What Did Jesus Believe about the Bible?

Jesus was very clear as to what He believed about the Holy Scriptures. There are a few principle passages that can be examined to see this. Namely, we will examine John 10 and Matthew 19.

First, Jesus believed the Scripture to be “Unbound and Unbroken” [1] as Kevin DeYoung so aptly puts it. In John 10:35-36 Jesus says that the Scriptures cannot be broken. This is often lost on people, who get distracted by the obscure Psalm Jesus quotes to make the point that He is actually making about His use of His own divine title. Nevertheless, this statement is one of the most powerful in all of Scripture, about, what else but the Scripture itself!

To say that the Scriptures cannot be broken means that when Bart Ehrman goes around telling everyone that God did not preserve His word for us, and that the total body of Scripture we have is somehow flawed, it is not me he argues with, it’s God. That’s probably why Ehrman has been bested in so many debates by Christian apologists on this subject, he is trying to say that Scripture can be broken, when Jesus, the ultimate Author of Scripture, and creator of even Ehrman himself, says otherwise.

The single statement most clearly expressive of Jesus’ view of Scripture however, is Matthew 19:4-5

“Haven’t you read,” He replied, “that He who created them in the beginning made them male and female,” and He also said:

For this reason a man will leave
his father and mother
and be joined to his wife,
and the two will become one flesh?”

Jesus’ answer to the liberal Jews on the issue of divorce is a powerful one, and it hinges on one simple thought, the Scripture is the Word of God. Jesus is quoting Genesis 2, saying that God is the One who gave us those words. Some scholars try to explain this away, saying that Jesus merely conveys His point in a way that His audience will accept, however, as Kevin DeYoung points out, this simply is not consistent with the Jesus we see all over Scripture, he notes,

“And it won’t do to argue that Jesus was simply borrowing the assumptions of his audience to win a hearing. In many other areas–in everything from their nationalistic expectations of the Messiah, to the traditions of the Pharisees, to their treatment of Gentiles and women–Jesus showed himself utterly unconcerned with conforming to the sensitivity of his hearers.” [2]

So, what two things formed Jesus’ view of Scripture? First, that it could not be broken, it would stand forever, untarnished and perfect. Second, that it truly is the Word of God, and therefore, should be treated like it. This must surely be the position of all who follow Christ. Jesus held the Scriptures as the final authority for life and doctrine, and so must we if we are to follow Him.

Soli Deo Gloria

 

[1] Kevin DeYoung Taking God at His Word Crossway 2014

[2] Ibid pg 108

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Thoughts on Calvin’s Spectacles

Calvin’s discussion of the Scripture as “Spectacles” gets at the heart of the issue of world view. In other words, what frames our understanding of the universe? For the Christian, it is the Scriptures. This is why when Jesus was asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” Before saying the famous, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mk 12: 28-31), He first replied in verse 29, “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is One God.” This has baffled many commentators, and usually goes undiscussed. However, Jesus knew that His Jewish audience would have memorized and daily recited the Shemah, Deuteronomy 6:4-9, which reads,

“Listen, Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One.[a] Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them be a symbol[b] on your forehead.[c] Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

In other words, the command, the one that establishes even the two great commands on which the whole law and prophets hinge, is Sola Scriptura. Why? Because the Bible must become the Christian’s whole world view. 

Kevin DeYoung shows us how that plays out practically,
“And yet, if the bible is our final authority–as it surely was for the Bereans–then we must be hesitant to scrub the Bible when it seems to contradict the ‘assured results of science.’ I sympathize with Christians who struggle to reconcile what they hear from scientists and what they see in the Bible about a particular issue. We should not be quick to dismiss these questions. It is possible to read the Bible wrongly. It is possible for the church to miss the mark for a long time. But every Christian should agree that if the Bible teaches one thing, and scientific consensus teaches something else, we will not ditch the Bible.” [1].

In other words, while the findings of science, and the thoughts of philosophers are crucial, and should never be ignored, our ultimate authority is Scripture, and we must follow Scripture on everything on which it speaks. In this way, the Bible becomes our spectacles, because rather than allow our interpretation of science to cloud our judgement of the Scriptures, we make our knowledge of the Bible to shine a light upon all that science has to offer.

Soli Deo Gloria

[1] Kevin DeYoung Taking God at His Word Crossway 2014

Justification by Faith Alone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kevin J. Hughes

12/20/2017

 

One of the earliest voices in Christian history is Clement of Rome. He died in 99 A.D, just as the first century was coming to a close. In his words, “All these therefore, were glorified and magnified, not through themselves or their own works or the righteous actions that they did, but through His will. And so, we, having been called through His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified [dikaioumetha] through ourselves or through our own wisdom or understanding or piety [eusebeias], or works [ergon] that we have done in holiness of heart, but through faith [dia tes pisteos], by which the Almighty God has justified [edikaiosen] all who have existed from the beginning; to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (Clement of Rome, died 99 A.D). In the first few centuries the subject of this very quote is not one that we find discussed thoroughly. [1]However, in today’s Christian church, this is one of the controversial issues, in fact, this very issue sparked the Protestant Reformation, and that still today has been an area of division as well as growth for the body of Christ. At the heart of it, this is a question of how people are made right with God, and there could surely be very little more important for discussion than that. To that end, it can be demonstrated that Justification is a forensic (legal) declaration of righteousness received by faith in Jesus Christ alone.

Before getting too far though, some points should be made clear. First off, this issue is too often oversimplified by people on every side. For instance, Allister McGraths’ work Iustia Dei discusses his own thorough inquiry into this issue from a historical perspective. His conclusion was that there was a “theological novum” within the reformation. However, this idea is often oversimplified to mean that Martin Luther “invented a new doctrine.” As Paul Vendredi for instance claimed in a debate, by stating that Martin Luther invented the doctrine, “while defecating.” The quote above demonstrates that nearly 1500 years before Luther was born there were Christians, those appointed as leaders by the Apostles themselves even, who believed that justification was by faith alone. However, it might be said that Luther gave the doctrine a new emphasis, this was done through the doctrine of imputation, but more on that later. The point is, it is not exactly historically accurate to claim that Luther “invented” the doctrine of justification by faith alone, especially to make this claim along with a crass, and inaccurate remark about defecation that has simply no basis in any scholarly historical source.

For now, it should be said that Vendredi’s comment covers, actually most of the objections to the ideas set fourth in the Protestant Reformation. For instance, Veli-Matti Karkkainen sums up most of the frequent challenges to the idea of justification by faith alone, saying, “If so, the exclusive clinging to one historically, fairly late, formulation should be put in perspective rather than made a measuring stick for all soteriological formulae.” (Karkkainen, 2011, p. 126). This is a fair argument, after all, a great theologian once famously said, “That which is new is rarely ever true.” However, as this document hopes to show, the Reformed and Lutheran understanding of justification is not something “invented” but rather clarified in the 16th century. The purpose of this document will not so much be a demonstration of the historical validity of Sola Fide (Faith alone justification), but rather an exegetical defense. Freed Indeed Ministries has been doing a series called Faith of our Fathers that examines the doctrines held dear by reformed Christians today both exegetically and historically. In that series the historical validity of Justification by faith alone will be the subject of discussion. It would be outside of the scope of this document to cover that issue very deeply however. Iustia Dei, and The God Who Justifies are excellent recourses, and contain a much better analysis of the historical issues involved.

First off, it must be demonstrated what Sola Fide actually means. Too many people seek to defend a doctrine or idea, but because they do not understand it themselves, make all sorts of claims and fallacious arguments that misrepresent their topic, in the hopes of avoiding this, definitions and clarifications are essential. The doctrine is defined by the Westminster shorter catechism thusly; “An act of God’s free grace unto sinners, in which he pardoneth all their sins, accepteth and accounteth their persons righteous in his sight; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them, and received by faith alone” (The Westminster Assembly, 1646-47). Michael Horton points out the important phrase which defines a truly Protestant understanding of Justification, “Not for anything wrought in them or done by them.” (Horton, 2011). This phrase is so important to Horton, and to the clarity of the Reformed position, because it underscores what exactly is being said. As R.C Sproul notes, “It is not the idea that faith in ‘necessary’ that set Luther apart, Rome teaches to this very day that faith is necessary, it is the idea that faith is sufficient…” (R.C. Sproul, 2015). In other words, almost any group that even claims any degree of Christianity would say that faith is necessary, and frankly it is beyond the scope of this present work to discuss the arguments of some Pelagian and Semi-Pelagian groups that assert people can be saved without faith (there are some good resources against ideas of universalism and inclusivism on freedindeedmin.org); yet this would not make someone Protestant, or in line with Protestant theology, to be a Protestant in the classical sense, one would have to understand faith to be sufficient for justification, that is, one would understand that a person is made right with God by faith alone, not faith plus anything. In fact, many people who claim to be Protestant today would not be seen as such by the Reformers, given the fact that they are not teaching the Protestant doctrine of justification.

In other words, the Westminster Catechism is explaining that a sinner is declared righteous before God by a legal declaration. The idea here is what lays the foundation for the doctrine of imputation, but before getting to imputation, it is necessary to discuss the forensic nature of justification. This hits the heart of what justification by faith is. It also sets apart a distinctly Protestant (Lutheran/Reformed) position of Justification from that of any other format, whether Rome, the cults, or even groups that have nothing to do with Christianity. Karkkainen even asserted as much in Justification Five Views, claiming that the idea of deification would be a better bridge builder than justification, since many false religions already have concepts of human deification as a part of their world view (though Michael Horton rightly responds that there is a huge difference between what most religions believe and the Orthodox view of theosis, a view held by Luther, Calvin, and most of the early Reformed Tradition).  In Romans 4:2-5, the Apostle Paul says, “What does the Scripture say? That Abraham believed God and it was credited to him for righteousness. Now to the one who works, pay is not considered a gift, but as something owed. But to the one who does not work but believes on Him who declares the ungodly to be righteous, his faith is credited to him as righteousness.” (emphasis mine). Thus it is clear that justification is by faith, not by works, since what was written was not for Abraham alone, but for all who believe (Romans 4:23-25).

It is even clear from the above quote that Paul makes the same point that Clement makes, but with broader scope. That is to say, Paul quotes Genesis 15:6 to show that in faith righteousness is credited to people, not based on works of righteousness that they perform, but based on them trusting in the work of God. Romans 3:19-25 tells us what work of God that is, namely, the propitiatory sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Paul makes his point in the form of a polemic, in other words, he is setting his sound teaching over and against the false teaching that opposes the gospel. That’s why Paul talks about work, and the fact that if someone works for pay, the pay is owed to them. If a person is working from nine to five, and then receives their paycheck, they would never say, “Thank you so much, you are so generous for paying me the money that you are contractually obligated to give me.” In other words, a manager or boss who gives the rewards which they are contractually obligated to give, can receive no commendation for giving grace. Grace is only grace if it is a free gift, the moment something is added to that, it ceases to be all of grace (Romans 11:6).

One might ask, at this point, “Why does Paul quote Genesis 15:6?” Well, John Calvin may be able to provide the best answer, “As to the word righteousness, we must attend to the meaning of Moses. When he says [of Abraham] that ‘He believed God and it was credited to him for righteousness.’ (Genesis 15:6) He intimates that one is righteous who is reckoned such in the sight of God. Now, since men have not righteousness dwelling in themselves, they receive it by imputation; because God holds their faith as accounted for righteousness. We are therefore said to be ‘justified by faith,” (Romans 3:28; 5:1) not because faith infuses us with some habit or quality, but because we are accepted by God.” Calvin expertly demonstrates that Paul’s point is clear, but that it is simply the clear point Moses had already made. That point is simply this, God declares sinners to be righteous, and He does so apart from works that they perform, but only through the Propiation of Christ.

Jimmy Akins challenges such an understanding, noting that Genesis 15 is not the first place where Abraham displays saving faith (Akin, 2015). After all, chapter 12 already has Abraham leaving home and everything he knows in an act of faith. Akin thus determines that Abraham cannot be being declared just in a Protestant understanding in Genesis 15:6. The problem with this understanding is the fact that Akin does not deal with the possibility that Abraham was justified by faith from throughout his life. Paul says that Abraham believed God and it was credited as righteousness in Romans 4 (quoting Genesis 15:6). He does not say that this was the moment when Abraham received his first or only justification, and it isn’t the Protestant claim that he does. It would seem that Akin doesn’t really understand the historically Protestant position on the passage. He intimates that Protestants are claiming that the passage teaches that Genesis 15 is where Abraham “got saved” so to speak. This however, is not exactly what is being argued. It would be more accurate to say that the Protestant claim is that the basis which the text gives for Abraham’s justification is faith. Not that this text by itself offers the original moment of said faith, but that Abraham was justified by faith, and that alone. Such an understanding would clear up Akins’ difficulty with the passage. In fact, it clears up Akins’ other big justification challenge in the same section of his book. In other words, his claim that justification has a past, present, and future sense. Akins seems under the impression that the “Once for all” view against which he argues cannot comprise this. However, the very title he ascribes, “once for all” implies that there is an element that happens at some point, an element that persists, and an element that is forever. Furthermore, Akins ignores the fact that the word justification is used in different senses to convey different things throughout Scripture (James 2 verses Romans 3-4 for instance). Paul’s clearest exposition of justification however, comes when faced with the first ever heresy, and it comes in the context of putting that heresy to rest, to risk using a cliché, once and for all.

