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Colossians: Christ’s Preeminence in Creation, the New Creation of the Church, and All Things

January 31, 2014 Leave a comment

I’m now going through S. Lewis Johnson’s Colossians series, and enjoying it even more than I expected to.  This is a great study on this epistle, complete with many quote-worthy comments and observations, so applicable to our day as it addresses the nature and being of Christ in answer to the heresies already developing in the 1st century.

From Colossians 1:15-20, Paul’s great Christology, the following observations:

The Lord of the First Creation

This section may have been part of an early hymn, perhaps written by Paul or someone else, or even composed by multiple people in the early church.  If it is a hymn, the hymn of the beloved Son begins in verse 15 with a statement concerning the essential basis of his Lordship, “Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every”, or of the whole, “creation.” 

The description here is of the Lord Jesus as the unique perfect likeness and manifestation of God, the great and final theophany.  The Greek word for “image” suggests that He possesses the Divine Attributes.  Concerning the word eikon and its usage:

There is a related word to it formed of the same root entirely, absolutely, I should say, which was used of a photograph, and further, there is a word very closely related to it, one is eikon, and the other is eikonian, a diminutive of it, a little eikon which was used when individuals signed a contract in legal terms guaranteeing certain things to others.  For example, in an IOU, it was customary for when the contract was drawn up for an eikonian to be drawn up as well.  And what that meant was certain sentences which would describe the individuals who entered into the contract were set in the contract in order that there might be evidence of precisely who entered into the contract, so that there would be no misunderstanding.  That was called an eikon, that is, a description of the individuals involved.

This text presents Christ’s essential basis of His Lordship. Then, the last part of verse 15 presents the Economic Basis of His Lordship:  He is the firstborn of the whole creation.  As Dr. Johnson well notes, this does not mean He is a creature – the Arian heresy.

He’s not a creature.  He’s the creator of the creatures.”  And Athanasius convinced the early church, properly so, that the Lord Jesus may be called firstborn of the whole creation, but not in the sense that there was a time when he entered into existence, so far as his person was concerned.  In fact, the Lord Jesus is the eternal Son, and He is the creator of the creatures.  In Him the whole created universe came into its existence.  So the term firstborn then takes on the meaning that it had in other passages in the Bible: of sovereignty over.

So we have three prepositional phrases.  “All things were created in him.”  “All things were created by him.”  “All things were created for him.”

Lord of the New Creation

Paul moves from the cosmological (the physical creation), to the soteriological, our personal salvation.  Christ is the head of the body, and thus He controls the church, He owns the church, and has authority over the church.

Of course, that has great practical significance so far as our personal life is concerned too.  We are related to the Head who is in heaven.  And if we are to live a life that is acceptable to the Lord God, we must be submissive to the Head, the Lord Jesus in a personal sense.  And as a body of believers who are under shepherds, elders, it’s most important for them and for us to be under Him and to look to Him for control and guidance and authority in the things that we do.

Preeminent In All Things

Verse 18, “that in Him should all fullness dwell.”

I don’t think that the apostle, when he says, “All fullness,” here is referring simply to our Lord’s deity.  That doesn’t make sense in the context, that is, that He should have the preeminence because He’s firstborn from the dead because He’s God.  It should relate to His saving work by which He became firstborn from the dead.  So I suggest to you …. what I mean by “all fullness” … all saving fullness, all saving power, in grace, because He’s the covenantal head of the people of God.  So he says, “For it pleased the Father that in Him should all, ‘saving’ fullness dwell.”

This point is especially important to the Colossians, in answering the heresy of gnostic Judaism, which included the idea of a God so holy that He doesn’t directly create.  Gnosticism has a series of eons, angelic type beings, that come forth from God the father, each a little less holy, and Christ is one of these beings, not a divine being but a created, secondary being, a mediator that is secondary and not god himself.  Paul emphasizes this point, that it “pleased the Father” to have all saving power reside in Christ – Jesus Christ the covenantal head and having all saving power.  So there is not a hierarchy of mediators between God and men as the heretics were saying.  But by the fact that He is raised from the dead, there is evidence that He is the one and only saving mediator between God and men. 

Bad Theology in Hymns: “The Earth Shall Soon Dissolve Like Snow”?

January 23, 2014 13 comments

S. Lewis Johnson often pointed out the bad theology in the hymns we sing in church, observing  that hymn writers would “get to heaven as by fire.”  Expanding on this point, he would mention specific hymns and the wrong theology, including one song he especially disliked, “One Day,” which includes in the chorus, after the words “Living He loved me, dying He saved me, buried He carried my sins far away,” the phrase “rising He justified.”  As Dr. Johnson pointed out (as in this message from the Romans series), we were not justified at His resurrection:  I don’t sing that, “Rising, He justified,” because it seems to me that what the apostle teaches here is that the resurrection of Christ is the evidence that the justification has been completed.  We’re not justified by the resurrection.  We’re justified by His death. 

I was reminded of the bad theology in hymns again this last week when the local church sang Chris Tomlin’s version of “Amazing Grace” (“My Chains are Gone.”)  The last verse is from John Newton’s poem (the origin of the bad theology here), but not in the traditional “Amazing Grace” hymn:

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow;
the sun forbear to shine.
But God who called me here below,
will be forever mine.

That lyric has bothered me for the same reason SLJ mentioned concerning other hymns: it’s not biblical. The earth will be renewed and continue forever: a renovation of the earth, but the earth itself will not be destroyed or dissolve into nothingness.  Reference also this post here from a few months ago, Robert D. Culver’s exposition of 2 Peter 3.

Thinking about this lyric in “Amazing Grace,” I found this blog article, from someone else who sees the doctrinal error here.  Here is his suggested re-wording of that verse, a true expression of biblical teaching:

The earth shall be redeemed by God;
the sun will forever shine.
And God who called me here below,
will be forever mine.

The Trinity In the Old Testament: Daniel 9?

January 17, 2014 4 comments

I’ve recently listened to S. Lewis Johnson’s “Divine Purpose in History and Prophecy” series, including a three-part section that exposits Daniel 9:24-27, considering the details of the 70 weeks of Daniel’s prophecy.

Dr. Johnson gets interesting in the details, as always in his exposition of Old Testament texts.  While noting that the doctrine of the Trinity is not directly taught, is not spelled out, in the Old Testament, in various expository lessons he notes specific texts that give some indication of “plurality in the Godhead,” as for instance the Genesis 1 creation text (the Hebrew plural word Elohim) and Isaiah 48. Here S. Lewis Johnson presents another such indirect possible reference to the Trinity,  concerning Daniel’s prayer in Daniel 9 — a text I had never thought of as containing such; but other commentators, even John Calvin, have noticed this.

Here he (Daniel) says, “Now, therefore, our God, hear the prayer of your servant, and his supplications, and cause your face to shine on your sanctuary for the Lord’s sake.”  Now, I’m not the first one, of course, who has ever noticed this.  As a matter of fact, Calvin himself noticed it.  “This verse contains the name of the Lord twice” he pointed out.  And many other expositors with him thought that this was an allusion to the second person of the Trinity, but the details are not spelled in, and so we have to leave it at that, as an anticipation of what would come to full understanding with the New Testament times.  Now, read on, verse 18.

“O my God, incline your ear and hear, open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city (Notice how large the city looms in Daniel’s thought) which is called by your name, for we do not present our supplication before you because of our righteous deeds but because of your great mercies.  O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, listen and act.”

Now, what would you think if I were to read this:  “O Lord Father, hear; O Lord Son, forgive; O Lord Spirit, listen and act.”  Three times the term “Lord” is on the lips of Daniel.  Again, I’m not the first person who has noticed this in connection with the doctrine of the Trinity. … many exegetes and some dogmaticians have suggested that there is an allusion to the mystery of the Holy Trinity even in this verse as well.

God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment: The Book of Genesis

January 14, 2014 1 comment

Continuing in Hamilton’s “God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment”, a look at this theme as seen in the book of Genesis.  As noted in Hamilton’s introduction, this work is a look at the central theme, the “center of biblical theology,” throughout the Bible.  As such, the treatment of Genesis (and later books) is overview rather than a detailed expository look, and assumes familiarity with the actual Bible books.

Creation is first considered, and here Hamilton points out the similarity between Creation, especially Genesis 2 and the Garden of Eden, and the later tabernacle and temple.  Hamilton also briefly looks at the other creation accounts, with excerpts from the other ancient near-East religions, which indeed show how the God of the Bible is so unlike the gods of the ancient Babylonians and other early pagan religions.

God’s directive to Adam and Eve has similarities to the later worship, and indeed, the later promised land of Canaan  appears as something like Eden:

the Promised Land almost becomes a new Eden. The Lord will walk among his people in the land, just as he walked in the garden (Gen. 3:8; Lev. 26:11–12; Deut. 23:15). Like the fertile garden of Eden, the Promised Land will flow with milk and honey. On the way to the Promised Land, the camp of Israel is even described in Edenic terms.

The main idea presented is the contrast between the curses in Genesis 3:14-19 and the blessings to Abram in Genesis 12:1-3, and the outworking of the curses in people’s lives along with the “seed of the woman” bringing deliverance (salvation) out of the judgment.

Curses Blessings
Seed conflict (Genesis 3:15) All the families of the earth will be blessed in you (Genesis 12:3; 22:18; 26:4)
Gender conflict (Genesis 3:16) I will make you a great nation (barren Sarah shall have a seed) (Genesis 11:30; 12:2; 17:16)
Land conflict (Genesis 3:17-19) To your offspring, a great nation, I will give this land (Genesis 12:1–2, 7)

The seed conflict (the seed of the serpent versus the seed of the woman) is seen at the individual level:  Cain versus Abel, Ishmael — Isaac, Esau – Jacob, and even the sons of Israel with Joseph. Collectively, the theme is seen several times also:  Pharaoh and Egypt to Abraham and Sarai (Genesis 12:10-20); the Kings of the World (Sodom) versus Abraham and his men, Lot, and Melchizedek in Genesis 14; Abimelech and the Philistines versus Abraham and later Isaac (Genesis 21 and 26); and the men of Shechem versus Simeon, Levi and Dinah in Genesis 34.

Again, this approach is of basic, surface-level correspondences of these events, rather than a detailed expository treatment of each of these events.  Hamilton does recognize the role of Joseph’s brothers against Joseph as a temporary role. I also recall S. Lewis Johnson’s teaching, as well as the information from sources regarding the tablet theory of Genesis, to consider more of Ishmael’s overall life – whereas Hamilton restricts his comments about Ishmael to the specific incident in Genesis 21: the son of Hagar mocking Sarah’s son Isaac.

Gender conflict, brought out after the fall:

  • Usurping women (Genesis 3:16) – Sarah’s attempt to have the seed come through Hagar (Genesis 16); Lot’s daughters with Lot (Gen. 19:30-38); Rachel’s magic mandrakes and Leah’s purchase of them (Gen. 30:14-16); Tamar’s trap for Judah (Gen. 38:14)
  • Marital disharmony:  Sarah’s dispute with Abraham (after the incident in Genesis 16 with Hagar), and Rachel’s dispute with Jacob (Genesis 30:1-2)
  • Husbands abusing their wives (“He will rule over you”): Abraham’s use (twice) of Sarah for his own protection; Isaac repeating that with Rebekah; Jacob’s hatred of Leah
  • Death in childbearing (“I will multiply your pain in childbirth”):  Rachel dies in childbirth (Benjamin’s birth)
  • Barrenness:  Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel
  • Non-marital relations:  Abraham and Hagar; the men of Sodom; Lot and his daughters; Dinah violated; Reuben and his father’s concubines; Onan and Tamar, then Judah and Tamar; and Potiphar’s wife

The Curse on the Land, followed by Blessing:  Genesis 5:29 gives the first hint of restoration, when Lamech names his son Noah, saying “Out of the groundthat the Lord has cursed this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.”  The land promise in Genesis 12 further develops that hope. In spite of the curse on the land, and the fact that men do have to toil on it, “God blesses the fields and flocks of Abraham (Gen. 12:16; 13:6; 21:22; 24:35), Isaac (26:12–14), and Jacob (31:5–9; 33:11). And then, through unexpected turns of events, the whole earth is blessed in the seed of Abraham, as Joseph provides food in the famine.”

Hamilton concludes his presentation of “God’s glory in salvation through judgment” in Genesis:

 God confirmed his promised mercy when he declared to Abraham that his seed would overcome the curses, and then the promises to Abraham were passed to Isaac, then to Jacob. Genesis closes with promises of a king from the line of Judah, in the splendor of Joseph reigning over Egypt, pattern of the coming seed of the woman, seed of Abraham, in whom all the nations of the earth have been blessed. Salvation comes through judgment, setting forth the grandeur of the glory of God.

The Old Testament establishes the universal significance of Israel in God’s purposes by showing that the nation of Israel has inherited God’s charge to Adam to be fruitful and multiply. The wickedness of Adam’s descendants resulted in the flood, and God charged Noah with the same task he had given Adam. The wickedness of Noah’s descendants resulted in the confusion of language at Babel, and the task given to Adam and Noah passed to Abraham and his seed. Thus, the statement that “the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them” (Ex. 1:7) connects Israel to Adam and foregrounds the cosmic significance of what God is doing in Israel.

God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment: Introduction to James Hamilton’s Work

January 7, 2014 2 comments

GodsGloryBookI recently purchased the Kindle version of this recommended work by Hamilton – currently $9.99 through Amazon Kindle, a 640 page book.  I had heard of Hamilton over the last year or so, from Dan Phillips’ recommendation, and have appreciated reading a few of Hamilton’s blog posts. I don’t agree with Hamilton in every area; he is historic premillennial, but of the historicist variety (the events in Revelation 6-18 are symbolic of the whole church age), but from what I’ve read in his blog posts, excerpts from his commentary on Revelation, he does understand the premillennialism in Revelation, including also the identification of the woman in Revelation 12 as Israel and with reference to Joseph’s dream in Genesis 37.

God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment is Hamilton’s biblical theology, a “center” theme of a recurring pattern seen throughout the Bible, the one unifying overall theme:

The center of biblical theology will be the theme that is prevalent, even pervasive, in all parts of the Bible. … In broadest terms, the Bible can be summarized in four words: creation, fall, redemption, restoration.

The first chapter is introductory material, explaining his purpose for writing this book and arguing the case for why we should have a “biblical theology” with one central theme.  This chapter has a scholarly style, including a survey of the existing literature on this topic, including theologians (such as D.A. Carson) who argue that we should not look for one theme but a group of several main themes.  Hamilton also acknowledges that many different ideas have been suggested as the “main theme” of the Bible – leading some scholars to conclude that there really is no one central theme.  But Hamilton argues that this theme includes many sub-themes; promise-fulfillment is here, as a part of “salvation through judgment” – God promises to save and judge, and He fulfills these promises by saving and judging.  Yet promise-fulfillment is not the complete overall theme, but a sub-theme.  Salvation and judgment reveal God’s steadfast love and his holiness. God reveals his holiness and his steadfast love not as ends themselves, however, but as means to the end of displaying his own glory.

Hamilton’s overview of this recurring theme is well summarized here:

The whole cosmos is created, is judged when man rebels, is redeemed through Christ’s death on the cross, and will be restored when Christ returns, but this also happens to the nation of Israel and to particular individuals. For instance, God’s word creates Israel as a nation when, having already called Abraham out of Ur, God calls the descendants of Abraham out of Egypt and gives them his law at Sinai. The nation falls at Sinai, is redeemed by God’s mercy, and, in a sense, is restored through the second set of stone tablets. This pattern is repeated again and again in the Bible. .. God’s word creates David as king of Israel, David falls with Bathsheba, he is redeemed after coming under the judgment of the prophetic rebuke, and he is restored and allowed to continue as king.

In significant ways the Gospels interpret the death and resurrection of Jesus in these terms. It is as though his death is the climactic moment of exile, the moment when the temple is destroyed (cf. John 2:19), and his resurrection begins the new exodus (cf. Luke 9:31). This story of salvation history is a story of God’s glory in salvation through judgment. Those who believe in Jesus have been saved through the salvation through judgment of the exile and restoration he accomplished in his death and resurrection, and we are now sojourning, passing through the wilderness on our way to the Promised Land, looking for that city with foundations, where the Lamb will be the lamp.

The table of contents looks interesting: he considers this theme specifically with reference to every book of the Bible, in sequence from the Torah through the New Testament.  As he notes in the first chapter, he covers the Old Testament books in their Hebrew Bible sequence (which is different than the standard sequence in the Christian canon).  I like that approach, which agrees with my current 9 list reading plan and the OT lists in Hebrew book sequence  (see this original post and the follow-up 9 list variation).

As I read through this book I may post updates with my summary, notes and my own thoughts, concerning Hamilton’s treatment of this theme in the different sections of the Bible and specifically in each of the Bible books.

The New Face of the One People of God: What Happened At Pentecost

January 2, 2014 Leave a comment

From S. Lewis Johnson’s Divine Purpose in History and Prophecy” series, the following lesson concerning continuity and discontinuity in the One People of God, before and after Acts 2 Pentecost.  We observe first the two extremes, and that the truth lies somewhere in the middle:  some people believe the church is another term for all who ever believed and thus the church began with Adam.  Others say that the church began on the day of Pentecost and that there is really no relationship between what happened on Pentecost and what had preceded.

First, what already existed, the “old”:  Though the church was created on the day of Pentecost it was not absolutely new in every respect. 

  •  The redemptive foundation: What Christ did on the cross, the ground of the salvation of Israel, and the ground of the Gentiles who lived before Abraham – the ground of Adam’s salvation.  That’s the ground of the Gentiles who existed before Abraham came into existence, that’s the ground of Adam’s salvation.  It’s the ground of every member of the true church of Jesus Christ.  It’s the ground of their salvation. So the ground of our salvation what Christ did on the cross is the ground of the salvation of all believers in Christ. 
  • The union of Old Testament and New Testament believers that has taken place as a result of the common faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

New:  Paul does say a new man has been created

  • The Holy Spirit permanently indwells all believers now.  He did not permanently indwell all believers before the day of Pentecost
  • Freedom from the law as a code.
  • Adoption of the Gentiles.  Romans 11:11-24
  • Equality of Jew and Gentile in the body; the “mystery”.  Gentiles do not have to convert to Judaism.
  • Universal priesthood of the believers
  • Universality of the gifts under the oversight of elders