Archive for the ‘Sin’ Category

The Real Francis Turretin on Sin’s Relation to God

April 9, 2013

The Real Francis Turretin on sin’s relation to God:

Theology treats sin not as belonging to God, but as holding certain relationship to Him (either that of opposite or contrary or as coming under His providence and justice); just as medicine treats of diseases and their remedies although its principle subject is man as curable.

(cited as Topic 1, Questions 5, Part X at this link)

Sin, Satan, and Satan’s Fall

January 30, 2013

I was recently directed to some questions about Sin, Satan, and Satan’s fall.

Did Satan exist before Adam and Eve? How and when did he fall?

The Scriptures do not specify when God created the angels or when specifically Satan fell.

Jude 6 states: “And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.”

2 Peter 2:4 stats: “For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment;”

Job 4:18 states: “Behold, he put no trust in his servants; and his angels he charged with folly:”

Thus, we know that some of the angels did fall and that this was due to some foolishness and sin on their part. But the exact timing of their creation is not specified.

Isaiah 14 has sometimes been interpreted as referring to the fall of Satan. There are a few reasons that this view has some weaknesses – particularly in that verse 16 speaks about kingdoms, but it is clear that at the latest Satan fell when only Adam and Eve lived.

Nevertheless, vss. 12-15 may be a reference to the fall of Satan, and may be a comparison between that fall and the fall of the king of Babylon (see vs. 4). In other words, God may be comparing the fall of the king of Babylon to the fall of Satan.

We may speculate that Satan and other angels (who are described as having wings) were created with the winged fowl on the 4th day, or that Satan and the other angels being heavenly bodies (and compared to stars) were created with the stars on the 3rd day, or that the angels were created on the first day when God created the heavens and the earth, or that they were created on the 6th day since Satan is described as a serpent. But all this is speculation, since God does not say.

All we know is that all things were made by God in the space of six days (Exodus 20:11), and therefore the angels were created in this time period.

Did sin exist before Adam and Eve?

It seems sin did not exist before the end of the sixth day, because on the sixth day God saw all that he had made and behold it was very good (Genesis 1:1). How could God say that if there was already sin?

Of course, “sin” is not a thing that has its own existence. Rather it is any lack of conformity to (or violation of) God’s law.

It seems clear that Satan’s temptation in the Garden of Eden of Eve and by her of Adam was sinful and an act of rebellion on Satan’s part.

After all, Satan is clearly identified as the serpent in Revelation 20:2 “And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years,” and Revelation 12:9 “And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.”

Moreover, his sins of lying and murdering were there:

John 8:44
Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.

After all, because of Satan’s lie, Eve was deceived and came under judgment of death, making Satan both liar and simultaneously murderer.

Some people may speculate that it was in this very act that Satan fell – namely that the fall of Satan is timed as immediately before the fall of man. Whether this is the case or not, we simply do not know, because Scripture does not say. One reason to think this is that the Serpent is cursed specifically together with Adam and Eve, but prior to the curse of the earth for Adam’s sin (Genesis 3:14).

The only remaining question is how there could be sin before Adam’s sin, when Scripture states:

Romans 5:12
Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:

But just as this does not exclude Eve’s sin before Adam’s sin, so also it does not exclude Satan’s sin before Eve’s sin. For Adam was made the head of the physical creation. In Adam (not in Eve or in Satan) all mankind fell, and that in context is what Paul is describing.

Scripture tells all we need to know. John assures us that we can read the gospel of John and believe and have eternal life (John 20:31) and the Scriptures teach us that they thoroughly equip us for living the Christian life (2 Timothy 3:17). Nevertheless Scripture does not promise to answer every question we may have about everything. Some things we simply cannot be dogmatic about. We should, therefore, cease to be dogmatic where Scripture ceases revelation.

– TurretinFan

Unconditional Love and Obedience

October 11, 2009

God loves his elect unconditionally and consequently gave His only-begotten Son to be their ransom. We who are loved unconditionally cannot earn that love, either by faith or works. It is simply bestowed upon us out of the riches of his grace (Ephesians 2:7), mercy, and compassion (Romans 9:15). Nevertheless, we ought not only to believe on the Son, but also unconditionally to obey the commands of God. We do so, not hoping for any eternal reward, but simply loathing and detesting the sin for which our Savior died. Perfect love, Scripture tells us, casts out fear (1 John 4:18). Show your love of God and your appreciation for the Son of God by avoiding sin. You will neither merit heaven nor increase your justification, but you will be walking as children of light (Ephesians 5:8).

Sin of Onan

September 29, 2009

*** Caveat ***

Onan’s sin was something disgusting, something that displeased God, and for which Onan was slain. The reason I’m spending a whole post on this topic is that recently some Roman Catholics have been trying to use the issue of Onan’s sin as some sort of argument that “Protestant” folks are unwilling to consider Scripture.

I realize, as well, that there are some Roman Catholics for whom this is not a matter of serious consideration. They have a theology that their church has given them (or so they think) and they are going to stick with that, regardless of what Scripture says or doesn’t say.

I also realize that some of them think that it is a notable matter that many of the Reformers held over some traditional ideas that influenced their view of what Onan’s sin was. Apparently, for them, it is a significant issue if our understanding of the text is different than the majority view of the text from relatively early in the patristic period through at least the first two centuries of the Reformation era.

Finally, of course, I’ve tried to use euphemism in the following discussion, for reasons that should be apparent to any adult. If you decide to comment on this post, keep in mind that if your comments are explicit, I will censor them.

*** End of Caveat ***

What is the sin of Onan? Many Roman Catholics today argue against certain contraceptive activities on, among other things, the idea that this is condemned as the sin of Onan in Genesis 38:9. The following is a response to that idea.

First, the text:

Genesis 38:9 And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother’s wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother.

Next, the text in context:

Genesis 38:6-11
And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, whose name was Tamar. And Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD slew him. And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother’s wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother. And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother’s wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother. And the thing which he did displeased the LORD: wherefore he slew him also. Then said Judah to Tamar his daughter in law, Remain a widow at thy father’s house, till Shelah my son be grown: for he said, Lest peradventure he die also, as his brethren did. And Tamar went and dwelt in her father’s house.

i) Genesis 38:9 does not provide any universal moral commandment.

The wording of the verse itself should be a clue to that. Also, of course, the context of the verse should be a clue. The verse is worded in that God was displeased by what Onan did and slew Onan. Furthermore, this discussion is not given in the context of a set of laws, but rather in the context of an historical account.

ii) Genesis 38:9 is susceptible to several possible interpretations, because it merely states that the thing that Onan did displeased God and that consequently God slew him.

There are several possible things that displeased God about what Onan did. The thing that displeased God could be:

1) Because Onan slept with his brother’s widow.

2) Because Onan spilled his seed on the ground.

3) Because Onan refused to raise up seed to his brother.

4) Because Onan disobeyed his father.

We can rule out (1), because Judah had commanded Onan to do this, and Judah’s command is supported by the later Mosaic codification of the levirate law (Deuteronomy 25:5-10).

If (2) is correct (and, in a sense, it is correct), the question is why? The only clear answer is …

That (3) is correct. The reason that spilling the seed on the ground was wrong was because it was a refusal to perform the duty required by Judah and later codified by Moses. Onan failed to honor his father, and God slew him.

We might add (4) as well, but (4) is correct inasmuch as (3) is correct.

iii) Several less general principles can be drawn from this passage.

It is dangerous to rush to generalizations from a single passage. There are several generalizations that could be made from this text, in view of the meaning of the text.

1) That disobedience to parents is wrong.

2) That failure to obey the levirate law is wrong.

3) That levirate relations should be procreative only.

4) That marital relations should be procreative only.

Given the level of detail provided in the text, (1) seems to be unsatisfying. It does not seem that God was simply displeased because Onan disobeyed his father, but over the manner in which he did so.

The fourth option (4) is much too general. The fact that this was a levirate relationship is significant to the flow of the text, and a generalization that fails to account for this seems to fail to identify the true issue.

The remaining options are (2) and (3). These are not far apart. Nevertheless, we can distinguish between the two. The issue is not one in which Onan obeyed the levirate law and then did something else in addition, instead it is one in which he refused to obey the levirate law. Thus, (2) is the better answer than (3).

iv) The fact that Calvin (and Luther?) viewed Onan’s activity to be inherently displeasing to God does not make it so.

A surprising number of people think that it is significant that Luther (?) and Calvin generalized Onan’s sin rather differently than we do. Nevertheless, Luther and Calvin agreed with us that their views ought to be held up to the light of Scripture. Since their views of this particular text do not seem to be sustainable exegetically, we are justified in departing from their position on this issue.

Some have even gone so far as to suggest that if we say Luther/Calvin/whoever misunderstood this text, we’re saying they were unsaved. Certainly that is not what we are saying. The fact that people disagree with the best exegesis of the text does not mean that those people are not Christians.

v) Does Onan’s intent matter?

In seeking to generalize the teaching of the verse differently, some have asserted that Onan’s intent in doing what he did was unimportant. It didn’t really matter (say they) that he was seeking to avoiding raising up children to his brother. I find this idea strange. Intent is normally highly significant. Furthermore, the text makes a point of telling us Onan’s intent.

If we ignore Onan’s intent, we would be in the position of saying that even if Onan simply spilled it accidentally, God would still have slain him and that Scripture uselessly provided us with this information about what was going on inside Onan’s mind. Can any reasonable person think that is the case?

vi) What about Er?

Note that Er was also wicked and was slain by God. We’re not told what Er did, and yet we know Er didn’t have children. Some have interpolated this to mean that Er was doing the same basic act as what Onan was doing, and have attempted to use this to justify generalizing beyond the levirate situation.

The problem with such a claim is that the extent of our knowledge is that Onan’s older brother Er was wicked and was slain by God. We’re not told why or what he did. We are not told that he did anything remotely similar to what Onan did. Furthermore, Judah’s concern regarding Shelah does not seem to be motivated by a fear that he will do the same thing as Onan, but more of essentially a fear that Tamar was “bad luck.”

Likewise, the larger context (which I have omitted for brevity) adds that Judah ultimately blocked Onan’s younger brother from marrying Tamar (Er/Onan’s widow). Subsequently, Judah himself did (unintentionally) raise up seed to his son, by sleeping with his son’s widow (whom he thought at the time was a prostitute). It should be noted, however, that the children of that union are never attributed to Er, but always to Judah.

vii) But is the death penalty the appropriate punishment for violation of the levirate law?

While Moses did not appoint death for violation of the levirate law, God is free to sentence to death everyone who violates His law in any degree (James 2:10 For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.) And, in any event, dishonoring one’s parents was a capital crime under Mosaic system, and the command here was a command of Onan’s father.


Sad News – "Jesus Christ" Not Welcome in PA State House

July 21, 2009

Apparently this is also old news, but it is reported that chaplains who pray in the Pennsylvania state House of Representatives are forbidden from using the name of Jesus Christ (link). There is such a thing as a state begging for God to send judgment upon it. Let us pray that instead he shows mercy.

Updated to reflect that this is PA state, not USA, house.

>Gregory of Nyssa on Sinlessness: Only Jesus Sinless

July 8, 2009

>Some folks like to paint Gregory of Nyssa as though he were a Roman Catholic. Certainly, of course, there are points where his theology contains errors. His beliefs would not have squared with the Westminster Confession of Faith in every respect. So, to be clear, Gregory of Nyssa was neither a “Roman Catholic” nor a “Reformed Presbyterian.” He was an early churchman, and more specifically a Cappadocian.

One area where we can see his similarity to the Reformed camp and difference from the Roman camp is on the issue of the supposed immaculate conception of Mary. Like many of the church fathers, Gregory of Nyssa had no concept of the sinlessness of Mary. The only person Gregory of Nyssa ever describes as “sinless” is Christ, and Gregory viewed Christ as unique in this regard. Let’s look at his discussion of that topic.

