Growing in Devotional Discernment

C.S. Lewis once said:

For my own part I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await many others. I believe that many who find that “nothing happens” when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.

What I wish to talk about today is discernment in reading Christian books so that we will grow. There is a large tendency in evangelicalism and also in Reformed circles, to read nothing but “devotional” literature. By this I mean books like “Chicken Soup for the Soul” or Rick Warren’s book “The Purpose-Driven Life.” I am not going to disparage such books completely, although Warren’s book has some serious theological problems with it. Devotional books can indeed lift our spirits heavenward on occasion, especially the better ones, and by the better ones, I mean primarily the Puritan devotional literature. There is, however, one big difficulty with devotional literature, and it can be illustrated by an analogy. Supposing someone told you that in order for you to experience the emotion of joy, you had to pursue the experience of having the emotion joy. “Just feel joyful” they might say. The problem with this is that it doesn’t work. If you just lost a loved one, for instance, joy may be hard to come by, and it might be even harder to achieve if someone tells you that you need to pursue it. Because then you pursue it in ways that do not tend to bring joy, but rather despair, because when you pursue something and don’t get it, then the pursuit becomes quite counter-productive. The same thing can be said about devotion to God. Telling someone directly that they must be devoted to God emotionally and spiritually is often counter-productive.

It can be much more productive to try an indirect way. Ask yourself this question: what are some reasons why I should love God? Well, look at who God is. You can’t look at God very long before you realize just how beautiful He is, with all His marvelous Trinitarian attributes, dazzling in their multi-faceted unity. Similarly, look at what He has done, and you can’t help but love a God who loves us that much, and has shown us that much grace. But do you notice what we just did in asking those questions? We have moved out of the realm of most devotional literature, and instead entered the realm of systematic theology. We asked questions about who God is and what God has done. Those are the primary questions that systematic theology seeks to address. The answers to these questions give us reasons to sing. The promote what my father lovingly calls “doxological didacticism.” This brings us back to the quotation by C.S. Lewis. What Lewis was getting at was that the indirect approach to devotion (getting at devotion to God through theology) is often more effective than trying to do it directly.

The problem is that most Christians are absolutely terrified of “systematic theology.” They think that they cannot understand any of it. They think that it is irrelevant and impractical. What I would say to that is that any theology that is not understandable, or that is irrelevant and impractical is not good theology, but rather bad theology! The Puritans used to define theology itself as the science of living for God. That obviously has a very strong practical component in the very definition of theology itself. I would go even farther. A systematic theology that is impractical is not even theology at all. All true theology is practical and useful. Theology that is not understandable is not theology but gobbledy-gook.

Here is another way of thinking about systematic theology. Systematic theology asks one question many times, and that question is, “What does the Bible as a whole say about x?” You can fill in “x” with any theological topic you want. The process of comparing Scripture to Scripture will result in a larger picture of what the Bible says about God, man, sin, Jesus Christ, redemption accomplished, redemption applied, the church, the sacraments, the last things, and other topics. Systematic theology is something that we do all the time, even though we may not call it that. Whenever you ask a question about who God is or what He has done, you are engaging in systematic theology. The word “systematic” simply means that after you have compared Scripture with Scripture, you will wind up with a system, or a pattern. The Bible itself commands us to do this. “Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.” (2Ti 1:13 NKJ) This passage tells us that there is a pattern, or system, to what Scripture teaches, and that we are to hold it fast. Obviously we cannot hold it fast, unless we know what it is. It is not a system or pattern that we impose on it from outside the Scripture. Rather, it is the pattern that the Scripture itself suggests. Jude tells us to contend for the faith once for all given to the saints. There is a special sense given to the words “the faith.” The Faith in that sense is what we confess, a body of doctrine. Whether you look at Jude’s way of putting it or Paul’s way of putting it, the Bible commands us to engage in systematic theology. It commands us to search the Scriptures to see what the Scripture says about various things.

All this to say that if we as teachers in the church are not growing by asking these questions, then we risk several unmitigated disasters: 1. We will not pass on this pattern of sound teaching to our children, and their knowledge of the Christian faith will be very fragmented, and they will therefore be unable to cope with all the challenges they will face in a secular world (they will be swept away by people who have a more coherent system of thought!). 2. We ourselves will not have discernment when it comes to new books and ideas that come out. Systematic theology gives you a core of knowledge to which you will always be adding, and to which you can compare any new thing that comes along. If you don’t have that core, you will have almost no discernment whatsoever. 3. Our teaching itself will be fragmented, disjointed, and illogical. It will have a much more “stream of consciousness” feeling about it. We do not want Faulkner theology. 4. We will stagnate in our growth as Christians, because we will not be learning how to read our Bibles better, and we will not be challenged by anything. We will want everything spoon-fed to us. We will be dipping our toes in but never learning how to swim.

