These studies are at the college-level and are short. Often, they take ten minutes to read if one is generally familiar with the bible and its concepts. Some articles may take fifteen, or, twenty minutes with adjacent searches of terms.
While I may not agree with all of the following description in this Jewish site, it does help to explain the idea of the “covenant” which is rooted in ancient biblical thought and continues with the establishment of The New Covenant. A particular disagreement involves labeling the 66 books of the bible into old and new testaments, which I agree with, since they refer to the redemptive order. While the Jewish Temples existed they were symbolic of the grace that would appear when One in the order of Melchizedek would minister in the greater temple in heaven.
A number of lectures related to the archaeology of Jerusalem have now been posted from the Cambridge Symposium held in March 2019. The official title of the gathering was “The Ancient City of David: Recent Archaeological Exploration of Jerusalem. An Academic Symposium co-organized by Megalim: The City of David Institute and Von Hugel Institute of…Cambridge Symposium Lectures Online — BiblePlaces.com
Jude 6 is a parallel reference to 2Pet. 2.4. Both of these passages refer to angelic judgment without any idea of human/angel sexual union. I reject any Jewish myths about angel/human cohabitation, and both Peter and Jude reject this notion as well. Also, only scripture is without error and not Jewish legendary texts, which some want to reference as authoritative, but are not.
While not conclusive, Lk. 20.35 seems to point to no cohabitation of any kind in the angelic realm, But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage (NIV). Therefore, I would argue that no reproduction or sexual desire is possible in the heavenly state. Further, it was through and for Jesus that all the heavenly hosts were created, For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him (Col. 1.16 NIV). If He created all angelic persons, then, they could not cohabit to create other spiritual beings by themselves. The origin of spirits rests with God.
Exposition of Jude 4-7
For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord. Though you already know all this, I want to remind you that the Lord at one time delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day. In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire. (NIV)
Those who want to see sexualized angels in this text will have to link all of Jude’s examples together to show a consistent description of sexual sin. But that cannot be done since Jude’s first example is of disbelief. The Israelites who came out of Egypt were discouraged by the spies’ bad report and wanted to choose a leader to go back to Egypt, and consequently were judged to die in the wilderness (see Num. 14. 1-4, 20-23).
The next problem for those who see a sexual connotation in Jude 6 is the smuggling of homoion (the Greek word meaning “similar”) to the first part of verse 7. Hos occurs instead which is an adverb meaning “like manner.” They may retort that hos means the same thing but they miss the flow of the text. First, homoion (an adjective meaning “similar”) is inextricably and clausal in connection to the cities who were like Sodom and Gomorrah. The adjective cannot be moved.
The second reason that Sodom’s sin cannot be connected to the angels is that what “like manner” (hos) refers to is not the sexual sin of Sodom but of the same judgment. Jude begins by speaking about the infiltrator’s judgment (condemnation-vs.4). Jude then gives examples of other groups who will be judged for various things. The overriding common theme is the condemnation these groups are facing. Sodom will be judged in like manner as angels but for different reasons.
The infiltrators in Jude’s day exhibited the same type of sin as Sodom in that they were immoral (vs.4) and polluted their bodies, and therefore Jude, again, uses homoion, in vs. 8, to indicate their sameness. Therefore, only the present infiltrators were similar to Sodom. Neither the people who disbelieved, nor the angels who were separated into darkness have any record of sexual sin.
Brief Angel Definition
Angels can be thought of as God’s assistants, Who makes his angels spirits, His ministers a fire (Ps. 104.4). Often a military aspect is observed as a vital role given angels, For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways (Ps. 91.11 NRSV). Also, Michael and his angels conduct war, Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. (Rev. 12.7 NIV).
The Septuagint was a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible (O.T.) translated as early as 3rd century BCE (Torah) and 2nd century BCE (Prophets and writings). It translates the Hebrew term for angel (mal akh) into the Greek angelos. Both Hebrew and Greek terms denote the concept of “messenger.” Therefore, the good angels seem to be messengers of words or deeds from God. Angels are also divided into ranks, which involve hierarchical relationships that can be seen by the term “archangel” in places like Jude 9.
Replacing Fallen Ranks
Peter was resurrected Jesus’ initial spokesperson of the nascent Church. He recognized the need to fill the post that Judas deserted among the Twelve to make up that number, Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us (Acts.1.21 NIV). Peter quotes Ps. 109.2 to make the point that a formal and established office existed of those whom Jesus had chosen, Let his days be few, his office, let another take (Acts 1.20b). In the scriptures, it seems that some ministries and offices are meant to be filled up to a certain number.
Therefore, it seems that since some angels have fallen, their ranks need to be filled. This concept aligns well with what Jesus describes as the believer’s afterlife in Lk. 20. 35-36a, But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels (NIV). I have argued elsewhere https://beliefspeak2.net/ that the imprisonment of evil angels that Peter speaks about in 2Pet. 2.4 is best fulfilled by the first day of creation (re-creation) in Gen. 1. 2-4. If I am correct in my reading, then what we see in Genesis, from the first day onward, is a divine plan to raise up replacements for the angels who have fallen. Of course, this is not the only purpose of God in redemption, but one to praise our Savior forever.
For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment…
2Pet. 2.4 NIV
(A personal note) Several unusual bible issues feature in some of my writings. I did not choose them, they chose me, if you will. On this issue of the angelic Fall, I was challenged in my conception of a pre-Edenic Fall by another theologian many years ago. He insisted that the devil’s Fall happened in the Garden of Eden when he tempted Adam and Eve. I had nothing to claim as a counter argument, and so had to remain silent. I never completely bought into this notion, however, and now feel I can retort. In actuality, the theologian’s argument was from silence. He stated that no where else prior to the Garden of Eden does scripture record the devil’s Fall. I can now provide him the scripture.
Simon Peter, in warning his readers of false teachers, writes about others who were judged for their wickedness, all to encourage them to stay true to the faith since judgment was sure to come. Peter lists angels first as a group that faces judgment for evil (sin). The problem of identifying the event that Peter refers to is seemingly the most difficult task for interpretation, but it’s fairly easy. Recently, many Christian and Jewish commentators have identified this angelic judgment with the mythical human and angel cohabitation of Gen. 6. It did not happen at that point, however, since no connection occurs with the elements of Peter’s account. The angels were imprisoned somewhere dark which doesn’t feature in the Gen. 6 passage.
The sons of God in Gen. 6 were the human righteous such as Enoch who walked with God. Before the Flood, peoples were divided into families and social groups who either longed for a better homeland with God, or were the rebels and scoffers. These are the two groups mentioned in Gen. 3.15: the seed of the woman and seed of the serpent. God divides the two groups differently in the span of history. Later, God would call one group of people, and only one, the Jews, to be his witnesses. God has revealed Himself and His plan in various ways and at different times (see Heb. 1.1). In our age, where the Spirit has been given, the righteous and wicked are practically intermingled. An example of intermingling is the Church in the world, not of it. Also, the wicked pretending to be righteous within the Church is an infiltration. This is what Peter was warning about: be careful not to fall into the false teachers’ trap since their intermingling is a reality (2Pet. 2.1).
Where do the specific elements of imprisonment in darkness which Peter speaks about occur? They happen at the first day of re-creation, the separation of “good” light and darkness recorded in Gen. 1.2-4: Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness (NIV). I say a re-creation since Gen. 1.1 has a prior creation. God doesn’t create a flawed creation in the beginning. Instead, darkness seems to invade it. It was the later addition of light that dispelled the darkness, The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (Jn. 1.5 NIV). Also, by recognizing God’s prior creation, His people comprehend why the earth and universe appear so old and chaotic. It appears old probably because it is old, billions of years. It appears chaotic because the devil has been active spreading darkness for a long time.
This separation of darkness from light in Gen. 1.4 connects with what Peter says about the sinning angels in 2 Pet. 2.4: that they are bound in darkness. Peter will again reference creation and flood in ch. 3. 5-6, as he does in 2. 4-5, But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. Therefore, since Peter speaks about creation, and subsequent flood, in almost one breath in chapter 3, he probably states the same in 2.4-5.
One of the arguments Traditionalists employ for holding to their view that the unredeemed are tortured forever, is that the church has always believed such. This is not true. Justin Martyr writing about 160 C.E. clearly rejects notions of human immortality both in his introduction and 5th chapter of his Dialogues.
Jesus plainly taught human extinguishment in at least two places. Mt. 10.28 explicitly affirms body and soul destruction, Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell (NIV). This certainly sounds like requisite punishment and then destruction. I say requisite since the bible is clear on the timeframe for which the person is judged: For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad (2Cor. 5.10 NIV). Though, here in 2 Corinthians it is speaking about the experience of Christians, the timescale for judgment would be the same for the lost. Therefore, the retribution would be only for bad things done while on earth in their physical bodies. Some philosophers, such as Jonathan Edwards (I count him not as a theologian but more a philosopher), makes up the idea that, in the afterlife a sinner gets worse and worse, and so is infinitely punished. Edwards is wrong, however, since the scope and scale of the judgment encompasses only what occurred in their lives while on earth. Both the righteous and wicked are recompensed proportionally to their earthly life. Neither will the saint gain more in glory eternally nor the sinner lose in perdition any more than what earth’s deeds deserve.
Also, Jesus describes the Christian’s eternal state as one of everlasting life, such as the angels, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection (Luke 20.36 NIV). The previous verse limits this blessing only on those “worthy” (vs. 35), therefore, the unworthy will not have immortality. This passage further tells us that the angels were created with native immortality. This native immortality fits the idea of those who will suffer the everlasting torment of Rev. 14. 10-11 and Rev. 20.10. It is true that both references of Revelation involve humans who are assigned the same place as the evil angels. The difference with the wicked humans is that their durability in the flames is commensurate with their sin while they were on earth.
1 Cor. 15.56 tells us that the strength of sin is the Law. In Rom. 4.14-15, For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression. The purpose of giving the Law some 400 years after the promise was to proliferate sin, The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more (Rom. 5.20 NIV). The Law imprisoned people, Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed (Gal. 3.23 NIV). The ancient Jews of Israel were unfaithful to the Mosaic regulations just as the Law intended to show them. They could, however, repent and return to the Lord. Many of them did respond to prophetic preaching and hearing of scripture. Given our knowledge of human nature, it is unsurprising that some Jews did not keep kosher:
Immersion can seem to be an impractical imposition resulting in an undignified outcome for the recipient. However, by performing this modern humiliation, the baptized is saying that he is dying to self and living in Christ.
This week I have been reading John Owen and have been struck how much he diverges from scripture. John Owen was a confident and powerful rhetorician in the Cromwell Era of British history. Although he was an able theologian and a godly Christian, he was not without his faults. To me, much of his writings about covenants amount to bald assertions since they cannot be tied to scripture. Therefore, along with his other Puritan friends, he confuses Israel with the Church and applies O.T. circumcision to baptism, and thus becomes a paedobaptist. This confuses the biblical concepts.
Is Baptism a Sacrament?
In itself, neither baptism nor observing the Lord’s Supper impart grace. What I mean is, these observances can bless the believer greatly, but, by themselves, are not devices for dispensing grace. Instead, the one being baptized is conveying a message. He is really giving something instead of receiving grace. He is saying that he is identifying himself with Christ, leaving his old ways and, hence forth, living a Christ-filled life. The whole rite is meant as a sort of confession, a testimony, a stand.
It is a bit off topic, but the Lord’s Supper has the same purpose of communication as does baptism. Paul explicitly says that the observers are, in a sense, preaching by performing the rite, For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1Cor. 11.26 NIV).
Sacraments don’t really exist. I mean, think of the concept: a rite to impart grace? The bible says grace is given through faith and not works. In the final analysis, it is unavoidable to not see works raising its head as a means of grace for those who want to have a sacramental understanding of baptism.
Also, another issue is making baptism a necessary requirement of salvation. It is not. The Rite of Baptism is a wonderful display of a cognizant believer desiring to make his confession of faith. However, for various reasons, not all Christians, in history, will have performed this observance. Nonetheless, if they know Him, they are accepted by God in heaven.
The Candidates for Baptism
Though heart circumcision signified redemption in the O.T., and baptism is a confession of faith signifying prior salvation, they are not equal. Both reference salvation, but this fact does not mean baptism and circumcision are interchangeable. The rite of biblical circumcision points to the truth of not relying on the flesh for acceptance from God. I believe this O.T. rite is interpreted and defined by Paul in Phil. 3.3: For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh (NIV).
Circumcision was much elaborated in the Mosaic Law, though it was first given to Abraham in Gen. 17.11: You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you (NIV). Notice that it was a symbolic rite pointing to a spiritual reality that Abraham was redeemed by faith prior to the act of circumcision, and, of course, all the requirements of the Mosaic Law. This fact Paul makes much of in Rom. 4, Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! (vss. 9-10 NIV). Blessedness and salvation are by faith, and therefore only a cognizant person, not an infant, is the candidate for baptism.
Please notice also, the issue in Rom. 4 above was about Gentile circumcision. They were actually requiring literal circumcision and not baptism. This implies that these rites were never confused with each other in the way that paedobaptists want to conflate them today. I mean, just think of it, if they were the same, why couldn’t the person say: “I’ll take the baptism instead of the snip.”
In Col. 2. 11-12, Paul notes that the rite of circumcision and baptism symbolically refer to salvation: Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead (NIV). All these actions are performed by someone with the capacity to make eternal decisions: “through your faith.” Therefore, one cannot transfer the sprinkling of infants (and call it baptism) for circumcision in Moses. Since, in that case, the subjects were unwitting. Furthermore, Paul is speaking of Spirit Baptism in the Colossians passage, which happens to the believer at the point of faith. The rite of Christian Baptism is subsequent to faith and constitutes a testimony by the person being baptized to indicate what has occurred in his heart earlier.
