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The ESV Study Bible: An Arminian Appraisal

I have never been a big fan of study Bibles. I will admit that I own quite a few including the Fire Bible, the Spirit-Filled Study Bible, the MacArthur Study Bible, the Geneva Study Bible, the Reformation Study Bible, the Thompson Chain Reference Study Bible, the Key-Word Study Bible, and the Scofield Reference Bible. I also own the ESV Study Bible.

When the ESV Study Bible was released I had hopes that it would be a solid study Bible though I know that study Bibles, no matter what, hold to a certain doctrinal position. It is simply inevitable that a study Bible will lean one way or another on debated passages of Scripture. For the most part, study Bibles hold to orthodox positions on major theological issues such as the atonement of Jesus (as being necessary), the Trinity, authority of Scripture, and salvation (as being by grace through faith). However, study Bibles simply cannot avoid the Arminian/Calvinist debate. The study Bible will lean toward one or the other or avoid the issue (see the NIV Study Bible).
The ESV Study Bible clearly leans Calvinist. I know some of my fellow Arminians avoid the ESV because Calvinists such as John Piper have adopted this translation as their own. I personally love the ESV as a translation. While not as literal as the New American Standard, the ESV offers the best of an essentially literal translation as well as readability. To me, the ESV is more readable than the NASB and much more literal than the NIV so it blends together the best of both an accurate translation as well as one that can be read quite easily.
In order for me to show that the ESV Study Bible leans toward Calvinism, let us examine a few major debated passages among Arminians and Calvinists. These will be placed in their biblical order.
John 6:37
Whoever comes to me I will never cast out implies that people should never think, “Maybe I am not chosen by God, and therefore maybe Jesus will reject me when I come to him.” Jesus promises to receive everyone who comes to him and trusts him for salvation. Yet, a few verses later (v. 44) Jesus states the paradoxical and corresponding truth that once people come to Jesus, they will realize that behind their willing decision to come and believe lies the mysterious, invisible work of the Father who all along was drawing them to Christ. See Romans 9; Eph. 1:3–6

John 6:44
No one can come to me means “no one is able to come to me” (Gk. dynamai means “to be able”). This implies that no human being in the world, on his own, has the moral and spiritual ability to come to Christ unless God the Father draws him, that is, gives him the desire and inclination to come and the ability to place trust in Christ (see notes on v. 37; 12:32).
John 12:37-40
John cites Isa. 53:1 and 6:10 to indicate that the Jewish rejection of Jesus as Messiah was predicted by Scripture and thus serves to confirm (rather than thwart) God’s sovereign plan. Isaiah 53:1 refers to the servant of the Lord who was rejected by the people but exalted by God; Isa. 6:10 attributes people’s hardening ultimately to God himself (similar to Pharaoh’s, see Rom. 9:17–18). The present verses are the first in a series of fulfillment quotations in the second half of John’s Gospel. Seen here is John’s emphasis on divine sovereignty and human responsibility. On the one hand, the people should have believed and are held guilty for disbelieving (“they still did not believe in him,” John 12:37). On the other hand, God blinded their eyes so that they did not have the spiritual ability to believe, and John can even say they could not believe (v. 39). (On the need for God to first give people the ability to believe, see1:13; 6:44.) See note on Eph. 1:11
John 15:2
The divine vinedresser does two things to ensure maximum fruit production: (1) he removes unfruitful branches, and (2) he prunes all the others (cf. Heb. 6:7–8).Does not bear fruit seems to indicate that the person symbolized by such a branch is not a true believer (see John 15:6, 8). In that case, in me is just a loose connection needed to make the metaphor of a vine work, reflecting a claim to be Christ’s that is not genuine and not implying actual regeneration or true belief. This then would be one of several verses in John showing that not all who follow Jesus for a time and hear his teaching are genuine believers (cf. 6:66; also 13:10–11 on Judas). Others understand these branches to represent true believers who are “unfruitful” for various reasons. In favor of this view is the fact that Jesus says such branches are “in me,” and that seems parallel to being “in Christ,” as only believers are. However, these unfruitful branches appear to be the same branches that are “thrown away” and “burned” in 15:6, which seems clearly to be a picture of final judgment. Fruit is an image for good results coming from the life of a believer, probably in terms of bringing benefit to the lives of others and advancing the work of God in the world (see Matt. 13:8; cf. Gal. 5:22–23for a different image of “fruit” as changed character). he takes away. The Greek verbairō can also mean “lifts up” in certain contexts, and some use this to argue that this means God “lifts up” unfruitful branches from the ground so that they will become more fruitful. This interpretation is taken by those who think the branches represent true believers who are not fruitful. But this sense seems less likely because the unfruitful branches in John 15:6 are “thrown into the fire, and burned,” which is an image of final judgment. “He prunes” gives a picture of painful but necessary removal of some interests and activities in order that the remaining branches may bear even more fruit. The word translated “prunes” (Gk. kathairō) often means “to clean,” and has the same root as the adjective katharos, translated “clean” in 15:3.
1 Timothy 2:4
Evangelistic prayer for all people is rooted in the fact that God desires all people to be saved. It appears that Paul is countering an exclusivist tendency in the false teachers or at least their downplaying of the importance of evangelizing the Gentiles (along with their emphasis on the Jewish law). This statement figures prominently in theological disagreements over the extent of the atonement. It cannot be read as suggesting that everyone will be saved (universalism) because the rest of the letter makes it clear that some will not be saved (4:1; 5:24; 6:10; cf. Matt. 25:30, 41, 46; Rev. 14:9–11). Does that mean God desires something (all people being saved) that he cannot fulfill? Both Arminian and Calvinist theologians respond that God “desires” something more than universal salvation. Arminians hold that God’s greater desire is to preserve genuine human freedom (which is necessary for genuine love) and therefore he must allow that some may choose to reject his offer of salvation. Calvinists hold that God’s greater desire is to display the full range of his glory (Rom. 9:22–23), which results in election depending upon the freedom of his mercy and not upon human choice (Rom. 9:15–18). However one understands the extent of the atonement, this passage clearly teaches the free and universal offer of the gospel to every single human being; “desires” shows that this offer is a bona fide expression of God’s good will. Come to the knowledge of the truth highlights the cognitive aspect of conversion, i.e., individuals must come to understand key truths in order to be converted. “The truth” occurs often in the Pastorals as a synonym for the gospel (cf. 1 Tim. 3:15; 4:3; 2 Tim. 2:15, 18, 25; 3:7, 8; 4:4; Titus 1:1, 14).
2 Timothy 2:11-13
The trustworthy statement moves from comfort to challenge and back to comfort: v. 11b is a reminder of life even in the face of death; v. 12 calls for perseverance; v. 13 is a reminder of God’s preserving power and faithfulness. In this context, to deny him must entail a more serious offense than being faithless. Denying Christ envisions final apostasy, in contrast with a temporary lapse in trusting Christ (“if we are faithless”). Those who deny Jesus will be judged forever; but all believers sin, and God is faithful and will pardon, restore, and keep those who are truly his.
Hebrews 3:14
For we have come to share in Christ. The evidence of the Christian truly partaking of Christ’s salvation involves endurance to the end. The condition (if indeed) has been understood in various ways. Some have argued that the condition (“if”) indicates that true Christians can lose their salvation. Scripture is clear, however, that true believers cannot lose their salvation, as evidenced, e.g., by John 10:27–29 (“no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand”), Eph. 1:4 (“he chose us in him before the foundation of the world”), and many other Scripture passages (e.g., John 6:39–40; Rom. 8:35, 38–39; Phil. 1:6; 1 Pet. 1:3–5). Hebrews 3:14 should be understood in connection with v. 13, as is indicated by the linking word “for” (Gk.gar). That is, v. 14 is linked to the exhortation not to become hardened (in unbelief and sin). Thus the logic of the argument is that those who are hardened or who become hardened (v. 13) give outward evidence that they are not (and never have been) genuine believers who “share in Christ,” because genuine believers do not become hardened; instead they persevere—that is, they hold on to their original confidencefirm to the end. Of course, Scripture also encourages believers to pray for and seek to bring back any who have fallen away (James 5:20; 1 John 5:16), in the hope that they will turn back. Still, this passage should be viewed as a sober warning—intended as ameans that God uses to keep Christians resolved in faith and obedient until the end. The ongoing experience of perseverance results in “confidence” and assurance that one does in fact “share in Christ.” This verse then provides a grave warning to everyone who claims to be saved—that is, to examine oneself carefully to be sure that one is in fact a genuine believer, because if there is no evidence of perseverance in faith and obedience, then there is real reason to doubt that such a person has ever been saved.
Hebrews 10:26-27
sinning deliberately. Willfully sinning and refusing to repent. after receiving. The author refers especially to people within the Christian community, who have thus heard the truth. The fact that they “go on sinning deliberately even after receiving knowledge of the truth” indicates that the people in view are not (and never were) genuine believers; that is, these are people who have never genuinely embraced the gospel in a way that has resulted in a life of faith, obedience, and the bearing of fruit. no longer remains a sacrifice for sins. This could refer to the inability of willful, unrepentant sinners to be restored (see 6:4–6), or more likely to the fact that there is no place for them to turn for forgiveness outside of Christ’s sacrifice—which they have rejected. judgment. All people face judgment (see 9:27–28), and apart from Christ’s sacrifice his adversaries receive eternal damnation. These verses, then, function as a means used by God to call genuine Christians to faith, obedience, and perseverance; and, if there is no evidence of fruit in one’s life, to challenge such people to give fearful consideration as to whether they are in fact genuine believers.
2 Peter 1:10
Christians should be diligent to make their calling and election (Gk.eklogē) sure (Gk. bebaios, “reliable, unshifting, firm”). God calls believers to faith through the gospel (2 Thess. 2:14), but he has also chosen (elected) them “before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). But God’s grace in salvation should not be taken for granted. Growing in the Christlike virtues mentioned in 2 Pet. 1:5–7 will give believers increasing confidence that God really did call them and really did elect them to salvation before the foundation of the world. Thus their election becomes “sure,” as a sure foundation. Those who practice these qualities . . . will never fall, probably meaning apostasy (falling away from the faith). Good works are evidence of and give assurance of salvation, though they are never the basis for it. Peter’s wording does not imply that true followers of Christ can ever apostatize; those who do so were never really “called,” “elected,” or born again (cf. notes on John 6:39; 6:40; 10:26–29; 1 Thess. 1:4; Heb. 6:4–8).

1 John 2:19
John’s readers had recently seen people leave the church (out from us). Though they outwardly belonged to the church, their departure revealed that they were not truly of us; that is, they did not have genuine faith. If they had been of us, that is, if they had been genuine Christians, they would have continued with us. This implies that those who are truly saved will never abandon Christ, for they will be kept by his grace (cf. Jude 24). That it might become plain shows divine purpose behind the departure of this group
This does not include all of Romans 9! The ESV Study Bible also contains a chart located on page 2112 entitled, “God’s Sovereignty in Salvation as Seen in Acts.” While Arminians would agree that God is sovereign in salvation, the chart implies nothing about personal responsibility for the gospel.
If a serious student of Arminian theology will take a read over the notes above they can easily discern the Calvinist position found in each one ranging from unconditional election (Arminians believe in election but we believe the elect are those who have faith in Jesus Christ) to apostasy (the ESV Study notes clearly believe in both eternal security and reject personal apostasy).
Now to be fair, the ESV Study Bible does have some good notes on debated passages such as Hebrews 6:4-6; James 1:12-15; and 1 John 2:2. Why couldn’t they have done this for the whole ESV Study Bible? Why not offer both the Arminian and Calvinist views on debated passages? In the minds of the ESV Study Bible committee, the Calvinist views represent the “biblical view” (or as Spurgeon use to say, “the gospel”). Once again the Arminian’s viewpoint is left outside. Many Calvinists would applaud this as viewing Arminianism as heretical and “man-centered theology” but I would have loved to see the ESV Study Bible committee included solid Arminian theologians such as Robert Picirilli, Vic Reasoner, Jack Cottrell, Michael Brown, or a host of others that I could name.
So once again, I end where I started and that is that we must not take study Bibles as infallible. Only the Bible is infallible and only the Bible is inerrant. The notes reflect the theological positions of the ones who wrote them and may or may not be biblical. While I would have loved to have seen the ESV Study Bible include both viewpoints on debated passages, I know that human beings like to be confident that our view is the biblical view. Perhaps it is but let us make sure that we are seeking to base our theology on God’s Word and not the notes of people.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

06/06/2010 at 1:34 AM

Hermeneutical Factors Involving Theological Positions

How is it that an Arminian and a Calvinist can both read from the same Bible and yet both come to very different opinions on many portion of Scriptures? Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other cults like to portray Christianity as very divided and this same question is often the line of reasoning they themselves us to try to show that Christianity is false. With so many factions in the Church, who is correct? Is anyone correct and how can we know?

These questions, no doubt, have plagued the Church. How often have I myself wondered as I was reading my Bible, “How can they not see this in the Bible? It’s so plain to me!” How is it that people can read the Bible and read the Bible and read the Bible and yet still continue to miss the plain teachings of Scripture on various subjects?

I believe that we could try to answer this question in several ways:

1. The Tradition Factor – There can be no doubt that some people have been trained to read the Bible in a certain way, looking for certain doctrines. For example, how is that Mormons can read Isaiah 29:4 and see the Book of Mormon prophesied? How can Mormons read John 10:16 and see the reference to “other sheep” being the Indians in the Western hemisphere? How can Roman Catholics read Matthew 13:55-56 and see the reference to Jesus’ brothers and sisters as being His cousins and not His actual brothers and sisters? How can Catholics read Matthew 1:25 and continue to teach the perpetual virginity of Mary?

The answer to all the above is simple: traditions. Jesus said that our traditions can nullify the Word of God and make it non-effective (Mark 7:13 NIV).

2. Spiritual Blindness – 2 Corinthians 4:4 says, “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Jesus said that Satan is the father of lies and Satan has nothing to do with the truth (John 8:44). We must not ignore the possibility that many people are held in captivity to the devil by his blinding of their eyes to the gospel (1 Corinthians 2:14).

3. Pride – Some may perceive the truth of Scriptures but are too proud to let go of their traditions and admit that they are wrong. This was my case when it came to “the sinner’s prayer.” For years I had believed in and practiced the sinner’s prayer as the response to the gospel but once I begin to see from studying the gospels and Acts that none of the Apostles nor Jesus Himself ever spoke of the sinner’s prayer, never gave an altar call for salvation, and in fact the Bible seems to teach that baptism is the proper response to the gospel in demonstrating the willingness to become Jesus’ disciple (Acts 2:38-39, 41), I had to swallow my pride, admit I was wrong and begin to teach the truth.

Pride destroys. Proverbs 18:12 says, “Before destruction a man’s heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor.” James 5:5 says that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble and then in James 5:6 we are told to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God that He may exalt us. God detests pride but He honors humility and it takes humility to read the Bible and allow the Holy Spirit to show us our sins, our errors, and our traditions that are robbing Christ of His glory and honor.

4. Theological Preconceptions – This by far is the main reason that Arminians and Calvinists can differ when reading from the same Bible. There are certain things that each reader brings to the Bible before they read it: language, culture, and presumptions. We understand language differences but we misunderstand the other two factors. First, culture often will dictate how we read the Bible. For example, my brother from India and the Christians in India know much about persecution and tribulation. I do not. We in the United States can sit and debate whether the Church will go through the Great Tribulation but in many places such as Africa or India, they are simply wondering if they are in the Great Tribulation from the amount of suffering they endure.

Yet presumptions about certain doctrines tends to be our focus when it comes to the Arminian/Calvinist debate. For instance, Calvinists often begin to read their Bibles with the notion that TULIP is biblical and all through the Scriptures. As C.H. Spurgeon said, “The gospel is Calvinism. They are one and the same.” Are they? I hope not. Yet Calvinists begin to read their Bibles with the notion that Calvinism is biblical and from Genesis to Revelation, the “doctrines of grace” fill the pages of the Bible.

However, we Arminians often begin with the notion that Calvinism is false. Lucky for us, we don’t have an acronym to summarise our doctrines but we do begin to read our Bibles with two main notions: First, that God is love and has revealed Himself in that way (John 3:16; Romans 5:8-9; 1 John 4:7-11). Second, because of God’s great love He has reached out to fallen humanity in His Son to reveal Himself, His nature, His will, and His great love for us by saving us through the death and resurrection of His only begotten Son (1 Corinthians 15:1-4; Galatians 1:4).

So where does that take us? Calvinists often ask how is it that Arminians can read Romans 9-11 and not see the sovereignty of God in election unto salvation (unconditional election). Yet because we Arminians begin with the assumption that God is love and that He truly desires to save all who would come to Him in faith (conditional election), we see in Romans 9-11 that Paul’s argument is not for a deterministic understanding of election but his point being that God has not cast off His chosen people (Israel) but that the condition for election into God’s Israel has always been by faith (Romans 11:20-24). Do you see how the presumptions of our theology allowed us to come to that conclusion?

Some will now argue that we are thus not using proper rules of exegesis to interpret Scripture. After all, Scripture must interpret Scripture! I agree. That is why we must seek to overcome our presumptions, our pride, and our traditions in order to understand and obey the Bible. I am not arguing that we need to blindly follow Arminius or Calvin. We need to allow the truths of Scripture to come forth and we must seek to simply follow the Bible as best we can. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 promises us that the man of God is fully equipped for every good deed by the Bible. I pray that we will be fully equipped and useful to the Master.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

08/19/2009 at 10:43 PM

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