Thursday, March 19, 2015

Two Dangerous Trends in Modern Preaching | Dr. Bob Payne

One of the greatest and most sobering privileges in my life has been preaching the Word of God.  Through the years I have done my best to bring biblical balance into my studies and my preaching.  In the past few years, as I have talked to preachers and evangelists and have read various articles written by fundamentalists, I have become increasingly concerned that modern preaching (and sermon preparation) is becoming increasingly imbalanced. I see two unbiblical extremes in modern fundamentalism.


I have to admit that I don’t “get out much.” Most weeks I am in the pulpit of Emmanuel Baptist Church. However, on occasion I have had the opportunity to hear another pastor preach when I have been on vacation. At times it is a delight, and at other times it is disturbing. During one of those “disturbing” messages, I clearly recall the preacher’s completely taking a passage out of context and then using it as a springboard to communicate what he wanted to say. Clearly, this man spent very little time preparing before he entered the pulpit. Sadly, I am afraid this type of preaching goes on week after week in fundamental churches all across North America.

The call to preach is also the call to prepare before a man preaches. Although each man has a different skill level when it comes to sermon preparation, every preacher has the responsibility to use the skills that he has to diligently prepare for messages. The man in the pulpit needs to take pains to study the passages that he will be preaching each week using sound hermeneutical principles in order to proclaim God’s word, not man’s.  Poor preparation leads to shallow, inaccurate preaching, and a flock that has a tendency to be “carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14). There is no place for laziness in the ministry if the preacher is to show himself “approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”


There are other preachers whose problem is not laziness but hermeneutics. They do diligently prepare for messages. They are never accused of having shallow sermons.  The problem with these men is not lack of study but faulty interpretation. These well-meaning men have fallen into at least four errors of Biblical interpretation:

1. The priority of grammar and exegesis over the total hermeneutical process.  Although grammar and exegesis are vital to a proper interpretation of the Word of God, it must be remembered that they are only a part of the entire hermeneutical process. Doing a micro-analysis of a text without considering the context is folly. Jettisoning one’s systematic theology (which is based upon the broad context of the Bible’s teaching about a particular doctrine) is also equally foolish.

2. Human reasoning overrides biblical teaching. Some Bible expositors have developed a “cerebral” approach to the scriptures. Much less time is spent on the text, and much more time is spent on logical extrapolations from the text. In the end, the product is similar to those who do little to prepare for messages. “What God says” is replaced with “what I think.” This approach to the Word of God exalts man and leads to arrogance.

3. An excessive dependence on historical theology and interpretation. The focus of Bible interpretation needs to be on the text. Although many things can be learned from a historical study of a text or of a theological point in the text, the rightness or wrongness of an interpretation is not ultimately determined by who taught it or how long ago they lived.  It is not true that if a teaching is old enough and the theologian teaching it is respected enough, the interpretation must be correct. Historical theology and interpretation should only be a minor part of the process of accurate Bible interpretation.

4. A tendency to read back what is true in the present dispensation into previous dispensations.  Progressive revelation must always be considered as we study the Word of God. A failure to do so might easily lead to a misinterpretation and misapplication of the Word of God. What is normative in our dispensation of grace is not always something that was normative in former dispensations.

People today are thirsty for the unadulterated Word of God.

Modern preaching is in want of both diligent preparation and accurate interpretation. Those of us who preach and teach the Bible desperately need this biblical balance. By bringing this into our ministries, we will be a blessing to those under our preaching and will glorify the God whom we serve.

As published in the November 2008 edition of The IBFNA Review (with a few edits)

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Character of the Judgment Seat of Christ by Dr. Bob Payne

[Published in the November 2014 IBFNA Review.]

Those who take the natural, normal meaning of the biblical text believe that a judgment of believers takes place in heaven following the rapture of the church (2 Cor. 5:10). Every church-age believer will stand before the Judgment (Bema) Seat of Christ to be evaluated by our Lord. With this, most who believe in a pre-tribulational rapture would agree.

The disgreement among pre-tribulationalists has less to do about where and when the Bema Seat will take place, and more about the character of the judgment. Some believe that the Bema Seat is an evaluation of sin where Christians will be punished, or at least publicly humiliated for unconfessed sins. Others believe that the Bema Seat is an evaluation of the nature of a believer's works (whether good or worthless). The disagreement between these two sides is significant since it involves a person's view of the very nature of the atonement. So, what saith the Scripture?

The Teaching Concerning the Believer and Sin

The Believer as Saved from Sin

The Bible is plain concerning what happens the moment a person receives Jesus Christ as Savior. His sins—past, present, and future—are all forgiven because of the blood of Christ (Col. 2:13). No longer does he stand before Him as a condemned sinner. The believer's sin was charged to Christ's account and He paid for it (2 Cor. 5:19, 21), and the righteousness of Christ is charged to the believer's account (1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Cor. 5:21). As a result of the believing sinner's new standing, God is able to judicially declare him to be righteous (justification), and none dare bring a charge against him (Rom. 8:33)!

The late, J. Dwight Pentecost mentions how unbiblical it is to say that we will be held accountable for unconfessed sins at the Bema Seat:

This presupposes the fact that my sins have not been completely and perfectly dealt with by the blood of Christ. It presupposes that God is keeping a record of all my iniquities so that He can present them before me when I stand in His presence. Such is contrary to the holiness of God and to the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ.1

Hebrews 10:14; 17-18 states, “For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified....And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.” The Christian's sins have been atoned for completely and forever. Nothing more needs to be done: “there is no more offering for sin.” The believer's sins will no longer be brought up against him, nor does he have to do anything to “re-atone” for them (not now, at the Bema Seat, or in eternity).

The Believer and Unconfessed Sin

The purpose of the believer confessing his sins as taught in 1 John 1:9 is not in order to keep himself “saved.” As Charles Ryrie wrote, “Our family relationship is kept right by His death; our family fellowship is restored by our confession.” (Ryrie Study Bible).

Samuel L. Hoyt expands these thoughts in the second of his excellent two-part article, “The Judgment Seat of Christ in Theological Perspective”:

Another argument which supports the position that the Christian’s sins will not be an issue at the βῆμα relates to the present effect of unconfessed sins. Unconfessed sins relate to fellowship in this life. Any unconfessed sin stands as a barrier to fellowship and growth in one’s present relationship to God. Confession brings immediate forgiveness and restoration of fellowship between the Christian and God. This is present-tense forgiveness and deals with “family” forgiveness. For example, 1 John is a “family” epistle addressed to the “born ones” or to τεκνία μου (“my little children”). 1 John 1:9 refers to “family,” experiential forgiveness: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
The daily forgiveness of those who are within the family of God is distinguished from judicial and positional forgiveness which was applied forensically to all of a person’s sins the moment he believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul writes of this forensic forgiveness in Colossians 2:13: “And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses.” The point Paul makes is that the believer is completely forgiven legally before the sin is even committed. The question that arises concerning a believer’s sins is between the Father and a son, and not between a judge and a criminal. The legal side has already been settled. The question revolves around a contemporaneous relationship between the Father and a son. If there is a barrier which arises through a son offending his Father, there must be family forgiveness. It is not forensic forgiveness for that has been eternally granted and efficaciously applied the moment he became a son.2
The scripture is clear. The purpose of regular confession is the maintenance of family fellowship in this life. The penalty for unconfessed sin is not humiliation at the Bema Seat of Christ, but loss of intimate fellowship right now.

The Teaching Concerning the Bema Seat of Christ

The Purpose of the Bema

The teaching of the Word of God is clear that the Judgment Seat of Christ is not for the purpose of bringing up the past sins of the believer in order to punish the Christian in some way (2 Cor. 5:10). The Bema Seat is basically a reward seat. The bema in the context of 2 Cor. 5:10 refers to the umpire's stand at the Isthmian games. During those games the contestants would compete for the prize while the judges carefully scrutinized the contestants to make sure that the rules of the game were followed. The person who followed the rules and won a particular event was led by the judge to the bema. At the judgment seat he was crowned with a laurel wreath as a symbol of victory (1 Cor. 9:24-25).

At the Bema the quality of each man's work will be tried. Faithful stewards will be rewarded and unfaithful ones will experience loss of rewards (1 Cor. 3:10-15; 1 Cor. 4:2). According to 2 Cor. 5:10 all those who have trusted in Christ as Savior will appear before Christ. The Greek word behind the word translated appear is much stronger than the English might suggest. The idea here is of being made manifest. The word refers to more than just our presence, but a revelation of who we really are. Attitudes and motives will be apparent at the Bema, as well as good qualities concerning our works that may have been misunderstood by others. The verse goes on to mention “the things done in [our] body.” Once again, this demonstrates that this judgment is an examination of our works whether they are good or worthless/substandard.

The Results of the Bema

Some have compared the Judgment Seat of Christ to a commencement. Everyone graduating is overjoyed to be moving on to new horizons. Some who are graduating have put forth real effort, utilizing whatever mental abilities that they have been given, and graduate with a great amount of satisfaction and reward for their labors. Others, who were not diligent students, will have a certain amount of disappointment and regret knowing that they could have done better in their academic careers. Overall, the emotion at a commencement is joy, not sorrow. Samuel Hoyt brings biblical balance to the subject when he writes, “To overdo the sorrow aspect of the judgment seat of Christ is to make heaven hell. To underdo the sorrow aspect is to make faithfulness inconsequential.”3

Those who were not faithful stewards of what God had given to them will suffer loss at the Judgment Seat (1 Cor. 3:15; 1 Cor. 9:24-27). Some will have lived so unfaithfully, that when their Lord appears they will “be ashamed before him” (1 John 2:28). Varying degrees of reward will also be featured at the Bema (1 Cor. 3:12, 14). The scriptures tell us in 1 Corinthians 4:5 that Christ will “both...bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts,” and that “every man [will] have praise of God.”

Although we can be assured that the rewards of faithful service are incredible, we really know very little about what form these rewards will take. The Bible portrays some of these rewards as crowns (which will be cast at the feet of Christ), yet the specifics are not mentioned.

So, How Should This Affect Us? 

Be Encouraged!

Christ's coming is imminent. He could come at any moment to snatch us up to heaven. We could very soon be standing before our Lord at the Bema Seat. Although our faithful service for Christ in this life may have gone unnoticed, or may have been misunderstood and mischaracterized, the Lord knows our hearts and will reward us fairly. We can be encouraged to know that, “God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name” (Heb. 6:10).

Be Ready; Be Faithful!

Be ready for His any-moment return in the air, because “every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure” (1 John 3:3). We need to make sure that we are being faithful with all of the things over which God has made us stewards: time, talents, spiritual gifts, money, possessions, and the gospel message. We need to heed the warning of the Apostle John in 2 John 8: “Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward.” Faithfulness will be rewarded and unfaithfulness will result in loss of rewards. We need to keep our eyes on the eternal, not on the temporal: “For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:16-18).

1 J. Dwight Pentecost, Prophecy for Today: An Exposition of Major Themes on Prophecy (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1961), p. 153, as quoted by Samuel L. Hoyt in Bibliotheca Sacra 137, no. 545 (1980): 36.
2 Bibliotheca Sacra 137, no. 545 (1980): 37–38.
3 Bibliotheca Sacra 137, no. 546 (1980): 131.

For More about Prophecy

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Where Are the Young Men? by Dr. Bob Payne

The question which marks the title of this month’s article has been asked not only at our IBFNA meetings but also in gatherings of most fundamental Baptist circles. It has been correctly pointed out that many young men are rushing headlong into Reformed Theology and are becoming enamored with Reformed teachers and their doctrine.

In addition to this, we see many fundamental seminaries and colleges moving in the same theological direction, perhaps partly in an attempt to appease and draw students and partly because Reformed Theology has a pseudointellectual draw for some educators. As would be expected, changes in music and standards have also followed in lock step with the theological changes.

In this month’s moderator’s column, I would like to explore what is at the heart of Reformed Theology and how it manifests itself, as well as what can be done about the young preachers’ flight to falsehood.


At the heart of Reformed Theology is an inconsistent hermeneutic (what we might call “the Reformed hermeneutic”) which seems to manifest itself in the following ways:

1. The interpretation of some biblical passages with an inconsistently literal hermeneutic (e.g. not seeing dispensational distinctions in the “Sermon on the Mount” and applying it directly to the church).
2. The priority of grammar and exegesis over the total hermeneutical process. The Reformed hermeneutic sees grammar as the final argument to some questions without careful consideration of the rest of the hermeneutical process.
3. The other extreme of #2 is that words have absolutely no meaning outside of a context. This is actually a Neo-orthodox approach to scripture.
4. An arrogant “cerebral” approach to the scriptures (with a resulting attitude of “We are smarter than you are!”). Human reasoning takes precedence over biblical teaching; philosophy supersedes the text.
5. An excessive dependence on historical theology (instead of biblical and systematic theology). The reasoning seems to be that if the teaching is old enough, and if the theologian teaching it is respected enough, what is being taught MUST be true.
6. A tendency to ignore progressive revelation and dispensational progression by reading back characteristics of the present dispensation into previous dispensations without sufficient textual support (this is commonly done by reading back certain aspects of our present salvation into the Old Testament, as well as by applying certain aspects of the present ministry of the Holy Spirit into the Old Testament). This leads to a sort of confusion between Israel and the church.


Is the solution to the young preachers’ flight from fundamentalism to appease them? Should we begin to adapt our doctrine, music, etc. in order to draw them back into the fold? Does our theological and cooperative “tent” need to be a little bigger? Instead of engaging in a philosophical discussion of our own, we need to ask ourselves, “What saith the scripture?” The problem of people departing from sound doctrine is not new. No matter what time era we find ourselves in, the biblical response to such a situation is clear:
1. Use and teach sound hermeneutical principles consisting of a consistently literal (normal) interpretation of the Word of God. We need to use the methodology mentioned in the book of Nehemiah (8:8): “So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.”
2. Patiently preach, teach, and reason with these young men from the Word of God (2 Tim. 2:2). This will include much one-on-one teaching time. Dogmatically shouting what you believe louder than you normally would will prove to be ineffective in reaching hearts. Shine the light on the text, and allow it to speak for itself. Love them; be a mentor! Let’s follow Paul’s methodology who ministered to a very difficult “audience” (Acts 17:2): “And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures.” Bauer and Danker’s lexicon tells us that the Greek word translated “reasoned” means “to engage in speech interchange, converse, discuss, argue.” We need to engage them from the scriptures and “reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:2).
3. Pray, pray, pray for those young men under your ministry (1 Sam. 12:23).
4. Model a godly life before them (1 Tim. 4:12). Words spoken from the mouth are much more forceful when backed up by a Godly walk.
5. Invite them to IBFNA meetings, and be sure to let them know about our young preacher’s scholarship.

In these theologically confusing days, we need to encourage young men to be focused on Christ, centered in God’s Word, and consistent in their biblical interpretation. Nothing less than the future of biblical fundamentalism is at stake!


Originally published in The Review (IBFNA), August 2010.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

It's All about Interpretation | Dr. Bob Payne

Have you ever noticed the many parallels between theological liberalism and political liberalism? Have you ever noticed how many who embrace theological liberalism also embrace political liberalism? Is this all just a coincidence? I don't think so. I believe that both theological liberals and political liberals in the U.S. share a common hermeneutic with regard to their authoritative documents. You see, it's all about interpretation.

The political liberal interprets the U.S. Constitution as a “living document” that was written so long ago that it is irrelevant to today's society. As a result, he believes that the Constitution should not be interpreted so literally. The political liberal also believes that it is acceptable for the judiciary to “legislate from the bench.” Instead of following a strict constructionist interpretation of the Constitution, it is perfectly acceptable for the courts to change or make up new laws as needed. Interpretive principles such as context and original intent are set aside as unimportant. Things outside of the Constitution, such as foreign court cases and foreign laws become influential in Constitutional interpretation. In essence, to the political liberal, the interpretation of the U.S. Constitution is reader-centered, not author-centered.

In a similar way, theological liberals also treat the Word of God as a “living document” that does not need to be interpreted in a literal manner. Making up doctrine, and outrightly ignoring, despising, or doubting what God has clearly written in His Word is the order of the day. Many important interpretive principles such as context and an historical understanding of the text are set aside. To the theological liberal interpretation is not concerned with a meaning rising naturally from the text, but one that is imposed forcefully upon the text. In a similar manner to the political liberal, the theological liberal approaches the interpretation of the biblical text in a way that is reader-centered instead of Author-centered.

Although you and I may consider ourselves to be both politically and theologically “conservative,” we still need to make sure that we completely avoid the liberal man-centered approach to biblical interpretation. We need to approach the Bible with a consistently literal hermeneutic and allow the text to speak to us. Although we may generally adhere to sound doctrine, we must not approach the text of Scripture with an inconsistent hermeneutic so as to confuse Israel and the church, view the kingdom as something that is to be lived “here and now,” or teach that the rapture is anything but imminent. Let us strive for a biblical interpretation which allows the text to be consistently understood its normal sense.

From the February 2010 Review (

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Root of Theological Error | Dr. Clay Nuttall

This month I taught another module on Introduction to Hermeneutics, and I will teach it again in Egypt in February. Last September, I also taught it in Jordan. In every class, students tend to raise the same questions. They are confused as to how so many people can study the same text and get so many different interpretations. One student asked, “Which denomination is right?” My answer was, “None of them; the truth on every subject is in the Bible text, not in a denominational creed or statement of faith."

The question we should ask is this: “If the truth is in the scripture, why doesn’t everyone get the same interpretation of every text out of the Bible?” The answer is simple: nearly everyone comes to a text with presupposition and motive. There has to be some way to erase our presuppositions. The good news is that there is a way; and it is simple, not complicated.

A maxim I pass on to my students says that anything you cannot simplify has probably been poisoned by man. This is the reason why the faithful interpreter who wants to find the one interpretation of a text will “simplify to clarify”, while the one who wants to insert motive and presupposition will “complicate to confuse”. Does this mean we are challenging their motive? Yes, it does.


God has given us a “hermeneutical sieve” to help us strain out motive and presupposi-tion. Use of that one biblical system will accurately block the addition of human insertions into a text. The system is mathematical and will succeed in producing a single interpretation to central texts of scripture.

The reason why there are so many conflicting ideas in theology comes from a failure to obey the system and rules that God’s word has clearly outlined. I warn you that this God-given restriction will be hated by those who persist in putting their own ideas into the text. One reader suggested that this idea would limit God, but it is actually the other way around. The constant infusion of philosophy into Bible text is what hinders the teaching of truth. Without a sieve to strain out error, there is no way to arrive at a theology that is biblical.


This takes us to the age-old tension between faith and reason. Throughout history, humans have always been tempted to add to or detract from scripture. This is exactly what happened in Eden in the conversation between Eve and Satan. Most of the people in our circles would say that the Bible is the final authority in faith and practice. The truth is that the root of human reason is the cause of the conflicting theology in our midst. This reading of philosophy into the text can be readily seen in much of contem-porary writing, worship and practice.

Yesterday I was reading an article by a prolific writer whom I consider a friend. It happened to be on church polity, a study of interest to me. I was amazed to note how easily culture and human philosophy were stated in the discourse, as if they were equal to the clear statement of Bible text.

Our problem seems to be that we assign the misuse of human reason strictly to liberalism, as if we could not possibly commit that error ourselves. Reason has value, but faith that rests on the Bible is supreme; that is why we need the one system of interpretation that rises from Scripture. I am convinced that the root of theological and doctrinal error comes from a hermeneutic that is based on human reason.


There is one system of biblical interpretation. It is that normal, plain, ordinary, consis-tent literal system that represents the similarity to, and is limited by the construct of, all literature. That system reveals three unmistakable rules, which are (1) grammar, (2) context, and (3) the historical setting of the text that is being interpreted. Many tools for interpretation are revealed in holy writ; but they are tools; not rules.

One major error is the idea that application is a part of the interpretation. There is only one interpretation of each text, but there are many applications. If application is made a part of interpretation, the conclusion will be corrupted by human reason and innocent (or deliberate) adjustment of the text.

The basic conflict here is not about an interpretation of the text; it is about the fact that people use a variety of humanly invented systems. These human additions cause the confusion that results in many interpretations rather than one correct one; this is the root of doctrinal error.

In the end, the Bible student has two options: (1) to use the one biblical system and be limited to a theology that is placed in scripture by the Holy Spirit or (2) to choose any other system, thus allowing him to conclude anything he desires in his theology.

[This is taken from Shepherd's Staff published by Dr. Clay Nuttall -]

Sunday, September 21, 2008

A Text without a Context, Pt. 4 | Dr. Bob Payne

Although this study could go on ad infinitum, this will be my final installment to the "Text without a Context" series. The passages for this installment are found in the Old Testament:

"Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm." (Ps. 105:15; 1 Chon. 16:22)

Since I began in the ministry, I have been extremely concerned not only with the misuse of these passages, but the unbiblical teaching and attitude concerning the pastorate by those who misuse them. I believe that in many cases both interpretive and doctrinal error go hand-in-hand with the scriptures under our consideration.

"Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm" is usually erroneously applied in this way: "Since the pastor is God's anointed man and God's prophet, no one has any right to question a pastor as to his morals, ethics, or teachings. God plainly tells us in His Word to 'touch not mine anointed.' All discipline of 'God's man' should be left to God Himself." Roy Branson, Jr. reflects this unbiblical view in his book, Dear Preacher, Please Quit! (pp. 33-34):

We're saying that if a man of God is out of the will of God, leave him to God to take care of; and believe it, God will take care of him. One may say, "Well, what if he's tearing up our church?" Either live with it or go to another church, but don't ever try to get rid of the preacher. You may be right and the preacher may be wrong, but, if he's called of the Lord, that's God's man and we will tell you God will take care of him. When you try to do it, you put yourself in the position of Saul's Amalekite.

At the end of the chapter Dr. Branson gives an illustration of a young lady who approached him following a service. She said that she was having an affair with a well-known local pastor. Roy Branson ends his story (and chapter) with these disturbing words:

What did the author do? He prayed with the young woman and she sought and received God's forgiveness. He told no one, not even his wife, about the problem. Leave God's man to God to straighten out.

By the way, the above affair was ended because the young lady got right with God and refused to continue it. [Nothing is said of the pastor's repentance, OR his resignation!!!]

Finally, let us be sure we understand that God put no qualifications, no "unless" or "if" on the warning, "Touch not mine anointed and do my prophets no harm."

As I stated before, I believe that the position articulated above abounds in both contextual and doctrinal error:

If we are to set these passages in their proper context, two questions need to be answered: 1) To whom does "mine anointed" and "my prophets" refer? and, 2) What does it mean to "touch" them or "harm" them? The contexts of our passages make the answers to these questions plain (both contexts are very similar). Notice whom God is addressing in Psalm 105:6-15:

6 O ye seed of Abraham his servant, ye children of Jacob his chosen. 7 He is the LORD our God: his judgments are in all the earth. 8 He hath remembered his covenant for ever, the word which he commanded to a thousand generations. 9 Which covenant he made with Abraham, and his oath unto Isaac; 10 And confirmed the same unto Jacob for a law, and to Israel for an everlasting covenant: 11 Saying, Unto thee will I give the land of Canaan, the lot of your inheritance: 12 When they were but a few men in number; yea, very few, and strangers in it. 13 When they went from one nation to another, from one kingdom to another people; 14 He suffered no man to do them wrong: yea, he reproved kings for their sakes; 15 Saying, Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm.

