The More Things Change…

I’ve been teaching through various fundamental doctrines in Bible study at my church and right before the New Year we started in on the Trinity. The first class was an introduction, noting differences between the Trinity (who/what God is) and the doctrine of the Trinity (how we speak about who/what God is). The second class started in the beginning, in the book of Genesis, noting how God creates through his Word and Spirit. We noted features of the text that make sense for Trinitarians but not so much for non-Trinitarians. The third and fourth classes looked at the Angel of the LORD and the ways in which he is identified both as the LORD and as distinct from the LORD. Again, this is something that makes sense for the Trinitarian and not the non-Trinitarian.

But in all of this I’ve been hammering home the point that I reject the idea that there is no doctrine of the Trinity in the Bible as such. I’ve read that innumerable times throughout the years. The idea is that we don’t find fourth-century Trinitarian terminology in the Bible so we don’t have the doctrine of the Trinity in the Bible. Some are more generous and say that we find a doctrine of the Trinity in the NT because the NT was written after the Incarnation of the Son and the pouring out of the Spirit, but it was only hinted at in the OT at best. I reject these sentiments. Vehemently.

I don’t take fourth-century articulations to be the standard by which we judge everything else. I take the fourth-century for what it is, and likewise the NT for what it is, and before that the OT for what it is. In every instance we have a particular view of God, but if God is Trinity–and God is Trinity–then every witness to God in the Christian Scriptures is a witness to the Trinity. I can’t fault the OT for not saying what the NT says any more than I can fault the NT for not saying what the Nicene and post-Nicene fathers said. We don’t fault the early fathers for not saying what the medieval scholastics said, do we?

In any event, I was looking for a scan of a book chapter I sent someone a few years back and I found it in an email where I said the following:

I guess the standard answer to the question you raise would be an appeal to progressive revelation. It took the Incarnation of the Son and the giving of the Spirit to the Church for us to have all of the pieces in place to then formulate a formal doctrine of the Trinity. Plenty of folks suggest that God didn’t completely reveal himself as Trinity in the OT because of the rampant polytheism that surrounded Israel. It would have been all too easy for Israel to mess up God’s multi-personality and fall into worshipping multiple gods, or so the argument goes. I’d say that the OT gives us plenty to ponder concerning God’s multi-personality. The way that his Word and Spirit are depicted; or the enigmatic Angel of the Lord that is at once YHWH and an agent of YHWH; and those seemingly out of place plural pronouns and verbs that refer to God. Taken cumulatively it’s enough to get us asking some good questions.

And that’s where I’d differ from the standard answers usually offered. I think the OT forces us to ask questions that can only be correctly answered by speaking of the Trinity. We’re only able to get a doctrine of the Trinity in the NT because the OT already contains it. The NT simply assumes, builds upon, and makes clear what is already there. One thing that I often remind people about is how the Patristic writers’ arguments for the Trinity were exegetical. These early Christians formulated what most people consider “the doctrine of the Trinity” (i.e., Nicene Trinitarianism) from a close examination and interpretation of the Scriptures (especially the OT).

So I’d say that it was both hinted and revealed in the OT. We just have to allow for it to have been hinted and revealed in precisely the way that it was and not impose a later doctrine as the standard by which we judge the OT revelation. In other words, it doesn’t work to set 4th century Nicene Trinitarian theology as the standard and then say that the doctrine of the Trinity is absent from the OT (or even the NT) because they don’t use the language or arguments of 4th century theology. Likewise, I’d argue that the Son was revealed before the Incarnation in the NT. He was revealed in various theophanies; in God speaking to the Israelite King; as the Word through which God created; etc. This is why Jesus can walk with the disciples on the road to Emmaus and explain to them all of the things that the Scriptures said concerning him. They were prophetic, to be sure, but not merely in the sense of foretelling future events. They also spoke to a present reality in Israel’s life.

It seems like the more things change, the more they stay the same.

B”H

The Original Sin

Introduction

The Bible begins with the story of God creating the heavens and the earth and all that is in it. On the sixth day of creation God makes man (both male and female) in his own likeness and image and blesses them and then immediately gives them the command to be fruitful and multiply so that they can fill the earth, subdue it, and have dominion over it (Gen 1:26–28). This delegated authority was second only to God and we should immediately recognize the prominent position that God placed them in because once we realize how high they were it exposes just how far they fell. God goes on to tell the original man and woman that he has given them every plant and tree that yields fruit for food (Gen 1:29), which may seem like a trivial statement at first but is actually quite important for understanding the events that follow.

The second chapter of Genesis gives a more detailed account of the creation of the first man and woman and their original home in the garden of Eden. The text says that “out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen 2:9). We’re told shortly after this that “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’” (Gen 2:15–17). Their temptation and subsequent fall was documented for us in Genesis 3.

The Fall (Genesis 3:1–13)

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” 

Much could be said about this passage but we’ll limit ourselves to a few important observations. First, the serpent (who will later be identified as the devil in Revelation 12:9) began his deception by twisting the command of God.

Genesis 2:16–17 

16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Genesis 3:1–3

 He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”

God said that they could eat from every tree but one while the serpent changes this to any tree. The woman (Eve) responds by twisting the command herself in saying that they couldn’t eat of the one tree nor could they touch it or they would die. Yet God never said anything about touching the tree. It stands to reason that touching the tree would have been a part of their duty to work and keep the garden (Gen 2:15).

But notice how the serpent tempts the woman. He begins by denying the consequence that God promised for disobedience. His second line of attack is to point out that the woman lacks something that God has. Let’s look at the text again:

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

He doesn’t focus on how good the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil looked. He doesn’t focus on how good it would have tasted or the fact that it was good for food (these things were already obvious from Gen 2:9). He focuses on the fact that eating it would open her eyes and make her like God in knowing good and evil. It wasn’t simply the allure of being like God that drew the woman in. She was already created in his image and likeness (Gen 1:26). It was the allure of being like God in knowing good and evil that was the ultimate temptation. This desire for knowledge and wisdom is what ultimately drew the woman and her husband into disobedience.

The Knowledge of Good and Evil

This raises the question of what exactly the knowledge of good and evil is and what it means to know or to have knowledge. How do we come to know anything? We know through:

  1. Learning (Someone told us)
  2. Experiencing (We have gone through it)
  3. Determining (We have determined—in the sense of caused or decided—a matter)

Now remember the serpent’s sales pitch. He tempted the woman with being like God in knowing good and evil. So how exactly does God know? Does God learn? That is, does God acquire knowledge through someone else telling him? It doesn’t seem so. God speaks through the prophet Isaiah saying:

remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
10    declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
       saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ (Isa 46:9–10)

God “declares” the end from the beginning. “Declaring” in this context means to “make known” or “announce.” In other words, God can make the end known from the beginning because he knows the end from the beginning. He doesn’t acquire knowledge of things as they happen. This is also not an instance of God simply looking into the future to see what will happen and having a passive knowledge of what will occur. He “declares” or “makes known” the end from the beginning because he determines the end from the beginning. This is made clear when he says that his counsel shall stand and he will accomplish all his purpose (cf. Eph 1:11).

Job asks the rhetorical question, “Will any teach God knowledge, seeing that he judges those who are on high?” (Job 21:22 cf. Isa 40:14). This type of question expects a negative answer. Of course no one will teach God knowledge! But the clearest statement comes from the First Epistle of John when he says, “for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything” (1 John 3:20).

If God doesn’t learn then he certainly couldn’t have had the knowledge of good and evil through someone telling him what good and evil were. Is it possible that God acquired the knowledge of good and evil through experience? John again tells us that “God is light and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). Darkness is often used as a metaphor for evil in Scripture. This is certainly how John used it throughout his writings. For example, he says that “the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19). Darkness and evil are synonymous in this passage. He records Jesus saying, “the light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going” (John 12:35). So when John tells us that there is no darkness in God he means to communicate that there is no evil in God.

