May 29, 2004

The Mysterious Mr. Quin

Category: Literature :: Permalink

On Thursday night, I finished Agatha Christie’s The Mysterious Mr. Quin. It’s quite different from her Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple mysteries, something like a cross between O. Henry and The Sandman. Sentimental as parts of it were, I rather enjoyed it.

Posted by John Barach @ 3:49 pm | Discuss (0)
May 28, 2004

“Full of New Wine” (Acts 2:13)

Category: Bible - NT - Acts :: Permalink

This week, as I worked on my sermon for Pentecost, I got thinking about the charge levelled against the church in Acts 2. When the crowd hears Jesus’ disciples speaking in other languages, some of them said, “They are full of new wine” (2:13), which Peter (rightly) understands as a charge that the disciples are drunk (2:15).

But why this charge in particular? On one level, we might say that the charge is simply based on the way the tongues-speaking sounded, especially as language followed language (though clearly what was being said was clear enough for the people to recognize that what they were hearing were “the wonderful works of God” being spoken in each of their own languages). Some of the languages, not to mention the switching from one to another, might have sounded like drunken speech.

But I find I’m not completely satisfied with such an explanation. Or, to put another way, “That’s just how it sounded” or “That’s just what happened” doesn’t seem to me an adequate account of why this charge is recorded in Scripture. After all, this isn’t “just what happened.” The Holy Spirit had a reason for making the tongues sound to (at least some of) the crowd like drunken speech.

Part of that reason, I submit, may be found in Isaiah 28:7-10. (Thanks to Jim Jordan for drawing my attention to this passage.)

In Isaiah 28:11-14, we have the warning that Yahweh will speak to Israel “with stammering lips and another tongue,” the warning that Paul picks up when he is explaining the gift of tongues in 1 Corinthians 14:21-22. But in the preceding verses, we find this:

They have also erred through wine,
and through intoxicating drink are out of the way;
the priest and the prophet
have erred through intoxicating drink;
they are swallowed up by wine;
they are out of the way through intoxicating drink;
they err in vision,
they stumble in judgment (28:7).

Here, Yahweh indicts the priest and prophet in particular, as well as the people (28:1 refers to “the drunkards of Ephraim”) for being led astray through wine. Israel has been drunk with wine, and that is why Yahweh is going to speak to them “with stammering lips and another tongue.” That is, because Israel has been drunk and her priests and prophets have been drunk as they try to instruct Israel, Yahweh is going to instruct Israel in a way that sounds like drunken speech.

Here in Acts 2, Israel is symbolically drunk and her priests and prophets have given her drunken instruction to lead her astray. Yahweh is responding by speaking to Israel in speech that sounds drunken. The charge of drunkenness in 2:13 thus fits with the function of tongues-speaking as Isaiah and Paul present it.

But I also wonder if there isn’t something more going on here. The charge is not simply “These men are drunk.” The charge is “These men are full of new wine.” And that might prompt us to look back at the rest of Scripture to see what it says about “new wine.”

When Isaac blessed Jacob, he said,

May God give you
of the dew of heaven,
of the fatness of the earth,
and plenty of grain and new wine (Gen. 27:28).

Having “plenty of new wine” is God’s blessing to Jacob (= Israel). But on Pentecost, the charge is made that the church is “full of new wine.” Perhaps there is irony here: in being filled with the Spirit, the church is experiencing the blessing of new wine and unbelieving Israel isn’t.

In Numbers 18:12, Yahweh gives the priests “all the best of the new wine.” Perhaps, then, fullness of new wine can be seen as a priestly benefit. But on Pentecost, it is the church who has “all the best of the new wine.” On Pentecost, ironically, the church is God’s priestly people.

Of course, “new wine” is repeatedly listed as one of the blessings of the Promised Land in Deuteronomy (7:13; 11:14; 12:17; 14:23; 18:4; 28:51; 33:28; cf. 2 Kings 18:32; 2 Chron. 32:28; Isa. 36:17, etc.). Is it now the case that the church is inheriting all the blessings of the Promised Land?

The charge against the church in Acts 2 is meant as a charge of drunkenness and that fits with what God said in Isaiah 28: Israel is the one which is truly drunk and in judgment God is speaking “drunkenly” to them by speaking to them in other tongues. But perhaps there is also irony in this charge: They are not drunk with wine; rather, they are filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18). But in being filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ disciples really are “full of new wine” in a sense. They are enjoying the blessings of “new wine,” the blessings of the Spirit which were symbolized in the Old Covenant by “new wine,” the blessings God had promised to Israel (and especially to the priests).

Posted by John Barach @ 7:48 pm | Discuss (0)
May 26, 2004

Calvin on the Incarnation

Category: Theology - Christology :: Permalink

As I work through Calvin’s Institutes, I occasionally find things that raise my eyebrows. Recently, I was reading II.xiv.2 and 3. In 2, Calvin wants to give some examples of things that belong strictly to Christ’s divinity (e.g., being before all things), things that belong strictly to Christ’s humanity (e.g., increasing in wisdom), and places where the properties or characteristics of one are attributed to the other (e.g., God purchasing the church with his own blood).

In the second section, Calvin lists increasing in age and wisdom, not seeking his own glory, not knowing the Last Day, not speaking by himself, not doing his own will, and being seen and handled. All, Calvin says, are things which

refer solely to Christ’s humanity. In so far as he is God, he cannot increase in anything, and does all things for his own sake; nothing is hidden from him; he does all things according to the decision of his will, and can be neither seen nor handled. Yet he does not ascribe these qualities solely to his human nature, but takes them upon himself as being in harmony with the person of the Mediator.

I can’t say that I find this account entirely satisfactory. Calvin seems to think, for instance, that God always seeks his own glory (“does all things for his own sake”) and that therefore if Christ is said not to seek his own glory that statement must refer to Christ’s human nature. But in thinking this way, it seems as if Calvin is leaving the Trinity out of the picture: he’s dealing with God, that is, but not with the Triune God, not with a God who is three persons in a relationship of love, each of whom seeks the glory of the others. It isn’t “unGodlike” for Christ not to seek his own glory but to seek the glory of the Father. (Of course, maybe my complaint is that Calvin hadn’t read Jeff Meyers.)

I’m also not entirely comfortable with saying that as God Jesus couldn’t be seen. That doesn’t seem to fit with what Scripture tells us, namely, that man is made in God’s image, that Jesus is the true image of God, and that the disciples, seeing Jesus, saw not just his humanity but his glory, the glory of the only-begotten son of God (John 1:14). To see him, Jesus says, is to see the Father (John 14:9).

In II.xiv.3, Calvin writes something else that puzzles me. He’s working with 1 Cor. 15:24, where Christ is said to deliver the kingdom to “his God and Father.” Calvin writes:

For what purpose were power and lordship given to Christ, unless that by his hand the Father might govern us? In this sense also, Christ is said to be seated at the right hand of the Father. Yet this is but for a time, until we enjoy the direct vision of the Godhead. Here we cannot excuse the error of the ancient writers who pay no attention to the person of the Mediator, obscure the real meaning of almost all the teaching one reads in the Gospel of John, and entangle themselves in many snares. Let this, then, be our key to right understanding: those things which apply to the office of Mediator are not spoken simply either of the divine nature or of the human. Until he comes forth as judge of the world Christ will therefore reign, joining us to the Father as the measure of our weakness permits. But when as partakers in heavenly glory we shall see God as he is, Christ, having then discharged the office of Mediator, will cease to be the ambassador of his Father, and will be satisfied with that glory which he enjoyed before the creation of the world. And the name “Lord” exclusively belongs to the person of Christ only in so far as it represents a degree midway between God and us. Paul’s statement accords with this: “One God — from whom are all things — and one Lord — through whom are all things” (1 Cor. 8:6). That is, to him was lordship committed by the Father, until such time as we should see his divine majesty face to face. Then he returns the lordship to his Father so that – far from diminishing his own majesty – it may shine all the more brightly. Then, also, God shall cease to be the Head of Christ, for Christ’s own deity will shine of itself, although as yet it is covered by a veil.

Now there are many things that baffle me about this passage.

(1) Calvin says that Christ is seated at God’s right hand only for a time. It’s true that 1 Cor. 15 talks about Christ delivering up the kingdom to God and I’ll admit that I’m not too clear about the significance of that, but will Christ cease being king at that point?

