The Plain Interpretation of Scripture

     We live our lives on the assumption that language—whether written or spoken—serves as a reliable vehicle for the expression of ideas.  Our survival and success depends on the plain use of language whether we’re reading the words on highway signs, food packages, or work documents.  A nonliteral reading of the instructions on a medicine bottle could be fatal and we could suffer greatly if we failed to take plainly the words on tax documents, legal papers, or instructions on how to use a chain saw. 

     Bible With PenThe Bible is a collection of sixty six books written by nearly forty human authors spanning approximately sixteen hundred years.  The authors originally wrote in Hebrew and Koine Greek (some chapters in Daniel were written in Aramaic).  Behind each human author was the divine Author who communicated His thoughts through them and superintended their writings (2 Pet. 1:20-21) so that what they wrote reveals His mind, His work in creation, His will for mankind, His plan for history, and His provision of salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ.  The Bible is written in propositional terms and understood and accepted by those whom the Holy Spirit illumines (1 Cor. 2:14-16; 2 Cor. 3:14-16; 4:3-4).  

     The Bible is divinely inspired.  Though there are different views of inspiration, verbal plenary inspiration best fits what Scripture says about itself.  Verbal plenary inspiration teaches that Scripture originates with God (inspired – 1 Cor. 2:12-13; 2 Pet. 1:21), pertains to the very words themselves (verbal – Matt. 5:17-18; cf. Gal. 3:16), and extends to all of Scripture (plenary – 2 Tim. 3:16).  The apostle Paul regarded his letters as divinely inspired when he wrote to the Christians at Thessalonica, saying, “when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe” (1 Thess. 2:13). 

     Several English translations accurately communicate the original meaning of the biblical author (such as the ESV, HCSB, KJV, NKJV, NET, NAS, RSV), and most people read the Bible plainly as they would any other book, understanding the words and phrases according to their contextual usage.  There are some passages in the Bible that are difficult to comprehend, but most of it is simple to understand.  The Bible consists mostly of historical narrative which reveals how God acted in the lives of people.  Other biblical genres include law, prophecy, psalms, proverbs, poetry, parables, and epistles.  These literary genres require a literal reading in order to identify how the author is communicating so we can know what he is saying.  Liberal teachers advocate a nonliteral, non-grammatical, non-historical reading of the Bible, which opens the floodgates of speculation and allows the imagination of the reader to make the Bible say whatever he/she wants it to say.  Ironically, those who advocate a nonliteral reading of the Bible expect their words to be taken literally.  A plain reading of Scripture protects the reader from fanciful interpretations.  “If one does not use the plain, normal, or literal method of interpretation, all objectivity is lost.”[1]  

When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, and literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths, clearly indicate otherwise.[2]

    A normal reading of the Bible is commonly called the grammatical-historical method of interpretation.  The grammatical-historical method of interpretation means the Christian reads the Bible in a plain manner, paying attention to the normal rules of grammar and the meaning of words as they were commonly used in their historical setting.[3]  A normal reading also considers each word and verse in the light of its immediate context, as well as the larger context of the book, and the whole Bible.  

     In summary, the Bible is God’s inerrant and enduring written revelation that tells us who He is and what He’s accomplished in time and space.  It was written by approximately forty human authors spanning nearly sixteen hundred years.  The human authors—without forfeiting their personal literary style—wrote under the direction (Ex. 17:14; 34:27; Isa. 30:8; Jer. 30:2; 1 Cor. 14:37; Rev. 1:11) and superintending care of God the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:20-21), so that what is written is the inerrant and infallible “word of God” (1 Thess. 2:13; cf. Ps. 12:6-7; Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 2:13-14; 2 Tim. 3:16).  Some of the various literary styles include historical narrative, law, poetry, psalms, proverbs, parables, epistles, and apocalypse.  It is best to read the Bible plainly, literally, according to the grammatical-historical approach in which the reader pays attention to the normal meaning of words as they were commonly used in their historical setting.  

Steven R. Cook, M.Div.

Related Articles:


[1] Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism (Chicago, Ill. Moody Press, 1995), 82.

[2] David L. Cooper, The God of Israel (Los Angeles: Biblical Research Society, 1945), iii.

[3] For further reading on the subject of hermeneutics, I recommend Basic Biblical Interpretation by Roy B. Zuck, and Protestant Biblical Interpretation by Bernard Ramm. 

