Jesus Wrote With His Finger

Posted by R. Fowler White

John 8:3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, 4 they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. 5 Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?” 6 They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. 7 But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9 Then they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court. 10 Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.” [NASU]

As we see above, the Evangelist reports that, when Jesus was responding to the accusers of the woman caught in adultery, He stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. … Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground (vv 6, 8). If you agree as I do with those who affirm the historicity of John 7:53–8:11 (even though ancient manuscripts and our English translations aren’t sure where it should appear in the NT text), we’ve all had to puzzle over those two statements in verses 6 and 8. We want to know, What did Jesus write with His finger?

Yes, there are texts in “the Law Moses commanded” (v 5) that applied to the woman and her accusers (e.g., Exod 23:1b; Lev 20:10; Deut 17:7; 22:22–24). It makes really good sense to say that those passages are at least relevant parts of this episode’s backdrop. Perhaps Jesus wrote out a quotation taken from among them. It remains, however, that the Evangelist tells us not one word of what Jesus wrote. So, we keep asking: since we’re not told what Jesus wrote, what is the narrator’s point? I have a suggestion, but it has to be only tentative since I haven’t found a presentation or defense of it yet in the commentaries (not least because they skip over the passage as inauthentic to the Gospel of John). If you have seen it somewhere (and especially if you’ve seen it developed better than it is here), please don’t hesitate to let us know.

I suggest that the Evangelist’s point is not what Jesus wrote, but that Jesus wrote and did so with His finger. The act itself might be seen, then, as an acted-out, unspoken reminder that “the Law Moses commanded” was written by the very finger of God (Exod 31:18; Deut 9:10). Yet further, the fact that Jesus wrote with His finger was arguably tantamount to saying, “That Law cited by you scribes and Pharisees? It was My finger that wrote it.” For the narrator, it was the act itself that was revealing. After all, in keeping with the unfolding historical-canonical context, that finger was the very finger of God incarnate. In that light, we readers can recognize in Jesus’ act a pointed disclosure of His identity as God the Son to whom God the Father has committed all judgment (John 5:22-23, 27). In reporting, therefore, that Jesus wrote on the ground with His finger, the Evangelist wants his readers to know that Jesus is the Judge who frames His declarations and His questions to bring conviction of sin, to stir the conscience. His is the word that discerns the thoughts and intentions of the heart, not just to punish but also to seek and save that which is lost. Writing on the ground with His finger, Jesus made known that He is the Judge who will punish or pardon all who appear before Him (cf. John 5:28-29), whether they appear as offenders, like this woman caught in adultery, or as accusers, like these scribes and Pharisees, who in passing judgment on others condemned themselves. 

One Race or Many? A Note on Acts 17:26

Posted by R. Fowler White

In Luke’s record of Paul’s sermon at the Areopagus in Acts 17:22-34, we read that Godmade from one man every nation of mankind” (Acts 17:26). From this passage and our current historical and socio-cultural context, some are drawing various inferences about the Bible’s use of the term race. For the purposes of this post, three points stand out to me.

First, in discussions about the term race and the Bible, the term itself is usually not defined, but, as talking and writing continue, it becomes reasonably clear from the term’s usage that it refers to distinct groupings of human beings based on inherited physical and behavioral differences, with those differences sometimes extending to include language, religion, or nationality. Turning to a Bible concordance, however, it doesn’t take long to realize that the Bible doesn’t use race in quite the way we do. That observation leads us to our next point.

Second, these days, some folks claim that the Bible speaks only about “the human race.” The Bible, however, does express the concept of “races” in its references to various subgroups (otherwise known as nations, peoples) descended from a common ancestor within the human race. Right there, in the trait of “descent from a common ancestor,” the Bible sharpens our understanding of the term races. What I mean is this: at the least, we have to acknowledge that God’s covenant-making acts with Abraham and his descendants created and preserved a specific group of descendants from Abraham through Jacob for His divine purpose (see, for example, Ezra 9:2; Acts 7:19; compare Rom 9:5; 11:14). Though God’s acts were certainly not motivated by any superiority of those particular Abrahamites, His acts did make Israel, as descendants from Abraham through Jacob, a race distinct from other races, such as those descended from Noah’s sons, from Lot, or from others (e.g., Mark 7:26). Of course, Bible believers who claim that it speaks only about “the human race” are trying to make the good point that, despite our ancestral differences, we are also united in the first man Adam. Still, it seems to me that denials that the Bible speaks of “races” amount to word games that don’t help us reach a common mind with others. We do better just to say what we mean: God our Creator made us all from one man, just as Paul said at the Areopagus.

