The Bible comes first, then comes theology. When we look at the Bible, do we see Calvinism? We started with Romans 9 and we continue, picking up in v. 14.
God’s love can be trusted. The national election of Israel did not assure personal salvation. Physical descent from Abraham did not guarantee the blessings of the covenant for Ishmael or Esau. Individual Jews should not assume salvation just because of national election, any more than than a physical descendant of Abraham was guaranteed the benefits of the covenant. God is righteous to elect on His own terms. He is righteous not to elect Ishmael or Esau for the Romans 9:1-5 blessings. No one can sit in judgment upon Him.
In support of the truth of v. 14, Paul quotes Exodus 33:19 in v. 15. The Exodus text refers to God’s merciful and compassionate choice of the nation Israel over the other nations of the earth. God could have destroyed the nation after she built the golden calf, but instead He lead them and protected them into the promised land, the nation, not the individuals, because the individuals weren’t saved eternally (cf. Heb 3-4). Often the word “mercy” in the Old Testament does not refer to the individual mercy of personal salvation, but to the covenant mercy to the nation as a whole.
God’s choice of Israel was based upon nothing other than mercy (v. 16). The example of God giving Israel mercy indicates that “it,” that is, mercy, comes out of the will of God, because it certainly wasn’t merited by Israel. This does apply to personal salvation, but in the context it relates to the whole nation. God’s acts of mercy to them as a nation do not then guarantee personal salvation for any of them. Paul deals with the argument that God has been unrighteous to the entire nation just because He has not saved every individual. He rebuts this from the Old Testament.
Romans 9:17 furthers the proposition of v. 16, using the example of Pharoah. God raised up Pharoah to his position. It isn’t that God “created” Pharoah for this position, but that God worked to the end that Pharoah would arrive at this exalted position over Egypt. The point of “raised up” is not that Pharoah was foreordained or predestined to Hell, but that God brought him, an already evil man, to his reign over Egypt as the leader of that nation, so that his personal wickedness could reveal itself more plainly in order then to display the glory of God (cf. Exodus 4:21).
By hardening Pharoah’s heart, God provided the blessing for His elect nation that He might be glorified (cf. Exodus 7:3). The hardening of his heart related to his not letting the people go (Exodus 7:14), not so that he would be eternally damned. As much as God hardened his heart, Exodus also reveals that Pharoah hardened his own heart (Exodus 8:15, 32; 9:7, 34). Both Pharoah and God were hardening Pharoah’s heart. As much as hardness of heart can lead to the eternal damnation of the soul, in the context of Pharoah’s heart-hardening, God was delivering His elect nation by means of the hardening, illustrating the truth of Proverbs 21:1, “the king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD.” The deliverance was not spiritual salvation, but a physical deliverance that proved God was both powerful and covenant keeping. God was not glorified in some predestined rebellion of Pharoah, but in the victory of His elect, servant nation over a humanly powerful Egypt. God brought Pharoah to power for those purposes.
Another argument is introduced in v. 19, which is essentially, why does God find fault in anyone if He has mercy on those whom He will have mercy and hardens whoever He wills to harden? The question this poses is “Is God fair?” And it is related to the next point, that is, who would be able to resist God anyhow? The problem isn’t the answer to the question, but the question itself. Paul makes that known in v. 20.
Because of their inferiority, men don’t have the perspective to challenge God with such questions. Paul pictures man’s predicament with the potter-clay imagery, which comes from Jeremiah 18-19. In the Old Testament passage, God is the Potter and the entire nation Israel is the clay (18:6). Jeremiah 18:4 is a key interpretational verse.
And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it.
A contrast exists between “he made” and “was marred.” The former is active and the latter passive. “Was marred” is a niphal verb, which speaks of the vessel, the men, marring or corrupting itself. You would see the same construction in Genesis 6:11-12, where the earth corrupted itself, not God. Since Israel had marred herself, God as the Potter could see fit not to use her. God had condemned and had the authority to condemn a marred pot. That was the message that the Jews with whom Paul argued needed to hear.
God would get glory through obedient Israel or disobedient Israel. Israel marred herself, so God would get glory through her captivity. God could and would also be glorified by the destruction of Israelites. God’s purpose for Israel changed based on the condition of her behavior. What Paul teaches in Romans 9 would have been nothing new for a Jew who knew Jeremiah 18-19. As clay, Israel should not have been demanding anything of her Potter, God. Jeremiah 18:10 especially enlightens us regarding Romans 9:
If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them.
God, the Potter, will treat the clay, Israel, different, conditional upon Israel’s actions. Israel sounds like the Calvinists in Jeremiah 18, accusing God of not giving them suitable opportunity, when God had done so, and judged them based upon their faithful obedience.
