Defining Antichrist and Some Application

I have been listening to Robert Dean’s study of 2nd John (link here for the audio downloads) and something really caught my attention that most people wouldn’t really think about. When teaching on verse 7 Pastor Dean taught that an antichrist is not someone who is against Christ. Rather, it is someone who is substituting themselves for Christ. Maybe that sounds like a small difference but it isn’t. After I provide the etymology for the term antichrist I will discuss why I find the alternative definition important.

Etymology

The English word antichrist (Strong’s G500) is a compound noun composed the words christos (Strong’s G5547) and anti (Strong’s 473). Of course the word christos is translated Christ in English and there really isn’t any controversy over that word. However, the word anti means two different things depending on whether it comes from the Greek or the Latin. Here is Strong’s definition of anti:

1) over against, opposite to, before
2) for, instead of, in place of (something)
**a) instead of
**b) for
**c) for that, because
**d) wherefore, for this cause

So, if Pastor Dean is right, definition 1) above really comes from the Latin and we shouldn’t be using that definition. The definition of anti that we should be using is 2) which, in turn, makes the definition of the word antichrist to be “a substitute Christ.”

“The Antichrist” Versus “An Antichrist”

I guess that I need to clear one other thing up before I go into detail as to why I find this to be important. Throughout history there have been many antichrists who have claimed to be the second coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. These antichrists are the type that I am concerned with in today’s post.

Of course there is the Antichrist who will come during the great tribulation (I am premillennial in my view of future events). I am not really dealing with him in this post. If you are looking for details about the future antichrist then I would recommend reading over the notes from Jeremy Thomas’ study of the Book of Revelation in particular you would probably be interested in his notes on the Beast out of the Sea (Part 1 and Part 2) from Revelation 13.

Why Does This Definition Matter?

As soon as I heard Pastor Dean provide the definition of an antichrist it immediately brought me back four years into the past to what I call the “free grace wars.” During this period I foolishly engaged in discussions with other Christians over what precisely had to be believed for a person to be saved. A major bone of contention in all of this was what does a person have to believe about the person of Jesus Christ? How many “misconceptions” can a person have about this man Jesus of Nazareth and still be saved by faith in him? The arguing became bitter in very short order. I believe that the proper definition of antichrist would have helped me sort through this (I don’t think it would have mattered one lick to the other “combatants”).

I am going to provide actual links to some of the parties involved in this debate so you all can get a small taste of what went on.

The Grace Evangelical Society Position via Antonio da Rosa

Antonio da Rosa runs the Free Grace Theology blog and he is a strong defender of the free grace salvation position advocated by the Grace Evangelical Society (GES). The GES under the leadership of the late Zane Hodges began to look for the minimal amount of information a person needs to believe in order to be saved (if anyone disagrees with that summary statement they are free to disagree in the comments).

In Antonio’s post titled “How to Lead People to Christ, Installment #2: The ‘Deserted Island’ Scenario” he quotes from a Zane Hodges article that really kicked off the fighting:

So this afternoon: The Content of Our Message.

 Let me begin with a strange scenario. Try to imagine an unsaved person marooned on a tiny uninhabited island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. He has never heard about Christianity in his entire life. One day a wave washes up a fragment of paper onto the beach. It is wet but still partly readable. On that paper are the words found in John 6:43-47, but the only readable part of the paper are these: “Jesus therefore answered and said to them,” that’s in verse 43 and “Most assuredly I say to you, He who believes in Me has everlasting life” and that’s verse 47.

 Now suppose that our unsaved man somehow becomes convinced that this person called Jesus can guarantee his eternal future since He promises everlasting life. In other words, he believes Jesus’ words in John 6:47. Is he saved? I suspect that there are even some Grace people who would say that this man is not saved because he doesn’t know enough. For example, he doesn’t know that Jesus died for his sins on the Cross, and rose again the third day. Needless to say there is a lot more that he doesn’t know either, such as the doctrine of the Trinity, the eternal Sonship of Jesus Christ, or the doctrine of the Virgin Birth. But my question is this. Why is he not saved if he believes the promise of Jesus’ words?

Antonio had posted quotes like the one above on many occasions. It took time for me to work through some of the implications of those quotes. I believe that it was Lou Martuneac, who runs the “In Defense of the Gospel” blog who pointed out that this person on the desert Island could hang the name “Jesus” on anyone of their imagining, put their faith in them, and by Zane Hodges’ definition they would be saved.

Lou bludgeoned Antonio again and again with that up until Antonio banned him (they banned each other from commenting on their blogs). Lou on many occasions asked Antonio whether or not someone who has placed their faith in the Jesus of the Mormons or of the Jehovah’s Witnesses was truly saved. Antonio often would not respond directly to Lou’s questions. I believe that Antonio was reluctant to try and define how many “misconceptions” a person could have about Jesus and still be saved. I also believe that Antonio’s reluctance was consistent with what Zane Hodges had written yet I found it to be disconcerting.

I can remember discussing this with Antonio on several occasions. I once made the point to Antonio that the Apostle Paul told the Philippian jailer to believe on “the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved” and that the word “Christ” is one of the most theologically loaded terms in the entire bible. Antonio, while agreeing that Christ (or Messiah) is a loaded term, said that the Philippian jailer did not have to understand what the word “Messiah” means in order to be saved. I have to partially disagree with that. While I do not believe that an unbeliever has to understand everything about the Messiah I will also say that they must know enough to be placing their trust in the true Messiah. If the man on the desert island places his trust in a false Messiah, an antichrist, they will end up spending eternity with that antichrist in the lake of fire.

Of course I do have to cut Antonio some slack. In the same article he does circle back around and say the following:

There is yet one more area of discussion to be had in order to make my position balanced. If anyone starts with another historical or fictional person in mind, and then attributes characteristics of the bonafide Jesus Christ of Nazareth to him, then they have not placed their faith in the Jesus of Nazareth.

I do not know if that quote reflects the official stance of the GES but I am glad that Antonio wrote it.

Logical Fallacies in the “Desert Island” Scenario

I know that Zane Hodges was a brilliant scholar of the Koine Greek language (I believe he was the teacher of New Testament Greek at Dallas Theological Seminary for 27 years) and I won’t belittle his intellect or dedication to the truth. Yet I believe that in his desert island scenario quote above that he makes some logical fallacies that he shouldn’t have. I am going to list what I think were mistakes that were not helpful to his cause:

The Fallacy of Equivocation: Notice how he equivocates the Jews in John 6:43-47 with this man on the desert island who “has never heard anything about Christianity.” The audience that Christ was speaking to were Jews who knew exactly who Christ was claiming to be (they knew more about the Messiah than 99% of contemporary Christians). The man on the desert island by definition doesn’t know anything about the Messiah. Equivocating the first century Jews from the passage in John and the mythical desert island man destroys any arguments that flow from that equivocation as far as I am concerned.

The Fallacy of Subverted Support: This scenario of a man on a desert island having this one bible fragment wash up on shore is something that has never happened and never will happen. The entire argument is based on an imaginary situation and not reality. Find a similar situation in scripture and I will listen but there is nothing recorded in the bible that I know of that even resembles this hypothetical.

I suppose that what I am getting at with this fallacy is that I believe that every situation we need to be prepared for in sharing the gospel has been provided for us in scripture (scripture is sufficient). Why did the GES feel the need to basically come up with a thought experiment with no parallel in scripture?

The Smokescreen Fallacy: In the excerpt provided above Hodges says:

I suspect that there are even some Grace people who would say that this man is not saved because he doesn’t know enough. For example, he doesn’t know that Jesus died for his sins on the Cross, and rose again the third day. Needless to say there is a lot more that he doesn’t know either, such as the doctrine of the Trinity, the eternal Sonship of Jesus Christ, or the doctrine of the Virgin Birth.

Has any free grace theologian ever claimed that someone isn’t saved because that person doesn’t understand ” the doctrine of the Trinity, the eternal Sonship of Jesus Christ, or the doctrine of the Virgin Birth?” That is a red herring if I ever saw one.

[Clarification: Commenter Grant has pointed out via e-mail that my statement about the red herring is probably too strident. When Zane Hodges made his comments about the deserted island, there was no controversy over the issue so it isn’t correct of me to say that Hodges was trying create a red herring or to unfairly represent an opponent. He was simply trying to anticipate and address some potential concerns that some might have.

I think that is a fair comment and I wanted to get it on the record.]

Is it Legalism to Give A Gospel Other than the GES Gospel?

In the arguments that kept swirling around this issue it finally came to a head for me when Bob Wilkin wrote an article in the GES newsletter accusing anyone who says it is necessary (I believe necessary is the key word here) to provide an unbeliever more information than what Zane Hodges laid out in his desert island scenario is being a “legalist.” From what I have read I don’t believe that Bob Wilkin, the Grace Evangelical Society, or Antonio have any problem with a believer providing any and all information requested by an unbeliever in a witnessing situation. Nor do I believe that any of them would withhold any information about Jesus Christ when they are giving the gospel. Then what’s up with this legalism charge? To be honest I really don’t know.

The only reason that I bring this up is that when these charges of legalism began to be thrown around I ended out rereading “A Matter of Life & Death” by R.B. Thieme, Jr. I grew up under Colonel Thieme’s ministry and I believe that this booklet is the best presentation of the gospel that I have seen bar none. Would Bob Wilkin and the GES brand it’s message as “legalism?” I came to the conclusion that yes they would which really turned me away from their “minimal” presentation of the gospel.

Of course Colonel Thieme taught that a person had to have faith alone in Christ alone to be saved. Since Colonel Thieme did not base his gospel presentation on 1 Corinthians 15:1-3 I suspect that Lou Martuneac would also have a major problem with his gospel presentation. I cannot say for sure and I am not looking to stir up any controversy to find out.

Conclusion

In researching this article I read the lesson transcript of Robert Dean’s teaching on 1 Corinthians 15:1-2 from which I would like to quote:

Summary

 When we ask the question, What is the gospel? And we go back and look at the various accounts in Acts—none of which are trying to define for us everything there is to say about the gospel, they are simply historical accounts of what happened—we can derive from them certain basic conclusions. One is that the good news that there was forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. Secondly, that the response was to simply believe in Jesus Christ, and that alone. We also see that the process of evangelism or witnessing is not a type of cookie cutter event [Ed.: Emphasis Added], it involves something different for each person and you have to decide through interaction and communication with people how much they understand and what their frame of reference is. Do they know who God is? Is this God some sort of [im]personal force or is it the personal, holy, righteous God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. If they don’t understand who God is then when you communicate the gospel message that Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins that is going to lose a lot of its force and context because they don’t understand the background. So you have to take some time to go back and teach them who God is before you can ever get to the point of fully explaining the gospel. Some of that has to do with just where the individual lives. The Philippians jailer on one hand is just a simple thinker and it doesn’t take a whole lot to convince him. On the other hand you have some folk who because of their educational background and training have just built up a whole wall of intellectual defense against gospel and you have to approach them in a different manner. So what that calls upon us to do as believers is to work on our preparation. The most important factor is doing it. We are all going to make mistakes but we learn by them. Our job is to make the gospel as clear as we can and God the Holy Spirit is the one who drives it home and enables the unbeliever to understand what the real issues are.

What is and is not part of the Gospel; 1 Cor. 15:1, 2

This is a very good summary of what I hold to be true (thank you Dr. Dean!). Go out and give the gospel! Tell everyone about what Jesus Christ has done for them. Answer all questions in good faith. Will you know the exact moment when the person you are witnessing to believes? Maybe but is that what is really important? The Holy Spirit knows and that truly is important.

The one thing I can say with confidence is that if any one of us witnesses to an unbeliever and we leave so much information out that they could place their faith in an antichrist then we have not done our jobs faithfully. Of course I don’t actually believe that Antonio, or any member of the Grace Evangelical Society, would do that so I am still bewildered over all this bitter infighting.

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2 Comments on “Defining Antichrist and Some Application”

  1. Grant Says:

    Hi Glenn, my name is Grant and I work for Grace Evangelical Society. I appreciate what you have written here. Your comments on the issue are very balanced and fair. I would love to talk with you a little bit more (to discuss a couple of small things you mention), get to know you some, and perhaps talk about coming up with some ways to help restore fellowship between those who disagree on this issue. If you are open to this, please send me an email at grant@faithalone.org.


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