Bread and Generalizations

Several issues need to be addressed before moving on. Doug’s post is here.

First up is whether my position is paedo-communion, of the so-called “soft” variety. Ultimately, I would have to say yes, but that would need some qualification. I do not think that most 6-year-olds would be able to understand the significance of the Lord’s Supper. Maybe I have seen too many modern-day public school educated 6-year-olds. My daughter is 5 and nowhere near ready, in my opinion, and she will not be publicly educated, at least for the first grades. In fact, to my knowledge, she hasn’t even asked about what the bread and the wine mean yet. We’re still working on what Jesus Christ means, and His sacrifice. After that, we’ll move on to the physical sign He has given us of His Person and work.

The second issue is the comma in the text of 1 Corinthians 10:17. Of course the comma was not original to the Greek text. I was not seeking to make a theological point about it, but rather seeking to explain why modern translations read differently than the KJV and NKJV. The exegetical question is whether the phrase “for/because/that (there is) one bread/loaf” is a subordinate clause to the rest of the sentence, as the more modern translations interpret it, or whether it is actually part of the predicate, as the KJV/NKJV translates it. In other words, should the translation be “because there is one loaf, we (though many) are one body,” thus making the loaf a point of analogy with the church? Or should it be translated as the KJV has it “For we being many are one bread and one body,” thus making the bread a description of the people themselves? Several points need to be made. First of all, as Fee notes (p. 469 of his commentary), there is a chiasm with the mention of bread, many, all, bread. On the KJV reading, this chiasm would not exist, since the A and B would be reversed in word order for good English translation. Second point: the preposition “out of” (Greek “ek”) should not be read as saying that we are out of one bread, but rather that we share out of one loaf. Fee notes that it is a Hebraism, and should be translated “all eat from the one loaf” (p. 470, n. 35). Fitzmyer disputes the KJV translation as well (via rejecting Conzelmann’s interpretation), arguing that “that is not what Paul has written, because we are not ‘one bread.’ The ‘one bread,’ of which we partake makes us ‘one'; it unifies us” (p. 391). Thiselton has reminded us of Meyer’s caution that “the unity of the bread [is understood] not numerically…but qualitatively,” and that “The meaning is more likely to spring from the generic oneness of bread as “one kind of thing” (p. 770). Thiselton acknowledges the other translation immediately after, but seems to dismiss it. The ESV and NIV seem, on the whole, better translations, as they show the chiasm clearly.

Thirdly, I note that Doug has not engaged whatsoever Venema’s argument that 11:27 involves a broadening of perspective to include not just the particular abuse that some of the Corinthians had, but rather to delineate how anyone ought to observe the Lord’s Supper. Even if Doug’s reading of 10:17 is correct, then, it falls to the ground when one realizes that it comes before 11:27.

What Does It Mean to Be Bread?

Doug has responded to my response in this post. A couple of thoughts are in order.

Firstly, I would like to ask what Doug means when he says that all those who are bread should get bread? I thought Jesus was the bread of life. I don’t ever remember seeing a passage where we are described as bread. There are lots of passages that describe how we should eat. Some clarification here would be helpful.

My guess is that the debate will have to keep circling around 1 Corinthians 11 in spite of the fact that it is Venema’s last chapter in the book. The argument concerning the nature of the examination is a very important point. Doug asks the question this way: “what are they to be looking for as they conduct the examination? The entire context of this passage has to do with the quarrelsome factiousness of the Corinthian church, and nothing directly to do with their cognitive understanding of the Gospel.'” In Venema’s book, he deals with this interpretation on pp. 104-107 in terms of description, and pp. 117-122 by way of critique and positive exegesis of the passage. The short answer is that there is a shift in verse 27 from a focus on particular abuses (such as the divisions in the body) to a focus on a more general application of how the Supper is to be taken. Grammatical indicators are the shift from second person plural (“You all”) in vv. 17-20,22 to a third person perspective (“whoever” (v. 27), “a man” (v. 28), and “he” (v. 29)). As Venema puts it, “Thought the apostle began his treatment of the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11 with a description of the inappropriate behavior of some members of the Corinthian church, he now moves to a series of general instructions that apply to all members of the covenant community” (p. 117, emphasis original; also ibid. for the above grammatical argumentation). This is certainly Calvin’s interpretation as well (see commentary on 1 Cor, p. 385, modern translation, p. 251).

Why Theonomy Is Biblically-Theologically Wrong

I am going to post a few things on why I think theonomy does not do justice to the biblical theology of Scripture. Included will be several exegetical posts on various passages as well as more general biblical-theological directions.

First, let’s be clear about our terms. Theonomy may be defined as a theological viewpoint which sees the Old Testament civil laws as applicable in today’s government. It is NOT a viewpoint which sees the Old Testament ceremonial laws or the sacrificial system as still in force. This is often confused in people’s minds. The word itself comes from two Greek words: theos, which means “God,” and nomos, which means “law.” Theonomists utterly oppose any attempt for man to make up law for himself. As such, it is opposed to autonomy (self-law). It is also opposed to the two kingdoms approach of many Reformed folk today.

Now, I have to lay down a qualification first. The qualification is that I do agree with theonomists on many points. For instance, I do not believe that the general structure of human law should be autonomous. I believe that God has given the moral law in nature, not only in Scripture. This is proven in Scripture in Romans 2:12-16. Now, it is important to exegete this passage properly. The phrase “without the law” does not mean “destitute of law” but rather it means that the Gentiles did not have the law delivered to them on Sinai. Verse 14 clarifies what Paul means: Gentiles have a law unto themselves. This does NOT mean autonomy, but rather the moral law written on their hearts, as verse 15 explicitly says. The Westminster Confession of Faith gets at this when it says that the moral law was given to Adam as a covenant of works. If it was given to Adam, then it was given to all humanity. This is the concept of natural law. It is plain, then, that if a Gentile nation, having not the law as delivered on Sinai, yet rules itself according to many of the same principles as the Ten Commandments, then we can be sure that they are governing themselves according to the moral law as imprinted on the human heart, or natural law.

With that qualification out of the way, we can now look at the trajectory of biblical-theological development from Old Testament to New Testament, and we may come to this very important conclusion: the trajectory of Old Testament Israel does not direct us to modern day governments, but to the church. Now, presumably, many theonomists would claim that the trajectory goes from Old Testament Israel to the church and to modern-day government, whereas critics would say that modern-day governments are not included. Let’s look at a few passages to test this.

First up is the Gospel of Matthew. The Gospel of Matthew is rather clear (at least most scholars today have noted this feature) that Jesus relives Israel’s story. As Israel went down to Egypt, so Jesus went down to Egypt. As Israel was brought out of Egypt, so Jesus was called out of Egypt (see Matthew 2:15, quoting Hosea 11:1. Now the context of Hosea makes it quite clear that God is speaking about Israel. And yet Matthew uses the verse to refer to Jesus. How can this be on any other theory than that Jesus is the new Israel? Furthermore, as Israel was tempted 40 years in the wilderness, so Jesus was tempted 40 days in the wilderness (Matthew 4). As Israel came into the Promised Land led by Joshua (the Old Testament form of the name Jesus), so also Jesus leads the church into the new heavens and the new earth. In other words, Jesus is the way in which anyone has to be part of Israel. It is not outside of Jesus, but inside Jesus that we are now the faithful children of Abraham (as Galatians 3:9 makes clear).

Second up is Galatians 6:16. Now, much ink has been spilled over the question of how the word “and” is to be interpreted. If the word means “in addition to,” then the passage supports dispensationalism, as the Israel of God is a separate group from the “them” earlier in the verse. However, the word here almost certainly is epexegetical, which would be translated like this: “them, that is, upon the Israel of God.” In other words, on this interpretation, the Israel of God is the same group as the “them” earlier in the verse. Given the added testimony of 3:7 and 3:29, as well as the way in which he has been speaking about the “Jerusalem above” in 4:26-27, it seems clear that Paul does not have two groups in mind, but rather one. The people of faith are the true children of Abraham.

