The covenants are crucial to properly understanding Scripture, as Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum have argued, because they are the backbone of the storyline of the Bible. The Bible isn’t a random collection of laws, moral principles, and stories. It is a story that goes somewhere; it is the story of redemption, the story of God’s kingdom. And the story unfolds and advances through the covenants God made with his people.
If we don’t understand the covenants, we will not and cannot understand the Bible because we won’t understand how the story fits together. The best way to see this is by quickly surveying the covenants in the Scriptures.
If we don’t understand the covenants, we will not and cannot understand the Bible.The creation covenant
God created the world and human beings, showing he is the sovereign ruler of all. He created Adam and Eve as priest-kings, as those made in his image, to rule the world for God. They were to extend God’s rule over the entire earth.
As God’s son and daughter they would be confirmed in life and righteousness if they obeyed the Lord, but they would be cursed if they transgressed the command not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. In other words, there was covenant blessing and covenant cursing. They ate from the forbidden tree and experienced the covenant curse.
By God’s grace the story doesn’t end there, for the Lord promised to triumph over the serpent through the offspring of the woman (Gen. 3:15). The rule originally given to Adam and Eve would be restored through the offspring of the woman.The covenant with Noah
As history unfolds, the horrific consequences of the sin of Adam and Eve became evident. Evil and corruption permeated the world. By the time of Noah there were only eight righteous people left in the world, and the promise of redemption through the offspring of the woman seemed like a distant memory.
The entire world, except for Noah and his offspring were wiped out in the flood. God made a covenant with Noah, promising that the human race wouldn’t be annihilated again until the plan of redemption through the offspring of the woman was fulfilled. Noah was in some ways a new Adam on a new earth, and thus the creation covenant with Adam was rejuvenated. Still, salvation would not come through Noah because like Adam he sinned in the garden, and the fundamental evil in the heart of human beings persisted.The covenant with Abraham
After Noah the world again slid into sin, with the tower of Babel as the signature of sin. In this dire situation God called one man, Abraham, and made a covenant with him. The Lord promised Abraham land (Canaan), offspring (Isaac), and a blessing that would extend to the ends of the earth.
Abraham was like a new Adam and Canaan was to be a new Eden where God dwelt with his people. As the children of Abraham trust in the Lord and obey him the promises would be fulfilled. At the same time, the Lord promised in a dramatic covenant-ceremony that the promise would certainly be fulfilled (Genesis 15). God pledged that he would keep his promise but he would do it through the obedient offspring of Abraham.The covenant with Israel
A covenant was also made with Israel after they were freed from Egypt by God’s grace. Israel was God’s son and Abraham’s offspring and the means by which blessing would flow to the whole world. They were priest-kings, mediating God’s blessing and rule in the world. They lived in Canaan, which was to be like a new Eden, a place where God ruled and dwelt in the midst of a holy people.
The stipulations of the covenant with Israel are summarized in the ten commandments, and the Lord promised blessing if they obeyed but if they violated God’s prescriptions they would suffer the consequences. Indeed, they would even be ejected from the land and go into exile.The covenant with David
The promise of victory over the serpent and his offspring will come through a child of Abraham (Gen. 3:15; 12:1–3), but in God’s covenant with David a new feature of the promise appeared, though if one reads the story carefully there were indications of this promise all along (2 Samuel 7). The new feature is that victory over the serpent would come through a king. The child of Abraham who will conquer sin and death will be a son of David. The promise of land and universal blessing will be secured through David’s dynasty.
The king, then, was a kind of new Adam in a new land, and for a brief time it almost looked as if all the promises would come to pass during Solomon’s reign. The covenant with David, however, had conditional and unconditional elements as well. If the kings transgressed, they would face God’s judgment.
As history progresses, it becomes evident that something was radically wrong with the kings and with the nation. In fact, the sin of the kings of Judah (and Israel) were so significant that Israel was expelled from the land. God had pledged that the world would be transformed through a son of David, but the promise was going backwards! Israel and Judah were thrown out of the land in 722 and 586 BC respectively.
What was happening to God’s great promise?The new covenant
Israel had made a mess of things, and it almost seems as if the promise of triumph over the serpent had been withdrawn, but we remember that the promise in Gen. 3:15 was unconditional, and that the Lord also guaranteed that victory would come through a child of Abraham and a son of David.
Still, there was a problem with covenant made with Israel, and the cancer resided in the people: they failed to keep God’s commands and thus experienced the curses of the covenant. The Lord enacted a new covenant with his people which fulfilled the promises made to Adam, Abraham, and David (cf. Jer. 31:31–34).
The new covenant finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ who is the true son of Abraham, the true Son of God, the true Israel, the true David, the Son of Man, and the Servant of the Lord. The new covenant promise of forgiveness of sins is fulfilled in Jesus himself, and thus he pours out his Spirit on his people so that they are enabled to do God’s will (Ezek. 36:26–27).
All those who belong to Jesus are his offspring: they are the children of Abraham and members of the Israel of God. The land promise is also fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The first glimmer of the promise is located in Jesus’s resurrection, which guarantees the resurrection of believers and the new creation which is coming. In the new creation the entire world is God’s temple, and the whole universe is the new Jerusalem where God and the Lamb dwell (Rev. 21:1–22:5).
The universal blessing, blessing for all nations and peoples, also comes to pass in Jesus. In the old covenant God’s people consisted almost exclusively of Israel, but the fullness of God’s promise to Abraham has become a reality and every tribe, tongue, people, and nation are blessed in Jesus Christ, as they trust in him for eternal life.
This article was originally published on the Crossway blog
The post Why you can’t understand the Bible without understanding the covenants appeared first on Southern Equip.
“Daddy, watch.” I turn to see my son attempting a “Dude Perfect” trick shot—backwards, off the backboard, into the net. As it goes in, he lets out a scream—“Let’s go!”
“Daddy,” my youngest asks, “can we make a treasure hunt?”
“Daddy,” my oldest says, “can you come tuck me in?”
Children desire the attention and affection of their parents. God, the most magnificent artist this world has ever seen, intentionally crafted the family to include a father and a mother who would give this attention and affection to their children. Yet for many children around the world, the attention and affection of the father is missing because the fathers are missing.
Scripture specifically commands fathers, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Likewise, God instructs parents, “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). This instruction is an all-the-time sort of instruction. Fathers play a crucial role in the development of their children, yet how can they play this role when they are missing?
Some fathers are missing because they have never played any role in their children’s lives at all. Perhaps they bought into the lie of casual sex and ran off as soon as they heard that their girlfriend was pregnant. Some fathers are missing because of divorce, creating a great barrier of time and space. Some fathers, although physically present in the home, spend little time with their children, leaving the task of parenting to the mother alone.
If you find yourself in one of these situations, there is time for change and reason for hope. You cannot change the past, you cannot control how others will respond, but you can change your own actions. As long as we have breath, there is still time to change.
Studies have demonstrated that when fathers are involved, children perform better academically, are less likely to engage in substance abuse, and are less likely to commit crime, to name only a few benefits. Among the many factors contributing to violence in our culture, the absence of fathers is surely one and deserves ongoing study.
