Saturday, December 13, 2008

What does it mean to believe in Jesus?

Since I require my Advanced Homiletics students to preach either John 3:1-13 or John 3:14-21 as their third sermon, I’ve heard 7 messages on both passages within the last 2 weeks.

The frequent occurrence of the verb πιστεύω in John 3:1-21 has caused the issue of what it means to believe in Jesus to resurface in my thinking. The key phrases are
• Everyone who believes in him [the Son of Man] (John 13:5)
• Everyone who believes in him [the Son] (John 3:16)
• The one who believes in him [the Son] (John 3:18a)
• The one who does not believe has been condemned (John 3:18b)
• Because he has not believed on the name of the only Son of God (John 3:18c)

Theologically, I know that for faith to be saving faith it must bear the fruit of obedience to Christ (James 2:22-26). There is no Lordless salvation (Matt. 7:21). But “believe on Jesus” seems so cognitive, so cerebral, so non-heartish … it almost seems to lend itself to a religion of the head apart from the heart.

A common answer to my question—you must mentally affirm that Jesus is God’s Son, that he died for your sins, and rose again for your justification, and that He will save you from your sins if you ask him to—has in many parts of Christendom yielded a harvest of orthodox heads and adulterous hearts and lives.

Today I had a breakthrough. Baptism helps explain what it means to believe in Jesus.

Many Christians don’t realize that baptism is not a uniquely Christian rite. In the first century, baptism was a common practice among both Jews and Pagans. It was an initiatory ritual by which one signified one’s commitment to become an adherent to a religious sect. John the Baptist is the prime NT example of this (John 4:1). However, we find descriptions of similar rites from Qumran, in Josephus, and in Greek literature.

When one was baptized in the name of X, the one baptized was announcing his intention to be with and learn from X. In other words, it was common knowledge that getting baptized was a public declaration that you were becoming a disciple of someone or something.

Immediately following the calls to belief in John 3:1-21, John states that “After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He was spending time with them and baptizing” (John 3:22). In other words, people who “believe” in Jesus get baptized in his name, thereby signifying that they are becoming His disciples, apprentices, followers—people who were going to pattern their whole lives after Him and His teaching.

“Believing” is a mental affirmation, but it more than mental affirmation. It means staking my whole life on Jesus’ claim that He is the way to God and there is no other way. It means willingly yoking myself to him so that I can learn how to do life His way (Matt. 11:29). It means decisively abandoning my old way of life and being baptized into apprenticeship to a new way of life—His way.

It means being willing to forsake father, mother, sister, brother, wife, houses, lands, and even my own life, in order to pattern the totality of my existence after Him (Mark 10:28-30). It means believing that Jesus is the Master of every facet of life, so I must be his disciple in every facet of mine.

That’s what it meant to the Philippian jailer when Paul said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). He recognized that belief required baptism in Jesus’ name, and baptism in Jesus' name symbolized his entrance into a brand new life of learning to think and act and react like Jesus.

That is what it means to believe in Jesus.

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Reader's Hebrew Bible: WLC-BHS Differences Clarification

I recently received a question about the Qere readings in 1 Sam 18:14, 22 that appear in BHS but do not appear in the Westminister Leningrad Codex (WLC) and therefore do not appear in A Reader's Hebrew Bible (RHB). The questioner wondered why the black dot that normally marks WLC-BHS differences in RHB did not appear there.

A fair question, and here, I hope, is a fair answer. According to the WLC 4.10 morphology, there are 56 instances where BHS adds a Qere that is not present in L. The Qere readings in 1 Sam. 18:14 and 22 are two such instances. Although I have not checked all 56 instances in BHS, the few I did check showed that BHS was following a note in the masorah in adding the Qere reading.

On page xvi of RHB's introduction, we said that RHB will mark with a supra-linear solid black dot all known instances where the editors of WLC read the text of L differently than the editors of BHS. Additions of Qere readings to L do not constitute a different reading of L's text as it stands. Therefore, such instances are not marked in RHB.

I suspect that many, if not most, users of BHS do not pay attention to whether Qere readings are marked as added to L by BHS, and thus would (wrongly) assume that RHB should reflect BHS at all points. Such is not the case.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Giving Thanks for God's Holiness (Psa. 97:12), Part 1

Jonathan Edward's The Religious Affections, John Piper's lecture on Preaching as Worship (TrinJ 16) and my study of holiness in the OT converged in a sermon this morning on Psalm 97.

I've been listening to The Religious Affections in spare moments for nearly a year. At times it is brilliant. At others monotonously stuporific. His thesis is that true religion, in great part, consists in holy affections. His biblical-theological support for his thesis is unassailable. (Pdf copy of Religious Affections here.)

Edwards defines the affections as "the more vigorous and sensible exercises of the inclinations and the will." He clarifies this by noting that the inclinations and the will are actually the same thing, just viewed from two different perspectives. It is called "inclination" when viewed from the angle of desire; it is called "will" when viewed from the angle of decision and action.

Edwards asserts, rightly I believe, that "there never was any thing considerable brought to pass in the heart or life of any man, by the things of religion, until the mind was deeply affected by those things." Therefore, one of the chief aims of preaching is to stir up the affections so that the will is vigorously and sensibly active in responding to God's truth.

In Piper's language, preaching should "bring into sharp focus God as the all-satisfying Treasure of our lives." Our aim should be "that God would become so gloriously all-satisfying in our lives that nothing can lure us away from him."

What holy affections should God's holiness stir in me? How does God's holiness contribute to His being the "all-satisfying Treasure" of my life? In the Psalms alone I found the following:

Inspired responses to God's holiness
  • give thanks for it (Psa 30:4; 97:12)
  • worship Him for it (Psa. 29:2; 96:9; 99:5, 9)
  • praise Him because of it (Psa. 99:3)
  • exalt Him for it (Psa. 99:5, 9)
Inspired responses to God’s holy name
  • it is the object of our trust (Psa 33:21)
  • bless it (Psa. 103:1; 145:21)
  • glory or boast in it (Psa. 105:3)
  • give thanks to it (Psa. 106:47)
Most of these responses made immediate sense to me. However, giving thanks at the remembrance of God's holiness did not. Why is thankfulness or gratitude the response to God's holiness? I can't honestly say that my previous understanding of God's holiness has ever moved me to be thankful. What is it about God's holiness that should move me to thankfulness?

The answer to that question depends upon my understanding of what God's holiness is. Based on my study so far, here's my best understanding.

Holiness, when used in reference to God, normally denotes God's separateness from all things due to the unique excellence of His being and character. In this sense, God's holiness is not one moral attribute among His many. His holiness is not equal to His moral excellence. His holiness is a consequence of His moral excellence. He is separate from all things because He is superior in both His being and His character.

