Who is Jesus? A Bible Study

helpStudying bible doctrine can be hard. There are two approaches a bible teacher can take here.

He can do this in a systematic way, where he explains the doctrine using passages or verses from all over the Bible to present a comprehensive, thorough look at what the Scripture has to say about a particular issue. The difficulty here is that you can’t “see” the doctrine in one particular place, because you’ve been skipping around so much.

He can also teach a doctrine from one major passage, and perhaps a few more, too. But, the teacher will usually spend his time working through a major passage, allowing the students to “see it” with their own eyes as they discuss the passage, bit by bit. The downside is that not every passage will have everything “important” in it; there are always more passages to turn to!

In response to a great question from a church member (hi, Laura!), I decided to post a series of questions about Christ from Hebrews 1. This list isn’t comprehensive, and I could have thought of more. But, it’s a good start! I also decided to start by providing a very brief discussion of the doctrine of the Trinity, to get us off on the right foot.

Ciao. Enjoy …

A moment with the trinity

Here is a short, orthodox definition of God, from the 1833 New Hampshire Confession of Faith (Article 2):

We believe that there is one, and only one, living and true God, an infinite, intelligent Spirit, whose name is JEHOVAH, the Maker and Supreme Ruler of heaven and earth; inexpressibly glorious in holiness, and worthy of all possible honor, confidence, and love; that in the unity of the Godhead there are three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; equal in every divine perfection, and executing distinct and harmonious offices in the great work of redemption.

This definition tells us a whole bunch of things:

  1. There is one true God, He’s alive today, and He’s infinite in power and greatness.
  2. He is a Spirit, which means He has no inherent bodily form.
  3. His name, according to the Hebrew spelling, is Jehovah. In more modern times, we know this should actually be pronounced YAHWEH (“yaw-whey”)
  4. God made and rules over all creation
  5. God is indescribably holy
  6. God deserves all possible honor, confidence and love
  7. This one God has always consisted of three Divine people; Father, Son and Spirit.
  8. Each Person is co-eternal (i.e. been around forever) and co-equal to each other.
  9. Each person acts in unity with the other (“unity of the Godhead”), which means all three Divine People act together to accomplish everything. There is never a time when the Son acts, and the Father and Spirit take a rest on the front porch for a while. They act together.
  10. God chose to highlight different roles for each Person in Scripture, so we’d see and understand each Person taking a “starring part” in a different role, so we’d understand that He’s triune (i.e. Father, Son and Spirit). By highlighting one Person’s activity in an action more than the other two, God shows us His triune nature.

Questions, questions!

Here are some questions to consider from Hebrews 1-2:

In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world (Heb 1:1-2).

 

Jesus is God’s Son (Heb 1:2). What does that mean?

A psalmist also mentioned God’s son, in Psalm 2. What is that Psalm about? What does God’s Son do, in that psalm? Who is He king over? What kind of power will he have? Is this son, in Psalm 2, the same or different than God? Why do you think God quoted Psalm 2 at Jesus’ baptism (Mk 1:9-11), and called Jesus His Son? Why do you think God did the same thing, again, later in Jesus’ ministry (Mk 9:2-8)?

What does it mean, in Hebrews 1:2, when the Bible tells us God appointed Jesus “heir of all things?” What is an heir? What does that mean for Jesus? What are “all things?”

Who created the world (Heb 1:2)? Doesn’t the Book of Genesis say God created the world? Read Psalm 33:6-7, and especially Job 38-39. Why, in light of these passages, does it say that God (one Person) used His Son (a second Person) to create the world?

He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has obtained is more excellent than theirs (Heb 1:3-4).

What does it mean that the Son “reflects the glory of God” (Heb 1:3)? The KJV says He is “the brightness of His glory.” What does this mean? Can a created being ever perfectly reflect God’s glory?

If Jesus reflects God’s glory, then is He somehow distinct from God? After all, you can’t reflect your own glory; someone else has to reflect it, right?

What does it mean that the Son “bears the very stamp of His [i.e. God’s] nature,” (Heb 1:3)? The KJV says the Son is “the express image of His person.” What does this mean? Can a created being really have an identical nature, and bear the very stamp of God’s nature? What does this tell us about who Jesus is? Is He divine, or created?