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Religious Syncretism

Religious Syncretism    Several years ago I had a strange conversation with a young woman who was in graduate school and finishing her degree in Social Work.  The woman became excited when I mentioned I was in seminary and she proceeded to tell me about the Baptist church she was attending.  She’d been active in her church for several years and was involved in the choir and occasionally substituted for her Sunday school teacher.  The conversation took a confusing turn when she told me she follows her daily horoscope, believing it helps guide her life.  Stanger yet, she began talking about how she believes in reincarnation.  When I asked her why she believes in reincarnation she said, “Because I believe God is fair and gives people second chances in another life to make up for bad choices in a previous one.”  She said all this with a big smile on her face.  However, when I politely tried to explain the biblical teaching against astrology and reincarnation, she quickly shut the conversation down, saying, “I believe what I believe.”  She then changed the subject and started talking about her work.  This woman was engaging in religious syncretism. 

     Religious syncretism is the blending of the doctrines and practices of two or more religions in order to come up with something new.  Religious syncretism has been going on for millennia.  Modern day examples include Chrislam, New Age, Christian Science, and the Interfaith Movement.  A biblical example that dates to about 1100 B.C. is found in Judges 17 where an Israelite named Micah blended the idolatrous practices of the Canaanites with the worship of Yahweh.  The culmination was a monstrous self-serving religion that fostered spiritual anarchy among God’s people (see Judges 18).  In Judges 17 Micah is introduced as a son who stole a great amount of wealth from his mother.  He returned the wealth fearing the curse she’d uttered on the thief, and his mother subsequently blessed him the name of Yahweh (Judg. 17:1-2).  The historical account gets bizarre when Micah’s mother—in the name of Yahweh—used some of her wealth (silver) to create a molten image and graven image, which she gave to her son (Judg. 17:3-4).  Micah took the images from his mother and put them in his shrine and made an ephod (either to be used during worship, or as an object of worship; see Judg. 8:24-27).  He added several small household idols (teraphim) and then ordained his son to be the family priest (Judg. 17:5).  Micah’s house was a type of Israel during the period of the Judges, in which “every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 17:6), and all of this was against God’s instruction for Israel (Exodus 20:4-5; Deut. 27:15).  Micah then welcomed a wandering Levite (Judg. 17:7-10), whom he consecrated to serve as his family priest (Judg. 17:11-12).  This was contrary to Scripture, for only descendants of Aaron could serve as priests, whereas Levites were to serve as priestly assistants (Num. 8:19; 18:1-7).  Micah falsely believed that by having a Levitical priest as the leader of his new religion that he would also have God’s blessing (Judg. 17:13).  This would later prove untrue (see Judges chapter 18). 

     God’s revelation in the Bible makes it clear that there is no room for religious syncretism (Exodus 20:4-5; Deut. 27:15; John 14:6; Acts 4:12; Phil. 1:27), and Christians should be mindful to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 1:3).  Christianity is built on certain theological essentials from which Christians cannot depart.  There is room for love and grace when disagreeing on secondary doctrinal matters.  There will always be false teachers who will deny the inerrancy of Scripture, the doctrine of the Trinity, the hypostatic union, Jesus’ substitutionary atonement, His death, burial, and bodily resurrection, and His second coming.  Only those who are advancing toward spiritual maturity by learning and living God’s Word will find protection against false teachers (Deut. 13:1-4; 18:18-22; Acts 20:28-30; 2 Pet. 2:1-3; 1 John 4:1; Rev. 2:2).  Those who fail to grow spiritually will find themselves vulnerable to all sorts of pagan concepts. 

Steven R. Cook, M.Div.  

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The Gospel in two Minutes

     What is the GospelThe Bible is a big book with lots of information.  There is information about God, the origin of the universe, mankind, sin, salvation, Israel, the church, the future, etc.  It’s my opinion that a good teacher knows the Bible well enough that he/she can delve into its depths and provide solid biblical answers to life’s biggest questions.  However, I also believe a good teacher should be able to condense a lot of information and—without compromising accuracy—give a short answer in plain language (Charles Ryrie has impressed me with his ability to do this very thing).  Over the years I’ve worked to take the essentials of the Gospel message and present it quickly and concisely.  In one sense, the Gospel can be as simple as 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, John 3:16, or Acts 16:31.  However, these verses, as wonderful as they are, do not answer some of the issues that stand behind them.  For example:

  • Why did God send His Son into the world?
  • Why did Jesus go to the cross and die?
  • What’s wrong with me that God had to act on my behalf?
  • Is there any way, other than the cross, that I can be reconciled to God?

