HOW WESLEYAN IS THE WESLEY BIBLE?
Dr. Vic Reasoner

The traditional Protestant philosophy that the Bible should be printed "without note or comment" was stated in the past by both the British and Foreign Bible Society and the American Bible Society. Today that philosophy has been abandoned as each publisher rushes to get their corner of the study Bible market.

The practice of publishing the biblical text and personal comments as a "bible" was not popular in the past because it was recognized that fallible interpretation should not be associated with infallible revelation. Serious Christians have always tried to avoid the danger of "teaching as doctrines the commandments of men" (Matthew 15:9). According to Albertus Pieters, it was C. I. Scofield who popularized the practice. Pieters concluded, "Had his notes been published separately, by themselves, as a commentary, they would by this time have been forgotten."

Today, however, Baptists, Charismatics, dispensationalists, mainline denominations, and Wesleyans call all carry study Bibles which contain the same translation but with different footnotes. Warren Wiersbe wrote in 1977, "Annotated editions of the King James Bible continued to be published, and the public buys them. Like makers of cars or brands of toothpaste, each has its promoters and supporters and detractors, almost to the point of making this a test of orthodoxy or spiritual fellowship."

Dispensationalists have a choice between the original (1917) Scofield Study Bible, the New (and unimproved 1967) Scofield Study Bible, the Criswell Study Bible, and the Ryrie Study Bible. The Orthodox Study Bible explains the Orthodox faith complete with full color icons. Charismatics can choose between the Full Life Study Bible, The Spirit-Filled Life Bible, or The Word, which contains a history of the Charismatic Revivals and Revivalists. They might also get a Dake's Annotated Reference Bible, which contains unorthodox and bizarre views (see Christianity Today, 10 January, 1994, p. 50). Catholics are not left out with the Catholic Study Bible. Mainline denominations are covered with the Oxford Study Bible. Baptists are marketed with the Believer's Study Bible. Not to be outdone, Calvinists are now preparing a Geneva Study Bible.

You can purchase either a NIV Women's or Men's Devotional Bible. Couples can read the NIV Couples' Devotional Bible. Families can read from the Family Worship Bible. Blacks may own an Original African Heritage Study Bible. Anyone on the 12-step program can read from The Life Recovery Bible. Children can own a Precious Moments Bible, an International Children's Bible, The Adventure Bible, The Explorer's Bible, or a Young Discoverer's Bible, and those who teach children can read from the Children's Ministry Resource Bible. Life Application Bibles and the New Student Bible are geared for teens. There is a Dickson's New Analytical Study Bible, the Weston Study Bible, the Evangelical Study Bible, the International Inductive Study Bible, the Harper Study Bible, the Word in Life Study Bible, New Open Bible, an NIV Study Bible, the Experiencing God Study Bible, and a Serendipity Bible.

Are all of these study Bibles segregating the Christian Church? What would go into a study Bible for blacks that would not be needed in a general study Bible? What would men need to read in a devotional Bible that would not be appropriate for women to meditate upon?

Now we have a Wesley Bible. John Wesley did not publish a study Bible. He translated the Bible and published it with his notes as a commentary, the four volume Explanatory Notes Upon the Old and New Testament.

We now have available, however, whether we need it or not, the Wesley Bible advertized as "standing in the Wesleyan/Arminian tradition." How Wesleyan is it?

While I am in general agreement with most of the comments within the Bible, my evaluation will be limited to the classic Wesleyan understanding of salvation.

Under the section entitled "Baptism with the Holy Spirit" it is acknowledged that John Wesley did not equate Spirit baptism and entire sanctification. It is argued, however, that his brother Charles did and that John approved of his brother's hymns. No hymn is cited, however. Charles wrote much about the Holy Spirit and about sanctification, but these hymns refer to the general ministry of the Holy Spirit and not to Christian perfection in particular. Ken Bible wrote that "one of the most striking aspects of the Wesleys' holiness hymns is their lack of emphasis on the Spirit." He concluded that "a careful examination of their hymns casts grave doubts on any direct connection between Pentecost and full redemption in their thought."

