Bible Studies

This category contains 11 posts

The Law Always Condemns, The Gospel Always Saves. Or, why I’m a Lutheran.

Gebhard_Fugel_Moses_erhält_die_TafelnComparing Holy Scripture with other writings, we observe that no book is apparently so full of contradictions as the Bible, and that, not only in minor points, but in the principal matter, in the doctrine how we may come to God and be saved… This riddle is solved when we reflect that there are in Scriptures two entirely different doctrines, the doctrine of the Law and the doctrine of the Gospel. C.F.W. Walther, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, 6 (cited fully below)

How are Christians to view the relationship between Law and Gospel? The issue has generated countless views and debates. One recent work which illustrates the breadth of views on this topic is Five Views on Law and Gospel, which outlines the major views on the issue.

C.F.W. Walther’s work, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, is what I would consider the definitive work on Law and Gospel. Here, I will outline what I believe is the correct understanding of Law and Gospel, while drawing heavily from Walther’s work.

Law and Gospel

The most central point of all–that is, the point that I hope readers remember if nothing else–is this: The Law always condemns, the Gospel always saves. This point is emphasized throughout Lutheran theology. What does it mean? Simply put: it means that these two doctrines, found throughout Scripture, have entirely distinct meanings and usages. One cannot intermingle law and gospel while remaining true to either doctrine. Wherever the Gospel is presented as if it had requirements attached to it, there the Gospel is not rightly preached. Whenever the Law is preached as if it offered some kind of free gift, it is not rightly preached. 

Law only has power to condemn. It cannot save. That is because none can keep God’s Law. All sin, and all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). The Law shows what God requires of us. It “issues only commands and demands” (Walther, Proper Distinction…, 9).

In contrast, the Gospel only gives offers without requirements attached (ibid). The Gospel shows us God’s promises and offer of grace.

At first face, one examines the whole of the Bible and finds these teachings throughout. The teachings seem so at odds with one another that one might suspect a contradiction throughout the Biblical teaching. However, the fact is that both doctrines are “equally necessary. Without the Law the Gospel is not understood; without the Gospel the Law benefits us nothing” (Ibid, 8). The reason this is so important is because Law and Gospel are not opposites working against each other. Instead, both “have their final aim [human] salvation” (Ibid, 7). They work together to present a full picture of how salvation comes unto men.

The Law, as we have noted, cannot bring salvation because none but God can fulfill it. That is, it gives the requirements for salvation but no one can meet these requirements! We would all be lost if this were the whole of Biblical teaching. Yet there is more to the story, for the Gospel offers only its promises. God has promised to save. He is mighty to save. God has accomplished our salvation. And this salvation does not come with requirements attached. Such is our hope.

Most simply put then, the purpose of the Law is to show our need for the Gospel because we cannot meet the requirements of the Law. The purpose of the Gospel is to show that God has already met these requirements for us in Jesus Christ and to offer us that fulfillment through Christ’s atoning work. So the Gospel, without the Law, would be empty promises. What need have we for Gospel if we are not sinners? Yet without the Gospel, the Law is only a terror which tells us that all are condemned.

sketch-for-the-crucifixion-thomas-eakinsSome Distortions

A number of objections have been raised against this understanding of Law and Gospel. For example: “[The notion t]hat the law must be viewed as a single entity is one of the most common of all objections made against the Christian use of the Law” (Walter Kaiser, Jr., “The Law as God’s Guidance for the Promotion of Holiness,” 188, cited below). Kaiser then argues against viewing the Law as a single entity. He makes distinctions between Civil, Ceremonial, and Moral laws. I agree that we can make these distinctions, but they do not somehow mean it is impossible to refer to the “Law” as a whole entity with all of the commands God has issued.

Another common objection is that of dispensational thought. It is often charged that because we live in a new dispensation, the teachings of the Mosaic Law, for example, no longer apply to us. Without commenting on the plausibility of dispensationalism, I would simply answer that it seems extremely hard to reconcile the notion that the Mosaic Law has no applicability in our own context with Jesus’ words about the Law: “For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18). Note that this verse also shows Christ using the “Law” as a single, coherent entity.

Yet does this mean that everything recorded in the Mosaic Law has applicability exactly as written? No. A further discussion along this line of thought would take me too far afield, but I think that the Bible does clearly teach there is some discontinuity between the application of Mosaic Law to the Jew and the New Covenant with Christians (for example, the dietary laws do not apply to Christians). This hints back at the divisions Kaiser was keen to make within the Law, and I think the application to the Christian life can be viewed within the categories he discusses.

Conclusion

There is so much more worth saying about Law and Gospel, but in the interest of keeping this post at a readable length, I have had to set some aside. Interested readers should see the annotated sources below.

We have seen that the Law and Gospel must be properly divided in order to properly understand the whole of the Bible’s teaching. Why do I say that this is why I’m a Lutheran? I hope, at least, that other branches of Christianity teach these distinctions between Law and Gospel. But I have to admit that I have not seen it so consistently done as it is within the Lutheran perspective. Martin Luther was right to focus directly upon this teaching, and I believe it is central to the Reformation[s]. It touches upon soteriology, sanctification, the atonement, and more. Thus, I think it is vitally important to get this doctrine correct. In my studies, I have found no teaching so close to the Biblical truth as the Lutheran teaching on Law and Gospel. I’m not saying that everyone should go and become Lutherans. Instead, I think that everyone should benefit from learning the proper distinction between Law and Gospel and apply it to their lives.

