Acceptable Sacrifice: Cain and Abel

By Peter Brown –

The account of Cain and Abel as recorded in Genesis 4:1-7 has long been considered a puzzling and potentially problematic portion of Scripture, albeit a well positioned one, with the vigorously debated narratives of creation and the fall of man immediately preceding it in Genesis 1-3.

A great variety of factors including theological, interpretive, translational, and source critical issues are at play, along with the participation of the passage in its immediate context, both preceding and following, and later interpretation provided by no less than five New Testament writers. All of the interwoven difficulties affecting this passage must be considered and addressed in order to produce a well founded exegesis.

Historical positions on this passage must also consider these things, and some can be invalidated due to their failure to deal with a particular issue, or because of a yet undiscovered error in their source material, as will be the case with many authors who referenced the Septuagint translation exclusively. The question that will be considered here regards the reason or reasons for the Lord’s acceptance of the sacrifice of Abel, and rejection of the sacrifice of Cain.

Due to the sheer number of interpretive difficulties the discussion of this question raises, there are a plethora of interpretive options offered throughout history by both the Christian and Jewish academic communities. However, when the many interconnected issues attached to Genesis 4:1-7 are considered together, along with the immediate context of the passage, interpretation provided by New Testament writers, and various historical interpretations, a satisfactory exegesis can be reached.

Historical Interpretations

A primary issue presented in the text of Genesis 4:1-7 is the basis on which the sacrifice of Abel was accepted, and the sacrifice of Cain was rejected. When a review of historical interpretations was conducted the options found included, and are not limited to, the following:

  1. God acted capriciously or arbitrarily;
  2. Cain failed to divide his sacrifice rightly;
  3. God sought to encourage a pastoral rather than agricultural culture;
  4. Blood was required in the sacrifice;
  5. Cain delayed in offering his sacrifice;
  6. Firstfruits were required;
  7. Difference in the internal condition of the worshipers.

Each of these options will be explored briefly as presented above, for the purpose of identifying those that may be disregarded due to various textual, theological, or interpretive problems, before moving on to more thorough consideration of the remaining options in light of a detailed study of the text.

God Acted Capriciously or Arbitrarily

For scholars including Westerman, Brueggemann, and Huffmon, the choice of the sacrifice of Abel rather than the sacrifice of Cain was entirely capricious or arbitrary.[1] This position is defended through an appeal to the choice by the Lord of Jacob over Esau, as stated in Romans 9:11, “God’s purpose of election” may have been the only basis for the decision.[2]

This understanding of the text however is rather limited, as the narrative of Jacob and Esau clearly indicates the choice of the Lord before the twin sons of Isaac were even born, when the Lord reveals to Rebekah during her pregnancy that “the older shall serve the younger” (Gen 25:23). In contrast to this, nothing is revealed in the narrative of Cain and Abel to distinguish them before the Lord until they go together to offer their sacrifices. Additionally, the writer of Hebrews reveals that it was Abel’s “more acceptable sacrifice … through which he was commended as righteous” (Heb 11:4), certainly not capriciousness on the part of the Lord.

Finally, this is incoherent with the concern of the Lord in explaining his sin to Cain.[3] As this position maintains an ignorance of narrative clues regarding the basis of the choice of the Lord, is a minority view among historic scholarship, and neglects the interpretation provided in the New Testament, it will not be discussed further.

Cain Failed to Divide His Sacrifice Rightly

Another possible interpretation, that Cain’s sacrifice was rejected due to his failure to divide it “rightly,” is well represented in the early patristic writers, and is based upon study of the passage as translated in the Septuagint (LXX).[4] In the LXX, there are two noted discrepancies in the translation which caused bias towards this interpretation.

First, the offerings are described as the θυσίαις (Greek: sacrifices) of Cain and the δώροις (Greek: gifts) of Abel, contrary to the modern translation and best manuscript evidence, which uses the word מִנְחָת֖וֹ (Hebrew: sacrifices) in both places. Second, the question of the Lord in 4:7, translated in the ESV as “if you do well, will you not be accepted?” is rendered “though you offer rightly, yet, if you do not divide rightly, have you not sinned?” by the LXX.[5] These textual issues colored the interpretations at least in part of many early scholars, including Iraneaus, Tertullian, and Ambrose.[6]

Based upon the textual distinction between the gifts of Abel and sacrifices of Cain, these writers advocate that what Abel brought was preferred by the Lord in its substance. Further, they argue that Cain either made some sort of ritualistic error by failing to divide his sacrifice, or that in dividing his sacrifice he kept a portion for himself, based upon the LXX rendering of 4:7.[7]

The positions of these notable writers regarding the failure of Cain to “divide rightly,” or difference between a sacrifice and gift, although defensible based on the text they had available, cannot be considered further due to the dtextual errors contained in the LXX.

God Sought to Encourage a Pastoral Rather than Agricultural Culture

A position noted, although not often held by various scholars argues that God viewed Abel’s sacrifice with favor for the purpose of directing the people towards nomadic pastoralism rather than sedentary agriculturalism.[8]

This view depends heavily on inference, such as pastoralism being favored by the Lord based on the pastoral culture of the patriarchs of Israel, a desire of the Lord for his people to be transient rather than stationary, or the greater dependence on his blessing of shepherds than farmers, but lacks any substantial foundation in this text in particular and Scripture in general, and therefore does not require additional consideration.

Blood Was Required in the Sacrifice

Another position held by a minority of scholars states that blood was required for an effectual sacrifice, and as Cain’s sacrifice was of the fruit of the ground it contained no blood, and was therefore rejected.[9]

There are a number of unexplained challenges with this view however, primarily from elsewhere Scripture. Defenders of this view refer to Hebrews 9:22, which states that “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sin.” Additionally, some refer back to the provision of clothing made of skins for Adam and Eve by the Lord as the first sacrifice, possibly setting a precedent that blood was required.[10] However as Lewis notes, there is no indication that the sacrifices brought here have any connection with prior sin of Cain and Abel, and even in the yet to be instituted sacrificial system of Leviticus, non-blood sacrifices are effectual in particular situations.[11] Additionally, the provisions of clothing for Adam and Eve is described very simply in the text, that “the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them,” there is no additional detail or explanation given which requires that the provision of clothing is subsequent to a sacrificial act. Due to the incongruity of this view with Scripture, it will not be discussed further.

Cain Delayed in Offering His Sacrifice

The last position to be discussed here argues that Cain’s sacrifice was rejected because he delayed in offering it, based upon the phrase in 4:3 that Cain brought his sacrifice “in the course of time,” whereas Abel brought his sacrifice without any noted passage of time. This position is not held exclusively by any scholars found in this research, but is included by Philo, Didymus, and Ambrose, who all list a series of reasons why the sacrifice of Cain was rejected.[12]

The deficiency of this view is well noted by Lewis, in that the “course of time” is most often understood to be in reference to the event of the sacrifices being brought by both Cain and Abel, and not exclusively referring to the actions of Cain.[13] With this understanding of the passage, which is clear in most English translations, the argument that Cain delayed but Abel did not, does not bear up under scrutiny and so will be disregarded.

Two Remaining Views

The two remaining views, namely that the acceptable sacrifice was set apart because of its substance as the firstfruits or because of the internal condition of the worshiper, are held most commonly by scholars, cannot be quickly dismissed due to a lack of evidence, textual consideration, or theological issue, and best explain the question at hand as will be seen below.

Detailed discussion of Genesis 4:1-7, its relation to the immediate context, and interpretation provided by New Testament writers will be considered with the two remaining positions in view, in order to arrive at an understanding that satisfactorily addresses the interpretive concerns, and provides a faithful exegesis of the passage.

Genesis 4:1-7

Having completed a brief survey and evaluation of various interpretations offered throughout history, a detailed study of the passage in question will now be completed, in order to come to a faithful exegesis of the text. This will be carried out according to a conviction of the plenary-verbal inspiration of Scripture by the Holy Spirit, the unity and accuracy of the narrative of Genesis, and intentionality of the inspired narrator in their description of the events.

The narrative resumes following the disobedience of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3, which resulted in the fall of mankind into sin, introduction of the mortality of man and the consequences of the curse, and banishment of man from the garden of Eden. It is at this tragic juncture that hope is introduced through the birth of a son to Adam and Eve. The promise of 3:15 created expectation for a coming redemption, through the defeat of the serpent by the seed of mankind.

