Friday, October 16, 2009

Are there few that be saved?


“By you? Are you God's corrective voice in the earth. That's comical.”

What is Birch’s problem, exactly? Is he just a little funny in the head?

Whether or not Calvinism has an official position on what percentage of the human race is elect or reprobate is a factual, historical question. Does Birch think you have to be God to correct misstatements about historical theology?

If so, then Birch should disband his blog, since he constantly accuses Calvinists of misrepresenting Arminian theology. What is that if not an attempt on his part to set the record straight?

Or does Birch think he’s God? Is that it?

“It is Jesus Himself who corrects you. In Matthew 7:13-14, as has been offered several times, Jesus notes the quantity of people who enter the way to everlasting life and to everlasting death. Do the words ‘few’ or ‘many’ mean anything? They certainly do when Calvinists point to ‘many’ are called but ‘few’ are chosen! You're not wrestling with me, you're wrestling with God's Word.”

Once again, what is Birch’s problem, exactly? Is he simply ignorant? Willfully ignorant? Too dense to grasp the issues? Or just plain dishonest?

i) Historical theology and exegetical theology are two different things. The correct interpretation of a Bible verse is utterly irrelevant to what any given theological tradition may happen to affirm or deny.

Is Birch simply too obtuse to grasp that rudimentary distinction? It isn’t all that difficult.

For example, Birch is a Baptist. That means, presumably, that Birch interprets various Bible verses on sacramental and ecclesiological topics according to Baptist sacramentology and ecclesiology. He thinks that’s the correct interpretation.

But suppose Birch were writing a term paper in which he offers an exposition of Roman Catholic sacramentology and ecclesiology. Would Birch impute his Baptist interpretation of Catholic prooftexts to Catholic authorities, then derive a conclusion regarding Catholic theology based on his aptist interpretation of Catholic prooftexts?

Or would he, in his exposition of Catholic theology, present the Catholic interpretation of Catholic prooftexts?

What is there that Birch can’t figure out about this procedure?

ii) By the same token, what I (Steve Hays) personally think is the correct interpretation of Mt 7:13-14 is completely irrelevant to the historical question of whether Calvinism has an official position on the percentage of the reprobate in relation to the elect.

Why is Birch so intellectually challenged that this distinction continues to elude him?

iii) Likewise, can he cite any historical evidence that Calvinism has an official interpretation of Mt 7:13-14? Remember, Birch has pretensions to becoming a church historian when he grows up. So when he makes a claim about historical theology, is it asking too much that he document his claim by reference to some representative statements of the theological tradition in question? Aren’t church historians supposed to engage in a little thing known as historical research?

iv) Unfortunately, Birch’s incorrigible ineptitude doesn’t begin and end there. Not only has he failed to research the historical question, but he’s also failed to research the exegetical question.

Since he brings it up, what about Mt 7:13-14? Keep in mind that this is irrelevant to the historical question. But inasmuch as he continues to introduce this irrelevancy into the debate, let’s discuss it.

a) Donald Hagner has written one of the standard commentaries on Matthew. Here is what Hagner has to say:

“’There are few who find it,’ is primarily descriptive of the situation confronted by Jesus and his disciples during his ministry (so too, 22:14). Although the ‘few’ is clearly hyperbolic, it remains true that the majority of the people (polloi, v13) do not receive Jesus’ message (cf. 11:20-24; 12:41-42)…It is not the point of the passage to speculate over the number who are saved or lost,” Matthew 1-13, 179-180.

Notice that Hagner regards the scope of the passage as delimited by the immediate historical setting. The 1C Jewish Palestinian setting, during the public ministry of Christ. Not about Jews in general, much less gentiles in general. Not about all times and places.

Of course, we’re at liberty to take issue with Hagner’s interpretation. But it’s sufficient to show that Birch’s facile prooftexting is far from being and open-and-shut case.

b) In addition, if you consult standard commentaries on the Matthean, they will also note a Synoptic parallel in Lk 13:23. Indeed, they will sometimes interpret the two passages in concert.

