Hearing the Voice of God: Ten Axioms About God’s Authorship of Scripture

bible“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
– Proverbs 1:7 –

“The fear of the Author is the beginning of literary understanding”
– Kevin Vanhoozer[1]

This morning, I have the privilege of beginning a series of “studies” on hermeneutics and biblical interpretation among the men at my church. The title I’ve chosen is “Toward Doxology and Discipleship: Presuppositions and Principles for a Trinitarian Reading of Scripture.”

Influenced by the work of Kevin Vanhoozer, my aim is to lay out three presuppositions in the next three months concerning the three horizons of communications—author, text, and recipient(s). By taking a trinitarian approach—where we see the Father as speaker, the Son as the content of Scripture, and the Spirit as the One who enables people  to rightly receive understand God’s speech—can are ready to rightly read Scripture.

Only after this triad of communicative presuppositions, can we employ biblical principles that cohere with God’s inspired Word.  That’s the goal of the next three studies, where I hope to outline the three horizons of the biblical text to show how every interpreter of of the Bible must do justice to the textual, covenantal, and canonical horizons (so Edmund Clowney, Richard Lints, etc.). Only by reading texts with respect to grammar and history, covenantal or epochal placement in the Bible, and the final revelation of Christ in God’s canon can we fully appreciated all Scripture has to say to us, indeed what God is speaking to us even today (see Hebrews 3:7).

If you are interested, I’ve included my notes for this week and listed below my ten concluding “axioms” that show the cash value of starting with the doctrine of God, and more specifically why bringing his Authorship to the forefront is imperative for good hermeneutics. If hermeneutics is “your thing,” or if it is not, I’d love your feedback. Continue reading

Sermon Notes: The Tabernacle as a Holy Abode

Yesterday, we considered how the tabernacle served as a typological model meant to instruct Israel and us about God’s world, God’s plans for salvation, and what it means for the Creator to dwell with his redeemed creation.  Today, we will look at the way  God’s house is a holy abode.

In Exodus 25:8, Moses records God’s statement, “Let them make me a sanctuary…”  The word here means holy place.  Everything about the house of God is intended to stress his holiness.  From the arrangement of the curtains to the selection of the building materials, everything about the tabernacle shows how closer proximity to the holy of holies demands increased purity and holiness.

Holy of Holies, Holy Place, and Courtyard

The first thing that shows the holiness of God is the floor plan of the tabernacle, along with the series of curtains that separated Israel from God.  Exodus 26 explains these dimensions. So that looking down on the tabernacle, you can see a courtyard 150 feet long, 75 feet wide.  This courtyard was surrounded by a fence (7.5 feet high).  The gate was on the East (like the garden of Eden), and upon entering the courtyard, the Levites would be confronted with a massive bronze altar (7.5 ft wide, 4.5 feet high) and a bronze basin for washings.  Describing this holy space, T.D. Alexander writes,

Separated from the rest of the Israelite encampment, the courtyard was set apart as a holy area; only the tabernacle, in which God dwelt, was considered to be more sacred… Just as Moses set a boundary around Mount Sinai to prevent the people from coming into the divine presence (19:12-13, 21-24), so the courtyard fence prevented them from approaching God inadvertently… Without the courtyard buffer zone, it would have been impossible for [Israel] to dwell in safety close to the Lord (T.D. Alexander, From Paradise to Promised Land197).

So at the first-level, God’s holiness is seen in the separation between the priests and the people.  Next we come to the tabernacle, itself. At the end of the courtyard was the house of God.  In it were two sections—the holy place and the most holy place.  Again these correspond to the pattern on the mountain, and the pattern of access typified in Exodus 24.  When Moses met with Israel, the people remained in the camp, the priests came half-way up the mountain, and Moses alone entered the cloud (24:1-2).  

The Screen and the Veil

Next, we see how the screen and the veil add to the idea that God’s presence is separate from man.  Exodus 26:31-37 reports,

 Then you shall erect the tabernacle according to the plan for it that you were shown on the mountain. “And you shall make a veil of blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen. It shall be made with cherubim skillfully worked into it. And you shall hang it on four pillars of acacia overlaid with gold, with hooks of gold, on four bases of silver. And you shall hang the veil from the clasps, and bring the ark of the testimony in there within the veil. And the veil shall separate for you the Holy Place from the Most Holy. You shall put the mercy seat on the ark of the testimony in the Most Holy Place. And you shall set the table outside the veil, and the lampstand on the south side of the tabernacle opposite the table, and you shall put the table on the north side. You shall make a screen for the entrance of the tent, of blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, embroidered with needlework. And you shall make for the screen 5 pillars of acacia, and overlay them with gold. Their hooks shall be of gold, you shall cast 5 bases of bronze for them.

