Monday, April 30, 2012

Sin Boldly

Luther once said, “Sin boldly, but believe more boldly still.”

This statement has stirred no little controversy today. It is used by Roman Catholics to show that Luther’s theology was bent toward licentiousness rather than holiness. I myself don't like the way that Luther phrased this. It's too close to the line in my opinion. But the interpretation that sees it as a love of licentiousness lacks the context of other statements Luther made that indicate that Luther did not believe that licentiousness, rather than a seeking after holiness, was appropriate for anyone claiming to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

In thinking about our struggle with sin the other day, I was considering how defeated we often feel for not overcoming temptation, but by rather being overcome by it. I was further pondering the nature of salvation, and what it means to be saved here in the “in between,” when we have already been declared to be righteous, but have not yet completely been made righteous. I was further thinking about the nature of reforming the church in doctrine and practice, and thought to myself, “How can I purpose to reform the church if I cannot even reform myself?” We are meant to be beautiful roses to God, but we often feel like very little rose and a whole lot of thorns instead.

But then it occurred to me that my definition of reform was distorted. If by “reform” we mean that we need to try and make the church, and ourselves, perfect, we will end our lives in discouragement, disillusionment, and depression. Perfection is not available to us in this life, not because it is not offered or possible with God to accomplish it, but because of the presence of our former atheistic selves and their continual desire to take hold of us once again.

If, however, by “reform” we mean that we set the church, and ourselves, in a direction that leads toward maturity and holiness in a vital relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, such a feat is not only possible, but we who are saved are already having this accomplished through us.

You see, if God uses the evil that is done against us as a means to bring us into a closer relationship with Him, He also uses the evil that we do to do the same thing. Hence, “all things,” including even our failures in sin, are producing in us a closer relationship with God and working toward, rather than against, our salvation.

What would become of me if I never sinned again here? Would not my atheistic heart forget about God? Would it not begin to trust in my own goodness, rather than Christ’s? Would not the gospel become a distant need, a secondary thought, something that perhaps others need, but not me? What does my failure in temptation do, then, but remind me of my need for God, my reliance upon Christ and His work? Does it not push me, in a day that a thousand other concerns would cause me to forget, to enter into God’s presence through His mercies and Christ’s sacrifice and mediation that has been, and is being, performed daily on my behalf?

I am not perfect, but I am being perfected through a relationship with God through Christ, and this work of making me like Christ is being performed even in my failure to overcome temptation, even by means of my evil.

Does this mean that we should continue to purposely sin, and not resist temptation with the help of Christ and the power of God given to us to seek holiness, so that God’s work in this way might increase? As Paul said, “May it never be.” We are to work against enslavement, not toward it; but in those times that we fail to work toward it ourselves, we know that God is working toward it even in our failures.

So in this way, we can reform the Church by setting those things in place that seek a relationship with God through the truth and in holiness, but we should not lose heart because it, or we, fail to be the perfect reflection of Christ we wish to be, because if it is set on the path toward a genuine relationship with Him, it is set on the path toward a loving relationship with God that will work toward that goal on its own.

So our true response to our, or the Church’s, failures is to immediately seek out reconciliation with God the Father through Jesus Christ our Lord by the power and drawing of the Holy Spirit. In doing so, sin itself has become a means to our salvation rather than damnation, and so nothing will separate us from the love of God, not even our failure to live up to the standard to which Christ has called us.

I think this is what Luther meant by his statement to “sin boldly, but believe more boldly still.” I think he meant that the question isn’t whether one sins, but whether his sin drives him further toward or away from God. Does it increase or decrease his reliance upon Christ and His work of grace in our lives? Does it call our idolatrous hearts back to remembrance of our need for the only true God to be in our lives daily? It calls us to the throne room of our Father to seek communion with Him with all the more urgency, as we are afraid to be cut off from Him even for a moment. Luther is saying, I believe, that one should focus, not on his failures, but on Christ and His victory. Sin, but let your sin drive you to Christ all the more. In doing so, it is contributing toward its own death. In other words, have a theology of sin and salvation that makes sense of failure in the context of a salvation that is working in you.

If you don't, you're going to simply start believing that the church, and others, and you, are hopeless and damned. Who can be reformed if perfection is the standard? Who is saved if perfection is the evidence of salvation? No one. But salvation comes to us through our working out our salvation in fear and trembling, and part of that includes the times we fail to worship God in doing what is right.

So seek to refrain from evil and do good always, but when you fail, know that if your sin drives you toward Him (as it does Peter after he denied Christ), rather than away from Him (as it did Judas after he betrayed Christ), then even in this, God is working out His victory for you, and there is a need to rejoice even in a life of individual failures, because the whole of the life has sought to please and love God in a relationship with Him through the death and resurrection of His Son. And in doing so, even our thorns will work to guard our roses.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Review of My Book

This review appears in the Midwestern Journal of Theology.

 I would like to thank Professor Bechtold for his fine review. First, I would like to thank  Professor Bechtold for pointing out the fact that I should have included some commentary on the New Testament use of the Genesis days. He's right to point out that this was an oversight on my part. Although I do comment upon the Patristic use of 2 Peter 3:8, I could have discussed the NT writers' use of time in the OT more specifically, and especially could have discussed the Auctor's use of the seventh day of Genesis 1 as something that was yet to come in Hebrews 4. If I get a chance to revise the book at some point, I would like to implement Professor. Bechtold's suggestion.

In regard to transliterating the original languages, I simply did that as a personal preference. Often when I am reading a translated ancient text, my immediate thought is, I wonder what that says in the original? Hence, I included a transliteration for scholars who might be equally curious. If I get enough of them who find them unhelpful, however, I have no problem removing those to accommodate the reader.

There are a couple issues I hope to clarify. If I understand Professor Bechtold's criticisms correctly, I believe he thinks that I take the literal line of Cain and Seth as the two seeds of Gen 3:15. Actually, I take them to be used by the author of Genesis to represent two types of humanity, not the literal description of two families. Hence, the line of Seth is taken as the line that represents those who accept the creation mandate as their primary task in life, whereas the line of Cain represents those who follow the serpent's deception in seeking to be like God. Israel is connected to the line of Seth, precisely, because it is viewed as true humanity (at least in its faithful form), so it continues on, but the ending of the line of Cain does not threaten the interpretation, precisely, because the line represents a type of people that is picked up after the flood and largely characterizes much of the world outside of Israel, even after the line of Cain is wiped away.

Another concern that was voiced was that I took death to be merely expulsion, but that is not quite my argument. My argument is that the ancient Near Eastern mind views death in spheres, and so the further one gets from the garden sanctuary, the closer one gets to death/the land of disorder/the netherworld. Hence, to expel the human couple from the sanctuary is to send them into the land of death, where they will no longer have access to immortality, and eventually end up in the netherworld, i.e., physically die. My only point here is that death is a process that proceeds from a sphere of absolute life to lower spheres that eventually bring one to absolute death/the netherworld. This is why Cain is terrified of being sent out even further from the garden than his parents, and fears that he will have no protection out there, likely ending up completely dead. The terminology that presents the picture of being "cut off" from the people (i.e., God's presence and civilization) also holds this idea in later judgment texts. I'll attempt to develop this idea a bit more in my larger book on Genesis.

Another issue I should clarify is that I don't believe the numbers 40 or 7 are always figurative, but that the number 40 is often used figuratively and the number 7, whether figurative or literal, usually represents some sort of cleansing, and often ritual/cultic cleansing. The ancients likely did things literally in sevens because of the symbolism of the number. So I don't necessarily divorce literal and symbolic meaning there, only that it is possible to use the number in particular contexts in terms of what it symbolizes only. As for the number 40, although it can be used literally, I do believe that, in a context of anticipation/testing, it is meant to symbolically represent, rather than describe, the actual time frame in an effort to contribute to the drama of the picture be painted by the narrative. However, having said that, Professor Bechtold is right in saying that my comment concerning Jonah's having waited 40 days should not have implied that this was impossible, only that in view of the way the number is used, it is more likely that the actual time has been traded for this symbolic one to, again, contribute to the overall message being conveyed.

The last issue raised concerns the struggle of YHWH with chaos. Professor Bechtold comments that "Of further note is his reading of Genesis 2-3 in view of God’s struggle over chaos. While there is some evidence for this, Hodge tends to read too much implication into the evidence." I'm not quite sure what statements I've made that would lead to this conclusion, but again, this is actually the larger argument I'm making in my book concerning the theology of Genesis, so I can only assume that I haven't laid out as much as I needed to in order to convince Professor Bechtold of its overwhelming presence within the text. I hope to do a better job of it in the new book.

Again, I very much appreciate Professor Bechtold's review. I think he understands my main argument very well, and am, frankly, just ecstatic that someone actually read the book. I thank him for his kind words and recommendation.

Monday, April 23, 2012

God, Love, Revelation and Certainty

A young man from a secular university visits a seminary professor after a long sociology class, where he learned nothing about sociological method and everything about how to think correctly according to his university professor. He began to object to the absolute claims that Christianity makes, and ask why this seminary professor would bother teaching the Bible as anything other than an opinion among many opinions. The following dialogue is what ensues.

Religion always makes such claims of certainty and absolutism, but we can’t be certain of those things. I think that religious people are just trying to grab onto something more stable because they don’t want to deal with the messiness of life.

Really? That’s interesting. Why do you think that people can’t know anything spiritual with certainty?

Because we’re not God. We can’t know everything about everything, and so that means that we can’t really know anything with absolute certainty.

Fascinating. Can I ask you a question?


Do you have exhaustive knowledge of your spouse? Do you know everything there is to know about him or her, every physical, mental, spiritual thing there is to know about him or her, every thought he or she thinks, etc.?


Have you ever accidentally gone to bed with the wrong person, then, thinking that he or she was your spouse?


I don’t understand. Why not? If you don’t have exhaustive knowledge of your spouse, how can you have certainty of who he or she is? If you can’t have certainty of who he or she is, then you can’t be certain that the postman, the girl at the grocery store, or Tom Cruise is not your spouse. How can you be certain that you never actually went to bed with someone you thought was your spouse, but wasn’t?

Because I know enough about him or her to be certain that he or she is the person who is my spouse and not a different person.

In other words, you have sufficient knowledge enough to know your spouse in distinction from other people, and that sufficient knowledge gives you certainty on the matter?


Isn’t it the same when we discuss spiritual things?


Why not?

Because I don’t know anything about spiritual things. I know some things about my spouse, enough to know them sufficiently, but that same is not true for spiritual things.

OK. So what certain and absolute belief does your statement assume?

What do you mean?

I mean, you’ve just stated something absolute and certain, and yet, you just said you can’t know anything about the spiritual realm that is absolute and certain, so I’m asking you what beliefs you have acquired with enough certainty to make that statement.

Well, I’m saying that I can’t be certain about spiritual things.

. . .  which is a statement of certainty about spiritual things. I’m now asking upon what belief, what certain assumption about spiritual things you have to believe first in order to make that statement.

Why don’t you tell me?

Sure. If I have someone who has exhaustive knowledge of the spiritual tell me something about what is spiritual, and He will aid me in understanding it, can I know something about the spiritual?

Maybe, but maybe not with certainty, since you do not have exhaustive knowledge yourself.

But we just established that you can have certainty with sufficient knowledge. You don’t need exhaustive knowledge to have certainty, correct?

Well, yes, you’re right on that.

So I can have certainty with sufficient knowledge, and sufficient knowledge can be give by one who has exhaustive knowledge, correct?

I would imagine so.

So what does the agnostic statement that one cannot have certainty about spiritual matters assume?

That God has not spoken sufficiently to people.

In other words, it assumes that the Bible isn’t true.

Well, there are other religions . . .

Yes, but even though other religions make absolute claims, there are only the three main religions who claim to have certainty based upon divine revelation spoken by God who has exhaustive knowledge, and all of them have their roots in the Bible, so really your statement is an attack upon the Bible as God’s revelation, isn’t it?

Well, yes, I suppose so. Perhaps the Bible has some insight, but I guess I’m assuming either that it is either not God telling us about spiritual matters, but humans giving us insightful remarks about spiritual matters, or it is God telling us about spiritual matters, but because we are imperfect, we cannot understand it exhaustively.

Which, again, we covered the latter, since we have already come to an agreement that sufficient knowledge, not exhaustive knowledge, is all that is needed to have certainty about something.


So really it comes down to assuming that God has spoken or He has not spoken in the Bible, correct?

I suppose.

So let me ask you this, Do you believe that there is a God?

Yes, I do.

Do you believe that God is loving?


Do you believe that with certainty?

I guess.

You guess?

Yes, I do.

How do you know that?

Well, I just believe it.

Based upon what?

I just think that God is loving.

OK, so you do believe something else concerning a spiritual matter with certainty. We just would have to say that you have no basis for believing it without divine revelation; but let’s move on to my next point.


If someone cannot know anything about spiritual matters, and what one believes about spiritual matters direct one’s life in the right or wrong directions, do you think that is it loving for God to not give us the sufficient knowledge we need to steer our lives in the right direction toward Him and what is spiritually good, but instead to leave us to hopefully stumble upon it in the dark?

Well, maybe it’s just loving to let us search for it?

Really? If your child needed a particular pill to save his life, do you think it is loving to let him search for it in a mountain of other pills that would kill him because you think he’ll benefit from the process? Would he really ever likely find it? How can we say that God is loving if He never gives us what we need to direct our love toward the rightful and worthy objects of that love?

Well, you’ll just know in your heart.

Now I would just give you the argument you first gave me. We are too finite and fallen to know what is true and good with any certainty. We cannot know spiritual matters with certainty, precisely, because our heart is incapable of leading us there. Ted Bundy followed his heart and he became a murderer. Hitler followed his heart and became a murderer. Pedophiles follow their hearts. Adulterers follow their hearts and ruin the lives of their spouses and children. Idolaters follow their hearts and end up worshiping vain gods. What good is the heart? As you admitted at the get go, we cannot know with certainty any of these matters if we only have our finite selfs as our compass, but not knowing will lead us and those we supposedly love (although we have no way of knowing if we actually love them) to complete and utter ruin. So do you really think the heart is the best vehicle we should use to direct us?

Well, when you put it that way, I guess not. But all of those people seemed like bad people who maybe had bad hearts.

How would judge a good from a bad heart without first knowing with certainty what is good and bad? You have to have a standard first, and everyone, even the theoretical agnostic, has absolute standards. The problem is that he says one thing about certainty, but then borrows all of the certainty from the Christian worldview upon which our society has based its moral certainty, only now he has removed the oil from the lamp, even though he still wants the wick to burn brightly. It just isn’t going to work. So I ask you again, if we are lost in the dark, how can we say that God is loving to leave us lost in the dark?

Well, not everyone is saved, so He does leave a lot of people in the dark, doesn’t He?

Sure, but not in the way that you seem to be suggesting. He leaves people in the dark who He has not purposed to save. Those He will leave to their own rebellion, but has more mercy upon, get no revelation at all. This is an act of divine judgment upon their sin against Him, so He is not merely leaving his children to destruction by not giving them revelation, but purposely not giving those He has decreed judgment upon without the revelation that would further damn them. Those who He purposes to heap judgment upon, because of the nature of their rebellion, He gives revelation to show that it is the rebellious and self-pleasing heart of man that is the problem in his quest for “truth,” not the condition of not having the truth. But those He wishes to save, upon whom He places His special love, even using the example of the damned to save and love the redeemed, to them He gives the truth of Scripture and the Holy Spirit through the Church to understand it, and they are directed, with great and absolute certainty, by that sufficient knowledge from an source with exhaustive knowledge, i.e., God.

Well, that doesn’t sound like the God I want to believe in. I want to believe that God is just as loving to all, and don’t believe that He is wrathful toward people.

Wow, for someone who doesn’t know anything about spiritual matters due to such human limitations that do not allow for it, you are pretty certain about quite a bit. But this is a great example of what I’m talking about. This is something we could only know from divine revelation. If we reason within ourselves, we will project our own ideas as true without having any basis for believing that they are, in fact, actually true. In other words, we have everything to suggest that we are self-deceived, and nothing to suggest that our opinions, apart from God’s communication to us via the Scripture, describe reality.

Well, maybe it’s OK to live in delusions if they make you happy and you accept yourself and your own limitations to have things right.

Let me ask you something, would you say the same thing concerning whether you were driving on the right side of the freeway with your kids in the car?

What do you mean?

I mean, you wouldn’t make this argument about any REAL thing. It’s just that you seem to think that spiritual things don’t function as REAL things, which again has a lot of assumptions that supposedly you cannot know. But let’s examine this for a moment. If the Bible is actually God communicating to His people, then will God lie to them?

Well, no, I don’t think He would.

So if He says that what you trust in and do in life matters, not only in this life, but in the next, and it matters so much that you will be eternally saved or damned based upon it, having grabbed hold of the true God’s hand versus slapping it away, do you think it would be wise to ignore that and opt to live in ignorance because it’s more of an exciting journey that way?

Well, no, if what is said is true, then it would be important to know what is true and good so that you didn’t end up wrecking people here and eternally damned.

So, really, if you can know with a certainty based upon sufficient knowledge given from an exhaustive source, and that source can sufficiently convey what is true concerning life and eternity, and there is great peril in not coming to the truth and good of the matter, both in this life (as is self evident) and in eternity to come, then if God exists and is loving toward His people, He has in fact given them revelation in the Bible that is sufficient enough for them to make absolute certain claims about the reality of spiritual matters, and to roll the eyes at this is only to evidence a contrary belief that is self defeating, as it must be certain about uncertainty in order to stand.

Can you run that by me again?

Sure. Let me break it down this way:

  1. Certainty is possible based upon sufficient knowledge.
  2. Humans can obtain sufficient knowledge.
  3. Humans can be certain.
  4. Humans cannot be certain about spiritual matters if they do not have sufficient knowledge concerning the spiritual.
  5. To be uncertain about spiritual matters means that God has left us to fend for ourselves or that He does not exist.
  6. Since we both believe that God exists and that He is loving, unless we are being judged by God in His wrath against those who love evil/that which is contrary to God and His true character, God would not leave us to fend for ourselves in matters that are vital to our life, either here or in eternity.
  7. God has therefore given us sufficient knowledge to believe and act with certainty upon what He has spoken to us.

I obviously believe, and have sometimes shown through different arguments, that the Bible is that source by which God has communicated to us spiritual matters, and therefore, it should be trusted above our human made opinions and religions, especially the postmodern pull to dislodge the Bible’s authority to make such claims via the agnosticism it seeks to paint as a more tolerable expression of humanity. In fact, it is the exact opposite. As humans, we are meant to worship God in truth and good, and without a certainty in what is true and good, our means to worship Him are dismantled. Once this is done, the unbelievers can become our prophets and ascend to the position of dictators of what is true, all the while claiming to not know anything with certainty. It’s a fantastic deception.

Well, that is certainly something to think about (pun intended). Thank you for the conversation.


Friday, April 20, 2012

The Warning Passages in Hebrews: The Means to God's Ends

In light of what I talked about yesterday, I wanted to help elucidate the purpose of the warning passages in the Book of Hebrews.

First, there exist numerous warning passages throughout the text that address both the peril of passively drifting away and actively persisting in rebellion against Christ and the gospel. These warnings all speak of the possibility that one who now believes will not be saved if he or she either drifts away or turns away deliberately (there is no distinction in Hebrews between the two paths for rejecting Christ as Lord).

The solution is to “pay closer attention to what you have heard” (2:1), to meet the gospel that is heard with faith (4:2), to “not harden your hearts” (3:8), to “take care lest their be any among you with an evil, unbelieving heart” (3:12), to “fear” (4:1), to “be diligent to enter God’s rest (4:11), because if we do not we will not escape from a “just retribution” (2:2–3), fall, not enter into His rest (4:1), and be incapable of repentance once again (6:4-8; 10:26-27).

So the question becomes, If the believer has been chosen by God before the foundation of the world to be saved, and no one ever becomes unsaved, why does the author present these warnings in the first place? In other words, there is no possibility for the Christian to lose his salvation, so why paint it this way?

Well, in light of what we spoke about yesterday, there is, in fact, a possibility that a person loses his salvation (from our perspective), and so the passages are being spoken from our perspective. This is very important to understand, from our perspective, we can lose our salvation. We can stop believing. We can let go of the faith. We can do this, because we are choosing to believe and hold on, so we can choose to not believe and let go. Again, this is the view from below. It is our experiential view, and that is what the author here is addressing.

But why bother if all Christians are going to be saved anyway? Because salvation is brought to the Christian through the means of his active participation in believing. God doesn't just decree that we will be saved and zap us into heaven. We are regenerated to believe through the urging of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God. In other words, our decision to believe is the means chosen by God to save us. Hence, we must be convinced by the Holy Spirit via the Word to believe.

This brings us to the next point. If we have to be convinced by the Holy Spirit via the Word to initially believe, we also need to be convinced by the Holy Spirit via the Word to keep believing. This is why the preached Word of God (via the Church) is so vital in a Christian's life, and without it, one falls away from the faith very quickly. What the warning passages in Hebrews amount to, then, is the Holy Spirit's method of convincing us to keep holding onto Christ.

But there is even more of a brilliance to this that often goes unnoticed. God has chosen our decision to have faith as the means through which He will save us, so that means that we must choose to keep that faith, to continually exalt Christ as Lord in our lives. What this means is that we must not turn from it, either slowly or abruptly, because of other concerns in life or death.

This brings us to the warning passages themselves. What is their function then? As we've already discussed, the speak with the perspective from below, but they do so in order to push us to the means of our salvation, i.e., faith.

Let me explain it this way. If you've ever seen the movie, "The Matrix," and liked it a lot, then you're cool. But beyond that, there is a great scene where Neo goes into see the Oracle, and as he enters the room, she says to him, "Don't worry about the vase." He then turns around to see what she is talking about, and in so doing, he knocks over the vase and breaks it. He then asks her, "How did you know?" She replies, "Ohh, What's really going to bake your noodle later on is, would you have broken it if I hadn't said anything?"

I love this scene because it brings out the purpose of Scriptural warnings well. Our salvation is through the convincing of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God, and if God had not convinced us through the Word of God, we would not have believed. Hence, the warning passages speak with the voice the view from below precisely because it is one of the means through which God convinces us to believe and to hold onto that faith.

In other words, we can ask God, "How did you know I would be saved," but He could just respond to us and say, "What's really going to bake your noodle later on is, whether you would have believed had I not said anything, had I not warned you that you could be lost, had I not said things in the way that I did."

Hence, the warning passages warn us of a reality within our experience: we might lose our faith and not be saved; but the irony is that these warnings are only effective in stirring those who are truly saved to keep the faith. In other words, they sober up true believers, and cause them to hold on tighter than before to Christ, not knowing if they have been elected for salvation or not. In this way, they become the vehicle through which God drives us to our destination, a destination of which He was always in control.

And that must be understood here. As I said yesterday, the view from below is always to be understood in light of the view from above. That's true in Hebrews as well. The author believes that it is God who is in sovereign control of our faith in the ultimate sense, so he is not departing from that, or advocating an alternate Wesleyian theology. He plainly says that it is Christ who is the "Author and Completer of our faith" (12:2). He is the one who authors our faith so that God can bring many sons to glory (2:10). Notice, God brings them there. They do not bring themselves. Even in the most terrifying of warning passages, where we are told that repentance is not possible for those who reject the faith, the idea is that God withholds repentance from them, showing that He is the One who grants or does not grant repentance that leads to faith. And in 13:21, it is God who equips us with every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight.

