Robert N. Wilkin
Grace Evangelical Society
In the past, I wrote a short magazine article on this passage.1 There are several reasons why I felt it was important to write a longer article on these verses of Scripture.
First, this passage is typically taken to mean that the believer must regularly evaluate his works in order to reaffirm that he is likely born again. This view makes certainty of one’s salvation impossible. The best one can hope for is a high degree of confidence that he is probably saved.
Second, the context of this passage is often not examined carefully enough to determine what is meant in vv 5-7. Theologically preconceived ideas tend to hinder the exegete from seeing things clearly.
Third, this is the only place in the entire Bible where the word dokimos and its antonym, adokimos, occur in the same verse (v 6). Indeed, one fourth of the NT uses of those words are found in these three verses. That fact has not received enough attention.
Fourth, if the issue is whether the readers are currently approved by God—which is the view advocated in this article—rather than whether they are born again, then the application of the text concerns eternal rewards, not eternal salvation.
II. THE TRADITIONAL UNDERSTANDING OF 2 CORINTHIANS 13:5-7
Many commentators think Paul was concerned about whether his readers were born again or not. He wanted them to test themselves to see if they were regenerate.
Others think that Paul’s primary concern was to prove to the readers that he genuinely spoke for God. In this view, the reason he wanted them to test themselves was to show that he was indeed a true apostle. If they examined themselves and found they passed the test, they would prove that he was an apostle, for he had led them to faith in Christ and begun their initial training in the faith. But most who hold to this second view think that some in the church would fail the test and prove to be what they call reprobate or not really born again.2
Wayne Grudem cites this passage to refute Free Grace Theology. After quoting v 5, he writes:
This verse poses a challenge for Free Grace advocates because they do not think it appropriate to tell regular church-goers who profess to be Christians that they should “examine themselves” to find out if they are really born again or not. That comes too close to saying that good works are a necessary result of saving faith, which is contrary to Free Grace teaching.3
Grudem ends his discussion of 2 Cor 13:5 saying, “Surely, the entire verse is talking about whether they are born-again Christian believers or not.”4
Similarly, John MacArthur says,
The call to Christian discipleship explicitly demands just that kind of total dedication. It is full commitment, with nothing knowingly or deliberately held back. No one can come to Christ on any other terms. Those who think that they can simply affirm a list of gospel facts and continue to live any way they please should examine themselves to see if they are really in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5).5
Over 150 years ago, Charles Hodge wrote:
To examine…whether ye be in the faith [emphasis his], that is, whether you really have faith, or are Christians in name only…The fact, therefore, that we are commanded to examine ourselves to see whether we are in the faith, proves that a true believer may doubt of his good estate. In other words, it proves that assurance is not essential to faith.6
Philip Edgcumbe Hughes sees the emphasis on Paul’s vindication. He understands adokimoi to refer to those who “are reprobates—put to the proof and rejected as spurious.”7 However, he thinks that,
If such self-examination reveals that they have experience of the grace of God, then that alone is proof irrefutable that it is none other than Christ who speaks in Paul, for it was precisely through his ministry in Corinth that they received the gospel and passed from death into life.8
Hughes suggests that “This [some being reprobates] doubtless is always true of some within the Church; but it cannot be true of the Church as a whole.”9
Though John Piper also understands 2 Cor 13:5-7 to be a call for self-examination as to whether one is truly born again or not, he warns that self-examination can be “evil” (“When Self-Examination Is Evil”) and “tiring and fruitless.”10 He starts out a blog on 2 Cor 13:5 by saying, “Unhealthy introspection is a daily threat to our joy in Christ. Many of us tend to examine ourselves in a way that is excessive, inaccurate, and leads to discouragement.”11
Piper thinks that proper self-examination considers the grace and love of God:
Grace transforms examination from a tyrant and a burden into a means of faith, love, and hope. Self-examination doesn’t have to be buckets of water thrown on the fires of our faith. Instead, it can be fuel. We can see where God is at work in us, and we can move forward with the confidence of knowing that he who began a good work in us will bring it to completion (Philippians 1:6).12
Though he does not explicitly express my view, Colin Kruse comes closest. Like Hughes, he sees the main issue as the readers confirming Paul’s apostleship: “When they pass the test of holding the faith, and that finds expression in moral renewal in their lives, then the genuineness of Paul’s apostolate will be confirmed (cf. 3:1-3).”13 Kruse does not explicitly say that the issue is approval versus disapproval. He speaks of passing the test and failing the test. But he seems to believe that even if some of the readers fail the test, Paul was not questioning their eternal destiny.14
There are some who have espoused the view suggested in this article, but for the most part they are not well-known Evangelicals of the present or the past and their view on this passage is not widely known.
Zane Hodges, for example, said it “is unthinkable” that in 2 Cor 13:5-7 Paul was issuing “a challenge to the Corinthians to find out whether they were really saved or not!”15 He summarized his view of the passage in this way:
So long as the Corinthians were not living “outside the boundaries of their faith,” so long as their lives were not “disapproved” by God, they could indeed discern in their own experience—as Paul did in his—the reality of the indwelling Christ.16
G. H. Lang said that adokimos in this passage “had before been used to the Corinthians (1 Cor 9:27) of being refused the crown.”17 He saw everlasting life as secure, but future rulership as depending on continuing to abide in Christ: “It is to be much observed that Christ dwelling in a believer is not a present inevitable consequence of conversion.”18
Commenting on 2 Cor 3:5-7, Bing says, “never has a passage been so carelessly yanked out of context and used to do immeasurable damage to God’s people. Doubt does not grow disciples of Jesus Christ. You can’t go forward if you are always looking back.”19 He concludes his discussion in this way: “To know if you are saved, keep your eyes off yourself and keep them on Christ!”20
The traditional understanding of 2 Cor 13:5-7 is well entrenched in Evangelical circles. But should it be?
III. AN ALTERNATE INTERPRETATION IS SUGGESTED BY THE CONTEXT
Paul puts the readers in a Catch-22 situation when he challenges them to examine themselves. The readers had been examining Paul (13:1-4). He now turns the tables and says, “Yourselves examine…” In Greek, the first word in the sentence is yourselves (heautous). If they concluded that they were indeed walking in the faith and Christ is abiding in them, then they would prove that Paul is indeed an apostle and that he speaks for God. However, if they were so concerned to show that Paul does not speak for God, then they would have to admit that they themselves were not walking in fellowship with God.
But, in addition, Paul knew that only some in the church of Corinth were currently in a state of approval before God (1 Cor 11:19). He wanted them all to be approved. Therefore, another reason for the call to self-examination was to move the believers who were currently not approved to realize that fact so that they might change their ways and get on the path to God’s approval. And, of course, he wanted those who were currently approved to remain that way.
One major proof that this passage is talking about self-testing to see if one is approved by God (not to see if one is born again) are the Greek words dokimos and adokimos.
IV. AN ALTERNATE INTERPRETATION IS SUGGESTED BY THE WORDS DOKIMOS AND ADOKIMOS
Dokimos and adokimos are antonyms. That is, they are fully opposite in meaning. Whatever one means, the other carries the opposite meaning.21 We do the same thing in English by adding the letter a. Consider these antonyms:
- Typical versus atypical.
- Symmetrical versus asymmetrical.
- Theist versus atheist.
- Moral versus amoral.
- Morphous versus amorphous.
- Granular versus agranular.
- Gnostic versus agnostic.
The same is true in Greek. Words in which the first Greek letter, alpha, is added as a prefix are called alpha privatives. In addition to adokimos, consider these examples of alpha privatives (with translation):
- Adikia (unrighteous).
- Apistia (unbelief).
- Apistos (unbelieving).
- Atimos (without honor).
- Agamos (unmarried).
- Azumos (unleavened).
- Akathartēs (uncleanness).
- Akarpos (unfruitful).
- Alalētos (unspeakable).
- Anaxios (unworthy).
- Aniptos (unwashed).
- Asaleutos (unshakable).
- Asophos (unwise).
- Acharistos (ungrateful).
Second Corinthians 13:5-7 is unique in all the NT in terms of how often dokimos and adokimos appear. Those words are only used seven and eight times, respectively, in the NT. Dokimos occurs in Rom 14:18; 16:10; 1 Cor 11:19; 2 Cor 10:18; 13:7; 2 Tim 2:15; Jas 1:12. Six of the seven NT uses are in Paul. Adokimos occurs in Rom 1:28; 1 Cor 9:27; 2 Cor 13:5, 6, 7; 2 Tim 3:8; Titus 1:16; and Heb 6:8. Seven of the eight NT uses are in Paul.22 Therefore, in these three verses those two words appear four times, over 25% of their entire usage in the NT.
In every other passage in which these words are used, only one of the two is used, and then only once. Here we have both words used, and one is used three times. Yet commentators do not give this fact due consideration.