Training children in the ways of the Lord requires a consistent time commitment and intentional actions. We must intentionally teach our children about God and His Word, but it won’t work to focus only on the big stuff while being absent for the small stuff. Such an approach greatly diminishes your ability to teach, and it demonstrates that other things are more important than your children.
Spend time with your children. Every child is different, so the way you spend time with them will be different. Play games, play outside, go camping. Take a walk, ride bikes, talk about computers. Have a tea party, make a treasure hunt, plant a flower. What matters is not so much the activity that you do together but the fact that you are together. Maybe you need to run to the home store or pick up some food. Take a child with you. What do your children want to do? Ask them.
There is no doubt that this is not always easy. Sometimes you need time to yourself. Sometimes you will have to work a little bit extra. Yet if we’re not careful, a little bit extra can turn into a lot extra. As the saying goes, no one ever said on his deathbed, “I wish I had spent more time at the office.” We need to be intentional, and we need consistent checkups on how we’re spending our time.
Part of investing time in your children is protecting your ability to do so. This means protecting your marriage. Spend time with your wife and flee the things that can ruin a marriage. Flee pornography. Flee alcohol and drugs. Flee selfishness. Flee emotional attachments with other women. Once again, in recent weeks, a prominent minister has disclosed an inappropriate relationship. That could be you or me. It absolutely could. If you think that it couldn’t, you have an over-inflated view of self and a weak view of sin. We must affirm that it absolutely could be us and take intentional steps to make sure that it never is.
If you don’t have kids, did you just waste your time reading? I don’t think so. Kids imitate people. Kids are watching. Whether you know it or not, somebody is watching you and will imitate you in some way.
Why did my son shout out, “Let’s go!” after making his “Dude Perfect” trick shot? Because that’s what Tyler from “Dude Perfect” shouts when he makes a trick shot. Kids are watching.
Certainly more children are watching viral videos than are watching you, but somebody is watching. What’s more, there are plenty of children in the world who would love to have a male role model in their life to imitate. Why not be intentional about it?
Part of John the Baptist’s role in preparing the way for Jesus involved turning the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers (see Malachi 4:6 and Luke 1:17). So, too, in our day, it is time for the hearts of the fathers to turn to their children. Lord, make it so.
 See https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr071.pdf. Accessed 4-9-2018.
The Bible provides a lot of rich imagery: a city, a temple, a land. This descriptive and symbolic language is reaching for what the new creation will be like.
When many people think of heaven — the eternal state in which believers are gathered together under the permanent rule of God — they imagine angelic, spiritual beings floating around, playing harps, eating grapes, and doing nothing all day. They tend to imagine a disembodied existence, or at least a kind of aimless, purposeless physical one. But just because the Bible teaches that our bodies will be raised imperishable, that doesn’t mean we are going to be bodiless. By the powerful work of the Spirit, we will be resurrected and our souls are going to be united with our bodies. The new creation will be physical —a transformed physical existence far beyond our finite imaginations.
What’s more, the new creation will be one of purpose. The heavenly scenes we have, like in Revelation 4-5, overflow with the rich, glorious worship of God for his work through Christ.
Heaven will be radically God-centered. God is going to remove every trace of sin and suffering — no more grief, conflict, cancer, divorce, disease. We are going to see God face-to-face, and we’re going to know him like we’ve never known him before. The worship of God in the presence of God needs to be have a prominent place in how we visualize heaven.
Heaven will involve another purpose: We are going to work. We know God is going to take people from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation, and make them a kingdom of priests (Rev 5:10). That means we will rule and serve — precisely what humanity was intended to do in Eden. One could say it’s going to be Eden 2.0, even better than God’s original design because we won’t be able to sin. We are going to live like humanity was supposed to.But what will we do?
Here’s what we know: God put Adam in the garden “to work it and keep it” and that work is inherently worshipful. “Work” and “keep” are priestly terms that bring to mind the temple and the worship of God. Worship is not inherently passive, and much of our thinking about heaven seems flat and uninteresting because we assume worship is just singing in a large choir (no offense to large choirs).
Our acts of service will be worshipful because they will be untainted by sin and done unto the Lord. As Paul tells us, “Do your work heartily as unto the Lord, as not a serving man but as serving God, knowing from God we will have an inheritance” (Col 3:23-24). We will experience that kind of work because there will be no more sin, and we will do our work heartily as unto the Lord as we enjoy our future inheritance: the new heaven and the new earth.
Beyond that, it’s hard to know for sure. The Bible provides a lot of rich imagery: a city, a temple, a land. This descriptive and symbolic language is reaching for what the new creation will be like. Isaiah 11 describes a wolf dwelling with a lamb, a lion lying down with a young goat, and children playing with snakes, but that symbolism makes a theological point about the Messiah’s power to totally transform nature. The reality will be far greater than any of those images.
Sometimes I hear people say things like, “If my grandmother is going to be there, then I want to go to heaven;” or, “Heaven’s going to be great because I can golf any time I want to.” That can easily lead to idolatry, because heaven isn’t fundamentally about what I can enjoy outside of God. Heaven is fundamentally about joy in God. In the course of this life we derive joy from all kinds of things, and he designed us for that. He’s created us for awe and joy and worship. But we must find that ultimately in God through what he has done for us in Christ and given us by his Spirit. If we are satisfied in the Giver, then his gifts can be properly enjoyed in their place.
So is it helpful to speculate about what heaven will be like? Is it healthy to imagine being the president of the new creation version of NASA or playing baseball with your dad again like you did as a child? As long as that speculation doesn’t distract us from why heaven is going to be so great and glorious: being in God’s holy, life-giving presence with his people. We get a taste of it here as we seek to know him, find our identity in him, and live out of our union with Christ by his Spirit. But it’s going to be a thousand times more joyful and satisfying than we can ever imagine. Speculation about what the new heaven and new earth will be like isn’t necessarily wrong, but it can be disordered, so we need to reorder it around our glorious triune God.A grounded view of heaven
I used to hear this statement growing up: “Don’t be so heavenly minded that you are of no earthly good.” I think that’s inaccurate. God calls us to be so heavenly minded that we can be maximally good and useful where God has called us in Christ. After all, we were created in Christ Jesus for good works (Eph 2:10). Paul writes: “If then you have been raised with Christ, keep seeking the things that are above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Don’t set your mind on earthly things, but things above.” (Col 3:1-3). Knowing our resurrected identity in the resurrected Christ then motivates our sanctification, according to Paul, who describes in the following verses what desires and virtues Christians must put off and put on (Col 3:5-10).
Paul gives us very specific earthly things to believe, think, love, live, and do because of our new identity. He puts flesh on our heavenly mindedness. It means killing sin, putting on Christ, and doing our work in ways that honor him. As I love my wife, parent my children, prepare to teach, relate to others, serve my church, and even play kickball with the kids in my neighborhood, I am called to put off anything that hinders me from running the race. Instead, by God’s transforming grace I need put on the kinds of things that will enable me to grow in Christ and proclaim him to others. Looking to Christ encourages us to live our lives in light of his certain return, which causes us to cry out with the Apostle John: “Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev 22:20).
