Otto Weber and John Calvin on Roman Hubris (and me on Evangelical Insolence)

According to the Roman Catholic view, Jesus is the Lord in the Church and through the Church, but not over the Church in the sense that he alone defines the word of the Church through the apostolic witness and makes this word secondary to that witness.

Otto Weber, Foundation of Dogmatics, vol. 1, p. 40

It is easy to simplify things and state that all the differences between Rome and Christianity come down to authority. Nevertheless, all differences must at the very least start there. Until this issue is resolved, there can be no meaningful rapprochement with Rome.  Rome says that what the Church says about the Apostolic witness is more important than the witness itself. Jesus may help and guide the Church in her dogmatic decrees, but her decrees always take precedence over whatever Jesus or the apostles have decreed.

This should not be taken as an assertion that Protestants have it all together. We may have a better creed, but for many it is little more than that: “I believe,” but not “I do.” Sola Scriptura and Regula Fidei are nice slogans to sling around, but they have little bearing on how we relate to God, society, or one another. The arrogance of Roman autonomy is little better than Evangelical insolence.

 …in mysteries of the faith common sense is not our adviser, but with quiet teachableness and the spirit of gentleness (which James commends) we receive the doctrine given from heaven.

John Calvin, Institutes, 4.17.25

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Grant Horner’s Bible Reading Plan Revised

Grant Horner’s Bible reading plan takes the reader through 10 different sections of the Bible one chapter at a time. The profit of reading 10 chapters of the Bible per day should be evident to any Christian. Or, it should be. Reading 10 chapters a day, though, can be something of a challenge. The plan has at least two built-in features that offer some aid: first, you are reading in different parts of Scripture every day; 2)the reading sections are all different lengths, meaning you will never read the same thing twice. A secondary aid for those who like to read through the Bible every year is that Horner’s plan is not tied to a calender. You can start any time and in the back of your mind is always the knowledge that if you miss a day or two, or a section or two, you are still going to get through the Bible. Here is the plan laid out by Horner (the number following each section refers to the amount of chapters):

Gospels 89
Pentateuch 187
Rom.-Col, Hebrews 78
1 Thess-Phil, James-Rev 65
Job, Eccl, Song 62
Psalms 150
Proverbs 31
Joshua-Esther 249
Isaiah-Malachi 250
Acts 28

This is the plan I used in 2011 for my Bible reading. And I returned to it again this year with slight modification.

I have two issues with Horner’s original plan. The Old Testament readings have a major flaw: the imbalance between the Job-Song and the Prophets groupings. Job and Ecclesiastes are great books and can’t be read enough. But look at the size imbalance between those two sections and consider the implications. Is reading Song of Solomon four times for every time you read one of the Prophets really that profitable? How many times does the New Testament refer to Song of Solomon, and how many times to the prophets?

In the New Testament readings, there is just some tinkering. It is hard to know what to do with the epistles. You would like to keep all of Paul’s together and all of the generals together, but this results in an imbalance of 87 chapters for the Pauline Epistles and 56 for the General Epistles. It loses some of the balance Horner’s plan provides. So I like the balance of Horner’s groupings, but I am not too fond of having Hebrews read in a group with Paul. I also think Colossians and Philemon should be in the same reading group.

The basis for my Old Testament revision is theological- I think Horner’s original is faulty. The basis for my New Testament revision is practical – I think Horner’s plan is okay, but could be better.

Here is what I came up with:

Gospels 89
Pentateuch 187
Rom-2 Thess, Philemon (read immediately after Colossians) 74
1 Tim-Titus, Hebrews-Rev 69
Job, Eccl, Song, The Twelve (Minor Prophets) 129
Psalms 150
Proverbs 31
Joshua-Esther 249
Isaiah-Daniel 135
Acts 28

For the Old Testament portion, this plan will have you reading each of the prophets twice in one year except once. (And reading Job, Eccl., and Song twice instead of four-five times.) The New Testament portion keeps the balance (actually improves it a bit) while keeping all of the General Epistles together. It still breaks up Paul,but at least does it in a more natural way: keeping all  of the “church” epistles and “pastoral” epistles together.

A more radical New Testament reorganization would be:

Luke-Acts         (52)
John, 1-3 John, Revelation      (50)
Matt, Mark, Hebrews, James, 1, 2 Peter, Jude (71)
Pauline Epistles (87)

While more radical, it is also much more “logical.” While there are advantages to Reading Acts every month, there is something to be said for a little more balance in the New Testament.

Authority: The most important thing Graeme Goldsworthy has ever written?

Graeme Goldsworthy is not a name that is well-known by those in the pews, nor even by those in the pulpits. He is better known by those who train the men in the pulpits. He is influential in the renaissance, resurgence, continuation of the field of biblical theology. He emphasizes seeing the Bible as one story and seeing Christ as the point of that story. Which, if you want to be biblical about studying the Bible, is not too bad of an emphasis to have.

I have had his introduction to biblical theology, According to Plan, sitting on my shelf for a couple years. At a recent conference I picked up his successive works, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics, and Christ-Centered Biblical Theology. Now having four books by the man I thought it might be a good time to get started actually reading them.

So far, the journey has been rewarding. In the third chapter of According to Plan, Goldsworthy offers up a couple paragraphs that I wish every Christian would grapple with:

 Presuppositions, then, are the assumptions we make in order to be able to hold some fact to be true. We cannot go on indefinitely saying, “I know this is true because…” In the end we must come to that which we accept as the final authority. By definition a final authority cannot be proven as an authority on the basis of some higher authority. The highest authority must be self-attesting. Only God is such an authority. [Emphasis mine]
The presuppositions we must make in doing biblical theology are those of Christian theism. The alternative to this is to accept the presuppositions of some form of humanism. Either we work on the basis of a sovereign, self-proving God who speaks to us by a word that we accept as true simply because it is his word, or we work on the basis that man is the final judge of all truth. The Christian position, to be consistent, accepts that the Bible is God’s Word, and that it says what God wants it to say in exactly the way he wants to say it.[1]

If I had the words to express how crucial the above declarations are, I would probably be writing books instead of reading them. The issue of authority is the spring from which a thousand streams flow.

If God is the final authority his Word must be given the same respect because it is the expression of his authority, the declaration of his will. Once a person sees what the Bible says, understands what the Bible says, and proceeds to say, “Yeah but…” he demonstrates that the Bible is not his final authority. The attempt to re-define, re-imagine, or re-interpret the plain statements of Scripture, is simply the rebellion of man against the authority of God. When Scripture is seen as out-of-date or unenlightened, it is simply the exaltation of man’s desires over God’s will.

When a church decides that women can be pastors, against the clear teaching of Scripture, there is really no reason to forbid a homosexual from being a pastor either: other than it would just gross some people out.

When the church decides that Adam and Eve were not really the first humans and that sin and death did not really enter creation through their sin in Eden, then there is really no reason to see Jesus as the Christ promised to deliver men from sin and death.

When the church starts parsing out which parts of the Bible to believe and practice, it is only cutting itself to pieces. If you are going to decide which parts to believe, why believe any of it? I can think of quite a few ways I would rather spend my Sundays.


[1] Graeme Goldsworthy, According to Plan (Downers Grove: InterVarstiy Press, 2002), 44.

Psalm 97 Some Thoughts on Structure

Psalm 97 is in the midst of the Enthronement Psalms (93-99). At the beginning (93:1) middle (96:10; 97:1) and end (99:1) of the unit is the declaration, “The Lord reigns.” His throne is an eternal throne (93:2). He is the judge of the earth (94:2). He is the great King above all gods (95:3; 97:9) who is greatly to be praised (96:4). His sanctuary is one of splendor and majesty (96:6) where he is worshipped as King with trumpets and horns (98:6).

The simplest way to divide Psalm 97 is right in half.[1] Artur Weiser sees verses 1-6 describing the theophany of the Lord while verses 7-12 describe the results of that theophany. Such a division is true to the text and I would only make the very modest revision of identifying verses 1 and 12 as prescript and postscript enjoining praise to the appearing Lord.

