A Fun New Blog

Well, it’s been around for awhile, but it’s new to me. It’s always interesting for me to discover someone else who realizes the connections between music and theology. This is my sister-in-law’s reformed Evangelical Free Church pastor in Orland, California. He is no dummy, that’s for sure. He has written two books, one of which I have read most of the way through. It is quite compelling, an amazing exploration of the way in which a pastor can rationalize sin (who better?), and cover it up with a most elaborate system of lies. Scary, but compelling. The other I intend to read soon.

The Old Testament Evidence Concerning Paedo-Communion

Drastically reducing Venema’s arguments to a manageable blog size (hopefully without distorting anything), we come up with the following dictums.

1. The Old Testament evidence suggests that infants perhaps participated in Passover (this is another great example of Venema’s gracious interaction with PC advocates: he grants points that would favor the PC position, and does not shove any evidence under the rug. Venema only comes to the point of critique when it comes to the whole picture. This is why Venema’s book is the most valuable contribution to this debate from the critical side). This evidence is not unambiguous, however, and hardly supports the weight of the claims based upon it by PC advocates.

2. Ultimately, the New Testament evidence is the most decisive point. Here we must note that the New Testament evidence is not always allowed by PC advocates to have its full weight. The reason that non-PC advocates believe this is because the evidence is more explicit. As it will appear when coming to 1 Corinthians 11, the PC position cannot adequately exegete the passage. This is not dispensational argumentation. Rather, it is redemptive-historical, noting the development of doctrine from OT to NT.

3. The people of God in the New Testament must worship God in spirit and in truth.

4. PC arguments prove too much. With regard to the manna, even non-believers were allowed to participate. Presumably, not even PC advocates would allow professed non-believers to the Table.

5. There is a difference between the annual celebration of the Passover and the one-time original Passover. The annual Passover was only for adult males, while the original Passover included the entire household. To my knowledge, this point has never been addressed by PC advocates. The relevant passages are Deuteronomy 16:16, Exodus 23:17, and Exodus 34:23 (these also address the other pilgrim feasts such as the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Booths).

6. Perhaps the most important precedent for the Lord’s Supper is in fact Exodus 24. This was a meal that was only for Moses and the leaders of Israel. We are not suggesting that the Lord’s Supper is today only for the leaders. However, it does demonstrate the complexity of appealing to OT evidence in support of NT practices.

7. Piggy-backing on number 5, the fact that women and children did not participate in the annual Passover does not suggest that women and children should feel excommunicated or excluded from the community by the practice. In my opinion, this argument (that exclusion of infants from the Lord’s Table in effect excommunicates them) is the very weakest argument from the PC side. It really needs to be shelved.

More detailed exegesis of the relevant passages will follow in a series of posts directly addressing the OT evidence regarding the practice of paedocommunion. This post is intended as a summary post.

The Time-Point of Faith

Doug’s response to me is here. It seems to me that the main point of Doug’s argument is that my statement regarding the nature of the Sacraments actually works better in the PC camp than in the non-PC camp. In other words, if the point of the Sacrament is that it accompanies the Word (and we both seem to agree that it does), then we should be giving children the Sacrament, thus allowing them to grow into the proper understanding, rather than waiting until they can demonstrate such an understanding. More of an answer below.

We are bringing the logic of courtroom verification into the rearing of children. Nothing against courtroom verification in its place, but that’s not what we should be doing here. Christian nurture is more like breastfeeding than it is like grilling a hostile witness.

I’m not entirely sure where this comes from, however. The language of grilling a hostile witness is certainly not commensurate with any examination of prospective membership that I have ever seen. We certainly do not take the stance “non-Christian until proven otherwise.” This language would assume that which needs to be proven: it assumes that refusing the ignorant from the table is the same (practically speaking) as excommunication. As I argued from my own experience (which Doug did not seem to contest), I felt absolutely zero sense of excommunication. I wonder if this argument about excommunication comes from Doug’s Baptist background, which. Baptists tend to talk about their children as if they were pagans before profession of faith. This view of children is not prominent in covenantal Presbyterian churches. As I grew up, I learned that the Supper was a special thing, something to be taking very seriously, that solemn kind of gladness that C.S. Lewis talks about in the Chronicles of Narnia. But there is a fence around the table that children need to climb. And the church elders need to see them able to do that. I think where Doug and I differ is how high that fence is, what the nature of that fence is, and how athletic the children have to be in order to do that.

