Alexander the Great, Ezekiel, and Tyre

Reading a biography of Alexander the Great. Got to the portion where Alexander desires to wipe out the city of Tyre.

This is an interesting piece of history because the Book of Ezekiel contains a prophecy concerning the destruction of Tyre. The prophecy says:

And they shall destroy the walls of Tyrus, and break down her towers: I will also scrape her dust from her, and make her like the top of a rock. It shall be a place for the spreading of nets in the midst of the sea: for I have spoken it, saith the Lord God: and it shall become a spoil to the nations.

The original city was on the mainland. It was wiped out by Nebuchadnezzar. He left a bunch of ruins on the mainland while the people moved to the island. The presence of the ruins contradicted the prophecy of being scraped bear and thrown into the sea. Except Alexander the Great came along, threw all the ruins into the sea for the causeway and now the prophecy is complete.

The author of the biography says, “What Ezekiel foretold had now come to pass in all its terrible finality.” Always fun to see such things about the Bible in “secular” history books!

But Ezekiel also says, “And I will make thee like the top of a rock: thou shalt be a place to spread nets upon; thou shalt be built no more: for I the Lord have spoken it, saith the Lord God.

This has been taken to mean that Tyre will never be a city again. It will never be rebuilt. There is a city of Tyre today. The author of the biography says about this, “Tyre was repopulated, and whatever Hebrew prophets may say, thrives again today.”

So the parting shot is that the Hebrew prophet got lucky, but probably should have stopped before that last bit!

There are many theories about this. The new city of Tyre is not in the same place. The prophecy says people will be there spreading their nets, so obviously Ezekiel knew there would be people there. Someone has to spread nets!

You can also take it to mean it won’t be built as a massive place like it was before, its grandeur won’t be rebuilt. Also, Ezekiel was talking about judgment upon the Phoenicians. The Phoenician city was never rebuilt. The Phoenician empire was done away with right at the time Tyre was done in.

Another historian writes, “Alexander did far more against Tyre than Shalmaneser or Nebuchadnezzar had done. Not content with crushing her, he took care that she never should revive; for he founded Alexandria as her substitute, and changed forever the track of the commerce of the world.” Tyre was removed from consideration as a place of any importance, which is the main thrust of the entire prophecy (Ezekiel 26-27).

The main point of the prophecy was a judgment against the Phoenicians. Tyre today is not a Phoenician stronghold. It’s a nice city with a harbor. The prophecy concerned the enemies of Israel, the Phoenicians. The Phoenician city was also on the mainland and not where Tyre is today. There are archeological excavations on the original site, even if a city called Tyre exists nearby.

All in all, the prophecy of Ezekiel about Tyre is one of the more literally fulfilled prophecies in the Bible that should give strong evidence of the Bible’s uniqueness. It should also aid you in knowing that when God says stuff; He means it literally.

God’s Immutable Will and Promises

Luther proposes the idea that if God is not fully in control (meaning humans have no free will because God does everything) then we can have no assurance that God will do His promises.

[If it’s not true that] God foreknows and wills all things, not contingently, but necessarily and immutably, how can you believe, trust, and rely on His promises? When He makes promises, you ought to be out of doubt that He knows, and can and will perform, what He promises; otherwise you will be accounting him neither true nor faithful, which is unbelief and the height of irreverence, and a denial of the most high God!

At the root of the “there’s no free will” teaching is a desire to elevate God’s glory and supremacy. I’m all for that, but I think it goes to unnecessary lengths to do so. For in so doing, they actually limit His glory and supremacy.

According to Luther, the only way God can do anything is if He does everything. If God is not in control of every part of creation then He would not be able to do anything. If people are allowed to act freely, do whatever they want, God wouldn’t be able to do what God wanted to do.

That’s just sheer silliness. In no way does our free will eliminate any power from God. God is sovereign over creation, including over the laws that govern what creation does. We have freedom within the bounds He has set.

At any point God can override the laws (ax heads floating on water denied all manner of natural law). It is not hard at all for God to do what He wants. The idea that if Jeff has free will, God would be powerless to stop Jeff, is just crazy!

Yet you’ll hear this argument a lot. Don’t fall for it.

What God would have more power:

A God that can control only what He does, or a God who can control everything at any time no matter what anyone else is doing?

This view of God comes from a human standpoint. If I were to have ultimate power, yes it would mean I would dictate what everyone does. If you could resist me, then yeah, I would not be in control.

But God is way bigger than us. He’s in control of His creation, to the extent He’s not at all afraid to let us run around within the bounds He’s set.

Interestingly enough, Luther, about two pages before the above quote, says denying free will should be easy for Christians to do, because even heathen poets deny it! He goes on to quote Vergil a bunch. “See, even heathen philosophers know we don’t have free will.”

Yeah, I know Martin, that’s one of the reasons why I question whether it’s right!

Denying our free will is a humanistic idea that comes directly from people like Vergil. It doesn’t come from the Bible or from God.

Watch out for the human attempt to ascribe glory and power to God in ways that ultimately completely eliminate His glory and power, but rather elevate human notions of glory and power. To me this is what denying free will does. It’s one more reason I know it’s wrong.

How I Know I Have Free Will

1. Experience
My every day experience lets me know I have free will. I reap what I sow. I can decide to do any number of things with my time right now. Even people who don’t think free will exists, betray it in their behavior. They constantly try to convince me I don’t have it! This is a blatant denial of their belief. Even their experience shows we have free will.

2. Philosophy
Most human philosophies postulate no free will. Atheistic, materialistic, evolutionary philosophy says we don’t have free will, we are products of our genes and must act the way we are coded to act. People don’t want free will. We like to think we are completely unaccountable victims. Unless you violate my rights, of course! Then those people should be held accountable. Experiencing thoughts of revenge and justice are a clear revelation that there is free will. It is one thing for a philosopher to say there is no free will; it is yet another to let people steal all the philosopher’s stuff, rape his wife, kidnap his kids, and so on and philosophically conclude, “Oh well, I’ll let it go, he had to do it, he didn’t have free will.”

3. The Bible
The Bible clearly shows we have free will. Whosoever will may come. Jesus would have gathered Jerusalem, but they would not. There is judgment and accountability, a reaping of what we’ve sown. The general theme of Scripture is one of rebellious free will acting out in hostility against God’s will. Yes there are passages like Romans 9 that say God can override our will, but this is not the norm. If it were the norm for God to override our wills, then why does Romans 9 focus in on Pharaoh? What makes Pharaoh an exceptional example?

4. Sin
The Bible says our heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. A denial of free will sounds exactly like something a wicked and deceitful heart would come up with. At the root of denying free will is a desire to get out of accountability. This is why atheistic evolutionary philosophy denies free will: now we can do what we want, no sin, I have to act this way, so get off my back. Free will does not sound like something people would come up with, and every time people come up with a theory, it typically denies free will. Sinful people do not like free will. It means we’re accountable and responsible to change and be better. It is much more freeing to pretend I have nothing to do with anything and all my mess is someone else’s fault.

5. Consequences
The best test of a theory is to see what would happen if everyone acted on it. Would you like to live in a society where we actually acted like there was no free will? There could be no law, no crimes or punishments, no judges, no juries, no sin. People would do “whatever they wanted” and no one could stop them. Who are you to stop what someone else cannot stop in themselves since they aren’t the ones in control anyway? What gives you the right to put your will above theirs? The result of actually, literally acting as if we have no free will would be absolutely destructive to life as we know it. Which is why no one acts like they don’t have free will.

6. Blasphemy
If there is no free will then God has to be the author of sin. God has to be responsible for all the evil in our world, all our sin, our genocides, the whole deal. Then for God to judge us for doing what He made us do? This makes God out to be a complete monster. Who needs Satan when God is this monstrous? If there is no free will then any revelation from God is completely irrelevant. There is no point for anything. All purpose, all beauty, all kindness, all joy is complete sham. God is a brutal dictator wishing demise on all those who are doing what they were programmed to do. If there is no free will; then God is not love.

You have free will. Judgment Day will make this painfully obvious. You should go ahead and admit it today and get yourself right with God through the Gospel of Jesus Christ and act as though you are someone who will give an account for every deed done in the body, because you will. And the defense, “I just did what you made me do” will be swallowed up in your inability to speak for the weight of your guilt before His glory.

Disagreeing With People and the Holy Spirit

I’m into the actual words of Martin Luther in Bondage of the Will now.

He begins by saying what a good communicator Erasmus is, but also unbelievably stupid. He says Erasmus’ writings are like piles of dung being delivered on a plate of gold! Genius.

Some people don’t like that language in their theologians; I actually find it absolutely hilarious.

Anyway, Luther explains that the reason he delayed so long in replying to Erasmus is not because Erasmus has any kind of good argument, it’s because Luther doesn’t think replying to him will do anything. Luther claims he’s already said enough on this issue, anything else would just be wasted.

For people of that sort, you could never speak or write enough about anything.

Pearls before swine, basically is what he’s saying. but alas, he continues:

To those who have drunk in the teaching of the Spirit in my books, we have given enough and to spare already, and such find no difficulty in dismissing your arguments. But it is not surprising if those who read without the Spirit are tossed hither and thither, as a reed is tossed by every wind that blows.

