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.

3 Differences Between Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism

by John Aloisi

In the West, most Protestants are at least somewhat familiar with Roman Catholicism. Many of us have Roman Catholic friends, neighbors, and even family members. And many believers have been saved out of Roman Catholicism. Much less familiar to most westerners is the other main branch of non-Protestant Christianity—Eastern Orthodoxy.

Many differences exist between Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. Some of these are more significant than others, and many of these ostensible differences belie an underlying similarity between the two church traditions. I’d like to briefly discuss three areas in which Eastern Orthodoxy differs somewhat from Roman Catholicism while reflecting a common disagreement with evangelical Protestantism. These areas have to do with the Lord’s Supper, the use of images or icons, and religious authority.

The Lord’s Supper

1. When one walks into an Eastern Orthodox church, one of the first things a non-Orthodox person will notice is a large screen or iconostasis at the front of the nave or auditorium. This often beautiful structure is not merely decorative. It serves an important purpose within the Orthodox system by marking off the boundary between the common area and the sanctuary. Whereas the Roman Catholic mass is usually celebrated in full view of the congregants, Orthodox priests pray over the elements on the altar which is located in the sanctuary behind the iconostasis and therefore set apart from the congregants. The sanctuary is sometimes compared to the “Holy of Holies” in the Jewish Temple. Another difference between the Roman Catholic practice and that of the Orthodox has to do with the reception of the elements themselves. Whereas Roman Catholic laity may only partake of the bread, in the Orthodox service congregants partake of both elements (wine and bread).

On the other hand, both Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches view the Lord’s Supper as a Eucharist, a sacrament, and a sacrifice. In general, the Orthodox are less interested in precise theological theories, and so they do not usually use the term transubstantiation. However, for all intents and purposes the Orthodox Church holds to a form of transubstantiation. They see the elements of the Eucharist as becoming the real body and blood of Christ, and they see it as having sacramental value in the sense of providing reconciliation or healing (Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church, new ed., 283–85; John McGuckin, The Orthodox Church, 291). In both church traditions, the Eucharist is not simply a memorial or even an ordinance involving the spiritual presence of Christ. It is a means by which one enters into the sacrifice of Christ in some (rather mysterious) way.

Icons

2. Another thing one is quickly struck with when walking into an Orthodox church is the pervasive presence and use of icons. In some cases, the beauty of such icons is awe-inspiring, and in fact, that seems to be the point.

However, the icons in an Orthodox church are usually quite different from those found in Roman Catholic churches. Whereas Catholic churches often include statues and carved or otherwise 3-dimensionally shaped crucifixes, within the Orthodox tradition religious imagery is carefully controlled and for the most part is produced on a flat surface using paint or something similar.

As in Roman Catholicism, within Orthodoxy icons are viewed as means that can assist people in their worship. Both traditions make use of images or icons as aids to worship. And so, churchgoers in both traditions often venerate and pray to images of Jesus as well the apostles and other saints. Both church traditions also make use of relics for similar purposes.

As a side note, with just a little background outsiders can learn to distinguish between a Roman Catholic church and an Orthodox church based on the appearance of the interior of the building by looking for an iconostasis and/or altar and by noting the kind of artwork or icons used in worship. One can also frequently distinguish between the two based on what is heard. In Orthodox churches singing (or chanting) usually takes the place of organ or other instrumental music.

Religious Authority

3. Less obvious perhaps to the casual observer is another difference between Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy centering around the question of religious authority. Within the Roman Catholic Church, Scripture and tradition are held up as twin sources of revelation or authority (Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation 9–10). While certainly recognizing the authority of tradition, the Orthodox Church views the relationship between Scripture and tradition somewhat differently. Consider, for example, the following explanation of religious authority in Orthodoxy:

The fundamental bulwarks of the Orthodox faith are: the lives of the Spirit-filled elect, the Holy Scriptures, the ancient traditions manifested in the sacred liturgy and the church’s ritual practices, the creeds and professions (ektheseis) of the ecumenical councils, the great patristic writings defending the faith against heretical positions, the church’s ever-deepening collection of prayers that have had universal adoption and enduring spiritual efficacy and, by extension, the wider body of the spiritual and ascetical writings of the saints of times past and present, the important writings of hierarchs at various critical moments in the more recent past which have identified the correct response that ought to be undertaken against new conditions and movements prevailing after the patristic period (McGuckin, The Orthodox Church, 100).

In the midst of that one, rather long sentence the reader could easily miss the fact that the Orthodox Church looks to the Scriptures for religious authority. However, within Orthodoxy Scripture is just one of many religious authorities. Or perhaps it would be better to say that tradition is the real source of religious authority within Orthodoxy, and Scripture is viewed as one part of that tradition. McGuckin further explains the relationship between Scripture and tradition this way: “The Scriptures stand as far greater in moment, and richness, than any writing of the saints. But there is not a profound difference in order, and not a dissonance of quality, for it is the same Spirit who inspires his saints in each generation, and inspires in them the same mind of the self-same Lord…. Scripture, for the Orthodox, is one of the purest manifestations of tradition. It is constitutively within sacred tradition, not apart from it” (McGuckin, The Orthodox Church, 101). So, within Orthodoxy, Scripture is inspired, but it is inspired in the same sense that the writings of many saints are inspired. Like Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy rejects the full sufficiency of Scripture and necessarily reduces the actual authority of Scripture by making it one of several sources of religious truth. And like Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy regards the Church as the authoritative interpreter of Scripture (Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation 2.10; Ware, The Orthodox Church, 199–200).

Although Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy are different in a number of ways—some superficial and some substantial, they both set up human priests (and saints) as intermediaries between God and humans. They both encourage the use of images as aids to worship and prayer. And both see their respective Churches as fulfilling the role of authoritative interpreter of Scripture. More anecdotally, they both seem to encourage a great deal of religious ritualism and activity but very little actual study of the Bible.


Who Is the Angel of the LORD in the Old Testament?

by Bob McCabe

As one reads the Old Testament, he will undoubtedly notice the mysterious references to the angel of the LORD. Is this an angel like Michael who was sent out by the LORD? Or is this some kind of manifestation of deity? Who is the angel of the LORD?

Let’s initially examine the term angel (in Hebrew, mal’ak). This word can also be rendered as “messenger.” Mal’ak generally indicates one who is sent, a messenger or a representative. It can refer to human messengers sent by human officials (Gen 32:3) or by God (Isa 42:19) as well as to supernatural messengers sent by God. In reference to this latter group, it may refer to a created order of supernatural beings, angels (Gen 19:1, 15). The issue for us concerns whether this term can refer to the infinite supernatural Being, God. In order to prove that this term can refer to God, we will need to examine when it is used in connection with the phrase “of the LORD.” While this expression is used thirty-nine times in the Old Testament, we will examine two of these.

The first passage is found in Exodus 3:1–14. While tending the flock of his father-in-law at Horeb, Moses saw that a burning bush was not being consumed by the fire. As he approached the bush, v. 2 clearly states that the angel of the LORD appeared to him in the flames of the bush. It is stated in v. 4 that the LORD spoke to him from within the bush. In v. 6 the Being in the bush further identifies that He was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. As the conversation continues between these two, the Being in the bush announces His name, “I AM WHO I AM” (v. 14). Thus, this passage indicates that the angel of the LORD mentioned in v. 2 is clearly identified by Himself and accepted by Moses as the infinite God.

Zechariah 3:1–10 is our second passage. The content of Zechariah’s fourth vision focuses on Israel’s future cleansing from sin and reinstatement as a priestly nation. Verse 1 introduces the participants: “Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him” (NIV 2011). More specifically, these participants are Joshua the high priest, the antecedent of “he” is the interpreting angel (he is referred to in 1:9, 14, 19; 2:3; 4:1, 3, 5; etc.; in light of 1:9 the interpreting angel was apparently present to explain some of the details of these visions to Zechariah), the antecedent of “me” is Zechariah, the angel of the LORD, and Satan. In this verse Joshua is described as standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan is pictured as standing at the right hand of the angel of the LORD to resist him. With this introduction to the vision we should note that the angel of the LORD is the focal point around which the following context revolves.

The first half of v. 2 reads like this: “The LORD said to Satan, ‘The LORD rebuke you, Satan!’” In light of the participants mentioned in v. 1, we could read this verse in this fashion: “And the LORD, that is the angel of the LORD, said unto Satan, ‘The LORD rebuke you, Satan.’” Therefore, v. 2 identifies the angel of the LORD as the LORD and indicates that there is a distinction between the angel of the LORD and the LORD. This identification is further substantiated in v. 4. If we follow the context of vv. 2–4 carefully, we should notice that it is the angel of the LORD who forgives sin in v. 4. Since God is the only one who forgives sin, it is readily apparent that the angel of the LORD is God. Consequently, this passage provides solid support for both the deity of the angel of the LORD and his distinctiveness from the LORD.

Who is both deity and yet a distinct person from the LORD? Since no one has ever seen God the Father (John 1:18; 1 Tim 6:16) and since the Holy Spirit never takes on bodily form, this suggests that the supernatural Being to which this expression refers is the second member of the Trinity (also compare Exod 3:14 with John 8:58). Therefore, the angel of the LORD was a temporary manifestation of the LORD Jesus Christ in a preincarnate form. It is important to make a distinction between Christ’s preincarnation and incarnation. His incarnation is a permanent union where God the Son took on full humanity becoming the God-man. His incarnation began with His miraculous conception and will continue throughout eternity. Christ’s preincarnate form was a transitory visible manifestation of God the Son. After His incarnation, Christ never appears again as the angel of the LORD. As we view the angel of the LORD, we can see how God through progressive revelation provided data in the Old Testament for the doctrine of the Trinity that is more completely elaborated upon in the New Testament.


When the Law of Moses Calls for Death

by Mark Snoeberger

A while back Bob Jones University made the news by apologizing for statements made a generation ago suggesting that homosexuals should be subjected, like they were during the Mosaic economy, to capital punishment. This mea culpa was a welcome one insofar as the offending statement was insensitive, vindictive, even hateful. But among the tweets and chatter that ensued, it was surprising to see how many bloggers (critics and defenders of BJU alike) made no apparent differentiation between the words spoken in 1980 and the words written in the 15th century BC. Moses is apparently guilty of hate speech, too!

This is a troubling sentiment, I think, and one that seriously erodes Old Testament credibility and authority. Surely as inerrantists we must conclude that Moses was right to write what he did! It is in view of this fact that I ask today, What should we do with Moses and his copious assignment of capital punishment for seemingly trivial crimes (or in some cases, perhaps, for no crime at all)? Shall we defend him? Blush for him? Distance ourselves from him by denouncing the Law as inherently evil and, too our great relief, dead and gone?

It is true that the Mosaic Law has been set aside, and its temporal sanctions suspended in Christ. And with the dissolution of the Jewish kingdom, there is no longer a theocratic representative living on earth with the authority to enforce God’s expectations in the civil sphere. Still, we must surely also say, “The Law was holy, and its commandment holy, righteous and good” (Rom 7:12ff). Further, we must affirm that the God who established that Law is immutably pure in his ethic. So how should we deal today with actions that Moses regarded as capital offenses?

As I see it, there are four categories of capital offense detailed in the Law of Moses, and each requires its own nuanced response. Note the following:

  • Offenses violating the sanctity of human life. Moses requires that “first-degree” murder be punished by the forfeiture of life (Exod 21:12, 14; also Lev 24:17, 21), with special emphasis on those who sacrificed their children to the gods (Lev 20:1–5). Negligence resulting in death could also be a capital crime (Exod 21:28–29), especially in the case of unborn children (Exod 21:22–25), though this was not true in every case (Exod 21:13). Perjury in capital cases was also a capital offense (Deut 19:16–19), ostensibly because it might result in the unjust loss of life. The fact that God persistently commands human governments to guard human life with capital force, not only in the Mosaic economy but beyond (Gen 9:6), seems to leave no room for debate—God expects collective mankind, being ever in his image, to exercise due process and execute murderers.

In modern society some oppose capital punishment uniformly, even in the case of murder, but this is not a universal sentiment. Indeed, of all the categories of capital punishment found in the Mosaic Law, this category receives the smallest amount of cultural resistance.

  • Offenses savaging the humanity, purity, and dignity of “innocents.” Included in this category are offenses such as unequivocal, non-consenting, sexual assault (Deut 22:25–27) and kidnaping for the purpose of human trafficking (Exod 21:16). Since the command to execute criminals of this type is restricted to the Mosaic economy, I do not find capital punishment a mandate in the modern era; still, the fact that God found such crimes ethically worthy of death in one era seems to suggest that modern governments that conclude similarly are well within their rights to do so.