We next learn about the return of a person who has erred and the change from evil to enjoyment of the good. He [Christ] who has been tempted in all things and is without sin [Heb 4.15] holds converse with us in our human nature. He who assumed our weakness showed us a way out of evil through the infirmities of his human nature. “Instruct me in the Wisdom [Christ] according to the Solomon who was in the flesh which held converse with us.” Once familiar with it, we are able to pass judgment on what men pursue.

– Gregory of Nyssa, Commentaries on Ecclesiastes, Second Homily

This is really just a quotation of the Biblical declaration of Christ’s sinlessness.

The Christian Faith, which in accordance with the command of our Lord has been preached to all nations by His disciples, is neither of men, nor by men, but by our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, Who being the Word, the Life, the Light, the Truth, and God, and Wisdom, and all else that He is by nature, for this cause above all was made in the likeness of man, and shared our nature, becoming like us in all things, yet without sin.

– Gregory of Nyssa, Against Eunomius, Book II, Chapter 1

Again, this is just a quotation of the Biblical declaration of Christ’s sinlessness.

Thus we say that this expression, as well as the other, admits of an orthodox interpretation. For He Who for our sakes became like as we are, was in the last days truly created—He Who in the beginning being Word and God afterwards became Flesh and Man. For the nature of flesh is created: and by partaking in it in all points like as we do, yet without sin, He was created when He became man: and He was created “after God [Ephesians 4:24],” not after man, as the Apostle says, in a new manner and not according to human wont.

– Gregory of Nyssa, Against Eunomius, Book II, Chapter 10

This too is just a quotation of the Biblical declaration of Christ’s sinlessness.

Now sin is nothing else than alienation from God, Who is the true and only life. Accordingly the first man lived many hundred years after his disobedience, and yet God lied not when He said, “In the day that you eat thereof you shall surely die.” For by the fact of his alienation from the true life, the sentence of death was ratified against him that self-same day: and after this, at a much later time, there followed also the bodily death of Adam. He therefore Who came for this cause that He might seek and save that which was lost, (that which the shepherd in the parable calls the sheep,) both finds that which is lost, and carries home on His shoulders the whole sheep, not its skin only, that He may make the man of God complete, united to the deity in body and in soul. And thus He Who was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin, left no part of our nature which He did not take upon Himself. Now the soul is not sin though it is capable of admitting sin into it as the result of being ill-advised: and this He sanctifies by union with Himself for this end, that so the lump may be holy along with the first-fruits.

– Gregory of Nyssa, Against Eunomius, Book II, Chapter 13

Here Christ’s sinlessness is used to uniquely identify him. Although Gregory does not explicitly say that there is only one such person, he uses the expression as though it were a particular identifier.

Now if, in becoming Son of Man, he were without participation in human nature, it would be logical to say that neither does He share in the Divine essence, though He is Son of God. But if the whole compound nature of man was in Him (for He was “in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” [Hebrews 4:15]), it is surely necessary to believe that every property of the transcendent essence is also in Him, as the Word “Son” claims for Him both alike— the Human in the man, but in the God the Divine.

– Gregory of Nyssa, Against Eunomius, Book III, Chapter 4

This is just another quotation of the Biblical declaration of Christ’s sinlessness.

For he everywhere attributes to the Human element in Christ the dispensation of the Passion, when he says, “for since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead [1 Corinthians 15:21],” and, “God, sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, condemned sin in the flesh ” (for he says, “in the flesh,” not “in the Godhead”); and “He was crucified through weakness” (where by “weakness” he means “the flesh”), “yet lives by power [2 Corinthians 13:4]” (while he indicates by “power” the Divine Nature); and, “He died unto sin” (that is, with regard to the body), “but lives unto God [Romans 6:10]” (that is, with regard to the Godhead, so that by these words it is established that, while the Man tasted death, the immortal Nature did not admit the suffering of death); and again; “He made Him to be sin for us, Who knew no sin 2 Corinthians 5:21,” giving once more the name of “sin” to the flesh.

– Gregory of Nyssa, Against Eunomius, Book VI, Chapter 1

This passage is interesting in the debate on the atonement with modern Roman Catholics, but as to the issue of Christ’s sinlessness, it is simply a quotation of one of the Scriptural affirmations of that fact.

For we give the name of “passion” only to that which is opposed to the virtuous unimpassioned state and of this we believe that He Who granted us salvation was at all times devoid, Who “was in all points tempted like as we are yet without sin [Hebrews 4:15].” Of that, at least, which is truly passion, which is a diseased condition of the will, He was not a partaker; for it says “He did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth [1 Peter 2:22]”; but the peculiar attributes of our nature, which, by a kind of customary abuse of terms, are called by the same name of “passion,”— of these, we confess, the Lord did partake,— of birth, nourishment, growth, of sleep and toil, and all those natural dispositions which the soul is wont to experience with regard to bodily inconveniences,— the desire of that which is lacking, when the longing passes from the body to the soul, the sense of pain, the dread of death, and all the like, save only such as, if followed, lead to sin.

– Gregory of Nyssa, Against Eunomius, Book VI, Chapter 3

Here Gregory emphasizes Christ’s sinlessness with reference to several relevant passages.

Since, then, this was the sum of our calamity, that humanity was exiled from the good Father, and was banished from the Divine oversight and care, for this cause He Who is the Shepherd of the whole rational creation, left in the heights of heaven His unsinning and supramundane flock, and, moved by love, went after the sheep which had gone astray, even our human nature. For human nature, which alone, according to the similitude in the parable, through vice roamed away from the hundred of rational beings, is, if it be compared with the whole, but an insignificant and infinitesimal part. Since then it was impossible that our life, which had been estranged from God, should of itself return to the high and heavenly place, for this cause, as says the Apostle, He Who knew no sin is made sin for us, and frees us from the curse by taking on Him our curse as His own, and having taken up, and, in the language of the Apostle, “slain” in Himself “the enmity” which by means of sin had come between us and God—(in fact sin was “the enmity”)— and having become what we were, He through Himself again united humanity to God.

– Gregory of Nyssa, Against Eunomius, Book XII, Chapter 1

This is another passage that is very interesting with respect to the atonement. It also tangentially touches on the theological point that a reason that Christ was a suitable mediator was his sinlessness. But again, as to our particular topic, Gregory is simply reiterating the Scriptural position that Christ had no sin.

“But I do not see,” he rejoins, “how God can be above His own works simply by virtue of such things as do not belong to Him.” And on the strength of this clever sally he calls it a union of folly and profanity, that our great Basil has ventured on such terms. But I would counsel him not to indulge his ribaldry too freely against those who use these terms, lest he should be unconsciously at the same moment heaping insults on himself. For I think that he himself would not gainsay that the very grandeur of the Divine Nature is recognized in this, viz. in the absence of all participation in those things which the lower natures are shown to possess. For if God were involved in any of these peculiarities, He would not possess His superiority, but would be quite identified with any single individual among the beings who share that peculiarity. But if He is above such things, by reason, in fact, of His not possessing them, then He stands also above those who do possess them; just as we say that the Sinless is superior to those in sin. The fact of being removed from evil is an evidence of abounding in the best. But let him heap these insults on us to his heart’s content. We will only remark, in passing, on a single one of the points mentioned under this head, and will then return to the discussion of the main question.

– Gregory of Nyssa, Answer to Eunomius’ Second Book

Here Gregory identifies “Sinless” and God, and uses “the Sinless” as a unique designator, even more clearly than in the previous instance above.

He became the image of the invisible God out of love so that in his own form which he assumed, you might be conformed through him to the stamp of archetypal beauty for becoming what he was from the beginning. If we are to become the invisible God’s image, we must model the form of our life upon the pattern given us (Jn 13.15). What is this model? He who lives in the flesh does not live according to it (Rom 8.12). That prototype is the image of the invisible God; having become man through the Virgin, he was tempted in all things according to the likeness of human nature yet did not experience sin. “He committed no sin, neither was any guile found in his mouth” (1Pt 2.22).

– Gregory of Nyssa, On Perfection

This is a restatement and emphasis on the Scriptural teaching that Christ was and is sinless.

If we have become brothers of the Lord who became the First-Born among many brothers through a similar rebirth by water and the Spirit, certain characteristics in our lives should manifest a close relationship to him, the First-Born of creation, who was conformed to our life. What characteristics of that form has scripture taught us? We have often said that “He committed no sin, nor was deceit found in his mouth” (1Pt 2.22). If we are to be named brothers of him who brought us into birth, innocence of life will constitute our relationship with him provided that no impurity separates us from a union in innocence.

– Gregory of Nyssa, On Perfection

This is yet another quotation of the Scriptural doctrine that Christ was sinless.

However, the mediator of God and man (1Tim 2.5) who joined the human race to God through his own person brings into union with God only that person who is worthy of it. When Christ united man to himself by the power of his divinity, he assumed part of our common nature not subject to nature’s passions which excite us to sin (for it says “He committed no sin, nor was deceit found in his mouth”). Christ will unite each person with his divinity provided that they have no hindrance preventing their union with God.

– Gregory of Nyssa, On Perfection

This is another restatement and emphasis on the Scriptural teaching that Christ was and is sinless.

Only the Lord is free from the adversary’s possessions; he conformed himself to us and our passions yet had no sin [Heb 4.15]. “The prince of this world is coming and he has no power over me” [Jn 14.30]. Anyone who takes care to cleanse himself by repentance can observe persons who allow virtue to shine through. Paul despised the evil of unbelief by accepting the gift of prophecy [Gal 2.8-9] since it had the treasure he sought. Isaiah lost all impurity of word and thought through purification by the divine coal [Is 6.6-7] and was filled by the Holy Spirit. He lost every bit by participating in the good or anything he reckoned contrary to it. And so, the temperate man loses licentiousness, the righteous loses unrighteousness, the modest person loses arrogance, the benevolent loses jealousy and the loving person loses hostility. Similarly, the blind man in the Gospel found what he did not have and lost what he already had [Mk 8.22-26], that is, the splendor of light took the place of his blindness. Also the leper received the boon of health [Mt 8.1-4], and life was bestowed upon those who rose from the dead while death passed away [Mk 1.40-45]. Therefore our teaching claims that we cannot possess anything on high unless we lose our earthly, humble qualities.

– Gregory of Nyssa, Commentary on Ecclesiastes, Seventh Homily

This final quotation puts the nail in the coffin. If we did not have this quotation, we would have only indirect affirmations of the unique sinlessness of Christ, but this quotation makes it explicit: “Only the Lord.”

What about Mary? Did Gregory of Nyssa view her as sinless and somehow absentmindedly forget about her above? There is nothing in his teachings to suggest that. He does use the adjective “immaculate” of her, but only (as was traditionally the case) with respect to her body: she was an immaculate virgin, not simply a technical virgin or something like that.

Let us attempt to clarify our position and offer our own view. Human nature subsists by union of the intellectual soul with the body. However, both have their existence from a certain material substance. Man’s material existence has its origin in the divine power; if anyone supposes his existence does not spring from this creative power, matter is sterile and does not come to life through [God’s] creative activity. Just as this creative power brings man into existence by a union of body and soul, so does the power of the Most High exercise itself with regard to the Virgin’s immaculate body in an immaterial fashion through the Spirit’s vivifying where incorruptibility assumes matter in the virgin’s body to create a fetus. And so, the New Man is formed who first and alone received this means of existence. He was formed according to God, not man, since the divine power equally pervaded his entire constitution. As a result, both parts of his constitution partook of divinity with a harmonious composition of soul and body.

– Gregory of Nyssa, Against Apollinarius

Notice that it is the virgin’s immaculate body. The immaculateness of her body relates to the fact that no man had lain with her before the conception. Thus, Christ’s conception was the opposite, in a sense, of our own glorification:

1 Corinthians 15:53-54
53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.

Furthermore, from the same passage of Gregory, we can see that he viewed Christ’s immaculate conception to be unique: “the New Man is formed who first and alone received this means of existence.” Now, of course, that is primarily referring to having God as a father instead of a human father, but the whole event is unique and unparalleled.

I believe that [Christ] is both man and God, a statement complying with faith’s correct interpretation and not with [Apollinarius’] inscription. For neither is the divinity earthly nor is humanity divine as he maintains; rather, the power of the Most High comes from above through the Holy Spirit [Lk 1.35] which overshadowed our human nature, that is, this power took on form, the spotless Virgin nourished it in human flesh, and he who was born from her was named Son of the Most High. The divine power which has its origin with the Most High thus assumed fellowship with mankind.

– Gregory of Nyssa, Against Apollinarius

Again, notice that the “spotless” aspect of the Virgin is in regard to her flesh. She was a spotless Virgin, not having even marred her virginity by intercourse with Joseph during Jesus’ pregnancy.

This, I think, was the reason why our Master, Jesus Christ Himself, the Fountain of all innocence, did not come into the world by wedlock. It was, to divulge by the manner of His Incarnation this great secret; that purity is the only complete indication of the presence of God and of His coming, and that no one can in reality secure this for himself, unless he has altogether estranged himself from the passions of the flesh. What happened in the stainless Mary when the fullness of the Godhead which was in Christ shone out through her, that happens in every soul that leads by rule the virgin life.

– Gregory of Nyssa, On Virginity, Chapter 2

Likewise here, the “stainless” aspect of Mary is her virginity. Of course, there is some ambiguity. If someone wanted to try to impose a view of Mary being sinless, this is doubtless where they would attempt to do so, since there is some parallel between Mary and “every soul.” But, in context, it is referring to the fact that Mary was “estranged … from the passions of the flesh,” meaning that she did not know Joseph before Jesus was born.

I searched in vain for additional references to Mary being “immaculate” in any sense in Gregory’s writings. No further references were forthcoming. Nevertheless, some additional uses of that term (or terms like it) were to be found in Gregory’s writings:

Such is the God of heresy. But what we, who, in the words of the Apostle, have been called to liberty by Christ, Who has freed us from bondage, have been taught by the Scriptures to think, I will set forth in few words. I take my start from the inspired teaching, and boldly declare that the Divine Word does not wish even us to be slaves, our nature having now been changed for the better, and that He Who has taken all that was ours, on the terms of giving to us in return what is His, even as He took disease, death, curse, and sin, so took our slavery also, not in such a way as Himself to have what He took, but so as to purge our nature of such evils, our defects being swallowed up and done away with in His stainless nature.

– Gregory of Nyssa, Against Eunomius, Book X, Chapter 4

The nature of Christ is stainless according to Gregory – no similar comment is ever made (that we can find) by Gregory of Mary.

For our Lord has announced that the life after our resurrection shall be as that of the angels. Now the peculiarity of the angelic nature is that they are strangers to marriage; therefore the blessing of this promise has been already received by him who has not only mingled his own glory with the halo of the Saints, but also by the stainlessness of his life has so imitated the purity of these incorporeal beings.

– Gregory of Nyssa, On Virginity, Chapter 13

In this example, the “stainlessness” that Gregory seems to have in mind is Christ’s own virginity, although it could perhaps refer to Christ’s sinlessness.

Indeed it has been revealed in the oracles of God, on what occasion to conceive and to bring forth is a good thing, and what species of fecundity was desired by God’s saints; for both the Prophet Isaiah and the divine Apostle have made this clear and certain. The one cries, “From fear of You, O Lord, have I conceived;” the other boasts that he is the parent of the largest family of any, bringing to the birth whole cities and nations; not the Corinthians and Galatians only whom by his travailings he moulded for the Lord, but all in the wide circuit from Jerusalem to Illyricum; his children filled the world, “begotten” by him in Christ through the Gospel. In the same strain the womb of the Holy Virgin, which ministered to an Immaculate Birth, is pronounced blessed in the Gospel; for that birth did not annul the Virginity, nor did the Virginity impede so great a birth.

– Gregory of Nyssa, On Virginity, Chapter 19

Here we find further confirmation of the same principle. This is the only “immaculate birth” of which Gregory is aware (the only one that appears in his writings that we can find). It is the immaculate birth of Christ. Now, to be sure, there is some doctrine in Gregory’s comments here that sounds more like a Gnostic or Roman Catholic view (especially the idea that “birth did not annul the Virginity, nor did the Virginity impede so great a birth”). But we can just accept the fact that Gregory was neither a Roman Catholic nor a Reformed Presbyterian. Like any Christian, his teachings were imperfect, but we must take him as he was, not try to change him into something he was not as our Romanist adversaries sometimes try.


Word of Caution for Children of all Ages

April 15, 2009

Micah 7:6 For the son dishonoureth the father, the daughter riseth up against her mother, the daughter in law against her mother in law; a man’s enemies are the men of his own house.

Proverbs 30:11 There is a generation that curseth their father, and doth not bless their mother.

Ezekiel 22:7 In thee have they set light by father and mother: in the midst of thee have they dealt by oppression with the stranger: in thee have they vexed the fatherless and the widow.

Proverbs 30:17 The eye that mocketh at his father, and despiseth to obey his mother, the ravens of the valley shall pick it out, and the young eagles shall eat it.

Exodus 21:17 And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death.

Leviticus 20:9 For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death: he hath cursed his father or his mother; his blood shall be upon him.

Proverbs 20:20 Whoso curseth his father or his mother, his lamp shall be put out in obscure darkness.

Deuteronomy 27:16 Cursed be he that setteth light by his father or his mother. And all the people shall say, Amen.

Wisdom on Lying

April 1, 2009

Proverbs 12:22 Lying lips are abomination to the LORD: but they that deal truly are his delight.

Proverbs 17:7 Excellent speech becometh not a fool: much less do lying lips a prince.

Proverbs 10:18 He that hideth hatred with lying lips, and he that uttereth a slander, is a fool.

Psalm 120:2 Deliver my soul, O LORD, from lying lips, and from a deceitful tongue.

Psalm 31:18 Let the lying lips be put to silence; which speak grievous things proudly and contemptuously against the righteous.

Especially appropriate for this day of the year.


Why Women are Leaving Men for Other Women

March 31, 2009

The headline of this post is the same as a recent headline in the “Lifestyle” section of MSN (link to article – Caution Inappropriate Subject Matter at Link). The article tries to take a naturalistic approach, focusing essentially on biological explanations.

For example, the article quotes Lisa Diamond, Ph.D., as stating that regarding a woman’s desires, “It doesn’t appear to be something a woman can control.” The article, focusing on these biological explanations, also notes that men seem more “rigid” in these things and women more “fluid.”

All this misses the point. The Bible has the answer to why it is that women leave men for other women, and why men leave women for other men. The answer is God’s judgment on sin.

Romans 1:25-32
25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: 27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. 28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; 29 Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, 30 Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: 32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

How fitting that a society who worships biology, as though biology in itself could provide the answers, is turned over to this perversion of the natural order. God has turned over the minds of this generation to such an extent that these shameful behaviors are no longer the skeleton in the closet, or even an elephant in the living room, but the open talk of all. The article puts it this way, “we’ve arrived at a moment in the popular culture when it all suddenly seems almost fashionable — or at least, acceptable.”

May God forgive us of these sins, and show mercy on us, bringing repentance to our society before it is swallowed up in judgment. There is a solution to this problem: conformity to the Law of God (not out of servile fear, but out of love for our Creator), which may be found in the Holy Scriptures.


Does God Punish Sin?

January 21, 2009

Wes White provides an excellent and thorough answer to the question, “Does God Punish Sin?” in this recent post (link). The answer, of course, is yes.

God punishes every sin. Either he punishes you, or he punishes Christ. Put your trust in Christ and He will bear the burden of your sins for you.


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