Personal Prophecy in 1 & 2 Timothy

In 1 Tim 1:18 Timothy is reminded of some prophecies made about him. These are intended to spur him on to “wage the good warfare”. But what were these prophecies? It is not possible to say for sure, but they appear to be related to God’s call and gifting on his life. Another verse that appears to relate to the same prophecies is 1 Tim 4:14, which describes an occasion when the “council of elders” laid hands on Timothy and he was prophesied over. This seems likely to be some kind of ordination or commissioning ceremony. He received a “gift” on that occasion, which may be related in some way to teaching (see 1 Tim 4:13,16). It is also possible that 2 Tim 1:6 also refers to the same occasion (although I personally see that as Timothy receiving the “gift” of the Holy Spirit, rather than a particular ministry gift).

Whilst we are not given enough details about these prophecies to satisfy our curiosity, they do serve as examples of what might be called “personal prophecies”. This is when God gives a specific message directed towards a single person. There are various examples of this elsewhere in the Scriptures, particularly in the Old Testament and gospels. An early church example might be Acts 13:2 where Barnabas and Saul are given a specific prophetic commissioning.

The purpose of the prophecies that Timothy received were that he would know and pursue God’s call on his life, and would continue in it when the going got tough. Spurgeon tells an interesting story of a Mr Richard Knill who prophesied over him as a ten year old concerning his future ministry as a preacher. He says that this prophecy spurred him on to work hard training for the ministry of preaching.

There are a number of potential pitfalls when dealing with personal prophecies. First there are the unaccountable mavericks who go round issuing all kinds of “prophetic words” to complete strangers. Sentiments such as “you are called to leadership” or “you are going to preach to thousands” may sound flattering and exciting, but if God has not in fact spoken, these prophecies do more harm than good.

Second, there are those who turn a hope or a wish into a prophecy. “Next year you will be have a child” or “Your Christian band will headline at Glastonbury”, may be what you hope God will do, but this should not be confused with God actually saying he will do it. This can lead to disillusionment and cynicism, or confusion about what went “wrong”.

Third, there is the more sinister motivation of using such prophetic words to subtly control people. “The Lord is saying you should step down from worship leading and start helping with the car park”. Beware of prophecies that back up a prophet’s personal agenda. If you want to persuade someone to do something, tell them straight, rather than couching your desired outcome in prophetic terms.

These pitfalls should not however cause us to reject the concept of personal prophecies out of hand. Like any other prophecy it should be weighed, tested against Scripture where possible, prayed about, and discussed with wise friends. I believe that God is able to give a gift of faith that enables you to trust that a particular prophecy is indeed from him.

God has of course given us his Word and the gift of common sense, so none of us can pretend that we don’t know what he wants us to do, even if we haven’t received any very specific personal prophecies. But when God does speak in this way, its purpose is to stir us into faith-filled action, whether that is preparing yourself for a future ministry, or making arrangements to move to a new place, or persevering in the face of adversity. The gift of prophecy, including personal prophecy, is given for the building up of the church, and as such, it is entirely appropriate for us to earnestly desire that God would speak to us in this way.

A Pattern of Sound Words

In 2 Tim 1:13, Paul asks Timothy to follow the “pattern of sound words” that he has been taught. One possible meaning of this phrase I considered was that Paul had shaped the gospel into some sort of memorable creedal statements, and that Timothy should make use of those same verbal forms. I don’t think that is in fact the best explanation, and this verse probably means that Timothy should consider Paul’s doctrine to be “sound” and should stick to it.

Regardless of what 2 Tim 1:13 means, you can’t help but notice as you work through the Pastoral epistles how many times Paul makes use of what appear to be pre-existing sayings. For example, there are at least five “trustworthy sayings” (1 Tim 1:15; 1 Tim 3:1; 1 Tim 4:9; 2 Tim 2:11-13; Tit 3:8). 1 Tim 3:16 has the feel of a hymn, while the prayers in 1 Tim 1:17 and 1 Tim 6:15-16 are short and memorable doxologies. There are also a number of succinct and carefully crafted gospel summaries (e.g. 2 Tim 2:9-10, Tit 1:1-4, Tit 2:11-14, Tit 3:4-7).

All of this points to the fact that Paul didn’t blurt things out, but thought very carefully about how exactly he wanted to say them. I’m not saying that the church at this point in history was particularly “liturgical”, but it does seem that already Paul had a wealth of material from which he was able to draw.

The charismatic churches I have been part of are typically very suspicious of liturgy. Any form of set words seems like dead formalism, and it is considered far more preferable to address God in your own words wherever possible (except of course in song). Prayers are extemporaneous, there is no formal liturgy surrounding the Lord’s supper or baptism, creeds are rarely if ever recited.

There are strengths to this approach (not least in that there is an authenticity about using your own words rather than someone else’s), but an obvious weakness is that it can be possible for our prayers and the words we use within meetings to lack real depth. Informal liturgies often emerge where the same clichéd phrases are repeated over and over, mainly because we can’t think of anything else to say on the spur of the moment.

Personally I think that church history has given us a rich store of hymns, creeds, prayers and sayings and our “non-liturgical” modern churches impoverish themselves by failing to make use of them. And that is to say nothing of the numerous prayers within Scripture that could be utilised. I’m not by any stretch of the imagination arguing for pre-scripting our services. But I do wonder whether more attention to the pattern of words we use could bring a depth to what we say that is sometimes sadly lacking.

I think both the liturgical and the anti-liturgical camps can find that, for different reasons, the words spoken at their meetings lack real impact. The challenge for the church is to find ways of speaking God’s truth that are fresh, powerful, profound, striking and surprising. Neither predictable liturgy on the one hand, nor unprepared improvisation on the other will be able to achieve this.

Non-liturgical baptismal rites

The Bible does not give precise instructions for how a baptism should be performed. I do think a strong case can be made for baptising believers by full immersion rather than infants by sprinkling, but here I am talking about the makeup of a baptismal service. Who should perform the baptism (must it be an elder?), where should it be done (does it need to be in public?), and what words should be spoken by the baptiser or by the one being baptised? It would appear that Scripture gives us a large degree of freedom to decide for ourselves.

Churches like the one I attend in newfrontiers often do not have a formalised liturgy or baptismal rite, but it is common for a whole host of traditions to emerge. These might include wearing a special baptismal clothes, giving your “testimony” beforehand, receiving a prayer, prophecy, or Bible verse from a spiritual mentor, being allowed to choose a favourite song to be sung upon emerging from the water, or designating a close friend as a “towel-holder”.  None of these things are mandated in Scripture, and indeed I would have no problem with doing away with most of them. Many of them are simply nice ideas that help to make baptisms a special and significant occasion in the life of the church and for the person being baptised.

In addition there may also be a pattern of words that is usually followed, such as saying “we baptise you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”, asking the candidate if they have repented of their sins and renounced the devil, asking them to make vows to live for Christ, or asking them to confess Jesus as Lord. However, I wonder whether the anti-liturgical and anti-sacramental tendencies in many new churches causes us to too quickly dispense with a form of words and just say whatever comes into our heads at the time (“right then, let’s get on with the dunking!”).

So I have seen a number of baptisms in newer churches where the candidates make no explicit profession of faith in Christ at all. They may give a ‘testimony’ but this can often be a story about how welcome they have been made to feel at the church, or how sure they are that they will one day see their deceased rabbit in heaven. It also seems rare for the candidate to make any form of vows. However, the trinitarian forumula is usually spoken as most churches recognise Matt 28:19 as the proper Biblical form of words to use at a baptism.

In 1 Tim 6:12 Paul says that Timothy made the “good confession” in the presence of many witnesses. It is not certain, but I think the most likely explanation of this verse is that at his baptism, Timothy confessed Christ as Lord (see Rom 10:9). Certainly throughout church history, baptismal rites of all denominations have included affirmations and vows (often based on the apostles creed).

So I’m wondering, what would you consider the minimal form of words that ought to be said at a baptism? Does anything need to be said at all for it to be a valid Christian baptism? Do non-liturgical churches make baptism less meaningful by stripping it of any rites or are we more in line with the baptisms in Acts which were often spontaneous affairs lacking pre-planning and presumably without a formal liturgy. Myself, I personally would expect that a baptism should be explicitly “in the name of” the Father Son and Holy Spirit, and that the candidate should in some way confess Christ as their Lord. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

Types of Teaching

There are undoubtedly many forms and contexts of teaching that should take place within a healthy church. A pastor preaches a 45 minute sermon on a Sunday. In the same meeting, a woman brings a spontaneous contribution that consists of reading a Bible verse and a brief application of its message. A mother teaches her children the Lord’s prayer. A doctor gives a seminar on Christians in the medical profession at a church training day. A teenager leads the Bible study in the youth group. One friend gives Biblical advice to another as they walk in the woods together.

In a fascinating article on What You Think Matters, Andrew Wilson manages to divide all these forms of teaching into two categories, which he calls “Teaching” and “teaching”. The distinction boils down to whether an elder delivers it or not. This appears to be motivated at least in part by the question of what sort of “teaching” a woman is prohibited from exercising in 1 Tim 2:12 (he links to another article he has written on this verse). If we assume Paul doesn’t intend to prohibit every form of teaching in this verse, then we need to distinguish in some way between the type he prohibits and the type he permits.

I agree there is an important distinction to be made between teaching by elders and teaching by non-elders. But I think another obvious and perhaps more natural division is between formal and informal teaching. Sermons, youth group talks and house group Bible studies are formal. They occur at meetings where the whole or subgroups within the church are gathered for the purpose of receiving teaching. The person giving the teaching is either an elder or has been approved by the elders to fulfil that role (sometimes there might be another level of sub-delegation). By contrast, informal teaching happens when you are chatting with friends in your home about spiritual matters, or when someone spontaneously brings a “word of instruction” that has not been pre-planned or pre-approved.

As an illustration of this distinction, you can formally or informally teach someone to play the guitar. Formally would mean you meet a designated teacher at a set place and time and follow a pre-prepared agenda.  Learning informally happens as you are playing together with a friend and they spontaneously offer you some hints about better technique or new chord fingerings.

Within the category of “formal” teaching, it becomes clear that some teaching is more obviously elder-approved than others. On a Sunday morning either the elders are preaching, or they have selected to someone they clearly have a high degree of trust in. Whereas you might go to small group meeting in which the person leading the Bible study comes out with some rather dubious ideas they heard on Christian television. Since the elders are not present, it is fairly clear that this teaching is not necessarily approved by them.

So that leaves me with three categories of teaching: formal teaching by the elders, formal teaching by non-elders, and informal teaching by anyone. This leaves me needing a middle case t for which I’ll use the Greek letter Tau.

Capital T “Teaching” is performed by the elders, and carries their authority as those who safeguard the doctrinal and ethical purity of the church. As in Titus 2:15, they have the right and responsibility to issue rebukes from time to time when serious error emerges in the church. Their “Teaching” most often takes place in the public gathering of the whole church, although naturally an elder will often get involved in teaching in smaller contexts too.

“Middle case” τeaching occurs in many formal gatherings of the church such as youth groups and small groups, but not normally with the whole church gathered. These τeachers have been given delegated authority by the elders to lead and teach within a particular small group context. They are trusted, and so elders do not feel the need to be always present checking up on what is taught. Nonetheless, the church understand that they may not necessarily be getting the “official line” on these occasions.

Finally, “lower case” teaching is informal and carried out by anyone in the church, even those young in the faith and is often done outside of the context of a formal meeting. This means that occasionally things are taught that are in need of some kind of balance or correction to be brought. Nevertheless this type of teaching is invaluable in bringing the whole church to maturity.

Does this threefold categorization help us out with 1 Tim 2:12? We could see it as prohibiting Capital T teaching only, or extend it (as some churches do) to most instances of middle case τeaching too. But we still find ourselves with confusing questions. Is the Sunday morning sermon addressed to the entire gathered church an instance of Teaching or τeaching? Maybe we need even more categories.

Of course, making a distinction between two types of “teaching” might help us out with 1 Tim 2:12, but it still leaves us with the puzzle of 1 Cor 14:34. Here the word is speak (λαλέω) rather than teach (διδάσκω), and again it would seem that it only prohibits some form of speaking, but not all (since women could at least pray and prophesy for example – see 1 Cor 11:5). So can we say Paul allows a woman to “speak” but not “Speak”? And what about σpeaking?

In summary, whilst distinguishing between two types of teaching might help us to progress on 1 Tim 2:12, it strikes me that the line could legitimately be drawn in a number of different places, with very little solid exegetical evidence available to choose between them.

City of God Book Notes

Whenever I read a book I make a series of notes from which to write a book review, picking out interesting quotes and ideas from the book. While I read City of God last year, I amassed a large number of notes and quotes, so I am posting them here as they form a summary of the things that caught my attention as I worked through it. The page numbers are from the Penguin Classics edition. “q” means it is a quotation (capital Q was for ones that I found particularly helpul). I’ve also included a brief summary of the argument in each of the “books” at the end of each section.

Book I

Book I chapters 1-8 argue that the attacking barbarians (Alaric entered Rome AD 410) spared people who took refuge in churches not out of any kindness but by the power of Christ’s name

Q Book I-Ch8  p14 “the good man is not exalted by this world’s goods; nor is he overwhelmed by this world’s ills”

p14 – fascinating argument on why God sometimes lets bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people

p14 Q “what matters is the nature of the sufferer, not the nature of the sufferings. Stir a cesspit, and a foul stench arises; stir a perfume, and a delightful fragrance ascends”

p16 “Good and bad are chastised together, not because both alike live evil lives, but because both alike, though not in the same degree, love this temporal life.

p17 Q: “The saints lose nothing by being deprived of temporal goods”

p20 “no one has died who was not going to die at some time”

p21 “Such things as a decent funeral and a proper burial, with its procession of mourners, are a consolation to the living rather than a help to the departed.”

p26 compassion for those who committed suicide rather than face rape and torture from barbarians … But comes out very strongly against suicide as a sin

p28 discussing if being raped defiles: “just as bodily chastity is lost when mental chastity has been violated, so bodily chastity is not lost, even when the body has been ravished, while the mind’s chastity endures”

p30 ch 21 – against suicide – to kill oneself is to kill a human being

p39 ch 28 “Therefore, faithful Christians, do not think life a burden because your enemies make a mockery of your chastity.”

p41 ch 29 Q: “When I am troubled with adversity, he is either testing my worth or punishing my faults. And he has an eternal reward in store for me in return for loyal endurance of temporal distress.”

p46 ch 35 “those two cities are interwoven and intermixed in this era, and await separation at the last judgement”

36 chapters – Lots of reference to current events – issues raised by suffering of Christians at sacking of Rome by barbarians. Considering pagan critiques of Christianity. Considers moral dilemmas such as suicide

Book II

p49 ch 2 recap of book 1, argues that Christianity’s influence in stopping worshiping pagan gods should not be blamed for the sacking of Rome

p50 ch 3 popular proverb “No rain! It’s all the fault of the Christians”

p54 ch 7 “the conclusions of philosophers are ineffective as they lack divine authority”

p56 ch 8 on some of the entertainment of the day: “Their subject matter is often immoral, as far as action goes; but, unlike many other compositions, they are at least free from verbal obscenities …”

chs 10-15 strange chapters dealing with the idea that the gods wanted obscene plays to be performed in which they were insulted

p67 ch 17 “I am sick of recalling the many acts of revolting injustice which have disturbed the city’s history; the powerful classes did their best to subjugate the lower orders, and the lower orders resisted – the leaders of each side motivated more by ambition for victory than by any ideas of equity and morality.”

p69 ch 18 “anyone who pays attention cannot fail to observe, that Rome had sunk into a morass of moral degradation before the coming of our Heavenly King”

p71 ch 20 – very modern sounding description of how the opponents of Christianity wanted to live – free to use prostitutes and eat and drink until they are sick.

p78 ch 23 – the Roman gods patently did nothing to help Rome from sliding into ruin through moral depravity

p78 ch 23 – Augustine views the Roman gods as demons, who may have some measure of power

p81 ch 25 – Augustine seems agnostic about the truth of the stories of the gods, but sees demons behind them

p85 ch28 in contrast to the licentiousness of Rome, in the church “there is a decent separation of the sexes”

p86 ch29 calling Romans to abandon worship of the gods – “the refuge we offer is the true remission of sins”

29 chapters – demonstrates that the Romans were already in a moral mess before Christianity came on the scene and that their gods did nothing to help

Book III

p92 ch 4 Augustine states he does not believe these tales (of humans and gods/goddesses having sex)

p100 ch 12 – mocks the ridiculous stories of which goddess parented which gods

p104 ch 14 on gladiators -”to my thinking it would be better to be punished for any kind of cowardice than to gain the glory of that kind of fighting”

p106 ch 15 the eclipse after Romulus’ death was not a sign from the gods, but merely due to the “invariable laws of the sun’s course” … however, the eclipse at Christ’s death was truly a miracle

p110 ch 16 both in the days of kings and the supposedly peaceful and just time of the consulship, all kinds of wrongs were perpetrated in Rome

p110 ch 17 is titled “Continued disasters in the early republic. No assistance given by the gods”

p112 ch 17 a great diatribe with repeated “where were they [the gods] when …”

p115 ch 18 moves on to the Punic wars – in which the gods also offered no protection

p120 ch 20 the Christian hope is an eternal one, but the pagans worshiped their gods for perishable and impermanent blessings – making it all  the more meaningless when the gods failed to rescue them from suffering

p122 ch 21 “In that very period … the law called the Lex Vocoia was passed, forbidding the appointment of a woman, even an only daughter, as heir. I cannot quote, or even imagine, a more inequitable law”

p125 ch 25 – the temple of “Concord” would be better the temple of “Discord” since it was the site of riot and massacre

p131 ch 30 Q: “How can our opponents have the effrontery, the audacity, the impudence, the imbecility (or rather the insanity) to refuse to blame their gods for those catastrophes, while they hold Christ responsible for the disasters of modern times?”

31 chapters – rejects explanations of the disasters on history as being caused by angering the gods – often worshipers of the same gods were attacked by one another. Several chapters criticise the stories of the gods, pointing out their impotence to protect Rome.

Book IV

p139 ch3 – Q: “The good man, though a slave, is free; the wicked, though he reigns, is a slave, and not the slave of a single man, but – what is far worse – the slave of as many masters as he has vices.”

p139 ch 4 Q “Remove justice, and what are kingdoms but gangs of criminals on a large scale?”

p144 ch 8 – talks about how the Romans had gods for all kinds of little things

p154 ch 15 – he mocks the inconsistency of the way they apportion domains to various gods. If  the goddess Victory gives all victory in war, what does Jupiter, king of the gods do?

p157 ch 18 if the goddess Fortune is really fortune (luck) then there is no advantage in worshipping her – if she discriminates in favour of her worshipers she is not fortune.

p163 ch 23 Q “True religion is the worship of the true God, not the cult of false gods, who are just so many devils”

p165 ch 23 Q “Now if Felicity is not a goddess, because she is, in truth, a gift of God, we should seek the God who can bestow that gift and abandon the pernicious mob of false gods to which the silly mob of fools attach themselves. These fools turn the gifts of God into deities…”

p173 ch 30 Augustine points out that even the defenders of the gods admit to the stories being told and believed by fools – “a mass of frivolous nonsense”

p173 ch 30 he accuses them of superstition

p176 ch 32 people are more inclined to listen to poets than to scientists

p176 ch 33 the one true God gives earthly dominion both to good men and to evil – but not at random (he is not Fortune), but in accordance with his plan of history, hidden to us, but known to God

p177 ch 33 the NT is in the Old concealed

p177 ch 33 Q: In the OT the promises and gifts are of earthly things; but even then men of spiritual perception realized, although they did not yet proclaim the fact for all to hear, that by those temporal goods eternity was signified; they understood also what were the gifts of God which constituted true felicity.

p178 ch 34 great chapter showing how the story of Israel progressed with great miracles and victories without the Roman gods ever being invoked for help

p178 ch 34 q: the Israelites received from the one true God all the blessings for which the Romans through it necessary to pray to all the host of false gods, and they received them in a far happier manner.

34 chapters – Augustine continues to pick apart and ridicule the huge number of Roman gods, showing inconsistencies, before finally beginning to make a positive case for the one true God

Book V

p179 Preface Q: Felicity is not a goddess, but a gift of God; and therefore no god is to be worshipped by men except the God who can make men happy.

p179 ch 1 q: Without the slightest doubt, the kingdoms of men are established by divine providence.

p180 ch 1 critiques astrology

p182 ch 2-6 deals with twins, whose horoscope should be the same according to astrologers, which Augustine uses to disprove astrology

p187 ch 7 calls it “extraordinary nonsense” to conceive on certain days to get better offspring according to star positions

p187 ch 7 it is blatantly obvious that multitudes of people conceived or born at the same time as each other have greatly differing destinies

p190 ch 9 deals with “God’s foreknowledge and man’s free will”

p190 ch 9 q: We are not afraid that what we do by an act of will may not be a voluntary act, because God, with his infallible prescience, knew that we should do it.

p191 ch 9 Cicero thought free will and divine foreknowledge were incompatible

p193 ch 9 Q: the cause which is cause only, and not effect, is God

p194 ch 9 q: our wills have only as much power as God has willed and foreknown

p194 ch 10 it is because God is all-powerful that there are some things he cannot do (e.g. die or make a mistake)

p195 ch 10 we embrace both belief in divine foreknowledge and human free will

p195 ch 10 q A man does not sin unless he wills to sin; and if he had willed not to sin, then God would have foreseen that refusal.

p198 ch12 q: The important thing for the men of that time was either to die bravely, or to live in freedom. But when liberty had been won, ‘such a passion for glory took hold of them’ that liberty alone did not satisfy – they had to have dominion.

p202 ch 13 That the love of praise is, in fact, a fault, is recognised by the morally clear-sighted.

p203 ch 14 interesting chapter on the importance of living for the glory of God, not the praise of man

p206 ch 17 argues that Rome’s reason for expanding the empire was a desire for the glory of men (and a desire for liberty- ch 18)

210 ch 18 Christians should not boast of the sacrifices they have made for the glory of God. Many in Roman history made similar sacrifices for the glory of Rome.

215 ch 21 God granted dominion to the Romans when he willed and in the measure that he willed

p216 ch 21 God has given power both to the best and worst of rulers … “If God’s reasons are inscrutable, does that mean that they are unjust?”

p220 ch 24 * Christian emperors are “happy”, but by this Augustine does not mean everything went well for them, but that they ruled with justice and humility. They are “happy in hope, during this present life,” and “happy in reality hereafter”

p244 ch 26 Augustine announces he has made his case that worshiping the Roman gods doesn’t bring any benefits in this life – the life to come to be discussed in the next book

26 chapters – Augustine starts with a damning critique of astrology. A couple of very interesting chapters on the relationship between divine foreknowledge and human free will

Book VI

p227 ch 1 – if the gods can’t give anything out of their minute jurisdiction (e.g. Bacchus can’t give water, only wine), then what hope has anyone of getting eternal life from them?

p228  ch1 Juvantas was goddess of youth – and “Bearded Fortune” was the god(ess)? that let you grow a good beard

p230 ch 2 Marcus Varro – an ancient academic was “a man who read so much that we marvel that he had any time for writing; who wrote so much that we find it hard to believe that anyone could have read it all”

p231 ch 3 Augustine is essentially giving a book review of the massive works of Marcus Varro (a worshiper of the gods, but a very intellectual man, with a boring writing style)

p233 ch 4 Varro more or less admits that the gods were of human institution

p236 ch 6 Augustine has immense respect for Varro’s intellect, but criticises him

p238 ch 6 the obscenities acted out on stage in honour of the gods only mirrored what was already going on in worship in the temples

p244 ch 9 another mockery of the ridiculous parcelling out of small domains to gods (the door, the hinges, the latch)

p246 ch 9 a whole plethora of gods to ensure that a newly married couple get to have sex – hilarious “let the bridegroom have something to do for himself!”

p246 ch 9 Augustine notes that in his whole treatise on which gods are to be invoked for which items, Varro never includes eternal life as being the domain of any god

p250 ch 10 Varro criticised fabulous theology but didn’t dare to criticise civil, which Augustine sees as inconsistency. Seneca didn’t hold back in faulting civil theology

p251 ch 11 Seneca also criticised the Jews for wasting a 7th of their lives by observing the Sabbath

p252 ch 11 interesting quote from Seneca on the Jewish ritual system: “At least they know the origins of their ceremonies: the greater part of our people have no idea of the reason for the things they do.”

12 chapters – Augustine engages with the scholarly writings of Marcus Varro, a worshipper of the gods. Takes him to task on his distinction between “mythical/fabulous, civil and natural” theology

Book VII

Augustine plans to take down “civil theology” in this book

p255 ch2 Augustine lists 20 “select” gods who are thought especially important by Varro

p257 ch3 Augustine criticises the selection of these gods … again highlighting the tiny duties that are handed out amongst them

p260 ch 3 biting sarcasm on why Fortune was so unfortunate as to miss out on being a select god

p265 ch 8 pokes fun at the images of the gods

p268 ch 11 deals with the confusion of how Jupiter is distinct from the other gods and goddesses

p272 ch 14 continues with glaring inconsistencies, asking whether Mars or Mercury can be considered gods at all

p276 ch 18 Augustine considers it likely that the legends of the gods were stories of human beings who were elevated to god-like status

p279 ch 21 discusses the obscenities involved in the veneration of some of the gods

p280 ch 22 q: “are any of you so foolish as to think that this makes sense”

p284 ch 24 picks up on confusion between one goddess with many names and many goddesses

p291 ch 29 title: All the attributes ascribed to the world and its parts by “naturalists” should have been ascribed to the one true God.

p291 ch 30 true religion distinguishes Creator from creature

p293 ch 32 title: The mystery of Christ’s redemption was not absent in any previous era, but it was made known under different symbols.

p296 ch 34 interesting about a conspiracy to keep quiet the reasons behind many of the pagan ceremonies

35 chapters – Augustine continues critiquing the gods but includes a couple of chapters making a positive case about the one true God


Augustine moves on to philosophy (Socrates and Plato) to discuss “natural theology”

p298 ch 1 q: Because men call themselves philosophers it does not follow that they are lovers of true wisdom.

p303 ch 4 Plato was a brilliant student of Socrates

p304 ch 4 it is not always possible to work out what Plato thinks, because he considered it a virtue to conceal his opinion – some things he says are in agreement with Christian belief, others not

p305 ch 5 Augustine clearly rates Plato’s ideas as being infinitely more worthy of respect than the stories of pagan gods

p309 ch 8 discussion of the Summum Bonum (ultimate good?) – “everything else we desire for the sake of this, this we desire for itself alone”

p310 ch 8 man’s true Good should be found not in the enjoyment of the body or mind, but in the enjoyment of God

p301 ch 8 q: Plato has no hesitation in asserting that to be a philosopher is to love God, whose nature is immaterial.

p314 ch 9 q: Considers the possibility that Plato heard some of the OT scriptures

p321 ch 15 argues that demons are in no way to be considered superior to humans – and refutes any suggestion that it is OK to worship them (ch 17)

p324 ch 17 q: For surely the supremely important thing in religion is to model oneself of the object of one’s worship.

p325 ch 19 title: the blasphemy of magic, which employs the services of demons

p329 ch 22 q: we must realize that [demons] are in reality spirits whose only desire is to do harm, who are completely alien from any kind of justice, swollen with arrogance, livid with envy, and full of crafty deception.

p330 ch 23 discusses the idea (of an Egyptian called Hermes) that idols., though made by man, somehow get attached to the gods

p334 ch 24 Hermes somehow foresaw and lamented the end of Egyptian religion. Augustine thinks demons made it known to him.

p340 ch 27 Christians honour martyrs, but do not deify them

27 chapters – Augustine deals with Plato’s ideas, which he thinks is the philosophy that is closest to Christianity

Book IX

p344 ch 2 in this book, Augustine begins to examine the suggestion (of pagans) that there might be good demons

p349 ch 5 q: in our discipline [i.e. Christianity], the question is not whether the devout soul is angry, but why; not whether it is sad, but what causes its sadness; not whether it is afraid, but what is the object of its fear.

p352 ch 8 interesting quote about humans from Apuleius

p359 ch 15 instead of demons, thought to be mediators between humans and the gods, we need Jesus – fully man and fully divine as our mediator

p364 ch 17 q: we need a mediator, since there can be no direct meeting between the immortal purity on high and the mortal and unclean things below.

p364 ch 17 the incarnation showed that the true divine nature cannot be polluted by the flesh

p367 ch 21 the demons have knowledge, but lack charity

23 chapters – a fairly obscure debate about the nature of “demons”, their eternality, rationality and whether they are subject to passions. all this to refute the suggestion that some might be good. Moves on to argue that Jesus, not demons, is the needed mediator between humans and God

Book X

p371 ch 1 q: That all men desire happiness is a truism for all who are in any degree able to use their reason.

p375 ch 3 q: For he himself is the source of our bliss, he himself is the goal of all our striving.

p377 ch 5 title: God does not require sacrifices, but he wishes them to be offered as symbols of what he does require.

p377 ch 5 q: it is man, not God, who is benefited by all the worship which is rightly offered to God.

p378 ch 5 q: what is generally called sacrifice is really a sign of the true sacrifice. Mercy is, in fact, the true sacrifice

p379 ch 6 q: a man consecrated in the name of God, and vowed to God, is in himself a sacrifice inasmuch as he ‘dies to the world’ so that he may ‘live for God’

p382 ch 8 the ten plagues on Egypt were full of hidden meanings

p382 ch 8 Moses’ prayer with his arms outstretched made the form of a cross

p384 ch 9 begins to take on proponents of “theurgy”, a kind of magic that claimed to be good (i.e. invoking angels not demons?)

p390 ch 12 q: whatever miracle happens in this world, it is certainly a lesser marvel than the whole world, that is to say, the heavens and the earth and all that is in them, which God undoubtedly made … man is a greater miracle than any miracle effected by man’s agency

p391 ch 12 argues that God is outside of time, and sees the future as having already happened

p392 ch 14 q: Now the soul of man is still weak because of its earthly desires, and in this temporal existence it craves for those inferior goods of this world which, although essential for this transitory life, are to be despised in comparison with the eternal blessings of that other life. Even so, it is altogether right that the soul should learn to look for those temporal blessings from God, and from him alone, so that even in longing for them it should not withdraw from the worship of that God.

p401 ch 20 Christ is both the priest, himself making the offering, and the oblation

p401 ch 20 q: “This one sacrifice [of Christ] was prefigured by many rites, just as many words are used to refer to one thing, to emphasize a point without inducing boredom.

p403 ch 22 q: For it is only sins that separate men from God; and in this life purification from sins is not effected by our merit, but by the compassion of God, through his indulgence, not through our power; for even that poor little virtue which we call ours has itself been granted to us by his bounty.

p404 ch 24 Q: in talking of each person, whether the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit, we acknowledge that each of them is God. But we do not, like the Sabellian heretics, identify the Father with the Son, and the Holy Spirit with both Father and Son. What we say is that the Father is Father of the Son, the Son is Son of the Father, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of both Father and Son, but he is not identical with either.

p404 ch 24 Augustine thinks that the ‘principles’ of God that the Platonists spoke of should have been recognised by them to be the three persons of the Triune godhead

p406 ch 25 title: “The saints in earlier ages under the Law were all justified by the mystery of Christ’s incarnation and through faith in him”

p407 ch 25 q: [The Psalmist in Ps 73] is reproaching himself and is ashamed of himself with good reason because, having (as he afterwards realised) such a treasure in heaven, he sought from his God such transient benefits on earth such a fragile and shabby felicity.”

p407 ch 25 q: The Psalmist goes on to say that his ‘possession’ is God himself, not something which comes from God.

p414 ch 29 in several chapters Augustine addresses Porphyry personally, urging him to recognize the grace of God in Jesus

p423  ch 32 argues that in the Scriptures there is a universal way of salvation – available to all nations (Porphyry had claimed that no religion offered this)

p425 ch 32 summarising statement: Thus in the ten books now completed we have refuted the objections of the wicked, who prefer their own gods to the founder of that Holy City

p426 ch 32 his plan for the next book is to speak of the two cities – which are intermixed with one another in this present world

32 chapters – starts discussing the nature of true worship, takes on the “theurgists”, who he calls ‘superstitious meddlers’. Is mainly a critique of the thought of Porphyry who he urges to come to Christ.

Book XI

p431 ch 2 q: As man he [Christ] is our Mediator, as man he is our way. … As God he is the goal, as man he is the way.

p434 ch 5 there was no time before the world, there is no space outside it

p435 ch 6 q: the Bible never lies

p436 ch 6 [on 7 days of creation] q: What kind of days these are is difficult or even impossible for us to imagine, to say nothing of describing them.

p436 ch 7 q: We cannot understand what happened as it is presented to us; and yet we must believe it without hesitation.

p439 ch 9 argues that angels were made on the first day, part of the “light”

p444 ch 12 in our future hope, we have something better than the human race had before the fall.

p447 ch 15 asserts that the Devil was made by God

p449 ch 17 “God turns evil choices to good use” … “the Devil, who was good as God created him, became bad by his own choice”

p449 ch 18 Q: For God would never have created a man, let alone an angel, in the foreknowledge of his future evil state, if he had not known at the same time how he would put such creatures to good use, and thus enrich the course of world history by the kind of antithesis which gives beauty to a poem.

p452 ch 21 God’s knowledge is not like ours, which has three tenses – past, present and future.

p453 ch 22 q: Divine providence thus warns us not to indulge in silly complaints about the state of affairs, but to take pains to inquire what useful purposes are served by things.

p456 ch 23 q: there are three questions to be asked in respect of any created being: ‘Who made it’, ‘How?’ and ‘Why?’. I put forward the answers: ‘God’, ‘Through his word’, ‘Because it is good’

p457 ch 24 discusses the Trinity in Creation – especially looking at the Spirit as the source of “goodness”

p460 ch 26 fascinating, possibly circular argument to prove your existence (I exist – and if I’m mistaken, then I must exist in order to be mistaken)

p465 ch 30 entitled: “The perfection of the number 6”

p465 ch 30 Q: the theory of number is not to be lightly regarded, since it is made quite clear, in many passages of the holy Scriptures, how highly it is to be valued.

p466 ch 31 discusses why 7 also is a perfect number

34 chapters. Starts discussing Creation, gets onto the existence of evil, and what purpose it may serve. Also includes discussion of when angels were created (he thinks first day of creation – they were part of the “light”)

Book XII

p473 ch 2 God is immutable good – while things he creates are good but mutable

p474 ch 3 God is incapable of any change or injury

p474 ch 3 q: a fault cannot exist in the Highest Good, but it cannot exist except in some kind of good

p477 ch 5 q: God supremely exists and therefore he is the author of every existence which does not exist in this supreme degree.

p477 ch 6 the beginning of all sin is pride

p480 ch 8 interesting on what is to blame for evil desires (gold is not to blame for greed, nor beauty for lust)

p482 ch 10 evil is not caused by good but by falling away from good

p484 ch 11 states categorically that there have been fewer than 6000 years since Adam, based on genealogies

p485 ch 12 discusses believers in an infinite number of worlds

p492 ch 16 it is nonsense to say that there was a time when time did not exist

p496 ch 18 [God] did not stand in need of his creation, but produced his creatures out of pure disinterested goodness

p503 ch 23 q: God was well aware that man would sin, and so, becoming liable to death, would then produce a progeny destined to die.

p503 ch 23 q: But God also foresaw that by his grace a community of godly men was to be called to adoption as his sons

p504 ch 24 disagrees with those who think man’s creation is a fable and attribute it to purely natural physical causation

p508 ch 28 God’s decision to create man knowing that some would be evil was a “just decree, however inscrutable to us”

28 chapters – continues dealing with the origin of evil – why did some angels fall? Also the philosophical issue of why God created the world when he did


p511 ch 2 the first death is good for the good, and bad for the bad. the second death is not good for anyone

p513 ch 3 – briefly touches on infant baptism

p514 ch 4 q: The righteous prefer to endure for their belief what the first sinners suffered [i.e. death] for their unbelief.

p515 ch 5 q: just as the law is not an evil thing when it increases the evil desire of the sinner, so death is not itself a good thing when it enhances the glory of the sufferer

p518 ch 10 discusses the fact that we all fast approach our day of death

p521 ch 11 a rather curious discussion of being “in death”

p522 ch 12 the death Adam and Eve were threatened with was the death of the soul and the death of the body (i.e. first and second death)

p523 ch 14 on our fallen nature: q: Only those who are set free through God’s grace escape from this calamitous sequence.

p524 ch 15 on “where are you Adam?” q: Obviously God was not asking for information; he was rebuking Adam; and by the form of the rebuke he was warning him to take notice where he was, in that God was not with him.

p526 ch 16 rejects the idea of the platonists that it is a good thing to become separated from your body

p532 ch 19 dealing with inconsistencies in platonist ideas of the soul existing forever without a body – they believe that the gods (e.g Jupiter are tied to planets)

p535 ch 21 argues that the church is described in Song of Songs

p535 ch 21 argues that allegorical interpretation (of Genesis) is fine so long as we do not deny the historicity of the story

p538 ch 23 contrasts “animal bodies” (mortal) with “spiritual bodies” (our resurrection bodies)

p540 ch 23 q: no one dies in his animal body except “in Adam” and in the same way no one is brought to life in a spiritual body except ‘in Christ’

p534 ch 24 an extended discussion on what was happening when Jesus breathed on his disciples and said “receive the Spirit”

24 chapters – now onto the fall of man, with initial focus on death

Book XIV

p547 ch 1 q: so heinous was their sin that man’s nature suffered a change for the worse; and bondage to sin and inevitable death was the legacy handed on to their posterity.

p547 ch 1 Q: there is, in fact, one city of men who choose to live by the standard of the flesh, another of those who choose to live by the standard of the spirit.

p548 ch 2 by living according to the flesh, Augustine does not mean just living for physical pleasure – those who see the intellect as the Highest Good can live for the flesh too

p551 ch 3 q: those who imagine that all the ills of the soul derive from the body are mistaken

p552 ch 4 q: Falsehood consists in not living in the way for which he was created.

p553 ch 4 every sin is a falsehood – we commit sin to promote our welfare, and it results instead in our misfortune

p556 ch 6 q: “Hate the fault, but love the man.”

p559 ch 9 interesting – wishing for yourself “the provision of extravagant banquets” is Augustine’s example of something dishonourable

p563 ch 9 disagrees with Greek philosophers that emotions are faults

p563 ch 9 q: human emotion was not illusory in him [i.e. Jesus] who had a truly human body and a truly human mind

p568 ch 11 q: Now God foreknew everything, and therefore could not have been unaware that man would sin.

p568 ch 11 q: The choice of the will, then, is genuinely free only when it is not subservient to faults and sins

p571 ch 12: deals with the objection that the sin of eating the fruit seems so trivial – Augustine says that the real issue is obedience

p574 ch 14: pride seeks to pin blame on another – the woman blames the serpent, Adam blames the woman

p574 ch 15 q: God’s intention in this command [i.e. not to eat the fruit] was to impress upon this created being that he was the Lord; and that free service was in that creature’s own interest.

p575 ch 15 q: the disobedience in paradise was all the greater inasmuch as the command was one of no difficulty at all

p576 ch 15 interesting on many different types of lust

p577 ch 16 we would surely prefer to beget children without experiencing sexual lust ?!

p580 some chapters on the shame we feel when we are naked, and the desire for sex to be in private

p583 ch 21 argues that lust arose only after the fall – before there would have been no lust between Adam and Eve

p588 ch 24 q: “A number of people produce at will such musical sounds from their behind (without any stink) that they seem to be singing from that region” !!!

p593 ch 27 q: God was not unaware of any event in the future, and yet he did not, by his foreknowledge, compel anyone to sin

28 chapters – dealing with questions of the fallen human nature, some stuff on sex before the fall being without lust and passion (but an act of will), and why God created man knowing he would fall

Book XV

p594 ch1 q: “I classify the human race into two branches: the one consists of those who live by human standards, the other of those who live according to God’s will. I also call these two classes the two cities, speaking allegorically

p596 ch 1 Cain belonged to the city of man, Abel to the city of God

p599 ch 4 The earthly city is generally divided against itself

p601 ch 5 q: the good, if they have reached perfect goodness, cannot fight amongst themselves

p605 ch 7 q: a man will have the mastery over his sin if he does not put it in command of himself by defending it, but subjects it to himself by repenting of it. Otherwise, he will also be its slave, and it will have the mastery, if he affords it encouragement when it occurs.

p608 ch 8 deals with some questions raised by Genesis accounts – e.g. where did the people come from for Cain’s city?

p609 ch 9 deals with those who take issue with the ages of the patriarchs

p611 ch 10 and some differences in ages specified in Hebrew vs Vulgate/LXX

p617 ch 13 – an elaborate theory on why the LXX and Hebrew ages differ. Notes that greater reliance should be placed on the manuscripts in the original languages

p623 ch 16 sisters could be taken at wives in the early times

p626 ch 17 sees Cain and Seth as heads of the two cities

p628 ch 18 argues that Abel and Seth represent Christ’s death and resurrection (from the meanings of their names)

p634 ch 20 more stuff on numerical significance

p634 ch 21 Cain’s line starts and ends with a murderer (Lamech)

p635 ch 21 Q: And so the will in nature can turn away from good to do evil – and this through its own free choice; and it can also turn from evil to do good – but this can only be done with divine assistance.

p637 ch 22 the Song of Songs is about Christ’s bride, the City of God

p640 ch 23 q: We may then pass over the tales contained in the scriptures which are called ‘Apochrypha’ because their origin is obscure and was not clear to the fathers, from whom the authority of the true Scriptures has come down to us by a well-defined and well-known line of succession.

p642 ch 25 Q: Now God’s anger is not an agitation of his mind; it is a judgment by which punishment is inflicted on sin.

p643 ch 26 ingenious attempt to parallel the dimensions of the ark with Christ’s body including the door being where the spear went in … though he does recognise that this is speculation, and must be tested by the “rule of faith”

p646 ch 27 argues for the historicity of the account of Noah’s ark, but it is filled with symbolism too

p646 ch 27 q: we must believe that the writing of this historical record had a wise purpose, that the events are historical, that they have a symbolic meaning, and that this meaning gives a prophetic picture of the Church.

27 chapters – Cain and Abel/Seth represent the cities of heaven and earth. Deals with historical objections to various features of Genesis

Book XVI

p650 ch 2 is now starting to look at the period from Noah to Abraham and attempts to look for symbolism in Noah’s sons

p652 ch 2 Q: These hidden meanings of inspired Scripture we track down as best we can, with varying degrees of success; and yet we all hold confidently to the firm belief that these historical events and the narrative of them have always some foreshadowing of things to come, and are always to be interpreted with reference to Christ and his Church, which is the City of God.

p657 ch 4 Babel = Babylon

p658 ch 5 people are here called “sons of men”, not “sons of God” because they are a society that lives by man’s standards – the city of man

p659 ch 6 the plural “let us” when God is speaking is correctly understood to refer to the Trinity

p663 ch 8 deals with myths / tales of people with very unusual physical characteristics

p667 ch 10 Augustine supposes, despite no mention of them in the period from Noah to Abraham, that there were always some of the “sons of God” (i.e. those who lived God’s way) amongst all the “sons of men”

p670 ch 12 Augustine assumes that Terah’s family were God-fearing, and spoke Hebrew (the last remaining descendants of Heber)

p674 ch 15 continues to be concerned with issues of chronology

p668 ch 19 not taking all possible precautions against danger to your family is testing God rather than putting your hope in God

p683 ch 24 finds interesting symbolism in the account of the covenant with Abraham in Gen 15:18ff (e.g. the fire symbolises the day of judgment)

p685 ch 25 seems overly enthusiastic to defend Abraham from any accusations of wrongdoing in any instance – including sleeping with Hagar (also in ch 26)

p689 ch 27 argues for the reality of original sin

p694 ch 32 q: Abraham, we can be sure, could never have believed that God delights in human victims; and yet the thunder of a divine command must be obeyed without argument.

p694 ch 32 q: [Abraham] did not doubt that a son who could be granted to him when he had ceased to hope could also be restored to him after he had been sacrificed.

p695 ch 32 q: Who, then, was symbolized by that ram but Jesus, crowned with Jewish thorns before he was offered in sacrifice?

p697 ch 34 yet again defends Abraham, this time for taking a second wife after Sarah died

p698 ch 35 q: both (Rebecca’s twins) were on the same footing, without a shadow of doubt, in respect of original sin, while in respect of personal sin neither of them had any guilt

p700 ch 37 now attempts to tell us that Jacob didn’t use deceit??

p704 ch 39 very keen to find symbols of Christ in the story of Jacob – e.g. the angel was a willing loser in the wrestle to symbolise the passion of Christ, who appeared to be defeated by the Jews

p707 ch 42 Joseph’s two sons: the elder typifies the Jews, the younger the Christians

p708 ch 43 After that, rushes right through Exodus, the Conquest and right up to David in a single chapter!

p710 ch 43 David marks the beginning of a new epoch – the start of the manhood of God’s people

43 chapters – deals with the period after Noah, through Babel and on to Abraham.


p711 ch 1 now turns to deal with the “era of the prophets” which is from Samuel to the return from exile.

p713 ch 2 argues that the prophecies concerning the land were fulfilled in the time of David and Solomon

p714 ch 3 q: [Jer 31:31-33] is, without doubt, a prophecy of the Jerusalem above, whose ‘reward’ is God himself; and to possess him, and to be his possession is the Highest God, and the Entire Good, in that City.

p715 ch 4 Hannah personifies the church

p717 ch 4 argues that Hannah’s prayer in 1 Sam 2:1-10 was more than just thanks, but a prophecy

p728 ch 5 a slightly obscure interpretation to Eli in 1 Sam 2:27-36

p729 ch 6 entitled “The Jewish priesthood and kingdom, said to have been established forever, no longer exist. The promised eternity must be interpreted as applying to others”

p729 ch 6 q: the priesthood of Aaron’s line was itself set up as a kind of shadow of the eternal priesthood that was to be.

p731 ch 7 Saul personified Israel, which was about to have the kingdom taken from it when Christ came

p734 ch 8 titled “God’s promises to David about his son; in no way fulfilled in Solomon, but abundantly fulfilled in Christ.”

p735 ch 8 Ps 71 not about Solomon but about Jesus

p737 ch 9 deals with the issue of the prophecy about Christ referring to being punished for sins – this he takes to mean the church as the body of Christ needing discipline

p744 ch 14 is of the opinion that all 150 Psalms were written by David

p746 ch 16 takes Ps 46 as an example of a Psalm very clearly about Christ and his church

p748 ch 17 – Christ’s priesthood described in Ps 110, and his passion in Ps 22

p750 ch 18 explores more Psalms prophesying Christ’s death and resurrection

p754 ch 20 discusses prophecies of Christ in Ecclesiasticus and Wisdom of Solomon

p758 ch 21-24 brief survey of later kings of Israel and Judah, accelerating very fast through return from exile to prophets immediately before birth of Christ

24 chapters deals with various prophecies, from Hannah, from the Psalms, which he explains relate to Christ


p764 ch 2 a history lesson on some of the kings of Assyria at the time of Abraham

p767 chs 3,4 continues to say who was king during times of Isaac, Joseph. Particularly notes the worship as gods of these rulers

p767 ch 5 the death penalty was issued for anyone who for anyone who asserted king Arpis to be a mere human being

p770  ch 8 seems to believe that some of the gods e.g. Mercury, Hercules, Minerva, were people who were thought divine after their deaths

p771 ch 9 women lost the vote in ancient Athens!

p780 ch 16 gets to the fall of Troy

p782 ch 18 discusses whether mythological tales of people turning into animals are to be believed – apparently lots of people were willing to testify to having seen them

p782 ch 18 q: “Stories of this kind are either untrue or at least so extraordinary that we are justified in withholding credence.”

p788 ch 23 discusses some remarkable prophetic poetry from the Erythraean Sibyl – the lines began with iesous chreistos theou uios soter.

p796 ch 28 gets onto the prophecies of Hosea and Amos

p796 ch 29 a chapter on Isaiah’s prophecies, which he deems so plainly about Christ that he quotes them without needing to comment

p798 ch 30 Micah, Joel and Jonah

p799 ch 31 Obadiah, Nahum and Habakkuk – finds it a little harder to find prophecies of Christ in Obadiah

p804 ch 32 some texts have I will be joyful in God my Jesus instead of “God my saviour” (one letter different)

p806 ch 34 prophecies of Christ in Daniel and Ezekiel – more widely agreed on selections

p808 ch 35 finds several references to Christ in Malachi

p812 ch 38 discusses why some books are considered non-canonical

p815 ch 40 rejects Egyptian claims that they knew astrology for 100,000 years

p817 ch 41 highlights the huge diversity of opinion amongst Greek philosophers

p819 ch 42 title: “the Scriptures translated into Greek, by God’s providence, for the benefit of the Gentiles

p820 ch 42 believes the Septuagint was translated separately 70 times with no discrepancies

p822 ch 43 holds Septuagint in high regard, though acknowledges some differences from Hebrew – believes the Spirit may have chosen to speak also through these translators

p823 ch 44 – even defends the difference between the Heb and LXX in regards to how many days until Ninevah overthrown (3 or 40?)

p826 ch 45 reaches the desecration of the temple by Pompey

p828 ch 46 q : “when the Jews do not believe in our Scriptures, their own Scriptures are fulfilled in them, while they read them with blind eyes.”

p829 ch 47 Job was not an Israelite, but an Edomite

p830 ch 48 entitled “Haggai’s prophecy of the future glory of God’s house finds fulfilment in the Church of Christ”

p833 ch 50 Q: “to prevent their being frozen with fear they burned with the fire of love.”

p834 ch 51 God even uses heretics to train the church whether through enduring persecution patiently, or through answering error wisely.

p836 ch 52 rejects a teaching that the end times were upon them because 10 persecutions had already come and the 11th would be the final one

p838 ch 53 rejects those who think they know the time of the 2nd coming (e.g. some said as much as 1000 years). Repudiates as pagan an idea that Christ will return after 365 years.

54 chapters – now turns to track the city of man (having tracked the city of God to the coming of Christ), taking a history of pagan and Greek beliefs, with an excursus showing Christ in the major and minor OT prophets

Book XIX

p846 ch 1 Varro works out that there are 288 possible philosophical systems, then he refutes all except the one he holds to. (key differentiator is in terms of what is the supreme good and supreme evil)

p850 ch 3 Varro argues that we are soul and body in combination (not a soul merely contained by a body) and thus the ultimate good is what brings happiness to both soul and body

p852 ch 4 Augustine gets onto the Christian view of Supreme good and evil

p852 ch 4 Q: “eternal life is the Supreme Good and eternal death the Supreme Evil, and that to achieve the one and escape the other, we must live rightly.

p855 ch 4 argues that it is obvious that true happiness cannot be attained in this life

p860 ch 6 discusses the miscarriages of justice from torturing witnesses to gain a confession

p862 ch 7 discusses the misery the wise feel in the necessity of waging just wars

p863 ch 8 q: “how can it be that a man’s death should not be bitter if his life is sweet to us?”

p868 ch 12 pride is a perverted imitation of God

p871 ch 13 q: “not even the nature of the Devil himself is evil, in so far as it is a nature; it is perversion that makes it evil.”

p873 ch 14 q: “a man who loves God is not wrong in loving himself”

p875 ch 15 argues that man is naturally free, and slavery is caused by sin

p880 ch 19 q: “a ‘bishop’ who has set his heart on a position of eminence rather than an opportunity for service should realise that he is no bishop.”

p884 ch 22 “willy nilly”

p890 ch 23 a slightly hard to follow explanation of Rome was never a commonwealth

28 chapters – discussing supreme good and evil, and various other topics

Book XX

p897 ch 2 discusses the many injustices of this life, however on the final day, all the things God has done during earth’s history will be seen to be just

p900 ch 5 Jesus teaches that there is a judgment to come, and it will coincide with the resurrection of the dead.

p900 ch 5 is a brief survey of the NT evidence for a final judgment

p907 ch 7 gets onto the millennium – doesn’t like the views of the chilliasts, expecting 1000 years of feasting (as a Sabbath after 6000 years since creation)

p908 ch 7 discusses a few possible interpretations of the millennium

p909 ch 7 seems to favour an amillennial view – devil can lead individuals astray, but not nations during the millennium

p911 ch 8 on the unbinding of Satan – q: “In the end the Omnipotent will unloose him, so that the City of God may behold how powerful a foe it has overcome, to the immense glory of its Redeemer, its Helper, its Deliverer.

p913 ch 8 is concerned about the plight of unbaptised children at the time of the unbinding of Satan

p914 ch 9 amillennial – the 1000 years is the period beginning with Christ’s first coming

p915 ch 9 q: the church even now is the kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of heaven

p923 ch 14 q: The correct interpretation of ‘the beast’, is, as I said earlier, the ungodly city itself;

p924 ch 14 q: it is by a transformation of the physical universe, not by its annihilation, that this world will pass away

p928 ch 16 “the sea” is used as an allegory of this stormy age

p928 ch 17 the city has been coming down from heaven since its beginning

p934 ch 19 those who are led astray by false signs and wonders are those who deserve to be led astray because they didn’t love the truth

p936 ch 20 fascinating argument that even those alive at the time of Christ’s second coming will briefly die before being raised again

p951 ch 25 q: From these words (Mal 3:1-6) it seems quite evident that in the judgement the punishments of some are to be purificatory

p956 ch 29 q: men should learn to understand the law in a spiritual manner, and find Christ in that law

p958 ch 30 is devoted to finding places in the OT where Christ is directly speaking (through the prophets)

p963 ch 30 Augustine summarises the end time teaching: “Elijah the Tishbite will come; Jews will accept the faith; Antichrist will persecute; Christ will judge; the dead will rise again; the good and the evil will be separated; the earth will be destroyed in the flames and then will be renewed.” … then confesses that it may not be in that exact order

30 chapters – on the final judgment, starting with teaching of Christ, moving on to some eschatology and exegesis of Revelation, before moving on to find statements on the final judgment in the NT epistles. Then deals with OT prophecies of the final judgment (e.g. Isaiah, Daniel) before devoting a few chapters to Malachi

Book XXI

p965 ch 2 addresses the question of how it is possible for a material body to survive forever in eternal fire, and yet to feel pain

p966 ch 3 q: For pain is really an experience of the soul, not of the body, even when the cause of pain is presented to the soul by the body – when pain is felt in the part where the body is hurt.

p970 ch 4 discusses the remarkable properties of various substances that react in unusual ways to fire

p978 ch 8 describes magnetism as “some insensible power of suction”

p985 ch 10 concludes this part of the argument – the bodies of those in the fires of eternal punishment are certainly able to experience the pain of those fires

p987 ch 11 argues that it can be quite just for the duration of a punishment to greatly outlast the duration of the time taken to commit the offense

p990 ch 13 a poss reference to purgatory? “Some, in fact, will receive forgiveness in the world to come for what is not forgiven in this life, as I have said above, so that they may not be punished with the eternal chastisement of the world to come.”

p993 ch 16 infants who die after baptism do not go through any purification process to enter the kingdom

p994 ch 16 q: “It follows that anyone who desires to escape everlasting pains needs not only to be baptized but also to be justified in Christ, and thus to pass from the Devil to Christ.”

p996 ch 17 refutes the suggestion that the punishment is not eternal

p999 ch 19-23 enumeration of various other views about automatic salvation for those who are baptised, or take the mass etc, these are followed by refutations

p1001 ch 23 Q: “is it not folly to assume that eternal punishment signifies a fire lasting a long time, while believing that eternal life is life without end?”

p1007 ch 24 q: So we see that God has mercy on all the ‘vessels of mercy’; but what is meant by ‘all’? It must mean all those from among the Gentiles as well as those of the Jews whom he predestined, called, justified, and glorified. He will not spare all men; but none of these shall incur his condemnation.

p1008 ch 25 q: “heretics and schismatics, being separated from the unity of the Body, are able to take the same sacrament; but it is not for their profit. No, indeed; it is for their harm.”

p1009 ch 25 q: “those people who continue to the end of their lives in the fellowship of the Catholic Church have no reason to feel secure, if their moral behaviour is disreputable and deserving of condemnation.”

p1011 ch 26 a man can love his wife the way Christ loves the church, but not in a worldly way, which is ‘sensual’

p1014 ch 26 Q: anyone who puts any loved objects before Christ does not have Christ for his foundation

p1016 ch 27 acts of mercy do not cancel out sins – we can’t earn ourselves a “licence to sin”

27 chapters – on the punishment of the devil and the city of man. Includes a long-winded defence of the possibility that a material body could suffer eternal pain in fire without being consumed.


p1022 ch1 q: in this City, all the citizens will be immortal

p1024 ch 2 q: the ’righteousness of God’ means not only the quality whereby God himself is righteous, but also the quality that God produces in a man who is justified by him.

p1028 ch 5 argues for the resurrection

p1030 ch 6 q: Rom believed Romulus to be a god because she loved him; the Heavenly City loved Christ because she believed him to be God.

p1033 ch 8 discusses whether miracles have ceased, includes some testimonies of healing

p1037 a story of a healing from an anal fistula

p1038 a story of healing of breast cancer

p1042 some accounts of raising the dead

p1043 ch 8 claims to have seen more miracles of healing than he has space to write about

p1050 ch 11 a curious debate as to how we will live in “heaven” based on Platonist suppositions about the order of elements in the universe (earth, water, air, sky), which Augustine does not seem to be fully willing to embrace in any case

p1052 ch 11 q: The conclusion is that the Platonist’s arguments for the classification of the elements by weight cannot set limits on the power of Almighty God so that he cannot make our bodies capable even of dwelling in the heavens.

p1052 ch 12 refutes some thoroughly ridiculous objections to resurrection based on what size people will be

p1054 ch 13 tentatively suggests that aborted babies can be resurrected

p1056 ch 15 corrects the bizarre misunderstanding that all people in heaven will have the exact same body size as Christ

p1056 ch 16 cites Rom 12:2 “Don’t model yourselves on the world’s pattern. You have a new outlook; remodel yourselves accordingly.”

p1057 ch 17 q: a woman’s sex is not a defect; it is natural.

p1058 ch 17 q: Christ denies the existence of marriage in the resurrected life; he does not deny the existence of women in heaven.

p1060 ch 19 answers those who take “not a hair of your head will perish” in an extremely literalistic way (do we get all our hair back in heaven?)

p1064 ch 20 is humble enough to admit we do not know what stature everyone will have in the resurrection

p1068 ch 22 Augustine cites all the sorrows and evils of life in the world and concludes – q: From this life of misery, a kind of hell on earth, there is no liberation save through the grace of Christ our Saviour, our God, and our Lord.

p1069 ch 23 q: we must be aware that however valiantly we battle in the fight against evil propensities, and even if we win the battle and subdue the enemy, as long as we are in this body we shall have reason to say to God, ‘Forgive us our debts.’

p1071 ch 24 there is still a ‘spark’ of the image of God in mankind

p1074 ch 24 suggests it would make more sense to him if women had beards instead of men!

p1077 ch 25 again takes on those who object to a bodily resurrection – it is a good thing, since the resurrected bodies will not be subject to decay

p1080 ch 27, 28 argues that Plato, Porphyry, Plato, Labeo and Varro all had bits of the truth, but not the whole truth, and would surely have become Christians had they pooled their insights

p1085 ch 29 we will be able to see God with physical eyes because we will see Christ

p1087 ch 29 Q: perhaps God will be known to us and visible to us in the sense that he will be spiritually perceived by each one of us in each one of us, perceived in one another, perceived by each in himself; he will be seen in the new heaven and the new earth, in the whole creation as it then will be; he will be seen in every body by means of bodies, wherever the eyes of the spiritual body are directed with their penetrating gaze.

p1088 ch 30 “the delight afforded by a beauty that satisfies the reason”

p1088 ch 30 “the reward of virtue will be God himself”

p1088 ch 30 Q: “[God] will be the goal of all our longings; and we shall see him for ever; we shall love him without satiety; we shall praise him without wearying. This will be the duty, the delight, the activity of all, shared by all who share the life of eternity.”

p1089 ch 30 on whether there is free will in heaven: Q: “the will will be the freer in that it is freed from a delight in sin and immovably fixed in a delight in not sinning.”

p1089 ch 30 in the heavenly city we will remember “past evils as far as intellectual knowledge is concerned; but … utterly forget them as far as sense experience is concerned.”

p1090 ch 30 it will be the seventh (Sabbath) day that has no evening

p1091 ch 30 history is in 7 epochs, we are in the sixth: 1: Adam to flood; 2: flood to Abraham; 3: Abraham to David; 4: David to exile; 5: exile to Christ; 6: present age; 7 eternal Sabbath

30 chapters – a “discussion of the eternal bliss of the city of God”

The Five Forgotten Solas

Most reformed folk are familiar with the famous five “solas” of the Reformation – sola scriptura (“by Scripture alone”), sola fide (“by faith alone”), sola gratia (“by grace alone”), solus Christus (“through Christ alone”), and soli Deo gloria (“glory to God alone”)

What is less well known is that there were in fact originally ten solas, five of which have sadly fallen into disuse. The forgotten five are as follows:

Sola powa

At the heart of the reformation lay the conviction that the Pope was exercising unwarranted power over the church. The reformers countered this with the cry of “sola powa” – Christ’s power alone.

Sola systema

By “sola systema”, the reformers meant that they believed there was one, and only one, true systematic theology. For both Calvin and Luther, this was Wayne Grudem’s “Systematic Theology”. Hence this sola also became known as “Sola Grudema”

Sola plexus

In modern western evangelicalism, we speak of inviting Jesus into your “heart”, and having an “undivided heart”. But in the days of the reformation, it was the gut or abdomen that was considered the centre of a person’s being, and thus exclusive devotion to the Lord was described as having a “sola plexus”.

Sola tido

This sola comes from a line in Luther’s famous hymn “do re me fa sola tido”, which is also notable for his unconventional description of the communion meal as “a drink with jam and bread”. He actually wrote several hymns that celebrated the solas, another favourite being “solang, farewell, auf wiedersen goodbye”.

Sola Surviva

Sola Surviva” was a youth camp run by jointly Luther and Calvin during the time of the Reformation, until sadly it was halted over a dispute over whether alcohol should be allowed on site.

For more helpful theological definitions, be sure to check out my theological words of the day.

Together at Plumpton 2012

I have made a habit of writing short reviews of Bible weeks I attend on this blog, so I’ll give a brief account of Together at Plumpton 2012. If I were to summarise it in one word, it would be “windy”.

The conference began on Wednesday evening, with a talk from Dave Devenish on the parable of the great banquet. Then on the Thursday, he gave a two part series on the biblical metanarrative, surveying the OT in the morning, before going on to the NT in the evening. I seem to remember a lot of discussion in blogs several years ago on the way evangelicals have failed to tell the story of the whole Bible, preferring to extract out ‘principles’ and ‘doctrines’, and teaching those directly. But Dave Devenish has been something of an advocate in newfrontiers for a return to telling stories as a significant part of our teaching, and it was interesting to see him use this technique to good effect.

Unfortunately, Thursday night I was on babysitting duty, and with very strong winds, ended up spending most of the evening helping people whose tents were broken. Several people left there and then, and after a sleepless night of gale force winds, even more people packed up their broken tents and left in the morning.

There was more drama to follow on the Friday as the violent rushing winds continued, and the main marquee had to be evacuated before Julian Adams got to speak. Our church marquee was next to fall, and by lunchtime with the wind unabating, most people with tents were fleeing the site.

Sadly, although our family tent was still standing at this point, our small tent for our two oldest children had been flattened, and as we were reliant on lifts from other campers to get all our family home, we reluctantly decided to go home too. It was the first time we have actually had to abandon a Bible week midway through. The closest we previously came was Stoneleigh 99 when severe flooding meant we had to spend a night on a friend’s floor in Birmingham.

The speaker we missed hearing due to going home early was, ironically, our own pastor, Martyn Dunsford. Hopefully he can work some of the material he brought into his sermons back at KCC.

It is interesting the way that these “together at” conferences have mirrored the structural changes to newfrontiers. Back in 2001, Terry Virgo was the figurehead of the movement, and there was one big central Bible week called Stoneleigh. Now, we have multiple “apostolic spheres”, each with its own smaller scale conference. Although these may feel less “impressive” than a huge event like Stoneleigh, they have a bit more of a missional feel to them – a small band of churches who are working together to see the kingdom expanding through growth in our own churches and through planting into the UK and the nations. In this sense these conferences are a good example of the “creative destruction” Matt Hosier blogged about recently.

Update: The talks from Plumpton 2012 are available to listen to here.

The Unbreakability of Scripture

Andrew Wilson raised the issue of the “inerrancy” of Scripture recently, and questioned whether the term itself was a helpful one. Some people complained in the comments that it wasn’t even a term that the Bible uses of itself. It left me wondering if there was a better word we could use and John 10:35 came to mind, where Jesus says that the “Scriptures cannot be broken”. That would certainly be a cool name for a doctrine: “the unbreakability of Scripture”, but what did Jesus mean by it?

If you had asked me to speculate what Jesus meant by “Scripture cannot be broken”, my initial guess would be that Jesus is using the language of promises: Scripture can be thought of as a promise from God that cannot be broken. But that just goes to show how a translation of the Bible can cause you to read meanings into the text that are not present in the original language, since none of the commentators I consulted consider this a viable option (although apparently Jungkuntz argued that it meant the passage from Psalms that Jesus had just quoted must be fulfilled).

It seems this is a tricky phrase to translate, as the majority of versions simply leave it as “Scripture cannot be broken” without giving us any clues as to exactly what that means. However, there are some versions who attempt to interpret this tricky phrase for us. Here’s a summary of various interpretations:

NIV84, ESV, KJV, NASB, HCSB, JBP, NET: “Scripture cannot be broken”
NLT: “the Scriptures cannot be altered”
ISV: “Scripture cannot be disregarded”
GNT: “what the scripture says is true forever”
AMP:  “the Scripture cannot be set aside or cancelled or broken or annulled”
CEV: “You can’t argue with the Scriptures”
MSG: “Scripture doesn’t lie”
NIV2011: “Scripture cannot be set aside”
Tom Wright: “you can’t set the Bible aside”
Don Carson: “Scripture cannot be annulled or set aside or proved false”

The Greek word for “broken” is λυθῆναι, which actually crops up in several places in John’s writing, and is typically translated “break” or “destroy”. For example breaking the Sabbath (Jn 5:18), destroying the temple (Jn 2:19), breaking the law (Jn 7:23), destroying the devil’s work (1 Jn 3:8).

So Scripture is unbreakable, or “indestructible” even. Not in a physical sense – plenty of Bibles have been successfully destroyed by fire. But in the sense that Jesus uses in Matt 24:35 “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” The doctrine of the unbreakability of Scripture means that God’s words never lose their truth, relevance or power. We never move beyond Scripture, and we never argue with Scripture. Or as J C Ryle explains it:

“Wherever the Scripture speaks plainly on any subject, there can be no more question about it. The case is settled and decided. Every jot and tittle of Scripture is true, and must be received as conclusive.”

My favourite Bible versions

I’m doing some study on hermeneutics and the doctrine of Scripture at the moment, in preparation for a training course, and hopefully will find the time along the way to do some blogging. Today I want to touch on my three favourite versions of the Bible.

I’ve read right through the Bible in several different versions. As I child I used the Good News Bible (which I now read every night with my children), and the (sadly out of print) Revised Authorised Version which I did most of my Scripture memorisation in. In my teenage and university years I mainly used the New International Version (1984 edition). I spent a year using the New Living Translation, another using Today’s New International Version, and am currently reading the 2011 edition of the NIV. But my main Bible for the last 7 or 8 years has been the English Standard Version.

My feelings are that every Christian serious about studying the Scriptures would benefit from having at least three translations of the Bible, one from each of the three broad translation philosophies – literal, dynamic equivalence, and paraphrase. I won’t make this post ridiculously long by going into the pros and cons of each type, but I’ll briefly describe their benefits and mention my favourite version in the category.

1. Literal Translation

Literal translations attempt to provide one English word for each word in the original language. They try to keep the word order the same as much as is possible without producing nonsense. This can make for slightly awkward phrasing, but has the benefits of connecting you as closely as possible to the words and phrases used by the original authors. Where a term has special meaning (e.g. the way Paul uses “flesh”), it is up to you to learn what is meant by that. But the benefit is that you are not thrown off the scent by the translators attempt to explain it for you.

My choice of literal translation is the ESV. It’s not perfect, and I have written previously on this blog about some of my criticisms of it, as well as my disappointment that its supporters often seem to have an adversarial attitude towards other translations, but overall it is excellent, and I think special commendation should be given to Crossway for the way they have allowed electronic editions of the text to be available completely free of charge.

2. Dynamic Equivalence

Dynamic equivalence is what I would call the “normal” way of translating something into another language. You take it phrase by phrase and try to say the same thing that the original author was saying, but you say it in a way in which that idea would normally be communicated in the target language. This can mean some changes of idioms, or single words becoming phrases, but on the whole it still sticks closely to the sentence structure of the originals. This translation philosophy makes for good readability, while usually managing to avoid too many interpretive decisions being forced into the text.

The NIV stands out as a shining example of this translation technique. It became mired in controversy when the TNIV came out with its “brothers and sisters” leading some to see a hidden egalitarian agenda at play. I think that is a little unfair to the outstanding team of translators. The new 2011 version has retained gender neutral language, while making lots of improvements over the original NIV and TNIV, and I see no reason not to use it in preference to both. The 1984 NIV Study Bible was an outstanding resource, and I’m looking forward to getting hold of an updated version although from what I’ve heard, the notes haven’t been substantially revised.

I normally quote from the NIV when preaching, and it would be the version I would recommend to a new Christian.

3. Paraphrase

My final category is that of paraphrase. This philosophy gives a lot more freedom to the translators to rephrase things. They may even insert small phrases not present in the original if they think it would help the reader understand. It allows them to be creative so a pun in the original language might translated into different but equivalent pun in English.

These are often the work of a single author. For example Eugene Peterson’s The Message, or JB Phillips New Testament. More recently Tom Wright has created the Kingdom New Testament.

The big criticism of paraphrases is that they are most susceptible to importing the theology of the translator. So they have to be read with caution, and checked against other translations. But they can also do a brilliant job of shedding fresh light on familiar texts, and opening up some of the hard to understand parts of the Bible such as the Old Testament prophetic books.

For me, the New Living Translation is the best of the paraphrases. It is a mature translation, having undergone a thorough revision from the original Living Bible. And it is the work of a team of first-rate Bible scholars rather than just the work of one person which safeguards it from some of the eccentricities of other paraphrases (I confess to not being a big fan of the Message).

Anyway, that’s my three: ESV, NIV, NLT. What about you?

Thoughts on Limited Atonement

I unfortunately didn’t get to attend, but the recent “think” conference on Calvinism hosted by newfrontiers has generated some interesting debate on the What You Think Matters blog. Matthew Hosier posted to encourage us to read the Canons of Dort for ourselves, while Andrew Wilson responded with his misgivings about “limited atonement”. I attempted to interact with him in the comments, but I think I failed miserably to explain myself adequately. So here’s another brief (and doubtless unsuccessful) attempt.

To answer the question “is the atonement limited”, requires us first to define what we mean by the atonement. Is it just shorthand for “Jesus’ death on the cross”? Does it include some, or all of the accomplishments of Jesus’ death? Did it actually procure my forgiveness, or did it just make forgiveness available to me?

Similarly the question is sometimes rephrased as “did Jesus die for everyone”? But what does it mean that Jesus died “for” a particular person? Did his death achieve their salvation? Or did it merely open up the possibility of their salvation?

My opinion on “limited atonement” is that it is a logical deduction based on two premises. First is particular election, where God specificially elects certain people to be saved. The second is penal substitution, where on the cross Jesus takes the punishment in the place of someone.

In a system of penal substitution, it is often argued that on the cross, Jesus was on the cross in my place and bearing my punishment. That is to say that God designed the cross with me personally in mind, and Jesus bore the penalty for the exact sins God foreknew that I would commit. The logic behind limited atonement thus argues that if Jesus has paid the specific penalty for me personally on the cross, then it would be unjust of God to require that penalty to be paid a second time. But that would mean that for those who are not saved in the end, their penalty could not have been paid on the cross. So we might say that though the death of Jesus would have been sufficient to cover the sins of the entire world (or a hundred worlds for that matter), it in actual fact was only a substitution for the sins of the elect.

Is that indeed the correct biblical understanding of the atonement? I think it has a lot to be said for it, although I am aware that there are alternative interpretations of the biblical data. It seems to rely very heavily on a debt metaphor in which some kind of exact “price” can be put on everyone’s sin and then the cross becomes the settlement of a debt of the exact total. I think the sin as debt metaphor is a Scriptural one, but it is possible that too much has been read into it.

As opponents of limited atonement often and correctly point out, the writers of Scripture are happy to speak of Jesus dying for the sins of the world, and taking away the sins of the world (e.g. 1 John 2:2; 2 Cor 5:14). So to say that Jesus didn’t die for all, strikes me as being in danger of flatly contradicting Scripture, and is something that those who accept “lmited atonement” should be careful to avoid.

Maybe Paul hints at a resolution to this debate in 1 Tim 4:10:

That is why we labour and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Saviour of all people, and especially of those who believe.

He’s saying there is one sense in which God is the Saviour of all people, but another sense in which he is the Saviour just of those who believe. In other words, it boils down to what exactly you mean by “Saviour” as to whether it is “limited” or not. So whenever someone asks me if I believe in “limited atonement” or not, I ask what they mean by atonement. And depending on their definition, I may say “yes” or “no”.

1 John 2:2