I Believe in Free(d) Will: Humanity In Its Fourfold State

simeon-muller-3505Whenever the question ‘Do you believe in free will?’ comes up, I want to stop the conversation and step back about thirty yards. Too often that question is presented as if there are only two answers:

  1. Yes, I believe in free will (and therefore, righteously and obviously affirm the moral responsibility of humanity).
  2. No, I don’t believe in free will (and therefore deny the moral responsibility of humanity and foolishly make humanity to be a set of fated robots).

The trouble with this subject is the binary nature of the question. What if instead of asking, “Do you believe in free will? Yes or no?” We ask, what does the Bible say about humanity and our freedom? Though any answer that follows is still to be tainted by our own philosophical (and geo-political) prejudices, it might just get us a bit closer to a good set of questions and a more biblical answer.

But if we take time to consider this subject biblically, what kind of questions should we ask? And if Scripture doesn’t give us a philosphical treatise on the matter, what kind of passages can we find? The answer is that Scripture is filled with passages that address the inner psychology of the soul; the Bible regularly describes the mind, will, emotions, and heart—not to mention the image of God. And, in fact, it does so with regard to four different states of existence. Continue reading

The Garden of Eden: A Biblical-Theological Framework

gardenGod’s people dwelling in God’s place under God’s rule: This tripartite division, outlined by Graeme Goldsworthy in his book According to Plan, well articulates the relationship of Adam and Eve to God in the Garden. Yet, often when Christians read the creation account in Genesis 1–2 they miss the royal and priestly themes in those two chapters. In fact, in teaching this section of Scripture, I have often had veteran saints question the validity of calling Adam a royal priest and the garden of Eden a royal sanctuary.

So, in what follows, I hope to provide a brief summary of the biblical evidence for seeing the first image-bearers (imago Dei) as royal priests commissioned by God to have priestly dominion over the earth—a commission later restored in type to Israel (see Exodus 19:5–6), fulfilled in Christ (see, e.g., Hebrews 5), and shared with all those who are in Christ (see 1 Peter 2:5, 9–10). In these sections, we will focus on the temple and by extension to the purpose and work of mankind in that original garden-sanctuary. (Much of this research stems from my dissertation, which considered in depth the details of the priesthood in Scripture).

Gardens in the Bible

The Garden in Eden

Easily missed by a casual reading of Genesis 2, the “Garden of Eden” (2:15; 3:23, 24; cf. Ezek 36:35; Joel 2:3) is actually the “Garden in Eden” (2:8; cf. 2:10)—meaning that the Garden is a subsection of the land of Eden itself. Confirming this, John Walton writes, “Technically speaking, Genesis 2:10 indicates that the garden should be understood as adjoining Eden because the water flows from Eden and waters the garden.”[1]  Further support for this view, that the garden is in Eden, is the fact that the man was created outside the Garden (2:7) and then brought to work the garden (2:8).

The Garden of God

Genesis 2 is the account of the Garden of God (cf. Isa 51:3; Ezek 28:13; 31:9), and the man Adam who is placed in the Garden as a servant of the Lord. Describing the literary framework of Genesis 2:8ff, Peter Gentry states, “Genesis 2:8–17 portrays the first man as a kind of priest in the garden sanctuary. In terms of literary structure, 2:8a describes the creation of the garden and 2:8b the placing of the man there. In what follows, 2:9–15 elaborates on 2:8a [the place] and 2:16–17 elaborates on 2:8b [the priest].”[2] Thus, in light of Moses later writing, we should see this Garden as a sacred sanctuary, the place where God walked in the presence of his people (cf. Leviticus 26:12). Continue reading

Resources for Reading the Psalms Canonically

libraryOver the summer, I preached a series of messages on the Psalms. I argued that they are one unified book telling the story of salvation. In their midst the reader finds a movement from lament to praise and a series of peaks and valleys that follow the course of redemptive history from David (in Books 1 and 2) to the exile of David and Israel (in Book 3) to the establishment of Yahweh’s kingdom (in Book 4) to the coming kingdom of a New David (in Book 5).

As I preached this series, I was greatly helped by a number of resources. I’ve included many of them below. If you are interested in understanding the Psalms as one, unified and intentionally-arranged book, these articles, chapters, and books are a great start. If you have other key resources not listed here, please share them in the comments. I’d love to see how others are understanding the Psalms and their glorious message of grace.

