Sunday, December 30, 2012

Interpreting Scripture: How to Avoid Spiritual Cancer


σπούδασον σεαυτὸν δόκιμον παραστῆσαι τῷ θεῷ, ἐργάτην ἀνεπαίσχυντον, ὀρθοτομοῦντα τὸν λόγον τῆς ἀληθείας. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. (2 Tim 2:15, NA28 and NASB)

Not since the dark ages have we witnessed such poor handling of sacred Scripture. However, even during those dark years, there remained a high reverence for the sacred stature of the Word of God. They say that familiarity breeds contempt. One might be tempted to say that this is what has happened to the modern Christian’s mindset toward the Bible. However, one could hardly accuse modern Christians of being remotely familiar with Scripture, let alone familiar enough with it to view it so casually as if it were just any other book there for my reading pleasure. And when we find it convenient and we have the luxury of time, perhaps we will open its pages to see what is there, or better yet, how it can serve me in executing on my life’s personal agenda.

“Everything must be done in proper sequence, appropriate proportion, and with the purpose of producing an end product that pleases the one who commissioned the work. Background information, word meanings, the context of a given passage, and many other factors must be judiciously assessed if a valid interpretation is to be attained.” [KÖstenberger, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation, 60]

“The most personal of Paul’s letters is clearly 2 Timothy.” [KÖstenberger, The Cradle, The Cross, and The Crown, 647] Paul is in prison and his death is imminent. He writes what he knows will be his very last piece of communication to his closest companion and most faithful disciple, Timothy. One would expect that this great apostle, this ambassador of God would speak of those matters for which he had the highest regard. One would expect these subjects in this communication to this all-important leader in the ancient Church would be the ones that should really land on our radar. That is to say, if we are going to start with the really big theological rocks in the biblical stream so to speak, starting in 2 Timothy would not be an unreasonable decision.

“Are the meanings of texts “constructed” by readers, or are meanings “given” through texts by authors? This is a complex question of hermeneutical theory, but on this depends how we seek to answer a basic practical question: Can the Bible mean anything we want it to mean? How can we agree about norms or criteria for the responsible or valid interpretation of Scriptures?” [Thiselton, Hermeneutics, An Introduction, 1-2] In a culture where autonomy and independence reign supreme, modern American Christians seem to believe that no one has the “right” to question their personal understanding of Scripture. In addition, most Christians sitting in the seats on Sunday morning feel that they have some God-given inherent “right” to interpret the Scriptures as if they were on an island without the slightest sense of obligation to “get it right” or any sense at all of the impact their views may have on the Christian community at large. In fact, most Christians have no sense of duty or obligation to the Christian community whatever. Many could care less how their views and even their behavior affect the manner in which those inside and especially outside the community view them and the community as a result of their foolishness. I honestly do not know how hermeneutics can be rescued so long as such apathy is allowed to exist within the Christian community. The world needs to see the community excommunicating people who reject the loving admonition to repent of certain beliefs and unruly living. The world needs to see that the Church has a standard that she takes seriously because God is the source of that standard. Nowhere is it more important for the Church to take action than in the area of Scripture. Most ungodly behavior in the Church begins with the problem of how one views and interprets the Sacred text. Taken seriously, Scripture will produce godly lives growing together in godly communities where the love and fear of God consumes the group. Taken less than seriously, one ends up with a diversity of beliefs and behaviors that don’t even come close to cohering around a unified standard of belief and praxis. This latter statement reflects where we have lived now for decades and decades.

The initial sentence of our text jumps right off the page at you. Paul says, σπούδασον σεαυτὸν δόκιμον παραστῆσαι τῷ θεῷ. Literally, “make every effort to present yourself approved to God.” In the name of battling against legalism, we have all but eliminated the idea of striving and fighting to live holy lifestyles in the Church. We give holy living a wink and a nob and then go on about our sinning because, well, after all, we all sin every day. Paul’s command to Timothy really is quite foreign to that kind of thinking. The word σπουδάζω is used 11 times in the NT. Fundamentally it means to hurry or to hasten. It means to make every effort, to be eager, to be diligent. Paul uses it in Galatians 2:10 where he says he was eager to remember the poor. In Eph. 4:3 Paul tells the believers to be diligent in preserving the unity of the Spirit. Peter uses it to command his audience to be all the more diligent to make of His calling and choosing you. (II Peter 1:10) Louw-Nida says it means, “to do something with intense effort and motivation—‘to work hard, to do one’s best, to endeavor.’” In the LXX, it is translated horror in Job 21:6, terrifies in 22:10, dismayed in 22:16. In Isaiah 21:3 it is translated terrified. The Hebrew word that is most often translated σπουδάζω is בהל and it appears some 41 times in the Hebrew Text. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Archer/Waltke/Harris) says be disturbed, disturb, alarm, terrify; to hurry. There is no doubt a great deal of emotional energy bound up in the etymology of this word and this seems to remain over hundreds of years of diachronic shifts. When Paul tells Timothy to “be diligent,” after looking at the usage of this word over hundreds of years, we begin to appreciate the force of what Paul is saying. Suffice it to say, this is far more forceful than the modern idiom, “do your best,” even though that may be as close as we can get to the richness of Paul’s meaning. At the very least, the use of this word should serve to capture our attention now for what is to follow.

“Do your best” to present yourself to God approved! What? This imperative intensifies the command expressed by the infinitive clause that it governs.”[1]

Hence, presenting oneself to God as one who is examined, not by man, but by God and approved by Him is that for which Timothy is to strive. The question in the context of this pericope centers around how young Timothy is supposed to achieve such a lofty goal. What does this look like in the specific context in which Paul is speaking? This question moves us to the subject of hermeneutics, which is the subject of my post, and the subject of Paul’s central concern with Timothy, so to speak.

Before we get to the point, I would be remiss not to discuss one more rich theological nugget from this text. Paul follows these words by contrasting his positive command with the negative connotation of shame. He uses the phrase, “as a workman who does not need to be ashamed.” This comes from the root αισχρος. The word simply means to feel shame, to be ashamed. However, there is more to the idea of shame in the Mediterranean world of Greco-Roman times than might meet the modern western reader’s eye. “In both the past and present Mediterranean societies, however, honor and shame have played a dominant role in public life.” [Moxnes, Honor and Shame in The Social Sciences and New Testament Interpretation, 19] Even in America, a few years ago, the family name meant something. You did not want to do anything the reflected poorly on the family name, the family’s honor. Today, younger generations don’t even think about such a concept as they go about conducting their lives before the public. If you use this tactic as a parent in modern America, the response you are likely to get is, “all you care about is your family name, your family honor, what about ME?” The point here is that in order for us to appreciate the NT Text, we must journey back in time and attempt to understand the values of the people in that society. “Honor is the value of a person in his or her own eyes (that is, one’s claim to worth) plus that person’s value in the eyes of his or her social group. Honor is a claim to worth along with the social acknowledgement of worth.” [Malina, The New Testament World, 30] Not only is it important for the private person to live according to the societal code to maintain honor in their own mind, but they are equally concerned with maintaining this honor and avoiding public shame that would result from public failures. This concept served the NT Church very well in her formation and Jesus and His apostles invoked the honor-shame value system throughout the NT. Jesus’ teaching on excommunication is a perfect example of collective shame for those who reject the group’s corrective actions. Paul uses it in 1 Corinthians 5. Peter deals with it in his commanded to His audience to be ready to stand up to the antagonists. When Paul uses this language with Timothy, young Timothy has a much richer understanding of what Paul is saying that we do, unless that is, we bother to do our homework on such issues and “do our best” to handle the text appropriately.