In the light of Jeremiah 18-19, we understand the questions of v. 20. A fully made clay, now pot, questions the Potter, not some uncreated, formless clay. The answer is that Israel had marred herself. The formation of the clay changed conditioned upon its behavior. The sovereignty of God expressed in v. 21 is not some predetermined sovereignty, but one that chooses in accord with the condition of the clay. That’s how all of Jeremiah 18-19 reads and every other clay-potter text in the Old Testament.
Not to be lost in all this discussion is that the election of Romans 9 is national election. It contradicts a belief in personal, unconditional election unto eternal life or eternal damnation. Calvinism in its interpretation of Romans 9 fails in a proper consideration of the Old Testament texts to which Paul refers in the chapter.
More to Come.
It will help you if you pull out a Bible and turn to and look at Romans 9 as you read this.
I tell people I’d like to be a Calvinist but Scripture keeps getting in the way. Romans 9 is one place that gets in the way of my being a Calvinist. If I’m supposed to be a Calvinist, the Bible will just make me one. I won’t have to force it. But Romans 9 runs away from Calvinism, contradicts it. If we can’t be a Calvinist as a direct consequence of Bible teaching, then we shouldn’t be one.
At the end of Romans 8 (vv. 35-39), Paul promises that nothing will separate saved, justified people from the love of God. He anticipated some argument with that point, in light of Jewish reaction to his preaching, regarding God’s faithfulness to Israel. If God could not be trusted in His faithfulness to Israel, then how could someone count on Him for individual salvation. The argument also goes that if God elected Israel and Israel was not saved, how could anyone be assured of God’s election. Romans 9-11 defends God’s actions with Israel to buttress the truth that nothing can separate believers from the love of God.
God elected Israel (Jacob), “being not yet born” (9:11). So Israel was unconditionally elect—she couldn’t very well merit her choosing before she was born. So you see, I believe in unconditional election. Part of being elect meant that Israel had tremendous advantages (9:4-5) that one would think would lend themselves toward Israel’s salvation. God bestowed on Israel unique evidence that her God truly was the very God so that they would believe on Him, including the gift of Jesus Christ Himself, “who is over all, God blessed forever” (9:5). Jesus added to those benefits by preaching His kingdom all over Israel during His ministry there. But in Romans 9:1-4a, we see that Paul “could wish that [he] were accursed” for the salvation of Israel.
And right there at the very beginning of Romans 9 is where we begin seeing the contradiction to Calvinism. Why would Paul be willing to be “accursed from Christ” (9:3) for those God chose before the foundations of the world to damn forever? Paul surely wasn’t more loving and more righteous than God. Would he not be out of bounds in expressing such sympathy for those for whom Christ Himself did not die, if limited atonement were true? Only if God Himself were unwilling for these Israelites to perish and if Christ Himself had died for them does 9:1-5 make any sense. And that is just the start here in Romans 9.
If you are a Calvinist and you are reading this, before you start writing your missive, please read this to the end, because 9:1-5 really are hint of things to come. They fit with the rest of the chapter, but they are not all there is.
Calvinists point to 9:11 as evidence of unconditional election, and it is true. Israel was chosen unconditionally by God. And God will save Israel (11:26), so Israel nationally is chosen unconditionally unto salvation. But who are the Israelites whom God will save? They are those whom He elects on the condition of personal faith in Him. Paul distinguishes between personal election and national election in Romans 9, and he makes this crystal clear.
God continued faithful and loving to the nation. God’s Word, especially as found in the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic covenants, did not fail. Paul begins 9:6 by saying that God’s Word was still in effect for Israel, the Israel that God would save, which was not all of Israel (9:6b). True Israel, spiritual Israel, would receive the promises God made to the nation (9:7-8).
Paul illustrates the point of verses 6 and 7 in verses 8 through 13. He appeals to Genesis 21:12-13. Ishmael came from Abraham physically, but Isaac alone would receive the blessings of God’s covenant with Abraham. A Jew is unconditionally a Jew, and as a Jew, based on no merit of his own, he has been given incredible advantages. Isaac received blessings not given to Ishmael.
Genesis 21 makes national promises, but physical descent alone does not guarantee an individual will receive the blessings of those promises. The nation will unconditionally, but the persons will not. God will save those Israelites who do not reject the advantages (9:4-5) God gave. Jews who thought they would receive the blessings of the covenants just because they were Jews were sorely deceived (cf. Mt 3:9-12; Rev 20:11-15).
