Posted in Uncategorized

Clarity of Thought in a Day of Muddy Waters

INTRODUCTION:

In Scripture God speaks with clarity, but those marred by sin have difficulty seeing the truth in its proper light. Sin separates, it muddies, it clouds the perception, it makes straight lines appear crooked and crooked lines straight. An overarching assumption that I believe, sometimes gains some headway among those who profess the name of Christ, is articulated in this fashion: “it is only sinners that truly struggle with the plainness of the biblical text, but not I, for I have the Spirit to guide me into all truth.”

And yet, and honest reading of the Bible reveals that even those who were considered people of the book, men and women of faith, erred in seeing the truth as God intended it.

Muddy vision…

One such example is found in the Gospels where the Lord Jesus warns His disciples to “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matt 16.6; ESV).1 This statement is on the heels of Jesus interaction with the so-called leaders (false shepherds) of Israel, where He rebukes them for not seeing the clearness of the revelation before them. They wanted a sign from Jesus to prove who He was claiming to be. He had healed all sorts of illness. He had cast out demonic forces. He had fed multitudes with scraps. And, He had taught with undeniable authority from the Scriptures. But…they wanted more proof. Jesus tells them,

You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.”

MattHEW 16:3

And, in similar fashion He says to His disciples,

O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets were gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets were gathered? How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven [the doctrine] of the Pharisees and Sadducees”

MattHEW 16:8-11

Jesus was warning His own to beware of false teaching (Matt 16.12). For the unwary allow it to stay and fester and grow, rather than throw out the lump that has been corrupted by it (e.g., 1Cor 5.1-7). The point I am making is that though biblical teaching has a perspicuity to it (a clarity/clearness), it is not just the wicked that fail to see the truth when it is smack dab in front of their face, but so too does the righteous wrestle with it.

Notice Jesus does not say to the disciples that they have “no faith,” but “little faith.” Unlike the so-called religious leaders of their generation they at least followed Jesus. They knew to some degree that hope rested in Jesus and no one else. But, they struggled with seeing things as clearly as they were revealed. Their vision was somewhat muddied.

Possible objection or excuse…

I suppose some might attempt to argue that this was before the Holy Spirit had been poured out. After which, they would be able to walk by the Spirit and not by the flesh. This type of response is given when one looks at the episode in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of Jesus arrest. Just as Jesus foretold, when “the Shepherd is struck the flock would be scattered” (Matt 26.31; Zech 13.7). They fled because they did not have the boldness of the Spirit yet (cf. Acts 2), it is offered. I disagree.

The Holy Spirit does lead us into truth as we follow His Word; with this sort of statement I will agree. The Holy Spirit also gives us boldness to testify before all that Jesus Christ is Lord and that salvation is found in no other but Him; with this statement I too find agreement. But the reception of the Holy Spirit into the lives of the believer does not make the person in question impervious to faults or frailties. Or else why do we still struggle from time-to-time with sin (cf. 1John 1.8-9)? Or else, why are we still sometimes prone to gross errors that in fact malign the clear teaching of Scripture (cf. Gal 2.11-14; 2Pet 3.16)? Why do believers at times, for a season, temporarily adopt teaching that has demonic roots: meaning, it is not rooted in the mind of God, but instead, is found, in the heart of the creature (e.g., Matt 16.23)?

As clear as the Scriptures are, our minds are so affected by the curse of the Fall, that it is a lifelong process of “rebuke, correction and teaching” that slowly trains us to think and live righteously (2Tim 3.14-17). And so, God rightly disciplines those whom He loves, like a good father will do to his own children, so that we might learn to live by every word that proceeds from His mouth rather than falling prey to leaning on our own understanding.

Personal-Pastoral study…

I have been studying the book of Daniel now for the better part of a year. Being an expositional preacher, I attempt, to the best of my ability, to teach accurately the Word of Truth as it is written. This requires much labor on my part, as it does any legitimate student of Scripture. Currently I am working through the 9th chapter of this book. Much has been spoken about this area of the Bible during the course of the societal/political upheaval we have been witnessing here in the United States (think 2020-2021). So-called prophecy experts are using their influence to muddy the waters further about our present circumstances.

Cultural Reflection…

Take our current cultural climate as a living example. Why are we seeing what we are seeing here in the West? Why are so many things so sharply divided? Why has panic found a comfortable seat in the heart of so many? Why is evil and wickedness promoted by those inside and outside of Christ’s Body (i.e., His congregation)? Why is the civil government flexing its metaphorical muscle against a large portion of the populace? Why is “Big-Eva’s” leadership (the so-called Evangelical arm of the Christian Church) so quick to adopt the language of today, to synchronize itself with current cultural trends (i.e., syncretism) so as to appear relevant, accepting, peaceful and fully woke? What is the root of the problem. Who is the desolater and who is bringing forth the desolation that we are now witnessing?

Brief lesson…

To the learning the term “desolate” can be taken in either its adjectival sense as an illustrative, describing word; or, “desolate” can be understood as the action (verb) of making desolate. From a biblical standpoint God is the author of the desolation.

He is the one that removes, or strips bare, the inhabitants of the land. Seen in various, interrelated forms of judgment: drought, famine, pestilence and war (this violence against life is either through beasts or the sword). This is a visual representation of what enslavement to sin (i.e., rebellion towards our Maker’s Law) looks like, and so, we should not be surprised that God in the past has used the enemies of His people to wage war, and to drag them off into captivity (cf. Book of Judges).

From the same viewpoint, mankind is the cause of the desolation. They are the ones responsible for bringing about God’s retributive action on this earth.2 As Nebuchadnezzar wisely opined,

[God’s] dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’”

Daniel 4:34b-35

False assumptions…

Just as the king of Babylon said in his own heart, “Is not this greatness before me all that which I have built and established by my own power?” (Dan 4.30; paraphrased).3 Our current generation, here in the West, has assumed that our powers that be, our wealth, were wrought by ourselves without anything from God above. Moreover, this attitude the permeates unbelieving thought has infiltrated Christ’s covenantal body and has led those that bear the name of Jesus to withdrawal and abandon their high calling of loving Him in every area of life. They have played the role of the desolater, apostatizing from the faith along various veins of thought. How so? By adopting that which God hates and declaring it good. By not only being unaware of the leaven in our society, but eagerly setting down such leavened bread at the table, reserving those various lumps of dough in storage to be worked into more flour.

The prophet’s who cried for “peace, peace” in Jeremiah’s day find a kindred spirit with various Christian leaders in our own. They wanted peace as they married their hearts to the demagoguery of the political/societal forces that promoted every form of idolatry imaginable, and many of our own leaders are guilty of the same. But just as peace did not come when Daniel was a young man, neither will peace be given to our generation. Desolations are decreed. As our nation has moved further and further along the trail of abandoning the True God of All Creation, we have invited Him to wet His sword and sharpen His arrows, to train the string of His bow against us (Psa 7.12-13). And when our wealth is taken from us, when we lose all that is treasured above our Great God—who so many fail to acknowledge until it is too late—can anyone of us say, “How dare ye God? On what grounds? By what right have you waged war against us?”

The answer is this:

“It is you who have thought to strike at me by refusing to kiss the Son in whom I am well pleased. No mercy, no quarter is to be given until this rabble is done away with, and this that you have treasured is made desolate. For all My Son’s enemies shall be put beneath His feet, before the end, the final one being death!”4

Daniel, the Lord’s prophet, understood with clarity the reason for the state of things; in what brought them into being and what would bring them to their end:

As it is written in the law of Moses, all this evil is come upon us: yet made we not our prayer before the Lord our God, that we might turn from our iniquities, and understand thy truth. Therefore hath the Lord watched upon the evil, and brought it upon us: for the Lord our God is righteous in all his works which he doeth: for we obeyed not his voice…we have sinned, we have done wickedly.”

Daniel 9:13-14, 15b; KJV

Responsibilities…

Our refusal to obey God’s voice has ushered in His wrathful judgment against a nation that slaughters her young, abuses them, perverts the doctrine of marriage and the family, has no respect for personal property and endorses theft at the national level, celebrates slander and hate based on superficial characteristics, promotes slothfulness, and every form of perversion that the human mind can imagine.

Now the prophecy speculators will tell you that this means that the writing is on the wall and that the end is near. This is true, in part. There is an end in sight and we are witnessing it with the increasing speed in which our cultural decay is made evident (the proverbial writing on the wall), but this is not the first end that has occurred. Neither will it be the last. Things are being shaken, so that what cannot be shaken will be left standing (Heb 12.27-28).

What we ought to be doing…

Rather than hope for an escape hatch to open up, let us with boldness and courage proclaim our Lord’s greatness. For He is in fact the one orchestrating this end that we are witnessing for His glory and for the benefit of the people whom He loves. Like Paul we need to learn what it means to rejoice in persecution. We need to be better students of the Word of God, so that we can see with clarity “what is good and acceptable and perfect” to Him (Rom 12.2), by applying them.

This means rather than abandoning the culture we being accepting the responsibility to change the culture from the bottom up. By leading godly family, training our children up in righteousness, giving them the means to stand against a culture that attempts to sway them towards lies, rather than the truth, and getting involved in our communities where we live. Understanding that when we declare Jesus Christ as Lord that we are saying His authority permeates every facet of life, in heaven and in earth, and so we seek to reform this world after His image; in politics, in science, in music, movies, as tradesmen, as businessmen, in education, in art, in architecture, etc., etc. If its on this earth, Christ owns it and we need to start making it known that all the earth is His, for He has made it for His glory.

We need clarity of thought, so that our works will properly reflect “our God, our Lord!” (John 20.28).

ENDNOTES:

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

2There is a sense where one can attribute the designation “desolater” to both God and mankind. The image bearer (mankind) who refuses to listen to the voice of His Maker obeying His Law-Word is the desolater in a causal sense. The sinner causes God to act in response to the desolater’s rebellion. In this fashion, then God is also a desolater, but one that serves as the effect. The apostle Paul writes that the “wages of sin is death.” Sin brings about the desolation of the desolater for God’s righteous judgment is against those acts of desolation (i.e., abandonment of God’s Holy standard). In acting God acts in removing the sinner from His life, which in an ultimate sense is the experience for destined to hell for their willful rebellion. Like God drove Adam and Eve from the garden, God drives the sinner from the wealth of His creation and ultimately from His presence, if the sinner continues in his or her rebellion. Thus, the cause and effect relationship between the two is intrinsically tied. Man’s sin (the cause of desolation) identifies the man as a desolater (the one who acts in rebellion against God), and yet, God’s retributive judgment of righteousness (the effectual act of desolation) against the reprobate identifies God as the desolater—i.e., the one who makes desolate. Knowing who is being referred to requires attention to the flow of thought given by the writer. Hopefully, you have been able to follow my own. If not, feel free to ask a question.

3Notice the warning that God gives to such thinking in Deuteronomy 8:17-20. Since all people are without excuse, one cannot claim that they were ignorant to the fact that they owed thankfulness to another besides themselves who made all things and gave to them the things which they now possess (see Rom 1.18-25).

4This statement is a smattering of verses that tie in a general concept revealed in Scripture. Either we submit to God so that His goodness might be poured out upon us, according to His Namesake and Glory—nothing of which is owed to us. Or, we rebel against Him, refusing to listen to His Word and enjoy the consequences of such tyranny on our part. See: Psalm 2; Matthew 17:5; Leviticus 26.31; 1Corinthians 15.26-27.

Posted in Biblical Questions

My Thoughts on Biblical Death Part IV: In Christ

Dying in Christ. The final talk on My Thoughts on Biblical Death

It has been a number of weeks now, but I am returning to a series of posts that I started entitled My Thoughts on Biblical Death. I began this particular series because of a notion that appears to be gaining traction in some sects of Evangelical Christianity regarding the biblical concept of death. It has become rather popular of late to say that “death” when spoken of in the Bible means physical cessation. In other words, when you die you cease to live. The argument goes on to say that any notion of spiritual living after physical death must be read into biblical thought. To argue for spiritual life after death (either in a state of bliss or torment; both awaiting the final judgment day) is said to introduce ancient Greek ideas of immortality. This was a popular argument by the late Edward Fudge.

He wrote,

“The ‘road to traditionalism’ is paved with many kinds of stones. Among those stones are pagan Greek philosophy…If the later church fathers had also confined themselves to biblical terms on this subject [i.e., death; eternal punishment], we would probably not be having this discussion. Unfortunately, this is not what happened. Soon after the time of the apostolic fathers, certain converts from Greek philosophy, known as the apologists, brought into the church the pagan doctrine of the immortality of the soul…[This] pagan theory…says that every human being has an invisible, immaterial part called the psyche or ‘soul,’ which can never die but will live forever. The traditionalist notion of everlasting torment in hell springs directly from that nonbiblical teaching.[1]”  

My initial reaction to this premise was a thought bubble full of question marks. Not only had I never heard of such nonsense before, but it sounded strangely familiar to a line of argumentation that I hear being tossed around about systemic racism and white privilege. Those that bite into the poisoned apple of Critical Race Theory (CRT) are convinced that a white person is unconsciously biased against People of Color (POC). Even if I say that I’ve never been a racist those on the LEFT will counter with “Yes, you have. You can’t help it. It’s just a part of your whiteness. You are racist without even thinking about it. You’ve been influenced by the privileged status of whiteness regardless of anything you may say or do.”

Similarly, those in Fudge’s circle argue that the only way you can understand “death” in a non-cessationist vein (i.e., figurative or spiritual) is to adopt ancient Greek thought. They will then specifically tie this to what is labeled the “traditional” belief about hell (hellfire) as a concept of eternal punishment and torment for the sinner that remains in an unrepentant state before their Maker. A belief about a biblical doctrine, Fudge and those like him will argue, that comes from Greek philosophers and their concept of the immortal soul and the type of punishment found in Tartus.

Deny this and they will come back with, “You just don’t realize it, but this is really how you’ve been influenced. It may be unconscious bias, but this bias derives from Greek thought whether you realize it or not.” Like little kids on a playground taunting you no matter how many times you deny the claims they are making about you they just cover their ears, close their eyes and shout all the more that it is true!

A Couple Quick Responses before Moving On…

First off, I do not get the idea of the spirit of man (male or female) living after his body has returned to the earth from Greek philosophical meanderings about eschatology (last things). There are enough biblical texts that at the very least imply (some more strongly than others) that some sort of spiritual existence occurs after the physical body has died. Fudge’s acolytes would need to prove that I and every other Christian who denies a cessationist understanding of death has in fact borrowed this idea from Greek versus biblical thought.

Secondly, the idea that death plainly means death, as in physical cessation, in the Bible seems to be either deliberate or accidental ignorance on the part of such an interpreter. Why do I say that? Because the normal use of language mitigates against such a conclusion. The same position will be found on various other terms; “destruction,” “consume,” “eternal,” and “fire,” to name a few. Each one of these words can be shown—given the context we might find them in—to mean something different. In short, the language of the writer in question determines the sense in which the word is used.

For example, the burning bush of Moses’ day was on fire, but not on fire in a “plain” sense as we would normally understand fire as a consuming agent (like in a forest fire, a campfire, or a cookstove fire). Logically you can apply that same methodology to consume, destruction and eternal. The context—the way in which the word is being used—helps determine the meaning. This is basic stuff, but sadly ignorance rules.

This brings me to my third and final musing regarding the argument that “death plainly means death” in the Bible. I stated that this is the result of either deliberate or accidental ignorance. Accidental ignorance just means you haven’t been taught. You don’t know, because you are lacking knowledge on the subject at hand. That is a legitimate form of ignorance. One that shouldn’t be slighted. However, deliberate ignorance is the opposite. It is purposeful. It knows that another possibility may exist, but blithely ignores it. Thus, a purposeful refusal to admit a counter argument. This form of denial is really a rescuing device by the individual(s) in question. Their conviction is challenged and rather than admit the contrary to what they hold, they dig their heels in and look for reasons of justification to hold onto their beliefs.

A person who argues that death must be taken in the plain sense (cessation), presupposes what the plain sense (use of the word/concept) is (cessation), and then argues for it (cessation). I don’t fault their circularity, but I do fault their refusal to admit that “plain” must be defined. The Bible speaks of death as separation: separation from God, separation from the body (i.e., physical/material living), and separation from sin. The Bible speaks of death in what some might deem a literal fashion (“Adam lived…nine hundred and thirty years, and he died”; Gen 5.5) and in a figurative sense (“If the man who is unclean does not cleanse himself shall be cut off from the midst of the assembly, since he has defiled the sanctuary of the Lord”; Numb 19.20).[2]

Looking at the Final Aspect of Biblical Death

It is often argued that Genesis 3 does not speak of spiritual death. The correct interpretation, it is stated, is one that sees “death” in the sense of Adam returning from the dust from which he came (Gen 3.19). There is no question that one of the consequences (there were many) of Adam’s sin was a return to the ground from which he was made. All humanity now suffers this fate, I agree. However, I do not find it very compelling or even genuine when someone argues that this is the ONLY way death can be understood.

Possible Source of the Confusion…

Perhaps it is the phrase “spiritual death” that throws people off. Does this mean that the “spirit” within the person dies? If we understand spirit as merely wind or breath (senses that can be drawn from the Hebrew or the Greek) then that cannot happen until physical death occurs. If we are speaking about the inner conscious self (our person-hood), then that too is somewhat confusing since after the fall of humanity continued to be persons (have an inner conscious self). However, that is not what is meant by “spiritual death.” Theologically, when we speak of someone being spiritually dead, we mean in the sense that the apostle Paul describes them in:

“And you were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest” (Eph 2.1-3; NASB).

Offering Some Clarity…

Here Paul speaks of the entire human race, all those born of Adam, as dead. Dead in what way? Not dead physically, but dead spiritually. Completely spiritually dead? No, but dead in terms of God’s holiness. Rather than pursuing righteousness, which, is to long for the Spirit of God, fallen humanity chases another spirit’s leading who Paul identifies as the “prince of the power of the air.”

Now there is no question that Paul says we are dead before Christ. But if we keep reading, he makes it clear that

“God, [who is] rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) …” (Eph 2.4-5; emphasadded).

If we were not dead, then how can the apostle speak of us being made alive? If we were not spiritually dead before Christ, then how is it possible that by God’s gracious, merciful act of His love He raised us to life in Christ?

Paul’s not the only one…

An often-misunderstood verse by some further verifies that we are dead without Christ’s atoning regenerative work being applied to us (by the Holy Spirit). In John 5:40 Jesus tells those Jews who would take His life:

“…you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life” (NASB; emphasisadded).

They were standing before Him. They had essentially hunted Him down for violating the Sabbath laws that they had erected. Coming to Him was not the problem, but coming to Him in belief was. Though they professed to be believers they were not (John 5.38). Theologically, there is much being said here, but the only thing I want to highlight is that Jesus’ words ought to make it very clear…these individuals were dead. Dead? How so? What sense does it make for Jesus to say to them they need to come to Him in order to have life, if life is something they already possessed? If they were not dead in trespasses and sins, if they were truly alive, then why the need to come to Jesus in order to obtain life? The answer should be obvious, they were not alive in a spiritual sense towards God. Sure, they were alive spiritually in the sense of chasing after the passions of sin, which is why they were so antagonistic towards Christ Jesus, but they were not alive spiritually in terms of knowing God.

It is not possible…

If it is not possible for mankind to truly live, unless that man or woman live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matt 4.4; Deut 8.3), then in no legitimate way can we say that sinners are truly living.  I realize that statement alone smacks in the face of what we believe life or living is. This is why there is a tacit denial that Adam truly died in the garden when he violated God’s revealed Law (cf. Gen 2.16-17). Both husband and wife walked out of the garden, albeit hurriedly, they went on to live for hundreds of years (if it is safe to assume that Eve lived as long as her spouse), they had children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and beyond.  How can it be said that they were dead? Because that is the condition that God reveals they were left in after violating His command.