Later in his first epistle John says that “everyone who hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:3). Again, God is pure, and thus not tainted by evil. In Mark’s Gospel a man runs up to Jesus and calls him “Good Teacher” (Mark 10:17) to which Jesus responds, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone” (Mark 10:18). Goodness rather than evil is attributed to God. It stands to reason that since God is without darkness, pure, and good that he does not experience evil. And yet God has the knowledge of good and evil, so if he doesn’t gain it through learning or experience, then how does God know good and evil?

God knows through determination, that is, he determines what good and evil are. Returning to the First Epistle of John we read that “everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). The “lawlessness” here is specifically a disregard for God’s law.  Repeatedly throughout the Old Testament we read of people doing what was “evil in the sight of the LORD.” This phrase has reference to various sinful acts, namely:

  • Making idols (Deut 4:25; 31:29)
  • Worshipping idols (Judg 2:11; 3:7, 12; 4:1; 6:1; 10:6; 13:1; 1 Kings 11:6; 15:26, 34; 16:25–26, 30 and dozens of other passages in 1–2 Kings and 1–2 Chronicles)
  • Transgressing God’s covenant (Deut 17:2)
  • Abandoning the Law of the LORD (1 Kings 14:22 cf. 2 Chron 12:1, 14)
  • Human sacrifice (2 Kings 17:17; 21:6; 2 Chron 33:6)
  • Consulting evil spirits & consulting the dead (2 Kings 21:6; 2 Chron 33:6)
  • Forsaking God (2 Chron 29:6)

God explicitly forbids such practices (Exod 20:3–5; Deut 18:10; Lev 18:21; 26:14–46), so in committing them one does what is “evil in the sight of the LORD,” which is to say that God is the one who determines what evil is.

So was the allure of being like God in knowing good and evil a desire to acquire knowledge through learning or experience? No. It was a desire to determine what good and evil were as God had already done. The Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck said, “The knowledge of good and evil is not the knowledge of the useful and the harmful, of the world and how to control it, but… the right and capacity to distinguish good and evil on one’s own” (Reformed Dogmatics, 3:33). We see this play out immediately after they eat the fruit of the tree.

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

Once their eyes were opened they knew they were naked and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths (Gen 3:7). But why? The text tells us that when God went to meet them they hid themselves from his presence and when he called them Adam answered and admitted that he hid himself because he was afraid and he was afraid because he was naked (Gen 3:9–10). When and where did God tell them that being naked was a problem? God created them naked and called that act of creation “very good” (Gen 1:31). They determined for themselves that their nakedness was something to be covered.

Immediately after pronouncing the curse for their disobedience (Gen 3:14–19) God clothes them in animal skins and says that “the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:22). In other words, it’s not that they now recognized that their nakedness was evil and had been all along, it’s that they determined that this was so. God was saying that the man and the woman had become determiners of good and evil like him although in their case they didn’t have this by right.

Conclusion

This was the beginning of the disordering of God’s creation. Once sin entered the world everything was out of alignment. The “original sin” was a desire for autonomy. Autonomy comes from the Greek words “autos,” which means “self” and “nomos,” which means “law.” A literal way of understanding autonomy is as a “law unto one’s self, or self–rule.” A standard dictionary defines autonomy as “freedom from external control or influence.” Humanity in general now wants to call the shots and determine the parameters of good and evil. The repeated references to doing “evil in the sight of the LORD” that we find in the book of Judges can be paralleled with another phrase that we see repeated in the same book, namely that “in those days there was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg 17:6; 21:25).

Centuries later the prophet Isaiah cried out:

20       Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter! (Isa 5:20)

This woe is reserved specifically for those who deny God’s pronouncements and substitute them with their own and unfortunately we have all at one time or another gone astray in the same way as our first parents.

B”H

Not His First Rodeo

After Jesus’ resurrection he walks with some downtrodden disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24). They didn’t recognize him and he asked them what they were talking about as they walked. They responded with doubts about the claims and identity of Jesus because he didn’t do what they thought he would. Jesus responds by calling them foolish and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets had spoken. He proceeds to interpret the Scriptures and show them how they spoke of him.

When they get near Emmaus they want him to stay with them and eat. He obliges them and sits down at table, takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it, and then vanishes from their sight, but not before they recognize him for who he is. It was in the breaking of bread that their eyes were opened. Jesus vanishes leaving them with the bread. This is a Eucharistic passage, undoubtedly. But it’s one that has been typified in the Old Testament.

When Gideon encounters the angel of the LORD (Judges 6) he asks for a sign that it is the LORD who has been speaking with him so he goes and prepares a sacrifice. The sacrifice consists of a young goat, some unleavened cakes, and broth. He brings the sacrifice to the angel of the LORD and the angel touches the meat and unleavened cakes with his staff and the offering is consumed by fire. The angel of the LORD then vanishes from Gideon’s sight and Gideon perceives that it was the angel of the LORD he had been speaking with all along.

I don’t know that it’s even proper to call what happened with Gideon a type of what happened with the disciples. The angel of the LORD was none other than the pre-incarnate Jesus. It seems better to say that the eternal Son has already had this experience. It wasn’t his first rodeo.

B”H

 

Ad Fontes

I recently purchased Brian E. Daley’s God Visible: Patristic Christology Reconsidered and while awaiting the physical copy have begun reading the early parts of the book in Kindle. Early on Daley mentions how he “critically edited, as [his] doctoral thesis ,the works of the sixth-century apologist for the Christology of Chalcedon, Leontius of Byzantium.” I have Daley’s critical edition of the Complete Works of Leontius of Byzantium in the Oxford Early Christian Texts series, which contains a Greek text, critical apparatus, translation on facing page, and an in-depth introduction not to mention some helpful back matter.

What strikes me is that this immensely helpful volume began as a doctoral thesis. It makes me wonder why there aren’t more doctoral theses being produced in this vein. I’m well aware that Daley’s work wasn’t the first and won’t be the last, but how many more people need to do a doctorate on the most minute matters of Pauline theology when there remains so many untranslated texts from antiquity? We need more critical editions and translations of primary source material. Period. And while we’re at it, we need all of the ones we have available in Accordance, Logos, and whatever other Bible software is available.

Ad fontes people, ad fontes.

B”H

A Friendly Atheist

An old man walked into my barbershop the other day. He sat down and started to talk to the guy cutting his hair and he offered up a bit of personal information, namely that he was an atheist. My coworker is a believer as well so he started in on the guy. He shared the gospel with him and tried a few apologetic arguments. I just kept on cutting my client and listening in on their conversation.

The older gentleman stated several times that he envied my coworker’s faith and wish he could believe, but he’s seen too many atrocities (he’s a Vietnam vet) to believe that God exists. He kept saying that if God is real then he should fix the world’s problems. I chimed in and told him to be patient. Everything he’s asking for will happen, just not right now. He repeatedly said that if he was God he’d do things differently and fix all the world’s ills.

I chimed in again and told him that it didn’t sound so much like he didn’t believe in God, but rather that he did believe and was just angry at him. I thought about Doug Wilson’s two tenets of atheism: 1) There is no God; 2) I hate him. Throughout the course of the haircut the guy never got belligerent with us; he didn’t exhibit anger toward us; and yet his hostility toward God was palpable.

When he was done with the cut he got up, paid for the service, had a couple of cookies, and said goodbye. I left him with this food for thought; I said, “You keep talking about what’s wrong with the world and how God should fix it if he’s real. You keep appealing to these things as if we should somehow know why they’re wrong and instinctively agree with you. And we do, but only because there is a standard outside of ourselves that we can appeal to to know what’s right and wrong. I want you to ponder what that standard is and why you keep appealing to it.”

This guy will definitely be back and when he is I can’t wait to have a deeper conversation with him.

B”H

The Old ‘Jesus Never Said’ Argument

I’ve lost count of how many times throughout the years that I’ve heard people mount a defense for gay marriage (or the non-sinfulness of homosexuality more generally) with the argument that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality. It’s an argument from silence to be sure, but the force of it (if it has any) is that Jesus could have specifically condemned homosexuality just as he did murder or adultery or any other number of sins, but didn’t. And since Jesus didn’t condemn it then it doesn’t matter if another NT author did.

One stock response is to say that Jesus doesn’t condemn every individual sin and yet even those who argue for the non-sinfulness of homosexuality or gay marriage would agree that certain things Jesus never spoke of are sins. Take child molestation as an example. Not many in the pro-gay camp would argue that Jesus would green-light pedophilia simply because he didn’t call that particular sin out by name.

Another more common response is to look at what Jesus did say and argue from the general to the particular. Jesus never said the words (so far as we know), “homosexuality is sinful and gay marriage is a sinful union,” but he did say, “I have not come to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it.” He did say that “until heaven and earth pass, not one jot or tittle will pass from the Law, until all is fulfilled.” So we would take Jesus’ general upholding of the Law and apply that to specific instances of law breaking.

But I’d take a different approach. I’d note that the person making the argument is already presupposing biblical authority. After all, they want to accept Jesus’ words as authoritative and since he didn’t specifically condemn homosexuality (in general) or gay marriage (in particular) then neither should we. But Jesus’ words are recorded in Scripture and Scripture was written by men other than Jesus. By taking Jesus’ words as authoritative you’re taking the recorder of his words as authorities.

And since the Gospel writers’ words were inspired (= breathed out) by the Holy Spirit just as the writers of the epistles’ words were, then we can’t possibly pit Paul against Jesus. Paul was no less inspired than Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. We can’t take the clear condemnations of homosexuality in Paul and disregard them because Jesus didn’t say them. At least we can’t do that and be consistent.

If one were to do that then I’d ask why they’re appealing to Jesus at all. If they want Jesus’ words to be authoritative then Scripture has to be authoritative, But if they don’t want Scripture to be the authority then they don’t want Jesus’ words either and might as well disregard them and say that they don’t really care about what Jesus did or did not actually say.

B”H

Ecosystem

I’m freshly back from a five-day trip to Atlanta, the first three of which were spent attending a conference called Capacity: Reimagine. The conference was for church and marketplace leaders with the intended goal of inspiring them to think of new and innovative ways to grow their businesses, churches, and the kingdom of God.

One of the presenters, Yu-kai Chou, spoke on gamification, which is essentially taking game elements and applying them in non-game contexts. His talk was fascinating but the bit I want to talk about here really has to do with an off-handed remark that he made. He said that Apple is so successful because they sell the vision, not the product. Their competitors are concerned with telling you the specs of their machines and relying on the fact that you’ll choose the better hardware or software. Apple on the other hand doesn’t concern itself with specs; they sell us on the possibilities of what we can become by using their products.

I thought that was an interesting point and he’s correct. He noted that the last two ad campaigns that Apple did really had nothing to with what they were actually selling (I forgot the ones he mentioned). But I began to think about another aspect of Apple’s success, namely its ecosystem. I was anti-Apple for years. But once I got in I was hooked and now I can’t get out, or at least I don’t want to. I didn’t buy into a vision though. I became frustrated with my Windows machines’ severely limited lifespans and decided to give Apple a try.

I liked the hardware. I liked the software. What’s more is that I liked how they worked together. Sure, I could have gotten an equally or better spec’ed™ Windows machine for less money but it wouldn’t have worked as well. But it wasn’t just the way that my MacBook Pro’s hardware and software worked together that impressed me. It was the way that my MacBook Pro worked with my iPad, and then eventually my iPhone, and then eventually my Apple Watch, and then eventually my Apple TV, and then eventually my Air Pods that kept me.

Apple’s ecosystem is amazing and it’s what keeps me purchasing and using the products. Having everything synced through my iCloud account is incredibly convenient. Being able to load movies in iTunes (or now the TV app) and stream them to any Apple TV in the house is incredibly convenient. Being able to use iMessage on my computer, tablet, or phone is incredibly convenient. The Apple ecosystem is one of convenience.

I’m not out here evangelizing for Apple. If Windows machines and Android phones/tablets work for you then by all means, work with what you got. I’m simply pointing out that there’s something much more substantial than a vision that sold me and kept/keeps me on Apple.

B”H