Nicaea: the Characters, the Benefits, and the Oddity

The Council of Nicaea was both an odd and foundationally critical point in the life of Christianity. For nearly three centuries, Christians had been a despised and persecuted group among both Jews and Gentiles. Jews (those holding to the “traditions of their fathers” [Matt. 15:1-9]) hated Christians for the same reason they hated Jesus Christ Himself, namely for claiming deity for the God-man and ascribing the title of ‘Messiah’ to Jesus of Nazareth. Gentiles, particularly Romans, hated the Christians for their apparent exclusivity in religious beliefs. Romans had a pantheon of gods, but Christians would only acknowledge the singular and triune God of Christianity. In spite of this deep hatred and long-lasting persecution, the Roman emperor Constantine reversed these categories entirely. Before the battle that won him the status of co-emperor (The Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312A.D.), Constantine later claimed to have seen a vision of a ‘cross’ in the sky with the words “In this sign, conquer.” After he won his new title, Constantine – in agreement with his co-emperor from the east, Licinius – issued a decree legalizing Christianity throughout the empire. [1]

This was only the beginning of Constantine’s contributions to the Christian Faith, but the oddity of the first ecumenical or universal council was largely due to the mixing of the Church with the state. Constantine may or may not have been a genuine convert to Christianity, but he certainly had no biblical basis for officiating a theological debate among Church elders. Nevertheless, Constantine brought such theological debate to the most prestigious stage known to mankind – the emperor’s court. Christianity would be marked indefinitely by the political shift and, more importantly, the theological convictions of those men who gathered at the Council of Nicaea.

A large number (about 300) of bishops and presbyters gathered at Nicaea, and many were no doubt bearing the scars of persecution in their recent past, but the two most noteworthy and polarizing men were Athanasius and Arius. Arius (ca. 250 – ca. 336) was a “presbyter from Alexandria in Egypt on the North African coast.”[2] His Christology was representative of one side of the arguments to be heard at Nicaea. While his teaching survives only in scattered pieces and in references from the texts of his antagonists, Arius stated his view of God by saying, “We acknowledge one God, Who is along ingenerate, alone eternal, alone without beginning, alone true, alone possessing immortality, alone wise, alone good, alone sovereign, alone judge of all, etc.”[3] In logical succession, Arius formulated a syllogism for his view of Christ. “If the Father begat the Son, he that was begotten had a beginning of existence; hence it is clear that there was when the Son was not.” Noll continues by saying, “English translation of this syllogism is difficult, for Arius was careful not to say, ‘there was a time when the Son was not,’ since Arius conceded that the Son had been begotten before time began.”[4]

Arius’ view was clearly a denial of the eternal deity of Jesus Christ, for if there was when Christ was not, then Christ was brought into being or created at some point. This was an extreme heterodox view among Church leaders, including those in Alexandria. Alexander, the bishop of Alexandria was accused (by Arius) of being a Sabellian because of his view of the unity of God the Father and God the Son. Sabellians were a type of Monarchianist, which were called such for their high view of the unity of God. Sabellians (named after the third century Roman teacher, Sabellius) understood God, single in being and in person, to have merely operated in different modes throughout human history rather than actually having manifested Himself in distinct persons. The Sabellians have also been named as ‘modalists’ or (in our contemporary contexts) ‘oneness’ theologians. Alexander was not a Sabellian, but Arius seemed unwilling or unable to see a third option.

Also in the group of Monarchianists were those called ‘adoptionists’ for their belief that Jesus was particularly adopted by God and at some point infused with the fullness of deity. However, they denied that Jesus possessed such attributes intrinsically or eternally. Both of these Monarchianist sects (Sabellians and adoptionists) were out of line from the biblical revelation, and the Church would not embrace either of them.

Origen (ca. 185 – ca. 245) was another Alexandrian theologian who sought to articulate a biblically sound understanding of the revelation of God’s ontological unity and personal distinctions. Being a speculative philosopher, he “held that Jesus was ‘generated’ from the Father, but also that this generation was ‘eternal.’”[5] While Origen seems to have kept a strain on the paradoxical balance of generation and eternality, Arius appears to have tried to release the tension and declare a less puzzling statement of Christology – as well as Theology proper. It is important to note, as Hardy does:

“None of these positions was formally excluded by the Church’s ‘rule of faith’ as it existed in the third century, in various local forms of creeds taught to catechumens in preparation for their baptism in the threefold name. The Old Roman Symbol, known to us in later form as the Apostle’s Creed, in an excellent case in point. In the late second century converts at Rome were asked in the baptismal rite, ‘Do you believe in God the Father Almighty?’ and ‘Do you believe in Christ Jesus, the Son of God…?’ By the end of the third century the second phrase probably read as we now know it, ‘his only Son our Lord,’ thus excluding any tendency to reduce Jesus to the rank of one among many. By general agreement the Church seems thus to have rejected the extreme positions that had been explored by some Christian teachers at Rome – modalism on the one hand, and the treatment of Jesus as a mere man on the other.”[6]

Before the Council of Nicaea, while there was indeed some glad and wide acceptance of simple affirmations about Christ – both His deity and humanity, there was no widely held clarifying statement of Christian doctrine that would provide both precision and elucidation; and this would be the platform upon which Arius would do battle with Athanasius.

Athanasius (ca. 296 – 373) was a young (about 50 years younger than Arius) assistant to the bishop of Alexandria, Alexander, and he would become the strong defender of biblical Christology for decades to come. Athanasius did not think of Arius’ arguments as mere philosophical inquiry and intellectual debate, instead he saw Arius’ position as a direct assault on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In his treatise Of the Incarnation, Athanasius summarized the case he continued to make for the rest of his life: “If Christ were not truly God, then he could not bestow life upon the repentant and free them from sin and death.”[7] Athanasius’ Christology was (arguably before the Council of Nicaea, but certainly after it) the central theme of Alexandrian Christology, and his work On the Incarnation “is one of those great books which develop one great theme supremely.” Athanasius saw Christology as inseparable from Soteriology; as Hardy puts it, “[Christ’s] divinity makes his life mighty and his humanity makes it ours.”[8]

At the Council of Nicaea both Alexander and Athanasius saw fit to use precise language to articulate the biblical truth of God as revealed in one being and distinct persons. The Greek word they employed was homoousios – meaning literally “same substance.” Their point was that Jesus Christ was of the same substance as the Father, while maintaining distinction in personhood. The Nicene Creed includes the very language when it says, “…God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father… (emphasis added)”[9] Emperor Constantine admired the term, for whatever reason, and the position articulated by Alexander and Athanasius was embraced as orthodox Christian doctrine. Constantine ordered that all bishops sign the creedal statement or receive the punishment of excommunication. Arius, along with some of his staunch followers, was excommunicated for his refusal to sign the document. There were some, however, that acquiesced to the creed for the moment but later wanted to insert a single letter into the precise term (homoousios) that would shift its meaning from “same” to “similar” substance. These rebellious bishops notwithstanding, Christ’s Church had won the day and Athanasius had defended her well.

At any rate, this first ecumenical council was a massive pivot point for Church history, both in the area of theological disputes and in political involvement. “Nicaea bequeathed a dual legacy – of sharpened fidelity to the great and saving truths of revelation, and also of increasing intermingling of church and world.”[10] The Church had irrevocably swung from being totally separate from anything having to do with the state to being fully endorsed and intermingled with it. Noll says, “Nicaea was a turning point that set Christianity on a course that it has only begun to relinquish, and that only reluctantly, over the past two or three centuries. That course was the addition of concerns for worldly power to its birthright concern for the worship of God.”[11]

The Church of Jesus Christ is indeed commissioned by Christ Himself to be of great concern for the worship of the one true God and the diligent discipleship of as many sinners as will trust Him to save. This commission may or may not have anything to do with state involvement, but since the Council of Nicaea the governmental involvement in the Church and the Church’s involvement in the political government has been a mingled mess. In our own day, in the United States of America, there is hardly a bible study or fellowship gathering that does not confuse state affairs with Church affairs – as though the success of Christ’s Church is wholly dependent upon the success of a local or national political group.

Theologically speaking, Nicaea was a bulwark of orthodox Christian doctrine. While there had been regional and local debates with their resolutions for the purity and unity of the Christian Faith, Nicaea was a flag in the ground of the universal Faith of all Christians. In our day of endless denominational differences, often amounting to little in the way of actual theological dispute, it is refreshing to remember that there is one faith and one Lord for all true Christians. May God grant us such unity, articulated in both precision and clarity, in matters of essential doctrine.

Reference List

Hardy, Edward Rochie. Christology of the Later Fathers. Library of Christian Classics. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1954. doi:WorldCat database.

Noll, Mark A. Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012. doi:WorldCat database.

[1] Noll, 41-42

[2] Noll, 40

[3] Noll, 44

[4] Noll, 45

[5] Noll, 41

[6] Hardy, 16

[7] Noll, 47

[8] Hardy, 18

[9] Noll, 50

[10] Noll, 55

[11] Noll, 55

Strength to Strength in times of Suffering

In his devotional “Mornings and Evenings,” Charles Spurgeon wrote his own commentary on the passing of Christians from security and strength to further stability and power. This progression is contrary to much of our natural experience, and Spurgeon acknowledges the same. A runner, for instance, begins with full energy and ends with none; and the wrestler finishes his long match with much less vigor than he had at the start. But Christians are anchored and empowered by someone who is unnatural, and their advancement from strength to strength is observable as well as biblical.

The Bible speaks of a God who is not merely a passive all-observing eye. No, the biblical God is the creator and sustainer of every aspect of His creation; He is the ever-active, sovereign king of the universe (Acts 17:24-25).

This brings great comfort to the humble Christian. Spurgeon says, “Thou shalt never find a bundle of affliction which has not bound up in the midst of it sufficient grace.”[1] This means that there is no amount of suffering, no tumultuous season of life, no seemingly unrewarded effort expended that is completely in vain. The Bible never calls evil by the name of good, but all things are by God’s design and for the ultimate good of His children (Rom. 8:28; Lam. 3:37-38).

Much more could be said on this biblical assertion of God’s sovereign work to bring about the sanctification of His children, but Christians may be observed as having lived out this surprising experience as well. While not all churchgoers exhibit this same development, the mark of mature Christianity is finding secure refuge in Christ.

Consider the believer who receives a terrible diagnosis from the doctor. She may recoil and feel distress just as much as anyone, but her soul is eventually steadied and the Commander of the storm calms the gales of her mind.

Think also of the young Christian couple that rushes their newborn to the emergency room only to learn that their child’s mortal life has ended much too soon. Their pain and anguish is beyond words, but the light of life somehow invades their dark night of the soul.

Christ is their portion, and He is enough.

Once, Christians were commonly noticed as experiencing joy in the face of their own sorrow. In our day of commonplace denial and distraction, it is not so normal to see anyone bear the load of suffering well. Yet, when the Christian does it is a bittersweet site indeed.

What a peculiar beauty it is to see the Christian rejoice in the Lord while they are enduring significant pain. Others may even become irrationally envious of the agony of these exemplary saints when that agony is born steadily by the grace of God.

Spurgeon is also quoted as having said, I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.

The counter-intuitive destination of a Christian’s suffering is safe in the arms of Christ. Isn’t it a wonder that Christians will often find themselves crawling out of Christ’s bosom and onto the floor of life until they encounter some strange pain or confusing fear? Upon such an encounter, they cry out for the embrace of the Father’s care and find Him worthy of their full trust and reliance.

Only in this light may we perceive suffering as a gift.

Oh, that you and I would know the strength of God’s abiding Spirit – with or without the common suffering of life under the curse of sin. May the Lord bless us with His caring allotment of energy and affliction, for His glory and for our greatest joy.

“[W]e rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”[2]

“God will give the strength of ripe manhood with the burden allotted to full-grown shoulders.”[3]

Should a believer wait to have a “burden” before witnessing?

When is the right time to witness to someone?  What does a Christian need to know before witnessing or evangelizing?  Must a Christian wait to witness to someone until he or she is burdened or compelled by some inward sensation?  This question may be phrased in numerous ways and yet ask basically the same thing.  I think asking and answering three larger questions will help us answer these and others more definitively, as well as guide our understanding of evangelism or witnessing in general.

What is evangelism or witnessing? 

Essentially evangelism and witnessing are two ways of labeling the same activity.  Evangelism comes from the word evangel, which is a transliteration of the Greek word euangelion, meaning good message.  The message called good is that singularly wonderful message of how God promised and performed all that was necessary to save sinners in the person and work of Christ.  Therefore, evangelism is the activity of proclaiming or telling of that great message.

Witnessing carries the same idea.  To witness to someone is essentially to attest to those propositional statements, which make up the good message or Gospel.  So, evangelism is the telling of the Gospel (the good message of salvation through Christ), and witnessing is testifying to the trustworthiness of that message.

There is a common ambiguity in our day concerning both the Gospel message itself and what it means to convey that message.  There are those who would attempt to expand or condense the Gospel in order to enhance or improve it, but any adjustment to the Gospel is a violent attack upon it (Galatians 1:6-9).  Many are not satisfied to only adjust the message; they even seek to thwart the communication of any real substance.  Some would claim that the Gospel message may (and in many cases should) be delivered in action rather than speech.

Well-intentioned preachers and Christians attribute a saying to St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.”  This phrase is not a direct quote because there is no actual record of St. Francis ever saying or writing these words.  Yet, even if there were such record, the statement would remain utterly nonsensical.  While bringing a meal to an individual in need of nourishment may be an illustration of what implications the Gospel message has, it is an extremely poor substitute for the Gospel message itself.  A sinner with an empty belly, after eating a marvelous meal, remains still an enemy of God and destined for eternal destruction.

Only the verbal (audible or otherwise) communication of propositional statements concerning God, sin, Christ and His eternally saving work will suffice as a means by which God brings dead sinners to life in Christ and saves their souls (Romans 10:13-14).

What role do Christians play in evangelism or witnessing? 

Wrapped up in the desire to tell people about the Gospel is usually the Christian’s aspiration to see at least someone believe that message.  So, one would do well to understand how much a witness or evangelist can contribute to the conversion of another before they set their contributive goals.  If the evangelist’s goal is to save sinners, then he or she has set a goal unattainable by anyone but Christ.

The Apostle Paul says to those to whom he had been a witness, “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).  He says that he had been the recipient of a message and he had also passed that message along to them.  The message he speaks of is that message concerning Christ and His work that was ‘according to the Scriptures.’  The Apostle Peter refers to the “good news” that was preached and received or believed (1 Peter 1:12, 25), thus resulting in “the salvation of souls” (1 Peter 1:9).

There are a number of passages that would lend themselves to this discussion, but in these two passages we may understand at least a couple of things.  One, the Gospel or good news is a message of a particular content that is to be transmitted by someone (or more than one) through the use of words.  Two, the believing or receiving of the message is distinct from the message itself and this is the delineating line between those who experience the salvation of which the Gospel speaks.

It is not an overstatement then to say that the best and most an evangelist can do is transmit the good message or Gospel.  There are far reaching and profound implications in this simple phrase, not the least of which is the idea that the highest goal of the evangelist is to transmit the message accurately – without addition or subtraction.  This short address of another issue will not give enough space to map out all or even most of the implications in the statement above.  Yet, the fact remains that the role of the witness is to transmit or communicate the message.

Successful communication of the Gospel, then, is nothing more and certainly not less than accurate communication of the content of that preeminent message.  In other words, whether one believes the message upon hearing it has nothing whatever to do with the role of the evangelist.

What is the ultimate purpose of evangelism or witnessing? 

If the purpose of witnessing to someone is not to try to convert them (as we established above, this is not the role of the evangelist), then what is the purpose?  The short answer is to glorify God.  One cannot read through the first 14 verses of Ephesians chapter one without surmising that what God has done in the salvation of sinners is for His glory and according to His will or good pleasure.

There is no doubt that some will perceive this goal as too rigid, lifeless, or uncompassionate, but this is the highest goal that anyone might have.  In fact, this is the chief goal of everything in life.  The Christian is privileged to participate in God’s work of glorifying Himself in the salvation of sinners.

Thanks be to God that He has given Christians any part to play at all!

So, evangelism is telling people of the message of Jesus Christ’s redeeming work, and the witness’s role is simply to transmit that message accurately and regularly.  The ultimate purpose of witnessing is to bring glory to God in an accurate proclamation of what He has done in revealing Himself through the Gospel.

Because these are true, it seems easy to answer the questions listed at the beginning.

Should a believer wait to have a “burden” before witnessing?  NO! 

Why would one need to wait for anything like that at all?

The Synoptic Problem

The so-called Synoptic Problem does not seem to be a problem at all, in the useful sense of the word.  It seems to me that a better title for this issue would be the Synoptic Production or the Synoptic Compilation.  Yet, the Synoptic Problem it remains, and Clements describes the matter by saying, “Even a quick reading of the four Gospels reveals that three of them (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) are alike, especially when contrasted with John.“ He goes on to say that these similar three are called “synoptic” for the very reason that they share a common view of the life, ministry, sayings, works, death and resurrection of Christ.  “A more detailed comparison, however,” says Clements, “reveals a wide variety of differences as well as similarities… From a literary point of view, these facts raise difficult questions. How did the Gospels originate? Did their authors use each other’s work, and did they have other materials available to them?”[1]

The problem, then, is in the mind of the form, source and redaction critics.  This is not to say that the questions are not interesting or worthy of our time, but the questions themselves are not problems.  However, some of the answers provided by the critics who ask these questions are problematic indeed.

In 1771 G. E. Lessing posited an explanation as to the similarities found among the Synoptic Gospels.  He suggested that there was a single Hebrew or Aramaic gospel already in circulation, which the Synoptic Gospel authors used as a source for their own.[2]  Later on, J. G. Herder, and later still J. K. L. Gieseler, theorized that the body of this original source was not written but “a relatively fixed oral summary of the life of Christ.”[3]  Then a theologian by the name of F. Schleiermacher argued that Papias’s (an early Christian bishop Hierapolis, in the Phrygian part of the Roman province of Asia[4]) ‘logia’ (his collection of teachings and sayings of early Christian elders – possibly as many as two disciples) made reference to one of several progressively developing written fragments, small pieces of gospel tradition, that eventually were subsumed into the Synoptic Gospels.[5]

Finally, though chronologically the earliest postulated explanation of the similarities, there is also the theory of Interdependence.  This solution to the synoptic problem asserts that two of the gospel writers used one or more of the other Synoptic Gospels in their own composition.  Advocates of this view are not forced to deny the use of another source(s) now lost, and maintain, “only borrowing at the final literary level can explain the degree of similarity among the Synoptic Gospels.”[6]  This interdependent view of the compilation of the Synoptic Gospels is nearly universally accepted among present-day New Testament scholars.

With a view toward the interdependence of the Synoptic Gospels there are three significant arrangements suggested as a pattern for production.  The Augustinian Proposal gets its name from St. Augustine, the legendary North African theologian, who first maintained it.  This patter begins with Matthew, then Mark borrowed from Matthew, and finally Luke borrowed from both Mark and Matthew.  Not only did the early Church believe that Matthew had originally written his gospel in Hebrew or Aramaic (based on an obscure quote from Papias),[7] but until the nineteenth century the Augustinian Proposal “was the standard view of those who saw a literary relationship among the Synoptic Gospels.”[8]

TheTwo-GospelHypothesis is another view towards a pattern of development.  J. J. Griesbach held that Matthew was indeed written first, but that Luke was second and then Mark pulled much of his gospel from both Matthew and Luke.[9]  This accounted for the vast similarities and almost verbatim quotes between Mark and Matthew, and Mark and Luke.

In contrast to the Two-Gospel Hypothesis, TheTwo-SourceHypothesis flips this pattern on its head.  This developmental system sees Mark as the pioneer gospel writer while Matthew and Luke drew from his work and another text independently from one another to pen their own gospels.  This other conceivable text is known only as ‘Q’, and it is perhaps a lost collection of Jesus’ sayings.[10]  The Two-Source Hypothesis perceives the similarities between Matthew and Luke, which are not shared by Mark, to be that material received from the mysterious ‘Q.’ Referring back to the earlier question of some possible written and/or oral gospel tradition, it is entirely plausible that ‘Q’ may be defined as some very early combination of both written and oral stories about and sayings from Jesus.

There is not unanimity concerning the theories above, but many do hold the Two-Source Hypothesis.  The postulation of Mark being the first gospel written does seem appealing for several reasons.

First, Mark is shorter and more abrupt than Matthew and Luke.  Mark’s brevity can have any number of causes, and shorter does not necessarily mean earlier.  Yet, because Matthew and Luke both contain much of Mark, it seems hardly worth the time for Mark to write the gospel he did if he did so after the other two.  Quoting G. M. Styler, “Given Mark, it is easy to see why Matthew was written; given Matthew, it is hard to see why Mark was needed.”[11]

Second, Matthew and Luke often agree with Mark when there are areas of similarity, but Matthew and Luke agree less frequently.  This makes sense best if we see Mark as the available text to each of the other two authors as they wrote independent from one another.[12]

Third, Mark’s gospel has more of an awkward style and a greater number of Aramaic expressions than do Matthew or Luke.  The reason that this is an argument for the earlier writing of Mark is that it would seem inconceivable that an author would take material from a smooth format and break it up.  Rather, the opposite is what an author would do, and this plausible authorial process fits better with a view from Mark to the others instead of Mark from the others.  Additionally, the Aramaic expressions in Mark are translated to the Greek culture or eliminated altogether in Matthew and Luke.  It simply does not make sense that Mark would pull an expression back from its translated context or insert it in the material already well written.  These three individually nudge one in the direction of accepting Mark’s earlier authorship than the other two Synoptic authors, but collectively they seem to unavoidably point to an earlier arrival of Mark.

I have already “tipped my hand,” as it were, in this last paragraph.  My position is that of the Two-Source Hypothesis.  It seem most plausible to me that Mark was written first, and that all three Synoptic Gospel authors were familiar with gospel traditions that were included in their works.  These gospel traditions were certainly oral, and many of them were likely contained in some written form (possibly ‘Q’) as well.[13]

There are no doubt questions that this hypothesis does not answer, and there are men smarter than me who hold another view.  However, ultimately the answers to these questions are that God superintended the development of these documents through His sovereignty and providence.

Divine inspiration of Scripture is not to be confused with automatic writing, dictation, or any other obliteration of human authorship.  In fact, the beauty of God’s word is that it comes through the means of such common instrumentality.  Historical developments, culture, personal research, education, life experiences, and a host of other influences came to bear on the gospel writers, but none of these stifled the divine revelation they conveyed as they themselves were being carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21).

I agree wholeheartedly with Clements when he says, “Scholarly work on history and literature should therefore not be despised, since it often sheds light on the text. On the other hand, our confidence in the truth of Scripture does not rest on the ability of specialists to sort out literary problems, but on God’s power to fulfill His promises (Is. 55: 10,11; 2 Tim. 3: 16,17). “[14]


[1] Clements, Don K. New Geneva Introduction to the New Testament. Edited by R. C. Sproul. Narrows, VA: Metokos Press, 2006.

[2] Carson, D. A., Douglas J. Moo, and Leon Morris. An Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992.  89.

[3] Ibid.  90.

[4] Lovell, Graham Davis. “Papias on Mark and Matthew.” Papias on Mark and Matthew. May 25, 2012. http://newtestamenthistory.blogspot.com/2012/05/papias-on-mark-and-matthew.html.

[5] Carson, D. A., Douglas J. Moo, and Leon Morris. An Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992.  90-91.

[6] Carson, D. A., Douglas J. Moo, and Leon Morris. An Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992.  91.

[7] Ibid.  143.

[8] Ibid.  93.

[9] Ibid.  93.

[10] Ibid.  94.

[11] Carson, D. A., Douglas J. Moo, and Leon Morris. An Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992.  96.

[12] Ibid.  97.

[13] Ibid.  101.

[14] Clements, Don K. New Geneva Introduction to the New Testament. Edited by R. C. Sproul. Narrows, VA: Metokos Press, 2006.

To whom was the Letter to the ‘Galatians’ written?

Recently, I taught a bible study course through the Galatian epistle and began the first lesson by discussing only the first three words of the text, “Paul, an Apostle…”[1] ‘Who is Paul?’ and ‘What is an Apostle?’ seemed to be two questions that needed to be asked and answered before we could move on to anything else. There is another pressing question, however, that has been asked at the outset of this same letter.

Just after his own introduction, the Apostle Paul addresses his letter’s recipients, “To the churches of Galatia… (ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις τῆς Γαλατίας).”  Who were the Galatian Christians to whom the Apostle Paul wrote? This question may or may not have a similar bearing on interpretation and application to my previously recommended inquiries, but the question is an important one nonetheless. The perceived destination of this letter can have an impact on the interpretation of such a text, but an interest in a destination of the Galatian epistle certainly has a great deal to do with the dating of its authorship. Therefore, questions regarding the recipients and the destination of any biblical text are important for more than just critical scholars.

In the first century B.C. the province of Galatia, variable in size over the years, was under the rule of the Celtic king Amyntas. At its peak expanse, Galatia stretched from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean and always covered the central land area that was home to many Celts, including three Celtic tribes – referenced later in the ‘North Galatia’ theory. Having been willed to Rome in 25 B.C. and modified at its frontiers, in the Apostle Paul’s day the province of Galatia still encompassed vast parts of Lycaonia, Pisidia, and Phrygia.[2] It is apparent that the term ‘Galatia’ certainly has the potential to be less than helpful in discovering the exact audience of Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

According to scholars, there are only two conceivable destinations for this letter. One possibility is that the letter was written to “three Celtic tribes akin to the Gauls,” which Cole says were known as Galatians, “who had invaded and subsequently occupied Asia Minor in the third century before Christ.”[3] This is the theory that the Apostle Paul used the term Galatia in what is described by Fung as the “enthnogeographical sense,”[4] referring to the ethnic group located in the northern part of the province of Galatia. This is known as the ‘North Galatian’ theory.

The other plausible option is that the epistle was written to a broader group defined by Cole as the “radically mixed inhabitants of the Roman province of Galatia, and the name ‘Galatians’ was simply used as a handy common term to cover them all.”[5] This is the theory that the Apostle Paul used the term Galatia to denote an expansive Roman province, referring to the general composition of churches he had established across the southern part of the Roman province of Galatia. This is known as the ‘South Galatia’ theory. Common geographical and ethnic labels (especially those used by the Apostle Paul), the varying composition of the Roman province of Galatia, the chronology of the Apostle Paul’s missionary journeys, and the correlation of many of the details of the Apostle Paul’s life experiences recorded in this letter as compared to other New Testament writings will all contribute to the discussion concerning which of these two theories best provides the most plausible destination.

North Galatia Theory

The ‘North Galatia’ theory maintains that the Apostle Paul wrote this letter to the Celtic group of believers in Northern Galatia, the area of modern day Turkey. The ‘North Galatia’ theory was the position held by the early Church fathers, and was the dominant view of scholarship until the nineteenth century.[6] Tucker, an associate professor of New Testament at Moody Theological Seminary, said that there are more commentaries from the early Church fathers on Paul’s epistle to the Galatians than from than any other New Testament book.[7]

The endorsement of the patristics, however, is not a sure road to certainty on any New Testament matter; and Martin Luther did not seem to know of the theory when he wrote in the sixteenth century in his commentary on the epistle, “Paul had preached the Gospel throughout Galatia, founding many churches which after his departure were invaded by the false apostles.”[8] It appears that Luther understood Paul’s letter to have been destined for those churches about which he also read in Luke’s record of Paul’s journeys. He mentions no thought of unnamed churches in northern Galatia being the addressees of such an inspired communiqué.

At any rate, the Galatia of the early Church fathers’ day had already been significantly pruned from the expansive territory with the same name in the Apostle Paul’s lifetime. The Galatia that the patristics knew was virtually comprised only by the Celtic heartland, which is the home of three Celtic tribes – the claimed audience of the ‘North Galatia’ theory. This, it would seem, makes the position of the Church fathers a good assessment of their contemporary common viewpoint, but no real indicator as to the actual intended audience of the Apostle Paul.

J. B. Lightfoot, Fung declares, is the classical proponent of the ‘North Galatia’ argument, and James Moffatt as well as others joined him in the debate. This view remains widely held, “predominantly but not exclusively in Germany.”[9] The adherents to this view are not without warrant, and there are a number of reasons that one may find the ‘North Galatia’ theory appealing. In fact, Carson and Moo list as many as eight points of positive argument for the proposition. For the discussion here, several will surely suffice.

First, many ‘North Galatia’ proponents contend that the term Galatia carried the intended meaning of referring to the locale of the Gaul inhabitants of the north.  Their point is that the term was simply acceptable shorthand for the audience they claim as most likely. Next, it is argued that Phrygians would not have found the label of Galatians very appealing as a designative term to include them. It is said that both Phrygians and Lycaonians would have perceived the term as an insult to them because it would remind them of their Roman rule.[10] Cole says that some ‘North Galatia’ theorists claim that calling someone a “Galatian” at that time would have been the equivalent of calling them a “country bumpkin.”[11]

Then there is the example of Luke’s denotations of geographical locations in Acts 13 and 14. In both of these chapters Luke uses specific designations for certain cities in relation to their geography.  Antioch is called “Pisidian” (Acts 13:14), and Lystra and Derbe are referred to as “cities of Lycaonia” (Acts 14:6). These two citations are interesting when compared with Luke’s reference to “the region of Phrygia and Galatia” (Acts 16:6). The North Galatia theorist says, “we must understand him to mean geographic Phrygia and geographic Galatia – that is, North Galatia.”[12]

The Apostle Paul was a traveling evangelist if he was anything, and his missionary journeys are famous. While some would dismiss the ‘North Galatia’ theory on the grounds that the Apostle Paul simply could not have evangelized the area claimed by the theory, the arguments against such a possibility seem inconclusive. In fact, those who hold the ‘North Galatia’ view find tremendous evidence for a Pauline visit to north Galatia in the text of Acts 16 as it relates to the Apostle Paul’s physical disease (Galatians 4:13-14) and his resulting providential stay with the Galatians. It would be perfectly in keeping with what we know of the Apostle Paul to consider his interest in making the most of an opportunity provided him by God to proclaim the Gospel to the people of north Galatia. According to this view, the Galatian epistle is a follow up letter to Paul’s divinely orchestrated encounter with the northern Galatians.

Probably the most curious argument I found in favor of the ‘North Galatia’ theory was that of the potentially conflicting records concerning the Apostle Paul’s experience of opposition. The record we find in Acts of Paul’s missionary journeys includes one account after another of persecution and hardship concerning the response of the hearers and the reception of the Gospel. Yet, there is no mention of any opposition experienced by Paul in any Galatian city. It seems that a reasonable explanation for this confusion lack of persecution would be that the Apostle was writing not to several cities across the Roman province of Galatia, but to a particular people group – namely the Celtic tribes – in northern Galatia.

While the ‘North Galatia’ theory does have the benefit of longstanding adherence, and it poses some interesting arguments, this theory seems less than completely convincing. The reasons listed here are all, with the exception of the last one mentioned, provided with a retort and even dismissed as they are listed in most of the material investigated for this essay. The ‘North Galatia’ theory is accompanied by the postulation of a later date for the authorship of the letter as well, and this appears (at least to the present writer) to hurt rather than help its case. Far from providing a coherent chronology through the use of geographical sequence, the ‘North Galatia’ theory seems to ring its own death knell in its dating options.

South Galatia Theory

While the ‘South Galatia’ theory is fairly new, when compared with its antagonist, it has overtaken the place of majority scholarly adherence if at least in the English speaking world.[13] This transfer of dominance is due to many things, but it seems that one of the greatest evidences for the ‘South Galatia’ theory is the preponderance of familiarity that the New Testament has with the southern locale in the Roman province of Galatia. Carson muses, “We have information about people and places Paul knew and visited in the southern region, but none at all in the north (at best Acts 16:6 and 18:23 may indicate work in the north, but neither passage says that Paul founded churches there).” Carson concludes, “This is in striking contrast to his work in other areas.”[14] It is a noticeable dissimilarity indeed.

As mentioned earlier, Galatia was a large Roman province that included a much greater expanse than the Celtic tribal loci. In fact, the cities of Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe were all included in the southern region of Galatia. The significance of these cities and their general collective location lends great weight to the ‘South Galatia’ theory because they are all included in the list of recorded cities visited by the Apostle Paul, and the New Testament has great familiarity with them. Luke writes of these named cities as places where the Apostle Paul founded churches on his first missionary journey, which is documented in Acts 13:13 through Acts 14:28.[15]

In a telling statement, Carson quotes the ‘North Galatia’ theory’s spearhead, Lightfoot, who said, “It is strange that while we have more or less acquaintance with all the other important Churches of St. Paul’s founding, with Corinth and Ephesus, with Philippi and Thessalonica, not a single name of a person or place, scarcely be preserved in either the history or the epistle.”[16] With these words, Lightfoot acknowledges the inconceivability of his own theory in light of the total absence of any explicit Pauline visit, much less any record of the Apostle planting a local church among the northern Galatian Celts. This ground of the debate is so vital that it hardly needs stressing, and one might think there be no reason to continue the discussion in terms of uncertainty regarding the destination of the letter to the Galatians. Yet, there is more.

Fung suggests the ‘South Galatia’ theory is correct for at least three reasons, which he says are particularly cogent.

First, “what is known of the geographical situation at the time: none of the main roads in Asia Minor even passed through North Galatia, so that had Paul wanted to go to preach the gospel there he would not have set our from Lystra (cf. Acts 16:1, 6).”[17] This argument is from practical travel ability; Paul simply could not have gone the route postulated by those of the ‘North Galatia’ theory. If the Apostle Paul would have actually made the trek north to the Celtic tribes located there, he would have started at another beginning point. Yet, Lystra being the doubtful starting point of a trip north, the ‘North Galatia’ theory has no other textual springboard to which it may point.

Second, “Paul’s evangelistic strategy: it is obvious from Acts that Paul consistently concentrated his efforts on the main roads and centers of communication in the Roman Empire, and until the end of the third century South Galatia was more important than North Galatia and correspondingly more developed.”[18] Again, Fung appeals to all that we know to be true about the Apostle to the Gentiles (Galatians 2:7-8). Paul was repeatedly traveling to the cities and along the routes that would provide him the greatest numerical audience and farthest possible reach for his message. Southern Galatia’s cities simply enjoyed higher population numbers and greater influence that did those of Northern Galatia. Paul would most certainly have gone anywhere and preached to anyone, but he was a masterful tactical evangelist.

Third, “the silence of Acts regarding the establishment of churches in North Galatia: this silence, over against the author’s explicit mention of churches in South Galatia, would be extremely difficult to explain if the controversy reflected in Galatians had been a controversy with the churches in North Galatia.”[19] This is similar to the argument already encountered, but it is noteworthy to mention not only the general lack of evidence for any Pauline visit, but also the specific lack of evidence regarding a Pauline planted church in north Galatia. Paul’s letter to the churches of Galatia is directed at a plurality of churches, and it is tremendously personal as well as relational.

The churches of North Galatia seem less likely to go unnoticed by the New Testament text than does a single church in northern Galatia. While it is possible, it is all the more unlikely that the audience is multiple unknown churches northern Galatia. Additionally, the experiences of the Apostle Paul among the churches of Galatia recounted in the letter that bears the name are personal and seemingly extended over time. Lastly, the churches of Galatia can hardly be thought to have gone completely unnamed while seemingly enjoying such broad knowledge and even guests from other places. These churches of Galatia knew (or at least knew of) Peter, James, John, Barnabas, and Titus (Galatians 2:1-9). They were even significant enough as to have received the same message as was carried by the “men from James or Jerusalem” (Galatians 2:12), namely that Christians were only true Christians if they lived according to Jewish laws and customs.

