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Covenant in Micah

Having seen the prophetic emphases of Amos and Hosea, I want to turn to Micah the Moresthite (c.742-685 B.C.).  He too brought scathing indictments against his people.  At one point he accuses them of having risen up as an enemy against their God (Mic. 2:8).  There is no let up until the end of chapter two where these enigmatic lines appear:

I will surely assemble all of you, O Jacob,
I will surely gather the remnant of Israel;
I will put them together like sheep of the fold,
Like a flock in the midst of their pasture;
They shall make a loud noise because of so many people.

The one who breaks open will come up before them;
They will break out,
Pass through the gate,
And go out by it;
Their king will pass before them,
With the LORD at their head. – Micah 2:12-13

Notice the mention of the remnant, which is always in Micah a reference to those among Israel who will be saved.  Verse 12 envisions a gathering of the remnant, but for all that it foresees a large company of people brought together.  The scene is one of restoration and peace.  The thirteenth verse is a bit more difficult to break down.  The identity of “the breaker” (parats) is settled once we understand the parallelism with “the king” and “the Lord” later in the verse.  This is none other than the great prophetic figure found in Genesis 3:15, 49:8; Numbers 24:8-9, 17; and Deuteronomy 18:15-19.  At this juncture, around the latter part of the 8th Century B.C., this noble personage is still somewhat of a dark figure.  But if we put these things together we come up with a victorious Hero who will vanquish Satan, a King from Judah who will lead a restored Israel, who will come in a future day, and who will also be the great Prophet of His people.

If we jump to chapter 5 we come across the well known prophecy in 5:2,

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
Though you are little among the thousands of Judah,
Yet out of you shall come forth to Me
The One to be Ruler in Israel,
Whose goings forth are from of old,
From everlasting

In this oracle Micah names the actual birthplace of the coming King.  Naturally, it is in Judah because that is where Jacob had predicted that He would come from.  The geographical connection between Micah 5:2 and Genesis 49:8 shows that they are speaking about one and the same person.  But the prophet adds a bit more information.  This Ruler is clearly connected with the Davidic covenant (even though the word cannot be translated as “king”).  The fact that there is a stable continuity between Jacob (c. 1850 B.C.), David (c. 1000 B.C.) and Micah (c. 700 B.C.) again shows that God’s covenant word does not alter its meaning or become “transformed” as the centuries pass.  Prophecy is steady so that faith in God can be firm.  Indeed, the added specificity of the birthplace of the Ruler necessitates this.

Of course, this side of Calvary the interpreter has to decide whether or not the passage is speaking of the first coming of Christ (I am assuming the identity of this Ruler is Christ), or of the second coming of Christ.  Believers in Micah’s day did not have this quandary.  For them the mighty Ruler to come will be born in Bethlehem, and this too is how the scribes inquired of by Herod saw it (Matt. 2:5-6), although they also called Him the Shepherd of God’s people.  More inferred than plainly taught, the function of this Ruler will be to bring unity and blessing to the nation corresponding to the covenants with Israel.  This certainly did not occur at the first advent.  But here we might begin to notice an important fact about predictions concerning this exalted figure, and that is that most of the prophecies concerning Him (Christ) hold the two comings (as we now know of them) together as one work.  We shall see this over and over again in Isaiah and other places (e.g. Isa. 9:6-7; 40:3-5; 52:13-53:12; 61:1-2; Zech. 9:9; Mal. 3:1-3).  The two comings are viewed together.  This same phenomenon is found in relation to Genesis 3:15; the crushing of the heel of the Woman’s Seed was at the Cross.  The crushing of the serpent’s skull by the Woman’s Seed is still in the future: in fact my opinion is that it awaits the closing of the thousand years in Revelation 20; the culmination of the Creation Project.

If we take this view of the two comings forming essentially one work it is apparent that the work of Christ is not yet complete.  Certainly the role of the Suffering Servant is finished (Jn. 19:30. Cf. Acts 3:13, 26), but there is much more to do!

But another matter confronts the reader of the verse: does this Ruler’s activity, though set in the future as to His role for Israel, declare to us that He has a special provenance?  He is said to be “of old” (qedem), “from everlasting” or “from ancient times” (olam).  How is this to be understood?  By any margin this is a mysterious statement.  Some more liberal commentators have tried to resolve the tension by making this statement refer to the Davidic line.[1]  But the subject under discussion is not the line of David but one particular Ruler from David’s birthplace.[2]  This individual has “origins” in the ancient past.  As McComiskey says,

The word qedem can indicate only great antiquity, and its application to a future ruler – one yet to appear on the scene of Israel’s history – is strong evidence that Micah expected a supernatural figure.[3]

Another writer has said that “The phrases of this text are the strongest possible statement of infinite duration in the Hebrew language.”[4]  The obvious ties to both the Davidic and the Abrahamic covenant should be noted.  This Ruler will bring about the full fulfillments of these great covenants.

Moving back one chapter the prophet gives us a depiction of the coming kingdom of the Ruler.  What we are told here will become common as we read the prophetic literature.  It is this-worldly but it is another world.  There is an evocation of tranquility that seems scarcely possible in our turbulent world.

Micah 4:1 locates the prophecy of 4:1-8 “in the latter days”, which, although it is not definite enough to place at the end of time (viz. after the second coming when Israel will turn to the Lord – Deut. 4:29-30), seems only to fit comfortably there.  The scene is idyllic, almost like the Arcadia of Virgil.  We read about the exaltation of the mountain of Yahweh.  Is this metaphorical only?  Perhaps: perhaps not.  It is too early in the Old Testament chronology to tell.  What is more certain is that people (am) of the nations of the world will go up to it.  This will not surprise any reader who remembers Genesis 12:3 or 22:18. Even the commission given to Israel in Exodus 19:6, although it was not fulfilled under Moses and Joshua, suggests to us that the Divine intention was for Israel to act as a spiritual magnet to the rest of the nations.  The second verse spells this out for us.  The peoples of the world are depicted as encouraging one another to go to the house of God (the Temple) in Jerusalem to worship.[5]

The next verse compliments verse 2 by describing the repentance which comes to the nations.  There is one (“He”) who causes this turning.  One can be sure that “He” is not a member of the United Nations.  No, this is either God above or it is God’s Representative here below.  The “Ruler” of 5:2 fits the bill nicely.  He is extraordinary in that He achieves what no man has come close to achieving: the cessation of war.  Here surely is the “Prince of peace” of whom Micah’s contemporary Isaiah speaks (Isa. 9:6).[6]

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PERSONAL THOUGHTS ABOUT COMMENTARIES (7): THE THESSALONIAN EPISTLES

Part Six

The two small letters of Paul to the young Thessalonian Church are among the earliest of his writings.  This means that they are also among the earliest writings of the New Testament – even for those of us who opt for the traditional dates of the Gospels.  Although I am pretribulational it has to be admitted that Paul does not settle the date of the rapture in these letters.  Therefore, what I look for is careful exegesis informed by salient considerations of other biblical teachings on the subject.  Attempts to spiritualize the “naos” in 2 Thess. 2 count as a mark against any work.

1. Robert L. Thomas

This contribution to the Expositor’s Bible Commentary is, to my mind, the best single exegetical treatment of the Thessalonian Correspondence.  Although space restrictions were imposed on the author, Thomas makes very good use of his allotted pages.  The work is based on Thomas’s ‘Exegetical Digests’ of these books.

2. D. Edmond Hiebert

The Second Advent shows up in every chapter of these letters, and the material on the Day of the Lord and the Antichrist have to be treated with care, not squeezed into a theological box.  Hiebert’s exegesis is thorough enough for most pastors, and his conclusions are well thought through.

3. F. F. Bruce 

The first installment of the WBC still holds its own as an excellent commentary on these epistles.  A lengthy (for Bruce) Excursus on Antichrist is included which is worth pondering, even if all will not come out where Bruce does.

4. Jeffrey A. D. Weima

A big commentary (BEC) for such small letters.  Lots of interesting insights into the setting of the letters as well as good exegesis and practical application.

5. Charles Wanamaker

In my book this work is essential for the serious exegete.  Wanamaker’s book (NICGNT) has its idiosyncrasies (like making out that 2 Thess. was written before 1 Thess.).  But I like the thought-provoking comments a lot.

6. Gary Shogren

Okay, so I haven’t perused this, but I like the series and this one gets strong recommendations, so I’m going to stick my neck out.

7. Michael Stallard

The best contribution to a rather disappointing series (21st Century).  Stallard has the exegetical and theological muscle to write a very solid commentary.  This is a good go-to resource for the premillenial interpreter.

8. Abraham Malherbe

A well written and scholarly work in the Anchor series which repays careful reading.  Good on background and at placing the reader in the life-setting, including the thought-world of the recipients.

9. Gene L. Green

Excellent on the practical theology of the letters.  Not so great on the eschatology.  Still, this installment in the Pillar series is a fine commentary on balance.

10. Gordon D. Fee

Fee (NICNT) is always worth interacting with.  He is a great scholar who writes with pastoral passion.  He is his own man, which means he is insightful and sometimes a little irritating at turns.

 

Honorable mentions go to Richard Mayhue’s book, which though more slanted towards straight-forward exposition, has enough exegetical skill behind it to be of value to any reader.  Michael Holmes’s book in the NIVAC series, D. Michael Martin’s premillennial study in the NAC, John Stott’s always useful commentary, and I. Howard Marshall’s impressively concise piece for the NCBC are all good.  All of these might have made it in the top ten, but decisions must be made.  I also want to plug the work by Peter A. Steveson from Bob Jones University, who has given us a solid conservative commentary on these epistles.

Covenant in Amos

Amos (active c.765-760 B.C.)

Amos is a simple shepherd and gatherer of figs to whom the word of the LORD (dabar YHWH) comes.  He cries against both Israel (2:6) and Judah (2:4; 3:1).  A major concern of his is social justice.  Amos certainly has much to say by way of reproof to “the whole house of Israel”, and most of the first seven chapters concern themselves with the moral resistance of Israel to their covenant God.  However, despite the strong current of moral justice in the Book, when the prophet’s task is spoken of it is mainly in terms of prediction.

Surely the Lord God does nothing unless He reveals His secret counsel to His servants the prophets – Amos 3:7 (NASB)

The “counsel” that follows is a forecast of doom and captivity for the northern tribes.  But in chapter nine the prophecy begins to extend out beyond the time of the prophet.

Behold, the eyes of the Lord GOD are on the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from the face of the earth; yet I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob,” says the LORD – Amos 9:8

The sins of Israel will be dealt with through punishment, but the nation itself will not be completely destroyed.  This will be a permanent refrain coming from the prophetic literature; judgment followed by restoration and blessing.  The big question is, when will this occur?

Just three verses later we find this promise:

On that day I will raise up the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down, and repair its damages; I will raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old; that they may possess the remnant of Edom, and all the Gentiles who are called by My name,” says the LORD who does this thing.

“Behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD, “When the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who sows seed; the mountains shall drip with sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it.  I will bring back the captives of My people Israel; they shall build the waste cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink wine from them; they shall also make gardens and eat fruit from them.  I will plant them in their land, and no longer shall they be pulled up from the land I have given them,” says the LORD your God. – Amos 9:11-15

Everybody knows that a portion of this passage (i.e. 9:11-12) is cited by James from the LXX in Acts 15:15-18.  I shall of course deal with James’s use of Amos in the proper place, but in this context it seems pretty clear what is being set forth.  When put into the mouths of the prophets as Seers and foretellers, the phrase “on that day”or “in that day”, (which is especially common in Ezekiel), seems to indicate the future Day of Divine interposing; that is, the future “Day of the Lord” or its wonderful aftermath. [1]

For the prophet Amos and his contemporaries; indeed, for Jews in Old Testament times, the raising up of the booth of David would have had only  one meaning: the restoration of the Davidic line and kingdom in right relationship to and pursuance of God, enjoying the covenant blessings of God.

The reference to those among Edom and the Gentiles who are God’s (“called by my name”) would remind hearers of God’s promise to Abraham to bless the nations in Genesis 12:3; 22:18; and in the case of the former, Balaam’s prophecy in Numbers 24:17-19 would come to mind.[2]  It does not mean that these people groups will be included in some expanded “Israel.”  There is a demarcation in the text which should not be trammeled by preferential kinds of eschatology – the kinds that have no place for a restored Israelite nation.

Later Obadiah would speak of “saviors” who would come into Edom once it became incorporated into Yahweh’s kingdom (Obad. 21).  Amos 9:11 comfortably embraces both Abrahamic and Davidic covenantal expectations.

What comes next involves several concepts which will be repeated in the prophets: (1) the unusual productivity and blessing upon the land (“the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who sows seed” – Amos 9:13); (2) the return of Israel’s captives and the rebuilding of cities to dwell in; and (3) guaranteed perpetuity in the land that God gave them.[3]  Indeed, Amos records God’s pledge that the land of Israel is “their land” (Amos 9:15).[4]  So even though much of Amos is concerned with societal woes and short-term prophecy, the very end of the Book looks to the great hope of a united Israel in right relationship to God dwelling in its own land.  This would come to pass in the last days.[5]

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[1] I will have to examine “The Day of the Lord” in another place.

[2] See John H. Sailhamer, Introduction to Old Testament Theology, 250-251

[3] E.g. Isa. 35:1-2, 6-7; 55:13; Jer. 31:12; Ezek. 34:26-27; 36:33-38; 37:21-28; 47:12; Joel 2:18-19, 21-27; Zech. 8:11-13; cf. Lev. 26:40-45.

[4] In Ezekiel we read of God calling Israel “my land” (Ezek. 34:5) but then calling it “their own land” in settings both of rebellion (Ezek. 34:17), and of final restoration (Ezek. 37:21).  For Amos, it is still Israel’s land even when their sins have absented them from it (Amos. 7:17)

[5] See Gary V. Smith, Interpreting the Prophetic Books, 76; Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Preaching and Teaching the Last Things, 87; even William J. Dumbrell, The Search for Order, 79.  Although lying within the critical tradition, the assessment of Brevard Childs is that in Amos 9:11, “The discourse moves into the realm of eschatology (11, 13).  It turns on the possibility of a new existence after the end has come.  The promise concerns the raising up of the shattered ‘booth of David’ – that is, David’s larger kingdom, which can again lay claim on the land.  No human ruler can achieve this feat; the initiative lies solely with God.  The hope is miraculous and logically incomprehensible.  It is placed within the eschatological framework of the last days.” – Brevard S. Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, 407

The Covenants in Hosea (Pt.2)

Part One

The Book of Hosea continues to pour out its condemnations of the malpractices of Israel (in particular the northern tribes spoken to ‘synecdocheally’ under the heading of the largest tribe, Ephraim), but at the end of chapter 5 there is a passage which expresses another truth that will seemingly run in tandem with God’s wooing of Israel as described in chapter 2:14f.

I will return again to My place till they acknowledge their offense.
Then they will seek My face; in their affliction they will earnestly seek Me. – Hosea 5:15

The scene is of God retiring from the scene until such a time as His people acknowledge the fact that they have continually sinned against Him.  The theme is found earlier in Deuteronomy 30:1-6 where the prediction of worshipful obedience transcends any state of affairs known after that time.

And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. – Deuteronomy 30:6

Here we have language which will much later be equated with the New covenant.  Perhaps we can see this better by reading the following passage from Deuteronomy 4:

But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are in distress, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, when you turn to the LORD your God and obey His voice (for the LORD your God is a merciful God), He will not forsake you nor destroy you, nor forget the covenant of your fathers which He swore to them. – Deuteronomy 4:29-31

Along with a clear nod to “the covenant of your fathers”, which refers to the covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob[1], we see again the note of distress and then repentance, but specifically “in the latter days.”  It is my belief that Hosea 5:15 is alluding to this same eschatological situation.

This note of distress and restoration is seen in later prophets like Ezekiel 43:9-11 where the prophet is told to describe the temple vision to the people once they become ashamed of their sins.  Again in Jeremiah 29:11-14 there is a similar theme.  It is arguable that this latter passage more properly refers to the return from Babylon than to the eschaton, and we do not oppose the interpretation.  There is more going on there though, and I will try to address the eschatological undertones of the passage later when we reach Jeremiah.

The sixth chapter of Hosea continues with the same strain as chapter five ended with, and it is not easy to see why Hosea 6:1-3 is not Hosea 5:16-18!  Still, the verses are as they stand are these:

Come, and let us return to the LORD; for He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up.  After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight.  Let us know, let us pursue the knowledge of the LORD. His going forth is established as the morning; He will come to us like the rain, like the latter and former rain to the earth.  – Hosea 6:1-3  

The first verse puts the words of repentance into the mouths of future Israel.  There is also expectant hope because of God’s hesed or lovingkindness (an important word for Hosea).  The enigmatic terminology of the “after two days” and “the third day” (which states the same thing in two ways since “after two days” is “the third day”) have been understood in many ways.  But since nothing definitive can be said about the designations it is perhaps best to take the meaning as “in a short time” or “it won’t be long” and leave it at that, although it could be three literal days between the repentance of the people and God’s saving response.  If the context is considered the speed of God’s revitalization of His people is contingent upon their acknowledgement of their offence.  Therefore, the two or three “days” response happens quickly upon Israel’s mass repentance at the end.[2]  As verse three makes clear, this is no half-hearted repentance; Israel will seek out the knowledge of Yahweh (contra Hos. 4:1; 7:16) with the eagerness with which they look for the life-giving rains.

