Thursday, September 23, 2010

Heaven for Those Who Don't Believe?

The partial gospel of the non-buried and never-seen savior is contaminated with the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. This leaven is false doctrine, specifically the teaching which says that unsaved people need not believe the sign of Jonah the prophet showing that Christ would be raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (see Matt. 12:39-41, 16:1-12, 27:62-64; 1 Cor. 15:4). One groundless gospel advocate named Tom Stegall has written that the sign of Jonah the prophet is merely a "circumstantial detail".1 Yet Jesus singled out this sign of Jonah the prophet as one of first importance. Jesus didn't think the sign of Jonah the prophet was merely a "circumstantial detail"! Notice that in response to the Pharisees' unbelief and request for a sign Jesus declared: "An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign shall be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for just as Jonah was 3 days and 3 nights in the belly of the sea monster, so shall the Son of Man be 3 days and 3 nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh shall stand up with this generation at the judgment, and shall condemn it because they repented [i.e. they "believed" - see Jonah 3:5] at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here" (Matt. 12:39-41).

Some may wonder what the phrase "3 days and 3 nights" in Matthew 12:40 is all about? The phrase "3 days and 3 nights" was simply a common Jewish idiom or expression meaning any part of 3 days, not necessarily a full 72 hour period of time. This fits perfectly with what the apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:4 that Christ was raised "on the third day according to the Scriptures".

Groundless gospel advocates furthermore teach that for salvation it actually doesn't matter that Christ was buried or that He was raised "on the 3rd day" (1 Cor. 15:4)! For example, Tom Stegall indicates "that a person is saved"3 even though he "is vociferously denying the truth of 1 Corinthians 15:4 that Christ's resurrection occurred on 'the third day.'"4 Notice how Stegall  goes on to cast doubt on God's Word when he says: "Though God prophetically and typologically ordained that Christ should be in the tomb for 'three days and three nights' (Jonah 1:17; Matt. 12:40; 26:61; 27:40, 63), would the grounds of our eternal redemption really be removed if Christ had risen on the fourth day, or the fifth, or the sixth, [or the 666th day], instead of the third day? Did it matter in providing the very basis for eternal salvation that He rose before sunrise on the first day of the week [i.e. the 3rd day after His death]? Or could He have risen on the second day of the week [i.e. the 4th day after His death]? It mattered only that His once crucified body actually did rise gloriously from the dead."5 In stark contrast to the words of Jesus in Matthew 12:38-41, Stegall is saying that in terms of salvation it quite frankly doesn't matter that Christ rose on the predicted day - on the third day!6 (Groundless gospel advocates literally say "Picky! Picky! Picky!" to those of us Bible-believing Christians who take a stand for the truths of the gospel like Christ's burial and His resurrection on the 3rd day according to the Scriptures.) So the problem is that Stegall and other groundless gospel advocates falsely promise salvation to those who don't believe that the Son of Man was "3 days and 3 nights in the heart of the earth"7 (Matt. 12:40) - i.e. "that He was buried and that He was raised on third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:4) -  in contrast to Jesus who only promised such unbelievers condemnation (Matt. 12:38-41; Lk. 11:29-32; also see Acts 2:40).

Amazingly, Stegall fails to understand that because "the grounds of our eternal redemption" (those are his words) required a sinless sacrifice - a sinless Savior (2 Cor. 5:21; cf. Isa. 53:9; Lk. 23:41; Jn. 1:29; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; 1 Pet. 1:18-19, 2:22, etc.), therefore Christ had to be raised on the third day because that's the day He predicted He would rise! In other words, if Christ had risen on any day but the 3rd day it would have revealed Him to be sinful - a false prophet (cf. Deut. 18:22; Jer. 14:14; Matt. 7:15, 24:11, 24), because He predicted that He would rise from the dead on the third day (see Matt. 12:38-41, 16:21, 17:23, 20:19; Mk. 9:31, 10:34; Lk. 9:22, 18:33, 24:7, 46; Jn. 2:19-21, 10:17-18). Robert Gromacki affirms: "If Christ had been raised from the dead on the second, fourth, or any succeeding day, that would have been a remarkable, unprecedented achievement; but it also would have declared Him to be a false prophet."8

Stegall's false teaching in regards to the third day is a real tragedy of the groundless gospel. In its "purest"9 form this new gospel opens the door to the devil - a "deceiver" (Matt. 27:62-64) savior who did not necessarily rise "on the third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:4) but could have risen on the 666th day! Make no mistake, this so-called savior is a "false Christ" (see Matt. 24:4, 24), "another Jesus" (2 Cor. 11:4, NLT), and "a different gospel" (2 Cor. 11:4, NKJV) that has no power to save. Nevertheless, Tom Stegall and other groundless gospel advocates like Dennis Rokser10 promise salvation to those holding to such a disbelief; they ban Christ's burial and the truth of the 3rd day from really being part of the gospel of salvation11 and teach that these facts only "constitute growth-truth for every child of God".12 Tragically, this is "Heaven for Those Who Don't Believe" and it's simply not according to the Scriptures.13

This article was originally titled "The Deceiver Savior of the Groundless Gospel".


1 Tom Stegall, The Gospel of the Christ, p. 727. The main proponent of the groundless gospel is pastor Tom Stegall of the Word of Grace Bible Church (W.O.G.B.C.) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin [Editor's Note: Stegall left W.O.G.B.C. at the end of 2011 to become the Publications Director at Duluth Bible Church in Duluth, Minnesota. See the article "WELCOME BACK, STEGALL?"]. In 2007 he removed the mention of Christ's burial from the church's doctrinal statement on the "SOLE CONDITION FOR SALVATION," and in 2009 he wrote The Gospel of the Christ, an 800+ page book defending his new groundless gospel of the non-buried and never-seen savior of unbelief. Stegall affirms: "My objective in writing the book was to provide a biblical response to the controversy within the Free Grace community over the subject of the "crossless gospel" and the contents of saving faith. Part I [pages 27-152] of the book lays the groundwork by introducing the problem of the crossless/promise-only/Grace Evangelical Society (GES) gospel and its associated doctrines. The remainder of the book [pages 153-826] still interacts with the new  GES theology but it is primarily an exegetical synthesis of dozens of key passages involving the terms 'gospel' and 'Christ.' The longest section of the book, Part II [pages 153-589], clarifies the meaning and content of 'the gospel,' while Part III [pages 591-746] examines the meaning of Jesus being 'the Christ.' In this respect, the book goes far beyond simply providing an answer to the position of the Grace Evangelical Society on the contents of saving faith since it addresses many soteriologically significant passages and theological topics". (Stegall, "The Gospel of the Christ: A Biblical Response to the 'Crossless' Gospel," [accessed October 26, 2010].)

2 The phrase "three days and three nights" (Matt. 12:40a) is a Jewish expression meaning any part of three days, as opposed to a literal 72 hour period. (Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, p. 42; A. T. Robertson, Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament, Commentary on Matthew 12:40; Charles Ryrie, Ryrie Study Bible, Expanded Edition, NAS, p. 1534; John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, 2 Vols., Vol. 2, p. 47; Admin, "Were the three days and three nights that Jesus was in the grave a full 72 hours?," [accessed September 24, 2010].) Jesus' words in Matthew 12:40 were fulfilled in His resurrection from the grave "on the third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:4).
     The expression "in the heart of the earth" (Matt. 12:40b) "means simply the grave, but this considered as the most emphatic expression of real and total entombment." (Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, p. 42.) Jesus was buried on Friday evening (Matt. 27:57-60) and rose from the grave the following Sunday morning on the third day (Matt. 28:1). The words of Free Grace theologian Roy B. Zuck are appropriate when he says: "Jonah's three days and three nights in the fish's stomach illustrates Christ's burial." (Zuck, Basic Bible Interpretation, p. 181.)
     Concerning Jesus' statement that "something greater than Jonah is here" (Matt. 12:41), the following insight by Greek scholar Marvin Vincent is helpful. Commenting on the related statement by Jesus that "in this place is one greater than the temple" (Matt. 12:6), Vincent writes: "One greater ([meizon]). The correct reading makes the adjective neuter, so that the right rendering is something greater (Rev., in margin). The reference is, of course, to Christ himself (compare vv. 41, 42 [of Matthew chapter 12], where the neuter [pleion], more (so Rev., in margin), is used in the same way.) Compare, also, John ii. 19, where Christ speaks of his own body as a temple. The indefiniteness of the neuter gives a more solemn and impressive sense." (Vincent, Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament [Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, n.d.], 4 Vol., Vol. 1, p. 71, bold added.) Commenting on Matthew 12:41, Greek scholar A. T. Robertson similarly affirms: "Note also pleion (neuter), not pleiwn (masc.). See the same idiom in 12:6 and 12:48. Jesus is something greater than the temple, than Jonah, than Solomon. 'You will continue to disbelieve in spite of all I can say or do, and at last you will put me to death. But I will rise again, a sign for your confusion, if not for your conversion" (Bruce)." (Robertson, Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament [Broadman Press, 1960], "Commentary on Matthew 12:41," bold his.)

3 Stegall, The Gospel of the Christ, p. 563.

4 Ibid, italics his. In regards to 1 Corinthians 15:4 Stegall writes: "Opinions among commentators are divided as to whether the phrase 'according to the Scriptures' qualifies the entire statement, 'and that He rose again the third day'" (Ibid., p. 560, italics his). Stegall makes this comment because he believes that the twice repeated phrase "according to the Scriptures" in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 "provides symmetrical literary markers in the passage that distinguish the actual content of the gospel from the evidences for that gospel." (Ibid., p. 578, italics his.)
     On a side note, apparently Stegall doesn't think that there can be evidences IN the gospel. In this regard he seems to have a problem on his hands because the resurrection of Christ is "proof"  or evidence that He is God (Acts 17:31; cf. Rom. 1:4). And last I checked Stegall still includes Christ's resurrection in the gospel even though it's an evidence.
     Let's get back to the issue under discussion concerning the twice repeated phrase "according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:3, 4). Stegall knows he has some explaining to do in regards to his removal of "the third day" (1 Cor. 15:4) from the content of the gospel because he has no reason to remove it, as least if he wants to be consistent with his own reductionist reasoning. But Stegall knows that he has to remove the reference to the third day from the gospel because the third day points to the burial of Christ (cf. Matt. 12:40, 27:63-64; Lk. 24:6-7; 1 Cor. 15:4; also see L. S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, 4 Vols., Vol. 4, p. 82). And Stegall has removed the burial of Christ from the gospel. So Stegall defers to the "opinions among commentators" as his new authority  on the issue of the third day (Ibid, p. 560, note 60). (Six pages later he similarly appeals to the supposed conversion experiences "of a vast percentage of God's children in the world today".)
     The problem with Stegall's reductionist reasoning is that he is once again rejecting Jesus' statement on the matter, when He says, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day" (Lk. 24:46a, italics added, compare to the wording in Lk. 4:4, 8, 17, etc.). By saying, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should...rise again from the dead the third day," Jesus makes it clear that the reference to the third day is indeed "according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:4). Thus Stegall has no valid reason for removing the reference to the third day from the gospel, even according to his own reductionist reasoning. That is to say, Stegall's reductionist reasoning is flawed even according to his own standards because although the mention of "the third day" in 1 Corinthians 15:4 is said to be "according to the Scriptures" - a phrase which supposedly deciphers the real gospel - Stegall still omits the third day time element from his gospel!
     There is one last point to be made bearing on this whole discussion. Even though Stegall uses the double occurrence of the phrase "according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:3, 4) as the key to decode the cipher of his new mini-gospel he doesn't even include these two phrases in his gospel (Ibid., pp. 480, 512, 529, 536, 543, 561, 576, 578, 700; cf. "The First Things of the Gospel," endnote 4)! In his view they are only "symmetrical literary markers" which mark out the content of the gospel but they are not included in the content themselves (Ibid). (This is not surprising since the unbeliever probably wouldn't believe them anyway.) Is it any wonder that a false gospel doesn't include the references to "the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:3, 4)? It is truly a tragedy that Stegall exploits the Scriptures in this way. In contrast to Stegall's reductionist reasoning notice what John Piper has to say about the twice repeated phrase "according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:3, 4). Under the heading "6 Aspects of the Gospel Without Which There Is No Gospel," Piper declares: "The gospel was planned by God beforehand (verses 3, 4: 'according to the scriptures')...Now, why is that good news? Because I'm arguing this is an essential part of the gospel. You strip away 'according to Scriptures' - [so as to say] 'there was no plan here'...well what was it if it wasn't a plan? Historical vagaries, just something slipped up here, something went wrong here...that's not gospel." (John Piper, "How I Distinguish Between the Gospel and False Gospels,' (compiled from the sermon outline and the sermon audio [1:13:50-1:13:20], bold and italics his.)