Life is what God gives. Sure, as sinners we live, but only in a sustaining sense, not in a fulfilling sense, not in a sense that really matters. We were created as image bearers. Image bearers by nature reflect that inner light that is within them. Image bearers are dependent upon that light, but if that light within is really darkness, then there is no way that person can ever truly function as God created them to be (cf. Matt 6.23). Being deprived of the light of God within, sinners reflect depravity not holiness, licentiousness not righteousness. And in this sense the sinner is declared (judiciously) by the Lord Almighty as dead.

Illustrative Aid…

I suppose the closest we could come to in understanding this idea is by turning to an example in pop-culture. Zombies are dead people, but they are animate. In a sense, though dead they continue living. But in another sense, they are robbed of the kind of living that really matters. They don’t enjoy relationships, they don’t build anything of value, they don’t learn, all they do in their current state is follow the wind of their own fleshly desires. They devour that which is living (the good) caring little that their actions destroy life.

Spiritual Death in Christ

The final aspect of death that I intend to speak on in regards to biblical teaching is that which pertains to the antithesis to spiritual death experienced in the garden. This spiritual death was passed onto all the sons/daughters of Adam through his one transgression (violation of the law; an act of rebellion) we all became sinners (Rom 5.18-19). The antithesis to this death is found in the life-giving sacrifice of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ.

Briefly Looking at Romans 6-8…

Paul explains this reality for us. This is the teaching found in Romans 6-8. After pointing to the greater gift of blessing found in Jesus as opposed to Adam (Rom 5.16-21), Paul begins to describe the spiritual state of things for those found in Christ.

**(My intention is only to hit some of the high points of this teaching. I will leave the rest to my readers to investigate these things for themselves).  

Grace is given where sin abounds. This is a gift by God to His people, those that bear the Name of His Son. In Romans 6:2, Paul asks a rhetorical question:

“How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (NASB).

Here the apostle teaches that those found in Christ have died to sin. Is this death physical? No, but it is a literal (real) death. The death is spiritual in nature. Before Christ all sinned and fell short of the glory of God (Rom 3.23), but after Christ a radical change of heart has taken place. The point of this death is found in our baptism in Christ.

**(Without delving into another subject, I will merely point out that true baptism is spiritual in nature, touching the inner nature of a man, regenerating him, not the mere washing away of dirt as with water. The water serves as a symbol of the purification/cleansing of sins into a new life in God through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit).

Paul’s intention with this question is to demand a negative answer: “If we have died to sin, then we surely cannot continue to live in it.” This is drawn out in verses 3-7:

“Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin” (NASB).

I realize I’ve been a bit long here, so allow me to quickly summarize the important elements of Paul’s discussion here. Believers are found in Christ because they have been baptized into His death. What sort of death did Christ die? A righteous one, an obedient one (Rom 5.18b, 19b). Unlike Adam, Christ’s response to God was absolute adherence to His revealed Word. Jesus was obedient on all points to the Law-Word of God.

To be baptized into Him means to share in His righteous death. Because of this we now share in the likeness of Him who died. In other words, we share in His righteousness as newly born creatures who “walk in newness of life.” Our former selves—spiritual dead sinners—has been buried and “done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin.” Why? “for he who has died is freed from sin.”

An ‘At Once,’ and Yet ‘Ongoing Process’…

When Adam fell in the garden the sentence of death was two things at once: immediate, ongoing.

  • Immediately: Spiritually, the bent of Adam’s heart was not towards God, but away from Him. This was displayed in the covering of his nakedness (shame, sin), attempting to hide in the dark from the light of God’s presence, and in blaming others—including God, His Maker, for his own sin.
  • Ongoing: The process of returning to the dust from which he came was ongoing. Adam’s life would be plagued by sin. He would always struggle with this antagonistic nature towards God’s holiness and his own self-will (cf. Rom 7.21-23). Eventually, though the resultant judgement would be carried out and Adam would waste away into physical death.

I see in this picture of “dying you shall die” (Gen 2.17; often translated “surely die”) because of sin, also evident in the life of believers but in an opposite way. For in Christ, we who have died to sin through His life-giving sacrifice, having been immediately ushered into a blessed state with God. For from our wretched state of death in sin, God has saved us through Jesus Christ out Lord! (Rom 7.24-25), and we are found without condemnation for the dominion of sin has been broken (Rom 8.1-2). And yet, we will find a war still being waged in our hearts/minds throughout the duration of our lives as we are beings sanctified through and through. Having our minds conformed not to the old way of thinking, but to the Spirit’s through Christ’s Word (Rom 8.29; 12.2). Thus, the redeemed of Christ have immediately died to sin, and yet at the same time the process of killing sin in our lives is an ongoing process.

Closing Remarks…

The Bible speaks of death in a variety of ways. An overarching definition that might be helpful would be “separation rather than cessation.” In the garden Adam and Eve died being “separated” from the presence of the Lord, as well as being separated from the bliss of harmonious relationships that existed formerly before they violated God’s Law-Word. In the passing of time we all will experience the separation of our person-hood from our bodies, with the one returning to the earth and the other to the Lord who created it. This will either happen naturally through the passing of time on the day appointed by the Lord, or it will happen as a result of criminal activity that warranted our execution in order to protect society from our vile influence. For the unrepentant sinner this “separation” from the life of God will end in eternal punishment/torment, but for those who have been separated from sin into the righteousness of Christ Jesus an entirely different fate awaits where we shall never be separated from the presence of our Creator/King.


ENDNOTES:

[1] Edward William Fudge and Robert A. Peterson, Two Views of Hell: A Biblical & Theological Dialogue (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 184, 185. Fudge first touches on this subject on pg. 22, but for the most part avoids the argument until his rebuttal of Peterson, who noted what he viewed as an erroneous premise held to be Fudge. Obviously, Fudge does tie this to the traditional understanding of death and hell in the Church, but how much weight he puts on the argument I cannot say. No doubt he leans upon it, but just how much must be drawn from his other comments rather than relied upon by direct statements.

[2] To be excommunicated, which is how some understand the concept of being “cut-off,” is a figurative death sentence as the offending party is being driven from the presence of the Lord (cf. Gen 3.23-24). This concept is seen in the NT in 1Cor 5:1-6 in the incestuous relationship of a man with his father’s wife (i.e., his step-mother). And in regards to divorce as a comparison of Romans 7:1-3 and 1Cor 7:12-15 reveals. Marriage is a covenantal bond before God that is unbreakable except in the case of death. However, due to the hardness that sin brings in man’s hearts, divorce was granted in circumstances where the covenantal bonds were broken. In that case the innocent party, was free to remarry since the former union was considered dead. Such conclusions ought not to come quickly to us, but if we are diligent in studying all that Scripture says on the subject, I do not think you will find such conclusions outside the realm of what God is actually teaching.