What do you do when you long for something? What does that look like? This idea struck me anew on my way back from a recent mission trip to Ethiopia. During the flight back to the United States, my heart was filled with a deep, intense desire to see my family after being out of the country for ten days. The second my feet hit American soil I made a beeline to embrace Anna, my wife, and the kids. This became clear to me: Longing is not a weak emotion. Longing moves you to run toward the object of your affection.Longing for Christ is longing for heaven
As Christians, we long for Christ. This means that we design our lives around the single, earnest pursuit of him. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt 6:33). Our lives are not about seeking “all these things,” but Christ.
This is the same note the author of Hebrews strikes. He says that one of the ways we “run with endurance the race set before us” is by “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:1-2). The best runners in a race are not looking to their left or right or backwards, but always forward to the goal in front of them. And in the race of faith that is our lives, we fix our eyes on Jesus. He is the longing of our hearts; he is the goal of our salvation.
Jesus is what makes heaven worth attaining. In comforting his fearful disciples, Jesus said, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:3). At the heart of the glory of heaven is our unhindered, uninterrupted fellowship with Christ. This is how the Apostle Paul reasoned when he considered his potential death: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21). Death was gain for Paul because it meant more of Jesus, the very hope of heaven.Training our people to desire God
Preachers have a tremendous opportunity to help steer hearts heavenward through Spirit-empowered expositional preaching. Their job is to encourage church members to long for heaven through their preaching ministries. This is of vital importance given the powerful role the pulpit plays in the life of the local church.
Helping our people long for heaven through our preaching requires preachers who long for heaven. In other words, a preacher’s preaching must be marked by the aroma of eternal realities. Is the fragrance of Christ in the air as we preach?
It will be if, as preachers, we are governed by the text of Scripture. The Bible is first and foremost revelation of God — his character, conduct, and purposes. The Bible, after all, is about a kingdom not of this world. And it is our responsibility as preachers to bring our people into God’s world every Sunday.
Tragically, many preachers today need to hear the rebuke Jesus gave to Peter in Mark 8:33, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Most of us have heard the phrase, “Don’t be so heavenly minded that you are no earthly good.” Well, Peter was so earthly minded that he was in danger of missing heaven.
When a church doesn’t long for heaven, it is probably the preacher’s fault. The notes sounding forth from the pulpit are too often the pop songs of the world, not the symphonies of God’s glory. If our preachers aren’t enamored with heaven, why would our churches be? If our preachers aren’t longing for Christ, why would our people be captivated by the glories to come?
Preachers must be men who live and preach in the tension of heaven and hell because we know people are ultimately either children of God or children of the devil — forgiven or condemned, saved or unsaved. Moreover, the Christian preacher believes all history is moving toward God’s appointed end: the day of Christ (cf. Rom 2:16, 1 Cor 1:8, Phil 1:6, 2:16).
Do not shrink back from declaring the reality of hell nor assume the riches of heaven. We must strive to make these realities as concrete in our people’s thinking and feeling as the Bible makes them. These great truths animate our preaching and move us to proclaim eternal realities.
As Christians, we long for Christ and our heavenly home. Part of the glory of the local church is the power of corporate longing — dozens, hundreds, or thousands of people gathered together determined to go Godward in their affections. The pulpit plays an indispensable role in building these kinds of churches. Therefore, may God be pleased to raise up an army of preachers who “desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Heb 11:16).
Kevin Jones’s call to teach came early. As a junior in high school, his Sunday School teacher told him, “The Lord has given you a gift to teach.”
“Yeah, OK,” he thought.
“What older folks said in the church, you did,” he said. “She said, ‘Show up for teacher training,’ and I showed up for teacher training. For a year I went through teacher training at Little Flock Baptist Church and then started teaching Sunday School not long after that. I fell in love with teaching.”
Jones, who is associate dean of academic innovation and professor of teacher education at Boyce College, grew up in the west end of Louisville, Kentucky, graduated high school in Louisville, and met his wife in Louisville. His passion for teaching, and for teaching the gospel, has followed him. He now serves as pastor of Christian education at Forest Baptist Church in Louisville. He’s also involved locally in Manhood Journey, a nonprofit focused on helping fathers develop the skills to father well, as board member and curriculum writer, and a research fellow for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, where he writes for the ERLC and The Gospel Coalition, giving thought to education, spirituality, and race relations.
After studying elementary education at Kentucky State University, he taught in the public school system.
“I loved as a Christian being able to have influence in what we would call the public square, being able to share the gospel with unbelievers and being able to remind believers of the gospel,” he said. “When anyone asked me where my hope lied, or why I worked hard, or why I was diligent, or what I thought about life or why I didn’t do certain things, I would always point them back to Scripture. So truly trying to be a light in a dark, or at least a very dim, place was my experience.”
The move from public schools to Christian education was unexpected, he said.
“For so long, I never wanted to teach in a Christian school, or even be affiliated with a Christian school. I thought, ‘Listen, there are enough Christians already in a Christian school. Lord, put me in places where no Christians are.’”
Four years ago, he was in contact with Alvin Hickey, who was former faculty at KSU and at the time chair of Boyce’s teacher education program. Four years ago, he made the move from public education to Boyce. He’s still teaching, training new teachers.
But the classroom is not Jones’ only passion. He is calling for Southern Baptists to pay greater attention to racial reconciliation as a member of the Southern Baptist Convention, which was founded in the pro-slavery American South in 1845.
“When I came to the campus four years ago, Jarvis [Williams] was one of the few African American professors here,” he said. “We formed a very quick bond.” Jones and Williams co-authored the 2017 book, Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention: Diverse African American and White Perspective. The book emerged from a deep, prayerful desire to see the SBC wrestle with its past regarding issues of race, Jones said.
“The book is a result of him and I praying and saying ‘Lord, would you bring reconciliation between minorities and the majority cultures, starting within the SBC and local churches?” he said. “I think so often we see other organizations, non-Christian organizations, leading in these charges when I think it’s a biblical mandate for us to be reconciled, not only to Jesus Christ, but to one another as well. So the books was a result of [us asking], ‘Lord, what can we do on this campus to help lead the SBC in dealing with racism?’”
The Lord gave them a hint after a historic Southern Seminary convocation address in 2015 where R. Albert Mohler Jr. preached from Genesis 11 and called multiple times to “remove the stain of racism [from the church].”
“Jarvis and I both knew that the stain of racism and the issues of racism exist in many areas of life — in preaching and administration and classrooms,” he said.
In Removing the Stain of Racism, Jones and Williams offer steps necessary to begin to reconcile minority and majority cultures: “Listen, meet people where they are (not in their sin but geographically), read more, engage more, create, and have authentic relationships in different ways. And see the gospel as supreme.”
“It wasn’t a recommendation for us to be reconciled,” he said, “It was a mandate.”
The post A call to teach and to reconcile: Boyce professor teaches the gospel and race reconciliation appeared first on Southern Equip.
The millennium, the intermediate state, and the eternal state are three distinct but related concepts. Unlike the other two, the millennium is frequently debated even among conservative, evangelical Christians. In this edition of the Theology Forum, Peter J. Gentry, professor of Old Testament interpretation at Southern Seminary, offers his understanding of the millennial reign of Christ. The following is adapted from Gentry’s 2017 book, How To Read and Understand the Biblical Prophets.
There are a wide variety of interpretations of the book of Revelation. Many interpretations in the last one hundred years have not understood that while John is writing in Greek, this book follows the characteristics of the Hebrew prophets in the Old Testament. When we combine this fact with an understanding of the literary structure, we will be able to grasp clearly and simply what the book communicates.
First, note that Revelation consists of seven large sections, each consisting of seven paragraphs or smaller sections. Part of this is obvious. There are seven letters to the churches, there are seven seals, there are seven trumpets, and there are seven bowls or plagues. This is a big clue from the author.
Second, note that the book comes in two scrolls or volumes. Chapters 4 and 5 introduce the reader to a first scroll having seven seals. From this scroll comes fourteen paragraphs describing seven seals and seven trumpets. Then in 9:13-11:14, toward the end of the sequence of trumpets, we learn of another small scroll, which John is to “eat.” From the second scroll come the remaining four sequences of seven paragraphs.
Third, both the second and the fourth sequence (seven seals, and seven visions of warfare) begin with the ascension of Jesus after his resurrection and end with judgment. This suggests that these two sequences are chronologically parallel. They represent the current age between the first and second comings of Christ.
The conqueror on a white horse in 6:1-2 is Jesus Christ. This seems to be parallel to 19:11. The background to the Lord as a warrior is Exodus 15, Psalms 2, and 110. The authors of the New Testament interpret the reign of the warrior Messiah in Psalm 110 to begin at the ascension of Jesus Christ to heaven. This is when he sat down at the right hand of the throne of God and began to extend his mighty scepter from Zion. Every time someone puts their faith in Jesus Christ, folks from the enemy nations are conquered and brought into the kingdom of Jesus.
Since sequences two and four both begin with the ascension and end with the judgment, they represent the current age between the first and second comings of Christ.
Fourth, note that sequences three and five are precisely parallel: the first paragraph damages the earth, the second damages the sea, the third damages the rivers, the fourth damages the sun, the fifth unlocks darkness and pain, the sixth brings a demonic army from the Euphrates, and the seventh entails a great hailstorm. Here, in typical Hebrew fashion, the author repeats descriptions of a sequence of great judgments.
The parallel sequences in three / five are interpreted in 7:1-3 as expansions of the last two sections of the parallel sequences in two / four because the angels are not permitted to harm the earth, sea, etc. until the servants of God are sealed. These are like the visions of Daniel 8, 9, and 10-12 as expansions of seven. John is influenced by the structure of Daniel.
Fifth, the seven visions of warfare in sequence four and the seven visions of victory in sequence six are in chiastic arrangement: in sequence four we have (1) dragon, (2) beast and false prophet, and (3) Babylon fallen (Rev. 14:1–13). In sequence six (and beginning of seven) we have the exact reverse: (3) Babylon fallen, (2) beast and false prophet, and (1) dragon. So we conclude that sequences six and seven are a bigger expansion of the judgments at the end of the sixth and seventh seals in sequence four.
The seventh and final sequence is the only sequence that does not end in judgment. The judgment is described in paragraph three, and after that we have the new creation, the new people of God, the new city of God, and the river of life.
The arrangement in the last sequence suggests that this sequence is a brief overview of everything from the beginning of the church to the age of the new creation. Therefore, the first paragraph, Revelation 20:1-6, would be a short summary of the period between the first and second comings of Christ, at least up to the time of the Antichrist and terrible tribulation. The beast, false prophet, and dragon are all probably manifestations of the same evil opponent of God. Those who die for the cause of Christ live (the verb says “live,” not “come to life”) and reign with Christ, who has been reigning since his ascension. They live because all who put faith and trust in Jesus Christ are a new creation (spiritually). Unless they are alive at the coming of Christ, they must face physical death and be raised from the dead. Putting faith in Christ would be the first resurrection (spiritual), and being raised would be the second resurrection (physical).
The opposite is the case for unbelievers. Since they have no first resurrection, they experience physical death and then spiritual death in the lake of fire. “This is the second death,” says John. Revelation 20:1-6 is a tremendous motivation to evangelism. At the cross, Jesus has gone into the strong man’s house and bound the strong man (Satan). Now is the time when people can be freed from the house and kingdom of Satan. Later when the Antichrist is in full force, this will not be possible, because the number of God’s servants will be sealed at that time.
One of my classmates at seminary, Darrell Bock, claims that because the words “one thousand” are repeated six times, we must understand them as a literal one thousand years. This is a major error in interpretation. It is like insisting that we read the comics as we read the front page of the newspaper. It is like claiming that because clouds occur in six out of seven cartoon frames, they are literal clouds and not symbolic of coming storms.
Note that the basic sequence of events provided in Revelation according to the literary structure and the interpretation given here agrees with the teaching of Jesus (Matt 24) and Paul (2 Thess 2).
Although A. T. Robertson, Southern Seminary’s world-renowned New Testament professor, passed away in 1934 after suffering a heart attack a month before his seventy-first birthday, a compilation of his sermons was published in 1937 under the title Jesus as a Soul-Winner and Other Sermons. Fittingly, the final chapter was titled “Heaven as Home,” expounding upon 2 Corinthians 5:1, “for we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle be dissolved, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”
Robertson’s message featured five major points of exposition. First, he posited that Christians are strangers and pilgrims on earth, with special reference to Hebrews 11:13-16:
“We are to be in the world, but not of it — a lesson for all Christians to learn. Our real citizenship is in heaven . . . we are therefore a colony of heaven here on earth. Each group of Christians is a sample of heaven, to show men what that community ought to be, to make it a fit place for citizens of heaven to live in.”
His second point followed logically from the first: that Christians on earth are comparable to tent dwellers who hold a title deed to their permanent home:
“We have here and now the title-deed to the home in heaven. We shall enter it by and by and present our title-deed for occupancy, even the word of Jesus Christ, who purchased it for us by His own blood.”
Robertson used John 14:1-7 for his third point: Jesus has promised to take Christians home. Robertson viewed this text not as a preview of an eternal boarding house but as an emphatic picture of the perfect spiritual union of the believer with Christ:
“It is not a spatial picture of heaven as an enormous apartment house, but of heaven as home, with God as the central figure in it and with room in God’s heart and home for each of us. . . . That is our best picture of heaven, to be with Jesus, and thus ‘at home with the Lord,’ conformed at last to His likeness and with the likeness of children of God feeling at home in the family of God forever.”
Fourth, the meaning of heaven is to be at home with Christ, God the Father, and the entire host of the Redeemed. Robertson countered the commonly expressed apprehension that Christians will not be able to recognize their loved ones in heaven by noting that Jesus’ disciples ably recognized Moses and Elijah at the Mount of Transfiguration, and that Jesus himself assured his disciples that they would recognize Him in the heavenly kingdom. Thus, “if we can recognize our Lord and Saviour, surely we can know each other.”