In what follows you will find:

  1. Sermons
  2. Articles
  3. Academic Articles
  4. Book Chapters (with annotated notes)
  5. Books (with annotated notes)
  6. Commentaries (with annotated notes)
  7. Videos and Infographics

I pray these resources are helpful and that they increase your passion for the Psalms.  Continue reading

The “Arranging of the Psalms Was an Exegetical Act”: Further Biblical Evidence for Seeing Arrangement in the Psalms

puzzzleIf I were to put forward one article in defense of reading the Psalms as an intentionally arranged and ordered book, it might be this one by Yair Zakovitch, “On the Ordering of Psalms as Demonstrated by Psalms 136–150,” in The Oxford Handbook to the Psalms (New York: OUP, 2014), 214–227. In it, he shows how the Psalms are not a collection of songs. They are instead songs with hooks and refrains that fit together like puzzle pieces.

In fact, in his chapter Zakovitch provides exegetical evidence for the ordering of the Psalms by excavating the words of Psalms 136–150. Due to space, he only focuses on these fifteen psalms, but his exegetical work provides proof from every one of these fifteen psalms, that their arrangement is not accidental. In fact, just the opposite: careful attention to the Psalms shows how meticulous they are in demonstrating order—something that we should observe as we read and interpret the Psalms.

On this point he writes in his introduction,

The writing of the 150 psalms that constitute the book of Psalms was a long and protracted process, and their arrangement and redaction into five books occurred in stages over many years. The order of the individual psalms within the Psalter did not happen by chance but is evidence of deliberate design. This order may even reveal something of the early development and growth of the Psalter. Similarly, the act of arranging the psalms was an exegetical act: The meaning of a single, isolated psalm differs from the meaning it draws from its context, from our reading it in light of the psalms that precede and follow it.

Form critics, disciples of Hermann Gunkel, were not inclined to question the ordering of the psalms since their interest lay in revealing the poems’ preliterary Sitze im Leben, the sociological contexts in which they were composed and in which they functioned before being put in writing. Interest in the arrangement of the individual psalms grew with the development of redaction criticism and the various aspects of inner-biblical interpretation.

Continue reading

What are the ‘Powers and Principalities’ in Ephesians?

wtsIn his overview of Ephesians, Guy Prentiss Waters, nicely summarizes what the spiritual powers are in that letter and in the world. Moreover, he explains what the presence and growth of the church means to the devil.

What does Paul understand the “powers” to be in Ephesians? He has several ways of describing them. They are “the rulers,… the authorities,… the cosmic powers over this present darkness,… the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (6:12). Paul mentions them in the same breath as “the devil” (6:11; cf. 4:27) and expressly sets them apart from “flesh and blood” (6:12), that is, human beings (cf. Gal. 1:16). We are therefore to regard these powers as unseen and angelic beings in league with and under the authority of Satan (cf. Eph. 2:2). They are not impersonal but personal. Paul locates them and their activities “in the heavenly places” (6:12; cf. 3:10), even as he documents their unceasing activity in the affairs of humanity.

Paul describes these powers in three ways.

  • First, they are malevolent (“evil”) and therefore hostile to Christ and his people.
  • Second, they possess an authority or power that is not localized but is universal (“cosmic”). The word “darkness” indicates a demonic authority that extends to all unbelieving persons, whether Jew or Gentile. “‘Darkness’ is the sphere in which these believers formerly belonged (Eph. 5:8)… and from which they were rescued by the Lord (Col 1:13).” It is, therefore, an authority that Paul associates with “this age” (Eph. 1:21; cf. 5:16; 6:13), the present Adamic order characterized by sin, corruption, curse, and death.
  • Third, the plurality of these demonic powers and their designation by terms of rank (“rulers,” “authorities”) suggests a gradation within their numbers. Earlier in the letter, Paul stresses that the “prince of the power of the air” is “the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh” (Eph. 2:2–3). Satan therefore stands at the head of a host of demonic powers who govern and influence all those who are in Adam (cf. 2 Cor. 4:4).

The “powers” constitute a genuine threat to believers’ well-being (Eph. 6:11–12). Even so, Paul is insistent that the Ephesians understand that these demonic authorities have been brought into subjugation to Jesus Christ. In his exaltation, the second Adam, Jesus Christ, was “seated… far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet” The cosmic, mediatorial dominion of Jesus Christ encompasses “all things,” even the Devil and his angelic allies.

The “rulers and authorities in the heavenly places,” furthermore, are perpetually reminded of their defeat and subjugation (3:10). The “manifold wisdom of God,” which denotes the eternal purpose of God to redeem sinners by the death and resurrection of Christ and to gather the redeemed into a united people under the benevolent reign of the Lord Jesus, is ever proclaimed to them. The instrument through which God makes this wisdom known to the powers is “the church.” The very existence of the church, in other words, is standing testimony to the powers’ defeat and subjugation to the Lord Jesus Christ. “Ephesians” in A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament: The Gospel Revealed (ed. Michael J. Kruger; Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 272–73. Formatting mine.

Ever wonder why the church is under constant attack from devil and his minions? It reminds them of Christ’s Lordship, their defeat, and coming destruction. Hence, the church which is loved by God is hated by Satan. For that reason we must press into the Lord and the power of his Spirit.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

The Warfare Worldview of Ephesians

kingWhen was the last time you prayed against the devil? Or, attributed your physical pain or emotional vexations to a demonic spirit?

If it has been some time (or never), it’s probably because you live in the 21st Century America, where the evils of the world—moral and natural—are explained by biological factors and scientific calculation. But if you lived in 16th Century Europe, it would be a different story.

In the Medieval period, ghosts and goblins, spirits and demons were regularly blamed for spiritual and physical tribulations. In that world, God and the angelic realm were not excluded from visible world. Sovereign over all spirits, God ruled the world and nearly every struggle in life could be connected to spiritual realities. Today, faith in God, especially Christian faith has demystified. Religion is a private affair. And God, in the public square and in the halls of learning, is an unwelcome guest.

As a result, Bible-believing Christians must fight against the prevailing, scientific worldview handed to them by television and education. Whereas leading scientists once gazed into the heavens to worship God, now scientifically-minded man is blind to the enchanted world in which we live. This is not to say we should go back to pre-scientific age of vain superstitions, but as Scripture testifies, we should see that the event on earth are part of God’s cosmic conflict with evil.

This fall, as we remember the Protestant Reformation, the supernatural makeup of the world and the spiritual warfare that the God’s Word invites is but one unified truth we need to recover. As John Calvin commented in his words to King Francis, “When the light shining from on high in a measure shattered his darkness, . . . [Satan] began to shake off his accustomed drowsiness and to take up arms.” Indeed, faithful preaching of God’s Word will be met with spiritual opposition, and thus we who seek to make Christ known must be steeled by the word of God, which is the sword of the Spirit.

For that reason, we come to the book of Ephesians and the faithful examples of the Protestant Reformers. Continue reading

Preaching the Psalms Canonically: A Postscript

the-psalmsInstead of a Sermon Discussion guide this week, I’ve written up something of a Post-Script to the Psalms, a few reflections on reading and preaching the Psalms as one unified book. For the PDFs of each book, see Book 1Book 2Book 3Book 4Book 5. Hopefully, in the next few days I can publish the bibliography of resources (books, chapters, articles) that I found useful in reading the Psalms canonically.

We Seek What We Love

There is a basic two-sided principle in learning:

Those things we love, we love to learn about.

Those things we hate, we hate to learn about.

Whether it is music, travel, history, economics, a particular nation, or the spouse whom we love—if we love something, we’ll have no trouble learning about it. Or at least, the love of the subject matter drives us on to learn. Even complex subjects become (increasingly) enjoyable when love motivates our learning.

This principles applies across disciplines, but it applies especially to reading the Bible. When God regenerates a person, he implants in them a hunger for his Word. For instance, Psalm 19 speaks of God’s word as sweeter than honey. To the converted man or woman, their newfound taste buds long the pure milk of God’s word (1 Peter 2:1–3). Likewise, Psalm 119 overflows with delight in the Law of God. How else could a Psalm run to 176 verses, unless the author loved the Word.

According to the Bible, when we are born again, God gives us a new appetite for himself and his word, so that Ps 111:2 rightly explains the transformation of the heart towards learning: “Great are the works of the Lord, studied (or sought out) by all who delight in them.”

The point is not that when God saves a man, that man becomes an academic. But it does mean the children of God love to learn the ways of their father. And thus, like a girl who loves to read the letters of her deployed father, so too God’s children earnestly seek to know him through his word. Continue reading

Spiritual Blindness Takes Jesus Time to Cure: A Scriptural Meditation on Mark 8

lightWhen I put glasses on for the first time, it made a world of difference. The fuzzy signs on the other side of the parking lot became clear, and instantly my ‘blindness’ was cured. The same is not true for spiritual blindness, however. As we see in Scripture, spiritual blindness is not cured with prescription lens, nor is it fixed instantly. Instead, what we find is multi-step process in the hands of our gracious God. Let’s consider.

Jesus and a Two-Part Healing

In Mark 8 Jesus heals a blind man at Bethsaida. There, some people brought this blind man to Jesus as he begged Christ to touch him (v. 22). By this point in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus had already healed “a man with an unclean spirit” (1:21–28), a leper (1:40–45), a paralytic (2:1–12), and many others (3:1–6; 5:1–20, 21–43; etc.). Thus, by this time in Mark’s Gospel the body of evidence for Jesus’ power in healing is great. Still, this healing is unique because of the way it foreshadows and interprets the events that follow.

In the case of the blind man at Bethsaida, we find the only instance in the Gospels where Jesus must heal the same man twice. Verses 23–25 read,

23 And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” 24 And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” 25 Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.

Notice, after Jesus causes the man to have sight in v. 23, the man’s vision is still impaired. Jesus, in response to the man’s cloudy vision (people who look like trees), must lay hands on him again to fix the man’s vision. Only after Jesus’ second attempt is the man’s vision “restored.”

What is going on here? Did Jesus lack power on the day he strolled into Bethsaida? Was he “unable” to heal the man fully on this day? Or was something else going on? Could it be that this unique healing—again, no other healing takes two attempts—is meant to teach us something about the way God heals, especially with regards to spiritual blindness? I think so. Continue reading

From Exaltation to Exile: The Tragic Fall of David’s House (Psalms 73–89)

the-psalms

From Exaltation to Exile: The Tragic Fall of David’s House

In his chapter on the Psalms, Paul House writes of Book 3, Psalms 73–89:

Subtle shifts in tone, superscriptions and content leading up to historical summaries in Psalms 78 and 89 indicate that part three [Psalms 73–89] reflects Israel’s decline into sin and exile. This national demise occurs in about 930–587 B.C. and has been described previously in 1 Kings 12–1 Kings 25 as well as in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the Twelve. The view of history found here matches that in the Prophets: Israel’s covenant breaking led God to rebuke, and then reject, the chosen people and to expel them from the promised land. These Psalms portray this rebuke and rejection against a background of the remnants faith struggles and the Lord’s patience. (Old Testament Theology, 413–14)

In Sunday’s message I attempted to show some of the history of Judah that stands behind the events of Book 3. I argued that by learning the history of David’s sons and listening to the priestly heralds of Book 3 we come to learn about Israel’s hope and our own hope. Whereas the sins of David’s sons led to the demise of their throne, God would ultimately remain faithful, as it evidenced throughout Book 3 and even more in Books 4 and 5.

While fulling getting our hands on the history and poetry of Israel challenges us—we are, after all, removed from Israel’s history by over 3,000 years and differing languages—it is evident that devastating fall afflicts David’s house and the house of the Lord between the end of Book 2 and the end of Book 3. Psalm 72 shows the exalted throne of David, now given to Solomon; Psalm 89 shows the crown of David thrown into the dust.

In the infographic, I try to show some of the probable connections that make up the details of Book 3, as it gives the soundtrack of David’s falling house. Discussion questions below focus on Psalm 89. And sermon audio and sermon notes are also available. (You can find a list of observations related to Psalm 74 and 2 Chronicles 10–12 here). Continue reading

Does Paul Interpret Moses Allegorically? A Few Lexical Notes on Galatians 4:24

allegoryNow this was written allegorically: these women are two covenants.
One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar.[1]
– Galatians 4:24 –

What does ἀλληγορούμενα mean in Galatians 4:24?

To answer the question about the lexical meaning of ἀλληγορούμενα is difficult, because it is only used once in the New Testament. That being said, I think we can say a few things, acknowledging that this word and its immediate context (Gal 4:21–31) is a hotbed for interpretive disagreement. That said, here are a few notes on the matter which came from a recent Sunday School class. Continue reading