Posted in Worldview Analysis

Quarantine Who? Powerful Message of Loving One’s Neighbor by Upholding God’s Law Abiding Principles

www.youtube.com/watch

For those who have no voice, those who have been declared nonessential by those who are supposed to be representing ALL of us, not this segment versus that. Thank you Pastor Jeff Durbin for a challenging reminder of who we are called to love and how.

Posted in Beliefs

Thoughts on Biblical Death: Part 3

A couple of weeks ago I began discussing the varying ways in which the Bible goes about defining death. This particular study was brought about by some interaction that I shared with a fellow blogger over the teaching about Conditionalism/Annihilationism. Unfamiliar with that topic to some extent I began doing some digging. I ordered various books from our public library (I have a limited budget for book purchases and this is a nice way of circumventing unnecessary spending).

I also used my privileges as an enrolled student awaiting this spring’s graduation to download various scholarly works on the subject. Some of the books that I’d ordered from the library have been read and I’ve began taking notes. Unfortunately, events beyond my control stifled my studying habits a bit. Other priorities have overtaken my normal reading and writing, but this week has provided me a bit of a reprieve.

The other articles related to this are HERE, and HERE. In them I take some time revealing my thoughts so far on the issue of death as described in the Bible. This post will address the third point on my outline under the heading, Death: Result (wages) of Sin. If you have not read my thoughts on biblical death, and you have not clicked on the links above, then the outline is provided under the Appendix heading below. Scroll down and check it out.

The Set Up…

The late Edward Fudge, a proponent of the Conditionalist/Annihilationist position seems to look at death in Scripture in only one sense—the cessation of life; non-existence. Fudge finds support for his views in the divine punishments delved out in the Old Testament. He sees God’s retributive action against groups (the Flood, Sodom and Gomorrah) for violating God’s law as descriptive to what happens to all in eternity. He is convinced that

“As we become familiar with these Old Testament symbols of judgment, we will be better able to understand the meaning of the same language in New Testament texts. And we will escape the easy temptation to explain biblical expressions in ways that have no basis in Scripture. More important, we can avoid interpreting biblical images in ways that contradict their ordinary usages throughout the Bible.”[1]

One of the things that I noticed as I was reading through his thoughts on biblical death is that he makes a huge category error in linking temporal divine judgments in the OT, with eternal divine judgment in the NT.[2] The one speaks of God’s wrath in a finite sense, the other in an infinite sense. At best what these passages show us, and I believe that this is the intended purpose of the Holy Spirit and the authors under His stead, is that God takes very seriously His Law-Word. To violate it on one point is worthy of death, for in so doing you are guilty of breaking it all (James 2.10).

The Final Type of Death Pertaining to Adam’s Sin (NT)

Why is Hell spoken about by Jesus more than any other? In the past I have mentioned that God’s speaks progressively in the Bible. Which means that God’s revelation has a beginning and an end. In the beginning we learn a little about God, a little about man, a little about the creation as a whole. However, as we progress through history God teaches us a little more. He fills in details where necessary and leaves others blank on purpose. But the one thing that He does do is hash out the details regarding several important things. How does He do this? Through Jesus Christ (cf. Heb 1.1-3). The final unveiling of the Lord Jesus is found in the book of Revelation (cf. 1:11-20; 22.6-21).

Fudge acknowledges that what Jesus says is of paramount importance. He writes,

“If we accept Jesus’ authority, we must believe that Hell is real and that it will be the ultimate fate of the lost. Indeed, Jesus tells us more about the final end of sinners than any other speaker in the New Testament. But is it possible that we have read into Jesus’ word meanings that we merely assumed to be correct about the nature of that fate?”[3]

On the first part of Fudge’s comments we find agreement. Hell is real. It is not just a verdict—the fate of the lost—but a place of unrest. Jesus being incarnate deity has absolute authority as He is before all things, rules over all things, made all things, and upholds all things (Col 1.16-17). Therefore, as Paul rightly tells the Colossians, Jesus “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Col 1.15).[4] In other words, Jesus has absolute authority over all things.

Christ’s Authority…

This was demonstrated through His teaching (Matt 7.29). This was demonstrated through His actions (Luke 4.36). He even had authority over mankind’s sinful state of being:

“Man, your sins are forgiven you.’ And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, ‘Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, ‘Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he said to the man who was paralyzed—‘I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home’” (Luke 5.20-24).

This authority he also delegated to His apostles and His disciples (Luke 10.19; Matt 28.18-20)[5], who bore His name to all nations, in whose documents we now possess in the New Testament writings.

Since Jesus is over all things what did He have to say regarding death? Simply put to remain in our sins is a guarantee to die in them:

  • “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (John 8.24).

Descriptions of this Death…

Jesus offers His hearers a variety of ways that this death shall be known. He calls this death “outer darkness” (Matt 8.12; 22.13; 25.30), an image repeated by His apostles (2Pet 2.4, 17; Jude 13). He referred to death as a “fiery furnace” (Matt 13.42, 50), “unquenchable fire” (Mark 9.43-49), which is later identified as the “lake of fire” (Rev 19.20; 20.10, 14-15; 21.8). An abode of torment and suffering where “weeping and gnashing teeth” are common expressions used by the Lord to describe this fate (Matt 8.12; 13.42, 50; 22.13; 24.51; 25.30; Luke 13.28). That the idea being conveyed in the New Testament is conscious suffering seems unavoidable when “weeping and gnashing teeth” is preceded by “In that place there will be…” which speaks of a continued state of being, not a temporary situation.

What these Images are Meant to Convey…

Wooden literalism is when you take a word, a concept, a theme, or a symbol used in Scripture and try to build a chair out of it. Some take the words of Scripture and turn them on their head interpreting and applying them in ways that go well beyond what the biblical author intended. We see this during Jesus’ preaching/teaching ministry. He says “you have heard it said, but I say…” as a way of offering a corrective. He uses this to correct the people’s viewpoint on how they are to treat enemies, how they are to respond to slander, when divorce is allowed, what constitutes murder or adultery, etc. (see Matt 5.21, 27, 31, 33, 38, 43).

People struggle with David’s words in this imprecatory Psalm:

  • “Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with complete hatred; I count them as my enemies” (Psa 139.21-22).

They wonder how this bodes with the “All-consuming Loving God” of the NT? Another speaks of dashing the infants of rebels against the rock (Psa 137.9; see Isa 13.6; Hos 10.14; 13.6). How does this comport with Jesus of Nazareth? He who said, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5.44; HCSB).

Understanding the imagery (i.e., the language) enables you to see that hating one’s enemy in sight of God, in the sense of seeking righteous judgment against those who do evil and do not repent, is a good thing. At the same time, it is a good thing for the children of God to act in a manner that reflects love towards even those who vilify, persecute and seek to take our lives. Loving our neighbor means treating them with respect and kindness in terms of God’s Law-Word (not stealing, not coveting, not murdering, etc.), but this does not mean we are required to sit around a camp fire singing songs and holding hands.

