Corporate and Individual Responsibility: An Introduction

I want to write some posts about corporate and individual responsibility in the Bible. This is an extremely thorny issue. At the moment, I am only beginning my investigation of the biblical texts. Thus, this post will raise more questions than answers. In the future, I will be focusing major attention on Ezekiel 18, and what it does and does not say. Other related passages are Joshua 7 (the account of the failed attack on Ai), 2 Samuel 21, Deuteronomy 24:16, 2 Kings 14:5-6, Daniel 9, and Exodus 20:5-6. Assessing how these texts relate to each other to form a coherent picture is a very thorny task. The reason I am addressing this issue is that the PCA has addressed and will be addressing corporate responsibility regarding the race issue.

What are some categories that the Bible uses to address the question of corporate and individual responsibility? The first category is a distinction between guilt and consequence. Obviously, guilt is one consequence of sin. However, there are other consequences that can be incurred by someone who has no direct guilt. This might be a helpful way of understanding why it is that 36 men get killed in the attack on Ai for something that they themselves did not do. One might say that Achan murdered those 36 men by transgressing the ban.

A second category distinction is between human retribution and divine retribution. Who assesses the punishment, in other words? Does human retribution apply to corporate guilt, or that only the purview of God? Bear in mind that this particular distinction is not the same question as repentance, and whether repentance needs to be corporate or individual.

A third category distinction is between sins of omission and sins of commission. This one should be familiar to most of my readers. A sin of omission is something that we (or I) should have done but failed to do, whereas a sin of commission is something that we (or I) should not have done, but did anyway. This has a bearing on possibly composite sins. On the racism issue, for instance, if a church committed racist acts, and the presbytery of which it was a part failed to discipline that church for said actions, then the presbytery incurs the guilt of omission. While the presbytery may not, as a whole, have committed the action itself, it is still responsible for its required and biblical response. The same is true on a denominational level.

The fourth, and perhaps stickiest question of all, is the question of covenantal continuity. There is a tension between the continuity (on the one hand) that the true church has with itself in all generations, regardless of denominational boundaries; and the discontinuity of governing bodies that are directly responsible for the discipline of members within its scope. In the case of the PCA churches that Sean Lucas has in mind, for instance, the question will revolve around some of these questions: have these churches ever repented? Did the southern presbyterian denomination repent before the founding of the PCA? Is there continuing sin on the matters of racial equality? If so, what is the responsibility of current bodies within the PCA, and is the whole denomination at fault, or only some presbyteries?

A fifth question to ponder is a very important question: what constitutes racism? I have addressed this question briefly before. Having read a bit more, and done a bit more thinking, there are some things I might say differently. For instance, the question of how the biblical passages relate is a far more difficult question than the previous post would seem to indicate. I still hold to my position on affirmative action being inherently racist. I also hold that evolution and a theory of polygenesis (that we do not all come from Adam and Eve) open the door to racism.

Why talk this way about all these careful distinctions? One reason is that we want to tell the truth. It is not truth to confess to sins for which we have no guilt any more than it is truth not to confess for sins of which we are guilty. We need to assess carefully and biblically what guilt we have in the question of racism. Whatever truth of guilt we have can then lead us to repentance and restoration.

I attended recently a memorial service for the Charleston Nine at a black church in Winnsboro. It was a wonderful experience. I was afraid at first that the talk would all be about social justice. Instead, it was focused on Jesus Christ and the gospel, while mentioning racial issues in the context of the gospel. Yes, there was much talk about the unity that the church has in Christ, as was appropriate. But it did not sideline the gospel, for which I was very thankful. As was mentioned by my black brothers at GA this year, any repentance that we do needs to have feet, so that actual change can happen in our churches. Some churches are further ahead in this process than others. Some degree of compassion and understanding will need to be present.

Feasts For All Times?

