17 September 2013

Law and Gospel, 3

This is part 3 of a series looking at Law and Gospel. Links to the previous installments: Part 1 Part 2.

Having said that both concepts of Law and Gospel are present throughout the whole Bible, it could be helpful to substantiate that claim with some examples. I contrasted this view with that of seeing Law as Old Testament era and Gospel as New Testament (into the present) era. Here's how I'd depict the contrast:
Erroneous view
More accurate view


Since it is usual to see Law in the OT, I will only show examples of Gospel in the OT and likewise only examples of Law in the NT.

Gospel in the OT

By Gospel I mean anything that God gives to humanity out of sheer grace based on Christ's merit, apart from any merit of the recipients.
And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them. (Gen 3:21 ESV)
This may seem insignificant, but Adam and Eve's new clothes were really a gift from God that they did not deserve. The skins is an indication that animals were killed in order to provide these clothes. God indicated that to trespass his law meant certain death (Gen 2:17), yet here God shows that He is gracious to spare them by providing atonement in a substitute. Yet, what was it that allowed God to pass over their sin, allow them to live, and give them clothes? How could He neglect justice? Was it the death of these animals that satisfied His justice? Surely not. Only the atoning death of Christ could provide this (see Rom 3:23-26). The sacrifice of the animals was to indicate to Adam and Eve the severity of their sin, that it indeed deserved death, but that God is gracious, and that He is gracious based on the merits of a substitute. The animals were suggestive of the substitute concept, while Christ is always the actual substitute. I don't think Adam and Eve were confused on this, because previous to the gift of clothes God had announced the coming of a Messiah:
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel." (Gen 3:15 ESV)
Then, after pronouncing Eve's curse of pain in childbirth, this seemingly random statement comes:
The man called his wife's name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. (Gen 3:20 ESV)
Though she had yet to give birth to anyone, it seems that to have called her "mother of all living" was their statement of faith in God's promise to provide in her offspring a savior, the true substitute, the victor over Satan. And the very next verse, on the basis of their confession of faith in the Messiah, comes the gracious provision of clothes.

This post has already gotten too long, but this understanding of the animal sacrifices as not sufficient in themselves but as pointers to the true sacrifice is a significant concept to remember throughout the OT (so I won't provide commentary for the following examples). It may seem that God's gracious favor can be merited through animal sacrifice, but in reality the one offering the sacrifice did so in faith of God's promise of the real sacrifice to come. God's grace is merited only by Christ's atonement and his righteousness accounted to the sinner when the sinner believes, whether that sinner was Adam or me or any in between.
(Gen 8:20-22 ESV) 20 Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. 21 And when the LORD smelled the pleasing aroma, the LORD said in his heart, "I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. 22 While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease."
(Gen 15:5-6 ESV) 5 And he brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be." 6 And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
(Gen 22:17-18 ESV) 17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, 18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.
As the NT explains in Gal 3:8, "And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, 'In you shall all the nations be blessed.'"

Law in the NT

By Law I mean anywhere that God commands.
(Mat 5:17, 21-22, 27-28 ESV) 17 "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. ... 21 "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.' 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, 'You fool!' will be liable to the hell of fire. ... 27 "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart."
(Gal 5:19-21 ESV) 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
(Jam 4:11 ESV) 11 Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.
(1Pe 1:14-16 ESV) 14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy." 
(1Jo 2:15-17 ESV) 15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world--the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life--is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

11 September 2013

Sola Scriptura

I've been trying to learn about the solas of the reformation. Under desk piles I uncovered an old issue of Tabletalk (Nov 2012) that addresses them. I also found an old Modern Reformation article1 that has been helpful. I've also referenced R.C. Sproul's book "What Is Reformed Theology?" The following are some notes on Sola Scriptura I gleaned from these sources. These aren't necessarily quotes but reflect my current understanding of the topic. Also, as I'm going about learning, I'm particularly interested in how the Reformation2 perspective differed not only from the Roman Catholic view but also from the opposite extreme of the Anabaptist3 view.

Sola Scriptura is the Reformation view on this question: Where do we go to get God's Word? Christians might all agree that God is the highest authority and therefore His Word is the ultimate standard for all of life, but we disagree on how His Word is communicated to us.

This is essentially my understanding of the spectrum:

How does God speak to humanity today?
Roman CatholicReformationAnabaptist
Trifold authority: Scripture, tradition, and the Magisterium; but, primarily the pope, being the highest authority of the Magisterium.Only the 66 books of the Christian Bible. We should no longer expect ongoing revelation now that God has finally spoken in His Son (Heb. 1:2).Scripture, plus the Holy Spirit speaks directly to each believer, or perhaps directly to various charismatic leaders.