When we unpack this passage, the holiness of God’s dwelling space is stressed by the screen that separates the courtyard from the Holy place in verse 36, as well as, the veil that separates the holy of holies from the holy place.  On the veil that protects the most holy place, there are cherubim—angelic beings who live to praise God around his throne.  These are not on the screen.  The difference between the veil and the screen is one more evidence, that approach to God’s throne room should not be taken lightly.

Gold, Silver, and Bronze

Likewise, as you move towards God’s dwelling place, the value of the materials changes.  Notice, the fence at the outside has silver hooks (on top) and brass bases; the screen has gold hooks and brass bases, and the veil has gold hooks and silver bases.  It is also worth nothing that because of these bases, the curtains of the  tabernacle don’t really touch the ground—again this stresses the holiness of God’s dwelling place, and by extension, the holiness of God. 

What might we learn from all this?

It is worth asking at this point, what are the implications of this holy space.  Let me suggest two things.

First, God dwells in unapproachable holiness, and we as covenant-breaking sinners  do not have natural access to him.  Truthfully, I wish someone would have told this to me when I was 17.  Wrongly, I had the impression that because God was a loving father, he was pleased with me and happy for me to come to him.  The tabernacle says otherwise.  God is pleased with absolute holiness.  This doesn’t change in the New Testament, either.  Jesus says that we must be perfect (Matt 5:48); Hebrews declares, without holiness, no one will see the Lord (12:14).

God’s unapproachable holiness has points of access.  At the same time that God’s dwelling place shouts “Holy, Holy, Holy!” It also promises gracious access.  Notice that in the fence there is gate.  In the screen there is an opening.  And in veil there is a way to enter.  What does this teach us about God?  Simply this: We cannot come to him on our own terms or in our own names, but through priestly mediation and a system of sacrifice, God has made a way to come behind the veil.

More specifically, from the people of Israel, there is a chosen people—the Levites—who can enter the courtyard.  In the courtyard, there is an altar to make burnt offerings, sin offerings, and peace offerings; as well as, a basin for cleansing.  These make possible access into the holy place.

Moreover, there is Exodus 28-29 a designated high priest  who will go before the LORD once a year in order to make atonement for Israel (Leviticus 16).  In all this, God reveals that he does not relax his holy standards, but neither does he leave his people to perish under the weight of his law.  He is terrifyingly pure but also unfathomably tender.

Bringing this forward, the tabernacle prepares the way for Jesus Christ, our superior access.  He is the the way, the gate, the door to the Father.  Jesus who is as pure and holy as the inner chamber of the tabernacle comes outside of the courtyard, into the polluted world, and makes clean not only the Levites.  He comes and makes clean people from every tongue, tribe, language, and nation, such that Revelation 5:9-10, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

Praise God for his perfect provision of a way into his inner chamber.  May his tabernacle–in shadow and substance–teach us afresh of God’s sublime holiness and boundless grace.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Busyness and Bavinck :: With a Meditation on the Economic Trinity

Over the last few weeks, things at school have picked up and consequently Via Emmaus has slowed down.  But in the busyness there have been many choice gleanings, even if they have not made it here. 

For instance, after sitting on the shelf for sometime untouched, I was finally able to pick up Herman Bavinck’s volume on God and Creation (volume 2 of 4)For those unaware of this Dutch theologian (1854 -1921), his four volume Reformed Dogmatics is a classic in Reformed theology and the translation was just completed last year. 

In his section of the Trinity, Bavinck writes with exegetical precision, intertextual sensitivity, and vast historical awareness.  And while not coming close to exhausting the endless majesty of the Godhead, Bavinck laid out a clear explanation of the doctrine that was greatly enriching.   I look forward to pondering his works more in the years to come.  Let me share an excerpt from Bavinck concerning the Economic Trinity, that is the Trinity as revealed in Redemptive History and Inspired Revelation:

The true development of the trinitarian ideas of the Old Testament is found in the New Testament.  In the incarnation of the Son and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the one true God is revealed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  These three are identical withh those who revealed themselves to the Old Testament saints in word and deed, prophecy and miracle.  The threefold principle in operation in creation and salvation is, however, made more clear in the New Testament.  All salvation, every blessing, and blessedness have their threefold cause in God–the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  The New Testament revelation is Trinitarian through and through (Herman Bavinck, God and Creation in Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 2, 256).

I am grateful, that in the midst of the busyness of life, God refreshes us and renews us with such soul-enlarging truths.  I am thankful for the gifted men God has given his church–thinkers, pastors, writers, and theologians– to help us see the glorious vistas of our God.  More than that, I am thankful for God, who dwells in unapproachable light– disclosing himself to sinners in history, through language, as he really is.

Hopefully, as I press ahead in this semester, I will be able to share more of my readings.  It is a blessing and a joy to study God’s word (Ps. 19:8a) and his works (Ps. 116:2), and that joy is doubled by sharing them here.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss