Chapter 9 - Misunderstood Texts of the Bible by Sir Robert Anderson

Chapter Nine

Sir Robert Anderson 

"Anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord "- (James V. 14). The following is the R.V. reading of the passage from which the above words are taken: "Is any among you sick? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing himwith oil in the name of the Lord : and the prayer of faith shall save him that is sick, and the Lord shall raise him up ; and if he have committed sins, it shall be forgiven him. Confess therefore your sins one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed."

Save for one word that needs explanation for English readers, the New Testament contains nothing simpler and plainer than this, and yet nothing that is more misunderstood and perverted. Upon it is founded "the sacrament of extreme unction and, mirabile dictu! certain ultra-evangelicals use it as a Scriptural basis for a practice akin to that of the Roman Catholic Church.

In our English Testament "anoint" stands for two wholly different Greek words, the meaning of which is thus explained in Archbishop Trench’s Synonyms: "Aleiphein is the common and mundane, chricin the sacred and heavenly word. Aleiphein is used indiscriminately of all actual anointings, whether with oil or ointment ; while chriein, no doubt in its connection with Christos, is absolutely restricted to the anointing of the Son, by the Father, with the Holy Ghost, for the accomplishment of His great office, being wholly separated from all secular and common uses. Thus, see Luke iv. 18; Acts iv. 27, x. 38 ; 2 Corinthians i. 21 ; Hebrews i. 9 ; the only occasions on which chriein occurs."

Classical English has no special word for aleiphcin, but to massage with oil expresses its meaning. And "it was as a salutary and approved medicament that the patient was to be thus massaged prior to intercessory prayer on his behalf (Kitto’s Cyclopadia). Most expositors, however, represent this anointing as a sacramental rite to be performed by the elders in virtue of their office. And the inaccurate reading anointing him with oil ‘‘ (which mars both our versions) lends itself to this error. But as it is certain that among Orientals the elders would not themselves massage a female invalid, it must not he assumed that they did so in other cases. The RV. marginal reading having anointed him "is grammatically correct; but perhaps "after he has been anointed" would better snit our English idiom. The added words, in the name of the Lord," are commonly taken as proof that the anointing was a sacramental rite. But this betokens ignorance of the true character of the Christian life ; for it is to common and mundane " acts that the exhortation refers, " Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Cohossians iii. 17).

The passage, I repeat, is clear and simple. And its teaching may be summed up in two words, namely, the use of means, and believing prayer. Hezrkiah’s case illustrates this in a striking way. For though the prophet Isaiah was Divinely bidden to bring him a definite promise of recovery, he enjoined the recognised remedy of the fig poultice. "For it is usual in the East, even to the present day, to employ a poultice of figs as a remedy for boils " (Speaker’s Commentary, 2 Kings xx. 7). The precedent is singularly apt. For the King was evidently dying of a malignant tumour ; and in such cases "a lump of figs "would no more avail to work a cure, than would a basket of bread and fish suffice to feed thousands of hungry men. But "the use of means" is a Divine principle thus inculcated for our guidance.And if, in these days of ours, Providence has brought within our reach better medicaments than oil or figs, it behoves us to use them "in the name of the Lord," with trustful and thankful hearts. Do we ignore God if we use our eyes when traversing a dangerous street crossing ? or if we don a lifebelt when a ship is in peril ? " God has no pleasure in fools!"

There is "a gift of faith." And if any Christian can trust God to heal his sickness, or to set his broken limb, without the use of means, we should thank God not only for his cure hut for his faith. But faith is a personal gift (Romans xiv. 22) ; and a Christian, who allows others dependent upon him to suffer through his failure to provide them with remedies which the Providence of God has brought within his reach, is guilty of conduct as utterly un-Christian as one who in other respects fails to "providefor his own house" (1 Timothy v. 8). As for those who seek to corrupt and coerce their fellow-Christians by this false teaching, they merit stern reprobation on the part of all who fear God and love the truth.They bring Scripture into contempt, and often betray devout hut ignorant Christians into a course of conduct that brings them within the meshes of the criminal law.