Third, perhaps you’ve heard, as I have, the suggestion, implied or expressed, that the Jew/Gentile distinction in Scripture is an example of racism. Some would cite the narrative in Acts 10 to make their point. There, God met Peter with his (holy) desire to obey the (holy) laws of separation that He had formerly but temporarily established between Jews and Gentiles. In that teachable moment, God re-educated Peter as to how in Christ He had abolished those laws and had expanded the reach of the apostolic mission to include the formerly unclean Gentiles. Now it’s reasonable to imagine or infer that the corruption of the fallen human heart would have led some to interpret God’s laws in racist terms. My point, however, is that the Jew/Gentile distinction itself was not an example of racism, for it was God Himself, with whom there is no partiality (Acts 10:34-35), who had set up the distinction between the one holy race and the many other unholy races in the first place. Attempts, then, to find a modern parallel to racism in the distinction that God made between Jews and Gentiles are misguided and at odds with the teaching of Acts 10 and the rest of the Bible. In that light, we should reserve the “racist” label for corrupt interpretations of that distinction, born in the unholy phobias and prejudices of us sinners.

Well-intentioned but misinformed efforts to address racism from the Bible remind us how important “the whole counsel of God” is both to right interpretation and to right application of individual texts of Scripture. In our striving against injustice, let’s be sure to build parallels and lessons from the Bible to our day on the foundation of that counsel.

Critical Race Theory

Critical Race Theory (CRT) is something Christians are now starting to hear about (read: getting it stuffed down their throats at Mach 5). CRT is generally understood as the foundation for people’s understanding of “systemic racism.” To put it simply, CRT believes that “the system” is rigged in favor of white people. As Roy Brooks puts it (“Critical Race Theory: A Proposed Structure and Application to Federal Pleading”. Harvard BlackLetter Law Journal 11 (1994): 85ff.): “The question always lurking in the background of CRT is this: What would the legal landscape look like today if people of color were the decision-makers?” CRT is therefore primarily about power, as it is perceived to be unequally distributed. There is a lot more to CRT than that, but this is enough to be getting on with.

I read Bill Smith’s very interesting article on the subject this morning. Though I would have significant theological differences with Bill Smith in other areas of theology, I am in complete agreement with him on his analysis of CRT, and I want to highlight a couple of things he brings out. Firstly, it seems to me that CRT denies the possibility of change on the part of either blacks or whites. Not even God can change racism in a white person, according to CRT. No amount of apology or grovelling will suffice to make a white person woke enough to escape the racism that is endemic to his whiteness. Not even the gospel can bring forgiveness for this offence. This makes the inherent racism of white people worse than original sin, since original sin can be forgiven in the blood of Christ’s atonement. In fact, it makes racism an unforgivable sin period. I could be wrong, but I thought there was only one unforgivable sin, and that it had something to do with blaspheming the Holy Spirit, and not racism.

Secondly, the ethnic uniformity of whites, and of blacks, is emphasized in CRT to the exclusion of all individuality whatsoever. All blacks are oppressed. All whites are oppressors. This makes both groups incapable of moral agency, as Smith points out. Smith goes on to note that if moral agency is thus denied to blacks and whites, then so is the image of God denied to them. CRT thus dehumanizes both whites and blacks, contrary to the narrative of Scripture.

Lastly, and building on what I said above about power, it becomes obvious why statues of Ulysses Grant (a thorough abolitionist and friend to black people) are being torn down. All white power structures must go, even those which are historically kind to black people. According to CRT, justice will not be achieved until blacks have all the power, all the current systems are thrown down, and completely new ones put in their place by blacks in power. Only then will systemic justice be achieved (though see below). But this is to put one’s faith in princes. Justice is no longer in the hands of God at this point. It is in the change of power from whites to blacks. It can be questioned whether a simple power transfer would even be enough. I ask this question: will the payback (read revenge) be eternal? Blacks will, I think, find themselves in the position of Edmond Dantes, finding out, at the end, that revenge always goes too far.

Remembering Steve Hays

Posted by David Gadbois

The prolific Christian apologist and blogger Steve Hays died earlier this month. While most people probably knew him from his usual beat at Triablogue, he had a presence in the combox of this blog in earlier years, and often took the fight against unbelief to the “streets” of Facebook.

