Divorce (research paper)

This is my most recent research paper; I wrote it for my Corinthian Correspondence course. The assignment was to look at 1 Corinthians 7 and what it says about divorce; I instead tried to take a wider view, looking at the teachings of Moses, Jesus and Paul, with the goal of reconciling them to each other, and the culture of the day. I actually really found the historical context fascinating and want to do some more reading about it.



201640 Fall 2016 NBST 618-D01 LUO

The Corinthian Correspondence

by Matthew McNutt

December 16, 2016



Divorce is an issue that has become both increasingly debated and normalized in American churches and the culture at large. As marriage rates decrease and divorce rates increase, the two statistics are almost equal.[1] As John Murray put it, “the question of divorce is one that perennially interests and agitates the church.”[2] The Apostle Paul answers questions from the Corinthians regarding marriage, singleness and divorce in 1 Corinthians 7. Gordon Fee points out that Paul’s approach in addressing these topics is different than anywhere else in the New Testament.[3] The challenge for the modern reader is reconciling what at first glance seem to be differences in the teachings on divorce from the different biblical authors, in particular the three main voices, Moses, Jesus and Paul. Moses not only allows it, but creates a legal system for it; Jesus forbids it except in the case of adultery; Paul recommends against divorce in the case of adultery, but allows it if a spouse is unsaved and desires divorce.

What is perhaps more important to this topic is what is left unsaid in scripture. These texts range in age from two thousand years ago to thirty-five hundred years ago, presenting a number of cultural and language challenges to surmount. Views and understandings of divorce left unwritten because they were assumed common knowledge at the time create challenges to understanding the intent of the authors today, creating a need to both understand the culture of the Jewish people as well as the influence of surrounding nations and cultural understandings of marriage and divorce relevant to the time period.[4] This paper will demonstrate that God’s view of the marriage covenant is that is binding and lifelong, with monogamy being His intent throughout scripture by primarily looking at the teachings of Moses, Jesus and Paul. However, while scripture presents a high standard for marriage, it also demonstrates and understanding of the reality of a sinful, fallen world, with a heart for protecting those who would be taken advantage of or injured through divorce. It is not an affirmation of divorce, rather, an uncomfortable tension between the holiness God desires and the ongoing reality of sinful flesh.


The first major instructions regarding the issue of divorce come from the Pentateuch, which tradition credits Moses as the author.[5] While there are a handful of mentions elsewhere in the Old Testament, it is Moses who describes both the beginnings of marriage in Genesis and the institution of divorce certificates as part of the law in Deuteronomy. There are many parallels between the marriage practices of the ancient Near East and the Jewish marriage practices.[6]

Ancient Practices

While covenant language was used in ancient marriage practices, it was interchangeable with the modern idea of contracts. Covenant language was used not just for marriages, but also for treaties, hiring labor, as well as other types of transactions.[7] Being a patriarchal society, marriage negotiations took place between the father of the bride and the husband-to-be’s household, with a contract decided on that included a bride-price to be paid to the bride’s parents.[8] The bride had no official voice in the negotiation process or the selection of a husband. One interesting aspect of the exchange was the dowry that came with the bride; it was delivered after the wedding was consummated and remained the property of the bride, to be passed down to only her children in the event of her death (in the case of polygamy), and if the husband were to divorce or break the relationship she was to be released with her dowry returned to her possession. The husband would only be allowed to keep the dowry if the bride was the one to violate the terms of the marriage covenant.[9]

Many of the stipulations went unwritten because they were universally understood. Culture dictated certain basic rights and responsibilities. While women were not considered property in the same way that land or livestock were, the comparison is still valid as the majority of the rights were possessed by men. The dowry was typically the only thing recorded in exact detail, in part because with marriage viewed as a contract, the loss of the dowry would have been the main penalty for breaking the contract.[10] In reality, short of committing adultery – which would result in a death sentence, there was no way for a woman to leave a man, while the man had significantly more freedom to put the woman out and divorce her.[11] Because divorces were not officially documented, however, a woman was not free to remarry because she technically stilled belonged to her former husband. This generally left abandoned women in a particularly vulnerable and untenable position.

Moses’ Instructions

The institution of marriage is first documented in Genesis 2:23-24, which following the naming of the animals in pairs, as well as Adam and Eve being created for one another, forms the foundation of monogamy being God’s intended plan for humans from creation.[12] Waltke writes that this first marriage, with Eve given to Adam by God, teaches that “every marriage is divinely ordained,” with the intent to correct the cultural teachings that stressed parental bonds over marital bonds.[13] While polygamy was common throughout the Old Testament, the growing view throughout the Old Testament writings suggests that monogamy was a value that was increasingly recognized as the ideal, with that teaching really coming to fruition in the years before Christ’s arrival.[14]

Research indicates that when it came to marriage, divorce, and remarriage, the Jews largely shared the same cultural views as the rest of the ancient Near East.[15] A reoccurring theme for Moses in Deuteronomy that sets Jews apart from the surrounding cultures is the protection of the dignity of a woman vulnerable to abuse in marriage.[16] One example is in Deuteronomy 21:10-14, which gives instructions regarding the capture of women in war and the process for making them wives. While barbaric in modern culture, what Moses mandates in this passage humanizes women by giving them a month to grieve the death of their former husbands in contrast to the ancient Near Eastern culture which typically allowed for a conquering army to not only claim the women of the men they killed, but to make them their wives that same day. In the same vein, Deuteronomy 24:1-4 dictates that a man divorcing his wife must give her a certificate of divorce, as well as clarifies that he is not allowed to remarry her at any point.

This creation of a divorce certificate is unique to Judaism; there is no evidence that any other culture required or created such a document in divorce.[17] This document served to protect the woman, not the man. When divorces took place, because there was no documentation, women were left in a vulnerable legal limbo; they were not married, but could not marry someone else as their first husband could technically still reclaim them, even after marrying someone else.[18] It left them financially, socially, and culturally ruined, with few prospects for the future. By mandating a divorce certificate, Moses was not affirming divorce as God’s plan, he was instead living out the ideals of Proverbs 31:8-9 by speaking for and defending those who could not do so for themselves. The certificate documented the formal severing of any claim on that woman her now former husband may have had, as well as required the return of her dowry to her, thereby giving her assets, as well as releasing her legally to remarry without fear of reprisals or demands on her or any future children.[19]


There are four places in which Jesus taught on the topic of divorce in the gospels, largely in the response to questions based on the religious leaders of the days understanding of marriage, divorce, and the law of Moses. The passages are found in Matthew 5:31-32, 19:2-9; Mark 10:2-12; and Luke 16:18.

Jewish Practices

By the first century rabbinic leaders largely agreed on the laws regarding marriage and divorce; they taught that grounds for divorce were childlessness, material neglect, emotional neglect, and unfaithfulness.[20] While divorce was not considered ideal, they saw it as sometimes necessary, and only enacted by the husband – although legally a wife could petition the court to persuade the husband to divorce her.[21] Essentially, while a man had to enter a divorce voluntarily, a woman could be divorced against her will. The one area of disagreement was a more recent interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1 by the Hillelites that suggested a divorce could take place for “any matter.”[22] This caused tremendous debate and had significant repercussions.

Jesus’ Teachings

While there are four passages where Jesus teaches on divorce, the bulk of his teaching happens in the parallel passages of Matthew 19:2-9 and Mark 10:2-12; the other passage in Matthew and the passage in Luke repeat in brief the same principles present in these two larger passages. Essentially, Jesus was teaching in public when the Pharisees came and tested him with the question of whether or not it is legal to divorce for any matter. While Mark simply records the question as to whether or not it is legal to divorce, the question as stated in Matthew 19:3, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” is assumed to be the full question and is implied in the Mark reference as Jewish law made it clear divorce was already legal.[23]

A significant contrast between the two passages is that the Pharisees in Matthew are quoted as saying Moses commanded divorce, but then Jesus corrects them to say Moses permitted divorce, while the reverse is true of Mark. In Mark, Jesus references Moses’ command regarding divorce, while the Pharisees use the word “permitted.” Some interpret Jesus use of the word command in Mark as Christ’s way of not mandating divorce but as “an attempt to limit its worst consequences for women.”[24] A more likely reconciling of these differences centers on the order in which the two authors write their narratives and the resulting communication requirements with regards to the Mosaic law. With Mark writing Jesus’s response as the one bringing up Moses’ command; it would have been inappropriate for Jesus to refer to the Law as something Moses “allowed,” He would have naturally used the word “command” with reference to the passage in Deuteronomy.[25] Matthew’s version, however, has the Pharisees asking the question regarding Moses’ “command,” making Jesus’ reply regarding it being something permitted, not commanded, more allowable. In either passage, however, the teaching point comes through; in contrast to the general belief that divorce was required in the cases of adultery and even suspected adultery, the reality is that God simply permits it.[26]

Jesus highlights the reality that divorce was permitted not because God views it as necessary or part of His plan, but instead because of their hard-heartedness while at the same time condemning the idea that divorce could happen for “any matter.” It was a necessary reaction to protect women from further abuse. He then goes on to point out in the Mark passage by referencing directly the Genesis 2 passage, and in Matthew by indirectly Genesis with the words, “from the beginning,” that God’s intent for marriage is to be a holy and unbreakable covenant, while Moses’ law is a concession.[27] In Matthew only this permission hinges only on sexual infidelity, which leads many scholars to believe it was added to Matthew’s gospel as opposed to left out of Mark and Luke.[28]

Where Christ is truly shocking to his audience is the way in which He deepens the understanding of God’s view of the marriage covenant with His startling admonition in all four passages that remarriage is adultery. Bruner writes, “So sacred is the marriage bond that even when it is externally broken it lives on with a kind of inward taboo power, contaminating anyone who dares break what God’s own hands joined together.”[29] The message driven home powerfully by Christ then is this; divorce may be a concession allowed because of sin, but God’s plan is something far more beautiful, a covenant not bound by time, that ultimately is revealed later in scripture to be a picture of Christ’s love and eternal commitment for and to His church (Ephesians 5:31-32).


Paul’s writings produce some interesting insights into the topic of divorce. In Romans 7:2-3 he essentially repeats Christ’s teaching that remarriage while the former spouse is still alive is adultery as an example in the context of explaining the law to his readers. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul goes into far more detail on the topics of marriage, singleness and divorce. Additionally, Paul’s insights would have been read differently than Jesus’ teachings for a couple reasons; the first is that he is writing to a specific church answering their specific questions. Secondly, he is writing to a mix of gentile and Jewish believers, as opposed to Christ who was speaking to an essentially Jewish audience. This is significant because while there were similarities in understandings of divorce, there would still be some differences in culture and understanding between the two scenarios.

Greco-Roman Practices

In Greco-Roman culture, and Roman law, there was a different level of freedom for women than in Jewish culture. Couples were involved in the decision to marry each other and had reciprocal rights in the marriage process.[30] Although, with the minimum age for women to marry at twelve years of age, while the men were typically much older when they married, one wonders how much say the woman had initially in the marriage as opposed to later on.[31] When it came to divorce, both men and women could divorce their partner without the need to name grounds for divorce or any warning.[32] Neither the man or the woman could prevent a divorce if their spouse decided to leave, and there was no need to document the divorce as it could be done verbally. Divorce was so common and expected that Greco-Roman marriage certificates were worded as though divorce was the expectation, not death, to end the marriage.[33]

Paul’s Teachings

It is important to keep in mind that Paul is writing in 1 Corinthians 7 in response to specific questions to an audience of people made up of those with a Jewish understanding of marriage and divorce and those with a Greco-Roman view. Throughout the chapter he addresses different groups; married, widowed, singles, divorced, those married to believers, those married to unbelievers, etc. He tackles divorce specifically in verses 10-16, but even in those passages he addresses at least two groups; those who are married to believers and those who are married to unbelievers, with his instructions changing depending on the intended audience.

The first group he speaks to regarding marriage is the believing married couple in verses 10-11. He changes his tone from his previous tone of giving advice to taking charge; he emphasizes his instruction with the word “command” that they are not to separate.[34] There are a three things that stand out in these verses:

The first is that Paul leaves off the exception of sexual infidelity that he mentions with this command elsewhere, which suggests that he is referring to a specific type of divorce being discussed at the Corinthian church that does not meet Christ’s qualifications for divorce and mentioning the exception of sexual infidelity would not be applicable to the situation.[35]

The second thing to notice is that he begins the command by singling out the wife first, and then the husband; typically, the man would have been addressed first, which again suggests that he is dealing with an individual, or a specific group of people, most likely women, with this answer.[36]

Finally, he singles out the woman as needing to be reconciled to her husband, but does not use the same word with regards to the husband. This word, “to reconcile” is used by Paul typically to describe a “reconciliation effected by the gospel.”[37] Again, the woman is singled out, with an emphasis on both reuniting with her husband as well as a call to the gospel, which hints that he is targeting a woman, or a group of women, with theological issues with these statements.

Some have theorized that verses ten through eleven are in reference specifically to a group of “eschatological women.” This was a group of women who reoccur throughout 1 Corinthians who were living as if they had totally entered the new age and believed they had already realized the “resurrection from the dead.” As a result, they believed they lived as the angels, which if this is the intended audience, would make sense in that they would have rejected sexual relations with their husbands (perhaps why the topic of spouses denying their husband or wife sex is addressed earlier in the chapter) and were perhaps even arguing for divorce.[38] With Paul’s opening statement in verse one that he is writing in response to matters they contacted him about, it makes sense that the “eschatological women” are the focus point of these verses; it would also explain why Paul ignores Christ’s exceptions for divorce and instead commands them. He has assessed their situation and recognizes that there are no valid biblical grounds for divorce, so he commands them to remain married and to be reconciled both to their husbands and to their God. Therefore, there is no contradiction between his commands here and Christ’s instructions in the gospels or the law of Moses.

Verses twelve through sixteen see a shift in audience from married couples who share faith but are dealing with the topic of divorce, to married couples where only one of the spouses is a believer. Mixing religions in a marriage is challenging in modern culture; in the first century it was far more complicated. Culture demanded that the wife followed the lead of the husband, and even the Old Testament (Ezra 10:3, 19) gave precedent for divorcing a pagan.[39] It is not surprising to consider given either of these realities, as well as the cultural prevalence of divorce, that some of the believers may have been considering leaving their unbelieving spouse. Given first century culture, it must have been surprising that Paul’s advice to the men and women was the same; to not leave their unbelieving spouse. As believers, they were to honor the covenant and take it seriously in a way that only believers could truly understand. Paul goes on to challenge them with the thought that their unbelieving spouse may become a believer because of their influence. Thom Rainer did extensive research on how the church reaches the unchurched in America; one of his startling findings was that relationships are the most effective way in reaching the lost, with marriage relationships being at the top – specifically, wives reaching their husbands are the most influential group in reaching the unchurched.[40] Modern research affirms what Paul wrote so long ago.

Conversely, Paul advises the believing spouses in this passage to let their unsaved spouses divorce them if they decide to do so. Essentially, Paul is saying that the church has no authority over someone who has not given their life to Christ, therefore there is nothing they can do to restrain them from this decision. There is great debate over whether or not this passage releases the believing spouse for remarriage with another believer, but that is not the focal point of Paul’s message here, which is that believers, when it is in their power to do so, should remain married.[41] His concern is not whether or not they remarry, but instead with both preserving their marriage covenant as well as reaching their lost spouse for God.


What becomes increasingly apparent, even in this brief survey of these passages and the culture of the day, is that scripture is both consistent in its teachings in marriage, as well as progressively challenging the followers to God to greater and greater Christ-likeness. The biblical standard is unbroken monogamy, ultimately to paint a picture of the relationship between Christ and His church. The law of Moses was a concession; not to give the people the divorces they wanted, but to protect the women who were already being taken advantage of. The ideal was still sacrificial, unbroken monogamy. The reality was that some abused their position of power and God created a way for the abused to be protected.

Jesus took the understanding to a far deeper level, revealing the true heart of God in marriage. Like Moses, His exceptions that permitted divorce were not the plan, they were a concession if remaining in marriage was not possible. Again, it flew in the face of a culture that discarded undesired spouses and affirmed God’s perfect plan. While Paul’s instructions at first seem different than Christ’s, a deeper study of the context of the passage reveals that Paul was not changing the standard, rather he was simply voicing the aspects of God’s standard that applied to the situation at hand, as well as emphasizing that God’s people are to be held to God’s standard, while the first priority for the lost is to be reached for God.

The incredible depth of scripture in the area of marriage is something to be deeply studied and not treated lightly. Scripture presents an uncomfortable tension between the high view of marriage that God intends and the reality of the ongoing fallenness of sinful flesh, demanding both high expectations as well as grace and mercy for those who call Christ Lord. Preserving the marriage covenant is the calling, divorce is a concession for protection.


Block, Daniel I. Deuteronomy (The NIV Application Commentary). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012.

Bruner, Frederick Dale. Matthew: A Commentary. Volume 1: The Christbook, Matthew 1-12. Revised ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007.

Bruner, Frederick Dale. Matthew: A Commentary. Volume 2: The Churchbook, Matthew 13-28. Rev ed. Grand Rapids Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007.

Campbell, Ken M., ed. Marriage and Family in the Biblical World. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2003.

Ciampa, Roy E., and Brian S. Rosner. The First Letter to the Corinthians. Nottingham, England: Eerdmans, 2010.

Edwards, James R. The Gospel According to Mark. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002.

Fee, Gordon D. The First Epistle to the Corinthians, Revised Edition (The New International Commentary On the New Testament). Revised ed. Downers Grove, IL: Eerdmans, 2014.

House, H. Wayne, ed. Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1990.

Instone-Brewer, David. Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002.

Murray, John. Divorce. Philadelphia: P & R Publishing, 1961.

Rainer, Thom S. Surprising Insights from the Unchurched and Proven Ways to Reach Them. Nashville, TN: Zondervan, 2008.

Ross, Allen P. Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1988.

Taylor, Mark. 1 Corinthians: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (The New American Commentary). Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2014.

Waltke, Bruce K. Genesis: A Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001.

Walton, John. Genesis. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001.

[1] H. Wayne House, ed., Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1990), 9.

[2] John Murray, Divorce (Philadelphia: P & R Publishing, 1961), 1.

[3]  Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, Revised Edition (The New International Commentary On the New Testament), Revised ed. (Downers Grove, IL: Eerdmans, 2014), 270.

[4] David Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), Kindle location 1508.

[5] John Walton, Genesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 41.

[6] Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible, Kindle location 47.

[7] Ibid, Kindle location 58.

[8] Ken M. Campbell, ed., Marriage and Family in the Biblical World (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2003), 10.

[9] Ibid, 11.

[10] Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible, Kindle location 225.

[11] Ibid, Kindle location 111.

[12] Allen P. Ross, Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1988), 126-127.

[13] Bruce K. Waltke, Genesis: A Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 90.

[14] Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible, Kindle location 256.

[15] Ibid, Kindle location 238.

[16] Daniel I. Block, Deuteronomy (The NIV Application Commentary) (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 557.

[17] Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible, Kindle location 333.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid, Kindle location 948.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid, Kindle location 1189.

[23] James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 300.

[24] Ibid, 302.

[25] Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible, Kindle location 1538.

[26] Ibid, Kindle location 1550.

[27] Frederick Dale Bruner, Matthew: A Commentary. Volume 2: The Churchbook, Matthew 13-28, Rev ed. (Grand Rapids Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007), 260.

[28] Ibid, 263.

[29] Frederick Dale Bruner, Matthew: A Commentary. Volume 1: The Christbook, Matthew 1-12, Revised ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 230.

[30] Campbell, Marriage and Family in the Biblical World, 148.

[31] Ibid, 149.

[32] Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible, Kindle location 2140.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Mark Taylor, 1 Corinthians: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (The New American Commentary) (Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2014), 171.

[35] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 291.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Taylor, 1 Corinthians, 171.

[38] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 290.

[39] Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians (Nottingham, England: Eerdmans, 2010), 294.

[40] Thom S. Rainer, Surprising Insights from the Unchurched and Proven Ways to Reach Them (Nashville, TN: Zondervan, 2008), Kindle location 1106.

[41] Taylor, 1 Corinthians, 175.

Theology of Missions


The following is a Theology of Missions paper I wrote recently for a missions class I am taking. It was an interesting challenge; on the one hand, missions is close to my heart and something I enjoy writing about. At the same time, I had to follow some structure guidelines so while it definitely reflects my opinions, with more freedom, and no word count limits (technically, I went over as it is …), it may have turned out slightly different (not in theology, but in format) than what you see here.



A theology of missions is a critical need for any ministry leader, and ultimately, every believer. Every believer is called to live out the Great Commission, a reality too often missed. While missions is often thought of something done by a few in a foreign land, every believer is actually called to be a missionary – some in foreign lands, some in their neighborhoods, communities, schools and workplaces.

Missions in Scripture

The message of scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, is that of hope and salvation. The gospel message weaves in and out of both the Old and New Testaments, creating one unified narrative through many authors over the centuries that details God’s heart for His lost children, the call to missions. Decades ago, New Tribes Mission learned this lesson first hand. Initially in their mission to reach primitive people groups that had not been contacted before, their goal was simple. To immerse themselves in the tribe, learn the language and culture, and then share the message of Christ. However, they were caught off guard by either the lack of response to the New Testament teachings, or the very lukewarm, loose commitment that did occasionally happen.

They went back to the drawing board and developed a one year curriculum, called Firm Foundations, that takes the students from creation to Christ.[1] Over the course of the year, the narrative is built up from Genesis to the New Testament, laying out the foundations for why a Savior is needed. The change in response was dramatic; listeners finally understood why Christ was necessary! Over the decades this material has been used in people group after people group, including the Manjui tribe of Paraguay that the author of this paper lived with as a teen.

It is no wonder then that the message of missions saturates both the Old and New Testaments. Genesis 3:15 plants the seeds of this theme with the promise of offspring that will wound the serpent, a prophecy pointing to Christ’s arrival and provision of salvation. This was a direct result of the separation between man and God that was caused by Adam and Eve’s sin, sin that could only be healed through Christ’s death and resurrection.

Another clear moment of mission in the Old Testament is found in Genesis 12:1-3, when Abraham is set apart and given his calling. While he was specifically called to be the beginnings of a great nation, it was a setting apart that symbolized Christ one day setting apart His church. Through Abraham’s actions, God promised in verse three that “all peoples on earth will be blessed.” All peoples! Abraham was being commissioned for mission, a mission to reach and bless the world with Christ. Hebrews 11 affirms that it was Abraham’s faith that saved and guided him, not his actions. The same faith that is tied so vitally to the mission of reaching a lost world.

The gospels build on what the Old Testament began, revealing the God’s plan for salvation, and ultimately building up to the Great Commission – the command to spread the word to all the world about Christ and the salvation found in Him, the fulfillment of the promise made to Adam and Eve thousands of years before. From there, the rest of the New Testament gives the believer practical advice on how to live out that calling to worship God and reach the lost.

Christ consistently pointed His followers to the need and our role in being a part of the plan to meet that need. In Matthew 9:38, He told His disciples that “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field.” Borthwick points out that there is an undercurrent in scripture that mission is an ongoing task, pointing out that “the command we translate as ‘go’ in Matthew 28:18-20 and Mark 16:15 is actually a participle: ‘as you are going.’”[2]

Mark 6 and Luke 10 both record instances where Jesus sent out the disciples in pairs of two to preach repentance wherever they could be heard. Before they fully understood the reality of who Christ was, before His death and resurrection, Jesus was already sending them out into the world to pave the way for the promise made to Abraham to be fulfilled at long last. Throughout the gospels, the disciples time and again had the misperception that Jesus was a political messiah for the Jews, while Christ demonstrated over and over His love for all people, regardless of nationality, gender or age, and His desire to see people connected to God.

Nature of God and Missions

The nature of God is far greater than this paper can adequately describe. Man has created words in an attempt to describe His nature; holy, omnipotent, omnipresent, sovereign, immutable, love – the list goes far longer. One of the critical aspects of God’s nature is His worthiness of worship. Passages like Isaiah 43:7, Romans 11:36 and Revelation 4:11 all speak of how mankind was created to bring glory to God, to worship Him. At His core, God’s nature demands worship. Meanwhile, mankind’s core purpose is to worship God. Piper said it well when he wrote “Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man.”[3] Driving that point home, he also observed that “The goal of missions is the gladness of the peoples in the greatness of God.”[4]

Humans were designed to have a relationship with God, given the incredible purpose of bringing glory to Him. This is why Christ’s primary concern was seeing people made right and connected with God. The secondary purpose, why Christ’s closing words before ascending to heaven were the Great Commission, having become right with God, is to in turn help others to be made right and connect with God so that in time all creation will be restored to its purpose of bringing glory to God.

Missions and Theology

“There is no more important question in encountering mission theology than this: How is a solid, biblically based foundation for mission theology constructed?”[5] A theology of missions does not stand in isolation; it is constructed in light of a healthy structure of theology. Theologies of God, humanity, creation, and so on, need to be developed and linked together. Just as God cannot be contained in a few descriptive words, theology needs to be linked to be understood.

Theology of Trinity

The Trinity, while not directly referenced in scripture, is a vital theology, both on its own as well as with regards to missions. “The doctrine of the Trinity is crucial for Christianity. It is concerned with who God is, what He is like, how He works, and how He is to be approached. Moreover, the question of the deity of Jesus Christ, which has historically been a point of great tension, is very much wrapped up with our understanding of the Trinity.”[6]

In understanding the Trinity, believers know both who to worship (God the Father, Son and the Spirit), how God functions, and how He is to be approached. Of particular note in regards to missions is the deity of Christ. Philippians 2:5-11 and Hebrews 1 are two critical passages that affirm the deity of Christ. He was not simply a man. Consequently, His death and resurrection have power for all mankind. His command to mission in the form of the Great Commission, has authority and is relevant to all believers. His approach to mission is an example to both follow and learn from.

Theology of Inerrancy

The authority of scripture to speak into people’s lives is in part based on the theology of inerrancy. This directly impacts the theology of mission as that is shaped by the words of scripture. Why is inerrancy important? The dependability and reliability of scripture is critical both to the integrity of faith, but also to the development of faith practices and theology. The truth of scripture impacts each of the following:

  • Truth of scripture frees from Satan; John 8:32, 2 Timothy 2:24-26.
  • Truth of scripture mediates grace and peace; 2 Peter 1:2.
  • Truth of scripture sanctifies; John 17:17, 2 Peter 1:3-12, 2 Timothy 3:16-17.
  • Truth of scripture serves love; Philippians 1:9.
  • Truth of scripture protects from error; Ephesians 4:11-15, 2 Peter 3:17-18.
  • Truth of scripture saves; 1 Timothy 4:16, Acts 20:26-27, 2 Thessalonians 2:10.
  • Truth of scripture is the ideal of heaven; 1 Corinthians 13:12.
  • Truth of scripture is approved by God; 2 Timothy 2:15.

If the believers call to mission and support of mission, both locally and globally, is based on scripture, theology of inerrancy is a key part of that call.

Two Themes of Mission Theology

There are a number of themes that are tied to a healthy theology of mission; the Kingdom of God, Jesus Christ, contextualization, liberation, justice, mission Dei, and others.[7] Particularly relevant to this paper are the themes of worship and the Great Commission. These two themes drive both the purpose and the scope of missions.


Piper wrote, “Missions is not first and ultimate; God is. This truth is the lifeblood of missionary inspiration and endurance.”[8] Worship defines the theme behind why missions exists. When confronted with even glimpses of God’s glory, the only natural response is worship. Over and over throughout scripture, both the lost and saved, the demons and angels, always respond the same; they drop to the ground in worship and awe. So many behaviors and disciplines have to be learned, compelled, or practiced. In describing His people, God said in Isaiah 43:7, “I created for my glory … I formed and made.” The drive to worship God should motivate all that we do; “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Our natural response to God is to worship Him, and that ultimately, when we are faced with His glory in eternity, there will be no other response possible. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians, worship, or giving glory to God, is tied to all that we do – even activities as mundane as eating and drinking. How we work in our jobs, how we interact with others, how we serve in our neighborhoods and in our churches, all should bring glory to God. Even Piper’s comment describing the motive behind missions bears relevance; the Great Commission, the calling to reach a lost world is ultimately based on the reality that not all creation worships God.

The Great Commission

The Great Commission, Jesus final words to His followers before ascending into heaven, define the task itself and the method; “Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).

Luke records these final words slightly different in Acts 1:8, conveying the same theme but with some additional insight to the method; “[Jesus said] you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” From these two passages, we get the Great Commission, the command to reach the world. This is done through making disciples; in other words, creating students of Christ who in turn create students of Christ. The scope? It begins locally, spreads nationally, and ultimately reaches the world.

Practical Mission Theology

Theology of mission is primarily lived out in three contexts; the missionary serving away from home, church leadership in their support and example of mission, and the lay believer not in full time ministry.


For many, the traditional missionary defines what missions is. The individual or couple who moves to a different location with the intent of being a witness for Christ to those there. Often times this is accomplished through learning language and culture, building relationships and understanding of the region they are in, and finally as opportunity arises, presenting the message of Christ, planting a church, and eventually moving on once the newly planted body of believers is self-sustaining.

The danger of not having a theology of mission while serving as a missionary is in losing sight of the purpose of missions. A healthy theology guides and directs the missionary, giving them both a plan for action as well as the purpose behind it. It becomes the source of encouragement and endurance as they struggle through the challenges of immersing themselves in a culture not their own, the time and effort it takes to learn languages and preach Christ, and so on.

Church Leadership

One of the roles for leadership in the church is that of equipper. Ephesians 4:12 charges pastors and leaders to equip the congregation for acts of service. This is important when it comes to missions; leadership must have both a theology and plan for missions, as they are in the unique role of facilitating every level of the Great Commissions – locally, nationally and globally.

Leadership should provide opportunities for growth, education, understanding and for living out the call to mission in the local environment and community. While not all are called to full time ministry elsewhere, every church should be raising up and sending some. In addition, they should be challenging the congregation in their giving to support missions at every level of the Great Commission financially. Paul frequently touches on this point; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4, 2 Corinthians 8-9, Philippians 4:10-20, and 1 Timothy 6:17-19.

Lay Believers

Finally, lay believers active in the local church live out a healthy theology of mission when they understand that each individual is called to be a missionary in the Great Commission – not just the ones who go to other countries and immerse themselves in other cultures. Believers are “aliens and strangers” (1 Peter 2:11) called to reach their Jerusalem for Christ. So often, the church prays for God to move in their communities but fail to recognize that He has already placed His missionaries in every community, school, and workplace. Believers truly worship and serve God when they recognize their vital role in both supporting missionaries abroad through prayer and finances, and serving as missionaries to their community.


Borthwick, Paul. Western Christians in Global Mission: What’s the Role of the North American Church? Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2012.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. 3 ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013.

Moreau, A. Scott, Gary R. Corwin, and Gary B. McGee. Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey (Encountering Mission). 2 ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015.

Piper, John. Let the Nations Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010.

[1] https://answersingenesis.org/gospel/evangelism/firm-foundations-lasting-faith/

[2] Paul Borthwick, Western Christians in Global Mission: What’s the Role of the North American Church?, (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2012), 112.

[3] John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010), Kindle location 547.

[4] Ibid.

[5] A. Scott Moreau, Gary R. Corwin, and Gary B. McGee, Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey (Encountering Mission), 2 ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015), Kindle location 1809.

[6] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3 ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 292.

[7] Moreau, Corwin, McGee, Introducing World Missions, Kindle location 1887.

[8] Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad!, Kindle location 594.

The Landmark Movement


This is a research paper I wrote a couple weeks ago for a Baptist History class I just finished; it’s an interesting moment of history in the Baptist Church in America.



The Landmark Movement was an overreaction to the Campbellite controversy, claiming direct Baptist succession through the ages and an exclusive hold on the church, however the movement was based on faulty assumptions instead of actual historical evidence.

The movement erupted in the Southern Baptist Church in the mid-nineteenth century.[1] While its overall impact in the church had varying degrees of influence, it did not spread to northern churches.[2] It began as an overreaction to another extreme theological view, with leaders that had a penchant for controversy but were powerful communicators and effective at convincing others of their views through print and speaking. However, in their zeal they came to theological conclusions and opinions and then tried to find the supporting evidence rather than examining the evidence and letting it shape their theology. This paper will demonstrate this by briefly explaining the Campbellite controversy, recording the primary influences in forming the Landmark Movement and how they did so, the core beliefs of the Landmark Movement, and the resulting controversy and response from the Southern Baptist Church.

The Campbellite Controversy

Originally from a Presbyterian background, Alexander Campbell and his father, joined the Baptist church in 1812.[3] However, while they accepted immersion, it was not long before they were pushing for reforms in the Baptist church as a whole on issues of Old Testament authority, the nature of saving faith, the role of baptism in salvation, and other core beliefs. In addition, they opposed missionary societies, titles, and salaries for ministers.[4] Essentially, they wanted to remove any human traditions from church and bring it back to a “primitive order.”[5] By this they meant core practices found only in scripture.

Over time, his teachings split the denomination, with hundreds of churches leaving with him to form the Church of Christ denomination.[6] His ideas were able to catch momentum because of the combination of a simple approach to scripture and resentment from churches distant from the main offices of the denomination feeling unrepresented or left out. This was the first major internal division for the Baptist church, out of which provided the groundwork for the Landmark Movement’s values of extreme core Baptist theology and traditions being embraced.[7]

The Landmark Movement

With the trauma of a denominational split and the uncertainty cast on Baptist traditions and heritage, the climate in the aftermath of the Campbellite controversy fostered a search for “ecclesiastical certainty.”[8] This climate was ripe for the extreme forms of Baptist theology that were developed in the Landmark Movement. Ultimately, the goal of the Landmark Movement was to establish the Southern Baptist Church as the one true church.[9]

Leaders in the Movement

There were three main leaders in the formation of the movement, referred to by their followers as the “Great Triumvirate”; James Madison Pendleton, Amos Cooper Dayton, and James R. Graves.[10] Of the three, Graves was the primary voice of the movement, providing the initial spark to its formation, and driving it throughout the years.

James R. Graves

Graves was born in Vermont, was converted at the age of 15 and then baptized in the Baptist church there.[11] While he did not have any formal education, he was hired as a principal for academies in Ohio and Kentucky, and over time demonstrated such a natural talent that a Baptist church in Kentucky licensed him to preach. He committed himself to a self-taught program of study to prepare for the pastorate, covering modern languages and the Bible, and was eventually ordained at the age of 24.[12]

The church he was a part of, and that eventually ordained him, was pastored by Ryland Dillard, a man passionately opposed to the Campbellite teachings and deeply concerned about its spread through his region.[13] From there, Graves moved back to Ohio where he was invited to preach at a church led by what he would later call “a brilliant infidel.” The story goes that with just one sermon, Graves was able to turn the congregation from the Campbellite teaching and would spend the rest of his life committed to protecting others from the Campbellite “infidels.”[14]

From there, Graves moved to Nashville to become a teacher. During that time he also accepted a pastorate, but it was short lived as he became the assistant editor of the Tennessee Baptist in 1846.[15] Two years later, Graves became the editor, a role he would hold for over forty years.[16] Between his influence through the Tennessee Baptist, and his powerful oratory skills, Graves was able to powerfully build momentum and drive the Landmark Movement.

Amos Cooper Dayton

In 1813 Dayton was born in New Jersey to a Presbyterian family, and as such was baptized six months later.[17] He studied medicine in New York City and graduated at 22 years old, however he only practiced medicine for a short period before transitioning to dentistry. During his early twenties, Dayton had a period of doubts, even embracing universalism briefly, but after a severe illness that would impact him the rest of his life, he found himself convinced that “the Bible is of God, and universalism of the Devil.”[18]

Dayton remained a Presbyterian until 1852 when some of the books he was reading finally convinced him of the failings of his current denomination and convinced him to become Baptist. He was baptized and a week later preached his first sermon, eventually becoming ordained in the Baptist church. He began writing for the Tennessee Baptist in 1853 and eventually became an associate editor working with Graves in 1858.[19] While his favorite writing style was fiction, a genre he excelled in, he was most known for the 1858 book Pedobaptist and Campbellite Immersions, in which he powerfully attacked the Campbellite movement and bolstered the credibility of the Landmark Movement.[20]

During his years of association with Graves and his involvement in the Landmark Movement, Dayton was a powerful writer. Because of his connections with the Bible Board where he served first as an agent and then the corresponding secretary, he quickly became known in the Southern Baptist denomination.[21] He eventually became the Southern Baptist Church Sunday School Union president, and then transitioned to the secretary position.[22] Through his prominence, he was positioned well to be part of the trio of leaders in the Landmark Movement.

James Madison Pendleton

Much of Pendleton’s fame came through his crusading to abolish slavery.[23] He was born in 1811 in Virginia, but grew up in Kentucky on a farm. At 26 he took his first pastorate in Bowling Green, Kentucky, where he would remain for twenty years. He was known for not just reaching out to the free in his region, but evangelizing the slaves as well. His speaking style was that of reason, not emotionalism, and was an effective communicator with a strong hold on his material.[24] He was powerful in debates, and a strong writer, with each of these skills contributing to his rise in influence. By the 1840’s he was writing for several of the Baptist papers, even ones who disagreed with him but appreciated his ability.

