Theologically Driven

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.

For to me, to live is Christ...?

by Jared Compton

One of the best-known lines from St. Paul is found at the beginning of his letter to the Philippians where he says, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (1:21). I think this was my life verse for at least a few years. In fact, I’m pretty sure I put the reference under my name in a handful of my friends’ high-school yearbooks. The problem, however, is that it’s never been obvious to me exactly what this verse means. I’ve known, of course, that it has something to do with Paul’s commitment to Christ. I just haven’t been sure about much beyond this. After all, Christ isn’t an obvious pair with gain. We’d expect something more like “For to me, to live is loss and to die is gain” or “For to me, to live is pretty good; it’s not terrible. But, to die—to rest with Christ, that is gain indeed.” Why does Paul use Christ here? What’s he trying to say?

The key, it seems to me, is found in the five verses that follow, which suggest that were Paul to continue to live, his ongoing ministry would benefit the Philippians (vv. 24–25; cf. also “fruitful labor” in v. 22) and, as a result, would benefit Christ (v. 26)—in an even greater way than would his martyrdom (v. 20). They’d be strengthened in their faith and would, therefore, boast in Christ as a result of Paul’s renewed ministry (cf. 2 Cor 1:11 with Phil 1:19, 26). So, we might restate what Paul says in v. 21 like this: For to me, to live is gain for you—and, thus for Christ—and, in at least one sense, loss for me (v. 23b), and to die is gain for me and loss for you—and, thus, in at least one sense, for Christ (cf. v. 20b with v. 26). Admittedly, stating it this way isn’t quite as elegant, but I think it captures what Paul is after.

What’s more, while Paul doesn’t quite say it, he gives the impression in vv. 24–26 that he’s chosen to live for the benefit of others rather than to die for his own benefit. This is, in any case, what he’s convinced God has decided. On this reading, then, Paul’s brief autobiographical reflection here plays a vital role in the letter, illustrating one of its central themes: Christians live worthy of the gospel when they, like Christ, put others’ interests before their own (2:4; vv. 5–11). The point of the reflection, then, is pretty clear, even if the logic of v. 21 is a bit compressed: Paul was willing to put others’ gain before his own. And the challenge for us, therefore, lies right on the surface: how can we, who are likewise called to imitate Christ’s selfless sacrifice—his loss, do anything less?

Walk by Faith: A Misused Verse?

by Bill Combs

Most of us are familiar with how 2 Cor 5:7 reads in the KJV, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” If you do a Google search on this verse, you will find explanations of what this means, such as, “the Bible challenges us to ‘walk by faith, not by sight,’” or you are to “walk by faith, not by sight,’” or you ought to “walk by faith, not by sight.’” You have probably heard the same kind of thing in sermons. Just to clarify, the word walk in this verse is, of course, used in the metaphorical sense of “live”; so the NIV, “For we live by faith, not by sight.” Thus, Paul’s words are taken to be an exhortation or command to “live by faith.” According to this view, we are challenged to rise above our normal Christian experience, and rather than operating from a worldly perspective (“living by sight”), we should conduct our lives and make our decisions based upon our faith and trust in the God and his Word. There is nothing wrong with this idea in and of itself. It is theologically accurate to say and to insist that the Christian must always seek to live by faith and trust in God and his promises, and not be motivated by only what he or she can see and hear in their present circumstances.

The problem is that this is not what the text says, nor what it means. Paul is not commanding the Corinthians to “live by faith”; he is making a statement: the Corinthians are living by faith.

Our text is also popular in the Word of Faith movement, which I won’t take time to describe at this point. Another popular TV preacher in that movement, Frederick Price, closes every sermon by citing 2 Cor 5:7.

But in all these instances, this text has been stripped of its context and a new meaning assigned to it. Paul is not saying that we “should live by faith” or that we “ought to live by faith.” No, he directly and unequivocally says that we, all believers, do, in fact, live by faith. But why does Paul make this statement?

Verse 7 is rightly understood to be a parenthesis in the thought of vv. 6–8.

(6) Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. (7) For we live by faith, not by sight. (8) We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

Let us go back for a moment to the beginning of chapter 5 in order to get the broader context. Paul begins in v. 1 by explaining what happens to a believer who dies, “if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed.” Fortunately, Paul says, we can look forward to a resurrection body, “a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.” But until then “we groan” (v. 2), knowing that our present bodies are subject to ailments, injury, and disability. And since we know that “as long as we are at home in the body we are away [in a spatial sense] from the Lord” (v. 6), we “would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (v. 8). All believers here on earth are presently “away from the Lord” in the sense Paul means in v. 6.

But Paul’s reasoning in vv. 6 and 8 could leave the wrong impression. That’s why he interrupts v. 6 with 7 before he completes his thought in v. 8. The “for” that begins v. 7 is what the standard Greek dictionary (BDAG) calls a “marker of clarification.” One could easily take Paul’s statement in v. 6 to mean that since believers are presently “away from the Lord,” they enjoy no fellowship with him at all. But, of course, that is absolutely false, for, you see, Paul says (v. 7), “we presently live in the realm of faith ["by faith"], not in the realm of sight.” Paul is contrasting actually seeing the Lord (“at home with the Lord”) with our present experience of believing in the Lord without seeing him (“away from the Lord”). For now believers “live in the realm of faith,” trusting in the Lord whom they have not seen, but one day they will “live in the realm of sight.” This is same sort of contrast we see in John 20:29 and 1 Pet 1:8.

So although we are presently “away from the Lord,” this does not mean that we are cutoff from fellowship with the Lord. But for now we live “in the realm of faith,” which is no hindrance to communion with our Savior, though truly we look forward to the day when we will live “by sight.” Then, as the hymn writer puts it, our “faith shall be sight.”

How Can We Know God Preserved Scripture?