This is a classic theologian line: If you had the Spirit you would totally agree with me. The only reason you think I’m wrong is because you don’t have the Holy Spirit.

Luther is just one of many people I’ve heard say this.

In one sense, I get it. Spiritual things are discerned by spiritual people. Jesus said to His disciples “whoever receives who I send, receives me.”

So, like, yeah, maybe, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that this might be true.

However, the sheer arrogance required to say to someone, “I’m right; if you had the Spirit you’d agree with me” I find a little sketchy.

I’ve heard people on both sides of an issue claim this. Someone’s got to be lying.

I’d refrain from saying it myself. I’ve disagreed with myself enough to know not to say this. I’ve changed my doctrine enough to know not to say this.

One of the downfalls of good doctrine is to assume you’ve already got good doctrine. No further adjustments needed. In order to say “If you have the Spirit you’d agree with me” you’d have to be 100% sure you had completely right doctrine.

Luther, I don’t think, has any trouble admitting he’s 100% right.

I can’t go there.

I plan on growing and learning until the day I’m made like Christ when I see Him as He is. Until then, I assume I can say some stuff wrong and believe things that are not 100% perfectly rightly understood. Even Paul said, “I have not yet apprehended.” He still presses toward the mark, wanting to know more about Christ.

Luther is not saying anything out of the ordinary for theologian types, but I’d caution anyone to go there and, just guessing, Luther knows better now.

Don’t Confuse Your Favorite Theologian with Jesus

I’ve finished reading the 61-page Introduction to The Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther, a cause for celebration.

Incidentally, I am reading a translation done by O. R. Johnston and J. I. Packer, so if you know those names, I assume they are the ones who wrote the Introduction.

The conclusion emphasized the centrality of denying free will and promoting the concept of monergism in salvation (the idea that God acts alone in saving people; we have nothing to do with it).

Faith is only something God gives you after He regenerates you, they say. Then they say this:

to rely on oneself for faith is no different in principle from relying on oneself for works, and the one is as un-Christian and anti-Christian as the other.

Eesh. That makes me cringe all over the place. But they go a step further. Disagreeing with Luther is un-Christian and also, get this, don’t know if you knew this or not, but disagreeing with Luther means you disagree with Jesus Himself.

I’m serious. Here’s the quote:

If the almighty God of the Bible is to be our God, if the New Testament Gospel is to be our message, if Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever–is any other position than Luther’s possible?

Double eesh.

Let me answer that question with a very definite “yes.”

Disagreeing with Luther is not disagreeing with Jesus. Statements like this should alert you that you’re dealing with fanboys.

He went through a list of Reformers who held Luther’s views on this issue, including John Calvin, of course. They maintain that all the Reformers, at least the ones they like, all agreed on our inability to have faith and be saved unless God does it all.

One thing all these Reformers, at least the ones they mention, have in common is that they all loved Augustine.

Disagreeing with Luther does not make you disagree with Jesus Christ; it makes you disagree with Augustine. Which is totally fine by the way.

1 John 2:27 says “the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you.” If you have the Holy Spirit you don’t need a man to teach you.

If your doctrine is entirely based on a person, you’re not using the Holy Spirit. If you think you need to adhere to Luther or Calvin or Augustine or me in order to know Jesus, you’re out of your ever lovin’ mind.

People can help teach you, but to think you need a person to know Christ is insane. Never, ever elevate a person’s teaching to a level where you think disagreeing with them is disagreeing with Jesus.

Agree with Jesus; to the extent we agree with Jesus is the extent to which we will agree with each other.

This Introduction has entirely creeped me out.

Wrong Doctrine, Mystery, and Faith

The Introduction of Bondage of the Will is summarizing Luther’s words on two main issues of salvation:

1. Can man save Himself outside of God’s willing it and making Him saved? Luther’s answer is no.

2. How can God send people to hell for doing what God made them do? Luther doesn’t know.

On both points, the conclusion is that God does stuff that doesn’t make any sense to us. In fact, God often does stuff that contradicts Scripture.

I kid you not, that’s what the Introduction says: God does things that contradict Scripture. Of course he tones it down a bit to say “it seems” like it contradicts Scripture, but let’s be real here. Luther says stuff that contradicts Scripture is clearly what is being said.

Here’s a quote from Luther:

If I could by any means understand how this same God, who makes such a show of wrath and unrighteousness, can yet be merciful and just, there would be no need for faith. But as it is, the impossibility of understanding makes room for the exercise of faith.

The author of the Introduction then says in the sentence after this quote:

And it is here, when faced with appearances that seem to contradict God’s own word, that faith is tried; for here, reason rises up in arms against it.