While he never embraced the Landmark Movement to the degree of Graves or Dayton, he did become a compelling advocate for it in the areas he agreed with. His tracts urging Baptist churches to stop participating in pulpit exchanges with non-Baptist churches, and his speaking quickly rose in popularity, causing Graves to reach out to him and begin working together.[25] His greatest influence came through his 1867 book, Church Manual, a guide on Baptist life based on Landmark values, a work that has had a lasting influence in the Southern Baptist Church.[26]

The Landmark Movement’s Tenets

With the Southern Baptist Church still reeling from the Campbellite controversy and its efforts to change the core beliefs of the Baptist church, there was a hunger for the call to a stricter, more defined Baptist theology. Graves led the charge in this, developing much of the Landmark theology, and using his resources and connections through his paper, Dayton, Pendleton, and others to rapidly spread throughout the church, particularly in the Southwest.[27] Most did not think of it as a new movement, but rather a return to what they thought were core Baptist beliefs. However, in actuality, the tenets of Landmarkism were extreme versions of Baptist tradition, loaded with danger for the church.

The name itself, the Landmark Movement, was based on two Old Testament passages; Proverbs 22:28 and Job 24:2, both of which in the King James Version caution against removing the old landmarks set by those who went before.[28] With their intent of preserving historic Baptist practices and theology, the name was a natural one.

Graves wrote in his booklet, Old Landmarkism: What Is It?, that for him the issue began to crystalize on the day his mother and sister were baptized by a pastor who also performed infant baptisms. He wrote of his frustration that over the course of one day, this man baptized believers and infants, immersing some, pouring water over others. He writes, “Those different acts for ‘one baptism’ made an indelible impression,” one that was further magnified by the pastor’s seeming disinterest in the whole process.[29] For years he wrestled with these and other issues he saw as problems in the Baptist church, culminating in him, as editor of the Tennessee Baptist presenting to the Southern Baptist Convention in 1851 these five questions[30]:

1st. Can Baptists, consistently with their principles or the Scriptures, recognize those societies not organized according to the pattern of the Jerusalem church, but possessing different governments, different officers, a different class of members, different ordinances, doctrines and practices, as churches of Christ?

2d. Ought they to be called gospel churches, or churches in a religious sense?

3d. Can we consistently recognize the ministers of such irregular and unscriptural bodies as gospel ministers?

4th. Is it not virtually recognizing them as official ministers to invite them into our pulpits, or by any other act that would or could be construed into such a recognition?

5th. Can we consistently address as brethren those professing Christianity, who not only have not the doctrine of Christ and walk not according to his commandments, but are arrayed in direct and bitter opposition to them?

These questions, and the resulting answers came to be known as the Cotton Grove Resolutions. Ultimately, under Grave’s leadership, the tenets of the Landmark Movement came to be[31]:

  1. Baptist churches are the only true churches in the world. The Landmark Movement was highly exclusive and viewed the Baptist church as the only church bearing all the marks of a true church. As such, they believed that the church Christ founded was a Baptist church, regardless of its name at the time. A further ramification of this belief was the conviction that only Baptist churches have ministers, ordinances, and preaching recognized as authoritative and true in God’s eyes.
  2. The true church is a local, visible institution. Landmarkism rejects the idea of an invisible, or universal church. Each church is to be self-governing under Christ, maintaining its own discipline.
  3. The churches and the kingdom of God are coterminous. According to Graves, “church” and “kingdom” are synonymous terms in the Bible. The true churches together form the kingdom, much like the independent states form the United States of America. One of the ramifications of this belief was that if only Baptist churches are true churches, and the kingdom of God is comprised of Baptist churches, then to be saved, or in the Kingdom, one must be Baptist – a point that Graves did deny was his intent.
  4. There must be no “pulpit affiliation” with non-Baptists. Up until this point, there had been a lot of cross-denominational teamwork and pulpit swaps. Revivals were a popular tool, and often times pastors from different denominations would take turns teaching. However, because Baptist churches were viewed as the only true churches, these preachers from other denominations were viewed as leaders of secular organizations, with unrecognized ordinations, and therefore should not be allowed to have the pulpit in a Baptist church.
  5. Only a church can do churchly acts. This specifically addressed the doctrines and practices surrounding baptism, communion, preaching, and other church traditions. Because Baptist churches were viewed as the only true church, as a result, baptisms, communion, and other practices were no longer recognized as valid from other churches. This even extended to missionaries; the tasks missionaries engaged in were to be exclusively performed by the Baptist church, and as a result proponents of the Landmark Movement attempted to dismantle the foreign missions program.
  6. Baptist churches have always existed in every age by an unbroken historical succession. Graves wrote in his booklet, Old Landmarkism: What Is It?, that while they utterly and complete reject the idea of apostolic succession, they are convinced that the true church, the Baptist church, “has had a continuous existence” since Christ founded it “in the days of John the Baptist.”[32] This was a popular teaching point, because it not only validated the traditional Baptist views and practices, it created a strong sense of superiority and accomplishment.


In the late 1850’s, tensions began to explode as Graves continued to push further into the authority and established leadership structures of the Southern Baptist Church. In 1858, Graves established a Southern Baptist Sunday School Union in an attempt to undermine and replace the existing Southern Baptist Publication Society. For some time Graves had criticized the SBPS due to disagreements with its policies, literature, and leadership.[33] Graves’ pastor, Howell, however, disagreed with him and opposed his efforts to take control, triggering a series of personal attacks by Graves at Howell. Over the course of the next year, Graves, and 46 others of his followers, were brought through church discipline and removed from that church.

In 1859, Graves attempted at the Southern Baptist Convention to dismantle the Foreign Mission Board and instead place the control of missions into the individual churches. This created significant tension at the convention, and while the Board was ultimately protected, they did allow for individual churches to run their own missions if that was their conviction.[34] One of the results of this, however, was a growing sense of concern that the Landmark Movement encouraged division and a “rise of denominationalism.”[35] Rather than building the Southern Baptist Church, it was instead distancing them from one another.

In another move that frustrated Graves and his intent to publically confront Howell at the convention, rather than the convention embracing and celebrating Graves’ rise in influence, it instead made Howell the president. While Howell did ultimately step down in an effort to bring unity between the Southern Baptist churches that stood on opposite sides of some of these issues, it was still an undeniable setback to the Landmark Movement.

Between these setbacks, and then the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, the Landmark Movement lost a lot of its momentum. Tull writes that “the rising tide of Landmarkism was arrested and subdued by the Civil War.”[36] Much of the rebuilding in the church after the war in the Southern states was carried out by Baptists who were not a part of the Landmark movement, further quelling their influence as others rose to prominence. Dayton passed away towards the end of the war in 1865, and Pendleton moved to Pennsylvania that same year where he would spend the rest of his ministry years.[37]

Overall, Southern Baptists had grown tired of the constant controversy stirred up by Graves and the Landmark Movement, and were increasingly frustrated with the frequent attacks against their leaders. With only Graves remaining to spearhead the movement, and his influence no longer what it once was, the momentum was gone. Adding to that, McBeth writes, “As the true nature and spirit of Landmarkism became clearer, it lost much of its appeal.”[38] While all of these factors combined to see the Landmark Movement fade in its presence, its influence has not completely disappeared. Some of the beliefs and attitudes continue to this day in some Southern Baptist Churches, but mostly in the form of a general aloofness and reluctance to work with other denominations, and an unwillingness to recognize “alien” baptisms.[39] For the most part, by the time Graves passed away, almost all recognized the faults in Landmarkism’s tenets, with few being able to hold to more than just portions of the beliefs.


The Landmark Movement was initiated and led by individuals who loved God and desired to pursue His kingdom. They were passionate about scripture, and in light of the Campbellite Controversy, it is clear that there was a hunger for a return to the hallmarks, or landmarks, of Baptist faith. While Dayton and Pendleton each played roles in leading the Landmark Movement, it is clear that their influence was under the leadership of Graves.

At its core, the Landmark Movement was a flawed theological system based on an incorrect approach to theology. Graves arrived at his opinions and beliefs based on Baptist tradition, defined his views and then interpreted scripture based on those ideas. The Baptist church, in the span of history, was still relatively young during his time – yet because of his conviction that it is the one true church, he interpreted the previous 1800 years of church history based on that opinion rather than an appropriate historical approach, interpreting records and scripture through his lens. The correct approach would have been to instead try to place himself in the shoes of the New Testament Christian, understanding their culture, their context, and then interpret scriptures as best he could in the way that they would have.

One has to wonder if Graves, clearly a brilliant man, was in some ways limited in his ability to appropriately approach and handle these topics by the limits of his own education. On the one hand, his talents and ability were recognized early on, but at the same time he created his course of self-guided education. Did he unintentionally leave out areas of study that would have given him a more balanced approach? Or did his accomplishments and intelligence create an overconfidence resulting in an arrogance that not only saw his understanding of the church and scripture as correct, but as the one true understanding? Much like the misguided Pharisees and other religious leaders of the gospels?

In conclusion, it is not surprising that the Movement eventually collapsed on itself. While on a surface level it initially appeared to be a Baptist movement, it did not take long for Christians to recognize the faulty assumptions and flawed logic that undergirded the movement, and ultimately, its diversion from Baptist tradition, much like the Campbellite movement before it.


Askew, Thomas A., and Richard V. Pierard. The American Church Experience: A Concise History. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004.

Early, Joseph Jr. Readings in Baptist History: Four Centuries of Selected Documents. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2008.

Hall, C. W. “When orphans became heirs: J.R. Graves and the Landmark Baptists.” Baptist History and Heritage, 37(1) (2002): 112+.

Howard, Victor B. “James Madison Pendleton: A Southern Crusader Against Slavery”. The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society 74.3 (1976): 192–215.

McBeth, H. Leon. The Baptist Heritage. Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1987.

McBeth, H. Leon. A Sourcebook for Baptist Heritage. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 1990.

Patterson, James A. “James Robinson Graves: History in the Service of Ecclesiology.” Baptist History and Heritage 44.1 (2009): 72-83.

Taulman, James E. “The Life and Writings of Amos Cooper Dayton (1813-1865).” Baptist History and Heritage, 10, no. 1 (January 1975): 36-43.

Torbet, Robert G. History of the Baptists. 3 ed. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Pr, 1978.

Tull, James E. “The Landmark Movement: An Historical and Theological Appraisal.” Baptist History and Heritage, 10, no. 1 (January 1975): 3-18.


[1] Robert G. Torbet, History of the Baptists, 3 ed. (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Pr, 1978), 281.

[2] Thomas A. Askew, The American Church Experience: a Concise History (Grand Rapids: Wipf & Stock Pub, 2008), 187.

[3] H. Leon McBeth, A Sourcebook for Baptist Heritage (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 1990), 241.

[4] Ibid.

[5] H. Leon McBeth, The Baptist Heritage (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1987), 375.

[6] McBeth, A Sourcebook for Baptist Heritage, 241.

[7] McBeth, The Baptist Heritage, 376.

[8] C. W. Hall, “When Orphans Became Heirs: J.R. Graves and the Landmark Baptists,” Baptist History and Heritage, 37(1) (2002): 112.

[9] Ibid.

[10] James E. Tull, “The Landmark Movement: An Historical and Theological Appraisal,” Baptist History and Heritage, 10, no. 1 (January 1975): 5.

[11] James A Patterson, “James Robinson Graves: History in the Service of Ecclesiology,” Baptist History and Heritage, 44.1 (2009): 73.

[12] Ibid, 74.

[13] Hall, “When Orphans Became Heirs: J.R. Graves and the Landmark Baptists,” 112.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Patterson, “James Robinson Graves: History in the Service of Ecclesiology,” 74.

[16] Ibid.

[17] James E. Taulman, “The Life and Writings of Amos Cooper Dayton (1813-1865),” Baptist History and Heritage, 10, no. 1 (January 1975): 36.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Tull, “The Landmark Movement: An Historical and Theological Appraisal,” 5.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Taulman, “The Life and Writings of Amos Cooper Dayton (1813-1865),” 38.

[22] Ibid, 39.

[23] Victor B. Howard, “James Madison Pendleton: A Southern Crusader Against Slavery,” The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, 74.3 (1976): 192.

[24] Ibid, 193.

[25] McBeth, The Baptist Heritage, 449.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid, 446.

[28] Tull, “The Landmark Movement: An Historical and Theological Appraisal,” 3.

[29] Joseph Early Jr., Readings in Baptist History: Four Centuries of Selected Documents (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2008), 116.

[30] Ibid, 117.

[31] McBeth, The Baptist Heritage, 450-452.

[32] Early, Readings in Baptist History: Four Centuries of Selected Documents, 122.

[33] McBeth, The Baptist Heritage, 456.

[34] Tull, “The Landmark Movement: An Historical and Theological Appraisal,” 13.

[35] Torbet, History of the Baptists, 282.

[36] Tull, “The Landmark Movement: An Historical and Theological Appraisal,” 13.

[37] Ibid, 14.

[38] McBeth, The Baptist Heritage, 457.

[39] Tull, “The Landmark Movement: An Historical and Theological Appraisal,” 17.

Postmodernism Apologetics Paper

postmodernism small

A paper I wrote a couple weeks ago for my apologetics class on postmodernism and a defense of Christianity …



Postmodernism, the view that all truth is relative, is a widely accepted yet flawed belief system. Lyotard defined postmodernism as “incredulity toward metanarratives.”[1] In other words, incredulity towards the idea of defined reality, history, truth, or beliefs. This paper will demonstrate both the internal and external contradictions with the postmodern belief system, as well as the contrasting ideals of the Christian worldview, ultimately demonstrating Christianity to be the superior worldview.

This will be accomplished by giving an overview of Postmodernism, with observations from some of its respected voices; Derrida, Kant, and Lyotard, as well as contrasting opinions from Christian apologists. Through this examination, it will become apparent that the foundations of Postmodernism, and the question of relativity, ultimately collapse and cannot support the fundamental claims of the worldview, ultimately demonstrating that Christianity is the only option for a functional worldview.

Summary of Postmodernism

James Sire describes postmodernism this way; “No longer is there a single story, a metanarrative (in our terms a worldview), that holds Western culture together.”[2] In generations past, typically each culture had its own metanarrative, but the postmodernism approach changes that to recognize that many people, groups, and cultures have their own narratives, each equal with the others, and none having dominance or greater authority. One of the challenges with postmodernism is defining it; at different times the worldview is defined in different ways. Heath White explains that it is “not a theory or a creed: it is more like an attitude or a way of looking at things.”[3] There are weaknesses and strengths, like most worldviews. The following summary of Postmodernism’s tenets is based on Groothuis’ criteria for worldview evaluation:[4]

  1. Ultimate Reality: With regards to the question of ultimate reality, Kant wrote that “Our age is the age of criticism, to which everything must be subjected. The sacredness of religion, and the authority of legislation, are by many regarded as grounds of exemption from the examination of this tribunal. But, if they are exempted, they become the subjects of just suspicion, and cannot lay claim to sincere respect, which reason accords only to that which has stood the test of a free and public examination.”[5] Everything is open to be questioned, with the recognition that understanding is shaped by culture and context. As such, it is impossible for any one person to be able to claim to have an exclusive hold on reality since they are unable to get past their own social constructions.

Derrida is one of the primary voices of postmodernism, although he labeled himself a deconstructionist. He wrote that “In what one calls the real life of these existences ‘of flesh and bone,’ beyond and behind what one believes can be circumscribed as Rousseau’s text, there has never been anything but writing.”[6] By this he means that each individual interprets reality through their own lens of language.

  1. Source of Morality: Postmodernism claims there is no one source of morality, instead there are endlessly differing interpretations of what morality is. Derrida argues that the pursuit of being ethical in fact makes people irresponsible, a temptation to fall into the fallacy (according to him) of believing there is an absolute.[7] As such, morality is fluid, dependent on culture. Sire suggests that Foucault, perhaps the most radical of the postmodern voices, would claim that “the greatest good is an individual’s freedom to maximize pleasure.”[8]
  2. Nature of Humanity: While humans are born with certain aptitudes or potential, the nature of humanity is socially determined. Taken one step further, there is no such thing as human nature, it is a social construct. Foucault writes,

“To all those who still wish to talk about man, about his reign or his liberation, to all those who still ask themselves questions about what man is in his essence, to all those who wish to take him as their starting-point in their attempts to reach the truth, to all those who, on the other hand, refer all knowledge back to the truths of man himself, to all those who refuse to formalize without anthropologizing, who refuse to mythologize without demystifying, who refuse to think without immediately thinking that it is a man who is thinking, to all these warped and twisted forms of reflection we can answer only with a philosophical laugh – which means, to a certain extent, a silent one.”[9]

  1. Spiritual Liberation Attained By: This type of liberation is acquired by recognizing that there is no one truth, but feeling free to pursue spirituality that gives the individual moral satisfaction. Christian Smith calls this “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism,” a belief system that essentially teaches happiness comes from being a good, moral person.[10] He contends that not only is this a popular approach in general, it has invaded the Christian church to a significant degree as well.
  2. Ultimate Authority: There is no one ultimate authority; much like the impossibility to know an ultimate reality, is impossible to know an ultimate authority. At the same time, the various narratives or belief systems are viewed as attempts at gaining power. While according to postmodernism there is no purely objective knowledge or truth, the collection of knowledge and stories does give power or authority. However, it is considered oppressive if others’ knowledge or metanarratives give them the power; ultimate authority for oneself should reside within the individual based on their own knowledge.[11]
  3. History and the Afterlife: History cannot be fully known as those who recorded it did so through their own culture and biased lens. While it may be possible to be able to have a strong idea of what happened, it cannot be known with certainty because of the cultural bias of those who recorded it. Likewise, because it is impossible to know anything with complete certainty, it is not possible to know for sure if there is an afterlife or what it would be like. In this spirit, Kant writes that all “our knowledge begins with experience,” however, because experience is shaped by other factors, it is limited.[12]

Evaluation of Postmodernism

For the purposes of evaluating postmodernism, the points focused on below are the criteria provided by Groothuis for test and evaluating worldviews. His intent is that they are universally applicable criteria, however some critics feel that the extreme differences between varying worldviews make it impossible to have one set of evaluating criteria.[13]

