Theology

The Cosmic Temple and Spiritualized Eschatology (Pt. 3)

Part Two

Objections to the Cosmic Temple Motif in Scripture

In Beale’s book The Temple and the Church’s Mission, both the garden of Eden and the Jerusalem temple are types of the Church, which is confusingly called the literal non-physical temple.[1]   Beale’s thesis, which is fed by many ingeniously interpreted though vague allusions – mainly reliant upon reinterpreting OT texts by privileged interpretations of the NT – is that the OT stories of Adam, Abraham, and Israel recapitulate the same story of failure to extend God’s spiritual kingdom throughout the world.  Jesus, the final Adam, the final Israel, and the final temple (though apparently not the final Abraham), will set everything to rights when He comes, and then it’s a wrap as far as this present creation is concerned.[2]

This is it in a nutshell.  While its supporters readily admit that the cosmic temple has little support from the text of the Bible[3], the main assertion is that ancient temples were mini-universes: models of the cosmos.  Following this understanding, it is the function of the sacred space in Scripture that becomes dominant, not the literal meaning conveyed by the words in context.  This maneuver concentrates the mind on ideas beyond the prima facie wording of the texts and starts it thinking along very different lines, with its own assortment of motifs, types and recurrences.[4]

Alongside of this it is proposed that the tripartite temple structure mirrored the same threefold structure in the cosmos.  Further, we are instructed to view the garden of Eden as a proto-temple which God intended man to gradually push out over the untamed earth until all was claimed for God.[5]

It is clear from some inter-testamental Jewish writings and from Philo and Josephus that some Jews in the second temple period (c. 200 B.C. – 70 A.D.) understood the temple and the priesthood to reflect realities in Heaven.[6]  It is also clear that some ancient cultures saw the act of temple-building as a sort of re-enactment of the creation of the universe.

Josephus attributes cosmic significance to various aspects of the structure.  The veil hanging above the temple gate itself symbolizes the universe ([Jewish War] 5:212-213).  The twelve loaves placed on the table symbolize the zodiac and the months, while the menorah… symbolizes the seven planets (5:218)[7].

Very well, but these sources are not from the time of Moses, never mind Adam.  True, there are some resemblances between Genesis 1 and God’s directions for the construction of the tabernacle in Exodus 25 – 31[8], but these possible comparisons are not at all decisive for inferring that the tabernacle was designed as a mini-cosmos.

What about the assertion that, “the three sections of Israel’s temple represented the three parts of the cosmos”?  Beale is convinced that the truth of this is undeniable, and he stakes a lot upon it.  But is it really a fact that ancient peoples of the Near East held to this three-tiered conception?  And is it an established fact that the biblical writers assume the same three-storied view of the cosmos?

Biblical theologian Gerhard Hasel and his son, the archaeologist Michael Hasel argue convincingly that neither is actually the case.  They have shown from Canaanite records that “the gods did not always dwell in the heavens or the upper story of a supposed three-storied universe.”[9]  As a matter of fact,

“The most comprehensive study on Mesopotamian cosmic geography concludes that there was no belief in a three-storied universe…”[10] 

After examining the figurative expressions in the Bible they conclude that “the widespread assumption that the biblical cosmology is that of a three-storied universe cannot be maintained.”[11] If they are right then the theory of the temple reflecting such a three-tier cosmos is in serious trouble.  But again, surely the more important point is how dependent upon speculations and mild possibilities all this is?

What Did the Temple Stand For?

When one narrows ones focus down to the Bible the question “did the earthly temple sometimes stand for the whole cosmos?” needs to be reconsidered.  It is perhaps best to think about it in relation to the question of whether the earthly temple stood as a replication of the heavenly temple.  Of this latter thesis there ought to be no argument, for as Exodus 25:9 and 40 show, God gave Moses a blueprint to follow assiduously.  And the enlargement on this given by the author of Hebrews fills out the picture when he calls Jesus in His High Priestly function,

a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected… – Hebrews 8:2[12]

On the face of it this plainly indicates that there is a “true tabernacle” in heaven of which the earthly one was a replica.  But once this is accepted then the temple = cosmos motif seems less viable, because it would seem to go too far to assert that the heavenly temple itself symbolized the whole cosmos.  This would force one to have to assert a double symbolism; (1) temple = cosmos plus (2) earthly temple = heavenly temple.  Unless the entirety of heaven is right now “the true tabernacle”, which is not the impression one gets from reading Hebrews 8 and 9, then the (1) temple = cosmos parallel won’t work.  This impression is sustained by recalling the picture of New Jerusalem in Revelation 21 and 22, which is clearly distinguished from heaven (Rev. 21:2-3).

What this means is that since the true tabernacle is not coextensive even with heaven it cannot picture the cosmos, and for the same reason it cannot represent the cosmos as three-tiered as is maintained by Beale.  (more…)

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The Cosmic Temple and Spiritualized Eschatology (Pt.2)

Part One

Firmer Ground

Following the biblical narrative it appears that the design and furnishings of the tabernacle/temple have some correspondence with the Paradise which Adam forfeited.  This “remembrance” would only increase the sense of what was lost and what the Promised One (Gen. 3:15) would restore.  It would act as an encouragement to faith.  And the expectation would only be heightened once it was also revealed that the sanctuary was modeled after one in heaven (Exod. 25:9; Heb. 8:1-5).[1]  These ideas taken together form the backdrop for viewing the earthly temple sanctuary as a place of meeting between God and (one) man.[2]  Once the Redeemer completes eventually His work[3] however, all saints may enter the true Holy Place (cf. Rev. 21:21-26).

