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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Assurance

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1. The word and its Greek equivalents.-‘Assurance’ (with the kindred forms ‘assure,’ ‘assured of,’ ‘assuredly’) is employed in the English Version to render several Gr. words expressing certitude, or setting forth grounds of certainty.-(1) In Acts 17:31 it is used to render πίστις, ‘faith,’ which has the meaning here of ‘pledge’ or ‘guarantee,’ the Resurrection of Christ being taken by St. Paul, in addressing the Stoics und Epicureans of Athens on Mars’ Hill, as warranting the faith, or imparting certainty to the conviction, of judgment to come.-(2) It is used in Hebrews 11:1 (Revised Version ) to translate ὑπόστασις, ‘substance,’ ‘confidence,’ where πίστις itself is defined as ‘the assurance of things hoped for, the proving (ἔλεγχος) of things not seen.’-(3) In 1 John 3:19 we find the verb employed to translate πείσομεν from πείθειν: ‘Hereby shall we know that we are of the truth and shall assure our heart before him,’ where πείσομεν, translated ‘shall assure,’ signifies the stilling and tranquillizing of the heart that has been agitated by doubts, misgivings, or fears. (πείσομεν is only once again employed in the NT in this sense: in Matthew 28:14, where it is rendered ‘persuade,’ and where Tindale’s quaint translation is ‘pease’ [appease], the object of the persuasion being the Roman governor at Jerusalem.)-(4) In 2 Timothy 3:14 the passive form of the verb is found as the rendering of ἐπιστώθης, ‘thou hast been assured of,’ referring to Timothy’s training in the knowledge of the ‘sacred writings which are able to make thee wise unto salvation.’-(5) In Acts 2:36 we find the adverb ‘assuredly’ employed to translate ἀσφαλῶς, ‘surely,’ ‘certainly,’ recalling ἀσφάλειαν in Luke 1:4.-(6) In Acts 16:10 the word συμβιβάζων, ‘combining,’ ‘putting this and that together,’ is translated in Authorized Version ‘assuredly gathering,’ which in Revised Version has given place to the word of logical inference, ‘concluding.’

(7) The word, however, of which ‘assurance’ is the definite and specific rendering is πληροφορία (1 Thessalonians 1:5, Colossians 2:2, Hebrews 6:11; Hebrews 10:22), with which may be taken the kindred verb πληροφορεῖν, passive πληροφορεῖσθαι. In determining the precise meaning of the Gr. original we receive no help from Gr. literature in general, where the word is not. found at all till a late period. The word πληροφορεῖν, however, has been found in papyri signifying ‘to settle fully an account,’ ‘to give satisfaction as to a doubtful matter,’ ‘to be completely satisfied with regard to something that was owing’ (A. Deissmann, Light from the Ancient East, London, 1910, p. 82). It occurs once in Septuagint (Ecclesiastes 8:11). Otherwise its use is exclusively NT and Patristic.-(a) πληροφορία is used absolutely in 1 Thessalonians 1:5, and, though Revised Version margin gives ‘much fulness’ as the translation of πολλὴ πληροφορία, this is weak and inadequate, and ‘full assurance’ of Authorized Version and Revised Version brings out the proper force of the word and really expresses the Apostle’s thought. The second term of the composite word (-φορία, -φορεῖν, -εῖσθαι) seems to carry with it a subjective force both in the noun, and in the verb, as may be gathered from examples in the NT and in the Fathers. To this 2 Timothy 4:5 and Luke 1:1 may be exceptions. We are justified, therefore, in rendering in Colossians 2:2 ‘full assurance of the understanding’; in Hebrews 6:11 ‘full assurance of hope’; and in Hebrews 10:22 ‘full assurance of faith.’ In 1 Clem. xlii.3 μετὰ πληροφορίας πνεύματος ἁγίου is ‘with full assurance produced by the Holy Spirit,’ although it might be ‘with full reliance upon the Holy Spirit.’ This Clementine passage has the verb also (πληροφορηθέντες) and is peculiarly instructive as to the nature of the ‘assurance’ which possessed the apostles as they went forth to be ambassadors of Christ: ‘Accordingly having received instructions and having attained to full assurance (πληροφορηθέντες) through the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and having been put in trust with the word of God, they went forth in full reliance upon the Holy Spirit, preaching the glad tidings that the kingdom of God was about to come.’-(b) πληροφορεῖσθαι has the subjective force we have attributed to it in most of the Pauline and Patristic examples of its use. Of Abraham it is said that he was ‘fully assured’ (πληροφορηθείς) that what God had promised he was able also to perform (Romans 4:21). In regard to doubtful questions in the Apostolic Church, St. Paul bids each man be ‘fully assured’ in his own mind (Romans 14:5 Revised Version ). The prayer of St. Paul and his friends for the Colossian Christians is that they may stand perfect and ‘fully assured’ (πεπληροφορημένοι) in every thing willed by God (Colossians 4:12). In the Epp. of Ignatius, who contends so strenuously against Docetic views of the Person of Christ, we find the saint and martyr employing the verb in the same sense as St. Paul. He bids his readers be on their guard against the seductions of error and he fully assured (πεπληροφορῆσθαι) of the Birth, Passion, and Resurrection as historical facts, for these things were truly and certainly done by Jesus Christ ‘our Hope, from which hope may it never befall any of you to be turned aside’ (Magn. 11). Elsewhere, speaking of the OT prophets, Ignatius declares that they were inspired by the grace of Christ Jesus ‘to the end that unbelievers might be fully assured (εἰς τὸ πληροφορηθῆναι) that there is one God who manifested Himself through Jesus Christ, His Son’ (Magn. 8).

2. The doctrine in the teaching of the apostles.-From an examination of the words employed by the NT writers to express Christian certainty, with the illustrations, which might easily be added to, from the Apostolic Fathers, we can gain a clear outline of the character of ‘assurance.’ It embraces a conviction of the truth of the Christian history, of the historical reality of the Birth, Passion, and Resurrection of Christ; trustful reliance upon the promises of God in Jesus Christ His Son; the exercise of the intelligence and the reasoning powers to know without doubt what God requires of His people; and the consciousness of a personal interest in Christ and His great redemption, wrought by the Spirit in the individual soul. This outline we are able to fill in from the apostles’ teaching in passages where the word itself is not employed. Assurance, as an experience of the apostolic writers and their readers, meets us in nearly every one of the Epistles. St. James, in his Epistle, negatively urges it when he dwells upon the evils of the divided mind, and he has words of commendation for the perfected faith of Abraham (James 1:6; James 1:8; James 2:21 f.). St. Jude knows the secret when he commends the readers of his brief Epistle to Him that is able to keep them from falling and to present them faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy (Judges 1:24). The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, when he bids his readers show diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end (Hebrews 6:11), means ‘that your salvation may be a matter of certainty, and not merely of charitable hope’ (A. B. Bruce). And pointing to the blood of sprinkling, and the rent veil, and the new and living way, and the heavenly High Priest, he bids them keep approaching ‘with a true heart in full assurance of faith’ (Hebrews 10:22). But St. Peter, St. John, and St. Paul have teaching on the subject which may be a little more fully drawn out.

(1) St. Peter’s teaching is given in Acts and in the Epistles that bear his name. St. Peter’s speeches, on the day of Pentecost and afterwards, set forth the grounds of the assurance of the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus which possessed the apostles and their believing hearers. Those grounds are (a) the prophetic words of Scripture finding their fulfilment not in David or any other, but in Jesus; (b) the personal testimony of the apostles to the things which they had seen and heard; (c) the manifestation of the risen Lord’s presence and power in the miracles wrought in His name; (d) the inner witness of the Spirit-‘we are witnesses of these things and so is the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him’ (Acts 5:32)-‘the historical witness borne to the facts and the internal witness of the Holy Ghost bringing home to men’s hearts the meaning of the facts’ (Knowling, ad loc.; cf. Acts 2:16-34; Acts 4:20 ff.). It is this assurance which the Apostle holds forth to the sojourners of the Dispersion in his First Epistle (1 Peter 1:3-9), whom the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ had begotten again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead; ‘who by the power of God are guarded through faith unto a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.’ Whether 2 Peter be the production of St. Peter or of same disciple writing in his spirit at a later time, it is the voice of full assurance we hear when the author says: ‘We did not follow cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eye-witnesses of his majesty’ (2 Peter 1:16). Thus convincingly does the external and the internal witness blend in St. Peter’s doctrine of assurance.