More commentators see three divisions in the text. W. Stewart McCollough and James L. Mays identify 1-5; 6-9; 10-12 as sections while Mitchell Dahood follows the same but includes verse 6 with the first instead of second section.

Willem VanGemeren goes a step further and sees a four-part chiastic structure of:

A: The revelation of YHWH’s glory (1-6)

B: Exhortation to worship (7)

B’: Zion’s Worship (8-9)

A’: The effects of  YHWH’s glorious rule (10-12)

As far as the over-all structure I think Weiser’s fits best with what is going on the text. Yet seeing the evident symmetry of verses 1 and 12 I pursued the possibility of a more developed chiastic structure and arrived at the following:

1  The LORD reigns, let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!

2  Clouds and thick darkness are all around him;
righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.

3  Fire goes before him and burns up his adversaries all around.

4  His lightnings light up the world; the earth sees and trembles.
5  The mountains melt like wax before the LORD,
before the Lord of all the earth.

6  The heavens proclaim his righteousness,
and all the peoples see his glory.

7  All worshipers of images are put to shame,
who make their boast in worthless idols;
worship him, all you gods!

8  Zion hears and is glad, and the daughters of Judah rejoice,  because of your judgments, O LORD.

9  For you, O LORD, are most high over all the earth;
you are exalted far above all gods.

10  O you who love the LORD, hate evil! He preserves the lives of his saints;
he delivers them from the hand of the wicked.

11  Light is sown for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart.

12  Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous, and give thanks to his holy name!

Some brief notes concerning the pairings:

Verses 1+12 A call to rejoice in the Lord

Verses 2+11 Contrast of light and darkness; righteousness is foundation of Lord’s throne and light and joy are given to the righteous

Verses 3+10 The Lord destroys his adversaries and protects his saints

Verses 4,5+9 All the earth trembles before the Lord who is exalted over all the earth

Verses 6+8 Heaven proclaims and the righteous hear

Verse 7 Worship the true Lord

 Some issues with this structure:

The pairing of verses 4 and 5. I kept these two verses together because of the shared themes of “the world,” “the earth,” “all the earth;” and the similar ideas of “trembling” and “melt like wax.”

It is very tempting to make verses 7 and 8 as the joint-center since they contrast the response of the wicked and the righteous to the appearing of the Lord.


[1] Marvin Tate also sees two divisions, but identifies them as 1-9 and 10-12.

John Calvin on Creation and the Problem of Evolution

Although we are convinced that our wit is so weak that it is pitiful, we will not give up the foolish opinion that we are wise. But when we are brought before God we are driven to know that we are nothing and that we must not deceive ourselves by our own self-worth. See how Job sets God before us here. So we would know the wisdom that is in him alone he also sets the creation of the world before our eyes. Are men so sharp-witted as to comprehend all God’s secrets? To know how he disposes the order of nature and how he has, as it were, weighed the winds and waters and other things? It is true, as I have said, that philosophers have well-conceived the reason of things that are seen in this world. But when men come to the creation, it is so wonderful a thing that they must be brought low and reverence the infinite wisdom of God and confess themselves unable to comprehend it.

John Calvin, First Sermon on Job 28:10-28

 

While obviously not addressing it, Calvin here lays his finger on the greatest problem of all evolutionary interpretations of Genesis 1-2. The normal, traditional, historical, interpretation of Genesis 1-2 (and passages like Ex. 20:9-11; Job 38; Ps. 33:6,9; 148; Is. 45:18; Rom. 1:20; Heb. 11:3; 2 Pet. 3:5; Rev. 4:11) is that God made all things in moments of time over the course of six 24-hour days. The more one studies the universe and all that is in it, the more one is amazed at such an assertion; and the more one is utterly confounded at such a God. Which is precisely the point of Romans 1:20, “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”

This is the point that Calvin makes in commenting on Job 28, and it is the point that God himself makes in Job 38. Special creation, literal interpretation, Creation science, young-earth interpretation- whatever term you wish to use- has an exalted view of God for a foundation. Such a method of interpretation lifts man’s eyes up to God only to result in man being brought low in worshipful wonder.

