A New Baggins

I am delighted to announce that the GB has a new Baggins. Maybe we ought to call him a Took or a Brandybuck. Nah. In here we’re all Bagginses. The Rev. Steve Carr has agreed to become a Baggins, and I look forward to seeing his posts on here.

Sovereignty, Satan, Saruman, Sauron, and Spying Scary Stuff

There is in Christian circles today a pandemic of fear. Two main fears have presented themselves. One, of a virus; the other, of government. These two fears are threatening to drown out the fear of God. They are also threatening to undermine Christians’ belief in the sovereignty of God. People are behaving as if a virus or the government is becoming or already is more powerful than God.

There is a variety of reactions visible at the moment. Some take the cocoon approach. Others display a sort of obsession to know the worst, and they tend to wallow in the bad news, thinking that if they can just know the worst, then they will retain some degree of control over the situation. This latter reaction is the one I am primarily addressing.

The primary analogy I wish to use is that of Saruman and Denethor’s twin desires to know everything through the seeing stones (the palantiri). The problem with both of them using the palantiri is that Sauron controlled the flow of information. They both saw only what Sauron wanted them to see. As a result, Saruman capitulated to what he saw and feared. Denethor went mad with hopelessness, even though he did not capitulate to Sauron’s tyranny. They were both tempted by the same thing: the thought that knowledge equals power equals control. The problem for them both was that Sauron was stronger, and the flow of information was controlled. They couldn’t see anything that Gandalf would have wanted them to see, nor could they see anything that would give them hope.

In our modern age, the information is also being controlled in a majority of cases. It is not news (usually!) to report positive things in this world. What makes the news is almost universally negative. The flow of information is carefully controlled in order to present a world that is spiraling out of control, especially out of God’s control. Fear is very intentionally the goal of much of this information flow. The actual Sauron (Satan) is a master of misinformation. He is directing his forces to paint a very negative picture so that people who could actually do anything about the situation are paralyzed.

This picture is quite misleading. In Revelation 12, if you didn’t know how the story turns out, you would think that the brainy and brawny dragon very obviously was going to win. At the very least, you would probably have put your money on the dragon. Except, he doesn’t win. In fact, he is shown to be laughably, absurdly impotent. He can’t even destroy a woman in labor with her infant child? The lesson of Revelation 12 is that appearances are deceptive. It might look like evil is gaining the upper hand, but in the spiritual realm, this is never the case. And the physical realm does not control what goes on in the spiritual world. If anything, it is the reverse.

We need to learn the lesson of not fearing anything or anyone but God Almighty. His sovereignty cannot be seriously challenged. His plan, however incomprehensible to us at the moment, will eventually be evident as the best possible plan. Worried obsession with information will get us nowhere. It will not result in the control we think we are gaining. Instead, it will only result in capitulation (a la Saruman) or the madness of despair (like Denethor). Instead, we need to be meditating on the actual battle in the spiritual realm, reflecting on the sure and certain knowledge that God cannot possibly lose. Indeed, He has already won.

On Evangelism in the Old Testament

I just finished reading this slim volume, hot off the press, written by a minister attending the congregation I serve. It is a commonplace belief that claims there is little to nothing that the Old Testament contributes towards the idea of evangelism. Dr. Norm De Jong begs to differ. Some key insights: 1. Evangelism might have a larger purview than we thought before; 2. God is a direct evangelist in the OT; 3. The sovereignty of God is so far from being any kind of obstacle to evangelism that it actually accomplishes evangelism. 4. Any book that helps us connect the OT and NT together is worthy of our attention, and this is the only lay-person oriented book to take up this subject.

A New Baggins?

She prefers “Galadriel” to Baggins, but you can follow my daughter Ila’s new blog over at Galadriel’s Musings.

Unity in Psalm 133

Psalm 133 is very often quoted or sung in presbytery and general assembly meetings in the PCA and OPC. Rightfully so. It makes unity look very attractive indeed. However, whether the psalm is always rightly understood (in terms of how this unity comes about) may be doubted.

