Chapter 10 - Misunderstood Texts of the Bible by Sir Robert Anderson

MISUNDERSTOOD TEXTS OF THE BIBLE
Chapter Ten

"For this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in tbe spirit" (1 Peter iv. 6).
Any one who studies the literature of this verse with a free and open mind may well incline to the suspicion that its meaning is an unsolved problem - that it is, in fact, a lock of which the key has been lost ; or, to explain my parable, that the Apostle had in view some special circumstances or beliefs of which no record has come down to us.

We may clear the ground, however, by ruling out the mass of the expositions offered of it ; as, for example, all such as depend upon putting a meaning upon the word "dead" different from that which it bears in the preceding verse (Alford). And we may assume that "the preaching of the gospel which is meant is before death, and not subsequent to it" (Bengel).

We may also definitely assume that the Apostle expected those whom he was addressing to understand his words ; and further that they were designed to comfort and strengthen them in view of the calumnies and persecutions of evil men who resented their pure and upright manner of life. And yet some expositors ask us to believe that, to this end, he announced that Christ preached the gospel to those who perished in Noah’s flood! And the suggestion is no less extraordinary, that they were to find comfort in the fact that those of their persecutors who were dead had heard the gospel after death, in order "that they might be judged," i.e. that their punishment might be the greater.

If we take "the dead" here indicated to be, not the persecutors, but their victims, certain graver difficulties of the passage will disappear. The following is Dean Alford’s statement of a view which he does not himself accept "For this reason was the gospel preached to those among you who have suffered death at the hands of persecutors that they might indeed be judged, condemned, by human persecution as regards the flesh, but might live with God as regards the spirit."This will seem still clearer if, in construing the verse,we take account of the significance of the Greek particles men and de (which are ignored in both our versions); and further, if we give to the phrases kata anl.hropous and kala Theon the meaning assigned to the latter in, ex. gr., Romans viii. 27. The verse as thus read would clearly suggest an appeal from the judgment of men to that of God in respect of their martyred brethren. And it might be freely rendered thus:
"For unto this end also to the dead were good tidings preached, that although they might be condemned according to the will of men as to the flesh (i.e. their natural life), yet they might live according to the will of God as to the spirit " . (i.e. their spiritual and eternal life).

"If the righteous scarcely be saved " (i Peter iv. i8).
The difficulty which this text presents to so many is mainly due, first, to their not knowing that the verse is word for word a quotation from Proverbs xi. 81, in the LXX version (the Greek Bible); and secondly, to the meaning commonly put upon our English word "scarcely." According to the dictionary, the primary meaning of that word is "with difficulty" ; and this is precisely the meaning which Grimm’s Lexicon gives for the Greek word molis.

As Dean Alford so well says, "The molis does not induce any doubt as to the issue, but only wonder. If we be justified by faith in Christ, our salvation, however difficult and apparently impossible, is ascertain as Christ’s own triumph."

The passage, when thus understood aright, has a much-needed message for these days of ours. The Evangelical Revival of last century recovered for us the great truth of grace enthroned; but some of the present-day phases of Evangelicalism tend to make us forget the almost unbelievable wonderfulness of that truth, and the infinite cost at which our redemption has been won. And so, on every side, even real Christians are being corrupted by the heresy that salvation for all men is assured, and that the main difference between the believer in Christ and the rejecter of Christ is that the one will reach heaven long before the other. The consequences of accepting or rejecting Christ are eternal; and in these days we cannot give too great prominence to the awfully solemn warning of our text, "If the righteous be saved with difficulty, where shall the ungodly and sinner appear?"

"No prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation" (2 Peter i. 20).
An important treatise on this verse enumerates no less than eight "various interpretations" of it. This extraordinary diversity of opinion is largely due to the ambiguity of the word rendered "interpretation." For epilusis occurs nowhere else, either in the New Testament or in the Greek Version of the Old ; and it is rarely found in other Greek writings. And the kindred verb occurs only twice in the New Testament (Mark iv. 34 and Acts xix. 39).The word idios, moreover, is what grammarians call an " emphatic possessive " ; and in 77 of its 113 occurrences it is rendered " his own," but nowhere else is it translated "private."

To understand our verse aright, it must he studied in relation to the context. In verses 16 - 18 theApostle cites the vision of the Holy Mount as exemplifying " the power and (future) coming of our Lord Jesus Christ"; and he adds, "We have the word of prophecy made more sure, whereunto ye do well that ye take heed " (R.V.). This absolutely bars the gloss that verse 20 is meant to teach that we cannot understand any unfulfilled prophecy; and the emphatic "for" (gar) of verse 21 indicates that both verses are but a single clause, leading up towhat is the gist and climax of the Apostle’s argument, namely, "that no prophecy ever came, by the will of man, but men spake from God being moved bythe Holy Ghost."

Now, suppose the passage had to be deciphered from a clay tablet broken just where the ambiguous word occurs, and that it read, "Knowing this first that no prophecy of Scripture is of . . . for no prophecy ever came by the will of man," would anyone have the least doubt that the gap should be filled by some words denoting origin or source. And, this being so, surely the only question open is whether the words before us admit of such a construction.

Most noteworthy is it, therefore, that this is precisely the reading which the eminent writer above cited selects among the eight possible interpretations, namely, "that no prophecy is the result of private uninspired disclosure." " The subject of discourse (he says) is the prophetic oracles contained in the Old Testament, which, the Apostle proceeds to show, were equally to be depended on as was the voice from the excellent glory; forasmuch as they did not originate with man, but with the spirit of God."

The propriety of this view is strikingly confirmedby the fact that it has the approval of eminent commentators, who themselves adopt a different interpretation of the verse. Bloomfield, for example, after stating it fully, claims that the view he himself accepts "seems entitled to preference"; thus implicitly acknowledging that it is legitimate and worthy of consideration. And Dean Alford, after citing it as Huther’s, remarks, " This is much confirmed by ginetai, which with a genitive, as here, is not estin, but rather seems to denote origin." And he adds, "And this appears to be Bengel’s view." Bengel’s note on the verse is that prophecy is altogether "of Divine unfolding or revelation."

To English readers the concluding sentence of the chapter is apt to suggest the very error which the passage is intended to veto. For the familiar phrase,"being moved" to do or say this or that, may seem to imply that "moved by the Holy Spirit" means merely that the prophets were led by Divine influence to proclaim "the truth that was in them." But the Greek word here employed is, in one of its various meanings, the strongest that could be chosen to emphasise what the preceding sentence asserts, that "no prophecy ever came by the will of man." It is used, cx. gr., in Acts xxvii. 15 and 17 to describe the utter helplessness of a sailing ship in a fierce gale of wind - "a rushing, mighty wind," as the word is graphically rendered in Acts ii. 2.In fact, no plainer language could be fiamed to refute that heresy of German scepticism, which now leavens the teaching of most of our British Theological Colleges, that the prophecies were a natural product of the spiritual intelligence of the holy men who uttered them.

"Where is the promise of His coming ? " (2 Peter iii, 4).
This is misunderstood because theological labels have been put upon its prominent words. In Biblical use epangellia and parousia are, as a rule, rightly translated "promise" and "coming." But the primary and common meaning of the one is an announcement or proclamation ; and of the other, a "being present," whether with reference to persons or to things. A study of the chapter plainly shows that the Apostle is not dealing here with either the hopes or the heresies of Christians, but with the scoffing of unbelievers, who mock at the Divine warning that the world shall at last be given up to judgment-fire.It is not the inquiring appeal of a believer about the coming of Christ, but the taunt of a scoffer about the coming of the Day of God. Indeed, it is not an inquiry at all, but an exclamation (like. cx. gm., Galatians iv. 15).

Professor Tvndall’s words may possibly be true, that "for millions of years the earth has been the theatre of life and death." All that we know is that in the beginning (whenever that was) God created it, and that He did not create it " a waste," albeit it had become a waste before the epoch of the Adamic creation. And 2 Peter iii. 5 - 6 points back to the cataclysm referred to in Genesis i. 2, by which "the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished." So also the world of the Adamic economy will be destroyed by fire, in the final judgment of the Day of Jehovah. And because God is longsuffering, that awful day is long deferred for it will involve the final perdition of the ungodly (v. 7), whereas the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ will lead to the restoration of the covenant people, and bring wide-spread blessing to the world (Romans xi. 15).

