The Trinity in the Old Testament

beckwithCarl Beckwith, a Lutheran theologian, explains a little bit about how God revealed His triune nature in the Old Testament scriptures:

What are we to make of Scripture variously identifying the sole creator of the heavens and the earth as YHWH, Elohim, Word, Spirit, Wisdom, and Father? The answer must be that the scriptural understanding of monotheism encompasses both Is 44: 24 (“ Thus says YHWH, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: I am YHWH, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself”) and Gn 1: 1, Dt 32: 6, and Ps 33: 6.

Scripture declares that YHWH by Himself made all things, stretched out the heavens, and made us from the womb. According to Scripture, however, the same may be said of the Father, the Word/ Wisdom, and the Spirit. Further, Scripture insists that we have one creation, not three, and that these three created, not that they contributed a part here and a part there. Their work of creation is one.

The only responsible conclusion according to the Scriptures is to confess the correlative and coequal working of Father, Word/ Wisdom, and Spirit, and to locate all three— equally and eternally— within the unique identity of YHWH, our Elohim.

Carl L. Beckwith, The Holy Trinity, in Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics, vol. 3 (Fort Wayne, IN: Luther Academy, 2016; Kindle ed.), KL 4538-4547.

Real Christian Life . . . and the Government (Part 2)

1 Peter 2 (13-17)What do you think of your political leaders? To be honest, many Christians would have to admit they don’t think much of politicians!

What do you think of the government? What do you think about the institutions, the agencies and bureaucracies at the local, state and federal level? Many people wish some of them would go away. In the recent election, “drain the swamp!” was one of now-President Trump’s rallying cries.

The concept is timeless; the political class is corrupt, underhanded and looking out for itself. There is an implicit assumption that all bureaucrats, at all levels of government, are inept and incompetent at best, and nefarious at worst. Even in the Apostle Peter’s day, one pagan writer referred to Rome as the city “where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world meet and become popular.”[1]

It’s almost expected that we should despise politicians, government and those who work for “the state.” In America, we need only look to this recent political season to see the hateful rhetoric and vitriol we often show to politicians from “the other side.” Too often, Christians let their secular political passions get the best of them, and join in on this feeding frenzy of scorn and ridicule. That is wrong.

The Apostle Peter wrote his first letter in a very different context. Christians were under pressure from a pagan society to conform, or at least round some of the “rough edges” off their faith. Former pagans had been ostracized from their communities, cut off from all the support structure they had. Former Jews, who believed Jesus was the fulfillment of their Scriptures, likely had it even worse. The storm clouds of persecution had not yet broken open upon the Christians, but they were about to.

In Jerusalem, James the Just had recently been killed by a Jewish mob, thrown from the top of a building in the temple complex, stoned as he lay injured and crippled, then his head had been beaten in by a club [2]. In Rome, the Emperor Nero would soon conveniently blame Christians for starting a massive fire which had destroyed a good portion of the city. He would use this marginalized “Jewish sect” as a scapegoat, and kill many believers in awful ways. [3]

When Peter commanded Christians to “submit yourselves to every human authority because of the Lord,” he didn’t have our quaint American context in mind. He wrote for a darker time, for a more serious context. In the West, we are blessed beyond all imagination. When we Christians consider “persecution” here, we talk about losing our 501(c)(3) status and cry about bakers being forced to make cakes. In Peter’s day, people died horribly for their faith.

Yet, Peter still wrote those words, and God wanted him to write them. You see, God isn’t concerned with our comfort in the here and now; this is what Peter warned us about elsewhere (1 Peter 1:1-6; 4:12-19). The early Christians rejoiced in persecution, because they knew they were a testimony for Christ (see Acts 4; especially 4:23-31). Instead, we’re commanded to make our entire way of life holy, so we might have opportunity to help draw people to Christ by our own example in the midst of terrible trials. One of those contexts was in dealing with the government.

So to return to modern politics, it’s clear there’s a lot for Christians to disagree with. But, the Apostle Peter tells us we should always submit ourselves to every human authority, anyway. Of course, the Bible qualifies this blanket statement elsewhere (see, for example Acts 4-5).  But, in general terms, we should respect human authority “because of the Lord.”

But, we often don’t do that, do we? This isn’t the way our culture operates today; our culture encourages people to act petulant, childish, angry and crazed when they do not like a politician or agree with his politics or policies.

