Category Archives: Theology

Thoughts on a question

I received a question on a post the other day and it caused me to do some research and soul searching. The question was about the place of the current descendants of Abraham, the Jewish people, in the necessity to be evangelized by the Gentiles.

Excellent question.  From that question you have to make the assumption that the chosen people of Israel, those who are a direct part of Abraham’s family, are not saved.  That opens a hole can of worms.  There are those who think that God’s promise to Abraham to make him a great nation and the world will be blessed by them, only refers to the acts of bringing the Messiah to the world and does not afford any special privileges or spiritual status to them other than birthing Jesus.  These of the Supersessionism movement would assert a theological view that the Old covenant to Abraham was replaced by the New covenant of Jesus. Following this line of theology, the Jews like the rest of the world must accept Jesus to be saved.

Supersessionism is a very well accepted theology in the Christian Church for the majority of their existence. Christian traditions that have championed this single Covenant Theology are the Roman Catholic, Reformed and Methodist. never-the-less in a recent poll of Christians, 60% believe there will be righteous Jews in heaven.

The other side of the argument is dual-covenant theology which holds that the covenant given to Moses is still valid and therefore the Jews do not need evangelizing. If a ethnic Jew is keeping the Law and as Micah states in 6:8, “O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, to live kindness and walk humbly with your God,” then they are assumed righteous and deserve the associated rewards. They would take the statement of Jesus, “No man comes to the Father but by me,” and translate the word man as Gentile. That Jesus only came for the Gentiles.

If this dual-covenant theology then it opens the possibility of a third and a fourth and a fifth covenant. This view is currently being championed by Islam saying that the final and most authentic expression of Abrahamic prophetic monotheism, supersedes and replaces both Jewish and Christian teachings. The doctrine of tahrif teaches that earlier monotheistic scriptures or their interpretations have been corrupted, while the Quran presents a pure version of the divine message that they originally contained.

So now back to the original question.  In God’s eyes “Whosoever believes in Jesus” John3:16 includes Judaism.  Whether we actively do so that is up to the individual and calling.  But just because a person is a gentile or a Jew makes little difference.  It is one of those things we will discover when we get to our final reward.  But before then it is just a talking point.

The greatest enhancement

Stop and think.  Think of God, better think of God’s mind. Imagine God with a concept of creation.  To create something that is perfectly designed, perfectly built, and perfectly understood. Think of a God who made decision after decision in the design of man. And once built, watching intently the happenstances and sometimes chaos resulting in His design.  Get inside the mind of God and seek the trillions of detailed decisions He made before He made it all. And He said it “WAS GOOD”.

We stop and think and wonder strange things and we ask questions.  “God why did you make the Duckbill Platypus and mosquitoes?”  And that is just the point of the greatest design enhancement, the greatest augmentation to his ultimate creation was to allow us to ask, “WHY.”

Rules for Bible Study

Every community, every group, every organization must have rules to guide it.  I found the best rules for studying the Bible fall into three areas: Truth, Study, and process.

  1. Truth
    • God’s truth is the only truth.
    • No one on this side of heaven can know all of God’s truth.
    • God’s truth for us is revealed in the inspired Word of God.
    • God’s truth is illuminated by the Holy Spirit.
  2. Study
    • We study to know more of God’s truth.
    • We study to become disciples
    • We study to show ourselves approved.
    • We study to change our behavior.
  3. Process
    • Questions do not necessarily have a right or a wrong answer.
    • Feelings are valuable but are not truth.
    • Actions have moral consequences.

The truth is not enough.

Sometimes I just don’t get some of the assumptions I hear from my brothers and sisters in the church.  It could well stem from personal experiences or even pre-conceived understandings of my own.  Whatever my problem may well be, I hear some of the strangest voiced conclusions and they set my own sensibilities on edge.

A few years back I was teaching a class on the book of John.  We were trying as a group to understand Jesus. What brought up the edgy feeling was the response to the question, “Why do you study the Bible?”  That question had many answers.  Some of the answers were conditioned “Sunday School” answers, while others were a little more honest, and others from those who were truly seeking more in their spiritual lives.  It was the last answer that didn’t seem quite right.  “I study the bible to be a better Christian.”  What it sounded like to me was this apt student was equating the accumulation of facts and theological understanding with growth. 