As with the previous category, many non-Christians are of a similar mind in this matter (after all, it was not Christians that made Taken a blockbuster movie).

  • Offenses of a religious nature. As a theocratic state, there was no separation of church/state, God/Caesar, or saeculum/sacrum in the Mosaic economy. As a result, the selfsame Israelite system prosecuted both civil and religious This is why, during this window of history, God required capital punishment for the crimes of sorcery (Exod 22:18; Lev 20:27; Deut 13:5), blasphemy (Lev 24:14, 16, 23), false prophecy (Deut 18:20), and egregious Sabbath violations (Exod 31:14; 35:2).

I have already tipped my hand in revealing that I believe this category of capital punishment to be restricted to the unique circumstances of the Jewish theocracy. By contrast, NT revelation sharply distinguishes the jurisdiction of church and state: the state has no jurisdiction in the church and as such should not prosecute religious crimes; and the church, while free to exclude someone from its membership, has no power to take away his life. And to the degree that religious organizations (Christian, Muslim, or otherwise) transgress (or have transgressed) this distinction, I believe they are wrong.

  • Offenses against divinely instituted civil institutions. These offenses represent the most broadly disputed category of capital crimes in the OT, and have three distinct sub-categories: (a) crimes against divinely prescribed authority within the institution of the family (Exod 21:15, 17; Lev 20:9), (b) persistent refusal to submit to divinely instituted civil authorities in otherwise non-capital crimes (Deut 17:12), and (c) a range of offenses against the divine institution of marriage, including adultery (Lev 20:10; Deut 22:22), bestiality (Exod 22:19; Lev 20:15­–16), homosexuality (Lev 20:13), special instances of fornication (Deut 22:23–24), special instances of incest (Lev 20:11–21), special instances of prostitution (Lev 21:9), and lying about one’s virginity (Deut 22:13–21).

It is these “crimes” that earn the greatest attention among Bible-haters. None of these offenses seem capitally egregious, it is argued, and many of them offend no one at all—they’re mutually consensual! How can these be capital crimes? The answer is simple: Our Creator God found these activities to be of such an egregious nature as to threaten the viability of his creative design for humanity. And as is his prerogative, he assigned them capital import. And since he is the Creator and we are creatures, we really have no recourse but to acknowledge his right to do so.

Now, I would hasten to add that the capital response to such activities was apparently not immediate in every case. Mercy was often granted (see Lev 18:29 within its context), with capital force apparently reserved for repeated offenses coupled with recalcitrance or violence. Further, as was the case with the offenses in category 2 (above), the mandate to punish such activities capitally ceases after the Mosaic economy. Still, it seems hazardous to say that what God declared to be capitally odious and deleterious to the human race in 1400 BC must now be regarded as ethically benign, much less respectable.

There is no doubt that the Mosaic Law offers challenges to the contemporary church that are exceedingly complex, and the above should not be regarded as the final word on the topic. However, whatever answers emerge to the tensions at hand, we surely cannot give in to the contemporary opinion that Moses (and by extension, Yahweh) was once a moral monster perpetrating a primitive and reckless law code from which our enlightened modern society has escaped. Perhaps its is fair to say (using contemporary legal language) that Christ has ushered in an age in which “mandatory minimum sentencing” has been withdrawn with respect to many of these offenses perpetrated against God. However, since God is absolutely immutable in his ethical character, moral culpability for sins against God and his created order has by no means relaxed with the coming of Christ.


Can a Person Be “Overly Righteous”?

by Bob McCabe

Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself? (Ecclesiastes 7:16)

Can “be not overly righteous” really be saying what it seems to be saying? Does God actually want us to tone down our righteousness? In order to correctly determine the meaning of this clause, it must first be placed in its immediate context. The context of v. 16 is found in the paragraph of Ecclesiastes 7:15-18, which reads:

(15) In my vain life I have seen everything. There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing. (16) Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy [better translated as “astonish”] yourself? (17) Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time? (18) It is good that you should take hold of this, and from that withhold not your hand, for the one who fears God shall come out from both of them.

There are a number of different interpretations of the expression “be not overly righteous” in v. 16. We will examine three of these. The first interpretation can be called the golden mean view. When v. 16 is taken in connection with the command to avoid being excessively wicked in v. 17 (“be not overly wicked”), a number of commentators have concluded that this is a call to moderation, a golden mean between virtue and vice. As such, the author of Ecclesiastes, Solomon, is encouraging his audience to avoid living an excessively righteous or sinful life. The problem with this understanding is that it misses the point of the argument in the immediate context. It should be noted in v. 15 that Solomon had difficulty in understanding how God works out divine retribution. Solomon had seen a righteous man die while living a righteous life and an ungodly man live a long and prosperous life. This was an apparent inconsistency to what an Israelite living under the Mosaic Covenant expected. The advice to live a life of moderation does not fit the discussion of v. 15, nor any other portion of the Bible.

A second interpretation is the self-righteous interpretation. Some commentators understand the term righteous as a reference to self-righteousness. Therefore, when the writer says “be not overly righteous,” he means “don’t be self-righteous.” A problem for this view is found when we compare the Hebrew adjective saddiq, translated as “righteous” in v. 16 with its use in v. 15, also translated as “righteous,” as well as its corresponding noun seder, translated as “righteousness.” Let’s translate v. 15 with the idea of self-righteousness in it. “In my vain life I have seen everything. There is a self-righteous man who perishes in his self-righteousness and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing.” The problem is that whatever righteousness is, it is the antithesis of wickedness. Therefore, the only type of righteousness that v. 15 can be referring to is a genuine righteousness. The self-righteous view does not fit the context.

A third and preferred interpretation is the genuine righteousness view. This view understands the term righteousness to be a genuine righteousness, as this Hebrew term is always used in the Old Testament. The righteousness described in this verse is the same kind of righteousness as found in v. 15. The righteousness in v. 16 is excessive (“overly righteous”) only in the sense that an Old Testament believer might simplistically expect God to honor his righteousness with immediate blessing. In v. 15 Solomon describes a situation where a genuinely righteous person receives what the wicked should get, and the wicked person receives what the righteous person should get. The point of v. 16 could be interpreted like this: “Do not be simplistically righteous with the expectation of immediate reward, neither be naively wise, why cause yourself to be astonished that God did not honor your righteous living with immediate blessing?” How does this fit in with vv. 17–18? When one sees the wicked prospering, he may lose heart and turn to an excessively sinful lifestyle. This should not be followed because God may immediately judge this sinner (v. 17). According to v. 18 the believer should avoid both extremes. In light of other portions of this book (Ecclesiastes 3:17; Ecclesiastes 8:12-13; Ecclesiastes 11:9; Ecclesiastes 12:14), Solomon would argue that we should live righteously because God will bring every deed into judgment (Ecclesiastes 12:14); this is when the Lord will certainly reward His people.

For more detail info, see Wayne A. Brindle, “Righteousness and Wickedness in Ecclesiastes 7:15–18,” Andrews University Seminary Studies 23 (Autumn 1985): 243–57.


The Fight over 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.

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).


“I Don’t Put God in a Box Like That.” Really?

by Ben Edwards

A common tactic used in discussions about God and His actions is to claim that the other person is limiting God. It comes up in questions about creation (“I don’t limit God to just six days for creation like you do. I think He could use evolutionary processes and take billions of years”), about the sufficiency of Scripture (“I don’t limit God to speaking in the Bible like you do. I think He still speaks to people today”), and about the way of salvation (“I don’t limit God to saving people through faith in Jesus Christ like you do. I think He can save people who never hear about Jesus.”) This tactic may intimidate a person. After all, who wants to limit God, or “put Him in a box”? We would never want to impose our restrictions on God. Surely a more open-minded and broad approach to these issues gives more honor to God and His ability, right?

There are at least two problems with the accusation that the person who holds these beliefs is limiting God. The first problem is that the person claiming not to limit God is in actuality limiting Him. Let me illustrate with the issue of the ways of salvation. In theory, there are two options in this scenario: (A) God will save only one way, e.g., those who come to Him through faith in Jesus Christ or (B) God will save through multiple ways. Someone who holds position B is accusing someone who holds position A of limiting God, but person B is also limiting God. If someone says that God saves people through multiple ways, they have eliminated option A, the option of only saving people through Jesus Christ. They have limited God to choosing option B. They have effectively said that God cannot choose one way of saving people—He must choose multiple ways. In other words, someone who says that God saves in multiple ways has “limited God” to saving in multiple ways, while someone who says that God only saves in one way has “limited God” to saving in one way.

