In this session, our subject will be “Fables.” “Fables.” Let us look first at I Timothy 1:4. I Timothy 1:4, “Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies which minister questions rather than godly edifying which is in faith. So do.”

Just a week or two ago, I had a long-distance call from someone in a very sizeable church concerning a problem in the church. The problem amazed me. The church was in a discussion over Amyrautism. Now Amyraut was a French theologian whose dates were 1596-1664. What he attempted to do was to reconcile the universal offer of salvation with limited atonement. There were certain defects in his thinking but there were even greater defects probably in the thinking of some of the men with whom he was in contention. But the thing that amazed me about this entire discussion was the fact that in this church as in many others, all the theological questions are very ancient ones. They’re totally dead to the current battles. They are not concerned with the question of religious liberty, with Liberation Theology, with the challenges in this particular case within the circles of that church, to the doctrine of infallibility. Instead, I do believe many such groups delight in a never-ending debate on some ancient problem like Amyrautism because it makes them appear to be super holy with a very sensitive conscience to the nuances of doctrinal matters. I think such a theological debate is a mask for irrelevance. [0:03:11.0]

Now Paul, when he wrote to the Galatians I Galatians 1:8 concerning their interest in angels, said that their debate, their interest, their discussions concerning angels was wrong. No matter what side anyone was on, he called them foolish Galatians because they were majoring in minors and bypassing the fundamentals of the faith. He did not say you are erroneous Galatians, but rather, you are foolish Galatians. Now they could also have been in error and no doubt were. But the emphasis that Paul gave was on their foolishness. This is important for us to recognize.

Again, Paul in I Timothy 1:4, our text, summons believers not to give heed to fable and endless genealogies. Now what does he mean by fables? The word fable usually means now something which is false; a lie. In the Greek of the New Testament, that is a secondary meaning, but the primary meaning is a moral tale. We still have that meaning in a secondary sense today.

Now, Paul does not say these fables and these genealogies are false. He did not say this genealogy which you have here set forth is at stage 6 erroneous. Rather, he says they minister questions. This is an important point. Paul is not attacking these fables or moral tales nor the genealogies as fiction. He is not saying they are falsifications, but they are problems which minister further problems. They lead nowhere. (It’s like the question of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Now supposedly that philosophical question and the later middle ages dealt with the relationship of spirit and matter. Angels being spiritual, incorporeal beings could not make contact with matter, so an infinite number could perhaps dance on the head of a pin. There’s nothing false about that statement, but it’s foolish. All it does is to minister questions. All it does is to raise a nice point philosophically for someone to debate and to talk about.) As a result, when Paul condemns these fables, he is not dealing with the possibility they are fictions. This is possible. But his concern is that all such teaching ministers questions rather than godly edifying which is in faith. This is his point. [0:07:37.4]

Now again, Paul uses the word in I Timothy 4:7, “but refuse profane and old wives’ fables and exercise thyself rather unto godliness.” Profane means ‘outside the temple’. These fables might be interesting stories. They might be like Aesop’s Fables. But the gospel is to be our concern.

Paul goes on further, he deals with the word fable in the second and fourth verses, or, excuse me, he says in I Timothy 4:2, 4[! Timothy 4:2, 3] that there are some who forbid to marry, some who speak lies and hypocrisy. Now all of this he classifies as, among other things, old wives’ fables. So here he could be dealing with fiction. However, in Titus 1:4 [Titus 1:14] he here again deals with fable and he says, “Not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth.” Again, he does not say that these fables are false or that the commandments are necessarily evil, but they turn men from the truth, which is Jesus Christ. In II Peter 1:14, he warns against cunningly devised fables, by which he means teachings which seem to be true to the Word but they undermine it. The key to all these uses of fables is I Timothy 1:4. Fables are teachings whether true or false, which minister questions, rather than godly growth and learning. [0:10:25:6]

Let us illustrate:

Predestination is a scriptural doctrine, but it has often been turned into a fable by Reformed scholars. At the time of {?}, Catholic and Protestant theologians debated endlessly on a variety of subjects such as predestination, the Lord’s table, baptism, the government of the Church, and so on, but never once in the hundreds upon hundreds of debates, because such debates were popular at that time, was there ever a discussion on justification, atonement, salvation. Now, one would have thought that this was the critical point where the Reformation and Rome were divided. But that had become a subject that had become forgotten. They were bent on emphasizing their unique position in terms of predestination or the Lord’s Table, open or closed communion, the forms of Church government, and thereby they turned those things which were true into a fable, something which ministered questions rather than godly edifying.