I pressed him to clarify and he quoted from John 8:32, “The truth will make you free.” He was saying when there is enough truth in your life you will, by that accumulation, become a better Christian.

I didn’t argue or tell him he was wrong, I simply smiled and jotted down a note to get a better understanding of his perceived pathway to growth.

At issue is endemic to many in the church. The idea of filling your heart with so much knowledge, so much scripture, that you become a super Christian, is often proclaimed.  What a terrible thought.  What an indictment against the very God in which we serve.  Before you get your own hackles up, let me explain.

First, the Gospel of John does say, “the truth will set you free.” But like most misconceptions of the will of God, it was taken out of a larger portion of scripture.  Jesus was speaking to Jews who had been influenced by the Pharisees and had come to an understanding of Jesus.  They had the head knowledge.  They had accumulated so much Jewish theology and insight of the prophets, they saw these as pointers to Jesus being the Messiah. Consequently, they had accepted the words of Jesus as truth.

Second, the Gospel of John in the same eighth chapter and which this “make you free” statement was stated also includes a preface. “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and that truth will set you free.” The key is not accumulation but a holding.

Holding is not just gathering the wheat in the fields and taking it as an accomplishment.  Holding is knowing the purpose of the wheat and making bread. To be a disciple is to conform to the teachings of God, to stay on a prescribed path set by God, and it is to be more than a sponge.

Why do I study the Bible?  Two things.  I study to understand God and His path for me. And subsequently, to finding that path, I utilize my new understanding to follow that path.  My life is one of revelation and reconciliation. Without the second part, the first part is without much help to my growth.  My growth is dependent upon my understanding of God’s place for me AND my willingness to do something about it.   

GREAT High Priest

I am not a catholic. Further, the hierarchy of my local church does not include anyone with the title of Priest. Sometimes I wonder about the necessity to have a priest at all.  Again, it is probably part of my Protestant background.  Never-the-less, as I am studying a portion of the New Testament entitled Hebrews, I find several passages depicting Jesus as the High Priest (Hebrews 2:17; 3:1; 4:14-5:10; 6:20; 7:11-8:2; 10:12). The office of priest was an important one in the Old Testament system and is fulfilled by Jesus.

In the Jewish system, a priest mediated between the people and God. They seemed to need a person to assume a job as middleman. Appointed to that job was Aaron and his descendants, with the tribe of Levi serving as assistants in the Tabernacle (Numbers 3:5-10). The Levites were viewed as belonging to God (Numbers 3:12); they were set apart and very special. I found specific regulations for the priests in Leviticus 21 – 22. The high priest was the chief religious leader and had certain duties. The most important, of these duties, was the high priest who entered the Most Holy Place on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). Only the high priest could enter and, before doing so, he was required to make a sacrifice for himself. In this way the high priest was cleansed and could then go on to offer the cleansing sacrifices for the people (Leviticus 16).

This is where Hebrews comes in speaking to a group of Jewish Christians, and tells them that Jesus is the Great High Priest who mediates. His sacrifice is what provides cleansing for our sins. Rather than a yearly (or daily) atonement, Jesus’ sacrifice is once-for-all (Hebrews 10:1-18). Jesus, like the high priests of Old Testament times, stands in the gap between us (the people) and God. He made the necessary sacrifice for us (Jesus was without sin so did not need to offer a sacrifice for Himself as did the high priests of the Old Testament). Those who have put their faith in Jesus have been made righteous by Him (2 Corinthians 5:21) and are now able to enter God’s presence. This mediation of Jesus is permanent and continual. Hebrews 7:23-25 says, “The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever.” While Jesus’ sacrifice was once-for-all, His mediation for us continues. Jesus also communicates the will of God to us through His teachings and through the Holy Spirit (John 14:26).