In other words, Jesus Christ is the apex of the trajectory of Old Testament Israel, and the church is in Christ. Therefore, it does not make sense to say that modern-day governments should run themselves according to principles that were given to Old Testament Israel as Old Testament Israel. Now, the theonomist will probably reply that the civil law of Old Testament Israel is of a piece with and is the outworking of the moral law given in the Ten Commandments. True, it is. But it is an outworking of the Ten Commandments for a particular place and people. The same principles apply in different ways in the church today. After all, as the result of the biblical-theological argumentation provided above, the principles of Old Testament Israel’s civil law ought to apply to the church today (by the arguments of theonomy) just as much as to the government. And I would agree, as long as we are talking about general equity. And yet the principles in the New Testament for church government say nothing of the sword. Instead, the weapons are spiritual, for we fight not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual enemies. Ephesians 6, by the way, is one reason why I believe the application of Old Testament Israel’s holy wars draws a straight line to spiritual warfare today in the church.

Lastly, there is nothing in Romans 13 that cannot be explained on the basis of natural law as explained above. The civil magistrate is there to punish evil. He is ordained by God to do that. The moral law has been implanted on his heart. Therefore, he should be a terror to those who do evil. However, it is not the civil magistrate’s job to execute a boy for cursing his parents (as was true in the Old Testament civil laws). It is the church’s job to instruct and to exercise church discipline. Nowhere in the New Testament does any writer say that the civil government is to rule itself according to Old Testament Israel’s civil law. Rather, every time the civil government is mentioned, it is in connection to the natural moral law.

Strict or Soft?

Doug has posted his first response to Venema here. What follows will involve a certain amount of guesswork. I am going to venture to speak for Dr. Venema a bit.

Doug asks whether his practice would fall under Venema’s soft or strict definition of paedo-communion. Doug says that his church would admit a 1-year old that has noticed that he is being passed by. I am fairly certain that Venema would call this a “strict” view for the following reasons. Venema defines the “soft” view as the “admission of children to the Lord’s Supper only at an earlier age than is customary among many Reformed churches (middle to late adolescence)” (pp. 2-3). I am quite certain that a 1-year old does not qualify as an adolescent in any sense of the term. I acknowledge that Doug has an emphasis on teaching the children what the Supper means. In another post of Doug’s on the subject, he says the following:

Young children should have the Supper explained to them by their parents in each observance of the Supper, and they should be able to attend to what is said. Please note that we are not requiring that little children be able to explain the Supper before they may partake. They are recipients; they have the Supper explained to them. We feed them the bread and wine in much the same way we begin speaking English to our children when they first arrive in our homes — not because they understand it, but rather so that they might come to understand it. It is similar here. We are not asking for anything to arise in the child or manifest itself before he is qualified to receive. He is receiving and learning, not giving and teaching.

The difference between Doug’s view and what Venema calls the “soft” view comes down to this: A credible profession of faith is not required in Doug’s view or is considerably modified in such a way that the child need not be able to articulate a clear understanding of what the Gospel is. Indeed, a child need not be able to talk at all (most 1-year olds cannot). What Venema calls the soft view clearly requires “a simple but credible profession of the Christian faith” (p. 3). I should lay my cards on the table, by the way. I would say that a child ought to be taught the catechism and therefore have a clear grasp of what the Gospel is, and he has been saved. That can happen at age 6 for some really bright kids, age 9 for normal kids, and age 12 for somewhat slow kids. It depends on the kid. When they can articulate a clear understanding of the Gospel, and can therefore grasp (and is taught!) what the Supper means, that child may be received into communicant membership.

