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Romans 7, Hermeneutics, and “Redemptive-Historical” Biblical Theology

November 25, 2019 3 comments

From my recent podcast listening, one episode at the Reformed Forum discussed a “Redemptive-Historical” view of Romans 7 as similar to the content in Galatians 2-4.  Apparently the idea comes from Herman Ridderbos’ writings in the 1960s; whereas the early church thought Romans 7 was describing the apostle Paul before conversion, and Augustine and the Reformers understand Romans 7 as the life of a believer struggling with sin (the view I hold to as well), this other approach takes to spiritualizing Romans 7 as actually about the experiences of Israel—from the time of Sinai and later.  An emphasis here is Romans 7:14, “the law is spiritual,” and that Romans 7 can be connected in its ideas and content with what Paul is saying in the letter to the Galatians.

The podcast gave an introduction to the idea, and the speaker noted that he was still studying and considering the idea.  At this point I would like to read a commentary on Romans, such as the one from Robert Haldane that I’ve had on my “reading to-do” list for a few years.  For now, though, just a few of my observations, for what it’s worth.

In Romans, Paul is talking about the moral law, which is a completely different context from Galatians.  That Romans is referencing the moral law is evident from Romans 7:7, a clear reference to the 10th commandment.  (The late S. Lewis Johnson also noted this – in a sermon from a decidedly dispensational view of the law —  that in Romans 7 Paul is talking about the moral law, as he recalled conversations in his student days at Dallas Seminary with a fellow student who had come to Dallas Seminary, that student having had a Reformed view of the law.)  In Galatians, Paul is clearly talking about the Mosaic law with is ceremonies and the “holiness code” specific to the people of Israel under Moses.  Here I also recall the importance of distinguishing the different meanings and contexts of “law” in our Bibles; see this previous post about seven different New Testament meanings and uses.

So, given the proper context of Romans (moral law), and Galatians (the ceremonial, Mosaic law), this spiritualized view of the text (“Redemptive Historical” rather than the literal—as in normal, plain language meaning) does not fit or make sense.  The apostle Paul in Romans 7 is not contrasting the condition of Israel before they had the law given at Sinai to what they had after Sinai.  In terms of the law that Israel had before Sinai, the Decalogue in its summary form was already understood by them; Exodus 16 comes before Exodus 20, and as Richard Barcellos well noted (in Getting the Garden Right) the descriptions in Exodus 16 about God being greatly vexed at the people in their failure to observe the procedures for collecting of the manna, do not make sense if the one day in seven Sabbath was a completely unknown concept before this point in time.  Yet in Romans 7 Paul is talking about the sin of coveting (the 10th commandment), and the section that includes verse 14, “the law is spiritual,” begins with verse 7, the law telling him “do not covet”– which grounds verse 14 (the law is spiritual) to the context of the moral law—and not the same meaning of law used in Galatians chapters 2 through 4.

Again, biblical interpretation comes back to hermeneutics, and in this case (as so many others), the literal-grammatical-historical hermeneutic (of normal, plain language use) provides the correct understanding of Romans 7, as over against a spiritualized, and novel approach.  That this particular interpretation, coming out of “biblical theology, redemptive-historical theology,” is a relatively new understanding from the 20th century, not a view held by the historic Christian church over the many previous centuries, is a further reason for caution regarding it.

The Apostle Paul, the Intermediate State, and the Resurrection

June 12, 2014 1 comment

Spurgeon once observed (I cannot recall the specific sermon, though somewhere during his first five years or so) that, given the choice between being among the dead who will be resurrected, or being alive and caught up, at Christ’s Second Advent, he would choose the former. His reasoning was in identification with Christ’s sufferings and the common experience of all men through the thousands of years, as contrasted with those still alive at Christ’s return – that they would not have had that same experience and identification with previous generations of believers who did experience corruption of this body and the disembodied state prior to the resurrection.

Yet a study through 2 Corinthians 5 (S. Lewis Johnson’s series) reveals something more basic, that most of us can surely relate to. Here the apostle Paul describes the intermediate state, and, consistent with his words elsewhere (1 Thessalonians 4, and 1 Corinthians 15), Paul understood the two alternatives available: to die and experience the intermediate state (unclothed), or the instant, in the twinkling of an eye experience of those who are caught up to meet the Lord in the air. Here Paul expresses his own personal desire, that if the Lord wills, he would prefer to meet the Lord at His Coming:

The apostle is a person who is afflicted with what someone has called world strangeness. And so he lives here, but he’s not really happy here ultimately. To him, to live is Christ, but to die is gain. But he wants to die in a certain way. He doesn’t want to be naked, as he says in the following verse, inasmuch as we having put it on shall not be found naked…. He wants to avoid the disembodied state. He doesn’t want to be a spirit or soul without a body. The intermediate state is just such a state. Those who have died as Christians and have gone on from our presence now are with the Lord, but they don’t have their bodies yet.