Isaac and Ishmael were both sons of Abraham, but they did not both receive the advantages of the covenant. Only Isaac received them, and he is a picture of the true child of God. This illustrated to Israel that it wasn’t physical descent that made one a child of promise. God didn’t have to save every descendant of Abraham. Romans 9:9 quotes Genesis 18:10,14 for this illustration. The point is that like Sarah and Isaac were chosen over Hagar and Ishmael, spiritual Israel is chosen over physical Israel. Hebrews 11:11 elucidates further on what occurred: “Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.” The believer receives the spiritual blessings of God’s covenant with Abraham. God does make His choices and makes them based on His own terms—He’s done it in the past and He does it again.
“And not only this” at the beginning of 9:10 tells us that Paul has more explanation about the same point, except he uses a different example, that of two sons, Jacob and Esau, of the same mother and father. Again, not all the physical descendants inherit the promises, even as Esau, who was a physical descendant, did not. The election is unconditional and national. How do we know it is national? Verse 12 quotes Genesis 25:23. Consider Genesis 25:22-23:
And the children struggled together within her; and she said, If it be so, why am I thus? And she went to enquire of the LORD. And the LORD said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.
We can see from the Old Testament passage itself that the election is national. First, it says “two nations,” but, second, if it is personal, then every person in the one “nation” and “people” was saved, which was not the case. The very point Paul is making is that the every person in the nation was not saved and so was not true Israel. When we take Genesis 25 and Paul’s quotation of it literally, we are dealing with “two nations” and “two manner of people.” The election here relates to Israel’s rule over Edom, not about the spiritual salvation of Jacob or Esau. The rest of the Old Testament will show that this election was fulfilled, but not until after the lifetime of Jacob. In addition, verse 12 doesn’t say that Jacob would be saved and not Esau, but the “elder shall serve the younger.”
Verse 13 quotes Malachi 1:2-3, which was written a long time after the end of Jacob and Esau’s lives. And that Malachi passage also plainly refers to the nations of Israel and Edom, not individuals. Everything in that text says Malachi is referring to the nations. When he says, “I have loved you,” “you” is in the plural. God’s indignation is against “the people” (v. 4). “Loved” and “hated” in v. 13 are aorist, the one time love and hatred of national election. It isn’t an ongoing, continuous love and hatred. The love and hate related to the favor God chose in advance to give to Jacob and the loss of privilege that God determined for Esau. So the point is that the blessings of God’s covenant do not come based upon physical lineage.
Important to the understanding of a New Testament text is looking at the context of the Old Testament quotations. Those Old Testament passages will shed light on the New Testament usage. This is a major part of deriving the correct interpretation.
Scripture does teach unconditional election—unconditional national election. Personal election is conditional. That is a primary point of Romans 9. God’s national election of Israel did not guarantee personal salvation. No individual Israelite or Jew should think that his eternity is set just because his nation was elect of God. He himself needed to believe.
To Be Continued
While Dave Mallinak approaches the third rail of fundamentalist politics, I will seek my own source of theological voltage, what has been called the “qualifications of the pastor,” as found in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. I’m going to focus on only one little phrase in the Titus 1 listing as found in verse six—“having faithful children.” If we are going to guard the truth of God’s Word and our churches, then we better have an understanding of what are these characteristics of pastors and whether they are required in order for a man to have, fulfill, and then continue in this office. I’m afraid that often men approach the traits outlined in the pastoral epistles with too many personal situations or hypotheticals in view. Instead, we should understand these qualities and then conform our practice to them, rather than adapting them to something that will preserve our own job or someone else’s. The two chapters are bigger than any one man or group of men.
Qualification or Disqualification or Both?
Before we think about what “having faithful children” means, I want to consider some points about these pastoral character traits in general. In conversations I have had with others, I have heard this type of statement about these two lists: “They are qualifications, not disqualifications.” In other words, we might agree that men should fulfill these traits in order to be appointed to the office of the pastor, but once a man is into the office, he can’t be removed based upon a characteristic violation of one or more of these attributes. I’ve never seen them that way, but maybe you agree.
1 Timothy 3:2 reads—“A bishop then must be. . . .”—after which are the characteristics listed. Titus 1:6 begins, “If any be. . . .” In both cases, we have present tense forms of the being verb, communicating continuous action. The verbs do not refer to a point in time, but an ongoing activity. Someone in that office must continue to live according to these descriptions. Even before “faithful children” in v. 6, we see “having,” which is a present active participle, again expressing continuous action. These traits must remain the lifestyle of the man in the office.
Someone might argue that both passages are talking about the commencement of a man in the office. 1 Timothy 3 describes him as desiring the office and Titus 1 as being ordained and appointed to the office. In other words, some might say that these are attributes that need only be fulfilled when a man first starts as a pastor. The present tense verbs do not lend themselves toward that view, that these are only qualifications, but not disqualifications. A few more items, I believe, work against this idea to reveal it to be false.
The works of the man of God are produced by the gospel. Gospel produced works (Eph 2:8-10) will not stop being performed. Whatever is happening in the life of a believer will persevere, but it is God who conforms the believer into the image of His Son (Rom 8:29). God will continue to cause the characteristic works of a Christian until his day of redemption (Philip 1:6).
We also know that a pastor can disqualify himself by his actions. Paul certainly wasn’t speaking about losing his salvation in 1 Corinthians 9:27, when he talked about being a “castaway.” In the various usages of the Greek word translated “castaway” (adokimos), we see it to say “disqualified.” He was motivated to keep his body under subjection by the threat of disqualification from some type of Christian ministry. I believe that 1 Timothy 5:19-20 lays out the procedure that should be followed in bringing disqualifying types of accusations against a pastor.
Besides two Scriptural arguments, I believe some God-given common sense comes in play here. We understand by reading the qualifications that they were for the purpose of keeping the testimony of God and His church, to set apart the church as a unique institution on earth, unlike merely natural organizations. “Blameless” as a characteristic relates to reputation. It isn’t saying, “sinless.” That’s not possible. It is “blameless,” because when there is enough violation to ruin the reputation of the pastor, he can’t be one and should be disqualified using the ordained process in 1 Timothy 5. After he is removed, then no man should lay hands upon him suddenly (1 Tim 5:22). He could prove himself again to fulfill the qualifications if he has not permanently disqualified himself. Some of the traits in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 seem to be permanent.
Who Are Faithful Children?
The word “faithful” (pistos) always refers to believers, saved people, in the New Testament. It is never an unconverted person. It couldn’t be referring to some kind of well-behaved, disciplined unbelieving child. Certainly it can be used of someone who is loyal or trustworthy as a saved person, but it is always a believer and always someone who is faithful with the truth. The word is actually a simple one that in its essence means “believing,” the opposite of which is “unbelieving.”
How “faithful” is used in Titus 1:6 is how it is used in Ephesians 1:1, “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus,” and Colossians 1:2, “To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse.” The faithful servant of Matthew 24 and Luke 12, the good and faithful servant of Matthew 25 and Luke 19, the faithful person of Luke 16, the faithful mother of Timothy (Acts 16:1), the faithful stewards of 1 Corinthians 4, faithful Timothy (1 Cor 4:17), the faithful ministers of Colossians 1:7 and 4:7, faithful Onesimus (Col 4:9), faithful Moses (Heb 3:5), faithful Silvanus (1 Pet 5:12), and faithful Antipas (Rev 2) were all believers. To take “faithful” out of the believing context, isolate it as if it only meant submissive to the father’s leadership without believing what the father taught, would be to distort the word.
The Greek word for “children” (tekna) refers to offspring, not necessarily young. BDAG says that it is “an offspring of human parents” or “descendants.” The word doesn’t mean children in the home. There are words that do mean that, and they could have been used by Paul in Titus, but they weren’t. If Paul wanted to talk about little children he could have used teknion. If he wanted to talk about babies he could have used brephos, that means infants. It’s not an issue of the age of his children, but that his children believe without dissipation or rebellion, whatever age they are in life.
1 Timothy 3:4 requires that children of a pastor be in submission and that looks like it refers to kids that are still at home. A pastor’s children must operate under the direction of their parents. They can’t function in rebellion against their pastor parent. Children of a pastor as a lifestyle must be obedient to him. Titus 1:6 brings more information to the parenting of the pastor by including that his children must show that they have been obedient by showing their faithfulness to his preaching of the gospel.
The Problems Some Have
Some do not like the idea of having the qualifications of the pastor sort of dependent on other people. In other words, another person, the pastor’s child, could put him out of his office. Some of this relates to belief about salvation itself. Calvinists, for instance, would see a pastor as not having any ability to ensure that his child will receive Christ. A child’s salvation in many Calvinists’ view is up to the foreordination and predetermination of God regardless of what a pastor does in the way of parenting. It seems to give trouble to the Calvinist outlook, giving too much to the influence of the leadership of the pastor on his children. They seem to see a pastor as helpless as to whether his children will be converted or not. He must wait to see if his children were elect before the foundations of the world.
However, this idea that the conversion of one’s children is so much out of one’s control clashes with so many scriptural texts that relate to human influence on the salvation of sinners. Matthew 5:16 teaches that you can live a kind of life that results in people glorifying God. As a consequence of the lifestyle of the first church in Jerusalem, according to Acts 2:41-47, the Lord added to the number that were being saved. In Romans 11:14, Paul writes that his desire in preaching to the Gentiles was somehow to move to jealousy his fellow countrymen to be saved, so that what he did would have a direct impact on the salvation of others. In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul said he would become as weak to save the weak, a clear implication that the way he dealt with people would directly relate with whether men would be saved. Then at the end of chapter 10, he didn’t want to give an offense to a Jew or Grecian, so that his life would lead people to salvation. In Philippians 2:15 Paul speaks of being above reproach as a light in a wicked world so that in the day of Christ he could find out that he got some salvation impact out of his life. He says in 1 Timothy 4:12-16 that Timothy’s conduct would ensure salvation to some of those that heard him. Peter says the same kind of thing in 1 Peter 2:11, when he says that good behavior among unbelieving pagans would result in their glorifying God in the day of judgment. He instructs women with unsaved husbands in 1 Peter 3:1-2 that their husbands could be won by their own chaste conduct.
We also have texts such as these that apply directly to the parent-child relationship and salvation. In 1 Corinthians 7:12-14, Paul says that one Christian parent could sanctify a home to the degree that the children would become no longer unclean but holy. Paul intimates that a woman doing proper child training could offset the harmful stigma of the curse on women (1 Tim 2:15). This is exactly what we see was done by Lois and Eunice with Timothy (2 Tim 1:5) with the holy scriptures they taught him as a child (2 Tim 3:15).
Scripture does not teach a fatalistic approach to child rearing without proper consideration of the impact of a godly life or the responsibility for evangelism. Salvation comes to people through the faithful witness and godly example of other believers. All through Scripture we are continually taught that a godly life leads people to salvation. Election is the issue with God and the issue by which we give Him glory but it is not some explanation to embrace as an explanation for why a pastor’s child didn’t receive Christ.
I don’t apologize for viewing Proverbs 22:6 as a promise to parents:
Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
If he departs from it, what is our conclusion? The parents didn’t train up the child in the way he should go. I’m not saying that every son will be a pastor or missionary. The qualification is “faithful.” A pastor must have children who are saved. I would expect his children to show the behavior fitting of conversion. If they don’t, he should not be in that office.
What About When They’re Young?
“Are you saying if your children aren’t old enough to be saved you can’t pastor?” No. When they’re young, they’re under control and they are being taught to be faithful to the Word of God. They are guided by a faithful pastor to be faithful themselves to what he is faithful to. And some day that blooms into saving faith. The church ought to be able to look at that man’s life and see that process taking place, see those little children affirming, believing as much as their simple hearts can believe, progressing toward a saving faith. When it comes to the point that they’re old enough to believe, they are to be faithful to the truth they have been taught.
In many ways, this becomes an inane game played by those who want to discredit the qualification. I believe this is why the word “faithful” is used, however. The children (primaries, juniors, even young teens) don’t have to be converted. They must be faithful to the truth until they end where everyone does who is faithful to God’s Word—conversion.
So What If a Pastor’s Child Doesn’t Receive Christ?
If the pastor must have faithful children in order to be a pastor, then his children must receive Christ. They must give evidence they are headed that direction until they actually do believe in Jesus for salvation. A pastor who has a child who rebels against that teaching should not continue in the office. He has been disqualified because he has not ruled his house well. His children did not submit to what he taught. If they had, then they would have received Christ.
John Angell James in 1861 in his Discourses Addressed to the Churches (pp. 544-545, 551) wrote:
I do not desire, I do not advise a bustling, artificial effort to get up a revival, nor the construction of any man-devised machinery . . . I want God’s work, not man’s . . . I want no revivalist preachers (emphasis mine).
For a long time, men have distinguished between revival and revivalism. Iain Murray in his Revival and Revivalism (1994, p. xix) differentiated between the two. He said that revival was “the phenomenon of authentic spiritual awakening which is the work of the living God, ” while revivalism was “religious excitements, deliberately organized to secure converts.” A few sentences later he writes:
[O]rthodox Christianity at an earlier date protested that revival and revivalism — far from being of the same genus — are actually opposed.
Earlier (p. xviii) Murray distinguished between the two this way:
[I]t was not until the last forty years of the nineteenth century that a new view of revival came generally to displace the old . . . . Seasons of revival became ‘revival meetings’. Instead of being ‘surprising’ they might now be even announced in advance, and whereas no one in the previous century had known of ways to secure a revival, a system was now popularised by ‘revivalists’ which came near to guaranteeing results.
So why did “revivalism” become confused with revival? Bernard A. Weisberger and William G. McLoughlin wrote about this perversion in two books in the late 1950s: Weisberger’s They Gathered at the River: The Story of the Great Revivalists and Their Impact upon Religion in America (1958) and McLoughlin’s Modern Revivalism: Charles Grandison Finney to Billy Graham (1959). Both of these men said that revivalist supporters wrote a fraudulent history that misrepresented the orthodox understanding of revival. McLoughlin wrote in his preface: “History has not dealt fairly with American revivals.” Weisberger wrote:
There are numerous histories of revivals in the United States written by devout ministers or worshippers in the evangelical denominations. They are, almost with exception, useless as history.
Based on this understanding, what is most often referred to as the First Great Awakening in the American colonies of the early to mid 18th century was an example of a revival. On the other hand, most of what is labeled revival in what was termed the Second Great Awakening was actually only revivalism. In the decades following the First Great Awakening, American preachers stated their opposition to what was merely emotional, contrived, or manipulated. Murray writes (p. xx):
They foresaw the danger of revivalism long before it became a respected part of evangelicalism, and they would have had no problem agreeing with the criticism which has since discredited it.
Much false practice and perhaps even questionable offices were contrived from the revivalism that intended to reproduce what had occurred in the First Great Awakening, including revival meetings and those who lead them. Before the revivalists and the revision of the doctrine and even history of revival, no orthodox saint would have thought that he could “schedule” a revival.
The Biblical Usage of the Term “Revival”
Many might be surprised to hear that the English term “revival” does not appear once in the King James Version of the Bible. Eight times you have the word “revive” (Nehemiah 4:2; Psalm 85:6; Psalm 138:7; Isaiah 57:15 (2), Hosea 6:2; 14:7; Habakkuk 3:2), twice “reviving” (Ezra 9:8, 9), and six times “revived” (Genesis 45:27; Judges 15:19; 1 Kings 17:22; 2 Kings 13:21; Romans 7:9; 14:9). You’ll notice that all of these instances, except for two, are in the Old Testament—Romans 7:9 and 14:9 use the word “revived.” Twelve out of the fourteen Old Testament usages are the same Hebrew word. Only the two references in Ezra, translated “reviving,” are different Hebrew words.
The English statistics are a little misleading in lieu of a grammatical, historical interpretation of Scripture. Our goal is to understand terms as the people would have understood them in that day. “Revive” might be found eight times in the King James, but forms of the Hebrew word, chayah (pronounced khaw-yaw), are found 390 times. It simply means “to have life.” The first time that a form of chayah appears is in Genesis 1:24 and it is translated “living” as in “living creatures.” Abraham used this Hebrew word in Genesis 12:12, when he said:
This is his wife: and they will kill me, but they will save thee alive.
There the form of chayah is translated “alive.” It is obvious that Abraham means “physically alive.” Let’s consider the twelve references of chayah in the Old Testament, translated some form of “revive.”
Nehemiah 4:2 uses chayah and there it is obviously being used metaphorically, because it is used to explain the rocks of Jerusalem being rebuilt up a wall. It is used in a kind of mocking way to try to show the impossibility of the walls being rebuilt.
Psalm 85:6 is perhaps the classic passage in the Bible used to teach revival. It says: “Wilt thou not revive us again: that thy people may rejoice in thee?” Psalm 85 is a post-exilic psalm composed after the return from captivity in Babylon. Israel had been returned from exile, but she had not yet been restored back to her former condition. She is praying to God that she would be.
In Psalm 138:7, David is praying that God would keep him alive (chayah) in the midst of troubles.
Isaiah 57:15 is the verse that gives the closest idea to what we would understand as modern day revival. It reads:
For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.
Here we read of spiritual and heart revival. God by His grace will bring spiritual life to the person’s heart who is contrite and humble about his condition. This sounds like it is talking about salvation. A person will be quickened if he repents of his sin and turns to God for deliverance.
Hosea 6:2 speaks of the restoration of Israel. It might seem like forever to her, but God would bring her back to life very soon, the quickness of which is communicated by the few number of days this is said that it would be occurring. Hosea 14:7 is talking about the millennial kingdom resurrection of Israel.
In Habakkuk 3:2, the severity of God’s judgment brought fear to the prophet. In the midst of the punishment, Habakkuk asks for mercy. He pleads with God in essence to crank back up His saving work, to repeat the kind of activity that God had done for Israel before in order to deliver her.
In a root way, “revive” mean “to make alive.” The strongest New Testament equivalent is “to quicken.” Even looking at the Old Testament “revive” passages in a spiritual way, they seem to be speaking more about salvation than they do some kind of renewing work with believers. A revival is when someone who is dead spiritually is quickened, something like what we see in Ephesians 2:1, 5:
And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins. . . . Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved).
If there is a revival in the New Testament, it is what we see in Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost. That day three thousand people were made alive. They were all Jews. It is even said to be a fulfillment of Joel 2 and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:16). What happened in Acts 2 pre-fulfilled what will occur with the nation Israel before Christ sets up His kingdom on the earth. The dry bones of Ezekiel will be quickened and returned to the land.
Everyone who is saved is revived. Someone dead in sin is made alive at salvation. An already saved person doesn’t need reviving because he is already alive and will continue alive forever. A revival then would perhaps be a time when through preaching the gospel several are saved in a short period of time. It occurs because the Spirit of God is convicting, believers are obedient to the Holy Spirit with bold preaching, the seed falls on good ground, and much fruit is produced. There is no other explanation, especially a human one, for why this might occur, except for this scriptural one. The New Testament doesn’t even use the word “revive,” so there is little to no emphasis on this as a recurring event.
Contrasting Ideas about Revival
I’m not trying to undo any historic opinion about revival. Jonathan Edwards’ book, A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, was prompted by the Great Awakening. Edwards did not believe that the Great Awakening was either all truth or all error, but a mixture of the two, and that this is normal. He wrote the book to address the question, “How do we discern between that which is genuine and that which is counterfeit?” Most agree that a revival occurred during Edwards’ life, and he was concerned that there was enough false to write a book on it.
What we call revivals have transpired. A whole lot of people have been made alive at a particular point in time. The biggest part of the argument about revivals, however, I believe centers on the Calvinism versus Arminianism issue. It also relates to covenant theology and dispensationalism. Let me break it down for you.
Some might call this Pelagian as it applies to Charles Finney. This is where we get a lot of human-centered problems that are criticized by Iain Murray in Revival and Revivalism, which he calls “revivalism.” It is also about manipulating the conditions to make things happen like we want. I don’t believe in revivalism as defined historically, which was the invention of Arminianism. I also believe that this is major problem in fundamentalism today. There are a lot of difficulties here that I will deal with in a separate article later.
This is where I have found that I have a problem with Iain Murray, and, therefore, anyone who agrees with him. I believe that his and others’ fundamental problem with Finney and perhaps to a lesser extent, any revivalists, relates mainly to his Calvinism. Murray shows strong agreement with Samuel Davies and his meaning of revival. What is that? Murray writes concerning early American preacher, and short-time president of Princeton, Samuel Davies (pp. 21-22):
In speaking of the meaning of revival it is also essential to note that what Davies and his brethren believed about revival was not something separate from, or additional to, their main beliefs; it was, rather, a necessary consequence. Such is man’s state of sin that he cannot be saved without the immediate influence of the Holy Spirit. Regeneration, and the faith that results from it, are the gifts of God. Therefore, wherever conversions are multiplied, the cause is to be found not in men, nor in favourable conditions, but in the abundant influences of the Spirit of God that alone make the testimony of the church effective. No other explanation of revival is in harmony with the truths that are ‘the essence of the Christian scheme — the utter depravity of man, the sovereignly-free grace of Jehovah . . . . There is a sovereignty in all God’s activity of his people. Revivals are not brought about by the fulfillment of ‘conditions’ any more than the conversion of a single individual is secured by any means of human actions. The ‘special seasons of mercy’ are determined in heaven.
Calvinists define revival according to their five points with a special emphasis in this case on unconditional election. The opposition to revivalism for a Calvinist galvanizes around the non-Calvinism of revivalism. For an event to be called a revival, man can’t be involved. Murray writes (p. 21):
[T]here are times when the Spirit is given in exceptional measure and that such times may come suddenly, even when deadness is general in the church and indifference to biblical religion prevails in society at large.
I believe this no-condition belief clashes with what we read in Scripture. The one passage in Scripture above that treats the concept of revival more than any other, Isaiah 57:15, says that God revives the spirit and heart of the humble and contrite ones. The verse specifically says that conditions of humility and contriteness precede revival. That clashes with a Calvnist view of revival.
A few times Jesus explained why the seed would not penetrate the soil, the gospel would not be received by a human heart. In Matthew 13 He said that the ground was either thorny, stony, or hard. All of those are conditions. Jesus says that those conditions relate to the result of fruit bearing. In Luke 13, when asked why only few would be saved, Jesus said that men must strive to enter in at the strait gate. That reads like a condition. Of course, the Calvinist may say, “You don’t understand Calvinism. We don’t mean no conditions.” Well, you can’t have it both ways. When you say no conditions, then the explanation from Jesus should be no conditions. Here and several other places, we see conditions.
Much of the explanation for revival among the early American Calvinists takes in their covenant theology, especially seeing Israel as the church in Old Testament prophetic passages. Murray refers to a sermon by Davies (p. 21):
There are eras, said Davies, when only a large communication or outpouring of the Spirit can ‘produce a public general reformation’. Thus, preaching on ‘The Happy Effects of the Pouring Out of the Spirit’ from Isaiah 32:13-19, he argued that ‘the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is the great and only remedy for a ruined country — the only effectual preventative of national calamities and desolation, and the only sure cause of a lasting and well-established peace’.
This type of interpretation of the Old Testament, that does not differentiate between the church and Israel, also affects interpretation of the Gospels and Acts. Murray writes (p. 19):
It is through Christ as mediator and head of his body that the Spirit continues to be communicated to the church and that his ‘actual influence’ is known.
At that point, Murray then writes this in a footnote (p. 19):
Bishop Moule wrote: ‘We are not to think of the “giving” of the Spirit as of an isolated deposit of what, once given, is now locally in possession. The first “gift” is, as it were, the first point in a series of actions, of which each one may be expressed also as a gift.’ Were it not for this truth, prayer for the Spirit (Luke 11:13) would be meaningless.
You can see how the covenant theology affects the interpretation of Luke 11:13 where Christ mentions praying for the Spirit. Jesus had not yet sent the Holy Spirit, so the apostles’ asking for the Holy Spirit was a legitimate prayer within the will of God like our praying for the kingdom to come. However, once the Holy Spirit came, we receive the gift of the Holy Ghost at the moment of our justification. All believers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit simultaneous with salvation. The way Murray explains it, we should keep expecting more and more outpourings of the Holy Spirit (pp. 19-20):
Thus, although the Spirit was initially bestowed on the church by Christ at Pentecost, his influences are not uniform and unchanging; there are variations in the measure in which he continues to be given. In the book of Acts tiems of quickened spiritual prosperity and growth in the church are traced to new and larger measures of the influence of the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:31-33; 11:15-16; 13:52-14:1), and so, through Christian history, the church has been raised to new energy and success by ‘remarkable communications of the Spirit of God . . . at special seasons of mercy’.
Speaking of these non-revivalist Calvinists, he continues:
For these men the words ‘effusion’, ‘baptism’, and ‘outpouring of the Spirit’ were synonymous in meaning with ‘revival of religion’. . . . Thomas Murphy wrote, it was ‘the baptism of the Holy Ghost which caused the infant Church [in America] to become animated by the most fervent piety’. . . . [R]evival consists in a larger giving of God’s Spirit for the making known of Christ’s glory.
I have to admit that I had thought ignorantly that the Keswick movement of the nineteenth century invented the second blessing theology. It is obvious that many at least eighteenth century Calvinists believed in a second blessing, a baptism of the Spirit subsequent to salvation that was accompanied by significant external, tangible consequences.
A Literal, Grammatical-Historical Interpretation of Scripture
I would use the word dispensational, but it really is the conviction of a literal interpretation of Scripture, of course, taking into consideration figures of speech. This literal hermeneutic separates the institution of Israel from the institution of the church. The two are separate entities in the Bible. The outpouring of the Spirit on Israel hasn’t happened yet. We can’t take those promises to Israel in the Old Testament and relate them to an ongoing occurrence in the church.
The revival of the New Testament age isn’t a recurring outpouring of the Spirit. The normal body life of the church has included large numbers of conversions in a very short period of time. In the New Testament we saw it only in the church of Jerusalem in the first nine or ten chapters of Acts. Since then we have had certain periods where churches have seen the same, but that doesn’t mean that any obedient church isn’t revived. This is where I find myself at times agreeing with Murray, when he writes (pp. xx, 22):
This school of preachers held that the Holy Spirit has appointed means to be used for the advancement of the gospel, pre-eminently the teaching of the Word of God accompanied by earnest prayer. . . . They believed that strict adherence to Scripture is the only guard against what may be wrongly claimed as the work of God’s Spirit.
When Do We See Revival?
I believe it is wrong-headed to look at the regular obedience to the Word of God in the local church as something less than revival. This is where the no-condition explanation for many new converts, I’m convinced, falls short. A major contributing factor is the conditions being ripe for revival. Very often people turn to God when they are broken by tough external circumstances. A revived state that is just an obedient Christian life in a local church may lack the pizzazz required to be called revival.
You have revival if you have a church that loves the Lord and regularly and boldly proclaims the gospel throughout the community and beyond. Those are life endowing activities. Do we always want more to be saved? Yes. But we don’t pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit to surprise us with a sudden burst of new conversions. We keep praying scriptural prayers and continue in obedience to the Great Commission and we have revival. Revival shouldn’t be measured by the numbers but by the spiritual state of the church—boldness in evangelism, husbands loving wives, wives submitting to husbands, children obeying parents, fruit of the Spirit, and the body of Christ manifested through the mutual spiritual giftedness of its people. We must be content that this is revival too.