Showing posts with label Politikos. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Politikos. Show all posts

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Run to Ruin

I'm told about what today's teens are 
The most informed, the most educated
The most politically involved generation in forever

Color me dubious

I hear that Hilary would have been better than Trump
Cruz is a sleaze and Rand is a quack like his dad
But Bernie or Kasich would have most certainly been rad

Color me unimpressed

They say they can't wait for today's teens to run this country
I can't wait for them to spell 'ruin' correctly
Ignore that Planned Parenthood reps sell baby parts for a Lamborghini

Color me confident

I see marching for women's 'reproductive rights' and LGBT
Free college and healthcare and 'Gender Affirming' surgery
While protesting Trump's conspiracy with Russia to destroy global democracy

Color me confused

So little time, so much to choose
Confederate flag or a first century immigrant Jew?
Wearing all black in solidarity for the Black Panther party too?

Color me benighted

Be sure to get the latest dopamine fix and flu shot
Like and share the peer reviewed studies of spoons making us fat
Science will inevitably make a new vaccine for that

Color me irritated

Prop your feet next to the media hype
Rest our future upon the foundation of sand
Tell yourself that public ignorance and intellectual bullying are on the other hand

Color me contrary

We believe what we're sold through the illusion of choice
Forget about building number seven, or how the second one fell first and at free fall speed neatly within it's own footprint
Just don't buy into all the "thoughts and prayers bullshit"

Color me mulish

Psyops are unheard of, along with truth from Fox News
Guns and racist white nationalists like Milo are the cause of mass shootings, too
But rejoice because we've got a Savior whose Tesla is on its way to mars

Color me amused

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Law is not for the Righteous, but for the Unrighteous

My friend Jeff Wencel has offered an intriguing analysis of I Timothy 1:8-11 over on his blog. I read his comments with two thumbs up all the way to the end, but a comment he made in passing against "theonomistic types" of interpretation caused me to re-read his post. I was intrigued about why he thought his take on the subject differed so noticeably from "theonomistic types" of exegesis, so I commented on his Facebook page about this. He requested that I share my thoughts on my blog so we could interact publicly in the good old fashioned public iron sharpening sort of way. Below is a stab at my first response to Jeff's comments. The main comments of Jeff's that I am responding to (below) are found on our Facebook thread:'s clear at the very least from the text that a lawful use of the law is not one in which it is used for the righteous. That's what the text says. Theonomists or otherwise can try to make it say something else, but the text says what it says. "The law is good, IF one uses it lawfully." What does a lawful use of the law look like? Paul tells us: a lawful use of the law is to understand that it is not laid down for the righteous.
In his blog post, Jeff wrote this too: 
Those who live in line with the sound doctrine, the righteous, don't need the law. It's not laid down for them. Isn't this what the text is saying?

Well, the first thing that comes to my mind is that you notice Paul's point in stating that "the Law" is not one in which it is used for the righteous (emphasis is mine), but yet you think that necessarily disqualifies or runs counter to theonomic exegesis. I don't think that terminology does, at least not necessarily; certainly not according to the surrounding context of discipline. What you interpret "for the righteous" to mean and what a theonomist interprets that to mean may differ in how broadly it can be applied socially, but because I appreciated your thoughts on the passage I'm going to try and offer a theonomic exegesis that doesn't disqualify or run counter to what you think it means, i.e. that those who live in line with sound doctrine don't need the law. 

What a theonomist would question is what you mean by "needing the law" (as stated in your blog post). In a bold attempt to speak on behalf of most theonomists today, I don't believe they would equate the "lawful use of the Law" with "needing the law." They might associate the two, but it's more likely that they would equate the unlawful use of the Law with needing the Law; that is, needing the Law as a just standard to restrain "the lawless and disobedient, the ungodly and sinners" (I Tim. 1:9).

The second thing that came to my mind was your insertion of the concept: "a lawful use of the law is to understand that it is not laid down for the righteous." Your interpretation of that statement seems to be question begging. Paul does not say that the lawful use of "the Law" looks like understanding a thing. Rather, it seems that by understanding Paul's derivative list of Law-illustrations, that would have helped Timothy identify what unlawful uses of "the Law" look like. It looks like those unholy and profane, those who strike their father and mother, murderers, fornicators, homosexuals, kidnappers, liars, perjurers (I Tim. 1:9-10). The illustrations listed by Paul are of those who are "unjust" and not using the law "lawfully." They all fall under moral condemnation as laid down in the Law itself, and are subject to civil and/or ecclesiastical penalties under the "the Law." This is extremely obvious for those who are familiar with the Torah and it's first century abuse by Jewish authorities.

Perhaps breaking down the sentence even further will help clarify where a theonomist is coming from (it helps me, at least): "Now we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully …in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted." 

The "knowing/understanding" that "the Law is not laid down for the just, etc…" seems to imply that some people--like Timothy--recognize and value the just character of God's Law, and therefore can lead by a righteous example among others, not falling under the sanctions of God. Those who use the law lawfully, unlike murderers, kidnappers, homosexuals, etc…, are those who use the Law in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which Paul was entrusted.

As you mentioned in passing in your blog post, the context is about men teaching divergent doctrine. Timothy is receiving instructions of this sort from Paul because, according to the previous verse, "certain persons" have "swerved" from stewardship in the Word of God by using "the Law" unlawfully, "promoting speculations," "devoting themselves to myths and endless genealogies," having "wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions." I may be reaching a bit in saying this, but the references to genealogies, myths, and teachers of "the Law" sounds a lot like certain Jewish "teachers." If that is correct, they were using the Law unlawfully, and therefore were worthy of God's sanctions. Timothy, of course, could only impose sanctions which were lawful within ecclesiastical jurisdiction. 

