wagons, which came loaded with people, besides other wheel-carriages; and some persons attended who had come the distance of two hundred miles. The largeness of these congregations was a considerable inconvenience. They were too numerous to be addressed by any one speaker. Different ministers were obliged to officiate at the same time at different stands. This afforded an opportunity to those who were but slightly impressed with religion, to wander backwards and forwards between the different places of worship, which created an appearance of confusion, and gave ground, to such as were unfriendly to the work, to charge it with disorder. There was also another cause which conduced to the same effect. About this time the people began to fall down in great numbers, under serious impressions. This was a new thing among Presbyterians. It excited universal astonishment, and created a degree of curiosity which could not be restrained. When people fell down, even in the most solemn parts of divine service, those who stood near were so extremely anxious to see how they were affected, that they frequently crowded about them, in such a manner as to disturb the worship, But these causes of disorder were soon removed. Different sacraments were appointed on the same Sabbath, which divided the people; and the falling down soon became so familiar, as to excite no disturbance. I was in the country during the month of October. I attended three sacraments. The number of people at each, was supposed to be about four or five thousand; and everything was conducted with the strictest propriety. When persons fell down, those who happened to be near took care of them, and everything continued quiet till the worship was concluded.

The length of time the people continued on the ground was another circumstance of the Kentucky revival. At Cane Ridge the people met on Friday morning, and continued till Wednesday evening, night and day, without intermission, either in the public or private exercises of devotion; and with such a degree of earnestness, that heavy showers of rain were not sufficient to disperse them. On another sacramental occasion, they generally continued on the ground till Monday or Tuesday evening, And had not the ministers been exhausted and obliged to retire, or had they chosen to prolong the worship, they might have kept the people any length of time they pleased. And all this was, or might have been done in a country where not a twelvemonth before, the clergy found it a difficult matter to detain the people during the common exercises of the Sabbath. The practice of camping on the ground was introduced, partly by necessity, and partly by inclination. The assemblies were generally too large to be received by any common neighbourhood. Everything indeed was done which hospitality and brotherly kindness could do, to accommodate the people. Public and private houses were both opened, and free invitations given to all persons who wished to retire. Farmers gave up their meadows before they were mown, to supply the horses. But notwithstanding all this liberality, it would in many cases have been impossible to have accommodated the whole assembly with private lodgings. But besides, the people were unwilling to suffer any interruption in their devotion, and they formed an attachment for the place, where they were continually seeing so many careless sinners receiving their first impressions, and so many deists constrained to call on the formerly despised name of Jesus. They conceived a sentiment like what Jacob felt at Bethel, when he said, “Surely the Lord is in this place; this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

The number of persons who had fallen down in this revival, is another of the matters worthy of special attention. And in this I shall be more particular, as it seems to be the principal cause, why this work should be more suspected of enthusiasm, than some other revivals. At Cane Ridge sacrament, it is generally supposed that not less than 1000 persons fell prostrate to the ground, and among them were many infidels. At one sacrament which I attended in that country, the number that fell was thought to be upwards of 300. Persons who fall are generally such as have manifested symptoms of the deepest impression for some time previous to that event. It is common to see them shed tears plentifully for about an hour. Immediately before they become utterly powerless, they are seized with a general tremor; and sometimes, though not frequently, in the moment of falling, they utter one or two piercing shrieks. Persons in this state are affected in many different degrees. Sometimes when unable to stand or sit, they have the use of their hands and can converse with perfect composure. In other cases they are unable to speak, their pulse grows weak, and they draw a hard breath about once a minute; and in some instances their hands and feet become cold, and their pulse and breath, and all the symptoms of life, forsake them for nearly an hour. Persons who have been in this situation have uniformly avowed that they suffered no bodily pain, and that they had the entire command of their reason and reflection; and when recovered they could relate everything which was said or done, near them, and which could possibly fall within their observation. From this it appears that their falling is neither the common fainting nor the nervous affection. Indeed this strange phenomenon appears to have taken every turn it possibly could to baffle the conjectures of those who are not willing to consider it a supernatural work. Persons have sometimes fallen on their way home from public worship, and sometimes after their arrival. In some cases they have fallen when pursuing their common business on their farms, or when they had retired for private devotion. I observed above, that persons are generally seriously affected for some time previous to falling. In many cases, however, it is otherwise; many careless persons have fallen as suddenly as if struck with a flash of lightning. Many professed infidels and other vicious characters have been arrested in this way; and sometimes at the very moment when they were uttering their blasphemies against the work. At the beginning of the revival in Shelby County, the appearances, as related to me by eye-witnesses, were very surprising indeed. The revival had previously spread with irresistible power through the adjacent counties; and many of the religious people had attended different sacraments, and were greatly benefitted. They were much engaged, and felt unusual freedom in their addresses at the throne of grace, for the outpouring of the Divine Spirit, at the approaching sacrament at Shelby. The sacrament came on in September. The people as usual met on Friday, but they were all languid and the exercises went on heavily. On Saturday and Sunday morning it was no better. At length the communion service commenced, and everything was still lifeless. The minister of the place was speaking at one of the tables without any unusual liberty. All at once there were several shrieks from different parts of the assembly. Persons fell instantly in every direction. The feelings of the pious were suddenly revived; and the work went on with extraordinary power, from that time till the conclusion of the solemnity.

