Chapter 3 - Misunderstood Texts of the Bible by Sir Robert Anderson

MISUNDERSTOOD TEXTS OF THE BIBLE
Chapter Three

Sir Robert Anderson 

"Except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God " (John vi. 5).

The fact that the traditional view of this passage, which connects it with Christian baptism, is rejected by a weighty minority of theologians, from Calvin to Bishop John C. Ryle, should make us ready to consider the matter with an open mind. And Dr. Ryle’s "six reasons" for rejecting it, enumerated in his Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, might well make an end of controversy on the subject. Indeed, the traditional view is vetoed by the glaring anachronism it involves. For Christian baptism had not then been instituted, and even the disciples themselves knew nothing of it. And yet the Lord indignantly rebuked Nicodemus for not understanding His words about a birth by water and the Spirit. "Art thou the teacher of Israel (He exclaimed) and knowest not these things?" It is certain, therefore, that He was referring to some Old Testament Scripture with which a Rabbi of the Sanhedrin ought to have been familiar. The only answer to this is the profane suggestion that the Lord’s solemn words had reference to the Jewish baptism of proselytes, a purely human ordinance, which the Jews in days of apostasv derived from ancient paganism.

We must avoid the error suggested by our A.V. that the words imply a twofold birth, of water and of the Spirit. For in the next verse, and again in verse 8, the water is omitted, and the new man is said to be "born of the Spirit." And this rules out the gloss that the Lord was referring to "the baptism of John"; for that baptism was expressly contrasted with the Spirit’s work (Matthew iii. 11). It was a confession of failure and sin, to prepare for receiving a Messiah whose near advent the Baptist proclaimed. Christian baptism, on the other hand, was a confession of faith in Christ already come, and gone back to heaven; and of submission to Him as their Lord, on the part of those who professed to have been already born of the Spirit. Therefore, when the household of Cornelius were brought in, their baptism was not the new birth, but a public recognition that they had been already born of water and the Spirit.
For the question was, "Can any man forbid water that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit as well as we? Baptism is a public act performed by man, for which man can fix the day and hour. The new birth of water and the Spirit is altogether the work of God ; and as our Lord so expressly declares, no man can forecast, no man can command it. "The Spirit breathes where He wills, and thou hearest His voice, but knowest not whence it cometh and whither He goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit." It was presumably the obvious reference to Ezekiel's prophecy which led our translators to render pneuma by "wind." Of course, it may have that meaning ; but the word occurs 370 times in the New Testament (23 times in John), and yet nowhere else is it so translated. And the word rendered "sound" is phone, the ordinary word for voice, and it is so translated in 130 of its 139 occurrences. But the need of all this discussion arises from the accumulations of error and prejudice which obscure the teaching of the passage. In added words the Lord Himself made His meaning unequivocally clear. In verse 9 Nicodemus repeats as a humble seeker after truth the question which he had previously raised (v 4) in petulant unbelief. "How can a man be born anew?" And now the answer is vouchsafed to him "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." It was not as the result of a mystical human rite that Nicodemus was to be born again, but by believing in Christ "lifted up" (cf. ch. viii. 28 and xii. 82). And, as other Scriptures tell us, "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God." "We are born again by the living and eternally-abiding Word of God" (1 Peter i. 23).

In this matter Christendom is in direct conflict with Scripture. Christendom teaches that baptism symbolises birth. Holy Scripture declares that it symbolises death. Christendom teaches that it is the putting away of the filth of the flesh. Holy Scripture declares "it is not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God." And in the same passage (1 Peter iii. 21) the Apostle enforces the symbolism of death, by referring to baptism as an antitype of the Flood. The water which overwhelmed the world bore up the ark. Noah was thus saved from death by death; as is the sinner who, on believing in Christ, becomes one with Him in death. But if it be a question of the new birth, "we are born again BY THE WORD OF GOD."

As already noticed, the Lord's words to Nicodemus referred to some Old Testament Scripture with which he ought to have been familiar. Nor is there any doubt what that Scripture was, namely, Ezekiel xxxvi.- xxxvii., a prophecy that was greatly cherished by the Jew; and ignorance of it would have been as discreditable to a Rabbi as ignorance of the Nicodemus sermon would be to a Christian theologian.

There we read, "I will sprinkle clean water upon you. . . . And I will put My Spirit within you" (ch. xxxvi. 25—27). And in chapter xxxvii. we have the vision of the valley of dry bones, when the prophet is told to call upon the dry bones to "hear the Word of the Lord"; and to prophesy to the Spirit to breathe upon them. The water of Ezekiel's prophecy was "the water of purification "of Numbers xix. Water which had flowed over the ashes of the sin-offering had efficacy to cleanse the sinner. And the antitype of that water is the Word of God by which we are born again (1 Peter i. 23). When, therefore, the Lord went on to tell Nicodemus of eternal life through faith in Him as lifted up upon the cross (V. 14), He was unfolding the meaning of that Ezekiel prophecy, and of the type to which, as every Rabbi recognised, it so clearly referred.

