Friday, October 17, 2014

Means of Grace: Preaching or the Preacher? (Part I)

On September 25, 2014, Dr. James Renihan presented a lecture titled "Preaching as a Means of Grace" at the Southwest Founders' Conference at Heritage Baptist Church in Mansfield, Texas.  This lecture profoundly changed my view of the Reformed Baptist community in America.  I've listened to the disdain that Dr. James White, a Reformed Baptist Apologist, has for the King James Bible based on his interaction with Dr. Jeff Riddle of Christ Reformed Baptist Church.  Honestly, I thought his strong stand against the King James was a minority opinion, and that the majority of Christian scholars and pastors were at least tolerant of the King James.  It's becoming more clear that my conviction that the King James Bible is God's preserved Word through the Textus Receptus is not tolerated by Christianity in general or by the reformed leaders of my denomination specifically.

As a participant in a family conference for Reformed Baptists, I did not expect the strong degradation of the "older translations" (i.e. The King James Bible) by Dr. Renihan.  He created doubt on the veracity of the King James and caused division--at least for me.  I do not plan to attend another Southwest Founders' Conference because it was very clear that the leadership of the the host church wholeheartedly agreed with Dr. Renihan.  I certainly did not agree with him, so I'm going to post my notes of Dr. Renihan's lecture and show how his arguments are not supported by the King James Bible or The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith.

Dr. Renihan starts his lecture by reading Ephesians 2:11-17.  In this passage Paul is writing to the Gentile Ephesians, and verse 17 includes the phrase 'he came and preached.'  Dr. Renihan asks and answers some key questions.  Who is 'he' in verse 17?  In this instance, the antecedent is Jesus Christ.  When did Christ do this?  In the context of the passage, it is after Christ's death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven.  Did Jesus physically go to Ephesus in order to preach to the these Gentiles?  Did He come down from heaven and preach about Himself?  The obvious answer is no, He did not.  Eph. 2:17 is similar to Acts 26:23 and John 10:16.  These three verses tell us that Christ preached to the Gentiles.  So, how can this be?  

Next, Dr. Renihan moves to Romans 10:14-17, which shows how God brings the message of salvation to humanity.  Salvation comes from faith in Jesus Christ apart from the works of mankind.  He states that the exegesis of this text is very, very important.  In verse 14, the second word is 'then'.  In the Greek, this word ties together what goes before and what comes after; it is very clear that Paul is carrying on the same theme about salvation.

In this passage Paul asks four questions:
  1. How then will they call on him in whom they've not believed?
  2. How are they to believe in him whom they've never heard?  (Dr. Renihan makes a point to note that this is his own translation.)
  3. How are they to hear him without someone preaching?  (Again, Dr. Renihan makes a point to note that this is his own translation.)
  4. How are they to preach unless they are sent?
[Personal observation:  Dr. Renihan is obviously well-versed in Koine Greek, but the comment that he is using his own translation still contradicts the Bible: "Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation," 2 Peter 1:20.  No one is exempt from the Word of God.]

Dr. Renihan states that Greek is an inflected language, and the Greek in this passage has the same grammatical construction for all four questions except #3.  He continues to look at the individual questions and analyzes the Greek (the words in bold were emphasized by Dr. Renihan during the lecture):

Question #1:  How will they call on him?
This question uses a special verb form.  The Greek meaning is to call upon someone, especially a divinity.  Paul wants us to understand that the object of the verb to call upon God is included in the verb itself.  The question refers to unbelievers.

Question #2:  How are they to believe in him whom they've never heard?
The main verb is heard; the Greek word is where we get the English word acoustic from.  Most Greek verbs take a direct object.  But akouo is different; akouo takes a direct object in the genitive.  if you don't understand what's going on, it looks like it says something like this:  How are they to believe in him of whom they've never heard.  But that's not what Paul says.  Because the verb takes the genitive as the direct object, literally what it says is this:  How are they to believe in him whom they've never heard.  Not of whom.

[Personal observation:  The King James Bible reads 'of whom'.  As a teacher of English grammar and Latin (along with a very limited knowledge of Koine Greek), I understand direct objects and the accusative and genitive cases.  However, Dr. Renihan made several appeals during his lecture to see him afterwards if we wanted to see the exegesis of what he was saying; which implied that if I disagreed with him, I obviously don't understand the underlying grammar.  I found his repeated appeal to explain the exegesis privately very arrogant and condescending.  It sounded similar to the scholarly priest of the Roman Catholic Church explaining the Bible to the uneducated laity.]

Additionally, Dr. Renihan notes that John Murray's commentary on Romans says that there is no need to insert the preposition 'in' before him.  A striking feature of this clause is that Christ is represented as being heard in the Gospel when proclaimed by the sent messengers.  The implication is that Christ speaks in the Gospel proclamation. That is the most important point of the whole text.  And that's what the other three verses (in Eph. 2, Acts 26, and John 10) are speaking about.  When the preaching happens, Jesus Christ comes to the Gentiles or to the Jews (whoever is in the audience).  Jesus comes through His appointed messengers; He preaches to the audience.

Dr. Renihan continues by stating that the basis for the doctrine of the means of grace is the fact that Christ has ascended into heaven, has claimed all power and authority for Himself, and has sent messengers on His behalf.  We don't believe in an absent Lord; we believe in a present Lord who acts among His people and for the extension of His kingdom.  That is what Paul is describing in this place.  The direct object is normally in the accusative.  Akouo takes the genitive and it simply means: How are they to believe in him whom they never heard.  They can't call upon him because they don't believe in him.  And how are they going to believe in him if they have not heard him?!

This is a long lecture, so I'm going to end my lecture notes here and make some personal remarks.  First, Dr. Renihan is tediously making an argument about a minor grammatical inclusion of the word 'of' to support his argument.  The grammatical distinction that he is trying to make is not very apparent or very strong.  The 54 men appointed to translate the King James Bible were well-educated men who were knowledgeable of the Greek language, and the Second Westminster Company assigned to translate Romans through Jude agreed that the reading should be 'of whom'.  Of the 13 major English Bible translations listed on for Romans 10:14, only 3 use 'whom' (NASB, ASV, HNV); the other 10 versions are consistent with the King James and use 'of whom'.

With all of his talk about direct objects, the accusative case, and the genitive case, Dr. Renihan muddies the water and implies that some of the Bible translations have been incorrectly translated.  However, since we are dealing with the subject of salvation, Dr. Renihan contradicts The 1698 London Baptist Confession of Faith, which says that "The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience," (Chap. 1, para. 1).

Dr. Renihan performs these grammatical gymnastics so that he can say that Jesus preaches through preachers.  There is no Scripture that says this or even implies such a thing (without changing the grammar & reading the idea into the text).  Yes, there are three verses which talk about Jesus preaching to the Gentiles, but Jesus is the Word, (John 1:1) and God has chosen the foolishness of preaching to spread His Gospel, (1 Cor. 1:18).  Jesus is present in the preaching as the Word that is preached; He is not the voice of the preacher.

If Jesus were the voice speaking as a preacher preaches, then everything that is said outside of the written Word would need to be recorded and added to the Bible as additional revelation.  In addition, man is still fallible in his regenerated state because he still has a sin nature that wars within him, (Rom. 7:19-25).  Therefore, everything a preacher says from the pulpit may or may not be true due to human misunderstanding or misapplication.  How can Jesus preach through a preacher that may not accurately expound the truth of Scripture?  Obviously, this can not be the case.  In order for a preacher to preach without error, he would be limited to reading only the written Word of God with no commentary or explanation; and that's not the role of a pastor.

Now let's look at Romans 10:13-17 which says:  "For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.  How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?  And show shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!  But they have not all obeyed the gospel.  For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report?  So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God, (KJV)."

These verses are used as proof texts in The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith (LBCF), the Baptist Catechism, and Keach's Catechism.

The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith uses Romans 10:14, 17 and Romans 10:14, 15, 17 as biblical support under Chapter 14 Of Saving Faith and Chapter 20 Of the Gospel and of the Extent of the Grace Thereof, respectively [the footnoted phrase for Romans 10 is in bold]:
"The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word; by which also, and by the administration of baptism and the Lord's supper, prayer, and other means appointed of God, it is increased and strengthened," (1689 LBCF, Ch. 14, para. 1).

"This promise of Christ, and salvation by Him, is revealed only by the Word of God; neither do the works of creation or providence, with the light of nature, make discovery of Christ, or of grace by Him, so much as in a general or obscure way; much less that men destitute of the revelation of Him by the promise or Gospel, should be enable thereby to attain saving faith or repentance," (1689 LBCF, Ch. 20, para. 2).
When our Reformed Baptist forefathers read Romans 10, they saw that salvation is a work of the Holy Spirit through the ministry of the Word.  They did not twist the grammatical construction of the Greek to show that it is really Jesus' voice through the preachers that accomplishes the work of salvation.

We also see that understanding that the Word is made effectual through the Holy Spirit and not the voice of Jesus in the following catechism questions:

Question #94 of the Baptist Catechism uses Romans 10:13-17 as biblical support for the answer:
Q. 94: How is the Word made effectual to salvation?
A. The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation.
Question #95 of the 1677 Keach's Catechism uses Romans 10:17 as biblical support for the answer:
Q. 95. What are the outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption?
A. The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption are His ordinances, especially the Word, Baptism, the Lord's Supper and Prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.
Again, we see the Holy Spirit's role of convicting and converting sinners through the written Word of God.  Dr. Renihan's private interpretation contradicts not only what the Bible actually says, but also how the Confession systematically interprets these verses and how the Baptist catechisms teach the concept of saving faith.

Therefore, Dr. Renihan's analysis of the underlying Greek puts too much emphasis on the preacher and not enough emphasis on the Word of God and the Holy Spirit in the salvation process.  His argument is not readily found in the Word of God or supported when looking at the text as a whole.  I will continue my analysis on the remaining part of his lecture in my next post.

NB:  Part II is here.

"Those whom God hath predestined unto life, He is pleased in His appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by His Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ," (1689 LBCF Ch. 10, para. 1).

"Not by works of righteousness which we have done but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour," (Titus 3:5-6).