Jesus is not only our High Priest, but also a “priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 7:11-22). Melchizedek is introduced in Genesis 14. He is said to be both a king and a priest (Genesis 14:18). He met Abram (later known as Abraham) after Abram’s battle victory. In their meeting, Melchizedek blessed Abram, and Abram gave him a tenth of everything, thus confirming Melchizedek’s priesthood and authority. The writer of Hebrews explains that Jesus is of this order of priests – His priesthood is based on authority rather than on lineage (Hebrews 7:11-17), and it is also kingly. Therefore, Jesus’ priesthood institutes a new way of being: “For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well” (Hebrews 7:12). With Jesus as High Priest, a new covenant is in effect.

So do we need someone to stand in the gap?  Yes.  Do we need someone to make a sacrifice? Yes.  Do we need someone to represent us?  Yes.  Do we need a new covenant? Yes.  Do we need a new relationship to God? Yes.  Yes to all these.  Perhaps the most crucial thing for believers to understand today is that it is because Jesus is our High Priest that we can approach God with confidence (Hebrews 4:16). We no longer need to go through earthly mediators. Jesus has broken the barrier, made the sacrifice, established a new covenant, and re-instituted our relationship with God. Because of our High Priest, we are free to come to God.

Two Creations?

Discussion of the Bible is one of the few my great pleasures.  I am not a theologian by any sense of the word, but I do read and try to understand the Bible. 

Because of our discussion a few nights ago I had occasion to dig into the Hebrew language to better understand an assertion of two complete and separate creations found in Genesis

Yes, the Genesis opens with two different creation stories.  Both describe the creation of animals, plants, and humans.  Never-the-less they are also a number distinct differences and may well even contradict each other.

For example, though these stories describe some of the same events, they order them differently:

  • Genesis 1: the creator makes plants then animals and then simultaneously creates man and woman.  In Genesis 2: God creates a humans, plants then animals, and later he divides the human into female and male.
  • Additionally, the two stories employ different names for the deity.  The first account uses the Hebrew word ELOHIM, meaning God and the second instance uses YHWH which is a tetragrammaton for “LORD”.
  • The two accounts are also very different in literary style. 
    • Genesis 1 is well organized into three days of preparation and three days of formation with “and it was so” KJV.  By the seventh day, the creation existed in proper and good order and God rests.  It is a very orderly and well packaged event sequence.  It suggests a very orderly and well packaged universe created by a God that is also very orderly and well packaged.
    •  The second story, starting in Genesis 2:4, through to the end of chapter 3, lacks the structure and orderly structure of the first account in the original language.  It is much less structured and with much less formula.  It is written in very dramatic and painted with melodramatic strokes. It is portrayed as a series of seven scenes with much more detail.

My belief about these differences and similarities derived from my personal studies have been compared to the conclusions to published authors are summarized here:

  1. The differences in accounts reflect two separate sources of oral transmission.  That there was a great span of time from the event and the writing down of these accounts.  The Hebrew Bible from which we as Christians take as God’s communication to the People of God under the leadership of Moses is made up of two viewpoints of the same event.
  2. The account of creation in Genesis was the effort to relate to both oral traditions.  He included both to provide a better understanding of two different viewpoints.
  3. Genesis wasn’t written by a scientist or a modern historian.  Chapter one is pure poetry.  Genesis 1-11, “pre-history,” is couched in figurative language. We read news differently from editorials and poems; we must do the same when we read the Bible and adjust our expectations and reading “lens” to the literary form.
  4. The author’s intent matters.  We must take into account the author and his design to portray ideas and thoughts and instruction. The questions of our time are quite different from the type of questions asked in the times of Moses. 
    • We would ask how the world began.  We would ask WHEN it came into being.  We would ask WHAT was the process and make it specific and exact?  We would ask WHICH came first and how did the next being become what he was?
    • The questions of the ancient world were different: WHO created? WHO’s in charge? WHY am I here, and HOW do I relate to other beings? WHY is there evil and can anything be done about it?
  5. These two viewpoints have a very distinctive predisposition to explain the creation.
    • The first creation is seen through the eyes of someone with a concept of God as being distant.  He would see the creation story as an event having a master plan.  God was a God that dictated the creation and it was done.  Please note this view is also exampled in John’s Gospel as the Father as the Power of creation and Jesus the creator.
    • The second depicts God as a human-like figure who walks in the garden with His creation.  It is a view, God has a hands-on God creation; hence the use of LORD,  God is seen as accessible, touchable, caring.
  6. These two accounts, seen and understood from two quite different experiences, have been combined in Genesis to read as a single literary unit. 
    • The first account starts with a title introducing as the time (YOM) “when God began to create heaven and earth.”  It concludes with an additional summary statement that puts a reasonable border of the account: “this is the story of heaven and earth when they were created” as found in Genesis 2:4.
    • There is a break in our Christian Bible between Genesis 1:31 and Genesis 1:2 which was added by Robert Estienne 1551 and really didn’t consider the narrative style change. And further there should well be a break in the middle of verse 2:4.
    • The second story begins mid verse in Genesis 2:4 with a parallel statement and word pair, “In the day the Lord God made earth and heaven.”
  7. Both narratives start with the same word pair, they place the terms in opposite order.
    • The narrative of the first picture or viewpoint of creation wanted to depict a heavenly creation.  The first account starts with “ELOHIM (GOD) created heaven and earth.”  The first story is very cosmic and seen from the ethereal dwelling place of God.  It is God standing aloof and distant.  The first story pictures the creation of an expanse to be separated between the heavenly and earthly waters along with the sun, moon, and stars.
    • The narrative of the second picture or viewpoint of creation wanted to depict an earthly creation.  The second picture characterized a view point that saw “YHWH (LORD) made earth and heaven.  The LORD was seen as an active participant set HIS priority as the story of earth.  In the second narrative shows not the creation of the sky or heavenly sphere but the formation of shrubs, fields, earth, and a garden.
  8. These two views have been melded and reconciled as a single literary unit.
    • The first text from the heavenly viewpoint ends with a pointer to the earth.
    • The second begins in Genesis 2:4 directing our attention again to the accounts of the earth.
  9. In its present form, as was finalized as a combined in the TANAKH (Jewish Bible) in the major first section of that Bible as the TORAH (Jewish section called the teaching) in the late or early second century BC, the Hebrew sees the creation account providing a prologue to the subsequent stories of Genesis.  These stories are primarily about the promises and accounts of the promised people.  Most of these stories were handed down from father to son for thousands of years.
  10. Context matters when trying to understand the revealed will of God.  Both Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 are together parts to a larger story. 
    • Genesis 1 is about God’s action and purpose.  God is found 32 times and every time He is the subject of the sentence. Every time it is God acting.  Every time it is God intentionally building something characterized as “Good”
    • The “days” of creation are symbolic. Genesis 1 is poetic, and poetic structure has meaning. Sequential days are not there for themselves as perfect 24-hour blocks of time, they are there to show sequence, to show order and hierarchy.
    • Notice that account one begins in darkness, formlessness, and emptiness. On “days” one through three God banishes the darkness and brings order to the chaos: heaven and sky, earth and land. On “days” four through six God fills the void, populating each realm in the same order. God makes people only after everything is ready for them to live in and rule. They are the “end” as in purpose, not sequence, of the created universe.
    • The first sequence is a poetic and literary “arrow” pointing to chapter two and the seventh day. It reveals the grand purpose of creation: that everything is ordered to the Sabbath and worship of God.  Genesis 1 is a prologue to the rest.
    • One Hebrew scholar notes that the first account of Genesis 1 was written much later than chapter 2.   It functions as an “entrance Hymn” to the great drama of salvation.
      1. While it is sung God fills the stage All the other players enter in sequence filling the stage each with their own dramatic entrance.  An all is “Good”.
    • There’s a perspective shift between chapters. In Genesis 1, the reader’s a distant observer of the creation of the universe.  Genesis 2 zooms in for a close-up on the “man” God created everything for.
    • Sequence shows relationship in chapter two.  The events are arranged to show truth about humanity in relationship to God, the animals, and the world. Chapter 1 told us man was created in God’s image, given dominion over the earth, and told to be fruitful and multiply. It is not over.  Creation is still ongoing.  Man, made in God’s image, can create.
    • The creation story from the ethereal God of Genesis 1 points to the hands-on God of Genesis 2.  The second account is an expansion of the first.  It is very human oriented.
      1. Man is made from dust. He does not evolve from something else and no other being is used to create him.
      2. Vegetation is for man’s food and pleasure and to teach obedience—he is creature, not creator of the world, and must learn to relate to God.
      3. The animals are created so man will know his special status—that he’s made for more. He doesn’t come from them, they are brought to him and he names and rules them.
      4. Man is only complete when God brings from his body another, the woman. Side by side, they will not only rule, but fill the earth. Together they are in God’s image: male and female; ruling the earth; fruitful. They live in harmony with creation, with each other, and with God.
  11. The first creation makes sense only considering the new creation in Christ.
    • Genesis 1 and 2 give us two complementary accounts of a single creation that together help us begin to understand the “whos” and “whys” of our existence.  But they are part of a larger story and we can’t fully understand them without knowing the end and purpose of the whole.
    • Perhaps that’s why John started his Gospel with another creation account. “In the beginning was the Word,” he wrote.  “All things were made through him […] The light shines in the darkness […] And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
    • John’s deliberate use of language from Genesis helps us see the coming of Christ as a new creation.  It also helps us understand God’s purpose in Creation from the start.

I fully respect my brother’s view of two creations.  I don’t think it will make a difference to his salvation. But as a teacher once said to me, “it is a tertiary discussion that needs noting but not to a point of discord.”  For me, it is enough to say, “God made it, God made me, God Loves me, I love God.”  Anyway according to Revelation 21 it is all going away and will be replaced by a new heaven and a new earth. 

Enough said.  I welcome our continued discussions.

Just Larry.

Words are important!

I have a facebook account in which you may well call me a lurker. I don’t post much. Once and a while I will be struck by a phrase or an idea that can’t be ignored. Today a post from a wonderful person reposted the phrase, “We need preachers who preach that hell is still hot, that heaven is still real, that sin is still wrong, that the Bible is God’s Word and that Jesus is the only way of Salvation.” What really struck me from that was the seeming lack of any of these things from the pulpit, but even more from those calling themselves Christians. All in the name of being more socially minded and more sensitive, and more politically correct, we (this includes me) have seemed to let the world dictate our speech, our behavior and belief structures.

I believe that we need good strong definitions to the words we use and hold on to. Take for instance the word sin. It does not mean it is all ok if you can get away with it. Or if there are no current prohibitions from in by civil law. For me sin is “any feeling or thought or speech or action coming from the heart which does not treasure God over, under, through, around, and within all other things.” Sin is preference over God. Sin is mainly not what you do, but what you are.

Cash Register Eternal Life

I just finished teaching a cadre of men an eighteen-week study on the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus. The best time to assess that study is a couple of weeks afterward.  Lesson after lesson we explored the depths of this passage.  There were times where we found true understanding of scripture and lives were changed with slight veers in individual paths.  Now I am looking back and seeing what these passages really mean to me.

It is the third verse which was the greatest point of my study.  This is eternal life; that they may know you the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. This is the only scripture where Jesus gives a precise, unwavering, perfect, straightforward definition of eternal life. 

The church today seems to want to define “eternal life” as a simple phrase pointing to where you go when you die.  It is a good place. It is the place you want to go.  It is the place where there are fluffy clouds and angel wings.  The church today seems to have made a part of an either-or situation.  And with this option, a market or economic value system has been attached. What does it cost?  What effort is required to attain it?  We want to know if God takes plastic.

Eternal life can not be bought.  Not by a sinner’s prayer.  Not by a perfectly recited and overly used system of chants.  Not by a set of behavioral attitudes.  Not by demonstrating in view of all and everyone in earshot that you have faith.

Eternal life is not the reward for effort. Eternal life is knowing God.  It is in that relationship of knowing one another that makes life eternal.  Simply by saying, “I am up to accepting your sacrifice,” or “I am willing to be your treasure,” is going to make the heavenly cash register open up and a little round token with the words, “Eternal Life” be given to you.  These are just the starting point.  The initial intersection between you and God. That first step is like the wedding ceremony; it is just the start.  Marriage is more than one simple saying of your vows.  Marriage and eternal life are about the relationship that goes on and on.  It is a daily seeking of relationship.  It is knowing.  It is devotion.  It is saying your sorry more than once.  Eternal life is not doing but knowing.

Comments?

Micro and Macro, The Small and the Big

I have walked the walk for quite a few years.  I have lived in the hope of God and am justified by His grace.  But there seems to be a place in which struggle.  In my study of John 17: 12,13,15 my conundrum has raised its head again.  It is all a matter of the big and the small. It is struggling with the very nature of God.  I have a real and weighty respect for God, but I question at times whether God in His infinite glory and majesty would take any mind of my plight.  Jesus prayed that Holy Father would protect. And that is the issue of macro and micro.

I have a heavenly check-off list:

  • Grace – God’s unmerited favor to all freely offered and accepted
  • Forgiveness – God offering to wash them away
  • Calling – God offering to all a specific and perfect path to do His will
  • Salvation – A pledged promise to redeem us from the curse of sin
  • Love – An embracing sweet presence and concern.
  • Heaven – A promise for a perfected end and new beginning

But all these things are offered and spread out to all that would accept and believe.  This is God in the Macro or the big things. God the ultimate good, just, holy, Glorious, truth, revealed in His only Son, BUT IS HE INTERESTED IN ME?

I have lived my life with God in the Macro never in the micro. Big things “red sea, scribed tablets, burning bushes, Jesus, Cross, second coming, were all big things.  I have peace, I have fits of joy, I have a working relationship with God. But I still struggle that this infinite God would have the interest to care for me as an individual. Does God care about the individual? Does He care for me personally?
I look up into the starry sky I feel small. I am but a tiny speck among 7.6 million other small specks living on another speck amid an immeasurable universe.

But here in the final prayer of Jesus among his disciples, He prays to His Father that they will be protected.  I don’t see that protection, but it must be there.  The Father never denied the Son of any request.  I have to see it by faith and realize that He is an active force that has put His hand between me and millions of circumstances and problems.  Like a wreck that never happened when I was going down to the local Safeway, I have to accept it as his protection.

What do you think?

One that got away.

I am currently trying to teach a number of men in a weekly Bible study.  It is on John 17, the high priestly prayer of Jesus.  Together we have looked at the perfect timing of Jesus’s prayer, the Glory of God in that prayer, the perfect knowledge of God, and last week the revealing of God to the world.  These men are starting to see the very nature of God displayed in scripture.

Jesus prayed because His time had come, He asked to be glorified, the Father gave Him authority over humanity, this humanity can find eternity in knowing the Father and the Son, all so that we can reveal God to the world.

But what about the one that got away?  What about Judas that allowed him to elude the net by the Greatest Fisher of Men?  Jesus during this three-year teaching and preaching period, cast a wide net, but not all were wrestled into the boat.

Only the twelve men in all history have had the intimate, personal relationship to Jesus the incarnate Son of God.  Judas along with the other eleven has ever been more exposed to God’s perfect truth.  No other has had the crash course in experiential love.  They all were exposed in an intimate first-hand washing of God’s love, compassion, power, kindness, forgiveness, and grace. No group of followers could come close to the very essence of God.  Yet through it all Judas escaped the net.  In the most indescribably precious, and blessed years the heart of Judas was not softened.

Judas defies comprehension.  Judas constantly and with persistence of mind rejected the very truth of God in the flesh.  And he hid it from everyone around him with skill.  The only one to see into the heart of this chosen fisher of men and see the wicked rebellion was Jesus.  And He called him a devil.

Judas did not escape from guilt. Just like the pain we feel as we accidentally burn ourselves, so guilt is an intrinsic and automatic warning of spiritual danger.  It was guilt that drove Judas to remorse which in turn led to his death.  Do not confuse guilt and remorse with the requisite answer to both. The answer to both is repentance.  Repentance is an act of the will. Judas was teachable but he was not willing to change.  And in the last moment of his life, his unwillingness to change is what condemned him.