The Death of John Owen’s Argument

In the Death of Death in the Death of Christ (1647), Dr. John Owen offers a famous argument for a limited atonement. This argument appears at the end of Book I, chapter 3 (link) and seems to force the reader to accept Dr. Owen’s conclusion that Jesus only died to save some.

To which I may add this dilemma to our Universalists:—

God imposed his wrath due unto, and Christ underwent the pains of hell for, either

(1) all the sins of all men, or
(2) all the sins of some men, or
(3) some sins of all men.

If the last, some sins of all men, then have all men some sins to answer for, and so shall no man be saved; for if God enter into judgment with us, though it were with all mankind for one sin, no flesh should be justified in his sight: “If the Lord should mark iniquities, who should stand?” (Ps. cxxx. 3). We might all go to cast all that we have “to the moles and to the bats, to go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty,” (Isa. ii. 20, 21).

If the second, that is it which we affirm, that Christ in their stead and room suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the world.

If the first, why, then, are not all freed from the punishment of all their sins? You will say, “Because of their unbelief; they will not believe.” But this unbelief, is it a sin or not? If not, why should they be punished for it? If it be, then Christ underwent the punishment due to it, or not. If so, then why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which he died from partaking of the fruit of his death? If he did not, then did he not die for all their sins. Let them choose which part they will.

This argument seems to box in the opponent of limited atonement. But only because Dr. Owen presumes that another premise is true.

Jesus does not make salvation possible for all but actually saves those whom He specifically chose to die for.

This is stated clearly in chapter 1 of Book I800px-John_Owen_by_John_Greenhill.jpg

The sum of all is, — The death and blood-shedding of Jesus Christ hath wrought, and doth effectually procure, for all those that are concerned in it, eternal redemption, consisting in grace here and glory hereafter.

Owen goes on to argue that those who hold to a general ransom, in which Christ “died to redeem all and every one”, must deny “that any such thing was immediately procured and purchased by” Jesus death. Opponents of a limited atonement must hold that Continue reading

James in a Nutshell

Putting together an outline for the letter from James can be a challenge. And a quick survey of commentaries leaves us with a variety of suggestions.

Scot McKnight, quoting Duane Watson offers:Saint_James_the_Just

[James] is a Jewish-Christian work influenced by Hellenistic rhetoric, but is arranged overall in the topic-to-topic fashion of Jewish wisdom texts.

Even if the structure is hard to nail down, as we read through the letter of James we can see a theme emerge. James is writing to defend the idea that a genuine faith endures through trials and is demonstrated through good works. The good works that James emphasizes as evidence of genuine faith – social justice (1:27), our speech (1:26), and avoiding worldliness (1:27) – are summarized in the first chapter. Each of these topics receive more detailed treatment later in the work.

James also warns us not to be deceived. But what is it that we may be deceived about? In the larger context, it seems that James is warning us not to be deceived about who God is (1:16, 3:17) nor about our being a genuine disciple of Christ. True disciples are doers of the Word (1:22-25) , have a faith that is shown by good works (1:27; 2:17, 20), and in the meekness of wisdom (3:13) rather than worldliness (4:4).

Perhaps the verse that captures the theme best is a mashup of James 1:2-3 and 1:12

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. … Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life

Trials are a process through which faith is tested. The testing can do one of two things. It can discover if faith that is claimed is genuine (2:26) or it can refine and strengthen the faith that is there resulting in our growth (1:4). The key word is the adjective δοκιμος, found in James 1:12 which is translated “approved” in the NASB.  The term (link) was often used to describe testing a coin to see if it was genuine or a counterfeit.

We can see the same idea in 1 Peter 1:6-7  where the testing of faith during trials is compared to gold. Here the noun (“proof”) and verb (“tested”) form of the word δοκιμος are used.

 In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ

Here is a rough outline of the letter based on this theme, or rather that highlights that this is a theme that James had in mind.

Count it joy when you encounter trials … testing of your faith produces endurance James 1:2-4
ask for wisdom in faith  James 1:5-8
contrasting the poor and rich James 1:9-11
Blessed is the person who remains steadfast under trial and is found genuine James 1:12
don’t be deceived Be blessed as doers of the Word because faith without works is useless  James 1:19-25; 2:14-26
Worthwhile, pure religion bridles the tongue  James 1:26; 3:1-12; 4:11-12; 5:9, 12
Ask for wisdom & demonstrate it through good conduct instead of being a friend of the world  James 2:1-13; 3:13-4:10, 4:13-5:6
Be patient until the coming of the Lord …  Blessed are those who remain steadfast [during trials]. Examples to consider are the prophets and Job James 5:7-11

Other commentaries observe this theme in James as well.

In the MacArthur Bible Study Guide, there is an “emphasis on spiritual fruitfulness demonstrating true faith.”

If a person’s faith is genuine, it will prove itself during times of trouble, whatever the nature or source of the trouble may be.

J.A. Motyer, in The Message of James, identifies the themes of the letter as being centered around genuine faith, which is marked by growth and ethics (page 14-16).

Make sure your growth is a true, Christian development, and remember that it is by leaping life’s hurdles that you get to the tape.

…  James might ask, Did you in fact realize that the meeting of needs is not peripheral, nor optional, but central and obligatory to your faith?

While Scot McKnight sees numerous themes in the letter of James, the central theme for him is the broad topic of ethics. Within the section on ethics, McKnight does agree with the ideas presented by other commentators regarding ethics and good works as being evidence of a genuine faith (TNICNT page 46).

If one does not perform or live out the faith, one will not find eschatological salvation (cf. 2:14, 17, 18-19).  It is unwise to reify these terms and say one must have one or another, or even to say one must have all. Instead, each of these terms bring to expression a life that is lived properly before God if one is following the Messiah

 

5 Interesting Facts about the Letter from James

Saint_James_the_JustThe letter from James is “a one-of-a-kind document”, according to scholar and commentator Scot McKnight, with “no real parallel among ancient letters, essays, and homilies.”

It is a letter that addresses numerous topics, many of which underlie the tensions behind the headlines today, including suffering, social justice, and poverty. It also contains some challenging passages related to the role of faith and works.

Here are 5 interesting facts as we start our study.

1) It was probably written by the brother of Jesus

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ (1:1)

Most scholars (at least those writing evangelical commentaries) agree that the author of this letter is James the brother of Jesus (Matt 13:55; Mark 6:3; Gal 1:19), also known as James the Just. Another candidate is James, the son of Zebedee, the older brother of John, and an apostle in Jesus’ inner circle (Matt 17:1; Mark 5:37, 14:32-33). Many rule out the latter James, due to his early death at the hands of Herod Agrippa I (Acts 12:2) around 44 CE. But that shouldn’t disqualify him. James the son of Zebedee would have been alive to write the letter if the earliest suggested dating of the letter is correct.

The primary reason for accepting James the Just as the author, over other possible candidates, is the tradition of the early church, which attributed the letter to him. Continue reading