The Psychology of Scripture: A Brief Study of the Organic Thought-Pattern of 2 Peter

One cannot study the book of Second Peter without also encountering the book of Jude. A reading of 2 Peter 2 and the book of Jude seems to be an exercise in redundancy. Biblical scholars seek to determine who stole from whom. This endeavor is somewhat surprising since such scholars, on the whole, think that neither Peter nor Jude is responsible for the books that bear their names. In any event, most suppose that 2 Peter borrowed from Jude. On a rational level, this makes sense. Logically, it seems more likely that 2 Peter would be built upon the material of Jude than that Jude would be written independently after 2 Peter. After all, we know Jude wished to write about the subject of salvation (Jude 3); if Jude knew of 2 Peter’s existence it seems he could have just gone ahead and written about the subject on his heart and added at the end, a la Paul in Col. 4:16, an instruction to read 2 Peter.

In spite of this, there is good reason to believe that 2 Peter was written independently of Jude. Beyond the fact that 2 Peter 2 and Jude are not as similar as they initially seem[1]; an  intertextual reading of 2 Peter reveals the thought patterns of the author and the organic unity of his book.

The epistle of 2 Peter was occasioned by an influx of false teachers who denied the trustworthiness of the promise of the Lord’s return. While this only becomes transparent in chapter 3, Peter steadily builds his case throughout the letter. Christians are diligent to live a life of holiness because of the promise of a “richly provided…entrance into the eternal kingdom” of the Lord (1:11). The promise of this kingdom is not a “cleverly devised” myth, but was vouchsafed by the Transfiguration of Jesus on the holy mountain (1:16-18). The “prophetic word” is to be given attention, therefore, “until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (1:19).

This dawning day and rising star is taken to be a reference to the second coming of Christ. Peter comes by this vivid imagery the sunrise and morning star honestly. The prophet Malachi (4:1-2) warned that the Day of the Lord was coming “burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble.” But that for those who feared the Lord, “the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.” In anticipation of the birth of Jesus, this prophecy of Malachi was explicitly referenced by Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist (Luke 1:76-78). At his birth, Jesus’ appearance was known through “his star” (Matt. 2:2). Even now, believers are able to walk in wisdom because of the light of Christ shining on them (Eph. 5:14ff). In Revelation 2:28 Jesus himself uses the imagery when He promises to give the one who conquers, “the morning star.” At the conclusion of the book Jesus makes the identity of this morning star clear, “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”

But the first use of this imagery is found all the way back in Numbers 24:17: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the forehead of Moab and break down all the sons of Sheth.” This comes from Balaam’s fourth and final oracle. This seemingly passing allusion to the account of Balaam actually sets the agenda for the rest of 2 Peter.

Immediately following the echoing of Balaam’s words Peter addresses the source, or origin, of Scripture: “knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:20-21). According to Peter, no man sat down and thought to himself, “I think I will write some Scripture today.” Man does not have God’s word because man decided to write it. Man has God’s word because God decided to give it.

Is there any clearer example of this in Scripture than the Balaam episode? Here was a man who was being offered the riches of a kingdom to pronounce a curse on Israel yet he could only announce blessing. Balaam himself recognized the futility of trying to put words into God’s mouth. The constant refrain in Numbers 22-24 is that a prophet can only speak what God puts in his mouth (Num 22:18,20,35,38; 23:3,8,12,20,26; 24:13). And just in case the point is missed, God demonstrates that he does not even need a man to give His word: if he so chooses He can use a donkey (Num. 22:28-30).

If all we knew of Balaam came from Numbers 22-24 we would have to view him as true prophet of the Lord. Balaam is a perfect example of Peter’s statement about the origin of Scripture: it comes from God not man. But Balaam was not all he appeared to be. Following the glorious predictions of Israel’s blessed future because of the coming Messiah, the people fall into idolatry and sexual immorality. This wickedness led to the death of 24,000 Israelites (Num. 25). It is only later that we discover that immorality and idolatry of Numbers 25 occurred because of the counsel of Balaam (Num. 31:15-16).