What is involved in this “unashamed workman” status that Paul is speaking about? The phrase ὀρθοτομοῦντα τὸν λόγον τῆς ἀληθείας offers a clue. The material that this worker is to handle correctly is “the word of truth” (τὸν λόγον τῆς ἀληθείας). Only when he handles it correctly will he be unashamed (ἀνεπαίσχυντον). The rendering given in several of the modern translations, using a combination of the verb “handle” and some adverb such as “accurately” (NASB), “rightly” (RSV), or “correctly” (NIV), for the compound verb ὀρθοτομοῦντα with the phrase “the word of truth” as the direct object captures this relationship quite well.[2]

The idea is that the Word of God, the Word of Truth is a tool in the hands of a workman. The workman can perform quality work and show himself approved of the one who hired him or he can perform work of inferior quality and when that work is inspected, he will lose honor and be ashamed for his work will prove to be poor.

Immediately preceding this statement, Paul instructs Timothy to instruct those under his charge not to wrangle about words. In v. 2 of this same chapter, Paul instructs Timothy to entrust these teachings to faithful men. In 1:13 he tells Timothy to “retain the standard of sound words.” Obviously, the immediate and expanded context of our text deals with the matter of hermeneutics. Moreover, that Paul uses words like standard, entrust, diligence, approved, and ashamed indicate the seriousness with which we are to handle the text.

In v. 16 Paul commands Timothy to avoid ‘worldly’ and ‘empty chatter.’ Since failure to avoid these things leads to greater impiety, or greater ungodliness, it is in the best interest of Christians to understand what these things are. What is it to engage in “worldly and empty chatter?” The Greek text actually says, τὰς δὲ βεβήλους κενοφωνίας περιΐστασο, which translates, “but avoid the worthless chatter.” Paul uses the simile of gangrene to describe unrestrained false doctrine. γάγγραινα is disease involving severe inflammation and possibly a cancerous spread of ulcers which eat away the flesh and bones.[3]

This disease, if left untreated, will spread, which is its nature, to other parts of the body and hence destroy the body. The simile of false doctrine and cancer should arrest the attention of any sober Christian immediately. Moreover, scholars, theologians and pastors are in a most perilous place because it is their occupation to touch the sacred text almost daily for the purpose of interpretation and propagation.

Paul does not leave us hanging. He informs us that two individuals, Hymenaeus and Philetus, have engaged in teaching a view that the resurrection has already passed. In I Tim. 1:20 he says he has turned the former over to Satan. In other words, he has been publicly excommunicated. This is how we treat spiritual cancer. In fact, this is the Chief Physician’s prescription for treating spiritual cancer.

Paul tells Timothy that the Word of God is a tool in his hand like the tool of a workman. He informs Timothy that he must handle that tool skillfully, accurately, cutting the path straight. In the end, the Master for whom he works will inspect the manner in which he employed the tool by reviewing his completed work. With this in mind, Timothy is told to conduct himself like a workman of whom his Master would approve, skillfully using the tool of the Word of God  which has been entrusted to him.

“The desire to keep God’s commandments, the determination to do God’s will – this is the great prerequisite for true biblical understanding.” [Silva, Who Needs Hermeneutics Anyway? In Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics, 26.] When I think about much of the work that is done in the area of philosophical hermeneutics, linguistics, historical analyses, textual criticism, and a host of other areas, I wonder what the core motivation is of many of the men involved in the work. If it is not to know Scripture so that they may truly know and love God, then one has to wonder just what it is they are doing and why.

What are the implications for hermeneutics that we can derive from II Timothy 2:15? First, deconstructionism, if valid, would make II Timothy 2:15 nonsensical and irrelevant. Therefore, from the very start deconstructionism would be classed among the βεβήλους κενοφωνίας that Paul commands Timothy to shun or avoid. Second, a low view of Scripture would make absolutely no sense in this context since Paul uses the extremely authoritative language and invokes severe consequences for those who refuse to go along with his instructions. Third, that there is a meaning in the text rules out meanings that are not that meaning. In other words, there aren’t multiple accurate meanings in the text, otherwise Paul would have indicated such to Timothy. Accuracy of the tool was foremost in Paul’s mind. Accuracy indicates a normative standard in place for the right handling of the text. That Paul emphasized the importance of this behavior cannot be reasonably denied. Hence, those who ignore this principle do so to their own detriment. In fact, Paul says their teachings will spread like a spiritual cancer which will eventually destroy the entire body. Paul says not to ignore them, but to intentionally shun and avoid them. In other words, put them out from among you. Do not allow them to go unrestrained. The word for shun in the active voice means to stand around someone or to circle, but here, in the middle voice, it means to “turn oneself about” to avoid, “shun.” [Mouton & Millian, Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament] To shun someone in the Christian community is to remove them from the community. To think that to avoid someone is just simply to avoid them in the modern sense would be anachronistic. When the Mediterranean mind heard this, they fully understood Paul's sense to be to cut them off from the community. Walk around them, if you will. BDAG says it means to go around so as to avoid. The example is the excommunication of Hymenaeus in I Tim. 1:20. Men who insist on holding to a low view of Scripture, or preferring science over the text, or expanding orthodoxy to the point that it is indistinguishable from heterodoxy have to be examined, corrected, discipled, and brought back from their godless views. Otherwise, they must be shunned, excommunicated because their teachings will spread like spiritual cancer and destroy the body of Christ.

Jesus did not command His apostles to merely go out and preach. He did not command them even to go preach and baptize. No, Jesus commanded His apostles to go make disciples! Disciples are students, but they are more than that. Disciples are students whose entire enterprise now is to learn and understand the teachings of their Master so that they may become just as He is. Implicit in this command to make disciples is the idea of hermeneutics. Teaching, understanding, learning, and student all require communication, interpretation, understanding, and even appropriation and application.