Two images serve to make unity attractive. The proprietary anointing oil coming down on Aaron’s beard, and the dew of Mount Hermon coming down to Zion (quite a ways from Mount Hermon, incidentally!) have one thing in common: both the oil and the dew come down, a fact noted by several commentators. It is not too much of a stretch to see a sort of geographical irony here, in that a psalm of ascent has something coming down.

More theologically, however, something coming down in this manner, particularly the dew of Mount Hermon, points to God’s grace. This unity is not so much an achievement, as it is a gift (see Kidner’s commentary, 134). All too often, unity is preached as law, not as gospel, as something which we achieve with little or no reference to God’s grace at all. Even when we pray for unity, our thoughts often run more along the lines of God’s simple enabling, rather than God’s grace actually accomplishing the unity.

The unity in question is a powerful one. If the dew of Mount Hermon (which is located in the far north of Israel) has repercussions for Zion, in the south, the implications have to do with the north-south tension already in evidence in David’s day. If this is a psalm of David, then the north-south tensions were already a matter for prayer. All the more so later on, when the two kingdoms split, but people still sang this psalm when they went up to Jerusalem for the feasts.

In Christ’s person and work, the potential for a unifying truth in the gospel has become a reality. Paul takes the widest sociological gaps he can think of (race, class, and sex) and claims that the gospel of Jesus Christ transcends those natural barriers. Notice something important about Paul’s claim. It is a unity built on the truth of the gospel, not a unity for unity’s own sake. The latter would be something that has no foundation and is inherently unstable. Contrary to the CWAGA folks (“Can’t We All Get Along?”), the prophets say, “How can two walk together unless they are agreed?” (Amos 3:3). Truth unifies. It does not divide. Modern Christianity needs to be reminded of this simple fact. Perhaps more unity could actually be achieved if these things could be remembered. Then we would pray for God to do it, to change our hearts towards the truth and towards those with whom we disagree. We need to pray for a unity based on truth.

When Did Saul Meet David?

It is a commonplace in liberal biblical scholarship to claim a contradiction between 1 Samuel 16:14-23 and 1 Samuel 17:55-58. The nature of the alleged contradiction lies in what Saul knew and when. In 16:19, Saul sends a messenger to Jesse, after he has been told about Jesse’s son by the young man of verse 18. The messenger tells Jesse to send David (“your son”) to Saul for purposes of musical distraction. In chapter 16, therefore, Saul knows whose son David is. In the very next chapter, however, Saul seems not to know this information. In 17:55 and following, Saul asks Abner about David’s parentage (Abner doesn’t know). Saul then finds out from David himself that David is the son of Jesse. So, which is it? Did Saul not find out in 16 about David’s father? Or are there other possibilities?

The first thing that must be said is that the author (or, to go momentarily on the liberal turf, the redactor) most likely already knew about this issue. Ancient authors weren’t quite as stupid as some modern scholars tend to think they were! How do we know? In the text of verse 23 lies what I believe to be the hint that points to the solution. The first two words of the verse are well translated, “Now, whenever…” The verse then describes a state of affairs that appears to have lasted a relatively long while before the events of 17. This points to the answer: Saul simply forgot whose son David was. The length of time combined with the stress of the events of 17 could easily explain Saul’s forgetfulness on this point.

To my mind, this explanation works better than some of the alternatives. Some believe that chapter 16 is about David’s identity, whereas 17:55ff. is about Jesse’s. This explanation does not take 16:18-19 adequately into account, where twice it is stated that Saul knew Jesse to be the father of David.

Another unlikely interpretation is that 16:14-23 is out of chronological order, and belongs in between 18:9 and 18:10. This would make the Goliath story the very first time Saul met David. Now, this would solve the issue. The Bible does not always record things in chronological order. What makes this solution unlikely is not the supposedly “unbiblical” nature of the solution, but rather the unlikelihood of the passage getting put intentionally out of place. If 16:14-23 was originally between 18:9 and 18:10, why would anyone move it?

Gleason Archer, in his Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (175), argues that Saul’s concern in 17:55ff. was in building up his own personal bodyguard, and that Jesse’s identity was important because Saul viewed David as a “lead to obtaining more soldiers like him.” This is possible, and would be an additional element consistent with the idea of forgetfulness.

Robert Bergen adds two more aspectual possibilities in his commentary on Samuel (199). The issue of who gets the tax forgiveness could be another reason why Saul asks about David’s parentage. In addition, Bergen argues that the Spirit having left Saul means that Saul “was intellectually incompetent.” I might amend the latter to say that Saul was becoming incompetent, memory being not what it once was.

One last solution, possibly the least likely, is that of Robert Polzin. In his Samuel and the Deuteronomist: A Literary Study of the Deuteronomic History, Part Two: 1 Samuel (171-6), he argues that Saul’s question is 17:55 is actually a demand for David’s allegiance, not a question about identity. Again, this would solve the issue. However, it is difficult to see why we should interpret the text that way. Are there other instances in ancient literature where asking about the identity of a person’s father is equal to a demand for allegiance? This seems highly unlikely to me. The other solutions are better.

Two Creation Accounts?

It is a commonplace in historical-critical scholarship to assert that Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 offer us two distinct (and usually, therefore, dependent on two different sources, J and E) creation accounts that contradict each other. The order of created things in Genesis 1 is light, firmament, separation of land and sea, plants, lights, fish, birds, land animals, humanity. In chapter 2, it is said, the order is very different: humanity, plants, land animals. Although this supposed discrepancy has been answered in the past by conservative scholars such as Keil and Delitzsch, the historical-critical scholars continue to cite this supposed discrepancy as if there were no answer to their claims.

It is my claim that there cannot be a discrepancy in the text, if it is read carefully, and without an assumption of contradiction. The exegesis of the text in Genesis 2 will show that the plants supposedly created after humanity are not all plants, but only cultivated plants. It is a relatively simple point. There are two reasons given in 2:5b for why the plants of 2:5a are not yet in existence. There was no rain, and there was no man to plow the ground. Now, the lack of rain could be reasonably used as a reason for why all plants were not yet in existence. The lack of a plowman, however, cannot be used as a reason for why all plants were not yet in existence. Wild plants thrive without any help from humans whatsoever. The plants of 2:5a, therefore, cannot be all plants. There has to be a more limited reference. If there is no plowman yet, then the plants of 2:5a have to be cultivated plants, farm plants, plants that need the human touch in order to thrive. So much for the plant issue.

The other issue of order has to do with the relative creation of humanity and the land animals. 2:19 seems to suggest that Adam was already in existence when God formed the land animals and brought them to Adam to see what he would call each creature. There is no need to interpret the text this way. Even though the word “formed” is a vayyiqtol (normal on-line narrative, normally denoting sequential action), the statement of forming could just as easily be a summation of days five and six as a statement of sequential order. The emphasis in the context is far more on the bringing and naming than on the forming. Furthermore, the forming of the creatures from the earth is an implicit contrast with the forming of the woman from the rib of the man. The text is saying that all the animals have the wrong origin to be Adam’s helper. Only someone who comes from his flesh and bone (2:23) will be the right helper.

No Middle Ground

I just finished reading Carl Trueman’s amazing new book. I advise everyone in the church to read it. If you want to know how the West got to where a transgender statement like “I am a woman trapped in a man’s body” came to have plausibility, you have to read this book. One of the most important things he said in the book is something I had already agreed with, but hadn’t put it nearly as clearly as he did. Observe:

“[I]t is hard to conceptualize a culture in which the rights of religious conservatives and the rights of those who identify as sexual minorities can both be accommodated. It is precisely because matters of basic identity, and therefore of what constitutes dignity and appropriate recognition, are at stake that makes a negotiated settlement impossible. To allow religious conservatives to be religious conservatives is to deny that people are defined by their sexual orientation, and to allow that people are defined by their sexual orientation is to assert that religious conservatism is irrational bigotry and dangerous to the unity of the commonwealth” (402).

