Gregory K. Beale, Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, has been quite busy. His recent publications include:
- The Morality of God in the Old Testament (Christian Answers to Hard Questions)
- Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament: Exegesis and Interpretation
- New Testament Biblical Theology
- Revelation (NIGTC)
- Temple and the Church’s Mission
- 1-2 Thessalonians
- We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry
- The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism
- Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament
- Right Doctrine from the Wrong Text? Essays on the Use of the Old Testament in the New (editor and contributor)
But he’s not done. In 2014 he has another 5 books (that’s right, FIVE) to be released.
- The Book of Revelation: A Shorter Commentary
- Hidden But Now Revealed: A Biblical Theology of Mystery
- God Dwells Among Us: Expanding Eden to the Ends of the Earth
- John’s Use of the Old Testament in Revelation (The Library of New Testament Studies)
- An Interpretive Lexicon of New Testament Greek
Anyone interested in the New Testament’s use of the Old Testament, New Testament studies , and Biblical Theology should seriously consider anything by Beale. Thankfully two of these forthcoming works are summarizations of his larger more technical works.
For those interested in diving into Beale’s approach, Westminster Theological Seminary has posted Beale’s 22 lecture seminary course on Biblical Theology.
A few years ago Christian Hip-Hop artist Shai Linne release a track titled “False Teachers.” There he called out a number of prominent TV preachers and evangelists as wolves in sheep’s clothing. It was a bold move, and to many in the Word Faith (WF) camp, it was an attack on highly regarded leaders. The WF movement —along with it’s prosperity gospel— has long been exposed as reintroducing some of the worst heresies in Christian history. There are the infamous quotes of Kenneth Copeland claims that the greatest failure in Scripture is none other than God himself, Creflo Dollar’s remark that all Christians are “little gods,” (the Dollar clip starts at :40) not to mention Benny Hinn’s nine-persons-of-the-Trinity doctrine and his desire to blown away his critics with a “Holy Ghost machine gun.” All manners of problematic teaching has come from this group of teachers, so what I present here is but a sampling.
Here is Myles Munroe, president and founder of the Bahamas Faith Ministries International and Myles Munroe International, claiming —in his own words—that preaching Jesus and the redemptive power of his death is a bad evangelistic strategy.
There’s so much to say here. In a mere 3 minutes I was frustrated, confused, angered, and then brokenhearted. Munroe says, “The good news isn’t Jesus…it’s the kingdom.” But the blazing biblical center of the kingdom message is the king himself. Paul taught, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). In the first century and in our own day, many want a kingdom that means victory, power, and triumph. And this is what the kingdom of Jesus will ultimately bring in his return. But the means of kingdom victory is suffering, persecution, and just generally be seen as being one of those “weird Christians who believe crazy stuff.” This is because the power and wisdom of God revealed in the cross is foolishness to those whose existence is marked by rebellion against the great God and king of the universe. The following words are grievous:
- “There’s a higher level of life you can be living…”
- “How do I get there?”
- “Then you tell them about ‘born again.'”
Think about this for a minute. This is the very definition of what it means to use Jesus as a means to an end. The goal is “kingdom living” as Munroe (and other prosperity teachers) defines it, and the means to achieve that goal is Jesus. This is tragic. It’s tragic because it effectively pushes Jesus—the Messiah and rightful king of the world— to the side in order magnify the glory of self. My wants, my needs, my health, my finances. But…
The creator of the universe is not a means to an end.
The true Israel and second Adam is not a means to an end.
The serpent-crushing Seed of the Woman is not a means to an end.
The only hope for sinners is not a means to an end.
The head of the church and the first fruits of the resurrection is not a means to an end.
Jesus is savior. Jesus is king. Jesus is ALL.
Recently, I was asked about the relationship of human language to God. Now, we should recognize that this is an issue the handling of which can (and has) literally filled whole books. So, naturally, what I write here is only a sketch.