(2) St. John’s teaching in his Epistles lays the chief stress upon the ethical tests, and has less to say of the inner witness. Not that the latter is overlooked. ‘The anointing which ye received of him,’ he says, referring to the Holy Spirit or a function of the Spirit, ‘abideth in you, and ye have no need that any one teach you (1 John 2:27). But St. John’s doctrine of assurance embraces great Christian certainties. ‘We know and have believed the love which God hath in us’ (1 John 4:16). ‘We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren’ (1 John 3:14), ‘Hereby shall we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him’ (1 John 3:19). ‘We know [being the children of God and recipients of redeeming love] that, if he shall be manifested, we shall be like him; for we shall see him even as he is’ (1 John 3:2). ‘We know that we have come to a knowledge of him, if we keep his commandments’ (1 John 2:3). ‘Hereby we know that we are in him; he that saith he abideth in him ought himself also to walk even as he walked’ (1 John 2:5 f.).

Law aptly characterizes St. John’s doctrine of personal assurance when he says: ‘With St. John the grounds of assurance are ethical, not emotional; objective, not subjective; plain and tangible, not microscopic and elusive. They are three, or, rather, they are a trinity: Belief, Righteousness, Love. By his belief in Christ, his keeping God’s commandments, and his love to the brethren, a Christian man is recognised, and recognises himself as begotten of God’ (Tests of Life, Edinburgh, 1909, p. 297).

St. John applies his doctrine of assurance to prayer. ‘Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, we have boldness toward God; and whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments’ (1 John 3:21 f.). ‘And this is the boldness which we have towards him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us’ (1 John 5:14). And while this assurance gives boldness and confidence in prayer, it also gives boldness in the Day of Judgment; ‘Herein is love made perfect with us, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, even so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear’ (1 John 4:17 f.).

(3) St. Paul’s teaching lays the stress upon the inner witness which we desiderated in St. John. And yet in his enumeration of graces under the designation of ‘fruit of the Spirit’ we have sure evidences of the Spirit’s indwelling whereby to ‘assure our hearts’ before Him. St. Paul’s assurance rests also upon a broad basis of fact in the Person and work of Christ: ‘I know him whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that he is able to guard that which I have committed unto him against that day’ (2 Timothy 1:12). When, however, he uses the expression ‘we know,’ uttering his assurance of personal immortality, he attributes it to God who gave him the earnest of the Spirit (2 Corinthians 5:1 ff.). In two great passages, Romans 8:14 ff. and Galatians 4:6 f., St. Paul sets forth the witness of the Spirit to the sonship of the believer, which is the ground of his full assurance, by the childlike confidence which it works and the perfect liberty which it brings. And so he can exclaim: ‘We know that to them that love God all things work together for good, even to them that are called according to his purpose.… For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 8:28; Romans 8:38 f.).

But, although St. Paul cherishes this assurance and has no doubt or misgiving as to his personal salvation, this assurance does not cause him to slacken in the fulfilment of service and the pursuit of the eternal prize. Even he is moved by the wholesome fear lest he who had preached to others should yet himself become a castaway (ἀδόκιμος, 1 Corinthians 9:27), and be cast out of the lists as one who had not contended according to the rules.

‘We must remember,’ says a Christian writer before the middle of the 2nd cent., ‘that he who strives in the corruptible contest, if he be found acting unfairly, fouling a competitor in the race, or trying with guile to overreach his antagonist, is taken away and scourged and cast forth from the lists. What then think ye? If one does anything unseemly in the incorruptible contest, what shall be have to bear?’ (2 Clem. vii). It is in the same spirit that the author of the Didache, writing before the close of the 1st cent., says: ‘For the whole period of your faith will profit you nothing unless ye be found fully perfected at the last’ (Did. xvi. 2; cf. Ep. of Barn. iv. 9).

Literature.-F. H. R. von Frank, System of Christian Certainly, Eng. translation , Edinburgh, 1886; W. J. Townsend, H. B. Workman, and G. Eayrs, New Hist. of Methodism, London, 1909; R. Seeberg, in Realencyklopädie für protestantische Theologie und Kirche 3 vi. 160; the article ‘Assurance,’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) , Hastings’ Single-vol. Dictionary of the Bible , and Dict. of Christ and the Gospels ; article ‘Certitude,’ in Catholic Encyclopedia , and article ‘Certainty (Religious),’ in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics , with the literature there cited.

T. Nicol.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Assurance'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/a/assurance.html. 1906-1918.

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