An article I contributed to the April 2020 issue of Tabletalk magazine.
At least on a metaphorical level. After the Fall in Eden, the man, woman, and the serpent all stand judged at God’s tribunal. At this judgment scene the curse upon the serpent features two prophecies: 1. The Seed of the woman would crush the serpent’s head (This is future since Heb. 9.28 says a second appearance for salvation). 2. The serpent would pierce the heal of the Seed of the woman.
One of the few artifacts indicating Roman crucifixion shows a heal bone with an iron nail still embedded. This is how the prophecy of Gen. 3.15 was fulfilled. The people reading this text probably were only aware of vipers instead of constrictors, and so would reason a fatal bite. It was. Gen. 3.15 also implies a resurrection since the crushing is after the harvest at the end of the age.
It is well–known from literature that the Romans crucified rebels and criminals. In 1968, an ossuary (bone box; see below) was found, among others, in a tomb in north Jerusalem in which were the bones of a 28 year old man and those of a child. A 4.3 inch nail penetrated the right heel bone […]
Jesus’s seventy or seventy-two disciples returned to him excited after Jesus sent them out on their mission. “Lord, even the demons are subjected to us by your name!” (10:17). Jesus will redirect some of their excitement, but before turning to that, let me make a brief comment on the seventy or seventy-two. A majority of…
The title is not original with me but apt.
“You do you.” Perhaps there’s no phrase the captures our current cultural moment better. Back in 2015, Colson Whitehead of the New York Times Magazine, lamented this phrase, arguing that it “perfectly captures our narcissistic culture.” Indeed, it is hard to disagree. “You do you” embodies our culture’s commitment to personal fulfillment, self-actualization, and the…
For most Christians (and others reading the bible) the book of Job is enigmatic. However, by meditating (reflecting on what the text says), readers can gain some insights about Job’s struggles and their own as well. Craig Keener offers one of the better summaries of the book of Job. Not always, or even often, does God explain all of His workings to us. He has, though, given us all we need now during our time in this life.
I often think painfully of godly students or friends who died quite young—for example, Caritha Clarke, Nabeel Qureshi, Aaron Nickerson, and most recently Brittany Buchanan Douglas. The news of these events made little sense to me emotionally, though I have confidence in each case that they are celebrating now; they made it to God’s throne…
The Forger Among Us: The Museum of the Bible Dead Sea Scrolls and the Recent History of Epigraphic Forgeries Prof. Christopher Rollston (Ph.D. Johns Hopkins University) email@example.com Dept. of Classical and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations George Washington University On March 13, 2020, the Museum of the Bible held a symposium in Washington, D.C. …
Over at his award winning blog (it’s true), Ian Paul has interviewed me about Myths & Mistakes, why skepticism sells, and whether textual criticism is the geekiest of the NT subdisciplines. Thanks to Ian for having me.
During the period in Jewish history known as the Divided Monarchy, the formerly united Hebrew nation split into to two kingdoms: the kingdom of Israel in the north and the kingdom of Judah in the south. In our series of bioarchaeographies, we explored the lives of King Ahaz and King Hezekiah of Judah; we now […]
The post A Preliminary Evaluation and Critique of Prosopological Exegesis appeared first on Southern Equip.
When Herod the Great died, his kingdom was divided among his sons by Caesar Augustus. Herod Antipater, better known as Antipas, was granted the right to rule Galilee and Perea. He was given the title of Tetrarch (“ruler of a quarter”), although he was sometimes known as King Herod, as his father had been (Mk […]
Dr. Barrick’s post is informative, cogent, and better than anything I can come up with at the moment:
After one week of research on the ground in Jordan, we turned our attention to Israel for the next two weeks. On our first day, six of us drove a rented van south to the Negev and the Gulf of Aqaba. We went with two purposes in mind: (1) to visit the site of ancient…
Be sure to read the whole series. A very fine job by Dr. Barrick.
