Saying What the Apostles Say

I’ve talked about this on the blog before, but this is worth talking about over and over. Here’s the issue I’m asserting:

  1. If the apostles said something that you can’t repeat without explanation or caveat, it is because your theology is wrong.
  2. If you will say what the apostles said, even if you don’t understand it, the apostles’ sayings will correct your theology.

Here’s some examples of things the apostles—or worse, Jesus—said that conservative Evangelicals can’t or won’t repeat, at least not without explaining the verses away. Something to be said on behalf of the Roman Catholics, since I’m usually opposing some claim of theirs on this blog, is that I could make no such list for them.

These are all from the World English Bible. I like the translation, but I use it primarily because it is in the public domain.

  • You see then that by works, a man is justified, and not only by faith. (Jam. 2:24)
  • Having been made perfect, [Jesus] became to all of those who obey him the author of eternal salvation. (Heb. 5:9)
  • “We are His witnesses of these things; and so also is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” (Acts 5:32)
  • God … "will pay back to everyone according to their works": to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory, honor, and incorruptibility, eternal life; but to those who are self-seeking, and don’t obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, will be wrath and indignation … (Rom 2:5b-8)
  • Yet to us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we live through him. (1 Cor. 8:6)
  • "This is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and him whom you sent, Jesus Christ." (Jn. 17:3)
  • "Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38)
  • Be more diligent to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never stumble. For thus you will be richly supplied with the entrance into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. (2 Pet. 1:10-11)
  • If you call on him as Father, who without respect of persons judges according to each man’s work, pass the time of your living as foreigners here in reverent fear. (1 Pet. 1:17)
  • For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (Gal. 3:27)
  • "I … declared … that they should repent and turn to God, doing works worthy of repentance (Acts 26:20)

I could add at least 20 verses to that list, probably 100.

I know that conservative Evangelicals would all claim to be able to explain these verses. They would argue that they believe all these verses if they are properly explained.

I ask, however, whether a conservative Evangelical would say any of these things. It’s one thing to agree with a statement if you can put your own spin on it. It’s quite another to believe in such a way that you would say the same thing yourself.

Let’s not be general. Try walking into a Southern Baptist church, the largest denomination in the USA with over 40 million members, and telling your Sunday School class that you’ve been out telling people that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance.

Let’s go one step further into “heresy.” Try walking into that same Southern Baptist church and saying that you believe that a person is justified by works and not only by faith.

Unless you’ve never spent much time in a Baptist church, you know exactly what kind of response you will get, and will not be praise for having memorized Acts 26:20 and James 2:24.

You won’t do any better with those other verses, either.

I suggest that the reason there are so many Scriptures we Evangelicals cannot quote is because our theology is faulty.

Let me put that in different words so it’s more persuasive: I suggest that the reason that we don’t speak like the apostles is because we don’t believe what the apostles believed. We don’t say what they say because we don’t believe what they believed.

I wish I could convince every Christian to speak scripturally. I wish I could persuade every Christian to know the apostles writings, and to purposely say the same things they say. I am convinced that if we did so, we would—slowly and over time—find our theology, our beliefs, transforming into apostolic beliefs.

About Paul Pavao

I am married, the father of six, and currently the grandfather of two. I run a business, live in a Christian community, teach, and I am learning to disciple others better than I have ever been able to before. I believe God has gifted me to restore proper foundations to the Christian faith. In order to ensure that I do not become a heretic, I read the early church fathers from the second and third centuries. They were around when all the churches founded by the apostles were in unity. I also try to stay honest and open. I argue and discuss these foundational doctrines with others to make sure my teaching really lines up with Scripture. I am encouraged by the fact that the several missionaries and pastors that I know well and admire as holy men love the things I teach. I hope you will be encouraged too. I am indeed tearing up old foundations created by tradition in order to re-establish the foundations found in Scripture and lived on by the churches during their 300 years of unity.
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9 Responses to Saying What the Apostles Say

  1. Buckstop77 says:

    I see your point, Shammah. But I still cant embrace it in those terms. Maybe I am just too immersed in the “not by works” theology. This I do know: God is at work in my life. I experience His grace every day. Still, I know I blow it and fall short at some level every day. If it depends on me, how can I ever be saved? Lord, if you kept a record of our sins, who, O Lord, could ever survive? (Psalms 130:3 NLT)

  2. Buckstop77 says:

    Re John 5:24, take a look at the meaning of “believe.” It is more than assent. It means to cling to, trust in, rely on. If a person truly believes, clings to, trusts in, and relies on Jesus, then the fruit of good works logically follows. Belief determines behavior. The only way to judge a person’s faith as true, saving faith is to see the evidence of his works. I believe that it is in this sense that works enter the equation. Eph 2:10- we are created for the purpose of walking in the good works that God has prepared for us to do.

    • Jon says:

      I fully agree with that.

      What I have issue with is the notion that our works somehow earn our salvation.

      • Shammah says:

        I don’t know that such a discussion is for here, but I think most people only have an issue with the sentence, “works somehow earn our salvation,” not with the meaning of the sentence. The word “earn” is taboo, but the meaning of the word is in Scripture over and over (e.g. 2 Pet. 1:8-11).