So, where does language come from? Is human language suitable for God to use in order to communicate with human beings? Some have argued that human language is not a suitable vehicle, that the limited nature of human concepts (as expressed in human language) provides a hurdle for divine communication altogether. Others have said, in essence, that human language is not a complete dealing breaker in divine-human communication, but it corrupts communication because God has to accommodate to the limitations of our language. This means that some things God communicates are not true in the fullest sense of the word—our language makes that nearly impossible.
Nearly all Christians recognize some need for God to accommodate his speech to “fit” human communication. If God is going to speak to humans he must do so in something less than the perfect “language” of inter-Trinitarian communication. But I don’t see this ultimately as a problem for God’s revelation.
Does God have to “accommodate” his speech for human understanding? Yes, but understanding this within its proper context is vital. I root the need for linguistic accommodation in the Creator/creature distinction. God created humans to reflect him as creatures. We are like him in many ways, but there are major differences. God speaks. Humans speak. It appears that God created us with some sort of beginner language and original vocabulary (since Adam was able to perfectly communicate with God in the garden). But the development of language is a human construct and therefore not identical to divine communication…and this isn’t a bad thing. By “human construct” I mean a development of human ingenuity in fulfillment of the cultural mandate—linguistic constructs help to order, organize, and therefore have dominion over creation.
None of what I wrote should be taken to imply that the inherent finitude of human language somehow limits God’s ability to successfully communicate to his creatures. This finitude cannot ultimately gag God because it is a construct of human beings, and humans are image-bearers of the infinite-personal speaking God. Finally, all this means that God’s verbal accommodation is not anthropomorphic (the attribution of human characteristics to God), as if God has to strain to find just the right human words to communicate to us. Instead we should think of human language as theomorphic. As Ps. 94:9 asks, “He who planted the ear, does he not hear? He who formed the eye, does he not see?” God formed human beings with bodily abilities and characteristics to reflect the abilities that he possesses without a body. God designed humans in such a fashion that our language would naturally be analogous to divine speech and therefore a fit vehicle for verbal revelation.
Ok, so this can barely be counted as a meme. But it’s “meme enough” to warrant a response. Here we have a world-famous comedian defining the very essence of religion. Think about that for a moment. George Carlin is about to reveal something of the heart of what a religion is a does. Here is his evaluation:
Religion is like a pair of shoes… find one that works for you, but don’t make me wear your shoes.
Taking a Closer Look. Like a meme, this has lots of meaning packed into a short quip. So, as we’ve done with the last two memes we’ve evaluated, let’s dissect this claim into its constituent parts
- Leading analogy: “Religion is like a pair of shoes…”
- Command based on pragmatic definition of religion: “…find one that works for you…”
- Command based on ethical evaluation: “…don’t make me wear your shoes.”
Each phrase helps to construct the implicit argument of this meme. First, there’s the analogy, religion is like a pair of shoes. That is to say, Carlin seems to believe that religion is like an interchangeable accessory. It’s not essential to our existence—the way a foot, or some essential part of the body itself is. But this analogy is made clearer in the second phrase. Carlin tells his listener to do something, so it’s a command: Find one that works for you. Here’s the logic. Since religion is like an interchangeable accessory, find one that fits your style. This approach to religion is built on a pragmatic definition of religion. On this view, religion isn’t about understanding the true nature of reality and properly aligning oneself with it. The pragmatic approach to religion says that the right religion for you is the one that works for you. Notice what I wrote twice there. The operative phrase in the pragmatic approach is “for you.” Of course, this naturally entails religious relativism.
The last part of these meme is the most problematic. We’ll look at it closer below, but for now we’ll examine it closer. Here Carlin closes (or, at least the meme does) with an ethical command: Don’t push your religion! Again, here’s the logic restated in the language I’ve been using throughout this discussion.