As the first seed of mankind, Cain is the first chance for this redemption, and the expectation of Eve for Cain is clear as she declares that she has borne him “with the help of the Lord” (Gen 4:1), yet she does not bear such expectation for Abel, who is born without special celebration or declaration, simply appearing in the text in relation to the firstborn Cain, when Eve “bore his brother Abel” (Gen 4:2).[14]

Even from the declaration of Cain’s birth in 4:1, the narrator works to identify a growing separation between the two sons of Adam, using the announcement of their births, etymology of their names, structure of the narrative, and description of their offerings, to do so.

The etymology of their names takes this comparative element of the narrative a further step. Most scholars take Cain (קַ֔יִן) to mean  ‘to produce or acquire,’ largely because it sounds similar to the word used when Eve proclaims “I have gotten (קָנִ֥יתִי) a man with the help of the Lord” (Gen 4:1, emphasis mine). Abel ( הֶ֙בֶל֙) conversely, who receives no recorded declaration at his birth, sounds like a Hebrew word meaning breath, vapor, or vanity (הֶ֥בֶל). Although the etymology of Abel’s name is a source of debate among scholars, it seems to bear some significance given that his name not only sounds like the word for vapor, something that will be gone in a moment, but the text also does not provide any explanation of his name whatsoever, as if he will also be gone in a moment.[15] Although the meaning of their names does not clarify the regard of the Lord for Abel’s sacrifice, it does serve to set up the remainder of the narrative.

The dichotomy between Cain and Abel only begins in the etymology of their names, and  continues throughout the section, with the narrator working actively to make this clear to the reader. The entire section, with the exceptions of the participation of Eve at the beginning and the Lord at the end, focuses on Cain and Abel exclusively, and is written in a repeated chiastic pattern (ABB’A’) where Cain (A) surrounds Abel (B) figuratively, as he does in the narrated events. The pattern is present in 4:1-2, and repeats in 4:3-5a, as the text seems to be structured to anticipate the coming action of Cain from 4:5b-8.[16]

The first chiasm in 4:1-2 describes the birth of Cain (A) followed by Abel (B), and their occupations, Abel (B’) as a “keeper of sheep,” and Cain (A’) as a “worker of the ground.”[17] The second chiasm in 4:3-5b describes Cain (A) bringing an offering of the “fruit of the ground,” Abel (B) bringing an offering of the “firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions,” the Lord having “regard for Abel (B’) and his offering,” but not for “Cain (A’) and his offering.” The chiastic pattern anticipates Cain continuing as the subject in 4:5b followed by Abel, unless the cycle is broken by an unparalleled action. All of this serves to demonstrate that the narrator is leading the reader to see Cain surrounding Abel in the narrative, and to think of them comparatively through the chiastic pattern until it is broken by the anger of Cain described in 4:5b.

At the beginning of the second chiasm in 4:3, Cain and Abel bring their offerings to the Lord, and it is here that evaluation of our principal question can begin in earnest, as the seemingly circumstantial comparisons of the preceding two verses become immediately less so. The sacrifice of Cain is described as “an offering of the fruit of the ground,” a logical choice being Cain was just identified as a “worker of the ground” (Gen 4:3). Immediately following in 4:4 the offering of Abel is described as “the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions,” also an obvious choice as Abel was a “keeper of sheep.” As has already been established, the legitimacy of either sacrifice is not dependent on the occupation of either brother, and it is natural that they would choose to bring an offering of the fruits of their labor.[18]

As is observed by many writers, what is noteworthy in 4:3-4a is not a comparison of the sacrifices quantitatively, but qualitatively.[19] While Cain’s sacrifice is merely identified in 4:3 as the “fruit of the ground,” the narrator explicitly elevates Abel’s sacrifice by describing it in 4:4 as not only being “of the flock,” but as the “firstborn” and “their fat portions.”[20] This distinction clearly marks a difference in how Cain and Abel sought to worship the Lord. Whether this contrast is identified negatively – perhaps that Cain brought a sacrifice only out of duty, carelessly without thought of the quality, or for the purpose of appeasing God – or identified positively – that Abel brought his sacrifice seeking to please the Lord, carefully selecting the firstfruits – or both, the presence of this contrast and it’s connection to the acceptance of Abel’s sacrifice is undeniable.[21]

What remains to be seen however, is if the qualitative difference between the brothers sacrifices alone determined the regard of God for the sacrifice of Abel, or whether it was perhaps indicative of a larger issue.

With the offerings presented before the Lord, the narrator proceeds to describe the response of the Lord in 4:4. In the order of the chiasm, it is first recorded that the Lord “had regard for Abel and his offering,” followed by his older brother, “but for Cain and his offering he had no regard” (Gen 4:4-5). It is the regard or disregard of the Lord first for the worshiper, followed by their sacrifice that provides further clarification of the passage.

Commentators including Luther, Calvin, and Augustine, attach such importance to the regard of the Lord for the worshiper that the role of their tangible sacrifice in determining the regard of the Lord is all but ignored.[22] Calvin well represents this view, and argues that “God will regard no works with favour except those the doer of which is already previously accepted and approved by him,” to which Augustine adds, “God had not regard for the hands, but saw in the heart.” [23] Its seems as though one must identify whether the worshiper or the sacrifice determined the regard of the Lord, as these commentators leave little room for much else.

Interpretation from New Testament writers is helpful at this point. Matthew, Luke, and John all ascribe the characteristic of righteousness to Abel.[24] The writer of Hebrews goes even further in Hebrews 11:4, beginning the well known list of the faithful with Abel, stating that Abel’s sacrifice was offered by faith, and the Lord commended Abel as righteous by accepting his gifts. The New Testament writers confirm what was posited by Calvin and others; clearly it was not the material gifts of Cain and Abel alone that determined the regard of the Lord, but rather their faith or lack thereof. As is made clear in particular by the writer of Hebrews, the internal state of the worshiper is the determining factor in the acceptance or rejection of the sacrifices of Cain and Abel. As advocated by Waltke, there is a balance to be found however, in recognizing that although it was the faith of Abel that led to his sacrifice being accepted as the writer of Hebrews made clear in 11:4, “God commended him by accepting his gifts,” Abel did indeed offer to the Lord a “more acceptable sacrifice then Cain.”[25] His sacrifice was made more worthy by his faith, but independent of his faith it was more acceptable than the sacrifice of Cain.[26] It was the faith of Abel, evidenced by his offering of a more acceptable sacrifice of firstfruits, that led to the Lord having regard for Abel and his gift.

This understanding is made all the more clear by observing the contrasting actions of Cain in the passage immediately following the primary text. Here, Cain reacts rather unreasonably to the disregard of the Lord for his sacrifice, with anger and despair. Many regard the interaction between Cain and the Lord in 4:6-7 as an opportunity for Cain to right his wrong, to “do well” that he and his sacrifice might “be accepted.” Following the warning of the Lord to be wary of sin, which he fails to heed, Cain meets his brother out in a field, and kills him. Through this act of fratricide Cain completes his domination of Abel in the narrative, cements the contrast between the brothers, confirms his sacrifice ought to have been disregarded, and in so doing verifies the claim of the New Testament writers that Abel was the brother of righteousness, and Cain the brother who became “cursed from the ground.”[27]

Conclusion

Having considered various factors affecting a discussion of the account of Cain and Abel, along with the immediate context of the passage, New Testament interpretation, and historic interpretation, a well founded exegesis that satisfactorily considers all of the interconnected difficulties affecting the passage can be found. The sacrifice of Abel was accepted because of the earnest faith of Abel evidenced by his sacrifice of the firstfruits of his labor, and the sacrifice of Cain was rejected because of his lack of faith, manifested in his provision of an inferior gift and murder of his brother. This sets the stage for the intent of the sacrificial law of Leviticus, expectations for sacrifices by the people of Israel under the Old Covenant, and for followers of Christ under the New Covenant.[28] As exemplified by Abel, when we offer worship to the Lord through the sacrifice of the fruits of our labor, we ought to offer our firstfruits in faith.

Bibliography

Allen, John J. “The Mixed Economies of Cain and Abel: An Historical and Cultural Approach.” Conversations with the Biblical World 31 (2011): 33-52.

Ambrose, Cain and Abel, The Fathers of the Church, A New Translation, vol. 42. Translated by John J. Savage. New York: Fathers of the Church Inc., 1961.

Augustine, Homilies on the First Epistle of John. Translated by Rev. H. Browne. Edited by

Philip Shaff. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 1st series, vol. 7. Buffalo: Christian Literature, 1888; reprint, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1995.

Brueggemann, Walter. Genesis. Atlanta: John Knox, 1982.

Calvin, John. Commentaries on the Book of Genesis. Translated by Henry Beveridge. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2009.