Why would anyone follow the Mosaic statute of the Old Covenant (of circumcising 8-day-old males) by baptizing infants, when the original circumcision of Abraham occurred when he was 99 years old and a conscious believer? Christians are saved through the promise to Abraham and not in keeping the Law, which no one could observe perfectly. The Purpose of the Law was for humans to recognize they were hopeless, because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression (Rom. 4.15 NIV). Infants of Christian parents are holy (1Cor. 7.14) and don’t need an additional rite.
The Mosaic Law was only given to the Jews and was an intercalation until Christ fulfilled both the regulations and temple sacrifices. What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise (Gal. 3.17-18 NIV). Why would any Christian think it valid to adopt a feature of a covenant not given to them with practices that have now passed and been fulfilled, all without biblical warrant? Paedobaptists cannot have accuracy as to what the sign means since the rite they are performing on an unwitting child doesn’t reference salvation in the New Covenant. The subject is unwitting, and no one can believe for another.
Also, “household baptisms,” such as in Acts 16.32-33, were performed upon those whom Paul spoke to prior to their baptism, and therefore were witting recipients, Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house…then immediately he and all his household were baptized (NIV). An honest examination of the scriptures of these matters yields a position of believer’s baptism.
The Mode of Baptism
Furthermore, the bible employs Greek words for “pouring” and “sprinkling” in other contexts unrelated to baptism. Therefore, if the bible wanted to express those concepts to reference this rite, the authors could have used these terms but never do. No, the Greek term baptizo means “dipping under water”, “immersion.” This immersion method conveys the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, which neither pouring nor sprinkling do. A Christian who wants to correctly keep this rite of baptism will express this stance, subsequent to believing, by being immersed in water.
Old Testament Baptism
Paul interprets for us certain O. T. acts as baptism in 1 Cor. 10.1-2: For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea (NIV). Everyone of the O.T. images of baptism picture a total engulfment of the persons without any idea of sprinkling or pouring. Also, a metaphorical death and burial of the recipients seem to be portrayed, in that, when Pharaoh’s army tried the feat, it was destroyed.
Gospels Era Baptism
Undoubtedly, Jesus was immersed in His baptism since the rite John the Baptist was performing required a certain depth of water, …Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River and As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water (Mt. 3.6, 16a NIV). It is very clear that this rite featured immersion and all that this image conveys. Also, it wasn’t the Jordan River, per se, that the Baptist employed, since he moved his operation of baptism to a place of sufficient depth at another time: Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptized (John 3.23 NIV).
There were certain Mosaic Covenant directives in the O.T. that referenced a cleansing after certain defilements which involved complete immersion in water. The Mikveh featured prominently in Second Temple Judaism and was specifically designed for immersion. We know of these mikveh through archeological finds, especially around the Jerusalem area. The sites may have been known only through word of mouth, when they were operational, since pilgrims would either have undergone cleansing previously, if they were observant, or a priest showed them the site for their cleansing prior to offering sacrifices.
There seems to be scant textual witness to these “baptistries,” but normally such sacred rites are very personal and private, and therefore, would hardly be recorded. Clearly, these Mosaic cleansing practices and John’s Baptism seem to transmit the idea of newness and immersion. One was a required biblical command for metaphorical cleansing, while the other was a sign of repentance.
After Jesus’ ascension into heaven, the apostles continued this same procedure of immersion to the new Christian converts, such as the Ethiopian Eunuch, Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him (Acts 8.38b NIV). How then is it possible for some Christians to adapt a biblical established rite with all its signs and references and apply it to infant sprinkling or pouring?
Covenant or Dispensational Theology?
John Owen was a champion for Covenant Theology and infant baptism. These critiques of mine are not novel or excessive. However, critics have been known to go too far in their opposition. One such overreach by critics involved constructing a completely new synthetic theology: Dispensationalism. Evidently, they thought by developing a rival system, they could defeat the mistake of infant baptism. This new synthetic idea of dividing the bible into specific epochs with their unique means of salvation was worse than the original disease of Covenant Theology. They should have stuck to their guns without resorting to half-baked ideas. Instead, they crafted an additional synthetic grid to superimpose upon scripture.
A better reading than either of these synthetically-devised schemes is an organic promise given by God and traced progressively throughout the bible. This promise was Gen. 3.15 of a Savior who would suffer a fatal metaphorical snakebite. This progressive tracing results in a subtext where sacrifices feature prominently throughout the divine disclosure and speak to the readers about the mystery of God: Christ.
And hope will not disappoint since the love of God is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given us. (Rom. 5.5)
After having established that Abraham was justified by faith, while he was still uncircumcised and without the Mosaic Law, in Romans chapter 4, Paul transitions in chapter 5 to speak about the blessings of those who are justified by faith, like Abraham. Paul mentions the fact of peace with God through faith in Christ (vs.1). This is a legal cessation of hostilities rather than a nice feeling. Sometimes, new Christians are doubtful whether God really saved them, since they don’t always experience feelings of peace. However, there are many reasons for the feelings of a person, but they are not a good indicator of relational standing. No, justification (dikaiothentes ) is a determination from God, the righteous Judge. What Paul was previously (chapter 4) talking about is the means of right standing with God. He has accepted Christ’s sacrifice of His righteous life for our stead, a legal exchange. Therefore, we are free from God’s wrath and now free to serve Him in grace.
These realizations cause the apostolic team to rejoice in hope of the glory of God in verse 2. The New Covenant has come and ensured its members of the ultimate hope of entering the eternal Kingdom of God. Paul could also rejoice in suffering (vs.3). This ability to rejoice in hard times comes from experience and faith in God. He keeps bringing us through to victory; therefore, we anticipate future deliverance from the temporal trials. Eventually, the Christian develops steadfastness as a result of seeing His handiwork. Also, solid character will soon be evident in the growing believer. The final state is a confident expectation of Christ’s Kingdom (vs.4). Paul then asserts this hope will not be frustrated since we have the confirming fruit and presence of God in the Holy Spirit in verse 5.
What Paul speaks about in Rom. 5.5 is conceptually the same thing as a deposit (earnest money), in 2 Cor.1.22, …and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come (NIV). The word Paul uses is arrabon which was the ancient equivalent. God gives the Holy Spirit and pours love into our heart to assure us of our expectant hope. Paul repeats this claim in the same letter at 5.5, Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come (NIV).
Finally, Paul writes what can be considered a probable circular letter to churches in the province of Asia in what we have in the bible labeled “Ephesians.” Without bogging down to show the general nature of this letter, it is sufficient to observe no personal greetings at all in a place where Paul spent nearly three years in total. What Paul wrote to the Romans and the Corinthians, he wants to share this same concept with the Christians of the province of Asia, …were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory (Eph. 1.14 NIV). Again, Paul mentions the arrabon which the NIV has translated as “guarantee.”