In our next bioarchaeography we’ll be exploring the life of the last Herodian King: Herod Agrippa II. With five different Herods mentioned in Scripture (not to mention a couple of Philips who may also have born the name Herod) it can be difficult to keep them straight, so here’s a quick summary: Herod the Great […]
You see, I wasn’t always a Calvinist.
I was raised a classical Arminian in the Free Will Baptist tradition. As a teenager, I cut my teeth on theologians like F. Leroy Forlines and J. Matthew Pinson, along with older divines like James Arminius and John Wesley. As a 22-year-old man, I believed and taught that grace was always necessary but never irresistible, and that genuine Christians could abandon Christ and forfeit their justified status.
Beneath these beliefs lay a view of the God/man relationship that went like this: humans were created to exist in a loving relationship with God. The nature of that loving relationship requires a free—and undetermined—response on our part. To quote Forlines, I saw God working with man in an “influence-and-response relationship” rather than a “cause-and-effect relationship” (like the Calvinists thought). God could influence us, but he respected our personhood by always leaving the final decision up to us. And God did this, not because he was weak, but because this was how he meant for the relationship to work.
And in case you’re wondering, the difference between a God who influences and a God who causes can be summed up in one word: guarantee. Forlines puts it this way in his book The Quest for Truth:
I think the description of God’s relationship to man that Calvinists would give would be much like my description of influence and response. However, the result is thought to be guaranteed. . . . Any time the result is guaranteed, we are dealing with cause and effect. When the guarantee is gone, Calvinism is gone.
He’s right. I agreed with him then; I agree with him now. I’ve simply changed sides. So what happened? The short answer is I ran up against Romans 8:28–30.
Passionate Preacher, Problem Passage
Romans 8:28–30 is often referred to as “the golden chain of redemption”—so called because of its five “links” of divine foreknowing, predestining, calling, justifying, and glorifying.
As an Arminian, I saw Romans 8:28–30 as a problem passage. Verse 29 was definitely a key prooftext for election-based-on-foreseen-faith. But the rest was difficult. I knew what my preferred commentators said about it, but I’d never been fully satisfied. So I chalked it up to an anomaly. After all, no theological system explains everything perfectly.
Eventually I came to realize that Paul’s golden chain, like Calvinism, was very much about a guarantee.
Then I started listening to John Piper’s sermons on Romans, and my world was unmade. It was 2004, I was 22, and I had never heard such preaching. His meticulous exposition exposed all the weaknesses I already sensed in my interpretation of the passage, while uncovering some new ones. I can’t say I emerged from those sermons a convinced Calvinist. But my confidence was severely shaken. And eventually I came to realize that Paul’s golden chain, like Calvinism, was very much about a guarantee.
Will the Chain Be Unbroken?
Let me lay out verses 29–30 to help us visualize the argument. (Read from the top left to the bottom right, and note carefully the italicized words and matching letters.)
As an Arminian, I naturally agreed with commentator Joseph Benson: “The apostle does not affirm . . . that precisely the same number of persons are called, justified, and glorified.” After all, that would imply a guarantee. The more I studied the passage, though, the more it seemed like that was exactly what Paul was affirming.
First, consider each link individually. (For clarity, I’ve labeled the five groups with letters.) Paul begins by describing a group of people based on something God does for them (“those whom he foreknew”). He then adds something else God does for that same group of people (“he also predestined”). The word “also” in each link tells us that we’re dealing with the same people in both halves. Those he foreknew are also the ones he predestined. Hence A = B. This is true in each clause of the chain.
Paul is affirming that precisely the same number of people—indeed, the exact same group of people—are foreknown, predestined, called, justified, and glorified.
But then notice the overlap between each clause. The second verb in each line serves as the first verb in the next. This is what binds the five clauses like links in a chain. And it’s why I eventually had to conclude that Benson and I were wrong. Paul is affirming that precisely the same number of people—indeed, the exact same group of people—are foreknown, predestined, called, justified, and glorified. Or to spell it out, A = B = C = D = E.