I conclude that separateness is the essential component of holiness, whether in reference to things, human persons, or God, for the following reasons:

1. With reference to things and human persons, all examples from Scripture involve the person or thing being separated from ordinary use, service, or purpose unto God for His possession, use, service, or purpose. For a fairly comprehensive list of the referents of holy and holiness, click here.
  • Things: 7th day (Gen. 2:3); ground (Exod. 3:5), assemblies (Exod. 13:2), war (Jer. 6:4), a fast (Joel 2:5).
  • Persons: 1st born (Exod. 13:2), Israelites (Exod. 19:10), Jesse and sons (1 Sam. 16:5), Jeremiah (Jer. 1:5).
2. Since God teaches us about His holiness by first acquainting us with holiness applied to things and persons, His holiness must be essentially analogous to the holiness of things and persons. Since separateness is the essential component of holiness with person and things, I assume it is the essential component with God.

3. My assumption that separateness is the essential component of divine holiness appears to be substantiated by texts that connect God's holiness with his incomparableness (Exod. 15:11; Isa. 40:25) and his transcendence (Psa. 97:9, 12; Isa. 57:15).

If God's holiness is His separateness from all things , what is it that makes Him separate? As I read the OT data, it is the unique excellence of God's being and character that separates him from all things.

The unique excellence of His being involves His attributes of omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, eternality, immutability, self-existence, self-sufficiency, infinity, and sovereignty. The unique excellence of His character involves His love, righteousness, justice, mercy, wisdom, goodness, wrathfulness, truthfulness, and jealousy.

In my next post, I'll develop the support for concluding that it is the unique excellence of God's being and character that separates him from all other things.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

John Piper: Preaching as Worship

I found this address by John Piper this morning. It resonates with me and challenges me.

"Let me point to three biblical reasons for believing that preaching is meant to be and to kindle God-exalting worship.

First, I believe it because the Word of God says that everything is to be done in a worshipful, God-centered way: "Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor 10:31); "Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Col 3:17). If everything is to be radically oriented on magnifying the glory of God and exalting the name of Jesus, how much more preaching. Whatever preaching deals with-and it is to deal with everything-it must be done with a view to begetting and sustaining worship-the valuing and cherishing and displaying of the glory of God.

Second, I believe that preaching is meant to exalt the centrality of God because the Word says that God himself exalts his own centrality in all that he does. And preaching is one of the great things that God does. God's Word in Isa 48:11 is like a great banner flying over all his acts from creation to consummation: "For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act; For how can My name be profaned? And My glory I will not give to another." He chose us and predestined us for his glory (Eph 1:6), he created us [believers] for his glory (Isa 43:7), he saved us for his glory (Eph 1:14); he sanctifies us for his glory (2 Thess 1:12). All God does he does to magnify his glory in the earth. Preaching is one of the great things that God does. It is God's work. And therefore the mission of preaching is the mission of God: "I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth" (Ps 46:10). Our aim is worship-the valuing and cherishing and displaying of the greatness and the glory of God.

Finally, I believe that preaching is meant to exalt the centrality of God because the NT teaches that the appointed end of preaching is faith, and faith is the primary covenant requirement of God, precisely because it humbles us and amplifies the trustworthiness and all-sufficiency of God. Repeatedly Paul lines up preaching with faith as its goal: "How shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? . . . So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ" (Rom 10:14, 17). "Since in the wisdom of God the world did not know God through its wisdom, God was pleased through the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe" (1 Cor 1:21). "My message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God" (1 Cor 2:4-5; cf. also Rom 16:25f; 1 Cor 15:11, 14.) The aim of preaching is to beget and sustain faith. Why? Because faith magnifies the power and trustworthiness of God. This is why Paul loves the model of Abraham: Abraham "grew strong in his faith, giving glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to what he had promised" (Rom 4:20). The heart of saving faith is a spiritual apprehension of the glorious trustworthiness of God in Christ and an earnest embracing of all that God is for us in Christ to satisfy the hunger of the soul.

That is the way Jesus described faith in John 6:35: "I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst." Believing in Jesus means coming to him for the quenching of our souls' thirst. Faith in Christ is being satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus. When we experience that, we magnify the preciousness and worth of God, because God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him-which means we worship.

The aim of preaching, whatever the topic, whatever the text, is this kind of faith-to quicken in the soul a satisfaction with all that God is for us in Jesus, because this satisfaction magnifies God's all-sufficient glory; and that is worship. Therefore the mission of all preaching is soul-satisfying, God-exalting worship."

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Rudolph Otto’s The Idea of the Holy: Overrated

Rudolph Otto was a German Protestant theologian and historian of religion. In 1923 the first English translation of his German work The Idea of the Holy appeared. It has become, as Victor P. Hamilton’s says, “one of the books most frequently referred to in this area [holiness].” I was reading Hamilton's Handbook on the Pentateuch today, and he referenced Otto. In fact, Otto was the only author he referenced in his discussion of holiness in Genesis 1-2 (short paragraph).

Frankly, I’m weary of references to this book in contexts where the biblical meaning of holiness is discussed. Scholars regularly pay lip service to it as though it constitutes a signal contribution to our knowledge of God's holiness. Admittedly, Hamilton notes that “Otto does not address … the fact that God’s holiness gives the basis to his moral demands.” But the fact that his is the only work referenced by Hamilton suggests he is significant and worth reading. Today I looked up on the book on Google books and read around in it, particularly his chapter, “The Numenous in the Old Testament.”

The first thing I noticed is that the focus on the book is not on what holiness is in Scripture, but rather on the experience men have when encountering what they regard as holy. The subtitle of the book is significant: “An Inquiry into the Non-Rational Factor in the Idea of the Divine and its Relation to the Rational.”

John C. Durham accurately capture’s Otto’s understanding of holiness: “Otto characterizes the numinous as the holy (i.e. God) minus its moral and rational aspects. A little more positively, it is the ineffable core of religion: the experience of it cannot to be described in terms of other experiences. [Note that the German heilig can be rendered as either holy or sacred. The translator had to make a choice and chose holy. So in the context of Otto, for holy it is possible to read sacred: the religious experience he discusses is the experience of the sacred.]” (

Second, Otto’s work assumes an evolutionary, Hegelian view of religious development from the primitive to the advanced. This perspective is completely unbiblical and at odds with the current movements in Western religion. We’re heading polytheistic again.

Otto's treatment of the OT is shot through with rationalistic, history of religions assumptions: Again, Durham captures it well: “In the chapter on the numinous in the Old Testament, Otto discusses the transition of the Old Testament God from an early Yahweh, still bearing traces of the 'daemonic dread' of the pre-god stage of the numinous , to an Elohim in whom 'the rational aspect outweighs the numinous' [p 75], though the latter continues to be very much present.”

