The Trinity in Scripture: Luke 1 (Part 2)

Luke continues to present the work of the Trinity in preparation of the incarnation:

And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Luke 1:67-79

Everything that Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, says is the result of the work of the Holy Spirit within him moving him to prophesy. In this proclamation of praise the Holy Spirit moves Zechariah to exult the work of the Father and the Son.

The Father is identified as the Lord God of Israel (1:68). Interestingly, the Zechariah declares that the Father spoke by the mouth of the prophets. This is certainly congruent with typical Old Testament thought. It is only later in the history of redemption that the role of the Holy Spirit in inspiration is made explicit. The Father, as he was in Luke’s first reference to the Trinity (1:32, 35), is again called “the Most High.” This is a title that Luke seems particularly fond of. It is found 9 times in the New Testament, with 7 of the uses by Luke (Mark 5:7; Luke 1:32,35,76; 6:35; 8:28; Acts 7:48; 16:17; Hebrews 7:1).

The Son is identified picturesquely as the “horn of salvation” (1:69) and “the sunrise from on high” (1:78), and more traditionally as “Lord” (1:76). What does Zechariah know and believe of this Lord? What does he comprehend of his relationship to the Most High God? These are curiosities that we are left to wonder at. What we do see is that already among God’s people, there is an expectation for God to act on their behalf in the person whose body was still being prepared in the Virgin’s womb.

In the first chapters of Luke’s gospel Zechariah’s speech functions as a natural progression from the Trinity at Jesus’ conception to the Trinity at Jesus’ manifestation in chapter 2: which we will see in the next post in this series.

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Readings in Bavinck: Whose Word are You Going to Believe when it comes to Creation?

In continuing his discussion on revelation, Bavinck identifies the reason science does not have a voice of authority when it comes to the time or method of creation:

At this point these miracles [recorded Scripture] irrevocably belong to history, and in history a different method has to be applied than in natural sciences. In the latter, experimentation is in order. But in history we are dealing with the testimonies of witnesses. If, however, the experimental method has to be introduced and applied in history, there is not a single fact that can stand the test. In that case all historiography is done for. Let every science, therefore, remain in its own area and there investigate things according to their own nature. One cannot see a thing by means of the ear, or weigh them with a yardstick; neither can one test revelation by means of an experiment. (Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 1, pp. 371-2)

In discussing creation, what can everyone agree upon? First, whether it happened 10 thousand or 10 billion years ago, it happened. Whatever opinion one has about creation, it is unquestionably a matter of history. That is agreed upon by all. Secondly, whether it happened by divine fiat or evolutionary development, no human being was there to see it. Whether man came along 6 days or 600 million years after the initiation of creation, he came along after the initiation of creation. Given these two unquestionable facts, one has to accept Bavinck’s statement that in discussing the time and method of creation we are dealing with “the testimonies of witnesses.” Since there were no men there to witness it, we are primarily dealing with the testimony of the one witness was there to see it: God.

If you accept the evolutionary account of creation you declare God to be an untrustworthy witness. God said he created the universe and everything in it, but if the evolutionary account of origins is true, God is a liar. Darwin is a more reliable witness. If you accept one of the Christian-evolutionary hybrid explanations of origins—day-age theory, gap theory, literary framework theory, theistic evolution, etc.—you declare that God is an incompetent witness. While Genesis, Exodus, Psalms, Isaiah, and Hebrews all seem to make it clear God created all things in an instantaneous manner and that he did it not that long ago, God did not know how to tell us how he really created all things.

As A.W. Tozer asserted, at the root of all of man’s problems is a misconception of God. Why do so many people believe so many things about creation? Because they do not believe the truth about God. Hear the word of the Lord from the prophet Isaiah:

Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing. (40:26)
Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it: (42:5)
Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain down righteousness; let the earth open, that salvation and righteousness may bear fruit; let the earth cause them both to sprout; I the LORD have created it. I made the earth and created man on it; it was my hands that stretched out the heavens, and I commanded all their host. For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it empty, he formed it to be inhabited!): I am the LORD, and there is no other. (45:8, 12, 18)

Are these the words of a liar, a babbler, or the Lord?

Bavinck on Believing what Special Revelation Teaches about General Revelation. Or, why I believe God created all things in six days.

Bavinck begins his discussion of revelation with the accurate observation that all religion is built upon revelation. There is no religion without revelation. Biblical religion is built upon two forms of revelation, generally identified as general and special revelation. General revelation is what is “clearly seen” by all men—God’s eternal power and divine nature demonstrated in creation and history (Rom. 1:20). Nature tells us that God is God. It does not, however, tell us how we are to be reconciled to God. For that man is in need of God’s special revelation. Special revelation “is that conscious act of God, by which he, in the way of a historical complex of special means (theophany, prophecy, and miracle) that are concentrated in the person of Christ, makes himself known” (p. 350). This special revelation continues today through Scripture.

What I particularly enjoyed about Bavinck’s treatment of general and special revelation was the connection he drew between the two. For the past century biblical Christianity has been under rather constant pressure to abandon belief in a 6-day creation by the word God. While mainline denominations quickly acquiesced, conservative Christians sought more creative ways to incorporate Darwin into Genesis. Prominent among these innovations was the gap theory popularized by the Scofield reference Bible. Other popular alternatives to the traditional interpretation of Genesis are the day-age theory and the literary framework theory.

Bavinck does an excellent job of addressing the importance of accepting the biblical account of creation:

The work of God outward began with the creation. The creation is the first revelation of God, the beginning and foundation off all subsequent revelation. The biblical concept of revelation is rooted in that of creation. God first appeared outwardly before his creatures in the creation and revealed himself to them. In creating the world by his word and making it come alive by his Spirit, God already delineated the basic contours of all subsequent revelation. But immediately linking up with the event of creation is the action of providence. This, too, is an omnipotent and everywhere-present power and act of God. All that happens is, in a real sense, a work of God and to the devout a revelation of his attributes and perfections.

Any plain reading of Scripture gives the clear impression that God creates the universe and all that is in it instantly by his powerful word (Gen. 1:1-2:1; Ps. 33:6, 9; 148:1-5; Heb. 11:3; 2 Pet. 3:5, that he did so in six days (Gen 1:1-2:1; Ex. 20:11; 31:17; Heb. 4:3-4), and that it was not millions of years ago. In his treatment of creation and our understanding of it, Bavinck is doing the same thing the author of Hebrews does in chapter 11 of his work.

Hebrews 11, of course, is the great chapter of faith: the word is used 26 times in 40 verses. What should not be missed in Hebrews 11 is the organic nature of faith. The faith that draws near to God is the same faith that believes he made everything by his word is the same faith that invigorates obedience is the same faith that leads to inheritance of eternal reward. Faith does these things and it does all these things.

So what fossil that you see is so stunning that it that is causes you to question a conviction of things not seen?

What theory or argument or explanation is so persuasive that it causes you to lose the assurance of things hoped for?

What does Scripture teach about God that causes you to believe he could not have created all things instantly by his word 6-10 thousand years ago? Is he not powerful enough? Not wise enough? Not good enough? “Ah, Lord GOD! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you” (Jer. 32:17). Is it just too hard to believe that God could have done what the Bible appears to teach he did and what the church for centuries taught that he did? Is this too hard for God?

Indeed, creation is “the beginning and foundation of all subsequent revelation.” So when you deny that Genesis, Exodus, Psalms, and Hebrews mean what they say, do not be surprised when your children deny that the Gospels and Romans mean what they say. Do not be surprised when your grandchildren deny any meaning to Scripture. By faith the people of old received their commendation (Heb. 11:2). By lack of faith people of today receive their condemnation.

The Trinity in Scripture: Luke 1

Before going on in my study of the Trinity in Scripture I had hoped to organize and harmonize all of the posts on the Trinity in the book of Acts. In each post I have tried to just stick with the biblical witness in that passage alone. The next step will be to systematize all of those individual observations into what the entire book of Acts teaches on the Trinity. But twenty pages and 10,000 words later, that is not something that is going to happen overnight. So while I am working on that I thought I would go ahead and start in on the next book.

In the coming weeks, while you anxiously await the Acts compilation, I will be going through the book of Luke. Perhaps it would have made more sense to begin Luke and then progress to Acts, but I am not sure the order is more important than the information. In any event, I think we will see that the abundance of Trinitarian references in Acts was no accident. Luke was not only a doctor of the body, but of the soul. His heart was captured by the love of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

From the pomp and splendor of the temple worship in Jerusalem, Luke takes us to the anonymity of Nazareth. There the normal life of an unknown maid is forever changed:

And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy–the Son of God. (Luke 1:35)

Untangling the mystery of the Trinity was among the least of Mary’s worries at this moment. Yet the angel Gabriel makes it clear that the conception of Jesus was a work of the Father and the Holy Spirit. As a response to Mary’s question about how she could possibly bear a child, Gabriel’s answer seemed to allay her fears.

What would Mary have thought of this response? “Holy Spirit” does appear in the Old Testament, but it is uncommon (Ps. 51:11; Isa. 63:10-11). The idea of the Spirit of the Lord coming upon someone was much more common, so that probably helped matters. From this Mary recognized she had been chosen by the Lord for a special task and that she would receive power to accomplish his will.

What would she have thought of “the Son of God”? Again we do not know. Psalm 2:7 certainly lays groundwork for the notion of God having a son, and it was a common notion in surrounding nations that kings were sons of the gods. Mary was perplexed, but submissive. “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (1:38).

At the introduction of the conception of Jesus, the Trinity is present. The simple fact is that Mary did not know the depths of what this verse contains. And frankly, neither do we. Mary heard the word of God, and submitted to it. She treasured up all these things in her heart. We should do likewise.

Acts 28: Our Fathers, Your Fathers, and Jewish Unbelief

Acts 28 contains something of a provocative phenomenon that I see borne out elsewhere in the New Testament.

In 28:17, Paul, a believer, speaking to a generally neutral audience, begins his address with:

After three days he called together the local leaders of the Jews, and when they had gathered, he said to them, “Brothers, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans.

Note the phrase, “our fathers.” From Luke’s preface—“the Jews”—and Paul’s use of “our people” and “customs of our fathers,” it is obvious that the ethnic connection between Paul and his audience is in view here. Contrast this with Paul’s phrasing at the conclusion of his address:

And disagreeing among themselves, they departed after Paul had made one statement: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet: Go to this people, and say, ‘You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive’” (Act 28:25-26).

When it becomes clear that the majority are rejecting the message of Jesus Christ, Paul suddenly separates himself from the audience by the use of “your fathers.” Paul did have a socio-ethnic connection with his audience, but he had discovered a far greater connection to be sought: the bond of the Spirit in uniting all believers to God through Christ. When it became apparent that his hearers were rejecting Christ, Paul disassociated himself with them by the provocative use of “your fathers.” “Your fathers” serves to identify Jews as unbelievers and also indicates it had been a common phenomenon throughout the nation’s existence. In the New Testament, when believers address unbelieving Jews, the phrase “your fathers” is a way of indicating separation from God’s grace.

In Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:47-48 Jesus condemns the Pharisees for following the example of “your fathers” in condemning the prophets. Just as the fathers of the Pharisees—Old Testament Jews—had persecuted the prophets, their sons—the Pharisees—persecuted Jesus. In addition to these passages and Acts 28:25, Hebrews 3:9 also uses “your fathers” to warn against following the example of Old Testament Jewish unbelief.

But Acts contains an even clearer example than Paul’s address in chapter 28. Stephen’s speech in Acts 7 demonstrates the same pattern, but magnified. While he is seeking to persuade them, Stephen uses the term “our fathers” eight times (7:11, 12, 15, 19, 38, 39, 44, 45). But by the end of Stephen’s speech, when it is clear the Sanhedrin is opposed to the gospel, Stephen suddenly switches terms:

You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered… (Act 7:51-52)

Once again, “your fathers” is used to indicate Jewish unbelief. Not just Jewish unbelief in the gospel, but Jewish unbelief throughout the nation’s existence. There was always a portion of the Jewish population that resisted God.

The primary application of this bit of linguistic minutia is that God is no respecter of persons. King David has eternal life because he trusted in the Lord. King Ahab has eternal death because he forsook the Lord. The ethnicity of each man did nothing to determine their eternal state.

Why are these things important? Such teaching is important because of what I would call lazy dispensationalism. One of the rotten fruits of dispensational teaching has always been its fuzziness on Old Testament salvation. Its better representatives—Ryrie, Walvoord, MacArthur etc.—have done their best to correct this; but at the pew-level I would hazard the guess that most dispensation-taught Christians operate under the general impression that the vast majority of Old Testament characters were saved. In its worst forms, this has also led some to believe that Jews might also be saved today without trusting in Jesus Christ. In more moderate forms, it has led to the belief that Jews are “almost” saved, and might need just a little nudge to add Christ to their traditions.

Jesus and the apostles constantly battled similar forms of this aberrant theology. Many Jews thought they had God’s favor simply because of their race. To them the message was that every man enters the world with the devil as his father, not God (John 8:44) and that Abraham was justified before God as a Gentile, not a Jew (Rom. 4:10). Others thought that Gentiles had to become Jews to be saved, or act as a Jew to remain saved. The foolishness of such thinking was condemned by the church (Acts 15:10) and Paul (Gal. 3:3).

The use of “our fathers” and “your fathers” is not a strict Shibboleth; nevertheless it is a repeated pattern that serves to emphasize that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Jew and Gentile alike must enter the kingdom through him. There is no other way.

The Trinity in Scripture: Acts 28

Given the densely Trinitarian opening verses of Acts, it is only fitting that Luke close the book with a Trinitarian reference.

When they had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers. From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. And some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved. And disagreeing among themselves, they departed after Paul had made one statement: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet: “‘Go to this people, and say, You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed; lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’ Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.” [And when he had said these words, the Jews departed, having much dispute among themselves.] He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance. (Act 28:23-31)

Since Acts 20, Paul has gone to Jerusalem where he was arrested on baseless charges. He has been traveling up the judicial feeding chain appearing before Felix, Festus, and Agrippa. Finally in Rome, he awaits his appearance before Caesar. In the interim, as was his custom, he sought to persuade the Jews first of the good news of the kingdom. Since he was under a house arrest of sorts, he arranged for the Jews to come to him. (Perhaps the first evangelistic home Bible study!)

As it has been throughout the book, the gospel is the message of the kingdom of God finding its center in Jesus, God’s anointed. This was divisive enough, but Paul’s mention of the Holy Spirit’s prediction of the hardness of the Jews and openness of the Gentiles proved to be the final straw for most of his hearers.

As seen previously in Acts, the Holy Spirit is presented as the voice of the Scripture, speaking through the prophets. The Scripture given by the Holy Spirit speaks of the kingdom of God (the Father) ruled over by his Son Jesus Christ. One is certainly justified in considering this kingdom to be the kingdom of the Trinity, for throughout Acts the Father, Son, and Spirit are constantly presented as laboring together for this kingdom. This kingdom of God proclaimed by the Spirit, ruled by the Son, inhabited by all who will believe: Jew and Gentile alike.