Dating the Epistle to the Galatians

One can hardly attempt an address of the potential destination of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians without recognizing that the date of its authorship has a direct correlation. One commentary says, “The question of the letter’s date is intertwined with the problem of its destination.”[20] The two questions are linked, and how one answers the question of one will affect the options he has in answering the other. The writer goes on to draw out the dating dilemma,

“When we follow the course of Paul’s first and second missionary journeys (Acts 13; 14; 15: 36-18: 22) we discover that this question has implications for the epistle’s date and for its relationship to Paul’s other letters. Paul visited Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe (all cities in south Galatia) on his first and second missionary journeys. If Paul wrote to southern Galatia, he probably wrote to those churches early in his career, shortly after the first missionary journey, or about the time of the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15; cf. Gal. 2: 11-14). The date most often given by those who hold this view is A.D. 49. If this is correct, Galatians may be Paul’s earliest epistle in existence today.”[21]

Indeed, this would prove to be incredibly noteworthy. If the Apostle Paul wrote this letter to the churches of Galatia in or about 49 A.D., that would have a tremendous impact on the discussion concerning an early construction of Christian theology, early ecclesiastical interaction (see especially Galatians chapters 5 and 6), and an amazingly fast spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ from the time of His death, resurrection and ascension. Christians would have good reason to see the foundational structure of the faith once and for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3) delivered specifically to the saints of Galatia very early on (Galatians 1:6). Not only would this put Paul in the midst of church planting about 15 years after the death, resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ; it would move that date even further in the past. We would not expect that Paul means only a few weeks when he admits his astonishment at the seemingly speedy desertion of the Gospel by his letter’s recipients. It would be prudent to understand Paul’s church planting work and coherent Gospel presentations to have been prevalent and effective some significant amount of time before this epistle was written.

The same commentary already referenced goes on to explain the dating options for the opposing view of intentional destination.

“Many scholars think that Galatians was written to the ethnic Galatians in the north. If this view is correct, Paul probably wrote the letter after passing through “Galatia and Phrygia” (Acts 18: 23) on his third missionary Journey. Many who follow the “north Galatian theory” believe that Paul wrote the letter either during his two-year stay in Ephesus (Acts 19) or as he was traveling through Macedonia on his way to Greece at the end of his third missionary journey (Acts 20: 1-6; cf. 2 Cor. 2: 13). If this is correct, Galatians was probably written in A.D. 54 or 55.”[22]

Rather than placing this letter between the Apostle’s first and second missionary journeys, the later proposed time of composition would date it near the end of Paul’s third missionary journey. The two date options are not significantly different regarding the passing of time; 5 years is certainly not an extremely long time. However, the significance of the timely arrival of the material in the letter is diminished at this later date. Again, the dating of this letter may be weightier because of the possibility that it is the first and earliest of all New Testament texts. At any rate, the ‘North Galatia’ theory seems less likely on the scale of geography and the recorded church planting activity of the Apostle Paul. Therefore, the later dating may not have any feet on which to stand before it even attempts the act. However, there is also good reason to accept the earlier date on its own terms.

Carson lists four reasons that the earlier date is better supported. One, “In protesting that he had a divine commission and not one derived ‘from any human source’ (1:12), Paul lists his contacts with the Jerusalem apostles.”[23] These contacts include two visits to Jerusalem (Galatians 2:1-2), which seem to correspond to the visits recorded in Acts 9:26 and Acts 11:28-30. After he lists these encounters, he resolves “I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie” (Galatians 1:20). This line of reasoning goes on then, “Paul’s list must be complete, else his argument would be vitiated (see 1:20).”[24] Therefore, he cannot have left out the Acts 15 visit, unless that visit had not yet occurred, and remain true to his word.

Two, “Paul does not mention the decree of the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15), which would have been very suitable for his purpose. This suggests a visit [that is a visit to the letter’s recipients in Galatia] before the council.”[25] The suggestion of a visit before the council on the ground that Paul does not mention the decree of it alone is not sufficient, because Paul does not mention the decree in other of his writings that were authored demonstrably later. However, the point is notable nonetheless as it would have been significant to mention it and beneficial to his argument.

Carson’s third point is that “Peter’s withdrawal from table fellowship with the Gentiles (2:12) is more likely to have been before rather than after the council.”[26] While the Apostle to the Jews, Peter (Galatians 2:7-8), was certainly not a beacon of tact and propriety in some notable moments of New Testament history, it still does not make sense that he would make the statements that he does at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:7-11) and then later act in such a contradictory way (Galatians 2:12). It would make more sense to understand Peter’s vacillation on table fellowship with Gentiles to have occurred prior to his bold and courageous statements in front of the most notable Jewish leaders of his own day.

Fourth and finally, Carson asserts, “The early date is not invalidated by Paul’s words ‘I first preached the gospel to you’ (4:13), which some suggest means ‘on the first of my two visits’ (NEB) and points to a date later than Paul’s second missionary journey.”[27] This point is a bit more academic than the previous three, but a great one to add at this juncture. Some would argue that Paul’s expression cited above indicates that he visited the Galatian churches more than once, and this is simply not the case with the southern Galatian churches who would have been the recipients of the letter according to the ‘South Galatia’ theory. However, Carson defends his statement with some linguistic instruction of his own.

“In classical Greek the expression means on the former of two occasions, but in Hellenistic Greek it signifies ‘formerly, in the past’ (as in John 6:62; 9:8; Heb. 4:6, etc.). In any case, Paul visited his South Galatian churches twice during his first expedition (see Acts 14:21), so that even if the Greek expression is taken to mean ‘on the first of my two visits,’ the second visit may have been the return swing on the first missionary journey (Acts 12:21-26), rather than something later.”[28]

Therefore, it is possible that Paul was writing to the same churches posited as the recipients in the ‘South Galatia’ theory. Moreover, the preponderance of evidence demonstrates that it is not only possible, but also incredibly likely that this was the case. It is the view of the present writer that the ‘North Galatia’ theory is not tenable, and the ‘South Galatia’ theory is reasonable.

Additionally, the earlier dating (circa 49 A.D.) of the letter makes it a fascinating study as the earliest New Testament document. This has huge implications for both textual criticism dialogues and apologetic exchanges. The interpretation of the Galatian epistle does not seem to be impacted by the implications of a northern or southern destination, and this also points to the significance in the early dating. The letter addresses universal truths concerning law, grace, gospel, faith, sin, true freedom, and God’s steadfast commitment to all those He chooses to call His own. These theological articulations at such an early point of Christianity’s chronology is very interesting to say the least.

Bibliography

Carson, D. A., and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. Second ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005.

Clements, Don K., comp. New Geneva Introduction to the New Testament. Edited by R. C. Sproul. Narrows, VA: Metokos Press, 2006.

Cole, R. A. Galatians: An Introduction and Commentary. Edited by Leon Morris. Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2008.

Fung, Ronald Y. K. NICNT: The Epistle to the Galatians. Edited by Gordon D. Fee. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 1988.

Hendriksen, William. New Testament Commentary: Exposition of Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002.

Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2001.

Keller, Timothy J. Galatians for You. [Purcellville, VA]: Good Book Company, 2013.

Lightfoot, Joseph Barber. Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians. A Revised Text with Introduction, Notes and Dissertations. London: Macmillan and, 1890.

Luther, Martin. Commentary on Galatians. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1979.

Tucker, Brian J. “Galatians and Ephesians.” Galatians and Ephesians. http://www.slideboom.com/presentations/380085/Galatians-and-Ephesians.


[1] Galatians 1:1a.  All Biblical citations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated.

[2] Carson, An Introduction to the New Testament, 458.

[3] Cole, Galatians: An Introduction and Commentary, 21.

[4] Fung, NICNT: The Epistle to the Galatians, 1.

[5] Cole, Galatians: An Introduction and Commentary, 21.

[6] Fung, NICNT: The Epistle to the Galatians, 1.

[7] Tucker, Galatians and Ephesians.

[8] Luther, Galatians 1:2b

[9] Fung, NICNT: The Epistle to the Galatians, 1.

[10] Carson, An Introduction to the New Testament, 460.

[11] Cole, Galatians: An Introduction and Commentary, 24.

[12] Carson, An Introduction to the New Testament, 460.

[13] Fung, NICNT: The Epistle to the Galatians, 2.

[14] Carson, An Introduction to the New Testament, 458.

[15] Fung, NICNT: The Epistle to the Galatians, 1.

[16] Carson, An Introduction to the New Testament, 458.

[17] Fung, NICNT: The Epistle to the Galatians, 3.

[18] Fung, NICNT: The Epistle to the Galatians, 3.

[19] Fung, NICNT: The Epistle to the Galatians, 3.

[20] Clements, New Geneva Introduction to the New Testament.

[21] Clements, New Geneva Introduction to the New Testament.

[22] Clements, New Geneva Introduction to the New Testament.

[23] Carson, An Introduction to the New Testament, 462.

[24] Carson, An Introduction to the New Testament, 462.

[25] Carson, An Introduction to the New Testament, 462.

[26] Carson, An Introduction to the New Testament, 462.

[27] Carson, An Introduction to the New Testament, 462.

[28] Carson, An Introduction to the New Testament, 462.

What does it mean to be ‘Lost’?

What does it mean to be Lost?   Usually, in the context of Christianity, one is not speaking of location confusion when using the term lost. To say, “he is lost,” is to say something other than, “he does not know how to make his way from his home to the church building.” The term lost is commonly used in the salvific sense, or regarding a person’s present spiritual condition and eternal destination. Much like a traveler needs to know his or her locale, destination and route in order to make a successful journey, every spiritual pilgrim needs to know his or her spiritual whereabouts, objective and way in order to enjoy the benefits of spiritual triumph.

This question concerning ‘lostness’ may be one of the most important in order to have a better understanding of what it means to be ‘found’ or ‘saved’ in the spiritual sense (i.e. what it means to be a Christian). Essentially, this question is seeking to understand a major difference between those who are Christians and those who are not. There are real distinctions between those who are lost and those who are found, but it is vitally important to know what the actual distinctions are in order to have an appropriate posture towards those in each group.

In an answer to this main question, the following structure will be provided. First, we will attempt to understand the basic nature of humanity, and subsequently try to grasp the chief end or ultimate purpose of humanity. Next, we will delve into some of the effects of sin upon human nature and how they relate to human purpose. Then we will look at the significance of using the term lost to describe every human sinner apart from or without Christ. Last, we will continue our search of the Scriptures to discover how one who is lost may become found. After all, one’s ‘lostness’ or ‘foundness’ is not merely of temporal interest. These categories, and one’s placement underneath each heading, are of supreme significance both in this life and in the eons to come.

What is the nature of humanity?   There seems no better place to begin a study of human nature than at the beginning – the act of God’s creating work. At the creation of humanity, God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”[1] This phrase, though, has been at the center of much confusing talk concerning the nature of humanity. From misconceptions about God to misappropriating the ‘likeness’ of God in man, many have taken this phrase and run in strange and unhelpful directions. There is much that one may learn from this phrase, and a closer and wider look at the Scriptures is always beneficial, but we may at least gather that ‘man’ or humanity is a special or unique creation among all else that God has made.

On an aside, I quite agree with Wayne Grudem (a systematic theologian) concerning usage of the term ‘man’ as a reference to the entire human race.[2] One must refrain from postulating the unsuitable use of the masculine term to entitle all humanity unless he or she is willing to oppose God’s own use of the term. It is plain from the context of the previous verse cited that God described His own creation of humanity with the use of the masculine term in reference to the totality of male and female human beings. The Scripture also says, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (emphasis added).[3] There is no mistaking the interchangeable use of ‘them’ – both male and female – and ‘him’ or ‘man.’

Grudem adds that some may find objection still and claim that the use of word ‘man’ as a suitable expression of the concept ‘all humankind’ is merely a Hebrew language feature and not to be continued in our own day. However, such an argument is unconvincing when one reads the opening sentences of Genesis chapter 5 (just a few chapters after the previous citations). “When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created” (emphasis added).[4] It appears therefore that God not only uses the term ‘man’ in reference to the entire human race, but God has chosen to label or ‘name’ humankind with the same masculine term. This is not to say that ‘man’ is the only satisfactory term, but it must at the very least be considered appropriate.

At any rate, the nature of man is directly tied to the creation of man. For God is not merely the organizer of molecules; He is the special and intentional designer of all that He has created, including humankind. In other words, if one wants to know what humankind really is, one would do well to ask the God who drew man into existence and brought humans into being.

Referring to the original passage cited above, man is the unique creation of God. Man was created in the ‘likeness’ of God, and this is no easily articulated semblance. Grudem says, “as we read the rest of Scripture, we realize that a full understanding of man’s likeness to God would require a full understanding of who God is in his being and in his actions and a full understanding of who man is and what he does.”[5] Alas, a full comprehensive knowledge of God and man is something that no sensible person can claim; therefore, an attempt to communicate completely what likeness man has or is of God will result in an inadequate sketch. Yet, there is great value in the sketch.

In every way that man is like God, man carries the divine likeness or bears the image of God. The image of God is the basis for essential human value and dignity. God’s image upon humankind is the reason that man is of pronounced value and the reason that man’s degradation is not only vexing but also immoral and wicked.

It may be said, then, the nature of man or the intended essence of every human is to be like Godto bear God’s image and reflect that image to all others.

What is the chief end of man?   This question is found at the opening of both the shorter and the longer Westminster Catechisms.[6] It is the starting place of any real and meaningful approach to understanding not only the nature of man, but also the supreme and universal purpose thereof. For what purpose has man – every man, woman and child – been created? Essentially, this is a ‘meaning of life’ question. Arguably, this is one of the weightiest questions of all time. Far from being unanswerable or even complicated, the Catechism answers the question with the clear and concise statement. “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” That’s it! This is no small or easy thing, but its simplicity is amazingly refreshing. Indeed, the purpose for which all things have been created is to bring glory to God and enjoy the benefits of His glory upon creation (Romans 11:36; Revelation 4:11).

Because of the common misunderstanding it is important to note – submission, loving obedience, and a generally selfless posture towards God are not tyrannical and malevolent requirements upon humanity from an uncaring deity. Quite the opposite is actually true. In fact, the greater obedience and loving submission that one experiences towards their Creator, the greater joy and fulfillment he or she experiences as well (Psalm 51:12).

It is a myth that a man must put away all of his good desires and any hope for genuine self-gratification and contentment in order to love God (Galatians 5:1).

If this chief end or highest purpose seems foreign to us, it is not for some lack of truth in the claim. Instead, there is great likelihood that the truth of it sounds bizarre because of our own sinful corruption. Our failure to arrive at our chief end, our inability to achieve our highest purpose, is a universal characteristic of the sinful human race. What may be even more sobering is the cause for such devilish disorientation.

What are the effects of sin upon human nature?   Because humankind was created in the likeness and image of God, and because man’s highest purpose and greatest joy is found in the glory of God and enjoyment of Him, then every human should be marked by a fervent and passionate pursuit of godliness and participation in genuine worship of the one true God. However, the least observant among us will note that this is not the case. In fact, the exact opposite characteristics are what we find to be most ubiquitous.

Sin is any lack of conformity to or transgression of God’s law – the clear revelation of God’s own character and nature. Therefore, sin is man being less than or other than he ought; and this is to his own detriment.

Many have suggested solutions to the problem of sin, this failure to live up to or fulfill humanity’s intended design. Secularly, most would recognize a general selfishness exhibited in barbarism that is measured by degree rather than occurrence in humankind. Lying, stealing, murder, adultery, covetousness, and an unwillingness to submit to virtually any authority are all sinful expressions with which humans have become acquainted – and even comfortable in most cases.

If one thinks this assessment too harsh, he or she ought to consider the spirit and not merely the letter of God’s law. For example, if one is thinks himself successful at avoiding any transgression of the law concerning adultery because he has not had intercourse with another man’s wife, he has done well as far as he believes the law to extend. However, when he is exposed to the spirit of the law or what underlies the concise imperative – namely that everyone is to make strong efforts to preserve both their own chastity as well as others, together in thought, word and deed – then he may realize that he is utterly blameworthy.

A wise person would know that only an individual unaware of the range and depth of God’s law, or one unwilling to acknowledge it, would even hesitate to admit he and all others are completely guilty before God and exceedingly sinful.

The general posture of sinfulness rather than godly pursuit, and the pervasiveness of such offensive insolence, begs the question – WHY? From whence has this total distortion of purpose and joy come? The corruption of human nature is an inheritance from our forefather – Adam, the first man. Charles Hodge describes the grave situation by saying, “the sin of Adam injured not himself only but also all descending from him by ordinary generation.”[7] Hodge goes on to say that there are three things that may be considered subsequent results of the first sin, which was committed by humanity’s first parents. These effects include the personal and universal guilt of all humankind, the corruption of every aspect of human nature derived from our ancient ancestor, and the inability of natural man to do anything of genuine spiritual good.[8] While these consequences are biblically sound and overwhelmingly applicable, it is not expedient to address these stated results in their entirety here. Therefore, the remainder of this section will focus upon the specific effects of sin upon human nature, especially those contributing to lostness, rather than defending the validity of these stated consequences.

If the citations above seem too far above the average person’s ability to grasp, then it might be helpful to simply describe how Adam’s sinful fall has impacted all humankind. The three consequences above may be explained in the following way. First, every human is counted by God as though they sinned just as Adam did from the time Adam sinned (Romans 5:12). This may seem unfair or unwarranted, but rest assured that all humans were represented well in Adam, and any guilt that he procured for other humans has been multiplied a thousand times over by the daily sin of those who may claim the lack of accurate representation. Second, every aspect of human nature – mind, body, will, etc. – has been negatively affected by the curse of God upon sin (Ephesians 2:3). This result begins to place our fingers on the pulse of lostness. Because of Adam’s sin, God cursed all creation and human nature has been marred and distorted so much so that man perceives the Object of his highest purpose and greatest joy as the most antagonistic rival to such things.

Third, man in his natural state is opposed to genuine spiritual good and godliness (Galatians 5:17-21). This truth is one of the bitterest pills to swallow, but it is also one of the simplest and most easily proven doctrines or principles of Scripture. We use the word good to describe all kinds of things. I have a good dog. I wear a good pair of shoes. I like a good cheesecake. However, we do not understand the term ‘good’ in these sentences to be expressing any moral worthiness or righteous disposition. There is no such thing as a morally worthy or righteous cheesecake (as awesome as some cheesecake might be). Good in the spiritual sense, in the sense about which God is concerned, is an attribute that no descendant of Adam can claim (Romans 3:10-18).  In fact, the Bible says it explicitly, “All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”[9]

The effects of sin upon the nature of humanity are farther-reaching and more deeply entrenched than any earthly human can know. The Scriptures speak of the wicked heart of man as being not only corrupt but also deceptively so (Jeremiah 17:9). In other words, no earthly man knows the depth of his own depravity because his best attempts to know his own wickedness are efforts from a mind and will that naturally and frequently deceive him.

This kind of man, a naturally sinful man – incapable of seeking his highest joy and unwilling to fulfill his greatest purpose – is lost indeed.

He knows not himself, he knows no authentic way to restore his own joy, and he is both unwilling and unable to lay down his upraised weapons against the only God who might bring him true peace, joy, stability, security, purpose, community, and freedom. God’s first words recorded after the initial sin of man were “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9). Truly, lost is a just description of one in such a hopeless condition.

What does the term lost indicate?   One may think it a bit odd to begin a discussion about lostness at creation, but setting the proper stage will hopefully prove worthwhile by this point in the investigation. A good and working knowledge of the intended purpose of humankind will be of benefit in understanding the overwhelming lostness that has come upon sinful humanity. The sinful natural man (every man, woman, and child descending from Adam) is lost in relation to himself, in relation to other humans, and most significantly he is lost in relation to his God.

The natural man, that man so catastrophically affected by his own sin and that of others, has lost himself.

He may try to know himself – who he truly is, or what fetches him real joy – but he cannot. When one person wants to know another, it is common to ask questions, which one perceives will reveal something about the true nature of the other. “Where are you from?” “What do you do?” “What do you like?” “What is your fondest memory?” How cruel it would be to merrily ask these questions of a man who was born into slavery. How much would one hope to learn from a man still trapped in the chains of captivity, if he poses the question “What do you do?” Will the slave disclose his true self in some answer that he might muster? What would his fondest memory be? Would this reveal any genuinely enjoyable experience or merely some temporary illusion of relief from his miserable reality?

Additionally, the natural man may ask himself a thousand questions and each one would be answered with some measure of deception. He often is unwilling to acknowledge his own bondage to sin or the incarceration of its consequences. His own desires deceive him, as he passionately chases all those things that inevitably harm him and steal his joy. Each time he thinks he has found himself, he learns ever so quickly that he was never truly found. He may be here or there, but he is always lost to himself.

The natural man is lost to everyone by whom he longs to be known.

People seek all kinds of relationships and so frequently fancy themselves to have found genuine community with another. Yet, where have they ever truly been known? When has the sinner ever been utterly exposed and without shame?[10] Even in the most intimate relationship of humanity – the committed marriage of one man and one woman – both males and females are disappointed in the lack of intimacy. Where one marriage relationship performs well in the area of physical experience, that same marriage may severely lack intellectual or emotional understanding. It is extremely common for males and females to perceive the greatest marital disunity in areas seemingly unrelated to each other, but every marriage suffers from the same root cause – neither sinner is fully known by the other and therefore neither can experience full rest and genuine community in the relationship.

What of the sinner’s friends? Which one knows him best, and knows everything about him? Does any friend know that his silence regarding serious matters is to the sinner’s detriment? Even a friend who knows the pain that sinful pursuit causes is unwilling or unable to engage the sinner on such ground. The friend does not know his sinful companion well enough to address him admirably and productively. What friend knows of the deepest struggles in the sinner’s heart and selflessly speaks wisdom to his sinful friend? Does he do this while receiving no benefit of his own and conveying no pretense in regards to his own struggles?

The natural man has no true friend. Not one of his dearest allies knows him fully and loves him unconditionally. He does not share complete and unreserved love with any of his peers. He has no hope of ever experiencing such loving relationship with full disclosure and cherished communion. He may be in this relationship or that group of friends, but he is always lost to others.

Most painfully of all, the natural man is lost in relationship to his God.

God is not merely the title or name that we have ascribed to some divine impersonal force that itself is guided by higher laws of so-called nature. No, God is that being which is the origin of all life, exceedingly great joy, sinless passion, righteous vigor, true goodness, pure beauty, genuine truth, unconditional love, caring benevolence, wise providence, and awesome sovereignty. For a man to lose his God is tantamount to the loss of himself and everything else. God is the one to whom he looks for guidance and affirmation; God is his foundation and stability; God is his hope and the object of his faith. Natural man has not only willingly lost his God, but he refuses to be known by the God of his longing.

The natural man will not have the only God capable of being his great joy. No, the natural man seeks to name his own god and create such an abomination in the image of his sinful desires. Sinful humanity will concoct a god whose aim is their sexual, material, or experiential pleasure. What indulgence is your craving today? There is a god made by human invention that will find its fulfillment in feeding that appetite. There is no rule except that of desire; the desire of the moment rules the natural man’s day.

It is not, however, that every natural man is easily observed as having such a curious and decadent idol as his god. On the contrary, the natural man is keenly able to deceive himself and others as to the true measure of his scandalous god. Many natural men bring their idolatrous god with them to a church building and think that this false god is the same as the Object of all other’s worship. Sinful men may even allow their imaginary god to acquire some distorted attribute of the one true God, but they will not humble themselves before the King of Glory and admit their lostness before Him. No, the natural man is convinced of his own sufficiency and does not think himself in need of an all-sufficient God. He may seek a god, an idol of his own creation, but he is always lost and away from his God who created him.

The natural man’s lostness is totally consuming.  He is lost to himself, he is lost in relationship to others, and he is lost in relation to his God. 

Augustine wrote of this lostness in the heart of a natural man when he said as to God, “Thou madest us for Thyself, and our heart is restless, until it repose in Thee.”[11] Augustine articulates the matter of this discussion well. Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, but the natural man is eternally and completely lost, and he is hopelessly restless in his natural state.  Augustine gives room for hope, however, when he says, “until it repose in Thee.”  Where can this restful tranquility be found, and how may the lost natural man gain such peace?

How may one who is lost become found?   As already discussed, the natural man is not merely lost for lack of knowledge or natural experience; he is lost because he does not want to be found. When the first man sinned he did not seek refuge in the bosom of his Creator, nor did he find relief in any admission of guilt or honest community with his Lord. No, he hid from the One with whom he had previously experienced real love and intimacy (Genesis 3:8, 10). This fallen sinner denied his own guilt and deceived himself as to his true culpability (Genesis 3:12-13).

The Bible is clear; the natural man is hostile to the things of God (1 Corinthians 2:14; Galatians 5:17). How then can any willfully lost sinner be found? In John 3:1-8 Jesus speaks in what may seem to be obscure terms, but He clarifies what must take place in order to produce such a conversion.

“Now there was a man … named Nicodemus… This man came to Jesus and said, ‘… We know that you are a teacher come from God …’ Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? …’ Jesus answered, ‘… That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit’” (abbreviated).[12]

Jesus essentially answers the question asked earlier (How can the lost become found?) with the statement, “You must be born again.” The Bible uses other terms to speak of the experience of being “born again.” God uses the term regenerate through the prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 37:6), the Apostle Paul uses the analogies of life from death (Ephesians 2:5) and divine re-creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), and the Apostle Peter uses the same verbiage as Jesus from John 3 (1 Peter 1:3, 23). The Greek word Peter uses in these two instances is ἀναγεννήσας (anagennēsas), which means to thoroughly change the mind of one, so that he lives a new life and one conformed to the will of God.[13] This is the change necessary in one who is lost – namely his passionate hostility towards all things godly and genuinely good is exchanged for a new love of God and desire to glorify and enjoy Him.

The hope for the lost and natural man is not that he is able to find himself, but that the God of the universe invades his unholy ground with life from above.

Luke chapter 15 is rich with the concept of lostness and foundness. Jesus tells three stories that all illustrate something lost being found. A shepherd lost and found a sheep (verses 3-7), a woman lost and found a coin (verses 8-10), and a father lost and found a son (verses 11-32). The wonder of these three analogies is that the object found in all three is not of great value. The shepherd who lost a single sheep had ninety-nine others and would not likely have experienced tremendous pain at the loss of only one. The woman who lost a single coin had nine others, which would have been of greater monetary value than many of her peers possessed. Her remaining possessions were significant enough to keep her from panic. The son lost was a burdensome and defiant son. The father who lost this kind of son would have been reasonably understood to experience some relief from the loss.

In all three stories, however, Jesus explains that the shepherd, the woman, and the father rejoice at the rewards of their seeking efforts. These stories are not about a lost sheep, a lost coin, or a lost son; they are about the effective pursuit of the finders. The point Jesus conveyed is related to the objection He confronted with these stories. He was being accused of ‘receiving’ sinners (Luke 15:2). The sinners were rightly perceived as less than worthy of the reception, but that is exactly the point! He receives, He seeks, He loves, He knows, and He finds the sinners who are lost.

Jesus is the embodiment of God’s promise to find lost sinners.   The Gospel according to John (the 4th book of the New Testament) opens with a profound statement of Jesus’ nature and purpose. The author speaks of Jesus Christ as the union of God and man. God the Son was before all things and is Himself God (John 1:1-3); and this same God became a man, making Himself known in the person and work of Jesus Christ to sinful humanity (John 1:14, 18).

God’s truly unconditional love is demonstrated towards sinful humankind in His steadfast commitment to know and to find those who were once lost.  The Apostle Paul speaks of God’s loving before the foundation of the world those whom God would ordain to be the adopted and loved children of God through the person and work of Christ (Romans 8:29). The natural man becomes known by the God he would not have known, loved by the Father he did not love, and found by the Friend he refused to acknowledge he lost when he is born from above and made spiritually anew.

The natural man is truly lost and restless, but the effective God of salvation finds lost sinners and gives them the repose they refused to enjoy until they were truly found.

 

Bibliography

Augustine, A. The Confessions of Saint Augustine,. New York: Modern Library, 1949. Print.

