Posted in Biblical Questions

On Biblical Concepts and Terms: Part 2, Death is Described as…

So…have you thought about it? Did you come up with an answer? No, no, no…I’m not trying to trick you. This isn’t a trap.

You have no idea what I’m talking about? So…you’ve never ran into a person that persistently attempts to make a point that they believe is valid, airtight and cannot be refuted, but when you ask a probing question…something that attempts to get to the heart of the issue…silence ensues? They refuse to answer. Now their reasons are their own, true as that may be, but there is something very telling at that moment. Telling about the individual and the position that they fervently hold.

The question that I am referring to was presented at the end of my last post (here, if you haven’t read it). I’ll state it again for clarity: What is the relationship between God and Man? What was their status in the beginning? With what we are told in the first two chapters of Genesis what is the relational status between God and Man?

Why this Question is So Important

There is a tacit denial by some who profess belief in the Christian faith that “spiritual death” is really taught in the Bible. For such individuals when the Bible says “death” they tend to take it in what we might label a naturalistic sense; a cessation of life. When you die your body decays and returns to the earth from which it came.

Certainly, this is one way in which the Bible defines death. To deny that this is the case would be silly. There is ample evidence in the biblical record that proves this point. However, to then say that this is the only way that the Bible defines death is to argue the case too strongly. Why? Because, the Word of God offers alternative definitions for the meaning of death in various places.[1]

In fact, a better overarching definition of death that encompasses all that Scripture teaches on the subject would be to label it “separation.” The defense of which would be easy enough, if that were my desire today. Instead, my goal is to show how we can see this sense of the term death, as separation, in just the next couple chapters of Genesis.

A Quick Review of Gen 2:15-17

What I would like to do in this section is provide two alternative English translations of this key passage. Consider the implications based off what is revealed here and what we know about man’s status before (cf. Gen 1.26-28). As well as identify the promise as conditionally presented by the Creator to His creature.

“Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. The Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you will surely die’” (NASB (this version throughout); emphasis added).

“The Lord God took the man and placed him in the orchard in Eden to care for it and to maintain it. Then the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat fruit from every tree of the orchard, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will surly die’” (NET; emphasis added).

Implication #1—

  • The man was God’s creature to do as God willed. Based of what we had revealed to us in Gen 1:26-28 about mankind, we know that the human status and function[2] is to bear the image of God—i.e., to reflect, shadow, mirror the Creator. So, God placed man in the garden to do His will, to follow His Word, to live for Him.

Implication #2—

  • The command in vv. 16-17 emphasizes what has been revealed prior (v. 15 and Gen 1.26-28). Both a positive and negative aspect are present in the Lord’s edict. In the command God presents His image bearing creature with a promise of Life or Death. Obedience, which is the appropriate reflection of God’s will, offers life. Disobedience, which is an inappropriate distortion of God’s will (i.e., rebellion), brings death.

Implication #3—

  • The reward and/or consequence of the decision on man’s part to obey or disobey God’s Law is immediate. I emphasized the two different ways that the English language attempts to capture the biblical Hebrew found in Gen 2:17. The NASB translates the Hebrew “for in the day that you eat of it…;” whereas, the NET offers the Hebrew with the following rendition “for when you eat from it….” I have heard the argument presented against immediate death on the day of rebellion as we see in Gen 3 because “when” does not necessarily carry the same force as “in that day.” It is argued Adam and Eve didn’t die on (in) that day, they were merely denied access to the Tree of Life, so “when” conveys the idea better in terms of physical death not spiritual death, since it was years later that they returned to the dust from whence they came. Whether “when” or “in that day” is used, the implication remains the same. On the day that Adam chose to eat from that which he was explicitly forbidden, death would be the consequence.[3] A legal termination of the relationship would incur…but I get ahead of myself.

Moving on to Genesis 3

Though we are not given the exact day it seems safe to assume that it was not long after this command that the man would put the Lord his God to the test. It would be the serpent, a beast of the field and not a creepy crawly that would present to the woman made from the man’s side the possibility of an alternative understanding of reality (Gen 3.1). After drawing her attention to one of the two trees placed in the middle of the garden, he directly opposed what God had revealed.

“The serpent said to the woman, ‘You surely will not die!” (Gen 3.4).

God emphasized that the penalty for disobedience would be death, but the serpent just as strongly emphasized an alternative…death would not happen. Death would not be the result. In fact, the opposite of death would occur…for a better life would ensue as a result of eating of this fruit because then they’d be like God. (Implication: God wouldn’t be necessary).

Listen carefully to the argument the serpent presents and weigh it against what God said to the man in Gen 2:16-17:

“For God knows that in the day [when] you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3.5; emphasis added).

Claims Compared…

  • God says “in that day [when] you eat from it you will surely die” (Gen 2.17)
  • The serpent says “that in the day [when] you eat from it your eyes will be [surely?] opened, and you will [surely?] be like God…” (Gen 3.5).

Who’s Telling the Truth here?

At first glance, it appears that the serpent is right and God is wrong. For when the woman (Eve) and then the man (Adam) ate from the fruit of the forbidden tree the following occurred:

“Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings” (Gen 3.7).

Did they die when they ate the fruit as God said they would? Or, were their eyes opened to an alternative reality as the serpent said they would? Well, the text says that their eyes were opened not that they died. So, it appears (at first glance) that the serpent was right and God was wrong. Therefore, those who deny a spiritual death in the garden are right after all?

I’m not saying that those who hold to only a cessationist view of death, have purposely placed themselves in line with the serpent in the garden, but their view is exactly what the serpent said. He denied that eating the fruit would bring death that day (when they ate) contrary to the clear statement given by the Lord God to the man. He said their eyes would be opened, and they were. “Can dead people open their eyes? I think not!” comes the ready retort of those that deny death took place in the garden.

What Sense Should be Taken?

If we take death in only one sense, then it appears that the serpent was right and God was wrong. However, there are various senses that the word death may be taken. God emphasized to the man (Adam) that death would be the result of his disobedience. As I said earlier this was a legal determination on God’s part as the Law-Giver.

Legally…

The eating of the fruit of the forbidden tree was the “cause”[4] of the man and woman’s death in the garden. The eating of the fruit stripped the man and woman of their rights to life[5] under God. The eating of their fruit brought about the death of their relationship with God immediately. How so?

What Resulted from the Act?

Notice the reaction of the couple upon having their eyes opened. What were they opened to? What was the result of their defiant act?

First…

“Nakedness, of course” comes the apt reply. Okay, but what changed? They’d been naked before and they both knew it and according to Gen 2:24 they were “unashamed.”[6] However, now the opposite appears to be the case and they are trying to cover it.

Second…

And when “they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Gen 3.8; italics added). Prior to their eating of the forbidden fruit they seemingly enjoyed the presence of God. God spoke to Adam and told him his responsibilities (vv. 15-17), He delighted in Adam’s intellect and leadership. Demonstrated first by bringing to the man various animals to him (Gen 2.18). Secondly, in preparing and giving to him a helpmate (Gen 2.19-24).

Important Observations: Two things might be said of this. God brought the man animals to that he might exercise dominion by observing their qualities/characteristics and then naming them. Second, this was to teach that man that he was unique and alone in comparison with the rest of created things. To which God gifted the man (and the woman) with marital union, the promise of future blessing in the form of offspring, and a cherished relationship to enjoy. In these things, God gave the man opportunity to exercise godly dominion; a sign of favored relationship between God and Man, man and his wife, and man and those others that dwelt upon the earth.

Shame and Fear Drove them… (Gen 3.10)

In this scenario (Gen 1-2) the man and the woman did not run from the sound of their Creator, their Lord and God, but had a loving relationship they enjoyed. However, after eating the fruit something drastically changed. Shame and fear drove their hearts. Their hiding from God reveals a separated aspect to the former relationship they once shared.

Hostility Against the Maker Identified… (Gen 3.12)

This is further highlighted by the antagonism that the man showed his Creator when he was ordered to given an account (i.e., bear responsibility) for what had transpired. When answering for his sin, the man blamed God who gave him the woman for his own transgression. In this, the woman was also blamed.

Closing Question…

Just like before, I’ll ask the same question: What is the relationship between God and Man now? Post-fall what does the relationship between God and Man look like?  Is it alive and well or is it dead?

Perhaps you don’t like the way I asked that last question. I smuggled in “death” there as if we can talk about relationships as living or dead things. We can’t? We don’t? Have you never heard the phrase “He/she is dead to me?” What does this idiom convey but the death, the termination or the separation of people in terms of relationship? Is this type of language permissible in our human vernacular, but not so when discussing our relationship with God Post-fall? Hmmm…interesting…

More to come…


ENDNOTES:

[1] These will be entertained and explained in a future post.

[2] It is often argued against Calvinistic thought that we believe the image of God was destroyed in the Fall. This is inaccurate. Either done maliciously or in ignorance. What Calvinists/Reformed Theology argues is that the image of God was marred, distorted, or tarnished by the fall, not eradicated. The image bearing status (state of being) of mankind has not been removed via the Fall. However, the functionality of bearing God’s image has been grossly distorted. There are moments when a person shadows communicable attributes of God (goodness, love, kindness, etc.), but these are inconsistently applied internally. As a result, an evil parent will give good gifts to their children (Luke 11.13), but when it comes to their Maker they are hostile to God as over them (Rom 8.7-8).

[3] Later we shall return to the oppositions argument and see why it is a poor argument not only linguistically, but also theologically. This will be presented when we begin to look at Genesis 3.

[4] Def. 2a,b, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition (   ), 319, “death,” s.v.

[5] Ibid., 226, “civil death,” s.v.

[6] The very fact that Gen 2:24 explains the purpose of the response towards nakedness before the fall—i.e., unashamed—ought to clue the reader that after disobeying the result will be “shame.” This is what shame brings into the equation. Something foreign that maligns what God had called “very good.”

Posted in Biblical Questions

On Biblical Concepts and Terms: Opening Act-Part 1, Death is…

From the earliest pages of Scripture, we are given some basic, fundamental truths that outline necessary aspects of the believer’s faith. The first verse of the Bible gives unequivocal evidence in the sense of an axiomatic truth: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1.1).[1] God is the ontological beginning of all things. This includes not only seen things, but unseen; for who sees all that is in the earth or in the heavens? Then we have a grouping of verses found speaking about the sixth day of creation that mankind was specially created to image God, to bear His likeness on the earth. This truth was then expected to be brought to bear in the governance (dominion) over the earth and all that which is contained therein (Gen 1.26-28). The third thing we are taught in Scripture is that all of creation was “very good” (Gen 1.31).

God and Man…

So, in the beginning of the Bible we are given what God did in the beginning, and we begin to catch a glimpse of who He is.[2] He is the Creator that makes good things. We see that out of all the things created (those mentioned in the six days of creation, and those not mentioned—i.e., angelic host) Mankind (defined as male and female) is given the highest position over all created things upon the earth. God honored man. God provided all of His needs. God gave mankind dominion and made him/her a steward of this very good creation.

Based on such teaching, the Psalmist as he spoke under inspiration of the Holy Spirit claimed with wonder,

“What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet” (Psa 8.4-6; 144.3; Heb 2.6).

However, as later biblical truth reveals we find that mankind will not only have a position over this created earth, but will sit in judgment even over angels (cf. 1Cor 6.3). A sampling of which is seen during Jesus’ ministry when he sends out the 72[3] disciples to preach the good-news of the kingdom. Upon returning, the disciples rejoiced that “…even the demons are subject to us in your name!” (Luke 10.17; cf. Matt 28.18).

That being said, there is something that Jesus claims is of greater importance than the special privilege given to them as His creatures; it is the relationship that they share with their Maker:

“I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 18b-20).

A teaching moment…

A couple of years back I gave a test to my adult Bible study class. The test took several words and/or concepts discussed in Scripture and then gave the students three choices that they were to label them by. The options were “good,” “evil,” or “both.” What the students didn’t know was that every term chosen (25 in all) ought to have been answered with “both.”

The exercise was given to demonstrate that words or biblical concepts will change meaning depending on the way they are used in a given context. The Bible uses the same words in different senses and from different points of view, and it is our job as students of Scripture to ascertain their intended meaning. Here are a few examples, “wolf,” “serpent,” “yeast,” “Day of the Lord,” and “death.”[4]

As we began to discuss the results in the class, one older lady was adamant that I was wrong on a few word choices. One of which will be the discussion for proceeding posts. The term she argued over was “death.”

She said that death was a good thing since Christ died on our behalf. I attempted to explain to her that she was right (Rom 5.6, 8; Col 3.3-4), but there was another sense in which death is called an enemy (1Cor 15.26; cf. Gen 2.17), and so it is evil. In fact, the death of Christ came as a result of the death that Adam ushered into creation (Rom 5.12, 17).  Rather than conceding my point and changing her answer to “both” she stuck to her guns and continued to argue. Eventually, I politely told her she was wrong, recommended that she read further, and suggested that we agree to disagree.

What the Bible says about…

The Bible has a lot to say about death, and it does not always talk about death in the same way. Sometimes death is viewed as a good thing (Christ dying for us, we in turn dying for Him via bearing our cross daily), but at others times it is viewed as a bad thing (corruption, wages of sin). The Bible also speaks of death in differing senses. Sometimes death is spoke of as punishment, other times separations, and other times still cessation of life.

A couple of posts back (read here) I shared the different ways in which we used the word “day” in English. The Hebrew word yom has similar senses. Sometimes it means an age (period of time; e.g., generation), sometimes it means daylight hours (daytime vs. nighttime), and other times it means a regular approx., 24-hour period of time. How one discerns what way the word is used will always be derived from the context.

But what of words that are not found in the biblical text? There are concepts that are taught in the Bible, but the term associated with them are not found there. For instance, the hypostatic union which speaks of Christ’s human and divine nature joined through the process of incarnation (i.e., “the Word became flesh,” [John 1.14]).  Theonomy means God’s Law, but the term itself is not found there. Trinity would be another example, where the divine persons Father, Son and Holy Spirit are revealed as united in one Being—God. To each of these we might point to various texts that provide a cogent argument for their status as biblical ideas and key theological concepts. Which brings me to another important one “spiritual death.”

On Spiritual Death…

Does the Bible teach spiritual death? Some say no. They offer that the only type of death taught in Scripture is cessation of life (i.e., physical death) carried out through either natural means (age, disease) or punishment/retribution. Ironically, they point to the very same passage that those who hold to the concept of spiritual death as biblical and true do as proof positive that spiritual death is an alien topic imported into Holy Scripture.

Are the cessation’s, right? Have those that maintain spiritual death overstepped in order to hold to a treasured theological system? Or is it possible that a naturalistic tradition has been smuggled in by those that oppose the concept of spiritual death due to the theological questions it raises about the condition of mankind in general?

In order to begin this subject, I want to look at three key verses in the 2nd chapter of Genesis. I have no intention in laying out my total argument here, but merely plan on starting the discussion by leaving some cud for the reader to chew upon.

We already know that God created all things, and as a consequent all things were “very good” before Him. Nothing He made was evil (i.e., bad). In particular, this was true of mankind, the Lord God’s chief creation. Specifically, we find the intrinsic value of mankind in that he/she alone was made to bear the image of God, to be His representative and steward. For reasons known only to God, mankind was given special status that not even angels are privy to (cf. Heb 2.16).

So, at this point I pose the following question: What is the relationship between God and Man in the beginning?

Genesis 2 offers a Close-Up View of Day Six

Having formed the man from the dust and breathing into him the breath of life (Gen 2.7),

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work and to keep it” (Gen 2.15).

With all the implications that this verse entails in light of further biblical revelation the only thing I would like to stress at this point is that God created man for His purpose and not for man’s. What was told to us in Gen 1:26-28 is being reinforced here with God’s activity in this verse. God determines what the man shall do and what he shall not. God decides what is right behavior (thoughts/actions) versus what is wrong. If this is not yet apparent to the reader the next set of verses certainly draws this truth out.

“The Lord commanded the man, saying ‘From any tree in the garden you may eat freely, but from the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die” (Gen 2.16-17; NASB).

There are three integral parts to the content of these verses:

  1. What you can do as MY creature—God gives freedom/liberty of action
  2. What you cannot do as MY creature—God limits the freedom/liberty of action (i.e., provides a necessary parameter).
  3. The consequence for not obeying—God presents two alternatives for the action taken.

Again, without going any further into the biblical narrative or drawing from the wellspring of further revelation we still need to answer this question: What is the relationship between God and Man? Right here, right now…what is their relational status? Until you are able to identify that, you are not ready to progress any further.


ENDNOTES:

[1] All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).

[2] I would argue that the entire emphasis of Scripture is primarily upon God and secondarily about man. Even when mankind is spoken of it is always in relation to God.

[3] Some manuscripts have 70 as the total number. But due to traditional biases that may have led to the acceptance of this number by scribes, the number 72 which is found in other mss is the more difficult to reckon being manipulated and so is chosen by a number of translators as probably closer to the original. Such textual variants though do nothing to hinder the actual teaching of the text, but show how human error in copying handwritten works.

[4] Wolf or wolves in the Bible are depicted in two ways the good of God’s creation that will one day be redeemed, and the bad/evil false prophets, teachers, etc., which attack the the sheep of God: Isaiah 11.6; 65.25; Jeremiah 5.6; John 10.12; Matthew 7.15; Acts 20.29. The Serpent is a symbol of both the good and the evil. The serpent in the garden deceived the woman and she ate what was forbidden, the power behind him was Satan; and yet, Jesus tells his disciples that we are to be wise like serpents: Genesis 3.1-6; 2 Corinthians 11.3; Revelation 12.9; Matthew 10.16. Leaven (also known as yeast) was used in Scripture to symbolize what was both good and bad. Leaven was a symbol of sin, and yet leaven was a sign of the Kingdom of Christ, and the goodness of God’s creation used in the form of a sacrifice: Exodus 12.15, 19; 13.7; Leviticus 2.11; Mark 8.15; 1Corinthians 5.6-8; Matthew 13.33; Luke 13.21; Leviticus 23.17.  Day of the Lord is seen as both a bad day and a good day depending on what side of God’s judgment you are on: Acts 2.20; 1Thessalonians 5.2, 4.; Isa 13.6, 9; 28.5.

<a href="http://Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay“>Image by Gerd Altmann

Posted in Revelation

A Little More Light…Keeps the Darkness at Bay

Biblical revelation is by its very nature progressive. Not progressive in a secular sense, but progressive in the sense that the knowledge revealed is given little by little. Then, that knowledge when properly applied is the essence of wisdom; the counter being folly. This process is gradual and is reinforced through repetition.

In the same way we train our children in life: learning to pray, to be thankful for their daily food, to tie their shoes, pick out an outfit appropriate for the activity and weather, how to sit at the dinner table and the correct manner to use utensils. All of these daily activities are not explained at once. The instruction on how to live is not dumped upon them in one great heap, but slowly over time. Learning is the acquirement of knowledge, and wisdom is correctly applying what has been learned. This process is gradual and is reinforced through repetition.

One of the difficulties that we face is the stagnation of this process for some. While, it is true that we all mature at a different rate, maturing is necessary for living life well. To use another analogy—this time from the animal kingdom—a bird that never learns to fly once pushed out of the nest is in for a mess of trouble when they meet the ground. A child that is not humble, refuses to submit, is too hardheaded to learn from the instruction of his/her betters is headed for a mess of trouble not too different than the bird. And a Christian that has difficulty moving past elementary things (the milk, rather than the meat) is in a similar mess (Heb 5.11-14).

What’s my point?

Earlier biblical revelation is foundational to believing faith. What came before, in the beginning, is the bedrock that the rest of the Christian faith rests upon. But I thought Paul said that Christ was the foundation, the only foundation, that we are to build upon (1Cor 3.11)? He did, Christ is. What ever Paul taught in the New Testament is built upon the Rock cut from no human hands (Dan 2.34-35, 44-45). He learned this not from men, but from Christ the Lord (Gal 1.11-12).

A consistent reading of the Holy Bible shows that Christ Jesus likewise understood that He and His Word—the two cannot truly be separated—was the only Rock that offered a sure foundation to humanity (Luke 6.46-49). And if we are familiar with what came before, we see that this testimony is consistent with Moses’ who made it a point of comparison between the two opposing “rocks” of faith. Only one Rock is a sure foundation that the wise may build upon, but fools have for themselves another rock that is truly no rock at all (Deut 32.18, 31).

Now I have purposefully worked backward through the biblical text (in a very rapid way) to make a vital point. Though the revelation provided in the past was sufficient for faith for those in the past, as time passed more light has been shed on the doings of God and the responsibilities of Mankind. And while, it is true that “All Scripture is God-breathed” (2Tim 3.16), it does not teach all things of an equal nature. That is to say, there were shadows and types in the past (O.T., Tanakh) that served as training wheels for the people of God, until the Father above decided to reveal His beloved Son as the anti-shadow/anti-type.

What’s “anti” mean?

This term is normally associated with that which is against or opposed to, but that is not an accurate way of understanding the prefix in biblical language. To be an “anti” in terms of Scripture means “instead of” or “in exchange for.” So instead of the blood of animals, we have the blood of Christ (Heb 9.18-10.7). In exchange for a lesser covenant, we have a greater covenant affirmed by something more precious—Christ (Heb 7.22; 8.6-13). Instead of an earthly king and kingdom, we are given a heavenly king and kingdom—as found in the God-Man Christ Jesus (Acts 2.25-36). In exchange of an earthly high-priest who were by nature sinners, we have a High-Priest who knew no sin—Christ (Heb 2.17; 4.15; 7.26). In stead of purification by water or by separation through earthly attainments, we have purification through His sacrifice applied by the Holy Spirit (Heb 9.13-14; Heb 10.10).

Again, the point being made is that though there is much value in learning that which was revealed in past revelation, a mature understanding sees Christ as the complete picture. The danger always lurking around the corner is reading into the biblical text an understanding of its revelation that is foreign to the revelation in question.

Which means what?

I have heard it argued that the sacrifice of Christ seems defunct in some way, when we look at the brevity of His earthly life. How can his torture at the hands of Jews and Romans, account for the complete purification of sin for those who believe? How can His death on the cross and burial in a grave for three days (less though, than 72 hours) satisfy the wrath of God, when sinners who refuse to believe are said to face an eternity in hell-fire? Did Jesus really suffer the wrath of God in an equitable fashion in terms of eternity?

“I think not!” says the scoffer. “That doesn’t sound like justice to me!” cries the skeptic. “If that is the reality of the case, that people suffer eternal torment for a short life of sin, then I fail to see how that does not malign the benevolence of God if He truly would torture people in that way!” declares the philosopher dressed in Christian garb.

What’s the problem?

When Job complained about his suffering, God gave him a response. When the Sadducees dared question Jesus to entrap Him, He too gave a quick rebuttal. Listen and see if you can discern what is being said to both parties:

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38.2).[1]

“Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God?” (Mark 12.24).

Job was a righteous man, but the Sadducees were not. Job believed in the Word of God, but the Sadducees did not. However, the rebuke from the Lord was strangely similar. Why?

And, the Reason for the Error?

The reason is both attempted to understand the situations presented to them in terms of human knowledge and wisdom. From Job’s vantage point, his suffering did not make sense. He’d done nothing wrong—at least in a blatantly overt sense—and so he failed to see why he suffered so. His suffering did not seem commensurate with his behavior. Similarly, the Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection from the dead in earthly bodies. They shared more in common with the Greeks, than with Job (see Job 19.25-27). Philosophically, they thought they had Jesus because if the teaching of the resurrection of the dead to newness of life was true, then what would the woman who’d been married several times do with all of her husbands?

The error present in both situations is that Mankind is capable of knowledge and wisdom apart from God. This is the faulty assumption ingrained in the children of Adam since the episode in the garden. This is why you have such confusion over whether or not Christ Jesus sacrifice was sufficient on the cross to atone for all the sins of His people (past, present and future). It is also why there is such a lack of understanding on how His short suffering and time in the grave could account for an eternity in hell-fire for the rebel that refuses to acknowledge Him as Lord.

What is?

God is the author of all life. He is the Maker of all things. He is the definer of what is just, what is righteous, what is holy, what is love, what is goodness, what is adequate retribution, what satisfies His wrath, what the final state of all creatures are. In Him alone are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (cf. Prov 1.7; 9.10; Col 2.3). If you would deign to have these things, it will not rest in your own skull. If you think yourself wise and crafty and say in your heart, “Yes, but I must read these things, I must discern these things, that is how I come to understanding” then all you prove is that you’re a blathering blind guide (Matt 15.14; 23.24; cf. Jer 17.5). It is not flesh and blood that teach these things, but your Maker in Heaven (Matt 16.17; Luke 10.22).

Therefore, if God’s Word attests that Jesus is the Christ, then He is. If God’s Word says that He and the Father are one in equality, but not in personhood, then He is. If God’s Word says that Jesus is the lamb—the true sacrifice—that takes away (atones for) the sin of the world, and that salvation (deliverance from sin, from death to life) is found in no other name, then He is. If God’s Word says that His life, not just a few hours of torture and death on a Roman cross buried in a tomb for three days, but His entire/complete life satisfies the full requirement of Holy Law and Divine Wrath, then He is.

God determines what is, not Mankind. If you fail to see that, if you fail to believe that, if you fail to submit to that—despite your limited intellect and reasoning abilities—then you step in the path of Adam in the garden and do not walk with the Lord of light. At least not consistently.

Praise be to the Lord of Hosts, that it is grace that saves and not our works, especially the works of our own hearts in regards to what we claim as acceptable teaching, as if we are judge; for not a one would enter in. But likewise give heed to these words:

“Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, ‘That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged’” (Rom 3.4; cf. Deut 32.4; Psa 119.160; 51.4).

Back to the Beginning…

As I said at the beginning of this post biblical revelation is progressive in nature. What was given in the past was sufficient for that generation in terms of faith, knowledge and understanding. However, as we progress through Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, more light is added to that former light so that we might see more clearly (Psa 36.9; John 8.12) the plan and intention of God, and the purpose and condition of mankind.

We shall return to this theme in a specific way in a future post…


ENDNOTES:

[1] All Scripture is of the English Standard Version (ESV).

<a href=”http://Image by Colin Behrens from Pixabay“>Image by Colin Behrens

Posted in Communication

Metaphobia

Recently, I have been reading and watching video lectures and debates over the concept of eternal punishment. I am still waiting on a few books that I’ve ordered to come in to read on the subject of Conditionalism/Annihilationism, so I will refrain from specifically dealing with that topic in detail until a future date. That being said, I am fairly confident that there are a few peripheral issues that I can delve into until that time.

I should add that this topic will be something that I will return to at various points in the future. What I mean is that this process will probably months in the making. There are other things that I have an interest in besides this topic, but I do think this subject is important enough to wrestle through from a possible research standpoint.

Coming to See the Communication Barrier

As I have mentioned in the past one of the common focal points in arguments and debates is in regards to language. There is a communication barrier that exists when people do not share the same foundation. We see this specifically in the use of words or phrases.

Dr. James R. White has called this “baggage”[1] that we lug around with us that infers our understanding on how key terms are to be interpreted. Walter Martin, the author of the gold standard volume on various religions entitled, the Kingdom of the Cults, wrote that the Christian

“…must be prepared to scale the language barrier of terminology. First, he must recognize that it does exist, and second, he must acknowledge the very real fact that unless terms are defined when one is either speaking or reading…the semantic jungle that…[has been] created will envelope him, making it difficult, if not impossible, [to offer] a contrast between the teachings…” of the two opposing sides.[2]

When Unaware…

This can be extremely frustrating to people in dialogue. The use of the same words, but opposing definitions, leads to gross misunderstandings. This causes people who may speak the same language (say English) to talk right past another.

Knowing the Cause…

The reasons for this can be many. For example, “words change their meaning over time.”[3] Or it could be our traditional understanding that hinders us from seeing what is truly being said.[4] What needs to be remembered is that words in and of themselves are merely symbols, linguistically speaking, used to convey meaning to concepts in our world.[5]

Language is Symbolic…

That final point is an important one. Think of language as a whole. What are letters? In the English alphabet there are 26 (A-Z).[6] Have you ever considered that letters, which make up our words, are symbolic representations of abstract concepts applied to the world in which we live?

Take for example the word “day.” What is a day? Ah, here is where the semantical range of a word is helpful. There are varying ways in which the term “day” can be described (defined). To illustrate this, I’ll borrow a sentence that I’ve heard from Ken Ham on various occasions.

“In my grandfather’s day, it took three days to travel to that city during the day.”

Understanding Semantic Range…

The word day is used three different ways in that sentence. That is an example of its semantic range. First, “In my grandfather’s day…,” the term day means an age of time (i.e., a generation). Second, “…it took three days to travel to that city…,” day means an approximate 24-hour period of time. Third, “…during the day” we see that day is being used in the sense of a period of daylight (approx. 12 hrs). But the word “day” made up of the letters “d,” “a,” and “y” is a symbolic representation of what we experience in reality. We assign meaning to the symbols, and the manner in which they are used together (a word), and the context in which that word is spoken. Boring I know, but nonetheless important.

By the way this is why it is incumbent upon us to carefully define our words when speaking to other individuals. Even if we share the same language, and embrace a similar worldview, this doesn’t necessarily mean that we have the same intention with similar words or phrases. We need to be aware of potential communication barriers in conversation.

Why Meta-phobia?

I say all of that to caution those who like to use the argument against metaphoric language. There is no question that the Bible is full of imagery. Its pages are littered with various symbolic representations. There are two key responses that I have witnessed to this truth.

Two Sides of the Same Coin…

There will be those who fear the use of metaphors (now you know why I called this section meta-phobia) in the sense that they will be taken seriously. The argument presented will be something akin to “those are just symbols, not be taken literally.” What I’ll call now the belittling fallacy. Trying to make light of what is written by saying “it’s just symbolic.”

Now this makes those on the other side, who take a “literal understanding” of the text, reactively kick back. A fear that the teachings of the Bible will not be taken seriously or accurately (a converse of the meta-phobia above) begins to ensue when this kind of talk is used. Banners are raised and a call to arms is sounded!

Often you can identify this concern when you hear the phrase about “spiritualizing the text.” Which in and of itself I find a bit amusing since we are told in Scripture that it is “God-Breathed” (2Tim 3.16) and men wrote as they were “carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2Pet 1.21). The whole text is spiritual, since it claims to come from God who is Spirit (John 4.24), and yet its language pertains to all of life.

The real issue…

The issue is not whether or not we spiritualize the text, but whether or not we draw from it the correct meaning. Which means what? That we derive the author’s original intention at the time of its writing. Deconstructionists claims that this is impossible, since from their point of view there is no way to derive an author’s original intention from the words written on a page. Which, if that were true, then you should automatically dismiss the conviction(s) of the Deconstructionist since we can’t really know what their intention is.

Literal Should Mean Exegetical…

Confusion over what “literal” means is the problem. The best and easiest way to understand the meaning of “literal” is according to the literature. Which harkens back to reading the author in context (historically, culturally, linguistically) and then pulling out the meaning intended at the time of its writing (a.k.a., process of exegesis). Only then will you be able to properly interpret and apply the text in your current context.

Sounds easy enough, but commitments to the contrary hinder this process. For example, in regards to eternal punishment I have noticed a trend by advocates from one side attempt to dissuade a likely conclusion being drawn from the text by stating that the language is symbolic or metaphoric. To some, I suppose this is impressive. However, I disagree. Actually, I think it is a bit disingenuous. Perhaps, it is just blatant ignorance on their part, but I’m not so sure.

The Use of Parables

Take the literary teaching method Jesus employs quite often in the gospels. Time and time again we see him speaking in terms of parable. He uses illustrations from every day life to discuss deeper, even hidden, spiritual truths. Are we to look at those stories and walk away saying, well His language was metaphoric, it was laden with symbols, therefore, I can’t take him literally?

An Example Given…

Let’s briefly look at one to help what I’m saying sink in.

“The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened” (Matt 13.33).

What is being taught in this parable? In short, that the kingdom of heaven starts out small, almost imperceptibly so, but grows until it is quite large. Of course, “kingdom of heaven” is a symbolic reference to the rule and/or dominion of God, specifically Christ who is King. “Leaven” and “flour” are symbolic references to the Spirit’s work being sown in men’s hearts. Obviously, though spoken in terms of symbolic imagery (metaphoric), the language has a literal meaning.

Farce-fully Stated

To somehow argue that symbols are to be taken lightly because they are not to be taken literally is an absolute farce. Wooden-ism, which is often meant when a person says something shouldn’t be taken “literally,” would be to say that the kingdom of heaven is leaven, it is something a woman took and hid in flour, and then it grew. Symbols represent literal truths, but they are not literal truths.

But a genuine connoisseur of the biblical text does not dismiss a teaching because its symbolic (use of metaphor), nor do they try to make a wooden chair out of spiritual truths. There is a necessary balance that guides the reader, student, preacher/teacher of the Scripture, and this is drawn from exegeting the text not hem-hawing on either side of the meta-phobia fence.

As Pastor Douglas Wilson explains, “the symbol is always less than reality. What is greater—the nation or the flag that represents that nation? …What is greater—the marriage or the ring on the finger that represents the marriage?”[7] Or to apply what I did earlier in this post: Which is greater—the yeast hidden in the dough that grew, or the kingdom of Christ that the gates of Hades cannot overpower? The answer as to the greatest in all three examples is what? Is it the symbol that is greater or the thing that the symbol represents? Obviously, Wilson is right, it is that which is represented by the symbol that is the greater of the two.

No difficulty here…

There is little difficulty in understanding what is beyond the symbolism of teenagers/adults who draw an eyeball, a heart, and the letter U. When the symbols are understood the concept, they point to are clearly comprehended. The symbols put together mean “I love you.” And in the case of the symbology used, it is the statement behind the symbol’s being made that is far greater in meaning and impact.

We will draw this out further in future posts, but for now I’ll let this little lesson settle in your minds.


ENDNOTES:

[1] James R. White, The Forgotten Trinity: Recovering the Heart of Christian Belief (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2012), 25, Kindle, loc 254.

[2] Walter A. Martin, the Kingdom of the Cults: The Definitive Work on the Subject, Rev. ed., Ravi Zacharias, ed. (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2003), 28.

This teaching by Dr. Martin has been adapted and applied to the current material, as language barriers exist not only when one has two opposing religions meeting head-to-head, but also when one apparently shares much of the same common ground within a similar worldview—i.e., Christian faith.

[3] D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, 2nd Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, [1996] 2004), 36.

[4] Ibid., 17.

[5] Ibid., 32. See Eugene A. Nida, Exploring Semantic Structures (Munich: Fink, 1975), 14.

[6] The same thing could be said of numbers. Take for example the number “1” the Arabic symbol we use to identify one is not actually the number, but the symbol that give meaning to our understanding of the concept of “1.”

[7] Douglas Wilson, “Mere Hellfire,” Blog & Mablog: Theology that Bites Back, December 3, 2018, https://dougwils.com/the-church/s16-theology/mere-hellfire%ef%bb%bf.html.  Wilson is a wonderful teacher that is ironically disliked by a great number of his household (i.e., the Christian community). We shall return to some of his teaching on the matter at hand in future posts. Until then, I would recommend you check him out if you’ve never had the pleasure before.

<a href=”http://Image by Garik Barseghyan from Pixabay“>Image by Garik Barseghyan

Posted in Debate and Argumentation

It’s Just Words, Man…Just Words

“You’re just arguing semantics,” was the reply I received. “That’s what he said to you?” an evangelist friend of mine asked. “Yeah, that’s what he said as if this somehow settled the argument,” I said. “That’s stupid, of course you’re arguing over semantics…that’s the whole point,” came my friends irritated response.[1]

What’s the Problem?

Semantics may not be a word that many are familiar with. But familiarity or not everyone uses semantical argumentation. In debates, dialogues, and various other forms of argument one of the things you will notice is that the debate stems from the varying ways in which individuals or groups understand certain key terms or concepts.

This is the game that is often played in cultural issues and or policies (i.e., politics). Barring consideration over the foundational issues inherent in any position held, language or the way we communicate is loaded with baggage.[2]  This baggage provides a filtering lens in the way we use terms or phrases, based on our interpretation of them via our worldview commitments. In short, the way we use certain words or phrases or concepts through various forms of speech (speaking, writing), and the way we hear them (audio, reading) will be governed by what we considered acceptable within a certain range of meaning.

Underlying Issue Elaborated Upon…

The conversation that I roped you in with above was the result of a real meeting I had with a board of elders in the Nazarene Church. This was during my first pastorate, and it was one of many steps as I journeyed on through the ordination process.[3] If I’m not mistaken this conversation would have taken place sometime in the spring of 2010 before the District Assembly’s meeting. The semantical argument that one of the elders referred to was over the word “vision.” The text pointed to was Prov 29.18 in the KJV:

“Where there is no vision, the people perish…”

The problem was that they didn’t like my response on a questionnaire I had filled out a few weeks before the meeting. They interpreted my response as hostile, but it was anything but. In fact, one of the elders said that my demeanor in the meeting was not the impression he’d gotten from what I’d written. Meaning I seemed rather blunt, to which he took as, I suppose, some form of aggression on my part. However, they thought I was rather cordial in person.

The source of contention in this meeting was that I told them they had wrongly applied the passage in question. They were using it in a way to inquire what my “vision was” that I had received from the Lord for my work in Chesterhill, OH. What dream or aspirations or visionary net was I casting to lead me in future months as I worked in the ministry at that church? Even without a lexicon if one merely reads the verse you will see that parallel provided in this form of Hebrew poetry limits the use of the word “vision” in this context as instruction received from God’s law (Torah). More recent English translations pick this intention up provided by the writer of this particular proverb:

  • “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law” (ESV).
  • “When there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but the one who keeps the law, blessed is he!” (NET)
  • “When there is no prophecy, the people cast off restraint, but as for he who guards instruction, happiness is his” (LEB).[4]

Even the Greek translation of the Tanakh does not allow for the manner in which they were attempting to use the term:

  • “There shall be no interpreter to a sinful nation; but he that observes the law is blessed” (LXX).

Once, I had proved my case the only possible answer was to dismiss me altogether with the statement: “You’re just arguing semantics.” And then, the meeting moved on as if it never happened.

I have heard similar argumentation when people quote Hosea 4:6, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…” (ESV). God says people are destroyed when they don’t seek for and embrace knowledge. As if this refers to any and all forms of knowledge.

Again, context helps us identify the meaning of the word “knowledge” even if we do not have a Hebrew dictionary. The second half of the verse shows that the knowledge that the people lack, which is the cause of their being destroyed, is they “have forgotten the law of your God” (Hos 4.6b). The reason is because they had teachers (i.e., priests and prophets) who failed to take God at His Word and give faithful instruction to His people. Which led to “cast[ing] off restraint” as the writer of the proverb above illustrated.

Aid or Hinderance…

Language and our use of it may be either a wonderful aid or a great hinderance to those whom we are speaking to. Fights ensue on theological grounds over the use of words and phrases. This war of words is not limited to what some might view as an ecclesiastical sphere, but takes place in our day-to-day life on a variety of issues. Being a political year, if we take the time to listen and weigh the words of those promoting their ideas, you will notice that the battle is one ideologically waged through the use of words.

Example regarding Politics…

Recently, I was listening (and watching) a conversation that Candace Owens had with fellow black leaders at some event (Clip from Revolt Summit; warning explicit language). Her conservative position was in the minority as could be seen with the panel of people she shared the stage with, as well as the response of the crowd. At one point she was asked what does Trump mean by “Make American Great Again,” “what’s he talking about?!? What era of American history is he referring to?!?”

One group heard the phrase “Make America Great Again,” as possibly referring to the days of segregation, or chattel slavery, or when women didn’t have the right to vote, etc. The other group, represented by Mrs. Owens, meant the values that were once held dear in terms of marriage—specifically fathers in the homes, rather than being negligent—when people worked hard for a living rather than being eager for a handout, when moral values where more in line with those held by our founders and other great leaders of the past; barring of course the atrocities that some fools committed. Though Mrs. Owens was asked the question she was shouted down by members of the panel and the crowd, because they refused to hear her definition of the phrase. It was an argument over semantics.

In Regards to Eternal Punishment…

As I noted in an earlier post in regards to Conditionalism/Annihilationism (See Here) from what I can tell the argument is one over semantics. Since that time, I have read a few articles, books, and some of the early writings of those often labeled “Church fathers” (i.e., the pastors, theologians and scholars of the early church).  I’ve also ordered a couple books on the subject from opposing sides. Until that time, I think that there are a few areas that I might address without having read those books.

What’s to be Expected…

The first has to do with the use of metaphoric language (i.e., symbolic use). The second will deal with the meaning of death in Scripture. The way I have seen it argued from the Conditionalist side is heavily geared towards cessation. If that is in fact the case, then we ought to be able to find biblical support for that position. We shall see. There is a third position that we could look into and that is heavily tied to the emotive human response to the idea of eternal punishment and/or damnation. Let it suffice to say that if both sides are honest NO ONE LIKES the idea of sinners in an eternity of torment/suffering. But the issue at hand has little to do with likes. Whether or not I like something or dislike something has no bearing on whether or not it is truth that should be embraced or rejected. The creature of God is called to submit to the Truth of God regardless of lack of total understanding and emotional bias. I may have a fourth article loosely tied to this in regards to philosophy vs. exegesis, in light of how they relate to one another. But time will tell what I decide on that point.

Until then I pray that you will have a blessed weekend. Worship the Lord while He may be found. Take advantage of today, for tomorrow is promised to none of us. God Bless.


ENDNOTES:

[1] This conversation is paraphrased from the original. The content is accurate, as well as the emotional distaste of my evangelist friend, but I don’t want to act as if this is an exact transcript. Many years have passed since then, and while I don’t believe my memory is slipping I don’t want to overstate my case.

[2] James R. White, The Forgotten Trinity: Recovering the Heart of Christian Belief, E-book edition (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, [1998], 2012), 25, Kindle, loc 254.

[3] My ordination would not come until the April of 2014. By then I had left the Church of the Nazarene for doctrinal reasons, having submitted my resignation letter to my church and the District Superintendent.

[4] All italics are mine to emphasize the word in question.