I have just returned from a nice rest with my family in Tennessee and will post a new item soon.  Meanwhile, here are the responses I gave to a group of Evangelical scholars who really have trouble with Dispensationalism.  I thought their objections and concerns were often unfair or wrong-headed, although sometimes they were just opposed to their own views.    

For those of you who have wished that yours truly would come into the 21st Century and list my answers to the 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism in order…well, you have your wish!

1. Introduction to the Series

2. Responses to Theses 1-6

3. Responses to Theses 7-9

4. Response to Thesis 10

5. Responses to Theses 11-17

6. Responses to Theses 18-23

7. Responses to Theses 24-25

8. Responses to Theses 26-30

9. Responses to Theses 31-36

10. Responses to Theses 37-40

11. Responses to Theses 41-45

12. Responses to Theses 46-48

13. Responses to Theses 49-52

14. Responses to Theses 53-56

15. Responses to Theses 57-60

16. Responses to Theses 61-67

17. Responses to Theses 68-70

18. Responses to Theses 71-74

19. Responses to Theses 75-79

20. Responses to Theses 80-81

21. Responses to Theses 82-85

22. Responses to Theses 86-89

23. Responses to Theses 90-95

24. Reflections on the 95 Theses (1)

25. Reflections on the 95 Theses (2)


The Creation Narrative: Genesis 1 and 2 (Pt.7)

Part Six

God’s Transcendence versus Continuity

It is very important to notice the links between the creation accounts and ethical accounts.  In one way or another all non-biblical systems of belief paint a metaphysical picture of reality that is at once unified and diverse.  The unity is found in the indissoluble connection between heaven and earth, between man and the “higher powers”, or between the human animal and the Cosmos.  The diversity is seen in the various ways this connection is explained.  It may be explained by saying that we are merely the consequence of blind, purposeless matter coming together and developing in a certain way.  This is the secular evolutionary explanation in which man is no more significant than a slug (to cite atheist moral philosopher Peter Singer) because men, slugs and stars are composed of the same stuff arranged in different combinations.  The same feature is found in ancient pagan depictions of reality.  There is a real connection between the gods and the earth.  There are no exceptions, everything is connected; nothing is truly transcendent.

Old Testament scholar John W. Oswalt, defines “continuity” in this way:

Continuity is a philosophical principle that asserts that things are continuous with each other.  Thus I am one with the tree, not merely symbolically or spiritually, but actually.  The tree is me; I am the tree.  The same is true of every other entity in the universe, including deity.  This means that the divine is materially as well as spiritually identical with the psycho-socio-physical universe we know.[1]

The ancient myths reflected an outlook on the world, and they memorialized that outlook.  Thus, “myth depends for its whole rationale on the idea that all things in the cosmos are continuous with each other.  Furthermore, myth exists to actualize that continuity.”[2]

Oswalt demonstrates that this “continuity” or connection between gods and humans and rocks is the key difference between the biblical worldview and its rivals, ancient and modern.  Rituals, however debasing they became, were thought to affect the god for whose benefit they were performed.  Just as the rumbling of thunder was construed as something happening among the pantheon above, so a festival or dance or sacrifice was believed to be noticed by those same gods.  This is the ancient idea of “the Great Chain of Being” which unfortunately got introduced into Christian thought through a misunderstanding of the thought of Thomas Aquinas and the Scholastics.

This “hierarchy of beings” is well described by David Bentley Hart:

God was understood as that supreme reality from which all lesser realities came, but also as in a sense contained within the hierarchy, as the most exalted of its entities.  Such was his magnificence and purity, moreover, high up atop the pyramid of essences, that he literally could not come into direct contact with the imperfect and changeable order here below.  He was in a sense limited by his own transcendence, fixed up “there” in his proper place within the economy of being.[3]

When Hart refers to God being “limited by his own transcendence” he is highlighting the incongruity of putting Him atop any chain of being.  In biblical terms, what we call God’s transcendence is His Lordship over everything He has made and upholds, together with His immanent working in providence.

Although there are things in common that the biblical creation narrative with ancient creation myths, these similarities shouldn’t surprise us once it is understood that these creation myths are partly derived from the original truths passed down from Adam and his descendents, twisted of course and corrupted as man rebelled against God and became polytheistic and superstitious, and lost the framework for true transcendence.