- Statement of the essence of religion: Religion is a non-essential accessory to adorn individual preference
- Religious relativism stated: Individual preferences are not rooted in objective reality and differ from person to person
- Ethical assertion based on religious relativism. Therefore, it is wrong to force a person to abandon their personal preferences regarding a matter that is essentially an accessory to adorn individuality (religion)
Response. Rarely does a relativist explicitly condemn another position, not if they want to be consistent. You see once you start telling people what to do and what to believe you’ve smuggled ethical and religious absolutes back into the discussion. Whenever you say “you ought to…” or “You ought not to …” you are assuming a standard. If it’s a relative standard the person isn’t obligated to change their behavior in conformity to it. If it is an absolute ethic standard for religious belief it’s self-refuting.
But there’s something else that needs to be pointed out. Normally when someone says something like this the goal is to shame the person who 1) believes passionately, and 2) commends their faith to others. It should go without saying that these guns are normally pointed at religiously conservative Christians. How dare the small-minded Christian push their religion on someone else? So the reasoning of this meme is employed to take the moral high ground and promote (postmodern) tolerance. But there’s a crippling problem here: Commenting faith in Jesus to others (evangelism) is part of the Christian faith (see. Matt. 28). Evangelism is not a tangential aspect of Christian practice. For those that believe that Jesus is God himself and the master of their lives, evangelism is a command that shapes their actions. What Carlin is really saying is Christians ought not to practice their religion. You can be a Christian so long as you don’t believe (that what Jesus says directs your life) and behave (go and tell others about him) as a Christian.
And what does this boil down to? Carlin does the very thing he tells others not to do. He is “imposing” his own secular worldview on others. He’s cramming our feet into his shoes.
This meme raises an interesting point: Is a punishment of eternal duration for a crime of finite length just? Of course, as noted before, memes make their points but sarcasm and cheek. But it’s a great question. In fact, I chose this meme because it’s so helpful as a springboard to other related and deeper issues.
The challenge. First, let’s think about the challenge embedded in this meme. Eternal punishment for crimes of a finite length: Doesn’t that just strike you as wrong? It’s fairly transparent that the meme’s creator is claiming radically irresponsible sentencing on the part of the biblical God. If an infinite punishment for a finite crime strikes us—fractured and fallible mortals that we are— as overwhelming disproportionate, why can’t God see that? Or, better stated (and this is likely the true sentiment behind the charge of disproportionality), should we really take seriously the threats of a God created by an ancient war-mongering people? After all, so it is believed, their misshapen logic of punishment is so transparent to us enlightened modern people.
The implicit logic of our meme builds from the true insight that any claim that implies an absurdity is itself an absurdity. To put things a little more formally:
- X implies Y
- Y is false
- Therefore X is false
Now let’s plug in the premises.
- The Christian doctrine of eternal punishment implies an infinite punishment for finite crimes
- Infinite punishment for finite crimes is absurd
- Therefore, the Christian doctrine of eternal punishment is absurd
Probing a bit deeper. The meme itself (due to its brevity) does not specify whether eternal judgment is immoral or immoral-and-therefore-impossible. It’s likely that for most people who raise this kind of objection it’s the latter; this “absurd” logic renders the biblical warning of eternal judgment immoral and therefore can legitimately be ignored. Of course, that doesn’t follow logically. Even if Christians were to concede that the logic of “eternal punishment for finite crimes” were twisted and immoral (which we do not), that in itself doesn’t mean that God isn’t going to apply that standard come Judgment Day. Immoral things happen all the time and wishing they wouldn’t cannot change that sad fact. The meme’s creator (and those that share it’s objection) likely wouldn’t quite put things that way, but we need to help them see that this is where their assumptions take them.
The scales of judgment. In truth, we cannot address the fairness of the biblical logic of judgment from the position of a hostile worldview. And that’s because the biblical logic really makes sense only from within the larger structure and story it’s telling. To paraphrase John Piper, God is the only being for whom self-centeredness is not idolatry. To quote the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” God is worthy of our devotion, allegiance, and love. Why? Because he is the fullness of what we were created for. Our ultimate joy is found in union with him and not in lesser (though good) things like family, friendships, careers, etc.
So what this mean for our meme? The punishment must fit the crime. The crime’s duration is irrelevant. It is the severity of the crime that establishes the severity of the punishment. We commit our sin during a finite time, but it is of infinite severity. John Piper put this so well:
What is sin? It is the glory of God not honored. The holiness of God not reverenced. The greatness of God not admired. The power of God not praised. The truth of God not sought. The wisdom of God not esteemed. The beauty of God not treasured. The goodness of God not savored. The faithfulness of God not trusted. The commandments of God not obeyed. The justice of God not respected. The wrath of God not feared. The grace of God not cherished. The presence of God not prized. The person of God not loved. That is sin.
As stated above, this duration of the crime committed makes no difference in evaluating the crime’s severity. As a counterexample: It could easily take less than a few minutes for an evil despot with nuclear capabilities to walk down the hall to his office and order a nuclear strike against innocent citizens of another nation. Here the time to accomplish his goal would be quite short, but the fallout (both literal and moral) would be enormous.
God’s judgment is just. The punishment does fit the crime. But we must trust his assessment of the crime and not our own. Naturally this perspective is strange and offensive to non-Christians. This change in perspective requires more than a little rearranging; it requires conversion—a new heart.
I apologize for the delay in getting to the next entry in our Theology Memeology series. So other responsibilities feel into my lap. I’ll be working to get some writing done this week. In the meant time, here is this golden nugget:
God’s cosmic purposes are also intensely personal and particular, seen in the way God has chosen to bring about these purposes through covenant promise and fulfillment, mediated through the line of Abraham. After demonstrating God’s creational origin of the whole universe and his salvation of all animal and human life through the Noahic flood, God builds a vision of the end of all things through covenant promises with a chosen people, beginning with Abraham. The Abrahamic covenant promised material land, a name of great renown, and a multitude of offspring (Gen 12:1–7; 17:1–14).
Thus, faith itself is defined as forward-looking and eschatological from the beginning—as Abraham offered up the promised son, knowing God could raise him from the dead (Gen 22:1–19; Heb 11:17–19) and as Joseph pleaded with his brothers to carry his bones into the promised land, knowing that his death could not annul God’s covenant purposes for Israel (Gen 50:25; Josh 24:32; Heb 11:22).
With the foundation of the Abrahamic promise, God further reveals the contours of biblical hope. Through the Mosaic covenant he outlines the blessings of an obedient nation and the curses of a disobedient people. In the Davidic covenant he promises a son to David who will build a dwelling place for God, defeat God’s enemies, and rule the people in the wisdom of the Spirit (2 Samuel 7; Psalms 2; 73; 89). In the prophesied new covenant God promises to unite the fractured nations of Israel and Judah into one people, a people who all know Yahweh, are forgiven of their sins, and are restored as a nation in the promised land (Jer 31:31–40).
The covenants look forward—past Israel’s then-present disobedience—to the day when the vine of God bears fruit (Ps 80:8–19; Isa 5:1–7; 27:6; Ezek 15:1–8; 17:1–24; 19:10–14; Hos 10:1–2), the harlot of God’s people is a faithful bride washed of all uncleanness (Isa 54:5–6; Jer 3:20; Ezek 16:1–63; Hos 2:1–23), the exiled refugees are returned to a secure homeland, and the flock of God is united under one Davidic shepherd who will feed them and divide them from the goats (Jer 3:15–19; 23:1–8; Ezek 34:1–31; Mic 5:2–4; 7:14–17). In this coming future Israel will be what she is called to be, the light of the world, a light that the darkness cannot overcome (Isa 60:1–3). In this future God’s favor on Israel is clear to the nations because he is present with his people. The repeated promise of the covenants is: “I will be your God and you will be my people.” As Joel prophesies: “You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, that I am the Lord your God and there is none else” (Joel 2:27).
With this in view, the covenants picture their fulfillment not just in terms of inheritance blessings but also in terms of a restoration of Eden (Ezek 36:33–36; 37:22–23), the building of a glorious temple (2 Sam 7:13; Ezek 40:1–47:12), the return of a remnant from exile (Isa 11:12–16), and the construction of a holy city of Zion in which Yahweh dwells with his people in splendor (Pss 48:1–14; 74:2; Isa 18:7; Lam 5:17–22; Ezek 48:30–35).3 The covenants will come to their goal when Israel is judged for sin, raised from the dead, and anointed with the Spirit of Yahweh—a public act in the face of the hostile nations (Ezek 20:21, 35–49; 37:11–27). These eschatological covenant promises are then inherently eschatological and messianic—a truth seen in the fact that the patriarchs themselves died and rotted away without seeing the realization of the promises (Heb 11:13–16). – Russell D. Moore, A Theology for the Church
In this meme we have what appears to be an Eskimo fishing while speaking to an unseen Christian priest/missionary. The Eskimo asks whether those who are ignorant of God’s righteous character and our moral rebellion against him would, in light of that very ignorance, be held accountable. The priest/missionary replies “No, not if you did not know.” The Eskimo’s response is the key to understanding the single point of the meme, “Then why did you tell me?” According to the rationale of the meme’s creator, Christians appear to hold to 3 contradictory beliefs: a) Those who reject the message of sin and the forgiveness provided by the cross-work of Jesus are eternally damned (i.e. go to hell), b) it is the Christian’s job to tell as many people as possible the message of sin and the forgiveness provided by the cross-work of Jesus. Finally, c) Christians are to spread this message because they love their fellow man. Can you grasp why this would be seen as a problem? If not, I’ll expand those 3 points a bit to clarify:
- Ignorance of the gospel message preserves a person from being held accountable for sin (i.e. they will not be judged for rejecting a message they’ve never heard of)
- Believing the gospel and placing one’s personal faith in Jesus is required to be saved from the coming wrath of God.
- It is better for people to be saved from the coming wrath of God then to experience it.
- Christians claim to love people when they spread the gospel of Jesus (evangelize).
- Rejection of this gospel of Jesus will—upon it’s rejection— lead these ignorant/innocent people to experience the coming wrath of God.
- Therefore, the act that Christians claim to do out of love (evangelize) is the very act that condemns people who would have been better off if Christians simply left them alone.
As you can now see, the whole dilemma is rooted in point 1, and it’s this point that I think Christians should reject. People are not condemned to hell because they reject the gospel, per se. They are not judged for what they do not know. Instead, they are judged for what they do know, and according to Paul they know quite a lot. According to Romans 1:18-32, all people, since they are created in the image of God and live in God’s created world, know that (the true) God exists, that he is unlike his creation, that he expects us to live righteously, and that all who violate his moral law are rightly deserving of judgment. Yes, that’s a lot to know intuitively, but that’s what Paul says!
And this isn’t a slip of the pen on Paul’s part. In Ephesians 2 Paul describes the state of Gentile (non-Jewish) Christians prior to hearing and believing the gospel:
Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Eph. 2:11-13 ESV)
Paul says the opposite of the assumption behind point 1. These Gentiles, apart from the saving message of Jesus, were left in their ignorance, yes. But did this mean they were already saved? No, apart from faith in Jesus, they had “no hope” and were “without God.”
To wrap up, we should ask where Paul got this crazy idea. I would argue that it’s part of the initial revelation Paul received when Jesus called him as an apostle. In recalling his conversation to Jesus the Messiah of Israel to King Agrippa in Acts 26, Paul says:
And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’…I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. (Acts 26:15-20 ESV)
So Christians like the priest/missionary in our meme above are mistaken and can confuse those to whom they preach the message of Jesus. Whether or not a person has ever heard of the message of Jesus—and this is true of both Jew and non-Jew— we have all violated God’s moral will for our lives and it is this disobedience and spiritual rebellion for which we will be justly judged.
Tomorrow I should have the next entry in our memeology series. But for now I wanted to notify you all that I’ve collected the biblical inerrancy series I wrote a few years back into a short 6 page document. You can find it here and on the ‘resources’ page. Below are a few videos on biblical inerrancy. The first is by Ligon Duncan, Al Mohler and Kevin DeYoung on why we defend biblical inerrancy.
The second is G. K. Beale addressing the question of whether there are contradictions in the Bible.
Michael Horton asks and answers the question, “Is Inerrancy Defensible?”
Scott Oliphint on inerrancy and apologetics.
I’m planning on writing a short series of posts on the new phenomenon known as the theology meme. The meme is, as defined by Google, “a humorous image, video, piece of text, etc. that is copied (often with slight variations) and spread rapidly by Internet users.” Memes are often crafted to communicate a single point in a punchy way, so naturally they most appeal to young people.
Sure, there are fair criticisms on the use of memes in online dialogue, I get that. But the simple truth is that they’re going to be around for a while. So let’s use them to sharpen our thinking.
What is a Christian meme? The picture to your right is a simple example. Where are they going with this? Well, the point of view of the meme’s creator should be obvious. He/she is used to attacks against Christianity coming from your standard college hippie-liberal. And the single point being made? The criticisms of bible-abuse they level against conservative Christians are in fact mirrored in their own arguments. They do exactly what they hate in others.
So in the coming days I’ll trying to post some memes and briefly respond to them. Next up we’ll thinking through the meme blow.
Some time ago I wrote an entry on What is Typology? There I introduced the subject and explained what I was up to in a series of previous posts (see that article for the links). But I’m frequently asked what resources I would recommend for those looking to explore the topic further. Here’s a list I threw together with titles listed in no particular order.
- According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible, Grame Goldsworthy
- What is Biblical Theology? James M. Hamilton Jr.
- Kingdom Through Covenant, Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum. There’s a very helpful discussion of typology within the first 100 pages.
- Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament, Christopher J. H. Wright
- We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry, G. K. Beale
- Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament: Exegesis and Interpretation, G. K. Beale
- From Typology to Doxology: Paul’s Use of Isaiah and Job in Romans 11:34-35, Andy Naselli
- Typos: The Typological Interpretation of the Old Testament in the New, Leonhard Goppelt
- New Dictionary of Biblical Theology: Exploring Scripture’s Unity & Diversity
- Newer edition of The Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospel (article on ‘typology’)
- Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol 8. pgs 246-259
For those in the “know,” what other books, lectures, or articles would you recommend?
There are many fine works on Christian ethics available on the book market. My top 3 are John Frame’s Doctrine of the Christian Life, John Jefferson Davis’s Evangelical Ethics, and John Feinberg’s Ethics for a Brave New World (a high-ranking honorable mention goes to Scott Rae’s Moral Choices). In terms of current discussions and at-length interactions with opposing views, Feinberg stands above the rest. Recently I stumbled upon these 18 videos of Feinberg’s ethics course taught at The Master’s Seminary a few years ago. One doesn’t have to agree with all of Feinberg’s conclusions to appreciate his vast knowledge of the subject, careful analysis, and fair representation of opposing views. Enjoy!
Christian Decision Making 1
Christian Decision Making 2
Christian Decision Making 3
Christian Decision Making 4
Christian Decision Making 5
Divorce & Remarriage 1
Divorce & Remarriage 2
Divorce & Remarriage 3
Divorce & Remarriage 4
In Vitro Fertilization
Robert Gagnon is perhaps the world’s leading authority on Christianity and homosexuality. His The Bible & Homosexual Practice is a wealth of scholarship addressing just about every possible attempt to read the Bible as endorsing a homosexual lifestyle. Now, thanks to Jim Garlow, much of Gagnon’s wisdom on this pressing issue is available in a few relatively short clips. With the cultural pressure to accept homosexuality as a positive and even God-pleasing option for human sexuality, this is study time well spent and well invested. Enjoy!
