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Review of ‘Mark Through Old Testament Eyes’

A Review of Mark Through Old Testament Eyes by Andrew T. LePeau, Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2017, 352 pages, paperback 

This book by series editor Andrea LePeau is the first in a set of volumes that will explore the influence of the Old Testament upon the writers of the New Testament books.  This influence, it is believed, is not only in the way in which certain passages are quoted and used in the New Testament, but also how minds stocked with Old Testament stories, texts, and theology brought that multi-layered influence into their books through structure, allusion, typology and motif.  Especially important to this point of view is the way the Hebrew Scriptures are employed to point to Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of Israel’s hopes.

LePeau can turn a phrase and his work is very readable and easy to follow.  He is well read and he brings much to his task, though the book is not designed to be academic.  The book includes a running commentary with notes on backgrounds and Old Testament motifs and allusions interspersed.  Generally speaking he has done an excellent job with the commentary part of the book.  This (major) portion alone ought to recommend the book to preachers and teachers.

Going back to the premise of the series, the first thing which came to mind when I read the title and the way LePeau understands it was the question of whether this will indeed be a commentary on how the Old Testament effected the inspired writers (25), or whether it will be a work more about how the way the New Testament authors supposedly used the Old Testament.  The former understanding places the spotlight on the expectation taught in the Scriptures (e.g. Matt. 19:28; Lk. 1:31-33; 54-55; 68-74; 19:11; Acts 1:6; 26:7); the latter on a brand of theological interpretation.

I have to admit that as my eye passed over the list of contributors to this series I was not encouraged.  The names I read all believe that the Old Testament needs to be read in light of the New Testament in order to be rightly interpreted.  What this actually means is that a particular understanding of the New Testament is being read back into the Hebrew Bible so that the prophecies and promises found therein are reformulated so as to be fulfilled at Christ’s first coming and in the Church.  Gary Burge, for example, who will produce the Galatians and Ephesians volume, is a sure-fire bet to teach a reinterpretation of the Prophets and a “kingdom-now” supercessionist eschatology.

In his introduction LePeau likens the incorporation of Old Testament elements into Mark to the way directors include allusions to other films and directors in their movies.  I think this is an unfortunate illustration, for the movies themselves can be perfectly well understood without the allusions being seen by the viewer.  This is in fact what I think is often the case with the New Testament books.  If the reverse is the case, and these pointers are essential to the right comprehension of a New Testament book, then we are in the position of having to say that the real meaning of these books is at least partially hidden; or was until the recent work of men like Richard B. Hays (e.g. Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels), or Joel Marcus (The Way of the Lord), uncovered them.  I am very uncomfortable with that, firstly because if you take this view then you are saying something about the clarity of Scripture; that it has been pretty unclear for millennia.  You cannot effect the clarity of Scripture without meddling with the sufficiency of Scripture.  Second, I firmly believe that both Testaments are understandable as they are without searching out deeper meanings.

As an example, LePeau believes that Mark is alluding to Exodus 23:20 in Mark 1:2.  I do not.  Neither do I believe that just because John the Baptist was a wilderness dweller that we should automatically recall the Exodus.  While I certainly hold that Jews could recall a context or verse from its half-mention, that does not mean the full context or verse is intentionally being referred to.  What the text is saying in context is the prime determiner of meaning, not a motif or type that a scholar thinks is the actual meaning.  An instance of this is the Table (6.1) on page 127 where supposed parallels between Mark 6 and Psalm 23 are drawn.  He veers into allegory in the process.  I am thoroughly unconvinced.  He really has to push the boat out a long way to find connections.  This sort of motif-finding is misleading, and it detracts from what Mark is actually saying. (more…)

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Apocalyptic Fixation

NB This article reproduces and modifies some of the chapter on “Covenant and Apocalyptic” in the book I am writing.  It is therefore not meant to be a full exploration of the subject.

If you have been keeping abreast of evangelical treatments of the books of Daniel, Ezekiel, and Zechariah, or the Olivet Discourse or Book of Revelation you will have run into the term “Apocalyptic literature.”  It’s the favorite go-to for anyone who wants to stop the mouths of the prophets while sounding scholarly.

I realize that opening line is a bit testy, but I write it as one who has spent some time studying the major works on Apocalyptic – all written by critical liberal scholars – and have read the almost threadbare regurgitations of conservatives who are content to use this scholarship to support their reading of the Bible while retaining traditional beliefs.

It is hard to find an evangelical treatment of apocalyptic language and literature that has any depth. Evangelical discussions of the genre lean heavily on liberal work, and are often both cursory and deficient in their reporting of the state of the matter.  Only a few evangelical scholars, like Brent Sandy (Plowshares and Pruning Hooks)† , provide any in-depth work on the genre, and his work is heavily dependent on liberal scholarship and the kind of philosophical hermeneutics which relies on an evolutionary view of language.  Small wonder then that Sandy has moved further left in his commitments.  (For example, his The Lost World of Scripture, co-authored with John Walton, is an insidious attack on inerrancy and authorship via appeal to extra-biblical authorities).

In saying this I am not claiming that there is no such thing as apocalyptic.  But I am saying that a truly biblical approach to it will have to look very different than the standard critical proposals.  This is because the assumptions which force critical scholarship into interpreting the genre contradict the Bible’s own worldview, including the origin and purpose of language and the function of the prophet.

  1. Before swallowing the ideas of apocalyptic literature it is wise to examine the presuppositions of those who promote it. 

To show how liberal writers understand their work let us hear from one of the foremost authorities on apocalyptic literature in the world.  One of John Collins’s main arguments about Jewish apocalyptic is that it borrowed from the folklore (his word) of the surrounding cultures.  On the strength of this he makes an obvious inference:

It should be clear that a mythological allusion does not carry the same meaning and reference in an apocalyptic context as it did in the original myth.  If the “one like the son of man” who comes on the clouds in Daniel 7 alludes to the Canaanite figure of Baal, this is not to say that he is identified as Baal, or that the full story of Baal is implied.  It merely suggests that there is some analogy between this figure and the traditional conception of Baal.  In the same way, the “Son of Man” passage in Mark 13:26 alludes to Daniel, but the figure in Mark does not have the same reference as it had in Daniel, and the full narrative of Daniel 7 is not implied.” –  John J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination (2nd edition), 19. 