This same section also asserts that John Fletcher equated the baptism of the Holy Spirit with entire sanctification. The truth is that Fletcher spoke of both the new birth and entire sanctification as accomplished by Spirit baptism. In fact, he taught the baptism with the Holy Spirit is repeated as often as necessary between the new birth and the next life.

The writer in the Wesley Bible acknowledged that not all followers of Wesley have made the equation of Spirit baptism and entire sanctification. However, the section concludes with the statement that "the editors of this volume believe there is scriptural support for the view that has been advanced by the holiness movement." They concluded by quoting the classic A. M. Hills statement adopted by the General Holiness Assembly in 1885:

Entire sanctification is a second definite work of grace wrought by the baptism with the Holy Spirit in the heart of the believer subsequently [sic] to regeneration, received instantaneously by faith, by which the heart is cleansed from all corruption and filled with the perfect love of God.

George Failing, writing in Insights into Holiness on "Developments in Holiness Theology After Wesley," asked, "Can any comparable definition be found in Wesley's works?" Failing recognized that this was not Wesley's emphasis.

The Hills statement does not take into account the Wesleyan emphasis that holiness and purity begin with regeneration, that sanctification is both a crisis and a process, that perfection is not a state but a maintained condition, and that the baptism with the Spirit is initiation into Christianity. Hills' definition assumes the doctrine of eradication and does not take into account the command to continuously be full of the Spirit and the promise of continuous cleansing from all sin.

The Wesley Bible notes on Acts 1:5 infer that Spirit baptism is a second experience for those already initiated by water baptism. In contrast, Wesley noted that all true believers are baptized with the Holy Ghost. Early Methodism taught water baptism was an outward testimony of Spirit baptism. In Acts 10:47 Cornelius was first baptized in the Spirit and then in water.

The Wesley Bible notes for Acts 2:39 teach the promised gift of the Spirit was for Christians. Wesley's notes tech this promised gift makes you a Christian. "If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, He is not a member of Christ; not a Christian; not in a state of salvation." The Wesley Bible notes for Romans 8:9 however, makes an artificial distinction between those who have the Spirit and those who are filled with the Spirit.

The Wesley Bible notes for Acts 6:3 teaches that not all believers are Spirit-filled. In the book of Acts, however, Luke uses seven different phrases to describe different aspects of the same operation of the Holy Spirit. Terms such as "receive, filled, baptized, endued" are near synonyms and cannot be used to make artificial distinctions.

Surely Wesley would object to a "Bible" which bears his name but taught the Samaritans were true believers yet still needed to receive the baptism with the Holy Spirit. Even Charles W. Carter in the Wesleyan Bible Commentary expressed doubt that Acts 8:15-16 was entire sanctification.

George A. Turner, who wrote the notes for Acts in the Wesley Bible implies that he thinks Saul is converted in Acts 9:6. His notes for Acts 9:9 however, acknowledge that Wesley did not believe Saul was yet born again.

However, in the case of Cornelius, Turner does not think he is yet a Christian in Acts 11:14-15. Therefore, according to Turner on Acts 11:17 "Peter considered Cornelius and his household to have become believers in the same sense as had Jesus' followers, who were filled with the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost." That means the disciples were born again at Pentecost. However, when Turner gets to Acts 15:8-9 he interprets Pentecost and the Cornelius' experience as a second work. Turner knows, however, that this is not Wesleyan. In The Vision Which Transforms, Turner acknowledged

John and Charles said or wrote little about the baptism in the Holy Spirit. This emphasis is relatively recent. It is not easy to find Wesleyan writers devoting much space to it or associating it with entire sanctification and evangelical perfection.

The section on "Sanctification - Initial and Entire" counsels that all Christians should seek the baptism with the Holy Spirit. However, the Bible never commands a believer to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The Wesley Bible at this point is neither biblical nor Wesleyan. Concerning the work of the Holy Spirit the Wesley Bible is both contradictory and tends to reflect the viewpoint of the later holiness movement instead of John Wesley. Those who really want to know what Wesley taught must not rely upon secondary sources. Get Wesley's Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament. But above all else, read the bible. Wesley counseled, "Try all things by the written word, and let all bow down before it." That means you might need to disregard some of the opinions inserted into the Wesley Bible.


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