by Al Maxey
Issue #855 -- October 9, 2022
The difference between the almost right word and the
right word is really a large matter - 'tis the difference
between the lightning bug and the lightning.
Mark Twain [1835-1910]
One of my favorite passages in the New Covenant writings of the apostle Paul is found in the second chapter of his epistle to the Ephesians. In describing our transformation from fallenness to blessedness, from death to life, he stresses our own inability to bring about this change, giving the Lord all the credit for our altered state. Ephesians 2:1-3 is hard to read, for it reveals just how far removed we were from God by our sinful nature. And the consequence? "We were by nature children of wrath," and the wages due for such sinfulness was death. "But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast" (Ephesians 2:4-9, NKJV).
This is good news; this is truly "Gospel." I have referred to this powerful message time and time again in my preaching, teaching, and writing. And yet there is a brief phrase, really just a single word within that phrase, that I have yet to give the full attention exegetically that it truly deserves. It is the word "that" within the phrase "and that not of yourselves" (vs. 8). As one ponders and reflects upon this statement, the question that soon comes to mind is: "What is the this of the word 'that'?" In other words, to what specifically does the word "that" refer? What is its antecedent? On the surface, this might appear to most of us to be a "no-brainer," and we very likely haven't even given it much thought (if any at all), but even a little research into this text, and its use by the church over the centuries, reveals that an enormous amount of theological confusion has arisen among the disciples of Christ as to the this of "that." Indeed, it has led to some very heated debate that even to this day divides the One Body into squabbling sects and feuding factions.
As we begin this study, let me encourage you to pause right here and go read Ephesians 2:1-10. Read it carefully and consider the context. What message is Paul trying to convey here? What is the central truth he seeks to impart to us? It doesn't take long to perceive that this is a "bad news - good news" passage, with the former making the latter all the more wonderful. We are dead in sin (vs. 1-3); there is no way for any of us to extricate ourselves from this condition, or to compel God to accept us. The only thing any of us deserve is DEATH. Thus, for any person to be accepted by God requires God Himself to make that happen. We are helpless; we are dead in sin; yet, while still sinners, God acted by sending His Son to take care of the sin problem for us. By God's love and grace, and by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus the Messiah, we have been redeemed from the curse of death. In Him we have been made alive; we have been counted as righteous; we have been justified in His sight. And the remarkable thing about this is: you and I contributed nothing to this gracious GIFT of redemption. The cost of that redemption was paid in full by Deity, and that "free gift" of life is received simply by our faith/trust in Him who makes the offer. Our faith has been likened to an outstretched hand into which God pours His blessing of life. A beggar's outstretched hand is not a meritorious "work;" it is rather a reflection of one's total dependence upon the mercy of another. Then, as one who is richly blessed by the grace and mercy of another; as one who has received a free gift he/she did not deserve and could never earn; we show our gratitude for that blessing by seeking to be a blessing to others from that day forward, actively engaging in deeds designed to reflect His nature (vs. 10). "One thought runs through these verses like a thread of gold: We are not saved by works, but unto works" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 20, pt. 2 - Ephesians, p. 76].
"For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works" (Ephesians 2:8-9a). This is a very difficult passage to grasp for those who believe salvation to be works-based, or performance-based, or knowledge-based. The concept of a "free gift" is foreign to the thinking of such people. No matter how many times you explain it to them, they will still come back with: "But, how much must I DO? How much must I KNOW? How RIGHT must I BE?" They have been indoctrinated to believe that the whole justification and salvation process can never be achieved without a certain percentage of human effort; that God's gift is not free, but conditional; that when we have paid "our part" of the process, then God's grace fills the gap. In this passage, the apostle Paul soundly refutes that misconception. You and I contribute nothing; we are beggars with our hands out; sinners with our faces in the dust, painfully aware of our utter wretchedness, seeking only mercy, not our "just due" (Luke 18:9-14 - the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican). In this parable, who "went down to his house justified" (vs. 14a) that day? Well, it wasn't the one who trusted in his own deeds; it was the wretch who contributed nothing! His justification was a free gift of grace. If you look at the words of the publican in the Greek text, he didn't use the word for "mercy," but rather the word meaning "propitiation" (he sought to be "covered"). And that covering would be the Lord Jesus! "ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith" (Romans 3:23-25a). Yes, "we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world" (1 John 2:1-2).