The emphasis is even greater when we consider that the cognate verb dokimazō is also used in this passage. The words test yourselves in v 5 translates dokimazete.
While some translations of v 7 reflect the fact that antonyms are used, many hide this fact and confuse the English reader. The NKJV, for example, translates v 7 in this way: “Now I pray that you do no evil, not that we should appear approved [dokimos], but that you should do what is honorable, though we may seem disqualified [adokimos]” (2 Cor 13:7). That is essentially the translation also of the LEB and MEV. The KJV and GNV translations have approved and reprobates for the antonyms.23
I found two translations, the NASB and YLT, which render these words as approved and unapproved and approved and disapproved, respectively. Those translations show the words are antonyms. Several translations have passed the test and failed the test.24
Outside of this text, but still within 1 and 2 Corinthians, Paul used the word dokimos twice (1 Cor 11:19 and 2 Cor 10:18) and adokimos once (1 Cor 9:27). A comparison with those texts shows that Paul was concerned lest he himself might be found adokimos (1 Cor 9:27). The context in 1 Cor 9:24-27 is one of eternal rewards and the prize of an imperishable crown (i.e., ruling with Christ).25 First Corinthians 9:27 should be compared with 2 Tim 2:15 where Paul urged Timothy himself to be diligent so that he might be approved. In Rom 16:10, Paul greeted Apelles, whom he said was currently approved. In 1 Cor 11:19, Paul speaks of “those who are approved” among the Corinthians. In 2 Cor 10:18, Paul says that it is not the one who commends himself who “is approved, but whom the Lord commends.”
Approval and disapproval are not terms used by Paul to refer to who is born again and who is not.26 Instead, they refer to believers who are pleasing the Lord and believers who are not pleasing the Lord. These are terms related to eternal rewards, not eternal destiny.27
V. AN ALTERNATE INTERPRETATION IS SUGGESTED BY PAUL’S REPEATED REFERENCES TO THE SALVATION OF THE READERS
As noted above, it is fairly common in the commentary literature to suggest that the words “examine yourselves…test yourselves” are set against a background where some (many?) in the church of Corinth were examining Paul and wondering whether he spoke for God. Commentators note that Paul is turning the tables on them here.
However, those same commentators—if they do comment on what it would mean to fail the test and be adokimos—see eternal condemnation in view. That is, they believe that anyone in the church of Corinth found to be adokimos would be a false professor (or a believer who lost everlasting life). But there is every reason to think that is way off the mark.
Paul was not concerned that he might be eternally condemned (Rom 4:4-5; 5:1; 2 Tim 1:12). However he was concerned that he might be found adokimos. His fear was that after preaching to others about eternal rewards and running the race well (1 Cor 9:24-26), he might end up being disapproved (1 Cor 9:27).
Nor was Paul concerned that the people in the church of Corinth to whom he was writing might be eternally condemned. His use of the words adelphos and adelphoi and his use of the expression en Christō in 1 and 2 Corinthians demonstrates that he considered all of those to whom he was writing in the church of Corinth to be born again:
- Paul uses the word brother (adelphos, singular) four times in 1 Corinthians, always affirming the regenerate status of the readers (1 Cor 6:6, twice; 7:12; 8:11).
- He uses the word brethren (adelphoi, plural) twenty-three times in 1 Corinthians, always affirming the fact that the readers are born again (1 Cor 1:10, 11, 26; 2:1; 3:1; 4:6; 6:5, 8; 7:24, 29; 8:12; 10:1; 11:2, 33; 12:1; 14:6, 20, 26, 39; 15:1; 50, 58; 16:15).
- Paul uses his famous in Christ (en Christō) designation of the readers four times in 1 Corinthians, in each case indicating they are regenerate (1 Cor 1:2, 30; 3:1; 4:15).
- Paul uses the word brethren (adelphoi, plural) three times in 2 Corinthians, each time affirming the fact that the readers are regenerate (2 Cor 1:8; 8:1; 13:11).
- Paul uses the expression in Christ (en Christō) in reference to the readers twice in 2 Corinthians, each time indicating they are regenerate (2 Cor 1:21; 2:14).
All through the two canonical letters to the Corinthians Paul affirmed the fact that the readers were born again. It would make no sense at the end of the second letter for Paul to begin to question whether they were born again.