Hence, as Ellingworth notes,

The author . . . maintains a balance between describing his readers as sharing in Christ and in the blessings of faith (3:1, 14) and severely warning them of the dangers of apostasy” (Commentary on Hebrews, 323).

So God is the One who is ultimately saving His people, but His method of saving them is through the means of convincing them to believe and hold onto the vitality of their faith in Christ and the gospel. Without His convincing us through His Word, and specifically here, the warnings laid out for us, the ends would not be accomplished in the way that He has decreed them to be. It is through our choosing that God's choice is brought to fruition, not apart from it. It is, therefore, necessary for us to be alarmed by the warning passages, not knowing whether we will continue on in the faith or not, in order that we might continue on indeed.

Of course, those who reject, in all reality, never were saved, and the author indicates this by his switch of audience (third person for those who reject and second person for the Christians he is addressing); but he does this to use those who reject as a terrifying reminder that, from our perspective, one can strongly believe and then slowly drift or abruptly walk away.

The love of Christ, and the terror of being away from God in eternity, stirs the true believer to the decision to hold on tighter than before, and through his being stirred, God brings him to glory.

Therefore, let us fear lest, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you should seem to have come short of it. For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard. (Hebrews 4:1-2)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Can You Lose Your Salvation? Yes and No.

The reason why Calvinism and Arminian theology exist is because there are texts that seem to support both. The real issue, however, is which texts are controlling. In other words, if Text X is meant to be the overarching truth by which Text Y must be interpreted, or if Text Y is the overarching truth that must interpret Text X. So, for instance, when we speak of Jesus as the God-man, are those texts that talk about Christ as a human the overarching truth that must then inform our understanding of the verses that speak of Him as God, and therefore, Christ is just a human who perfectly reflects God, or is it the other way around, and Christ is God who has become a man as well? Do we read James in light of Paul (a faith that produces works saves), or Paul in light of James (works need faith to be saving)? As you can see, what one decides about controlling passages is no small factor in whether one will end up trusting in orthodox Christianity (a cedar of Lebanon) or one who believes in heterodoxy, or worse, heresy, a broken reed.

So this brings us to the question of whether one can lose his or her salvation. I'll simply ask the question and then answer it. Can someone lose his salvation? The answer: Yes and No.

Now, you may be saying to yourself, "That makes no sense. Those are contradictory." Well, actually they aren't if you understand that Scripture speaks from two perspectives: God's and man's. In fact, as I've mentioned before the Bible starts out doing this in Genesis and continues throughout to speak in this way. So from man's perspective, evil reigns and God many times loses His fight with it. From God's perspective, evil is no threat at all, has been completely subdued, and remains under His sovereign control.

Likewise, from man's perspective, people lose their salvation all the time. That's our experience. Someone believed strongly and now doesn't believe anymore (or much less than he did before at least). But from God's perspective, no one ever loses his salvation, since God elects His own from the beginning and completes the work He started in them until He raises them up on the last day.

So, yes, we can lose our salvation from our perspective. No, we cannot lose our salvation if we view it from God's perspective, since Christ loses none of the number that the Father gives to Him.

But what happens when we seek to use one of these as a control of the other, and get it wrong? If God's perspective is not simply a perspective, but the eternal truth of the matter, then that means that interpreting passages that deal with our losing our salvation as absolute is to misunderstand the perspective at which one is looking.

I can have the perspective that Joseph did when his brothers sold him into slavery and ended up in prison, and then say, God has been overcome by evil. He has lost His bout with it. But that's the perspective from prison. The true perspective is one that sees both means and ends, not just the means as ends. In other words, we can get caught up in our experience and think that we are declaring an absolute rather than what it just looks like from our perspective; but by doing so, we end up missing the truth of the matter: that God is merely purposing the evil of Joseph's situation for the good and salvation of many. The same can be said from our perspective of the cross, if we do not consider the resurrection and exaltation of Christ and our salvation to follow.

My point simply is this: the perspective of God, throughout Scripture, takes upon itself the controlling right by virtue of its nature. God's perspective is the eternal one. It's the one not bound by the limitations of human experience and thoughtfulness. Hence, it is not merely a perspective but what is true in the absolute sense. But man's perspective is just that, a perspective, and it merely looks at the means, as the means is what make up the total experience of the human observer. We don't live in eternity. We don't experience the big picture. We just see through our experience, and in our experience, evil wins, people lose their salvation.

But this is precisely why it is so dangerous to look at the means as the ends and construct one's theology based upon that perspective. That perspective isn't really true in the absolute. It's just true in our experience. It's a way to describe what happens in terms of what we observe from our perspective. It has nothing to do with what is really happening in the big picture of things, because in the big picture, evil doesn't win and no one loses his salvation.

Do we experience people believing and then rejecting the faith? Yes. Do people then lose their salvation from our perspective? Yes. Does anyone who is truly regenerated by God and has saving faith ever lose his faith and salvation? No, but that's something we get from the divine revelation of God's perspective. It's something we take on faith, because it is beyond our purview. But because it is the "view from above," that perspective needs to control our perspective. The finite and temporary means needs to be interpreted by the infinite and eternal ends, not vice versa.

So why am I saved? My perspective: Because I believed. Why am I saved? God's perspective: Because He chose me before the foundation of the world to believe. Why is another not saved? My perspective: Because he didn't believe. God's perspective: Because God chose to let him remain in his rebellion. Can someone lose his salvation? My perspective: Yes, people believe and then reject Christ all the time. God's perspective: No, He holds His chosen in His hand and no one takes them out of His hand.

Hence, when we read Scripture, we need to understand from what perspective an individual passage is speaking, because Scripture speaks with both voices, using language from both perspectives, and it assumes that we will understand that the divine perspective is controlling, even though it is completely fine with speaking from the human perspective in light of that divine perspective. The problem is when we exclude one from the other, giving us an imbalanced and distorted theology or practice, or we use the wrong perspective (i.e., the human perspective) as controlling and the interpretive guide for those other passages that give us the big picture perspective (i.e., God's view of all things).

So, Yes, you can lose your salvation, and because of that, you need to be encouraged to remain in the faith, and warned to hold fast to it with everything you've got. No, you can't lose your salvation at all, because God is its author and the one who completes it, and no one, not even our own tendencies toward faithlessness prevails against Him. He will complete His work to the very day of Christ. Hence, our perspective must be seen as the means (holding onto the faith, being sobered by means of being warned as though we can lose it so that we keep it), and God's perspective must be the overarching truth that interprets our perspective.

This does not discount either teaching, then, but puts one into perspective of the other. It tells us that we must, in our experience, take seriously the warning that it could be that we reject the faith and thus prove that the means of our faith to bring about the ends in our salvation has been lost. It also tells us that we should understand that no one who keeps that faith (i.e., has true faith that saves) had the possibility of being lost in the first place. But we don't know who we are: true believers who are elected or temporary believers who are not, and what we do in terms of believing (the means/our perspective) dictates the ends (again, from our perspective). But can we then attribute the security of our salvation to ourselves? No, because we have the truth of the big picture given to us by relating God's wholistic sight of things: Anyone who is saved is saved because he or she was elected before the foundation of the world to be saved, he or she will therefore believe to the end, and God will raise them up on the last day. Hence, our abiding faith is solely due to God's work in us from that larger view of things, and we cannot therefore claim the credit it looks like we can claim if we were to only take our perspective into account or use it as the controlling idea when encountering the divine perspective.

With this in mind, I'd like to look at the warning passages in Hebrews tomorrow.

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and  trembling ; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for [His] good pleasure. (Phil 2:12-13)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Who Is on the Lord's Side?

When surveying the history of the Western world, especially since the Reformation, one notices a popular trend to claim that God is on one side or the other. This is most notable in the religious wars after the Reformation or in the US Civil War, where one side truly believed with all its heart that it was the side that God would take, since the cause was so noble, and the other side was so evil.

We do this in personal wars as well. When we feel like we're in the right, we think God must be on our side. I've had people, who were clearly in the wrong, say things to me concerning the other party that had to do with God judging them and bringing about vindication for them. Many people even talk about other Christians with whom they are feuding as not being saved, displaying the idea that God's final judgment is going to befall them, simply because their deeds are not merely actions against the human party, but against God Himself.

That's why I find the episode in Joshua 5:13-15 so interesting. It reads as follows.

Now it came about when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing opposite him with his sword drawn in his hand, and Joshua went to him and said to him, "Are you for  us  or for our adversaries?" He said, "Neither; rather I indeed come now [as] captain of the army of the Lord." And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and bowed down, and said to him, "What has my lord to say to his servant?" The captain of the Lord's army said to Joshua, "Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy." And Joshua did so.

I find what the "captain" (r# "prince," "ruler") of YHWH's army says to be fascinating, especially if this were just made up by one side of the conflict. Joshua asks him what side he is on, and the answer is "neither." What? Neither? I imagine Joshua may have been stunned. Certainly, the Israelite reader was. Is Israel not God's very people? Did He not just shake up an entire superpower, the Egyptians, in order to deliver Israel? Israel is the Lord's side, right? Nope.

You see, within Joshua is a literary argument that presents the true Israelite as one who follows the Lord. So even though the Israelites are commanded to Mrx "dedicate to destruction" all of the Canaanites, Rahab is spared, not because the Israelites are breaking the command, but because she is no longer a Canaanite once she places her allegiance with YHWH. Conversely, when Achan, an Israelite of Israelites, being from the royal tribe of Judah, breaks covenant with God in order to act like a Canaanite, Achan is Mrx'd, not because Israel is to be, but because he is now considered a Canaanite. This theology underlies much of the Deuteronomic history, and that is why Ruth, even though it is likely not a part of the DH, fits right into it.

What does this mean for our present topic? It means that the Lord isn't on anyone's side. The question is whether we are on His. If we are, we're on the right side. If we aren't, it doesn't matter what we identify ourselves to be (i.e., I'm a Christian so the Lord is on my side). It only matters whether we are listening to the Lord through what He has spoken and seeking to obey that, all personal vendettas thrown aside. 

You see, here, God is making a point that He isn't a tribal god that you can manipulate to give strength to your side of the conflict. He doesn't join sides. He tells us to join His. He's the one in control. We cannot persuade Him to join us. 

Instead, what we need to realize is that whatever is good and pleasing to the Lord, ACCORDING TO THE LORD, is on the Lord's side. I say, "according to the Lord," because history tells us that we can make anything we believe and desire into what the Lord desires too, but this is to miss the point of what is being said here. If the Israelites obey what has been commanded by God via revelation (which now resides for us in the Bible) then they are on the Lord's side. If they do not, they are not on His side, regardless of how they think of themselves or their noble causes. A man cannot judge rightly what is good and evil when we get beyond the obvious morals to all (or to most I should say), so he must intently observe what the Lord has said in order to truly know what side he is really on.

The Canaanites, in this conflict, were against the Lord. God had said that he was judging them for their gross immorality that He had patiently overlooked for hundreds of years until their sins had come to their limit. God was destroying them, then, not primarily because they were Israel's enemies, but because they were first and foremost God's. It just so happens that God works all things for the salvation of those who are on His side, and so in destroying the Canaanites, he saves the Israelites in the process; but the Israelites themselves are told that they will suffer the same fate if they do the same things the Canaanites did.

This is important for us to understand when we get into conflicts with others. God doesn't have your back in any fight. Your fight needs to be for Him. If it's for you then you can forget claiming that God is on your side, and I would definitely cease from dealing out divine judgment, which seems to be a classic way of thinking about one's enemies within the larger scale of national wars to individual communities and even within households. 

Concern yourself with being on the Lord's side. Seek to be drawn into His conflict rather than to draw Him into your own. Dive into Scripture, not to justify yourself, but to be convicted as an enemy of God who needs to become His friend, join His side, and fight for His causes rather than your own. Only then, will you truly be on the Lord's side, and the wars of men be traded for the most noble of conflicts.

Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual [forces] of wickedness in the heavenly [places.]  Therefore, take up the full armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. (Eph 6:11-13)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Religion of the "Shoulds"

I don't know about you, but whenever I give Christians advice on something, I often get the "I know I really should do that" response. Now, of course, some people mean they're going to do it, but most people just feel like it's something ideal, but it conflicts with what they know they're going to do.

I should pray more. I should read the Bible more. I should go to church more often. I should be calmer with my kids. I should share the gospel of life more. I should do this. I should do that. I should wear a coat with my scarf and hat (I was feeling Dr. Seussish with that one).

But the problem of the "religion of the shoulds" is that it displays a far more important problem in our lives than the mere external actions that we are not producing. It displays the lack of love and desire we have for God and others. You see, if I love God, I'm going to desire to believe and do all that is pleasing to Him. If I love others, I'm going to desire to be truthful with them about God and do what is good to them. And if I love God and others more than myself, that desire is going to come to fruition in my activities. In other words, the "religion of the should" is a religion of law, but Christianity, true Christianity, is the "religion of the wants," and therefore, it is the religion of faith, hope, and love.

I do whatever I most want to do in that moment. If I desire to please myself more than to love God and others then my actions will simply manifest themselves accordingly. If I desire to please and love God and others more than myself then what I do will be in accordance with that. The religion of the wants is always manifest in our actions, whereas the religion of the shoulds is always just what we know we should do if we weren't so entrapped in our love for self above God and others.

If we love God and His people, we want to pray more, read the Bible more, go to church more often, conduct ourselves with our families better, share the gospel more, and we do. Our highest desire always takes flight if it is within our power to perform it. And it doesn't even seem like a chore at that point, because we are not doing something we don't really want to do, but something we really enjoy.

So the problem is a heart problem in that we desire the most the things that we do. It is a mind problem in the way that we think about what are the best persons and things most worthy of adoration in our lives. This doesn't mean you should never do the "shoulds," even when you don't feel like it; but only that the "shoulds" ought to work in faith toward love, so that they become "wants." And those "shoulds" ought to be always a flow of thought and action that stems from a relationship with God through Christ, without which the heart will remain stone toward God and others when compared to its love for self. Law cannot save us. Law only increases sin because we run even further from oppression and law is oppressive when we do not do those good things out of our desire and love for God. Only a vital relationship with God through the Lord Jesus Christ, then, can change our desires from loving the wayward self to loving God and others over ourselves.Without that relationship, we are doomed to always desire whatever fleeting and destructive pleasure arises in the moment.

So let us do away with the religion of the shoulds altogether, and strive toward love of God through Christ so that it may manifest itself in a religion of the wants and does.

And now I ask you, lady, not as writing to you a new commandment, but the one which we have had from the beginning, that we  love  one another. And this is  love , that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, that you should walk in it. (2 John 5-6)

Monday, April 16, 2012

Why the Gospel Must Be Taken More Seriously than Anything Else

Mark's family has been sick this past week, and so Mark contacted me to be ready with a sermon on Hebrews 2:1-4 in case he went down. He was fine and delivered the sermon anyway, but because I spent some time in the passage, it allowed me to reflect again upon it. I think this is one of the most important passages in Hebrews, and probably the entire Scripture for understanding just how serious it is that we hold fast to it with everything we've got (and more appropriately, everything God gives us). So here are just a few notes on the passage of Hebrews 2:1-4. The passage reads as follows:

For this reason we must pay much closer attention all the more to what we have heard, lest we drift away. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.

First, it is important to understand that the author of Hebrews is writing to people who are walking away, in one way or another, from Christianity. These are Jewish people, who, for whatever reasons (peer pressure/social persecution, an unwillingness to pursue the deeper things of Christ, willful sin that continues in their lives, or simply the worries of the world that drown out their focus on Christ to where they slowly and subtly slip further away from Christ as their Lord and Savior in all that they think and do. This passage is going to address everyone, but specifically the last group. So, in essence, Hebrews is addressing people from Jesus' parable of the sower, where the seeds fall on rocky ground and have no secure root in the ground of what they have heard concerning Christ and those who receive Christ but their love and commitment to Him and His gospel work in their lives is soon drowned out by the cares and concerns of the world taking precedence.

In light of all of this, the author of Hebrews tells us that the message we have received is not like the message received in the law through the mediation of angels. That message itself was taken so seriously by God that if one did not obey it, he received the exact punishment for it without fail. So even that message was "unalterable" as he notes in our passage here. But the message we have received is one that has been directly given to us by God Himself. Hence, the author in Chapter 1 goes to great lengths to show us that Christ is God incarnate. He is the Lord of all things, both by His inherent right as God and by His perfect work and triumph over death in His resurrection. He is both Lord by way of who He is and by way of earning it by securing salvation for us. Hence, God the Son Himself has not only delivered the message to men Personally, but His very Person and work make up that message.

The logical conclusion to all of this is clear: If the message received through angels was serious enough to be obeyed above all other things, how much more is the message about and delivered to us by God Himself serious enough to hold over all other concerns in life? In other words, if disregarding the message of God's ambassadors brought about the wrath of God and terrifying destruction to those who ignored it, how much more will the lack of attention to the message about and delivered by God Himself wreak terrifying destruction upon those who ignore it? Hence, the writer says, "how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?" (v. 3).

So the very character of the message, but more importantly, the very Person who has brought us that message, has made the message of salvation as so much greater in importance. We need to subsume all things in light of it.

In fact, the author is emphatic with his use of far more words than he needs to employ in order to emphasize the importance of what was just said: dei~ "it is a necessity" perissote/rwj "all the more" prose/cein "to pay close attention to" what we have heard.

Remember why what the author of Hebrews just said in Chapter 1 concerning the nature of salvation is so important and to be greatly considered as something extremely serious. He warns us of its seriousness that we might not “drift away” from what is said. Why do you think he says “drift away” as opposed to “abruptly rejecting”?

If the message is not taken seriously, we exalt other priorities in life and thought over it, and by doing so, even if we are committed to its truthfulness, we slowly drift from exalting Christ in our thoughts and lives, and from our faith in the seriousness of the message spoken.

Think of a day at the beach, when you go out to wade in the ocean, and without even knowing it, you drift far away from where you set your towels down. The idea is also like a ship that is carried away by the current to wherever it flows rather than where the ship needs to go in order to make it to its destination. If we drift away from our exalting Christ as Lord in the little moments, our faith and allegiance in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ, we will soon find our entire lives in a practical rejection of Christ and the gospel, and not be saved, as faith in the Son and His work is the only means through which we can be saved, as the author has just pointed out in Chapter 1. He alone is the one who delivered us through His death and resurrection, and apart from Him, there is no salvation. That is why the author so explicitly says in Chapter 1 that, although God has spoken in many way in the past, He has spoken to us in these last days through His Son. The contrast allows us to supply the word "alone" to that, as it infers that although God spoke through many mediums in the past, He no longer does that. He only now speaks through His Son, drawing all people to Christ (cf. Acts 17:30-31).

The Greek word tilhkoutoj means awesome, awe-inspiring, intimidating, greatly perilous. Why is the message of such joy so awesome in every way? Because it not only saves all who would receive it, it absolutely damns all who would treat it as small. The Greek word amelew means "to pay no attention to," "to disregard," "to ignore," "to consider less important than other priorities." It holds the idea here that one may consider the gospel great, but not great enough to set us the directing influence over one's thoughts and activity. So the salvation that is secured by God the Son Himself is "so awesome" is now being treated as lesser than other concerns in life: social acceptance (the Jewish Christians are now outcasts for following Christ), jobs (with that social rejection comes a lack of business and employment), or even just the elementary things of life (housework, family, etc.), things that are good if placed under the Lordship of Christ, now become things with which we occupy our minds and let control our responses to temptation to worship the self in the world.

Consider, in light of this, the parable of the Wedding Feast in Matthew 22.

And Jesus answered and spoke to them again in parables, saying, "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king, who gave a wedding feast for his son. "And he sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast, and they were unwilling to come. "Again he sent out other slaves saying, 'Tell those who have been invited, "Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fattened livestock are [all] butchered and everything is ready; come to the wedding feast. "' "But they paid no attention and went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business, and the rest seized his slaves and mistreated them and killed them.  "But the king was enraged and sent his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and set their city on fire. "Then he ^said to his slaves, 'The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy.  'Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find [there,] invite to the wedding feast.'  "And those slaves went out into the streets, and gathered together all they found, both evil and good; and the wedding hall was filled with dinner guests.

The author of Hebrews then goes on to tell us that we not only have God the Son directly delivering this message to us, but that the message was confirmed by human witnesses, the apostles, and their authority was confirmed by God the Father working miracles through them, and the testimony of the Holy Spirit in the giving of miraculous gifts to His people. In other words, the entire Trinity bears witness to the message delivered directly and through the apostles, who were men who were taught by Christ Himself.
The point? The gospel is not a nice little message that you hang on your wall at home and forget about during the day. It’s not something you just commit yourself to on Sundays. Jesus is our life, waking and sleeping, eating and drinking, walking and sitting, talking and thinking. Who He is and what He has done for us needs to consume us as the top priority in what we think about, what we hope for, and what we do in the world.

We need to write it on our palms and above our doorposts, but more importantly have it continually before us in our hearts and minds, so that our faith will last the barrage of temptation that both the hard and easy situations of life will pour out upon us, seeking to distance us from the superiority of Christ to our circumstances. We will be hit from every direction, so that we take our eyes off of Christ as our immovable anchor in the storm.

Wherever your treasure is, your heart will be there also. Whatever you think is most important, that’s what you’re going to focus on, think about, gear your day toward. If you are more worried about losing your job, your job, not Christ, is Lord of you, because it, not Christ, dictates what you will worry about and what you will do in that hour. If you are more afraid of being left out of the group or being made fun of by others, that group, not Christ, is your Lord, as it directs how you will think and what you will do in that hour. If you are more concerned with dying, then death, not Christ, is your Lord, as it will consume your thoughts and determine what you will do in life.

The same goes for our families and churches. Family concerns start to take over the group's focus on Christ. Church concerns, whether people leaving or complaining or other issues, soon take over the minds of the leadership to where they begin a ministry that is solely reactionary to circumstance rather than to getting their lead from Christ and His Word. We may feel pressure to not be as bold, not preach that message, not discipline a matter, etc. because we are more afraid of losing the congregation, our dignity, our paycheck, than we are about losing Christ's exaltation in that moment of decision.

We must hold onto the faith. We must realize that Christ is Lord, and concern ourselves with the gospel that would claim our allegiance to Him as Lord more than other concerns that will make us drift away from exalting Him as Lord over us. We must take this message seriously, because we must take Him seriously. Hence, we cannot take other things as serious as we take Him and the message He delivered.

We’re all familiar with the story of Jesus walking on the water. Taking our focus off of Christ will lead to our ruin. It will lead to our judgment. It will lead to hell. And that’s why it is so serious. All of our other concerns in life should be used to worship Him, not take our worship from Him. If we allow them to do so, we slowly drift away from the salvation that calls us, our thoughts, our concerns, our daily activity, to Him.

The author of Hebrews is going to begin to warn these Christians throughout the book that God isn’t going to just let such things go. We have been offered the most awesome gift in the history of the world, and treating it as trash in comparison to other things we consider more worthy of our time and energy is not going to go unpunished. In fact, those who walk among us, and hear the gospel, have a potential of finding themselves under a greater condemnation than those who have never heard, simply because when those who have heard the gospel and understood it reject it, they trample the cross of Christ beneath their feet as though it was worthless enough to be ignored in light of other more pressing matters.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

An Old Testament Hamartology

The Old Testament actually has a lot to say about hamartology (i.e., the doctrine of sin), so I would like to explore some of the passages here for further reference.

Of course, I'll start with the Book of Genesis. The first sin we see is committed by Adam and Eve in the garden. Most of the known world is familiar with the story. The human couple choose to eat of the fruit at the prompting of another agent (i.e., the serpent) who tempts them with what appears to be an instrument/object/practice that God has placed in (or presented as something that should not be done) the garden as a test. The humans give into temptation and fail the test. Their offspring then enter into a continual battle with temptation and sin throughout the book. God makes numerous efforts to recreate the perfect environment in Genesis (e.g., the garden, the post-flood vineyard, the post-fall of Sodom and Gomorrah), but to no avail. The message is loud and clear: the problem is not the environment, but the humans themselves, who "is evil from his youth" (8:21). In fact, it is in this context that God declares that He will not wipe out everything on the earth again, i.e., attempt to destroy evil by destroying everything that lives, since the problem is man, not the environment itself. Hence, the reason God gives for evil in the world is man himself: literally stating that it is "because the formation of the heart/mind (i.e., inward man) is evil from his early life." Hence, it does not matter what environment God puts man into. He will find a way to corrupt it, and this is what we see throughout the book (and throughout the Bible for that matter).

This theme continues to run throughout the exodus and wilderness narratives, where even in God's salvific and fearful presence with Israel, after amazing miracles and theophanies appearing right in front of them, they are seen as remaining rebellious and sinful toward God. The same is true for once they enter the land filled with milk and honey, a Garden of Eden redivivus. God gives them the abundant land and subdues their outward influences, i.e., the corrupting influence of the Canaanites, but they remain rebellious. Surely, what David says of Nabal could be said of all man in its response to God, ""Surely in vain have I guarded all that this [man] has in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that belonged to him; and he has returned me evil  for good." (1 Sam 25:21).

In Job, we are told that man laps up iniquity like water: "Behold, He puts no trust in His holy ones, and the heavens are not pure in His sight; how much less one who is detestable and corrupt,  man, who  drinks  iniquity like water!" (Job 15:15-16).

David remarks in the Psalms, "Behold I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me" (51:5). David here is lamenting over himself, and his own sin against God, so it is highly unlikely that he is saying his mother sinned in order to conceive him. Instead, it seems more likely in the context that he is talking about himself. What he says here is consistent with the rest of the Scripture. Man is sinful from early on in his life, and here we are told that the early time from which he is a sinner is from conception.

We are told in Jeremiah that man, therefore, must trust in the Lord and not in himself, since he is corrupt and his experience will lead him astray.

 "Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord  And whose trust is the Lord. "For he will be like a tree  planted by the water,  That extends its roots by a stream  And will not fear when the heat comes;  But its leaves will be green,  And it will not be anxious in a year of drought  Nor cease to yield fruit. "The heart is more deceitful than all else  And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?  "I, the Lord, search the heart,  I test the mind,  Even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds. (17:7-10).

In Proverbs we are told that two different times that "there is a way that seems right to a man, but the end thereof is death" (14:12; 16:25). His corrupt heart and nature does not afford him enough insight to discern the right way to go. He, therefore, misreads the nature of reality with his distorted glasses.

But the question for us in all of this is, Why is man conceived in iniquity? Why is he corrupt from his youth? Why does he drink up evil like water, and rebel against God even to His face? In other words, from whence does this evil come?

In one sense, the Old Testament has already provided the answer in terms of understanding from whence it does not come. It does not come from the environment. It is not something produced by the environment. The Old Testament indicates that the environment merely provides further opportunity and temptation, but such would not stick if the man were not so attracted to it because of his lust for sin. Instead, it comes from the man himself. The problem is man. The problem, then, is human nature; but in what way is his nature corrupt? Is it an ontological corruption that leads to a spiritual one, or is it a spiritual problem that leads to ontological problems?

In some ways, this question is only explicitly answered in the New Testament and further developed by orthodox exegesis through the early Fathers who combated gnosticism, a heresy that posited the view that man was ontologically corrupt first, because he had been encased in the physical and finite by the evil Demiurge (the creator god who is seen as a devilish figure in gnostic thought), on through Augustine who argued extensively concerning the primacy of the spiritual, not ontological, corruption of man, down through the Reformers, who argued that man was completely corrupt spiritually, but not ontologically. Hence, God cannot be said to have created man as prone to sin in his ontological human nature, but instead man sins because of his rejection of God in the garden and the subsequent curse from God's salvific presence (not His omnipresence obviously) that would have given him his driving force to love what is good. Hence, sin is due to the corruption of man brought on by the Fall.

In another way, however, the Old Testament does provide us with this seed in terms of stating that man himself was not made evil. In fact, although Ecclesiastes is hotly debated in terms of its contrary statements toward the rest of Scripture, these contrary statements, in canonical context, serve as qualifications for understanding the whole of Scripture, specifically in the wisdom tradition. In 7:29, the Preacher states, "Behold, I have found only this, that God made men upright, but they have sought out many devices." In this statement we have both the confirmation that man is evil by his own choice, but that he was not made evil. Instead, he was made upright. What this does for us in providing context within the canon is to show us that the corruption that man has from his conception is not ontological. God didn't make him a sinful creature. Man is sinful by choice and his corruption must, therefore, be a spiritual one that stems from something else, and the only other "something else" in the Old Testament to which one can point is the removal of the human couple in Genesis 3 from God's paradise and the curse that is placed upon them because of their first sin.

It is, of course, possible to read this as God making man originally in the garden as upright, but that he sinned from there; but either way, the idea is that man, whether in the garden or in the womb, is not made ontologically prone to corruption. He has secured that for himself. If at creation, he has secured a cursed nature by sinning, and if in conception, he is working out an inclination toward sin from that curse. In fact, it is difficult not to conclude with the New Testament and orthodox Christianity, by way of inference, that man is born with a sin nature from the Fall. It's not like a baby can sin, so in what other way is David a sinner from conception, and yet created upright by God? It must be that his human nature is not sinful, but his fallen human nature, i.e., his disposition toward God at conception (i.e., spiritual disposition) is prone to sin.

In any case, what we have in the Old Testament are elements that are consistent with the New Testament and orthodox understanding of humanity. The Bible, as completed canon, is a strong countercultural witness, then, against the heresies of Gnosticism (finite human nature itself is corrupt or prone to corruption) and Pelagianism (humans are not spiritually corrupt or prone to corruption due to their disposition toward God created by the Fall/curse). The New Testament, and orthodox Christianity to follow, will simply draw out what is already there in seed form.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Are the 'ādām in Genesis 1 and 2 Different?

The Hebrew word )ādām, usually translated as “man,” or “humankind,” has received a lot of attention over the years. Some today have argued that the term in Gen 1 refers to mankind in general and the term in Gen 2 refers specifically to a person named Adam. James Barr challenged this idea in his article, “One Man, or All Humanity?”, in Athalya Brenner and J.W. van Henten (eds.), Recycling Biblical Figures: Papers Read at a NOSTER Colloquium in Amsterdam, 12-13 May 1997 (Leiderdorp, The Netherlands, 1999), 3–21. He was then challenged by various scholars such as David J. A. Clines, “Md), the Hebrew for ‘Human’, ‘Humanity’: A Response to James Barr” VT 53.3 (2003) 297–310 and J.C. de Moor, “The First Human Being a Male? A Response to Professor Barr”, in Athalya Brenner and J.W. van Henten (eds.), Recycling Biblical Figures: Papers Read at a NOSTER Colloquium in Amsterdam, 12-13 May 1997 (Leiderdorp, The Netherlands, 1999), 22–27 (i.e., the same volume in which Barr’s article appeared). I think that the debate thus far has misunderstood what lines to pursue in determining what )ādām actually means. Barr seeks to argue that the term is “essentially male,”[1] but since it can refer to women as well, this line of argumentation, although possibly contributing to the idea that the woman is represented by the male )ādām in a patriarchal context, is probably not the best line of argumentation to pursue by itself (although, again, it has some important contribution to make). Clines simply defers to the majority of Hebraists and Hebrew lexicons, such as BDB, and notes that the terms )ādām and )îš are not interchangeable.[2] But both the methodology of these Hebraists, including Clines, is to look at the various texts in which )ādām is used, and determine whether all of humanity, including women, are inclusive to the term. Although Clines attempts to answer Barr’s accusation, i.e., that the term is essentially male, his methodology has the potential of simply begging the question, since Barr’s claim can include the idea of patriarchal representation (i.e., “man” representing men and women, not because the term “man” also means “woman,” but because the male represents both males and females in patriarchal language). Instead, what is needed is an understanding of the term )ādām in terms of asking the question as to whether it is meant to be a personal name in both the Gen 1 and 2 narratives, as well as throughout the Hebrew Bible. I’ll attempt to show here that the term is only a name given to the original (or representative) human made, and does not mean “human” itself; and hence, justify Barr’s contention that the term does not mean “humanity” in general. But I will go about this in a different way than Barr does.

First, it is important to note that the word is meant to function as a wordplay on the Hebrew word )ădāmā(h) “ground,”[3] both in Gen 2 and apparently in Israelite cultural memory as well, since the word refers to humanity in general throughout the Scriptures. Hence, some scholars have suggested that it should be translated as “groundling,” or “earthling” in Genesis 2 in order to catch that wordplay. However, because it seems more to function as a proper name there, Adam is more fitting. After all, one does not translate Jacob, whether referring to the person or the nation spawned from him, as “Swindler,” or “Supplanter” wherever it is found. The meaning of a name and its use as a proper name need to be understood as distinct, and translation should favor the proper name, since the nuances of the original derivation of the name are not commonly suggested. In fact, we might say that those nuances, in regard to )ādām, are only apparent in Gen 2 and not elsewhere in Scripture.

What we should then understand is that )ādām functions as a personal name, both in Gen 1 and 2, and this is seen within the context of the larger Genesis narrative.[4] For instance, the best example that )ādām functions as a personal name here is in 5:1–5:

This is the book of the generations of )ādām. In the day when God created )ādām, He made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female, and He blessed them and named them )ādām in the day when they were created. When )ādām had lived one hundred and thirty years, he became the father of [a son] in his own likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth. Then the days of )ādām after he became the father of Seth were eight hundred years, and he had [other] sons and daughters. So all the days that )ādām lived were nine hundred and thirty years, and he died.

There is a mixture here between the narratives of Gen 1 and 2. The generations of )ādām clearly refer to the specific person of Gen 2, using the same twdlwt language as Gen 2 and clearly in distinction from other genealogies (i.e., if )ādām referred to all of mankind here then it makes little sense to have different genealogies after this, and it would also make Seth the first known human who came from an unknown pool of humans described as )ādām).
The text also combines the “image” terminology of Gen 1 and the time reference of Gen 2 together: “in the day when they were created.”
Finally, it speaks about the same )ādām living, having a son in terms of the image terminology again, and dying, having only a certain amount of years that he lived. So seems to function here only as a personal name.

However, how do we explain the terminology both in Gen 1 and here in Gen 5 as it refers to both male and female? In other words, how do we explain that it seems to refer to humanity in general, and why this is also the case when the term is used throughout the Hebrew Bible?

It seems rather simple, but the term functions as an eponym in the same way that personal names are used throughout the Hebrew Bible and the ancient Near East. Jacob/Israel refers to the nation that is thought to physically derive from Jacob/Israel. Likewise, his brother Esau is used in texts like Obadiah to refer to the Edomites who were thought to have their physical origins in him. Hence, )ādām is used throughout the Scripture to refer to all of humanity, precisely, because it is thought that all of humanity has its physical origins in the first man named Adam. This explains why the woman is also referred to as Adam, since she is made from him.

Now, what do we do with the fact that Genesis is likely written after other more ancient Hebrew texts that use )ādām to refer to all of humanity? In other words, were the Genesis narratives, specifically what is referred to as J, being utilized by all of these other authors? I think instead it would be more plausible to suggest that Israel’s tradition knew of Adam, and had already named him such, due to the larger ancient Near Eastern understanding of man’s origins from the ground.

Hence, since it was widely understood that humans were made from the ground, either by clay taken from the ground, as in the Akkadian creation stories (e.g., Enuma eliš, Atra-h}asis, etc.) or by popping up directly from the ground, as in many of the Sumerian creation stories (e.g., Song of the Hoe).[5] The idea found in Gen 2, then, is a common tradition understanding that humans were derived from the ground. Hence, the name )ādām may have been derived independently from the Gen 2 narrative.

It is possible, then, that the author of Gen 2, simply took a name that generically referred to humanity all along and applied it to a specific individual; but it would seem odd that if this were true, and the term always referred to many, and was not an eponym, that it would not be plural, “earthlings,” “groundlings,” rather than “earthling,” “groundling.” Of course, collectives are seen in singular nouns often, but I can’t think of a collective referring to a people group, that is not an eponym, that is singular at the moment. Maybe one does exist and my memory is not bringing it to bear at the present time. If anyone can think of one and jog my memory, it would be much appreciated.

One might cite further evidence, however, that, at least at some point in Israelite history, )ādām was known as the personal name of the first (or representatively first) human from whom all of mankind was physically derived. We see this in 1 Chronicles 1:1; but this text is likely written well after the Book of Genesis is constructed, so it clearly bases its genealogy from that text rather than from a tradition that preceded it.

We are simply left with this: the term )ādām does not mean “mankind,” but only names mankind by the character of its creation (i.e., from the ground). The name likely has its origins in the ancient Near Eastern/Israelite tradition that eventually makes its way into Gen 2. And it is left to decide whether Gen 2 itself is that tradition that finds its way into the larger Genesis narrative or whether the tradition was something different (i.e., did not refer to an individual person, but only to all of humanity in general) before the creation of the Gen 2 narrative (otherwise referred to by scholars as J’s creation account).

In any case, we have some reason to believe that )ādām is eponymic, since it does not mean “humanity,” but only names humanity; and therefore, it may be that humanity is named after the person from whom it is believed all of humanity is derived rather than vice versa, where Adam is named after the humanity that he represents. But nothing is concrete here. The reasons we have to believe this are largely due to analogies with other eponyms and the fact that the word )ādām is a name, whether of one individual or all of humanity, not something that means “humanity” itself.

If this is true, and along with the fact that the narrative itself combines the two )ādām’s in Gen 5, it should be understood that the )ādām in Gen 1 (an eponym derived from the Adam in Gen 2) and the )ādām in Gen 2 are the same )ādām. This is not even to bring out the fact that the narratives themselves are parallel to one another, one presenting creation from above (the divine perspective, or the view from heaven) and one presenting creation from below (the human perspective, or the view from earth).

Hence, humanity, which is referred to eponymically as Adam, is made male and female, and that is seen in Gen 2, as Adam, the )îš “man,” being the origin of h9awwā(h) (i.e., Havvah, or “Eve”), the )iššā(h), for whom his personal name now represents as an eponym. The Adam of Gen 1 is the Adam of Gen 2, and they are both the Adam of Gen 5. Hence, regardless of Israelite tradition, Adam, as a person, represents all of mankind who is thought to be physically derived from him, and this discussion becomes important to clarify the variant uses of the term )ādām both in the Genesis narrative and throughout the rest of the completed canon of Scripture.

[1] “On Man,” 18.
[2]Md),” 308.
[3] The word )ădāmā(h) itself is likely derived from the Hebrew word Md), which means “red,” and refers to the color of the clay or soil of the ground. Hence, it is possible that the word naming humanity is also derived directly from Md) as a referent to ground clay.
[4] Although one might quibble that the original narratives made them distinct, such an observation is made only in assuming what the word )ādām is first. If one wants to say that the redactor combined them, it seems an irrelevant claim to anyone who takes the narrative as a completed work that now functions differently than its proposed individual parts may once have functioned separately.
[5] Although the Sumerian stories are diverse, where the Eridu tradition presents man as being created from clay (Enki and Ninmah}), and the Nippur tradition presents man as being made either directly from the ground or by slaughtering two gods (KAR 4, although, even here, humans are made in the “flesh-growing” place, retaining the imagery of their bodies popping up from the earth).