Friday, May 31, 2013

Matthew 11:21-23 - why were the People of Sodom Lost?

Steve recently asked: "I've been thinking about Matthew 11:21-23 as a non-Calvinist. If God knew the people in Tyre and Sidon (or other places) would repent under certain circumstances, why did not God bring about those circumstances? E.g. do the mighty works there."

The passage states: 21 Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.

Christ is rebuking Bethsaida and Chorazin for their stubborn unrepentance in light of His mighty works and witness among them.  So the question amounts to, why did the Father send Christ to the Jews knowing the people of Sodom would have repented had Christ been sent there?  One of my professors once said  he thought God sent Christ when He did because the Roman roads and Koine Greek helped quickly spread the gospel.  I don't know; if He waited until now, it could have been posted on youtube.  In any event, the point is we shouldn't just look at Capernaum vs. Sodom but rather Christ's whole ministry vs. what it would have been like at an earlier time.  And while we will not know the full reason in this life, we can trust God's reasons were good.

More generally, God gives everyone sufficient grace for salvation but that doesn't mean He gives all people the same amount of grace.  Consider Arminius' claim that God doesn't use all means possible to save:  The form of vocation is placed in the very administration of the word and of the Holy Spirit. God hath instituted this administration so, as He knows to be suitable and becoming to himself, and to his justice tempered with mercy in Christ; always reserving to himself the full and free power of not employing, for the conversion of men, all the methods which are possible to himself according to the treasures of his wisdom and power, and of bestowing unequal grace on those who are [in every respect,] equals, and equal grace on those who are unequal, nay, of employing greater grace on those who are more wicked. (Romans 9:21-26; 10:17-21; 11:25, 29-33; Ezekiel 3:6; Matthew 11:21, 23) (Public Disputation 16.7)

Consider also, God sometimes lets the horrendously wicked live long lives and end up repenting, while the less wicked die young and unrepentant.  Some unbelievers live all their lives in Churches while others are born in Muslim or other countries with little to no access to the Gospel).  Despite what some might have you believe, Arminians don't believe God is a Care Bear sitting on a cloud in the sky.  Grace is not a given - it truly is amazing.  

Some try to avoid the force of this verse by saying Christ was exaggerating.  They say it's not that the people of Sodom  really would have repented; Christ is just saying how bad the people of Capernaum were.  Unfortunately, some folks who I respect a lot, William Lane Craig and Max Andrews (link), take this approach, and it just so happens to support their theory of trans-world damnation. I disagree because unintentional exaggerations seems like careless mistakes and intentional exaggeration seems like lies. Neither seem worthy of our Lord to me.  No, the rebuke only works if the charge is true: the people of Sodom would have repented and the people of Capernaum did not. 

Other Molinists like Thomas Flint hold to unconditionally elects or something like it. (see Flint. Divine Providence.  Especially Chapter 5, the section on the Principle of Predilection starting on page 117)  Max Andrews seems to think any Molinist that takes Matthew 11 at face value ends up stuck with this view.  But there's a huge difference between God wanting to save everyone but still choosing when and where to send Christ while knowing who would and wouldn't be saved and God choosing not to save everyone.  If the Father had sent Christ to Sodom, it's true they would have repented; but probably others would have been lost.  If unconditional election is true, God could have elected both the people of Sodom and the people of Capernaum and simply didn't want to save them.

God still loved the people of Sodom and He wanted them to repent and enabled them to do so.  They rejected and resisted His grace.  That's why they are lost. So one can agree with all four of Max's points and still take Matthew 11 at face value.

Max says: "( 1) God genuinely desires that all men come to repentance and be saved (Ez. 33.10-11, 1 Tim. 2.3-4; 2 Pt. 3.9), 2) God judges based on revelation (Rom. 1-2), 3) God determines the time and place of man so they may seek God (Acts 17.26-28), and 4) that humans are damned because of their sin)" 

Sure God loved and wanted to save the people of Sodom as He loves and wants to save all men.  Lack of love is not why the Father sent Christ when and where He did.  Sure God judges the people of Sodom based on revelation and He set the time and place for them to seek the Lord.  He gave them sufficient grace and revelation for salvation.  They chose to reject Him and the grace and revelation He gave them and that's why they are damned.  They are not damned because God didn't love them, want to save them, send His Son to die for them, reveal Himself to them, provide sufficient grace for them or the like.   


SLW said...

The issue is what is the force of the repentance Jesus speaks of in the verse. Did he mean something that would be equated to eternal salvation or something more akin to what the Ninevites experienced under Jonah's ministry? I do not see that the Ninevites pursued a course of salvation thereafter, although, without doubt, they did repent at the word of judgment that came from the prophet in that day. There are plenty of examples of heathens being against the kinds of sexual excess Sodom exhibited, they have ancient cities which stand to this day, and yet that won't save them eternally. In effect, I do think the comments Christ made have more to do with the stubborn rebelliousness of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum than they do with anything salvivic concerning about Sodom.

bethyada said...

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Gal 4)

The plan was global, and God intended on including the Gentiles, but it had to occur at the right time.

Still, Sodom could have responded to Lot, yet they did not.

It is not the same for all men; we should respond to what light we are given and not complain that we have less light than others. Further, God will take such things into account in the judgment, to him whom much has been given.

Godismyjudge said...


Christ is rebuking Chorazin for not repenting. Seems strange if He's only talking about an outward repentance rather repentance from the heart. The while Sodom was living in open sexual sin, the Jews generally were not. I find it hard to believe Christ was talking about just social reforms.

God be with you,

Godismyjudge said...


Good point out Sodom not responding to Lot.

God be with you,

SLW said...

I was not suggesting that the repentance was only superficial, or not of the heart, but rather that it, at best, was merely behavioral and did not entail anything salvivic (particularly in reference to Nineveh), i.e. they were not turning from paganism to follow the one true God, but were just recognizing that a prophet was threatening judgment and they took his signs to validate his message.

The contrast between the Jews and Sodom gets to the heart of what Christ was trying to get across pedagogically: the Sodomites, who were much more wicked in overt sin would have turned from such excess (not necessarily turned to God in faith) upon hearing a prophetic voice backed up by signs at the level of Christ's. In other words, wicked people who were not the people of God (nor would they necessarily become so) had the sense to recognize the signs of a true prophet of God and repent of their pointed out wickedness, whereas the people of God who had so much going for them failed to recognize those signs in Christ and repent of sinfulness that seemed so much less.

I don't think Christ was saying there were folk who could have been saved if he had come at a different time.