Maranatha Baptist Theological Journal
Maranatha Baptist Bible College Maranatha Baptist Seminary
Volume 2, Number 2
Maranatha Baptist Theological Journal www.mbbc.edu/TheStudy ISSN 2160-1623
Published semi-annually by Maranatha Baptist Bible College and Seminary 745 W. Main Street Watertown, Wisconsin 53094 920.261.9300 www.mbbc.edu www.mbbc.edu/seminary Marty Marriott, President Larry R. Oats, Editor
Communication and books for review should be addressed to the Editor: firstname.lastname@example.org, or Maranatha Baptist Theological Journal 745 W. Main Street Watertown, WI 53094 The Maranatha Baptist Theological Journal is published two times a year (spring and fall). The Maranatha Baptist Theological Journal is a ministry of Maranatha Baptist Bible College and Seminary. Copyright ÂŠ 2012 by Maranatha Baptist Bible College and Seminary. All rights reserved. Materials in this publication may not be reproduced without the permission of the Editor, except for reproduction for classroom use by students or professors.
Maranatha Baptist Theological Journal Volume Two, Number Two
INTRODUCTION ______________________________________ 123 THE WATER THAT DIVIDES: BAPTISM AND BAPTISTS 125 MARK 13:32 – PROBLEM OR PARADIGM?_____________ 140 WORLD VIEW AND MARRIAGE _______________________ 162 AN ISSUE OF CONSCIENCE __________________________ 175 BOOK REVIEWS _____________________________________ 192
Introduction The purpose of the Maranatha Baptist Theological Journal is to provide for our constituency, and for others who may be interested, articles from a Baptist, dispensational, and conservative theological position. Articles are academic and practical, biblical and theological, focused on the needs of the pastor and church leader, and, above all, faithful to Godâ€™s Word. The education of a person in ministry, whether he or she is serving in vocational ministry or as a volunteer, is a continuing process. For that reason, Maranatha publishes the Theological Journal to assist individuals in their ongoing education. Through the Journal, Sunesis, and other venues, Maranatha Baptist Seminary and Maranatha Baptist Bible College seek to assist Godâ€™s servants in whatever ways we are able. Our faculty are available to speak in churches and conferences on the topics on which they write, as well as in other areas of their expertise. We trust that you will be blessed and challenged as you read this issue of the Maranatha Baptist Theological Journal. Marty Marriott President Maranatha Baptist Bible College and Seminary Larry R. Oats Editor www.mbbc.edu www.mbbc.edu/seminary www.mbbc.edu/TheStudy
MBTJ 2/2: 125-152
The Water That Divides Baptism and Baptists Larry R. Oats1 In an article called “We Believe In: Water Baptism,” Arthur Farstad identifies a problem in the broad evangelical world: If one were writing an article on baptism for a Baptist publication – or a Church of Christ, Presbyterian, or Roman Catholic one – the task would not be too difficult. Each group has well-defined positions on all aspects of this doctrine. . . . Our readership holds differing views not only on the mode but also the meaning of baptism, and perhaps most important of all, the proper candidates for water baptism. Difficult as it may be, in this article we propose to examine the consensus of nearly all Christians on water baptism.2
His article concluded that most evangelicals agree on only three elements: water baptism confers no saving grace, baptism in some way identifies believers with Christ, and baptism is important for obedience and as a testimony to the world of the believer’s identification with Christ.3 In similar fashion, J. I. Packer states, One of the church’s unhappy divisions concerns the subject of baptism. Nobody defends baptizing all infants as such, but most denominations baptize the children of the baptized. Baptists, however, see this as either non-baptism (because infants cannot make the required confession of faith) or as irregular baptism (because, they say, it is not clearly apostolic, nor pastorally wise). Some hold that by not actually commanding infant baptism God in Scripture forbids it; all urge that to postpone baptism till faith is conscious is always in practice best. (Note that when I speak of “Baptists” here, I am referring to a whole range of Christians— members of Baptist and baptistic denominations, along with some charismatics, independents, and other evangelicals—for whom believer-baptism is the standard practice.) On the other side, some have deduced from covenant theology that God commands the baptism of believers’ babies after all. Many more maintain that this practice, though fixed by the church, has better theological, historical, and pastoral warrant than the alternative has, and so should be thought of as “most agreeable with the institution of Christ.”4
Baptism divides Baptists (and baptistic churches using Packer’s definition in the quote above) from almost all other denominations. In the current culture, baptism is frequently denigrated – the mode is unimportant, the recipient can be almost anyone, and the meaning 1 Dr. Larry R. Oats is the Dean and Professor of Systematic Theology at Maranatha Baptist Seminary. 2 Arthur L. Farstad, “We Believe In: Water Baptism,” Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society 3 (Spring 1990): 3. 3 Farstad, 7-9. 4 J. I. Packer, Growing in Christ (Wheaton: Crossway, 1996), 131.
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is uncertain. The purpose of this article is to look briefly at various historical views on baptism, examine what Scripture says on the subject, and then analyze the significance of baptism for Baptists. A Brief History of Baptism The first reference to baptism by means other than immersion is found in the Didache (written about 120 to 150). Baptism by pouring was viewed as an acceptable alternative only when it was not possible for the candidate to be immersed. And concerning baptism, baptize this way: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living [flowing] water. But if you have no living water, baptize into other water; and if you cannot do so in cold water, do so in warm. But if you have neither, pour out water three times upon the head into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit.5
The Didache allowed pouring, but the first documented case of pouring instead of immersing came a hundred years later (in about 250). The significance of this event was the effect that pouring instead of immersion had on the spiritual qualifications of the recipient. It involved a man by the name of Novatus or Novatian, who lived in Rome. Novatus was believed to be at the point of death and so was poured on in his sickbed. Baptism was viewed as the means of washing away original sin; therefore, numerous individuals waited as long as possible before being baptized so that they could wash away as much sin as possible. However, this case was unusual in that Novatus was too ill to be immersed, was therefore poured upon, but then recovered from his illness. Had he died, no one apparently would have been concerned, but he was now a healthy individual who had not been immersed. Eusebius of Caesarea described the incident and used it to argue why Novatus was not eligible for church office; it was not deemed “lawful that one baptized in his sick bed by aspersion, as he was, should be promoted to any order of the clergy.”6 Cyprian of Carthage (3rd century) wrote concerning the baptism of heretics. The developing Roman Catholic Church argued that salvation was found only in the “true Church.” Therefore, baptism by heretics was not valid, since they had no ability to confer salvation. Only the one “true Church” had the authority to baptize. Cyprian had to explain to Magnus, the recipient of his letter, concerning those who obtain God’s grace in sickness and weakness, whether they are to be accounted legitimate Christians, for that they are not to be washed, but sprinkled, with the saving water. . . . In the sacraments of salvation, when necessity compels, and God bestows His mercy, the divine methods confer the whole benefit on believers; nor ought it to trouble any one that sick people seem to be sprinkled or affused, when they obtain the Lord's grace.7
Apparently Magnus assumed that only baptism by immersion was acceptable, and Cyprian needed to correct that “error” in his thinking.
Didache, 7. Eusebius Pamphilus, The Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius Pamphilus, Bishop of Caesarea, in Palestine, 6.43. 7 Cyprian, Epistle 75: To Magnus, on Baptizing the Novatians, and Those Who Obtain Grace on a Sick-Bed, 12. 5 6
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Cyril, bishop of Jerusalem in the fourth century, stated: For thou goest down into the water . . . to be swallowed up by the terrible dragon. Having gone down dead in sins, thou comest up quickened in righteousness . . . so thou by going down into the water, and being in a manner buried in the waters, as He was in the rock, art raised again walking in newness of life.8
As late as the thirteenth century, Thomas Aquinas, who lived from 1225 to 1274 and was one of the most prominent Catholic theologians, stated, “[I]t is safer to baptize by immersion, because this is the more ordinary fashion, yet Baptism can be conferred by sprinkling or also by pouring, according to Ezekiel 36:25: ‘I will pour upon you clean water.’”9 Another change concerned the recipients of baptism. In the New Testament and until the rise of the Roman Catholic Church, baptism was reserved for believers. As baptism began to take on a salvific quality, combined with the high rate of infant mortality, the rite came to include infants. Since baptism was believed to save, it was logical to baptize infants to ensure their salvation during the years prior to being able to exercise personal faith. There also developed in the rising Roman Catholic Church a system of instruction before non-Christian adults could be baptized. This fostered the idea that people could be educated into salvation. Conversion by means of the work of the Holy Spirit was no longer necessary. Therefore, in addition to the baptism of unregenerate infants came the baptism of unregenerate adults. This was the dominant position until the Reformation. It was not, however, the only position. Prior to the Reformation there were many Bible believers who rejected Catholic theology, frequently paying a great price to do so. Numerous groups stood against Catholicism throughout much of its history. A significant group was the Waldenses. The Dean of Notre Dame in Arras, in the 14th century, declared that one-third of Christendom sometimes attended Waldensian meetings and were Waldensian at heart.10 The various non-Catholic groups were not homogenous, but the more biblical of them had significant similarities: they condemned the worldliness of the Roman church, they rejected its priesthood, they denied the validity of the sacraments, and they tried to live in biblical simplicity. A significant issue for these groups was baptism. If the church was corrupt, would not its baptism also be corrupt? If the priesthood was to be rejected, then should not baptism by such a priest also be rejected? If the sacraments did not save, then what was the purpose of baptism? If baptism was a response to personal commitment, then of what value was infant baptism? Similar to the Waldenses in Western Europe were the Paulicians in the East. The Paulicians were the enemy of the Eastern Orthodox Churches. In 1828 a colony of Paulicians moved into Armenia and brought with them an ancient manual of doctrine, which they claimed dated back a thousand years. It was translated into English as The Key of Truth. The
Cyril of Jerusalem, First Catechetical Lecture, 3.12. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 3. 7. 10 Leonard Verduin, The Reformers and Their Stepchildren (Paternoster Press, 1964), 173. The Waldenses themselves claimed to be direct descendants of the Apostles. See also Donald Bridge and David Phypers, The Water That Divides (Ross-Shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus, 1998), 69. 8 9
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three keys were repentance, baptism and holy communion. “These three He gave to the adults and not to catechumens who have not repented or are unbelieving.”11 In the Reformation the Reformers developed numerous theological distinctions from Catholicism. Baptism was not one of them. In spite of the preaching of the gospel and the destruction of the framework of medieval Christianity, the Reformers failed to replace Catholic baptism with a biblical model. Luther believed that what justifies the recipient is not the baptism, but faith in the promises which God makes in association with baptism. Infants, incapable of believing, are assisted by the faith of those who bring them to baptism and by the prayers of the witnesses. His baptismal services included exorcism, the sign of the cross, the use of salt, and the immersion of the child in water. In a sermon on baptism in 1518, he stated: First baptism is called in Greek baptismos, in Latin mersio, that is, when we dip anything wholly in water, that it is completely covered over. And although in many provinces it is no longer the custom (in other provinces it was the custom) to thrust the children into the font and to dip them; but they only pour water with the hands out of the font; nevertheless, it should be thus, and would be right, that after speaking aloud the word (baptize) the child or any one who is to be baptized, be completely sank down into the water, and dipt again and drawn out, for without doubt in the German tongue the word (taufe) comes from the word tief (deep), that a man sinks deep into the water, what he dips. That also the signification of baptism demands, for it signifies that the old man and sinful birth from the flesh and blood shall be completely drowned through the grace of God. Therefore, a man should sufficiently perform the signification and a right perfect sign. The sign rests, in this, that a man plunge a person in water in the name of the Father, etc., but does not leave him therein but lifts him out again; therefore it is called being lifted out of the font or depths. And so must all of both of these things be the sign; the dipping and the lifting out. Thirdly, the signification is a saving death of the sins and of the resurrection of the grace of God. The baptism is a bath of the new birth. Also a drowning of the sins in the baptism.12
Elsewhere Luther declared: For this reason I would have the candidates for baptism completely immersed in the water, as the word says and as the sacrament signifies. Not that I deem this necessary, but it were well to give to so perfect and complete a thing a perfect and complete sign; thus it was also doubtless instituted by Christ. The sinner does not so much need to be washed as he needs to die . . . and to be conformed to the death and resurrection of Christ, with Whom, through baptism, he dies and rises again. . . . [I]t is far more forceful to say that baptism signifies our utter dying and rising to eternal life, than to say that it signifies merely our being washed clean from sins.13
Luther argued for immersion, and he argued that infants should be baptized because they do indeed exercise faith. He based this on his belief that faith is a gift of God and has no relationship to the act of believing by the individual. “Right faith is a thing wrought by the H. Wheeler Robinson, Baptist Principles (London: Carey Kingsgate, 1935), 59. Martin Luther, “The Holy Sacrament of Baptism,” Works of Martin Luther, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan and Helmut T. Lehmann (St. Louis: Concordia, 1960), 35: 29. 13 Martin Luther, “The Babylonian Captivity,” Works of Martin Luther, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan and Helmut T. Lehmann (St. Louis: Concordia, 1960), 36: 23. 11 12
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Holy Ghost in us, which changeth us and turneth us into a new nature. How then can we insist that we know exactly when faith is granted? . . . We hopefully assume the child to be a believer and thus regenerate. The baptism then strengthens the seed of faith.”14 He believed that the helplessness of the child symbolized how the grace of God alone saves a man. Melancthon, Luther’s successor and the theologian of Lutheranism, was concerned that the elimination of infant baptism would remove the church-state relationship, set people free from the established religion, and interfere with the Reformers’ view of Christendom. Zwingli, the Zurich, Switzerland reformer, was more biblical, although politics got in the way of truth. He declared, “Nothing grieves me more than that at present I must baptize children, for I know it ought not to be done. . . . But if I were to stop the practice of Infant Baptism, I would lose my office.”15 When several of his followers began to practice believer’s baptism, Zwingli and the city council of Zurich fined, imprisoned and eventually executed those who dared to practice believer’s baptism. John Calvin was a second generation reformer.16 Calvin saw the weakness of Luther’s assumption that a true church was produced only by preaching and the sacraments. His connection with the Anabaptists17 undoubtedly affected his adoption of spiritual discipline as a third characteristic of the church. He rejected Luther’s view of infant faith, but also rejected the Anabaptists’ view of adult baptism. He was concerned that the Anabaptist view required a discontinuity between the Old Testament and New Testament. He argued that the old and new covenants are alike in foundation, meaning and purpose, differing only in the external ordinances. Since circumcision was administered to infants, so baptism can and should also be administered in the same way. He also argued that restricting baptism only to believers displaced grace from its essential position.18 Calvin recognized that New Testament baptism was by immersion. In his discussion of the geographical locale for the baptism of Jesus by John, he concluded: Now geographers tell us, that these two towns, Enon and Salim, were not far from the confluence of the river Jordan and the brook Jabbok; and they add that Scythopolis was near them. From these words, we may infer that John and Christ administered baptism by plunging the whole body beneath the water.19
He was not, however, committed to using immersion, believing (amazingly like the Roman Catholics) that the churches have the authority to make a change in mode when it suits them. Whether the person baptized is to be wholly immersed, and that whether once or thrice, or whether he is only to be sprinkled with water, is not of the least consequence: churches 14 Martin Luther, “The Holy Sacrament of Baptism,” Works of Martin Luther, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan and Helmut T. Lehmann (St. Louis: Concordia, 1960), 30: 448. 15 Verduin, The Reformers, 198-99. 16 He was only eight years old when Luther posted his theses. 17 He married the widow of an Anabaptist preacher. While he condemned them as “frenzied spirits” and “furious madmen,” he paid them the compliment of carefully defending his system against every one of their arguments. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.16.1. 18 Calvin, Institutes, 4.16. 19 John Calvin, Commentaries, John 3:22. See also Institutes, 4.15.19.
Maranatha Baptist Theological Journal should be at liberty to adopt either, according to the diversity of climates, although it is evident that the term baptize means to immerse, and that this was the form used by the primitive Church.20
Under Catholicism, pedobaptism stood for “truth” and adult baptism for evangelical “heresy.” Under Lutheranism, pedobaptism symbolized state Christianity, while adult baptism symbolized voluntary Christianity. With Calvin, pedobaptism came to represent a predestinarian view of salvation, while adult baptism accompanied an emphasis on human responsibility. Standing in opposition to both Catholicism and the Reformers during the Reformation were the Anabaptists, the “re-baptizers.” They condemned Catholicism as anti-Scriptural and the Reformation as an incomplete return to the truth of Scripture. They rejected pedobaptism and baptized only adults upon a confession of their faith in Christ; the Catholics and Reformers viewed this as “rebaptism,” but the Anabaptists protested that this was the only true baptism.21 Theologically, these Anabaptists of the Reformation era, like the earlier Waldenses, Paulicians and others, viewed baptism as an act of obedience by an adult believer. For them, it became an eloquent way of rejecting Christian sacramentalism and all it stood for. When persecution became a way of life for the Anabaptists, baptism took on an additional meaning; it became a demonstration of the believer’s willingness to “die to self,” which at that time was viewed as literal death. Conrad Grebel wrote, “He that is baptized has been planted into the death of Christ. True Christians are sheep among wolves, ready for the slaughter. They must be baptized into anguish and affliction, tribulation, persecution, suffering and death.”22 For the next three hundred years, little changed with respect to baptism in Catholicism and Protestantism. During this time, however, the modern Baptists began,23 and the truth of believers’ baptism became more prevalent. Biblical Examination of Baptism There are only eleven instances of church-related baptisms recorded in the New Testament.24 There are eight references to baptism in Paul’s writings25 and one reference in Peter.26 Calvin, Institutes, 4.15.19. Bridge and Phypers, 77. 22 Verduin, 260. 23 While there were those who held to baptistic beliefs since the first church, the modern Baptist movement began after the Reformation, when churches began to use the name “Baptist.” 24 Acts 2:37-41; 8:12-17; 8:35-38; 9:18 (and 22:16); 10:44-48; 16:13-15; 16:30-34; 18:8; 19:1-7; 1 Cor 1:14 and 1:16. Certainly more baptisms took place than were recorded. 1 Cor 1:14-16 demonstrates the normality of the baptism of believers in each church. 25 Gal 3:27; 1 Cor 1:13-17 (six references); 10:2; 12:13; 15:29 (twice); Rom 6:3-4; Eph 4:5; and Col 2:12. Some may argue that these few references would indicate the lack of importance Paul placed on baptism. Paul, however, places baptism in high esteem in Rom 6 and Eph 4. While it may be debated specifically as to which baptism Paul is referring, his readers would certainly have had immersion in water as a backdrop to each of these discussions. 26 1 Pet 3:21. 20 21
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The Mode of Baptism Baptism is by definition an immersion. “The practice of baptism in the New Testament was carried out in one way: the person being baptized was immersed or put completely under the water and then brought back up again.”27 The English word is not a translation, but a transliteration. The Greek word baptizo means “to immerse” or “to dip.”28 “Despite assertions to the contrary, it seems that baptizô, both in Jewish and Christian contexts, normally meant ‘immerse’, and that even when it became a technical term for baptism the thought of immersion remains.”29 Greek is a rich language, with a broad vocabulary. There are Greek words which mean other than immersion. louo and its related forms mean “to wash” or “to bathe.” nipto means “to wash the extremities,” as in the washing of hands or of feet.Érhantizo means “to sprinkle.” keo means “to pour.” The Greek language was fully capable of indicating which “mode” of baptism the church was to practice. In addition, the Biblical examples of baptism fit immersion better than sprinkling or pouring. In Mark 1:10, when John baptized Jesus, the text declares that they went into the Jordan and Jesus anebe “came up” apo “out of” the Jordan. Some commentators will argue that the text here does not give any indication of the mode of baptism. The question, however, is why the special language to declare that Jesus both came up and came out of the Jordan. “Inasmuch as the word ‘baptize’ means to immerse, the expression ‘coming up out of the water’ almost certainly refers to from beneath the water rather than upon the bank.”30 John the Baptist did not need a river of water if his intent was only to sprinkle or pour upon his disciples. Similar language is found in Acts 8:36-39, where Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch stopped where there was water and also went into and up out of the water. The Ethiopian was traveling through the desert; certainly he would have had a sufficient supply of water to get home. Sprinkling or pouring a small amount on his head would not have jeopardized his supply. The Joint Committees on Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Communion of the Anglican Church recognized that baptism is by immersion. “It is clear that the recipients of Baptism were normally adults and not infants; and it must be admitted that there is no conclusive evidence in the New Testament for the Baptism of infants.”31 The Greek Orthodox Church still immerses; Greeks understand that baptizo means “to immerse.” “The Service of Holy Baptism” of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America states: The Baptizing
Wayne Grudem, Making Sense of the Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 143. See Alexander Carson, Baptism in its Mode and Subjects (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1860) for a thorough defense of baptism by immersion. 29 G. R. Beasley-Murray, “Baptize,” in New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, ed. Colin Brown (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), 1: 144. 30 James A. Brooks, Mark, The New American Commentary 23 (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1991), 42-43. 31 Anglican Church Joint Committees on Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Communion, Baptism and Confirmation Today (London: SCM, 1955), 34. 27 28
Maranatha Baptist Theological Journal When he has anointed the whole body, the Priest baptizes him (her), holding him (her) erect, and looking towards the East, says: The servant of God (Name) is baptized in the Name of the Father, Amen. And of the Son, Amen. And of the Holy Spirit, Amen. At each invocation the Priest immerses him (her) and raises him (her) up again. After the baptizing, the Priest places the child in a linen sheet held by the Godparent.32
The Purpose of Baptism New Testament Baptism had its origins with John the Baptist.33 John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance for the remission of sin, a baptism that was the visible, outward expression of an inward change in attitude toward God, one’s sinfulness and need of repentance, and, this writer would suggest, toward the Jerusalem-based, unbiblical Judaism of the day (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3; Acts 13:24).34 A Jew who was baptized by John identified himself with a return to a genuine Judaism which saw mankind in need of a Savior. Jesus’ disciples baptized, in keeping with John’s baptism (John 3:22; 4:1, 2), long before Pentecost. John 1:31 also links John’s baptism to the revelation of Jesus as the Messiah. It is unlikely that the Jews of John’s day saw his baptism or the baptism by Jesus’ disciples to be a picture of the death, burial and resurrection; that linkage was to come later. Instead, John’s baptism was prompted by repentance, a return to the truth of the Old Testament, and identification of the one baptized with the Messiah concerning whom John preached. The Great Commission (Matt 28:19-20 and Mark 16:15-16) records the commandment of Jesus for his disciples to baptize believers. The order of his commandment is first to evangelize the lost, then to baptize those who believe, and finally to teach them the things Jesus had taught his disciples and would teach them through the Holy Spirit. There is an implied connection with John’s baptism, since salvation (which involves repentance) precedes the baptism and since the only baptism the disciples were familiar with up to this point in time was the baptism of repentance. This is one purpose for baptism. “For baptism is among Jesus’ commands. He sent his followers to disciple all nations, baptizing them in the triune name (Matthew 28:19). So a church that did not require baptism, and an unbaptized Christian who did not ask for it would be something of a contradiction in terms. The root reason for the practice of baptizing is to please Jesus Christ our Lord.”35 There is no hint at the baptism of the unrepentant. This commandment was first obeyed on the day of Pentecost, when some 3000 people were saved and baptized. Peter urged the people to be baptized for essentially the same reason for John’s baptism. Acts 2:38 records Peter’s call for the Jews who heard his message to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins, language essentially identical to John’s baptism. Acts 2:41, however, demonstrates a change in the concept of baptism from John’s baptism of repentance to a church-related baptism. This is the first reference to a connection http://www.goarch.org/chapel/liturgical_texts/baptism. Although there is evidence that the Jews used immersion for ritual cleansing of proselyte Jews, there is no discussion in Scripture concerning that act. 34 Luke 7:30 indicates that the Jewish religious elite refused to be baptized by John, therefore rejecting the counsel or will of God for them. 35 Packer, 96. 32 33
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between baptism and church membership, in keeping with the Great Com-mission – the people were saved, then baptized, and then came under the teaching of the disciples in the church in Jerusalem. This is New Testament baptism. The next baptism recorded in Scripture was that done by Philip in Samaria (Acts 8:12). The only information gathered here on baptism is that believers were baptized by Philip, in keeping with the Great Commission. Then Philip went down to the desert and baptized the Ethiopian eunuch, after having preached the gospel to him. There was no church and no indication of any related church membership, although Phillip was acting as an agent of the Jerusalem church. Therefore, some have suggested that he baptized him into the membership of the church; this may have been the case, but the text does not tell us this. History does, however, speak of a later vibrant church in Ethiopia, perhaps as a result of this man’s testimony. This event could be used to be warrant the baptism of new converts in a new community where a church does not yet exist, as is the case frequently in a new church plant or on the mission field. This unusual case, however, should not be viewed as the norm, for everywhere else in the New Testament baptism is clearly related to a specific church. The next baptism, recorded in Acts 9:18, is that of Paul, after his conversion on the Damascus Road (see also Acts 22:16). Immediately after his conversion and baptism, Paul is found with the believers in Damascus, engaged in Great Commission work himself. In Acts 10:48 the first Gentiles, Cornelius and others, were baptized, but little is said about the baptism itself. Acts 16:15 records the baptism of Lydia and her household. Acts 16:33 speaks of the baptism of the Philippian jailor. In each of these cases, the one who brought the message of salvation spent time with the new converts; they were starting the process of the third element of the Great Commission – teaching them the truth of Jesus Christ. In the case of Lydia and the jailor, it is clear that a church began in the city of their salvation and baptism. Acts 18:8 records the baptism of a number of believers in Corinth, and in 1 Corinthians 1:13-17 Paul gives testimony of baptizing several of the early converts in Corinth. Paul makes it clear in the context that baptism does not save; he came to evangelize, not to baptize. Nevertheless, the context indicates that the Great Commission order was followed – evangelization, followed by baptism, followed by the planting of a church where teaching occurred. Acts 19:5 presents a difficult case, and space does not permit a thorough discussion. This writer concludes that several men who were followers of John the Baptist (but apparently had no idea what John’s message truly was and so may have actually been followers of a follower of John) were baptized in the name of Jesus. The usual order of regeneration, then baptism, is evident. These passages demonstrate that the norm for the New Testament is the baptism of adult believers upon repentance and a confession of their faith in Christ,36 and usually in connection with a local church that either already existed or was being begun by a missionary. 36 Not one example of the baptism of someone other than a person old enough to confess their faith can be found in any of these events. Grudem, Making Sense, 146.
Maranatha Baptist Theological Journal Baptism in Covenant Theology
Since the Reformers, especially Calvin, argued for the connection of the New Testament church to Old Testament Israel, they tied baptism to circumcision. The covenant position is that baptism is the “sign and seal” of the union between the individual and Christ.37 Covenant theologians historically have taken two approaches to this concept. One is that of “presumptive regeneration.” Those who take this approach presume that the infant is already regenerated and proceed as if he is; these children are regarded as regenerate until they demonstrate that they are not. The second, more common, approach is that infants are baptized predicated on the all-encompassing promises of God in the covenant. The fact of the regeneration or non-regeneration of the infant makes no difference.38 Since there is only a single covenant of grace, in the covenant view, and since children were considered to be in the covenant in the Old Testament, and since God commanded that an external sign be given not just to the believing adults, but also to their children, “it is incumbent upon all God’s people to continue to put a sign of the covenant upon themselves and their children until God says otherwise. . . . [Since] baptism is identical in meaning with circumcision, it must be concluded that baptism should be used instead of circumcision.”39 Reymond ties baptism to circumcision, using a shortened reading of Col 2:11-12. “The relation between Old Testament circumcision and New Testament baptism may be seen . . . ‘in him you were also circumcised . . . , having been buried with him in baptism.’ Clearly, for Paul the spiritual import of the New Testament sacrament of baptism—the outward sign and seal of the Spirit’s inner baptismal work—is tantamount to that of Old Testament circumcision.”40 There are Baptists who would concur. Paul King Jewett, a Reformed Baptist, agrees that “the only conclusion we can reach is that the two signs, as outward rites, symbolize the same inner reality in Paul’s thinking. Thus circumcision may fairly be said to be the Old Testament counterpart of Christian baptism. . . . In this sense baptism, to quote the Heidelberg Catechism, ‘occupies the place of circumcision in the New Testament.’”41 Reymond’s conclusion is that baptism and circumcision are “essentially the same . . . a covenantal sign of the Spirit’s act of cleansing from sin’s defilement.”42 The emphasis on baptism is that it is a sign of the cleansing of sin. “Baptism is a sacrament of the new testament. . . . The outward element to be used in this sacrament is water. . . . Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary; but Baptism is rightly administered by pouring, or sprinkling water upon the person. . . . Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but also the infants of one, or both,
L. Berkhof, Manual of Reformed Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1933), 311-12, 320. Berkhof, 321-22. 39 Y. Feenstra, “Baptism (Reformed View),” in Readings in Christian Theology, ed. Millard J. Erickson (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), 3: 373. 40 Ibid., 929. 41 Paul King Jewett, Infant Baptism and the Covenant of Grace (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 89. 42 Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998), 930. 37 38
The Water That Divides
believing parents, are to be baptized.”43 The background for baptism is found in the Old Testament ritual washings (Lev 8:5-6; 14:8-9; 15) and their symbolic applications (Ps 51:1-2; 7-10; Ezek 36:25-26). The reference of baptism to cleansing (Ezek 36:25-26; John 3:5; 1 Cor 6:11; and Titus 3:5) plus the connection of baptism to circumcision in Col 2:11-12 demonstrates that “baptism signifies more specifically the cleansing or purification from sin’s defilement and guilt.”44 Reymond’s discussion of Romans 6 completely ignores the symbolism of immersion, emphasizing instead the relational character of baptism and the symbolism of union with Christ.45 As to the mode, many covenant theologians argue against immersion as the only mode or even the primary mode. Reymond argues that baptizo does not necessarily mean “immerse.” The reference to “much water” in John 3:23 only means that there was sufficient drinking water for the masses that came to John the Baptist. The references to going down into water and coming up out of water (Matt 3:16; Mark 1:9, 10; Acts 8:36-39) are inconclusive. The act of baptism “was a separate act that followed upon the going down into and preceded the coming up out of the water. . . . Clearly these acts in no way constituted any part of the baptismal act itself.” He believes that the Ethiopian eunuch may have been reading Isaiah 53:7-8 (“So will [my Servant] sprinkle many nations”) and that this made him think of baptism. The household baptisms of Saul, the Philippian jailor, and Cornelius could not have been immersions. He argues from Hebrews 9:10 and 21 that baptism and sprinkling are identical. Romans 6 relates baptism not just to Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, but also to his crucifixion (as does Col 2:11-12). Therefore, immersion cannot be argued as justifiable. Instead baptism simply symbolizes the union of the believer with Christ. Reymond’s conclusion is that “there is not a single recorded instance of a baptism in the entire New Testament where immersion followed by emersion is the mode of baptism. The Baptist practice of baptism by immersion is simply based upon faulty exegesis of Scripture.”46 Berkhof argues that “the mode is quite immaterial. . . . Jesus did not prescribe a certain mode of baptism. . . . It is not likely that the multitudes that flocked to John the Baptist, nor the three thousand converts of the day of Pentecost were baptized by immersion.”47 Reymond argues that infants should be baptized for three reasons. First, there is “no direct command ‘Baptize only those who themselves make a personal profession of faith.’” Second, the New Testament instances of baptism based upon a credible profession of faith cannot be made normative. Third, Biblical principles have the force of commands “by good and necessary inference,” which ultimately means that “the sacramental continuity between the testaments is so strong that not to baptize children of believers would require some explicit word of repeal.”48 His continuity between the testaments has forced him to develop
43 44 45 46 47 48
Reymond, 923. Reymond, 926. Reymond, 929. Reymond, 935. Berkhof, 316-17. Reymond, 936.
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an “inference” which requires him to identify circumcision with baptism. Believing parents are “to regard their children as . . . bonafide members of both the covenant of grace and the church of God.”49 He then concludes that the “Reformed paedobaptist position is, of course, based upon the unity of the covenant of grace and the oneness of the people of God in all ages.”50 Feenstra adds that the silence of the New Testament on the baptism of infants is a “thunderous affirmation that infant baptism was so taken for granted that no explicit mention of it was necessary.”51 This is a dangerous hermeneutic, for based on this all kinds of activity could be argued. Berkhof acknowledges, “There is no explicit command in Scripture to baptize children; nor is there a single instance in which we are plainly told that children were baptized. But this does not necessarily make infant baptism un-Biblical.”52 He then develops arguments similar to those already noted. In his discussion of the relationship between baptism and circumcision, Berkhof, convinced of the direct connection, argues, “The exclusion of New Testament children [from baptism] would require an equivocal statement to that effect.”53 Reymond explains that the reason only male infants were circumcised in the Old Testament, but both male and female infants are baptized in the New Testament is that God recognized and adapted himself to patriarchal culture of the Old Testament.54 This seems to be grasping at straws; the creation of the nation of Israel would seem to indicate that instead of bowing to the heathen culture of the day, God instead was creating a unique culture for his people. The various arguments favoring the sprinkling of infants are not convincing. Reymond’s “good and necessary inference” seems to be merely exegesis driven by a specific theology. This writer agrees with Wayne Ward, when he concludes that the attempt to tie baptism to circumcision “is a frantic effort to preserve a baptismal practice that arose later in church history by reading into it a meaning nowhere found in the New Testament.”55 Significance of Baptism The called are gathered into communities of believers – local churches. In fact, historically most Baptists have argued that the only manifestation of the church in the world is the local church, this gathered community of believers (however they have viewed the universal church). Nevertheless, to be part of the gathered church, the believer must be baptized. Baptists hold numerous beliefs which are related to these basic concepts. First, the authority of baptism is Christ. Our Lord commanded his disciples to baptize; no one has a right to alter his commandment. He did not tell believers to be baptized in the 49 50 51 52 53 54 55
Reymond, 937. Reymond, 937. Feenstra, 374. Berkhof, 319. Berkhof, 320. Berkhof, 320. Wayne E. Ward, “The Conflict over Baptism,” Christianity Today 11 (April 1967): 11.
The Water That Divides
Jordan, or to be baptized in a river, or to be baptized inside a church building, but he did say, be baptized; therefore, Baptists do not insist on the Jordan, or a river, or any other particular circumstance, but they do insist on baptizing.56 Baptist ecclesiology is based on the authority of the New Testament. Baptists generally accept baptism only from those institutions they consider to be truly baptistic, not because Baptists are necessarily opposed to these institutions, but because they have no choice but to accept the authority of Scripture. Denominational names are not conclusive; a church need not have “Baptist” in the name to be Baptist, and, conversely, not every church with the name “Baptist” is truly a Baptist church. Likewise, successionism is not necessary; a direct historical connection back to Jerusalem is not required for a church to be genuinely New Testament. In addition, the decision concerning what constitutes a church cannot be delegated to a convention or association. A true church is, in and of itself, responsible to the authority of Christ and the Scriptures. Second, Baptists have historically insisted on immersion, primarily because the form is tied to the meaning. Much of Christendom has changed the form of baptism to pouring or sprinkling, even though most scholars agree that baptism in the New Testament was by immersion. A change in the form causes the loss of its power as a witness to the death and resurrection of Christ. Romans 6:3-4 and Colossians 2:12 use immersion to picture the death, burial and resurrection of Christ and of the believer. The Scriptures speak of being baptized into Christ’s death, being buried with him by baptism, and being planted in the likeness of his death and resurrection. Based on Romans 6, Erickson argues, “There is a strong connection between baptism and our being united with Christ in his death and resurrection.”57 Sprinkling and pouring do not illustrate this truth in any sense. Many interpreters view Paul as referring to Spirit baptism, but whether the reference is Spirit baptism or water baptism, Paul is using the concept of immersion as a symbol for the Christian’s initial conversion experience. The question is not what is the most appropriate manner of performing the rite of baptism, but what is the act to be performed. When someone attempts to alter the act, Baptists object. It is not merely a change in the mode of baptism to which we object. A change in the mode, we contend, is a change in the act. Sprinkling is not simply a change in the mode of baptism. Sprinkling simply is not baptism; pouring is not baptism. Immersion, and immersion alone, is baptism. Without immersion, the symbolism is not merely defective; the symbolism is nonexistent. Third, Baptists insist on the baptism of believers. Baptists reject infant baptism. There is no direct evidence of infant baptism in the New Testament. There is significant evidence that only believers were baptized. Every one baptized in the New Testament was able to express his or her faith in Christ and willfully choose his own baptism.
John A. Broadus, Immersion Essential to Christian Baptism (Watertown, WI: Roger Williams Heritage Archives, 1880; 2003), 5-6. This writer understands that baptize in the Great Commission is a participle, but it is used in an imperatival construction. 57 Millard Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), 1109. 56
Maranatha Baptist Theological Journal
Fourth, any discussions about baptism must focus on meaning. Baptism is a public declaration of the believer’s connection to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the New Testament baptism followed salvation almost immediately (see Acts 2:38-41; 8:12; 9:1718; 16:30-33). Some see it as the “confession with the mouth” which, when preceded by “belief in the heart,” announces salvation (Rom 10:9).58 Baptism “into” the name of Jesus Christ is best described as a declaration of identification with the Savior. Historically, baptism was the way believers announced their conversion to Christianity in a variety of denominations. A question was raised in the Philadelphia Association in 1763 as to whether it was the duty of the pastor or the duty of the church “to examine the candidates, and to judge of their qualifications for Baptism.”59 The question was not whether a person should be examined; it was only a question of whose responsibility was it. David Benedict, referring to Daniel Marshall, stated, “He became acquainted with a Baptist church, belonging to the Philadelphia Association; and as the result of a close, impartial examination of [his] faith and order, he [was] baptized by immersion, in the forty-eighth year of his life.”60 Adoniram Judson spoke of examining and baptizing converts in Burma.61 Benedict, in his biography of John Gano, pastor of the First Baptist Church of New York City and later Army Chaplain under George Washington, stated that one of Gano’s first duties as an ordained minister was to “examine candidates for baptism, who related what God did for their souls.”62 It was during the growth of the revivalist movement in the latter half of the 19th century that the public declaration by means of baptism was replaced with the altar call. Under this new approach, a person would proclaim his salvation by walking the aisle and having the pastor or evangelist announce that the person had become a believer. Baptism was optional for some of these evangelists. In many Baptist churches, baptism was pushed back until after a time of training and education. Fifth, Baptists argue that baptism is the means of entry into a New Testament church; therefore, Baptists demand it as a precondition for membership. A few Baptists (particularly British Baptists) practice “open membership.”63 Members are accepted upon their confession of faith, but baptism is an issue of personal conviction. Most Baptists, however, practice “closed membership.” Members are only accepted upon a confession of faith and baptism by immersion after salvation. Anything else imperils the very testimony that Baptist churches have historically held. Baptism was designed and instituted as an initial rite. It is the first duty required of believers after repentance and faith, and is Christ’s own appointed mode of professing Bridge and Phypers, 153. David Spencer, Early Baptists of Philadelphia (Philadelphia: William Syckelmoore, 1877), 90. 60 David Benedict, A General History of the Baptist Denomination in America (Boston: Lincoln and Edmands, 1813), 2: 352. 61 J. Clement, Memoir of Adoniram Judson: Being a Sketch of His Life and Missionary Labors (Auburn: Derby and Miller, 1853), 214. 62 Benedict, 2: 305. 63 A common argument is that a closed approach to membership puts Baptists in danger of becoming a sect. Bridge and Phypers, 152. 58 59
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allegiance to him before the world. It is in its nature an initiatory badge of discipleship, required to be administered and received before admission to the church. The very first record of the progress of the gospel under the labors of the apostles, shows the order of church building in those days.64
Conclusion Baptism is truly the “Water that Divides.” Baptists historically have held to the immersion of believers, upon their confession of faith, as the initiatory rite of obedience to Christ and, with rare exception, entrance into the membership of the local church. This is not merely a denominational difference. Baptists hold to their belief because it is based upon the authority of Christ and Scripture, because of the significance of the act, because of the biblical necessity of baptism only for believers, because it symbolically connects the believer to Christ, and because of its relationship to the local church. Some believe baptism creates an “unhappy division” in Christendom. Baptists argue, instead, that it creates a joyful obedience to Christ and to his commandments.
64 H. L. Gear, The Relation of Baptism to the Lord’s Supper (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1880), 23.
MBTJ 2/2: 153-191
Mark 13:32 Problem or Paradigm? Timothy Miller1 “But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father” (Mk 13:32). Mark may not have even slightly hesitated his pen stroke as he recorded these words of Jesus.2 His readers, however, have spent hours over those three essential words — “nor the Son.” What does it mean that the Son does not know? Has Mark jeopardized the divinity of Christ? Has the text been corrupted? Might there be another definition for “know”? Could the Son be someone different than Christ Himself? This seemingly enigmatic text has elicited a legion of questions of which the previous are merely a sample. So stunning is Mark’s lucid portrayal of Christ’s ignorance that one writer concluded that the verse “has been an exegetical embarrassment from the beginning.”3 Many pastors have felt the weight of this dilemma. They, seeking to preach the whole counsel of God, work methodically through Mark until they reach chapter 13. At this point, two problems emerge. First, the eschatological focus of the text often places expositors on uncomfortable soil. However, nestled within that uncomfortable soil rests the second problem—the “exegetically embarrassing” text of Mark 13:32. Facing this difficulty, some pastors question their exegetical method and choose to skip the selected passage. Others generalize and avoid making definitive comments. There is a better way. In order to expose this more efficient option, this article will survey the landscape of solutions available to interpreters for the Markan quandary. We will find that many avenues have been traveled in an attempt to alleviate the force of Mark’s words. Each avenue will be examined to determine its biblical warrant. Having examined the proposed solutions, we will focus on one in particular which has gathered strong support within orthodox Christianity. Finally, we will argue that Mark 13:32 should not be looked at as an exegetical embarrassment, but as a clear paradigm for God’s interaction with his creatures. As such, pastors should not shy from preaching Mark 13:32, but should boldly proclaim its message. Proposed Solutions Certainly this article cannot exhaust the various opinions concerning the Markan text; nevertheless, the major opinions through church history can be fruitfully surveyed. The
Timothy Miller is Assistant Professor of Bible and Apologetics at Maranatha Baptist Bible College. 2 ”It is likely that this issue, and the embarrassment which it brings to his text at 13:32, would not have occurred either to him or to his readers.” R.T. France, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 544. 3 Ralph P. Martin, Mark, Evangelist and Theologian (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973), 124. 1
Mark 13:32 – Problem or Paradigm?
survey will begin by examining some views that are either heretical or close to becoming heretical. Unbiblical Solutions Arianism Arianism was the major issue leading to the Christological debates of the third and fourth century. Arianism was the breeding ground of debate because its founder, Arius, believed that Jesus was created. As such, Jesus was not equal with the Father; neither was the Holy Spirit equal with the Father. It is not surprising, then, that Mark 13:32 became a central text in the debate; not only did it explicitly claim ignorance on the part of the Son, but if the “Father alone” knows, then the Holy Spirit is likewise ignorant. Athanasius (d. 373), remembered as the defender of the modern Trinitarian formulation, said of the Arians, “For being in great ignorance as regards [Mark 13:32], and being stupefied about them, they think they have in them an important argument for their heresy. But I, when the heretics allege it . . . see in them the giants again fighting against God.”4 It is beyond the scope of this article to fully challenge the claims of Arianism. Athanasius and the Cappadocian fathers, as church history proves, provided a sufficient defense of a biblical Trinity. For our purposes, it is important to see that Arianism sought to solve the problem of Mark 13:32 by attributing it to a false theological system. Because the system is foreign to Scripture, the interpretation is found to be foreign as well. Non-Essentialism A second unbiblical approach to the Markan quandary challenges the essential nature of God. Proponents of this view claim that omniscience is not essential to the being of God. With this interpretation, there is no problem in Mark, for Jesus can be God and ignorant of a fact at the same time. Kris Udd explains the logic of the position: Because Jesus clearly states that he is ignorant of an event, and because the New Testament clearly teaches that he was divine, we ought to follow the text in concluding that omniscience is not essential to divinity. Omniscience, according to the New Testament, is a contingent attribute of divinity. It is an attribute that is normal for God to have, but not necessary to his existence as God.5
Udd cites Franz Delitzsch in support of his position. Delitzsch serves only to compound the problems for the view, for in response to those who hold an orthodox view he says, These all proceed upon the supposition, that the Logos, if He surrender His omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence, ceases to be God. But this assumption contradicts the declarations of the God-man Himself, who in the Gospels disclaims for Himself these attributes, and still does not thereby disclaim the divine nature. The historical Christ is of
Athanasius, “Four Discourses Against the Arians,” 3.28.42. Kris J. Udd, “Only The Father Knows: A Response to Harold F. Carl,” Journal of Biblical Studies 1.4 (2001), http://journalof biblicalstudies.org/issue4.html (accessed December 4, 2009). 4 5
Maranatha Baptist Theological Journal more importance to me than the unhistorical defenders of His divinity, and the bugbears of their bungling conclusions.6
The non-essentialist view, then, claims omnipresence are not essential attributes of God.
Again, a lengthy response is not possible here. Nevertheless, it is important to determine the essential attributes of God. For non-essentialism, anything attributed to Christ, which is contrary to an attribute of God, is considered a contingent attribute for God. Thus, along with omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence, nearly every other attribute is brought into question. This Kenotic Christology had never been taught prior to the nineteenth century.7 Based on an errant interpretation of Philippians 2, Kenotic Christology asserts that Jesus “emptied” Himself of divine attributes.8 Udd follows Kenotic theology as he dismisses omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence in an effort to alleviate the inherent tensions in the incarnation.9 The benefit of a Kenotic Christology is that it releases one from a paradoxical solution. The central problem, however, is that Kenotic Christology strips Jesus of divinity. Grudem states, “If the kenosis theory were true . . . then we could no longer affirm Jesus was fully God while he was here on earth.”10 God’s nature demands that He retain all of His attributes.11 Any being without omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence is less than and in no way equal to God. Thus, the god presented in the Kenosis theory is merely a human who claimed divinity.12 In sum, the Kenotic solution to Mark 13:32 does more than relieve the tension; it also destroys the gospel. Jesus Misled the Disciples A final unbiblical response to Mark 13:32 claims that Jesus misled the disciples for their benefit. It was not yet time for them to hear, and it would have been detrimental to the 6
Franz Delitzsch, A System of Biblical Psychology, 2nd ed. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1867), 385
fn 2. Unfortunately a lengthy response to the interpretation of Philippians 2 is beyond the scope of this paper. For further analysis see, Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 550. 8 Ibid., 549-552. 9 Grudem is correct when he notes that the Kenotic theory had its beginning because, “It just seemed too incredible for modern rational and ‘scientific’ people to believe that Jesus Christ could be truly human and fully, absolutely God at the same time.” Udd’s article exemplifies this modernistic trend. In the end, his Kenotic theology seeks to avoid the inherent paradox in the incarnation. See, Udd, “Only the Father Knows” and Grudem, Systematic Theology, 551. 10 Grudem, Systematic Theology, 551. 11 Oliphint succinctly notes that “God is essentially God; there is nothing in him that is in any way contingent or otherwise not necessary.” See K. Scott Oliphint, Reasons for Faith: Philosophy in the Service of Theology (Phillipsburg: P & R, 2006), 307. 12 Though Udd would never accept this portrayal of his position, he comes close to saying it himself: “The fact that Jesus did evidence supernatural power and knowledge on various occasions indicated that he came from the Father, but those actions in and of themselves were not necessarily indicators of divinity. . . . It hardly seems coincidental that Jesus performed no miracles until after the Holy Spirit came upon him at his baptism, and that the disciples performed those same deeds through the power of the Holy Spirit.” Udd, “Only the Father Knows.” 7
Mark 13:32 – Problem or Paradigm?
disciples if he had answered them. Ephraim Syrus may have stated this position most clearly when he said, “Christ, though He knew the moment of His advent, yet that they might not ask Him any more about it, said I know it not.”13 The best critique of this position is offered by Theodoret of Cyrus (d. 457) who said, “If He knows the day, but says that He is ignorant with the wish to hide it, you see in what a blasphemy the conclusion issues. For the truth lies and could not properly be called truth if it has any quality opposed to truth.”14 How could the Truth—Jesus Christ—be found false? To alleviate the problem by placing deception on the lips of Jesus is not an appropriate way to solve the dilemma. Text Critical Solutions Another popular way of treating the Markan quandary is to contend that it is a foreign intrusion into the biblical text. Ambrose may have been the first one to popularize such a position. He contends that “the ancient Greek manuscripts do not contain the words, neither the Son. But it is not to be wondered at if they who have corrupted the sacred Scriptures, have also falsified this passage. The reason for which it seems to have been inserted is perfectly plain, so long as it is applied to unfold such blasphemy.”15 Jerome (d. 420) apparently agrees with Ambrose for he says, “In some Latin manuscripts is added: ‘nor the Son,’ though in the Greek copies, and especially those of Adamantius and of Pierius, this addition is not found.”16 James Brooks, a modern commentator on Mark’s gospel, appears to believe that this interpretation is still held today, for he says that “scholarly opinion is divided over the authenticity of the words ‘nor the Son.’”17 There is certainly warrant for doubting the authenticity of the phrase in the gospel of Matthew. Many manuscripts lack the expression “nor the Son.”18 The textual evidence in Mark, however, is astoundingly in favor of the phrase in question. Vincent Taylor notes only a ninth-century codex and one Vulgate manuscript which omit the phrase.19 The textual omissions for which Jerome and Ambrose contend are either lost to history or were greatly exaggerated.20 Quoted in Charles Gore, Dissertations on Subjects Connected with the Incarnation (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1895), 130. 14 Theodoret, “Counter-statements to Cyril’s 12 Anathemas,” IV. 15 Ambrose, “Exposition of the Christian Faith,” trans. H. Romestin, New Advent, 5.16. 192, http://www.newadvent.org /fathers/34045.htm (accessed December 4, 2009). 16 Jerome, Commentary on Matthew, trans. Thomas P. Scheck (US: CUA, 2008), 277. 17 James A. Brooks, Mark (Nashville: Broadman, 1991), 217. 18 Charles Powell, a PhD in New Testament from Dallas Theological Seminary, has contributed a thorough essay on this topic. “The Textual Problem of ‘oude ho huios’ in Matthew 24:36,” Bible.org, 2004, http://bible.org/article/textual-problem-font-facegreekoujdev-oj-uijovfont-matthew-2436 (accessed December 4, 2009). 19 Vincent Taylor, The Gospel According to St. Mark: The Greek Text with Introduction, Notes, and Indexes, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981), 522. 20 In fact, the translator and commentator of Jerome’s commentary notes that the Greek mss. support is in favor of the omitted phrase. He further notes that one of Jerome’s two sources actually contains the phrase in question, and Jerome must be referring not to a mss. but to the writings of the author. See Jerome, Commentary on Matthew, 277 fn 119-120. 13
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Along with the questionable manuscript support there is one other significant reason to doubt the credibility of the text critical solution: Why would someone insert the phrase into the text? Ambrose believed it was the Arians. However, this solution is problematic, for the distribution and proliferation of the manuscripts preceded the controversy in question. Others have claimed that Christians inserted the phrase to alleviate the problem of a delayed parousia.21 However, as Brooks notes, “If the church felt a need to absolve Jesus from predicting an early return . . . it would have found a way to do it without attributing ignorance to him.”22 Surely the early church could have constructed a better way to handle the problem than cause a larger one. Thus, Taylor summarizes why the phrase, though controversial, should be accepted: “Its offence seals its genuineness.”23 Exegetical Solution One of the more distinctive solutions to the problem in Mark is proposed by Basil of Caesarea (d. 379). Instead of proposing the text had been modified, he proposed that the text has been misinterpreted. The Scripture has not been tampered; it has merely been misunderstood. His contribution is not original, but was what he received in instruction as a child.24 Basil essentially agreed with common interpretation of the text until the final line. Nearly all interpreters translate the last line (ei me ho pater monos), “but only the Father.” However, due to the variegated use of in Scripture, it could be translated, “if not the Father.” Thus Basil contends the text really says, “No man knows, neither the angels of God; nor yet the Son would have known unless the Father had known. . . . Mark’s sense, then, is as follows: of that day and of that hour knows no man, nor the angels of God; but even the Son would not have known if the Father had not known, for the knowledge naturally His was given by the Father.”25 Basil’s reading is attractive in that it not only alleviates the Markan problem, but also turns it on its head. No longer is the text apparently denying Jesus’ omniscience, now it is asserting both the divinity and omniscience of God.26 Despite the benefits of this approach, however, it appears strained. This is far from the most obvious reading of the text.27 Further, the adjective only in the Matthew parallel seems to bring doubt on this interpretation.28 In Carl, though not ascribing to the position, describes it well. See Harold F. Carl, “Only the Father Knows: Historical and Evangelical Responses to Jesus’ Eschatological Ignorance in Mark 13:32,” Journal of Biblical Studies 1.3 (2001), http:// journalofbiblicalstudies.org/issue3.html (accessed December 4, 2009). 22 Brooks, Mark, 217. 23 Taylor, The Gospel According to St. Mark, 522. 24 Basil of Caesarea, “Letter 236 to Amphilochius,” trans. Blomfield Jackson, New Advent, 1, http://www.newadvent.org /fathers/3202236.htm (accessed December 1, 2009). 25 Basil of Caesarea, “Letter 236 to Amphilochius,” 2. 26 Francis X. Gumerlock, “Mark 13:32 and Christ’s Supposed Ignorance: Four Patristic Solutions,” Trinity Journal 28.2 (2007): 205-213. 27 Basil recognized that his answer would not convince everyone—particularly the unregenerate— for he says that his answer “may . . . suffice to convince all that love the Lord, and in whom the previous assurance supplied them by faith is stronger than any demonstration of reason.” Basil of Caesarea, “Letter 236 to Amphilochius,” 1. 28 Gumerlock, “Mark 13:32,” 207. 21
Mark 13:32 – Problem or Paradigm?
Matthew the text reads: “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” Gumerlock summarizes the weakness of this approach succinctly: “Although Basil’s understanding of the passage springs from the language of the biblical text itself, to me it seems like he is forcing a theological presupposition into a biblical text for polemical reasons, rather than accepting the natural reading of the text.”29 Semantic Solutions One of the more popular solutions to the Markan quandary relies upon the flexibility of language. For instance, what does the text mean when it says that Jesus did not know? Is the semantic range of know broader than most interpreters have allowed? Further, Son and Father are proven to have wide ranges of meaning in Scripture. The semantic solutions explore whether an alternative definition of key terms can explain the Markan enigma. Son and Father Gregory of Tours (d. 594) offered a semantic solution to Mark 13:32 when he suggested that Son was not referring to Jesus, but to the people of God. His solution comes amidst a reply to the Arians: We shall here make answer to the heretics who attack us, asserting that the Son is inferior to the Father since he is ignorant of this day. Let them learn that the Son here is the name applied to the Christian people, of whom God says: “I shall be to them a Father and they shall be to me for sons.” For if he had spoken these words of the onlybegotten [sic] Son he would never have given the angels first place. For he uses these words: “Not even the angels in heaven nor the Son,” showing that he spoke these words not of the only-begotten but of the people of adoption.30
It is evident from this quote that there are two main reasons Gregory holds to this interpretation. First, Gregory imports 2 Cor 6:18 as an interpretive grid for Mark 13:32. By quoting 2 Corinthians, Gregory is asserting that the semantic range of the references in Mark 13:32 can have a broader meaning than has historically been recognized. Second, the order of beings in the passage—going from angels to Son—displays that he could not be talking about Christ, who should always receive preeminence. While recognizing that Gregory has appropriately understood the value of semantic range, his attribution of 2 Cor 6:18 to the current passage seems more than dubious. First, in 2 Corinthians God is the speaker not Christ. However, in the current passage, Gregory seems to imply that Jesus is the Father. Second, in 2 Corinthians God references His people in the plural, but here the reference is singular. If Jesus meant to speak of the people of God, one would expect the plural. Third, on this interpretation Jesus would be saying, “No one knows the day, not the angels, not the people of God, but only Me.” But the disciples already knew that the people of God did not know the last day—that is why they were asking him! Finally, the context of the gospel is the context of Jesus as Son and God as Father. This is Ibid. Gregory of Tours, “History of the Franks,” trans. Ernest Brehaut, Fordham University, “Prologue to Book One,” http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/gregory-hist.html (accessed December 1, 2009). 29 30
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the common sense reading of the text; to force an interpretation from 2 Corinthians seems unjustified. Gregory’s second beam of support—that “Son” would have been mentioned first if it was referencing Christ—is a strange assertion. Most commentators view the relationship in an ascending order of authority: from angels (3) to the Son of God (2), and then to the Father (1). Gregory’s interpretation mixes the order: the angels (3) to the people of God (4), and then to Christ (2). Further, Gregory has to prove that Mark is concerned with prioritizing his listings in the way that Gregory assumes. Couldn’t Mark have mentioned the Son first for emphasis? Gregory has to prove that Mark would not. Overall, Gregory provides a noble attempt to alleviate the problem presented in Mark 13:32, but since he relies on a foreign interpretive grid, his solution is not compelling. Know Means Experience Another semantic solution is provided by Origen (d. 254). He maintained that interpreters misunderstand Mark’s use of know. Instead of head knowledge, Jesus is referencing experiential knowledge. So Origin says, “‘To know’ is given its own special meaning here (as is customary with sacred Scripture), for only he who remains to meet its arrival will know that day and hour.”31 Undoubtedly Origen is right that Scripture has more than one meaning for the verb “know.” In the Old Testament Adam is said to “know” his wife Eve in sexual encounter (Gen 4:1). The Hebrew word yd’ can have this experience-based meaning.32 However, oida, the Greek word Mark employs, does not have an experience-based definition in the book of Mark. None of the twenty-one times Mark uses the word—including the use only two verses later— have the experience-based meaning. In fact, according to Louw and Nida, oida is never used in this sense in the New Testament.33 Thus, Origen is transferring the semantic range of a word in one language to the semantic range of a similar word in another language. A second problem inherent to Origen’s proposal is that the Father would have to be presently experiencing the last days in order for the interpretation to make sense. That is, if the Son and the angels do not know (experience), but the Father does, then the Father must be currently experiencing the final days. Perhaps Origen’s view of God’s relation to time answers the present predicament; if so, however, he would also have to account for why the Father, who is eternal and timeless, is experiencing the last days, but the Son, who is likewise timeless and eternal, is not. Ultimately, Origen’s proposal may have escaped one dilemma only to arrive at another.
Quoted from Manlio Simonetti, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Matthew 14-28 (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2002), 207. 32 Francis Brown, S. Driver, and C. Briggs, Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996), Accordance 7.1. 33 However, ginosko is used this way (Matt. 1:25) and certainly would have been the word Mark would have used if he had meant “to experience.” See Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains, 2nd ed. (United Bible Societies, 1988), Accordance 7.1. 31
Mark 13:32 – Problem or Paradigm?
Know Means Reveal The most popular semantic solution to Mark 13:32 is found in the writing of Hilary of Poitiers.34 He, like Origen, believed that “know” in this context had a different meaning than its normal usage. Instead of proposing that “know” is experience-based, Hilary posited that “know” means to reveal or act. To Hilary this means, “Whenever God says that He does not know, He professes ignorance indeed, but is not under the defect of ignorance. It is not because of the infirmity of ignorance that He does not know, but because it is not yet the time to speak or the divine plan to act.”35 The implication of this view is that if Jesus had said he knew, he would have had to reveal the time. Therefore, Hilary can say that “God’s knowledge is not the discovery of what he did not know, but its declaration. The fact that the Father alone knows, is no proof that the Son is ignorant: he says that he does not know, that others may not know: That the Father alone knows, to show that he Himself also knows.”36 On Hilary’s interpretation, Christ’s admission of ignorance had two effects. First, it answered the query of the disciples by noting that the time to reveal had not yet come. Second, it assured the disciples that Jesus actually did know, since the Father knew. Augustine (d. 430) also endorsed this semantic solution: “[The Son] is ignorant of [that day], as making others ignorant; that is, in that He did not so know at that time to show His disciples.”37 Augustine believed that the solution to the problem of Mark 13:32 was as simple as understanding a figure of speech. In a letter to a friend Augustine wrote, It is no falsehood to call a day joyous because it renders men joyous, or a lupine harsh because by its bitter flavour it imparts harshness to the countenance of him who tastes it, or to say that God knows something when He makes man know it. . . . These are by no means false statements, as you yourself readily see. Accordingly, when the blessed Hilary explained this obscure statement of the Lord, by means of this obscure kind of figurative language, saying that we ought to understand Christ to affirm in these words that He knew not that day with no other meaning than that He, by concealing it, caused others not to know it, he did not by this explanation of the statement apologize for it as an excusable falsehood, but he showed that it was not a falsehood, as is proved by comparing it not only with these common figures of speech, but also with the metaphor, a mode of expression very familiar to all in daily conversation. For who will charge the man who says that harvest fields wave and children bloom with speaking falsely, because he sees not in these things the waves and the flowers to which these words are literally applied?38
Following Hilary closely, Augustine also noted that Mark 13:32 is not showing a weakness in Christ but is showing Christ’s omniscience. Thus, both Augustine and Hilary claim that the text defends the omniscience of Christ rather than bring it into question. In sum, Augustine can say that “the text ‘the Father alone knows’ is correctly grasped if Hilary is extremely hard to interpret on this issue. In the same article he posits multiple views: (1) Jesus knew, but said that he did not; (2) knowing means revealing; (3) ignorance should be attributed to Jesus’ human nature; and (4) it is a mystery how Jesus can know and not know at the same time. Hilary of Poitiers, “On the Trinity,” 9.63-75. 35 Ibid., 9.63. 36 Ibid., 9.71. 37 Augustine, “On the Trinity,” 1.12.23. 38 Augustine, “Letter to Oceanus,” 3. 34
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understood to say that he causes the Son to know, and the text ‘The Son does not know,’ if understood to say that the Son causes men not to know, i.e., does not disclose to them what would serve no useful purpose for them to know.”39 Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274), another giant of Catholicism, followed Hilary and Augustine in proposing this view. Of Mark 13:32, Aquinas said, “This text is to be interpreted in the light of the usual style of speech found in the Scriptures, in which God is said to know a thing when He imparts knowledge of that thing, as when He said to Abraham, in Genesis 22:12: ‘Now I know that you fear God.’”40 In fact, Aquinas joins Hilary and Augustine in chorus as they each base their understanding of know on the Old Testament concept portrayed in Genesis 22. In that chapter, God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, Abraham’s only son. Moments before the slaughter commenced, the Angel of the Lord called out to Abraham and said, “Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me” (Genesis 22:12). Hilary, Augustine, and Aquinas agree that God already knew Abraham would obey; God’s purpose in the divine display was to show Abraham what God already knew.41 Transporting this understanding of “know” to Mark 13:32 allows Christ to be cognitively aware of the day, but not yet willing to divulge the information to the disciples. There are at least two theologians in recent centuries who have promoted this view. First, Lewis Sperry Chafer (d. 1952) espoused the view. He compared Mark 13:32 to 1 Cor 2:2. In the latter passage, Paul writes, “For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” Chafer believed that the passages held the same form of “know”: “The thought is not to make known, or not to cause another to know. The truth mentioned was not then, as to its time, committed either to the Son or to the angels to publish.”42 The second writer, William G. T. Shedd (1894), named this form of “ignorance” as “official.”43 By giving the phenomena a name, he hoped to clearly distinguish the different forms of knowledge and ignorance displayed in Scripture. Shedd seeking, as those before him, to establish the “official” ignorance of Christ cited Matthew 11:27: “No one knoweth the Son but the Father, neither knoweth anyone of the Father but the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.” Shedd explains this verse: “A particular Trinitarian person is officially the one to reveal another, and in this reference the others do not officially reveal, and so are officially ‘ignorant.’”44 By referencing 1 Cor 2:2 and Matt 11:27, the modern writers were seeking to situate their definition of “know” securely in the New Testament. Augustine, Eighty-Three Different Questions, 114. Thomas Aquinas, Compendium Theologiae, trans. Cyril Vollert (St. Louis: B. Herder Book Co., 1947), 242, http://www.josephkenny.joyeurs.com/CDtexts/Compendium.htm (accessed December 1, 2009). 41 Thomas Aquinas, “Summa Theologica,” New Advent, 3.10.2, http://www.newadvent.org/summa/4010.htm (accessed December 1, 2009); Hilary of Poitiers, “On the Trinity,” 64; Augustine, Eighty-Three Different Questions, 114-115. 42 Lewis Sperry Chafer, “Trinitarianism,” Bibliotheca Sacra 97 (1940): 401. 43 William Greenough Thayer Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, 3rd ed. (Phillipsburg: P & R, 2003), 319. 44 Ibid. 39 40
Mark 13:32 – Problem or Paradigm?