So read books that will make you stretch. Read books where you will not automatically understand everything that is said, but where you have to grow in order to understand. Read books where you might need a dictionary of theology terms handy. Read Calvin’s Institutes, Berkhof’s Systematic Theology, Shedd’s Dogmatic Theology, and get what you can out of it, which is a lot more than you might think. Then ask questions so that you will grow. If you are not growing, then your students won’t grow either. So work through that tough bit of theology with a pipe between your teeth and a pencil in your hand! You might find your heart singing the praises of God more often than you might think.

Advertisements

Leithart on Justification and Baptism

Posted by David Gadbois

An alert commenter on this blog has noted some unfortunate (but unsurprising) comments from Peter Leithart in a recent web article that he penned:

Does the New Testament teach that “baptism justifies you”? I think the answer is Yes.

This is from an article that was published on the Trinity House blog, less than 2 months ago. Now anyone who has been following the Leithart trial should have realized that this is the logical implication of Leithart’s theology, but it is useful that he would explicitly state this belief, even if at this late hour. In the balance of the article he nowhere attempts to explain how this doctrine is compatible with the historic Protestant doctrine of justification sola fide. That is, the biblical and orthodox belief that we receive the justifying righteousness of Christ solely by the instrument (i.e. the appropriating organ) of extrospective faith in Christ. In passing he admits that his “argument creates difficulties elsewhere in our understanding of both Paul and Protestant orthodoxy.” Well, no kidding. It is a marvel that so many learned men fail to grasp that “alone” means that everything besides faith, including the sacraments, are excluded in justification. But then, logic was never the strong suit for FV.

Additionally, he repeats in this article his error of defining justification as “deliverict”, combining the forensic declaration of justification with an inward delivery from sin. To top it off, he denies the perseverance of the saints when he states that “God regards [those who will apostatize] with favor, counts them as just, for a time” before they fall away.

Now it is certainly important to answer Leithart’s argument on biblical grounds. This has been done, in some cases more directly and in some cases less directly, in various FV-critical books, denominational reports, and perhaps most effectively in Lane’s written testimony in the Leithart case. And we, the blog authors, together with the many smart, gracious, and orthodox commenters, are prepared to continue a biblical critique of these errors in this forum.

However, it is worth pointing out that this article represents a doubling down of error on Leithart’s part, bringing his public teaching more explicitly at odds with the reformed standards (both the Westminster Standards and the 3 Forms of Unity) and, indeed, a fundamental reformational and Protestant understanding of justification. This ought to be sufficient reason for Leithart’s apologists to either find a more honorable line of work or simply admit that his doctrine is incompatible with basic Reformed and Protestant teaching, even if they consider it to be biblical and true. But let’s not continue to pretend that this teaching has any place in the PCA or any other church that claims the historic reformed creeds as their own. The intellectual case for such an idea is threadbare, even if some would hold up the fig leaf of ecclesiastical process as a cover for such foolishness.

De Chirico’s Assessment of Berkouwer

Chapter 2 of Leonardo De Chirico’s book Evangelical Theological Perspectives on post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism (which I regard as the single most important Reformed work on Catholicism published since Vatican II) deals with various treatments of Roman Catholicism pre- and post-Vatican II.

The first theologian De Chirico treats is G. C. Berkouwer. Berkouwer wrote three books on Roman Catholicism, two of them before V2 and one after. De Chirico’s overall assessment comes at the end of the section: “Berkouwer’s studies on Roman Catholicism enrich Evangelical theology in terms of providing a model of serious scholarship, fair interpretation of Roman Catholic sources, and passionate concern for the Gospel’s sake” (65). Berkouwer recognizes at least one of the two pillars of Roman Catholicism that De Chirico mentions: the self-understanding of the Roman Catholic Church as an extension of the incarnation of Christ. For De Chirico, this seems to be the main reason why he describes Berkouwer’s work as a fair interpretation.