Armstrong, who’s written on {?}, deals with this point and his conclusion is this, “One finds literally hundreds of accounts of conferences between leading Protestant and Catholic churchmen but we have yet to find one in the 17th century which had for its topic the Doctrine of Justification. This almost total silence, led R{?} to conclude that by then upon this famous principle of justification by faith, for which Luther initiated the Reformation, it is certain that it had been discovered that the disagreement here was merely a matter of words.” [0:13:09.3]

Now, the truth of God, in other words, can be turned into a fable if we use it as a point to prove our theological expertise and to raise questions rather than to edify the people of God. Moreover the thinkers of that day, the Reformed thinkers who said they had the truth separated dogmatics and ethics. It is one thing to hold certain doctrines. It is another thing to be moral.

Now how could you say that anyone who held such a position no matter how correctly he defined in his dogmatics, doctrines such as inspiration and predestination, and the incarnation, have done anything but turn those doctrines into fables, because they were set forth as matters of disputation. This was the whole point. If you go to any of the writers of the day, you find their very presentation of doctrine (even though you might agree with their doctrine), is in the form of setting down points for debate because they are concerned with argument, concerned with developing a point for debate and they have abstracted it from life and from morality; from the living faith and have turned it into fables. [0:15:08.8]

This attitude is very much with us today. About ten years ago, I had the statement made to me by some scholars (one in particular), that my work and the work of Chalcedon would flourish much more if we had scholars in mind and wrote for critical analysis. In other words, set forth your position for scholars so that they can debate it and there can be an endless dialog back and forth. For this one man, this was the whole point of theology. It had to be something between scholars for endless discussion. You have to start a dialog! Well, that was his opinion. It had no relationship as far as he was concerned to the life of faith in action. It’s not surprising that when it came to practical concerns with the people of Christ and the battles they face in the world, he was silent. This particular man was, and is a godly man. He believes the Bible from cover-to-cover. He seems to be correct at every point, but his teaching is of fables—true—but they minister questions, not godly edifying. [0:17:05.1]

Another scholar, one of the most prominent in the country and one of the most brilliant minds of our day (even though I think he is very wrong-headed, yet he is supposed to be one of the most Bible-believing Old Testament scholars we have), has actually said with regard to Genesis 1:26 following, when we read, “Let us make man in our image,” which all theologians have heretofore said is a reference to the fact that there are three persons in the Godhead, a plurality in the Godhead, and so the three persons of the Godhead take counsel together and say let us make man in our image, and he teaches his class, now we must look at all these things and analyze the words carefully. There is no need to assume that this necessarily has reference to the persons of the Godhead. God could be saying to the angels, let us make man in our image. What we need to do, he goes on to say, is to analyze the possibilities in any verse.

When you analyze the possibilities of meaning, what are you doing? You are denying that God has a fixed and a definite meaning for us. This is of course what led to Phariseeism. This is why Paul called the teachings of the Pharisees fables; fables. And the fables took the Word of God and by analyzing all the potential meanings, falsified it to mean anything but what God intended. I think the classic example of it is the interpretation given to the Tenth Commandment, “thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife.” Some of the Pharisees said here we have a development of the fullness of the meaning ‘thou shalt not commit adultery;’ it is adultery if it is with your neighbor’s wife. It is not adultery if it is not with a woman three miles away or your enemy’s wife. What have they done? They’ve turned the Word of God into a fable. Now that’s an extreme example, but the result there is a product of a teaching which ministers questions and the whole purpose of the Word of God is not to minister questions but to lead to godly faith and action. [0:20:40:4]

Are there any questions now?


[Audience] In Titus 3:9, “But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law….” Uh, my first question is what does he mean genealogies and then there’s the strivings about the law, is just what you were talking about the commandment?

[Rushdoony] Yes, everything was done to say you kept the law without keeping it, you see; to turn the law into a puzzle. One of the books I gave to Dorothy this last Christmas is about life, to this day among Orthodox Jews. And this one story in particular, I felt was a classic example of Phariseeism. As you doubtless know, the Pharisees and Jewish Orthodoxy is now Phariseeism, to this day believe that it is a sin to work on the Lord’s Day even if that work is no more than flipping a light switch (in the old days, lighting a lamp). So what you would do would be to hire a Gentile in the neighborhood to come in and turn on the light for you and to turn it off, or to turn the stove on for you and put the pot on and to turn it off. It’s also a sin to take out a pencil and paper or a pen and to write. That’s work. Of course, drinking and gambling on the Sabbath is not work. So it’s not forbidden.

Well, at any rate, this group of Orthodox Jews, when they weren’t in the synagogue on the Lord’s Day, they had nothing to do the rest of the day and you couldn’t work, and so what did they do? They played bridge, or was it poker in that particular case? At any rate, well how are you going to keep score when you can’t use a pencil? Each of them—now this is the kind of thing that Phariseeism spent hours going over the law about, to find out ways of getting around the plain statements of the law. They got around that by getting a big book and putting it in their lap. And they’d keep score by turning to the page that gave their score. So that every one of them would be playing bridge or poker with a big book in their lap, keeping score by flipping the page after each hand. Now that’s what is meant here.

Genealogies again, it was important for a long time and continued for some generations after the Fall of Jerusalem, to know your genealogy. The belief actually was popular that everyone who was a son of Abraham was saved because Abraham was such a righteous man that he had accumulated a storehouse of good works, enough to save every Jew to the end of time who was the blood child of Abraham. Remember what the Jews said when our Lord spoke to them about their sins and all? We be sons of Abraham! We’re alright with God. All these works of supererogation, the treasury of merit and all; we have a tremendous storehouse of good works. And of course, you had to be a descendant of Abraham. Now that meant you were always carting around a genealogy to prove that you had Abraham’s blood and that you didn’t have a grandfather who might be a Greek or an Edomite or somebody else. So this was the kind of thing that was done. [0:25:20.7]


[Audience] I was wondering, where do you draw the lines in terms of, say in a particular churches and so forth when they, when they get in arguments over, say Arminianism versus predestination and so forth, when does it no longer become productive and become destructive?

[Rushdoony] The thing is that our arguments cannot convert anyone. We witness to the truth. It’s not a matter for disputation and as Calvin said with regard to adopting of predestination, it is not for disputation but for the comfort of the saints. I think that we should be uncompromising in our position. But to make it a matter of dispute gets us nowhere.

[Audience] So then you {?} what you’re saying is no point in arguing the—

[Rushdoony] I have seen arguments by the year, and I never saw anyone converted by arguments, only by the Holy Spirit. We preach and teach the Word uncompromisingly. We do not argue the Word.


[Audience] But, on that same level, can the two positions, can the two positions work together in one church, in one unity, and not that constantly coming up at the {?}

[Rushdoony] Rarely. Rarely.

Any other questions or comments?


[Audience] Can I pitch in something about attitudes when this doctrine is presented? As in {?}

[Rushdoony] Yes. You see, one of the fallacies of scholasticism was that it turned all theological matters into questions for disputation. Now very quickly, this attitude crept into Protestantism as well. And the seminaries have trained people to argue doctrine, not to proclaim it. And there is a difference. The one is an appeal to reason. The other is a trust in the Holy Spirit and His work. Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. Now, the Word of God is to be presented as the Word of God, not our human rationalizations thereof. Preaching is to be declaratory. It declares the Word of God. [0:28:45.9]

I know preachers who are fine people in some cases—very fine, who feel that every time they preach, they’ve got to prove everything to their congregation, even though there’s no one but a Christian there. So every time they refer to something, they go to every verse in the Bible to prove it afresh even though everybody believes it. It’s no wonder that their preaching is deadly dull. They’re not preaching, they’re offering a rationalistic disputation. And there is a difference. Any preaching that does not begin with a confidence in the Holy Spirit and the efficacy of the Word is foolishness. So the preaching must be a declaration of the Word and a trust in the Holy Spirit and what He will do.

[Audience] Well, in the argumentation, it, it occurs to me that that’s more, it climbs up on the level of the ego, rather than the {?} of the Word and the declaration of it.

[Rushdoony] I have found that in arguments, both sides are paying no attention to what the other says or listening with half an ear, because while the other person is speaking, they’re thinking up their next point. So each is listening to himself and trying to figure out how to deal with the other. They only get a fraction of what the other is saying. [0:30:37.8]

[Audience] I’m real familiar with that.


[Rushdoony] And I don’t feel that it serves the Lord’s cause well.


[Audience] So on that same way, our position should be to state what we feel in the sense of predestination that that is our stand because we believe it biblically and that’s as far as it needs to go. We don’t need to go {?} ground over and over again.

[Rushdoony] Yes. One person once who was determined to argue with me, now perhaps it wasn’t altogether kind of me, and he just was insistent on arguing with me on a point of doctrine and I just said, well this is what I believe and he said, well I don’t agree with you and I said too bad for you! And walked off. [Laughter]

I don’t see any use in an argument.

Now that wasn’t altogether gracious of me, but I was just fed up with someone trying to pick an argument which is what he wanted to do and I don’t believe that that furthers the kingdom.

Well if there are no further questions and comments, let’s conclude with prayer.

Oh Lord, our God, whose Word is truth, we thank Thee that by Thy Spirit, Thy truth is made known to the hearts of men. We thank Thee, our Father, that it is Thy Spirit and Thy power that makes men a new creation, that it is not of us, for then it would be a hopeless and a futile thing. Give us grace, therefore, Father, to put our whole trust in Thee and Thy Word and in the power of Thy Spirit that we may in all things stand clearly and unashamedly in the sovereign majesty of that Word. Bless us to this purpose, in Jesus’ name, amen. [0:33:17.3]