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Q239 : Interpretive Bias in the Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

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Q239 : Interpretive Bias in the Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

Greetings in Christ,

I've long appreciated the Spirit & Truth website and ministry, especially in the area of prophecy and of general Biblical studies. Recently I obtained a copy of the New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge (NTSK), in part based on the recommendations from Q66a and Q159b. This is the revised and expanded edition, edited by Jerome Smith.

Among the new (to me) features in the edition is the extensive doctrinal entries in the Subject Index. I was flipping through these, getting a feel for the volume, when I came across a curious entry: "Eternal security not Unconditional, proof - Mt 24:13" Needless to say I was a little unsettled by this "subject." I looked up the reference as well as a few others. To my surprise and disappointment, I found at least two very extensive "anti-eternal-security" notes at key passages, including 1 John 2:19 & Hebrews 6:6. The language of these notes is definitive and leaves little room to doubt the editor's stance on the subject.

I found these notes to be distressing, particularly since I fear that they indicate a strong doctrinal bias that may carry into the actual cross-referencing of the NTSK (though I am not yet familiar enough with the book to say whether that is the case).

Also I find it very concerning that this edition carries the recommendation of such teachers as John MacArthur, who I am certain holds strongly to the doctrine of (true) Eternal Security. I haven't found any mentions or comments online regarding the doctrinal stance of the Treasury, and I had more or less assumed it would have adopted a more "pluralistic" approach to controversial subjects, rather than stake a strong position and actively promote it.

I found a further concerning note (and corresponding topical index entry) at 1 Thessalonians 1:10, where Smith appears to advocate (at least as a plausible interpretation) a "partial rapture" theory (listed under the entry: "Rapture, partial, theory alluded to").

Are you aware of these notes? Would you reconsider your previous recommendation if not, or in your opinion are the actual cross-references in the NTSK mostly unaffected?


A239 : by Tony Garland

[Note: the New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge is now available as Nelson's Cross Reference to the Biblea. Herein, we refer to the book by its more widely-known acronym: NTSK.]

Thanks for writing to express your concerns regarding certain doctrinal teachings found in the NTSK. I especially appreciate your discernment in checking out some of the details found in the study notes at certain passages, which were added by Smith and not part of the original TSK.

Concerning the subject index entries regarding Eternal Security, my version of the NTSK (copyright 1992) contains two entries:

  • “Eternal security, absolute, possessed now by every believer in Christ. Mat. 24:13 n.”1
  • “Eternal security not unconditional, proofs. 1 Ti 4:1 n.”2
On the face of it, these two entries appear to endorse opposite views concerning the security of the believer. The first one mentions that security is absolute, possessed now, and held by every believer and then refers to the note at Matthew 24:13 for support. The second entry states that eternal security is conditional (“not unconditional”), and appeals to 1Ti. 4:1 and its respective note for support. When ready plainly, these two entries are confusing or contradictory. Either I'm secure as a believer now and forever or I've never been secure! One cannot have it both ways!

When we repair to the notes for the first passage (Mat. 24:13) we find:

This verse has absolutely no bearing on the absolute eternal security of the salvation possessed now by every individual believer in Christ (John 10:28,29. Rom. 8:30-39. Eph. 1:13; 4:30. 2Ti. 1:12; 2:19. 1Jn. 5:13. Jude 1:24), for it is in the context of prophecy respecting the final deliverance of Jews at the end of the great tribulation (Zec. 13:9), who are delivered upon their final repentance (Is 11:11n) and turning to God out of desperate straits when seemingly all hope is gone, by the “deliverer out of Zion” (Ro 11:26).3

This note seems to support the idea of the security of the believer because it warns the reader to consider the context of Christ's words that “he who endures to the end shall be saved”—a phrase which is often taken out-of-context to teach against the security of the believer. The note even includes cross-references to passages in support of the security of the believer.

Conversely, as you've pointed out, the extensive note at 1Ti. 4:1 argues against the security of the believer. That note reads in part:

While the Bible emphatically teaches the eternal security of the believer (Mat. 24:13n), and makes the security of salvation in no sense dependent upon good works to stay saved, this security belongs to believers who continue to place their faith in Christ for salvation, not unconditionally to persons who by a single act of faith allegedly ‘received Christ’ but have since departed from the faith doctrinally or morally.4

Smith appeals to his own note at Matthew 24:13 in support of the security of the believer, but then states, “this security belongs to believers who continue to place their faith in Christ for salvation” but not to “persons who by a single act of faith allegedly “receive Christ" but have since departed from the faith.” The remainder of his note at 1Ti. 4:1 essentially undermines any notion of true security. For one, when I initially come to faith (and am born-again), according to Smith's notes, how am I to know whether my faith might not be of the “single act” type? And in what sense can it be said that the security of the believer is “absolute, possessed now by every believer in Christ”?

Although I haven't studied Smith's views on this extensively, to me he seems to confuse true biblical faith (when one is born-again) with professed faith (where the one professing is not born-again). These are not both saving faiths—in which case the latter is not a believer and the warnings about departing from the faith do not concern true believers—who are secure from the moment they trust in Christ. This accords with what Jesus said to those who professed works in His name but whom He never knew (Mat. 7:23)?

Smith can't have it both ways: either both the ones initially trusting in Christ and the ones continuing to trust are believers (in which case there can be no security since the former fall away), or the former were never truly born-again and therefore unbelievers while the latter are true born-again believers (in which case warning passages which he interprets as pertaining to true believers must be warning those who have never truly believed as in 2Cor. 13:5). Like many who deny security, Smith takes warnings addressed to groups of believers concerning apostasy and unbelief, as if they universally apply to true believers. Like many who uphold security, I understand such warnings to groups of believers in light of the common reality that such groups invariably have unbelievers in their midst who profess Christianity, but have not been born-again. Smith's unusual combination of statements simultaneously upholding and denying security differs from most interpreters of his persuasion who are more consistent in their denial.

Whatever the case, this points up one of the hazards I'm frequently on about concerning the relative merits and dangers of referring to the commentary of other teachers when studying Scripture. To be sure, God has given us teachers from whom we are expected to learn (Acts 13:1; 1Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11; 2Ti. 1:11; Jas. 3:1). On the other hand, teaching unavoidably includes interpretation extending beyond the bare statements of the Biblical text. This is a two-edged sword: providing great value where it helps us accurately understand the truth, but problematic when the interpretation leads toward error.

It is for this very reason that I consider the NTSK (and its predecessor, the TSKb) to be an extremely valuable study aid. In the main, it consists of unadulterated cross-references with relatively little interpretation. This is not to say that the selection of cross-references is without interpretive bias. However, the overall presentation and value is much less subject to human spin and interpretation where it mainly points to related passages for our consideration. This is why a concordance and an extensive cross-reference work such as the NTSK should be among the earliest study aids the student of Scripture turns to. Only afterward should he or she consult commentary from other teachers—which can offer valuable insights while protecting us from novel or questionable interpretations.

The problem of questionable commentary is not unique to Smith's edition. It also occurs in earlier editions of the TSK. For example, Revelation 5:9 mentions a 5-month period of torment:

And they were not given authority to kill them, but to torment them for five months. Their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it strikes a man.5

The original TSK provides the following explanation:

Five prophetical months, each consisting of thirty days, and each day denoting a year, amount to 150 years; and accordingly, from the time that Mohammed began to propagate his imposture, A.D. 612, to the building of Baghdad, when they ceased from their ravages, A.D. 763, are just 150 years.6

This historicist interpretation is far afield from what I believe the passage is teachingc.

You mentioned, “I had more or less assumed [the NTSK] would have adopted a more 'pluralistic' approach to controversial subjects, rather than stake a strong position and actively promote it.” You also identified comments at 1Th. 1:10 which seem to support a partial-rapture interpretationd:

The doctrine of the “one body” (Eph. 4:4 n), the declaration that “we shall all be changed” (1Cor. 15:51), and the extension by promise and prophecy of blessings equally to all believers (Ps. 149:9) argue for all to be raptured, as against the various partial rapture theories. However, the presence in Scripture of repeated warnings to be faithful and ready, and the exhortation of our Lord to pray that we might be counted worthy, suggest the real possibility that some believers will not be counted worthy, otherwise there would be no point to the warnings, if qualification were universal and automatic.7

In this case, Smith does appear to be taking a pluralistic approach by arguing in favor of a full-rapture, yet recognizing points that are espoused by partial-rapture advocates. (Incidentally, the connection between Smith's confusing view on security and his leaving an open door to the possibility of a partial rapture go hand-in-hand. Teachers who waffle on security often believe that true believers can miss out on the rapture or the millennial kingdom because of their failure to perform—to overcomee. As I like to say, “doctrines ride in posses" — knowing what a teacher believes in one area will often indicate what they are likely teach in another. But that is a subject for another time.)