Third, as Durham's site points out, Otto never uses the Latin phrase most commonly attributed to him (Hamilton cites it): mysterium tremendum et fascinosum [sic]. According to Durham, the et fascinans was added to Otto's mysterium tremendum by Ninian Smart. This observation suggests what I have long suspected: that few of those who cite Otto have read Otto, and that he is cited because he "must be."

My conclusion: The Idea of the Holy book offers the bible-believing scholar nothing of value for understanding the nature of biblical holiness. Biblical scholars should stop citing it, except perhaps in discussions of what it is like to experience the "holy."

Edited 12/2010:
Thanks to my various commenters. You have helped me see that "worthless" as a description of Otto's work is too strong. Its worth lies in its narrow compass: analysis of the religious experience of what is heilig. Its worth does NOT lie in helping the believing reader of Scripture to understand God's holiness or the holiness He requires of us. Hence it should be referenced not in discussions on the definition of divine or human holiness, but in discussions on the psychology of human experiences of the "holy."

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Defining Holiness: Where to start?

I find it a very common practice by theologians to insist upon beginning with God when defining holiness. With the resurgence of trinitarian theology, the focus has been on beginning with God’s trinitarian nature and relationships as the matrix for holiness. Some have gone so far as to assert that if one’s definition of holiness does not work within the Trinity before creation it is incorrect.

Logically, it makes sense to begin with God. Clearly, God is holy (Exod. 15:11). He is incomparable in holiness (Isa. 40:25). What interests me is that God does not start our understanding of holiness where theologians think He should. (Who knows where He started Adam’s?!) If we take the canonical order of the Torah as His chosen starting point for preserving His revelation for our understanding, then God starts teaching us about holiness with non-personal items: a day, some dirt, and an assembly.

A holy day
In Gen. 2:3 God makes the seventh day holy because in it He rested from all his labors. Several things are noteworthy here:
• “To sanctify” here denotes God’s action in setting the day apart from the other six days on which He worked unto a special purpose: rest.
• The sanctification of the day made it special. In other words, it is not an ordinary day but a special day by virtue of having been set apart (made holy) for rest.
• Without any preconceived idea of what the verb qadash means, it is clear that it involves separating something from the ordinary unto the special.

Holy dirt
In Exod. 3:5 God tells Moses that the dirt he is standing on is holy. What made the dirt holy? I take it that God’s special presence made the ground holy. I note here that …
• holy ground requires special treatment. Moses had to take off his sandals.
• the fact that it was “holy” meant it had been separated from ordinary use unto special use by God.
• Here again separation from the common/ordinary unto special use/treatment by God is at the core of the meaning of holy.

A holy assembly
In Exod. 12:16 God designates the first and seventh day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread as days upon which a “holy assembly” was to be held. The text does not specify the purpose of the assembly, but Ezek. 46:3, 9 indicate it was for the purpose of worshiping Yahweh.

What is “holy” about this assembly? The text reveals that no work was to be done on these days, except for the work needed to cook. Again, God separates a day from ordinary days by prohibiting work and separates it unto a special purpose: assembly for worship. Holy in this context appears then to have the sense of “special as a result of a having been set apart by God.”

In each of the first three pentateuchal texts where God calls something holy, the meaning of the word holy involves the ideas of “separated from common use/activity unto special use/activity by God” or “special because of having been separated for a special purpose.”

Surprised by covetousness

On Tuesday, I was reading Romans 7 as part of my Scripture reading during my personal worship time. Verse 7 stuck out since we are teaching our son, Allan, the ten commandments.

Romans 7:7 Τί οὖν ἐροῦμεν; ὁ νόμος ἁμαρτία; μὴ γένοιτο· ἀλλὰ τὴν ἁμαρτίαν οὐκ ἔγνων εἰ μὴ διὰ νόμου· τήν τε γὰρ ἐπιθυμίαν οὐκ ᾔδειν εἰ μὴ ὁ νόμος ἔλεγεν· οὐκ ἐπιθυμήσεις.

What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, "You shall not covet." (NASB)

I was surprised to see that the noun “coveting” = ἐπιθυμία; the verb is a form of ἐπιθυμέω. The standard words for desire, strong desire, frequently translated "lust" by the KJV! Is that what coveting is--desire?

So I checked the LXX. It uses ἐπιθυμέω in Exod. 20 and Deut. 5. Then I checked BDAG, Louw-Nida, and Friberg. None of them list “covet” as a sense of ἐπιθυμέω! Then I went to the Hebrew: חמד is the verb translated “covet.” HALOT does not list ‘covet’ as a sense. It lists “to desire.”

So I looked up “covet” in the Oxford English Dictionary and it lists the 10th commandment under sense three “to desire culpably, to long for (what belongs to another). Sense 1 was ‘desire, eagerly desire.’ Sense 2 to desire with concupiscience or fleshly desire.

Conclusion: “Covet” is not a technical term distinct from other terms for desire. It is the normal word for desire.

This shifts my understanding of the commandment. You shall not desire your neighbor’s wife. You shall not desire your neighbor’s house. When something belongs to another, to desire that very item is wrong. To desire an item like it, then I assume, is not wrong. To desire a wife like one’s neighbor’s wife is ok.

Wow, this ties into 1 John 2:15-17 and worldliness. Since "the things in the world" are lusts -- ἐπιθυμία -- all worldliness is a violation of the 10th commandment as well as a violation of the 1st commandment.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Holiness through the OT looking glass

In He Gave Us Stories Richard L. Pratt calls the OT text a three-fold looking glass: a translucent window that opens upon events in the ancient world, a stained-glass window that presents a highly selective, ideologically focused drama, and a silvered mirror which shows us ourselves in others' garb. Pratt’s metaphor deserves the biblical theologian’s regular meditation. Most of us easily forget Scripture’s stained-glass nature and think only of it as a transparent pane, however circumscribed, for viewing God’s Kingdom plan unfolding step by step, phase by phase.

Such forgetfulness leads to serious exegetical error. First, we think that because the text does not say the ancients knew something, therefore they did not know it. This is a conclusion unreasonable and unsustainable.

The NT off-handedly attributes knowledge to OT characters of which there is not the slightest hint in the Hebrew Scriptures. For example, Jude tells us that Enoch prophesied Yahweh’s coming in judgment with multiplied thousands of his holy ones (Jude 1:14). While most would relegate any apocalyptic knowledge or interest to millenniums later, it in fact existed at least a mere seven generations from Adam, if it was not known from the beginning.

The bounds of inscripturated revelation have never compassed the totality of special revelation. That is to say, God revealed (many?) things to those who were His people that Scripture does not tell us.

What does this mean for a study of holiness? It means the biblical theologian must not assert that the near absence of holiness terminology in Genesis reflects a relatively great ignorance of its meaning and nature by the characters in Genesis. It also means that the biblical theologian should be refuse the temptation to trace boldly the historical development of this concept, since he have no way of knowing what was known when, unless the text tells him.

The second danger of such forgetfulness is the temptation to follow Scripture’s canonical sequence in the false assumption of chronological sequence. We do not know when, during Moses' lifetime, Genesis was written, but we do know that Exodus 1-13 was likely to have been written after Exodus 19-23.

How do we know this? Did Moses chronicle his birth, flight, the ten plagues, the Exodus before arriving at Sinai? I think it most unlikely. It seems far more likely that the 38 years of wilderness wandering provided Moses time for the inspired literary activity that gave us the narrative framing of Genesis, Exodus and Numbers.

What does this mean for a study of holiness? It means the biblical theologian who follows the canonical path through the Pentateuch does not follow the chronology of special revelation. He follows the literary path laid down by the Spirit's inspiration of theological narrative.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Survey of Holiness in the OT

I just finished, last night, a journey through every OT text that has any of the cognate Hebrew terms for holiness. There are 823 instances of the following cognates: the verb q-d-sh, the noun qodesh, and the adjectives qadosh and qadesh. I’ve been on the journey off and on for about a month.

Three things prompted my study. First, my SS class asked for a study on holiness and its related topics. Second, Dad and I have been discussing the nature of God’s holiness for a couple months. Third, in his book Portraits of God, Allan Coppedge asserts, “A survey of the data indicates that the meaning of holiness has six major components. They [are] the concepts of separation, brilliance, righteousness, love, power and goodness” (p. 51).

My previous studies of the concept of holiness had lead me to conclude that holiness at its essence is separateness. When applied to human persons, it is separation unto God from the common and ordinary as well as the sinful and defiling. When applied to God … well, I wasn’t exactly sure. I’d been taught it was his transcendence and moral purity or perhaps his moral excellence. But Coppedge’s statement challenged my previous understanding. Hence the current study.

I’m still sifting through the data, but several things stand out to me.
  1. Having surveyed the data, I have not found any data that supports Coppedge’s assertion that the meaning of holiness includes the concepts of brilliance, love, power, or goodness. The data overwhelmingly points toward separateness as core to the meaning of holiness. I’ll say more about holiness and righteousness later.
  2. I was reminded that the term “saint” or “holy one” is not coined by Paul in the NT, but used by Paul in the same way it is used in the OT (Psalm 16:3; 34:9).
  3. Several texts jumped out at me as establishing the conceptual basis for Peter’s admonition to “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts” in 1 Peter 3:15.
  4. The first petition of the Lord’s prayer has roots in Leviticus, Isaiah, and especially Ezekiel that I’ve never heard articulated in the pulpit.
  5. Jesus’ sanctification of himself (John 17:19) has a parallel in Yahweh’s sanctification of himself (Ezek. 38:23).

In subsequent posts, I plan, Lord willing, to develop these concepts.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

RHB: 1st Printing Sold; 2nd Printing Has Arrived

I just learned from Zondervan that the first printing of A Reader's Hebrew Bible has completely sold out (hence the "out of stock" notice on

The good news is that the second printing has arrived and will soon be shipping to suppliers. The second printing includes a significant number of corrections, including the unfortunate tsere-segel problem in Genesis. For a complete list of errata, including the corrections included in the second edition as well as those to be fixed in future printings, click here.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Man looks at the outward appearance, but God ... 1 Sam. 16:7

“Why do you have a class that addresses trivial external matters like modesty, gender-distinct clothing, or 1 Cor. 11:2-16? Don’t you know that ‘man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart?’” ~student

1 Samuel 16:7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

1 Samuel 16:7 is often used to silence substantive discussion about externals in the life of a Christian and ranks among the most misunderstood and misused texts in Scripture.

The context of this verse is Samuel's mission to anoint a replacement for King Saul. When Samuel observed the excellent physical characteristics of Jesse's first son, Eliab, he assumed wrongly that he was God's choice.

God corrects Samuel's impression by informing him that whereas Samuel can see only the outside, God can see the inside and His choices are based upon the heart.

There are several reasons why this text does not imply that God is concerned only with heart issues and does not care about externals.
1. God does not say he cares only about the heart. He says that He can see the heart; whereas man cannot.
2. Both the Old and New Testaments give ample evidence that God does care about externals.

Old Testament
For example, God required Israelites to wear tassels on their outer garments to remind them of His commandments (Num. 15:38-39; Deut. 22:12). He required Israelite men not to cut their beards (Lev. 19:7; 21:5). This requirement made Israelite men standout significantly from their upper class ANE counterparts’ highly stylized beards (e.g., here or here). God designed garments for His priests to wear “for glory and beauty” (Exod. 28:2, 40).

New Testament
In Matt. 6:17 Jesus commands us to wash our faces and anoint our heads when fasting. In other words, make the outside look nice so that the discomfort of fasting does not appear.
In 1 Cor. 11:2-16 God clearly addresses men and women’s hair: long hair on a man is a shame; shorn or shaven hair on a woman is a shame, whereas long hair is a woman’s glory.
In 1 Tim. 2:9-10, the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write about how women are and are not to adorn their outside.

The idea that teaching about outward appearances is necessarily unspiritual and legalistic flies in the face of Scripture itself. If we teach the whole counsel of God’s word, then we will teach the parts that address, whether explicitly or implicitly (e.g., Rom. 12:2), our “outward appearance.”

The whole counsel of God teaches that our outward appearance should be a consciously designed reflection of our inward love for God and passion for His glory. God looks upon both the heart and the outward appearance. Since man can see only the outward appearance, how much more zealous should we be to live out love’s obedience to our Father’s external commands, that men may see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

What the Bible Teaches about the Destiny of the Wicked

The destiny of the wicked in eternity is commonly referred to as Hell. The English word “hell” is used in the New Testament to translate three different Greek words: gehenna γεέννα (Matt. 5:22, 29-30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Mk. 9:43, 45, 47; Lk. 12:5; Jas. 3:6), hades ᾅδης (Matt. 11:23; 16:18; Lk. 10:15; 16:23; Acts 2:27, 31; Rev. 1:18; 6:8; 20:13-14), and Tartarus ταρταρόω (2 Peter 2:4). Other terms denoting the place where the wicked are punished include “the furnace of fire” (Matt. 13:42, 50), “eternal fire” (Matt. 18:8; 25:41; Jude 1:7), “the lake of fire” (Rev. 19:20; 20:10, 14, 15), “the outer darkness” (Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30), and “the blackness of darkness” or “utter darkness” (Jude 1:13).

