20 July 2006

Only "only"

by Dan Phillips

Small words can make such a big difference.

My family loves the cartoon "The Emperor's New Groove." There's a hysterical interchange between a young girl named Chaca and the evil Yzma (voiced by Eartha Kitt), who at the moment is locked in Chaca's closet along with her dim henchman Kronk.
Yzma: Tell us where the talking llama is, and we'll burn your house to the ground.
Kronk: Uh, don't you mean "or"?
Yzma: [sighs] Tell us where the talking llama is, *or* we'll burn your house to the ground.
Chaca: Well, which one is it? That seems like a pretty crucial conjunction.
Some older versions of the Bible were known for typesetting errors. The "Adulterous Bible" of 1632 omitted the word "not" in Exodus 20:14. The "Wicked Bible" of 1653 left out the second "not" in 1 Corinthians 6:9 ("Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God?")

Huge, chasmic differences can be created by the presence or absence of one small word. Take these phrases:
  • Jesus was human
  • The Bible was written by men
  • Man is a physical being
  • This life matters
  • The family is important
None of us would argue with these statements. But add the small, two-syllable word only to them, and everything changes:
  • Jesus was only human
  • The Bible was only written by men
  • Man is only a physical being
  • Only this life matters
  • Only the family is important
The same reality works in reverse. Consider these statements:
  • We are saved only in Christ (John 14:6; Acts 4:12)
  • We are saved only by grace (Ephesians 2:1-9)
  • We are saved only through faith (Romans 1:17; 3:28; 5:1)
  • Only the Scripture gives us God's rule for faith and practice (Psalm 119:99; Isaiah 8:20; Mar 7:6-10; 2 Timothy 3:15-17)
  • The glory for our salvation belongs only to God (Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14; 2:7)
Subtract the word only from any of those statements, and we have ruinous teaching at best, damning heresy at worst.

Dan Phillips's signature


Steve Weaver said...


donsands said...

Very nice. A lot of good only's.

There's another only I thought of. King James Only. This is a bad only.

DJP said...

Ooh. And "Jesus only" (i.e. Modalism). Good point.

Daniel said...

I like the way you bring this point across. Well done!

Steve said...

Little words can make a big difference. Nice post, Dan.

Mathew Sims said...

First, ENG is one of the classic movies of all time. So I like the illustration.

This of course fits well with the Solas of the Reformation. It seems most churches that swerve off the road add/subtract an only somewhere.

Soli Deo Gloria

Kim said...

I love it. Short, forceful, and to the point.

Great post.

DJP said...

Mathew -- my oldest son and I've agreed we could easily go a day using nothing but quotations from ENG and Princess Bride.

When our oldest were young, we developed a quick way of grading cartoons and movies -- by how they rated as films/cartoons, and as sermons (i.e. is there a "message" of any value?). For instance, The Little Mermaid was good cartoon, bad sermon. Beauty and the Beast was good cartoon, good sermon.

ENG rates well on both levels. And if you know Eartha Kitt at all (as our kids don't), it makes it even funnier.

If someone doesn't crack up during the final scenes... seek help.

FX Turk said...

Yeah, it was a great post which contains the word "chasmic", and I have no idea what "chasmic" means.

Do you mean "like a chasm"? Or did you mean "chiasmic" -- "The point of contact between paired chromatids during meiosis"? Because if you meant that, you lost me.

The llama thing, however, I totally get. There's no way to put Eartha Kitt (she's still the real CatWoman, among other things), David Spade and Patrick Warburton (John Goodman? Pheh!) into one movie and not make me laugh, but to toss in a talking llama ... I was cryin'.

...bring it on...

Screaming Pirate said...

ENG is the funniest movie disney hasd put out. The casting in that movie was perfect... oh yea good post too...

DJP said...

I am using "chasm" to denote "of, pertaining to, or like a chasm."

Like in this sentence: "The distance between the subjects of my posts, and Frank's comments on my posts, is usually chasmic."

C. T. Lillies said...

And how well it illustrates the superiority of the argument "Because...look what I can do!" which I've seen posted here a time or two.

Hey isn't monergism an only?

Much Grace

John H said...

Good post. One minor quibble. None of the "only-less" statements "We are saved in Christ", "We are saved by grace", "We are saved through faith" etc are inherently heretical. Indeed, if I'm not mistaken none of the verses you cite actually includes the word "only".

The "only"s only (!) became necessary because the error crept in that said, "We are saved through faith? Sure, but that doesn't mean we are saved only through faith".

Luther argued that his insertion of the word "alone" in "faith alone" (in his translation of Romans) was merely good translation, making explicit in German what was already implicit in the Greek. That is true of all those statements - the "only" is implicit in each case, and only needs to be made explicit in confession against error.

So what is heretical is not omitting the "only"s, but denying them. Not dropping the word "only", but inserting the word "not".

DJP said...

Lillies -- ...the argument "Because...look what I can do!"...

To which the proper response is: "No, wait -- he's got a point."

Mike Y said...

I was intending to simply respond with an Amen!

If ONLY I didn't have that strange avatar from daniel messing with my eyes.

Hey, can't he banned for that???

JK daniel and Dan.

Phil Johnson said...

Never seen that movie.

But thanks for posting this. I wasn't going to have time to do the next post in the 2 Cor. 5:21 series until later tonight, so you've given me some breathing room.

I liked the post, too.

DJP said...

Cool, Phil; I'd hoped that, even if you'd be putting yours up this morning, mine'd be a passable segue or bridge to it.

FX Turk said...


Exactly. It's called a "cruel irony", like my dependence on you.

Oh, yeah. Anything sounds bad when you say it with that attitude.

DJP said...

There's a wall there.

Neil said...

Phil, if you like Homestar Runner, you would like ENG.

DJP said...

On the other hand, if Phil likes Homestar Runner, ENG may be a little highbrow for him.


Kim said...


When you become Grandpa Pyromaniac, maybe you will have a chance to see such movies.

My dad has done all sorts of embarrassing, annoying and jeuvenille things in the name of grandparent-hood.

My favorite thing at Homestar Runner is when a guy named Goatface leaves a message on an answering machine for someone named Marzipan. I can't listen to that without cracking up.

C. T. Lillies said...

"'ware the GROOVE!"

Its kinda like that story about Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4. Thats what I was thinking--"Man, just ANYONE can plagiarize the Bible."


ibcarlos said...

[Huh...and here I was thinking Dobson's Plugged in Online was a pretty decent (certainly most use-able) source for "Christian" movie reviews.

...although...they sure dropped the ball on that last Wallace and Grommit romp (heavy on the sexual inuendos...go figure).

HEY! is at at all possiblefor the Pyro's (er, the one's with kids), to possibly throw a list in a sidebar or post somewhere where Biblical Christians can read about "non paedo-injurious" movies worth renting?



FX Turk said...


There are only 10 movies you ever have to see in your life, and you can watch all of them over and over and never get tried of them.

Two of those movies are the Emperor's New Groove, Spartacus, and Ben Hur.

And don't tell me "that's three movies, cent". It's more like 5 movies if you time them, so how can you say I am wrong when you are actually wrong?

Listen: I've been crunching numbers all day, and then I transcribed a Mark Driscol video so my blog would get some traffic, so if I sound a little loopy, you have to ask yourself: why is everything on this menu swimming in gravy?

DJP said...

Using MY comment thread to generate traffic for HIS blog.

That's my Frank!

ibcarlos said...

Oookaay...anyone else?

Anyone whose not in 'loopy' mode.

I'd really like some info, here, folks.

...don't make me have to email you all individually. :-|


Sharad Yadav said...

Chasmic? Sounds like someone from Boston trying to say "cosmic".

donsands said...

Cent, so what are the 8 other movies?

FX Turk said...

Don --

In no particular order,

Magnificent 7
The Incredibles
On the Waterfront
The Fifth Element
The Hunt for Red October
The Princess Bride
The Name of the Rose

FX Turk said...

And notice: my list is actually 10 movies. It turnsd out the Princess Bride is actuially 2 movies.

DJP said...

Um... but you're not telling Carlos to watch The Fifth Element and The Name of the Rose with his little single-digiters.

FX Turk said...

No, I am not recommending any of those movies for people unde the age of, say, 16. Execpt maybe Incredibles and Princess Bride.

I have a post about nice movies for nice kids for tomorrow morning so that you don't get bumped by me, Dan. You can preview it in the dashboard and tell me is it was worth the wait.

ibcarlos said...

Hm...maybe me and the kid should just come ovah here n watch this here high-drama, instead...

I'll be a'checkin' nat post out...sometime real soon, pardner.

If n it gets approved fur postin'...


The Borg said...

I lurve Kronk! A little bit fruity, and nutty, but also very meaty...

Anyway, back to John H's point about removing the "only"s from the second set. It's not heretical to say that "we're saved by grace", instead of "we're saved only by grace." For instance, doesn't the term "grace" mutually exclude works?

DJP said...

Borg, of course you're right that, in itself, it isn't heretical to say. I commented on the removal of the "only," signifying of course the negation of the "only" statement.

All cults will tell you they believe in grace. Roman Catholics, Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses believe in what they call "grace." But it isn't the sovereign, monergistic, saving grace of the Bible. That grace is "alone," in that it cannot be and need not be supplemented by human contribution of any kind.

So yes, as you say, Biblically grace excludes works -- but it is not so used by cults. So the "only" clarifies. It would be a bit as if you said, "Why do we need to say 'Trinity'? Isn't the God of the Bible a Trinity?" Well, yes, but people don't necessarily use the word so. The term clarifies what is already in the Bible.

The Borg said...

But why should we let said heretics pervert words like "God" and "grace"?

(I am being a little facetious)

btw Thanks for getting up at (your time) 4:33am to talk to us Aussies. ;) Your title of Aussies' Favourite Pyro shall remain ;).

DJP said...

1. You're most welcome, and thank you.

2. I really want that on a T-shirt.

3. It's nice to know that, when I'm chased out of America after being Calvidispebaptogelical is outlawed, I'll have a place to which to flee.

donsands said...

"The Name of the Rose"

Haven't seen this one, but I am with you on all the others. Great flicks.

Rose~ said...

What is "the Name of the Rose" about? Is this an old film? I never heard of it.