I have long wondered why it is that the LGBTQ+ groups will not simply leave conservatives alone. Why do they have to go after us? The reason is simple: they have redefined human identity to center on their sexual orientation. As Trueman proves over and and over again, the reason LGBTQ+ groups hate conservatives is that, according to them, we are denying their humanity. Of course, that is not what we think we are doing. But for them, they do not have humanity unless they can force everyone else to acknowledge that their definition of humanity is correct.

Aimee Byrd’s Book, Chapter 1

Byrd’s book is divided into three main parts. The first main part is called “Recovering the Way We Read Scripture.” This part deals primarily with hermeneutical issues. As someone who claims the Reformed tradition as her own, it is a question why she should feel the need to recover the way we read Scripture. Does she believe that we have lost something earlier generations had? It is not entirely clear what she means by this, but we will simply note this and move on.

Chapter 1 is entitled “Why Men and Women Don’t Read Separate Bibles.” I agree with much of what is in this chapter, starting with her rejection of the idea that men and women need separate Bibles. Her scathing denunciation of reading the Bible “in pink and blue” culminates in this zinger: “If the aesthetics are good, then our sanctification must be on point” (33). Against many feminist scholars, she rejects the idea that the Bible is patriarchal (42). There are many important female voices in the Bible, some of which she points out (Huldah in this chapter, Ruth in the next), and others exist like Hannah and Mary. Whether all the conclusions she draws from them are justified is another question. At the moment, however, I am listing the areas of agreement. Also, and I agree with her, she laments the poor state of theological education for women. The “Bible” studies that are on offer for women are generally hideous. Maybe publishers think that women can’t handle theology. But why would any great theologian of all church history be inaccessible or irrelevant to women? Byrd elsewhere acknowledges her debt to the great theologians, and that they continue to inform her.

There are several points that need to be examined closely for their implications. Not all of these implications have been mentioned before. First, she says that “the books written before the establishment of Christian trade publishers had an androcentric, or male-centered, perspective” (34). She immediately qualifies this statement by suggesting that this does not mean an inherently wrong perspective, but rather an incomplete perspective. This raises a question in my mind, one which I am not sure Byrd ever answers. Firstly, what does she mean by “androcentric” in this context? Does Byrd see linguistic markers like generic “he” as evidence of androcentrism? Does she see something like covenantal headship, via Ephesians 5, as androcentric? Her words here appear to be a critique, but then she pulls her punch a bit.

Next, the historical situation of Anne Hutchinson is fraught with complications. On Byrd’s reading, she was not taken seriously by her pastors/elders (36). Byrd seems to believe that if the church had invested time and energy into teaching her, the story might have been different. That is possible. However, she was given a rather good education back in England (including religious education), being taught by her learned father, Francis Marbury. It is not clear in the record how much of her theology was already in place before she came over to the colonies. Byrd seems to be claiming that the supposed neglect of Hutchinson was the main contributing factor to her later problems. It is possible that such neglect could be a contributing factor. But Byrd seems to be hinting that no blame for the situation accrues to Hutchinson herself. Any pastor, however, would be disturbed by a group meeting in someone’s house for the express purpose of critiquing the pastor’s sermon. That has “clique” written all over it! Byrd might reply by saying that Hutchinson had no other options available to her. I find that difficult to believe. She didn’t have to form a group. She could discuss the sermon informally with other people. If she had any differences with the pastor, she had a responsibility to bring those to the pastor, and him only, not spread discord by critiquing him behind his back. That is on her.

The most disturbing part of the chapter is the section entitled “Revealing a Woman’s Work” (45-6). If her conclusions are correct, and women formed part of the authenticating of Scripture, then there can be no theological objection to female ministers. If they have the greater, they can have the lesser. She describes Huldah as “authenticating the Word of God largely accepted as the heart of the book of Deuteronomy” (46, referencing Christa McKirkland). She quotes with obvious agreement McKirkland’s claim that Huldah might have been “The first person to authenticate the written Word.” Authenticating the Word of God is not how the Bible describes what she did. All the text says is that she passed on the word of the Lord that came to her, which included this statement from the Lord: “all the words of the book that the king of Judah has read.” It is not at all clear that Josiah wanted it confirmed as to whether the book that was found was the Word of God. His words in 2 Kings 22:13 refer rather to his fear that the things written in the book would come true. Huldah confirms that they would, but with qualifications mentioned in 19-20. Huldah was a true prophetess. There doesn’t seem to be any reason to doubt this, nor for Deborah, whose words came true. Some opponents of feminism have tried to argue that the consulting of Deborah and Huldah indicate the failure of male leadership. At least in Huldah’s case, this is not so, since Jeremiah started his prophecies about five years before the consultation with Huldah (thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah, putting the beginning of his prophecy around 626 B.C., and the consultation of Huldah about 621 B.C.). The objection could work with Deborah’s case, but not with Huldah. Most scholars I consulted on this passage addressed the question of why Josiah did not consult with Jeremiah by answering that Jeremiah was probably in Anathoth, whereas Huldah was right there in Jerusalem. In any case, there is no indication that Huldah authenticated God’s Word (who does that anyway? The Reformers always said we receive God’s Word, not authenticate it. God’s Word is self-authenticating). In addition, Josiah’s response to the word even before the consultation indicates that he believed it was already authoritative. What he did in consulting Huldah was to ask how the curses would work out (a point I owe to Fowler). Huldah’s gifts of prophecy are certainly genuine but she does not appear in Scripture as one who had the same public ministry of speaking and writing that her contemporaries Jeremiah or Zephaniah had. Rather, she appears as one who delivered oracles in a private consultation with five members of the royal court. Our conclusions about the exact nature of her ministry or that of other men or women have to depend on other passages and considerations. For more, see Thomas Schreiner’s essay in RBMW. I would need to do more research to see what I thought about this claim, though it seems to have at least some initial plausibility.

The Wrong Enemy

I’m sure many readers have had the same experience I have had. This experience is to see a well-known doctrine in a new light. Yesterday, I was reading through Deuteronomy, and saw the command to annihilate the inhabitants of the promised land (which, of course, needs to have a post all its own as to why this doesn’t make God into a homicidal, genocidal maniac). The application to the Christian life is through spiritual warfare. It strikes me that the majority of Christians today can’t recognize the true enemy. We think our enemy is the person who wronged us, or called us names. We think the enemy is a political group. We think the enemy is human. We have our sights set on the wrong target, the wrong enemy.

Paul told us who the real enemy is in Ephesians 6. It is the realm of Satan and the demons. None of this should be new to Christians, though it sadly is to many. The thing that hit me, however, was this: we pray against the wrong enemy a lot of the time. Why aren’t we praying against Satan and the demons? Just because we can’t see it, and we don’t know much about it, therefore, we think that the battle is entirely in the visual spectrum. But the real battle is a spiritual one. When we see events happening today that we would rather not see, how are we praying? Are we praying for the simple reversal of Roe V. Wade? How about praying against the demonic influence that made that decision possible, and that continually seeks to deceive people into perpetuating the carnage? We see our freedoms being eroded. We tend to blame only humans. Humans are involved. Of course they are. Most of the time, however, that’s all we see. We are, all too often, more concerned with our eroded freedoms than we are with our eroded faith. The things that erode it are legion in America. And we let it happen.

In the Psalms, David prayed against human enemies as well as spiritual enemies. So it isn’t completely an either/or. However, in focusing too much on “THEM,” defined as human enemies, we have distorted the picture to the point that the real and full enemy is almost invisible. Why isn’t evangelism “working” like it should? We know we ought to pray about it so that God does the heavy lifting, but what about the demonic obstacles to evangelism? Why don’t we pray about that?

One practical result of this proposed shift in thinking is that we will have a great deal more compassion for the real, live human in front of us. That person may not be our enemy at all. They may be deceived and blinded. They need light and healing from God the Holy Spirit.

Another practical result is the increase of prayer warriors in the Christian church. We desperately need people to take up the thankless (read “unglamorous,” or “not puffing our own name up”) task of praying against Satan and his kingdom. While this won’t make the entire church in America vertebrate, it might grow one or two vertebrae in our midst. That would be a start.

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