New Replacement NICNT volume

This volume looks to be a beauty. It is always a matter of rejoicing when a new NICNT volume is published. This volume replaces Leon Morris’s excellent contribution on those letters.

A Survey of the Old Testament

I am not going to do a survey myself, but rather comment on a recent survey published in a third edition by John Walton and Andrew Hill, both professors of Old Testament at Wheaton College. Here is some information on it.

A Survey of the Old Testament, Expanded and Redesigned
By Andrew E. Hill & John H. Walton / Zondervan

Hill and Walton’s acclaimed guide now features an expanded text and full-color maps, photographs, timelines, and charts. Their survey addresses the Old Testament as a whole and by major sections and individual books, exploring interpretation, geography, archaeology, and history; theological and literary elements; and the formation of the OT canon and its relationship to the New Testament. 777 pages, hardcover from Zondervan.

This is a generally good introduction to the Old Testament, suitable for college or seminary classrooms, and pastors and laymen alike can benefit from this volume.

Strengths: the images are top-rate and very helpful in full color. Important maps and charts are everywhere, making the text come alive. Indeed, visually speaking, there is no doubt that this is the most helpful introduction on the market. And since the authors come from a generally evangelical perspective, this makes the publication all the more welcome for the Christian church. Introductory chapters cover how to read the Old Testament, and the geography of the Old Testament (including, again, many helpful photos and maps in full color). There is a chapter for each book (including the Minor Prophets, who do not get short shrift in this Survey). Indeed, 120 pages (out of 799 total pages) for the Minor Prophets is most welcome, given that they are usually downplayed in many other introductions. There are many insights into each book’s structure and theology throughout the book. On Exodus, for instance, they have this to say: “Exodus as the book of Yahweh’s redemption of his covenant people complements Genesis as the book of the inauguration of the covenant and anticipates Leviticus as the book of holiness for the covenant people” (p. 111). They further note the parallel of the idolatry of Egypt punished by the plagues, and the idolatry of Israel punished in the golden calf episode, noting the differences and similarities (p. 113). I agree with their general approach to Ecclesiastes, viewing it as an orthodox almost presuppositional approach to what life looks like without God (see p. 461).

Weaknesses: there are a few weaknesses. For instance, I could wish they would have commented more on various entries in the bibliography. I always enjoy annotated bibliographies, but they usually commented on only one or two entries in each section. Their bibliographies for each book usually have good books, but they are uneven, and sometimes shockingly out of date, or have serious gaps. For instance, on Chronicles, there is no mention of Knoppers (published in 2003), or Dirksen (2005), or Klein (2006). Surely, these commentaries deserve more mention than the out-of-date Myers in the Anchor Bible. Some series are completely ignored, such as the Historical Commentary on the Old Testament, where especially Houtman on Exodus and Renkema on Lamentations are among the very best commentaries on those books. These books are all available from Dove Booksellers, which sells the complete series. No mention of the Reformed Expository Commentary series (Iain Duguid is pure gold on whatever he touches), the Focus on the Bible series, with the outstanding contributions by Dale Ralph Davies, or the Evangelical Press series, with John Mackay commenting on so many of the prophets. Meredith Kline’s excellent contributions both to Genesis study (Kingdom Prologue) and Zechariah (Glory in Our Midst) are overlooked as well. Theologically, I don’t always agree with Walton and Hill. For instance, on Pharaoh’s hardness of heart, there is zero mention of God’s prior hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. They only speak of God has having foreseen Pharaoh’s hardening of his own heart, and then judicially reacting to that by additional hardening. There is no mention of Romans 9, for instance, in the discussion. They are also a bit tentative on the specificity of the plagues as being against specific Egyptian gods. They mention that some of them are directed against specific gods, but they prefer a collective approach. My opinion (along with John Currid, whose outstanding work on the entire Pentateuch is completely ignored) is that we can be more confident than that. Also, there is no mention of the first use of the law. They prefer to mix the categories of law and gospel. Furthermore, they do not acknowledge the intricacy of the interpretation of the Ten Commandments as, for instance, the Westminster Larger Catechism 99 could have shown, which would mitigate considerably the supposedly “harsh tone” (p. 118).

In short, the introduction is an excellent achievement, especially visually. There are many insights in the book, and the authors are to be commended for what is certainly a successful and helpful Survey. Despite its shortcomings, I would still recommend it as a good introduction to the Old Testament.

Back in Print

I’m very glad to see this book coming back in print. It is the very best treatment of Noah that I have read. I would highly recommend it to anyone preaching or teaching on Genesis 6-9.

Broken-Down House

Paul Tripp has recently written this book in order to address the problem of how believers are supposed to live in a world that is broken-down. As usual, Paul offers much helpful counsel that is solidly biblical.

Paul starts out with the idea that the vision of faith sees the possibilities, whereas the lack of faith sees only what is there, and lacks the necessary imagination to think that the world could be any different than it is. This does not lead to unrealistic idealism. On the contrary, it leads us in two directions simultaneously: to see the world as what it is: a broken-down house. But then it also pushes us in an eschatological direction: it will not always be like this, and God can use us to change the world. This book is for the person to whom the world has become gray, dull, boring (in other words, they have succumbed to accepting the world as it is, rather than seeing the broken world with the eyes of faith). The book, in other words, if full of life and hope, because it is full of grace and reliance on the power of God.

Another very encouraging thing I saw in this book is that there was a heightened emphasis on the church. For some time now, one of my primary concerns with the CCEF folk has been a lack of emphasis on the public means of grace (Word and Sacrament). What they say is almost always biblical, but it is what they do not say that has concerned me. This book has an important step in the right direction in emphasizing the importance of the church. However, it still did not quite go far enough in this direction, in my opinion. The church is there, quite strongly, actually, but primarily because of the emphasis on community. Now, being involved in a community of fellow believers is not only essential to the Christian life, but it is also essential to Tripp’s argument. I have no quibble with his saying this. However, I would merely want to ask this question: where are the public means of grace in the CCEF paradigm? Where are the public Word and the public Sacrament as the primary means of grace that God uses not only as converting ordinances, but also as discipling ordinances? I would love to see one of the CCEF guys write about this, and the importance of this for Christian counseling. I have been a fan of their approach to Christian counseling from the get-go. So, this criticism should definitely not be seen as nixing the value of the book or the general approach, which I think is extremely helpful (Paul’s class on counseling, which I took at WTS, was one of the more helpful classes I took during my four years there).

So, take up and read, especially if you lack a sense of purpose in life, and feel that life is boring and gray. The book will challenge you to think redemptively about the world.

A Preliminary Report

I have not yet finished this book. Yet I wanted to give readers some idea of what the book is like, as it is one of the more important books to be published this year.

Especially important is his discussion of theological encyclopedia. Again, for those unfamiliar with the expression, theological encyclopedia is the discussion of the inter-relationship and inter-dependence of the various theological disciplines on each other. So, the relationship of biblical theology and systematic theology, for instance (a really hot issue in the secondary lit these days), is an issue of theological encyclopedia. The last important full-scale treatment of the subject was Richard Muller’s The Study of Theology, found in this volume. My overall reaction to Gamble’s treatment is that his practice works out better than the theory. In practice, Gamble is outstanding at allowing all the disciplines to impact one another. He will quote Turretin right next to modern commentaries. In practice, I think Gamble succeeds admirably in being a generalist theologian. His systemati categories are informed by biblical theology, and yet are not inimical to traditional systematic categories.

In his theory, I would agree with a lot of what he says. For instance, he is very clear that all the disciplines are dependent on Scripture. To my mind, no one said this better than Abraham Kuyper. Kuyper argued that all the disciplines are united by their common tie to Scripture: Exegesis explains the meaning of Scripture in individual passages, and starts to tie these threads together; Systematic Theology speaks of the meaning of Scripture as a whole; Apologetics propounds the truths of the aforementioned disciplines to the unbeliever, seeking to undermine the presuppositions of unbelief and show the consistency of Christian presuppositions to the Christian worldview; Church History examines the impact of Scripture through the ages; and Practical Theology examines the outworking of Scripture in people’s lives. The principle of inter-dependence is itself dependent on the one uniting fact of Scripture. Gamble would definitely agree with this.

I would differ with Gamble on some of the details of how this works out in the specific inter-relationships of disciplines. For instance, Gamble wants to restructure Systematic Theology so that the loci are more closely based on biblical theology. He seems to imply that traditional systematic theology’s categories are not categories derived from the biblical text itself, although he usually stops short of saying this. Nevertheless, Gamble is careful to distance himself from an attempt to swallow up ST in BT. I have zero objection to letting BT influence ST. However, I see no particular problem with ST as it has traditionally been formulated. I hold that ST, in turn, has to be allowed a place at the table in exegesis and in BT. We do not come to exegesis or BT in a presuppositionless way. Furthermore, those presuppositions are systematic theological in character. In the forthcoming Festschrift for David Wells, I will be arguing that Vos himself struck just this happy balance (Vern Poythress has also argued this in a recent WTJ article).

I have so far read through chapter 14 (through page 276). I have certainly enjoyed it greatly, and have found his discussion stimulating. It will not be possible to discuss issues of theological encyclopedia without consulting Gamble’s highly nuanced positions.

Cross-less Christianity

Matthew 16:21-23


G.K. Chesterton once said, “The cross cannot be defeated, for it is defeat.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “The figure of the Crucified invalidates all thought which takes success for its standard.” These two authors are saying much the same thing. The cross is a symbol of defeat, not of victory. We have to wait until the resurrection to see victory. But many people cannot see their way past the cross. Other people simply ignore the cross altogether. Indeed, that is what Oswald Chambers thinks: “All heaven is interested in the cross of Christ, all hell is terribly afraid of it, while men are the only beings who more or less ignore its meaning.” There are many versions of Christianity today that ignore the cross. The most extreme example of this is the health and wealth gospel, which not only ignores the cross, but actively preaches against it, especially that the true disciples of Christ should not experience suffering in this life. We will speak more on that in two weeks, when we come to part two of this passage. For now, suffice it to say that the cross still offends people. It offends Jews, for whom a “crucified Messiah” was a contradiction in terms. It offends the non-Jew, since crucifixion was such a shameful way to die. As we will learn here, it even offends the disciples, who still do not understand what Jesus came to do.
The context is rarely so important for understanding a text as it is in this passage. Peter has just finished being blessed by Jesus for proclaiming the truth about who Jesus is. Jesus is the Messiah, and He is the Son of God. For saying that, Peter gets blessed by Jesus in very strong language. Peter could only have learned this lesson from direct revelation from God. Peter is a rock. Peter’s confession is rock solid, meaning that it will support the church of Jesus Christ, it is that strong. However, if Peter is a rock that is foundational, he can just as easily become the rock of stumbling.

The stage is set by Jesus, in that He starts telling His disciples what they can really expect as they make their way to Jerusalem. In fact, the expectation is a certainty, since what Jesus is going to do and suffer happens because it is necessary that it happen. The word “must” is very important here, and actually governs everything that Jesus says is going to happen: He must go to Jerusalem; He must suffer many things; He must be killed; He must be raised again on the third day. It is divine necessity, since that is what the Father and the Son had decided would happen ages before the world even began. Now, the disciples would have been okay with the first one of going to Jerusalem. But the word “suffer” got them very nervous. Then, when Jesus said that He must be killed, they went haywire. There was no such category as a “successful crucified Messiah.” There were many people who had claimed to be the Messiah, but who had been killed. Being killed marked one as a false Messiah. Of course, all the previous people who had claimed to be the Messiah had not really been the Messiah, because none of them had freed the people from the greatest bondage of all, which was their bondage to sin.

However, this is not the understanding of Christ’s mission that the disciples currently have. They have inherited (quite naturally) the view of Messiah that the Jews of the time had: someone who would free them from the Romans. So when Peter heard Jesus say this, and Peter knew what the Jews would think of all this, he took Jesus aside to rebuke Him. Now, first of all, we need to know that for a disciple to rebuke the rabbi was an extremely disrespectful thing to do. Peter had the audacity to correct Jesus! He was probably emboldened to do this from the recent commendation that Jesus had given him. He thought that obviously, since he knew so much about Jesus, that therefore he knew better than his master what the mission of Jesus ought to look like!

But Peter is operating under a wrong theology entirely. We could use Martin Luther’s categories here. Martin Luther said that there were basically two kinds of theology: the theology of the cross, and the theology of glory. Now, when Luther says “theology of glory,” he does not mean a good thing. It is rather a theology that says that we need glory here and now. We need to avoid suffering at all costs. We need something that will make us look good. We need to avoid the cross like the plague. This is what Peter was thinking. Don’t forget that the same fate would probably happen to the disciples as happened to the master. Jesus will go on to say just that in verses 24-28. Therefore, what we see here is Peter wanting to protect his own skin, even if he also loves his master, and doesn’t want to see anything so horrid happen to Him.

But in espousing this theology of glory, Peter was completely overturning what he had said before. Remember that Peter’s name means “rock?” Well, a rock in Scripture can do one of two things: it can either be a foundation stone, or it can be a stumbling stone. For Peter, it all depended on what he said. When he said that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God, he was being a foundation stone. But when he said that the cross was impossible for Jesus, he was being a stumbling stone. In fact, from Jesus’ words, we learn that Peter was not being the spokesman for God that he was in the previous paragraph. Rather, he was being the spokesman for Satan! Satan had tempted Jesus with the very same thing in chapter 4. Satan had said, in effect, “Look, Jesus, you don’t have to go through all that suffering. You don’t have to go to the cross. I’ll give you everything in this world without the cross. All you have to do is bow down to worship me.” Satan was offering to Christ a cross-less way to kingship. Peter was saying exactly the same thing. So Peter was being Satan’s mouthpiece. In fact, we learn that after the temptation of Jesus, Satan only left Jesus for a time. Satan intended to come back with the same temptations. Only this time, it would be even harder, since the words would be coming from the mouth of a friend! In the Christian life, we also find that some of the most difficult temptations of all to resist come from our friends and even our family.

Jesus resists the temptation with flying colors, however. He tells Peter, who is being a stumbling stone in front Him; He tells Peter to get behind Him, so that Jesus will not stumble over him. These are some of the harshest words in the entire Gospel. Jesus, who had just blessed Peter for being the mouthpiece of God, now actually calls Peter Satan! Why this harsh language? This was hardly tactful. This wasn’t politically savvy. This wasn’t politically correct. If we had to say what Jesus had said, we would probably have modified it to say “Well, I think you may have overstated things a bit.” That is not what Jesus says. He recognizes the voice of the tempter in Peter’s words. And we would be thinking the things of men, and not the things of God. Peter is thinking about human things, and not about God’s things. God’s purpose is to save His people from their sins, not merely to remove human oppression from them. So, Jesus’ words are not overstated. Because Peter doesn’t get the whole picture, he is actually opposing the plan of God!

However, even more important for our purposes is the importance this sets on the cross. Any attempt to dissuade Jesus from going to the cross is met with the harshest refusal! The language rejecting Peter’s words is almost identical to the language Jesus uses in rejecting Satan in chapter 4. There it is “Get away from me.” Here it is “Get behind me.” That is the language that meets any attempt to offer Christ a kingdom without the cross. As Paul would later say, he resolved to know nothing except Christ, and Him crucified. The crucifixion is at the very heart of Christianity. Why is that? It is because the cross is the very reason why Christ came to earth. The cross is that most shameful death whereby Jesus took on Himself the judicial wrath of God in our place, so that we would not have to suffer that wrath. And that is for our sins!

As we turn to application, let us notice first of all that after a great spiritual high can come a great spiritual low. Peter’s great confession comes immediately before his devilish attempt to derail God’s plan. We see it also in the life of Elijah. Elijah had a great confrontation with the prophets of Baal, where the people acknowledged that the Lord alone is God. Immediately after that, he is fleeing for his life from Jezebel, and thinks that he is the only one left who honors God. So we must beware right at that spiritual high experience that a low could come immediately afterwards. The Lord often does this to make sure that we do not become arrogant and prideful in our spiritual experience. Undoubtedly Peter was being prideful in seeking to correct the plan of God!

Secondly, our words are either building up someone else or being a stumbling stone in their way. Peter’s confession of faith built up the church by the grace of God. But then immediately afterward, he was seeking to tear down the plan of God. We must watch our words very closely to see what they are going to do to another person. Words are extremely powerful things. One of the most contributing factors to unhappy marriages as well as divorce is the words people use. Among couples who would later split, according to a recent study, 10 out of every 100 comments were a put-down or insult. Eventually, those couples wind up flinging five times as many insults or putdowns towards each other as happy couples. One researcher says that “hostile putdowns act as cancerous cells that, if unchecked, erode the relationship over time.” It will eventually take over the relationship, until hardly a week goes by without a major blowup. Other relationships can be just like that, as well. Words are very powerful things. We can be either the mouthpiece for God, telling people encouraging things from God’s Word. This would include evangelism, by the way. Or we can be the mouthpiece for Satan.

Lastly, we must have a cross-centered Christianity. This is a very good judge of what you hear on the radio or the TV: do they preach the cross? Do they preach that we need the cross because of our sin? Unfortunately, very few radio and TV preachers actually say this, let alone make the center point of their ministry.

Lastly, we must note that the cross is not the end of the story. Jesus says that it is just as necessary for Him to be raised from the dead, as it was for Him to die in the first place. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians, if Jesus is still in the tomb, then we are still in our sins. In our minds, we should never separate the cross from resurrection. For therein lies our hope for eternal life. If Jesus is not eternally alive, then how could we expect to be eternally alive? Noe, the cross and the resurrection belong together. In fact, John Calvin once said that every time in the Bible we see one, we should always supply in our minds the other. So, every time we see the cross mentioned, or Christ’s death, we should immediately add the resurrection. Every time we see resurrection, we should always add in our minds the cross. They are absolutely inseparable. As we will see next time, this is true of our lives just as much as it is true of Jesus.

Is Middle Knowledge Middle Ground?

Dr. Craig Blomberg of Denver Seminary has written on why he would consider himself a Calminian (a supposedly bran’ new hybrid between Calvinism and Arminianism). There have been several excellent responses to this post already: Josh Walker, Andrew Compton, and Turretin Fan. Josh’s point is that counting heads does not truth make (or else Athanasius is in big trouble!). Andrew’s point is that Blomberg’s statement lacks historical and theological nuance because he hasn’t taken the trouble to read the best Reformed authors on these points. Turretin Fan’s point is that Blomberg is not actually between Calvinism and Arminianism. Rather, he is more between Calvinism and Open Theism. All of these points need to be made.

First of all, let’s define middle knowledge. Turretin’s definition is as good a place to go as any:

The authors (Fonseca, Lessius, and Molina, in context, LK) explain this middle knowledge to mean the foreknowledge of God about future conditional events whose truth depends not upon the free decree of God (being anterior to this), but upon the liberty of the creature (which God certainly foresees). See IET, I, p. 213.

This is the good ol’ God-looks-down-the-corridor-of-time-and-sees-faith-and-therefore-elects kind of doctrine. Turretin Fan is right. This is pure Arminianism, not Calvinism at all. Turretin notes that “the design of the Jesuits was to defend the semi-Pelagian heresy of foreseen faith and good works in election, and to support the figment of free will in order the more easily to free themselves from the arguments of the Dominicans who rejected such a foresight” (IET, I, p. 213). Turretin has a number of excellent objections to the idea of middle knowledge (pp. 214-216): 1. Natural and free knowledge (these are the two knowledges in between which middle knowledge is supposed to exist, the former being simple intelligence, the latter being definite knowledge of things, LK) embrace all knowable things. 2. Things not true cannot be foreknown as true. 3. No uncertain knowledge should be ascribed to God. 4. Middle knowledge takes away the dominion of God over free acts. This makes God dependent on the creature.

It would have been wise of Dr. Blomberg to consult some of these readily available sources before venturing into territory which is not his specialty. He would thence have been able to avoid both historical and systematic theological error.

An Excellent Primer on Barth

This book (available at a great price here)  is an excellent introduction to the thought of Karl Barth from an evangelical perspective. It is courteous, but not afraid to disagree with the man. It acknowledges where we can learn from Barth, but also nails Barth where he’s wrong. I am no expert on Barth, and these essays are not the easiest thing in the world to read. However, for someone who has even a modest theological understanding, these essays will be a good foot in the door. At the very least, it will show the reader where to look further. The contributors are all stellar: David Gibson, Daniel Strange, Henri Blocher, Sebastian Rehnman, Ryan Glomsrud, A.T.B. McGowan, Mark Thompson, Michael Ovey, Garry Williams, Paul Helm, Oliver Crisp, Donald Macleod, and Michael Horton, with the foreword by Carl Trueman. The topics they cover are as follows: Barth’s Christocentric method, logic and theology, historical theology in Barth, covenant theology, election, Scripture, Trinity, atonement, visibility of God, reprobation (with a side look at Edwards), Barth as church theologian, and a general assessment of Barth’s legacy for evangelicalism.

It is difficult to pick a favorite chapter, as all of them have many insights. However, I would have to say that my favorite chapter was Garry Williams on the atonement. It had such an explanatory power as to why Barth thought what he did. For instance, he explains why Barth rejected the idea of the covenant of redemption:

His concern for the centrality of the incarnate Christ is illustrated by his rejection of the Reformed doctrine of the covenant of redemption between the Father and the Son. Barth thinks that this doctrine entails speaking directly of the Logos asarkos, whereas the decree of election should be identified with the incarnate Christ (p. 236).

Williams also has an excellent insight with regard to archetypal/ectypal theological distinctions:

The alternative to a formal separation of elements that are properly united would be a single strand of argument that would at every stage be so integrated as to be unfathomable to the reader. Such ultimate integration, such incomprehensible simplicitas (simplicity), is reserved for the God whom theology describes, and is not available to theology itself. It is proper to theologia archetypa (theology as it is in the mind of God himself) and unattainable by theologia ectypa (theology as it among finite creatures). Further, even if two loci are formally separate for heuristic purposes, one can still be formulated in the light of the other (p. 253).

He says this in the context of describing the limits of full integration, and that earlier descriptions (such as the confessional Reformed tradition) ought thus to be given a more sympathetic reading.

I have to include one other quotation, one of the very best in the book, and one which completely undermines Barth’s doctrine of Scripture. It is in the chapter on Barth as ecclesial theologian:

Barth often warned of the danger of creating a God behind and above his revelation, a God other than Jesus. This was the great service, he would insist, rendered by the homoousion. The One who comes to us in Christ is vere Deus, the whole truth about God. By the same token, however, there can be no other Christ behind and above the Scripture, no word behind the written word, casting the church into doubt, enveloping her in a cloud of uncertainty and raising the possibility that the Christ of Scripture is not the real Christ, or the final Christ. It may indeed be true that we see through a glass, only darkly, But what we see dimly is nevertheless the Eternal Light (p. 342).

Unfortunately, I cannot do justice to the penetrating critiques and appreciation given on almost every page of this book. I can only highly recommend it. I have only one criticism of the book, and that is that Van Til is not treated very well. It might very well be true that Van Til caricatured Barth’s teaching. However, I happen to know that Van Til read through the complete Church Dogmatics in the original German, and he was one of the very few living in America who had done so. It would have been nice to see more than mere assertion that Van Til got it so wrong (Horton and Trueman are much more nuanced than this, of course). But that is a relatively small shortcoming in the overall scope of the book, which I would recommend.

A Directional Error

The NT Interprets the OT, Not the Other Way Around
(A hermeneutical error suggesting both the weakness of Theonomy and paedo-communion)

I was recently blessed to attend this year’s Twin Lakes Conference. While perusing the book store, I was further blessed to stop and have a conversation with Dr. Guy Waters (RTS, Jackson.)

As such conversations will, we wandered over a number of topics. One comment from Dr. Waters particularly stuck with me as related to a number of subjects we’ve discussed here. I thought it might be worth bringing up and seeing if this is relevant to the rest of you.

With Dr. Waters’ permission, here is a summary of this part of the conversation:

We had been discussing the recent conversations here on Theonomy and paedo-communion. I asked Dr. Waters what he thought was the seminal error in these two positions. He responded that it appeared to him to be a hermeneutical one. Specifically, he thought that both positions make the same directional error of interpreting the NT in light of the OT, rather than the other way around.

I find this is a valuable insight. On the one hand, it is not to say that the OT plays no role in the interpretation of the NT. Rather it is to say that Theonomy and padeo-communion have this role out of balance. The NT’s interpretation is not subservient to the OT. Nor is there a one-for-one reciprocal relationship between the NT and OT, as if they have equal influence over one another.

Rather, consistent with the teaching in such passages as Matt 5:17, Col 2:16-17, and the book of Hebrews as a whole, the OT is subservient to the NT. When it comes to interpretation we might say that the NT is authoritatively determinant of what the OT means.

It appear to me that this is not how Theonomy and paedo-communion proceed. In the case of the first, Theonomy appears to not reckon sufficiently with what Jesus’ fulfillment of the Law means for the nature of the continuity/discontinuity of the Law in this dispensation (era). With reference to paedo-communion, one particular way this error shows up is seen in affirming too high a degree of continuity between the Passover and the Lord’s Supper.

Again, the error is addressed by paying closer attention to how the NT rules over the interpretation of the OT. I’m not suggesting that Theonomic or paedo-communion brothers necessarily disagree with this hermeneutical principle. All I’m suggesting is that their application of it is less than consistent with the Bible’s own.

– Reed DePace

Who Do You Say I Am?

Matthew 16:13-20


There can hardly be any more important question in our time than this one: what about Jesus? Who is He? C.S. Lewis talked about this in his book Mere Christianity. He tells us that there are really only three possibilities. Jesus is a liar, a lunatic, or the Son of God. Whatever else we can say about Jesus, we certainly cannot say that He was merely a great moral teacher. Jesus did not leave that option open to us. He did not intend to, as Lewis says. For Jesus claimed to be God Himself. No great mere moral teacher would claim that about himself if it was not true. He is either a liar, a lunatic, or the Son of God, who tells the truth about Himself. What Lewis said in Mere Christianity he also said in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. You might remember the conversation that Peter and Susan had about Lucy. Lucy was claiming that she had been into Narnia through the door of a wardrobe. Lucy stuck to her story. Peter and Susan went to the professor and told him the whole story. Eventually, the professor told them that there were really only three possibilities. Either Lucy was lying, or she was mad (crazy), or she was telling the truth. They knew from Lucy’s character that she did not tell lies, and one only had to look at her and talk to her to know that she was not mad. Therefore, concluded the professor, until any further evidence turned up, they must assume that Lucy was telling the truth. For our purposes, the question of Jesus’ identity is the key question of this passage. Sometimes we can forget that, since this passage is one of the most disputed passages in all of Scripture, and debates swirl especially around what Jesus says to Peter. We will address those questions. Let us not forget, however, that the key question is about the identity of Jesus.

Well, the average Jew thought of Jesus as a prophet, and with good reason. Jesus spoke about the kingdom of God. Jesus wasn’t afraid to challenge the Pharisees and Sadducees, even calling upon His disciples to beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees, which we saw last time referred to the false teaching of those two groups of people. Jesus asked His disciples about the word on the street. What were they saying about Jesus? The disciples, of course, loving their teacher, omitted all the slanderous, nasty things people were saying about Jesus (especially since most of those were things that Jesus had already heard about directly!). Instead, they focus on the question of identity. They mention the names of several prophets: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or another of the prophets. The thing that all those names have in common is that they are all prophets. So the people held Jesus to be a prophet. We might say that believed Jesus to be a great moral prophet. They believed Jesus, in other words, to be a great moral teacher.

But Jesus wanted more from the disciples. He was always aiming, I think, to ask the disciples what their opinion was. So, Jesus asks them a very pointed question: “What about you?” The word “you” is emphatic in the original Greek. Jesus is saying, “Okay, that’s their opinion, but what’s your opinion?” “But you, who do you say that I am?”

Peter is the one who answers. He is probably being something of a spokesman here for all the other disciples. Notice what Peter says. Jesus is not just the Messiah, although He certainly is that, but He is also the Son of the living God. Now, let’s unpack that a bit. The word “Christ” is not part of Jesus’ name. We often think that, because “Jesus” and “Christ” so often go together in the Bible. However, we must remember that “Christ” is actually a title. It is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word “Messiah.” The Messiah was the one person whom God would anoint to accomplish a specific task, which was to bring in the new age that would be so wonderful. It would be the age of peace and prosperity, not to mention complete freedom from all oppression. The Messiah was going to do all this. However, the Jews usually thought of the Messiah as a political person who would free them from whatever physical oppression under which they suffered at the time. But when Jesus came, He had a different agenda. The misunderstanding that resulted is the reason why Jesus doesn’t want the disciples blabbing around the idea that Jesus is the Messiah. In verse 20, Jesus strictly charged the disciples not to tell anyone that He was the Messiah. So, when we say that Jesus is the Christ, what we mean is that He was anointed by God (in His baptism at the Jordan river) to bring in the new age promised in the Old Testament. But He did this to free us from spiritual oppression, not physical oppression. Freedom from physical oppression will come later, but that doesn’t happen just yet.

Peter also says that Jesus is the Son of the living God. In contrast to all the false, dead gods that surrounded them in Caesarea Philippi (it was a Gentile city full of Baal worship, Greek gods, and the worship of Caesar), Jesus was the Son of the Living and true God. Now, the disciples had always believed before that Jesus was the Messiah. However, they had not always believed that He was actually God Himself incarnated in human form. That is what Peter confesses here. Jesus’ reply tells s that Peter could not have believed or confessed that unless he had gotten it from direct revelation from God. And Peter could not have believed it unless God had made him willing to believe.

And this is precisely what Jesus tells Peter. So the identity of Jesus is that He is the anointed one, and that He is the Son of the living God. This is Peter’s confession of faith, as it were. And now we have to deal with verse 18. Many entire books have been written about this verse, mostly because the Roman Catholic Church appeals to this verse to support the idea that Peter was the first pope, and that the office of pope continued on after Peter. Jesus says this: “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” Now, first we have to note that Jesus is making a play on words here. The name Peter means “rock.” So Jesus is saying, in effect, “You are Rocky; that’s your name. And on this rock I will build my church.” The question is this: what does Jesus refer to when He says “this rock?” What is the rock on which Jesus will build His church? There are three main possibilities. The Roman Catholic Church (and many Protestants too, actually) believe that it is Peter himself which is the rock. The usual Protestant answer is that the rock is actually Peter’s confession of faith. And yet others say that Jesus was actually referring to Himself. Now, whatever we say about the text, the text does not say that Peter was the first pope, and that all subsequent popes take the office of Peter. That isn’t in the text at all. However, I think it is possible to say that the correct interpretation is a combination of something from all three views. See, Jesus was definitely honoring Peter here. Jesus says that Peter was blessed for saying what he said. But what did Peter say? He said that Jesus was the Christ. So, Peter’s confession is the reason why Peter was blessed by Jesus. And yet, Peter’s confession had to do with who Jesus was. So, in a sense, all three views have something to contribute. However, we do not want to say that the rock was all three things at the same time, since that doesn’t make much sense. The most likely interpretation is that the rock was Peter’s confession of faith that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God. That confession is the foundation of the church. And of course, this comes to something very similar to saying that Jesus is the foundation of the church, which we learn from elsewhere is in fact the case. There is really only one foundation of the church, and that is Jesus Christ. As the hymn puts it, the church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ, her Lord. When the Scripture also says that the church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ being the chief cornerstone, what that is saying is that the Word of God is the foundation of the church, and the Word of God incarnate is the chief cornerstone.

We must also reckon with the last part of verse 18. What does it mean that the gates of Hell will not prevail against the church? At first, we might think that the church is on the defensive here, and Hell is attacking but will not prevail. However, then we realize that gates are not really for attack, but for defense. This would mean that the church is attacking Hell, and Hell will not be able to stand up under the attack. But I think the real meaning is that the gates of hell refers to death. It is a very common expression to refer to death this way. How does one get into Hell? Well, certainly not alive. One enters it through death, both physical and spiritual death. However, if the rock is Peter’s confession that Jesus is the son of the LIVING God, then death will not be able to overcome the church. That is because Jesus will in fact overcome death.
Speaking of gates, and gate-keeping, Peter here is given the keys of the kingdom of heaven. What are these keys? The Heidelberg Catechism answers this question by summarizing Scripture for us. There are two keys of the kingdom of heaven: preaching and church discipline. Both preaching and church discipline open and close the kingdom of heaven. They open the kingdom of heaven in setting forth the Gospel of Jesus Christ so that all who believe (through preaching) and repent (through discipline) may enter, by the grace of God. They close the doors by saying that those who will not believe (through preaching) or repent (through discipline) will not enter the kingdom of heaven. So preaching and discipline work together for the good of God’s people. In verse 19, we learn that the keys are God’s tools whereby what has already been declared in heaven comes to pass on earth. The grammar here is important. The implication is that what happens in heaven actually happens first, and only after that does the binding and loosing on earth actually happen.

Since we are part of the church of Jesus Christ, this passage has extreme relevance for us. Some of the most fundamental truths about the church are given here. First of all, we learn what the church is built upon: Jesus Christ, as He is confessed to be the Messiah, and the Son of the living God. Without Christ, the church has no foundation. Many churches out there are built on something other than Jesus Christ. And the church that does not preach Jesus Christ has lost its identity as a true church. What do we confess? Do we confess Jesus Christ? Have we resolved, along with the apostle Paul, to know nothing except Christ, and Him crucified? Do we believe, along with C.S. Lewis, that Jesus told the truth about Himself when He claimed to be God? Or do we believe that Jesus was merely a great moral teacher, or a great moral prophet?

Secondly, do we understand the importance of preaching and church discipline? Those are the keys of the kingdom of God. There is something that happens in the public means of grace, particularly in the preaching of the Word, that we cannot get even by private reading of Scripture, as important as that is to our spiritual growth. How healthy is our view of the preaching? Now, we are not talking about a particular preacher. I am certainly not seeking to toot my own horn here. I am rather talking about the office, and preaching in general. It has to be preaching that actually preaches Christ. I am reminded of the story of the two men who visited London at the turn of the twentieth century. They wanted to hear the two best preachers in London. So, in the morning they went to hear Joseph Parker. After they heard him preach they said to each other, “He is undoubtedly the best preacher in London.” Then, in the evening, they went to hear Charles Spurgeon. And after they heard Spurgeon, they said to each other, “Jesus Christ is undoubtedly the best Savior we could have.” We do not want to focus on the abilities of the preacher. The preacher’s job is never to make himself look good. The preachers job is to make Jesus look attractive to us. The preacher’s job is to be transparent, so that he is not in the way at all, so that the message of God may go straight from the pages of Scripture right into our hearts.

Church discipline is the other key of the kingdom. Do we understand what discipline is all about? We think only of negative discipline. Negative discipline, of course, is vitally important to the health of the congregation. However, the purpose of this discipline is never to exercise tyranny over the members of the church. The purpose is to have a healthy church full of repentant members. The goal of discipline is always repentance. We will see this very clearly when we get to chapter 18. Even excommunication has repentance as its goal. But discipline is not just negative. Discipline has positive aspects as well. Bible studies, new members classes, visitation, all these are parts of what it means for the church to teach and instruct her members. So discipline happens not only when a member does something sinful, and the church must act to correct that member. Discipline has to happen then. But discipline also happens through instruction. Now, when discipline happens to us, how do we react? Do we resent it? That is of course what most people do. Most people think that discipline happens by hypocrites telling other people their faults. Unfortunately, that is sometimes how it happens, even though it shouldn’t happen that way. But if someone is living in unrepentant sin, and the elders of the church come to that person and call on them to repent, they are only doing their duty. We should all be glad that elders would love the people enough to discipline them when they go astray. God disciplines those He loves, and so does the church. We officers have to answer to God not for how many warm fuzzy feelings we were able to give to people, but by how faithfully we used the keys of the kingdom. We have the burden of people’s souls on our hands. We have to take that very seriously. Help make discipline something joyful, rather than burdensome. Do not resent it when the church does her duty. Instead rejoice that the church loves enough to care.

To sum up then, we have seen that Jesus Christ is not only God’s anointed one to free people from their spiritual bondage, but He is also the Son of the living God. The church is built on this truth, and Jesus Christ will overcome the gates of Hell, death itself, so that the church will also be victorious. The keys of the kingdom, preaching and church discipline, have been given to the church, and we must hold them in proper esteem, realizing that both of those keys must be focused on Christ, and not on the keepers of the keys. Lastly, we must see that, although the disciples were strictly charged not to tell anyone, we live in a different time and place, where Jesus Christ strictly charges us to tell everyone that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. We now have the great commission to make disciples of all nations.

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