According to vv. 9-12 the "anointed" and "prophets" of v. 15 are a reference to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their descendants. It is also apparent from vv. 13-14 that "touching" them, or "harming" them refers to protection from physical danger. J. Barton Payne's comments on 1 Chronicles 15:18-22 shed light on why God referred to these men as He did:

The titles by which the patriarchs are described possess, at this early period, more generalized meanings than those they came to have later. They are called "anointed" . . . , in the sense of being set apart by God's Spirit--a phrase elsewhere used specifically for prophets (1 Kings 19:16), priests (Exod 29:7), and kings (1 Sam 2:35), with whom the presence of the Spirit was symbolized by a visible anointing with oil, and ultimately for Jesus (Christ = Messiah = "anointed"; 1 Sam 2:10; Ps 2:2; Acts 10:38).

The patriarchs are also called "prophets," in the sense of being recipients of God's special revelation--a title later used specifically for those who proclaimed God's revealed will . . . . Abraham was thus designated a "prophet," at the time of God's special protection against Abimelech, the Philistine king of Gerar (Gen 20:7); others of the patriarchs did, however, make specific predictions (e.g., Jacob, Gen 48:19; 49:1). (From the Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 4, p. 391.)

To apply this passage to the modern pastor is wrong. The modern pastor is not equivalent to any of the patriarchs, nor is he the same as God's covenant people, Israel.1 Furthermore, it is incorrect to say that the pastor is equivalent to the king of Israel (another comparison often made as "God's anointed"). Perhaps a very broad application might be made for all believers2 that God "looks out for" and protects His own. To go any further than this application twists the context and violates a proper dispensational interpretation of the scriptures.

It is also interesting to note that the phrase "touch not mine anointed" has little to do with verbal attacks or accusations of wrong-doing. This would be Branson's primary interpretation, as well as the interpretation of many of the modern charismatic false teachers. As I stated earlier, the primary reference of "touch not" and "harm" is to protection from physical danger.

There are some erroneous doctrinal implications behind these "twisted texts." In my experience those who hold that Ps. 105:15, and 1 Chon. 16:22 may be applied to pastors of local churches also hold to the following unbiblical teachings:3

"The pastor is the sovereign monarch and dictator of the local church."
Is this true? What does the Bible have to say?

What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. (1 Cor. 3:5 N.A.S.V.)

2 Shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; 3 nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. ( 1 Peter 5:2-4 N.A.S.V.)

Notice that Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:5 calls those who minister "servants." This is far from the attitude of a man who considers himself to be the sovereign of the local church. The Bible knows nothing of the unbiblical, man-made distinction between "clergy" and "laity" which places the pastor on a higher, more exalted level than his people. Our Lord taught us that ministry is not something executed from a lofty position above others, but it is something performed from the "low" position of Christ-like humility (Matt. 20:26-28) as the Lord's servant.

The 1 Peter passage is also instructive. Notice that Peter does not tell us that the pastor is a monarch, a king, or a dictator. He indicates in 1 Peter 5:2 that he is a "shepherd." Peter goes on to tell us in v. 3 that a shepherd should not be a man who "lords it over" his sheep, but instead, he should be an example to the flock. The Friberg Greek-English Lexicon defines the Greek word translated "lording it over" (katakurieuo): "of exercising dominion for one's own advantage lord it over, rule over, domineer over (MK 10.42)." Clearly, the scriptures indicate to us that the pastor is not to be a dictator, but one who leads by example.

Having said all of this, it is important not to over-emphasize the "leading by example" aspect of the pastorate. By so doing, some have weakened the office of the pastor, and have relegated the shepherd to a hired hand of the flock who does as he is told. This too is a distorted view of the pastorate. Once again, the Word of God is clear in this area as well:

It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer [episkope], it is a fine work he desires to do. (1 Timothy 3:1 N.A.S.V.) Let the elders that rule [administrate or preside over the affairs of the local church] well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. (1 Timothy 5:17) Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you. (Hebrews 13:17)

According to the previous scriptures the pastor rules and presides over the entire ministry of the local church (both the "spiritual" and "material"). His position demands respect, submission and obedience. In spite of this he is still not the dictator and king of the local church. My plea is for BALANCE. Dr. Clay Nuttall brings some clarity to this issue:

A real danger also exists in not seeing his [the pastor's] administration in balance. . . . It has been soundly preached that a bishop's administration and rule are by example and precept. That is true. Woe to the pastor who does not preach the Word. It alone is the final Authority and Guidebook. Shame on the pastor who lords it over God's heritage. Let us all deride dictatorial self-centeredness . . . .

