The ‘Fuller Sense’ in Hebrews 10:5

The ‘Fuller Sense’ in Hebrews 10:5

In Hebrews 10:5, the author’s use of Ps. 40:6 differs from the Psalm itself in terminology. Hebrews says, “A body you have prepared for me…,” instead of, “My ears you have opened… (Ps. 40:6).” The reason? The Psalmist is using a device called a synecdoche, where the part represents the whole. “Ears” are there used in place of “body.” After all, what use are ears without a body? The author of Hebrews isn’t translating the passage when he uses “body” instead of “ears.” Instead, he’s interpreting and clarifying the sense of the original passage under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

The strict historical-grammatical interpreter would not be able to do what the author of the Hebrews does. If asked what was meant by Psalm 40:6, they might reply, “Ears mean ears!” There would be no possible way to plow any deeper into the significance of the psalmist’s language. Instead, he would have to remain at a definitional understanding of the term ears, and go no further. He may even entertain the possibility of ears existing without a body, since he presupposes the term ears cannot reach down to a deeper significance, or imply anything more than a simple anatomical body part. There is no way he could get from ears to body, as the author of Hebrews does.

Thankfully, we have the rest of the Scriptures, a la., Hebrews, to fill him in on the significance of Psalm 40:6. So, our historical-grammatical-onlyist friend would not deny the passage alludes to the incarnation. After all, God Himself says it does. But he would not be able to justify the author’s interpretive choice apart from resorting to some dictatorial theory of inspiration, or otherwise punting to mystery. However, this isn’t satisfactory. Dictatorial theory doesn’t seem consistent with the way the New Testament authors write. For they include personal life circumstances, personal concerns, personal worries, etc. They are writing their letters and accounts, really and truly—albeit under the special providential governance of God, which we call concurrence.

Mystery is not an option either, since mystery fails to excuse logical incoherence. The author either interprets Psalm 40:6 correctly, or he does not. If he does, then the fuller sense, i.e. Christ’s incarnation, was always present in that text, and any reader who could see it was free to interpret it accordingly. Inspiration doesn’t give the author a special hermeneutic where he can derive secret meaning or otherwise invent new meaning for the text in question. The inspired author remains subject to the authorial intent of the Old Testament (the authorial intent being God’s). The meaning was always there. The key to unfolding said meaning is not in inspiration, it is in Christ. The author of the Hebrews doesn’t interpret the Old Testament Bible the way he does because he’s inspired, per se; he interprets the Old Testament Bible the way he does because he reads it in the light of Christ. And God uses that interpretive method of the author to ensure the epistle to the Hebrews turns out exactly the way He wants it to turn out.

The author of the Hebrews, far from translating Psalm 40:6 word for word, interprets the sense according to an incarnational-centric assumption. He sees no problem reading Christ and His incarnation out of Psalm 40:6, despite the absence of express terminology. And this mode of interpretation is not specific to inspiration. This is how the author would have understood Psalm 40:6 prior to and after writing Hebrews 10:5. As I like to say, If he were teaching a seminary class on hermeneutics, this is the way he would have taught. It’s not as if he picked up a whole new methodology while under inspiration, only to forgo that methodology after he sensed he was no longer inspired. And it’s not like his method was new to him, dawning on him right as he put pen to papyri.

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.”

Calvin, Classical Trinitarianism, & the Aseity of the Son – A Review

Calvin, Classical Trinitarianism, & the Aseity of the Son – A Review

Those of you who are even mildly interested in the big topics of theological discussion taking place online in discussion groups and in academic literature are probably aware of the debate between classical Christian theism and what has been termed theistic personalism or mutualism by men like Drs. James Dolezal, Richard Barcelos, Samuel Renihan, et al. A cognate debate, or a related discussion, is happening in the subsequent locus of theology—that of Trinitarianism. And this debate concerns the ontological status of the Persons within the Godhead, primarily that of the Father and the Son. Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS) makes the Son derivative in terms of will, and some forms of eternal generation make the Son derivative in terms of being or essence. The former discussion takes place in terms of theology proper, i.e. the unity of the Godhead, the attributes of God, etc., the latter in terms of Trinitarian orthodoxy, or the eternal subsistence of the one, undivided divine essence in the Persons of the Father, of the Son, and of the Spirit.

Dr. Brannon Ellis, in some very important ways, anticipated where both debates find themselves today in a book published in 2012 titled, Calvin, Classical Trinitarianism, & the Aseity of the Son. One of my favorite types of books is one that reveals the mind of the author as he or she wrestles with doctrine and uses the full array of weaponry in biblical, systematic, and historical theological artium. This is exactly the kind of work Ellis has produced. Let’s jump in—

The Author’s Purpose

Calvin’s Trinitarianism is not exactly the easiest thing to devour, and this is less so today as the discussion has become more convoluted with the passing of time. Some authors understand Calvin to be a revisionist of classical Trinitarianism, essentially denying creedal orthodoxy. And others find Calvin following in the footsteps of the early church fathers. [1] This confusion, along with some additional nuance in the introduction, spurred what Ellis unfolds throughout his work. He writes:

The purpose of this work is to explain the significance and explore the implications of Calvin’s approach to thinking and speaking of the Triune God, in light of, and in dialogue with, the set of doctrines in play in the historical debates over Calvin’s claim of aseity for the Son. [2]

For those of you who feel like you’ve just jumped into the deep end of Christian theology, the term aseity denotes God’s self-existence, or more precisely, God as God in Himself, wholly independent of any other. The basic question, “Is the Son, the second Person in the Holy Trinity, God of Himself?” mildly relates the issue of aseity to what Ellis is driving at in this very important volume. But he’s not simply trying to answer the question as it sits, he’s trying to answer the question about Calvin’s understanding of the aseity of the Son, along with, as I took it, proffering a vindication of Calvin’s construal. Ellis writes, “[by] beginning positively to explore several of the most significant and fruitful implications and applications of Calvinian autothean language.” He does this, I believe, most clearly in the last chapter (chapter seven).

Canvassing the Subject-Matter

In the very first chapter, Ellis does something I very much appreciate—he observes Calvin’s starting point at the unity of the Godhead prior to that of trinity. This has largely become a lost practice in some contemporary systematics (cf. Robert Letham’s Systematic Theology). However, he carefully notes the mutual inclusivity of unity in trinity and trinity in unity, moving from the former to the latter in pp. 20-23.

In the first chapter, on p. 24, Ellis remarks, “If we confess God’s Unity apart from Trinity, we do not have incomplete or less precise knowledge of the true God (theism as such); we rather exclude revealed knowledge of the God who is Father, Son, and Spirit in exchange for some imagined form of idolatry, whether of the pantheistic of the monotheistic variety.” As it is stated, I do not agree with this statement. The schoolmen and the Reformers—who assumed much of what they wrote categorically—made a distinction between historical or propositional knowledge and experimental knowledge. Propositional knowledge is had of true things, and in this way, the pagans can “know God (Rom. 1:18-20).” When the Reformers and the post-Reformed speak of “true knowledge,” on the other hand, they mean what we call experimental knowledge, or what we might also call practical knowledge. This comes out in Calvin when he writes:

By the knowledge of God, I understand that by which we not only conceive that there is some God, but also apprehend what it is for our interest, and conducive to his glory, what, in short, it is befitting to know concerning him. For, properly speaking, we cannot say that God is known where there is no religion or piety. [3]

We have to be careful, therefore, to make the distinction between propositional knowledge and experimental knowledge. Calvin is defining knowledge according to the latter.

Romans 1 clearly teaches that the heathen have true propositional knowledge of God, yet that it only results in their condemnation since it does not end in experimental or experiential knowledge, or what Calvin understands to be true knowledge. Ellis most likely understands this, but it sounds as if he is saying “all of God must be known or none of God is known,” and, if left unqualified, this statement would be prima facie false.

Despite the above quandary, the first chapter is packed with important observations. For example, alluding to the centerpiece of Trinitarian hermeneutics, Ellis writes, “Calvin made clear that the fullness of the revealed identity of God as one and three must be brought to bear whenever considering any particular scriptural claim about God.” [4] Quoting Calvin, Ellis adds, “Because where simple and indefinite mention is made of God, this name pertains no less to the Son and the Spirit than to the Father. But as soon as the Father is compared with the Son, the character of each distinguishes the one from the other.” This is all part of the “ruled grammar” Ellis mentions throughout the chapter, and it serves as an important prelogical principle in what comes after.

In the second chapter, Ellis takes to examining the orthodoxy of Calvin’s position in light of “trinitarian and antitrinitarian contexts.” [5] He drops into the conversations between Calvin and Pierre Caroli, the Neuchatel ministers, and Valentine Gentile. This is important in placing Calvin’s views amidst his very own historical context, and the then contemporary development of Trinitarian orthodoxy. He continues interaction between Gentile and others in later chapters.

In the third chapter, Ellis begins discussion on the doctrine of eternal generation and the influence it had upon the general understanding of Trinitarianism, and its special import into the autothean debate. Noting one very important factor in the relationship between the processions and the divinity of the Son, Ellis writes:

In this sense, generation is the Father’s giving of essence that constitutes the Son one only God, and generateness is reception of the same. Because of the manner of his generation, the Son is God the Son with respect to the Father who gives, and God the Son with respect to that which he is given to be. [6]

Eternal generation bears upon the autothean controversy because it is used as a defining principle of the intra-Trinitarian relations, i.e. Father, Son, Spirit. The Son is Son precisely in virtue of His being generated by the Father, and is God precisely because divinity is that which is generated. I would add that the doctrine of eternal generation is how we must understand the distinctions among the Persons in the Trinity. Without eternal generation, Father, Son, and Spirit are meaningless terms nominally applied to the divine essence. Modalism would really be the only consistent result from a rejection of the eternal processions.

In the fourth chapter, Ellis surveys positions such as Unitarianism, which identifies “what trinitarians distinguish.” [7] He also looks at various approaches to the aseity of the Son, again looking at Gentile, then Bellarmine, and even Jacobus Arminius and his followers, the Remonstrants. [8] Arminius rejected autothean language, and Ellis draws out the potential dangers (which actually obtained in his successors) of this denial as follows, “in Arminius’ response to a student’s question during his public disputation, some of the worrisome emphases and conclusions of his subordinationist successors—including the leading lights of the Dutch Remonstrants—may be found in embryo.” [9]

Also in chapter four, Ellis looks at the Socinians and Herman Roell’s responses to Campegius Vitringa. [10] Roell was a Cartesian theologian, and for that reason, would have been at odds with the likes of another Dutch theologian, Petrus Van Mastricht, who would have overlapped Roell in time. Roell rejected subordinationism and, as Ellis states, he “shared Calvin’s insistence on the Son’s aseity,” but he didn’t make the distinction between the processions which naturally communicate the divine essence according to Calvin. [11]

In the fifth chapter, after a somewhat needed contextualization of the matter, Ellis delves into “four arguments against the legitimacy of autothean language.” [12] The four arguments are represented by Bellarmine. The first is akin to a retort if summarized by the question, “If something is communicated from Father to Son, why not the essence itself?” Calvin’s autothean language suggests the Son is God of Himself, which would seem to forbid any speculation that the essence is communicated in any way from Father to Son. This of course would appear to cut against the creedal formulation that the Son is “God of God.” By way of clarification, Ellis helpfully notes:

Calvin did not in fact reject this or any of the ecumenical creeds, but questioned the aptness of some of their wording, due to what he felt was the indirect meaning of ‘God of God’, for instance, or the repetitiveness of the Quicunque—and, most importantly, all his criticism of the creeds occurred in the context of a demand that he and his Genevan colleagues subscribe them at Caroli’s bidding. It is certainly clear from Calvin’s later appeal to an employment of the same creedal phrases in his exchanges with Gentile that he was unwilling to dismiss or reject them.

The issues Calvin took with the creeds, if they can even be called “issues,” were more circumstantial than they were substantial. In other words, Calvin did not take issue with the doctrine of the creeds, though he could have preferred further clarity of their language.

In the sixth chapter, at the outset, moving off of Richard Muller’s prestigious Post Reformed Reformed Dogmatics, Ellis writes, “Muller points out the universal Reformed endorsement of autothean language as a sign of clear continuity between Calvin and the Calvinsits.” [13] Ellis also suggests Calvin was aware of some divergence between his own positions and that of his peers, “the evidence suggests that there was at this early time some awareness of intraconfessional divergence among the Reformed on this theme—which Calvin disapproved of, yet, importantly, did not anathematize.” That which Calvin disapproved was the apparent assertion of essential communication from Father to Son by the likes of Beza and Simler. [14] Yet, Calvin did not understand their respective stances to be heretical, though non-preferably divergent from his own.

Toward the end of the chapter, Bartholomaeus Keckermann and Johann Maccovius, both of whom were no doubt influenced of Calvin, deny essential communication in se, “For the essence—insofar as it is as such, without mentioning mode or order in this essence—does not admit of distinction and communication,” writes Keckermann. [15] Ad extra, or the Godhead as revealed, may be said to admit of some essential communication in terms of how we speak of Father/Son relations. Yet, as considered ad intra, there is not real distinction or communication of essence. Or, to say this another way, the mode of the Son’s existence is communicated of the Father, but not the being.

The title of chapter seven eloquently states, “Of Himself, God Gives Himself.” in this chapter, Ellis takes up “several key aspects of the themes discussed in the chapters above.” [16] Here, Ellis vidicates Calvin’s autothean language as “as self-consistently classical trinitarian positions at this pivotal juncture between oneness and threeness in God.” But Ellis also carves out his own path forward and construes much of it in terms of the incarnation of the Son of God. This leads him to criticize the beatific vision (visio Dei) of the West as well as the theosis of the East. [17]

I would like to pause here for a brief rejoinder concerning an accusation Ellis lays at the feet of Thomas Aquinas. He says, “In the visio Dei, we immediately (and immaterially) contemplate in our souls the very being and perfections of God, through the intelligible form of God’s own essential knowledge.” In contradistinction from this alleged view of the beatific vision, Ellis says, “Yet redemption is not liberation from creaturely finitude or limitations in understanding or ability, but from covenantal rebellion and its curse—from exchanging the glory of the knowledge of God for idols.” [18] Of Western and Eastern conceptions of union with God, he notes in the same place, “Both sorts of ontological participation in God stand in some contrast to the covenantal participation I am advocating here…”

Though a full criticism of what is being said here does not fall within the scope of this review, I must tender a brief response—

  1. Thomas does not argue for any freedom from the goods with which God has created us, but instead understands the visio Dei as a freedom from the privation of good induced through sin, and this freedom results in a perfected, albeit creaturely, knowledge of God. “There resides in every man a natural desire to know the cause of any effect which he sees; and thence arises wonder in men (Summa Theologiae, 1.12.1).”
  2. Thomas is careful to explicitly affirm the knowability of the divine essence while at the same time denying a comprehensive or exhaustive knowability of the divine essence, because incomprehensible. “Hence it does not follow that He cannot be known at all, but that He exceeds every kind of knowledge; which means that He is not comprehended.”
  3. The covenant of grace does not stand in contrast to the visio Dei advocated by Thomas, but is the very place in which we attain the visio Dei. The vision of God is promised as one of the free, covenant blessings of the New Covenant, “Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God (Matt. 5:8).” And, “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is (1 Jn. 3:2).”

Moreover, it must be remembered that the language in Hebrews 1:3 necessitates that Christ Himself is the express image of this God whom we shall see upon our glorification. For He is, “the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person.” If Ellis agrees with this, it would seem he would end up in the same place Thomas does, with a vision of God Himself. The alternative Ellis proposes are, “the Reformed doctrines of covenant and analogy,” yet the latter is almost always explicitly lifted from Thomas, especially in post-Reformed literature, (cf. Stephen Charnock’s Existence and Attributes of God, & Peter Van Mastricht’s Theoretical-Practical Theology, vol. 2).

Conclusion

Criticism aside, Ellis’ work is extremely important and should be assigned as a textbook in graduate systematic theology courses. I would even recommend it to an able and interested layperson for their own personal edification. Ellis’ departure from my understanding of Calvin, with regard to true knowledge, and Thomas, with regard to the visio Dei (mentioned above), are, I believe, departures made in good faith. Ellis’ desire is to exalt Christ. And where I depart from his articulation, I can do so with understanding.

Today’s price on this volume is beyond what most people are willing to pay for a 250-page book, coming in at a cool $107. This makes it mostly inaccessible to anyone who is not a student, which is unfortunate. But this is tangential, and not Ellis’ fault. Moreover, if my memory serves me right, this is Ellis’ doctoral dissertation, and so, if you were to ask him, he may agree with the price set on Amazon (and may even like to see it raised!).

In closing, I want to thank Tyler Simnick over at Oxford University Press for providing me with a review copy of this volume (all the way back in 2017 no less!). I’m just glad I was able to finally put together a review. I hope it has been helpful to both anyone looking to purchase the volume for further research, and to those who are new to this discussion, yet highly motivated to learn more.

Finally, thank you Brannon Ellis for such a thorough work on the autothean controversy and the way in which a beloved theological hero, John Calvin, skillfully navigated its waters. This volume is surprisingly vast and substantially fulfilling, especially considering its relatively short length.

Bibliography

  1. Brannon Ellis, Calvin, Classical Trinitarianism, & the Aseity of the Son, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 6-7.
  2. Ibid., 9.
  3. Calvin, John. The John Calvin Collection: 12 Classic Works. Waxkeep Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  4. Ellis, Calvin, Classical Trinitarianism, & the Aseity of the Son, 31.
  5. Ibid., 37.
  6. Ibid., 84.
  7. Ibid., 105.
  8. Ibid., 112.
  9. Ibid., 114.
  10. Ibid., 128.
  11. Ibid., 136.
  12. Ibid.,141.
  13. Ibid., 169.
  14. Ibid., 173.
  15. Ibid., 187.
  16. Ibid., 197.
  17. Ibid., 217.
  18. Ibid., 217-18.
3 Steps to Humility (According to People on Facebook)

3 Steps to Humility (According to People on Facebook)

Below are three tips on how to make everyone think you’re humble in a Facebook discussion, courtesy of all the keyboard saints out there:
 
 
1) Assume your interlocutor is motivated by pride. Make sure this somehow comes out in the conversation so that everyone sees you as the lowly victim.
 
2) Boast in your Christian experience. This automatically makes you appear wiser than the other person. And it will make the other person look arrogant, “How dare he take on a seasoned Christian!” onlookers will think.
 
3) Make sure to include plenty of “God bless you’s” and “blessings to you’s,” and throw in (my favorite), “I’m praying for you.” The more passively condescending, the better. This way, people will know you actually, truly care about the other person.
 
