Leavers, Cleavers, and Covenant Union

Christ in the Old Testament, The Church, Theology

(By: Chris Marley)

Christ and His Bride foreshadowed in Genesis 2:24

William-Adolphe_Bouguereau_(1825-1905)_-_The_Proposal_(1872)After Introducing the Princess Bride to the Prototype of an Ideal Husband as Our Lady of the Rib, we are told, “…A man shall leave his father… and shall cleave unto his wife” in Genesis 2:24. Here, a general precedent is set for a man to leave his home, his place of origin, and cleave to his bride. The man is called upon to leave his father’s house, wherein he lacks no need and has the comfort of familiarity, out of a desire for a bride. In leaving one home, he must then undertake the responsibility of head of the new household, becoming the provider of his family, and lead in the new home. The now-husband assumes the debts and needs of his new bride.

In like fashion, Christ came from heaven, leaving the heavenly home and Father, and redeemed for himself a bride. He left heaven and Father where he held the glory and sovereignty which he shared with the Father  (John 17:5). He left an earthly mother, Mary, in order to endure the hardships of life in a fallen world. He lived a perfect life of obedience in order to clothe his bride and fulfill her debt. He would even be obedient unto the death of the cross, declaring vows that sealed the bride to himself. In doing these things, he assumed the debt of the bride and paid it in full. He took the Federal Headship, leaving home, father, and mother, in order to cleave to his bride.The second theme in this verse is that a man and his wife shall be one flesh. Now remember, this is God who is creating. He could have made

The second theme in this verse is that a man and his wife shall be one flesh. Now remember, this is God who is creating. He could have made us asexual creatures, but one of the major reasons he did not is in order to provide us with a metaphor of his relationship to us. On the pragmatic side of things, it is important to note that this is about “wife,” “girl in a committed relationship,” or “girl man has very strong feelings about,” but “wife.” This is about covenant relationship. Men and women are not meant to seek the physicality of marriage without the covenant of marriage.

On the other side of the metaphor, we should rejoice that Christ’s love is within the confines of a covenant. It is not seasonal, it will not fade, and it will not forget. It is the thing signified by marriage, and is greater than earthly marriage, because there is no “‘till death do us part” clause in the Covenant of Grace.

If we are meant to see Christ in every page of Scripture, why is this narrative being related to us? Because the bridegroom and bride will become one flesh, first by Christ taking on flesh, and then by our being born again in his likeness. How mysterious and beautiful is the union with Christ! The doctrine of Union with Christ is both delicate and volatile. Some would ignore it for fear of straying into error. Others may be too bold, even claiming that saints become God in some way as if they merge into some Christian version of Nirvana. There is a balance, and it is most easily found through this metaphor.

A husband and wife become one in marriage. There are imputed values (like a balance-transfer) that take place. A wife is given all of her husband’s assets and/or debts. Likewise, a husband receives all those belonging to his wife. They share a last name, a home, finances, and possessions. There is a physical union in the marriage bed. They should speak with a united voice on decisions made for the household and the purposes of the family. Everything becomes mutual in as much as is possible.

Yet distinctions do exist. There are still two physical bodies, two minds, two souls, two sets of interests and opinions that will never fully merge. It is foolish to pretend otherwise. The wife of a surgeon may receive esteem and the financial stability of a surgeon’s paycheck, but she should never take up the scalpel and attempt a heart transplant (unless she goes through medical school herself). My wife is trained as a florist, but that does not miraculously make me capable of building a bridal bouquet.

Likewise, the union of the believer with Christ is extraordinary. By imputation, the believer is counted as holding the righteousness of Christ’s earthly ministry. How beautiful! How mysterious! The Bride receives only of Christ’s good while Christ assumes only her debt to be paid on the cross. The more believers grow in grace and knowledge of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the more their mind is conformed to Him and the more their heart desires that which is good and holy. The saint has the security before God that the Son does! However much the saint is one with Christ, though, he is still separate and distinct. The believer will not achieve the archetypal knowledge of God, nor the power to speak and create ex nihilo. Certainly the glory and honor owed to God will ever remain his own. Only Christ, being God, could claim before the Father, “…Yours are mine.” John 17:10. We can only declare to God, “What is mine is yours.” Yet, the believer is bound to Christ more securely than a wedding license can provide, more intimately than the wedding bed, more magnificently than earthly marriage can display. This is union with Christ.

When the two become one in the earthly marriage, life is produced. This is not perfectly consistent because nothing is in earthly marriage. But what we see is a kind of bizarre mathematical concept that the one plus one equals one… plus one. God used the intimacy of marriage as the means to produce new life. I will not belabor the earthly aspect, but the thing signified in Christ and church bears exploring.

It is important to note that this does not defy the monergistic nature of salvation (a technical term for stating that it is Christ alone who saves). Some would claim that man co-authors his salvation (synergistic), but it is God who saves. The Father chooses, the Son redeems, and the Holy Spirit quickens. The church does not co-author that salvation, but God uses means and secondary causes. God uses his bride to accomplish salvation through the general call to salvation.

Paul states that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the preaching of the word of God, Romans 10:17. This is the ordinary means of salvation. God works through the foolishness of preaching to quicken the spirit, regenerating the heart to respond in faith to the message preached. It is not usual, ordinary, or to be expected that God should speak in an audible voice as he did with Noah, Abraham, and Paul. Rather, God uses his already-awakened redeemed to share the gospel that awakened them. Not every sharing of testimony or even every faithful, clear, gospel-preaching sermon automatically results in sinners being saved. It requires the attending work of the Holy Spirit for redemption to be applied.

Here is where the metaphor applies. For earthly children to be born, the husband and wife are to meet together in intimacy. For earthly men to be born again as children of the kingdom of God, the bride of Christ must meet with her husband. When Christ chooses to so visit his bride through his Holy Spirit, new life is produced. Not every sermon attended by the Holy Spirit results in salvation, but a sermon cannot change the hearts of men without the Holy Spirit. Essentially, this means that every sermon through which the Holy Spirit chooses to save will save whomsoever the Holy Spirit intends. This is the nature of Irresistible Grace.

This article first appeared at Credomag.com and is used here with permission. Chris Marley is the pastor of Miller Valley Baptist Church in Prescott, AZ.

THE NEW COVENANT– KNOWING THE LORD: AN EXPOSITION OF JEREMIAH 31:31-34 (PART 6)

Christ in the Old Testament, Scripture, The Church, The Gospel, Theology

The Law and Teaching: To Know the Lord

We are continuing now with the second of three phrases in Jeremiah’s new covenant that we are exploring. The last two posts looked at the phrase, “I will put my law on their minds and hearts,” and its effect that, “They will be my people, and I will be their God.” We saw that the the language of both has rich OT background, and that both point to the idea that these covenant people are not only outwardly called, but inwardly called as well. This post looks at the second phrase, “They shall not teach saying know the Lord,” and its effect, “For they shall all know me.”

In the old covenant, you clearly had some people who were in covenant with God who were not elect, who died, and went to hell. Jesus refers to them as children of Satan, not Abraham (John 8:39, 44). A question in the baptism debate is whether or not this is also true in the new covenant. Are there some people in the new covenant who will nevertheless eventually be in hell? But this question should not be determined by presuppositions about who should receive covenant signs or by systematic frameworks that deal in continuity or discontinuity. The proper way to figure this out is through exegesis of the Scripture.

The statement is, “They shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord’” (Jer 31:34). We will focus on “teaching” first. Under the old covenant, God sent mediators who would teach the law. Moses and the firstborn of the tribes of Israel did this under the Sinai covenant, and this was followed by the priests whose job it was to teach the law, as Ezra did, under the Levitical covenant. Other teachers included the fathers who were to teach the children, “You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deut 11:19). The important thing to realize here is that even under the new covenant, we still have teachers (1Co 12:28; Eph 4:11; etc.). Therefore, if the new covenant is somehow “not like” the old, then the “teaching” it has in mind isn’t merely helping people grow in knowledge. Rather, it is knowledge of a more basic kind.

The content of the teaching is to “know the Lord.” This is not mediated knowledge “about” the Lord. It is immediate, personal, and direct knowledge “of” the Lord. Therefore, the declaration is that they will “no longer teach, telling people to know the Lord.” This will now be done immediately by the Holy Spirit. He will circumcise the heart and write the Commandments on us as living tablets of flesh. The effect of this promise is radically different than it was in prior covenants: “They will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.” “All” is an important word, for this is how the new covenant differs from the old.

“Knowing the Lord” also has a rich OT background and Jeremiah is drawing up it. First, like the laws on your heart, to know the Lord is to obey him. “They bend their tongue like a bow; falsehood and not truth has grown strong in the land; for they proceed from evil to evil, and they do not know me, declares the LORD” (Jer 9:3). “For my people are foolish; they know me not; they are stupid children; they have no understanding. They are ‘wise’– in doing evil! But how to do good they know not” (Jer 4:22). “Heaping oppression upon oppression, and deceit upon deceit, they refuse to know me, declares the LORD” (Jer 9:6). “Do you think you are a king because you compete in cedar? Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Is not this to know me? declares the LORD” (Jer 22:15-16). It is evident then that this kind of knowledge of the Lord is, as the Proverbs say, “the fear of the Lord” (Prov 1:7).