Robertson also appealed to the imagery of the holy city from Revelation 21:
“The new heaven is described as a city, the holy Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. It is like a bride adorned for her husband. God makes His ‘tabernacle’ with men, as in the garden of Eden before sin entered. Sin cannot enter here, nor death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor toil. God Himself will wipe away ever tear from our eyes. What a picture of glory is this!”
Finally, Robertson pointed to Jesus as the Christian’s exclusive guide to the heavenly home. According to the promise of John 14:4 — “And where I am going, ye know the way”— Robertson remarked that Jesus “has not left us alone in the wilderness to find the way to our heavenly home.”
Robertson took the opportunity to emphasize the exclusivity of Christ as the only way to heaven:
“Call this narrow, illiberal, anything you will. There is no other way to the Father but by the Son. . . . So then let us not complain that there are not other ways to heaven. Let us rejoice that there is this way and walk in it here and now.”
Robertson’s own funeral service bore witness to the confidence he held in his Savior to see him through from his “tent of the body” into heaven’s splendor. The hymn medley included “Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross,” “Rock of Ages,” “My Faith Looks Up to Thee,” and “I’ve Found a Friend.” They also sang “O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go,” Robertson’s personal favorite. Revelation 21:1-7 was among the biblical texts read by his pupil-turned-peer professor Hersey Davis.
More resources on A. T. Robertson can be viewed in the Archives office of the James P. Boyce Centennial Library.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Below, Gregg R. Allison, professor of Christian theology at Southern Seminary, talks with Towers editor Andrew J.W. Smith about his new book, 50 Core Truths of the Christian Faith.
AJWS: This book seeks to make Christian doctrine more readily available — for students and also for educators, Sunday school teachers, and high school Bible teachers. Why is this kind of book necessary?
GA: There are a lot of good theology books that have been written and are being written. Often they’re pretty lengthy and go into a lot of depth. There are some that are more basic — more outline, more overview — but the whole idea was to make a user-friendly book on doctrine. Baker Books [the publisher] has a series called Teach the Text. It walks through how to preach and teach each of the books of the Bible. It’s very user-friendly in its outline form. So one of the editors at Baker reached out to me and said, “Take a look at this Teach the Text. This is how we do commentaries. Can you do something like this for doctrine?” So I proposed this concept and they went with it. I want this book to make doctrine very accessible without going into a lot of detail. Each chapter is about 2,200 words, or seven pages.
AJWS: What’s the best way to use this book?
GA: At the end of each chapter in the book, I also list resources. So I would refer to Grudem’s Systematic Theology for the doctrine of the Trinity, the doctrine of sin, for the doctrine of Christ. That would provide the bulk of the actual doctrine itself that a Sunday school teacher or a high school teacher would need. My book is basically an outline of how to go about learning this and teaching it. It’s really slimmed down, it’s really lean. If people have read Grudem’s Systematic Theology or Erickson’s Christian Theology, they’ll find there’s nothing new in mine other than the way it’s organized. I’m providing an outline, a skeleton, a framework for people, and as they want to explore these issues in more detail, they’re going to have to look elsewhere. In an hour, you can cover the doctrine with this book, but if you have two hours or four hours, you could do it in more detail with another text. But just simply working off the seven pages in this book, you have an hour’s worth of material. That was the idea.
AJWS: You organize each chapter the same way: understanding doctrine, enacting doctrine, and teaching doctrine. How did you settle on that structure for each chapter?
GA: The chapters are modeled pretty much after the Teach the Text series. That’s how they did it. I like that framework. First, we have to understand it, and then we will live it. Then I want them to be able to teach it. So the idea is that doctrine is believed, it’s lived, it’s confessed, and it’s taught. I build on our basic understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity or the doctrine of Christ, then explain how we live the reality of the triune God and who Christ is for us. Finally, I show how we teach people about the triune God and about the person of Christ — fully God and fully man.
I also have a section in there where I list common questions and problematic issues from the point of view of a participant in your class. I’ve been teaching this for 24 years, and inevitably these questions or comments will come up. There are things your students are thinking about. When you say, “Are there any comments or questions?” They’re going to raise their hand and say, “Here’s my comment: The doctrine of the Trinity is just too hard.” Or, “How can God be all-good, all-powerful, and yet there be evil in the world?” So I’m just tipping off teachers and educators who use this as a guide. Some of the answers are found as you go through the book. Others you’re going to have to solve on your own, I’ve only got 2200 words. So look at Erickson, look at Grudem, look at the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology — use these other resources. But be prepared. Get ready to answer the questions, because your students are going to ask!
AJWS: How would you pitch to someone who doesn’t think theology is necessary that they need to understand basic Christian doctrine?
GA: I would very tactfully say: Whether you realize it or not, you have a theology already in mind whenever you read the text of Scripture. You already have basic notions about God, his attributes, his ways in this world, what Christ has done, what the gospel is, what the church is. So you’ve already got a brain, a mind full of theological ideas, concepts, and frameworks. No one comes to the Bible without a theology already developed. Now if you have a bad theology, it often inhibits you from reading the Bible properly. If you have a good theology, it will push you and prompt you to read the Bible properly. So what this book and others prompt you to do is to have a good theological framework so that as you read Scripture, you’ll see the riches and wealth of Scripture in a way you’ve probably never seen before.
AJWS: Would it be fair to say everybody systematizes, whether they’re trying to or not?
GA: Yes, everybody has a theological framework. It’s either good or bad. This book is designed to help you have a good theological framework, and that helps you read the Bible properly. How do cults develop? They have bad theology, and then they find passages in Scripture that support their bad theology. That fuels and causes their bad theology to grow, and they just perpetuate it.
AJWS: How do we learn not to merely understand the theological content of a sermon, but enact it in our lives?
GA: When we’re in church, when we gather with other believers, the sermon is a vital part of the worship service. From a Protestant perspective, we could say it’s one of the two marks of the church. We should be attentive to the reading of the Word and the preaching of the Word. But we should never see the other elements prior to or following preaching as inferior to the sermon. We should engage in a community of believers who genuinely worship the Lord. We should enjoy not only the reading and preaching of the Word but the singing of hymns, responsive reading of the Psalms, confessing our sins, being thankful for the forgiveness of sins, the Lord’s Supper, regularly baptizing people, calling people to the mission of the church. I think we should engage with all the elements of the worship service.
Also, when we hear a sermon, we often have really good intentions to put the sermon into practice. But within three hours or three days, that good intention has not translated into action. We applied it for a day, but then it’s gone. So, we need to help our people move beyond good intentions to “a character of discipline” (that expression is not new with me) by which we don’t just intend to apply but we actually do apply.
To help us, it’s good to be in community. In community groups, we are reminded in the middle of the week of what we committed to on Sunday. You’ve got good intentions; how are you actually living it out during the week? In community, we are exhorting and encouraging one another to live it out. That’s so important.
AJWS: For pastors who want to integrate more doctrine into their sermons: How can they do that without making a sermon a theology lesson?
GA: So don’t preach systematic theology. Preach the Bible, and draw people’s attention to the rich doctrines that Paul or Peter or Isaiah is unfolding in that text. That’s how I would always do expository preaching. As you’re working through Ephesians 2, preach the reality of total depravity. Galatians 5, preach walking in the Spirit. So, in addition to explaining what the meaning of the text is, here is a rich truth from God’s Word that should frame everything that we do.
If you have ever taught Bible or theology to kids or teenagers as a recently enrolled seminary student, you know that it can be difficult to distill all of the complex and nuanced information from your seminary courses. In fact, using the material from your Systematic Theology III class or a whole chapter of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology is probably a great way to confuse or (worse) bore your students.
Gregg R. Allison understands this problem and seeks to address it in his recent book, 50 Core Truths of the Christian Faith, which was released in February 2018. Doctrine is not just for theology students or pastors — it should be available for all Christians regardless of educational level or discretionary time. Not everyone has a Master of Divinity degree or a minor in Bible, nor does everyone have three hours a week to pore over hundreds of pages of theology. Thus, Allison’s book.
“The book is unique in its approach to Christian theology,” Allison writes in the introduction. “Though Christian education books explain the theology, methodology, and techniques of teaching, and though Sunday School curricula provide the actual material for teaching, 50 Core Truths of the Christian Faith is unique in that it provides guidance for how to teach each Christian doctrine. As far as I know, no book like it exists.”
The text unpacks fifty major doctrines that are essential to the Christian faith like the inspiration of Scripture, the Trinity, the person of Christ, and the doctrine of election. The book is based on the Teach the Text commentary series, which is also produced by Baker Publishing Group. The goal is to make theology accessible for everyone and to provide the tools for pastors and instructors to teach the Bible to others.
The structure of each chapter is consistent throughout the book. Allison takes major theological concepts that have been discussed and debated for 2,000 years of church history and cuts them down to 2,000-word chapters. The resulting lesson is quick, simple, and easy to read. Each chapter describes how to understand the doctrine, enact the doctrine, and teach the doctrine.
“Christian doctrine is Christian belief based on Scripture,” Allison writes. “The church bears the primary responsibility for constructing and transmitting good theology, with an essential assist from the theological wisdom of the ages. This sound doctrine is believed, practiced, confessed, and taught.”
Allison also includes a series of perennial issues and problems, which are based on questions Allison has personally received after teaching theology for a quarter century, such as: “How is it that Christians don’t believe in three gods if they believe in the Trinity?” or “If God is independent and self-sufficient, why did he create us?” Allison answers some of the questions in his text, others (like “Can people in heaven see us and help us?”) he encourages teachers to think through for themselves. The understanding section includes a list of affirmations and errors, and each chapter ends with a sample outline the reader can apply to an hour of teaching at a Sunday School, high school class, or small group Bible study.
“The format of this book arises from my conviction that doctrine is both true belief and true practice, and that it is confessed by the church and taught from generation to generation,” he writes. “My prayer is that this theological resource will help to form believers in sound doctrine and transform their lives for the glory of God.”
The post Feature Book Review: 50 Core Truths of the Christian Faith appeared first on Southern Equip.
Book Reviews: ‘A Reader’s Guide to the Major Writings of Jonathan Edwards’; ‘Becoming a Welcoming Church’; ‘Evergreen’; ‘The Hermeneutics of the Biblical Writers’
A Reader’s Guide to the Major Writings of Jonathan Edwards by Nathan Finn and Jeremy M. Kimble (Crossway, 2017 $21.99)
Review by Aaron Cline Hanbury
No American wields more theological influence on evangelical than Jonathan Edwards. Yet if you ask around, you’ll find few Christians — even those of us who claim his theological lineage — actually read much of his work. This shouldn’t surprise you.
You can be forgiven for hesitating at the otherworldly size of the Edwards library or writing — illustrated recently by the completion of Yale University Press’s 26-volume of collected works.
A new book, A Reader’s Guide to the Major Writings of Jonathan Edwards, forms a welcome aide in accessing Edwards’s works.
You might find use — and in so doing fulfill the book’s purported goal — to read these classic works of Edwards and allow the contributors to A Reader’s Guide help you access and understand what you’re reading.
Becoming a Welcoming Church by Thom S. Rainer (B&H Publishing Group, 2018, $12.99)
Review by Caleb T. Shaw
LifeWay President Thom Rainer provides the church with a practical guide for ministry in Becoming a Welcoming Church. With an extensive background in church consultation, Rainer is an expert on first-time guest interactions at new churches. He addresses common problems guests encounter when they visit a church for the first time, such as poor signage, unsafe areas for children, and dirty facilities.
One common problem Rainer says he has encountered countless times is a bad website or one that contained inaccurate information. According to Rainer, “Seven out of ten guests will go to a church website as a determinative factor in where they will choose to visit.”
Rainer also stressed the importance of making the church facility safe for children. As a part of the church’s gospel call to ministry, churches should take every precaution to keep children secure.
Whether you are a pastor, someone training for ministry, or a layperson, Becoming a Welcoming Church will help you better welcome guests to your church by fulfilling God’s call to love your neighbor.
Evergreen by Audrey Assad (© 2018 Fortunate Fall Records, $9.99 on iTunes)
Review by Matt Damico
Since her debut album in 2010, Audrey Assad has been known for her subdued, piano-centric sound and the clarity of her voice. That sound still carries much of her most recent album, Evergreen.
The album signals a move toward a more electronic sound — heard especially in tracks like “Deliverer” and “River” — though there are still tracks arranged simply enough to let the quality of Assad’s voice pierce through. One such song is “Little Things with Great Love,” with its beautiful melody and a pleasantly unpredictable chord progression.
Some of Assad’s lyrics are pure biblical poetry worthy of repeated listening. At other times, Assad, a Roman Catholic, is slightly less than trustworthy in her writing. Even so, Assad is one of the original and unique writers in the world of Christian music; listeners can and should enjoy this album.
The Hermeneutics of the Biblical Writers by Abner Chou (Kregel Academic, 2018, $23.99)
Review by Andrew J.W. Smith
Reading the Bible is hard. It’s not only very long (over 700,000 words, depending on your translation), its historical, cultural, and literary background often eludes us. Even worse, simply looking up an unfamiliar city, town, or person in a commentary or Bible dictionary doesn’t usually help make sense of Scripture’s broad, nuanced narrative. We need a way to connect the dots, to fit the pieces together.
In his new book, The Hermeneutics of the Biblical Writers, Abner Chou provides the road map to traversing the complex terrain of biblical interpretation. Chou, John F. MacArthur Endowed Fellow at The Master’s University in Santa Clarita, California, argues the best way to read the Bible is by patterning one’s interpretation off the biblical writers themselves. This requires careful attention to the precise way they frame their arguments and employ previous revelation, he says.
“The prophetic hermeneutic continues into the apostolic hermeneutic, which is the Christian hermeneutic,” Chou writes. “We can learn how to study the sacred text from what the biblical writers instructed us to do as well as from seeing them use Scripture, provided we understand what they were doing.”
Many scholars accuse the biblical writers of bad exegesis. The New Testament frequently seems to quote the Old Testament in a way that doesn’t match the original intent — such as Matthew applying “Out of Egypt I called my son” (Hos 11:1, Matt 2:15) to Jesus instead of Israel. The apostles, these scholars argue, clearly interpret the Bible much more liberally and creatively than conservative seminaries teach their students to.