There is an important difference between the Word and the Sacrament that comes into play at precisely this point. That difference is that the immediate consequence of not understanding the Word is less serious than a non-understanding participation in the Sacrament. The warnings for not heeding the Scripture are just as dire, but more long-term. There is a sense in which the Word has the leisure to work long-term on people. It can take years before the Word really starts to penetrate people. And the Bible seems to allow for that. The Word can have a “wearing down” effect. It gradually wears down our defenses, and gradually penetrates bit by bit over time. However, the effect of the Sacrament is slightly different. Faith is necessary for the Sacrament to have its effect. If faith is not present, the negative effect is more immediate than with the Word. To a certain extent, these questions cannot be resolved until the exegesis of 1 Corinthians 11 takes place. For it is there that we find the consequences of incorrect participation in the Sacrament. The question becomes this: does ignorance of the Sacrament constitute illegitimate participation, and what exactly constitutes ignorant participation? These two questions are at the heart of the debate, I believe. In differing answers to these questions, we find the various positions ranged across the spectrum.

There’s Accommodation, and then There’s …?

I remember sitting in class at WTS listening to Dr. Enns explain his experience with unbelieving professors and their intellectual challenge to his faith. He expressed that he was particularly shaken by the strength of their attack on the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible. His solution (my assessment of what I heard) was to accommodate himself to some of the presuppositions of his unbelieving, higher-critical professors at Harvard (-ahhhhd.)

In this post I want to focus on Enns’ (et. al.) notion of accommodation. I am using this term in a two-fold sense: 1) the accommodation Enns makes to unbelieving higher-critical (UHC) scholars, and 2) the accommodation Enns believes God makes in the Bible.

Enns’ Accommodation to UHC Scholars

Enns in principle accepts the affirmation from UHC scholars that extra-biblical sources of information provide irrefutable evidence that that Bible contains demonstrable falsehoods and mistakes. That is, the Bible contains provable factual errors.

Further these are not immaterial errors. Rather these are non-incidental errors; they are in things that matter to the exegesis of the doctrines of Scripture. (See Incoherent Inerrancy and Who Ya Gonna Believe for further explanation on these topics.)

Thus Enns begins with the presupposition that the Bible necessarily records things for which there is no other way to describe them but as errors. Accordingly, if he is going to maintain any semblance of belief in inerrancy, he must re-define it. This is what he attempts to do in the second sense of accommodation.

God’s Accommodation to Man

It is true that man himself is prone to error. He is prone to: 1) believing things that are not true, 2) teaching others to believe these false beliefs; and 3) building his life on these false beliefs. In God’s mercy, error-prone man actually achieves some degree of success via his error-laden convictions.

Enns’ argues that God accommodates his communication in the Bible to this error-proneness of man. This is not the accommodation position of Calvin and historic reformed doctrine (e.g., anthropomorphic language) in which God communicates the otherwise incomprehensibleness of his own being in terms that are comprehensible to us, but are not therefore premised on falsehoods or mistakes.

No, the accommodation Enns argues for is God knowing use of man’s erroneous understanding. The BIG example is found in Gn 1:1-2:4 (and other creational passages); where God (supposedly) accommodates his explanation of his sovereignty in creation to man’s (scientifically) erroneous understanding. Other material examples are scattered throughout the Bible, often historical “errors” in which the Biblical data does not match what secular knowledge has proven to be true.

The key to demonstrating that this accommodation is actually occurring in the Bible is not the narrowly the contradicting secular sourced information. No, it is a presupposition flowing what is called comparative religious studies. Particularly, the myths and legends of ancient near eastern (ANE) civilizations, civilizations that are neighbors to ancient Israel (in time and location), demonstrate (apparent) similarities wth corresponding Biblical passages. These (apparent) similarities are used by Enns to demonstrate that God was not trying to express himself factually accurately. Rather, he was using the cultural errors common to his people (the broader ANE cultural mileu, the historical-societal environment) to explain to them his truths in terms acceptable to their limited (error-prone) intellectual capacities.

In other words, these ANE myths/legends serve as the solution to the problem of how to maintain inerrancy in the presence of the Bible’s errors. God was merely accommodating himself to speak truth via the errors with which man was comfortable.

Aside from the fact that the supposed similarities between the ANE myths/legends is highly overrated; and aside from the fact that there is a better explanation for any similarities that do exist (corrupted transfer of fact), consider where this principle of accommodation leaves us:

God used stories he knew to be filled with non-incidental errors as the basis for his communication of the same “history,” with the intention of giving us a trustworthy record. He used known (to him) errors to communicate trustworthy truth.

Boiling it down to the critical focus, as the whole Bible has a Christocentric (Christ is the center) purpose, or as Enns prefers, a Christotelic (Christ is the goal) purpose, then – God used ANE superhero comic book stories to convince us that Jesus really is The Superhero!

There’s accommodation, and then there’s …?

– Reed DePace

Cleanliness and Dirtiness

Matthew 15:10-20


Dutch people are known for their cleanliness. I still remember with astonishment when I heard that some people in our community even wash the walls of their garage! I do not believe I have ever done that in my entire life. I have heard that there are people who will wash and polish their tractors before going out into the field. Cleanliness is a great thing. The old adage is true “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” What I would like to do is to expand that idea so that we are talking about all forms of cleanliness, not just outward cleanliness, and also so that we can make sure that we have them in proper priority. Jesus is going to help us do that in our passage here.

