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Chris' (Rivers of Eden) Posts on Various Subjects - Part 3

Dear Don:

Here is how I would understand "dead in trespasses and sins" in Eph 2.

First of all, whenever I read about "death" in scripture I always think of the "death of the soul" or biological death first. As it says in the OT, "the soul that sins will certainly die." Adam "became a living soul" when God gave him "spirit" (breath) in Gen. God explained "death" to Adam when he judged him for eating from the wrong tree and said that Adam would "return to dust." It is evident throughout the OT that "death" is understood as the end of "breathing" and "moving" life. This is found to be the case in almost every book of the OT, especially in the Law, Job, Psalms, and Ecclesiastes.

fact, the "spirit" of man is said to go "back to God who gave it" (Eccl). When Jesus died, He "gave His spirit to the Father." I think it is important to understand that the old Roman Catholic doctrine of "the immortality of the soul" (another unscriptural phrase) is where Calvinists get their unbiblical "spiritual death" terminology. There is also nowhere in scripture that explains that there is a distinction between a "spiritual" death and some other kind of death. Certainly the word "death" is used both literally and figuratively in scripture, but this does not mean that the figurative use is referring to a "spiritual death." It is also important to understand that without "spiritual death," many other Catholic/Reformed doctrines like "eternal torment" and "total depravity" and "irresistible grace" etc. don't work. That's why the "spiritual death" concept was invented and perpetuated for so long without question.

It should make you weary enough when the best a Calvinist can do is quote Eph 2:1-6 to defend the doctrine. Or, they quote Genesis 2 and say that Adam died "spiritually" (not in the text!) the "day" he ate fruit, despite that fact that God explains the "death" in Gen 3 as a "return to dust." Even the word "day" can have 6 or 8 nuances of interpretation in scripture.

It's the same thing as when you discuss the Trinity/Diety of Christ with people who are afraid to think any other way ... they'll quote 30 or 40 passages about God, Christ, and Holy Spirit, and not a single one of them has "deity of Christ" or "the Trinity" in them, nor is there any explanation of the doctrine anywhere in scripture. This kind of "reasoning" is logically flawed, since it simply "assumes" what it's trying to prove instead of taking the evidence at face value and considering the options.

I used to be an ardent Calvinist and Trinitarian, yet when I took a look at the real evidence, I found out that any "predestination/election" or "deity of Christ" passage could easily be interpreted 3 or 4 different ways. It's foolish to make these later creedal philosophies a "test of faith." The best we can do is study the grammar, compare scripture with scripture, and come up with the most probable interpretation of each text. Sometimes we just can't be conclusive. This is what I mean by the "preterist hermeneutic." We learned that our eschatology was completely wrong because we used to approach so many prophetic passages with traditional assumptions.

I would understand "dead in trespasses and sins" in the sense that Paul explains the relationship of "sin and death" in other areas. As we've seen in Rom 5, it is Adam's transgression that causes "death." All "died" in Adam. As Paul also says, "the power of death is sin, and the power of sin is the Law" (I Cor 15). In Eph, Paul is explaining that Christ's "death" (physical - on the cross) is what put an end to the "power of the Law" and brought "grace and life" to "all nations" as was "predestined" in the promise made to Abraham (when "death" reigned, but "sin" was not imputed!). The "all nations" were in the sense that the "promise" itself was made to "all of Abraham's seed" or "all nations." It wasn't just "the Law" that determined the final "election," it was the Abrahamic covenant. This is the heart of Paul's "gospel."

Since death (returning to dust) was pronounced upon Adam for his transgression, it is evident that all living after him "die" the same way. Whether one is "under the Law" or "a stranger to the Law," this "death reigns" just as it did before the Law came as Paul explains in Romans 5. Thus, when Paul is saying in Eph that those who formerly did not believe in Christ were "dead in trespasses and sins" he is simply saying that they were inevitably going to "return to dust" (die) like all men since "death" was "reigning" apart from Christ's victory over death and His "physical resurrection."