Other scholars try to account for apparent inconsistencies between the original meaning of an Old Testament text and the way it is quoted in the New Testament with the concept of sensus plenior (that God intended a deeper meaning behind Scripture the authors did not). Neither option wrestles adequately with the hermeneutical sophistication the biblical writers consistently display, according to Chou.
“As opposed to writing ‘better than they knew,’ the prophets wrote better than we give them credit for,” he says.
Chou’s approach relies upon tracing the “authorial logic” at every stage of progressive revelation. Literal-grammatical-historical hermeneutics is not a modern concept retroactively applied to Scripture. Rather, it is how the prophets and apostles themselves read their Bibles. Christians must line up the way they interpret the biblical revelation with how the writers themselves did, which Chou calls a “hermeneutic of obedience.”
“[The prophets and apostles] are not hermeneutical ignoramuses who have abused the Scripture,” he writes. “We do not know better than them. Rather, being moved by the Holy Spirit, they were brilliant — and we ought to humbly follow them. Their faithful hermeneutic provides us the certainty that the way we were traditionally taught to interpret the Bible is the method the Bible upholds.”
The post Book Reviews: ‘A Reader’s Guide to the Major Writings of Jonathan Edwards’; ‘Becoming a Welcoming Church’; ‘Evergreen’; ‘The Hermeneutics of the Biblical Writers’ appeared first on Southern Equip.
Why should we be concerned about doctrine? After all, some have noticed that doctrines divide Christians, while others have opined that an emphasis on the mission of the church could unite Christians. But is it true that “doctrine divides, but missions unite”? Well, the answer is both “yes” and “no.”
On the one hand, yes! Doctrines may and often do divide professed Christians. “Doctrine” derives from the Latin doctrina, which means “teaching” or “learning” or “instruction.” In spite of its ability to divide us, what we teach really does matter. Doctrine matters because our salvation depends upon the truth, in particular upon the preaching of the good news of the free offer of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The problem with doctrine arises not because of the existence of doctrine, for doctrine is necessary to our salvation. The problem with doctrine arises because of the existence of false doctrine as opposed to true doctrine. We shall return to this issue.
On the other hand, no! A mission may unite us, but it may not necessarily unite us for good. If the churches are not engaging in the right mission with the right message, an appeal to unity is meaningless, even dangerous. Churches who proclaim the true doctrine, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, will be used to bring people to salvation. People who proclaim false doctrine, which comes from human wisdom or philosophy, are not bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 2). Apart from the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ, there is no salvation possible (John 14:1-7; Acts 4:12; Galatians 1:6-9). So, those who do not define their mission as teaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ have the wrong mission. Again, we learn that doctrine is necessary.
But why is doctrine so necessary? Because God ordained that through the preaching and teaching of true doctrine, people may be saved. Concern for orthodox doctrine, as many biblical theologians have commented, motivated the two most prolific apostolic authors, Paul and John, to write many of their letters. Paul and John stressed the coming of God in Jesus, His death for our sins, and His resurrection for our justification—this is the Gospel. However, Peter, the leading apostle in the early church, was also very concerned with proclaiming true doctrine and opposing false doctrine.
Peter’s Second Letter: Positively, we know that Peter was granted the saving confession upon which Jesus Christ would build His church. Peter, inspired by the Father, proclaimed that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:13-20). His God-given teaching is the true doctrine. Negatively, Peter warned about the coming of “false teachers,” who will “introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them.” Many will sadly “follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned” (2 Peter 2:1-2). Their teaching is the false doctrine. According to Peter in his second letter, true doctrine must be proclaimed, and false doctrine must be opposed.
Peter’s First Letter: In his first letter, Peter explained why this is the case. Here, he describes how true faith—real life-changing Christianity—comes into existence. To do so, he employs a mixed metaphor, equating the “word” with a “seed” (1 Peter 1:23-25). The way in which Peter identified God’s “word” as “seed” has profound implications for what Christian preachers, teachers, and evangelists are required to teach. This metaphor indicates that a person who teaches anything other than the God-given, Christ-revealing, and Spirit-inspired Holy Bible teaches without divine power. Let us explore the biblical correlation of “word” with “seed.”
First, note that Peter was not the first to combine “word” and “seed.” His Lord, Jesus Christ, earlier used the identification between “word of God” and “seed” as the basis of one of his most extensive and well-known parables (Luke 8:4-15; parallels in Matthew 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20). The metaphor was so fruitful in Jesus’ mind that it earned starring roles in at least three more parables: the parable of the growing seed (Mark 4:26-29); the parable of the wheat and the tares (Matthew 13:24-30); and the parable of the mustard seed (Mark 4:30-32).
Moreover, Jesus was Himself drawing upon two deep and highly significant Old Testament traditions with His use of “word” and “seed.” After Jesus, the apostles invested both terms with theological importance in their construction of the New Testament. A cursory review of each term must suffice for this short essay.
“Seed”: The Lord God Himself introduced the idea of a “seed” (Hebrew zerah) through the promise that He would accomplish His saving will. In the protoevangelium of Genesis 3:15, the seed, or “descendent,” of Eve would crush the head of the serpent even though the serpent would strike his heel. In Genesis 12:7 (and in 15:3, 5, 13, 18; 17:7-10, 12, 19; and 22:17-18), Abraham was granted a covenant promise that his seed, or “offspring,” would rule the land and bring God’s blessing to the nations. Paul drew upon the Abrahamic concept of “seed” (Greek sperma or spora) in order to demonstrate that Jesus Christ is the covenantal plan of God for saving both Israel and the nations (Romans 4:13, 16, 18; 9:7-8, 29; Galatians 3:16, 19, 29).
“Word”: As for the “word” of God, we see from Genesis 1:3 onward that the speaking (Hebrew dabar) of God has power to implement God’s creative will (Genesis 1:6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26; cf. Psalm 33:6, 9; Romans 4:17). According to Isaiah, the Word of God is eternal, while human words fail (Isaiah 40:7-8). The Word of God is sent to accomplish, and will perfectly perform, God’s will (Isaiah 55:10-11). But the power of the Word of God is not limited to creating life.
In the New Testament, God’s Word (Greek logos or rhema) is powerful enough even to re-create life. According to John, not only is the Word God Himself, who has come in the flesh (John 1:1, 14), but the Spirit works through the Word to bring life to us (John 6:63). Anyone who believes these words of Jesus will be given life (John 5:24). In Hebrews, God’s Word is a living, active, judging agent (Hebrews 4:12). According to Jesus, His words come from eternity and “will never pass away” (Matthew 24:35). And in Paul, the Word of God brings us surety of perseverance in the faith (Philippians 2:16).
Word of God: Thus, Peter is continuing and contributing to a universally biblical conception when he brings together, like Jesus, the “word” with the “seed.” For Peter, the Word of God functions in such a way as to regenerate life. Because it comes from divine eternity, the Word of God is “living and enduring” (1 Peter 1:23). Peter quotes Isaiah 40:6b-8 in order to prove its eternality (1 Peter 1:24-25a; cf. James 1:10-11). The Word of God, moreover, is “the gospel,” which has been “proclaimed to you” (1 Peter 1:25). The Word of God brings people to be born again.
Words of Men: The Word of God, from a soteriological perspective, is entirely different from the words of men. While humanity is “like grass,” which “withers” and “fails,” the Word of God can bring one to be “born again” (1 Peter 1:23). Humanity’s “seed” is “perishable,” indicating that human words and deeds ultimately end in death, no matter how beautiful they may sound or what they promise to convey or even why man intends to utter them. But the “seed” of the Word of God, to the contrary, is “imperishable.” There is an insurmountable difference between human words, flawed by temporal imperfections, and the divine Word, fruitful with God’s eternal perfection.
In summary, we conclude that the Word of God has power in itself to bring the new birth that fallen human beings require. There is no other way people may be saved other than through the Word of God. This is why I tell my students that our well-thought words to advance apologetics and our well-meaning works to improve society will ultimately fail—if that is all we give people. The only way people will truly encounter God and receive new life occurs when we give them the Word of God, which we know is inextricably bound for us today with the Holy Bible.
If you do not teach the entirely sufficient doctrine of Scripture, your listeners have no hope at all. This is why doctrine, biblical doctrine, is singularly necessary, and every other human teaching pales into insignificance. This is why we must emphasize the knowledge of Scripture, in its historical and linguistic context and in its Trinitarian and canonical shape, as the sine qua non of theological education. This is why we believe that evangelizing with true biblical doctrine is the mission of God, because it is the only way we can bring the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world, which so desperately needs to hear this life-giving Word.
The age-old riddle—“Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”—is no mystery for the Christian. Biblically speaking, the answer is unequivocally: “the chicken” (cf. Genesis 1:24; 2:19). A more difficult question to answer, however, is whether the word for “God” (singular) or “gods” (plural) in the Hebrew Bible, i.e., Elohim, may be interpreted as a legitimate foreshadowing of the doctrine of the Trinity in the Old Testament.
In his book From Exegesis to Exposition, Robert Chisholm denies any hint of a Trinitarian interpretation for the plural noun Elohim:
The grammatically plural name אֱלֹהִים [Elohim] when it refers to the God of Israel, is a plural of respect. (The plural of respect is sometimes used idiomatically for individual pagan deities as well.) When the form is used as a numerical plural, it refers to the pagan gods or, in some cases, to lesser members of God’s heavenly assembly (beings known to us as “angels”). When the plural is one of respect, then it is improper to argue, as many have done, that the form hints at a plurality of persons within the Godhead and thus foreshadows in some cryptic way the doctrine of the Trinity.
When lexicographers (i.e., those scholars who write dictionaries/lexicons) define the various glosses (i.e., definitions or meanings) for a particular word, they always look at the referent within the context of the passage in order to dictate which meanings are applicable. So, for example, when it comes to the word Elohim in Genesis 1, even though it is parsed as a masculine plural noun, it is translated as singular “God” instead of “gods.” This is similar to the example found in Judges 19:26 where it literally reads “her lords” (masculine plural noun), but the context clearly demands that it be translated “her lord” (masculine singular noun), referring to the concubine’s Levite master. Again, this is a clear example of a plural word referring to one person as a “plural of respect” (honor or majesty).
However, from a canonical (or “biblical-theological”) perspective, a valid case can be made that the word Elohim may be taken in a Trinitarian manner because God is the “referent” in Genesis 1. How is this possible? There are two guiding principles that must be taken a priori:
- We must begin with the premise that God, the Holy Spirit, is the “primary author” of Scripture who used divinely inspired men as “secondary agents” to record divine revelation (cf. 2 Peter 1:21). Thus, Moses may not have been aware of a Trinitarian sensus plenior (i.e., “the fuller meaning”) as he employed the word Elohim, but this ought not detract from the fact that it is God’s “authorial intention” from which the meaning of the Scriptures is ultimately derived.
- Where the New Testament addresses Old Testament texts either explicit or implicitly, the New Testament is the divinely inspired and authoritative interpretation of the Old Testament.
If one were to compare New Testament texts such as John 1:1-3 and Colossians 1:15-18 with Genesis 1, there are unequivocal justifications toward legitimizing a Trinitarian interpretation. For example, in Genesis 1, the Father speaks the fiat commands from heaven, while the Holy Spirit is “moving over the surface of the waters” in Genesis 1:2. Where is Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, in Genesis 1? He is the “Word” or Logos (John 1:1), and it was He, the pre-incarnate Christ, who created the “heavens and the earth” both visible and invisible (Colossians 1:16).
Additionally, in passages where the honorific sense of a “plural of respect” occurs, as in Judges 19, the pronouns that refer to the Levite do not refer to him as a plurality, i.e., the text does not use the third-person plural pronoun (“us,” “we”). However, in Genesis 1:26; 3:22; and 11:7, the third-person plural pronoun is used in direct address, where God speaks of Himself as a plurality. Interestingly, Elohim is also addressed by the narrator in the third-person singular (i.e., “He”) in Genesis 1:4, 5, 10, 16, 27, 31; 2:2, 3. There is an unambiguous dynamic or tension here in Genesis 1-2:3: Elohim is both plural (“Us”) and singular (“He”). Eugene Merrill notes, “Since the subject is ’ělohîm [in Genesis 1:26] it is clear that God, who normally is perceived to be singular, is here at least cast in the plural not only grammatically but functionally.”
Furthermore, because Elohim, as the referent of the “plural of respect” in Genesis 1, refers to none other than the Triune God, it is fitting that Christian theologians should either add a sub-point to the “plural of respect” category or include another use of the plural noun and designate it specifically for the word Elohim alone. This may be justified, because biblical texts that address a man (such as the Levite in Judges 19) as “lord” in the plural are completely different from those that address God, Elohim, as a plurality, especially in the biblical-theological sense of the one God who exists as a plurality of Persons. Therefore, while it is true that the “plurality of respect” is a valid syntactical category, the explicit Christian use of the plural word Elohim, as it pertains to God alone, should be a Trinitarian one. Victor Hamilton fittingly asserts,
It is one thing to say that the author of Gen. 1 was not schooled in the intricacies of Christian dogma. It is another thing to say he was theologically too primitive or naïve to handle such ideas as plurality within unity. What we often so blithely dismiss as “foreign to the thought of the OT” may be nothing of the sort. True, the concept may not be etched on every page of Scripture, but hints and clues are dropped enticingly here and there, and such hints await their full understanding “at the correct time” (Gal. 4:4).
 Robert B. Chisholm, From Exegesis to Exposition: A Practical Guide to Using Biblical Hebrew (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), 59.
 C. John Collins, Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2005), 61.
 Cf. Geerhardus J. Vos, Reformed Dogmatics: Theology Proper (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2013), Kindle Locations 3219-3240.
 Eugene Merrill, “Is the Doctrine of the Trinity Implied in the Genesis Creation Account?: Yes,” The Genesis Debate, edited by R.F. Youngblood (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1990), 120-1.
 Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, NICOT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990), 134.