So what about that Synoptic parallel? C. F. Evans has written one of major commentaries on Luke. Here is what he has to say: “For Luke this is no longer such a problem for in Acts, while entry into the kingdom is difficult (14:22), and Israel as a nation is excluded, a great number will belong to the true Israel of the patriarchs (cf. the discussion of the same issue in Rom 9:11),” Saint Luke, 555.

Notice that according to Evans, the Lukan passage needs to be considered in relation to the redemptive sweep of Acts.

c) In addition, Joel Green has written another major commentary on Luke. Keep in mind that Joel Greek is a NT prof. at Asbury seminary, that infamous hotbed of supralapsarian Calvinism. Here is what he has to say:

“On the one hand, Jesus’ answer may seem ambiguous; after all, his first image, the narrow door (v24), gives way to the door slammed shut (v25), and, in the end, he acts as though there are infinite doors allowing entry to just about anyone v29)! His answer may seem ambiguous in another sense, too, insofar as it appears to avoid the question about how few people might be saved only to focus on the many who will be lost (v24),” The Gospel of Luke, 528.

“On the other, Jesus’ answer is quite intelligible when read against the horizons of the eschatological banquet scene in Isa 25:6-9, whose images and vocabulary are mirrored in the Lukan scene. Isaiah had described the end as a lavish banquet, a feast fit for royalty, yet prepared for all peoples; on that day it will be said by all the nations, including Gentiles, ‘Let us be glad and rejoice in our salvation’ (v9, LXX)…Taking into account this trajectory of interpretation, the query, ‘Are only a few people being saved?’ may well be understood with reference to who among the Jews are to be regarded as the saved remnant. Jesus’ response signals a profound departure from the thought of many of his contemporaries at the same time that it recalls the vision of Isaiah. Heredity, ancestral lineage as a Jew, does not figure into his reply; moreover, just as the kingdom parables of vv18-21 had foreseen, so here his image of the kingdom banquet is marked by its explicit embrace of the Gentile world,” ibid. 528-29.

“Here, that saving dominion appears on a grand scale…is projected into the future, and is represented as a great feast. The last emphasis, envisioning the eschaton as an appropriation and celebration of divine blessing in the form of a feast, is well rooted in the literature of the OT and Second Temple Judaism. Most resonate in its reverberations, though, is the Isaianic vision, with its capacity to embrace both the notion of the eschatological banquet and the universal embrace of God’s salvation (esp. Is 25:6-8). Luke’s earlier emphasis on salvation to the Gentiles (2:30-32; cf. 12:18-21) appears again on the horizon, with the four winds representing the four corners of the earth, including the scattered remnant of faithful Israel wherever they may be found and, with them, the faithful of the world (Isa 11:11-16; 43:5-6; 60),” ibid. 532.

“As will become clear, those embraced in the kingdom feat will include even those Jews thought by many to be excluded from the family of God–cf. 14:21-23,” 532n61.

So Green takes a very expansive view of salvation in Luke-which forms the Synoptic parallel to the passage cited by Birch.

Ironically, Birch isn’t even conversant with Arminian Bible scholarship. It would behoove him to spend less time pounding his fist and more time cracking the books.


  1. I would quantify it as many as there are stars in Heaven seeing this Psalm puts a lot on the shoulders of Our God:::>

    Psa 147:4 He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names.
    Psa 147:5 Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.
    Psa 147:6 The LORD lifts up the humble; he casts the wicked to the ground.

    I am now thinking back as a child that every "falling" star I saw in the night's sky was when God was casting the wicked to the ground like their leader, Satan, the devil, who will soon and quickly be cast into the eternal fire prepared for him and his angels:::>

    Jdg 5:18 Zebulun is a people who risked their lives to the death; Naphtali, too, on the heights of the field.
    Jdg 5:19 "The kings came, they fought; then fought the kings of Canaan, at Taanach, by the waters of Megiddo; they got no spoils of silver.
    Jdg 5:20 From heaven the stars fought, from their courses they fought against Sisera.
    Jdg 5:21 The torrent Kishon swept them away, the ancient torrent, the torrent Kishon. March on, my soul, with might!
    Jdg 5:22 "Then loud beat the horses' hoofs with the galloping, galloping of his steeds.

    Isa 14:12 "How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low!
    Isa 14:13 You said in your heart, 'I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north;
    Isa 14:14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.'
    Isa 14:15 But you are brought down to Sheol, to the far reaches of the pit.
    Isa 14:16 Those who see you will stare at you and ponder over you: 'Is this the man who made the earth tremble, who shook kingdoms,
    Isa 14:17 who made the world like a desert and overthrew its cities, who did not let his prisoners go home?'

    Luk 10:18 And he said to them, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.
    Luk 10:19 Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.
    Luk 10:20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."
    Luk 10:21 In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.
    Luk 10:22 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him."

    Rev 22:17 The Spirit and the Bride say, "Come." And let the one who hears say, "Come." And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.

  2. John MacArthur comments on Matthew 22:14, "For many are called, but few are chosen":

    The call spoken of here is sometimes referred to as the "general call" (or the "external" call) - a summons to repentance and faith that is inherent in the gospel message. This call extends to all who hear the gospel. "Many" hear it; "few" respond (see the many-few comparison in 7:13-14). Those who respond are the "chosen," the elect.

  3. Reference: The MacArthur Study Bible, ed. John MacArthur (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2006), 1402.

  4. I think most Calvinists have traditionally held that only few adults are saved. However, when you add in those who die in infancy, the number than goes from "few" to "many." I am sure, at least, that Jesus was referring to adults, and not to infants.



  5. Billy,

    i) Quoting footnotes from a study Bible is hardly a serious way of ding exegesis. Consult some major commentaries on your prooftext–as well as any Synoptic parallels.

    ii) MacArthur is popularizer.

    iii) MacArthur's opinion hardly settles the question of whether Calvinism has an official position on the proportion of the elect to the reprobate. Can't you quote something relevant from a historic Reformed confession or creed?

    All you've established is that you haven't done any serious research on the issue, either in terms of historical theology or exegetical theology.

  6. Charles Spurgeon was hopeful that the majority of humanity will be saved...

    "Those individuals who try to caricature our doctrinal sentiments are in the habit of saying that we teach that God has chosen a few to be saved, and left the great majority of mankind to perish.

    They know that we have never said any such thing, and they also know that no man of any standing in our
    denomination has ever said any such thing. On the contrary, we believe that God has ordained a countless host, so numerous that no man can number it, who shall be everlastingly saved; AND WE THINK WE HAVE SOME WARRANT FOR BELIEVING THAT THE NUMBER OF THE SAVED WILL VASTLY EXCEED THE NUMBER OF THE LOST [emphasis through caps added], that in all things Christ may have the preeminence. Certainly, whatever may be our opinion upon that matter, we rejoice that the lines of divine
    election are not narrow, that the chosen people of God are not a mere handful; and we believe that, when the time comes for the great King to make up his jewels, it shall be found that the casket contains such multitudes of them
    that they shall be beyond all human calculation."

    Same with Loraine Boettner.

    Here are links to portions of his book "The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination"

    Many Are Chosen

    A Redeemed World Or Race

    ****Read Especially***

    The Vastness of the Redeemed Multitude

    and he based it only Post-Millennialism...

    The World Is Growing Better

    Just two famous Calvinists who did not dogmatically believe that there will be more lost than saved when all is said and done.

    I'm personally not dogmatic on the issue or the millennial issue.

  7. Spurgeon said what he did because he believed all who die in infancy go to heaven. In sermons on infant salvation, Spurgeon made this clear. He did not believe most adults were saved.