Webster defines corollary as “(1) a proposition inferred immediately from a proved proposition with little or no additional proof, (2a) something that naturally follows: result, and (2b) something that incidentally or naturally accompanies or parallels.” Thus to say that preservation is the corollary of inspiration means that preservation is a doctrine that can be “inferred immediately” from the “proved proposition” of inspiration; preservation “naturally follows” or “parallels” inspiration. To say that there is a correlation or parallel between inspiration and preservation does not reveal anything about the exact nature of that preservation. It is perfectly reasonable to assert a corollary between inspiration and preservation without asserting that preservation be in every way equal to inspiration—for example, that inerrant inspiration demands inerrant preservation. This is the fallacy of the KJV-only position, which takes the corollary to demand a kind of preservation that is perfect, or almost perfect, and uses that argument to restrict preservation to a specific translation (KJV).

A right understanding of the corollary suggests that there is no real purpose or value in inspiring a document that is not preserved. What, we might ask, would be the purpose of producing an authoritative record (inspiration) and letting it perish? Why, for instance, let Paul write an inspired letter to the Romans and then have it perish on the way to Rome? Of course, that did not happen, but could it have happened? If one denies a corollary between inspiration and preservation, Paul’s letter could have perished before it got to Rome. 

The purpose of inspiration was to produce Scripture (graphē, 2 Timothy 3:16), a written record, a deposit of divine truth for the readers, not the writer. Without preservation the purpose of inspiration would be invalidated. Since it was clearly God’s intention that Paul’s inspired letter to the Romans be read by the Romans—it could not have perished—there must have been a divine work of preservation at work for at least a few weeks or months until the letter was received by the Romans. This suggests that there is some degree of correlation between inspiration and preservation. And the letter to the Romans was not meant just for the Romans. No, Scripture was intended for just the original recipients—“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). Similarly, Paul warns the Corinthians using the example of Israel’s failure: “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come” (1 Corinthians 10:11). If the Old Testament Scriptures (“these things”) were “written down,” that is, inspired for the purpose of instructing future believers (“warnings for us”), that purpose for the inspired writings demands their preservation.

2 Extremes to Avoid for Evangelizing at Work

by Mark Snoeberger

I work in an almost exclusively Christian environment. With the exception of a few brief encounters with folks delivering packages, reading the gas meter, and such, my whole workday is spent with believers. I’m not the best person, I admit, to speak of sharing Christ in the workplace. Recent changes in my family’s situations, however, have left me thinking very hard about the topic, and I feel enormous pressure to offer them timely advice before their fresh opportunities deteriorate (as they so often do) into situations where opportunities for the Gospel have been effectively crushed.

In my experience, there are two major poles to avoid when answering this question. The first I’ll call the Christian Conquest approach. In this approach everyone around me is the enemy of Christ, and my sole purpose is do battle with them until they submit to Christ. To this end, I wear my Christianity on my sleeve: I post Bible verses all over my cubicle wall, hand out tracts liberally, tell everyone around me and especially under me that they must be born again, and start evangelistic conversations in any place and at any time. If a friendly group of co-workers asks me to come to the office party and share a few beers, I say, “No way! I don’t drink, and unless I absolutely have to, I avoid anybody who drinks because I’m a CHRISTIAN! Don’t ask me to hang out with you until you repent and join me at church.”

There’s a tiny part of me that admires a person like this, because he is willing to endure ridicule and social ostracism in order to make Christ known. And at the end of the day, so long as the Gospel is proclaimed, God sometimes uses this approach to save people. But that doesn’t mean it’s the best approach. Here’s why:

  • It’s unethical. If you’re being paid to make widgets and you decide to stop making widgets in order to share the gospel on company time, you are stealing from your employer, and that’s wrong. Just because the success of the Gospel is the Church’s highest mission does not mean that evangelism automatically trumps all of the believer’s other responsibilities (Titus 2:9).
  • It’s ineffective. Of course, just because something is ineffective does not make it wrong, but some things are ineffective because they are demonstrably wrong. And being a bad worker, and obnoxious person, or a hater crushes legitimate opportunities for the gospel (see, e.g., Matt 5:16; Titus 2:1–10; 1 Pet 3:1, 13–17). If your whole office regards you as snobbish and obnoxious, you are not being a good witness, no matter how many Bible verses are pasted on your wall (electronic wall or cubicle wall, it makes no difference).
  • It’s contrary to the essence of the Gospel. “Friendship with the world is enmity with God,” of course (1 John 2:15–17), and this must be remembered, but somehow that truth must be harmonized with the requirement to be the “friend of sinners” and even to “eat with them” (Matt 9:10ff; 11:19; etc.). Whatever our relationship to unbelievers is to be, it most emphatically is not hostility! We hate their corrupt garb, yes, but all the while we must show mercy (Jude 23).
  • It’s sometimes even illegal. If you are being paid to do civic services or provide civic instruction in the civic arena, and you decide to offer religious services/instruction instead, you just might be fired. And if you do, it won’t be because you’re suffering for Jesus; it will be because you didn’t do your job. More on this in my next post.
  • This goes to a deeper philosophical issue: this approach doesn’t have a good handle on what it means to live in God’s two “kingdoms.” Some things we do in life as members of human society, as image-bearers living out the dominion mandate; other things we do as members of local Christian societies, as ambassadors living out the Great Commission. And while these spheres don’t conflict, neither can we conflate them.

The second pole I’ll call the Christian Synthesis approach. Everyone around me is a victim of sin, and my goal is to relate with them until I start to rub off on them. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to share Christ, but that’s pretty awkward and off-putting, so I’ll be slow and subtle about it—so slow and so subtle that somehow it never happens. If a friendly group of co-workers asks me to come to the office party and share a few beers, I’ll go, but avoid getting tipsy by using some sort of lame medical excuse (or maybe I’ll blame the overbearing wife—that will get a good laugh and make me look relevant). If the topic of religion happens to come up, I’ll take them to an event at a relational, relevant church and hope the preacher gives a friendly, low-key Gospel message so I don’t have to do it. Realistically, though, it’s quite possible that religion will never come up in conversation—I might age out without anybody even knowing that I’m a Christian. Oh well, I tried.

