I’m back to continue our study of Norman Geisler’s defense of what he calls the “Moderate Calvinist” view of the Doctrine of Eternal Security. In Part II, I am going to explore Geisler’s response to Arminian scriptural arguments.
Tonight’s scripture and argument will involve 1 Timothy 4:1-2. I’ll print the text here:
1 Now the Spirit (A) explicitly says that in the latter times (B) some will depart from the faith, (C) paying attention to deceitful spirits (D) and the teachings of demons, (E) 2 through the hypocrisy (F) of liars whose consciences (G) are seared. (1 Timothy 4:1-2, Holman Christian Standard Bible).
“Arminians point out that such must have once had the faith or they could not have later departed from it. In response, the phrase ‘the faith’ is used by Paul in the Pastoral Letters…as equivalent to ‘the Christian faith’ with all its essential doctrines (1 Tim. 3:9; 4:6) and ethics (1 Tim. 6:10)…further, the New Testament speaks of persons who have ‘wandered’ from the faith (1 Tim. 6:10), ‘denied’ it (5:8), ‘destroyed’ it in some (2 Tim. 3:8), and ‘departed’ from it (1 Tim. 4:1). It is difficult not to believe that at least some of these phrases, if not all, describe people who are truly lost” (Norman Geisler, “Four Views on Eternal Security” by J. Matthew Pinson, General Editor. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002, pp. 90-91).
Here we see Geisler showing exegetically how it is that someone could argue that those who abandoned the Christian faith lost their salvation. Then, however, he commits his blunder:
“We need only ask whether there is any indisputable evidence that the Bible affirms that any of these people were true believers to begin with. An examination of these texts yields a negative answer…These are people who indeed professed the doctrines of the Christian faith, but the passages describe none of them as having once been true believers. Like Simon the sorcerer, they may have ‘believed’ and been ‘baptized’ (Acts 8:13). However, the subsequent action of Simon in trying to buy the power of the Holy Spirit and Peter’s condemnation of him reveal that his faith was only nominal and not saving faith” (91).
When Geisler starts to examine these two verses in 1 Timothy 4, he seems to be dead on target with his exegesis of genuine believers who fall from the faith. He then provides an answer that clearly has nothing to do with 1 Tim. 4 and argues from it that true believers cannot fall from the faith.
His text, Acts 8, shows Simon Magus who desires the gift of laying on of hands more than anything else. Yes, he covets the gift, and believes that he can “buy” it. And yes, this proves that his heart is not in the right place. But what about the believers of the text in 1 Timothy 4? Do we ever read ANYWHERE in the text that they were never believers to begin with? We are told nothing about their motivation, except that they “pay attention,” or “give heed,” to false teachings. We are told, however, the motivation of the false teachers themselves:
“2 through the hypocrisy (F) of liars whose consciences (G) are seared.” (1 Tim. 4:2, HCSB)
The false teachers themselves are “liars” and “hypocrites” whose “consciences are seared”; in other words, these false teachers have made their break with the faith and desire to do nothing but uproot genuine believers from it as well.
In contrast to Geisler, I believe that the bible teaches that even genuine believers can fall from the faith.
Look at 1 Timothy 4:16—
“Be conscientious about yourself and your teaching; PERSEVERE IN THESE THINGS, for by doing this YOU WILL SAVE BOTH YOURSELF AND YOUR HEARERS” (1 Tim. 4:16, HCSB).
Paul exhorts Timothy to continue teaching sound doctrine to the church at Ephesus. Why? “For by doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.” If it were not possible for these believers to abandon the faith, why is Paul so concerned that both Timothy and the congregation remain in sound doctrine? Why is he concerned about Timothy being saved? Isn’t Timothy already saved? Isn’t Timothy firm in the faith and doesn’t need to be encouraged to stay on the right path? Paul clearly shows Timothy that he fears that the church will turn to the wrong path—which is why he writes the way he does in his epistles of 1 and 2 Timothy.
Let’s look at Paul’s words to Timothy in 1 Timothy 5:
“Therefore, I want younger women to marry, have children, manage their households, and give the adversary no opportunity to accuse us. FOR SOME HAVE ALREADY TURNED AWAY TO FOLLOW SATAN” (1 Tim. 5:14-15, HCSB).
Notice that these instructions are given regarding younger women (widows, those under the age of sixty years old). Paul wants these younger women to marry because their idleness could lead them to abandon the faith—“for some have already turned aside to follow Satan”). If this were not possible, if it were not possible for genuine believers to turn to Satan, why then would Paul issue such expectations? Why would he give such instruction? After all, he did say that by keeping house, the women would “give the adversary no opportunity to accuse us.”
If this isn’t enough, try on 1 Timothy 6 for size:
“Timothy, GUARD what has been entrusted to you, avoiding irreverent, empty speech and contradictions from the ‘knowledge’ that falsely bears that name. By professing it, SOME PEOPLE HAVE DEVIATED FROM THE FAITH” (1 Tim. 6:20-21, HCSB).
At the conclusion of his letter, Paul once again warns Timothy about false teaching. He tells Timothy to “GUARD what has been entrusted to you…” In telling Timothy this, Paul tells Timothy to be on watch, to keep the sound doctrine and ministry he has been given, to keep himself from paying attention to such false teaching and to not give any attention to the false teachers. Instead of worrying how to combat the false teachers, Timothy should focus on how to give sound teaching to the congregation so as to prevent more people from following Satan.
Two things: First, notice that Paul distinguishes true knowledge from the false teaching being taught at Ephesus: “the ‘knowledge’ that FALSELY BEARS THAT NAME” (v.20). Paul desires to make it clear to Timothy that the false teaching, while being called ‘knowledge,’ is no knowledge at all! Rather, it is given a name to mislead and deceive people who desire to know the truth. Secondly, Paul tells Timothy that some have “professed it,” which means that some have publicly testified to their belief in such “false” information. As a result, they have walked away from sound doctrine and the faith of which they were formerly a part. We get the idea, then, that this false teaching was nothing to “snuff” at—rather, it was so powerful in its impact that even genuine believers were following after it.
Contrary to Geisler, then, Paul shows us that false teaching could easily lead genuine believers astray. False teaching was having such an impact on the church at Ephesus, which is why Paul exhorted Timothy to persevere in sound teaching. The goal for perseverance was to assure the salvation of himself and all who sat under his instruction. Paul bore the same concern for the church at Corinth when he wrote the following:
“I wish you would put up with a little foolishness from me. Yes, do put up with me. FOR I AM JEALOUS OVER YOU WITH A GODLY JEALOUSY, because I have promised you in marriage to one husband—to present a pure virgin to Christ. But I FEAR that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, YOUR MINDS MAY BE CORRUPTED FROM A COMPLETE AND PURE DEVOTION TO CHRIST” (2 Corinthians 11:1-3, HCSB).
Paul tells them of his jealousy for their devotion (to Christ), and then tells them that he is afraid that they could possibly be led astray from such devotion. Paul seems to have a concern for the entire church, and he doesn’t tell us that he only fears a certain “unsaved” segment of the population!
Once again, Geisler is proven wrong on the basis of Scripture. His initial conclusions are correct: those who “abandon” the faith are real genuine believers. We are told of others like Demas who forsake Christ because of their love of the world, but here we are given a warning by Paul for the entire church at Ephesus to remain in sound doctrine; in addition, Paul warns them of the façade of such false teaching—which deceives people into thinking it is something that it is not.