Archive for May 2013

Extra-biblical “revelations” (part 2)

May 15th, 2013 — 8:33am

Hebrews 2:1–4

Here we read that “what we have heard” from God through His Son is a message of “great salvation” (the great salvation, incidentally, for which the prophet Daniel prayed). Quite apart from the substance of the salvation-message and what our response to it should be (the main burden of the writer), it is interesting to note how or by what means this message came. God’s revelation of salvation in these last days was “at first” declared “by the Lord [Jesus]” Himself, and then it was “attested” to the church by those who heard Jesus (v. 3). There is little doubt that these attesting witnesses were primarily (but not exclusively) Jesus’ apostles. Many people heard Jesus’ message but didn’t believe Him (such persons are clearly not in view here); many others heard and believed, but it was the apostles in particular who were authorized to speak what they had seen and heard with the authority of Jesus Himself (note that in order to be an “apostle” of Christ, it was required that one had seen and heard Him; e.g., Acts 1:21–22; 1 Cor 9:1). The apostles were firsthand witnesses of Christ (as others were), but they were also uniquely authoritative witnesses in that He commissioned them, out of many disciples, to be His official witnesses on earth (e.g., Jn 15:26–27).

But there’s more. Not content simply to send out the apostles with a salvation-message, God also “bore witness” to their message, authenticating their witness by accompanying signs, wonders, various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to His will (v. 4). This is of fundamental importance, and must not be missed: the controlling purpose of these signs, wonders, miracles, and gifts distributed in the days of the apostles was to authenticate their firsthand witness to the message that they (and others) had heard from Christ Himself. And the writers of Hebrews isn’t the only biblical writer who says this.

2 Corinthians 12:12

For instance, Paul authenticates his apostolic ministry and message in Corinth by the incontrovertible fact that he had performed the “signs of a true apostle” among the saints there. What were these authenticators of his apostleship? They were “signs and wonders and mighty works,” just as in Hebrews 2:4 (in fact, Paul uses precisely the same Greek words here as in Hebrews 2:4).

To sum up thus far, God used signs and wonders and mighty works to prove to those hearing the apostolic message that these men were really speaking God’s own message, that they were really bearing witness to what God Himself had spoken in His Son. But now another piece must be added to the whole picture.

1 Corinthians 12:4–11

The New Testament picture of God’s revelation through Christ’s apostles (their salvation-message) and His revelation that accompanied their message (signs, wonders, and mighty works) is complicated by the fact that non-apostles also exercised the “apostolic” gifts. Not only the apostles heard the Lord; not only the apostles bore witness to the message they heard from the Lord; and not only the apostles enjoyed the accompanying authenticating witness from God in the form of signs, wonders, and mighty works. Paul is clear, for example, that during his ministry the Holy Spirit “apportioned” authenticating gifts in the Body of Christ as He willed (v. 11) – and this apportionment included non-apostles.

What is important to observe, though, is that apportionment of these authenticating gifts to non-apostles (exercise of the gifts by non-apostles) did not mean that the gifts served a different purpose, some purpose other than authenticating the salvation-message of Jesus’ firsthand witnesses. The controlling purpose of the gifts remained the same at all times, regardless of who was exercising them: they were for the purpose (cf. again Heb 2:4) of authenticating the salvation-message first spoken by the Lord, as that message was preached and proclaimed by those who heard Him (particularly His authorized apostolic representatives).

This controlling purpose explains why the gifts were always to be exercised under apostolic oversight, and according to apostolic regulations. Paul takes up this issue in 1 Corinthians 12–14, to which we now turn. To be continued . . .

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Extra-biblical “revelations” (part 1)

May 14th, 2013 — 1:39pm

What follows (in four parts) is an exegetical essay I wrote some time ago, attempting to appraise the validity of extra-biblical “revelations.”


My intent in this essay is to explore whether the Bible permits us to believe that the Holy Spirit continues to give extra-biblical revelation to the church. That is, beyond illuminating scripture to the understanding of the saints, does the Spirit continue to “reveal” God’s mind to the church? Even more concretely, what should be our response when approached with the statement (so common in contemporary Christian circles), “The Lord told me.” I’ll examine a series of biblical texts, commenting on each of them with the goal of piecing together their cumulative witness on the issue at hand.

Daniel 9:24

It may not be wise to start with a text that’s been as fiercely debated as this one, but we’ll make an attempt anyway. Daniel receives a vision from God to the effect that “seventy weeks” are decreed concerning his people and the holy city Jerusalem. Seventy weeks until what? Until the bestowal of everything Daniel has just been pleading for: mercy (v. 23) and the long-awaited fullness of the salvation of God (vv. 16–19).

The scriptures of Israel taught that God’s of God was to arrive (and the New Testament teaches that it did, in fact, arrive) with the coming of Messiah. Daniel here is told that six things in particular will come: God will “finish the transgression” of His people (v. 24), put an end to their sin, atone for iniquity, bring in everlasting righteousness, “seal” both vision and prophecy, and anoint a most holy place. The first four of these divine actions were indisputably accomplished in the work of Jesus Christ; it was by His once-for-all sacrifice that forgiveness of sins and everlasting righteousness were conferred on God’s people. The sixth divine action may, without difficulty, be referred to Jesus’ establishment of a new, worldwide temple of God (the church) and the outpouring of His Spirit on that temple at Pentecost (e.g., Eph 2:21–22). If five of the divine actions occurred in the events of Jesus’ earthly ministry and Pentecost, it seems likely that the remaining action also occurred around that period, i.e., God’s “sealing” of vision and prophecy.

The notion of “sealing up” in biblical apocalyptic literature generally refers to shutting up something so it does not continue to go forth (e.g., Dan 12:4, 9; Rev 10:4). Does the New Testament offer any support for the idea that, around the time of Jesus, God’s giving of visions and prophecy to His people came to an end, i.e., vision and prophecy were “sealed up” so they no longer go forth? To this question we now turn.

Hebrews 1:1–2

This text is, even on its surface, a definitive statement about the history of God’s revelations to His people. Prior to “these last days” God spoke at many times and in many ways, but all that changed with the advent of a new period of history. In this new period – “these last days” – God has spoken not by the prophets but by His Son. What is described here is not simply one more successive period in God’s revelation, one following upon another which might be succeeded by still another; what is described is the final period of divine revelation. The reason isn’t far to seek: all prior revelations were provisional in nature, not least because they were mediated through mere human messengers; but now God has spoken His full, final, and definitive word through His Son. The full perfection of the message is related to the perfection of the Messenger; and precisely because the message is now perfect and complete, none further is needed or to be expected. God’s full word is His final word; His final word is final because it is full and complete.

It should be noted, however, that this in itself doesn’t preclude the continuance of revelation through the whole of the new period (these “last days”). To say that God has spoken His full and final word in His Son distinguishes these “last days” from all preceding historical periods, but it doesn’t demand that the “last days” themselves be divided into (1) a time in which God spoke (and finished speaking) in His Son and (2) a time when God is silent because His speech in His Son has been completed (this is what is often referred to as the “cessationist” view). The pressing question, then, is how has God spoken through His Son in the last days, and whether His way of speaking in this period is such that we must now view His speech to us in Jesus as an accomplished, finished thing, with only the illumination of that completed word carrying through the remainder of the last days. Put simply, has God spoken a completed word in His Son in the last days, or is He still speaking a continuing word in His Son? For an answer to that question, we must move a bit further into the Epistle to the Hebrews. To be continued . . .

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The scourge of casual dating

May 7th, 2013 — 9:52am

I grew up in Christian communion that was fiercely critical of “dating” and endorsed a sort of “courtship” model (though we didn’t use that term) of getting guys and girls together. The prevailing view was pretty rigid and, like many youth who grow up in rigid systems of faith or practice, I was glad to leave it behind when I came of age.

Then I became a father, and then a pastor. Nearly a decade later, while I’m still suspicious of rigid systems, I’ve seen enough of the “casual dating” ritual that prevails both inside and outside the church to believe that it’s absolutely ruinous. In many cases, it’s a hotbed of immorality, and not always for the reasons one might imagine (the backseat of a car, etc.).

I should disclose one or two things up front. I believe fervently that God made men and women different, and that the differences play out (because they’re supposed to) in the romantic “dance” between a man and a woman. I believe that, as in actual pair dances, the man’s romantic role is initiatory (he moves), and the woman’s role responsive (she moves with him); and in saying this I intend nothing rigid or formulaic. I’m not saying the woman should never initiate anything; I’m certainly not saying the man isn’t often in a position where he must respond to the woman. What I am saying is that, by creational design, a man is to offer to a woman a series of commitments, showing himself worthy of her trust, respect, and love; and if he isn’t man enough to do this, she’s in no position to – indeed, she shouldn’t – give away her heart, her body, or her life to him.

Now here’s the rub. Among evangelical Christians there’s an understanding (sometimes!) that a godly girl shouldn’t give her body to a guy until he says “I do,” until he commits himself to her in the form of marriage vows. We get that from the Bible without much difficulty: premarital sex is sin. But puzzlingly, among these very evangelical Christians, there’s often no conviction that a woman’s heart, like her body, is to be given away only to a man who shows himself worthy of it through a series of honorable, manly – one might even say, sacred – commitments.

Let me illustrate. If a young man becomes my daughter’s friend, that’s fine: I’ll encourage her to be discerning in her choice of friends, regardless of their gender. But if he wants to be anything more than a friend to her, I’ll want to know (and if I’ve taught her well, she’ll want to know) how he plans to demonstrate that he deserves anything more. Let’s suppose he asks to escort her to a dinner party, and let’s suppose for the sake of argument that I consent. Now, if at any point in the course of the evening he were to ask her to unbutton her outfit, I would break his face (non-metaphorically, of course). And lots of Christian dads are with me on that. But what if for weeks, dragging into months, he were to continue to lavish attention on her, making himself seem like a charming prince and drawing her to “unbutton” her heart more and more; but when asked what his plans and intentions are, he couldn’t give a satisfactory answer? He wants her heart (maybe it’s something else he wants), but he hasn’t made any commitment to which my daughter’s giving her heart away would be a suitable response. He hasn’t said, “I do.” He hasn’t said, “I will, on this date” (with accompanying ring). He hasn’t even said, “I will, I just have to figure out when, and I hope you’ll wait for me.” Yet meanwhile he’s treating her heart as if it’s already his. He’s toying with her. I would argue that he’s violating her. The manly thing would be to say, “I really, really like you; but we have to stop seeing each other romantically until I’m ready to commit, because otherwise I’m setting you up for a possible heartbreak, and I care for you too much to do that.” One would think this sort of chivalry wouldn’t need to be spelled out; but alas, a very different scenario plays out all the time in Christian circles, canonized (I’ve even heard Christian parents extol it) in the scourge that is “casual dating.”

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