The Law always condemns, the Gospel always saves.

Appendix: The Modified Lutheran View?

I think it is important to note that the view put forth as “The Modified Lutheran View” in Five Views on Law and Gospel is not, so far as I can tell, the Lutheran view at all. I want to make this clear because we need to avoid this misunderstanding. Douglas Moo’s view essentially seems to be  temporally-based. He writes, “Basic… to biblical revelation is the contrast between ‘before’ and ‘after’ Christ, a contrast between two ‘ages’ or ‘eras’… the New Testament writers… relegate [the Mosaic Law] basically to the period of time before the coming of Christ” (322).

Those who have stuck with me this long should be able to immediately see how this is utterly different from the Lutheran view I proposed above. The distinction between law and gospel is not a temporal distinction whatsoever. The Law is still with us. Walther himself makes this explicit: “[W]e find both teachings in the Old as well as in the New Testament” (Proper Distinction… 62). There is no temporal dividing line between Old and New such that some new reality has dawned on Law and Gospel. Instead, the Law continues to condemn, while the Gospel continues to save.

Yet Moo goes so far as to say this is a point which needs to be “corrected” within the Lutheran view (ibid). He seems to think that Lutherans would deny that Jesus was able to speak law, while also mistakenly painting the Sermon on the Mount as being a preaching entirely of the Law. Indeed, Moo’s view seems to affirm many of the basic tenants the Lutheran view explicitly denies, such as mixing the uses of Law and Gospel.

I thus would say that Moo’s position is not at all the Lutheran view. It is not a modified Lutheran view at all. Instead, it seems to violate a number of the primary distortions noted above. That said, Moo does admirably to defend the notion of the Law as a coherent, cohesive whole. There is much to commend Moo’s essay, but it ultimately fails, I think, to provide a properly Lutheran view of Law and Gospel.

Links

Like this page on Facebook: J.W. Wartick – “Always Have a Reason.” I often ask questions for readers and give links related to interests on this site.

Annotated Sources

C.F.W. Walther, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel (Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1986). Kindle Edition. This is Walther’s magisterial work on Law and Gospel. I cannot recommend it highly enough. I personally think this book should be required reading for every single seminarian. He goes through and lists numerous distinctions to be made in learning, teaching, and applying Law and Gospel. Every Christian should read this book and apply it to their lives.

For a more succinct summary of what Walther argues in the above, see God’s No and God’s Yes: The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel. This latter work is essentially the same in content as Walther’s text, but 1/4 the length. It is out of print, it seems, which is very unfortunate. I do recommend it highly. But if you cannot get

Five Views on Law and Gospel, ed. Stanley Gundry (Grand Rapids: MI: Zondervan 1999) – I specifically used the following essays: Walter Kaiser, Jr., “The Law as God’s Guidance for the Promotion of Holiness” in Five Views on Law and Gospel, ed. Stanley Gundry, 177-199, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999); Douglas Moo, “The Law of Christ as the Fulfillment of the Law of Moses” in Five Views on Law and Gospel, ed. Stanley Gundry, 319-376, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999). I found this book to be very helpful in outlining various views, but was disappointed with the “modified Lutheran view” (see my appendix here).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

About these ads

The Prayer of Judith: A Devotion from the Apocrypha

The Apocrypha is a wealth of devotional reading that remains largely untouched by Protestants. No longer, I say! Martin Luther said of the Book of Judith (in the Apocrypha):  “[T]his is a fine, good, holy, useful book, well worth reading by us Christians. For the words spoken by the persons in it should be understood as though they were uttered in the Holy Spirit by a spiritual, holy poet or prophet who, in presenting such persons in his play, preaches to us through them” (cited in The Apocrypha: The Lutheran Edition With Notes, 5-6). It should be noted that Luther is not suggesting that the Apocrypha is on par with the sacred canon. Instead, his view of the office of the ministry is that those ministering are speaking through the spirit. He and others view the book of Judith as a piece of historical fiction, made clear to its readers that it was fictional by its commingling of names from different cultural backgrounds and its generally ahistorical nature. Although it is fiction, that does not undermine the possibility of spiritual truths.

Here, we’ll explore the Prayer of Judith in Judith 9:1ff and see how it points to God as transcendent Lord of all creation.

[Y]ou have designed the things that are now and those that are to come. Yea, the things you intended came to pass, and the things you decided presented themselves and said, ‘Lo, we are here'; for all your ways are prepared in advance, and your judgment is with foreknowledge. (Judith 9:5ff, ESV translation of the Apocrypha)

Judith here acknowledges that all which God plans comes to be. Note that here, Judith does not affirm that God specifically intends for each and every thing that occurs. Rather, this passage reveals that God is in control over all things, accomplishing His plan in such a way that the things He intends will come to pass. Yet the author does not imply that God intends for all things which do happen. Judith does not pray thanking God for causing evil–such would be wildly inappropriate. Instead, Judith focuses upon God’s comprehensive plan which takes into account all things. God has “prepared in advance” all His ways. His judgment and execution of plans is “with foreknowledge.” God’s plans are with absolute foreknowledge of what occurs, and we can trust in God to execute rightly.

[T]hey [the Assyrians] trust in shield and spear, in bow and sling, and know not that you are the Lord who crushes wars; the Lord [YHWH] is your name. (9:7b)

One of my favorite lines in the entire book of Judith: “the Lord who crushes wars.” Think about the implications there: it is God who is control of the destinies of nations. Although the weapons of humanity may be raised against each other, the Lord crushes the war itself. We are reminded in Revelation that there will be a day with no more tears (Revelation 21:4). One day, God will crush the very possibility of war.

Furthermore, it should be noted that in context, Judith is not suggesting that God is against any type of war per se; after all, Judith goes on to behead the leader of the Assyrians and the Israelites pursue the Assyrians from their land. Instead, it is the trust in human invention that is under assault here. The Assyrians put their trust into their own weapons instead of God. Rather, it is God who should be trusted, for it is God who has the power not only to wage war but to destroy war itself.

[C]rush their arrogance by the hand of a woman. (9:10b)

God uses the unexpected for His ends. Women were not the expected leaders; deliverance was more likely to have come from a  great general–a man. Yet God uses the weak to bring down the strong.

[C]ause your whole nation and every tribe to know and understand that you are God, the God of all power and might and that there is no other who protects the people of Israel but you alone! (9:14)

Judith continues her prayer, exhorting God to bring His message to all peoples across the whole earth. Such is our own call as Christians. We are to carry out God’s plan in this mortal realm and bring God’s message to the whole earth. Yet we cannot forget that it is God alone who is our unfailing protector. We can trust only in God, not our weapons, not our might: we must trust in God who is far beyond such earthly powers.

Amen.

Source:

The Apocrypha: The Lutheran Edition With Notes (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2012).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Really Recommended Posts 8/17/12

Another really diverse round of posts this time. Politics, reading the Bible, and creationism are just a few of the featured topics. Check them out. If you like them, let me know!

Why don’t we read the Bible?- An exhortation to reading the Bible. We need to set aside the time for real Bible study. Why don’t we?

Who is Paul Ryan? What are his political views and motivations?- Frequent readers will know that I very, very rarely discuss politics. However, I can’t help but be excited about Mitt Romney’s nomination of Paul Ryan for his running mate. Why? Well Paul Ryan’s track record as far as pro-life politics are concerned is nearly spotless. His fiscal policy also seems spot-on to me. I highly recommend checking this post out to those of my readers interested in U.S. Politics.

“What Books Are a Good Investment for Scholars?”- Doug Geivett outlines which types of books will make good investments for scholars.

Debating Tips for Atheists- Want to have genuine discussion with Christians, atheists? Here are some tips.

The Correct View of Creation?- A survey of views on creation (old, young earth) along with some discussion over how to determine which is correct.

Ehrman’s Problem 16: Cosmic Issues He Doesn’t Understand- Bart Ehrman has a lot of problems. One is that he completely misunderstands the book of Job and the cosmic issues therein.

Devotion for a Philosopher/Apologist: Philippians 1-2

To be sure, some preach Christ out of envy and strife, but others out of good will. These do so out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the others proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely, seeking to cause me anxiety in my imprisonment. (Philippians 1:15-17 HCSB)

“Why do I defend the faith?”

I encourage all Christian philosophers and apologists to ask themselves this question. It is a question, I admit, with an answer I’ve been ashamed to discover at times. Sometimes, the answer is “I defend the faith because I feel smart doing so” or “I defend the faith because it makes me look good.”

The defense of the faith is not about yourself. The focus is, and should always be, on Christ. Troubles come the way of the defender of the faith. It is not easy to continue to press on towards knowledge and truth. The Christian philosopher faces the scorn of his fellows, and the Christian apologist the ridicule of those who disagree. Yet in such striving, one can rejoice in the salvation of Christ and His glory alone.

It is often too easy to get wrapped up in yourself when you are defending the faith. Look at the people discussing the arguments you make! Look at those who think you are so strong; so faithful; so spiritual! I tell you, Christian brothers and sisters, such glory is nothing to be had in comparison to the glory of Christ crucified.

Further, do we preach the Gospel in such a way as to gainsay others? Paul experienced those who did this very thing; such people are in our midst to this day. Let us not use the Gospel to slander or attack. Rather, let us preach the grace of God.

Paul wrote,

So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now even more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose. (Philippians 2:12-13 HCSB)

Thus, it is not by ourselves that we spread the Good News. It is God’s work in us, empowering us and enabling us to do His work. We cannot take credit for this, but should always turn our victories back to God. When we are tempted to delight in our own wisdom or knowledge, we must ask for forgiveness and acknowledge that it is from God.

Paul’s warnings ring home to me. I have too often congratulated myself with a successful argument, a sound rebuttal. These things matter not if we do not advance the Kingdom. Let us unite with each other, build each other up, and encourage one another. By doing these things, we can work together, each with his or her strength covering another’s weakness. Let us together hold firmly to the message of life (Phil. 2:16).

Reading

Read Philippians 1 and 2. Reflect on Paul’s joy in the spread of the Gospel and his own striving to keep the focus on Christ, not on himself.

Prayer

Dear Lord God,

Help us to keep our focus always only on you. Please forgive us for the times we struggle and delight in the admiration of others. Forgive us for using your message for our own ends. Help us to forgive others when they stumble, and grant us the grace to lift them up. We work for your glory, oh Lord.

Amen.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Jephthah, Human Sacrifice, and God: What should we make of Judges 11:29-40?

The story of Jephthah is one of the most difficult stories in the Bible. For those who don’t know it, Jephthah, an Israelite, is about to go to war against Israel’s enemies. He vows that if God grants him victory, he will sacrifice whatever comes from his door to greet him first. He wins the battle, and when he returns, his daughter runs out to meet him. She asks one last wish–that she may mourn her lack of marriage for two months. The story ends explaining that this is the reason Israelites (at the time of the writing of Judges) commemorate Jephthah’s daughter.

Understandably, the narrative raises many questions. I view the image  here, a gorgeous painting by Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini, and it wrenches at my heart. Think of Jephthah’s anguish! The language in the Bible stirs the emotions:

When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of timbrels! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter. When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, “Oh no, my daughter! You have brought me down and I am devastated. I have made a vow to the LORD that I cannot break.” (Judges 11:34-35)

The questions, as I noted, are many. Foremost of those which come to mind: “Why would God let this happen?” Another common question about this passage are “Does God allow human sacrifice?”

I’ve written on the passage before, but I think my responses were inadequate. Therefore, I have decided to reexamine this story and see what we can glean from it. Part of these thoughts are due to a conversation I had with an old friend.

Human Sacrifice

First, the question of human sacrifice. Throughout the Bible, God specifically condemns human sacrifice (cf. Leviticus 18:21; Lev. 20:2-5; Deuteronomy 18:10). One point some make is to try to draw the near-sacrifice of Isaac into the mix, but it is contextually clear that God did not intend for Isaac to be sacrificed (see Paul Copan’s excellent work on this story in his Is God a Moral Monster?). Furthermore, it is important to note that the book of Judges is a historical book, and it therefore is not prescribing the actions described therein, any more than other historical texts are prescribing the historical accounts depicted in them (see my “Description is not Prescription”). Yet those passages which are prescriptive all expressly forbid human sacrifice (again, see Lev. 18:21; 20:2-5, Dt. 18:10). Therefore, God forbade human sacrifice, He did not condone it.

Why Not Prevent It?- Context

It is therefore clear that God does not condone human sacrifice. Why, then, does God not intervene in the case of Jepthah and prevent this horrific event from occurring? As a friend noted, it would be quite simple for God to cause one of Jephtah’s servants or, indeed, anything else alive to have come from the door first. Why, then, does God not do this?

There is no simple response to this question. Instead, it is important to note several important points before I offer a possible answer. First, God has given humans free will. The nature of libertarian free will is such that it cannot be undone. Think of it this way: If God were to give us free will only until we tried to do something wrong, and in such cases God intervened and overcame our freedom to cause us to do good, we would not have genuine freedom. We’d really have a kind of pseudo-freedom. As long as we only chose what is good, we would be free, but we could not choose otherwise.

Second, think of what Jepthah had done to begin with. When he vowed that he would sacrifice the first thing to come out to meet him, it seems quite apparent that he had in mind human sacrifice, for a few reasons. It doesn’t seem likely that, for example, a cow walking through his doorway would count as coming to meet him. He specified that his sacrifice would be the first to come meet him. In fact, one might surmise he could have guessed it might be his own daughter–who is more likely to go running out to see him after a battle than his beloved child? There was no shortage of local cultures in the area who offered their children as sacrifices, and indeed the practice had corrupted Israel itself at a few points in history, so Jephthah may have been thinking of such a practice in order to bring about victory.

Third, Jephthah was an outcast. He had been driven from the land before because of his questionable parentage (Judges 11:1-3). The Israelites turned to him only in the time of their dire need, and Jephthah was clearly tempted by their offer to be their leader (Judges 11:4-11). Even given the small amount of context we have for this narrative, we can see that Jephthah desired greatly to be given headship over Israel. It is possible that, in his lust for power, foolishly made a vow to offer one of his household in exchange for the victory.

Fourth, we’ve already seen that it is expressly forbidden to offer human sacrifices. Yet Jephthah makes his vow with full knowledge of the likely consequences.

Finally, Jephthah’s vow offers a dilemma of sorts to a God who acts in history. If God wishes to prevent the human sacrifice, he must cause the defeat of Israel. This would not be just the destruction of Israel, but it would force God to go back on His promise to bring salvation through Israel, which it is impossible for God to do (Numbers 23:19). Not only that, but it would prevent God’s plan of redemption to take place. Yet if God does grant the Israelites victory, He knows that Jephthah will offer a sacrifice of whoever first steps from his house.

Why not prevent it? -Solutions

From these quick thoughts we can see a number of possible answers. First, Jephthah made a vow which he would choose to fulfill in full knowledge that it would almost certainly be a human member of his household whom he would sacrifice. His vow was contingent upon the victory of Israel, whose defeat would have prevented God’s plan of salvation for all humankind. Therefore, Jephthah, by freely making this sinful vow, forced its conclusion. God did not prevent it from occurring because to do so would either destroy free will or prevent the Redemption.

Furthermore, some have argued that Jephthah’s vow to God superseded all else. (I myself made this argument in the original post.) I think this is wrong. God’s eternal moral commands would have superseded the vow. In fact, Jesus Himself commands His followers not to make vows, but rather to let their “yes” be “yes” and their “no” be “no” (Matthew 5:33-37). Jesus actually says that those who believe that a vow to God would supersede all else are wrong–they should not be making the vow in the first place! Thus, Jephthah’s vow was doubly sinful, because it essentially guaranteed a heinous act (human sacrifice) and because he should not have made such a vow to begin with. In fact, it should be noted that if Jephthah had acted in accordance with the Bible, he should have broken the vow! God expressly forbade human sacrifice, and when Jephthah saw that it was his daughter–or had it been any other human–who came to meet him, he should have realized his vow was made foolishly. One could even argue that God did indeed act in such a way as to try to get Jephthah to realize his error. The fact that it was Jephthah’s daughter who greeted him should not have only horrified him but made him realize that his vow was sinful to begin with, and so should not be upheld. Upon the realization that keeping his vow would cause him to break God’s Law, Jephthah should not have said “I must keep this vow” and therefore increase his sin–rather he should have said “I will break this vow, and prevent a horrific sin.” But again, with his freedom, he chose not to.

Jephthah’s story is, in fact, just the kind of story typified throughout Judges, and indeed throughout human history–that of God using sinful people to bring about His ends. Samson, another judge, was a violent and lustful man, yet God used him to save the Israelites on a number of occasions. In the Joseph narrative (Genesis 37ff), God used the evil actions of Joseph’s brothers to bring about a great good (Gen. 50:20). Similarly, Jephthah’s greed lead him to make a vow which he should not have kept which condemned at least one human to death.

Jephthah’s free decisions brought about the death of his daughter. That is why the Bible reports this stirring story–it teaches us that our free will has consequences. That is why the painting of Jephthah is so striking–we can relate to the horror of Jephthah’s realization of his own sinfulness. We’ve each committed our own sins and had to deal with the consequences. God is not a divine vending machine who will intervene when we make mistakes, or when we choose horrifying acts. He has already provided us with an objective reality–the discernment to tell what is right from wrong. Not only that, but He has also provided a Savior, His Son Jesus, to rescue us from all evil–even death itself. God has provided an infinite good to all human persons by providing a means for their salvation. Whosoever will be saved shall be saved.

The story also teaches us once more that God works through imperfect people. Although Jephthah was a sinful man with greedy intentions, he was still used by God to bring about a great good–the preservation of Israel, which itself paved the way for God’s redemptive act.

A Final, Philosophical Note

Those who may desire to press the objection still should investigate the philosophical basis of their claim. Presumably, they are arguing that:

P1- God is obligated to prevent evil (or some certain types of evil).

What justifies that claim? If God has given us free will, there are evils God cannot prevent–those which we choose to bring about. Further, what justifies the claim that God must intervene in every situation with x amount of evil? More specifically, why is God obligated to prevent Jephthah’s daughter from being the first to leave the house (again, I think that it was a series of free choices which brought Jephthah to this unfortunate event, and I disagree with those who think that God could just supersede free will whenever necessary, but I’ll grant it for a moment)? Is God obligated to prevent every evil?

I’m sure there are arguments that could be made to try to support the premise that “God is morally obligated to prevent all (or certain types of) evils” but I don’t think they would be more plausible than P2: “God has created free creatures” and P3: “Freedom cannot be limited.” I would accept a more restricted sense of:

P1′- God is morally obligated to prevent all evils which He is able to prevent and which do not provide for some greater good and which, if prevented, do not lead to other evils with similar or greater impact, etc.

Those who would seek to continue objecting that God, in the Jephthah narrative, should have intervened, must defend their restricted sense of P1, while rebutting P2 and P3, and showing that P1 is more plausible than P1′. It therefore seems that philosophically, exegetically, and theologically, the Jephthah narrative, while poignant, does not threaten God’s character. God works through human history to bring about the Redemption, using imperfect, sinful people to bring about an infinite good. Furthermore, God has given us the good of freedom, but we choose too often to abuse it. Jephthah illustrates this misuse in a heart-rending fashion which serves as a definitive reminder to those who read it that they should heed God’s word and use their freedom not for greed or gain but for the furtherance of God’s Kingdom.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Ehud the Judge/Assassin

Ever notice that the Bible is like an action movie? There are some seriously amazing stories in the Bible. Judges is full of them. Some of these stories can really make people think, whether they believe the Bible is the Word of God or not.

Take Ehud. His story would make a really awesome action movie. It’s recounted in Judges 3:12ff. Here are the highlights:

The Israelites sin. The LORD punishes them by sending Eglon, King of Moab. Eglon gets some allies of his to come with him and they beat up Israel. The Israelites cry out for help, and the LORD sends help for them. Enter Ehud, the assassin. Ehud is left-handed, and the king’s body guards don’t discover his weapon (probably because they didn’t bother to search his right side–his sword would be on opposite hand to make it easier to draw). Ehud asks for a private audience and Eglon grants it. Ehud stabs Eglon so hard that it sinks all the way into the portly man’s flesh. Leaving his blade behind, Ehud escapes and rallies the troops, who unite around their new leader. He then strikes ten thousand Moabites down with his army, and none escape.

Yeah, it could make a pretty epic action movie. But what about a Bible story? How are we supposed to take this story in the context of Scripture? Note once more the beginning of the story: the Israelites did evil (Judges 3:12). Throughout Judges, we see the same pattern: the Israelites do evil, and God punishes them by oppressing them with one of the nations in the area. Then, the Israelites realize their evil, and they cry to God, repentant, and ask Him for help. He delivers them from their enemies, and there is peace in the land.

What can we take away from this story? Does it show another instance of evil in the Bible which Christians must hide? No, rather it shows the story that we can see woven throughout the Scriptures: a story of redemption and peace with God. Because of Jesus, we now live in an era in which we no longer have to wait for a deliverer, as Israel did. We’re told that all people have sinned and fall short (Romans 3:23), just as the Israelites did. And we all deserve punishment. But when we cry out to God, we know there is a redeemer close at hand. God forgives our sins because of Christ, and we can live in peace.

The cycle in Judges is repeated over and over. It reflects a time in which everyone did what they willed (Judges 21:25). God came to His people with the understanding they had. But in our time, we have Jesus who died once for all. The cycle is broken, and we may enjoy eternal peace.

See Judges 3 for more on Ehud.

This is part of a continuing series on “Awesome Person(s) of the Bible.” Other posts can be found here.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

The Pro-Life position and the Bible

We are currently in the time of the year known as “40 Days for Life.” During these 40 days (as well as the rest of the year), it is important to focus on issues related to the beginning of life. The Bible has much to say about the topic.

A survey of the Bible can reveal many verses which can be used for the pro-life position. I will focus upon a few (verses in ESV). I will outline how they argue for the pro-life position, how a pro-choice Christian might respond to them, and a rebuttal or concession based upon their response.

Jeremiah 1:5- “”Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,and before you were born I consecrated you;I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Here we see that God called Jeremiah to be a prophet before he was born. In other words, even before his birth he was valuable to God, to the point of being called as a prophet. One interesting counter to a verse like this would be to hold that all it is saying is that God knew about Jeremiah from eternity, so the “before” is being used here as logical priority as opposed to temporal priority. I think this objection has some merit, so perhaps this verse isn’t as strong as it seems. I looked up the Hebrew in this verse and it seems to me that the first clause may be referencing pre-ordination, however the verb is not in the right form (Pual) to make this certain, and so the first clause may be referencing a process of forming not yet completed (which would mean the verse suggests God is interacting with a person before that person is born). The word “before” here, however, again could be said to note that the verse is talking about pre-ordination even though the verb doesn’t necessitate that reading. I tend to lean towards the pre-ordination meaning, but not as the only possibility. However, the second clause is even stronger because it talks about “consecrating,” and that word seems to entail the existence of something to be consecrated. Thus, it would mean that Jeremiah would have had to exist in order to be consecrated while in the womb, before being born.

There is a more powerful verse on this topic to be found:

Luke 1:15- “for he [John the Baptist] will begreat before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.”

Here there is no question of the verse just being God’s knowledge of John the Baptist’s prophetic call before his birth, rather, God will fill him with the Holy Spirit, even while John is in the womb. In other words, before he is born, John will be empowered by God. I don’t see how a pro-choice response could get around this. That John will be filled with the Spirit before his birth is a powerful argument for the pro-life position from Scripture because it would mean John would have to be capable of being filled. Pro-choice Christians often have to fall back to saying the unborn aren’t “persons”, but that would be impossible here, for why would the Holy Spirit fill a being which is impersonal?

Psalm 51:5 states: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” It would seem to be quite absurd for someone who is not a person to be sinful. Pro-choice Christians who argue that the unborn is not a human person are placed in a very difficult position by this verse. It quite clearly states that from conception a person is sinful. Without personhood, one cannot sin. One must have the capacity to be sinful in order to sin. It would seem very odd for the pro-choice Christian to have to say an impersonal ‘blob of cells’ is capable of sinning.

There are many verses which point to God forming us in the womb (i.e. Job 31:15; Isaiah 44:2; and Psalm 139:13-16). These verses could be seen as supporting the pro-life position. However, the pro-choice Christian may respond by saying that it does not follow that just because God makes us in our wombs, we exist as persons in the womb or that we are inherently valuable in the womb. The counter to this argument is that the verses do not make sense otherwise. For if it were true that all the verses were pointing out were God’s creative activity, then much of the sense of the verse would be lost. In the Isaiah passage, for example, God is talking about His interaction with the nation of Israel, the implication is that because he formed them in the wombs, they are loved by Him–His creative act was an act of love to His people. So it would seem these verses must be understood as pointing towards the value of the baby in the womb, as opposed to a mere observation of God’s action.

But there are more sophisticated arguments against abortion that can be drawn from the Bible. I wrote elsewhere on Exodus 21:22-25, which has interestingly been used by pro-choice Christians to say their position is correct:

“If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” Some believers use this passage to state that it shows the unborn fetus has a lesser status of personhood. They state that verse 22 shows that though the woman loses the child, she sustains no injury, and the penalty is but a fine. They say that this, then, shows that the fetus does not demand the same repercussions as hurting a fellow human (Feinberg 63). There are several problems with this interpretation, however. First, it must be stated that even if one is to concede this interpretation [which is incorrect], it does not authorize abortion. The baby is not intentionally harmed in any manner, but only unintentionally hurt. Second, just the fact that there is a penalty shows that there is wrongdoing here. If the fetus something that may be discarded at will, why is there even a fine for its destruction? Third, the reason the fetus’ death does not require the death penalty is in keeping with the Mosaic exception to the death penalty in cases of accidental death (Exodus 21:13-14, 20-21, Numbers 35:10-34, Deuteronomy 19:1-13). Therefore, the fact that there is “merely” a fine does not show that the fetus is less valued. Finally, it absolutely must be noted that Exodus 21 states various penalties for the killing of individuals that cannot be explained away with personhood. For example, verses 20-21 show that one who kills a slave unintentionally has no penalty. No one could argue that the slave is not a “person” (Feinberg, 64).

Further, the correct interpretation of this passage must be seen as the woman giving premature live birth, not a miscarriage. The implication is quite clear. If the mother gives a premature live birth because of the fight, there is merely a fine (despite no serious injury to anyone), but if either the mother or the fetus is injured, the law of retaliation (eye for an eye) is invoked. Thus, if the fetus is killed, the man causing harm is to be killed. This is remarkable, because it is the only place in Scripture where death is required for accidental homicide. It shows the extreme value placed on the life of the fetus (Feinberg, 65). This interpretation is based on the Hebrew verbs and nouns used in this passage… (here)

Given these passages (and there are more where those came from), it seems as though the pro-life position has very solid grounding in the Bible

Image: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pro-Life_Demonstration_at_Supreme_Court.jpg

Feinberg and Feinberg, Ethics for a Brave New World (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1993).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Awesome Person of the Bible: Michael

There are few persons (using the word “person” here in the broad sense as opposed to meaning simply “humans”) in the Bible more awesome than Michael the Archangel. He only shows up a few times, but those times in which he does appear, he is one bad (read: good) dude. Seriously, check out the three major places he shows up:

1) Daniel 12:1: “At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered.”

You read that right. The archangel Michael is the prince of God’s chosen people. And by prince, we don’t mean that sissy version of a prince who’s always running around wishing he wasn’t king or being stupid. We mean he’s the ruler, protector, and guide of Israel. He protects them until God’s chosen people are delivered, according to God’s plan.

I know, “So what? There are a bunch of princes out there. Big deal.” Fine, but what about:

2) Jude 1:9: “But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not himself dare to condemn him [the devil] for slander but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!'”

Oh yeah, that’s right. The archangel Michael fought with SATAN over Moses’ body. Not only that, but he won the fight. How did he win? By invoking the name of the Lord, YHWH. You may be saying “Wow, that’s not a very big deal. I could probably do that.” Think so? How about:

3) Revelation 12:7-9: “Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.”

Uh huh. Try that one on for size. First off, Michael’s an archangel. That, on its own, makes you awesome. But Michael isn’t just some rank-and-file archangel, he is an archangel out to kick some massive tail. Michael is just chilling out in heaven one day, picking his teeth with a toothpick made of demon’s bone, when suddenly war breaks out between God and Satan. I don’t know about you, but I’d be running the opposite direction. What does Michael do? He gets his gang of burly warrior-angels and fights Satan and the demons. And notice what the text tells us about Michael: “[Satan] was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven.” Yup, Michael is more powerful than Satan himself. He comes along and literally hurls Satan out of heaven and down to the earth. I don’t know about you, but I think that is pretty awesome.

Archangel Michael, you are a certified “Awesome Person of the Bible.”

SDG

———

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation and provide a link to the original URL. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Devotion for an Apologist/Philosopher: Ecclesiastes

There are so many verses, chapters, and books in the Bible which resonate with me as a Christian philosopher/apologist. Ecclesiastes ranks near the top, however, due to its wonderfully philosophical message and style. The underlying theme of Ecclesiastes is that without God, everything is meaningless.

“‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’
says the Teacher.
‘Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.’… What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” (1:2, 9).

The book starts with the idea that there is “nothing new under the sun.” The theme of “under the sun” is important to note. Consistently, “under the sun” is used to refer to “on earth.” It is in stark contrast to the “permanence of heaven” (TLSB). The theme contrasting life here on earth with heaven does not become apparent until very late in the book, so we too shall leave it until the end.

Solomon continues to explore the idea that that which we do “under the sun” is utterly meaningless. “For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow” (1:18). The more we know, the more we sorrow. We can see themes like this in atheists like Albert Camus or Sartre, whose exploration of a world without God lead them to question whether suicide may be the only valid option.

“For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity [also translated "meaningless"]. All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return” (3:19-20). The Teacher/Preacher goes on to contemplate our end: “Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth? …Who can bring [man] to see what will be after him?” (3:21, 22b). It is death itself which makes life meaningless. Who knows what happens after death? Everything “appears utterly futile” (Waltke).

However, the Preacher/Teacher does not want us to collapse into despair. Without God, under the sun, all is meaningless. But with God, there is hope, joy, and meaning. This theme is sown in chapter 5 (verses 2-3; 7; and 19-20). Yet before fully developing this theme, Solomon returns to a life (and death) under the sun.

The existential life under the sun is absurd. “For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun” (9:5-6). Again the theme is “under the sun”. Without God, the life under the sun is meaning. We die, we pass away forever, we know not what comes after death, and even our actions pass away from under the sun. We no longer have a “share” in what is done under the sun.

The theme repeats throughout the book. “Under the sun”, all is meaningless, there is nothing new, and life itself passes away. Even a constant search for pleasure can only be meaningless.

Yet the conclusion to Ecclesiastes radically re-imagines the book. Solomon’s point so far has been that “you cannot make sense of life” (Waltke). Life under the sun is meaningless, futile, and vain. Existentially, the more we know, the more despair we can find. The more we explore life “under the sun,” the more we realize that it will be extinguished, and our actions will no longer impact that life.

The story does not end there, however. “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (12:13-14). The final verses of the book turn the meaning of the entire work about. The Preacher/Teacher comes to the conclusion: without God, all is meaningless; with God, there is good and evil, there is judgment, and there is duty. Rather than striving for nothing, we should strive for God. Rather than despair and futility; there is duty and good. Without God, life is meaningless; with God, there is meaning.

Sources:

Bruce Waltke, “Understanding the Old Testament.” Institute of Theological Studies. 2009.

The Lutheran Study Bible. (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2009).

The picture is from The Lutheran Study Bible.

———

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation and provide a link to the original URL. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Devotion for a Philosopher/Apologist: Job and Natural Theology

One thing I’ve noted throughout my involvement in apologetics and philosophy is a constant need and desire for good devotions. I’ve written some guidelines for how to go about a devotional life here, but I’ve noticed that many readers are coming to my site looking for actual devotions themselves. Thus, I’ve decided to start this series of devotions for the Christian Philosopher or Apologist.

Job and Natural Theology

Recommended reading: The book of Job, a chapter or book on natural theology

Often, I find myself struggling, as I am so enmeshed in abstract concepts of God and philosophy, to maintain that personal connection with my Lord. Nowhere do I find a better place to reignite this personal connection than the book of Job. It appeals to me on a number of levels–it has verses which demonstrate the greatness of faith, the horrors of evil, and the greatness and existence of God.

As Christian philosophers/apologists, we can smile and nod along with such passages as Job 12:7-10″

“But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.”

We can note how often we echo these very words, pointing to such things as the teleological argument or arguments from design. Scripture preaches what we teach! We are told here that creation itself witnesses the Creator! But these aren’t the only verses in Job which help affirm the tasks to which we have set ourselves, for we are told in Job about the attributes of God (He is unchangeable 23:13, almighty chapters 25-26, majestic 37:1ff, omnibenevolent 34:10 [though note that we must be careful to assertain doctrinal truths from Job's friends, who are often mistaken about the works of God], and sovereign 1:21) we are informed that religious experience can convey knowledge (4:12, but again note that this is a friend of Job’s, so be careful with interpretation), and we discover that there will be a physical resurrection (19:25).

Already, we have experienced many of the parts of Job which speak directly to us as apologists and philosophers. But there is so much more here! We are to focus upon faith. As I said before, I often lose sight of my personal relationship with God in the midst of the abstract arguments, but Job (the book) calls us towards such a strong relationship with God.

Job 5:8-27 can give us great comfort. It is God to whom we commit our cause (5:8). God does great and unsearchable things, providing for our every need (5:9-16). Furthermore, we are comforted in times of trouble. God may allow us to be wounded, but he binds us, we may be shattered, but God heals us (5:18).

Finally, within Job we have a stirring account from God. Another struggle I can find myself involved in is an inflated view of my knowledge. Job struggled with this same issue, as he complained to God about his sufferings. God’s response is not to explain suffering, but to reassert His greatness and unlimited knowledge (see the dialogue in chapters 38 and following). We are then shown what our proper response is to God’s great majesty, Job 42:1-6:

Then Job answered the LORD and said: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge? ‘Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

Job understands how our lives should reflect our commitment to God. We too often utter what we do not understand, when we encounter God, we realize that compared to His great glory, we can only repent of inability to always be perfect ambassadors of Christ. Yet, along with Job, we know that our redeemer lives (Job 19:25). What a great blessing it is to know that we will walk with him, in the flesh, upon the earth!

God’s grace and peace to you, my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus. I hope this devotion will be helpful in your studies. I’d appreciate any feedback you can give me to help improve any future devotions I may share.

The image in this post was a (very unprofessional) photograph by me of the Lutheran Study Bible and the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,458 other followers

Archives

Like me on Facebook: Always Have a Reason
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,458 other followers