In the book of Galatians, the gospel is shown to be opposed to the sectarian and legalistic view of the first ever heresy, the Judaizers, and thus Galatians becomes the clearest demonstration of justification by faith. The big heresy of the Judaizers was the claim that Gentiles could be saved only by being circumcised and going through the process of becoming a proselyte to the Jewish faith. The Apostle Paul points out that his doctrine of justification prevents this understanding. After all, if Abraham was justified by his faith, then it makes no sense to say that Gentiles have to be justified by their works. A fuller exegetical examination of Galatians, and of the covenants, can be found on Freed Indeed Live. However, this is outside of the scope of this document.

What is not outside of the present scope is to note that James Dunn questions the fact that the topic of Jewish and Gentile relations, which forms the backdrop for Paul’s doctrine of Justification by Faith, is not often discussed when this topic emerges today (Dunn, 2011). His point is an understandable one, it is odd that a doctrine usually expressed with relation to another in Scripture often finds its expression without that framework today, but the truth is that most discussion of this issue doesn’t bare much relation to the issue of Jewish-Gentile fellowship. So, while Paul is using the doctrine of Justification by faith to demonstrate that Jews and Gentiles no longer have a barrier, because the wall of legal observances that separated them are not required for the salvation of the Gentiles, the doctrine of justification doesn’t hinge on this issue, and therefore since that isn’t commonly the issue being dealt with, it would actually be odd, and even needless, if it was brought up in every publication in which the topic was treated.

More importantly, as Michael F. Bird (who agrees with Dunn, and has been influenced greatly by the same “New Perspective on Paul” which drew the above-mentioned remark), notes that the doctrine of forensic justification is a “Necessary implication” of the text (Bird, 2011). In other words, while Bird doesn’t hold to a classically reformed view of imputation, which he says, “Presses legitimate biblical ideas into an illegitimate framework…” (ibid p.145) he can still say that a forensic understanding of justification, or at least a forensic element to an understanding, is necessary. Therefore, while the New Perspective has been helpful in informing and expanding many people’s views, Michael Horton is right to say that it is not the view which, in the final analysis, “Makes the best use of all of the data” (Horton 2011). Since this paper is hardly a polemic, and mainly only intended to present the doctrine of justification accurately, it doesn’t make much sense to discuss the many facets and issues related to the New Perspective, nor to express what is right, and what is off, about many of its theories.

The point of mentioning the aforementioned issue however discussed by Bird and Dunn, is that the idea of justification simply cannot be divorced from a forensic category. While Michael Bird has argued very well that it cannot stop at a legal category (Bird 2011) it doesn’t have to. His point comes down to the fact that justification involves more than just a declaration of righteousness, but that that declaration results in a right relationship with God, and that right relationship is the goal to which justification points. Which is absolutely the truth. However, it seems odd that the context of this statement is Bird explaining why he does not believe in the traditional Protestant view of justification. This seems strange because as Michael Horton, rightly, critiqued Bird, the Reformation view has always contained within itself the idea that Jesus’ righteousness imputed to believers resulted in right relationship with God (Horton 2011). In fact, as Karkkainen notes, Luther’s own view of justification didn’t end with the moment of conversion (as many of his opponents claim). Rather, Luther’s doctrine of the Christian life, and sanctification resembles the doctrine of theosis as taught by the Eastern Orthodox (Karkkainen, 2011). In fact, Luther’s doctrine of theosis is well recorded (Marquart, 2000). John Calvin’s doctrine of sanctification and the Christian life is actually the doctrine of theosis. To discuss Calvin’s theosis would be a topic far too worthy for a couple sentences here. Michael Horton very powerfully explains and discusses the theosis of John Calvin and the first generations of great Reformed theologians in Justification Five Views, but the topic deserves a much fuller treatment elsewhere. Though it would not make sense to discuss the issue of theosis too much in this present work, it would seem the aforementioned presence of the doctrine in both Luther and Calvin should dissuade anyone from making the claim that theosis and Sola Fide are in some way incompatible, which in turn should equally dissuade anyone from the claim that Reformation theology is insufficient for a very high view of sanctification. This point is simply a conflation of categories. It is true that some people have tried to claim Sola Fide as a part of their doctrine, while they were in fact believing that a sinner could simply “come to Jesus” and be saved without any change in their life taking place. This however was thoroughly denounced by Martin Luther, who voiced his disgust with such ideas many times. John Calvin devoted an entire chapter of the Institutes to a refutation of the Libertines. Such ideas are rightly refuted by the Reformers, which should demonstrate that the Reformers had no desire to eliminate sanctification, rather it was their desire to place both sanctification and justification in their proper sphere within the greater context of salvation.

The point is simply the this, the Reformation view has always contained in itself the idea of a vibrant relationship with God, as well as victorious life (see John MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus), for some, even a return to theosis! Therefore, there is simply no reason to charge the doctrine with the ideas that Bird, Dunn, and many Roman Catholic theologians over the years have been tempted to use. Arguments that imply, or outright state that Sola Fide results in a lack of zeal for personal holiness. This couldn’t be farther from the truth, as is testified by the great volume of works by theologians with a deep commitment to Sola Fide and equally deep commitment to sanctification. In fact, many people have found the work of the Puritans with regard to personal holiness to be so powerful and forceful that John Bunyan’s works have been credited with converting more Christians than any other work outside of Scripture, yet their presentation of justification could not have been more clearly Protestant After all, who could read Bunyan, or Owen without seeing a deep and abiding commitment to a Reformed understanding of justification. Anything more on this would be off-topic, but this should show that a forensic understanding of justification does not leave the Reformation teaching of justification open to questions about personal holiness.

Finally, only an idea of imputation, or legal justification can make sense of all of the data. The New Testament is frequently where the battle rages over this doctrine, but many people are surprised to find that the Old Testament actually has a rich and full doctrine of legal status, and imputation, that informs the legal language used by Paul in the New Testament.

One example is Exodus 23:7, “Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent or the righteous, I the Lord will not acquit the guilty.” Dr. James White discusses this verse in The God Who Justifies, noting that it comes in a clearly legal context. The first thing he notes is that it declares a person legally righteous. That is to say, the righteous person in this verse is not a morally perfect man, or even necessarily someone who is without sin before God, they are someone whom the law does not have a charge against. (White, 2001). This shows that at least in some way, shape and form the Old Testament law has a place for legal imputation. That isn’t enough to show the doctrine of Sola Fide by itself, but gives powerful impetus to the idea of a legal imputation of righteousness.

Another text of import is Deuteronomy 25:1, this is the most important one. “If there is a dispute between men, they are to go to court, and the judges will hear their case. They will clear the innocent and condemn the guilty.” The NASB translates “clear” as “justify”. That is to say, the text is claiming that the judge will declare the innocent to be righteous, and will declare condemnation upon the guilty.

The above quoted text of Scripture is important to the topic because it is obvious that the text is not saying that the guilty will be inherently changed, nor that the innocent are inherently changed by this declaration itself. This is a purely forensic declaration. In fact, it is made all the clearer that this is the case when we look at Proverbs 17:15, “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous, both of them alike are an abomination to the Lord.” Again, this is obviously not talking about a declaration that somehow changes the guilty person into an innocent one, or makes the sinner righteous, after all, wouldn’t that be the best thing that a judge could do? That would not be an abomination, if I was a judge, and for every case that came into my courtroom, I could declare them innocent and actually make the crime cease to exist; say they killed someone, if I, by declaring them innocent, brought their victim back to life, and made their heart different so that they were no longer a murderer, then I think I would actually be obligated to do this. So, therefore, this text is clearly talking about a legal declaration.

Now, someone might say, “Yes, but if it is an abomination to declare a sinner just, then wouldn’t that mean Paul contradicted this verse?” The answer is no. Paul only contradicts this verse if someone actually holds to the view that was discussed above, in which God declares them righteous in some fictitious way. However, this is not the biblical doctrine. Ephesians 2:8-10 says, “For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.”

In the context, Paul has just shown that all human beings are sinful by nature, and that sinful nature means that we are naturally separate from God. However, God comes in and does a work that changes everything. That work is regeneration. God comes, changes the sinner’s heart, takes away their heart of stone, giving them a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26), and in that He gives them the faith which justifies. Faith itself is actually a gift, the exercise of which results in justification. In the Ephesians section quoted above, Paul says that God gives faith, and that that faith saves us by grace alone. Then he says that we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus. In other words, because of regeneration we believe in Christ, and we are right with Him, and we live lives that show our love for Him. Which is why on the last day, Jesus will come, and He will declare the just to be righteous, citing their works as an example of their righteousness (See Matthew 25; Revelation 22:21). It isn’t that their works saved them, it is rather that they have been saved by God, and their works have made that salvation manifestly clear, so that on the last day the Lord has as much good to say about the elect as ill to say about the reprobate.

Still, if justification is a legal declaration, then this means that the “ungodly” (Romans 4:4) sinners are declared righteous before God. This seems like a bitter twisting of justice to many people, however, the means by which this is accomplished righteously is found in Romans 3. After Paul gives his diatribe about the sinfulness of the human race (Romans 3:9-18), the Apostle gives hope for how those ungodly sinners that he has just described can be brought into right relationship with God. How does that happen?

“But now, apart from the law, God’s righteousness has been revealed—attested by the Law and the Prophets —that is, God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ.” -Romans 3:21-22

The need of faith, and the forensic nature of the justification that results from faith are important to note. However, the most important factor has only now been examined, the necessary object of faith. The object of faith is Christ Jesus the Lord, and more specifically His propitiating sacrifice on behalf of human beings. This means that the only way a sinner can be justified before God is by placing His trust in Jesus Christ alone, and every sinner who places their trust in Jesus Christ, and not in their works, will in the final analysis enter the kingdom of Heaven.

Believe it or not, this is the point towards which everything else points. Jesus alone is the means of salvation, Jesus alone is the savior, and He has attained our salvation through His atoning sacrifice on behalf of sinners. Therefore, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved (Acts 16:31). It is only the empty hand of faith, the hand that claims no works, and no demand for reward, but humbly admits its sinfulness, that will receive from the Lord justification. Then being declared righteous by the Lord, He will work out His purposes in the one He has saved (Phil 2:12). Therefore, ultimately, it is by believing on the Lord that a person is declared righteous through the blood of the New Covenant that has propitiated the Lord of glory, and because Word has become flesh “For us men and for our salvation”, flesh can now become word through the incarnational power of the Messiah working in those who have been justified by faith alone.

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

Vendredi, P. (2017). Is The Atonement Biblical-Hughes Vs Vendredi. The Orthodox Revolutionary.

Akin, J. (2015). The Drama of Salvation. Catholic Answers.

Bird, M. (2011). Justification Five Views. Inner Varsity Press.

Calvin, J. (n.d.). Commentary on Galatians. Geneva.

Clement of Rome. (died 99 A.D). Epistle to The Corinthians or First Clement. Rome.

Dunn, J. (2011). Justification Five Views. Inner Varsity Press.

Horton, M. (2011). Justification Five Views. Inner Varsity Press.

Karkkainen, V.-M. (2011). Justification Five Views. madison Wi: Inner Varsity Press.

Luther, M. (1515). Christmas Sermon. Wittenberg Germany.

MacArthur, J. (2008). The Gospel According to Jesus. Zondervan.

Marquart, K. E. (2000). Luther and Theosis. Concordia Theological Quarterly, 182-205.

McGrath, A. (2005). Iustia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification, 3rd Edition. New York: Cambridge University Press.

R.C. Sproul. (2015). Justification by Faith Alone: Sola Fide Debated and Defended-R.C Sproul PHD. Luther and the Reformation. Theology Philosophy and Science.

The Westminster Assembly. (1646-47). The Westminster Shorter Catechism. London: The Churches of England and Scotland.

White, J. (2001). The God Who Justifies. Bethany House.

 

[1] Allister McGrath in his book Iustia Dei and Veli-Mati Karkainnen in Justification Five Views have both noted this to be the case. Also in Five Views Michael Horton discusses in more detail the fact that the early church did not discuss this concept thoroughly.

Acts 7 and the Diaconate

 

 

 

 

 

Kevin J. Hughes 10/11/2017

 

 

In Acts 6:1-7 an interesting story takes place. In it we learn of the formation of the Deaconate. That is to say, the Apostles knew that it was not right that they should be taken from the office of prayer and preaching the Word, and so they had the Jerusalem church appoint seven noble, pious men to handle the functions which would have come between them and their sacred office. There is much that we can learn from this important chapter, however, before we can dig deep and understand the important elements of the text, we must first establish the plain meaning, and see the most basic application for those today. In other words, before any text can be examined with depth, so as to see all of the necessary and proper applications that can be made, it must first be shown what is the most immediately visible and necessary application, for, if someone is not pursuing that which is immediately revealed, how can they be expected to follow that which is not as clearly shown? For this reason, this essay will seek to prove that Acts chapter 6 does in fact demonstrate both the need for, and creation of the Deaconate in the most Holy Church of Jesus Christ our Lord. This will be shown by first noting the dissenting opinion and addressing some of the arguments thereof, and then by noting the arguments in favor of the position from the text, and from those who have gone before this generation in faith.

The first step in this discussion must be to discuss the dissenting opinion. This is because, as the Apostle Paul says, it is good that disagreements should arise as they will show who among us is approved. And the wise man affirms that iron sharpens iron. This is why a wise man once told the author of this essay that it is crucial to read broadly, and always challenges the base of study. For instance, asking what Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, etc theologians’ thoughts this author has himself treasured of late. In that spirit of humility, it is crucial to examine the other side, especially if this can be done while addressing the points made by sound teachers who happen to disagree on a detail of the faith. Whenever possible, this is where the particular author of this essay likes to begin, finding the people most sound who disagree with him. Some issues do not afford this opportunity, as some teachings are not held by sound theologians by definition, for instance, someone who rejects the doctrine of election, or of the divinity of Christ, is by nature unsound, and therefore the principle cannot be applied in the same way. However, this issue in-particular offers a wealth of great resources on both sides.

With that in mind, why is it often said that Acts 6 does not form the basis of the modern Deaconate? Well, John Polhill argues that the Greek word for Deacon (diaconos) does not appear in the text (Polhill, 1992 ). This could be because this word technically means servant, and so a similar word with the same Greek root is used, as Polhill himself grants (Ibid). On the face of it this argument seems fair enough, if the word normally used for Deacon—and in fact, the word from which we get the word “Deacon”—does not appear in the text, how can people like John Calvin affirm that it is taught there? Well, there are a couple of things to consider about this argument. First, this if this is the start of the Deaconate than it is by nature the very first appearance of that office. So, it is possible that this office, having never before been, was not yet named at this point. So, while the title of Deacon itself may have come later, the office was here created. This would seem to make sense, given the fact that the Holman Illustrated Bible Commentary—which remains neutral on whether or not the Deaconate was formed in Acts 6—affirms that at the very least, this is the instance in which Christians first discovered the need for separate offices (Various Authors, 2015).

Not only this, but given the fact that Polhill seems, in most ways, to be a sound exegete, the author of this essay finds it hard to believe that he would say that we should not say that God is Trinitarian, though the Words Trinity, One Substance, and Coeternal were all added to the Christian vocabulary later, and none is found in Scripture itself. For as all sound teachers affirm, thought the word Trinity is not used, the concept was taught, and even a cursory examination of history will show that the Christians of Nicea, Calcedon, and the other Ecumenical Councils, did not invent these ideas, but merely clarified their language so as to refute heretics. The concepts they taught were plainly biblical, it was only the words they used to describe them that were new. So, in this instance, though Acts chapter 6 does not use the word Deacon, it certainly teaches the concept. This is affirmed by the aforementioned, neutral, Holman Commentary as well as John MacArthur (MacArthur), who also does not affirm Acts 6 as the creation of the Deaconate. Therefore, though it is not yet using the word Deacon—which would not appear in Acts, but later in the Epistles—it most certainly teaches the concept, a point on which most parties seem to be in agreement.

There is another argument however, this is the one employed by MacArthur in his study Bible (Ibid on Acts 6:2-4). In it, he argues that the Deaconate is not shown here because of two specific men whom the Jerusalem church appointed to this office, Stephen and Philip. Both of whom MacArthur states are shown later to be, “Evangelists and not Deacons.” This argument is rather odd to the author of this essay, who has in his ministry held both of those two offices, having been both a Deacon and Evangelist at the same time, and later a Pastor. It would seem that the office of Deacon, and that of Evangelist are not mutually exclusive offices. Just as being a husband does not negate the possibility of being an office manager, or more relevantly, being a Pastor does not mean one cannot be a Professor at a College, and it most certainly doesn’t mean that one cannot be an evangelist. Now, it should be admitted that this author has never read a MacArthur book, or listened to a sermon by him in which he states that someone can be both a Pastor and Evangelist at the same time, however, given the fact that this is the view held by most, it seems plausible that this is his view. Granting this, it would seem strange if someone could be both the teacher and shepherd of souls, and also an evangelist, yet be incapable of handling the day to day functions that the pastor should not be bound by, and be incapacitated from it. For this reason, it seems strange that MacArthur launches this argument, when in so many ways it seems like the very type of argument he elsewhere rejects. With those arguments out of the way, it is now expedient to examine some proofs of the doctrine of the Deaconate.

Having examined some of the arguments against the thought that Acts 6 is the beginning of the Deaconate, what some reasons to affirm this truth? Well, for starters, it seems to be the plain reading of Acts 6. Look at the text of Acts 6, the Hellenists come to the Apostles over a complaint, one which both Matthew Henry and John Calvin suggest came from old grievances, and the divisions that sadly mark the fallenness of men, even saints (Henry, 1706) (Calvin, 1559). Polhill notes that these grievances may not have arisen because of divisiveness, but rather because of language barrier (Polhill, 1992 ), that is to say, the Hebrews may not have overlooked the Hellenists on purpose, but perhaps there was a language barrier that made the distribution more difficult to manage with such a large and growing Church. It’s hard to say what truly caused the problem, but this author suspects that some of both these points was happening.

In any case, it is less important why the problem arose as it is how the Apostle respond. That is to say, the Apostles do not take charge of the issue themselves. There are two immediate temptations that the wisdom of the Apostles avoids. The first is the temptation to simply abandon the daily distribution. This would have been a grave and horrible mistake. Calvin notes that Satan seems to take a course in which he first causes difficulty for good institutions, then weaves his corruptions into them, then makes noble persons detest such institutions, and finally causes even the righteous to do away with them all together (Calvin, 1559). This pattern is visible throughout church history, but the Apostles wisely head this off at the pass by, as Calvin puts it, “Doing away with the problem without wholly eliminating the institution.” (Calvin 1559 Author’s paraphrase). Note also, the Apostles could have micro-managed the whole affair, but as Calvin (Ibid) and the Pulpit Commentary, both discuss, this would have been unacceptable, for it would have taken them away from the necessary office of preaching, teaching, and prayer. This is important, for the Apostles themselves appointed Pastors (Bishops as they called them) to carry on their work (St. Ignatius, Late First to Early Second Century). This holds great application therefore, as Pastors of churches should not be entangled in the secular affairs related to those churches, for instance, Pastors should not be entangled in the property, the bills, or the maintenance of the church, this is the deacon’s job, pastors, and even lay elders, should be devoted to worship and teaching. Now, this does not excuse churches from having alms, and distribution. As this author has often discussed, it is the duty of the church to provide for her members, and we ought to strive to create a situation in which there are no poor among us. In fact, it was for this very purpose that the office of the Deaconate was made, so that the distribution to and provision for the saints could always be made, yet they would not burden the Apostles themselves, who ought never be drawn from prayer, study, and proclamation of the Sacred Word of Truth (Calvin 1559).

It should be noted that of the sources that are neutral or even opposed to the thought that Acts 6 forms the creation of the Deaconate, most still affirm that this is the beginning of the separation of offices, and the demonstration of the need for the office of Deacon (Various Authors, 2015) (MacArthur). It should also be noted of course, that many of the commentaries which support this idea use this very argument as the catalyst for their reasoning that this is the beginning of said office (Henry, 1706) (Various Authors, 1990). It is also interesting that Calvin, who usually notes opposing views, does not note the opposition to this claim. While this may be an argument from silence, it is still interesting that if the view existed in his day that the office of the Deaconate was not established in Acts 6, he was not aware of it. If in fact the idea did not exist in his day in any form, should this not at least give Christians today pause when considering the theory? After all, as Charles Spurgeon said, “I have come to note that in the main, if an idea is new, it is not true.” (Author paraphrase). So, a plain reading of the text would seem to indicate that a distinction of offices was made at this time, a distinction between the office of the Apostles, which would be carried on by the lesser teaching authority of the Pastorate, and the office of service, and the tasks given to the ones in said office would later be carried on the Deaconate. It would therefore seem strange to conclude anything other than that which Calvin concludes, which is that this is the formation of the office of the Deaconate.

Someone may respond, “But if the office of Deacon is so important, why did the Holy Spirit not simply command the Apostles to call the people to this? Would this not have been easier than the Apostles being forced to respond to the groans of the multitude.” Calvin however anticipates this response most perfectly, and notes that it was actually more perfect that the office should be established in this way than in any other (Calvin 1559). Consider, had the Apostles commanded this upon the people before the need was demonstrated they may not have taken the charge seriously, or understood the gravity of the situation. Had the Apostles simply been shown the need of the Deaconate, there would have been no example for us today of the danger of disobeying this charge. Yet God, in His all wise counsel, allowed trial to befall His people, not to stifle, but to strengthen them. In this way, the people realized the need of the Deaconate, and were thus both ready, and willing to obey. Thus, both the necessity, and the calling of the Deaconate are plainly established in Acts chapter 6.

If this is indeed the case, then it gives Christ’s Church today a firm basis upon which to appoint Deacons, for in doing so, she carries on the work commanded to her by the Apostles themselves, which is tantamount to obeying her Lord. This also means that Pastors should spend their time in study and prayer, and should demonstrate that they are called to office in how they run their homes and hold the office of husband and father (Titus 1:1-10). The tasks of accounting, church maintenance, and most importantly community service and distribution of service and goods to those who are of the household of faith, are extremely important, and these things should never be neglected. In fact, it would seem that our forefathers thought that a church which did neglect such things was not church at all. Nevertheless, these things are the legitimate duty of the Deaconate, and not the Pastorate, and should be done in subjection to the pastor, submission to the Church, but headed immediately by the deacons themselves. And no others. For when this is accomplished the Church carries on the work of her Lord on earth, in the way in which He has commanded, and by use of the means which His Spirit established through the Apostles in the most perfect way that it could have been done. This means that doing so will bring power and authority to Christ’s Church as it always has, and then she will carry the message of Christ to the ends of the earth, and the Lord will return to vindicate and glorify her.

Soli Deo gloria

 

 

 

 

 

References

Calvin, J. (1559). John Calvin Bible Commentary. Geneva.

Henry, M. (1706). Matthew Henry Complete Bible Commentary.

MacArthur, J. (n.d.). MacArthur Study Bible. Santa Clarita California: Grace to You.

Polhill, J. B. (1992 ). The New American Commentary Volume 26 Acts. Nashville: B and H Pblishing.

Various Authors. (1990). The Pulpit Commentary. Hendrickson.

Various Authors. (2015). Holman Illustrated Bible Commentary. Nashville: Belt Publishers.

 

 

 

Superabounding: Paul and the Philippians

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sheryle Hughes 9/16/2017

 

 

Part One

Introduction

Philippians 4:10-23 is the final passage in the book of Philippians. In this letter, Paul is writing a thank you letter to his beloved church in Philippi. Sandwiched by thankfulness and encouragement is a gentle warning regarding the church’s need to maintain their unity—a characteristic that they already have displayed in abundance, despite current problems. The letter to the Philippians shows the apostle treating his sheep with love and tenderness while maintaining the discipline required for growth in Jesus Christ.

Historical-Cultural Context

In the time of the New Testament, Philippi was a military settlement[1] in the Roman province of Macedonia, in what is now the northeastern part of modern Greece. “It was a miniature Rome,”[2] under Roman law and governed militarily. By 30 BC, veteran soldiers had turned their swords into plowshares and farmed the fertile plains. It makes sense, therefore, that Paul “used military terminology when he wrote his epistle to the church of Philippi,”[3] such as in 2:25, when he called Epaphroditus “my fellow soldier.”

The Philippians communicated in Koine Greek, also known as common Greek.[4] Paul, the author of the letter to the Philippians, was at least bilingual. He was born a Roman citizen (Acts 22:25-28) in Tarsus, a city located in what would be southern Turkey today. Paul, a Jew, grew up in Jerusalem, and was educated as a Pharisee, under the tutelage of Gamaliel. (Acts 22:3; Philippians 3:5), so certainly Paul was able to speak and write Hebrew. Gamaliel loved the Greek language and taught it,[5] so Paul would also have been fluent in the language spoken by the Philippians.

During his second missionary journey, while in Troas, Paul had a vision wherein he received the call from God to go to Macedonia (Acts 16:8-10). Once there, Paul visited Philippi and shared the gospel with Lydia. She and her household were the first recorded European converts to Christianity.[6] Later, Paul commanded a demon to leave a girl, and when it did, her owners were enraged, having lost their income. The magistrates threw Paul and Silas into prison, where a great earthquake released the bonds of all the prisoners. The jailor asked how he could be saved and after hearing the gospel, he and his entire household were converted and baptized that very night (Acts 16:19-34).  Paul and Silas were then asked to leave the city.

During his third missionary journey, Paul visited Philippi at least once more (Acts 20:6), but not much is said of what occurred during the short visit or pass-through.

Paul’s letter is dated approximately AD 62.[7] At this time he is in Rome and under house arrest (Acts 28:16-30). Megalomaniacal Nero is the current emperor.[8] Fellow believer Ephaphroditus delivered the letter (Philippians 2:25), likely traveling in part by the well-known via Egnatia, just as Paul also likely did during his second missionary journey.[9][10]

Since the letter was written about a decade after Paul’s initial visit to Philippi,[11] much has transpired in the church of the Philippians. In 1:1, Paul uses words denoting organizational roles: epískopoi (supervisors) and diákonaoi (deacons).[12] Paul seems to have a special affection for this, his first European church, writing the longest thanksgiving of any of his epistles (1:3-11). The passage 4:10-20 contains Paul’s thank-you note to the Philippians. Gratefulness was not only a fruit of a believer but essential in the Macedonian culture.[13]

In v.14, Paul uses business language regarding the Philippians generosity and there is an implication that there may have been a specific account out of which the Philippians used to send funds to Paul.[14] In v.15, Paul addresses his audience as “hymeis Philippēsioi,” or “you Philippians.” [15]The word Philippēsioi is “bad Greek but was what the Roman citizens of Philippi called themselves.”[16] This may indicate both his friendship with this beloved church, as well as his “sensitivity to their local traditions and culture.”[17]

In verse 21, others have sent their greetings, piggybacked onto Paul’s letter. This was common practice at the time because, while there was a postal system in place at this time, the Roman cursus publicus was used exclusively for military and administrative messages.[18]

 

Explanation of the Passage

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity (4:10).

The Greek word Paul uses in v. 10 for “revived” means “to flourish again.”[19] What has flourished again? Their concern, or affections. Throughout this epistle, we see mutual affection between the author and the recipients. In the 4:10-23 passage, Paul uses especially lavish words to describe their reciprocal agápē.  In v. 10, Paul adds, “but you had no opportunity.” The passage does not explicitly state what they lacked the opportunity to do, but given the remainder of the text, we can assume that the Philippians have not had the opportunity to assist him.

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me (4:11-13).

In v. 11, the word “situation” is added for clarification, so the verse reads, “I have learned in whatever, I am to be content.” It is all-encompassing: no matter what happens to him he is content. In v. 12, the word for “know” is not just a knowledge of, but a knowledge gained experientially.[20] Paul can say these things, not just theoretically, but out of experience. He further emphasizes the “whatever” by using words “low” and “abound” which, in the Greek, are words on opposite ends of a comfort continuum, “to humiliate, depress, abase,” [21] versus “superabound, enough and to spare.”[22] He adds even further weight by saying “in any and every.” This is the Greek phrase “pas kai pas,” where pas means all, any, every, the whole, thoroughly.[23] Paul goes on to say that he has “learned the secret of facing…” and then, wanting his readers to make no mistake, he spells out the object: “of facing plenty and hunger [to gorge, fill, or satisfy versus to famish, to crave]”[24] and “abundance and need [superabound versus destitute, fail, suffer].”[25] Only after giving this high definition background does he state, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (v.13). The stunning conclusion is laid out in the dependent clause: it is Jesus Christ who empowers him. The self-reliance of stoicism is crushed. Jesus is much more, and I can do much more “struggling with all the energy that he powerfully works within me” (Colossians 1:29).

Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again (4:14-16).

When Paul tells the Philippēsioi that they shared his trouble, he uses a Greek word that adds relationship to the concept of sharing. Sygkoinōneō adds the additional implication of co-participate, have fellowship with, and be a partaker of.[26] Paul has already stated he has experienced both abundance and need, but in v.14 he is explicit regarding what kind of experiences he shares with the Phillipians: thlipsis—pressure, anguish, trouble, burdens, persecution.[27]

Several times in his letter, Paul encourages the church toward unity. In vv.14-16, he exhorts them with an example of the unity they have already displayed. They have not only shared in the joy, which is easy, but the anguish. They were, in fact, the only church who “entered into partnership with me” (v. 15) in his early evangelism. They already partake in a true partnership: experiential sharing, giving, and receiving.

Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God (4:17-18).

The word epizēteō is used twice in v.17 and can include stronger allusions than our English “seek,” such as to search for intensively, to crave or demand.[28] Even though this letter contains his thank-you note, Paul wants to make it clear that he does not demand or crave help from the Philippians, but he intensively seeks after something else: “the fruit that increases to your credit” (v.17). The word “fruit,” sometimes translated “profit,” is the Greek word karpon, which literally means “fruit.” In that time, “business transactions involved crops,”[29] so it would have been a common term in business affairs.

In v.18, Paul goes on to tell the Philippians that he has “received full payment and more,” again using weighty and expressive words in the Greek. The “more” is again “superabound;”[30]  “full” is pas again, meaning all, any, every, whole;[31] and “well supplied” is replete, cram, satisfy, complete, perfect.[32] He is telling them that he received the gifts sent via Epaphroditus, and he is now not only paid in full but filled to the brim. His cup runneth over.

At the end of v.18, Paul uses language from the Old Testament, the old covenant. While the Philippians were Greek-speaking and -cultured Macedonian Gentiles, to whom the sacrificial system of the old covenant would have been foreign, in the preaching of the gospel Paul would have explained the ceremonies to illuminate the meaning of Christ as the ultimate sacrifice, the Passover lamb, our propitiation. The Old Testament uses a similar phrase that Paul uses in the Greek to state “fragrant offering,” and it is exclusively used to describe offerings that are acceptable to God. Referring to this phrase, John MacArthur states,

The pleasant smell of burning meat signified the sacrifice of obedience, which was pleasing to the Lord. While the costly ritual recognized God’s anger for sin committed, the penitent heart behind the sacrifice made it acceptable. That was far more significant than the sacrifice itself.[33]

Verse 18 goes on to describe “a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.” The Philippēsioi would have clearly understood Paul when he described their gifts using this old covenantal cant. Like Abel’s acceptable offering of a lamb, “the Philippians’ gift was a spiritual sacrifice that pleased God…offered with the correct attitude.”[34]

And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen (4:19-20).

In v.19 Paul uses the same word for “supply” that he did in v.18, meaning to completely satisfy, replete, perfect.[35] God’s provision is never less than perfect, never less than enough. We see the word pas again, for “every,” but a different Greek word for “need” is used here than was used in v.11. This word means requirement, lack, necessity.[36] Philippians 4:19 is a commonly misinterpreted or misapplied verse. Our “needs” are not always genuine needs. But God will supply what he knows to be our legitimate needs. Furthermore, God’s reserves are not limited, as are those of anyone else, but he gives “in proportion to his infinite resources,”[37] as made possible through Christ Jesus.

Reading vv.18-19 together, we see Paul using highly descriptive and visual words to paint a picture of how pleasing their behavior is to God, and obviously to Paul himself, who wants them to be blessed for their acts of kindness and partnership.

Paul glorifies God in v.20, giving him the doxa (praise, worship, dignity, honor)[38] he more than deserves, for as long as he deserves (the twice repeated aiōn: in perpetuity, eternal, forevermore, without end).[39]

Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit (4:21-23).

The conclusion of Paul’s letter includes general greetings from other saints who surround him. In v.21, Paul refers to “Caesar’s household.” These were not likely to be immediate family of Caesar’s, due to the use of the word “household,”[40] but rather those in the civil service directly under Caesar. Since Paul is under house arrest, this most likely refers to the Praetorian Guard in his home, who therefore heard his regular preaching of the gospel (Acts 28:30-31).[41] Thus, additional evidence is provided that the trials suffered by Paul indeed “has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ” (Philippians 1:12-13).

Summary of the Theological Principle

This paper identifies four theological principles in the Philippians 4:10-23 passage: (1) gratitude, (2) sacrificial giving, (3) contentment through Jesus Christ, and (4) unity as evidenced by experiential partnership.

Gratitude

Paul begins his letter to the Philippians with a lengthy thanksgiving to “my God” (1:3), displaying first his gratitude toward his Lord and Savior for them, for their partnership in the gospel with him, for the work God has been doing in them, and for the work that God will continue to do in them until “the day of Jesus Christ” (1:1-11). Secondly, Paul displays his gratitude for his fellow coworkers in the gospel. He uses the word “rejoice” or “rejoiced” nine times in his letter, always in relation to Jesus and the gospel work or with one another. The end of chapter four is specifically a thank-you note to the Philippians.

This principle is just as relevant today as it was to the church at Philippi. Even as believers we spend an inordinate amount of time thinking and talking about our burdens without being grateful both to God and to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul gives us a very gracious example of a thank-you note, filled with vivid and loving language, specifically pointing out the good works shown him by his fellow believers.

Sacrificial Giving

Paul’s thank-you note would not have been possible without the giving. Paul points out that his beloved Philippēsioi would have given him gifts all along, but they had “no opportunity” (v.10). But they shared in his trouble, not only giving sacrificially, but receiving. They gave with the right attitude, for Paul recognizes their gift as a pleasing sacrifice to God.

Today, there are many who need to begin giving—whether by using their talents and skills and time, or financially, both to the church and in assisting our fellow believers. Others give, but not sacrificially. To be a pleasing sacrifice to God, all must give with the right attitude—in humble obedience.

Contentment Through Jesus Christ

The Philippians would have heard all their lives that being content—or for them, stoic—was one of the greatest virtues. However, stoicism glorified the independent self. Paul emphatically states that they could be content in all circumstances, through the strength of Jesus Christ. Paul experienced many extremes during his ministry and could, with great integrity, state “plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (v.12). This was a practical, not simply theoretical principle.

It is a principle that needs to be practical today, as well. Many modern cultures are cultures of complaining, of “first world problems.” We are taught to express ourselves and let our anger and frustrations out. The pursuit of happiness is patriotic. But as Paul taught, we need to be content with what God, in his sovereign mercy and justice has preordained, and that contentment is possible—and only possible­­­­—through Jesus Christ.

Unity as Evidenced by Experiential Partnership

Paul emphasizes unity throughout Philippians, whether directly or by implication. He gives them examples on how they have exemplified unity via their living out experiential sharing—a true partnership between him, them, and God. They have not only shared in his joy but in his trouble (4:14). He gives a gentle warning to Euodia and Syntyche to “agree in the Lord” (v.2), but doesn’t fail to call out their positions as saints, not just as sinners.

The call for unity could not be more relevant today. The Philippian church sounds as if they just needed a nudge to get back on track, while the church today can seem to have been spun while blindfolded. The universal theological principle of church unity expressed by Paul does not mean accepting heresy or having selective blindness towards sin, but calls us to unity in doctrine. Our churches should exemplify Paul’s practical advice for unity that is taught in Philippians—“striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (1:27)—and mirrored in 1 Thessalonians: “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (5:14).

[1] Fant, Clyde E., Reddish, Michael Glenn, eds. 2000. A Guide to biblical Sites in Greece and Turkey. New York: Oxford University Press. 100.

[2] Easton, M.G., ed. 1897. Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Accordance electronic ed. Thomas Nelson. “5761.”

[3] Ibid.

[4] Freedman, David Noel, ed. 2001. Eerdman’s Dictionary of the Bible. Accordance electronic ed. William B. Eerdman Publishing Company. 532-534.

[5] Freedman. 482.

[6] Easton. 4661.

[7] Blue Letter Bible. “Chronology of Acts and the Epistles.” Accessed August 4, 2017, https://www.blueletterbible.org/study/pnt/pnt02.cfm.

[8] Freedman. 960.

[9] Ibid. 376.

[10] Ibid. 1049.

[11] Blue Letter Bible. “Chronology of Acts and the Epistles.” Accessed August 4, 2017, https://www.blueletterbible.org/study/pnt/pnt02.cfm.

[12] Freedman. 1049.

[13] Keener, Craig S., ed. 1993. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP academic. 566.

[14] Keener. 566.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Encyclopedia Britannica, s.v. “Postal System.” Accessed August 4, 2017, https://www.britannica.com/topic/postal-system.

[19] Key Dictionary of the Greek New Testament. 2010. “5463.” Accordance electronic ed.

[20] Ibid. “3608.”

[21] Ibid. “5013.”

[22] Ibid. “4052.”

[23] Ibid. “3956.”

[24] Ibid. “3983.”

[25] Ibid. “5302.”

[26] Ibid. “4790.”

[27] Ibid. “2347.”

[28] Ibid. “1934.”

[29] Keener. 566.

[30] Key Dictionary. “4052.”

[31] Ibid. “3956.”

[32] Ibid. “4137.”

[33] The MacArthur Study Bible, Personal Size, English Standard Version. 2010. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway. 155.

[34] Ibid. 1781.

[35] Key Dictionary. “4137.”

[36] Ibid. “5532.”

[37] The MacArthur Study Bible. 1781.

[38] Key Dictionary. “1391.”

[39] Ibid. “165.”

[40] Clendenen, E. Ray, Howard, Jeremy Royal, eds. 2015. Holman Illustrated Bible Commentary. Nashville, Tennesee: Holman Reference. 1296.

[41] Keener. 567.

How A Psychologist’s Bad Reading of Oedipus Can Help Us To Read Scripture Rightly

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kevin J. Hughes 8/31/2017

 

The study of fiction can teach us much, and can be a great benefit to the Christian walk. Sometimes this is because we can learn truths, or have them made clearer to us at least, through the use of fiction. For instance, J.R.R Tolkien’s novels have been a great help to the author of this paper. Just recently the book titled The Children of Hurin caused an examination of such issues as hubris, the wisdom of seeking counsel, and the importance of not leaning upon one’s own understanding; in ways that would probably not have been achieved any other way. Therefore, to get the most out of literate, it is crucial that we come to understand literary categories. Therefore, it is right to examine how the play Oedipus Rex is a classic example of Aristotelian tragedy, first by examining the concept of Aristotelian tragedy and tragic hero, then by examining Oedipus Rex itself, and finally by looking at the playwright Sophocles to learn about this work which has been called the greatest play of all time (Dr. Yaw Adu-Gyamfi, 2018), (Sewell & Conversi, 2017), (Johnson & Arp, 2018).

First of all, it must be understood what exactly an Aristotelian tragedy is, and what makes a hero or story “tragedy” according to Aristotle, who is widely considered the authority on that subject (Johnson & Arp, 2018). For Aristotle, a tragedy is not properly such without a “tragic hero”. Now, a tragic hero—for Aristotle—is a great, and all-around noble man, who, through no great character flaw of his own, but rather through a mistake, or simple fate, falls from the heights of greatness to the lowest depths of debasement (Aristotle, 384-322 B.C). Therein lies the key to true tragedy. It must follow a hero who is a great man, in Aristotle’s day this meant that the person must be a noble, preferably a king. They must be an all-around “good person” from a human perspective. And, through either fate alone, or perhaps a momentary mistake that was not the result of a flaw, they must be debased. The best tragedies for Aristotle are those in which the “flaw” of the hero is that he is actually so good that he is too good for this world, and as a result is debased before men, only to die and it be revealed that his debasement was because of the wickedness of men who were unworthy for so good a man to live among them (Johnson & Arp, 2018).

This makes Oedipus the classic example of a tragic hero. In Oedipus Rex, the character Oedipus is a king, he is a wise and great man who has liberated the Thebans from the Sphynx, and thus become their king. In a modern context, it might be said that Oedipus is “The Man”, or, “The Boss”, perhaps the “Cat’s Meow”! The point is, this is a great guy, and a true hero for the Theban people. From the perspective of most he is someone who should be imitated. Yet, Oedipus has killed a man on the road to Thebes from Corinth in a scuffle. This was not because he was a bad man, from the perspective of Sophocles, this was simply a tragic mistake, he had a momentary lapse in judgement, and, not really being aware of what he was doing, killed a man. It just so happened that this man was the last king of Thebes, and moreover, was the father of Oedipus. When Oedipus took the kingdom, he was granted the former king’s wife as a gift, thus, he became the husband of his mother.

By the end of the play, the audience sees the downfall of Oedipus, whose wife/mother, Jocasta, commits suicide, and who puts out his own eyes and becomes a vagabond. We learn in the play Oedipus in Colonus what becomes of this great man after his fall. Following him finally through his wonderings with his young daughter. Now, the whole thing becomes clear when we know that the reason Oedipus was on the road is because he has been told by an Oracle that he would be the killer of his father, and would share a bed with his mother. However, Oedipus was adopted by a noble family in Corinth, and had no idea who his true parents were, so in an attempt to escape his fate, he brought it to pass.

This teaches the Greek concept of fatalism, which is to say that human beings cannot escape from their fate, and that, although at times gods may change their minds, once something has been spoken by the mouth of an oracle, it is set in stone and cannot be changed (Editors of Encyclopedia Britanica , 2011), (Rado, 1956). This teaching flies in the face of most modern thought, especially in psychology, where Freudian thought has influenced many to believe they are “masters of their own destiny” (Rado, 1956). This is so true that in his article on Oedipus Rex, for The Psychological Review (Sited above), Charles Rado actually goes as far as to try to read Freudian categories back into Sophocles’ works to make them say the opposite of what they say. This just shows the height of eisegesis that people will apply to any document they claim to treasure in order to make someone who disagrees with them support them.

We may laugh at Rado, but the problem is that many Christians do the same thing that Rado has done to Sophocles, but they do it to God. Where Rado reads Freud into the words of a great poet and thus bastardizes his meaning and completely misunderstands Oedipus, many Christians today read false concepts like “free-will”, “justification by works”, “Conditional election”, and so much more into the Holy Scriptures, thus they misrepresent them as poorly as could be (Dr. James White, 2000).   This use of Sophocles is a classic representation of what Leland Ryken calls the “Reader Response” fallacy (Ryken, 2002), which is a fallacy in which the author’s purpose is not what determines the meaning of a work, but rather the reader’s desire. This is why the author of this paper has often told his friends, colleagues, and counselees that if they can’t get a hermeneutics class, the next best thing is a literature class. This is because you learn the importance of seeking to understand an author’s words as they meant them, over and above using an author to come to a conclusion that is simply what the reader wanted to believe, or already believed. This is part of the great benefit of literature, a good study of literature can help a reader develop the skills to rightly interpret all writing and reading material. Which greatly benefits them in all categories, including coming to conclusions about Scripture that are based on the intent of the authors, not their own sinful hearts.

The truth is, while the psychologists like Rado may not like it very much, Sophocles was a fatalist, who had no place in his philosophical pre-suppositions for free-will, a concept which was mostly invented by Plato, and was carried into Christian thought by platonic philosophers like Justin Martyr. While Justin was not a heretic, in the extreme form, such teachings led to heresies like Pelagianism. That’s the danger of a reader response system. So, if readers do not practice accurate study with works of art like Oedipus then they run the risk of the reader response fallacy when studying Scripture as well. This is always the foul spring from which comes every heresy. Interestingly enough, those psychologists who read their man-centered philosophy back into Oedipus have repeated what heretics like Pelagius did with the Bible. To the point that during the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther actually called the free-will issue the “hinge upon which the entire debate turned.” (Luther, 1525).

So, it’s clear that the play Oedipus Rex is not about “man as the master of his own destiny” as Rado claimed. So, what is the point that is meant to be made? The clear and ever-present point throughout the play is actually the direct opposite of this. Which is what makes this the example that Aristotle actually employed when talking about the genre of tragedy (Taplin & Woodard, 2017). The whole point is that Oedipus could not escape his fate, it was set in stone, and even his attempts to escape it would only bring it upon him. Thus, Sophocles would like to teach his audience to be good little stoics and submit to fate. His point is that if people submit to fate then whether life is well or ill, they can experience it with grit, integrity, and wise resolve. On the flip side, even if we fuss and fight, we will ultimately still succumb to fate, only with much more trial in the process.

With that in mind, we can finally look at the man himself. Who is this man who wrote the play that historians think is perhaps the greatest ever written? Who is this man who Aristotle even uses as his example?

Sophocles was born somewhere around 496 A.D in Colonus—near Athens Greece—and is considered the greatest of the three master playwrights (Taplin & Woodard, 2017). He was involved in thirty of the Athenian playwright competitions, of which he never took less than second place, and took first twenty-six times (ibid), (Johnson & Arp, 2018). This makes him the most successful of any playwright in Greek history. Some of his innovations include the addition of a third actor, thus diversifying the capacity for storytelling (Taplin & Woodard, 2017). The importance of which was even noted by Sophocles’ rival playwright Aeschylus, who adopted the practice in all of his later plays (ibid). Along with this, Sophocles’ choruses were made up of fifteen singers instead of the previous standard of twelve, which, in combination with the power and prestige of his poetic and musical talents, made Sophocles’ plays more beautifully profound than any playwright before or after (ibid). It is impossible to do much more than speculate on the full extent to which these developments actually affected theater. For instance, the addition of a third actor ended up, over time, making the role of the actors much more central to Greek plays than it had previously been, and made the chorus’ role less substantial (Johnson & Arp, 2018), (Taplin & Woodard, 2017). Thus Sophocles, while being the most exquisite and excellent of the ancient playwrights, also ushered in the modern playwright era in a sense, rest assured however, Sophocles would have been shocked by the debasing nature such theater took during the Roman period, and in much of today’s performing arts. For him, plays ought to be moral and profoundly instructive.

Not much is known about his early years. Sophocles’ father was an armor maker, and fairly wealthy, and he was married at least twice, and had three sons about which we have some information, and five others about which nothing is really known (ibid). There are three different narratives of his death, one of which is ridiculous and involves an impossible scenario in which he essentially suffocates himself while trying to recite a line from his play, one of which is unlikely as it states that he died of, “excessive happiness…” after winning his final championship. The final story is the only one that at least sounds reasonable, which is that he died choking on a grape (ibid). So, while not much is known about the personal life of the man, that is probably just how he would have wanted it. What has endured is his great contribution to theater and poetry, of which it’s hard to find a rival for the great philosopher playwright.

Sophocles wrote the play Oedipus Rex in the hopes of teaching people to submit to their fate, and to bear this with grace. A lesson which made his play the example which Aristotle would use to exemplify the tragic hero, thus Oedipus Rex is literally immortalized as the classic tragedy, and that by the authority on tragedy himself. However, it would be remiss to fail to mention that early Christians saw the value of this message from philosophy, only changing it slightly. The Apostle Paul has a similarly stoic message to the Philippian Church in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things…” See, the context is that Paul is saying that he has been in hunger, and in plenty, he has been in suffering and joy, he has discovered the secret of contentment. Something that every stoic would be following with great joy, but then Paul hits them with a curve ball, “through Christ who strengthens me.” Wow. Don’t miss the significance. Paul now breaks the pride of stoicism, “it is not by my great power” he says, “that I overcome, but rather by the blood and grace of Christ.” So, Christian, God is sovereign, and though we should never hold to a hard fatalism, we should submit to his will and live according to His law, promises, and gospel. But we do all things with contentment, not in our own strength, but in the power that He wonderously works within us.

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

Aristotle. (384-322 B.C). Poetics of Aristotle. Ohio.edu.

Dr. James White. (2000). The Potter’s Freedom . Calvary Press.

Dr. Yaw Adu-Gyamfi. (2018). Oedipus Rex. Class Presentations: English 102. Lynchburg VA: Liberty University.

Editors of Encyclopedia Britanica . (2011). Oedipus Rex. Brtanica.

Johnson, G., & Arp, T. R. (2018). Perrine’s Liturature. Boston Ma: Cengage .

Luther, M. (1525). The Bondage of The Will.

Rado, C. (1956). Oedipus The King, an Interpretation. Psychoanalytic Review .

Ryken, L. (2002). The Word of God in English. Wheaton Il: Crossway.

Sewell, R., & Conversi, L. (2017). Tragedy . Britanica.

Sophocles. (n.d.). Oedipus in Colonus.

Sophocles. (n.d.). Oedipus Rex.

Taplin, O., & Woodard, T. M. (2017). Sophocles. Britanica.

 

 

Wycliffe The Heretic and Hus the Martyr

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kevin J. Hughes 8/20/2017

Throughout the history of the Christian church there have been many movements that wanted to reform the church of Christ, to bring her into a deeper fellowship with Christ. Some of these movements were heretical in nature and had to be defeated by Christ’s true church, these God used to bring about reform through the solidification of His church’s doctrinal stance. For instance, the Arian heresy strengthened the true Church’s commitment to sound teaching on the Trinity. Other movements have been great movements of God, genuine men of faith who for the joy that was set before them endured the cross, and have gone on to their reward in glory. Men and women of faith and devotion, who, for a love of Christ and His church have stood firm, often even unto death, for the sake of truth. One of the most fruitful things about church history is being able to study such great movements of God. Therefore, let us take a closer look at two men, and the movements they were used for, and learn from them about both sides of how God has brought about reformation, these two men are John Wycliffe and Jan Hus.

The first person that will be under discussion here is John Wycliffe. Wycliffe is often called the “Morning star of the reformation.” This is because in a lot of ways his theology has some cross-over with protestant theology. For instance, Wycliffe was an educated man who made the first English Bible translation (Gonzalez, 2010) (Connolly), Wycliffe believed that the church at large was in need of moral reform, and in this way was quite a bit similar to a true saint and pre-reformer, Girolomo Savanarola. Wycliffe also believed in some sound doctrines like predestination (Sprinka, 2016). Wycliffe also had an understanding of the church (in part because of his understanding of election) that challenged nominalism (ibid), this understanding was that the institutional church was all professing Christians, but the invisible church, was the world-wide body of God’s elect in every place (Gonzalez, 2010). This understanding certainly mirrors some of later protestant thought on the subject, but could hardly be credited with Wycliffe originally since such teachings existed in past generations, especially among such thinkers as Irenaeus of Lyons, Ignatius of Antioch, and Clement of Rome who very clearly distinguished between real conversion and that in name only, often exhorting converts to be in submission to the church as is right for saints. It should also be noted that some positive things definitely did get accomplished by the life and work of John Wycliffe.

Some of the important accomplishes of Wycliffe include the aforementioned English Bible translation. Now, this was not a translation from the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts, it would not be until William Tyndale that the church would gain this treasure. This was taken from the Latin Vulgate. Wycliffe did not know Greek or Hebrew, and seems to have had no interest. He did not seem to believe that anything could be gained by a knowledge of biblical language, but was perfectly satisfied to be without such knowledge (Reeves, 2014). Still however, having an English Bible was a huge step for the Church in England, and gave many lay people access to the Bible that was previously unknown to them, which should not be understated. Wycliffe was also the primary founder of the Lollard movement. Lollard means something close to “mumbler” and could have been a derogatory term for the people in the movement (Gonzalez, 2010), or simply could have come from the fact that these were lay people, who were reading in a vulgar tongue instead of the Ecclesiastical Latin that people were used to hearing (Reeves, 2014). So, in a world where people didn’t usually read the Bible to themselves, those who did so may have sounded like “Mumblers” to some people. It’s really impossible to say exactly where the name comes from (ibid). In addition to this, Wycliffe was a big part of reforming the English understanding of Church and State relations in a more biblical direction (Connolly). Despite this, some historians do have some issues to bring to the table with regard to Wycliffe.

Wycliffe could not really be called a pre-reformer or pre-curser to Protestantism in any respect. For, although he certainly did hold the Bible to be the central authority for Christian theology (Connolly) (Sprinka, 2016), he never actually reaches the conclusion of a Cyril of Jerusalem, Irenaeus, Luther, or Calvin with regard to the Scriptures (Reeves, 2014). That is to say that Wycliffe never comes to the conclusion that the Scriptures are the sole infallible rule of faith, and are sufficient to make one complete for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16). Wycliffe therefore never believed in Sola Scriptura. Despite his push to get back to the Bible, Wycliffe had a very Mideval understanding of his doctrine that would not be able to recognized in a Luther or Calvin (Reeves, 2014).

This is the least concerning thing about Wycliffe ultimately. Wycliffe believed in “mortal sin” and openly stated a belief that saints could not have full assurance in this life. (Reeves, 2014) He therefore believed in an unsure perseverance. This places him in the semi-Pelagian to Pelagian category of theology so ably defeated by Augustine (Gonzalez, 2010). This means that Wycliffe is indeed a heretic according to historic protestant theology, for in the Canons of Dort such a teaching was condemned as a rehashing of Pelagianism. Along with this, he preached that priests who had fallen into sin could no longer be considered valid priests. Wycliffe wasn’t extreme on this position, but did in this way echo the Donatists more closely than such a movement should be echoed. Wycliffe’s Lollards also had no central or unifying theology, and later history shows that many of them were little more than disingenuous rabble who were getting together, not for pious study of Scripture, but for schismatic plotting against the crown, which manifested itself in many seditious and even violent plots. Including the Oldcastle revolt (Reeves, 2014). For all these reasons and more, Wycliffe should not be called the “Morning Star” of anything, and despite all the good for which the Lord used the man, he should be remembered as what he was. A heretic who preached a different gospel, and therefore was accursed (Galatians 1:8-9).

However, as we conclude examining Wycliffe, it seems only reasonable that we should turn now to a genuine hero who was a man of great grace and mightily used in the hand of a Holy God.

Jan Hus is often called the “Bohemian Reformer” (Reeves, Jan Hus, 2014). This is fitting, Hus was a preacher, an academic, a genuine forerunner to the reformation, and a true martyr for Christ and His bride the church.

Hus’ name comes from his hometown of Husinec, which means “Goosetown” and his name essentially means “Jan the Goose”.

Jan Hus initially entered the priesthood, in his own words, not because he had some desire for piety or because of a conviction to shepherd people, but rather, out of a desire for fame and fortune (Ibid). While in the University of Prague he became a rising star.

In large part, this was because of a growing rivalry between the Czech nationals and the German elites. Despite the fact that the student body was fifty percent or more Czeck, the faculty was sometimes as much as three-to-one German (Ibid). This led to growth of animosity, especially as growing nationalist movements were gaining traction in Bohemia.

Because of his growing prestige Hus was appointed the pastor of Bethlehem Chapel in Prague, while continuing to study for his doctorate, which he was never able to finish (Ibid). He was also appointed as the dean of philosophy there (Sprinka, 2016). Hus now showed a radically different persona, having been clearly converted by the power of God, Hus preached the gospel to the people of Prague, and his sermons became very popular. Crowds would flock to hear him preach with power in their native tongue. Jan Hus began to embody everything for which the Czecks had begun to hope! He became a beacon for his people in a time of great need. Over time, this began to attract attention from the papacy in particular.

Hus might have been dealt with more forcefully had the papacy not at this time been in the midst of a horrendous schism, in which there were rival claimants to the Papal throne. For years the papacy had been holding court at Avignon France, and had been puppets of the French King. However, largely due to the work of a woman reformer who fought to end the years of absentee popery, the papacy elected an Italian bishop, seemingly rightly. However, after they had been alienated by his policies—it should be noted that in many cases he was in the right—the French cardinals declared the election invalid on the basis of some rowdiness of Italian laity (Reeves & , The Papal Schism, 2014) (Gonzalez, 2010). Interestingly, they seemed to forget that not long prior to their schism they had stood in favor of the new pope without complaints that arose only after disagreements with him. This wasn’t as simple an issue as it may seem, the Cardinals who moved to Avignon and set up a new papacy—which continued the policy of puppetry under the French crown—represented a continuation with the past, considering they were all appointed before the schism, whereas the pope in Rome was a non-absentee bishop and had a more legitimate claim to the throne. By the time Hus’ reforms were really swinging, a council had been called at Pisa which had denounced both popes and established a third claimant, but when neither of the other two stepped down, there were three popes with claim to the throne, each had many seemingly good arguments why they were in face the legitimate heir (Reeves & , The Papal Schism, 2014) (Gonzalez, 2010).

All that for another day, but all of that is important because while the three popes were clashing with one another, they didn’t have the resources to stop the work of Jan Hus. During the time that Hus was teaching at Bethlehem Chapel, the writings of Wycliff made their way into Bohemia through the wife of the King of England, who was herself a Bohemian Hussite (though that name was not being used as of yet).

Hus affirmed much of what Wycliffe had to say with regard to the need to get back to the Bible. Hus rejected Wycliffe’s teaching on the Lord’s Supper, and objected to many of his other points. Hus was never a staunch defender of Wycliffe, but unlike Wycliffe held to a protestant style theology. Later, many of his followers called Moravians would come close to joining German Lutheranism, and would ultimately become a strengthening force within the Calvinistic reformed movement that was soon to come, much like the Waldenses, who joined the Presbyterian movement, and are still strong Presbyterians to this day. Hus’ theology would also greatly impact a German monk one-hundred years later, in whom Hus’ dreams of reformation finally came true, Martin Luther.

Hus denied Wycliffe’s heresies while still preaching the historic doctrines of biblical Christianity, he taught about predestination and justification more clearly than Wycliffe (Sprinka, 2016), and in truly sound terms that would be echoed by later reformers. On the other hand, his teaching against the indulgences would be almost verbatim used by Luther. Both of them actually said—word for word I might add—“if the pope has the ability to open up purgatory and let souls out, why does he not do this out of Christian love, and not for money?” In other words, both Hus and Luther point to the seeming, “Spiritual extortion” being committed by the papacy (Reeves, Jan Hus, 2014). Hus was still essentially a Catholic, but very much an Augustinian Catholic, and his teachings can be clearly seen repeated in Luther. It should be noted that Luther actually called himself a Hussite at Leipzig (ibid). By contrast, Luther never even quoted Wycliffe.

There was a riot in Bohemia at one point, and some of Huss’ material was quoted by people calling themselves “Hussites”. When the rebellion was put down violently, and the rioters beheaded, Hus renounced his teaching position, saying that he did not want blood to be shed on his behalf. Like when Jesus called Peter to put up his sword, so too, this servant of Jesus also called for peace so long as he was alive to do so (Reeves, Jan Hus, 2014). However, this only increased his fame and influence, as he would now go from town to town preaching the gospel, like the first Apostles when sent out by Jesus in bands of two. Hus preached all through the countryside of Bohemia and won many converts to Christ, as well as strengthening the conviction of others.

Hus was eventually called to the Council of Constance under the auspices of a safe conduct by emperor Sigismund—one of history’s most vile imposters of the Christian faith—who did not honor the safe conduct, and who had issued it under false pretense, given the fact that when it arrived at Constance, it was incomplete and only afforded a one-way safe conduct. This means that Hus had only been considered safe on his way to the council. He was not granted safe passage home. It was likely to avoid a repetition of the shame that this brought to the crown that Charles V did honor the safe haven of Luther one-hundred years later.

The great Bohemian saint was tried unjustly and condemned on charges of heresy without being given the benefit of offering a defense. This is an event lamented by both many Catholics and Protestants today. Towards the end, realizing that he could have no justice on earth, the Bohemian reformer commended his righteous soul to Jesus, whom He could trust to give him a fair trial, for though all men may be liars, God is still true. Hus joined the great host of Christ’s triumphant church in Heaven on July 6, 1415, thus was the great saint of Bohemia called to His eternal Sabbath rest in Christ, who, though condemned to the steak by men, was spared the fires of God’s wrath by Christ.

After his death, the people of Bohemia, now called Hussites, banded together, they formed a great movement that threw the German governance out of Bohemia and formed their own free nation. The great military force that they established shocked the world by defeating the armies of Europe, whom the papacy had sent in a crusade against Hussitism. This crusade was utterly unsuccessful, and in fact led to many of Hus’ reforms being implemented. For instance, prior to Hus, the Catholic church withheld the cup from the laity, believing it too holy for any but the priests, but after several bloody defeats from the Hussites in battle, the Catholic Church actually recognized that it needed to make amends, and some reforms succeeded.

Unfortunately, a segment of the Hussites later broke off, becoming known as Taborites (Gonzalez, 2010). This was recognized by both Hussites and Catholics as a false church, and because of their sinful, licentious living, false doctrine, apocalyptic obsessions, and other serious issues, the Taborites eventually disappeared (Reeves Jan Hus 2014). However, Bohemia has been called the first protestant nation. The work of Hus may have been forgotten to history, if not for the fact that one-hundred years later his dream of a reformed church became reality.

May our fallen brother rest in peace, and may we delight to see him when we join him there, or when he comes to escort His Lord to the earth that forsook him.

Soli Deo Gloria

 

References

Canons of Dort. (n.d.).

Clement of Rome. (n.d.). Epistle to the Corinthians.

Connolly, K. (n.d.). Pilgrim Footprints. International Baptist Missions.

Gonzalez, J. (2010). The Story of Christianity. Harper Collins.

Ignatius of Antioch. (n.d.). Epistles to the Churches.

Irenaeus of Lyons. (n.d.). The Demonstration of the Apostles Doctrine.

Reeves, R. (2014). Jan Hus. Church History for Everyone.

Reeves, R. (2014). John Wycliffe. Church History for Everyone.

Reeves, R., & . (2014). The Papal Schism. Church History for Everyone.

Sprinka, M. (2016). Jan Hus: Bohemian Religious Leader. Britanica.

 

 

 

 

Examining John Donne

Kevin J. Hughes 8/8/2017

 

Batter my heart, three-personed God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurped town to another due,
Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betrothed unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me

-John Donne

I think it is important that Christians remember that we stand on the backs of giants. This is why I would like to dedicate some blog space every once in a while to examining some of these great men of old. Today, that person is John Donne, and how better to discuss a poet, than to analyze one of his greatest works. If you’ve never really studied poetry then please, take the time to read this and learn how you can be greatly blessed by poetry. If you already love poetry, then please, be blessed by this examination of one of the truly great poems of history.

Sometimes poetry, like all forms of literature, can be essentially just for fun, something to pass the time. At other times, poetry is a powerful vehicle that transports us into the heart of the author and helps to capture a truth, message, or story, and convey it with more force than ordinary language could. In fact, this is what Perrine’s loosely defines poetry as, “a kind of language that says more and says it more intensely than does ordinary language.” (Johnson & Arp, 2012). One of the greatest and most powerful examples of this is the poem Batter My Heart Three-Personned God by John Donne. This work is a powerful masterpiece conveying the author’s wish that the God of Heaven would subdue his sinful heart and bring him into conformity with Christ, and is verily the cry of every genuine Christian’s heart (as well as the first cry of the newly Christian). The poem also acknowledges certain truths about the salvation of man and God’s sovereignty, and aids the conveyance of those points through the use of its poetic formula.
1. Meaning and Message
The first step in analyzing any great work of art is to understand its meaning. Certainly, this is especially true of a true masterpiece. We must understand the message of Batter My Heart Three-Personed God so that we can truly appreciate it as more than just beautiful words. First, the poem calls upon the God of Heaven, the “Three Personed God” of the Trinity. This should not be overlooked or passed over. Donne has a powerful way of showing that He addresses the true God, describing Him as both “three-personed,” and as “God”. In other words, using the term “three” for the persons, but a singular term for God, making them one essence or substance. In this Donne echoes the great history of the Christian confessions, “Hence then, it is evident that the Father is not the Son, nor the Son the Father, and likewise the Holy Spirit is neither the Father, nor the Son. Nevertheless, these persons thus distinguished are not divided, nor intermixed… They are Three, co-eternal and co-essential.” In other words, just as the Belchic Confession teaches Nicene faith through the statement that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three yet, one, so in Donne’s poem the “Three Personed” one is also One being called
“God” in singular. And before you suppose that the author of this paper has taken this too far, it would be noteworthy to consider the fact that Donne was an Anglican minister which would make him very conscientious of the history and Scripture behind such words (these things being exceedingly central to the Theology of Anglicanism).
The poem continues by describing God knocking, breathing, shining, and mending the narrator. This is a powerful discussion of salvation. Donne makes reference here to many Scriptures. His perspective is clearly that of a committed Anglican. Since John Calvin’s Reformed Theology forms the backbone of historic Anglican theology, it seems difficult to assume that Donne, who was a successful champion of Anglicanism, would not be drawing for us a powerful picture of God’s work. Donne does not portray a weak Jesus standing at a door without a knob, rather, he shows us a Jesus who in knocking and even simply in breathing is shining, mending, and breaking, blowing, burning, and finally, making new.

For John Donne, theology isn’t a man centered endeavor, and our prayers are not just expressions of our own desires thrown at God. Rather, Donne is acknowledging in every line the Sovereign Majesty of a Holy God. “For You as yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend; that I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.” These words teach us of the power of God in salvation. That if a person is saved it is not because they “pray the sinner’s prayer,” or “make a faith commitment” or some other nonsense. Rather, it is because they have been chosen from eternity past, sought out, regenerated, and given new life in Christ by the Spirit of God (Romans 8:28-29; 9:14-24; Ephesians 1:4-13; 2:1-9). For John Donne, it is God who breaks with forceful hand, and it is God who burns in the fire and bends to the breaking, yet this all so that it is God who mends. As Donne says in another place, “Therefore, that He may rise the Lord throws down.”
In fact, Donne goes on to break the pride of the sinful and carnal man with his sound theology, “I,” the one who now writes to you, the great preacher and minister, the one who even regenerate still struggles with so very much, “I, like an usurped town to another due, labor to admit You, but oh to no end.” This part of the poem describes the deplorable condition of man. Even the saved man, who now because of His regenerate heart, seeks after the Lord of His salvation, nevertheless still struggles with the sinful depravity of his old man. Saint Augustine famously came to see this as two wills that exist in the Christian, a literal old and new man constantly warring. Donne is clearly hearkening to his forefathers, including the great Apostle Paul, who said, toward the end of his life, “For I do not understand what I am doing, because I do not practice
what I want to do, but do what I hate.” (Romans 7:15). John Donne powerfully reveals what Saint John of the Cross called “The dark night of the soul.” In his book by that very title. It’s the experience of the true believer who, longing to know and love God fully, still finds in his heart the presence of the sin whose power in him has died the day that God, by His almighty hand, saved them.
Donne continues by expressing that his reasoning powers should suffice to show him the
“viceroy” or sovereign Lordship of God. In this, Donne expresses the same truth found in
Romans 1:18-25, that thought all of nature, and even our own consciousness screams at us to worship God, we yet rebel. This holds true even in the heart of the saved, for though we war against the sinful flesh, we still find that what we war against is our very nature, a nature which is fallen and evil, and needs the healing of the almighty more and more. Therefore, the difference between a saved and lost man is often only that a saved man is crying out for mercy and grace of victory from the God of his salvation, where a lost man at best cries the tears of regretting his folly for the punishment it brings him.
Yet Donne shows fourth that he loves God, for God has placed that love in his heart (1 John 4:19). Though his reason and heart may oft prove untrue, the saved man truly does love the Lord his God, and laments for the sin that still remains. Donne pleads with the Lord asking that he be loved though he is “betrothed” to God’s enemy. Thus he shows the power of sin and death that reigns in the lives of the lost, and that must be fought against in the lives of the saved. At this point the sonnet reaches a sort of climactic Christophony as Donne expresses the fact that apart from the Sovereign grace of God there is no hope. “Except You enthrall me [i.e. make me Your slave], never shall be free, nor chaste [pure and untainted] except You ravish me.” Now that we have examined Donne’s message, we can examine some of the tools he uses to get that message across with power.

2. Tools
John Donne skillfully uses a host of tools to get his message across with the force of a great typhoon. He uses imagery in such places as, “For You as yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend, that I may rise and stand…” Or “O’erthrow me and bend, Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.” Donne isn’t saying that God will physically pick us up and snap us in two like a pencil (though He could and would if it was for the good of His elect and glory of His person), but rather using the imagery of our burning, being broken, bruised, crushed, and bent and overthrown; to show fourth the power of God, and the wonder of how God works and operates. He creates through all of this an image, a picture for us of Jesus Christ powerfully claiming and saving His elect for glory. The passionate ending is perhaps one of the great examples of imagery, as Donne pictures the church as a woman who is made pure by the Lord’s ravishing of her, and as a man who is made free by being enslaved.
In a similar way Donne drawn a conceptualized link between the union of an unsaved person with Satan as a marriage. And pleads with the Lord to divorce him from this union. In other words, to fully and completely make it null and void, so that Donne is free to be enslaved and ravished by the Lord.

Irony is another powerful tool used in the beginning and end of the poem to great advantage. For instance, once a person is ravished they are usually no longer considered “chaste” but in Donne’s poem, the chaste one is that one who has already been ravished, and the free one is the slave. Truly though, in any and every way, this poem expresses more with each and every word than could be expressed any other way. Time would fail to tell all that this poem uses, and accomplishes by that use. It is however, advantageous to look at whom exactly the poem speaks of and through.
3. Narrator
The subject of the poem is unmistakably God, He is the One being addressed, sought, and plead with. However, the narrator may not be as clear to the first time examiner of the poem. It could be said that this poem speaks from the heart of every Christian, or the new convert, or even a lost person about to repent, with the sin still freshly brought to conviction. All of these would actually be true, and all of them are easily seen in the poem.

However, sometimes when seeing such lofty things, the forest gets lost in the trees. This poem is narrated by someone, and though there are a wide variety who could place themselves in his shoes, there is still but one narrator. So, we therefore must discern who he is correct? The narrator is none other than John Donne himself, this poem is able to capture so powerfully the perspectives of all of these people, because as any saved person can tell you, they all meet in one. And for John Donne, this poem is an expression of how they have all met in him.

This sonnet powerfully launches us into the heart of Donne and gives us a glimpse at his inner desire for holiness of heart and life. Which resonates with any believer, even if they may not share some of Donne’s other expressed convictions in the poem, anyone who believes the gospel knows that inner experience of John Donne.
The life of John Donne is a glorious study, which will help us to understand this poem more fully, by understanding the narrator of it. He was raised Roman Catholic, and was even tutored by Jesuit priests. But when his brother died he began to question his faith. He lived a life of sin for a time, but then became convicted of the gospel of Jesus, and forsook his follies. He began to write tracts against the Roman Catholic heresies, and even encouraged Catholics to submit to protestant King James I of England (VI of Scotland). This brought him favor with the king and he was ordained as a minister against his own will. Donne would eventually become the royal chaplain and became
one of the most skilled apologists and poets. Still today John Donne is considered one of the foremost ministers of his time, which would make him truly a giant in the faith considering some of his contemporaries.
All in all, this portrait helps us to frame a picture of a man who sought to glorify God in all that he was and did. This is artfully expressed in A Hymn to God, My God, in My Sickness. A poem which Donne wrote about the desire of his heart to give God glory even in death, and then to be with God, and to leave this vile world behind. But the powerful sonnet Batter My Heart Three-Personed God truly and powerfully expresses the longing of the heart of a man who has gone on to his reward. A man who would only seek one pearl of great price, would know it, and would love that sweet salvation. This poem powerfully shows us what a man after God’s own heart says in the night seasons.
John Donne’s sonnet Batter My Heart Three-Personed God is a powerful demonstration of the glory of God and the gospel of God. It shows us the inner workings of the soul in the man of faith. Drives us to the pinnacle to see the work of God in transforming hearts of stone into hearts of flesh, powerfully illuminates the sinfulness of man, and shows God remedying this. The poem does this artfully through the use of many literary tools, including but not limited to, imagery, irony, and conceptualization. Finally, Donne himself gives us the portrait of a man who suffered much in life, and who loved much, the portrait of a man who loved the Lord his God, and who in all things would cry, “I love You and would be loved fain.”
Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

References
Christian Truths Summarized: The Creeds and Reformed Confessions; The Belchic Confession.
(201). Reformed Union Church.
Donne, J. (n.d.). Hymn to God, My God, in My Sickness.
Johnson, G., & Arp, T. R. (2012). Perrine’s Liturature. Boston Ma: Cengage Learning.

The Canon of Scripture Revisited

Those who have been following us for a long time might remember that a few years ago I preached a sermon that was transcribed into an article on here titled The Bible Stands Alone. In truth, my views have not changed, but only deepened on the subject. However, this added depth made it seem necessary to me to do something on the subject for the blog. An assignment in my Church History class gave me just that opportunity, and the result is below. For those interested, I’ve covered this topic in much greater detail in a series on Freed Indeed Live available here:

 

All that said, here is a historical perspective of Sola Scriptura. 

The Canon of Scripture is truly one of the foundational elements of Christianity. Often times we take for granted that we have the Scriptures, and that we know what is and is not Scripture. Dr. James White talks about how some Christians seem to think that the Scriptures were simply handed down miraculously in a perfect index with a leather binding and golden pages (White, 2004). Yet that is not how we got the Scripture, so what do we mean when we talk about Canon? This paper will examine the history of the Canon, how the church came to acknowledge what God always knew. This will be accomplished, first through a discussion of what events surrounded the Church’s official recognition of Canon, and also a theological discussion of what Canon is, so as to be clear that the Church did not create the Canon, they affirmed the Canon. This could be phrased in two questions: how did we come to know the Canon, and how do we know what is and is not Canon?

The first question we must ask is, how did we come to know and embrace the Canon? This story begins, really with the Jews before Christ. In the time between the Old Testament (OT) and New Testament (NT) the Jews agreed upon what was the Canon of the OT. They held that the books of the Torah, the Prophets, and the Historical Writings, as well as the Proverbs and the Psalms, were so holy that they actually made the hands of those who read them unclean. They laid up the books in the temple and understood that God Himself had given them these books (Josephus, Some time after A.D 94).

That only tells us what the OT was though. How do we know what was and was not valid NT writing? Indeed, this ended up being the very subject of debate, and is where our story gets interesting. Some of the reason why Caononicity became a big deal was because of the church’s struggle against people like Marcion and the Gnostics who wanted to claim their own “authoritative” books, which they falsely attributed to Apostles (Reeves, 2015). Not to mention brave people like Athenasius and Irenaeus who were fighting against the heresies, and for that reason wanted to see the church define Canon so as to refute the heretics (ibid).

Rightly it has been said that heresy was actually a blessing to the church (Friel & Glen, 2012). The Canon is one instance where the heretics became a great blessing, considering it was to fight such false teachings as Marcionism, Montanism, and Gnosticism that the Church affirmed the Canon of Scripture, and made their “fallible listing of infallible books” (Kistler, 1995) (Sproul). Understand that all three of these heretical movements had a different avenue, for instance, the Marcionites did not believe that the God of the Old Testament was the same as the God of the New. Therefore, they did not believe in the OT and accepted only ten of Paul’s epistles (from which they had removed all of the “Jewish lies”) and a shortened version of Luke’s gospel (Reeves, 2015). This movement was very influential for many years, even though in many ways it was theologically self-refuting, for as Augustine said, “What was Marcion’s god doing before Marcion came along?” Despite their timeframe, the Marcionites were not primarily the ones who brought about the issue of Canon, they prodded the Church, but they were not the ones who pushed her all the way to the glorious result.

The main threat the Church saw was the Gnostic movement. They believed that Jesus committed His “true message”, or “Gnosis” to a trusted messenger, say, Thomas or Mary Magdaline. They therefore would accept this Gnostic gospel and reject all other books. This demanded action, the heretics were claiming to have the true teaching of Christ. Therefore, it had to be established who was in the right. For surely, as Paul Washer says, “Even if all the world decided tomorrow to wage war against God it would be only as a tiny gnat banging it’s head upon granite.” And again, “Even if all the world tomorrow decided that they would rebel against God, and flow against the current of His perfect will, they would row and row, harder and harder, only to discover in the end that God decreed it from the first. You cannot escape the decree of almighty God. Even if you in your foolishness rebel against Him you will still only accomplish His purposes.” (Washer). So it was with the heretics, thinking they could overthrow the word of God, they were simply His instrument in bringing His word down to us even today!

On the other side of the issue was the Christian Church. Dating back to the days of the Apostles certain epistles and Gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, as well as the writings of Paul, Peter, John), had been read in the Churches, memorized by believers, and had been the very formation of the Christian world-view. The Christian liturgy revolved around Scripture and Communion, every Sunday Christians would hear the Scriptures read aloud, including sections of the Gospels and Epistles. This forced the Church to come together in a large Synod and affirm once and for all what the true Canon of Scripture was.

Thus enters the Counsel of Carthage, where leaders of the Church universal from all over the world discussed the crucial issue of what books fit the definition of “Apostolic.” Books needed to be written by an Apostles, or someone connected to an Apostle, authentic (in other words, they had to be written by the person they claimed to have authored them), and to have acceptance throughout the whole of Christendom (they couldn’t be a local people’s favorite book). Against this backdrop the church made the decision they did. And it should truly come as no surprise that the Church ruled in favor of the Canon that we still believe in and have today (White, 2004). After all, they only affirmed what was already known by all true Christians, and what God had ordained from before time.

Christianity had and has always been centered on the Scriptures, and had and has always known what those Scriptures were. Jerome believed in the exact same Canon that Protestants still today use (White, 2004) (Reeves, 2015). Athenasius said of the same 66 book Canon protestants use today, “These are the fountains of salvation, that all who thirst may be satisfied by the living words they contain. In these alone is found the doctrine of godliness. Therefore, let no man add anything to these, neither let him take ought from them.” Hippolytus said in his refutation of Noetus “There is brethren, one God, the knowledge of Whom is gained in Sacred Scripture, and no other source.” Furthermore, Cyril of Jerusalem said, “Concerning the divine and sacred mysteries of the faith, we ought not declare even the most casual remark without the Holy Scriptures, nor be drawn aside by mere probabilities and the artifices of an argument. Do not then believe me because I tell you these things, unless these receive from the Scriptures the necessary proof of what is set forth.” For Gregory of Nyssa there was no question, “The Scriptures are the Canon and Rule of every dogma, we of necessity examine these things and except only that which can be made conformable to the intention of those writings.” And Irenaeus, a personal hero, said, “We have received from none others the plan of our own salvation than those through whom the gospel has come down to us. Which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later time, by the will of God, they handed down to us in the Holy Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of faith.” Going all through Church history we can see the Spirit of God moving, and showing Christians what the Bible was, then using the heretics to cause them to finally affirm it in the Canon.

There remains now only to talk about what exactly the Canon is. The Canon is an artifact of revelation (White, 2004) (Warfield).  In other words, God did not inspire some list of books, and hence the earlier quote that the Canon is a “fallible listing of infallible books.” Despite this, He did inspire the books themselves.

Therefore, when we talk about the Canon we must understand that the Canon as a list of books is not what God inspired, the books themselves are what God breathed out (2 Timothy 3:16). Then the list of books becomes the natural result of the books God inspired. A good example is this: I have authored a book titled An Exposition of Grace which I am currently working on getting published. When it is published there will be a “Canon” of Kevin J. Hughes books, not because someone bothers to write a list, but because a book was written by Kevin J. Hughes. Now, if someone takes the time to write the name of that and any subsequent books, then they have now created an official “Canon”. However, if their official list should contain books that I did not write, or omit those that I did, this would not change what the true Canon of my writings was, for that truly would not change.

In the same way, God created the Canon of Scripture the moment He inspired books, and that Canon of Scripture is only those books which He inspired. So even if we add books to a list, or take them away, God’s Canon remains the same. This is exceedingly good news, for it means that we don’t have to rely on Church Councils that have contradicted, or some leaders of the church to know what exactly is or isn’t Scripture. It suffices to know that the Holy Spirit is God, He has always revealed to believers what His Scriptures are, and despite the fact that some great minds have said this or that book should be included, there was always one central message that God wanted to send fourth to His people, and that message has never failed to be given to them.

In this sense, it becomes clear how we answer our question of how we know what is and is not Canon? What has God always revealed to His people, and what is consistent with His message. So therefore, while many in church history have embraced certain books and called them Canonical in error, we can trace the history of the Bible and see a consistent teaching through the ages. One which the church has ultimately always affirmed. And truly we can see the fulfillment of Christ’s promise that “The gates of Hell will not prevail against you.” Matthew 16:17-19.

Therefore, yet again we can trace God’s hand through church history, seeing how He has led our forefathers. It is clear that the Canon of Scripture itself is determined by God, and that in history His church affirmed it as a result of the fact that the heretics sought to undo it. In your own life, what are some ways in which you see tragedy, pain, suffering, and the like? Do you ever ask, “Why God?” Well, just like He did with the early church, just like He does in history, God moves mightily, and your story is part of His story, which will one day form history. That means that you can trust Him that He is Sovereign over all things, and will bring His will to pass for His own glory and the good of His elect. If He can bring the true Canon out of the Gnostics lies then surely, He can bring good ends to your suffering too!

Soli Deo Gloria

 

References

Athenasius of Alexandria (n.d.). 39th Festal Letter.

Ignatius of Antioch. (n.d.). The Epistles.

Friel, T., & Glen, R. (2012). Drive By Church History. Wretched Radio.

Hippolytus. (n.d.). Against the Heresy of Noetus.

Irenaeus. ). Against Heresy.

Cyril of Jerusalem. (n.d.). Chatecal Lectures 4.17.

Josephus, F. (Some time after A.D 94). Against Apion. Jerusalem.

Kistler, D. (1995). The Establishment of Scripture. Morgan PA: Soli Deo Gloria.

Gregory of Nyssa.

Reeves, R. (2015). Gnosticism and the Early Church. Church History for Everyone: Early and Mideval Church History.

Sproul, R. (n.d.). Grace Unknown: The Heart of Reformed Theology.

Warfield, B. B. (n.d.).

Washer, P. (n.d.). Unknown Sermon.

White, Dr. J. (2004). Scripture Alone. Bethany House.

 

How Theology Impacts Marriage

married-couple-article-photo11/26/2016  Kevin J. Hughes

My whole ministry is based on the idea that theology should and does affect every aspect of life, therefore, in helping Christians to have a biblical theology and how to live it out biblically. With that in mind, how does our theology find expression in marriage? What are some of the problems with low theology when applied to marriage? What happens when solid, biblical theology is at the center of marriage? Let’s explore a brief biblical theology of marriage,  and how both a biblical and a low view of marriage impacts marriages.

First, in brief, what does the Bible teach about marriage? The best place in Scripture to answer this question is Ephesians 5:22-33:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.[a] 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

This paragraph by the Apostle Paul clearly teaches several things. First, we see that marriage is, at its heart, a presentation of the gospel. This is clear in verse 32: “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church.” The application is actually given in the following verse, “However [or therefore], let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” And the whole previous paragraph gives us a deeper application.

Basically, here’s what we see: Paul wants us to have a very high view of marriage because marriage is supposed to reveal the relationship between Christ and His Church. Therefore, the man is to lead the woman and love the woman in the same way that Christ leads and loves His Church. Conversely, the woman is to submit to the man in the same way that the Church submits to Christ. This is huge on both sides. As Kevin DeYoung says in his sermon on biblical headship, “You should not hear in this, ‘women, sit down.’ Rather, men, stand up!'” The biblical message of headship is not that women are subserviant, but that men hold a higher office, that of a greater equal. The head of a home, the head of his wife, and the representative of Jesus Christ. The responsibility of the husband is to treat and love his wife in the same way that Jesus treats and loves His Church, nourishing her and cherishing her. That means living and dying for this woman. It means having no selfish motives, but always doing all things with the goal in mind that you will “wash” and “cleanse” your wife in “the water of the Word” which means the daily, consistent, living out of the Bible.

The point is that both the husband and the wife have extremely important roles in marriage, and while both do those roles imperfectly, understanding these roles enables us to seek what Heath Lambert calls “The forgiving and transforming grace of God.” (See Finally Free by Heath Lambert. This concept is used throughout the book, but explained in detail in chapter 1.) Over time, we as Christians are promised that we will see God fulfill His perfect will in us and that we would be conformed to the image of Christ (it was for this that He predestined us in eternity past according to the golden chain of redemption in Romans 8:29). That means that wives will grow in their ability to truly submit to their husbands with biblical submission and reverence, and husbands will over time learn, through submitting to Christ themselves, to love and cherish and live like Jesus for their brides.

What happens when we don’t have the right theology of marriage? There are two main problems that arise. Men tend to be dominant or doormats as Kevin DeYoung says in his sermon on biblical gender roles. The first problem I think is the one that gets the most attention. Some men use the biblical mandate that women submit to their husbands as a vehicle for being dominant controllers. That’s completely unbiblical. If they believed and sought with diligence to bring their lives into conformity with the Bible, they would not do this. How can I claim to be in the place of my Master when I treat my wife like dirt? Did Christ selfishly use His Church? Does He cheat on His Church with other religions? Does He look up Hindu temples and Buddhist shrines while His wife is sleeping? No! Jesus Christ is faithful to His one and only bride, He loves her and has selflessly given Himself for her, even when His Church has not lived up to her part of the relationship. If you are not spending and being spent for your wife, then you either don’t have a high view of marriage, or you aren’t living out your theology. Period. Full stop!

The other problem is just as serious. Many men have no backbone in the home. Many men do not minister to their wives because they expect their wives to run the show at home. They are like a doormat that gets walked all over. Well, that doesn’t reflect the gospel either. Does the Church make demands of Christ? Does the Church nag, boss, or bully Christ? (Note: nagging is not reminding you to do that which you haven’t done!) Not the true Church. The true Church adores, serves, and lives for Christ. The true Church calls Christ her Lord and Master, and submits fully to His authority. Men, if you are not leading your family, and women, if you’re not submitted to your husband, then you are not obeying the Lord’s command concerning marriage.

A note on submission. In our culture, the word submission is treated almost as a dirty word. The problem is not with submission itself but with our cultural definition of it. Due to millennia of abuses of submission in general and of oppression of women in specific, we have a very warped view of what it means to submit. A book could be written on this topic alone, however, one can merely look at Christ to answer the question: what does biblical submission mean? Today, submission implies inferiority and oppression—yet the greatest Man to ever walk the earth submitted to His Father. Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords, and equal with the Father, submitted to Him. His submission was not a statement of inferiority but a statement of mutual respect and honor. Submission by the Son to the Father is an act of a Noble, in love and honor to another Noble. Christians should view biblical submission in marriage in the same way. Therefore biblical submission is not degrading for it is the symbol of an equal willingly taking a deferent office.

What can we say about the benefits of biblical theology with respect to marriage? Marriage is just one example of  the many ways in which the most important element for living the Christian life is biblical, systematic theology, firmly rooted in the gospel. In order for your marriage to honor God as it should you need to understand what God wants for your marriage. My personal favorite sermon on marriage is Paul Washer’s sermon, “The Two Great Purposes of Marriage. In this sermon, Washer diligently shows that the whole point of God’s design in marriage is that we will be conformed to the image of Christ. But here’s the takeaway I want you to get from this layout of biblical marriage theology: a biblical view of marriage, lived out, will make your marriage truly honor God in the way that He desires. For you, men, that means that truly living out a biblical theology for marriage is doing whatever it takes to provide for your family and to make it a priority to be there for your family. Men are to come home and diligently labor to teach the children in the ways of the Lord, get the children bathed and in bed, and all the other chores and duties that needs to be done. Then, you are the one who ministers to your wife’s needs as a leader and a servant. You listen to her struggles, you comfort her in pain, rejoice with her in joy, live for her in all seasons, and be her place of safety. For you, women, it’s about living for your husband, putting him first. Teach your children to obey the Lord and show them what obedience looks like practically. Find out how you can make his life easier through your service, and follow his lead wherever absolutely possible. When he’s wrong, tell him, but do so with humility, kindness, and respect, showing him that you value him, his opinions, and his leadership.

A note on obedience. In our culture, the word obedience is treated almost as a dirty word. Remember that biblical marriage is where two flesh become one. It is a living analogy of the relationship of Christ and the Church. “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church.” Ephesians 5:29. Recall that while the Scriptures gives men and women distinct roles, men and women are equal. Galatians 3:28 clearly states that “there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” God sees only two types of people: those in Adam and those in Christ. Therefore, just as Christ submits to the Father willingly, although the two are one, so He also obeys His Father (Philippians 2:8). This is not degrading action. You see, Christ and the Father are one. Christ knows that the Father would never tell Him to do something that was wrong. The two were agreed on all things. So the husband and wife are to become one flesh. What the Bible is stating is that when two Christians come together in marriage, they are to become one flesh. The husband fulfills his role with kindness and love and his wife fulfills hers with respect and love. They are in tune with one another and he will not ask her to do anything that would be wrong. He is submitted to Christ and shows that by his actions and she can place her full trust in him, so she feels completely safe under his leadership (think captain and executive officer). That seems like a tall order, especially since we are humans in sinful flesh, but that is the command of the Bible and in the process of sanctification it is the standard toward which to press. While the command to obey is addressed toward the woman (and she’s in disobedience to God if she doesn’t obey), the onus is on the man to lead his wife in a way that is in line with Scripture—in other words as Christ leads His church (and he’s in disobedience to God if he commands his wife or “leads” in a way that is not loving, gentle, or in any other way not in line with Scripture).

The point is simply, if you truly want to have a marriage that pleases God, biblical theology lived out practically is the way to get there. But that takes serious sacrifice and determination on both fronts. Marriage has to be a commitment and not just something we do. Marriage needs to be taken seriously, most especially because marriage can and must be a representation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria