What Happened “Before the Foundation of the World”?

worldIn the beginning, God made the heavens and the earth. From nothing, the triune God made everything. Light, land, and lemmings all came from his all-powerful world. Genesis 1 records this marvelous, six-day creation, and the rest of the Bible treats the universe as one that had a beginning.

But what was there before the beginning?

Before the Foundation of the World

While Genesis starts with creation, later revelation explains that God was active before the beginning. John 1, which takes its cues from Moses’ introduction, says that in the beginning the Word already was: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning” (vv. 1–2). John’s grammar makes it plain that the Son of God, the Word, was already existing when the world was made. And John is not alone, Matthew, Paul, and Peter all reveal an awareness of events transpiring in the mind of God before he spoke light into the darkness.

On Sunday, my sermon considered one of the passages that speaks about what transpired before creation. Titus 1:2 says of eternal life that it was promised before the ages began. With such a phrase, it is worth asking what does the Bible say happened before the foundation of the world? Since the phrase “ before the foundation of the world” occurs five times in the NT, and “before the ages” three times, it will be profitable to list these verses and see what they say. While space doesn’t permit an explanation of each passage, let me simply draw your attention to them. Continue reading

The Language of Election in the Bible: A Few Word Studies

electionIn today’s sermon on Titus 1:1–4, I considered the question: What is election?

I stated the New Testament teaches that election is individual and unconditional. This, of course, is not an undisputed interpretation, but it is my conviction after wrestling with the doctrine over the last dozen years. In my sermon, I only had time to quote Ephesians 1:4–6 and Romans 9:15–16, 18 as evidence for an individual and unconditional election.

Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:4–6)

For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. . . . So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. (Romans 9:15–16, 18)

However, for those who are interested in considering this subject in greater detail, I have outlined the following word studies. I wrote these a few years ago and edited them this week. For those desirous of seeing what Scripture says about election, predestination, and other related subjects, these documents will introduce and comment upon a number of important texts.

All together the studies comprise over 30 pages. Therefore, to help arrange it, I’ve broken them up into smaller studies. Since I haven’t had time to add the Scripture reference in every case, you should read these word studies and theological reflections with an open Bible. (Because they were written with my congregation in mind they are based on the English Standard Version, not the original languages. Perhaps, at some time in the future, I update the contents with further attention to the Greek and Hebrew).

Word Studies

Theological Reflections

Let me know what you think and what questions remain concerning the doctrine of salvation. I believe iron sharpens iron and that humble, honest discussion about this biblical truth is good and needed in the church.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

 

 

Seeing God’s Holiness in the Pentateuch

mosesOver the summer I took ten weeks to preach on the holiness of God in the Old Testament. Or, that’s what I intended to do.

Somewhere in Numbers, I realized that I needed to limit my Old Testament sojourning to the forty years Yahweh led Israel through the Wilderness. Even then, I didn’t have time to consider all that Numbers says about God’s dealings with Israel.

What I did preach and what I pray our church saw, however, was a God relentless in his pursuit of his holiness. Continue reading

Biblical Theology for the ‘Non-theologian’

bibleWhat is biblical theology?

There are many answers to that question, and just as many approaches to “doing biblical theology.” Recently, friends at the 9Marks e-Journal put out a helpful resource on the subject as it relates to the church: “Biblical Theology: Guardian and Guide for the Church.” And if you keep up on the web, you may come across anything from a blog series on a biblical theology of dessert to a list of resources for understanding the framework of the Bible.

Yet, is there anything out there that simply defines biblical theology for someone whose never heard of it before? What follows is something I wrote up for our church. It expresses my own appreciation for biblical theology and how this discipline can serve non-theologians who may have never heard the term. 

(Disclaimer: “non-theologian” is a misnomer; everyone made in the image of God (that’s everyone) is by nature theological and hence a ‘theologian’ in their own right).

Defining Biblical Theology

Biblical theology can be defined in one of two ways. It can be theology that finds its source in the Bible (as opposed to ‘unbiblical theology’). Or, it can be theology developed over the whole Bible (as opposed to systematic theology, which is organized by topics; or, historical theology, which arises from various people and places in church history).

It is the latter, as a discipline of interpretation, that I want to discuss. Why? Because few things have helped me know or love God more than a clear understanding of a whole-Bible theology, and few things are more important for growing Christians to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel. Continue reading

Why Non-Pastors Should Read the Pastoral Epistles

pastoralsNext week I will begin preaching the book of Titus on Sunday mornings. Although Titus is only three chapters and forty-six verses in length, it contains a great deal of instruction for the church.

Titus is often grouped with two other Pauline epistles—1 Timothy and 2 Timothy. Together these three letters are known as the “Pastoral Epistles.” They are written to two of Paul’s sons in the faith (1 Tim 1:2; 2 Tim 1:2; Titus 1:4), ministers of the gospel sent by Paul to Ephesus and Crete for the purpose of building up those churches. As a matter of fact, Timothy and Titus are not so much pastors themselves but apostolic delegates who are called to confront error (1 Tim 1:3-7), preach sound doctrine (2 Tim 1:13; Titus 2:1, 15), and further the faith of God’s elect (Titus 1:2).

From this little synopsis, one might get the impression that the Pastoral Epistles are strictly for pastors, or at least for those working in the ministry. One might conclude they only have tangential relevance for the stay-at-home mom or the factory worker. However, such a conclusion would be premature, for the Pastoral Epistles have great application for all Christians. What follows are five reasons why every Christian should read them, study them, and apply them. Continue reading

The Ultimate Question: How Do I Know I Will Go to Heaven When I Die?

cemeteryHow do I know I am saved and will go to heaven when I die?

This is the ultimate question, isn’t it?! At least, it is for those who take God’s word about heaven and hell seriously. And it’s weight is even greater for those facing a terminal disease or deploying for military service. But it isn’t just for those who feel threatened by death. Since each of us are ignorant of what tomorrow may hold, the question of our eternal destiny is of ultimate importance.

Fortunately, in his love, God did not leave the pathway to heaven hidden. In John 14:6 Jesus said that he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that all who trust in him will go to the Father in heaven. Writing later in another epistle, John says again that everything comes down to knowing, loving, and trusting Jesus: “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the son does not have life.” So here is the million-dollar question: What does it mean to have the Son?
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What Should We Think About the Imprecatory Psalms?

imprecatoyHow should we make sense of the Imprecatory Psalms?

Imprecatory psalms (e.g., Pss 5, 10, 17, 35, 58, 59, 69, 70, 79, 83, 109, 129, 137, 140) are those psalms which call upon God to destroy the wicked, and they include some of the most shocking words in the Bible. Take just a few examples.

Psalm 35 provides one of the most acceptable imprecatory Psalms. Verses 4–6 read,

Let them be put to shame and dishonor
     who seek after my life!
Let them be turned back and disappointed
     who devise evil against me!
Let them be like chaff before the wind,
     with the angel of the LORD driving them away!
Let their way be dark and slippery,
     with the angel of the LORD pursuing them!
(Psalm 35:4-6)

In Psalm 109, the language gets more severe as David calls for the personal ruination of the wicked.

Appoint a wicked man against him;
     let an accuser stand at his right hand.
When he is tried, let him come forth guilty;
     let his prayer be counted as sin!
May his days be few;
     may another take his office!
May his children be fatherless
     and his wife a widow!
May his children wander about and beg,
     seeking food far from the ruins they inhabit!
May the creditor seize all that he has;
     may strangers plunder the fruits of his toil!
Let there be none to extend kindness to him,
     nor any to pity his fatherless children!
May his posterity be cut off;
     may his name be blotted out in the second generation!
May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the LORD,
     and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out!
Let them be before the LORD continually,
     that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth!
(Psalm 109:6-15)

Finally, in Psalm 137 David pronounces a benediction on those who destroy the children of the wicked:

Remember, O LORD, against the Edomites
     the day of Jerusalem,
how they said, “Lay it bare, lay it bare,
     down to its foundations!”
O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed,
     blessed shall he be who repays you
     with what you have done to us!
Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones
     and dashes them against the rock!
(Psalm 137:7-9)

Due to their graphic violence and divine approval—they are in the Bible, after all—many Protestant liberals have charged the God of Israel with violence unbecoming a deity. Other modern readers have written off Christianity entirely because of the imprecatory Psalms and Israel’s violent history. Even for evangelicals, who love the Bible, the cries for vengeance in these Psalms make us feel uncomfortable, because they don’t immediately fit our normal grid for a God who is love. What, therefore, should we think about the imprecatory Psalms?

A few years ago, Dr. Stephen Wellum gave a Sunday School lesson on these psalms, and what follows is an amplified outline of his lesson. Continue reading

Nine Benchmarks for Healthy Intrabiblical Exegesis

bealeOkay, so I admit “intrabiblical exegesis” is a mouthful, but it sums up in two words what any student of the Bible does when he or she tries to understand why Jesus calls himself the Son of Man (e.g., Mark 10:44–45), or what Jude is doing when he says that first century false teachers are walking in the error of Balaam (Jude 11). Intrabiblical exegesis is the process of comparing the Old Testament to the New and seeking to understand how the New Testament writers employed the Old. In short, it is a process of interpretation that engages the whole Bible.

Why Method Matters

Since the Bible was composed over many centuries (about 14 in total), it has many layers of divine revelation. And those layers (read: prophets and apostles) that come later depend upon and recycle (through citation and allusion) antecedent stories, images, turns of phrase, theological ideas, and so on. Therefore, as anyone reading the book of Hebrews knows, it is impossible to understand the New Testament without a general understanding of the Old. And the more you know of the Old Testament, the more you see the way the New Testament writers wrote what they did.

On Monday, I listed five basic principles for discerning types in the Bible. For those just beginning to think about intratextual exegesis, these five “best practices” are a good starting point. But they are only a starting point. So, today I want to go to the other end of the spectrum and consider the very best ways to interpret the New Testament’s uses the Old. And instead of providing my own list, I will cite G. K. Beale who leads the way on helping evangelicals think about these things. Continue reading

How do you recognize a biblical type?  

seekfindIf we agree that typology unites the Bible, identifies who Jesus is, and reveals God’s progressive revelation (which I argued here), then it is vital to know how to recognize a type. Indeed, one of the of the reasons people doubt the validity of a given type (e.g., Joseph as type of Christ, or Noah’s ark as a type of salvation) is that they fear reading too much into the Old Testament. Perhaps, they have seen typology gone wild and have concluded that such interpretations are fanciful and forced. Indeed, while there are many poor examples of misinterpretation, typology remains a vital reality in the Bible. And it behooves us to ask again: “How do you recognize a true biblical type?”

In what follows, I’ve given 5 ways to help you do that. This list isn’t exhaustive and it (over)simplifies some very technical discussions, but for those just beginning to consider or reconsider typology, may it serve as a starting point for recognizing types in Scripture. (For a more comprehensive approach to detecting types, allusions, and patterns in Scripture, see G. K. Beale’s Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament: Exegesis and Interpretationesp. chapters 3 and 4). Continue reading

Typology: What It Is and Why We Need It

 

typologyWhat is typology?  

In yesterday’s sermon on Numbers 20, we ran into something known as typology. As it has been variously defined in church history, typology occurs in the Bible when an historical person, event, or institution—in this case a water-giving rock—foreshadows the coming Son of God. As with Exodus 17, this life-giving, water-streaming rock is a type of Christ, at least according to the apostle Paul.

Writing in 1 Corinthians 10, Paul recounts a number of events in Israel’s history (see vv. 1–13), including this rock. He writes, “All were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ” (vv. 3–4). In these words, Paul makes the stunning claim that the Rock was to be identified with the Lord, and since Christ is the Lord (cf. 1 Cor 8:6), the Rock is to be identified with Christ.

Two verses later, he adds, “Now these things took place as examples (typoi) for us, that we might not desire evil as they did” (v. 6). Most versions rightly translate typoi as “examples” but you can see from the Greek word that the examples Paul has in mind were types, a word he uses elsewhere to relate Adam and Christ (Rom 5:14), a word Peter uses to speak of Noah’s baptism (1 Pet 3:21), and a word used in Hebrews to relate the tabernacle on earth with the one in heaven (Heb 8:5).

On the basis of passages like these, Christians going back to the early church have rightly seen (and looked for) ‘types’ of Christ in the Old Testament. But at the same time, questions have arisen to ask: What is a type?

That is the question I want to answer today in broad and simple strokes. I recognize that large tomes and complex articles have been written on the subject, but for those just getting acquainted with the idea, I want to introduce typology as simply as I can.

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