On Rome's side, the pope is viewed as the successor to the Apostle Peter, and so the pope's official pronouncements are the very words of God. In this way, the speaking and revealing work of the Holy Spirit did not end at the biblical Apostles but continues in the teaching offices of the Roman Church.

On the Anabaptist side, reacting radically to Rome's view, the Holy Spirit could and does presently speak to any Christian, not just the pope or official teachers. Yet, the great similarity this has with Rome is, again, that the speaking and revealing work of the Holy Spirit did not end at the biblical Apostles but continues for those who are sufficiently "tuned in."

The Reformation view, in contrast to both extremes, said that the Holy Spirit was done revealing with the close of the NT canon. The Holy Spirit continues to speak today, but only mediated through Scripture4. And, in my understanding, the Holy Spirit doesn't hijack the words on the page and make them mean something special to each reader; rather, the Holy Spirit meant something when He first inspired the writing, and He means for them to say the same thing today. So God speaks today in the contextual meaning of the words of the Bible.

It is interesting (and concerning) to me how some who would otherwise identify as reformational are reinterpreting passages that provide the basis for Sola Scriptura to support a continuationist view of prophecy, for example. The apostolic age was a unique period in redemptive history, a period which is not today. Lack of appreciation for this fact has most of evangelicalism today looking more like Anabaptists than Reformers. Similarly, Sola Scriptura is commonly misunderstood today to justify a view of "me, God/the Holy Spirit, and the Bible," which is radically individualistic and unappreciative of the rich history of traditions, creeds, and confessions of the church. Reading scripture in isolation from the church (both present-day and historical) actually elevates the authority of the individual self over the authority of God in the scripture.

Related concepts to Sola Scriptura are the perspicuity (clarity) of Scripture and the sufficiency of Scripture. Perspicuity goes to the issue of how to interpret the Bible. Rome said an official teaching office was necessary to interpret Scripture for everyone else, since the Bible is so confusing and all. But the Reformers argued that Scripture isn't that hard to understand, at least on the main points it addresses. So interpretation is performed by all people together, as Horton explains:
In interpreting it, the whole church must be included, including the laity, and they must be guided by the teachers in the church. Those teachers, though not infallible, should have considerable interpretive authority. The creeds were binding and the newly reformed Protestant communions quickly drafted confessions of faith that received the assent of the whole church, not merely the teachers.
Anabaptists get around interpretation by allowing any number of meanings, so long as it is what the Holy Spirit told you. But here the Reformers also argued for a literal meaning of the text which we come to by basic principles of hermeneutics and grammatico-historical method. As Sproul says, "Though a text may have a multitude of applications, it has only one correct meaning." Of the Holy Spirit card, Calvin said, "When the fanatics boast extravagantly of the Spirit, the tendency is always to bury the Word of God so they may make room for their own falsehoods."

The sufficiency of Scripture goes to the conviction that everything we need to know regarding religious life5 is in Scripture, and to add anything else is to reduce Scripture's authority. The medieval Roman Church's official theology "was shaped more by the insights of Plato and Aristotle than by Scripture." On the other side, much of evangelicalism today following an Anabaptist stream takes more cues in its message and methods from contemporary politics, sociology, and marketing than from Scripture. In saying "Sola Scriptura," the reformers were rejecting any such influences from Christian theology or practice.


1 "The Crisis of Evangelical Christianity: Reformation Essentials" by Michael S. Horton. Issue: "The Reformation Then and Now" March/April 1994 Vol. 3 No. 2 Page number(s): 12-19
2 I am deliberately avoiding the word "reformed." The Solas in particular trace back to Luther, so "Reformation" to me is inclusive of both Lutheran and Reformed (Calvinist, Presbyterian) traditions. Besides, "reformed" doesn't mean the same thing to everyone anymore.
3 I am aware that some don't think bunching people into a category like Anabaptist is fair, since some Anabaptists were generally orthodox and others were crazies. But as I understand, most of them were crazies, so there.
4 I like how the Westminster Confession of Faith says with present tense, "the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture." WCF chapter 1 article 10: "The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture."
5 By "religious life," I am intentionally qualifying the sphere in which Scripture is sufficient. Westminster Shorter Catechism question 3 is helpful: "Q. What do the Scriptures principally teach? A. The Scriptures principally teach, what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man." The sufficiency of Scripture is not at odds with exercising practical wisdom, nor with learning from unbelievers about issues in a common grace realm. As Calvin said in his commentary on the creation in Genesis, "nothing is here treated of but the visible form of the Word. He who would learn astronomy, and other recondite arts, let him go elsewhere." Or as I paraphrase him: if you want to learn astronomy, ask an astronomer (not the Bible).