Craig Jr., Kenneth M. “Questions Outside Eden (Genesis 4.1-16): Yahweh, Cain, and their Rhetorical Interchange.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 86 (1999): 107-128.

Didymus. Commentary on Genesis. The Fathers of the Church, A New Translation, vol. 132. Translated by Robert C. Hill. Washington D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2016.

Greenberger, Chaya. “Cain and Abel: (Mis)managing Rejection and Unmet Expectations.” Jewish Bible Quarterly, vol. 44, no. 2 (2016): 116-124.

Hamilton, V.P., The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1–17. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990.

Hobbs, Hershell H. The Genesis Debate. Edited by Ronald Youngblood. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1990.

Huffmon, H.B. “Cain, The Arrogant Sufferer.” Biblical and Related Studies Presented to Samuel Iwry. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1985.

Irenaeus. Against Heresies: Book IV. Edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. Compiled by Cleveland Coxe. Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1. Buffalo: Christian Literature, 1885; reprint, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1995.

Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary, New Testament, 2nd ed. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014.

Lewis, Jack P. “The Offering of Abel (Gen. 4:4): A History of Interpretation.” Journal of the Evangelical Society, 37 no. 4 (1994): 481-496.

Oden, Thomas C. ed. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. Old Testament, vol. 1. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2001.

Ross, Allen. Genesis. Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, vol. 1. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2008.

Rydelnik, Michael, and Michael Vanlaningham, eds. The Moody Biblical Commentary. Chicago: Moody, 2014.

Skinner, John. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Genesis. The International Critical Commentary, vol. 1. New York: Scribner, 1910.

Tertullian. An Answer to the Jews. Edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. Compiled by Cleveland Coxe. Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 3. Buffalo: Christian Literature, 1885; reprint, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1995.

von Rad, Gerhard. Genesis. Translated by John H. Marks. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1972.

Waltke, Bruce K., and Cathi J. Philips. Genesis: A Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001.

Westermann, Claus. Genesis 1-11. Continental Commentary, vol. 1. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984.

Yeo, John J. “Genesis 4-5: The Two Lineages Compared.” Classroom lecture, OLDTS 4503, 16 October 2017. MP3.

[1] Claus Westermann, Genesis 1-11, Continental Commentary, vol. 1 (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984), 296; Walter Brueggemann, Genesis (Atlanta: John Knox, 1982) 56; H.B. Huffmon, “Cain, The Arrogant Sufferer.” Biblical and Related Studies Presented to Samuel Iwry (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1985), 109-113.

[2] ESV translation has been used throughout, unless otherwise noted.

[3] Bruke K. Waltke and Cathi J. Philips, Genesis: A Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 97.

[4] Jack P. Lewis, “The Offering of Abel (Gen. 4:4): A History of Interpretation,” JETS 37, no. 4 (1994): 496.

[5] Lewis, “A History of Interpretation,” 486.

[6] Irenaeus. Against Heresies: Book IV, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, comp. Cleveland Coxe, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1 (Buffalo: Christian Literature, 1885; reprint, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1995), 485; Tertullian, An Answer to the Jew,  ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, comp. Cleveland Coxe, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 3 (Buffalo: Christian Literature, 1885; reprint, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1995), 153; Ambrose, Cain and Abel, The Fathers of the Church, A New Translation, vol. 42, trans. John J. Savage (New York: Fathers of the Church Inc., 1961), 419.

[7] Lewis, “A History of Interpretation,” 488.

[8] John J. Allen, “The Mixed Economies of Cain and Abel: An Historical and Cultural Approach,” Conversations with the Biblical World 31 (2011): 35; Ambrose, Cain and Abel, 397; Kenneth M. Craig Jr., “Questions Outside Eden (Genesis 4.1-16): Yahweh, Cain, and their Rhetorical Interchange,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 86 (1999): 112; V.P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1–17 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 224.Lewis, “A History of Interpretation,” 491; John Skinner, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Genesis, The International Critical Commentary, vol. 1(New York: Scribner, 1910), 105.

[9] Hershell H. Hobbs, The Genesis Debate, ed. Ronald Youngblood (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1990), 130-142; Gerhard Von Rad, Genesis, trans. John H. Marks (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1972), 101; John J. Yeo, “Genesis 4-5: The Two Lineages Compared,” classroom lecture, OLDTS 4503, 16 October 2017, MP3.

[10] Hobbs, The Genesis Debate, 138; Allen Ross, Genesis, Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, vol. 1 (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2008), 58.

[11] Ross, Genesis, 58; Leviticus 1-2; Michael Rydelnik and Michael Vanlaningham, eds, The Moody Biblical Commentary (Chicago: Moody, 2014), 51.

[12] Lewis, “A History of Interpretation,” 488; Didymus, Commentary on Genesis, The Fathers of the Church, A New Translation, vol. 132, trans. Robert C. Hill (Washington D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2016), 117;  Rydelnik, Moody Biblical Commentary, 117.

[13] Lewis, “A History of Interpretation,” 488.

[14] Calvin, Genesis, 190; Ross, Genesis, 59.

[15] Lewis, “A History of Interpretation,” 481. Calvin for instance, argues that Eve was reflecting on the miseries of the human race following the birth of Abel, and his name is not to be compared with that of Cain (Calvin, Genesis, 191).

[16] Craig “Questions Outside Eden,” 112-113.

[17] Having been dealt with in the previous section, a comparison between their occupations will not be considered further here.

[18] Rydelnik, Moody Biblical Commentary, 51.

[19] Ross, Genesis, 59; Ambrose, Cain and Abel, 425; Thomas C. Oden, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Old Testament, vol. 1 (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2001), 104; Craig “Questions Outside Eden,” 111; Didymus, Commentary on Genesis, 117;  Rydelnik, Moody Biblical Commentary, 51;

[20] Chaya Greenberger, “Cain and Abel: (Mis)managing Rejection and Unmet Expectations,” Jewish Bible Quarterly, vol. 44, no. 2 (2016): 117.

[21] Calvin, Genesis, 196; Ross, Genesis, 60; Rydelnik, Moody Biblical Commentary, 51; Oden, Ancient Christian Commentary, 104; Craig “Questions Outside Eden,” 111; Didymus, Commentary on Genesis, 117.

[22] Calvin, Genesis, 194, Augustine, Homilies on the First Epistle of John, trans. Rev. H. Browne, ed. Philip Shaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 1st series, vol. 7 (Buffalo: Christian Literature, 1888; reprint, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1995), 491; Lewis, “A History of Interpretation,” 492.

[23] Calvin, Genesis, 194; Augustine, First Epistle of John, 491.

[24] Matthew 23:35; Luke 11:51; 1 John 3:13; Jude states that blaspheming false teachers have “walked in the way of Cain,” although this does not directly refer to Abel as righteous, it certainly extends the contrast between Cain and Abel (Jude 1:11).

[25] Waltke, Genesis, 97.

[26] Hebrews 11:4.

[27] Genesis 4:11.

[28] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary, New Testament, 2nd ed.. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014), 57.

 

Complementarian Churches Should Appoint Qualified Women to Serve as “Deacons”

By Adam Brown –

I am devoted to complementarity. By this I mean that even while I affirm the full equality of men and women, I believe that God created humanity in two genders, male and female. Gender-blindness, therefore, is not a biblical option. There are not twelve genders, seven genders, three genders, or just one homogenous gender. There are two genders. As the Word of God says:

So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them (Genesis 1:27).

Thus, I affirm Southshore’s Elder Summary Statement on Manhood and Womanhood:

God created humanity in two genders, male and female, and each gender equally bears God’s image. As such, men and women are equal in value, nature, and personhood. Men and women share equally in the responsibility of benevolent dominion over the animal kingdom and the created order. Men and women also share equally in Jesus Christ and in salvation through the Gospel. At the same time, the gender distinction between men and women is a part of God’s design for humanity. Adam was created to exercise leadership and Eve was created as a helper fit for him. This man-woman distinction has implications for the functional role of men and women in the home and in the church.

There are many brothers and sisters in Christ who would also agree with this Summary Statement who have, in my opinion, misapplied complementarity by becoming more restrictive than the Bible when it comes to the position of “deacon” (which can also be translated “servant” or, in the case of Southshore, “steward”). According to 1 Timothy 3:8-13, deacons are servants, helpers, believers, and managers. They are not teachers and governors. Therefore, aside from our own traditions, it does not seem right to me to prohibit women from serving as a deacon (steward) in the local church. In my opinion, in our zeal to guard 1 Timothy 2:11-15, we go too far when we restrict women in their service to the local church beyond the biblical limits of teaching men and exercising authority over men (1 Timothy 2:12).

To show that this is not an unreasonable biblical interpretation, I invite you to read  articles by other complementarians who hold to the same position with regard to women deacons. The accusation that I, or they, do not hold to a high view of the Scriptures is, in my opinion, an unfortunate tact to take on this issue.

I will be posting these articles by other complementarian pastors over the next many days. Whether you agree or disagree with the appointment of women deacons (stewards), I ask that you read them carefully and prayerfully. For those who agree, may you find encouragement that this is a viable biblical position. For those who do not agree, I beseech you to be charitable in your admonishments and, perhaps even, open minded in your considerations.

In all things, let us agree that we all desire to be submissive to the Word of God and to implement this Word with fidelity. For, in the end, we all must give an account to Christ our God. I most certainly do not want to be reckless with the Scriptures, for I know that the burden of accountability falls all the more to the male elders and teachers of the local church (Hebrews 13:17; James 3:1). Thus, this is not a topic that I take lightly.

Our goal must always be to seek to understand the Word, do the Word, and then teach the Word (Ezra 7:10). I believe that appointing women stewards is faithful to this charge.

 

 

 

Are Women Saved by Bearing Children?

By Adam Brown –

In 1 Timothy 2:11-15 we receive the fifth instruction to the church, that men are to teach and exercise authority in the church. The last verse in this passage is peculiar and difficult to understand:

Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.

What does this mean? It seems antiquated and off-putting, doesn’t it? After all, didn’t the idea that women should bear children go out of  style the day Beaver Cleaver made his final new appearance in living rooms on June 20, 1963?

Understanding this verse is not easy. For starters, we are told that “she” will be saved by childbearing, and then we are told that this is conditional. In order for “she” to be saved, “they” must continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.

Who is she? Who are they?

Context helps. Throughout 1 Timothy 2:13-14, “she” is Eve. Thus, it makes most sense to conclude that “she” is still Eve. Thus, in context with verse 14, the meaning is this:

The woman (Eve) was deceived and became a transgressor, yet she (Eve) will be saved through childbearing.

Now that Eve is a transgressor, she needs to be saved. Thus, verse 15 seems to be teaching that childbearing will, in some way, contribute to Eve’s salvation. How so?

Put simply, Eve’s salvation, like the salvation of any and all who are saved, is entirely dependent on substitutionary atonement by the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. How will Jesus give Himself as a ransom for Eve – and the rest of us – if Eve doesn’t bear children? The birth of Seth is a crucial step toward Eve’s salvation. Thus, there is a necessary chain of childbirth from Eve to Mary, upon which the salvation of humanity is entirely dependent. Childbearing – itself a gender-specific contribution to humanity’s propagation and salvation – it would seem, is kind of important. And by “kind of,” I mean “massively.” Why is it then, that in our time and culture we so often sneer at childbearing as something second-rate? Shame on us.

But, is this all that it means? No, there’s more. Throughout 1 Timothy 2:13-15, Eve is the archetypal woman. What is true of Eve is true of all women. Eve was not created to lead Adam but to help Adam (1 Timothy 2:13; Genesis 2:18). Likewise, women are not permitted to exercise authority over a man (1 Timothy 2:12). Rather, they are to help men. Eve was deceived and became a transgressor (1 Timothy 2:14). It was only possible for Eve to be deceived because she had not received the Word of God directly from God. She received it through her husband, who received it directly from God (Genesis 2:16-17). Thus, the pattern of instruction established by God before the Fall was that He would entrust His Word to Adam, who was then is to teach it to his wife. And, even though Adam failed in this charge, God never reversed the designed order. Likewise, therefore, women are not permitted to teach over men (1 Timothy 2:12). Rather, they are to learn quietly (1 Timothy 2:11).

And so we come to 1 Timothy 2:15. What’s true of Eve with regard to childbearing is, in some way, true for all women. In addition to the chain of mothers from Eve to Mary that is necessary for the salvation of any and all who are to be saved, so also the bearing of any child is necessary for salvation. A sinner must be born into this world if that sinner is to ever believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved. There is no salvation without first physical birth.

Of course, childbearing is more than pregnancy and physical labour. A woman can bear children by adoption. A woman can also bear children by helping to raise up the children of others in the church. Thus, bearing children is the gender-specific role of women in raising them to know Christ and the Gospel of His salvation. We see evidence of this in Timothy’s own life:

I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well (2 Timothy 1:5).

My brother in Christ, Josip, pointed this verse out to me tonight. Lois and Eunice made a gender specific contribution to the salvation of Timothy by bearing him in love. We see further evidence of this in 2 Timothy 3:14-15:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

Timothy learned the Gospel from his mother and his grandmother. Together they exercised their call to childbearing and the fruit of their labour was not only their own salvation, but also that of their son, a man of faith. O that we would see that bearing children is not a second-rate calling!

Of course, we come dangerously close to preaching a works based Gospel here. The point is not that a woman earns her salvation by bearing children. The second half of 1 Timothy 2:15 makes that clear enough:

if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.

Salvation cannot be earned by bearing children. They – meaning women – must also continue in faith, which manifests itself in love, holiness, and self-control. It is faith that grabs hold of the grace that saves, not childbearing. And yet – yes, and yet – there is something wonderfully important about bearing children in God’s economy of salvation.

Would that we might have eyes to see how precious is God’s call on every form of motherhood! Mothers, as a son myself, I thank you for your unrivaled contribution. May God richly bless you for your sacrificial service done in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Does God will all people to be saved?

By Adam Brown –

Personal Note

I do not pretend this blog post to be air-tight or absolutely conclusive. I initially wrote it for myself as I made every effort to interpret 1 Timothy 2:4. I am sharing it with you so that you might gain insight into my interpretative efforts. I welcome interaction, so long as we are irenic and charitable with one another. It seems to me that this verse – 1 Timothy 2:4 – defies universal agreement.

In Summary

God wills all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. Paul asserts this in 1 Timothy 2:4 to affirm that it is good and pleasing to God that we pray for the salvation of all people, including kings and all who are in high positions.

Throughout 1 Timothy 2:1–7, Paul uses the word πάς (all) in a categorical sense. What is true of all people, categorically, may not be true of any and every individual person.

The Scriptures seem clear that God does not will to save any and every individual person. In fact, Romans 9 seems to make it clear that God actively wills against the salvation of certain individuals by hating some, hardening some, and making some for dishonourable use. This activity of God against the salvation of some demonstrates that while God wills all kinds of people to be saved – people from every tribe and language and people and nation (Revelation 5:10) – God does not will that any and every individual person be saved.

Lastly, the Scriptures also teach that God does not derive pleasure in the destruction of any, even while He wills the destruction of some (c.f. Ezekiel 18:23, 33:11).

Introduction

That God wills all people to be saved is undeniable. It is clearly written in 1 Timothy 2:4 (c.f. Ezekiel 18:23, 33:11; Mark 16:15–16; John 3:16; Acts 17:30; 1 Timothy 4:10; 2 Peter 3:9). However, what does it mean?

To begin, let’s look at 1 Timothy 2:3–4:

2:3 τοῦτο (this) is good and pleasing in the sight of God our Saviour, 4 ὃς πάντας ἀνθρώπους θέλει σωθῆναι (who wills all people to be saved) and to come to an understanding of the truth.

Now, the following questions:

  1. To what is τοῦτο (this) referring (2:3)?
  2. To whom is πάντας ἀνθρώπους (all people) in 1 Timothy 2:4 referring?
  3. Regarding salvation, what else do the Scriptures say that God θέλει (wills)?

Question 1: To what is τοῦτο (this) referring (2:3)?

The antecedent of τοῦτο (this) is 1 Timothy 2:1–2

1First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.

In v. 1, Paul exhorts the church to pray for all people.

In v. 2, Paul then, more specifically, indicates what he means by “all people.” All people includes kings and those in high positions. Paul gives a reason for these prayers, that those in the church might lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.

In v. 3, Paul anticipates and pre-empts an objection by affirming that such prayers are good and pleasing to God. Hence, “τοῦτο” (this) is referring to Paul’s command that the church pray for all people, including kings and those in high position.

In v. 4, Paul substantiates why such prayers are good and pleasing to God. Such prayers are good and pleasing to God because God desires all people to be saved and to come to an understanding of the truth. The πάντας ἀνθρώπους (all people, accusative case) in v. 4 directly corresponds to the πάντων ἀνθρώπων (all people, genitive case) in v. 1.

In sum, to rightly interpret πάντας ἀνθρώπους (all people) in v. 4, it is necessary to identify the πάντων ἀνθρώπων (all people) in v. 1. The reason for this is that in v. 4, Paul is defending why prayer for these people is good and pleasing to God. Therefore, v. 4 cannot be interpreted apart from its function within the immediate context of the passage. This brings us to our second question.

Question 2: To whom is πάντας ἀνθρώπους (all people) in 1 Timothy 2:4 referring?

The word πάς (all) is used six times in 1 Timothy 2:1-7:

  1. 2:1, I desire then, πρῶτον πάντων (first of all). . .
  2. 2:1, . . . that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for πάντων ἀνθρώπων (all people). . .
  3. 2:2, . . .for kings and πάντων τῶν ἐν ὑπεροχῇ (all who are in high positions). . .
  4. 2:2, . . . that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, ἐν πάσῃ εὐσεβείᾳ καὶ σεμνότητι (in all godliness and dignity). . .
  5. 2:4, . . . who wills πάντας ἀνθρώπους (all people) to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. .. .
  6. 2:6, . . . who gave himself as a ransom ὑπὲρ πάντων (for all).

Instance (1), πάντων (all) does not refer to any person, but rather to a list of forthcoming instructions. First in this list of instructions is the exhortation to pray.

Instance (2), πάντων ἀνθρώπων (all people) refers to the people that Paul is exhorting his readers to pray for.

Instance (3), πάντων τῶν ἐν ὑπεροχῇ (all who are in high positions) refers to people of a particular social-political category. These people are probably not the exact same as the πάντων ἀνθρώπων (all people) from instance (2), but are, rather, a sub-group within them (a second sub-group would be “kings”).

Instance (4), ἐν πάσῃ εὐσεβείᾳ καὶ σεμνότητι (in all godliness and dignity) refers to the desired goal of these prayers. That is, the prayers for all people, for kings and all who are in high position, are aimed at establishing a peaceful context within which the Christians can live in a way that is consistent with the Gospel that they profess.

Instance (5), πάντας ἀνθρώπους (all people) refers to the same people that Paul is exhorting his readers to pray for in instance (2).

Instance (6), ὑπὲρ πάντων (for all) refers to the people for whom Jesus died as a ransom. This is likely the same people referenced in instances (2) and (5).

Of the six uses of the word πάς (all), Instances 2, 3, 5, and 6 ought to be understood together. Instances 1 and 4 do not refer to people, and therefore, can be removed from our consideration.

With this information, let us reconstruct the logic of Paul’s argument. To begin, notice that the same use of “all people” is employed in instances (2) and (5). The two are connected by the coherent logic of the passage.

Pray for all people. Why? Because God wills all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

Instance (3) is connected to Instance (2), which thus expands the logic of the passage:

Pray for all people. [Pray even] for kings and all who are in high positions. Why? Because God wills all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. Implication: God even desires kings and all who are in high positions to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

This leaves us with Instance (6), which Paul adds as the means by which God effectually saves those whom He wills. This means is the ransom paid by Jesus on the cross:

Pray for all people. [Pray even] for kings and all who are in high positions. Why? Because God wills all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. Implication: God wills kings and all who are in high positions to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. Jesus gave himself as a ransom for all.

 In v. 5, Paul clarifies Instance (6):

Pray for all people. [Pray even] for kings and all who are in high positions. Why? Because God wills all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. Implication: God wills kings and all who are in high positions to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. There is only one mediator between God and [all] people, the person Jesus. Jesus gave himself as a ransom for all.

Finally, in v. 7, Paul highlights his mission to the Gentiles as an exemplary outworking of God’s will to save all people:

Pray for all people. [Pray even] for kings and all who are in high positions. Why? Because God wills all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. Implication: God wills kings and all who are in high positions to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. There is only one mediator between God and [all] people, the person Jesus. Jesus gave himself as a ransom for all. For this [mission to save all people] I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

In sum, the use of “all people” maintains a categorical sense throughout the entire passage:

  1. Paul instructs the church to pray, categorically, for “all people” (2:1).

This instruction does not require the church pray for every person individually.

  1. Paul instructs the church to pray, categorically, for the political and social elite as two related examples of sub-groups within “all people” (2:2).

This instruction does not require the church to pray for every political and social elite individually.

  1. God, categorically, wills “all people” to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (2:4).

As we will see in Question 3, this will does not effectually save every individual.

  1. Jesus died as a ransom, categorically, for all people (2:6).

While Jesus is the exclusive mediator between God and people, His death does not effectually apply to every individual.

  1. God sent Paul, categorically, to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles (2:7).

This mission does not require Paul to preach the Gospel to every individual Gentile.

Thus, the πάντας ἀνθρώπους (all people) in 1 Timothy 2:4 is referring to “all people” categorically. Within the category of “all people” are sub-groups, such as kings (2:2), all who are in high positions (2:2), and Gentiles (2:7). There is no sub-group outside the reach of God’s salvific work through Jesus Christ, which means there is no individual outside the reach of God’s salvific work based on his or her categorical identity.

Such a categorical use of πάς (all) is not unique to 1 Timothy 2:4. We see similar categorical uses elsewhere. For example:

Romans 11:26, “And in this way πᾶς Ἰσραὴλ (all Israel) will be saved.”

The phrase “all Israel” is not identifying any and every Israelite. Rather, “all Israel” is a way of identifying the nation of Israel as a collective group according to Israel’s corporate identity. In context, Paul is reassuring his readers that God has not abandoned the nation of Israel. Likewise, “all people” is not identifying any and every individual. Rather, “all people” is a way of identifying humanity as a collective group according to humanity’s corporate identity.

Genesis 13:3b (Septuagint), “. . . and in you πᾶσαι αἱ φυλαὶ τῆς γῆς (all the tribes of the earth) will be blessed” (c.f. Genesis 27:18, 26:4, 28:14; Acts 3:25; Galatians 3:8).

The phrase “all the tribes of the earth” is not identifying any and every tribe that has ever existed on the earth. Rather, “all the tribes of the earth” is a way of identifying humanity as a collective group without tribal demarcation. In context, God is reassuring Abram that God’s blessing extends beyond Abram and his family to humanity more broadly. Likewise, “all people” is not identifying any and every individual that has ever existed on the earth. Rather, “all people” is a way of identifying humanity as a collective group without categorical demarcation.

A categorical understanding of πάς (all) means:

  1. It is appropriate to pray for the salvation of any and every individual person, regardless of political position, social status, or ethnicity (so 2:1–2, 7).
  2. God wills that we pray for the salvation of any and every individual person indiscriminately (so 2:3–4).
  3. Jesus’ death on the cross was sufficient to ransom any and every individual person (so 2:5–6, c.f. 1 Timothy 4:10; Titus 2:11).

A categorical understanding of πάς (all)does not mean:

  1. In accordance with our prayers, every individual will be saved.
  2. God wills the effectual salvation of every individual through our prayers.
  3. Jesus’ death on the cross effectually ransomed every individual person.

This brings us to our third and final question.

Question 3: Regarding salvation, what else do the Scriptures say that God θέλει (wills)?

First, it is essential that we establish that God does not derive any pleasure in the condemnation of sinners (c.f. Ezekiel 18:23, 33:11). However, this is not the same as willing the salvation of any and every individual.

Romans 9:18:

18So then, He shows mercy on whomever θέλει (He wills) [but,] on the other hand, He hardens whomever θέλει (He wills).

One might be inclined to interpret 1 Timothy 2:4 to mean that God wills any and every individual to be saved if only any and every individual also will his or her own salvation.

Romans 9:18, however, makes this interpretation impossible. We learn from this verse that God actively wills the hardening of some people so that they are not saved. A few verses later (Romans 9:22–23), we are told that God wills to prove His wrath and to make known His power through the destruction of certain individuals.

Romans 9:22–23:

What if God, θέλων (willing) to prove His wrath and make known His power, bore, in much long-suffering, with vessels of wrath being prepared for destruction, in order to make known the wealth of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which are prepared beforehand for glory?

 

Though phrased as a question for rhetorical effect, Paul is asserting this as fact.

This verse shows us that in addition to willing the salvation of “all people” (so 1 Timothy 2:4), God also wills to prove His wrath and make known His power by destroying individual “vessels of wrath.”

There are only a few alternatives when we read 1 Timothy 2:4 and Romans 9:22–23 together:

God has two wills that are opposed to one another:

(1) the salvation of any and every individual; and

(2) the destruction of some.

This option is logically incoherent. God cannot simultaneously will the salvation of any and every individual and not will the salvation of any and every individual.

God has two wills that are ordered but not in contradiction, which necessitates the destruction of some:

(1) the salvation of any and every individual; and

(2) the proof of His wrath and the making known of His power.

In this option, God does not will the destruction of any individual for the sake of destroying the individual. Therefore, it is logically coherent.

In this option, it is the second will that is God’s preeminent will. As already stated, God does not will the destruction of anyone for the sake of destroying them. However, His will to prove His wrath and make known His power requires that some are destroyed. Therefore, in willing to prove His wrath and to make known His power, God concedes that the destruction of some is necessary.

God’s first will, that any and every individual be saved, is, thus, limited but not negated. God still wills the salvation of any and every individual even though His preeminent will makes this impossible.

In other words, God wills to prove His wrath and make known His power more than God wills to save any and every individual.

God has two wills that are congruent:

(1)   the categorical salvation of all people; and

(2)   the effectual salvation of some, but not all, individual people.

In this option, the first will considers the corporate identity of humanity as a group. The second will, on the other hand, considers the individual identity of each person within humanity. Collectively, God wills the salvation of humanity. Individually, God wills the salvation of some.

Implicit in this interpretation is that there is no one who is excluded from salvation because they are the “wrong kind” of humanity. For example, Jesus died for Gentiles as well as Jews, for slaves as well as free, for women as well as men (Galatians 3:28), for kings as well as paupers (1 Timothy 2:2), for the social elite as well as the marginalized (1 Timothy 2:2), and so on.

This option highlights the corporate identity of humanity and God’s commitment to humanity as a group that extends beyond Israel.

In other words, in His will to save humanity as a group, God wills to save all kinds of people.

The latter two of these options are both persuasive in their own ways. Nevertheless, the immediate context Romans 9:22–23 tilts the probability toward number 3. For example:

Romans 9:13, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

Romans 9:18, “. . . He hardens whomever He wills.”

Romans 9:21, “Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honourable use and another for dishonourable use?”

In each of these examples it is easier to conceive of God hating, hardening, and making vessels for dishonourable use if God’s will to save all people is a categorical truth, which does not apply to any and every individual.

How can God hate an individual whom He wills to save? How can God harden an individual whom He wills to save? How can God make an individual, whom He wills to save, for dishonourable use?

On the other hand, it is conceivable that those whom God hates, hardens, and makes for dishonourable use are individual members of categorical groups of humanity that God wills to save. Paul, himself, seemed to be thinking categorically in Romans 9:24, “even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?” God wills to categorically save both Jews and Gentiles, but not any and every Jew and not any and every Gentile. Only those individuals whom He calls will be saved. The same logic assists us in interpreting 1 Timothy 2:4. God wills to categorically save all people, but not any and every person. Only those individuals whom He calls will be saved.

Moreover, this third option makes the most sense of national universalism inherent to the Old Testament (c.f. Genesis 12:1–3, 22:18; Isaiah 2:2, 25:7, 66:18), which is confirmed climactically in Revelation 5:9–10:

And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

Revelation 5:9-10 aptly defines what Paul meant by “all people” in 1 Timothy 2:4. Salvation is universal only insofar as God wills to save people from every tribe and language and people and nation. No one is left out of God’s salvific work on account of his or her personal membership in a particular category of humanity. God desires that all people be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth and they will be made into a kingdom and priests to our God.

In Summary

God wills all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. Paul asserts this in 1 Timothy 2:4 to affirm that it is good and pleasing to God that we pray for the salvation of all people, including kings and all who are in high positions.

Throughout 1 Timothy 2:1–7, Paul uses the word πάς (all) in a categorical sense. What is true of all people, categorically, may not be true of any and every individual person.

The Scriptures are clear that God does not will to save any and every individual person. In fact, Romans 9 makes it clear that God actively wills against the salvation of certain individuals by hating some, hardening some, and making some for dishonourable use. This activity of God against the salvation of some demonstrates that while God wills all kinds of people to be saved – people from every tribe and language and people and nation (Revelation 5:10) – God does not will that any and every individual person be saved.

Lastly, the Scriptures also teach that God does not derive pleasure in the destruction of any, even while He wills the destruction of some (c.f. Ezekiel 18:23, 33:11).

What does the Bible teach about Baptism?

By Adam Brown –

What is baptism?

Baptism is the immersion in water of a Christian believer. Jesus commanded His disciples to baptize new believers in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). At Pentecost, Peter likewise exhorted the crowds to repent and be baptized in the Name of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38).

Water Baptism does not save us or change us. Nevertheless, Jesus commands us to be baptized so that, through Water Baptism, we might publicly testify to our private conversion. We are born again when we fully trust Jesus to save us by His death and resurrection (John 3:3–8; 1 Corinthians 12:12–13; 1 Peter 1:3–5, 22–23). This new birth puts us on the other side of death’s reach and begins our eternal life. Thus, when our bodies die, we immediately transition to a new and better way of living in the presence of the Lord while we wait for bodily resurrection from the dead. Water Baptism is the way in which we publicly affirm that we have been born again by the Holy Spirit.

What is a Biblical Theology of baptism?

Water Baptism has ancient roots in the Old Testament. There are two key Old Testament traditions that inform our understanding of the theology of Water Baptism. They are the Flood and the Red Sea traditions.

The Flood

In Genesis 6–9 we read about a global flood that devastated the whole world. Peter says that Christian baptism corresponds to this flood (1 Peter 3:18–22; see also 2 Peter 3:1–13). What does Peter mean by this? There are several parts:

  1. The Flood was an expression of God’s wrath in judgment. Likewise, the Scriptures teach us that there is a Final Judgment to come. Whereas God judged the world in the time of Noah with a flood of water, at the Final Judgment, God will judge the world with fire that dissolves the entire universe (2 Peter 3:6–7).
  2. In the days of Noah, God saved 8 people. Namely, Noah, his wife, their three sons, and their wives (1 Peter 3:20). God saved Noah’s family by grace through faith, not because of any inherit righteousness in Noah, his wife, their sons, or their wives. Likewise, God will save some people through the Final Judgment.
  3. God saved Noah, his family, and all the animals by putting them in the ark that He had commanded Noah to build. Likewise, God will save some people through the Final Judgment by putting us “in Christ.” Jesus is our ark through the fire to come. We are put “in Christ” when we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in our heart that God raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9).
  4. After God’s wrathful judgment had been poured out, the ark landed on Mount Ararat, and all the inhabitants of the ark emerged into a new earth. Likewise, God will resurrect the universe in glory and we will inhabit a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells (1 Peter 3:13; see also Revelation 21—22).

Thus, the Flood is the beginning of a biblical understanding of Christian baptism. When we submit to Water Baptism, we are marking our union with Noah as those who will come through God’s wrath in judgment.

The Red Sea

In Exodus 14 we read about the parting of the Red Sea that ushered Israel out of slavery in Egypt. As part of this tradition, we read in Joshua 3 that some 40 years later, that the children of the Exodus Generation pass through the Jordan River on dry ground. Paul says that Christian baptism corresponds to this national experience (1 Corinthians 10:1–5). What does Paul mean by this? There are several parts.

  1. Israel was enslaved in Egypt. Likewise, every human being is born into slavery to sin and the devil (Romans 6).
  2. By mighty acts, God demonstrated His sovereign power over the false idols, forces of nature, and political powers of Egypt. Likewise, God demonstrated His sovereign power over demonic powers, forces of nature, and earthly political powers in the life of Jesus Christ.
  3. God punished the hard heartedness of Pharaoh and the faithlessness of Egypt by killing the firstborn of every house. Likewise, God will punish the hard heartedness of the powers and principalities of this world and the faithlessness of humanity at the Final Judgment.
  4. By grace, God delivered those who, by faith, applied the blood of a Passover lamb to their doorposts and lintels (Exodus 12). The destroyer “passed over” blood soaked houses without executing judgment. Likewise, at the Final Judgment, God will “pass over” those who have applied the Blood of Jesus, the Passover Lamb, to their life by faith.
  5. Pharaoh released the slaves who had applied the blood of the Passover lamb. Likewise, sin and the devil must release us when we apply the blood of Jesus to our life by faith.
  6. Pharaoh changed his mind and pursued the released slaves. Likewise, Satan and sin chase after us in this life.
  7. God marked His deliverance of Israel by parting the waters of the Red Sea so that Israel would pass through the waters. Likewise, God marks His deliverance of us by commanding us to pass through the waters of baptism.
  8. Upon pursuing Israel, Pharaoh’s army was drowned in the Red Sea. Likewise, sin and the devil will have no absolute power over us. And, in the end, they will be destroyed in the Final Judgment.
  9. God delivered Israel from slavery to take them to the Promised Land. Forty years after the Red Sea, Joshua led the Wilderness Generation through the Jordan River and into the Promised Land (Joshua 3—4). Likewise, Joshua (Jesus) will return to lead us into the Eternal Promised Land, the new heavens and the new earth.
  10. In between the Red Sea and the Jordan River, Israel wandered in the wilderness, where they were humbled and tested (Deuteronomy 8). Sadly, many of them perished in the wilderness for a lack of faith (1 Corinthians 10:5). Likewise, the Christian life is a wilderness experience, in which we are humbled and tested. Our hope is that we will not perish in the wilderness as many of our forefathers did, but that we will enter safely into the Eternal Promised Land.

Thus, the Red Sea gives us a rich appreciation for the theological significance of Christian baptism. Notice that the Red Sea was for believers who had applied the blood of the Passover lamb to their homes by faith. Notice also that the Jordan River crossing was for believers who had kept the faith in the wilderness. Likewise, we affirm Believers’ Baptism.

Jesus, the Flood, and the Red Sea

Matthew, Mark, and Luke affirm both the Flood and Red Sea traditions in their description of the baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3—4; Mark 1; Luke 3—4).

Jesus and the Flood

The Holy Spirit is not a dove. At the baptism of Jesus, however, the Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove (Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22; John 1:32), just as a dove descended to Noah with evidence of a new earth in its beak. He did this to affirm that Jesus is the ark of God that will take us through the Final Judgment into the new heavens and the new earth if we but believe.

Jesus and the Red Sea

After His baptism, Jesus was compelled into the wilderness for 40 days where He was tempted by the devil (Matthew 4; Mark 1:12–13; Luke 4). This affirms the Red Sea tradition because Israel wandered in the wilderness after their baptism in the Red Sea for 40 years. While being tempted by the devil, Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy 6 and 8, demonstrating His awareness that He was fulfilling Israel’s wilderness experience, succeeding where they had failed.

The Flood, the Red Sea, the Cross, and the Resurrection

On the Cross, Jesus received the full wrath of God on behalf of those who believe. This qualifies Him to be an ark of safety through the Final Judgment for sinners who put their faith in Him. This also fulfills the Red Sea tradition, as Jesus is the Passover Lamb who brings about the deliverance of slaves who bathe themselves in His blood.

The resurrection validates these claims. The One who received the full wrath of God has come back to life. He is living on the other side of Judgment. He is already in the new age. He is also Faithful Israel, the One about whom the Father says, “You are My beloved Son.” He alone is qualified to cross the Jordan River into the Eternal Promised Land. And yet, He promises to lead us if we put our faith in Him.

The baptism of Jesus by John points forward to the fulfillment of the Flood and Red Sea traditions that would be accomplished by His crucifixion and resurrection.

What am I saying when I am baptised?

When we submit to Christian baptism, we are saying that we believe that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, lived a perfect life, died by crucifixion for the sin of the world, and was vindicated by bodily resurrection from the dead on the third day.

More than that, we are saying that we fully trust the finished work of Jesus Christ to save us and to bring us through the Final Judgment. We are uniting ourselves to His death and resurrection, so that His death becomes our death and His resurrection becomes our resurrection (Romans 6:3–11).

Theologically, we are saying that we believe that a Final Judgment is coming and that we deserve to be condemned like the generation that perished in the Flood. By God’s grace, however, we have hid ourselves in Christ, just as Noah and his family hid themselves in the ark, until the wrath of God had been spent. We expect there to be suffering in this life, but we look forward to the end of this suffering on the other side of Judgment (1 Peter 3:18–22).

We are also saying that we believe that we were born into this world as slaves to sin and the devil. By God’s grace, however, we have applied the blood of Christ to our lives, just as Israel applied the blood of the Passover lamb to their doorposts and were delivered. We understand that the proper response to God’s merciful salvation is a life of obedience (1 Corinthians 10:1–5).

We are also saying that we expect to cross the Eternal Jordan, into the new heavens and the new earth when Joshua (Jesus) returns to lead us. Until that time, however, we recognize that the Christian life is akin to Israel’s 40 years in the wilderness. We expect to be humbled and tested as we anticipate the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 8:1–10).

Should I be baptized?

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Son of God, that He died on the Cross for the forgiveness of our sins, and that He was forever raised back to life three days later should be baptized. Southshore is committed to Believer’s Baptism and therefore we encourage believers who were dedicated with water as children to be baptized.

There is no predetermined waiting period between the moment you become a Christian and the time you are baptized. So long as you truly believe that Jesus died on the Cross and was raised back to life for the forgiveness of your sins, and you desire to surrender your life to God, you can be baptized. In Acts 8:36 an Ethiopian eunuch asked the disciple Philip if anything should prevent him from being baptized immediately after having become a Christian. Philip responded by baptizing him immediately, mere moments after his conversion. In fact, throughout the book of Acts the norm seems to be Baptism without delay. It is important to remember that Water Baptism marks the beginning of a spiritual journey, not the end.

Southshore is committed to baptizing believers as soon as they are ready. For children still in the home, we entrust this decision to the discernment of the parents and the elders.

 What Scriptures speak directly about baptism?

Ministry of John the Baptist:

(Matthew 3:1–12; Mark 1:4–8; Luke 3:1–20; John 1:19–29)

Baptism of Jesus:

(Matthew 3:13–17; Mark 1:9–11; Luke 3:21–22; John 1:29–34)

Jesus’ Commission of Baptism:

(Matthew 28:16–20; Mark 16:14–18)

Teaching on Baptism:

(Romans 6:1–11; 1 Corinthians 10:1–5, 12:12–13; Galatians 3:23–29; Ephesians 4:1–6; Colossians 2:9–15; 1 Peter 3:18–22)

Examples of Baptism:

(John 4:1–2; Acts 2:36–42; Acts 8:4–13, Acts 8:26–40; Acts 9:1–19; Acts 10:44–48; Acts 16:11–15; Acts 16:25–34; Acts 18:5–11; Acts 19:1–7; 1 Corinthians 1:10–17)

Southshore Elders’ Statement on the Sabbath

Summary Statement:

Jesus is the substance of all the fullness of the Old Covenant, including all holy times.  Therefore, the practical observance of weekly Sabbaths, new moons, annual feasts, Sabbath years, and Jubilee years is no longer binding on New Covenant believers (Romans 14:5–12; Galatians 4:8–12; Colossians 2:16–17).

Detailed Statement:

Throughout history, God has set certain segments of time apart as holy. These holy times, whether they be weekly Sabbaths, new moons, Levitical feasts, Sabbath years, or Jubilee years, are all fulfilled and find their substance in the Lord Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:17).

Thus, regarding the Sabbath, or Lord’s Day, each person is bound by the teaching of Scripture and his or her own conscience within the framework of the Christian family (Ephesians 5:22—6:4). One person may esteem one day to be better than another, while another may esteem all days alike. The one who observes the day, ought to observe it in honour of the Lord and the one who does not observe the day, ought to abstain in honour of the Lord (Romans 14:5–12).

We have freedom in Christ to recognize all days as the same. We also have freedom in Christ to set apart some days as distinct (Romans 15:1–7). However, we insist that those who observe special days with greater strictness are not to add to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which teaches that we are saved entirely by grace through faith in Christ according the Scriptures to the glory of God. In no way does the observance of a special day add to – or maintain – one’s right standing or holiness before God. In fact, we encourage any who are so inclined towards this form of legalism to protect themselves by ceasing their formal observance of days and months and seasons and years (Galatians 4:8–12).

Moreover, no one who esteems one day as better than another (Romans 14:5) is to pass judgment on those who do not observe a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but, since Christ has come, the shadows are no longer necessary (Colossians 2:16–17).

Lastly, we do recognize that Jesus commands His church to gather regularly to worship God (Acts 2:42–47; Hebrews 10:24–25). Since the earliest days, the church has gathered on the first day of the week (Sunday) to remember the resurrection of Jesus Christ (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:1–2). In keeping with Christ’s command, we expect members to regularly attend Sunday worship and other corporate gatherings of the church as part of our commitment and submission to Christ through Southshore Bible Church. We also encourage all to establish a rhythm of life that intentionally includes weekly times for rest and recreation, all to the glory of God (Genesis 2:2).

 

Appendix: Elder’s Statement on the Lord’s Day

The Hebrew word שַׁבָּת (Sabbath) literally means “to cease” or “to rest.” This appendix shall outline the beliefs of the elders of Southshore Bible Church regarding holy days and times in the Bible.

We believe that the first day set aside by God as holy was the seventh day of history. This Day is unique for two reasons. First, on this day it was who God rested, not man. Second, Scripture does not describe this as a perpetual Sabbath.

  1. God created the heavens and the earth in six days (Gen 1:1—2:1).
  2. On the seventh day God finished His work that He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work that He had done (Gen 2:2).
  3. God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all His work that He had done in creation (Gen 2:3).
  4. Apart from the seventh day, God has been working since the first day (John 5:16–18).

 

We believe that God set aside days and times throughout history to be observed by Israel as holy (Lev 19:3, 30; 26:2, 34–35, 43; Num 15:32–36; 2 Chron 36:20–21; Neh 10:31–3 3; Ezek 20:12–32; 22:8, 26).

  1. Every seventh day during Israel’s wilderness wandering was to be kept by Israel as a Sabbath (Exod 16:23–39).
  2. Every seventh day after God established His covenant with Israel was to be kept by Israel as a Sabbath (Exod 20:8–11; 31:12–17; 35:1–3; Lev 23:3; Num 28:9–10; Deut 5:12–15; Neh 9:13–14; 13:15–22).
  3. Once a month, on the first day of the month (new moon), offerings were to be made (Num 28:11–15)
  4. Once a year, on the fourteenth day of the first month, Israel was to keep the Passover (Ex 12:1–6; Lev 23:5; Num 28:16).
  5. Once a year, from the fifteenth to twenty-second days of the first month, Israel was to keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread, with the fifteenth and twenty-second days being days for a holy convocation (Lev 23:6–8; Num 28:17–25).
  6. On the day after the Sabbath of the harvest, Israel was to keep the Feast of Firstfruits (Lev 23:9–14).
  7. Seven full weeks after Firstfruits, Israel was to keep the Feast of Weeks (Lev 23:15–22, Num 28:26–31).
  8. Once a year, on the first day of the seventh month, Israel was to keep the Feast of Trumpets (Lev 23:23–25; Num 29:1–6).
  9. Once a year, on the tenth day of the seventh month, Israel was to keep the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:29–31, 23:26–32; Num 29:7–11).
  10. Once a year, on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, Israel was to keep the Feast of Booths for eight days (Lev 23:33–36, 39–43; Num 29:12–38).
  11. Every seventh year was to be kept by Israel as a Sabbath year (Lev 25:1–7).
  12. Every fiftieth year was to be kept by Israel as a Jubilee year (Lev 25:8–17).

 

We believe that the weekly Sabbath of the Old Covenant between Israel and God was to remind Israel that God is their Creator and Saviour.

  1. The weekly Sabbath is a sign and a reminder to Israel that God is Creator (Exod 20:11; 31:17).
  2. The weekly Sabbath is a sign and a reminder to Israel that God is Saviour (Deut 5:15).

 

We believe the priesthood was commanded to work on the Old Covenant Sabbaths and holy days.

  1. The high priest was to officiate over the Day of Atonement (Lev 16)
  2. Priests offered burnt offerings on the weekly Sabbath (Num 28:9–10)
  3. Priests worked on weekly Sabbaths, new moons, and feasts (Lev 24:5–9; 1 Chron 9:31–32; 23:28 – 32; 2 Chron 2:4; 8:12–13; 31:2–3; Matt 12:5)

 

We believe that God was not pleased with Sabbath-keeping void of fidelity to Him.

  1. God desires justice and righteousness (Isa 1:12–17; 56:1–8; 58:1–14; Ezek 23:36–45; Matt 12:7).
  2. God will annul holy convocations and punish Israel for their sin (Jer 17:19–27; Lam 2:6; Hos 2:11; Amos 8:1–8).

 

We believe that Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath, which means that, as the One who instituted the Sabbath, Jesus has authority to interpret its function and right practice (Matt 12:8; Mark 2:28; Luke 6:5).

  1. Jesus reminds the Pharisees that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27; Exod 23:12; Deut 5:14).
  2. Jesus acknowledges that allowances are made when it is for the good of God’s people.
  • Jesus’ disciples plucked grain (Matt 12:1–2; Mark 2:23–24; Luke 6:1–2).
  • David ate the bread of Presence (Matt 12:3–4; Mark 2:25–26; Luke 6:3–4).
  • Priests profane the Sabbath by working (see IV) (Matt 12:5).
  • Jesus taught in the Synagogues (Mark 1:21–22; Mark 6:1–2; Luke 4:16–21, 31–32; 6:6; 13:10).
  • Jesus taught in the Temple at the Feast of Booths (John 7:14).
  • Simon’s mother-in-law served Jesus, Simon, Andrew, James, and John (Mark 1:31).
  • Circumcision can be done (John 7:22).
  • Teaching is done in the synagogue (Acts 15:21).

3.  Jesus commands that we are to do good on the Sabbath.

  • Jesus affirms it is right to lift a sheep/son/ox from a pit on the Sabbath (Matt 12:11–12; Luke 14:5).
  • Jesus affirms it is right to water a sheep or a donkey on the Sabbath (Luke 13:15).
  • Jesus affirms it is right to heal on the Sabbath (John 7:21–24).
  • Jesus healed a man with a withered hand (Matt 12:9–14; Mark 3:1–6; Luke 6:6–11).
  • Jesus cast out demons (Mark 1:23–28; Luke 4:33–36).
  • Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in-law (Mark 1:29–31).
  • Jesus healed a woman with a hunched back (Luke 13:11–13).
  • Jesus healed a man with dropsy (Luke 14:1–6).
  • Jesus healed a man who was unable to walk (John 5:1–9).
  • Jesus healed a blind man (John 9:1–16).

4.  Jesus is angered and grieved with legalistic Sabbath-keeping.

  • As in the case of the man with the withered hand (Mark 3:5).
  • As in the case of the woman with a hunched back (Luke 13:14–17).

 

We believe that missionaries of the early church met with Jews in the synagogues (or elsewhere) on the Sabbath.

  1. Paul and his companions attended the synagogue (Acts 13:14, 44).
  2. Paul taught in the synagogues (Acts 13:15–44; 17:1–4; 18:4).
  3. Lydia was converted in Philippi by the riverside (Acts 16:11–15).

 

We believe that the apostolic church gathered to worship God on the first day of the week, the Day on which Jesus was raised from the dead (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:1–2)

  1. John refers to the “Lord’s Day.” This may have been a reference to the weekly or annual remembrance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ (Rev 1:10).

 

We believe that all Sabbaths and holy days find their fulfillment and substance in Jesus Christ.

  1. Jesus died on Friday (Day 6, when God created humanity), was buried for the duration of Saturday (Day 7, when God rested), and was raised as the firstfruits of the New Creation on Sunday (Day 1, when God created Light) (Matt 28:1; Mark 15:42—16:6; Luke 23:54—24:1; John 19:31—20:1).
  2. The weekly Sabbath points to the eschatological Sabbath rest of God with His saints in the New Heavens and the New Earth on the other side of judgment. The Old Covenant does not deliver ultimate rest, but mere shadows of this rest (Isa 66:15–24; Heb 3:7—4:13; Col 2:16–17).
  3. Since Jesus is the substance of all the fullness of the Old Covenant, including all holy days, the observance of weekly Sabbaths, new moons, and annual feasts is no longer binding on New Covenant believers (Rom 14:5–12; Gal 4:8–12; Col 2:16–17).

The Restoration as a Picture of New Jerusalem

By Adam Brown

I preached this sermon at Muskoka Bible Centre on July 29, 2016. The premise of this sermon is that the restoration of Jerusalem by Ezra, Nehemiah, and Zerubbabel is a picture of the New Jerusalem in the New Heavens and New Earth. The restoration of Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period anticipates the Final Restoration at the end of God’s salvific plan.

The Davidic Kingdom as a Picture of the Kingdom of God

By Adam Brown

I preached this sermon at Muskoka Bible Centre on July 27, 2016. The premise of this sermon is that the Davidic kingdom is the kingdom of God both in that it prefigures it and is the beginning of it. Jesus is the rightful heir to the Davidic throne. Therefore, the kingdom over which Jesus reigns as King was established by God through David a millennium before Jesus was born. When Jesus returns, He will bring the Davidic kingdom with Him and the saints will live in this kingdom forever.

 

The Life of Abraham as a Picture of Salvation History

I preached this sermon at Muskoka Bible Centre on July 24, 2016. The premise of the sermon is that God ordered and recorded Abraham’s life (Genesis 12-25, one quarter of the book of Genesis!) as a typological picture of Salvation History, from Genesis to Revelation.