Hades is described in Luke 16:23ff as a place of (1) self-awareness, (2) torment/agony in flames, (3) memory and remorse, (4) perception of Paradise, and (5) separation from God and the righteous by a great chasm. It is the temporary holding place for the wicked dead until the Great White Throne Judgment. Hades is then cast into the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:11-15).

Gehenna is described as a furnace of unquenchable, eternal fire where there is weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 13:41-42; 18:8; Mark 9:43-48). Jesus said eternal fire (Gehenna) was created for the punishment of the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41). It is where God is able to destroy both the body and soul (Matt. 10:28)

The lake of fire is where the beast, the false prophet, the devil, death, Hades, and all those whose names are not written in the book of life are thrown (Rev. 19:20, 20:10, 14-15). It is described as (1) a place of eternal torment in fire and brimstone, and (2) the second death. Those who worship the beast and receive his mark are tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and the Lamb, the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever, and they have no rest day and night (Rev. 14:10-12). Although not explicitly called the lake of fire, the description of this place matches the lake of fire identically. Because of their similar descriptions, Gehenna and the lake of fire apparently refer to the same place.

The abyss. The abyss or bottomless pit (Rev. 9:1-2, 11) is a place demons on earth fear (Luke 8:12). It is where Satan will be bound for 1,000 years (Rev. 20:3). The abyss and the lake of fire are distinct places. The beast comes out of the abyss and goes to the destruction of the lake of fire (Rev. 17:8; 19:20), and Satan is loosed from the bottomless pit and is finally cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:7, 10). The abyss does not directly relate to the punishment of wicked humans. It appears to be a place of temporary punishment and imprisonment for wicked angels.

Scripture describes the eternal punishment (Matt. 25:46) of the wicked in terms of death, perishing, destruction, and banishment. Punishment as death/perishing. To understand spiritual death, one must understand the nature of spiritual life. According to Jesus, eternal life is being in right relationship with God (John 17:3). Eternal death, therefore, is not being in right relationship with God. Sinners are dead spiritually now (Eph. 2:1) and will experience the “second death” forever (Rev. 21:8). To “perish” is to “die.” The unsaved are perishing now (2 Cor. 2:15), and unless they repent they will perish eternally (Luk 13:3).

Punishment as destruction. In 2 Thess. 1:9 the wicked are punished with “eternal destruction away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his power.” Matt. 24:48-51 juxtaposes destruction and continued existence. The evil slave is cut in pieces, which would normally terminate conscious existence. However, the diced up slave is “assigned a place with the hypocrites where there is weeping and teeth gnashing.” This destruction encompasses both soul and body (Matt. 10:28), thus requiring the resurrection of the wicked’s body (John 5:28-29; Act 24:15). The phrase “whose worm does not die” may picture the never-ending corruption experienced by the wicked (Mark 9:42ff).

Punishment as banishment. The wicked are told to depart from Christ (Matt. 7:21-23) and are cast (Matt 8:12; 13:42, 50; 25:30; Mk. 9:42-48) into Gehenna/the outer darkness which is “outside” the New Jerusalem (Rev. 22:14). They are shut out of the marriage feast and refused entry (Matt. 25:10).

God and Hell. God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezek. 33:11). It is not his desire that anyone should perish (2 Pet. 3:9; Matt. 18:14). Some have asserted that God sends no one to hell (e.g., C. S. Lewis), but this cannot stand scripturally for it is Jesus as Judge who commands that men depart from him into everlasting fire (Matt. 25:41). From God’s perspective, according to Scripture, sin against Him deserves eternal punishment. This confirms our common sense awareness that the seriousness of a crime is, in part, a function of the importance of the person against whom it is committed. To insist a God of love could not punish eternally is to misunderstand God’s love, deny His revelation, and to imply that you are more merciful/benevolent than God Himself.

The question that surfaces most frequently when discussing eternal punishment in Hell is “Why is the punishment for a finite sinful act never-ending?” The Bible does not answer this question directly. However, the best answers I’ve found include the following elements: (1) God is just; therefore, whatever penalty he prescribes for sin must be just. (2) Sin is an offense against an infinite Being; therefore, it is not entirely finite in nature. (3) We cannot determine the extent of sin’s effects, so we do not know that sin’s effects are finite. Eternal punishment suggests that they are eternal. (4) Although Hell’s punishment is never-ending, all sinners do not receive the same level of punishment. In Luke 12:47-48 Jesus says those who knowingly do wrong will receive many stripes, but those who unknowingly do wrong will receive few stripes (cf. Rom. 2:12).

Our response. Fear God (Matt. 10:28) and do whatever it takes to avoid being cast into hell (Matt. 5:29-30). In eternity, hell is abhorrent to the saints and perhaps serves to remind them of the consequence of rebellion (Isa. 66:24). My study of this topic has again impressed on me
the horrors of eternal, conscious punishment in hell. No wonder Jesus told his disciples to do whatever it takes to avoid going to hell (Mark 9:43-48).

Brothers and sisters, let us fear God, depart from evil, and flee to Christ!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

What Should I Think When I Hear of Sin in the Church?

1. I should mourn (1 Cor. 5:1-2). I mourn because of the shame that is brought upon God’s holy name. I mourn because of the stumbling block such sin is in the path of unbelievers. I mourn because of the damage to the body of Christ. I mourn for the families affected by the sin—families are never exempted from such suffering. I mourn because of the destruction that such sin produces in the lives of those deceived by it.

2. I should reject the temptation to gossip. Prior to the the enactment of church discipline, if another person is not part of the problem or part of the solution, I am gossiping if I share information with them that they do not have. I say, “prior to the enactment of church discipline,” because one of the purposes for church discipline is that believers would “hear and fear” (1 Tim. 5:20). What about people who already have that information? Eph. 5:12 says, “It is a shame even to talk of those things which are done of them in secret.” That means I do not discuss the details of sin with others.

If someone is offering to share information with me about a situation where believers have fallen into sin, I ask them if they think I am part of the problem or part of the solution to this situation. If they say no, I then inform that that it would be gossiping to pass that information on.

3. I pray for the repentance of those who have sinned—a full 180 degree turn around—and restoration to Christ, first, and then to the Body, second. Sin in enslaving (Rom. 6:16). Those involved need to be freed. Sin in destructive (Gal. 6:7). It takes a long time to rebuild after the destruction of sin in a life.

4. I pray for grace to be given to those who are involved in Galatians 6:1 restoring those overtaken in a fault. The human heart is extremely devious, and the enemy likes to use every opportunity to cause others to fall, especially those who are involved in restoring the fallen.

5. I pray that God would protect me from dwelling upon the sin and would keep me from stumbling in my mind.

6. I pray that God would increase my fear of Him so that I would always turn aside from evil. I recognize that apart from the grace of God, I too could be enslaved by sin.

7. I pray for the family, immediate associates, subordinates, and others directly affected by the fallout of the sin. The devil will be tempting them to be bitter, hateful, angry, resentful in their thoughts as well as their actions toward these people. If it is immorality, the devil will do his worst to destroy the family of those involved. I pray for God’s protection, comfort, sustaining grace to surround and support those who have been betrayed and wronged.

Friday, February 29, 2008

A Reader's Hebrew Bible: Errata Reports

I just received word from Stephen Salisbury at Westminster that he received his copies of A Reader's Hebrew Bible today. I'm delighted to hear that it is shipping earlier than expected.

I would encourage users to do two things: (1) read the introduction carefully, and (2) read the review of the volume I posted on January 23, 2008 here. The Genesis errata list promised there is now finished and available here.

I also welcome reports of errata. Please report them as comments on this post or to If errata is posted as comments to this post other users will be able to see what has already been reported.

Happy reading!

Update: 6/19/2008
Known issues:
1. Esther 1, footnotes 6-21 do not match the footnotes in the text. Beginning with ftnt 22, the footnotes are back in sync. Really odd database issue.
2. Deut. 5:21 the verb that should be the second word in the verse accidentally wrapped up to the previous line and appears in v. 16.
Update: 7/10/2008
A full errata list for A Reader's Hebrew Bible is available online here.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Thinking Like Jesus = Missional Living (John 4:34)

John 4:34 λγει ατος ησος· μν βρμ στιν να ποισω τ θλημα το πμψαντς με κα τελεισω ατο τ ργον.

“My food is that I might do the will of the One who sent me and that I might finish his work.”

This passage arrested me yesterday.

Food is what sustains and empowers life. Life, as we know it, revolves around food. Work schedules created by the reasonable inevitably make temporal room for food. Food is important!

Jesus’ life revolved around food as well: His food was doing the will of the One who sent him. Jesus had a clear perception of His sent-ness. Do you?

Scripture teaches that God brought each of us into this world for a purpose. Paul says, “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus, for good works which he prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). It’s the “prepared ahead of time” part of that verse that tells me that God has pre-planned a set of jobs He wants us to do. We, too, have been “sent” into this world on a mission. (And, no, that doesn’t imply the belief in the exist of pre-incarnate souls.)

Do you view yourself as having been sent? Jesus did. We should too. When I think of myself as having been sent by God into this world, my life—all of it—becomes missional. God’s plan is not just a framework within which I create my own mission. God’s plan, according to Psalm 139, involves every single day of my life (Psa. 139:16).

Thus the will and work of the One who sent me is to grade tests, instruct my children in the ways of God, husband my wife, prepare and give lectures, do academic research, write papers, publish, .... In other words, every part of my life that reflects God’s will (all of it!) is part of the work God has sent me to do.

This gives me purpose and meaning. It also sobers me to realize that I am responsible to finish the work He has given me. The “talents” the master has left me are not just the gifts and capacities he has bestowed. My “talents” also include my opportunities and my responsibilities.

Father, please help me to think like Jesus: “My food is to do Your will and complete the work You have sent me to do,” so that I may pray like Jesus, “I have glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do” (John 17:4).

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A Reader's Hebrew Bible: A Review by its Typesetter

It is unusual for the typesetter of a volume to review it. It is perhaps even more unusual for a volume’s typesetter to also be one of its principal editors. Both are true in my case. Although I obviously have a vested interest in A Reader’s Hebrew Bible, as the review below will demonstrate, I believe I am uniquely positioned to review the volume in a way that time constraints would forbid to most users.

Binding, Gilding, Thickness, and Paper
On Dec. 20, 2007, I excitedly opened the overnighted package containing the advanced author’s copy of A Reader’s Hebrew Bible (RHB). I was quite pleased with the Italian Duo-tone cover. The look and feel were pleasing, even elegant. The silver edging of the pages gives it a Biblesque look.

I had been unsure about how thick the volume would be, especially since I would eventually like to see it combined with A Reader’s Greek New Testament (RGNT). I was pleased that the volume was only 1 5/8 inches thick. When I placed my RGNT on top of it, the combined thickness wasn’t any greater than the NASB Inductive Study Bible that I regularly carry, so the potential for a combined edition still exists.

When I opened the volume, the first thing I noticed was the paper on which it was printed. It appeared to be the same as the RGNT. The whiteness allowed more bleed through than I would have preferred, but in good lighting the text is easily readable, and the bleed through quickly ceased to be distracting as I put the volume to use. (I’m in dialogue with Zondervan about the possibility of using the same paper type used in Biblia Sacra: Utriusque Testamenti or BHS. However, the first lot of books has already been printed, so any changes will come in subsequent printings.)

Suspended Letters, Inverted Nun’s, and other Masoretic Esoteria
After looking at the craftsmanship of the volume, I had a short list of items that I wanted to check on: suspended letters, inverted nun’s, the large letters in the Shema‘, and the small print in Joshua 21:36-37—the Leningrad Codex does not contain these two verses that most other Masoretic manuscripts contain. I had included them because they are included in Westminster’s electronic version of L, and they are included in BHS.

All the suspended letters came through nicely (Jdg. 18:30; Job 38:13, 15; Ps. 80:14), but I was distressed to see the masoretic accent telisha parvum in the two texts where inverted nun’s occur (Num. 10:35-36, and Psalm 107:21-26, 40 [RHB pages 1220-21]).

I checked the PageMaker files, and the inverted nun’s were present. I checked the PDFs I sent to Zondervan, and sure enough the inverted nun’s were missing! Further checking revealed that PDF generator I used will not embed any character of any font located in the position I had assigned to that character! Item one for my errata list.

The large letters in Deut. 6:4 came through nicely, as did the other large and small letters (Lev. 11:42; Num. 27:5; Prov. 16:28; Isa. 44:14; Jer. 39:13). When I checked the small print of Joshua 21:36-37, it occurred to me that I had not included an explanation of the brackets used there in the introduction. The brackets indicate that these two verses do not appear in the Leningrad Codex. Item two for the errata list.

An Unfortunate Set of Spelling Errors in Genesis
Earlier this month, as I was reading Genesis 1:20, the unusual spelling of nephesh caught my attention. I looked up the verse in BibleWorks, and confirmed that the word was indeed mispelled in RHB. Upon investigating, I found that an error in the typesetting code (i.e., the VBA program I wrote to handle the layout and typesetting) had, unbeknowns to me, corrupted the spelling of 322 words in Genesis, before it was caught and corrected. Fortunately, this error affects only Genesis. Most unfortunately, it affects Genesis!

The precise nature of the error is as follows: four instances of segol + a sub-linear accent were replaced with tsere + a different sub-linear accent. Specifically, the segol + accent combinations shown in the upper row of the chart below were replaced by the tsere + accent combinations below them.

The first column’s error will be the most noticeable since all first year Hebrew students learn that the silluq is the accent that normally occurs on the last word in a Hebrew verse. The segol + silluq combination was replaced with a tsere + tebir combination in 84 instances, thus there will be 84 instances of a tebir at the end of a verse that should be a silluq. The errors represented by last three columns occur respectively 111 times, 108 times, and 19 times. A complete list of this these spelling mistakes in Genesis is available here. Items 3–324 for the errata list.

HALOT as a Gloss Source
I have reservations about the accuracy of HALOT’s glosses. Having glossed over 48,000 of the 60,650 instances of Hebrew/Aramaic words found in RHB, I found myself surprised on more than a few occasions by the infelicity of the glosses supplied in HALOT. At times, some of these were the result of a poor or mistaken translation from the German HALAT into English. Other times, it appeared that whoever had written the particular entry I was working with had not given adequate consideration to the context when they listed a given verse under a particular sense.

Nonetheless, HALOT is considered the foremost Hebrew lexicon in English, and therefore, deserves to be represented, if for no other reason than to bring its glosses into closer scrutiny by Hebrew scholars. For this reason alone, I would encourage those Hebrew scholars whose knowledge of Hebrew vocabulary allows them to read unhindered in any part of the Hebrew Bible to make use of the volume nonetheless. HALOT deserves more scrutiny than it has received to the present.

Screening of Proper Nouns in Gray
There a number of places where prefixed prepositions were improperly screened in gray (Gen 2:8; 13:5; 1Kgs 21:23; 2Kgs 2:15; Jer. 32:8; Est 9:15; 2Ch 1:13; 14:12). In all of these cases, it should be contextually clear to the reader that the initial character is not part of the name but is a preposition. More items for the errata list.

Typesetting of Vowels & Accents
Proficiency in reading and exegeting Hebrew has little bearing on a comprehensive understanding of the appropriate placement of Hebrew vowel-points and accents. I discovered the complexity of the issue and the inadequacy of a single TrueType font to handle all the potential combinations about half-way through the project.

Despite all the progress made in unicode fonts, I was not comfortable typesetting Hebrew with unicode in MS Word 2003, the word processing program I used to layout the project, and PageMaker 7.0 does not handle unicode fonts at all. (I know about InDesign, but decided to stick with what I knew.) More importantly, I specifically wanted the font face to make shifting back and forth from BHS relatively easy. As a consequence, I developed eight additional TrueType font sets, based on the BibleWorks Hebrew font, to accommodate the varieties of vowel-point + accent positioning. It was also necessary to write code to find these combinations in the text and properly position the vowel-points and accents.

The most noticeable placement error I have found in RHB is the placement of hireq + yetib. It is wrongly placed to the right side of the letter under which it occurs, rather than centered underneath it. See, for example, the preposition ‘im in 1 Kgs 1:7, 9 or the preposition ki in Eccl. 4:15. Once this is fixed in the typesetting code, it will no longer be an issue.

Another accent placement issue involves the occurrence of a meteg or silluq on a patach furtive. My code did not account for this combination and, therefore, the accent was not appropriately shifted to the right along with the patach furtive. See, for example, Psalm 132:15.

Those who are highly attuned to the masoretic accentuation system will note with frequency an accent anomaly caused by a coding mistake. All instances of a tsere + munah appear as tsere + mereka. See, for example, metey in Isa. 5:13, which should have a munah rather than a mereka.

A niggling issue that has bothered me enough to note it is that the size of the holem is inconsistent. With the holem vav, the size is fine, but the holem by itself strikes me as too small. I will enlarge it for better readability.

Line Breaks in Poetry
For the most part, I have been satisfied with the poetic line breaks of RHB. I have encountered a few places so far where a more felicitous line break is possible. For example, in Isaiah 2:2, the first line would break better at the zaqef qaton, rather than its current break. I welcome user feedback to identify such places.

WLC-BHS Differences
The Westminister Leningrad Codex (WLC) morphology notes around 500 instances where the WLC differs from the 1983 edition of BHS. When compared the 1997 edition of BHS, there was a much greater uniformity between the two texts. My comparison identified only 27 instances were WLC disagrees with BHS. However, when making this comparison I did not factor in instances in which BHS suggests a Qere reading that is not offered in the Leningrad Codex. See, for example, haksheyr in Eccl. 10:10 where neither WLC or L offer a Qere reading, but BHS does. The Westminster morphology (4.8) identifies 58 instances concerning which they say, “We have abandoned or added a ketiv/qere relative to BHS. In doing this we agree with L against BHS.” These instances have not yet been completely verified.

Even though I had 4 years of Hebrew in grad school and teach Hebrew on the undergraduate level, I still find my knowledge of Hebrew vocabulary sufficiently limited to make reading through Proverbs or Isaiah vocabulary-vexing.

The foremost reason motivating my desire to create RHB was that I wanted to be able to read Hebrew Wisdom Literature devotionally without constantly having to resort to a lexicon, and I didn’t want to have to be bound to my computer so that I could mouse over unknown vocabulary for a gloss. This purpose is more than adequately accomplished in RHB.

Having ranged through a healthy sampling of the Hebrew Bible in the month since I have received my copy, I recognize it is not a perfect volume. It will, however, enable its users to accomplish the objectives for which it was produced: develop skill in reading Hebrew through regular exposure to large portions of the Hebrew Bible.

I recommend that professors of Hebrew who have their classes read through portions of Genesis as well as users whose Hebrew skills are not sufficient to identify immediately the instances in Genesis where a tsere wrongly occurs instead of a segol print off a copy of the errata sheet soon to be provided and carry it with them. For those for whom this does not constitute a challenge, I believe you will find the volume a valuable means to achieving and maintaining a reading fluency in Hebrew.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Wisdom in Ecclesiastes

The noun "wisdom" (chokmah), adjective "wise" (chakam), and verb "to be wise" (ch-k-m) occur a total of 58 times in Ecclesiastes.

My best understanding of Ecclesiastes' core message is Permanent meaning and satisfaction are not found in any of life's components, but only in life's Creator. ~Jim Berg

Solomon (Qoheleth) drives this wisdom-nail firmly into place (cf. Ecc. 12:11) by consistently juxtaposing the positive and negative sides of any topic he addresses. His treatment of wisdom is no exception.

What follows is my best attempt to summarize Ecclesiastes' explicit teaching on wisdom.

Wisdom comes from God, and He gives it to those who please Him (2:26). Wisdom is attainable to those who set their hearts to know it (1:13, 16-17), but one cannot know all the wisdom there is to know (7:23; 8:16-17). There is more profit in wisdom than in folly just as light is better than darkness (2:12-13), for wisdom enables the wise to see where he is going, whereas the fool can't see his path (2:14). However, wisdom does not enable one to see the future (9:1), and it takes only a little folly to outweigh the benefits of wisdom and honor (10:1).

It is better to listen to the rebuke of a wise man than to listen to the song of fools (7:5). It is better to be young, poor, and wise than old, rich, and foolish (4:13), but the wisdom of the poor is despised (9:16). Wisdom with an inheritance is good and profitable for those who see the sun (7:11). In fact, wisdom is better than money; though both offer protection, wisdom can save your life (7:12). However, wisdom can't save one from death, for all die (2:16). Further, wisdom is useless in the grave, so make vigorous use of it you can while you're alive (9:10). And beware for wisdom improperly displayed (being "over wise") can destroy you (7:16).

Wisdom gives more strength to a wise man than ten rulers give to a city (7:19). Wisdom is better than strength (9:16), for it can help to win a war with a small force, but the poor wise man is soon forgotten once a crisis passes (9:15) and his wisdom is despised (9:16b) . Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good (9:18).

A wise heart knows the right time and procedure (8:5). Wisdom has the advantage of giving success (10:10), but the appetite is never satisfied, so in this regard there is no advantage to the wise over the fool (6:8). Wisdom gives success, but the race is not always won by the swift, bread is not always to the wise nor is wealth always to the discerning, but time and chance (under the sun perspective) happen to all (9:11). Wisdom makes a man's face shine (8:1), but in much wisdom there is much grief (1:18), and the reality of oppression is maddening to the wise (7:7). Wisdom may enable one to do accomplish great things, but it cannot guarantee that the one who inherits its profit will use it wisely and not squander it (2:19-21), nor can it ensure that its possessor will not be forgotten, for there is no lasting remembrance of the wise (2:14).

The wise value the house of mourning over the house of pleasure (7:4), for it reminds them of their mortality and the certainty of judgment (11:9). Wisdom doesn't value the past over the present (7:10), but whatever it finds to do, it does it with all its might (9:10).

The words of the wise heart in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools (9:17). The words of wise men are gracious (10:12), even though they are goads (12:11).

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

A Newly Discovered Well of Delight (Ephesians 3:18-19a)

On a Thursday in October, I finished teaching through Ephesians for the sixth time in six years. Having one student in Prison Epistles this year permitted me to employ Socrates’ teaching method extensively. It bears good fruit.

This year I dug deeper into Ephesians 3:17-18 and discovered a well of truth that has been delighting my soul. I hope it will yours as well. First the context.

Eph. 3:14’s “For this cause” is the closing parenthesis of the parenthetical statement Paul began in 3:2. The opening parenthesis is the “For this cause” in 3:1. The “cause” that motivated Paul to bow in prayer is found in 2:21-22. God is building us into a temple in which He will dwell by His Spirit.

Scenic Exegetical Detour: In Eph. 2:22 the word translated habitation (KJV) or dwelling (NASB) occurs 18x throughout the OT, but it is most frequently used (10x) in statements about Heaven as the habitation or dwelling place of God. Perhaps Paul had Solomon’s use of this term (1 Kings 8:39, 43, 49; cf. Psa. 33:14 [LXX 32:14]) in the back of His mind? Though Solomon had built a magnificent temple for worshiping Yahweh, he knew Heaven was Yahweh’s dwelling place. But Paul seems to be saying that God intends to have a change of residence some day: we will be His habitation!

Because God is in this building program, Paul prays that He would strengthen the Ephesians inwardly by His Spirit so that (purpose infinitive) Christ may dwell in their hearts (16-17a). Wait a minute, Paul. You said yourself that “he that does not have the Spirit of Christ is none of His” (Rom. 8:9). Why are you praying for Christ to dwell in their hearts when He already does?

I think Paul would say, “Notice that I used katoikeo, not oikeo or enoikeo.” The verb katoikeo can denote taking up permanent residence (cf. Mat. 2:23; 4:13). Louw-Nida offer, “to live or dwell in a place in an established or settled manner.” I don’t think the permanence of Christ’s dwelling is at issue here, for Christ does not enter and dwell in a new believer’s life only temporarily. He enters intent to stay eternally.

Rather, the focus of “dwell” in Eph. 3:17 seems to be on what dwelling in an established or settled manner implies: making oneself completely at home in the residence. Here then is the crux of the matter. In order for us to be the permanent dwelling place of God, we must first by strengthened by the Spirit so that Christ may make himself fully at home in our lives – by faith.

By faith! Whose faith? Surely, ours not Christ’s. And why faith? What additional faith/trust is requisite for Christ to make himself fully at home in our lives? Faith that gladly, willingly allows Him access to every room, attic and cellar, closet and shed of my life. Faith that believes any renovations of heart and life He wants are good and in my best interest. Faith that believes His plans are better than mine, His paths are perfect. Indeed, it is a profoundly strong faith that is needed, thus Paul’s prayer for inner strengthening by the Spirit.

And here is that joy-well I mentioned: v. 18-19a. “that you may be able to comprehend with all the saints length and breadth and height and depth and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge ….”

To be honest, v. 18 never meant much to me before this semester. Most of the commentators I’ve read after like to soar eloquent on the height, depth, length, and breadth of Christ’s love. His condescension; the universal scope of his love; the cross as the measure of the length of his love. Don’t get me wrong. Those are all marvelous truths, but they didn’t resonate with me in this context.

Then it occurred to me that “to know” in Greek can indicate experiential knowledge and not just cognitive knowledge. That’s when the light turned on for me. Paul is talking about experiencing the unlimited love of Christ in all of its dimensions! That’s why he opened v. 18 with a “that” (KJV) or “so that” (NASB)—this verse indicates the purpose for Christ’s dwelling in our hearts.

Christ wants to make himself fully at home in our hearts so that He can fill all the “rooms” of our lives with His limitless love. Even though his love surpasses knowledge (cognitively), it can be known experientially! Ah, here is a joy-generating thought: If I, by faith, grant Christ unhindered access to every dimension of my life, He, whose love always has my best interest and his greatest glory at heart, will allow me to experience His unfathomable love in all of its limitlessness!

Herein lies the beauty of Christ in us, “the hope of glory.” It glory now and greater glory yet to come! Who wouldn’t want to experience the limitless love of Christ?

O Father, would you not by your Spirit strengthen me mightily that your Son may make himself fully at home in my heart so that I might come to know experientially the vastness of his love. Amen.