A brief notice of the closing verses of the Epistle may be opportune. The reference to the Apostle Paul’s Epistles as "Scriptures" implicitly recognises that the were Divinely inspired. And this is fitted to increase our surprise at the language of verse 16, l See Isa. xlv, i8 (R.V.), where the same word is used as in Gen. i. 2. which seems to disparage the manner in which truth is there unfolded. This surely should lead us to accept the alternative rendering of the words, as referring, not to the mode in which "these things are treated by Paul, but to the nature of the things themselves. That they are" hard to be understood is abundantly proved by the writings of the Fathers, and by the fact that they are generally misunderstood to the present hour.

That the burden of the chapter is not, as commonly supposed, the Lord’s Coming, but the dread dies irae at the end of all things, is further indicated by the words of the closing doxology, " To Him he the glory both now and to the day of eternity" - a phrase which occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, and which cannot refer to the Lord’s Coming which is our hope, nor yet to His Coming as Son of Man to inaugurate the future economy of the "millennial" kingdom.

"The Lord God omnipotent reigneth" (Revelation xix, 6).
The scepticism which sometimes troubles real Christians is often a revolt against "orthodox doctrines" rather than against Divine truth. And any one who views the world with unclouded mental vision might well doubt the truth of Scripture, and very specially during the progress of this hideous war. If Scripture really taught that " the Lord God omnipotent is reigning." For, as Dean Mansell has so truly said, "There are times when the heaven that is over our heads seems to be brass, and the earth that is under us to be iron, and we feel our hearts sink within us under the calm pressure of unyielding and unsympathising law.’

In view of time ghastly tragedy of these Armenian massacres, and of the daily horrors of this hideous war, the infidel may well demand, "Where is thy God?" And the taunt is not to be met by pious platitudes. But the teaching of Scripture is explicit, that He who is now reigning is time Son of God, the Crucified of Calvary, and therefore the Divine Throne is now a throne of grace. It is not that the providential, nor yet the moral, government of time world is in abeyance, but that in this age there is no direct punitive action against human sin. For " the Lord knoweth how to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished," and this is time day of grace.

A silent heaven is "the mystery of God." But there is an appointed limit to the era of that mystery.The Apocalyptic visions record the loud-voiced cry of the martyrs slain in the awful persecution of "the great tribulation " : "How long, 0 Lord, holy and true, dost Thou not judge and avenge our blood?" But they record also the answer given by the "mighty angel," who swears by the Eternal Creation that there shall be delay no longer, and that the mystery of God shall be finished when the seventh angel begins to sound. And when we turn the page we read that when the seventh angel sounded there were great voices in heaven, saying, "The sovereignty of the world is become the sovereignty of our Lord and of His Christ.’’ And then, we are told, the wonderful beings who sit upon thrones before God fell upon their faces and worshipped, giving thanks to the Lord God omnipotent, because He had taken to Him His great power and had begun to reign, and because the time was come when He would give reward to His saints and to all who fear His name, and would destroy them that destroy the earth. And in the visions following we read of the judgements poured out upon the earth, and of the praises of heaven because of the judgments - praises which reach a climax in the glorious anthem, " Hallelujah, for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth " (Revelation vi. 9, 10, x. 6, 7, xi. 15 - 18, xix. 6).

It ill becomes the Christian, therefore, to give way to despondency or doubt because that consummation is delayed; for a silent heaven is eloquent in its testimony to Divine long-suffering, and above the darkening clouds of the mystery of God is the glorious sunshine of the reign of grace.

"Hast begun to reign" may seem too free a rendering of chapter xi. 17. But the versions of both Rotherham and Weymouth adopt the much freer rendering, "hast become King." And it is only by some phrase of this kind that the force of the Greek aorist can be expressed in English. The "hast reigned" of our A.V. might seem to imply that the reign was over. And the "didst reign" of the R.V. is still more open to that objection. Alford notices this in his Commentary on chapter xix. 6, where, giving up the attempt to translate the aorist accurately, he falls back upon the "reigneth" of the A.V. Here again both Rotherham and Weymouth read "hath become King." But this is clearly misleading, for God has always been King. And the crisis which marks the change of dispensation is expressed by the words "Thou hast taken to thee thy great power" (xi. 17).

To both learned and unlearned, therefore. I humbly offer the following rendering of the great anthem:"Hallelujah, for the Lord God omnipotent has begun to reign."

"The marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife hath made herself ready" (Revelation xix. 7).
I will show thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife ... and He showed me that great city the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God" (Revelation xxi. 9, io).

These Scriptures are misread when they are taken as referring to the same epoch. For between the fulfilment of the nineteenth chapter and of the twenty-first there lies the entire era of the future "kingdom" dispensation. And if we are to study the Book of Revelation intelligently, these dispensational distinctions must be kept in view. As explained in preceding notes, this present age will end with that Coming of Christ which is revealed in the Epistles.And not until after that great crisis will the Apocalyptic visions receive their fulfilment. The Abrahamic race will then have been restored to their normal position as the Covenant people of God; albeit, as foretold by the Lord Himself in Matthew xxiv., they will still have to endure the terrible ordeal of "the great tribulation" of Old Testament prophecy. But a special recompense for their sufferings is assured to them. For just as the members of the Church of this dispensation - not "the professing Church," which is drifting to its doom, but the true Church which the Lord is building - are elected to heavenly glory as the Body of Christ," so also the faithful martyrs ofthat awful persecution are to have a distinctive reward by election to heavenly glory as "the Bride, the Lamb’s wife." And they will attain that blessedness before the beginning of the "kingdom" age. But though the nineteenth chapter records "the marriage of the Lamb," it is not till we come to the twenty-first chapter that we read of the manifestation of the Bride.

This earth was cleansed with water before its re-furnishing as a home for man. But before it can be united to heaven, and made meet for the display of the heavenly glory of the Bride, it must needs be purifiedby fire. And so it is not until the vision of the new heaven and the new earth that the Seer is summoned to behold the Bride. And what he sees is "the holy Jerusalem descending out of heaven from God."

One of the earliest pages of the Bible records how Abraham relinquished his princely life in the city which in that age claimed to be the metropolis of the world. Another Scripture of long ages afterwards tells us that it was his faith-vision of a God-built city that led him to make that great surrender, and to choose the pilgrim path. But it is not until we come to the very last page of the very last book of the Sacred Canon - the "stock-taking" book of all the Bible - that we find the realisation of his promise and his hope. What proof is here of the "hidden harmony," the absolute unity, of Holy Scripture And what a testimony this unity and harmony afford to its Divine authorship (Genesis xii. 1 - 4 ; Hebrews xi. 8 - 10 Revelation xxi. 10 - 27).

For this is Abraham’s City, the vision of which changed the whole current of his life. Upon its twelve gates are written the names of his natural descendants - "the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel." It is "the City which hath the foundations" (Hebrews xi. 10, R.V.) ; "twelve foundations, and in them the names of the Twelve Apostles of the Lamb." We shall not find here the names of the great Apostle of the Gentiles and his companion apostles, who were God-given " for the building up of the Body of Christ " (Ephesians iv. 11, 12) ; but only of the Twelve who are "to sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Matthew xix. 28), the Apostles who were called to share that ministry of which the Lord declared, " I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew xv. 24; ef. Luke xxii. 28 - 30).

But, it will be asked, "Is not the Church the Bride of Christ?" That traditional belief is a legacy from an ignorant age which assumed that God had "cast away His people whom He foreknew." It has no warrant in Scripture. The very phrase, "Bride of Christ," is unscriptural. The holy Jerusalem is the "Bride, the Lamb’s wife." But is not the Lamb merely another name for Christ ? After the King’s last visit to his Duchy, he intimated that his title of Duke of Lancaster was to be used in his future visits.But if a Cabinet Minister presented himself at the Palace for an audience with "the Duke of Lancaster," it would be suspected that nerve-strain had affected his brain! In the human sphere, distinctions of this kind are understood and scrupulously observed; but our use of the names and titles of the Lord of Glory is charaeterised by utter indifference and ignorance. The King’s Lancaster title may be used only in connection with his Duchy. And the fact that the Lord assumes His title of the Lamb in relation to His Bride, the heavenly city, is no warrant for using it in relation to" the Church which is His body." Scripture never uses it in that connection. And the Epistles of the New Testament, which reveal the "mystery " truths of this Christian dispensation, will be searched in vain for a single mention of it (see note on Ephesians v. 25, ante).

THE END