Does God practice temporary forgiveness?

Posted by Bob Mattes

I read Dr. Rob Rayburn’s letter to the PCA Standing Judicial Committee with some interest. I was curious to see how a church officer defends someone who holds virtually identical views to a man who was a hair’s breath from indictment a short time ago before fleeing the denomination. I found the read, though, greatly disappointing and even disturbing. I found the theological arguments to be more like blind assertions, and support was entirely lacking when Rayburn seemed to be making assertions about particular Scriptural texts.

I found the assertion that God forgives temporarily particularly disturbing, and that will be the subject of this post. Rayburn:

Justification – whatever else it is – is the forgiveness of sins. It is perfectly obvious that there is such a thing as temporary forgiveness because the Bible says there is (cf. Num. 14:20 with 1 Cor. 10:5; Ezekiel 16:1-14; Matthew 18:32-34; etc.). Whether we are entirely satisfied with Dr. Leithart’s effort to incorporate this biblical material into the larger picture of the way of divine grace, the fact is, temporary forgiveness is a biblical datum.

I’ll deal with his view of justification in another post. The assertion above, made without support, is that temporary forgiveness is perfectly obvious in the Bible – a given. Really? I’ve never seen it, and neither did Calvin, the Westminster Divines, or any other orthodox Reformed scholar I can find.

Let’s look at the Scriptures cited, starting with the most challenging. Matthew 18:32-34 (ESV) says: Read the rest of this entry »

The Nine Declarations Versus Wilkins, part 2

We will start section 2 with Wilkins’s views on 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. He argues that Paul’s use of the term here in verse 11 is not identical with the WS’s use of the term, since these same Christians are later warned against falling away and being condemned (he references 1 Corinthians 10:1-11). The verse which is important for our purposes (we will look carefully at the context) is verse 11:

 καὶ ταῦτά τινες ἦτε: ἀλλὰ ἀπελούσασθε, ἀλλὰ ἡγιάσθητε, ἀλλὰ ἐδικαιώθητε ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι τοῦ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ καὶ ἐν τῷ πνεύματι τοῦ θεοῦ ἡμῶν.

Translated, it reads this way: “And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” The context of this verse is one of those long lists of vices which Paul excoriates. In fact, even from verse 1, Paul is talking about activities (such as suing a brother) that are inconsistent with the Christian life. However, inconsistent as this behavior is, Paul still calls the litigants in verse 6 “brothers.” The behavior, though, is inconsistent with the claim. Then Paul lists the vices that are characteristic of the unrighteous (ἄδικοι: Fee notices the word-play with ἐδικαιώθητε, on pg. 246 of his commentary). Then Paul explicity tells them that they are no longer unrighteous (καὶ ταῦτά τινες ἦτε). Then follows these three aorist verbs. Now, one must not over-read the aorist tense. Some prefer to say that the aorist means “point-like action,” a “once for all” aspect in the past. It can mean that. It meant that much more rigidly in Classical Greek than it did in Koine Greek. The aorist often becomes the simple narrative past tense in Koine Greek. However, here, it does seem that Paul is emphasizing the past “once-for-all-ness” of these three acts of God’s grace. We should not be fooled by the middle tense of “washed.” This verb almost never occurs in the passive, and so most scholars have argued that this is a functional passive.

The verb “washed” is not the normal verb used for baptism. Paul could easily have used the normal verb, if he had chosen. Of course, there is significant semantic overlap between the two verbs. However, it is not the same verb. Given the context of the list of vices, surely Paul is emphasizing the washing of regeneration. In other words, although reference to baptism need not be excluded from the passage, it is surely to the thing signified that Paul refers here. Almost all the commentators notice this, especially the ones who argue a reference to baptism. Fee does not accept a reference to baptism here (pp. 246-247 of his commentary). Fee recognizes the difficulty of the phrase ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι τοῦ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, but he says that to see here a reference to the baptismal formula is “to read Paul through the eyes of Luke” (p. 246).  The name of a person is so closely connected to the person himself, that this just as easily refer to union with Christ. Indeed, the reference to three aspects of conversion makes this seem likely. What is important to notice here is that the thing signified is the only thing that will answer to being a good argument as to why the Corinthians should not engage in such evil practices. He is not telling them about their obligations (which would answer to mere water baptism), but about who they are. Only regeneration, definitive sanctification (I would argue that that is the reference here in ἡγιάσθητε), and justification answers to a change in the person’s character and status. “Washing” refers to the removal of the pollution of these former sins by the blood of Christ. “Sanctification” refers to the setting apart of the person from the world (and these sins). “Justification” refer to the removal of guilt by the declaration of the person being not guilty on the basis of Christ’s person and work. Each of these three actions are aimed at one of the various aspects of the sin being discussed.