The Son is, right now (present-tense) “upholding the universe by His word of power,” (Heb 1:3). What does this mean? Doesn’t the Bible say that Jehovah, God Almighty, created and controls the world, even now (read Psalm 33:6-7, and especially Job 38-39)? What does this tell us about Jesus, and the doctrine of the Trinity?

What does it mean that the Son “made purification from sins” (Heb 1:3)? How did He do that?

What does it tell you about Jesus that He “sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high” (Heb 1:3)?

A Psalmist used a similar phrase (i.e. sitting at God’s right hand) in Psalm 110; what is that psalm about? Who is the LORD who speaks to David’s Lord, who’s sitting at His right hand? What does the LORD send His Lord to do? Why do you think Jesus asked the same question (Mk 12:35-37)?

Why is the Son “much superior” to the angels (Heb 1:4)? If angels are God’s highest created beings, then what does this (and everything we’ve asked) tell us about who Jesus is?

For to what angel did God ever say,

“Thou art my Son,
today I have begotten thee”?

Or again,

“I will be to him a father,
and he shall be to me a son”?

And again, when he brings the first-born into the world, he says,

“Let all God’s angels worship him.” (Heb 1:5-6)

Did God ever call an angel His Son (Heb 1:5; see Psalm 2:7)? Why do you think the writer of the Book of Hebrews is making this comparison? What does he want you to “get” about Jesus?

Did God ever promise to make an angel His son, and to be a Father to an angel (Heb 1:5; see 2 Samuel 7:14)? Why do you think the writer of the Book of Hebrews is making this comparison? What does he want you to “get” about Jesus?

Of the angels he says,

“Who makes his angels winds,
and his servants flames of fire.”

But of the Son he says,

“Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever,
the righteous scepter is the scepter of thy kingdom.
Thou hast loved righteousness and hated lawlessness;
therefore God, thy God, has anointed thee
with the oil of gladness beyond thy comrades,” (Heb 1:7-9).

God calls His angels servants (Heb 1:7; see Psalm 104:4) but, the writer of Hebrews says, compare this to when a Psalmist wrote a song that called the Israelite king “God,” (Heb 1:8; see Psalm 45:6-7). This king’s throne endures forever, He’ll have a kingdom to rule over, and He loves righteousness and hates lawlessness (Heb 1:8-9). Why do you think the writer of the Book of Hebrews is making this comparison? What does he want you to “get” about Jesus? He’s the Israelite King they’d been waiting for (see Mk 11:7-10). So, what does it mean that the writer of Hebrews called the king from Psalm 45 “God?”

And,

“Thou, Lord, didst found the earth in the beginning,
and the heavens are the work of thy hands;
they will perish, but thou remainest;
they will all grow old like a garment,
like a mantle thou wilt roll them up,
and they will be changed.
But thou art the same,
and thy years will never end.”

But to what angel has he ever said,

“Sit at my right hand,
till I make thy enemies
a stool for thy feet”? (Heb 1:10-13).

The writer of Hebrews also wants you to know that a Psalmist was also talking about God’s Son when he wrote that God made the earth and the heavens, that God will last longer than both of them, and that God is eternal (Heb 1:10-12; see Psalm 102:25-27). The Psalmist said God did this, but the writer to Hebrews says this was actually talking about God’s Son! Likewise, the Book of Genesis says God created the heavens and the earth, but the writer of Hebrews says God actually did that through His Son (Heb 1:2).

It’s important you know the New Testament further clarifies things the Old Testament says. God did create everything, in the triune sense that all three People participated in creation, but the writer wants to highlight the Son’s particular role in that drama. But, when compared to this, what angel did God ever tell to “sit at my right hand, till I make thy enemies a stool for thy feet” (Heb 1:13)? Why do you think the writer of the Book of Hebrews is making this comparison? What does he want you to “get” about Jesus?

Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation (Heb 1:14)?

What does the Bible say angels do, in Hebrews 1:14? Is that what Jesus does, or does He have a much bigger role?

Finis

There are other good bible passages to turn to about Jesus. But, this is a good one to start with. I hope you find it useful.

The Obligation of Marriage

adams.jpgJay Adams is known as the father of the Christian counseling movement. When people think of “counseling,” they may have images of a contemplative psychologist, pen at the ready, and a comfy couch.

No.

Biblical counseling sounds stuffy, but its really about applying the bible (and its worldview) to real Christian people, with real problems, in real life, in the real world. You can read more about the principles behind this biblical approach here. This is the presuppositional approach Jay Adams brought to the mainstream in 1970, when he published his landmark book Competent to CounselThis is also the approach many conservative Christian universities and seminaries teach their students to use in pastoral ministry. My own alma mater, Maranatha Baptist Seminary, uses this method. So does The Masters College.

Here, in this excerpt from his outstanding book Solving Marriage ProblemsJay Adams discusses the overriding obligation that comes with marriage:

When a couple takes marriage vows, whether they realize it or not (and often they do not), they are vowing to provide companionship for one another for the rest of their lives; that is what their views amount to. Notice, they do not vow to receive companionship, but to provide it for one another. Marriage itself is an act of love in which one person vows to meet another’s need for life, no strings attached.

That means that when a husband or a wife complains,

“I am not getting what I want out of marriage,”

his or her statement is nonsensical. And you must reply,

“You did not enter marriage in order to get something for yourself. You vowed to give something to your partner. Marriage is not a bargain in which each partner says, ‘I will give so much in return for so much.’ Each vows to give all that is necessary to meet his or her spouse’s need for companionship, whether or not he or she receives anything in return. Therefore, the only question for you is, ‘Are you fulfilling your vows?'”

Many marry for what they can get out of the marriage; but that is lust, not love, and is biblically untenable.

Ouch.

Why They Followed the Law (Pt. 2)

lawRead the series

Why do people follow God’s law, both then and now? We do it because we love God, and we want to serve Him with our lives. It has always been that way, and it will always be that way. Jesus addressed this issue directly (Mk 12:28-34), so let’s look at what He had to say.

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” (Mk 12:28)

This goes to show you that stereotypes aren’t always accurate; a scribe is the one who asks this question. The context which prompted the question is Jesus’ dispute with the Sadducees about the validity of the resurrection (Mk 12:18-27). This man is a Pharisee.[1] He’s somebody who is very concerned with the letter of the law. So, naturally, he wants to know what the greatest commandment is – so he can follow it![2]

Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these,” (Mk 12:29-31).

Here is the content of Jesus’ answer, from Deuteronomy 6:4-5.[3] Think about what it tells us about why God’s people should obey His law.

Our God is the Lord

God is your master. He is in complete charge of your life, your soul, your blessings, your cursings, your destiny. If you’re a Christian, God created you as a new person in Christ “for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them,” (Eph 2:10). You were saved in order to serve the Lord, and work for Him.

 God is your Lord! If He saved you, then you are now a willing and enthusiastic slave for righteousness.[4] This is the foundation for Jesus’ answer.

The Lord is One

There is only One legitimate Lord you can serve – everything else is a pagan counterfeit. He is the God of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Scriptures. He is the God of the First Covenant and the God of the New Covenant

You will love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength

You must love God with everything you have, with every fiber of your being! These terms are not synonymous (we could look at each of them individually), but together they express a simple concept – a complete, all-encompassing love for God![5] Anything done for a reason other than this is counterfeit, and God is not pleased by it. This is why God’s people should want to do what He says.

You will love your neighbor just as you love yourself

Who is your neighbor? In the context of Leviticus 19:18 (which Jesus quoted from), your neighbor is a covenant brother and sister – including a believing Gentile (cf. Lev 19:34). In short, Jesus is talking about “brotherly love,” (cf. 1 Jn 4:20). You should love and value your Christian brothers and sisters just as much as you love and value yourself.

All of the Old Covenant law can be summed up in these two commands (cf. Mt 22:40). God is your Lord, therefore you exist to serve Him. Your Lord is One, therefore any other worship is idolatry. So, you must love God with everything you have. This is the only appropriate motivation for service.

  • You serve God because He saved you from yourself, knowing who you are, what you have done, what you are doing now, and what you will do in the future.
  • Because you’re so grateful and love Him so much, you’ll want to serve Him with your life.
  • And because all this is true, you also love your covenant brothers and sisters because, together, you’re each part of God’s family.

Jesus refers to these two commandments as one singular commandment[6] because, together, they sum up the entire teaching purpose of the law.[7] They’re inseparable. If you love God, then you’ll love God’s children, because they’re your brothers and sisters.

And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that he is one, and there is no other but he; and to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices” (Mk 12:32-33)

Why does the scribe have such insight? Isn’t he supposed to be a legalistic hypocrite!? This is why we must always remember we can’t read the Bible like it’s cardboard. This is the story of real people, with real minds of their own, who act like real people would actually act. It’s always dangerous to over-generalize about people; it’s true today and it was true then.

Most of the scribes were legalists like the Pharisees, but not all of them were! This scribe seems to be genuinely sincere.[8] It is likely God was drawing this man to saving faith. I like to think he repented and believed one day. After all, some of the Pharisees did believe (e.g. Nicodemus, Acts 15:5).

And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any question (Mk 12:34; cf. Mt 22:34-40)

This is Jesus’ inspired statement about why God’s people should obey God’s law; especially the Old Covenant law. You obey God’s law because you love Him, and want to serve Him. Real salvation produces real fruit. That fruit is wholehearted love for God, which proves itself by action.

The entire bible agrees.

Notes

[1] William L. Lane suggests the man could be a Sadducee, because that group had its own group of legal interpreters (The Gospel of Mark, in NICNT [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974], 431). I doubt this. I’m not aware of any place in the NT where the phrase γραμματεύς refers to the Sadducees; however, the reference to “scribes of the Pharisees” (Mk 2:16) is intriguing, suggesting different sects may have had their own scribes.

Generally, however, the scribes are associated with the Pharisee party. Add to it that Jesus had just handily dispatched the Sadducees’ ridiculous argument against the resurrection. If this particular scribe were a Sadducee, one would not expect him to engage in a discussion over which commandment was first of all! This is a Pharisaical question, through and through. A Sadducee would likely be smarting over the discussion which had just ended. “Most scribes aligned with the Pharisees in their theology, including their teaching on the resurrection and the authority of Scripture,” (Mark L. Strauss, Mark, in ZECNT [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014], 541).

[2] There is more to this question, but I don’t have time to go into it here. See Lane (Mark, 431-432) and James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, in PNTC (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 370-371.

Lane observed, “Both the question and its presuppositions stem from a piety of human achievement, supported by scribal interpretation of the biblical mandates (Lane, Mark, 431).

[3] The UBS-5, TR and BYZ are each identical to the LXX (Rahlfs) here. Very interesting! This phrase can be rendered in a variety of ways, depending on how you interpret the nominatives – just look at the different English translations. I rendered it, “Jesus answered that [the] most important is, ‘Listen, Israel! Our God is Lord. [The] Lord is one.”

[4] “Jesus demands a decision and readiness for God, and for God alone, in an unconditional manner. Clearly this cannot be the subject of legal enactment. It is a matter of the will and action. The love which determines the whole disposition of one’s life and places one’s whole personality in the service of God reflects a commitment to God which springs from divine sonship,” (Lane, Mark, 432-433).

[5] See Craig A. Evans, Mark 8:27 – 16:20, in WBC, vol. 34b (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2001), 264.

[6] The Greek is clear here: μείζων τούτων ἄλλη ἐντολὴ οὐκ ἔστιν (“there is not another command greater than these”). Strauss, however, disputes this point grammatically (Mark, 546 [fn. 11]).

[7] Evans suggests they sum up the Decalogue (Mark 8:27 – 16:20, 265). I don’t have time to elaborate that here.

[8] Walter W. Wessel, Mark, in EBC, vol. 8 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), 736.

When Patronage is a Good Thing

deSilvaThe New Testament was written in a world that operated in a social context of patronage and reciprocity. This is a complicated way of saying that you got things done by “knowing people.” Society at every level functioned by people operating as “patrons” for others (“clients”), who then repaid these favors by trumpeting the virtues and honor (etc.) of their patrons. Things got done because of these personal relationships, and patronage was an accepted part of society, in a matter that would likely be seen as “corrupt” today.