I think that when the prophecies talked about Christ "not seeing decay" in the grave, and "death" not being able to "hold him" I think it gives us the indication that it is the inevitability of "returning to dust" like Adam that is our concern, and not some kind of "spiritual" death that is not explained in scripture. There are hundreds of passages in the Psalms alone in which David talks about "sheol" and "the grave" as being the "end of man" and the inevitable conclusion of life. It would seem that this is the basis for what the NT writers would have understood about death and resurrection.

Well, I hope this helps you to understand where I am coming from on "dead in trespasses and sins."


Dear Don:

Since you seem comfortable discussing the issue of the "Trinity/Deity of Christ" I'll tell you what I've come to think. I've studied this a great deal ... I just didn't want it to become an issue of controversy so I didn't try to explain my understanding to you. I just tried to give a general answer to your question.

As far as God the Father is concerned, I believe that He is "YHWH" the "one who was, who is, and who is to come" (Rev 1). I believe that He is Spirit and that He is the Creator and that He is the Almighty. God is not a "person," He is a Spirit, and therefore His visible actions are often called the "Holy Spirit."

I believe that the Lord Jesus was a "man." He was born of the virgin Mary by "the Holy Spirit." I DO NOT think the scripture teaches any kind of "preexistence" of Christ in the Trinitarian sense. I also DO NOT believe that Jesus was an "angel" or that he was "God in the flesh" in a "Oneness" sense.

I simply believe that Jesus was the "man" foretold to be the "Messiah." According to scripture, he was "filled with the Holy Spirit" and was able to live a sinless life. He died a "real" death and was "physically" raised up and taken to "heaven" in fulfillment of the scriptures.

I believe that Jesus was born a "dying" man (with a "sinful nature" - although I hate to use this term since it is one of those later philosophical terms). I believe that Jesus died not only to save "believers," but also to "save" himself from "the sin" (Adam's transgression). This is all taught in Hebrews.

I believe that Jesus is the "creator" of the "new covenant" and that is why all the "creation" language is used of him in passages like John 1, Col 1, and Hebrews 1. This language has nothing to do with the "creation" of the geophysical universe any more than "heaven and earth" in Matt 5:17 has to do with the geophysical universe. When God "created" the promised land in Genesis 1-2, it was a "type" of what Jesus did later to inaugurate the "new covenant." As Paul teaches, "there is a new creation" in Christ Jesus (2 Cor 5:17-21). In Gal 6:15-18 he also refers to the "new covenant" as "a new creation."

Regarding the "atonement." I think that the whole concept of "substitutionary atonement" is wrong. There is no such thing as "limited" or "unlimited" atonement in scripture. As we have been discussing in Rom 5, "sin is not imputed" apart from "the Law." Jesus "died" to deliver us ONLY from the "transgression of Adam." Remember that the "promise of eternal life" made to Abraham BEFORE the Law is the basis of "salvation being a free gift by grace through faith and not of works."

All people descended from Adam "die" physically on account of Adam's one transgression (Rom 5). Only the Israelites who were "under the Law" were guilty of transgressing "the Law." As Paul indicates, God could save "all nations" because He promised "eternal life" BEFORE the Law came. As we see in Rom 5, "sin is not imputed when there is no Law." Jesus had to live a life of perfect obedience to "the Law" because he was "born under the Law." He did this (by the Holy Spirit), and thus he was "raised" according to the scriptures.

As Paul explains in Rom 5, it only required the "one righteous man" to save "all nations" from the "one transgression" that brought "death" upon "all nations." In other words, Jesus died as a "representative," and not as a "substitute." There was no need or requirement for Jesus to "bear the personal sins of every other human being." He needed only to atone for the "ONE transgression" that "brought death to all men." All of our personal "sins" are "freely" forgiven by God "for CHRIST'S SAKE."

Let me give a few questions to think about ... First of all, if God "punished" Jesus for everybody else's "sins" it would be totally unjust and contradictory to His own "Law." The Law clearly reveals that only the guilty are to be punished. Never does the Law say that an "innocent person" can take the place of a "guilty person" and atone for a crime. Jesus was guilty of no sins, and therefore was entitled to eternal life, according to the Law.

we DO NOT require "justice" when someone sins against us. We should forgive "7 x 70 times" if necessary, right? If this is so, then how can one believe that God Himself would turn around and demand "payment for sins" committed against Him and then call it "forgiveness" after he "punishes" an innocent man? This is again contradictory to what God revealed in His own "Holy Law." Jesus taught that IT IS GREATER TO FORGIVE than to demand justice - this is the whole point of "love" in the gospels. As MacArthur would say "love is unconditional, forgiving, self-sacrifice." It is not retribution.

Moreover, if you believe that the "penalty" for sins is "eternal torment and death," then Jesus certainly did not "die eternally" on the cross to "pay" such a penalty for the supposed "elect." He only "suffered" for about 3 hours and he was only "dead" for 3 days. If you believe that Jesus is/was "God," then how could "God" die anyway when He is not "physical," and is "immortal." Another interesting thing to note is that according to the NT record, Jesus' "spirit" went "to God," and his "soul" was in Hades, and his "body" was in "the tomb" during those 3 days - where do you think the "real" Jesus was? Was he really "dead" or not?

What I'm saying is that I believe the scriptures teach that God "forgives" all people on the basis of the "righteousness" of Christ. Because Christ "pleased God," he inherited "all things in heaven and earth" as a reward for his righteousness and service to God. In order to be "heirs with Christ" we must simply "believe that God sent him" as a propitiation for our "sins." Thus, God forgives us without retribution BECAUSE He loves Christ and we belong to him.

What about those who "do not believe?" Well, they are "dying" physical death, right? Unless they "inherit eternal life" when they believe in Christ, they will eventually "die" (physically) and are thus annihilated just as God condemned Adam to "return to dust." As a preterist I believe that the "judgment" only pertained to Israel on account of the "imputation of sin" that came about from the "yoke of bondage" of "the Law." Now that the Law is gone, we are left in the same situation as Abraham when "sin is not imputed." The only thing left is the "transgression of Adam" by which "all men" die even though they did not "sin after the likeness of Adam" (Rom 5). The "promise" made to Abraham is available to all through Christ, if they have the "faith of Abraham" through believing in Christ. Otherwise, they "die" just as God told Adam. That's what Paul means when he says "the wages of sin is death" (Rom 6:23).

So, you see, God is "just" in condemning those who do not believe on account of Adam's transgression. He is also "just" in giving "life" to those who "believe" because "no sin is imputed when there is no Law." And, most importantly, God is a God of forgiveness and love, and not a God who desires retribution. Albeit, He gets angry and judged those who transgressed His Law during the time of Israel when "sin" was imputed and there were stipulations of judgment.

Well, you've probably had enough of this, right?? I didn't try to deal with any objections or specific verses because I don't know what objections you might raise. Let me know what you think. If you want to know how I would interpret any specific passages on these subjects, just bring them to my attention ...


Don -

In answer to your questions ...

1. I've believed in Christ for about 16 years, and I believed in the "Trinity" until about 5 years ago when I became a preterist.

As far as the "Deity of Christ" goes, I've always believed in that, but for the past 5 years I've understood it differently. I certainly don't think that Jesus is of the same "essence and nature" as the Father. There is no explanation of this in scripture. Nor do I believe in any "preexistence of Christ" in the Trinitarian sense.

However, I believe that Jesus is "deity" in the same sense as YHWH and the angels because He has been exulted "above all rule and authority in the heavenlies." This occurred after his resurrection and ascension. As you know, even the leaders of Israel were called "gods" (Psa 82:6; John 10). In the OT, Moses and angels are also called "elohim" (God). I think it can be demonstrated that "God" is often a term that is used collectively of the "heavenly host" including God, angels, and Christ.

This is one reason I conclude in Genesis 1-2 that the "image of God (elohim)" is a reference to our physical resemblance to the angels (heavenly host) and not some unexplainable abstract philosophical moral concept that would have been totally foreign to the language and culture of the ancient Israelites. The word "image" is used throughout the OT to describe physical representations of "gods" (i.e. "idols"). It is also interesting that when Paul refers to the "image and glory of God" in I Cor 11, he is talking about the physical appearance of men and women and their relationship to God and angels.

2. I was a "Calvinist" since I became a Christian, and I always understood that the only true "Calvinist" is a "supralapsarian." I never thought that one could be a "4-point Calvinist" or a "3 1/2 -point calvinist" (like John MacArthur). I always saw Calvinism as a system of interpretation that stands or falls based upon one's acceptance of all "5" points. I was a "true" Calvinist.

When I became a preterist, and I began to see that traditional eschatology (futurist) was wrong, I began to realize that Calvinism is wrong. It was a lot of work to see thought it, because Calvinism (like eschatology) affects so many different categories of systematic theology. To see the errors in Calvinism, you really have to take a fresh look at a lot of NT texts, and sort through a lot of the Greek philosophy that really influenced the Church Fathers. They used different approaches to exegesis and hermeneutics than we use today.

But now, I think of the Calvinism/Arminianism debate as being as meaningless as two Premillenialists debating about the timing of the Rapture! With this, I don't mean to question the sincerity of guys like Ward Fenley, but I can tell by his comments in that e-mail that he probably hasn't studied anything but erroneous views of soteriology. He seems to have no clue as to where I'm coming from, otherwise he wouldn't be trying to label me as an "Arminian" or a "Pelagian." He's like that Premillenialist trying to label everyone as either "pre-trib," "mid-trib," or "post-trib" - assuming, of course, that everyone must be some kind of "futurist." You get what I'm saying ...

Anyway, I hope this answers your questions ...


Hi Don -

I would agree with Sailhammer's thesis ... of course, he is a futurist, so I had difficulty with the book at certain points.

I think that the most important thing that he demonstrates is that the dimensions of the "Garden of Eden" are almost exactly those of the "Promised Land." He also shows how the "creation" language is used throughout the OT to refer the "Land of Israel." This, of course, accords with the way that preterists have picked up the "Old Covenant" significance of "heaven and earth" in eschatology.

The other thing that I thought was important is the way that he explains the first couple verses of Genesis 1, especially the way he refers to the "Spirit hovering over the face of the waters." He argues that this is not a reference to the "Holy Spirit" of the "Trinity," but rather is a reference to the "wind" (Hebrew - RUaCH) blowing over the top of the deep waters, as it would in a dark and brooding storm.

He also does of good job of explaining the order of the creation days. Instead of trying to reconcile the problem with "facts" of modern science that would be totally unknown to the original author and readers, he points out that the order of events makes sense from the geocentric perspective of an ancient observer (like Moses). One of the problems I see with the whole creation vs evolution debate is that both sides seem to ignore the probability that Moses would not have written Genesis 1-3 with any such "modern" scientific knowledge. To try to reconcile his words with modern scientific theories is to abandon sound exegesis.

I think Sailhammer's conclusions also help explain why the "creation" language is used in John 1, Col 1, and Heb 1 with reference to the work of Jesus and the "new covenant." Most people assume that Jesus is the "creator of the universe" because they misunderstand that the "new covenant" is a "new creation" (see II Cor 5:17-18; Gal 6:15-17). Just as God originally prepared the Land for habitation (Gen 1), likewise Jesus prepared the way for the "new heavens and new earth" which is the "new covenant" world (Rev 21-22).

I also think that the traditional reading of Genesis 1:1 as the "creation" of the geophysical universe is also the reason that John 1:1-3 is misunderstood to be a reference to the "preexistence and deity of Christ." It is interesting that almost everyone assumes that "the beginning" in John 1:1 is an allusion to Genesis 1:1. However, you have the same phrase occurring in Mark 1:1 and Luke 1:1-3 (and a couple other places in the NT!) and it is an obvious reference to "the beginning" of the preaching of John and Jesus.

If you read the whole context of Mark 1:1-11 you find that it is explaining the relationship of John and Jesus - which is exactly what the whole context of John 1:1-34 is explaining. Both passages concern the ministry of John and his witness to the arrival of the Messiah. If you read both passages as a parallel, you can see that all the stuff about "the Word" in John 1:1-3 (that is further detailed in John 1:4-34 about the preaching of John) is simply abbreviated in Mark 1:1-11.

The key is also to compare John 1:1-3 with 1 John 1:1-5. The Apostle John is writing as an eyewitness (1 John 1:1) who was with John and Jesus from the very "beginning." You see in 1 John 1:1 that John says "That which was from the beginning, which WE have HEARD, what WE have SEEN with our eyes, what WE BEHELD and OUR HANDS HANDLED ... the Word of life." As far as John is concerned, he knew Jesus since "the beginning" which is certainly not some time before the creation of the universe since John did not exist and follow Jesus until the time John the baptizer revealed him to the Jews. This is the same time that both Mark and Luke call "the beginning" and use to start their story of John and Jesus.

Again comparing John 1:1-3, 1 John 1:1-5, and Mark 1:1-3 you see that the apostles heard John the baptizer testify that Jesus was the "Word" fulfilled - i.e. the prophecy of Isaiah that spoke of both the "messenger" and the "Lord" who's "way" the messenger was to prepare (Mark 1:2 quotes Isaiah). Furthermore, God "spoke" at Jesus' baptism (by John the baptizer) and declared that Jesus is the "beloved Son." This is the sense in which I think we should interpret "the Word was with God, and the Word was God" in John 1:1.

John 1:10 is a key verse too, because it can be understood that when Jesus "made the world" it was at the same time that "He was in the world." Notice that when Jesus was "in the world" the "world was made through Him" and at the same time "the world did not know Him." This seems to suggest that these things were happening concurrently ... how could it be referring to Jesus "creating" the universe thousands of years earlier?

Well, I got off on a tangent ... I hope you don't mind, but I don't know of any websites you could go to. Most of the books I have are self-published so they are difficult to find.

Let me know what you think ...


Hi Don

I think that the Christadelphian view of God, Christ, and atonement is the most "biblical" that I have studied yet. Although, I have several books by other groups that are very similar.

Let me give you my view of Jesus in brief. I believe that Jesus was a man who was born of Mary and God the Father. God the Father is "spirit" and is the "only true God." Mary was a human. Jesus was a human who was "in every way like his brethren." I believe that this includes mortality. Jesus did not "preexist" his human birth, nor did he have "immortality" until he was raised out of the grave.

The unique thing about Jesus is that he was the "son" of God the Father. Therefore, his "spirit" was "holy spirit" and I think that this is what enabled him to be "human" without sinning. However, I do believe that he was "cursed" in Adam (like all other humans) and was "tempted in every way" as we are. He was also "condemned by the Law." Jesus was "obedient unto death" in order to save himself from sin (the Law) and death, as well as to accomplish God the Father's purpose for the "elect."

I understand the "atonement" this way ... Jesus needed to be "obedient unto death" only to save himself from the "curse" of the Law and "the transgression of Adam." God the Father had promised Jesus that if he did "obey" Him, that he would be "rewarded" with a "kingdom." Therefore, God offers forgiveness of sins and salvation to "all nations" as a "free gift" because of the obedience of Jesus. The key here is that God the Father saves us "FOR THE SAKE" of Christ, and NOT because Jesus somehow paid the penalty for our sins (or "substitionary atonement"). Jesus was not punished for anybody's sin because Jesus was a "righteous" man. Jesus only suffered and died willingly in obedience to God the Father.

I think that the Catholic/Evangelical notion that the Messiah "must be God Himself" in order to "pay the penalty for sins" is totally wrong. This is just another way of trying to defend the Trinity so that people think they cannot be saved unless they believe in the "deity of Christ." And, it is also a way of philosophically justifying "eternal torment." In other words, the whole theology is intertwined so that you have to take it or leave it.

If you were to read a Christadelphian commentary on the book of Hebrews, you would be absolutely shocked at what the book really teaches about Jesus. You would see that people misread the whole first half of the book just as much as they misread the word "Gentiles" in the other epistles, or the way they miss the "parousia" when they read about eschatology. It is that dramatic when you look at it from the non-Trinitarian perspective.

The other thing that I quickly realized is that most Evangelical "cult" books barely scratch the surface of what Biblical Unitarians really believe. Most people (like Ward Fenley and Ed Stevens) just assume that everyone is either an "Arian" or a "Trinitarian" because that's all they are aware of. Or, they assume that the "Christadelphians" or "Jehovah's Witnesses" are "cults" and they just scare people into not listening to what they have to say. Just like most people won't read "CI" stuff because they hear that it is a "white supremacy" group. You know what I mean ...

Most people think that you have to be either a Pre-, Post-, or A- Millenialist, yet we know the truth is found in none of these, right? Of course, the truth is much harder to find. Like it says in Proverbs, if we are to know "sound wisdom and knowledge," we must "search for it like fine treasure."

A couple years ago Ed Stevens wrote a lengthy "defense" of the "deity of Christ" to counter what Wanda Shirk and Jeff Kessel (former Kingdom Counsel editors) believe. He sent it to me and asked my opinion. I wrote him back and told him to write that whole thing again because it was obvious to me that all he did was read ONE book by a Trinitarian against the JW's and he assumed that everyone else believe the same. He had no clue what Wanda Shirk really believes, nor did he answer a single one of the arguments that someone like her (or me) would bring up against Trinitarianism. He just assumes that everyone is an "Arian" and is wrong. I appreciate Ed's zeal - unfortunately, he is not a very intelligent guy.

I hope this helps clarify my view ... let me know what you think or if you have any specific questionns.


Don -

Here is an answer to your question about the "holy spirit."

I believe that the "holy spirit" is a reference to God the Father. I do not think that the Holy Spirit is a "person" in the sense that Trinitarians would.

I think that the "holy spirit" is a reference to God the Father in the same sense as we speak of a human having a "spirit." When we talk about the "spirit of man" we do not think of a separate "person," but we think of the invisible attributes and living expression of the person. The scripture shows this in 1 Cor 2:11:

"For who among men knows the thoughts of a man, except the SPIRIT OF THE MAN WITHIN HIM? In the same way, no one knows the thoughts of God EXCEPT THE SPIRIT OF GOD."

Notice in this passage that the "spirit of A ma Ľn" is put into an analogous parallel with the "spirit of God." When we talk about a "man" having a "spirit," we understand that the man is still only one "person." Yet, when a Trinitarian reads this passage, he assumes that the "spirit of God" and "God" are two separate co-equal "persons." If this is so, then it follows that we should regard a "man" and "his spirit" to be two separate co-equal "persons." Of course, this destroys Paul's comparison. There is no need to regard the "spirit of God" as anything more than a reference to the invisible attributes of God the Father.

I think that God the Father and Jesus are separate "persons." However, I see no need to regard the "holy spirit" or the "spirit of Jesus" to be anything more than an anthropomorphic reference to the Father or Jesus.

I hope that I've explained this clearly. What do you think?


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