Posted by: mattcolvin | December 10, 2011

“Once saved…” in Jude 5

Saturday of the 2nd Week in Advent: Jude.

Jude 5: “The Lord, having once saved a people from the land of Egypt, afterwards destroyed those who did not believe…”

I frequently have to remind people that “once saved, always saved” is, not merely unbiblical, but expressly contradicted by the Bible. I have been accustomed to make this point with 1 Corinthians 10, which is similar in form and content, focusing on Israel who were “all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea”, yet “with most of them God was not well-pleased, but He scattered their bodies in the wilderness.” It does the trick, showing that apostasy is a real possibility.

Incidentally, that verb “was well-pleased” is εὐδόκησεν, and expresses an idea that is usually lost in our mistranslation of the angels’ hymn to the shepherds at Christ’s birth: “peace on earth, good will toward men” should really be “peace on earth to men of His good pleasure (εὐδοκίας).” It denotes God’s attitude, not toward all the earth indiscriminately, but toward His chosen ones.

At any rate, 1 Corinthians 10 is aimed, by its author Paul, against those who might have presumed they were secure because of their participation in the sacraments. That is the last thing that modern North Americans ever think. With their strong gnostic streak, they prefer to trust in their subjective conversion experiences rather than the sacraments.

Jude 5 uses Israel as an example the same way as 1 Corinthians 10, but it has one incalculable rhetorical advantage for the purposes of confuting “once saved, always saved”: it actually uses the phrase “once saved” (ἅπαξ…σώσας)! This word “saved” is the term on which so many theological debates equivocate.

For instance, when I was urging Doug Wilson not to think that the Lord’s Supper works by our exercising a special internal faculty called “faith”, I said that the Passover in Egypt did not even require the Israelites to be awake while it saved them. Doug replied “Matt, being spared in one instance because the Lord is going to kill you next week is not salvation.” Doug thereby reserves the term “salvation” for the salvation from hell that only the elect will experience, not for mere escape from Egypt.

But the Bible does not speak this way. It takes the Exodus from Egypt as the paradigmatic example of salvation par excellence. That is why it is used as “exhibit A” in both 1 Corinthians 10 and Jude 5. If the Exodus is not “salvation” in a strong sense materially analogous to the salvation we have by Christ, then the arguments of these two passages — perhaps not quite a fortiori, but at least a forti — fall to the ground as limp failures.

The next verse, Jude 6, appears to make the same sort of argument about angels: If God did not spare even angels who rebelled against Him, then He certainly will not spare the men about whom Jude writes.

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