|Volume 17 Number 12 December 2015||
T. Pierce Brown (deceased)
Many of us who are familiar with the tactics of modernists know that they frequently use what may be termed “weasel words.” These are words that may have double meanings, sometimes special private meanings defined by the person using the word. This practice is reprehensible in ordinary communications. It may have a place in humorous repartee where a pun or double entendre is used in the awareness that the audience realizes what is being done. It has no place in serious writing, especially of a religious nature.
As an example of these weasel words, in a graduate course in Homiletics I heard a denominational divinity student make a speech about the resurrection of Christ. When he was almost through, he revealed that he did not believe in an empty tomb. He was not talking about the bodily resurrection, but what he called a spiritual resurrection. He failed to define that phrase. It apparently was something that happened to the spirit of the apostles, rather than to the body of Christ. Another preacher strongly affirmed that he believed in the inspiration of the Bible. I assumed that he meant what I did until he revealed that he believed that Shakespeare and Milton were also inspired. Another preacher, who claimed to be a preacher of the Gospel, said, “I am not too concerned about the virgin birth of Christ; I am concerned with His virgin life.” That may have been his effort to express an interesting point in a unique way, but one could not be sure what his point was. One could, however, question the doctrinal stance of a person who admitted he was not concerned about the virgin birth of Christ. I have no doubt that if I had asked him to state plainly whether he believed in the virgin birth he would not have denied it, though he may not have affirmed it.
My present concern has to do with a slightly different aspect of the subject. Among those of us who want to contend earnestly for the faith once and for all delivered to the saints, there are those who have become so suspicious of others that they seem to automatically assume that anyone who uses a word or phrase in some way different from the way they think it should be used is teaching false doctrine. For example, I have little doubt that if I said, “Salvation is achieved only by faith” that there are those who would affirm that I was plainly teaching salvation by faith only. If I said, “We can have salvation only by grace” I would be accused of teaching that salvation is by grace only. Such is not the case. I strongly affirm that the Bible teaches that salvation is accepted only by faith. That simply means that there is no way to be saved if one does not have faith. It does not mean that faith is the only element necessary in order to be saved. The same thing is true of grace. Only by grace was anyone ever saved. Yet, no one was ever saved by grace only or by grace alone.
I have found some evidence that Martin Luther meant, at least on some occasions, when he talked of salvation by faith, that salvation is to be found only through faith, rather than through the rituals and sacraments of the Roman Catholic practice. He did not seem to mean, in those statements, that salvation is by faith alone. One reason for this conclusion is that in the context to which I refer, he taught that baptism is essential to salvation, for it is an act of faith, and not a mere sacramental ritual. If one believes that baptism is essential to salvation to all responsible sinners, he cannot logically believe that they can be saved by faith only. I have no desire to spend time trying to defend Martin Luther, for neither my doctrine nor my salvation depends on what he meant. However, I do hope that I may help brethren who have respect and concern for the Word of God, and for any truth, not to misrepresent Luther or any other person. We should not assume that a person or a translation of Scripture is teaching salvation by faith alone, or by grace alone or any other false doctrine simply because it does not sound like an exact quotation from the Authorized Version. I have a letter from a dear person who concludes that Acts 15:11 in the Easy to Read New Testament teaches salvation by grace only. It says, “No, we believe that we and these people will be saved by the grace (mercy) of the Lord Jesus!” That statement does not even imply, much less teach, that one is saved by grace only. The same charge is made about various other similar passages, including Titus 3:7. It says, “We were made right with God by His grace (kindness).”
Although there is no question in my mind that many of the new versions could more properly be called new perversions, I regret that unfounded criticism of suspicious minds may cause us to be unfair in our assessment of any statement, wherever we may find it. To find fault with a version because it teaches false doctrine is one thing. To find fault with it because it says, “Change your heart and lives” rather than “repent,” or “Use your mouth to say Jesus is Lord” instead of “confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord” is something else. That kind of critic could as logically find fault with a version which says, “Repent and be immersed for the forgiveness of your sins” claiming it removed baptism from the plan of salvation!
These kinds of illegitimate criticisms do great harm to the efforts of those who are trying to point out real perversions and the danger of using versions which actually teach false doctrine. The brethren who are trying to find a better way to translate only begotten (“monogene”) of John 3:16 are not necessarily trying to teach a false doctrine. They may wrongly assume that “only son” is clearer and better, but that does not mean that they are trying to do away with the idea of the virgin birth or the uniqueness of the Son of God. One could argue, “He is clearly not the only son, for the Bible says that we are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” Another might argue with equal force, “The Bible teaches that all Christians are begotten of God (1 John 5:1), so the expression ‘only begotten’ needs explanation just as much as ‘one and only Son’ does.” My point at this time is not to argue about how it should be translated, for “only begotten” satisfies me about as well as any other expression I know. My point is that we should not accuse persons and translations of teaching false doctrine on the basis of our own personal feelings about the value of using one particular phrase over another.
If a person is using weasel words to cloak his meaning and purpose, he should be exposed. If he has simply made an effort to provide what he thinks is a clearer way of expressing some Bible truth, if we think it is no clearer or can more easily be misunderstood and perverted to teach false doctrine, we should try to point out that fact, without casting aspersions on his soundness.
T. Pierce Brown (deceased)
For the past 60 years, we have read an occasional reference to the so-called scandal connected with the birth of Christ. An article, “Christmas at Matthew’s House,” has more speculation and erroneous implications than any I remember reading from any source. I have seen several critical reviews of the article, but I do not remember any of them pointing out one simple fact that would make all such speculative writing vain, even if it were not false or blasphemous.
When Mary was known to be with child by the Holy Spirit, and Joseph was minded to put her away, it is often assumed, without any biblical reason, that the whole community knew she was with child, though unmarried, and therefore assumed that she was immoral. There is nothing in the record or secular history of which I am aware that suggests that anyone except Joseph and Mary knew that she was with child when they married. How long she had been in that condition is not stated, but one may look in vain for any of the friends or enemies of Jesus in that day bringing such charges against either Mary or Jesus. In fact, in Luke 3:23, it specifically says that it was supposed that he was the son of Joseph, but it does not suggest that anyone supposed that he was an illegitimate son.
All of the scandalous insinuations and blasphemous remarks were never made in any historical record in or out of the Bible, as far as I can discover, until after the inspired apostles revealed that she was with child before her marriage. Why anyone who claims to be a minister of Christ feels the need to fabricate a whole series of events involving some scandal that never existed is one of the mysteries of the ages.
His enemies charged that he was a glutton, a winebibber and a friend of publicans and sinners, but no one said that He was an illegitimate son of an adulterous woman. If there had been accusation of this sort, as many of my brethren seem to think, she would have been in danger of being stoned. There is no hint of such. There is a high degree of probability that Joseph took her for his wife within the first month after Jesus was conceived, and thus no one would assume anything except that the child was his.