Another strength of the suggested interpretation is that it fits with the NT teaching on assurance of everlasting life. The way in which one is certain he has everlasting life, according to the Lord and the NT authors, is by believing the testimony of God concerning His Son (John 11:25-27; Eph 2:8-9; 1 Tim 1:16; 1 John 5:9-13). Examination of one’s works to see if one is born again is inconsistent with believing the testimony of God. We don’t believe what God says by looking within ourselves. We believe what He says by looking outside ourselves, to Him and His trustworthiness.
Here is an interpretive paraphrase of 2 Cor 13:5-7 which captures the approval-disapproval motif in this passage:
Yourselves examine as to whether you are in the faith [i.e., abiding in the faith in your experience28]. See if you yourselves pass the approval test. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you [i.e., is abiding in you]?—unless indeed you are disapproved. But I trust that you will know that we are not disapproved. Now I pray to God that you do no evil, not [for the purpose] that we should appear [to be shown as] approved, but that you should do what is honorable, though we may seem disapproved [by some of our detractors].
The idea that the passage is about born-again people having and maintaining God’s approval fits the use of the words dokimos and adokimos and Paul’s repeated affirmations that the readers are brethren and are in Christ.
VI. GOD’S APPROVAL IS LINKED WITH ETERNAL REWARDS, NOT WITH ETERNAL SECURITY
With one possible exception (Titus 1:16),29 every use of dokimos and adokimos in the NT is in a context dealing not with everlasting life, but with eternal rewards or temporal judgment. Here are all those verses, excluding 2 Cor 15:5-7, our target passage:
- Romans 1:28. “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased [or a disapproved] mind, to do those things which are not fitting…” God does not approve (adokimos = disapproved) of a mindset that leaves God out. He should be foremost in our thinking (Rom 8:6; 12:1-2). Romans 1:18-32 does not deal with who is born again and who is not. It deals with those who are under God’s wrath in this life. Whether born-again or not, anyone who does not retain God in his knowledge, anyone who “suppresses the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom 1:18), will experience temporal judgment from God.30
- Romans 16:10. “Greet Apelles, approved [dokimos] in Christ. Greet those who are of the household of Aristobulus.” Paul says that Apelles is currently “approved in Christ.” That was what Paul longed to remain (1 Cor 9:27). Believers who are in a state of God’s approval when they die or are raptured will rule with Christ in the life to come. The issue is eternal rewards, not eternal destiny.31
- Romans 14:18. “For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved [dokimos] by men.” Cranfield writes, “The Christian who serves Christ in the way indicated will not bring shame on the gospel by deserving the disapproval of men (whether his fellow-Christians or unbelievers), but will deserve (though, of course, he may not always receive) their approval.”32 Here the issue is human, not divine, approval. But the basic idea of divine approval is still in the background.33
- 1 Corinthians 9:27. “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified [adokimos].” In vv 24-26, Paul urged his believing readers to run the race and fight the fight so that they might receive the imperishable crown, which all who persevere in the faith will receive. In v 27, Paul personalizes the passage, talking about himself. He disciplined his body so that after he had preached to others about the imperishable crown, he would not end up being disapproved (adokimos) from the prize.
- 1 Corinthians 11:19. “For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved [dokimos] may be recognized among you.” Chapters 1–4 of 1 Corinthians deal with divisions, or factions, in the church of Corinth. Paul’s point here is that there are two types of believers in their church, the approved and, by implication, the disapproved. The issue is not who is born again and who is not. Paul was writing to born-again people. Robertson and Plummer understand dokimoi here as “the trusty and true” and “the more stable characters.”34 Only some of the believers in Corinth were currently approved by God.35
- 2 Corinthians 10:18. “For not he who commends himself is approved [dokimos], but whom the Lord commends.” This passage, 2 Cor 10:11-18 (and all through chap. 11), is a parallel text to 2 Cor 13:5-7. Again, some were questioning Paul’s authority and ministry. Again, he defends himself. He ends by talking about being approved by God, the same theme emphasized in 2 Cor 13:5-7. The ones in Corinth who were questioning Paul’s ministry were not approved simply because they commended themselves. Of course, neither was Paul approved because he defends himself. His point is that it is the Lord’s approval that matters. This is an eternal rewards issue. Kruse writes, “In this verse Paul’s eyes are upon the ultimate evaluation of a person’s ministry…What will matter is the commendation which the Lord himself will give (cf. 1 Cor. 4:1-5)…Paul returns again to the theme of passing God’s test in 13:5-7.”36
- 2 Timothy 2:15. “Be diligent to present yourself approved [dokimos] to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” This is the verse from which AWANA (approved workmen are not ashamed) youth ministry got its name. Paul is urging Timothy to strive for the approval of the Lord Jesus Christ, the very same aim he himself had in life (1 Cor 9:27). The issue is not Timothy’s eternal destiny, but his eternal rewards.37
Guthrie comments, “The shame that any workman feels when the incompetence or shoddiness of his work is detected is used as a figure for Christian ministry…A Christian teacher [should] unblushingly submit his work for God’s approval.”38 He adds, “The main idea seems to be that Timothy must be scrupulously straightforward in dealing with the word of truth, in strong contrast to the crooked methods of the false teachers.”39
Hiebert similarly writes, “Before the judgment seat of Christ he [Timothy] will be found a workman that ‘needeth not to be ashamed,’ no offense bringing shame upon him because of God’s disapproval.”40 Concerning this task, he says, “The approved minister presents the eternal truths of the Gospel with fidelity…and refused to resort to torturous interpretations of God’s Word.”41
- 2 Timothy 3:8. “Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved [adokimoi] concerning the faith…” Some suggest that Jannes and Jambres were unbelievers, which is likely (though they could have come to faith when they saw the many signs), and so were those people opposing Paul and Timothy’s ministries. Hiebert calls these truth resisters, “fraudulent men”42 who “professed conversion to Christianity,” but were “like counterfeit coin[s] [which] have been found wanting, hence must be discarded as worthless.”43 However, the point of connection is not their spiritual condition, but their resistance. Notice the repetition of the word resist (“resisted…also resist”). Anyone who resists the truth is “disapproved concerning the faith.” That would be true of believers or unbelievers.44
- Hebrews 6:7-8. “For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected [adokimos] and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned.” Here the author gives an illustration of his point in Heb 6:4-6 concerning believers who fall away from the faith. The ground represents the believer. The thorns and briers represent the bad crop the believer brings forth. The result is he is rejected, or disapproved, and about to be cursed (i.e., about to experience temporal judgment).45 Here is a clear allusion to the curse in Genesis 3. If our lives yield thorns and briers, then we will be cursed. The issue is temporal judgment, not eternal condemnation.46 Tanner writes,
To be rejected (“worthless,” NASB) need not imply loss of eternal life. The Apostle Paul used the Greek term (adokimos) of himself in 1 Cor 9:27 in the sense of being “disqualified” from his reward as a result of not disciplining himself. Thus the unfruitful ground of Heb 6:8 is “rejected,” implying that the offender has not gained God’s approval and is considered unfit. He may be in store for God’s discipline and eventual loss of reward.47
- James 1:12. “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved [dokimos], he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” This could refer to eternal rewards received at the Bema.48 However, it is more likely, based on the context, that it refers to blessings in this life. In any case, the issue is not eternal destiny.49
VII. PRACTICAL PROBLEMS WITH THE TRADITIONAL VIEW
There are four enormous practical problems that beset the traditional view.
First, it leads to perpetual doubt about whether a person has everlasting life or not. John Piper, who holds the traditional view, lamented the fact that so many people in his church kept telling him they doubted their salvation:
I deal with this as much as anything, probably, in the people that I’m preaching to. Fears, and doubts, doubts not about objective ‘Did He rise from the dead’—very few people are wrestling with that—but ‘Am I in? Am I saved?’ That’s very common for people to wrestle with.50
Similarly, John MacArthur, who also takes the traditional understanding of 2 Cor 13:5-7, admits to problems that people he ministers to have with assurance of salvation. He writes,
It’s a heartache to me as pastor to realize that so many Christians lack assurance of their salvation. They lack the confidence that their sins are truly forgiven and their place in heaven is eternally secure. The pain I feel over this issue was heightened as I read this letter:
I’ve been attending Grace Church for several years. As a result of a growing conviction in my heart, your preaching, and my seeming powerlessness against the temptations which arise in my heart and which I constantly succumb to, my growing doubts have led me to believe that I’m not saved.51
Three years before he wrote that, MacArthur presented a plenary message at the 1989 Evangelical Theological Society annual meeting in San Diego. I was in the audience and was able to ask him a few questions about assurance. In his answers he cited 2 Cor 13:5. Here is a transcript of our discussion:
Wilkin: I was wondering if I understood you correctly to suggest that we should test ourselves to see if we are in the faith (2 Cor 13:5)—if that is something we should continue to do throughout our lives.
MacArthur: I think the answer to that would be generally yes. The assumption of 2 Cor 13:5 is that it is not limited to some one-time event. Particularly 1 Corinthians 11 comes to mind also, where even gathering at the Lord’s Table (which is by virtue of Biblical revelation to be a continual exercise for the believer, in the ordinance) demands a self-examination process. I also think a corollary to that, and something I would want to add to what Dr. Saucy said in taking this thing further, is this whole matter of treating the ministry of the Holy Spirit’s work within us demands a certain kind of self-examination. Or at least a certain kind of communion process going on as we experience, as Berkhof would put it, the multiplicity of ways in which the Spirit of God communes to us the witness affirming our salvation. So I think it is an ongoing situation—we’re really kind of getting over into the whole matter of assurance at this point, and I think as we become assured of our salvation, that self-examination process might diminish, but I do think it can be more than certainly one occasion.
Wilkin: I guess on the assurance issue then, when would we be 100 percent sure that we passed the test?
MacArthur: Well, again you’re back to those quantifying situations. I don’t know what 100 percent means. If you…
MacArthur: Yeah, if you read say, some of the Puritans, if you read Brooks or Hooker on this, if you read Berkhof’s book Assurance of the Faith, you will find that all of them will speak of the fact that a person can be redeemed, to use your term, 100 percent and never necessarily experience the fullness of assurance. So, there is no way to quantify that because everybody is different, and there are a myriad of factors which deal with that. I personally believe that since the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, and so forth, inherent in that is certain confidences about my position before God. And if I am exercising my flesh and living in disobedience, I may not enjoy the fullness of that. So, to say that you could reach a point that you are 100 percent sure of your salvation permanently would be very difficult to deal with Scripturally.
Wilkin: Thank you.52
Anyone who looks at themselves for proof that they are born again will come away with doubt. The reason is simple. We all are sinners (Rom 3:23), we all sin every day (1 John 1:8, 10), and we all fall short of the glory of God every day (Rom 3:23). While a mature believer will have many good works in his life, he will also recognize wrong attitudes, actions, and words in the course of his day. Anything short of perfection could not result in assurance based on works.
Second, as Bing indicated,53 if a person doubts his salvation, he will not grow in his faith. Doubt stunts spiritual growth. So, if a person who is already born again hears and accepts the traditional view of 2 Cor 13:5-7, he will remain eternally secure, but he will lose his assurance and his spiritual life will suffer. The longer he continues to doubt, the worse his spiritual depression will become.
Third, if an unbeliever hears and accepts this view, he will remain in unbelief unless and until he gets around this works-oriented view of salvation.
Fourth, this interpretation results either in people not evangelizing others because they wonder why someone would want to hear their witness if they themselves are not sure that they are born again, or it results in a works-oriented evangelistic message. If I base my salvation on observing my own works, I will tell the person to whom I’m witnessing to base his salvation on his works.
VIII. PRACTICAL BENEFITS OF THE PROPOSED ALTERNATE VIEW
The four problems with the traditional view are all strengths of the alternate view.
First, the alternate interpretation keeps certainty of everlasting life intact (John 11:25-27; 1 John 5:9-13).
Second, the alternate interpretation promotes spiritual growth. Love and gratitude are powerful motivators (2 Cor 5:14; 1 John 4:19).
Third, the unbeliever hearing the alternative interpretation will be hearing the distinction between everlasting life and eternal rewards and will come to faith as a result if he continues to meditate on what he has heard (John 4:1-42; Acts 10:1-48; 17:11).
Fourth, the believer who adopts the suggested alternate view will be able to share his faith enthusiastically and clearly (John 3:14-18; 5:24; 6:35, 47; 11:25-27; 1 Tim 1:16).
The single strongest passage in the NT dealing with God’s approval or disapproval is 2 Cor 13:5-7. The context shows that the issue is God’s blessings, not eternal destiny. The one who is currently approved by God is currently experiencing His blessings. Should he persevere in a state of approval, he will hear Jesus say, “Well done, good servant” (Luke 19:17).
It is tragic that the commentary tradition has for the most part adopted an understanding of this text that turns it into something it is not. Instead of a call to abide in Christ and to be approved by Him, the issue changes to assurance of one’s eternal destiny.
If we look at our works for assurance, we will not be assured. Works are not the basis of assurance. Faith in God’s promise of life is the sole basis for assurance of everlasting life.
1 Bob Wilkin, “Examine Yourselves: Assurance and God’s Approval in 2 Corinthians 13:5,” Grace in Focus (November-December 2014): 4-8.
2 An exception of one who holds that view would be Perry C. Brown, “What Is the Meaning of ‘Examine Yourselves’ in 2 Corinthians 13:5?” Bibliotheca Sacra (April–June 1997): 175-88. He argues that, “Rather than doubt the security of the Corinthian Christians’ eternal salvation because of a personal attack on himself, Paul used that very security in Christ to prove his God-given authority and sincerity” (188). So also, James H. Brookes, “Self-Examination as It Relates to Assurance,” JOTGES 11 (1993): 54-55.
3 Wayne Grudem, “Free Grace” Theology: 5 Ways It Diminishes the Gospel (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 131, emphasis added.
4 Ibid., 132.
5 John MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus: What Is Authentic Faith? Revised & Expanded Anniversary Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1988, 1994, 2008), 220.
6 Charles Hodge, An Exposition of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1859, reprinted 1980), 305, emphasis added.
7 Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1962), 481.
8 Ibid., 480.
9 Ibid., 481.
10 John Piper, “Self-Examination Speaks a Thousand Lies,” at https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/self-examination-speaks-a-thousand-lies. Last accessed January 7, 2020.
12 Ibid. What Piper seems to be saying is that while we should examine our works to see if we are born again, we must cut ourselves some slack. We are not to look for perfection or anything approaching that. What exactly would convince us that we are born again he does not say. This is one of the problems with the traditional understanding of 2 Cor 13:5. Even with a very gracious approach to self-examination, it still leads people to be uncertain of their eternal destiny. Piper’s concerns should make us wonder whether 2 Cor 13:5-7 is talking about assurance of everlasting life, or something else entirely.
13 Colin Kruse, 2 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 221.
14 Ibid., 219-21.
15 Zane C. Hodges, Absolutely Free: A Biblical Reply to Lordship Salvation (Corinth, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 1989, 2014), 177-78.
16 Ibid., 179.
17 G. H. Lang, Firstborn Sons: Their Rights and Risks (Miami Springs, FL: Conley & Schoettle Publishing Co., 1984, reprint of 1936 publication by Samuel Roberts Publishers, London, England), 193.
19 Charles C. Bing, Grace, Salvation, and Discipleship (NP: Grace Theology Press, 2015), 169-70.
20 Ibid., 170.
21 Andy Woods, “The Paradigm of Kadesh Barnea as a Solution to the Problem of Hebrews 6:4–6,” Chafer Theological Seminary Journal 12 (2006): 60: “The word ‘worthless’ (adokimos) could be applied to a believer since Paul applied the same word to himself (1 Corinthians 9:27). The word simply means disapproved rather than totally rejected. The antonym of the word is dokimos, which emphasizes a favorable evaluation (1 Corinthians 11:19; 2 Corinthians 10:18; 2 Timothy 2:15; James 1:12).” He concludes that the issue in Heb 6:4-8 is “forfeiture of blessings,” 62-63.
22 Or all eight, if Paul wrote Hebrews (which I doubt).
23 Since the word reprobate is often taken as a reference either to unbelievers (or the nonelect for the Calvinist) or to believers who have lost their salvation (for the Arminian), this translation is particularly problematic.
24 See Bob Wilkin, “Castaway and Disqualified Are Bad Translations (1 Cor 9:27),” at https://faithalone.org/blog/castaway-and-disqualified-are-bad-translations-1-corinthians-927/. Last accessed Jan 8, 2020.
25 Contra R. Bruce Compton, “Persevering and Falling Away: A Reexamination of Hebrews 6:4-6,” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal (Spring 1996): 162. He argues that even in 1 Cor 9:27 adokimos refers to Paul’s fear that he is not in the faith.
26 The lone possible exception is Titus 1:16, where adokimos is often translated as reprobate.
27 Contra Brown, “2 Corinthians 13:5,” 183. While he agrees that adokimos in 1 Cor 9:27 refers to Paul’s concern regarding eternal rewards, he writes, “However, importing the implication of a loss of rewards because of disobedience in one’s Christian life from 1 Corinthians 9:27 to 2 Corinthians 13:5 is an error if the latter passage is understood in an ironic sense, as this article asserts.
28 J. Lyle Story, “Facets of Faith/Trust in Pauline Thought,” American Theological Inquiry (January 2012): 113. He says that “in the faith” in 2 Cor 13:5 refers to abiding in “the living deposit of what Christians believe.” He compares 2 Cor 13:5 with “Stand fast in the faith” in 1 Cor 16:13 and with being “sound in the faith” (Titus 1:13; 2:2) and with keeping the faith (2 Tim 4:7).
29 It is possible that adokimos in Titus 1:16 refers to unregenerate people. That is widely held in the commentary literature. However, in light of the uses of the word adokimos in the rest of NT, and the fact that v 13 refers to believers and v 16 appears to be the same people, it seems more likely that even Titus 1:16 refers to any believer who denies God in his works and is thus “disqualified [or disapproved] for every good work.” For a defense of that interpretation, see Zane C. Hodges, The Gospel Under Siege (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2017), 175-76.
30 Commentators who see the issue in Rom 1:28 as temporal judgment of unbelievers or believers include Zane Hodges, Romans (Corinth, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2013), 38-53; René López, Romans Unlocked (Springfield, MO: 21st Century Press, 2005), 42-50; and F. F. Bruce, The Letter of Paul to the Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1963, 1985), 79. Bruce says, “The revelation of ‘the wrath to come’ at the end-time (1 Thess 1:10) is anticipated by the revelation of the same principle in the on-going life of the world.” Most commentators simply indicate that Paul is talking about a useless, debilitated, or depraved mind. See, C. E. B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1975), vol 1, 128; and Richard N. Longenecker, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2014), 219. Longenecker does not discuss whether the judgment is temporal or eschatological and does not indicate whether the people so discussed might include believers who have fallen.
31 Most commentators see Paul’s reference to approval here as indicating that Apelles was an outstanding Christian (e.g., Longenecker, Romans, 1070; Cranfield, Romans, vol 2, 79). Cranfield suggests dokimos refers to “a faithful Christian,” but that it might simply refer to “any true Christian.” See, also, John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, vol 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1959, 1965), 230.
32 Cranfield, Romans, vol 2, 720.
33 See, for example, Hodges, Romans, 416.
34 Archibald Robertson and Alfred Plummer, The First Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, Second edition (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, n.d.), 240.
35 See Robertson and Plummer, First Corinthians, 240; Leon Morris, 1 Corinthians, Revised edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1958, 1985), 156. Pheme Perkins, however, cites the NRSV translation favorably, understanding dokimoi here to refer to those “who are genuine.” See First Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2012), 142. Alan Johnson is undecided as to whether this refers to “the truly distinguished ones” as opposed to carnal believers, or to “the truly tested and approved” as distinguished “from the false.” See 1 Corinthians (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2004), 205.
36 Colin Kruse, 2 Corinthians (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015), 238
37 See Robert L. Thomas, “Biblical Hermeneutics: Foundational Considerations,” Chafer Theological Seminary Journal 13 (2008): 31. He paraphrases Paul’s charge in this way: “You are looking for His seal of approval. Strive to maintain His standards so that you have nothing to be ashamed of before Him.”
38 Donald Guthrie, The Pastoral Epistles (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1957, 1990), 159.
39 Ibid., 160.
40 D. Edmond Hiebert, Second Timothy (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1958), 68.
42 Ibid., 89.
43 Ibid., 90.
44 Contra Brown, “2 Corinthians,” 184. He says, “The persons described [in 2 Tim 3:8] are obviously not Christians at all.”
45 Woods, “Hebrews 6:4-6,” 62. He calls the danger “irreversible forfeiture of blessings.”
46 However, for a typical understanding of those rejected or disapproved as unregenerate, see Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1977), 221-24 and Homer A. Kent, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1972), 114-15.
47 J. Paul Tanner, “Hebrews” in The Grace New Testament Commentary, Rev ed., ed. Robert N. Wilkin (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010, 2019), 520.
48 So, D. Edmond Hiebert, The Epistle of James (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1979), 98-99.
49 Contra Peter H. Davids, The Epistle of James (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1982), 79-80. He writes, “The goal is to pass the test (i.e., keep genuine faith) and become approved.” He then adds, “The actual reward is salvation itself, for (eternal) life is certainly the content of the crown (so Laws, Mussner, Milton, Schrage)”.
50 Cited by Philip F. Congdon, “John Piper’s Diminished Doctrine of Justification and Assurance,” JOTGES 23 (2010): 68.
51 John MacArthur, Saved Without a Doubt: How to Be Sure of Your Salvation (NP: Victor Books, 1992), 7.
52 This transcript is available at https://faithalone.org/blog/the-assurance-debate-goes-backa-long-time/. Accessed Feb 3, 2020.
53 Bing, Grace, Salvation, and Discipleship, 170.