Monday, April 23, 2007

Contradictions in the Bible?

Calvinist, John McArthur, states: “That’s one of the reasons I know the Bible is written by God, because men would fix it. If I wrote a book that had those contradictions, Phil [Johnson] would edit them all out. One of the bench marks of divine inspiration is the fact that you’re dealing with transcendence.” (Election and Predestination: The Sovereignty of God in Salvation, emphasis mine)

That quote does not sit well with an Arminian, at all. From the Arminian perspective, John MacArthur is basically giving up the integrity of the Scriptures for the sake of a particular theology. At least, that's what the Arminian perspective is.


Turretinfan said...

The Reformed perspective is that MacArthur is not Reformed.

That said, whether or not MacArthur is Reformed, considering the way that MacArthur concludes the paragraph in question, it should be clear that he is speaking of apparent contradictions, not real contradictions.

-Turretinfan said...


Consider this quote from JM: “And although Scripture makes clear that God elects and rejects solely on the basis of His divine sovereignty, it makes equally clear that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezek. 18:32) and has no desire that even on person should perish (2 Pet. 3:9).” (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Romans 9-16, p.42)

So is this an apparent contradiction or a real contradiction, by way of a Secret Will? In other words, if the Revealed Will is that God is not willing that some should perish, but that the Secret Will is that these have been foreordained to perish, by way of a predestination to death (symmetrical predestination/Double- Predestination/Supralapsarianism), then you seem to have a real contradiction, rather than an apparrent contradiction, through transcendence, no?

Consider that whereas most Calvinists approach 2Peter 3:9 from the perspective that Peter is speaking only of "the elect," Calvin and Luther, and also Erwin Lutzer, interpeted the verse from a "Secret Will" perspective, and you can find their respective quotes in my write-up. The point is that the latter group felt that the verse spoke to the whole world, but made no mention of the Secret Will. Calvin's interpretation of Matthew 23:37 was the same, in that "there is no description of the secret counsel of God (Arcanum Dei consilium)--just His wishes." Now I'm not quoting these men to make other Calvinists fall in lockstep with them, but only to show that some Calvinists, by way of a Secret Will argument, seem to set up a case for "divine contradiction," which I thought that MacArthur was alluding to, no?

Turretinfan said...

No, what he was setting up was a "this stuff is hard to figure out" comment. Read the next sentence or so where he starts talking about transcendence.

I don't encourage you to read off the cuff remarks of MacArthur (like the one you quoted) because, while MacArthur is a popular preacher, he is not a very good theologian.

If you must pick a popular, contempory Reformed author, go with James White -- and I know you do read at least some of what James White has written.

But the best theologians are those whose works have stood the test of time, like Charles Hodge, Jonathon Edwards, and the like.

-Turretinfan said...

To Turretinfan:

Here is another McArthur quote, for which he had received some criticism. When he mentioned our "position in Christ," I had thought of you, in terms of our prior discussion:

John MacArthur: “A true sense of self-worth comes from understanding our position in Christ. We have been chosen in Christ from before the foundation of the world. Knowing this gives us a sense of our significance and value to God. We were so important to God that He gave up His Son to die on our behalf. ... Thank God for considering you valuable enough to bestow such riches upon you. ... If you’re struggling with a lack of self-worth, remember that you were important enough for God to give you to Jesus as an inheritance.” (The Believer’s Life in Christ, MacArthur Bible Study Guide, Eph. 1:1-2:10, Word of Grace Communications: 1989/1995, pp.27, 36, & 69-70, emphases mine)

Turretinfan said...

I would be totally unsurprised to find inaccurate theological statements in MacArthur. So should you.

-Turretinfan said...

To Turretinfan:

However, Phil Johnson does MacArhtur's editing.... What are your thoughts on Phil Johnson?

Getting back to the original point, I also did not see where the other commentators had challenged MacArthur on his "contradictions" statement. In fact, to give some background, (not that I'm asking you to defend Calvin, but only that I'm providing perspective) Calvin explicitly characterized God's will as "set forth as double." (2 quotes below) Both John Calvin and Martin Luther relied on interpretations involving a "secret will" at Matthew 23:37 and 2nd Peter 3:9 (which is not the more common modern approach), in contrast to how James White explains it his book, The Potter's Freedom. In contrast, Erwin Lutzer deferred to Calvin and Luther's explanation of both verses in his book, The Doctrines That Divide.

On the topic of alleged "contradictions," I will quote Charles Spurgeon and then offer brief commentary: "I have endeavoured to give a scriptural reason for the dealings of God with man. He saves man by grace, and if men perish they perish justly by their own fault. "How," says some one, "do you reconcile these two doctrines?" My dear brethren, I never reconcile two friends, never. These two doctrines are friends with one another; for they are both in God's Word, and I shall not attempt to reconcile them. If you show me that they are enemies, then I will reconcile them. "But," says one, "there is a great deal of difficulty about them." Will you tell me what truth there is that has not difficulty about it? "But," he says, "I do not see it." Well, I do not ask you to see it; I ask you to believe it. There are many things in God's Word that are difficult, and that I cannot see, but they are there, and I believe them. I cannot see how God can be omnipotent and man be free; but it is so, and I believe it. "Well," says one, "I cannot understand it. My answer is, I am bound to make it as plain as I can, but if you have not any understanding, I cannot give you any; there I must leave it. But then, again, it is not a matter of understanding; it is a matter of faith. These two things are true; I do not see that they at all differ. However, if they did, I should say, if they appear to contradict one another, they do not really do so, because God never contradicts himself. And I should think in this I exhibited the power of my faith in God, that I could believe him, even when his word seemed to be contradictory. That is faith. Did not Abraham believe in God even when God's promise seemed to contradict his providence? Abraham was old, and Sarah was old, but God said Sarah should have a child. How can that be? said Abraham, for Sarah is old; and yet Abraham believed the promise, and Sarah had a son. There was a reconciliation between providence and promise; and if God can bring providence and promise together, he can bring doctrine and promise together. If I cannot do it, God can even in the world to come." (Jacob and Esau, emphasis mine)

Spurgeon argues that his teaching only appears to be contradictory, but is not an actual contradiction. His critics, however, maintained that they still could not reconcile what seemed to be an actual contradiction. Spurgeon answered with a poor example from Abraham, when yet a better example from Abraham was available, namely when God told Abraham that through Isaac, he would have a lineage. But when God told him that he must sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering, this seemed to be an actual contradiction. Therefore, Abraham decided that God would bring Isaac back to life in order to keep His promise (Heb 11:17-19), and then went for the knife. That's when God stopped him. Abraham reconciled a real contradiction so well that it was no longer a contradiction at all, but rather, perfectly logical. Abraham did not defer to unsearachable counsels that were "past finding out." Rather, he completely figured it out and solved the riddle, in that God would raise Isaac back from the dead, problem solved, where's the knife? Simiarly, Arminians want a simple answer to Calvin's secret-will dilemma (documented below), which seems to be provided by White at both Matthew 23:39 and 2Peter 3:9. In contrast to Calvin and Luther, James White explained that the thrust of the message of Matthew 23:37 was directed to the "leaders," and similarly that at 2Peter 3:9, its not a secret will that God wants none to perish but secretly predestines them to perish, but rather that God is only speaking of those in the eternal flock of the Father. That's a perfectly logical solution without having to defer to real contradictions. That's the simple kind of answer that appeals to Arminians who cannot except what appears to be an actual contradiction in the Bible. However, Arminians protest that White's handling of both passages is in error, which objections are documented on the website.

That's enough for now, but it provides perspective from the Arminian viewpoint.


* footnote for the 2 quotes

John Calvin comments on Matthew 23:37: “Seeing that in His Word He calls all alike to salvation, and this is the object of preaching, that all should take refuge in His faith and protection, it is right to say that He wishes all to gather to Him. Now the nature of the Word shows us that here there is no description of the secret counsel of God (Arcanum Dei consilium)--just His wishes.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries, Matthew, Mark and Luke, Vol. III, James and Jude, p.69, emphasis mine)

Calvin comments on 2nd Peter 3:9: “It could be asked here, if God does not want any to perish, why do so many in fact perish? My reply is that no mention is made here of the secret decree of God by which the wicked are doomed to their own ruin, but only of His loving-kindness as it is made known to us in the Gospel.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Hebrews and I and II Peter, p.364, emphasis mine)

Turretinfan said...

You're kidding, right?
Spurgeon was not Arminian. Although he was a preacher, not a theologian, he was unabashedly Calvinistic.
-Turretinfan said...

To Turretinfan,

There must have been a miscommunication. Spurgeon was certainly a 5-Point Calvinist. What did I say that gave the impression that he was an Arminian?

Turretinfan said...

Where you said: "That's enough for now, but it provides perspective from the Arminian viewpoint."

-Turretinfan said...

I see. However, realize that my statement, which you've cited, did not immediately follow Spurgeon's quote. There is a paragraph inbetween where I gave a critical review of Spurgeon's explanation on contradictions. I certainly was not agreeing with Spurgeon.

My next Blog post will be John 3:14-15, as it relates to Numbers 21:6-9. It will be up by tomorrow.

God bless,
Richard Coords

Adam Cummings said...

"I don't encourage you to read off the cuff remarks of MacArthur (like the one you quoted) because, while MacArthur is a popular preacher, he is not a very good theologian."

Turretinfan... the irony is that I love both James White, whom you mentioned, and John MacArthur. MacArthur has faithfully studied the Scriptures for over 30 years... book by book and verse by verse (very rare today). He has stayed with the same church, faithfully shepherding them, and he does all he can to keep them from error. I know this may start something, but I should be honest. You need to be careful. When I hear people talking about men of God like that, I cannot help but see arrogance bubbling to the surface.

That said, I do go to MacArthur's church when I'm at school. He IS reformed in his soteriology (5 Point Calvinist), without a doubt. He is not "reformed" per-se in other areas, such as eschatology.

The statement quoted in your post is great. I do not, at all, understand how that undermines Scriptural authority. MacArthur's point (I've even been at his church when he has stated such things) counters those who say, "Oh, look, why isn't the Bible smoother, with less confusion and apparent contradictions?" MacArthur knows that, if it were "less contradictory", men would start saying instead that this book must have been written by men (since it might seem "too" perfect and flawless). Furthermore, if men wrote the book, they certainly would have tried to flatten out those apparent "contradictions" that they in their human-ness do not understand.

I respect both of you, as brothers in Christ (I assume you both are, though I don't know you). But, I would humbly ask you to be careful about how you speak of men of God... as if your doctrinally spiteful and irrational comments makes a man's thirty year legacy of upholding biblical truth meaningless.

I'm simply asking you to be careful. You might spark more meaningful dialogue that way.

P.S. I really do like James White. I go to his chat often and would love to go to the Alpha and Omega cruise. said...


As critical as MacArthur is of others, how can you possibly suggest that he is somehow deserving of an immunity card?

Why should I believe MacArthur when he says that there are contradictions in the Bible? MacArthur says that there are contradictions only because he cannot reconcile Calvinism with certain passages in the Bible.

Turretinfan said...

Dear Adam,

You wrote:

"MacArthur has faithfully studied the Scriptures for over 30 years... book by book and verse by verse (very rare today). He has stayed with the same church, faithfully shepherding them, and he does all he can to keep them from error."

All that may be 100% true, and as I said, MacArthur is a popular preacher - he has the gift of capturing an audience's attention, which is truly useful in the pulpit.

Nevertheless, I do not believe that makes MacArthur a great theologian, just as Dr. White's great skill in theology does not necessarily make him a great preacher.

Different of God's servants have different gifts - that's not a malignment of any of the gifts.

-Turretinfan said...


You might say that Adam was a little bit bitter. Obviously I stated my mind, not intending to come off mean-spirited, but only speaking my mind, and in response, I got fire & brimstone, which I had to delete.

I'd be interested in your take on the newest post. I think that the issue of "in Christ" is one of the most critical discussions on the matter of Arminianism and Calvinism.

As always, thanks for stopping by, and be blessed,

Richard Coords

Errancy said...

“That’s one of the reasons I know the Bible is written by God, because men would fix it. If I wrote a book that had those contradictions, Phil [Johnson] would edit them all out."

If MacArthur wrote a book that had those contradictions, but Johnson thought that the book had been written by God, then Johnson probably wouldn't edit out the contradictions.

So how is the presence of contradictions in the Bible anything more than evidence that it was believed to have been written by God? What am I missing?