But before this can happen, you have to have Christ revealed to you. In order to get to the point of the fear of the Lord, you have to have two different kinds of revelation happen to you. The first is objective, and comes from outside of yourself. “Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him” (1Sa 3:7). This knowledge comes to a person from the outside, not the inside. Samuel was called externally. He heard a voice. The context of the knowledge here is not mere head knowledge, but knowledge of a very specific person. Here, the One calling is called “the Word of the LORD.” The OT knows this person as the Angel of the LORD. The NT knows him as Jesus Christ. In the OT, very few people know Christ in this way. The Angel simply didn’t appear to very many people. They had to trust the prophets like Samuel who actually did know him and who spoke with him and talked to him. But in the NT, there is an objective sense in which everyone “knew the Lord,” because they could see him walking around all over Israel. He had followers, disciples, enemies, friends. He was physical, embodied, incarnated.

Now, today, he is no longer walking around. That is why it is so vital to tell people about him. The NT roots these events in the physical, the tangible, the sensory, and in history. People can only come to an inward knowledge of the Lord Jesus if they first recognize his outward coming, even as Samuel did with the Angel and then the disciples did with Jesus. He has to be revealed to people. In this sense, he was revealed to people–many people all at the same time. Because he has come in the flesh, the new covenant is clearly a better revealing of Jesus than the old was.

But new covenant knowledge of the Lord does not stop here! In the new covenant, necessarily, this external works its way into the internal. This is what the language means. We have already seen this with the “heart.” “The LORD will make himself known to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians will know the LORD in that day and worship with sacrifice and offering, and they will make vows to the LORD and perform them” (Isa 19:21). Why are Egyptians sacrificing to him? Because they want to! Because they know him now. This is a prophecy of Gentiles coming to faith in Christ.

We have seen how Jesus takes a bride. In the OT prophecies, to know the LORD is to be married to him. This is an intimate knowledge of husband and wife. “I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the LORD” (Hos 2:20). To be married to him means that you have been called and equipped by him. “For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I name you, though you do not know me. I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me” (Isa 45:4-5). Andrew once asked Jesus, “How do you know me?” “Jesus answered him, ‘Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you’” (John 1:48). When you are called like this, you follow. Period. It is irresistibly impossible not to. “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me” (John 10:14). Can you hear the language of the new covenant in Jesus’ words? Are you hearing his voice even now?

People who are called and equipped and married to the Lord recognize his authority over them. Pharaoh didn’t. He said, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and moreover, I will not let Israel go” (Exod 5:2). He didn’t recognize Christ’s authority, therefore he would not obey. So God did mighty works in Pharaoh’s presence. Thus, people who know the Lord recognize his mighty works. “And there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel. And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals” (Jdg 2:10-11). Is not the greatest work of all the resurrection of Jesus? “After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth” (Hos 6:2-3).

In the “infant in the covenant” debate, sometimes people will say, “Yes, but there is the already/not yet of the covenant.” I completely agree. There is. But we are see the already/not yet in different places. Infant baptists see that in the new covenant, it is not “yet” true that everyone knows the Lord. They put this promise out in the future, basically in heaven. But this is not what Jeremiah or Hebrews say. Where I agree with the already/not yet is at this point: Not all of the elect are in the covenant yet. Why? Because not all of the elect have yet believed. Nor have many of them even been born. According to Jeremiah, you are simply not in the new covenant until you “know the Lord,” and knowing the Lord means fearing him, having faith in him. You are to look to Christ alone for salvation, not to election. That is for your sanctification.

(by: Doug Van Dorn)

Psalm 82, John 10, James White, and Mormonism

Christ in the Old Testament, Scripture, Theology

(by: Doug Van Dorn)

Recently, the Confessing Baptists linked up to a blog from John Samson who in turn introduces us to an excerpt from Dr. James White’s book Is the Mormon My Brother? When I posted a short response, they suggested I write up something more formal to be posted as well. This is the result.

The excerpt focused on Jesus’ citation of Psalm 82:6 in John 10:34. The words in John 10:34 are, “’I said, you are gods’?” (ESV). The part of the verse cited by Jesus in the Psalm reads, “I said, ‘You are gods…’” (ESV). Mormons use this to prove two things: 1. A plurality of gods; 2.Their own future participation as in heaven as gods according to the famous dictum by the fifth president of the Latter Day Saints—Lorenzo Snow—who infamously said, “As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become.[1]

According to Samson, a main reason to be a Reformed Christian is that, “When the Biblical text is left to speak for itself, within its own context, the truth is clearly seen.” I wholeheartedly concur. And yet, rather than taking the view of Psalm 82:6 that sees these “gods” as human rulers, thereby finding no point of contact with the Mormon, I take a very different view that sees the Mormon as half-wrong and half-right, though on the point where he is half-right he is also half wrong. Well, that’s as clear as mud, so let me explain.

The Mormon is all-wrong to believe that God was ever a man (Jesus became a man, but that isn’t what a Mormon means). He is also all-wrong (and there is confusion on this point in Mormonism) if he believes that man will ever become God.[2] The Mormon is correct, however, to see a plurality of gods in the Bible. However, the Mormon takes this in a way that is contrary to historic Christianity (and early Judaism by the way) at an essential point. Historic Christianity has affirmed a plurality of gods while simultaneously maintaining that God is completely, totally distinct from other gods in that He—the only uncreated, eternal God—created them, rules them, and is always sovereign over them.

Unfortunately, before I can turn to Psalm 82, I have to address something first. Perhaps the major hang up many have before ever coming to Psalm 82 is a presupposition about “gods.” Some believe that “gods” are “idols,” and therefore have no real existence. Others think you can’t have other “gods” except in the context of polytheism. The first is easily disproven by the fact that God commands gods to worship him; but imaginary friends, Disney characters, and comic book superheroes don’t worship anything. “Worship Him, all you gods” (Ps 97:7; cf. Ps 29:1-2; 148:1-5; Neh 9:6). “Indeed there are many gods” (1 Cor 8:5), the Apostle says. There is a very real reason why the First Commandment tells us not to have other gods before the LORD. It isn’t talking about idolatry; that’s the Second Commandment. Other gods exist.

But what are these “gods?” The Hebrew term is elohim, the same word that is often used to describe God in the Bible. In the OT, elohim includes demons (Deut 32:17), angels (cf. Deut 32:43 Hebrew with the Septuagint), the “sons of God” (Ps 82:1, 6), and even the deceased Samuel, (though not in a way a Mormon would understand it; see 1 Sam 28:13-14). Demons and angels are, of course, real. But they are not on par ontologically (that is in their essence or being) with Yahweh. He created them. They exist for his pleasure and by the power of his word. They do not usurp him, depose him, or in any other way thwart his sovereign purposes.[3] There are many elohim (gods), but there is only One Elohim who is uncreated, sovereign, all-powerful, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, good, holy, just, etc.

Thus, the term elohim does not describe a unique set of attributes of Yahweh. It simply describes a place of residence.[4] What do all elohim have in common? All elohim reside in the spirit-world. If you want to know what kind of an Elohim God is, look to his names. They tell you all you about his infinitely superior incomparable unchangeable uncreated incomprehensible nature, and His perfect infinitely superior moral excellence.

As you can see, there is nothing here, other than our modern concept of the English word G-O-D that demands that “many gods = polytheism.”[5] The simple fact is, our Scripture uses the term elohim to describe many types of beings, in both Testaments, many times. These beings do not necessitate a Mormon view of the afterlife, nor do they represent some old polytheism that those nasty intertestamental Jewish scribes forget to scrub out as they were revising their Bible and changing to a monotheistic religion. All of that is nonsense.

If a person can get over this hang-up and realize that you don’t have to become a Mormon or a Liberal in order to affirm that other elohim exist, then you are ready to move into Psalm 82 and John 10.

The first thing to note is the grammar of the citation. Compare the following in the ESV:

Psalm 82:6 “I said, ‘You are gods…’”
John 10:34 “’I said, you are gods’?”

See the difference? Well, there is no punctuation in the Greek and yet the wording between John and the LXX (Septuagint) of Psalm 82:6 is identical (ego eipa theoi este). What would therefore justify a change in punctuation?

Psalm 82:6 has a speaker telling someone else, “You are gods…” John 10:34 has Jesus quoting one big lump, “I said, you are gods…” In the former there are two subjects. In the later there is only one. The way the ESV punctuates the English makes you think that Jesus is calling the Pharisees “gods,” that is “human rulers,” and is using Psalm 82 to prove it. Dr. White agrees with me that Jesus is referring to Psalm 82:6. Thus, what we have to do is figure out who the subjects in Psalm 82 are. To figure out what Jesus is actually saying, we have to go back to the Psalm.

Psalm 82:1 is essential to understand, and yet few taking the “human rulers” view publicly display familiarity with perhaps the most important part of the Psalm for interpreting it correctly. Let’s compare two translations:

(Psa 82:1 ESV) God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
(Psa 82:1 NAS) God takes His stand in His own congregation; He judges in the midst of the rulers.

Notice the differences? Both have God as the subject. This is correct. “God” here is Elohim. From there, the interpretations diverge radically. In the ESV, God takes his place in “the divine council.” In the midst of “gods” (again, elohim), he holds judgment. In the NAS, God takes his place “in his own congregation.” Elohim (“gods”) becomes “the rulers [of Israel],” and this is Dr. White’s view. Let’s unpack this a bit.