Balaam appeared to be a true prophet of the Lord, only speaking what the Lord commanded him. Yet he could not hide his true nature: Balaam had a heart of greed and immorality. It is therefore not surprising to see Peter turn to the subject of false prophets.

False prophets deny the Master who bought them (2 Pet. 2:1): just like Balaam said he could only bless the people the Lord blessed and then instructed how that blessing could be thwarted. False prophets use sensuality to blaspheme the way of truth (2:2): just like Balaam taught the Moabites to lead the Israelites away from God though sexual immorality. False prophets are motivated by greed (2:3): just like Balaam who could not turn down the riches offered to him.

Peter then launches into an extended recounting of Old Testament examples of God judging the apostate (2:4-14). The culminating example of God’s condemnation, and the template of all false teachers to follow, is Balaam: “Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing” (2:15).

Finally, in 2 Peter 3:4, we discover that the substance of the false teaching was a denial of the Lord’s coming. Not only was this the substance of their teaching, it was the reason for their immorality. In this we see the close connection between theology and morality. If Christ is not returning to judge all unrighteousness why not eat drink and be merry? False teachers ignore God’s working in the past and deny his working in the future (3:5-7). There is therefore no reason to live a life of holiness and godliness (3:11).

At the root of it all, this was the cause of Balaam’s sin. What else could be behind a man who in one breath could proclaim the coming of a king who would crush the heads of Moab and then advise Moab on how to undo God’s people? Balaam obviously did not believe the word he had just spoken. Balaam could not wait for God’s promise, but needed immediate gratification. In this, he set the example for false teachers to this day (3:11-13).

Peter was not a lazy copier or sloppy incorporator of the letter from Jude. Peter had thought long and hard about the account of Balaam. Peter had meditated on what really went wrong with Balaam. Peter saw that the Balaam incident was not an isolated event, but a pattern for all future apostasy. From beginning to end, 2 Peter demonstrates the mind of an author who had carefully pondered the Old Testament Scriptures and was able to apply those Scriptures to the life of the church. In many ways, 2 Peter is an apostolic sermon on Numbers 22-24. Peter did not need to borrow from Jude: he had a mind saturated with Scripture.


[1] See the concise summary in Michael Green, 2 Peter and Jude, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1983), 53-54.

Why do I read the church fathers?

Why do I read the church fathers? Why, after thousands of years do I prefer their voice to that of my contemporaries? One reason is that they were not limp wristed theological pansies. The fathers are bold, assertive, certain: yes, even when they might be wrong. This is not only a reason why I read them, it is a reason they are read at all by anyone. Who really wants to toil through 2,000 year old pacifist theology? What is the point of reading men who are afraid to disagree with others and take a stand on the true meaning of Scripture? Rodney King is good drunk, but a lousy theologian. No, we can’t just all get along.

We are told that God did not really create the world in six days. We need to be open and charitable to those who have other view points. Genesis 1-11 did not really happen it is just a picture or symbol to explain the world we are in. Peace, peace. There are more important things then whether God really created the world and everything in it in the space of six days. Is it really a big deal to believe that God could not, or did not, create the world and everything in it in 6 24-hour days? Couldn’t God have used time, evolution, etc. over thousands of years?

This manner of speech may perhaps be plausible or persuasive to those who know not God, and who liken Him to needy human beings, and to those who cannot immediately and without assistance form anything, but require many instrumentalities to produce what they intend. But it will not be regarded as at all probable by those who know that God stands in need of nothing, and that He created and made all things by His Word, while He neither required angels to assist Him in the production of those things which are made, nor of any power greatly inferior to Himself, and ignorant of the Father, nor of any defect or ignorance, in order that he who should know Him might become man. But He Himself in Himself, after a fashion which we can neither describe nor conceive, predestinating all things, formed them as He pleased, bestowing harmony on all things, and assigning them their own place, and the beginning of their creation. Whom, therefore, shall we believe as to the creation of the world — these heretics who have been mentioned that prate so foolishly and inconsistently on the subject, or the disciples of the Lord, and Moses, who was both a faithful servant of God and a prophet? (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, II.ii.4,5)

Like a breath of fresh air.