The same is true for the other scenarios. So, if both people could be accused of “limiting” God, how can we determine which “limitation” gives more honor to God and His ability? That leads to the second problem. The position that will bring the most honor to God is the position that He claims for Himself. If we argue against what He has said, then we really dishonor Him.

Suppose my wife and I come to visit you and notice a picture on your wall that we like. We ask where it came from, and you say, “I bought it recently.” My wife believes you and says you have good taste, but I say “I don’t want to limit you to only buying this picture. I think you actually took that picture and made the frame yourself because you are a talented person.” Who is actually honoring you? I may seem to be honoring you because I’m arguing that you did something more impressive (at least to me), but my wife is actually honoring you more because she believes what you said. I’m actually dishonoring you by failing to believe what you said.

God has spoken to us through the Bible, and He has told us how He does certain things. For example, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). If I say, “Jesus, I think you actually save people in many different ways because you are a loving and gracious person,” I may appear to be honoring Him. But in reality, I dishonor Him because I fail to believe what He says.
In essence, it’s not a matter of whether or not I “limit” God, but whether or not He has “limited” Himself and revealed that in His Word, the Bible. And if I really want to honor Him and His ability, then I need to study what He has said in the Bible and believe it (even if it doesn’t match up with what I think.)


Do I Answer a Fool? Or Do I Not?

by Bob McCabe

In Proverbs 26:4 we are commanded not to answer a fool, but in the very next verse we’re commanded to answer a fool. On the surface I am in a quagmire since both commands seem to be in conflict with each other. So do I or do I not answer a fool? This raises a larger issue about how to apply the various sayings found in the book of Proverbs.

One of two broad categories of proverbs is known as prescriptive proverbs (the other is descriptive). A prescriptive proverb does more than simply tell about the way life is. It seeks to characterize an attitude or an action in order to influence behavior (Klein, Blomberg, Hubbard, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 313–14). The focus of this post is to describe three types of prescriptive proverbs that will assist in applying them.

1. A prescriptive proverb that allows for exceptions is a generalization. At the minimum, there are two categories of generalizations. First, some proverbs allow for limitations in various circumstances. The example we initially saw in Proverbs 26:4-5 is certainly an example of this. There are contexts when we should avoid answering a fool lest we look like the fool; however, there are other settings when we should answer the fool so that he does not look wise in his own eyes. We must use godly discernment in determining which proverb to follow. In addition, wise planning with proper advice is praised in Proverbs 15:22. However, this is balanced by Proverbs 19:21, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails” (Parsons, “Guidelines for Understanding and Proclaiming the Book of Proverbs,” BSac 150 [1993], 160). The foolishness “bound in the heart of a child” in Proverbs 22:15 may provide a hindrance to the proverb in Proverbs 22:6 (Zuck, “A Theology of the Wisdom Books and the Song of Songs, in A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, 234). Second, other proverbs are generalizations because they are bound to the dispensation of law. For example, Proverbs 10:22 says, “The blessing of the Lord brings wealth, without painful toil for it.” The blessings of wealth were promised to obedient Israelites in Deuteronomy 28:8-14. This type of promise has temporal limits since it is not made to believers in the New Testament. At times, a generalization may even be limited in the dispensation of law. An example of this is Proverbs 10:30, “The righteous will never be uprooted, but the wicked will not remain in the land.” When this text says the righteous will not “be uprooted,” the sage is referring to righteous Israelites not being uprooted from the land of Israel. However, there were exceptions to this, viz., Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. While we recognize this type of exception, my point is that the “land” emphasis in this proverb reflects that its was written under the dispensation of law and its direct application pertains to those living under the law, though its application allowed for exceptions.

2. A prescriptive proverb that has no exceptions is a moral absolute. This will often be true in proverbs dealing with an action or characteristic of God. Proverbs 11:1 says, “The Lord detests dishonest scales, but accurate weights find favor with him.” Another example is Proverbs 14:31, “Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.” The instructional material in Proverbs 5against adultery by maintaining a proper marital relationship is a moral absolute. It upholds the moral absolute, “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14).

