Augustine, Lewis Ayres, & 1 Corinthians 15:28

Augustine, Lewis Ayres, & 1 Corinthians 15:28

I would like to thank Josh Tinkham, pastor of Covenant Community Church, for proof reading this article while making helpful suggestions along the way prior to publication.

As the all-too-familiar trinity debate rages on, one vital piece of the “discourse puzzle” is still missing—hermeneutics. It is easy to forget that the pre-, present-, and post-Nicene conclusions concerning the triunity of God did not drop out of thin air. It is also easy, given the now-unfamiliar language and methodology of the Nicene and post-Nicene fathers, to assume they were speculating well beyond the bounds of holy Scripture into a kind of philosophical no-man’s land. As Dr. James White has recently indicated, it has come to be thought that the trinitarian formulations found during the first five centuries of the church are too philosophical in scope, or that they at least should be questioned. First, it was Thomas Aquinas who came under fire for being too Aristotelian. Now, it’s the early church fathers. It seems the most agreed upon doctrine of the first 17 centuries of church history was merely the product of over-speculation and philosophical abuse. As a result, multi-millennial theology proper has been placed in the dock. White writes:

There really seems to be no end to where backwards-engineering based upon temporal creation could take us when it comes to speculation about that which the Scriptures leave in silence. “But early church writers we really benefit from speculated about these things!” Yes, yes they did. But anyone who reads those men filters out a large amount of unprofitable speculation already in many areas, and it might be good to do so in this one, too.

Unfortunately, those questioning and encouraging revision of the church’s nearly 2000-year old confession of the trinity have not yet meaningfully engaged patristic (or medieval for that matter) hermeneutics. I say this as a newbie to the inner-workings of early patristic exegesis myself. I do not want to be taken as an authority in this area. Instead, I will let an actual expert speak in my place, Lewis Ayers. And I will also interact here with Augustine, per Ayers’ commentary, since on this issue Augustine represents the mature thought of the patristic age and serves as a magisterial guiding influence for the subsequent medieval and reformational eras.

Primary Source Material: Augustine

First Corinthians 15:20-28 has become an anchor text for proponents of contemporary subordination models, such as Eternal Relations of Submission and Authority (ERAS). It reads—

But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. For “He has put all things under His feet.” But when He says “all things are put under Him,” it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.

The specific area in question is v. 24 in relation to v. 28. The Son appears, in this text, to bear a lesser authority than the Father. In this case, vv. 23-28 may be read in terms of relative, voluntary or functional submission of the Son to the Father. Dr. James Hamilton concludes:

First Corinthians 15:24 and 28 indicate that Christ will hand the kingdom over to the Father, that Christ will be subject to the Father, and that God will be all in all. God’s glory will cover the dry lands as the waters cover the seas, and the best way to talk about Jesus the Son being subjected to God the Father is to affirm that they are ontologically equal as God while the Son takes up a functionally subordinate role (One God in Three Persons, 108).

Kyle Claunch, after discussing the immanent/economic Trinities and how the economic reveals the immanent, namely, that there are relations of authority and submission in the eternal Godhead, he writes:

By arguing for eternal authority and submission in the Godhead, Ware, Grudem, and others are not abandoning all traditional Trinitarian categories. Rather, drawing on the distinction between the one divine essence and the three divine persons (a distinction that is basic to Trinitarian orthodoxy from its earliest mature expressions), they are making a conscious and informed choice to conceive of will as a property of person rather than essence. This model of a three-willed Trinity then provides the basis for the conviction that structures of authority and submission actually serve as one of the means of differentiating the divine persons (One God in Three Persons, 88-89).

Before we look at Augustine, I should note his employment of what might be called partitive exegesis. Partitive exegesis takes into consideration the identity of Christ’s two natures regarding Christological passages found in Scripture. Texts proper to God are applied to Christ’s divine nature; texts proper to creatures are applied to Christ’s human nature. Throughout his exegesis Augustine consciously distinguishes between God (theologia) and God’s works (oikonomia). An example of this distinction in play might be his interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:3, “the head of Christ is God.” In his De Trinitate, book 6, ch. 9, he writes:

But again, if God is only all three together, how can God be the head of Christ, that is, the Trinity the head of Christ, since Christ is in the Trinity in order that it may be the Trinity? Is that which is the Father with the Son, the head of that which is the Son alone? For the Father with the Son is God, but the Son alone in Christ: especially since it is the Word already made flesh that speaks; and according to this His humiliation also, the Father is greater than He, as He says, “for my Father is greater than I;” so that the very being of God, which is one to Him with the Father, is itself the head of the man who is mediator, which He is alone.

Augustine brings the assumption that God really is all God into his exegesis. In other words, he presupposes the absolute co-equality and consubstantiality of the divine Persons. For Augustine, it would be absurd to suggest one Person might retain an eternally supreme authority over another because all three Persons are all God, and since this is the case all three Persons have all authority proper to God. Concerning the “kingdom” in 1 Corinthians 15:24, he says, “in this ‘kingdom’ He means the sight of His own form also to be understood, the whole creature being made subject to God, including that wherein the Son of God was made the Son of man.” Augustine is apparently reading the text partitively, that is, he is assuming a distinction between that which is proper to the divine essence, i.e. God in Himself, and that which is proper to creatures. He goes on:

Because, according to this creature, “The Son also Himself shall be subject unto Him, that put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.” Otherwise if the Son of God, judging in the form in which He is equal to the Father, shall appear when He judges the ungodly also; what becomes of that which He promises, as some great thing, to him who loves Him, saying, “And I will love him, and will manifest myself to him?” Wherefore He will judge as the Son of man, yet not by human power, but by that whereby He is the Son of God; and on the other hand, He will judge as the Son of God, yet not appearing in that [unincarnate] form in which He is God equal to the Father, but in that [incarnate form] in which He is the Son of man.

Notice the way in which Augustine puts Scripture into discourse with itself, and how such a discussion prevents him from drawing any subordinationist conclusions. He brings John 14:21 into conversation with 1 Corinthians 1:15-24, 28. “If,” so his reasoning goes, “the Son promises to manifest His Person to His people at long last, it stands to reason He must be referring to Himself according to His human nature, i.e. as the Son of man.” But if God being all in all, per 1 Corinthians 15:28, means what the subordinationist wants it to mean—that such a return to the Godhead is an indication of Christ’s eternal submission to the Father—then the human nature of Christ either goes away at that point, or it is divinized by being absorbed into the divine essence such that it is no longer distinguishable. But this could not be, since John 14 tells us the Son will manifest His Person to His people. Such a manifestation of His Person must be according to His human nature since if it were not, Jesus would be implying that the divine nature would become directly perceptible to the human senses—an impossibility. One could logically opine such manifestation would be a sort of shekinah glory, as God often manifested Himself in the temple under the Old Covenant. But this would be inferior to an experience of God through the incarnate Person of Christ, and it would represent a regression in the redemptive scheme rather than an eschatological progression and climactic punctuation at the end of time.

Augustine, for good reason, keeps God in Himself distinct from His works. This is not an egg-headed quest for vain philosophical or speculative glory, but is reasoned upon the foundation of the Scriptures themselves by way of a partitive method of exegesis. This method of exegesis, as we’ve hopefully seen, is necessary to maintaining the integrity of theology proper and consistency in our dogmatic reflections upon Scripture.

Secondary Source: Lewis Ayers

Lewis Ayers, a prominent commentator on Augustine, addresses the subordinationist attempts to use 1 Corinthians 15:28 within the framework of Augustine’s approach. He writes:

Augustine reads 1 Corinthians 15:24-8 as an eschatological narrative in conjunction with Matthew 5:8 (‘the pure in heart shall see God’) to show that there is a progress towards vision at the end, when the pure in heart gaze upon the form of a servant, and see ‘through’ that form the form of God in equality with Father and Spirit. Neither the Old Testament theophanies nor the Incarnation itself make God available to sight; they enable faith that knows it will become sight and knowledge only at the end (Augustine and the Trinity, 143-144).

Quoting Michael Barnes, he writes:

Salvation came from faith—this is faith’s ‘utility’. Such a judgment is not merely one about discipline, as though the virtue of faith was primarily the act of obedience. The utility of faith for salvation lies in the fact that it marries an epistemology with a moral anthropology, and then grounds them both in Christology: ‘Everything that has taken place in time… has been designed to elicit the faith we must be purified by in order to contemplate the truth, [and] has either been testimony to this mission or has been the actual mission of the Son of God’ (pg. 144).

In other words, the Person of Christ according to His glorified human nature will be the object of eschatological sight through whom we will experience God at long last. To claim or imply God being all in all, and the surrounding texts in 1 Corinthians 15, argue the point of subordination is to actually obscure the profound relevance of the Person of Christ according to His human nature. Ayers goes on to write:

With this argument Augustine attempts to undermine all Homoian exegesis of passages which apparently suggest the ontological subordination of Christ to the Father. All such exegesis should be seen, according to Augustine, as misunderstanding the role of the Incarnation in the shaping of faith and thus misunderstanding the very nature of the Incarnate Word (pg. 144).