I agree with Doug, then, that there is a very problematic practice of holding children back unnecessarily because there is some idea that they cannot articulate the Gospel until age 16, or whenever it is. We need (in my opinion) to avoid two extremes. One is in looking for any indication whatsoever and reading into it that the child is saved and should therefore participate; and, on the other hand, doubting a clear articulation of the Gospel simply because of the child’s age.

One should note, here, that Venema’s goal is not to address the problem of keeping legitimate children from the Table. It is rather to guard the Table from those who are not ready yet. One could argue, I suppose, that dealing with that issue in greater depth would give Venema greater credibility. However, it is still not the question that Venema has set out to address. Therefore, I do not believe that it should be an obstacle in being convinced by Venema’s arguments elsewhere.

The Relationship of Moses to Adam

A new book has come out which seeks to clarify the strand of the Reformed tradition that sees republication of the covenant of works in the Mosaic economy. It is a collection of essays divided into historical, exegetical, and systematic categories. This book is timely for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the vast amount of confusion I have seen on the internet and in the literature concerning the republication thesis. No one seems to have the foggiest idea what is supposed in this thesis. Just to take one example concerning the relation of the Mosaic economy to the covenant of grace in the republication thesis:

First, to affirm that in some sense the covenant of works is republished at Sinai is not to say that there is a different way of salvation in the Old Testament from the New. The doctrine of republication is not in any way dispensationalism. Advocates of republication universally affirm that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, and that the gospel was in operation from the instant of man’s fall. Secondly, to affirm the doctrine of republication does not entail the view that the Mosaic covenant is not part of the covenant of grace (p. 14).

Indeed. This is something that opponents of republication cannot seem to get their head around. That there is a two-fold relation (as Turretin would put it) of the Mosaic to the CoW and to the CoG seems impossible to many. They might even claim that republication mixes law and gospel. Careful readers of this book will hopefully have such erroneous conceptions dispelled.

The first section contains historical articles by John Fesko, Darryl Hart, and Brenton Ferry. Fesko talks about Calvin and Witsius, Hart about Princeton, and Ferry about all the various views that have been promulgated on republication.

The second section has articles by Bryan Estelle on Leviticus 18:5 and Deut 30:1-14, Richard Belcher on the Psalms, Byron Curtis on Hosea 6:7, Guy Waters on Romans 10:5, T. David Gordon on Galatians 3:6-14, and S.M. Baugh on Galatians 5:1-6.

The third section has two theological articles, one by David Van Drunen on the natural law as related to the works principle, and one by Michael Horton on Christ’s total obedience to the law.

I felt that all the articles were competent, and addressed the topic well. For me, the most striking article was T. David Gordon’s article on Galatians 3:6-14. He exegetes the passage extremely well, and finds five ways in which the Sinaitic covenant differs in kind from the Abrahamic as Pauline exegesis (Sinai excludes Gentiles, whereas Abrahamic includes them; Sinai curses, whereas Abrahamic blesses; Sinai is characterized by works of the law, whereas Abrahamic is characterized by grace; Sinai does not justify, whereas the Abrahamic does; and Paul refers to Sinai as ‘law,’ whereas Abrahamic is described as ‘promise.’). Now, his discussion is only summarized this way. His actual argumentation, and the qualifications he puts on these five differences are extremely important. Equally convincing is the response he gives to those who argue that Paul is merely putting down a misinterpretation of the law. Paul is doing no such thing. This is evident in Gordon’s discussion of the translation issue concerning the gratuitous addition of the words “rely on” in many modern translations of Galatians 3:10. He says:

Such a gratuitous error is difficult to account for apart from sheer theological prejudice, a sheer unwillingness to grant that Paul is here speaking of the covenant-administration given at Sinai itslef, not some later, alleged Jewish perversion thereof (p. 245).

In other words, in Galatians 3:10, Paul is not rejecting a perverse “relying on” the works of the law, but rather is showing us that those who are of the works of the law, in that works covenant, are cursed. This, of course, has to be balanced with other descriptions of Sinai as part of the Covenant of grace. Gordon’s target in all this is John Murray’s wholesale recasting of covenant theology in a monocovenantal mode. Gordon argues convincingly that monocovenantal views cannot read Galatians properly.