  1. Does it explains what it ought to explain? This is one of postmodernism’s great weaknesses. Even in researching this paper it was difficult to find a solid definition of the worldview. Many authors stressed its intangible qualities, and constantly shifting definitions. What the proponents of postmodernism do attempt to explain is with the caveat that it could be wrong, and that it is rooted in culture and social constructs that change over time and location. With a value system based in relativity and the lack of absolutes, definitions and explanations become difficult to achieve. White writes, “postmoderns kept the modern distrust of authority but lost their trust in reason and have found nothing to replace it.”[14]
  2. Does it have internal logical consistency? This is a challenge for postmodernism and ultimately, one of the first places critics go to in their attacks. With one of its basic tenets being that truth is relative or not truly knowable, that very belief cannot be considered dependable or true for all. As Sire puts it, “the rejection of all metanarratives is itself a metanarrative.”[15] This is not just a criticism from Christian apologists, the faulty logic is also a reoccurring challenge from secular circles. Their frustration is that postmodern relativism “eliminates universal human rights, contributes to pseudoscience … undermines moral and rational discourse … makes communication between those of differing worldviews impossible, and so on.”[16]
  3. Does it have coherence? Postmodernism is largely consistent in maintaining its value of truth as relative, however, there is little to no coherence in the “truths” that are believed and accepted. With each individual forming their own narrative, contradictions abound. Even within individual belief systems there are often times incoherent combinations of beliefs. Having said that, though, postmodernism does have one strength in particular; an acknowledgement of mankind’s imperfect ability to form truth and reality. While the wide acceptance of relativity has it failings, embedded in that belief is a humble recognition of man’s imperfections.
  4. Does it have intellectual and cultural fecundity? Postmodernism on its surface encourages creativity and productivity as it encourages each person to explore and pursue their truth. However, it has resulted in a spiritual laziness; Christian Smith describes in his descriptions of “moralistic therapeutic deism” notes how half of the religious population in America believe it is okay to mix religious beliefs with little thought to their compatibility.[17] Rather than being the freeing experience expected, accepting all truths as valid strips the world of meaning and value.
  5. Is it simpler to explain? Simpler belief systems are preferable to unnecessarily complex ones. Postmodernism actually comes across initially as simple to explain; truth is relative. It is only as people begin to dive into the ramifications of it that it becomes more complex and contradictory. As previously mentioned, even defining postmodernism has many scholars challenged to do so because of its constantly changing nature. Sire points out that “postmodernism is in flux, as is postmodernism’s take on the significance of human history, including its own history,” and as such even the core people committed to the belief system are in flux as well.[18]

Christian Alternative

Following the same criteria as the previous section, here is an evaluation of the Christian worldview:

  1. Does it explain what it ought to explain? Christianity claims to contain all that is required to pursue it within the scriptures. While there are pieces that are difficult to understand, the core tenets of salvation and pursuit of Christ are able to be explained. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 makes exactly this point, driving home the value that scriptures have been given so that followers of God can be prepared for every opportunity.
  2. Is there internal logical consistency? For a book written over the span of 1500 years, in multiple languages, with dozens of different writers from all walks of life, it is incredible how unified the message of scripture is. While on the surface there may be some contradictions in the scriptures, with further study and understanding of the culture and understandings of those who wrote the scripture the contradictions are able to be removed. McDowell writes that “allegations of error in the Bible are usually based on a failure to recognize basic principles of interpreting ancient literature.”[19]
  3. Does it have coherence? This question is a little more challenging. Abstractly, yes, Christianity has coherence. The belief that God is all powerful and defines truth requires that that reality remain unchanging and unified throughout all of time. As Dr. Smith points out, “Far from being limited to a particular aspect of life, the biblical worldview is comprehensive.”[20] However, as imperfect beings, humans have interpreted the meanings of scriptures in different ways, formed different denominations, wasted resources and energy on infighting and disagreements, all of which contributes to an image of lacking coherence.
  4. Does it have intellectual and cultural fecundity? While postmodernism claims to have achieved this, as previously stated it actually results in spiritual laziness. Christianity, on the other hand, through its admonitions to search out the scriptures, to pursue Christlikeness, to do our best for God’s honor, and to not just blindly accept the teaching of those around us, does an incredible job of challenging its adherents to intellectual and cultural fecundity. Groothuis affirmed the intellectual credibility of the Christian worldview when he wrote, “The universe as a contingent and designed system is best explained by a noncontingent Creator, who depends on nothing outside Himself (Acts 17:25) and who created the universe to operate in various goal-related ways. Living systems presuppose intelligent design and cannot be explained on the basis of merely chance and natural laws.”[21]
  5. Is it simpler to explain? Simpler belief systems are preferable to unnecessarily complex ones. Where at first glance postmodernism seems simple and then upon closer examination is revealed to be complex, Christianity is the opposite. Many look at the churches, their practices and traditions, hear older translations in outdated English, and assume that Christianity must be complex. Instead, on closer examination, Christianity is revealed to be incredibly simple to explain; at its core it is about creation, fall, and redemption.[22]

Defense of Christianity

In a defense of Christianity with regards to the postmodern worldview, a strong starting point is on the issue of truth. While postmoderns claim truth is relative, that there is not a defined metanarrative from which truth comes from, even in so claiming they have contradicted themselves. By virtue of believing that that truth; that all truth is relative, they have embraced a metanarrative that defines and shapes their beliefs. Aristotle once argued that truth relies on a tangible thing; it cannot be based on nothing. He famously wrote, “To say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false, while to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true; so that he who says of anything that it is, or that it is not, will say either what is true or what is false; but neither what is nor what is not is said to be or not to be.”[23]

What Aristotle so eloquently communicates is this: a thing is either true or false. It cannot be true for one person, but false for another. Different truths cannot contradict each other, logic requires that one admits conflicting truths reveal at least one, if not both, to be untrue. Postmodernism is correct on one front; man is shaped and influenced by his context, his culture, the bias and lens that have been shaped in his perspective over the course of a lifetime; it is why man only holds pieces of the truth.

If mankind cannot possess a complete truth, who is able to know it? Is it not something that requires the existence of a God? A being perfect and powerful enough to both know and understand all truth? Tied to truth is the issue of objective morals. While relativism would suggest that morals vary from person to person, suggesting ultimately that evil does not exist, in reality this is an easier topic to defend. In his core, man knows good and evil. God claims throughout scripture to have written His law on the heart (Jer. 31:33, Heb. 8:10, Rom. 2:15). This is revealed not in man’s actions, but in his wants; he does not want to be mocked, he does not want to be robbed, he does not want to be attacked, he does not want to be cheated – he does not want these things because in his heart he knows they are wrong and he does not want them to happen to him.

Objective moral values do exist, whether or not individuals are willing to acknowledge them. Groothuis notes the “goodness to deity” argument in his book[24];

  1. If a personal God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values do exist.
  3. Therefore, a personal God exists.

Perhaps mankind’s fascination with, and hunger for, truth is rooted in its creation. Scripture claims that man is “made in the image of God” (Gen. 1:27), and while sin corrupts and renders man imperfect, his desires are still impacted by that holy lineage. Isaiah 65:16 calls God “the God of truth,” a God mankind is designed to be in relationship with, and created in the image of – of course truth is a center point of man’s philosophical discussions. John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Scripture claims to have the exclusive hold on truth; the Christian church is called “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15).

Moral truth exists, therefore God exists. Since God exists, and both warrants and claims a hold on truth, then the scriptures must be dependable. When Christ claims in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” it must reflect an exclusive reality regarding man’s restoration to his Creator. John 3:16 summarizes how that is accomplished; “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” By placing one’s trust and faith in the saving power of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, eternal life and restoration is achievable.


In modern society, postmodernism has natural appeal. The world is more connected than any time in history, with people throughout the planet being connected to and with people of different belief systems and cultural biases to a degree never before seen. Moral relativism paves the way in theory for all these differing backgrounds to coexist without diminishing one another. But as demonstrated in this paper, its foundations quickly collapse under the contradictions and fallacies. Instead, through the very truth postmodernism tries to redefine, it is revealed to be an imperfect worldview and points to a moral truth that ultimately proves the existence of God.

Christianity is not just a superior worldview, it is proven time and again to be the only functional worldview.


Derrida, Jacques. Of Grammatology. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Univ Pr, 1976.

Derrida, Jacques. The Gift of Death: and, Literature in Secret. 2nd ed. Chicago, IL: University Of Chicago Press, 2008.

Foucault, Michel. The Order of Things: an Archaeology of the Human Sciences. Reissue ed. New York: Vintage, 1994.

Groothuis, Douglas. Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: IVP Academic, 2011.

Groothuis, Douglas. Truth Decay: Defending Christianity Against the Challenges of Postmodernism. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2000.

Kant, Immanuel. The Critique of Pure Reason. Amazon Kindle, 2011.

Lyotard, Jean-François. The Postmodern Condition: A Report On Knowledge. Minneapolis: University Of Minnesota Press, 1984.

McDowell, Josh. The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1999.

Sire, James W. The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog. 5th ed. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009.

Smith, C. Fred. Developing a Biblical Worldview: Seeing Things God’s Way. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2015.

Smith, Christian, and Melina Lundquist Denton. Soul Searching: the Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. Reprint ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

White, Heath. Postmodernism 101: A First Course for the Curious Christian. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2006.


[1] Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: a Report On Knowledge (Minneapolis: University Of Minnesota Press, 1984), 24.

[2] James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog, 5th ed. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), 216.

[3] Heath White, Postmodernism 101: a First Course for the Curious Christian (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2006), 11.

[4] Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: a Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: IVP Academic, 2011), Kindle location 721.

[5] Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Pure Reason (Amazon Kindle, 2011), Kindle location 18.

[6] Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Univ Pr, 1976), 158.

[7] Jacques Derrida, The Gift of Death: and, Literature in Secret, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 2008), 62.

[8] Sire, The Universe Next Door, 228.

[9] Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: an Archaeology of the Human Sciences, Reissue ed. (New York: Vintage, 1994), 342.

[10] Christian Smith and Melina Lundquist Denton, Soul Searching: the Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, Reprint ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), Kindle location 3526.

[11] Sire, The Universe Next Door, 226.

[12] Kant, The Critique of Pure Reason (Amazon Kindle, 2011), Kindle location 447.

[13] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: a Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith, Kindle location 485.

[14] White, Postmodernism 101, 41.

[15] Sire, The Universe Next Door, 239.

[16] Douglas Groothuis, Truth Decay: Defending Christianity Against the Challenges of Postmodernism (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2000), 48.

[17] Smith and Denton, Soul Searching: the Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, 74.

[18] Sire, The Universe Next Door, 229.

[19] Josh McDowell, The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict, [Rev., ed. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1999), 46.

[20] Dr. C. Fred Smith, Developing a Biblical Worldview: Seeing Things God’s Way (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2015), Kindle location 115.

[21] Groothuis, Truth Decay, 180.

[22] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: a Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith, Kindle location 795.

[23] McDowell, The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict, 586.

[24] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: a Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith, Kindle location 3625.

Hebrew Word Study: Completion

This is a paper I wrote last October for a Hebrew studies class. Essentially, I selected a word in an Old Testament passage, found the original Hebrew for it, researched its appearances throughout scripture and built a case for what its full definition would be.

Identifying the Word

The word chosen for this word study, from the passage in Genesis 22:1-19, is found in verse 12. It is the Hebrew word יָרֵא, or yare’. One of its possible, and more common, translations is “fear.” While it appears only once in this particular passage, it is a defining moment in the story, explaining why the Lord instructs Abraham to not sacrifice his son.

“He said, ‘Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear [emphasis added] God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.’” Genesis 22:12 (NASB)

This word appears in its Hebrew root form 402 times in the NASB Old Testament, and is translated in a variety of ways. It is a challenge to fully understand, and as a result is often highlighted in different versions of the Bible with alternate potential translations, or wordings. It’s Strong’s number H3372.

Some of the various ways that יָרֵא, or yare’, is translated in Genesis 22:12 include:

  • Literal:
    • NASB, “fear”
    • ESV, “fear”
  • Dynamic Equivalent:
    • NIV, “fear”
    • NET, “fear”
  • Free:
    • NLT, “fear”
    • NCV, “trust”
    • TEV, “honor and obey”
  • Paraphrase:
    • MSG, “fearlessly you fear”

The Free and Paraphrase translations begin to frame the question; what does “fear” in this passage truly mean? While the literal translation of the Hebrew word may be “fear,” as demonstrated in the Literal and Dynamic Equivalent translations cited, even they translate it in other ways elsewhere in scripture. The Free and Paraphrase versions begin to hint at a deeper understanding of this word, seeming to indicate a greater depth of meaning that would contributes deeply to the understanding of this passage as a whole.

Range of Meaning

According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, there are 402 occurrences of the word in 373 verses, spread out over the Old Testament.

Distribution of occurrences by number of verses:

  • OT Law: 84 verses
  • OT History: 103 verses
  • OT Poetry: 101 verses
  • OT Prophets: 85 verses

As translated in the KJV:

  • Fear (188 times)
  • Afraid (78 times)
  • Terrible (23 times)
  • Terrible thing (6 times)
  • Dreadful (5 times)
  • Reverence (3 times)
  • Fearful (2 times)
  • Terrible acts (1 time)
  • (8 times)


  • To fear, revere, be afraid.
    • (Qal)
      • To fear, be afraid
      • To stand in awe of, be awed
      • To fear, reverence, honor, respect
    • (Niphal)
      • To be fearful, be dreadful, be feared
      • To cause astonishment and awe, be held in awe
      • To inspire reverence or godly fear or awe
    • (Piel) to make afraid, terrify
  • (TWOT) To shoot, pour.

The following are some examples of the use of יָרֵא in scripture. Because of the sheer volume of occurrences of the word, the following are some selected examples to represent the whole. Because of its common usage, for the purposes of this paper examples of its usage will be selected from the works of Moses. As the author of Genesis, looking at his treatment of the word 84 times throughout the books of the law will give a clearer understanding of his intended definition of the word. Verses are from the NASB translation, with translations of יָרֵא in bold and italicized:

  • Genesis 3:10; He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.”
  • Genesis20:8; So Abimelech arose early in the morning and called all his servants and told all these things in their hearing; and the men were greatly frightened.
  • Genesis 31:31; Then Jacob replied to Laban, “Because I was afraid, for I thought that you would take your daughters from me by force.
  • Genesis 42:18; Now Joseph said to them on the third day, “Do this and live, for I fear
  • Genesis 42:35; Now it came about as they were emptying their sacks, that behold, every man’s bundle of money was in his sack; and when they and their father saw their bundles of money, they were dismayed.
  • Exodus 14:31; When Israel saw the great power which the LORD had used against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in His servant Moses.
  • Exodus 15:11; “Who is like You among the gods, O LORD? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, awesome in praises, working wonders?
  • Exodus 34:10; Then God said, “Behold, I am going to make a covenant. Before all your people I will perform miracles which have not been produced in all the earth nor among any of the nations; and all the people among whom you live will see the working of the LORD, for it is a fearful thing that I am going to perform with you.
  • Leviticus 19:3; ‘Every one of you shall reverence his mother and his father, and you shall keep My sabbaths; I am the LORD your God.
  • Leviticus 19:30; ‘You shall keep My sabbaths and revere My sanctuary; I am the LORD.
  • Numbers 14:9; “Only do not rebel against the LORD; and do not fear the people of the land, for they will be our prey. Their protection has been removed from them, and the LORD is with us; do not fear
  • Deuteronomy 1:19; “Then we set out from Horeb, and went through all that great and terrible wilderness which you saw on the way to the hill country of the Amorites, just as the LORD our God had commanded us; and we came to Kadesh-barnea.
  • Deuteronomy 6:13; “You shall fear only the LORD your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name.
  • Deuteronomy 7:21; “You shall not dread them, for the LORD your God is in your midst, a great and awesome

It is fascinating to note the range in meanings that are implied throughout just Moses’ use of the word. In total, he uses the word 84 times between his five books; the above passages are representative of his usage of it. He frequently uses it to describe fear of outside forces or enemies. In those passages, it is consistently translated “fear,” “afraid,” and along those lines. It seems to be a very traditional understanding of the word fear and how modern English speaking societies would understand it.

Where the use of the word gets fascinating is in connection to God and/or the divine. At times it is still translated “fear,” “afraid” and variations of those words, but it is also translated as “awesome,” “reverence,” and “revere.” There does not seem to be anything to indicate that the reader should understand these types of words associated with reverence to be understood when used to describe earthly forces of evil and sources of fear, and yet it consistently appears as an interpretation when used in reference to God and His Kingdom. It is as though the word has the same usage as today with regards to earthly sources of fear, but expands to include something more, something beyond being simply afraid when associated with the divine.

Mounce highlights the contrasts in the word’s usage in his expository dictionary, writing that it “denotes both a sense of terror and a sense of awe and worship.”[2] He goes on to make the case that how it is understood, whether as a sense of terror, or as a sense of awe and worship, is based on the context of the verse and the use of the word. It is a strange split in meanings for one word that can be confusing to the English speaker, but was most likely easily understood by Hebrew speakers.

Bruce Waltke explains Moses’ use of יָרֵא in Genesis 22:12 specifically as referring to an “obedience to God’s revelation of His moral will, whether through conscience or Scripture, out of recognition that He holds in His hands life for the obedient and death for the disobedient.”[3] There is a reverence implied, such that Abraham’s reverent fear of God allowed him to obey and trust in God’s provision in spite of dread for sacrificing his son.

John Walton provides some additional cultural context to the passage, pointing out that in the secular cultures of the day the idea of child sacrifice was a common one, and a practice performed by many.[4] Often times it was connected to pagan gods of fertility as a way to guarantee continued fertility. It is an interesting additional context, making God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice his son a culturally relevant practice – and yet, over the course of the story God twists the ending to change expectations and demonstrate yet again that He is not like the false gods created by men. Abraham’s reverent fear than reflects an obedience and a commitment to God in spite of seemingly overwhelming circumstances and demands. And yet, there is an aspect to Abraham’s faith that reflects a different expectation than then his secular counterparts; he trusted God’s plan to continue his family through his son Isaac, not yet-unborn heirs. He had faith to obey with the reverent trust that God would provide a way.

Another commentator notes that Abraham’s fear in this passage is “obedience which does not hold back even what is most precious, when God demands it, and commits to God even that future which he himself has promised.”[5] He also points out that the use of יָרֵא in verse 8 of the same chapter refers to God’s provision, while verse 12 points to Abraham’s fear, providing a subtle play in words. The emphasis, again, however is Abraham’s obedience, his reverent fear of God.

Ross gives the most direct explanation of the use of יָרֵא in verse 12, noting that it was both a positive statement and a revelation of Abraham’s commitment. He goes on to say “the expositor must explain the concept of the fear of God, for it is at the heart of this test, and it is a predominant theme in the biblical narratives about worship and service. The true worshiper fears the Lord, that is, the true worshiper draws near the Lord in love and adoration and reverence but shrinks back in fear of such an awesome deity.”[6]


What does יָרֵא, or “fear,” truly mean in this passage? Ultimately, it seems to be a combination of reverence and fear, a healthy and appropriate respect for the power and authority of God, and Abraham’s place in reflection of that. It does not carry the negative connotations of fear that typically come to mind; a terror of something evil or unknown in a negative way. Instead, there is a love and awesomeness to God that triggers an overwhelming sense of reverence, perhaps which triggers some of the same bodily reactions or feelings of negative fear yet with a positive prompt.


Brown, Francis, D.D., D.Litt. The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew and English Lexicon. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1979.

Fields, Lee M. Hebrew for the Rest of Us: Using Hebrew Tools Without Mastering Biblical Hebrew. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008.

Goodrick, Edward W., and John R. Kohlenberger III. The Strongest NIV Exhaustive Concordance. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004.

Hamilton, Victor P. The Book of Genesis. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995.

Mounce, William D., and general editor. Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006.

Ross, Allen P. Creation and Blessing: a Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1997.

Waltke, Bruce K. with Cathi J. Fredricks. Genesis: a Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001.

Walton, John. Genesis: The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001.


[1] Francis, D.D., D.Litt. Brown, The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew and English Lexicon (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1979), 431.

[2] William D. Mounce and general editor, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 1.

[3] Bruce K. Waltke with Cathi J. Fredricks, Genesis: a Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 308.

[4] John Walton, Genesis: The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 509.

[5] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), Kindle location 2538.

[6] Allen P. Ross, Creation and Blessing: a Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1997), 1.

Biographical Study: Nathaniel

More than you ever wanted to know about the briefly mentioned Nathaniel of the New Testament! This is a paper I recently wrote with the goal of creating a biography using primarily scripture on Nathaniel. It was challenging, as he is only mentioned twice in scripture, with one of those two times simply being a list of people.


Biographical Study: Nathaniel

New Testament Orientation I

By Matthew McNutt


One of the challenges on writing a biography about Nathaniel is the lack of information about him in the New Testament. He is only directly mentioned twice in the Bible, both times in the book of John (chapters 1 and 21), with very little information about him revealed. The passage in John 1 is the one, of the two, with the most detail, with Nathaniel’s call to follow Jesus described over the course of five verses. The reference in John 21 is simply a listing of those present after the resurrection at the third appearance of Christ. No direct involvement of Nathaniel is recorded other than his presence.

Scholars believe there is a case to be made that the Bartholomew mentioned briefly in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and the book of Acts, is in fact Nathaniel. Through careful examination of the scriptures and extra-biblical historical sources, a compelling case can be made that the Nathaniel and Bartholomew mentioned in the gospel accounts is the same individual. It is not unusual for individuals in the scriptures to have more than one name, and it is interesting to note that the name Nathaniel does not make an appearance in any of those four books.[1]

Through using commentaries on the gospels and Acts, as well as scholarly articles, this paper will attempt to both make the case for Nathaniel and Bartholomew being the same individual, and having accomplished that, communicate what is known directly of his life and death. Of course, if he was in fact one of the twelve apostles, we can have a broad view through the New Testament and specifically the gospels of his activities at large as a part of that group, however, this paper will focus only on those events in which he is named as a participant.

Two Names, One Man


Readers are introduced to Nathaniel in chapter one of the gospel of John. He is a man from Cana, with his name meaning “God has given.”[2] While there is no direct reference to Nathaniel being called to be one of the twelve apostles, it can be assumed that his invitation to follow Christ is recognized in the beginning of John to establish just such a relationship. While Christ would formally recognize the twelve later in His ministry, John’s emphasis of Nathaniel’s call in chapter one points to a more important connection to Christ throughout His earthly ministry.[3] Nathaniel also seems to have a special place of honor in his early recognizance of Christ, calling Him the “Son of God”, and the “King of Israel” in verse 49.[4]

Some details to note about Nathaniel include that John connects him to Philip. Throughout the gospels each of the writers seem to consistently split the twelve into groups of four.[5] While they may vary the order in which the individuals are listed in each foursome, overall the three groupings are listed in the same order. It is most likely not a coincidence that the first group of four listed contains the most visible apostles throughout the gospel narrative, while the apostle consistently listed last is Judas Iscariot.[6] This would seem to indicate an intentionality in how Nathaniel is listed in this passage following Philip, establishing a relationship we will see repeated in the other gospel accounts if it is also accepted that the name Bartholomew is also referring to Nathaniel.

There are two other theories for who the name Nathaniel refers to, however, neither theory carries much support.[7] The first is that the reference to Nathaniel in John 1 is simply allegorical and that Nathaniel is simply an ideal disciple, hence the name chosen which means “God has given”.[8] However, this is unlikely because the story is told in such a literal way with no indication that it is some sort of story or example, but is in fact exactly what it seems to be – the calling of a literal man named Nathaniel. The second theory is that Nathaniel is another name for Matthew, since both names have similar meanings.[9] However, this also seems unlikely because of the pairing of Nathaniel with Philip, as well as the much stronger evidence for the alternate name Bartholomew.


Bartholomew is mentioned in four places in the New Testament scriptures; Matthew 10:3, Mark 3:18, Luke 6:14, and Acts 1:13. In all four passages he is included in lists of Apostles present for different events or moments. What is interesting to note is that Bartholomew is not mentioned in the book of John, nor is Nathaniel mentioned in Matthew, Mark, Luke or Acts.

According to William Lane, what we have recorded as the name Bartholomew is not actually a name that people would be given. Instead, it is a patronymic (a name derived from the name of a father or ancestor) which literally means “Son of Talmai”.[10] It can be assumed that this Son of Talmai had an actual name in addition to this patronymic.

In addition, as previously noted, there seems to be a tendency in the Biblical authors to list the disciples in a specific order. While never defined for the readers, there seems to clearly be a pattern or hierarchy in listing the twelve. In John 1, Nathaniel is paired with Philip. Meanwhile, in Bartholomew is paired with Philip in all three of the synoptic gospels; Matthew 10:3, Mark 3:18, Luke 6:14.[11] A similar pairing happens with Nathaniel being named immediately after Thomas in John 21:2, exactly in the same way that Bartholomew is named immediately after Thomas in Acts 1:13.[12]

While tradition can be a questionable source, coupled with the above information, it does add weight to the argument that Bartholomew is in fact Nathaniel. According to Ronald Brownrigg, “The identification of Bartholomew and Nathanael has been widely accepted by biblical scholars from the 9th century to the present day.”[13]

One Man

While it cannot be known for certain this side of eternity whether or not Nathaniel and Bartholomew were in fact the same man, the evidence to support that idea does seem strong. Consequently, while the only story specifically about Nathaniel in the Bible comes in the first chapter of John, readers are able to assume that he in fact becomes one of the twelve apostles. First, because his calling to discipleship was singled out and described, attributing a level of importance to Nathaniel. Secondly, because the name Bartholomew was included several times in lists of the apostles, making a strong case that Bartholomew was an apostle.[14]

The following biography of Nathaniel is based on the passages in which Nathaniel or Bartholomew are mentioned. As an apostle, it can be assumed that he was an eye witness and a participant throughout Christ’s ministry on earth. However, for this paper, only the instances where he is specifically mentioned as a participant will be included.



John 21:2 mentions that Nathaniel is from Cana in Galilee. In John 1:47, Jesus describes Nathaniel as a “genuine son of Israel – a man of complete integrity.” In John 1:48 Jesus mentions that He knew Nathaniel was under the fig tree earlier. Very little is known of Nathaniel before his encounter with Jesus. But the above comments do give some insight. The reader can know where he is from, what kind of community he grew up in and what its climate would have been. Nathaniel makes a comment wondering what good can come from Nazareth, referring to Christ – however, nowhere else is Nazareth spoken of in a negative manner, which leaves the question of why Nathaniel would say what he did. One proposed explanation? Leon Morris notes that Cana in Galilee was in close proximity to Nazareth, and Nathaniel’s comment may reflect nothing more than a small town rivalry.[15]

More significantly, Christ’s comments regarding Nathaniel’s character, combined with his activity under the fig tree paint a picture of a deeply devoted man of God. Frequently the fig tree would be used a symbol of home, a place where one would go for prayer, meditation and study.[16] Jesus pointing out His knowledge of Nathaniel’s time at the fig tree, as well as labeling him a “genuine son of Israel – a man of complete integrity”, something Christ would know far more so than any other lead the reader to confidentially identify Nathaniel as one known for his integrity in his family and in his community. He was a man of God who had grown up connected to the Jewish traditions for education and upbringing.


The Call. There are five ministry moments that mention Nathaniel as a participant by name in the scriptures. The first is a continuation of the discussion on John 1:45-49 in that it is Nathaniel’s call to discipleship, which eventually leads to him being named an apostle. There is some speculation that Nathaniel’s reaction to Christ’s words about the fig tree are due to Jesus using a phrase that would have had a connection to Jacob and his struggle with God.[17] Brownrigg claims that Nathaniel was reading about Jacob and his struggle while dealing with his own struggle over whether or not Christ was the Messiah; when Christ used language that hinted at that exact topic, it was all the confirmation he needed to know Christ’s identity. However, it is a bit of a stretch to come to such a specific conclusion when the text does not claim it. Leon Morris takes a much more cautious stance, simply pointing out the use of language that would have pointed to Jacob without drawing any conclusions from it other than that clearly Jesus revealed knowledge of something deeply meaningful and spiritual in Nathaniel’s life – such knowledge could not be had without God’s intervention, and so Nathaniel commits himself to following Christ and his involvement in Christian ministry begins.[18]

Choosing of the Twelve. The second ministry moment is recorded in Mark 3:13-19 and Luke 6:12-16; both authors describe the same moment, with different details. Luke mentions that Christ prefaced His choosing of the twelve by spending the night in prayer. Both mention Nathaniel by the name Bartholomew. In this moment, Nathaniel transitioned from a simple student of Christ to one of the twelve who would follow Him everywhere, benefit from a level of exposure to Christ and His ministry that would ultimately equip them to start and lead the New Testament church. More than likely, this was one of the most significant moments of his life.

Both William Lane[19] and Leon Morris[20] point out that this new group of twelve represent the people of the twelve tribes of Israel. Christ was directly claiming authority over the entirety of Israel in a way that both honored the past (the twelve tribes) while starting something new. Through their connection to Christ in this unique relationship they were given authority.[21]

The term “apostle” given to them by Christ comes from the verb translated “to send”[22], literally naming them messengers in His name, to carry the Good News throughout the world, and after His death and resurrection, to begin the New Testament church.

Jesus Sends Out the Twelve. The third moment in Nathaniel’s ministry life is recorded in Matthew 10. In this passage Jesus gives them detailed instructions, including the following:

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

Nathaniel is specifically listed in this passage as Luke records the names of those sent out (Luke records him with the name Bartholomew). Matthew records Christ’s instructions to the twelve, and His warnings to them. This passage is also a beautiful commissioning of the twelve, empowering them for ministry. Bruner suggests the following outline for Jesus’ traveling instructions to them:[23]

  1. Where to Go in Mission (Not Here But Here), 10:5-6
  2. What to Do in Mission (Heralding and Healing), 10:7-8a
  3. How to Do Mission (Simply, Not Grandly), 10:8b-10
  4. With Whom to Do Mission (The Receptive), 10:11-13a
  5. How to Handle Rejection in Mission (Peace Retrieving and Dust Shaking), 10:13b-15

Back to Fishing. The fourth moment involving Nathaniel by name is recorded in John 21:1-14, after the crucifixion of Christ, the third time He appeared to the disciples. Six of the disciples, including Nathaniel, have returned to fishing. In a way, it paints a picture of hopelessness – these are men without a cause returning to what they know. After fishing for the night, they return empty handed only to have Jesus on the shore telling them to cast their nets again – at this point they have not recognized Him. It is only once their nets are overwhelmed with a massive haul that they realize His true identity. For this group of men, it must have been a powerful moment; it would still be very fresh in their minds how they fled Jesus in His moment of crucifixion. They are broken, feeling like failures, “men without a purpose,”[24] and Christ simply spends time with them, feeding them, and demonstrating to them His unconditional love. These actions in time turn this group of men who fled danger in fear at the time of His crucifixion into a group of fearless leaders who would all die for their faith.

The Upper Room. Acts 1:12-14, the fifth and final ministry moment in which Nathaniel is named. At this point, the now eleven apostles, the women, Mary the mother of Jesus and Christ’s brothers are following Jesus’ instructions to them to wait for the Holy Spirit’s arrival. They do so in the Upper Room, which some speculate to be the same Upper Room in which Jesus had celebrated Passover with the twelve – but this cannot be proven.[25]

Not much of significance is mentioned in this specific passage, other than their faithful obedience and patience regarding Christ’s commands. It is our last Biblical mention of Nathaniel, a man who has followed Christ from that first encounter until this one. The eleven do select a twelfth apostle to replace Judas Iscariot. This was a time for prayer, for preparing, for gaining strength before the whirlwind events that triggered the birth of the early church.


The scriptures do not record Nathaniel’s death. Like most of the apostles, very little was ever said about him in the Bible. Most of the recorded history focuses on the words and actions of a few, with the implied message that the rest of the twelve were just as involved but unrecorded for history.

Brownrigg records that tradition holds that Nathaniel served as a missionary, traveling as far as India, and finding his death through a brutal flaying at Albanopolis in Armenia.[26] Because of this traditional view of Nathaniel’s death, he is generally drawn with his skin over his arm and a knife in his hand.


Like many of the apostles, little is actually known of Nathaniel. If it is accepted that Bartholomew and Nathaniel are the same man it brings the total number moments in his life recorded in scripture from two to five. The reality is that gospels, and the New Testament as a whole, seem to only focus on a few of the twelve.

Yet even so, it should not be thought that Nathanael was in any way a minor player – Christ did not call him to be one of the twelve simply to fill a spot on the roster so His apostles had spiritual symbolism with the nation of Israel. Each one of those men were called with a purpose, to complete a vital team of men. As an apostle he had great spiritual authority and influence on the early church, as well as a critical missionary role. His time with Christ equipped him for ministry in a way none of us will experience on this earth. Under his leadership, as well as the other apostles, the early church was born and a movement was started that would ultimately spread throughout the world and change the course of history.

All because, to his astonishment, he encountered something amazing from Nazareth.


Brownrigg, Ronald. “Nathaniel.” Who’s Who in the New Testament. 2002.

Bruce, F.F. The Book of the Acts. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988.

Bruner, Frederick Dale. Matthew: A Commentary. Volume 1. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004.

Lane, William L. The Gospel of Mark. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974.

Morris, Leon. The Gospel according to John. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995.

Morris, Leon. The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: Luke. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988.

Sproul, R.C. John. Ann Arbor, MI: Sheridan Books, Inc., 2009.


[1] Brownrigg, Ronald. “Nathaniel.” Who’s Who in the New Testament. 2002.

[2] Morris, Leon. The Gospel According to John. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1995. 143.

[3] Ibid., 144.

[4] Sproul, R. C. John. Ann Arbor, MI: Sheridan Books, 2009. Location 281.

[5] Bruce, F. F. The Book of the Acts. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1988. 40.

[6] Ibid., 40.

[7] Morris, The Gospel According to John. 143.

[8] Ibid., 143.

[9] Ibid., 143.

[10] Lane, William L. The Gospel of Mark. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1974. 135.

[11] Morris, The Gospel According to John. 143.

[12] Ibid., 143.

[13] Brownrigg, Ronald. “Nathaniel.” Who’s Who in the New Testament. 2002.

[14] Morris, The Gospel According to John. 143.

[15] Ibid., 145.

[16] Ibid., 146.

[17] Brownrigg, Ronald. “Nathaniel.” Who’s Who in the New Testament. 2002.

[18] Morris, The Gospel According to John. 146.

[19] Lane, Mark. 132.

[20] Morris, Leon. The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: Luke. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988. 145.

[21] Lane, Mark. 133.

[22] Ibid., 145.

[23] Bruner, Frederick Dale. Matthew: A Commentary. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2004. 458.

[24] Morris, The Gospel According to John. 760.

[25] Bruce, Acts. 40.

[26] Brownrigg, Ronald. “Nathaniel.” Who’s Who in the New Testament. 2002.

Exegetical Paper on Romans 7:7-25

One last paper from last semester of seminary …


Exegetical Paper on Romans 7:7-25

by Matthew McNutt, February 28, 2014


I.       Introduction

II.     Context

III.    Analysis of Text

A.  Sin and the Law

1.   The Law Reveals Sin (v. 7)

2.   The Law Arouses Sin (v. 8)

3.   The Law Ruins the Sinner (v. 9-11)

4.   The Law Reflects the Sinfulness of Sin (v. 12-13)

B. The Believer and Sin

1.   The First Lament (v. 14-17)

2.   The Second Lament (v. 18-20)

3.   The Third Lament (v. 21-23)

4.   The Final Lament (v. 24-25)

IV. Application

V. Conclusion


While at first glance the Law of the Old Testament may appear to be an impossible standard, destined to leave all who followed it without any true hope of redemption, Romans 7:7-25 reveal it is in fact vitally necessary to the plan of redemption in revealing man’s utter dependence on God. While some may have read Paul’s earlier passages to have not only disregarded the need for the Law, some could have even interpreted his words to mean that the Law itself is sinful. In verses 7-25, Paul corrects that misinterpretation, pointing out the useful of the Law before Christ and even after Christ, but also points out its weaknesses, and ultimately the need for true dependence on Christ and His atoning sacrifice.[1]


Written by the Apostle Paul, the epistle to the Romans is a significant piece in the New Testament in discussing doctrine. While Paul did not start the Roman church, and as of the writing of this epistle, had not been there, he wanted to build connections with the church there as well as provide apostolic instruction. He wrote it towards the end of his third missionary journey, most likely around AD 58.[2]

The context of Romans 7:7-25 within the epistle itself is significant. After traditional greetings, Paul launches into the discussion with his thesis statement, Romans 1:17 in the NASB, “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith.’” Having laid the ground work that salvation is through faith, Paul begins the process of making his case as he systematically moves through Romans. In chapters 3-5, he establishes that the Law cannot save. In chapter 6 he establishes that it cannot sanctify. And then in the first six verses of chapter 7 he reveals that the Law cannot condemn a believer of sin.[3] Given that context, it would be easy to see how the reader in Rome might have wondered if Paul was labeling the Law a bad thing, which triggers Paul’s explanation in 7:7-25 both of its value and limitations.

Analysis of Text

Following MacArthur’s division of the text[4], this analysis will make two broad divisions; 7:7-13, with a focus on the relationship between sin and the Law, and 7:14-25, with a focus on the relationship between sin and the believer.

Sin and the Law (v.7-13)

In this section Paul answers the question, which may have arisen out of his previous comments on the Law, of whether or not the Law is sinful, broken, or causes sin. Having been a significant piece of the Jewish culture and practice for generations, Paul’s comments in chapters 1-6 must have been inflammatory to some! For others, they may have misunderstood his meaning to suggest a new freedom to sin, or that sin itself originated in the Law. There are four main points contained in verses 7-13[5]:

1. The Law reveals sin (v.7). With his question, “What shall we say, then?,” Paul demonstrates that he anticipates the previously mentioned false assumptions to be a possible rebuttal. And with that simple question, he launches into his defense. He explains that the Law reveals his sin, or informs him of sin that he may have been unaware of – the Law itself is not the sin, it is his actions that are. In his phrase, “I would not have known what sin was except through the law,” he uses the Greek word εγνων, which in this context conveys a type of knowledge that is gained through experience, as opposed to intuitive knowledge.[6] This is critical in Paul’s explanation because it points to the Law’s ability to illustrate and explain what qualifies as sinful behavior, something he needed to learn to do.