As far as the famous covenant passage in Hosea 6:7 is concerned, I have already addressed the issue earlier in this work.  In summary, (a) the standard interpretation of covenant and new covenant theologians that the prophet is referring to the biblical Adam and some covenant in Eden is question-begging and indeterminate.  Even if Hosea was speaking of such a covenant, the impossibility of locating the terms of the oath make it a vain effort to follow this view.  (b) It is the opinion of many that the town of Adam (Josh. 3:16) is being referred to.  This would require some historical defection at Adam to which Hosea is pointing.  In that case the covenant he speaks of is the Mosaic covenant (as per Hos. 8:1).  (c) The third alternative is to translate adam as “dirt” and interpret the prophet as saying that the people have treated the (Mosaic) covenant like dirt.  As Douglas Stuart claims::

Here in Hosea [berit] “covenant” appears only for the second time.  In 2:20 [in the context of marriage] the term denoted the future universal covenant.  In the present passage the Mosaic covenant is clearly at issue.[3]     

Finally, (d) The fourth view translates the Hebrew phrase as “like men” and interpret it as the sinful human bent to transgress God’s Law.  Hence, in three of the four views the identity of the covenant in Hosea 6:7 is the Mosaic covenant.  The notion that it looks back to a nebulous covenant in Eden seems as unnecessary as it is indeterminable.

Despite the depressing repetitiveness of their sins, there will eventually be a return and a whole restoration in fulfillment of the covenants with Israel (14:1-8).[4]

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[1] So e.g., Scot J. Hafemann, “The Covenant Relationship” in Central Themes in Biblical Theology, eds, Scot F. Hafemann & Paul R. House, 25

[2] This way of understanding Hosea 6:2 has the advantage of treating the ordinal (“the third day”) as a very short time period and not a vast stretch of history.

[3] Douglas Stuart, Hosea – Jonah, 111

[4] For more comments about the identity of the covenant in Hosea 6:7 see chapter 5.

The Covenants in Hosea (1)

A Draft from the book ‘The Words of the Covenant’

Hosea (active c. 755-725 B.C.) is best known for his on/off relationship with the harlot Gomer and the message God entailed in it.  Hosea had married Gomer and she (predictably) committed adultery and was put away by the prophet.  But then the prophet was told to take her back!  What was the meaning of this story?

Upon the naming of his third child with Gomer we read this:

Then God said: “Call his name Lo-Ammi, for you are not My people, and I will not be your God.  “Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, `You are not My people,’ There it shall be said to them, `You are sons of the living God.’

Then the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and appoint for themselves one head; and they shall come up out of the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel! – Hosea 1:9-11

Here is a paradox.  God seems to be all through with Israel (“you are not My people”[1]).  And yet the very next assertion is taken from familiar words found in the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 22:17; 32:12), with the accompanying promise that Israel will yet see God’s blessing.  This theme of punishment followed by blessing occurs many times in the prophets (cf. Jer. 46:28).  Verse 11 foretells the future unification of the sundered kingdoms (cf. Ezek. 37).

Vital to the understanding of the first chapters of this book is the answer to the question of whether the woman whom the prophet marries in chapter 3 is Gomer or someone else.[2]  If it is indeed Gomer then it illustrates chapter 2 (on which see below) as well as the note of final grace and forgiveness which is prominent in the book.  Just as Gomer was married to Hosea and committed adultery against him but is taken back, so Israel was married to God, divorced but then re-married to Him (see 2:19-20).  In prophetic terms chapter 3 pictures God’s intention to stick to His covenant with Israel until the end, even though He will “put them away”, yet, at long last He will save the people of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.[3]

Hosea 2 is sandwiched between the episodes of the prophet and his promiscuous wife which illustrate it.  It could be viewed as an expansion on 1:9-11.  The first half of the chapter envisages Israel as chasing after her various paramours but unsuccessfully.  God, her husband, will “hedge up her way” (2:6) so that finally she will come to her senses and return to Him (2:7).  This returning will come after punishment because Israel forgot the Lord (2:9-13).  But then the mood turns to one of comfort and blessing.  The about-face in verse 14 is quite attention-grabbing.  From the people’s willful neglect of their covenant Lord we might expect a full stop and a brand new idea.  But this is precisely what we do not get.  Instead it is God Himself who displays astonishing grace in promising to win His people back.[4]  It is God who will restore Israel.  He will save her.  Even the Valley of Achor, that notorious place of trouble, will become a theater of singing and hope (2:15).  Hosea references the Exodus which held special significance for the identity of the nation.  He then promises that “in that day”, some future day, the relationship between Him and Israel will be like that of a husband (Ishi) and wife (2:16).  This closest of all relationships is chosen by God and is found in other prophets (e.g. Isa. 54:5).  When one considers the message being communicated by the early chapters of Hosea, that of the marriage to and putting away of a prostitute and then the voluntary remarrying of the same woman, it speaks volumes of Yahweh’s respect for His covenants.[5]

The closing verses of chapter two are very expressive.  Within them one encounters God promising to “allure” Israel back to Himself so that His people call Him “Husband.”  Covenant is about relationship, and here we see the depth of the relationship that God wants, and intends to have, with Israel.  Who can read verses nineteen and twenty and not sense the great longing of God for the reconciliation and “betrothal” that these verses talk about?  That special connection will require an environment suitable for its expression, and so after they have renounced the false lords (baalim) of the past (2:16-17), the natural world will be adapted to provide a setting beautiful, peaceful, and productive.

In that day I will make a covenant for them
With the beasts of the field,
With the birds of the air,
And with the creeping things of the ground.
Bow and sword of battle I will shatter from the earth,
To make them lie down safely – Hosea 2:18

Now the Lord brings in the animal kingdom utilizing the creation language of Genesis 1.  The verse is a less well known companion to the famous “the wolf will lie down with the lamb” passage in Isaiah 11.  The peace in the natural world will be extended to the human world, where it is predicted that the weapons of war will be destroyed and people will live safely.

The “covenant” that will be made is a peace covenant encompassing the entire Creation Project.  The only covenant that has been made with the natural world is the Noahic covenant in Genesis 9:12.

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Review: Martin Luther – A Spiritual Biography

Review of Martin Luther: A Spiritual Biography, by Herman Selderhuis, Wheaton; Crossway, 2017, 347 pages, hardback.

Quite rightly, in view of the historical and spiritual importance of the Reformation, there have been a spate of books about Martin Luther; this year, and indeed this day, being the five hundredth anniversary of the event that sparked the movement into flame – the nailing of Luther’s 95 theses onto the church door at Wittenberg on October 31st, 1517.

The author of the present book, Herman Selderhuis, has distinguished himself with his work on John Calvin, including a study of Calvin’s Theology of the Psalms and The Calvin Handbook.  He has also written a similar biography to this on John Calvin.

The very first thing I want to say about this biography of Luther is that it is very well written.  Selderhuis has a plain, pithy and subtly tongue-in-cheek style that really makes the material flow.  The second thing I would say is that this is not biography lurching into hagiography.  The book presents the Reformer as a very flawed but endlessly fascinating individual.  Luther was, for example, proud (179) and stubborn (181).  His greatest sin was undoubtedly his anti-semitism (286-288).  Even though there is some mitigating evidence provided by Ernest Schweibert’s The Reformation, who states that four times Luther sought to employ Jewish instructors of Hebrew at the university, there is overwhelming evidence that Luther’s attitude towards Jews was bigoted and ungodly (Further confirmation of this can be found in the first chapter of Hans-Martin Barth’s very fine The Theology of Martin Luther).  And even though it is anachronistic to blame Luther for the use made of him by the Nazis, the fact that his invectives could so easily be utilized makes it difficult to remove the odium that has subsequently been heaped upon him.

It is a testament to the many-sided character of the man that Martin Luther is still eminently inspirational and worth reading about.  He was a man of decisive character and great courage, being able to go against convention for conscience sake.

The world was a different place then.  Satan and demons were at large everywhere:

Miners, who worked in darkness deep underground, were terrified at the thought of meeting an evil spiritual being. (21)     

As for God, He was too lofty, too holy, and far too demanding for any sinner to know if he had done enough to receive his grace (e.g, 63), although after his trip to Rome he began to have doubts (71).  His lectures in theology and the Bible from 1513 to 1517 saw him searching for and developing a distinctive theology of grace which eventually found its center in God’s offer of righteousness in Christ (89, 108).  The whole thing is so well summarized at the start of chapter 6 that I quote it below.

A society that was based on the conviction that people have to restore their relationship with God changed radically when a new foundational conviction emerged: that God in Christ accomplished everything.  God’s justice was no longer the threat that drove someone to pursue a morally upright lifestyle, but rather, it was a gift that motivated people to gratitude.  This theology, this new relationship between God and people, removed the logical basis of the mass, pilgrimages, veneration of relics, celibacy, monastic life, purgatory, preoccupation with the salvation of the dead, and the all-encompassing and supreme position of the church.  Luther’s theology brought something totally different from what previous attempts at reformation had sought.  The fact that God provided righteousness instead of requesting it made it necessary to reconsider the church, preaching, lifestyle, marriage, education, politics, heaven and hell, death, and the Devil. (135-136).

This really was a sea change in European culture.  The knock-on effects are still being felt in our day.

Along the way Selderhuis dispenses with a few of the myths surrounding Luther’s oath to St. Anne in a thunderstorm (43-44), that Luther was the first to translate the Bible into German, and even the fact that Luther himself almost certainly did not nail the 95 Theses to Wittenberg Church door.  The Theses were nailed to the door, but it would have been a student who would have been entrusted to put them there (100).  Whatever romantic notions have to disappear before these details, the main facts are unaltered.

The author is an expert in the Reformation and he moves with ease from one personality or to another and one stage of Luther’s career to another.  He provides his information in such a winning way that I have to agree with Michael Haykin’s assessment on the flyleaf: “This is how biography should be written.”

Crossway Publishers (who provided me with this copy) are to congratulated for producing such a readable Life of Martin Luther.

Creation, Fall, Redemption: A Motif of Scripture (revised)

The Theological-Historical Motif of the Bible

The God of the Bible is a God who is intimately connected with what He has made.  This world is personal in a very genuine way.  This personal dimension to reality is what makes the cross of Christ comprehensible.  This is because the “Sin Problem” – what is wrong with this world – must be resolved by a personal God from above, on behalf of sinful persons.  The cross is also interpretative of history, since it is God’s “marker”  testifying to His ongoing concern for what He has made and intends to put right.  The resurrection is another historical “marker” that guarantees the way it will be put right.

Reality

A Biblical picture of God as personally active for us, therefore, will lead us to see reality in the following outline:

1. The Universe is an ex nihilo creation not a product of chance (Gen.1:1ff.; Heb. 1:12; 11:3). 

This excellent definition is given by Torrance:

The creation of the universe out of nothing does not mean the creation of the universe out of something that is nothing, but out of nothing at all.  It is not created out of anything – it came into being by the absolute fiat of God’s Word in such a way that whereas previously there was nothing, the whole universe came into being.[1]

This is a statement at once about the creation of the universe by God’s power and will, but it is also a statement about  the personal underpinnings of our reality.  The clarification on the meaning of the word “nothing” is necessary because many atheists (most recently Lawrence Krauss) define “nothing” as having properties – even if they are of quantum mechanics.

2. The creation is under a curse (Gen. 3:17-18; Rom. 8:20-22).

Creation is subject to vanity, futility and frustration because of mankind’s fall and its consequences due to the natural world’s connection with us.  The world’s continual cycle of birth, growth, death and decay demonstrates this subjection.  The universe is in a process of deterioration…and it appears to be running down.  Nature, like mankind, is in a state of decay, deterioration, pain and futility.[2]

3. This reveals a linear view of history.[3] History is going somewhere (Acts 17:26-27; 15:18).

The telos of creation is bound to its being personal rather than impersonal.

In this great metanarrative, the chaos of violence, injustice, ignorance, natural disasters, and corruption are dissonant screeches that will be resolved in a coming Age of Peace and Unity.  Hendrikus Berkhof noted,

Although the Reformers were afraid of sectarian interpretations, they, like the Middle Ages, were convinced that history moves between the Fall and completion, that Christ is the centre of this, that we are involved in the struggle between him and evil, and that he will gain the victory in that struggle.  This view of history has for centuries been typical for Europe; indeed, it made Europe, and gave seriousness and direction to the actions of Europeans.[4]

4.  Men will be judged by God at an appointed day in the future (Acts 17:30-31; Rom. 3:19). 

As a theological theme final judgment needs to be more visible than it currently is.  We need to get back to the realism of the Puritans and the first evangelicals, who made “Judgment Day” a driving force in their preaching and teaching.  Any theology worth its salt must face the practical necessity of proclaiming God’s judgment.  True Christians are mainly distinguished from non-Christians by their acceptance of God’s judgment against their sins in the willing Substitute.  Here, for example,  is John Brown of Haddington with advice to students of Divinity:

See that ye be real Christians yourselves.  I now more and more see, that nothing less than real, real Christianity, is fit to die with, and make an appearance before God.[5]

5.  God has provided salvation through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ, who lived and died as a man, and who will return to Earth to rule as unchallenged Lord (Acts 2:36; 3:13-21; 1 Cor. 15:3-4). 

The crucifixion and resurrection, seen as one event (Jn. 10:17), thus becomes the lens through which all existence must be viewed if it is to correspond to reality as it will turn out to be.

The horizon of creation is at the same time the horizon of sin and of salvation.  This world is not what it is supposed to be.  A reclamation and reconciliation are ahead of us; achieved but not yet consummated in Christ.  This hope is covenantally predicted and fixed, especially through the New Covenant made and mediated by Christ.  To conceive of either the fall, or of Christ’s deliverance as encompassing less than the whole of creation is to compromise the biblical teaching of the radical nature of the fall and the cosmic scope of redemption.[6]

Ethics

It is no surprise to find that what is found above as a basic description of reality is also the Gospel blueprint.  However, the Christian worldview also covers the realm of Ethics.

a. The Bible teaches that there are moral absolutes of right and wrong, good and evil (Isa. 5:20; Jn. 14:6).  This is a corollary of the personal nature of God and creation as a gift.

b. Because God has made man a moral agent he is required to choose to do the good and avoid the evil (Rom. 2:4-16).

c. Because we are created in God’s image God requires us to “do unto others what you would have them do unto you.”  Human government is expected to punish the guilty and exonerate the innocent (Matt.7:12; Gen.9:6).

d. There exist standards of conduct and propriety which men ought to follow (though these are not to be confused with Victorian prudery).  These standards are supposed to bind all human institutions.

e. Life does not consist of stuff to make us feel either cozy or superior.  “It is better to give than to receive.” (Lk.12:15; Acts 20:35).

f. Nevertheless, Christianity is not a religion of constraint (as Islam).  It allows people to demur, though it warns of the dread consequences, both temporal and eternal, of rejecting the personal Creator’s declared intentions (Matt. 7:21-27).


[1] Thomas F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being, Three Persons, (Edinburgh, T & T Clark, 1996), 207.

[2] John D. Currid, A Study Commentary on Genesis, vol. 1, (Darlington, UK: Evangelical Press, 2003), 135-136.

[3] For a good discussion of historiography see John Warwick Montgomery, The Shape of the Past, (Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, Inc., 1975), especially pages 6-182.

[4] Hendrikus Berkhof, Christ the Meaning of History, (Richmond, VA: John Knox Press, 1966), 23-24.

[5] The Systematic Theology of John Brown of Haddington, Introduced by Joel R. Beeke & Randall J. Pederson, (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, [1782] 2002), iv.

[6] Albert M. Wolters, Creation Regained, 86.

Review – Darwin’s House of Cards

A review of Tom Bethell, Darwin’s House of Cards: A Journalist’s Odyssey Through The Creation Debates, Seattle: Discovery Press International, 2017, 293 pages, pbk.

The widespread public acceptance of biological evolution in Darwin’s day was probably a product of the simultaneous faith in Progress.  Darwin’s theory was accepted as readily as it was because it shared in the general belief that things were getting better.  It’s not that the organisms themselves were being swept along, but that European and then American intellectuals believed that everything was improving. – 256

This is the way Tom Bethell ends his entertaining book attacking the reigning scientistic consensus of evolution.  Darwin’s House of Cards is a fully up-to-date survey of the mechanics and effects of evolutionary theory; a theory which Karl Popper concluded was “not a testable scientific theory, but a metaphysical research program” (14).

As to the general optimism which provided the conditions for the enthusiastic acceptance of Darwinism in the middle of the nineteenth century, Bethell writes,

[A]s I hope to show in the following chapters, the science of neo-Darwinism was poor all along, and supported by very few facts.  I have become ever more convinced that, although Darwinism has been promoted as science, its unstated role has been to prop up a philosophy – the philosophy of materialism – and atheism along with it. (20).

In the nineteen chapters which follow the author reports on and dismantles numerous evolutionary claims and “evidences”, showing among other things that common descent, natural selection, and random mutations are either pure fiction, tautological, or terribly over-plugged.  He challenges the dogma of the tree of life, noticing along the way biochemist Craig Venter’s denial of it (53-54), and paleontologist Colin Patterson’s frank admission that the nodes in the tree of life diagrams are always empty (55-56).  Why?  Because there is no real evidence for it.

Speaking of Patterson, who was chief paleontologist at the Natural History Museum in London until his death in 1998, Bethell interviewed him several times, and chapter 12 reviews those conversations.  Although Patterson remained a thoroughgoing evolutionist, he came to the opinion that it conveyed no scientific information at all.  As Bethell reports it, he said that scientists could do very well without it (149).

In the same chapter we are told about two world-renowned experts in their fields who admit that the funding for their respective fields is minimal compared with digging up fossils.  Nevertheless, both said that “you don’t find out much from fossils”, and that they could find out much more by studying living things (146-148).

This book’s short chapters are so well written that the author is able to cover a great deal of territory in a relatively short space.  This means that along with the usual problematical areas for evolution; natural selection (chapters 5 & 6), the fossil record (chapter 11), homology (chapter 9), DNA and Epigenetics (chapter 15), etc., he also tackles less well documented issues like extinction (chapter 7), and convergence (chapter 10).  There is also a useful chapter about Richard Lenski’s long-term experiments with E-coli (chapter 16).

As to homology, for example, he notes, the propensity of naturalists to invoke design while supposedly trying to explain it away.  Homologists, or those who rely on them, often write of the relative similarities in structures from different organisms without being forthright enough to declare that these similar features often are derived from different sets of genes! (109-112).

To take a few more examples, despite the recent demonizing of humanity and our deleterious influence on nature by many progressives on the left, no one knows why extinctions happen (86-92).  As for “convergence”, the belief that differing species evolve similar traits due to their experiencing the same kinds of environmental and ecological pressures, evolutionists again beg the question.  Evolutionists have tended to substitute their imaginations for proof, and nearly always simplify extremely difficult matters in the process.  So on page 119 Stephen Jay Gould is quoted as saying that in certain flying creatures, “highly adaptive forms that are easy to evolve arise again and again.”  Bethell responds that if flight is so easy to evolve, “Someone should tell Boeing engineers how that was achieved.”

As we’re on the subject of engineering, chapter 13 is given over to “Intelligent Design and Information Theory.”  At the start of the chapter Bethell mentions the work of Michael Behe, William Dembski, and Douglas Axe (155-161).  He deftly dispatches theistic evolutionist Kenneth Brown’s attempt to oppose Michael Behe’s “irreducible complexity” findings (155-156), and then states the obvious truth that, contrary to creationism, “Intelligent design theory… does not identify a designer, any more than we can identify the designer of Stonehenge.” (157).  Why then the resistance to ID?  For instance, citing Wikipedia’s slanted presentation:

Numerous attempts have been made to change…derogatory comments, but all such changes are promptly reversed on Wikipedia – sometimes within minutes. (161)

The thought-police are very active.  But of course the reason has already been given.  The reigning view of the intellectuals is naturalistic atheism.  Therefore, the facts will always be made to comport with the theory, however vicious the contortions have to be.  Chapter 14 describes the link between “Darwinism and the Philosophy of Naturalism.”  This chapter includes a good discussion of freewill, or the denial thereof by many of these “Freethinkers”, although the irony of their calling themselves by this term seems to be totally lost on most of them!  Bethell’s responses to this are effectively structured around the work of Michael Egnor and Thomas Nagel.

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A Theological Case for Inerrancy (Pt.2)

Part One

Let us consider the full import of Christ’s words in John 17:17:

Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.

Jesus is praying to the Father regarding the sanctifying of His disciples. He tells the Father “Your word is truth.” This “word” is the same “word” which will sanctify them. They have kept it (v.6) as it was given them (v.14), but where is this word? I maintain it is Scripture (v.12), and this text associates the word with God’s own holy and truthful character. There is no room for human frailty.

This text also separates Jesus from the Scripture. Jesus is going away, but the word of the Father must now keep His disciples. Thus, it is a mistake to too closely equate Jesus the Word with the Scriptures. There does exist a close connection between the two, but we cannot push the association too far. Indeed, we cannot push it even as far a personification. The Scriptures are the written product of the Divine revelation, but they are a product all the same.

Talking about partially inspired Scripture is like talking about partially dirty bathwater. If Titus 1:2 tells us that it is impossible for God to lie, and if Scripture is the Word of God then it is true in the sense that there can be nothing in it that bears false witness. If God says something about the world or about history which is untrue, His word cannot be truth. When we say “Word of God” we ought to mean “Word from God.” By “Word from God” we should mean a written deposit of course, not some voice in the ether.

To summarize, most arguments against inerrancy stress the human element over the Divine in spite of the fact that Scripture emphasizes the exact opposite. This point cannot be over-emphasized and is fundamental for understanding the divide between inerrantists and errantists.

We must deal with what the Bible says and then decide whether we are going to believe it. We must not fool ourselves that the Bible doesn’t say something, or more commonly, doesn’t mean what it says, because we have trouble with it. I’m thinking here specifically of the creation account and the history of Jonah.

Inerrancy doesn’t mean either that errors are not reproduced by the biblical writers as errors, or that painstaking exactitude is being aimed for, or, as a matter of fact, even considered.

Inerrancy is a corollary to inspiration. It may state truth in anthropomorphic, metaphorical, phenomenological, generic, or symbolic language. But it does state inspired truth.

J.I. Packer reminds us of what “inerrant” means:

Inerrancy is from the Latin inerrantia meaning ‘the quality of being free from any error of any kind – factual, moral, or spiritual.’ Protestant usage favors this too; the words may carry slightly different nuances. Infallibility suggesting that Scripture warrants a faith commitment. Inerrancy of Scripture undergirds orthodoxy. But it has been standard evangelical practice for a century now to treat the words as mutual implicates.” – J.I. Packer, Beyond the Battle for the Bible, 51

Hence, Peter Enns must reject this connectivity between truth and inspiration:

To put it better, the scientific evidence showed us that the worldview of the biblical authors affected what they thought and wrote and so the worldviews of the biblical authors must be taken into consideration in matters of biblical interpretation. – Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation, 14.

This encroachment of “scientific evidence” from the present and the worldviews of the ancients shows us that Divine superintendence over Scripture is given but a half-share in the end product. Human fallibility has equal rights. The Bible itself does not give him that option.

Supporting Texts

In closing out this foray into the notion of inerrancy from a theological perspective, I call your attention to the support-texts I have given for the two doctrines of inspiration and inerrancy. Three of the passages used in support of inspiration have been used again to support inerrancy.  I have also run these verses through the “Rules of Affinity” so as to show how sure these proposals are (even though more texts could be mustered to support the propositions). Let us examine the outcomes.

2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:20-21 tell us the Scripture comes from God and those who wrote it were superintended, nay, “carried along” by Him in their production of it. They do not deal with the collection of the Canon, since that is a separate (though related) issue. The C1 tag corresponds with the places in the first proposition where phrases from the texts make up the proposition. Matthew 4:4 connects with 2 Tim. 3:16 because of the reference to “the mouth of God” and the connection between “every word which proceeds from the mouth of God,” and the Scripture as “God-breathed out.” Palpably, Jesus was referring to and quoting from the Scriptures in His Temptation.

John 17:17, as already stated, refers to God’s Word as “Truth.” That “Word” is inscripturated. The link with Matt. 4:4 is in the way a man ought to live. He must live in Truth, not in falsehood. Psalm 119:89f. connects the settled Word “in heaven” with the discipling Word which the psalmist observes. We have that Word.