3. A prescriptive proverb may contain both a moral absolute and a generalization. Proverbs 3:1-2 is an exhortation to honor one’s father with a promise of long life and peace. The command to honor one’s parents is a moral absolute; however, the promise about long life is only a generalization, for Jesus Christ was the embodiment of honor to His earthly parents, yet He was crucified in His early thirties. “God in His sovereignty may make an exception as in the case of Jesus” (Parsons, 161, n. 72).

May God grant us discernment as we apply the wisdom of Proverbs.


How to Approach Evangelizing at Work

by Mark Snoeberger

In our last post we appealed to John 17 to show that a properly ordered witness for Christ must avoid the two poles of (1) being both in the world and of the world, hoping the gospel will advance wordlessly through personal intimacy alone (Christ of culture) and (2) being neither in the world nor of the world, hoping the gospel will advance through remote belligerence alone (Christ against culture).

If the reader is familiar with H. Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture, he will recognize two of Niebuhr’s five approaches, adapted here for my purposes. Niebuhr actually proposes three intermediate approaches, but I will select just one for further consideration: Christ and culture in paradox. (Note: I am using these categories somewhat differently than Niebuhr does, but I think they are helpful enough to be repurposed.)

In the paradox model, the Christian lives in two realms—as a citizen of the present, earthly/civic realm, and as a prospective citizen of heaven. In both these realms, Christ rules the believer’s activities, but in very different ways. In the earthly/civic realm, Christ rules indirectly through the dominion mandate by which everyman may, by submitting to God’s sovereign lordship over Creation, effectively rule over all that God has made as his vice-regents on earth. We do so by cultivating common/moral virtue, the sciences (Gen 1:28–31), and civic structures (Gen 9:6); by stewarding divinely granted “property” (whether material/physical, intellectual/ideological, ethical, etc.); and by obeying the second great commandment of loving neighbor as self (Matt 22:39). Specifically, this takes the form of being the very best possible citizens, workers, spouses, parents, students, and neighbors in the natural realm and under divinely imposed natural law. This is the duty of every person, and we should encourage/expect every person around us (regenerate and unregenerate alike), being fellow-image-bearers, to aspire to these selfsame goals. This is the duty of all image-bearers.

The believer’s goal in living this way is not only or even primarily to woo people into the second or heavenly/ecclesiastical realm (where Christ rules through shepherds in covenanted communities bound by the regulating principles of a comprehensive and inspired canon). Both Paul and Peter, however, suggest that by living in this way, even “without words,” we will routinely encounter opportunities for the Gospel (Titus 2:1–10; 1 Pet 3:1; etc.)—and we should be ever looking for these. By setting Christ apart as Lord we will invariably stimulate people to ask us the reason for the hope that lies within (1 Pet 3:15). And the Christian Gospel is our answer, delivered from the standpoint of a clear conscience and in a context of mutual respect earned by “good behavior” (v. 16).

So if a believer should find himself working, say, in a public school setting, the approach would not be unregulated Gospel declaration (which will get one fired) or withdrawal to engage in remote denunciations of that “wicked and irremediable public school system” (the Christ against culture approach). Nor should the believer simply seek to “blend in” with the sterile, non-theistic worldview that usually prevails in this setting—and, frankly, in almost every civic setting (the Christ of culture approach). Instead, the believer should view himself as an agent of common grace, moral virtue, and neighborliness, humbly and proactively being the best citizen, steward, worker, and ethical mentor that he possibly can be with God as his witness. The believer need not continually announce his faith, but neither will he be able to conceal it; indeed, in very short order, he will be asked to offer a reason for why he is the way that he is. And the Gospel will have its day.

As circumstances allow, this approach can also countenance a more assertive face—after all, if unbelievers can ask believers reasons for the hope that lies within, the believer can freely inquire about the reasons for the unbeliever’s hopelessness, too! And by doing this, we can gently push open doors to the hopeful introduction of the Christian Gospel.

In either case, though, a paradox/antithesis will emerge. It must emerge. Believers and unbelievers all live in the very same world, but they have radically different worldviews that cannot long remain a secret. And it is the Christian’s role to deliberately enter this common world determined not to “become like the fool” (Prov 26:4), but instead to invite and answer the fool’s inquiries (Prov 26:5) with gentleness and respect (1 Pet 3:15) so as to introduce them to God.


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.