At the forefront of Berkouwer’s work, especially in the volume written after V2, is the discussion of continuity and discontinuity. This question became quite acute, given that many people thought of V2 (and many people still think today) as ushering in great changes. De Chirico quotes Berkouwer’s description of the semper eadem (“always the same”) as “no more seen in isolation but correlated in Roman Catholic fashion to the ever changing tempora” (61). It is unchangeability within all the variations of history. I could be wrong, but this sounds quite a bit like what Newman describes more simply as development of doctrine. After all, what promotes this development if not the historical circumstances? As De Chirico himself says elsewhere, the proper interpretation of V2, when seen within a Newmanesque viewpoint, is that the Roman Catholic Church did not change at all at V2: the RCC has always had the additive impulse.

To use a specific example of how the RCC is continuous while developing, the assertion of vestigia ecclesiae (remnants of the church) in bodies outside the RCC still assumes the unica ecclesia (62). This leaves the real ecclesiological problem untouched. After all, vestigial churches are not the same thing as the church. This must qualify our interpretation of the infamous “separated brethren” phrases in the V2 documents. In fact, this admittedly new way of speaking about non-RC folk doesn’t even (supposedly) contradict the dictum of Cyprian: extra ecclesiam nulla salus (outside the church no salvation). Instead, there is a “narrow” and a “broad” view of what constitutes the church. The fact of the matter is this: if one starts with Newman’s development of doctrine standpoint, there will be no contradiction between pre-V2 and post-V2. If one does not hold to the Newman development of doctrine, there will be contradictions. The Nouvelle Theologie fully embraced Newman, and this is why JPII and Benedict can assert continuity within renewal.

To end with an aside, my problem with Newman is that he doesn’t seem to distinguish between two different kinds of development. One kind of development comes from the logical inferences that are based on the texts themselves. This may be called “good and necessary consequence.” The doctrine of the Trinity is surely the prime example of this. The Bible tells us that the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God, and that there is only one God. We have to have some way of describing these facts, and the church logically came up with the Trinity. However, a second and different kind of development happens when the church looks at, say the virgin conception of Jesus (which, by the way, is a more accurate description of what happened than “virgin birth” if you think about it), which is explicit and logically derived, and then, based on a particular view of what sex could and could not do to Mary, proclaims that Mary was a perpetual virgin, despite the substantial biblical case that can be made against the position. There is no biblical evidence that Mary was a perpetual virgin, and it is certainly not logically derivable from the biblical texts. To me, these two cases are vastly different, because one is based on logical inference from the text, and the other is based on logical inferences from tradition that have no basis in the text.

Antinomianism

My friend Mark Jones has just written a very important book on antinomianism. The term “antinomianism” means “against the law” etymologically. However, as Jones points out, that may not always be a helpful way of describing the theological positions (which are not always very uniform). Jones carefully delineates the historical positions that were around at the time of the Westminster Assembly. It is very important to note here that antinomianism was one of the most important bogeymen of the Westminster divines. Jones ably shows this through the primary sources of the time (something of which Jones shows quite the mastery). Much of the book is taken up with this historical debate. Rightly so, for that debate in the 17th century has an enormous impact on how we define terms and categorize beliefs today.

Several other things are highly commendable about this book. Jones is an extremely careful, irenic author, always acknowledging where antinomians have said something that is true. I have noticed, and Jones agrees, that most of the time we and they (the antinomians) would agree about much of what they say concerning justification. Sanctification, of course, is where we would disagree.

His insights concerning Christology are worth the price of admission. I had connected antinomianism with a truncated view of grace, but I had not taken it back one further step to Christology, as Jones does. Antinomians do have a truncated view of grace. God’s grace is saving me not only from sin’s guilt in justification (here the antinomians would agree), but also from sin’s power in sanctification, and the latter grace is an enabling grace, unlike the former grace. But Jones takes it back to Christology: what about Christ’s ongoing work as our Mediator in heaven? Does He not view the sinner with great pity and compassion? Jones says that we should never confuse Christ’s procurement of saving benefits (redemption accomplished, also called “impetration”) with the application of those saving benefits.

The distinction Jones makes between the beneficent love of God and the complacent love of God is a vital distinction. The former means basically how God sees us in Christ in justification. The latter is how God sees sanctification progressing in us. The former admits of no degrees, but the latter does. The flip side of the coin is how God sees our sin. God can be displeased with our sin, not as a judge, but as a Father. This displeasure admits of degrees, while never attaining to the level of a judging condemnation for the Christian. The distinction Jones makes here, which is based on the Reformed fathers and, more importantly, Scripture, helps us to make sense of the biblical data.