        Jesus says to Sardis, “I have not found your works perfect before God … You have a few names in Sardis who have not defiled their garments, and they shall walk with me in white. He who overcomes will be clothed in white raiment, and I will not blot his name out of the book of life.” (Rev 3:2ff)

        So I know we hate the word “earn,” but without our superstition about the word, is it really inaccurate to say that those who did not defile their garments and thus became worthy “earned” their worthiness by what they did? Is it really inaccurate to say that the ones who overcome “earned” their right not to be blotted from the Book of Life by what they did?

        Even if you refuse to use the word “earn” because it’s the equivalent of a Christian cuss word, do you disagree that those who defiled their garments were unworthy because of their works, which is the word Jesus uses in v. 2, and those who were worthy were so because their works were such that they did not defile their garments?

  3. Jon says:

    Trouble is, this can cut both ways. You could then survey the following verses…

    John 5:24 – “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”

    John 6:29 – “Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

    Ephesians 2:8 – “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.”

    Titus 3:5 – “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.”

    Romans 3:28 – “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.”

    Romans 4:4-5 – “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.”

    Romans 10:9-10 – “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; 10for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.”

    Galatians 2:16 – “nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified.”

    Luke 23:42-43 – “Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (minus works)

    …..and many, many more that say we are not justified by works and then have to explain them away. Either way, it would seem you have to interpret a load of verses that seemingly contradict your theology.

    • Shammah says:

      It can and must cut both ways, and that is not a problem. If it didn’t cut both ways, what I wrote would have been pointless. There has to be verses that my list seems to contradict, or I wouldn’t be able to post them as controversial or unaccepted in modern denominations.

      I have made lists of verses that I have trouble with, then wrestled with them for years. Your list above would not be very accurate for ones that “seemingly contradict my theology.” Other than John 5:24 (only the last half) and Rom. 4:4-5, none of them even “seem” to contradict my theology unless you use some very fallacious modern definitions to interpret those verses.

      My theology is that when Paul talks about salvation or justification in the past tense, he says faith apart from works. When he speaks about salvation or justification in the future, he does not talk about faith, but talks about works. All the verses from Paul you cite fit that except Rom. 4:4-5. Rom. 10:9-10 only seems to contradict that because the perspective is changed. Rom. 10:9-10 is written from the perspective of before being born again, so that being born again is in the future, not the past. My point is saying past and future is to say that being born again is by faith only, but that going to heaven and the judgment is by works.

      Rom. 4:4-5 doesn’t really contradict it, either. It’s just that Rom. 4:4-5, if it were the only passage in Romans, could legitimately be read to contradict my theology. It could also legitimately be read to agree with my theology. The rest fit perfectly in my theology. (So why adopt my theology? Because it fits my list and your list, and it fits, as far as I can tell, any list you could produce from the writings of the church fathers.)

      Luke 23 is an unusual situation, and it doesn’t contradict me, either. If it did, it wouldn’t matter, because there are always exceptions to pretty much everything in Scripture, and it’s easy to see why the thief on the cross is an exception. But the thief on the cross repented, apart from works, was admitted by Jesus into salvation (equivalent of being born again), and then died and went to paradise. That doesn’t contradict my theology; that is my theology.

      John 6:29 isn’t a problem, either. You can’t possibly believe that’s the only work Jesus wants you to do without throwing away all the apostles’ writings.

      John 5:24 says that someone who believes does not come into judgment. That’s difficult and does seem to contradict me. On the other hand, it contradicts everyone who believes 2 Cor. 5:10 or James 3:1, so we all have to explain what Jesus meant there.

      I welcome someone going through the list of verses I produced in the blog and explaining, as I just explained, why they don’t contradict their doctrine. The problem is, almost no one can do that without resorting to explanations that could kindly be called ridiculous and cruelly be called contemptuous.

      Finally, I want to emphasize that creating lists of verses like this is important to do–even when it’s directed at me. It’s not a problem. If you could really create a long list of verses that, at face value, contradict what I teach, I would stop teaching what I teach. I do my best to beat everyone to presenting a list of verses for me to explain. I want to be found defending and teaching the words of Jesus and the apostles, not defending whatever I taught yesterday unless it’s the same as what Jesus and the apostles taught.

      • Jon says:

        Interesting. I would like to discuss more in depth, and look more carefully at some of these verses. I will do so when I get some time.

  4. Ken Mullins says:

    What I really like to see is when pastors take both verses (for example James 2:24 and Romans 3:28-30) and bring out the deeper truth that ties them together.

    • Shammah says:

      Unfortunately, most attempts to do this that I have heard simply result in denying that James meant what he said. Or worse, denying that James was correct (Witness Lee, Martin Luther). Just two days ago, I met someone that I am sure is a brother who thinks James was wrong. Even now, I think about what kind of poor foundation has to be laid in order to get a man like him to openly disbelieve Scripture.

      Worse, in my opinion, is the double speak that is so common: “James teaches that salvation is by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone.” It ought to be embarrassing to say that, as one, it is just silly word games, and two, that’s not what James said.

      The way to reconcile Paul and James is pretty simple, but we don’t want to look for it. We ought to look, however, because the early Christians never even discuss the “conflict” because they didn’t see a conflict. What secret did they have that we don’t know?

      The simplest key is that they never adopted the false doctrine that we go to heaven by faith. The judgment is by works.

      They also never confused being born again with a free ticket to heaven. They knew the difference between “we *have been* saved/reconciled/justified by his death” and “we *shall be* saved by his life” (re: Rom. 5:9-10).

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