The book as a whole is well-written. Certainly, many will disagree with some or all of the book. But it is a very important contribution to the discussion.

An Introduction to the Paedo Communion Debate

As promised, this is the first installment of the debate on paedo-communion. The book that is to be the basis of our debate is now available, for those who wish to read the chapters for themselves. It may be a little while before Doug has a chance to respond. I am not sure where he is in the reading of the book.

First up are a couple of disclaimers and distinctions (which is, of course, the main business of Reformed theologians, isn’t it? Isn’t it? Hey, where are you all going?). First of all, this debate is not a continuation of the Federal Vision debate that I have concluded with Doug. Paedo-communion is a distinct, though related issue. The reason this disclaimer is important is that there are quite a few proponents of paedo-communion who have nothing to do with the Federal Vision, and there is at least one FV advocate (Steve Schlissel) who does not hold to paedo-communion. We must be clear on this point. The reaction of Reformed denominations is also important to remember here. While the Federal Vision has been repudiated by many denominations, paedo-communion still finds advocacy among some in Reformed denominations, though the practice has not been allowed. The impetus to discipline folks for holding to PC (which is hereafter my abbreviation for paedo-communion) is much less than for FV teachings, since it is generally recognized that, while contrary to the confessions, it is a less serious and central challenge to the confessions than the FV is.

On to Venema’s first chapter, which is an introduction to the question. He starts with noticing the way people put things. His example is the rhetorical question that is the title for Leithart’s book, Daddy, why was I excommunicated? He states that this title is “an answer masquerading as a question” (p. 1). Quite so. I am quite sure that Leithart intended the title to function that way. To Venema’s mind, this raises the question of the basis on which anyone should be allowed to the table. He summarizes the traditional position well:

Therefore, the only thing preventing such children, or any others, from coming to the Table is the absence of an appropriate response to the invitation. All believers who properly answer the “R.S.V.P.” that accompanies the overtures of God’s grace in Christ are welcome to come to the Lord’s Table.

At the beginning of any good book, the author defines his terms. Venema notes the importance of distinguishing between what he calls a “soft” view of PC, which holds that younger members of the covenant may participate upon a credible profession of faith, and a “strict” view, which believes that any child who is physically able to participate may do so.

It seems to me that Venema very fairly states the ultimate and summary argument of PC: “that there is only one basis for admission to the Table of the Lord, namely, membership in the covenant community” (p. 3). However, Venema is not willing to concede to PC the language of “covenant Communion.” This is because the historic view says that those who participate are covenant members. Therefore, “to treat these terms (Venema means ‘covenant communion’ and ‘credo-communion’, LK) as incompatible is another form of ‘begging the question'” (p. 4). With regard to the two distinct positions, Venema asserts that his focus will be on the “strict” view, delineated in the previous paragraph.

The rest of the chapter is a summary of the main lines of argumentation that PC advocates use. I assume that there is no particular order of importance to the number of the arguments (except that Venema seems to have intended to answer them in this order as well). Firstly, there is the historical argument, which says that PC only stopped because of the doctrine of transubstantiation (why have children spill the blood of God?). Secondly, that admission to the covenant is the only necessary basis for admission of children to the covenant. Thirdly, that the connection of the Lord’s Supper with the OT Passover (which supposedly admitted children to it) indicates that the recipients of both ordinances should be the same. Fourthly, a particular exegetical argument regarding 1 Cor 11, which argues that the chapter in question does not forbid children from the Table.

Update: Doug has emailed me saying that we can expect his first post on this subject around Tuesday of next week.

Kuyper Could Have Been Writing Today

I just finished reading Kuyper’s masterpiece, Principles of Sacred Theology. Of all the theological encyclopedias that I own, this one is by far the best, for Kuyper recognizes the fact that theology is truly an organism, not a compartmentalized series of specializations. Kuyper also recognized the importance of doing theology in the context of the church and in service to the church. Look at some of these quotations, which desperately need to be heeded today.