The strength of this approach is that it takes seriously the expectations that Christians be the “friend of sinners” and even to “eat with them.” But there’s no antithesis—nothing at all that “sets Christ apart as Lord” or compels unbelievers to “ask the reason for the hope that I have” (1 Pet 3:15). It exemplifies Carson’s complaint that “to the degree that... Christianity has assimilated itself to the dominant ethos, reasons for anyone joining it are harder to come by” (Christ & Culture Revisited, 118) and suggests to thoughtful minds that there is no difference at all between unbelievers and believers save that believers are sinners saved by grace—an oft-repeated but savage lie. Instead it is a kind of “relational evangelism” that has never progresses past the “relationship.” And without a propositional Gospel, no matter how relational, it isn’t evangelism.

It seems to me that all believers are drawn to one of these two poles, and while my descriptions may be extreme, we all trend one way or the other. Some of us see the Christian’s role as standing against world. Some of us see the Christian’s role as being a part of the world. The truth is somewhere in between: Christ wants us—in fact he prays for us—to be in the world but not of it (John 17:15–16), a very delicate balance that can sometimes prove elusive. We’ll look at what this might look like in part 2 of this post.

6 Historical Positions on Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom

by Mark Snoeberger

A few months ago Bill Combs and I released a pair of blog posts that raised ire among some of our readers relative to the debate concerning divine sovereignty and human freedom. One of the barriers to fruitful dialogue that emerged in the ensuing discussion was one of definition—a failure to define historical positions in ways mutually acceptable to all participants in the debate. This failure has the potential to lead first to equivocation, then misrepresentation, followed by ad hominem attack, and even charges of heresy. This is unfortunate.

The following is a faithful attempt not (1) to debate the question or (2) to attach labels to people who don’t like to be labeled. Rather, it is an attempt to faithfully describe six key positions using historical descriptions (though not necessarily labels) that proponents of each position (whether historical or modern) can embrace:

  • A Pelagian is one who believes that man needs no assistance to come to God. By his own unaided power any man can avoid the pitfalls that ensnared Adam and generate all the faith and action necessary to follow Christ’s superior example and so be accepted by God. This belief was condemned as heresy at the 15th Council of Carthage in A.D. 418. This position is rare among evangelicals, and the label should not be assigned lightly.
  • A Semi-Pelagian is one who believes that every man, though weakened by the Fall, yet retains the ability, based on the power of choice granted him in the imago dei, to make a divinely unaided and a priori contribution of faith leading to his own justification. Any divine grace offered thereafter is truly grace, but grace of an a posteriori nature. This belief was condemned as heresy at the Second Council of Orange in A.D. 529.

NOTE: The term semi-Pelagian is unknown in antiquity, first appearing formally as a pejorative label for the 16th-century teachings of Luis de Molina, or what is sometimes known as Molinism—teachings that generally (though not perfectly) resemble the ancient position condemned at Orange. Some have suggested that the label Massilianism (a term that reflects the geographic center of the more ancient position) is more accurate, but it has not caught on. The result is a real historical position with definite modern representatives, but one with no label other than a pejorative that modern proponents of the position do not accept. This is a conundrum with no clear resolution; still, any suggestion that the historical position is imaginary because of the absence of a mutually agreeable label is unacceptable. The historical position described above does exist today, irrespective of the elusiveness of a label. The term should not be used, however (as it often is), in a historically inaccurate way to discredit those who hold to the Arminian position.

  • An Arminian is one who believes that man, though rendered totally depraved by the Fall, receives from God the non-efficacious power of alternative choice via prevenient grace either (1) at birth or (2) through the hearing of the Gospel. Thus aided by God, any man may, without compulsion, either reject or embrace Christ. If a man chooses to embrace Christ, this faith event triggers additional divine graces (the anachronistic grace of election based on God’s prior knowledge of the faith event, and the subsequent graces of justification and sanctification).

NOTE: Arminianism has never uniformly taught that the believer may lose his salvation. Instead, the question remains an open one, both historically (see the words of Arminius himself and the Five Articles of the Remonstrance) and also today (see the doctrinal standards of the modern-day Society for Evangelical Arminians and the representative words of Roger Olson, arguably the foremost Arminian of our day). All this goes to suggest that the question of eternal security should not be treated as a defining issue for the position here described. To do so without qualification is to introduce a red herring.

  • A Moderate Calvinist is one who believes that all men are rendered totally depraved by the Fall, but that God, in accordance with his pre-temporal and unconditional electing decree, issues efficacious grace to his elect alone so that they may then exercise faith unto a regeneration and justification that can never be forfeited.
  • A Full or Historic Calvinist is one who believes that all men are rendered totally depraved by the Fall, but that God, in accordance with his pre-temporal and unconditional electing decree, efficaciously regenerates his elect, creating “new creatures” who gladly exercise faith unto a justification that can never be forfeited.

NOTE: Calvinism has never uniformly taught a definite or “limited” atonement. The question remains an open one that has long been the topic of intramural debate among Calvinists (see, e.g., the historical canons of Dordt and this recent contribution to the debate). Again, all this goes to suggest that the extent of the atonement should not be treated as a defining issue in describing the Calvinist position.

  • A Hyper-Calvinist is one that holds to the immediately preceding position, but teaches additionally that (1) believers have no responsibility to indiscriminately call the lost to repent and believe in Christ for salvation and/or that (2) unbelievers have no duty to repent and believe in Christ for salvation.

NOTE: Few believers ascribe to the label hyper-Calvinist; like the label semi-Pelagian, it is uniformly pejorative. However, it is a historical position with modern proponents: the position cannot be rendered imaginary due to the elusiveness of a label. The term should not be used, however (as it often is), in a historically inaccurate way to discredit those who hold to the Calvinist position.

Conclusion: The question whether a modern position may be logically crafted so as to present a viable via media or whether elements of these historical positions may be so combined as to offer a viable hybrid position will be graciously left open today. What is hoped, however, is that the historical parameters of the debate have been faithfully delineated.

How Long, Lord? Will You Forget Me Forever?

by Bob McCabe

I have cried out with these words from Psalms 13:1 on a few occasions. How do I know that it is legitimate to apply this verse to my life? And what about other psalms? While there are many ways to determine this, one is to consider a psalm’s historical setting. In examining this, there are two areas to consider.

The first is from the superscriptions that begin a number of psalms. For example, Psalms 3, an individual lament, informs us of two things: the author—”a psalm of David”—and the historical setting—”when he fled from his son Absalom.” The second area would be from the other biblical data found within the psalm itself and from any other place in the canon. For example, Psalms 2:1-3 indicates that this royal psalm was written during a time of turmoil in Israel, and Acts 4:25 says that David was responsible for Psalms 2. The combined data shows that this psalm was written in a time of turmoil during the reign of David.

However, we should be careful not to become excessively precise in identifying the historical details when a psalm as well as any other portion of Scripture does not provide specific information. It appears that the authors of many psalms wanted their inscripturated poetry to be used by other worshippers so they purposely communicated on a more general level. This was part of the their intention. In this type of context, we need to be content with a general knowledge of the historical setting. The superscription for Psalms 13, an individual lament, states two items: its musician—“for the director of music”—and author—“a psalm of David.” Unlike the heading in Psalms 3, Psalm 13 provides no information about its historical setting, though the superscription suggests that this psalm was composed during David’s lifetime. The content of Psalms 13 gives more information. This psalm indicates that David was in a time of extreme spiritual agony where God’s face seemed hidden from him and his enemies would triumph over him. In this agony, David prays to God and turns in faith to focus on God’s unfailing love (Psalms 13:5). In the end, he will be able to sing God’s praises about his goodness (Psalms 13:6). As the content of this psalm suggests, the details of this psalm could have taken place a number of different times in David’s life. He wrote this lament psalm in a generalized manner so that it could be used by other struggling worshippers like myself. In the final analysis, we can use this individual lament to guide us to rejoice in God’s goodness and his unfailing love.

Biblical Reasons to Believe that the Creation Days were 24-Hour Periods

by Mark Snoeberger

When Justin Taylor released a blog entry last Wednesday defending a non-literal use of days in Genesis 1, and thus suggesting at least the possibility that the universe is quite ancient, both Ben Edwards and I sat down, without consulting, to write responses. While identical in ideology, our approaches were different enough, I think to merit posting both. Below, then, is a point-by-point answer to Taylor’s major arguments followed by my own counterargument in favor of 24-hour days.

Taylor’s article begins with five alleged premises/presuppositions (appearing below in bold font style) of young-earth creationists (YECs). These I will address briefly:

  • Genesis 1:1 is not the actual act of creation but rather a summary of or title over Genesis 1:2–2:3. Mostly False. While some YECs see Genesis 1:1 as a summary for the whole chapter, most do not. Instead, we see Genesis 1:1 as a description of the very first “actual event of creation,” ex nihilo, of the original raw materials of the universe. This event happened, we argue on Day 1, with vv. 3ff functioning as a detail of God’s manipulation of those materials. Indeed, a quick summary of YEC materials will divulge that the summary/titular view of Genesis 1:1–2 is held in contempt by a great many YECs because of its association with the old Gap Theory.
  • The creation week of Genesis 1:2–2:3 is referring to the act of creation itself. True. But it seems to me that the burden of proof here rests with those who say that the creation week of Genesis 1:2–2:3 is not “referring to the act of creation itself.”
  • Each “day” (Heb. yom) of the creation week is referring to a 24-hour period of time (reinforced by the statement in Exodus 20:11). True, and see below for a defense of this claim. Each of the ten uses of yom in Genesis 1 (though not each use of yom in the OT) fits the qualifications detailed below for a literal day.
  • An old-earth geology would necessarily entail macroevolution, hominids, and animal death before the Fall—each of which contradicts what Scripture tells us. Mostly true. In theory one could hold to geological evolution without biological or human evolution, but this is rare. The critical concerns for the YEC are (1) that any old-earth geology model that uses evolutionary explanations of the fossil record contained in the geological strata to suggest animal death before the fall contradicts what Scripture tells us (Gen 1:31; Rom 8:18–22); and (2) that any suggestion of hominid death before the fall is not merely troubling, but catastrophic to the Christian faith (Rom 5).
  • The approximate age of the earth can be reconstructed backward from the genealogical time-markers in Genesis. True. And I appreciate the qualifier “approximate,” because it is very important to a lot of us.

The article then turns to Taylor’s five reasons (again in bold) why the days of Genesis 1 are not necessarily literal. I will now address these in order.

  • Genesis 1:1 Describes the Actual Act of Creation Out of Nothing and Is Not a Title or a Summary.

Agreed. As a YEC, I like this statement very much. But I would add an important qualification: Genesis 1:1 tells us that this actual act of creation occurred in the opening moments of Day 1 of the creation week and out of nothing. Verse two (commencing with an explanatory waw) then details the original appearance of those materials, and the rest of the chapter (with nearly every verse introduced by a waw consecutive, the standard marker of narrative sequence) detailing the divine manipulation of those raw materials into the universe as we know it.

Which brings me then to several objections to Taylor’s fuller explanation:

(1) That the verb “created” in Genesis 1:1 is in the perfect tense is very true. That “when a perfect verb is used at the beginning of a unit in Hebrew narrative, it usually functions to describe an event that precedes the main storyline” is less defensible. The perfect tense is by far the most common tense used in Hebrew and as such carries very little exegetical freight (think the aorist in Greek). Having said this, the likeliest explanation of the verb is that it details an event that is actually part of the biblical story line, not an undefined precedent to the storyline that stands temporally outside of it. See below.

(2) I also disagree that Genesis 1:3–2:3 represents a “highly patterned structure of forming and filling” (informed readers will recognize here the language of the highly inventive “framework theory” popular today). Instead, this chapter is, in terms of its linguistic features, a very mundane and simply structured piece of Hebrew narrative not unlike most of the rest of the book. All the syntactical and rhetorical features of this chapter point routinely to a narrative sequence of consecutive days—days that must necessarily occur in immediate succession for the very survival of the unfolding universe.

  • The Earth, Darkness, and Water Are Created Before “The First Day.”

Building on his assumption, above, that Genesis 1:1–2 details the background to the creative week, Taylor’s article now clearly asserts that light, darkness, earth, and water existed before the creation week (and apparently a long time before, in order to accommodate the assured results of science). However, if, as I have argued in point (1), Genesis 1:1–2 details the actual creation of the unformed and unfilled materials that occurred on Day 1, this argument fails.

Who is right? Well, Exodus 20:11 gives us a very clear answer: “In six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them.” There could be no plainer rebuttal of Taylor’s affirmation: the heavens and the earth and the seas were not created “before the first day,” but rather on one of those six days, viz., the first.

Taylor’s arguments that (1) light existed before the celestial beings and (2) reached earth immediately are thorny ones for which YECs do not have a unified answer, but few see these as serious problems. In answer to the first problem some YECs argue a temporary light source or light sourced in God himself. Ultimately the debate is incidental. After all, God hears without ears and sees without eyes, so it is not hard for us to extrapolate light without a sun. In answer to the second problem some suggest that God created with apparent age and others that the speed of light has slowed since the creation week. Again, however, this is an intramural and incidental debate. God is a supernatural God who makes bread appear instantly without growing the grain, milling it, or baking it; likewise, making mature light is not difficult for our supernatural and omnipotent God.

  •  The Seventh Day Is Not 24 Hours Long

Sure it is. Miles Van Pelt’s comments aside, it would appear that the argument from Exodus 20:11 is unassailable. The Israelites were to work six ordinary days and rest for one ordinary day, just as God created in six ordinary days and rested for one ordinary day—one that started at evening Friday and ended the same time on the following day. That the original Sabbath, by analogy, points to a greater rest for the people of God (Heb 10 etc.) in no way suggests that the Sabbath template itself was itself a “greater day.” Admittedly, there is no “evening-morning” clause used of the seventh day in Genesis 2, but there is no syntactical reason forthcoming to believe that it was anything other than an ordinary day.

  • The “Day” of Genesis 2:4 Cannot Be 24 Hours Long.

True. And you’ll not find a YEC who affirms otherwise. Some will be astonished by this, no doubt, but we young-earth creations really have noticed Genesis 2:4 before today, and our answer is long-standing and well developed—if only our detractors cared to read rather than assume our arguments. The YEC argument is not an unqualified affirmation that the word yom always refers to a 24-hour day. If one of us were to make such an argument, then our old-earth brothers would have good reason to snicker. But we don’t say this. And so I beg the old-earth community to have the integrity to stop rehearsing this silly strawman as though it were a legitimate argument.

The qualified argument that YECs use is instead this: The Hebrew word yom, when cast in the singular and as a non-compound grammatical structure (as it does hundreds of times in the Hebrew OT), has uniform reference to a 24-hour day.

We fully appreciate the fact that the semantic range of yom exceeds literal 24-hour days, and that Genesis 2:4 offers syntactical features that point to a broader use of yom. This in no way threatens the young-earth argument.

Genesis 2:5–7 is a difficult passage with many options for interpretation, as all versed in the discussion will admit. However, the unabated series of waw consecutives in a Toledot genre seems to cast some doubt on Futado’s understanding of this pericope as a “topical” reenactment of Genesis 1. Instead, a very good case can (and has) been made that these verses offer a narrative detailing the establishment specifically of the Garden of Eden, and not of the earth generally (see McCabe).

This brings me, finally, to five positive arguments why we ought to think of the days of Genesis 1 as literal, several of them distilled from the material above:

  1. The days of Genesis 1 are literal, 24-hour days because when one examines the many other singular uses of yom in a non-compound grammatical structure throughout the OT, the idea of a literal day is nearly universal.
  2. The days of Genesis 1 are literal, 24-hour days because they are accompanied by ordinals (first, second, third, etc.). Of the more than 150 uses of yom with an ordinal in the rest of the Hebrew OT, just one (Hos 6:2) refers to something other than a literal day.
  3. The days of Genesis 1 are literal, 24-hour days because of the use of the qualifier “evening and morning” throughout Genesis 1. It seems to go without saying that while literal days have mornings and evenings, figurative days do not.
  4. The days of Genesis 1 are literal, 24-hour days because anything other than literal days renders the comparison with Exodus 20:11 a matter of equivocation. Israel worked six literal days and rested for one literal day. God created for six literal days and rested for one literal day. The idea of God creating via a six-point framework and then resting eternally does not seem to offer much of a precedent for Israel’s seven-day workweek.
  5. Finally, and more historical/theological than exegetical in nature, the days of Genesis 1 are literal, 24-hour days because this has been the overwhelmingly majority plain reading of the text throughout church history—at least until it came into conflict with the “assured results of modern science.” The old-earth idea of non-literal days is without serious doubt a product not of grammatical-historical exegesis, but of the accommodation of the Bible to the assured results of modern science as independent, norming factors in biblical interpretation. Old-earth creationism is at its heart a blunt denial, I would argue, of the Bible as the norma Normans non normata.