According to , Augustine took on Arianism by relating biblical passages concerning the Son partitively. In other words, Augustine distinguished between Christ’s divine and human natures by consistently appropriating the biblical data proper to either. What is proper to creatures only, Augustine would apply to the human nature of Christ. Conversely, what is proper to God only, Augustine would apply to the divine nature of Christ. Christ’s subjection in 1 Corinthians 15, therefore, should be understood of His Person according to the human nature only.

ERAS, on the other hand, appears to blur the lines between the divine and human natures, often applying what is proper only to the human nature of Christ to the divine nature, e.g. Christ’s submission to the Father’s will. As a result, the Person of the Son is understood to have properties appropriate to a human nature prior to the incarnation which seems to cash out in an ontological difference between Father and Son in eternity past. Most ERAS proponents would deny such ontological gradation in the Godhead, affirming sameness and equality of essence. But an explanation in terms of how affirming the same essence in God yet different qualities (greater and lesser authorities, wills, powers, etc.) is yet to be seen.

Conclusion

Hopefully I have achieved my goal in this article, which was to introduce another way to understand the “subordination passages” in Scripture by looking at Augustine’s approach to 1 Corinthians 15:28 (and other related passages) with the help of Lewis . The doctrine of God and the biblical language requires a theologically robust hermeneutic that doesn’t necessarily try to retool a doctrine of God from the ground up at every turn. Christological passages ought to be understood partitively, that is, consciously reading them in light of Christ’s two natures and what those natures entail. If God does not change, we cannot ascribe change to Christ’s divine nature. If creatures change, then we should ascribe change to Christ’s human nature, but not His divine.

How Sola Scriptura Presupposes Natural Theology

How Sola Scriptura Presupposes Natural Theology

Very few things surpass the importance of a correct understanding of sola Scriptura (Scripture alone).

I’m currently teaching a church history series in Sunday School at my church. The sobering fact is that many faithful men were murdered at the hands of zealots whose religion derived not from Scripture but from a tradition defined by men. We’ve come to realize, throughout the course of that series, that the mere effort to make Scripture understandable to the general population fell under a high level of ecclesiastical and political scrutiny. Men such as John Wycliffe, Jan Hus, William Tyndale, and all who found themselves influenced by them, felt the heavy load of governmental pressure in one way or another for simply desiring to know the Word of God.

The question of sola Scriptura, then, is no mildly important matter. It must be understood, not only that we might prevent history from repeating itself, but also for the sake of knowing God and His will correctly. Unfortunately for us today, we live downstream from the massive ideological change of the 17th-18th centuries—namely, from rationalism and idealism—both of which play large roles in modern assumptions. We are all subject to these assumptions because this is the philosophical milieu we’re all born into. Many of these ideas are no less common than the 8-5 workday, or the need for internal combustion in our regular transportation. As with the latter, we give the former hardly any thought at all.

These oft-assumed and unquestioned ideas make for much difficulty when defining the term sola Scriptura. These influential ideas span from Descartes’ critical and rationalistic epistemology to Immanuel Kant’s idealistic separation of the phenomena from the noumena in response to David Hume’s skepticism. We live in an age largely characterized by assumptions finding much of their genus in the minds of these men, but we’re rarely conscious of them.

Sola Scriptura Has Friends

Chances are, if you don’t today, you’ve once assumed the definition of sola Scriptura to be something like the following: “the Bible is the ultimate authority by which we know God.” This is not an altogether wrongheaded definition if we understand it within its proper context. But because such a definition is rarely understood within its rightful place, it is taken to mean that one’s only authority and source of divinely-related knowledge is Scripture. Or, at the very least, Scripture is the best source, and any other alleged source—natural or otherwise—ought to be viewed with a skeptical eye.

This was not the understanding of sola Scriptura during nor immediately after the time of the Reformation. Phil Johnson, of Grace to You Ministries, helpfully notes:

“Sola Scriptura” is not the same as “Solo Scriptura”. A proper understanding of “Sola Scriptura” will not lead to an individualistic, “me and my Bible in the woods” approach to Bible interpretation. Because of Christ’s gifts to the Church through the centuries, we have the privilege of standing on the shoulders of giants (https://reformedontheweb.wordpress.com/tag/phil-johnson/).

Here, Johnson rightfully makes room for help—that is, from the traditional interpretation of Scripture. But he does so without making tradition itself a coequal authority with Scripture. The tradition is subjected to Scripture concerning everything Scripture reveals. But that doesn’t mean the tradition can’t be helpful. And if it is correct, it carries with it the authority of Scripture—all truth is God’s truth, and thus all truth is equally authoritative coming from the same source. We must understand man’s authority to be entirely dependent upon Scripture, since he is not God and since he is often wrong. Scripture, then, is man’s norm, as it were. And even though man can speak with the voice of Scripture, i.e. when he proclaims God’s truth, he himself is not Scripture and thus does not, in himself, carry the same authority. Man may speak with the authority of Scripture, but that authority is derivative not from himself, but from the Word of God. This is why we can say, “If this or that person rejects the Nicene Creed, they are heretics,” not for the authority of the Creed itself, but for the authority it accurately reflects, i.e. Scriptural doctrine.

Thus, there is a place for tradition when it comes to interpreting the text of Scripture. If this is the case, no Christian should abstract themselves from the tradition altogether (solo Scriptura) under a pretense of sola Scriptura. But what about principles of thought? If we give place to tradition as a handmaiden, helping us to rightly interpret Scripture. Surely, then, it would seem there should be a place made for nature to give assistance as well. More directly, if other men can help us understand the Bible, how much more ought God’s voice through nature help us understand it?

My argument here, and it certainly isn’t original to me, is that the Bible’s context is nature. Not only is it itself creaturely (having been created by God and given to us), but it is contextualized by God’s creation. We live, move, and breathe in this creation prior to ever coming to the text of Scripture. We assume natural life, principles of thinking, principles of ethics, and even possess a rudimentary understanding of who God is prior to turning even one page of the Bible. Scripture itself makes this assumption when it begins in Genesis 1:1 with, “In the beginning God…” Not only must we assume some functionality of reason in order for that line to be intelligible to us, but we must also have some idea of what God is. In other words, the very first line of Scripture cannot be understood apart from principles God gives us through nature—not only logic, but also the basic revelation of Himself as “that Being than which nothing greater can be conceived,” to borrow the words of Anselm.

It would seem, then, genuine sola Scriptura has made friends out of both tradition and natural revelation. And these friendships are, to one extent or another, required for a proper understanding or interpretation of Scripture.

A Brief Defense Natural Theology Against False Definitions of Sola Scriptura

What I’ve just described, in short order, is the Bible’s presupposition not only of natural revelation but also of natural theology (which man’s study of natural revelation). It is, however, all the rage to vocally deny the first principles of natural theology, or at least the knowability of them, and such a denial is often said to be in service to sola Scriptura. Man, it seems, must come to Scripture as a tabulae rasae (blank slate), and from there begin his work of interpretation. It’s as if the modern denial of natural theology is but a veiled Lockean empiricism inconsistently combined with fideism. This, it is thought, is sola Scriptura. We can’t leave place for reason, philosophy, natural theology, tradition, et al., because Scripture stands alone… in a vacuum. I doubt many would admit such a thing if put to them in more or less similar terms, but it most certainly seems to be the prevailing assumption of what sola Scriptura implies.

Richard Muller, in his work Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics (vol. 2), gives a rather precise definition of sola Scriptura when he writes:

The logical priority of Scripture over all other means of religious knowing in the church—tradition, present-day corporate or official doctrine, and individual insight or illumination—lies at the heart of the teaching of the Reformation and of its great confessional documents. Indeed, it is the unanimous declaration of the Protestant confessions that Scripture is the sole authoritative norm of saving knowledge of God (p. 151).

There are some heavy qualifications made here. Scripture is not the sole authoritative norm for all knowledge, but saving knowledge. Also, neither tradition, corporate interpretation, or individual interpretation are ruled out entirely, though subordinated in terms of, again, the rule of saving knowledge. Moreover, this is a logical priority, that is, it is to come first in the order of religious thought, once more, in terms of saving knowledge.

Scripture does not outfit the Christian with the general laws of thought necessary for intelligibly apprehending Scripture, or anything and everything else we can know for that matter. All people are furnished with such principles prior to ever coming to the text through natural revelation, and they are assumed if not expressly known as natural-theological articles. Later, speaking of Scripture as the principium cognoscendi (principle of cognition, knowing), Muller states:

Of course, the act of creation itself is a movement of holy God toward the creature which, in its completion or result, provides a basis for knowledge of God. We can, therefore, speak of a first form of revelation whereby God makes himself known “in his works, in their creation, as well as in their preservation and control.” God’s universe is set “before our eyes as a beautiful book, wherein all creatures, small and great, serve as signs to lead us to contemplate the invisible things of God, namely, his eternal power and Godhead.” This revelation cannot, however, save mankind from sin—it can only convince sinful mankind of the existence of God and leave the unrepentant world without excuse (p. 153).

Interacting with the Dutch Puritan, Herman Witsius, Muller also says:

Witsius can even declare that the faint glimmerings of the natural light provide a “foundation” on which the gospel can build: “for as grace supposes nature, which it perfects; so the truths revealed in the gospel, have for their foundation those made known by the light of nature.” Although Witsius here addresses calling and, specifically, the character of the natural knowledge that seems to call human beings to God, only to leave them without excuse in their sins, he also, like Turretin and Owen, raises the issue of the positive relationship of natural reason and the truths it knows to revelation and supernatural theology (PRRD, vol. 1, 301).

Along these same lines, Francis Turretin writes:

We grant that in natural theology by the light of nature some such [first principles] do exist upon which supernatural theology is built (for example, that there is a God, that he must be worshipped, etc.) (Institutes, vol. 1, 10).

Conclusion

Sola Scriptura must be defined correctly, not only to avoid subjecting Scripture to the dictates of men, but also that we might retain the requisite tools (assumptions) and categories needed in order to make sense of the Scriptures in the first place. The laws of logic, the existence of God, God’s creation, God’s law, and the felt need of redemption (a need which only Scripture and its gospel can meet) provide pretext not only for the interpretation of Scripture, but also for the necessity of Scripture in man’s great need of redemption. Why is the Bible important? Because it is the voice of the God everyone knows (Rom. 1), and it offers salvation from the transgression of the law everyone knows (Rom. 2).

When God Institutes Slavery

When God Institutes Slavery

What about slavery in the Bible?

We should begin by making a distinction between slavery per se and slavery per accidens. Slavery per se is slavery in itself, which is not sinful (because positively instituted by God, who cannot sin). Slavery per accidens is slavery as it appears in any given society, which may or may not be sinful depending on whether or not individual liberties are observed. There are a few observations we need to make concerning biblical slavery, or slavery per se

First, we need to observe that slavery was sanctioned and commanded for national Israel alone. This is not natural law which applies to all men everywhere. This is a positive law instituted for a particular people, place, and time. No other nation has been positively commanded by God to engage in the institution of slavery.

Second, salvery was uniformly regulated by Scripture. It was not left to the dictates of opinion, the fulfillment of greed, etc. Moreover, the slaves in Israel fell under all the same laws as their masters. The laws were no tighter, nor were they different in terms of more or less restriction. This, as we will see, was not the case in the Antebellum south.

Third, there were generally three categories of slaves in Israel: domestic slaves, slaves purchased from other nations, and slaves of plunder. Domestic slaves were never slaves indefinitely. “If your brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you and serves you six years, then in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you (Deut. 15:12).” Slave masters were urged to remember their own historical slavehood in Egypt, “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you (Deut. 15:15).” The essence of this reminder is, “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets (Matt. 7:12).”

There were also slaves purchased from sojourners and other nations, and slaves taken in plunder which the Israelites were permitted to keep as permanent slaves. But, again, this was only instituted for Israel; and it only applied to the individual and not their posterity indefinitely, unless a consensual transaction took place. They, though slaves, had the protection of Israel’s laws and were expected to assimilate into Israelite society so as to be fellow Jews. Moreover, Israel, unlike other, future periods when slavery arose throughout the world, was the only place in which a person could be truly free (to worship the true God).

We, moreover, have to remember that this Israelite slavery was instituted through the Old Covenant, which the New Covenant tells us has been done away with (Heb. 8:13). And the purpose, I propose, for Old Covenant slavery was typological on several levels. It served to foreshadow the slavehood of the nations to Christ under the gospel (Matt. 28:18-20). Paul says, “For he who is called in the Lord while a slave is the Lord’s freedman. Likewise he who is called while free is Christ’s slave (1 Cor. 7:22).” If Israel itself was a Christ-type, then it would make sense for God to positively sanction slavery, since Christ Himself would be the other and greater Slave Master. But, as we see in the New Testament, to be a slave of Christ is actually to be a free man, liberated from sin and the world—free, that is, to obey God according to the dictates of conscience.

We can therefore say with biblical confidence that any slavery per accidens that obscures the liberty of a man to live unto or worship God according to the dictates of his conscience is unbiblical slavery.

Quick Thoughts on One of the Best Arguments for Reformed Paedobaptism

Quick Thoughts on One of the Best Arguments for Reformed Paedobaptism

This is part 4 of a series on baptism I’ve been writing.

Perhaps one of the most rhetorically effective arguments paedobaptists use against Baptists is as follows—

  1. Under the Old Covenant infants were admitted into the covenant.
  2. Covenant inclusion of infants in principle is never abrogated in the New Covenant.
  3. Therefore, it would have been assumed parents/clergy should continue administering the covenant sign to infants (baptism under the New Covenant).

