Monday, December 21, 2009

Inclusive Language

“If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23, NKJV).

To whom does Jesus refer in Luke 9:23? The only way of knowing the answer to this question is to look at the language Jesus uses. He refers to “anyone,” which is the indefinite pronoun “tis.” An indefinite pronoun uses inclusive language, or “language that includes everyone.” Because “tis” is an indefinite pronoun, everyone is involved here. So when Jesus says “if anyone” wants to follow Him, He is alerting the disciples that everyone CAN follow Him, but those who so choose MUST do the following things that He lists in the verse above. Following Jesus comes with conditions; either we accept those or nothing at all.

“Tis,” as stated above, is an indefinite pronoun. If this is the case, why then, does Robert Peterson make the indefinite pronoun DEFINITE? In his work on “Our Secure Salvation: Preservation and Apostasy,” he makes the following comment regarding Hebrews:

“This emphasis on individuals fits with my view that although the writer is assured of the spiritual status of the preponderance of his audience, he has real concerns for a SHAKY MINORITY in the congregation. It is individuals in this minority who are addressed in the texts above” (Robert A. Peterson, “Our Secure Salvation: Preservation and Apostasy.” Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2009, page 174).

Peterson advocates a view of Hebrews where a “shaky minority” is thinking about turning back to Judaism. However, upon close reading of the verses Peterson mentions, one will see that the language includes everybody and does not single out one person over another. Let’s look at Peterson’s evidence:

“Beware brethren, lest there be in ANY OF YOU an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12-13, NKJV).

How is the language of Hebrews 3 singling out a minority? The writer refers to “any of you.” Now, imagine that a friend sits five monetary bills in front of me ($5, $10, $20, $50, $100) and says, “you can pick any one of these bills for a Christmas gift.” I can pick the $5 so as to not offend their generosity...or I can pick the $100 bill and walk away extremely happy! If the person says that I can pick “ANY ONE” of the bills placed in front of me, then all five bills are available to be chosen. None of the five bills are excluded.
If this is the case, then with Hebrews 3, “any of you” refers to ANY MEMBER of the entire congregation, not a shaky minority.

Peterson points out another verse:

“Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest ANY OF YOU seem to have come short of it” (Hebrews 4:1, NKJV).

Once again, we see the words “any of you,” referring to “anyone of you.” The word for “any” here is “tis,” which, as I stated above (with Luke 9), is an indefinite pronoun. If the word is an INDEFINITE pronoun, then how can it be referring to a DEFINITE group of the congregation (and not the entire congregation itself)?

What about Hebrews 6:11?

“And we desire that EACH (Gk. hekaston) ONE OF YOU show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end” (Heb. 6:11, NKJV).

Go back to my dollar bill example. If “each one of these bills” or “any one of these bills” I can take, then the $100 bill is just as much an option as the $5 or $10 bill. None of the bills are excluded. Once again, I don’t see here how the writer of Hebrews is distinguishing between a “saved majority” and a “shaky minority.” He refers to “each one of you,” which means that he is giving great care to EVERY PERSON in the congregation.

The next example Peterson uses comes from Hebrews 12:

“Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which NO ONE will see the Lord; looking carefully lest ANYONE fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled” (Heb. 12:14-15, NKJV).

The Greek word for “anyone” is our favorite word again---“TIS”! Once again, as an indefinite pronoun, the word refers to ANY MEMBER OF THE CONGREGATION! There is no “shaky minority” here. Look at verse 15: “any root of bitterness” can cause “many” to “become defiled.” This shows that one person hardened by sin can lead many others down a destructive path. Many can “become defiled,” which means that they were not defiled before. No one is immune from sin and its deleterious effects.

Peterson claims that the warnings refer to certain people in the congregation...but as we’ve seen, the words refer to “anyone” and “each one” of the members of the congregation. No one seriously believes that Jesus’ reference in Luke 9 refers to “a believing minority” of those who choose to follow Christ (and excluding others). If Luke 9’s “anyone” refers to any person, then why not Hebrews? Why must Hebrews refer to a “shaky minority” instead of the entire congregation (whether shaky or not)?

I think it’s good to defend what you believe; but when Scripture works against it, we should acknowledge that our belief is our “preference” and not “scripturally prescribed.” I think Peterson would do well to acknowledge his preference here. Other Calvinists have done so (as did Buist Fanning; see my posts on the “Four Views of the Warning Passages in Hebrews”)...and Peterson does not have to be an exception to the rule.

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