Archive for category The Bible

Discerning Biblical truth from fiction…

Bible lands © 2018 Simon Peter Sutherland

The term Biblical truth does not always mean what the individual person considers the term to mean. Each person has a definition of every word. What is Biblical truth to one man is heretical to another and vice versa. The Bible has a habit of contradicting many of our ideologies and theologies. But for me, when something is clearly stated in scripture and plainly referred to, the ideas and opinions of men mean little to me. Where the truth is concerned, what does it matter what men may think?

It is a fact that the many spurious gospels employed by modern secular critical scholars when dealing with the historical and spiritual life of Christ were written much later than the canonical Gospels and letters. It is not difficult to conclude that many of these writings are fictional fabrications and interpretations of real events and real people. Since many apocryphal texts are not conclusive in terms of dating due to the lack of historical reference in the texts they cannot all be deemed as truth but rather fictionalised truth.

I bring to attention the “Acts of Paul” which Tertullian claimed was a forgery by a Presbyter who wrote it out of his “love for Paul” 1. These texts, though interesting, are not as good as the biblical texts. They have very little majestic quality to them and I conclude the reason why so many were not included in the Biblical canon, is because they were not authoritative. Some of them contain stories that are so fictional, they appear unbelievable. Yet they come in useful to help us understand the minds of the ancients. If they are a record of beliefs and myths and factual traditions from the early Christians era’s, they can be useful. The problems happen when modern critical secular scholars use those texts in relation to Jesus in their attempts to disprove the New Testament. Too often they make out many of these books are modern discoveries and that the New Testament contains blatant errors. Yet scholars have been debating textual issues from the earliest days of the church. The arguments when presented today are merely part of a much larger soup of recycled argument. Re-packaged, re-marketed and re-developed for a modern audience.

EXCERPT FROM UPCOMING BOOK BY SIMON PETER SUTHERLAND
© 2018 Simon Peter Sutherland
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P52. St. John’s Fragment

 

Popular thinking has it that the Bible is unreliable and the manuscripts differ widely. It is often thought that the manuscripts contain large amounts of copying errors. But a tiny fragment found in Egypt, challenges this view. In John Rylands Library, Manchester UK, there is the oldest fragment of the New Testament to date. This fragment was acquired in Egypt in 1920. In 1934 the text was translated into English and it was found to be a fragment of the Gospel of John. This manuscript fragment is known as ‘P52’ and contains the words of Jesus and the words of Pontius Pilate. Some claim the fragment dates to 125 – 150 AD, others think an earlier date of writing is possible.

I visit and view P52 often. It is about 9 cm and written in Greek and is at present on public view. There are few greater pleasures for me than to view this fragment. Often after a long day of voluntary Theological research, it brings my focus back to the Biblical text. For me, it is a breath of fresh air, that during an age of modern critical scholarship and its heavy denial of Biblical texts, we have a great testimony in direct contrast to many critical claims of modern textual scholars.

In contrast to many modern scholars who deny the authenticity and early composition dates of the Gospels, P52 stands as a testimony against the claims that the New Testament accounts were written much later than they actually were. When I see this fragment as I do on a regular basis, its surviving words never cease to amaze me as it could for all who trust in Jesus Christ. These words are a pure testimony to the reality of the absolute identity of Jesus Christ, son of God, who was and is, and is to come, “the Truth”. Not truth, but ‘The Truth’.

The Greek fragment, of John 18: 31-33, on the recto reads as follows;

“the Jews, “For us it is not permitted to kill
anyone,” so that the word of Jesus might be fulfilled, which he
spoke signifying what kind of death he was going to
to die. Entered therefore again into the Praeto-
rium Pilate and summoned Jesus
and he said to him, “Thou art king of the
Jews?”

The Greek fragment of John 18: 37-38, on the verso reads as follows,

“a King I am. For this I have been born
and (for this) I have come into the world so that I would
testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth
hears of me my voice.” Said to him
Pilate, “What is truth?” and this
having said, again he went out unto the Jews
and said to them, “I find not one
fault in him.”

Is it not amazing that the oldest fragment in the world of the New Testament, dated possibly earlier than 100 AD and no later than 150 AD, speaks of such a great testimony to the word of God. Jesus said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” Matthew 24: 35.

EXCERPT FROM UPCOMING BOOK BY SIMON PETER SUTHERLAND
© 2018 Simon Peter Sutherland

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Recent discoveries in the Mamertine Prison, Rome

Mamertine Prison Rome. By Simon Peter Sutherland © 2014

Mamertine Prison, Rome © 2018 Simon Peter Sutherland

“In 2017 I revisited the Mamertine prison, and forum, Rome and explored a number of new discoveries made at the Mamertine the previous year. I believe Paul wrote 2 Timothy from that prison. I also think it possible that 2 Peter and Acts of the Apostles was written from here.

The Mamerine Prison is one of my favorite Biblical places in the world. I have visited the proposed cell of St. Paul at Philippi, I have visited St. Paul’s Grotto, Rabat, Malta, but the Mamertine has won me. It is or was, a cold, damp, dark and dingy place, and such is what I love about it. It is highly primitive. Ancient. Biblical!

In the Basilica of St. Paul outside the walls, Rome, there is an ancient ‘chain’ reputed to have been used to bind St. Paul during his time in Rome. The chain was found in the ancient tomb of St. Paul over which the Basilica was built. When I visited the basilica in 2014, I noticed in 2 Timothy 1: 16 Paul referred to his “chain”. This in the Greek and the English is in the singular. For me, it perfectly matched the description given by Paul. It also fit perfectly with the type of chain that would have been used to bind Paul at the Mamertine.

Having read through an excellent series of books entitled “The Book of Acts in its first century setting” Volume 3, Paul in Roman Custody by Brian Rapske, it is explicitly clear that the Apostolic era was a time of great suffering. Here at the Mamertine, Paul suffered greatly and wrote to Timothy about his departure being at hand (2 Timothy 4: 6). He had stood trial before Casear, probably at the Curia and Eusebius in Ecclesiastical history 2: 22, informs us it was on Paul’s second visit to Rome that he was martyred under Nero.

At the Mamertine when Paul was held there about 60 AD and later, the 2016 excavations revealed that the cell did not have an upper floor like we see today. The upper floor is only about 500 years old and was constructed into the building when it was used as a Church. The original cells were more in the format of a cave rather than a fixed upper and lower level structure. Visitors for many years have believed that Paul was lowered into the lower dungeon via the circled hole in the upper cell floor. But the 2016 excavations revealed that the entrance to the lower cell area came from the upper roof, not the upper floor. When Paul was incarcerated here before his execution, he would have been lowered into the lower dungeon from the upper roof.

This practice often left prisoners physically damaged. Sometimes the broke a leg or an arm. We do not know of the level of damage Paul suffered here, but we know that his time at the jail, within the cell, would have been to face death. Once prisoners were put in here, it was to await execution.

The excavations revealed areas not seen by the public for centuries. These areas were around the main cell, and raised somewhat. If Peter was ever held here, he would have been held in the upper cells until his trial, and when condemned, dropped into the lower cell from the upper roof to await his death.

As I previously mentioned, it is also possible that 2 Peter was written in this cell. Although some modern scholars claim that Peter never wrote 2 Peter, I disagree entirely. While in Rome I attempted to view the letter from the perspective of the ancient city. Upon my return to England I researched the letter internally and found hints of ancient Rome in the text. One of which involved the great fire of Rome, of whom Nero, by tradition, is believed to have blamed the Christians. If Peter was in Rome at the time, he too would have been accused of either arson or inciting it. This could reveal insight into his references to “fire” in 2 Peter 3: 7, 12. He may well have been using the ‘fire’ reference to provoke believers to remember that a coming judgment will bring about the destruction of the world, by “fire”. There can be little doubt from this perspective that the great fire of Rome, would have been the fresh and current hot topic of the city. If Peter was being held in the Mamertine while the great fire was fresh in the minds of the Roman people, it is not difficult to see why he used this reference to remind people of the coming greater judgment at the end of the world. This would place the composition date toward the summer/autumn of 64 AD, because the fire took place in July of that year.”

Excerpt from upcoming book by Simon Peter Sutherland
© 2018 Simon Peter Sutherland

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A 20th century revival of 17th century Tulip Mania

Tulip © 2018 Simon Peter Sutherland

Tulip © 2018 Simon Peter Sutherland

The Tulip as a flower first came to England in 1578. The very same year the complete Geneva Bible was first printed in England.

In those days there was such a thing as “Tulip Mania”. This began in 1594 in the Netherlands when the first Tulips were planted. It was a harmless move when it started but the craze for Tulips later became a status symbol and one tulip bulb could be worth as much as a house build beside one of the top canals in Amsterdam.

