*Knowing* and *Being Known*: A Word Best Understood in Covenantal Context

stars.jpgNot everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
— Matthew 7:21–23 —

I suspect that Jesus words in Matthew 7:21–23 might raise some questions if one does not have a basic understanding of God’s knowledge. What does it mean that Jesus never knew you? Certainly, God knows all things, and because Jesus is God the Son, he must know all things. So what do his words mean?

The answer comes from knowing the way knowledge is spoken of in the Bible. Going back to Genesis 4, we find knowledge often describes covenantal relations—either between two people (as in marriage) or between God and man. Either way, knowledge is a relational term and one that consistently carries the idea of covenant-making and covenant-keeping.

In what follows, I share a handful of examples and come back to Matthew 7. Continue reading

A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament: Seven Videos on Location in Iceland

For the last two days I have been in Iceland teaching a biblical theology of the Old Testament. Drawing on The Drama of Scripture by Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen, I have sought to explain how the Old Testament is organized around the twin concepts of Kingdom and Covenant.

The following videos are put up by Loftstofan Baptistakirkja (Upper Room Baptist Church) and their pastor Gunnar Ingi Gunnarsson. They review the teaching I did last year in Iceland and dive into the Kingdom of David and the New Covenant. Tonight, we will finish with a look at the Psalms.

Please take time to pray for this church, for their pastor, and the spread of the gospel in Iceland. And if you are interested, you can watch some of the teaching videos here (please excuse the opening few minutes of each where I bumble around until I start teaching). Or better, go watch Christian By Default (see above). It will tell you more about the spiritual climate of Iceland.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds Continue reading

Salt and Light: What Y’All Are, When You Are in Christ (Matthew 5:13–16)

sermon05Salt and Light: What Y’All Are, When You Are in Christ (Matthew 5:13–16)

This little light of mine, I’m goin’ let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

If you have been around church for any length of time, you’ve probably heard this children’s song. It takes it wording from this week’s passage, Matthew 5:13–16, where Jesus tells his disciples that they are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

In truth, this is an important passage for understanding who we are. But if we take our cues from this children’s song alone, we might think that Jesus calls us as individuals to be salt packets or lone candlesticks. Yet, the language is clearly addressed to the community of disciples who are following Christ together. And therefore the application is not for individuals, but for the whole community of Christ.

In this week’s sermon I looked at what it means for the church to be Salt and Light. And what we discovered is how Jesus intends his community of faith to be permanent citizens of his kingdom who display covenant faithfulness to his Father in heaven. Such an identity stands in continuity with the Old Testament and against the world around us.

You can listen to the sermon online, Discussion questions are below, as are a list of additional resources. Continue reading

Grasping the Covenantal Love of Psalm 136

zoriana-stakhniv-347480Psalm 136 is a glorious, antiphonal Psalm detailing the steadfast love of God with the various actions of God’s redemption throughout history. A brief reading of the Psalm notices the Psalm’s uniqueness, where every attribute of God or demonstration of power is followed by the refrain: “for his steadfast love endures forever” (ESV) or “for His lovingkindness is everlasting” (NASB).

In all, the Psalm praises God for who he is (vv. 1–3), what he has done in creation (vv. 3–9), what he has done for Israel in redemption (vv. 10–22), and what he has done for “us in our low estate” (vv. 23–26). The last four verses seem to reflect a move from history to personal experience.

Certainly, in these 26 verses, the Psalmist is using repetition to stress the covenant love of God. Yet, it is tempting to skip over the refrains,  thinking I’ve read this before. But this is to miss the force of God’s love, if the reader replaces “his steadfast love endures forever” with some kind of mental “ditto.” Indeed, this repeated explanation for God’s action reveals much about God’s love and works powerfully to impress his love on our hearts.

Therefore, lets consider five truths about God’s covenantal love, that may help us better hear Psalm 136 and give praise to God. Continue reading

On the Need for Exegetical Typology: Circumcision as a Test Case

bookLast month the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology (SBJT) published an article I wrote. In “From Beelines to Plotlines: Typology That Follows the Covenantal Topography of Scripture,” I argued that (most, if not all) typological structures begin in creation, move through the undulating contours of Israel’s covenant history (hence, covenant topography), until they find their terminus in Christ. Then, after being fulfilled by the person and work of Jesus Christ, they are continued in the new covenant people of God. My test case, or textual proof, was the typology of the priesthood. If you are interested, you can read the article online. I’d be interested in your feedback.

Today, however, I’m interested in looking at another test case, namely the typology of circumcision found in the Bible. I believe that the only way we can understand circumcision (and its relationship to baptism) is by looking at its development in the canon. And thankfully, instead of making that case, John Meade has already done so (far better than I could) in his chapter, “Circumcision of the Flesh to Circumcision of the Heart,” in Progressive Covenantalism: Charting a Course between Dispensational and Covenantal Theologiesedited by Stephen Wellum and Brent Parker.

Building on his earlier work on circumcision and its cultic origins and priestly intentions in Egypt, Meade shows how circumcision from the start was a sign, with in-built tension designed to lead to a greater reality—namely, circumcision of the heart. Indeed, as one follows the narrative of the Old Testament we can see how, long before the New Testament applies this sign to Christ (Colossians 2:11–12) and the people of faith (Philippians 3:3), the sign of circumcision is already shifting. From a careful reading of Deuteronomy, Jeremiah and the Prophets, Meade makes this point, and I share a few of his conclusions below. Continue reading

The Covenantal Cast of the Biblical Canon

otThe covenantal character of Scripture challenges the idea of the Bible as a textbook. ‘For the Christian conception of God the Bible is our only textbook. In its pages we have the self-revelation of God.’ Without doubt, the Bible teaches us about God. It has a key didactic function: if we are to respond to God in the area of truth, we need to be instructed in the truth. But we also need to do justice to its covenantal nature, its function of finding us and holding us for God through its promises. The promissory nature of Scripture means that it gives us information about the plans and purposes of God. The Bible is God’s many-sided provision for his covenant people.[1]
– Peter Jensen –

In his book The Structure of Biblical Authority, Meredith G. Kline makes the case a canon is not a product of the church, but the product of God’s people in an ancient Near Eastern context. In other words, the biblical canon (i.e., what books are included as authorized Scripture) did not come after the Apostles, or for that matter, after the Old Testament Prophets. Rather, from the beginning, the canon has been a “closed” covenant document between God and his people.

In the first chapter of The Structure of Biblical Authority, Kline shows how ANE covenants had “canons.”

To sum up thus far, canonical document [sic] was the customary instrument of international covenant administration in the world in which the Bible was produced. . . . While it has been acknowledged [by critical scholars] that the Israelites at a relatively early time recognized certain written laws as divine revelation, the meaning of this for the history of the canon concept in Israel has been obfuscated. (37, 39)

He argues that a better understanding of “covenant” will correct our doctrine of canon:

The origin of the Old Testament canon coincided with the founding of the kingdom of Israel by covenant at Sinai. The very treaty that formally established the Israelite theocracy was itself the beginning and the nucleus of the total covenantal cluster of writings which constitutes the Old Testament canon. (43)

From this covenantal origin, the canon grew as the covenants of God with his people developed over time.

“Our conclusion in a word, then, is that canon is inherent in covenant, covenant of the kind attested in ancient international relations and the Mosaic covenants of the Bible. Hence it is to this covenant structure that theology should turn for its perspective and model in order to articulate its doctrine of canon in terms historically concrete and authentic” (43–44).

According to Kline, God’s people have always had a canon to document their covenant with God. In truth, this canon was not codified until Sinai, when Moses wrote down God’s Words (after God himself etched his law in stone). But from the beginning, God’s people had a clear and sufficient word that established his covenant rule. From this beginning, we shouldn’t be surprised to see that the Bible is and has always been cast in the mold of covenant. Continue reading

Psalm 89: A Covenantal Problem . . . and Its Resolution

Psalm 89 presents the Bible reader with a covenantal problem. Located at the end of Book 3 (Psalms 73-89), it prepares the way for a new movement of God in Books 4 and 5 (Psalms 90-106 and 107-50). It stresses God’s unilateral promise to David that God will keep his covenant. For instance, read verses 28, 34-37.

My steadfast love I will keep for him forever, and my covenant will stand firm for him.

I will not violate my covenant or alter the word that went forth from my lips. Once for all I have sworn by my holiness; I will not lie to David. His offspring shall endure forever,his throne as long as the sun before me. Like the moon it shall be established forever, a faithful witness in the skies.” 

Yet, it also laments that God has renounced the covenant (v. 38-39).

But now you have cast off and rejected; you are full of wrath against your anointed. You have renounced the covenant with your servant; you have defiled his crown in the dust.

Hence the problem. Continue reading

‘I Will Give You as a Covenant’ (Isaiah 42:6; 49:8): The Suffering Servant as Covenant Mediator

As I worked on my dissertation, one of the things that struck me was the importance of the covenant mediator for any covenant. Structurally, every covenant needs a mediator; and with regard to effectiveness, every covenant depends on the personal integrity of the covenant mediator (alternately called a federal head). Continue reading

A Covenant with Creation: Isaiah’s Reading of Genesis 1 and 2

Yesterday, I cited Willem Van Gemeren’s reading of Jeremiah 31 and 33 to argue for a covenantal reading of Genesis 1-2.  Today, I will cite his observations on Isaiah.  Van Gemeren writes,

Isaiah’s language of God’s covenantal commitment is a most important commentary on Genesis 1 and 2.  he uses words for creation (‘form,’ ‘make,’ ‘create’) not only to refer to God’s creative activities in forming the world but also to signify God’s election, grace, love, and loyalty to Israel.  The words for creation are, therefore, also covenantal terms” (Van Gemeren, The Progress of Redemption63).

Van Gemeren seems to be picking up in the prophets (Jeremiah and Isaiah) the sense in which these biblical writers are understanding God’s role in creation as initiating a covenantal relationship.  In fact, in the same paragraph as the previous quotation, Van Gemeren observes, “An individual’s life in the presence of God is an expression of covenant (the technical term defining relationship between two or more parties)” (63).

For me, Jeremiah and Isaiah are two lines of evidence that I had not previously considered about reading a covenant in creation.  I think they are helpful, and show how Genesis 1-2 does include a covenant, something that the OT prophets (Hos 6:7) and NT apostles (cf. Rom 5:12ff) developed to help explain God’s relationship with the world.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

A Covenant with Creation: Jeremiah’s Reading of Genesis 1

There has been much discussion on whether or not Genesis 1 and 2 involve a covenant with Adam or with creation.  Scholars like Paul Williamson, Sealed with an Oathhave vehemently denied it; others like William Dumbrell, Creation and Covenanthave affirmed it. While the term “covenant” (berith) does not appear in Genesis 1-2, I am persuaded by a number of factors (e.g. the reference to a covenant with Adam in Hos 6:7; the implicit blessings and curses motif in Genesis 1-2, and the reference to ‘establishing’ a pre-existing covenant in Genesis 6-8) that there is a covenant with creation.

Another argument for such a covenant can be found in Jeremiah, where the post-exilic prophet grounds the new covenant in God’s covenantal relationship with creation.  Willem Van Gemeren’s explanation gets at the reasoning in Jeremiah.

“When Jeremiah refers to God’s covenant with day and night and the fixed laws of heaven and earth” (Jer 33:25), the term ‘covenant’ (berith) is parallel to ‘fixed laws’ (huqqot, Job 38:33; Jer 31:35; and huqqim, Jer 31:36).  For Jeremiah, God’s gracious and free relationship with heaven, earth, sun, moon, stars, and the sea is evident by the regularity of day and night, the seasons, and the ebb and flow of the sea.  It is a picture of his special covenant relationship with his people.  Jeremiah argues that, since God keeps covenant with creation, he will even more surely take care of his covenant children (vv. 35-36; 33:25-26) and the descendents of David, to whom he also covenanted his fidelity (v. 26; cf. 2 Sam 7:15) (Van Gemeren, The Progress of Redemption, 60).

What do you think?  Williamson and Dumbrell provide good reasons for and against the covenant in Genesis, but at the end of the day, I think the stronger case is made for a some sort of covenant in and/or with creation.  More on this on another day.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss