Category Archives: Biblical Theology

Two Humanities

All throughout the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, we see two distinct groups.[1] God has called particular people from all nations. As James Hamilton has said, “People are either seed of the serpent, on the side of the snake in the garden, or seed of the woman, on the side of God and trusting in his promises.”[2]

The careful reader of Scripture can see the enmity between the two seeds in Genesis[3] and in fact through the whole Old Testament. There are physical decedents of Eve that are spiritually seed of the serpent.[4] This is not just something we see in the Old Testament though. We see it through the whole of Scripture (cf. e.g. Matt. 13:38; Jn. 8:44; 1 Jn. 3:8). We see two distinct seeds with two distinct ends from the beginning of Genesis (cf. esp. Gen. 3:15) to the end of Revelation (cf. e.g. Rev. 21).

Notice that in 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10 there are two groups: 1) those who did not believe and thus receive judgment and 2) those who do believe and thus enjoy the presence of God and marvel at Him. And notice Jesus separates the goats from the sheep based on what they did in their earthly lives (Matt. 25:32ff). People are gravely either goat or sheep, wise or fool, darkness or light, faithful or faithless, in Christ or damned.

As I have said, the Bible shows to different humanities, one lost and the other saved, one in heaven and one in hell. This is what we see throughout the story of Scripture and this is what we see reflected in other places in the early church’s teaching. For instance, the Didache (50-120AD) says, “There are two ways, one of life and one of death, and there is a great difference between the two ways” (1:1).[5]

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Cosmic, Corporate, and Individual Reconciliation through Union with Christ (Part 3)

life
Individual
In Christ we are “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17) but interestingly we also progressively become new creations (2 Cor. 3:18; 4:16; Col. 3:10; Eph. 4:24)[1] and ultimately this new creation does not happen until the parousia (Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 15:49). The work that God does in individuals does not merely concern their standing before Him but has also to do with who the person is here and now. God’s reconciling and re-creation work starts here in this life; it is not just eschatological but has an ethical impact on our present mode of existence. After Paul’s conversion his outlook was changed, he saw Christ and others differently (2 Cor. 5:16-17).[2] When by the Holy Spirit our view of Christ changes, our view of others and even all things changes. The regenerating work generates new ways of viewing things. We view things differently and we live differently (2 Cor. 5:14-15). In fact, Paul indicates that Christ died for the purpose of bringing an end to man’s self-centered existence.[3]

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Cosmic, Corporate, and Individual Reconciliation through Union with Christ (Part 2)

Individual, Corporate, and Cosmic Reconciliation through Union with Christ
How does reconciliation happen? What is it that can put humans in right relationship to God? What can restore our brokenness?
Reconciliation in Christ through His Work on the Cross
Understanding what is meant by reconciliation is vital because we see this word and concept throughout our passage.[1] Reconciliation (καταλλάσσω) is a term that does not show up very much in the NT or OT.[2] It shows up in Paul and perhaps was a familiar and useful term related to his trade (cf. Acts 18:3).

Jesus knew no sin,[3] yet He became sin for us. We see the idea of someone bearing sin in the place of others attested to in both the OT and NT (cf. Lev. 10:17; 16:21-22; Is. 53:6, 11-12; Jn. 1:29). Jesus is the Lamb without blemish that takes away our sin by dying in our place but He also rises; priest and lamb are not His only office. Jesus is also the coming King who reigns eternally. Consequently, union with Christ as our corporate head not only brings appeasement from wrath[4] but entrance back into the true Promised Land. So, the gospel is the good news of the Kingdom through the cross.

Hughes says of 2 Cor. 5:21 that “there is no sentence more profound in the whole of Scripture.”[5] It is profound, amazing, and unexpected[6] because although Jesus knew no sin He is treated as sin personified.[7] What is further remarkable is that while “Christ alone in actuality suffered the penalty for sin, all are regarded as though they had suffered it themselves.”[8] Continue reading


Cosmic, Corporate, and Individual Reconciliation through Union with Christ (Part 1)

life
Introduction
Paul explains in 2 Cor. 5:16-21 that reconciliation is more than something between two parties. Reconciliation through union with Christ is cosmic in scope. Reconciliation through union with Christ is the hinge and hope on which all things hang, without it salvation falls apart. 2 Corinthians is one of Paul’s early letters, dated circa 56-57, and yet we see his doctrine of union with Christ is pretty well developed (if not fully developed). So, two questions occur to me, (1) how is union with Christ foreshadowed and (2) what benefit do we receive when we understand how it is foreshadowed?

The doctrine of union with Christ is all throughout the Pauline corpus[1] but 2 Cor. 5:16-21 seems to be the most explicit of Paul’s earlier letters. Christ is the operative word in our passage. Everything happens in and through Him.[2] So, it seems good to ask: “How can being ‘in Christ’ have the effect that it has?” However, as we will see the answer to that question is: “How could being ‘in Christ’ not have cosmic significance?!”[3]

Christ’s work and resurrection propels on this world new creation (cf. Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 15:20; Col. 1:18),[4] it is the inevitable avalanche that will eventually encompass the whole earth (Ps. 72:19; Is. 11:9; Hab. 2:14) and those in Christ will be swallowed up in the effulgence of its glory, there to bask in eternal joy. Christ’s resurrection is the dawn, the first light, but soon the full splendor of the sun.

We will first see how union with Christ is foreshadowed in the OT which will help us substantially to understand the full significance, indeed the cosmic significance, of being “in Christ.” Then we will see that 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 teaches us that union with Christ is the means by which reconciliation—cosmic, corporate, and individual—happens. Continue reading


Art through the Eyes of Faith

Drawing in water-colors

Introduction: How should we think about art? Why has art had such a varied history? What explains why we can relate to both “sad reflective art” as well as “joyous exuberant art”? How does art in its various forms sometimes make us yearn for something that seems out of reach?

These are big questions and questions that have been answered by many better minds than my own. However, I believe as we look to God’s Word as our guide we will be able to make some significant observations that will better position us to answer them.[1]

Let’s consider seven things from the storyline of Scripture.

Consider the Creator

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…” (Gen. 1:1). He made atoms and oceans, sunsets and frogs, butterflies and hogs. He made matter and motion, the stars in space and every trace of sand. He made my hands and yours too. God makes flowers and bees. God thought up nectar and the neurons that make emotion.

God created the wild crash of hydrogen and oxygen known as water; crystal clear and falls from the sky, and gives life. It’s like miraculous manna from heaven that we completely take for granted.

The only artist who is perfect in all forms of creativity—in technique, in originality, in knowledge, of the past and future, in versatility, in having perfect content to express as well as perfect expression of content, in communicating perfectly the wonders of all that exists as well as something about Himself, is of course God—the God who is Personal.[2]

God is the most majestic musician, supreme sculptor, wowing writer, and awesome artist. We can look at the flowers of the field and see that God is the most creative creator of clothing. He is the creator that gives creativity.“God is the Great Maker, the unique Creator. And all other creative activity derives from him.”[3]

God the Creator is the great Artist. He set the dome of the heavens and fashioned the universe. He created the music of the stars and set the heavenly bodies whirling in a great cosmic dance. He paints the sky of man’s earth with clouds and sunsets, and the ground with flowers and streams. He fashioned man out of dust of the earth. He tells the greatest love story of time and eternity, and unfolds it in a drama unlike any that man has ever created. He uses every art and every medium.[4]

Observation: Our creativity is contingent upon the Creator.[5] God is the great Creator and we merely reflect Him with our creations, as we will see.

Consider Creation

We see in the beginning that when God saw all He had made He pronounced, “very good” (Gen. 1:4; 10; 12; 18; 21; 25; 1:31). There was no sin, no death, and no problems. Man had perfect fellowship with God (cf. Gen. 3:8) and enjoyed God’s beautiful creation.

God’s creation shows us what God wants for us. He wants us to enjoy and take part in the creation that He has made very good. It shows us our intended design: fellowship with God and each other and the correct enjoyment and creative oversight of creation.

The heavens declare and shout forth the glory and beauty of God (Ps. 19:1-6). “Our God is beautiful in all his way; it is part of his perfection. This divine beauty has been woven into the fabric of creation, in the massive stars, inside the submicroscopic balance of the atom.”[6]

Observation: As we take in and enjoy beauty, whether Mozart, Norman Rockwell, or a brook basking in the sun, it points us back to our Creator for which we truly yearn. Even “photography is a longing for eternity, a desire for a lasting impact. When we blast our memories far and wide, we are hoping they will linger when we’re not present and maybe even when we’re gone. How odd that something seemingly instant can be rooted in a hunger for eternity.”[7]

Consider that we are Creative Creatures

What is man? A complex animal, more advanced through Darwinian Evolution? Are humans merely matter in motion?

We see the doctrine of the image of God,[8] the imago Dei, in various places in Scripture (Gen. 1:26-27; 5:1-3; 9:6; 1 Cor. 11:7 Col. 3:10; James 3:9). The most prominent is Genesis 1:27 that says, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”[9] “The ‘image (likeness) of God’ refers to a permanent aspect of our created nature, which was not affected by the fall. It is the special characteristic of the human race, which distinguishes us from other creatures.”[10]

So, “We are created in the likeness of the Creator… So we are, on a finite level, people who can create.”[11] 

We were made, in part, to create. We were made to work unhindered at the creative care of the creation. However, the plot thickens. A cosmic problem is introduced. Through man’s fall we see the crash and curse of creation, which explains why everything is no longer good and why our creative care is constrained.

Observation: We are creative creatures; that is part of what we do and how we reflect the image of our Creator. We see that because that is what we were created to do we thrive as individuals and as societies as we create.

Man was created that he might create. It is not a waste of man’s time to be creative, because this is what was made to be able to do. He was made in the image of a Creator, and given the capacity to create—on a finite level of course, needing to use the materials already created—but he is still the creature of a Creator.[12]

We were created in the image of God not to procrastinate but to be productive, to create and “subdue the earth.” When we are functioning according to our design, doing what God has given us to do, it is then that we prosper (and realize I do not mean financially, I mean teleologically).

Realize there are all sorts of types of creativity, one person creates cars, another creates music, and still another manages his restaurant in thoughtful ways.[13] The important observation here is not so much what we do but how we approach our tasks.

We should approach all we do with intentionality and skill. As Timothy Keller says, “our work can be a calling only if it is reimagined as a mission of service to something beyond merely our own interests. Thinking of work mainly as a means of self-fulfillment and self-realization slowly crushes a person and… undermines society itself.”[14]

Consider the Crash

Man disobeyed and rebelled (Gen. 2:16-17; 3:6) and this brought spiritual and physical death (Gen. 2:17; 3:19), pain (3:16-17), difficulties (3:18-19), and separation from God (3:23-24). This is the bad news that we all live in.

In Genesis 3:1-24 we see the Fall of humanity. We see various forms of death given birth to. We see “’an ever-growing avalanche of sin, a continually widening chasm between man and God’. It progresses from disobedience, to murder, to indiscriminate killing, to titanic lust, to total corruption, and uncontrolled violence.”[15] Sin truly brings a litany of death. “Disease, genetic disorders, famine, natural disasters, aging, and death itself are as much the result of sin as are oppression, war, crime, and violence. We have lost God’s shalom—physically, spiritually, socially, psychologically, culturally. Things now fall apart.”[16] Sin opens Pandora’s box and unleashes a horde of evil.

We have marred more than the mediocre; we have marred the Michelangelos of the world. We have marred superb beauty and made it unbelievably hideous.

To illustrate, if I ruin a “masterpiece” that my son made with paper, glue, and crayons, the ramifications will be far less than if I destroy the Mona Lisa.

Well, creation was intended to be a Mona Lisa; that is, it was intended to be supremely glorious. God’s creation was intended to be good, beautiful, and aesthetically pleasing to our senses, emotions, and intellect beyond what we can imagine.

We often think of this world as the way it is not as the way it was intended to be. If we could see a glimpse of what the Great Creator had in mind for His masterpiece, then we’d see that we “paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” We essentially killed a thousand Beethovens and blared white noise. We backfilled the Grand Canyon with gravel. We burned a hundred museums of art. We scorched our taste buds off our tongue. We took a wrecking ball to all the wonders of the world and razed a thousand gorgeous cities. We have brought cataclysmic chaos to the world.

Sin is not a light thing. We, as humans, were created in the image of God. We were to be like Christ, God in flesh (cf. Gen. 1:26-27). The world was meant to be supremely glorious, peaceful, and loving but instead it is disgusting and understandably repugnant to God. So, as we try to grasp the wonder of what has been marred we can begin to understand how serious the situation is and how terrible sin is.

The crash happened in Genesis 3, man disobeyed God and chaos and curse ensued. In the crash, we see what went wrong with us and the world.

Observation: The image we bare is tainted and marred. It’s like one of Winslow Homer’s famous watercolor paintings had a pail of acid poured on it. We can still trace the image but it’s faded. We need a master painter to repaint us.

It is important to observe that “The arts, which speak so subjectively and so very personally regarding who and what we are in relation to our Maker are very vulnerable to the distortion that sin has brought in the world.”[17] Even in the Bible art can be used to idolatrous ends. We, after the crash, often use creativity to de-create and desecrate the good world God has made.

We see that we often desire heaven and make hell. We want back in Eden and sometimes we express that, but sometimes we express the crash. We, in the words of Makoto Fujimura, “carry the dust of Eden in our DNA.”[18] Michael Card has said, “A thousand examples speak of a deep, inner hunger for beauty that, at its heart, is a hunger for God. We hunger for beauty because it is a beautiful God whom we serve.”[19] Yet, we are stuck on the outside of Eden.[20] We are stuck yearning.

Much art reflects on this theme, from superhero movies to angsty art, we know there was a fall. We know we live after the crash. We desire the new creation but many don’t know the answer. They don’t know Christ the Promised One.

Consider Christ

After the crash of creation, after the curse was introduced, there was a promise of a deliverer that would set all right again. At first, the promised offspring (Gen. 3:15) was vague; in fact, Eve rejoiced because she thought she had the offspring (4:1) but it was all for naught because Cain was the offspring of the serpent and killed his brother.

However, later on, we see Him who even the prophets longed to see (Matt. 13:17), we know that all Scripture finds its fulfillment in Jesus who is the long awaited Messiah (2 Cor. 1:20). The one that will crush the curse and bring in the new creation.

The Bible is a true story about God making the world, man messing it up, and God becoming a man to fix the world by not messing up. It is a story of Eden—exile—repeat. It is not until the true Adam, the true and righteous Son of God—Jesus—comes that this process is broken. All of Christ’s predeceases fell short; Adam, Noah, Abraham, Saul, David, Solomon, and the lambs, priests, and prophets could not fill Christ’s role.

Through Christ we see what God has done to put things right. Christ hung, outstretched on the tree, and bore the curse and will come again to bring His eternal reign when peace will be pervasive and joy will be tangible.

Jesus is the hero of the story. He takes upon Himself the curse and brings the new creation and friendship with God that we all yearn for.

The Cosmic Creator that flung the stars in place and knows them all by name cares to the point of crucifixion. He is the author that writes Himself into the story. He makes, He comes, He dies, and He rises again. And He’s coming back to recreate the world.

Observation: In Christ, first we see our Savior, but we see also see a profound example. Christ’s character as seen in the Gospels is one of creativity and compassion. He is expressive and real. He is harsh and gentle. 

Christ was honest to the reality of our current condition. He didn’t lighten the realities of the crash and the catastrophes that it created. However, He wasn’t hopeless either. He brought the world the solution they needed: Himself.

We too must understand our current condition and honestly and creatively communicate truth to the world.

Consider our Current Condition

It is important for us to correctly situate ourselves within our current condition. We, for instance, do not want to place ourselves within the new creation when we are still wheeling from the crash. In the same way, we don’t want to forget that Christ has came. We need to understand our current condition. We do not want to have an “over-realized eschatology” or an “under-realized eschatology.” We want to correctly grasp our situation and communicate the struggles and hopes that we have to the world.

Steve Turner has said, “It is not Christian to make art that assumes that the world is unblemished.”[21] It’s certainly true that the Kingdom has come in God’s Son. The light is shining and the darkness is passing away (1 Jn. 2:8) but it hasn’t passed away yet. We still live in a fallen world. Soon the darkness will be forever gone (Rev. 22:5) but for now it’s an element in our reality so to paint or portray reality means including “darkness.”

We must position ourselves after the Creator, the creation of all things, and the crash and curse of the cosmos, and we must remember that we were created as creative creatures to reflect our Creator. We must remember Christ, the hope of all the world. We must hope in Him and the new creation that He will bring at the consummation of His Kingdom.

We must not get stuck hopelessly on the crash and curse of the world, though to be in the world is to reflect realistically on its realities. Yet, we must not forget Christ and His coming Kingdom and the fact that we are not the center of the universe. So, “The Christian artist will often be an irritant, disturbing the anthropocentric view of the world that fallen nature naturally gravitates toward.”[22]

Observation: It is when we remember our current condition, all that has laid behind us and all that lays before us, that we can most profoundly and prophetically speak into our cultures. It is then that we can bring compassion and truth to bear and see God’s truth take root and change people and society.

So, David Skeel says, “The most beautiful and memorable art will reflect the tensions and complexity that only Christianity can fully explain.”[23]

Consider the coming Consummation

When Jesus came the first time, He had no beauty or majesty. When He comes again His face will shine like the sun in full strength (Rev. 1:16). We were cast out of the garden in the beginning but as Jesus said to the thief on the cross, all those who go to Him will be let back in. For those in Christ, the story of history will have a happy ending (Rom. 8:29-39).

Through Jesus the Christ, we have the unwavering hope of a new creation (2 Peter 3:13). “The creation was subjected to futility” in Adam (Gen. 317-19) but in Christ “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8:20-21). As Isaac Watts put it in “Joy to the World,”

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
 far as the curse is found.

The problem (all of them!) will be fixed and there will be no more sin (Rev. 21:27; 22:3; Matt. 13:41). Everything will be more right than it was ever wrong. We will see that God did, in fact, work all things together for good (Rom. 8:28). Christ will make a new creation and we will be like Him (1 Jn. 3:2; Rom. 8:29; 2 Peter 1:4). “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Cor. 15:49). God will fulfill our deepest desires and we will finally live with Him in paradise in the end.

Jesus is the good news but the good news is not static it goes on and on and on; those in Christ live happily-ever-after. In contrast, God “will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers” (Matt. 13:41) and cast them into the pit of eternal fire (Rev. 20:14-15). The Lord will bring heaven down and establish His Kingdom that will not be shaken but will last forever and ever in perfect beauty and joy. 

Observation: Time is working itself down to a consummation; to a renewal of the creation, in fact, a new creation. Ever since Eden, this is what we have longed for and it is made available through Christ. However, many miss it. They look to the creature rather than to the Creator to find satisfaction, life, and joy.

As we carry out various creative tasks we can thoughtfully point people to what they need and why they need it. We can address the issue of the crash, our current condition, and Christ and the coming consummation. 

We can also know that art occupies a type of middle ground. In one way pointing backward (to creation) while planted firmly (in the current condition) and also pointing ahead (to the consummation). 

Conclusion: So, how should we think about art? 

As we carry out our creative tasks (whether or not it is typically labeled art or not) we reflect our Maker. We point to the reason and rhyme of the universe, especially when we reflect on and cause others to reflect on why, at times, there seems to be no reason and rhyme to the universe. 

Lastly, as we seek to be faithful and reflect God’s image we must look to Jesus. He is the Master. He is “painting” us in His image. The brushstrokes that stand out the most are “love the LORD your God with all you are” and “your neighbor as yourself.” It is through the application of those two brushstrokes that we look more and more as we were always supposed to look.

_______________________

[1] My word is very fallible but God’s Word is truth. This is important because, as William Dyrness, has said: ““Artistic issues are, according to the biblical perspective, profoundly theological from the beginning to end” (William A. Dyrness, Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue, 70).

[2] Edith Schaeffer, The Hidden Art of Homemaking, 14-15.

[3] Frank E. Gaebelein, The Christian, The Arts, and Truth, 72.

[4] W. S. LaSor, “Art” in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 302.

[5] “Only God can imagine and make something out of nothing. In this sense, he is the only One who deserves the title of Creator. We are merely creative” (Harold M. Best in Michael Care, Scribbling in the Sand, 122).

[6] Michael Card, Scribbling in the Sand, 32.

[7] Craig Detweiler, iGods: How Technology Shapes Our Spiritual and Social Lives, 189.

[8] “That man by creation uniquely bears the divine image is a fundamental biblical doctrine—as also that this image is sullied by sin and that it is restored by divine salvation” (Carl F. H. Henry, “Man” in Baker’s Dictionary of Theology, 338).

[9] “The declaration that humanity bears God’s likeness is startling, awesome, and almost incredible, but what exactly does it mean?… Two primary, and not necessarily contradictory views are: (1) the substantive view, according to which humans share some aspects of the nature of God (intelligence, emotions, etc.); and (2) the functional view, according to which humans act like God in their divinely given role to rule the earth. The immediate context, with the language of dominion and subjugation, suggests that the functional interpretation is primary” (Köstenberger, God’s Design for Man and Woman, 29). I personally believe in a hybrid view. I believed in a functional view that implies the substantive view. That is, if we as humans are to function as vice-regents we must be endowed with the abilities to carry it out (e.g. intelligence, creativity, etc.).

[10] G. L. Bray, “Image of God” in NDBT, 576.

[11] Edith Schaeffer, The Hidden Art of Homemaking, 24.

[12] Edith Schaeffer, The Hidden Art of Homemaking, 24.

[13] I think for example of Chic-fil-a.

[14] Keller, Every Good Endeavor, 19. He also says “Everyone will be forgotten, nothing we do will make any difference, and all good endeavours, even the best, will come to naught. Unless there is God. If the God of the Bible exists, and there is a True Reality beneath and behind this one, and this life is not the only life, then every good endeavour, even the simplest ones, pursued in response to God’s calling, can matter forever” (29).

[15] Revd Victor James Johnson, “Illustrating Evil – The Effect of the Fall as seen in Genesis 4-11,” 57 in Melanesian Journal of Theology 11-1&2 (1995).

[16] Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Penguin Group, 2008), 177. “Disunion with God is reflected in disunion with others and with oneself” (Johnson, Foundations of Soul Care, 466).

[17] Frank E. Gaebelein, The Christian, The Arts, and Truth, 75.

[18] Makoto Fujimura, Refractions.

[19] Michael Card, Scribbling in the Sand, 32.

[20] “Christianity explains our inability to sustain transcendence as evidence that creation, and the creation, have been corrupted” (David Skeel, True Paradox: How Christianity Makes Sense of Our Complex World, 88).

[21] Steve Turner, Imagine: a vision for Christians in the arts, 86. “To portray the world as a rose garden can be as misleading as portraying it as a cesspool” (Ibid., 58).

[22] Steve Turner, Imagine: a vision for Christians in the arts, 22.

[23] David Skeel, True Paradox: How Christianity Makes Sense of Our Complex World, 82.


Altercations: Abraham, Abimelech, and God’s Awesome Faithfulness

Introduction

Genesis chapter 20 is a peculiar passage. We can ask many questions of it. Why is it there? What purpose does it serve?

Yet with all of Scripture context is king. When we begin to see the passage as it is meant to be seen, in it’s broader context, it makes more sense. So let’s look briefly at the broader context. What are some things from earlier on in Genesis that could shed light on Genesis chapter 20?

Messianic Promises

Genesis 3:15

The first promise we see in Genesis is of a seed that will come and crush the head of the serpent. A descendant of the woman, who by implication of destroying God and mans enemy, will set things back the way they were supposed to be. When we look at Genesis we see glimpses of hope for this very descendant.

Genesis 3:15 is the protoevangelium. It is the first gospel. However, quite ambiguous at first, and at times the line of the seed looks hopeless; we, as the story continues, see the serpent-crushing-seed in full glory. Thomas R. Schreiner rightly says, “We can fairly say that the OT is animated with an eschatological hope. Gen. 3:15 forecasts a day when the seed of the woman will triumph over the seed of the serpent,” though as we will see, “subsequent history appeared to mock the promise.”[1]

We will look at what the immediate understanding of the pronouncement was to Adam and Eve at the outset of Genesis. We will see that they had hope that a seed would be born that would bring some form of deliverance but beyond this we cannot be sure of their understanding.[2] Then we will briefly trace the development and understanding of the Genesis 3:15 promise through the OT and see that we leave the scene still looking for the promised hero of the story. Finally, in the NT we see things happen and come together in ways that could never have been imagined, something like true fiction. We look at the birth of the seed of the woman and explore the culmination of the promise in the victorious King in Revelation who has once and for all crushed the head of the serpent of old.


As we look at this theme in Scripture, we cannot merely look at a word study.[3] In part because the verb for “crush” in Genesis 3:15 is seen only four times in the Old Testament. It is seen twice in our passage and once in Job 9:17 and once in Psalm 139:11 but in both of these cases it is not used with the same imagery. However, we should not make the false conclusion that we do not see Scripture return to this theme. It is more helpful as we look at this passage to look at the scenarios[4] or links that are used to recall the Genesis 3:15 promises and not merely a word study. As Hamilton says the “announcement of judgment on the serpent provides fundamental imagery that is reused and interpreted throughout the rest of the Old Testament”[5] even if שׁוּףּ is not used. As Hamilton says elsewhere, “the themes of biblical theology are broader than individual words.”[6]

In the immediate understanding of the verse, the seed refers to a singular seed but as we see, as the story continues, it also entails a collective aspect.[7] The immediate understanding of the text is seen by the name Adam gives to his wife. Adam names his wife Eve, that is, life-giver, and not death (Gen 3:20).[8] Through this, Adam shows that he has hope. Perhaps, he even hopes to once again enter back into the garden and enjoy renewed and undeterred fellowship with God once the evil serpent gets what is coming to him. Stephen G. Dempster says, “in light of the immediate context, the triumph of the woman’s seed would suggest a return to the Edenic state.”[9]

Later we see that Eve bore Cain and thought she had the serpent crushing seed. She said, “I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD” (4:1) Michael Horton explains that without the definite article, we are especially dependent on the context. Therefore, in light of Genesis 3:15 this verse could be understood to mean, “the man,” that is, the seed.[10] Adam and Eve had hope. They expected a seed (singular), in their lifetime that would bring some form of deliverance, though we cannot be certain as to the extinct of the deliverance for which they hoped.

However, as we read on in the story we see that Eve’s hope is unfounded. Cain was the seed of the serpent and killed his brother Abel (cf. John 8:44; 1 John 3:8-15). Yet she continued in expectation. We see this with the birth of Seth (Gen 4:25). The curse wrought because of rebellion in the garden was not revoked and death spread to all men. We see this in the refrain, “and he died,” in Genesis chapter five yet we see hope of deliverance through Enoch’s experience.

In Genesis chapter six, we do not see the crushing of the serpent as is hoped for but we do see preservation of the line of the seed of the woman, and in fact of all humanity. Actually, careful reading of Genesis will lead one to see the importance that the book places on seed and their preservation. This is especially clear and miraculous in light of the NT and the barrenness of certain women at crucial points along the line of the seed.18

In the first chapters of Genesis, we see a foggy hope of a seed to come that will crush the head of the serpent. However, it is not until further down the road of revelation that the identity of that seed becomes clearer. In fact, we do not even know if the promise is ultimately fulfilled through a collective seed or a singular seed at this point of the OT.[11]

There are important pieces that we must gather from the first few chapters of Genesis that are important if we want to fit the puzzle together at the end. We must note the hope established from the beginning (to reenter Eden?). We must see the importance placed on the seed of the woman. It is also important to remember the crushing language employed. It is with these and similar themes that we can trace the serpent crushing seed through Scripture. At first, the promised one is vague but as we continue, we pick up more pieces that fit in place in unexpected ways. To culminate in what the apostle Paul will call foolishness.

T.D. Alexander sums up well for us. “Although Genesis 3:15 hints at reversal of the alienation arising from the disobedience of Adam and Eve, for the fulfillment we must read further. Here, however, we find the first brushstroke on the biblical canvas concerning a future king through whom God’s salvation will come to humanity.”[12]

Genesis 12

We have seen what the immediate expectation was but what do we see as story of Scripture develops? What more information do we see surface that gives us a hint to the prophesy’s ultimate fulfillment? We have seen that Adam and Eve hoped for a singular seed to be their victor but how do we understand the collective seed and the promised enmity between the two seeds? We have seen that Abel, instead of crushing the serpent, was crushed himself by the serpents seed. We have seen that Seth too, did not crush the serpent. So where is the promised one?

As we ask these questions, we will see a line traced through Genesis and the whole Old Testament, a line of seed and their story. Specifically, a line that has hope, hope in God and His promises, hope in an offspring. As Hamilton says, “People are either seed of the serpent, on the side of the snake in the garden, or seed of the woman, on the side of God and trusting in his promises.”[13] The careful reader of Scripture can see the enmity between the two seeds in Genesis[14] and in fact through the whole Old Testament. There are even physical decedents of the woman, i.e. seed, that are spiritually seed of the serpent.[15]

The Genesis narrative does not go on very long before we see more seed/offspring promises. However, the Abrahamic promises do not continue the language of “crushing” but, as we have seen, we do see the promised enmity. The promise to Abraham is obviously important in many ways but we cannot dive into them here for our purpose. What we do need to see, however, is Abraham’s seed will be given the land (Gen 12:7 cf. Gal 3:16). The land promised, is significant because the righteous seed brings prosperity to the land as they crush and conquer the heads of the serpent’s seed. Thus, maybe Adam and Eve would have been right to think that the promised one would bring in some form of Edenic state.

Hamilton says, “The blessing of all the families of the earth through Abram and his seed (12:3; 22:18) directs readers of the Genesis narrative to a seed of the woman who will crush the serpent’s head, repeal the curses, and open the way to Eden.”[16] Though we do not have times to look at all the accounts, there are many times in the OT when the two seeds are seen in conflict crushing each other. The seed of the woman is seen time after time crushing the seed of the serpent to obtain the Promised Land, a type of Eden.

New Testament

In the New Testament, we see Jesus is the Promised Seed, the Good News.[17] At the close of the OT as we saw there is no serpent crushing seed on the horizon. But there is good news, stretching back all the way to the beginning of the story. This is not the end of the story. The genealogies link Jesus all the way back to David, Abraham, and even the seed of the woman.[18] The “seed” referred to in Genesis 3:15 and 12 is the same seed. The curse evoked because of sin, is revoked in the promised blessing to Abraham’s seed, who is also the seed which will defeat the serpent; namely, Jesus of Nazareth.

This is the good news; Jesus is the good news. Notice the genealogies point to Jesus as being the Christ that was promised to defeat “the Serpent of old” (Matt 1:1-18; Luke 3:23-38 says, “Jesus… the son of Adam,” i.e. seed of the woman). Jesus’ genealogies recall the promise in the garden, the Abrahamic promise, and the 2 Samuel 7 promise. It is significant “that Jesus is named as being born of (i.e., the seed of) the woman (Gal 4:4) and the seed of David (Rom 1:3; 2 Tim 2:8).”[19] Alexander says, “The NT presents Jesus Christ as the one who brings to fulfillment the divine promises associated with the unique line of seed descended from Abraham.”[20]

Conclusion

We see all through out Scripture that if God did not faithfully and sovereignly (e.g. think of the entail barrenness of women within the line of promise) preserve the line of promise His promise in Genesis to defeat the serpent of old and bless the nations could never have been fulfilled. However, God is a God of covenant loyalty, He keeps all of His promises, so God stepped into the altercation between Abraham and Abenelech and God graciously prevented the line of promise from being destroyed.

Clearly God is our Savior. We don’t nor can we save ourselves. Genesis 20 is just demonstration of this truth. God preserves us and keeps His promises to us even when we fail in big ways.

The promises of God do not come to fruition because we or Abraham is good enough. The promises of God come to fruition because God is a good and faithful God. He is gracious and merciful. Let’s praise the LORD in humility!

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[1] Thomas R. Schreiner, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 25. Similarly, Hamilton says, “From start to finish, the OT is a messianic document, written from a messianic perspective, so sustain a messianic hope” (James M. Hamilton Jr., “The Skull Crushing Seed of the Woman: Inner-Biblical Interpretation of Genesis 3:15” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 10, no. 2 [2006]: 30).

[2] I do think it is clear that they would have realized that the problem was not just any “snake” or snakes in general but the snake that tempted them. The supernatural snake is the problem. I believe this would have been clear to them. They had seen other snakes before that in the garden and after they were expelled as well. In addition, they presumably heard God’s judgment on the snake since they expected its promised foe. So contra Robert Alter who says, “The serpent is by no means ‘satanic,’ as in the lens of later Judeo-Christian traditions” (Genesis: Translation and Commentary [W. W. Norton & Company , Inc.: New York, 1996], 13). I believe, it was not just the “later Judeo-Christian traditions” that saw the satanic nature of the serpent but even Adam and Eve understood this to some degree.

[3] “Too much biblical theology has fallen prey to the word-study fallacy and has failed to see that themes can be developed with synonymous terms. Charles Halton has shown that ‘ancient writers felt no compulsion to provide direct links with their allusion….instead, they borrowed imagery and fused it with their own rhetorical purposes.’ I would suggest that this is exactly what happened in the Old Testament with Genesis 3:15,” says Hamilton (God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology. [Wheaton: Crossway, 2010], 77.).

[4] Cynthia Long Westfall says a “’scenario’ is a linguistic term that is used to indicate ‘an extended domain of reference’ or associated bundles of information that lies behind a text. A scenario includes setting, situations, specific items, and ‘role’ slots” (“Messianic Themes of Temple, Enthronement, and Victory in Hebrews and the Epistles” 210-229. In The Messiah in the Old and New Testaments Stanley E. Porter ed. [Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007], 212).

[5] Hamilton, God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment, 77. On the same page he also gives a list of “Imagery from Genesis 3:14-19 in the Old Testament” in Table 2.4. As Hamilton points out, we see imagery of broken heads in Num. 24:17; Jud. 4:21; 5:26; 9:53; 1 Sam. 17:49; Is. 1:4-5; 7:8-9; 28:3; Jer. 23:19; 30:23; Hab. 3:13; Ps. 68:22-24; 74:12-14; 110:6, broken enemies in Ex. 15:6; Num. 24:8; 1 Sam. 2:10; 2 Sam. 22:39, 43; Is. 14:25; Jer. 13:14; 23:29; 48:4; 51:20-23; Ps. 2:9; 72:4; 89:24; 137:9; Dan. 2:34-35; Job 34:22-25, trampled enemies in Josh. 10:24; 2 Sam. 22:39/Ps. 18:39; Is. 63:3, 6; Mal 3:20-21; Zech. 10:5; Ps. 44:5; 60:14; 108:14; 91:11-13, enemies lick dust in Is. 49:23, Mic. 7:17; Ps. 72:9, and stricken serpents in Is. 27:1; 51:9; Ps. 58:5-7, 11; 74:12-14; 89:11; Job 26:12-13; 40:25-41:26.

[6] James M. Hamilton Jr.,“The Seed of the Woman and the Blessing of Abraham.” Tyndale Bulletin 58 (2007): 265.

[7] T. D. Alexander, “Seed” 769-773. In The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology T. Desmond Alexander and Roger S. Rosner eds. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 769.

[8] Waltke, An Old Testament Theology, 280-81.

[9] Similarly, Edmund P. Clowney, has said, “The term ‘seed’ is ambiguous in Hebrew: it can refer to descendants as a corporate group, or to an individual descendant. Genesis does not specifically resolve that ambiguity. But as it holds before us the line of fathers and sons, it surely points to a second Adam, a Seed who is appointed like Seth, called like Noah, chosen like Shem, and made a blessing to all the earth as the Seed of Abraham” (The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament [Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1988], 42).

[10] See John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God (Philipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Company, 2010) 57-58, Stephen G. Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003) 68, and Hamilton, God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment, 79. It may also be significant that after Adam names Eve, presumably in an act of faith, God sacrifices an animal to cloth them and cover their guilt (Gen 3:21).

[11] Admittedly, even once we come to the NT it looks at times that the fulfillment of Genesis 3:15 still has a singular and a collective aspect to it and this may be true but it only has a collective aspect to it because of the singular seed. Paul says that the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet (Rom. 16:20). Yet how are they identified with God’s people, it is through the Christ that crushes Satan and death. I could list other things that identify Jesus, the Christ, as finally and ultimately fulfilling the promise to Adam and Eve but this must suffice here. It is true that we (collective) will crush Satan under our feet; I do not want to be at odds with Paul, only we do it as we are in Christ.

[12] Alexander, The Servant King, 19.

[13] Hamilton, God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment, 84.

[14] Hamilton, God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment, 84.

[15] In Table 2.9., Hamilton shows the “Seed Conflict in Genesis.” On the individual level we see Cain and Abel (4:1-16), Ishmael and Isaac (21:8-9), Esau and Jacob (27:41), lastly the Sons of Israel and Joseph. On the collective level we see Pharaoh and Egypt and Abraham and Sarah (12:10-20), Kings of the world (Sodom) and Abraham and his men, Lot, Melchizedek (14:13- 24), Abimelech and the Philistines and Abraham and his people (21:22-34), Abimelech and the Philistines and Isaac and his people (26:14-16), the men of Shechem and Simeon, Levi, and Israel (Dinah) (34:1-29), lastly the Sons of Israel and Joseph (37-44). See Ibid.

[16] Hamilton, “The Seed of the Woman and the Blessings of Abraham,” 261.

[17] We could explore many passages further. For instance: Matt 22:44; Luke 10:17-19; Acts 2:35; Rom 16:20; 1 Cor 15:25; Gal 3:16; 4:4; Eph 1:20-22; Heb 2:5-9, 14-15; 10:13; Rev 12; 22:16. We could also look at the two collective seeds in the NT, those who follow Satan and those who follow their Savior.

[18] Of course everyone is the finally the seed of the Eve but this is a literary devise showing the significance of Jesus.

[19] Hamilton cites Wifall in “The Skull Crushing Seed of the Woman,” 43.

[20] Alexander, “Seed” in The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 772.


A Brief Exploration of Paul’s Use of “All”

The Apostle Paul

There are some things in Paul’s writing that can be hard to understand, as Peter said (2 Pet. 3:16). Here we’re looking at how Paul’s use of “all” can be hard to understand (esp. when it seems like Scripture teaches particular atonement see e.g. Jn. 6:37-39; 10:11, 15; 17:9, 20; Acts 20:28; Rom. 5:8, 10; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 1:4; 3:13; Eph. 1: 3-5, 7; 5:25). Does Paul’s use of “all” have universal implications?[1]

A.A. Hodge’s words are instructive,

“Particular and definite expressions must limit the interpretation of the general ones, rather than the reverse. It is plainly far easier to assign plausible reasons why, if Christ died particularly for his elect, they being as yet scattered among all nations and generations, and indistinguishable by us from the mass of fallen humanity to whom the gospel is indiscriminately offered, he should be said in certain connections to have died for the world or for all, than it can be to assign any plausible reason why, if he died to make the salvation of all possible, he should nevertheless be said in any connection to have died for the purpose of certainly saving the elect.”[2]

It’s important to understand that to Jews all the rest of the world, the whole world, were basically just Gentiles. There were two sets up people in their mind, God’s people and everyone else. So as we think of the use of the words “all” and “world” we must be conscious of how Jews thought about the world and other people groups. Remember, the Jews are the people of promise. No other people in the whole world were. So Thomas R. Schreiner says, “We are apt to forget how shocking the inclusion of the Gentiles was to many in the first century because of our historical distance from the text.”[3]

Notice that Galatians 3:8 says that the OT Scriptures foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles (τα εϑνη). When Paul uses Gentiles here he means not all Gentiles without exception but rather all Gentiles without distinction. That is, Paul is saying that it’s not just Jews that can be justified. It’s not just one other group that can be justified. It’s not just Samaritans and Romans that can be justified but Babylonians, Egyptians, and everyone (i.e. “all,” “world”) can be justified. So, all people (παντα τα εϑνη), that is, all types of people can be justified. That is how Paul is using “all” (παντα).

Also, notice that Greek does not function the same way as English. Greek, for instance, has a different grammatical case system as well as word order. There is also different ways to say “all.” However, I am not saying that Paul did not say all in the passages in question. He did, in fact, say “all.” I only mean that for Paul to say “all” meaning one group in one place and “all” to mean another group in another place (even in very close proximity) may have been completely normal.

“Interpreters commonly assume that a word must have the same meaning it is used within the same context… However, this is not always true. A work in ancient Greek (as well as in modern languages) may very well have different meaning whether uttered in one breath or not.”[4]

Context is king in any language, but especially when written in all-caps with no punctuation.

So although Universalists frequently appeal to “Paul’s use of the word ‘all’ (e.g. in Rom. 5 and 11, and in 2 Cor. 5),” N.T. Wright points out that there is apparently no “realization of the different shades of meaning that must be understood in the particular contexts… The word ‘all’ has several clearly distinct biblical uses (e.g. ‘all of some sorts,’ ‘some of all sorts,’ etc.), and to ignore this frequently-noted fact is no aid to clear thinking.”[5] The word must be understood in context.[6] We must understand not only the immediate context at the sentence level but also how the word is being used at the next level of context (e.g. paragraph, chapter, book, etc.). That is, we need to understand what is being communicated or the argument that is being made (see Figure 1 below).

Context.png

Figure 1: Understanding Words in Context

In reference to Romans 5:15-19, Schreiner says,

“Paul deliberately used the word all to describe the work of Christ as the second Adam. Our task as readers is to ferret out the significance of this decision. Two reasons for the terminology are possible. First, Paul did not want to use a less-inclusive term because he wanted to emphasize that Christ was as great as Adam. The use of the word all reminds the reader that the grace of Christ is so powerful that it supersedes what Adam did.

Second, one of the prominent themes of Paul’s theology, and of Romans in particular, is the inclusion of the Gentiles. We have seen that the folding of the Gentiles into God’s saving purposes was the distinctive element in Paul’s call to the apostleship. He often emphasizes in Romans that God has called the Gentiles, not just the Jews, to be his people (Rom 1:5, 7, 13-14, 16; 2:11, 26-29; 3:23, 29-30; 4:9-12, 16-17; 9:24-26, 30; 10:11-13, 20; 11:12, 15, 17, 19-20, 30; 15:9-12; 16:26). Recognizing this assists us in comprehending Romans 11:32, “God has enclosed all under disobedience, so that he should show mercy to all.” The first all must include all people without exception, for Paul leaves no room for the idea that some people are obedient and hence need no room for the idea that some people are obedient and hence need no mercy from God! But if the second all is of the same breadth as the first, then Paul is a universalist, teaching that God’s saving mercy will be poured out on every single human being. The interpretation is doubtless attractive, but the context reveals its improbability. Romans 9-11 often speaks of the future punishment of those who are unsaved (Rom 9:3, 6-7, 13, 18, 21-22, 31-33; 10:2-4; 11:7-10, 20-23, 28). These chapters oscillate between the salvation promised for the Gentiles and the salvation pledged to the Jews. Any attentive reader of Romans 11 is aware that it features God’s saving plan relative to both Gentiles and Jews. When Paul says, therefore, that God shows mercy on ‘all,’ the idea is that God’s mercy extends to both Jews and Gentiles, Thus, we need not conclude that ‘all’ refers to all people without exception. More likely, when Paul considers Christ’s work, the referent is all people without distinction. Both Jews and Gentiles are recipients of Christ’s gracious work.”[7]

Schreiner goes on to say,

“Such an interpretation is also a sensible reading of 2 Corinthians 5:14-15. The love of Christ controls Paul, and he concludes that ‘one died for all, therefore, all died’ (2 Cor 5:14). The ‘all’ for whom Christ died are not all without exception but all without distinction, including both Jews and Gentiles… All those for whom Christ died ‘actually’ died—they died in the death of Christ to the power of sin… those living refers to those who are spiritually alive. Those who are spiritually alive are the ‘all’ for whom Christ died in 2 Corinthians 5:14”[8] (cf. Rom. 6).

John Piper helpfully adds to our conversation,

“It would be an incorrect, superficial reading of this text [i.e. 1 Corinthians 15:21-23], as well as Romans 5:17-19, to assume that it is teaching universalism in the sense that all human beings will be saved. The ‘all’ who are acquitted in Romans 5 are defined in Romans 5:17 as ‘those who received the abundance of grace.’ And the ‘all’ who are made alive in 1 Corinthians 15:22 are defined as ‘those who belong to Christ.’ Moreover the other texts cited in this chapter [here are some of them: Dan. 12:2; Matt. 3:12; 18:8; 25:41, 46; Mk. 9:43-48; Rev. 14:11; 19:3; 20:10] make it highly unlikely that Paul means to teach here that all humans are saved.”[9]

Mark Rapinchuk demonstrates

“It seems reasonable to conclude that a major emphasis of Paul’s through­ out Romans is the universal nature of sin and salvation. But this universal nature is defined as without ethnic distinction rather than without excep­tion. When Paul speaks of “all men” he speaks in the sense of both Jews and Gentiles, not in the sense of every individual. This understanding of “all men” is not only consistent with the use of πάς and άνθρωπος in Biblical Greek, it is entirely consistent with the flow of Paul’s argument and emphasis in Romans.”[10]

We can also look at other examples where it doesn’t make sense to use “all” with the sense of “all without exception.” For instance, did Paul really preach to “all creation” and to the “whole world” (see Col. 1:6, 23)? No. We know that he did not. So “all” does not always mean all without exception. Also when Paul in Acts 22:15 “speaks of being a witness to all people” (πρὸς πάντας ἀνθρὼους), he clearly does not mean all people with exception; ‘all’ refers to the inclusion of the Gentiles in his mission (Acts 22:21).”[11]

Ephesians 5:20 says we are to give “thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Does “always” (παντων) here mean all times without exception? It doesn’t seem like it. For instance, when Lazarus died we see “Jesus wept,” not “Jesus gave thanks.”

Klyne Snodgrass says this in his commentary on Ephesians,

“When the Bible uses “all” or “every,” we must ask whether it is meant with or without qualification. Paul’s intent is not that we are to be thankful for evil or tragedy. John Stott is correct in saying “everything” in verse 20 is hyperbole. We are not asked to thank God for evil. Rather, we are asked to live out our awareness that all of life, even the “bad,” is lived out under his control and in relation to him.”[12]

Thus we see that “all” does not always (or very often) mean all without exception. The extent of what “all” is meant to convey must be understood through an understanding of the context and the intention of the author.

Thus, Schreiner looking at the context concludes that “the reason Paul can speak of the Christ’s death in expansive, all-inclusive terms in 1 Timothy 2:6 is because he sees his ministry as worldwide (2:7; cf. Acts 22:15), his soteriology is universal in the right sense (2:5; cf. Rom. 3:28-30), and he is confronting an elitist heresy that was excluding certain kinds of people from God’s salvation (1 Tim. 1:4). Paul wants to make it clear: Christ died for all kinds of people, not just some elite group.”[13]

Titus 2:11 says “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people” (᾿Επεφάνη γὰρ ἡ χάρις τοῦ θεοῦ σωτηριος πᾶσιν ἀνθρπὼοις). Some believe that “all people” (πᾶσιν ἀνθρπὼοις) refers to all people without exception, however, it more likely refers to all people without distinction.[14] Schreiner goes on to explain that “a good case can be made for such a judgment, because Paul refers to people from various groups earlier in chapter 2: older men (v. 2), older women (vv. 3-4), younger women, younger men (v. 6), and slaves (vv. 9-10).”[15] We also see in verse 12 and 14 that it talks about “us” and not all without exception. It says Jesus “gave Himself for us [not all without exception] to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works” (v. 14). This verse reminds us of 1 Peter 2:8-9 where it talks about two different groups of people. The first group stumbles and disobeys the word because that is what they were destined to do (v.8). The second group is a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession (v. 9).

What about Romans 11? Some people use Romans 11 to support their views on universalism. However, as has been said and as John Piper demonstrates, context is king.

“In [Romans] 11:30–31 the two groups in view (Israel and Gentiles) do not have reference to every individual Jew and Gentile that exist. The same corporate groups are in view that have been in view since 11:7. The stumbling (11:11), failure (11:12), rejection (11:15), hardening (11:7, 25), and disobedience (11:30–31) of corporate ethnic Israel lead to the mercy (11:31), salvation (11:11), riches (11:12), reconciliation (11:15), and coming in (11:25) of a “full number” of Gentiles. This in turn leads to the mercy (11:31), acceptance (11:15), and salvation (11:26) of “all Israel,” the same corporate entity that had to be temporarily hardened (11:7, 25) and rejected (11:15)… There is no exegetical warrant for construing the two “all’s” of 11:32 to refer to anything other than the complete number of Jews and Gentiles in the corporate entities referred to throughout the chapter. A universalistic reading of Romans 11:32 is not exegetically defensible.”[16]

Romans 9 should also be looked at. Paul anticipates that God’s righteousness will be called into question. He asks, “Is there injustice on God’s part?” Paul answers, “By no means!” (v.14). God elects and has mercy on whoever He choses (9:11, 15-16). Who are we to tell God what He can and cannot do?! (v. 20). “Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?” (v. 21 cf. 22-23).

Also, remember the way the Jewish community would have understood “all.” For example, let’s briefly look at the last part of Isaiah 66. I would argue that Isaiah has the most eschatology in it of the OT books. Isaiah 66:22:23 says,

“For as the new heavens and the new earth
that I make
shall remain before me, says the LORD,
so shall your offspring and your name remain.
From new moon to new moon,
and from Sabbath to Sabbath,
all flesh shall come to worship before me,
declares the LORD.”

It says, “all flesh shall come to worship before me, declares the LORD.” And it says they shall “remain before me.” Wow! It seems these verses teach universalism! However, remember our phrase: Context is king!

Look at verse 24: “And they [referring to ‘all flesh’ v. 23] shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against Me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” It’s clear here that “all,” even “all flesh,” does not mean all without exception. The Jews reading Romans would have been familiar with this passage and the theology behind it. Also, notice how emphatic verse 24 is and notice how the NT authors picked up on this same language.

On the topic of universal salvation 2 Peter 3:9 is often a favorite verse. It says God does not wish that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. Yet, we must note the context. The immediate context tells us what God does in response to His desire. It does not say that because He desires that all should reach repentance He will one day mysteriously (and against all the Bible seems to say) pull people out of the hell (into which He cast them) so that they won’t finally perish. Instead, we see, in light of God’s desire, He is patient and does not bring judgment right away (cf. v. 15; Rom. 2:4-11). Yet nevertheless, heaven and earth are waiting for the “day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly” (2 Pet. 3:7).

So this text is saying God is patient and does not wish that any should perish so God has refrained His judgment for a time so that all types of people can repent. However, it also reminds people to repent while they still can. It says, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief…” (v. 10) when it will be too late to repent. “Therefore,” it says, “since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by Him without spot or blemish, and a peace” (v. 14).

The second thing to consider with this verse is the two different senses in God’s will. Theologians helpfully and accurately discuss the two different senses in God’s will as the decretive will of God and the permissive (or perceptive) will of God. I suggest John Frame’s treatment in The Doctrine of God.[17]

It seems true in one sense that God desires that none should perish but that all should come to repentance but it is also true that God desires to pour out His wrath on the wicked. See 2 Thessalonians 2:8-12:

“And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. [9] The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, [10] and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. [11] Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, [12] in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

Notice also that Romans 9 tells us that God is glorified through vessels of wrath (ὀργή[18]) prepared for destruction (Rom. 9:22). God has set His affections on some and not on others. And that is His prerogative alone and He is just in all His judgments.[19]

________________________

[1] While the “all” texts do need to be explained “the onus lies with proponents of a universal atonement to explain why Paul would employ limited or definite language, if there really was no limitation in the intended object of the atonement” (Jonathan Gibson, “For Whom Did Christ Die?: Particularism and Universalism in the Pauline Epistles” 293 in From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective [Wheaton: Crossway, 2013). Further, “Paul has the linguistic arsenal to state unambiguously that there was no one for whom Christ did not die, he chose not to use it. The terms ‘many,’ ‘all,’ and ‘world’ remain undefined and ambiguous, dependent on context for their meaning” (Ibid., 329).

[2] A.A Hodge, The Atonement (1867; repr., London: Evangelical Press, 1974), 425.

[3] Thomas R. Schreiner, Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory: A Pauline Theology, 185. Hedrick explains Paul’s use of “all” in Romans 5:18 by saying that “among other things Paul is combating the ever-present tendency of Jews to regard themselves as being better than Gentiles” (Romans, 183).

[4] S. M. Baugh, A First John Reader: Intermediate Greek Reading Notes and Grammar, 19.

[5] N.T. Wright, “Universalism and the World-Wide Community,” Churchman 89 (July-September 1975), 200.

[6] In understanding the context it is important to understand the Pauline context; that “in the whole of Paul’s preaching it is unthinkable to refer to justification to all men without distinction” (Ridderbos, Paul, 341n32).

[7] Schreiner, Pau l, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ, 184. See also Schreiner, Romans, 292.

[8] Ibid., 186.

[9] John Piper, Let the Nations be Glad: The Supremacy of God in Missions (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993), 129n20.

[10] Mark Rapinchuk, “Universal Sin and Salvation in Romans 5:12-21” 441 in JETS 42/3 (September 1999) 427-41.

[11] Thomas R. Schreiner, “’Problematic Texts’ for Definite Atonement in the Pastoral and General Epistles.”

[12] Klyne Snodgrass, The NIV Application Commentary: Ephesians, 311.

[13] Schreiner, “’Problematic Texts’ for Definite Atonement.”

[14] Ibid., 8.

[15] Ibid.

[16] John Piper, “Universalism in Romans 9-11?” (http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/universalism-in-romans-9-11).

[17] See 528-42; he even has a section titled “Does God Desire the Salvation of All?”

[18] See William V. Crockett, “Wrath that Endures Forever” in JETS 34/2 (June 1991) 195-202. E.g. “When we examine orgê in Paul we find no reason to assume that it has reformative elements” (198). And on page 199 he says, “orgê in Paul excludes any notion of divine love” (199).

[19] See John Piper, The Justification of God: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Romans 9:1-23 (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1993).


A Biblical Basis for Social Media?

The genesis of social media was in Genesis. No we don’t see Snapchat or MySpace but we do see the raw material. That is, theologically.

Humanity is made in the image of the triune, relational, three in one God. So we have an innate need for connectivity. We’re hardwired for it. It’s in our internal processing. We are social (media) beings.

We also see that humanity is to subdue the earth. This results in technological advances, even within the book of Genesis (you could consider the naming of the animals “technology”).[1] Of course, Facebook and the invention of the book hadn’t happened.  But advances were being made.

Humanity is made in the image of the triune, relational, three in one God. So we have an innate need for connectivity. We’re hardwired for it. It’s in our internal processing. We are social (media) beings.

So we see that the desire to be connected and the desire for technological advances is not inherently bad.  A case could be made to say connectivity and technological advances are “very good.” At the very least being connected and using advances is not bad in itself. However we also see something else really important that we must consider from the beginning of Genesis.

The Fall. The Fall didn’t do away with our need to be connected or to make advances and subdue the earth but it did corrupt it.

So what do these observations from Genesis have to do with social media?

It means that there are elements about social media that are good and there are elements about social media that are not good. It means that social media is not wholly good or wholly bad. It means that we must be careful consumers. We must be proactive and evaluative, not inactive and absorptive.

I plan to post more on this subject later but here are some other relevant posts:

“Unrestricted Consumption of Electric Candy Bars”

“The Megalomania of Mass Media”

“Technology: Connected and Out of Touch”

“Delights, Deceits, and Dangers of the Digital Age”

_______________

[1] There were a lot of significant advances that we see in the beginning of Genesis. “Gardening and naming in Genesis 2, farming and clothes making in Genesis 3, city building and harp and pipe playing in Genesis 4, shipbuilding in Genesis 6, altar building in Genesis 8, fruit growing and wine making in Genesis 9, brick baking in Genesis 11, tent making in Genesis 12” (Steve Turner, Popcultured, 43).


The Storyline of Scripture

Spoiler alert. If you don’t want to know the resolution to all the twists and turns of the plot line of the Bible do not read on!

Jesus is the hero of the story. He saves the day. As Michael Emlet says, “If you read the Bible from cover to cover you realize that it narrates (proclaims!) a true and cohesive story: the good news that through Jesus Christ God has entered history to liberate and renew the world from its bondage to sin and suffering.”[i] He goes on; God “pursues the restoration of his creation at the cost of his own life. He is making all things new (Rev. 21:5)! That’s the simple and yet profound, life- and world-altering plotline of the Bible.”[ii]

The Bible is chiefly a story about God’s glory being displayed through the recompense of all things wicked, redemption of those made righteous, and finally, the reconciliation of all things in Christ.[iii] The Bible is a true story about God making the world, man messing it up, and God becoming a man to fix the world by not messing up. It is a story of Eden—exile—repeat. It is not until the true Adam, the true and righteous Son of God comes that this process is put to an end. All of Christ’s predeceases fell short; Adam, Noah, Abraham, Saul, David, Solomon, and the lambs, priests, and prophets could not fill Christ’s role.

From the beginning of time and the beginning of God’s word, the Word has been a prominent character in the script (Gen. 1:1; John 1:1). At first, the promised offspring (Gen. 3:15) is vague, in fact, Eve rejoiced because she thought she had the offspring (4:1) but it was all for naught for Cain was of the offspring of the serpent and killed his brother. However, now we have seen that which even the prophets longed to look (Matt. 13:17), we know that all Scripture finds its fulfillment in Jesus who is the long awaited Christ (2 Cor. 1:20).

When Jesus came the first time, He had no beauty or majesty. When He comes again His face will shine like the sun in full strength (Rev. 1:16). We were cast out of the garden in the beginning but as Jesus said to the thief on the cross, we will be with Him in paradise in the end. Jesus is the linchpin among all the cogs of Scripture. “The trajectory of the arrow shot from the Hebrew Scriptures finds its target (fulfillment) in Jesus of Nazareth.”[iv]

The storyline of the Bible can be understood as creation, fall, redemption, and new creation. We can see the gospel in the storyline of the Bible. God loves us even though we have rebelled against Him. He has provided forgiveness for us through Jesus Christ and if we repent of our sin and trust in Him we will enjoy Him forever in heaven.

Through the creation part of the narrative we see that God made everything (Gen. 1:1; John 1:1-3) and it was good (Gen. 1:4; 10; 12; 18; 21; 25; 31). There was no sin, no death, and no problems before man sinned. Man had perfect fellowship with God.[v]

However, the plot thickens. A cosmic problem is introduced. Through Adam’s fall, we see the collapse of the creation, which explains why everything is no longer good. Man disobeyed and rebelled (Gen. 2:16-17; 3:6) and this brought spiritual and physical death (Gen. 2:17; 3:19), pain (3:16-17), difficulties (3:18-19), and separation from God (3:23-24). This is the bad news. We deserve death and hell.

But there is good news. This is not the end of the story. Even at the beginning of the story God promised that He would send someone (that is, the Messiah/Christ) to defeat the “bad guy” (that is Satan) of the story (cf. Gen 3:15). In a similar scene, seen throughout the Bible, man’s nemesis is once again at it with him. Satan is tempting not Adam but the second Adam in the wilderness (Luke 4). However, unlike Adam in paradise the second Adam does not give into the serpent’s temptation although He is in the desert. Jesus was tempted in every way that Adam was, and we are, yet He did not sin (Heb. 4:15) and still He bore our sin upon Himself.

Jesus became man so “that through death he might destroy the one who has the power over death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14). Jesus’ heel was “bruised” at the cross but through that same cross, where He received the bruising, He struck the serpent with a definitive death blow to the head (cf. Gen. 3:15). From the cross, Jesus cried out, “It is finished!” In Jesus’ death, the devil, and death are defeated! He has delivered us from the domain of darkness (Col. 1:13). He disarmed the demonic rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them through the cross (Col. 2:15).

Jesus is the promised one (Luke 24:27, 44-46; Acts 13:23, 27; 17:3; Rom. 1:2-4; 1 Cor. 15:3-4;) who brings the redemption of all things (cf. Rom. 5:10; Col. 1:20; Titus 2:14; Gal. 3:13; Eph. 1:7, 10). He secures for us an eternal redemption by means of His own blood (Heb. 9:12). Jesus Christ is the solution to the problem; He takes our sin, our problem, upon Himself on the cross. This is the good news; Jesus is the good news! Jesus reversed the curse of sin by becoming a curse for us (Gal. 3:13). Jesus was cast out of the garden so that we could be welcomed back in. Through the one man Adam we all have condemnation yet through the one Man Jesus Christ the grace of God has abounded for many (Rom. 5:12-21).We deserved to be crushed under God’s wrath because of our sin but instead Jesus was crushed in our place (Is. 52:13-53:12). Jesus is the solution to our problem of sin, the sole solution (Jn. 14:6; Act. 4:12). Jesus is the Lamb of God, without blemish, that takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29; Heb. 9:14)!

Jesus is the good news but the good news is not static it goes on and on and on; those in Christ live happily-ever-after. In contrast, God “will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers” (Matt. 13:41) and cast them into the pit of eternal fire (Rev. 20:14-15). “They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thess. 1:9). However, for those in Christ the story of history will have a happy ending (Rom. 8:29-39).

I concur with what C.S. Lewis says in The Last Battle,

“We can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”[vi]

I believe we, upon arrival to the new Eden, will exclaim with Lewis’ Unicorn:

“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it to now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia [“old creation”] is that it sometime looked a little like this.”[vii]

Through Jesus the Christ we have the unwavering hope of a new creation (2 Peter 3:13). “The creation was subjected to futility” in Adam (Gen. 317-19) but in Christ “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8:20-21). As Isaac Watts put it in “Joy to the World,”

“No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found.”

The problem (all of them!) will be fixed and there will be no more sin (Rev. 21:27; 22:3; Matt. 13:41). Everything will be more right than it was ever wrong. We will see that God did, in fact, work all things together for good (Rom. 8:28). Christ will make a new creation and we will be like Him (1 Jn. 3:2; Rom. 8:29; 2 Peter 1:4). “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Cor. 15:49). God will fulfill our deepest desires and we will finally love the LORD our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength when we receive our glorified bodies (Deut. 30:6; Jer. 31:33-34; 32:40; Phil. 3:20-21)! There will be no more pain or problems and God will wipe away all our tears (Rev. 7:17; 21:4). We will once again be in Paradise, the New Jerusalem, and we will have fellowship with God (Rev. 21:3)!

However, this story by its nature, by the fact that it claims to be true, does not leave us alone but calls for a response. We can receive this story or we can reject it outright. God can rewrite us, as it were, into His marvelous script or He can cast us, the unruly “cast,” into hell. We must respond to this story, will we respond rightly? Will we strive to obey the God who reveals Himself?

This is the gospel, the story of all the woes of existence finding there solution in Christ.

____________

[i] Emlet, CrossTalk, 41. A true and cohesive story contained within sixty-six books written by numerous people (with one divine author) in various languages (Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic) over thousands of years! God’s word about the world being reconciled through the Word is truly amazing!

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] James M. Hamilton Jr. says that “in the broadest terms, the Bible can be summarized in four words: creation, fall, redemption, restoration” (God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 49) but the “ultimate end” of everything is “God’s glory in salvation through judgment.” He goes on to say, “The created realm (creation) is a spectacular theater that serves as the cosmic matrix in which God’s saving and judging glory can be revealed. God’s glory is so grand that no less a stage than the universe—all that is or was and will be, across space and through time—is nescessary for the unfolding of this all-encompassing drama” (Ibid., 53). See also John Piper’s book The Pleasures of God and Jonathon Edwards’ The End for Which God Created the World.

[iv] Emlet, CrossTalk, 47.

[v] Perfect in sense but not like it will be in the new creation; Adam and Eve related to God as creation to Creator and we will relate to God in the new creation as the redeemed to the Redeemer. So we will enjoy a consummated perfect fellowship with God.

[vi] C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle (New York: NY: Harper Collins, 2002), 228.

[vii] Ibid., 213.


Incarnation to New Creation

Incarnation and New Creation

Just a word and all wonders wrought,
God announced, and behold, it was all good.

Creation had communion with the Creator,
God walked in the Garden.

Yet with Adam the serpent did conspire,
and brought the world into mire.

Beckoned to the grave,
everything disarranged.

The curse burst upon the scene,
but in the midst a seed of hope was seen.

Yes, long of told
,
the Scriptures told
,
of a King who’d come.


In His wake,

death shall quake
,
and the deserts they shall bloom.

Yet, many men came and went,
was the hope of promise spent?

Many lambs, prophets, priests and kings,
yet none with true salvation in their wings.

Darkness for a time,
no prophet’s voice was heard.

Yet in the darkness,
I light it shone,
and it would overcome the darkness.

Behold, O’ world, your Prophet, Priest, and King,
Jesus the Promised seed and Lamb.

The curse brought in shall be expunged;
yes, replunged upon the Son.

Christ was crushed as promised,
but in His crushing, crushed Satan, sin, and death.

Yes, He was cursed to reverse the curse.
He felt our plight to set all things right.

Yes, creation Creator collided 

yet we did not hide

for God He brought no wrath,

there was no blood bath,

the world did not implode or explode into non-being.

Instead, angelic greeting:

“Peace on the earth,

goodwill to men”
 because the Great I AM is come.

Our Lord, Messiah, Savior in a crib.

Wonderful Counselor,

Prince of Peace,

Bright and Morning Star,

born.

He who lay the foundations of the earth,

laid in a manger.


The Infinite born,

a swaddled babe.


Yes, He that holds the nations in His hand,

grasps His mother’s hand. 


He that calls the stars by name,

spoke no name,
nor word.

He formed Himself 
in His mother’s womb. 

He upheld the nails

that held His hands.

He died for you,

for me.


He became poor

to restore our riches.


Yes, He felt our plight

to set all things right.


He was born to die,
that we might live.

The Deity 
incarnate brings

salvation in His wings.

Man once again will be in the Garden

because God’s Son walked from Gethsemane to Golgotha.
No more brier prick or thorn to stick.
All shall be made new.

When our King all subdue,
all shall be made new.

All foes to be forgotten.
Forever banished now.

Satan’s role will be revoked,

the Lord Messiah come.


The demons tremble in His wake;

the blind see,

creation glimmers,

soon the groaning’s cease.


This is the time in between,

the already and not yet.

The Kingdom has come, but not consummated;

it shall be slightly belated.

Peace on the earth,

goodwill to man,

God’s eternal plan in fruition.


The Kingdom has come in God’s Son,

the lion to lay down with the lamb.


No tent or temple,

for the LORD tabernacled.

Yahweh is Messiah.


Immanuel,

born the balm,

for the vacuum of our souls.

Yes, the myth came true in the manger.
God is no longer a stranger,

but makes Himself known in His Son.

Jesus, Joshua’s namesake, true!

The LORD our Savior come!

He was, and is, and is to come.

All things consummate(d) in Him.

Amen.

(click here for audio)


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