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Jesu, Juva

Archive for the ‘Biblical Theology’ Category

Practical atheism

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Ralph Allen Smith, commenting on Zephaniah 1 (emphasis added):

The people that are complacent are saying in their hearts, “The Lord will not do good, nor will he do ill. They are practical atheists, in a way. . . They don’t believe that God is going to bring covenantal blessing or covenantal judgment.

Written by Scott Moonen

November 15, 2017 at 9:27 pm

Love language

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Adam McIntosh writes:

Self-sacrifice [is] the Bible’s love language (John 15:13).

Written by Scott Moonen

October 26, 2017 at 8:10 pm

Clean

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In Acts 10, when God declares all food to be clean, Peter does not reach the facile conclusion that God no longer cares for his health; the laws of uncleanness were never about health. Peter realizes instead that God declares all nations to be clean (10:28), i.e., that God is fashioning a new house for himself with no distinction between Jew and Gentile (10:34; compare Paul in Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, etc.). Not that Gentiles were never saved before, but there are no longer stages of separation between priest, Levite, Hebrew, and God-fearer (consider Psalm 118:2-4).

Mark has already revealed to us the same conclusion. Mark 7 carefully juxtaposes a story about ceremonial hand washing (7:1-23) with the story of the Syrophoenician woman (7:24-30):

And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean. . . .

And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden. But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” And he said to her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone. (Mark 7:18-30 ESV)

Far from perpetuating the tradition of the elders here, Jesus is both testing the woman’s faith and subverting the tradition of the elders.

Thus he declared all nations clean.

Written by Scott Moonen

October 4, 2017 at 8:08 pm

Posted in Biblical Theology

The law of God

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The Bible uses law variously to refer to the ten commandments; laws within the five books of Moses; the Mosaic books themselves; or even the entire Old Testament (John 10:34, 12:34, 15:25). There is a history of dividing the law into categories of moral, civil, and ceremonial, but the boundaries are not always clear: God’s laws are more a sermon than a legal code, mixing history, commands, exhortations, threats, and judgments. God is God, so every law is moral. Many of what we call civil laws have no judicial penalties attached. Is the fourth commandment, the Sabbath—a creation ordinance!—a moral law or a ceremonial law? And what kind of civil law neglects water rights?

It’s good to simplify things; a good map is a useful thing. But it’s easy and dangerous to over-simplify. We might over-simplify how the law has changed: our husband, the living law-word, died, releasing us from the law (Romans 7). The law was our tutor, but now we have graduated (Galatians 4). With the change of priesthood there is a change in law (Hebrews 7:12). The first Pentecost brought the letter; the last Pentecost brought the Spirit. Jesus inaugurated a new creation; to the degree this is “already,” the law has passed away together with the old heavens and earth (Matthew 5:18). The law was only a shadow (Hebrews 7). But we might also over-emphasize how things have not changed: The law reveals the unchanging character of an unchanging God. The law is perfect (Psalm 19:7), an exemplary witness (Deuteronomy 4:6-8), holy, righteous, and good (Romans 7:12). Students live by the lessons of their tutor. Jesus and his Spirit do not negate the law but fulfill it.

Both of these have an element of truth; let us rather say that the law has been transfigured or glorified. The law is changed (Hebrews 7:12) but not abolished. Our husband has been transfigured, resurrected, glorified. We remember the lessons of our trainer but we are no longer running intervals and stuffing spaghetti: we are running a race.

All this is to say that we need much wisdom, understanding, and patience to wrestle with applying the law (2 Tim 3:16), to our lives, our church, and to nations (Matthew 28). Proverbs 25:2 reminds us that “it is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings . . . to search things out.” A few thoughts from teachers like John Frame and James Jordan have helped me in this search:

First, all law is typological of Jesus and his church (John 5:39, Luke 24:27, etc.). Typology doesn’t let us off the hook of applying the law to ourselves (the law of adultery applies to our marriages as well as Jesus’s), but it does enrich our understanding. When Peter saw the sheet of unclean food, he reasoned that God was adding Gentiles to his priestly people (Acts 10). Paul applies the law of the ox treading grain to pastors (1 Cor 9:10). The laws for house leprosy guide the inspections and and dismantlings that Ezekiel and Jesus performed on God’s own house. We know of no wife who experienced the jealousy test (Numbers 5)—except for Israel: consider the golden calf. The Lord’s supper is our jealousy test: some bread and some drinking and a threat of judgment (1 Corinthians 11).

Second, Jesus is still lord over nations and kings, and his law has much to teach them. The society spelled out by God’s law is amazingly free. Even in the case of death penalties, few were mandatory sentences (consider Matthew 1:19). But the first application of civil laws is to the church. The church is Israel transfigured, the beachhead of the new creation and new kingdom. We have elders. Church discipline replaces the death penalty. Evangelism by the sword of the spirit replaces holy warfare.

Third, the Jerusalem council ruling in Acts 15 gives a helpful guideline for what is transformed versus what is carried over directly. The laws for the stranger, the Gentile God-fearer, remain directly applicable: idolatry, sexual immorality, and eating blood. This is why God now allows eating bacon and shrimp but not homosexuality. Israel and her laws come transfigured into the church, where we are now all priests. But out in the world we live as sojourners.

Fourth, the laws of Exodus and Deuteronomy are structured around the ten commandments. Deuteronomy is a kind of sermon by Moses after forty years meditating on the commandments. I’ve found this helpful in considering the Sabbath: Moses expresses the fourth commandment (Deut. 14:21b-16:17) in terms of tithing, giving freedom and rest, and feasting together with God. Moses considers the fifth commandment (Deut. 16:18-18:22) to also apply to leaders like judges, Levites, priests, and kings.

Finally, the ceremonial laws are not merely a picture of how Jesus deals with our sin at the cross. Hebrews repeatedly considers these to be transfigured in the church’s worship: All washings are wrapped up in baptism. All feasts are wrapped up in the Lord’s supper. The old covenant’s sacrifices are covenant renewals are feasts are drawing near are worship: Leviticus—a red-letter book if there ever was one—has much to teach us about worship in the new covenant.

There is so much to figure out; we have barely scratched the surface in our kingly search. I leave you with a few intriguing problems:

  1. In light of Acts 15, is blood pudding off the menu? Not that I’m tempted, mind you.
  2. In Genesis 26, God says that “Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” What did Abraham know about God’s laws?
  3. Five times God commands us to greet one another with a kiss. What?

Additional resources

Written by Scott Moonen

July 29, 2017 at 2:47 pm

Posted in Biblical Theology

Living sacrifice

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I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Romans 12:1 ESV)

Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy points out that the first living sacrifice in scripture is Isaac:

And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. (Genesis 22:13 ESV)

This adds depth to how we understand Paul. Paul is saying that we offer our entire selves to God in worship. But we do so not simply because of God’s worthiness, or even because everything we have is from him (11:36). We do so out of the consciousness that we have been spared one kind of death by Jesus’s death, that we owe ourselves to him doubly.

[Y]ou were ransomed . . . not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. (1 Peter 1:18-19 ESV)

So we die in a different and better way, dying to ourselves not in order to repay him but in order to also give life to others (12:3ff).

Written by Scott Moonen

July 16, 2017 at 3:51 pm

Foodless

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Peter Leithart writes of weekly communion:

Foodless worship is unthinkable in the Bible and has been unthinkable through most of Christian history. . . .

The Church is not an “instrument” or “means” to achieve individual salvation. The Church is the present form of salvation in history.

Written by Scott Moonen

June 30, 2017 at 9:59 pm

De profundis

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The book of Job is, in effect, an immense psalm. (René Girard, I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, 117)

Written by Scott Moonen

June 25, 2017 at 6:34 pm