Last week, we spent some time in Sunday School talking about this. How we speak and think about government institutions and officials, at all levels (local, state and federal) is important. The Christian message is offensive enough; we shouldn’t compound this by crazed activism, un-Christlike rhetoric or insurrection.

Take a listen to the audio (below), and let’s see what Peter has to say about all this. It will take us several weeks to discuss this passage, and some of its implications. The teaching notes for the passage are here. All audio and teaching notes for the 1 & 2 Peter series so far are here. Feel free to contact me with any questions, or to comment below.

Notes

[1] From Tacitus, “Annals 15.44.2-8.” This excerpt is from J. Stevenson (ed.), A New Eusebius, revised by. W.H.C. Frend (London, UK: SPCK, 1987), 2-3.

[2] I follow Eusebius’ account, who quotes from a near-contemporary source (Ecclesiastical History, 2.23). Josephus makes no mention of James being clubbed to death (Antiquities, 20.9.1).

[3] From Tacitus, “Annals 15.44.2-8.” This excerpt is from J. Stevenson (ed.), A New Eusebius, revised by. W.H.C. Frend (London, UK: SPCK, 1987), 2-3.

A Word from David

jerusalem

How does God expect His people to live? This is an old question, but the answer isn’t any less relevant. King David asked the same thing, a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away:

Psalm 15:1 O LORD, who shall sojourn in thy tent?
Who shall dwell on thy holy hill?

His opening line is rhetorical. David knows the answer. But, the question itself is worth mulling over for a moment or two. Who can live in God’s tent? Who has a place in His house? Who has, as it were, a seat at His family dinner table? As Israelites and the Gentile proselytes came to Jerusalem three times per year, and began the climb up the “holy hill” to God’s city, who among them had an eternal home with the Lord?

David is not asking for the identity of all the people who belong to God; he wants to know what kind of people belong to God. What do God’s people act like? What motivates their heart and infuses their soul? To quote the great philosopher Jerry McGuire, what “completes” them?

At this point, the reader has to make a decision – is David explaining how a man becomes a child of God, or is he describing how a child of God will want to live? That is, is his answer prescriptive (e.g. do this, and become a child of God) or descriptive (e.g. a child of God will want to do this)?

The Scripture teaches us David is being descriptive. Man cannot earn his way to salvation, or else Christ wouldn’t have had to come in the first place (Galatians 2:21).

Psalm 15:2 He who walks blamelessly, and does what is right,
and speaks truth from his heart;

David locates the desire for righteous and holy behavior in the heart. Outward conformity is meaningless and cheap. We all know people who are frauds. They speak and act one way, but we know it’s an act – because we’ve seen the mask slip.

No; a man who belongs to God will want to walk blamelessly, and he’ll honestly try to do it. He won’t do it to earn salvation or buy favor from God; he’ll do it because he loves the Lord and wants to do what He says (Deuteronomy 6:4; Mark 12:28-30). This last bit is critical – an ungodly man can be morally upright. There are plenty of decent, “moral people” who have good manners. David isn’t talking about this.

To borrow a legal phrase, God doesn’t recognize behavior that is the fruit of a poisonous tree. A child of God will love God, and this love produces a real desire for loving obedience. A child of Satan (i.e. somebody who is not a Christian; see Ephesians 2:1-4) has no love for God, and therefore his actions don’t flow from that love. The motivations are different, therefore the moral weights of each action are different, too.

Consider this:

  • A co-worker named Cynthia knows you like Lee Child’s novels featuring Jack Reacher, so she snags an old paperback from a used bookstore and gives it to you for a birthday present.
  • Your wife gives you the same birthday present later that day, when you return home

You received presents from both women; identical presents. Which one carries more weight? The one from your wife, of course. Why? Because the relationship is clearly different. You’re in a covenant relationship with your wife; whereas Cynthia is the nice 65-yr old grandmother from work.

In a similar way, God weighs the believer’s actions differently than the unbeliever’ actions. In fact, in God’s case, the unbeliever’s actions have no moral value whatsoever, because they’re not being done out of loving obedience.

Psalm 15:3 who does not slander with his tongue,
and does no evil to his friend,
nor takes up a reproach against his neighbor;

It’s fascinating how David’s descriptive proofs for a child of God focus so much on action. There is much to be commended about a focus on internal motivation as a check against rote legalism. After all, we don’t want to be hypocrites, going through the external motions while our hearts are harder than stone.

