08 May 2007

A Prime Example

by Frank Turk

Dan sprung it on me that his post won't be ready until tomorrow, and since I'm that kinda guy (and I really left Dan hanging last week when Phil was in Italy), I'm getting this post up today to keep the blog active.

So we're talking about hermeneutics and what a good one would be, and I have suggested that a good hermeneutic reads the Bible like a text, and it takes into account the whole Bible in the same way that when you read The Stand (and I am still shocked at those of you who have never read that book—you must have been born after 1980) you have to read the whole thing to really get it.

Here's a good example of what I'm talking about: what do we make of the doctrine of election? You know: the Bible (in English) clearly says that those who are saved by Christ are "the elect", so we have to figure out what that word means. And we could go to a dictionary to find out, but my suggestion to you is that there is a better way to understand what the Bible means by that word.

Because the Bible defines the boundaries of who is and is not elect, and how they got that way.

Now, I only have a few minutes here before I go to work, but let me point you at what I would call the front-end and the back-end of the doctrine of election, and at a date to be named later we will fill in the middle part.

The front end of election comes to us in Genesis 15, where this happens:
After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: "Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great." But Abram said, "O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" And Abram said, "Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir." And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: "This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir." And he brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be." And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
See: when God promises Abraham that he shall have offspring, God promises Abraham a number too big for a man to count. It's a lot! Many! The promise to Abraham is an expansive covenant: it is a BIG promise.

And the back end of election comes in here, right at the end of Revelation:
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
And just to make sure, those who don't know when the Lamb's book of Life was written down can check of Rev 13. So the number is actually a fixed number from God's perspective, a list which is finite and known to God.

See: many people get fixated on this last part here and forget the first part -- and these people are generally hypercalvinists, but some are simply not reading the Old Testament. And others can grasp the scope of Gen 15 -- but they want to escape the consequences of Rev 20 for any of a variety of reasons. But to be clear whatever election is, it must account for both of these thing.

So your hermeneutic needs to be bigger than proof-texting: it needs to get at the Gospel, which is the purpose of God's special revelation in the first place.

Now go and read your Bible. And if Dan or Phil could graphicize this post for me, I'd appreciate it.

No really: thanks a lot, Phil ...


DJP said...

And if Dan or Phil could graphicize this post for me, I'd appreciate it.

Oh, I'm going to have to remember that one!

Though... it is risky....

donsands said...

Father Abraham had many sons ...

Very nice post.

Peculiar Pete said...

Herman who?


Phil Johnson said...

djp: "Oh, I'm going to have to remember that one!"

It's an approach that works only when you step up to pinch hit at the last minute.

Even then . . . you're right. It's risky.

Turretinfan said...

I liked the graphics a lot, and I liked the post even more.

Solid work, brother Centuri0n!


Anonymous said...
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Z-Boy said...

Thank you, it helps put many things in perspective for me.

I have grown up not understanding any of the pillars of Calvinism and articles like this really do help me out.

donsands said...


And that's what it's all about, building one another up in the truth, and keeping it pure, which teamPyro are very faithful to do.

To God be all the glory. Amen.

Neil said...

Never place yourself in the hands of a mischievious Johnson.

Even So... said...

Oh, how the signature line fills my heart with mirth...

Kim said...

Hey, is that the cover on the bed in the "Spurgeon Room?"

Phil Johnson said...

Believe it or not, Kim, that's just a Photoshop creation. I do have an actual Pyroblanket, as you know. I'll put it in the Spurgeon room and take a photo.

Why didn't I think of that in the first place? It would've saved me some time.

Danny Wright said...

Hey I've read The Stand. It was a great book and believe it or not I have thought of it often since becoming a Christian. Everyone in that book was elected for good or evil by dreams weren’t they?

DJP said...

"The Calvinism of Steven King," by Danny Wright.


Lee Shelton said...

But...but...but Frank, I read blogs like this so I don't have to read my Bible. I will even read Dan's posts when they aren't too long.

Anonymous said...


Could you recommend some good works that discuss the hermeneutic approach which you are suggesting? Or just some solid works on hermeneutics in general.



Anonymous said...

Gotta love those 'Neutics boys, especially that Herman. He's a smart one, he is...

A great post for a clown. One of the elect clowns, I am sure.

Stefan Ewing said...

I haven't read The Stand, nor any other book by Stephen King. I'll sit through a Tom Clancy movie, but I don't make a habit of reading any of those guys'—King, Crichton, Clancy—novels. And I wasn't born in or after 1980, thank you very much.

Bobby Grow said...

Elect, but not in a causally determinitive sense, eh? Elect to what? Identification of a "class", isn't the same thing as identification of a finite number. I would suggest the Bible, when speaking of the "elect", is speaking of the former, a class of people called to live holy lives.

The passages the Turk used as "illustrations" are interesting choices, they aren't engaging the "dogmatic" category of "election" that he would have us to believe (i.e. causal determinism). This is philisophical imposition, not exegetical work.

FX Turk said...


Who said what you said here? Where did they say it?

You show me, and then I can comment.

FX Turk said...


Look here.

James Scott Bell said...

And don't forget:

"Rick Warren's Bible Study Methods: Twelve Ways You Can Unlock God's Word"

Zondervan/HarperCollins Publishers (April 1, 2006)

Erik said...


Is that book about King for real?

I used to read him, in my BC days. The Stand is a great book(the old version).

Yes, people went to LV or Boulder, but it was their choice.

Strong Tower said...

Sit, roll over, stand. A good milk bone and you can get interesting results. Mocha Breve, doesn't like the stand, weak hips and all, but she'll do it for Beggins everytime.

The whole scripture is truely the best hermaneutic. Hermaneutics though will only produce consistent interpretations so long as they are themselves consistent. Most of us are not exegetes and there are many tools that come to bear on interpretation beside the rules of hermanuetics. But, when you are like me, you must rely more on the entirety of scripture than others who are more skilled in language. what I mean by that, is that a well read text will be a consistent guide, if you read it consistently, even if it is a poorer translation. Even the poorest translators cannot eliminate all truth.

The idea that the elect is not a set number is betrayed simply by the question: what is meant by the consumation of the ages? Reading scripture, any translation, will demonstrate that a consistent pattern of inclusion and exclusion is revealed throughout. I do not need to be an exegete to understand that, I merely need to read the entire text. There is a beginning and an end to this story and we understand by that, that the number of the elect is fixed. In Genesis 24 we have one definition of the elect which speaks to inclusion and exclusion, a class. A class by the way would be a limited number, as in limited atonement, unless of course we want to say that there is no end of the age. We also have the descrete definition expressed in Jacob's family in their migration to Egypt and their exodus. A descrete number is also expressed in Paul's discussion of Esau and Jacob and the vessels of wrath and the vessels of mercy, and the 7000 who have not bowed. As well as Romans 11.7, where the elect are spoken of in the past tense, and therefore could not possibly be anything but a set number by determinative cause. Then there is the time of the Gentiles and the fact that all of Israel will be saved which both speak to the finiteness of their numbers. Descreteness is also implied by the numbers of thrones, stones, foundations, etc, etc.. Over against this would be a few scattered and easily explainable statements like "a number to large count." But, even in those amorphous groups it is implied that there is an boundary. When Abraham was challenged to number the stars or the sand, God, who was speaking surely knew their number. Unless we launch into open theology.

So, it may be a philosophical impostion, but a descrete decreedal number is so fully expressed in scripture, that even if it is not exegetically sound, it cannot be denied, bobby grow.

DJP said...

Papias,Is that book about King for real?

Read the comment immediately before mine, and the commenter's name. Just a joke.

FX Turk said...

This discussion exposes exactly the problem these two passages are meant to expose: the biases people have about what God is able to say.

The scope of God's plan as described by Genesis 15 and Rev 20 ought to make us stand in awe of a God who intends to save many, many people (Gen 15) but who also knows each and every peson, each and every name of those whom He intends to save.

There is no one accidentally or incidentally saved in God's book. And no one goes to hell whom God intends to save. But from our perspective -- from yours, dear reader -- the question is not "did God elect me? Should I wonder whether God has my name in that ultimate book?" The question is: "Do I know that I am a sinner who needs a savior? Because this Jesus who was crucified has all these guys who say I should know for sure that He is also Lord and Messiah, and faith in Him gets forgiveness and salvation."

When Paul (for example) talks about God's election in Rom 9, he's not talking about whether anyone should have faith in Christ, or whether Christ saves. That's what Rom 1-8 was for. Romans 9 is about whether God's promise to save -- the offer made in the Gospel -- is useful or useless. That is, if every person who is racially in Israel is not saved by the Messiah, what good is God's promise?

The answer is that God's choice to save is not based on race or family but on His promise to save those whom He intended to save.

Election is not the Gospel: it is the basis of the assurance we have in the Gospel. And in that, the scope of election ought to give us something to praise God for.

donsands said...

"The question is: "Do I know that I am a sinner who needs a savior?"


Jesus came to seek and to save His lost sheep. He obeyed the Father, and sought out those whom He foreknew.

And God has joy when He brings one of His sheep into His fold.

"For the angels in heaven rejoice when one sinner comes to repentance!" Luke 15

Tom said...

So your hermeneutic needs to be bigger ...

Pet peeve. It's hermeneutics. Like mathematics. No one says, "So your mathematic needs to account for all integers ..."