“Exegetical and theological fallacies arise in this area when conclusions are drawn without adequate attention being paid to the relationships between clause and clause, established (usually) by the verbal forms. For instance, I. Howard Marshall interprets Hebrews 3:6b (‘And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast,’NIV) and Hebrews 3:14 (‘We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first,’ NIV) as if they say exactly the same thing, that ‘membership of God’s household is conditional upon perseverance’ (I. Howard Marshall, ‘Kept By the Power of God,’ pp. 140, 152). In one sense of course, that is correct; but close attention to the tenses in their context in Hebrews 3:14 reveals an extra ingredient in this verse. We have become (Grk. gegonamen) ---past reference, I would argue---partakers of Christ if we now, in the present, hold firmly to the confidence we had at first. It follows from this that although perseverance is mandated, it is also the evidence of what has taken place in the past. Put another way, perseverance becomes one of the essential ingredients of what it means to be a Christian, of what a partaker of Christ is and does. If persevering shows that we have already come to share in Christ, it can only be because sharing in Christ has perseverance for its inevitable fruit” (D.A. Carson, “Exegetical Fallacies, Second Edition.” Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), pages 84-85).
This will begin the new series on D.A. Carson’s book. Before I get started, let me say that the purpose of this series is not to say that Dr. Carson is a horrible theologian or an exegete who intends to bend the text to his own ideas. I’m not suggesting through my critiques of Dr. Carson’s book that he as a conspiracy to mislead believers. That is not my intention at all. Rather, my goal is to see where D.A. Carson’s presuppositions become most evident in his writing, and then place his presuppositions alongside of Scripture to see if they are true or not. Dr. Carson wrote his book with the same idea in mind. Carson writes regarding traditional beliefs in his introduction:
“it is all too easy to read the traditional interpretations we have received from others into the text of Scripture. Then we may unwittingly transfer the authority of Scripture to our traditional interpretations and invest them with a false, even an idolatrous, degree of certainty. Because traditions are reshaped as they are passed on, after a while we may drift far from God’s Word while still insisting all our theological opinions are ‘biblical’ and therefore true. If when we are in such a state we study the Bible uncritically, more than likely it will simply reinforce our errors” (Carson, “Exegetical Fallacies,” page 17).
As a result, I will submit myself to the idea that I could be wrong. But I desire to suggest in this series that Dr. Carson can be as well (as he himself states in his book).
Regarding I. Howard Marshall’s stance above, Carson states that to some extent, he agrees with Marshall. However, he desires to point out that, because the writer uses the words “until the end” and “we have become partakers of Christ” (a present state), that this means that perseverance for those in Christ is “inevitable.” The perfect tense (“we have become partakers”), connected with “until the end,” refers to one big constant journey. In other words, true believers do not fall away from the faith, do not turn back to their old way of life.
But what I desire to submit to you today is that Hebrews 3:6 and Hebrews 3:14 seem to bind the idea of confidence and endurance (perseverance) together. So whether or not Dr. Carson is correct is based on what the Scriptures say about both confidence and endurance.
Does being in Christ “necessitate” (key word) that one will endure to the end? Not according to the biblical text. Hebrews 10 provides a good connection:
“Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promse” (Hebrews 10:35-36, NKJV).
Notice in the text that confidence is not to be cast away, and that confidence and endurance are linked. To cast away one’s confidence is to fail to endure (persevere). If the writer exhorts the Jewish congregation, “do not cast away your confidence,” this means that it is possible for one to cast away their confidence in God. If one can cast away their confidence in God, then one can fail to endure. Confidence is linked in Scripture with endurance in the writing of the Apostle John:
“My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this, we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him...beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God” (1 John 2:18-21, NKJV).
Loving in deed and in truth helps us to “assure our hearts before Him” (1 Jn. 2:19). And great assurance, produced as a result of godly living, gives us confidence toward God (because our heart does not condemn us, 1 Jn. 2:21). So assurance is produced as a result of godly living, and the assurance produced through godly living brings us confidence toward God, such that, when we make requests known to God, “we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight” (1 Jn. 2:22).
If one does not see the connection between confidence and endurance here, look at the Gospels. In Matthew 13:21, the “rocky-soil” Christian “endures for a while”; in Mark 4:17, he or she “endures only for a time”; in Luke 8:13, however, he or she “believe for a while.” Endurance and belief are linked here in the gospels referring to the rocky soil as well as the seed sown on good ground. So, in terms of the NT, belief and endurance are connected, such that, to believe is to endure; those who “believe for a while” (as Jesus describes them in the Gospels) refer to those who only “endure for a while,” and then fall away in times of temptation. Can we just say, like Carson, that these individuals in this rocky group “were never saved to begin with,” that, if their conversion was real they would have endured? I think most are willing to say that on the basis of 1 John 2:19. But I think 1 John 2:19 is problematic because of 1 Timothy 4:1 (in which the Spirit Himself says that some will depart from the faith). And in 1 Timothy 4, Paul does not write that many will depart from the faith because “they were never saved to begin with”; rather, they depart because they pay attention to demonic teaching (4:2).
In the end, Carson’s claim that perseverance will “inevitably” follow conversion cannot withstand the biblical evidence that testifies to the contrary. Rather, the Gospels and Hebrews seem to indicate that believers can “throw away their confidence” and “endure for a while” and then fall away. Carson’s view of the text then, is not just about semantics and the meaning of tenses; rather, he is making a Calvinistic claim to eternal security. But I know many who would agree with his Calvinist claim of eternal security but reject the other points of his theology such as “Irresistible Grace,” “Unconditional Election (and Unconditional Reprobation),” and “Limited Atonement”... all of which, by the way, “inevitably” follow from this one point of his theology.
I will continue with more fallacies in D.A. Carson’s work in my next post. Stay tuned...