An Early Directory for Public Worship (1 Cor 14:26-40)

posted by R. Fowler White

As we come to 1 Cor 14:26-40, we arrive at the close of our brief series on 1 Corinthians 12-14. Paul has covered certain fundamental truths regarding the Spirit and His gifts. It is the Spirit, he declares, who brings unity to the church’s confession of Christ, its gifts for ministry, and its members (12:1-31). Moreover, he maintains, it is not any one gift of the Spirit that is indispensable to seeing our ministries thrive; rather, it is the Spirit’s fruit of love (13:1-13). If we wonder how indispensable love is to ministry, the Apostle would have us compare the greater gift of prophetic speech to the lesser gift of untranslated tongue-speech. In light of that comparison, we’re to see that the former benefits others; the latter does not and cannot benefit others unless it is translated (14:1-25). With those fundamentals as background, Paul will now sum up the regulations that will result in the edification of others during the ministry of God’s word in congregational worship. In the content of his summary, we see what amounts to evidence of an early apostolic directory for congregational worship.

Paul begins his directives with a regulation in 14:26b that applies to all ministries of God’s word in public worship: let all things be done for edification—or as the preceding context puts it: edify others, not oneself alone (14:4-5, 12). No one who delivers God’s word should hinder the instruction and exhortation of God’s people through the public ministry of that word (cf. 14:31). Whether the form of that ministry was a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, a tongue, a translation (14:26b), all who would minister God’s word were to subject themselves to the Apostle’s directions regarding when to speak and when to be silent (14:27-35). Consequently, he directs the ministry of God’s word to be delivered only by qualified men, by up to three in number, in an orderly fashion, and with testing to ensure the edification of those assembled. Just how firm the Apostle was on these regulations is clear from his declaration that only those who complied with the Lord’s directives through him were to be recognized as those who have the Spirit and His gifts, and those who would not comply should expect divine discipline (14:36-38).

As we consider Paul’s instructions, it is vital to notice where he anchors these regulations. They are rooted in the very character of God (14:33a; the God who distributes gifts for ministry is the God of peace [i.e., harmony], not disorder), in the practice binding on all the churches (14:33b; 11:16), and in the Law (14:34b; likely referring to Genesis 1-3 to which Paul had already alluded in 11:7-9, 11-12). Together, these three anchors tell us that there was more at stake in Paul’s directives than a special rule for a special situation in a specific local church like the one in Corinth. What was at stake was the standing rules that Paul instituted in all the churches over the entire course of his ministry, rules that governed the elements of public worship, including the ministry of God’s word. In fact, as we observed above, we see in 14:26-40 and their context (1 Corinthians 10-14) not a few of the elements of an early ‘directory of public worship,’ the latest presentation of which are arguably apparent in 1 Timothy 2–5.

The sum of Paul’s regulations for public worship here in 1 Cor 14:26-40 is that during the ministry of God’s word, the churches were to prefer the greater gifts without prohibiting the lesser ones and to do so by following the regulations laid down by the Apostle to ensure that the ministry of God’s word was done in that fitting and orderly way that instructed and exhorted His people (14:39-40). Interestingly, insofar as Paul seems to bring into view the broad spectrum of speaking gifts in 14:26b, we find here regulations that have present-day application to the ministry of God’s word through the gift of teacher, a gift less than those of apostles and prophets but greater than that of tongue-speaking (12:28; 1 Tim 4:13; 2 Tim 2:2; 4:1-4; 1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:9).

Self-Edification Is Not Enough (1 Cor 14:1-25)

posted by R. Fowler White

Having established love as the precondition for fruitful ministry through the Spirit’s gifts, the Apostle’s attention in 1 Cor 14:1ff. turns back to two of those gifts, one greater, one lesser: respectively, that of prophecy and that of tongue-speaking. His treatment of these gifts is crucial for our understanding of the purpose for which all gifts are given to Christ’s church.

For what follows, we’ll understand that both tongue-speaking and prophecy have ceased (a point raised and discussed elsewhere on this blog), but when they operated, they involved the God-given ability and aspiration to minister to His people by communicating His inerrant word to them. The two gifts differed, however, in that tongue-speech was spoken in a language understood by the speakers themselves but not by their hearers, while prophecies were spoken in the language of both speakers and their hearers.

Two additional observations may also help us. First, let’s note that the phenomenon of tongue-speaking is not unique to Christ’s church. For instance, tongues-speech, dreams and visions, and other extraordinary experiences took place in Corinth’s temples to Apollo and in Egypt’s palaces. Even today, tongue-speaking can be heard among certain Muslims. We should not think, then, that tongue-speaking has its source always and only in the Holy Spirit. Scripture is clear that such occurrences may have their source in ‘the flesh’ (i.e., sinful human nature) or even in servants of Satan disguised as apostles or prophets of Christ (e.g., Acts 16:16-18; 2 Cor 11:13-15). Second, let’s remind ourselves that by the Spirit and His gifts Christ is building His people as His ‘sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true.’ (This divine building project is a topic about which Paul, Peter, and John wrote.) For that work to be done, our gifts must be used not merely to build up ourselves, but to build up others too. In 1 Cor 14:1ff., Paul’s concern about that project focuses on the Spirit’s gifts of prophecy and tongue-speaking. His remarks are blunt: the lesser gift—tongue-speaking without translation—had no place in public worship because such tongue-speaking built up only the speakers themselves, not other believers also. Let’s take a look at the particulars of those remarks.

Paul launches his argument in chapter 14 by restating in 14:1 God’s order of priorities for fruitful ministry in congregational worship. Priority #1 is to pursue love for others, because love is the precondition to a congregation becoming a sanctuary pleasing to God. Priority #2 is to maintain an eagerness for spiritual gifts, for by them God makes the many members one body. Priority #3 is to edify others in public worship. It is Priority #3 that is in focus in 14:2ff. as Paul contrasts prophecy and untranslated tongues-speech. The basis of his preference for prophecy reduces to this: self-edification by any gift may be beneficial, but it is not enough. In fact, the gifts have never been given to edify oneself alone. They are given to edify all (14:4, 18-19). As for tongue-speakers, Paul says, unless their speech was translated, they built up only themselves, not others too. As a result, untranslated tongue-speech had no place in public worship.