Without this sense of service (to the church and to the Holy Spirit, LK) all study becomes subjectivistic, unhistorical, and arrogant, while, on the contrary, the placing of oneself at the service of the truth, i.e. in this instance of the Holy Ghost, banishes all pride, curbs the desire to be interesting by exhibiting new discoveries, feeds the desire of theological fellowship, and thereby sharpens that historic sense which impels the theologian to join himself to that great work of the Holy Spirit effected in past ages, which at most he may help advance a few paces (p. 586).

No man is a theologian in a scientific sense unless he is also a partaker of personal enlightenment (Kuyper means regeneration here, LK) and spiritual experience. For, unless this is the case, his starting-point is wanting, and he has no contact with the principium of theology (Kuyper means Scripture as principium, LK). Neither can the theologian stand outside the church relation, and thus outside of personal union with the churchly confession, for then he finds himself outside the historic process (p. 590).

The theologian should not undervalue the confession of his Church, as if in it a mere opinion presented itself to him over against which, with equal if not with better right, he might place his opinion (emphasis original, p. 591).

A company charged with the public water-works may change the direction of some part of a river-bed by cutting off some needless bend or obstructive turn, but this does not render the company the original creator of the river who causes its waters to flow. In the same way, the scientific theologian may exert a corrective power here and there upon the confessional life of the Church, but this does not constitute him the man who sets this life in motion (p. 591).

It is not lawful, therefore, for him simply to slight this confessional life of the Church in order, while drifting on his own oars, to construct in his own way a new system of knowledge of God. He who undertakes to do this is bound in the end to see his labor stricken with unfruitfulness, or he destroys the churchly life, whose welfare his study ought to further (p. 592).

To be able, however, to accomplish this task, scientific theology must be entirely free in her movement. This, of course, does not imply license. Every study is bound by the nature of its object, and subjected to the laws that govern the activity of our consciousness. But this is so far from a limitation of its liberty, that its very liberty consists in being bound to these laws. The railway train is free, so long as the rails hold its wheels in their embrace. But it becomes unfree, works itself in the ground, and cannot go on as soon as the wheels jump the track (pp. 593-594).

Here is a parting question for my readers: how many theologians do you know that need to heed Kuyper’s words? I can think of dozens without even half trying.

Coming Soon to a Blog Near You

Doug Wilson and I have agreed on a formula for our debate on paedo-communion, which will be starting soon. We will both comment on a chapter of Venema’s new book on the subject, and then we will respond to each other. Look for it to start next week, most likely. Note that the book is scheduled for arrival at RHB on March 16. There is some confusion on the website, which also seems to say that the book is available today. Doug and I will delay starting the debate until people can have some time at least to have the book in their hands.

Further News on the Merger

Tullian notes that the elder boards of both churches (New City Church and Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church) have both agreed (unanimously!) on the merger. We need to be in prayer for both churches as they seek to merge that the Lord will use this for His glory. May the Lord’s purposes be clear at the congregational meeting where the final decision will be made.

Bernhardus De Moor Is Becoming Available!

I’m sure that many who read this blog have read part or all of Richard Muller’s Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics. In that work, Richard Muller describes Bernhardus De Moor as follows:

De Moor’s efforts did for late Reformed orthodoxy what the massive system of Quenstedt did for Lutheranism in the concluding years of the seventeenth century: the work was so exhaustive and so complete in its detail and bibliography that it virtually ended the development of Reformed doctrine in the form of orthodox system (volume 1, p. 83).

My friend Wes White has updated his Google bibliography, and I am happy to announce that four of the seven volumes of Bernhardus De Moor’s Commentarius Perpetuus in Johannis Marckii Compendium Theologiae Christianae Didactico-Elencticum (now there’s a mouthful of Latin!) are now available (volumes 4-7). Just follow the links on Wes’s website. It is only a matter of time before the first three volumes become available.

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