Of course, Jesus Himself believed that Daniel was a historical figure, and plainly implied that He was the “Son of Man” about whom Daniel wrote.  Furthermore, Jesus clearly viewed “the abomination of desolation” as prophetical, not apocalypse in the sense Collins would make it (see Mark 13:14).  But if you view Daniel as a pseudonymous second century composite work as Collins does his thesis about myth-borrowing looks plausible.  It becomes implausible only when one begins with Scripture as the Word of God.

Of course, Collins et al do not believe that Daniel is describing actual events.  He views Daniel as ex eventu prophecy, written centuries after the protagonists were dead.  Neither does he hold that books like Daniel, Ezekiel and Zechariah record predictions.  From this starting point it is a foregone conclusion that he will entertain very different opinions about the nature of apocalypses than the present writer.  Since apocalyptic language cannot be describing events and persons, nor is it predictive as such, then it is primarily aimed at arousing emotions.

Biblical scholarship in general has suffered from a preoccupation with the referential aspects of language and with the factual information that can be extracted from a text.  Such an attitude is especially detrimental to the study of poetic and mythological material, which is expressive language, articulating feelings and attitudes rather than describing reality in an objective way.  The apocalyptic literature provides a rather clear example of language that is expressive rather than referential, symbolic rather than factual. – Ibid, 17

The effect that liberal presuppositions about dating, divine inspiration, borrowing from Canaanite myths, and predictive prophecy have upon ones understanding of a genre is very profound.  But conservatives have bought into the conclusions of such scholars while trying to hold on to the Bible as inspired.  Yet, if they were being consistent with the biblical worldview, these ideas would have informed their study of apocalyptic literature, at least in the Bible, and lead to the formulation of a separate set of conclusions about apocalyptic.

Moreover, those evangelicals who have drank most deeply from the liberal wells are the ones who end up sounding more and more like their critical mentors.   Sometimes the contradictions are embarrassing.  For example, Chalmers is of the opinion that chapters 7 to 12 of the Book of Daniel represent the “most fully developed example of apocalyptic” in the Old Testament.  – Aaron Chalmers, Interpreting the Prophets, 132.

But then he says in a footnote that the fully grown form of apocalyptic arose about the third and second centuries B.C. – Ibid, n. 8.  All the liberal protagonists in the field of apocalyptic literature adhere doggedly to a second century date for Daniel, and they would use Chalmers’ argumentation to argue to that end.

(more…)

A Theological Case for Inerrancy (Pt.1)

Here is a slightly revamped two-parter from several years ago  

The battle over the inerrancy of Scripture hasn’t and isn’t going away.  We must decide how we will approach the Bible – what our working assumptions will be.  If “all Scripture is God-breathed” then all Scripture has the insignia of God upon it.  This would be the bare-bones theological deduction from the relationship between the two.  For the human element to be lifted above the Divine element so as to enjoy equal ultimacy over the resultant production of Scripture requires an alteration to Scripture’s own self-witness.  This is the reason why those who reject the idea of inerrancy (and I am far from rejecting all their work on account of their error), often plead in the vacuum of unaided reason.

Taking one prominent broadly evangelical theologian as an example, Donald Bloesch wrote,

While we grant that in one sense the Bible is the revelation of God to men, this revelation is in the form of human witness and is therefore to a degree hidden from the sight and understanding. The bane of much of modern evangelicalism is rationalism which presupposes that the Word of God is directly available to human reason. It is fashionable to refer to the biblical revelation as propositional and in one sense this is true. The Bible is not directly the revelation of God, but indirectly in that God’s Word comes to us through the mode of human instrumentality. – Donald G. Bloesch, Essentials of Evangelical Theology – Volume I, 75-76.

This quotation shows us how the human element can be stressed so as to compete with the Divine element.  To wit, the doctrine of inspiration must be accommodated to include the “human witness.”  This means that the claim to “direct revelation” from God to man is excluded (or, at the very least, camouflaged).  And then we are laid open to the philosophy of God’s free action reaching us through the Bible but only by His choice to employ it as His Word.

What we must say… is that in the case of Scripture just as surely as in preaching, ‘fallible men speak the word of God in fallible human words’ – Trevor Hart, Regarding Karl Barth, 38.

Taking this tack immediately places one on the horns of a dilemma.  For the Bible stresses many many times its God-givenness.  If it is produced by the combination of God’s out-breathing and the Spirit’s direction, and if every word of God is true, then unless we are prepared to engage in the futile task of separating God’s words from man’s words we shall have to decide to be those who accept a form of inerrancy, or else those who fail to find God’s prints on the Bible at all.

For this reason contemporary attempts to rid evangelicalism of inerrancy are doomed.  One such attempt is by A.T.B. McGowan:

Having freely chosen to use human beings, God knew what he was doing.  He did not give us an inerrant autographical text, because he did not intend to do so.  He gave us a text that reflects the humanity of its authors, but that, at the same time, clearly evidences its origin in the divine speaking.  Through the instrumentality of the Holy Spirit, God is perfectly able to use these Scriptures to accomplish his purposes.  – A.T.B. McGowan, The Divine Authenticity of Scripture, 124, emphasis added.

What we have here is a pragmatic God at work.  Even the originals of the various books of the Bible were not inerrant, but they accomplished God’s purposes.  There are clear evidences of God’s “speaking” so Scripture has a “Divine authenticity.”  It is, says McGowan, “infallible” but not “inerrant.”  But talking about an “infallible” Bible while denying an “inerrant” Bible, or limiting inerrancy to the conceptual world of the biblical writers is playing with words.  And the one doing the playing is very often the one hiding his tracks.

Finding God’s involvement under such an outlook will, let us be frank, involve weighing every historical and scientific Bible assertion against the pronouncements of “experts” and consigning Scripture to a slow death by degrees.  Not, I should say, because the experts are right – they often are not.  Besides, ones choice of experts usually reflects which “expertise” one wants airing.  But where the voice of men is allowed to judge the voice of Scripture the voice of men is often given preference.

While history, science, and archaeology provide obvious instances where Divine authenticity could be obscured, the prophetic element of Scripture might be appealed to.  Yes, but many evangelicals (McGowan would be one of them) who refuse to interpret the prophecies at face value because it crosses their theological predilections.  No, even allowing for the either/or fallacy, going down McGowan’s road is taking a road to nowhere.

What road is the right one to take?  It is the same one which should be taken in formulating every doctrine – we see how Scripture itself attests to it.

For present purposes, I will take my own basic formulations of inspiration and inerrancy as a starting point.

The Inspiration of Scripture – Proposition: “The Scriptures come from the God who breathed them out and caused them to be inscripturated through men who were ‘borne along’ by the Spirit.  That is what makes them Scripture.” – 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:20-21; Matt. 4:4; Jn. 17:17; Psa. 119:89-91

Inerrancy – Proposition: “The inspired Scriptures are the Word of God before they are the words of men.  They must be up to the job of transmitting truth from He who is True.  This truth will be as reliable in one area of knowledge as in any other, even if exact precision is not necessary.” – 2 Tim. 3:16; Psa. 12:6; Jn. 17:17; 2 Pet. 1:19-21.

Both doctrines appeal to 2 Timothy 3:16. The verse presents us with the clearest statement about the inspiration of Scripture. But this statement is in direct continuity with very many statements in both Testaments regarding the Bible’s Divine provenance. Scripture itself always stresses its God-givenness far more than it does its human provenance; a fact hardly ever given the attention it deserves. Paul views the Bible is, in truth, the voice of the Lord in inscripturated form.

This is why Paul can praise the Thessalonian believers for receiving the spoken Word of God, “not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers” – 1 Thessalonians 2:13b.

 

In the production of the Scriptures, the roles of God the Holy Spirit and the roles of the human authors bear an asymmetrical character which must never be brought into equal balance. Assuredly, this was not done by Jesus (cf. Matt.4:4 and Jn. 17:17), or the OT prophets, or the Apostolic authors: why then should we be out of step with them?

 

Carl Henry wrote of the doctrine of inspiration:

Inspiration is primarily a statement about God’s relationship to Scripture and only secondarily about the relationship of God to the writers. – Carl F.H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, 4.143

 

This is most important for us to understand as conservative evangelicals. B.B. Warfield recognized the same truth.

These acts could be attributed to Scripture only as the result of such a habitual identification in the mind of the writer of the text of Scripture with God as speaking, that it became natural to use the term ‘Scripture says’ when what was actually intended was ‘God has recorded in Scripture said. – B.B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, 299-300.

 

What Is A Prophet? (Pt.2)

Part One

Prophecies of Far Future Events

The ministries of Samuel (see 1 Sam. 3:9-18), Elijah (2 Ki. 1:3-4), Micaiah (1 Ki. 22:17-20), and Elisha (2 Ki. 3:14-19) included short-term predictions which could be verified.  But there were also prophecies which anticipated things much further off, like Nathan’s oracle,

I will also appoint a place for My people Israel and will plant them, that they may live in their own place and not be disturbed again, nor will the wicked afflict them any more as formerly… – 2 Samuel 7:10 (NASB)

This hope for David’s people has not yet been realized, and the later prophets repeat it.  These later writing prophets often made long-range predictions which could not be confirmed during their lifetimes, but these far off prophecies were established on the assurance of contemporary foretellings which came to pass.  One thinks about Amos’s oracle against Israel (and the interfering priest Amaziah) in Amos 7:14-17, or Jeremiah’s pronouncements concerning the conquering Babylonians in Jeremiah 21:1-10.   Ezekiel was told that there were still Jews in the land who foolishly believed that God would not drive them out of the land.  His prediction to the contrary (Ezek. 33:21-33) ended with the solemn words,

And when this comes to pass– surely it will come– then they will know that a prophet has been among them. – Ezekiel 33:33

The permanence of the prophetic word is necessary so that the word of God can be substantiated.  This is one reason why the prophet had to speak exactly what he was told to speak.  God said to Moses, “You shall speak all that I command you” (Exod. 7:2).  And in what I might call “the code of the prophet” Micaiah declared before king and court, “As the LORD lives, whatever the LORD says to me, that I will speak” (1Ki. 22:14. Cf. Jer. 23:28).  As one writer affirms, “By inspiration, God speaks to the nabi, who has to transmit exactly what he receives.”[1]

This literal consistency between God’s words and the prophet’s utterance accordingly became a guarantee that it was Yahweh who was the real Speaker.[2]  The crucial predictive test of the true prophet of God was then an extension of the “God’s words equal God’s actions” motif.  I have tried to show and will show again that often this important motif is reinforced by God’s covenant oaths.  That is why the prophet’s predictive function should never be eclipsed by his other roles.  To cite another recent scholar, Charles Scobie,

It has long been fashionable among modern historical scholars to declare that the prophets “were not foretellers, but forthtellers.”  This may have been a helpful corrective if prophecy was thought of purely in terms of prediction; the prophets were indeed deeply concerned with the contemporary social, political, economic, and religious life of Israel.  But prediction remains a major element in the OT prophets…In the prophetic books future prophecies play a major role.  Such prophecies can be broadly classified as oracles of judgment and oracles of salvation…Conditional prophecies are found that say, in effect, if you mend your ways, then you will be spared (e.g., Jer. 7:5-7).  But when it became clear that the people would not repent, prophetic oracles simply proclaimed future judgment.  Such prophecies, however, are balanced by oracles of salvation; the prophets saw “light at the end of the tunnel” in the form of a coming new age.[3]

(more…)

What is a Prophet? (Pt.1)

An draft excerpt from the book ‘The Words of the Covenant’ (forthcoming DV)

It is commonly asserted within biblical scholarship that the main focus of the prophet was on proclamation; that only incidentally was he (or she) concerned with prediction.  In many studies of the role of the prophet the emphasis is put upon the prophet’s function as a moral exhorter to his time and place.  Here is a recent example:

The prophet’s role was to speak the word of God to the king, nation, or people to reveal his will for their lives and how they should act.  Prophecy sometimes included predictions, but always with a view to revealing something of God’s plan, nature, or personality so that the hearers would respond appropriately in worshipful obedience.[1]

This description is given no verification, and on closer inspection will not stand up to scrutiny.  It can, for instance, be demonstrated that in numerous cases the prophetic prediction did not have in mind the transformation of the hearers, but was instead a kind of indictment on their hard heartedness or else a simple warning.  Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 4:26-28, Hosea’s pronouncement in Hosea 3:4, and the ministry of Agabus in Acts 11:28 and 21:10-11 are enough to disprove the prophet-as-moral-exhorter portrait.  Spiritual reproof was part of his role, but it did not make him a prophet.

As I begin I want to remind the reader of something I said before: that our understanding of what a prophet is will be dependent to a large extent on our view of biblical prophecy.  As I have said, while declaiming sins was an important part of what a prophet of God was to do, it was not at all his defining role.  His job was to foretell what God would do.  This has been well pointed out by a recent writer in speaking about the writing prophets:

Every literary prophet makes specific observations about the future…that can be tested as to their veracity as events unfold… It is crucial to underscore this aspect of prophecy, for there has been in the past century an unfortunate emphasis upon the prophet as primarily a “forthteller” (i.e. a preacher) with a concomitant minimizing of the prophet as “foreteller” (i.e., one who makes predictions about the future)…Many might like to see the prophets as social reformers, but the simple fact is that they were not.[2]

The Hebrew Bible uses three main terms for a prophet: nabi, roeh, and hozeh.  Of the three the word nabi (“one who testifies or proclaims”) is the most instructive.[3]  The first mention of a nabi concerns Abraham in Genesis 20:7.  This is when God tells Abimelech in a dream not to touch Sarah, who unbeknownst to him is Abraham’s wife.  God calls Abraham His prophet.  There is no explanation in the chapter of what the term a nabi actually means.  Unlike those who came after him Abraham does not at all seem to be a preacher or forthteller for God.  He does have the distinction of receiving the covenant which will determine the nature and destiny of Israel and the nations through him.  Therefore, it is the predictive element which provides the background to the term as used here.

The next use of the term is when Moses and Aaron are to go before Pharaoh in Exodus 7.  Aaron is the mouthpiece of Yahweh for Moses (Exod. 7:2).  In this circumstance the first statement about letting Israel go is not even recorded.  Rather the emphasis falls upon the contest between Yahweh and the gods of Egypt, which involves the predictions of the plagues in turn.  The same thing is found later when Elijah faces the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18:17-39.  But in both of these situations the prophet does not just make authoritative statements about the present.  Moses will predict the ruination of Egypt by degrees, while Elijah’s challenge to King Ahab and the idolaters is within the context of the prophet’s predictions about prolonged drought and then about the coming rain.

The God of the Bible shows Himself as He who knows what will be (Isa. 42:9; 46:10; Dan. 2:29).   Between them the short-term and long-term OT predictive oracles about individuals or nations are simply too many to number.  That a prophet preached a theological interpretation of history is true.  But history has come from somewhere and is going somewhere.  Hence the interpretation of the present is given in terms of how Israel got to where it was (moral declension leading to societal woes), and what God is going to do about it, both in terms of judgment against sin and the salvation of those whom He will everlastingly restore (cf. Zeph. 3:10-17).

The Tests of a True Prophet

To speak to the moment without reference to the future is unlike God.  We see this in the tests of a prophet given to Moses in Deuteronomy 18.  As I have already mentioned in the “Introduction” to this book, this chapter is especially important in shaping our conception of a prophet of God.  The relevant section concerns the One whom Moses calls “a prophet like me” (Deut. 18:15, 18).  Peter identifies this prophet as Jesus in Acts 3:22-23.  But there is a collective meaning too, which is why the means are given whereby a true prophet may be distinguished from a false one in 18:21-22. (more…)

John Owen on Inspiration and Preservation

Alright, I’m on vacation and I wanted to give this article another twirl.  Hope you like it.

Introduction

The greatest British theologian of the 17th Century was, in the opinion of many, John Owen.  Owen made distinctive contributions in a number of theological loci.  His book on the mutual relationship within the Trinity and our communion with each of the Divine Persons is still the best work on the subject.[1] Likewise, his manifesto for congregational-independency[2] offers some of the best arguments for Pastor-led congregational form of church government, and his The Death of Death in the Death of Christ[3] is considered the book on the Reformed view of particular redemption.  Owen’s teaching on the subject of the inspiration of the Bible is also most instructive, especially in view of what has been and is being taught in some evangelical seminaries and books.

The Importance of Divine Inspiration

 

Owen’s views on the crucial matter of the relationship of the Bible as we have it and the autographs are worth pondering.  He, like all solid evangelicals, rests the authority of the Bibles we have, not upon some inner impression of its validity, but upon its original theopneustic character.  In his, The Divine Original of the Scripture he asserted, “That the whole authority of the scripture in itself depends solely on its divine original, is confessed by all who acknowledge its authority.”[4] Thus the autographs were from God and delivered to men.  We possess “the words of truth from God Himself.”[5]

Inspiration he defined as “an indwelling and organizing power in the chosen penmen.” [6] Thus, “they invented not words themselves…but only expressed the words they received.”[7] Indeed, “the word that came unto them was a book which they took in and gave out without any alteration of one tittle or syllable (Ezek. ii 8-10, iii 3; Rev. x 9-11).”[8] As Owen writes in his great work on the Holy Spirit:

He did not speak in them or by them, and leave it unto their natural faculties, their minds, or memories, to understand and remember the things spoken by him, and so declare them to others; but he himself acted their faculties, making use of them to express his words, not their own conceptions.[9]

It is because of its divine provenance that the Scripture gains “the power and to require obedience, in the name of God.”[10] The Scriptures “being what they are, they declare whose they are.”[11] Even so, being as the Bible is the Word of God, every man is bound to believe it.[12] (more…)

A Brief Summary of Presuppositional Apologetics

This was first posted in 2010.

Many people have maybe heard of what is called presuppositional apologetics but have little idea what it actually is.  This situation is made worse because some defenders of the Faith are labeled presuppositional but, in fact, aren’t.  So how should I describe it?

The first thing I would say is that although I personally have few problems with it, “presuppositionalism” is not perhaps the best name for the approach.  A more preferable title would be something like “theological apologetics.”   Nevertheless, we are stuck with the name so we better understand what we mean by it.  In this approach a “presupposition” is not just a prior assumption which one brings to a problem.  It is not, e.g., supposing that the Bible is God’s Word and seeing where that gets you.  This only makes your presupposition a “hypothetical,” not a necessary stance.  But a “presupposition” here means an “ultimate heart commitment” to some interpretation and explanation of reality.

Cornelius Van Til, the father of this kind of apologetics, was very clear about this: he constantly stressed that, in opposition to the world, Biblical Christianity offered the only foundation upon which man could truly engage any question at all.  Thus, for Van Til, God’s revelation in Scripture tells us how things really are.  Things are the way God has made them and operates them, even though the world is fallen and cursed.  Things are how God’s Word depicts them.

When we operate in accordance with this revelation, whether in doing science or in communicating to one another, or, indeed, in any of our thinking, we encounter Truth, whose Source is God .  To the degree that we diverge from the Biblical Worldview we fall into “untruth.”

To provide a concrete example: the atheist Christopher Hitchens often cited the beauty of the Parthenon to show how the pagan Greeks before Christ didn’t need Christianity to construct such marvels.  How would a presuppositionalist respond?  He could respond any number of ways.  He could simply say that accepting Hitchens’ claim does not affect the argument about the truth of Christianity one way or another.  This would be to offer a true yet superficial response.  If he wanted to dull the rhetorical impact of the statement, the presuppositionalist might point out that Biblical Christianity is the only worldview position which,

1. Explains why the Greeks had the latent abilities to build the Parthenon (i.e. their mathematical, engineering and artistic skill).

2. Explains why we find the Parthenon so beautiful (because humans have been given an aesthetic sense not found in animals).

3. Explains why the Greeks built the Parthenon to a false deity (because of the Fall).

Thus, the apologist might say, “If Christianity were not true there could be no explanation for the Parthenon!”

Naturally the unbeliever would want to object to this statement strongly.  But the presuppositionalist has now got him on his ground.  When challenged to give a rational account of man’s scientific, artistic, or moral attainments on the basis of their ultimate commitment (or “presupposition”) to a mindless purposeless amoral universe, the best Hitchens and his ilk will do is to say,  “I don’t have to account for it.  It’s there isn’t it?”  To which the apologist could reply.  “Yes, it’s there because that’s how God created us.  Those Greeks were made in God’s rational image and were given minds which could calculate and reason and appreciate beauty and then reproduce their non-physical plans in the physical world.  Only the Bible provides a worldview by which to account for this – as well as accounting for why they built it and put an idol inside it.”  And further, the presuppositionalist could press Hitchens by challenging him to explain how his worldview produces logic, numbers, art, science, morality, and every other concept he uses to attack Christian Truth.  He won’t be able to!  Why?  Because his unbelieving interpretation of the world (which, of course, is also explained in Scripture) does not accord with the way reality actually is!

The Christian apologist would then outline the Biblical Worldview to show the unbeliever how it accounts for all the concepts he has been misusing to rebel against his Creator.  From there it is a short step to the Cross!  Christ died not only to save us from our sins, but to save our intellects from dreaming up unsatisfactory and idolatrous interpretations of ourselves and our world.

There is more to say, but this should suffice to explain the rudiments of presuppositional apologetics.  By it the Christian can “bring every thought captive to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5), without yielding one inch to the presuppositions of the ungodly who stand justly under the wrath of the God (Rom. 1:18) whom deep-down they know in their heart of hearts (Rom. 1:19-22; Jn. 3:19-21; Psa. 14:1).

Falling Through The Porch: My Reply to a Critique (1)

A little while back Fred Butler told me that he had passed on my Forty Reasons article to a group of brethren connected with a network called Bible Thumping Wingnut.  These men are proponents of New Covenant Theology and host a podcast called ‘Conversations on the Porch.’  They decided to spend some time on a critique of my article.   This series of posts is my belated rejoinder to what they had to say.

First off, I have to admit that it is not easy to argue well with people who don’t put much effort into understanding your position.  This was evidenced any number of ways, including the pain-inducing way at least one of the three presenters read from my article, which showed a lack of attention to what I wrote.

What was perhaps most frustrating to me was how, despite these brothers claiming to deal with some of the “reasons”, they paid little attention to the words of the article and “rebutted” points which I did not raise.  And even though their podcast was entitled “40 Reasons Paul Henebury is Wrong…” they only dealt with ten of my points, chosen at random.  For this reason I will not go through each of their ten responses since they just keep repeating the same set of stock answers.

“Distinctive Number Two”

Early on in the two hour recording the presenters agreed that the premise that the NT has to interpret the OT is “a huge distinctive for NCT”.  They call it “distinctive number two” of New Covenant Theology.  Their attempts to show this were pretty shallow.  It basically resolved itself into citing a NT precedent, often without a context, and treating it as a fait accompli.  This leaves me with next to nothing to respond to, since I might simply point out that, for instance, the introduction to the Book of Hebrews does not give carte blanche to people who want to treat OT details as symbolical foreshadowings.  But here goes.

Problems with My Intro

Although they failed to represent my intro properly, they did stop for a few criticisms. They straight away appealed to Hebrews 1:1-2.  Those verses say that God has spoken through His Son.  This is all that is needed for us to be told “the greatest revelation is Jesus Christ”.  But what does that mean?  If it means that Jesus’ first advent ministry of three years plus constituted the highest expression of God’s word to those who saw and heard Him, who will not agree?  What it does not and cannot mean is that Jesus’ words were more inspired and authoritative than the words of the Hebrew Bible.