Only a few very small things would I mention by way of criticism. They are mostly in the category of things that Jones mentions but doesn’t develop, and are therefore things about which I wish he had said more. One of them is something I heard Rick Phillips say at the Gospel Reformation Network conference two years ago, and which really shocked me when I first heard it, but which made a lot of sense after I thought about it for a while. Jones mentions it but doesn’t develop it, and it is this: a Christian is no longer totally depraved. If God has given that person a new heart and mind, giving them new life, then they are not just declared righteous in justification, but have the beginnings of a new way of life in sanctification. There is still indwelling sin, yes. There is still a lifelong battle, yes. But isn’t it such an encouragement to know that the Triune God has taken up residence in us? That place where God dwells in us in no longer totally depraved. Jones mentions it on page 129, but I would have enjoyed some development of that theme, especially in the historical theology.

The other thing that I wish he had done is to engage Westminster West’s theology a bit more directly. Jones has shown that he is very irenic, and is very concerned to be fair. This decision not to engage Westminster West feels like an intentional decision on his part. He talks about Michael Horton a bit. But we need writing on this subject that casts light and not heat on the subject. And when it comes to Westminster West, there has all too often been heat and not much light.

One tiny disagreement I have is with regard to the Horton/Garcia exchange in the Confessional Presbyterian Journal last year. Horton’s article was designed to address the hermeneutical issue of the law/gospel distinction in relation to reading Scripture. It was never designed to address the issues that are but tangentially related vis-a-vis legalism and antinomianism.

All in all, this is an extremely important and helpful book, and one cannot but agree with Carl Trueman’s assessment of this book as timely. In Jones’s effort to be irenic, he did not say that antinomianism is rife in the Reformed and evangelical world right now, but of course it is. This book is a very important corrective, and needs to be read, particularly by pastors. Pastors need to be very careful to avoid antinomianism and legalism. This book helps us to do that.

A Question for My Readers

In the Reformed world, three things are usually said to be means of grace: Word, Sacraments, and prayer. They are ways that God gives grace to us. This is certainly the confessional position, as evidenced by WSC 88, which calls those three things “ordinances.” They are the things that God makes effectual for salvation (salvation here obviously being taken in a broad sense for the entire Christian life, not just conversion). My question for my readers is this: do you think that the communion of saints is a means of grace as well, or do you think that it is in another category? Does God give grace through the “one anothering” that the New Testament prescribes? Of course, it would be difficult to call the communion of saints an “ordinance.” It feels a bit weird to call it that. A further related question would be this: is there a difference between “ordinance” and “means of grace?” Lastly, for those of you who would believe that the communion of saints is a means of grace, should there be a revision proposed to the Westminster Standards? As for myself, I have not come down on an opinion one way or the other, and I would like to see some good arguments on both sides.

New Book on the Lord’s Supper

I received a review copy of this book two days ago, and read it the day I got it. Imagine a Baptist arguing for the LS as a means of grace! Of course, that is their original heritage, as the author well proves.

I have been eager for more books on the Lord’s Supper for two reasons. Firstly, I plan on preaching a series on the Lord’s Supper in the near future, and secondly, the Reformers talked more about the Lord’s Supper than about any other topic, including justification by faith alone. I have been realizing that the Lord’s Supper is a much larger and much more important subject than I had thought previously (being infected previously, I suppose, with some of the general evangelicalism’s memorialism). It is a gospel issue, since the Lord’s Supper preaches the gospel to all five senses. It is a means of grace fully equal to Word and Prayer. And yet, in today’s Christianity, it gets a measly third place to Word and Prayer. This is due, no doubt, to the fact that most people do not see the Lord’s Supper as a means of grace.

Enter Barcellos’s book. His thesis is fairly circumscribed: it is to prove that the Lord’s Supper is a means of grace, and to show from Scripture how the Lord’s Supper is a means of grace. He is explicitly aiming his thesis at those who tend to follow the early Zwingli in their memorialism. Barcellos certainly proves his thesis (not that I took a lot of convincing!). Certain points he makes here and there are worth the price of admission, and I will point those out. The book is geared towards pastors. The average layperson will not be able to follow the serious Greek exegesis of various passages.

The best things about the book (for me) were the careful exegesis of 1 Corinthians 10:16, and the description of the tenses of the Lord’s Supper. The former is a lynchpin verse for the case that the LS is a means of grace, and not just a remembering. The latter was a fascinating point that also helps greatly in proving the thesis: the LS looks back to Christ’s finished work, looks at present to our Savior in heaven (and by the power of the Holy Spirit we commune with the risen Lord now), and we look forward in time to the wedding supper of the Lamb (“until He comes”). If the LS is only a remembering, then only the past tense matters. Barcellos also ties in the tenses with the tenses of the Lord’s Day in a very intriguing way (noting that “kuriakos” only ever describes two things in the NT: the LS and the Lord’s Day). I think one could even go farther than Barcellos here and connect it all back to the covenant via Vos’s description of the change of covenants as related to the Sabbath (in his Biblical Theology).

So, overall, I am very enthusiastic about this book, and will use its insights in my sermon series with gratitude. There are a couple of points where I think the book might be improved. Firstly, the book is a bit short (128 pages including indices). There were many times when I thought he could have expanded his arguments and included more data. I wanted more exegesis, too! Secondly, although he mentions the connection of Word and Sacrament towards the end of the book, I felt that this topic deserved its own chapter. He has a whole chapter devoted to comparing the LS with prayer as means of grace. To me, it seems just as important, if not more so, to compare and connect Word to Sacrament. This was a very important connection to the Reformers. Barcellos mentions it, and says some very good things about it, but I felt that it deserved a whole chapter to itself. Thirdly, though I know he knows Mathison’s book, I get the feeling he is not quite convinced by everything that Mathison says. Now, that’s perfectly fine. But I do think that Mathison’s book provides enormous ammunition to those arguing Barcellos’s case for the LS as a means of grace. Calvin’s position on Christ’s presence in the LS may be hard to understand at times (Hodge, Dabney and Cunningham all rejected it, though they agreed with Calvin that the LS is a means of grace), but to me it seems the most biblical position. Especially in the discussion of 1 Corinthians 10:16, it seems to me that Calvin’s position makes eminent sense of the text there. Here’s to hoping that Barcellos is already thinking about a second edition. This book is already a very worthy addition to the discussion and well worth the purchase.

Hebrews 10 and the LXX

(Posted by Paige)

So, who is up on recent developments in manuscript studies of the LXX?

I encountered an intriguing difference as I read through Hebrews commentaries in chronological order, focusing on the use of Ps. 40:6-8 in Heb. 10:5-7, specifically the line, “But a body you have prepared for me.” This rendering of Ps. 40:6 differs from what our MT-based OT says, whether “But ears you have pierced for me” (NIV) or “But you have given me an open ear” (ESV), each a paraphrase of the literal Hebrew “But ears you have dug for me.” Sure enough, when I checked my copy of the Septuagint, I found that it matches with what is written in Hebrews 10:5, “But a body you have prepared for me.”

Now, commentators from Calvin through F. F. Bruce (1990) and Peter O’Brien (2010) have been concerned to harmonize the difference between the MT and the LXX in some way, explaining the diversity by way of paraphrase. Ears, after all, are body parts; ears being “dug” certainly suggests listening or paying attention, but it could also refer to the formation of the ears in the first place – so, “Body parts you have created (or prepared) for me.” One more step gets to, “A body you have prepared for me,” which became the version happily appropriated by the author to the Hebrews, who wanted to present the obedient, bodily sacrifice of Christ as superior to all the animal sacrifices prescribed by the Mosaic Law.

And maybe it happened just so. But in Beale & Carson’s splendid tome on the NT’s use of the OT (Baker Academic, 2007), I encountered a different explanation, offered by George Guthrie in his chapter on Hebrews. On the textual background of Heb. 10:5-7 (Ps. 40:6-8) Guthrie writes:

“In 10:5c we find sōma (“body”) rather than the LXX’s ōtia (“ears” [also in LXX La(G) Ga]). Although it is true that LXX B S A have sōma, these probably should be read as corrections by scribes wishing to bring the manuscripts in line with Hebrews’ quotation.” (p.977)

In other words, according to this explanation the variation originated with the author of Hebrews, NOT the LXX, and was subsequently absorbed into later copies of the LXX.

Is anyone aware of which of the above explanations is current scholarly consensus? Do you find Guthrie’s suggestion compelling, based on the dates of the different LXX manuscripts, or are you satisfied with the harmonization approach?

Thanks in advance for any thoughts you have on this.

Mark 7:14-23 and the Dietary Laws of the Old Testament

There is no doubt that Mark 7:14-23 is one of the most important passages in the debates about the dietary laws of the Old Testament and whether they still apply in the same way today.

Here is the passage in Greek: 14 Καὶ προσκαλεσάμενος πάλιν τὸν ὄχλον ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς, Ἀκούσατέ μου πάντες καὶ σύνετε. 15 οὐδέν ἐστιν ἔξωθεν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου εἰσπορευόμενον εἰς αὐτὸν ὃ δύναται κοινῶσαι αὐτόν: ἀλλὰ τὰ ἐκ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐκπορευόμενά ἐστιν τὰ κοινοῦντα τὸν ἄνθρωπον. 16 Καὶ 17 ὅτε εἰσῆλθεν εἰς οἶκον ἀπὸ τοῦ ὄχλου, ἐπηρώτων αὐτὸν οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ τὴν παραβολήν. 18 καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς, Οὕτως καὶ ὑμεῖς ἀσύνετοί ἐστε; οὐ νοεῖτε ὅτι πᾶν τὸ ἔξωθεν εἰσπορευόμενον εἰς τὸν ἄνθρωπον οὐ δύναται αὐτὸν κοινῶσαι, 19 ὅτι οὐκ εἰσπορεύεται αὐτοῦ εἰς τὴν καρδίαν ἀλλ’ εἰς τὴν κοιλίαν, καὶ εἰς τὸν ἀφεδρῶνα ἐκπορεύεται; καθαρίζων πάντα τὰ βρώματα. 20 ἔλεγεν δὲ ὅτι Τὸ ἐκ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐκπορευόμενον ἐκεῖνο κοινοῖ τὸν ἄνθρωπον: 21 ἔσωθεν γὰρ ἐκ τῆς καρδίας τῶν ἀνθρώπων οἱ διαλογισμοὶ οἱ κακοὶ ἐκπορεύονται, πορνεῖαι, κλοπαί, φόνοι, 22 μοιχεῖαι, πλεονεξίαι, πονηρίαι, δόλος, ἀσέλγεια, ὀφθαλμὸς πονηρός, βλασφημία, ὑπερηφανία, ἀφροσύνη: 23 πάντα ταῦτα τὰ πονηρὰ ἔσωθεν ἐκπορεύεται καὶ κοινοῖ τὸν ἄνθρωπον.

Here is the HCSB of the same passage: 14 Summoning the crowd again, He told them, “Listen to Me, all of you, and understand: 15 Nothing that goes into a person from outside can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him. 16 [If anyone has ears to hear, he should listen!]” 17 When He went into the house away from the crowd, the disciples asked Him about the parable. 18 And He said to them, “Are you also as lacking in understanding? Don’t you realize that nothing going into a man from the outside can defile him? 19 For it doesn’t go into his heart but into the stomach and is eliminated.” (As a result, He made all foods clean.) 20 Then He said, “What comes out of a person– that defiles him. 21 For from within, out of people’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immoralities, thefts, murders, 22 adulteries, greed, evil actions, deceit, promiscuity, stinginess, blasphemy, pride, and foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within and defile a person.”

The context is important. The chapter starts with the issue of unwashed hands. The Pharisees accuse the disciples (and through them, Jesus!) of disobeying the law by eating with unwashed hands. This is part of the tradition of the elders, along with the baptism of couches and other such things. The tradition of the elders is something Jesus emphatically rejects in verses 6-13. The Pharisees, in their traditions, had taught as commandments of God the traditions of men.

Then, in verses 14 and following, Jesus broadens the discussion to talk about what really makes a person clean or unclean. Nothing that goes into a person makes him unclean. It is what comes out of the heart that is evil that makes a person unclean. It is important to notice here the broadening of the discussion. The issue has gone beyond the issue of mere tradition versus the written word. Now it is a question of the heart. Twice Jesus says that nothing that goes into a person can defile him. This is a general statement that has no qualifications attached to it. The form of this argument goes something like this: “You Pharisees think that eating with unwashed hands defiles a person. Your assumption there is that something that goes into a person has the possibility of defiling that person. Unwashed hands can do that, as could other things like the foods forbidden in the dietary laws. On the contrary, I am saying that absolutely nothing can defile a person by going into them. Not even food can defile a person, much less eating with unwashed hands.”

One of the key features is the participle καθαρίζων (cleansing) in verse 19. There is a textual variant here that is important. A very few late manuscripts have the neuter participle of the same verb. The neuter participle could conceivably depend on the previous verb ἐκπορεύεται (going out). The upshot of this construction would be that the process of digestion makes the food clean (this understanding of the verse is reflected in the Geneva, KJV, and NKJV translations). This is quite unlikely as the correct reading, however. The vast majority and strength of the manuscripts favor the masculine participle. On what, then, does the participle depend? The only possibility is Jesus Himself, the implied nominative subject of the verb λέγει (He says) in verse 18. The result of this construction is that the phrase is Mark’s parenthetical comment about the result of what Jesus said, that Jesus’ statement cleansed all foods (this is the understanding of most other translations, as well as that of the native Greek-speaking early church fathers, such as Chrysostom).

The reality is that the difference in translation doesn’t actually affect the overall argument that much. Whether the digestion process makes the food clean, or whether Jesus is declaring all foods clean, the fact is that the foods are clean. What is now clean? πάντα τὰ βρώματα! All foods are clean. Again, nothing (I repeat, nothing!) that goes into a person can defile him.

If this is what Jesus is saying, then how come the other passages that deal with the dietary laws (such as Acts 10, Romans 14-15) don’t quote this statement of Jesus? There are a couple of possible reasons that might help us understand. First of all, the implications of what Jesus said and did were not always well understood by the disciples. Take the nature of the kingdom, for instance. Even after the resurrection, the disciples were still clueless as to how global Jesus’ kingdom was going to be (see Acts 1). Secondly, it is not easy to alter one’s understanding of how the law applies after Christ’s work is accomplished. Jews who became Christians would not want to abandon the dietary laws they had grown up with. There had to be a process of instruction and compromise while that was happening. Thirdly, if Mark felt that he had to spell out the implications of Jesus’ statement for people, then it follows that Mark thought Jesus’ statements to be a tad cryptic. And, of course, since Mark’s own clarifying comment has been understood in several different ways, it follows that Mark 7:19 is not always clearly understood by people. It is certainly with great hesitation that any kind of appeal should be made to a text that is not crystal clear in its implications. This text only becomes clear after the grammatical study, not before it. At any rate, it should not be simply referenced without any kind of explanation and exegesis. This has been done all too often by both critics and proponents of the HRM.

Revelation 1:1 and the Interpretation of Revelation

G.K. Beale’s commentary on Revelation, which is probably the best commentary on Revelation ever written in the entire history of the church, has a very interesting (and convincing) take on Revelation 1:1, and the use of the Greek word “semaino.” Beale notices that in BAGD (Beale’s commentary came out before the third edition of BDAG), the definition is more generally “make known, report, communicate” without specifying the precise nature of that communication (Beale, 50). This is a caution on what follows. Beale’s argument for “semaino” depends on the LXX translation of Daniel 2 as being in the background to Revelation 1:1.

In Daniel 2, “semaino” refers to something more specific: revelation by means of signs and symbols, or pictorial revelation. It is symbolic communication. Daniel 2:45 LXX demonstrates this by connecting “semaino” to the signs seen by the prophet. Beale argues that, although the more general term “make known” is certainly part of the semantic range of the word, “its more concrete and at least equally common sense is ‘show by a sign'” (p. 51). It is very important at this point to note that all three uses of the verb in John’s Gospel have to do with pictorial representation of Jesus’ death and resurrection (12:33, 18:32, 21:19). The cognate noun “semeion” refers to signs and symbols. John picked “semaino” in Revelation 1:1 over the common and more general term “gnorizo” on purpose, according to Beale. He argues that “the allusion to Dan. 2:28-30, 45 indicates that a symbolic vision and its interpretation is going to be part of the warp and woof of the means of communication throughout Revelation” (p. 51).

The implications of this for the interpretation of Revelation are fairly immense: “[A] number of authors of both popular and scholarly commentaries contend that one should interpret literally except where one is forced to interpret symbolically by clear indications of context. But the results of the analysis above of 1:1 indicate that this rule should be turned on its head” (p. 52). He acknowledges that not all parts of Revelation are going to be symbolic or metaphorical. However, “Where there is lack of clarity about whether something is symbolic, the scales of judgment should be tilted in the direction of a nonliteral analysis” (p. 52).

At this point, a lot of people might get really, really nervous. Does this approach mean that I can make the symbols mean anything I want? Absolutely not. Symbols do not communicate anything if they communicate everything. Even words themselves can have a symbolic meaning. If I start off a sentence by saying, “Four score and seven years ago,” a literate person will know exactly what I am referring to. They will not be expecting me to go off on a history lecture about World War II. The fact is that the symbolic imagery of Revelation has its roots in the Old Testament. So, although we should be interpreting Revelation in a way that recognizes its inherent symbolism, we should also recognize that such symbolism has a built-in control called “the rest of the Bible.” John always operates in the symbolic world of the Bible. Furthermore, Revelation ties all the threads of the Bible together, and so we should expect the rest of the Bible to be pointing the way forward to Revelation.

Is the HRM Legalistic?

Is the Hebrew Roots Movement (also known as the Messianic Jewish movement) legalistic? One has to acknowledge that there are a variety of views on particular aspects of the law even within the HRM. It is not a monolithic movement in regard to specific points about the law. Also, it is important to point out that there is more than one definition of legalism. One does not necessarily avoid legalism simply by saying that such and such law is not integral to salvation. For instance, if an HRM proponent claims that circumcision is necessary, but not for salvation, said proponent might still be legalistic, even if not so in the ordinary way. It is my contention that at least some forms of HRM are legalistic.

One would think that if an HRM proponent believes the Gospel, and sees that someone else is preaching the gospel, that great rejoicing on that account would result. For instance, I believe that Jesus Christ crucified, buried, resurrected, ascended into heaven, and in session at the right hand of the Father, is the only Lord and Savior of sinners. The salvation that was accomplished for us by Jesus Christ is applied to us by the Holy Spirit by grace alone, through faith alone, on the basis of Christ alone, to the praise of the glory of God alone, told to us in Scripture alone. If a person puts their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repenting of their sin and turning to Jesus (which happens by the power of the Holy Spirit in effectual calling), that person is saved. This is redemption accomplished and applied. If a person believes in Jesus Christ in this way, he will be saved. Let any HRM people reading this blog know that this is what I preach.

Nevertheless, one HRM proponent in particular has accused me of having no light in me whatsoever, because my views on OT law are not HRM. According to this person, if a person is not HRM in their viewpoint, they have no light in them whatsoever. On three occasions in that thread, I asked the person to clarify his quotation of Isaiah 8:20 (here, here, and here). He did not choose to answer that question. Now, I don’t know why he chose not to answer it. However, in the context, the comment means that those who do not have the same view of the OT law as he does have no light in them at all. It doesn’t therefore matter whether I preach the true gospel or not. If I don’t have an HRM view of the OT law, then I am in complete darkness. I say this not out of defensiveness. I am not on defense right now, but most definitely on offense. Would not this view of non-HRM proponents qualify as a legalistic view? I do not believe in the erasure of any OT laws. I believe that the application of them has changed. So the question is NOT whether we both believe the OT is true. We do. The question is NOT whether we both believe the OT is still authoritative. We do. The question has to do with the interpretation of that Old Testament. Does Christ’s person and work change the application of the OT law, and if so, how? That is the question. I would simply argue that if an HRM proponent accuses a critic of having no light in them whatsoever because of a differing view of how the OT law applies, then the HRM proponent is not focused on Jesus Christ and the Gospel, but on the law. He is not preaching Christ crucified. He is preaching feasts, dietary laws, and Saturday Sabbath, which are not changed or affected by Christ’s coming. He is a legalist. He cannot rejoice in another’s preaching of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is de-centralized. I would argue that any view of the Bible that de-centralizes Jesus Christ’s person and work is legalistic. The reasoning for this is simple: anything that is not gospel is law in the Bible. So, if we are not preaching the gospel, we are preaching law. And if we preach law in any way that does not make a beeline straight to Jesus Christ, then we are not preaching the law correctly. We would be preaching the law legalistically.

Preaching law is essential, don’t get me wrong. But it must lead to Christ’s fulfillment of the law, or else we are not believing John 5 and Luke 24. We need to preach the law in its three uses: pedagogical (leading straight to Christ), civil (as a restraint on evil in the world), and normative because of salvation (the third use of the law). Of these three uses, while the second one is present in Scripture, it is not hugely emphasized. The first and third uses are of paramount importance, and both are Christ-centered, since the first use leads us to salvation in Christ, while the third use leads us from salvation in Christ.

« Older entries