MARY AND THE VIRGIN BIRTH

A newspaper article by Lloyd Streeter

Once again we enter the Christmas season.  The celebration of Christmas has special meaning to those of us who are born again believers in Christ–a meaning that goes far beyond our decorations, caroling, and commercial activity.  Christmas is important to us because it says that God the Father sent His only Son (who is Himself God) to redeem us to Himself.  We are all sinful, fallen, and rebellious beings, but God loves us and intervened to save us by sending His Son.

God often uses humans to carry out His plan.  When Christ, the Son of God, was sent into the world, He came in the womb of the virgin Mary, a young Jewish girl.  This makes her an important and special person.  She, of course, is not in the same category as Jesus. He is the preeminent and primary Person (Colossians 1:18).  Without Him we never would have heard of Mary.  Nevertheless, Mary was highly favored by God and more blessed of God than all other women.

Mary should be honored and held in high esteem by all Christians.  She was used by God to bring our Savior into the world.  She is His mother.  She nursed Him when He was an infant, cooked for Him, taught Him, and cared for Him.

What do we know about this woman, the mother of Jesus?  First, we know that her place in God’s plan was prophesied in the Old Testament Scriptures.  Genesis 3:15 speaks of “her seed.”  In that important verse God said, “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.”  This verse, which tells the first gospel in the Bible, also speaks of Jesus as the seed of the woman.  Usually, we think of a person as being the seed of a man, but Jesus was not the seed of any man.  His only human parent was the woman.  So, Mary was the prophesied mother of our Savior way back at the beginning of the Bible.

Isaiah 7:14 is another Old Testament verse which prophesied the virgin mother’s work.  This prophecy was written about 800 years before Christ came as a babe at Bethlehem.  This verse says, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”  Second, we know some facts about Mary’s personal history.  We know that she lived in Nazareth, in Galilee.  She was of the tribe of Judah and from the family of King David.

Third, we know that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was born.  Jesus had no human father.  The Holy Spirit of God caused the conception of Jesus to occur.  In that sense, the birth of Jesus is the only virgin birth in the history of the world.  Through the miracle of the virgin birth, divine power caused God to be manifest in human flesh (I Timothy 3:16).  Those of us who are true believers, having trusted in Jesus as our only Savior, do not have any patience with liberal preachers and teachers who deny the virgin birth.  When a person denies the virgin birth, he denies the truthfulness of God’s Word and blasphemes our God.

There is no reason for anyone to believe that Mary remained a virgin throughout her earthly life.  She would not have been a better person if she had remained a virgin until her death.  In any case, the Bible says that she did not live all of her life as a virgin.  She was the mother of at least six children in addition to Jesus (Matthew 13:55-56).  Jesus had at least four brothers and two sisters.  Matthew 1:25 says, “And [Joseph] knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son.” So, Mary was a virgin only until after Jesus was born as evidenced by the word “till.”  The word “firstborn,” of course, means others were born of her later.

Fourth, we know that Mary was a common believer like all of the others who were saved by the grace of God.  Acts 1:14 says, “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.”  Here Mary is spoken of as simply one of the believers.  She is not superior to the others.  She simply took her place with the others and prayed.  She was not being a mediator.

God did not choose a regal woman of luxury and grandeur to be the mother of our Savior.  Jesus was not born to a woman of prestige or greatness.

Nowhere in the Bible do we find anyone praying to Mary–not at the wedding in Cana, not in the upper room, nowhere.  In fact, the Bible says, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (I Timothy 2:5).

And we are told to pray in Jesus’ name (John 16:24).  So, we need no other mediator than Christ.  No one is more tender, more understanding, or more sympathetic than He.  And God has given us no other mediator.

Fifth, we know that Mary accepted Jesus as her own personal Savior.  She needed a Savior just as all of us do.  “There is none righteous, no, not one. . . . For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:10 and 23).  So, God did not preserve Mary from sinning, nor was the infection of original sin prevented in her case.  Mary obtained the grace of God and salvation through the merits of Jesus Christ because she was a sinner like all of us.

In Luke 1:47, in her song known as “The Magnificat,” Mary says “And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.”  Yes, Mary needed a Savior and she received by faith the Lord Jesus as her Savior.  In this, she is an example to all of us.  If one as virtuous as Mary (and as blessed of God as Mary) needed to be born again, how much more so do we poor sinners need salvation.

The most beautiful story ever told is the story of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.  And a part of that beautiful story is the account of Mary, the mother of our Lord.

Mary was a pure, virtuous woman.  Nothing is clearer in all the Bible than this truth.  Read the gospels (Matthew and Luke) and you see her as she is–pure in mind, humble, submissive to God, thankful and joyful that God chose her to bring the Savior into the world, having faith to believe the message of salvation, and being wise to understand the purpose of God in her life.

“And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger” (Luke 2:7).

She did it for God, and she did it for you.