As an Arminian I’d been forced to argue that these five steps were simply a general sequence all true saints had to pass through, with no guarantee that those in group A would make it to group E. Indeed, I believed that some could fall out at any stage in the process. It was less like a chain and more like a bullseye, in which the circles got smaller as you moved inward.
But the more I examined the actual language, the more implausible this belief became. This inevitably pushed me to Calvinism. After all, if all the called get justified, then the call must guarantee faith, since faith precedes justification (Rom. 5:1). Further, if all the justified get glorified, then justification must be a permanent status—a verdict God never revokes.
This much I had always been uncomfortably aware of, though I hadn’t fully appreciated the difficulty before listening to Piper. But there was one more problem Piper raised that I hadn’t yet considered.
Guaranteeing Purpose of the Golden Chain
It’s important to recognize why Paul forges this chain to begin with. The answer is found in the famous verse 28:
And we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Notice that Paul isn’t simply making a factual claim here (e.g., “All things work together for their good”). He’s making a knowledge claim (e.g. “we know that all things work together for their good”).
Which raises the question: “How do we know?” What guarantee can we possibly have that, despite all appearances, all things will conspire for the good of those who love God and are called by him? That’s the question the golden chain exists to answer. That’s why verse 29 begins with the word “for”—it’s providing an argument for how we know verse 28. And here’s the argument in a nutshell: We know that all things will work together for the good of the called because if you’re called, that means you were first foreknown and predestined to be the conformed to the image of Christ, and it means that you’re now justified and will eventually be glorified.
That’s how we know: because there are no breaks in this chain.
God hasn’t left the composition of Christ’s family in the hands of fickle human beings.
Forlines was right. In the Arminian influence-and-response framework, there can be no guarantee. But that would defeat the purpose of the passage, because a guarantee is exactly what Paul is after. If people can fall out of the chain at any point, then we can never know that all things will work together for the good of the called. They might, but then again they might not—because the outcome would ultimately depend on the called themselves. Many of the called would never be justified, much less glorified.
But the good news is that this chain is unbreakable, having been forged by God himself. None of this means that our preaching or faith is unnecessary. Nor does it mean we can be assured of our salvation regardless of whether we persevere. It simply means that God hasn’t left the composition of Christ’s family in the hands of fickle human beings. God does more than just influence—he predestines. That’s why all things will work together for the good of the called, and Christ will be the firstborn among many brothers (Rom. 8:29).
It seems fitting that, having explored the lives of Hebrew, Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian kings, we should now consider an Egyptian Pharaoh. While many Pharaohs in the book of Genesis are not named, following the convention of Moses’ day, later Pharaohs in Scripture are named, following the convention at the time of later authors.1 One […]
The point is that [a transformed society] is not our goal, great as that is…. Our goal is the holy city, the New Jerusalem, a perfect fellowship in which God reigns in every heart, and His children rejoice together in His love and joy…. And though we know that we must grow old and die, that our labors, even if they succeed for a time, will in the end be buried in the dust of time, and that along with the painfully won achievements of goodness, there are mounting seemingly irresistible forces of evil, yet we are not dismayed…. We know that these things must be. But we know that as surely as Christ was raised from the dead, so surely shall there be a new heaven and a new earth wherein dwells righteousness. And having this knowledge we ought as Christians to be the strength of every good movement of political and social effort, because we have no need either of blind optimism or of despair. – Lesslie Newbigin
Ancient writings were largely circulated within communities through copying and distributing, with no legal copyright or formal system to control plagiarism. Once a work began to circulate the author became powerless to control the quality of the copying process or to select the audience that would read the work. The permanency of writing and the…
Above: An approximation of Parmenides’ “what is.” THE CONFLICT There is an ongoing conflict between Biblical studies and philosophical theology. N.T. Wright sums it up this way in his essay “Historical Paul and Systematic Theology”: “In a famous conversation between Paul Tillich and C. H. Dodd at Union Seminary in New York, Tillich basically said that […]
Our next bioarchaeography is about one of the most fiercely-debated figures in the Old Testament. Some scholars believe King David was more myth than man who, if he existed, was nothing more than a tribal chief, and certainly not the historical king of a dynasty in Israel. For example, University of Sheffield Professor, Dr. Philip […]
2 Peter 1.5-7
For this reason expend all efforts to supplement to your faith excellence; then, to excellence, knowledge; then, to knowledge, self control; then, to self control, endurance; then, to endurance, godliness; then, to godliness, human kindness; then, to human kindness, love.
These disciplines that Simon Peter lists are regarded as crucially important to the early Christians since he wants to repeatedly remind his readers to deploy them in their lives (vss. 12-13). These followers of Christ already knew the disciplines, but Peter wanted to continually remind his audience, and to even record them for posterity, before his own prophesied death (vss. 14-15). These qualities, then, form Apostolic instruction for The Church of Jesus since they were given by an Apostle of Christ, and, as such, have received completed instruction (John 16.12-13) and are placed first in the Universal Church as a foundation (1 Cor. 12.28).
Proverbs and the Disciplines
Conceptually, how should these disciplines (or qualities) be viewed in regard to other instructions in the bible? In analyzing The Book of Proverbs, it is easy to recognize the similarity to 2 Peter. Both works are instructions for godly living to someone operating in the context of a redeemed community, yet exposed to dangers and temptations. Solomon’s Book (Proverbs) deals mostly with relating horizontally among others, whereas The Mosaic Law, with its temple and sacrifices, dealt primarily with the vertical relationship between a person and God.
The Book of Proverbs helps believers, during their time on earth, to navigate their way successfully. The proverbs instructs on how to build character or discipline oneself to interact with others while on a temporal earth. Neither Solomon’s Proverbs nor Peter’s list of disciplines promise any direct reward for keeping them. Rather, the disciplines function as preparatory for other blessings. The Book of Proverbs and the list of disciplines in Peter provide “a ground” or a basis for continually living successfully on earth (2Pe.1.10: “you will never stumble”).
In Pr. 1.2, a summary statement appears at the beginning of Solomon’s work indicating purpose: “to know wisdom and instruction.” This idea of knowing (lada’at) speaks of realizing, perceiving, personal internalization, according to Bruce Waltke’s study of The Book of Proverbs. This “experiencing of wisdom” that Solomon calls his listeners to in 1.2 is, in essence, what Peter says the disciplines he lists accomplishes by the term epignosko (knowledge) of Jesus Christ in 2Pet. 1.8. This is a fuller knowledge than in 1.5 since that term “knowledge” (gnosin) is distinguished as preparatory, and, in part, toward the experiential knowledge (epignosko) of Jesus Christ. All the elements Peter lists completes this knowledge, so it seems, in context, that epignosko indicates a fuller realization or an experiencing of the spiritual wisdom that is in Christ.
The believer may struggle, initially, if they try to build excellence in their lives, if they do it by their own strength. Also, the first attempts may not be perfect, but the believer will find by walking with Christ, that He will guide them to excellence in the Spirit. These disciplines are by faith and Christ will teach the believer aspects about themselves, and also, about Himself. Therefore, this full experiential knowledge (epignosko-vss. 3,8) is attained by walking with Christ to become more like Him.
Verse 8 also tells us the default nature of a believer is bareness without these qualities. These disciplines are exercised by faith and upon faith (vs. 5). Grace and peace will be dispensed by God as the believer deploys the disciplines in their lives (vs. 2). Also, those things necessary for life and godliness arrive with this fuller knowledge of Jesus Christ (vss. 3, 8).
