Monday, November 26, 2012

Death of the one who made it

In the previous post I provided a translation of Hebrews 9:16-18 which is different than what is officially published in English translations. In order to illustrate the significance of the difference between translations, I would like to present three different angles from which that text can be viewed.

The first will come directly from the ESV translation, along with the rest of its larger context, starting at 9:15 and ending at verse 20.  The second translation will be the central verses in question, but with one word translated consistently the same way: the word "covenant" (diatheke in the Greek, from which the English word for "covenant" is translated). The third translation will be my own, along with some support for why I truly believe it was the original intent of the author. Of course, if anyone would like to offer some suggestions as to why my translation is not accurate enough, or just plain incorrect, feel free to comment in the box below. First things first (Heb. 9:15-20; ESV):
Therefore he [Jesus] is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must established. For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats... saying, "This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you." 
First, notice carefully that this translation is arguing about a new covenant, not a new will and testament. A will and testament are synonymous terms, and they are legal documents which detail the wishes and desires of the author to be enacted and provided upon the author's death. A covenant, on the other hand is something different according the Bible and in the mind of the author of Hebrews everywhere else in this letter, even though technically a will and testament is a type of covenant. A covenant, theologically speaking, is "a mutually binding compact between God and His people sovereignly transacted by the Lord wherein a promise is made by God which calls for trust on the part of His people and entails obligations of submission which are sanctioned by blessings and cursings"1 In the context of Hebrews, the author is describing the necessary change of the old covenant in matters pertaining to its laws of priesthood, and by extension its sacrificial system. And so, the sudden transition from "covenant" to a "will" or "testament" seems completely out of place and unnecessary. My own personal opinion is that not only is it unnecessary, but the author committed a blatantly logical fallacy of equivocation -- not simply a conveniently random use of word-play -- if he was indeed shifting from "covenant" to "will" within the premises of his argument, before reaching his conclusion about the blood of calves and goats as "the blood of the covenant that God made for you".

But perhaps I'm getting a little ahead of my audience. Perhaps further explanation about the fallacy of equivocation is needed to understand this point of mine. The fallacy of equivocation is when a premise within an argument utilizes a word with more than one meaning, but then utilizes that same exact word in a following premise of the same argument in a different sense or with a different meaning than its use in the first premise, and all for the purpose of reaching a certain conclusion. For example, if I wanted to show that a certain feather cannot be dark in color, I might present an argument like this:

The feather in my hand is light.
And we all know that whatever is light cannot be dark also.
Therefore, the feather in my hand cannot be dark.

Would anyone seriously consider this to be a valid method of argumentation? Of course not, because the word "light" is used equivocally. In the first premise, "light" is being used to describe the feather's weight, not it's color or brightness, even though "light" can carry both meanings. Sure, it's word-play too, but it's also a fallacious way of reasoning. And this is how I see modern translations of Hebrews 9:16-17 when they use the word diatheke. The author of Hebrews uses diatheke with a very clear meaning of a "covenant" throughout his letter. But supposedly the author has a good reason for shifting away from that meaning and to argue with that same exact word (diatheke), but with a different meaning instead: the meaning of a "will" or "testament". Then, of course, within the very next sentence, the author goes back again to using diatheke in the sense of a "covenant", which is used everywhere else in the letter except 9:16-17. In context, it seems obvious that the author begins by mentioning a "first covenant (diatheke)", and then he follows through with a few more details about this diatheke (i.e. "covenant", or allegedly a "will") before reaching a conclusion about "the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you." This sudden shift from covenant to will to covenant again smacks of something very odd every time I look at modern translations.

And so, with this in mind, I would like to offer an alternative translation. But first, before we get to the alternative translation, we need to view the exact same translation with a consistent use of the same word, the word "covenant". What I hope to show is that by translating the word diatheke consistently as "covenant" (instead of changing it to a "will") we get a little closer to the author's actual intent:
For where a covenant is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. For a covenant takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. (Heb. 9:16-18)
Now, some scholars have suggested that this translation makes no sense because we know that Israelites made covenants all the time under the old covenant. In fact, every time they went to offer a sacrifice they were renewing their covenant obligations with God, and none of them died or were even required to die! But here the author of Hebrews teaches that those acts of covenant renewal were not in force as long as the one who made it was alive. Therefore the conclusion has been that "the one who made the covenant" must not be describing the worshiper, because he remains alive while renewing his covenant. Instead, the author is performing word-play with diatheke, knowing that the same word can mean both "covenant" and "will" or "testament". And so, where a "will" is involved, the "death of the one who made it" can be viewed as the death of Jesus, not the worshiper.

But is this really a reasonable charge against this translation?

Even if my translation (below and in the previous post) appears at first glance to be unrealistic, I am going to argue that it is very realistic within a context about the old covenant model of priesthood and animal sacrifice, which I believe the author also had in mind (as is obvious from the context itself).  If the author is describing the temporary, old covenant administration of worship in which animals represented the worshiper, as well as the priesthood which mediated between God and the worshiper, this consistent translation of "covenant" makes perfect sense.

Below, I am going to present what I believe to be a correct translation of Hebrews 9:16-18. I welcome any healthy criticism, but my request is for the reader to look carefully at how well this new translation fits within its larger context:
For where a covenant is, it is necessary that the death of the institutor be carried. For a covenant is established upon dead victims, otherwise it is of no strength at all while the institutor is alive. Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. 
With the sacrificial system in mind, this translation seems natural. A worshiper under the old covenant ministry and priesthood would enter the tabernacle with an animal to represent him. He would lay his hands on the animal representing him, and then he would slaughter the animal. The priest would then carry the dead body of the animal (representing the worshiper) and it's blood into areas which the worshiper himself was not allowed. And it was because the worshiper presented an animal before God to die in his place (representatively, as prescribed by the Lord), and that there was a priest (as prescribed by the Lord) present to carry his dead body into the presence of God, that the worshiper was able to renew his covenant with God. The whole purpose of priests carrying dead animals into God's presence and sprinkling their blood for atonement was to teach the worshiper what they deserve, as well as their need for a priest to mediate between themselves and God.

This brings us to the amplified translation that I offered in the previous post:
For where a covenant is, it is necessary that the death of the institutor [of the covenant] be carried [by a priest]. For a covenant is established over dead [animal] victims, otherwise [the covenant] is of no strength at all while the institutor is alive. Therefore not even the first [covenant/priestly ministry] was inaugurated without blood. 
In order to provide further support for this translation, I will need to present more evidence in its favor in a future post. I still need to discuss why I include the phrases "be carried" and "over dead victims" in my translation. But like I just mentioned, I'll be saving that for a future post.

To be continued...

1.  Greg Bahnsen, Outline of Systematic Theology, 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Center of Hebrews

In a previous post I discussed the central chiastic structure to the book of Hebrews as follows:

A.   Hebrews 8:1-5
B.   Hebrews 8:6-13
            C.   Hebrews 9:1-10
            C’.  Hebrews 9:11-14
B’.  Hebrews 9:15-22
A’.  Hebrews 9:23-28

A.   The temporal, earthly level at which the Old Covenant priestly ministry of the Levites takes place  (8:1-5)

B.   God’s covenant with man and its association with the old and temporal ministry of mediation by the Levitical Priesthood (8:6-13)

C.   The organization of the old ministry and the unsatisfactory nature of priestly service in God’s “House” as illustrated in the earthly priest’s need to “continually” enter through "the first tent", but only through the "second" tent once every year  (9:1-10)

C’.   The organization of Christ’s ministry and the satisfactory nature of priestly service in God’s House because Jesus “entered through the greater and more perfect tent,” thereby obtaining "eternal redemption"  (9:11-14)

B’.   God’s covenant with man and its association with the new and eternal priestly ministry of mediation by Jesus (9:15-22)

A’.   The eternal, heavenly level at which the New Covenant priestly ministry of Jesus Christ takes place  (9:23-28)

In order to see more clearly the literary patterns discussed in each section, I have provided a parallel textual analysis below for each corresponding section:

A.  Hebrews 8:1-5  
  • (v. 3) "It is necessary..."
  • (v. 4) "if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all...[to] offer gifts according to the law"
  • (v. 5) "they [the earthly line of Levitical priests] serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary"  
A'.  Hebrews 9:23-28
  • (v. 23) "It was necessary..."
  • (v. 24) "Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, but into heaven itself, the hight priest enters the holy place year by year"
  • (v. 23) "the copies of the heavenly things [need] to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than [earthly ones offered by Levitical priests]"

B.  Hebrews 8:6-13
  • (v. 7) "For if that first [covenant/priestly ministry] had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second
  • (v. 8) "I will make a new covenant..." 
  • (v. 13) "When [God] said 'a new', he makes the first [covenant/priestly ministry] obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away."
B'.  Hebrews 9:15-22
  • (v. 16-18) "For where a covenant1 is, it is necessary that the death of the institutor [of the covenant] be carried [by a priest]. For a covenant is established over dead [animal] victims, otherwise [the covenant] is of no strength at all while the institutor is alive.2 Therefore not even the first [covenant/priestly ministry] was inaugurated without blood" 
  • (v. 15) "[Christ] is the mediator of a new covenant... to set them free from the transgressions committed under the first covenant"
  • (v. 28) "Christ, having been offered once to carry the sins of many, will appear a second time... to bring salvation to those who are eagerly waiting for him."

C.  Hebrews 9:1-10
  • (v. 2) "For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place"
  • (v. 6) "[Levitical] priests go continually into the first section, performing their ritual duties, but into the second only the high priest goes... The Holy Spirit showing by this that the way into the Holy Place was not disclosed as long as the outer tabernacle was still standing."
C'.  Hebrews 9:11-14
  • (v. 11-12) "But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things things to come... [he entered] through the greater and more perfect tent... having obtained eternal redemption."

With this chiastic framework in mind, two things seem apparent: 

1) The "covenant" in these passages centers upon the priestly ministry: one earthly and one heavenly, one first and one second, one old and one new, one renewed continually year by year and one obtained for all eternity.

2) There does not seem to be a place within the close context of 9:16-18 or even the broader context of 8:1 through 9:14 for the theme of covenant-keeping to shift from away from the sacrificial setting of the earthly priestly ministry and toward the more abstract concept of a "will" or "testament" as is found in many English translations. 

1.  I do not believe that modern Bible versions provide an adequate translation of Hebrews 9:16-17 when they choose to adjust the meaning of the word "covenant", which is used all throughout Hebrews in that specific sense alone, into an entirely different meaning of "will" or "testament" only in these verses. In order to switch over from a discussion about covenant to a discussion about a will or testament, the author would be committing the logical fallacy of equivocation. 
2.  The translation provided above is my own, but is based upon the underlying Greek text and some insights by scholars such as Greg Bahnsen in his lectures on the Book of Hebrews, and Marvin Vincent in his Word Studies in the New Testament. Commenting on Hebrews 9:16-17, both Bahnsen and Vincent note that the Greek explicitly mentions the "carrying" of the dead victim, which describes the institutor of the covenant needing to die representatively and be carried by a Levitical priest. Moreover, in verse 17, the word for "dead" or "death" (depending on the english translation) is plural in Greek, with no other noun to modify, and so it literally reads "dead [things]". In the context of the Levitical priestly ministry in the tabernacle courtyard, the Israelite-worshiper would renew his covenant with God by bringing an appropriate animal to represent him as prescribed in the Law, and the worshiper would then lay his hands on the animal and slay it in order for the priest to literally carry the dead carcass of the representative animal into the very presence of God (via the great altar of ascension and the corresponding sprinkling of blood on the altar of incense in front of the "Most Holy Place" within the first tent).

Monday, November 19, 2012

Vanhoye on Hebrews

In the book, Structure and Message of the Epistle to the Hebrews, Albert Vanhoye offers a detailed analysis of the structure of that very important, and often misunderstood, epistle. He posits the following chiastic structure for Hebrews1:

I     The Name of Christ  (1:5-2:18)

II         A. Jesus high priest worthy of faith   (3:1-4:14)
II         B. Jesus merciful high priest   (4:15-5:10)

-- Preliminary exhortation    (5:11-6:20)

III        A. High Priest after the manner of Melchizedek   (7:1-28)
III        B. Made perfect   (8:1-9:28)
III        C. Cause of an eternal salvation   (10:1-18)

-- Final exhortation   (10:19-39)

IV        A. The faith of the ones of old   (11:1-40)
IV        B. The necessary endurance   (12:1-13)

V     The straight paths   (12:14-13:21)

David L. Allen, Dean of the School of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and author of two books relating to the exegesis of Hebrews (the Lukan Authorship of Hebrews and The New American Commentary: Hebrews), praises Vanhoye for his scholarly contribution, particularly because it “launched the modern quest for the structure of Hebrews”.2 In this post, I want to express my gratitude as well for Vanhoye’s highly detailed and extensive work on this subject, but I especially want to focus upon one critical observation of his work which is often overlooked in biblical commentaries, an observation which has also helped launch my own quest into understanding the primary message of Hebrews. The critical observation of Vanhoye’s which I want to focus upon is that he marks the very center of the entire epistle as chapter 8:1 through 9:28 (notice section III, subsection B, titled “Made perfect”).

Have you ever viewed chapters 8 and 9 as the very center of Hebrews, or as the main focal point of the entire epistle?

The general outline above is only the first step toward recognizing that there is a central focal point to the entire letter. Further into his book, Vanhoye breaks down the center of the entire epistle (8:1-9:28) into smaller literary units, showing that, not only is the entire letter structured chiasticaly, but more importantly, the central section is itself structured chiastically, which no other literary unit within the epistle shares in common.

Below is a sketch of my own observations concerning the central chiasm of the entire epistle to the Hebrews. The structure is similar to Vanhoye’s outlines, but I have tweaked them a bit, and for those who have Vanhoye’s books on Hebrews to compare,3 the outline below is clearly different in a couple verse breaks as well in all of the descriptions (for Vanhoye uses some scholastically nebulous jargon in a many of his descriptions):

A.   Hebrews 8:1-5
B.   Hebrews 8:6-13
            C.   Hebrews 9:1-10
            C’.  Hebrews 9:11-14
B’.  Hebrews 9:15-22
A’.  Hebrews 9:23-284

A.   The temporal, earthly level at which the Old Covenant priestly ministry of the Levites takes place  (8:1-5)

B.   God’s covenant with man and its association with the old and temporal ministry of mediation by the Levitical Priesthood (8:6-13)

C.   The organization of the old ministry and the unsatisfactory nature of priestly service in God’s “House” as illustrated in the earthly priest’s need to “continually” enter through "the first tent", but only through the "second" tent once every year  (9:1-10)

C’.   The organization of Christ’s ministry and the satisfactory nature of priestly service in God’s House because Jesus “entered through the greater and more perfect tent,” thereby obtaining "eternal redemption"  (9:11-14)

B’.   God’s covenant with man and its association with the new and eternal priestly ministry of mediation by Jesus (9:15-22)

A’.   The eternal, heavenly level at which the New Covenant priestly ministry of Jesus Christ takes place  (9:23-28)

There are a number of valuable insights to be noted within this central section of Hebrews, but I will have to save quite a few of them for another post. For now, I want to highlight two things: First, notice that the central section of Hebrews is focused entirely upon the transition of one priesthood to another. The author illustrates this transition with a variety of parallel themes: 
  1. Transition from a temporary ministry of redemption to Jesus having obtained eternal redemption
  2. Transition from an old covenant ministry to a new covenant ministry
  3. And most importantly (by way of the central illustration), the laws pertaining to Levitical priests to enter through the first tent continually, with the high priest only entering the second tent once a year, was symbolic (literally "a parable" in Greek) of the unsatisfactory nature of the first (or "old") covenant ministry and the eventual need for a transition into a second, truly satisfactory ministry.  Jesus entered through the greater tent to obtain, once for all time, eternal redemption, which the continual offering of Levitical priests could never accomplish. Therefore, Jesus accomplished a truly satisfactory ministry, and is truly the High Priest.

And secondarily, notice that all of the theological jargon surrounding the use of “covenant” is intrinsically related to the “ministry” of the priesthood as established in Mosaic law, which the author says in sections C and C’ is a “parable for the present age” (9:9). This means, at the time in which the author lived and wrote this epistle, there was an age or period of transition where the “old” and “first” ministry was “becoming obsolete and growing old, ready to vanish away” (8:13).

With this in mind, Vanhoye’s comments seem to make a good finishing touch to this discussion. He writes:
The most meaningful subdivisions are those of the center, for they treat the main subject matter: the sacrificial activity itself. The author recalls the old system of ritual separations… A sacred place has been established. It consists of a holy part, the “first” tent (9:2), and a “most holy” part (9:3), thought to be the dwelling place of God or “sanctuary”.  The people are not allowed to enter in either for they do not have the “holiness” needed. The priests may enter into the “first tent” (9:6) which is like the way of access to the “sanctuary”, but they may not enter in to the latter. Only the high priest is authorized to do that, by reason of his special consecration, but even he functions under severe restrictions: he must limit his entrance to once a year, and the condition for entering is a sacrificial offering (9:7). The ceremony to which the author alludes is that of the Day of Expiation (Yom Kippur, Lev. 16), the high point of the Jewish liturgy. 
The question which suggests itself is the mediation value of this solemn liturgy. From this depends the judgment to be given about the system as a whole. If an authentic relation is established with God, then the system is excellent. But if the contrary is true, then it can only constitute a provisional solution, one to be set aside as soon as a better one is found. 
The “first tent”, unfortunately, was unable to provide access [to the dwelling of God]… A conclusion follows: “the way of the sanctuary was still not manifest as long as the first tent existed” (9:8).5

1.  Albert Vanhoye, Structure and Message of the Epistle to the Hebrews [Editrice Pontificio Istituto Biblico; Roma Italia, 1989] p. 33
2.  David L. Allen, Lukan Authorship of Hebrews (NAC Studies in Bible & Theology)[B&H Academic; Nashville, TN; 2010] p. 163
3.  He has two great books on the subject of Hebrews: Albert Vanhoye, Structure and Message of the Epistle to the Hebrews [Editrice Pontificio Istituto Biblico; Roma Italia, 1989] pp. 36, 63-69, 92-95; and Albert Vanhoye, A Different Priest: The Epistle to the Hebrews [Convivium Press; Miami, Fl, 2011] pp. 225-258
4.  Ibid. p. 225
5.  Ibid. pp. 63-64

Monday, November 12, 2012

Why Baptize Jadon?

My son, Jadon, is going to be baptized this upcoming Lord’s Day, November 18th, 2012, at the age of 11 weeks. About a month ago, a friend asked my wife why we are baptizing him, since she knew we are not Roman Catholic. I wasn't surprised by this question. Infant baptism is a common practice throughout the Roman Catholic Church. The reason why they baptize babies is because they believe the ceremony itself mysteriously, but literally, “washes away” sin, thereby granting the baby a "ticket to heaven." In the Roman Catholic view, the person baptized doesn’t necessarily have a choice either. One does not have to believe in order to be baptized. One gets baptized into the Roman Catholic Church, and then receives a one-way ticket to heaven (or purgatory, which eventually leads to heaven anyway).

So then, why are we baptizing our son? Doesn't Jadon have to make that decision for himself? Isn’t it better to give him that choice, and to avoid the mistaken view that baptism is an automatic ticket to heaven?

To understand why we are choosing to baptize our child, and why historically it has most certainly been considered orthodox to baptize a child, I will be focusing upon two theological issues, and only two issues:

1)    God always saves people by means of a covenant1His covenant. Unfortunately, 21st century Christians generally don’t seem to view God’s plan of salvation in terms of a covenant. Instead, the modern trend among evangelicals appears to view salvation merely in terms of some activity by the Holy Spirit. Some evangelicals even claim that a mere profession of belief that "Jesus is Lord" is evidence of the Holy Spirit’s saving activity, and a one way ticket to heaven. Biblically, as well as historically, God’s people have not been identified merely as people in whom the Holy Spirit operates. God’s people have been identified primarily as people chosen by God through some objective sign and seal of his covenant.

2)    Nowhere in the Bible do we find people who initiate a relationship with God. God is the one who seeks out a people for Himself. He reveals Himself to them, and invites them to know Him, serve Him, and glorify Him. And there are two, and only two, circumstances in which the Lord seeks out people to be in a covenant with Him: people who are already outside of God’s covenant, and people who are born into the world. These two circumstances are normative in Scripture. All other circumstances are extra-ordinary circumstances in history.

All throughout the epistles of the New Testament, gentiles are learning about Jesus and are choosing to be baptized because they were previously identified as “foreigners” and outsiders of God’s covenant (Ephesians 2:12, 19). They believed in God and then chose to be baptized as acceptance that God sought them out graciously, and chose them for himself. In other words, they chose to be baptized because they no longer wanted to remain outside of God’s covenant. But what about the second type of person whom the Lord seeks out? What about children born into this world? Some children are born into the world as outsiders of God’s covenant; that is, in fact, how the gentile converts of Scripture were born and raised. But it’s obvious that not all children enter God’s world this way. Some children are born into a family that does, in fact, believe in God, and has been given the terms of God’s covenant. God Himself promises to be faithful in showing covenant loyalty to the generations that love Him and keep His commandments (Ex. 20:6; Deut. 5:10). In other words, the Bible reveals from cover to cover that God works within the context of families already in covenant with Him through faith, not just with outsiders who know nothing of or about God. This promise of God working through families is so important, and yet often neglected by modern evangelicals, that I feel the need to discuss it in greater detail.

What God has revealed is that from the very beginning of human history, in the Garden of Eden, where Adam’s fall affected all his children and their relationship with God, we learn that God’s promise of grace after the fall also affected Adam’s children: “I will put enmity between you [Satan] and the woman and between your seed and her seed” (Gen. 3:15). Clearly God’s grace was going to be given to a child of Eve. Historically we know that child was Seth (Gen. 4:25-26). Moreover, we learn that God continued this pattern after the Flood with Noah. God promised Noah, “I Myself do establish My covenant with you, and with your descendants after you” (Gen. 9:9).

Now, when God reveals something once, that ought to be good enough. When God repeats Himself twice, we had better pause. But when God repeats Himself three or more times, we are without excuse if we neglect what He says. And God said again, only this time to Abraham, “I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you” (Gen. 17:7). Likewise, God repeated Himself to Isaac (“…to you and your descendants…” Gen. 26:4) and Jacob this same way (“…to you and your descendants with you…” Gen. 28:4). This is why we find Jesus' apostles baptizing parents and their households, without any further explanation. Further explanation is not needed if salvation is viewed in terms of God's covenant. The apostle Paul illustrates this pattern in Acts 16:31 when he proclaims to the Philippian jailer, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household." And verse 33 says, "And immediately he and all his family were baptized." Shortly thereafter in Scripture we find a woman named Lydia becoming a believer. But not only was she herself baptized; "her household" was also baptized (Acts 16:14-15). Likewise, on another occasion, Paul mentions that he baptized the "household of Stephannas" (I Cor. 1:16).

So let's step back for a second, zoom out, and take a look at the big picture again. When God looked at Adam and Eve, He spoke of families that would be in covenant with Him and families that would not. When God graciously chose Noah and Abraham and their descendants, he invited and chose families, not just individuals, to be in covenant with Him. The same was true of the Mosaic and Davidic covenants, but I’m hoping this point has been sufficiently made already. This is why Peter, without any further explanation, can proclaim loud and clear at Pentecost:

Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins... For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself. (Acts 2:38-39) 
Now that we understand that God's promise is not only to individuals from outside the covenant, but also to the households of believers, I want to go back to a point I made earlier: God initiates everything. This point can’t be stressed enough. God initiates, as seen in the words of Peter in Acts 2:38-39. God's promise is for "everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself." God initiates, which is precisely the outward, visible sign on display when a child is baptized. This is also true of a grown-up stranger and “outsider” of God’s covenant who is baptized. God’s sovereign initiation is on display in baptism. But since no one reading this post is seriously concerned about grown-ups choosing to receive baptism, and this discussion is really about the ramifications of baptizing infants, I want to discuss a little more about children that are born into believing families – families already in covenant with God.

Many Christians today argue that one must believe first in order to be identified among God’s people; that is to say, to be in a covenant relationship with Him. This proposition is offered as a dilemma for those who wish to baptize infants because it's very difficult to identify the expression of faith in an infant who barely expresses anything other than being hungry and wanting a diaper change. But is belief a prerequisite? Is this really the way God reveals membership into His covenant? Even under the Old Covenant, God required participation from Abraham and his children, without the children's consent:
And God said to Abraham, "As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised." (Gen. 17:9) 
If Abraham was to be faithful to the covenant with God, he and his sons would have to bear the "sign of the covenant" (verse 11), which, at that time, included circumcision for every male. Every male of every age who was not circumcised would be "cut off from his people" because "he has broken My covenant" (Gen. 17:14). As a result, male Israelite children who received the sign and seal of God's covenant (i.e. circumcision) truly became heirs of God's promises, without ever first demonstrating true faith or "making a decision for themselves."

Some Christians still think that this evidence isn't convincing because it isn't practical enough. As a counter argument, they insist that faith in God is a prerequisite for baptism because that way the believer should be held accountable to God based upon his own free choice of entering into that covenant relationship. Allegedly, if an infant is baptized, it would be unfair for that infant to be held accountable because he entered into a covenant with God without his own consent. However, upon further reflection, this really isn't a helpful argument either. Not only does it ignore the very clear teaching of the Scriptures that God chooses parents and their household to be in covenant with Him, but it also assumes that someone should only be held accountable to God if they first agreed to enter into the covenant, which an infant does not do. But what we find in the Scriptures is that God does in fact hold covenant children accountable to Him in order to remain a member of His household. Everyone we find in Scripture who is in covenant with God had to be faithful to Him. That includes children too. They had to repent and they had to believe in the God that set them apart to serve them. The Scriptures overwhelmingly testify to this fact. If a member of any age would later manifest himself or herself as apostate (i.e. rejecting God’s covenant), the result would be a loss of inheritance. Even the Mosaic economy of redemption which God designed was replete with laws pertaining to the inheritance of God's people. The symbolism of such revelation is obvious too: not all members of God’s covenant are regenerate in heart, but all members are set apart with covenant obligations. They must embrace God’s promises and exercise faith, or they would inevitably lose their inheritance with God’s people.

Today, baptism is the sign that marks the covenant people of God, the worldwide Christian Church. It would take too long for just one blog post to demonstrate the relationship between the old covenant sacraments of baptism and circumcision, and why circumcision no longer remains a sign and seal of God’s covenant, while baptism does remain. (Yes, I said that right. Baptism was an old covenant sacrament, along with circumcision for males.) Perhaps I’ll need to discuss those tedious details in a future post. But the bottom line is that baptism is the sign that marks the covenant people of God under the New Covenant, and that same covenant-keeping God still works within the context of families already in covenant with Him through faith, not just with outsiders who know nothing of or about Him and His covenant.

This means that Christian men and women are required to raise their children as Christians. When God looks at the children of baptized men and women today, He sees children who are in covenant with him because He has promised to be God to His people and to their offspring after them. Baptism simply ratifies the covenant into which the children were born. Like the Israelites before them, children of the New Covenant still have to repent and believe in the God who calls them to be holy like He is holy (I Cor. 7:14). Each child has a choice to be faithful to the living and true God that has graciously saved their parents, and by extension, their household. Until covenant children reject God, they ought to be treated as heirs of God’s promise because God has identified them as heirs of His promise. Notice carefully that the apostle John addresses "little children" as Christians (I Jn. 2:12), and likewise, when Paul addresses "the saints" in Ephesus (Eph. 1:1), he includes children among those saints (Eph. 6:1). In other words, Christian parents have every right to treat their children as Christians, identified as being in a covenant with Him, because God treats them as Christians.

As Jadon grows and matures, he will learn a lot about the God of the Bible. We will teach him that God knew him before he was born, and that God chose him to be our son, knitting him in the womb of a Christian family for the purpose of serving Him and raising up another Godly family in the future to serve Him. Jadon will know that our family worships The Creator, Lord, and only Savior of the world, the triune God revealed in the Scriptures. He will know that God sees him as His child, and that he needs to trust his Heavenly Father in all things. My wife and I will model what it means to repent and confess our sins to God. We will model a life that belongs entirely to God and will teach Jadon that his life also belongs to God, and there is nowhere he can run or hide to escape that reality; and to pretend otherwise, suppressing the truth of God, rejecting His promises, despising His grace, will bring the sure covenant faithfulness of God: the loss of inheritance with the family of God. Instead of treating Jadon as an outsider, Jadon will be loved as a child of God. He will be nurtured and admonished as a child of God. He will receive a happy, worshipful, loving, and Godly environment in which to live as a child of God. At no point in Jadon’s childhood will he be raised to think of himself as anything but a child of God. And unless he proves otherwise, we have every right to embrace God’s promise that he is a true child of God. Jadon will grow up knowing that God graciously chose him, and that any response of faith on his part, is because of God’s grace in choosing him.

So why are we going to baptize our son? In short, we are not. God is going to, because God is the one who always initiates. We’re just embracing His promises by faith, and trusting in His grace.

1.  Different sources will provide different nuances of meaning, but whenever I use the term "Covenant" in this post, I am operating with a definition provided by the philosopher and Christian apologist, Dr. Greg Bahnsen, who stated that the Biblical concept of a covenant is:  "A mutually bonding compact between God and His people sovereignly transacted by the Lord wherein a promise is made by God which calls for trust on the part of His people and entails obligations of submission which are sanctioned by blessings and cursings." -- Greg Bahnsen, PhD, Outline of Systematic Theology,

Sunday, November 11, 2012

John meets Mr. Enlightenment

It was another late night with only a little sleep. It was also another night of random book selections from my library. Last night's pick: The Pilgrim's Regress, by C. S. Lewis.  Below is an excerpt which I just had to share because it describes in vivid details the honest curiosity and skepticism of a young Christian man in the face of rationalism and the autonomous wisdom of the world.

The story below is about a young man named John from the land of Puritania who meets a man named Mr. Enlightenment for the first time; and as they both travel down a road together in a horse buggy, John encounters the intriguing perspectives of an "enlightened" life for the first time:

"And where might you come from, my fine lad?" said Mr. Enlightenment.
    "From Puritania, sir," said John.
"A good place to leave, eh?"
    "I am so glad you think that," cried John. "I was afraid ---"
"I hope I am a man of the world," said Mr. Enlightenment. "Any young fellow who is anxious to better himself may depend on finding sympathy and support in me.  Puritania! Why, I suppose you have been brought up to be afraid of the Landlord."1
    "Well, I must admit I sometimes do feel rather nervous."
"You may make your mind easy, my boy. There is no such person."
    "There is no Landlord?"
"There is absolutely no such thing -- I might even say no such entity -- in existence. There never has been and never will be."
    "And is this absolutely certain?" cried John; for a great hope was rising in his heart.
"Absolutely certain. Look at me, young man. I ask you -- do I look as if I was easily taken in?"
    "Oh, no," said John hastily. "I was just wondering, though.  I mean -- how did they all come to think there was such a person?"
"The Landlord is an invention of those Stewards.2 All made up to keep the rest of us under their thumb: and of course the Stewards are hand in glove with the police. They are the shrewd lot, those Stewards. They know which side their bread is buttered on, all right. Clever fellows. Damn me, I can't help admiring them."
    "But do you mean that the Stewards don't believe it themselves?"
"I dare say they do. It is just the sort of cock and bull story they would believe. They are simple old souls most of them -- just like children. They have no knowledge of modern science and they would believe anything they were told."

John was silent for a few minutes. Then he began again:

    "But how do you know there is no Landlord?"
"Christopher Columbus, Galileo, the earth is round, invention of printing, gunpowder! !" exclaimed Mr. Enlightenment in such a loud voice that the pony shied.
    "I beg your pardon," said John.
"Eh?' said Mr. Enlightenment.
    "I didn't quite understand," said John.
"Why, it's as plain as a pikestaff," said the other. "Your people in Puritania believe in the Landlord because they have not had the benefits of a scientific training.  For example, I dare say it would be news to you to hear that the earth was round -- round as an orange, my lad!"
    "Well, I don't know that it would," said John, feeling a little disappointed.  "My father always said it was round."
"No, no, my dear boy," said Mr. Enlightenment, "you must have misunderstood him. It is well known that everyone in Puritania thinks the earth is flat. It is not likely that I should be mistaken on such a point. Indeed, it is out of the question. Then again, there is the paleontological evidence."
    "What's that?"
"Why, they tell you in Puritania that the Landlord made all these roads. But that is quite impossible for old people can remember the time when the roads were not nearly so good as they are now. And what is more, scientists have found all over the country the traces of old roads running in quite different directions. The inference is obvious."

John said nothing.

"I said," repeated Mr. Enlightenment, "that the inference was obvious."
    "Oh, yes, yes, of course," said John hastily, turning a little red.
"Then, again, there is anthropology."
    "I'm afraid I don't know --"
"Bless me, of course you don't. They don't mean you to know. An anthropologist is a man who goes round your backyard villages in these parts, collecting the odd stories that the country people tell about the Landlord. Why, there is one village where they think he has a trunk like an elephant. Now anyone can see that that couldn't be true."
    "It is very unlikely."
"And what is better still, we know how the villagers came to think so. It all began by an elephant escaping from the local zoo; and then some old villager -- he was probably drunk -- saw it wandering about on the mountain one night, and so the story grew up that the Landlord had a trunk."
    "Did they catch the elephant again?"
"Did who?"
    "The anthropologists."
"Oh, my dear boy, you are misunderstanding. This happened long before there were anthropologists."
    "Then how do they know?"
"Well, as to that . . . I see that you have a very crude notion of how science actually works. To put it simply -- for, of course, you could not understand the technical explanation -- to put it simply, they know that the escaped elephant must have been the source of the trunk story because they know that an escaped snake must have been the source of the snake story in the next village -- and so on. This is called the inductive method. Hypothesis, my dear young friend, establishes itself by a cumulative process: or, to use popular language, if you make the same guess often enough it ceases to be a guess and becomes a Scientific Fact.

After he had thought for a while, John said:
    "I think I see.  Most of the stories about the Landlord are probably untrue; therefore the rest are probably untrue."
"Well, that is as near as a beginner can get to it, perhaps. But when you have had a scientific training you will find that you can be quite certain about all sorts of things which now seem to you only probable."3

1.  The "Landlord" is the owner of the entire country in which all the characters of the story live.
2.  "Stewards" are people delegated by the Landlord to make rules and uphold moral standards for the entire country.
3.  C. S. Lewis, The Pilgrim's Regress [Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co: Grand Rapids, MI; 1992] pp. 20-22

Friday, November 9, 2012

Evolutionary Hymn

Lead us, Evolution, lead us
Up the future's endless stair:
Chop us, change us, prod us, weed us.
For stagnation is despair: 
Groping, guessing, yet progressing, 
Lead us nobody knows where.

To whatever variation 
Our posterity may turn
Hairy, squashy, or crustacian, 
Bulbous-eyed or square of stern,
Tusked or toothless, mild or ruthless,
Towards that unknown god we yearn.

Ask not if it's god or devil,
Brethren, lest your words imply
Static norms of good and evil
(As in Plato) throned on high;
Such scholastic, inelastic, 
Abstract yardsticks we deny.

On then! Value means survival-
Value. If our progeny
Spreads and spawns and licks each rival,
That will prove its deity
(Far from pleasant, by our present
Standards, though it well may be).1

C. S. Lewis
"Evolutionary Hymn"

1.  C. S. Lewis, Poems [Harvest/HBJ; 1977] pp. 55-56

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Habit-forming worship

When human beings worship God the creator, articulating their praise and adoration because of who he is and what he's done, they are, whether or not they realize it, summing up the praises and adoration of the whole creation. That is another reason why the physical expression of worship, in liturgy and especially in the sacraments, remains important. We shouldn't expect to worship as disembodied souls who happen to be temporarily resident in these strange things called physical bodies, and then to be able to do our job as God's royal priesthood, picking up creation's praises and presenting them before God's throne. Remember: that is what we are called to do and to be. Don't be surprised if the body language of worshippers expresses something of what is being said and done. No doubt this, too, can become a hollowed-out habit, to be challenged from time to time in the name of authenticity. But to frown on the physical expression of worship (gestures of hand and arm, of head and knee, whatever) -- as though all such things were signs of hypocrisy or the attempt to put God in our debt -- would be as ridiculous as to suppose that such expressions were all that was required, without the devotion of the heart and mind. 
...The life of worship, then, is itself a corporate form of virtue. it expresses and in turn reinforces the faith, hope, and love which are themselves the key Christian virtues. From this activity there flow all kinds of other things in terms of Christian life and witness. But worship is central, basic, and in the best sense habit-forming.1

1.  N.T. Wright, After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters [Harper One: New York, NY; 2010] pp. 224-225 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Summing up

The normal Protestant objection to virtue, as we've seen, is that it's just hypocrisy, "putting it on" when you don't yet fully mean it. The standard answer is that this is the only way to acquire the deep-rooted characteristics of faith, hope, love, and all the rest. If we wait to start practicing these things until we "mean them" from the bottom of our hearts, we will wait a long time and probably mess up a lot of lives, including our own, in the process. But now we face the opposite problem: the charge that liturgy and other aspects of formal worship have become "just a habit," implying that because worship is a habit you don't really mean it. At one level, the two charges cancel one another out. If you're just putting it on, it isn't a habit; if it's a habit, you're not just putting it on! But there's a serious point underneath this second problem. 
Virtue, whether individual or corporate, is never something that can be taken for granted. Once the habit is formed, by many conscious choices and decisions, it has to be maintained in good running order. Here is the difference between "authenticity" and "spontaneity." Spontaneity objects to all habits: things ought just to happen! Authenticity, on the other hand, doesn't mind habits, so long as they don't become hollow. Fair enough. It would be good, frankly, to think that many of today's Christians were anywhere near the danger of forming habits of worship so strong that they could become "just a habit." That is perhaps a problem that is dying out. But if and when the danger is present, the warning is justified.  
When human beings worship God the creator, articulating their praise and adoration because of who he is and what he's done, they are, whether or not they realize it, summing up the praises and adoration of the whole creation.1

1.  N.T. Wright, After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters [Harper One: New York, NY; 2010] p. 224