 
You might even boost your humility points if you film yourself praying on a street corner and then post that into the conversation as well. Then there will be absolute proof of your humility, because humility is to be judged by mere outward appearances (don’t worry it’s in the Bible, I read it somewhere).
The Two Kingdoms Take Center Stage

The Two Kingdoms Take Center Stage

American Christians have been suffering an identity crisis for a long time.

Last year, however, that same identity crisis reached its crescendo during the forced COVID-19 lockdowns and emergency “orders.” These orders, you’ll remember, had massive implications upon practical Christian life. The most important ingredient in Christian religion, public worship, found itself in the crosshairs of government-enforced limitations on “large” gatherings.

Atop all this comes riots and various forms of civil unrest. Anything from burning down buildings to commandeering whole city blocks have been normalized over the last several months. And now, a rocky, uncertain presidential transition looms.

The flow of information hasn’t helped either. Error moves as quickly as truth. No one seems to really know what is going to happen in the next few days, weeks, months. All this has led many Christians to ask the question, “What do we do?” And that question breaks into several others: “Do we obey our government?” “What should my church be doing? How should it be responding to the times?” and many others. The need for these questions to be answered will only grow in the coming days. And how we understand the church’s relationship to the rest of the world will only become all the more relevant.

Current events usually draw people’s attention to eschatology. Rightly so. However, there is something that stands behind eschatology as more basic or fundamental. Premillennialism, postmillennialism, and amillennialism are all three formed or concluded on the basic identities of the kingdom of God and the kingdom of man. One might argue eschatology defines both of these things, but that would put the final cause in front of the formal and material causes, which would lead to utilitarianism or a sheer pragmatism. The natures of these kingdoms must be defined prior to finalizing an eschatology.

So, while current events and the current circumstance of Christ’s church may provoke serious eschatological thought, do not forget that there are certain, more fundamental elements to be considered first in our biblical and systematic theologies.

What are the Two Kingdoms?

When theologians speak of the two kingdoms, they are referring to the kingdom of God and the kingdom of man, each of which must now be defined.

An easy, perhaps somewhat abstract way, to define the kingdom of God is to understand it as all that which comes to men through the New Covenant. Simply put, the kingdom of God comes through the covenant of grace. We could write a whole book on everything that comes from the New Covenant. But, at the risk of oversimplification, for our purposes here, we will understand the kingdom of God as that which comes to God’s people through the special, saving grace of God available only in the New Covenant, which has been established in the blood of Christ.

The kingdom(s) of men involve those powers given to men at creation, and also according to the Noahic covenant, post-fall. Herman Bavinck helpfully notes:

There are all kinds of power and authority on earth: in the family, society, the state, art, science, and so forth. But the power of the church is essentially distinct and completely independent from all of these. For all this power comes from God as the creator of heaven and earth (Rom. 13:1), but this ecclesiastical power comes directly from God as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11; Acts 20:28).

The kingdom(s) of men come through natural graces (i.e. common grace), and the kingdom of God comes through special or supernatural graces (i.e. special grace). To put it in covenantal language: The kingdom(s) of men come through the Noahic covenant, a recapitulation of the creation mandate adapted to man’s sinful nature made in Genesis 8-9; and the kingdom of God comes through the covenant of grace (or New Covenant).

Distinct, but Not Separate

When speaking of the two kingdoms, it is easy to separate the two entirely. Such a separation can give way to an escapist or pacifist approach to civil society. While civil society (man’s kingdom) is not the church, much less the kingdom of heaven, it nevertheless ought to occupy a place on the church’s list of priorities.

While the biblical data necessitates, I believe, a two kingdom approach, it also sets forth a healthy relationship between those two kingdoms, even on this side of glory. In other words, the two kingdoms are distinct, but not separate.

Jesus, in Matthew 5:14, says, “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.” And in Revelation 21:24, the kings of the earth bring their glory into this capitol city of heaven, “And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it.”

The church, therefore, which is called a city on a hill is not abstracted nor isolated from the rest of the world. In fact, being the light of the world denotes the idea of something visible, known, a revealer of truth which influences the world around it. In this way, it acts as salt, a seasoning if you will, upon the earth (Matt. 5:13).

Recently, I’ve observed what I believe to be a clear definition of the nature of this relationship between the kingdom of God on the one hand, and the kingdom of man on the other in the first amendment of the United States Constitution. It reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Notice how the state cannot control the church through coercion nor legislation, but also how provision is made for the church to influence the state through freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and through peaceful assemblies. Unfortunately, today, many who tend toward the left want to take the power of persuasion away from the church. Church and state are completely separate, it is thought. Many Christians, in their isolationist view of the church, also, in practice, believe in a complete separation between the two kingdoms.

The first amendment, however, strikes the right biblical note, I believe. State powers cannot determine religion, religion cannot legislate state powers. But religion most certainly has the power to influence the state through lawful means. This dynamic is lucidly described at the end of the book of Acts:

Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him (Acts 28:30-31).

Paul utilized his station as a Roman citizen, his rights, privileges, etc., to proclaim the kingdom of God to people living in the kingdom of man. And in this way, Paul powerfully influenced the kingdom of man with the kingdom of God.

Concluding Thoughts

Christians need to recapture this relationship between the two kingdoms before the church in America can effectively address the prevailing issues of our day. Christians must reimagine their roles in society. They are citizens of heaven first, but they must also understand their responsibility as citizens of this world to this world, that is, to be its light.

Questions of how this is done are also answered in Scripture. In short, Christians must play the #LongGame. They must love their spouses; train up their children in godliness; invest in their churches; and influence their immediate communities with the gospel and godly principles through lawful means. The enemy most hates faithfulness in the little things.

The Christian’s Dual Citizenship

The Christian’s Dual Citizenship

It cannot be denied that Scripture ascribes some duties to the governments of this world and some duties to the church. For example, governing authorities of this world are said to bear the sword. Paul, in Romans 13:1-4, writes:

Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.

This sword, while given to the state, is never said to be given to the church. Christ, instead, gives the church the keys to the kingdom of heaven. To Peter, Jesus says, “And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven (Matt. 16:19).” So, the government has been given the sword, and the church has been given the keys to heaven.

Since the Scripture never gives either of these to the other, neither the keys to the government nor the sword to church, these powers ought to always be seen as distinct. Writing of the Reformed position in the post-Reformation era, Herman Bavinck writes:

Just as God had appointed the government as sovereign in the state, so he anointed Christ as king of his church. State and church, therefore, were essentially distinct from each other—in origin, nature, and government. To transfer the church’s power to the state was a violation of the kingship of Christ.

Speaking to the power of local churches, then Second London Baptist Confession reads:

To each of these churches thus gathered, according to His mind declared in His Word, He hath given all that power and authority, which is in any way needful for their carrying on that order in worship and discipline, which He hath instituted for them to observe; with commands and rules for the due and right exerting, and executing of that power.

Notice how both Bavinck and the Confession are careful to observe and maintain the clear distinction in the Scriptures between the powers of man’s kingdom and the powers of God’s kingdom. To the city of God is given the keys to heaven; to the city of man, the sword of civil justice.

This is a simplified summary of what is sometimes referred to as two kingdom theology. The two kingdoms refer to the kingdom of God on the one hand, and the kingdom of man on the other. This distinction serves to highlight the circumstance of the Christian as he lives in this world. He is a citizen of heaven and he looks toward a heavenly country. Nevertheless, he has been given an earthly citizenship in an earthly country. The Christian has dual citizenship. He is at once a citizen of the kingdom of heaven and a citizen of the kingdom of man—and he has been given responsibilities accordingly.

Resources:

1. Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 4, (Phillipsburg: P & R Publishing, 2008), 411.

2. 2LBCF, 26.7.

3. Sermon, ‘The Christian’s Dual Citizenship’