“Third use of the law” versus antinomianism

Antinomianism seems to have taken a stronghold in some Christian circles. Antinomianism drives the social-gospel movement and it fears that Christians have become indifferent to ethical issues. It seeks to bring about God’s kingdom on earth through social action. It teaches that the love of Christ must constrain the Christian and that we can experience and manifest this love if we have come into a saving relationship with Christ who “first loved us” (1 John 4:19) and gave himself for us on the cross (1 Pet. 2:24). The motivation of love is the only thing that seems to distinguish between a Christian ethic and the non-Christian. It assumes that if the Christian has experienced God’s love, one is in a position to makes decisions in one’s world based on this love. In other words, one is free to choose to love. Thus, antinomianism stands on the fringe of saying that “anything goes” because each existential decision is unique and without precedent. However, I do not believe it has the answers to help us make existential decisions in life.

The Lutheran Confessions teach that the law has three functions: 1) the political (as a restraint for the wicked); 2) the theological (as a paidagogos to bring us to Christ—Gal. 3:24); and 3) the didactic (as a guide for the regenerate). This Third Use of the Law can be thought of as God’s merciful help in the performance of the works which are commanded. The first two uses of the law are generally undisputed by all Christians. However, the Third Use of the Law is disputed by some Christians of antinomian persuasion today. They purport that the law should not be used to guide the regenerate person. They argue that it is only love that guides them. They believe that love is enough. But is love really enough? My answer is: “No, love is not enough.”

I myself believe that they third use of the law is necessary in the Christian’s life. This is state in the Lutheran Formula of Concord (Art. VI) and also in Calvin’s Institutes (II,vii, 12 ff). Luther most valued the first use of the law but Calvin placed emphasis on this third use of the law. Nevertheless, this third use of the law is a threefold concept in the church of the Reformation. I would argue that Christians, filled with the love of Christ and empowered by the Spirit, still need the law to teach us. One should ask the question: even though love motivates us to make ethical decisions and actions, does it necessarily inform the Christian of the proper content of that action?

Horatius Bonar writes in God’s Way of Holiness:

But will they tell us what is to regulate service, if not law? Love, they say. This is a pure fallacy. Love is not a rule, but a motive. Love does not tell me what to do; it tells me how to do it. Love constrains me to do the will of the beloved one; but to know what the will is, I must go elsewhere. The law of our God is the will of the beloved one, and were that expression of his will withdrawn, love would be utterly in the dark; it would not know what to do. It might say, I love my Master, and I love his service, and I want to do his bidding, but I must know the rules of his house, that I may know how to serve him. Love without law to guide its impulses would be the parent of will-worship and confusion, as surely as terror and self-righteousness, unless upon the supposition of an inward miraculous illumination, as an equivalent for law. Love goes to the law to learn the divine will, and love delights in the law, as the exponent of that will; and he who says that a believing man has nothing more to do with law, save to shun it as an old enemy, might as well say that he has nothing to do with the will of God. For the divine law and the divine will are substantially one, the former the outward manifestation of the latter. And it is “the will of our Father which is in heaven” that we are to do (Matt. 7:21); 50 proving by loving obedience what is that “good and acceptable, and perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:2). Yes, it is he that doeth “the will of God that abideth forever” (1 John 2:17); it is to “the will of God” that we are to live (1 Peter 4:2); “made perfect in every good work to do his will” (Heb. 13:21); and “fruitfulness in every good work,” springs from being “filled with the knowledge of his will” (Col. 1:9,10).

Futhermore, this doctrine of the Third Use of the Law also preserves the doctrine of sanctification. As a result of justification, a person receives the Spirit of God, therefore, one’s relation to the law is also changed. Yes, one does remain a sinner (1 John 1:8), therefore, the law will always accuse him; however, one will begin to see the biblical law as the manifestation of God’s loving will and will delight in the law of the Lord. This Third Use of the Law (the law of Christ—Gal.6:2) helps us to take regeneration seriously. I support the Third Use of the Law in the Christian life and do not believe that antinomianism has the answer. I do not believe that “love is enough” for the Christian. Love is a motivator but does not give us answers. We still need the law to guide us.


A trinitarian survey

If you have about 10-15 minutes or don’t know what to do with your time, you might want to do a survey on the Trinity. A post-grad student is doing a survey about Trinitarian belief. You must register first, then unregister if you want. The target is seminary students or others who study theology. You are also encouraged to help spread the word to seminarians or other students of theology.

Bible study with non-native English speakers

I’ve been in Taiwan now for over 3 weeks and it’s been kind of lonely at times because finding English-speaking people is not easy. Much of my wife’s family cannot speak English, except for her sister who is a nurse at the hospital. It is amazing how so many people here value the English language. They would love to be able to communicate with someone in English. Since I was yearning to speak to someone in English I set out to find a facet of release. I came here with the intention of starting an English bible study and so I brought with me two bibles in the NLTse. With permission from one of the fellowship’s leaders, I just started an English bible study with a group affiliated with a campus ministry called The Navigators. We had our first bible study last night and we started by looking at Romans 7. I asked them what translations they each brought. Every person brought a different translation: NIV, ESV, NRSV, and I had an NLT. Now I regret not bringing a more formal translation. Being that their English was not at a particularly high level, I too quickly assumed that a dynamic easy-to-understand translation would be more suitable to use in a bible study context. As we got deeper into the study, I found the NLT to be a sort of a hindrance because they were all using a more formal translation than I was using, I quickly reverted to their pulpit bible, the NKJV. I felt more formal with this more formal translation in such a context.

What I have learned is that one must not assume that non-native English speakers will be better off with a dynamic-equivalent translation. It all depends on their level of English training. For those who had a very limited English-language training, an NLT might be suitable but for those with a certain level of English training, I think the T/NIV or ESV is good too. This group of young people obviously had some English-language training. In fact, most young people here know some English. If I had another chance to bring another bible here to Taiwan with me, I would bring my TNIV and even more NASB. It’s a nice balance of formal and dynamic equivalence but yet simple enough that non-native English speakers can understand without much trouble. Around here, English bibles are a little more difficult to come by—especially newer translations like the TNIV. Another thing that I will not forget for the future is that a more formal translation is always better for bible study; especially if you plan to do a more indepth exegetical style of study.

New posts on Taiwan

I have recently blogged on our personal blog site on Little Red Piggy about The Navigators campus ministry, and with a Presbyterian church in Changhua, Taiwan. Sorry, I have not had much time to blog on WordAlone as my time is limited on the Internet here. Though I have not added any new posts, I still check out the blogs in my little circle of blogging friends from time to time. Peace and blessings to everyone.

My experience in Taiwan

I am in Taiwan right now and you are invited to visit our personal blog at http://kevinalicesam.blogspot.com/ to read about our experience in Taiwan. I will still blog on WordAlone but will do losts of blogging this summer about Taiwan. This Sunday, we visited a Presbyterian church in Changhua City which was established in 1866 by some Scottish missionaries who also established the largest hospital in Changhua City.

New great posts

I hope to continue reading the interesting blogs in my circle of blogging friends while I’m away and preparing for my Taiwan trip. I won’t have time to write my own posts but some interesting post you should be sure to read are:

1. Suzanne McCarthy at Better Bibles Blog also has a very interesting post on Ephesians 5:21-33 that teaches men like myself that we are not superior to women, but rather, we are equals. It’ll help keep me humble toward my wife and make our relationship with our own wives go a long way. 😉

2. Joe Myzia who is new to TNIV Truth has blogged on some the TNIV’s difficulties in Changing he/him/his/himself TO they/them/their/themselves.

3. Gary Zimmerli at A Friend of Christ has a great post on some of his concerns with the NLTse which still shows some of its looseness in its paraphrastic tendencies inherited from the NLT1. But he counters it with it by saying he will still by an NLTse in leather. That’s great! And his thoughts on the TNIV’s Reference edition, one of which I will purchase for myself too.

Holy Spirit is a name

Since my previous post on the depersonalization of the Holy Spirit, I found someone who supports my claim that we have depersonalized the Holy Spirit. Theologian Thomas C. Oden says: “The depersonalization of God the Spirit has occurred in the period of philosophical idealism.” He points out that: Hegel reduced the Spirit to a logic of history ; Tillich reduced the Spirit to an existential category of being itself, e.g., “dimension of depth”; Karl Barth used the expression: “mode of being”. Process theology reduced the Spirit to creative energy. Much liberation theology reduced the Spirit to political praxis. “Scriptural exegetes are therefore ill advised to consistently address the Spirit as it with the avowed intent of pointing to the Spirit’s self-effacing presence for it is precisely the free personal God who is becoming self-effacing, and the cause is not well served by calling the Spirit it,” says Oden (1). Have we have mistakenly reduced the person of the Holy Spirit to an impersonal analogy because we want the convenience of applying the Holy Spirit to our theology in order to give it more credibility? If we do not use personal language, God the Spirit will inevitably be reduced to some symbolic generalization.

I have also found other ancient sources that deal with the name of the Holy Spirit. An ancient creed used by the early church called Faith of Damasus (or Fides Damasi) states: “The proper name for Father is Father, and the proper name for the Son is Son, and the proper name for the Holy Spirit is Holy Spirit.” Basil of Caesarea (329-379 CE) stated that the titles for the Holy Spirit are called “Spirit of God,” “Spirit of truth which proceeds from the Father,” “right Spirit,” “a leading Spirit.” Its proper and peculiar title is “Holy Spirit” (De Spiritu Sancto, Ch.9). Basil also said that the Holy Spirit is not merely a quality or attribute or emanation of God but is a distinct person within the Godhead. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross loved and adored Holy Spirit and addressed the Holy Spirit as Holy Spirit. Augustine in Summa Theologica also also dealt with this issue of the Holy Spirit’s name. As a proper name of the Holy Spirit, the Vatican also states: “Holy Spirit is the proper name of the one whom we adore and glorify with the Father and the Son. The Church has received this name from the Lord and professes it in the Baptism of her new children” (Profession of Faith, 691).

When we address other people we use human names because they are very personal to the person. It helps make a connection with the person when we call them by their name. How do we expect to make a connection with the Holy Spirit if we address him as “it” like as if he was an object, an impersonal being? Is this why our churches sometimes do not seem to treat the Holy Spirit as a real person in our worship?

See also: We have depersonalized the person of Holy Spirit

1. Thomas C. Oden, Systematic Theology, Vol. 2: The Word of Life, p.20.

ASV (1901): symbolic of America’s historic spirit of independence

What is so American about the American Standard Version (ASV) and the New American Standard Bible (NASB)? The ASV was originally called the “Standard American Edition of the Revised Version” (1881). The American revisers of the Revised Version modified the name by dumping “English” and adding “American” into its name–hence, we now have American Standard Version. I may be pushing it a little far but I think of the American Standard Version as a kind of symbolic representation of America’s historic spirit of independence from England. Here is a little of its history.

The idea of translating the Revised Version or English Revised Version (ERV) (1881) was initiated by a group of Anglican-Episcopal clergy who wanted a modern translation to replace the old KJV. They decided they’d had enough of the old archaic King James English so after calling a General Assembly in Canterbury, England on May 6, 1870, they began their work on the English Revised Version. The British revisers invited Americans to join them in this joint-effort with the formation of an American committee in 1871. Both British and American committees exchanged their revisions across the rough waters of the Atlantic and worked to harmonize their differences. The British told the American members that any remaining differences would be inserted into the back of an appendix for a stipulated time of 14 years. Americans would not be allowed to make revisions to the English Revised Version (1881-85) for 14 years. The British imposed this one-sided decision on the Americans. The American revisers had their hands tied by the publisher University Presses of England (see Preface). After the English Committee finished their work on the Old Testament in 1885, there was no intention, on behalf of the British, to ever amalgamate the readings in the appendix with future English editions. It sure doesn’t sound very fair, does it? A new reason for a belated-Boston Tea Party?! But the American revisers refused to have their revisional differences remain relegated in the “dungeons” of a never-looked-at appendix. After waiting 14 years, American revisers finally got their chance to release the American Standard Version. They had been working on it even before its actual release date in 1901. What may have begun as a united English-American project was to be declared separate from its British counterparts. The ASV is a result of American’s dissatisfaction toward the British committee who left them high and dry. They used and abused the hard work of American biblical scholars on the American committee. They took what was good, and dumped the leftovers into an appendix that was never intended to be used again. (See history of the RV by Michael Marlowe at http://www.bible-researcher.com).

When the ASV first came out in 1901, it was considered the most accurate bible translation in terms of formal-equivalence. Today, many more Greek manuscripts have become available since 1901. When the ASV was being translated, there were 1500 Greek NT manuscripts available to the translators, but today, there are four times as many available. Nevertheless, it is a translation to be honored because it became the foundation of several major translations: the RSV and the NASB; plus the Recovery Version, and the Amplified Version (which is so modified that it no longer reads anything like the ASV). It is interesting that the Jehovah’s Witnesses previously used the ASV between 1944-1963 but it was later bumped by their New World Translation. The reason they approved of the ASV was because it used “Jehovah” throughout rather than “LORD” as the name of God, e.g., “And Jehovah God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Gen.2:7). I do think it sounds kind of neat with “Jehovah God”. It was definitely a radical approach back then. Whether it’s right or wrong to do so is a debatable issue.

I have never personally seen a physical copy of the ASV (1901). To find an authentic historic copy of it is rare so I did some research and was surprised to learn that brand new copies of it are still available for sale today. There is only one publisher that publishes it: Star Bible located in Texas. So if you are nostalgic enough, you can get yourself a copy of the ASV, 1901 edition. I called them up and they told me they have been printing the ASV since 1990. They sell the ASV in genuine leather, bonded leather, and hardcover ($69.96, $59.95, $24.95).