“Divine council” is the phrase ba adat-el. To the north of Israel, Ugaritic–a cousin language to Hebrew–calls it mpḫrt bn ’il (very similar), and there it always refers to the assembly of the gods.[6] Not knowing about the divine council is a serious detriment to any interpretation of this passage. I have yet to see anyone in print argue that we are talking about earthly rulers who has any familiarity with the divine council. But where is this divine council?[7] Is it acceptable to use the pagans at Ugarit as paralleling the Biblical idea? Is God coming to earth–to Jewish rulers–or is this scene taking place in heaven?

Psalm 89 confirms the ESV. “Let the heavens praise your wonders, O LORD, your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones! For who in the skies can be compared to the LORD? Who among the heavenly beings is like the LORD, a God greatly to be feared in the council of the holy ones, and awesome above all who are around him?” (Ps 89:5-7). Notice the council idea again. But where is this council? On earth? No. It is in “the heavens” and “in the skies.”

“Who among the heavenly beings” is the phrase “sons of God,” and this takes us back to our verse: Psalm 82:6. The ESV reads, “I said, ‘You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you…’” “Sons of the Most High” is exactly the same conceptually as “sons of God.” The only difference is that instead of Elohim it uses El Elyon (Most High), a common name for Yahweh. The point is, both psalms are talking about a group called the sons of God. These sons are in heaven and existed prior to the creation of Adam and Eve. “[Where were you] when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:7). The context is creation. The sons of God watched God create, because they are heavenly beings, created prior to Adam and Eve.

In fact, there are ten references to “sons of God” in the OT. None of them necessitate a human interpretation. Some of them necessitate a heavenly interpretation (such as Job 1:6, 2:1, and 38:7). In Psalm 82:6, these “sons of God” are the “gods” (elohim) who are in “the divine council.” One final devastating point needs to be made. Elohim is an extremely common term in the OT. It occurs over 2,000 times. In only two other places (besides Psalm 82:1, 6 and John 10:34) has anyone even tried to argue that it refers to humans. But most people do not realize that this argument was destroyed over 80 years ago in a scholarly article that demonstrates conclusively that elohim never refers to living, embodied human beings.[8]

Summarizing, to try to argue that elohim in this psalm refers to human beings, 1. Shows no familiarity with the divine council, 2. Does not take into consideration parallel passages such as Psalm 89, 3. Argues against the totality of the usage of elohim everywhere else in the Bible (over 2,000 times!).

We might add that the LXX translates elohim as a form of theos (“God” in Greek). At this point, we should ask ourselves a couple of questions. What possible thought would go through Jesus’ mind to tell the Pharisees that they are gods (theos)? When does the Greek theos ever mean “human rulers” (any more than the Hebrew elohim)? The Pharisees want to kill Jesus for blasphemy. How does calling them all a bunch of theoi help him get out of that? If anything, it would exacerbate the problem. Of course, Jesus’ citation does exacerbate this problem, but not because he is so foolish as to tell the Pharisees, “Hey guys, look. I’m a god and you are gods. I mean, that’s what the Scripture says, right? Why can’t we all just get along?” Rather, the Pharisees still want to kill him for blasphemy because he is claiming something much different than either a Mormon or the view represented by Dr. White are saying.[9]

Contrary to the other view, Jesus is not telling the Pharisees that they (and by implication himself) are nothing more than human rulers making bad judgments about him. This view of the “human ruler” does not take into consideration enough that Jesus is trying to justify himself to the Pharisees, not get himself off the hook by putting them on it. The context immediately after John 10:34 has Jesus justifying himself, and that’s all I want you to notice here: “If he called them gods to whom the word of God came– and Scripture cannot be broken–do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me” (John 10:35-37).

Jesus’ citation of the Psalm is not to judge the Pharisees as being bad judges, but to explain to them why he can rightly identify himself as “the Son of God.” He isn’t telling them that they are all just sons together, otherwise, they would have put down their stones, picked up their beers, and start singing Kumbaya. “Thanks, Jesus for clarifying that. We thought you actually were claiming to be a heavenly being!”

Jesus is claiming to be one of the heavenly sons of God. That is the purpose of citing Psalm 82:6. The fact that he is one is what gives him the right to call himself a “son of God” from Psalm 82. He is the Son who “came down from heaven” and “became flesh” throughout John’s Gospel. Son of God is a divine term of heavenly beings. But Jesus is more than one of the created sons of God. Rather, he is “one” with the Father! He is the Unique Son of God—the “only begotten” Son, one of a kind like no other, the one who created all other sons of God, the Eternal Uncreated Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. This is why they still want to kill him, even though they understand exactly what he is saying.

Dr. White raises some objections from Psalm 82 itself about this idea. He says that it wouldn’t make any sense to call a heavenly being a prince. “Nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince” (Ps 82:7). White says, “ Such is hardly the terminology one would use of divine and exalted beings!” One wonders what the angelic “prince of Persia” (Dan 10:13), “prince of Greece,” prince Michael (Dan 10:20), and the “prince of the world” (John 12:31) would say about that? Also, the idea here is not that God is telling human men that they will die like men (a completely unnecessary point), but that heavenly beings will one day die like men, being cast ultimately into the lake of fire (Matt 25:41; Rev 20:10).

Earlier in the Psalm, the objection is taken toward elohim not ruling well. The idea is that gods don’t rule at all. If I had time, I would explain that this is exactly the task God gave to these sons of God, as he set them over the nations (Deut 4:19; 17:3; 29:26; 32:8). “Rulers” or “Authorities” or other similar kinds of words are exactly what these beings are called in the NT (Rom 8:38; Eph 3:10; 6:12; Col 1:16; 2:15; 1 Pet 3:22; etc.). Also, remember that ruling well is exactly what Yahweh himself does throughout the Law and the Prophets, in clear contradistinction to the other gods of the nations. It is because these heavenly beings abandoned their righteousness that “the foundations of the earth are shaken” (Ps 82:5) at this pronouncement of judgment upon them now. That would hardly make sense if God were merely judging the rulers of Israel.

Finally, one last point should be made. Psalm 82 is about Christ. The last verse says, “Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations!” (Ps 82:8). Well, this Elohim who inherits the nations is none other than the Begotten Son of the Father from Psalm 2, where in the parallels verse we read, “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession” (Ps 2:8). He will rule with a rod of iron and a righteous scepter.

These are among the reasons I believe Psalm 82 is talking about heavenly beings, with Jesus Christ as the one who inherits after all the others are dispossessed of their own inheritance. Amazingly, I believe this can be a powerful apologetic to Mormons. This idea has a point of contact with Mormonism. It affirms the existence of other gods. One could even say that Christians will become co-rulers with Christ as they are hidden “In Christ,” as Samuel was after he died. But this is not like the Mormon conception of the afterlife.

Once we show them that they are not completely wrong, we can go to the context of John 10 and Psalm 82 to show them that neither passage is about equating us humans with gods. Rather, it is about God pronouncing judgment upon the created elohim and then Jesus Christ becoming the one who inherits the nations, thereby demanding our allegiance and submission in repentance and faith to the Unique only-begotten Son who alone is One with the Father. That is the greatest claim that Jesus is making to the Pharisees here, and he will prove it in his death, resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of God above all heavenly or earthly powers or authorities. Any who trust in him shall be united with him in his resurrection and share as partakers and joint rulers in his Kingdom forever, without becoming God ourselves.

 

Footnotes:

[1] Lorenzo Snow, Teachings of Lorenzo Snow, compiled by Clyde J. Williams, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1984), 1–2.

[2] The difficulty here is whether the Mormon is claiming divination (becoming God) or divinization/theosis (the Early Church, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox concept that is close to Calvin’s Union with Christ). Mormons seem to be claiming the former. On Theosis (along with a wrong view of Psalm 82:6) in Orthodoxy see “Theosis: Partaking of the Divine Nature,” Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.

[3] Idols were never thought to actually “be” gods in the ancient world. Rather, they were universally thought to be the dwelling places of supernatural, spiritual entities. As John Frame explains, “In paganism, the relationship between the image and the god is more than merely pictorial, or even representative. Something of the sanctity of the god attaches to the image itself … In other kinds of paganism, the relation between the image and the god … may be thought of as a sacramental conduit of divine influence, or as a representation of the divine, in which case the image deserves reverence because of what it represents.” John Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2008), 454.

[4] Michael S. Heiser, “Elohim as ‘Gods’ in the Old Testament,” Faithlife Study Bible, John D. Barry, Michael R. Grigoni, et al. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2012), p. 1; , last accessed 5-7-2015.

[5] See Heiser, Michael, “Monotheism, Polytheism, Monolatry, or Henotheism? Toward an Assessment of Divine Plurality in the Hebrew Bible,” Faculty Publications and Presentations (2008).

[6] I spend a great deal of time on all of this in my book Giants: Sons of the Gods, an introduction.

[7] In dictionaries it is defined as something like, “The heavenly host, the pantheon of divine beings who administer the affairs of the cosmos.  All ancient Mediterranean cultures had some conception of a divine council.  The divine council of Israelite religion, known primarily through the psalms, was distinct in important ways.”  (“The Divine Council,” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry, & Writings, ed. Tremper Longman and Peter Enns, InterVarsity Press, 2008).

[8] Gordon, Cyrus.  “אלהים (Elohim) in Its Reputed Meaning of Rulers, Judges.”  Journal of Biblical Literature 54 (1935): 139–144.  . To my knowledge, no one has ever tried to rebut Gordon’s article in a journal.

