Defending the Faith with a Broken Sword – Part 3
In this series of articles we have attempted to show the nobility of defending the truth. Truth is precious. Solomon declared: “Buy the truth, and sell it not” (Proverbs 23:23). We thus have the responsibility of defending the truth with the utmost integrity.
Sometimes, though, regrettably, those who attempt to defend the truth actually end up selling it out by their misapplication of scripture and their flawed reasoning. When such occurs, truth inevitably suffers. Let us continue our consideration of such matters.
The Second Coming of Christ
The Greek word
parousia derives from two roots,
para, “with,” and
ousia, “being.” It denotes an arrival and consequent presence with someone. Paul employed this word of his anticipated reunion with the church in Philippi (Philippians 1:26).
When used with reference to Christ, however, the term came to take on a technical sense denoting the final return of the Lord to judge the world (J. Hastings, Ed., Dictionary of the Bible, III, p. 674). (See Matthew 24:3ff; 1 Corinthians 15:23; 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23; 2 Thessalonians 2:1,8; James 5:7-8; 2 Peter 3:4,12; 1 John 2:28).
A few Bible students have had a real problem with this subject due to the fact that some New Testament passages appear to suggest that the “coming” (
parousia) of Christ was imminent in the first century. For instance, James wrote: “Be ye also patient; establish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (5:8). Of course unbelievers and theological modernists have argued that the New Testament writers were clearly mistaken about the time of the Lord’s return, and this is supposed to constitute proof that the New Testament scriptures are not inspired.
Some religionists (even a few members of the Lord’s church) have panicked at this baseless allegation, and, in their attempt to absolve the Bible of what they perceive as an insurmountable difficulty, they have gone so far as to concede that if Jesus did not return in the first century, then the inspiration of the scriptures has been impugned. This has been the posture of Max King and those who have converted to his brand of “realized eschatology” (see “The Menace of Radical Preterism”).
Thus these radicals have adopted the novel view that the second coming of the Lord did occur in the first century; in fact, the event was supposedly accomplished with the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. In this instance, the “cure” is about as bad as the “disease.” It is a classic case of attempting to defend the faith with a broken sword.
What some of these uninformed zealots fail to appreciate is the fact that certain time indicators, in connection with Bible prophecy, such as the expression “near” or “at hand,” can take on a symbolic significance. The purpose of such is to emphasize the certainty of a coming event. Perhaps a couple of examples would help in clarifying this point.
First, in the book of Deuteronomy, Moses prophetically warns of the fate that will eventually come to rebellious Israel. Speaking for Jehovah, he says: “Vengeance is mine, and recompense, at the time when their foot shall slide: For the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that are to come upon them shall make haste” (32:35).
This utterance was many centuries in its fulfillment. J. Ridderbos notes: “The time is ‘near’ and ‘rushes upon them.’ This is said, of course, from the perspective of the time when the Lord speaks … even though this may take a long time by human standards (cf. Zech. 1:12)” (Deuteronomy, pp. 293-294).
Or note this; in prophesying the overthrow of Babylon, Isaiah declared, “…the day of Jehovah is at hand…” (13:6).
E.J. Young observes: “That is, it is near not from the standpoint of Isaiah’s own day, but from the standpoint of the proud world empire of Babylon” (The Book of Isaiah, I, p. 419).
In the book of Hebrews, the sacred writer, in attempting to prevent Jewish Christians from reverting to the law of Moses, argued that the Old Testament regime has been abolished. He even employed the Old Testament scriptures to prove his point. In chapter 8, the writer quoted from Jeremiah (31:31ff) where the prophet spoke of a coming new covenant. Capitalizing upon the word “new,” the writer made the following argument (see 8:13). When one speaks of something new, he implies something that is old. Now that which is “old,” from the very nature of things, is “near to vanishing away.” Thus, according to the language of Jeremiah, even in his day, the law of Moses was “nigh” or “near” (
engus) to passing away. Yet, Jeremiah wrote more than six centuries before the abrogation of the Mosaic law! Clearly, the term “near” or “at hand” (
engus — as in James 5:8) can be used in a non-chronological sense.
In the case of James’ allusion to the Lord’s coming (5:8), the purpose of that “at hand” reference is to heighten our awareness of the need to be ever ready for the Savior’s return.
It thus is wholly unnecessary, in order to preserve the scriptures’ prophetic integrity, to resort to the type of fanciful textual manipulation that has characterized the Max King movement.
