Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The New Living Translation and Calvinism

The New Living Translation (the most popular English version of the bible) has numerous translation errors that favor Calvinism and oppose standard Arminian or Traditional Baptist interpretation of the texts.  For example, Ephesians 4:30 in the ESV states “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”  However the New Living Translation has “And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.”  There's no basis in the Greek for the NLT's additions and it appears to be more of a commentary than a translation.  The attached study documents these errors.

The New Living Translation and Calvinism

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

You Do Not Believe Because You Are Not of My Sheep

In John 10:26 Christ says “you do not believe because you are not of my sheep”.  A good friend of mine said this was the clincher for him; the reason he became a Calvinist.  Calvinist argue that Christ’s sheep are the unconditionally elect and the reason some don’t believe is because they are not unconditionally elect.  But there’s good reason to think this is not what the passage means.  In this post I will argue that Christ's statement should be understood as providing reasons to know the Jews have rejected Him rather than stating reprobation causes unbelief.  

John 10:24 says: Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch. Then the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, “How long do You keep us in doubt? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

About two months had passed since Christ’s Good Shepard discourse in John 10:1-19.  Now the Jews try to trap Jesus by asking if He was the Christ. The NKJV translates “τὴν ψυχὴν ἡμῶν αἴρεις” as “keep us in doubt”.  The ESV renders it: “keep us in suspense”.  Literally the phrase is hold up our souls.  As John Gill puts it:

and said unto him, how long dost thou make us doubt? or as the Vulgate Latin, Syriac, Persic, and Ethiopic versions literally render it, "how long dost thou take away our soul?" that is, deprive us of the knowledge of thee; Nonnus renders it, "wherefore dost thou steal away our minds with words?" so Jacob when he went away privately, without the knowledge of Laban, is said to steal away the heart of Laban, as it is in the Hebrew text, in Genesis 31:20. In like manner the Jews charge Christ with taking away their soul, or stealing away their heart, or hiding himself from them; not telling them plainly (see Gill on John 10:24)

Now perhaps this is overstated a bit, and the phrase is just a manor of speaking, but non-the-less, I think the point stands that the Jews statement was a bit sharp and accusatory. They are saying Christ is doing something wrong; hiding who He really is.  The NKJV captures this sense well by “keep us in doubt”; in that the Jews were blaming their unbelief on Christ.  παῤῥησίᾳ has been translated “plainly”, or “boldly” or “openly”.  The idea is that Christ has been hiding who He is and He should clearly and confidently tell the truth about Himself. 

Now let’s look at how Christ answers this charge: John 10:25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me. 26 But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. 27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. 

Twice Christ says He already explained this and twice He says they don't believe.  The repetition seems to be for emphasis.  The Jews are saying "speak boldly" and Christ is saying "I already did".  He also cites the evidence backing up His assertion: the miracles He does in the Father's name.  Not only has He already spoken boldly, but He has provided evidence.  So He is not to blame for hiding the truth; they are to blame for not believing it.

But how does Christ back up His claim that they do not believe?  They say Christ is holding them in suspense - but Christ says no, you have already rejected me by not believing.  He says you do not believe because you are not of my sheep.  For some reason the NIV drops the ek (of or among).  Contrast the ESV's "you are not among my sheep" withe the NIV's "you are not my sheep".  The ESV is clearly correct given the Greek is ek ton probaton. This point is bolstered by verse 16 "other sheep I have which are not of [ek] this fold".  The ek makes it clear that the idea is not simply one of individual identity, but also identification with the group.  So the idea in verse 26 is they were not among or with Christ's sheep.  Anyone could see they were not following Christ.

The Jews are not in some neutral territory between accepting or rejecting Christ; no they have rejected Him in the face of bold claims and strong evidence.  Their accusation that Christ is keeping them in suspense or making them doubt is false; they have rejected Christ's words and the Father's witness.  Christ's sheep hear His voice and follow Him.  The fact that the Jews don't follow Christ is evidence that they don't believe and they are not on neutral ground.

The gar translated "because" or sometimes "for" often is used to settle questions, provide evidence or explanatory material like when people say I know there's a fire because I see the smoke. For example, in Mark 14:70, when Peter is called out “Surely you are one of them; for you are a Galilean, and your speech shows it”, the "for you are a Galilean" is evidence the statement is correct, not an assertion of causality.  See also (Matthew 2:20, 3:9, 4:18, 6:31-32, Romans 13:11, 14:10, 16:17-18, John 4:45, Luke 6:32, 1 Corinthians 9:10, Mark 2:15 and in many other places).  And the contexts presses for this usage of gar, since Christ is denying and refuting the Jews accusation that He is making them doubt or holding them in suspense.  No, they are lying about being in suspense; they have already rejected Christ, otherwise they would be among His sheep and following Him.

And we can see this understanding is better than thinking of Christ's sheep as the elect and all others as reprobate.  First, if the passage is about reprobation, then Christ isn't answering the Jews.  He's wouldn't be giving a reason why He is right in disagreeing the the Jews claim that Christ is making them doubt.  Second, if sheep are the unconditionally elect, then it's not true the sheep are following Christ. They will eventually, but they are not currently.  Before the elect convert they don't hear Christ's voice and follow Him and they are not among Christ's flock.  Third, Christ's statements shame the Jews, but there is no shame in not being unconditionally chosen.  Finally, Christ is inviting the Jews to believe, especially in verse 38 "but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him." But nothing could slam the door in the Jews face greater than being told by God they are reprobate.  

Now let's head off a possible objection to this interpretation.  Suppose someone grants Christ is giving reasons to think the Jews are unbelievers, but continues pressing the causal relationship.  After all, fire causes smoke so the reason we know there is fire is because we see smoke.  So while it's true Christ provides reasons to reject the Jews claim He keeps them in doubt, He does so by providing a causal connection between reprobation and unbelief.  However, what such an objection would miss is that following Christ is a "condition of" not a "condition for" salvation.  We do not earn or cause our salvation by following Christ - that would be works salvation.  Christ makes this distinction in verse 9 between entering the door and going in and out for pasture in verse 9:

I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.

Likewise, when Christ speaks of hearing Christ's voice and leading and not following strangers in John 10:3-5,  He's talking about Christian walk.  Christians do these things, but they don't become Christians by doing them.

So the idea is not that being sheep causes faith, but rather we can know they are unbelievers because they are not following Christ, since believers follow Christ.

One final argument that Calvinist bring up is based on John 10:16 "other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd."  Calvinists argue that the other sheep are elect Gentiles who God will convert at a later time.  Frankly there's little to go on here.  Mormons claim they are the other sheep.  People tend to find their pet theology in ambiguous statements.  To me, it's far more likely that Christ is talking about others who were saved under the Old Testament system but hadn't yet heard about Christ because they were geographically remote.  But I won't be dogmatic about that, because Christ doesn't get into the details.