16 December, 2019

David Silversides’ Objection to the “non-Free Offer” view of Matthew 23:37

In a book defending the “Free Offer,” the late David Silversides presented a 4-part objection to the view of Matthew 23:37 that distinguishes “Jerusalem” from Jerusalem’s “children.”

For example, in the April 2018 issue of the Protestant Reformed Theological Journal (vol. 51, no. 2), Rev. Martyn McGeown comments on the text thus:

First, there is no pathos in Matthew 23—there is anger.  Verse 37 comes at the end of a long denunciation of the scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy.  Second, Jesus makes a distinction between Jerusalem’s children whom He would gather and Jerusalem who did not desire—and who therefore sought to hinder—that gathering. Jerusalem is a reference to the leaders of Jerusalem, while Jerusalem’s children are the elect within the nation.  Third, Jerusalem’s sin was her deliberate opposition to Jesus’ ministry, which opposition culminated in Christ’s crucifixion, but despite (and even through) that opposition Jesus gathered the church: “he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad” (John 11:52). There is no free offer or ineffectual desire of Christ in Matthew 23:37. (p. 70; emphasis added)

Similarly, Prof. David J. Engelsma commented on the text in like manner:

[The] genuine children of Jerusalem were the elect among the inhabitants of the city. These Jesus desired to gather. These he did gather, despite Jerusalem’s opposition. Jesus spoke in the text as the Messiah, whose will, or desire, is the will of God who sent him. The will of God was the gathering not of all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, but only of Jerusalem’s genuine children, that is, the elect. (The Rock Whence We Are Hewn [ed. David Engelsma; Jenison, MI: RFPA, 2015], p. 332; emphasis added).

Rev. Angus Stewart, also, in the July-Sept 2004 edition of the Covenant Reformed News, views the passage in the same way:

Christ speaks here of two different groups: Jerusalem and Jerusalem’s children. He says different things about these two groups: Jerusalem killed and stoned God’s prophets and messengers; Christ willed to gather Jerusalem’s children; Jerusalem did not will that Christ gather Jerusalem’s children. What is meant by “Jerusalem” here? Jerusalem refers to the religious leaders of Israel, the scribes and Pharisees …

To this interpretation, David Silversides argued as follows:

The view of Matthew 23:37 which argues a distinction between “Jerusalem” and Jerusalem’s “children” is untenable for several reasons:

(i) It is arbitrary, imposed on the text and cannot be drawn out from it.

(ii) It is contrary to normal usage. The “children of Edom” (Psa. 137:7) are the people of that place. The many references to the “children of Israel” refer simply to the people of Israel—likewise, the children of Moab, Ammon etc. When used metaphorically, such expressions indicate likeness to the parent body—for example, “sons of the mighty” (Psa. 29:1, AV.mg.), “children of Belial” (Deut. 13:13 etc.), “children of light” (Eph. 5:8)—not contrast, thus making Jerusalem’s “children” contrast with Jerusalem itself.

(iii) It conflicts with the singular and plural terms in the text. The older English pronouns of our Authorized Version (reflecting the singular and plural distinctions of the Greek) are helpful here. The word thy (singular) clearly relates to Jerusalem (singular). The children (plural), represented as chickens, are in view in the phrase ye (plural) would not, where the English reflects the plural of the Greek verb. The PRC wishes the plural verb, ye would not, to refer to the singular Jerusalem, which is most forced. It is the children that would not be gathered. “Jerusalem” is simply a collective description of the city and its people, as a body. The “children” of Jerusalem are nothing more than those same people considered as a collection of individuals.

(iv) It is inconsistent with the use of the term elsewhere. The term “thy children” is used with reference to Jerusalem and in a similar context, immediately after the record of Christ’s weeping over the city, in Luke 19:44, “… And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.” It is clear that the “children” are those who died in the destruction of Jerusalem. These cannot be the elect. The believers took heed of Christ’s warning concerning the fall of Jerusalem in Matt. 24:15-20 and fled. It was the unbelieving and self-righteous Jews, believing that Jerusalem would never be destroyed, who stayed and perished within her.

A Reformed response to this objection is as follows:

Regarding the first charge that our interpretation is “arbitrary” and “imposed on the text,” etc., this is mere assertion. The text refers to “Jerusalem” and Jerusalem’s “children,” and what “Jerusalem” did in trying to stop Christ from doing over against His desire to save Jerusalem’s “children.” The critic even knows this—cf. points (ii), (iii) and (iv). Moreover, the chapter as a whole speaks throughout of the wicked scribes, etc., who sought to stop people turning to Christ (Matt. 23:13), as our text does. 

