Words of a Fether

I am the way, the truth, and the life;
no one comes to the Father except through me. ~Jesus

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So Certain Are You?

Yep, the title’s a quote by Yoda to Luke. But there are at least three topics making the rounds in Christian blogging these days, and they all have something to do with either salvation itself or its implications: Calvinism, relationships between/among believers (clergy/laity and the gender war), and the security of our salvation. But without the last item, the other two hardly matter; if our salvation is contiually at risk, then there’s precious little point in arguing about who bosses whom or whether you had a choice to be saved in the first place. Of course I’ve had a lot to say about those two things in the past year or so, but it’s been a while since I mentioned the certainty of believers reaching heaven, or ES (Eternal Security).

There’s an interesting article about that called If Ye Continue, focusing on Col. 1:23. Here’s the meat of it:

The one being saved will do good works. He must do good works. The works don’t save him, however. They have nothing to do with his salvation. It’s that when a person is reconciled to God through Jesus Christ, he will continue in the faith. Genuine faith will persevere. It will continue. It will overcome. It will bring forth fruit. It will conform to the image of God’s Son.

The first part of v. 23 is a conditional clause [...] Jesus will present someone to God holy, etc., if that person continues in the faith. People who get presented holy are the ones who continue in the faith. Those who do not continue in the faith do not get presented like that.

[...] The Greek language of the New Testament has four classes of conditional clauses. These are all clearly and unmistakeably marked in the language itself by certain combinations of words. Working from the fourth to the first, the fourth class is the most rare and it is the condition of assumed possibility.

The third class is the condition of assumed probability. Example: If at any future time this condition is met, then this will follow.

The second class is the condition of assumed unreality, that is, the assumption of an untruth for the sake of argument. Example: If this would have been, then that would have followed.

The first class is the condition of assumed reality, that is, the assumption of truth for the sake of argument. Example: If this is true (and I’m assuming it is), then this will happen.

The condition in Colossians 1:23 is the first class condition. The writer is assuming this condition to be reality, to be true. In other words, you should assume that anyone who will be presented to God holy, that anyone who is reconciled to God through Jesus Christ, will also continue in the faith. Why? Because believers do continue. He’s not continuing in order to be reconciled. He’s continuing because he’s been reconciled already. Those who Jesus reconciles will also continue in the faith. It isn’t just possible that a person who is reconciled will continue in the faith, and it isn’t just probable. It is the assumed reality of the reconciled, of those whom Jesus will present before God, that they will continue in the faith.

We tend to presume everybody thinks like we do in the western world today. But to the ancient Greeks, saying if didn’t always mean something was iffy; that is, it often meant since or because. The grammar of this verse is what tells us what kind of condition the writer has in mind, and that is the first class mentioned in the quote. And this sort of failure to clarify in our English translations is one of the reasons so many people misunderstand what scripture says.

Another, albeit less intellectually rigorous, article on this topic is found at a site with myth busters articles. This one focuses on John 15:1-2 concerning the vine and the branches. I’ll only summarize the points here:

  1. The Greek word airo, meaning to lift up, cannot mean that branches not producing fruit are carried off to be burned because the context is about let not your heart be troubled.
  2. Non-KJV translations deliberately chose the harshest possible meaning for the next phrase about pruning dead branches.
  3. The act of pruning means to cut down to the nub, and if that’s true, then the branches producing fruit are being punished, which makes no sense.
  4. Pruning is only done to dead branches, so this can’t refer to the saved.
  5. The word translated pruning is kathairo which only means cleansing, so if pruning means cutting down to the nub then again this doesn’t make sense.
  6. Therefore the verse should read, Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He lifts up from where it has fallen; and every branch that bears fruit He cleanses, that it may bear more fruit. You are alreadsedy clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.

My responses:

  1. The context is about how vital it is for Jesus’ followers to remain conntected with Him, since He is the source of life and without Him we can do nothing. So the idea of getting rid of branches that are dead is not at all foreign to the context but exactly in line with it.
  2. Though I do know of instances where meanings were deliberately chosen to advance an unsavory agenda, I don’t see that here.
  3. The act of pruning means to reduce the quantity of fruit on a tree, vine, or branch so that instead of many small pieces the plant will produce fewer but larger ones. It can sometimes mean cutting off an entire branch but can also mean removing only some of the buds (see article here for example). Pruning is for the good of the whole plant and has nothing to do with punishing productive branches.
  4. Clearly, pruning can and does happen to living branches.
  5. In the absense of a particular Greek word for pruning, how exactly should such a process be described? This point borders on the etymological root fallacy and demands that the meaning must always be taken in a woodenly-literal fashion.
  6. He lifts up from where it has fallen adds meaning to the text without warrant. If it’s accuracy and myth-busting we’re after, this is not helping. And every branch that bears fruit He cleanses, that it may bear more fruit proves the earlier point that cleansing does not mean to cut down to the nub here. But more importantly, note that it is not the lifted branch that is cleansed to produce more, but the one that’s already producing. We could also draw a parallel to the parable of the talents in Mt. 25:14-30; the ones who produced were given more, but the one that didn’t was thrown out as worthless.

But does this mean there really isn’t security and the first article is refuted? Not at all; the context is still before the cross, and Jesus is using a figure of speech (you are LIKE...) to teach about the importance of steadfastness for those who would be called disciples. To extract a treatise on ES from this picture of unity and devotion on the eve of Jesus’ crucifixion seems a stretch at best.

But the point right now is that I should not have been motivated to question this second article since it agrees with my belief in ES. But doing so anyway shows that I was willing to honestly evaluate the text even if it meant making a case against my preferred viewpoint. We always need to put our beliefs to the test; if those beliefs are true and right, such tests will only make us stronger.

Posted 2010-11-10 under salvation, security