Theistic evolution, whether known as day-age, analogical days, literary framework, gap theory, all do just the opposite. They bring God down to man and tell him, “See, he works just like us. He just makes bigger stuff.”

We are told that Genesis 1-2 is not meant to teach ­how God created the universe, but only that he did. Yeah, because without Genesis 1-2 we would have absolutely NO idea where the world came from.

1Chronicles 16:26  For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the LORD made the heavens.

Nehemiah 9:6  “You are the LORD, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you.

Job 38:4  “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.

Psalm 8:3  When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,

Psalm 89:11-12  The heavens are yours; the earth also is yours; the world and all that is in it, you have founded them.  12  The north and the south, you have created them; Tabor and Hermon joyously praise your name.

Psalm 96:5  For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the LORD made the heavens.

Psalm 102:25  Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.

Psalm 104:24  O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.

Psalm 115:15  May you be blessed by the LORD, who made heaven and earth!

Psalm 121:2  My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.

Psalm 124:8  Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.

Psalm 134:3  May the LORD bless you from Zion, he who made heaven and earth!

Psalm 136:3-9  Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his steadfast love endures forever;  4  to him who alone does great wonders, for his steadfast love endures forever; to him who by understanding made the heavens, for his steadfast love endures forever; to him who spread out the earth above the waters, for his steadfast love endures forever; to him who made the great lights, for his steadfast love endures forever; the sun to rule over the day, for his steadfast love endures forever; the moon and stars to rule over the night, for his steadfast love endures forever;

Psalm 146:5-6  Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God,  who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever;

Pro 3:19  The LORD by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens;

Isaiah 37:16  “O LORD of hosts, God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth.

Isaiah 40:26  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.

Isaiah 40:28  Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.

Isaiah 42:5  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:

Isaiah 44:24  Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: “I am the LORD, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself,

Jeremiah 10:12  It is he who made the earth by his power, who established the world by his wisdom, and by his understanding stretched out the heavens.

Jeremiah 32:17  ‘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.

Jeremiah 51:15  “It is he who made the earth by his power, who established the world by his wisdom, and by his understanding stretched out the heavens.

Zechariah 12:1  The burden of the word of the LORD concerning Israel: Thus declares the LORD, who stretched out the heavens and founded the earth and formed the spirit of man within him:

Acts 4:24  And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them,

Acts 14:15  “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.

Acts 17:24  The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man,

Ephesians 3:9  and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things,

Colossians 1:16  For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through him and for him.

Hebrews 1:2  but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

Revelation 10:6  and swore by him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it, that there would be no more delay,

Revelation 14:7  And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

Yes, obviously without Genesis 1-2 we would certainly be in the dark about where all things came. No, I think that Genesis 1-2 might want to teach us a little more than the simple fact that God created all things.

Then we are told that such “non-literal” interpretations do believe in a wondrous God. We are told that they look at the billions of years such an evolutionary process took and can be amazed at such wonderful care and patient providence of a God so meticulously guiding processes of change.

So we are at a theological impasse. I believe in a big powerful God who created all things in mere moments with just the word of his mouth. You believe in a wonderfully meticulous artisan God who guides all things. Who is to say which of us has a “better” view of God?

But it is a false dichotomy. Everything they believe about God, I do too: except for the billions of years.

Because “My help comes from the LORD, who patiently guided billions of millennia of death and mutation” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

In some things there is great joy in being a dimwit.

How to Read the Bible Adapted from Wilhelmus à Brakel The Christian’s Reasonable Service Guidelines for the Profitable Reading of Scripture

For the reading of Scripture to be profitable, there must be preparation, practice, and reflection.

 Preparation

            You must, with mental concentration, place yourself in the presence of God. You must promote a reverent, spiritual frame of mind, being conscious that the Lord shall speak to him. To promote such reverence, reflect upon Isaiah 1:2, “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the LORD has spoken.”

            You must lift up your heart to the Lord asking him to cause you to perceive the truth expressed in God’s Word and apply it to your heart. Your prayer ought to be with Psalm 119:18, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.”

            You must attentively aim your heart toward obedience in order to exercise faith, be receptive to comfort, and comply with all that the Lord proclaims, promises, and commands. With Samuel your prayer is, “Speak, for your servant hears.” (1 Sam. 3:10).

Practice

            As you read it is essential to do so calmly and attentively rather than hastily with the only objective being to complete the reading. If there is a lack of time it is better to read less with concentration than to read more with distraction.

            You should observe the context before and after the text  you are reading and notice the manner of speech and the object of the text. The text must be compared with other text where the issue is explained more comprehensively, and with texts which are similar in content.

            You should not merely cleave to the literal meaning. This is being satisfied with the rind of the fruit which provides neither strength nor nourishment. One must penetrate to the kernel itself, seeking to perceive the internal essence of the matter.

            Avoid assigning every allowable meaning to a given word. The meaning of Scripture is clear, straightforward, and concise, expressing matters in a more organized manner than any man would ever be capable of doing. This obligates us to search out carefully what the specific intent and objective of the Spirit is in every text.

            Avoid the similar errors of relegating everything to the past or to the future. You cannot read the Old Testament and say, “This is all in the past there is nothing here for me.” You cannot read prophecy and say, “This is all for some time in the future it is not for me.” Such an attitude takes away the true meaning, spirituality, and the power from the Word.

            Avoid thinking that no text of Scripture can be correctly understood unless it is viewed in its context. There are thousands of expressions in God’s Word which, when heard or read individually, have a precise meaning, give full expression to their doctrinal content, and are sufficiently penetrating to stimulate faith, render comfort, and be exhort to obedience.

            If you encounter something which is not immediately understood, put it aside for the time being and continue reading. When you encounter a remarkable text, mark it, meditate on it, memorize it.

Reflection

            Joyfully give thanks that the Lord has allowed His Word to be recorded and preserved and that you have the privilege of reading and applying it. 

            Strive to preserve the spiritual state of mind which is obtained by reading God’s Word.

            Share with others what was read, discussing it whenever possible.

            Strive to obey what has been read by bringing it into practice.

Wilhelmus à Brakel Comes out swinging against Dispensationalism

The conclusion of à Brakel’s chapter “The Word of God” in The Christian’s Reasonable Service is an excellent portion entitled Guidelines for the Profitable Reading of Scripture. I hope to summarize its contents in a future post, but one thing that really caught my attention was an item in his list of things to be avoided in reading the Bible.

à Brakel writes:

The second practice to avoid is that of forcing everything into a framework of seven dispensations, as the entire concept of seven dispensations is erroneous. It would be tolerable if this were limited to the Revelation of John; however, it would prevent one from ever ascertaining the correct meaning of the book of the Revelation. It is unacceptable to search for seven dispensations throughout the entire Bible, subordinating every scriptural issue to a dispensation. That would take away the true meaning, spirituality, and power from the Word.[1]

 I will not comment on Brakel’s evaluation of dispensationalism as a system, other than to say that on the whole I agree with his estimation of the fruits of it. What really surprises me is that a à Brakel knows about dispensationalism at all. I expect a Reformed theologian to criticize dispensationalism: but not one in à Brakel’s day. The Christian’s Reasonable Service was published in 1700. Everyone pretty much agrees that dispensationalism as a system was not formalized until the late 1800s and early 1900s. Where does à Brakel’s knowledge of dispensationalism come from then?

 I consulted the standard treatment on the system, Dispensationalism by Charles Ryrie, and think I found the answer:

 Pierre Poiret was a French mystic and philosopher (1646-1719). His great work, L’OEconomie Divine, first published in Amsterdam in 1687, was translated into English and published in London in six volumes in 1713. The work began as a development of the doctrine of predestination, but it was expanded into a rather complete systematic theology. In viewpoint it is sometimes mystical, represents a modified form of Calvinism, and is premillennial and dispensational.[2]

 Ryrie also lists the seven dispensations of Poiret which have a different demarcation than those of Scofield, but are nonetheless seven. As Ryrie is right to remind critics of the system, dispensationalism did not exactly fall out of the sky in 1900. Even if Ryrie’s citation of patristic authors is rightly dismissed as egregious cherry-picking, critics of the system should look for the true roots and sources of it rather than focusing all their attention on Darby and Scofield. Dispensationalism is older than you think.


[1] Willhelmus à Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, vol. 1, (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 1992), 79.

[2] Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), 65.

John Chrysostom On The Incomprehensible Nature of God Sermon 5: Only the Trinity knows the Trinity

Sermon 5 is the longest sermon in the series of 12 sermons On the Incomprehensible Nature of God, but like the previous two sermons Chrysostom has lengthy conclusion that has little to do with the stated thesis of the series as the final third of the sermon deals with the subject of prayer (43-62). [1]

Chrysostom deals intricately with the texts of John 1:18 and 6:46, “No one has ever seen God. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, himself declared him. Not that anyone has seen the Father except him who is from God, he has seen the Father.” The fact that “no one” has seen the Father except the Son is not meant to exclude the Holy Spirit, but all created beings (5-6). For support, Chrysostom turns to Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 2:11, “For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (7). This is certainly delicate reasoning, but it is sound. “No one” cannot exclude the Spirit in John or the Son in 1 Corinthians. Because we know God’s word is true and his testimony concerning himself is trustworthy, John 1:18; 6:46; and 1 Cor. 2:11 must all be true. So “no one” must indeed refer to all creatures outside of the Trinitarian communion.

Chrysostom then enters into a discussion that is, frankly, an amazing display of exegesis. The preacher turns his attention to 1 Corinthians 8:6, “yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” As “no one” separates the Trinity from all creation, so “one” separates the Trinity to itself. To prove the equality of the Son and Father Chrysostom demonstrates that “God” and “Lord” are used interchangeably of the Father and Son. Paragraph 12 offers a concise summary,

 Some names are common to several; others are proper to one. There are common names to show that the essence is exactly the same; there are proper names to characterize what is proper to the personal realities. The names “Father” and “Son” characterize what is proper to the personal realities; the names “God” and “Lord” show what is common. Therefore, after Paul set down the common name of “one God,” he had to use the proper name so that you might know of whom he was speaking. He did this to prevent us from falling into the madness of Sabellius.

The preacher then goes through Old and New Testament Scriptures demonstrating that the Father and Son are each called Lord and God (13-24). Returning to his main text, Chrysostom again asserts that knowledge necessitates identity. As men do not know the essence of angels, so neither angels nor men know the essence of God. The preacher goes even further in an amusing fashion. Not only are men incapable of knowing the essence of angels or God, they are incapable of knowing their own essence:

 And why should I speak of what kind of essence the soul has? It is not even possible to say how it exists in the body. What answer could anyone give to this question? That it is extended throughout the bulk of the body? But that is absurd. To exist that way is proper only to bodies. That this is not the way that the soul exists in the body is clear from this example. If a man’s hands and feet are amputated, the soul remains whole and entire and is in no way mutilated by the maiming of the body.
Then it does not exist in the whole body but has it been gathered together in some part of the body? If that is true, the rest of the parts must be dead, because whatever lacks a soul is altogether dead. But we cannot say that. What we must say is that we know not that the soul is in our bodies but that we do not know how it is there. God has shut us off from this knowledge of the soul for a reason. So that, out of his great superiority, he might curb our tongues, hold us in check, and persuade us to remain on earth and not to meddle out of curiosity with matters which are beyond us. (28-29)

This also points to an important conclusion to be made plain before Chrysostom turns his attention to prayer. There is something inherently off-putting to the statement that a person cannot comprehend God. Even when time is taken to explain weight of “comprehend”; even when it is acknowledged that things can be truly known of God; for some it is hard to hear that God cannot be known in his essence. Chrysostom has a helpful analogy:

 Tell me this. Suppose that two men are obstinately arguing with each other about whether they can know how large the sky is. Suppose that one of them says that it is impossible for the human eye to encompass it, and the other would contend that it was possible for a man to measure the entire sky by using the span of his hand. Which of these two would we say would know the size of the sky? Would it be the one who argues how many spans wide the sky is? Or would it be the one who admits that he does not know? Surely the man who admits he does not know the size of the sky when he sees its magnitude will have a better understanding of how large the sky is. When it is a question of God, will we not use the same discretion? Would it not be the ultimate madness if we failed to do so? (39)

Underlying the sermons of Chrysostom is a trust in the word of Scripture. This trust underlies his philosophy and epistemology too. It is not adventurous, brave, or noble, to go beyond the bounds of Scripture. It is folly and madness. Neither is it weak or ignoble to rest content in the knowledge that Scripture does provide. To stay within the bounds of Scripture is true security, it is full sanity.

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1] All paragraph references refer to those in Paul W. Harkins, St John Chrysostom On the Incomprehensible Nature of God (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1984).

The Presbyterian & Reformed on Creation: Slouching toward Evolution

I am neither Presbyterian nor Reformed, but I continue to gain much and have much of my thinking shaped by those who are. But there is a current of thinking swelling up that I hope to fall into. Certain people with a platform continue to dismiss the historical reliability of Genesis 1-11. They continue to question the Church’s traditional, literal, young-earth, interpretation. As this post links too, William B. Evans is another who has laid his cards on the table. Men like Evans make intellectual appeal to science and ancient literature and tell us that our interpretation must take these things into account.

Carlton Wynne eviscerates such thinking:

The need of the hour, it seems to me, whether we are discussing the relative merits of competing creation views, confessional subscription and interpretation, or any other related issue, is to state as clearly and as boldly as we can that the authoritative nexus of meaning–the divinely sanctioned access point for the meaning of a biblical text–lies within the canon of Scripture itself and not in reference to anything extra-biblical, especially apparent similarities with ANE literature. This is an indispensable corollary to Scripture’s authority and sufficiency that we lose to our epistemological and hermeneutical peril. On a related note, however informative ANE literature may be for studying isolated texts, we cannot allow it to norm our reading of Scripture nor determine what Scripture, as a whole, is. The book of Hebrews alone, with the scant authorial and extra-biblical contextual evidence available to us today, ought to check our dependence on background studies for interpreting the Scriptures and lead us to read it, and every other biblical text, ultimately in light of its canonical perspective and place in the unfolding organism of special revelation.

The denial of the plain meaning of Genesis 1-11, the denial of the Church’s historical understanding of Genesis 1-11, is a denial of sola Scriptura. I am not sure how Wickipedia can understand sola Scriptura- “Sola scriptura is the teaching that the Bible is the only inspired and authoritative word of God, is the only source for Christian doctrine, and is accessible to all—that is, it is perspicuous and self-interpreting“- and men like Meredith Kline, Bruce Waltke, Tremper Longman, and William B. Evans cannot. Is the Bible able to stand on its own? Can the Bible offer its own authoritative interpretation? That is the question here.

Evans and his cohorts say Moses was only using faulty ancient tradition. Evans and his cohorts say the Westminster divines were relying on faulty science. I heard the exact same thing in 2009 when I was involved in a reading group of Calvin’s Institutes: passages in which Calvin clearly demonstrated a belief in a young-earth, 6-day creation, were acknowledged with the comment that Calvin was only depending on the science of his day. Apparently Moses was proficient enough to write Scripture, but not truth. Apparently Calvin was discerning enough to see errors in Rome, but not the “science of his day.” The Westminster Assembly was able enough to set creedal standards that guided a denomination for 350 years, but not able to know what they were really talking about.

So the problem with Moses, Calvin, the Westminster Assembly et al. was that they all were held captive to the thinking of their day. None of them were able to penetrate the fog of their own age’s ignorance. They were all slaves to the thought of their contemporaries. Am I the only one on whom this irony is not lost? Evans charges the ancients with communal ignorance as he embraces the wisdom of this world.

Zeitgeist is not all it is cracked up to be.

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.