One of the presenters then informed us that “there is progressive revelation”, as if that just settles it.  But progressive revelation is a very different animal from their perspective than from mine.  You see, as used by CT’s and NCT’s it is neither really progressive, nor is it very revelatory.  It does not mean that God’s revelation is traceable in verbal continuity backwards and forwards through the Testaments, but means only, “this is what all that stuff in the OT really meant” revelation.  I have previously written on this.  One observation I made was this:

It would be absurd for a person who professed to come across a bear to claim that the bear made the leopard tracks he was following.  Even so, a person is acting this way who looks back from Christ’s first coming and declares that the covenants which promised land and Davidic throne and prosperity to national Israel are “transformed” or “expanded” so that they are fulfilled spiritually or typologically by the Church.  Discontinuity in the meaning of words often features large in such approaches.  In reality, this is a non-progressive approach, wherein any supposed connections between the building blocks of revelation (i.e. the progressions) are not self-evident, but merely dogmatically asserted to be such.  What is on view here is not really progressive revelation, it is “supercessive” or “substitutive”, “transformative”, or at least “revised” revelation, wherein one entity is switched out for another or morphed into something else.

It can easily be demonstrated that there is an inspired intertextual usage of earlier OT texts by later OT writers: earlier covenants are cited unchanged in Psa. 89:33-37; 105:6-12; 106:30-31: 132:11-12; Jer. 33:17-18, 20-22, 25-26; Ezek. 37:14, 21-26).

For instance, when we come to “land” in Genesis 13 and 15, we find it to be interpreted as the very same “land” hundreds of years later in Psalm 105:6-11

When you follow footprints in the snow you have definite expectations of who or what made them.  Progress and expectation are connected.  By contrast, CT and NCT practices are rather like having those expectations completely overturned (no “progress”).  What progressive revelation boils down to in this approach is their interpretations of the NT.  In my intro I stated:

the New Testament is believed to have revelatory priority over the Old Testament, so that it is considered the greatest and final revelation. And because the NT is the final revelation of Jesus Christ, the only proper way to understand the OT is with the Christ of the NT directing us. Though proponents of this hermeneutic may define “reinterpret” with slippery words like “expansion” or “foreshadowing,” they are still insisting the OT can be, and in some cases, should be, reinterpreted through the lens of the NT.

The Pivotal First Reason…and the Deathblow

Let me reproduce the first of my forty reasons why the NT doesn’t reinterpret (sorry, “interpret”) the OT.

Neither Testament instructs us to reinterpret the OT by the NT. Hence, we venture into uncertain waters when we allow this. No Apostolic writer felt it necessary to place in our hands this hermeneutical key, which they supposedly used when they wrote the NT.

The three antagonists agreed that if this first reason fails then the other 39 also fail.  I myself cannot see the logical connection; not even between Reason 1 and Reason 2.  Although there is some development in my list, there is also a fair amount of diversity in the arguments I raise.  Toppling one does not unduly effect all the rest.   I understand that these brethren would claim that the NT does give explicit permission to them to (re)interpret the OT with the NT.  Fine, but how do they prove it?  Do they deliver the “deathblow” they speak about?  Nein!  The only way one would think that is by sheer partisanship.  So let’s take a look at the texts they repair to:

The presenters give Heb. 10:1 and Col. 2:16-17 as justification for viewing the prophecies and covenants in the OT as foreshadowings.  Now Hebrews 10:1 refers to the Law having a shadow of things in its sacrifices.  Which things and what sacrifices?  In answer to the first question, it is the sacrifices, especially at the Day of Atonement (Heb. 10:3), that are shadows of Christ’s final work.  The verse does not say that the prophetic covenants of the OT are shadows.  And Col. 2:16-17 refers to the ceremonial observations of the Law which are eclipsed by Christ, who is the substance of what these regulations portended. How so?  Well in Paul’s argument in Colossians it has to do with Christ’s sufficiency and finality for acceptance with God.  The Gospel is not Christ-plus, but Christ alone.

So there are foreshadowings in the OT, but how does this address my concerns in the 40 Reasons?  How does this prove the Apostles employed ‘transformational’ hermeneutics?   (more…)

Some Thoughts on Books on Biblical Theology

The following was written in response to a seminary teacher who wanted to know my opinion on Biblical Theology texts.
My Thoughts on Biblical Theologies
 
The first thing to say is that the definition of Biblical Theology is elastic.  We have an idea of what it is but perhaps because of the various ways of actually doing it the works on BT can look quite different.  For that reason i have tried to include a few varieties in my list, although some of them may not qualify within stricter criteria.  I tried to think about how I teach BT and choose accordingly.
This highly competent and dense book is one of the best new entries in the genre.  He takes a historical approach, moving book by book through the Bible.  He imparts a lot of information along the way.  Hamilton’s thesis is that the recurring pattern of God’s glory in salvation through judgment is the center of BT.  I do not agree.  This is what I think we should expect from the economy of God’s providential working in a fallen world, but it scarcely supplies a goal for God’s plan.  My chief issues with it are that he resorts to typology far too often (but see his What is Biblical Theology? and you will see why – btw, I don’t like that book), and he minimizes covenants to the point of near exclusion.  In fact, he minimizes themes like “kingdom” too, so I couldn’t make this my first or second choice.  it would be good as a survey of the Bible so long as other works balanced it out.
Thomas R. Schreiner – The King in his Beauty
A similar book to the above with many of its shortcomings, although Schreiner focuses on Christ which gives it a little more interest and less repetition of a theme a la Hamilton.  Still, Schreiner’s insistence on reading the OT in light of the Cross skews his reading of the OT.  The Prophets cannot be fairly treated from the vantage-point of Calvary.  That said, there is a lot of useful material here.  He is not as dense as Hamilton which makes him easier to use for undergrad students.
I include this because it has aroused attention and because it merges BT with introduction.  there are some very competent entries in the book (e.g. by Currid, Timmer, VanGemeren, Belcher), but there are some duds (e.g. Pratt).  The editor has not made the authors follow the same basic plan, which greatly reduces the book’s value.  All the author’s are Reformed covenant theologians.
*Walter Kaiser – The Promise-Plan of God
For me, this is perhaps the best Biblical Theology to put into the hands of the student.  Kaiser’s proposed unifying theme of “promise” has been criticized (e.g. by J. Sailhamer), but it has the merit of at least listening to the text as it unfolds, rather than reading the Bible backwards like the Reformed works tend to do.  Kaiser can find basic unity between the Testaments at the grammatical hermeneutical level rather than at the symbolical level, which is a plus.  While I do not hold to promise theology, I do find it easy to navigate my way through the book while gaining a good understanding of progressive revelation pertaining to important themes.  Another little qualm is that Kaiser’s sources are sometimes dated.
*Charles H. H. Scobie – The Ways of Our God
A huge, thorough book structured on a broad thematic approach.  Conservative though moderately critical, Scobie mainly interacts with mainline scholarship.  For this reason he is very useful for the grad level student.  I have a soft spot for this book and return to it a lot.  Recommended for in-depth study of BT.  A great teacher’s resource.
Daniel P. Fuller – The Unity of the Bible  
Written clearly with useful insights, Fuller’s book goes its own way.  He’s a bit idiosyncratic, being classic premil but also critical in places.  The NT portion mainly deals with certain questions thrown up by the OT.  A book that influenced John Piper.
*Willem VanGemeren – The Progress of Redemption
A “Vossian” treatment of the subject by a well respected OT specialist.  He studies the biblical story in twelve “epochs.”  Pitched at about the beginning grad level this book is the best Reformed presentation of BT in my opinion. Because the author is balanced I would have little difficulty using this as a text for an advanced class, even though I would qualify it here and there.
George N. H. Peters – The Theocratic Kingdom 3 vols
Enormous, insightful and ponderous, with a dash of eccentricity (though nothing harmful), these volumes repay careful study.  Unfortunately, Peters adopts a question and answer method which makes him exhausting to use.  This is a shame because he is a pious writer and an often lucid theologian.  Very God centered.  Few have read him through.
C. Marvin Pate, et al – The Story of Israel
An undergraduate text written by six authors, but with surprising cohesion.  Its central motif is “sin-exile-restoration” a little bit like Hamilton, but more thematically balanced.  Designed for classroom use.  Includes a helpful chapter on “Second Temple Judaism”.  Critical in a few places.
Alva J. McClain – The Greatness of the Kingdom
A cross between Biblical and Systematic theology, this classic is worth considering because of its well executed plan.  For those who think “the mediatorial kingdom” (the kingdom theme mediated by man and the God-man) is central to the Bible storyline this is a great book.
*Michael J. Vlach – He Will Reign Forever
More intentionally a BT than McClain’s book, this welcome work is an easy to follow Dispensational text well suited for the classroom.  Raises good points while not always having time to deal with them thoroughly.  In fact, if I have a criticism of this fine book it is that it is not as detailed as I would have liked.
Peter J. Gentry & Stephen J. Wellum – Kingdom through Covenant
An influential work by two Baptist scholars holding to New Covenant Theology (which is basically CT with the three theological covenants replaced by other theological covenants, especially their “New covenant”).  Purports to be a via media between Dispensational and Covenant theologies, but isn’t.  My impression of the book is that it flatters to deceive.  The exegetical chapters are really extended diversions from the main plot.  The authors presuppositions are evident, which is helpful, but they pretend to be unbiased.  Still, for the grad student this book does provoke much thought.
A mammoth work aimed at providing a penetrating case for amillennialist eschatology based upon the concept of a “cosmic temple” principle, extending from Eden into the wild creation, interrupted by the Fall, but kept on track by repeated attempts to extend the spiritual temple via major figures (Noah, Abraham, the nation of Israel).  Finally, the last Adam, Jesus Christ, inaugurates the “New creation” in his death and resurrection and second coming work.  Very speculative when all is said and done.  Methinks when the dust is settled many will see just how much of Beale’s grand narrative is built on supposition.  For such a huge book the interaction with other points of view is disappointingly minimal.
*Geerhardus Vos – Biblical Theology
Difficult to read (is there a Dutch writer who is not?), this is still a valuable study of Reformed covenant theology from a master at his trade.  Vos is a brilliant man, which is why he should be read even when one takes issue with him (which I do frequently).  Incomplete, but important.  Students should also get Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, which is a fine collection of Vos’s essays on the subject.
O. Palmer Robertson – The Christ of the Covenants
I cannot get on with Robertson.  His treatment of the covenants (which boils down to “the covenant”) is so theologically predetermined that I find him irritating to read.  I don’t agree with his definition of covenant.  Nor do I accept his view that “land” is not a central covenant concept.  A classic CT exercise in flattening out the biblical covenants so that the covenant of grace (or “redemption” as he has it) can take center stage.
Graeme Goldsworthy – According to Plan
Very well written BT from the perspective of covenant theology.  Goldsworthy is worthy because he tells you he is spiritualizing, reinterpreting, and reading the Gospel into the OT.  He majors on the big picture, which means that the details in the OT get glossed over with the rhetoric, but this is the place to go if one wants to see the broad sweep of Reformed BT.  An additional plus is that Goldsworthy bolsters his doctrine of revelation with Van Tillian presuppositionlaism (without employing the jargon).  His Goldsworthy Trilogy is written in the same way; self-evidently reading the NT back into the Old.
Finally…
Scott J. Hafemann & Paul R. House (eds.) – Central Themes in Biblical Theology
A collection of articles on matters like atonement, the Day of the Lord, People of God, etc., worth getting because the scholarship is good.  I found House’s treatment of “the Day of the Lord” very good.  He helpfully draws together the various uses of the term and shows that it is not a technical way of speaking (few terms in Scripture are).  Dempster’s essay on “The Servant of the Lord” is very well done.  Elmer Martens on “The People of God” highlights the fact that God’s people are an “alternative community” which needs to be heard today.  Roy Ciampa on “the History of Redemption” is very good, even for someone, like me, who departs from his conclusion.  Hafemann’s article on “The Covenant Relationship”, is definitely a worthwhile survey of recent proposals alongside helpful scriptural observations, even while I found myself writing question marks on every other page.
Oh, and…
T. Desmond Alexander, et al. (eds) – New Dictionary of Biblical Theology
Begins with several weighty introductory essays, all of which ought to be read.  Then moves through the biblical books, generally with great competence (though premillennialists will have to move more carefully).  Then there is a large section dealing with the topics raised by BT.  Definitely slanted towards covenant theology, but broad enough to be of real help to everyone.  A great standby.

On Not Conflating the Old and New Testaments with the Old and New Covenants

This is an older post acting as a stop-gap until I can get my laptop fixed.  The computer I’m using is so slow that this post should be considered a near miracle.

Everybody knows it.  The Bible is composed of two parts: what we have come to call the Old Testament and the New Testament.  Too, most people understand that by the Old Testament we mean the 39 books of the Protestant Bible.  These are the same books which in a different arrangement and enumeration make up the 22 books of the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible.  In similar fashion the New Testament is the name given by Christians to the 27 “Apostolic” books written before the close of the First Century A.D.

What fewer people know is that these designations for the two parts of the Bible are not themselves found in the Bible.  Nowhere in the 66 books is there a reference to the number of books or the specific contents of the Bible.  As if anyone needed to be told, the Table of Contents at the front of our Bibles is not itself a part of the Bible.

We cannot go into it much here, but the tradition of referring to the two parts of the Bible as the two “Testaments” comes from a time after they were all written.  As Bernhard Anderson observed,

The covenant motif is employed significantly in both the letters of Paul and in the Epistles to the Hebrews.  Eventually the custom arose of referring to the apostolic writings of Christianity as the New Covenant (Testament) and the canonical writings of Israel as the Old Covenant. –  “The New Covenant and the Old,” in The Old Testament and Christian Faith, ed. Bernhard W. Anderson, 225-226.

The first known occurrence of this designation is found in ca. 170-180 in the work of the second century writer Irenaeus in his Against Heresies 4.28. 1-2.  But it is seems probable that the Greek designation diatheke (“covenant” or “Testament”) for old and new collections of biblical books was at that time quite new and not widely accepted.  The same cannot be said of the covenants (berith) of the Tanakh, our “Old Testament.”  These covenants were crucial parts of “the Law and the Prophets” long before the Apostles started writing.

These facts need to be well digested by all students of the Scriptures.  To repeat, when we speak of the books of the Bible as “the Old and New Testaments” we are simply using a tried and trusted term which arose after the Canon was completed.  It is not the way the Bible refers to itself.  When the Bible employs this term (diatheke) it is referring, not to the Canon, but to specific historical agreements between God and men.

A corollary to this is to say: when the books we call the “Old and New Testaments” refer to the “Old Covenant” and the “New Covenant” they are not referring to the 39 books and 27 books in the Biblical Canon, they are speaking of certain actual biblical covenants which are revealed and expounded within the books of the Bible.

I’m sorry to hammer away at this but there’s a very good reason for it.  Unfortunately, in certain Christian circles theology has overwhelmed history.  Sometimes theologies confuse the matter further.  For example, some time ago I responded to a web article with the title, “The Continuity of Theological Concepts: A New Covenant Reading of Old Covenant Concepts.”  The main thesis of the piece is summed up in this statement:

“Old Testament saints had a “two-age” view of history—the age in which they lived and the age to come. The age to come anticipated the advent of the Messiah and the Day of the Lord in which God’s people would be delivered and His enemies would be judged. The age to come was depicted in terms that related to the age in which they lived though the seed of old covenant concepts blossoms into the unforeseen beauty of new covenant realities.”

In reading this article it quickly became apparent that the writer was equating the “New Covenant” with the New Testament and the “Old Covenant” with the Old Testament.  Thus, by “new covenant realities” he meant “the ‘realities’ revealed in a newly envisaged way by the New Testament.”  When this move is made, it is inevitable that the New Testament will be viewed as synonymous with the “New Covenant,” and that the Old Testament will be viewed as equating to the “Old,” that is to say, “Mosaic Covenant.”

This confuses things which ought to be kept separate, and for these reasons:

1. The Old Covenant referred to in 2 Cor. 3:14 and the “First Covenant” referred to in the Book of Hebrews is clearly the Mosaic Covenant (the Law) and not the entire OT Canon.  The Old Covenant that is referred to as “tablets of stone” in 2 Cor. 3:3, which is the Sinaiitic Covenant received by Moses (3:7-15), has been replaced with the New Covenant (3:6).

2. The “New Covenant” mentioned in the chapter cannot be a reference to the books which comprise our New Testament for the simple reason that when Paul penned 2 Corinthians in about A.D. 57 at least half of the books of the New Testament were yet to be written!

3. When one reads about the contrasts between the “first covenant” and the “new covenant” in Hebrews it is clear that the former is equated with Moses’ Law (Cf. Heb. 7-10), which is inferior to the “better covenant” (7:22) and is “growing old and is ready to vanish away” (8:13).  This type of language cannot be used of the relation of the Old Testament books to the new Testament books.

4. Likewise, the “New Covenant” in either Testament is the universal and unilateral means whereby the other Biblical Covenants are realized and fulfilled.  It is not the same as the New Testament Canon.  To cite one example, Christ’s words at the institution of the Lord’s Supper (Lk. 22:20) would have been incomprehensible to the disciples if such were the case, because it was a real blood covenant, not the group of books which recorded it.

Despite this, the error has been included in the NKJV’s translation of 2 Corinthians 3:14:

But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ.

This interpretative translation appears to have been given credence because it provides a “proof-text” of sorts for a Canon-making process in the first century.  Handy as this might be for evangelicals it is not what the Apostle himself had in mind!