It was unusual that I was listening to Christian radio, but, since I needed to travel by car for some distance, I tuned in. Usually, I’m a book person, that is a reader of print, and don’t have any audio on. So this car trip was an opportunity to surf the regional Christian radio offerings. There was this call-in program with a pastor answering callers’ questions, when one caller stated something along the idea that God must have been “bored” as the reason He created the world. The pastor responded by giving a grand view of salvation offered in the bible, which was a good and adequate defense of the faith. The pastor should have corrected the caller’s statement, however, as to the purpose of creation and God’s attributes. The purpose of creation is more opaque than God’s character, but not much more. God’s attributes are easy to understand since they are explicit in the bible.
God is never bored. Boredom implies lack of something, or perceived lack of something. God never lacks anything since He exists from Himself: I AM (Ex.3.14 NIV). Paul clearly explained to the Athenian Philosophers what God was like: And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else (Acts 17.25 NIV). God is who He is and doesn’t change. Change would imply He is not perfect which He most certainly is. Mal. 3.6 affirms: I am the lord, I change not (KJV). Although God created everything, He is not dependent upon it, since “He is not served by human hands.”
While God is not dependent upon His creation, He can, and will bring it to His glorious control. God is advancing to transform the chaos which has infected His creation by entering it in the person of Christ: What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe (Eph. 4.9-10 NIV).
For this reason make all effort to supplement your faith with excellence, and to excellence, knowledge, and to knowledge, self control, and to self control, perseverance, and to perseverance, godliness, and to godliness, brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness, love. If you increasing practice these, they will not leave you idle or fruitless in the [personal] knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these is blind or short sighted and has forgotten he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, rather, my family, give all diligence to settle your calling and election. For if you practice theses [disciplines], you will never ever stumble. For accordingly your entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly furnished. Therefore, I will always be ready to remind you of these[spiritual goals] though you know and truly have them. I esteem it fitting while still in this tent to to awake your recollection of them knowing that the laying aside of my tent is at hand as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. Also, I will now be diligent to provide for your remembrance of these [disciplines] after my exodus. (2Pe. 1.5-15)
The first of these disciplines then is virtue (some translators render arete as goodness, excellence). 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 referred to the qualities of oratory as well. By First Century usage the term is understood to connote an ‘all-around excellence.’
In connection with faith and excellence, Christians are to add “knowledge” (gnosin). This “knowledge” doesn’t have to be bible knowledge, necessarily, since 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. 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, which is connected with arete. Here, I wish to point out that 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.
Verse 8 also tells us the default nature of a believer is bareness without these qualities. The Greek construction is very indirect which makes its message all the more poignant. Fruitfulness in God’s Kingdom is produced through the Spirit. Much of our walk of faith should be directed by the goals Peter sets out for us. He frames the intended Christian life as spiritual development in or with faith. Paul notes a similar progression in the Christian walk in Rom. 5.3-4: Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. Yes, its different in many respects, but also similar, such as acting from faith by rejoicing in suffering. Discipleship is a death where a cross is taken up for another: Christ.
Peter warns those who lack these qualities since the results are blindness and shortsightedness. The perennial question often arises: which one? It’s either blindness or nearsightedness, it can’t be both! Well, actually, it can. On some issues we can be merely shortsighted while completely blind on others. I am not sure if this is the final answer to the conundrum or if the apostle meant partial blindness.
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 fully furnished entrance provided into the eternal kingdom (vs. 11).
The qualities or disciplines that Simon Peter lists are regarded as crucially important to the early Christians since he eagerly desires to remind his readers of their deployment in their lives (vss. 12-13). These followers of Christ already knew the disciplines, but Peter thought they were so important as to continually remind his audience of them and to even diligently record them for posterity before his own prophesied death (vss. 14-15).
For this reason make all effort to supplement your faith with excellence, and to excellence, knowledge, and to knowledge, self control, and to self control, perseverance, and to perseverance, godliness, and to godliness, brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness, love. If you practice these increasingly, they will not leave you idle or fruitless in the [personal] knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these [attributes] is blind or short sighted and has forgotten he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, rather, my brethren, give all diligence to confirm your calling and election. For if you practice theses [exercises], you will never ever stumble. For accordingly your entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly furnished. Therefore, I will always be ready to remind you of these [godly aspirations] though you know and truly have them. I esteem it fitting while still in this tent to to awake your recollection of them knowing that the laying aside of my tent is at hand as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. Also, I will still be diligent now to provide for your remembrance of these [disciplines] after my departure. (2Pe. 1.5-15)
Nearly 50 years ago I was so intrigued with 2Pe. 1 that I chose it as a memory exercise to learn in a week. I kept it in my memory for several years along with a few other chapters. Sadly, full recollection has now slipped but key parts of the first chapter are still known and pondered. Also, I have thought how to follow the apostle’s teaching by applying it to my life. By seeing the text in a Greek edition, one is struck concerning the emphasis Peter laid on the importance of this instruction. The translation is mine and the bracketed words are my ideas (implied by the context) to help make the text palatable to the English reader. We moderns are used to identifying labels which this text never gives. The ancients also had a much longer attention span requiring less referencing and repeating of words so this way of writing was very normal for them.
How the Disciplines Relate to Faith
I propose that these qualities in 2 Peter resemble the instructions given in the O.T. book of Proverbs. This analysis traces their function in the community of faith. Believers under the Old Covenant had the law of Moses to instruct them about what to do and what to avoid doing. When the Old Testament saints failed in their duties or even transgressed the regulation, they could go to the Tent of Meeting (the Sanai Tabernacle or the Solomonic Temple), present the requisite sacrifice and expiate their sins. The Law of Moses was primarily about The Ledger, both in individual lives and the life of the nation. It was about right and wrong, justice. However, in the composition of the people of Israel, there were those who “knew the Lord” and who were “sons of belial.” Even though at times the Lord may have saved the nation as a whole (Passover in Egypt, Crossing the Red Sea, Covenant at Sinai, Covenant at Moab), the subsequent generations were a mixture of the Lord’s people and unredeemed sinners.
The Lord’s people needed insight on not only what to do or avoid, but how to discipline one’s self and function in a fallen world. This is where the bible’s Wisdom Literature instructs the saints through the course of their lives to continually perfect their relationship. The books of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon give wisdom to aid us during our earthly struggle instead of a list of laws. These written words of wisdom help us to understand the Lord’s work and His will, thus help us to know Him better.
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. 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 (personal knowledge) of Jesus Christ in 2Pet. 1.8. This is a more fuller knowledge than in 1.5, since that term “knowledge” (gnosin) is distinguished as preparatory, and, in part, toward the personal knowledge (epignosko) of Jesus Christ. All the elements Peter lists complete this knowledge, so it seems. In context, epignosko indicates a fuller orbed realization or an experiencing of the spiritual wisdom that is in Christ. In Col. 2.3, Paul agrees with this sentiment, saying that in Jesus are “hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” An analogy of these kinds of knowing could be: a biographical knowledge about someone verses an intimate knowledge where the biographical one is also known but tempered by intimate personal experience.
The Spirit Gives Full Knowledge of Christ
Every effort we make to add these qualities or disciplines in our lives, the Holy Spirit is present to teach and guide as to how we accomplish this feat. This is the great unmentioned reality of the Christian life that many commentators fail to recognize: the ministry and leading of the Spirit enabling what we could not do on our own.
Simon Peter in vs. 5 uses very strong and intensive words to urge participation. The attitude we should have to add these disciplines to our faith is spoudain: speed, effort, diligence, earnestness. This attitude is intensified by the “all” which precedes: “all effort.” Peter will use the term again in vs. 10 to exhort his readers to diligence to secure their calling and election. Peter pledges his own effort or diligence so that his hearers might have a record of these disciplines. Here is a self- conscious decision by Peter, an apostle, to transmit and preserve divine instruction. This might have involved making more copies than usual.
A temporal aspect may be seen by another word indicating simultaneous action along with our faith: pareisenegcantes. Therefore, from the start of one’s Christian walk, these qualities should “furnish” our lives. However, it is unreasonable to expect an overnight transformation in all areas of one’s life. It can take decades to realize certain aspects that are deficient. Also, since we never stop growing spiritually, we will never arrive at ultimate perfection.
Still, Christians are commanded to be characterized by these features at all times since the next verb is in the imperative mood. These disciplines seem to be meant as a progressive template for a godly life. Peter, a seasoned Christian, wants to communicate what is best for his audience.
This is the last word which seems supercharged by its construction: epichoreygeysateh. The idea is to fully supply something. The same word is used in vs. 11 to describe our entrance: that it will be fully furnished. It seems as if what we have furnished in our earthly walk of these qualities will reflect in our heavenly entrance.
Therefore, Peter instructs that Christians should, in all earnestness, simultaneous with faith, be fully prepared to deploy these qualities. After all, its nice to be nice and good to be good. Showing love to others blesses us, too, but that is not the motivation. We love because He first loved us.
One of the most confusing things in Christian thought is the idea of a covenant and how it relates to us. It doesn’t have to be inscrutable, however, and can easily be understood by the youngest and simplest of Christians.
Different Kinds of Covenants
First of all, a very basic recognition is that different kinds of covenants accomplish different things. “Covenant” is not one thing. However, what all covenants have in common is that they establish a relationship between God and the humans with whom He makes them. Perhaps the greatest barrier to understanding the bible is the attitude of the reader. This has certainly been true for me as I sought with western enlightenment tools to achieve understanding. Often, this approach seeks to strip away elements that embarrass or seem odd to us. Or, perhaps, to categorize according to human ideas. But, in so doing, we have already placed our intellect above what God has revealed, and will, without doubt, not comprehend or distort the words of the Living God. A person cannot approach the bible to find out if the views of the bible match their own and then decide to obey it. No, God’s word is for His people to instruct and assure them among other things. Returning to the idea that a biblical covenant is relational, despite the variety of covenants found in scripture, I present Jer. 31. 31-34 as an obvious text:
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
From this promise in Jeremiah, it is obvious that different covenants exist and that they do not function in the same way. With this recognition, the tendency to lump the covenants together in any sort of framework is rejected. Our text clearly states an “old” and a “new.” In other words, a covenant may be replaced after it served a function. Without bogging down and explicating the many ways the Old Covenant functioned, and Christ’s fulfillment of it, it may be said that “God found fault” and that a better hope was needed to transform lost sinners into conquering saints (see Heb. 8.7ff). This fault finding was for humans to understand both how corrupt they are and their inability to remedy their corruptness.
One additional point should be noted, however. God is gracious even in a “covenant of condemnation.” No one could keep all of the Old Covenant (Mosaic Law) perfectly, except Christ; yet, the Mosaic Law was mostly about the remedy for breaking its regulations. The temple and the sacrifices, though they never could take away sin, pointed to the One who could accomplish that necessary feat. God knows each human heart and always works individually to bring some to Himself in redemption whether prospectively or retrospectively. In other words, He is able to save us whatever covenant is currently operational. The difference is the New Covenant has many more blessings along with the requisite responsibility which accompanies it.
Also, with the Jeremiah text, the relational aspect is exposed by the words: “although I was a Husband to them.” God had two wives under the Old Covenant: Judah and Israel. He divorced both of them because of unfaithfulness. In our humanity, none can be righteous before God. A better hope was needed where a relationship of sonship by adoption is made, and its subjects are transformed by the nature of the Father, which is given through the Spirit. Christians have a relationship of “sons” since the One who made us holy, and ourselves, who are made holy, are of the same family (see Heb. 2.11-12). Additionally, the relational aspect of the New Covenant may be seen by the inheritance which God gives His children. Heb. 9.15-17 speaks of the covenant God makes with humanity as a “will (or testament).” In the normal course of affairs, people usually leave their inheritance to natural or adopted children. God uses this figure of a “testament” to indicate that His children have a sure eternal inheritance.
Here is an interview with Vern Poythress of Westminster Seminary conducted about 10 years ago. It defines and contends against the deficient impersonalist worldview that dominates western secular thought.
If I am not mistaken, the cultural background of the word “falsify” lies mainly in reflections on the nature of science and what makes empirical knowledge stable. The word tends to carry along with it presuppositions about the superiority of the objectivity in scientific investigation, and the obligation of all areas of knowledge to try to measure up to a scientific ideal. This position is a form of scientism, where science becomes a god and substitutes for traditional religion. It is also, needless to say, a form of impersonalism. And it is naive, because it does not realize that it secretly depends on a worldview. In addition, it does not realize that its worldview commitments infect its rather one-dimensional picture of what science is and how it operates. It also innately rebels against God, because it is not willing to contemplate the possibility that in a meeting with God, through Christ, the critic is not in charge of the arrangements for falsifiability. God is not positioned on the lab table, waiting to be inspected and “tested.”
The Roman Catholic theologian George Tyrell famously criticized the theological liberalism of Adolf Harnack with these words: “The Christ that Harnack sees… is only the reflection of a Liberal Protestant face, seen at the bottom of a deep well.” Tyrell’s depiction of Harnack’s project actually serves as a timeless warning against a common temptation that…Doubt Is a Sin, and Jesus Never Sinned — Denny Burk
Anyone who reads the book of Acts will be struck with how simple that standard of apostolic worship was, which is forever a rule to the Christian Church. The more simple the worship is, the more spiritual it will be shown to be, when persons have nothing else to cling to in it but the…The Simplicity of Worship — Reformed Books Online
Is it acceptable to refer to Jesus as the “Man upstairs”? I didn’t think it was until I took time and seriously thought about the concept. Initially, I thought this term too shoddy to use for Jesus; however, He is properly a man, now resurrected in a powerful spiritual body and sitting on His Father’s throne. Jesus is also, of course, the eternal God who was with the Father in the beginning (Jn.1. 1-2). The most frequent term Jesus used to designate Himself while on earth was, “the Son of man.” Therefore, it is acceptable to call Jesus “the Man upstairs.” Also, there are many other symbols in the bible that picture Jesus.