(2) Calvin says we will someday “enjoy the direct vision of the Godhead.” It seems that Calvin is making a contrast between the direct vision we’ll enjoy at that time and the (I guess) indirect vision that we enjoy right now — and part of that indirectness, given the context of the sentence, is that Christ is ruling as king. Odd.

And odd, too, is the phrase “the Godhead.” Did Stephen see “the Godhead”? No, he saw the Father and the Son. When we see God, will we no longer see Christ (the Son)? Will we see only “the Unity”? Is Calvin really thinking like a Trinitarian when he uses this phrase? Or am I being too hard on him? Am I misunderstanding him?

(3) Calvin says that, when we see “God as he is,” then Christ’s mediatorial work will be done and he will no longer be “the ambassador of his Father.” That seems to imply that we will then have direct access to God instead of access to God in Christ. Christ will no longer be our mediator. All of that sounds very weird to me.

(4) Calvin indicates that the name “Lord” refers to “a degree midway between God and us,” and in fact it’s apparently something that obscures Christ’s majesty, since Calvin says that Christ’s majesty will shine more brightly when he hands the lordship over to his Father. That, too, sounds exceedingly strange. Or am I misunderstanding Calvin here?

(5) Calvin says that God will, at that time, no longer be Christ’s head. (It’s as if, to use some people’s terminology, the economic Trinity is only temporary and, on the last day, reverts to being just the ontological Trinity.)

(6) The reason Calvin gives seems equally odd to me: “for Christ’s own deity will shine of itself, although as yet it is covered by a veil.” What is that veil? From the context, it would appear to be Christ’s mediatorial office, Christ’s lordship, and/or possibly Christ’s being human. Is Calvin implying that Christ will no longer be human at that time? He certainly appears to being saying that Christ will no longer be the mediator. But in what sense is Christ’s mediatorial office or lordship (let alone humanity) an obscuring or veiling of his majesty and deity?

All of this is quite puzzling to me. Can anyone help me out? Am I misunderstanding Calvin or is Calvin rather confused (confusing) at this point?

Posted by John Barach @ 6:14 pm | Discuss (0)
May 25, 2004

Andrew Sullivan

Category: Politics :: Permalink

In his recent editorial for Time, Andrew Sullivan expresses his dislike of the recent declarations made by some bishops in the Roman Catholic Church:

It has — amazingly — been forty-four years since a Catholic ran for the presidency of the United States under one of the two major party banners. And how things have changed. In 1960, John F. Kennedy had to persuade Americans that he was not too Catholic to be president. In 2004, John F. Kerry has to persuade the Catholic bishops that he is not too American.By “too American,” I mean the sense that religious faith is a personal matter, that it can be sealed off from public life, that it doesn’t dictate political views on any one issue or another. But with the issue of abortion, that is exactly what some in the Catholic hierarchy and conservative grass-roots seek to challenge. These orthodox Catholics believe that no public official can be openly Catholic and support the right to a legal abortion, which the Church regards as a moral evil of the highest order. The distinction between someone’s private view of the morality of abortion and their public stance about its legality is a distinction without a difference, they argue. Until now, that has been simply a rhetorical assertion — and certainly one well within the rights and duties of the bishops. But in the last few years — accelerating fast in the last few weeks — orthodox forces are demanding more stringent action — that pro-choice politicians not simply be publicly reprimanded but barred from receiving Holy Communion, the central, unifying act of Catholic worship.

Sullivan may be correct: For many Americans (and Canadians) religion is private; it isn’t political — and Sullivan likes it that way. He rightly recognizes, too, that what is sometimes called “fencing the table” is necessarily a political act: some people are allowed to partake of the Eucharist and others aren’t; some people are members of the body and others aren’t.

And that’s what bothers Sullivan: he doesn’t want the church to be able to police its own boundaries, at least, not when it comes to politicians and the policies they promote. Sullivan, it appears, wants the church to stick to dispensing advice, which people may then take or leave, not to act with authority. He doesn’t want the church to be the church; he wants the church to be Ann Landers.

Posted by John Barach @ 8:19 pm | Discuss (0)


Category: Bible - NT - Acts,Theology - Soteriology :: Permalink

This week, I’ve been working on Acts 2 in preparation for Pentecost (this coming Sunday). In particular, I’ll be focusing on the gift of tongues (2:4ff.), which I take to be ordinary human languages and not some kind of private prayer language or a sort of “non-cognitive vocalization” (to borrow Richard Gaffin‘s term). I’m aware that some commentators distinguish between the tongues on the day of Pentecost and the tongues that Paul is dealing with in 1 Corinthians, but that distinction doesn’t seem plausible to me.

As I thought about Pentecost, I was struck by the importance of understanding the gift of tongues in its historical context. If we posit that the gift of tongues is the ability to scat while praying or prophesying, like a jazz singer improvising, or if we take the gift of tongues to be the gift of a private prayer language, what is the point of the gift? Why was this particular gift given at Pentecost, after Christ ascended into heaven? Why would such a gift have to wait until after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ? How does this gift fit into redemptive history?

One answer might be that this gift is some sort of evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit. Because the Spirit has come, we can now pray and prophecy in some other language. But why? Why this particular gift? What’s the significance of it? Why couldn’t this gift be given earlier?

Those questions arise if we treat the gift of tongues in isolation from its historical context. The gift of tongues becomes a sort of showy demonstration of the Spirit’s power. The Spirit could just as well have shown His presence by giving people the gift of doing handstands or, for that matter, barking like dogs or laughing uncontrollably. The gift is arbitrary, with no roots in the rest of Scripture, and if it’s arbitrary then any number of weird things someone has dreamed up can be claimed as a similar “gift of the Spirit.”

But if we locate the gift of tongues in its historical context, as men such as Sinclair Ferguson, Palmer Robertson, and James Jordan have done, we end up with a richer understanding of the gift of tongues. In fact, only in this historical context does the gift make sense.

The gift of tongues wasn’t an arbitrary example of the Spirit’s power. Rather, it was given at Pentecost precisely because it had a role to play at that point in redemptive history.

And what was that role? It was a role rooted in the Old Covenant revelation. The background to the gift of tongues includes what happened at the Tower of Babel. As the Tower of Babel resulted in division, Pentecost results in unity as the gospel now goes out in many tongues to gather people into the church. The divisions of the Old Covenant and of the Old Creation are now being broken down by the Spirit of the resurrected Christ, including, in particular, the division between Jew and Gentile, represented by the language of Israel and the many tongues of the nations.

But, as with the Tower of Babel, speaking with other tongues also implies judgment. At Babel, God confused the “lip” of the people (Gen. 11:9) so that they were not able to understand each other’s speech (11:7). But at Pentecost, too, the disciples begin speaking in different languages. The effect is not that the listeners couldn’t understand — they did, in fact, understand — but I wonder if there isn’t something symbolic going on here. Is this gift of tongues implying that the temple and perhaps Jerusalem is (in danger of becoming) a new Tower of Babel, from which the unbelieving Jews will be scattered?

Even if that’s not the case, Paul links the gift of tongues to judgment coming on unbelieving Israel in 1 Corinthians 14:21, when he quotes from Isaiah 28:11, 12:

With men of other tongues and other lips I will speak to this people; and yet, for all that, they will not hear me.

That passage in Isaiah draws on God’s threat to bring against Israel “a nation whose language you will not understand” (Deut. 28:49). Israel wouldn’t listen to God when He spoke to them in their own language, and so He threatened to speak to them in the language of foreign invaders. That speech is a speech of judgment, but it is also a summons to repentance.

And so it is, Paul says, with the gift of tongues in the church: It is a sign to unbelievers (1 Cor. 14:22) and, given the context, a sign to unbelieving Jews in particular. It is a sign that the kingdom has been taken from Israel and has been given to another nation, a nation that will bear fruit to God, as Jesus had said (Matt. 21:43).

As a sign of the worldwide expansion of the kingdom of God as a result of Christ’s death and resurrection and ascension and as a sign of God’s judgment on unbelieving Israel, the gift of tongues fits with the situation begun by Pentecost. It wasn’t simply a private prayer language and it certainly isn’t non-cognitive vocalizing: it involved genuine human languages, the languages of the nations, because it was a sign of the gospel going to the nations and of judgment coming on Israel.