How different all this is from the creation accounts of surrounding nations!  Those all assume the eternity of matter in some guise.  This is why things like transcendental meditation, non-Christian prayer, voodoo, magic, sorcery, etc., are practiced in the belief that one can directly affect the world or the god in some way.  Even many atheists have a mystical side to them which reflects this idea.  Only within biblical spirituality does this continuity of being evaporate.[4]   God is the transcendent Lord over all He creates and He cannot be maneuvered or coerced to do anything which is contrary to His will.

So the doctrine of Creation as found in Genesis 1 and 2 sets up a theological and philosophical platform which ought to produce a way of looking at things which has radical divergences from those which are conceived of by the world.

In verses 28-30 we see that God the Creator makes everything, and then made the creature who was like Him.  Man had a vital role to play and a response to give in the project.  We see, then, an ethical dimension introduced at the start; the role and response were to be worshipful.


[1] John W. Oswalt, The Bible Among the Myths, 43

[2] Ibid, 45

[3] David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies, 203-204.

[4] Of course, where certain Christian formulations may be overly reliant on Greek thought (e.g. some Thomistic reliance upon Aristotle).  This is still a problem in some quarters.

Part Eight


The Creation Narrative: Genesis 1 and 2 (Pt.6)

Part Five

Image and Function in Genesis 1:26-28

Another significant fact related by these verses is our creation in the image and likeness of God.  We cannot here enter into all the debates about the imago Dei, but some few things should be said.

Firstly, God does not say ‘according to My likeness.’  He says ‘Our likeness’.  The “Let us” statement is no plural of majesty, since it appears to be ideational, and is to be understood (I believe) as a statement of plurality in the Speaker.  The question arises then, in what way is God a plurality?  This question is not fully answered until the NT era.  Or, on the other hand, and as much OT scholarship insists, is the plurality meant to convey some sort of heavenly council scene, such as one finds in ANE accounts of the assemblies of gods?

If the latter is the case then one will have to go outside of the Bible for added data to interpret the passage.  This indeed is what many scholars in the evangelical community do.  But if we pause for a moment and read the context we quickly see that such an interpretation must be wrong; for the Speaker goes on to say, ‘Let us make man in our own image, according to our own likeness.’  And, in line with the words/actions pattern which we have already noted, it says, ‘So God created man in his own image’, and underscores it right after with, ‘in the image of God he created him.’  That ought to clear up the interpretation.

“Man” (adam) here is plural: ‘male and female’.[1]  Both are made in God’s image.  There is no hint of a conversation between God and the angels (which would not mirror an ANE council of divinities anyway).  Angels are nowhere said to be made in God’s image and likeness.  Plus, creation is a grand prerogative of God.  Why would the Creator discuss His creative proposals with creatures?  Angels have no part in the work of creation (See Isa. 48:11).

The passage also states that man was to be given dominion over ‘all the earth’ not just Eden. This must be kept in mind when we reach chapter 2.  The dominion applies to the function of man and woman as God’s image-bearers.

In the third place, just what constitutes the image of God?  Again, many today would claim that the image includes the function as well as the constitution of man.[2]  Unsurprisingly, resort to ANE records features largely in their arguments.  But the text appears to make the function contingent upon the image.  In other words, man and woman cannot fulfill their function until they are made in God’s image.  This would restrict the image to at least our material and immaterial natures.

But then we must enquire whether the image assumes the material part of human beings along with our immaterial natures.  Here I think we are on safer ground if we define the image and likeness classically along non-physical lines.  If we make the image merely physical we run into the problem of what God looks like.  Our difference from the rest of the created realm is not just physical.  Fish and birds and cattle and creeping things differ physically one from another as much as we do from them, so it is doubtful that we image God merely physically.[3]

On the other hand, can we dismiss the possibility that both the soulish and the physical aspects of man image God?  Authors Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum point out that,

“the traditional view is inadequate… because it does not come to grips with the fact that “image” normally refers to a physical statue and cannot be exegetically validated as the author’s intended meaning or the first audience’s natural understanding of the text in terms of the ancient Near Eastern cultural and linguistic setting.”[4]

But this begs a rather crucial question.  Did Moses report the words God actually spoke in Genesis 1:26-27?  Nobody else was around, and certainly God meant what He said in the rest of Genesis 1, as we have seen.  That being so, the matter of whether people of the ANE living in or after Moses’ time (ca. the fifteenth century B.C.) thought “image” meant a physical statue is by the bye, and may even be anachronistic.  The context will have to tell us.  Gentry and Wellum opt for “rulership and sonship” as the image.[5]  But this leaves us with the problem of the spread of little rulers and sons of God upon the earth.  If everyone is a ruler then surely nobody is.  (and if “image” equates to sons, what about daughters?  In OT times – if we’re insisting on “cultural setting” – daughters did not enjoy the same rights as sons).  The biblical text leans toward thinking of the image primarily as non-physical and the body as the vehicle for the expression of the image in the extended world.

Anticipating the Human Form?

Reading the progression in Genesis 1, we follow a logical as well as a chronological order.  Dry ground comes before plants and trees.  The plant kingdom is readied before creatures are made to live off them.  The apex of the creation week is the fashioning of man from the dust of the ground.[6]  Man is God’s image-bearer: a stupendous privilege and responsibility, and he is given dominion over what God has just created.


The Logical Order of the Divine Decrees

Here is on older post  on the order of the decrees.

The Order of the Divine Decrees

There are usually three logical plans given by theologians which attempt to answer the question, “In what logical order did God plan His redemptive acts?” These are known respectively as supralapsarianism, infralapsarianism, and sublapsarianism.[1] The term “Lapsarian” is from the Latin word lapse meaning “fall.” Hence, lapsarianism has to do with belief in the Fall of Adam and its concomitants. This is especially the case as regards the relation of the Fall to the eternal decrees of God.Since God foreknew that Adam would fall (and that mankind would fall in him), and that He would send His Son to restore those whom He elected to save, the question arises as to the order – both scriptural and logical – of the soteric decrees. It also must relate the soteric decrees to the creative decrees so as to insure harmony in God’s eternal plan. Therefore, theologians have posited various orders of the decrees to try to address the problem.

The Supralapsarian Order

The supralapsarian (supra – over) position teaches that in the order of the decrees the decree to elect certain individuals and to reprobate others is logically prior to all the rest. Chafer[2] lists the order set forth by supralapsarianism as follows:

  1. Decree to elect some to be saved and to reprobate all others.
  2. Decree to create men both elect and nonelect.
  3. Decree to permit the fall.
  4. Decree to provide salvation to the elect.
  5. Decree to apply salvation to the elect.

In this order there are some obvious difficulties. First, the question comes up right away as to how God can logically contemplate elect and reprobate men before He can contemplate them as men generally. Second, if God has decided to create men as elect and non-elect then how can Paul use the analogy of the saved and the lost originating from “one lump” in Romans 9:21? Third, there is the problem of theodicy. As Chafer says, “In reality, by this system men are consigned to perdition before they sin and without a cause, except it be by the sovereign will of God.”[3]

These problems have traditionally led most Calvinists to avoid the supralapsarian scheme (although such prominent leaders like Beza, Gomarus, Perkins, Gerhaardus Vos, and Gordon H. Clark have embraced it).

One modern advocate of the supralapsarian order of decrees is Robert Reymond. He has recently proposed a changed order:

  1. The election of some sinful men to salvation in Christ (and the reprobation of the rest of sinful mankind in order to make known the riches of God’s gracious mercy to the elect).
  2. The decree to apply Christ’s redemptive benefits to the elect sinners.
  3. The decree to redeem the elect sinners by the cross work of Christ.
  4. The decree that men should fall.
  5. The decree to create the world and men.[4]

What Reymond accomplishes by this revised delineation is an avoidance of the dualism inherent in a decree which, at the very outset, separates the group of the elect from the group of the non-elect without viewing them as sinners. But the difficulty still remains in God comprehending a group (i.e. mankind) who He has not “first” comprehended as actual. Moreover, the problem of theodicy seems if anything to be heightened in this arrangement, for it has God contemplating man-as-sinner even before man is created. Also, the fourth point (the decree that man should fall) appears superfluous in this scheme since man is already viewed as fallen in point 1.

The Infralapsarian Order

Among those who call themselves Reformed this is the most common of the lapsarian positions. It is the acknowledged position as set forth in most of the historic Reformed creeds and confessions: e.g. the Westminster Confession; the Belgic Confession; and the Articles of Dordt (although none of these is anti-supralapsarian). The infralapsarian (i.e. after the Fall) order may be set down thus:

  1. The decree to create men.
  2. The decree to permit the fall
  3. The decree to elect those who believe and to leave in just condemnation all who do not believe.
  4. The decree to provide a Redeemer for the elect.
  5. The decree to apply salvation to the elect.

Note well that this list follows the standard Reformed works (e.g. Berkhof, Reymond), and differs from that which is set down by Chafer (see below under sublapsarianism).[5]

The infralapsarian view is often criticized as inconsistent with the doctrine of election as it applies to the angels.Also, since we are talking here about what went on in God’s mind logically (not chronologically), it could be pointed out that infralapsarians turn logical planning on its head. The normal order is to design from the top down.That is, to use Berkhof’s words, “in planning the rational mind passes from the from the end to the means in a retrograde movement, so that what is first in design is last in accomplishment.”[6]

The Sublapsarian Order

Although very few Reformed theologians recognize it, this is the position customarily set forth by dispensationalists. The order of decrees in the sublapsarian position is as follows:

  1. The decree to create all men.
  2. The decree to permit the fall.
  3. The decree to provide salvation for [all] men.
  4. The decree to elect those who do believe and to leave in just condemnation those who do not believe.
  5. The decree to apply salvation to those who believe.


It will be noted that whereas the first two systems place the decree to elect some men before the decree of Christ’s atonement, this latter view has the decree to send Christ at position 3 and the decree to elect certain sinners at position 4. A glance back at the supralapsarian and infralapsarian schemes will reveal that these positions are reversed. There is a good reason why five-point Calvinists cannot permit the sublapsarian order described above.To put the decree to redeem mankind prior to the decree to elect some from among mankind is to invite the strong possibility of a universal atonement.[7]

On the other hand, to reverse the order logically invites a limited atonement. For why would God provide an atonement for those He has already passed over in His decree of election? Thus, limited atonement implies infra orsupralapsarianism, and this has crucial knock-on effects. If the decree to elect is logically prior to the decree to atone a universal atonement makes no sense. Not only that, but it would make no sense to give the gift of faith to anyone but the elect. And if faith is given only to the elect it would again seem logical that it is given them at the point when they are made alive or regenerated by the Holy Spirit. That would seem to require that the ordo salutishave regeneration coming logically before faith (another thing that five point Calvinists are insistent upon).

Now comes the rub. If this scenario is true it will be born out by exegesis of the text of Scripture. But, of course, this is what the vast majority of dispensationalists deny. One of the main reasons they give for this is “the normal and literal meaning” disallows a limited redemptionist  interpretation.[8] In short, dispensationalists are not by and large limited redemptionists because of their hermeneutics. But this ought to mean that they cannot hold to regeneration preceding the gift of faith either., for if they do (and many do hold this belief) I do not see how they can escape from the logic of the previous paragraph, or, indeed, from John Owen’s arguments in The Death of Death.   We believe a little thought about what was said above about the relationship between supra and infra-lapsarianism and limited atonement will make a “four-point” dispensationalist think twice about affirming regeneration prior to faith.  Finally, in view of the fact that consistently applied grammatico-historical hermeneutics cannot produce any  “proof texts” to sustain a belief in regeneration preceding faith, a dispensationalist who tries to make the Bible teach it (or even limited atonement) is invalidating their hermeneutical consistency, and so in principle, denying a key tenet of dispensationalism.

Thus, just as consistent literal hermeneutics naturally leads to belief in pretribulationism, so also it ought to lead to a denial of regeneration before faith.

We could argue the same way about other beliefs, such as infant baptism, which we hold to be an incongruity for a dispensational theologian to believe in.

Our point is that a “theology from the ground up” – founded upon consistent normative interpretation, will produce its marks in every area of dispensational theology.[9]

[1] Although it should be noted that Reformed writers will normally identify sublapsarianism withinfralapsarianism.

[2] Chafer, Systematic Theology, 3.179.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 489.

[5] It may be worthwhile setting out Chafer’s infralapsarian order in comparison:

  1. The decree to create all men
  2. The decree to permit the fall
  3. The decree to provide salvation for men (notice Chafer does not say “some men”)
  4. The decree to elect those who do believe and to leave in just condemnation all who do not believe (again, note that in the above list this stands third)
  5. The decree to apply salvation

It is even more surprising when Chafer himself (3.181) quotes Hodge who gives the correct order as we have presented it.

[6] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1974), 119.

[7] It should be pointed out that the supposed problem of a universal atonement leading to universalism in salvation is avoided by separating the oblation or achievement at Calvary from its application. Notice how Dispensational methodology issues in biblical perspectivalism.

[8] For instance, Robert P. Lightner, The Death Christ Died: A Biblical Case for Unlimited Atonement, (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1998), 109.

[9] We say it with the greatest respect, but it is our belief that many dispensationalists have “piggy-backed” on Reformed theology, only fully dismounting once they reach eschatology.


The Creation Narrative: Genesis 1 and 2 (Pt.5)

God Words and God’s Actions: Primary Hermeneutics

Part Four

Something to notice in the creation account is the correspondence between God’s thoughts (and speech), and His actions.  The one corresponds precisely with the other.[1]  Put in the most pedestrian terms, God means what He says!  This fact is exemplified in what happens on Day Three:

(God’s Words) Then God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree which yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth”; and it was so. 

(God’s Actions)  And the earth brought forth grass, the herb that yields seed according to its kind, and the tree that yields fruit, whose seed is in itself according to its kind.  And God saw that it was good. – Gen.1:11-12. 

This equivalence is perhaps rather too obvious, and as such it is often missed.  But it is quite prominent in the chapter, and indeed, in the recounting of God’s speech elsewhere; See e.g., Gen. 11:7-9; 2 Ki. 1:3-4, 16-17; 4:42-44; 5:10-14; Jn. 21:21-23.

Note the following:

(God’s Words) ‘Let there be light’

(God’s Actions) ‘and there was light’ (1:3)

(God’s Words) ‘then God said ‘Let there be a firmament…and let it divide the waters’

(God’s Actions) ‘Thus God made the firmament, and divided the waters…’ (1:6-7).

(God’s Words) ‘Then God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth the living creature according to its kind: cattle and creeping thing and beast of the earth, each according to its kind’

(God’s Actions) ‘and God made the beast of the earth according to its kind, cattle according to its kind, and everything that creeps on the earth according to its kind.’ (1:24-25)

We see this lesson taught also in the “God said’… ‘and it was so” motif in 1:6-7; 9, 11, 14-15; 24; 29-30.  The crescendo is reached in verses 26-28 and the creation and commission of our first parents:

(God’s Words) Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our own image, according to our own likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.

(God’s Actions) So God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’ –Genesis 1:26-28.

As well as learning that there is a direct correlation between what God says and what God does (what I will call the ‘words/actions motif’, or WAM), please notice several other important points in the text.  First, the WAM motif is extended in communication with the creature, most notably in the Dominion Mandate of Genesis 1:28.  So God’s words spoken to Adam would correspond to what God did.  This is what made the mandate and also the prohibition not to eat from the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil meaningful.

Sometimes one encounters people who say that a Christian cannot start with the Word of God because the Bible requires interpretation, so that our principles of interpretation have to be derived from other sources.  There is a fallacy in this reasoning.  This only pushes the problem further back.  Now we have to ask how the principles themselves could be interpreted.  The only way round the difficulty is to believe the biblical record of God’s speaking to Adam, which presupposes the gift of language and interpretation of language.  The first language was literal in its intent.  It was literally understood and literally performed.  We are able to interpret this basic plain-sense meaning before we learn other meanings.  Language and hermeneutics go together.  The latter ought never to confound the former.  The Bible’s Creation account, literally understood, explains the origin of language and of good hermeneutics.


[1] Related to this is Merrill’s assertion that two forms of revelation (natural and verbal) are seen in Genesis 1.  While it is perhaps straining somewhat to call God’s speech in creation week ‘revelation’ (since there was no one to whom it came), his point deserves attention.  See Eugene H. Merrill, Everlasting Dominion, 75f.

Part Six



The Creation Narrative: Genesis 1 and 2 (Pt.4)

Part Three

The Creation and Purpose of Language

Approaching the question of language and meaning can often seem like a chicken and egg scenario.  If we had words and grammar first then how did we learn to communicate them so as to be correctly understood by others?  But if we had a thought to communicate, how could we do it without the symbols of language (alphabet, grammar, syntax, etc.) to convey that thought?  The Creation account in Genesis represents God as the first Speaker.  He employs words to convey His precise intentions.  Something of immense importance occurred when God created Adam and Eve.  What we witness there is God speaking to them of their dominion mandate, and they understand Him.  In the second chapter God gives a specific prohibition to the man with a clearly worded warning appended.  A little examination of this transaction will be helpful.

The LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘From any tree of the garden you may freely eat; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat; for in the day you eat of it you will surely die.’ – Gen. 2:16-17

If Adam had bungled this command because he misunderstood any of it, it is hard to see how he could have been guilty of sin.  To have any chance of comprehending this rather crucial communication he had to 1. Know what a tree was. 2. He needed to understand the meaning of “free”.  3. He needed to know which particular tree was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. 4. He needed to understand what God meant by “day.”  5. He would certainly have had to understand what God meant by the word “die.”  He would have had to have grasped more than the fact that the word carried a negative connotation.

Another thing worth considering is that the name of the forbidden tree would presumably have meant something to Adam.  If it did, then Adam would have had an intellectual or conceptual knowledge of “good and evil” even though he had only ever encountered good.

Does this tell us anything about language and communication?  Certainly.  It tells us that language and meaning were gifts given to our first parents at the time they were created in God’s image.  In fact, it is difficult to think of them being created in God’s image and not having the ability to communicate in words and sentences.[1]  After all, the dominion mandate was communicated to them by their Maker in words.  To quote the French polymath Jacques Ellul,

“God creates human beings as speaking beings.  Perhaps this is one of the meanings of the image of God: one who responds and is responsible; a counterpart who will dialogue, who is both at a certain distance and has the ability to communicate.”[2]

This responsibility pertains to the created ability to communicate and so understand.  Remove or impede that ability by making God’s words ambiguous or equivocal, or diminishing man’s ability to comprehend his Maker and the responsibility will shrink by degrees.

Another thing which goes with this is that they had the ability to comprehend abstract entities and truths without necessarily experiencing them.  Hence, their knowledge and vocabulary could have been extensive from the start.

In the third place, and most importantly, the first man and woman would have understood that the use of language was to communicate clearly, not ambiguously or in riddles.  This is how God spoke to Himself in the days leading up the second part of the sixth day, and it is how He addressed Adam and Eve.  In speaking to them, God essentially bound Himself to them.  Walter Brueggemann explains:

The mode of binding is speech.  The text five times uses the remarkable word “create” (vv. 1, 21, 27).  It also employs the… word “make” (vv. 7, 16, 25, 26, 31).  But God’s characteristic action is to speak (vv. 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 14, 20, 22, 24, 26, 28, 29).  It is by God’s speech that the creation that the relation with his creation is determined.  God ‘calls the world’s into being’ (cf. Rom. 4:17; II Pet. 3:5).  It is by God’s speech that which did not exist comes into being.  The way of God with his world is the way of language.[3]

A little further on Brueggemann indicates the teleological and eschatological paradigm I have referred to when he observes,

God’s speaking initiates a relationship for the fullness of time when all things will be united and gratefully in his care (Eph. 1:10).  Movement towards a unity of harmony, trust and gratitude is underway in this poetry.[4]

[1] This indeed is thought by some to be the main part of the imago Dei.  See Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, III, 1.183-187

[2] Jacques Ellul, The Humiliation of the Word, 67

[3] Walter Brueggemann, Genesis, Interpretation, 24

[4] Ibid.

Part Five


Law, Gospel and Faith

This is an old article, but the subject is always relevant.  

A prospective student at Telos Institute asked me a good question about my view on Law versus the Gospel.  As part of my reply I sent him the text of a letter I’d written to someone who had criticized a lecture of mine on the Decalogue.  This individual had claimed that Christians were sanctified solely by faith plus nothing else, and that the law did not even provide a normative standard for ethics.  Here is my reply (changed in a few places) to this person’s criticism.

Dear Friend,

I am happy to address your criticism of my lecture, “The Ten Commandments (1)” in my “Christian Ethics” series.  It is vital we protect the Gospel of justification by faith and the correct teaching on sanctification.  If I am indeed guilty of teaching that the Decalogue is, as you put it, “a standard of conduct to gain acceptance before God” (emphasis added), I deserve your reproof.

Sadly, I think you have not understood my teaching and have thus misrepresented me (listen, e.g., to my lecture on “Law and Gospel” at Spirit & Truth).  Still, I am glad of this opportunity to add some clarification.

The thrust of your complaint is seen in these words: “We are not saved by the keeping of the law of Moses nor are we progressively sanctified by the law.  It is all of God by grace!”

To this I can only write, “Amen!”  I agree entirely.  So why the confusion?  After re-listening to the lecture I have concluded that one of the following statements triggered your objection:

  1. I speak of the Ten Commandments as “God’s way of summing up godly conduct.” – But I immediately qualify what I mean by stating emphatically the proviso; “that godly conduct is always expressed in love.”  This harks back to the previous lecture on “The Primary Forms of Love,” where I tried to delineate what that love is by using Jesus’ words in Matt. 23:23.  I then refer to the Ten Commandments (minus the Sabbath command) as encapsulating “…aspects of the primary forms of love.”
  2. I go on to say that any course on Christian conduct would be odd if it ignored the Commandments since “they were given to regulate behavior.”  – This was just to say that the Commandments were given for an ethical purpose.  The use of the adjective “regulate” here simply implies “adjustment.”  For example, how do you know that stealing or adultery is wrong?  Simple, you go to Scripture (Exod. 20:14-15 in the OT; Rom. 13:9 in the NT).  Why is it wrong? I answer, because these commandments reflect God’s own character (e.g., He is truthful, just, faithful, etc.), and as such they possess normative moral authority over a Christian.  Thus, if one is to be “conformed to the image of Christ” he will be conformed more and more to the Decalogue.  This is important to notice since the Law cannot regulate behavior as a “rule of faith.”  This is why I stress the internal function of the Law (love) and not the external function.   Thus understood, “the law is a spiritual guide.”

Let us deal quickly with the first part of your charge, which has to do with justification and salvation.  Now, as you say, “The law justifies no one.”  Agreed!  Where, then, do I even remotely infer that it does?  This is a course on Christian Ethics, not non-Christian morality.  Indeed, as I am at pains to repeat throughout the course (including this very lecture!), a right relation to God through the new birth is a pre-requisite to knowing and loving Him.  This is precisely because Christian ethics is an internal as well as an external matter.  The internal aspects mold the external actions.

On, then, to your main accusation: we are not “progressively sanctified by the law.”  Certainly we are not, if what you mean is the futile religious conformity to the law.  But I never say that we are sanctified that way.  In fact, in the lecture on “Law and Gospel” (Lecture 15), I expressly repudiate such a teaching.  The Law as an external standard has absolutely no authority over the Christian (e.g. Gal. 2:16, 19; 3:1-3, 11-12 – You see, I have read Galatians).

Have you not noticed how Paul employs the Commandments (though not the Sabbath) in his Epistles? (more…)


Recent Writings to do with Science

Here are some of my posts on subjects related to science. 


The Territories of Science and Religion by Peter Harrison

Darwin’s Doubt by Stephen Meyer

The Devil’s Delusion by David Berlinski



Scientism Isn’t Science

Scientism and Naturalism

The Incoherence of Evolutionary Origins – Pt 1

The Incoherence of Evolutionary Origins – Pt 2

The Incoherence of Evolutionary Origins – Pt3

The Incoherence of Evolutionary Origins – Pt4

The Incoherence of Evolutionary Origins – Pt 5

The Incoherence of Evolutionary Origins – Pt 6

Science and Theological Method

1,2 Chronicles

Merrill’s New Commentary on 1 & 2 Chronicles

A review of Eugene H. Merrill, A Commentary on 1 & 2 Chronicles, Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2015, 637 pages, hdbk

Among readers of the Old Testament (you know, those creatures of legend that used to inhabit churches), the Books of 1 and 2 Chronicles would not rank too high on their list of favorites.  Even zealous preachers would, given the choice, prefer to go through 1 & 2 Kings rather than Chronicles.

But these neglected books (one book in the Hebrew Bible) are the only ones which traverse the entire history of Israel, even if they do so by concentrating mainly on the fortunes of the tribe of Judah, particularly the line of David, and the fate of Jewish worship under a succession of kings.  A key underlying theme concerns the self-identity of the Davidic monarchy as related to the Davidic covenant (see the excellent treatment of the Theology of the Book, 57-68).

Eugene Merrill was a wise choice to write the commentary.  Anyone familiar with his Kingdom of Priests will know about his attention to detail, faithfulness to the biblical text, and refusal to swallow the camels of historical criticism.  As the reviewer can personally testify, Dr. Merrill is a churchman, and his book is a fine exposition for the preacher and teacher of the Bible.

As is usual with this impressive series, the comments are deep enough to cover the important items: text, exegesis, explanation and application.  Merrill even includes twelve excurses on topics like “The Angel of YHWH”, two on “Holy War”, “Old Testament Historiography”, issues of chronology in relation to extra-biblical events.

For me the real treasure of this commentary are the chapters handling the “Theology of…” which close out each section.  These expand the fine summary in the Introduction and they deserve careful attention.  As 1 & 2 Chronicles are, first and foremost, theological histories, these chapters are invaluable.

In my opinion this is the best place to go to study these books, and to preach them!

Sad to say, the editing of the Commentary leaves a lot to be desired in the area of proofing of errors.  Also, once again for this series, there are no indexes, and there’s no excuse for that!


I received the commentary free from the publisher.



The Creation Narrative: Genesis 1 and 2 (Pt.3)

The Spirit and Plurality in the Godhead

What is clear from the second verse of the Bible is that the Spirit of God was superintending the process of creation. The word for “was hovering” or “brooded” (merakhepet, 1:2) implies a determination to act.  It strains credulity to think that the Spirit brooded over a glob of matter for billions of years before deciding to do something with it.  There is no logic to starting the work of creation by bringing forth matter and then leaving it all in idle suspension.  The making of the unformed earth was with the intention of forming it!

As we are but two verses into the Genesis account it would be premature to think that the “Spirit (ruah) of God” can be distinguished from “God” in the first verse.  But already the verb “brooded” discloses personality.  The ‘S’ should therefore be capitalized.  This is no inanimate breath.  The same Holy Spirit who would come in to a person and regenerate them, making them “new creatures in Christ”(2 Cor. 5:17), is the power behind the formation of the Cosmos.

Nevertheless, the writer is not here teaching about the Trinity.  That will be done when the Apostle John takes up this passage in his grand prologue.  Yet before this first chapter ends it will start to become a distinct possibility that the reader is being told there is a plurality within the one God.

No evangelical Christian has any problem with a “canonical reading”, which sees the Trinity in the act of creating.  But the text of Genesis does not include the doctrine.  It is revealed progressively.  Going to John or another author for more light on these verses is not wrong, just so long as we understand what it is we are doing.  We are bringing John’s added information into our comprehension of the creation narrative (the only actual creation narrative in Scripture.  Other passages refer to creation but do not describe it), but we are not altering anything in the creation account by so doing.  One later direct statement is throwing complementary light on an earlier one.  Unfortunately, there are common uses of “canonical” interpretation which allow a later passage to effectively overpower and change what seems to be deliberately and carefully declared in an earlier passage.  This is misguided, creating tension where none exists, and promoting eisegesis.

When we arrive at Day six and the making of the man and the woman we are confronted again with the plural pronouns “us” and “our” in verse 26.

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…”

But this is qualified with the singular pronoun in the next verse:

So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

The most natural way to understand these verses is to see a plurality in God’s unity.  It is not wise to guess at some angelic council which God is addressing.  For one thing angels are never said to be made in God’s image.  That privilege seems to be reserved for those created to have dominion over the earth. The pantheons of ancient civilizations cannot provide a backdrop for the words because the Bible is strictly monotheistic.  If Genesis set forth a teaching about Councils of gods deciding matters in creation week it would be natural to think of the “Let us…our image” language in such terms.  But there are no gods to speak to in Scripture, and angels are servants of God.  They do not comprise some sort of celestial committee to decide weighty matters like the making of man. (more…)