The Problem of the Old Testament

I just finished reading Inspiration and Incarnation by Peter Enns, a book that was, in unequal measures, edifying and frustrating. First, the strengths. Enns does a superb job, on a number of issues, of raising questions that easily frustrate traditional Bible believers. This is because traditional Bible believers want (in the name of inerrancy) a Bible that exhibits no complexity, tension, or difficulty at all. This requires a superficial skating over the surface of the text, taking great care not to look too closely at what is happening under your feet. Enns does a good job raising questions from the text that cannot be resolved by means of the surface treatment.

The book covers the ancient Near Eastern context in which the Old Testament was written, the theological diversity within the Old Testament, and the apostolic handling of Old Testament texts. His questions are usually quite good, and very informative, but his suggested answers are frequently problematic. And even though his “resolutions” of these problems are not made in a dogmatic vein, their trajectory is troubling. Nevertheless, one strength of this book is that it raises a number of questions that inerrantists need to answer without smoke and mirrors.

One of the inadequate resolutions is to present the problem, and then conclude that God wanted us to learn to live with “tensions in the text.” This is a problem when Enns raises a fantastic question, and then fails to recognize the equally cool answer, right there in the text of Scripture. For example, in his chapter on OT theological diversity, he points out that the Old Testament frequently assumes or acknowledges the existence of other gods besides the Lord. “Among the gods there is none like you, O Lord, no deeds can compare with yours (Ps. 86:8). He goes on to cite a raft of other passages to the same effect (Ps. 95:3; 96:4; 97:9; 135:5; 136:2). He makes the point very clearly (pp. 98-99).

He argues that this language shows how God is accomodating Himself to the belief systems of these ancient peoples — rank polytheism to raw monotheism would have been too much of a lurch.

“We may not believe that multiple gods ever existed, but ancient Near Eastern people did. This is the religious world within which God called Israel to be his people. When God called Israel, he began leading them into a full knowledge of who he is, but he started where they were” (p 98).

“Again, remember that, standing as we are with the benefit of much subsequent revelation and reflection, we know that idols are not real” (p. 102).

The problem with this is that subsequent revelation teaches us nothing of the kind. Subsequent revelation teaches us that the Lord Jesus spent a great deal of His time casting out demons. The apostle Paul said that those who worshipped idols were actually worshipping demons. When Paul cast out the demon from the slave girl at Philippi, the original says that it was the “spirit of a python.” The python was sacred to the god Apollo, and this soothsaying girl was obviously a devotee of that god. In short, nothing is plainer in Scripture than that the gods of the pagan nations were not in the same class with the upper-case G God of Israel. But neither were they nullities, fictitious stories made up by superstitious pagans. The fact that they were not God did not mean that they were not gods. It is quite striking that Enns didn’t quote the apostle Paul’s resolution of the problem that he wanted to leave “in tension.”

As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one. For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him” (1 Cor. 8:4-6).

“No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons” (1 Cor 10:20).

The sacrifices of pagans were not offered to a vacuum, but rather to demons, styling themselves to be gods. The strict monotheism of the Bible places the Creator/creature divide between God and everything and everyone else. Superstitions are on this side of the divide, and so are conceited demons. The strict monotheism of the Bible does not prevent a comparison of God to all the gods, who are, compared to Him, nothing. Sixties excesses notwithstanding, Clapton was not god, but this datum does not require me to deny Clapton’s existence. In fact, I am listening to him right now. In short, this is a place where Enns could easily have seen all the tension evaporate, and all he needed to do was affirm the existence of principalities, powers, thrones, dominations, angels, archangels, demons, and things that go bump in the night. As Paul put it, they are called gods. They are nothing compared to God. But they are there. There are gods many and lords many. But for us, there is only one God, the Father of all.

The last major section of the book was on the apostolic handling of Old Testament texts. Enns does a fantastic job here in showing how the apostles actually interpreted OT texts. No question that they did so in a manner that we moderns find “odd.” Again, Enns statement of the problem is very good. There is no getting around the fact that the apostles of our Lord Jesus would have flunked the hermeneutics course at virtually any modern seminary, especially the conservative ones. Noah’s flood represents Christian baptism? Hagar and Sarah are two covenants? The rock that followed Israel around in the wilderness was Christ? Come on.

But, to his credit, Enns knows that this apostolic exegesis is authoritative for us somehow. But he struggles in explaining exactly how it could be. He says that the apostles were so struck by the death and resurrection of Jesus that they (in essence) projected this eschatological event back onto the blank screen of the Old Testament. Enns admits that what they were doing was eisegesis, not exegesis, but he does not believe it was uncontrolled eisegesis. The control was the revelation of God in Christ. He says that we should do the same thing . . . to a certain extent.

The solution to this dilemma is found in the divine authorship of the Scriptures. Hosea might not have known that his statement about Israel coming up out of Egypt (11:1) was a reference to more than just the Exodus. Jesus was the new Israel, and there was going to be new Exodus. But whether Hosea knew this is not relevant. Hosea was not the only author. God establishes types in the text, and their fulfillment in the antitypes. When we discover these rightly, this is exegesis.

It is important to note that Jesus did not handle the texts this way because He had died and rose again. He went to His death willingly because He was sure that this is what the Scriptures foretold.

It appears (from this distance) that Enns is very concerned that he not fall into the trap of mindless fundamentalism (and the intellectual dishonesty that this sometimes entails). And that is just fine — good in fact. But there is a way of being a biblical absolutist without buying into modernity’s notions of truth being limited to science or math. There is a belief in Scripture that can ask every question that Enns raises in this book, and give an intellectually honest answer.

Superficial inerrancy wants the Bible to sit down in Mrs. Enlightenment’s class for an exam, and wants the Bible to get a perfect score. But biblical absolutism says it should go the other way; we want to get Mrs. Enlightenment to enroll in Scripture’s class, and take a few tests of her own. Maybe even flunk a few of them. When Scripture is studied as the absolute standard, a lot of these questions and tensions that Enns raises just disappear. But when Scripture is studied as one-which-takes-tests-administered-by-others, the defenders of the faith always wind up like the nerdy kid who got a 98 percent and is trying to haggle the teacher out of two extra points.

I recommend this book as a good guide to problems that typical inerrancy can’t solve. But I can’t recommend it as a guide to what we should do about it.

And God Will Send His Blessings Down

Minister: Lift up your hearts!

Congregation: We lift them up to the Lord!

 

Everyone who fears the Lord is blessed,

     All who walk in the ways assigned.

 

Your meals will be the work of your hands,

     Happiness weighs your table down,

     And it will all be well with all your house.

 

Your wife will be a fruitful vine

     Along the walls of the home God gave;

Your children all like olive shoots

     Seated at your table there.

 

To fear the Lord is blessedness indeed.

 

From Zion God will send His blessings down

     And you will see Jerusalem’s good

Through all the days your life extends.

 

And you will also come to see

     Your children’s children seated there,

     And peace on Israel.

Psalm 128

And so, gracious Father, we worship You now through Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end, amen.

No Dessert for You

Once there was a young couple whose first child was approaching school age, and they had begun to talk seriously about what they were going to do. The problem was acute for them because they both came from families that had a lot of public school teachers in them. These were Christian people, but public school was simply what everybody did.

If they decided to homeschool, or if they enrolled their child in a private Christian school, they knew that the reaction in the broader family would range from kind bewilderment to outright hostility. They came from an extended family that was very close, and they were not quite sure that they were up to the numerous painful conversations.

Because of this, they had halfway talked themselves into “trying” the public school. Besides money was tight, and if they went the private route it was going to be tighter. The argument that seemed most compelling to them was the “salt and light” argument. “After all, didn’t Jesus tell us not to put our light under a bushel?”

They mentioned this to a good friend of theirs from church, and he looked at them quizzically. “What do you think about that?” they asked.

“Do you really want to know?” he said. “I don’t want to seem rude. Or be rude, for that matter.”

“No, tell us,” they said.

Without answering, he walked over to their home computer in the corner, and clicked on their web browser. “What are you doing?” they asked.

“Checking Priceline tickets,” he said. “I just got a newsletter today from an old family friend in Kenya. He is a missionary there, and one of the things he specifically mentioned was the need in their village for more salt and light. We could send little Sharon over to help . . .”

“But she is five years old!”

“She is salt and light, right? And they need it there desperately.”

“But mission boards require training . . . years of training.”

“Training . . . is that anything like a Christian education?”

They all laughed and the wife looked at their friend. “We have already fed you dinner,” she said. “But no dessert for you.”

Preparing Food, Preparing People

The Holy Spirit does not seek to motivate His people into positive godliness by means of guilt. The only thing that guilt motivates us to is confession. Once confession is made, the central motive force for all that we do is to be love and gratitude.

This Table is here to nourish you, to equip you, to strengthen you for the tasks that God has assigned to you. That being the case, God does not want you to come to this Table out of some guilty obligation. You are obligated, that is true, but the obligation is more like your obligation to breath. You have an obligation to breathe, but it is not on your daily “to do” list. You have an obligation to take regular meals, but that obligation arises internally, and you do not pursue it in order to “be good.” You eat because you’re hungry.

In the same way, we gather here, a hungry people. We look forward to what God has prepared for us, and we also look forward to what God is preparing us to do. We prepares the meal, and by preparing the meal, he is preparing His people. A mother who cooks a good breakfast for her children before sending them off to school is not just preparing food. She is also preparing children.

God has established good works for you to do this coming week. He wants you to walk by faith in those good works, and He fits the work to you, and fits you to the work. One of His central instrument for equipping you for your assigned tasks this coming week is this service of worship, culminating in this meal. He strengthens you by His grace so that you might walk in His grace.

All of this is from grace, in grace, and unto grace. At no place in the process can we detach ourselves from His kindness and claim that we have done anything meritorious in ourselves. We have been saved by grace through faith, and we are God’s workmanship. As His workmanship, we should be grateful for His tools. This Table is one of those tools.

Oh

Well, I have listened to an interview with Guy Waters on the Federal Vision (HT: Mark Horne). In a nutshell, I agree with Mark’s response here. How is it possible for the same teaching to create false assurance and no assurance? How is our preaching and teaching putting them to complacent sleep in their covenantal pew and at the same time dangling terrified parishioners over the abyss? This is a theological problem with his critique. What exactly is the bad thing we are doing to the people of God? Are we taking assurance away or trucking in great amounts of undesired surplus assurance? That is the theological critique.

Here is the ethical critique. In this interview, Guy Waters did the same thing that he did in his book, and which I have already refuted section by section. He says we don’t say things we very clearly say, he says that we obscure things we don’t obscure,and in short he grossly misrepresents us (to an unsuspecting Christian audience). I would refer him to the Larger Catechism’s treatment of the ninth commandment, and ask him to adopt an attitude of strict subscription.

Here is one glaring example from the interview. Dr. Waters said that assurance is simply not to be found in FV preaching and teaching. Not to be found. Okay, what about the whole chapter on assurance in my book “Reformed” Is Not Enough? And this was not a chapter on how assurance is bad, but rather a standard, straightforward pastoral treatment of assurance, in line with our confessions, and in complete harmony with what I was arguing in the rest of the book. We know we have passed from death to life because of our love for the brethren. We know we are God’s children because He chastizes every son whom He receives, and so on. John the apostle wrote 1 John so that we might know that we have eternal life.

But if I were a member of that unsuspecting Christian audience, listening to this stuff, I would be alarmed. If I were alarmed enough to form an opinion, but not so alarmed that I actually went and got a book by an FV author, or listened to a downloaded sermon from one of them, I would walk away from hearing this interview with a false opinion of Christian brothers, and I would have gotten that false opinion directly from Guy Waters.

Given the line that is being spun about us, it is plain as day why there will not be any debates anytime soon. Hypothetically, we could find ourselves hearing something like this. Dr. Waters: “Nowhere in FV preaching and teaching will you find anything on assurance.” Wilson: “I just finished a short series of sermons on the important subject of assurance, which can be obtained from Canon Press.” Dr. Waters: “Oh.”

The Leaven of Joy

We now come to the conclusion of the Mosaic exposition on the fourth commandment. We see that the sabbath principle runs throughout the year, and is not limited to a weekly cycle. And of course we see the fulfillment of these festivals is found in Christ. “Observe the month of Abib, and keep the passover unto the Lord thy God . . .” (Deuteronomy 16:1-17).

The Passover was to be celebrated in the month of Abib (or Nisan). The sacrifice of the Passover is to be made in Jerusalem (v. 2). Another festival, the Festival of Unleavened Bread was conjoined to the Passover, and was celebrated over the seven days following the Passover (vv. 3-4). The Passover could not be celebrated at home (vv. 5-6), and had to commence at sundown. The meat of the sacrifice was to be roasted and eaten (v. 7). Unleavened bread was eaten for six days, and then there was a solemn assembly on the last day (v. 8).

The second annual festival was called weeks or Pentecost. It marked seven weeks after the very beginning of the harvest (v. 9). Pentecost was to be observed with an offering or tribute (v. 10). The offering was to be given in all joy (v. 11). The joy was to include others less fortunate, and this was remembered for historical reasons (vv. 11-12). After this came the festival of booths, or Tabernacles, at the last of the harvest (v. 13). Joy is again commanded (v. 14). This festival lasted a week (v. 15). An appearance before the Lord, with full hands, was required three times a year (v. 16). The giving was to be according to each man’s ability (v. 17).

The New Testament makes it plain that Jesus Christ is our Passover lamb. The apostle Paul says so explicitly (1 Cor. 5:7-8). Christ fulfilled the qualifications of a Passover lamb, down to the last detail (1 Pet. 1:19; John 19:36 & Ex. 12:46). And we Gentile Christians are to keep the festival by getting rid of the leaven of malice and wickedness. The Passover is not thrown away; rather, it is kept in different fashion than before. We celebrate weekly, and we take meticulous care to keep strife out of our lives and mouths.

In our celebration of the Lord’s Supper, some may ask about our use of leavened bread. Remember we are no longer eating the bread of affliction (v. 3), but rather the bread of heaven, the bread of paradise. Remember the Passover was an annual festival which required a rigorous purging of leaven. The Lord’s Supper was not celebrated by the early Christians annually, but rather daily and weekly. This meant that for Jewish Christians, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper would have run them through other occasions when the use of leaven was required. The first recorded Christian Passover (after the institution of it) was on Pentecost, and leaven was present in the sacrifices of Pentecost. In short, to follow the example of unleavened bread of Passover in the Lord’s Supper is a pattern that proves or requires too much. Leaven was not just excluded from the bread, but was excluded from everything. Since we know this was not the case in the early celebrations of the Lord’s Supper, we have no reason to think that leaven should be missing from the bread.

At Pentecost three thousand heard the Word and were baptized (Acts 2:41-42). From that point on they submitted to the apostolic doctrine, had fellowship, broke bread, and prayed. So the first observation of the Lord’s Supper in its new Christian context began on the day of Pentecost, a day when the use of leaven was mandatory. “. . . they shall be baken with leaven” (Lev. 23:17). We have moved from the seventh day to the first, and from the bread of affliction and remembered slavery to the bread of freedom, liberty, and fullness of joy.

Then we come to the fullness of Tabernacles. The festival here continues the glory of ingathering. We are not to appear before the Lord empty-handed, empty-hearted, or empty-headed. Gather in, to give again, to gather in, to give again. And this spirit of generosity is the most evangelistic thing we can do. We appear before the Lord giving, because we believe that He is engaged in harvesting the world.

Because of our sinfulness and tendency to forget, constant reminders are most helpful.

Remember your history

—these festivals that Israel held were obviously seasonal and agricultural. But it is significant that God required them to remember their history and their redemption at these same times. Mere seasonal festivity is more pagan than Christian. But at the same time, the seasons of our lives are part of what God has given us. But we are to link those seasons to the salvation of Christ.

Joy is a duty

—Paul says in Phillipians that we are to rejoice always. This is also required here, several times (vv. 11, 14).

Include the hurting

—we are commanded to include the hurting and those less fortunate. But before those who feel themselves entitled say yeah!, we must all remember why we are sometimes tempted to neglect this commandment.

Emptiness and fullness are reciprocal

—we are not to appear before the Lord empty (v. 16). We are not to free a slave empty (15:13). The two great commandments are always linked. We worship a giving God, and so we must be a giving and overflowing people.

The Sun is Up

As we come to the Table together, I would like to speak a word to the children who have been gathered here with us.

You are named by the name of Jesus Christ. Just as you were born into a particular family, and no one asked you whether or not you wanted your last name, so you are being brought up in the Christian faith, in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. This is not the result of anyone infringing on your rights, but rather the result of your parents’ obedience. This is just what God has told them to do.

Now you know that it is not enough simply to be member of the covenant—you must also be faithful to that covenant, and fruitful in it. One temptation you will encounter is that of trying to peer into the depths of your heart to find out if you are truly being faithful, if you are truly a member of the covenant. But looking into your own heart this way will only bring confusion.

Rather, you should always look in faith to Jesus Christ. When you do that, it strengthens your faith. When you look to yourself, all you will encounter are doubts and confusions.

You do not need to know what time the sun rose this morning to know that it is up. You do not need to know what time of your life the sun rose in your hearts to know that it is up. You are here in this Christian congregation. You love Jesus Christ. You look forward to singing praise to Him. You look forward to learning from His Word. You know that you need the blessing and strengthening that comes from partaking of this Table. What does all this mean?

It means the sun is up. So come, together with the rest of us, and enjoy the blessing of God in Christ. This is true faith.

Unity and Conflict

The unity of the faith is dependent upon unity of faith. While we have an objective unity with all who share one Lord, one faith, one baptism, Paul does on to say that there is another unity that we must grow up into.

There is a unity we must preserve, and there is a unity we must accomplish. Wisdom must direct all those who strive for this future unity because we are trying to do this in a world where we have enemies and adversaries. The New Testament is filled with the gatherings of God, and the divisions of God.

A shepherd wants the flock unified, but he does not include the wolves in this. To do so in the name of unity would only introduce, and that very quickly, a bloody and unhappy disunity. A doctor does not the body to accomplish any kind of unity with cancer cells. To strive for unity with cancer cells is simply another way of striving for a disunity of soul and body.

Unity is driven by a desire to love and please God, and to follow Him in whatever He does. If God is fellowshipping with someone, then so must we. If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all unrighteousness. By the same token, if we walk in the light we find ourselves in conflict with those who do not like what light reveals. In a dark world, those who want to walk in the light are those who are asking for conflict.

So do not assume that conflict means unscriptural disunity. Do not assume that conflict means that you are being persecuted for righteousness’ sake. In short, do not assume anything, and turn back to the Scriptures with complete humility of soul. Trust the Lord. God is growing us up into a perfect man, and the process does not always look like we think it should look.