Let not man say, however, that the pastor's leadership is limited to his influence and example, or to the simple leadership of teaching as verbalization and integration into his own actions and the actions of others. To take from him responsibility and authority, to enforce, by rule, Bible commands in the local church is not an attack on him but on Christ.

The Lord Himself imposed that oversight (1 Pet. 5:1-4) and the pastor will answer directly to the Chief Shepherd for exercise of it. The bishop is to be obeyed (Heb. 13:7, 17) and that implies much more than being an example. He is to rule (1 Tim. 5:17) and anything less than that is a failure. Some have played grammatical games and contextual shuffling to deny the Lord's instruction to undershepherds. Those actions are beneath the dignity of the office. (The Weeping Church, pp. 103-104).

"The pastor is to be untouched by accusation or discipline, even if the accusations are true."
Once again, we must ask ourselves: "Is this a biblical teaching." No, it isn't! Based on this teaching a pastor could never be put out of the pulpit, even in cases of doctrinal heresy or immorality. This is contrary to the Word of God. Pastors must be held accountable for their actions as well as their soundness of doctrine. We need to go no further than 1 Timothy 5:19 to demonstrate this: "Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses." Dr. Robert Gromacki was correct in his comments about this verse: "As members of a church, elders are not immune to the procedure of discipline. The same standards apply to them as well as to the layman4 ."

Notice in v. 19 that Paul tells Timothy to "receive not an accusation." Literally the thrust of the Greek here is "stop receiving an accusation." Evidentially, Paul is trying to stop a practice that was already in process, where an individual would bring an accusation to Timothy against a pastor. Timothy was not to entertain an accusation or begin the discipline process unless the sin could be substantiated by two or three witnesses.5 If then a serious sin were substantiated, the pastor should be disciplined. Unlike what some are teaching in our day, the Bible clearly instructs us that the pastor should be disciplined for things such as doctrinal and moral perversion. In this way, the pastor is "touchable."

The scriptures should never be twisted and doctrine manufactured for one's own benefit. It is my fear that many men who hold to the "touch not mine anointed" view of the pastorate have done just that. The old nature, full of pride and arrogance desperately wants to justify a dictatorial leadership style. The carnal man finds comfort in the statement: "God says never to question anything that I ever do or say." May God help us to find a biblical balance in our view of the pastor's leadership in the local church.

1. Confusing the church with Israel can lead to further doctrinal error, particularly eschatological error.
2. 1 John 2:20 (N.A.S.V.) tells us that all believers are anointed: " But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know."
3. Although this may not be true in every case.
4. Excuse the term ("layman"), but we understand what he means.
5. A principle very familiar to students of the Old Testament. Notice Deut. 19:15: "One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established."

Thursday, November 08, 2007

A Text without a Context, Pt. 3 - Dr. Bob Payne

Continued from September…

PASSAGE #2: "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me." (Revelation 3:20)

Revelation 3:20 is a passage that has been used for many years in gospel presentations. It is normally used as a "clincher" verse to demonstrate a person's need for personal acceptance of Christ as Savior. It is usually applied this way: "Christ is knocking at your heart's door . . . all you must do is invite Him in and He will save you from your sins." Most picture in their minds Warner Sallman’s Famous picture, Christ Knocking at Heart’s Door. BUT, is this an appropriate and contextually accurate way to apply this passage? Furthermore, is this application theologically correct? I believe that the answer to both of these questions must be a resounding "no!"

I would like to convey through this article that Revelation 3:20 was never intended to be used as a salvation verse at all, but is actually an exhortation to believers. I will present my case in two parts. First, I will demonstrate that using Revelation 3:10 as a salvation verse rests upon a defective interpretation of the text. Second, I will also seek to present a contextually accurate understanding of the passage under consideration.


Is Revelation 3:20 a salvation passage? Look at the context. In Revelation 3, verses 14-22 we find the last of the messages to the seven churches. Verse 14 tells us that Christ is addressing this letter to the "angel [most assuredly a reference to a pastor, not an angelic being] of the church of the Laodiceans." From this point on, there is no indication whatsoever that our Lord is dealing with anyone else but believers. No doubt these Christians were disobedient, careless and complacent, but the context does not even hint to us that these people were anything else but genuine believers.

Notice the language of v. 19: "as many as I love." The Greek verb translated "love" here is phileo. As Dr. Daniel B. Wallace writes in his article, "Revelation 3:20 and the Offer of Salvation:" "Here phileo is used for ‘love'--a term that is never used of God/Jesus loving unbelievers in the NT. (Indeed, it would be impossible for God to have this kind of love for an unbeliever, for it routinely speaks of enjoyment and fellowship . . . )." Reading further in v. 19, we notice the words: "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten [italics mine]." The passage indicates that the ones whom Christ loves, He disciplines. According to Hebrews 12:6-8 only true sons are disciplined by the Lord, not those who are unsaved:

"For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons."

God does not discipline those who are not His. Clearly, the context reveals that only saved people are in view in Revelation 3:20, not unbelievers.1

The concept of a person "inviting Jesus into his heart" is also attributed to Revelation 3:20. It is based upon a careless translation of eiseleusomai pros auton. There is no problem with the A.V.'s rendering of this Greek clause: "I will come in to him." However, a difficulty occurs when interpreters try to translate the clause: "I will come into him." The two meanings are quite different. Neither the Greek nor the English is hinting at penetration ("into"), but rather direction ("to"). If Christ would have been indicating penetration into the human heart, the Greek word eis would have been used, and the translation "I will come into him" would be justified. But the Greek word pros is used here, indicating (in this context) motion towards someone. Wallace clarifies the issue for us:

"The idea of ‘come into' would be expressed with eis as the independent preposition and would suggest a penetration into the person (thus, spawning the idea of entering into one's heart). However, spatially prov" means toward, not into. In all eight instances of eisercomai pros in the NT, the meaning is ‘come in toward/before a person' (i.e., enter a building, house, etc., so as to be in the presence of someone), never penetration into the person himself/herself. In some instances, such a view would not only be absurd, but inappropriate (cf. Mark 6:25; 15:43; Luke 1:28; Acts 10:3; 11:3; 16:40; 17:2; 28:8)."

It is perhaps best to avoid such expressions as "inviting Jesus into your heart." It is, at best, an expression that is extra-biblical and theologically questionable. Moreover, the terminology can create great confusion in the minds of children.2 It would be far better for us to use the biblical term, "faith."3 Wallace has some significant observations:

"Among other things, to use this text as a salvation verse is a perversion of the simplicity of the gospel. Many people have allegedly 'received Christ into their hearts' without understanding what that means or what the gospel means. Although this verse is picturesque, it actually muddies the waters of the truth of salvation."


In Revelation 3:20 Christ is portrayed as standing outside the lives of church members. The Laodicean church had become complacent and self-sufficient. They no longer felt that they needed the Lord, for they were "rich, and increased with goods," and "had need of nothing." They were about to be judged, and now Christ tenderly appeals to them one more time, as individuals, to return to intimate fellowship with Him. William R. Newell writes,

"Here we have Christ in all His tenderness, His unfathomable devotion! In these last words to the Church, the love of the Bridegroom makes Him forget wholly the work of the Judge. It is The Beloved, of the Song of Solomon (Song of Solomon 5:2).

This final plea of the Lord Jesus to the individual heart, where he has been shut out of the love and fellowship of the general company, should win every heart that UNDERSTANDS!" (The Book of the Revelation, p. 79).

Our text says, "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock." The perfect tense of the verb histemi portrays the standing as a past action with present, continuing results. The present tense of the verb krouo indicates a continuous knocking. Christ's appeal to the individuals of the church (as well as to lukewarm Christians today) is to open the door ("if any man hear my voice, and open the door"), so as to let Him back into their miserable, empty lives. Then, and only then could the intimate relationship with their Lord be restored ("I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me."). Concerning deipneso ("sup"--which is a metaphor for fellowship), J. Hampton Keathley III writes in his internet commentary on the book of Revelation:

"Dine is a Greek word which referred to the main meal of the day—a real feast. This Greek word, deipnew, was used not only of the chief meal of the day—a full course dinner—but of the meal which was the occasion for hospitality and fellowship. At this meal, however, He is the host. It is He who sets the table and we are His guests dining on that which He has provided."

Revelation 3:20 is clearly a passage written to Christians to repent of sin and be restored to full fellowship with the Lord. Again, Keathley writes,

" . . . this passage is addressed to the church—to believers. This is a call to fellowship with the Savior. As an invitation to Christians, it's a call to repent, as commanded in verse 19. It is a call for confession of one's sins with a renewal of mind and heart to continue to draw upon the glorious life of Christ daily through walking by the Spirit and living in the Word. It means abiding in Christ, the vine (John 15:1-7; 1 John 1:7-10; Eph. 4:20-24; 5:14-18; Rom. 8:1-16)."

May each one of us heed Christ's appeal in the midst of this uncaring and spiritually apathetic generation!

1. Walvoord agrees, "This was an appeal to Christians rather than to non-Christians" (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, New Testament, p. 942).
2. How well I remember a Junior High student telling me of the time when her little brother "asked Jesus into his stomach" because he couldn't understand how Jesus could live in a person's heart!
3. We should all reevaluate our soteriological terminology to make sure that it is biblical. How cautious we need to be!