Paul becomes even more insistent in 14:6-19. In the interest of edification, the Apostle lays out regulations that tongue-speakers should obey. His general rule is straightforward: benefit (i.e., profit, help) others (14:6). He illustrates the rule as we see it in music (14:7), in the military (14:8), and in human communication (14:10-11). Without distinct tones, instrumentalists keep others from recognizing and enjoying the song being played. Without distinct sounds, a military bugler keeps others from preparing for battle. Without translation, a foreigner’s language remains, well, foreign. Applied to tongues-speech, the Apostle’s general rule means that, when left untranslated, it keeps others from participating (14:9) and from being built up (14:12). Given that reality, Paul goes on to set down a specific rule for tongue-speakers: they should pray to translate for others (14:13-19). Why? Because otherwise, tongue-speakers don’t communicate with others as they should in public worship. Only with translation would tongue-speech be good for others in public worship. To illustrate his point, Paul appeals to his own experience in 14:14-15: ‘Look at what happened when I prayed in tongues without translation: my praying bore no fruit for others. In that light, I should pray and sing only with translation so that I speak both to God and to others, thus building up both myself and others.’ He goes on in 14:16-19 to apply his point: ‘Look at what happens when you and I don’t do what I just described. Without translation, tongue-speakers keep others from participating in public worship. Only with translation are others able to join tongue-speakers in prayer or praise’ (14:16-17). ‘Further, without translation, tongue-speakers keep others from learning in public worship. Only with translation will others be able to learn from tongue-speakers’ (14:18-19). ‘Let no believer, then, be like that bugler who can’t play “Reveille.” Let’s use our gifts to build up all members of Christ’s body, not just ourselves.’ In light of all this, Paul insists that tongue-speaking was not to be part of congregational worship unless it was translated.

Closing his case against untranslated tongue-speaking in public worship, Paul urges, ‘Let’s be grownups about tongue-speaking’ (14:20). ‘Recognize that the statements I’ve made here about tongue-speaking are consistent with what OT prophecy says about it, specifically in Isa 28:11’ (14:21). Turning back to Isa 28 we read there that Judah’s hearing of speech they did not understand was a sign that God was judging them as unbelievers (Deut 28:49; cf. Isa 33:19). In fact, He was rebuking Judah for their unbelief at His new temple building work (Isa 28:16). The same was true in the Apostle’s day. Paul himself was doing foundation-laying in God’s new temple building project (1 Cor 3:9b-11), and his ministry was a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles (1:23; 14:21-24). Paul’s point in 14:20-25, then, is that ‘grownups’ will recognize untranslated tongue-speaking for what it is: it is a sign of God’s judgment against unbelievers (14.22a), be they Jews (this people, 14:21) or Gentiles. Indeed, when believers spoke in a foreign tongue in the presence of unbelievers, such tongue-speech only antagonized them and hardened them against the gospel (14:23; cf. Acts 2:13). By contrast, when believers prophesied in the presence of unbelievers in their own tongue, prophetic speech convicted and even converted them (14:24-25). It was prophecy, then, that was a sign of God’s blessing on believers (14:22b) and a means of evangelism for those outsiders who might have entered the setting of the church’s public worship. Paul’s conclusion is clear: in the church’s public worship, tongue-speaking without translation benefited neither other believers nor outsiders.

In 1 Cor 14:1-25, Paul gives us a grownup church’s perspective on tongue-speaking: unless it was translated, tongue-speech had no place in public worship. Because it built up only the tongue-speakers themselves, not other believers also … because other believers could not understand it … because it antagonized and hardened unbelievers against Christ’s gospel, untranslated tongue-speech was not to be part of the church’s worship. With all this in mind, a key enduring takeaway for us from Paul’s instruction in 1 Cor 14:1-25 would be that, as God’s temple building project continues, we must be careful to use our gifts not merely to edify ourselves, but to edify others also. Self-edification is just not enough.

Love and the Spirit’s Gifts (1 Cor 12:31b–13:13)

posted by R. Fowler White

As we’ve said in two previous posts, the Holy Spirit unifies the church’s ministry-gifts and members as well as its message. Through Paul, God requires us to continue to be zealous for the Spirit’s gifts, especially His greater gifts (1 Cor 12:31a; cf. 14:1, 12). Zealous as we may be, we’re also to keep the Spirit’s gifts in proper perspective with God’s priority for fruitful church ministry.

Somewhat unexpectedly, the gifts of the Spirit are not God’s priority. Instead, the fruit of the Spirit, especially love, is His priority (12:31b). Love is His priority because, as Paul will say, it is the precondition for the effective use of the Spirit’s gifts in ministry. No matter how great the Spirit’s gifts may be, then, a congregation’s pursuit of love must be a higher priority than its pursuit of spiritual gifts. Yes, eagerness for spiritual gifts should be a trait of a congregation, but Paul would have us understand that its zeal for gifts must be subordinate to its zeal for love. Indeed, there is a way of congregational life that is more excellent than gifts or the status that may be associated with them. That way is expressed in none other than the Second Great Commandment: love of neighbor, that benevolent attitude and activity of placing ourselves at the service of others, not to improve our status with them, but to promote the common good in which together we are all built into a site of sacrifice pleasing to our God.

We might ask: what proof does Paul offer that love is God’s priority over gifts? He answers in 13:1-3: “Just look at what happens if love is absent when our gifts and our acts of self-denial are manifested at their highest level: those gifts and acts amount to nothing. There’s no benefit, no fruit, no witness to others when love is absent from the exercise of our gifts.” Love of neighbor is indispensable to our ministries because its presence in our lives is the precondition of fruitful ministry.

We might press the issue once more: what is it that makes love so indispensable? Paul argues: the indispensability of love comes from its properties, from its nature and actions (13:4-7). As he spells out what love does and does not do, Paul personifies it. No doubt, there’s a reason why he personifies love here: it’s because love is to be lived out; it is to be incarnated. It was gloriously lived out and incarnated in Christ our Lord. But there is even more here: the love Paul describes also becomes incarnated in the members of Christ’s body as the Spirit of Christ regenerates us and begins His work of forming Christ in us and conforming us to His image. To apply 13:4-7 to ourselves, we need only insert the pronoun I wherever Paul uses the word love. (Paul points us in this direction by putting himself before us in 13:1-3: if I speak … And if I have …  If I give away … and if I deliver up … .) By doing so, we’ll find out the degree to which God’s priority and love’s nature and actions are ours. Comparing ourselves to God’s standard, we see why love is so indispensable: it’s because love, in a word, is selfless. When love is present in us, we selflessly place ourselves at the service of others, not to improve our status with them, but to promote the common good in which we’re all being built together as a site of sacrifice pleasing to God.

Do we need more proof that love is God’s priority? The Apostle goes on to contrast the temporariness of gifts to the permanence of love (13:8-13). He reminds us that there’s a time coming when the partial, fragmentary state of the knowledge of divine things that we now gain through God’s gifts will pass away (13:9-11). As true as the present state of our knowledge may be, God’s gifts don’t provide us the full and final state of knowledge that will be ours when we see Him face to face (13:12). No, gifts and the knowledge we receive through them, though given by God, will be done away and are thus only provisional. Even faith and hope will give way to sight (Rom 8:24; 2 Cor 5:6-7). It is love that is forever; it is love that never fails. It is thus love that is greater than all gifts and even greater than faith and hope (13:13). Understandably, then, love is God’s priority, His way of congregational life, the very precondition for fruitful ministry with God’s gifts in this world.

Would we be fruitful in ministry as individual believers and as congregations? According to the Apostle, there is a path more excellent than even a zealous pursuit of the Spirit’s gifts. That path, that priority, that precondition is love of neighbor. Unlike the Spirit’s gifts, it is love that is indispensable, selfless, and everlasting. It’s indispensable in that we know what happens when love is absent: we amount to nothing spiritually. It’s selfless in that we know what happens when love is present: we place ourselves at the service of others to promote that common good in which together we’re built as a site of sacrifice pleasing to our God. It’s everlasting in that we know that, though gifts, faith, and hope are ours in this age, love is ours both in this age and in the age to come. No wonder, then, that the Apostle would have us affirm that the Spirit’s fruit of love is greater than His gifts.

The Spirit Unifies Our Ministries and Members (1 Cor 12:4-31a)

posted by R. Fowler White

In an earlier post on 1 Cor 12:1-3, we discussed the truth that the Holy Spirit of Christ brings unity to His church’s confession (i.e., message). It’s only by the work of the Spirit that the church makes a common confession with heart and mouth. It’s only by the work of the Spirit that the church proclaims with one voice that the once crucified Christ is now the resurrected and ascended Lord of all. Yet the Apostle Paul would have us understand that the Holy Spirit brings unity to the church’s ministries and members as well as to the church’s message. That truth comes into view in 1 Cor 12:4-31a.

In what ways does the Spirit unite the church’s ministries? Paul tells us that He unifies the church’s ministries by being the one Source common to all the gifts and by distributing them for one common purpose. The details in 12:4-11 elaborate the point. Three times Paul states that though the ministry-gifts are many and different, they have a common Originator. That Originator is none other than the Spirit (12:4), the Lord (12:5), God (12:6). He is the One who imparts His gifts-ministries-workings to each believer in the church. More than that, He makes it so that the gifts aren’t meant to give advantages to ostensibly ‘elite’ individuals endued for ostensibly ‘elite’ ministries. Instead, they contribute to the ‘common good’ of Christ’s whole body (12:7). The workings of the one Spirit are meant to edify, exhort, and encourage not the gifted individual alone, but all others in the church too (14:12, 26). This is the case if the Spirit’s manifestation takes the form of wisdom and knowledge (12:8), or of prophecy and discerning spirits (12:10b), or of tongues and their translation (12:10c). This is the case too if the Spirit’s manifestation takes the form of faith, or healing, or miracles (12:9, 10a). One and the same Source—the Spirit (12:11)—disperses all these diverse gifts. Contrary to views sometimes heard in certain church circles, we’re not to imagine that the Spirit divides Christ’s church by distinguishing ‘those who have’ from ‘those who have not.’ No, the church is brought together and held together by one Spirit who distributes gifts to each believer for ministry to all others with whom He has joined them.

Shifting his focus on ministries in 12:4-11, Paul stresses that the Holy Spirit brings unity to the church’s members in 12:12-20. In truth, he argues that Christ (yes, Christ) is like the human body (12:12). The human body has many different organs and limbs that together form a unit. So it is with Christ. If we ask how the church-body’s unity comes about, the Apostle again emphasizes that the one Spirit brings it about by baptizing and filling all diverse nationalities (Jews or Greeks) and social classes (slaves or free) that make up the church (12:13). Pentecost illustrates the point. As Christ builds His living sanctuary (Acts 4:11; 1 Pet 2:4-6), He does so by making the many categories of the human race (2:17-18; 1 Cor 12:13b; cf. 6:17) one in the Spirit and repentance (Acts 2:17, 21, 38-39). This is not to say that the body’s parts lose their individual identity (cf. 1 Cor 12:15-17). Nor is it to say that as God forms the body, He makes it of a single organ or limb (12:18-20). Think of it this way: we’re not literally ‘all ears’! So, what difference does this make to church-body members? It means that no member should say, “I don’t belong to the church-body because my gifts are different from others.” Nor should any member envy others or pity others. No, we’re to remember Paul’s teaching in 12:18: each different body part is in its place by the choice of the wise and sovereign Creator of the church. To think too highly (Rom 12:3)—or even too lowly (1 Cor 12:15-16)—of ourselves is to insult Him who makes the body. Through the one Spirit who distributes His diverse gifts, we who believe, each and all, belong to Christ’s church-body.

To unpack still further the unity of the church’s members, the Apostle argues in 12:21-26 that the body’s members are not only all different; they are also all necessary. This truth applies not just to those parts regarded as the most presentable. It applies to the least presentable also. All of the body’s diverse parts are required. No limb is self-sufficient or all-important. No organ should question the value of others to its own well-being or to the body’s overall well-being. When it comes to the church-body, no member should say of another, “I have no need of her” or “He’s of no use to me.” Even to think such things is to deny the truth that Paul asserts in 12:24b: our Savior has so combined the body’s different parts that He has made them all necessary. None other than our God has determined the place that each part has (12:28). Just as we’re Christ’s one body when taken as a unit, so when taken as individuals we’re parts necessary to that body’s composition (12:27). Therefore, every member, whether suffering or celebrating, is due the same care and attention (12:25-26).

So, what’s the payoff from all this? We’re to remember that the Spirit and His gifts unify the ministries and members of Christ’s church-body. No gift entitles its possessor to a higher, more exclusive status than others—even if, by divine arrangement, some gifts are granted more honor and some less (12:28; Rom 12:3-5; cf. 1 Pet 4:10). No member is any less a part of the body than any other (12:15-16). No member defines the body on its own: no one gift is meant for each of us (including tongues) (12:29-30). No gift makes its possessor self-sufficient: no member, whom God has placed in Christ’s church-body, is dispensable or nonessential (12:21). Rather, God designs the body so that each of its parts contributes to the good of the whole. In this light, our duty is to put to death the self-pity that moans, “I don’t belong to the body.” We’re to mortify the arrogance that declares, “I don’t need you.” Instead, we’re to stand firm in the truth that the Holy Spirit unifies our ministries and our members just as He unifies our message.