Perhaps the Ephesians 2:1-10 passage is best summed up by what Paul wrote to the Romans: "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23). Wages are earned; free gifts are simply gratefully received; the former is by merit, the latter is by grace. This then leads us to our text: "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast" (Ephesians 2:4-9, NKJV). I want us to narrow our focus to a phrase found in the middle of verse 8 - "...and that not of yourselves...". Now, let's narrow that focus even more to the word "that." To what does "that" refer in this passage? What is the this of which that speaks? Is it our salvation? Is it God's wondrous grace? Is it the faith of Jesus Christ, or perhaps our own faith in Jesus Christ? Is the antecedent of "that" very specific in nature, or could it perhaps be more general in nature (broader in scope, including more than one item)? Each of these views, and more, have been advocated and debated, with entire theologies and religious movements being formed around them during the past two millennia. Thus, it behooves us to take a closer look at this word in this phrase in this passage.
Few biblical scholars will argue against the primary truth conveyed in that phrase when it is viewed in its context. Paul is simply seeking to convey to his readers that the whole redemptive process is of God rather than of man. The dead do not have the ability to impart life unto themselves! They are dead. Life must be imparted by, and indeed initiated by, one who has absolute power over both life and death ... and that One is the Lord! Thus, our redemption on every level is of Him, not of us. "Our works have nothing to do with our pardon: our evil works have not hindered it, our good works have not helped it; our pardon is of pure grace" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 20, part 2 - Ephesians, p. 77]. "In this work of spiritual regeneration, of quickening to new life, all cooperation on the part of man is expressly and emphatically excluded. God's free gift and gracious present is not a reward for works performed by man by which he might have made himself worthy of being regenerated in the sight of God" [Dr. Paul Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible: The NT, vol. 2, p. 268]. "It is a gift, not a purchase; a free gift, without money and without price; it is what would never have been yours, but for the generosity of God. ... 'God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son' - 1 John 5:11. This usage confirms the view that it is ... the whole work and person of Christ, which faith receives, that is meant here as the 'gift of God'" [The Pulpit Commentary, p. 63].
Many scholars believe, therefore, and I would tend to agree with them, that the term "that" is not so much a reference back to any one specific aspect of our redemption, but rather encompasses the whole of the redemptive plan, purpose, and process, and that every aspect of it is of God and not of man. The Greek scholar Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll, in his work "The Expositor's Greek Testament," states that "it seems best to understand the phrase 'and that' as referring to" the redemption of sinful man "in its entire compass, and not merely to one element of it" [vol. 3, p. 289]. Our salvation unto eternal life through the redemption effected by the sacrifice of Jesus is not "an achievement" of man, "but a gift, and a gift from none other than God, ... that the glory of that salvation may belong wholly to God and in no degree to man" [ibid]. Thus, whether one takes the antecedent of "that" to be the specific word "saved," or if one takes the antecedent to be the clause "by grace through faith," and thus the entire salvific process, the point is nevertheless the same: our salvation/redemption is entirely "a gift of God, and it does not find its source in man. Furthermore, this salvation is not 'out of a source of works.' It is not produced by man nor earned by him. It is a gift from God with no strings tied to it. Paul presents the same truth in Romans 4:4-5" [Dr. Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies from the Greek New Testament, vol. 1, p. 69]. See my article "The Romans 4 Gospel" (Reflections #852).
When examining this whole passage, very few people would disagree with the premise that, pertaining to our salvation, the term "grace" is entirely of God. "By grace you have been saved," writes Paul in Ephesians 2:5 (cf. vs. 8). You and I may be the beneficiaries of that grace, but we certainly aren't the producers of it. It is HIS to give or withhold; it is not ours. Had God not graciously and mercifully chosen to extend salvation to mankind through the redemptive process effected by His Son, not a single one of us would be saved, for not a single one of us could, by any action or deed on our part, force Him to save us. Most scholars and disciples of Jesus understand this. It is "in the detail" about the term faith that "the verse presents a problem. Does it distinctly state that 'faith' is the 'gift of God,' or does it state, more generally, that 'gratuitous salvation' is the 'gift of God,' leaving it open whether the faith which accepts it is His gift or not? The question is largely occasioned by the construction of the Greek, in which 'that' (neuter) does not agree grammatically with 'faith' (feminine)" [The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, e-Sword]. Generally, although there are exceptions, one would expect the antecedent of a term to agree with it in gender. For this reason, some reject the word "faith" as the antecedent of "that." Adam Clarke wrote, "The relative 'touto' ('that'), which is in the neuter gender, cannot stand for 'pistis' ('faith'), which is in the feminine gender; but rather it has the whole sentence that goes before it as its antecedent" [Clarke's Commentary, vol. 6, p. 439].
So, one may rightfully ask, in what way specifically does this verse present a problem? Well, it is largely with respect to whether "faith" in the passage before us is "a gift of God" in the same way as "grace" and "salvation" are exclusively free gifts of God. We are said to be "saved by grace through faith," and THAT is not "of ourselves," but is rather a "gift of God." Does "that" include faith?! Is this faith that lays hold of God's graciously offered salvation also from God, or is this faith "from man"? If the latter, then is this in some way our part that we contribute to the salvation process? And if so, is our faith, then, in some way a type of "work" that saves? Doesn't this play into the hands of those who insist on a works-based salvation, and that salvation is not solely "of God," but is rather, at least to some degree, a collaboration "of God and of men"? The real debate is whether our faith can be considered a "work," or whether our faith, and any action that reflects it (as in the outstretched hand of the beggar), is merely a response to a free gift. The latter view would declare there is nothing meritorious about receiving a free gift; the outstretched hand of the beggar in no way earned the gift graciously placed within it. But, those still tied to law/works cannot grasp the concept of grace and a free gift, and they point to such passages as John 6:28-29 and 1 Thessalonians 1:3 as proof that faith is a work. I have dealt with that argument in some depth in my following studies: "Working the Works of God: Does Jesus Teach Faith as a Work? A Reflective Analysis of John 6:28-29" (Reflections #161) ... "Faith's Work, Love's Labor: A Reflective Study of 1 Thessalonians 1:3" (Reflections #393) ... "Faith in the Working of God: Reflective Analysis of Colossians 2:12" (Reflections #469).
If the word "faith" in this passage ("by grace you have been saved through faith") refers to OUR faith, then our faith is not in itself redemptive in any way, but merely receptive. It receives the free gift, nothing more. Thus, our redemption is 100% from God, and 0% from us. "Lest faith should be in any way misinterpreted as man's contribution to his own salvation, Paul immediately adds a rider to explain that nothing is of our own doing, but everything is in the gift of God. Does 'kai touto' ('and that') connect with 'faith,' with 'saved,' or with the entire clause? Probably the latter interpretation is preferable. Hence Barclay translates, 'The whole process comes from nothing that we have done or could do.' With typically Pauline firmness, he excludes every possibility of self-achieved salvation. As if it were insufficient that he should have insisted in vs. 8 'and that not from yourselves,' he adds, 'not by works.' Any kind of human self-effort is comprehensively ruled out by this terse expression" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 11, p. 36]. "The apostle Paul uniformly represents faith as that which apprehends salvation. It is in no sense the ground of salvation; 'the righteousness of God which is by faith of Christ Jesus' is the only ground of it, and it is therefore called 'the gift of righteousness' (Romans 5:17); but faith is the hand by which it is received. There is thus no merit in faith any more than there is in the hand of the beggar who receives an alms" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 20, pt. 2 - Ephesians, p. 77].
It still bothers some, however, that the word "faith" seems to be regarded as part of "the gift of God," which to their way of thinking sounds too Calvinistic. If our faith itself is a gift, then does this negate free will? Are we incapable even of basic belief? Must even that be imparted to us by God's grace? Some are of the opinion that this is the case. "There is a real additional point in the assertion that even the act of believing is a gift of God" [The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, e-Sword]. "This attribution of all to the gift of God seems to cover the whole idea: both the gift of salvation and the gift of faith to accept it" [Dr. Charles Ellicott, Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 8, p. 26]. This is part of what is known as TULIP theology, which declares the absolute sovereignty of God, and which also states that God has called some (the "elect") to salvation, but has not called others to that salvation. Unto those He has preordained to salvation, He imparts faith as a gift; from those preordained to eternal death, He has withheld this receiving faith, thus leaving them in the darkness of damnation. According to this theology, therefore, even our faith to receive salvation is a GIFT of almighty God (given to some, withheld from others). Notice the following:
According to the Canons of Dordt [1st Head of Doctrine - Article 7], "Election is the unchangeable purpose of God, whereby, before the foundation of the world, He has out of mere grace, according to the sovereign good pleasure of His own will, chosen from the whole human race, which had fallen through their own fault from their primitive state of rectitude into sin and destruction, a certain number of persons to redemption in Christ, whom He from eternity appointed the Mediator and Head of the elect and the foundation of salvation. This elect number, though by nature neither better nor more deserving than others, but with them involved in one common misery, God has decreed to give to Christ to be saved by Him, and effectually to call and draw them to His communion by His Word and Spirit; to bestow upon them true faith, justification, and sanctification; and having powerfully preserved them in the fellowship of His Son, finally to glorify them for the demonstration of His mercy, and for the praise of the riches of His glorious grace."
Article 15 of the Canons of Dordt states: "It is the express testimony of Scripture that not all, but only some, are elected, while others are passed by in the eternal decree; whom God, out of His sovereign, most just, irreprehensible, and unchangeable good pleasure, has decreed to leave in the common misery into which they have willfully plunged themselves, and not to bestow upon them saving faith and the grace of conversion."
NOTE - For those who would like to study this more, check out my following class: "A Study of TULIP Theology: Examining the Five Points of Calvinism in Light of God's Inspired Word."
Obviously, I personally do not subscribe to the view that our own personal faith/belief/trust is itself a gift of God (given to some, withheld from others). It is my understanding of Scripture that we all have the inherent ability to either believe or disbelieve. We have choice; we have free will. Thus, I would NOT place OUR faith in the category of "a gift of God." On the other hand, our text (Ephesians 2:8) does indeed seem to imply "faith" as a part of the redemptive process that is God's gift to mankind. Is there a way in which this "problem passage" can be reconciled with the teachings of Paul and of Scripture in general? I believe there is. Again, notice the phrase in Ephesians 2:8 - "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast" (NKJV). As Drs. Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown point out, "Some of the oldest Greek manuscripts read, '...through the faith" [Commentary Practical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, p. 1284]. This is a very important distinction, and a number of Greek scholars and commentators point it out in their writings, for the presence of the definite article before the word "faith" indicates it is a special faith to which Paul is calling the attention of his readers. It is something distinct from our faith (which receives); it is, rather, the faith, which is indeed a gift of God, for it is the faith of Christ Jesus (which redeems). In Scripture, especially in the writings of Paul, we find him referring to "faith IN Christ" and "the faith OF Christ." By OUR faith we receive HIS faith, and by THAT faith (which is a gift to those who believe IN Him) we are counted as righteous in the sight of God. "God justifies the believing man, not for the worthiness of his belief, but for the worthiness of Him in whom he believes" [ibid].
When we realize that we are justified by the faith OF Christ Jesus (which gift we receive by our own trust/belief/faith IN Him), we are then gifted with HIS righteousness as though it were our own! By our belief in Him we receive a GIFT of grace: His faith and His righteousness. In this way, we are counted as righteous in the sight of God (not by anything WE have done; but by what HE has done). I believe the solution to this "problem text" is that THE "faith" Paul refers to is "the faith OF Jesus Christ," instead of our own faith IN Jesus Christ (with the latter receiving the former as a gift of God's grace). There are a number of passages where many translations have misled us by not correctly rendering the genitive case: they read "faith in Christ" rather than the correct "faith of Christ." To the credit of the King James Version, this translation does not make that mistake in most of those passages. Here are a few examples: In Romans 3:21-22 we are told that "the righteousness of God" is now manifested to mankind apart from law, and that it is "the righteousness of God which is by faith OF Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe." Many translations incorrectly read: "...through faith IN Jesus Christ for all those who believe" (NASB). That is redundant - a gift for those believing IN Jesus who believe IN Jesus. The preposition "in" is NOT in the text. It is a grammatical construction using the genitive case; the faith OF Jesus is for those having faith IN Jesus. HIS faith is counted to us as our own by a Gift of Grace from our God. The righteousness of God is revealed to us through the "faith OF Jesus Christ," and it is for all who believe (have faith). This, then, would explain the phrase in Rom. 1:17, where we are told "the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith." I dealt with this in some depth in my article "From Faith To Faith: Reflective Analysis of Rom. 1:17" (Reflections #185 - note especially the study under point #8 of that article).
Another passage which suggests this view, when properly translated, is Philippians 3:9. Paul is willing to count all things as "rubbish" so as to have a relationship with God through Jesus, not having a righteousness of his own, which he sought by keeping law, but rather "that which is through the faith OF Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith." OUR imperfect faith is insufficient to save us, but HIS faith (expressed and evidenced perfectly during His life) is redemptive when we receive it by faith. When I believe/trust in Him who had perfect faith in the Father, I acquire the blessing of that same perfect faith as a gift. My faith thus receives His faith, and I am thereby counted as righteous. Thus, again, the righteousness of God is revealed "from faith to faith." "For Christ is the end of law unto righteousness for everyone who believes" (Romans 10:4). Consider also Galatians 2:20, "I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith OF the Son of God." In Galatians 3:22, Paul speaks of the gifts of righteousness and life, gifts promised not through works of law, but rather "the promise by faith OF Jesus Christ that is given to them that believe." The promise of the gift of HIS faith is for those who have faith in Him. Our faith receives; His faith redeems! Thus, if it is Christ's faith of which Paul writes in Ephesians 2:8, then that faith, along with the other divine aspects of our salvation (such as grace), are indeed "not of ourselves" in any way, but are instead "the gift of God." Understood this way, the passage is consistent with the overall context of Paul's teaching.
From a New Reader in Texas:
In his most recent Bible study video, Dr. Patrick Mead encouraged his viewers to read your writings. He's a favorite internet teacher of mine, so of course I took his advice. I have read your most recent Reflections, and I would like to be added to your mailing list. I have been a "Church of Christer" all my life (I'll be 41 soon), so you can imagine my surprise at the idea that the Baptists may have been right all along! - a view that is anathema where I come from! I'm looking forward to reading more of your Reflections.
First, I want to thank Patrick for commenting on me and my work so positively, and encouraging people to check out my writings, in his mid-week video Bible study of 1 Timothy 2:11-3:2 (Click Here for that video on Facebook, or Click Here to watch it on YouTube). Several people have written and requested to be added to my mailing list as a result of his kind words regarding my published studies (which comes right around the 25-minute mark of this particular video). Again, my thanks to Patrick for his continuing friendship and support of my work. -- Al Maxey
ADDENDUM - Someone from South Carolina, whom I don't know, apparently saw Patrick's kind words about me and my writings in the above video (I shared that video on my Facebook page, as I have shared many of Patrick's videos over the years, not only on my page, but also on our congregation's Facebook page), and he wrote me the following message: "I hate to see you fall for the false teaching presented by Patrick. The things he used to teach, he now teaches just the opposite (and they are false). He has changed in order to appeal to folks under the condition he now finds himself in. Please check the Scriptures for yourself and see what it tells you. Don't be sucked in by his teaching. It is amazing how you guys explain away the Scriptures to make them teach what is now appealing to the world. I know it is more popular, but that doesn't change the Scriptures. God has an order and roles that He wants followed. I am not posting any Scriptures to you because I know you know what it says. You both just misapply it."
From a Reader in Alaska:
Al, I wanted you to know that I plan to include in my upcoming book your web site and Reflections archives for those who are looking for research not often found on certain aspects of Scripture - which is your specialty.
This good friend is an excellent writer, and I have been privileged to be able to review some of his latest manuscript for him. Thus, I am humbled and grateful that he views my work as worthy of being mentioned in that manuscript. Thank you, brother. -- Al Maxey
From an Author in Texas:
Al, I just read your latest article titled "Torturing and Twisting the Text: A Reflective Examination of 2 Peter 3:16" (Reflections #854). Here is another example of what this text is about: An old-timer from the schism I promoted for more than forty years refused to eat the Lord's Supper unless the bread was "properly broken." Thank you, Al, for another excellent article in which you expose such twisting of the Scriptures. Keep up the good work.
From a Reader in Texas:
Brother Al, a giant AMEN to the wisdom in your study "Torturing and Twisting the Text." Thank you!
From a Reader in California:
Al, your Reflections today reminded me of 2 Kings 18:4 where King Hezekiah tore down the snake that had been used to heal the Israelites when they were bitten by poisonous snakes. That object, which had been an instrument of divine healing, had become an idol to these people: an object they worshipped. How totally twisted and perverted it was to honor this rather than God Himself who was the author of the healing. I recall a few years back you had mentioned that an elder had written you an email in which he stated, "The Scriptures will save you!" I remember feeling a cold chill up my spine when I read that, because it completely missed the truth that it is the LORD who saves us. The Scriptures are simply the conduit whereby we learn of Christ's love for us; they are not the source of our salvation. Thank you for being a "prophet" who calls out and identifies the idolatry too many of us have ignorantly embraced.
Check out my study titled "The Bronze Serpent: The Curse/Cure Paradox" (Reflections #303). -- Al Maxey
From a Minister in New Zealand:
Al, thanks for your latest insights. A new word occurred to me the other night: a "Baptismologist" ... but, I certainly wouldn't dare to offer a definition (LOL). The mind boggles! I just had another thought (yes, I'm still thinking): In Ephesians 2:8 one finds the expression, "and that not of yourselves." What does the word "that" include and/or exclude? God bless you, Al.
I appreciate this friend and brother, for it was his question that triggered my own thinking on this phrase (which I hadn't previously examined in any depth). This question led me to do some research, which then led to my above article. -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Georgia:
One of the great resources for the average student of the Bible has been the internet, and the widely available commentaries on the Scriptures. Yes, one must be careful and discerning about what is written in them, but the diversity of views has opened the minds of those who were previously stuck in the rut of the interpretations imposed upon them by their local congregations and religious heritage. When competition for thought and opposing ideas are removed, stagnation of the mind occurs; and it just might be that some firmly held conviction or practice is not all that supportable in light of unbiased examination of the Scriptures (which you mentioned, in "Torturing and Twisting the Text," is the case with the instrumental music issue). I personally don't find it necessary to throw rocks at people with whom I disagree, however, as some do ... I mean, surely they will wise up and come around to my way of thinking sooner or later (LOL). Blessings, my friend.
From a Reader in Arkansas:
Hello, Al. I have tried to arrive at a simplistic, bottom-line explanation concerning baptism and why we should accept those who have submitted to that act as being a part of our spiritual family. Here is what I wrote: "The act of baptism shows the outside world of your inner conviction. The mere fact that you desire to tell the world what you believe, through this symbolic act, demonstrates your faith in Jesus and what He has done for you." Must you or anyone else be required to know more than this fundamental truth? Think about that! Regardless of what you may understand about the purpose and role of baptism, the end result is still the same! This is the reason I have come to realize that I actually have more brothers and sisters in Christ than I did before. Al, I would love to know what you think about this, for your thoughtful and thorough research and insights are very much appreciated (and agreed with) by me. Please continue your great work.
I thought this individual's statement was well-written and insightful. I also liked his comment that his understanding of this symbolic act had, for him, expanded the parameters of the One Family: i.e., he now was able to perceive men and women as fellow children of the Father that previously he had excluded due to a more legalistic and sectarian view of baptism. I asked him if he would allow me to share this brief statement, and he graciously agreed. Thank you, brother! -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in North Carolina:
Hey, brother! I really enjoyed this Reflections article on "Torturing and Twisting the Text." The visual you gave us of torturing the Scriptures on the rack by twisting and breaking them, caused me to feel a bit sick. Can't some of our brethren "see" that this is exactly what they are doing when they "strain a gnat and swallow a camel" over all their legalistic views?! If such a visual sickened them, would they still continue to do it, or would they repent of all the damage they have done, even if it meant their expulsion from their sect? I covet your prayers, Al, for I am currently in a low place because of such nonsense in the church!
Believe me, brother, I can relate to your being disheartened by such sectarian and factional idiocy. The visual used by Peter of the Scriptures being twisted and torn on a rack (an instrument of torture) was intended to be disturbingly graphic; it was meant to make one sick to one's stomach. Hebrews 6:6 was intended to generate the same discomfort: the writer spoke of those who had turned away from Christ Jesus as "crucifying again the Son of God, and putting Him to open shame." It was disgusting enough that men crucified Him the first time! How can anyone take it upon themselves to nail Him back on that torture device? Sickening!! And yet the legalists and rigid religionists and sectarians do it time and again by promoting human preferences as though they were divine decrees! -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Unknown:
Al, I just read your fine article about the Scriptures being tortured on the rack. It reminded me of Procrustes, a legendary bandit in Greek mythology who had a stronghold in the hills outside Eleusis. There he stopped those who traveled by and tied them to his iron bed. He himself fit on the bed, and so he believed everyone else should fit on it also. If the person happened to be too short, he stretched him on the rack until he attained the proper length; if he happened to be too long, his legs were cut off until he fit the bed of Procrustes. Thus, everyone was forced to be the same. Based on this myth, the term "Procrustean Bed" is used to describe any arbitrary standard to which exact conformity is forced. As we consider doctrinal beliefs that are held by Christians, can anyone rightly claim he has everything figured out; that he is right on everything? And if this is the case, why insist that everyone else should fit our Procrustean Bed?
The above is just a portion of a longer email sent to me by this reader, but I thought his comment was quite relevant to the focus of my previous issue of Reflections, for too many rigid religionists and strict sectarians and legalistic patternists have confused and conflated uniformity of thought and practice with the true unity sought by our Lord. The mythical bed of Procrustes is an excellent and powerful analogy. In fact, about three and a half years ago, I too did an article on this character. That article is titled "Procrustean Bed Theology: Sectarian Stretchings and Severings" (Reflections #769). -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Alabama:
Al, just a note to thank you for your response to my four questions which you provided in Reflections #853 ("Challenges and Questions: Responding to Readers who were Concerned by Reflections #852"). I'm reading, studying, and then rereading to get it all straight in my mind, and to see that what I conclude is confirmed in the Word. As always, I'm very grateful for your time and consideration to my questions, and I'm especially grateful for your prayers! You are a blessing!
From a Reader in Prince Edward Island, Canada:
My brother, first I must say that I love you dearly!! You inspire me with each article you write, and you also scare me, as many of these articles are reminders of my past failures when I was trying to preach Truth, but was only preaching tradition. This last article on the misuse (torturing and twisting the text) and failed understanding of the Scriptures hit home with me! I was associated with a very conservative Church of Christ in my early days. One was expected to find verses that supported the traditional views one was hired to teach; not to really think for oneself, but to comply. I was young, unprepared for this sectarian pressure, and lacking the needed biblical wisdom from experience. The more I read the Scriptures, however, the more I realized that some of the views this group supported were not consistent with the Scriptures. So, I quickly found myself in conflict with the elders. Not being one to back down, I kept studying and kept speaking out what I was convicted the Bible was really saying, and soon realized it was time to move on from that group.
Sadly, so many who are called by such groups to preach, just give in and become puppets, following the protocol of the "old school" dogma. When I first started to preach, I thought I needed to know everything; that the more I knew, the more "correct" I would be, and the "better" I would be. This poor excuse for learning led me to believe that WHAT I knew would save me. If I could just DO all of the "right things" in all the "right ways" at all the "right times" (in other words: follow perfectly The Pattern), I would be saved. I am sad to say it took a few years of this folly before I finally realized that it is not WHAT I know, but WHO I know that saves me!! That "Who" is JESUS! Al, you are such a blessing to my life (and to others); each article you write gives me strength and hope. Love You!!
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