To Reject God your Maker, to treat His Law-Word lightly earns you the eternal condemnation you will receive. Refusing to acknowledge God in this life, refusing to confess Christ as Lord, such individuals are handed “over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them” (Rom 1.28b-32; NASB; italics mine).

The Final Judgment…

What sort of death are they worthy of? Jesus gives us an answer before His crucifixion, the content of which we can compare after His re-glorification (cf. John 17.5; Rev 21.5-8; compare with Rev 4-5; 22.12-13). To His hearers Jesus explains the following:

“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. And all the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and he will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. ‘Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world… ‘Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels [cf. Rev. 20.11-15]…These [the goats] will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous [the sheep] into eternal life’” (Matt 25.31-34, 41, 46).

There are other passages we could turn to, but I think Jesus’ words here suffice.

Summing Up…

In the NT Jesus describes the final fate of the sinner who dies in their sin. Unlike the divine judgments in the OT which were temporal, the death the Lord defines is eternal. This raises in my mind some very interesting questions regarding the Conditionalist/Annihilationist position, but I’ll address them at some other point in the future. For now, what we ought to see is that the Bible defines death in a variety of ways, the assumption that “death” is only a one size fits all is a false one. What Jesus and other NT writers describe as the final fate of the reprobate is meant to trouble the mind. These frightful images serve as a warning and a witness. We don’t take His meaning with a wooden literalism, but neither do we slight the warning by minimizing the effect that He (God in the Flesh) intends to portray.

There is one more point on the outline that I would like to discuss in the days ahead. Until then, I bid you adieu….


APPENDIX

Outline

I. Death: Result (wages) of Sin

  1. In Adam we all die. As his offspring we all inherit death as a consequent sentence of his disobedience in the garden. In Adam we become sinners, and as a result we die physically due to our separation from God. We are born unclean, unholy, unrighteous enemies of God; children of wrath.
  2. We are all sinners, but that does not mean all our sins are crimes. Some sins are criminal in nature and result in the swift judgment of God in terms of a death sentence. I have identified three subsets under this category in studying the Old Testament (Tanakh; hereafter OT).

i. Major—Group Death Sentence.

ii. Minor—Individual law-breaking death sentence

iii.   Cut-off—A death sentence in a metaphoric sense.

3. We are all sinners and this, if not repented of, results in everlasting condemnation. This is found in the New Testament (hereafter; NT) more than any other part of the Bible.

**Summation of the parts: All of us die physically as a consequence of Adam’s sin. Some of us may die in this life, having our lives cut short, if our sins are worthy of a punishment of death by violating God’s law. Some of us may experience death figuratively speaking, in the sense of being cut-off, but this is not necessarily a permanent state. Some of us will experience eternal punishment for rebelling against our Maker, having died in our sins. For such, there is no repentance of sins possible.

II. Death: Results (wages) of Christ’s Righteousness

  1. In Christ we all die . However, what we die to is different than the death we were born into. We are born “dead in trespasses and sins,” but when we die in Christ, we are reborn “dead to trespasses and sins.” In Christ, we die so that righteousness may abound. In this way, He makes all things new, and we are new in that we are creations in/through Him. For these the power of death has been broken, and it is robbed from the victory that the evil one desired.


ENDNOTES:

[1] Edward William Fudge and Robert A. Peterson, Two Views of Hell: A Biblical & Theological Dialogue (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 29.

[2] Later on, I found out that my own observations were similar to those of Robert A. Peterson. He writes,

“It is crucial to the debate to consider what aspect of God’s punishment is in view. The great majority of the Old Testament passages that Fudge cites in support of Conditionalism do not speak of the final fate of the wicked at all. Instead, they speak of God visiting the wicked with premature death. At first glance Fudge’s list of ‘destruction’ passages from the Old Testament seems impressive. On closer inspection, however, few of the passages he cites are relevant to the debate.” Ibid., 91.

[3] Ibid., 37.

[4] Protokos (Firstborn) is in interesting term. It can either refer to the order of being (Ishmael was the firstborn son of Abraham) or it can refer to preeminence (Isaac was the firstborn son of Abraham, the son of promise, as was Jacob over Esau). Used in a similar fashion in the Old Testament to identify David as supreme over all other earthly kings (cf. Psa 89.19-29). The context of Colossians 1:15-18 demands that preeminence—i.e., supreme authority—is the correct definition of the term.

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

[5] For the interested reader this delegated authority was a reinstatement of the Dominion mandate originally given to Adam and Eve in the beginning, but perverted by sin. Christ led people, Holy Spirit filled people, are now equipped to live faithful lives under God to glorify Him having put to death sin. This will be discussed in a future post.

Posted in Biblical Questions

Thoughts on Biblical Death: Part 2

OUTLINE

I. Death: Result (wages) of Sin

1. In Adam we all die. As his offspring we all inherit death as a consequent sentence of his disobedience in the garden. In Adam we become sinners, and as a result we die physically due to our separation from God. We are born unclean, unholy, unrighteous enemies of God; children of wrath.

2. We are all sinners, but that does not mean all our sins are crimes. Some sins are criminal in nature and result in the swift judgment of God in terms of a death sentence. I have identified three subsets under this category in studying the Old Testament (Tanakh; hereafter OT).

      • Major—Group Death Sentence.
      • Minor—Individual law-breaking death sentence
      • Cut-off—A death sentence in a metaphoric sense.

3. We are all sinners and this, if not repented of, results in everlasting condemnation. This is found in the New Testament (hereafter; NT) more than any other part of the Bible.

**Summation of the parts: All of us die physically as a consequence of Adam’s sin. Some of us may die in this life, having our lives cut short, if our sins are worthy of a punishment of death by violating God’s law. Some of us may experience death figuratively speaking, in the sense of being cut-off, but this is not necessarily a permanent state. Some of us will experience eternal punishment for rebelling against our Maker, having died in our sins. For such, there is no repentance of sins possible.

II. Death: Results (wages) of Christ’s Righteousness

1. In Christ we all die . However, what we die to is different than the death we were born into. We are born “dead in trespasses and sins,” but when we die in Christ, we are reborn “dead to trespasses and sins.” In Christ, we die so that righteousness may abound. In this way, He makes all things new, and we are new in that we are creations in/through Him. For these the power of death has been broken, and it is robbed from the victory that the evil one desired.

The Types of Death We Witness after the Fall (OT)

As was noted in the outline provided above (Part 1, point 2) there are three subsets of physical death that are directly/indirectly a result of Adam’s rebellion as seen in the OT. The first two we shall look at are sentences of death carried out by the Lord God and his representatives (civil magistrates). These result as a violation of His holy law. I have classified them as major and minor cases. These sections nor the footnoted texts in support of them are not meant to be exhaustive. They are given, however, to encourage the reader to knock some dust off their Bible’s if they’ve laid around for far too long. Or, if that’s not the case, maybe you need to get past some of your pet verses that you’ve spent the majority of your time stroking.

Death as Judgment… (Major Cases)

Many of the deaths that we witness in the OT are related specifically to judgments delved out by the Lord. The catastrophic Flood of Noah’s day is one example.[1] Another is the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.[2] We have the plagues poured out on Egypt culminating in the death of the firstborn who failed to heed the Lord’s destruction.[3] When that wasn’t enough God destroyed Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea.[4] The rebellion of Korah, Dathan and Abiram is one example of many where God judges a multitude for their sin.[5] The Israeli vs. Canaanite conquests where Moses and Joshua led many battle campaigns against the foes of the Lord.[6] The destruction of the Northern Kingdom Israel by the Assyrians,[7] the devastation wrought against Jerusalem and Southern Kingdom of Judah by Babylon[8] give ample proof of God’s retributive action.

Time and time again we witness war being waged by the Lord against sinful men. The reason they died is because they had broken God’s law and it was a just punishment for their sin.[9] Ignorance of the law is not an excuse for breaking it. The law is a nonnegotiable standard.  Law breakers are still guilty if they violate the law without detailed knowledge.[10] Each of these types of death were exercises of penal punishment—i.e., the death penalty being enacted.

Death as Judgment… (Minor Cases)

In this short space, I’ve spoken primarily about the major penal executions carried out in the OT, but there are more deaths that fall under this category. God established as the 6th commandment “Thou shall not kill [murder]…” (Exod 20.13), some mistakenly apply this to all manners of killing. However, there are some sins that are worthy of death (1John 5.16-17). Take for example the death of Lot’s wife.[11]

These would fall under the criminal statutes laid out in the case laws of the OT. Here are a few criminal offenses that receive the highest form of punishment, the death penalty: Adultery[12], Man-stealing (i.e., forced slavery/chattel slavery)[13], rape[14], attacking one’s parents (not little children but adults)[15], blasphemy[16] (includes lying under oath against one’s neighbor,[17] if the perjury would have granted the accused a death sentence), various manners of sexual exploits (incest[18], bestiality[19], sodomy[20] (which would cover the entirety of the LGBTQ? today), sacrificing of children[21] (i.e., abortion, infanticide, or child sacrifice), false worship (like Aaron’s sons),[22] and false teaching.[23]

Though the penalty for such sins—sins of a criminal nature and not merely private—was death, this does not mean that lesser punishments could not be delved out by the elders at the gate.[24] Moreover, it was not a simple matter to enact this strictest form of punishment. In order to get the death penalty, the civil system had to prove their case on the testimony of two-to-three (solid) witness.[25] They did not merely take the word of such individuals, but were required before God to inspect the crime fully. The accused were assumed innocent until proven guilty, not the other way around (or why else look for perjuring witnesses?).

Death Metaphorically Speaking…(Cut-off)

Death is spoken of, or referred to, in a number of circumstances in the OT that do not pertain to physical death. For example, you have the concept of being “cut-off” from the assembly of Israel due to uncleanliness. This can be seen in a variety of instances. We will briefly look at three.

Leprosy is spoken of in Leviticus 13-14. Those found with that contagion are cut-off from the congregation of Israel, unless or until a priest declares them clean (i.e., having been cured of the disease). This served as a living example of sin. Not that the leper necessarily committed a sin to contract the illness, but just as sin kept one from the sacraments and worship (i.e., access to God) so too does sin break the bond of fellowship with one’s creator. Though living, the leper was in a sense as good as dead. They were cut-off from their friends, their family, their jobs, and various rituals of worship given to God’s elected people.

I would recommend that the reader become familiar with the purpose behind circumcision[26] (the cutting off of that flesh demonstrated a transition from life and death, unclean to clean, apart from God to be a part with God). I would also point to what divorce actually entails in both OT and in the NT. To be divorced is a death of the relationship.[27] The innocent part therein was allowed by the Lord to remarry, but the guilty party was restricted (though many still did it). To break the bonds of the marriage covenant (i.e., adultery) earned the guilty with two or more witnesses a death sentence.

Unfortunately, those unfamiliar with the OT and the relationship of God’s law with His people (as further defined in the case laws) do more harm than good when they attempt to teach on these matters (cf. 1Tim 1.6-8).[28]

Forthcoming…

Next, we will look at the final type of death taught as a consequence of Adam’s sin as cited in the NT. In that post we shall look at the final state of those who die in their sin. 


ENDNOTES:

[1] Read Gen 6-9.

[2] Read Gen 18-19

[3] Read Exod 1-13

[4] Read Exod 14-15

[5] Read Numb 16

[6] Exod-Numb, Joshua-Judges-1Sam. These books provide the information you are looking for.

[7] E.g., Isa 10; Hosea 5-10

[8] See Jer 20.4; 29.21; 39.6-7; Ezek 12.13-16; Dan 1-4. Again, none of these references are meant to be exhaustive. They are merely pointers to get you started in your study. When reading prophetic books, pay attention to the timing of the prophecy given. This is usually in the opening sentences of the book in question. This provides historical context. Next look at the books of Kings and Chronicles for the kings of the period mentioned. In the prophetic books the name Israel sometimes refers to the whole nation as if it were united since their calling out of Egypt as sons/daughters of Jacob, but at other times this refers primarily to the Northern Kingdom (also called Ephraim) that split after the kingship of Solomon.

Check your assumptions at the door. Be aware of your traditions that might lead you falsely. Sometimes it is argued that these prophetic utterances only speak of the end of all things, but be aware that the vast majority of those prophecies were given as an indictment (a legal case) against the people, kings and prophets/priests of that day not our day or some future date. Also note that symbolic language has a literal meaning, but only when the symbol is correctly understood from what has been spoken of prior. Which means you cannot read your understanding of symbols today—in our generation—back into the period of the prophets. This is a bad hermeneutic (way of drawing a meaning from the exegeted text) to practice on any part of Scripture, let alone biblical prophecy.

[9] See Lev 18.24-25; Lev 20.22-23; Deut 12.32; 18.12. What these passages prove is that God judges a nation for breaking His holy law regardless of the knowledge they have. It is true that there are variances in “eternal condemnation” for violators of God’s edicts, but the physical penalty is death. And this was carried out on all nations at different times. Cherry picking texts or glazing over them due to traditional blinders is not an excuse for not knowing these things if you are a teacher of the Word of God. Understanding them in light of today’s context requires wisdom, but we must not do as some have done in ethical matters and dismiss God’s holy law as no longer applicable.

[10] The late Greg L. Bahnsen explains as much in his ethical work “By This Standard.” On this particular subject he writes, “Only Israel was given a written revelation of these laws, to be sure. All will grant that. But that fact alone does not imply that only Israel was bound to obey the moral standards expressed in such written revelation. After all,” Bahnsen continues, “though Paul, God wrote to the Ephesian and Colossian churches that children should obey their parents (Eph 6:1; Col 3:20), and nobody seriously takes that fact to imply that only children of Christian parents are under moral obligation to obey their parents. Therefore, the fact that only Israel was given a special revelation of certain political laws would not imply that only Israel was bound to keep such laws” (see also Rom 1.30-32; 2.12-15). Greg L. Bahnsen, By This Standard: The Authority of God’s Law Today (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, [1985], 1998), 234, PDF e-book.

For the reader that may still have difficulty with this idea of being held accountable where a law might not be known, I would merely refer them to our current traffic law system. To speed is a violation regardless of whether or not the driver is aware of the speed limit placed on a particular area (say a suburb). Though leniency might be shown, the guilty will still be held accountable by the law. The Judge reserves the right to make determinations that he finds equitable given the nature of the case (cf. Gen 18.25).

[11] See Gen 19:17, 26; Luke 17:32; compare with Acts 5:3-5, 8-10.

[12] Lev 20:10.

[13] Exod 21:16.

[14] Deut 22:25-26.

[15] Exod 21:15, 17.

[16] Lev 24:16.

[17] Deut 19.18-20.

[18] Lev 18:6,

[19] Lev 18.7-19, 20:11-12, 17-21.

[20] Lev 20:13.

[21] Lev 20:1-5; Exod 21:22-25.

[22] Lev 10:1-3. Some may wonder why some of these “sins” were labeled criminal offenses worthy of death. No doubt people today have a negative reaction toward such realities. But these crimes were seen as an attack on God first and foremost, and then also the spheres of governance that He had established. The most important of which was the family unit, a close second was society as a whole, and the final consideration was civil authorities. God gave His reasoning for enacting such penalties when necessary, “To purge evil from your midst” (Deut 13.5; 17.7, 12; 21.21; 22.22, 24; 24.7).

Bahnsen writes, “Not only are such penal sanctions necessary in society, they must also be equitable. The measure of punishment according to the just Judge of all the ear is to be an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life—no less, but no more (for example, Ex. 21:23-25; Deut. 19:21). The punishment must be commensurate with the crime, for it is to express retribution against the offender.” Idem., 273.

[23] Deut 13:1-5.

[24] Here James B. Jordan offers some helpful insight into the matter of the maximum penalty of the law. Speaking specifically on the subject of adultery, Jordan points to Mary and Joseph in the gospels. In “…a case of adultery…both would be put to death, unless it were a case of rape [ref. to Deut 22.25-27]. There seems to be some latitude here, however, since we read in Matt 1:19 that ‘Joseph, being a just man…was minded to put her [Mary] away privately.’ Here again we see a circumstantial application of the unchanging law of God; Joseph apparently regarded Mary as basically a good woman, who must have fallen into sin on one occasion, and os he determined that death was too severe a punishment for her. That this was perfectly just, the text itself tells us. This proves, by the way, that the death penalty is not mandatory in all cases where it is prescribed by law. It is the maximum penalty.” James b. Jordan, The Law of the Covenant: An Exposition of Exodus 21-23 (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1984), 148-149, PDF e-book.

It should be noted that while I agree with Jordan’s conclusion that the maximum penalty of the law—death—was in fact the maximum penalty, but was not necessary to be enforced in every case, but should be judicially decided on a case-by-case basis. I think that Joseph’s reaction to Mary’s pregnancy should also be viewed in light of missing evidence. The death penalty needed two-to-three witness in order to establish it (Deut 17.6). Whether or not Mary being pregnant and Joseph claiming that he was not the man was sufficient to seek her death (if that had been what he desired) I do not know. Surely, in this Joseph was driven by love to be merciful to the woman he was about to take as a wife and in this case, he reflects one “slow to anger” a communicable attribute of God.

[25] This does not limit this to “person-to-person” interaction. It had to be specific lines of evidence that served as a witness to verify that the crime had actually been committed. Circumstantial evidence in those cases were not sufficient lines of evidence to carry out a death sentence. This would interject reasonable doubt, which would nullify the grounds for executing the alleged criminal. “What if the person was guilty, though?” one might inquire. The biblical notion of justice is seen as finally resting in God’s hands. If the alleged perpetrator is in fact guilty, but the court system is unable to prove it, then that individual has the fearful reality of facing his/her Maker on judgment day.

[26] Gen 17:10-14; Deut 10:16; 30:6; compare with Col 2:11.

[27] “…if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him…But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved” (1Cor 7.12-13, 15; ESV, italics mine).  Here Paul is saying that the innocent party (the one not wanting a divorce) is not enslaved (bound) to remain married to the unbelieving person who has abandoned them. Bound by what? Enslaved under what? To what binds the two covenantal members of marriage? In what way are they being torn asunder? The answer lies in understanding what is previously known about marriage. I will be brief though since this is a footnote and not an article in and of itself. In Romans 7:1-3 Paul uses marriage as an analogy of how our union with Christ frees us from our former slavery to sin. The spouse is free from the bonds of marriage when the other spouse dies. The law no longer binds them. In the same way, the innocent party in a divorce is freed from being bound to the law of God since their spouse is considered dead (metaphorically), which is how Paul could tell the Corinthians that they need not worry if they desired to remain married but their spouse did not. In such an instance, that sort of covenantal violation freed the innocent party from guilt; though their spouse was counted as dead (again, metaphorically speaking).

[28] I am by no means claiming “teaching par excellence” in this, for I readily admit that I am still a student on such matters. But having studied them for some time I am confident in what I have thus far explained. I would recommend to the reader the two works cited in this post perhaps as introductory works in this particular field of inquiry.

“By This Standard” this work pertains to the ethical validity of the OT Law-Word of God in all areas of life. The argument presented by Bahnsen states that every jot and tittle of God’s Law is upheld by His Sovereign authority, and its status remains unless some prohibition has been provided regarding a specific statute announced by the Lord. God has the authority to change or eliminate His said law, we do not (e.g., Gen 1.29; Mark 7.19; Acts 10.15).

“The Law of the Covenant” by Jordan is exactly what it says it is, an exposition of the case laws provided in Exodus 21-23. These case laws expound and explain the fuller application of the Ten Commandments in daily life. Jordan’s treatment of these matters makes accessible what many modern Christians have a hard time understanding. His offered application to everyday life drawn from God’s holy law gives greater clarity to Paul’s words of teaching the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20.27) so that every man is fully equipped for a righteous life. (2Tim 3.17).