When we turn to see how the doctrine of inerrancy utilizes these texts we get the following:

2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:19-21 are now rated C2 since they provide the support in the first two statements in the proposal upon which inerrancy is based (they do not testify to inerrancy with the same clarity that they do for inspiration). In Psalm 12 I am only interested in the first assertion about the words in verse 6 (“the words of the LORD are pure words, etc.”), not the preservation in verse 7, which I hold to be referring to the people in the context. The purity of the words of God relates there to their ability to “keep” the people safe, and their trustworthiness, not just their moral clarity. I believe a good (C3) inference can be made that the dependability of the words (“refined seven times”), logically applies comprehensively to all they claim. John 17:17 calls the Word of God “Truth.” This truth separates believers from unbelievers in the world. It could hardly do that effectively if it enunciated scientific or historical error, since error in those cases would lessen the force of any ethical assertion made in the Bible, and throw immediate suspicion upon its authorship. But then we are back to the matter of the sustained voice of Scripture that it comes from God, and that it is His Word not mans. (more…)

Repost: DOES DIATHEKE MEAN “LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT” IN HEBREWS 9:16-17?

Most of our English Bible versions translate Hebrews 9:16-17 this way (I have provided vv.15 and 18 for context):

And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. 16 For where there is a testament, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. 17 For a testament is in force after men are dead, since it has no power at all while the testator lives. 18 Therefore not even the first covenant was dedicated without blood. (NKJV, vv. 16-17 are in italics)

Or the ESV:

Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. 16 For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. 17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. 18 Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. (ESV vv.16-17 in italics)

With the translation diatheke as either “testament” or “will” the reader is led to conclude that these verses are not talking about the new covenant. In verse 15 the Greek word diatheke is translated as “covenant.” The same translation (“covenant”) is repeated in v.18.

If I were to give all the occurrences of diatheke in Hebrews you would see that, apart from 9:16 and 17 the word is uniformly translated “covenant.” One doesn’t have to think hard about why this word is rendered as “covenant” in these 16 other instances. The contexts make it very clear that the writer is referring, either to the Mosaic Covenant or Law, or to the New Covenant which replaces it. And one doesn’t have to seek too far for proof of this. Hebrews 9:15 contrasts the “first covenant” with the “new covenant,” as does verse 18. The chapter itself reinforces the contrast and the appropriate translation “covenant.”

Why translate diatheke, which has been expressed as “covenant” everywhere else in the Book, as “testament” or “will” in vv.16-17? The answer is because it has been assumed that “the death of the one who made it” refers to a “testator” as per a modern “Last Will and Testament.” For we all know that when a person makes a will it only comes into force when they are dead. Thus, one writer stated,

In the New Testament the diatheke as a ‘last will’ is once brought into connection with the sacrifice of Christ… – Geerhardus Vos, “Hebrews, the Epistle of the Diatheke,” in The Princeton Theological Review, Vol. 13, No.4, [1915], 601.

But is he right? What is it in the context which demands the switch from “covenant” to “testament,” other than this assumption that a will is being referred to simply because of “the death of the one who made it”? It seems to me that the whole case depends upon the supposition that diatheke can only mean “last will and testament” in Hebrews 9:16-17. There are several reasons for believing this to be a faux pas:

1. The meaning of diatheke in Hebrews 9:15 is “covenant.” This is clear because the writer is referencing the Mosaic “covenant” in the preceding verses (vv.11-13). If the word meant “last will and testament” in v.15 the connection with the Mosaic Covenant in vv.11-13 would be lost and the writer’s whole argument rendered suspect. Such a switch would create an equivocation within the argument. That is, it would have the author mean two things by one word in a confusing way. This problem comes into sharp relief once chapter 8 is considered. The superiority of the “better covenant” (e.g. Heb. 8:6) demands it be contrasted with the Mosaic Covenant, and hence, that it be itself a true covenant and not a last will and testament. This understanding is assured by the contrast in 8:7 which see. Following on from this, Hebrews 8:8-12 gives the longest quotation of the OT by any NT writer. Is this quotation to do with a testament or a covenant? The answer is impossible to ignore. It is to a “covenant” (OT berith), not a testament!

2. But secondly, the meaning “covenant” makes perfect sense. George H. Guthrie, an acknowledged expert on Hebrews, writes:

Interpreters often have read 9:16-17 in terms of “will” or “testament,” but these verses should be read, in their context, as speaking of the establishment of a covenant… “The one arranging [diatithemi] it,” occurring in participial form, in 9:16-17, refers to the sacrificial animal that must die for a covenant to be established… This fits perfectly with the argument of 9:18-22, which deals with Moses’ inauguration of the Sinai covenant with the sprinkling of blood (Exod.24:3-8). – in G. K. Beale & D. A. Carson, editors, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old, 973.

3. When one adds to this the critical observations of P. T. O’Brien this position is weakened yet further. O’Brien’s full discussion can be found on pages 328-332 of his recent The Letter To The Hebrews (in the Pillar series). I shall condense his argument below using several quotes:

O’Brien says,

a. “As we have seen, the context of v.15 seems to demand the sense of ‘covenant’ because only covenants have mediators[underlining mine], while in v.18 mention is made of the ‘first diatheke‘, namely, the Sinai event and hence can only be a covenant.”

b. “What our author says in vv.16-17 does not correspond to any ‘any known form of Hellenistic (or indeed any other) legal practice.’ A Hellenistic will was secure and valid when it was written down, witnessed and deposited, not when the testator died. Further, the distribution of the estate could occur when the testator was still living.”

Indeed, don’t we see this very thing in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, where the son took his inheritance before the father had died?

c. The wider context of Hebrews with our author’s view of inheritance and his emphasis on the cult appears incongruous with the model of the secular Hellenistic testament.

from Peter. T. O’Brien, The Letter To The Hebrews, Pillar (2010), 329-330

I conclude from all this evidence, both internal and external, that there is no good reason for translating diatheke as “testament” in the sense of “last will and testament” in Hebrews 9:16-17. Thus, we commend the following translation of these verses as given below:

“For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it. 17 For a covenant is valid only over the dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it [the one who must die] lives.”