The Orthodox Presbyterian Church states— 

The living God himself embraced the children of believers as members of his church. Genesis 17:7—”I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.”

 

Further, God nowhere rescinded this principle that the children of believers are church members. This is very significant. In order to maintain their position, those who oppose infant baptism have to prove that he did rescind this principle. Where does the Bible teach that? This is a question that demands an answer (emphasis added).

And…

The baptistic view is built on this hidden assumption—the assumption that, in the New Testament, children of believers are no longer members of the church.

 

But when you read the New Testament you find just the opposite! The New Testament lines right up with the Old Testament in continuing to assume that children of believers are included in the church. [1]

I appreciate this argument since its core concern is to preserve the sameness of the gospel under both Old and New Covenants, a concern both Baptists and paedobaptists ought to share. However, it makes some fatal logical errors.

First, there are several texts we could use to prove a rescinding of circumcision. These texts will probably not rescind administration of the covenant sign to infants in the way paedobaptists might expect. But it is often assumed by paedobaptists that infant inclusion is never rescinded under the New Covenant. John the Baptist, for example, clearly points to an obsolescence of the genealogical principle of the Old Covenant in Luke 3:8, “Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.”

Paedobaptists will no doubt quibble with our use of this text, retorting, “That’s always been the case in terms of the gospel if you believe in one way of salvation.” Absolutely. But it has not only been the case, and that is what John is getting at here. Under the Old Covenant, unbelievers and believers could be members thereof. Genesis 17 makes the covenant conditions external, e.g. circumcision of the flesh. But, under the New Covenant no longer will God tolerate those obedient to the letter (externality) of the law, but not the spirit (heart of) the law as He did under the Old Covenant (cf. Heb. 8; Jer. 31:31-34).

Moreover, the New Covenant does explicitly rescind the Old Covenant in places like Hebrews 8:6, 13. The rejoinder may be, “Yes, but by ‘Old Covenant’ Hebrews 8 is obviously only addressing Moses!” But Moses is none other than a development upon the foundation of the Abrahamic covenant, and both have the same formal basis, the fundamental tenet of which is fleshly circumcision. Moses governs the Abrahamic covenant and its members and is the covenant intended to bring Genesis 15:18-21 to fulfillment. This is why the author of Hebrews addresses Moses more explicitly than he does Abraham. Because the Mosaic covenant is the covenant out of which his audience was immediately called. If Moses is gone, so too is the covenant of circumcision.

Second, one major problem with the OPC’s argument is the assumed universalization of the covenant sign under the Old Covenant. However, circumcision was never administered to female infants, only male infants. This seems to remove their very basis for transferring the “infant principle” (for lack of a better term) into the New Covenant. If the goal is continuity between covenants, then this obvious point of serious discontinuity continues to exist. Under the Old Covenant, boys were circumcised, girls were not. Under the New Covenant, both may receive baptism.

Third, in the final analysis, this argument begs the question. It assumes the core Reformed paedobaptistic location of the substance/administration of the covenant of grace. For them, the Old and New Covenants are but outward administrations of the selfsame covenant of grace. Not two distinct covenants. Because the paedobaptist anachronistically imports this particular understanding of God’s everlasting covenant upon the earliest Christians, it is easy for them to allege: “Newly converted Jewish Christians would have been assuming infant inclusion in the New Covenant!” But this would not be the case if those newly converted Jewish Christians assumed the opposite presupposition as the Reformed paedobaptists, namely that the Old Covenant was growing old and becoming obsolete (Heb. 8), and the covenant of grace revealed had become the covenant of grace concluded (New Covenant) being formalized in the blood of Christ (Matt. 26:28; Mk. 14:24; Lk. 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25).

The burden of proof, therefore, is on the Reformed paedobaptist to demonstrate that the Apostolic church was assuming their model of covenant theology. But if this cannot be demonstrated, then the Scriptural ontology of the covenants stands alone, and the New Covenant really is a new covenant as the plain language seems to suggest.

Resources:

[1] The Orthodox Presbyterian Church, https://opc.org/cce/tracts/WhyInfantBaptism.html

7 Biblical Reasons for a Figurative Reading of Ezekiel 40-48

7 Biblical Reasons for a Figurative Reading of Ezekiel 40-48

Some, particularly of the dispensational persuasion, take the temple and the accompanying sacrifices revealed in Ezekiel 40-48 as a literal temple and sacrificial system which will be established at the time of the future millennium. My goal is to show how this understanding of Ezekiel 40ff cannot coexist with what is clearly set down in Hebrews 10. And my presupposition is that the epistle to the Hebrews should interpret the related texts of Ezekiel 40ff for us. The New Testament is, after all, an inspired commentary on the Old. I want to also note something about the language of literal interpretation. Much has been made of the literal or the normative interpretive method. Every text, it is thought, must be interpreted literally.

Instead, I propose that the Bible often communicates literal truths through other-than-literal means. For example, the shadows of the animal sacrifices. Were the shadows literal atoning sacrifices? Absolutely not. They did not literally atone for sin. They were typological sacrifices. Yet, is the literal atoning Sacrifice of Christ revealed by means of them? Absolutely! Another example is found in the New Testament, when the church is called a temple. “If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are (1 Cor. 3:17).” Does this mean that the church is a literal brick and mortar temple? No. But is this text true and thus literal? Absolutely. There is a literal meaning here communicated through figurative means. All the Bible is literal, but the means through which it communicates literal truths are not always literal, i.e. biblical metaphors always communicate literal (real) things, even though the metaphors themselves are not literal.

In many cases, God uses literal things to signify greater literal things, and this we call typology, e.g. David and Goliath, the temple, the priesthood, Solomon’s wisdom, etc. But in other cases, God will use literary word-pictures, usually given in visions or dreams, to signify literal things, e.g. Ezekiel’s temple, Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Dan. 2:24-45), etc.

In Ezekiel 40-48, there are several things mentioned which, if taken literally in themselves, will create great conflict with the New Testament, and will end up destroying the gospel altogether if consistently followed through. I want to survey some of the many things mentioned in Ezekiel 40ff which requires us to see it describing a figurative temple, which I believe to be the revelation of Christ and His people (but that’s another article). The following are reasons why Ezekiel 40-48 cannot, in no wise, be taken for a literal, future, brick and mortar temple—

Sin Offerings

“In the vestibule of the gateway were two tables on this side and two tables on that side, on which to slay the burnt offering, the sin offering, and the trespass offering (Ezek. 40:39).” Also see Ezekiel 46. However, Hebrews 10:18 tells us, “Now where there is remission of [sins], there is no longer an offering for sin.” One could make the argument that the “sin offerings” described in Ezekiel 40 are not actually offered for sins, but are only typological. However, that’s exactly what the Old Testament sacrifices were—typological. Hebrews 10:18 is telling us that typological sacrifices no longer exist since the fulfillment of those sacrifices are found in Christ Jesus.

The Levitical Priesthood

“The chamber which faces north is for the priests who have charge of the altar; these are the sons of Zadok, from the sons of Levi, who come near the LORD to minister to Him (Ezek. 40:46).” The majority of the epistle to the Hebrews has thus far belaboured the superiority of Christ’s priesthood over the Levitical priesthood. And it tells us, “We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man (Heb. 8:1-2).” If Ezekiel 40ff were taken literally, then it follows the Levitical priesthood is to be reestablished, even though we have a better priest in Christ.

Animal Blood of Consecration

“You shall take some of its blood and put it on the four horns of the altar, on the four corners of the ledge, and on the rim around it; thus you shall cleanse it and make atonement for it (Ezek. 43:20).” Thus, the altar in the Ezeklian temple, if taken literally, is consecrated by animal blood, something Hebrews expressly tells us is but a copy of the heavenly things. Christ came, “Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption (Heb. 9:12).” Was His blood not enough?

Fleshly Temple Restrictions

“No foreigner, uncircumcised in heart or uncircumcised in flesh, shall enter My sanctuary, including any foreigner who is among the children of Israel (Ezek. 44:9).” To enter the temple sanctuary, circumcision in the flesh is required. But, according to Acts 15:10, James calles circumcision a “yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear.” And in v. 11, asserts that salvation will take place in the same manner for all who are in Christ, no matter Jew or Gentile. If some are circumcised and others are not, this being a gospel necessity for some people but not others, then salvation is different for some than it is for others, i.e. not in the same manner.

The Ceremonial Feast Days

“In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, you shall observe the Passover, a feast of seven days; unleavened bread shall be eaten. And on that day the prince shall prepare for himself and for all the people of the land a bull for a sin offering (Ezek. 45:21-22).” The feast days, however, in the New Covenant, are abolished, “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths (Col. 2:16).” And, if one were to say, “It’s only the Gentiles who are not to be judged, but the Jews will still keep these ordinances as a matter of conscience,” then they deny what comes after this text, that the new man—which all who are in Christ have put on—is “where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all (Col. 3:11).”

The Old Testament Sabbath

“The gateway of the inner court that faces toward the east shall be shut the six working days; but on the Sabbath it shall be opened, and on the day of the New Moon it shall be opened (Ezek. 46:1).” The Sabbath has been changed in the New Covenant, “For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change in the law (Heb. 7:12).” But this Old Testament Sabbath, where the people work in order to rest, has been abolished as we learn in Colossians 2:16 and in Hebrews 4.

The Living Water

“And it shall be that every living thing that moves, wherever the rivers go, will live. There will be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters go there; for they will be healed, and everything will live wherever the river goes (Ezek. 47:9).” The living water which comes from the right side of the temple must be figurative. For Christ has declared Himself to be the living water, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water (Jn. 4:10).” And because the people of God are the temple of God, it is from their hearts the living water flows, “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water (Jn. 7:38).” In John 4:13-14, Jesus says, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” How does one receive the living water? John 6:35 tells us, “He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.”

Scaling Scripture: Where the Quadriga & the 1689 Meet

Scaling Scripture: Where the Quadriga & the 1689 Meet

The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched by other places that speak more clearly. ~ 2LBCF 1.9

The middle ages were, in some ways a golden age for the interpretation of Scripture, and in other ways a hermeneutical train wreck. Of course, by the time of the high middle ages (11th to the 13the centuries), the kind of authority eventually ascribed to church tradition had not yet become a canonical article of church dogma. It was first explained as dogma during Vatican II, held in 1962. Yet, the equality of church tradition and Scripture had already begun, to some extent, in the middle ages.

As Henri de Lubac notes, the authority of church tradition would play into the assumed medieval hermeneutic milieu, which has since been called the quadriga. All Scripture, it is said, is literal. But the literal sense gives way to three other senses, i.e. the allegorical (what to believe), tropological (how to live), and anagogical (what to hope for). Because the largely Romanist medieval theologians had a twofold principle of knowledge—Scripture and tradition—the quadriga was not confined to Scripture itself, but became an open system through man-made tradition. Allegory, then, didn’t have to result only from Scripture, but was also informed by the authoritative and subjective interpretation of the Magisterium.

I’m not including the whole story, but this eventually led the Reformers to reject the quadriga, at least in terms. But not necessarily in practice. Much of the post-Reformed Puritan theology reflected an assumption of the quadriga, though it was hardly, if ever, referred to as such. Moreover, the Puritans, such as John Owen, would affirm a single sense which itself would need to be plumbed in order to reach the full extent thereof. This was called the sensus plenior, or the fuller sense. For the Puritans, the single sense could be manifold. And thus the quadriga continued on into orthodox Protestantism, but not without qualification. It no longer consisted of four distinct senses, which might mistakenly be viewed as multiple, if not conflicting, truths. It consisted instead of one sense, the literal, which lent itself to a deeper or fuller meaning, the scope of which includes allegory, tropology, and anagogy. And these subsequent elements of the unfolding literal sense were to be confined to the Scripture itself and not the opinion of a Magisterium, monarch, etc.

So, 1.9 of the Second London Baptist Confession recognizes this fuller sense which derives from the literal, historical, or immediate terms. Puritans are often accused of allegorizing the text by hyper-literalists for this very reason. But the Puritans, in all reality, were the most prolific torch-bearers of the literal meaning of Scripture. Unlike the hyper-literalists of the 20th and 21st centuries, the Puritans understood that while all meaning began in literal or historical terms, it did not end there. There was a sensus plenior, a fuller sense.

John Owen (An Exposition of the Letter to the Hebrews), Benjamin Keach (Tropologia), and John Gill (Gill’s Expositor, vol. 9, on Hebrews 8) are all examples of theologians who understood the sensus plenior and employed it regularly in their thought.

I will close by giving one biblical example where a New Testament author engages this method of deriving the fuller sense from the literal or historical text. Speaking of Christ Jesus, Hebrews 1:5b says—

For to which of the angels did He ever say… “I will be to Him a Father, And He shall be to Me a Son”?

This is a quotation from 2 Samuel 7:14 in proof of Christ’s superiority. But in that place, the author writes immediately of the coming king Solomon, and there is no instance in the immediate context where the coming Messiah is mentioned. In 2 Samuel 7:14b it even mentions a chastisement for future sin, which means this passage must be immediately referring to someone other than Christ. The text, immediately, then, refers to Solomon, the son of David, who would build the temple (v. 13). Yet, as the author of Hebrews shows us, there is the sensus plenior, where Christ is the deeper meaning of the historical/literal event immediately in view in 2 Samuel 7:14.

In other words, the literal event points to a deeper significance. To put it in quadratic terms: the literal sense of 2 Samuel 7:14 is Solomon; plumbing that single sense, we see the allegory is Christ Himself; the tropology is to live unto Christ as our Lord and King; and the anagogy is the hope of the kingship or the rule of Christ.