I already had trouble with what Luther has said about free will. I already thought Luther contradicts Scripture on any number of points. But to hear him come right out and admit that he does, AND FURTHER, to say that he has to contradict Scripture in order to have faith is unreal.

Let me throw one verse at you to contrast with the two quotes above, one of my favorite verses because it clarifies so much, Romans 10:17:

So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

According to the Bible, God’s Word, faith means listening to God’s Word, believing exactly what God says.

According to Bondage of the Will, Luther’s word, faith means what you have when what you think disagrees with God’s word or when you don’t understand it.

It’s always amazing to me to watch people believe things and then struggle with how what they believe does not agree with the Bible. This is where “mystery” comes in.

Back to the Introduction:

Everything that God reveals about Himself transcends man’s comprehension; every doctrine, therefore, must of necessity terminate in mystery, and man must humbly acquiesce to having it so.

This is completely false. If everything God reveals is revealed to make no sense, then why did He reveal it? What’s the point of God revealing things if even after revealing it we don’t understand it?

God reveals things to be understood; that’s kind of the point of revfelation. The secret things belong to God; the things that are revealed belong to us.

Are there aspects of what God says that leave us with wonder and further questions? Certainly, but to assert that every doctrine God reveals leaves us sitting here not comprehending things is just nuts.

It’s mind boggling when theologians come to see that the Bible doesn’t say what they believe, that they don’t use that opportunity to change what they believe. Oh no! On the contrary, they get busy saying how the Bible is wrong or unclear.

They then use their non-sensical doctrine that the Bible disagrees with to be a sign of mature faith! You have faith when you have no clue what you’re talking about!

The Bible says faith is hearing God’s word. Faith is not what you have when you don’t understand God’s Word. God said stuff to be understood. Understanding God’s Word is actually what Faith is.

“By faith, all the people in Hebrews 11, sat around wondering at the mystery of what God told them to do.” Not what it says.

By faith, all the people in Hebrews 11, did exactly to the letter what God said because that’s what faith is: understanding and acting on exactly what God says. Faith does not show up in mysterious unclearness and uncomprehendingness.

If faith means trusting God when you’re clueless, then Romans 10 is out. I sincerely would mistrust anyone who told me faith is what you have in confusion. “I don’t understand anything, but oh well, guess I’ll push through and just believe.” That’s not faith.

Faith is unshakable confidence that God speaks truth and regardless of what I believe, think, or prefer, what God says is true, right, and understandable and then acts on it.

I fail to see how Luther’s understanding of faith would foster spiritual growth. Luther’s end of faith is complete confusion, not certainty–all doctrine terminates in mystery. That has to mean that the more you grow, the less you know. That’s just crazy.

Grace and Free Will

The other day I wrote a post about the long standing Christian tradition of opposing grace with human effort.

Human effort is the opposite of God’s grace. If you do stuff, you can’t have any relation with God’s grace.

Therefore, the people who emphasize grace the most are the ones who say they don’t do anything.

This explains why Calvinist doctrine, summed up with TULIP, are referred to by them as “the doctrines of grace.”

Calvinists go whole hog on this issue. They don’t think we do one thing on our own. Every single molecule of creation is always doing exactly what God tells it to do. Therefore, you don’t do anything. In their mind, this is why their doctrines are “THE doctrines of grace.”

The Introduction to Luther’s Bondage of the Will (yes, I’m still reading the Introduction), says:

The denial of ‘free-will’ was to Luther the foundation of the Biblical doctrine of grace, and a hearty endorsement of that denial was the first step for anyone who would understand the gospel and come to faith in God.

The author goes on to say that Erasmus (the guy Luther argues with in Bondage of the Will) thought people had an ability to do a small thing to be saved, we had something to do with it, not meriting our salvation, but there was something we did to initiate it.

Luther says “No.” There’s nothing we contribute. Salvation is of grace. If we did something then God owes us salvation, and God does not have to pay anyone for services rendered.

This is funny. Read the quote above again.

Did you see it?! Luther says heartily denying free will is the “first step” in coming to faith in God! Isn’t that something I have to do to get saved then Marty?!

This is where this whole “there’s no free will” argument just gets ridiculous.

Luther goes on to say that people who think they are saved by work and effort at least put a high price on salvation. Erasmus, who thinks it’s only a little thing we do to get salvation, treat salvation as though it’s cheap.

OK, but if people who do a lot for salvation hold salvation highly, and people who do a little to get saved value salvation cheaply, then please tell me how people who don’t think you do anything to get saved value salvation!

I’m still in the Introduction and I’m about to lose my mind.