The word ἐδικαιώθητε itself does not occur in the rest of the epistle (Thiselton, p. 455 of his commentary). Thiselton also argues that the term has its full theological sense. If the word does not occur in the rest of this epistle, then Wilkins is begging the question by saying that it has a different meaning here than in the other epistles. How could one know what Paul meant by it, except by referring to the other Pauline epistles?

Lastly, Wilkins’s hermeneutic is skewed by how he reads 1 Corinthians 10. He mentions the judgment of charity argument, only to dismiss it without the slightest argumentation as being “less likely.” I have argued here that the terms refer to real conversion, real justification. If that is true, then the judgment of charity is the only option. Therefore, Wilkins is incorrect.

1 Corinthians 10 and Paedo-Baptism

Here is the text (verses 1-4): “I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.”

The phrase I wish to examine is that phrase “baptized into Moses.” Obviously, all the Israelites passed through the Red Sea. Therefore, they were all baptized into Moses. It didn’t matter what age they were, they were baptized into Moses. Infants are included in this. What we have here is an indisputable example of “baptizo” being referred to infants. However, some of the details could use some elucidation.

Moses here is a type of Christ. This is proved by verse 6, which speaks of these things as “types” for us to follow. The Baptists might wish to argue here that the word only functions on a typological or figurative level. However, the question still remains, “Why did Paul use that word here?” By the way, this passage also forms part of the argument against “baptizo” always meaning “to immerse,” since the Israelites were not immersed. They went through on dry ground. It was the Egyptians who were immersed! However, this is a side issue, which could be dealt with in another post.

To be baptized into Moses surely functions on a typological level to point us to being baptized into Christ. If this is the case, then we have rock (vs. 4!)-solid evidence of paedo-baptism in the NT. We must be careful here in distinguishing and noting the sign and the thing signified. Remember that sacramental language sometimes ascribes the effects of the thing signified to the sign. Here we have the thing signified (escape from the Egyptians by the grace of God in the Red Sea), and a sign (the word “baptizo”) closely conjoined. They can be distinguished, though not violently separated. This is not to say that baptism saves, unless by that we mean that that to which baptism points saves us. The language must be extremely careful to not ascribe too much or too little to baptism. The fathers had their baptism in the sea. God was saving them. That is a type for us. Verse 6 absolutely and finally prohibits us from relegating verses 1-4 to the interesting but irrelevant solely typological level. These types are for our benefit. Therefore, the baptism of the fathers in verses 1-4 has reference to our baptism in Christ. Notice the parallel of baptism into Moses with baptism into Christ. Surely, Paul has the latter in mind in speaking about the former. In short, this passage is extremely strong in favor of paedo-baptism.

Paedo-Communion and 1 Corinthians 11:28

To my mind, almost the entirety of the issue hinges on the meaning of the word “dokimazo” in 1 Corinthians 11:28. This article (ht David McCrory) argues for paedo-communion on the basis of its understanding of the context and historical situation of the Corinthians when Paul wrote the letter. The specific section is about two-thirds of the way down the article under the title “Some specific objections; a. children cannot prove themselves.” I would suggest that the article does not do the word “dokmazo” justice at all. BDAG has this definition for the word, “to make a critical examination of something to determine genuineness, put to the test, examine,” listing this passage under that definition. What is one to make a critical examination of? The answer is “heauton” (oneself). Quite simply, it is eisegesis to claim that zero subjective aspects are attached to this examination.

BOQ It is possible for a covenant child, when tested (cf. I Cor. 10:13), to demonstrate by his words and behavior that he is living a godly life which seeks the approval of God. Such faithfulness can be observed even in a young child by both parents, elders, and other members of the church. EOQ But even this would require that the child no longer be an infant. Don’t get my position wrong. I think that children of age 6 are capable in some instances of such examination. I think other children of age 15 are incapable of it. This is where the session of the church is so important. But the article does not do justice to the definition of “dokimazo” in BDAG. The best article I have ever read on the passage dealing with paedo-communion is by George Knight. It is available in the Auburn Avenue Theology: Pros and Cons volume, available here.