Archive for the ‘New Testament’ Category

Craig Keener on Miracles

Dr. Craig Keener is unarguably one of the world’s top scholars on the topic of miracles, and he recently delivered a lecture series on the subject that is well worth hearing if you want to get a fraction of his argument from his massive Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts. This will be of interest to cessationists, materialists, and those who are neither.

HT: Triablogue

“Until We Rest In Thee”: The Eschatological Nature of New Covenant Rest

This is cross-posted from my old blog, RearViewMirror (whose URL WordPress nicely wrecked). I originally wrote this as a paper for my MDiv at Toronto Baptist Seminary, so I won’t vouch for style or the total drawing of all logical points (!). I’m basically posting it because I wanted to send the link to a friend. The point of the paper was to argue for the ongoing validity of the Sabbath for the Christian church looking at Hebrews 3 & 4.

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The following paper seeks to address the question of rest found in Hebrews 3:7-4:11. The purpose for this evaluation is to understand rest as a present reality that anticipates eschatological fulfillment. The result of this evaluation will have ecclesiastical application for an understanding of Sabbath rest as an indicative and imperative for the church. This essay will first briefly outline the theme of this section in Hebrews as it relates to the topic. An explanation of rest as it fits the structure of the passage will follow accompanied by an application for the New Covenant community.

 

Hebrews 3:7-4:11
Pervading this passage, and the entirety of the epistle, is a theme of exhortation (3:8, 12; 4:1, 11; cf. 13:22). Positively believers are exhorted to enter rest by obedience (4:2, 11); negatively they are warned that lack of obedience will prohibit such entrance (3:18-19; 4:2). Wilderness-Israel’s disobedience is frequently pointed to as the prime example of failure to enter rest (3:7b-11; 15-19; 4:8).
Typologically the comparison between believers and wilderness-Israel is significant. The already/not yet condition of the church is characterized by Israel’s wandering subsequent to their release from Egypt and before entrance into Canaan; theirs was a “between the times” condition. Likewise, the church is comprised of “wanderers” who have been released from sin yet are on the verge of entering into final rest.[1] Richard Gaffin illustrates this well by referring to the church as “the new and final wilderness community.”[2]
Three examples are given to show that true rest had not been attained in the epoch before the advent of Christ. In the case of Moses, Israel did not enter into rest because of disobedience (3:16-19); their “bodies fell in the wilderness” and they did not physically enter the land (v. 17; cf. Num. 14:29). In the case of Joshua, Israel physically entered Canaan although they did not enter true rest. That Joshua had not given them true rest reveals it was yet to come (4:8). David, the final example chronologically speaking, confirms that Israel did not have rest, though his kingdom was established in the promised land (3:7b-11, 15; 4:3, 5 and 7). This does not negate the promise of God to give Israel rest. The land functioned as a type, not the ultimate reality; it foreshadowed the rest to come at both advents of Christ. [3]
Present Rest
That these three Old Testament figures did not provide true rest is significant. Upon reading this, a Jew might have asked, “If Moses, Joshua and David failed to give us rest, who can?” Of course, the answer is found in Christ whom Moses, David and Joshua typified.[4] They could not provide true rest, but the one whom they foreshadowed did.
Verses such as Matthew 11:28, where Jesus claims to provide rest to the weary and heavy-laden, can be cited as evidence of present rest. This is what Robert Murray M’Cheyne, in his sermon Entering Into Rest, called “the gospel rest of a believing soul.”[5] It is a state of being that is the result of the Christian ceasing from his labours to rest in Christ for salvation.
Subtly, Hebrews 3:7-4:11 is Christocentric, as indicated both by its location between Hebrews 3:1-6 and 4:14-5:11, as well as the indicative in 3:14. In 3:1-6, the writer focuses on Jesus as greater than Moses; in 4:14-5:11 Jesus is honoured as the Great High Priest. It is no accident that a discussion of rest is couched between these two great passages. The indicative in 3:14 states that believers currently share in Christ provided that they hold fast their original confidence that same confidence spoken of in 3:6. This is further indication that Christ is the final rest anticipated by Moses, Joshua and David.
As well, the opening of this section explains that believers can obtain true rest at present. In 3:7b-8a the writer quotes Psalm 95, written by David, who says, “today, if you hear his voice do not harden your hearts.” The adverb “today” (semeron) points to the current opportunity for rest for the readers of Hebrews, it is the “already” in the “already/not yet” paradigm. Again Gaffin is helpful,

It refers to the time, any time, in which “good news,” “the
word of hearing” is being proclaimed (4:2), in which “the promise of entering
his rest remains” (4:1). It is the time of summons to faith and obedience, when,
correlatively, unbelief and apostasy are present and very real threats (3:12,
13, 15; 4:6-7).[6] 

The point here is to show that rest is a current possibility and requires faith in Christ to be obtained.
The Christ-centred nature of this passage, coupled with the already indicative of the “between the times” tension, reveals that true rest is presently to be found in Christ. Does this mean that the rest believers now have in Christ is the ultimate fulfillment of rest?[7] The answer, found distinctly in this passage, is negative. To quote Hebrews 4:9, “there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.”

 

Future Rest
As essential as it is that believers have current “gospel rest” in Christ, the here-and-now is not the only facet of rest. Thus far we have argued that rest has an “already” component that is found soteriologically in Christ. Correspondingly, there is a “not yet” component that is found eschatologically in the return of Christ — the inauguration of the new heavens and new earth (2 Pet. 3:13). Therefore, there is still an ultimate and final rest to be looked forward to.
This “eschatological Sabbath” is rooted in two future perspectives in Hebrews 3:7-4:11. The first is the phrase “my rest” (katapausin mou) that indicates that rest is potential and future (3:11, 18; 4:1, 3, 5).[8] The second is the unique word used for rest (sabbatismos) in 4:9 that indicates an ongoing form of celebration.
First, in Psalm 95:11, quoted in Hebrews 3:11; 4:3 and 5, God calls the land of Canaan “my rest.” John Murray struggles with this characterization, arguing that it can’t merely refer to the provision of rest by God. Rather, as Murray argues, it is called God’s rest because Canaan is patterned after God’s own resting at creation, “it partook of the character of God’s rest.”[9]
One of the arguments proffered by challengers of a New Covenant Sabbath-keeping is that the Sabbath is not a “creation ordinance.”[10] Meaning, that unlike marriage or labour, Sabbath resting was not instituted at creation.[11]They argue that the Sabbath institution first appeared when Moses delivered the Law at Sinai. Yet the author of Hebrews has drawn a connection between God’s rest at creation and the rest yet to be entered into by believers (Heb. 4:4, 6 and 9; cf. Gen. 2:2). The Genesis account of creation that finds its only quotation in the New Testament in this passage is both prescriptive and descriptive. It is the support for 4:6 that says, “it remains for some to enter it.” Gaffin argues, “as the writer sees it, the fulfillment of the church’s hope…represents nothing less than the fulfillment of the original purpose of God in creation.”[12] Commenting on the eschatological character of the Sabbath found in the Decalogue, Geerhardus Vos says,

Man is reminded in this way that life is not an aimless
existence, that a goal lies beyond. This was true before, and apart from,
redemption. The eschatological is an older strand in revelation than the
soteric.[13] 

The fact that “my rest” is intrinsically linked to creation speaks of its eschatological nature.[14] The intended aim of Adam’s test in Eden was to usher in the new heavens and new earth. Because he disobeyed, the adverse course of human history played out as it did. The new heavens and the new earth are now looked forward to by Christians, and will be ushered in by the Second Adam. Therefore, when thinking of “my rest” as creation rest, Christians are also to think in terms of the new creation that is entirely forthcoming.
As Richard Gaffin explains, “‘My rest,’ as rest, stands in pointed contrast to the believer’s present circumstances.”[15] Christians do not have complete rest from sin and will not until they enter the new heavens and new earth.
Secondly, The word for rest that has been used in this section is katapausin(3:11, 18; 4:1, 3, 5, 10 and 11). Yet in 4:9 the word used for rest is sabbatismosthat can be defined as “Sabbath keeping”;[16] it is the only New Testament occurrence of this word. The sudden use of sabbatismos has deliberate authorial intent.[17] It may be that a nuance was missing from katapausin thatsabbatismos better expressed.[18] That nuance is likely the difference between a state of being and a form of action.[19] Lane argues that “it appears to have been coined from the cognate verb sabbatizein, ‘to observe/to celebrate the Sabbath.’” As well, its usage in subsequent ancient literature contains the notion of active observance.[20]
The use of sabbatismos points not only to the coming new creation, but also to the current practice of weekly Sabbath observance. But in what sense?

 

Eschatological Sign
The relationship between the current character of “my rest,” the appeal to creation and the ongoing nature of Sabbath-keeping points to a connection between Sabbath observance and the anticipated Sabbath of the new heavens and new earth.[21] Gaffin has called it “a sign of hope.”[22] Robert Martin explains it as a pledge or promise of the final rest that Christians are currently awaiting.[23] Functioning eschatologically, it is anticipatory of the second coming of Christ. “The weekly Sabbath is the promise, token, and foretaste of the consummated rest; it is also the earnest.”[24]
Throughout the course of redemptive history, beginning at creation, the Sabbath functioned as a weekly sign. As a remembrance, it looked back to creation and redemption from Egypt. But it was also forward looking, anticipating the coming Messiah. The church, in similar existence to wilderness-Israel, still has a Sabbath to keep in anticipation of the rest that they await.
It is curious that the writer to the Hebrews does not mention the abrogation of the Sabbath if it had in fact been abrogated. Sabbath abrogation would deeply impact his argument that rest is eschatological. If Sabbath observance were no longer necessary under the New Covenant, it would be necessary for the author to provide a redemptive-historical reason for this. Rather, the Sabbath functioning as an eschatological sign fits nicely into the flow of the writer’s argument that links the Sabbath to creation and the new creation.
Conclusion
The great North African church father Augustine of Hippo once wrote, “O, Lord, thou has made us, and our spirits are restless until we rest in thee.” This is true regarding both the already and the not yet of Sabbath rest. As Christ is true rest, the tumult of a sinful soul will remain until the burden of sin is set before him. Yet, as Christians who are resting in Christ, there is still the destination of their sojourn to arrive at, like wilderness-Israel before Canaan. Until that great Day when Christ returns, final rest will not be found.
As a sign of both the rest currently possessed in Christ and the rest still looked forward to at his coming, the Christian has the weekly, one in seven Sabbath. However it may be celebrated, may it be done with Christ as the focus so that he might receive all the glory. Amen.

[1] Richard B. Gaffin Jr, “A Sabbath Rest Still Awaits the People of God,” in eds. Charles G. Dennison and Richard C. Gamble, Pressing Toward The Mark: Essays Commemorating Fifty Years of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church(Philadelphia: The Committee for the Historian of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 1986), 37-39. William Lane explains that the church, like Israel, experiences “the tensions of an interim existence between redemption and rest, between promise and fulfillment,” in William L. Lane, Hebrews 1-8, WBC 47a (Dallas: Word Books, 1991), 89.
[2] Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., “Westminster and the Sabbath” in ed. Ligon Duncan,The Westminster Confession into the 21st Century (Fearn, Ross-shire: Christian Focus, 2004), 133.
[3] Philip Hughes argued, “[t]his land…was a visible and tangible token which, like a sacrament, pointed beyond itself to a far more wonderful reality…the eternal rest of God himself,” in Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1990), 143.
[4] Lane, Hebrews 1-8, 104.
[5] Robert Murray M’Cheyne, Sermons on Hebrews ed. Michael D. McMullen (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2004), 20.
[6] Gaffin, “Sabbath Rest,” 38; cf., his “Westminster and the Sabbath,” 133.
[7] Various critics of the so-called “Christian Sabbath” argue persuasively for the “already” indicative, yet fail to do justice to the “not yet.” For instance, see Andrew T. Lincoln, “Sabbath, Rest, and Eschatology in the New Testament,” in ed. D.A. Carson, From Sabbath to Lord’s Day: A Biblical, Historical, and Theological Investigation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), 177-201. Also, Tom Wells and Fred C. Zaspel, New Covenant Theology: Description, Definition, Defense (Frederick, Maryland: New Covenant Media, 2002), 232-233.
[8] Gaffin, “Sabbath Rest,” 38. See also his “Westminster and the Sabbath”, 133.
[9] John Murray, “The Pattern of the Lord’s Day,” in Collected Writings of John Murray (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1976), 223. Fred Zaspel agrees, “This is in every sense God’s rest (Ps. 95:11), his delighted rest in his finished work. The creation narrative climaxes in God’s contentment,” in Zaspel and Wells, New Covenant Theology, 212.
[10] For an argument in favour of the Sabbath as a “creation ordinance,” see John Murray, Principles of Conduct: Aspects of Biblical Ethics (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1957), 30-35.
[11] Zaspel and Wells, New Covenant Theology, 214 n. 292.
[12] Gaffin, “Westminster and the Sabbath,” 136.
[13] Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1966), 156-157.
[14] Lane observes, “[o]ver the course of time a distinctly eschatological concept of rest developed…An eschatological understanding of ‘my rest’ in Ps 95:11 is presupposed in v 1 and is fundamental to the exhortation to diligence to enter God’s rest in 4:1-11,” in Lane, Hebrews 1-8, 98.
[15] Gaffin, “Sabbath Rest,” 38.
[16] Robert P. Martin, “A Sabbath Remains: The Place of Hebrews 4:9 in the New Testament’s Witness to the Lord’s Day,” in Reformed Baptist Theological Review (July 2004): 1.2, 5-6.
[17] Lincoln, “Sabbath, Rest and Eschatology,” 213.
[18] Lane, Hebrews 1-8, 101.
[19] Martin, “A Sabbath Remains,” 5-6.
[20] Lane, Hebrews 1-8, 101; see also Hughes, Commentary, 162 n. 67. See also Joseph A. Pipa, The Lord’s Day (Fearn, Ross-shire: Christian Focus, 2001), 115.
[21] Gaffin, “Sabbath Rest,” 41.
[22] Richard B. Gaffin Jr., “A Sign of Hope,” available from New Horizons 3,http://www.opc.org/new_horizons/NH03/03a.html. Internet; accessed 02/12/04.
[23] Martin, “A Sabbath Remains,” 8.
[24] Murray, “Pattern of the Lord’s Day,” 223. See also Gaffin, “Sign of Hope,” 3 (of printout) and his “Westminster and the Sabbath,” 137.

Final Justification, Protestantism, And Wright

I want to continue my series of posts on NT Wright and Reformational issues by focussing in on the matter of final justification. This seems to be one of the teachings many regard as a particularly dangerous part of Wright’s teaching. I already addressed this point in brief in my first post, but I can add a few more comments to strengthen my position.

I think the concerns of many Protestants regarding Wright’s view of final justification according to “the whole life lived” fall into three main categories: (1) his view is not Protestant, (2) his view is not Augustinian, and (3) his view is not Biblical. I will address these in turn.

Is Wright’s view Protestant?

Thankfully, I don’t need to do much work here. My friend Steven Wedgeworth has done it all for me. His survey clearly demonstrates the variety of expression amongst Protestant theologians about this matter, and that clear precedents for Wright’s position lie within that variety. More specifically, from the doctors that Wedgeworth surveys, the following say basically the same thing as Wright (I will append some brief quotes to make this point clear):

  • Martin Bucer
    • In the case of Bucer, Michael Bird provides the clearest testimony, though the post about Witsius below also contains a citation from Bucer.
  • John Diodati
    • “Whereas St. James takes the same word for the approving of man, in a benigne and fatherly judgment, as he is considered in the quality of God’s child, and living in the covenant of grace, as having the two essentiall parts of that covenant joyned together, faith to receive God’s grace and Christ’s benefit, and works to yield him the duties of service and acknowledgement;”
  • Benedict Pictet
    • “for in the first [justification] a sinner is acquitted from guilt, in the second a godly man is distinguished from the ungodly. In the first God imputes the righteousness of Christ ; in the second he pronounces judgment from the gift of holiness bestowed upon us; both these justifications the believer obtains, and therefore it is true that “by works he is justified, and not by faith only.”
  • Herman Witsius
    • “This justification is indeed very different from that other, of which we shall presently treat, wherein the person is absolved from sins, whereof he is really guilty, and which are forgiven him on Christ’s account. In this we are speaking of he is acquitted of sins, which he is not chargeable with, and is declared not to have committed.XXIV. The foundation of this justification can be nothing but inherent holiness and righteousness. For, as it is a declaration concerning a man, as he is in himself: by the regenerating and sanctifying grace of God, so it ought to have for its foundation, that which is found in man himself:He that doth righteousness is righteous, says John, 1 John iii. 7. and Peter says, Acts x.34, 35. “of a truth, I perceive, that in every nation he that feareth him and worketh righteousness is accepted with God.””
  • Edward Polhill
    • “These things evince, that obedience is a condition necessary as to our continuance in a state of justification: nevertheless it is not necessary, that obedience should be perfect as to the evangelical precept; but that it should be such, that the truth of grace which the evangelical condition calls for, may not fail for want of it: “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city,” (Rev. xxii.14.) The first fundamental right to heaven they have by the faith of Christ only: but sincere obedience is necessary that that right may be continued to them: in this sense we may fairly construe that conclusion of St James, “Ye see, then, how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only,” (Jam. ii.24.)”
  • Thomas Goodwin
    • “So then, Paul’s judging according to works, and James his justification by works, are all one, and are alike consistent with Paul’s justification by faith only. For in the same epistle where he argues so strongly for justification by faith without works, as Rom. iii.iv., he in chap. ii. also declares, that ‘he will judge every man according to his works.’ He doth so to the good: ver. 7, ‘To them who, by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for glory, and honour, and immortality, eternal life.’”

In addition to Wedgeworth’s sources, one other deserves note:

  • Westminster Shorter Catechism 38
    • Rich Lusk rightly noted that WSC 38 teaches believers receive an acquittal at the final resurrection; the choice of proof-texts for this point may startle some, too, in that the Westminster divines selected a text about rewards for good works to prove believers would receive this acquittal (Matthew 25:23).

On the other hand, Wedgeworth rightly explains that John Calvin, Francis TurretinJohn PrestonJames Ussher, and Thomas Gataker, William Gouge, and John Downame shy away from speaking of two justifications with the second by works, though Calvin’s position in the Institutes is quite sophisticated and I think comes very close to the one evidenced in the list above. But to the list of reticent theologians we should add Martin Luther, and I would imagine the Lutheran tradition (though I know nothing about the particulars here).

Given Wedgeworth’s work here, I can’t see any reason to say Wright’s view fails the Protestantism test. At most one can say some Protestants disagreed with his view. But they did not excommunicate his predecessors.  As long as the fundamental Protestant concerns were upheld, there was manifestly room for difference on this matter.  And as I showed, Wright certainly sustains those fundamental Protestant positions.

Is Wright’s view Augustinian?

Anecdotally, on several occasions I have seen critics of Wright contend that his position on final justification is semi-Pelagian. Of the three issues I mentioned at the beginning, this one is the easiest to dispatch, I believe. For the charge that Wright’s view of the final judgment implies salvation by merit runs up against the problem of Augustine himself. If anyone was an Augustinian, and not a Pelagian or Semi-Pelagian, when it came to merit, it was the bishop of Hippo. Yet everyone recognizes that he did not teach a Protestant view of justification, i.e., he believed iustificatio referred to the transformative process by which God made us more just, not the verdict in God’s court which declares us so. For Augustine, justification and sanctification basically referred to the same process. But for all that, Augustine’s view of grace rendered it impossible for human beings to stand before God on the basis of merit. My reference to the saint’s saying that “God crowns the works he does in us” hinted at this point. The fact that God is the ultimate source of our good works, as many Protestants have noted, eliminates merit from the good works that those same Protestants affirm that we do. But if the divine origin of our good works eliminates merit in sanctification, then it must also eliminate merit even in final justification.

To put this all a different way: this charge confuses two issues which must remain distinct. The question of the instruments of justification, initial and final, stands beside the question of grace’s relation to merit. These matters remain separable, as Augustine’s own position makes clear.

Is Wright’s view Biblical?

For Protestants, at least in theory, all theologoumena must pass the bar of scripture, or else be discarded. At this point, I don’t wish to defend Wright’s view as biblical (though I believe it is). But I do contend (a) that his position is at least prima facie defensible (it has been defended by otherwise respected evangelical scholars of late e.g., beyond Wright himself, also Simon Gathercole, Mark Seifrid, and Tom Schreiner), and (b) that in light of my responses to the previous two questions, the answer should not be threatening to Protestants if Wright turns out to be correct. It undermines neither their ultimate concerns nor the (non-existent) uniformity of their tradition.

This will probably be my final post, at least for some time, concentrated on NT Wright’s place in Protestantism. I welcome feedback and criticism. I hope, at least, that I’ve provided reason for some critics of Wright to reconsider their problems with his teaching, even if I have failed to convince them of my entire position.

Luther and Wright, Justification and Ecclesiology

Continuing the theme of my TCI post on NT Wright, I would like to address another question many raise regarding the bishop’s new perspective. That is: what does it imply about the application Luther made of Paul’s thought to his own day?

I want to make the case, briefly, that Wright’s view of Paul doesn’t change much vis-à-vis the Reformation issues.

Wright’s critics have charged him with relocating the doctrine of justification from soteriology to ecclesiology. There is one line in What Saint Paul Really Said that certainly gives this impression, but in later works he has clarified his point, and affirmed that what he really means to affirm is a both/and. Justification is about salvation, but also about church.

Many have not noticed, though, that Wright’s affirmation consists with the Reformers. They too affirmed that justification was both about soteriology and ecclesiology (not to mention politics!). As Brad Littlejohn puts it in his summary of Luther’s view of the two kingdoms:

It flows, in short, from the doctrine of justification, with Luther’s famous concept of simul justus et peccator, his conviction that the realm of appearances is very different from the realm of spiritual realities.  Christ reigns mysteriously and invisibly over the kingdom of conscience, and no human authority may dare to interpose itself as the mediator of this rule; it is by faith alone that we participate in this kingdom, so we must not be deceived into identifying it with external works or rituals.  Perhaps better than the terminology of the “two kingdoms” then, the zwei Reiche, is that of the “two governments,” zwei Regimente.  The spiritual government is that by which Christ rules inwardly in the conscience by his Word and Spirit, the realm of grace; the temporal government (weltliche Regimente) is that by which Christ governs all external human affairs by law, in which he works not directly and immediately, but through the larvae, “masks,” of earthly governors and institutions.  Only the elect experience the former; the latter they share in common with the unregenerate.

Luther’s doctrine of justification severed the absolute link between any human institution and divine rule.  This meant, of course, that no ecclesial authority could claim the power to ultimately determine who was saved or lost.  No bishop or Pope could set a divinely authoritative boundary around the community, and include or exclude at his whim. Rather, God alone determined the ultimate shape of his church, and he did this through his Word, received by faith.

As I noted in my previous post, Wright would agree with all of this. But, further, his explanation of Paul’s logic in, e.g., Galatians, requires Luther’s practical conclusion for the Roman Catholic Church of his own day.

Wright explains in What Saint Paul Really Said (p. 122):

When two people share Christian faith, says Paul, they can share table-fellowship, no matter what their ancestry. And all this is based four-square, of course, on the theology of the cross. ‘I am crucified with Christ,’ he writes, ‘nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me’ (2:19-20). The cross has obliterated the privileged distinction that Saul of Tarsus supposed himself to enjoy; the new life he has as Paul the apostle is a life defined, not by his old existence, but solely by the crucified and risen Messiah.

The bishop emphasizes that in Paul’s day a major point of the doctrine was to build a united Jew-Gentile church; but it is just as clear that the logic of Paul’s teaching opposes other possible divisions, beyond those of race. That is, if the unity of the church is based on the new life Christians receive through their initial faith, a life defined solely by the crucified and risen Messiah, then clearly it is impossible for a new human institution to come along and create new rules that will again divide that family.  God has created one badge of membership: faith.  To add to that badge, whether with the Jewish law or a new manmade one, is to offend against the same divine work.

I’m not the first person to notice that something like Wright’s perspective still causes problems for institutions such as the RCC in Luther’s day. Donald Garlington, in his book Studies in the New Perspective on Paul (pp. 14-15) speaks of the implications of his NPP, which is similar to Wright’s:

If I may build upon and extrapolate from Dunn’s remarks, the difference between my version of the NPP and Roman Catholicism revolves just around the relation of tradition to final judgment (justification) by works. If my perception is correct, then what is stake in the latter’s doctrine of judgment is not “good works” in the most generic terms, but a commitment to the Tridentine standards, including such articles of faith as papal infallibility, the mass, the sacraments, the perpetual virginity of Mary, and prayer to the saints. By contrast, the obedience of faith in Paul bypasses all forms of tradition, Jewish, Christian, or otherwise, and focuses fidelity solely and exclusively on Christ. The latter- day justification of the people of God hinges on union with Christ and the observance of all things that he has commanded the church (Matt 28:20), and nothing other than that. In short, what is required for a favorable verdict in the last day is allegiance to Jesus and his law (1 Cor 9:21; Gal 6:2). It is in this regard that the Reformers made a right application of Paul’s denial that justification is not by “works of the law.” That is to say, if justification is not by Jewish tradition, then it is not by church tradition either.

My way of putting the matter would be: insofar as the Roman Church conceived itself as having the power to determine who belonged in the community of God’s people, and who did not, based on its laws and canons in addition to the faith God requires, it was reproducing precisely the Judaizing heresy, though now without any possible claim to Mosaic sanction.

That’s Christmas

What About Honour?

Brett and Kate McKay have concluded a series of posts on the concept and practice of honour in Western civilization, from the Greeks until present day. It’s quite lengthy, and unless you have a whole afternoon or morning to spend, you probably won’t be able to read it in one sitting. But I think it’s worth giving the time, even if spread out.

Manly Honor: Part I — What Is Honor?
Manly Honor: Part II — The Decline of Traditonal Honor in the West, Ancient Greece to the Romantic Period
Manly Honor: Part III — The Victorian Era and the Development of the Stoic-Christian Code of Honor
Manly Honor: Part IV — The Gentlemen and the Roughs: The Collision of Two Honor Codes in the American North
Manly Honor: Part V — Honor in the American South
Manly Honor: Part VI — The Decline of Traditional Honor in the West in the 20th Century
Manly Honor: Part VII — How and Why to Revive Manly Honor in the Twenty-First Century

They begin with honour in the Greeks, noting that even that far back there were two versions of honour: an external performance-based idea, and an internal conscience-based one. These two views have co-existed and worked out in different ways through history. In their last post, they suggest that some social honour code, with correlative social shaming, is highly valuable, and suggest some ways individuals could try to restore this practice, which has largely been abandoned.

At the same time, they don’t present a totally rosy picture of honour. They note throughout their series that there were good and bad sides to the practice of honour, and I would agree with them on that point as well. If as individuals, as the church, or as a culture, we want to restore respect for honour, we need try to preserve the good in the idea without allowing the negatives to return. This may not be easy, but the arguments McKay makes in his last post are convincing enough to me that I think it is worth trying.

It’s also noteworthy that scripture assumes some recognition of honour and shame is right:

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12)

“You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:32)

“He raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts the needy from the ash heap
to make them sit with princes
and inherit a seat of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s,
and on them he has set the world.” (1 Samuel 2:8)

“Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all.” (1 Chronicles 29:12)

“Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.” (Psalm 8:5)

“Honor the Lord with your wealth
and with the firstfruits of all your produce;” (Proverbs 3:9)

“Before destruction a man’s heart is haughty,
but humility comes before honor.” (Proverbs 18:12)

“It is an honor for a man to keep aloof from strife,
but every fool will be quarreling.” (Proverbs 20:3)

“For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Romans 1:21)

“to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life;” (Romans 2:7)

“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” (Romans 12:10)

“But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;” (1 Corinthians 1:27)

“I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers,” (1 Corinthians 6:5)

“Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.” (1 Corinthians 15:34)

“He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” (Colossians 2:15)

“and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.” (Titus 2:8)

“wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.” (Jude 1:13)

Free Doug Moo Course On Romans

I’m excited to announce that the always impressive Biblical Training site has added a course by Dr. Doug Moo of Wheaton College on the book of Romans. The course was recorded during a D.Min graduate seminar at Carolina Graduate School of Divinity, just recently, in May 2012. Click here for the course. Especially noteworthy for this blog will be the fact that Dr. Moo is anti-new perspective on Paul, is complementarian on gender issues, and is one of the best New Testament exegetes that the Reformed world has to offer. (So, his stuff on Romans 8 and 9 will be helpful for the Molinism debates that we’ve been having). Plus, even a formidable critic of Moo like N.T. Wright, has nothing but praise for the man:

Moo is in a different category again. Doug Moo, I would say, is a much greater Pauline scholar than either of the two I just mentioned [D. A. Carson and John Piper]. One of the things I really respect about Doug Moo is that he is constantly grappling with the text. Where he hears the text saying something which is not what his tradition would have said, he will go with the text. I won’t always agree with his exegesis, but there is a relentless scholarly honesty about him which I really tip my hat off to.

For readings for the course, Dr. Moo recommends:

Moo, Douglas J. The Epistle to the Romans. NICNT. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996.

Piper, John. The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007.

Westerholm, Stephen. Understanding Paul: The Early Christian Worldview of the Letter to the Romans. 2d ed. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004.

Wright, N. T. Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2009.

Bruce Winter On 1 Corinthians 7:17-24

I want to engage briefly with an argument regarding 1 Cor 7:17-24 Bruce Winter has put forward in Seek the Welfare of the City. In that text, Paul commends Christians to remain in the calling (Winter argues this should be translated “class”) they were in when they were converted. He then applies this to several specific cases: (1) removing circumcision; (2) becoming circumcised; (3) being released from slavery; and (4) becoming a slave.

Winter’s suggests that general reason Paul opposed changing classes in these cases was that the motive behind doing so was to increase social status. This would imply Paul did not approve of desiring increased social status.

To add a bit more detail to his case (see chapter 8 of the book, “Social Mobility”, for the full case) In the case of removing circumcision, being circumcised was often looked down on by Gentiles, and thus removing all traces of Jewish ancestry could indeed help one to be upwardly mobile. On the matter of becoming circumcised, Winter argues (more specifically in regard to Galatians 6:12, but says it applies here as well) that Gentile Christians could be tempted to do this in order to attain the status of religio licita, which would obviously be an improvement for someone who could not worship the emperor but had no legal exemption from doing so (the precarious position of many Gentile Christians). On being released from slavery, Winter emphasizes that this was a concession, and that Paul also that Christian slaves should not be anxious about their status. On becoming a slave, Winter notes that some forms of slavery available in the Roman empire could actually lead to improvements in status for some free people. He also notes that becoming a slave normally included an act of implicit idolatry, swearing by the genius of the paterfamilias. (more…)

Calvin On Discipline

Brad Littlejohn has an informative post detailing Calvin’s position on church discipline, and quotes heavily from the Reformer’s response to the famous anabaptist Schleitheim Confession. One aspect of Calvin’s teaching I at first had a bit of trouble with was this:

“The debate is over this: they think that wherever this order [excommunication] is not properly constituted, or not duly exercised, no church exists, and it is unlawful for a Christian to receive the Lord’s Supper there. Thus they separate themselves from the churches in which the doctrine of God is purely preached, taking this pretext: that they do not care to participate in the pollution committed therein, because those who ought to be excommunicated have not been banished.

[Edit: I notice that I did not clarify what I meant here. Calvin is obviously summarizing the position of the Anabaptists at this point. My concern was that his implied negation of this view might be seen as unbiblical.]

However, in typical fashion, Calvin both defends his position and nuances it carefully, removing what troubles I had with it. Firstly, he qualifies his point:

“This pollution ought to be eliminated by the discipline of the ban, and the church ought to diligently work, to the best of its ability, to do so . . . but [even the most diligent] never arrive at a point where there still aren’t a large number of unpunished evildoers present. For the malice of hypocrites is often hidden or, at least, is not so well discovered as to permit one to pronounce sentence against it.

“Now I readily acknowledge that discipline also belongs to the substance of the church—if you want to establish it in good order—and when good order is absent, as when the ban is not practiced at all, then the true form of the church is to that extent disfigured. But this is not to say that the church is wholly destroyed and the edifice no longer stands, for it retains the teaching on which the church must be founded.”

And he also defends it:

“Therefore, let us not deceive ourselves by imagining that a perfect church exists in this world, since our Lord Jesus Christ has declared that the kingdom will be like a field in which the good grain is so mixed with weeds that it is often not visible (Matt. 13:24). Again, the kingdom will be like a net in which different kinds of fish are caught (Matt. 13:47). These parables teach us that although we might want an infallible purity in the church and take great pains to achieve it, nevertheless, we will never see the church so pure as not to contain many pollutions.”

In addition to these comments and others, Littlejohn also provides a closing comment which I think is quite important for grasping the logic of Calvin’s position here:

“let us take thought of what we can do. And when we have done what was in our power and duty, if we cannot achieve what we had hoped to and what would have been desirable, let us commend the rest to God that He might put His own hand to it, as it is His work.”

The only qualification I would want to add to Calvin’s outlined position here is that, it seems from several OT and NT texts, that God’s mercy does have a temporal limit on congregations who refuse to exercise appropriate discipline. I discussed this in an old post on this blog. However, once the quote from Calvin immediately above is taken into account, it does not really conflict with this biblical theme. For one can easily understand that these passages reflect churches that were not truly doing “what was in [their] power and duty.” Now, of course, the question will be raised: how much is enough? And I think the answer is hard to provide a priori. But it seems to me the principle would have to be along these lines: if one has Calvin’s principles, and attempts to follow them sincerely, so that especially heinous and public sins are dealt with, but not attempting to punish things not really known or things only in the heart, then you are probably doing “what is in your power”.

A church may for a time fail to do what they are able, and therefore remain a church even while sin persists in the church. I think Calvin’s appeal to NT churches is powerful in proving his position here. Nevertheless, God will eventually remove the lampstand of congregations that do not do what is in their power. They will be revealed to be what, at least many in the congregation (or the clergy of the congregation), really were: people not willing to obey the commands of Jesus that called them to administer discipline. And intentionally and persistently rebelling against the commands of Jesus are a good sign that something is fundamentally wrong with one’s heart, which is another way of saying, it is a good sign that a person is not really in the (invisible) church at all.

The long and short of it is: I think Calvin was profoundly biblical and pastoral on this matter. His ecclesiology remains a well thought out position that needs to be considered again today.

The Ethics of Obscene Speech in Early Christianity

Jeremy F. Hultin’s The Ethics of Obscene Speech in Early Christianity and Its Environment is definitely worthy of the adjective “interesting”, if nothing else. Rather than write a review proper, I want to point out a few noteworthy facts he brings to light, and engage a little bit with his interpretation of Ephesians and Colossians.

Some notes:

1. He notes that the Old Testament itself is basically silent on the ethics of obscene speech. This is not to say that it approved of it, but just that it makes no explicit comment about it. (113-4; 121)

2. At the same time, the OT on the whole is euphemistic. (114) If nothing else, this reflects that the Bible writers would, on the whole, think that obscene language was, well, obscene, and should be avoided.

3. But in addition, Hultin notes that the Talmud in several cases said that certain biblical words should be substituted with more polite terms. (115) In a parallel way, rabbinic literature in some cases suggested replacing statements that were inauspicious: so curses of Israel would be read instead as curses of the enemies of Israel. (116)

4. In keeping with this general sentiment, rabbinic literature often used euphemistic terms. (117)

5. There are, however, exceptions made. Some rabbis said that foul language could be employed towards idols (b. Megillah 25b; 117-118). Some rabbis also suggested that nasty expressions could be used against idolaters and persons of ill fame. (118) (more…)