Theologically Driven

  • Is Allah a God of Love?

    by Ben Edwards

    It is common today to hear people talk about a God of love, often connected with the idea that all religions teach about a God of love. In a recent panel Q&A, I was asked “Can we call Allah a God of love?” My brief answer was no, since he is not portrayed that way in the Qur’an. For example, in the book God of Justice: A Study in the Ethical Doctrine of the Qur’an, Daud Rahbar, the late Professor Emeritus of Comparative Religions at Boston University, argues that the primary motivation for ethics given by the Qur’an is fear of God’s stern justice.

    Though it is common to see fear as the essential motive for ethical behavior in Islam, it is uncommon to see that fear directed towards stern justice. “It is a fact well-recognized in scientific scholarship that Fear of God is the dominant sentiment in Qur’anic morality. But that the roots of this sentiment are in God’s stern justice and not in the preponderant malignance of the arbitrary will of a capricious sovereign is a fact scarcely recognized” (5). Thus, Rahbar sets out to demonstrate that the conception of God in the Qur’an is not of a capricious God, but of a God who enacts certain justice.

    Though I am unconvinced that Rahbar conclusively destroys the idea of a capricious God in Islam, I did find his discussion on the absence of love in the Qur’an and the prominence of love in the Bible fascinating.

    Nowhere [in the Qur’an] do we find the idea that God loves mankind. God’s love is conditional (172).

    In Christianity Love becomes the essential motive principle of virtuous conduct. Why? The answer is simple. In Christianity God is, before anything else, the Father. His Love transencds His Justice. In Qur’anic thought Fear of God becomes the essential motive-principle of virtuous conduct. Why?… The answer to why fear-motive prevails in the Qur’an is that Qur’an’s God is, before anything else, a strict judge. His justice is unrelaxing. He will forgive none but those who believe in Him and obey commandments….

    The relationship of love… is a reciprocal one. The Qur’an never enjoins love for God. This is because God Himself loves only the strictly pious. To love God one must presuppose that God is reciprocating the sentiment. And to presuppose that is to presume that one is perfectly pious. Such presumption the Qur’an never allows. Even the most virtuous men as prophets are constantly reminded that they are sinful creatures who must ask forgiveness of smallest sins whether they are aware of them or not. Side by side with such a conception of God’s unrelaxing justice love for God would certainly be out of place (179–80).

    In the Bible [the] central notion is God’s Fatherhood and his love for mankind. And so it is love between man and God on which all Christian morality rests…. In the Qur’an the corresponding central notion is God’s strict justice. And so on fear of God’s strict justice of the judgement day depends the fulfilling of the law and the whole moral value of Qur’anic duty (223–4).

    I agree that love is a central notion in the Bible, but I disagree that the Christian God’s love transcends His justice. Rather, His love leads Him to remain just while providing a way for unjust sinners to become just in His sight. God makes believers perfectly just. That’s why the Christian God performed the greatest act of love possible, and Christians in turn love God.

    Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)

    “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)

  • The Date of Easter

    by John Aloisi

    Throughout church history professing believers have argued amongst themselves about all kinds of things. In retrospect, some of these debates have been key steps in hammering out the details of important theological issues. Other debates have been less than edifying. Many of the disagreements related to the date of Easter have fallen into this latter category.

    People are often surprised when they discover that a series of significant and sometimes very bitter controversies have taken place over how to calculate the date of Easter. And as of [yet], the disagreement is still not fully resolved. [2011] was one of those unusual years when the major branches of professing Christendom celebrated Easter on the same Sunday. Such is not normally the case, and it is not the case this year.

    The controversy about when to celebrate Easter is usually described as taking place in four distinct phases. Space does not permit a discussion of each of these, but here’s a glimpse of the earliest phase. Writing in the fourth century, Eusebius described the first stage of this controversy when he wrote,

    At that time [the late second century], no small controversy erupted because all of the Asian dioceses thought that the Savior’s paschal festival should be observed, according to ancient tradition, on the fourteenth day of the moon, on which the Jews had been commanded to sacrifice the lamb. On that day it was necessary to finish the fast, no matter what day of the week it might be. In churches throughout the rest of the world, however, it was not customary to celebrate in this way, since, according to apostolic tradition, they maintained the view that still prevails: the fast ends only on the day of our Savior’s resurrection [Sunday]. Synods and conferences of bishops were held on this issue… (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 5.23).

    Eusebius also went on to tell of how Victor (bishop of Rome in the late second cent.) tried to excommunicate a large number of eastern churches for their practice of celebrating Christ’s resurrection on the 14th of Nisan. Needless to say, these were not some of the church’s brightest days.

    Much more encouraging is the advice found in another early text. The Apostolic Constitutions is a document that was probably compiled in the late fourth century. Regardless of its exact origin, this document provides insight into how some early Christians celebrated the resurrection of Christ:

    Break your fast when it is daybreak of the first day of the week, which is the Lord’s day. From the evening until the cock-crows, keep awake; assemble together in the church; watch and pray; entreat God. When you sit up all night, read the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms—until cock-crowing. Baptize your catechumens and read the Gospel with fear and trembling. And speak to the people such things as will assist their salvation…. And from that point on, leave off your fasting and rejoice! Keep a festival, for Jesus Christ, the pledge of our resurrection, is risen from the dead! (Apostolic Constitutions 5.19).

    Regardless of how one calculates the date of Easter, this last statement expresses the heart of why Christians have celebrated Easter for many centuries—Jesus Christ, the pledge of our resurrection, is risen from the dead! In celebrating Easter we celebrate the fact that Christ has conquered death and that just as God raised Christ from the dead, he will someday raise Christ’s followers as well (1 Corinthians 6:14).

  • Israel’s Hermeneutical Problem

    by Jared Compton

    In 2 Cor 3:13 Paul says that “Moses put a veil over his face to prevent Israel from seeing the end of what was passing away.” What exactly was it that Israel couldn’t see? The answer: Israel had a hermeneutical problem. She couldn’t see the purpose of the Mosaic covenant. Here I’ll try to prove this reading in two steps.

    First, “what was passing away” is simply another way of talking about the old (or Mosaic) covenant. (1) In vv. 7–11, Paul says that the “ministry that brought death” (v. 7) was less glorious than “the ministry of the spirit” (v. 8) for two reasons. It condemned and was “transitory”; whereas “the ministry of the spirit” justifies and “remains” (see vv. 9, 11). The participle translated “what was transitory” in v. 11 is the same participle used in v. 13 and translated “what was passing away,” which, along with their agreement in gender (i.e., both neuter), suggests both refer to the same thing, namely, “the ministry that brought death” in v. 7. Or, to put it all this another way, I suspect that had Paul reversed the comparisons of vv. 9 and 11, v. 13 would have read like this, “We are not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of that which condemns.” In short, “what was passing away” in v. 13 was “the ministry that brought death” in v. 7. (2) This “ministry that brought death” is said in v. 7 to have been “engraved in letters on stone,” which is nearly identical to the description of the (implied) covenant in v. 6, which is there contrasted with the “new covenant.” Thus, the covenant “of the letter,” which “kills,” in v. 6 and “the ministry that brought death” and is “engraved in letters on stone” in v. 7 is the Mosaic or old covenant. This reading is confirmed by the parallelism of vv. 13 and 14, where “what is passing away” in v. 13 is parallel with “the old covenant” in v. 14.

    Second, “the end” of the old covenant refers to the goal or point of the old covenant. (1) The veil in v. 13 is said to prevent Israel from seeing the “end” of the old covenant and, in vv. 14–15, this veil is said to remain whenever the old covenant is read, implying that the veil is equivalent to a hermeneutical barrier. (This barrier, Paul makes clear in v. 14, is, fundamentally, moral.) Thus, Israel, due to sin, is prevented from understanding the old covenant and, specifically, from understanding its goal or point. (2) In light of what Paul says in vv. 9 and 11, the goal or point of the old covenant that Israel was unable to see was the old covenant’s temporary, condemning function. Israel, in other words, was prevented from seeing the old covenant’s glory, which is precisely what the veil (implied) in v. 7 hid and what is revealed, according to vv. 16–18, when the veil is removed.

    Thus, to say it again, Paul says here in 2 Cor 3:7–18 that Israel had a hermeneutical problem, owing to sin: she wasn’t able to see the purpose of her covenant. All this, therefore, is closely related to what Paul says in Rom 9:30–10:21 and Gal 3:1–4:7 and, moreover, is one of the key differences between the way Paul read Scripture before and after his encounter with the risen Lord on the road to Damascus. (See here for a similar reflection.)

  • What King David Said about Judas Iscariot

    by Jared Compton

    In Acts 1:12-26 Peter says that Judas Iscariot had to be replaced (see Acts 1:16, 21). The vacancy his defection (and suicide) created could not be left open, otherwise Scripture would be broken. After all, what Judas had done and what, then, the remaining apostles had to do was prophesied, according to Peter, by David in the psalms, specifically in Pss 69:25 and 109:8 (see Acts 1:20). The problem with all this, however, is that on a first reading, at least, neither of these psalms is obviously prophetic, much less “spoke[n]... concerning Judas” (see Acts 1:16), which raises the question: Why did Peter think—and his hearers agree!—that these psalms warranted his claims and, therefore, called the early Christians to action?

    The solution to this puzzle lies along the following two lines: (1) The early Christians read Pss 69, 109, and other psalms of lament messianically. They did this principally, I suspect, because this is the way Jesus read these psalms (see, e.g., John 13:18 [Ps 41:9], John 15:25 [Ps 35:19; 69:4]; John 19:24 [Ps 22:18]). Alongside of this, the early Christians elsewhere applied to Jesus’ resurrection/exaltation psalms originally describing David’s enthronement (see, e.g., Ps 2:7 in Acts 13:33; Heb 1:5; and Heb 5:5), suggesting they thought of Jesus as the greater and, indeed, true Davidic king. The psalms of lament were then likely drawn into this davidic ideology, this davidic typology, precisely because so many were already linked with David (i.e., “a psalm of David”) and, as well, because so many contained “forward-looking” elements—eschatological elements. (These forward-looking elements, moreover, probably explain the smattering of evidence suggesting that some of the laments were already read eschatologically—if not messianically—in the pre-Christian era. See, e.g., the interpretation of Ps 22 in 4Q88 or Ps 37 in 4QpPs37.) (2) If the early Christians read these laments typologically—that is, as prophesying about another, ultimate sufferer—then it’s not at all unlikely that they treated the enemies described in these psalms in a similar fashion. This indeed may explain why Peter changes “their place” in Ps 69:25 to “his place” (and, thus, “their tents” to “it”) in Acts 1:20a. Peter saw in the psalm’s description of betrayal the actions of the messiah’s ultimate betrayer, Judas Iscariot.

    In short, Peter and the early Christians read Pss 69 and 109 messianically and, therefore, saw in them a description of Judas’ betrayal and a description of what should be done about his vacant post.

  • About Theologically Driven

    Theologically Driven features insight on Scripture, the church, and contemporary culture from faculty and staff at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary. DBTS has faithfully prepared men for gospel ministry since its founding in 1976. As a ministry of the Inter-City Baptist Church in Allen Park, Michigan, it provides graduate level training with a balance between strong academics and a heart for local church ministry.

    Contributors to the blog include:

    John Aloisi, Assistant Professor of Church History

    Bill Combs, Academic Dean and Professor of New Testament

    Bruce Compton, Professor of Biblical Languages and Exposition

    Jared Compton, Assistant Professor of New Testament

    Sam Dawson, Professor of Systematic Theology

    Dave Doran, President and Professor of Pastoral Theology

    Pearson Johnson, Assistant Professor of Pastoral Theology

    Bob McCabe, Professor of Old Testament

    Mark Snoeberger, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology

    To find out more, visit Theologically Driven.