Since Paul has the topic of just-treatment ("just use of the Law") in mind in the entire first chapter, he may want Timothy to recognize that his own treatment and response toward the law-abusers must be lawful. Not only does Paul argue as though his own sinful actions toward God and other Christian Jews deserved justice according to the Law, he highlights that God showed mercy according to the Law "because [he] acted ignorantly in unbelief" (I Tim. 1:13). The "certain persons" (i.e. Jewish teachers) described earlier in this same chapter need to be evaluated by Timothy in a similar light. Do they deserve justice or mercy according to God's Law? The Law teaches the holy character of God through both, and Timothy needs to use the law lawfully in his manner of discipline. 

This idea of "lawful use of the Law" continues to linger on in the background of chapter one. Paul exhorts Timothy to wage "good warfare." To a theonomist, that seems like an odd statement without Paul assuming God's Law as the standard for New Covenant ethics. Notice the adjective "good" with regard to the warfare Paul exhorts him to wage. It's not just "warfare" in the abstract, as though all means of warfare were always good and lawful. Timothy is to wage good warfare, which may, at some point in time, necessitate ecclesiastical discipline, like it did with Paul (i.e. handing Hymenaeus and Alexander over to Satan so they would learn not to blaspheme; I Tim. 1:18-20). But it also may need to be applied in the civil realm too. That would be a broader application of how all of this ties in with Christian sanctification and discipline, and that would also be outside Timothy's jurisdiction as an officer of the Church. 

Does this help clarify things at all Jeff?

Friday, February 28, 2014

Cheerful Givers: How the Early Christian Church Alleviated Poverty

In his book, Poverty and Leadership in the Later Roman Empire, Peter Brown, Rollins Professor of History at Princeton University, comments on Christian charity and their treatment of the "poor" in the early (pre-Constantinian) Church. Most fascinating is his description of the way Christians viewed themselves as a vital society within the world yet not of the world:
  The sharp pen of Lucian… is one of the first glimpses that we have from an outsider into the inner workings of a Christian community. ...
  A century before the conversion of Constantine, the Christian communities were characterized by a sharply "bifurcated" notion of the duties of the rich and the poor. Not one group, but two groups, claimed the support of the "cheerful givers" in every congregation. 
  First, of course, there were impoverished fellow believers--orphans, widows, the sick, the imprisoned, refugees, and the destitute. As far as we can see, Christian almsgiving at this time was a fiercely inward-looking activity. It did not include unbelievers. Rather, it strengthened the boundaries of the community, like solid rings of bark around a tree, by not allowing any fellow Christian to be forced by poverty to restore to help from nonbelievers. 
  Nor was it a random matter. The bishop and the clergy were supported by a share of the offerings of the faithful. But they received these offerings, in part, in the name of the poor: they were to redistribute what remained from their own upkeep to the widows, orphans, and destitute. The bishop was presented, above all, as the oikonomos, as the "steward," of the wealth of the church. This wealth was to be used by the clergy for the benefit of the poor. In some circles, even private almsgiving was discouraged: ideally, all gifts to the poor were to pass through the bishop and his clergy, for only they knew who needed support.
  This last was an extreme opinion. But the centralization of wealth in the hands of an energetic bishop could be decisive. The letters of Cyprian, bishop of Carthage from 248 to 258, are impressive testimony to his use of wealth for the care of the poor in order to reinforce his notion of the Catholic church as a closed, embattled community grouped around its bishop. Only those "poor" who were known to have stood firm in times of persecution and to have remained loyal to the bishop in the crisis that followed were to receive support. Local heroes who had endured imprisonment in times of persecution received allowances. Cyprian provided refugees out of his own private funds, thereby saving well-to-do Christians the shame of accepting alms as if they were members of the indigent poor. The boundaries of the Christian community were protected. Christian traders were given bridging loans. A convert who had made his living by teaching acting (a profession tainted by idolatry) was maintained by the poor fund of his local church. Cyprian advised the bishop to send him to Carthage, where the church, being wealthier, was better able to support him until he learned a new trade. A considerable sum--one hundred thousand sesterces, the equivalent of half the yearly salary of an Imperial secretary or of a month's wages for three thousand workmen--was hurriedly collected in Carthage to ransom Christians captured in a raid by Berber tribesmen. Unfortunately, the list of donors that was appended to this letter has not survived. Would that it had. With it we might have had evidence of a Carthaginian Christian community of unexpected wealth and social complexity. Altogether, in the words of Graeme Clarke, the translator of the Letters and the author of by far the best commentary upon them, Cyprian's letters provide "practical evidence of the Church constituting a society within a society, a regular tertium genus."
  Thus, a solid middle core of "cheerful givers" was called upon to support two sharply different groups of dependent persons, each of which was liable to considerable expansion--both the clergy and the poor, with the clergy claiming to act as distributors of the wealth of the church in the interests of the poor. Writing in 251, to the bishop of Antioch, Cornelius, bishop of Rome, emphasized the extent of this double responsibility. …In 303, we learn that a police raid on the premises of the church of Cirta, a provincial capital, found a storeroom with sixteen shirts for men, thirty-eight veils, eighty-two dresses and forty-seven slippers for women, along with eleven containers of oil and wine. Furthermore, we know that the church of Cirta had, besides its bishop, at least three priests, two deacons, two subdeacons, one grave-digger, and five readers. None of these were paupers. One reader was a schoolmaster and the other a tailor, a sartor--or, perhaps, even a skilled craftsmen in mosaic work, a sarsor: that is, he was exactly the same sort of skilled artisan as Lucian's uncle, the sculptor, had been and from whose trade Lucian had escaped to higher things. But all the clergy--that is, the priests and deacons--and possibly lesser personnel as well, would have received from their bishop regular sportulae. These were gifts derived from a weekly division of the offerings of the faithful. The offering itself was a major ceremony, performed each Sunday. It involved a procession toward the altar and the solemn dividing up of the contributions of the faithful at a table loaded with offerings in cash and in garden produce. 
  Thus, when Constantine deeded to patronize the Christian church in 312 he found a body committed to a double charge: a duty to give to the poor and a duty to support the clergy. He also found among the Christian laity many well-to-do persons who had long been alerted to the need to scrutinize the clergy whom they themselves supported, to ensure that their money was spent to good effect. An ideology that linked the wealth of the church to the "care for the poor" and that made the clergy responsible for that care was firmly established in Christian circles before the conversion of Constantine. It would have been what a lay person (such as Lucian) would have known about the new sect.1 

1.  Peter Brown, Poverty and Leadership in the Later Roman Empire [Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 2002], pp. 23-6 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

What does the "Kingdom of Heaven" describe?

As mentioned in a previous post, chapter 13 of Matthew's gospel consists entirely of parables and explanations about those parables. Also, within chapter 13 there are seven parables about the "Kingdom of Heaven" and an eighth, final parable, addressed to the twelve apostles about scribes being "trained" (ESV) or "instructed" (NKJV) for this kingdom of heaven. 

But what is all of this language about the "Kingdom of Heaven" supposed to describing? 

What exactly is this "Kingdom of Heaven" described in Matthew 13?

Commenting on Matthew 13, dispensationalists Ed Hindson and James Borland insist that the kingdom of heaven mentioned throughout Matthew 13 is a non-political Church-Age interval "during which believers are citizens of the kingdom that is in their midst."1 Commenting further about this spiritualized, non-political kingdom-dispensation, they write: 
The principles taught in these parables [of Matt. 13]...seem to point to the Church Age. ...Already sensing His impending rejection [by the Jews], Jesus now expressed the "mystery" form of the kingdom that would be the church. Jesus' early ministry involved a proclamation of the spiritual principles of the kingdom. The Jews, however, seeking a political and nationalist kingdom, were now rejecting Jesus' concept of a spiritual kingdom. To bring in a political kingdom before people were born again would be a travesty.2
Along similar lines of disappointing exegesis, Jakob Van Bruggen, admits the obvious imminence of the kingdom of heaven as preached by Jesus and his apostles, yet he relegates that kingdom of heaven to an entirely future "new order that will become a reality on earth when Christ appears" at the time of the general resurrection of all things. He writes: 
Jesus charges the Twelve with the preaching of the imminent coming of the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 10:7; 24:14). Thus in Acts, "preaching the kingdom" is a way of characterizing apostolic preaching in general (Acts 8:12; 14:22; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23). ...[In] the Acts and the Epistles, the path to the kingdom (Christ) is preached more directly and now receives all attention as the trajectory of faith immediately before us. Paul and Peter view the kingdom of God as the new order that will become a reality on earth when Christ appears. The nearness of the kingdom thus becomes the nearness of the Lord (Phil. 4:5; Rev. 22:12).3
The famous millennial preacher and theologian, Charles Spurgeon, in his commentary on Matthew's Gospel, thought the kingdom of heaven was a realm of Spirit-filled Christians, a kingdom promised to grow exponentially in its "conquering, all-pervading influence" until Christ's bodily return at the end of history to judge evildoers.4 In a similar, but not as optimistic dominion-oriented trajectory as Spurgeon, both D. A. Carson and Daniel Doriani interpret Matthew 13 as teaching a partial arrival of the kingdom of heaven already hidden within and among men, and those men are supposed to live with a tremendous hope of being "part" of this "kingdom," while at the same time expecting continued hostility from unbelievers as partial-kingdom participants await a future and final apocalyptic fulfillment at the end of human history.5

Bruner's description of the kingdom of heaven also seems to be an increasingly popular view among scholars today. He doesn't seem to emphasize much of the already/not-yet tension of apocalyptic fulfillment. Instead he describes the kingdom as individuals who encounter Jesus' words and are transformed by them into new creatures as a result, regardless of differing opinions about the timing of apocalyptic fulfillment. Bruner writes:
Jesus' Sermon of Parables is not only doctrine about the kingdom; it is teaching bringing membership in it -- Jesus' parables are "Speech Events" mediating the kingdom's nearness; they are not merely lectures concerning it. ...When the kingdom comes near through Jesus' teaching makes new creatures. The main interim answer to the church's "Thy kingdom come" simply and wonderfully this faith in Jesus.6
Perhaps the most straightforward typological description of the kingdom of heaven has been given by Stanley Hauerwas in his commentary on Matthew, who argues that Jesus is the Kingdom, and since believers are the Body of Christ, united to Him in baptism, then in that sense of union-with-Christ they are body-parts of the Kingdom as much as Jesus is its head. They are, as he describes, "the material reality of the kingdom of heaven" on earth. He writes:
Christians must continue to live as if all hangs on our faithfulness to this man [Jesus], because all does hang on the reality of the kingdom as well as our response to the kingdom that Jesus proclaimed and is. ...The parables of the kingdom of heaven make clear that the kingdom of heaven is not "up there," but rather is a kingdom that creates time and constitutes a space. The time and space that the kingdom constitutes requires that people exist in time and occupy that space. Jesus teaches us through the parables so that we might be for the world the material reality of the kingdom of heaven, for in Jesus we see and hear what many prophets and righteous people had longed to see and hear. Indeed he is the parable of the Father.7
What are we to make of all this?

