Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Phrase "Man Of God"

Perry Robinson (Acolyte4236) recently repeated an argument I've seen him use before, one that's also been used by Roman Catholics, such as Brent Arias and Phil Porvaznik:

How does Scripture apply the phrase “the man of God.” Just it apply it to just anyone?...

In 2 Tim 3, Paul seems to indicate the Scripture is the rule to be employed by the “man of God” and the way that Scripture uses that term doesn’t seem to indicate that the “man of God” is just any believer. The Scriptures are a rule to be employed by those appropriately sent and commissioned such that the question becomes, who sent these ministers?

It's true that the term "man of God" is applied in the Bible to individuals who were sent by God in some manner, such as Moses (Deuteronomy 33:1) and David (Nehemiah 12:24). But it's a vague phrase, and the similar phrase "people of God" is applied to believers in general or a larger community (Judges 20:2, 2 Samuel 14:13, Hebrews 4:9, 11:25, 1 Peter 2:10). The particular phrase "man of God" is applied to a wide variety of individuals, including Moses (Deuteronomy 33:1), an angel (Judges 13:6), a disobedient prophet (1 Kings 13:31), and a church leader (1 Timothy 6:11). They can all be said to have been sent by God in some manner, but in many different ways and contexts, often without any succession involved. And Evangelicals don't claim that all humans are people of God. Rather, they apply the term to believers, as we see in passages like Hebrews 4:9 and 1 Peter 2:10. They don't apply it to "just anyone", as Perry puts it at one point, but rather to "any believer", as he puts it later. It could be applied even more narrowly, such as only to more mature believers, without being limited to religious leaders or Perry's religious leaders in particular.

We find the phrase "man of God" used in some places in the patristic literature, and it's often applied to believers in general, or it's applied to religious leaders in a manner suggesting that it wouldn't be exclusive to them. Several examples:

"Again, therefore, some venomous and false hypocrites, who plotted against righteousness, He once called 'a brood of vipers.' But if one of those serpents even is willing to repent, and follows the Word, he becomes a man of God....But godliness, that makes man as far as can be like God, designates God as our suitable teacher, who alone can worthily assimilate man to God. This teaching the apostle knows as truly divine. 'Thou, O Timothy,' he says, 'from a child hast known the holy letters, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation, through faith that is in Christ Jesus.' For truly holy are those letters that sanctify and deify; and the writings or volumes that consist of those holy letters and syllables, the same apostle consequently calls 'inspired of God, being profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished to every good work.' No one will be so impressed by the exhortations of any of the saints, as he is by the words of the Lord Himself, the lover of man. For this, and nothing but this, is His only work--the salvation of man. Therefore He Himself, urging them on to salvation, cries, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.' Those men that draw near through fear, He converts. Thus also the apostle of the Lord, beseeching the Macedonians, becomes the interpreter of the divine voice, when he says, 'The Lord is at hand; take care that ye be not apprehended empty.' But are ye so devoid of fear, or rather of faith, as not to believe the Lord Himself, or Paul, who in Christ's stead thus entreats: 'Taste and see that Christ is God?' Faith will lead you in; experience will teach you; Scripture will train you, for it says, 'Come hither, O children; listen to me, and I will teach you the fear of the LORD.'" (Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation To The Heathen, 6, 9)

"Thereupon the Lord, driven apart into desert places after baptism, showed, by maintaining a fast of forty days, that the man of God lives 'not by bread alone,' but 'by the word of God;' and that temptations incident to fulness or immoderation of appetite are shattered by abstinence. Therefore, blessed ones, whom the grace of God awaits, when you ascend from that most sacred font of your new birth, and spread your hands for the first time in the house of your mother, together with your brethren, ask from the Father, ask from the Lord, that His own specialties of grace and distributions of gifts may be supplied you." (Tertullian, On Baptism, 20)

"'The fig-tree,' says He, 'shall not bear fruit, and there shall be no blossom in the vines. The labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat. The flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls. But I will rejoice in the Lord, and I will joy in the God of my salvation.' He says that the man of God and the worshipper of God, depending on the truth of his hope, and founded on the stedfastness of his faith, is not moved by the attacks of this world and this life. Although the vine should fail, and the olive deceive, and the field parched with grass dying with drought should wither, what is this to Christians?" (Cyprian, Treatise 5, An Address To Demetrianus, 20)

"Wherefore, O man of God, do thou recognize the plots of thine adversary; for the battle is against him that hath, and it is concerned with the most important interests. Take not thine enemy to be thy counsellor; despise not to be and to be called Faithful. As long as you are a Catechumen you are but in the porch of Religion; you must come inside, and cross the court, and observe the Holy Things, and look into the Holy of Holies, and be in company with the Trinity." (Gregory Nazianzen, Orations, 40:16)

"'But thou, O man of God.' This is a title of great dignity. For we are all men of God, but the righteous peculiarly so, not by right of creation only, but by that of appropriation. If then thou art a 'man of God,' seek not superfluous things, which lead thee not to God, but 'Flee these things, and follow after righteousness.'" (John Chrysostom, Homilies On First Timothy, 17)

"'That the man of God may be perfect.' For this is the exhortation of the Scripture given, that the man of God may be rendered perfect by it; without this therefore he cannot be perfect. Thou hast the Scriptures, he says, in place of me. If thou wouldest learn anything, thou mayest learn it from them. And if he thus wrote to Timothy, who was filled with the Spirit, how much more to us!" (John Chrysostom, Homilies On Second Timothy, 9)

"Therefore when Christ says, 'I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not,' we may understand that it was said to him who is built upon the rock. And thus the man of God, not only because he has obtained mercy to be faithful, but also because faith itself does not fail, if he glories, must glory in the Lord. I speak thus of those who are predestinated to the kingdom of God, whose number is so certain that one can neither be added to them nor taken from them; not of those who, when He had announced and spoken, were multiplied beyond number." (Augustine, On Rebuke And Grace, 38-39)

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