THE CANONICITY OF THE BOOKS AND WORDS OF THE BIBLE

By Lloyd Streeter

It is our conviction that the Holy Spirit led the true people of God to accept the words and books of the Bible as genuine Holy Scripture, authoritative and inspired. In my book, Seventy-five Problems with Central Baptist Seminary’s Book: The Bible Version Debate (p. 75), I argue for the preservation of all of the words of Scripture on the basis of the doctrine of canonicity. We argue that if Central’s professor, Roy Beacham, believed in the canonicity of the books of the Bible, then to be consistent, he should believe in the canonicity of the words of the Bible as well.

After all, if the Holy Spirit led the true churches of Jesus Christ to accept the genuine inspired books of the New Testament (and He did!), would He not also lead the true, Holy Spirit indwelt churches to accept the inspired and preserved words of those books?

How does Beacham know that the canon of Scripture which all of us accept is correct? How does he know that the sixty-six books of the Bible are all of the books God intended for us to accept? How does he know that some of the books were not left out? How does he know God intended for them to be canonical? After all, God did not give us a list of canonical books. So, what is Beacham’s faith based on?

The answer to the above questions should be that the canon of Scriptures is based on the same verses which I cite for promises of Bible preservation. If God could lead and guide His people to accept the right Books for the canon, could He not also guide His people to accept the right words?

A considerable amount of faith is required if we are going to believe at all that we have God’s Word, even in “a practical virtual sense.” When we consider some of the facts in the history of the Old Testament text, we must conclude that God was overseeing and caring for the words of Scripture just as He had indicated in Matthew 5:18; 24:35; Psalm 119:152; Psalm 119:160; Isaiah 40:8; I Peter 1:23-25; Psalm 12:5-8; and John 14 and 16. [Seventy-five Problems, pp. 75-76]

The words of Scripture were received by true believers in the true churches of Jesus Christ as soon as they were delivered. No church or church council made the Bible. The Holy Spirit made the canon of Scripture by leading the true people of God to receive the Books and the Words. The canon of Scripture was settled hundreds of years before the Roman Catholic Church came into existence and hundreds of years before the Councils of Nicea and Hippo.

In I Thessalonians 2:13, Paul wrote of how the Thessalonians had received the Word of God:

For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.

Some commentaries would say that Paul here refers to the Old Testament Scriptures which he read to the Thessalonians. Others would say that he refers to the New Testament revelations which Paul wrote down under inspiration of God and then read to the church. In any case, the statement shows how the true people of God and the true churches of Jesus Christ receive the Word of God when it is presented to them. The Holy Spirit teaches the child of God to receive the Word.

Of course, we do not mean that any individual Christian, nor any individual church is infallible. But, all of God’s people together and all of His churches together made the right decisions about the canon of Scripture.

Dr. Wilber Pickering, in his excellent book, The Identity of the New Testament Text [Thomas Nelson, Nashville, 1977] on pages 94-100, makes the case that the New Testament writings were recognized as Scripture immediately:

It is clear that the apostle Paul, at least, considered his writings to be authoritative–see 1 Cor. 14:37, 2 Cor. 10:1-16, Gal. 1:6-12 and 2 Thess. 3:6-14. And it is reasonable to infer from Col. 4:16 that he expected his writings to have a wider audience than just the particular church addressed.

Peter, also, puts the commandments of the apostles (himself included) in the same class with “the holy prophets” (2 Pet. 3:2). In 1 Tim. 5:18 Paul puts the Gospel of Luke (10:7) on the same level as Deuteronomy (25:4), calling them both “Scripture.”

Taking the traditional and conservative point of view, 1 Timothy is generally thought to have been written within five years after Luke. Luke was recognized and declared by apostolic authority to be Scripture as soon as it came off the press, so to speak.

In 2 Pet. 3:15-16, Peter puts the Epistles of Paul on the same level as “the other Scriptures.” Although some had been out for perhaps fifteen years, the ink was scarcely dry on others, and perhaps 2 Timothy had not yet been penned when Peter wrote. Paul’s writings were recognized and declared by apostolic authority to be Scripture as soon as they appeared.

Pickering goes on to show that Clement of Rome (96 A.D.), Barnabas (70-135 A.D.), Ignatius (110 A.D.), Polycarp (115 A.D.), Justin Martyr (150 A.D.), Theophilus, Irenaeus, Athenagorus, and Tertullian all quoted the New Testament writings calling them “sacred Scripture.”