Of course, we must deal with one last objection. There are noble figures in church history that expressed doubt about the literal nature of the Genesis 1 days (though, interestingly, Taylor cited just one who lived prior to the modern period). Augustine is Taylor’s lone exception, and while others might admittedly be cited, Augustine remains a favorite go-to source for old-earth creationists. I’d like to challenge this, not because I doubt the old-earth account of what Augustine believed, but because his argument is fueled neither by exegesis nor modernist principles, but by theology. Specifically, he doubted that that an infinite God would ever need to work for six days to accomplish anything (much less rest), and suggested that these were instances of anthropomorphic condescension: God created his universe instantaneously, but cast the event in the anthropomorphic language of the passage of time for the understanding of finite humans. In other words, while Augustine and Machen both doubted that the days Genesis 1 were to be understood as literal, the basis of their respective arguments is worlds apart, diminishing their value as parallel sources.

Finally, I would like to point our readers to two very competent defenses of this position with considerably greater detail, one by Bob McCabe and another by Gerhard Hasel.

3 Reasons Why Some Christians Avoid Church

by John Aloisi

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about the myth of unchurched Christians. Unfortunately the reality is that there are a good number of professing Christians who either shy away from church membership or avoid church attendance altogether. The problem of professing Christians who neglect church involvement is sadly not a myth.

There are a number of excuses that such professing believers give for their lack of church involvement. Here are three that I’ve heard:

  1. “I’ve been hurt by a previous church (or church leader).”

Sadly, this reason is often grounded in reality. Many people have been emotionally torn up by the actions of other people. Churches are full of sinners—hopefully, redeemed sinners, but sinners nonetheless. It should come as no surprise that sinners sin, and although all sin is ultimately against God, human sin often has harmful consequences in the lives of people who have been sinned against. But someone’s sin against you is not a good excuse for you to sin against God by ignoring his plan for this dispensation which is for his people to identify with a local church.

  1. “The church is full of hypocrites.”

Yes, local churches contain people who live hypocritically. To some extent, every person that acknowledges the lordship of Christ but continues to sin is acting hypocritically. This was a problem in the first century, and it remains a problem in the twenty-first as well. As long as believers possess a sin nature, they will sin against their Lord and Savior, and such sin runs contrary to their profession. However, this isn’t a good reason for avoiding the church, for few things could be more hypocritical than professing to love Christ while refusing to identify with his people in a local expression of the body of Christ.

  1. “I can worship God better on my own.”

Some professing believers speak of being “churchfree” or “satellite Christians.” They feel that because they can approach God directly through Christ, they do not need to be connected to a local church. In fact, some profess that their relationship with God has actually improved by walking away from the church. But if God’s plan for this age involves his people assembling together for worship, fellowship, and mutual accountability, then it doesn’t ultimately matter how one feels. The quality of one’s worship is not completely separate from affections or “feelings,” but feelings cannot override commands. One cannot worship God better by ignoring his instructions and the model that is pretty clearly laid out in the NT.

Sometimes these three excuses are used together, as if one could build a cumulative case for why he or she doesn’t need to be connected to a local church body. I’ve provided only the simplest replies to these excuses. Here are a few NT passages so-called unchurched Christians must wrestle with if they wish to continue excusing their lack of local church involvement:

Acts 16:5: “So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.”

1 Corinthians 5:2, 4–5, and 12–13: “Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this?… So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan…. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked person from among you.’”

1 Timothy 3:14–15: “Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.”

Hebrews 10:24–25: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

Hebrews 13:7, 17, and 24: “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith…. Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account…. Greet all your leaders and all the Lord’s people.”

See also Acts 15:41; 1 Cor 1:2; 1 Cor 4:17; 1 Cor 7:17; 2 Cor 8:1–24; Gal 1:2; 1 Tim 5:17; Titus 1:5–9; Jas 5:14; and 1 Pet 5:1–4 among others.

On Reading Old Books: A Few Suggestions from the Fourth Century

by John Aloisi

A couple of weeks ago I suggested that believers would benefit from occasionally reading older books. However, just because a work was written in a previous era does not mean that it’s necessarily worth reading today. In fact, far more old books exist than any one person could ever hope to read. So assuming the reader is convinced that some older books may be worth reading, where does one begin?

Below I’m going to recommend four books that were written in the fourth century. These books are selected from a variety of genres. Two are doctrinal treatises. One is a book on parenting. And the fourth is an autobiography of sorts. Each of these works is readily available, fairly short, and definitely worth reading.

Athanasius, On the Incarnation (paper, Kindle, online)

Athanasius is remembered as the figure who defended the full deity of Christ at the Council of Nicaea and who stood against the Arians during the tumultuous decades that followed. Some years prior to the council, Athanasius penned a little book explaining and defending the truth that God has manifested himself to humanity in the person of Christ.

An excerpt: “It was our sorry case that caused the Word to come down, our transgression that called out His love for us, so that He made haste to help us and to appear among us. It is we who were the cause of His taking human form, and for our salvation that in His great love He was both born and manifested in a human body” (1.4).

Basil, On the Holy Spirit (paper, Kindle, online)

Written by one of the great Cappadocian fathers, Basil’s book is the first full-length doctrinal discussion of the person and work of the Holy Spirit. In the decades following the Council of Nicaea, the debate gradually shifted from the deity of the Son to the deity of the Spirit. Basil’s work was instrumental in turning the tide back toward a more biblical understanding of the Holy Spirit.

An excerpt: “Through the Holy Spirit comes our restoration to Paradise, our ascension to the Kingdom of heaven, our adoption as God’s sons, our freedom to call God our Father, our becoming partakers of the grace of Christ, being called children of light, sharing in eternal glory, and in a word, our inheritance of the fullness of blessing, both in this world and the world to come” (15.36).