Rehabilitate the Son of Perdition? Judas in Eight Scenes

posted by R. Fowler White

Among the many searing and disturbing parts of the accounts of Jesus’ suffering and death is the fact that He was betrayed, as we all know, by Judas Iscariot. The impact of that act is so significant that Judas has become the prime example of ‘the betrayer’ in Western culture. Judas not only has a role in virtually every retelling of the Passion of Jesus; he appears often as the proverbial symbol of the profit-driven betrayer in much of our literature and cinema. Yet, every now and then, we hear of efforts to look at Judas in a more sympathetic light, to rehabilitate him. ‘Really?’ you say. Yes, really. Is such a rehabilitation even possible? Taking the Bible seriously, the unfolding relationship between Judas and Jesus can be told from a series of NT scenes. Reflect then on eight scenes in which Judas appears by name.

Scene 1: Judas was appointed by Jesus (Matt 10:1-4; Luke 6:12-15; Mark 3:13-19). The name Judas, taken from one of the sons of Jacob-Israel, was the Greek version of the name Judah. The modifier Iscariot most likely refers to his hometown, indicating that he was Ish-karioth, a ‘man of Karioth,’ a town in southern Judea. As a Judean, he lived closer to a center of education (Jerusalem) and was thus probably more educated and cultured than others among the Twelve (such as the fishermen). Still, like the other Eleven, Judas was chosen by Jesus after an all-night prayer session and was made ‘keeper of the common purse’ (treasurer) for Jesus and the Twelve. Indeed, Judas became one of the few to whom Jesus had spoken privately about the fact that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. Judas, then, was one of the Twelve with whom Jesus had chosen to be most intimately associated. Still, we notice that the four Gospel writers all refer to Judas not just as one of the Twelve. No, they brand him the one who betrayed Him, the one who became a traitor, to underline the heinous nature of his sin and crime. We’re introduced to Judas, then, as one of the Twelve appointed by Jesus, but as the one who betrayed Him.

Scene 2: Judas secretly rejected Jesus (John 6:66-71). As we come to John 6, we’re two years into the earthly ministry of Jesus. Judas has just seen the sign of the feeding of the 5,000 and the sign of walking on the water. He has just heard the “I am the Bread of Life” sermon—which, we’re told, was not received well at all. In fact, the scene in John 6 is one of mass defection from Jesus after His mass popularity. Like many in the crowds, Judas stumbled when Jesus identified Himself as the true Bread of Life from heaven. Hearing that sermon, Judas grumbled as one who did not believe Him (6:61, 64). The surprise here is not only that Judas secretly disbelieved, for many disbelieved. The surprise is that Jesus knew from the beginning that, though he was one of His own choosing, Judas was a devil, a slanderer, who did not believe Him and was intending to betray Him (John 6:70-71).

Scene 3: Judas expressed public contempt for Mary of Bethany, who anointed Jesus for burial (John 12:1-8). By the time we reach this scene in John’s Gospel, we know that Judas has witnessed many signs that authenticated Jesus’ identity, including all seven signs that culminated in the resurrection of Lazarus in Bethany. Back again in Bethany, while Jesus and the Twelve were having supper with Mary and Martha and also with resurrected Lazarus, Mary’s act of devotion got everybody’s attention. Matthew and Mark show us that, in that critical moment, all the Twelve expressed contempt for her action. John, though, singles out Judas for protesting Mary’s act as if she were effectively stealing from the poor to benefit Jesus. Yet his complaint, John tells us, was just a pretentious cover for his pilfering from the common purse of Jesus and the Twelve. To be sure, Jesus rebuked all the Twelve for criticizing Mary, but John expressly identifies Judas at this point as a thief. Why? Because Judas’ protest not only depreciates Mary’s act of devotion; it also portends his complicity in the very events that made Mary’s act necessary and by which he would seek to benefit himself at the expense of Jesus’ life.

Scene 4: Judas bargained with the chief priests (Matt 26:14-16; Mark 14:10-11; Luke 22:3-6; John 13:2). Shortly after Scene 3 at Bethany, we’re told that Satan entered Judas, putting it in his heart to betray Jesus. From the NT accounts of demon possession, we may justifiably infer that Judas began to exhibit any number of unusual symptoms. Perhaps he took on a new personality of the evil spirit within or spoke with an alien voice. Maybe he exhibited fits of rage or extremely violent behavior, or erupted into tirades and screaming, both obscene and blasphemous. Conceivably, he displayed physical disease, disability, or deformity, or even extraordinary physical strength. Most distinctive of Judas, we imagine him developing self-destructive behavior and a hardening to the things of God. Confident at least in these last two symptoms, it was in this state that Judas bargained for Jesus’ life and covenanted with Jewish leaders for thirty pieces of silver, the price of a slave. We can only gasp at the thought that Judas weighed Jesus in the balance and found Him to be worth such a pittance. Yet he compounds our shock by agreeing to a signal for his treachery: a kiss, the customary greeting of a disciple to his beloved rabbi. Just so do we see the stark contrast between Judas’ act of betrayal and Mary’s act of devotion, for deceitful are the kisses of an enemy (Prov 27:6).

Scene 5: Judas eating and drinking at the Passover feast with Jesus (John 13:18-30). Yes, Judas was there at the Passover table in the Upper Room. The devil, we read, had put it in his heart to betray Jesus (13:2). During the Passover meal but before the first Lord’s Supper was instituted, Jesus washed the feet of the Twelve, including Judas. Then Jesus announced the presence of a betrayer at the table, giving Judas a piece of the Passover bread to identify him as the traitor. His true identity, however, remained hidden from all but Jesus. After Judas had taken that morsel, John tells us, Satan entered into him (again). Jesus said to him, What you are going to do, do quickly. And Judas immediately went out. And it was night. Revealed as the son of perdition (John 17:12), the night was his only proper habitat. Still, none of the Eleven so much as looked askance at Judas, much less said, Lord, is it Judas? No, the other disciples thought Judas had gone out to give something to the poor. His deeds of stealth hid his true identity: like his father the devil, he was a deceiver and an accomplice to murder.

Scene 6: Judas became a guide to those who arrested Jesus (John 18:1-9). After Judas left the Upper Room, the Gospel writers tell us how ‘the devil’s bargain’ all went down. Jesus went out with His disciples across the Kidron Valley to a garden where He had often met with His disciples. Meanwhile, Judas, being familiar with that place, proceeded there with a squad of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, carrying lanterns and torches and weapons—that kiss of betrayal included. Jesus, because He knew all that was to happen to Him, stepped forward to meet them. Most notably, Judas also, who was betraying Him, was standing with them. His heart filled by Satan, he had become a guide to those who arrested Jesus.

Scene 7: Remorseful without repentance, Judas committed suicide (Matt 27:3-11). Having seen Jesus condemned to death, Judas was now filled with sorrow and regret—but not with repentance or faith. His response was not that of a changed heart, but of a pained heart. We see him confess his guilt to the Sanhedrin, but not to God or to His Son Jesus. And he then died by suicide. Here we shouldn’t forget the consequences of demonic indwelling: self-destructive behavior. For the love of money, Judas forfeited his soul, showing remorse but no repentance.

Scene 8: God cut Judas out from among the Twelve (Acts 1:12-26). Son of perdition that he was, Judas became a branch broken off from the olive tree (Rom 11:22). He fell away and went to his own place. As Pss 69:25 and 109:8 put it, his dwelling became desolate, and another took his office (namely, Matthias; Acts 1:26). When John the Apostle saw the vision of the Holy City (Rev 21:9-14), he looked on the twelve stones of the foundation of that city and on those stones were the names of the Twelve. Knowing that God had cut Judas out from among the Twelve, we can be sure that John saw no stone with the name Judas Iscariot on it.

Is it really possible to rehabilitate Judas, to put him in a more sympathetic light? If we take the Bible seriously and reflect on Judas in these eight scenes, our answer has to be ‘No.’ But let’s ask another question: why do some of us want to rehabilitate Judas? I submit this reason: because we recognize ourselves in him. He was, after all, among the masses who persisted in rejecting Jesus. Oh, yes, we differ in critical ways from Judas, but we’re also like him. Enslaved to his sins he betrayed Jesus, and so it is with us all. If in that respect we’re like Judas, then the real question is, can we be rehabilitated when Judas was not? Well, let’s put it this way: which kiss would you give Jesus? The kiss of betrayal from Judas brought him the agony of damnation. But the NT scenes of Judas tell us of another kiss too. It’s the kiss of faith from Mary of Bethany who washed Jesus’ feet with her many tears out of her joy over His forgiveness of her many sins. If our kiss is like that of Judas, it will bring us agony in our damnation. But if our kiss is like that of Mary, it will bring us joy in our forgiveness. Be sure, then, that the kiss you give Jesus is the kiss of faith (Ps 2:12).

The Spirit and the Gifts are Ours (1 Cor 12:1-3)

posted by R. Fowler White

As Luther put it, the Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him who with us sideth. What a stupendous acclamation this is, especially in these days of increasing declension. Luther’s words provoke us to master and be mastered by Paul’s instruction on the Spirit and the gifts in 1 Corinthians 12–14. He starts his lessons for us in 12:1-3.

We must know who does and does not have the Holy Spirit and His gifts, 12:1-2. The Apostle does not want us to be uninformed or misinformed but to be well informed about who has the Holy Spirit and His gifts. How do we recognize someone who is genuinely “of the Spirit”? So often we hear that they take part in supernatural phenomena, speak in tongues, fall into trances, dreams, and visions. But we should not ignore that such things took place in Corinth’s temples to Apollo and in Egyptian palaces. They even take place in certain Muslim mosques today. We should not make the mistake, then, of thinking that supernatural happenings have their source always and only in the Holy Spirit of Christ. The biblical fact is that manifestations often associated with or attributed to the Spirit may actually have their source in sinful human nature (aka the flesh) or even in servants of Satan who disguise themselves as apostles or prophets of Christ (2 Cor 11:13-15; Acts 16:16-18).

Given the range of supernatural sources, Paul underscores that none of us had the Holy Spirit before we became believers in Christ Jesus, 12:2. To the contrary, he reminds us that before our conversion, we were in captivity to idols (cf. Hab 2:18-19). As idol worshipers, we were like Narcissus in Greek mythology: he fell in love with his own image reflected in a pool of water. So it was with us: before our conversion we were just in love with an illusion of our own making, a figment of our imagination. Indeed, the Spirit of Christ was not ours, and we were not His.

Yet the Spirit changed us. The Apostle explains. Our captivity notwithstanding, none other than the Holy Spirit ended our bondage to idols and gave us hearts to believe and mouths to confess that Jesus is Lord, 12:3. Paul traces the change in our confession to the enabling power and presence of the Spirit of Christ. Consider this, he says: no confession that Jesus is accursed (i.e., justly condemned) has the Spirit of Christ as its source (12:3a). Only the confession that Jesus is Lord has the Spirit of Christ as its source (12.3b). Still we must be careful and clear: confessing Jesus as Lord is not about saying certain words (as Jesus Himself made clear in Matt 7:21-23). No, in Scripture, confessing Jesus as Lord is the fruit of the work of His Spirit within us so that we believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths. To confess Jesus is Lord, then, is to acclaim His majesty and to swear absolute allegiance to Him as our Royal Deity, as our Savior and Judge. To confess Jesus is Lord is to confess that He has claimed us as His own and that we have claimed Him and His yoke as our own. To confess Jesus is Lord is to confess that He, the crucified one, has been, by His resurrection and ascension, publicly declared to be Lord of all, from whom, through whom, and to whom are all things. For many, such a confession is mere foolishness, even blasphemy. Paul would remind us, however, that for them there is no Lord but the idol of their own imagination. To confess Jesus is Lord actually sets believers apart from all others as those who are of the Spirit of Christ.

Knowing these things, how does the truth that the Spirit and His gifts are ours fit into the big picture of what God has been doing throughout history? That big picture is the macro-narrative that God has been following throughout the history of His work to save sinners. That pattern is that He first wins a victory for His chosen people and then celebrates that victory by giving His Spirit to enable His people to build a sanctuary where He dwells with them. We can see this story-line in both the OT and the NT. The two major OT examples are found in the histories of Moses and David-Solomon. In the book of Exodus we read that God through Moses delivered Israel from Egypt and then by His Spirit equipped His people to build the tabernacle as His dwelling place among them. Later, in the narratives about David and Solomon (2 Sam 2–8; 1 Kgs 5–8), God through David delivered Israel from their enemies and then by His Spirit endowed Solomon to construct the first temple as His holy house among His people. Turning to the NT, we see the same narrative, only better: Christ, full of the Spirit, rescues sinners from their sins and then by the Spirit and His gifts enables them to build and to be built as His living sanctuary.

Remarkable, isn’t it? Moses, David, Solomon, and Israel might well have sung Luther’s lyric with us. How so? They would have done so knowing that God was going to do something better through the One who is greater than they were. After all, Jesus is delivering His people from sin and death, the world, the flesh, and the devil. And by the Spirit and His gifts He is preparing not just a place, but His people, to be His sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true. That work goes forward as we learn the lesson that Scripture has for us: the Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him who with us sideth.

On the Contrast between the Promise and the Law

posted by R. Fowler White

As a complement to the three recent posts on the Hebrew Roots Movement (here, here, and here), consider the following synopsis of Paul’s argument in Gal 3:1–5:1, where he expounds the contrast between the Promise and the Law, between the Abrahamic covenant and the Sinai covenant. Put differently, in those chapters, the Apostle makes an inter-covenantal argument in which he contrasts Christ and the Law.

We might begin by asking, Why would Paul stress the Promise/Law contrast to the Galatian churches? I maintain that he does so because Paul’s opponents at Galatia (2:4) were teaching a heretical view of how to obtain justification and all the other eschatological blessings of Abraham. Specifically, contrary to the false brothers’ position, the Apostle insists that the Law is not the way to obtain those blessings, whether as an alternative to Christ (i.e., law-keeping without Christ) or as a supplement to Christ (i.e., law-keeping plus Christ). Christ is the only way, Christ alone is enough, to secure those blessings. To see how Paul’s argument unfolds, we will break it down section by section.

The “follies” at Galatia (Gal 3:1-9). The issue that Paul’s opponents had created in the Galatian churches can be reconstructed from several places in the letter. We’ll take as an example 3:1-9. There, Paul expresses his astonishment at the foolish Galatians. He lays bare their foolishness by highlighting the contrast between the way they had begun their Christian lives (3:3b) and the way they were now finishing their Christian lives (3:3c). They were at least seriously considering a way other than the one with which they had started (cf. you who want [or desire] to be under the Law, 4:21). The Galatians had begun their new lives under God’s promised blessing: it was by hearing with faith that He had provided them the Spirit and had worked miracles among them (3:2, 3, 5)! Misled by Paul’s opponents, however, the Galatians were, apparently, submitting to doing the works of the Law (3:3) and, as he will add later, to circumcision (5:2-3). The result of these choices was that they are now finishing under God’s threatened curse (3:10; 5:4; cf. Rom 2:25)! Evidently, the false brothers were luring the Galatians, if they had not already duped them, with a false gospel, a gospel different from that of the Apostle (1:6). So, Paul is required to refute that false gospel, and he does so by arguing both for and from the true gospel of Christ. To rebut the “follies” at Galatia, he takes the Galatians through the history of the Promise and the Law. From that history, he reminds them of several pertinent facts.

Redemptive history lesson #1: Before the Law came in (Gal 3:6-9). First, as summarized in 3:6-9, Paul shows the Galatians that, even before the Law came in, the way to obtain the eschatological blessings of Abraham—including justification (3:6, 8)—had not been by doing the works of the Law, but by hearing with faith. In fact, the way the Galatians were now seeking those blessings was contrary to the way in which God had credited righteousness to Abraham himself (3:6). Clearly, before the Law had been enacted, it had been by faith that God had justified Abraham. In addition, the way the Galatians were now seeking those blessings was also contrary to the way in which God had previously determined to credit those blessings to all among the nations who would be Abraham’s true heirs (3:7-9). Therefore, even before the Law came in, doing the works of the Law had not been the way to get the eschatological blessings that Abraham received.

Redemptive history lesson #2: What the Law itself testified (Gal 3:10-14). Second, Paul goes on to explain in 3:10-14 that the Law itself makes it abundantly clear that it is not those of the Law, but those of faith, who obtain eschatological blessings. The Law spells out this truth in its declarations about those who break it (3:10b): it curses each lawbreaker (3:10; cf. 3:13) and justifies no lawbreaker (3:11a; 2:16). In fact, the Law testifies that the curse of death falls on all who fail to keep it, while the blessing of life belongs only to him who does keep it (3:12b; cf. Rom 10:5). Consequently, the Law itself shows that its violators have no hope of justification, life, or any other eschatological blessings by their own doing of the works of the Law. Their only hope is by hearing with faith (3:11b), faith in the one Seed of Abraham, namely Christ, who would be justified by the Law and would become a curse to redeem all under the Law who believe (3:13). By so much, the Law establishes that it is not those of the Law, but those of faith, who obtain the eschatological blessings of Abraham.

Redemptive history lesson #3: After the Law was enacted (Gal 3:15-18). Third, going back in 3:15-18 to the Law’s enactment after the Promise, Paul insists that the Law neither annulled nor amended the Promise. Specifically, the Law’s introduction did nothing to change the means of securing Abraham’s eschatological blessings from faith to law-keeping. In addition, the parties to the Promise remained the same: Abraham and his seed, Christ—that is, Christ and those of faith blessed in Him (3:16, 29). Thus, even after the Law was enacted, the means of obtaining eschatological blessings was, as it always had been, by faith, not by law-keeping.

Redemptive history lesson #4: Why the Law then? (Gal 3:19-22). Fourth, if history shows that those of the Law have never been heirs of Abraham’s eschatological blessings, then the question arises, Why did God enact the Law (3:19-22)? According to Paul, God put it in place for a purpose different from that of the Promise (3:19b, 22), for a duration different from that of the Promise (3:19c), and by a procedure different from that of the Promise (3:19d-21).

The Law’s purpose (Gal 3:19b, 22). As for its purpose, the Law was added to deal with transgressions as breaches that, if not handled properly, would jeopardize the fulfillment of the Promise, whether the transgressors were Gentiles from outside or Jews from inside (3:19b; cf. 2:18). Moreover, the Law was added to keep transgressors under its yoke and in its custody so that the Promise by faith in Christ might be given to those transgressors who believe (3:22). The Law, then, was not introduced as the way to obtain Abraham’s eschatological blessings, but as the way to handle transgressors, subjecting them to its temporary probationary custody and pedagogy.

The Law’s duration (Gal 3:19c). Regarding its duration, unlike the Promise, the Law was revocable and thus temporary in that it was in effect only until the Seed for whom the Promise was reserved should come (3:19c; 4:4). That Seed having arrived, the Law’s probationary tenure came to its proper end; by contrast, the Promise, being irrevocable, is alone in operation to convey eschatological blessings.