We have no definite ground for assuming that the elders of James v. 14 possessed miraculous powers of healing. Indeed, the words, "The prayer of faith shall save the sick," are against such a supposition. But there is no doubt that the disciples of the Ministry were thus endowed. and it claims emphatic notice that, in their mission of healing, they habitually made use of the oil massage (Mark vi. 13). These things are "written for our learning." And if those who were supernaturally gifted to heal the sick were Divinely led to make use of ordinary remedies, it is surely our part to follow their example, without hesitation and in thefulness of faith. And we shall recognise that the anointing enjoined by this Scripture - the use of a well-known and well-accredited medicament - has nothing in common with the superstitious practice of touching the body here and there with a finger dipped in oil, whether by a Romish priest or an Evangelical Christian.

"I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts " (2 Peter ii. i 2).
Words are like counters. They have no intrinsic value, but bear whatever meaning people put upon them. According to the dictionary, for example, a pilgrim is "one who slowly and heavily treads his way; a traveller; (2) especially one who travels to a distance from his own country to visit a holy place." And as "religion" enjoins upon people to become pilgrims, some sensitively devout folk will set out for Jerusalem or Mecca or Rome, while others will set themselves morbidly to practise asceticism.But the Bible nowhere enjoins upon the Christian to become a pilgrim. For while the aim which human religion sets before its votaries is always to become something that they are not, the true effort of the Christian life is to realise and live up to what God’s grace has made us.

But who and what is a pilgrim ? The parepidêinos of the New Testament is one who is living away from his own country or people. How aptly this describes those who are born from above, and whose citizen-ship is in heaven! To take a sublunary example,our relations and friends in India. are pilgrims. Even though they spend a lifetime there, Britain is their home. This does not make them useless as residents of India, or careless in the discharge of their public and private duties there. And there may be nothing of the pilgrim about them in the dictionary sense.But they are pilgrims all the same.

It was not in order to become a pilgrim that Abraham left his palatial home and became a wanderer; but his faith vision being set on the heaven-built city of the Divine promise, he confessed that he was a stranger and a pilgrim upon earth (Hebrews xi. 10, 13). So here, the First Epistle of Peter is addressed to " the elect who are pilgrims of the dispersion " ; and it is to such that the appeal is addressed, "I beseech you as sojourners and pilgrims to abstain from fleshly lusts."

And here we have exhausted the passages in which the word occurs. For though it holds so large a place in the religion of Christendom, it is used but three times in the New Testament. Kindred teaching, however, abounds. That life on earth is but a pilgrimage is, indeed, in the very warp and woof of Christianity. The fact, moreover, that it is transient and brief is stamped indelibly upon the human heart. This, indeed, is one element in "the weight of that awful sadness, of which, to the mass of men, life is the synonym and the sum." But while for those who have no hope beyond the grave,the fleeting character of life on earth may well give cause for sadness and gloom, it ought only to deepen in the Christians heart a sense of the true significance and value of our sojourn here, and of the eternal gladness and glory of the life to come.

"His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree" (i Peter ii. 24).
"Most modern scholars are agreed to reject ‘on the tree' in favour of the marginal ‘to'; the proper meaning of the Greek preposition, when connected (as here) with the accusative, being what is expressed in colloquial English by ‘on to the tree.’"

This sentence from Bishop Ellicott’s N.T. Commentary is followed by a reference to the gloss that the Lord "offered up our sins in His own body on the altar of the cross." That such a view should have the sanction of eminent names exemplifies the dictum of one of the great German theologians, that "the elucidation of the doctrine of the types is a problem for future theologians." In other words, theologians have neglected the study of the language in which Christian truth is revealed in the New Testament.The Hebrew Christians to whom the Epistle was specially addressed would have stood aghast at such a pagan suggestion as that Christ was offering up sins to God; and upon an altar! The words of chapteri. 18, 19, would turn their thoughts at once to the Passover in Egypt; and no less instinctively would their minds revert to the scapegoat of the Day of Atonement as they read the words of chapter ii. 24.