2. The Law arouses sin (v.8). Stating that “sin, seizing the opportunity” to trigger sinful actions, Paul again brings the point that the Law is not sinful and does not cause sin. Instead, it is the sinful desires within men and women, that upon hearing something is prohibited, sinfully desire it. A simple example of this principle is found in painting contractors. Very rarely will professional painter hang a “wet paint” sign on something they have painted. Why? Because in normal situations, it is very rare that a person will want to touch a wall, yet simply hanging that sign with two simple words, “wet paint,” seems to trigger a desire in every passerby to reach out and touch the wall as if to see if it is really wet.[7] There is something within the sinful heart that rebels against instruction, so while the Law does on the one hand reveal the presence of sin, by defining the sin a fallen person may find themselves now desiring to do something they were unaware of before the Law opened their eyes to it.

But then Paul goes on to say, “apart from law, sin is dead.” How could this be? It is still part of the idea contained in this verse; that sin uses the Law as a launching point, something to react to. As sin has been around since before Genesis 1:1 (Satan’s sin), it is not dependant on the Law for existence since the Law came much later. However, framed in the understanding of this passage, sin is less active without a list of prohibitions to trigger reactions in the sinful man or woman. MacArthur explains that it is not so much that sin is dead, but that it is dormant, or not fully active.[8]

3. The Law ruins the sinner (v.9-11). Verse 9 opens with the statement, “Once I was alive apart from law”, which Cranfield explains as referring to the pre-fall state of Adam in the Garden of Eden.[9] However, both MacArthur and Moo disagree with that assessment, primarily pointing at the use of the Greek word εγω to support their understanding that Paul’s use of it directly refers to himself, not Adam as a representative. While there is  room for interpreting it the way Cranfield did, given the context it would be highly unlikely. In this case, Moo would argue that Paul uses it to refer to himself, as in, “I was existing” before knowing the Law.[10] Granted, that would be referring to a very early stage of his life, as Paul would have, as a Jewish boy, and then a Pharisee, been well versed in the Law starting at a young age.

What then does Paul refer to when he claims in verses 9-10 to have died after the Law came and “sin sprang to life”? It refers to spiritual death, not physical death. Part of Paul’s point is that ultimately, while the Law does not produce sin, it also does not produce life since no one is able to live up to its demands in their pursuit of God. If trust is placed in the Law, not Christ, it can only end in spiritual death, which reveals its fatal limitation. It reveals mankind’s need for a Savior without providing salvation. Granted, if someone was able to keep the Law perfectly they would gain life,[11] but as humanity is fallen, that goal is unreachable by anyone other than Christ, thereby making the reality of the Law for fallen mankind death.

In verse 11, some interpret the use of εξηπατησεν (to deceive) as a parallel to Adam’s sin in the Garden, however, as the Law had not been established at that time, and in the context of Paul’s discussion so far, it makes more sense to connect it to the Jewish people and their relationship with the Law since it was given.[12] In so many of them placing their hope in the Law for salvation, instead of God, they were deceived. Hebrews 11, in particular, makes it clear that salvation has always come, and will always come through faith in God – not in making sacrifices, following the Law or other activities. Those actions can be symptoms of a saving faith, but they can also be symptoms of a deadly deception.

Getting back to this third point’s premise, the Law ruins the sinner, that title sums up the dangers of the Law. Mankind’s sinful nature often times leads to deception that results in placing faith in something other than God. More specifically, while theoretically life is possible in the Law, realistically it is impossible for sinful humans to attain.

4. The Law Reflects the Sinfulness of Sin (v. 12-13). Paul is wrapping up his defense of the Law by answering the question of whether or not the Law is sin with an emphatic NO. In fact, his point is that the Law does exactly what God intended it to do![13] As such, he rightfully labels it holy, righteous and good. Paul concludes this part of the scripture passage by pointing out that sin is so utterly sinful that it can even corrupt man’s usage of God’s holy Law.

MacArthur explains it this way: “The fact that the law reveals, arouses, and condemns sin and brings death to the sinner does not make the law itself evil. When a person is justly convicted and sentenced for murder, there is no fault in the law or with those responsible for upholding it. The fault is in the one who broke the law.”[14]

The Believer and Sin (v.14-25)

Over the previous couple chapters, Paul focused on sanctification, how the believer is a new creation, completely new in Christ, holy and forgiven. He wrote of what Christ’s death and resurrection accomplished that the Law could not. However, while that salvation results in eternal reward and a new creation here on earth, it does not result in a perfect or easy Christian life. Verses 14-25 paint a very real picture of what it is like for the believer to struggle with sin.

Over the years there has been much debate on who the subject of Paul’s writings is in this passage. Some believe, because of the failures in sin, that it must be referring to someone who is not yet saved but considering faith. Others contend that only a believer would be that concerned with following God and doing the right thing. Some are convinced that Paul, as a mature believer, must be referring to an immature believer who has much growing left to do – as displayed in their sin struggles. On the other hand, others are convinced that Paul is in fact referring to himself and his own struggle, and only a mature believer could recognize the struggle for what is in the way that Paul does in this passage.[15]

However, because Paul has shown this level of humility elsewhere in his writings, and uses the first person singular 46 times in verses 7-25 of this chapter[16], it seems apparent that in this particular instance Paul is very much writing about himself and his own personal struggles with living out the Christian faith. For many believers, this is an incredibly powerful encouragement, painting a picture of the very real struggles Christians have as they pursue Christ-likeness. Through this particular set of verses, 14-25, Paul identifies four laments out his struggles as a believer with sin.

1. The First Lament (v.14-17). Paul leads off with the problem, that he is “all too human, a slave to sin.” Even though he is redeemed, he is not yet made perfect and still contends with his sin nature. He goes on to say that he does not “understand” himself, using the Greek word γινωσκω, which is translated “understand” in this passage. It is an interesting word choice, literally meaning “to know absolutely,” and used both as a way to express gaining knowledge and to show the relationship between a husband and wife. It is knowledge that goes beyond just factual.[17] In this case, it is tied to the relationship between the believer (Paul) and Christ. He laments that his walk, as much as he desires otherwise, does not measure up to what it should. Even though he agrees the law is good, and he knows how he wants to live, he finds himself going against it anyway, which is a heart breaking development for him.

In saying that it is the “sin living in me that does it,” it may sound as though Paul is laying blame elsewhere. In fact, he is owning it, as he has already owned his sinful nature. However, what he is doing is separating the sin in him from the new life in Christ also within him. He is slowly become more and more like Christ, but as yet his efforts are imperfect, which results in sin still being present in his life.

2. The Second Lament (v.18-20). The second lament of Paul is simple, that he has a sinful nature and there is nothing good in it. He is careful to clarify that it is his sinful nature, not the new creation that he has become. The two are coexisting until he reaches heaven, resulting in the frustration he experiences as he writes this in that he has the God given desires for righteousness that come with his new life, yet the sinful nature resisting it every step of the way. Wiersebe points out that Paul is not saying that it was impossible for him to follow God’s perfect way, but that of his own efforts he could not do it, and even when he did “succeed” in pursuing God’s will it was still tainted with his sinful nature.[18] Once again, he repeats his statement regarding the sin, or sin nature, living within him that pursues sin, not his new nature in Christ.

3. The Third Lament (v. 21-23). The third lament is similar to the first two; that in spite of being a new creation, there is still evil present within him. It is in fact such a common problem for believers that Paul does not call it an issue that is just his own, but a principle of life, a reality all believers must face. Consequently, this lingering sin nature fights every good thing the new creation may set out to do. Cranfield refers to it as another law, a “law of sin,” with the two laws, the law of sin and the law of God fighting against each other in their contradictions.[19] Regardless, it is one of the great frustrations that believers must prepare for, the reality of the ongoing war between their sinful nature and their redeemed nature. The two are incompatible in every way, and if a believer is not aware of the struggle, than it is something to be worried about – most likely it is a symptom of their God given new nature being silenced in the war between the two.

4. The Final Lament (v.24-25). In these two verses, Paul really lets loose with his lament, calling himself a miserable person, and crying out for freedom from a life dominated by sin and death. The Greek for “set free” in this passage is ρυσεται, which literally means “rescue from danger.” During the time of the writing of this Epistle, it was a word used to describe a soldier rescuing a wounded soldier from the battlefield and bringing him to safety.[20]

And yet, having made these laments, Paul does not hesitate to give the answer, that Christ will provide the rescue! In spite of his fallen tendency to still be a slave to sin, he has a great hope for the future that this will not always be the case!


Romans 7:7-25 is a critical discussion on legalism and the Law for both the Jewish and Gentile believer. The Old Testament lays the groundwork, Christ arrives, lives, dies, rises again, fulfilling the prophecies and revealing the great mystery. Human nature loves a checklist, a series of tasks that must be performed in exchange for salvation, but Paul makes it crystal clear that restoration with God does not come through work, completing a checklist – in this case the Law, or any other method of human origin – it is a gift from God, God is the one creating and giving the righteousness, there is nothing mankind can do other than place their faith in Christ.

While packed with theological and doctrinal weight, the application of this passage is simple: the Law is useful for the believer in revealing God’s holiness, mankind’s need of a Savior, and the complete inability to receive that Savior without God’s intervention. However, believers must recognize their own sin nature still at war and the almost certain potential for it to rebel against every aspect of God’s law.


In conclusion, the challenge for the believer is to recognize the natural human tendency to desire a to-do list, a works system of merit based salvation, and in recognizing that acknowledge that weakness to God and ask for the strength to simply place faith in Christ’s death and resurrection to receive the eternal security of God’s righteousness, as well as rely on Him for help in the struggle between his or her two natures. While there are incredible amounts of resources and debates focused on these verses, sorting out every possible detail and angle, the core truth – that everyone is equally sinful and fallen under the Law, hopeless without the power of God, with the only requirement being belief in Him – is one that is easy to remember and apply to one’s life. As overwhelming as the battle may seem at times, as verse 25 so boldly proclaims, “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”


Boice, James Montgomery. Romans 5-8. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1991.

Cranfield, C.E.B. Romans: A Shorter Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1985.

MacArthur, John F. Romans 1-8. Chicago: The Moody Bible Institute, 1991.

Moo, Douglas J. The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996.

Mounce, William D. Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006.

Schreiner, Thomas R. Romans: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998.

Vine, W.E. An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1940.

Wiersbe, Warren W. The Bible Exposition Commentary: Volume 1. Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Publishing, 1989.

[1] Wiersbe, Warren W., The Bible Exposition Commentary: Volume 1, (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Publishing, 1989), 535.

[2] MacArthur, John F., The MacArthur New Testament Commentary Romans 1-8, (Chicago: The Moody Bible Institute, 1991), xviii.

[3] Moo, Douglas J, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistle to the Romans, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 423.

[4] MacArthur, Romans 1-8, 365-393.

[5] Ibid., 368-376.

[6] Moo, New International Commentary, 433.

[7] Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, 536.

[8] MacArthur, Romans 1-8, 372.

[9] Cranfield, C.E.B., Romans: A Shorter Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1985), 161.

[10] Moo, New International Commentary, 437.

[11] Leviticus 18:5, Romans 10:5, Psalms 19:7-10, Ezekiel 20:11, Luke 20:28.

[12] Moo, New International Commentary, 440.

[13] Boice, James Montgomery, Romans 5-8, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1991), 744.

[14] MacArthur, Romans 1-8, 374.

[15] Ibid., 378.

[16] Ibid., 379.

[17] Ibid., 384.

[18] Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, 537.

[19] Cranfield, Romans, 168.

[20] MacArthur, Romans 1-8, 392.

The Theological Significance of the Doctrine of Creation: Reconciling Creation with Modern Science

This was a challenging paper for me to write. I actually found myself changing in some of my opinions through the process of studying and writing the paper. As a historian (yup, I’m a youth pastor with a degree in History as well), I have always seen discoveries in history confirming scripture. The more we learn about the past, the more it seems to confirm the narrative of scripture. In the same way, I found myself with the assumption that scientific discoveries confirm scripture as well – but the Bible, while having sections classified as history, has never purported to be a scientific text. Was that expectation demanding it do something it was not intended to do? All in all, I am excited about doing further reading on the topic. 


The Theological Significance of the Doctrine of Creation:

Reconciling Creation with Modern Science

by Matthew McNutt, May 9, 2014

 Table of Contents



Intelligent Design


Young Earth Creationism

Old Earth Creationism




The question of origin has been one that has triggered debate, speculation, and curiosity since the beginning of humanity. Too often, the debate on the origins of the planet and human beginnings is framed as a choice between God and science; however, if God is the Creator of all things, including the foundations of science, then the one should not contradict the other.

In the past, various religious explanations were the norm, with differences often based on regions from where they originated. While the beginnings of evolutionary theory can be traced back to ancient Greece[1], and others began to develop the ideas more so in the 1600’s[2], Charles Darwin popularized the concept for the modern world during the 1800’s.[3] Even so, for American culture, creationist theory was the norm, based on the Christian interpretation of the Bible well into the twentieth century.

For the purposes of this paper, the debate over origin began to truly heat up in the United States with the Scopes Trial in 1925 when a teacher intentionally broke pro-creation laws and taught evolution in schools, resulting in him being brought to trial and eventually losing – yet in the process bringing the debate to national attention and beginning the process of swinging public opinion away from creationism.[4] Even now, nearly a century later, the debate rages on with events like the Bill Nye and Ken Hamm debate exploding in the news, drawing over three million viewers to the live debate[5], and close to another three million viewers in the months since.[6] Meanwhile, noted astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson’s pro-evolution show, Cosmos: A Spacetime Exploration, has been averaging 3.7 million to 5.8 million viewers weekly during its thirteen episode run, further demonstrating the nation’s curiosity on the topic and continuing to fuel national conversation.[7]

The scientific community for the most part feels the frustration of seeing religious intolerance finding legal loop holes to discredit or deny access to conclusions drawn from the scientific process, theories and evidence, resulting in a nation behind many parts of the world in the arena of science.[8] Meanwhile, for devout creationists it seems to be not just a war over origin, but an attempt to stamp out the idea of God altogether, with part of the great fear being that “science without God leads to cynicism and a sense of life without meaning.”[9]


There are far too many theories to address them all in this paper, however, for the sake of framing the conversation several of the prominent theories of origin will be summarized. One of the mystifying realities for the scientific community is the realization that even within the Christian community there is little agreement on this topic, with a broad range of theories presented as truth, often times with disagreements inciting accusations of lack of faith.[10]

Intelligent Design

Intelligent Design is a theory, or method of explanation, that has gained traction in recent years by attempting to develop a secular method of identifying and defending design in the universe.[11] As judges ruled creation science to not be science at all, but a religious concept, the need to find a way to communicate creationism in a way that would be legal in schools gave birth to Intelligent Design.[12] By removing any hint of religion, God, or the supernatural from the equation, Intelligent Design instead focuses on the complexity of our universe, the intricacies of the varying systems, and makes the case for patterns of design reflecting an intelligent, or intentional effort and forming the universe. By looking at specific examples, the case is made that the level of complexity discovered could not be explained through random or natural occurrence.[13]

Phillip Johnson, author and one of the primary developers of the Intelligent Design theory noted, “The literature of Darwinism is full of anti-theistic conclusions, such as that the universe was not designed and has no purpose, and that we humans are the product of blind natural processes that care nothing about us. What is more, these statements are not presented as personal opinions but as logical implications of evolutionary science.”[14] In response to this apparent contradiction in his perspective, that pro-evolutionists’ subjective opinions were accepted as fact while creationists scientific theories were rejected as religious tenets and therefore unscientific, Johnson sought to redefine the terms and create a theory that would stand on scientific standards while leaving room for the possibility of the divine. At its core, the Intelligent Design movement focuses on three propositions[15]:

  1. Evolution promotes an atheistic worldview and therefore must be resisted by believers in God.
  2. Evolution is fundamentally flawed, since it cannot account for the intricate complexity of nature.
  3. If evolution cannot explain irreducible complexity, then there must have been an intelligent designer involved somehow, who stepped in to provide the necessary components during the course of evolution.

Critics of Intelligent Design see it merely as another version of creationism and religion trying to manufacture a loop hole, or back door entrance to get creationism into secular establishments.


As mentioned in the introduction, while many consider Darwin to be the originator of the theory of evolution, the ideas behind it had actually been around for many centuries at that point. The turning point, in many ways, was Darwin’s ability to popularize the concept and bring it to the masses in a way that had not been previously achieved.[16] The word evolution literally means “development,” and at its core refers to natural. In other words, species naturally change, mutate, adapt and develop, with the strongest surviving and the weaker dying off. As a result, both micro and macro changes can occur in a species, or in the development of new species, over lengths of time.[17]

Tim Berra gives these definitions for evolution[18]:

  • Microevolution: Change in gene frequency within a population, which may lead to the formation of new species.
  • Macroevolution: Involves evolutionary change above the species level, as for example in long-term trends within whole lineages, or in mass extinctions.

In reality, belief in evolution is accepted by everyone, whether they realize it or not – it would be difficult at best to find anyone who would deny the evidence in support of microevolution (development on a small scale). As Douglas Jacoby points out, “the dispute is not really over whether evolution has occurred, but the extent to which it has occurred.”[19]

For the evolutionist, belief in God is not necessarily required, or on the other hand, a contradiction. The real question for the evolutionist scientist is, how did life develop?[20] While there are exceptions, for the most part the accusations of an agenda to eliminate God are without basis. In fact, as noted by Austin Hitt, a secular evolutionist, there is confusion over the attacks from the conservative Christian community on the theory of evolution, and seeming mistrust of scientists in general.[21] Critics, on the other hand, question whether or not there is enough evidence to substantiate the claims of evolution, as well as express frustration over so many accepting what is labeled a theory as fact.

Young Earth Creationism

As opposed to the theory of Intelligent Design, Creationism blatantly explains origins through the deliberate act of God. One of the hallmarks of Young Earth Creationism is a very literal understanding of scripture. For example, the seven days of creation would be understood to be a literal seven 24 hour days, and the age of the earth is explained as being around six thousand years (hence “Young Earth”), based on the genealogies found in the Bible which trace Adam, who would have been created in the first week of Earth’s history, to the birth of Jesus, giving a date to creation at 4004 BC. Irish Anglican Archbishop James Ussher was the first to propose this age for Earth based on biblical genealogies.[22] A Young Earth creationist would believe in there being very little time between the start of creation and the arrival of man just days later. They believe in a literal Adam and Eve as well.

Because popular dating methods appear to contradict a literal understanding of the ages in scripture, they are rejected as inaccurate. Astrological data used to support an Old Earth (the time it would take for the light to travel to earth) is also understood as having been created with the rays of light already in place between the distant solar systems and our own, much like Christ’s first miracle with the wine took a process that should have taken significant amounts of time naturally and instead saw it completed instantly.

Another word describing this approach Genesis is “concordism.” This approach “seeks to give a modern scientific explanation for the details in the text.”[23] In other words, with a literal understanding of scripture, what is stated in scripture must align with science and be possible. As a result, Concordism tries to explain the literal seven day creation, how there could have been waters above the sky (Genesis 1:7), and other similar examples. Concordists propose drastic changes in the ecology due to creation, the fall of man, and the flood to explain how the science of Genesis agrees with science today.[24]

Critics observe that the Bible was not designed to be a scientific text and reading it as such is questionable. They also question why God would create a world which appears in many ways to be far older than it actually is.

Old Earth Creationism

Like Young Earth Creationism, Old Earth Creationism attributes the origins of the universe and life to God. Recognizing astrological data that would date the universe at an extremely old age, as well as data from sediment accumulations in bodies of water and coral reef formations that would take millions of years to form, as well as other dating methods, Old Earth creationists acknowledge that the scientific data indicates an ancient Earth and creation.[25] From that standpoint they then interpret the scriptures and God’s manner in creating and guiding creation.

Consequently, in Old Earth Creationism, there is room for several different explanations. Some would hold to the gap theory, that there is a unmentioned span of time between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2; this allows for the aging of the universe, while still permitting a literal seven days of creation. Others would hold to the day/age theory, in which the word “day” in the creation narrative actually refers to ages, not 24 hour periods of time. There is actually some flexibility in the Hebrew to justify this position. Within those contexts, some would still hold to a very literal creation very similar to what is seen today while others would see God using the process of evolution to guide creation to what is experienced today.

One of the questions the Old Earth creationist seeks an answer to is the purpose of Genesis and the creation narrative. Is it meant to be scientific information, explaining the literal process of creation? Is it meant to be historical in nature, giving the details a history book would give? Or is its purpose something else? The Old Earth creationist would argue for the last one. For example, John Walton notes that while the text gives some details that would suggest history, they still fit a more poetical format, and ultimately seems to communicate a focus other than history. Walton would suggest that Genesis 1-11 is actually primarily concerned with demonstrating the need for a covenant with God, while chapters 12-50 describe the formation of the covenant.[26] In many ways, this theory would fit with the larger message of the Bible of God providing a way for a spiritually dead humanity to be restored to Him and spiritual life.

Some critics of Old Earth creationism reject its non-literal approach to portions of scripture. Others accuse it of trying to mix secular and spiritual to the point of watering down the Bible and explaining away the divine hand in creation.


Initially, the goal of this paper was to reconcile science with creation, with the understanding being that if God created the universe, with all of its laws and inspired scripture, the two must agree. Unfortunately, that assumption was based on faulty logic, that scripture communicates science – but that is not the fundamental purpose of scripture. The Bible is God’s tool for revealing Himself to man with the vital message of salvation. Many have called it a love letter, God’s beautiful story of redemption for a fallen mankind. To read it as scientific instruction would read something into the text that was not intended to be there.

John Walton points out one of the dangers of attempting to read into scripture support for modern scientific understanding – especially given that scientific understanding is constantly in flux. That approach would assume “that the text should be understood in reference to current scientific consensus, which would mean that it would neither correspond to last century’s scientific consensus nor to that which may develop in the next century.”[27] In fact, if God were to write the scriptures in such a way as to agree with present day science, it would be impossible for generations before this one to make sense of scripture, while at the same time rendering it outdated to future generations.

In fact, it is critical to note that “there is not a single instance [in scripture] in which God revealed to Israel a science beyond their own culture.”[28] God saw fit to communicate in a manner which was understandable, and did not see the need to reveal beyond that – because ultimately, His purpose was not to give man a full understanding of creation, but instead to bring His fallen and spiritually dead children back to spiritual life through His plan for redemption.

“Though that [God’s] message transcends culture, the form it was given in is, to some extent, culture-bound.”[29] In other words, the Bible was written to be applicable to all time and all people, however, the creation story was written from a Jewish perspective thousands of years ago, and that cultural reality requires recognition. It is inappropriate to try and reconcile scientific discoveries and understandings to a text thousands of years old. While from a historical context the scriptures continued to be confirmed by historical discoveries, they are of a fundamentally different nature than that of science and the same kinds of expectations should not be forced on to a text that was not intended for that purpose.

The thesis statement included this sentence; if God is the Creator of all things, including the foundations of science, then the one should not contradict the other. The answer is yes and no. Followers of Christ should not be wary of scientific progress and discovery. They reveal the intricacies of God’s creation and give man a growing picture of God’s power and majesty. Science does confirm the divine when the reader is willing to stop projecting on to the scriptures purpose it was not intended to have.

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” Psalms 19:1, NIV.


Berra, Tim M. Evolution and the Myth of Creationism. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1990.

Brouwer, Sigmund. The Unrandom Universe. Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2002.

Collins, Francis S. The Language of God. New York: Free Press, 2006.

Falk, Darrel R. Coming to Peace with Science: Bridging the Worlds Between Faith and Biology. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004.

Fowler, Thomas B., and Daniel Kuebler. The Evolution Controversy. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007.

Hitt, Austin M. The Evolution of Creationism In America, Science Educator, 18.1. Johnson City: National Science Education Leadership Association, Spring 2009.

Jacoby, Douglas. Genesis, Science & History. Billerica, MA: Discipleship Publications International, 2004.

Snoke, David. A Biblical Case for an Old Earth. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006.

Rana, Fazale, and Hugh Ross. Who was Adam? A Creation Model Approach to the Origin of Man. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2005.

Ross, Hugh. The Genesis Question: Scientific Advances and the Accuracy of Genesis. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1998.

Walton, John H. The Lost World of Genesis One. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009.

Walton, John H. The NIV Application Commentary: Genesis. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001.

Wise, Kurt P. Faith, Form, and Time: What the Bible Teaches and Science Confirms About Creation and the Age of the Universe. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2002.

[1] Fowler, Thomas B., and Daniel Kuebler, The Evolution Controversy, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 43.

[2] Ibid., 45.

[3] Ibid., 55.

[4] Berra, Tim M, Evolution and the Myth of Creationism, (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1990), 132.

[8] Berra, Evolution and the Myth of Creationism, 120.

[9] Brouwer, Sigmund, The Unrandom Universe, (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2002), 41.

[10] Hitt, Austin M., The Evolution of Creationism In America, Science Educator, 18.1 (Spring 2009), 58-68.

[11] Wise, Kurt P., Faith, Form, and Time: What the Bible Teaches and Science Confirms About Creation and the Age of the Universe, (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2002), 281.

[12] Rana, Fazale, and Hugh Ross, Who was Adam? A Creation Model Approach to the Origin of Man, (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2005), 13.

[13] Ibid., 141.

[14] Falk, Darrel R., Coming to Peace with Science: Bridging the Worlds Between Faith and Biology, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 40.

[15] Collins, Francis S., The Language of God, (New York: Free Press, 2006), 183.

[16] Jacoby, Douglas, Genesis, Science & History, (Billerica, MA: Discipleship Publications International, 2004), 167.

[17] Ibid., 169.

[18] Berra, Evolution and the Myth of Creationism, 11.

[19] Jacoby, Genesis, Science & History, 169.

[20] Ibid., 169.

[21] Hitt, The Evolution of Creationism In America, 58-68.

[22] Ross, Hugh, The Genesis Question: Scientific Advances and the Accuracy of Genesis, (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1998), 82.

[23] Walton, John H., The Lost World of Genesis One, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 16.

[24] Snoke, David, A Biblical Case for an Old Earth, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006), 115.

[25] Ibid., 32.

[26] Walton, John H., The NIV Application Commentary: Genesis, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 37.

[27] Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One, 17.

[28] Ibid., 19.

[29] Walton, Genesis, 19.

The Authorship and Unity of Isaiah

This is a paper I wrote for one of my Old Testament seminary classes. I was given a range of topics and picked Isaiah simply because I wanted an excuse to bolster my personal library with some commentaries on Isaiah. It actually ended up being a very eye opening assignment for me and probably one of my favorites so far in seminary.


The Authorship and Unity of Isaiah

by Matthew McNutt, May 4, 2014

Table of Contents



Isaiah 1-39

Isaiah 40-55

Isaiah 56-66






Isaiah, one of the cornerstone books of both the Old and New Testaments, presents many challenges to the Biblical student. Questions about authorship, inspiration and unity of the book itself have been the subject of debate for centuries, in particular recent decades. With its prophetic nature, the book of Isaiah provides much theological insight. At the same time, with the accuracy of some of the statements, it has long been the target of accusation regarding the timing of its writing – questioning whether or not it was truly written as prophecy, or documented after the events foretold and presented as though it had been written before. This paper will explore the authorship of Isaiah, whether or not it was written by Isaiah, or Isaiah and a mix of others, and in so doing tackle the question of whether or not this impacts the validity of its inspiration and message. Ultimately, it will be demonstrated that regardless of authorship, Isaiah has authority as the Word of God and presents a unified message, within itself and with scripture in general.


For centuries it was assumed that the book of Isaiah was written by its namesake. There were questions at the varying writing styles found in the book, and even the seemingly different time frames referenced, but a literal reading and acceptance of scriptures was the traditional approach and so that is how it was accepted. After all, no other book in the Bible is written in this way[1]. Granted, while books like Psalms do have multiple authors, it is noted within the text and not presented as though one author had written the entirety of it.

In the late 1800’s, B. Duhm changed the conversation dramatically when he presented the first serious commentary to claim multiple authors.[2] He proposed three major divisions in Isaiah, based on the timeframe they seemed to be written in, and the varying writing styles; chapters 1-39, chapters 40-55, and chapters 56-66.[3] This opened the door to serious conversation and debate.

While the book of Isaiah only claims “Isaiah son of Amoz” of Jerusalem as author[4], scholars noticed a lack of historical references after chapter 39. There was also the challenge of explaining stylistic and vocabulary differences between chapters 1-39 and 40-66, as well as the Persian emperor Cyrus being named a hundred years before his birth (if Isaiah was the sole author). While it could be a true prophecy in which Isaiah foretold of someone’s birth to that level of detail, it does not fit the pattern of scripture and prophecy, nor does Cyrus seem to be that critical of a player in the narrative to warrant that kind of detail. In this instance, multiple authors spanning the centuries makes more sense. In addition, chapters 40-66 seemed to be addressed to people in the exilic period, which would have been long after Isaiah’s death.[5] Eventually, the debate over these observations culminated in three major interpretations[6]:

  1. Based on typical contemporary historical-critical reconstruction, Isaiah was written in three parts, with an unknown number of individuals (some suggest more than 10) involved in putting together what is currently present in the Bible.
  2. Isaiah may not have been involved in writing the book at all; the Babylonian Talmud claims that Hezekiah and his colleagues wrote it (as well as other books of the Bible).
  3. A single author. 2 Peter1:20-21 states that “no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit,” which some interpret to mean that God inspired and spoke through one person who then wrote Isaiah.

A natural consequence of this debate over authorship led some to being to argue over which parts are genuine and which parts are not[7]. Questions as to whether or not Isaiah is dependable began to arise. Over the last few decades, the focus has shifted more towards an emphasis of there being primary authors, as well as others who edited, or accumulated the various writings that make up the Isaiah of the canon.

While it is understandable that some would be reluctant to acknowledge the possibility of multiple authors over a span of time out of fear that it may somehow lessen the strength of the Bible or the validity of Isaiah, especially in light of past accusations that Isaiah’s prophecies had to have been written after the time of Christ of to explain their accuracy. Perhaps seeming to admit to one part of the belief would somehow invalidate so much more, perhaps a history of rejecting this theory plays into that attitude. One of the great discoveries of the past century for Biblical scholarship was the Dead Sea Scrolls from the Qumran community, in which full copies of Isaiah, virtually matching what was already in hand, were discovered and dated to a hundred years before the time of Christ[8]. This discovery documented two critical points; first, that prophecies of Christ were documented before the time of Christ, and secondly, that the editing, or modifying of Isaiah was limited to a specific window of time as the Qumran copies virtually matched all copies discovered from after the time of Christ.

Isaiah 1-39

The first portion of Isaiah is frequently attributed directly to the prophet Isaiah, or to disciples under his training who documented his teaching. The style of the first 39 chapters is somewhat of a narrative flow. It begins with a preface to the work itself in the first five chapters, then moves on to four major narratives; parable, application, consequence, and the reality that nothing more could be done.[9] From there, chapters 31-39, Isaiah moves into prophecy.

There is significant disagreement over whether or not chapters 1-39 were written completely in isolation from 40-66, or if there was influence from one to the other, or even in both directions as later scribes functioned in a redactional mode.[10] In reality, much of that debate is purely speculative, as there is no evidence one way or the other, and there is also no evidence of a group of scribes, or school of Isaiah that would have performed the edits so many believe happened.

Isaiah 40-55

According to Brevard Childs, there are three major arguments for crediting different authors from the sixth century BC for the remaining chapters of Isaiah (as opposed to eighth century BC for Isaiah 1-39):[11]

  1. Chapters 40 and after appear to be set in the exilic period after the fall of Jerusalem in 587 BC.
  2. The differences in language, style, and even concepts are so strong that the most logical explanation is a different author.
  3. The level of detail in chapters 40 on are such that if an eighth century BC prophet spoke them it would be beyond anything else in the Bible in its precision.

While scholars wanted to avoid further fragmenting Isaiah, many feel there is a particular unity in chapters 40-55 that set it apart from the other two portions of Isaiah.[12] As referenced earlier, Duhm was a significant influence in bringing this line of thought to the front. As they further studied and researched it, the oral patters of prophetic speech made it undeniable to some that this second part of Isaiah was written separately from the earlier and later portions.[13]

Isaiah 56-66

Childs introduces this third portion of Isaiah following Duhm’s model and rational.[14] Duhm dated it shortly before the period of Nehemiah, and viewed these last eleven chapters as a collection of different texts brought together by an unknown individual or an unknown team of people. Further, Childs feels that the relationship between the second and third portions of Isaiah is what defines their need to be considered separate.[15] While it does fit with the message and overall thrust of Isaiah, the seeming style of being a collection of writings collected together requires a different classification. It is a strong enough shift in style to warrant the ongoing debate over its origins.


One of the logical next questions, if Isaiah is indeed written by a number of individuals while purporting to be written by one, is it truly inspired? Can it be trusted as scripture from God? It is fascinating to note that the New Testament authors and Christ Himself quoted from Isaiah more than all the other prophets combined, certainly seeming to display their confidence in the inspiration of Isaiah.[16] While the various authors using Isaiah as authoritative lends support to its inspiration, the use of Isaiah by Christ, God Himself, certainly should carry weight in any debates regarding the confidence that can be placed in Isaiah.

In fact, The United Bible Society’s Greek New Testament estimates over four hundred quotes, paraphrases, and allusions to the book of Isaiah throughout the New Testament.[17] If believers hold to the belief that the New Testament is inspired, by virtue of heavy reliance on Isaiah alone a measure of confidence in the inspiration of Isaiah should be understood. While scholars today may struggle with some of these issues, it was unquestionably accepted in both the Old and New Testaments as truth.[18]

The apostle Paul was a significant force for using Isaiah.[19] For example, in 2 Corinthians 6:1-2, Paul quotes Isaiah 49:8. What’s fascinating is how Paul quotes Isaiah, attributing the very words to God, not the prophet. In Paul’ view, Isaiah may have been brought into existence through a man, but the words were very much from God – an undeniable support of inspiration. Paul’s focus in using Isaiah generally was in support of him defending his theology through biblical interpretation – in effect, Paul is often times making, or arguing a case, and uses Isaiah as the evidence proving it.[20] From his perspective, its reliability was unquestioned.

Schultz notes in his article some of the differing views on inspiration of Isaiah, and while they each seem to come at it from different standpoints, they all still arrive at the conclusion that it is indeed inspired. For example[21]:

How does Meade understand inspiration in Isaiah? According to his analysis, each of the individual prophetic figures who contributed to First, Second and Third Isaiah were equally conscious of inspiration and of participating in the council of Yahweh. Their legitimizing ‘call’ narratives (found in Isaiah 6, 40, and 61, respectively) serve to affirm ‘their participation in an ongoing revelation and their dependence on previous revelation.’ Why do Second and Third Isaiah remain anonymous? Because they both claim to be ‘part of one revelation and one tradition, whose recognized head is Isaiah of Jerusalem.’ Inspiration guarantees that their reinterpretations of Isaiah’s words in order to actualize them (i.e., to make them apply to later audiences) will cause Isaiah of Jerusalem’s prophecies to speak to future generations just as he originally had intended.

Schultz later observes that the emphasis in determining inspiration in recent decades is moving away from a vertical perspective, that is, a direct relationship between author and God alone, in which case knowing the identity of the author does become more urgent. His observation is that it is instead becoming a vertical relationship in regards to inspiration; that God inspires the author, and then continues to inspire those who contribute or edit, as well as the readers themselves to give His word power generation after generation.[22]

Ultimately, having stood the test of time, with clear support from biblical authors following Isaiah, as well as apparent support from Christ Himself, it would seem that the book of Isaiah, in spite of questions about its authorship, is not questioned on the issue of inspiration. Childs said it well in concluding his writings on this particular topic when he wrote that the scriptures “receives its true meaning within a specific context in which its message is proclaimed and received in the obedience of faith. When seen in the light of this confessional stance, the Bible’s authority provides an essential and foundational feature of Christian exegesis. Thus, interpreters of Isaiah … could affirm that the prophet’s meaning was at times hidden and obscure, yet its authority was never compromised or rendered inoperative by the working of the Spirit.”[23]


Initially, with the debate on the authorship of Isaiah swelling, many saw Isaiah becoming more and more fragmented, with very little unity.[24] With the focus on writing styles and theories of different authors, the overall message and thrust of the book was seemingly lost sight of for some time. However, in recent decades the pendulum seems to be swinging back to a more balanced view in theological circles as more and more are accepting the overall unity of the book of Isaiah.[25]

Shultz notes that the “transmitters of Isaiah’s words so closely identify themselves with him in their self-understanding that they are simply expounding, clarifying, systematizing, extending and applying his message in terms of their own later setting. Thus, their creative new interpretations are correctly described as Isaianic.”[26] The various authors were so dedicated to the message of Isaiah, and with the inspiration of God, that in spite of their differences in style that have been noticed there is still a thematic unity that shines through when one steps back and looks at the full picture.[27]

In his commentary, Childs questions whether or not the issue of multiple authors is even actually an issue; his primary concern is in preserving the unity of Isaiah which he claims rings true through all 66 chapters. He sees no conflict in later chapters being authored by others as Isaiah himself does not make an appearance after chapter 39.[28] Over and over, Childs stresses that when the reader steps back and looks at the whole picture, rather than focusing on the details, the unity between all three sections tell a unified message of a “coming, eschatological change brought about by divine intervention.”[29] Consequently, he cautions against engaging in too much speculative theory about the nature of Isaiah when its primary value is in its message, which holds true regardless of which author theory one holds to.[30]

The Bible as a whole maintains its integrity as a unified collection of books, writings, and letters, in spite of being gathered over a tremendous amount of time and authored by many individuals from different times, cultures and languages.[31] When that is taken into consideration, it is not so hard to accept the apparent unity of Isaiah in spite of a handful of possible authors over the course of two centuries. God is still able to inspire and preserve His message regardless of the manner in which it is transmitted and recorded. Shultz rightfully reminds readers that we are intended “to read Isaiah 1-66 as ‘a book concerned with Isaiah in its entirety.’”[32]


In spite of compelling arguments suggesting multiple authors for Isaiah, it is evident that whether or not Isaiah himself wrote and/or dictated every word of the book, it is still Isaiah’s message, given from God. Through it all, God’s hand is seen working, shaping, and molding this book of Isaiah as beneficial and necessary for believers today. Whether through His divine protection of the recording of the book – keeping it virtually intact word for word over the course of millennia – or through the affirmation of Isaiah’s authority as inspired scripture through repeated support throughout the New Testament and from Christ Himself, Isaiah is a unified, inspired, authoritative part of the canon of scriptures. Even within the book itself there are connecting measures, found through looking at chapters 65 and 66 which form a type of bracket around the book with chapter one, or even the connections between the three volumes contained within Isaiah.[33] It is a critical, indispensable part of God’s word to man.


Bacote, Vincent, ed., and Laura C. Miguelez, ed., and Dennis L. Okholm, ed. Evangelicals & Scripture: Tradition, Authority and Hermeneutics. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004.

Childs, Brevard S. The Old Testament Library: Isaiah. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001.

Childs, Brevard S. The Struggle to Understand Isaiah as Christian Scripture. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004.

Enns, Peter. Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005.

Motyer, J. Alex. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Isaiah. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1999.

Oswalt, John N. The NIV Application Commentary: Isaiah. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003.

Walton, John H. Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006.

[1] Oswalt, John N., The NIV Application Commentary: Isaiah, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 18.

[2] Childs, Brevard S., The Old Testament Library: Isaiah, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 1.

[3] Ibid., 1.

[4] Isaiah 1:1, 2:1

[5] Oswalt, Isaiah, 33.

[6] Bacote, Vincent, ed., and Laura C. Miguelez, ed., and Dennis L. Okholm, ed., Evangelicals & Scripture: Tradition, Authority and Hermeneutics, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 150.

[7] Childs, Isaiah, 2.

[8] Childs, Brevard S., The Struggle to Understand Isaiah as Christian Scripture, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004), 4.

[9] Motyer, J. Alex, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Isaiah, (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1999), 47.

[10] Childs, Isaiah, 7.

[11] Ibid., 289.

[12] Ibid., 290.

[13] Ibid., 290.

[14] Ibid., 440.

[15] Ibid., 441.

[16] Motyer, Isaiah, 39.

[17] Childs, Struggle to Understand Isaiah, 5.

[18] Walton, John H., Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), 94.

[19] Enns, Peter, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 135.

[20] Childs, Struggle to Understand Isaiah, 17.

[21] Bacote, Evangelicals & Scripture, 157.

[22] Ibid., 160.

[23] Childs, Struggle to Understand Isaiah, 302.

[24] Childs, Isaiah, 2.

[25] Bacote, Evangelicals & Scripture, 154.

[26] Ibid., 156.

[27] Ibid., 165.

[28] Childs, Isaiah, 7.

[29] Ibid., 442.

[30] Ibid., 445.

[31] Childs, Struggle to Understand Isaiah, 312.

[32] Bacote, Evangelicals & Scripture, 169.

[33] Childs, Isaiah, 447.

Exegetical Paper on Romans 3:21-26

Just what you wanted, another paper by yours truly! This was an assignment for my Greek Language Tools class I took in the fall. I enjoyed exploring this passage in Romans, although the professor disagreed with some of my interpretation of the commentaries used.


Exegetical Paper on Romans 3:21-26

Matthew McNutt, December 13, 2013

Table of Contents



Analysis of Text

Righteousness is Apart from Legalism (v. 21a)

Righteousness is Built on Revelation (v. 21b)

Righteousness is Acquired by Faith (v. 22a)

Righteousness is Provided for All (v. 22b-23)

Righteousness is Given Freely Through Grace (v. 24a)

Righteousness is Accomplished by Redemption (v. 24b)

Righteousness was Paid by Atoning Sacrifice (v. 25a)





The essentials of the faith are summed up in Romans 3:21-26 in powerful fashion. C.E.B Cranfield notes that it is “the center and heart of the whole of Romans 1:16-15:13.”[1] Luther once referred to this passage as “the chief point, and the very central place of the Epistle, and of the whole Bible.”[2]  In the space of a handful of verses, Paul will explain how man is given hope in that God has provided a righteousness requiring nothing more than faith to be received. At the same time, it becomes quickly apparent to the Biblical student that lying under the surface of these verses is a great depth of meaning and far more to study, ponder and debate than can be contained in this simple paper. Ultimately, the themes of righteousness, justification, sanctification, and propitiation become critical discussion points and defining them, as well as their use in these verses become vital.


Written by the Apostle Paul, the epistle to the Romans is a significant piece in the New Testament in discussing doctrine. While Paul did not start the Roman church, and as of the writing of this epistle, had not been there, he wanted to build connections with the church there as well as provide apostolic instruction. He wrote it towards the end of his third missionary journey, most likely around AD 58.[3]

The context of Romans 3:21-26 within the epistle itself is significant. After traditional greetings, Paul launches into the discussion with his thesis statement, Romans 1:17 in the NASB, “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith.’” Having laid the ground work that salvation is through faith, Paul begins the process of making his case in Romans 1:18-3:20 where he focuses on man’s sinfulness regardless of whether or not they are Jew or Gentile, the impossibility of being saved through the Law, and God’s faithfulness.

Analysis of Text

MacArthur breaks the passage down into seven elements of righteousness that God imparts to those who place faith in His Son[4]:

  1. Righteousness is Apart from Legalism (v. 21a)
  2. Righteousness is Built on Revelation (v. 21b)
  3. Righteousness is Acquired by Faith (v. 22a)
  4. Righteousness is Provided for All (v. 22b-23)
  5. Righteousness is Given Freely Through Grace (v. 24a)
  6. Righteousness is Accomplished by Redemption (v. 24b)
  7. Righteousness was Paid by Atoning Sacrifice (v. 25a)

Righteousness is Apart from Legalism

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, (Rom. 3:21a)

νυνι δε, while on the one hand is a simple phrase translating to “But now” in this passage, on the other hand represents a powerful transition. Paul’s preceding passages have been building up to this moment in the text, having laid out the utter impossibility of man ever finding a way to God through the Law or any other method, with those two simple words signifies that he is now giving the incredible answer to man’s horrific dilemma. Cranfield writes that it represents “a contrast between the impossibility of justification by works, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the fact that in the recent past a decisive event has taken place, by which a justification which is God’s free gift πεφανερωται, and is now πεφανερωμενη. It is not unfair to claim that this νυνι points to the decisiveness for faith of the gospel events in their objectiveness as events which took place at a particular time in the past and are quite independent of, and distinct from, the response of men to them.”[5]

The word Law, translated from νομου, is in reference to the Mosaic covenant, or Old Testament law. Translators chose to capitalize it as a way to show the intent of the Greek to reflect that it is not some passing reference to local legal codes, but rather, a direct reference to the system of law revealed to be a temporary system to guide the Jewish people under God.[6]

Righteousness, δικαιοσυνη, is a key word throughout the passage and is used four times by Paul in these five verses. The righteousness of God describes a state of being that is acceptable to God, as well as communicating the idea of an attribute of God, and an activity of God.[7]

Ultimately, this opening portion of the passage is clearly stating a separation from the traditions and expectations of the past, that the Law they had once placed their trust in and labored under is no longer the way to righteousness. It is in fact manifesting in believers completely separate from the Law, and Paul will continue to explain the various aspects of righteousness to the readers.

Righteousness is Built on Revelation

being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, (Rom. 3:21b)

The phrase translated “Law and the Prophets” is νομου και των προφητων. It is one that the Jewish audience would have immediately recognized as referring to the Pentateuch (books of Moses) and “everything else” (the rest of the Old Testament).[8] In other words, Paul is telling them that while this new activity takes place outside of the Law they have known, the entirety of the Old Testament, something they have been spending their lives studying, points to and predicts this new work of God. Consequently, through its anticipation of it, the Old Testament has witnessed God’s righteousness being manifested.

Warren Wiersbe explains it this way: “The Law bore witness to this Gospel righteousness even though it could not provide it. Beginning at Genesis 3:15, and continuing through the entire Old Testament, witness is given to salvation by faith in Christ. The Old Testament sacrifices, the prophecies, the types, and the great ‘Gospel Scriptures’ (such as Isa. 53) all bore witness to this truth. The Law could witness to God’s righteousness, but it could not provide it for sinful man. Only Jesus could do that.”[9]

For Paul, the reality of the Old Testament connecting to, and playing a role in communicating this, is critically important in his communication to the Jewish audience. We see this in his stressing of this point here, and it plays a significant role in his transitioning from the reality of human futility and the promise of righteousness through faith.[10]

Righteousness is Acquired by Faith

even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; (Rom. 22a)

Repetition is a tool for emphasis throughout the Bible. Paul is driving home the point that the righteousness of God is manifested in believers through faith in Jesus Christ. Some have made the argument that πιστεως ιησου χριστου would be more accurately translated “faith of Jesus Christ,” primarily based on a couple of reasons. The first being that πιστεως is usually translated “faith of” instead of “faith in.” The second reason being that they feel it would more accurately fit the flow of the passage which is attributing salvation completely to God – scholars who lean towards a “faith of” translation find it jarring to have an action of man inserted in the middle of a statement focusing on the action of God.[11]

However, Paul writes repeatedly throughout Romans and Galatians about the faith of believers in Christ.[12] For Paul, a believer’s faith in Christ is a constant and repeated theme, making it far more likely this is his intended meaning in this passage. In addition, Paul does not speak elsewhere of the “faith of Christ,” making it unlikely this would be his one mention of it. Ultimately, the faith of believers in Christ makes the most sense for this passage and the themes in Romans, as Paul is driving home the point that salvation is not through works, not through the Law, or any other method other than through faith in Christ.

MacArthur writes about this Christ’s righteousness and the believer’s faith in Him; “Jesus Christ is the very embodiment of God’s righteousness, and it is because of that truth that He can impart divine righteousness to those who trust in Him. During His earthly incarnation, Jesus demonstrated God’s righteousness by living a sinless life. In His death Christ also demonstrated God’s righteousness by paying the penalty for the unrighteous lives of every human being.”[13]

Righteousness is Provided for All

for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (Rom. 22b-23)

Paul is driving home the point that just as the Law was unable to save anyone, regardless of race or heritage, there is no limit to who can be granted righteousness as long as they believe. His point is that sin removes any kind of perceived status one person may feel they have over another; it places everyone equally outside of God’s righteousness.

MacArthur explains it this way, “Just as everyone apart from Christ is equally sinful and rejected by God, everyone who is in Christ is equally righteous and accepted by Him.”[14]

The word translated “fall short” is υστερουνται, which literally means “to be behind, to be later, i.e. (by implication) to be inferior; generally, to fall short (be deficient).”[15] One of the common understandings of it was in regards to a race; to fall behind, to fail to reach the goal or the end of the race. In other words, Paul is saying that everyone fails to reach the goal of God’s glory. Moo also explains that because of the present tense of the word, it communicates the idea that Paul feels everyone is continuing to fall short of God’s glory.[16] While believers are being sanctified – becoming more like Christ – they are not there yet, and while God views them as righteous through Christ’s death and resurrection, they have not fully arrived until they are with God in eternity.

Righteousness is Given Freely Through Grace

being justified as a gift by His grace (Rom. 24a)

δικαιουμενοι, translated “being justified” in this passage, literally means to set right, or render righteous. It is a legal term, and in Paul’s usage it conveys a legal reality in that those who are justified and made righteous have been acquitted by God from all charges that could have been brought against them for judgment.[17]

The tense of δικαιουμενοι means that it is modifying a word or phrase, apparently expanding on verse 22 which speaks of the righteousness of God being given to those who believe. Because they believe, they are therefore justified, or acquitted by God from their sin and made righteous. Paul is using language the earlier believers would have clearly understood, with the legal metaphor making clear God’s role and their role in salvation. While some scholars feel that verse 24 is beginning a new thought, Cranfield argues that it actually indicates the scope of verse 22.[18]

Paul is again emphasizing that salvation is not based on works or following the Law as he makes the point in this portion of the passage that this justification, acquittal, transmission of righteousness is a gift based on God’s grace. Moo claims that grace is one of Paul’s most significant terms, writing: “He [Paul] uses it typically not to describe a quality of God but the way in which God has acted in Christ: unconstrained by anything beyond his own will. God’s justifying verdict is totally unmerited. People have done, and can do, nothing to earn it. This belief is a ‘theological axiom’ for Paul and is the basis for his conviction that justification can never be attained through works, or the law, but only through faith.”[19]

Righteousness is Accomplished by Redemption

through the redemption which is Christ Jesus; (Rom. 24b)

απολυτρωσεως, redemption, means at its core “liberation through payment of a price.”[20] Around the time of the writing of Romans, this word often was used in reference to the ransoming of prisoners of war, slaves, and condemned criminals. It  is a powerful word picture. Chrysostom interprets it with a definitive nature of Christian redemption resulting in believers never falling under the previous slavery again – in other words, he sees it as another piece of evidence for the validity of eternal security.[21]

MacArthur speaks of the utter depravity of man resulting in such an impossible scenario that the only possible way to bring man up to God’s righteousness is in the form of a sinless Savior paying the price to redeem sinful man.[22] The idea of slaves and condemned criminals is an accurate portrayal of the futility of the state of man without God – making the concept of righteousness being gifted freely to sinners comparable to the lowest members of society at the time that much more incredible to consider.

Righteousness was Paid by Atoning Sacrifice

whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. (Rom. 25a)

Propitiation is translated from the word ιλαστηριον, literally meaning an atoning victim.[23] It carries the basic idea of appeasement, or satisfaction.[24] During that time, the idea of man appeasing a god through gifts or sacrifices was common; the key difference with Christianity was the reality that instead of man attempting to appease a god, it is God satisfying His own justice and passing on the righteousness to man.

This concept would not be a new one even to the Jewish Christians. The Hebrew equivalent to ιλαστηριον used in the Old Testament was in reference to the Mercy Seat in the Holy of Holies. The high priest would go in to it once a year on the Day of Atonement to make a sacrifice on behalf of the Jewish people. He would sprinkle blood on the Mercy Seat symbolizing the payment of the penalty for his sins and the sins of the nation; the key word is symbolizing as the act itself did not appease God’s justice, it merely looked forward to the day when Christ’s death would accomplish it. For the Jewish listener, hearing the Greek version of the Mercy Seat would bring immediate understanding of what Paul was speaking to, that he was once again emphasizing that the price of salvation is paid by God through Christ, not through any kind of work or effort from man.

Moo writes, “Christ, Paul implies, now has the place that the ‘mercy seat’ had in the Old Covenant: the center and focal point of God’s provision of atonement for his people.”[25]

While the passage has been split into seven pieces helping to illustrate the different aspects of righteousness brought out in this passage, the rest of verses 25 and 26 really serve to drive home this finally point regarding propitiation. Cranfield writes, “Paul is saying in these two verses that God purposed (from eternity) that Christ should be ιλαστηριον, in order that the reality of God’s righteousness, that is, of His goodness and mercy, which would be called in question by His passing over sins committed up to the time of that decisive act, might be established.”[26]


Biblical scholars are right in claiming this passage represents a foundational message from the scriptures. The Old Testament lays the groundwork, Christ arrives, lives, dies, rises again, fulfilling the prophecies and revealing the great mystery. Human nature loves a checklist, a series of tasks that must be performed in exchange for salvation, but Paul sums up the message of salvation in the space of a handful of verses and makes it crystal clear that restoration with God does not come through work, completing a checklist, or any other method of human origin – it is a gift from God, God is the one creating and giving the righteousness, there is nothing mankind can do other than place their faith in Christ.

While packed with theological and doctrinal weight, the application of this passage is simple: man must place his faith in Christ’s atoning death and resurrection to receive the gift of salvation. Placing faith in the Law, works, or any other belief system is a futile endeavor. This is as true today as it was two thousand years ago when originally written.


In conclusion, the challenge for the believer is to recognize the natural human tendency to desire a to-do list, a works system of merit based salvation, and in recognizing that acknowledge that weakness to God and ask for the strength to simply place faith in Christ’s death and resurrection to receive the eternal security of God’s righteousness. While there are incredible amounts of resources and debates focused on these verses, sorting out every possible detail and angle, the core truth – that everyone is equally sinful and fallen, hopeless with the power of God with the only requirement being belief – is one that is easy to remember and apply to one’s life. Righteousness is attainable, and it will impact every aspect of the believer’s life.


Boice, James Montgomery. Romans: Volume 1: Justification by Faith, Romans 1-4. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1991.

Brown, Robert K, and Philip W. Comfort. The New Greek English Interlinear New Testament. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1990.

Cranfield, C.E.B. The International Critical Commentary: Romans: Volume 1: Introduction and Commentary on Romans I-VIII. Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark LTD, 1975.

MacArthur, John F. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary Romans 1-8. Chicago: The Moody Bible Institute, 1991.

Moo, Douglas J. The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996.

Schreiner, Thomas R. Romans: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998.

Vine, W.E. An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1940.

Wiersbe, Warren W. The Bible Exposition Commentary: Volume 1. Colorado Springs: Chariot Victor Publishing, 1989.

[1] Cranfield, C.E.B., The International Critical Commentary: Romans: Volume 1: Introduction and Commentary on Romans I-VIII, (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark LTD, 1975), 199.

[2] Moo, Douglas J, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistle to the Romans, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 218.

[3] MacArthur, John F., The MacArthur New Testament Commentary Romans 1-8, (Chicago: The Moody Bible Institute, 1991), xviii.

[4] Ibid., 201.

[5] Cranfield, The International Critical Commentary, 201.

[6] Moo, New International Commentary, 223.

[7] Moo, New International Commentary, 70-72.

[8] Moo, New International Commentary, 223.

[9] Wiersbe, Warren W., The Bible Exposition Commentary: Volume 1, (Colorado Springs: Chariot Victor Publishing, 1989), 523.

[10] Cranfield, The International Critical Commentary, 203.

[11] Schreiner, Thomas R., Romans: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 184-185.

[12] Romans 1:5, 8, 12; 3:27, 28, 30, 31; 4:5, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 19, 20; 5:1, 2; 9:30, 32; 10:6, 8, 17; 11:20; 14:23; 16:26; Galatians 2:20; 3:2, 5, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 14, 26; 5:5, 6.

[13] MacArthur, Romans 1-8, 206.

[14] Ibid., 207.

[16] Moo, New International Commentary, 226.

[17] Ibid., 227.

[18] Cranfield, The International Critical Commentary, 204.

[19] Moo, New International Commentary, 228.

[20] Ibid., 229.

[21] Ibid., 229.

[22] MacArthur, Romans 1-8, 209.

[24] MacArthur, Romans 1-8, 209.

[25] Moo, New International Commentary, 236.

[26] Cranfield, The International Critical Commentary, 212.