To recapitulate. In Scripture, baptism symbolises death, which is the very antithesis of birth and it is never associated with regeneration. And, as Bishop Ryle notices in his Expository Thoughts, "there is little about baptism in the Epistles." How then did it come to signify regeneration, and to acquire such prominence in Christendom religion ? The Hibbert Lectures, 1888, by Dr. Edwin Hatch, of Oxford (Vice-Principal of St. Mary Hall), supplies a clear and conclusive answer to this question. The Early Church in its apostasy was so thoroughly corrupted by Greek paganism that, in respect of baptism, it adopted not only the doctrines and ritual, but the very terminology, of the Eleusinian Mysteries.

"No man can come to Me, except the Father which hath sent Me draw him"(John V1. 44).

This verse is perverted by many Christians to excuse want of zeal in bringing the gospel to the unsaved, and by unbelievers to excuse t.heir not coming to Christ. And this perversion of the Lord's words affords a colourable justification for saying that, if men do not accept the gospel, the fault lies with God, for He does not draw them.

But when read aright, the verse emphasises a truth that permeates the whole Bible. Man's spiritual being is so utterly alienated from God that by the light of Nature he cannot even "see the kingdom of God," much less enter it. The records of the Ministry do not contain a single case where a sinner who came to the Lord, confessing his blindness and helplessness, failed to receive light and blessing; but the Jews to whom these words were addressed spurned both Him and His teaching ; and this was His answer to their rejection of Him. The blind received their sight, and those who claimed to see were blinded.

Dispensationally, these words were superseded by the Lord's further words in John xii. 32. "For before the glorification of Christ the Father drew men to the Son, but now the Son Himself draws all to Himself." But the principle underlying both statements is the same. For it is not in his moral, but in his spiritual nature, that man is utterly lost and dead. Saul the Pharisee was as moral as Paul the Apostle. And have we not read of cases, even in heathendom, where without any light of revelation men have led a clean and upright life? And if this be possible for some, it is possible for all, and, therefore, God is just in punishing men for every breach of the moral law.

But did not the Lord say expressly that these Jews "had not had sin" if He "had not come and spoken unto them," and "had not done among them the works that none other did" ? (John xv. 22, 24). Yes, truly, but the sin there referred to was not their breaking the moral law, but their rejecting Him and His testimony. For God holds none responsible for rejecting Christ save those who have heard of Christ.

All this throws light upon His words in John vi. 44. They are not, as commonly supposed, a limitation placed upon the gospel; but they emphasise the solemnity both of preaching and hearing the gospel. By words and works that gave abundant proof of the presence and power of God, the Father had been drawing these proud religionists to Christ. But now their day of visitation was past, and they were left to their nature - darkness and incompetence - to come to Him. And so is it in this present age when the Lord is drawing all unto Himself. True it is that but for Divine "drawing" none would ever come. But sinners are not drawn heavenward in the sense in which criminals are drawn to prison. Whenever the gospel is preached in the power of the Holy Ghost sinners are being drawn to the Lord; but, alas! the many "resist the Holy Ghost." He (the devil) was a murderer from the beginning" (John Viii. 44).

The Satan of "Christendom religion" is the mythical monster of Babylonian paganism. And the general acceptance of this "Satan myth" has led to the popular misreading of these words. The vain boast of the Christ-rejecting Jews, that God was their Father, brought on them the scathing reply, "Ye are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father it is your will to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has not stood in the truth, because the truth is not in him. When he speaketh THE lie, he speaketh of his own, for he is a liar, and the father of IT."

What mean these awful words, addressed by the Lord Jesus to earnest men of character and repute, who, under their responsibilities as religious leaders, deplored His teaching? "A murderer from the beginning." The beginning of what? Not of his own existence, for he was created in perfectness ; nor yet of the Eden paradise, for long ere then Satan had dragged down others in his ruin. His being a murderer connects itself immediately with the truth which he refused, and the lie of which he is the father. These words of our Divine Lord give us, therefore, a glimpse into a past eternity, when, to the great intelligences of the heavenly world, God made known His purpose of a "first-born," who was "in all things to have the pre-eminence." The greatest of those heavenly beings claimed that place ; and, rebelling against the Divine purpose, he set; himself from that hour to thwart its fulfilment. And so during all the ages, as Luther wrote. "he hath no other business in hand but this only, to persecute and vex our Saviour Christ." Therefore was it, that he compassed the ruin of our race. Therefore was it, that, in order to stamp out the house of David, he incited Athaliah to destroy "all the seed royal (2 Kings xi.), and at the Nativity he incited Herod to destroy "all the children that were in Bethlehem" (Matthew ii. 16).