When the O.T. Patriarch Jacob left Beersheva to go to Padan Aram, he stopped at Bethel for the night. God appeared to Jacob in a dream that night and reaffirmed His covenant to this ancestor of Abraham:
He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. (Gen. 28.12-13) NIV
The stairway was not a ladder as in some translations. Rather, it best refers to the typical stone construction of Mideast houses. Many of the larger houses featured a stairway built into the side of the house to reach the roof. A notable example is the couple in Shunem who built a shelter for Elisha in 2 Kings 4. 9-10.
In Jacob’s vision he saw angels ascending and descending on this stairwell and named the place “Bethel,” which means the house of God. He saw the Lord at the top speaking down to him. In the N.T. however, things have changed, since the Lord speaks of the angels ascending and descending upon Himself!
He continued, “I tell all of you the solemn truth – you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (Jn.1.51) NET
What does this figurative picture of a stairway reveal? During the days of His flesh, Jesus indicated He was “the Door,” a similar concept indicating access to show that through Him the sheep would enter the fold: I am the door. If anyone enters through me, he will be saved, and will come in and go out, and find pasture. (Jn.10.9) NET. Also, Jesus says He is “the Way,” an additional and related term to indicate the via to access God (Jn. 14.6).
What does it mean when the bible speaks in terms such as “in Christ”? Being “in Christ” is a spatial designation indicating a relationship of some kind. This concept can be seen in Gal. 3.26-27: So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (NIV). If Christ clothes us, then we are “in Him,” in a figurative way, but nonetheless real. When we wear a suit of clothes we are in them. When Christ clothes us we are in Him. This wording of being clothed with Christ is very similar to how the Spirit of God fell upon some of the O.T. heroes, such as Samson in Judges 15.14. “The Spirit fell mightily upon him.” Also, back to Galatians 3.27, it implies the method of baptism, since sprinkling or pouring don’t adequately show enrobing as immersion.
Also, what happens to the Christian at death? 2Cor. 5. 1-10 gives the fullest description of the Christian hope:
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. (NIV)
Again, figurative language is deployed to describe another reality: the temporal tent we live in on earth and our “building” in heaven. This is the physical body which decays, while the building in heaven is probably The Lord Himself, since believers only receive their spiritual bodies at Christ’s Second Coming. Some who died in Christ have been waiting nearly 2000 years for their spiritual bodies and are probably those righteous men made perfect of Heb. 12.23. The usual pattern from the N.T. narratives seems to imply that spirits want to indwell bodies. Therefore, the best accommodation seems to have our soul/spirit indwell Christ’s resurrected body in heaven just after our earthly death. When a person receives Christ, they receive this whole package of blessings.
Personal testimony is not what I usually write about; it’s uncomfortable and a little embarrassing. Nevertheless, this time, I almost feel compelled, since, in another testimony to an individual who I was trying to help, I did not give God the due credit.
It was the summer and I was enjoying a walk in a new area and needed directions to a place I wanted to see. I had asked some folks for directions previously, but they were not sure about it. Then a local responded that he was heading in the same direction and would show me specifics later where his path would divert from mine.
Along the way we were discussing health strategies, since we were both exercising by walking. He said it was his lunch hour and he was spending it walking instead of eating. He was a man probably in his late twenties and a bit corpulent. He mentioned that he was also struggling with smoking, and I thought I could, by personal testimony, help him overcome this habit. I told him that, about thirty years ago, I struggled similarly. This is the point where I failed.
While normally reticent, at times I am open and disclose my heart. My desire was to help this person achieve freedom over this addiction. It was later, in my recollection of the events and what I said to him that gave me pause. I then realized a truth that previously I did not recognize: that God had showed me indirectly what I personally needed to do to defeat this specific addiction. My approach to this addiction was to pray to God to help me overcome it since my willpower and lifestyle were not helping much. There are only so many things available practically to change this habit. Well, I did change my habit and was able to leave it by substitution. What I am saying is that, in one instance, the way God led me to change, was to use my body differently. Smokers usually suffer shortness of breath and coughing, and other maladies. It seemed at this point, after much continuous prayer, He gave me a desire for an activity that strained my breath: I was swimming and holding my breath underwater. Perhaps another activity would have been as challenging for my lungs, but this one really tested me. Fairly soon, I wanted to swim better, and upon reflection, knew both consciously and unconsciously that smoking had to go. Go it did.
Back to my testimony to the man. I related to him of my long struggle with tobacco addiction, and even mentioned that I prayed to God without success. I then related to him how I had overcome smoking through adopting a competing activity. It was not immediately that I realized that God had led me indirectly to give up smoking; but when I did, I also realized I had betrayed God by saying He did not answer my prayer. Forgive me, Lord, for not giving You credit.
The focal point of generation is sameness, “after its kind.” The idea reveals sameness of essence. Some folks have gotten hung up on thinking that every moment by moment God is generating Jesus. This is not the focus at all, since this is an eternal relationship which can never change. It’s almost the same as saying that Jesus, moment by moment, is holding the universe together based upon Col. 1.17 stating as much. Rather, the bible is telling us things about God. God established relationships with His people and He wants us to know about Himself and His Son and that there is no other God. Additionally, the phrase is metaphorical. There is no similarity with human reproduction.
The edition of Bauer’s Greek-English Lexicon of The New Testament, and other early Christian literature that I have, doesn’t list a Greek word for “alone” or “unique.” This is because the N.T. and other Christian writers didn’t have the need for this term. Of course Jesus was unique in a special way but it wasn’t expressed since other concerns were much more in the forefront. The fulfillment of O.T. types and the need for identity with humans was what was stressed in Christian literature. There was a term in common circulation in the Greek 1st century which denoted “unique” or “alone” which was monērēs; this term, however, is not found in the N.T.
Monogēnēs is the underlying Greek term denoting “only begotten.” It is the word used in the bible to describe Jesus’ relationship with the Father. The meaning of the term can be deduced from how it is used in the text. Monogēnēs is found in Jn. 1.14 in connection with what precedes. Jn.1.13 speaks about being born (generation). It lists 3 ways natural children are conceived: blood (probably-human descent), of decision, and of the husband’s will. None of these examples is true for ‘one’ born (egennēthēsan) of God. This term is speaking about regeneration since God regenerates many individuals as His children. Back to the point about monogēnēs use in v. 14, here it speaks of a single generation from the Father of the Son. However, this is not a temporal relationship. What I mean is that the relationship is eternal; it always has been and is. This is the primary meaning of “I am” (ego eimi), the term Jesus used so creatively to say, “I am the Good Shepherd” and “I am the resurrection and the life.” What Jesus was saying, I believe, is that He is forever and always existing.
Some commentators looking at the term want to render monogēnēs: “one of a kind” or “unique” but this is not correct for at least 2 reasons. First, while it may be easier to dispense with difficult concepts which challenge comprehension, I believe the bible tells humans many things about God. God brings Christians in relationship with Him as children, and therefore He will teach them things about Himself. While God does not disclose everything to us, He tells us many things: I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. (Jn.15.15) NIV.
For instance, in Jn. 15.26, Jesus lets us know that the Spirit proceeds (ekporuetai) from the Father. I take this action of the Spirit as different and separate from the singular generation of the Son. A “son” is different from a “spirit,” in concept, and therefore requires a different operation of the Father in the act of proceeding. The Son was meant to be displayed while the Spirit is unseen and works internally in believers. The Son is eternally generated and the Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father.
Second, the reason why monogēnēs should not be translated as “unique” for Jesus, is that the early Greek-speaking Christians understood the term better than [what amounts to second guessing by] today’s non-native users of the language. The Nicene and Constantinople Creeds use the term to show the sameness of essence or substance (ousia). Whereas, uniqueness is inherent in “only born,” “only born” says more than just “unique.” The problem is that if monogēnēs is rendered “unique,” it doesn’t tell us enough.
Monērēs means “unique” or “alone” and did not enter N.T. usage, since the concept wasn’t required to describe anything by its writers. If John really wanted to stress the aspect that Jesus was unique, he could have used this term, which means exactly “one of a kind.” Yes, Jesus is unique by being singly generated by the Father, but this uniqueness is not the focus in the N.T.
While the bible is scarce in the description of heaven, it reveals the character of heaven’s inhabitants which gives us the disposition of that place. It goes without saying that heaven, compared to earth, will be a place of fulfillment, blessedness, and peace. Further, without question, God and His angels are superabundantly capable. Both these points need no argumentation. God is all wise and knowing, all powerful, everywhere, loving and severe, all holy, and more. But what is God’s nature? Students of the bible, by sifting its contents, may discover what God’s realm reflects in its attitude and disposition.
God Only Employs the Meek
Generally speaking, on earth, when people are characterized by affluence and power, they develop into controlling and arrogant individuals. It’s almost unavoidable. However, this is not the case with those in heaven, just the opposite. Of course, earthly inhabitants need regeneration and adoption before their nature resembles the heavenly disposition.
Moses, after 40 years of being brought up in the Egyptian royal household, was evidently proud and self-sufficient. His act of delivering a Hebrew by murdering the Egyptian (Ex. 2.11-14) shows reliance upon worldly methods and pride. It was only after another 40 years as a shepherd in the wilderness that Moses morphed, by God’s Spirit, into the description found in Num. 12.3: Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth (NIV).
Moses was not a Warlord
God sent Moses on a rescue mission to free the oppressed Israelites. This charge to Moses did not involve any military force, but instead God’s power. By taking a nation out of probably the most advanced civilization on earth, God shows the Egyptians, and the surrounding nations, who is King and God. All these actions show the multifaceted working of God’s hand.
Moses, through Aaron, clearly was a mediator between God and the people. This shows the need for distance between the people and God. Many, if not most, Israelites, who sojourned in Egypt, were idolaters. However, they were also a cohesive people, who circumcised their males in Egypt in accordance with their ancestor Abraham; and, who hoped for deliverance and a homeland. It seems the greatest thing that this now freed nation would need to learn in their wilderness wanderings is the holiness of their God and to rely humbly upon Him like His servant Moses.
Essentially, all the rebellions and challenges against Moses’ leadership during the wilderness years can be attributed to Moses’ self-effacing style. This he learned from God. His rhetorical “who am I,” often when the Israelites leaders confronted him, was not what the people were expecting. They had never experienced such leadership. Heavenly leadership on earth looks different than typical human agitations. Moses, it would later be said, was faithful as a servant in all God’s house.
Moses was Christ Minded
Never did Moses seek a political coalition of other Israelites to lobby or contend for control. When they were really challenged, he and Aaron would fall on their face before God. He left the matter in God’s hands and waited. Through His servant Moses, God was showing Israel the need for humility.
Probably the most revealing display of Moses’ character is his reaction to God’s statement that because of Israel’s sin, God would make a nation from him. If there was ever a more selfless defense of God’s integrity, I know not any:
Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth?’ Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’ (Ex. 32.12-13) NIV
In the above account, Moses had God’s reputation in mind and argued that the Egyptians would misunderstand God’s purposes if He destroyed Israel because of the Golden Calf incident. The Egyptians already knew Israel’s God was powerful since He demonstrated His power against Egypt’s gods in the 10 Plagues. Perhaps, though, the Egyptians will conclude that Israel’s God only delivered them to single them out for destruction. Moses focused on God’s plan and promise to save and bring the people into the land instead of any self-glorious aspirations. Since this self-effacing disposition is commended in Moses, readers of scripture can conclude that the same disposition will feature in heaven.
God’s Disposition is Displayed in Jesus
God is just, capable, and will judge the wicked. This was often the message and explicit focus of O.T. scripture. However, in parts and implicit, The Prophets also speak about the promise that God will redeem humanity. Matthew quotes Isaiah:
Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory. In his name the nations will put their hope. (Mt. 12.18-21) NIV
The people of 2nd Temple Israel were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd (Mt. 9.36). What they needed was someone to represent and to mediate for them before God. The Jewish Priesthood of the time was greedy and corrupt. The Romans appointed and thus controlled the High Priesthood. One reason Jesus gave the parable of the Good Samaritan was to contrast Himself with the priesthood of His day. Notice, in the parable, the two who were not a neighbor to the injured: A priest and Levite (Lk. 10.31-32). The priests and Levites were to represent the people before God and to instruct the Law to them. They did neither well.
Ideally, in the Mosaic system, a human high priest could sympathize with others, since they knew of their own failures (see Heb. 5.1-3). Jesus could mediate because of His divinity. Nevertheless, what the world has always needed was love, and when Jesus arrived on the scene, He taught and healed the lost sheep from the House of Israel. This was the “Prophet like Moses”:
The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. For this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die. (Dt. 18.15-16)NIV
As Moses was the “meekest man on the whole earth,” the Prophet who was to come would be humble and lowly, especially in contrast to the scene at Horeb. God would reveal Himself to the people first, as a baby in a manger. Later, He would heal and teach, not strive and agitate. Jesus self-confessed His disposition, and therefore, we can know what heaven is like:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Mt.11.28-30) ESV
Jesus was incarnated, not as king but as priest, and eventually, a sacrifice. Yes, Jesus is the returning King, but He is more: a merciful High Priest. Therefore, in heaven, the redeemed response will be gratitude and humility.
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. (NIV)
In several places in the bible, both O.T. and N.T., the text speaks of the Messiah, or Jesus, as being born. These usages of procreative language, when referring to the Godhead, are metaphorical constructs to express somewhat analogous concepts of which humans know some things about but not intended to totally transfer to all parts of human experience, for obvious reasons. Previously, I have also posted on the biblical term “only begotten.” https://wordpress.com/post/beliefspeak2.net/9688.
The Firstborn of All Creation
In the subtitle, I changed the NIV’s “over” to “of,” since the interpretive decision depends upon the understood flow and context of what Paul was trying to say. “Over” is not in the text; rather, “all” is used, which needs a helper word to fill in the thought. “Of” is more ambiguous for the Apostle’s purposes until he reveals his full thoughts in vs. 18.
The term “firstborn” conveys several possible ideas which need to be reigned in when relating to God. Much human communication is at least somewhat figurative, as it hints at something else. It is speaking in code. By using metaphorical language, the writer can communicate certain special aspects about a subject to inform those who are seeking understanding.
Since the Son is the image of the invisible God, He has always existed. To imply otherwise is to say that God has changed. God the Father has always been a father. God the Son has always been a son to the Father. Also, God is eternally social since that is how He created living things. God was never a lonely entity needing company. His purpose in redemption was love; that He might share His love and holiness with His creation. Even the first chapters of Genesis express a divine community of persons in that we read of God, the Spirit of God, and the Lord, who is walking in the garden. The relations have never changed or can change; there is no succession in the Godhead.
God is the invisible God but He is expressed in Jesus. Heb. 1.3 gives this same idea: The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being. The glory and the radiance are distinct but one reveals the other. God the Father cannot be seen. This fact is clear from 1Tim.6.14-16: …until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. When Philip wanted Jesus to show him the Father, Jesus said: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. (Jn. 14.9 NIV)
The next thing our text tells us is that this Son is a firstborn. Commentators are correct to point out that the term denotes status, privilege, and rank, instead of a first among subsequent equals. Jesus has a “double portion,” which, I think, refer to His dual nature of being fully God and man. All this is true of Jesus, but here, He is also the “firstborn of all creation.” This is another metaphorical clause whose interpretation is suspended until Paul fills in all the necessary details.
In verses 16 through vs. 18a, Paul lists comprehensively how Jesus has supremacy. This listing is parenthetical until the reiteration of the “firstborn” title along with its clarification. This list is as full as conceptually possible; it leaves nothing out. Creation was also for the Son’s purposes and through Him. Jesus is eternal and first in rank.
Also, in Him all things hold together, which, I think, refers to sustaining creation. This very concept of upholding or sustaining creation is found in John 5.17-18 and it includes a reference to Jesus, implying that He is the same kind of being as God: “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
The Firstborn from Out of the Dead
Paul’s usage of “arche” (beginning) refers to Christ’s eternality. He seems to employ all his toolbox in this section to bolster the idea for his readers that Christ is divine. Also, when Jesus wanted to show His eternal nature, in Rev. 22.13, He used three inclusive clauses to explicate this: I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning (arche) and the End (NIV).
Again, I think it is best to modify the NIV from “among” to “out of.” On one hand, with mention of church, an interpreter could seek to connect those who Jesus redeemed, since they will subsequently be resurrected at Christ’s return. However, Paul doesn’t seem to point toward this direction; instead, he finishes his thought emphasizing Christ’s preeminence. Paul uses “ek” to show “from out of.” Thus, Paul says that Jesus conquered death as another aspect of His supremacy.
Paul is here giving the definition of “the firstborn of all creation.” By reiterating “firstborn” he is further refining what he means: Jesus was the first human to rise to immortality. Jesus raised from the dead several people during His earthly ministry, but they all had to die again just as the O.T. instances of temporal resurrection. While Jesus was not able to sin, He still earned immortality in His humanity under the Mosaic Covenant as a human and stands as the final Adam in our place.
The Spiritual Body
Jesus tells us that He is preparing a place for us to be with Him after our earthly life (Jn. 14.2-3). This, presumably, refers to the resurrected body of 1 Cor. 15:
So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body (42-44).
These N.T. realities Paul obviously recognized when reading O.T. sections such as the song of Is. 26:
But your dead will live, Lord; their bodies will rise—let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy—your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead. Go, my people, enter your rooms and shut the doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until his wrath has passed by. See, the Lord is coming out of his dwelling to punish the people of the earth for their sins. The earth will disclose the blood shed on it; the earth will conceal its slain no longer (19-21).
Therefore, Jesus is the Firstborn from out of the dead; the goal of creation.
(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) NIV
The NIV bible has the better rendering of what Paul was arguing in this passage by enclosing it in parentheses rather than the ESV which conveys the idea of a natural law. The early Protestant theologians such as Calvin thought it was speaking about the Natural Law’s effect upon Pagan behavior. Like the NIV, I prefer to see the more contextual reading of Paul saying the behavior of Gentile Christians fulfills the Law, even though they do not follow all the minutia as a contemporary Jew who strictly follows the Mosaic Law.
Evidently there were Jewish “guides” (vss. 17,19) who wanted to instruct the believers, calling them “foolish” and “children” (vs. 20). They thought the Mosaic Law was “the embodiment of knowledge and truth” (vs. 20). Since the Gentiles were not versed in the Mosaic Code, they would guide these Gentiles the correct way. The Law was holy, righteous, and good but it couldn’t ultimately make the subject righteous; it only points out faults. The person was doing wrong themselves and looking down on everyone else (vss.21-23).
Paul is speaking generally that Christians are so holy and good without the formal Mosaic Law that, in the Judgement, it will be evident that they were written in The Book of Life (Rev. 20.12-15). These Gentiles had been adopted as children and were now acting out their renewed nature. This is what the term means (phusei): from themselves as to who they are in disposition or their constitution. Therefore, Paul is saying that God wrote the Law’s requirements on these Gentile Christian hearts, since He regenerated them. This is a parenthetical clause speaking in the immediate context of what the Judgement will entail (vss, 12-16).
Is there a Natural Law? I don’t know. This passage, however, is not speaking about that concept at all.
For too long the evangelical church has gone soft on sound exposition of Scripture and the faithful teaching of systematic theology and replaced it with the felt needs of people and joining various social causes. Stephen Wellum
Talbot School of Theology’s Master of Arts in Classical Theology is mostly composed of three kinds of courses: Commonplaces (major doctrines); Master Practitioners (significant theologians); and Sacred Page (books of Scripture). Since the entire MA is designed to treat Scripture as “that toward which all studies in divinity move,” these Sacred Page courses are especially…Ephesians (Classical Theology Course) — The Scriptorium Daily
At the time of Jesus’ birth, the land of Israel (now called Palestine by the Romans) was ruled by the Romans, who had granted Herod the Great the title of “king” over the region. His domain included most of the land that once belonged to Israel. After his death, the Romans granted Herod’s wishes that…Palestine under Roman Rule — Bible Mapper Blog