Remember from last time that the Pharisees had accused Jesus of breaking the traditions of the elders by having the disciples eat with unwashed hands. The reasoning went like this: if you ate with unwashed hands, then the food you were eating would become unclean as well. If unclean food goes inside you, then your whole body becomes unclean. The Pharisees hated dirtiness almost as much as Dutch people! So they wanted to avoid that at all costs. Unfortunately for them, they tended to neglect other kinds of cleanliness. This is what Jesus is going to tell them in our passage. There is a more important kind of cleanliness, and that is of the heart.

Verse 10 is really quite remarkable. Jesus is saying that there is a fundamental error of direction in the teaching of the Pharisees. The Pharisees are all concerned about what is going in the mouth. Jesus says that that’s wrong. What makes a person really unclean is not what goes in, but what comes out. It’s a question of direction. It is important to realize just how revolutionary this would have sounded to a Pharisee. What about all the dietary laws of the Old Testament? Didn’t those count anymore? To the Pharisees, Jesus was not just attacking the traditions anymore. Now He was attacking the Old Testament. But of course, Jesus was not attacking the Old Testament. He was saying that the OT food laws no longer apply to Christians today. But the reason for that is that the line of demarcation was changing. The food laws existed in the Old Testament to mark out the people of God from the world. The worldly people ate everything, whereas the people of God ate only what was clean. The purpose of all those kinds of laws in Leviticus particularly was to mark out the people of God as different from the world. Of course, that physical difference was supposed to point to a spiritual difference as well. Circumcision also functioned this way, marking out the Israelite males from the world’s males. But circumcision was not merely a physical sign. Even the Old Testament said that circumcision was always supposed to be a matter of the heart. Circumcise your hearts, and not your flesh, says Deuteronomy. That didn’t mean that they should no longer circumcise. Rather, it meant that the Israelites were always to be thinking about the spiritual reality behind circumcision. The same is true of the food laws. What is really clean? Who may ascend the hill of the Lord, as the Psalm asks? He who has clean hands and a pure heart. When Jesus comes, then, He is saying that the thing that will now mark out the people of God is a clean heart. Jesus is simultaneously saying that what defiles a person comes from inside the person.

In verses 12-14 we have a somewhat humorous little diversion, as the disciples think they have to explain something to Jesus. They think that Jesus didn’t really know that He had offended the Pharisees! Jesus responds with a statement about God the Gardener. God the Gardener is the one Who plants and Who digs up what is planted by someone else. Jesus is saying here, in effect, that the Pharisees are nothing but weeds. If we remember the parable of the wheat and the tares, I think we will see that Jesus is reminding us of that parable here, and that the Pharisees will be uprooted in the day of judgment. Verse 14 tells us to leave alone such teachers. We shouldn’t have any dealings with such people, for they are blind guides. The Pharisees thought of themselves as guides of the blind, but Jesus says here that they themselves are blind. So if one blind man leads another blind man, they will both fall into a pit.

After this short diversion, Peter gets back to the question at hand by asking Jesus to explain. You see, the disciples were having trouble understanding this as well. Is Jesus really saying that we can eat pork now? Interestingly, Peter, who asks Jesus to explain here, still won’t get it until Acts 10, where he sees the sheet with all the supposedly unclean foods on it, and the Lord tells him to eat of those now clean foods. In fact, Mark tells us that that is exactly what Jesus means here. Mark says, “In so saying, Jesus declared all foods clean.” The fulfillment of those dietary laws is at hand in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Jesus is a little exasperated with the disciples. He says in effect, “You still don’t get it, do you? Why are you so slow? This isn’t rocket science!” Verse 17 says it all. What you eat does one of two things. Whatever is useful in your food is retained by your body to be used for the cells in your body. Whatever is not useful is expelled into the toilet. Jesus actually uses the word toilet here, and we will shortly see why. The point is that nothing unclean remains in the body! The body already knows what to do with useless materials. It just expels useless materials.

But physical uncleanness is not really Jesus’ top priority here. He is more concerned about spiritual uncleanness. Verse 18 says it very clearly: what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. The Pharisees were making the same mistake that my professor once made. His wife looked outside at their apple trees, and there wasn’t any delicious-looking fruit on it. The fruit was all ugly and rotten. His wife asked my professor if there was anything he could do about it. One week later, she looked out of the kitchen window to see her husband with a ladder, a stapler, and a bushel basket of apples! He then proceeded to staple these apples on to the tree. Looked great for a while. But those apples were not part of the tree. The heart of the tree was still bad. This is the problem with much of modern counseling, by the way. We are frantically trying to change outward behavior. We just want the person to behave. And yet, no attention is paid to the root (pun intended!) of the problem: our hearts! If no change happens in the heart, then no permanent change will occur in the behavior. We must recognize this fact about ourselves, or there is no hope, because we will look for solutions in all the wrong places.