Defense of the Trinity
The Bible asserts that God is one (Deuteronomy 6:4; James 2:19). To affirm that Deity is one is simply to declare that there is a unified divine essence that is neither competitive nor contradictory in nature. Unlike the theology of ancient paganism, wherein the gods were warring rivals, the Deity of the scriptures is wholly harmonious.
On the other hand, the Bible also teaches that, in some sense, God is three. There is no conflict with the former affirmation, for the numeral “three” refers to a different facet of Deity. There are three separate Persons possessing the divine nature. They are distinguished as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14).
During the early ages of the Christian movement, certain heretics denied the concept of the Trinity. Sabellius of Libya (3rd century A.D.) contended that God was unipersonal; the names Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were merely three role-designations for the same Person. This doctrine is advocated in modern times by the United Pentecostal Church.
The Bible contains scores of passages which unequivocally demonstrate that the Godhead consists of three distinct personalities. It is not the purpose of this article to detail these arguments. What we wish to do at this time is call attention to an exceedingly weak point which some attempt to make in their discussions with the Oneness Pentecostals.
In the King James Version of the Bible, 1 John 5:8 reads as follows: “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.” Occasionally this passage is quoted and it is happily announced that this has settled the issue once and for all. In this case, zeal has exceeded knowledge!
An examination of the American Standard Version (and most all subsequent translations) will reveal that the phraseology quoted above is missing from the text. Why this difference in the versions?
First, it needs to be noted that we do not possess today the original writings of the inspired men of the first century (called autographs). This is doubtless by divine design in order to prevent men from making an idol of the Bible itself. The text of the primitive scriptures must therefore be restored through the process of textual criticism. Based upon a careful study and comparison of ancient Greek manuscripts, early versions of the scriptures in other languages, and the writings of those authors who lived in those centuries just after the close of the apostolic age, scholars put together Greek texts from which our various translations are made. The current Greek texts are extremely accurate, much more so than any of the other restored writings of antiquity (see my books, Biblical Studies in the Light of Archaeology, pp. 65f and Fortify Your Faith, pp. 70ff, available from “Courier Publications”).
The disputed portion of 1 John 5:7 is known as the Comma Johanneum. It is almost universally conceded by scholars that there is insufficient evidence for the inclusion of this controversial sentence into the biblical text. Here are the facts.
(1) The passage is found in only four Greek manuscripts (of more than 5,000 available ones), none of which dates before the eleventh century A.D. Even in these manuscripts, it appears that the passage has been rendered from a late edition of the Latin Vulgate.
(2) The Comma Johanneum is quoted by none of the Greek Fathers, who had they been aware of it, surely would have employed it in their debates with the anti-trinitarians of the post-apostolic age.
(3) The passage is absent from the manuscripts of all the ancient versions into which the Greek had been translated, e.g., Syriac, Coptic, Ethiopic, Arabic, and the Old Latin, and the Vulgate (in their early forms).
(4) The earliest instance of this phraseology is found in a 4th century essay titled, Liber Apologeticus. From thence it found its way into the writings of the Latin Fathers, and into the Old Latin and Vulgate versions (c. 5th and 8th centuries respectively).
(5) When Erasmus published the early editions of his Greek New Testament (1516, 1519), he was criticized for not including the spurious sentence. Yielding to pressure, he promised to put it in a later edition if it could be found in only one manuscript. Subsequently, a copy was produced
- apparently made to order! - and Erasmus incorporated it into his third edition (1522). From there it made its way into the Textus Receptus (the so-called Received Text) and finally into the King James Version (cf. B. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament, pp. 101ff).
Guy N. Woods has written:
“There is, therefore, not the slightest ground for assuming that these words were a part of the original composition of the apostle John, or entitled to a place in the sacred text; nor is there any loss whatsoever in yielding them up as spurious, since nothing is taught in them not abundantly taught elsewhere in the New Testament (Commentary on Peter, John & Jude, p. 326).
In spite of all of this, many still appeal to 1 John 5:7 in support of the doctrine of the Trinity. Some do it for lack of knowledge; others use it out of lazy desperation. A few hang on to it because they are wedded to the notion that the KJV can contain no problems. The Comma is a broken sword!
Let us ever strive to handle aright the word of truth. Even more, let us ever strive to have open hearts and minds to a love for the truth!
About the Author
Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.