But it was not until the Temptation that his lie was plainly revealed. He there claimed to meet the Lord on more than equal terms, Having "led Him up," and given Him that mysterious vision of earthly sovereignty, "the devil said unto Him, To Thee will I give this authority, and the glory of them, for it hath been delivered unto me, and to whomsoever I will I give it. If Thou, therefore, wilt worship before me, it shall all be Thine."

This was the bold assertion of his claim to be the true first-born, the rightful heir of creation, and therefore entitled to the worship of mankind. He is the awful being to whom Scripture accords the title of "the god of this world," not because the Supreme has delegated it, but because the world yields it to him.

As the temptation revealed him as the liar, Gethsemane and Calvary revealed him as the murderer. "Satan entered into Judas," we read - a phrase that has no parallel in all the Scripture. And surely when the Evil One heard "Emmanuel's orphan-cry" upon the cross, and saw His body carried to the tomb, he must have thought his victory was assured. But though foiled, he is still unconquered. For the Scriptures tell us of a supreme effort yet to come when -"woe to the hated race "- all the powers of hell will be at work to deceive mankind, and to thwart that coming triumph of the Lord of glory, "when He shall have put down all rule and all authority and power."

The devil of " Christendom religion "is a wonderful being who, like God Almighty, is omnipresent; for, the wide world over, he is by the side of every nursery cot, and at the elbow of every human being, making the babies naughty and the "grown-ups" vicious! This pestilent nonsense is believed even by spiritual Christians. Human nature being what it is, no devil is needed to make people tell lies, or to account for murders incited by the lusts and passions of evil men. But how can we account for the untold myriads of murders that have befouled the awful record of the professing "Christian Church"- crimes more hideous than any that have been due to lust or greed? "Natural" murders (if such a phrase may be allowed) await the final judgment of the great day; but not these hell-born crimes of the so-called "Christian Church," "drunken with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus."'

And yet these ghastly crimes were committed in the name of Christ, and by men who were outwardly devout and good; and they are justified, even today, by multitudes of people who are as kind-hearted and "religious " as the best of us ! Yes, of a truth the devil has been a murderer from the beginning, and he is the god of this world. May not the very many Psalms of David which contain references to conspiracies and plots against his life be read in the light of these words of the Lord Jesus about Satan? For surely there was no life in Old Testament story against which the devil's malice would have been more specially directed than that of David; for the devil must have known the prominence he held in the scheme of the Messianic purposes. In the opening sentence of the New Testament, Christ is designated "the son of David"; and in the opening sentence of the Epistles, as "made of the seed of David according to the flesh." May we not give a new reading then to the so-called "imprecatory Psalms"? So far from expressing, as the Rationalists suppose the cravings of an angry Kaiser for vengeance on his personal enemies, are they not the inspired utterances of the prophet-king with reference to his peculiar share in the conflict of the ages between Christ and His great enemy who was "a murderer from the beginning"

"And whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die" (John xi. 26).

Here is the received exegesis of these words, as given by one of the best of our modern commentators "Faith in Me is the source of life, both here and hereafter, and those who have it, have Life, so that they shall never die," physical death being overlooked and disregarded, in comparison with that which is really and only death. . . . There can hardly be any reference in Verse 26 to the state of the living faithful at the Lord's coming (1 Corinthians xv. 51), for although the Apostle there, speaking of believers primarily and especially, uses the first person - the saying would be equally true of unbelievers, on whose bodies the change from the corruptible to the incorruptible will equally pass, and of whom the 'shall never die' would here be equally true,- whereas the saying is one setting forth an exclusive privilege of the man that "liveth and believeth on Me."

This explains why our present verse is a "Misunderstood Text " ; for our theologians generally confound that Coming of Christ, which is revealed as the present hope of His people, with the event of the last great dies irce in a very far-distant future. And thus, as in the case of certain other passages, a subtle argument is needed to vindicate the truth of the Lord's words. He called Lazarus from the tomb to die again; but "the living" of whom He here speaks are the "those who are alive and remain" of 1 Corinthians xv. (see p. 95, post); and they shall never die.

And here one may well ask, Who among us really believes that it is the same voice which recalled Lazarus from death that will yet call forth " all that are in their graves " (John v. 28)? Who among us believes that, even then, He could have spoken the word which would have summoned all the dead to life again? But though He had " all power," He ever held it in subjection to the will of His Father in heaven.