It was in this very same country, the Netherlands, where the Synod of Dordt was held in 1618. This synod was the first to declare the doctrinal position now known as ‘the five points of Calvinism‘.

In later centuries this doctrinal position earned the title “Tulip”. As far as I know, it is a term that is not found in writings prior to the 20th century?

Tulip stands for the following;

  1. T – Total Depravity
  2. U – Unconditional Election
  3. L – Limited Atonement
  4. I – Irresistible Grace
  5. P – Preservation or Perseverance of the Saints

IS TULIP FOUNDATIONAL?

Dr Charles Matthew McMahon in his book “A puritans mind” says the following; “The essential doctrines concerning salvation, which the puritans and all good Christians cling to, are summed up in the acronym T.U.L.IP

These words are problematic, especially when a reading Christian could be told in writing that he or she may not be a good Christian after all, and perhaps even an unbelieving one, lacking in faith, as he suggests in his book, quote; “There are two views concerning the Gospel of Jesus Christ. First, there is what we call Calvinism. Then, there are varying degrees of unbelief” Dr C Matthew McMahon. A Puritans Mind.

The above words are cruel and intellectually dishonest. They appear to read like some form of guilt based emotional blackmail. It seems that for so many 5 point Calvinists or new Calvinists, that T.U.L.I.P is the actual gospel of Jesus Christ in a nutshell?

This same idea, though more genuine, is made somewhat clear by 19th century English particular Baptist preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon who said the following; “It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else

Spurgeon also said the following; “I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else.” (C. H. Spurgeon. The early years. Autobiography 1. The early years. Page 168. Banner of Truth Trust)

Spurgeon stated that his beliefs were his “own private opinion“. I respect that. But he did not here stoop so low as to send his readers on an emotional guilt trip and accuse them of having a lack of faith and belief for differing with his beliefs.

I personally deny that ‘Tulip’ is in any way foundational to the Christian faith. It is a simple observation of mine that T.U.L.I.P cannot be a foundation to preaching Christ alone or the plain truth of the Gospel, or Christian doctrine, since T.U.L.I.P makes no direct references to the Virgin birth of Jesus, the Life and miracles of Jesus or the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. Neither is there reference to His return or His judging of the quick and the dead. In many ways, T.U.L.I.P has a man centred focus.

No Christian is guilty of unbelief for denying, questioning or refuting Tulip, and should never be emotionally bullied or abused into thinking so! In my own opinion, I think Calvinism is unnecessarily lowered when it is reduced by individuals to making claims like those I have mentioned above. I don’t want to put all Calvinists in the same category but wouldn’t it be better if people learned how to reason and openly debate more. I want to encourage ‘all believers’ to feel absolutely free to measure all teachings and doctrines with careful analysis of the entire Bible and not be afraid of the implications of the text. To learn to live alongside other believers who differ. But never fall foul of emotional mind games of those who desire you to follow their favourite interpretations of the same Bible.

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Is ‘Once Saved Always Saved’ Gnostic?

Old books © 2018 Simon Peter SutherlandIn my previous article on the historic anomaly of the doctrine of ‘Once Saved Always Saved‘ I suggested the popular doctrine, as it stands today, might have its origins in Gnosticism and not Scripture or early Christianity.

For many, any such claim is unthinkable and a plain denial of Scripture. But these types of beliefs are problematic, since there are between 60-80 verses in the New Testament which give distinct warnings to believers.

Scripture repeatedly tells believers to “abide” in Christ (John 15: 4, 6, 10, 1 John 2: 28) which makes little sense if it were impossible for believers to do otherwise.

Likewise, a person cannot abide somewhere they never were in the first place.

Can a person abide in Christ if he or she was never in Christ in the first place? Why then should should the believer be told to abide in Christ if they cannot do anything else?

The above verses and between 60-80 others including Romans 11: 22, Hebrews 10: 26, raise serious doubts concerning the authenticity of the doctrine.

Scripture is absolutely important and if a doctrine is not taught in Scripture, it does not belong in Christianity and no believer in any part of the world is obligated to believe it. But for all 5 point Calvinists and Calvinistic revisionists, the doctrine of ‘Once Saved Always Saved‘ is absolutely iron clad and Scripture itself. It is somewhat devilish, ignorant or evidence of a lack of faith for someone to deny or doubt it. Likewise, any attempt to cause people to re-think this, is pointless, because they have already made their minds up.