Jesus tells us in this passage that we should be more bothered by what comes out of our heart than we should be by what happens in the toilet. This is because our hearts are dirtier than any toilet. And we cannot be cleansed until we realize this fact. Jesus tells us in verse 19 how this happens: every sin that we can imagine starts in the heart. Even our outward behavior stems from the heart. This is the point of mentioned murder and adultery, theft and slander. Those are all supposedly outward sins: but Jesus here tells us that they all start in the heart. And a sin that starts in the heart will eventually come out. You know, the Bible tells us that drunkenness is a sin. Sometimes we like to think that a person who is drunk sort of becomes a different person. But this same professor once told me that there is nothing that comes out of the mouth of a drunkard that wasn’t in his heart when he was sober. All drunkenness does is remove the restraints so that what is in the heart comes out without any hindrance at all. Sin always starts in the heart, and moves outward from there.

What can cleanse such hearts! Only the blood of Jesus can cleanse our hearts. This is what baptism represents. Baptism is a sign of water that points to a spiritual reality of Christ’s cleansing blood. When God gives us faith in Christ, then, our sins are cleansed by the blood of the Lamb, and that makes our baptism complete. It happens when we have faith. It is not the mere outward sign of water, as we ought to know. Outward water cannot wash away sins, anymore than having clean hands means that you have a pure heart. The one who can enter the presence of the Lord must have clean hands AND a pure heart. Only God can make that heart pure. Psalm 51 is so important in this regard. It says “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! Pure me with hyssop and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow…Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” You see, that Psalm was written after Nathan had confronted David with David’s sin concerning Bathsheba and Uriah. David understood that it was not just the outward sin that was the problem. It was the inner heart that was the problem. So, when he prays, he does not pray for the outside to be clean only. He prays for his whole person to be cleansed from sin. Most importantly, he prays for a clean heart.

We all need to pray for clean hearts. We are cleansed once and for all when we come to faith in Jesus’ cleansing blood. However, there is also a sense in which we need daily cleansing as well, in order to keep our relationship with God clean. How often do we repent of our mental sins? How often do we think about how we have offended God in our hearts? I would challenge us this week to consider the sins of the heart. Ask the Lord to show them to us. Be limp and malleable under God’s searching gaze, knowing that when the truth comes into the open, cleansing can happen. When we don’t confess, then our bones rot away, as the Psalmist says in Psalm 38. But when we confess our sins to our God, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. As David says, “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” The Lord despises hypocrisy. It seems that the more a person is focused on merely outward things, the more he ignores his inward heart condition. The Lord is telling us to reverse that priority.

There is, of course, a danger in all this. When you look too much inside yourself, you can become lost in the maze of your own heart. The point here is not to lose yourself inside yourself, but rather to acknowledge the sin that is there, and then immediately to look to your Savior. For the strength of our salvation does not depend on how strong our faith is, but on how strong our Savior is. Look to Him for cleansing! And you will be healed.

The Theology of Sacraments Underlying Communion

We haven’t fully explored yet Venema’s underlying theology of the Sacraments (which I would argue is the historic Reformed position as codified in all the confessions of the Reformed churches).

Page 43 is essential for understanding this. He argues that “the insistence of the confessions that the recipients of the Lord’s Supper be professing believers arises out of their general teaching regardint the nature and power of the sacraments. (paragraph break in original) As noted in the foregoing, the Lord’s Supper, because it is a visible representation and confirmation of the gospel promise in Christ, requires the same response as the gospel on the part of its participants- faith. Neither the gospel Word nor the sacrament work merely by virtue of their administration (ex opere operato). Only by a spiritual eating and drinking by the mouth of faith does the sacrament communicate Christ to His people.” (emphasis original). At this point, it becomes evident that a rational understanding of the Sacrament becomes essential to a proper partaking, although it is not sufficient. We are not necessarily talking about whether a person has to understand the various views of Christ’s presence in the Sacrament. Rather, we are talking about the same reaction to the Sacrament as one should have to the Gospel preached in the Word. Therefore, the self-examination required is similarly limited: is the faith by which I would receive the Sacrament matching up to the faith that I receive by the Holy Spirit working in the Word? This is hardly morbid introspection, by the way.

As an aside, have you noticed how most FV proponents (as well as many non-FV PC advocates) always link the adjective “morbid” to the term “introspection?” You’d think it was a hyphenated word, from the sound of things. You’d think there was absolutely zero possibility of any kind of introspection of a non-morbid nature, if you believed these folks. And yet, if no introspection occurs at all, then how is one supposed to know and confess the sins of the heart? In Psalm 51, although David’s sins had an outward dimension, it is inner cleansing that he knows he needs. Similarly, when Jesus talks about the heart in Matthew’s gospel (chapter 15, for instance), this hardly teaches us to ignore what happens in our hearts. There is an undoubted danger in getting lost in the deepest recesses of our own hearts. This happens in depression, for example. However, the equal and opposite danger of formalized outward religion with nothing happening in the area of the heart is exactly what happened to the Pharisees. We must always connect our heart to the cleansing blood of Christ as problem to solution. It helps not one whit to focus overly much on either problem or solution. Rather, we must have a healthy examination of each and in roughly equal measure.

