The Just Shall Live by Faith

jerusalemPaul famously quotes Habakkuk in Galatians 3 to clinch his point that it’s no good going back to Torah.  The false teachers were telling the Galatians that in addition to believing in Messiah Jesus, they needed to be circumcised and enter Israel and live by Torah.   Paul says, no, Torah is over, Israel no longer has a separate role in the world, the old world of sacred days, foods, and places has passed away, and now Jew and Gentile alike approach God directly in Christ.  In fact, the expiration date on Israel will soon be manifested to the world, as the people would be slaughtered and driven away, and the temple, priesthood, and sacrifices all disappear once and for all in 70 A.D. in the destruction of Jerusalem.

The Habakkuk quote is especially apt.  It is much more than a proof text of faith vs. works.  Habakkuk faced much the same circumstance as Jerusalem did in Paul’s day:  a corrupt priesthood, national apostasy, and looming judgment.  The armies of Babylon were just over the horizon, and they were running the table, capturing city after city, conquering kingdom after kingdom.  Israel was on their list, and faced the impending slaughter and taking away of the people, and the loss of the temple, the priesthood, and the sacrifices.

But God’s message to the prophet is, “when I take away the temple and the city, all is not lost.  The just shall live by his faithfulness.”

Same to you, Galatians.  You do NOT need to be circumcised and get into Israel and commit to Torah.  That is over in Christ, and soon will disappear completely from history.  Believe in Jesus: his faithfulness has satisfied God completely, and in Christ, you have everything.

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Saul was Elect

Well, he wasn’t elect, but he was elect.

When the Gibeonites come to terms with David, they refer to the town of Gibeah as “Gibeah of Saul, the elect of the Lord.”  (2 Sam 21.6)  All the English versions say “Saul, the Lord’s chosen“, but the Greek LXX uses the word ἐκλεκτοὺς, elect.

I’m just pointing out yet another place where the Bible uses the word “elect” differently than the way it is used in Reformed systematics.  And my follow-up point is that we should be okay with recognizing that fact, and with thinking in ways that allows that “elect” sometimes means “elect“, but sometimes it just means “elect,” because we should want to think like the Bible thinks and be able to use words the way the Bible uses words.

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The Wrong Question about Baptism

baptismIn a recent internet exchange, one of the Baptists raised their go-to objection, demanding book, chapter, and verse for a command to baptize infants.

It strikes me that this question has things exactly backwards.  The apostolic writings assume the churches are familiar with the washing/baptism rituals of Israel.

Hebrews 6:1 Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 and of instruction about washings [literally “baptisms”], the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And this we will do if God permits. (Heb. 6:1-3)

Repentance, faith, baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection, and judgment are elementary doctrines.  Among other things, new Christians would be taught about the washings and hand impositions associated with the Levitical sacrifices and clean/unclean regulations, which serve as the big print, colorfully illustrated, beginner books of worship and the approach to God.

In all of Israel’s experience, children were always included.  There was no entry age restriction for eating Passover.  Infants were among the host of Israel baptized in the Red Sea (1 Cor. 10).  They all drank water from the rock.  They all ate manna, the bread from heaven.  And, every time the circumstance applied, they were washed/baptized in the cleanliness rituals:

  • Infants and small children would have eaten at the family table and then all would have baptized afterwards when the meal was a lamb from the flock killed by, and recovered from a wild beast. (Lev. 17.15)
  • Infants and small children would be routinely baptized for normal household contact with furniture mom or older sister used during her period, or dad in a time of a bodily discharge.  (Lev. 14 and 15)
  • Infants and small children would be baptized on the occasion of a family death, if they happened to be inside at the time of death. (Number 19.14ff)

So on the day of Pentecost when Peter told the people to repent and be baptized, and that this promise “is for you and your children,” nobody would imagine any kind of age or maturity test.  (And by the way: where does the Bible require a maturity test for anyone, anywhere, for anything? The “age of accountability” is a man-made doctrine.)  In fact, if the apostles meant for there to be an age/maturity test, they would have had to do a lot of teaching to explain such a big change.

In the mind of scripture, the question is not “where do the apostles explicitly say to baptize infants?”  The question instead is, “Where is the book, chapter, and verse that explains why we are to STOP including the entire household?”

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24-hour Days, 24-hour Sabbath

Questions for candidates examined according to the Westminster Standards.

The Sabbath Day is tied to the Days of creation:

10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it. (Exod. 20:1 KJV)

So is Sabbath Day observance to be a full 24-hour day? Are creation Days 24-hour days? If creation days are not 24-hours, then why should a Sabbath Day observance be taught as a 24-hour day?

Is the “Day of the Lord” as spoken of by the prophets a 24-hour day? Is the “Lord’s Day” a 24-hour day?

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Heaven Opens

Mark uses the word that is at the root of our word “schism” twice in his gospel.  First, heaven “schisms” at Jesus’ baptism, the Spirit descends, and the Father speaks.  Second, the veil in the temple “schisms” at the crucifixion when Jesus “breathes his last” or “gives up the ghost.”  The verb is basically “ex-pneuma”, Jesus “out-spirits.”

So heaven is torn open when the Spirit comes on Jesus in his baptism, and the blue, heaven-colored veil of the temple is torn apart when the Spirit exits at his crucifixion.

The movement of the Spirit at these two heaven-tearing events suggests an avenue for thinking about what happens on Pentecost when the Spirit comes, not on one man, but upon all of the assembled disciples.  This a radical fulfillment of God’s plan for the ages, which Ephesians 1 tells us is to unite all things in heaven and on earth in Christ.  Before the incarnation, heaven was closed, curtained off, and God and Man could not unite.  But Jesus’ ministry causes a double tearing of the curtain that opens wide the way for God to dwell in his people by the Spirit, and for all of us to unite with the one who now says to each, “you are my beloved son.”

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One. Done.

In John 17, Jesus prays, “that they may be one.”  This verse is championed by many as a cry for organizational unification.  Those of this opinion will say that in order to see the answer of Jesus’ prayer, we must see every Christian in the one true church (whichever group that might be), or we must somehow get all the varieties of churches to merge and combine.

Now it may be that union and unification are good goals and that the divisions and divides in the church are wrong, harmful, and lamentable.  But it is not clear that Jesus’ prayer in John 17 is really about the circumstance of today’s unhappy church divisions.

At this point in his prayer, Jesus turns from praying about his immediate disciples to praying about those who will come to believe through the preaching of his disciples.  It is that larger group that Jesus prays will be one.  And there is good reason to believe that the unity Jesus prayed for was achieved.

When Paul writes to the churches, he insists that there is no longer any Jew/Gentile division.  He scolds Peter in Antioch for withdrawing table fellowship when Jews from Jerusalem visit.  By ceasing to eat with the Gentiles, Peter is denying the gospel.  There is One Table.  When you separate table fellowship from other Christians, you are denying the gospel.

In Ephesians, Paul tells the Gentiles that Jesus has accomplished a new oneness by the cross.  Jesus “has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.”  So there is the answer to Jesus’ prayer that they may be one.  He did it.  He made them one.  The reconciliation by the cross is accomplished. Finished. Done.

So it seems much more likely that on the eve of the cross, Jesus is praying for the fulfillment of God’s plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth, than that Jesus was praying about some distant form of desirable church unification.

To be sure, it may be that structural church unity is downstream from Jesus prayer in John 17, but it also seems certain that the way ahead is by giving thanks that the one new man has indeed already been created, and that we must now behave like it, especially by refusing to deny one another table fellowship.

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Old man, old … self?

For no reason at all, other than political correctness, the ESV guys for Ephesians have changed the word “man” to “self” in Ephesians.  Chapter 4 tells us to put off the old man and put on the new man. But the ESV knows better and protects our delicate cultural sensitivities by telling us to put off the old self and put on the new self.  Ugh.

It may seem like a harmless concession to the political concerns of our sorry culture to change “man” to “self”, but it is not.  When you read the faithful King James, which tells you to put off the old man and put on the new man, you are only half a thought away from making the association of old man = Adam and new man = Christ.  That’s good.  That’s what *should* be handy in the linguistic mind of the scripture.  But the ESV pretty effectively eliminates the possible Adam/Christ association by restricting things to the merely personal.  In our sorry culture, it’s always just about you and your personal self, after all.

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What you Think, What you Do

In the Donatist controversy, the early church concluded that sacraments are valid in their *doing*, and that doing is not invalidated by the personal failings of the man who officiates.  So the slogan was “doing the work, does the work,” or “the work works,” or “ex opere operato.”  If your dear pastor Cleanthus failed in the face of Roman persecution, don’t worry, your baptism is still good, and the eucharist he served is still valid.  Doing the work, does the work.

The reformers said the same.  Calvin told men that their baptism was valid, even at the hands of some scoundrel of a corrupt and worldly Roman priest.  The sacrament does not somehow fail because of the failed piety or doctrine of the priest or people. The sacrament is what God says it is, and that is not changed or limited by the kinds of human confusion or failings that often come into the mix.

So baptism is what God says it is, and baptism does what God says it does, whether it is performed in a Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Catholic, or Orthodox church.   And the eucharist is what God says it is, and the eucharist does what God says it does, whether it is celebrated by Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Catholics, or Orthodox.

So the church is mistaken to impose tests of doctrinal understanding for participants.  As if the sacrament will somehow go wrong if the participant has the wrong idea in his head as he eats and drinks.  That is the gnostic error: you must get up to the desired level of enlightenment and knowing to enjoy the corresponding spiritual experience.

So a Methodist, a Pentecostal, a Catholic, and a Presbyterian ought all to be able to sit side by side and pass the bread and eat, and pass the wine and drink, and all be fine because doing the work does the work, in spite of the fact that each has a different idea in his head about what’s going on.  Jesus said “do this,” not “think this.”

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The Washing of Regeneration

“Regeneration” has two distinct and different meanings.  1) The way the Bible uses the term.  2) The way theologians use the term.

2.  Theologians talk about “regeneration” as an equivalent to the term “born again” and by that they usually mean an ontological change in the soul of a man as he is changed from being dead in trespasses and sins, to being alive by the Spirit in Christ.  This is what happens when you come to faith and Get Saved.  You used to be Dead spiritually.  Now you are Alive: born of the Spirit.  That is generally what theologians are talking about when they talk about “regeneration.”

1.  But the Bible doesn’t use the term that way at all.  In fact the word regeneration, (palin-genesia, again-generation) occurs only twice in scripture:

Matthew 19:28 Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world [!!regeneration!!], when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Matt. 19:28 ESV)


Titus 3:5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, (Tit. 3:5 ESV)

You can see how the ESV translators in Matthew recognized their problem.  The Greek word is clearly “regeneration”, and it is translated that way in all traditional English translations, but the ESV guys knew that the English word has come to mean something that doesn’t fit what Jesus is talking about.  What to do, what to do?  Ah!  Change Jesus’ word!  There.

Or, we could actually submit ourselves to the Bible and retrain our thinking.  We could use the word “regeneration” and learn that in the Bible, it is talking about the new age, the new world that comes after the end, in the resurrection.  In the regeneration, the Son of Man is sitting on his glorious throne.  THEN is the regeneration.  Not when you Get Saved.

So when Paul refers to baptism as the washing (loutrou) of regeneration, he is not saying that baptism effects some kind of ontological change in the soul.  He is saying that baptism marks you, prepares you, for the age to come.  Those who are baptized are marked for life in the regeneration, when the dead are raised, a new genesis, and Jesus sits on his glorious throne.

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After the Temple … sacrifices?

The beingjewish dot com website has an article that answers the question “why don’t we have sacrifices any more if we are following Torah?”

The writer does an unhappy bit of handwaving exegesis:

When the First Holy Temple was destroyed, there was no place to bring sacrifices. It was, in fact, forbidden to bring sacrifices, since there was no Temple. We then asked Hashem, how will we attain atonement? Hashem said, through Hosea: “Take words with you and return to Hashem. Say to Him, ‘Forgive all sin and accept the good we do. We will offer prayer instead of animals” (Hosea 14:3).

The problem with that is that when Hosea prophesied, the temple was still standing.  This prooftext had nothing to do with substituting prayer for sacrifices.  Hosea was urging the people to come sincerely, and their prayers were figuratively regarded as offerings, which of course was a common idea.  David talks about bringing the sacrifice of praise in the Psalms and would be astonished if anyone read that to mean he should not also bring sacrifices to priests at the altar.

And that “we will offer prayer instead of animals” translation is terrible.  ‎  וּֽנְשַׁלְּמָ֥ה פָרִ֖ים שְׂפָתֵֽינוּ׃ There is no “instead of” at all.  “And we will offer the bulls of our lips.”

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