Of Spaceships and City Streets: G.K. Beale on Two Kinds of “Literal” Reading

In his massive and massively helpful A New Testament Biblical TheologyG. K. Beale spends the opening chapters outlining the storyline of the Bible and the eschatological nature of the Old Testament. Rather than defining eschatology as merely that category of doctrine that describes future events, he rightly explains how the original creation came with “eschatological potential” (89). Still, what is most helpful in his approach to reading the Bible eschatologically is his approach to reading the Bible “literally.”

Much debate continues on this point today, and to quote the “theologian” Mandy Patinkin (of Princess Bride fame), I do not believe most people who demand a literal reading know what that word means. Or at least, their definition and use only consider one aspect of a literal reading—namely, a narrow reading of individual texts, without considering how a literal reading can also be applied to whole books, including the whole canon itself. Continue reading

How do you recognize a biblical type?  

seekfindIf we agree that typology unites the Bible, identifies who Jesus is, and reveals God’s progressive revelation (which I argued here), then it is vital to know how to recognize a type. Indeed, one of the of the reasons people doubt the validity of a given type (e.g., Joseph as type of Christ, or Noah’s ark as a type of salvation) is that they fear reading too much into the Old Testament. Perhaps, they have seen typology gone wild and have concluded that such interpretations are fanciful and forced. Indeed, while there are many poor examples of misinterpretation, typology remains a vital reality in the Bible. And it behooves us to ask again: “How do you recognize a true biblical type?”

In what follows, I’ve given 5 ways to help you do that. This list isn’t exhaustive and it (over)simplifies some very technical discussions, but for those just beginning to consider or reconsider typology, may it serve as a starting point for recognizing types in Scripture. (For a more comprehensive approach to detecting types, allusions, and patterns in Scripture, see G. K. Beale’s Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament: Exegesis and Interpretationesp. chapters 3 and 4). Continue reading

Stephen Evans on Myth: An Impartial Arbitrator

Reading through C. Stephen Evans  The Historical Christ & The Jesus of Faith, I came across a well-detailed chapter on myth and historicity.  While Evan is addressing New Testament scholarship and the incarnation of Jesus Christ, not the Old Testament narratives, his principles of interpretation are universally applicable and serve as an third party to moderate the polemics of Peter Enns and G.K. Beale.  (Note: I am not endorsing Evans carte blanche, especially his abberant inclusivism; I am merely using his discussion about myth and history as a heuristic device to help mediate the Beale-Enns debate).

In his third chapter, Evans highlights dangers about seeing myth(s) in the Bible, but he also provides legitimate grounds for using the term.  He does not categorically deny their use.  Instead, this philosopher from Baylor University discusses the opposing positions of  Soren Kierkegaard (anti myth) and C.S. Lewis (pro myth) to present a modest caution if and when the term is used.  Here is Evans conclusion:

There are good reasons, as I have noted, for avoiding the designation of the incarnational narrative as myth.  Too many people will understand myth as ruling out history, and even those who do not  think history is ruled out may see the historicity of the events as inessential and unimportant in relation to the mythical significance.  In most contexts it would be better to stress the fact that God’s saving acts constitute a narrative which possesses universal power and significance [CS Lewis’ approximate definition], without actually designating the story a myth [cf. Hans Frei, The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative].

However, if one is speaking in a context where the terminology will not be misunderstood, it is legitimate to speak of the incarnational narrative [i.e. the virgin birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus] as a myth, following the example of CS Lewis, with the following proviso: the uniqueness of the narrative, its divine origin, and the essential significance of its historicity must be maintained (78)

With that proviso in mind, consider Enns definition of myth, “an ancient, premodern, prescientific way of addressing questions of ultimate origins and meaning in the form of stories: Who are we? Where do we come from?” (Inspiration & Incarnation, 50)  Sadly, even against Evans’ more receptive rubric, Enns definition contains none Evan’s qualifications.  Furthermore, as he lays out his case in I & I, Enns undermines each of these– he diminishes the uniquenesss of the biblical stories, he questions divine modes of revelation in exchange for more ‘evolutionary’ models, and he is critical of the ‘essential historicity” of the biblical accounts (see Beale for a full-fledged critique).  In short, his use of the term ‘myth’ lacks any necessary caveat that would distinguish his proposal from that of higher-critical and modernistic scholars.

In fairness to Peter Enns, I think he is trying to use myth with qualifications.  As the quote above indicates, he is seeking to define with specificity what myth is and is not; but clearly, his qualifications do not go far enough.  His mythological reading of Scripture  fails to assert historicity, uniqueness, and divine origin, which leaves the reader with a careless proposal and a faith-eroding hermeneutic.  

Sadly, it seems that for the sake of critical scholarship, or perhaps just for academic curiousity, he has willing to questioned essential truths about the Bible that will lead many souls to doubt God’s word, just as they have  in the past.  As Ecclesiastes refrains, “There is nothing new under the sun,” and Enns proposal reinforces that truth.  For in terms of Old Testament criticism, his proposals sound very similar to eighteenth century Enlightened scholars, who sound similar to second-century Gnostics, who sound like another pre-modern voice with a serpentine lisp… “Did God really say?”    The problem is not new, and neither is the answer: Contend for the Faith!  Renounce false teaching!

May we continue, with boldness and perseverance, to assert that the faith once for all delivered to the saints is True, Historical, Unique, and Divinely Inspired.  This is not a trifling thing, it is a matter of life and death (Deut. 32:47).

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Book Review: The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism

The more I read of G.K. Beale, the more I appreciate his work.  Beale is a NT professor at Wheaton College, an excellent biblical theologian, a well-established author, and an aspiring gardener (according to Doug Moo)–if you have read his The Temple and the Church’s Mission you will understand why

In his most recent book, The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism, professor Beale unleashes a sustained critique against Peter Enns and those who are questioning the doctrine of inerrancy.  Particularly, as the title addresses, Beale makes a case for the necessity and biblical warrant of inerrancy.

The first two chapters present responses to Peter Enns and his evaluation of the Old Testament.  Chapters three and four address Enns’ intertextual assessment of how the New Testament authors interpret the Old Testament.  Chapter five addresses the specific problem of Isaianic authorship, asserting that the NT authors were right in ascribing singular authorship to Isaiah 1-66.  Beale wraps up his case for inerrancy by looking at the cosmology of the OT and the ANE.

Chapter 1: Beale quotes Enns book at length.   He shows the weaknesses of his proposals, and concludes with eight summary points.  I have abbreviated them here (53-54; for the list en toto see Beale’s article “Myth, History, and Inspiration”):

(1) Enns affirms that the Creation and the Flood accounts are “shot through with myth.”

(2) Enns questions the accuracy of the biblical witness because the testimony is not objective history.  

(3) Enns fails to define how exactly Christ’s incarnation is like the Bible.  This analogy sounds good, but is ambiguous.

(4) Enns digs a ditch between the OT world and modern society, where present definitions of truth and error cannot be judged in a pre-scietific world.  

(5)  Enns does not follow his own evaluative proposal of humility, honsty, and charity.

(6) “Enns’s book is marked by ambiguities at important junctures of his discussion.”

(7) “Enns does not attempt to present and discuss for the reader significant alternative viewpoints other than his own…”

(8) “Enns appears to caricature the views of past evangelical scholarship by not distinguishing the views of so-called fundamentalists from that of good conservative scholarly work.”

Chapter 2: Beale replies to Enns open response (JETS 49 [2006]: 313-26), which seems to reassert points made in the first chapter.  Only in the surrejoinder, Beale is able  to defend the historicity of the Bible in more detail, expose the weaknesses of the incarnational analogy. Then going on the offensive, he challenges Enns with his own criticism, namely that Enns reads Scripture using extrabiblical standards (i.e. the surrounding cultures of the biblical authors).

Chapters 3-4: Beale begins by recognizing the merit of Enns “christotelic” hermeneutic.  This approach affirms the OT’s eschatological trajectory, aiming the whole of the OT towards Christ without forcing Jesus of Nazareth  into every verse.  However, Beale quickly delineates his concerns with Enns’ intertextual approach.  He lists five concerns (86-101):

(1) Enns determination that NT authors quote the OT in odd ways is insufficient in scope and not compelling in content.  Just because we have questions about how ancient authors are interpreting one another, does not give us freedom to discount their method as non-contextual. 

(2) Similarly, Enns denies reading of the OT in context.  The NT writers did not do this, and following their lead, we should have the freedom to interpret the passage in light of Christ’s coming and without grammatical-historical boundaries.  

(3) The pervasive and controlling influence of Second Temple Judaism predominates Enns theology.  Beale shows that Second Temple Judaism is not monolithic, yet Enns, while conceding the point, treats it as a singular interpretive method that the NT writers absorbed.

(4) While rejecting the “historical-grammatical” approach to Scripture, Enns employs his own hermeneutical grid and “imposes” theological constructs on his interpretations as much any other evangelical or fundamentalist.

(5) Enns posits that Paul adopted legendary material in his writings (i.e. Enns on 1 Cor. 10:4).  Yet, for Paul to incorporate this legendary material is to contradict his warning to Timothy and Titus about foolish legends and wives tales.

Chapter 5: Beale addresses the question of who wrote Isaiah.  He submits that many current evangelicals have adopted formerly liberal positions on this matter, and he goes on to argue for the importance of holding to a single author–the historically evangelical position.  He gives copious quotations from the NT and later Jewish writers to support this view.

Chapters 6-7: Finally, Beale examines cosmology in the Ancient Near East.  Where some scholars lump OT Israel in with their pagan neighbors, a worldview that disagrees with modern science, Beale contends that Moses and the other OT writers use phenomenological language to describe occurences as they appear.  In other places though, they use theologically-informed language to describe the universe as YHWH’s giant temple.  Beale concludes in chapter 6, “Many of the purported socially constructed, mythological expressions of the cosmos reflected in the Old Testament are better understood as descriptions of the way things appeared to the unaided eye or are related to to theological understanding of the cosmos (including the unseen heavenly dimension) as a temple” (213-14).  

This conclusion finds support from Beale’s extensive work on the temple (cf. The Temple and the Church’s Mission), which he draws on heavily here.  Speaking of the similarities and differences between OT and ANE temples, he writes, “These ancient pagan commonalities with Israel’s temple reflected partial yet true revelation, though insufficent revelation for a personal knowledge of God.  Yet Israel’s temples are not like her neighbors, merely because they reflect some degree of perception about the true reality of God’s dwelling; rather, Israel’s temple was intended to be viewed as the true temple to which all other imperfect temples aspired” (182-83).  In this regard, Israel’s temple served as a “polemical statement” against her polytheistic rivals. 

In short, OT language is not scientific with modern exhibitions of precision, but neither is it a mythical accomodation filled with modern errors.  Beale shows convincingly the makeup of the Old Testament is polemical, theological, and phenomenological.  And thus, he concludes his book with a constructive argument for understanding the Old Testament worldview.  Against Enns and those like him who flatten Israelite distinctives, Beale shows how the temple serves as a point of reference for how God’s covenant people and His revelation to them are similar yet altogether different than the religious documents and pagan worldviews from which Abraham and Israel were rescued.

Overall, Beale’s book is not an easy one to read.  While he is trying to help a lay audience better understand the problems of Enns argument and its impact for divine inerrancy, he does recruit some very technical arguments.  Moreover, the polemical nature of the book ensures that students first coming to the discussion have some background with the doctrine of Scripture and issues of Old Testament studies.  Nevertheless, Beale’s work is important because of the way it exposes a trend in current evangelicalism away from the firm foundations of biblical inerrancy, and the willingness to test historic doctrines with  novel conceptions that appeal to biblical critics.   Moreover, Beale’s work is helpful because it sets out better arguments for understanding the Bible that coheres with the Truth and encourages Christians to trust God’s inspired Word.  For that, I say thanks.

May we learn from Beale’s scholarship and fidelity to the Scriptures, and press on to know the Lord.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

GK Beale on Biblical Theology

In a footnote in The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism, G.K. Beale offers a helpful explanation for a how a biblical theological approach to hermeneutics  reads the Bible.   He writes,

A biblical-theological approach attempts to interpret texts in the light of their broader literary context, their broader redemptive-historical epoch of which they are a part, and to interpret earlier texts from earlier epochs, attempting to explain them in the light of progressive revelation to which earlier scriptural authors would not have had access.  So one aspect of biblical theology is the reading of texts in an intratextual and intertextual manner in a way not ultimately distorting their original meaning, though perhaps creatively developing it (105).

Well said.  

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Book Review: Inspiration and Incarnation

Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005).

Peter Enns, Old Testament scholar, author, and blogger, has stirred up the evangelical community with his book, Inspiration and Incarnation (Baker, 2005)Challenging evangelicals with a bevy of interpretive problems that he finds in the Bible, Enns proffers a new approach to reading the Bible that attempts to move past the fundamentalist-modernist impasse (14-15).  He suggests an incarnational analogy for understanding the Bible (17-18), and he explains how this model, which mirrors Christ’s humanity and divinity, better articulates Scripture’s concurrent inscripturation. 

I am not so convinced.  Let me summarize and analyze:

In chapter 1, Enns attempts to move past the “Bible Wars” and to provide a better way of reading the Bible.  The model he proposes is one that aims to avoid the strictures of dogma; one that instead reads the Bible in its own culture and presentation.  That sounds great, but just doesn’t work.  By ignoring the lessons learned from the modernist controversy, Enns heads in the same perilous direction–diminishing, if not denying, the uniqueness, unity, and inerrancy of God’s inspired Word. 

In chapter 2, Enns discusses Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) similarities to the OT documents and the impact that recent archaeological discoveries have had on Old Testament research.  While his survey of the extant material is itself helpful, his conclusions blur the uniqueness of God’s Word.  Enns compares Genesis 1-11 to the pagan myths of Israel’s neighbors, without advancing positions that retain God’s unique and direct inspiration of the biblical authors; he equates the OT law with the common laws of the ANE world, discounting their divine authority; and he shows how Israel’s Monarchic history may not contain the full accounting of historical events, which cast a shadow of doubt on the text. 

Taken together and without any opposing voice, Enns chapter leaves the reader with gaping holes in his ability to trust the veracity of Scripture.  Methodologically, he fails to present other evangelical and scholarly explanations for these matters, that have given more faithful, and in my opinion better explanations for the issues at hand.  G.K. Beale exposes this shortfall in his JETS article “Myth, History, and Inspiration” (2006), pointing to  D.J. Wiseman, Alan Millard, Meredith Kline, Daniel Block, and Richard Hess as better Old Testament interpreters.

In chapter 3, Enns highlights many source of diversity in the OT (i.e. Wisdom literature, Chronicles, and the Law).  To Enns diversity is not a commendable expression of God’s complexity in divine revelation, but a human problem that arises from competing truth claims–though “truth claims” may be too dogmatic and propositional for Enns.  These ostensible contradictions are better seen as divinely inspired tensions in Scripture that thicken the unity of Scripture than multi-authored inconsistencies. 

The intentional complexity and tension of the Bible can be seen in passages like Proverbs 26:4-5, which on the surface seems to present two antithetical statements side-by-side.  On further consideration, however, these opposing proverbs are better understood to give a balanced and situational word of counsel for thos handling a fool–sometimes you respond, sometimes you don’t (cf. Ecc. 3:1-8).  So then, Scripture is filled with tensive verses that add texture, clarity, and nuance the metanarrative, but it is an unnecessary conclusion to reject unity at the expense of perceived diversity.

Then in chapter 4, Enns addresses the issues of the New Testament interpretation of the Old.  He argues that NT authors employed the same interpretive methods as their Jewish counterparts in Second Temple Judaism without qualification. “What is true of the Wisdom of Solomon is true of the New Testament” (128).  So it seems that Enns is forcing on the NT writers the precise hermeneutic of their day, leaving no place for any kind of Spiritual leading (cf. 2 Peter 1:19-21) or revelation (cf. John’s apocalypse and Paul’s heavenly vision).  Now, his approximation of Second Temple Judaism with the New Testament does not require denial of the Holy Spirit’s involvment, but Enns fails to articulate any kind of divine revelation.  Rather, the New Testament authors, steeped in the culture of their day, are manipulaters of OT texts to speak a fresh word from God.

Consequently for Enns, the method of interpretation used by the apostles entails allegorizing and reinterpreting the OT text without respect to the OT context.  This creative hermeneutic is then endorsed by Enns as the way we ought to read and apply Scripture.  However, Enn’s “apostolic hermeneutic” looks like a train without any brakes.  What of authorial intent?  apostolic authority? and divine inspiration?  The result is more than just a hermeneutical spiral that correlates the biblical text with the reader, it fringes on a postmodern, reader-response method of interpretation that allows contemporary settings and local identity to redefine the passage of Scripture.

In the end, Enns book while attempting to read the Bible “honestly and seriously” (107) results in focusing on incarnation to the exclusion of inspiration–ironically,”inspiration” which is a part of the title, doesn’t even get a reference in the subject index. 