In the book, Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible, by R. Laird Harris, Ph.D., he makes these points

  1. By neither appeal to authority nor appeal to history can the apocryphal books be properly included in the sacred canon. (p. 180)
  2. We do not disparage the apocryphal books because they are of real value and should be read by more Christians because they give good historical insights. (p. 180)
  3. The apocryphal books were written after prophecy was recognized to have departed from Israel. (p. 181)
  4. The common Jewish canon did not include these apocryphal books and Jesus and His disciples accepted that Jewish canon. (p. 182)
  5. Most of the Old Testament books are quoted in the New Testament, but the apocryphal books are never quoted. (p. 183)
  6. When Josephus listed the Jewish Scriptures, he listed the same 39 books, no more and no less, that we have in our AV. (p 185)
  7. The Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) contained apocryphal books but it was an Egyptian production and not a Palestinian one. (p. 186)
  8. Eight prominent Church fathers of the fourth century, including Athanasius and Cyril, left us lists of Old Testament books, all of which agree with the Jewish canon. (p. 189)
  9. Augustine (and the councils which he dominated, Hippo 393 A.D. and Carthage 397 A.D.) included the apocryphal books in his canon. (p.190)
  10. Roman Catholics officially adopted the Apocrypha in reformation times (Trent, 1546). VERY LATE!
  11. In so far as the New Testament canon is concerned, the Church, very early, received all of the 27 books “as inspired and therefore canonical.” (p. 201)
  12. The Syriac version (Peshetta) was most likely written in the second century (about 125-150 A.D.), and did not contain any apocryphal books. (p. 216)
  13. The Old Latin Bible, predating Jerome’s Vulgate, had the same 66 books as the reformation Bible. (p. 217)
  14. Regarding the Roman contention that the Roman Catholic Church made the Bible, Harris says, “Of course, the main assumption of Roman Catholicism is the usual contention that the Church of the first three centuries was a Roman Catholic Church. If so, it was a strange one. No present-day Roman Catholic would have felt at home in it. There was no doctrine of purgatory, of confession, of the mass. Both elements of the Communion were given to the laity. The infallibility of the Roman pontiff was nowhere held, because never claimed. There was no rosary, no celibacy of the clergy, no doctrine of indulgences, no treasury of merit, no doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary or special adoration of her, no immaculate conception or bodily assumption of Mary. The fact is that the Church of those centuries would have passed very well for a Protestant Church, but a present-day Roman Catholic would scarcely have known he had been to church if he had attended a meeting in the catacombs! This was the Church which for three centuries was testing the evidences concerning the New Testament books and was within fifty years in full agreement on all but a handful of them. The remainder were accepted as the evidence was circulated and recognized. No church made them into Bible books.” (p. 274)
  15. Harris quotes John Calvin (Institutes) who emphasizes the inward testimony of the Holy Spirit and says that unsaved men are unable to think rightly about heavenly things (canonicity). Says Calvin, “The Word will never gain credit in the hearts of men til it be confirmed by the internal testimony of the Spirit.” (p. 276) The French Confession of 1559, in which Calvin had a large hand, says, “We know these books to be canonical, and the sure rule of our faith, not so much by the common accord and consent of the church as by the testimony and inward illumination of the Holy Spirit which enabled us to distinguish them from other ecclesiastical books.” (p. 277)
  16. He quotes S.R.L. Gaussen, who argues that “providence has led the Church catholic in the selection of our 66 books, but [God] gives no authority to the Church in this matter.” (p. 278)
  17. He quotes Princeton Professor Archibald Alexander, who wrote a book concerning the canon, and says that the Old Testament canon was settled “very simply by appealing to the historical fact of the testimony of Christ and His apostles.” (p. 279) Furthermore, Alexander said of the New Testament books, “Their right to a place in the canon does not depend on the vote of any council, or the decision of any bishop, but upon the fact that they were given by inspiration; and this was known by the character of the men who wrote them. The appeal to testimony, therefore, is not to obtain the judgment of the Church that these books were canonical, but to ascertain the fact that they were indeed the productions of the apostles, to whom the Lord promised plenary inspiration.” (p. 279)
  18. He quotes B.B. Warfield from his Revelation and Inspiration. Warfield says Scripture was imposed upon the Church by the apostles and that this guarantees canonicity. (pp. 279-280)
  19. He quotes C. Hodge, Systematic Theology, that the canon of the Old Testament is determined by the approval of Christ and His apostles. “The principle on which the NT is determined is equally simple. Those books, and those only which can be proved to have been written by the apostles, or to have received their sanction, are to be recognized as of divine authority.” (p. 280)
  20. Harris says, “God’s providence, which watched over the preservation as well as the preparation of these sacred books, was doubtless a factor . . . at least we may cheerfully concede that God in His providence saw to it that these books were preserved. . . .” [It is my conviction that the Words, not just the Books, have been preserved by God, and that what Harris says about the Books applies to the Words, and for the same reasons. LLS]
  21. Harris concludes, “We have thus come to the conclusion that historical study and Biblical evidence combine to give us a test of canonicity that is definite and which was readily applied by the early Christians. It can even be applied with confidence by us in spite of the lapse of centuries and the diminution of the evidence. The books did not become authoritative by Church decision or as a result of the veneration attaching to things of antiquity. They were authoritative when written because given by inspiration of God. They were recognized as authoritative, inspired, and canonical by the generations to which they were addressed because of the position of the authors as acknowledged spokesmen of God. In the ancient times the succession of writing prophets following Moses, the great prototype, gave us our Old Testament. In the times of the founding of the Christian Church the apostles were God’s chosen instruments appointed expressly by Christ for the purpose and endued by Him with the Holy Spirit for their revelational activity. They were conscious of such a holy gift, and as they write to us the Word of God they attach to it a suitable blessing for all who receive it in faith and practice it: ‘Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.” (Rev. 1:3)

A scholarly discussion of the Apocrypha and of Roman Catholic claims is found in Loraine Boettner’s book, Roman Catholicism. Boettner (pronounced: Bet-ner) was a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary from which he also received a Th.M. in 1929, where he studied under C. Hodge. He was also a graduate of Tarkio College and the University of Missouri. He was the author of many books, including The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, The Millennium, and Studies in Theology.

He says that the Roman Catholic Church did not make the Bible as it claims because there was no Roman Catholic Church at the time the Bible was written and reached canonicity.

Romanism developed, says Boettner, over a long period of time. Prayers for the dead began about 300 A.D. Making the sign of the cross started about 300 A.D. Veneration of angels and dead saints and the use of images came in at about 320 A.D.

The mass did not begin as a daily celebration until 394 A.D.

The beginning of the exaltation of Mary came in at about 431 A.D.; extreme unction in 526 A.D.; and the doctrine of purgatory in 593 A.D.

The College of Cardinals was not established until 927 A.D.; the canonization of dead saints in 995 A.D.; and the Apocrypha was added to the Bible in 1546 A.D. [pp. 7-8]

Here are some points made by Boettner:

Ever since New Testament times there have been people who accepted the basic principles now set forth in Protestantism. That is, they took the Bible as their authoritative standard of belief and practice. They were not called Protestants. Neither were they called Roman Catholics. They were simply called Christians. During the first three centuries they continued to base their faith solely on the Bible. They often faced persecution, sometimes from the Jews, sometimes from the pagans of the Roman empire. But early in the fourth century the emperor Constantine, who was the ruler in the west, began to favor Christianity, and then in the year 324, after he had become ruler of all the empire, made Christianity the official religion. The result was that thousands of people who still were pagans pressed into the church in order to gain the special advantages and favors that went with such membership. They came in in far greater numbers than could be instructed or assimilated. Having been used to the more elaborate pagan rituals, they were not satisfied with the simple Christian worship but began to introduce their heathen beliefs and practices. Gradually, through the neglect of the Bible and the ignorance of the people, more and more heathen ideas were introduced until the church became more heathen than Christian. Many of the heathen temples were taken over by the church and re-dedicated as Christian churches.

Thus in time there was found in the church a sacrificing and gorgeously appareled priesthood, an elaborate ritual, images, holy water, incense, monks, and nuns, the doctrine of purgatory, and in general a belief that salvation was to be achieved by works rather than by grace. The church in Rome, and in general the churches throughout the empire, ceased to be the apostolic Christian church, and became for the most part a religious monstrosity. [p. 11]

Boettner says the true church is composed of all who are true Christians, those who have been “born again,” or “born anew.” [p. 19]

He points to “Roman Catholic” as a denominational name, and says,

In the Bible the word “church” never means a denomination. The Bible has nothing to say about denominations. Whether a local church chooses to remain strictly independent, or to enter into a working agreement with one or more other local churches, and if so on what terms, is not discussed in Scripture, but is left entirely to the choice of the church itself. And we find that in actual practice churches range all the way from those that remain entirely unrelated to any other, to the other extreme of those that subject themselves to some hierarchy of denominational overlords who own property and send the minister. [p. 20]

He says, “When our Lord prayed for unity, ‘that they may all be one’ (John 17:21), it was primarily a spiritual unity, a oneness of heart and faith, of love and obedience, of true believers. . . .” [p. 20] (empasis LLS) Then says,

It is just here that the Romanists, who claim to be the only true church, err in attempting to bring all churches, even to force all churches, into one external and mechanical organization. The oneness for which Christ prayed was not external and visible, but spiritual and invisible. There can be and actually is real spiritual unity among Christians apart from organizational unity. The church is not a mechanism, but a living organism, whose head is Christ; and any unity that is mechanical and forced is bound to hinder the very thing that it is designed to promote. When we hear the pope and occasionally other church leaders talk about uniting all churches into one super organization, the words they employ and their method of approach make it clear that what they have in mind is not spiritual unity of believers but an ecclesiastical and mechanical unity of believers and unbelievers, designed primarily for what they think would be greater efficiency of operation. [p. 21]

Boettner does not believe the early church had any power over the conscience of men. Says he,

We are inclined to believe that the early church was neither Episcopal, nor Presbyterian, nor Congregational, but a combination of all three, and that local churches then as now may have differed considerably in their manner of government. In any event it is quite clear that the Roman Catholic Church, with its hierarchial form of government, was not the New Testament church, for the institution of the papacy, with a sacrificing priesthood, did not develop until some five centuries later.

The spurious logic of the hierarchy through which it lays claim to supreme authority over all Christians finds no support in Scripture. [p. 29]

The primary point of cleavage between the Roman Catholic and the other churches seems to be the fact that the Roman Church is hierarchical and authoritarian in its form of government, while the others are essentially democratic and place the control of church affairs in the hands of the people. It was the Vatican Council of 1870, with its pronouncement of papal infallibility, that sounded the death-knoll [sic] of any democratic processes in the Roman Church and placed it irrevocably on the road to totalitarianism. [p. 42]

With regard to the Apocrypha, it is only through the coersive power of the hierarchal system that the spurious books are accepted:

The 14 or 15 books that the Roman Catholic Church adds to the Bible and pronounces equally inspired and authoritative are known as the Apocrypha. These are printed as a part of the Bible and must be accepted by all Roman Catholics as genuine under penalty of mortal sin. . . .

They are listed as follows:

  1. The First Book of Esdras
  2. The Second Book of Esdras
  3. Tobit
  4. Judith
  5. The additions to the book of Esther
  6. The Wisdom of Solomon
  7. Ecclesiasticus, or the Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach
  8. Baruch
  9. The Letter of Jeremiah
  10. The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Young Men
  11. Susanna
  12. Bell and the Dragon
  13. The Prayer of Manasseh
  14. The First Book of Maccabees
  15. The Second Book of Maccabees [p. 80]

Boettner correctly says that the canon of Old Testament books was settled by the Jews long before the time of Jesus:

The Hebrew Old Testament was completed some four hundred years before the time of Christ. In the second century B.C., a Greek translation by Hebrew scholars was made in Alexandria, Egypt, and was called the Septuagint because the translators numbered 70. There developed an important difference, however, between the Greek translation and the Hebrew canon since the Septuagint contained a dozen or more Apocryphal books interspersed among the books of the Hebrew Bible. But not all copies contained the same books–suggesting that there was no general agreement among the translators as to which of these additional books were authoritative. [p. 81]

So, we find that at the time of Christ there were two versions of the Old Testament current in Palestine, the more liberal Alexandrian Septuagint, including the Apocryphal books, in Greek, and the more conservative Hebrew version which included only the canonical books of the Jews, and the Roman Catholic Bible follows the Alexandrian while the Protestant Bible follows the Hebrew version.

The loose talk of some Roman Catholic writers about the “Greek Bible,” the form of the Septuagint that originated in Alexandria, Egypt, being the Bible of the early church, is no credit to scholarship, for it ignores the most important point of all, namely, that so far as the evidence goes, Jesus and the New Testament writers did not consider the Apocryphal books canonical but instead accepted the Palestinian version of the Old Testament.

Furthermore, Josephus, the noted Jewish historian, about 90 A.D., gave a list of the books of the Jewish law and prophets, but he did not include the Apocryphal books. Other Jewish sources support Josephus. The Apocrypha was rejected by Origen, who is generally acknowledged to have been the most learned man in the the church before Augustine, by Tertullian, an outstanding scholar in the early third century, by Athanasius, the champion of orthodoxy at the Council of Nicaea and by Jerome, the translator of the Latin Vulgste which became the authorized Roman Catholic Bible. [p. 82]

The Roman Catholic Church did not exist when the Bible was given by God and canonized by the Holy Spirit’s work in the minds of the believers. As Boettner says,

A fraudulent claim recently put forth by the Knights of Columbus in a series of newspaper and magazine ads designed to appeal to Protestants and others is that the Roman Catholic Church produced the Bible and that we received it from her. Some of her spokesmen attempt to say that the canon of the Bible was established in the fourth century, by the pope and council of Carthage, in 397 A.D. But that statement is erroneous on two counts. In the first place, there was no pope as such in 397 A.D. It was not until the Council of Chalcedon, in 451, that the bishop of Rome was designated pope, and the authority of the bishop of Rome never has been acknowledged by the Eastern churches. Previous to that time all priests and bishops were called popes (Latin, papa), and in the Eastern churches that title is applied to ordinary priests even to the present day. The Council of Chalcedon attempted to restrict the title exclusively to the bishop of Rome, who at that time was Leo I, and conferred it posthumously on all previous bishops of Rome in order to make it appear that an unbroken succession of popes had proceeded from Peter.

And in the second place, the New Testament was produced during the first century of the Christian era and had assumed its present form centuries before the Roman Catholic Church developed its distinctive characteristics. At that time the Eastern churches were dominant in Christian affairs, and the Church in Rome was relatively insignificant. Gregory I, called Gregory the Great, who was consecrated pope in 590 and died in 604, was in effect the founder of the papal system. He reorganized the church, revised the ritual, restored monastic discipline, attempted to enforce celibacy among the clergy, and extended the authority of the Roman Church into many countries adjacent to Italy. He more than anyone else gave the Roman Church its distinctive form and set the course that it was to follow in its later history.