To answer these—and other issues—I’ve condensed my Gospel presentation down to about two minutes.  I’m hoping to make it even more concise in the future.  Here’s basically what I communicate:

The gospel is the solution to a problem. There are two parts to the problem.  First, God is holy (Ps. 99:9; Isa. 6:3), which means He is positively righteous and can have nothing to do with sin except to condemn it (Hab. 1:13; 1 John 1:5).  Second, all mankind is sinful and separated from God (Rom. 3:10-23).  We are sinners in Adam (Rom. 5:12; 1 Cor. 15:21-22), sinners by nature (Rom. 7:14-25; 13:12-14), and sinners by choice (Isa. 59:2; Jam. 1:14-15).  To further complicate the problem, we are helpless to solve the sin problem and save ourselves (Rom. 5:6-10; Eph. 2:1-3).  Good works have no saving merit before God (Isa. 64:6; Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5).  We cannot save ourselves any more than we can jump across the Grand Canyon or throw rocks and hit the moon.  But God, because of His mercy and love toward us (John 3:16; Eph. 2:3-7), did for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He provided a solution to the problem of sin, and that solution is the cross of Christ (1 Cor. 1:18).  God the Son—the second Person of the Trinity—came into the world by human birth (Luke 1:26-35), lived a perfectly righteous life (Matt. 5:17-21; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 1 John 3:5), and willingly died in our place and bore the punishment for our sins.  The gospel message is that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4).   Jesus died in our place, “the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18; cf. Rom. 5:6-10).  In order for us to be reconciled to God, we must simply trust in Jesus as our Savior (John 3:16; Acts 16:30-31).  When we trust in Christ as our Savior, we are forgiven all our sins (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14), and given eternal life (John 3:16; 10:27-28).

Steven R. Cook, M.Div.

Related Articles:

  1. The Gospel Message  
  2. Heaven Belongs to Little Children  
  3. Soteriology – The Study of Salvation  
  4. Three Phases of Salvation  
  5. Illumination and the Doctrine of Election  
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God the Holy Spirit

     There is some confusion today among students of the Bible concerning the identity of the Holy Spirit.  Some heretical groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Unitarians say the Holy Spirit is merely an impersonal force.  Mormons recognize the personhood of the Holy Spirit, but regard Him as a lesser deity, being conceived as the offspring of God the Father. 

     Biblical Christianity recognizes the Holy Spirit as God, as one of the three Persons of the Trinity.  Within the Trinity, there is God the Father (Gal. 1:1; Eph. 6:23; Phil. 2:11), God the Son (John 1:1, 14, 18; 8:58; 20:28; Col. 2:9; Heb. 1:8), and God the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-4; 1 Cor. 2:11-12; Matt. 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:14).  All three Persons of the Trinity share the same essence and are co-equal, co-infinite, co-eternal, and worthy of all praise and service (Gen. 1:26; Isa. 6:8; Deut. 6:4; Matt. 3:16-17; 28:19; John 10:30; 2 Cor. 13:14; 1 Pet. 1:2). 

     The Holy Spirit is a PersonThe Bible reveals that the Holy Spirit is God and that He displays the volitional and emotional qualities of personhood.  When referring to the Holy Spirit (John 16:13-14), Jesus used the demonstrative masculine pronoun “He” (ἐκεῖνος), and this indicates personhood.  Scripture also reveals the Holy Spirit can be lied to.  In the book of Acts, the apostle Peter accused Ananias of lying “to the Holy Spirit” (Acts 5:3).  In the very next verse Peter said, “You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:4).  You cannot lie to a force (such as electricity), but only to a person.  In addition, the Holy Spirit can be grieved (Eph. 4:30), quenched (1 Thess. 5:19), resisted (Acts 7:51), and blasphemed (Matt. 12:31).  These are all activities that can only be done to a Person.  Here are some further Scriptural truths about the Holy Spirit:

  1. He was involved in the creation ( 1:2).
  2. He brought about the birth of Jesus (Luke 1:35).
  3. He guided the writers of Scripture (2 Sam. 23:2; 2 Pet. 1:21).
  4. He convicts unbelievers of the sin of unbelief (John 16:8-11).
  5. He regenerates unbelievers (John 3:6; 6:63).
  6. He baptizes us into union with Christ (1 Cor. 12:13).
  7. He indwells us (John 14:16-17; 1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19).
  8. He seals us (Eph. 1:13; 4:30).
  9. He gives us spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:7-11).
  10. He glorifies Jesus in our life (John 16:13-15).
  11. He fills us (i.e. empowers) (Eph. 5:18).
  12. He sustains our spiritual walk (Gal. 5:16-18, 25).
  13. He loves us (Rom. 15:30).
  14. He prays for us (Rom. 8:26-27).
  15. He comforts us (John 14:26).
  16. He teaches and guides us (John 14:26; 16:13-15).
  17. He makes Scripture understandable (1 Cor. 2:11-13).

     When the above Scriptures are read in their biblical context, paying attention to the linguistic, grammatical and historical context of each verse, it reveals that the Holy Spirit is God and that He displays the volitional and emotional qualities of a Person.  I pray the Lord gives you understanding. 

Steven R. Cook, M.Div.  

Related Articles:

  1. Jesus is God  
  2. The Work of the Holy Spirit  
  3. The Filling of the Holy Spirit  
  4. Essentials of the Christian Faith  
  5. The Gospel Message  
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Jesus is God

     Jesus is GodDoes the Bible teach that Jesus is God?  Yes, the Bible clearly teaches that Jesus is God.  He is properly identified as one of the three Persons of the Godhead, commonly referred to as the Trinity.  There is God the Father (Gal. 1:1; Eph. 6:23; Phil. 2:11), God the Son (John 1:1, 14, 18; 8:58; 20:28; Col. 2:9; Heb. 1:8), and God the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-4; 1 Cor. 2:11-12; 2 Cor. 13:14).  All three Persons of the Trinity are co-equal, co-infinite, co-eternal, and worthy of all praise and service.  The three Persons of the Trinity are one in essence (Deut. 6:4; Isa. 43:10; 44:6-8; 45:5, 18; Matt. 28:19; John 10:30; 2 Cor. 13:14; 1 Pet. 1:2).

     The Bible presents Jesus as God.  In the OT, the proper name of God is YHWH (sometimes used with vowels as Yahweh) and is translated LORD, using all capital letters.  When the Septuagint was written around 250 B.C. (the Greek translation of the Hebrew OT) the translators chose the Greek word kurios as a suitable substitute for the Hebrew name YHWH.  Though the word is sometimes used in the NT to mean sir (John 4:11; Acts 16:30), and master (Col. 3:22), it is also used to refer to the deity of Jesus Christ (compare Isa. 40:3 and John 1:23; or Deut. 6:16 and Matt. 4:7; cf. John 20:28; Rom. 10:11; Phil. 2:11).  The NT writers clearly saw Yahweh-God from the OT as referring to Jesus as God.  Please note the following comparison:

OT Passage about Yahweh/God

NT Passage applied to Jesus

A voice is calling, “Clear the way for the LORD [Yahweh or Jehovah] in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God [Elohim]. (Isa. 40:3)

He [John the Baptist] said, “I am a voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord [kurios – referring to Jesus],’ as Isaiah the prophet said.” (John 1:23)
You shall not put the LORD [Yahweh or Jehovah] your God to the test, as you tested Him at Massah. (Deut. 6:16) Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord [kurios – referring to Jesus] your God to the test.’” (Matt. 4:7)
God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” (Ex. 3:14) Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.” (John 8:58)
Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of uprightness is the scepter of Your kingdom. (Ps. 45:6)

But of the Son [Jesus] he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom. (Heb. 1:8)

The NT reveals Jesus as God:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh [Jesus in hypostatic union], and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1, 14)

For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him [Jesus], because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God. (John 5:18)

“I and the Father are one.” 31 The Jews picked up stones again to stone Him. 32 Jesus answered them, “I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?” 33 The Jews answered Him, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.” (John 10:30-33)

Thomas answered and said to Him [Jesus], “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28)

For in Him [Jesus] all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form (Col. 2:9)

[We are] looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus (Tit. 2:13)

As God, Jesus accepts the worship of men and angels:

Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” (Matt. 4:10)

“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” (Matt. 2:2)

After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matt. 2:11)

And those who were in the boat worshiped Him [Jesus], saying, “You are certainly God’s Son!” (Matt. 14:33)

