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Study on Baptism (Review: J.V. Fesko’s Word, Water, and Spirit)

July 18, 2020 Leave a comment

A book I’ve seen recommended in online discussions, Word, Water, and Spirit: A Reformed Perspective on Baptism, by J.V. Fesko, is one that I have found very helpful and informative.  Its three sections cover a lot of historical theology as well as review of many scriptures and scripture themes related to the sacraments and especially baptism, and development of redemptive-historical/biblical theology of baptism, with exposition of New Testament passages such as 1 Corinthians 10:1-4 and 1 Peter 3:20-21.

The overall style is more scholarly and sometimes repetitive — yet the repetition, and frequent use of ‘in other words’ with a restatement in simpler words, assist the understanding.  The history section seemed too lengthy, with more details than I wanted, though the early history along with the section on the Anabaptist history were more interesting.  The chapters in parts II and III were well-written and helpful, a series of expositions on several biblical texts–and relating all the separate parts to the overall narrative flow of scripture, the covenants, and the continuity of the main themes in God’s word.  From the entirety of it, I now have a much clearer understanding of the different views such as the medieval baptismal regeneration and infusion of grace, and the different emphases and nuances of the Reformers regarding the sacraments, the roles of the sacraments along with the written Word, and the idea of the blessing and judgment “double-edged sword” sides regarding the benefits (to the true, invisible church of believers) versus judgments (to the professing but false visible-only church) within the overall covenant community.  As a scholarly-type work, Word, Water, and Spirit includes copious footnote references, and Fesko interacts with the views of past theologians including Luther, Calvin, Zacharias Ursinus (who wrote a Heidelberg Catechism commentary, which I am also reading through this year in calendar-week sequence), explaining where he agrees or disagrees with them.

One section addressed a question/comment from someone who had made a comparison between John the Baptist’s baptism and the later New Testament Christian baptism, wondering what type of participants (individuals vs families) were involved in each.  While a common idea is that Christ instituted baptism by His example of being baptized by John, Fesko contends that Christ instituted baptism in the Great Commission and not in His submission to John’s baptism.

Three key differences noted here:

  1. The redemptive-historical timeframe for John’s ministry: This baptism was not a perpetual rite for Israel but a special sign for that terminal generation  John’s baptism epitomized the particular crisis in covenant history represented by John’s mission as the messenger bearing the Lord’s ultimatum.
  2. John’s ministry was preparatory for the ministry of Christ; his baptism was also preparatory.
  3. John’s baptism was one of repentance, whereas the baptism instituted by Jesus was to be administered in the name of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Fesko asserts that there is no textual support for Calvin’s claim that John baptized “into the name of Christ.”

Fesko here focuses on the typical (John’s baptismal ministry) and its fulfillment—Christ and the outpouring of the Spirit, as well as the significance of baptism into a name:  the triune God name (also referenced in the shortened form baptized into the name of Jesus, in some instances in the book of Acts), also Paul’s reference in 1 Corinthians that the people were not baptized into his name, the name of Paul (1 Corinthians 1:13-15)

The book is comprehensive, considering many different scriptures and views, and even provides brief treatment (a full chapter) on the issue of paedocommunion, outlining the main scriptures against this idea.  Another book I’ve received (free from a book drawing) and hope to read soon, Cornelis Venema’s Children at the Lord’s Table?, addresses that topic in more depth.  It was interesting to read here, though, of the parallel between the Lord’s Supper and Exodus 24 (not Exodus 12)– The Passover was not an end in itself, but pointed to the covenantal goal of Exodus 24, worshipping and fellowshiping in God’s presence.

Finally, one more interesting thing I liked is that the author consistently and correctly used the scriptural term “last Adam,” rather than the frequent variation of “second Adam.”  As S. Lewis Johnson liked to point out, the scriptural terms Paul used are “the last Adam, and the second man.”  Johnson mentioned one of his teachers, perhaps Chafer, who had added his notes in a book he owned, that it’s “not the second Adam, but the last Adam.” SLJ then pointed out that the term “second Adam” would imply that a third could come along–no, Christ is the last Adam.  Yet I’ve seen it too often in current-day Christian books and articles, the mixing of terms to say “second Adam” rather than “last Adam/second man.”

Overall, Word, Water, and Spirit is a thorough and informative reference work, addressing many scriptures from the Old and New Testament along with historical theology and the views of many theologians down through church history.

 

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 Center of Biblical Theology: Including the Wisdom Books

April 22, 2014 Leave a comment

Going through James Hamilton’s God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment, the central theme is obvious enough within the Law and Prophets: the Pentateuch, then Joshua-Judges-Samuel-Kings, and the major and minor prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, plus the twelve minor). As Hamilton observes, though, previous attempts to describe a central theme of biblical theology did not include the wisdom books.

So here, after considering the previous scholarship regarding a biblical center of theology and the commentators who could not “fit” a central theme throughout scripture that works with the wisdom books (especially Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes), God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment includes a good theme-study through the book of Psalms, along with interesting details concerning how we approach reading the wisdom books in their context within the Old Testament canon of the law and prophets.

The fear of God so prominent in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes is informed by the holiness of Yahweh that breaks out against transgressors such as Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10). The voice of wisdom that cries out from these books is not spouting philosophical speculation on right and wrong; it is the song of a holy siren, wooing readers to return to the Law (Torah) and the Prophets. For instance, Proverbs 29:18 proclaims, ‘Where there is no vision the people are let loose, but as for the one who keeps the law, blessed is he.’ The word rendered ‘vision’ is a term often used to describe the visions of the prophets…. Disregarding the visions of the prophets is like walking blindly toward a precipice, but the danger is not an abstract fall from an impersonal height. Rather, the danger lies in defiling the holy God by transgressing his boundaries. Yahweh is a God of justice, and “the ways of a man are before the eyes of Yahweh, and all his paths he observes” (Prov. 5:21). The fear of judgment leads to salvation.7

Hamilton includes many details concerning specific psalms within each section, within this overall summary approach to the Psalms and its five “books” (sections).

Psalm 1 and 2 set forth the two main points which are followed throughout the rest of book 1: emphasis on the Torah and the inward life (Psalm 1), along with focus on the Messiah King and the external threats and enemies to defeat (Psalm 2). The rest of book 1 (Psalms 1-41) centers on these points, highlighting the afflictions faced by the Messiah (in type: David), which are the sufferings through which he will enter his glory.

Book 2:  Psalms 42-72. Salvation comes through judgment to God’s glory, through the agency of the Messiah, son of David, king in Jerusalem.  This section occurs during the time period of 2 Samuel 7-10, the time of David’s power growing, through his conquering and expanding. Then comes David’s sin with Bathsheba (Ps. 51) followed by more affliction and opposition.

Book 3:  Psalms 73-89.  These psalms concern the era of Solomon and the subsequent kings in the Davidic line. Here we have expressions of the hope of the world, intermingled with anticipations of judgment day. At the close of this section, judgment has fallen — but hope has not died.

Book 4:  Psalms 90-106. Here are expressions of faith while in exile.  This section has a “Moses dimension,” with Moses named 7 times in book 4; Moses is only mentioned once outside of this section. Hope grows stronger, and the future hope is built on the foundation of what God has done in history: from creation (Psalm 104), through the covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to Joseph, then Moses and Exodus. (Psalms 105-106). The future hope is placed on Yahweh’s history of glorifying himself in salvation through judgment.

Book 5: Psalms 107-150. These psalms begin with the return from exile as already accomplished. This section especially features the eschatological triumph of Yahweh through the conquering Davidic king. The new exodus and return from exile begin through the agency of the Messiah.

 

 

God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: The Commentary Within the Old Testament

April 2, 2014 3 comments

James Hamilton’s God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment reads as an overview commentary on the whole Bible, from beginning to end, with the Old Testament in its original Hebrew sequence. Along the way, many parallels are brought out, as we see that parts of the Old Testament act as commentary on other sections. Thus far I have read through the Torah, the former prophets, and some of the Latter Prophets section — the Pentateuch books, then Joshua through Kings (excluding Ruth); then Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the twelve (minor prophets books).

A few interesting points here, showing how later Old Testament books provide commentary on other sections.

The Former Prophets comment on the Torah. Example: the book of Kings (1 Kings and 2 Kings)

In order to understand Kings, however, readers must be aware of the terms of the covenant in order to see the justification for the visitation of the curses of the covenant. It seems that what the author of Kings has chosen to include is largely informed by the teaching of Torah, such that while the law of the king in Deuteronomy 17:14–20 is not overtly mentioned, 1 Kings 10:14–11:8 shows Solomon breaking these laws point for point (horses, wives, excessive silver and gold, disregard for the Torah he was to copy and keep).

The latter prophets likewise “provide an explanatory commentary on the narrative story line of the Torah and the Former Prophets.” As for instance, the early chapters of Jeremiah

depict the exodus from Egypt and the covenant at Sinai as a wedding between Yahweh and his virgin bride, Israel (Jer. 2:2; cf. Hos. 2:17–18, ET 15–16). While a virgin bride’s memories of the glory of the wedding day would keep her faithful to her husband, Israel has forgotten Yahweh “days without number” (Jer. 2:32). Jeremiah calls the people to repent of their spiritual adultery. The horror of covenant infidelity, forsaking Yahweh and turning to idols (1:16), should be recognized by the fruit it will bear.

Hamilton’s book should be interesting as it looks at the later Writings section (I haven’t read that far yet). From my own genre reading, one or two chapters each day from several sections of the Bible — and reading the Old Testament according to the original Hebrew section, the same order Hamilton prefers — I have noticed similar commentary, in the later Writings section, upon both the Torah and the Latter Prophets. Why does Nehemiah make such emphasis upon closing the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath, even turning away those who show up at the gates on the Sabbath and threatening physical force against them if they do it again (Nehemiah 13:15-21). Jeremiah 17 describes the very same scenario – in reverse. Jeremiah exhorted the people, (verse 21) “Thus says the Lord: Take care for the sake of your lives, and do not bear a burden on the Sabbath day or bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem,” promising (verses 24 -27) “But if you listen to me, declares the Lord, and bring in no burden by the gates of this city on the Sabbath day, but keep the Sabbath day holy and do no work on it, 25 then there shall enter by the gates of this city kings and princes who sit on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their officials, the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And this city shall be inhabited forever.But if you do not listen to me, to keep the Sabbath day holy, and not to bear a burden and enter by the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath day, then I will kindle a fire in its gates, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem and shall not be quenched.’”  Nehemiah alludes to what the people had done in the days before the exile, a later “commentary” upon Jeremiah 17:19-23.

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.