Back to the subject at hand, Venema concludes that the confessions teach that “all believers who are received at the Lord’s Table come in the same way and with the same obligations” (p. 45). These obligations include active engagement (p. 44). This participation is linked to the preaching of the Gospel, without which the Sacrament does not communicate grace. If this is true, then if a child cannot understand the Gospel, they will not understand the Sacrament either. This also relates to the issue of whether children are being deprived of nourishment. Venema notes that this charge against CC advocates would only be true if the children were being deprived of the Word (p. 48). In the next article, we will begin the real meat of the debate, which will be an examination of the exegetical arguments.

Who Ya Gonna Believe?!

The interaction on the previous post (Incoherent Inerrancy) has been both irenic and helpful. In my estimation, our brothers who no longer affirm the orthodox doctrine of inerrancy proved the point of my post (their assumed objections notwithstanding.)

Yesterday at breakfast my wife and I discussed this thread. Imagine what it’s like eating scrambled eggs trying to make the conversation of a bunch of eggheads palatable. That mental sweat led me to come up with a few additional posts that I hope might focus things for readers here; things they might not have the background or time to track with. This is the first of these “focusing” posts.

In my estimation the most significant issue focusing the differences between the two positions here (error-laden inerrancy, eLi, and error-free inerrancy, eFi) is that of presuppositions. In question form, what are the principles, presumed undeniably true, which function as the starting point and interpretive control for each position? These unquestioned principles are critical because they determine how each position understands the issue of inerrancy. If a presupposition is wrong, then the conclusions reached by that position will be flawed as well.

So, for each position, let me list the key presuppositions. I’m not proposing to list all of these, just the ones that focus the critical difference between both positions. I believe this will lead us to the vital question in this whole discussion, one that each of us must answer when reading our own Bibles.

eLi Presuppositions

1. Man’s knowledge challenges the veracity of some Biblical passages. There are two key sources for this knowledge: scientific knowledge and historical knowledge (historical records, archeology, etc.)
2. This knowledge is undeniably true. It is not merely rational, but this knowledge has objectively been proven to be unquestionably true.
3. Therefore the Biblical passages which disagree with this knowledge must be in error.
4. Therefore the Bible must teach some sort of error-laden inerrancy (eLi.)

Following these presuppositions, proponents of eLi argue that all they are about is letting the Bible explain for itself how it uses errors, and yet itself is still inerrant. (Some proponents have abandoned inerrancy altogether, focusing solely on showing that the (supposed) errors in the Bible do not detract from its infallibility.)

It is important to note the role played by these presuppositions, especially the first two. These are presupposed to be true; they cannot possibly be false. Given this, anything in the Bible that disagrees with any of this unquestionable knowledge is, by definition, an error.

eFi Presuppositions

1. Inspiration: the Bible claims to be written by God (2Ti 3:16 – 2Sa 23:2; Lk 1:70; 1Pt 1:19-21.) “Holy Scripture must be acknowledged as the Word of God by virtue of its divine origin.” (Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy, Part III, Section A.)

2. Inerrancy: the Bible claims to be like its Divine Author, without error (Jh 17:17 – 2Sa 22:31; Ps 12:6; 18:30; 19:7-9; 119:140-144, 151-152; Pro 30:5; Rom 7:12; Jas 3:17.) “’Inerrant’ signifies the quality of being free from all falsehood or mistake and so safeguards the truth that Holy Scripture is entirely true and trustworthy in all its assertions.” (CSBI, Part III, Section C.)

3. Infallibility: the Bible claims to be like its Sovereign Author, reliable (Mt 5:18 – Ps 119:89-91; Isa 40: 8; 46:10-11; 55:10-11; Mt 24:25; Mk 13:31; Jh 10:35; 1Pt 1:25. “’Infallible’ signifies the quality of neither misleading nor being misled and so safeguards in categorical terms the truth that Holy Scripture is a sure, safe and reliable rule and guide in all matters.” (CSBI, Part III, Section C.)

To be sure, most proponents will affirm these same presuppositions. Yet they do so in a secondary manner. That is, their commitment to these presuppositions is secondary to, and therefore dependently submissive to, the presuppositions previously listed.

They will affirm inspiration, but it is an inspiration that accommodates itself to the errors of mankind. They will affirm inerrancy (most), but as noted previously, this is an incoherent inerrancy, an error-laden inerrancy. They will affirm infallibility, but it is an infallibility merely of divine pronouncement, functioning in the presence of and contrary to rational evidence that would remove the reliability of any other document.

Thus, these are not actually presuppositions after all, merely principles to be re-defined.

