by Jared Compton
Ben Witherington—evangelicalism’s equivalent of the prolific Jacob Neusner—wrote a little article a while back on the influence of Galatians on Hebrews, which I’d been meaning to read in the course of my work on Hebrews. Well, just last week, I happened to be lecturing on both Galatians and Hebrews. I remembered Witherington’s piece and set aside a bit of time to see what he had to say, esp. since I’d noticed a few parallels of my own while working through both texts. Essentially, Witherington tries to explain why Hebrews shows up next to Galatians in some of the early canon lists (e.g., in the Sahidic NT). He thinks the order can be explained by the fact that the two documents share many similar features, from, e.g., rare vocabulary (e.g., πηλίκος in Galatians 6:11 and Hebrews 7:4), to the use of similar traditions (cf. Galatians 3:19 with Hebrews 2:2), a similar play on the ambivalence of διαθήκη (“covenant” or “will”; cf. Galatians 3:15-17 with Hebrews 9:15-17—I think he’s wrong about Hebrews here), and, above all, to their similar emphasis on Jesus’ faithfulness (cf. Galatians 2:16; Galatians 3:22 with, e.g. Hebrews 12:2—I’m not sure about the way he reads Galatians here). Witherington’s conclusion—“the author of Hebrews may well have been part of the larger Pauline circle”—however, wasn’t as interesting to me as was his failure to note what I had thought was the most conspicuous similarity between the letters (though see the hint on 148): both marginalize the law-covenant with a salvation-historical hermeneutic.
So, e.g., in Galatians, Paul says law-keeping cannot be what grants “full” membership in Abraham’s family, as his opponents’ insisted, because the terms of family membership had been established nearly five centuries before the law was given and everyone knows you can’t add to the terms once they’ve been established (Galatians 3:15-18). You can find Paul making a similar argument in one or two other places in the letter as well (see, e.g., Galatians 3:6-9 [cf. Romans 4:10]; Galatians 3:19-25; also Galatians 4:1-7). Hebrews makes a similar play, arguing, e.g., that since the promise of a Melchizedekian priest (Psalms 110:4) followed the establishment of the Levitical priesthood, this suggests that the Levitical priesthood was, at the least, provisional (Hebrews 7:11-12). After all, why talk about another priestly order if the first one was getting the job done? Hebrews makes similar arguments in a handful of other places as well, esp. in Hebrews 8:7-13, where the author calls attention to Jeremiah’s promise of a new covenant. New makes the other one old.
The importance of all this is that both Paul and Hebrews imply that one key difference between early Jewish and early Christian exegesis of the OT was that early Christians paid attention not simply, e.g., to the amount of revelation given a certain topic, but, more fundamentally, to the location of the revelation in the Bible’s story-line. (On this point, see Carson’s piece here, esp. pp. 411–13, 27–28.)
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 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).
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).
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).
We’ve all heard it, and most of us have either thought it or even prayed it. “God, if You [do this thing I currently want], then I’ll [do something I probably should do but haven’t].” We find ourselves in a situation we don’t like or lacking something we crave, yet we feel incapable of attaining our desire. Thus, we turn to someone we believe is capable of accomplishing what we want and hope God will show us favor.
But we understand how life works. People don’t just give away favors. They want something in return. So we begin to barter with others when we are seeking their favors. We started doing this when we were young (e.g., trading your sandwich for your friend’s crackers). The other person has something we want—either an item (good) or the ability to accomplish something (service)—so we offer him something we think he wants. In our society the most common bartering item is money—you give me something and I give you money in exchange. But we occasionally offer other goods or services (e.g., housing and food in exchange for childcare; use of vehicles in exchange for professional work, etc.). In each situation, the offer is successful only if both parties have something the other lacks or needs.
But there’s a problem when we try to barter with God. He doesn’t lack or need anything! The truth that God does not need anything is part of a larger truth of God’s self-sufficiency or aseity. This means that God’s existence comes from Himself, thus He is not dependent on anyone or anything else. We as humans derive our existence from God and live continually in dependence on Him (Col 1:17), but God exists in Himself and needs nothing (Exod 3:14; Acts 17:24-25).
Most pagan gods respond to the barter system. You offer sacrifices to a god, and he responds to help you in the way that he can. Thus, you worship the god of travel, and he in return gives you safe travel; you bring a sacrifice to the god of fertility, and he makes you fruitful; or you give to the god of war to make your army successful.
The Christian God is nothing like these pagan gods, which means we have nothing to offer God that would make Him respond by giving us a favor.
Why does it matter whether or not we can barter with God? Because if we can’t barter with Him, that means we have to accept His terms. We can’t entice Him with our offers. We can only accept His offers. He is not impressed by our promises of service or obedience and will not respond to them. But He, of His own will, determined to offer us a relationship with Him as a gift on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ. We must submit ourselves fully to Him, offering our lives to Jesus as Lord. And He promises to give us eternal life—a relationship with Him.
God is the one who establishes what He will do and what we will do, and we either accept or reject those terms. But we can’t try to change the terms to something we prefer—you can’t barter with God.
American culture is fascinated with celebrities. American evangelicalism, as a subset of American culture, is too. For some reason, there remains a persistent belief that the public testimony of a well known athlete or entertainer will be more effective than that of a regular Joe.
I’ll concede that for the value of gaining attention, a high profile name works better than an unknown. People will watch, for example, Mark Driscoll interview Russell Wilson because he is a pro quarterback who won a Super Bowl. I get that. And whenever a clear word of testimony about Jesus Christ is given, I rejoice.
What concerns me is the tendency to think that having someone like Russell Wilson give his testimony is more powerful than a regular Joe. The thought seems to be that since Russell Wilson, or some other big name personality, has more influence, his testimony will be more likely to convert people. Without even recognizing it, we shift the power away from the message (the gospel) to the messenger, from what is being said to who is saying it.
This is the Corinthian problem repackaged for the 21st century. They were about big names and making the good news look more attractive. And the biggest names in our culture belong to athletes and entertainers, so evangelicals seem to be in love with these high profile testimonies. The slightest sign of “faith” becomes an instant point of celebration.
Please don’t misunderstand my point. I sincerely rejoice in anybody’s testimony of saving faith in Jesus Christ, and I have no desire to minimize the genuine faith and testimony of celebrities. The ground, though, at the foot of the Cross is level, so I have no desire to elevate them either. The salvation of any person is cause for great rejoicing in Jesus Christ, not the popularity of the one saved.
While it is true that the credibility of the messenger has an impact on the message, being popular or well known isn’t the same as being credible. High profile testimonies are more like celebrity endorsements in a commercial than they are expert testimonies in a court room. How does playing football or being a former child actor make you any more credible on the claims of the gospel?
Celebrity draws attention, and I suppose there is something to be gained by getting attention to an important message. As long as the method used to gain attention doesn’t obscure the message. Sometimes the practical outcome looks more like, “You should become a Christian because [insert celebrity name] is a Christian!” The content of the gospel is muted because the packaging gets all of the attention.
We need to hear and heed the words of Paul:
“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’” (1 Cor 1:26-31)
Let’s not try to outsmart God. It is the message of the Cross that saves and God’s chief means of glorifying Himself is through simple, common believers who have been graciously redeemed by Him.
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.