And behold, Jesus met them and greeted them [the disciples]. And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him. (Matt. 28:9)

When they saw Him, they worshiped Him [Jesus]; but some were doubtful. (Matt. 28:17)

Jesus heard that they had put him out, and finding him, He said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have both seen Him, and He is the one who is talking with you.” 38 And he said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped Him [Jesus]. (John 9:35-38)

And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” (Heb. 1:6)

As God, Jesus forgives sins:

I, even I [Jehovah], am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, and I will not remember your sins. (Isa. 43:25)

And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 But some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, 7 “Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:5-7)

     Some—such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons—see Jesus only as a man, or as a god lesser than what the Bible teaches.  The end result is that they’re trusting in a Jesus that is not the Jesus of the Bible, and are therefore putting their hope in a false Jesus who cannot save them (Gal. 1:6-9).

Steven R. Cook, M.Div.

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An Ambassador for Christ

Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Cor. 5:18-20)

     An ambassador is an official dignitary who represents the country that sent him into a foreign land, and his message is derived from the sending ruler.  The Christian ambassador represents the Lord Jesus Christ who has called and equipped him to speak on His behalf to those outside of Christ’s kingdom (John 18:36; Acts 26:17-18; Col. 1:13-14).  The Christian message is simple, that God reconciles us to Himself through the cross of Christ (2 Cor. 5:18-21; Eph. 2:13-16; Col. 1:19-20; 1 Pet. 3:18), providing us forgiveness for all our sins (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:13-14), and the gift of His righteousness which makes us acceptable to Him (Isa. 61:10; 2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 5:17; Phil. 3:9). 

God does not have to be reconciled to man, because that was accomplished by Christ on the cross. It is sinful man who must be reconciled to God. “Religion” is man’s feeble effort to be reconciled to God, efforts that are bound to fail. The Person who reconciles us to God is Jesus Christ, and the place where He reconciles us is His cross.[1]

     As Christian ambassadors, “we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor. 4:5).  God always goes before us and providentially coordinates our meetings with others, working in their hearts to receive our message (John 16:7-11), and rescuing from Satan’s captivity those who believe the gospel (2 Cor. 4:3-4; 2 Thess. 2:24-26).  God never forces Himself on anyone, but neither does He leave unpunished those who reject the Christian message (Rev. 20:11-15).  Those who disregard God’s gracious offer of salvation choose to continue in Satan’s world system (John 15:19; Rom. 1:18-25; 1 John 2:15-17), selecting darkness rather than light (John 3:19-20), and choosing the path that leads to eternal destruction (Matt. 7:13-14).  As heavenly ambassadors we are responsible to present a clear biblical message, and though we may passionately seek to persuade, we are not accountable for how others respond to it.

     As an ambassador of Christ, we are to speak and act with dignity at all times.  We are to be clear in speaking God’s truth to people who are made in His image (fallen as they are).  We are to point them to Christ that they might turn to Him for salvation and be born again to a new spiritual life (1 Pet. 1:3, 23).  We are to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15), “with grace” (Col. 4:6), and “with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet. 3:15-16).  There’s no place for hostility in the Christian life, for “the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (Jam. 1:20).  Scripture tells us:

The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. (2 Tim. 2:24-26). 

     In closing, the Christian ambassador is one who adheres to the highest standards of moral excellence according to Scripture as he serves the Lord and communicates His message that God reconciles us to Himself through the cross of Christ (2 Cor. 5:18-21; Eph. 2:13-16; Col. 1:19-20; 1 Pet. 3:18), providing us forgiveness for all our sins (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:13-14), and the gift of His righteousness which makes us acceptable to Him (Isa. 61:10; 2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 5:17; Phil. 3:9). 

Steven R. Cook, M.Div.

Related Articles:

[1] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 649.

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The Doctrine of Simultaneity

     The Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther, coined the Latin phrase simul iustus et peccator, which translates as, simultaneously righteous and a sinner.  Luther correctly understood the biblical teaching that we are righteous in God’s sight because of the righteousness of Christ imputed to us at salvation and at the same time we continue to possess a sin nature and practice sin.  This is based on four biblical truths:

We are all born sinners with a sin nature

     Every person born into this world—with the exception of Jesus—is a sinner.  We are sinners because Adam’s original sin is imputed to us (Ps. 51:5; Rom. 5:12, 19; 1 Cor. 15:21-22), we are born with a sinful nature which urges us to sin (Rom. 7:14-25; Gal. 5:17), and we choose to sin when we yield to temptation (Jas. 1:14-15).  Sin is anything that is contrary to the holy character of God.  Sin permeates every aspect of our being and renders us separated from God and helpless to save ourselves (Rom. 5:6-10; 6:23; Eph. 2:1-3). 

God has provided for our salvation

     The good news of the gospel is that Jesus took our sin upon Himself and bore the punishment that rightfully belongs to us (1 Cor. 1:18, 21; 15:3-4; Col. 2:13-14; 1 Pet. 2:24).  This is substitutionary atonement, in which Jesus died in our place, “the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18; cf. Rom. 5:6-10).  Jesus paid the redemption price for our sins (Mark 10:45), and calls us into fellowship with Him (Acts 26:18; Col. 1:13-14).  Salvation comes to us only as a free gift from God (Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5), “being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24).  God is completely satisfied with the death of Christ, who “is the propitiation [ἱλασμός hilasmos – satisfaction] for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world” (1 John 2:2; cf. Rom. 3:25; 1 John 4:10).  At the cross, God judged our sin as His righteousness requires and provides us salvation as His love desires. 

We receive a new nature at the moment of salvation

     At the moment we place our faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior we are born again (John 3:3; 1 Pet. 1:3, 23), and we acquire a new nature that desires to do God’s will (Rom. 7:21-23; 2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 4:22; Col. 3:9-10; 1 John 2:29; 3:9).  In addition, our identification with Adam is cancelled and we are immediately united with Christ (Rom. 5:14-18; 1 Cor. 15:22), we are indwelt with God the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19-20; Eph. 1:13-14), forgiven all our sins (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14), given eternal life (John 3:16; 10:27-28), bestowed with God’s own righteousness (Rom. 5:17; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9), and have the power to live righteously (Rom. 6:1-13; Tit. 2:11-14). 

Christians continue to possess a sin nature after salvation

     Though we have our new nature in Christ at the moment of salvation, we continue to possess our sinful nature, and this produces internal conflict throughout our Christian life (Rom. 6:6; 7:14-25; 13:14; Col. 3:9; Gal. 5:16-17).  This reality explains why Paul tells the Christians at Rome to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Rom 13:14; cf. Rom. 6:6; Col. 3:9), and to the Christians at Galatia to “walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16).  Though we struggle with sin, we are assured that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1), for we are “the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21; cf. Rom. 5:17; Phil. 3:9).  Both are true.  We are perfectly righteous in God’s sight because of the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and we continue to possess a sin nature and commit sin.

Dr. Martin LutherThe person who has thus received the gift of faith Luther described as “at once righteous and a sinner” (simul iustus et peccator). Formerly he had understood this term in the Augustinian sense of “partly” a sinner and “partly” righteous. …Now, however, while retaining the paradox of simultaneity, he sharpened each of the clashing concepts into a sovereign, total realm. Luther continued to use simul iustus et peccator after 1518-19, but he did so in the sense of semper (always) iustus et peccator. The believer is not only both righteous and sinful at the same time but is also always or completely both righteous and sinful at the same time [emphasis added]. What does this mean? With respect to our fallen human condition, we are, and always will be in this life, sinners. However for believers life in this world is no longer a period of doubtful candidacy for God’s acceptance. In a sense we have already been before God’s judgment seat and have been acquitted on account of Christ. Hence we are also always righteous.[1]


     So then, as Christians, we are simultaneously righteous and sinners.  We are righteous in God’s eyes because of the righteousness of Christ that is imputed to us as a free gift (Rom. 5:17; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9).  And, we continue to possess a sin nature that continually causes internal temptation and conflict (Rom. 6:6; 7:14-25; 13:14; Col. 3:9; Gal. 5:16-17, 19).  Though the power of the sin nature is broken (Rom. 6:11-14), the presence of the sin nature is never removed from us until God takes us from this world and gives us a new body like the body of Jesus (Phil. 3:20-21).

Steven R. Cook, M. Div.

Related Articles:

  1. The Sin Nature within the Christian  
  2. I am a Saint  
  3. The Gospel Message  
  4. Soteriology – The Study of Salvation  
  5. Believe in Jesus for Salvation  

[1] Timothy George, Theology of the Reformers (Nashville, Tenn., Broadman and Holman publishers, 2013), 72.

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