[9] The best defense of this position is Michael Heiser, “You’ve Seen One Elohim, You’ve Seen Them All? A Critique of Mormonism’s Use of Psalm 82,” FARMS Review 19/1 (2007): 221–266.

 

Non-Biblical Literature and the Bible: Ancient Near Eastern Literature (Ninth Post)

Books, Christ in the Old Testament, Christian Education, Church History, Culture, Scripture, Theology, Worship

My last two posts are increasingly so vast in scope that it is in some ways pointless to even attempt what I’m going to do here. Nevertheless, I want to try.

For as long as biblical studies have been done (dating back to at least Philo in the first century), Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) literature has been used to illumine the Bible. Indeed, it is beyond question that the OT authors themselves read and employed ANE literature for their own polemical purposes (usually to prove that Yahweh, rather than some usurping deity, is God). For example, Daniel 7 has so many parallels with the Baal Cycle that it is impossible that it is coincidental. What Daniel is doing is simultaneously mocking Baal while glorifying the True God and his only begotten son (see chart). Understanding this backdrop adds multiple rich layers to our understanding of the passage, layers that profoundly enrich our knowledge of Jesus Christ (in the chart, note how the “son of man” parallels “Baal” in the polemic), who is the focus and point of all the Scripture.

Daniel 7 and Baal

Chart by Douglas Van Dorn

In modern times, the 19th and 20th centuries saw several amazing discoveries of ANE literature that brought to the table texts not available to the Fathers, the Medievals, or the Reformers (we have already seen the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi library). Two other incredible discoveries of the last 200 years must be included in this post. The first discovery was made late in 1849 in ancient Nineveh in the Royal Palace of king Sennacherib (705–681 BC), with whom Hezekiah had dealings (cf. Isa 36:1ff). Three years later, a vast collection–thousands of clay tablets and fragments—were unearthed just a few yards away. This became known as the now famous Library of Ashurbanipal (he is called “the great and honorable Osnappar” or “Asenappar” in Ezra 4:10). The find contained myriads of texts and genres collected by the great king in the 7th century B.C., but telling about history for more than a thousand years before that. The find included the Babylonian creation story the Enuma Elish and their Flood story the Epic of Gilgamesh, both of which share much in common with the biblical stories (as well as much that is not in common).

Mt Aqraa (ancient Mt. Saphon) towering over the ruins of Ugarit.

Mt Aqraa (ancient Mt. Saphon) towering over the ruins of Ugarit.

The other discovery took place in 1929 in a dig in the beautiful Syrian port city on the Mediterranean call Ras Shamra (ancient Ugarit), some 26 miles south of the astounding Mt. Zaphon (Isa 14:13 NRS), which rises over a mile straight out of the Great Sea. Zaphon was Baal’s mountain, and the tablets at Ugarit provided for the first time in over 3,000 years ancient stories of Baal, El, and other religious deities that are so intimately tied to the OT. In fact, the Scripture calls God “El” many times. As cited in the first post of this series, Dr. Michael Heiser has written an excellent article showing why Ugarit is so important to biblical studies.

ANE Literature is basically divided into five geographical categories:

Ugarit (see above).

Hittite. The Hittites empire was established in Anatolia around 1600 BC. It reached its height during the mid-14th century B.C., when it included most of Asia Minor as well as parts of the northern Levant (today’s western Syria, Jordan, and Israel). These people are mentioned often in the early parts of the Old Testament.

Akkadian (see above). The Akkadian Empire reached father east and much longer back in time than the Hittites, reaching its peak in the 24th and 22nd centuries B.C.

Sumerian. Sumer is one of the most ancient civilizations known, reaching much of modern-day southern Iraq, as far as 3,500, 4,000, perhaps even 5,000 B.C. The Dynastic period begins c. 2900 B.C. and includes such legendary figures as Gilgamesh—who is supposed to have reigned shortly before the historic record opens c. 2700 BCE.

Egyptian. Egypt is well known to most people. Its empire is world famous, especially because of its colossus pyramids and sphinx that still stand to this day.

The kinds of literature we have from these places include Canonical Texts (including myths, prayers, rituals, incantations, epics, historiography, biography, oracles, proverbs, wisdom, and instructions), Monumental Inscriptions (royal inscriptions, mortuary inscriptions, building and dedication inscriptions, temple hymns), and Archival Documents (letters, contracts, accounts, court cases, wills). As you can see from this list, the literature is vast. There is much here to learn for the eager person that is interested.

Again, because there is a certain hostility that conservative Christians have towards ANE literature, a final word should be said. If the reader keeps in mind that Scripture is God’s word, then it is quite easy to read the other writings of the ANE without feeling like you are compromising something essential. Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and even Moses didn’t feel like they were. So why should I? Rather, they understood that the nations’ beliefs about anything from the gods to morality were rooted in truth, but had become badly distorted to the point of spiritual darkness and enslavment. Holy Scripture sometimes uses their own material against the nations, subverting their narratives, and replacing them with truth that reveals the glory and goodness of the God of gods and his only begotten Son.

(by: Doug Van Dorn)

Jesus and the Scriptures

Christ in the Old Testament, Scripture

flat,550x550,075,fJesus loves the Bible. During his earthly life and ministry, Jesus studied the Scriptures, recited the Scriptures, relied upon the Scriptures, and pointed others to the Scriptures. In 2014 I completed a 2 1/2 year preaching series through the gospel of Luke, and it was in the final two sections where Jesus’ love for the Bible stood out to me like never before.

Luke 24 is all about Jesus’ resurrection, post-resurrection interaction with his disciples, and his ascension. On two different occasions Jesus appears to his followers, first to Cleopas and his traveling companion (he must not have had a “Hi, my name is…” sticker on) on the road to Emmaus, and second, “the eleven and those who were with them gathered together” (24:33). These are people who had been with Jesus for three years. They had seen hundreds, maybe thousands of miracles, heard Jesus teach them and others, saw his love and compassion for the weak and wounded, and were witness to his betrayal by their former friend Judas. But now, Jesus had been crucified, and they were scared and confused. Surely the wondered, “What does this mean? Where do we go from here?”

On the Road to Emmaus

When Jesus first appeared to Cleopas and his friend (maybe wife?), they did not recognize him. Jesus walked with them for a while, but eventually turns to them and says, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe…” (24:25). They had shared with him their confusion and heartbrokenness over Jesus’ death, but could not see the big picture. At that point, in my mind, Jesus would say, “Hey, it’s me! You’ve seen all that I’ve done, and you’re still confused? You’ve heard all that I’ve taught, and you still don’t get it?” But instead, he conducts a seven-mile Bible study.

Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, Jesus walked them through the Scriptures, likely pointing out all the ways he is spoken of. He probably talked about Genesis 3:15 and God’s promise to raise a seed of woman who would crush the head of the serpent and be the salvation of mankind. He talked about the law and the sacrificial system and its fulfillment in the true lamb who was slain once and for all. He showed them all the types and shadows that he could: the departure from Egypt to the promised land as a picture of the Christian’s departure from slavery to sin and death and a final rest in the eternal promised land prepared beforehand by God; Adam and Moses and the Ark and and David as types of Christ, pointing to the second Adam who would make all things right that have been destroyed by the fall; Surely, he went to Isaiah and talked about the sheep being led to slaughter, being smitten and stricken and afflicted. All along the way, Jesus showed them God’s promise to bring salvation to lost sinners and how it was accomplished in his perfect life, sinners death, and resurrection.

Jesus explained all of the Scriptures, because quite clearly they had missed the point. It was so easy for them to read and not see it’s all about Jesus, even though it shouts from beginning to end to, “Look to Jesus! Trust in Jesus! Rest in Jesus!” So Jesus wanted to make sure Cleopas and his friend understood the Scriptures before he revealed himself to them. He wanted them to know that the Bible is true, and trustworthy, and reliable, and consistent. I think they were divinely kept from recognizing Jesus so they would base their understanding of the resurrection squarely on the witness of Scripture and not on personal experience. A privileged experience such as theirs, if not grounded in the Word, would run the danger of becoming an individualized event that could only be accounted for by Cleopas + 1. But now these two on the road were in no such danger. Their belief in the resurrection wasn’t based on experience, but instead it rested on the Scriptures before they even knew it was Jesus who taught them!

The Eleven & Their Friends

Later in chapter 24, the remaining 11 disciples and their friends were gathered together and, “As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, ‘Peace to you!’… ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?'” (24:36, 38). And just as he did on the road to Emmaus, he points his disciples not to experience, but to the Scriptures: “‘Everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures” (24:44-45).

Once again, it would have been easy for Jesus to simply say, “Listen guys, it’s me. I’m Jesus, I was raised from the dead, so let’s move on with this thing.” But instead, he takes the time to lead them back to the Scriptures so they could see what they had missed before.

The emphasis Jesus placed on understanding the Scriptures and their intended meaning should highlight for Christians the absolute importance and sufficiency of Scripture. We need to know the Bible, and not just what it says, but what it points to, what it commands, and as Jesus was very concerned with, seeing that it’s all about him! If it was important for the disciples who were interacting physically with the resurrected Christ to know and understand the Scriptures, surely it’s important for us. We need not seek our assurance in experience, because just as he did with his disciples in the flesh, Jesus calls his people today to look to His trustworthy and sufficient word. Do you know the Bible? Do you see Christ in the text? He’s there!

(By: Nick Kennicott)