The New Covenant promised to Israel had as its most distinguishing feature that all individuals would “know” the Lord (see Jer. 31.31-34). This means that all under (or in) The New Covenant would “know” the Lord intimately in their hearts. The Lord would now be “in” them directing and teaching His chosen ones through a new, fuller relationship provided by Christ’s sacrifice for our sins and conquering death through His resurrection. The New Covenant was promised to Israel, and so it was fulfilled to Israel in that Christ fulfilled the Passover, and, 50 days later (Pentecost), sent The Spirit, fulfilling the feast of Shavuot. The embryonic church was all Jewish and they were the ones with whom The New Covenant was made. Thus, the New Covenant was made with The House of Israel and the house of Judah (Jer. 31.31). It is also inclusive to the gentiles according to promises such as Isaiah 49.6 (He says: “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth”).
As I mentioned, these disciplines were to be added to the faith we have received (vss. 1,5). Therefore, after believing in Christ, as an act of faith, Peter urges us to add these qualities to our lives as a foundation for fuller understanding Christ through The Spirit. These qualities will ensure that we do not quench or grieve The Spirit.
The first of these disciplines, then, is excellence (some translators render arete as goodness, virtue). Generally speaking, translators have struggled to define the term as it relates to the recipients to whom Peter was writing. Originally, the term appears in ancient Greek as what characterized the Olympic contestants: physical prowess. The Greek Games eventually included poetic readings and the term arete also was used to refer to the qualities of oratory. By first century usage, the term is understood to connote an “all-around excellence.” In vs. 3, the term is used of God in that He has called the believers either to or by this excellence (the preposition’s meaning is governed by context and so an interpretive choice needs to be made). It seems “to” is the better choice if the goal were seen in an idealistic sense. Christians will not be able to have complete excellence but see it as something to aspire towards. For the most part, however, either rendering of the preposition hardly makes a difference. God has inherent excellence by which He calls us or He calls us to imitation of Himself.
In connection with faith and excellence, Christians are to add “knowledge” (gnosin). A question arises whether this is biblical and theological knowledge or general and useful information. On one hand, in a very real sense, “all truth is God’s truth.” Many areas of study will either directly indicate God’s truth or support it indirectly. Pr. 23.12 seems to speak generally: Apply your heart to instruction and your ears to words of knowledge. The more theological viewpoint is reflected in the whole of Pr. 2 which is probably better aligned to 2 Peter 1. Bible knowledge is necessary regardless of what other knowledge is gained as indicated by vs. 19: “we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” The study of the scriptures is assumed by the writers of the N.T. since they quote so much of the previous given revelation contained in the O.T.
The next discipline is self-control, which Peter connects with knowledge, and, as itself, is connected with arete. While the disciplines are all interconnected, they are added to our faith (vs. 5); therefore, they are performed in faith. Noting their progressive nature, the disciplines seem more defined as they are listed. While excellence is added to faith, it needs some knowledge to perform cogently. Overall, excellence is directed by knowledge. Knowledge, though, may overextend itself if not corralled by self-control. Self-control may give up without perseverance. Perseverance may devolve into stubbornness without true godliness refining the Christian along biblical ways. Godliness can be cold if it is merely an exercise without a horizontal dimension of brotherly kindness toward others. Brotherly affection will remain earth-bound if another quality is not present: love.
Simon Peter tells his readers that great promises toward Christians will enable them to experience the divine nature and so not be mired in things which corrupt: inordinate desire (vs. 4). These disciplines continually performed and perfected contain two promises: 1. Will never stumble into sin (vs. 10), and 2. A rich entrance provided into the eternal kingdom (vs. 11).