Grudem, Wayne A. Making Sense of Series: One of Seven Parts from Grudem’s Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994. Print.

Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology / Volume 2: Anthropology. [Peabody, Mass.]: Hendrickson, 1999. Print.

Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Bibles, 2001. N. pag. Print.

Sproul, R. C. What Does It Mean to Be Born Again? Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust Pub., 2010. Print.

Thayer, Joseph Henry, Carl Ludwig Wilibald Grimm, and Christian Gottlob Wilke. Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Coded with the Numbering System from Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996. Print.

The Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms: As Adopted by the Orthodox Presbyterian Church : With Proof Texts. Lawrenceville, GA: Christian Education & Publications Committee of the Presbyterian Church in America, 2007. Print.


[1] Genesis 1:26;  All biblical citations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

[2] Grudem.  439-440.

[3] Genesis 1:27

[4] Genesis 5:1-2

[5] Grudem.  443-444.

[6] Westminster Catechisms are based on the Confession of Faith authored and labeled at the same Westminster assembly (1643-1652).

[7] Hodge.  192.

[8] Hodge.  192

[9] Romans 3:12

[10] Genesis 2:25 speaks of human nakedness without shame. This is not merely intended to tell the reader of the physical appearance of the first humans in the Garden of Eden before sin entered into creation. They were physically naked, but they were naked in every way. They were utterly exposed to one another and yet unashamed to be so. Each was fully known and completely loved by the other.

[11] Augustine.  2.

[12] John 3:1-8

[13] Thayer.  Strong’s number 313

The Authorship of 2nd Peter

Many scholars say the canonical text known as Second Peter was not actually written by the Apostle to whose name the work is attributed.  In fact, Hampton Keathley observes, “most critical scholars [conclude 2nd Peter] to be pseudepigraphal literature.”[1]  Pseudepigraphy (pseudo – false, epigraphos – superscription) is the attribution of a work to a writer who was not the genuine author.  This is similar, though not identical, to pseudonymous (pseudo – false, onoma – name) or falsely named writing.[2]  Each of these designations are not extremely uncommon among ancient writings, but there would certainly be serious implications if any of the biblical texts were placed under either label.  Laying aside these concerns for the moment, it is helpful to understand why one might consider identifying the text of 2nd Peter as pseudepigraphical.

Michael Gilmour’s article was very helpful to summarize 10 reasons why Petrine authorship of 2nd Peter is questioned.  Among those reasons cited, he listed 2nd Peter’s relationship to Jude (there are similarities between them), differences in style between 1st and 2nd Peter (distinctions may point to differing authors), and the early Church was reluctant to accept the text as canonical.[3]  He went on to explain that the similarities between the texts of 2nd Peter and Jude would suggest that the author might have been one and the same for both.  This would not allow Petrine authorship for the text in question.  Lending credibility to this argument, there are distinct differences in style between 1st and 2nd Peter.  This would seem to also point to an author other than Peter for this second epistle that bears his name.

Furthermore, the early church had three primary measures for canonicity concerning the many texts, which they weighed and either rejected as untrustworthy or received as God’s holy word.  One of the criteria was that the text must have been written by an Apostle or one very close to an Apostle (i.e. endorsed and/or supported by an Apostle).[4]  Each of these ‘problems’ is worth examining, but one must not conclude too early that these are cause to jettison Petrine authorship specifically or accept the notion of pseudepigraphical texts in the New Testament generally.

First, the similarities between 2nd Peter and Jude may be explained by the authors of each having close relationship to one another.  John Piper says 1st Corinthians 9:5[5] may imply that Peter and Jude, Jesus’ brother, traveled together.[6]  This would be a possible justification for the similarities found in each of their writings.  It is not necessary that they copy one another’s written text; traveling partners would inevitably speak regularly to one another and tend to gravitate towards a common vocabulary when speaking of frequently mentioned subjects.  This reasonable explanation need not be proven for the possible explanation to hold.  Unless demonstrated impossible, the possibility remains and is indeed plausible.

Second, the dissimilarities between 1st and 2nd Peter may be explained by the use of a secretary in authoring one or both of these texts.  Piper says that the explanation of stylistic and vocabulary differences may be explained by positing Jude as Peter’s scribe or amanuensis to help Peter write the second epistle.[7]  If we allow for the previously posited theory, namely that Peter and Jude were travel partners for some time, then is would also be a reasonable possibility that Jude may have served Peter in this way.  John MacArthur, on the other hand, says that the solution is found in the scribal provision of Silvanus for the first letter (1 Peter 5:12).[8]  Whether one suggests scribal assistance for 1st or 2nd Peter, or both, the use of such would provide plenty of room for style and verbiage variance.

Third, Apostolic authorship of any first-century text, or the endorsement of and contribution to such a text, was very important to the patristics – especially those who carried the burden of accepting or rejecting a given text’s canonicity.  The fact that 2nd Peter was not immediately recognized as canonical does not exclude it from being Apostolic in authorship, but it does demonstrate the close examination that each text was given.  It would seem that the slow and painstaking process of receiving a work as God’s holy word would lend to its credibility rather than take from it.  If one work was scrutinized more than another, one is not exactly wise to conclude that the findings are less credible.

At the end of the chatter, one is left with a decision between two serious choices.  On the one hand, one may choose to consider these plausible explanations and others credible and understand the text of 2nd Peter as authentic to the Apostle Peter.  On the other hand, one can allow for the possibility that 2nd Peter was written by someone other than the Apostle Peter and thereby call into question the text itself.  It is worth noting that the label of pseudepigraphy is in direct opposition to the assertions of the text.  The very first phrase of the work is a declaration of authorship, “Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:1a).  Because of this, and several other reasons, a choice of the latter option means more than most who choose it are willing to acknowledge.

Because of the author’s designation in the first verse there is an immediate question that becomes nagging.  Why refer to this work as pseudepigraphical but not pseudonymous?  If Simeon Peter is not the true author, then the false author has taken a false name for some reason or another.  This, it seems, is the definition of pseudonymous writing.  Therefore, one is not merely looking at an anonymous document that some believe may have been written by Simeon Peter; instead, one is forced either to recognize Simeon Peter as the true author or to acknowledge that the author is intentionally misleading his or her readers from the beginning.  It is not hard to see that the stakes are quite high here.

What we are considering is not just who may have actually been the author of 2nd Peter, but whether or not the author of text labeled ‘2nd Peter’ can be trusted.  By extension, if the author of 2nd Peter cannot be trusted, then there is reason enough to question the trustworthiness of at least some other New Testament texts.  Finally, if there is even one untrustworthy text in the whole of the canon of Scripture, then there is cause enough for the average person to distrust the Bible generally.

Because of these high stakes it behooves us to ask what reason we have for throwing such contempt upon the Scriptures in this way.  Is it because there is strong evidence to suggest that 2nd Peter is not trustworthy?  Is it because there is something in  Peter that contradicts the rest of sacred Scripture?  Is it because someone has discovered that there was a conspiracy among the patristics that included the adoption of this text in spite of its pseudonymous authorship?  No, is the answer to all of these questions.  There is no strong evidence that would suggest the text is unreliable.  There is no contradiction between the text and the remainder of the Scriptures.  There is no evidence of any patristic conspiracy.  In fact, there is good reason to receive the text at face value, there is perfect harmony in this text and the other canonical books, and everything that we know of the patristics indicates that they would have thrown this text out in a second if they thought it pseudonymous.

The bottom line is that 2nd Peter simply does not make sense as a pseudepigraphical or pseudonymous writing.  After weighing the text, John MacArthur says that it does not introduce any new doctrine or teaching, and therefore it would not make sense that a false author would attribute such an inconsequential text to Peter.  A false writer would need the weight of an apostolic name only if he were intending some significant thrust in the work.  MacArthur says, “[I]f 2 Peter were a forgery, it would be a forgery written by a fool for no reason at all.” He determines, “This is too much to believe.”  Then MacArthur asserts, “The conclusion to the question of authorship is that, when the writer introduced the letter and referred to himself as Peter, he was writing the truth.”[9]  I concur with Mr. MacArthur.


[1] Keathley, Hampton, IV. “The Authorship of Second Peter.” Bible.org. June 3, 2004. https://bible.org/article/authorship-second-peter.

[2] Carson, D. A., Douglas J. Moo, and Leon Morris. An Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992.  337.

[3] Gilmour, Michael J. “Reflections on the Authorship of 2 Peter.” The Evangelical Quarterly 73, no. 4 (October 2001): 291-309. Accessed November 21, 2013. http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/eq/2001-4_291.pdf.

[4] Carson, D. A., Douglas J. Moo, and Leon Morris. An Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992.  736.

[5] “Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?” (ESV)

[6] Piper, John. “Who Wrote 2 Peter?” Desiring God. April 27, 1982. http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/taste-see-articles/who-wrote-2-peter.

[7] Piper, John. “Who Wrote 2 Peter?” Desiring God. April 27, 1982. http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/taste-see-articles/who-wrote-2-peter.

[8] MacArthur, John. “Grace To You.” Second Peter. Accessed November 22, 2013. http://www.gty.org/resources/Bible-Introductions/MSB61/Second-Peter.

[9] MacArthur, John. “Grace To You.” Second Peter. Accessed November 22, 2013. http://www.gty.org/resources/Bible-Introductions/MSB61/Second-Peter.