If this view is accepted then neither Eden nor the later temple should be seen, in the first place, as a model of the whole Cosmos, but as a “pattern” or “imitation” of “the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man.” (Heb. 8:2).[4]  Of course, if the true sanctuary does model the Cosmos then so would the copy.[5]

Cosmic Temple and Typology

However, the usual way this idea is presented in evangelical theology is as a theological motif: a launching pad for a certain typological reading of biblical eschatology.  This motif also depends much on seeing parallels in the way the ancients in other civilizations built their temples to represent their understanding of the universe.  As we’ve seen, sometimes the idea of Eden as a tri-tiered arrangement of garden, land of Eden, and outlying lands is invoked.[6]  Then extrapolation takes over, as one inference is laid upon another.

As imagination kicks into top gear we soon have Adam the priest-sentinel charged with pushing out the borders of Paradise into the wild spaces beyond his habitat while combating the evils which dwell there.  Adam does this so as to supposedly reenact the struggle of God against Chaos in Creation week.[7]  As the biblical story continues Abraham and Israel are “new Adams”[8]  doomed to recapitulate the same scenario, which only ends with Jesus, who, in His resurrection, empowers the Church (which is seen as the “new Israel”) to finish the job.  Presumably Adam (and the other “Adams”) was expected to do this feat literally, but it is now being done spiritually by Christ in the Church.

So according to Beale, who has written many pages describing the garden of Eden as a temple,

The prophecy of the latter-day temple begins in Christ’s first coming and the church through God’s special revelatory presence, the essence of the old temple…Christ was the first expression of this divine presence that had left the old temple, and then his Spirit indwelling the church was the continuing ongoing expression of the beginning latter-day temple.  All along, the symbolic design of the temple was to indicate that God’s “holy of holies” presence would eventually fill the entire cosmos, so that the cosmos, instead of a small physical house, would be the container of this glorious presence…at the climax of all history, the inaugurated indwelling presence of God completely fills the entire cosmos, which appears to have been the design of the Ezek.40-48 temple prophecy all along.[9]  

This scenario plays nicely into the hands of amillennial and postmillennial advocates.[10]  Eden, Adam, the land covenanted to Abraham, the tabernacle and the Jerusalem temple, the people of Israel, are all types of Christ and the Church: the “true temple,” which may typify the Divine Presence filling the whole Cosmos.  The proper interpretation of God’s program resides in the types.[11]  And they supposedly contain the grand story of the Bible, not the covenants, which (naturally) resist typological interpretation!

The groundswell of enthusiasm for this view comes into focus once one has bought into the typology.  The garden of Eden and its recapitulations are interpreted as types of the “true” eschatological temple being extended through Christ’s Church – Christ and His Body being the antitype.  This encourages; indeed it necessitates a supercessionist view of the eschaton.[12]

—————————————————————————-

[1]A straightforward reading of the texts in question makes it unmistakable that this was intended.  The problem then, for both Christian and Jewish interpreters, is what to do with this information.  Sadly, many Christians simply choose to disbelieve it because they adopt theological positions at variance with it.  Some Jewish writers see the Book of Hebrews as a piece of supercessionist polemics, and do not take seriously the agreement between Exodus and Hebrews.  For the latter, see Jonathan Klawans, Purity, Sacrifice, and the Temple, 243.

[2] That man being the High Priest on the Day of Atonement.

[3] What I mean by this is that Christ only completes His great work once Satan is forever vanquished and the “Creation Project” is at an end.  There is much still to be said about this theme.

[4] I.e. As opposed to the one Moses pitched.

[5] The reader is reminded that in the case of Israel’s temple the three-tiered arrangement of the structure is said to correspond to the three-tiered structure of the universe.

[6] This is what G. K. Beale does in, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, 32-33, and G. K. Beale and Mitchell Kim, God Dwells Among Us, 52

[7] G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 40.  Here is a contrary opinion: “The red thread of opposition to pagan mythological notions is also visible in the fiat creation by raising the firmament or expanse (Gen. 1:6, 7) without any struggle whatsoever…The ancient cosmologies are not absorbed or reflected in Genesis but overcome.” – Gerhard F. Hasel and Michael G. Hasel, “The Unique Cosmology of Genesis 1 against Ancient Near Eastern and Egyptian Parallels”, in The Genesis Creation Account and Its Reverberations in the Old Testament, (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 2015), ed. Gerald A. Klingbeil”, 22.  Cf. John W. Oswalt, The Bible Among the Myths, 67-68.

[8] E.g. G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 39, 60, 62.  Israel is called a “corporate Adam”.

[9] Ibid, 647.

[10] Even though it’s major proponents tend to be amillennial.

[11] I refer to this as typological predetermination.  It will be necessary to enter for a while into the subtleties, not to say the meanderings of typological interpretation.  But I shall do that in volume two.

[12] E.g. Beale entitles chapter 19 of his A New Testament Biblical Theology ; “The Story of the Eden Sanctuary, Israel’s Temple, and Christ and the Church as the Ongoing Eschatological Temple of the Spirit in the New-Creational Kingdom.”.  One cannot escape the prevalence of replacement theology in this book (e.g. 161, 173, 182 n.65, 215, 307, 574, 770, etc.). On page 211 the redeemed nations are called “authentic Israel,” and new covenant believers (i.e. the church) are “true Jerusalemites.” (671). In his comments on the supercessionist test-text Matt. 21:41 Beale speaks of God “rejecting ethnic national Israel as God’s true people” (680), and of Israel’s stewardship being taken from them and given to the gentiles (681). He says, “Jesus identifies himself with Daniel’s stone which smashes the ungodly nations, which also includes…Israel.” (682).  Proponents of this kind of approach regularly complain that they are not supercessionists, but that is because they have so attenuated the word that it no longer retains its true meaning.

The Cosmic Temple and Spiritualized Eschatology (Pt.1)

“Israel’s temple was a symbolic shadow pointing to the eschatological “greater and more perfect tabernacle” (Heb. 9:11) in which Christ and the church would dwell and would form a part.  If so, it would seem to be the wrong approach for Christians to look in hope to the building of another temple in Jerusalem composed of earthly “bricks and mortar” as a fulfillment of the OT temple prophecies.” – G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 634

The above quotation presents one of the logical outcomes of adopting the position that the garden of Eden was designed as a “temple,” which in turn symbolized the created cosmos, which needed to be subordinated to its Creator.  This micro-cosmos Eden “temple” was to be expanded by mankind, we are told, until it covered the surface area of planet earth.  The tabernacle and the temple of Israel were related to the Eden “temple” in that they too were mini-cosmoses; yet they also functioned as types of the final temple, the church in Jesus Christ.  The church is the new and real temple which is to expand its “sacred space” until it spreads over the whole of creation.

Explaining the Cosmic Temple Idea[1]

If one spends time reading the older commentaries, articles and Old Testament theologies, one will find no mention of the idea of a Cosmic Temple.[2]  Today the situation has changed and there is a widespread consensus about cosmic symbolism in the ancient world, the Hebrew Bible included.[3] There are, to be sure, impressive parallels between ancient views about temple complexes, the concept of rest, the symbolism of trees and so on, in Egyptian and Mesopotamian cultures, and certain ideas in the Old Testament.

If we put to one side the vital question of the sufficiency of Scripture for the moment and concentrate on the issue at hand, we can put together a decent picture of the way the ancient Jews, among other peoples, saw the temple as symbolizing the universe.  But whether the Bible ought to be thought of as reflecting this same outlook, as some evangelicals claim[4], is an altogether separate question.

The basic concept involved is well expressed in the following quotations:

It is now widely known that archaeological ruins and texts from the Ancient Near East portray ancient temples as small models of heavenly temples or of the universe conceived of as a temple.[5]

The setting for the world’s true story is the cosmos God made.  In this cosmos he intends to be known and worshiped by his image and likeness.  In that sense, the world God made is a cosmic temple.  Within the cosmic temple God planted a garden, and it appears that [man] was charged to expand the borders of that garden until the glory of the Lord covered the dry ground as the waters covered the sea.[6]

The Ancient Near Eastern temples are also compatible with the…conclusion that the three sections of Israel’s temple represented the three parts of the cosmos.[7]

Our thesis is that Israel’s temple was composed of three main parts, each of which symbolized a major part of the cosmos: (1) the outer court represented the habitable world where humanity dwelt; (2) the holy place was emblematic of the visible heavens and its light sources; (3) the holy of holies symbolized the invisible dimension of the cosmos, where God and his heavenly hosts dwelt.[8], [9]

Eden as a Cosmic Temple?

    Greg Beale, who has been at the forefront of this movement, thinks that seeing Eden as a temple, fated for worldwide expansion, has a lot of promise, helping us to comprehend the Bible’s grand narrative.  His case is built up from allusions, hints, strands, and possible scenarios.  Beneath the surface it is all very speculative, and he often has to qualify his assertions (“possibly”, “perhaps”, “no explicit evidence”).  Rarely does he point to plain and clear statements of Scripture to prove his thesis.  For example, if one asks, where is this idea most clearly spelled out?  Beale answers with Ezekiel 28:

Ezekiel 28:18 is probably, therefore, the most explicit place anywhere in canonical literature where the Garden of Eden is called a temple.[10]

The passage in question reads:

You defiled your sanctuaries by the multitude of your iniquities, by the iniquity of your trading; therefore I brought fire from your midst; it devoured you, and I turned you to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all who saw you. – Ezekiel 28:18

As Beale explains in another place, “Ezek. 28:18 says that the sin of the glorious figure ‘profaned your sanctuaries,’ which alludes to Eden as a temple being profaned.”[11]

The Hebrew word miqdashim (“sanctuaries”) is plural, but it may be that the plural is used simply for emphasis[12], so that in itself does not derail the identification of Adam as the “glorious figure” or Eden as a profaned temple.”  But everyone will admit that the passage has been given many interpretations, and the “Adam interpretation” feels less than airtight.[13]  Bruce Waltke believes that, “the description of the king of Tyre is not apt for Adam.  Rather, the imagery fits Satan quite well; an angelic cherub in God’s court…”[14]  When all is said and done, if Ezekiel 28:18 is the most unambiguous place where Eden is referred to as a temple the thesis does not enjoy a very solid biblical foundation.  (more…)

King & Kingdom in Genesis?

This was written as an Excursus for a chapter in the book ‘The Words of the Covenant’

I am well aware of the view held by many respected scholars who believe that “the Kingdom of God” is the main theme of the Bible.[1]  But it must be admitted that it has not been an overarching theme of Genesis, and therefore of the first several thousand years of history.  Though it may be rightly intimated from the image of God of Genesis 1:26-27, and the creation mandate of Genesis 1:28f., that man was to rule over the world for His Maker[2], the idea of a kingdom of God had not yet taken clear shape in the biblical text, especially from the time of the Fall.[3]  What we see, rather, is the story of fallen humanity moving away from their Creator and His program, and a providential counter-movement through Noah to Abram finalizing at some future point in a coming potentate from Judah.  Hence, the kingdom theme emerges very gradually from the Hebrew narrative.  Surely a more prominent theme has been the figure of the coming “Deliverer King”[4] who is promised at the beginning and the end of the Book (Gen. 3:15; 49:8-10).

I am prepared to accept this thesis about the important status of the kingdom of God, but only if one allows certain objections to have their full weight.  The fact is that there are several reasons which militate against this opinion, and it withstands them only on the strength of the totality of the Bible’s broader teaching about the Messiah, seen mainly through the prophetic writings in both Testaments.  Let me unpack these objections below.

Firstly, one cannot brush over the fact that the Book of Genesis places little or no direct emphasis on the kingdom of God, and it is only through making the term do several chores at once that an argument from Genesis can be made.  By “kingdom of God” are we to mean the universal rule of God over all He has made?  If so then I respectfully point out that we are asserting a truism about providence which hardly requires an argument[5]: God is going to be God!  Of course, what can be said about God in this sense cannot be said of man.

Secondly, we might agree with “the recent scholarly consensus [which] largely contends that the kingdom, while present in some sense, nevertheless still awaits a future consummation at the second coming of Jesus Christ, although the kingdom came in provisional fashion at his first advent.”[6]  That is how many people view it, but it requires us to read Genesis, and in fact the Old Testament, with the New Testament already in hand; something which my method here does not permit me to do.

Thirdly, if we define the kingdom of God as God’s reign over the earth and mankind in fellowship with us as vice-regents, we shall have to admit that such a kingdom is eschatological; that it is the goal of the Bible’s eschatology.  Hence, teleology and eschatology move towards the realization of the kingdom of God.  It has not been manifested yet in history.  As Saucy observed,

God’s kingly rule is brought to the earth through the mediation of the kingdom of the Messiah… This pervasive mediatorial kingdom program, ultimately fulfilled through the reign of Christ, is the theme of Scripture and the unifying principle of all aspects of God’s work in history.[7] 

With this I agree, and here the realization of the kingdom of God and the Creation Project are virtually synonymous.  Here one encounters the “mediatorial” idea where God entrusts aspects of the nascent kingdom of God to chosen vessels (e.g. Abraham, David, etc.).  I think this view has been successfully championed by men like Peters, McClain, Pentecost, Saucy, and Vlach.  But in my opinion the actual kingdom of God, understood as “the earthly kingdom of Messiah” is proleptic; that is, seen in advance of its materialization.  It is anticipated more than it is perceived.  The Law of Moses and the throne of David provide concrete yet imperfect instances, not so much of Messiah’s kingdom, but rather of intensified illustrations of God’s universal reign in a fallen world.  Understood this way it is rightly called “mediatorial.”

We find a theocracy, but not the one ushered in at the end of history by “he who comes to whom it belongs” (Gen. 49:10).[8]  If we wish to look for such a kingdom where God’s blessings are mediated to the nations, we will have to wait.    However one sees it, “the earthly kingdom” will always suffer from contingency until the prophesied Messiah comes to rule.[9]

This is why I prefer to think of the arrival of the coming King as the telos of the Bible. It is the King who brings about the realization of the Kingdom of God.  For example, in the time of Jesus, as we shall see, the kingdom was thought of mainly in terms of the future, not the present.  The same is true in the Prophets, as I hope to show.  The mediatorial kingdom view prior to the advent is at best a shadow of the actual kingdom of Messiah.[10]  The consummation of the mediatorial kingdom will be when it is “brought into conformity with God’s Universal Kingdom (see 1 Cor 15:24, 28).”[11]  It oughtn’t to surprise us that the idea emerges as the person of the Messiah comes more and more into focus in the progress of revelation.

King and Kingdom

The term “kingdom” occurs only twice in Genesis (Gen. 10:10; 20:9), and neither usage concerns the kingdom of God.  Genesis 3:15 is at best a pale intimation of this kingdom, with nothing of any substance on the issue being broached to Noah or Abraham.[12]  What can be asserted is that God’s covenant with Abraham included the grant of a land in perpetuity to Abraham’s heirs (Gen. 15).

It is a similar story with the word “king” (melek).  Although it is used many times in Genesis it is not employed to designate the coming Ruler over the future kingdom until Balaam’s prophecy in Numbers 24:7.  Added to this, and as was already noted above, Genesis 41:40 is the sole mention of “throne” in Genesis, and that is a reference to Pharaoh’s throne.  So, to repeat, we find no real development of the kingdom of God concept in the Genesis period.[13]   (more…)

The Apocalyptic (Wrong) Turn (Pt.3)

Part Two

Going Far Beyond the Bible

All of the major advocates of apocalyptic gather data, albeit not exclusively, from outside of the Bible.  Brent Sandy demonstrates his procedure of going beyond Scripture when he says, “In order to understand the language of apocalyptic, we must review the period of world history relevant to Daniel 8 and then examine Daniel’s language.”[1]  He is not alone.  Notice what is entailed in this statement about the genre:

Apocalypse was a literary genre that flourished in the period between the OT and NT (though apocalyptic visions of the future can be found in the OT as well as the NT).[2] 

Here is another statement from the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery:

Apocalyptic forms of expression were very common outside the Bible, and contemporary readers need to become familiar with that mindset to understand biblical apocalyptic literature and symbolism.[3]

What the author of this article is saying is that one cannot comprehend large parts of Daniel and Revelation, not to mention certain parts of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah, Matthew, and some Pauline letters[4], unless one goes beyond the Bible for clues of how the ancients used this sort of imagery.

Holding to this understanding of apocalyptic involves an implicit denial of the sufficiency of Scripture.   Whenever we go foraging into profane history, for example, to try to determine genre[5], ideas which are foreign to the Bible are inevitably brought to bear on the text of the Bible, thus essentially undermining the Bible’s own ability to explain itself.

We encounter this again in a recent evangelical work:

Old Testament apocalyptic literature belongs to a genre of Jewish writing that includes both canonical and non-canonical texts.  For a proper understanding of this genre within the context of its historical development, neither of these groups of texts should be examined in isolation from the other.[6]

Notice the position that inspired Scripture is being forced to take.  It must remain content to be analyzed alongside of non-inspired writings and until the accidental artifacts of ancient history have been sifted through.   But letting the Bible be its own interpreter clears away a lot of confusion.  For one thing, one sees the likelihood that later Jewish apocalypses (e.g. The Book of the Watchers; The Testament of Levi) are attempts to copy the biblical writings and put them to use in circumstances of hardship and hopelessness.[7]

Again, if we are going to insist that it is wrong to think of apocalyptic as serving up specific prophetic content, but rather leaving us with an image or impression of something it seems natural that we ask just how God will wrap up history, since basically all the passages that speak of it are lumped together as “apocalyptic” texts.  Will He do it by “rolling up the heavens as a scroll” (Isa. 34:4)?  Will Jesus really come “in the clouds with great power” (Mk. 13:26)?  Will the armies of heaven really follow Him (Rev. 19:14)?  Will there be a great earthquake (Rev. 16:18)?  Will the moon become blood red (Rev. 6:12)?    The answer coming from the apocalyptic corner is No, these are symbols meant to create impressions.  For the record, my answer is Yes!

Reminding Ourselves of the Bible’s “Wild” Worldview

Let us assemble some of the things that people actually saw and experienced in Old Testament times.  It would be a salutary exercise to ponder these events before considering apocalyptic as a genre. (more…)

The Inspiration of Scripture (Pt.1)

We have seen that God has revealed Himself to us in two ways, and yet these two ways are really one whole.

  1. General Revelation proclaims the existence of the Creator even in a sin-scarred, even though we reject the revelation that is in us and all around us in nature, yet this revelation is clear and authoritative. The testimony of the natural world, though perspicuous in itself, is obscured by our sin and the curse.
  2. Special Revelation both interprets General Revelation and tells us about God and reality through the medium of the written Word, especially today. The Bible is God’s Word to man, and that being so it must speak authoritatively.  In fact, it’s authority must be the authority of its Author.  The God-givenness of Scripture is what we generally call ‘inspiration’.

A Starting Definition

Inspiration is the determining influence exercised by the Holy Spirit on the writers of the Old and New Testament in order that they might proclaim and set down in an exact and authentic way the message as received from God. – Rene Pache, The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture, 45

This definition well describes the teaching of the Church through the centuries. The Almighty has communicated His Word to mankind in the Bible, employing the instrumentality of chosen men to write and preserve their works.  Since God is true and cannot lie or err (Tit. 1:2), it stands to reason that His written Word will be infallible and inerrant.  We are not left with a book that is an admixture of God’s words plus the well-intentioned, but flawed musings, of human beings about God.

Although Scripture does refer to mistakes and faults, it does so as a faithful witness to those failings.  It does not fail itself, but as the production of God is completely trustworthy upon whatever the subject it touches.  Indeed, this cannot be otherwise or else the entire revelation is put in jeopardy; the whole Scripture is the unalloyed truth.

According to Pache the first thing to state about inspiration is that it is ‘Spirit directed’; the whole enterprise from the choosing and guiding of the individuals, to the finished canon, was under the minute direction of the Third Person of the Trinity.

This is a very important point for at least two reasons:

  1. because it shows that God Himself is in control of the entire production, through the history of its production, and its preservation.

2. it shows that the divine side of the Scripture is more preeminent than the human side.  Yes the human side is there…it can be detected in the style, the language, and the personalities of the writers, but these are superintended by the divine power, and it is the divine will that they are bringing about. Therefore, the relation between the divine aspects of Scripture and the human aspects of Scripture are unequal – because God is in final control, the human beings are not.

Also, Pache says that inspiration is “the Spirit’s exercise of His authority on the writers of the Old and New Testaments in order that they might proclaim and set down”.  That is, inspiration involved both the proclamation of God’s message and the setting of it down in permanent written form.

Pache continues that this proclamation and setting down of the message of God was in an exact and authentic way – the message as received from God. In other words, what God wanted written got written! What Scripture says is what God says!

An Examination of this Doctrine

The key text is from Paul:

And how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. – 2 Timothy 3: 15-17

Pache does not put a lot of emphasis on this passage and its teaching in his definition.  I think that is where we will need to amend his work.  In this famous verse we have –  provided we accept the usual translation – a straightforward declaration of the Bible’s connection with the supreme God.  Men of God may have set down their writings while being ‘born along’ by the action of the Holy Spirit (as in 2 Pet. 1:21), but in this verse the attention is all on the production itself.

The Meaning of Theopneustos

All Scripture is theopneustos; literally ‘God breathed’, a term unique to Paul and to this passage.  Theopneustos is a compound verb constructed out of the welding together of two familiar words – theos: Greek word for God, and pneuma: the Greek term for ‘breath, wind, or spirit’.  So, as many interpreters have pointed out, Paul describes Scripture as being ‘God breathed out’.

The next thing to discover is what exactly the Apostle wanted Timothy to understand by this term; that is, what relationship does the breath of God bear to the written Word?

B.B. Warfield demonstrated a century ago that theopneustos, “very definitely does not mean inspired.”  Our word ‘inspired’ connotes in-breathing, whereas Paul’s word conveys the notion of ‘breathing out’ or spiration.  To attempt to get closer to the meaning we could turn to the term ‘expired’.  But of course that term has already been rendered inappropriate for our use by the fact that it usually connotes the last breath of something, therefore indicating that something is dead.  That gives us exactly the opposite meaning we are after, because the Word of God is “living and active” (Heb. 4:12).

So perhaps we’re better off with the term “spirated.”  Or maybe it is just better to retain the word “inspired” while giving it this special meaning?  This means that in the Spirit’s superintendence, the Bible (in this context it would be the Old Testament, but also by extension the New), is as much a word spoken by God as the words which called for a universe to be created at the very beginning.  The Bible is, in truth, the voice of the Lord in inscripturated form.

Because the Bible is “God breathed” it is truly the Word of God before it is the word of man.  It is truly “the Sword of the Spirit” before it is the sword of the saint (Eph. 6:17).  It “cannot be broken” (Jn. 10:35).  It’s profitability for doctrine, for reproof, for correction and instruction in righteousness, is linked inextricably with its divine provenance.  It’s power, authority, integrity, and permanence are byproducts of its theopneustic or inspired character.   (more…)

General Revelation (Pt.5)

Part Four

The Unsaved do not know God

The NT seems to say that the unsaved person does not know God.  We see this in several places.  Let us begin with Galatians 4:

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? – Galatians 4:8-9

We are told that the Galatians once did not know God, and because of that they served false gods.  But now they are known by God and therefore know God.  Here Paul is plainly saying that there is a difference between those who know God, the saints, and those that do not know God, the lost or unregenerate.

Here is Ephesians 2:

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. – Ephesians 2:12

Paul says that the Gentiles, by which he means the pagan world, were once “without God in the world.”  If they were without God it is hard to claim that they knew Him.  This is Paul’s view also in 1 Thessalonians 4:5 (“…like the Gentiles who do not know God” – cf. 2 Thess. 1:8).

From these texts it seems quite clear then that unregenerate people do not know God in any way, whereas saved people have been brought to a knowledge of God, and they are the only ones who truly do know God.

The Unsaved do know God

Now, if the unsaved are ignorant of God then what does one do with Romans 1?  Here Paul insists that the unsaved are aware of God.  In fact, it is on account of this that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.”  How can this be?  It is because of what the Apostle identifies as a suppression of the truth that their ignorance is willful (1:18).  The suppression is driven from within; from the “default setting” of the sinner, who, as the truth comes to him as revealed truth, changes it into something different.

In Romans 1 Paul is speaking about General Revelation, not Scripture.  And he says plainly that there are things that “can be known about God”, revealed things in creation (1:19-20).  Paul surprises us, for he declares this revelation from and about God to be “plain to them” and “clearly perceived” 1:20).  Hence, he can be dogmatic; “they are without excuse.”

Paul continues,

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images… – Romans 1:20-22

The problem with man’s thinking does not stop with the exclusion of the revelation about God in the world.  The mechanisms of thought are polluted or corrupted in their functioning.  Having ignored General Revelation the human mind must fill in the gap and imagine a story in its place.  Ironically, the sinner has a “God of the gaps” fallacy which effects their senses and their experiences.  They claim to “know” but that “knowledge” is not justified true belief, it is foolishness.

Then what the passage does is make connections between the almost reflexive denial of God and the inevitable manufacture of idols to take His place, at least superficially (1:23-25), and the knock-on effect this has upon morals.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen… God gave them up to dishonorable passions…and since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done… Though they know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. – Romans 1:24-26, 28, 32

Here then, quite clearly we have Paul, the same Paul who said that the Gentiles do not know God, teaching quite clearly that in fact the Gentiles, the unsaved people, do know God and they know God because God has revealed Himself in their surroundings and also within them.  Therefore, they are without excuse for their rejection of God and they are without excuse when they worship and serve idols. In fact we told in verse 25 that, “they exchanged the truth about God for a lie”. This lines up with Jesus’ words:

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God. – John 3:18-21

 

Where Jesus speaks about the fact that men loved darkness rather than light (that is, in contrast to light), because their deeds were evil, so that they would not come to that light. There is some knowledge, some sense, and some acknowledgment of the light.  Or to shift back to Paul’s wording, there is some knowledge of the reality of the Creator God.  And yet they are said not to know God. (more…)

General Revelation (Pt.4)

Part Three

God’s revelation is woven into the ‘warp and woof’ of everyday living. This is because General Revelation and Special Verbal Revelation work together in unison.  This is most important to keep in mind.  When God gives someone something like, revelation or ability, never works against Himself, He always gives in accordance with His will and His decree for the gift to be used.  So it is with the gift of General Revelation.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. – James 1:17

General Revelation and Special Revelation in the Scriptures both work together according to the intention of the revealing God.  We see this in Psalm 19 where ‘nature’ and ‘word’ are both revelations of God working together.

We see this also in Eden where Adam and Eve are placed in a revelatory environment and then are told how to function within it.  That is, God uses General Revelation, the naming of the animals, the creation mandate, to bring Adam to do several things:

First – to delineate and define animal characteristics in his naming of them, therefore using the abilities that God has given to him.  Those abilities themselves are revelatory, and we should link them to the phenomenal world in order to find out about the world.  This is the mandate for science and scientific endeavor in the world.

Second – God uses General Revelation in Eden so that man realizes his need of a suitable companion during the process of his scientific investigation and naming of the animals. But then the activities of Adam and Eve in the Edenic environment is prescribed also by the Word of God.  This is most important.  By the Word of God, given for example through the creation mandate itself – which is a verbal mandate – and the prohibition in Genesis 2:17, our first parents were given parameters within which to operate.  But within those verbal parameters there was a great deal of freedom to interact and respond to the natural realm.  It was never intended that God would leave us in a nonverbal atmosphere to find our way without another word from the Creator. General Revelation and Special Revelation are two sides of the one system of Divine communication.

After the Fall

After the fall of man the verbal aspect changes because Special Revelation was not at first instrumental.  That is, God did not use something else like a book or a prophet to speak to us, but spoke directly and personally in his own presence there in the Garden to Adam and Eve.  But after sin ruptured the relational and spiritual facets of the God / man connection, it became necessary for Special (verbal) Revelation to take other forms with only selected individuals hearing the voice of God.   It also became necessary for that verbal revelation to have a different content, where the denunciation of man’s wicked heart and the promise of future redemption played a major role.  It didn’t need to take any kind of role at all in the Edenic environment.

Yet the General Revelation, which now operates with the data of a fallen creation, and is effective despite it; and the Special Revelation, which operates within that fallen creation and interprets it, are still essential and are still meant to work together; they never work independently of each other, and so they must never be characterized as working independently of each other.

Certainly, they are different, but they are not self-supporting.  Each relies on the other:

General Revelation is non-verbal and non-redemptive, but requires an initial verbal identification and description.

Special Revelation is verbal and is both condemnatory and redemptive, but it operates within the created realm, which itself reveals God.

We can further examine this interplay between General and Special Revelation by studying the Noahic Covenant, and in doing this, also understand the different roles played by these two forms of God’s disclosure.  (See Genesis 8:15-9:17).

Notice here that the Noahic Covenant is the first covenant we find in the Bible.  This covenant is a covenant given by God on behalf of not only man, but on behalf of every living creature on the earth.  Because every living creature was affected by the Flood and its destruction, every living creature there by the will of God is included in the terms of this first covenant.  Therefore, this covenant has to do with the way that God is going to work in history in General Revelation, in the working out of his plan in history.

Now this means there is a connection between the “nature” and the plan of God.  But we couldn’t know this without Special Revelation.

The sign of the covenant is the rainbow.  People have noticed that this bow is rested and  is a bow without arrows.

The bow is an excellent symbol, particularly as it is now transformed into a thing of awe and of beauty.  It reveals the fact that God is a Judge over the wickedness of man, but will not revisit the earth with a global flood (Special Revelation).  But it also a symbol to us of our privileged relationship to God because it is a thing of great beauty (General Revelation), which only humans appreciate.

(more…)

General Revelation (Pt.3)

Part Two

The “Nature” Psalms

A good place to look for the doctrine of general or natural revelation is the so-called Nature Psalms.  But we might pause here to correct the title “Nature” Psalms, because although they have been classically referred to as that, it is not a very accurate name; it straightaway gives the impression that the psalmists are looking at nature and are deriving their views of God from their analysis of it.  But these Psalms (e.g. 8, 33, 104, 145), are actually Creation Psalms.  They are hymns to the God who has created all things. Therefore, they look at the effects of God’s working, and so they ought to be examined from a believing point of view.  We see God in these things just as the psalmist did, and our reaction to them should be that we are overwhelmed by the power, by the majesty, by the greatness of God, and that we worship Him for it.  These Psalms point to God.

O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!  You have set your glory above the heavens. – Psalm 8:1

Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his majesty is above earth and heaven.  He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his saints, for the people of Israel who are near to him.  Praise the LORD! – Psalm 148:13-14

Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, you are very great!  You are clothed with splendor and majesty, covering yourself with light as with a garment, stretching out the heavens like a tent. – Psalm 104:1-2

One of the main lessons then of these Creation Psalms is that God is far greater than what he has made.

The first and foundational truth in the Creation Psalms is that Yahweh has taken the initiative to communicate with us in every way possible.  He has given himself a constant witness in the creation around us and every time we open our eyes or ears we are reminded of the great Creator of all things. – Michael Travis, Encountering God in the Psalms, 122

At least the writer of Psalm 19 thinks so, and so does Paul in the New Testament. God has not remained silent.

So when we look at Psalm 19, perhaps the most clearly pronounced of the creation hymns, we see that it expounds the clarity of General Revelation to all men:

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament show his handiwork – Psalm 19:1

So the wonder of the heavens, the demonstration that is put on for us in the skies, both the morning sky, the afternoon sunshine, and the night sky, these things declare our glorious God; they show us that God is God majestic.  We see the great blue of the sky, or the gathering storm clouds, we see the wonderful contrasts in the natural world, and we wonder at the wisdom of what we might call the ‘God’s eye for beauty’.  We look at the stars and we just cannot fathom the power, the might, and the greatness of a God who would make all of those stars, burning so far away, millions upon millions of them, in millions of galaxies, and only mention them in passing in Genesis 1:16.

Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. – Psalm 19:2

In verse 2 we are told that there is a communication going on from day to day, from the creation to the creature – man: “night to night reveals knowledge”, they impart knowledge to us, provided we open our eyes and our hearts.

There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. – Psalm 19:3

The testimony is universal, a General Revelation.

Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat. – Psalm 19:4-6

The whole day, from sun up to sun down (v.6), is an ongoing witness to the revelation of the glory of God; it speaks to us of the reality of our Creator.  We recognize it intuitively when we look at it, when we listen to it, when we experience it.  There is a resonance between ourselves and the created environment. (more…)

General Revelation (Pt.2)

Part One

General Revelation is not potential knowledge, but actual knowledge.  The phrase “gnontes ton theon” in Romans 1:21, translated as “[they] knew God” implies knowing God already.  If that is the case, a theological apologetic witness to God utilizing only the world around should be aimed at awakening and reminding the sinner to what they have suppressed, and elucidating what is presently known.  When we look at the world, we are always reminded of our Creator.

Now, it is true that men can and do shut out that reminder, they can quieten the voice of conscience and the voice of memory (both of which are revelational to a degree).  When they then put forth their numerous alternatives; religions and philosophies, and argue for their truth over against the Christian truth claim, they are doing nothing more than exhibiting the results of their ongoing distortion of God’s revelation in them and around them.

But however low man may go, man is still the image of his Creator; spoiled, confused, and corrupt at turns though he may be.  He has eternity in his heart (Eccles. 3:11), but he has set himself against his Maker and will not be reconciled.

For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. – Romans 8:7

God has made man upright but man has sought out many wicked devices (Eccles. 7:29). Sinful man’s reception of God’s General Revelation is certainly blighted, but it is never destroyed.  As one leading theologian put it,

Holy Scripture teaches that God very definitely, consciously, and intentionally, reveals himself in nature and history in the heart and conscious of human beings. When people do not acknowledge and understand this revelation, this is due to the darkening of their mind and therefore renders them inexcusable. – Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics I, 340

In man’s ontic and noetic poles; in his being and his knowing, he still knows God, although in a distorted and corrupted way, because of his inner corruption.

An Impotent Witness?

Does this mean that because of the corruption of man’s heart General Revelation is impotent as a witness to God?  No, it is resoundingly clear that just because man in his sinfulness suppresses and distorts and then reconfigures this revelation, and then projects a pseudo-revelation which does not have God in it, he does it always rebelliously.  This is why Paul tried to speak to the Greeks in Athens to bring out this imprisoned knowledge.  (more…)