You also expressed concern that a person such as John MacArthur would endorsed the NTSK which contains teachings that MacArthur does not advocate and wondered whether I would still endorse the work since I do not endorse the view that the Bible teaches loss of salvation or a partial rapture.

There are probably no two Bible teachers on the planet who understand every detail of Scripture in exactly the same way. Thus, when recommending a study resource, one is always endorsing a mixed message, only part of which one agrees with. There may even be situations where one recommends a resource which disagrees with one's own understanding on a subject, but which offers an alternative view which students should be familiar with.

The two main rules I consider before recommending a resource are: (1) does its teaching fall within the pale of orthodoxy? (2) if there are aspects with which I disagree, are they offset by other valuable contributions? In my view, the NTSK passes both these tests with flying colors.

By way of comparison, I also recommend the MacArthur Study Biblef (MSB) as one of the best study bibles available on the market today. Yet MacArthur teaches limited atonementg, a position with which I disagreeh. (Hebrews 2:9 states, “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.” The associated note in the MacArthur Study Bible states: “taste death for everyone. Everyone who believes, that is.”8)

One might consider avoiding the NTSK in favor of retreating to the older TSK.9 But that doesn't really offer a solution because, as noted above, the TSK also includes questionable commentary. Besides, the NTSK provides many improvements to the original TSK such as corrections and additional cross-references.11

Even Smith identifies the cross-references as the timeless value of the work:

The most significant feature of the Treasury is its nearly exhaustive collection of cross-references. These references are the source of its enduring usefulness to every Bible student. Therefore it has been to the cross-references themselves that the greatest effort has been given in this new edition to make this excellent reference tool even more usable to the modern reader and student of the Bible. I have added over 100,000 new cross-references and supplied many more key words to the Bible text, making this the most complete collection of biblical cross-references ever published.12

Lastly, beware of adopting an isolationist mentality which rejects all resources which differ on important doctrines. I spent some time in my early walk on that path, but ultimately found it to be unfruitful and problematic.

Spurgeon had no patience with those who said, ‘“We will not read anything except the book itself, neither will we accept any light, except that which comes in through a crack in our own roof. We will not see by another man’s candle, we would sooner remain in the dark” Brethren, do not let us fall into such folly.’13

God bless - Tony

In January of 2015, I received the following note from a visitor to our website: I was reading the discussion concerning the issue of doctrinal biases in the NTSK, specifically the notes on Matthew 24:13 and 1 Timothy 4:1. While I do not possess a copy of the NTSK, I do possess a copy of “Nelson's Cross-Reference Guide to the Bible” and can report that it does not carry such notes—at least on those two passages. Perhaps Jerome Smith determined in the revision to avoid such controversy.


Endnotes:

1.Ref-1339, Eternal Security
2.Ref-1339, Eternal Security
3.Ref-1339, 1Ti. 4:1
4.Ref-1339, 1Ti. 4:1
5.NKJV, Rev. 9:5
6.Ref-0328, Rev. 9:5
7.Ref-1339, 1Th. 1:10
8.Ref-0089, Heb. 2:9
9.An advantage of the older TSK is its wide availability for free.i
10.Ref-1339, Preface
11.“In the main reading room of the library at Bob Jones University I first saw Scott’s Commentary, and found this to be the primary source of the references in the Treasury. The Treasury has many additional references not found in Scott, though in some passages, such as Exodus 20, the reverse is true. I have since obtained several used editions of Scott’s Commentary. Many variations from Scott’s original references (over 4,000) and printing errors (nearly 1,000) present in the original edition of the Treasury have been corrected in this new edition by consulting this source. This is the only new edition of The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge ever prepared. All previous editions are merely reprints of the original edition which first appeared about 1836. In my preparation of this new edition I have incorporated the results of my thirty years of personal Bible study using the original Treasury into this revised and expanded edition.”10
12.Ref-1339, Preface (emphasis mine)
13.Ref-1324, 35n36


Sources:

NKJVUnless indicated otherwise, all Scripture references are from the New King James Version, copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Ref-0089John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1997).
Ref-0328The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge : Five Hundred Thousand Scripture References and Parallel Passages. (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 1995).
Ref-1324Clarence Larkin, Commentary on Daniel (Broken Arrow, OK: StudyLamp Software, 1929).
Ref-1339Jerome H. Smith, The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1992).


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