As such, this gift was also intended to be temporary. Though God may continue to bless some missionaries with unusual language gifts, the gift of tongues itself, as a sign to unbelieving Israel, was intended for the period when the Old Covenant and New Covenant overlapped, the period when God’s judgment had not yet fallen on unbelieving Israel and its temple, the period before AD 70. After that, the gift of tongues no longer had a role to play.

The gift of tongues given at Pentecost thus had everything to do with its particular moment in history. It was not an arbitrary personal experience certain Christians might have, an experience which appears out of the blue after Pentecost and which has very little meaning in itself. It was, rather, rooted in God’s past revelation, a fulfilment of God’s past warnings, a reversal of Babel’s confusion, and a demonstration of the new situation brought about through the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. The gift of tongues has meaning only in its historical framework.

Posted by John Barach @ 7:49 pm | Discuss (0)


Category: Theology - Christology :: Permalink

Here are a few paragraphs from “Life After Life After Death,” a Christianity Today interview with N. T. Wright about his The Resurrection of the Son of God:

Does the resurrection give us a mandate for social change? Because resurrection is a creation-affirming doctrine, it also goes with the desire to change injustice in the present. That’s why I love the epigraph at the beginning of the book’s final part — a quote from Oscar Wilde’s play Salome, where Herod hears about Jesus raising the dead. He says, “I forbid him to raise the dead. This man must be found and told I don’t allow people to raise the dead.” Herod knows, as all tyrants know, that if somebody is going about raising the dead, then their power has met a greater power.

If you believe in resurrection, you believe that the living God will put his world to rights and that if God wants to do that in the future, it is right to try to anticipate that by whatever means in the present. It is your job as a Christian, in the power of the Spirit, to anticipate that glorious final state as much as you possibly can. Live now by the power that is coming to you from the future, by the Spirit. It is up to us to produce signs of resurrection in the present social, cultural, and political world.

How does that apply to the academy?

Within the Enlightenment world of the last two centuries, we see a horror of the idea that God might actually act in the world. They want God banished upstairs so they can get on with running the world downstairs. But with the resurrection, we have God saying, “No, I want to put things downstairs to rights, thank you very much. I started doing it with Jesus and you’d better get in line.” That’s a shock to liberal theology, just like it’s a shock to all kinds of other tyrannies — and liberal theology has become its own sort of tyranny.

Posted by John Barach @ 12:41 pm | Discuss (0)
May 24, 2004

Americans Speeding

Category: Miscellaneous :: Permalink

As I entered Canada last Friday afternoon, out of the corner of my eye I spotted a sign urging American drivers to “Thinkmetric,” complete with that cute little “km” in the centre. The thing I found especially interesting, however, was the example posted on that sign:

60 mph is 90 kmh

Um…. Not quite. In fact, 60 miles per hour is much closer to 100 kilometres per hour. So if a policeman stops an American tourist who is going 100 in a 90 zone, may the American point out that the fault really lies with the sign at the border? After all, it told him that whenever he saw the 90 kmh sign he could go 60 mph, right?

Posted by John Barach @ 9:33 pm | Discuss (0)
May 19, 2004


Category: Updates :: Permalink

Yesterday evening, Moriah and I attended the wedding of Woelke Leithart and Megan Turner. Congratulations, Woelke and Megan!

Here is the wedding sermon which Woelke’s father preached. (I’m looking forward to hearing what he’ll preach about five weeks from now.)

Posted by John Barach @ 12:23 pm | Discuss (0)
May 7, 2004

Satan’s Fall

Category: Bible - NT - Jude,Bible - OT - Genesis,Theology :: Permalink

I was working on Genesis 3:14-15 this week in connection with a sermon I was preparing (thanks, Tim for sending me your notes on that chapter). In the course of that study, I began to wonder about the timing of Satan’s fall.

I suspect that, if we think about it at all, we’re inclined to say that we don’t know exactly when Satan fell but it was before Genesis 3. We might (rightly) reject the view that Satan fell before Adam was created. After all, on the sixth day of creation, God declares that everything He created is very good and that would include the angels.

I suspect the angels were created at the very beginning when God created the heavens (Gen. 1:1a: “In the beginning, God created the heavens…”), since they were singing when God laid the foundations of the earth (Job 38:4-7) and that happened in the second half of Genesis 1:1 (“… and the earth”).

At any rate, the angels are creatures, included in God’s creative work in the six days of Genesis 1, and therefore among the creatures which God pronounces “very good” at the end of the sixth day. So, contrary to Milton’s Paradise Lost, in which Satan falls before the creation of man, Satan must have fallen after the sixth day.

But when? Again, we’re inclined to shrug our shoulders. We often think that a long, long time passed after the creation of man and before the Fall and that somewhere during that time, but up in heaven, Satan and his armies rebelled, we know not how. I’m more inclined to think that Adam’s fall happened very soon after his creation. After all, it doesn’t appear that Adam had yet eaten from the Tree of Life. If he’d been in the Garden for any length of time, you would expet him to have done so. It’s entirely possible that Adam fell on the seventh day, so that instead of entering God’s rest and giving him thanks for His creation, as appropriate on the seventh day, he rebelled instead (Rom. 1:18ff.).

As I was working through Genesis 3, I was struck by some of the things that it suggests with regard to Satan’s fall. I’d heard Jim Jordan say that he thought Satan’s fall happened in the course of his conversation with the woman (a view, if memory serves me correctly, he’d heard proposed by Jeff Meyers). “Hmmm…” I said to myself.

Before his fall, Satan was Lucifer, that is, the light-bearer. This name reflects Lucifer’s original calling, namely, to bear God’s light. To whom? To man.

We learn about Satan’s original calling by observing what the rest of Scripture tells us about angels and their work. Man was created “a little lower than the angels” (Ps. 8:5 as cited in Heb. 2:7), though that wasn’t man’s ultimate destiny (cf. Heb. 2:9). The Torah — the word means instruction, not law — was given by the ministration of angels (Heb. 2:2; Gal. 3:19), which, by the way, gives added significance to Paul’s statement in Galatians 1:8 (“Even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed”).

During the old creation (i.e., the events from Genesis 1 to the end of the Old Covenant) man was under the angels, to be instructed and trained by them. (Jim Jordan says in his Brief Reader’s Guide to Revelation that the presence of so many angels in Revelation indicates that the events John is describing took place in the time when man was still under the angels, that is, they refer to the time of the end of the Old Covenant in AD 70.)

Furthermore, we learn a lot about Lucifer’s original task by looking at the Angel of Yahweh in Scripture. After Lucifer fell, he was replaced as man’s tutor by the Second Person of the Trinity, acting in the role of the messenger (which is what “angel” means”) of Yahweh. That this Angel is himself Yahweh is made clear in several passages, among them Judges 6:11ff. and 13:17-23.

A brief digression: In Jude 9, we read that

Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.”

Where is that story in the Bible? Well, “The Lord rebuke you” is from Zechariah 3. In that chapter, Joshua the high priest stands before the Angel of Yahweh and “the Satan” stands there to accuse him:

And Yahweh said to Satan, “Yahweh [Greek translation: The Lord] rebuke you, Satan! Indeed, Yahweh [the Lord] who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you!”

This is the dispute Jude has in mind. It’s a dispute over “the body of Moses.” “The body of Moses” isn’t Moses’ physical body; like “the body of Christ” (the church), it’s corporate. “The body of Moses” is Israel, brought back from exile but still defiled by sin, which Joshua the High Priest bears on himself and which is the basis for Satan’s charges against Joshua, Jerusalem, and Israel.

Zechariah identifies the parties of the dispute as the Angel of Yahweh and Satan. Jude identifies them as Michael and the devil, which implies that Jude understands the name of the Angel of Yahweh, the pre-incarnate Second Person of the Trinity, to be Michael, the same Michael who appears in Daniel and Revelation. Anyway, that’s a digression.

As Jim Jordan has pointed out in his lectures, before He was the second Adam, God’s son was the second Lucifer. That is, before He was incarnate as a man, He acted as “the Angel of Yahweh,” replacing the fallen Lucifer as man’s tutor. He led Israel to the Promised Land (Ex. 33:2) and to conquest (Josh. 5:13-16:5; Jud. 6:11ff., etc.). He also taught God’s people the Word of Yahweh (e.g., Gen. 18).

That’s the work of the Angel of Yahweh, man’s chief tutor up until the end of the Old Covenant. But in the beginning, the angel who came to man — God’s appointed tutor — wasn’t the Second Person of the Trinity taking on the role of an angel. It was Lucifer, who fell and became the devil (“the adversary”) and the satan (“the accuser”). In the beginning, Lucifer was to be the light-bearer, man’s tutor and guide who would train him and prepare him for his calling to subdue and rule the world (as the new tutor, the Angel of Yahweh, prepared Israel to conquer and rule the Promised Land).

But did Lucifer fall before he ever got around to carrying out that task? That’s possible. But in that case, it seems to me that he would have been replaced before he got to the Garden. It makes more sense to me to think that Lucifer fell as he was executing his calling.

In fact, Lucifer’s fall was that he perverted his calling. He “tutored” the woman, but he “tutored” her to disobey God.

What was his motive? Well, given that Adam and Eve were created a little lower than the angels but were intended eventually to have dominion over the angels (as Christ, as a man, now has dominion over the angels and as we shall eventually judge angels, 1 Cor. 6:3), the serpent’s motive may have been jealousy. He didn’t want to be like a drill sergeant who trains a man knowing that one day that man will be an officer and have authority over him. So he passed on perverted teaching to keep Adam and Eve from reaching that destiny. At least, that’s a plausible motive.

When did that perverse tutoring start? We often think that it must have started with the first thing the serpent said in 3:1b (“Has God said…?”) and that’s possible. As Eve’s sin begins with her thinking about doing what God had forbidden and as Adam’s started with his failure to guard the garden and protect Eve, so the serpent’s sin may have begun with him contemplating leading Adam and Eve astray before he ever opened his mouth.

But it’s also possible that his sin began between his first and second statement. His question in Genesis 3:1b can be taken as a veiled accusation of God (“Was God really so mean as to forbid you to eat from all the trees?”). But it may also be taken in a better sense. Teachers use these kinds of questions today so that the student will respond by correcting them, thereby showing that he really knows the right answer. “Jesus isn’t God, is He?” the catechism teacher asks, and the child quickly says, “Yes, He is!” It’s possible that man’s tutor, the angel in the form of a serpent, is doing that kind of catechesis.

But in 3:4, the serpent directly contradicts what God said: “You shall not surely die.” That statement (or perhaps the question in 3:1b), together with the thoughts and inclinations leading up to it, it seems to me, is the point in history where Lucifer fell.

A few more things in this passage appear to support this view.

Genesis 3:1 tells us that the serpent “was more cunning than any beast of the field which Yahweh God had made.” “More cunning” here doesn’t mean “sinful.” Rather, the implication is that being cunning is a good thing. Yahweh God made the serpent “more cunning” than the rest of the field animals (that is, the wild animals out in the world beyond the garden, as opposed to the tamer garden animals).

But if the serpent in 3:1a is still good (and given 1:31, we have no textual reason to think he was not still good), then his fall must have taken place either just before 3:1b or in the course of his instruction, when he contradicts God in 3:4.

And then there’s 3:14. When Yahweh God pronounces judgment on the serpent, he says this: “Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all cattle and more than every beast of the field.” That is to say, God declares Satan cursed because he has attacked the woman with lies. That is why Satan will be crushed by the woman’s seed.

But if Satan fell at some earlier time, before Genesis 3, we would expect him to have been under God’s curse and in for a crushing already. But Scripture says that he is cursed and forced to grovel and “bite the dust” and that he will eventually be defeated and crushed because of what he did to Adam and Eve in the Garden. That suggests to me that Satan’s fall into sin — for which he is cursed and sentenced to destruction — took place in the events of Genesis 3:1-5.

Finally, whatever we are to make of Yahweh’s message in Ezekiel 28 to “the ruler of Tyre,” who is described as wearing garments like Israel’s priests and who is described as “the anointed cherub who covers,” he is said to have been “in Eden, the garden of God” (28:13), placed by Yahweh “on the holy mountain of God” (28:14) and “blameless” at that time. His fall took place in Eden; he was thrown from God’s holy mountain (28:16). Again, I don’t exactly know what to make of this passage. The primary reference is to “the ruler of Tyre,” but the reference to the “anointed cherub” suggests that there may be some link with Lucifer. But if so, then Ezekiel 28 implies that Lucifer’s fall took place in Eden, the Garden of God, on God’s holy mountain.

Putting all of this together, it seems to me that Satan’s fall took place in the events of Genesis 3:1-5, in the seduction of the woman, which is the event for which God curses him to destruction.

When did his hosts fall? Perhaps at the same time somehow. Perhaps later.

But wouldn’t God’s curse on the serpent have frightened them enough to keep them from falling by following Satan (“Yike! Look what happened to him!”)?

Not necessarily. After all, they had seen that Satan’s lie had been successful in seducing the woman away from God and that the man had fallen too. Through sin, the whole human race came under the dominion of sin and death and of the devil, who held the power of death (Heb. 2:14-15). Perhaps some of the host of heaven followed Satan because, curse or no curse, they thought there was a chance that he might win. He’d done pretty well already and so far his head hadn’t been crushed, nor was it for many years.

I don’t claim that these thoughts are original with me; in fact, I’ve heard most of this stuff from others. But these are some things I’ve been mulling over this week. I invite your thoughts in response.

Posted by John Barach @ 8:42 pm | Discuss (0)

The Besetting Sin of Protestantism

Category: Theology - Ecclesiology :: Permalink

The latest issue of Reformation and Revival Journal (to which I recommend subscribing: I like it more and more) arrived at my house this week.

This issue focuses on Christian Oneness, a topic that warms my heart, and contains articles by two of my acquaintances, Rich Lusk and Travis Tamerius. The first article, however, is by T. M. Moore. It’s entitled “That They May Be One: Facing Up to the Besetting Sin of Protestantism.” Here’s how the article starts (I’ve broken it into shorter paragraphs for easier reading):

I had just finished a sermon exhorting our congregation to faith and boldness in taking up the challenge of a new stage in our ministry’s development, a sermon which I ended by quoting a wonderful prayer which Robert Van de Meyer attributes to St. Brendan (fl. ca. A.D. 560), which, tradition tells us, he offered just prior to departing in a leather boat with sixteen companions for points west across the uncharted sea.

The first person to approach me at the door was a minister of my denomination, who was visiting with us that day. I held out my hand to greet him, but he declined, looking first at my outstretched hand, and then, coming very close to my face, saying, “Couldn’t you find some worthy Reformed saint for your illustration? Did you have to use that Catholic?”

Note the emphasis: Not a Protestant saint, but a Reformed one. For this pastor it would not have been sufficient merely to draw on an example from the Protestant heritage; it had to be Reformed.

This anecdote speaks to me of much that is wrong in Protestantism. Not only does it demonstrate a fixation on form over substance — the jots and tittles of doctrine rather than the heart of faith — but it witnesses to a problem endemic in Protestant churches from the earliest days of the Reformation: Protestants too easily become ensnared in denominationalism, with the result that, at least among many pastors and church leaders, we fail to nurture and express the love of Christ much beyond the confines of our own fellowships. We tend to clog the veins and arteries of the Body of Christ with the plaque of denominational distinctives — doctrinal, liturgical, traditional, and practical — and impede the free flow of the love of Christ among the communions and members of his Body.

Here, more than in any single area, the sin of unbelief, which so easily besets the followers of Christ, has attached itself to Protestantism, and is choking life from the Body and suffocating our witness to the watching world. I agree with Edmund Clowney when he writes, “Only as the Church binds together those whom selfishness and hate have cut apart will its message be heard and its ministry of hope to the friendless be received.” The failure of Protestant churches to achieve that binding among themselves is one of the primary reasons that our witness for Christ has not been more effective over the past several generations (pp. 12-13).

While I might quibble with some of what Moore says here (I’m not convinced that “substance” and “form” can so easily be divided, for instance), I appreciate his point. As a Reformed pastor, I sometimes get the impression that the Reformed world is a bit too cosy and close-knit. We don’t associate much with the other churches around us. Some Reformed churches don’t admit to the Table members from non-Reformed churches.

I recall reading an old Bible study geared toward young adults in which the author, a venerable pastor in the Christian Reformed Church, asked the question, “How can we increase loyalty to our denomination?” Is that really what we want? Or would it be better to have loyalty to Christ and His church throughout the world? What about our loyalty to the guy in the other church down the street who is united to the same Christ we are?

I look forward to reading these articles in this issue of Reformation and Revival Journal, and I commend R&R for publishing them.

Posted by John Barach @ 7:17 pm | Discuss (0)