But, David (and God!) don’t let us off so easy. The other side of the ditch is just as treacherous. It’s so easy to excuse external conformity with pious appeals to “the heart,” isn’t it? A man claims to be a Christian, but has lived like a reprobate for years. “Oh,” he says, “I love God! I want to serve Him, honest!” At some point, every Christian needs to be honest with himself – where is the fruit?

David expects there to be fruit. Period. A godly man doesn’t slander, doesn’t betray his friend and doesn’t slander and reproach his neighbor. In other words, he seeks to be holy, because God is holy (Leviticus 19:2; 1 Peter 1:14-15).

Psalm 15:4 in whose eyes a reprobate is despised,
but who honors those who fear the LORD;
who swears to his own hurt and does not change;

This bit is particularly interesting. A godly man will despise a reprobate (i.e. a vile person, a flagrant sinner). This is somebody who is nominally part of the Old Covenant community, but lives in complete rebellion against God. David says Israelites should despise this person; have contempt for him. In contrast, a godly woman will honor those who reverently fear the Lord.

What’s the purpose? It’s likely about shame. There is something to be said for peer pressure. But, doesn’t this concept go completely against our modern church culture? We prefer to love people to death, even when they deserve contempt, rebuke, or censure. In short, we’re wimps.

To be sure, David isn’t saying we should hate everybody who sins; we’re not on witch hunts for non-conformists. But, if you have somebody who (1) is a professing believer, (2) who is a reprobate; a vile and habitual rebel, and (3) he refuses to try to conform to God’s word, (4) then you need to take action – once all lesser means have failed. The man is hardened in his perversity and his rebellion is deliberate and calculated.

Part of this action is for the rest of the covenant community to have open contempt for the offender, and shower honor on those who honestly love the Lord.

Psalm 15:5 who does not put out his money at interest,
and does not take a bribe against the innocent.

He who does these things shall never be moved.

Isn’t is fascinating how sin so often revolves around money? In my experience in law enforcement and regulatory investigations, people do wrong for three reasons – money, sex and power. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Christian; these three temptations are universal. Godly people will fight against these urges; thus we have David’s warnings against shady business practices. To be sure, sometimes we’ll lose against these urges. But, the general trajectory of our personal lives should be trending towards more Christlikeness, not less.

This is a short little psalm; five whole verses. Yet, it sums up an entire theology of the Christian life. Who will dwell with the Lord, and dwell in His tent? The one who proves his love for God by concrete action. What kind of action? All kinds; but this psalm gives us a good start.

This isn’t an ethic that an unbeliever can have, because only a believer’s actions flow from his love for the Lord. This was one of Jesus’ points in the Sermon on the Mount. It’s David’s point here, too.

Johnny Can’t Read?

johnnyIn his wonderful little book, T. David Gordon seeks to answer Why Johnny Can’t Preach. He has a few answers, and one of them is fairly simple – Johnny can’t preach because Johnny can’t read.

And, Johnny can’t read because he never rarely reads anything. He watches TV, he surfs the internet, he binge-watches Netflix on his tablet. But, he doesn’t read. He has little to no exposure to classic English and American literature. His literary instincts are infantile, because he rarely reads anything.

Text is passe. Now, images are key. Twitter, with its 140 characters, rules the world. Facebook memes influence millions. Every day, some new video goes “viral.” Now, the cultural conversation isn’t advanced by clear, reasoned and impassioned written or even spoken debate (ala Lincoln v. Douglas). Now, people prop their smartphones on dashboards and record rambling, often incoherent rants inside their cars, post them to Facebook, and watch the “likes” roll in.

Gordon rightly described the impact this shift has had on how we read:

Electronic media flash sounds and images at us at a remarkable rate of speed; and each image or sound leaves some impact on us, but greater than the impact of any individual image or sound is the entire pace of the life it creates. We become acclimated to distraction, to multitasking, to giving part of our attention to many things at once, while almost never devoting the entire attention of the entire soul to anything.

T. David Gordon, Why Johnny Can’t Preach: The Media Have Shaped the Messengers (Philipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2009; Kindle ed.), KL 448-450.

You see, if you haven’t made it a habit to read texts closely; to appreciate the beauty of a well-constructed sentence and/or to critically follow an argument from a more scholarly tome, then you won’t be prepared to notice these in Scripture . . . and that means you won’t be able to bring this out when you preach. Your preaching will have as much pizzazz as a flat diet coke.

Gordon explains:

Culturally, then, we are no longer careful, close readers of texts, sacred or secular. We scan for information, but we do not appreciate literary craftsmanship. Exposition is therefore virtually a lost art. We don’t really read texts to enter the world of the author and perceive reality through his vantage point; we read texts to see how they confirm what we already believe about reality. Texts are mirrors that reflect ourselves; they are not pictures that are appreciated in themselves. This explains, in part, the phenomenon that many Christians will read their Bibles daily for fifty years, and not have one opinion that changes in the entire fifty-year span.

Texts do not change or alter or skew their perspective; texts do not move them or shape them; they merely use them as mnemonic devices to recall what they already know. They have no capacity to expound a text, or to describe what another has said and how he has said it; and they retain only the capacity to notice when something in the language of another appears to concur with their own opinions. To employ C. S. Lewis’s way of stating the matter, they ‘use’ texts but do not ‘receive’ them.

Why Johnny Can’t Preach (KL 437 – 446).

This is interesting stuff. There is an inevitable, compounding effect at work here:

  1. Many Americans don’t read,
  2. Pastors in America are usually, well . . . Americans,
  3. Therefore many Pastors don’t read, either
  4. Therefore they don’t practice critical reading and comprehension
  5. Therefore they also cannot appreciate good literature (which the Bible certainly is)
  6. Therefore, what they preach is often a more diluted product of their own already anemic literary skills

I read a lot. I read fiction, history, and theology books. Right now, I’m reading an apologetics book by Athanasius (ca. 4th century) about the Christian faith. But, one thing I don’t do is read poetry – except for the Psalms. I’ve never been “into” it. I do remember reading a lot of Walt Whitman for American literature, back in my university days. Maybe, if I tip-toed back to poetry one day, I’ll be able to appreciate it better now. Perhaps I’ll pick up a poetry anthology the next time I’m at the used book store . . .

One thing is clear – if a Pastor doesn’t read much, he won’t get much out of the Bible, and the congregation will suffer. I think, from a technical standpoint, seminaries that are committed to expository preaching (and make no mistake, many are not!) are doing an outstanding job. Textbooks abound, and there are resources are aplenty. But, you can’t make a man read. And, if he doesn’t read, then he won’t preach well.

My Translation of Micah 5:1-3

The prophet Micah wrote a wonderful prophesy about Jesus Christ, the One who would come forth for God to be the ruler par excellence in Israel. I’ve spent some time translating the passage from the Septuagint; the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures which Jesus and the early Christian used. I plan to write a bit about this passage soon. For now, I’ll just leave you with the translation.

There are some differences from the English translation in your Bibles, because they’re translated from Hebrew, not Greek. The verse numbers from the Septuagint are also different, sometimes. This is one of those times. In your English Bibles, this passage will be Micah 5:2-4. Here, it’s Micah 5:1-3:

Micah 5(1-3)You can find more of my pitiful translations from the New Testament, the Septuagint and an ancient creed or two here.

Textus Obsoletus

elzevir-textus-receptusThe Textus Receptus is a printed Greek text. It’s a product of textual criticism, and (depending on which version you prefer) generally dates from the early 16th – mid 17th century. It is based on a very small number of late Greek manuscripts. It’s the printed Greek text which (in various forms) underlies William Tyndale’s translation, the KJV, NKJV and the newer MEV.

Because the Textus Receptus is based on such a small number of manuscripts, it has some unique readings that the other, more modern printed texts (which are based on many, many more manuscripts) don’t have. For example, I was translating 1 Peter 3:1-6 recently. I wondered why the Textus Receptus (F.H.A. Scrivener’s 1894 version, to be exact) had a subjunctive verb at a certain point, which no other printed text had. It was such an obscure reading that none of my standard textual critical resources even mentioned this variant. I looked at a more detailed database (CNTTS), and found this strange reading came from a single Greek manuscript from the 15th century. It hadn’t been found anywhere else. No. Where. Else.

Many people realize there are problems with the Textus Receptus. It’s like preferring an old tricycle when you have a Ferrari in the driveway. The tricycle works, no doubt about it. The Ferrari just works a lot better . . .

I’ll let a good book explain a bit more:

While the TR has been the dominant New Testament text for the past centuries, those who espouse this tradition today must squarely meet four challenges.

First, there has not been a plain consensus as to which TR text is best. For example, while England followed Stephanus’ 3rd edition (1550), and it eventually became the source for the Geneva Bible (1557), the European continent followed Elzever’s 2nd edition (1633) which more closely aligned with Stephanus’ 4th edition (1551). Therefore, however small the deviations, neither TR text is identical. Surely, both cannot be the pure representative of the autographa.

Second, when Theodore de Beza edited Stephanus’ fourth edition in two separate editions (1588/ 89 and 1598), he did so making some changes to each text. It is very difficult to see how one writer could dogmatically conclude, “This author believes that Beza’s 1598 Greek Edition of the New Testament is essentially equivalent to the very words of the NT autographa.” This is especially thorny when one considers that the 1611 KJV translators made extensive use of both the 1588/ 9 and 1598 editions of Beza.

Third, John Mills (1645-1707), a Greek scholar from Oxford, spent thirty years of his life studying thirty-two printed Greek New Testaments, nearly 100 manuscripts, and voluminous patristic citations of the New Testament. His work was published two weeks before his death at age sixty-two (June 23, 1707). Using Stephanus’ 3rd edition as his base he collected and calculated some 30,000 differences among the Greek texts and references. His work is a critical blow to the entire TR tradition which seeks to find a consensus in some single text that fully and accurately reflects the autographa. Mills’ research affirms that such a text did not exist in his day (almost 200 years after Erasmus’ first edition).

Finally, with such observable data, TR supporters like Hills relegate the “changes” and “emendations” to Erasmus’ 5th edition by Stephanus, Calvin, and Beza as either “humanistic tendency” or the overruling of the “common faith,” which ultimately protected the TR text from their variant readings. In their terminology, the TR has been supernaturally sheltered by God, and any textual changes (or protection from change) has been God-directed.

James B. Williams (ed.), God’s Word in Our Hands: The Bible Preserved for Us (Greenville, SC: Ambassador International, 2003; Kindle ed.), KL 4553-4573.

There are good and godly folks who prefer the KJV (for example) because they prefer the Textus Receptus. Some of these people genuinely trust that printed Greek text. However, in other cases, this position is just a smokescreen for King James Only-ism.

A very helpful book to read which defends the Textus Receptus position and takes a hostile approach towards modern printed Greek texts (e.g. UBS-5, NA28, SBLGNT) is here. I don’t agree with much of the book, but it’s an excellent and passionate representation of the position.

Real Advice for a Messy Life

messyLife is messy. The Apostle Peter understood that. And, because he wrote what God wanted him to write, that means God understands it, too.

In theory, a Christian shouldn’t marry a non-Christian. Doesn’t always work out that way. Never mind why it doesn’t – we can all agree that, sometimes, it doesn’t happen that way. What if one person becomes a Christian when she’s already married? Should she pack up and hit the road? Not at all.

These are the gritty questions of real life. Life is messy. Life is hard. Life isn’t neat and tidy. As I said, Peter understands that. He has some practical advice for us on that score (1 Peter 3:1-6; from my own translation):

In the same way, you wives must submit yourselves to your own husbands, so that even if some are being disobedient to the word, they might be won over without a word by your way of life when they see your holy conduct, along with your respect towards God.

Don’t let your beauty be simply external, like the braiding of hair and wearing of gold, or putting on [fancy] clothes. Instead, let your beauty be [from] the inner person, from the heart, through the immortal [character] of a gentle and peaceful spirit, which is very precious in God’s eyes. Because this is also how the holy women from the past who hoped in God made themselves beautiful – by submitting themselves to their own husbands. That’s what Sarah did; she obeyed Abraham by calling him, “Sir.”

You’ve now become her daughters! So, do what’s right and don’t fear any husband who is intimidating.

Why does Peter call the Christian spouse to stay in the relationship? So that the believer might win the unbeliever to Christ. He tells the Christian not to lord it over the spouse, not to be filled with self-righteousness. He tells the believer to be patient and, if necessary, not say anything at all – to let her Christ-like way of life and holy conduct speak for itself.

There’s much more to be said. I’ll get there in Sunday School . . . in about two months or so!