This patron/client relationship can help us understand the relationship Christians have to God. He’s the patron, and we are His clients. He’s decided to help us out by providing the gift of salvation, and we’re obligated to proclaim and trumpet His grace, goodness, mercy and kindness to anyone who will listen.

In his wonderful book, Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture, David deSilva explains some of these implications (pgs. 155 – 156):

The fundamental ethos governing relationships of patrons and clients, benefactors and beneficiaries, and friends is that grace must answer grace. The receiving of favor must lead to the return of gratitude, or else the beauty and nobility of the relationship is defaced (dis-graced). As we grow in our appreciation of God’s beneficence, we are thereby impelled to energize our commitment to make an appropriate response of gratitude to God. When the magnificence of God’s generosity is considered, gratitude and its fruits must of necessity fill our speech, attitudes and actions.

The New Testament authors outline what a just and suitable response would entail, guiding us to act as honorable recipients of favor and averting us from feeling an ugly response of ingratitude, neglect or disloyalty, which would also lead to the danger of exclusion from future favors yet to be conferred. We come to engage evangelism more naturally (but also necessarily) now now as a contest for winning souls, but as an opportunity to spread the fame of God and testify to the good things God has done in our behalf.

The obligations of gratitude demand that we not hold our tongue in this reward! We begin to understand that obedience to God – throwing ourselves and our resources into the work of caring for the global church – is not something we ought to do over and above the demands of everyday life. Rather, these pursuits are placed at the center of each day’s agenda. As God did not bestow on us what was merely left over after he satisfied himself, so we are called on to make a like exchange by giving our all and our best to God’s service, first.

Moreover, we discover that loyalty to such a patron must be preserved without wavering. This can embolden us in our struggles with our sins, as we consider how indulging them enacts disloyalty toward the one we should only please. It can also embolden our confrontations with an unbelieving world that finds wholehearted loyalty to this God and his ways a threat and reproach to its way of life. Gratitude provides a clarifying focus to the Christian for his or her life, a single value that, lived out as the New Testament authors direct, will result in a vibrant, fruitful discipleship.

The Most Boring Sermon Ever – Jesus and the Burnt Offering

You haven’t read the Book of Leviticus lately … have you? Don’t be shy; I understand! This is a confusing and mysterious book to many Christians, but it doesn’t have to be. The book is about the moral, ceremonial and civil laws that God’s people had to follow under the Old Covenant. It’s full of lots of details, and lots and lots of blood.

Lots of blood.

It may not be a spell-binding page-turner of a book, but it’s one of best resources God gave us for understanding who His Son is. When we compare the elaborate sacrificial rituals from the Book of Leviticus to what Christ did for sinners once for all, we see a beautiful object lesson. That’s what the sacrificial system is; God’s object lesson to prepare His people to understand and accept the need for a final, perfect atonement for sin and rebellion.

That’s what I preached about this past Sunday morning; how “Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God,” (1 Pet 3:18).

Here’s the sermon (below):

For reference, here’s the graphic I referenced throughout the sermon, which depicts the Old Covenant tabernacle, as described in the Book of Exodus:

tabernacle

Jesus and the Woman from Tyre (Mark 7:24-30)

syrophonecianMark’s a guy who appreciates irony, and the best part is that he never has to go looking for it – Jesus supplies it. He’s just had a very sharp disagreement about ritual, ceremonial purity with the scribes and Pharisees who’d come from Jerusalem (Mk 7:1-23). They held to a racist interpretation of ritual defilement and believed any primary or secondary contact with a Gentile made them “unclean” before Yahweh. They even believed the very air itself could contaminate them, and proscribed bizarre and arcane rituals for cleansing pots, cooking utensils, and their hands before any meal.

In dramatic fashion, Jesus rebukes this heretical invention (“Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites!”) then heads straight out of Galilee “to the region of Tyre and Sidon” (Mk 7:24), which is Gentile territory. Every Christian’s heart should be warmed as he reads this swift denunciation of legalistic foolishness. The Jewish leaders are blind as bats to Jesus and His message, whereas a Gentile woman in Tyre understands everything, and displays a mature and earnest faith. Jesus knew this would happen (cf. Lk 4:22-30). The trip to Gentile country deliberately emphasizes Jesus’ lesson against the heretical ceremonial rules of the day, and it makes the point to anyone who has eyes to see.[1]

He’s preached to people from this region before (see Mk 3:8), and even though Jesus seeks some degree of solitude, “yet he could not be hid,” (Mk 7:24). This isn’t an example of the “Messianic secret” theme that’s so common in Mark; it simply proves Jesus is so popular He’s unable to remain anonymous for long.[2] In an age before Twitter updates, “humble-brag” social media posts and Facebook Live, Jesus’ popularity is indeed startling. It’s here, at this anonymous little house far from home, where Mark shows us more evidence for Christ’s deity and the doctrine of the Trinity.

A woman shows up. Mark’s account is sparse. She “immediately” appears and falls down at His feet. But, there’s more. Matthew tells us she said, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely possessed by a demon,” (Mt 15:22). When you consider Matthew’s addition, it’s clear this woman understood exactly who Jesus was. Skeptical commentators seem to forget Jesus went about, preaching and teaching the same message over, and over, and over, and over … and then over again. His last audience with a crowd from Tyre was as dramatic as they get. Jesus preached from a boat to untold hundreds (perhaps thousands), healed many, and the demons He cast out each screamed, “You are the Son of God!” as they bowed in homage to Him (Mk 3:7-12).

It’s difficult to think of a more memorable afternoon at the lake. We’ve no idea if this woman was there that day, but she’s obviously heard of this man from Galilee. She calls Him “Lord, Son of David,” which makes it clear her knowledge has some content. To her, this isn’t some carnival, miracle-maker; He’s the Lord of glory, the descendent par excellence from David. She knows she doesn’t deserve mercy, but she begs for it anyway. She “fell down at His feet” (Mk 7:25) in worship.

In the Tanakh, believers used the title “Lord” to refer to Yahweh Himself. When people of faith refer to Jesus as “Lord,” our mental eyebrows should raise an inch or two … or three. If Jesus is also Lord, then Scripture is showing us a distinction between Jesus and Yahweh. The woman’s second title for Jesus, “Son of David,” makes this even more explicit. Yahweh, in the triune sense, is Lord. Yet, Jesus, the Son of David and the promised Messiah, is also “Lord.” This is the same subtle distinction we see, for example, in Zechariah’s prophesies (e.g. Zech 2:9-11) where Jesus and Yahweh often switch speaking roles in the very same sentence. They, quite literally, complete each other’s sentences and thoughts. While they’re One, they’re also distinct, too.

Jesus responds in a deliberately callous manner. “Let the children first be fed, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs,” (Mk 7:28). It’s possible Jesus seized on this convenient analogy from the scene inside the home, with a meal either in process or just finished.[3] Commentators often engage in hand-wringing at this point; either desperately trying to salvage the “meek and mild” Jesus of fairy-tale lore or suggesting the woman’s “clever reply” changed His mind. Nonsense.

The “children” are the Israelites. The “food” is the Gospel, and the blessings the new and better covenant will bring to all God’s people. The “dogs” are the Gentiles. It’s unnecessary to re-imagine the “dog” reference as being a term of endearment (e.g. “little doggy”),[4] or to invent a twinkle in Jesus’ eye to soften this blow; this is exegesis of desperation. It’s also folly to believe the woman is stupid or ignorant, and doesn’t understand what Jesus is saying.[5] No, the woman understands very well what the issue is. She was either present that day at the lake (Mk 3:8ff), or heard a detailed, content-rich explanation of Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom of God, and His role as the “Son of David” who would rule and reign over the world. Her words, and Jesus’ response, prove this.

But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” And he said to her, “For this saying you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” And she went home, and found the child lying in bed, and the demon gone (Mk 7:28-30)

She responds by calling Him “Lord” yet again, and this is also not an accident.[6] She understands who He is. He’s the Son of David, the promised Messiah, the Lord of glory, the One who has power over the forces of darkness and can heal her little daughter. She also understands Israel’s primary role as the vehicle of blessing and salvation for the Kingdom of God. The Israelites will be the divine conduit, the priests who will mediate the message of salvation to the world (see Zech 8:20-23) during Jesus’ millennial reign. His blessings are for them first. She can’t, as it were, skip ahead in line.

The woman understands this. The Tanakh never excludes Gentiles from covenant blessings, but makes it clear these blessings will be brokered by Israelites. She has no problem with this, and we must assume she’d received a very accurate briefing indeed from that afternoon on the lake (cf. Mk 3:8ff). Jesus tells her, “for this saying you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter,” (Mk 7:29). Another account tells us He also said, “O woman, great is your faith!” (Mt 15:28). She “got it.” Jesus knew she got it, so we should be sure she got it, too.

The woman goes on her way, and Jesus heals her little daughter from afar. The eternal Son of God incarnate, in whom all things hold together (Col 1:17), has the power to expel the forces of darkness from the girl from far, far away. “And her daughter was healed instantly,” (Mt 15:28).

The Bible suggests several important things about the Trinity from this little account:

  1. The woman knew who Jesus was; the Lord, the Son of David. This implies a clear distinction between Jesus and the Father above.
  2. She bowed before Jesus in worship. This indicates she knew He was divine, and acknowledged it.
  3. She trusted Him to have power over fallen angels, which means she understood something substantial about His identity.
  4. This understanding shows she was either present that day on the lake with others from Tyre (Mk 3:8), when Jesus preached about the Kingdom of God, conducted mass exorcisms, and the demons bowed in homage and screamed His identity as the eternal Son of God … or she had some very good intel, indeed.
  5. She confessed Jesus as “Lord” yet again, and understood the “Son of David’s” role as the leader of Israel and the mediator of blessings to the Gentiles.
  6. Jesus miraculously healed her “little daughter” from afar, demonstrating His deity.

The irony, of course, is that Jesus criticizes the scribes and Pharisees for their legalism, then high-tails it for Gentile country where he immediately meets a desperate woman with a profound theological grasp of the big picture. This woman, whom the Jerusalem clique would likely dismiss as an ignorant heathen, knows who Jesus is, and understands His role in the redemptive story. She had ears to hear, and eyes to see. I like to think she was there that day on the lake, somewhere in the crowd. I look forward to asking her one day.

Notes

[1] See especially William Lane, The Gospel of Mark, in NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: 1974), 259.  Robert Guelich remarked, “Therefore, this story about Jesus’ ministry that crosses the social boundaries of the day remains both consistent to what the tradition indicates about Jesus’ primary concern for Israel and makes clear how that ministry provided the impetus for the early Church to transcend these boundaries based on one’s response to Jesus,” (Mark 1-8:26, in WBC, vol. 34A (Nashville, TN: Nelson, 1989), 389.

William Hendriksen remarked that, if Jesus had followed the Jewish leader’s racist and prejudiced policies, this woman would have been beyond all help; “was not the door of hope closed for this mother because of her race?” (The Gospel of Mark, in NTC [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1975], 298).

[2] See Guelich (Mark, 389).

[3] Richard H. Lenski, An Interpretation of St. Mark’s Gospel (Columbus, OH: Wartburg, 1946), 302.

[4] You’ll find this suggestion discussed (if not endorsed) in most of the major exegetical commentaries, which are often incestuous in their observations. Morna Hooker observed, “There is no reason to suppose that a Gentile would consider it any less offensive to be called a ‘little dog’ rather than a ‘dog’, and descriptions of Jesus’ manner and tone of speech are, of course, sheer imagination. In its present context, the term is a challenge to the woman to justify her request,” (The Gospel According to Saint Mark, in BNTC [London, UK: Continuum, 1991], 183).

[5] Lane suggests this (Mark, 261 – 263).

[6] Guelich (Mark, 388), Hooker (Mark, 183) and Mark Strauss (Mark, in ZECNT [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014], 313) all agree this term is deliberate, here. Context also agrees!

Why They Followed the Law (Pt. 1)

lawThe entire book of Galatians is consumed with the problem of what to do with the Old Covenant law. What does “following the law” have to do with personal salvation through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ?

A large party of Jewish Christians, most of them likely from Jerusalem and former Pharisees, believed you had to follow the Old Covenant law and repent and believe in Christ (Acts 15:1-5). Luke, in a very understated fashion, observes “Paul and Barnabas had no small discussion and debate with them.” The Apostle has little time for this kind of terrible error. He calls this teaching “a different Gospel,” (Gal 1:6). He speaks of the Galatians “deserting Him who called you,” (Gal 1:5). He said this is a perversion of the Gospel of Christ (Gal 1:7).

Did these Pharisees actually understand the message of the Old Covenant scriptures? Why did God’s people follow the law, anyway?

This series of short articles has one simple purpose – to explain what the real impetus was for following God’s law, both then and now. In Galatians, Paul was not arguing against the Old Covenant. He was arguing against the twisted, warped version of the Old Covenant the scribes and Pharisees had been pushing for so long.

Some dispensationalists disagree. In any movement, there is a spectrum. A man might say, “I’m a Republican!” That’s fine and dandy, but what kind of Republican is he? That’s the real question, and we all know it – because there’s always a spectrum, isn’t there? It’s the same with theological systems. Some dispensationalists look at the Bible, and see a very, very sharp discontinuity between the Old and New Covenants. These folks are usually called “classical dispensationalists.”

Their position is still usually close to what C.I. Scofield wrote in his study bible, way back in 1909. In his study notes, Scofield explained the Mosaic law this way (note on Gen 12:1):

The Dispensation of Promise ended when Israel rashly accepted the law (Exodus 19:8). Grace had prepared a deliverer (Moses), provided a sacrifice for the guilty, and by divine power brought them out of bondage (Exodus 19:4) but at Sinai they exchanged grace for law.

Lewis S. Chafer, the ground-breaking theologian and first President of Dallas Theological Seminary, agreed with Scofield. He built on Scofield’s study notes and eventually produced an 8-volume systematic theology text. It’s still used by many students today. I have a copy, and I’ll always treasure Chafer’s discussion of the doctrine of salvation. It’s still the best thing I’ve ever read on the subject. In his text, Chafer echoed Scofield’s comments:

When the Law was proposed, the children of Israel deliberately forsook their position under the grace of God which had been their relationship to God until that day, and placed themselves under the Law.[1]

I disagree with this reading of Exodus 19:1-8, but I won’t get into the reasons here. It’s enough for you to understand that this presupposition, that Israel voluntarily exchanged God’s grace for a system of works righteousness under the Mosaic Law, is a core tenant of classical dispensationalism. They view the Mosaic Law completely different than other Christians do. This is why they’ll often paint the law as a system of works righteousness. Chafer continued:

They were called upon to face a concrete choice between the mercy of God which had followed them, and a new and hopeless covenant of works. They fell from grace. The experience of the nation is true of every individual who falls from grace at the present time. Every blessing from God that has ever been experienced came only from the loving mercy of God; yet with that same blasting self-trust, people turn to a dependence upon their works. It is far more reasonable and honoring to God to fall helpless into His everlasting arms, and to acknowledge that reliance is on His grace alone.[2]

Dispensationalism has gradually edged further to the center in the past 60 years. Most theologians don’t emphasize such a sharp discontinuity between covenants. In other words, don’t expect John MacArthur and Charles Ryrie to sound like this! But, make no mistake, this perspective is still alive and well in some seminary classrooms. It’s even more common in many churches with a dispensationalist framework, because its pastors were likely taught by Chafer’s students.

Be that as it may, many Christians are confused about why Israelites followed the law. I’ll repeat something I mentioned earlier in this article:

In Galatians, Paul was not arguing against the Old Covenant. He was arguing against the twisted, warped version of the Old Covenant the scribes and Pharisees had been pushing for so long.

Classical dispensationalists would vehemently disagree. They’d likely believe Paul was arguing against the Old Covenant. They’d probably think Paul was describing what the Old Covenant taught. I wrote this series of short articles to combat this error, and to set the record straight. If we don’t get this point, we’ll never understand the Old Covenant, we’ll never understand the book of Galatians and we’ll never understand a good bit of the Gospels, either.

Why do people follow God’s law, both then and now? We do it because we love God, and we want to serve Him with our lives. It has always been that way, and it will always be that way.

Let’s look at what Jesus has to say … in the next article.

Notes

[1] Lewis S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, 8 vols. (Dallas, TX: DTS, 1948; reprint, 1976), 4:162.

[2] Ibid, 4:163.