I always assumed I would meet Steve Hays in person, at some point. And sadly, I was wrong. Though he had been generous with his time in corresponding with me, as was the case with many other saints he corresponded with, he remained a faceless, online friend until the end. I literally did not even know what he looked like, although I imagine he must have seen pictures of me and my family on my Facebook profile. In any case, it was easy to recognize the intellectual firepower he had on deck, all guns blazing in defense of the Gospel. Tirelessly, ceaselessly. And for many years I had tried to take advantage and pick his brain on the tough subjects I was wrestling with, although there was no shortage of chat about lighter issues that we mutually found compelling.

He was certainly a strange duck. While he had a rare intellect, he never parlayed this into either a flashy or lucrative career. He was never a keynote speaker at whatever Reformed conference du jour. No public, oral debates. No Youtube clips of him lecturing. Apparently he wasn’t interested in any academic credentials beyond his M.A. He was never a professor. He was never even an elder or deacon at a church, at least the last time I asked him about it. And very little of his work was ever published in academic journals or dead-tree books, although he self-published e-books for free distribution. Non-stop blogging on Triablogue was his primary outlet, with a healthy smattering of Facebook debates on the side. And this was all semi-anonymous, he never used a picture of himself in his avatars. His posts were just marked with “Posted by steve”. Lower case “s”!

I can’t remember exactly when I started following Steve at Triablogue. From 1997-2002 I was earning my engineering degree, and providence led me to the Reformed faith, by means of multiple and sometimes unexpected channels, during these college years. Besides Berkhof’s Systematic Theology, I’d have to credit John Frame’s “Doctrine of the Knowledge of God” as one of the pivotal books that set my course from that point forward. Whenever I found Steve’s writings, it must have been a few years later, I realized I had found a kindred spirit whose theological and apologetic orientation dovetailed with my trajectory. As Steve was something of a Frame protege, he served as a helpful bridge out of the surreal Toon Town of pop-presuppositionalism and introduced me to thinkers like Greg Welty, James Anderson, and Paul Manata. There are many other fellow-travelers that I could mention that Steve introduced me to (or, for some, re-introduced me to), from many different fields and orientations: the whole staff of T-Blog, Jonathan McLatchie, the McGrews, Vern Poythress, Michael Kruger, C. John Collins, Richard Hess, and on and on.

As an engineer I really connected with the way Steve thought and wrote. The way he organized his thoughts and broke things down in a bullet point-like format. Exhaustive, yet clear and orderly. And this certainly influenced and improved my own writing. Again, I think we have John Frame to thank for this feature in his writings. His manner, at least in the printed word, was often rather curt, or abrupt. Again, as an engineer I sort of appreciated this, although it no doubt rubbed many others the wrong way. Part of this is that he didn’t believe in wasting time with verbal kid gloves for those whom he saw as culpable proponents of destructive falsehoods. There would be no quarter for those targets, rhetorically speaking.

Steve was like a nuclear reactor, pumping out daily content that was amazing, both in its quality and quantity. In contrast I felt more like the Drinking Bird toy that Homer Simpson employed, that nearly melted down the nuclear power plant. Comparatively, I’m just a “weekend warrior” apologist, but his tireless effort encouraged me to always stay in the fray, in whatever capacity I could.

He was wildly eclectic, in practice, in defending the Christian faith. While he was at his core, still some species of presuppositionalist, one would almost never know it from the diversity of approaches and tactics he employed. He borrowed freely from thinkers of any and all backgrounds; if it was a good argument, he wanted it in his arsenal.

His areas of apologetic interest were also also immensely diverse (he once mentioned that this was why he didn’t care to advance into a more specialized, advanced degree). Of course he covered the usual topics one would expect: defending the reliability of the Bible, the historicity of the resurrection, the deity of Christ, Calvinist soteriology, predestination, dealt with both proofs and objections to the existence of God (including many valuable points on the Problem of Evil), evolution/Intelligent Design, along with no small amount of ink tackling Roman Catholicism and various cults. My guess would be that atheism and Roman Catholicism were his biggest targets, if one were to go by cumulative word-count over the years. But he also addressed topics that were off the well-beaten path: modern miracles, philosophy of time, and paranormal phenomena. He was also interested in current events and the culture wars. And he always stayed abreast of the latest biblical commentaries.

To my knowledge Steve never married. As his parents both died before him, I dearly hope he had some extended family and church brethren to give him comfort and company in his final days. Apparently his fire never dimmed until the very end, I see that his final post was June 3rd, 2020, only 3 days before his death (a critique of various Roman Catholic apologists, it happens). I suppose for selfish reasons, I sure wish he had sought treatment for his maladies. Of course I was not privy to the trade-offs and probable outcomes of such treatment, so one can’t judge about those hard decisions. While it is hard to say that anyone who lives to 60 has been robbed of a full life, in our modern era it is still on the young side to die at this age. Sad, especially since he retained all his faculties and mental acuity, as evidenced in his final writings.

He never told me, nor most others, of his terminally failing health. I suspect there was, perhaps, an impish impulse on his part to just “ghost” all of us, in the urban dictionary sense. That is, to disappear without warning or salutation, so as to go unnoticed. I don’t think he wanted the sentimental attention, no matter how sincere and understandable. No, as long as he could still pound out a blog post on a keyboard, he was going to load up the big guns and send out a final volley or two. Like the gigantic, WW2-era battleships firing their 16″ cannons one last time on their way to mothball. It is quite clear that he wanted to make the most of the precious few, final days at his disposal. And my best guess is that he saw grief and pity from others, no matter how understandable and legitimate, as an inordinate tax on this quickly-diminishing share of time. That’s my best guess, anyway, knowing him in the limited capacity that I did.

I could say much more, especially concerning our e-mail correspondence. He provided personal encouragement and guidance at important junctures. Very recently, we talked about our mutual love of the use of boys choirs in sacred music. A few months back we had an interesting exchange on the recent UFO phenomena with Jason Engwer. His last direct e-mail to me was on April 19th, although he jumped into some Facebook conversations over the subsequent month. I’m actually not sure why he was so open and seemingly eager to correspond with me. I could only take, and had little to give in return to someone like him. I think he was more than a little curious about the aerospace biz…but other than that I can’t say.

Lord, this is a tough one. By your mercy, dress us all in the White Robes of Jesus Christ, that we will all be re-united one day in glory. Amen.

A Further Thought on Racism

I have been told to my face that I am a racist because I am white. Let’s break down that claim a bit. The usual baggage that goes along with this claim is that whiteness is part and parcel of “systemic racism.” Therefore I am racist because I have benefited from a white-favorable system. I don’t agree with this idea. The point I want to get at goes deeper, though, and that is the fact that I cannot choose my whiteness. I have the skin I was born with. So the claim that I am racist because I am white is really a claim that I am racist by default. It is programmed into me, as it were. My DNA is racist. I can’t help but be racist. I couldn’t be anything other than racist.

Here is the problem. These people who claim that I am racist because I am white will turn around and say in the next breath that homosexuality and transgenderism are also things that are in the DNA, and that a person is one of those things, not by choice, but by a predetermined DNA. So, we are supposed to accept and not blame a predetermined outcome in the case of LGBTQ folks, but we can blame people who are predetermined to be white and therefore racist. So why is it that the LGBTQ community can excuse their behavior on the basis of inevitability, but alleged racists, who are also supposedly inevitable in their behavior, are blamed and hated?

Most of the CRT folks using the argument about racism discussed above won’t bring in original sin as part of the discussion. However, in a Reformed context, we cannot avoid it. Theoretically, a Reformed version of CRT could argue that both LGBTQ behavior and the automatic racism of white people comes from original sin, which is something God can save us from. However, this won’t completely work, either, at least not in the case of the alleged racists. Why are only white people afflicted with this aspect of original sin? This gets at another important point debated in the literature: whether black people are capable of racism or not. I have talked to black people on both side of that question. It depends, of course, on how one defines racism. If it is a disparagement of someone from another ethnic background because of their ethnic difference, then there is no reason to suppose that black people are incapable of racism. This is not a politically correct opinion, however, on the definition of racism. The CRT folk define racism in such a way that black people are incapable of it. So, if we go back to the original sin discussion for a second, we will quickly realize that it makes no sense at all to claim that a segment of the world’s population (the white segment) has a version of original sin that no one else has, because of their ethnic background! It sounds an awful lot like the first definition of racism to suppose that white people have a different version of original sin than anyone else does.

Of course, this is all so much logic-chopping to the vast majority of today’s CRT folks. Logic shouldn’t enter the equation, they say. Rather, it is sensitivity to other people’s feelings. I would respond by saying that sensitivity to other people’s feelings is a good thing, but it doesn’t have to be set over against logic. We can still try to be consistent. But logic is inescapable, too. They are, in effect, saying that it isn’t logical to use logic, and that we should logically use sensitivity, because it makes more sense to do so. Logic does seem to emerge, doesn’t it?

A Jeremiad

The America I knew and loved growing up is almost completely gone. The name, at least, remains. Some call it progress. I call it destruction. The people in charge are those who yell and scream, not those who debate with reason and analysis. The political world consists of those who have become so practiced in screaming that I wonder they have any vocal cords left. All political orthodoxy is assumed, not proven, not debated. It is shouted. The power of the shout, and the accompanying shatter of glass, is the only power that means anything today.

This same hatred has poured forth into the Christian world, the theological world, even the “academic” world. Freedom of opinion is not allowed any more. Only certain voices can be heard, because they shout the loudest.

For what then can we weep? Must we not weep for the wrath of God that is coming even through these glass-shattering shouts? Must we not weep for the silenced voices (which are not the voices the world thinks are silenced)? Must we not weep that we will shortly be joining our martyr brothers and sisters in other parts of the world as of a piece with the persecuted church? Must we not weep for the veil Satan has drawn over so many people’s eyes so they cannot see the spiritual warfare?

What hope have we? We have the hope God gives us. God gives us hope that silenced voices are only silent on earth. They are not silent to God. Abel’s blood cried out to God from the ground, though his voice on earth was silent. We have the hope of resurrection. Like Abel, Jesus’ blood also cried out, but in a far higher key, to God for our forgiveness. It thunders in heaven. And because of that thundering, God raised Him from the dead. We have the hope that God’s shout of wrath is not the only loud voice He has, though even there, that voice is far louder than the world’s voice. His voice of many waters thunders forth judgment on the enemies of God, but also grace for God’s people.

It is right to weep for the loss of peace and tranquility for the Christian, though not right to cling to the idol of comfort. It is right to weep for the lost, who seem to be growing more and more blind. It is right to weep for the saved, who must now find a backbone where little was required before.

On the other hand, it is right to rejoice in trials of various kinds, counting them pure joy. The church will be a lot smaller five or ten years from now. All the fair-weather friends of Christianity will be gone. The fear of man will have scared them spineless (not that they ever had a spine!). The only people left will constitute a much more pure church. And a much more pure church can have a much more positive effect on the world. All of this is happening to purify the church. Remember that world history exists for the sake of church history, not the other way around. God is heading up all things in Christ the Head. His providence is still at work, even when around us all we seem to see is evil. Evil will not have the last word. God will.

The Nature of the Surprise

There is no doubt that the disciples were surprised to learn that Jesus’ death and resurrection was the point of the Old Testament. In Matthew 26:54-56, it was immediately after Jesus says THIS (His arrest and death) was to fulfill Scriptures that the disciples left Him. Let no one therefore think the interpretation of the Old Testament to be a matter of indifference.

It is commonly debated today, however, why the disciples were surprised. If one compares this passage in Matthew with Luke 24, for example, we come across a bit of a puzzle. How can Jesus reproach the two disciples for being slow to believe all that the prophets had spoken? And in 1 Peter, why did the Old Testament writers search so eagerly in their own writings? It must be because they knew that there was something more in what they wrote than what they themselves had thought. They understood that they had written the Word of God and that God had further things to say than they, the authors, had intended.

How then, can we account for these two clear things: 1. the disciples were surprised; and 2. Jesus says they shouldn’t have been surprised? It has been a commonplace in scholarship to deny that the Old Testament has anything intrinsic to say about Jesus Christ. It is only the rabbinic, Midrashic exegesis of the New Testament that reads into the Old Testament something that wasn’t originally there. One has to achieve this on a supposed second reading.

I propose a different solution to this problem. The surprise is due to sin and a corresponding veil over the eyes of readers, not to a supposed intrinsic absence of Jesus from the Old Testament. Paul talks about this veil in 2 Corinthians 3:14. The problem is in the reader, not the text. In John 5, Jesus very clearly claims Moses wrote about Him. This suggests that even in the intention of Moses, there is something there about the promised one. There is more in the text than the intention of the human author, contrary to what many scholars think today.

So why were the disciples surprised? They were surprised because they had a veil over their eyes that was suddenly and unpleasantly ripped away. Matthew 26 is not telling us that the Old Testament is inherently Christless. It is telling us that the disciples did not understand. They didn’t really understand until Pentecost. That is when God took away their veil entirely. We need to pray that God takes away our veils so that we can understand the Old Testament and God fulfills all His promises in the New Testament.

Some Thoughts on Racism

Racism hasn’t gone away like many people thought it had. Race hatred seems to be worse now than it was when I was growing up. Or maybe I just didn’t hear about it then, and it has always been this bad. Or, the powers that be have stoked the fires of race baiting. Whatever your explanation of how it has gotten to be this bad, it’s pretty bad right now. There is a list of things that black people can’t do with zero fear and white people can. There are the Native Americans who always seem to get ignored in the discussion. There is Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd and many, many others. There’s a lot of outrage. And there are plenty of people who think that the outrage should not only continue, but should escalate until “things change.” Given that there are reams of books written on the subject, I do not pretend either to be an expert, or to have the answers in any kind of fulsome way. This post is not intended even to be comprehensive in what it addresses, let alone be adequate to the subject matter. It is just a few thoughts on racism.

First things first, then, there is still racism out there. It doesn’t do us any good to deny it. One does not have to engage in “guiltier than thou” hand-wringing to acknowledge this. While we should be cautious in jumping to conclusions on any particular case, there is still racial hatred out there. And this racial hatred is not all unidirectional. There is plenty of racial hatred of whites by blacks, too. Many people would seek to justify this part of the equation by saying that it is payback. Since when is revenge a healthy, godly thing? The Count of Monte Cristo ought to have taught us better than that. All racially motivated hatred is evil. Period. It doesn’t matter which race is hating which other race for being different, that is wrong. But on what basis is it wrong? Here I want to discuss where I think the beginnings of the solution lie. This is important: the basis for claiming that all racially-based hatred is evil has to be part of the solution to that same hatred. Or, to put it another way, I believe that proper theology (in the broader sense, which would include anthropology) has the beginnings of the solution.

So how can we say that all racially-based hatred is evil? A study of Genesis 1-11 reveals that all human beings come from Adam and Eve, and all human beings come from Noah and his wife. That is the plain intent of the text. Ultimately, there is only the human race. I have been using “race” in the more popular sense in this post up to this point, because it is familiar, but here I have to raise a big caveat to such usage. Most discussions I have seen that come from the critical race theory (CRT) standpoint completely ignore the unity of the human race. The differences are the more important consideration. In contrast to this usage, I use the phrase “human race” to emphasize that all humans have far more in common with each other than we have differences. This is plainly seen when contrasting the human race with, say, snakes (not an animal I chose accidentally). So, one of the global questions in the discussion is this: are the differences or similarities more important when dealing with questions of ethnicity (and here I now substitute my preferred term, instead of “race”)? The Bible suggests that it is the similarities that are more important. Here is the second vitally important point I wish to make: the biological unity of the human race is true even apart from salvation in Christ Jesus! Now, ethnic backgrounds of Jew versus Gentile were a big deal in the Bible. Ethnic mixing of Jew and Gentile was forbidden in the Old Testament, though not for the reason of ethnicity by itself. The mixing was forbidden because of faith reasons: Gentiles were pagans. It wasn’t simply because they were Gentiles that they were rejected. After all, several books of the Old Testament tell us of Gentiles who became Jews (e.g., Ruth). As Paul would say, Jews were so internally, not externally.

If creation and the unity of the human race give us one huge reason to condemn ethnic hatred, the gospel gives us the other. The gospel is not itself the solving of the ethnic question. The gospel is what Jesus did so that sinners might be forgiven, and brought into a right relationship with God. It is first and foremost a vertical story. It is not directly about ethnic questions, but one does not have to go far into the New Testament to realize just how whopping the implications are for the ethnic question. Ephesians comes to mind, particularly. The Jew-Gentile barrier, which was the fundamental ethnic barrier the Bible addresses, is eliminated by the gospel. In Christ, the ethnic barriers are, in principle, removed. When people are brought close to God, they are simultaneously brought close together.

Conversion and regeneration, however, do not eliminate all sin. We still tend to have thoughts of the other as being alien to us. What we need is to focus on, expound, and preach from all the Scriptures the creation, fall, redemption, and glorification narrative of Scripture as it culminates in the person and work of Jesus Christ. This is the larger story that can engulf and drown ethnically based hatreds in its own baptism by immersion.

There will be those who think that this analysis is hopelessly naive and simplistic. I would counter: I believe the Bible says it is supposed to be just this simple. If we are making it so much more complicated (a good example is the whole discussion about micro-aggressions), then that is our problem, not the Scripture’s. It is human beings who are making the issues so complicated that good old fashioned Matthew 18 reconciliation is no longer possible.

What about justice? What is justice, who decides, and what should it look like? Justice, by its very nature, must always be incomplete in this life. We are not omniscient. We do not know the motivations of the human heart. We may think we do, but we don’t. It is time we acknowledged this in the ethnically charged environment of today. It is time to stop making assumptions about each other. It is time to recognize the image of God in every human being, and treat that image with respect. It is time to follow the rule of law and hold criminals accountable for crime (whether citizen or police officer), and not create lynch mobs to attack people not responsible. It is time to recognize that there is no earthly way that justice can be completed in this life. God will have to be the one to make all things right, and He will. This fact should not be an excuse to prevent us from doing all we can to accomplish justice in this life. But it should prevent us from becoming so frothed at the mouth with outrage that we can no longer listen to reason and wisdom. God will make sure that all wrongs are righted. Surely every Christian must, at this point, cry out, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus!”

What about systemic racism? That is one of the most burning questions of the hour. Is there a system in place to keep minorities “in their place?” That is disputed, even among black people. If we look at the Native American, it would seem to me that reservations are one huge system to keep Native Americans “in their place.” Why have we quarantined them for so many decades? It has not done them many favors, as far as I can see. I do not claim any expertise on this question, but that is what I see at the moment. In some contexts, I see that blacks cannot do certain things without fear that whites can do. In certain other contexts, the reverse is true. In some white communities, blacks don’t feel welcome. In some black communities, whites are not welcome. In colleges and hiring practices, there are many quota-based systems. In such a scenario, a black may be hired because he or she is black, and not because they are qualified (many blacks are perfectly qualified, by the way). Does it really help the black person to hire them because they are black and not because they are qualified? This has always bothered me. Doesn’t it put them in a situation that may make them miserable just so the consciences of the employer/recruiter can be salved? Couldn’t this be seen as using the black person for the sake of image?

Types and Sacraments

Posted by R. Fowler White

For those following the dialogue between Dr. Scott Clark and Dr. Sam Renihan on covenant theology among Reformed Christians and Particular Baptist Christians, it’s interesting to watch as apparent agreements surface in their efforts to identify and clarify their disagreement. One particular point of their discussion that has caught my eye is the relationship between old covenant types and new covenant antitypes. On the one hand, Clark tells us that “the New Covenant is the new administration of the Abrahamic covenant without the types and shadows.” On the other hand, Renihan tells us that “when the antitype to which they [i.e., the types] point arrives [in Christ and the new covenant], the typical sign[s] and [their] original significance and context are removed, having served their purpose.” In fact, when we read more of what these two advocates say, they seem to agree (applying Renihan’s words) that types point above and beyond themselves to a greater future reality (namely, the antitypical reality found in Christ). There is even apparent agreement that the benefits of Christ were made known to and received by OT believers specifically through shadows and types. Despite the formal agreement on these points, however, material disagreement persists. Clark and Renihan diverge as they apply these considerations to the sacraments. That divergence is worth closer scrutiny to see if we can get more light of the relationship of covenant theology and typology to sacraments.

Distilling the gist of WCF covenant theology on sacraments for the sake of this discussion, Clark cites Ursinus: “The sacraments of the Old and New Testaments differ in their [outward] signs, but agree in the thing signified,” that “thing” being Christ and his benefits. Renihan, by contrast, distills the gist of 1689 Particular Baptist federalism on sacraments by using typology to distinguish OT and NT sacraments. To appreciate Renihan’s appeal here, it’s important to understand that, for him, a discussion of the extent to which types are distinct from their antitypes and the theological implications that follow is a necessary part of accounting for differences between Reformed Christians and Particular Baptist Christians. With that in mind, Renihan doesn’t dispute the claim that the outward signs themselves differ, but he does dispute the claim that the two sets of sacraments agree in the thing signified. Specifically, he urges that, as types, the OT sacraments signified not one thing, but two: they signified both their initial reality as types (i.e., the ‘outward’ benefits God provided before Christ) and the future reality of their antitype (i.e., the ‘greater and other [more-than-outward]’ benefits God provides in Christ). The NT sacraments, by contrast, signify one thing only: the reality of the ‘greater and other’ benefits God provides in Christ. Notably, as Renihan argues it, the NT sacraments do not bring with them the outward benefits (i.e., the external administration) that the OT sacraments did. Now that the NT reality has arrived, the elect no longer have to look above and beyond the NT signs for a ‘greater and other’ reality to come: that reality is here. In Renihan’s own words: “All that remains is the reality, bringing with it its own signs that clearly and directly portray one thing, the antitype, and nothing else” (his emphasis).

So, how might we react to Renihan’s interaction with Clark? I’d suggest that we can accept Renihan’s acknowledgement that “typology deserves and demands a much more detailed treatment” than he can provide in his blog posts. Even so, it’s useful to ask if he has framed the contrast between OT signs and NT signs distinctly enough. We ask this question because at the heart of Renihan’s proposal is his claim that the arrival of the NT antitypical reality brings the end of the OT typical signs and their outward reality. In the broadest context, there is formal agreement between Clark and Renihan on that point, as we suggested in our opening paragraph. A key question remains to be answered for material agreement to emerge, however: what is “the NT antitypical reality” that has arrived? To be sure, it is “Christ and his benefits.” Yet we also know that “Christ and his benefits” is an “already and not yet” reality. Christ and his benefits arrive in two comings, not in either coming alone; they emerge both in this age and in the age to come, not in one age or the other alone. From that consideration, two observations come to mind. First, each NT sacrament signifies this twofold reality. For example, the benefits of death and resurrection with Christ, signified by baptism, are realized in two stages, original conversion-union with Christ in this age and final glorification-conformity to Christ in the age to come. Similarly, the benefit of fellowship with Christ, signified by communion, comes in two phases, at the Lord’s Supper in this world and at the Lamb’s Marriage Supper in the world to come. As such, it is clear that both sets of sacraments share the same already/not yet realization: the OT sacraments were signs of what was and what would be; the NT sacraments are signs of what is and what will be. Moreover, in both sets of sacraments, promises and warnings of the age to come attend their external administration, confirming that the final antitypical reality is not yet all that remains. In that light, a second observation seems justified: the payoff from Renihan’s appeal to typology is over-realized. Though we can join Renihan in his desire to prevent the flattening of types into outward reality alone and to protect the heightening of types in a greater-than-outward reality, we cannot join him as his take on typology prematurely ushers in the age to come. Instead, to avoid over-realization in our appeal to typology, we will calculate the extent to which types are distinct from their antitypes and the theological implications that follow by referring to the “already and not yet” stages of antitypical realization. With those two ages in mind, it seems clear enough that, during this age, the elect still have to look above and beyond the NT signs for the fullness of Christ and his benefits to come. In fact, it appears that the continuing presence of sacraments is itself an indication that NT antitypical reality is not yet all here.

On Interpretive Grids

I have addressed this question before, but I have some further thoughts on the matter I would like to share. In particular, I would like to address this question: what kind of grid do people have who claim to have no grid at all?

My own grid should be evident to long-time readers of the blog: I hold that the Westminster Standards are a wonderful summary of Scripture’s teaching. The church I serve believes that these standards function as the limits of biblical orthodoxy on the central issues. Within this field, there are variations of interpretation, just as there are many issues the Bible talks about that the Westminster Standards don’t address. The grid is not set in stone for eternity, either. It can be changed if sufficient evidence accrues for it to be incorrect on a particular point. It does not possess infallibility. It is correct insofar as it correctly summarizes Scripture. In this regard, it has the same character as preaching. There should therefore be reciprocity between the Scriptures and the Westminster Standards. Most people who hate the Westminster Standards seek to impose a barrier between Scripture and the Westminster Standards, as if it were the case that believing the Westminster Standards are a true summary of the Bible is a certain proof that such a person does not believe the Bible, or that such a person’s views of interpretation are naively limited.

This attitude (which is so widespread among biblical scholars as to be the clear majority position) helps us get at the point I am trying to make. Those who reject churchly summaries of the Bible’s teaching have a grid of their own. That grid, at the very least, involves putting up a wall between Scripture and churchly confessions of Scripture. The implicit assumption is that the church has completely misread the Bible. Therefore, any interpretation of Scripture that even overlaps with a churchly confession must be automatically wrong. This is a grid! Let me repeat that: this idea is itself a grid! To put it more accurately and precisely, it is an anti-grid which functions in the exact same way as a churchly grid does, only as its opposite. The biggest problem with this grid is its nearly complete invisibility. Those who hold to this grid believe that they have no grid at all.

So here is the truth: everyone has a grid by which they judge which interpretations of Scripture have more plausibility than other interpretations. Those who say they don’t are actually the most naive and least self-aware interpreters who are blind to their own assumptions and prejudices. The church, in general, recognizes all of this, which is why churches make confessions of faith. They want to have an agreed upon interpretation of the central issues so that the church can have a recognizable identity. The challenge for biblical scholars is this: why do so many of you despise the church for which Christ died? Why do so many of you assume that the church always has it wrong? Is it because you idolize being able to say something new and different so that people will stroke your ego and remark how brilliant you are? Is it because of the Enlightenment’s rejection of churchly authority? Is it because you have been hurt in the past by overly authoritarian churches? Is it a combination of factors? There is healing for all of these problems in Jesus Christ. But it requires a hefty dose of humility and self-abasement to come to this realization.

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