The official ignorance position proposed by Hilary, Augustine, Aquinas, Chafer, and Shedd is the most consistent of the semantic solutions. Each man has sought to establish from Scripture a definition of know which includes the idea of revealing. Indeed, this understanding of know is present in Scripture as their cross referencing has clearly shown.45 However, it is doubtful whether this semantic range is present in Mark. Out of the twentyone uses of oida in Mark, none can be construed to mean “reveal.”46 Further problems exist with this interpretation. If the meaning of “know” is expanded over the whole context, the meaning makes little sense: But of that day or hour no one reveals, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. Take heed, keep on the alert; for you do not reveal when the appointed time will come. It is like a man away on a journey, who upon leaving his house and putting his slaves in charge, assigning to each one his task, also commanded the doorkeeper to stay on the alert. Therefore, be on the alert—for you do not reveal when the master of the house is coming, whether in the evening, at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— in case he should come suddenly and find you asleep. (Mark 13:32-36 modified from NASB)
Due to the context, Calvin opposes this interpretation: “According to [some] men, Christ did not know the last day, because he did not choose to reveal it to man. But since it is manifest that the same kind of ignorance is ascribed to the angels, we must endeavor to find some other meaning which is more suitable.”47 Though Calvin took issue with the angels’ inclusion with the Son, the most problematic aspect seems to be the dramatic shift in the meaning of “know” throughout the context. Combined with the fact that οιδα lacks this definition anywhere in the book of Mark, it appears that giving the word this definition here is purely speculative and unwarranted. Two-Nature Solutions The vast majority of Evangelical theologians today hold a two-nature solution to Mark 13:32. This solution is the fruit of decades of Christological debate, where the nature of Christ and the nature of His incarnation were deliberated. Specifically, the two-nature approach owes its present form to the council of Chalcedon in 451, which solidified the doctrine of the hypostatic union. The Chalcedonian creed was a landmark in church history, and continues to hold a central part in modern Christology. Though there were some who held to a two-nature solution before the Chalcedonian creed, their formulations would have been more consistent had they have had access to such a clear exposition of the nature of Christ’s incarnation: Therefore, following the holy fathers, we . . . teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man . . . of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the Gumerlock, “Mark 13:32.” Verse 34, the very next verse, would make little sense at all given this definition of “know.” It would say, “Take heed, keep on the alert; for you do not reveal when the appointed time will come.” 47 See John Calvin and William Pringle, “Commentary on Matthew, Mark, Luke,” Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 3.36, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom33.toc.html (accessed December 1, 2009). 45 46
Maranatha Baptist Theological Journal same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; . . . recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Onlybegotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us.48
All of the two-nature approaches rely on the distinction provided in the Chalcedonian creed. Though there are some differences among the views—particularly how the attributes of both natures interact—they all share an appreciation for the two natures of Christ united in one Person. Proponents of the Two-Nature Solution The great defender of Christological orthodoxy of the fourth century, Athanasius (d. 373), was one of the first to propose a two-nature solution to the problem of Mark 13:32. Of course, the Arians had latched onto Mark 13:32 as an exegetical proof of their position. Athanasius proposed another solution: “When His disciples asked about the end, suitably said He then, ‘no, nor the Son,’ according to the flesh because of the body; that He might show that, as man, He knows not; for ignorance is proper to man.”49 In this way, Athanasius attributed the ignorance to the human nature. For many, Athanasius’ depiction borders on Nestorianism. It is anachronistic to call Athanasius a Nestorian; for he was simply trying to defend orthodoxy in the face of Arianism. In the next century other teachings would emerge which would call for greater particularity in expressing the two-natures of Christ. Thus, given the historical circumstances, Athanasius should not be faulted at this point.50 Gregory of Nanzianzus (d. 389) was another defender of orthodoxy against the Arian heresy. In responding to an Arian interlocutor, Gregory summarized his defense: To give you the explanation in one sentence. What is lofty you are to apply to the Godhead, and to the Nature in Him which is superior to sufferings and incorporeal; but all that is lowly to the composite condition of Him who for your sakes made Himself of no reputation and was Incarnate. . . . The result will be that you will abandon these carnal and groveling doctrines . . . and you will not remain permanently among the things of sight, but will rise up with Him into the world of thought, and come to know which passages refer to His Nature, and which to His assumption of Human Nature.51
Both Gregory and Athanasius believe that the title “Son,” in Mark 13:32, is used without modifiers to indicate that Jesus is speaking specifically of His manhood.52 While dubious, “Chalcedonian Creed,” Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics, 451, http://reformed.org /documents/index.html? mainframe=http://reformed.org/documents/chalcedon.html (accessed December 5, 2009). Emphasis mine. 49 Athanasius, “Four Discourses Against the Arians,” 24.46. 50 Gumerlock, “Mark 13:32.” 51 Gregory Nazianzus, “Orations,” trans. Charles Gordon Browne and James Edward Swallow, New Advent, 29.17, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3102.htm (accessed December 1, 2009). 52 Athanasius, “Four Discourses Against the Arians,” 28.43; Gregory Nazianzus, “Orations,” 30.15. 48
Mark 13:32 – Problem or Paradigm?
this assertion shows the early attempts by defenders of orthodoxy to be exegetically accurate and maintain an orthodox Christology.53 The following authors, who defended a two-nature view of Mark 13:32, are postChalcedonian and tend to be more careful in their postulations concerning the interaction between the two natures in Christ. However, sometimes, in an effort to avoid Nestorianism, theologians tended to allow the divine nature to overshadow the human nature. A prime example is John of Damascus (d. c.750) who proposed that “[Christ’s] human nature does not in essence possess the knowledge of the future, but the soul of the Lord through its union with God the Word Himself and its identity in subsistence was enriched . . . with knowledge of the future as well as with the other miraculous powers.”54 Thus, Jesus’ human nature was omniscient because of its union with the divine nature. It is hard to see how such a view of the two natures could solve the problem of Mark 13:32 without asserting that Christ misled His disciples. John Calvin (d. 1564), seeking to be biblical, is also found to have an orthodox view of the two natures of Christ. He believed that the problem with Mark 13:32 was solved by a proper understanding of the incarnation: For we know that in Christ the two natures were united in one person in such a manner that each retained its own properties; and more especially the Divine nature was in a state of repose, and did not at all exert itself, (The Divine nature was kept, as it were, concealed; that is, did not display its power) whenever it was necessary that the human nature should act separately, according to what was peculiar to itself, in discharging the office of Mediator. There would be no impropriety, therefore in saying that Christ, who knew all things, was ignorant of something in respect of his perception as a man; for otherwise he could not have been liable to grief and anxiety, and could not have been like us.55
Calvin’s stress on the mediatorial role of Christ allowed him to see that it was necessary for Christ to experience life as a man. Christ never gave up his deity; rather he did not make full use of his divinity. Thus, his being called the servant of the Father, his being said to grow in stature, and wisdom, and favor with God and man, not to seek his own glory, not to know the last day, not to speak of himself, not to do his own will, his being seen and handled, apply entirely to his humanity; since, as God, he cannot be in any respect said to grow, works always for himself, knows everything, does all things after the counsel of his own will, and is incapable of being seen or handled. And yet he not merely ascribes these things separately to his human nature, but applies them to himself as suitable to his office of Mediator.56
A final contribution Calvin made to the two-nature solution to Mark 13:32 is his emphasis on the unity of the two natures in the statements of Scripture. For instance, Acts 53 The title “Son” without any modifiers may actually be a clear declaration of Christ’s deity and not an indication that he is speaking of His human nature. 54 John of Damascus, “Orthodox Faith,” Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 21, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf209. iii.iv.iii.xxi.html (accessed December 1, 2009). 55 Calvin and Pringle, “Commentary on Matthew, Mark, Luke,” 24.36. 56 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.14.2.
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20:28 says that God purchased the church with his own blood. Blood is certainly limited to humanity, but the statement concerns Christ’s divinity. Also 1 Cor 2:8 says that the Jews crucified the Lord of glory. “Crucified” must be applied to Christ’s humanity, but the nominal reference is undoubtedly directed towards his divinity. Calvin concludes the section with a summary remark: “Inasmuch as he was both God and man, he, on account of the union of a twofold nature, attributed to the one what properly belonged to the other.”57 The application to Mark 13:32 is obvious; Christ can apply ignorance to his person even though he uses a reference which implies his deity. In recent centuries, the two-nature solution has become more refined. Charles Hodge (d. 1878), the late Princeton theologian, following the Chalcedonian creed submits that: The first and most obvious of the consequences of the hypostatical union is the communion of attributes. By this is not meant that the one nature participates in the attributes of other, but simply that the person is the partaker of the attributes of both natures, so that whatever may be affirmed of either nature may be affirmed of the person. . . . Thus we may say that Christ is finite and infinite, that He is ignorant and omniscient, that he existed from eternity and was born in time, that He created all things and was a man of sorrows.58
Hodge puts in clear and dramatic words what Calvin was asserting hundreds of years before. Hodge’s main contribution, however, is his assertion of two centers of consciousness in Christ. Previous to Hodge, and after the Council of Constantinople in 681, there was a general agreement that Christ had two distinct wills.59 Hodge took the next logical step: “As there are two distinct natures, human and divine, there are of necessity two intelligences and two wills, the one fallible and finite, the other immutable and infinite.”60 Wayne Grudem notes the helpfulness of this distinction when he says, “The distinction of two wills and two centers of consciousness helps us understand how Jesus could learn things and yet know all things. . . . This ignorance of the time of his return was true of Jesus’ . . . human conscious only, for in his divine nature he was certainly omniscient and certainly knew the time when he would return to the earth.”61 John F. Walvoord, late professor and president of Dallas Theological Seminary, also believed that a proper view of the incarnation solved the dilemma presented by Mark 13:32. He understood that Christ possessed the most brilliant mind, surpassing even the great geniuses of world history.62 However, Christ, in his humanity, was not omniscient. Did that mean that Christ was liable to sin out of ignorance? Walvoord concluded that this was impossible; for he believed it was “evident that the ministry of the Holy Spirit to the humanity of Christ supplied knowledge of every fact necessary to duty, to avoid sin, or to do the will of Ibid. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, abridged ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988), 359. 59 Grudem, Systematic Theology, 560. 60 Charles Hodge, “Systematic Theology,” Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 2:405, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/hodge/ theology2.iv.iii.v.html (accessed December 3, 2009). 61 Grudem, Systematic Theology, 561. 62 John F. Walvoord, “The Holy Spirit in Relation to the Person and Work of Christ,” Bibliotheca Sacra 98 (1941): 45. 57 58
Mark 13:32 – Problem or Paradigm?
God.”63 Norman Geisler adds, “Whatever limits there were in the extent of Jesus’ knowledge, there were no limits to the truthfulness of his teachings. . . . He was finite in human knowledge and yet without factual error in what he taught (John 8:40, 46). Whatever Jesus taught came from God and carried divine authority.”64 Therefore, the limitation of Christ’s human knowledge cannot be used to indicate that His teachings were flawed or insufficient. It surely would be against the wisdom and foresight of God if Christ became man for the purpose of saving sinners, but because he took on flesh, he lost the ability to communicate the truth. Any god capable of such a blunder is not the God of the Scriptures. Most recently, in his Introduction to Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem has expounded on the two-nature solution to the problem of Mark 13:32. Grudem helpfully organizes the teaching of orthodox theology on the incarnation. Specifically, Grudem posits three main points concerning the relation of the two natures. First, “One nature does some things that the other nature does not do.”65 For instance, Christ’s divine nature knows all things, while His human nature is ignorant on many points. But even more dramatic is the fact that Christ’s divine nature holds the world together even as Christ is being held in the arms of Mary.66 Second, “Anything either nature does, the person of Christ does.”67 Grudem gives a mundane example of how this is true of people as well as Christ: “If I type a letter, even though my feet and toes had nothing to do with typing the letter, I do not tell people, ‘My fingers typed a letter and my toes had nothing to do with it’ (though that is true). Rather I tell people, ‘I typed a letter.’ That is true because anything that is done by one part of me is done by me.”68 For this reason, Christ is able to say that he does not know the time of his coming, because in his mediatorial role he truly did not. And what is true of his humanity can be said to be true of him. Thus, at one and the same time, Christ is both ignorant and omniscient. Grudem’s final point states, “Titles that remind us of one nature can be used of the person even when the action is done by the other nature.”69 His view here aligns closely with the exposition of Calvin above. Grudem, however, specifically points out the application to Mark 13:32. “In this way, we can understand Mark 13:32. . . . Though the term ‘ The Son’ specifically reminds us of Jesus’ heavenly, eternal sonship with God the Father, it is really used here not to speak specifically of his divine nature, but to speak generally of him as a person, and to affirm something that is in fact true of his human nature only.”70
Ibid. Norman L Geisler, “Theory of the Limitation of Christ,” in Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999), 426. 65 Grudem, Systematic Theology, 559. 66 Ibid., 560. 67 Ibid., 562. 68 Ibid. 69 Ibid. 70 Ibid., 562-563. 63 64
Maranatha Baptist Theological Journal Distinctions within the Two-Nature Solution
If Grudem’s three points are correct, then there is a solution to the Markan quandary. However, there are some difficulties that need to be worked through. Foremost is how one nature has knowledge while the other remains ignorant. Among those espousing a twonature view, there has been a diversity of opinion on this question. Two options arise. The first claims that Christ did not know because in his incarnation he gave up the independent use of his attributes. Charles M. Horne succinctly summarizes this view: “He resigned not the possession, not yet entirely the use, but rather the independent exercise of the divine attributes. They were voluntarily, and conditionally, rendered without effect on the plane of historical existence . . . the divine attributes of omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence are potential and latent rather than continually active.”71 Those who claim Christ gave up the independent exercise of His attributes stress the fact that Jesus did not lose his attributes. Instead, as Thomas Oden notes, “The Son permitted his natural human capacities and infirmities to prevail, as if alone in his human nature, for a time withdrawing and withholding from activity the divine virtue dwelling bodily in the human nature.”72 Thus, in the case of Mark 13:32, Jesus actually did not know the time of the end, because he restrained his divine omniscience.73 Proponents of this view claim that Christ only exercised his divine prerogatives when it was the will of the Father. That Jesus gave up independent use of his attributes is an attractive option, because it appears to alleviate the problem in Mark 13:32: Jesus spoke frankly and honestly that he did not know. Further, it explains how Christ could display omniscience at times (John 4:18) and appear ignorant at others (John 11:34). Finally, it accords well with the general thrust in Scripture that the activity of the Son in redemption was subject to the will of the Father in all things (Matt. 26:39). The major weakness with this view, however, concerns how Jesus could be omniscient while not having access to His omniscience. That is, what is the difference between giving up use and giving up the attribute? If Jesus knew only what his Father allowed him, then it appears that he gave up omniscience when he came to earth. Fortunately, there is a second understanding within the two-nature view. Instead of asserting that Jesus gave up use of his attributes, some assert that Jesus had two centers of consciousness. In our survey of writers endorsing two-nature views, it was seen that Hodge and Grudem both ascribe to this explanation. In fact, Grudem claims that a significant majority of the church has held to two centers of consciousness.74 Essentially, this view asserts that the divine consciousness was fully omniscient, but the human consciousness was limited. The benefits of this view are evident. First, Mark 13:32 is explained without 71 Charles M. Horne, “Let this Mind Be in You,” Bulletin of the Evangelical Theological Society 3 (1960): 37-44. 72 Thomas C. Oden, The Word of Life (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1989), 87. 73 Millard Erickson, while in general agreement with this view, holds that Jesus was unaware of the time of the end because it was in his unconscious. When the Father allowed, the knowledge in Christ’s unconscious would be called to memory by Christ. For this unique view and an interesting analogy, see Millard J. Erickson, The Word Became Flesh (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991), 558-559. 74 Grudem, Systematic Theology, 561. For an alternative view, see Anthony T. Hanson, “Two Consciousnesses: The Modern Version of Chalcedon,” Scottish Journal of Theology 37 (1984): 474-476.
Mark 13:32 – Problem or Paradigm?
resorting to subterfuge or textual emendation. Second, using this position as an interpretive grid, many seemingly contradictory passages of Scripture come to resolution. One example comes from John 11, where Jesus plainly tells the disciples that Lazarus is dead (11:14). Within the same chapter John reveals that Jesus asked where the body of Lazarus lay (11:34). How could Jesus at one and the same time know that Lazarus was dead and not know where he was laid? The two-consciousness view provides an answer. Third, this view also allows for the subjection of the Son to the Father. Only when the Father wills does Jesus act and speak according to his divine nature through his human nature. The final benefit of this approach is that it balances the assertions of Jesus’ humanity and divinity without losing sight of either. Many of the other views have one nature engulfing the other. The result is a glorified man or a God who took over a body. The two-consciousness view carefully and successfully navigates away from the dangerous pitfalls of heresy. Despite its encouraging benefits, the two-consciousness view does have detractors. One critic in particular condemns the view because he believes that the divine consciousness would eradicate the similarities between Christ and every other person: “But an incarnate Word who had the enjoyment . . . of a supernatural consciousness is not exactly on our level. . . . If it can be said with any meaningfulness that Jesus enjoyed a superhuman consciousness, then he was not sufficiently one of us.”75 This critique is quite serious, for if Christ was insufficiently human, then he could not sympathize with our humanity (Heb 4:15). Nevertheless, it must be admitted that Christ had abilities that others did not. He at times displayed his omniscience (Mark 2:8), at other times he displayed his omnipotence (Matt 8:26-27), and he may also have displayed his omnipresence (John 1:48). If none of these characteristics—unique to Christ—discredited his humanity, then the fact that Jesus has two centers of consciousness does not discredit his humanity. The definition of humanity must derive from Scripture and not from any external criteria. According to Scripture, Jesus was a unique human, but nevertheless he was human. The second critique of the two-consciousness approach is likewise serious. How can one hold to this Christology without being Nestorian? Put differently, the questioner is asking whether one can truly have two centers of consciousness and yet remain one person. Gerald O’Collins answers by noting that consciousness should not be attributed to the person but to the nature.76 Therefore, since Christ had a human and a divine nature, he had a duality of consciousness. The one person of Christ, having two natures, has two consciousnesses. Certainly some will question O’Collin’s mental astuteness here; however Grudem defends the view when he says that “two wills and two centers of consciousness do not require that Jesus be two distinct persons. It is mere assertion without proof to say that they do.”77 Again, Christians must allow Scripture to determine truth. If the Bible says that Jesus was one person with a duality of consciousness, then Scripture must prevail.78 Grudem’s conclusion to his defense of a two-consciousness will also serve as the conclusion to this section: “To
Hanson, “Two Consciousnesses,” 481. Gerald O’Collins, Interpreting Jesus (London: G. Chapman, 1983), 190. 77 Grudem, Systematic Theology, 561. 78 Udd is a good example of one who argues that consciousness is on the side of person. See, Udd, “Only The Father Knows: A Response to Harold F. Carl.” 75 76
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adopt any other solution would create a far greater problem: it would require that we give up either the full deity or the full humanity of Christ, and that we cannot do.”79 A Paradoxical Solution The solution to Mark 13:32, outlined above, will not satisfy many Western thinkers. Not only does the view posit two natures in Christ, but it also holds that these natures have their own consciousnesses. In this context, it is good to listen to the wisdom of O’Collins as he speaks to his readers: “If we cannot imagine and describe what it would be like to be God, we cannot imagine or describe what it would be like to be God and man.”80 Humans should not be ashamed to arrive at inexplicable mysteries. In fact, as Van Til taught, human knowledge is always paradoxical.81 It is to deny the creaturely status that one seeks absolute knowledge as God knows. Admitting paradox, then, is not admitting weakness, but creatureliness. A. N. S. Lane argues that the two-nature solution is not a paradox, but a blatant contradiction. He offers a comparison by saying that the two-nature approach “is like claiming that I am experiencing both poverty and wealth because there is no money in my left pocket while in my right pocket I have a million pounds. Wealth eliminates poverty. Omniscience and ignorance, omnipotence and impotence cannot coexist.”82 Lane’s words strike a chord within every mind. Certainly it is true that a man with money in one pocket cannot righteously say that he is broke. However, Christ, being omniscient, can righteously say that he does not know the hour (Mark 13:32). In the first case it is a contradiction, in the second it is only an apparent contradiction. The difference is Scripture. When Scripture asserts something which is inexplicable in human terms, humans must admit their creaturely status and submit to God’s Word.83 Though the two-nature solution presents a paradox to the human mind, it is not a paradox to God’s mind. Vern Poythress confirms this by saying, “Apparent contradictions appear to be contradictions only against a standard for what a contradiction is. Since the standard is God himself, there can be no real contradiction.” Therefore, “When we feel that so-called paradoxes are a problem, the real problem is our pretended autonomy. . . .”84 As creatures, man must submit to the Lord in all things of which human knowledge is only one sphere. Even in eternity man may never fully understand, since limitation is not a result of
Grudem, Systematic Theology, 561. Gerald O’Collins, Christology: A Biblical, Historical, and Systematic Study of Jesus Christ (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 234. 81 Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 4th ed. (Phillipsburg: P & R, 2008), 67-69. 82 A.N.S Lane, “Christology Beyond Chalcedon,” in Christ the Lord: Studies in Christology Presented to Donald Guthrie, ed. Harold H. Rowdon (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity, 1982), 270. 83 Grudem specifically challenges Lane’s conclusions noting that Lane’s assertions “fundamentally deny that infinite deity and finite humanity can exist together in the same person—in other words, they deny that Jesus could be fully God and fully man at the same time. In this way, they deny the essence of the incarnation.” Grudem, Systematic Theology, 559-560 fn39. 84 Vern S Poythress, “Reforming Ontology and Logic in the Light of the Trinity: An Application of Van Til’s Idea of Analogy,” Westminster Theological Journal 57 (1995): 214 fn14. 79 80
Mark 13:32 – Problem or Paradigm?
sin, but a consequence of being a creature. With this understanding, the assertion of Mark 13:32 though apparently contradictory, is found to be logically coherent.85 Problem or Paradigm Having concluded that Mark 13:32 is best explained by a fuller understanding of the twonatures in the incarnation, what should be done about passages which seem to reflect the humanity of Christ? It seems that most pastors are content to avoid the passages if possible.86 B.B. Warfield, on the other hand, argued that it is “gain and nothing but gain, to realize in all its fullness that our Lord was made man even as we are men, made ‘in all things like unto his brethren’ (Heb. 2:17).”87 What differentiates Warfield from those who sheepishly avoid passages which explicitly declare Christ’s humanity? Undoubtedly, part of the reason resides in the central place Warfield gives to the incarnation. The glory of the Incarnation is that it presents to our adoring gaze, not a humanized God or a deified man, but a true God-man – one who is all that God is and at the same time all that man is: on whose almighty arm we can rest, and to whose human sympathy we can appeal. We cannot afford to lose either the God in the man or the man in the God; our hearts cry out for the complete God-man whom the Scriptures offer us. It may be much to say that it is because he is man that he is capable of growth in wisdom, and because he is God that he is from the beginning Wisdom Itself. It is more to say that because he is man he is able to pour out his blood, and because he is God his blood is of infinite value to save; and that it is only because he is both God and Man in one person, that we can speak of God purchasing his Church with his own blood (Acts 20:28).88
It is of inestimable value to preach and extol the humanity of Christ, because in becoming man, Christ saved man. The incarnation was an act of love initiated by God, which was ultimately the greatest communication from God to man. Thomas Oden, following Calvin, understood the meaning of the incarnation when he said, “The divine humiliation was not an impoverishment of God but an incomparable expression of the empathic descent of divine love.”89 Too many have viewed the incarnation as an exegetical embarrassment, when, in fact, it is the clearest teaching of God’s covenantal love. John Frame develops this theme further when he asserts that Christ’s incarnation may yield fruit in understanding God’s relation to mankind. For instance, Frame draws an analogy between Christ’s two natures and God’s interaction in time. Since God is an eternal 85 Oliphint proposes a method of explanation which “will allow for meaningful discussion about Christ, such that we are not left with bare contradiction.” His strategy takes predicative compatibility inherent in Thomas Aquinas’ thought and combines it with the Reformed views on essentialism and ontology. The result is an ability to speak of the two natures in such a way that is not clearly contradictory, though “we are affirming something that is ultimately mysterious and beyond the pale of understanding for our finite (and sinful) minds.” For a fuller exposition see, Oliphint, Reasons for Faith, 304-315. 86 To his knowledge, this writer has never heard a message on Mark 13:32 and only one or two messages on the many other texts which explicitly teach anthropomorphic activities of God. 87 Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, “The Human Development of Jesus,” in Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1970), 163. 88 Ibid., 166. 89 Oden cites Calvin’s Institutes 2.13.3-4. Oden, The Word of Life, 85-86.
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Being, his relationship to time has caused many questions. Frame proposes a solution based on an incarnational model. Just as Christ took on the attributes of humanity, so God takes on the attributes of humanity. That is, God condescends and takes on human characteristics.90 Christ’s incarnation, then, was the pinnacle of God’s condescension—a condescension He has been practicing since the world began. Even today in heaven Christ bears humanity, and for eternity future will bear that humanity as a banner of the condescending nature of God’s love.91 K. Scott Oliphint believes this understanding of God’s relation to his creation traces back to the Westminster Confession of Faith which says, “The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto Him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of Him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which He has been pleased to express by way of covenant.”92 Thus, God condescends because man can never ascend. The love of God is displayed powerfully in those passages which seem to contradict his nature, for these passages show the voluntary and loving condescension of God. Based on this understanding Oliphint writes, Statements in Scripture that seem to confuse, that seem to be in stark contrast to other statements, should be interpreted in the context of God’s condescension such that his divinity operates through his covenant properties. When Scripture says, therefore, “and the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people” (Ex. 32:14). And “For I the Lord do not change” (Mal. 3:6), we should be aware that, while both statements are true, and while both show us something of God’s essential character through his contingent properties, the first verse should be seen in the context of God’s covenant, in which he takes on contingent properties in order to fulfill his promises to his people, while the second verse refers us to God’s immutable character (and the application of that essential property in the context of God’s covenant). It should not surprise us, therefore, that we will see in Scripture both “sides” of God’s activity with his creation, even as it does not surprise us when we see Christ both forgive sins (according to his essential character) and become tired (according to his covenantal character).93
As the quote suggests, Oliphint shows the continuity between God’s continual actions in relation to mankind and his ultimate condescension in Christ. At all times, when God relates to man, he is stooping down with the primary purpose of loving and redeeming his people. For this reason, Mark 13:32 should not be looked as an embarrassing problem but as a lucid paradigm for understanding God’s relation to his creatures.
90 “Could it be that when God enters time he takes on some human characteristics, foreshadowing the incarnation?” For his full discussion, see John M. Frame, “Response to Howard Griffith,” in Speaking the Truth in Love: The Theology of John M. Frame (Phillipsburg: P & R, 2009), 972-973. 91 Warfield notes that “Reformed theology . . . has not shrunk from recognizing that Christ, as man, had a finite knowledge and must continue to have a finite knowledge forever.” Warfield, “The Human Development of Jesus,” 162. 92 “Westminster Confession of Faith,” Reformed.org, 7.1, http://reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs/ (accessed December 9, 2009). 93 Oliphint, Reasons for Faith, 315.
Mark 13:32 – Problem or Paradigm?
Conclusion Church history has provided many answers to the question prompted by reading Mark 13:32. Ambrose and Jerome led the way in offering a solution based on textual corruption. And though some modern scholars were found advocating this approach, ultimately it fails for lack of evidence. Basil of Caesarea added another solution, which sought to save the divinity of Christ by proposing a new translation of the Greek. Though Basil’s interpretation is possible, it is far from a natural reading and fails to explain the sister passage in Matthew. Augustine, Hilary of Poitiers, Aquinas, Gregory of Tours, Origen, and other modern interpreters proposed semantic solutions to the text. And though these solutions have fared well in public opinion, they fail to satisfy the language of Mark. As such, they are inventive and attractive, but not plausible. Athanasius led the way in the final solution. He proposed that a two-nature model would answer the problem of Mark 13:32. Behind him have stood many who have accepted and built upon the two-nature structure. There are many advantages to this solution. First, the text is understood naturally without resorting to rare word uses or textual discrepancies. Second, both the humanity and the divinity of Christ are upheld without bringing either into jeopardy. Third, the two-nature solution is not limited to Mark 13:32; it can be used to decipher other enigmatic passages about Christ.94 A final benefit of the two-nature approach is that it provides a paradigm for understanding God’s relationship to the world. Christ added a human nature without subtracting anything from his divine nature. In the same way, the Godhead accepts human attributes in order to relate and communicate with his creatures. Though the Godhead’s additions are not all permanent like the incarnation was for Christ, nevertheless his covenantal additions are extravagant examples of God’s voluntary love for mankind. Therefore, passages—like Mark 13:32—from both the Old and New Testaments which have historically been hard to harmonize with the nature of God are actually the most intense examples of God’s love for his people. And though these passages may present an apparent
For instance, none of the other solutions can handle the seemingly contradictory comments about Christ which Gregory of Nanzianzus emphasized: 94
[Jesus] was baptized as man—but He remitted sins as God . . . He was tempted as man, but He conquered as God . . . He hungered—but He fed thousands . . . He was wearied, but He is the Rest . . . He pays tribute . . . He is King of those who demanded it . . . He prays, but He hears prayer . . . He weeps, but He causes tears to cease . . . He asks where Lazarus was laid, but He raises Lazarus . . . He is sold . . . but He redeems the world . . . As a sheep He is led to the slaughter, but He is the Shepherd of Israel . . . He is bruise and wounded, but He heals every disease and every infirmity . . . He dies, but He gives life . . . He is buried, but He rises again . . . Gregory Nazianzus, “Orations,” 29.20.
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paradox to the human mind, pastors should not avoid them, but preach them clearly, often, and with much passion.
Mark 13:32 â€“ Problem or Paradigm?
MBTJ 2/2: 193-215
World View and Marriage Michael Dean1 Marriage, as a legal and cultural institution and as it has historically been known, is under attack in America. The purpose of this article is to address the legal definition of marriage and draw conclusions concerning how the Christian should respond to the attempts to modify the traditional and biblical definitions of this institution. Law and Culture I will begin with several general observations about law and culture. First, every relatively coherent society reflects some belief system or world view which a critical mass of its individual members (or at least of its influential members) holds generally in common. Not everyone engages in systematic reflection on reality, life, and meaning, of course, but most still hold more or less similar conceptions about the nature of things upon which they base their thought and conduct: what is “true,” how to tell right from wrong, how things “ought” to be, and so on. Second, such conceptions are matters of quasi-religious faith, adopted and held for reasons beyond strict logic and experience, the customary modes of legal proof. For example, even though no propositions are more fundamental to American law and culture than the notions that all men are created equal and have inalienable rights, some of the most brilliant minds in history never attempted to “prove” natural rights or the equality of man, much less define them with legal precision. The Founders simply asserted that they were “self-evident.” Third, though such conceptions are not susceptible to legal “proof” in the ordinary sense, they nevertheless govern, or at least guide or inform, the approaches our legal system takes and the conclusions it reaches when confronted with broad social issues. Fourth, societies change over time, more or less in concert with changes in the fundamental cultural conceptions that cohere and guide them. Competing perspectives emerge to challenge the dominant world views, and because law is a function of culture, as world views change, legal perspectives change with them, sometimes as effect, sometimes as cause. Finally, I am not attempting a technical, academic exercise in either philosophy or jurisprudence. Instead, this is a general overview about Christian world view, how it was incorporated in early American judicial decisions about marriage, how that world view was
This article is based on a chapel message given April 13, 2012 at Maranatha Baptist Bible College, by alumnus Dr. Michael Dean. Dean is an attorney who litigates in defense of Christian liberties and the vice-chairman of Maranatha’s Board of Trustees. At the time of the chapel message, he was part of a legal team litigating the definition of marriage in Wisconsin. The closing remarks regarding Maranatha’s mission also appeared in the Maranatha Advantage, http://more.mbbc.edu/advantage/. 1
Worldview and Marriage
replaced over time by a radically secular vision, and how legal perspectives on marriage changed accordingly. Battle for the Mind War of World Views One of the best resources addressing “world view” in non-technical terms from a Christian perspective is Dr. Del Tacket’s DVD series The Truth Project. “Ontology” is the branch of philosophy that examines the nature of things, and Dr. Tackett boils down 2,500 years of it into a single statement, “Truth is what is real.” Obviously, there is a profound dispute in culture over what is real.2 Classical/Christian View At the risk of being grossly overbroad and misleading, there is critical common ground between some strains of classical pagan, natural law philosophy, and Judeo-Christian theology. From Socrates to Plato to Augustine to Aquinas to C.S. Lewis, and countless others in between, if there exist such things as reason and ideas – if they are real – then there must be a kind of being, a kind of stuff, that is different than mere matter. Admittedly, because man is not omniscient, reason alone is circular – “tautological.” Nevertheless, reason is self-evident, and we believe in reason because it is reasonable. It is more reasonable to conclude that something should follow from something than from nothing, that reason comes from reason rather than from non-reason, that life comes from life rather than from non-life, effect comes from cause, self-awareness from self-awareness rather than from non-awareness, sentience and foresight and choice from sentience and foresight and choice rather than from their absence, and so on. In sum, it is more reasonable to conclude that we and the world around us are the result of some purposeful, incomprehensibly powerful and intelligent first being, than to conclude that we are the result of nothing at all. It is not reasonable to believe that, once upon a time, when there was no time, suddenly there was time. That over time nothing somehow became something, that something somehow blew itself up, and that after blowing itself up it somehow came miraculously alive, and that after becoming alive, again for no reason at all, it began breathing and reproducing and thinking, finally turning itself into movie stars, second basemen, and evolutionary biologists. Naturalist/Secularist View In contrast to the Christian view, it has become stylish to declare one’s self atheist or agnostic – a free thinker, master of your own fate, captain of your own soul, with no religious crutch, and guided by reason alone. That all sounds quite grand, but the atheist and agnostic assert their dogma in much the same way as Christians. They insist that being consists of self-existent time and matter (the “time-space continuum”), that time and matter have somehow always existed, or somehow 2 For more information on this conflict, see Thomas Sowell, The Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles (New York: Basic Books, 2007).
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came into being ex nihilo nisi causa (“out of nothing, and without reason”), and that their present form – including you and me – is not the result of intelligent cause, but is merely the product of the big bang plus time – and nothing more. Often called “secularism,” or “scientific naturalism,” this view is that nothing exists except what normal human beings can perceive by means of the physical senses, augmented by whatever observational tools we may invent. Ideas and self-awareness are nothing more than particularly sophisticated mechanical events; there is no ghost in the machine after all. Yahweh declares, “I AM, and that’s all”; the naturalist and secularist declare, “Matter (or energy) is, and that’s all.” My characterizations of secularist and naturalist thought are not caricatures. To begin with, they are nothing new. Shortly before Christ, for example, the Roman philosopher and poet Lucretius wrote De Rerum Natura, “On the Nature of Things.” Advocating the view of the Greek philosopher Democritus 400 years earlier, Lucretius asserted that there is no Supreme Being, that being, even consciousness, is ultimately nothing but “atoms in the void,” operating according to physical “laws” somehow inherent in the atoms themselves. Almost twenty-five hundred years after Democritus, Stephen Hawking, perhaps the world’s most acclaimed living cosmologist, reprises him in The Grand Design. He writes, “It was as if a coin 1 centimeter in diameter suddenly blew up to ten million times the width of the Milky Way.”3 He explains that if you go far enough back in time, the universe was a “singularity” – a “Planck size” speck measuring “a billion-trillion-trillionth of a centimeter.”4 He declares, “Because there is a law of gravity, the universe can and will create itself out of nothing.”5 Hawking might protest that he is not reviving Democritus, but instead has identified gravity as the antecedent being from which time and matter followed. He observes correctly, “It is reasonable to ask who or what created the universe,” but concludes, “if the answer is God, then the question has merely been deflected to that of who created God.”6 Concluding that a Planck size singularity is the first being and gravity its first cause does not avoid atomism, however; it just kicks the antecedent can a bit further back up the causal road. Being forced to ask “Who created God?” no more refutes God’s existence than being forced to ask “Who created singularity?” refutes the existence of Hawking’s “law of gravity” or his seminal speck. Put differently, how is an incomprehensibly infinitesimal dot of dumb matter less a “deflection” than an incomprehensibly intelligent First Being? How is it less an act of faith to conclude that the irreducible “being” from which consciousness and intelligence and all else followed was uncreated law and matter, than to conclude that it was uncreated Consciousness and Intelligence? How is it more a blind leap to conclude that Being created being, than to make, as Hawking does, the absurd statement that the universe not only “create[d] itself,” it did so “out of nothing”? 3 4 5 6
Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design (New York: Bantam, 2010), 129. Ibid., 131. Ibid., 180. Ibid., 172.
Worldview and Marriage
As to Hawking’s declaration that the universe created itself because there is a law of gravity, how is it more rational to believe that intelligence results from the irreducible “being” of “gravity” than from an irreducible “Being” of “Intelligence”? In psychological terms, how is comfort in the certainty of mathematical “law,” in which all mysteries dwell, any more justified than comfort in the certainty of God, in Whom dwells all wisdom and knowledge, including mathematics? And as to the very idea of gravity creating matter, how is it “scientific,” much less “rational,” to stake everything on a non-material “law” that is somehow creating material different than itself? How could such a law even exist prior to the matter Hawking thinks it created? I suspect that by “law” Hawking means nothing more than “how things behave.” But if that is so, then how did law exist when nothing existed to behave, when there was nothing for law to inhere in or operate upon? In fact, how is it legitimate even to say “when” nothing existed? Hawking would say time is a different special dimension of the same basic stuff as everything else, but it is still something, so by his premises the phrase “when nothing existed” is a contradiction in terms. It is nonsense. In the end, when Hawking claims that the “law” of gravity is the irreducible “being” from which all else follows, his naturalism is a philosophical assertion no less arbitrary than Yahweh’s “I AM,” and his atheism ends the same place as the village boor’s – proclaiming himself God. Again, this is not caricature. Hawking posits an incomprehensibly large number of possible universes (10500).7 He declares that “mental concepts are the only reality we can know. . . . It follows that a well-constructed model creates a reality of its own.”8 Our universe is only “one of many,” each with its own history, which means that, “We create history by our observation, rather than history creating us.”9 Hawking’s view is the same old naturalist paradox. In a truly Laputan fit (where is Jonathan Swift when we need him?) Hawking really does reduce man to a “well-constructed model.” He says, “One can define living beings as complex systems of limited size that are stable and that reproduced themselves.”10 We are “mere collections of fundamental particles of nature.”11 Human conduct is pre-determined by laws of science, and “free will” is just an “effective theory” necessitated by “our inability to do the calculations that would enable us to predict [human] actions.”12 Man is nothing but the biggest ant in a robotic anthill, nothing but a pre-determined finder of keys in an arbitrarily operating cosmic asylum. Choice to Believe As Hawking’s logical blind alleys demonstrate, the certainties of atheism and agnosticism break down as a matter of reason. An atheist knows that God does not exist. That, however, is a universal negative – something you cannot know, unless you are omniscient yourself, in which case you have made yourself god. This is what atheism is about – Hawking creating Ibid., 118. Ibid., 172. 9 Ibid., 140-43. 10 Ibid., 178. 11 Ibid., 181. 12 Ibid., 178. 7 8
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reality by his own observation, for instance. Further, a universal negative is tautology without modesty. How does a naturalist know that nothing exists but what he can see? Simple - he cannot see it. An agnostic sounds more modest than an atheist. Instead of saying, God does not exist, he says only, “You cannot know whether God exists.” However, agnosticism is no less tautological than atheism, because that too is a universal negative. You cannot know that you cannot know unless, again, you are omniscient. How does an agnostic know for sure that he cannot know for sure? Again very simply – he knows it. Thus, like Christianity or any other faith, atheism and agnosticism are decisions based on something less than and other than omniscience. They are choices. God has created us to choose. We cannot escape it. We can only hope to make as informed and reasonable a choice as possible, somehow enlightened, drawn and enabled by the Holy Spirit. But choose we must. In Matt 6:24, Christ said that you will serve a master. Hate one, love the other. Hold to one, despise the other. In Rom 6:16, Paul says, “[T]o whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are, . . . of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness.” Belief is a matter of how one chooses to think. 2 Cor 10:5 describes how Christians think: “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” 2 Peter 2:19 describes how naturalists think: “While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage.” The question is not “whether” you will choose, the question is “which.” Man’s greatest act of worship is the free choice to love and serve God for no other reason than because of Who and What he is. That is what the book of Job is about. That is what Christ told Thomas: “Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Capture the Mind Now think about that conflict of world views in relation to marriage. Let’s begin with a question. “Are you opposed to same-sex marriage?” This, of course, is a trick quick question. It assumes that there is such a thing as “same-sex” marriage – that marriage is not some pre-political or a-political reality between a man and a woman created by God or a reality existing in the world of ideas or in the nature of humankind or the nature of things in general. Instead, it is an instrumental legal construct – something that can be created, changed or revoked by law the same way we create or change or revoke speed limits or the legal drinking age. In any debate, Rule 101 is always, “Capture the language.” If you repeat the terms “gay marriage” and “same-sex marriage” long enough, most people will never think about whether there can even be such a thing, much less whether marriage is anything except what some judge says it is. And once the working cultural assumption becomes that government creates marriage to begin with, the debate then is simply a question whether government should
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create for same-sex couples the same legal rights and privileges that it already created for opposite-sex couples. That assumption – that government creates marriage – is an instance of the idea of legal positivism, the secularist and naturalist’s logical conclusion that law is not the mind of God or some set of first principles existing in the world of ideas or the nature of things. Rather, it is whatever those who make the law say it is. Legal realism takes that proposition a step further – that law is made by whoever has power and is nothing more than what the powerful say it is. Justice Holmes once wrote in the Harvard Law Review, “I used to say when I was young, that truth was the majority vote of that nation that could lick all others.” To our question, “What is real, what is the nature of things,” realism answers that things are whatever the powerful say they are. Thomas Hobbes wrote about it in Leviathan, and George Orwell in 1984. The Christian view is that reality includes the physical universe, but is not only that universe. Those who have not misspent their youth reading idealistic and solipsistic philosophy may not be aware that there have been very serious people who believe this world is not real, but is instead an illusion or perception of the mind. Christianity rejects that view out of hand as nonsense. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” But Christianity assumes that reality also includes the super-natural or extra-natural. God and the Logos exist prior to and apart from creation and are knowable in an incomplete but still meaningful way. Put differently, Christianity asserts that Truth is Truth, regardless of what the powerful may say. Robert Bolt wrote about this in A Man for All Seasons, where Thomas More, talking specifically about marriage, refuses to concede that Henry VIII’s marriage to Katherine of Aragon is null and void, even though the king has the power to declare it so and to behead More for disagreeing. More says rhetorically, “Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King’s command make it round? And if it is round, will the King’s command flatten it?” I once put it this way in a legislative hearing. “A law declaring that marriage is between one man and one woman does not deny equal protection to same-sex couples any more than a law declaring that 2 + 2 = 4 denies equal protection to 5 and 6.” Christian View of Marriage Genesis Design: Marriage as a Divinely Created Institution Genesis establishes the Judeo-Christian view of marriage. God said, “Let us make man in our image. . . . [M]ale and female created he them” (Gen 1:26). The man and woman were each blessed by the other. “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet [or ‘appropriate’] for him” (Gen 2:18). And having created them, God said, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth” (Gen 1:26-28). Thus marriage between one man and one woman is inherent in human nature, created by God for two complementary and inseparable purposes: (1) the happiness of the man and woman who comprise it, and (2) the production of children as the natural consequence of its
Maranatha Baptist Theological Journal
most intimate expression. Marriage is not created by the state. It is only recognized and regulated by the state, if at all, in a manner consistent with its nature. In sociological terms, this is the “conjugal” view of marriage. In most cases actually, and in all cases symbolically, marriage is not just about gratification of the partners and fulfillment of their psychological and physical needs. It is, inherently, also about the perpetuation of the race – the procreation of children and the fulfillment of their happiness and psychological and physical needs. Holy Trinity (U.S. 1892) The conjugal understanding of marriage existed in early American law as part of a general Christian world view. In 1892, in Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States, federal authorities acting under federal immigration law prohibited an American church from hiring a pastor from England. Writing for the Supreme Court, Justice Brewer cited dozens of state constitutions, statutes, and court decisions invoking the Bible, the Trinity, and Christianity, and described them as a “mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation. . . .” Justice Brewer, therefore, concluded that the Free Exercise Clause protected Christianity, and Congress could not prohibit a Catholic Church from hiring Cardinal Manning, an Episcopal Church from hiring Canon Farrar, or a Baptist church from hiring Charles Haddon Spurgeon. 19th Century Case Law Given that the United States was a Christian nation, the Christian view of marriage and its inherent purposes were also legal givens. Following are samples of dozens of early state law cases which explicitly track the nature of marriage and its purposes given in Genesis 1 and 2. In Overseers of Poor of Town of Newbury v. Overseers of Poor of Town of Brunswick (Vt. 1829), the court observed that marriage is “one of the natural rights of human nature, . . . ordained by the great Lawgiver of the universe.” In Gentry v. Fry (Mo. 1835), the court stated, “Bacon defines [marriage] to be: ‘a compact between a man and a woman for the procreation and education of children.’ Rutherford declares it: ‘a contract between a man and a woman . . . for the purposes of their mutual happiness and of the production and education of children.’ It requires . . . masculine and feminine . . . a man and a woman. Two men cannot make it. Two women cannot – only one man and one woman . . . [for] their mutual happiness, and the production of children . . . the propagation of the human species, and the happiness of man.” In Baker v. Baker (Cal. 1859), the court noted the same two purposes: “Again, the first purpose of matrimony, by the laws of nature and society, is procreation. . . . The second purpose of matrimony is the promotion of the happiness of the parties by the society of each other.” The courts also recognized that marriage was essential to the existence of society. In Stevenson v. Gray (Ky. App. 1856), the court explained that marriage is founded in nature, is ordained to perpetuate the human race, and is “the foundation not only of all social order and refinement, but of the continued existence of society and of nations.”
Worldview and Marriage
In the late 19th Century, the Supreme Court rejected the Mormons’ argument that the Free Exercise Clause entitled them to practice polygamy. Reynolds v. United States (1878), like the Kentucky court earlier, discussed that monogamous marriage – between one man and one woman for life – was vital in maintaining a free society, and that polygamy leads to despotism in societies that tolerate it. In other words, monogamy requires self-restraint and self-discipline, but polygamy, by sanctioning the habits of mind that a man can have whatever he wants and has the power to get, leads to tyranny.13 In Davis v. Beason (1890), the Court declared that polygamy was not protected under the Free Exercise Clause because “the general consent of the Christian world in modern times” recognized it as a crime. REALITY AND MARRIAGE: SECULARIST VIEW Positivist, Naturalist Construct In contrast to the Christian view of man created in God’s image, the naturalist necessarily conceives of man as an accident of nature bent on his own survival and gratification. Marriage is created, not by God, but by the powerful, for their own ends, as they see fit. In sociological terms, this is the “relationship” view, in contrast to the “conjugal” view. In the “relationship” view, marriage is an instrumental construct of positive law, created to meet the needs of the partners, in which production and education of children for perpetuation of the race is an incidental, not essential, purpose. Disestablishing the Foundations In the 20th century, the relationship view of marriage largely displaced the Christian view of marriage in the law, an inevitable consequence of disestablishing the general Christian worldview on which marriage is grounded. In law and culture, it is always the foundations, the presuppositions, which erode first. Traditions like marriage stagger on for a time out of inertia, but once the rationale is gone, traditions and habits eventually collapse, because in the end, mere tradition is never a sufficient justification for anything. In Lynch v. Donnelly (U.S., 1984) the Court noted that the Establishment Clause prohibited a Rhode Island town from displaying a crèche by itself at Christmas, because that might show special endorsement of Christianity. It was permissible to include it in a larger display with a wide variety of holiday claptrap, because that would show it only as part of America’s history, without endorsing religion generally or Christianity in particular. Even that was too much for J. Brennan, who described in dissent the disestablishment of Christianity from American law that had long since taken place. “By insisting that such a distinctively sectarian message is merely an unobjectionable part of our ‘religious heritage,’ . . . the Court takes a long step backwards to the days when Justice Brewer could arrogantly declare . . . that ‘this is a Christian nation.’” 13 An interesting study is the relationship between polygamy and despotism from David to Solomon to Rehoboam.
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The recent “Intelligent Design” case, Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District (Md. Pa., 2005), is a striking illustration of how far the concomitant disestablishment of Christianity and the substitution of secularism and scientific naturalism in its place have gone. It is readily apparent . . . that the only attribute of design that biological systems appear to share with human artifacts is their complex appearance, i.e. if it looks complex or designed, it must have been designed. This inference to design based upon the appearance of a “purposeful arrangement of parts” is a completely subjective proposition, determined in the eye of each beholder and his/her viewpoint concerning the complexity of a system.
In essence, the judge declared, as a matter of Constitutional law, that while the inference is obvious from mere appearance that a two-car garage or a slice of toast was made by someone for some reason, it is impermissible to infer from appearance that a turnip or a frog or a person – or anything else biological – was also made by anyone, for any reason at all. In fact, the judge noted that the Establishment Clause requires the courts and public education to assume that there is not “anyone,” that there is not a reason or design (even if it looks that way) and that it violates the Constitution for any government agent to teach young people that such inferences may be permissible or rational. 20th Century Supreme Court Case Law As the general Christian perspective in law was dis-established, the Christian view of marriage fell, too. In Griswold v. Connecticut (U.S. 1965), a married couple challenged a state statute prohibiting the sale of contraceptives. The Supreme Court held the statute unconstitutional. It speaks volumes that only half a century ago, such laws were still common. At one point in our history, the American people and their governments understood that the connection between gratification and children was so essential to marriage and culture that they made it illegal to sell the means to intentionally break that connection. The Supreme Court, however, concluding itself wiser than the people, discovered in the Bill of Rights an unwritten right of “privacy,” which included the right to separate gratification from procreation. Besides the actual legal effect, the Court’s holding had a powerful symbolic effect, communicating to the nation that gratification alone was a sufficient justification for breaking the inter-generational covenant of procreation on which culture is based. The Court would no longer allow government to prohibit the intentional severance of the natural connection between act and consequence, gratification and responsibility, comfort and commitment, present and future, love and children. This is not an article about birth control, but it is important to have some idea of historic Christian understanding that children are inseparable from the very idea of love and marriage. In Eisenstadt v. Baird (U.S. 1972), the Court affirmed its holding in Griswold, except this time, the plaintiffs were not even married. Far beyond Griswold, the Court sent the message that marriage was not essential and that individual gratification was more important than any social purpose that requiring the commitment of marriage as a precondition of sexual gratification or having children might serve. In Roe v. Wade (U.S. 1973), the Court held that “privacy” includes the right to abortion. Beyond Griswold and Eisenstadt, “privacy” now included not only the right to sever the
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natural connection between gratification and responsibility and act and consequence, but also the right to destroy the consequences and avoid responsibility for them when they occur. In Planned Parenthood v. Casey (U.S. 1992), the Court finally arrived where it was headed all along – the complete substitution of world views. In declaring that the right of “privacy” trumped all but the most limited regulation of abortion, Justice Kennedy wrote that “liberty” protected by the 14th Amendment includes “the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” Essentially, the Court said that because every mother has the right to define existence, life, meaning, and the universe for herself, not only can the king declare that the earth is flat, everyone else can, too. There is no fixed truth about whether an unborn child is a person or deserves legal protection simply because of its nature as a human being. The child is whatever its mother decides. And it will live or die depending upon that decision. Finally, in Romer v. Evans (U.S. 1996) and Lawrence v. Texas. (U.S. 2003), the Supreme Court effectively treated homosexual acts, by which children are impossible, as having equal legal status with heterosexual acts, by which children are, actually or symbolically, inseparably connected. 20th Century State Courts State supreme courts have taken the Supreme Court hand-off and run it to the logical end zone. Accepting that the essence of marriage is personal gratification and fulfillment, not responsibility or children, Massachusetts, Iowa and New Jersey supreme courts, among others, have declared that same-sex relationships are the legal equivalent of opposite-sex relationships. Those decisions break the inter-generational covenant. They turn on its head the inviolable understanding that children need both mothers and fathers, and that mothers and fathers, being more mature and disciplined, will subordinate their own indulgences for the good of their children. They subordinate the child’s needs for mother and father to the adults’ needs for gratification with someone of their own sex. This is what the Rosie O’Donnell interview argued several years ago, when she said she would explain to her son that he did not have the kind of mommy that needed a daddy. He had the kind of mommy that needed another mommy. In the ultimate infantile role-reversal, the parent no longer sacrifices and subordinates her needs to those of her child out of her love for him; she demands that the child sacrifice and subordinate his needs to those of his mother, out of her love for herself. In Wisconsin, we are presently litigating the meaning of marriage in the case Appling v. Doyle. Despite the Wisconsin Defense of Marriage Amendment, Gov. Doyle and the legislature later enacted legislation under which same-sex couples become domestic partners in exactly the same way that opposite-sex couples become spouses. They apply for licenses, take oaths, have their licenses signed by civil officers, and file them in county offices, which then send them to the state registrar of vital statistics for recording in the same data-base as marriage records.
Maranatha Baptist Theological Journal
Why do we care about that? Because when the state gives what we call the imprimatur of official approval, or “secular sanctification,” to same-sex relationships in exactly the same way it approves and sanctifies marriage, it communicates to the public, and educates society to believe, that there is nothing unique about marriage, and that there is no essential difference between the two kinds of relationships. For example, several Wisconsin public schools that use life-skills games in their curricula are now instructing students to pick same-sex students to role play as their life partners. Christian Education and Culture In closing, why is a trustee writing not just about the Bible, but about history and philosophy and apologetics and law and sociology and language and literature and a half dozen other subjects? There has been a good deal of discussion over the years about what kind of school Maranatha really is, because besides the training in Bible and ministry characteristic of a traditional Bible college, we offer a strong program in the liberal arts and sciences. Are we a Bible college, or are we a liberal arts college? The answer to that question is an emphatic “Yes.” Several years ago, the board revised the college mission statement. It currently states: The mission of Maranatha Baptist Bible College is to develop leaders for ministry in the local church and the world “To the Praise of His Glory.” We included the phrase “and the world” because instead of an insular fortress mentality of withdrawing from life, hunkering down in a religious bunker, treating the church like a support group and Bible study like a personal growth seminar, coping and surviving while we wait for the rapture to rescue us, we as a board hope to inculcate a mission mentality, one of going into the highways and byways, engaging individuals and culture where you find them, conducting the battle on the enemy’s turf. If you like academic metaphors, we seek a mentality that is enriched and empowered, not debilitated, by what Augustinian scholarship and the social sciences call the “inward turn.” The arts and sciences do not detract from ministry; they are complementary and essential to it. The term “liberal arts” has become somewhat of a decapitated idiom, a spontaneous lexical twitch. But it has a history, an etymology. From Alcuin’s seminal enterprise for Charlemagne, the trivium and the quadrivium were formalized by classical scholars as those studies which were appropriate and necessary for free men. The original Latin expression literally meant, “Arts befitting a free man.” As originally conceived, the liberal arts encompassed all of life, preparing scholars for leadership in theology, philosophy, law, culture, politics, and commercial enterprise. A few months ago Dr. Marty Marriott, President of Maranatha Baptist Bible College and Seminary, gave me a copy of Robert Marsden’s Reforming Fundamentalism, which is a history of Fuller Seminary written against the broader backdrop of 20th century evangelicalism and fundamentalism. Near the end, Marsden writes that in the 70’s and 80’s, the seminary was engaged in struggles to break with the past, including “the effort to free itself from the
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dominance of ‘the mind of excellence,’” an effort that “involved a reappraisal of the role of the clergy.” Marsden explains that Fuller was originally organized on the “Princeton” model, following “the American Puritan and Calvinist tradition [in which] the preacher was expected to be an intellectual leader of the community as well as a spiritual leader. The assumption was that intellect was one key to cultural and hence spiritual influence.” In that tradition, seminaries were to be “theological graduate schools, fostering the general enterprise of intellectual leadership.” But by the 1980s, “the once-conspicuous theological emphases were now overshadowed by programs for practicality and service.” What does that mean? Regardless of Marsden’s characterization of Fuller in particular, American higher Christian education has drifted pedagogically from its Puritan origins, deemphasizing over time the academic model and institutional expectation of preparing pastors and graduates for intellectual leadership in culture, not just the church. It means that while Christian colleges and universities were losing confidence, backing away from cultural leadership, competing secular viewpoints were replacing Christianity in law, education, government, the military, business, entertainment, media, communications, political parties, library boards, museums, arts councils, publishing houses – every conceivable social institution that molds thought and directs culture, burying even the memory of a Christian culture, changing what “normal” even feels like. Why are we concerned with culture? As dispensational, premillennial Baptists, we do not accept old Princeton’s covenant theology, the replacement theology from which it came, nor the reconstruction theology to which it led. Notwithstanding, from a theological basis founded in texts like Matt 13:33 and 1 Cor 7:21, we do agree with the proposition that higher Christian education is about “fostering that general enterprise of intellectual leadership.” The more culture rejects Biblical structure, the more it dishonors God and destroys the people within it. As our culture eradicates the mores and even the memory of Christianity, the church becomes less and less a base camp for teaching and training and staging to reach the lost, and becomes more and more a spiritual and psychological triage unit. It is not my place as a board member to tell administration, faculty, or even students how specifically to think or exactly what to do. It is, however, a Board function to establish an institutional vision, to authorize programs designed to achieve it, and to encourage you to reflect on that vision and act accordingly. I encourage you to seriously consider Maranatha’s mission statement. Without diminishing one whit the primacy of the local church, when you come to that phrase, “and the world,” then lift up your eyes, because the fields are white with harvest – a harvest that, but for the mercy of God, seems soon to perish in a cultural collapse, the likes of which the world has never seen. Think about our mission. Pray and act accordingly. To the Praise of His Glory.
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MBTJ 2/2: 217-245
An Issue of Conscience James T. Collard1 There is a tremendous amount of controversy and misunderstanding surrounding the nature and function of the conscience today. A good example of this was seen in a 2009 article of Christian Century. The author stated that her alma mater (which was left unspecified) recently made a switch from using social security numbers as student identification numbers to using a computer generated nine-digit number assigned to the student. However, as soon as the program was initiated there were complaints from several students concerning the new system. There were several Christian students that had received numbers containing the sequence “666” and felt they could not continue their college careers with the “mark of the beast” in their student identification. The university had created a whole new constitutional crisis! The university attorney ruled with the students. “A public institution must take reasonable steps to protect religious practice if . . . a burden has been placed on the free exercise of religion. Equality in applying policy is not enough; religious conscience must be accommodated, even if it means granting certain special benefits to some students and not others.”2 Clearly, this issue of conscience and liberty with its application in any context is murky at best. This issue of conscience was also discussed by the Roman Catholic Church in the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). They saw the incredible necessity of defining conscience for the sake of unity in their teachings of doctrine. They defined the function of conscience in this way: Deep within their conscience men and women discover a law which they have not laid upon themselves and which they must obey. Its voice, ever calling them to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, tells them inwardly at the right moment: do this, shun that. For they have in their hearts a law inscribed by God. Their dignity rests in observing this law, and by this they will be judged. Their conscience is people’s most secret core, and their sanctuary. There they are alone with God whose voice echoes in their depths. Through loyalty to conscience, Christians are joined to others in the search for truth and for the right solution to so many moral problems which arise both in the life of individuals and from social relationships. Hence, the more a correct conscience prevails, the more do persons and groups turn aside from blind choice and endeavor to conform to the objective standards of conduct. Yet it often happens that conscience goes astray through ignorance which it is unable to avoid, without thereby losing its dignity. This cannot be said of the person who takes little
James Collard was a senior in the spring of 2012, when he wrote this paper for his Biblical Studies Senior Seminar. 2 Martha C. Nussbaum, “Liberty of Conscience: In Defense of America’s Tradition of Religious Equality,” Christian Century 126 (February 2009): 39-40. 1
Maranatha Baptist Theological Journal trouble to find out what is true and good, or when conscience is gradually almost blinded through the habit of committing sin.3
Believers need to understand the importance of this issue and its impact on the actions of every human being. However, an understanding of conscience must be rooted in the Word. The Scripture does teach on the conscience, and a proper understanding of it should reflect good study in and exegesis of the Word. The goal of this paper is to produce a biblical theology of the conscience, define and explain the function of conscience and its co-union with the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer, and prove that it is impossible for a believer to have a seared conscience. A THEOLOGY OF CONSCIENCE In order to understand how the conscience works, it is imperative to first define what it is and develop a biblical theology from its use in Scripture. In this section the word “conscience” will be studied and a biblical theology will be formed based on exegesis, analysis, and synthesis of the Scriptural texts. The Conscience Defined What is this entity that is called the conscience? Man’s spiritual understanding distinguishes between what is both true and false and right and wrong. He looks at the facts in a situation of spiritual or ethical morality and arrives at a conclusion based on an internal judgment of right and wrong that is also influenced by an accepted rule of right. This is a normal experience for all men, no matter how faintly his internal judgment of right and wrong impacts his decision. However, another factor enters to endorse the conclusion of action reached by a peculiarly mandatory urge of obligation to the right and deprecation of the wrong. This other factor is conscience.4 “The usages of conscience in the New Testament suggest that it pertains, broadly speaking, to one’s ethics of morals; i.e., the conscience is a moral consciousness.”5 Therefore, based on ethnology and New Testament usage, the conscience can be defined as “the inner knowledge or awareness of, and sensitivity to, some moral standard. That standard may differ with each individual . . . but even so the conscience is the faculty of man by which he has an awareness of some standard of conduct.”6 To summarize, the conscience is an innate faculty possessed by all men through which they are able to identify right and wrong. A Biblical Theology of Conscience The noun suneidesis literally means “knowledge with” and carries with it the idea of both “consciousness” and “conscience.”7 When the verb form word is used in the perfect tense
Anthony Egan, “Conscience, Spirit, Discernment: The Holy Spirit, the Spiritual Exercises and the Formation of Moral Conscience,” Journal of Theology for Southern Africa 138 (November 2010): 5859. 4 William Matheson, “Conscience,” Westminster Theological Journal 4 (May 1942): 98. 5 Roy B. Zuck, “The Doctrine of Conscience,” Bibliotheca Sacra 126 (October 1969): 331 6 Zuck, “The Doctrine of Conscience,” 331. 7 Zuck, “The Doctrine of Conscience,” 329. 3
An Issue of Conscience
with present implications, it should be interpreted “to be conscious of” or “to have a conscience about.”8 “Conscience” in the Old Testament The Old Testament does not have a word that is translated “conscience” in the King James Version.9 However, this is not to say that the Old Testament fails to interact with conscience. Most of the references to what is understood to be conscience are translated “heart.” This should be understood as the voice of a divine judge who demands an account from mankind about his earthly dealings. This is how David’s heart was smitten and reminded of guilt as he was summoned to penitence by the prophet Nathan (Psalm 50:10).10 When David states, “Create in me a clean heart [emphasis mine] and renew a right spirit within me” he is most probably referring to what would be understand as a clean conscience in New Testament revelation.11 The relation between the Hebrew notion of heart and the Greek connotation of conscience is most marked in the writings of Philo, the first man to truly think through the doctrine of the conscience theologically. In Philo’s theology, the conscience is not merely an autonomous court of appeal, but rather an individual entity that is entirely shaped by the law of God. It is capable of both accusing and correcting based on whether it is awakened through shame or pleased and propitiated through righteousness of action. Conscience performs all of this in an effort to drive the sinner back into personal fellowship with God. It is this relationship with God that provided the Old Testament foundation for Philo’s early explorations into the doctrine of conscience.12
“Conscience” in the New Testament The verb sunoida occurs only twice in the entire New Testament.13 However, the noun form suneidesis appears nearly thirty times. It is seen only once in the gospels14 and twice in the book of Acts. All the other usages occur in the writings of Paul, Hebrews and 1 Peter.
8 H. C. Hahn, “Conscience,” in The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, ed. Colin Brown (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975), 1: 348. 9 The ESV uses the word “conscience” once in its translation of the Old Testament (1 Samuel 25:31). In the LXX there are only three passages that make use of the word suneidesis. This is probably because the Israelites were more concerned with man’s attitude toward God as opposed to his attitude toward himself. He was more interested with his accountability before God than exploring his self-consciousness. Hahn, “Conscience,” 1: 349. 10 Hahn, “Conscience,” 1: 349. See also 1 Samuel 24:6 and 2 Samuel 24:10. 11 It should be noted that the idea of a clean heart is more common in the LXX than in the Hebrew Masoretic text of the Old Testament. Hahn, “Conscience,” 1: 349. 12 Hahn, “Conscience,” 1: 349. 13 In 1 Cor 4:4 sunoida appears in the reflexive form. “I am not aware of anything against myself.” Acts 5:2 suggests a shared knowledge; “with his wife’s knowledge he kept back.” Hahn, “Conscience,” 1: 350. 14 This use of conscience is found in John 8:9. This text is omitted from many of the older manuscripts and the entire pericope is a textual variant. Outside of this one use, the word suneidesis is not found in the gospels.
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Conscience in the Writings of Paul There are twenty-nine uses of suneidesis15 that are most definitely included in the canon. For sake of brevity all of these cannot be examined but some broad principles can be taken from each of these writers who examine this idea of conscience. Romans. In Romans 2:15 Paul brings two distinct entities into play: the “law written in their hearts” and the “conscience which bears witness.” Murray makes a very clear distinction between these two faculties. He argues that the law referred to is “the law of God . . . which the Gentiles in view did not have, the law the Jews did have and under which they were, the law by which men will be condemned in the day of judgment.”16 The conscience cannot be identified with this law for three particular reasons. First, the conscience is noted as giving joint witness. Second, conscience is a function that operates in the immaterial nature of man. The law of God is integrated into our nature; it is the antecedent to the operations of conscience and the cause of them. Finally, the precise thought is that the operations of conscience bear witness to the fact that the law of God is indeed written on the heart. “Not only does the doing of the things of the law prove the work of the law written in the heart but the witness of conscience does also. Hence the distinction between the work of the law and conscience.”17 Hahn clarifies this further. Conscience is illustrated as a court of appeal which cannot by any means “promulgate any statutes” but is able to deliver judgment on the cases it is presented with.18 In Romans 9:1 Paul introduces a new, difficult section on the process of salvation with direct application to the nation of Israel. He states, “I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost.” Anders argues that conscience in this text demonstrates the valid role that conscience can play in the spiritual life when it has been shaped and disciplined in spiritual maturity.19 Later in this epistle Paul discusses government’s capacity to serve as a minister of God’s wrath (13:1-7).20 In verse 5 Paul surfaces this idea of conscience once again. Pierce gives a succinct summary of the verse. It is your duty to God to be subject to the power: to rebel is not only illegal therefore, it is also morally wrong. It is not simply punishment by society that awaits the rebel, and the fear of which should deter him: it is also, for the law can be broken on occasion with impunity, the more terrible and less avoidable – for it is already within him – pain of conscience. And Both uses of suneidesis in Acts involve Paul making declarations concerning his own conscience before the Sanhedrin and Felix (Acts 23:1; 24:16). Thus, a theology of conscience in the writings of Luke will not be examined in this biblical theology due to the fact that both of Paul’s declarations are reflected in his epistles as well. However, from these references a reasonable inference can be made as to how the phrase was used by the apostle. The adjectives used with suneidesis, agathe and aprokopos, are both words which combine positive and negative ideas with conscience. Bruce F. Harris, “SUNEIDESISÉ(Conscience) in the Pauline Writings,” Westminster Theological Journal 24 (May 1962): 180. 16 John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 74. 17 Murray, Romans, 75. 18 Hahn, “Conscience,” 1: 350. 19 Max Anders, Romans, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2000), 278. 20 Page Lee, “‘Conscience’ in Romans 13:5,” Faith and Mission 8 (Fall 1990): 87-88. 15
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both are parallel manifestations of God in action to maintain the order of things: the one is the wrath external and mediated by society, the other is its internal counterpart.21
In summary, the epistle to the Romans teaches that the conscience is a divine gift to all men. This gift is explicitly clear in the moral consciousness and possesses the law of God written on every heart. “Conscience therefore does not possess its own intrinsic authority: its authority rests in God himself who has given it, and on his law, the knowledge of which it brings to man’s attention.”22 1 and 2 Corinthians. Chapter 8 provides some important insight into this issue of conscience. In regards to food being offered to idols, new converts did not want to take any chance of being contaminated by the evil pagan influences from which they had been rescued through salvation. Although they knew the pagan gods previously worshipped were not real, these believers still struggled with the real idolatrous practices in which they had recently participated. Their consciences were not yet strong enough to allow them to eat foods offered to idols without having it pull them back into idolatrous activity. If these “weaker brothers”23 eat meat offered to idols with their more knowledgeable spiritual brothers contrary to their conscience, they have defiled their conscience through eating. Even though the act itself is not morally or spiritually wrong, it becomes sinful when it is committed against the conscience. This concept of a “defiled conscience” is one that has been ignored and/or violated. MacArthur sheds helpful light on this issue. Such a conscience brings confusion, resentment, and feelings of guilt. A person who violates his conscience willingly does what he thinks to be wrong. In his own mind he has committed sin; and until he fully understands that the act is not sin in God’s eyes, he should have no part in it. Defiled conscience is defiled faith. Such behavior brings guilt feelings, despair, and loss of joy and peace. It may also lead to sinful thoughts connected with former pagan practices and even lead a person back into some of them.24
Verse nine is a stern warning to mature believers. They are not to become a stumbling block to weaker brothers. If an immature believer sees a more knowledgeable brother doing something that bothers his weak conscience, his spiritual life is now damaged. A mature believer should never influence a fellow Christian to go against something that his conscience is protecting him from. It is possible for a stronger brother to lead a weaker brother into sin by placing him in a situation he cannot handle and thus leading him against the promptings of his conscience (vs. 10-11).25 It is never right to cause another believer to violate his conscience. When a believer does this he sins against Christ himself. Causing a brother to stumble is more than an offense against him. It is an offense against the Savior.26 C. A. Pierce, Conscience in the New Testament (London: SCM, 1955), 71. Harris, “Conscience in the Pauline Writings,” 180. 23 A weaker brother is defined as one whose conscience constrains him from participating in practices that are not prohibited in Scripture. His conscience is not yet informed as to the wonderful liberation of grace received at salvation. 24 John MacArthur, Jr. 1 Corinthians, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody, 1984), 194-195. 25 The word “perish” in verse 11 carries with it the idea of “to come to sin.” 26 MacArthur, 1 Corinthians, 196. 21 22
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What then is the teaching about the conscience gleaned from this chapter? First, Paul is proclaiming the freedom that every believer has from regimentation by an alien conscience. Second, Paul is very emphatic in his calling for stronger believers to be sensitive to the needs of a brother who possesses a weaker conscience.27 In chapter 10 Paul addresses similar issues in dealing with believers eating meat offered to idols. There are two particular situations in which the believer could come into innocent contact with idolatrous meat: the marketplace and another person’s home. It is notable that conscience in this text is given a subordinate role to love. Paul comments that it is best to avoid asking questions about the origin of the offered meat so that questions of conscience are not raised.28 In short, it is a case, not of defiling the conscience of the eater (stronger brother), but of avoiding inflaming the conscience of the weaker brother.29 Therefore, the purpose of conscience of 1 Corinthians is to teach the overriding principle of edification through promoting love and personal discipline in the life of every believer.30 Paul rejoices in the testimony of his own conscience in that it has been informed by God, the creator and sustainer of the universe (2 Cor 2:12). In the same fashion, he sincerely hopes that the consciences of others will be informed in the same manner (2 Cor 4:2; 5:11). “Thus, not only is the avoidance of a bad, accusing conscience worth aspiring after. It is even more important to have a good conscience which confirms the agreement of faith and life. Appealing to such a conscience which is in line with the will of God, Paul can also demand obedience to those in authority (Romans 13:5).”31 The Pastoral Epistles. The Pastoral Epistles place a tremendous amount of emphasis on the importance of having a good conscience. 1 Tim 1:5 names the conscience as one of the prerequisites for true Christian love, and verse 19 exhorts believers to “hold faith and a good conscience.” The summation of conscience in the positive sense is found in 1 Tim 3:9. “Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience.” The mystery referred to here is a reference to New Testament revelation.32 The faith is the content of the New Testament revealed truth. Believers33 are commanded to embrace the content of this revelation with a conscience that does not accuse them. It is not enough to merely believe the truth, it must also be practiced and modeled in everyday life. The affirmation of the believer by his conscience is directly proportional to the depth of biblical knowledge coupled with daily,
Hahn, “Conscience,” 1: 350. Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 487-488. 29 Hahn, “Conscience,” 1: 350. 30 Harris, “Conscience in the Pauling Writings,” 183. 31 Hahn, “Conscience,” 1: 350. 32 MacArthur notes that this revelation encompasses the mystery of the incarnation of Christ (1 Tim 3:16), of the indwelling of Christ in believers (Col 1:26-27), of the unity of Jews and Gentiles in Christ (Eph 1:9; 3:4-6), of the saving gospel (Col 4:3), of lawlessness (2 Thes 2:7), and of the rapture of the church (1 Cor 15:51-52). John MacArthur, Jr., 1 Timothy, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody, 1995), 128. 33 The command given here is specifically for deacons, but the qualifications for deacons are qualifications that all believers should meet. That is the basis for the argument of the author when it is stated that all believers should hold to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 27 28
An Issue of Conscience
continual obedience.34 “Thus, the conscience can be regarded as the place where the ‘mystery of faith’ is to be found.”35 The negative side of conscience is found in Titus 1:15 which speaks of the “corrupt and unbelieving” whose “minds and consciences are corrupted.” Because the Cretan false teachers were holding their position in regard to the necessity of ceremonial purity, they were demonstrating the corrupt nature of their minds and their consciences. In essence, they could no longer determine right from wrong in this corporate issue of cleansing.36 Another negative example of conscience is found in 1 Tim 4 where the expression “seared conscience” is used. This phrase will be explained later in the paper. The purpose of conscience in the Pastoral Epistles is to demonstrate the relationship of faith and truth to a pure conscience. In direct contrast, the rejection of truth results in the immoral behavior of false teachers. It is imperative for every believer to embrace faith and truth in an effort to maintain their pure conscience before God.37 Conscience in the Book of Hebrews Brown does an exceptional job of explaining the purpose of conscience in the book of Hebrews: Hebrews also stresses the Christological basis of the New Testament understanding of conscience, when it declares that “the blood of Christ” purifies the conscience “from dead works to serve the living God” (9:14). Using the symbolism of the Day of Atonement ritual in which the high priest entered the sanctuary once a year, Hebrews 10:22 urges believers to enter themselves, drawing near “with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” Late Judaism knew of no complete release from consciousness of sin despite repeated cultic rites (cf. 9:9; 10:2). It is only because of the high priestly sacrifice of Christ that “we are sure that we have a clear conscience” (13:18).38
Thus, the purpose of conscience in Hebrews is to demonstrate how believers can not only be freed from their sinful consciences, but also how their consciences can be purified through the sacrificial atonement of Jesus Christ. Conscience in the Petrine Epistles There are three references to suneidesis in Peter’s letters (1 Peter 2:19; 3:16, 21). In this letter Peter’s audience is challenged to live lives that are free from accusation. Believers must be able to withstand any accusations from a pagan world with a clean conscience. Provided that a believer is right with God and obedient to his promptings, those who engage in groundless charges must come to the realization that such indictments are baseless. This letter also shows how the believer should be confident to stand before pagan opposition without fear. This confidence is not based on some outward ritual washing but on a good MacArthur, 1 Timothy, 128. Hahn, “Conscience,”, 1: 351. 36 Thomas D. Lea and Hayne P. Griffin, Jr., 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman, 1992), 292. 37 Roy B. Zuck and Darrell L. Bock, A Biblical Theology of the New Testament (Chicago: Moody, 1994), 366. 38 Hahn, “Conscience,” 1: 351. 34 35
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conscience before God. Thus, the purpose of conscience in the Petrine letters demonstrates how a good conscience is integral for the followers of Christ to maintain their spiritual purity in a pagan culture.39 Summary The conscience is an innate faculty that all men possess by which they are able to identify right and wrong. The Greek word for conscience is suneidesis and it literally means, “knowledge with.” In the Old Testament the word is never used but its idea is seen in the word “heart.” suneidesis is most used proficiently in the writings of Paul. In Romans the idea of conscience is a divine gift to all men. This gift is explicitly clear in the moral consciousness and it makes clear the law of God that is written on every heart. This idea is continued in Corinthians when Paul encourages other believers to take their divine gift and subjugate it out of love for other believers. Believers must be careful of the consciousness of other believers. Each man is accountable to Christ and must obey his conscience as must as it has been informed. Love is the prevailing spirit in this whole discussion on Christian liberty. The pastoral epistles instruct the believers of the importance of truth in relation to the conscience. Hebrews demonstrates how the sacrificial work of Christ frees the conscience from sin and Peter teaches that the believer must maintain his pure conscience in a pagan culture. Therefore, a biblical theology of the conscience could be defined in this way: the conscience is an innate faculty that is possessed by every man and informed by the law of God written on the heart. The believer’s conscience is freed from sin and purified by the sacrificial work of Christ on the cross. In the believer, the conscience is informed even more through the working of the Holy Spirit and the impartation of divine revelation. Every believer is answerable to his own conscience. However, when in a situation with a weaker brother the believer with the more informed conscience should, out of a spirit of love, submit his conscience to help that believer stay within the bounds of his own conscience. Finally, every believer must work to keep his conscience pure and unspotted from the world in order to answer every possible accusation from the pagan culture. Properties of Conscience Before regeneration, an unbeliever is led by his conscience. His moral judgments are good only as much as his depraved nature has informed him so. Therefore, his judgments will always be tainted by sin. However, after salvation, the Holy Spirit resides in the believer and now works with the conscience to help the believer make right moral choices through informing the conscience of what is right and pleasing to the Lord. In this section the functions of conscience both prior to and after regeneration will be examined, along with the co-union of the Holy Spirit and conscience. The Functions of the Conscience The functions of the conscience are threefold. First, it distinguishes that which is morally right and wrong. Second, it urges man to do that which he recognizes to be right. Finally, the
39 Norman Hillyer, 1 and 2 Peter, Jude, New International Biblical Commentary (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1992), 116.
An Issue of Conscience
conscience executes judgment on a man’s acts and executes that judgment within his own soul.40 Distinguishing Morally Right and Wrong The term that could be used to describe this function is “witness.” This description has already been used several times in the biblical theology of conscience.41 Matheson makes an interesting observation: Conscience speaks in man’s heart with authority. It, so to speak, demands attention and commands obedience. There is complete indifference to merely personal feelings in the functioning of conscience because its concern is solely with the question of right and wrong, and there is no respect to persons. That man has within himself a factor whose functioning is perfectly impartial and without bias, which cannot respect his own person as over against another and which claims binding authority over him, is surely a striking fact. To deny the claim of one’s conscience is consciously to break one’s own integrity, to prove disloyal, traitorous, untrue to oneself.42
The conscience bears witness in three separate ways. First, it bears witness to all of humankind by showing to themselves that they are aware of and sensitive to an inward law (Romans 2:15). Second, it bears witness by confirming emotions as actual feelings (Romans 9:1). Here the conscience indicated internally to Paul that his statement about his felt grief was directly in line with his actual feelings. Finally, Paul rejoices because of the witness of his conscience that he has lived “with devout motives and godly sincerity” (2 Cor 1:12). These three examples of the conscience bearing witness demonstrate the importance of this function of conscience.43 Urging to Right Action The second function of the conscience is to act as a judge. The conscience acts as an adjudicator regarding the moral quality of every action of man. One author called the conscience, “the moral judiciary of the soul, not the law, nor a sheriff, but a judge.”44 If the action falls in line with the persons standard of conduct, the conscience gives a “not guilty” verdict and vice versa. “Feeling inward remorse or moral pain over a wrong action indicates that one’s conscience as a judge has pronounced him guilty.”45 This is probably the most prominent function of the conscience to be understood universally. Many Greek authors including Plutarch, Demosthenes and Philo wrote treatises concerning the guilty pangs associated with a condemning conscience. Shakespeare also considered this idea of conscience. In his Zuck, “The Doctrine of the Conscience,” 332. Romans 2:15; 9:1; and 2 Cor 1:12 are the three texts used to describe the conscience as a witness. “Their actions show to all that they are aware of an inward moral law; their consciences show to themselves that they are aware of and sensitive to such a law; and their thoughts or reasoning which condemn or approve one another’s conduct show that they possess and follow an inward law or moral standard of some sort.” Zuck, “The Doctrine of Conscience,” 333. 42 Matheson, “Conscience,” 101. 43 Zuck, “The Doctrine of the Conscience,” 333. 44 Ibid. 45 Ibid. 40 41
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rendition of Hamlet (Act III, Section I) he wrote, “Thus conscience does make cowards of us all.”46 The first illustration of conscience as judge is found in the garden of Eden. After Adam and Eve committed sin and God came to walk in the garden with them, they both hid out of shame. The pangs of conscience were experienced for the first time in human history. “We cannot turn conscience on or off, because it acts automatically. Adam was afraid for the first time because he was aware of guilt and of the consequences of guilt. His act had activated his conscience. Apparently it was there all the time, created with him, but it had not acted because Adam had never disobeyed before. He had never had the eyes of conscience opened until he had, in fact, become guilty.”47 The conscience is our moral judge. Executing Judgment in the Soul The executing of judgment in the soul brings remorse when an individual has broken God’s law. Matheson explains. “Through their consciences God awakens men to a sense of the unsatisfactory relationship in which they stand to Himself. . . . There comes with such awakening always a sense, however feeble, of overhanging penalty as the natural accompaniment of a sense of guilt. Therefore conscience goads to amendment of life in order thereby to escape avenging justice.”48 This type of awakening is typically self-centered in its scope, but may range from faint stirrings to truly agonizing concern. It comes to its ultimate crisis under consciousness of being face to face with God, with the consequent appreciation that the sinfulness of sin arises from our disobedience to Him.49 The primary example of this in Scripture is David when he is confronted by the prophet Nathan. David fought back his conscience over and over again, but when openly confronted by Nathan, the conscience executed its judgment and David was overwhelmed with a burden of guilt out of which he wrote Psalm 52. The conscience clearly acts as the executor of judgment upon the soul, working to convict the heart and bring a wayward soul back in line with the truth of God’s revelation. Pre- and Post-Regeneration Conscience Just as man is translated from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light through the sacrificial work of Christ and regeneration, so too is the conscience renewed at the point of salvation. No longer is the conscience in bondage to the slavery of sin. The Unsaved Conscience before Regeneration The unregenerate conscience can be viewed both positively and negatively. It is possible for a depraved individual to make a good moral choice that is affirmed by the conscience.50 Ibid. John Y. Clagett, The Christian Conscience (Schaumburg: Regular Baptist Press, 1984), 14. 48 Matheson, “Conscience,” 111. 49 Ibid., 112. 50 Hallesby in his chapter entitled, “The Conscience of Fallen Man” argues extensively for an understanding that divides the conscience into two units: form and content. He defines content as “the concrete substance of the judgment which conscience pronounces” and form as “the peculiar function of the soul which tells man that he ought to do the will of God.” He goes on to argue that the form of conscience is the same in all men, and thus, infallible. However, he states that the content of conscience is very fallible because it is dependent on the extent of the knowledge of the will of God that that individual possesses. There are two major flaws in this argument. First, to argue that any part of depraved man is infallible is incredibly dangerous. Second, to dichotomize the conscience is to excuse 46 47
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This is possible because unregenerate man still possesses the image of God (albeit tainted by sin) and has divine law written on his heart. However, there are no explicit examples of this in the Scripture.51 We have seen that the presence of conscience in man does not in any way imply any germ or root of righteousness in him. . . . Yet through their consciences God awakens men to a sense of the unsatisfactory relationship in which they stand to Himself. This awakening to a sense of doubt and fear as to their relationship to God may come without the written word of God. Men may thus be moved to a marked amendment of conduct and to behavior that is strikingly like righteousness. For there comes with such awakening always a sense, however feeble, of overhanging penalty as the natural accompaniment of a sense of guilt. Therefore conscience goads to amendment of life in order thereby to escape avenging justice.52
All examples of a positive conscience in the unsaved involve promptings to bring men to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. In addition to this, there are examples of a pricked conscience (Acts 2:37 no doubt substitutes the word “heart” for “conscience”) and a witnessing conscience (Rom 2:15). This seems to indicate a general condition of lost souls possessing a conscience that is in the process of trusting or hardening.53 The negative side of unregenerate conscience involves many of the texts that were examined earlier. The unregenerate are subjected to a weak conscience (1 Cor 10:28-29)54, a defiled conscience55 (Titus 1:15) and even a seared conscience (1 Tim 4:2).56 Clearly, the conscience of the unregenerate is completely depraved and has no redemptive qualities apart from the saving grace of Jesus Christ. The unregenerate conscience can prompt men to come to Christ through the proclamation of the truth of God’s Word. It is by the working of God to bring those whom He chooses to Himself. The Renewed Conscience after Regeneration The conscience of the believer differs from that of the unbeliever in two primary ways. First, the conscience is no longer in bondage to the sin nature but takes precedence over it. our sin nature away simply as poor education of the consciences content. The conscience in fallen man is completely and totally depraved. Even though every man possesses the law of God written on their heart, their conscience can easily lead them astray through the deceitfulness of our sin nature (Jer 17:9). O. Hallesby, Conscience (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1933), 41-42. 51 Congdon argues that this can possibly give us insight into the mind of God. “In His omniscience He knows that the glorying of the proud is vanity; still, though they may boast of goodness the Lord permits no recording of it in His Word. On the contrary, God will show that their approving conscience is actually only a defiled thing.” Roger Douglass Congdon, “The Doctrine of Conscience,” Bibliotheca Sacra 103 (January 1946): 78. 52 Matheson, “Conscience,” 111. 53 Congdon, “The Doctrine of Conscience,” 78-79. 54 Whether the lost or the saved are in view here is under question. Paul warns Christians against giving people occasion to say something like this against them: “We thought him very narrow, we thought he recognized only Christ as God, but you see he partakes with us in the recognition of all our gods. He has so much more liberty than we thought.” Thus it could be argued the same type of conscience is here as is also predicated in the believer. Congdon, “The Doctrine of Conscience,” 79. 55 ”Defiled” carries the idea of dyed, polluted, or stained. It is comparable to the “blinded mind” of the unbeliever. 56 Congdon, “The Doctrine of Conscience,” 79.
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Second, the object of the conscience is not to please self but to please God. Many of these elements of conscience have already been touched on so they need to be reviewed only briefly. The regenerate conscience is God-focused (1 Pet 2:19), one in which God has compete control and self-will is not considered. It is also good57 (1 Tim 1:5, 19; 1 Pet 3:16, 21) and pure (1 Tim 3:9; 2 Tim 1:3). The conscience also bears witness to the validity of a man’s statements and actions to indicate that they were done in the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit (Rom 9:1; 2 Cor 1:12; 5:11). The regenerate conscience is also informed and developed (1 Cor 10:25-27) over the weak conscience described in 1 Cor 8. “This signifies the conscience free from the law, the desires of the flesh, superstition and unbiblical tradition. It is the disposition of the man who lives freely and fully in the benefits of grace to the glory of God.”58 The negative aspects of the regenerated conscience differ from those of an unbeliever due to the believer’s righteous standing before God. However, the believer’s conscience can be weak (1 Cor 8:7, 10, 12) or ignorant. The believer who typifies this type of conscience is living a life bound in the grave clothes of legality. It is possible for the believer to have an unperfected (Heb 9:9; 10:2) and unclean conscience (Heb 9:14) which depends on something other than the blood of Christ to purge its guilt. It seems also that the believer’s conscience can be evil according to Heb 10:22. Zuck states, “Only those whose hearts have been sprinkled from an evil conscience (made clean from a guilty conscience) can draw near to God in spiritual worship and service.”59 So then, the regenerate and unregenerate consciences differ in relation to the sin nature and the ultimate priority of self versus God. What is the agent that makes this change come about? How is the conscience taken from being unregenerate and depraved to a new, sanctified conscience? The Role of the Holy Spirit and Revelation What is it that evokes change in man? The revelation of God in the Old and New Testaments is the agent that brings forth life change in every man (Rom 10:17; James 1:2224). The law belonged to the Old Covenant. The New Testament believer is free from the law. To speak of the duties of a believer is therefore to put him in bondage under the law again. This constitutes unevangelical preaching. The believer has had the law written in his heart; the love of God has now been shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Spirit. Therefore he does the will of God in willing love and obedience.60
57 Congdon argues that the conscience possesses an innate goodness, not one that is simply concerned with an outward appearance of goodness. This leads to an inward satisfaction in having nothing between God and self. However, to argue that man has any sense of innate goodness is to deny total depravity. Also, to argue that the end result of a good conscience an inward satisfaction in man seems to take the God-focus out of the regenerate conscience and place it back on man. The better understanding is to view the good conscience as one that is renewed by God and informed by the Holy Spirit to make good moral choices that are pleasing to God. Congdon, “The Doctrine of Conscience,” 76. 58 Congdon, “The Doctrine of Conscience,” 76-77. 59 Zuck, “The Doctrine of the Conscience,” 337. 60 Hallesby, Conscience, 111.
An Issue of Conscience
This “new education” done in the hearts of regenerated believers by the Holy Spirit is accomplished through the truth of God’s Word and the process of sanctification. “God has not relied solely upon nature to accomplish the task of . . . conditioning in every man’s conscience. The universal work of the Holy Spirit is also said to be a contributing factor. . . . This inner self-attestation of God is the result of God’s activity in man, that it is witnessed to by conscience, producing in every man . . . an inalienable knowledge about his moral reciprocal relation to God.”61 The Holy Spirit also enables believers to live a life of love in relation to conscience that is commanded in 1 Cor. Matheson makes note of this fact. “The revelation of God which peculiarly characterizes the enlightenment of the understanding under regeneration is the exhibition of His love. The truth of this exhibition bears on conscience in a powerful manner.”62 Just as justice acts as the bonds of conscience, so love acts as an inescapable obligation based on our response to the love of God. This affects the entirety of the Christian life. Although it is true that the affections cannot be compelled, the underlying principle of regeneration is just that! The sinful nature cannot love God. “That which is born of the Spirit” can love Him as it is its very nature to do. “This love is constrained under a sense of obligation to Him for the love He exhibited toward sinners in giving his Son to die for their redemption, and in His Son’s giving of Himself (Gal 2:20). It is their appreciation of this love that carries sinners out of themselves so that they do ‘not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again’ (II Corinthians 5:15).”63 Clearly, the Holy Spirit works a very important role in regards to the post-regeneration conscience. It uses the revelation of God’s Word to instruct the conscience of a believer and “re-educates” it according to the truth of the gospel. As the believer’s conscience is reinstructed to act according to the transforming truth of the gospel, the spirit of love promoted in the Scriptures will prevail in the conscience and instruct the believer to live a life in submission to the Savior. Conclusions There are three primary functions of the conscience: it distinguishes between what is morally right and wrong, it urges an individual to right action, and it executes judgment upon the soul based on the action chosen. The functions of the conscience are similar in both saved and unsaved individuals. However, there are two primary differences that should be noted: the conscience is no longer in bondage to the old sin nature and the primary goal of the conscience is not to please man but rather to please God. These distinctions are manifested through revelation and the illumination of the Holy Spirit as the conscience is reeducated to live according to the truths of God’s Word. The Searing of Conscience A common catch phrase that is use when issues of conscience are considered is the idea of a “seared conscience.” Many times this phrase is used when describing a believer who has fallen into habitual sin or is living a life apart from fellowship with God. However, the conception that a believer can have a seared conscience is a mistaken one. In this section an
61 62 63
Clagett, The Christian Conscience, 31. Matheson, “Conscience,” 118. Matheson, “Conscience,” 118-119
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exegesis of 1 Tim 4:2 will be considered along with practical conclusions to prove that a believer cannot, in fact, have a seared conscience. An Exegesis of 1 Timothy 4:2 What is clear in this passage is that it is possible for a person to defy the voice of his conscience habitually until it is reduced to insensibility. “Seared with a hot iron” is the word kauteriazo and carries with it the idea of making insensitive, like the skin of an animal that has been continually cauterized by a branding iron.64 What is unclear is whether or not this condition of insensitivity can occur in the life of a believer. The individuals referred to in 1 Tim 4:3 are false teachers who are spreading heretical teachings in the church at Ephesus. Although it not entirely clear what these false teachings are, some would argue that there is a Gnostic trend at work.65 Through these teachings they endorsed “the visible expressions, the ascetic practices, and the endless discussions of religious trivia, thinking themselves to be obviously righteous because there were obviously religious. Consequently, they left themselves vulnerable to the deceit and doctrines of demons (4:1-3).”66 The end result of this false teaching is a moral and spiritual apostasy preceding the last days. It begins first with a departure from the truth and finishes with seduction by demons and their doctrines.67 Paul notes that this apostasy had already begun in some gullible women in the church (2 Tim 3:6) and men like Hymenaeus and Philetus (2 Tim 2:17-18). Lea and Griffin argue that these unbelieving false teachers were the only ones who had their consciences cauterized. Two possible emphases may come from this statement. So insensitive had their consciences become that they had lost the power of moral decision making (cf. Eph 4:19). Grieving the Spirit had led to resistance, and resistance had led to quenching (Eph 4:30; 1 Thes 5:19). Paul may also have been suggesting that their consciences carried the brand of Satan. By teaching what was actually false, they had been branded by Satan as his possession and therefore did his will. This shade of meaning emphasizes that the false teachers were willing tools of Satan. Since the context had already emphasized demonic involvement in spreading error, this likely was Paul’s chief emphasis.68 MacArthur agrees that this passage refers only to false teachers, but his application of the seared conscience is different. He understands the seared conscience as one that is completely destroyed, allowing the false teachers to carry out their hypocrisy. He states, “The false teachers’ consciences have been so ignored and misinformed that they have become like scar tissue burned senseless, which cease to function. With scarred consciences, they feel no guilt or remorse as they purvey their false doctrines.”69 Zuck, “The Doctrine of the Conscience,” 339. This trend is seen in the prohibitions against marriage and certain foods (1 Tim 4:3) and the pursuit of false knowledge (6:20; cf. 1:4, 6; 4:7; 6:4). “As was true with most Gnostic variations, this teaching led to asceticism on the one hand and it excused greed and sensual indulgence on the other. Both extremes are always the logical ends of such a philosophy. Marriage was forbidden and certain distinctions between clean and unclean foods were reinstituted (4:3, 8; 5:23; Titus 1:15) under the guise that such practices insured a higher from of holiness.” Zuck and Bock, Theology of the New Testament, 338. 66 Zuck and Bock, Theology of the New Testament, 335. 67 Ibid., 337 68 Lea and Griffin, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, 129. 69 MacArthur, 1 Timothy, 151. 64 65
An Issue of Conscience
Clearly, both MacArthur and Lea argue that these unregenerate false teachers have damaged consciences that are beyond repair. What is the end result of such a cauterized conscience? The answer is found in the second half of Romans 1. The one fundamental reason for the wrath of God revealed against man is the fact that unregenerate man intentionally suppresses again and again the truth about God.70 This correlates directly with the previous discussion of conscience. Every man has the law of God written on his heart, but through conscious rejection and suppression of that innate faculty of moral knowledge he sinks to the lowest form of depravity. That rejection enables him to be a tool of Satan and spread false teaching in the church without remorse while masquerading as a participant of “the faith.” Conclusions on I Timothy 4:2 Can a believer stoop to this level of wickedness? The wicked men described in 1 Tim 4 are clearly not members of the household of faith and are totally depraved in every facet of their being. It is difficult to conceive that a believer who is indwelt by the Holy Spirit can have a conscience that is completely destroyed and influenced by Satan. As discussed earlier, the believer has a renewed, informed conscience through revelation and the Holy Spirit of God. Although it is possible for a believer to have a desensitized or damaged conscience,71 it is impossible for a true follower of God to have a cauterized conscience. Matheson strengthens this argument. Salvation from sin means salvation from practicing iniquity and from dealing in untruth. This requires a conscience functioning under the light of truth and free from offence toward God and toward men. To have such a conscience is the exercise of everyone who is working out his own salvation with fear and trembling because it is God who is working in him both to will and to do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13).72
When an individual is regenerated, he is translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. His whole being is transformed. The “new man” includes a transformation of conscience as well. While the basic functions are the same, the education though God’s revelation will not allow a believer to fall into the complete apostasy and moral chaos in which the false teachers in 1 Tim 4 find themselves. Summary The conscience is an innate faculty that all men have by which they are able to identify right and wrong. A biblical theology of conscience reveals that the conscience is informed by the law of God written on the heart. It is free from sin and purified by the blood of Christ. The believer’s conscience is educated through divine revelation and the indwelling Holy Spirit. Every believer is answerable to his own conscience but in certain situations a believer
Anders, Romans, 48-49. Here an important distinction must be made. A damaged or desensitized conscience is one that is quieted or made weak through habitual sin and is in need of cleansing. However, this conscience never ceases in its function as a judge and always condemns sinful actions based on the revelation of God’s Word and the work of the Holy Spirit. A cauterized conscience is one that fails to condemn wickedness in any capacity, and is completely incapable of determining any sort of moral ethic due to the extent of its damage and insensitivity. 72 Matheson, “Conscience,” 123. 70 71
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should, out of a spirit of love, submit his conscience to help a weaker brother stay within the bounds of his own conscience. Finally, every believer must work to keep his conscience pure and unspotted from the world in order to answer every man. The functions of conscience are similar in both believers and those outside the family of God. However, those who are regenerated have a conscience that is instructed by the revelation of God’s truth and the indwelling Holy Spirit. As a result, it is impossible for a believer to have a conscience that is damaged beyond repair. Those who allow their consciences to become seared completely silence their conscience so that it can no longer distinguish between right and wrong. This is impossible for the believer who has a conscience informed by God’s revelation. The goal of every believer is to state with the Apostle Paul, “I have lived in all good conscience before God” (Acts 23:1). May the Lord grant patience and diligence to every man who seeks to serve him with a conscience that is pure and undefiled.
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Book Reviews Robert L. Thomas. Evangelical Hermeneutics – The New Versus the Old. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2002. 524 pages. Reviewed by Fred Moritz. Post-modernism has affected the thinking of evangelical theologians, and it bleeds down into their writing and thus into the pulpits and churches across America and around the world. Much of the argument over theological positions is the result of a marked shift in the way present day evangelicals interpret Scripture. Thomas, who teaches at The Master’s Seminary in Sun Valley, California, has given us an excellent insight into the issues of hermeneutics and how these issues affect current thinking about Scripture. He writes for the preacher who labors to preach the Word to his people weekly. Part 1 of the book contains eleven chapters and deals with the role of revisionist hermeneutics in altering interpretive principles. He describes for us the shift away from the traditional grammatical-historical methods of interpretation and where this shift has led. He also reiterates the importance of this traditional method of interpreting the Bible. In this first section of the book, Thomas also deals with issues that affect everyone in ministry. He spends an entire chapter on the dynamic equivalence theory of Bible translation. He devotes another chapter to the place of general revelation in hermeneutics. Part 2 of the book covers the role of revisionist hermeneutics in fostering new doctrines. Six chapters apply the issue of the new hermeneutics to progressive dispensationalism, evangelical feminism, evangelical missiology, theonomy, and open theism. Two chapters deal specifically with issues that impact you on the mission field. Chapter Four examines whether dynamic equivalence is a method of translation or a system of hermeneutics. Chapter Fourteen explains how the hermeneutics of evangelical missiology deals with issues that affect modern missionaries. The entire book deals with issues of relevance to every day study of the Word and ministry. The issue of hermeneutics has been a battleground for a number of years. Thinkers such as Gadamer and Thiselton, men not very well known to us, have influenced better known evangelical leaders and writers like Grant Osborne and Eugene Nida. The destructive results of these men’s thinking filter down to the average pastor and church member without many even knowing it. Thomas has researched this field and has made it practical for all of us, but especially those in ministry. Every preacher would profit from the reading of this book. Additionally, any who are working in educational endeavors are encouraged to read and assimilate Thomas’ work. He will be of help to you as you train others for the ministry.
Ted Kluck and Dallas Jahncke. Dallas and the Spitfire. Grand Rapids: Bethany House, 2012. 184 pages. Reviewed by David Lingle. I first saw this title advertised in the winter or spring of 2012 and was looking forward to reading it. It looked like it might be a good read. Having read it, I think it was a good read, though there are some caveats. This book is about discipleship. Actually, it is an abbreviated account of the discipleship of a young man whom God saved out of a life that most of us can scarcely imagine let alone relate to. Ted Kluck reached out to him and patiently and sacrificially helped him grow in his faith. Ted helped Dallas survive a year of Bible Institute training with its attendant “culture shock” and many personal crises (relationship issues, financial issues, authority issues, etc.). One of the great things about this book is that it is a great testimony to God’s saving grace, and that His saving grace can and will powerfully transform a person’s life. It is also a good reminder that this saving and transforming grace does not accomplish its work overnight, and that it also does not accomplish its work without our cooperation. And it is a good reminder that God wants to use all of us in discipleship ministry. This is not a “how to” book. It is just a testimony about how God worked in the author’s life to minister to Dallas, and how God worked in Dallas’s life, in part, through the author. Perhaps the greatest take-away is that God is alive and active and we can and should rejoice at His power and desire to save. This account also serves as a convicting reminder that we all need to be actively discipling. Discipling ought to be inherent in whatever ministry or ministries we find ourselves in, and discipling does not necessarily occur in some sort of standardized format (though some of it might). Discipling should be an outgrowth of the “one another” ministry outlook that all believers should have. Be warned though. The author considers anyone or any ministry with standards to be legalists or legalistic. Fundamentalists are referred to mockingly as “fundies.” The author seems to enjoy making it clear that his superior understanding of Christianity allows him the liberty to smoke a good cigar, drink in moderation, and listen to seriously worldly music. In fairness, he makes some snide remarks about his own church as well. Often these remarks smack of a sense of superiority or arrogance. I know I have to be careful not to be judgmental, but that is how he comes across; it is both bothersome and distracting from what is otherwise a good read. Probably his complaint and mine are the same: Neither of us have attained to the other’s level of understanding and spiritual maturity. And perhaps there is an element of truth there. Frankly it may be that some of his criticisms of the “fundies” have at least an element of truth to them. I wonder, e.g., how effectively many of our churches would have been at reaching out to and discipling a Dallas Jahncke. We tend to be most comfortable in working with those whose lives have been redeemed from the depths of respectable sins, as opposed to those whose lives have been redeemed from the depths of debauched sins. But sin is sin and we all need to learn more about loving as Jesus loved. Still, given Dallas’s former addictions, it is difficult to see how listening to hip hop, especially an album that is all about pot (see p. 14), lives up to a Philippians 4:8 approach to life. Or how advocating and allowing for drinking and smoking in moderation would be helpful to an individual whose pre-conversion life was characterized by substance abuse. If you choose to read this book, I would encourage you to think about how you might have approached Dallas’s needs for fellowship and discipleship. Where you differ with the author, think carefully about your own values, as it relates to how sound they are biblically and as it relates to how they should be connected to real life. Often, we have a tendency to want and expect that a young believer immediately accept and conform to all of our
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expectations, when practically they may need some time to grow in their faith and understanding (just like we did!). My dad trusted Jesus later in life and was a heavy smoker at the time. My home church accepted him as a member. I was a little surprised: Didn’t they know, or care, about his smoking habit? After about a year, he quit smoking and has never gone back. I think my church was right and my initial response was incredibly immature. The church, after all, isn’t just for those who have “arrived” spiritually! Practical sanctification is, after all, a life-long process. We do well to remember that! Finally, reflect on how God may want to use you not only in the great work of communicating the message of salvation, but also in His work of transforming lives. We are called to both.
Published on Jan 8, 2013
The E-Journal of Maranatha Baptist Bible College and Seminary, addressing theological and practical issues from a biblical viewpoint.