Irenaeus identifies what it really comes down to: who are we going to believe? PhDs or prophets? Scientists or apostles? If denying the plain meaning of Scripture is the price for acceptance and respectability it is too high for me. I welcome and embrace the label of narrow-minded literalist. I will stick with the Bible and the men who defended it against all enemies. I have no compulsion to reconcile what Scripture says with what man thinks.

 It is therefore better and more profitable to belong to the simple and unlettered class, and by means of love to attain to nearness to God, than, by imagining ourselves learned and skilful, to be found [among those who are] blasphemous against their own God, inasmuch as they conjure up another God as the Father. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, II.xxvi.1)

The only one can give an authoritative statement about the creation of the universe is the One who was there. He has, and I’ll take him at his word.

 By the word of the LORD the heavens were made,
and by the breath of his mouth all their host.
Psalm 33:6

 

 

Did the early church believe in a literal hell of eternal punishment

I am aware that the very title of this post raises immediate objections and dismissals. Those who do not believe in an eternal hell have little difficulty mustering lists of early church fathers who did not believe in the eternal punishment of the lost. Church historians scoff at the very mention of “the” early church. Christianity was too diverse. “The” early church is a myth spun by ignorant romantics.

To the first group of naysayers, I ask you to consider the witness of the church not just individuals. To the second group, it is a pleasant surprise to find out that men who were actually a part of “the” early church, had no problems making assertions about what “the” church believed and practiced.

Consider Irenaeus of Lyons (c. 140 – 202/3). While his precise theological upbringing cannot be determined, he mentions learning from Polycarp of Smyrna who was a disciple of the Apostle John. So if Irenaeus was not John’s spiritual grandson, he was at least a nephew. Irenaeus was esteemed highly enough to be sent by his church with correspondence to the bishop of Rome. While he was away persecution arose and the bishop of Lyons was killed. When he returned he was elected bishop. Historians stumble over themselves in estimating the importance of Irenaeus. It is said that Irenaeus “killed Gnosticism” and “founded Christian theology.”[1] Irenaeus “is by far the most important of the theologians of the second century” and “deserves to be called the founder of Christian theology.”[2] While Irenaeus never claimed or desired to be an original-thinking theologian, he was “among the first Christian writers to seek the theological meaning of history.”[3] In short, Irenaeus is “among the greatest theologians of all times.”[4] One might say Irenaeus has a pretty decent résumé.

So what did the most important theologian of the second century, the founder of Christian theology say about the church and eternal punishment of the lost? In Against Heresies book 1 chapter 10, Irenaeus writes,

The Church, though dispersed through our the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His [future] manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father “to gather all things in one,” and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Savior, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, “every knee should bow, of things in heaven” and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess” to Him, and that He should execute just judgment towards all; that He may send “spiritual wickednesses,” and 331 the angels who transgressed and became apostates, together with the ungodly, and unrighteous, and wicked, and profane among men, into everlasting fire; but may, in the exercise of His grace, confer immortality on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept His commandments, and have persevered in His love, some from the beginning [of their Christian course], and others from [the date of] their repentance, and may surround them with everlasting glory.

And just in case it was missed the first time, in book 3 chapter 4 Irenaeus writes,

Since therefore we have such proofs, it is not necessary to seek the truth among others which it is easy to obtain from the Church; since the apostles, like a rich man [depositing his money] in a bank, lodged in her hands most copiously all things pertaining to the truth: so that every man, whosoever will, can draw from her the 417 water of life. For she is the entrance to life; all others are thieves and robbers. On this account are we bound to avoid them, but to make choice of the thing pertaining to the Church with the utmost diligence, and to lay hold of the tradition of the truth. . . . carefully preserving the ancient tradition, believing in one God, the Creator of heaven and earth, and all things therein, by means of Christ Jesus, the Son of God; who, because of His surpassing love towards His creation, condescended to be born of the virgin, He Himself uniting man through Himself to God, and having suffered under Pontius Pilate, and rising again, and having been received up in splendor, shall come in glory, the Savior of those who are saved, and the Judge of those who are judged, and sending into eternal fire those who transform the truth, and despise His Father and His advent.

Two points: Irenaeus seems to have a pretty strong opinion about the existence of “the” church; and, according to him at least, the church taught that “ungodly, unrighteous, and wicked” men share in the same fate as fallen angels: eternal fire.

It seems fair to say that the most important theologian of the second century believed in an eternal hell of suffering for the lost and that he presented this as the teaching of the one, apostolic, catholic, church.

 


[1] F. Cayre, Manual of Patrology (Paris: Desclee &Co., 1936), 146.

[2] Johannes Quasten, Patrology vol 1 The Beginnings of Christian Literature (Utrecht-Antwerp: Spectrum Publishers, 1975) 287, 294.

[3] Justo L. Gonzalez, A History of Christian Thought Thought: From the Beginning to the Council of Chalcedon (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1987), 170.

[4] Ibid, 170.

Do I have to go to church?

Here is a link to a 12 page .pdf file that attempts to answer the question whether or not Christians have to go to church. I would simply post it here, but it is in outline format and that is something that would take me too long to do at the moment!

Do I have to go to church?

David Martyn Lloyd-Jones Comments on the introductory essays to Genesis in the ESV Study Bible

The introductory articles to Genesis in the ESV Study Bible, “Genesis and History” and “Genesis and Science”, are nothing short of disastrous. That may be putting it too kindly.

We are told that Genesis 1-11 “intended to record history.” We are told that history should not be conceived of as things that actually happened but only events that the author “believes to have happened.” Just in case that is not wishy-washy enough, we are told that the author recorded “real events albeit theologically interpreted.” [Emphasis mine in all quotes.]

In the following quote, D.M. Lloyd-Joes is addressing the Canon Criticism and Biblical Theology movement spearheaded by Brevard Childs, but his words are an apt commentary on the ESV Study Bible’s introductory material on Genesis:

Now we must come back to the Bible. But what they really mean is that we must come back to what they call the ‘message’ of the Old Testament. . . . They reject many of the facts of the Old Testament – they do not accept the early chapters of Genesis as history, they reject the story of the flood, they do not believe the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. They cannot believe such things as these, for their scientific knowledge makes it impossible. But they tell us there is a kind of religious value in it all and that they are willing to take hold of the religious principle and teaching, while they reject the facts as such and regard them as myth. . . . Christian people, in other words, are called upon to adopt an attitude and position that to the world seems utterly ridiculous. To believe these things today is as monstrous to the natural man as it was to the unbelievers of Noah’s day. And yet if we accept the Bible as the Word of God if we believe in this revelation, we must believe that it is an essential part of the teaching. . . . We must not bring natural reason to this; we must accept the Bible as the Word of God, the revelation of God, and live a life of conformity with it. The pure mind, not the scoffing, mocking mind of natural man who rejects the revelation of God, is what we need. God grant that our minds may thus be pure, and utterly free from all modern suggestions and teachings which would have us reject the clear teaching of the revelation of God in His Holy Word. (Expository Sermons on 2 Peter, 171, 174)

The Bible does not need to be excused or explained in words that have no meaning.

It just needs to be believed.

Enjoying a Laugh with Irenaeus of Lyons

In a few weeks I hope to participate in a discussion group on the Trinity. In preparation for that I began reading Irenaeus’ Against Heresies. I was debating internally about whether to start at the beginning or just jump to the part where Irenaeus begins his defense of orthodox doctrine. I am glad I started at the beginning.

In the first two books of Against Heresies Irenaeus goes into great detail about the history and beliefs of Gnosticism. In this portion he is addressing their belief concerning the creation of water.

 I feel somewhat inclined myself to contribute a few hints towards the development of their system. For when I perceive that waters are in part fresh, such as fountains, rivers, showers, and so on, and in part salt; such as those in the sea, I reflect with myself that all such waters cannot be derived from her tears, inasmuch as these are of a saline quality only. It is clear, therefore, that the waters which are salt are alone those which are derived from her tears. But it is probable that she, in her intense agony and perplexity, was covered with perspiration. And hence, following out their notion, we may conceive that fountains and rivers, and all the fresh water in the world, are due to this source. For it is difficult, since we know that all tears are of the same quality, to believe that waters both salt and fresh proceeded from them. The more plausible supposition is, that some are from her tears, and some from her perspiration. And since there are also in the world certain waters which are hot and acrid in their nature, thou must be left to guess their origin, how and whence. Such are some of the results of their hypothesis. (I.IV.4)

Such argumentation is just brilliant. Irenaeus enters into their system to seemingly improve on it: not all the water on earth could have come from the tears of Achamoth because there is fresh water and salt water. Some of the earth’s waters must have come from her sweat, other water from her tears. But what about earth’s hot and acrid water? Where would that come from? He leaves us to imagine.

Hilarious.

Christians do not need to fear heresy; we should have fun demonstrating its foolishness.

Do I really have to believe in hell?

Herman Bavinck begins and ends his discussion of the eternal punishment of sinners with the caveat that no one is really enthused about the doctrine:

If human sentiment had the final say about the doctrine of eternal punishment, it would certainly be hard to maintain and even today find few defenders.

For in eternal punishment God’s justice always manifests itself in such a way that his goodness and love remain inviolate and can never be justly faulted. The saying that he does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone applies also in hell. The pain he inflicts is not an object of pleasure, either for him or for the blessed in heaven, but a means of glorifying his virtues, and hence [the punishment is] determined in severity and measure by this ultimate goal. (Reformed Dogmatics, IV, 708, 714)

Christians do not believe in hell because they find the idea enjoyable. Christians believe in hell because the Bible teaches the reality of it. Along those lines, here some important things to remember when considering the doctrine of eternal punishment:

  1. “Human feeling is no foundation for anything important, therefore, and neither may nor can it be decisive in the determination of law and justice. All appearance notwithstanding, it is infinitely better to fall into the hands of the Lord than into human hands (1 Chron. 21:13).” In short, your feelings and opinions are inconsequential to the formulation of doctrinally orthodox beliefs.
  2. “…no one in Scripture speaks of [eternal punishment] more often and at greater length than our Lord Jesus Christ, whose depth of human feeling and compassion no one can deny and who was the meekest and most humble of human beings.” In other words, if you have a problem with hell you have a problem with Jesus.
  3. “Granted, sin is finite in the sense that it is committed by a finite creature in a finite period of time, but as Augustine already noted, not the duration of time over which the sin was committed but its own intrinsic nature is the standard for its punishment.” The denial of eternal punishment minimizes the sinfulness of sin and the greatness of God.  Even in this life we recognize the varied magnitude of different decisions. There is a world of difference between choosing the wrong thing off the menu for supper and choosing the wrong person to marry. Sin is not just choosing the curly fries instead of the home-style fries at Arby’s. “…sin is infinite in the sense that it is committed against the Highest Majesty, who is absolutely entitled to our love and worship. God is absolutely and infinitely worthy of our obedience and dedication.”
  4. “…for the person who disputes [the reality of] eternal punishment, there is enormous danger of playing the hypocrite before God. Such a person presents himself as extremely loving, one who in goodness and compassion far outstrips our Lord Jesus Christ. This does not stop the same person, the moment one’s own honor is violated, from erupting in fury and calling down on the violator every evil in this life and the life to come.” Or, if you are going to deny the right of God to punish sin, you have no right to condemn it yourself.
  5. Finally, “Critics of eternal punishment not only fail to do justice to the doom-worthiness of sin, the rigorousness of divine justice; they also infringe on the greatness of God’s love and the salvation that is in Christ.” For all the talk of a loving God not sending people to hell, a denial of hell actually makes God into a hateful misogynist. If hell is not real, why would the eternal Word of God have to take on human flesh and die for man’s sin? If the eternal Son of God did not have to die for man’s sin to save him and God sent Him to die anyway… What kind of Father does that?

No one likes the idea of hell. But, “If the object had not been salvation from eternal destruction, the price of the blood of God’s own Son would have been much too high. The heaven that he won for us by his atoning death presupposes a hell from which he delivered us. The eternal life he imparted to us presupposes an eternal death from which he saved us.”