This is also the case for many evangelical’s who inconsistently embrace the doctrine, while affirming free will at the same time.  See my article on this.

There are some, who upon reading this post would probably have an attitude that says something like this; ‘I was reading this guy the other day who was trying to say that I can lose my salvation and that ‘Once Saved Always Saved’ is a Gnostic teaching…‘. They would utterly reject what I am saying without even reviewing the evidence.

Attitudes like that are extreme and immediately unreasonable and people like that are not worth reasoning with in my opinion, but they are a continuous problem.

But the question I am seeking to answer in this post is this: did the Gnostic’s teach ‘Once Saved Always Saved’? If so, was it the same doctrine as Calvinism or did their doctrines contain similarities with the modern ‘wishy washy’ version of ‘Once Saved Always Saved’?

To answer this, I am going to use six references from early Church father Irenaeus and his book ‘Against heresies‘ as my historic source. I will be reviewing the ancient Gnostic beliefs from his perspective and leaving the reader to compare them to the modern versions of ‘Once Saved Always Saved’.

  1. According to Irenaeus, Gnostic’s claimed that Christians who did not follow their doctrines, believed in a salvation of works. Quote: “We of the Church, they say, are these persons. Wherefore also they maintain that good works are necessary to us, for that otherwise it is impossible we should be saved.” (Against Heresies. Book I Chapter 6. (Ante-Nicene Fathers. Volume 1)
  2. According to Irenaeus, Gnostic’s taught that they would be entirely saved, not by works but because they were saved in the spirit. Quote: “But as to themselves, (Gnostic’s) they hold that they shall be entirely and undoubtedly saved, not by means of conduct, (works) but because they are spiritual by nature.” (Against Heresies. Book I Chapter 6. (Ante-Nicene Fathers. Volume 1)
  3. According to Irenaeus, Gnostic’s claimed that they could not be corrupted or fall away from salvation, no matter what sins they did. Quote “so again it is impossible that spiritual substance (by which they mean themselves) should ever come under the power of corruption, whatever the sort of actions in which they indulged.” (Against Heresies. Book I Chapter 6. (Ante-Nicene Fathers. Volume 1)
  4. According to Irenaeus, Gnostic’s addicted themselves to things forbidden in the Scriptures without any fear of judgement. Quote: “that the “most perfect” among them addict themselves without fear to all those kinds of forbidden deeds of which the Scriptures assure us that “they who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.(Gal 5:21).” (Against Heresies. Book I Chapter 6. (Ante-Nicene Fathers. Volume 1)
  5. According to Irenaeus, Gnostic’s had no issues eating foods sacrificed to idols. Quote: “For instance, they make no scruple about eating meats offered in sacrifice to idols.” (Against Heresies. Book I Chapter 6. (Ante-Nicene Fathers. Volume 1)
  6. According to Irenaeus, Gnostic’s committed sexual immorality with no fear of judgement or with any remorse. Quote: “Others of them, too, openly and without a blush, having become passionately attached to certain women, seduce them away from their husbands, and contract marriages of their own with them.” (Against Heresies. Book I Chapter 6. (Ante-Nicene Fathers. Volume 1)

I think there are some disturbing similarities between those Gnostic teachings and the modern versions of ‘Once Saved Always Saved’. I don’t see any distinct exactness between the Gnostic doctrine to proper Calvinism, but some could go to that extreme.

However, none of these references can be dismissed as Gnostic distortions of what was already taught in Scripture, because the warning passages in the New Testament, make little or no sense if ‘Once Saved Always Saved’ is true. It is an assumption to assume that because someone is saved, that they will always remain that way. A document can be saved, but that does not mean it cannot be deleted? A royal document can be sealed, but it does not mean it cannot be broken off by the King.

But questions remain; why didn’t the early Church fathers teach it? If the original Apostles taught the doctrine then why didn’t the early Church pick up on it since they followed the Apostles teaching very closely?

What is possible is that the early Gnostic’s did distort the New Testament texts used to affirm unconditional eternal security, and introduced the doctrine into Christianity by influence.

Gauffered edged Bible © 2017 Simon Peter Sutherland

Bible over Anti-Nicene fathers © 2017 Simon Peter Sutherland

It is fact that the early primitive Church never taught ‘Once Saved Always Saved’. But that does not mean that there is no truth to it. I believe that when a believer is absolutely saved, that he or she can never be lost, but it is an assumption to assume that all believers are fully saved right now. We await the return of Christ in order for salvation to be made complete. Just because a person is saved, it is an assumption to assume that they are fully saved. I say this because there are many things in Scripture that people are saved from. However, I can clearly see why people believe the doctrine as it stands, but it is an assumption to assume that God gives persevering faith to all believers. It is also an assumption to assume that what Paul wrote in Philippians 1: 6, is true for all believers. I say this because he never said the same thing to the Galatians.

It is furthermore an assumption to assume that the word “perish” used by Jesus in John 10: 27-29 is a reference to the eternal and it is also an assumption to assume that the promise refers to all believers of all generations. The context of John 10: 27-29 clearly refers to His people who were present at the time when Jesus said that.

It is my opinion that too many Christians today are guilty of making far too many assumptions. We put ourselves before the Biblical texts and read ourselves into them. It has become a rare thing to enquire into the minds of the original Apostles and seek to discover what the Biblical authors were intending to communicate.

What is clear is that too many people and preachers are busy feeding particular views into the Scriptures, things which preachers have already suggested prior to their guiding the thoughts of their listeners before quoting passages from the Bible. This, I’m afraid could well be the power of suggestion, thought control, and rhetorical persuasion.

Christians, “keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude 1: 21) “Abide in Him; that when He shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed of Him at His coming.” (1 John 2: 28)

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The historic anomaly of ‘Once Saved Always Saved’.

Geneva Bible © 2018 Simon Peter SutherlandToday, it is not uncommon to hear the doctrine of ‘Once Saved Always Saved‘ proclaimed in many sermons and books. It is through sermons and books that many ‘Christians’ today believe the doctrine. Most people that simply read the Bible, come to different conclusions.

This popular nickname ‘Once Saved Always Saved’ has its systematic reformed origins in the Calvinist doctrine of the ‘Perseverance of the Saints’. This doctrine was devoutly affirmed by 2nd generation reformers and is most associated with 1st generation reformer, John Calvin.

Calvin was an excellent Theologian and his reforms centralised around Geneva. His influence on the reformation was considerable but the main core reformed doctrine was Lutheran. Luther attempted to reform the Church by getting back to Scripture. His conviction was the ‘the Gospel cannot be denied for the word of man’.

Unfortunately, by today’s standards, it is very difficult for any Christian to merely believe what the Bible says. I say this because the Church of today has been corrupted by argumentation and interpretation. So it is, in these times that my personal attempts to proclaim truth and find truth of Scripture and believe it, is very difficult. So often those who merely believe what the Bible says are the ones labelled the total opposite.

However, we are not here to please men. Men may interpret the Bible, but they are not above it. So it is that I come to my point. The popular doctrine of ‘Once Saved Always Saved’ has a major historic anomaly attached to it. Thorough research reveals that the doctrine was not taught in mainstream Christianity until the time of John Calvin or later in the 17th century at the Synod of Dort (1618). Some claim that Augustine of Hippo taught it? others that the doctrine is Gnostic.

Difficult as it may seem to grasp, it appears that the doctrine of ‘Once Saved Always Saved’ has its early origins in Gnosticism and not Christianity. We know this because Irenaeus refuted an early form of it in Against Heresies. Book 1. Chapter 6. The connection to Calvin being that Augustine was influenced by Gnosticism because of his prior belief in Manichaeism and Calvin relied upon Augustine as an authority on Scripture and quoted him more than any other theologian. However, there is reasonable doubt whether or not Augustine ever taught ‘Once Saved Always Saved’?

But outside of these references, the doctrine is not to be found.

This presents a major problem; unconditional eternal security was not taught by the ancient Christian Church, and is, in fact alien to historic Christianity before the 16th century.

This presents a major problem for those who claim their beliefs are absolutely Scriptural. It asks an unanswered question; If ‘Once Saved Always Saved’ is absolutely Scriptural, as some preachers claim, how could a doctrine of such massive importance lay untaught within Christianity for almost 1500 years? If the doctrine was so clearly taught in Scripture, as many moderns claim, then why didn’t the early Church teach it?

Why did the doctrine only come to light in the 16th century?

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An open letter to John Piper

An open letter to John PiperDear Pastor John Piper,

I am writing this letter to you because I know you are familiar with open letters.

All I ask of you is that you read it, test it, to see if it be of true. If it is true, I pray you will embrace it.

May the Lord be with us both as we remember this day.

Grace and peace

Simon Peter Sutherland

 

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