Monday, 24 June 2013

Implicit and explicit meanings in the Bible

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I have been examining the early part of St Paul's Letter to the Ephesians:

Chapter 1 - Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. in whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: 10 that in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: 11 in whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: 12 that we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. 13 in whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, 14 which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.

Chapter 2:1 And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: that in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

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My point here is fairly simple - and it is that there are explicit statements (or truths) here, but equally important these are presented against a necessary background of implicit truths - which must hold if the explicit statements are to be coherent and consistent with the Christian message.

Some of the statements are quite striking - for example "predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself"  - what does predestinated imply?

And the concept of 'grace' 'according to his good pleasure' - this idea of salvation as an undeserved gift freely given. then there is "predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will". 

And a clear statement that salvation is by faith (in Jesus as Lord and Saviour), not works (good acts): "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. 10 "

But if salvation is by Grace, and there is this thing predestination, and works are not relevant to this process - then what is there left for us to do? Are we puppets, robots, automata? 

Of course not! The Christian message of salvation is all about faith, and faith is (amongst other things) a decision; and a decision can only be made by a being with sufficient autonomy to make a decision: a being with free will. So implicitly we must have free will. 

Salvation is a gift of Grace, and when we have faith Grace works in us (so God is working on both sides) but in the middle is the act of free will without which Grace would have no meaning, nothing to work on. 
But what about us being 'dead in trespasses and sins; wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath'.

We are depraved, that is clear; we are in thrall to Satan (the prince of the power of air); we are in such a terrible state that we cannot get ourselves out of it - all that is clear because explicit. 

But, implicitly, we cannot be absolutely depraved - or else we could not make that act of free will to have faith. So any theology which has it that we are utterly depraved is mistaken. 

And predestination? However this is understood, it cannot mean that free will is excluded. If you believe that we have a pre-mortal spirit existence, this predestination is understandable as a proper role, situation, status, that kind of thing. But there are other understandings.

But whatever predestination means, it does not mean that we were created inevitably to follow a detailed script of salvation or damnation - implicitly, it cannot mean that!

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