Furthermore, long before the Council of Carthage the particular books now found in the New Testament, and only those, had come to be looked upon by the church at large as the inspired and infallible Word of God on the basis of their genuineness and authority. These particular writings, in distinction from all other books of that age, manifest within themselves this genuineness and authority as we read them; and the Council of Carthage did not so much choose the books that were to be accepted in the New Testament but rather placed its stamp of approval on the selection that by that time, under the providential control of the Holy Spirit, had come to be looked upon by the church as the New Testament canon. The Old Testament canon was completed and had assumed its present form long before the coming of Christ. The Roman Church, of course, had nothing whatever to do with that. [pp. 102-103]

Boettner recognizes that there were many Christian churches before the Roman Church came into existence. They did not have the name Baptist, Presbyterian, or Catholic attached to them.

He also recognizes that there were true-to-the-Bible churches all through the Dark Ages, churches which were not part of the Roman Church. It was these churches which were led of the Spirit to receive the Books and Words of Scripture.

There remained, however, some groups, small in numbers, usually in isolated places, and later primarily in the mountains of northern Italy, who maintained the Christian faith in reasonable purity. There were also individuals throughout the church in all ages, usually more or less independent of the church at large, who continued to hold quite correct ideas concerning the Christian faith. But the half paganized condition continued through the Middle Ages and on into the sixteenth century when the religious revival in the West, known as the Reformation shook the church to its foundation. [p. 11]

We have looked at several Scriptures which show that the genuine books and words of Scripture were received by the true believers and true churches of Jesus Christ, and that this was done as soon as the Scriptures were presented to those churches and believers. The canon was not made by any denomination or church council. We have found that some significant scholars have understood the work of the Holy Spirit, of true believers, and of the true churches in the formation of the canon. Wilber Pickering, Laird Harris, Archibald Alexander, S. R. L. Gaussen, B. B. Warfield, C. Hodge, Loraine Boettner, and John Calvin have been cited as some who have understood the work of the Holy Spirit, of the Apostles, of true believers, and of true churches in the formation of the canon of the New Testament.

The Holy Spirit has been active through out history in the preservation of the genuine words of God as written in Holy Scriptures. Both the words and the books are canonized, not by a denomination or council, but by God Himself. Most protestants do believe that the books of the Bible were canonized by the Holy Spirit working in the minds of believers, but to be consistent, they should also recognize that the words of the Bible were canonized on the same basis.

ALL PEOPLE WILL BE ACCOUNTABLE BEFORE GOD

(A newspaper article by Lloyd Streeter)

Some excuses are humorous. Somewhere I read a list of actual excuses that parents wrote and sent to their children’s teachers.

One of these excuses said, “Dear School: Please excuse John’s being absent on January 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, and also 33.”

Another one said, “Megan could not come to school today because she has been bothered by very close veins.”

My favorite said, “Please excuse Jennifer for being absent yesterday. We forgot to get the Sunday paper off the porch, and when we found it Monday, we thought it was Sunday.”

Most pastors hear lots of excuses. One pastor told about an almost unimaginable excuse. He had visited a man and invited him to the church. The man answered, “No, I don’t want to come.” The pastor inquired, “Why don’t you want to come?” The man responded, “Peanut butter!” “Peanut butter? What kind of excuse is that?” the dumbfounded pastor asked. The man arrogantly responded to the minister, “I plainly told you that I don’t want to go to church. Peanut butter is just as good an excuse as any!”

We often laugh when we hear of the excuses speeding drivers give to the policeman; or the excuses husbands give for coming home late; or the excuses people give for being late to a meeting.

However, not all excuses are funny. Some are pitiful. Jesus told a story about people being invited to a great supper. This story was for the purpose of showing the response of people when they have been invited to receive God’s salvation. Sadly, Jesus said, “They all with one consent began to make excuse” (Luke 14:18).

My pastor (when I was a teenager) used to say that an excuse is “The skin of a reason stuck to a lie.”

In every case, when we make an excuse, it shows that we are accountable for our actions. Someone has a right to know why we failed to do as we should, and we feel a need to justify our behavior.

All people will have to give an answer to God. The born-again child of God will have to give an account to the Savior. And on an entirely different occasion, the lost, unsaved Christ-rejector will stand before God to face the consequences of a sinful, wasted life. In that day, mankind will be without excuse (Romans 1:20).

What are some things for which there is no excuse? The Bible tells us what they are.

First, there is no excuse for a defeated life. The Bible tells us how to be overcomers. It says, “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (I John 5:4). There are times when temptation is strong. Trials seem too hard to bear. The pain hurts beyond words. Disappointment wants to crush us. But, we still have God’s power (Ephesians 1:19). We still have God’s love (I John 4:8); God’s mercy (James 5:11); God’s grace (Hebrews 4:16); and God’s forgiveness (Matthew 9:6). That is why God will not accept any excuse for defeat. The way is open to Him and He will help us to overcome if we will come to Him in prayer and repentance.

Second, there is no excuse for a disturbed mind. Don’t worry. Worry is a sin. The Bible says, “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). Again the Bible says, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee” (Isaiah 26:3).

Third, there is no excuse for a doomed soul. “Christ died for our sins” (I Corinthians 15:1). Yes, Jesus died to save sinners. “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men” (Titus 2:11). No wonder the Bible says, “Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man” (Romans 2:1).

What will you say to God?

ABOUT RECONCILIATION

By Lloyd L. Streeter

The doctrine of reconciliation is one which is understood generally by studied believers; however, there is considerable debate about the specifics of exactly what it means. The word itself simply means to completely change the position of something. In this case, it means to completely change everything to bring it into a position where God is propitiated, satisfied that His will is being done.

What does God mean when He says, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself” (II Corinthians 5:19)?  There are several acceptable views on this matter which do not contain the idea that God reconciling the world must include the salvation of all lost people.

FIRST, there are those theologians who say that “the world” here does not mean every person in the world, but some people from all over the world, some from “all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues” (Revelation 7:9).  This view is consistent with other Scriptures.  For instance, the Bible says that Paul’s ministry would result in an “obedience to the faith among all nations, for His name” (Romans 1:5).  This view, that some people from all over the world would be obedient to the faith, is also consistent with Scriptures which use “the world” to refer to a group of people from the world, but not every person in the world.

For example, when the Bible says, “Ye shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15), who believes that this means that every person in the world is able to see our light (testimony)?  Or, when Jesus said that the “gospel shall be preached in the whole world” (Matthew 26:13), who believes that He meant that every person in the world will hear the gospel?  And, when the Bible says that “the gospel is come unto you as it is in all the world, and bringeth forth fruit” (Colossians 1:6), surely Paul does not mean every person in all the world received the gospel and was now bringing forth fruit”at the very most, he could have meant that some people throughout the Roman world had received the gospel.

So, II Corinthians 5:19, according to this view, does not have to mean that all lost people are going to be saved, and “the world” does not mean every person in the world.

SECOND, some theologians teach that there is a reconciliation of the entire world of man, but that that aspect of reconciliation saves no one.  This view teaches that reconciliation is in two parts: 1.) A general part that changes the world to a position in which God could save those that believe, something which was an utter impossibility unless Jesus died for the sins of the world.  And, 2.) a specific part that comes to fruition at the time that a sinner believes, and his position is then changed from condemnation to salvation.

This second view seems to have been the teaching of L. S. Chafer.  In his Systematic Theology, Vol. III, “Soteriology,” he says, “The two aspects of reconciliation are best disclosed in II Corinthians 5:19-20.  In verse 19, it is declared that the world (cosmos, which term is never by any stretch of exegesis made to represent the elect who are saved out of it) is reconciled to God.”

Chafer refers to the first aspect of reconciliation as “general reconciliation,” and to the second aspect as “specific” or “individual.”  He says, “There are two aspects of reconciliation: one wrought for all by God in His love for the world and the other wrought in the individual who believes when he believes.”

Chafer explains the problem that arises: “It is assumed, thus, that general reconciliation is equivalent to general salvation.  To avoid such a conclusion, it is asserted [by Chafer] that Christ died for only the elect.”

He continues, “It is evident, then, that whatever complete change is indicated for the cosmos, according to verse 19, it is not equivalent to the saving of anyone” elect or non-elect; [but] it has made the reconciliation of verse 20, which IS equivalent to salvation possible. . . .”

Chafer is saying that reconciliation is two fold, had two aspects.  The first, a reconciling of the world is found in verse 19.  And, the second, a reconciling of the individual believer, is found in verse 20.  The first, being a general reconciling of the world, saves no one.

In Chapter X, titled “For Whom Did Christ Die?” Chafer comes back to the subject of reconciliation and to II Cor. 5:19-20: “According to II Corinthians 5:19 there is a reconciliation declared to be world-wide and wrought wholly of God; yet in the verse which follows in the context it is indicated that the individual sinner has the responsibility, in addition to the universal reconciliation wrought of God to be reconciled himself to God. . . .  The desideratum is not reached . . . until the individual, already included in the world’s reconciliation, is himself satisfied with that same work of Christ which has satisfied God as the solution of his own sin question. Thus there is a reconciliation which of itself saves no one, but which is a basis for the reconciliation of any and all who will believe.  When they believe, they are reconciled experimentally and eternally, and become the children of God through the riches of His grace.”

According to this view of the meaning of “world,” only those who have faith in Christ are saved.  Unbelievers are not truly reconciled.

THIRD, there is the view that “world” in II Corinthians 5:19-20 simply means that both Jews and Gentiles are being reconciled.  Some people, especially Jews, would divide the entire world into these two groups.  In this case, it is not every individual in the world who is reconciled to God, but some individuals from among both Jews and Gentiles.  It is a way of saying that the Gentiles are not left out.