“The Christian interpretation of reality is a function of its interpretation of Scripture, those books set aside as authoritative testimony to the gospel – call it a philosophy of “canonical sense.” It is the sum total of the biblical books, the various parts in their interrelatedness, that communicates the wisdom of the Christian way, which is to say, the wisdom of Christ and the wisdom of the cross.” [Vanhoozer, First Theology: God, Scripture & Hermeneutics, 347]

You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free. (John 8:32) Is it any wonder that so many professing Christians live in bondage to sin, to darkness, and to biblical ignorance? The cure is not therapy. The cure is to know the truth, the Son of the Living God! To what shall we turn? He has the very words of eternal life. All that is required of us is that we read them with a passion to understand so that we may please Him in all we do.

 



[1] George W. Knight, The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1992), 411.
[2] George W. Knight, The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1992), 412.
[3] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, vol. 1, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains, electronic ed. of the 2nd edition. (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 271.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Relationship of Faith and Hermeneutics


A core presupposition of this specific post is that the most important literary project ever produced is the Bible. To be more specific, The Christian Scriptures are the single most important literary work ever to exist in human history. Another presupposition I hold is that genuine Christians receive Scripture for what it is, the very word of God and humbly submit to it. That is to say, true believers do not pick and choose which parts of God’s word they will receive while rejecting the rest. My goal in this post is not to demonstrate the truthfulness of this statement. It is to ask the question, “What does faith have to do with hermeneutics?” Is there a place for faith in the interpretive process of biblical literature? Moreover, if there is a habitation for faith in the interpretive process, what exactly is that place?

There was a time when the Word of God, the Word from God was scarce. Christians could not go down to the bookstore and purchase a Bible alongside a plethora of other books. Most of what people had of the Word from God came from oral tradition and from the elder on Sundays. When someone did possess a copy of Scripture, it was indeed a very special thing. In Modern culture, and especially in the West, and I would imagine in any culture where copies of Scripture are plentiful, there is a casual attitude about ‘the book.’ In the name of bibliolatry, the Bible has been downgraded in many churches to the point that it has become, for all practical purposes, just one more book. It cannot be disputed that ‘the book’ no longer holds the place of prominence it once held, at least in modern American churches. Many of the leaders in the “Emergent Church” in fact, have reduced the Bible to a collection of traditions created and passed down by ancient men who were anti-gay, oppressive to women, and interested only in a god who would keep them prosperous and powerful.

Suffice it to say, the disposition one has toward the Bible will have a serious impact on how they interpret it. Moreover, the faith position of a person will serve as the basis of their disposition toward the Bible. Hence, as I will show, there is an indisputable relationship between faith and hermeneutics.

“While a given interpreter may indeed be devoid of faith and the Holy Spirit and still understand some of the words in Scripture, he will lack the spiritual framework, motivation, and understanding to grasp a given passage in its whole-Bible context.” [KÖstenberger, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation, 65]

 There are a number of criticisms leveled against Scripture in modern times, even in the Church, that serve to detract from the conviction necessary to have Scripture do the work in our lives that God Himself intends. For instance, there are criticisms against the miracle claims of Scripture, the teachings about women, the husband-wife relationship, an eternal hell, and the gay lifestyle. I have not even mentioned higher critical views that seek to dethrone Scripture at just about every turn. There are those who argue that the canon is an innovation of the church. Then there are the textual critics that claim that the various manuscripts contain so many variants we could never know with any degree of certainty that what we have now is what the first century church had then. Moreover, the deconstructionist argument against the metaphysics of meaning seek to all but destroy any hope of meaningful communication, not just in the text of Scripture, but any text whatever. In the text written to the ancient church in Thessalonica, the apostle Paul wrote these words, ὃς καὶ ἐνεργεῖται ἐν ὑμῖν τοῖς πιστεύουσιν. This phrase translates, “Which also works in you who believe.” What works in them? Here is the entire verse in English: “For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.” (I Thess. 2:13)

Here is the main point: God’s word is supposed to be working in us. Scripture was given by God, through human authors with perlocutionary intent. That is to say, God gave us revelation-by-proposition in order to change us. God gave Scripture in order to produce something in us and that something was not simply to increase knowledge.
 
We have looked again at the risk-taking nature of knowledge, this time in our understanding of faith and hermeneutics. Polanyi has shown that all knowledge is about personal commitment and risk, Barth that any statement of one’s exegetical conclusions will involve a risk-taking affirmation. All, including postmodernists, take a risk in holding their presuppositions, authorities and methods dear. So to adopt the authority of the church is no less academically respectable or philosophically rigorous than espousing any other authority. In terms of gospel interpretation, consistency and maintaining the appropriate relationship between text and community—with all the consequences and ramifications discussed—would point towards a distinct preference for ‘theological’ presuppositions not a necessity to apologise for them.[1]

 KÖstenberger writes, “Rather than adopting a critical stance toward Scripture, we should rather submit to it as our final authority in all areas of life. An essential quality required of the biblical interpreter is therefore humility.” [KÖstenberger, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation, 63] One of the essential views of Scripture pertains to its nature. It is the Word of God. It is of divine origin through human vessels. If one fails to take into consideration the nature of Scripture, they are sure to fail in their endeavor to attain a sufficient understanding of its content. You may ask, “How does one know when they have arrived at a sufficient understanding of a particular text?” I think the Pauline text quoted above in his project to the ancient Thessalonians offers a clue. A sufficient understanding is one that produces the specific performance that God intended Scripture to have on the Christian heart. We all know that when it happens. While I am cautious about uncritical approaches to the text and especially in the area of exegesis, I am far more concerned with methods that approach Scripture from a purely rationalistic and radically skeptical perspective.

All too often in the Christian community, we fail to strike a balanced approach to hermeneutics. Christians are either reading the Scripture discursively and retaining absolutely nothing about it, or they are busy reading their own culture back into the text, or they have unwittingly adopted radically critical approaches that treat the Word of God like it has to pass their lofty standards in order to be received for truth. In many cases, Christians simply don’t read the Bible because pastors have been telling them for years now that doctrine doesn’t really matter. In other cases, professing Christians are ashamed to admit they believe the Bible, that they actually have faith in its content. In American culture, one of the most foolish things a person can say today is that they believe something because it is in the Bible. You don’t have to look any further than the young earth or the homosexual issue to recognize that the Biblical teachings on these issues has long since been regarded as, well, incredibly naïve if not down-right silly. It seems to me then, that when we talk about hermeneutics outside the context of faith, outside the context of the deep conviction that the text before us is sacred, is true, is actually the revelation of God Himself to His elect, we journey outside the bounds necessary to be successful at the very endeavor for which we strive: a right understanding of the Sacred Text.
So where are we? We know that hermeneutics encompasses matters such as, the nature of Scripture, the structure and formation of the canon, the process of determining or identifying the text itself (textual criticism), and a theology (philosophy?) of hermeneutics. Without a theology or philosophy of hermeneutics, the entire enterprise is an exercise in futility. When we begin a journey, we begin by pointing ourselves in the right direction. If we initiate our journey pointed ever so slightly in the wrong direction by even a fraction of an inch, then the longer our journey, the more off course we shall be. Beginning the journey of biblical interpretation without faith is one way in which to initiate that journey by pointing in the wrong direction.

I think about the critics of how the Sacred Canon came to its final form. I read the skepticism that pervades much of academia and recognize that most of what passes for scholarship is cleverly disguised philosophical bias, godless worldviews dressed up in Christian garb. These academicians are nothing more than educated-skeptics, reading each other’s books, writing and grading one another’s exams, and marking each other’s papers. I cannot help but ask why Jesus and His apostles were confronted with the same complexities we are with regard to their canon, yet they  preached, taught, and wrote with amazing confidence and passionate conviction about the revelation of God that was and is the Old Testament Scripture. I read the hype and sensational views of one Bart Ehrmann on the difficulty and even impossibility of locating the actual text of either of the testaments, especially the new. Once again, I am amazed that Jesus and His apostles had the very same textual difficulties we do and yet with amazing faith in what they called the Holy Scriptures, they thundered away, preaching and teaching about the things written in the Law, the Prophets, and the writings, as if they knew what the text was. Moreover, they did so with seemingly great certainty. If we did what Jesus and His apostles did, the skeptics club, which includes some supposed evangelical theologians, would accuse us of being the epitome of arrogance. The skeptics club has a great deal of faith in human reason, in rationalism, in well, the power of skepticism as a legitimate epistemological frame for understanding not only the world, but even the text of the world beyond.

You see then that the relationship between faith and hermeneutics is unbreakable. Faith is involved in every endeavor to interpret the text we call the Bible. Either you have faith in God, the One who gave us the text, who aided the believing community in their quest to recognize it and distinguish it from foreign substitutes, the One who made certain that what we have today is what He gave them yesterday. Or, you have faith in unaided human reason and your skills as an interpreter to be able, on your own steam to grasp the text like a wrestler his opponent and to grapple it into submission. To be sure, submission is a key component of hermeneutics. But are we to submit Scripture to our prior understandings and worldview, or will Scripture submit and subdue our godless worldview, performing its work in us as Paul commanded the ancient church of Thessalonica?

“For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.” (I Thess. 2:13)



[1] Rosalind M. Selby, Comical Doctrine: An Epistemology of New Testament Hermeneutics (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2006), 163.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Christian's Reasonable Service: Exegetical Treatment of Romans 12:1


That the book of Romans was written to a mixed audience of Gentiles and Jews is beyond any reasonable dispute. Scholars are not agreed on which group held the majority in Rome, but most agree that both groups had significant enough numbers within the community to make it necessary to address the church with some degree of balance. The letter begins with Paul's authority as an apostle and quickly moves toward his main subject, the righteousness of God (which is by faith in Christ). He contends that God's righteousness has been revealed in Christ, that God has shut both Jew and Gentile up under sin, and that both groups must come through Christ in order to obtain a right-standing before God. Moreover, this coming to Christ is an act of faith, of entirely trusting that Jesus is the promised Messiah, that God spoke through Him finally, that God's revelation has terminated in the person and work of Christ. Of course, this work would be recorded under the supervision and inspiration of the Holy Spirit as He presided over the record of the NT Text.

After addressing issues touching both groups, Paul spends a great deal of time devoted to the fidelity of God in His covenant dealings with the nation of Israel in Romans 9-11. Many scholars believe that Paul was concerned to elevate the covenant and fidelity of God while also giving the Gentiles some perspective on Israel's place in God's program of salvation so as to guard or address potential anti-semitism as well. It is immediately after three chapters of discussion regarding this latter subject that Paul moves into the subject text of this blog.

As we examine the final words in Romans 11, we discover that vss. 33-36 are a doxology or song by Paul given in thanks to God. This raises the question of connection between the Greek word οὖν which stands at the beginning of chapter 12 and the thought with which it should be related either in chapter 11 or someplace previous to chapter 12. Cranfield asks the same question. He agrees that οὖν "is here better understood not as a mere transition particle, but as having full force and indicating that what is going to be said follows from what has already been said." [Cranfield, ICC, Romans, v. II p. 595] Whether Paul is connecting οὖν (therefore) to the entire epistle (Cranfield) or to 9-11 (most scholars) is difficult to say. I see an immediate connection located in the final summary of Paul in 11:32: "For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all." This seems to be a central theme of the epistle, if not the central theme. Righteousness comes by faith alone in Christ alone as a result of God's grace alone...THEREFORE! 

Paul moves from theology to praxis in short order in the text of Romans 12:1. Regardless of what some incompetent men may say in modern times, theology is the sine qua non of Christian praxis. This false dichotomy of practical versus doctrinal Christianity is demonic deception in its optimum form. Paul, after pointing back to the deep theological truths of God revealed in Christ, points us forward. Because "this" is true, therefore I "Παρακαλῶ" (Parakalo) you! I urge you. Rogers says the word means to exhort, to encourage someone to do something. He says it was used of exhorting troops who were about to go into battle. [Rogers & Rogers, The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament, p.338] The Lemma is used 109 times in the Greek NT. It is used in 8:5 when the Capernaum Centurion "implored" Christ to heal his servant. In Luke 8, the demons "implored" Christ not to send them into the abyss. It is used again by Luke in Acts 21:12 when they were begging Paul not to go to Jerusalem for fear he could be killed. The emotional content of the word seems clear enough. Paul is urging the Roman Christians, imploring them, begging them to do something in this text that is apparently quite important.

Next, Paul employs the use of the NT vocative case to address the Roman Christians. Based on morphology and syntax, we know that ἀδελφοί, brothers, is vocative plural. The "brothers" are the subject of address. In this construction, it is a case of simple address. However, the use of the vocative, even in this context, would have served to get the attention of the Romans. It would have had the effect of someone telling their audience in modern times, "now, pay close attention to what I am about to say." This technique is designed to recapture an audience that may be on the verge of wondering off. Paul wants the Romans to listen, because what he is about to say is very important.

The phrase διὰ τῶν οἰκτιρμῶν τοῦ θεοῦ, which translates "by the mercies (mercy) of God" serves either as Paul's basis for his appeal or as the means by which this offering, this living sacrifice can and must be made. "What he is appealing to as the basis of his exhortation is the compassion of God revealed in God's dealing with men through Jesus Christ." [Cranfield, ICC, Romans, V. II p. 596] "But this exhortation teaches us, that until men really apprehend how much they owe to the mercy of God, they will never with a right feeling worship him, nor be effectually stimulated to fear and obey him." [Calvin, Romans, p. 450] Paul here is pointing us up to the great mercy and compassion in God as the basis for why we should do as he is about to command. In light of such gracious and merciful acts and gifts on the part of God, what does a reasonable response look like? Here is one example of a "patron-client contract." This relationship predominated in Greco-Roman culture. The contract tied two individuals of different social standings together. The patron would provide a gift to the client who in return would respond in an honorable manner. While the response was not a legal part of the contract, it was the only way a person in that culture could preserve their honor. Perserving honor in Greco-Roman culture was of the utmost importance. It was, after all, a predominatly honor-shame based culture. Few things were worse than public shame in Greco-Roman times. Paul uses this kind of thinking to urge the Romans to respond to God's gracious acts of mercy which may be seen as the kind benevolence of a patron toward undeserving patrons. The greater the gift or kindness extended by the patron, the more profound the response for the client.

παραστῆσαι τὰ σώματα ὑμῶν, translated is "to present your bodies." παραστῆσαι is an aorist infinitive. When we think of verbs, we think of type and time of action. Johnny hit the ball. The type of action here is active. Johnny "hit" the ball. The subject acted on the object, he HIT the ball. We also think in terms of time. When did this action take place? Was it past, present or future. In Greek, verbs also have aspect. In fact, recent studies indicate that it is possible that aspect concerned the writer more than the time of the action. By aspect we mean the kind of action. This refers to the writers perspective of the kind of action he is writing about. The aorist tense used by Paul looks at the action in its entirety. This tense expresses the entire act of hitting the ball. It does not emphasize the when or express the how, and it does not focus on the act as completed or even the consequences as a result of hitting the ball. Paul is concerned that the Romans respond to God in a way that not only reflects honor, but that reflects honor as the Christian ethic would define honor from beginning to end as a completed whole. The aorist infinitive, is controlled by the main verb of this text, which is
Παρακαλῶ. Paul is strong urging or exhorting the Roman Christians. But what is he exhorting them to do? The Aorist infinitive παραστῆσαι tells us that Paul is exhorting the Roman Christians "to present." Dan Wallace uses the analogy, "I told you to do the dishes." I told" is the controlling verb and "to do" is the infinitive which is the main verb of the clause "to do the dishes."

"It is much more likely that παραστῆσαι is here used as a technical term of religious ritual with the meaning "to offer." Paul's use here reminds us of his use just a few pages back where in 6:19 he contrasts presenting our members as slaves to unrighteousness with that of presenting them as slaves to righteousness. Again, in 6:16 he points out that when a person presents themself as a slave for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey. And again in 6:13 he commands, "do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as intruments of unrighteousness." Now, here is 12:1, the Romans are commanded to present their bodies, not part of their bodies, not some of their bodies, but their bodies en toto. The Christian is to offer to God himself entire - himself in the whole of his concrete life." [Cranfield, ICC, Romans, p. 599] In order to inform our minds of what Paul means here, I think it prudent for the Christian to harken back to Romans 6 where Paul uses similar language to describe the Christians relationship to sin and to righteous living. It is here that we see the lines of the painting filled in with the glorious colories of Paul's thoughts. It is in Romans 6 that Romans 12:1 finds its concreteness.


Thus far, Paul has strongly exhorted the Roman Christians to present their bodies. But what and how are they to present their bodies? Moreover, to what or whom are they to present their bodies? This brings us to our next few words, θυσίαν ζῶσαν ἁγίαν εὐάρεστον. This series of words appearing in the Greek text of Romans are not without some difficulty. However, the context in which they appear affords a great deal of help in understanding what Paul is getting at. As Cranfield notes, "So we take  θυσίαν to mean 'as a sacrifice' in the sense of the material of the sacrifice, the victim." The audience would have been intimately familiar with the cultic idea of sacrifice. Greco-Roman culture along with its Judaism were both immersed in the idea. "But the centrality of sacrifice in ancient religion made it a natural and inevitable vehicle for the early Christians to express their own religious convictions. At the same time, the NT use of the cultic language has an important salvation-historical and polemical function, claiming for Christianity the fulfillment of those institutions so central to the OT and to Judaism." [Moo, NICNT, Romans, p. 750]

The adjective ζῶσαν contrasts the typical results of animal sacrifies which is death. This adjective modifies θυσίαν and hence indicates that even though a sacrifice has been made, this sacrifice is a living one. It is not a presentation of living bodies, but a presentation of our entire bodies as a living sacrifice. "The sacrifice of which Paul writes demands not the destruction but the full energy of life." [Morris, PNCT, Romans, p. 434] At the same time, we cannot, we must not lose sight of death in discipleship. Christ spoke of losing one's life to find it and Paul also mentions that he is crucified with Christ. The language of dying and death serve throughout the NT as a metophor of this living sacrifice and of what it means to exit the secular group and cross over into the Christian group, the Jesus sect. The contrast of life in the world and life in the Christian community could not be more obvious.

Finally, this offering is holy and acceptable to God. The phrase is ἁγίαν εὐάρεστον τῷ θεῷ. This act is holy and pleasing to God. That is to say, it is set apart from the profane and especially devoted to serve the true and living God. The idea of this last phrase is threefold: 1) it is living, 2) it is holy, 3) it is pleasing to God. [Cranfield]

Finally, we come to τὴν λογικὴν λατρείαν ὑμῶν. Paul says that such an act on our part is our reasonable or rational service or worship. But is this idea anachronistic? Are we reading our idea of 'reasonable' back into Paul's use of this word? "This self-offering is our "reasonable" or "logical" worship (cf. 1 Pet. 2:2, 5). Here the Jerusalem Bible is helpful with its paraphrase: "worship worthy of thinking beings." Worship, that is, reflective of what we know and recognize to be true of God and what God has done. Humans are capable of being rational and recognizing that God is worthy of worship. Paul here is again perhaps drawing on a connection with thought that would be familiar to his Roman audience. Epictetus 1.16.20–21 says: "If I were a nightingale, I should be singing as a nightingale; if a swan as a swan. But as it is I am a rational (logikos) being, therefore I must be singing hymns of praise to God." Paul is also in some respects close here to Philo, who says "The soul … ought to honor God not irrationally nor ignorantly, but with knowledge and reason" (Special Laws 1.209)." [Witherington III, Ben. Paul's Letters to the Romans, p. 285]

Paul's transition from theology to praxis could not be more sacrosanct. Hence, the connection between rich theology and passionate Christian living could not be more solidified that it is in this text. Christians, on the basis of God's mercy, compasion, love, and grace are to respond to the divine Patron like an honorable client. The presentation of Christ as the gift of God to the undeserving demands a response commensurate with the quality and nature of gift that it represents. So often we are told in Scripture to live in a manner worthy of our calling. Every time I read these texts, I am left feeling like such a state is far beyond my grasp. Yet, the measure of that living is not found in the end results themselves, but in the energy required to even put forth the attempt. And that is what matters. We know we will fall short and we will do so repeatedly. But the energy we spend getting back up, acknowledging our sinfulness, and re-engaging in the effort to shake the profane thing from our lives this time is really where this living matters. In the end, we recognize that humans could never offer a response commensuate with such a gift no matter the energy and effort spent on the endeavor. And we rest, on the hand, on the resolve to do our best, and on the other hand, on the knowledge of the fact that here too, as in every other area, we fall short and are reminded that grace is pouring out upon us even as we fail to respond as we desire. (Romans 7 is a good place to see this in Paul)
 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Responding to Rick’s Warren’s Response to the Newtown Tragedy


“But many are also questioning what role faith and God play at a time like this, and are looking toward pastors and religious leaders for answers. Warren says that God's will is in heaven, but it is rarely done on Earth because humans are free to make their own choices.” [Christian Post]

These words appeared in the Christian Post recently in an article discussing Rick Warren’s reaction to the Newtown, Connecticut tragedy. Warren is quoted as saying that “free will” is man’s greatest blessing and man’s greatest curse. While much of what Warren said in the article was true, his basic apologetic on this issue falls far short of biblical revelation on the idea of God’s sovereignty in the Newtown, Conn. tragedy.

I understand what Warren is getting at. I really do. I had another friend of mine refer to a similar conversation he had with another pastor friend on the very same subject. In theology, we call it “theodicy.” It is the age-old problem of reconciling the existence of an all good, all knowing, all powerful God with the present reality of evil.

As this argument goes, if God were all good, he should destroy evil. If He were all knowing, He would certainly know how to destroy evil. Finally, if God were all powerful, he could destroy evil. God knows how to destroy evil, and He is powerful enough to destroy evil, and since He is good, he should destroy evil, but here we are. Evil certainly exists as the Newtown tragedy clearly demonstrates.

Warren’s argument is an attempt to remove God from the dilemma of existing alongside evil. So, the argument goes that God, in order to create the greater good of “free will” must also tolerate the present existence of evil. There is no other way. In other words, God could destroy evil right now, but if He did, He would also destroy the best possible world of “free will .” In other words, while it may feel like the Newtown tragedy points to a lessor world, it actually points to a superior one. “The problem of evil is a serious challenge to the defense of Christianity. Actually there are many problems relating to evil, for example, the problems about its origin, nature, purpose, and avoidability.”[1]

The problem of the existence of evil is a serious problem for the Christian worldview. Serious problems demand serious answers. It would be a mistake to treat the issue with a casual attitude. It follows then that whatever answer we provide to the inquirer, it must be a careful and considered one. The answer must be true. That is to say, it must be grounded, not in human reason, but in the revelation of Scripture. The doctrine of God and of man as revealed in Scripture provide a clear path through this problem. In addition, the Christian view on the reality of evil and its purpose serve the believer very well in being able to deal with this question.

According to Rick Warren’s statement at the outset of this blog, the Newtown tragedy was an incident that occurred outside of God’s will. In other words, this incident happened beyond God’s control. If God willed that the Newtown incident would not happen, then how did it happen? It is one thing to claim that God hates the evil reflected in the Newtown incident and quite another to claim that it lay outside His sovereign will. We go back to the objection of God’s existence with evil. Christians contend that a good, powerful, and wise God exists along with evil. The mystery involves God’s infinite intellect and the existence of evil. Warren, and those like him claim that you cannot have free will without the possibility of evil. However, that argument does not hold true. It does not follow that free will demands the freedom to some form of evil. All that is necessary for freedom of choice to exist is that there be more than one choice. Freewill does not require that one be able to choose the contrary. It only requires choice. For example, if I have the choice to marry one of five women, I am free to marry any one of those five women. There is no evil choice involved. Freedom does not require freedom to do wickedly. If that is true, then God Himself is not free. God cannot sin! But who among us would say that God does not exercise free choice, free will?

“In treating of Evil in relation to Theodicy it is quite impossible to leave out of consideration metaphysics and epistemology. The views of sin will vary as the conceptions of God and man vary. If we view God as infinite, eternal, and immutable in His being, intelligence, and will, and man his organic creation, if we accept the supernatural, grant the need of special revelation, accept the fact of special revelation and the fall of man, we must needs also come to the Biblical view of sin with redemption and restoration. If on the other hand we deny these premises, we must begin with man and experience as we find them, and construct our own views as to the nature of God and man and therefore also of sin, and we come to a fundamentally different theory of Theodicy.”[2]

Van Til gets to the heart of the matter. The problem of evil is really about our presuppositions regarding God, man, sin, and revelation. It is about where begin our answer to this question more than anything else. We either begin with God and what Scripture teaches about God or we begin with man, with experience and construct an answer on that basis. I will spend the rest of this blog proving from Scripture that the kind of God that the Christian worldview teaches, the kind that Scripture reveals, is the God Who is sovereign over all creation. “That the sovereignty of God is universal. It extends over all his creatures from the highest to the lowest. (2.) That it is absolute. There is no limit to be placed to his authority. He doeth his pleasure in the armies of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. (3.) It is immutable. It can neither be ignored nor rejected. It binds all creatures, as inexorably as physical laws bind the material universe.”[3]

Psalm 115:3 “But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.” This psalm is really quite clear. God does what God really wants to do. It is important that we distinguish between good desires and actual willing. God does what God wills to do. In other words, nothing happens that God does not first will it.

Daniel 4:35 “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven And among the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand Or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” Yet here we are daring to question God on the Newtown matter or matters that personally affect us more directly. It is never a small matter to hint that maybe God is not in sovereign control of things, that perhaps He has wound up a clock in deistic fashion and is simply letting her run her course. Such a view severely impugns God’s immanence, his involvement with His creation. This is not the God of Christianity. It is a god we come up with when we begin with experience, with our own bias as to how things ought to be.

Psalm 24:1 “The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, The world, and those who dwell in it.” God is in complete control over all things. There is nothing that He does not control.

Ezekiel 18:4 “Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins will die.” God is holy. He is perfectly righteous. Human beings are fallen, rebellious sinners undeserving of the mercy and grace God pours out upon us. God could take all our children in the same manner as the Newtown tragedy and we could not open our mouth for a second in criticism of His action. Why? We have all sinned against God in numerous ways. We have lied, cheated, stolen, committed adultery, blasphemed, etc. We do not deserve the joys that our children bring us. Those joys are an act of grace and loving-kindness by a God who is far more gracious than we could ever imagine. Yet, we have these conversations without facing what feels like this harsh truth. Any other view of the joys that our children bring us either reduces the gift that they are or it belittles the human condition of depravity. Both choices are unacceptable.

Isaiah 45:9 “Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker— An earthenware vessel among the vessels of earth! Will the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you doing?’ Or the thing you are making say, ‘He has no hands’?” Paul quotes this verse to debunk the human argument that would claim that free will must exist in order for God’s punishment to be just. While the argument is slightly different from this one, it does rest on the same foundation of autonomous human reason and it begins, not with God, but with human experience. God, as the potter, can do and actually does whatever He pleases with His own vessels.

Ephesians 1:11 “also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will.” God is working, does work, always works all things according to the counsel of His own will. He does not work some things, like salvation, according to the counsel of His own will. He works all things according to the counsel of His own will.

Romans 11:36 “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” From God comes all things. To God, for His glory all things exist. Everything is through Him. In other words, nothing exists or happens apart from God.

It would seem then that Rick Warren’s characterization that God’s will is not always carried out on earth is a teaching that runs contrary to the revelation of Scripture and hence to the fundamental tenets of the Christian faith on the subject. In my next blog, I will actually answer the challenge of evil and discuss how we can minister and serve those who are facing tragedies like the one in Newtown.



[1] Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 219.
[2] Cornelius Van Til and Eric H. Sigward, Unpublished Manuscripts of Cornelius Van Til, Electronic ed. (Labels Army Company: New York, 1997).
[3] Charles Hodge, vol. 1, Systematic Theology (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 440.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Covenant Theology and Covenant Kids - Part II


The Covenant Sign in the Old Testament
It is in Genesis 17, that Scripture introduces us to the ancient practice of circumcision. “This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you.” This is not the first or the last time the word אות is used to refer to the אוֹת בְּרִית.

אוֹת־הַבְּרִית is used in Gen. 9:12. God also gave Noah the rainbow as a sign of the covenant that he made with him. Moreover, we also see the Sabbath used as a sign between the Lord and Israel in Ex. 31:13 and Ezk. 20:12. The idea that God provides an outward sign to indicate his covenantal relationship appears on several occasions throughout redemptive history. This is a well-established and without controversy.
I should also note that God informed Abraham that any uncircumcised male would be cut off from his people because he has broken God’s covenant. (Gen. 17:14) The question enters concerning the female covenant members. What would be the sign they could carry? The answer must be viewed through the patriarchal structure of the culture. The Fathers and husbands of the daughters and wives stood as the representative head of the family and therefore, their sign was also the sign of the female(s) they represented. Circumcision was not a condition of the covenant, but rather, it was the sign that a covenant was in effect, established, in place. What we are looking for is an equivalent to the sign of the covenant in the NT, under the new covenant.

Baptism in the NT
Covenant theology holds that baptism is to the New Covenant what circumcision was to the Abrahamic covenant. It is a sign indicating God’s abiding covenantal relationship. My first question relates to the sufficiency of baptism to serve in such a role to begin with. For Noah, the sign of the rainbow would be continual. Hence, it served as a continual reminder that God would never again destroy the earth with water. The sign of the Sabbath was another covenant sign that represented a continual, on-going sign indicating a covenantal relationship was in place. Finally, circumcision was an act that permanently altered the appearance of a man. By its very nature, it also reflected the permanent nature of the sign of the covenant and the special, on-going covenantal relationship between God and His people. One has to ask if the sacrament of baptism has the same ability. Is baptism the sign of the new covenant or is it a picture of the person’s death to sin, burial with Christ, and resurrection to a newness of life? Perhaps it is both. To answer that question, we turn to the NT Scriptures.

“Rites of immersion were not uncommon in the world in which early Christianity developed. One type of symbolism with which they were frequently connected was that of purification: from sin, from destruction, from the profane sphere before entering an holy area, from something under a taboo, etc.”[1]
The idea of defilement and uncleanness was prevalent in the first century culture of Palestine. In the case of Christian baptism, it isn’t any one thing that has made one unclean or profane, but rather one’s entire existence apart from the Christian group, apart from Christ Himself, and hence without God. Perhaps this explains the connection between baptism, and the new birth, or entrance into Christ’s Church, His body. “Such cleansings can take place when one stands on the verge of a new state in life or is entering into a new community or upon a new phase of life, etc. Thus they can function as rites of initiation or as rites of passage. Depending on the way in which one regards the situation being left behind and the one being entered, such rites can be connected with ideas of a new birth, of a new life, or of salvation as contrasted to nothingness, chaos, death, or destruction.[2]

It would seem that NT baptism is more germane to the change in an individual than it is the sign of a covenant. The practice of Christian baptism is a command of the founder of Christianity, Jesus Christ Himself. Christians are commanded to be baptized as part of their public proclamation that they have left the old group, the world, behind and have entered a radical new sect known as the Christian group, the Christ-followers. Christ commanded His followers in Matt. 28:19 to preach the gospel, make disciples, and baptize converts throughout the world. Hence, Christian baptism is a momentous practice in the Christian community. Peter reinforces this command of Christ in Acts 2:38 when he commands his audience to repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ.
Christian baptism follows an outward response to the gospel. In Acts 2:41, those who had received the words of Peter were baptized. Again, in Acts 8:12, when the city of Samaria received the word of God, they were baptized, women and men alike the text informs us. The Ethiopian Eunuch, after hearing Philip deliver the gospel, desired to be baptized and indeed he was baptized. (Acts 8:36-38) While I recognize the variant in v.37, the fact that the best Alexandrian witnesses omit it does little to detract from the fact that Christian baptism in fact does require Christian conversion and a public confession of faith in Jesus Christ. In essence, Christian baptism requires genuine faith. Even though the earliest manuscript that contains the verse is dated to the 6th century, the tradition of the Eunuch’s confession is attested as early as the second century, being quoted by Irenaeus in Against Heresies III.xii.8.

After his conversion and subsequent healing of blindness, Paul was immediately baptized by Ananias. (Acts 9:18) Peter baptized the gentile coverts of Cornelius’ house immediately after they received the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 10:48) Lydia was baptized after the Lord opened her heart to respond to the gospel. (Acts 16:15) The Jailer who expressed faith in Christ was immediately baptized along with his house. (Acts 16:33) The connection between faith and baptism emerges once more in Acts:18:8 where Crispus and his house believed as well as a number of Corinthians and were baptized. The final record of baptism in Acts is located in 19:5 where John’s disciples were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. All throughout the historical record of the NT Church, baptism followed quickly the outward sign of conversion to the Christian group.
The spiritual parallel of water baptism is our baptism into the body of Christ by His Spirit. Romans 6:4 states it clearly, “Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” Water baptism is an official proclamation by the individual that they have been spiritually baptized into the body of Christ. They have died to the rudimentary elements of this fading world, and now live a new life devoted entirely to Christ. The believer is submerged into the watery grave, and raised again in a newness of life. This is the picture. The whole point seems to be that water baptism is a depiction of something that has already taken place in the heart. Paul says, “having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.”

In I Cor. 10:2, Paul provides the OT type for the NT antitype. It was not circumcision at all. According to Paul, the exodus was the type, which pointed to Christian baptism in the NT. The evens of Exodus 13-14, according to Paul are a picture of the NT sacrament of baptism. The OT presents the picture of baptism in the presence of God witnessed in the cloud and in the miracle of the parting of the sea as the Children of Israel passed through the waters. Just as the exodus was a baptism into Moses, who stood for the law and liberty in God, freedom from Egyptian bondage, so too does NT baptism depict the exodus of the new believer as they are delivered from sin to come under the law of Christ.

The question of the salvation of covenant children is a very serious one. If covenant theology is correct in its understanding of the covenantal arrangement, it follows that to leave children out of the equation and to deny their guaranteed salvation, and not to include them in Christian baptism as early as possible is a serious and grievous error. This is a matter of exceptional significance. The practical implications are far reaching if the covenant view is correct. It is fundamental to our Christian walk as believers in the Christian community and especially as parents.
There are a number of opportunities for the NT writers to have recorded the baptism of children with absolute clarity. Luke was clear when he recorded the baptism of women in Samaria. He stated clearly that both men and women were baptized. He went out of his way to record the baptism of Lydia, a female convert to Christ. He was clear when he informed Theophilus about the baptism of the Samaritan believers as well as the Gentiles. He even went out of his way to mention followers of John. Luke was a very precise historian who gave careful attention to the details. Yet, in all his records of the NT Church, Luke never once recorded the baptism of a child. It seems quite natural to me that the record in Acts 8 of the Samaritan baptism was a perfect opportunity for Luke to add children to the men and women being baptized. However, there is no mention of children in Luke’s record. Every use of household assumes the presence of children. This assumption has little to go on. Moreover, we do not build theology on assumptions and we certainly do not dogmatize views based off it. Since the belief that children of covenant parents are elect and guaranteed salvation is basic, it would seem to me that the doctrine of perspicuity would provide direction on the subject in the revelation of the NT. However, the record is far from clear. The lack of clarity itself serves as a devastating blow against the covenant argument. The baptism of children, according to covenant theology, must fall into the category of basic Christian praxis. Hence, basic Christian praxis is always, always treated with great clarity in the NT teachings.

In addition, nowhere in the NT is the Greek word σημεῖον used with διαθήκη to signify that there is a sign of the new covenant. However, the sign of the covenant was significant enough that in Noah’s case, and in Abraham’s case, and even in the case of Moses, God spells out clearly signs for those respective covenants: the rainbow, the Sabbath, and circumcision. Providing signs for a divine covenant is God’s prerogative. The point is that a sign is rudimentary, central, and unequivocal. There should be no room for reasonable dispute based on rigorous exegesis or interpretive principles. This is clearly not the case when we come to the subject of baptism standing in place of circumcision as the sign of the new covenant.
Suffer the Children to come to me

Covenant theologians are famous for using Jesus’ blessing of the little children to demonstrate that infants are or can be elect. Mark’s record (10:13-16) is probably the most detailed with Luke giving us the added detail that these children were babies (βρέφη). Jesus tells us that unless we receive the kingdom of God like a child, we will in no wise enter into it. This gives us a hint as to what godly faith and trust looks like. No one believes like a child believes. No one trusts quite like a child trusts. Is it any wonder that we are called children of God? Hence, we are called to believe and trust like little children. There is rich theological truth in these passages, but none that would support the idea of covenantal election. There is no relationship mentioned between the faith of the parent and that of the child. In other words, if we were to interpret this text as covenant theologians do, it would seem to point toward the salvation of all infants because Jesus did not bother to provide any qualifications or distinctions. The parents’ status is nowhere mentioned by any NT writer and thus, seems irrelevant. If the NT authors were writing with divine election of covenantal children in mind as they recorded this event, which is what covenant folks seem to believe, they certainly left much to the imagination. Again, we come back to the point of severe or extreme ambiguity.
I Cor. 7:14

The last piece of examination is the interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7:14. Paul writes, “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy.” It is illegitimate exegesis to characterize this pericope as dealing with the question of children in spiritually mixed or even unmixed marriages. The subject of I Corinthians 7 is marital relations, not the election of covenant children. Moreover, the family is not coming into anywhere in this text. Paul begins the discussion talking about sexual relations and moves quickly into marital relations in the covenant community. The immediate context of this passage concerns divorce, not covenantal children.
The use of the perfect tense indicates a stative aspect in Paul’s thinking. The state of the unbelieving husband is sanctification. However, is this sanctification in terms of individual sanctification or should it be viewed as sanctification in the context of marriage? Whatever the meaning, one must consider the that this same sense extends to the children of such a relationship as well. “The perfect tense indicates that the unbeliever has become and will continue to be a part of the marriage unit on which God has his claim [EBC].”[3]

The context of this passage is within the area of the institution of marriage. It is best to understand this sanctification within the unit of the marriage, the husband wife relationship. God has set apart the unbelieving husband for the believing wife, and vice-versa. Therefore, the believing spouse has no cause to worry about separating from the unbelieving partner. There are no contamination fears with which to be concerned. The Corinthians were concerned with what defiled a person. Sexual relations with an unbelieving spouse do not defile the believing spouse.
Paul then argues that if the Corinthian believers were correct about such defilement, then it would mean their children are also defiled in the sense that they are outside of the bounds of the Christian community like any other unbelieving family. The idea is that your children, by nature of your covenantal relationship to Christ are indeed in an advantageous position. They are within the circle of the Christian community in the sense that they are surrounded by believers. They are in the presence of the word. They experience the gatherings of the Christian group. The holy are children in the same way that the unbelieving spouse is holy. Does it follow then that God promises to save the spouse of the believer because Paul uses such language to describe them? I do not think any covenant theologian would agree.



[1] Lars Hartman, "Baptism" In , in , vol. 1, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, ed. David Noel Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 583.
[2] Lars Hartman, "Baptism" In , in , vol. 1, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, ed. David Noel Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 583.
[3] Ronald Trail, An Exegetical Summary of 1 Corinthians 1–9 (Dallas, TX: SIL International, 2008), 268.

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