Whereas previous evangelicals have emphasized God’s sovereign inspiration of the Bible, and perhaps at times they have done this too mechanically (i.e. dictation theory of the inspiration), Enns goes too far the other way and ‘humanifies’ the Bible so much that Scripture’s uniqueness, unity, and inerrancy are left undefined and compromised.  Any biblical theology built on this foundation will have insufficient support to build straight;  inevitably the doctrines erected on this foundation will lean, totter, and fall. 

And I am not the only one to see this.  Most notably, G.K. Beale’s evaluation produced a 300-page rejoinder, The Erosion of Inerrancy in EvangelicalismTrevin Wax  also evaluates Enns doctrine of Scripture while providing a host of links that extend the conversation.

Sadly, Enns books stands in a long line of texts that seek to find a middle road between historically orthodox, protestant, and evangelical interpretations and all those competing models that “erode” the Biblical witness (cf. Gnostic, Catholic, Modernist, Postmodernist).  History teaches us that a middle road is not possible.  Only those systems of theology which begin and end with a full-orbed doctrine of Scripture–inspired, infallible, inerrant, authoritative, necessary, and sufficient–can ever produce and sustain over time doctrines that cohere with the content of Scripture.  All other attempts build with wood, hay, and stubble, and the results are disasterous.

May we not grow weary in contending for the faith once for all given to the saints.  The integrity of the Bible deserves our life and our sacrifice.  And as we labor,  may we continue to pray for those who teach us the Word of God and for ourselves that we would not be deceived into following the temptations to minimize God’s inerrant Word.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Top Ten Books of 2008

Studying at Southern Seminary has afforded me the gracious opportunity to read some of the choicest books on the Bible, theology, and Christian ministry.  This is a list of my Top Ten Books of 2008, books that I had the opportunity to read this year that I would commend to you for your perusal in 2009.  The list is eclectic, and intentionally so, but my hope is that each book would whet your appetite for more of Christ.  (The list is in chronological order, but I will say the best is last).

1. Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age by Bill McKibben.  The most fascinating book I read all year; not one I would have picked up by myself.  Assigned for my Ethics class with Dr. Russell Moore, Enough, written by an unbelieving environmentalist, is a fascinating look at the technologically-advacning world we live in.  The book deals with nanotechnology, articificial intelligence, and gene therapy, just to name a few.  McKibben goes into painstaking detail to show what science is researching and hoping to create, and from a secular point of view he asks the question, “When will it be enough?”  It is a great read, and it will challenge your thinking about what it means to be human. 

2. God and Marriage by Geoffrey Bromiley.  Before Christian Bookstores were flooded with marriage books, historical theologian, Geoffrey Bromiley, produced a short book that traces marriage through the Bible, shows the Trinitarian-marriage connections, and shows why a good theology of marriage is so important for a healthy marriage.  For less than five dollars used, you cannot pass this up.

3. Marriage: Sex in the Service of God by Christopher Ash.  Most thorough and rigorously biblical book on marriage today.  A must read for any pastor or biblical counselor.

4. Married for God by Christopher Ash.  The follow up to Ash’s first book on marriage, this popular level book grounds marriage in biblical theology and then proceeds to practically apply the Bible to today’s marriages.  Very readable, and worthwhile for any and all married couples, or those getting ready for marriage.

5. Against Heresies by Irenaeus of Lyons.  One of the earliest “biblical theologies” you can find.  Irenaeus was a second-century church apologist who read the Bible very well.  Challenging, but worthwhile.

6. Last Thing First by J.V. Fesko.  An edifying and stimulating look at eschatology (the study of last things) and  protology (the study of first things) in Genesis 1-3.  It ultimately is a book about Christ, as the alpha and omega.  In the spirit of Meredith Kline and William Dumbrell, it shows how God’s plan of redemption begins in the first 3 chapters of Genesis.  Very good!

7. The Letter to the Colossians and to Philemon (Pillar Commentary) by Douglas Moo.  Moo’s commentary was the most current and most biblical-theological commentary that I found on Colossians.  As I preached through the book in September – December, it served me well to see the OT-NT connections that Paul employed in his Christ-centered letter to the church at Colossae.

8. Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament edited by D.A. Carson and G.K. Beale.  Tremendous resource for preachers who want to pay special attention to inter-canonical connections.

9. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit by Andreas Kostenberger and Scott Swain.  The latest volume in the D.A. Carson edited New Studies in Biblical Theology.  Even though this book will be finished in 2009, it is too good to leave off the list.  The attention to biblical content and the faithful Trinitarian synthesis is excellent.  This is a must have for anyone preaching or teaching in or through the Gospel of John.

10. The ESV Study BibleThe Bible is surely the best and most important book I read all year; and this year the ESV Study Bible is simply the most edition published in 2008, maybe the century–not a hyperbole.  Speaking of the notes and articles, I have not read it en toto, but in scanning its contents and contributors, it is clear that this marks the finest evangelical study Bible to date.  ( Tim Challies provides a full review; Albert Mohler gives a helpful guide to using study Bibbles).  The biggest selling point though in our tech-savvy age, however, is the unbelievable online capabilities that accompany every copy.  At The ESV Study Bible website you can listen to the Bible, record your own notes, and hyperlink to every cross-reference.  Simply amazing!  This a great feature that sets the ESV SB light years ahead of the rest.  I pray that this volume will gain a large readership as it will tremedously benefit students of the Bible to read the Scriptures better…

…Which is the hope and prayer of 2009.  Of making manny books there is no end, and much study wearies the flesh (Ecc. 12:12), but the Word of God is life-giving and enriching.  It points us to Christ and shows our wickedness and desperate need for salvation (cf. John 5:39; 2 Tim. 3:15).  So then, let us endeavor to read the Bible more in 2009, and to find books that will help us understand the Scriptures with greater clarity and commitment.  

Tomorrow, I will post the 10 books I am most looking forward to in 2009…that I pray will enhance our understanding of and passion for the Bible.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss 

Adamic Imagery in Colossians 1:15-20

Colossians 1:15-20 is one of the most exalted views of Jesus Christ in all the Scriptures.  It demands doxological invocation through theological description. 

In just six verses, Paul unfolds a litany of magnificent truths that span the horizon of biblical theology and reach from the horrors of hell (Christ’s experience on the cross) to the glories of heaven (Christ’s headship in the church and His rule over all creation). Consider:  He is the image of God.  He is the firstborn son over all creation.  He is the Creator of all things.  All things!  Nothing exists without his sovereign oversight.  He upholds the universe, thus he sustains each photon of light from the star whose light has not yet reached the earth.  He is the head of the church.  And he is the firstborn from the dead.  Each truth deserves individual attention.  Taken together they crescendo in praise. 

But these truths are not vaccuous propositions devoid of context and biblical definition.  Paul writes these things to contest the false teaching erupting in Colossae.  Paul lifts up the glory of Christ to combat any notion that deficiency in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  He draws on OT concepts and language to declare Christ has come and fulfilled all things–the law (cf. Rom. 10:4); the promises (cf. 2 Cor. 1:20; the offices of the OT (cf. the book of Hebrews).  He is the God, and in him the fullness of God dwells bodily (Col. 1:19; 2:9).

In making his case, Paul conflates Jesus Christ’s eternal deity and creativity with his functional role as the second Adam.  GK Beale provides helpful commentary and analysis of this Adam-Christ relationship.  He writes:

The three descriptions for Christ in Colossians 1:15-17 (“image of God,” “firstborn,” “before all things”) are thus different ways of referring to Christ as an end-time Adam, since they were common ways of referrring to the first Adam or to those who were Adam-like figures and were given the first Adam’s task whether this be Noah, the patriarchs, or the nation of Israel (GK Beale, “Colossians,” in Commentary on the NT Use of the OT, 854).

While the first Adam imaged God and was YHWH’s firstborn son (Luke 3:38), he was not “before all things.”  In this way, Jesus Christ is a greater Adam, one who is both Creator and incarnated as the perfect image of God.  Whereas, every other son of Adam (daughter of Eve), bears in being a marred image of God, Jesus Christ is the perfect image of God, “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His nature” (Heb. 1:3).  Thus, we who have been redeemed by the Second Adam, who have been buried with him in baptism, and await the redemption of our bodies and to be clothed with the imperishable, are being conformed into the image of the second Adam, the perfect man.  This is the corporeal hope of the Christian life, we will be glorified in our bodies (cf. Rom. 8:29-30), when Christ comes again.

Beale goes on to speak of Jesus position of authority, for as the perfect man, he has always retained his Divine Nature (cf. Phil. 2:5-11):

This position of authority is also grounded in Paul’s acknowledgement that Christ is the sovereign Creator of he world (1:16) and sovereignly maintains its ongoing existence (1:17b).  Therefore, Christ perfectly embodies the ruling position that Adam and his flawed human successors should have held, and he is at the same time the perfect divine Creator of all thins, who is spearate fro mand sovereign over that which he has created, especially underscored by the clause ‘all things have been created through him and for him’ at the end of 1:16 (854).

As we read our Bible’s may we see the intracanonical connections that help us better understand our Savior; and as we see these Spirit-illumined truths, may our hearts be filled with joy as we consider our great and gracious Immanuel.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Last Things First: Meditations on the Image of God

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation (Colossians 1:15).

This weekend, I will be preaching from some of the richest Christological verses in the Bible, Colossians 1:15-20.  And in preparation this week, I have been reading JV Fesko’s Last Things First: Unlocking Genesis 1-3 with the Christ of EschatologyFesko’s treatment of “protology,” eschatology, and Christology are incredible stimulating and illuminating.  Seeing that Genesis 1-3 is not just a polemic against Charles Darwin, nor a proof-text the age of the earth, but rather a glorious beginning to the story of Jesus Christ–his creation, redemption, and new creation.  Fesko effectively demonstrates that these passages are about the Triune God and the true man, Jesus Christ. 

Drawing on a rich history of commentators, Fesko quotes Anthony Hoekema, G.K. Beale, and John Calvin as they seek to explain the context and the concept of the Imago Dei.  Their reflections are worth pondering in order to better understand this tremendous biblical truth–namely, what it means to be made in the image of God, and that Jesus Christ himself is the Image of God!  Quoting from Hoekema’s The Image of God first, Fesko remarks: 

The image of God in man must: “be seen as involving the structure of man (his gifts, capacities, and endowments) and the functioning of man (his actions, his relationships to God and to others, and the way he uses his gifts).  To stress either of the of these at the expense of the other is to be one-sided…To see man as the image of God is to see both the task and the gifts.  But the task is primary; the gifts are secondary.  The gifts are the means for fulfilling the task” (A. Hoekema, quoted by Fesko in Last Things First, 47).

To Hoekema’s balanced representation of structure and function, Fesko incorporate’s Beale’s cultural-historical observations:

G.K. Beale explains the connection between monarchs as images of deities and explains, “ancient kings would set up images of themselves in distant lands over which they ruled in order to represent their sovereign presence.  For example, after conquering a new territory, the Assyrian king Shalmanesar ‘fashioned a mighty image of my majesty’ that he ‘set up’ on a clack obelisk, and then he virtually equates his ‘image’ with that of ‘the glory of Assur’ his god.  Likewise, Adam was created as the image of the divine king to indicate that earth was ruled over by Yahweh” (G.K. Beale, quoted by Fesko, 49).

Finally, Fesko quotes the great reformer, John Calvin, whose comments highlight the dignity bestowed upon humanity’s nature. 

The chief seat of the Divine image was in his mind and heart, where it was eminent…In the mind perfect intelligence flourished and reigned, uprightness attended as its companion, and all the senses were prepared and molded for due obedience to reason; and in the body there was a suitable corresondence with this internal order’ (John Calvin, quoted by Fesko, 50).

In short order, John Fesko, summarizes some of the most important aspects of the doctrine of humanity.  He supports a holistic definition that incorporates Calvin’s substantive understanding, that mankind has essential properties that reflect the Godhead; Hoekema’s dual understanding that mankind is made to rule (function) and that God has given mankind gifts and abilities to carry out that task (structure); and Beale’s cultural-historical understanding of humanity’s place as delegated vice-regents to rule over creation, to expand the glory of God by ruling over creation and proliferating the image of God.

Of course, there is much more to say because this original program was aborted as soon as Adam’s feet touched earth.  Humanity proceded to reflect the image of God, but in a marred and perverted way.  Nevertheless, eternal God’s intention for the true Imago Dei was never thwarted!  As highlighted by Last Things First, Scripture teaches that Jesus Christ was always the intended telos of mankind.  We are made in his image, but He is the image of God (cf. Col. 1:15; 2 Cor. 3:18; 4:4; Heb. 1:3).  Fesko distills the preceding quotations well, so we will finish with his summary:

Set against the ancient Near Eastern religions in which the ‘forces of nature are divinities that may hold the human race in thralldom, our text declares man to be a free agent who has the God-given power to control nature’ (Nahum Sarna, Genesis, 13).  Moreover, no man or any other creature is a deity.  Rather, God’s image, his incommunicable attributes, were given to man so he could rule as God’s vice-regent over the creation (50).

Made in the image of Christ, may we rejoice in the True ImageoDei, Jesus, and press on to Christ-like conformity as we embrace our roles as vice-regents, looking for the day when our bodies are redeemed and we will ever reign with Christ (cf. Rom. 8:23; 2 Tim. 2:12).

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

The Value of Land (Joshua 24)

On Sunday I preached a message on YHWH’s covenantal faithfulness and Israel’s continued fickleness as a picture in history of mankind’s need for a better covenant. In the sermon, I began with a reflection on the importance of land in the Bible and in Joshua:

In the Bible there is a great deal made of land. God created the man and put him in the garden to till and to cultivate the land (cf. Gen. 2). If sin had not ruined the project, this garden, tended by Adam and his descendents, would have domesticated the whole earth, spreading the glory of God all over the globe (cf. G.K. Beale, The Temple and The Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God). Certainly the new heaven and new earth in Revelation 21-22 pictures this, a perfect garden-city that will be inhabited by the lamb of God and all those for whom his blood was shed. And what will they be doing? Having dominion over all creation, working and serving in the land–a gloriously restored Eden.

So too, in the redemptive history between Genesis and Revelation there is much discussion of the land. Abraham is promised the land of Canaan (Gen. 12:1-3, 7). The first five books of the Bible anticipate Israel’s arrival in the promised land. Likewise, the importance of covenant faithfulness is stressed throughout the OT for the purpose of God’s gracious presence remaining with his people in the land (cf. Lev. 26:12-13; Deut. 30:15-20).

In the book of Joshua, the first five chapters report the entry of Israel into the land. This includes a reenactment of Israel’s great march through the Red Sea, when this time led by Joshua, the people cross the overflowing Jordan to enter the land. In chapters 6-12, Joshua records the many battles that ensued in taking the land. The land did not come without a fight, but God faithfully enabled Israel to conquer the wicked nations of Canaan, so that it could be said in 11:23: So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the Lord had spoken to Moses. And Joshua gave it for an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal allotments. And the land had rest from war.

In chapters 13-21, the land is divided among the people of Israel. Each tribe is allotted their proper portion and they are then called to finish the initial work of having dominion over the land by casting out any remaining foreigners. Again God’s faithfulness is seen in 21:43-45: Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands. Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.

Finally, in the last three chapters, 22-24, Joshua speaks to the people whom he has led for so many years, and his words too concern the land. This time it regards how the people might be able to stay in the land and retain a dwelling place with God. In chapter 23, Joshua delivers his final address and in chapter 24, the passage that I preached on Sunday, Joshua mediates a covenant renewal with the people of God, that they might remain obedient to God and enjoy his presence in the land.

Ultimately though, the story has Israel afflicted within the land and, at last, cast out of the land. Within one generation, in the book of Judges Israel’s disobedience invites foreign oppressors. But even more devasting in the history of Israel is the expulsion of Israel from the land when the powers of Assyria and Babylon come and conquer God’s obstinate people. It seems that despite all attempts, the people of God cannot keep the covenant. They are too stiff-necked and lustfully idolatrous. So it is with us!

The good news of the rest of the story is that another Joshua has come, and that like his namesake he has led his people through the waters of judgment. In Mark 1, Jesus was baptized in the Jordan, in an act that would later come to symbolize his followers participation in his death and resurrection (Rom. 6). In Mark 1, Jesus passed through the wilderness unassailed by the temptations of the devil, and reentered the land, like a warrior returning home. This conquering reentry foreshadows the work that he would ultimately complete on the cross inaugurating a new covenant with his blood. So that, Luke could say that he came to lead a new exodus (9:31). The final result is that Jesus Christ showed himself to be a superior law-giver than Moses who died outside the land; he proved himself a better leader than Joshua, laying down his life so that his people might have an eternal inheritance in the land to come; and the mediator of a better covenant whose promises far exceeded those of the old covenant.

Joshua 24 is a picture of sweet OT devotion, but it is a far greater picture of another Joshua who has provided a better way to a better land, giving his weary followers the promise of everlasting rest. May we who hear the story of the ancient Israelites, now strive to enter the rest given by the new Joshua.

Sola dei gloria, dss.