The Repudiation Of Grace

Death and Judgment


WE FIND UNTENABLE the idea which some have taught concerning the diminutive form for “scroll” in Revelation 20:12. The claim is that it refers to a “small” scroll here and that this little “scrollet” becomes a very large “scroll” following the day of judgment. This supposedly will occur inasmuch as the names of most men will then be added to the scroll of life. The great majority, having finally done their part, using their free wills aright, will thus qualify themselves for exemption from the second death. It is claimed that therefore only a few enter the second death. This remarkable claim is based on the irrational idea popularly known as “free will.”[1] Yet appeal is made directly to the diminutive form of the Greek biblos, biblion, which appears in Revelation 20:12. In reply to this, we would simply point out that diminution in form is no proof of diminution of meaning. Morphological diminution need not signify a literally, smaller object. Much less would it be the case, even if this were so, that the only possible reason for the existence of a larger scroll following the day of judging would be that by then a vast number of names had been added to the original, smaller scroll—to say nothing of the claim that this would all occur by means of man’s exercise of his fancied “free will.” Mere inferences—especially when based on mistaken word meaning and false philosophies—are by no means corollaries.

There is no more reason to suppose a difference in size between the biblion of Revelation 20:12 and the biblos of 20:15 than between the biblos of Luke 3:4 and the biblion of Luke 4:17 or 4:20. Both of these passages in Luke are in reference to the scroll of Isaiah. Yet one uses the diminutive form while the other uses the non-diminutive.

Another claim is that the Concordant Version is wrong in its renderings “who are called according to the purpose . . . .” (Rom.8: 28) and, “God’s chosen ones” (Rom.8:33). The true renderings, we are told, are “who are callable according to the purpose . . . . and, “God’s choosable ones.” The foundational idea is that the believers make themselves choosable and callable by means of the proper use of their free will. It is claimed that God merely foresees what such ones will do, and then, on the basis of their “responsible” decisions, elects them accordingly.

Even if free will were possible, however, such could not be the basis of God’s election. This is because we are chosen not according to our fitness, but according to His grace. Our election corresponds with our suitability to God’s purpose in the eons to come; it is not its basis. Besides, any suitability of our own for eonian salvation may well be of the nature of our own especial unworthiness (cp 1 Cor.1:26-29). Such is hardly a call for boasting. Yet neither are our better qualities any call for boasting. What do we have but what we have received? Why, then, are we boasting? (cf 1 Cor.4:7).

Even so, some will still claim that the endings—tos or -ton (plural form, -toi) on verbal adjectives mean the idea of “able.” This is done for the purpose of supporting the claim that “free will” is true, it being imagined that such a claim would serve this purpose. The fact that the Concordant Version sometimes idiomatically renders these forms in this way in the case of negatives (e.g., “an Unknowable God”; Acts 17:23) is misused against it. The suggestion is sometimes made that its translator “knew the truth” about this grammatical form, yet, in some instances, willfully translated “incorrectly” anyhow, in order to support his false theology. It is to be regretted that such claims are made, even as that some are caused to swerve from the truth by them.

The usage of this grammatical form in Acts 7:51 proves that the idea of “able” is not its actual meaning. It is there that Stephen declares of the Jews, “Stiff-necked and uncircumcised aperitmetoi in your hearts and ears, you are ever clashing with the holy spirit!” If they had been “uncircumcisable” in their hearts, they could hardly become circumcised, which, certainly, is far from the truth. Indeed, one of those to whom it was said that he was uncircumcised of heart, was a stubborn and sinful young man called Saul (Acts 7:58)—who soon became the apostle Paul! Yet, if the scriptural record is given any credit, he contributed nothing at all to his change of disposition and faith (1 Tim.1:12-16; 1 Cor.15:10).

The Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, uses this same word, aperitmêton, in a large number of passages, many of which are clearly definitive. Note the following examples, by means of which the meaning of this word is clearly shown to be “uncircumcised,” and the false notion “uncircumcisable” absurd: “And the uncircumcised male, the flesh of whose foreskin was not circumcised in the eighth day, that soul also shall be cut off from his people . . . .” (Gen.17:14). “ . . . If then their uncircumcised heart should submit, and if they should accept their depravity, then I will remember My covenant with Jacob and also My covenant with Isaac . . . .” (Lev.26:41,42). “Yet their sons whom He sets up in their stead, them Joshua circumcised, for they [were] uncircumcised seeing that they do not circumcise them in the way” (Joshua 5:7).

Furthermore, this extraordinary claim about verbal adjectives with -tos or -ton endings—that this form signifies “able” and therefore demonstrates our “choosableness” and “callableness”—concerns those who were already chosen in grace before the disruption of the world (Eph.1:4), who, like Jacob and Esau, had not yet even been born much less put into practice anything good or bad (cp Rom.9:11).[2]

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Similar claims have been made concerning the middle voice with regard to those who supposedly, by free will of course, adapted themselves unto destruction (cf Rom.9:22). The claim is that the middle voice is reflexive, and signifies action imposed by oneself.

It is in this very context, however, that Paul concerns himself with those whom he terms “vessels,” mere pieces of clay in the hands of the Potter, God. “That which is molded will not protest to the molder, ‘Why do you make me thus?’ Or has not the potter the right over the clay, out of the same kneading to make one vessel, indeed, for honor, yet one for dishonor?” (Rom.9:20,21). Especially in a context in which the deity of God has just been stressed, it is not credible to suggest that Paul, contradicting himself in the process, would suddenly assert that man’s destiny is a matter of freewill self-determination.

Besides, the middle voice does not signify the idea of reflexiveness (“self”). The fact that this concept is not impossible in certain of its occurrences is beside the point and is no proof of its actual significance or purpose.

Did the eons adapt (or “adjust”) themselves to a declaration of God (Heb.11:3)? Did the woman dismiss herself from her marriage (Matt.19:9)? Did the woman with a spirit of infirmity release herself from her infirmity (Luke 13:12)? Were Paul and his associates persecuting themselves (1 Cor.4:12) and calumniating themselves (Rom.3:8)? Did the disciples hate themselves because of Christ’s name (Matt.10:22)?

Did the universe create itself, albeit through Him and for Him (Col.1:16)? Is the word of the cross the power of God to us who are saving ourselves (1 Cor.1:18)? Did the two robbers crucify themselves (Matt.27:38)? Do men’s sins pardon themselves (Matt.9:2)? Does the body rouse itself in incorruption and glory (1 Cor.15:42-44)?

“A study of [such] cases will show that the word taste (used figuratively) will come much closer as an aid to express the middle than self, because taste is in the middle voice. Let us try: we are tasting persecution, to taste betrayal, taste calumniation, taste hate, taste judging, taste injury. It is not so much an act done to or for oneself, as a conscious realization by the soul. English uses the other senses of perception in the same way. We can say see or feel, in place of taste, in almost every case. Rather than acting on self, it refers to what is gone through, experienced, undergone. Even when the reflexive pronoun, idiomatically, can be added, as in wash yourself, the verb itself is not reflexive but only denotes do or undergo washing. Therefore, even in such instances, it should not be imagined that the middle voice signifies ‘self.’

“The first occurrence of the middle form of the verb live holds the key to the meaning of this voice. A lawyer put our Lord on trial by asking, ‘Teacher, by doing what should I enjoy the allotment of life eonian?’ Our Lord asked him, ‘What is written in the law?’ After he had cited it, the Lord said to him, ‘Correctly have you answered. This be doing and you shall be living’ (middle voice; Luke 10:25-28).

“Why did He use this voice? In order to answer as ‘correctly’ as the lawyer had done. In Israel land was not bought or sold, obtained or given, but tenanted. The land remained the property of the Deity. The lawyer did not ask how to get life for himself as his own private property. What he wanted was to continue his tenancy or allotment for the eons. But he was ready to do what was needed to secure this end. Our Lord simply bade him fulfill the law. Were it possible for anyone to really fulfill it, they would be allotted the tenancy or enjoy the allotment of life. This is expressed by the middle form of the verb ‘live.’

“But our Lord did not stop with ‘correctly’ answering the lawyer’s question. He goes on, in the parable of the good Samaritan, to show him that he has already broken the law, hence is half dead, and that neither law nor religion, as set forth in the Levite and priest, dared to come to his aid. Had he kept the law he would live—as long as he did it. But, once he failed, only the mercy of God could save him through the Lowly and Despised Stranger, Who not only cared for his present distress but provided for his future needs. His reply not only told him that while his answer was superficially correct, he was mistaken in the assumption that he could do anything, that is, of himself. It implied that he lacked life, so, like the man on the road to Jericho, he could do nothing to help himself, but was dependent on the mercy of Another.

“This is clear also from the law laid down for the nations, who have no revealed legislation. God will pay each one according to his acts: to those, indeed, who, by endurance in good acts are seeking glory and honor and incorruption, eonian life (Rom.2:7). For both Israel and the nations there is life for those who fulfill the standard of God’s holiness. They will continue to live until the judgment, and then they will be awarded eonian life. Life is simply a matter of confidence, either in our own deeds or in God’s. So long as mankind does not realize its own utter inability, it must be put to work to demonstrate this fact beyond the possibility of a doubt, by its failure. Neither the enjoyment of life now, nor the allotment of eonian life in the coming eons, will be based on man’s deeds. His confidence in himself will be shattered and replaced by faith in the Living and Life-giving God. The enjoyment of life is put in the middle voice, not the getting of life.”’[3]

Consequently, in the vessels of indignation, we are to perceive those who are “adapted for destruction” (Rom.9:22); strictly, they undergo adaptation (for destruction). They are those who are “fitted out” for this purpose. It is their experience to be adapted thus, according to the wise counsels of God, Who is operating all according to the counsel of His will (Eph.1:11). “Yahweh has made everything for its own pertinent end, yea even the wicked for the day of evil” (Prov.16: 4).

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Even if the claim that the verbal adjective endings -tos and -ton signify -able were correct, and thus we were to speak of ourselves as being in some sense “choosable” and “callable,” this would not prove that we had, in an ultimate sense, made ourselves thus, or that we had done so by means of free will. Such claims would not explain why we became “choosable,” or even address the question as to whether anyone, categorically speaking, could have done otherwise. Similarly, speaking abstractly and practically, the claim that the lost “adapt themselves” for destruction is no doubt true. But this is no proof that such a translation of Romans 9:22 is correct, much less that the lost’s so doing is the ultimate explanation of such a phenomenon, or the proof that such acts are acts of free will. Such grammatical claims, whether true or false, by no means preclude the truth that God indeed makes vessels of indignation, who therefore experience adaptation for destruction. It is sad that so few seem to have much belief in, or heart for, God’s grace, even if some may wish to use the word itself quite freely. Yet this is what must be. No one can go beyond the bounds of his own disposition, which “must be” (Rom.12:3; cp Rom.8:26; 1 Cor.11:19). Therefore, may we not be startled by such opposition (cf Phil.1:28). Let us be praying for a realization of “the grace of God in truth,” (Col.1:6), that it might be ours to be boasting solely in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (Gal.6:14).

James Coram

[1] “Free will” is the notion of categorical, contrary choice, present conditions notwithstanding. Such a capacity, however, be it ever so vaunted and coveted, is simply impossible. It is certainly impossible in a causal world; and, it would be impossible as well in a non-causal world. This is because one’s ultimate control over events is as impossible in a non-causal world (a world of undetermined, ultimately chance occurrences) as it is in a causal world (a world of determined, inevitable occurrences). A man can no more avoid doing what he does by sheer chance, than what he does as the effect of a cause. Besides being irrational, belief in free will fosters self-righteousness and pride, even as scorn and contempt. It is the repudiation of “There but for the grace of God go I.”

[2] We were chosen in grace, not in foresight of any self-made cooperativeness of our own devising. Besides, even such a notion as this, though it would not be grace, would still preclude free will. This is because foreknowledge entails inevitability. Such a scheme would not be “free will,” but necessitarian polytheism (each believer being his own “god”), albeit in the presence of divine prescience.

[3] A. E. Knoch, UNSEARCHABLE RICHES, vol.37, pp.153,154,156,157.

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