5 Ibid., p. 727, italics his.

6 In addition to Jesus Himself (Matt. 12:38-41, 16:21, 17:23, 20:19, 27:63; Mk. 9:31, 10:34; Lk. 9:22, 18:33, 24:7, 46-48; Jn. 2:19-21), the apostle Paul affirms that the resurrection on the third day is a truth "of first importance" (1 Cor. 15:3-4). Everett F. Harrison highlights the Biblical truth when he writes: "This much is clear from the whole discussion, that Jesus, both in His predictions [cf. Matt. 12:38-41; Jn. 2:19-21, etc.], and in His teaching following the resurrection [Lk. 24:46-48], laid great stress upon the time element, and the early church sought to impress the same thing in its witness (Acts 10:40; 1 Cor. 15:4)." (Everett F. Harrison, Lewis Sperry Chafer, Editor, Systematic Theology, 8 Vols., Vol. 5, p. 241.) William Lane Craig concurs saying: "the 'third day' motif [was] prominent in the earliest Christian preaching, as it is summarized in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5." (William Lane Craig, Jesus Under Fire, p. 150.) It's no wonder then that the mention of the third day has been included in every major creed of the church including the Nicene Creed and the Apostle's Creed (Alan F. Johnson, 1 Corinthians, pp. 280-281; cf. Merrill C. Tenney, The Reality of the Resurrection, p. 104)! W. H. Griffith Thomas highlights the gospel truth when he says that 1 Corinthians 15:3ff "includes one small but significant statement which at once recalls a very definite feature of the Gospel tradition - the mention of 'the third day.'" (W. H. Griffith Thomas, L. S. Chafer, Editor, Systematic Theology, 8 Vols., Vol. 4, p. 82.) The bottom line is that the third day resurrection is part of the saving gospel (1 Cor. 15:4), and if the apostle Paul said it's something "of first importance" (1 Cor. 15:3) who is Stegall - or anyone for that matter (Gal. 1:8-9) - to say otherwise?

7 Stegall writes: "His being buried was not a work which accomplished our eternal redemption, and it is therefore not absolutely essential for someone to know about it and believe it in order to go to heaven". (Stegall, "Proposed Change" to the "SOLE CONDITION FOR SALVATION", Word of Grace Bible Church handout [2007].)

8 Robert Gromacki, Called To Be Saints, p. 182, bold added.

9 I say that "tongue-and-cheek" because the groundless gospel is not pure at all - it is contaminated with the leaven of false doctrine.
     In his book Getting the Gospel Wrong J. B. Hixson promotes what he calls "THE PURE GOSPEL" (p. 77).  In reality "THE PURE GOSPEL" is "THE PARTIAL GOSPEL" because Hixson excludes Christ's burial and appearances from the contents of saving faith - i.e. the saving gospel (pp. 80, 148-149). Presumably the fact of "the third day" (1 Cor. 15:4) is expendable as well, for Hixson does not include it in his gospel.

10 Dennis Rokser wrote the "FOREWORD" to The Gospel of the Christ (Stegall, The Gospel of the Christ, pp. 14-16). In the "FOREWORD" Rokser calls the book a "scripturally-sound, exegetically-based volume" (Ibid., p. 15). It is telling that no one else besides Stegall's former pastor and fellow groundless gospel advocate endorsed his book.

11 Ibid., pp. 578, 579, 580, 587, 589, etc.

12 Ibid.,  p. 589.

13 For more information on the phrase "Heaven for Those Who Don't Believe," see the article "The First Things of the Gospel".

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