This view is certainly consistent with Ephesians 2:11-22.  In that passage, Paul is writing to “Gentiles in the flesh . . . aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants. . . .” (verses 11-12).

In the Church, the Jews and the “far off” (the Gentiles) are both reconciled, “made nigh by the blood of Christ” (verse 13). Christ has made “both one” (verse 14), both Jews and Gentiles being reconciled to God.  Christ has made “one new man” (verse 15), which is the Church.  Paul says that God has made this “one new man” (the Church) so that “He might reconcile both (Jew and Gentile) unto God in one body” (verse 16).  In so doing, Christ made it possible for all men to have peace with God, both those who were “far off” (Gentiles) and those who were “nigh” (Jews) (verse 17).

In other words, the death of Christ placed the whole world, both Jew and Gentile, in a new position (reconciled), making it possible for sinners to be saved.  Mankind and the entire universe was completely changed in position.  This is reconciliation.  But it did not automatically save anyone.  As Chafer says, “The reconciliation of the world does not obviate the reconciliation of the individual” [Systematic Theology; Vol. III; p. 237].

To summarize this view, “God. . .reconciling the world unto himself” (II Corinthians 5:19) means that Christ died and thus created the Church “that He might reconcile both (Jew and Gentile) in one body” (Ephesians 2:16).

While each of the three above views of the world and of reconciliation has some elements to commend it, I do not hold to all that is taught by any of them.  There is, I believe, an even better position.  A fourth view is held by quite a few students of the Bible, myself included.  It is the view that when Christ died, He guaranteed that the entire universe, both the world of men and the natural world, would one day be reconciled to God.  It is also the view that reconciliation does not equal salvation.  Reconciliation simply means that the position of all men and of everything in the natural world, the spirit world, and all else will be completely changed, so that everything will be brought into agreement with the will and purpose of God.

When all the people of God are in eternal bliss, when there is a new heaven and a new earth, when the curse of God is removed from creation, when the wicked are in the Lake of Fire, when the evil angels are in Tartarus, when Satan, the Antichrist, and the false prophet are cast into Gehenna, and the lid has been put on the “garbage can,” then, and only then, will the universe be reconciled to God.  Then, and only then, will “all things” be according to God’s will and purpose.

There is nothing in the Bible doctrine of reconciliation to suggest that every person in the world will be saved from sin, go to heaven, or have eternal fellowship with God.

Colossians 1:20-23 is the most complete treatment in Scripture of the subject of reconciliation:

Verse 20: “And having made peace through the blood of his cross [and man can have peace with God only by being justified through faith in Jesus Who shed His blood on the cross.  See Romans 5:1] by him to reconcile all things [all things, not just all people. “Things” is not in the Greek text, But, “all” (“pas”) is, and the meaning of that word is “the whole.”  The context is that of all of creation.  So, the translators have it right as “all things.”] unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth or in heaven.”

Note: Some people, like J. Vernon McGee, point out that the above verse says things will be reconciled on earth and in heaven, but no mention is made of those under the earth, in Hell.  This is pointed out because it is believed that reconciliation equals salvation and the fact that Hell is not mentioned might give some evidence against Universalism.  However, the “all things” of verse 20 are the same “all things” that are found in verse 16 (three times), verse 17 (twice), and verse 18 (once), and the “all things” seems to be inclusive of all that God created.

The fact that “all things,” and not just all people, will be reconciled proves that reconciliation does not equal salvation.  “All things” do not get saved.  Only people can get saved, not the natural creation, nor even the angels.

Furthermore, Philippians 2:10-11 makes it clear that the time is coming “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”

Those words give us a very fine description of how “all things” are going to be reconciled to God, even those beings which are “under the earth,” in Hell.  But it does not say that any get out of Hell after they bow their knees in Hell and admit that Jesus is Lord.  They do not get out of Hell, because reconciliation does not equal salvation.

Paul continues in Colossians 1:21: “And you [Christians], that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled.”

That means that Christians have the position in Christ of having been completely changed (reconciled).  Our experience is not yet that of being completely changed and being in complete conformity to the will and purpose of God. Our practice falls far short of being reconciled.  But, our position IN CHRIST is that of being reconciled.  “In his sight” (v. 22) we are reconciled.

Verse 22 gives us God’s definition of our personal individual reconciliation.  God counts us to be just as we will be in that day when Christ presents us in heaven.  That is our position.  Paul says that we are reconciled “now” “In the body of his flesh [i.e., in Christ] through death [accomplished by His death] to present you [here comes the definition of our reconciliation] holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight.”

So, we conclude that reconciliation does not mean salvation.  That is not the definition.  Rather, it means to have a position completely changed.  Bible reconciliation means that everything and everybody will be put in a position that glorifies God, that fulfills the will and purpose of God.  For the Christian, this means being holy, unblameable, and unreproveable in His sight.