Literal, Christological, Spiritual: A Look Into Calvin’s Approach to Hermeneutics and Preaching

calvinWhat is our aim in preaching?  What should it be?

This is a debated question among preachers who share many of the same evangelical convictions—namely, the authority and sufficiency of Christ. Some argue for a “text-driven approach,” which gives pride of place to timeless truths of the text discovered through a rigorous grammatical-historical approach to the text. Others call for an “apostolic” or “redemptive-historical” approach, where the methods of the apostles are imitated.

Often the former critiques the latter of reading into the text, appealing too much to typology, even straying into allegory. (Full disclosure: I think this argument is a red herring. It applies to some who advocate a figural approach to Scripture. But it falls flat against interpreters like Richard Gaffin and G.K. Beale). By contrast, those who read with an eye to the redemptive-historical nature of Scripture, worry that exegesis which only reads passages at the textual level and makes direct application (e.g., drawing ethical principles from Boaz’s treatment of Ruth) misses the Christological aims of Scripture—not to mention, the way any passage fits into the context of the whole Bible (what is known as the “canonical context”).

Space doesn’t permit a full discussion here. Two helpful books that engage this subject are the edited volume by G.K. Beale, The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Text? Essays on the New Testament Use of the Oldand the multi-perspective book Biblical Hermeneutics: Five ViewsThese books will show the turning points in the debate. For now, let me put forward a mediating approach which takes the best of both positions, one historically modeled by John Calvin. Continue reading

How the Lord’s Supper Retrains Our Appetites

fooWhere should we eat? What should we eat? Where’s the best place to eat?

Whether we take time to think about it or not, questions about food come up every day. Wherever you live, food plays a large part in who we are. Restaurants are often associated with various countries, ethnicities, or even religious practices. Shall we eat at the Mexican grocery or the Kosher deli? Is this food on my diet? Where did it come from?

How we eat—or refuse to eat—says a lot about us. In a sense, we are all foodies—even if you prefer McDonald’s over the farmer’s market. Or to turn it around, dietary practices and table fellowship shape who we are. Studies have shown that children thrive on family dinners, while rigid commitment to veganism may result in deeper relationships with other herbivores and increased disgust with carnivores.

In these ways, food choices are ethical decisions. Eating is an undeniably moral activity. Therefore, as we sit down to “eat” the Lord’s Supper, we should ask: How does Scripture speak about food?
Continue reading

Blood Moons and Smoke-Filled Skies: An Already and Not Yet Approach to the Day of the Lord

moon

When we read in Acts 2:19-20, “And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the  sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood,” we who are unaccustomed to apocalyptic literature are quick to scratch our heads and ask: What does this mean?  Our doctrinal convictions keep us on the trail: Scripture is perspicuous (i.e., clear) and true, therefore, Peter must means what he says. He is surely not incorrect. But how can the moon turn to blood? Should we really expect the Sea of Tranquility to fill with blood, just like the Nile in Exodus?

When reading such language in Scripture, we do well to remember that Scripture interprets Scripture and that in this case, the apocalyptic language of Joel 2 is being cited by Peter to explain the historical events of Pentecost–the outpouring of the Spirit foretold in Joel 2:28. However, for reasons we will see, Peter also includes the more troubling language. Therefore, to understand the whole section lets consider four biblical-theological points that will help us see how the Day of the Lord is both a present and future reality—a method of interpreting the Old Testament that the Apostles often employed.

1. Historical Acts 2 quotes apocalyptic Joel 2.

Importantly, the strange language comes not from the historical narrative of Luke, but rather the prophetic literature of Joel. In this way, he is quoting an Old Testament prophecy to explain the events of recent history—i.e., the ostensible drunkenness of the disciples (Acts 2:13). Therefore, we must not read these words as portending to a literalistic interpretation—the moon is dripping blood. Rather, Luke is telling us how these strange, poetic words have come come true in the historical events of Pentecost. Continue reading

Books on Biblical Theology: A Brief Annotated Bibliography

biblical theologyYesterday evening I taught on ‘Seeing Christ in All the Scripture‘ in our Sunday evening service. As we emphasize the discipline of biblical theology this summer at our church, I put together a handout showing how the New Testament teaches us to read the Old Testament and how the Old Testament demonstrates a series of pattern which culminate in Christ. You can see the front of that handout here. Below is the back side, which lists and introduces books on biblical theology for children, beginners, and beyond.

Children

  1. The Big Picture Story Bible by David Helm – Perfect for ages 3–103, David Helm traces the idea of God’s People in God’s Place under God’s Rule. He teaches young children how to read the Bible with Christ at the center.
  2. Jesus Story Book Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones – Suitable for ages 5–105, Martyn Lloyd-Jones daughter goes into greater depths than Helm. She too shows how the types, shadows, and patterns in the Old Testament find their fulfillment in Christ. At points, her story Bible is quite funny as it considers the stories of Scripture.
  3. The Gospel Story Bible by Marty Machowski – Ideal for ages 7–107, Machowski’s book takes the story of Christ even further. It includes a couple questions about the story on each page, as well.

Together, each of these illustrated children’s Bibles contain slightly more content as they teach young ones (and older ones) how Christ is the pinnacle and linchpin of the whole Bible.

Beginner

  1. According to Plan: An Introduction to Biblical Theology by Graeme Goldsworthy – In my estimation, this is the introduction to biblical theology. It gives a short ‘how-to’ and a readable overview of the whole Bible through the gospel of the kingdom. He has also written a more comprehensive biblical thelogy: Christ-centered Biblical Theology that gives even more explanation of his method and approach.
  2. God’s Big Picture by Vaughn Roberts – A short, eight-fold explanation of redemptive history centered on the kingdom of God.
  3. Reading the Bible Through the Jesus Lens by Michael William – It gives a short, Christ-centered interpretation of every book in the Bible. Any teacher doing a BT overview should have this book.
  4. The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Storyline by Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen – Speaks of the Bible as a five act drama, where the analogy of drama is effectively used to explain redemptive history.
  5. The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament by Edmund Clowney – Any student of Biblical Theology should know Clowney, and this worship-inducing book is the best introduction. Preachers should also commit to reading his short book Preaching and Biblical Theology.

Intermediate

  1. The Goldsworthy Trilogy by Graeme Goldsworthy – Three-Books-in-One: Goldsworthy applies his ‘gospel-centered’ approach to the whole Bible, Wisdom literature, and the book of Revelation. For those tired of reading Revelation in light of shifting current events, Goldsworthy shows how Revelation is a book about Jesus.
  2. Dominion and Dynasty: A Biblical Theology of the Hebrew Bible by Stephen Dempster – Picking up the royal themes of people and place, Dempster beautifully shows the unity of the Old Testament.
  3. Magnifying God in Christ: A Summary of New Testament Theology by Thomas Schreiner – This abbreviation of his outstanding New Testament Theology gives a rich overview of NT Theology. He also has a large, but very readable Biblical Theology, The King in his Beauty.
  4. From Eden to the New Jerusalem by T. D. Alexander – Tracing six crucial themes (e.g., temple, sacrifice, sovereignty, etc.), this book shows how to move from Genesis to Revelation.
  5. New Dictionary of Biblical Theology – Although large, this is the one-stop shop for biblical theology. In three sections, a bevy of evangelical scholars (1) give instruction on how to approach biblical theology, (2) introduce every book of the Bible, and (3) summarize many important Biblical Theological themes. Every serious Bible teacher should have this reference work.

Advanced

  1. Biblical Theology by Geerhardus Vos – The classic work on Biblical Theology. This book is hard-going at times, because it contains a great deal of interaction with higher-criticism (the academic viewpoint that takes the Bible as as compilation of man-made books, not a unified revelation, inspired by God). However, if you can wade through the chaff, you’ll benefit immensely from this Princeton Giant—not to mention, you will gain an appreciation for what it took for the modern genesis of evangelical biblical theology to emerge.
  2. God’s Kingdom Through God’s Covenants by Stephen Wellum and Peter Gentry – Contrasting Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism, these two Baptist scholars argue for a series of covenants (progressive covenantalism) as the “backbone” of the Bible. This book abbreviates and gives some response to objection to their earlier book, Kingdom through Covenant.
  3. Progressive Dispensationalism by Craig Blaising and Darrell Bock – A well-researched and irenic book which updates older models of Dispensationalism. Dispensationalist and non-dispensationalists alike would benefit from this well-argued book.
  4. The Temple and the Church’s Mission by G.K. Beale – Long, but worth the read. If you ever want to see how exegesis flows into Biblical Theology for the sake of the church, this is your book. At the same time, this book makes a whole-Bible argument for why Christians should not expect a future reconstruction of the temple.
  5. God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment by Jim Hamilton – Hamilton shows how salvation and judgment redound the praise of God in every book of the Bible. Hamilton’s forte is showing the literary structure of each book and how each book contributes to theme of God’s glory.

There are countless other books that could be added to this list, and thankfully more continue to be published each year. If there are others that should be mentioned, feel free to suggest them in the comments. For now, I will commend these books to you, with one additional series: New Studies in Biblical Theology. Recognizable by its silver covers, this series edited by D.A. Carson holds nearly 40 individual studies on Biblical Theology from a wide array of evangelical scholars. These studies are fantastic for tracing themes throughout both testaments. (And to make these books even more accessible for pastors and teachers, Andy Naselli has served the church well by writing up a Scripture index for these volumes).

In sum, few areas of study have been more encouraging to my soul than biblical theology. Gaining an understanding of the Bible as a whole is something Jesus taught his disciples (Luke 24:27, 44–49) and it is something we should give great attention.

May the Spirit of truth illumine our eyes to behold Christ in all of Scripture, and may these resources serve in that study.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

 

Introducing “How” To Do Biblical Theology: Fifteen Axioms from Graeme Goldsworthy

atpThis week our Sunday School classes begin a summer-long study of According to Plan: An Introduction to Biblical Theology.

It is not hyperbole to say Graeme Goldsworthy’s book was revolutionary in my understanding of Scripture, theology, hermeneutics, and preaching. Maybe you’ve had a similar experience with him; I know many friends and ministers of the gospel who have.

If you have not read him—or heard of him— let me whet your appetite. The first seven chapters of his book outline a basic methodology for biblical theology. Without including everything, I’ve laid out fifteen axioms about biblical theology from his introduction.

Certainly, these axioms do not exhaust the subject. They don’t even exhaust Goldsworthy’s contribution (see his Christ-centered Hermeneutics and Christ-centered Biblical Theology), but they do make a sizable dent in introducing “how” to do biblical theology.

So, take up and read. Tolle Lege. Then go back to Scripture with a greater hunger and skill in seeing Christ in all Scripture—the personal and spiritual aim of all good biblical theology.

  1. Biblical theology is more than being “biblical” in our theology — “Deciding to be biblical, and believing and acting upon what the Bible teaches, does not solve all our problems” (19).
  2. Biblical theology is Christ-centered, meaning “biblical theology shows the relationship of all parts of the Old Testament to the person and work of Jesus Christ and, therefore, to the Christian” (23). Likewise, “Biblical theology enables us to discover how any Bible text relates to ourselves. Because Christ is the fixed point of reference for theology, we are concerned with how the text relates to Christ and how we relate to Christ” (71).
  3. Biblical theology is a methodological approach to showing [how all parts of the Old Testament relate to Christ] so that the Old Testament can be understood as Christian Scripture” [cf. 2 Timothy 3:14–16]” (23).
  4. “Biblical theology needs to emphasize some theme or themes which provide basis for understanding the single, unified message of the Bible” (77). Any valid biblical theology will show from Scripture is unified message, and how it relates to the final and full revelation of God in Christ (Hebrews 1:1–2).
  5. Biblical theology is a verbal map of the overall message of the Bible,” and “Biblical theology enables us to map out the unity of the Bible by looking at its message as a whole.” (23–24)
  6. Biblical theology provides the basis for the interpretation of any part of the Bible as God’s word to us” (25). As William Dumbrell has said elsewhere, “Interpretation of the Bible demands a framework within which the details are set. . . . We need to know the big picture before we look at the details.” (William Dumbrell, The Search for Order: Biblical Eschatology in Focus, 9).
  7. Biblical theology, speaking generally, stands between systematic theology and exegetical theology. In practice, biblical theology is most like historical theology, as “it contains a history of God’s revelation to mankind” (32). At the same time, biblical theology is what insures systematic theology is biblical, as “systematic theology will constantly make use of biblical and historical theology” (32). That said, biblical theology is most closely related to exegetical theology; it is “the last stage of exegetical theology . . . which examines the process of progression of God’s revelation to mankind” (35).
  8. Not every “biblical theology” is equally biblical, for “many biblical theologies have been written in which the biblical presuppositions have been rejected in favor of humanistic ones” (48). Importantly, biblical theologians must the inspiration, authority, and unity of the Bible.
  9. Biblical theology must affirm a number of underlying presuppositions about the Word of God and the world we live. Goldsworthy enumerates five (45):
    1. God made every fact in the universe, and he alone can interpret all things and events.
    2. Because we are created in the image of God we know that we are dependent on God for the truth.
    3. As sinners we suppress this knowledge and reinterpret the universe on the assumption that we, not God, give things their meanings.
    4. Special revelation through God’s redemptive word, reaching its high point in Jesus Christ, is needed to deal with our suppression of the truth and hostility to God.
    5. A special work of the Holy Spirit brings repentance and faith so that sinners acknowledge the truth which is in Scripture.
  10. Biblical theology should learn how to read the Bible from the apostles — “Jesus claims . . . he himself is the subject of the Old Testament. His teachings constantly point to the Old Testament as that which he fulfills. Thus the Old Testament does not stand on its own, because it is incomplete without its conclusion and fulfillment in the person and work of Christ” (52).
  11. Biblical theology should be a Christian endeavor – “In doing biblical theology as Christians, we do not start at Genesis 1 and work our way forward . . . Rather we first come to Christ, and he directs us to study the Old Testament in the light of the gospel The gospel will interpret the Old Testament by showing us its goals and meaning. The Old Testament will increase our understanding of the gospel by showing us what Christ fulfills” (55).
  12. Biblical theology recognizes that God’s Word is a progressively revealed revelation” — The Old Testament “is revelation because in it God makes himself know. It is redemptive because God reveals himself in the act of redeeming us. It is progressive because God makes himself and his purposes known by stages until the full light is revealed in Jesus Christ” (57).
  13. Biblical theology avoids the mirrored extremes of literalism and allegory — “Literalism involves the very serious error of not listening to what the New Testament says about fulfillment. It assumes that the fulfillment must correspond exactly to the form of the promise.” Conversely, “allegory assumed that history is worthless as history. Allegory results when a supposed hidden meaning is read out of something that on the surface is historical but which in fact has no value as history” (67).
  14. Biblical theology pays attention to the typological structures of the Bible — “Typology . . . takes account of the fact that God used a particular part of human history to reveal himself and his purposes to mankind. But it was a process, so that the historical types are incomplete revelations and depend on their antitype for their real meaning [e.g., the substance of Christ interprets the shadows of the Old Testament]. Typology rejects the principle of literalism [the belief that “says the historical promises lead to exactly corresponding historical fulfillments”]  . . . It also rejects the principle of allegory. [the belief that “says the historical promises and events are of significance only for the hidden meanings which lie beneath them”]. (68)
  15. Biblical theology ought to ground its methods of interpretation in the principles of the Reformation — “The literal or natural meaning of the text was what the text intended to convey to its original readers. It was thus a rejection of the allegorical interpretation that regarded such [historical-grammatical] meaning as irrelevant. Most significantly, however, the reformers did not see the literal meaning as being exhausted until it found its fulfillment in Christ. Thus, they recognized that the literal meaning at the Old Testament level pointed to a future event with a fuller meaning. Unlike allegory, the connection between the two was a matter of revelation in the Bible itself.” (68–69)

Continue reading

Being and Building a Better Church: Temple Language in Paul

buildingIn Jesus the Temple Wheaton professor and New Testament scholar, Nicholas Perrin, makes an important correction on the way we read “temple language” in the letters of Paul. He writes, “When we come to the apostle Paul, we find a corpus of literature permeated with temple imagery” (65). What Perrin observes is the way Paul’s Second Temple Judaism forms a vital backdrop for Paul’s choice of words. Instead of being an incidental metaphor, Perrin argues Paul is leaning heavily on his Jewish background and its temple theology.

Whereas modern Christians might use temple language in more abstract or metaphorical ways, Paul uses it in specific, concrete ways. After all, he writes in a day when Jews continued to worship in a physical building. Therefore, when he speaks of the church as a “temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16–17; Ephesians 2:21), “building” (1 Corinthians 3:9), or “household” (1 Timothy 3:15), when he speaks of the apostles as “pillars” (Galatians 2:9), or when he speaks of the body as a temple of God (1 Corinthians 6:19), his life as a sacrifice (Philippians 2:17; 2 Timothy 4:6), and ethical living as ritual purity (2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1), he is not using an accessible metaphor. He is speaking concretely about the fact that the church of God, erected from the cornerstone of Christ, is the new and living temple of God.

Perrin makes his point emphatically as he comments on 1 Corinthians 3:9–10.

Although some readers suppose that Paul’s analogy between the Corinthian community and ‘God’s building’ was more or less arbitrary, as if ‘God’s building’ could just as easily have been exchanged with, say, ‘God’s pyramid,’ with limited difference in meaning, I find this approach unconvincing. After all, had any building served Paul’s analogy, he could have quite easily omitted the qualifier ‘of God,’ but obviously chose not to do so. Second, the effortless slide from ‘God’s field’ to ‘God’s building’ in v.9 is not an abrupt mixing of metaphors, but an appeal to two lines of imagery (architectural and horticultural) that in the Jewish literature finds their convergence in the temple. Third, the very fact that vv. 16–17 of the same chapter explicitly compare the Christian believers to a divinely inhabited temple — and from the Jewish point of view there was only one of these — should further disincline us to think that Paul has anything but the temple in mind here. God’s building is not any old house belonging to God; it is God’s unique temple. (67)

In truth, a brief survey of Paul’s letters shows that “temple language” shows up in a variety of places and a variety of ways. Sometimes the language speaks directly of a temple, a building, or “parts” of the edifice (e.g., foundation, pillar, etc.). Other times the temple language is more veiled, as in the metaphorical “building up.” Such language can be read without any recognition of the temple, but that’s the problem. Such a reading misses the fuller picture.

To correct our vision, let’s consider a number of these references. (Feel free to suggest others in the comments). Continue reading

My ETS Presentation: “You Can Make Me Clean,” The Matthean Jesus as Priest and the Biblical-Theological Results

ets

Update: This paper has been accepted for publication in a future edition of the Criswell Theological Review.

Tomorrow, my good friend Nicholas Piotrowski and I will present our paper (“You Can Make Me Clean”: The Jesus as Priest and the Biblical-Theological Results). Our argument in brief is the Gospel writers, and Matthew in particular, presented Jesus in priestly actions, even as they  withhold the title “priest” from him. Our test case is the healing of the leper in Matthew 8:1–4, where Jesus proves to be a greater priest than the sons of Levi who were supposed to adjudicated cases of leprosy (Leviticus 13–14).

We’ve been working on this paper, a mashup from our two dissertations, for the last two years—yes, that’s how academic writing goes. We’re convinced that this minority view shines light on the way the Gospels are written and even more on the work that Christ did in his earthly life and sacrificial death.

Here’s the introduction. Let us know what you think.

The munus triplex [Jesus’ triple office of prophet, priest, and king] is an important biblical-theological and systematic category. While it is common to observe in the Gospels Jesus’ role as “the prophet who is to come into the world” (John 6:14; cf. also Matt 17:5 and parallels with Deut 18:15) and the royal “Son of David” (cf. esp. Matt 1:1; 21:9), theologians often turn to Hebrews for Christ’ priestly office.  Lately, however, scholars are increasingly appreciating the historical Jesus’ self-consciousness as a priest.[1] The result is to bring more attention to the Gospels for understanding Jesus’ munus sacerdotal. This paper singles out Matthew specifically where Jesus is put forward as Israel’s eschatological priest.­[2] From this flow several biblical-theological considerations.[3]

The reason scholars dismiss Christ’s earthly priesthood is manifold.  Linguistically, in all four Gospels, Jesus is not once called a priest.[4] Covenantally, Christ does not qualify as a priest. Born under the old covenant, Jesus’ Judean lineage would disallow him from serving in the temple.­[5] Theologically, there is strong reason for denying Christ’s earthly priesthood: his priestly service would come to depend upon his resurrection and his appointment as a better priest.[6] This is the argument in Hebrews, and many scholars reason that it is anachronistic to read Christ’s priesthood back into the Gospels. Philosophically, since the Enlightenment an academic aversion has existed towards any notion of “priest-craft.”[7] Proportionately, due to the extensive attention given to other aspects of his person and work, it is understandable how Christ’s priesthood can be overlooked. For these reasons and more, the idea that Christ is a priest in the Gospels is underrepresented.[8]

It is our contention, however, joining the growing chorus, that the Gospels are filled with evidence for Christ’s earthly priesthood. . . .

Looking forward to make our case tomorrow. If you’re at ETS, we’d love for you to come join us in Room 402 at 8:30AM. If you’re not, I will (probably) post a PDF tomorrow for the seven people in the room and anyone else interested in considering this argument.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

_________________

[1] Citing a handful of exceptions, Brant Pitre rightly observes, “If there is any single subject which modern historical scholarship on Jesus has almost completely neglected, it is the subject of Jesus and the Jewish priesthood” (“Jesus, the New Temple, and the New Priesthood,” in Letter and Spirit, vol 4., Temple and Contemplation: God’s Presence in the Cosmos, Church, and Human Heart, ed. Scott Hahn and David Scott [Steubenville, OH: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2008], 71). Crispin H. T. Fletcher-Louis has outlined several reasons for the prior neglect of this subject, and contributed greatly to redressing it (“Jesus as the High Priestly Messiah: Part 1,” JSHJ 4 [2006]: 155–75; idem, “Jesus as the High Priestly Messiah: Part 2,” JSHJ 5 [2007]: 57–79).

[2] Jesus is not “presented” exclusively as a priest in Matthew, but as prophet, priest, and king. The onus of this paper is to show the ways he functions as a priest.

[3] To be sure, however, this is not a “redaction-critical” study.  The final form of Matthew, nonetheless, is the result of redacting forces; either of Mark, Q, the oral tradition, or some inexorable web of all of them.  We do not attempt to ferret out how the redaction occurred, but to explore to rhetorical results once it was done.

[4]A word study of the Gospels and Acts finds 122 occurrences of “priestly terminology” (priest, high priest, priesthood, etc.). However, the number of times that such language refers to Christ or Christians is zero, which would understandably lead anyone dependent on that method of research to abandon the effort (Vanhoye, Old Testament Priests and the New Priest, 63–66).

[5]Technically, if Karl Deenick (“Priest and King or Priest-King in 1 Samuel 2:35,” WTJ 73 [2011]: 325-39) is correct that 1 Samuel 2:35 points to a Davidic priest, Jesus’ Davidic lineage would not disqualify him from priesthood. It would do the opposite. But it is still necessary to show, as Hebrews 5 does, how a son of David could supersede the Levitical priesthood.

[6]See David Schrock, “Resurrection and Priesthood: Christological Soundings from the Book of Hebrews,” SBJT 18.4 (2014): 89–114.

[7]Peter J. Leithart, “Attendants of Yahweh’s House: Priesthood in the Old Testament,” JSOT 85 (1999): 3–4.

[8]For a survey of how scholars understand Christ’s priesthood in the gospels, see Crispin H. T. Fletcher-Louis, “Jesus as the High Priestly Messiah: Part 1,” Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 4 (2006): 155–75; idem, “Jesus as the High Priestly Messiah: Part 2,” JSHJ 5 (2007): 57–79.

Getting A Vision of Heaven on Earth: Heaven, Earth, and the Bible Project

22But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering,23and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect,24and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.25See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven.
— Hebrews 12:22–25 —

Yesterday, I argued in my sermon that the local church is an earthly display of a heavenly reality. From Hebrews 12, we learn that when we gather in the name of Jesus, we are (imperfectly) revealing the glories of heaven—a myriad of saints and angels gathered around the throne of God. Or better, we are foreshadowing the final assembly of the nations who will worship around the throne of God.

In making that argument, I assumed a certain amount of background information about how heaven and earth relate. I want to fill in some of the gaps here. (This brief temple story may help too). Continue reading

The Biblical Story of Priestly Glory

priesthoodOn Monday, I made the case that we should understand the imago dei in priestly terms. To develop that idea a bit, let me show how the biblical story line can be understood through the lens of the priesthood, as well.

Creation

In creation Adam was made to be a royal priest. Genesis 2:15 says, “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Or it could be translated “to serve it and guard it.” In other words, the man in the Garden was more than a prehistoric gardener. He was a royal priest. And we know he was a priest because the language used in Genesis 2:15 is used repeatedly of priests in Numbers 3. Moses, the author of both books, is making the point that Adam was stationed in the Garden as a priest—to serve the Lord by cultivating the Garden (even expanding its borders) and to guard the Garden from unclean intruders (a key work of the priest and one he failed to do in Genesis 3). In short, redemptive history begins with a priest in the Garden, one whose righteous appearance and holy vocation was breathtaking, as Ezekiel 28:12–14 describes,

You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering, sardius, topaz, and diamond, beryl, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle; and crafted in gold were your settings and your engravings. On the day that you were created they were prepared. You were an anointed guardian cherub [A better translation is the NET: “I placed you there with an anointed guardian cherub]; I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God; in the midst of the stones of fire you walked.

Sadly, this glorious beginning did not last long. Continue reading

The Priestly Aspect of the Imago Dei

priestIn The Christian FaithMichael Horton suggests four aspects of the Imago Dei, what it means to be made in God’s image. He enumerates them as

  1. Sonship/Royal Dominion
  2. Representation
  3. Glory
  4. Prophetic Witness

For each there is solid biblical evidence. Genesis 1:26–31; Psalm 8; and Hebrews 2:5–9 all testify to humanity’s royal sonship. Likewise, the whole creation narrative (Genesis 1–2) invites us to see man and woman as God’s creatures representing him on the earth. First Corinthians 11:7 speaks of mankind as the “glory of God.” Horton rightly distinguishes, “The Son and the Spirit are the uncreated Glory of God . . . human beings are the created reflectors of divine majesty” (401). They are, in other words, God’s “created glory,” which in time will be inhabited by the “uncreated glory” of God in the person of Jesus Christ. And last, as creatures made by the Word of God, in covenant relation with him, every human is a prophetic witness. In the fall, this prophetic witness is distorted. Humans are now ensnared to an innumerable cadre of idols (see Rom 1:18–32), but the formal purpose remains—to be made in the image of God is to be a prophetic witness.

Horton’s articulation is compelling, biblical, and beautiful. But it seems, in my estimation, to stress royal and prophetic tasks without giving equal attention to the priestly nature of humanity. To be fair, Horton refers to humanity’s priestly vocation under the headings of “representation” and “glory.” But because these are supporting the vocational idea of representation and the abstract idea of glory, we miss a key idea—the imago dei is by definition a priestly office. Or better, the imago dei is a royal priest who bears witness to the God of creation. Let’s consider. Continue reading