"Bearing sins" is a figurative expression. But the figure is neither poetic nor forensic. It is explained by the ritual of the sin-offering. In Leviticusxvi. 21, 22, we read, "Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel,putting them upon the head of the goat . . . and the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities into a land not inhabited "- the desert aptly symbolising death. The ritual thus typified the amazing mystery of redemption - the imputation of our sins to Christ.The 22nd Psalm reveals His anguish when He reached that dread crisis of His mission. To read it as denoting His relations with His Father during all His earthly ministry betokens that in the religious sphere nothing is too profane or too foolish to be believed

It was as God’s representative that Aaron laid the people’s sins upon the scapegoat. And God Himself it was who laid our sins on Christ. And what the type foreshadowed, our passage tells us plainly, that this was before the Cross. The crucifixion was man’s work altogether; witness the words this same Apostle addressed to the Jews at Pentecost,"Him being delivered up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken and by wicked hands have crucified and slain" (Acts ii. 23).During all His ministry, no hand was ever laid on Him, save in loving service. But at times His immunity from threatened outrage was explained by the words, "His hour was not yet come." Now, that hour had struck; and the warning He had given the disciples was fulfilled "The Son of Man shall be delivered into the hands of men" (Luke ix. 44).Hence His words when His enemies approached Him in Gethsemane, "This is your hour and the power of darkness" (Luke xxii. 23).

Judas delivered Him to the Jews, and the Jews delivered Him to the Roman power. But the words "delivered into the hands of men" can only mean that GOD delivered Him up in pursuance of His determinate purpose. And to this extent Scripture lifts the veil which shrouds the mysteries of Gethsemane, that then it was that the Lord Jesus passed under the load of the sins which He bare "in His own body to the tree."

"He went and preached unto the spirits in prison" (i Peter iii. i9).
"The literature of this passage is almost a library in itself" (Alford). And even the briefest review of that literature would exceed the limits of these notes. During a study of the passage extending over half a century I have sought for an exposition of it which would take account not only of theApostle’s actual words and their context, but also of the scope and burden of the Epistle in which it holds such a prominent place; and I know of at least one that satisfies these requirements.

1 Peter was written to comfort and "stablish" the saints during one of the terrible persecutions which devastated the early Church. And the burden of it is that their sufferings were transient, and their triumph assured, the sufferings and glories of Christ being appealed to as the great exemplar. And here we may well ask, Even if the heresy of "a Protestant purgatory," as it has been aptly termed, were Divine truth, could anything more egregiously inappropriate be introduced to crown the Apostle’s exhortationto steadfastness? For if even the heinous sinners of the antediluvian age were so specially favoured,the Christians might surely assume that, if they turned from the path under pressure of such terrible persecution, they would certainly be granted mercy and "a second chance"; and thus the faithful and the unfaithful would reach the same goal at last.

Who then were they to whom the gospel was thus preached in the under world? The answer is that there is nothing in our text about "preaching the gospel" The word the Apostle uses means "to proclaim as a herald," or " as a conqueror" (Grimm’s Lexicon) ; and the context must decide the nature of the proclamation. When the word is used of preaching the gospel, this is always plainly indicated.

But then who were these "spirits" ? Now, first, it is noteworthy that in Scripture, although human beings are said to have spirits, they are not usually called "spirits." "Souls" is the term used of them, even when disembodied (Revelation vi. 9).But angels are generically designated "spirits."See, cx. gr., Hebrews i. 7, 14. So again in Acts viii."an angel of the Lord," in verse 26, is referred to in verse 29 as "the spirit." And, secondly, we must not isolate 1 Peter iii. 19. It should be studied together with 2 Peter ii. 4 and Jude 6, 7. And all must be read in connection with Genesis vi. 1—7,to which these Scriptures so plainly refer.

Now Genesis vi. may be taken in either of two ways. The sceptic reads it with interest as a piece of ancient folklore, which was probably suggested by some tradition that a race of giants had once appeared on the earth. The Christian reads it with awe as explaining why a God of mercy and love "spared not the old world." The awful judgmentof the Flood was not inflicted to punish the natural human sins of one generation of the inhabitants of earth - that is not God’s way - but to exterminate a race that had become "corrupt" in the special sense here indicated ; a corruption which, if left to work unchecked, might have tainted even the stock of which the promised "seed of the woman," the Redeemer of our race, was to be born.

Here then is the clew to the meaning of these references to "the angels that sinned" in ante-diluvian times. To suppose that human beings who gave themselves up to immoral practices would be called "the sons of God" is an extraordinary freak of exegesis. But that angels should be thus designated (as in Job ii. 1 and xxxviii. 7) will not seem strange to any who have studied the Biblical use of the word "son." Moreover the Lord Himself has decided this for us. In answer to the Sadducean quibble that the ordinance of marriage vetoed the doctrine of the resurrection, the Lord replied that the glorified of earth are "equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection" (Luke xx. 36,R.V.). Marriage pertains to an economy of natural bodies - the flesh and blood bodies of this world, whereas in that world we shall have spirit-bodies like the angels.

And this throws light upon the statement of Jude that these angels of Genesis vi. " kept not their first estate (that is, their primary condition ; dignity is Afford’s word) but left their own habitation" (their proper habitation, R.V.). This last word seems to denote a descent from heaven. But it is most note-worthy that in the only other passage where oiketerion occurs, it denotes the spirit-body of the glorified saints (2 Corinthians V. 2); and this is the second meaning of the word in Grimm’s Lexicon. These renegade angels left their spirit-bodies, to come down to the level of flesh and blood. How this was possible is not revealed, but the fact is clearly indicated.

It may be objected that if there had been such an angelic revolt in heaven within Old Testament times, a more explicit mention of it would be found in Scripture. But this admits of a ready answer. The absence of any mention of the kind points to the conclusion that these angels of Genesis vi. were a section of those who shared in Satan’s fall. If we are to yield to the folly of reasoning and guessing in such a matter, we would regard it as utterly improbable that holy angels of heaven could fall so low at a single swoop; but not so, that angels who had already fallen should sink to a still lower depth of evil. Their sin, moreover, may well have been instigated by Satan in furtherance of his age-long plot and effort to defeat the promise of "the woman’s seed."

Although these angels are said to be "kept in chains under darkness," it is not said that the angels who fell with Satan were thus imprisoned; and we know that a host of them will yet take part in the mysterious war predicted in Revelation xii. 7.

And now we can read this most difficult of all difficult texts in a new setting and with a new meaning. Its aim and purport, I repeat, was to cheer and stablish the suffering saints by unfolding the suffering and glory of Christ. And the "argument" of the teaching is that the height of His triumph was proportionate to the depth of His suffering. The prophecy of the 24th Psalm was fulfilled when, in open view of all the angelic hosts, He passed through the heavens(Hebrews iv. 14, R.V.). They had wondered at His sufferings, and now they were called to worship Him as Conqueror (Hebrews i. 6).

But, more than this, the Apostle was inspired to tell that the Lord had proclaimed His triumph even to the apostate angels who had flouted His authority in antediluvian days. In translating the kai of this sentence by "also" our versions render it superfluous and unmeaning, whereas it is intensely emphatic. "So complete was Christ’s triumph that He led captivity captive (Ephesians iv. 8); so complete that, having spoiled principalities and powers, He made a show of them openly (Colossians ii. 15). So completely were angels and authorities and powers made subject unto Him, that His triumphal proclamation reached even to Tartarus - even to these in-prison spirits."

"The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us" (i Peter lii. 21).
The meaning of this text is made clear by a more literal rendering of the words. The following is based on Dean Alford’s Commentary: "Which (water, not baptism) the antitype (of the water of the Flood) now saves you also (as it saved Noah) even baptism."

The Apostle’s teaching is that, as the water which engulfed the world bore up the Ark, Noah was saved from death by death, so also is the sinner who believes in Christ. For when united to Christ he becomes one with Him in death. It is the same truth as that of the sprinkled blood of the Passover in Egypt. This verse, therefore, is not a veiled reference to the pagan doctrine of baptism according to the Eleusinian mysteries, but plain teaching, which every Hebrew Christian would understand, that Noah’s Flood typified the death penalty upon sin, and Christian baptism symbolises union with Christ in His death on Calvary.