In the end, it is their presupposed commitment to the authority of knowledge from men that leads them to the eLi position, not what the Bible says for itself. That is, they have given the position of final authority, the role of final judge of the Bible, to Man, not God.

In contrast, the Bible claims that God is its final judge and authority. The Bible teaches that what it says, God says; its authority is His authority, for He is its ultimate Author (paraphrase from CSBI, Part III, Section A.)

So, as you read your Bible, here is the vital question to answer: God or Man, who ya gonna believe?!

– Reed DePace

Volume Three of This Important Series…

on the Westminster Confession of Faith is slated to appear in July. There are several articles that will be of interest to readers of this blog, including the New Perspective on Paul, covenant theology, and Karl Barth.

Incoherent Inerrancy

Recently a few of the threads here have become, at least partly, directed toward a dominant tangent. This is the issue of the adjustment to the biblical doctrine of inerrancy offered by Dr. Peter Enns (Inspiration and Incarnation) and others.

What I’ve read in comments here at GB supports what I’ve learned already about this position. Its proponents want to maintain the following three points:

1. The Bible contains non-incidental errors.
2. The Bible itself is inerrant.
3. This is not a contradiction.

I won’t go into all the proper tweaking and explaining that needs to be attached to these in order to fairly understand these brothers. The critical thing to note is that they are arguing that the Bible does contain errors that are non-incidental; errors that necessarily impact the exegesis of doctrine.

Nor do I want to spend time noting the adjustments in definitions that these brothers make. This is most particularly with reference to what “inerrant” means.

Rather I want to speak as a pastor to these brothers, and ask them to consider their brothers and sisters in the pew. There are many more readers of this blog than posters. From the notes I’ve received, I’m pretty confident in saying that many of them are laypeople who come here looking for advice, insight, and help with questions that are bugging them. (I’m sure Lane and the other moderators will affirm that this is their take as well.)

Brothers, I have one word to summarize what I hear you saying: incoherent. No, I’m not saying that bits and pieces don’t make sense. Nor am I saying I do not track with your arguments. I do.

Nor am I ignorant of the underlying conversation. I graduated from WTS in ’99. I sat under, with respect and appreciation, Enns and the rest of the faculty, including: Green, Taylor, Groves, Kelly, et.al. (These fathers named merely because y’all often reference them in support of Enns. The rest of the faculty has my gratefulness as well.) I listened carefully. I followed what they were saying. While I don’t propose to be as bright as some, the mostly “A”‘s I received in class, I dare say, we’re not given because of their kindness.

As well, I’ve read I&I, and a host of other documents referenced in these conversations. All this to say, while I’m never going to be the next generation’s Sproul (Edwards, Owen, take your historical pick); I’m not a slouch who has it all figured out and is not interested in listening to anyone who disagrees with him.

If I find you arguments incoherent, what do you think the average layperson hears when they read what you’ve written? One of you recently actually said, in the same paragraph, the Bible has errors, and the Bible is inerrant. (A fair paraphrase.) The context of those statements did not remove the onus present in this summary.

Brothers, assume for a second your position is right, and it will be a blessing to the Church in the future. Does not the significance of the subject (the only rule for faith and practice, THE source of spiritual food for the people of God) necessitate more care and caution on your parts?

Your arguments are not as well thought out and erudite as you think. You have not yet listened carefully enough to your critics. It will not do to maintain as one of your standard retorts, “You’re not understanding what I am saying” (in multiple variations, a continual response from y’all.) Even if this were true (it is at times, and in some quarters, but not as generally as y’all want to think), even it were inerrantly true :) – does this not suggest a greater burden on your part to gentleness, patience, and longsuffering?

Now, yes, I do recognize that some of you do evidence these qualities at times. Yet y’all are not considering that even when you’re not “fending off the opponent” you speak with an incoherency to the broader Church. It is as if y’all have figured out the secret password, been admitted to the club, and now spend your time speaking gibberish to others outside the club – all under the motive of helping them gain admittance too.

I will let the cat of the bag so to speak, in terms of my convictions and fear. I have learned and accepted bits and pieces of arguments from your side. Yet I do not see your fundamental point. Rather, I believe your position is only supported via the use of a post-modern influenced redefinition of words and concepts. You are wrong, and this will be shown in time.

My fear is that you are starting another battle for the Bible. I know this is not what you say you want – but that is how you are proceeding.

For myself, I am gripped by the fear of both my own weaknesses, and my calling to protect the sheep from error. I pray you likewise be gripped more by the fear of your weaknesses and the calling of your discipleship.

I recognize my words here cannot help but to offer offense. I do not do so casually. I hope I’ve not been careless. I also recognize that for some of you, your first reaction will be just that: reaction.

Please though, pause and consider how incoherent this sounds: error-laden inerrancy. This is how you sound.

– Reed DePace

Tradition and Law

Matthew 14:34-15:9


The Pharisees were all about the law. They loved the law. They loved the law so much that they wanted to provide easy ways to avoid breaking the law. So, they started adding what they called a “fence” around the law. If you weren’t supposed to break the Sabbath by working, for instance, then we need to define what work is. They eventually came up with a rather detailed discussion of what does and what does not constitute work. For instance, if someone were to give a gift to someone, they couldn’t take it out of their house, because that would be work. Nor could the receiver of the gift cross the threshold in order to receive the gift. What they came up with was that the giver would extend his hand only beyond the threshold and the receiver would take it out of his hand. That way no act of work could be said to have taken place. Similar laws sprung up around each one of the laws. Eventually, it got written down in what is called the Talmud, a gigantic collection (about 30 plus volumes) of advice and laws put in place to keep people from disobeying the law. They had good intentions, maybe. The unfortunate effect of all this was that they got preoccupied with these additional laws that they had set up, and had forgotten about the law itself. As a result, their form of religion became quite preoccupied with external things, and neglected the weightier matters of the law. In this passage, we see a clear instance of this happening. It is very instructive for us, especially if we are careful to see the passage in its proper context.

Jesus had just finished healing a whole bunch of people at the end of chapter 14. It didn’t matter what state they were in, Jesus healed them. Now, it is quite certain that many of those people that Jesus healed were ceremonially unclean. Maybe some of them had open sores. Maybe some of them had fevers. Some of them probably had leprosy. Many of them were ceremonially unclean, according to Old Testament law. At any rate, if Jesus touched these people, then it could supposedly be assumed by the Pharisees that Jesus also was ceremonially unclean. Then, in the beginning of chapter 15, they actually start eating without even washing their hands! This really upsets the Pharisees and scribes.

Now, the Pharisees and scribes had come down specially from Jerusalem to check out this Galilean preacher and to see what His practices were, and what He was teaching His disciples. This probably indicates that the powers that be in Jerusalem were starting to become alarmed by all the things that Jesus was doing. So they sent down an official delegation to investigate. This is not a small thing. They were intentionally investigating Jesus to see what His teaching and practice was. They wanted to make sure that it all fit with their views on the law.

It didn’t take them very long to see that Jesus and His disciples were not doing everything in a kosher fashion. They weren’t washing their hands! And thus they were breaking the traditions of the elders, as it says. The traditions of the elders refers to the wall built up around the law. It was thought, again, that if you obeyed the wall around the law, you would have no chance of breaking the law itself. The Pharisees do not accuse Jesus of breaking the law, but of breaking the traditions of the elders.

One of those traditions was the washing of hands before every meal. This was a very elaborate washing ritual that had been set up. Alfred Edersheim, in his magnificent two-volume set entitled The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, describes the ritual this way: The water was poured on both hands, which must be free of anything covering them, such as gravel, mortar, etc. the hands were lifted up, so as to make the water run to the wrist, in order to ensure that the whole hand was washed, and that the water polluted by the hand did not again run down the fingers. Similarly, each hand was rubbed with the other (by the fist), provided the hand that did the rubbing was already washed: otherwise the rubbing might be done against the head, or even against a wall. But the water had to run down to the wrist. If the water remained short of the wrist, the hands were not clean.” By the way, the water used had to be very clean water. Nothing could be allowed to have fallen into the water, or the water would be unclean, and thus the washing wold be of no effect.

Now, the reason why the Pharisees thought this way was that if you eat with unclean hands, then the food you eat would become unclean, since you used your hands to eat: they didn’t have silverware in those days! Uncleanness was contagious, you see. So, if your hands were unclean, then the food you ate would become unclean, and then your entire body would become unclean. The Pharisees wanted to avoid that at all costs. Hence this elaborate ritual.

Incidentally, in accusing the disciples of eating with unwashed hands, they are really accusing Jesus of teaching them wrong things. For the rabbi was responsible for the conduct of his disciples. So, this is not an innocent little question that is just about the disciples. They are challenging Jesus’ very understanding of the law. They are accusing Jesus of heresy.

Jesus responds with a devastating argument. Basically, he responds by saying that the Pharisees’ understanding of the law is all wrong, and that all these walls built up around the law oftentimes prevent true observance of the law. The example Jesus uses might seem to be off the point, until we examine it a bit closer. Jesus asks them the devastating question, “Why do you break God’s law for the sake of your tradition?” Notice the contrast here between God’s words and man’s words. The commandment of God is to be affirmed. Let that be firmly understood by us. Jesus says here that it is very important that we obey the law of God. But man-made words are fallible. They do not always fall in line with God’s words. Only God’s Word has the ultimate authority.

Jesus’ example was a particularly hideous breach of the fifth commandment. Imagine parents in need of support going to their son and asking him if he would support them. The son then claims that the money he would normally use to support them has been dedicated to God. How devious and deceptive this is! The son uses religion as a cloak for his sin! I wonder if any of us do that. We play one law of God off against another, like this son does. What was particularly bad about this sin is that, according to Jewish law, all he had to do was promise to give the money to the temple. He didn’t actually have to give the money to the temple in order for it to be dedicated to God. In this way, he could keep the money for his own use until his deathbed, when he would then finally actually give it (whatever was left) to the temple. The oath was called “Corban,” which we see in Mark’s account of this conversation. The Jews at the time thought that this oath was unbreakable. Nothing could break it, even if the oath came into conflict with another part of God’s law. Now, it is quite certain that the Jews were not intending that conflict when they dreamed up this scheme. However, it allowed someone to work the system for his own advantage and pay attention to the smaller matters of the law, while allowing him to neglect completely the weightier matters of the law. In this way, it breaks the fifth commandment twice. The son fails to honor his parents by taking care of them, and secondly, he fails to honor his Heavenly father while pretending to honor God with an oath of consecration.

The ultimate result of this, of course, is a formalized religion that has nothing to do with the heart. This is the point of the Isaiah quotation. In Isaiah’s time, the people thought that if they just sacrificed to the Lord, then God would be happy with their religion. They forgot that God cares about the heart. In the beginning of Isaiah, God tells the people that He is weary of their offerings, since it is simply an outward thing. The Lord desires a broken and contrite heart, says David in Psalm 51, not so much burnt offerings. We will see this even more clearly in next week’s passage, which is really a continuation of this week.

In any case, the people of Isaiah’s time did a formalized religion. When Isaiah spoke of them, therefore, he was also prophesying about the Pharisees in the time of Jesus. At the very least, the pattern is the same: outward obedience, but inward rebellion. This is the very nature of hypocrisy.

So how is Jesus’ response relevant to what the Pharisees had accused the disciples of? Well, Jesus and His disciples had just been healing people. They had been loving people, healing the sick. Jesus, therefore, didn’t care one jot whether He was ceremonially unclean. The fact of the matter is, of course, that Jesus’ holiness is contagious and is more powerful than uncleanness anyway. So Jesus made the people clean, rather than the people making Him unclean.

The Lord wants our hearts. He wants our hearts to be clean. He cares more for that than our outward appearance. We need to learn to value what God values. We can start by confessing our heart sins. It is perhaps easier to confess our deeds than our thoughts. We think of sin typically as an outward thing. However, the heart is deceptive above all things, says Jeremiah. It squirms and wriggles, trying to get out from under the true demands of the law, which are to love the Lord our God and to love our neighbor. Our hearts love to rest easy when our outward conduct is “fine,” whatever that means, even if our hearts are inwardly seething with sin. So where are our hearts? Are they far from God? Or are our hearts convicted and always turning to Jesus for forgiveness? I would challenge us this week to confess to God our inward sins primarily. Of course, we need to confess our outward sins as well. However, it certainly would not hurt us to confess our inward sins a bit more often.

One word must also be said about God’s words and human words. Human words can often be a summary of God’s words. We hope that is the case in the sermon. We hope that is the case in the confessions of our church and the creeds we recite. There is always a danger that we might elevate man’s words to a level equal to God’s words, and we must resist that temptation with every ounce of our being. However, in recognizing this fact, we must fall into the other extreme, which would be to refuse to recognize that God has spoken to the church in the past. Let’s take confessions as an example here. They are intended to be a summary of God’s word. They are not infallible summaries. But they are intended to be summaries. How are we to view the confessions of the church? What kind of authority do they have? I would suggest that there are two extremes we must avoid. Firstly, and most importantly, we must avoid elevating the confessions to the level of Scripture itself. Confessions are not infallible. However, the opposite extreme is easily forgotten. If we ignore the confessions, then in effect, we are setting up our own private tradition in place of the church’s tradition. We will eventually think that we know better than the church. So the Bible is our final authority. The church’s authority is underneath that of the Scripture, and is based on the Scripture, but the church’s confession is still above our own private opinions. We should have a much lower opinion of our own opinions than we have of the church’s confession, and we should in turn have a lower opinion of the church’s confession than we have of the Bible. But understand that Jesus is not saying that tradition is inherently evil. Tradition is only a problem when it is set in opposition to God’s Word. We must always keep checking our traditions to see if they are in accord with God’s word. We should neither accept every previous generation’s word for it, nor should we ignore the previous generations and their opinion. So, the order is first God’s word, secondly the church’s confession, thirdly, our own opinions. That way we will have the proper order, and we will a proper humility of our own opinion without raising tradition to the level of infallibility. The Pharisees were raising their own tradition to the level of infallibility, and we must not do that.

So what things do we tend to set up around the law? Are there traditions that we do that we have always done that we have never examined in the light of Scripture? We must be willing to admit that maybe some traditions are wrong. Let us all have the humility to recognize that tradition, however much we like it, however much we value it, can never stand next to Scripture. Otherwise, we will wind up with a formalized religion, obeying God in form, but with our hearts in another universe. May we not be hypocrites! God help us.

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