Chrysostom, Vainglory and the Right Way for Parents to Bring up Children (pdf)

You probably won’t agree with everything Chrysostom has to say about bringing up children, but it is both refreshing and helpful to read a work on the subject that pre-dates Dr. Spock, Gary Ezzo, and the rise of the “Tiger Mother.” Written more than 1600 years ago, Chrysostom wrestles with the enduring question of how to raise children who love the Lord and live wisely in a wicked world.

An excerpt: “The man-child has lately been born. His father thinks of every means, not whereby he may direct the child’s life wisely, but whereby he may adorn it and clothe it in fine raiment and golden adornments. Why dost thou this, O man?… Implanting in him from the first an excessive love of wealth and teaching him to be excited by things of no profit, why dost thou plot even greater treachery against him?… The girl who has been raised in her mother’s quarters to be excited by female ornaments, when she leaves her father’s house will be a sore vexation to her bridegroom and a greater burden to him than the tax collectors…. Raise up an athlete for Christ and teach him though he is living in the world to be reverent from his earliest youth” (16, 17, 19).

Augustine, Confessions (paper, Kindle, online)

The longest of these four works, Augustine’s Confessions should, in my opinion, be read at least once by every Christian. Augustine was one of the most brilliant thinkers in the history of the church, and this book contains his worshipful reflections on God, life, and eternity.

An excerpt: “You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you” (1.1).

Josephus (not Luke) Misdated Quirinius’s Census

by Jared Compton

John Rhoads argues in a recent article that it was Josephus, not Luke, who misdated Quirinius’s census. The gist of his piece is that the Judas whom Josephus associates with a tax revolt in A.D. 6 (Ant. 18.4–23) is the same Judas whom Josephus says was killed a decade or so earlier by Herod the Great (Ant. 17.148–67). Rhoads offers two main arguments in support of this thesis. First, he argues that the slightly different names given both Judases (Judas, the son of Saripheus, and Judas the Galilean) are actually two ways of referring to the same individual. Second, he argues that Judas’s tax revolt occurred during Herod’s reign, not following it. Rhoads’s arguments are a bit complicated, so I’ve tried to sort them out below. If he’s right, then many recent attempts to exonerate Luke are largely unnecessary, since Luke doesn’t need to be harmonized with Josephus. Whether or not he is right, however, is a question I’ll have to leave for another day (or, more likely, someone else).

Argument #1: Judas the son of Saripheus = Judas the Galilean.

In Ant. 17.147–67, Josephus describes the activity of Judas, the son of Saripheus, while in the parallel accounts in Wars (1.648), he’s called the son of Sepphoraeos. Alternate readings of the Antiquities account, however, lead Rhoads to conclude that the Wars account is the more accurate of the two. This suggests that Judas, the son of Saripheus/Sepphoraeos was likely the son of a well-known inhabitant of Sepphoris, the capital of Galilee (cf. Ναζωραῖος in Luke 18:37)—perhaps the Galilean bandit Hezekiah, who is identified as Judas the Galilean’s father in another place (Ant. 17.269–85; cf. cf. Schürer 1:381). In short, Judas, the son of a well-known Sepphorian in Ant. 17.148–67 is, plausibly, Judas the Galilean in Ant. 18.4–23 (cf. Wars 2.118). What further adds to the plausibility of this identification is the fact that in both accounts Judas is described as a teacher, surrounded by disciples, and aided by another rabbi.

Argument #2: The tax revolt occurred during Herod’s reign.

Coponius. Rhoads argues that Josephus incorrectly assumed that Coponius’s presence, alongside Quirinius, meant that Quirinius’s census took place in A.D. 6, since that was when Coponius became prefect of Judea (see Ant. 18.1–23; Wars 2.117–18). The problem with this, however, was that Coponius could not have been prefect at this time since Josephus’s narrative presents him as subservient to Quirinius. Quirinius, e.g., is said to have been of consular rank, whereas Coponius, along with others who were sent with Quirinius, was of the lower, equestrian rank. Had Coponius been prefect, he would have answered only to the governor of Syria, which Quirinius was not. Quirinius, rather, is described as a special imperial envoy, in something of a complementary role to Syria’s governor (a legate juridicus; governor = legati pro praetore). What’s more, Josephus says that in his administrative capacity Coponius had “dominion over the Jews,”  which would overstate his jurisdiction in A.D. 6, since it did not include Antipas and Philip’s territories. If Coponius was indeed active in Judea prior to his prefecture, then this probably also explains the otherwise anomalous reference to his presence at the trial of Herod’s son Antipater in 5 B.C. (Ant. 17.134 v.l.).

Sabinus. Rhoads argues that Sabinus, who was present in Jerusalem at the time of Herod’s death, is another name for Quirinius (see Ant. 17.221, 18.1–2; Wars 2.16). Both were special envoys of the emperor, both were of consular rank, both were concerned with Judea’s tax revenue, and both were in charge of settling Herod’s estate. Rhoads suggests that both names may have been cognomens (i.e., an extra name—often a nickname—given to a Roman citizen), since such names were often ethnically based. Quirinius, e.g., may have been what the Romans called Publius Sulpicius, as a result of the deity associated with his Sabinian heritage (i.e., Quirinus), a heritage Rhoads infers from the fact that Quirinius was born in Lavinium, a city SW of Rome that had a significant Sabine population. Sabinus, on the other hand, may have been how he was known among the Semites of Herod’s court.

Joazar. Rhoads argues that the high priest removed immediately following Herod’s death is the high priest Joazar who was removed by Quirinius immediately following Judas’s tax revolt (see Ant. 17.164b, 206, 339b; 18.26b). Rhoads suggests that Joazar was appointed high priest by Herod after Judas’s armory raid, not after his eagle incident, as Josephus assumes. This means that Joazar was high priest during Judas’s tax revolt and eagle incident/execution, which followed. Rhoads then notes that the high priest deposed during the time of Herod’s funeral and at the behest of Judas’s followers corresponds with Josephus’s reports elsewhere of Archelaus’s removal, shortly after Herod’s death, of the high priest Joazar and with his report of Quirinius’s removal of a priest with the same name following Judas’s tax revolt. In short, Joazar was priest during Judas’s revolt against the tax administered by Coponius and Sabinus/Quirinius during the latter years of Herod’s reign.

As I noted earlier, I’ll leave off a full-scale review for the time being. I did, however, want to conclude by noting a handful of lingering questions that I suspect will need to be part of any fuller engagement of Rhoads’s thesis: (1) Why does Josephus say Joazar was succeeded by two different persons if Joazar was appointed and deposed just once (see Ant. 17.399b and 18.26b)? (2) If Joazar was, in fact, the priest deposed by Archelaus to satisfy his followers’ demands (Ant. 17.206), why does Josephus’s other report of this incident, which explicitly mentions Joazar, say Archelaus deposed him for “having risen-up with the partisans” (Ant. 17.339b)? (3) Why does the catalogue of disturbances in 17.269–85 fail to mention the eagle incident, especially if, as Rhoads argues, it followed the armory raid incident?

Note: For another approach to the Quirinius incident, see “Once More: Quirinius’s Census.” And, for the historicity of another part of the nativity narrative, see “Star of Wonder, Star of Light.”

What’s Wrong with Justification by Works?

by Jared Compton

In Gal 3:10–4:7 Paul gives two reasons why works will not justify. One the one hand, he says that justification by works would change the terms of God’s covenant with Abraham. And, Paul adds, one simply isn’t allowed to do that sort of thing with an established covenant (see Gal 3:15–18). On the other hand, he says—or, at the very least, implies—that justification by works is impossible, since one would have to perfectly obey the law in its entirety to be justified (see Gal 3:10). Some think this second point misrepresents Judaism. After all, Paul’s insistence on perfect obedience fails to take on board the law’s own provision for imperfection: the sacrificial system. Has Paul (deliberately?) misrepresented Judaism or did Judaism, as Paul implies, actually require perfect obedience from those who wanted to live (Gal 3:12)? Tom Schreiner nicely slices the onion, noting that “[p]erfect obedience was not required under the Sinai covenant, for the law provided via sacrifices for those who transgressed. In Paul’s view, however (see Gal 3:15–4:7), the Sinai covenant was no longer in force. Therefore, those who observe circumcision and the law to obtain justification (Gal 5:2–4) are turning the clock backwards in salvation history” (Galatians, 213, emphasis added; cf. also n. 65), and are doing so without the benefit of the now-fulfilled sacrificial system. Thus, to borrow E. P. Sanders’ famous (and reductionistic) line, “This is what Paul finds wrong in Judaism: it is not Christianity.”

Note: For Schreiner’s resolution to the tension his solution creates with Paul’s first observation noted above (i.e., inheritance not through obedience but promise), see his comments on pp. 231–33, where he distinguishes between the promises (inheritance) of the Mosaic covenant (see, e.g., “land,” 233) and of the Abrahamic covenant (i.e., “final inheritance,” 231; salvation, 233). One came through obedience; the other through promise (233).

What was the "Star of Wonder, Star of Light"?

by Jared Compton

One of the major “characters” in the Christmas story is—perhaps surprisingly—a star, one that some wise men follow from the East all the way to Bethlehem. The star makes a brief appearance in Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 2:2-10), before passing off the scene (and into nearly every Christmas carol). Have you ever wondered what it was the Magi saw? After all, I doubt they left on holiday every time they saw something peculiar in the sky. (Otherwise, the adjective “wise” would be rather ill-fitting, wouldn’t it?) Well, as far as I can tell, there are four common explanations. First, some think the wise men saw a supernova that left a trail of light in the sky for several days—long enough, at least, to guide the wise men’s journey. There are Chinese and Korean records that indicate that this sort of thing occurred around the time of Jesus’ birth (5/4 B.C.). Second, some think the wise men followed the blazing tail of a comet. (Whether the tail was as big as a kite, is, of course, another matter altogether.) Scientists note that Halley’s comet was active at this time, though probably appearing a few years too early to be a real contender (12–11 B.C.). Third, some suggest the wise men saw a planetary conjunction, something that occurs when two or more planets approach each other’s orbits. Johannes Kepler (1571–1630) noted that a rare triple conjunction of Jupiter, Saturn and Mars occurred in 7–6 B.C. Other records indicate that a conjunction of Jupiter and Venus occurred in 3 B.C., near the luminous star Regulus, and still others that one between Jupiter and Venus took place in 2 B.C. In fact, the latter conjunction is said to have occurred right over Bethlehem on December 25! Fourth, some suggest the wise men followed something that was, in the final analysis, simply miraculous.

So, which of these did the wise men see and follow? Was it a supernova, a comet, a planetary conjunction or something miraculous? Matthew gives us a hint when he says that the star “went ahead of [the wise men] until it stopped over the place where [Jesus] was” (Matthew 2:9). In other words, as one author puts it, “The star is not described realistically, i.e., as astronomically plausible.” If Matthew means to tell us what actually happened, then we’re probably looking at a miracle here. If, however, as some suggest, Matthew invented this bit about the star to add significance to Jesus’ birth—perhaps to make sure his audience knew Jesus fulfills Numbers 24:17—then the historicity of the account doesn’t matter quite as much as what it tells us about Jesus. What points away from this is that Matthew probably would not have invented a story about Gentile astrologers (!) identifying and worshipping Israel’s messiah. In short, what the wise men saw and followed was indeed a star of wonder, guiding them—and now us—to the perfect light.

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