The Law’s ratification (Gal 3:19d-21). With respect to its ratification procedure, the Law was enacted through angels by a mediator, whereas the Promise was enacted by God alone (3:20). That is, the Promise was guaranteed with an oath by God who therein revealed Himself to be the Divine Surety of the Promise for Abraham and his heirs (Gen 15:7-17). That oath was, moreover, progressively revealed to be that of God the Father to God the Son, the Surety proper (Ps 110:4; Heb 7:20-22). Therefore, it is God alone, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit (4:4-6), who is able to dispense the eschatological blessings of the Promise. The Law’s mediator, not being a party to the intratrinitarian pact, was not then and is not now able to dispense those blessings.

Redemptive history lesson #5: It is written. Lastly, as a kind of coup de grâce, Paul challenges the Galatians in 4:21–5:1 to hear once more what the Law itself says. He reminds them that it is written that Abraham had two sons by two different women (4:22). Both sons were circumcised, but only one was named Abraham’s heir. How was it that that one son was his heir? It was not according to circumcision or the Law, but according to the Promise. Ishmael, the disinherited son, was begotten of Abraham’s confidence in the flesh; Isaac, the heir, was begotten of his confidence in the Spirit. The mother of Ishmael was identified with the Law, the covenant that bears children into slavery and is linked to Jerusalem below, an earthly city of slaves. The mother of Isaac was identified with the Promise, the covenant that bears children according to the Promise and is linked to Jerusalem above, the heavenly city of the free.

Paul’s overall point reduces to this: if the Galatians hear the Law rightly, they will learn who are and who are not Abraham’s heirs. More than that, they will know to throw out any pseudo-evangelists who require circumcision and law-keeping. They will do so because the Law itself, rightly read, clarifies who Abraham’s heirs are and also prescribes the rejection of their persecutors, particularly false teachers. The Law, then, was never put in place to dispense the eschatological blessings of Abraham, and so it has never been the way to obtain them. As it was at that time, so it is now (4:29-31).

Love and Truth: Do We Sacrifice One for the Other? (2 John)

posted by R. Fowler White

In Scripture, Christians are called to devote themselves both to truth and to love. But can we pursue one without sacrificing the other? To get the bottom of this question, it helps us to reflect on John’s second letter. For our purposes here, we’ll understand the sender, the Elder, to be the Apostle John and the recipients, the elect lady and her children, to be a congregation and its members (as a whole and in its parts) or perhaps a mother church and the congregations born (planted) out of it.

The letter’s opening (2Jn 1-3) stands out for the way John describes the recipients’ relationship to himself and to others. First, he indicates how the recipients are related to him: whom I love in [the] truth. John most probably means that his love for them is not merely sincere, but is consistent with and required by God’s revealed truth. It is a love based in the truth they share. In fact, he will confirm this in 2Jn 7, 9. Second, he describes in a most striking way how the recipients are related to others: all who know the truth love the elect lady and her children in [the] truth. And why is this the case? He tells us: because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever (2Jn 2). In other words, they were bound in love because they were bound in truth. The love they shared was based in the truth they shared. After expressing his gratitude that these believers were living according to the truth despite opposition (2Jn 4), John takes up his exhortation in 2Jn 5-11.

John is careful to start off his appeal by establishing the link between truth and love. Basically, he says, “live your lives in keeping with love, just as y’all are living your lives in keeping with truth” (2Jn 5). Commitment to truth will bear fruit in commitment to love, and devotion to love will bear fruit in devotion to truth. Before moving on, John emphasizes, as he does elsewhere, that this duty to love is not new, novel, innovative, or even original with the Apostle himself. It’s the same obligation we’ve heard from the beginning. Whether we’re talking about the teaching of Jesus during His earthly ministry (Jn 13:34), the code of Moses at Sinai (Lev 19:18), or a duty binding even on Adam and his children (1Jn 3:11-12), our duty to love is a longstanding responsibility.

After John briefly reminds us of our duty to love, he states his reason for recalling that duty: For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist  (2Jn 7). Adding to his portrait of the deceivers, he says in 2Jn 9 that every heretic goes too far, goes beyond the bounds of truth—the teaching of Christ—documented by His Apostles. False teachers are often heard quoting some new word from the Holy Spirit to take us beyond the Apostles’ eyewitness teaching. The Holy Spirit, however, does not take us beyond the teaching of the Apostles. He gives us light to accept and abide in the revelation He has given. It is for this reason that we’re to devote ourselves continually to the Apostles’ doctrine. It is also for this reason that serious Christians will learn from the history of doctrine: that dimension of church history is the locus of the Spirit’s work of illumination, telling us where the boundaries of orthodoxy have been historically. Certainly, only Scripture is the rule of Christian faith and practice, but the church’s historic confessions and creeds are a help to us. They guide us as we strive not to progress beyond the Apostles’ doctrine but to progress in it.

Notice then that to lay the groundwork for the believers’ proper attitude toward heretics and their heresy, the Elder has deftly linked love and truth. He insists that genuine Christian love will discriminate against those who oppose the truth. Indeed, authentic Christian love means protecting ourselves and others against deception by false teachers. John reminds us that just as adherents to Christian truth know that love matters, so devotees to Christian love know that truth matters. Therefore, the Elder tells the elect lady and her children—congregations of Christ’s church—to watch themselves (2Jn 8), maintaining their composure as they work firmly but patiently with those who oppose God’s revealed will (cf. 2Tim 2:24-26). Such vigilance, John says, is particularly necessary for a congregation because to allow heretics or heresies to go unopposed puts the fruitfulness of that congregation’s own ministry in jeopardy. In fact, John says more: he highlights what a congregation should never do in response to a false teacher: do not receive him into your house (i.e., your house church) or give him any greeting (2Jn 10). To get John’s point here, we need to bear in mind a few critical features of hospitality in the biblical world: it wasn’t about inviting someone into our home for coffee or even a meal.

One feature of ancient hospitality is that it was commanded by God (e.g., Heb 13:2) and was directed toward traveling strangers (e.g., Gen 18:1-8). Remarkably, our hospitality, particularly toward itinerants such as the Apostles, will be one criterion of our judgment by the Son of Man, the King (Matt 25:31-46). Second, hospitality sent a message to those who saw it practiced: it announced that Christians who hosted itinerants were sponsoring them and affirming their standing as Christians to outsiders. In fact, part of hospitality was to welcome itinerants, a greeting that amounted to recognizing their good standing as Christians (cf. 2Jn 11). In short, Christians showing hospitality to itinerants was an act of shared Christian love.

With that background in mind, John is quick and emphatic to add here that hospitality to itinerant strangers is never to be indifferent to truth. His point to the elect lady and her children, then, is clear enough: “Don’t show hospitality to known false teachers or their disciples. To do so would be to give them a platform to promote their heresies and thus to become complicit in their evil deeds.”

So, says the Elder, let those entrusted with the ‘ministry of the keys’  in Christ’s church (cf. Matt 16:19) be careful to protect those in their charge. Just as they examine prospective members and officers of a congregation, so let them also examine itinerants such as missionaries and guest speakers. Let them also carefully counsel individual families on their response to itinerant heretics lest their homes become a snare of the devil. Why do this? Because Christians are devoted both to love and to truth. In other words, authentic Christian love means always protecting ourselves and others against false teachers and their teachings.

Hebrew Roots Movement, Part 3

The law of God is at the heart of the HRM and the debates surrounding it. The traditional understanding of God’s law is that there are three parts of the law and three uses of the law. Reformed understanding would also include three main principles for understanding the Ten Commandments (though I will not go through those principles in this post). As far as I can tell, the HRM rejects all or most of these distinctions.

The three parts of the law are the moral, civil, and ceremonial. The moral law is the Ten Commandments. The civil laws are those laws given to Israel as a political entity for the Old Testament time. They were given to Israel for the time when they were in the land (Deuteronomy 5-6, note the recurring phrase “in the land”). They taught the Israelites about holiness, being distinct from the rest of the world. they included laws such as not sowing the land with two different kinds of seeds, or weaving cloth with two different kinds of thread. The dietary laws are also usually reckoned to be in this category. The ceremonial law is the sacrificial system, the worship laws, the feasts and festivals. Of course, there has always been some debate about whether a particular law belongs in one or the other of these three basic categories. However, the vast majority of the church has held to this distinction for most of its history.

The HRM believes the church invented this distinction without any biblical basis whatsoever. The HRM erases category distinctions between sets of laws, thus (at least potentially) putting the law of two different kinds of threads on the same footing as “Do not murder.” Jesus says, in Matthew 23:23 that there are weightier and less weighty matters of the law. Tithing mint and cumin is less weighty than justice and mercy. He says none of them should be neglected by the Pharisees, but the Pharisees lacked a sense of proportion. For a far larger and exegetical position defending the biblical position of the three parts of the law, see this excellent tome.

The three uses of the law are equally important in this discussion. The first use of the law, the pedagogical use, is outlined in Galatians 3:19ff. In this use, the law shows people how badly they fail to measure up to the law’s demands. What goes along with that is the equally important truth that the law shows us how perfectly Jesus Christ did measure up to the law’s demands. In this use, the gospel is set in contrast (not opposition) to the law. As Michael Horton would put it, the law says “Do this;” the gospel says “done.” Now, of course, there needs to be nuance applied to Horton’s statement, as he himself does. The nuance is quite adequately found in the other uses of the law.

The second use of the law is to restrain evil in the world, the civil use of the law. Romans 1-2 provide the foundation for this understanding of the law. The moral law is written on every person’s conscience. There is no particular need to dwell on this use of the law, as it probably would not be controversial among HRM proponents.

The third use of the law is as a guide to the Christian life. HRM proponents would probably agree partially. Reformed folk believe that the law is not to be obeyed to obtain or retain God’s saving favor. God’s fatherly pleasure is distinct, of course. Obeying the moral law is our thanksgiving and gratitude to God for the salvation He has given us as a free gift. In the video linked in the last post, Anne Elliott says that she circumcised her boy on the eighth day. Apparently, she has not properly understood Galatians 5:1-6. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything. If one accepts circumcision, then he is obligated to keep the entire law. This is the state of having fallen away from grace (towards works!). This is being severed from Christ. This is one of the main reasons I call the HRM heresy: it is the exact same heresy as Paul was fighting in the letter to Galatians. Next up, I will start exegeting individual texts that are at issue, grouping them around dietary laws, the feasts, circumcision, and show how the HRM twists Scripture to fit its grid, even while they accuse the church of doing so.

Hebrew Roots Movement, Part 2

Up next is hermeneutics, or how people interpret the Bible. It is not certain that there is any one particular method that holds true for all HRM proponents. What does appear to be common among HRM proponents, however, is the initially plausible-sounding cry “Put aside all lenses and biases and interpret the Scripture as if reading it for the first time.” This has much in common with many other hermeneutical approaches. There is a grain of truth here, in that biases can distort our picture of the biblical text. They don’t always do that, however. The naivete of the approach can be made quite plain by a few simple points: 1. Is it actually possible to lay aside all bias? You see, what “Put aside all lenses and biases and interpret the Scripture as if reading it for the first time” actually means, practically speaking, is “ignore anything and everything the church has said about Scripture for two thousand years.” Don’t expect the Holy Spirit to have given gifts of teaching to the church over that period. Far better to believe that the gates of Hell have actually prevailed against the church, and for most of its history. 2. Therefore, saying “lay aside all bias” actually puts in place a far more insidious bias that always goes unacknowledged and unchallenged: the church is always wrong. As Ken Ham often says, “The question is not whether you’re biased, but whether the bias that you’re biased with is the right bias to be biased with in the first place.” Everyone has a bias in the sense that they have a point of view. Or, to adapt Ligon Duncan’s statement on confessions of faith, everyone has a bias, but some simply won’t tell you what it is. Those who have creeds and confessions can simply point you to them, and say, “This is what we believe Scripture says as a whole, and therefore any interpretation which contradicts what we believe Scripture as a whole to be saying will not be countenanced.”

If a person desires to go with the whole “lay aside all bias and lenses” thing, what they usually do is introduce a new lens without telling you that they are doing so. Take the example of Lex Meyer, for example. Lex is the founder of Unlearn. He says in a video (his talk starts around the 30:30 mark) that we need to take off all the lenses that distort our understanding of Scripture and focus only on what Scripture itself says. His website is “Unlearn the lies.” Unfortunately for him, he then proceeds to introduce a grid for interpreting Scripture that is the Medieval quadriga! This is as churchly biased as it gets, ironically enough. He just doesn’t like modern churchly interpretation, but is quite willing to go back to the allegorical ways of the Medieval church. It is not surprising to me that this surfaced in the HRM, as the Medieval quadriga pretty much allows the reader to make the Scripture say anything he wants it to say.

If this is not the right way to go about things (and it is not!), then what is the right way? Firstly, we have to recognize that Scripture itself tells us that there is a pattern of sound teaching (2 Timothy 1:13-14), a faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). It is right and proper, therefore, to summarize that teaching in creeds and confessions. What some have helpfully called a hermeneutical spiral then begins to form: we form a grid that is always correctable, but which also forms a boundary beyond which lies heresy. This is not only informed by Scripture, but also informs our reading of Scripture. Up next, the biblical understanding of the law of God as contrasted with HRM.

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