I can agree with Hauerwas' typology and Spurgeon's optimism. I can even agree with Bruner's emphasis upon Word-transformation as being essential to membership in the kingdom. Admittedly, I'm less hesitant to accept the hopeful dissonance of partial-kingdom realization endorsed by Carson and Doriani, but I am thoroughly confused about Van Bruggen's insistence that the kingdom was pronounced as imminent, but really only was imminent so long as Jesus' physical body was near them, therefore concluding that Christians await a future return of the kingdom along along with the promised future appearing of Jesus. And of course, I am firmly opposed to the arbitrary silliness of dispensational exegesis as found in Hindson and Borland, such silliness as dissecting God's covenant-purposes into "spiritual" and "political" categories, leaving the latter for an entirely future age in which all people must, for some reason, be "born again" for it to be successful. 

When all is said and done, I'm not convinced that any of the above authors do justice to the very obvious message of imminence pronounced throughout Matthew's gospel. They all, in some way, shape, or form, skirt Jesus' own emphasis upon first century fulfillment (as I have argued elsewhere), the result of which is an impotent spiritual "form" of kingdom connected with a very distant, other-worldly heaven (i.e. a spiritual kingdom connected to a "real" kingdom in heaven), instead of being here and now the real kingdom of heaven in as much as a mustard-seed is really the same mustard-tree that birds nest on in later years (Matt. 13:31-32). Jesus' own emphasis upon first century fulfillment does not, as far as I can tell, hinder the reality of an earthly-oriented "kingdom of the heavens" beginning in the first century which continues to grow throughout later centuries--a kingdom which doesn't need to have Jesus' body on earth in order for there to be real growth, real expansion, and real fruitfulness as He promised. As God, Jesus can reign over all the earth from heaven under the new covenant, and there is no legitimate reason to presume otherwise. If Jesus' kingdom has already and really come, there seems to be no legitimate reason to conjure up explanations and false dichotomies to the contrary. 

As N.T. Wright has argued persuasively elsewhere, if 20th century Christians were one of the original recipients of Matthew's Gospel, we would have interpreted all the references to imminent judgment upon Israel and imminent kingdom coming to that generation.8 The primary connection between a first century fulfillment of imminent judgment and an imminent kingdom is that the kingdom of heaven would not grow exponentially as promised as long as that generation of unrepentant Israelites continued in their rejection of Jesus in order to worship idols at Herod's Temple. Structures of power were bound up in everything that the earthly Temple symbolized, and those structures of power needed to be removed before the royal priesthood of God could reign and serve without hindrance in the new creation.9

If you don't believe me, just consider the progressive revelation of Matthew's Gospel itself.

John the Baptist came preaching, "Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is near!" (Matt. 3:2). From the time of John's arrest onward, Jesus then began preaching the exact same message of the kingdom being near (4:17). In the Beatitudes, Jesus ascends a Mount like Moses, and He gives torah (instruction) about the kingdom of heaven belonging to them (5:3, 10). In Matthew 5:19-20, just a few verses after the beatitudes, Jesus tells them that their righteousness must exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees, and that "righteousness" looks like doing and teaching others to obey Jesus' commandments, not the Pharisaical and scribal traditions. Indeed, it is doing the will of Jesus' father in heaven which is explicitly described as a prerequisite for entering the kingdom of heaven (7:21). And so, by that time in Israel's history, we know there was such a thing as a "kingdom of heaven" that existed, and it was possible for Jesus' audience to enter into it by faithful obedience to the Father and His Son.

In Matthew 8:11, Jesus publicly describes the great faith of the Gentile Centurion who came to Him for healing, and He does so by turning to the crowds following him and declaring that he had not found such a great faith in all of Israel, and for that reason "many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven," which seems, in the very least, to imply that the kingdom of heaven consists of future Gentiles who faithfully obey Jesus' Heavenly Father as much as fellow-saints were well known to have done (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, et al.). Another implication of this is that Israel's faith at this time in history, in contrast with the Centurion's, was very distant from their Heavenly Father, of whom Jesus was the Son.

In Matthew 10:7, Jesus commissions his twelve apostles to preach from village to village that the kingdom of heaven was near, and that they would not be able to make it through all the towns in Israel before the Son of Man comes in judgment upon the land (10:23). (See my posts about all of that herehere, herehere, and here.) That language, in the very least, implies that once the Son of Man came in judgment, weeding out evildoers, the great hinderance to first century kingdom growth would be removed and the land could then grow exponentially as promised. That first century fulfillment would therefore become a sure testimony of God's covenant faithfulness to future generations who keep covenant with Him. God would weed out idolatry from the land, just as promised, which ought to encourage Christians today to believe He will subdue all nations under His feet, just as promised. And the means which Yahweh will use to subdue all nations will include future "weeding" as well. There will be times of sowing and reaping, times of planting and times of harvest. But now, under the new covenant, the world becomes Yahweh's wheat-field, not merely the land of promise under the old covenant. 