These phenomena of falling are common to all ages and sexes, and to all sorts of characters; and when they fall they are differently exercised. Some pious people have fallen under a sense of ingratitude and hardness of heart; and others under affecting manifestations of the love and goodness of God. Many careless persons have fallen under legal convictions, and obtained comfort before they arose. But perhaps the most numerous class of all, are those who fall under distressing views of their guilt, who arise with the same fearful apprehensions, and continue in that state for some days, perhaps weeks, before they obtain comfort. I have conversed with many who fell under the influence of comfortable feelings, and the account which they gave of their exercises, while they lay entranced, was very surprising. I know not how to give you a better idea of them, than by saying, that they appeared in many cases to surpass the dying exercises of Doctor Finley. Their minds appeared wholly swallowed up in contemplating the perfections of Deity as illustrated in the plan of salvation. And while they lay in all appearance senseless, and almost destitute of life, their minds were more vigorous and active, and their memories more retentive and accurate than they had ever been before. I have heard respectable characters assert, that their manifestations of Gospel truth were so clear as to require some caution when they began to speak, lest they should use language which might induce their hearers to suppose they had seen those things with their natural eyes. But at the same time, they had seen no image or sensible representation, nor indeed anything besides the old truths contained in the Bible. Among those whose minds were filled with the most delightful communications of Divine love, I but seldom observed anything exstatic. Their expressions were just and natural; they conversed with calmness and composure; and on first recovering the use of speech, they appeared like persons just recovering from a violent fit of sickness, which had left them on the borders of the grave.

I have sometimes been present when persons who fell under the influence of convictions, obtained relief before they rose. On these occasions it was impossible not to observe how strongly the change of their minds was depicted in their countenances. From a face of horror and despair, they assumed one which was open, luminous, and serene, and expressive of all the comfortable feelings of religion. As to those who fall down under legal convictions and continue in that state, they are not different from those who receive convictions in other revivals, excepting, that their distress is more severe. Indeed, extraordinary power is the leading characteristic of this revival. Both saints and sinners have more striking discoveries of the realities of another world, than I have ever known on any other occasion. I trust I have said enough on this subject, to enable you to judge how far the charge of enthusiasm is applicable to it. Lord Littleton in his letter on the conversion of St. Paul observes (and I think very justly) that “Enthusiasm is a vain, self-righteous spirit, swelled with self-sufficiency, and disposed to glory in its religious attainments.” If this definition be a good one, there is perhaps as little enthusiasm in Kentucky, as in any other revival. Never in my life have I seen more genuine marks of that humility, which disclaims the merit of its own duties, and looks to the Lord Jesus Christ as the only way of acceptance with God. I was indeed highly pleased to find that Christ was all and in all in their religion, as well as in the religion of the Gospel. Christians in their highest attainments, were most sensible of their entire dependence on Divine grace; and it was truly affecting to hear with what agonizing anxiety awakened sinners inquired for Christ, as the only physician who could give them any help. Those who call these things enthusiasm ought to tell us what they understand by the spirit of Christianity. In fact, sir, this revival operates, as our Saviour promised the Holy Spirit should, when sent into the world. It convinces of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment,----a strong confirmation to my mind, both that the promise is divine, and this is a remarkable fulfilment of it.

It would be of little avail to object to all this, that perhaps the professions of many of the people were counterfeited. Such an objection would rather establish what it meant to destroy. For where there is no reality, there can be no counterfeit; and besides, when the general tenor of a work is such, as to dispose the more insincere professors to counterfeit what is right, the work itself must be genuine. But as an eye-witness in the case, I may be permitted to declare, that the professions of those under religious convictions, were generally marked with such a degree of engagedness and feeling, as wilful hypocrisy could hardly assume. The language of the heart when deeply impressed is easily distinguished from the language of affectation.

Upon the whole, sir, I think the revival in Kentucky among the most extraordinary that have ever visited the Church of Christ. And all things considered it was peculiarly adapted to the circumstances of the country into which it came. Infidelity was triumphant, and religion at the point of expiring. Something of an extraordinary nature appeared necessary to arrest the attention of a giddy people, who were ready to conclude that Christianity was a fable, and futurity a dream. This revival has done it. It has confounded infidelity, awed vice into silence, and brought numbers beyond calculation under serious impressions.

Whilst the blessed Saviour was calling home his people and building up his Church in this remarkable way, opposition could not be silent. At this I have hinted above. But it is proper I should observe here, that the clamorous opposition which assailed the work at its first appearance has been in a great measure borne down before it. A large proportion of those who have fallen, were at first opposers; and their example has taught others to be cautious, if it has not taught them to be wise.

I have written on this subject to a greater length than I first intended. But if this account should give you any satisfaction, and be of any benefit to the common cause, I shall be fully gratified.

Yours, with the highest esteem,

Geo. A. Baxter.



The Traditions of the Elders

by Glenn Conjurske

It never ceases to amaze me to see every Christian holding fast to the beliefs of his own church or sect, and regarding those beliefs as the very truth of God, while he supposes all other Christians to be in error. And this is as much a matter for grief as for amazement. He might see, if he would, that other Christians are as godly and as spiritual as those of his own sect, but bigotry blinds his eyes. He might with a little thinking perceive the weaknesses and inconsistencies of his own beliefs, but lukewarmness and laziness prevent his thinking. When I was a student at Bible school, I worked afternoons in the shipping department of a Christian organization. There were three men in the department, and we had many animated discussions on various points of doctrine and practice. In most of those discussions we were pitted two against one. The one who genereally opposed the other two of us was a rather hot-headed Baptist, ignorant enough, but as dogmatic as he was ignorant. He had determination if not ability, and could put up a vigorous argument for his position, but we usually backed him at length into a corner, where he could no more resist the force of our arguments. At that point he would say, “I'll go ask my pastor what we believe.”

This is that combination of lukewarmness and bigotry which causes men to rest in the traditions of the elders. It stands upon the assumption that the beliefs of our own church are the truth of God, and it is too lukewarm or lazy to subject them to any real scrutiny. There is a great sense of security in such a position, and it does not like to be disturbed. Women, therefore, are especially prone to these things, for women do love security, and will cling to it very tenaciously, even at the expense of many other things.

Somewhere about fifteen or twenty years ago I had a couple of experiences which well illustrate this subjection of the mind to the traditions of the elders, and the subjects of it were not women, but men.

I was working two or three days a week in a large industrial plant. I had my own work room, between the manufacturing area in the back, and the offices in the front. There was another Christian in the plant, and we often ate our lunches together in my work room. We had many lively debates and discussions concerning doctrinal matters. He had been converted some years before, and immediately after his conversion two men had come to his door from the Reformed Baptist Church. He joined that church, and was of course a vehement Calvinist. I was a vehement former Calvinist, and many a vigorous debate did we have over Calvinism. But he was as firm in his position as I was, and no amount of Scripture or reason could move or moderate him. I determined therefore to address the matter from a new angle, and one day asked him soberly, “If soon after your conversion a couple of Arminians had come to your door, and you had joined an Arminian church instead of the Reformed Baptists, do you think you would be a Calvinist today?” He looked at me with surprise, apparently wondering how I could be so naive as to pose such a question, and immediately replied, “Well, no. Then I'd be an Arminian!”

This was no doubt the exact truth of the matter, and the very truth which I had hoped to elicit in posing the question. I was surprised indeed that he so readily acknowledged it, for to me it was self-evident that such a fact proved to a demonstration that it was not the Scriptures which were the basis of his theology after all. He believed what was taught him from the pulpit, and that was the whole extent of it. Whether that doctrine were true and Scriptural was not the issue at all. No doubt much that he was taught was true indeed, but there was much also that was false, and he took it all on the same basis. That basis was not the Bible, but the teaching of his elders. Yet he was unable to see any impropriety in this, and my strong argument was totally lost upon him. I suppose the practical universality of such a state of things among Christians must have blinded him to the obvious fact that such a state of things is wrong.

Perhaps a year or two later I had a visit with some evangelical Mennonites in northern Indiana. These men had full beards, but they all shaved the area around their mouths. Now it so happened that at that time I had a beard exactly matching their own. A beardless boy asked me if I had my beard for conviction or convenience. The question seemed a little strange to me, but, knowing nothing of the reason involved, I simply told him it was for convenience, and the matter was dropped. A while later, however, an older man asked me the same question, in the same words. I determined to get to the bottom of this, and replied, “Convenience. But how about yourself?” “Oh, conviction, conviction,” he said, with evident earnestness. I asked him, “What is the conviction?” Said he, “Oh, to be like Christ.” Said I, “Then why don't you have a moustache?” Here was the moment of truth, and he replied very earnestly, “I've wondered about that.”

Now the plain truth was, his beard was no more the fruit of conviction than mine was. He was following the traditions of the elders, and that was the whole extent of it. If the elders had not shaved around their mouths, neither would he. He was even well aware of the apparent inconsistency, and yet followed the traditions of the elders. And it would have been as much to my purpose if, instead of asking him why he had no moustache, I had asked him, “Why then do you not wear a garment without seam, woven from the top throughout?”

But I wish to make it clear that I am speaking of conviction, not of conduct. I think it a praiseworthy thing to conform ourselves in conduct to the saints with whom we fellowship. Such conformity in conduct is a probable mark of humility and love. But mark, what we do and what we believe are two different things. The elders of a church have the authority to require conformity in matters of conduct, and the saints have the direct command of God to obey and submit to such requirements. No doubt elders are failing and fallible creatures, and it lies within the realm of possibility that they may mistake their own whims and notions----yea, their own bigotry----for the will of God, yet God requires submission to them. Suppose an elder does mistake a whim of his own for the will of God, and require something of the people which is not necessary according to the Scriptures, what great harm is this likely to do? If he is a man who is actually Scripturally fit for the place of an elder, he is not likely to ask anything sinful or ridiculous of anybody, and if he asks a woman to give up her curls, or a man his wine, it will not harm anybody to submit to this, though they cannot see any necessity for it.

But all of this concerns our conduct, which the elders in the church have the God-given right to regulate. Our convictions are not in question at all. A woman may give up her slacks, because the elders of the church require it of her, when she has no convictions at all on the subject----or when she is certain there is nothing wrong with them. This is indeed the primary reason for the existence of authority in the church. If every man would do as he ought without any authorities over him, there would be no call for their existence. If every babe in Christ could see as well what he ought to do, as his elders can see, there would be no reason for the existence of elders.

But I will go even further, and affirm that the authorities in the church have the right to control the beliefs of the members, at least in certain matters. They are indeed responsible to do so, as a certain “church epistle” makes abundantly plain. I refer to the epistle of the Lord Jesus Christ “to the angel of the church in Pergamos.” To him he says, “I have a few things against thee, because thou HAST THERE them that HOLD THE DOCTRINE of Balaam. ... So HAST thou also them that HOLD THE DOCTRINE of the Nicolaitanes.” (Rev. 2:14-15). 'Tis strange indeed that this text has been so often used to contend that there ought to be no authorities ruling in the church at all----no rulers, rule, or ruling class. Such an exposition of the text carries its own refutation in its hand. Suppose the Nicolaitanes to be, as the contention is, the rulers, who lord it over the flock. Lording it over the flock and ruling in the fear of God are two things. The former is of the flesh, the latter is of the Lord. This very text requires the angel to exercise authority. He is held responsible merely for having them there who hold evil doctrines. It is plainly his business, and he has but two alternatives----to change them or put them out. It is as plain as day also that he is held responsible to exercise this authority not merely over the practice of the church, but over the doctrine. There is not a word in this epistle about evil conduct. Evil doctrine is the sole issue.

But having said this much to guard against any possible misconception, I again affirm that as a general rule the elders of the church have no right----not that they have any ability----to control the beliefs of the people. The epistle to the angel at Pergamos concerns evil and soul-damning doctrines, not questions about styles of head coverings or definitions of imputation. Paul pronounced a curse upon those who perverted the gospel, but he did not make a man a heretic who believed the Septuagint inspired, or the old serpent an orangutan. It is not possible to force every individual understanding into the same mould, and no elder need expect to accomplish it.

And altogether independent of the God-given authority of the elders of the church, every individual soul has the plain duty to “Prove all things,” and “Hold fast that which is good.” To prove all things is to examine them and test them. Those which will not stand the test of Scripture and reason are to be cast away. But to prove all things is a laborious process, and it may be a very painful one. 'Tis easier, no doubt, to rest secure in the traditions of the elders.


Thinking and Theology

An extract from The Life of Archibald Alexander, by James W. Alexander; New-York: Charles Scribner, 1855, pg. 83. Alexander (1772-1851) was a prominent Presbyterian preacher, and professor at Princeton Theological Seminary.]

While before I had been reading at random every good book I could lay hold of, I now thought it necessary to commence the study of theology with more method. I expected to be put to reading many ponderous volumes in Latin, and endeavoured to brace my nerves for the effort. Accordingly I went to Mr. Graham with a request that he would direct my studies. He smiled, and said, “If you mean ever to be a theologian, you must come at it not by reading but by thinking.” He then ridiculed the way of taking our opinions upon the authority of men, and of deciding questions by merely citing the judgments of this or that great theologian; repeating what he had just said, that I must learn to think for myself, and form my own opinions from the Bible. This conversation discouraged me more than if he had told me to read half a dozen folios. For as to learning any thing by my own thoughts, I had no idea of its practicablity. But it did me more good than any directions or counsels I ever received.

[Editor's note: though thinking is the great desideratum to learning anything aright, we do not recommend thinking instead of reading. Those who read instead of thinking become shallow parrots. Those who think instead of reading are most often moved by pride and self-sufficiency, and are likely to be the furthest from the truth. We recommend both.]


Additional Note on “Son of the Virgin” in Codex Teplensis

When I wrote my article on Codex Teplensis (June, 1996), I was unable to check three places in Luke 9 where “Son of man” occurs, my copy being defective there. (See page 137.) But Michael Maynard, of Tempe, Arizona, has kindly supplied me with copies of the pages I was missing, and I am now able to state that in those three places the Codex reads “Sun der meid,” so that of 82 places where “Son of man” occurs in the New Testament, Codex Teplensis so reads only seven times, having the obviously deliberate corruption “Son of the Virgin” in the other 75 places.

Editorial Policies

OP&AL is a testimony, not a forum. Old articles are printed without alteration (except for correction of misprints) unless stated otherwise, and are inserted if the editor judges them profitable for instruction or historical information, without endorsing everything in them. The editor's own views are to be taken from his own writings.