Regarding the second objection, there are indeed texts found in Scripture, such as Psalm 137:7 (“Remember, O Lord, the children of Edom …”), where the phrase “children of X does mean the people of that city. But those are simply passages where “children” is used without any other distinct group or class also mentioned in the text that are distinguished from the “children,” as Matthew 23:37 has it.

Regarding the third objection, concerning the “singular and plural terms” in the text, our explanation of the plural “ye” is easy to grasp: “Jerusalem” is initially spoken of, in verse 37, in the singular (“thou”) because the religious leaders are conceived of as a body. They are then spoken of as a plural (“ye”) because they include many people and different classes. Thus, Christ speaks of “scribes” and “pharisees” and calls them “hypocrites” and “serpents” (v. 33).  Besides the “number” (singular/plural), there is also the person addressed “ye” or “you,” addressed to Jerusalem (v. 37), who are the “serpents” (v. 33), the scribes, pharisees and hypocrites (vv. 29, 25, 23, etc.), the  blind guides (v. 16), etc.  The critic, in reality, has to justify his false claim that Christ then moves from addressing “Jerusalem” (the religious leaders) in the second person (“thou”) and referring to “thy children,” to addressing these children in the third person (“ye”).

Our interpretation of this verse is not a novelty, by the way. It has also been held by solid Reformed worthies:

Augustine (354-430): “Our Lord says plainly, however, in the Gospel, when upbraiding the impious city: ‘How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!’ as if the will of God had been overcome by the will of men, and when the weakest stood in the way with their want of will, the will of the strongest could not be carried out. And where is that omnipotence which hath done all that it pleased on earth and in heaven, if God willed to gather together the children of Jerusalem, and did not accomplish it? Or rather, Jerusalem was not willing that her children should be gathered together, but even though she was unwilling, He gathered together as many of her children as He wished: for He does not will some things and do them, and will others and do them not; but “He hath done all that He pleased in heaven and in earth” (“The Enchiridion,” xcvii).

Peter Martyr Vermigli (1499-1562): “They [i.e., our Roman Catholic adversaries] bring up a saying of Christ’s: ‘How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her chicks, and you would not?’ Here also it is the antecedent will of the sign that is meant. God through his prophets, preachers, apostles, and Scriptures invited the Jews to fly to him by repentance time after time, but they refused, but by his effective will, which is called consequent, he always drew to himself those who were his. Nor was there any age when he did not gather as many of the Hebrews as he had predestined. Therefore, as Augustine said, those that I would, I have gathered together, although you would not” (Predestination and Justification [Kirksville, MO: Truman State University Press, 2003], pp. 64-65).

Francis Turretin (1623-1687): “… Christ willed to gather together those whom Jerusalem (i.e., the chiefs of the people) nilled to be gathered together, but notwithstanding their opposition Christ did not fail in gathering together those whom he willed … Jerusalem is here to be distinguished from her sons as the words themselves prove (and the design of the chapter, in which from v. 13 to v. 37, he addresses the scribes and Pharisees and rebukes them because ‘they neither went into the kingdom of heaven themselves, nor suffered those that were entering, to go in’)” (Institutes of Elenctic Theology, vol. 1 [Phillipsburg, NJ; P&R, 1992], p. 228).

Regarding the fourth objection, the differences between Luke 19 [vv. 41-44] and Matthew 23 (which refer to separate occasions) are crucial, for there is no contrast between Jerusalem and her children in Luke 19, nor are there different and opposing things said about what “Jerusalem” and Jerusalem’s “children” do or the attitude of other parties to them; nor does Luke 19 come after a chapter of Christ’s denunciations of Jerusalem’s leaders (as in Matthew 23), who seek to stop people entering the kingdom of heaven (cf. Matt. 23:13).

Further, the critic has all sorts of problems of his own: His view of the text fails to note the key distinction in the text (indeed, it seeks to overthrow it). It makes zero use of the chapter (Christ’s denouncing the religious leaders verse after verse, etc); it has man thwarting the will of Christ and of God—contrary to explicit Scriptures that speak against this blasphemy of a frustrated Christ and God (cf. Job 23:13; Ps. 115:3; 135:5, et al.).

(Anon, 25/11/2019)

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