Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Episode 57: Our House

Episode 57 of the Theopologetics Podcast is now available! Stephen Atkerson from the New Testament Reformation Fellowship joins me to discuss house churches and New Testament patterns of church practice. This episode contains part 1 of the interview. Stay tuned for episode 58, "God is in the House," for part 2.


  1. I have spoken with Steve several times and found him to be a great brother though we have never met. I did enjoy the interview with him.

  2. Looking forward to this. I had already started reading his book and have recently been considering doing a house church.

  3. I found these quotes on the New Testament Reformation Fellowship website:

    In 2 Thessalonians 2:15, the Thessalonian church was instructed to “stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us” (NASV). Here, the Thessalonians were specifically commanded to hold to the traditions (paradosis) of the apostles, whether received orally or in writing. The Twelve are not here today to teach us in person, by word of mouth, what to do. However, we do have letters that record their traditions (the New Testament).

    He just assumes there is no witness to the ORAL traditions handed down by the Apostles.

    Second quote from the website:

    The essential tenets of the faith to which we subscribe are identical to those found in the doctrinal statements of any sound evangelical institution. Our favorite statement of faith is the First London Baptist Confession of 1644.

    How is using a confession from 1644 in any way following the traditions of the NT church? Very hypocritical. Whouldn't they be better served by using the Nicene Creed of 325 & 381, which was actually written in the same language as the NT scriptures and derived directly from them as well.

  4. tbolson76,

    Upon what basis do you conclude that the traditions taught by the Apostles were not what was handed down in the text of Scripture? It must be recognized that there is no evidence to suggest that the traditions that Paul spoke of consisted of anything different than that documented in the New Testament. Furthermore, one would expect Paul or any other New Testament author to include even a minuscule reference of the multiplicity of doctrines covered under the banner of Roman Catholic/Eastern Orthodox tradition. Instead, not only is there no evidence of the existence of your sacred traditions, but there are a vast number of texts that out rightly preclude any harmony between Romanist/Eastern Orthodox tradition and the Scriptures.

  5. I thought one error in the NTRF system was revealed around the discussion of selling every possession not being normative. As preterists we know that that practice was limited to Jerusalem because Jesus foretold that Jerusalem would be destroyed (fulfilled in 70AD) and their land would be worthless then anyway. In fact I think that awareness throughout the entirety of the new testament, and the change that event initiated would preclude taking any of the practices in that 40 year period as necessarily (automatically, taken without that historical context in mind) prescriptive for the new "millennium" to follow.

    Another point he seemed to miss (I haven't heard the second part of the interview yet) was that each city was one church, as indicated in the letters to the seven churches in revelation. I'm no bible scholar but I'm pretty sure that's uncontroversial, yet he seemed to portray each house church as entirely autonomous.

  6. Hi, Dave. I said after the interview was complete that I remain as of yet unconvinced and skeptical. That said, I think I could play the devil's advocate a little--without insinuating that I think NTRF is the devil :)

    Regarding your first paragraph, I think NTRF's response could be that while the near destruction of Jerusalem might explain the communalism of NT Jerusalem saints, I don't see how that would explain house churches or other NT patterns of church practice NTRF advocates. In the second half of the interview you'll hear Steve list a number of alleged benefits to house churches which, if legitimate, are legitimate whether we're talking pre-70 or post-70. So I'll admit that the pending destruction of Jerusalem does not seem to me like the kind of thing that would make ALL NT patterns of church practice irrelevant thereafter.

    As for your second paragraph, Steve does, indeed, address that question in the second half of the interview.

    It must be recognized that there is no evidence to suggest that the traditions that Paul spoke of consisted of anything different than that documented in the New Testament.

    For example: There is no description of children of Christian parents converting to the faith. There is no specific mention
    of infant baptism but no prohibition of it either or no mention
    of a minimum age for so called "believers baptism" either.

    So, we turn to the witness of the early church. The Ethiopian, Syrian, Oriental, Coptic, Eastern, and Roman churches all interpreted John 3:5 & Titus 3:5 literally. It is what was believed by all churches, everywhere, and at all times. Where did they get this idea except from the Apostles?

    If the 12 Apostles, Paul and Timothy all taught water baptism as symbol only, if they interpreted those 2 verses the way you do, then you should be able to point to at least one Christian prior to Augustine that held that view also. Unfortunately for you, you cannot.

    Of course, the Roman Church added the doctrines of Inherited Guilt, the Papacy, Priestly Celibacy, Purgatory, etc. but those came much later. None of the Eastern Churches believed those things.

    Upon what basis do you conclude that the traditions taught by the Apostles were not what was handed down in the text of Scripture?

    What they handed down was the proper interpretation of Scripture. They handed down
    the correct views of baptism for the forgiveness of sins, of the real presence in the Eucharist, of the Ever Virgin Mary.

  9. Do you not see credo baptism taught in Scripture? Who did Philip go down to the water to baptize? Silly. Your basing your infant baptism on silence, and the infamously shaky foundation of the patristics. Are you willing to accept everything the fathers taught that is not explicit in Scripture? Also, if you want to rely on the patristics, give even one witness to this doctrine you call "the ever virgin Mary." And please don't post long rententions or other pseudo works. And John 3:5? Ridiculous. Did Nicodemus know about Christian baptism prior to its institution? Then why did Christ expect him to?

  10. First of all, I did not mention early patristics. I only mentioned the "WITNESS" of the Church down through time. For some unknown reason you believe the Church began in the 1500's.

    In Matt 13:55 it lists Jesus brothers(cousins) as James, Joseph, Simon & Judas. In Mark 13:40 it lists James & Joseph as sons of another Mary(wife of Clopas) who is most likely the Virgin Mary's sister-in-law. Proving from Holy Scripture Jesus had cousins not siblings.


    "Let those, therefore, who deny that the Son is by nature from the Father and proper to his essence deny also that he took true human flesh from the ever-virgin Mary" (Discourses Against the Arians 2:70 [A.D. 360]).

    Epiphanius of Salamis:

    "We believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of all things, both visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God . . . who for us men and for our salvation came down and took flesh, that is, was born perfectly of the holy ever-virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit" (The Man Well-Anchored 120 [A.D. 374]).

    "And to holy Mary, [the title] ‘Virgin’ is invariably added, for that holy woman remains undefiled" (Medicine Chest Against All Heresies 78:6 [A.D. 375]).

    Also, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Zwingli, and John Wesley all held to the belief in Mary as Ever-Virgin.

  11. tbolson76:

    As to John 3:5, yes Christian baptism had not been instituted yet. But, neither had reception of the Holy Spirit. Did people believe in Jesus when he was alive, yes. Did they receive the HS upon having that belief, no. (John 7:39)

  12. Who was Nicodemus? Was he not a man of the Pharisees, a ruler of the Jews? He would absolutely known of baptism, but he would absolutely not have understood it as the physical representation of a spiritual cleansing that enters one into forgiveness of sins, and therefore salvation. He would not have understood why one should be immersed FOR or UNTO the forgiveness of sins, but he surely would have known about baptism in reference to ritual cleansing. All the priests and Sadducees and Pharisees would have known about it. Paul rebuked them profusely for there misunderstanding of it. Much like the Baptist mis-understanding of works of faith and meritorious works. The Jewish leaders had been corrupted by their HUMAN failings and been coerced by Satan into false doctrine.

    Nicodemus would have known ritual cleansing, but forgiveness of sins through baptism would have been foreign.

  13. Matt 1:25 states, "and he knew her not until she gave birth to a son and called his name Jesus." Notice here the conjunction eos (until). The word means quite literally "until" or "up to that point."

    Luke 2:7 states, "And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn." Firstborn? Hmm. Seems to suggest that Mary had more children doesn't it? In fact when this adjective (prototokos) is used in the context of a child/infant it always refers to the eldest of children. Without exception. This is why a number of translation give the rendering "first son."

    But wait there is more. Matt 1:18 states, "Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows : when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit." Notice the phrase "before they came together" (prin he sunelthein). Obviously sexual union is in view here, and it was not had until after Christ's birth. Don't believe me? Look at 1Cor 7:5 where the Apostle states, " Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and *come together* again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control."

    With these things in mind, there is no question of what is meant in Matt 13:55-57 which states, "Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things? And they took offense at him." The bottom line is, your wrong and you advocate a doctrine that is contrary to the word of God.

    I mean, do you really think that Joseph never had relations with his own wife? Ridiculous. Especially given that God designed sexually intimacy as an integral part of what it means to be married. Your "ever-virgin" doctrine mitigates against God's own pattern for marraige and procreation.

    That aside, your reading of John 3 is incredibily anachronistic. Firstly, the only baptism Nicodemus knew about was proselyte baptism and John's baptism; neither of which have ever been indicated as being salvithic in Scripture. Secondly, your desperate appeal to John 7:39 fails to realize the distinction between the outpouring/indwelling of the Spirit in Acts 2 and the communion of the Spirit that is clearly identified as noted in Matt 10:20, John 14:17, etc. Lastly, you fail to even notice the correlative literature (Ez 36)!

  14. Answer to Michael........

    Wow, so many things. First of all, let's say Joseph was a widower and had children from his previous wife. That could explain Jesus having half-bothers/sisters. Nothing in the Bible to say that did happen, but also nothing to say it didn't. All of your statements on Mary are just
    conjecture and inference. If a boy promised his parents to remain a virgin "UNTIL" after
    graduation, if he never married then the word "until" is irrelavent. Joseph also could have been unable to have children, it just doesn't say.

    You are also disregarding the idea of holy ground and sacred places in the OT, and also the idea of people being set apart for the Lord. When Moses faced God in the burning bush, he removed his sandals because he was on Holy ground. When someone touched the Ark of the Covenant which contained the Word of God, they died(remember Uzzah). Mary has always been considered the new Ark which carried the "WORD MADE FLESH". Obviously she is set apart and no one would dare enter the most holy place where the second person of the Trinity was conceived. Ezekiel 44:2 "This gate shall be shut; it shall not be opened, and no one shall enter by it, for the Lord God of Israel has entered by it; therefore it shall be shut".

    You'll notice, never are Jesus' brothers or sisters mentioned as children of Mary or Joseph, only HE is.

    When Jesus was at the cross, he gave his mother Mary over to the care of John. In Jewish tradition, this would have been a HUGE INSULT to other brothers for they would have been next inline to be responsible to care for their mother.

    Think about it, if Mary had 6 other kids and they all had kids, wouldn't it make sense for someone to claim they were the grandchildren of Mary & Joseph, or to claim Jesus was their Uncle or Great, Great Uncle. Of course that
    never happened, cause he was an only child.

    The main thing is, how do you just dismiss 1500 years of history. All Christians universally believed in the Ever-Virginity of Mary up to and including Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Wesley.
    How could they all have been so universally wrong on this subject, it just doesn't make sense.

  15. Joseph was a widower? And my argument is conjecture... I don't think so. There is nothing in the text to suggest anything like that. The arguments I gave were from the text and they went beyond inference.

    The analogy you gave is a departure from what is to be found in Matt 1:25. Why? Because the relationship is already settled, and marraige according to God's plan for humanity includes sexual intimacy. And honestly your appeal to "holy ground" is bizzare and quite funny. As if Mary's vagina was holy ground. lol

    I don't dismiss history. Rather I subject the traditions of men to the truth of God. Isn't that what Christ Himself did? Luther, Zwingli, and Wesley as well as quite a few before and after them affirmed total depravity. How could they all have been so universally wrong on that subject? Seems like your quite inconsistent on that line of logic.

  16. Michael said........And honestly your appeal to "holy ground" is bizzare and quite funny.
    As if Mary's vagina was holy ground. lol

    This shows your total ignorance of history and total disregard for Jewish thought and custom, and also you do not understand Old Testament typography.

    I feel like I am having this discussion with a 14 year old. I quoted Ezekiel 44 and Mark 13:40
    and you just ignored those verses and went on with you ramblings and proof-texting.

    The word for "brother" in the Bible is used to mean sibling, cousin, close relative, kinsmen, brethren, tribe member, christian brother, etc.

    Gen 14:14 "And when Abram heard that his BROTHER was taken captive, he armed his trained servants, born in his own house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued them unto Dan."

    The "brother" referred to here is Lot. Lot was the son of Aran, Abram's own dead brother (Gen 11:26-28). He was therefore Abram's Nephew, even though the text refers to him as a "brother".

    There is evidence from the Early Church Fathers that the Book of Matthew, at least, was originally written in Aramaic, and so was translated into Greek. Secondly, we know that the people of Palestine in Jesus's time spoke in Aramaic, and it is therefore in Aramaic in which the oral stories which were later written down to form the Gospels, were transmitted. So it is likely that the Aramaic word "brother", meaning not only sibling, but any kinsman, was translated into the Greek word "brother", which has the tighter meaning of sibling only. This is clearly what has happened in Genesis 14.14 above.

    While James and Joses are mentioned as Jesus's brothers in Matthew 13:55, it is made clear in Mathew 27:56 and Mark 15:40 that their mother was another Mary.
    Matthew 27:56 Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee's sons.

    This "other Mary" at the Cross, is revealed in John 19:25 to be the wife of Cleophas. Mary of Cleophas is therefore revealed as the mother of two of Jesus's so-called "brothers", James and Joses.

    In John 19:25, the original Greek states. "But by he cross of Jesus were the Mother of Him AND the sister of the Mother of Him, Mary the wife of Cleopas AND Mary the Magdalene." The precise positioning of the ANDs makes it clear that Mary the Wife of Cleopas, is also referred to as the Virgin Mary's sister. Since we know no-one has two daughters and calls them BOTH Mary, we know that sister here does not mean sister. The same would apply to "brother" with reference to Jesus.

    In the introduction to the Book of Jude, Jude introduces himself as: Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ, and a brother of James. If Jude/Judas were truly the brother of Jesus, why wouldn't he say so? He identifies himself in his letter as brother of James, but significantly as servant of Jesus. To have identified himself as Jesus's blood brother would have added enormous weight to his epistle, but he doesn't so identify himself here. We know the reason, because James and Joseph have already been revealed to be sons of the other Mary in Matthew 27 and Mark 15. Judas then must also be a son of this other Mary. Mary wife of Cleophas. So another of Jesus's so-called "brothers" is eliminated.

    James "Brother of Jesus" is referred to as one of the APOSTLES by Paul in Galatians 1:19. . We know that neither of the Apostles named James was actually a Son of Mary. So James, "brother of Jesus" cannot be a Son of Mary. He is actually James, Son of Alphaeus (thought to be another form of Cleophas)! James is a kinsman of Jesus, but not a sibling.

    How much more proof do you need is beyond me!!