. . . modern theologians and our contemporary New Testament scholars like to say Paul has changed his views of his life expectancy. That’s possible. He may have become convinced that the experiences are such and he’s growing old…. so far as his theological doctrine, there is no evidence at all that he changed his eschatology. Those two alternatives were always before the apostle. He always set them forth. And all he does here is simply reveal his preference; his preference is the rapture, being caught up in the presence of the Lord, and not his physical death. Paul’s preference is mine as well. And I imagine it’s the preference of every believing person.

The Gift of (Supernatural) Healing Along With Medical Help (Acts 28)

November 27, 2013 4 comments

From S. Lewis Johnson’s “Life of Paul” series, an interesting observation regarding the events on Malta in Acts 28:

Verses 8 and 9 describe two sets of healing.  In the first case, Paul laid his hands on Publius’ father and healed him – an apostolic sign, miraculous healing.  The next sentence describes how “the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured.”  Dr. Johnson here notes that the Greek words used for healing differ: the first word simply means “to heal” with no particular connotations, thus something supernatural.  But the word in verse 9 is different: therapeuo, from which comes our English words therapy and therapeutic:  healing through the use of medicine.  We also consider who was there:  Paul the apostle, and also Luke the physician.

As S. Lewis Johnson notes, we cannot be absolutely certain, but this text gives at least a “strong possibility” of an instance where the “gift of healing” was used alongside ordinary means of medical help.  Even during the apostolic age, and with the apostle Paul present (though later in his ministry), God still used the natural means of healing as He continues to use the ordinary means of accomplishing His purposes.

There are people who have, unfortunately, thought that the Scriptures taught that they must depend only on supernatural means for healing.  But there seems to be evidence here, not only that the apostles did perform supernatural acts of healing, but that it was perfectly harmonious for medical attention to be given, when available, and when it might be useful.  In fact Paul wrote to Timothy, you know, and said, “Take a little wine for your often infirmity’s sake.”

When Was the Apostle Paul Converted? (The Three Components of Faith)

November 22, 2013 3 comments

From S. Lewis Johnson’s series through the life of the apostle Paul, comes the question “when was Paul converted? On the Damascus Road, or in Damascus?”

Faith includes three components:  knowledge, assent to that knowledge, and personal trust.  Notitia asensus, fiducia are the three latin terms used by theologians to describe this.

Paul’s conversion can be considered as similar to the question of when other biblical people were saved:  was Abraham saved when he was called out to follow the Lord to another land, or was he saved later, when the Lord took him out and showed him the stars – that “Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness.”

The chances are the salvation of Abraham and the salvation of Paul has some similarity, and also possibly are similar to our own experience.  That is sometimes salvation takes place outwardly in stages, in the sense that the efficacious grace of the Holy Spirit leads us on to a climatic relationship at which salvation occurs.  It’s not easy to answer this question.

As to Paul’s specific conversion experience:

I am inclined to think that when the apostle was on the Damascus Road that a certain significant transformation took place in him.  He came to understand there that Jesus of Nazareth was a heavenly being, who could speak to him still as a divine being; and he (Paul) called Him Lord; and no doubt that produced this tremendous revolution within Paul’s thinking, and he had to go back over all that he had been taught from the beginning, and all the things that he had wrongly understood, and now try to put them all together.  Later on he spent some time in Arabia, and possibly that was further straightening out of the vast knowledge that he had of Jewish and Rabbinic things and squaring them with his Christian experience.

Within the three aspects of saving faith, the following is possible concerning Paul’s conversion:

1)      Knowledge – acquired on the Damascus Road, that Jesus is the Lord.

2)      As he later arrived in Damascus and at the house on Straight Street: further assent to the knowledge he had.

3)      Finally, when Ananias speaks to him and explains to him that he too has been the object of the sovereign working of God bringing him to Paul, and that he was the Lord’s messenger to tell Paul certain things about him, and his ministry:  it all came together at this point, and Paul came to personal trust in the Lord Jesus Christ – though he had been the object of efficacious grace, which had brought him to this point.

The Apostle Paul: The Silent Years

October 18, 2013 2 comments

I’m now going through one of S. Lewis Johnson’s topical series on the Life of Paul, a sort of “biography” approach in chronological sequence through Paul’s life.  The “silent years,” in between Paul’s conversion and Acts 11:25-26 (when “Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch”) are also considered, especially in this message.  We don’t know the exact sequence of events, but from Paul’s statement in Galatians 1:17-21, at some point Paul left Damascus (Acts 9) and went to Arabia , then back to Damascus.  Then, after a brief time in Jerusalem to visit Peter (and he also met the Lord’s brother James), he “went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.”

But what did Paul do during those years, a period of perhaps 7 or 8 years? It’s possible that he spent the time in some solitude, to learn from the Lord.  Some have also suggested that he was useful in some evangelistic ministry.  Perhaps it was a public reason, because of Paul’s divisive character, that he was well known and his life in danger from the Jews in Jerusalem.  Dr. Johnson suggests all of these factors  may have been involved, observing:

Those silent years were years of preparation of our Lord on the human side for the ministry that he was to perform.  So Paul’s seven or eight years or more, how long they were we’re not absolutely certain, but they were a good many years, may have had some connection with the discipline of God, that the Lord wanted to put him, who is to be the great apostle of the Gentiles through.

That does not mean, of course, that he was not useful at all, but it was a necessary thing for him even through he was useful.  There is some reason to believe that when he was in Tarsus he did carry on some ministry.

Perhaps also, there is a more public reason why the apostle spent six or eight years away from the land.  After all Paul was too divisive a character.  He was the one who had advanced in Judaism beyond his contemporaries.  He was the great defender of Judaism against the newly rising Christian cult.  And so, for this one upon whom they depended on for the defeat of Christianity to turn to Christianity, that would provoke them much more than some disinterested third party, or some third party in whom they were not interested, turning to Christianity.  So it may have been that he was thought too divisive.  His life was in danger wherever he went in the land.  They sought to kill him in Jerusalem.  They sought to kill him in Damascus.  And therefore, it may have been that he was sent back to Tarsus for a period of time in order to allow that situation to die down a bit.

The New Testament gives us a few hints that Paul also did some evangelistic work while he was in Tarsus and Cilicia, though it is not recorded in the book of Acts.

1)       Acts 15:23 and Acts 15:41 – After the Jerusalem council, they wrote a letter to send out to all of the churches.  The letter was addressed to the brethren “who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia.”  Now, notice that, Syria and Cilicia, now Tarsus was in Cilicia.  So evidently there were brethren there.  Now, we will assume that perhaps the apostle is responsible for the brethren being there in Tarsus.  Then in verse 41, after Paul’s break with Barnabas and choosing to go out with Silas, we are told that “he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.”  These churches were already there, in that very region where Paul had spent several years.

 So there were churches in Syria and there were church in Cilicia.  So we can just imagine that the apostle, even though he was confined to Tarsus, was not inactive.  He was busy in that particular area preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ and assisting in the formation of churches.  And that’s part of the silent period of the apostle’s life.  It would be very interesting to hear exactly what had transpired with the apostle during those years.  I presume that when we get to heaven, this is one of the things that we shall hear about.  We will be brought up-to-date concerning the activities of the saints not recorded in the word of God, and not found also in the histories that have been written of the Christian church since that time.

2)    2 Corinthians 11:22-33 – In this well-known passage Paul describes his sufferings to the Corinthians, in the process of defending his ministry to them. Here he tells of experiences not recorded in the book of Acts, and we can note that “the apostle evidently had a lot of experiences that caused him to be beaten”: the five times that he received the 40 stripes less 1 from the Jews, and three times beaten with rods.  Three times that he was shipwrecked, but the book of Acts only tells us of one such time.

‘A night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren.’  There’s no need to read the whole list.  You can see the apostle had many Christian experiences that are not recorded in the Book of Acts nor found in his epistles.  So he must have had a rather rich experience over that period of time in Tarsus.

 

 

Priscilla: Women Teaching Outside the Church — S. Lewis Johnson Observations

February 20, 2013 5 comments

Sharing some great observations from S. Lewis Johnson, concerning a topic relevant today: the role of women in instructing others, including men, outside of the church.  Since our modern-day world includes many opportunities not only for face-to-face but also “virtual” online conversations (in online groups, blog comments, facebook posts, etc.), this issue still comes up from time to time.

So for future reference, here are S. Lewis Johnson’s observations concerning Priscilla’s role in Acts.

First, a character description from SLJ’s Acts series:

Most Bible students, however, believe that Priscilla is mentioned more frequently before Aquila, because of the fact that she evidently was a very well instructed woman in the doctrines of the word of God.  And, later on, in this very chapter, we shall see some evidence of it.

Concerning Priscilla’s role in teaching:

And so we read, “And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.”  Now, the woman did part of that exposition, too.  And incidentally if you will look at this in the Greek text, my Authorized Version here has the order Aquila and Priscilla, but the Greek text at this point in verse 26 reads that Priscilla and Aquila took him to themselves and taught him the way of the Lord more accurately.  So the implication from that, it’s only an implication, is that she took the lead.  And I’m willing to agree that when they got in the house she did more of the talking than Aquila [Laughter].  I will not debate that at all.  So I am willing to believe that she probably did take the lead.  And part of the effectiveness of this man Apollos was because Priscilla, who was instructed in the word of God, taught him more perfectly the things of the Lord.  The apostle says nothing about that in 1 Timothy chapter 2.  He talks about teaching in the church.  So ladies, the field is open outside the church.  Go ahead and pick on some of these fellows that don’t understand the doctrines of the sovereignty of God like they ought to, and instruct them in the great doctrines of the faith.  Do it, I need your help.  So do it.

The Four Types of People: Teachings from Paul and the Author of Hebrews

October 27, 2011 Leave a comment

From a study through Hebrews with S. Lewis Johnson

The Bible identifies four types of individuals:

  • The Natural Man (1 Corinthians 2:14) — “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
  • The Carnal — Babe, or Carnal-Weak (1 Corinthians 2 and 3) — the way every Christian begins, when converted.  These may partake of milk, but cannot take meat.
  • The Carnal-Willful, as contrasted with the Carnal-Babe.  These are characterized by the carnality of persisting in failure to respond to the word of God.  Their spiritual growth has stalled.  Paul mentions these in 1 Corinthians 3:2-3 — “And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh.”  The writer of Hebrews also addresses these, in Hebrews 5:12-13:   For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.
  • Mature Christian:  the spiritually-growing believer, who can eat meat instead of milk, as described in Hebrews 5:14 — “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”

A few more observations from Hebrews 5:11-6:12

The elementary principles listed in Hebrews 6:1-2 are from Judaism (not basics of Christianity).  The descriptions, especially in the KJV term “baptisms”, sound like they could refer to basic Christianity, but all were part of Judaism, which the readers of Hebrews were familiar with.

A translation point concerning Hebrews 6:6:  the correct understanding of this passage, which starts in verse 4, is not “if they fall away” but “and then have fallen away.”  Most modern translations, such as the ESV, NASB and HCSB, translate this correctly.  This does give a different understanding than the KJV and NIV rendering “if they fall away.”  We are to best understand the passage as describing the characteristics of these people:  they have once been enlightened, they have tasted the heavenly gift, they have shared in the Holy Spirit, they have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come — AND they have already fallen away.

Hebrews 6:3 includes the interesting words “if God permits.”  We will go on, past the “elementary principles,” to maturity:  if God permits.  We learn here of the condition that God will not permit:  that condition described in Hebrews 6:4-6, that of apostasy from a profession of faith.

S. Lewis Johnson Teachings

March 31, 2010 1 comment

Here is a brief excerpt from the first message in S. Lewis Johnson’s “Life of David” series, an 8-part series he taught in the late 1970s.  He did this series at the same time as the Genesis series, which he makes reference to.  He had recently preached through the section on Esau and Jacob, as here he likens Saul to Esau, the more likeable guy that we could relate to  — in contrast to Jacob and David.  Johnson also makes reference to the Dallas Cowboys’ Roger Staubach.

It’s possible that a man like Abraham excelled David in faith because when we think of Abraham we think of the great exemplar of faith.  He was the great man of faith, and he is the one who is used as the illustration of faith in the New Testament.  Probably Elijah excelled him in forcefulness because Elijah was the prophet of fire, and no doubt some could make a good case for Moses excelling him in communion with the Lord.  But when you look at David as a versatile man, it’s probably doubtful that any of these men excelled David in versatility for he was a man who had numerous talents and gifts given him by God.  He was a man of faith.  He was a forceful man.  He was a warrior.  He also was a man who spent a great deal of time in fellowship and communion with the Lord.  And so he’s a well rounded man of God.

From S. Lewis Johnson’s Acts series, Acts 21, on the matter of Paul’s attitude towards the Mosaic law:

To put it in the words of one of the finest New Testament commentators, “A truly emancipated spirit, such as Paul’s is not in bondage to its own emancipation.”  We are free to put ourselves under law, for a particular reason, Paul says.  But that doesn’t mean that we are not free.  We are free.  We are free to be under the law.  We are free from the law, or we are free for the exercise of the law upon occasion.

But, now, when it comes to the gospel that’s a different matter.  If, for example, our action of being under law compromises the principle of grace, then the apostle will not submit to a legal requirement.  And the finest illustration of this is the passage in Galatians chapter 2, and Titus’ circumcision.  Timothy is desired to be circumcised, in order that they might have ministry and freedom of it.  But in Titus’ case, where the issue was circumcision as a means of salvation, listen to what Paul says about that.

Galatians 2, verse 1, “Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also.  And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them, which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain.  But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised:  And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage.”