One argument from the Hebrew Roots Movement (HRM) that I have heard goes something like this: God does not change, therefore none of His laws will change, and therefore none of the feasts are abrogated. The problem with this kind of argument is two-fold. In one sense, none of the OT laws are abrogated: they still exist to teach us principles of godliness, and to point us to Jesus Christ (this I say in opposition to those who claim we are abrogating the OT law if we say that we do not follow the OT laws in the same way today). They are still written down in the Old Testament. Not one of those words will pass away, not a jot, nor a tittle. However, that does not mean, in and of itself, that the observation and application of those commandments can never change. They can if God says they do. But can God do that? If God doesn’t change, then can His laws change? Well, let’s look at some examples of God giving a commandment for a certain time and place that would not have universal applicability. God told Isaiah to walk around naked. That is a direct commandment from God that had an equally direct (and merciful!) expiration date of three years. This, of course, does not prove (in itself) that any of the Torah had an expiration date. But it does prove that God can give a command that does not last forever. God also told Hosea to take an adulterous wife. Now, scholars debate whether she was unfaithful before or only after marrying Hosea, but it doesn’t really matter. Hosea still knew that her character was an unfaithful character when he married her. This was a very specific commandment given in a particular time and place. Surely, we would not want to say that all prophets of God should marry wives of unfaithful character! There was a specific purpose in what God was doing with that commandment. Again, this does not prove that any particular law in the Torah is expired, but it does prove that God can give a commandment that has an expiration date on it. God has given commands in the past that have limited applicability.

Now the question is this: are there any limitations on the commandments given in the Torah? The Ten Commandments are universally binding moral law. This is the same law that is written on the human heart by God. I will not, at this point, argue the change of day of the Sabbath commandment. That is a subject for another post. But the Ten Commandments are universally binding for all people everywhere (not just for Israel). As that particular point is not really in dispute between the HRM and Reformed theology, I will move on to other areas of laws.

There do appear to be limitations set on other areas of commandments. Deuteronomy 4 is vitally important here. The redemptive-historical situation is that Moses is giving his last will and testament, if you will, to the Israelites before they enter the promised land. In the course of this, he makes a distinction between the Ten Commandments, on the one hand (4:13), and the “statues and ordinances” in 4:14, which are tied to the land: “At that time the Lord commanded me to teach you statutes and ordinances for you to follow in the land you are about to cross into and possess” (emphasis added). The order of Ten Commandments first, followed by statutes and ordinances is then immediately followed in chapter 5 (the second giving of the Ten Commandments and its summary in chapter 6) and the statutes and ordinances that follow. It is revealing that only after the Ten Commandments are given does Moses give specific instructions concerning the holy warfare that is to come (chapter 7). This separation of the statutes and ordinances from the Ten Commandments by the commands concerning holy warfare underscore again the connection of the ordinances that follow with the ownership of the land, as well as the distinction within OT law between the moral, civil and ceremonial aspects of the law. Now, it is not quite as simple as this, since there are reiterations of the moral law scattered throughout Deuteronomy. This does not negate the point of the literary separation between the Ten Commandments and the civil and ceremonial law as a whole.

Now to the feasts in particular. Three feasts are limited to the place that God shall choose: the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Festival of Weeks, and the Festival of Booths. Deuteronomy 16:16 is quite clear on this point: “All your males are to appear three times a year before the Lord your God in the place He chooses: at the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Festival of Weeks, and the Festival of Booths” (emphasis added). That place that God would choose is, of course, Jerusalem. In other words, these feasts cannot be celebrated outside of Jerusalem. They must be celebrated in the place that God chose. There is no commandment later on telling the people that they can celebrate it anywhere else. There is no biblical example of the people of God celebrating those feasts anywhere other than Jerusalem. In fact, we have the exact opposite example in the case of the Exile. During the Exile, the people of God celebrated no feasts of God at all. Why? Because they were exiled from their land. There is no reproach laid on them for not celebrating the feasts while they were in exile. Those feasts are tied to the land of Israel, and in particular, Jerusalem. It is arbitrary to claim that we can celebrate them anywhere else, as long as we follow the specific instructions. Let us not forget either that these three Feasts required gifts to be given to God (Deuteronomy 16:17). We can conclude from this that these feasts had limitations of space set on them, at the very least.

From Isaiah, we learn that God gave a commandment bounded by time limitations. From our exegesis of Deuteronomy 16, we find that God can give a command that has a limitation of space put on it. Therefore, we can conclude from this that a law that is not of the moral law can have a built-in expiration date attached to it. This is not abrogation, as the HRM argue. Even the most die-hard dispensationalist could still agree that there is a relevance of even the most dated commands for God’s people. It is in that sense that not a jot or tittle shall pass away from the law until all is fulfilled. This should make it equally clear, by the way, that if our exegesis of Deuteronomy 16 (not to mention the example of Isaiah!) is correct, then Iesous’ (to use the Greek spelling of Jesus’ name used in the NT where the name Yeshua is NEVER used) words cannot mean what the HRM thinks it means. The HRM says that Iesous’ words mean that the application of the law can never change. It is the argument of the Reformed position that only God can change the application of His own law. No human tradition can do that. But it is also the Reformed position that Iesous Himself changed the application by His words in the NT. That is a subject for another post, however.

Inerrancy – Is God a False Prophet?

by Reed DePace

I recently finished reading the most recent issue of the Westminster Theological Journal. In it Gregory K. Beale has an excellent article in which he offers an exegetical defense of the necessity of inerrancy. I won’t offer a review of that article here, but rather encourage y’all to get a hold of it. It is pretty good.

In the article Beale uses God’s standards for prophets speaking His word to make the case that inerrancy is indeed an essential and necessary characteristic of the Bible. Centered mostly in an excursive in Revelation, Beale offers a pretty convincing argument. (But, of course, I’m already a kool-aide drinker, so what do I know?)

As I read the argument I was reminded of a passage pressed upon me in my early days of discipleship, Deut. 18:20-22:

20 But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ 21 And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the LORD has not spoken?’ – 22 when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.

So, is not God’s word written by men called under the standards of prophetic ministry? Yes, of course. And do these standards not require that their words be true? Yes, of course. Specifically, is not the characteristic of truth in the above passage specifically historical truthfulness, that is accuracy in terms of what actually does happen in time? The passage certainly does say that.

So, if it be maintained that God’s word does indeed contain historical inaccuracies (e.g., no real Adam), does this not mean, at the very least, that Moses (and any inspired editor of the Pentateuch), fails the Deuteronomical test for a prophet speaking for God?

At the very least, we should not “be afraid” of Moses. Let’s throw out any book he had a hand in writing, and of course any book dependent upon his writings. (Uhh, wait a minute, that includes the whole Bible.)

Wait, here is a worse thought! Suppose you want to maintain inspiration, but deny inerrancy. That would mean that Moses really was speaking for God. So, if there are errors in the Bible, that would mean God Himself is guilty of being a false prophet. Now we’re facing a real dilemma. If false prophets should die, God should die for authoring error in His own name.

I don’t know about you, but I’m sure not going to start throwing stones at God. Instead, I’m going to stick with my conviction about inerrancy. It is much simpler to believe the Bible is what is says it is, God’s own inspired, infallible, AND inerrant word, than to spend the time trying to figure a way out of the mental knots one ties himself in when he denies inerrancy.

God’s word is inerrant. Stay away from the stones.

Reed DePace

The Shema

Deuteronomy 6:4 reads like this in the ESV: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Both occurrences of “Lord” here are “Yahweh.” This translation, however, is not the only one possible. The reason for this is that the inter-relationships between the words is not explicit (McConville, pg. 140). Here it is in Hebrew:

 שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָד׃

Now, the four interpretations that McConville lists are as follows: “The Lord is our God, the Lord alone;” “The Lord our God, the Lord is one;” The Lord is our God, the Lord is one;” and “The Lord our God is one Lord.” The first emphasizes the polemical edge against other religions. The second emphasizes the oneness of the Lord. The third emphasizes the possessiveness of one Lord on the part of Israel, and the fourth is very little different from the third. At any rate, one can say with certainty that oneness and Lordship go together, and that this one Lord is “our” Lord.

The question arises: does this formulation preclude the Trinity? The answer must be “no.” Moses, in this chapter, is very careful to contrast the polytheistic religions of the nations in Canaan with the monotheism of Israel. This is clear in verses 14-15. However, that there might be a plurality within the one God is not ruled out. Moses’ focus is polemics, not so much on saying everything about the number of God that could be said. After all, Deuteronomy occurs in the same section of the canonas Genesis 1, which plainly indicates that within God there is plurality.


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