Part 1: The Old Testament – Genesis 1 & 2
Part 2: The Old Testament – Sodom
Part 3: The Old Testament – The Levitical Prohibition
Part 4: The Old Testament – David & Jonathan
Part 5: The New Testament – The Witness of Jesus
Part 6: The New Testament – The Witness of Paul
Part 7: The Hermeneutical Relevance of the Bible
For more from Gagnon, see his exhaustive work:
One of the most important thing you need to know about the Christian God is that he is holy. But for many this is a fuzzy and loosely-defined concept. What does Scripture mean when it says that God is holy? Here is the full discussion found in Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology:
“God’s holiness means that he is separated from sin and devoted to seeking his own honor. This definition contains both a relational quality (separation from) and a moral quality (the separation is from sin or evil, and the devotion is to the good of God’s own honor or glory). The idea of holiness as including both separation from evil and devotion to God’s own glory is found in a number of Old Testament passages. The word holy is used to describe both parts of the tabernacle, for example. The tabernacle itself was a place separate from the evil and sin of the world, and the first room in it was called the “holy place.” It was dedicated to God’s service. But then God commanded that there be a veil, “and the veil shall separate for you the holy place from the most holy” (Ex. 26:33). The most holy place, where the ark of the covenant was kept, was the place most separated from evil and sin and most fully devoted to God’s service.
The place where God himself dwelt was itself holy: “Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place?” (Ps. 24:3). The element of dedication to God’s service is seen in the holiness of the sabbath day: “the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy” (or “hallowed it”; the verb is a Piel form of H7727, and means “to make holy”) (Ex. 20:11; cf. Gen. 2:3). The sabbath day , ָק ַדשׁ
was made holy because it was set apart from the ordinary activities of the world and dedicated to God’s service. In the same way the tabernacle and the altar, as well as Aaron and his sons, were to be “made holy” (Ex. 29:44), that is, set apart from ordinary tasks and from the evil and sin of the world and dedicated to God’s service (cf. Ex. 30:25–33).
God himself is the Most Holy One. He is called the “Holy One of Israel” (Pss. 71:22; 78:41; 89:18; Isa. 1:4; 5:19, 24; et al.). The seraphim around God’s throne cry, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isa. 6:3). “The LORD our God is holy!” exclaims the psalmist (Ps. 99:9; cf. 99:3, 5; 22:3).
God’s holiness provides the pattern for his people to imitate. He commands them, “You shall be holy; for I the LORD your God am holy” (Lev. 19:2; cf. 11:44–45; 20:26; 1 Peter 1:16). When God called his people out of Egypt and brought them to himself and commanded them to obey his voice, then he said, “You shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:4–6). In this case the idea of separation from evil and sin (which here included in a very striking way separation from life in Egypt) and the idea of devotion to God (in serving him and in obeying his statutes) are both seen in the example of a “holy nation.”
New covenant believers are also to “strive…for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14) and to know that God’s discipline is given to us “that we may share his holiness” (Heb. 12:10). Paul encourages Christians to be separate from the dominating influence that comes from close association with unbelievers (2
Cor. 6:14–18) and then encourages them, “Let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, and make holiness perfect in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1; cf. Rom. 12:1). The church itself is intended by God to grow “into a holy temple in the Lord” (Eph. 2:21), and Christ’s present work for the church is “that he might sanctify her…that he might present the church to himself in splendor…that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:26–27). Not only individuals but also the church itself must grow in holiness!
Zechariah prophesies a day when everything on earth will be “holy to the LORD.” He says:
And on that day there shall be inscribed on the bells of the horses, “Holy to the LORD.” And the pots in the house of the LORD shall be as the bowls before the altar; and every pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be sacred to the LORD of hosts. (Zech. 14:20–21) At that time, everything on earth will be separated from evil, purified from sin, and devoted to the service of God in true moral purity.”
In his book, Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came To Die, John Piper asks us to reflects of the following 3 passages of Scripture:
For if we have been united with him in a death like his,
we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. Romans 6:5
If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. Romans 8:11
If we have died with him, we will also live with him. 2 Timothy 2:11
The way he ties it all together is a wonderful Easter reflection:
“The keys of death were hung on the inside of Christ’s tomb. From the outside, Christ could do many wonderful works, including raising a twelve-year-old girl and two men from the dead—only to die again (Mark 5:41-42; Luke 7:14-15; John 11:43-44). If any were to be raised from the dead, never to die again, Christ would have to die for them, enter the tomb, take the keys, and unlock the door of death from the inside.
The resurrection of Jesus is God’s gift and proof that his death was completely successful in blotting out the sins of his people and removing the wrath of God. You can see this in the word “therefore.” Christ was “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him” (Philippians 2:8 -9). From the cross the Son of God cried, “It is finished” (John 19:30). And by means of the resurrection, God the Father cries, “It was finished indeed!” The great work of paying for our sin and providing our righteousness and satisfying God’s justice was finished in the death of Jesus.
Then, in the grave, he had the right and the power to take the keys of death and open the door for all who come to him by faith. If sin is paid for, and righteousness is provided, and justice is satisfied, nothing can keep Christ or his people in the grave. That’s why Jesus shouts, “I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades” (Revelation 1:18).
The Bible rings with the truth that belonging to Jesus means we will be raised from the dead with him. “If we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:5). “Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep” (1 Thessalonians 4:14). “God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power” (1 Corinthians 6:14).
Here’s the connection between Christ’s death and our resurrection: “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law” (1 Corinthians 15:56). Which means, we have all sinned, and the law sentences sinners to everlasting death. But the text continues, “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (verse 57). In other words, the demand of the law is met by Jesus’ life and death. Therefore, sins are forgiven. Therefore, the sting of sin is removed. Therefore, those who believe in Christ will not be sentenced to everlasting death, but will “be raised imperishable . . . then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’” (1 Corinthians 15:52, 54). Be astonished, and come to Christ. He invites you: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25). “
-John Piper, Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came To Die, 100-101
Michael Bloomberg, the three-time New York City mayor, is starting a gun advocacy group with a jump-start of $50 million dollars of his own money. His hope is that his investment will make the US a safer place, getting guns out of the hands of the ‘wrong’ people. What’s most telling is this well-reported comment he made about the merits of his contribution:
I am telling you, if there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.
Seems like full-on Pelagianism is still alive and well. What would John Piper say to the former New York City mayor? I think this extended quote tells us exactly the approach he would take:
“What a folly it is to think that our good deeds may one day outweigh our bad deeds. It is folly for two reasons.
First, it is not true. Even our good deeds are defective, because we don’t honor God in the way we do them. Do we do our good deeds in joyful dependence on God with a view to making known his supreme worth? Do we fulfill the overarching command to serve people “by the strength that God supplies— in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:11)?
What then shall we say in response to God’s word, “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23)? I think we shall say nothing. “Whatever the law says it speaks . . . so that every mouth may be stopped” (Romans 3:19). We will say nothing. It is folly to think that our good deeds will outweigh our bad deeds before God.
Without Christ-exalting faith, our deeds will signify nothing but rebellion.
The second reason it is folly to hope in good deeds is that this is not the way God saves. If we are saved from the consequences of our bad deeds, it will not be because they weighed less than our good deeds. It will be because the “record of [our] debt” in heaven has been nailed to the cross of Christ. God has a totally different way of saving sinners than by weighing their deeds. There is no hope in our deeds. There is only hope in the suffering and death of Christ.
There is no salvation by balancing the records. There is only salvation by canceling records. The record of our bad deeds (including our defective good deeds), along with the just penalties that each deserves, must be blotted out—not balanced. This is what Christ suffered and died to accomplish.
The cancellation happened when the record of our deeds was “nailed to the cross” (Colossians 2:13). How was this damning record nailed to the cross? Parchment was not nailed to the cross. Christ was. So Christ became my damning record of bad (and good) deeds. He endured my damnation. He put my salvation on a totally different footing. He is my only hope. And faith in him is my only way to God.”
-John Piper, Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die, 52-53