03 June, 2019

The 16th/17th Century Meaning of “Offer”


Martyn McGeown

We should take note that the word offer has undergone a development in meaning over the centuries. In the days of the Synod of Dordt, the word offer commonly meant to present, to display, or to set forth. The modern use of the word offer includes the idea of a desire or intention in the one making the offer, as well as a presupposed ability in the one to whom the offer is made. These ideas are foreign to Dordt’s meaning of the term.



C. J. Connors

[Source: C. J. Connors, “The Biblical Offer of the Gospel]

The term “offer” [used in the 16/17th century] does not imply a “desire” in God to save as [proponents of the well-meant offer] would have us understand … The confessional term “offer” does not carry [enough] weight to [bear such usage] ... It does not imply a conditional will or a delight of God toward the salvation of all, nor does it imply any ability in the sinner to receive it—both of which are at the very least implied in [the well-meant offer’s use of the word].

“Offer” in the Reformed confessions is the Latin term offero—meaning “to present, exhibit, or set forth.” It is in this sense that the term “offer” is used by the Westminster Confession of Faith and associated documents. “The Sum of Saving Knowledge” (found in the back of most editions of the Westminster Standards) in accord with the Latin offero and biblical teaching, defines “offer” in relation to the means of grace as “to clearly hold forth Christ already crucified before our eyes.” Or again, as Larger Catechism Q&A 72 says: “(Faith) rests upon Christ and His righteousness, therein held forth.” The apostle Paul sets the biblical pattern. The gospel must be preached so that men are obliged to: “Obey the truth, (as those) before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?” (Gal. 3:1).

The Greek word prographoo is used [in Gal. 3:1] and means firstly, “to write beforehand,” as in respect to time; then “to depict or portray openly,” as in respect to place and sight. Thayer understands Galatians 3:1 to mean: “taught most definitely and plainly concerning the meritorious efficacy of the death of Christ.” The term is figurative and means “to write before the eyes of all who believe.” This passage gives the biblical meaning of the term “offer” as used in the Reformed confessions.

Offer means that “the Gospel is externally proposed ...”[1]

[It means to] hold forth before the mind.

As to its content, the confessional offer includes both the clear setting forth of Christ crucified and God’s way of salvation in Him. The confessional offer presupposes the setting forth of God’s exalted holiness and the law to convince and convict men of sin and to show them their urgent need of Christ. It sets forth and displays Christ crucified as the blessed and only Saviour in all His glory, beauty, suitability and sufficiency for the chief of sinners. It authoritatively declares the command and call of God to all men, without exception, to repent and believe as the only way to life. It beseeches and with the cords of love and grace, tenderly draws the labouring, heavy-laden sinner to Christ and salvation in Him. It promises the Spirit to the elect to make them able and willing to come, and it proclaims the particular promise of God, that all who come will surely find mercy. In short, it must herald the good news of the gospel to sinners—nothing less, and nothing more.

The presentation of the gospel—the [confessional] “offer”—in its totality does not constitute, or even imply, a well-meant offer to all. The presentation of the gospel implies no active delight, desire or longing within God toward the salvation of all in the preaching. All that can be rightfully implied from the gospel [confessional] offer is that God is pleased to save repentant, believing sinners—nothing more. The well-meant offer, however, cannot stand without first presupposing a conditional will of God to the salvation of the reprobate, Christ dead for all, and general grace. These are, of course the most basic premises of Arminianism. They, and the “offer” they create, must be rejected.


[1.] Herman Witsius, The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man (Escondido: The Den Dulk Christian Foundation, 1990), vol. 1, p. 354.



David J. Engelsma

[Source: David J. Engelsma, Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel: An Examination of the Well-Meant Offer (Jenison, MI: RFPA, 2014), p. 48; cf. n. 46]

In the past the word offer from the Latin offero was used by Reformed men to describe God’s activity in the preaching of the gospel because the word originally had the meaning “bring to [someone],” “present [something or someone to somebody].” All Reformed men hold that Christ is presented in the preaching to everyone who hears the preaching. In this sense He is “offered” in the gospel. Calvin used offer in this sense, as do the Canons of Dordt: “It is not the fault of the gospel, nor of Christ offered therein ... that those who are called by the ministry of the Word refuse to come” (Canons, Heads 3–4, Article 9). But this is not the meaning of the word when it is used in connection with a universal love of God and a desire of God to save everybody.

... Although our quarrel with the offer is not a quibbling over words, the word offer should be dropped from the Reformed vocabulary. Not a biblical term, it is so loaded with Arminian connotations today that it is no longer serviceable. Instead of an offer of the gospel, we should speak of the call of the gospel as the scriptures do.



Russell J. Dykstra

[Source: John Calvin, Calvin’s Calvinism: God’s Eternal Predestination and Secret Providence (Jenison, MI: RFPA, 2009), p. 21, n. 10]

“Offered”: from offerre, which means “to present, to exhibit or set forth.” This explanation of the word offer as used by Calvin has been supplied by Henry Atherton, the secretary of Sovereign Grace Union that reprinted Henry Cole’s translation of “Calvin’s Calvinism” in 1927.



Ronald Hanko

[Source: Ronald Hanko, Doctrine According to Godliness: A Primer of Reformed Doctrine (Jenison, MI: RFPA, 2012), p. 191]

There are many who prefer to speak of the gospel as an “offer” rather than a call. It is interesting, to say the least, that Scripture never uses the word offer to describe the gospel. We have no objection to the word offer as such. In its older sense it means only that in the gospel there is a “showing forth” of Christ. The Westminster Larger Catechism, for example, defines an offer of Christ as a “testifying that whosoever believers in Him shall be saved” (WLC, Q&A 65).

In its modern sense, however, the word offer suggests and is used to teach that God loves all men and wants to save every one of them, that He makes an effort to save all of them in the gospel, and that whether or not a sinner will be saved is dependent on the will of that sinner. These teachings are all contrary to Scripture.

Scripture does not teach that God loves all men (Ps. 11:5; John 13:1; Rom. 9:13), nor does it teach that God is trying to save all of them (Isa. 6:9-11; Rom. 9:18; II Cor. 2:14-16). Certainly it does not teach that in saving sinners God can be frustrated by their unwillingness, or that He waits, cap in hand as it were, for them to accept His salvation (Ps. 115:3; John 6:44; Rom. 9:16; Eph. 2:8-9). For these reasons we prefer not to speak of the gospel as an “offer.”



Herman Hoeksema (1886-1965)

[Source: The Clark-VanTil Controversy (Unicoi, TN: The Trinity Foundation, 2005), p. 47]

If the term “offer” is understood in the sense in which it occurs in the confessions, and in which Calvin uses it (offere, from obfero, meaning to present), there can be no objection to that term, though, to prevent misunderstanding, it would be better to employ the words to present, and presentation.



Herman C. Hanko

[Source: Common Grace Considered (2019 edition), pp. 21-22]

It might be worthwhile, in passing, to point out that Calvin repeatedly used the word “offer” in his writings. And this use of the word “offer” is one reason why Calvin is said to support the idea of the “gracious and well-meant offer of the gospel.” I once knew a man, now in glory, who so desperately hated the word “offer” that, meaning well, he went through all of Calvin’s writings and blotted out the word “offer” wherever he found it. This man made a serious mistake and should never have done this. The word is, after all, found in the Canons of Dordt, a confession of the Reformed Churches. It is a good word. But he misunderstood the Latin use of it.

The word “offer” comes from the Latin offere, which means, “to presentset forth, and hold before someone.” And the idea of the frequently used term “offer” is, therefore, to underscore the fact that in the gospel, Christ is presented or set forth as the One whom God has ordained to be the means of salvation; and that all who hear the gospel are commanded to repent of their sin and believe in Christ. The word is used by Calvin in the sense in which Paul uses it in Galatians 3:1: “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?”



Raymond A. Blacketer

[Source: Raymond A. Blacketer, “The Three Points in Most Parts Reformed: A Re-examination of the So-Called Well-Meant Offer of Salvation”]

The important phrase in the original Latin [of Canons III/IV.9] is Christo per evangelium oblato. The word oblato is a participial form of the Latin word offero, frequently translated with its English cognate, offer. But this is not the primary meaning of the Latin verb. Rather, its most basic meanings include: to put in a person’s path, to cause to be encountered; to show, reveal, exhibit; to present as something to be taken note of, to bring or force to someone’s attention.[29] Thus, to interpret this article as teaching that all persons who hear the gospel are confronted with Christ, or that they encounter Christ in the gospel, is at least as plausible as the assertion that such persons are offered Christ and salvation through Christ in the preaching of the gospel [in the sense of God desiring to save all who hear]. Set in the context of the broader teachings of the Canons and the writings of major Reformed theologians from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the former interpretation appears to be much more plausible than the latter.


[29.] See P. G. W. Glare, ed., Oxford Latin Dictionary, corrected ed. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1996), s.v. “offero.” It is not until the eighth through tenth definitions that the sense of the modem English word offer comes through.



A. W. Pink

[Source: A. W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2008), p. 209]

Concerning the character and contents of the Gospel the utmost confusion prevails today. The Gospel is not an “offer” to be bandied around by evangelistic peddlers. The Gospel is no mere invitation, but a proclamation, a proclamation concerning Christ; true, whether men believe it or no. No man is asked to believe that Christ died for him in particular. The Gospel, in brief, is this: Christ died for sinners, you are a sinner, believe in Christ, and you shall be saved. In the Gospel, God simply announces the terms upon which men may be saved (namely, repentance and faith) and, indiscriminately, all are commanded to fulfill them.



C. Matthew McMahon

[Source: C. Matthew McMahon, The Two Wills of God Made Easy: Does God Really Have Two Wills? (Crossville, TN: Puritan Publications, 2016), pp. 216, 127]

[In the Westminster Confession, Chapter 6, Section 3,] we find the word “offer.” The Latin word they used here, “offero,” means “to bring forward, place before, present, or expose.” It is a publication of the Gospel, not giving or holding out the actual effectual call of the Gospel.

Ames’ use of the word “offer” is the Latin “offerre,” which means “to publish” or “shout aloud.” Here is a very important distinction: the Puritans and reformers of old used the word “offer” in a very different sense than modern evangelicals do today … The Puritans and reformers used “offerre” in the sense that the Gospel was a proclamation, or invitation to come and believe on Christ, the Savior”



Steven Key

[Source: “The Canons and Common Grace,” in Protestant Reformed Theological Journal, vol. 37, number 2, p. 51]

The term “offer” has an entirely different connotation today from its original Latin definition. In the Canons, the term “offer” simply means “to present” or “to set forth.” The idea is that of Acts 13:46, where Paul and Barnabas addressed the Jews, and said, “It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we tum to the Gentiles.” To take the simple concept, well-understood by the fathers at Dordt, and to add the baggage associated with the idea of the well-meant offer is unwarranted.



Barry Gritters

The word translated “offer” in English is, not surprisingly, offere, in the Latin. But this word did not necessarily have the same connotations than as it does in English today. The word offere primarily means “to present, to bring towards, to thrust forward, to show, to exhibit.” Our word offer has broader connotations and implies the ability to accept or reject, as well as a desire on God’s part that the offer be accepted.



More to come! (DV)


Proof from the Canons of Dordt that “Offer” has changed its meaning over time:

The Canons were among the many ecclesiastical documents written during the 16th and 17th centuries. In heads 3-4, article 14, it states thus:

“Faith is therefore to be considered as the gift of God, not on account of its being offered by God to man, to be accepted or rejected at his pleasure; but because it is in reality conferred, breathed, and infused into him ...”

The Latin version states thus:

Sic ergo fides Dei donum est, non eo quod a Deo hominis arbitrio offeratur, sed quod homini reipsa conferatur, inspiretur, et infundatur ...”

Now the modern-day definition of “offer” is "to present or proffer (something) for (someone) to accept or reject as desired." (source: google)

If we were to read that definition into the words “[faith’s] being offered by God to man, to be accepted or rejected at his pleasure” we would actually end up in a tautology (i.e. saying the same thing twice) ... for example:

“Faith is therefore to be considered as the gift of God, not on account of its being presented or proffered by God to man to be accepted or rejected as desired, to be accepted or rejected at his pleasure; but because it is in reality conferred, breathed, and infused into him ...”

If the writers of the Canons defined “offer” in the same way as proponents of the WMO do, it would have been needless to immediately add the words “to be accepted or rejected at his pleasure” subsequent to it. For that phrase would be redundant. And the delegates at Dordt were far too astute intellectually to commit such an error.

Therefore, “offer” cannot have had that meaning back in the 1600s. The Latin dictionaries define “offer” (offeratur/offero) as primarily meaning “to present, to exhibit, to set forth, to hold in front of someone.”

This argument also holds forth for every mention of the word “offer” in Calvin’s writings.

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