How to Distinguish Matters of Faith From Matters of Opinion
Thomas G. O'Neal
I appreciate the invitation of brother Mike Willis to participate in this special issue of Guardian of Truth. The confidence in me such an invitation expresses is very much appreciated.
Two terms are important to this article, faith and opinion. Consulting standard works like Strong's and Young's Concordance one learns that the word "opinion" is not used in the New Testament, thus, a need to go elsewhere for a definition. Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary (589) says " 1. Belief stronger than impression, less strong than positive knowledge; a belief; view, judgment. 2. The judgment or sentiment which the mind forms of persons or things; estimation; sometimes, favorable estimation; esteem. . . " According to Webster in terms of strength is (1) positive knowledge, (2) then opinion, and then (3) impression.
What "Opinion" Is Not
1. An approved example is not opinion. In Acts 11:27-30 we have the approved example of Antioch sending relief to the brethren in Judea, sending it to the elders. This is not someone's opinion; the text says they sent it to the elders, not to a board of directors of a human organization.
2. A necessary inference is not opinion. In Matthew 3:16 "Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water." Necessarily inferred in this is that Jesus went down into the water. This is not someone's opinion; it is necessarily inferred from the text.
3. A command is not opinion. Jesus said, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned" (Mk. 16:16). This is not someone's opinion; this is what Jesus said and what Mark records.
An opinion is a belief, even a strong one, that a person has of others or of things. It may be a correct opinion or it may be incorrect. If it is a correct opinion, it is founded on fact; if it is a correct religious opinion it is rooted in God's word. If it is an incorrect opinion, it is founded on something beside fact; if it is an incorrect religious opinion, it is based upon something other than what God has said.
1. The term "the faith" is used in the New Testament to mean God's revelation to man, the revealed system of faith (Jude 3; Acts 6:7; 13:8; Rom. 1:5; 16:26; Gal. 1:23 and Phil. 1:27). It means the same thing as "the gospel." For example, one could exchange "the faith" for "the gospel" in Mark 16:15 without doing violence to the passage. The two terms - faith and gospel -mean the same. When the term "the faith" is so used, it is an objective use of it.
2. The term "faith" is used in another way in the New Testament. This usage is not an objective use of it, meaning the gospel. In this second usage of it, the term indicates what one personally believes based upon their understanding of the faith of the gospel. Their personal faith may be correct or it may be incorrect.
Paul used it in the correct way in Romans 14 when he said "whatsoever is not of faith is sin" (v. 23). "Faith" in verse 23 means "let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind" (v. 5). It is with reference to this faith Paul said, "Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God" (v. 22). "Faith" is verse 22 is not doubting of verse 23. "Faith" in verse 22 is not the "faith once delivered unto the saints" (Jude 3). The faith once delivered was to be preached to all the world (Mk. 16:15; Gal. 1:23; Jude 3). The "faith" of Romans 14:22 was not to be preached but "have it to thyself before God."
Brethren, we need to understand that our faith, our personal faith, which we are to have to ourselves before God is over a matter or matters either of which is acceptable to God. The meat eater and the herb eater of Romans 14 were both received by God (Rom. 14:3; 15:7). The man who esteemed one day above another and the brother who did not were both received by God (Rom. 14:5; 15:7).
The Faith - The Gospel
In the New Testament the terms faith and gospel are often used to mean the same thing. In Romans 1: 16-17 Paul said he was "not ashamed of the gospel of Christ" the reason being "therein" that is, in the gospel is "the righteousness of God revealed" from "faith" - the gospel - to "faith" within the heart.
This faith was not just somebody's opinion. The apostles who revealed it claimed they were eyewitnesses (2 Pet. 1:16), they heard (2 Pet. 1:18; 1 Jn. 1:1), they handled (1 Jn. 1:1-4) that which they declared. What was delivered was received of the Lord (1 Cor. 15:23; 15:3; Gal. 1:11-12). When this faith was written, people who read could understand the message (Eph. 3:3-4) and understand the will of God (Eph. 5:17). More knowledge or understanding is not what is needed by brethren on this subject, but more faith to believe exactly what Jesus said.
When men want to read and understand the will of God, they can. Jesus asked a lawyer what he read in the Law. When this lawyer responded, Jesus said, "Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live" (Lk. 10:25-28). When Herod wanted to know "where Christ should be born" it did not take the chief priest and scribes long to say "in Bethlehem of Judea" (Matt. 2:35). When men 16want to" understand God's will, they can; when they don't 94want to" they claim great difficulty. What they need is to get their "want to" in shape.
Jesus said, "Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committed adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery" (Matt. 19:9). This is where the battle has centered recently among brethren - on the faith.
In order to get away from what Jesus said, some brethren have said all kinds of things and taken all kinds of foolish positions.
1. Glen Lovelady said in his debate with J.T. Smith that this from the lips of Jesus was "an interpolation of copiest" (p. 23) being "an addition" (p. 172) then said "it shouldn't be there" for "in 1611, forty-eight scholars added Matthew 19:9B" (p. 177).
2. Leroy Garrett said that Matthew "inserted that exception on his own, and that Jesus never said it" (Restoration Review, Nov., 1978, as quoted by Mike Willis in Truth Magazine, Vol. 23, p. 93).
3. Olan Hicks says that what truth brethren have taught from Matthew 19:9 through the years "comes from the Vatican" (What the Bible Says About Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage, p. 26), and that brethren "need to remove the glasses which have been provided for us by the Catholic Church" (p. 26). He further says in his debate with Jack Holt, "we are traditionist" (p. 9) having "re-written the Bible" (p. 21) and taking "sides with Satan" (p. 39, in his debate with Ray Hawk) with a "human theory" (p. 23) which "originated in human theology long after the Bible was written" (p. 14). Hicks redefines adultery saying "Jesus speaks of two acts, the doing of which is adultery. 1. Divorcing and 2. marrying another" (p. 18, debate with Holt).
4. Brother Homer Hailey says "Adultery was in breaking the marriage covenant and making another covenant to suit their pleasures" (p. 57, The Divorced and Remarried Who Would Come to God). 1, along with many others, am surprised at brother Hailey taking this position since the New Testament shows adultery is (1) an act (Jn. 8:4) committed in connection with a (2) bed (Rev. 2:22). Further, he said, "Matthew 19:3-9 is a part of the covenant that the Christian lives under, not the alien" (p. 59). Jesus said "whosoever" (Matt. 19:9). Of "whosoever" brother Hailey has said "whosoever indicates anyone" (The Minor Prophets, p. 55).
"Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery" is not someone's opinion. It is a part of "the faith" for which we are to earnestly contend (Jude 3) and that is exactly why this special issue has been prepared to contend for the faith. If there are some who do not like us contending for the faith, then they should cease pressing their erroneous personal opinions on this subject which are not taught in the New Testament.
Brethren, all any of us need is more faith to accept what Jesus said.
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 1, pp. 25-26