It is that time of year when many of us think about making “New Year’s Resolutions”—only to find that after the third week in January we have forgotten all about them (sigh)! One resolution that some make is that “I will read through the Bible in One Year.” And so, they print out a year […]
Matthew states some surprising things to a modern’s way of thinking. The problem is in us (if we don’t understand it). Folks today, if they are going to understand the bible, will need to temporary forsake the Greco-Roman way of thinking in absolutes. There is the Hebrew prophets way of analogical or correspondent thinking about how God is revealing what He is going to do. Sometimes biblical events hearken to future greater fulfillments in unexpectant ways (at least to us). Here is a podcast from Dallas Seminary (which thankfully has transcription) about Matthew’s use of O.T. material.
But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart (Luke 2:19, NIV) Christmas is a joyful time for many parents, but also a time of grief for those who have lost children. (This is also true for other deep relational losses, some of which my wife and I have experienced, but…
Reading the bible gives us God’s perspective on life to both explain and remedy our predicament. However, to understand the bible accurately, the text has to be taken as a whole; that is, all sixty six books need to be accepted by the reader. This acceptance does not mean human interpretations need to be believed about controversial passages. What I mean is, the reader bringing preconceived ideas to the text. Instead, the reader should let the text speak for itself.
All sixty six books cohere together since the themes interconnect. Also, the N.T. writers of scripture and Jesus quote earlier texts to show fulfillment of promises. 2 Tim. 3.16 affirms all scripture is God-breathed and is advantageous for teaching, for conviction, for rectification, and for training in righteousness.
Of course, not all of the bible is equally important or relevant in itself. For instance, Christians today do not perform pilgrimages or invest a priest with Aaron’s garments. Instead, Christians are pilgrims and priests, intrinsically, since they are under The New Covenant. Also, Jesus stated that some matters were more important than others in the bible when disputing with the Pharisees: but you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness (Mt. 23.23 NIV). God disclosed His word in many portions, and in various ways (Heb. 1.1), but the whole of it is profitable to us today.
The prophetic part of the Olivet Discourse is found in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. From these accounts, it is clear that Matthew agrees with Mark in substance. Luke’s account is the one which gives supplementary material that helps us decipher the various elements. Jesus used the phrase “pregnant women and nursing mothers” twice in giving this discourse to His disciples. In this view, neither Matthew or Luke are complete in reproducing fully what Jesus said to His disciples.
Luke 21.20-24 records the first use of the phrase (vs. 23) referring to the distress of the fall of Jerusalem during the Jewish Revolt of 66-70 C.E. This is clearly indicated by vs. 24: They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
The second usage of “pregnant women and nursing mothers” is given in Matthew and Mark and refers to the time of the “end” of the age. This key phrase is often conflated by students of scripture. Recognizing its two usages, referring to both 70 C.E. and the consummation of the age, will clarify about when the various events transpire.
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.” –Excerpt from Lewis…
“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register.” (Luke 2:1-3) Publius Sulpicius Quirinius (or Cyrenius in the Greek) was a well-known […]
“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register.” (Luke 2:1-3) While he is only mentioned once in Scripture, Caesar Augustus plays […]
And you should not fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather, you should fear the One who is able to annihilate (apollumi) both body and soul in Gehenna. -Mt. 10.28
This contrasting phrase explicitly teaches that God will destroy human souls in the final judgment. This is just punishment for sins committed during earthly life. Here is another post I wrote about terminal punishment: https://beliefspeak2.net/terminal-punishment/
Clearly, the bible teaches that both the righteous and the wicked will be resurrected and have bodies to respectively experience blessedness or punishment. Acts records Paul’s confession at trial before the Roman governor Felix: and I have the same hope in God as these men themselves have, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked (24.15 NIV). However, there is a distinct order of the resurrection since Christ rose three days after His crucifixion. 1 Cor. 15 gives the sequence of the various entities: But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. (vs. 23 NIV). The resurrection of the wicked occurs after the thousand-year reign of Christ (see Rev. 20.5). It seems the wicked will be given a temporary resurrected body in order to experience torment for the offenses committed during their time on earth before they are destroyed.