In Matthew 11:11-12, John the Baptist is mentioned again as being the greatest witness to Jesus' messianic role and his soon-coming judgment upon Israel (as seen here and here); however, even the person who is least in the kingdom of heaven will be considered a greater and more effective witness than John the Baptist. The next statement which Jesus speaks flushes this thought out some more (11:12) by implying that the Kingdom of Heaven has already begun in time, in the days of John the Baptist's ministry to the Jews:
...from the days of John the Baptist until now the Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.
The next time Matthew writes about the "Kingdom of Heaven," it's in chapter 13 (our present chapter). In verse 11 He tells his apostles (on a private boat where the people on shore can't hear him) that "it is given unto you [apostles] to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given." This is very similar to what Jesus revealed to his apostles in his last private discourse with them in chapter ten. If these "mysteries of the kingdom of heaven" are consistent with all of the other previous comments about the coming kingdom made in private to His apostles, I'm convinced that Matthew's Jewish audience would not have concluded a lot of the strained interpretations as seen by modern commentators [above]. It seems to me that any future entrance into the kingdom of heaven, along with the saints, would still have been interpreted in a sense of nearness in light of Jesus' repeated remarks about soon-coming judgment upon the land of Israel. Entrance into the kingdom of heaven corresponds with entrance into the new covenant in Jesus' body and blood--entrance into his baptism of death and resurrection. If first century Jews wanted entrance into the kingdom of heaven, it would no longer be through an old covenant administration.

So what is the Kingdom of Heaven described as all throughout Matthew 13? 

I think it's rather simple. I think the Kingdom of Heaven is described as life in union with God in the new covenant. And as a united-life to God in the new covenant, it's also life under a new creation, not merely life as a new creation. The new creation under the new covenant is a new cosmos in which Jesus reigns over all now and remains the one and only mediator of all now between God and man; and that is set in direct contrast with the old creation under the old covenant. In Jesus we are made new creatures; we live as a new creation. But the cosmos under the reign of Jesus is also a new creation. The old covenant was at best a blueprint for new creation under a ministry of repeated death and temporary redemption for the people of God. But now, in Jesus, the priesthood of believers participate in a ministry which is much greater than the old one, a covenant enacted upon better promises than those given at Sinai.

Why is this life in the kingdom of heaven described as a wheat-field, a mustard-seed, leaven, treasure hidden in a field, a man in search of fine pearls, and a net thrown into the sea of mankind? Because that's what life under the new covenant was promised to be like. It was a life promised to inherit a wheat-field that would have it's weeds uprooted after all its seed had been sown. Even beginning in the first century, when the word of the kingdom was first sown on good soil, the expectant result in that generation was up to as much as one hundred-fold! It was a life of promised exponential growth like a mustard-seed that grows into a tree, and leaven that causes bread to rise to its fullest measure. It was a life promised to receive precious treasure more valuable than all other old-covenant inherited possessions. Such treasure was hidden from some and sought after by others, but like a net this kingdom would gather together all the people of the land, leaving the messengers of Yahweh to sort out the good from the bad, the wheat from the tares, the sheep from the goats. That is why Jesus asks in his final (eighth) parable if his apostles understand the meaning of his parables? If they do, they become "scribes" trained for the kingdom of heaven, bringing out what is new and what is old, in order to teach people the promises of both the old and the new creation.   

1.  Ed Hindson and James Borland, The Gospel of Matthew: The King is Coming (21st Century Biblical Commentary Series) [Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2006] p. 126
2.  Ibid. Italics mine for emphasis. Brackets mine.
3.  Jakob Van Bruggen, Jesus the Son of God: The Gospel Narratives as Message [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999], p. 82
4.  Commenting on the parable of the leaven, Spurgeon writes: "Is not leaven here used simply as another picture of an influence which appears feeble, but turns out to be active, conquering, and at length all-pervading?" Charles Spurgeon (Larry Richards, ser. ed.), The King Has Come [Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1987], pp. 176-7
5.  Doriani writes: "The parables of Matthew 13 both give hope and explain disappointment. They say the kingdom is here, in part, without its full might or glory. This creates dissonance for believers. If we know Jesus is Savior and Lord, why doesn't everyone believe in him? If the kingdom is here, why is there so much evil in the world? ...Jesus urges patience; we must expect continued hostility from those who reject him." (italics mine for emphasis). Daniel M. Doriani, Reformed Expository Commentary: Matthew, Volume I: Chapters 1-13 [Phillipsburgh, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2008], p. 570. In a similar vein, Carson endorses the view that "...the Kingdom which is to come finally in apocalyptic power, as foreseen by Daniel, has in fact entered into the world in advance in a hidden form to work secretly within and among men." D.A. Carson, The Expositor's Bible Commentary: Matthew [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984], p. 307.
6.  Frederick Dale Bruner, Matthew, A Commentary: Volume 2, The Churchbook [Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007 revised & expanded ed.], p. 1
7.  Stanley Hauerwas, Matthew [Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2006], pp. 134-5.
8.  See N.T. Wright's The New Testament and the People of God [Fortress Press, 1992]
9.  There is a section on this blog which describes much of the temple/tabernacle typology of the Old Covenant administration. See that here:

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Greg Bahnsen: More differences between the Priest and King

The separation of church (cult) from state in Israel can be seen by a number of differences between the priest and the king. The officials of the king included cherethites and pelethites (2 Sam. 15:18; 20:7), commander of the army, commander of the body guard, recorder, scribe (2 Sam. 8:16-18; 20:23-26; 1 Chron. 27:32-34; 1 Kings 4:1-6), counselors (1 Chron. 18:17; 1 Kings 12:6; 2 Kings 25:19; Jer. 52:25), overseer of public works (1 Kings 5:16), royal treasurer (1 Chron. 27:25-31), official tax collectors (1 Kings 4:7-19), and marshall of the court (1 Kings 4:5). Mettinger lists the major officials in Solomon’s court as: royal secretary, royal herald, friend of the king, house-minister, chief of the district prefects, and superintendent of the forced levy.17 These officers are clearly distinct from the officials of the temple priesthood,18 which were: high priest, suffragan priest, chief treasurer, overseer, gate-keepers, under-treasurers (these preceding being the council of the temple), heads of each course, heads of families of each course, and finally overseers of gates, guards, lots, and so forth.19 Therefore, the officials of the church did not overlap with the officials of the state but differed in each realm.  

So also did the duties and regulations differ between the ecclesiastical and executive realms of the Israelite state. The king tended to administration, justice, war, safety, foreign affairs, and commerce, while the priests were busy with consecration, the holy place and courts, ceremonial cleanness, sacrifices, cultic observances, and the like. Nowhere are the priests given rights like those of the king: to take a general levy and appoint officers thereunto (1 Sam. 8:11-17; 14:50; 2 Sam. 8:16; 20:23; 1 Kings 4:4), to take over property or oversee estates (1 Kings 4:6; 21:15; 2 Sam. 8), to lay levies on property owners and to tax agriculture and animal husbandry (2 Kings 15:20; 1 Sam. 8:15, 17; 1 Kings 4:5, 7; 5:2 ff.), to constitute the highest court of legal appeal (2 Sam. 8:16; 14:2 ff.; 15:2 ff.; 20:24; 1 Kings 4:3), to require forced labor or use conscription (2 Sam. 20:24; 1 Kings 4:6; 5:27 ff.; 9:21-22). However, the king was very certainly limited in his activities by the law of God (cf. Deut. 17:14-20). Consequently he could not carry out the functions of a priest. When the king takes it upon himself to ordain priests, they are idolatrous priests that need to be put down (cf. 2 Kings 23:5). When the king presumes to offer sacrifice to God he is condemned. Saul offers sacrifice against the command of God and thus must suffer the termination of his kingdom (1 Sam. 13:9-15). Uzziah trespassed the Lord’s commandment and offered incense upon the altar, and for this he was struck with leprosy (2 Chron. 26:16-21). When Jeroboam offers sacrifice at the new altar he is judged by God and stricken (1 Kings 12:32-13:5). And when Ahaz offers sacrifice upon the altar, it is the new altar made after the pattern of an altar in Damascus—the altar to a pagan god (2 Kings 16:12 ff.). The only places where a king is said to offer sacrifice and the passage does not either have a causative sense (“had sacrifices offered”) or disapprobate the behavior are: David’s sacrifice at the coming of the ark to Jerusalem and Solomon’s sacrifice at the dedication of the temple. Both of these instances are laden with strong typological value, pointing to the work of the Messianic Priest-King, Jesus Christ, who is God come to His people to dwell among them (the symbol of the temple). Thus, these two incidents must be viewed as “positive” law or activity again; they quite clearly do not sanction the priestly activity of the king as a general or standing rule (witness Saul and Uzziah). Indeed, what gives these incidents their noteworthy and special nature is precisely the extraordinary character of the events.  

Therefore, it is proper to see a normal distinction between the duties and rights of the king and those of the priest, which in turn points to the separation of church and state. While the priest had to satisfy purity requirements, among which entailed no touching of dead bodies or drinking wine, the king was allowed both to engage in war and drink alcoholic beverage. The priest had to be a Levite, the king did not; in the Southern Kingdom he had to be from Judah. 

The succession of high priests always passed from father to son (cf. Neh. 12:10-11), but the succession of kingship did not automatically go to the son. Sometimes it went outside the royal line by popular choice (cf. 1 Maccabees 9:30-31; 13:8-9) or by usurpation (Judg. 9) or to a queen (2 Kings 11:1-3; 2 Chron. 22:12). The will of the people or human arrangements were foundational to the selection or election of a king (1 Sam. 11:14-15; 2 Sam. 2:4, 8-9; 5:3; 1 Kings 1:11 ff.; 12:1, 20; 2 Kings 11:12; 21:24; 23:30). David made a mutual obligation covenant between himself and the tribes who chose him as king, based on negotiations with the elders. The elders laid down legal conditions for the king (1 Kings 12:3 ff.), and a new king would be elected when there was dissatisfaction with the present ruler (1 Kings 12:16-20). Thus although Israel’s rulership was always subject to the will of God as spoken by the prophet (cf. 1 Sam. 9:26-10:1; 2 Sam. 7:8-17; 1 Kings 11:29 ff.; 16:1; 2 Kings 9:1 ff.), it was nevertheless true that there was reality in the political movements of the people or elders in establishing what is basically a constitutional monarchy in Israel. While the priesthood was based upon strict family descent, the heads of the tribes (Deut. 1:13), some of the judges (e.g., Judg. 11:4-11), and a significant number of the kings in Israel were elected or representatively selected by the people. As Martin Noth aptly puts it, the Israelites were “king-makers.” However, the people never had the prerogative to be “priest-makers”!   

The king’s palace was differentiated from the temple (and priestly residence; cf. 1 Kings 6-7). The draftee servants of the king were separate from the temple servants (cf. 1 Sam. 8:11-17; 1 Kings 5:13; Ex. 28- 29; Num. 3:28, 32; 8:18). The Levites were exempt from the census and draft (Num. 1:48-49). And at the most practical level, the temple tax and tithes were distinct from the tributes paid to the king. While the priests were supported by the voluntary contributions of the people, the magistrate could lay taxes upon the population and enforce them. First Kings 14:26 clearly indicates a distinguishing between state revenues and religious revenues. The Older Testament recognizes an offering on the firstborn (Ex. 12:17 ff.; 13:13; 15:19 ff.; Num. 18:15 ff.; Lev. 28:26), an offering of first-fruits (Ex. 23:19; Num. 18:9, 12 ff.; Deut. 26:2 ff.; 18:4), a tithe (Lev. 27:30-33; Num. 17:21-24; Deut. 12:6 ff.; 14:22-27; 26:13 ff.), atonement money (Ex. 30:11-16), and a temple tax (Ex. 38:25 ff.; 2 Chron. 24:6-11; Neh. 10:33). All of these went to the priests and are distinct from the king’s own taxation tithe (1 Sam. 8:14-17), import tax (1 Kings 10:15), vassel tributes (2 Sam. 8:2, 6; 1 Kings 5:1), gifts (1 Kings 10:2, 10, 24-25; 2 Kings 5:5; 20:12; 1 Sam. 10:27; 16:20; 2 Sam. 8:10), taxes levied on the people (2 Kings 15:19-20; 23:33-35; 2 Chron. 17:5; Amos 5:11; 1 Sam. 8:15, 17), and appropriations (Amos 7:1). Were there no separation of church and state, all collections from the populace would go into one coffer and be allocated by a single administrator, but this is not what we find in the Older Testament. When Israel was under foreign control at the time of Artaxerxes there was still a distinction drawn between church and state, for while tax was paid to the king (Neh. 5:4, 14-15) he recognized Levite-priestly exemptions (Ezra 7:24).

Another separation of church from state had to be observed with respect to the penalties imposed for violations of God’s law. While the magistrate had the power of the sword to execute appropriate criminals, the most extreme punishment imposed for the breaking of ecclesiastical law (i.e., ceremonial commandments) was excommunication.20 This did not belong in any sense to the civil arm to inflict.  

Was there a separation of church and state in Israel then? It appears that evidence supports an affirmative answer. 
The true view is that church and state were in equilibrio, and the Lord was the head of both. He was the civil head of the republic, and was also the head of the ecclesiastical system or hierarchy. These both had access to him by prophet and oracle, and found their only unity in him. Under his administration neither state nor church could dominate the other. . . . Two features are obvious. Neither church nor state derived its rights and franchises from the other, nor over the other. Neither could fill official positions in the other, or usurp the functions of the other . . . each had its own revenues.21  

There was also a recognized distinction between the personnel who comprised the national state and those in the spiritual church. This is evidenced by the doctrine of the remnant in the Older Testament (cf. Lev. 26:40-44; Isa. 1:9; 6:3; 8:16-20; 10:20 ff.; 14:21-27; 28:5; 37:30-32; 41:8-9; 42:18-43:13; 44:15; Jer. 3:12, 14; Ezek. 11:14 ff.; 33:24; 37:12; 36:26-27; Hos. 1:9-10; 2:23; 5:15-6:3; Amos 3:12; 4:11; Zeph. 3:9-13; Hag. 1:12; Zech. 8:6, 11-15). A person could have civic membership and rights (as well as social responsibilities) in the national state without being accounted as a good covenant-keeping child of God; the mention of the remnant draws a line between those who were in the state and church and those who were in the state only. As Paul explains it, “they are not all Israel which are of Israel,” and only a remnant of those who are numbered as the sand will be saved (Rom. 9:6, 27). So we conclude that there was a distinction drawn between the personnel as well as the officials of the state and church. As to the officials, there was an obvious separation between church and state regarding qualification, function, locale, support, organization, and servants.

All footnotes to Greg Bahnsen’s work cited above are found on pp. 395-400 of Theonomy in Christian Ethics [Nacogdoches, TX: Covenant Media Press, 2002; first edition 1977]. The footnotes are cited below as found in his book.
17. Tryggve N. D. Mettinger, Solomonic State Officials: A Study of the Civil Government Officials of the Israelite Monarchy, Coniectanea Biblica: Old Testament Series, No. 5 (Lund, Sweden: CWK Gleerups Förlag, 1971).
18. The listing of the priests in 1 Kings 4:4 does not indicate that they were princes in the royal family, but simply among the chief officials in relation to the people. Mettinger does not treat them as state officers at all.
19. Merril F. Unger, “Hebrew Priesthood,” Unger’s Bible Dictionary, 3rd. ed. rev. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1961), p. 884.
20. Shearer, op. cit., pp. 146-147.
21. Ibid., p. 96.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Greg Bahnsen: Separation of Church & State

Brief consideration must now be given here to the relation of church and state as it bears upon the question of the magistrate’s responsibility in the current age to obey and enforce the law of God. This matter comes up in conjunction with two ways in which the magistrate’s moral obligation to God’s law is either questioned or denied. On the one hand, some will hold that the magistrate cannot be ethically bound to God’s law because that would break down the standing distinction between church and state; on the other hand, appeal to the alleged union of church and state in the Older Testament is often thought to be a factor sufficient to deny the magistrate’s current obligation to God’s law.

However, the Older Testament indicates a standing separation of church and state, and this fact should be recognized. There was a distinction between the work of Moses and that of Aaron (cf. Ex. 16:33-34; 29:1 ff.), for Aaron represented the people in distinctly cultic matters while Moses rendered general, civil leadership for them (functioning a king over the gathered heads of the tribes, Deut. 33:5). So also in restored Jerusalem there was clearly a distinction between Nehemiah the “governor” and Ezra the “scribe”; it is specifically because the civil governor could not regulate the religious life of the people that Nehemiah called for Ezra to return to Jerusalem.1 At the time of the Exodus the people were divided into tribes having one prince each and heads over the families (cf. Deut. 29:10);2 the princes were civil governors and military leaders (cf. Num. 1:1-16; 2:3-29; 7:2; 10:14-27; 13:3; 17:6; Josh. 9:15; 22:14; 23:2; 24:1), and the heads of the families under them were captains and then judges or officers (Num. 1).3 During the time of the Judges executive and judicial power stayed in the hands of the family and tribal heads (e.g., Judges 11:6 ff.; the elders’ transactions with Samuel);4 each city had a council of elders (Deut. 21:6; 25:8; Judges 8:6, 8, 14; Ezra 10:4) who worked separately but sometimes joined efforts (Judg. 1; 4:10; 6:35; 11).5 They were thus governed by the judges (1 Chron. 17:10; e.g., 1 Sam. 8:1) for 450 years until the last judge, Samuel (cf. Acts 13:20). Local affairs were in the hands of the elders who settled town disputes.6 With the institution of kingship the kings served as judges (1 Sam. 8:5; 1 Kings 3:16-28; 1 Chron. 18:14; cf. 2 Sam. 15:1-6) in addition to the other judges (Ex. 18:14-26; 2 Chron. 19:5, 8; Ezra 7:25). In fact, the kings do not seem to have had legislative power,7 but they were essentially judges or governors (the two being virtually synonymous: 2 Kings 15:15; 2 Sam. 15:41; 1 Kings 7:7; e.g., 2 Sam. 12:6; 14:4-11; 1 Kings 3:16-28; 2 Kings 8:3). Under Saul there was “no central government and the tribes, or rather the clans, retained their administrative autonomy.”8 Thus while cultic duties were assigned to the priests (Ex. 28-29), judicial-executive power resided in tribal heads (cf. 1 Sam. 8:4 ff.; 10:20 ff.; 2 Sam. 3:17 ff.; 5:1 ff.) who were later seriously consulted by kings (e.g., 1 Kings 8:1; 20:7; 2 Kings 23:1) and exercised influence over them (e.g., 1 Kings 12). Internal administration and guidance of the cities or tribes remained vested in the hands of the elders even after the exile (Jer. 20:1; Ezek. 14:1-5; 20:1). Now in these matters (i.e., pervasively the function of civil judgment) legislation originally came from Moses and not through priests; when it was adjudicated, the elders and judges are prominent. Therefore, the priests seem to be completely taken up with religious service and not leaders in the political order.

All footnotes to Greg Bahnsen’s work cited above are found on pp. 389-391 of Theonomy in Christian Ethics [Nacogdoches, TX: Covenant Media Press, 2002; first edition 1977]. The footnotes are cited below as found in his book.
1. F. F. Bruce, Israel and the Nations: From the Exodus to the Fall of the Second Temple (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1963), p. 107.
2. E. W. Hengstenberg, History of the Kingdom of God Under the Old Testament, Vol. I (Cherry Hill, NJ: Mack Publishing Co., 1871 [reprinted 1972]), p. 235.
3. J. B. Shearer, Hebrew Institutions, Social and Civil (Richmond: Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1910), p. 81.
4. Hengstenberg, Vol. II, op. cit., p. 67.
5. Shearer, loc. cit.
6. Roland De Vaux, Ancient Israel, Vol. I (Social Institutions), tran. Darton, Longman, and Todd, Ltd. (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1965), pp. 93, 138, 152-153.
7. Ibid., pp. 150-151.
8. Ibid., p. 95.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Greg Bahnsen & John Locke's Political Philosophy

Toward the beginning of his lengthy lectures on British Empiricism, Dr. Greg Bahnsen expresses some crucial philosophical distinctions about political philosophy. Commenting on John Locke's political philosophy and its relevance for American Christians today, Bahnsen said:
What would have been abhorrent for Locke is taken for granted in our day, that the majority have the right to vote in a State that will tax people to redistribute their wealth. 
I’m just taking one example of many: Locke would have thought that as abhorrent. That he didn’t, you see, take account of that is because Lock could count on the general Christian or protestant morality of England in his day. It’s just -- nobody would ever think that the [democratic] State could be used as an indirect way of thievery. You know, the majority getting in so that they could put their hands into the pockets of all the citizens to take their money. But we have now moved into a day where we have to reexamine much of what Locke had to say because the kind of freedom that he granted to the State, and the kind of freedom he granted to citizens in forming their State, assumed something of which we no longer have.
Now I’m not saying we should not have that view of the State.
What I’m saying is, well, to take another example: If you try to take Locke’s view of the democratic State to Somalia today, hey, good luck! -- Because Somalia is a warlord society. It does not have a Christian ethic, a Christian worldview--I mean, even in the broadest perspective. And, I would argue that worldviews hang together. Locke’s was not a perfect one by any means, but the only reason his political theory is so good is because it operated within a general Christian worldview. And he could assume that in a general sense, in terms of the values of his fellow citizens. But when you don’t have that--when you have ethical anarchy--then having the State being run by the majority may not prove to be the State that brings welfare to the people.
So now I’m going to say something that is going to be rather controversial, and I want you to reflect on it:
My sympathies are Puritan. My sympathies are Presbyterian. They are so much so that I criticize Cromwell, the Puritan general, because he re-introduced basically another monarchy that tyrannized the people toward the end of the puritan revolution. So you know where my sympathies are.
However, in terms of political theory, I would have to say, I would rather have a King that enforces the Law of God, than a majority that kills babies. Now the reason I’m saying this is because I have a great respect for Locke and what he has bequeathed to us, but don’t ever think that the form and administration of the State is more important than the morality of the State.
And so, I don’t want a king because I know that men tend to absolutize their power and tyrannize others. I want a parliamentary or a congressional or a democratic form of government--like Lock would have said, I want separation of powers. I don’t want concentration of power. I really prefer that. But that is a subordinate preference. I would prefer a King who did the righteous thing to a Congress that will not do righteousness.1 

1.  Greg Bahnsen, History of Western Philosophy: Renaissance & Enlightenment [Lectures on British Empiricism]. Bahnsen's lectures on philosophy are available together at  
Individual lectures from his series on Renaissance & Enlightenment can be found here: