Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Mother Phobia of All the Phobias of Life Conquered in Christ

Speaking of the implications of Christ's victory in the cross over Satan, Sinclair Ferguson discusses these under four headings: theology, doxology, ministry, and missiology. Under the rubric of ministry, he says this about the significance of Heb. 2:14-15 for pastoral counseling:
The thesis of the author is that through the fear of death men and women are subject to lifelong bondage. Our deepest fear, the fear of death, is a mother phobia which gives birth to all the phobias of life. "An overdose of fear," writes Calvin, with insight, "comes from ignorance of the grace of Christ." The angst of man, and many of the spiritual neuroses of our day, must therefore be analyzed in these terms as aspects and symptoms of bondage to Satan, or as aspects of his malevolent efforts to hinder Christian believers and to rob them of their joy in Christ. The ministry of the Word, and the work done confidentially in pastoral counseling, must accordingly be sensitive to this whole dimension of Christian life and warfare, and provide "precious remedies against Satan's devices."
Christ is not offered to us in the gospel as a panacea for our fears. But he is a deliverer from that bondage to Satan which engenders the fear of death and gives rise to all manner of other fears. Pastoral counseling must always therefore have the one great fear in view, and Jesus Christ the deliverer as the divinely appointed remedy. We need to appreciate at the deepest level the fact that the words "fear not" were so frequently on his lips.  
—Sinclair Ferguson, "Christus Victor et Propitiator," in For the Fame of God's Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 187.

Sunday, April 20, 2014


The last two stanzas of Herbert's "Easter":

     The Sun arising in the East,
     Though he give light, and th' East perfume;
     If they should offer to contest
     With thy arising, they presume.

     Can there be any day but this,
     Though many suns to shine endeavour?
     We count three hundred, but we miss:
     There is but one, and that one ever.

—George Herbert, The Complete English Poems (New York: Penguin, 1991), 37.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Satan Already Bound by the Strong Man!

Speaking of the implications of Christ's victory in the cross over Satan, Sinclair Ferguson discusses the implications under four headings: theology, doxology, ministry, and missiology. Under the rubric of missiology, among other things, Pastor Ferguson writes this weighty word:
There is a final implication of Christ's victory over Satan. Through the jugdment of Satan and his being cast out, all men are now to be drawn to the Savior—that is, men and women from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. In some definitive sense we can say that since Christ has finished his work, and in the light of his death, resurrection, ascension, and the gift of the Spirit, Satan is already bound and the undeceiving of the nations has begun (Rev. 20:2-3). This is implied in the wording of the Great Commission. All authority in heaven and earth is now Christ's; we are to penetrate "all nations" with the gospel (Matt. 28:18-20). Satan has been overcome. Jesus has asked the Father for the nations as his inheritance in accordance with the promise of Ps. 2:8. He has poured out the Spirit on all flesh to bring it to pass, and now waits for his enemies to be made his footstool.
—Sinclair Ferguson, "Christus Victor et Propitiator," in For the Fame of God's Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 187.

Friday, April 18, 2014

What Is an "Evangelist" in the NT Sense?

D. A. Carson:
I have come to suspect . . . that we are in danger of reading back into the Greek word εαγγελιστς [e.g., 2 Tim. 4:5] what the English transliteration "evangelist" means. If instead we understood εαγγελιστς in terms of its cognates εαγγλιον and εαγγελζω, then a εαγγελιστς is simply someone who proclaims the εαγγλιον, the gospel. If we are not thinking of "the gospel" in some simplistic or reduced sense, then an "evangelist" (in the Greek sense), precisely because he or she focuses on proclaiming the gospel, will inevitably provide at least some such proclamation to outsiders, and thus be doing evangelistic work, the work of an "evangelist" in the contemporary sense. Nevertheless, such an "evangelist" will still be proclaiming the gospel even when such proclamation is not directed toward outsiders with the aim of their conversion. In short, an "evangelist" in the New Testament sense is simply a gospel-preacher, an announcer of the gospel.
—D. A. Carson, "What Is the Gospel?—Revisited," in For the Fame of God's Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 166.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

One of the Most Urgent Needs Today

D. A. Carson:
One of the most urgently needed things today is a careful treatment of how the gospel, biblically and richly understood, ought to shape everything we do in the local church, all of our ethics, all of our priorities.
—D. A. Carson, "What Is the Gospel?—Revisited," in For the Fame of God's Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 165.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Narrative Reading of the Longer Ending of Mark's Gospel

Here is another paper I produced at Wheaton College, this time for a class on New Testament criticism under Professor Nick Perrin. It seems like an appropriate post for holy week.


I am not a King-James-only Christian (though I have a high regard for the King James Version). I embrace, by and large, the approach to textual criticism called “reasoned eclecticism.” And yet I shall argue that the long ending (LE) of Mark 16 is at least as likely the original ending to Mark’s Gospel as is the short ending (SE), and slightly to be favored, given the present evidence, on the grounds of external evidence and literary-critical analysis.[1] Delving into the literature on Mark’s ending, one immediately faces bewilderment, not unlike that of the disciples, not only over the complexity of the matter, but also over the varieties of opinions and, even more, over the lofty pontifications of many, all the while standing on a great deal of speculation, guesswork, and uncertainty. Possessing only fragments of the total evidence, dogmatic assertions of one view as solely plausible seem a bit much. We are dealing in probabilities. So I shall speak of probabilities, confessing the tentativeness of my own conclusions at this beginning point of entering the fray of Mark 16 debates. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Evidence of Degeneracy of the Christian Religion

All the flagitious [villainous] sins that the world is filled withal are not a greater evidence of the degeneracy of the Christian religion than this is, that it is grown unusual, yea, a shame or scorn, for men to speak together of the things of God. It was not so when religion was in its primitive power and glory, nor is it so with them who really fear God and are sensible of their duty.
—John Owen, The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded (vol. 7 in The Works of John Owen; ed. William H. Gould; Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1994), 292–294.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Double Duty of Christians

Speaking on the imperatives to "flee" and "pursue" in 2 Tim. 2:22, John Stott says this basic word we Christians ought always to keep before us:
This double duty of Christians—negative and positive—is the consistent, reiterated teaching of Scripture. Thus, we are to deny ourselves and follow Christ. We are to put off what belongs to our old life and to put on what belongs to our new life. We are to put to death our earthly members and to set our minds on heavenly things. We are to crucify the flesh and to walk in the Spirit. It is the ruthless rejection of the one in combination with the relentless pursuit of the other which Scripture enjoins upon us as the secret of holiness. 
—John R. W. Stott, The Message of 2 Timothy (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1973), 75. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Law Is not For the Righteous

One of the most important texts in the NT (I do not hesitate any longer to say it), and one of the more neglected texts in the NT (at least as far as preaching and teaching go), is 1 Timothy 1:8-11. Its importance, I'm convinced, has yet to be adequately grasped by much of the Church. And its importance is directly related to how it views the function of the law ("law" here certainly referring chiefly to the Pentateuch) and how it concieves of the plane on which the Christian life is to be lived out.

Now before I get to the main point of the text, I want to acknowlegde that all texts are constrained by contexts. That's no less true for this text than any other. I say this because this very text before us can be mishandled and misappropriated if applied to the wrong context in the wrong way (after all, Paul pens this text in this context, and not in another, or all others, for that matter). So let us not forget what Paul is dealing with in Ephesus, namely, men teaching divergent doctrine (1 Tim. 1:3). These men wanted to set up shop as the licensed handlers of the law, even though Paul tells us that, with respect to the law at least, they didn't know up from down, didn't have a clue, didn't get it (as they say), though they sure acted like they had gotten it (1 Tim. 1:7).

Without delay, then, on to the main point of the text. Verses 8–11 are one sentence in the Greek with a fairly simple structure. The basic structure reads this way (the other elements are supportive or elaborative): "Now we know that the law is good . . . knowing that the law is not laid down for the righteous, but for [the unrighteous] . . . and whatever else contradicts sound doctrine . . ." (translation mine). Did you hear that? The law is not for the righteous. Isn't that clear? But it is for the unrighteous (described in the list that follows). Isn't that also clear? And the unrighteous and their unrighteous ways are said to be contradicting sound doctrine. They are the ones who need to hear the law. But those who live in line with the sound doctrine, that is, the righteous—they don't need the law. It's not laid down for them. Isn't this what the text is saying?

So what Paul is saying here appears to be quite plain, and yet many Reformed folks (and especially theonomistic types) won't acknowledge what is out there in broad daylight. And I highly suspect they cannot see the apostle's clear assertion because of their systematics (which I by and large love and hope I would shed my blood for). To be fair, it would perhaps be more accurate to say that they have nobly tried to do the work of systematizing all the biblical texts without handling fairly and accurately texts like this one.

So the plain out-in-the-broad-daylight teaching (for all to see, it seems to me) is that the law of God—holy, just, and good (Rom. 7:12)—was never given for the righteous. That's not why God gave the law. If you are righteous, if you are living righteously, you don't need the law of God. (At least not in one very important sense pointed out here by the apostle of grace.) No, it's not meant for you, O righteous. It's meant for the unrighteous, the unholy and ungodly, the sinner and worldling. The lawless need the law. But those who are fulfilling it (e.g., Rom. 13:8-10) don't need it. At least not for the purpose of making them righteous!

This has implications for what's called "the third use of the law" in Reformed circles. And the main one is that we are not sanctified by the law. It's powerless to make us righteous. Oh, it still has a function, alright (e.g., Matt. 5:17-20). Not one jot or tittle passes till all is accomplished (as an aside, note the eschatalogical language in Matt. 5:17-20). But it is not God's primary instrument for changing us into the likeness of Christ. No, that's accomplished by "sound doctrine" that accords with "the Gospel of the glory of the happy God" (1 Tim. 1:11). If you are living under the almighty sway of the good news of God's joyful glory, the law has done its job, and hardly has any work to do anymore.

And so the plane on which the believer's life moves is sound doctrine. But what is that sound doctrine? Is this sound doctrine the ten commands? Well, that's not quite how Paul puts it, now is it? Is it Mosaic legislation? Is it a list of rules? Statutes? Precepts? Commands? Well, I don't dare say that a believer's life moves on a plane that is out of step with God's commands or the ten words or the Mosaic pattern. But going to these commands and demands of the law is not where Paul goes when he speaks of what is "opposed to sound doctrine" (1 Tim. 1:10), what kind of life is not like the life that is lived in line with sound doctrine.

No, but by "sound doctrine" Paul means what accords with (we might say, what flows from) not so much the law (though that is true!), but with "the Gospel of the glory of the happy God." That's more to the point. If the life is lived out on the Gospel plane, it will be a life of love flowing "from a pure heart and a good conscience and an unfeigned faith" (1 Tim. 1:5). And love driven along by the engine of the Gospel of a Vesuvius-like God who explodes with happiness and blessedness has no truck with the lawlessness of 1 Tim. 1:9-10. And so it also has no need for the law.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Machen Faces Modernism in Faith

From Taylor's 10 Key Events on fundamentalism and evangelicalism in modern America, this is key event number 6:

Machen Defends the Faith against Modernism (1929-1937)

In 1929, J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937)—a brilliant Reformed New Testament professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, who had studied under Adolf Schlatter in Germany—left the school after it reorganized its curriculum, having opened the door (in Machen’s view) to modernist compromise. He would then found Westminster Theological Seminary (1929) and later The Orthodox Presbyterian Church (1936) after he was tried and found guilty for continuing his Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions (IBPFM), designed so that money contributed by orthodox Presbyterians would end up going to support likeminded orthodox Presbyterian missionaries rather than modernist Presbyterians like Pearl Buck (1892-1973).

Machen was a non-dispensational example of conservative dissent. He did not particularly care for or embrace the “fundamentalist” label, but he understood that their belief in premillennialism (while in error, in his judgment) was an error of a different kind than that propagated by the modernists.

In 1923 Eerdmans published Machen’s landmark book Christianity and Liberalism, arguing that modernistic liberalism was not a sub-species of Christian orthodoxy but rather a different religion that must be rejected once and for all. For example, he wrote, that the “Church of Rome may represent a perversion of the Christian religion; but naturalistic liberalism is not Christianity at all” (p. 52).

When Machen died in 1937 at the age of 55, after a bout with pneumonia, it marked the passing of an era in 20th century fundamentalist-evangelicalism.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Fashioning Sentences: Only One Rule

In chapter 2, "Why You Won't Find the Answer in Strunk and White," of Stanley Fish's How to Write a Sentence, Fish says that there's really "only one error to worry about" in our fashioning of sentences—"the error of being illogical."

And so he gives, then, this "one rule to follow": "make sure that every component of your sentences is related to the other components in a way that is clear and unambiguous (unless ambiguity is what you are aiming at)."

—Stanley Fish, How to Write a Sentence (New York: HarperCollins, 2011), 20.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Pastoral Function of Theology

J. I. Packer:

"It is vital to realize that truth is for people, and therefore, the pastoral function of theology is ultimately primary."

—Donald J. Payne, "J. I. Packer's Theological Method," in J. I. Packer and the Evangelical Future: The Impact of His Life and Thought (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009), 64.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Spirtually Minded Praying

How may we know that our prayers pour forth from an internal fountain of grace, that is, from new life within imparted by the Spirit of God, and thus know that we are truly spirtually minded in our prayers?

This is my restatement of a question John Owen asks in his incomparable and soul-satisfying work on The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded. And here are what I regard as some highlights of his answer, which I give to help us discern whether or not we are spirtually minded in our prayers.

But before I give these highlights, I want to answer an objection. I can hear someone saying, "Well, now, isn't prayer itself an expression of spiritual mindedness?" And the answer is, "Well, it depends." Think (to point to only two examples that come to mind) about what the Lord Jesus teaches about hypocritical and unacceptable praying in Mt. 6:5-8 and in Lk. 18:9-14.

Now, then, for the highlights of Owen's answer:

First, Owen says that we are assured generally that "whoever believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself" (1 Jn. 5:10). "Sincere faith," he says, "will be its own evidence" (292).

Second, it is an evidence that grace within is at work in spiritual thoughts and desires when the soul finds sweet spiritual satisfaction in spiritual disciplines and duties such as prayer. Not to put to fine a point on it, Owen challenges our lukewarmness in asserting that "this holy complacency [satisfaction], this rest and sweet repose of mind, is the foundation of the delight of believers in this duty" (292).

He then adds, the spiritually minded "do not pray only because it is their duty to do so, nor yet because they stand in need of it, so that they cannot live without it, but they have delight in it; and to keep them from it is all one as to keep them from their daily food and refreshment" (292–293).

Alright, so delight is the essential matter in this matter. But how does it arise? What brings it about? I mean, we can't just turn it on, can we? Owen says that this delight in prayer of which he is speaking arises from the following three things:

First, it arises from "the approach that is made unto God therein. It is in its own nature an access unto God on a throne of grace (Eph. 2:18; Heb. 10:19-20); and when this access is animated by the actings of grace, the soul hath a spiritual experience of a nearness in that approach" (293).

Second, this soul-satisfaction arises "from the due exercise of faith, love, and delight, the graces wherein the life of the new creature doth consist" (293).

Third, it arises "from the testimony of conscience, bearing witness unto our sincerity, both in aims, ends, and performances of the duty" (293–294).

Owen then rounds off this instruction by saying, "Hence a gracious repose of mind and great satisfaction do ensue" (294).

—John Owen, The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded (vol. 7 in The Works of John Owen; ed. William H. Gould; Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1994), 292–294.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Read Everything by David Wells

Read everything by David Wells. Everything. As soon as you can. And more than once. He's perhaps the top cultural and ecclesiastical analyst and critic in the evangelical world today. Here is one man's testimony of Wells' influence on him personally, and a review of Wells' most recent book. I concur with the commendations. Only I'd put the commendations far more strongly. Wells stuff is tops.

I cannot express too strongly how helpful David Wells' writings have been to me after I was hurled into the morass of modern evangelicalism through my conversion, not knowing what I was being thrown into, and then discovering that it was a chaotic morass some years later. Without Wells I just might have departed from the faith entirely, or at least lost any sanity I might possess. 

So in some ways I feel like I owe my ongoing perseverance in faith and my ongoing ability to cope with the present state of affairs in modern evangelicalism to the insightful and incisive pen of Wells. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Greek NT "Utter Chaos"

Struggling to know exactly how to translate a portion of a Pauline epistle this morning, I consulted an authoritative grammar, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature by Blass, Debrunner, and Funk (known as BDF). Here's what BDF said (§§ 467):

“The construction 1 T 1:3ff. is reduced to utter chaos by interminable insertions and appended clauses.”

Well, small wonder, then, that I had a little trouble. "Reduced to utter chaos," they say. The authorities on these matters call this tough bit of text "utter chaos."

It probably just needs a verb supplied from the context, as it seems all English translations have done. In any case, I find it encouraging that the authorities and the experts note the difficulties at precisely the point where I myself am finding difficulties.  

A Supreme Regard for the Supreme Being

Edwards speaking of the supreme regard due God as an exceedingly fitting thing:
To determine, then, what proportion of regard is to be allotted to the Creator, and all his creatures taken together, both must be as it were put in the balance; the Supreme Being, with all in him that is great, considerable, and excellent, is to be estimated and compared with all that is to be found in the whole creation: and according as the former is found to outweigh, in such proportion is he to have a greater share of regard. And in this case, as the whole system of created beings in comparison of the Creator would be found as the light dust of the balance (which is taken no notice of by him that weighs) and as nothing and vanity; so the arbiter must determine accordingly with respect to the degree in which God should be regarded by all intelligent existence, and the degree in which he should be regarded in all that is done through the whole universal system; in all actions and proceedings, determinations and effects whatever, whether creating, preserving, using, disposing, changing, or destroying. And as the Creator is infinite, and has all possible existence, perfection and excellence, so he must have all possible regard. As he is every way the first and supreme, and as his excellency is in all respects the supreme beauty and glory, the original good, and fountain of all good; so he must have in all respects the supreme regard. And as he is God over all, to whom all are properly subordinate, and on whom all depend, worthy to reign as supreme head with absolute and universal dominion; so it is fit that he should be so regarded by all and in all proceedings and effects through the whole system: that this universality of things in their whole compass and series should look to him and respect him in such a manner as that respect to him should reign over all respect to other things, and that regard to creatures should universally be subordinate and subject.
—Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings (vol. 8 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Paul Ramsey; New Haven: Yale University, 1989), 423-424.

Monday, March 31, 2014

The Limitations of Reason in Discerning Teleology

Toward the end of his life, Jonathan Edwards wrote one of his most important works—The End for Which God Created the World.

The bare bones broad outline for this "dissertation" is as follows:

I. Explanation of Terms and General Positions
II. Chapter 1: What Reason Teaches in This Affair
III. Chapter 2: What Holy Scripture Teaches about the End for Which God Created the World 

The section explaining terms and the first chapter on reason display close, careful, and acute argumentation. That is, really tight, profound reasoning. Yet, at the beginning of chapter 2, Edwards (America's greatest philisophical mind) says this fitting word about the limits of reason:
Indeed, this affair seems properly to be an affair of divine revelation. In order to be determined what was aimed at or designed in the creating of the astonishing fabric of the universe which we behold, it becomes us to attend to and rely on what he has told us who was the architect that built it. He best knows his own heart, and what his own ends and designs were in the wonderful works which he has wrought.
—Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings (vol. 8 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Paul Ramsey; New Haven: Yale University, 1989), 419.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Watch Me!

D. A. Carson:
Do you ever say to a young Christian, "Do you want to know what Christianity is like? Watch me!" If you never do, you are unbiblical. After all, the apostle Paul can write elsewhere, "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ" (1 Cor. 11:1). Many things are learned as much by example as by word. Paul understood this point. He therefore grasped that his responsibility was not only to teach the truth but to live it, precisely for the sake of stamping a new generation. . . . Do we not recognize the principle when we encourage parents so to live that they model godly virtues to their children? It's not just what the parents say, it's what they do. 
—D. A. Carson, From the Resurrection to His Return: Living Faithfully in the Last Days (Christian Focus, 2010), 26-27.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

World Vision's Credibility Destroyed

Doug Wilson:
World Vision is a parachurch diaconal ministry. This means that the qualifications for leadership apply, and not just the qualifications for fellowship. And this means that the leaders of World Vision cannot just announce one day that a practice that God declared to be an abomination is now all right with them, and then two days later (after their financial support started to evaporate) drop that position like a hot rock, and yet remain qualified to provide moral leadership. They blew a huge hole in their credibility. Leadership being what it is, they can receive full and free forgiveness — but the hole is still there. The hole is still there because God wants it still there.

They destroyed their credibility, not me. The first step in restoring that credibility is to receive forgiveness. The second is behave in a way that shows that they understand that destroying their own credibility is what they did. The third is to recognize that credibility is something that is built over time, in the very nature of the case. They can’t just “have it back.” The next thing they should do is start accepting resignations. They sinned in a number of different ways, but one of the big ones is that they demonstrated that they were and are untrustworthy.
You can read the whole post here.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Unacceptable Answers in God's Universe

D. A. Carson on Job 40:8-14:
It is important to recognize that God does not here charge Job with sins that have brought on his suffering. He does not respond to the "whys" of Job's suffering, nor does he challenge Job's defense of his own integrity. The reason he calls Job on the carpet is not because of Job's justification of himself, but because of Job's willingness to condemn God in order to justify himself. In other words, God does not here "answer" Job's questions about the problem of evil and suffering, but he make it unambiguously clear what answers are not acceptable in God's universe. 
—D. A. Carson, How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering & Evil (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), 172.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Are We Just a Nation of Nutters?

"In America, we have one-third of the world's psychiatrists, two psychotherapists for every dentist, and more counselors than librarians."

—David Wells, The Courage to Be ProtestantTruth-lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 140.

What Sin Is at Its Core

"Sin is trying to quench our unquenchable soul-thirst anywhere but in God. Or, more subtly, sin is pursuing satisfaction in the right direction, but with lukewarm, halfhearted affections (Rev. 3:16)."

—John Piper, God's Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards (Wheaton: Crossway, 1998), 81.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Far Too Easily Pleased

C. S. Lewis:
The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire. If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
—C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (SanFrancisco: HarperCollines, 2001), 25–26.

Friday, March 21, 2014

One Principal End of Prayer

One principal end of [the duty of prayer] is to excite, stir up, and draw forth, the principle of grace, of faith and love in the heart, unto a due exercise in holy thoughts of God and spiritual things, with affections suitable unto them. Those who design not this end in prayer know not at all what it is to pray.
—John Owen, The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded (vol. 7 in The Works of John Owen; ed. William H. Gould; Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1994), 284.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Innocent Suffering in Job and the Suffering Savior Substitute

I'm becoming convinced that one of the main reasons for the existence of the book of Job is to preserve a category in the world's consciousness for innocent suffering, not least prior to the coming of the Christ. Clearly Job's three "miserable comforters" (Job 16:2), or three stooges, as I recentlly heard a preacher call them, don't have any categories for innocent suffering, righteous suffering. No, their theological system is tight, tight, tight. For them, if you are suffering, and if God is just, then you must have sinned somehow to bring on God's just judgment. Sounds reasonably logical, doesn't it? But it's all wrong, as the book of Job makes crystal clear.

To steer us clear, then, of the error of these three stooges, God has given us the book of Job. And he's done this, I'm sure, in part at least, to preserve a category for innocent suffering in our minds, in order that we might make sense of the good news he'd be sending in his sinless Son. Having a category for innocent suffering is essential if we are to see and embrace the suffering savior substitute for who he is. He suffered the wrath of God. Yet he knew no sin (1 Pet. 2:22). He was cursed of God as he hung on that Roman tree (Gal. 3:13; 1 Pet. 2:24). But the curse was due us for sinning at the tree in Eden. He suffered innocently, suffered righteously, not unlike Job, at the hands of satanic malice, but in a way that goes way beyond Job's suffering and Job's righteousness. For Christ alone is the only true sinless sufferer, and Christ alone bears God's just judgment for us. And so he's the only true mediator between God and man, who can argue our case, standing in our place, pleading our cause, wearing our righteousness.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Keeping the Gospel Central

In a message titled "What is the Ministry and Mission of the Local Church? Foundations from the Pastoral Episles," D. A. Carson says that understanding the inestimable value of the Gospel means . . .
. . . keeping the Gospel central. Not keeping preaching central. Or keeping ministry central. Keeping the Gospel central. The preaching is a means to an end. The preaching is not an art form to be admired. Nor is it atomistic. It is a way of declaring the whole Gospel of God, by the power of God, for the transformation of God's people. So maintain a [firm] grasp on the value of the Gospel.
You may watch the whole message here. It is an outstanding message on the priority of the Gospel in the local church.

Monday, March 17, 2014

God Must Make It Burn

"Parents can only work knowledge, God must work grace; they can only lay the wood together, it is God who must make it burn; a parent can only be a guide to show his child the way to heaven, the Spirit of God must be a loadstone to draw his heart into that way."

—Thomas Watson, The Art of Divine Contentment, Kindle edition.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Are Christians Called to Be Uber Nice?

Doug Wilson:
For many compromised Christians, the uber-value is that we must be “nice.” This is assumed to be a universal value, but because an antithesis is necessarily pervasive in and through all things, some things must be rejected. So whenever someone on the “side of history” gets really nasty, he must cover for himself by posing as a victim — he reacted this way because somebody else wasn’t very nice to him. The baker wouldn’t bake him a cake with a swastika, Confederate flag, crossed AK-47s, two grooms on it. So the sin of not being nice is located with the perpetrator of the hate crime, and everybody downstream from that ostensible sin gets to be vicious. 
So Christians must not be nice, as though that were some kind of stand-alone value. Politeness is not what we are called to — Jesus was frequently quite impolite. He made a whip to clear the Temple. In Matthew 23, He gave the Pharisees the dressing down of a lifetime. He upset synagogue rulers for healing people on the Sabbath instead of doing something suitably religious. The Son of God came to live among us, and did so in such a way as to get crucified by all the respectable people. Was Jesus nice?
For the whole post, head over here.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Jack Spratt on the First Law of Dietetics

The good Doctor on dietetics:
Now you will often come across people who advocate ways of living or methods of treating diseases which completely ignore that [no two of us are alike], and which are therefore obviously wrong. I have often said that the first fundamental law of dietetics is just that old word which tells us that:   
          Jack Spratt could eat no fat,
          his wife could eat no lean.
Quite right! It is amusing in one sense but on the other hand it is a very vital, fundamental principle for dietetics. Constitutionally Jack Spratt and his wife are different, and to suggest that the same diet would be the best for both persons is to be guilty of a fundamental fallacy.  
—D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression (Hannibal: Granted Ministries), 9.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Expository Exultation Over the Glories of God in His Word

What is preaching? Piper provides this alluring definition:
Christian preaching, as part of the corporate worship of Christ's church, is expository exultation over the glories of God in his word, designed to lure God's people from the fleeting pleasures of sin into the sacrificial path of obedient satisfaction in him.
—John Piper, God's Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards (Wheaton: Crossway, 1998), 39.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Real Value of the Psalms

The simplest description of the five books of Psalms is that they were the inspired prayer-and-praise book of Israel. They are revelations of truth, not abstractly, but in terms of human experience. The truth revealed is wrought into the emotions, desires, and sufferings of the people of God by the circumstances through which they pass. 
It is because that is such a true description of them that the Psalms have always proved to be a great source of solace and encouragement to God's people throughout the centuries—both the children of Israel and the members of the Christian Church. 
Here we are able to watch noble souls struggling with their problems and with themselves. They talk to themselves and to their souls, baring their hearts, analysing their problems, chiding and encouraging themselves. Sometimes they are elated, at other times depressed, but they are always honest with themselves. That is why they are of such real value to us if we also are honest with ourselves. 
—D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression (Hannibal: Granted Ministries), 9.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Song of Songs Read Along the Bible's Storyline

Stephen Dempster on how to read the Song of Songs along the Bible's storyline:
In the light of the larger storyline and the prophetic commentary, notably Jeremiah and Hosea, the love between the two human lovers points to the relationship between Yahweh and Israel at the beginning: "I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me, and followed me through the desert, through a land not sown" (Jer. 2:2). . . . 
Short of its literary context, the song [of Songs] could be almost pornographic. But the context of the canon both restricts the meaning to the context of marriage and expands it to include the relationship between Yahweh and Israel. When reading this text, the reader hears Jeremiah's oracle, Ezekiel 16, and Hosea 1–3. There is the reminder of the passionate and fiery love that Yahweh had for his people before the crisis [of exile]. . . .
He concludes, quoting Karl Barth:
The little text of the Song of Songs looks to the end of the larger Text, of which it is a part, when "Yahweh and His people are together and are one flesh."
—Stephen G. Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2003), 207–208.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Riches and Honor Nothing to Him

Pius IV, hearing of Calvin's death, exlaimed:

"Ah, the strength of that proud heretic lay in this, that riches and honour were nothing to him."

—David McIntyre, The Hidden Life of Prayer: The Life-blood of the Christian (London: Christian Focus, 2010), 106.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Basics of Greek Aspect Theory

Due to relatively recent advancements, aspectual theory has become an important consideration for anyone working in the Greek New Testament. I have no intention here to canvass the issues, debates, and positions on aspect theory. What I want to do instead is simply provide a perspective on aspect as presented by my first-year Greek instructor Professor Jon Laansma. It has proved to be a valuable reference point for me as I continue to think about Greek verbs and poke around in discussions of aspectual theory. Professor Laansma was one of the clearest teachers I've ever had, communicating his subject matter with crystal clarity, never leaving me in doubt about what he was talking about and what I needed to know.

What follows comes from the handouts Professor Laansma gave to his first-year Greek class at Wheaton College in 2007:
Aspect: the speaker's presentation of an action to the hearer. It is a matter of choice (it is subjective). It is a matter of how one chooses to talk about an action. Aspect does not describe an action realistically. It does not tell us that an action is or was actually ongoing, momentary (i.e., punctiliar), and so on. It only presents the action from a certain viewpoint. 
Laansma then describes the different kinds of aspect:
Imperfective aspect [present and imperfect tenses]: presents the action as a process; looks at the action from the inside, as if we are watching the action unfold. "I am hitting the ball." We cannot infer from the use of this aspect alone, however, that the action was or is of an ongoing nature (although it may often be). The action could be "point-in-time"—such as "to hit the ball"—but presented as a process, contemplating the action as if watching it happen. 
Perfective aspect [aorist tense]: presents the action as a simple and undifferentiated whole; looks at the action from the outside, as if we see it all at once. "I studied four years." We cannot infer from the use of this aspect alone that the action was or is momentary or point-in-time, although it may be. In fact, this aspect tells us the least about the nature of the action itself. 
Stative aspect [perfect and pluperfect tenses]: presents the action as an entire state of affairs coming to fruition; looks at the action as if from both the inside and the outside. "I have hit."
Future aspect [future tense]: presents the action from the viewpoint of expectation or intention, implying futurity in most contexts. 
Describing how the imperfect tense (imperfective aspect) and the aorist tense (perfective aspect) often function in the literature, Laansma says this:
Some grammarians argue that what distinguishes the imperfect and present tenses is not time (present vs. past) but space (foreground vs. background; here vs. there; nearness vs. remoteness). What is not debated is that the imperfect tense is usually used in narrative contexts for background (vs. foreground) action, and it usually refers to past-time action. Like the imperfect tense, the aorist tense [perfective aspect] is used most often in narrative literature to refer to background material (though it is extremely common throughout the NT), usually with a past-time reference. Yet the aortist tense is also used for present and even future time action, as well as for timeless statements. The time reference of aorist tense verbs is therefore dependent on context, and the aorist tense is not a past time tense. The decision of time-reference depends on word choice and context.
Lastly, he says this of the stative aspect:
The stative aspect expresses the speaker's personal choice to present the state of the (grammatical) subject from the speaker's viewpoint. The focus is broadened from the action of the verb as such to a whole state of affairs dependent on that action and in which the subject of the verb is involved. Thus we have in our mind's eye not merely the action happening on the street [as with the perspective of the imperfective aspect; Laansma is deploying a parade analogy here], but the whole complex of arrangements and events surrounding the parade [the view of the parade master]. It is this complex state of affairs that is analogous to the perspective taken with the stative aspect. This aspect draws the most attention to the action of the verb and thus demands careful attention whenever used.
There you have it. Greek aspectual theory basics. Thanks Professor Laansma!

Monday, March 3, 2014

The First Effect of the Power of God in Regeneration

The first effect of the power of God in the heart in regeneration is to give the heart a divine taste or sense, to cause it to have a relish of the loveliness and sweetness of the supreme excellency of the divine nature.
—Jonathan Edwards, Treatise on Grace, in Writings on the Trinity, Grace, and Faith (vol. 21 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Sand Hyun Lee; New Haven: Yale University, 2003), 509.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Sage Advice on Daunting Reading Lists

In their classic How to Read a Book, Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren provide (in Appendix A) their recommended reading list of great books.

Though it would doubtless be helpful to some to reproduce that list here, instead I simply want to record some of Adler and Van Doren's sage advice about approaching such a list (and send you off to purchasing and reading the book and list for yourselves):
The list is long, and it may seem a little overwhelming. We urge you not to allow yourself to be abashed by it. In the first place, you are likely to recognize the names of most of the authors. There is nothing here that is so recondite as to be esoteric. More important, we want to remind you that it is wise to begin with those books that interest you most, for whatever reason. As we have pointed out several times, the primary aim is to read well, not widely. You should not be disappointed if you read no more than a handful of books in a year. The list is not something to be gotten through in any amount of time. It is not a challenge that you can meet only by finishing every item on it. Instead, it is an invitation that you can accept graciously by beginning wherever you feel at home.
—Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren, How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1972), 348.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Believing in Everything

David Wells:
G. K. Chesterton once observed that when God and his truth vanish from a society, it would be natural to think that people would no longer believe in anything at all. That, however, turns out not to be the case. Now they believe in everything.  
How else do we explain the remarkable circumstance of highly sophisticated people, secularized or postmodern, who can assault any and every religious belief but who, at the same time, can indulge fantasies about aliens? Or sightings of Elvis? Or the most far-fetched conspiracy theories, like that the Bush administration actually planned and carried out the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001? Or, on a more mundane level, how can these highly sophisticated people also think that every religious belief, no matter how unlikely, has validity as long as someone holds it sincerely? However, in this atmosphere, where everything is believed and anything is believable, at least to someone, nothing can act as a norm. All that is left is power. And, in a fallen world, we do well to be cautious when all there is, is power.
—David Wells, The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth-lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 71.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Man's Ineffably Profound Fitness

Defining in what the image of God consists has proven more challenging than might be expected. I think this definition given by John Piper is as good as any I've seen:

"The image of God in man is man's ineffably profound fitness to image forth Christ's glory through everlasting joy in God."

John Piper, God's Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards (Wheaton: Crossway, 1998), 39.

Hermeneuticotheological Methods of Liberation Theology and Evangelical Theology in the Latin American Context

Here is the first paper I wrote for my first class, under Professor Gene Green, in the graduate program I did at Wheaton College. It's by no means the best piece of writing I've done. Yet, after a fashion, I have a peculiar affection for it. Mind you, as it was the first paper I produced, there are formatting issues, not least with how I cited my sources.

Introduction and Background: Liberation and Evangelical Theologies in Latin America

Both evangelical theology (ET) and liberation theology (LT) have left their mark on Latin America in the past several decades.  The rise of each, although occurring at about the same time and because of some of the same cultural precursors, has occurred because of diverse influences and convictions.  Likewise the hermeneutical and theological methodologies deployed by each, while developing side by side and bearing some similarities, have come about because of diverse influences and convictions.  This essay attempts to think through and assess the foundational assumptions and principles of each method and offer some biblical-theological reflections.

Vatican II (1962-1965) with its watershed statements about political, economic, and social problems in the world and Gutiérrez’ A Theology of Liberation appear to be two important loci for the beginnings of LT.  Vatican II spawned a conference of Latin American Bishops held in Medellín in 1968 that resulted in “a new hermeneutic” that interprets the Scriptures “from below.”[1]  Theologian Gustavo Gutiíerrez, among others, began to guide this interpretation of Scripture “from below,” not least through his book A Theology of Liberation.[2] 

As Gutiérrez put it when LT was on the ascendancy, “The historical womb from which liberation theology has emerged is the life of the poor and, in particular, of the Christian communities that have arisen within the bosom of the present-day Latin American church.”[3]  This statement highlights the crucial place of the Latin American context, with all its sociopolitical and socioeconomic realities, and the crucial place of the poor in the Latin American church.
Evangelical theology has its roots in the movement of Protestantism to Latin America in the nineteenth century through Protestant missionary labors[4] and its present shape, power, and influence in the formation of the Latin American Evangelical Fraternity in 1970, led by René Padilla and Orlando Costas.[5]  Earlier in the twentieth century, the historic worldwide missionary conference of 1910 that was held in Edinburgh was attended by some evangelicals who understood that Latin America needed the gospel despite the majority position that it did not because of widespread Roman Catholicism.[6]  These evangelicals stirred up Protestant missionary longings and labors in subsequent years.    
In this essay, unless otherwise noted, the words hermeneutical and method are being used as they seem generally to be used in the literature: that is, rather loosely to mean something like the standpoint from which and the way in which one goes about doing theology.  The word theology is used diversely in the literature.  For example, Gutiérrez defines theology thus: “critical reflection on humankind, on basic human principles.”[7]  Compare now, for example, the definition given by Costas: “The term ‘theology’ means literally a rational discourse about God.”[8]  He then expands on this and calls it “the intelligence of faith” and “that reflection which seeks to understand the content of faith and its implications for life.”[9]  Costas uses the word according to its etymology and historical usage.  Liberation theologians tend not to use it this way.  Instead, they tend to give it an anthropological and sociological meaning.  Praxis, an important term, is defined differently by different people as well.  Costas, for example, an evangelical, defines praxis “as action based on reflection, or the actualization of theory.”[10]  Liberation theologians define praxis in a fairly narrow way, generally speaking, as liberating action for the poor, and make reflection a second stage.  Their definitions tell one about their respective methodologies. 

Some say that the hermeneutic or method of LT is simply the theory of the popular reading among base ecclesial communities of the poor in Latin America.[11]  Others, however, do not directly equate LT with popular reading of the Bible among the poor since there are professional liberation theologians with sophisticated training and methods and more pastorally oriented liberation theologians who have considerable training doing LT.  This essay deals primarily with what has been called the professional level of doing theology and not so much the pastoral or popular levels, though it interacts with these some.  However, as Boff and Boff stated in 1987, “Liberation theology is a cultural and ecclesial phenomenon by no means restricted to a few professional theologians.”[12]  And people doing LT are by definition interacting with the base ecclesial communities of the poor, or they are not engaged in LT.     
This essay also focuses on the hermeneutical and theological methods of LT and ET during their more formative, foundational stages, that is, in the 1970s and 1980s.  In more recent times LT has become rather passé or, perhaps better said, has been displaced by what is called cultural criticism.[13]  Yet its influence has not totally disappeared. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Apolitical Churches the Most Political of All?

Russell Moore:
The most self-consciously "apolitical" churches are typically the most political of all. The Southern Presbyterian Church and Baptist churches of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries demanded a "spirituality of the church" that addressed only evangelism and discipleship, not "politics." Of course, they did address politics. When a "simple gospel-preaching" church in 1856 Alabama or 1925 Missisippi calls sinners to repentance for fornicating and gambling but not for slave owning and lynching, that church isn't "apololitical." That church is implicitly blessing the status quo.
—Russell D. Moore, "Evangelical Retreat?" First Things (December 2013): 49.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

How to Guard the Gospel

In his second epistle to his protégé Timothy, Paul tells the young pastor, "Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything" (2 Tim. 2:7). It is precisely in dependently pondering God's speech that the light of understanding often breaks into the darkness of our lack of understanding (see also Ps. 119:130).

Well, I'm not a pastor. I'm no Timothy. But I do often lack understanding. And thinking over God's Word is how that lack is supplied. Recently, as I was pondering a portion of 2 Timothy while walking on the treadmill in my dimly lit study, light poured into my mind. Understanding was given. Light shone where formerly there was darkness. 

And what I saw was as invigorating as it was illuminating. I learned how we are to guard the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit. "Guard through the Holy Spirit the good deposit" (2 Tim. 1:14). But how do we do that? How do we do anything by the Holy Spirit? How do we act through the agency of another person? On the treadmill, light came in considering the relation of v. 13 to v. 14 in 2 Tim. 1:13-14. What one sees (do ponder long and hard with me, if need be) are the parallel elements of vv. 13–14, and how they are mutually interpreting. 

I'll lay them out so you can see what I'm seeing, and then I'll explain what I am seeing. I'm providing my own translation here, but you can see this in virtually any English translation. Here vv. 13–14 are in block diagram form and then side-by-side in columns so you can see the parallels more readily. 

v. 13—Hold fast the pattern of sound words, 
                                       which you heard from me,
                  with the faith and love 
                                           that are in Christ Jesus.

v. 14—Guard the good deposit 
                  through the Holy Spirit
                                           who dwells in us.

v. 13
v. 14
Hold fastGuard
the pattern of sound words
the good deposit
with the faith and love 
through the Holy Spirit
that are in Christ Jesus
who dwells in us

You can now see the corresponding elements. The phrase "which you heard from me" is the only element in v. 13 that doesn't have a corresponding element in v. 14 (at least not in the Greek, though some English translations supply it). And that's okay. Paul is not trying to be poetic like that.

The "pattern of sound words" and "the good deposit" correspond to each other and refer to the Gospel of Christ. "Hold fast" and "guard" are saying essentially the same thing. These commands tell Timothy what he is to do. He is to hold fast and guard the Gospel, which Gospel is here described as a "pattern of sound words" and as "the good deposit." This should be clear enough.

What then is illuminating and invigorating is seeing the parallel between "with the faith and love" and "through the Holy Spirit." Both of these phrases tell Timothy the means or manner by which the holding fast and guarding are to be carried out. So "with the faith and love" is the manner or way or means that Timothy is to "hold fast the pattern of sound words." And "through the Holy Spirit" is the manner or way or means that Timothy is to "guard the good deposit."

If you're tracking with me, perhaps you see where this is going, perhaps you're beginning to see in the light of this parallel as you ponder what Paul has penned. By seeing the corresponding elements, we can see that we avail ourselves of the Holy Spirit's provision to guard the Gospel, to hold fast to the Gospel, by the means of faith and love. Do you see that in the parallel? Look. Ponder. Long and hard. The Lord will give you understanding in everything.

So how do we guard the good deposit through the Spirit? How do we do this in his power? We do it with faith and love. Without faith and love, Timothy cannot, and we cannot, hold fast to the Gospel, we cannot guard the Gospel through the Holy Spirit. However, as we walk in faith and love, the Holy Spirit is at work to keep us keeping the faith.

The other parallel elements speak of the metaphysical or supernatural sphere where the task of holding fast and guarding the Gospel plays out. I use local language ("sphere") because Paul does ("that are in Christ Jesus" and "who dwells in us"). But we are speaking here of almost unspeakable glories: being in Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. Faith and love come by being in Christ. And the Holy Spirit dwelling in us comes also by being in Christ. And there—in Christ—the Holy Spirit moves in faith and love. And he moves with faith and love in us in Christ Jesus to enable Timothy and to enable us to hold fast and guard the Gospel of God. Which holding fast and guarding gets at a central theme of this second epistle to Timothy, Paul's last letter, written with his life-blood as he waits in prison for his execution as a criminal (2 Tim. 2:9; 4:6).

So there you have it: pondering what Paul has penned, and God giving understanding. In this new light, then, in this new understanding given by God, let us guard the Gospel through the Spirit's power, that is to say, "with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus."

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Misplaced vs. Well-placed Shame

The biblical criterion for misplaced shame and for well-placed shame is radically God-centered. The biblical criterion for misplaced shame says, Don't feel shame for something that honors God, no matter how weak or foolish or wrong it makes you look in the eyes of other people. And don't take on to yourself the shamefulness of a truly shameful situation unless you are in some way truly woven into the evil. The biblical criterion for well-placed shame says, Do feel shame for having a hand in anything that dishonors God, no matter how strong or wise or right it makes you look in the eyes of others.
—John Piper, Future Grace: The Purifying Power of the Promises of God (Colorado Springs: Multonomah, 2012), 133.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Delight Turned into Sacrifice

Why poetry for the Christian? Why even bother? Apart from its aesthetic value, it doesn't seem to have the powers of other modes of communication to transform and renew the mind. And that's the goal, isn't it—conformity to the mind of Christ? So why bother? Let's press on with producing more crystal-clear prose in doing the Lord's work.

Or so it might be thought.

Some might think: Why not just sermons, systematic theologies, lectures, and discursive? Surely poetry can't communicate as much and as clearly as more didactic modes of communication. Or can it? Or can it perhaps communicate even more, passing on to the soul what other modes could never dream of communicating? Perhaps it has unique powers able to penetrate deeper, at least in certain respects.

Think about it. And you decide. Read some powerful poetry that communicates familiar and precious truths. And consider this first stanza of George Herbert's poem The Church-Porch:

Thou, whose sweet youth and early hopes enhance
Thy rate and price, and mark thee for a treasure;
Harken unto a Verser, who may chance
Rhyme thee to good, and make a bait of pleasure.
     A verse may find him, who a sermon flies,
     And turn delight into a sacrifice.

—George Herbert, The Complete English Poems (New York: Penguin, 1991), 6.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Evangelical Tendency to Avoid Doctrinal Disputes

The increasing abandonment of truth and moral absolutes in our culture, as militant diversity threatens all firm conviction, has dramatically influenced the evangelical mindset. The political spin doctors who specialize in deflecting attention away from truth onto feelings and relationships and styles have their counterpart in the evangelical tendency to avoid doctrinal disputes by casting issues in terms of demeanor and method rather than truth. Serious disagreements are coverered over, while vague language and pragmatic concerns preserve hollow unity at the expense of theological substance and biblical clarity and power.
—John Piper, God's Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards (Wheaton: Crossway, 1998), 24.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Sunk Down Dumb?

Calvin commenting perceptively and powerfully on 2 Tim. 1:7: 
God governs his ministers by the spirit of power that is the opposite of the spirit of fearfulness. It follows from this that they should not relapse into laziness but should rouse themselves in great assurance and eager activity and display in visible results the Spirit’s power. . . . Here his special concern is with ministers, and he exhorts them in the person of Timothy to rouse themselves to active deeds of valour: for the Lord does not wish them to perform their office coldly and without vigor, but to press on powerfully relying on the efficacy of the Spirit.  
From this we learn that none of us possesses in himself the loftiness of spirit and unshaken confidence needed in the exercise of our ministry; we must be endued with new power from on high. The hindrances are so many and so great that no human courage can be adequate to overcome them. Thus it is God who equips us with the Spirit of power. For those who otherwise show great strength immediately fall when they are not sustained by the power of the Spirit of God. 
Second, we infer that those who are timid and weak like slaves so that, when need arises, they do not dare take any action for the defense of the truth, are not governed by the Spirit who rules over the servants of Christ. Thus it follows that very few of those who are called ministers of Christ today give any sign of being genuine. For how often is there to be found among them one who relies on the power of the Spirit and confidently sets at nought all the powers in high places that range themselves against Christ? Do not most, nearly all, care more for their own interests and their own leisure? Do they not sink down dumb as soon as any trouble breaks out? The result is that in their ministry there appears none of the majesty of God.
 —John Calvin, The Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians and the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon (eds., Torrance, David W., and Torrance, Thomas F; trans. Smail, T. A.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 294-295.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Mi Amor

I love you to the bottom, Emily, mi amor. And I'm so thankful for your sweet love. It's better than the best of wine!

I rejoice this day in our "uncommon union." And I rejoice that over six years ago we wed with this banner over our marriage:

           It's not about me;
           it's not about you.
           It's about the glory of God!

And I'm rejoicing all the more that that banner still stands over our marriage, to your great joy, and to my great joy, and (we pray) to the great joy of the generations!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Carson on Commentaries

In this post, D. A. Carson speaks about how to use commentaries.

Two Things That Governed Owen's Pastoral Ministry

I acknowledge that these are the two things whereby I regulate my work in the whole course of my ministry. To impart those truths of whose power I hope I have had in some measure a real experience, and to press those duties which present occasions, temptations, and other circumstances, do render necessary to be attended unto in a peculiar manner, are the things which I would principally apply myself unto in the work of teaching others; for as in the work of the ministry in general, the whole counsel of God concerning the salvation of the church by Jesus Christ is to be declared, so in particular we are not to fight uncertainly, as men beating the air, nor shoot our arrows at random, without a certain scope and design.
—John Owen, The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded (vol. 7 in The Works of John Owen; ed. William H. Gould; Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1994), 263.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

What Manner of Woman Is This?

The poise and ease with which my wife recently took care of a diaper gone bad (and I mean really bad) is a marvel of creation, almost otherworldly. 

I panicked. She performed. Flawlessly, seamlessly, promptly, as though she'd dealt with this dirty deed ten thousand times before. But I know she hadn’t. And she sang with cheer while going at the whole mess.

And by diaper gone bad, I mean as in defiling a great deal in its wake besides the diaper, leaving one usually delightful and cute little girl soiled and smelly, and toys and bed sheets and crib smeared with the unholy. 

What manner of woman I married is truly beyond mortal reckoning. But I know this: she is to be praised. May God “give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates” (Prov. 31:31). 

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Righteousness of God Revealed

Here is my translation and exegesis and brief application of Rom. 3:21-26 (which I produced for a Greek exegesis class I took at Wheaton College under the tutelage of Professor Doug Moo):


21 But now, apart from the law, a righteousness from God has been manifested,
22 even a righteousness from God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who are believing;
23 for there is no distinction, for all have sinned and are lacking the glory of God,
24 being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,
25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiatory sacrifice by his blood through faith, in order to demonstrate his righteousness, because of the passing over, in God’s forbearance, of the sins previously committed,
26 for the demonstration of his righteousness at the present time, in order that he might be just even in justifying the one who has faith in Jesus.


Leon Morris calls this “possibly the most important paragraph every written.”[1] Luther, less reticent than Morris, calls Rom. 3:21-26 "the chief point, and the very central place of the Epistle, and of the whole Bible."[2] Can one overstate the place and importance of Paul's gospel paragraph in Romans 3? Hardly. For here “Paul brings out something of the grandeur of Christ's saving work. He speaks of the righteousness of God, the sin of man, and the salvation of Christ. He views this salvation in three ways: as justification (imagery from the law court), as redemption (imagery from the slave market), and as propitiation (imagery from the averting of wrath).”[3] So this paragraph packs quite a load, stacked with thick theology whose depths one never reaches through to the bottom, laden with dense debates whose pages press on with no end in view. To undertake to unpack this passage in a puny paper leaves one feeling frustrated from the get-go.

As Stuhlmacher has said, "Anyone who wants to become acquainted with Paul's gospel must above all study Romans."[4] After all, Romans is fundamentally, chiefly, centrally (whatever else it addresses) about the Gospel of God (Rom. 1:1). And we might add that anyone who wants to study Paul’s Gospel must above all study Rom. 3:21-26, the heart of this magnificent epistle. But before getting to the heart of the letter, we must briefly find our way there on the path Paul takes us.

The thesis statement of the letter, as virtually all are agreed, comes in 1:16-17. Here Paul provides a summary of what will be argued with lumbering, brain-breaking literary logic. Paul wants to get to Rome to preach the Gospel, about which he has no shame, because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who is believing. For therein “a righteousness from God” is revealed, which mountain-like expression Paul will climb starting in 3:21. But before he gets there to the good news, his audience needs to get the bad news. So in 1:18-3:20 the whole world is indicted, every mouth stopped. First, Paul’s indictment primarily goes after the godless and lawless Gentiles (1:18-32); then, he lays low the privileged Jews and levels the playing field (2:1-3:20). His aim is to make it clear that all—no exceptions!—are under the power and penalty of sin (3:9). The law itself makes crystal clear that Jews are included, effectively stopping the Jewish as well as the Gentile mouth, making plain that no flesh will be justified in God’s sight by the works of the law, since its aim was to make sin known, not deliver from its power and penalty (3:19-20). That deliverance had to wait for a fresh and foretold manifestation of “a righteousness from God” in the promised Messiah.

Preaching at Westminster Chapel in London in the 1950s, Dr. Lloyd-Jones said this of Rom. 3:21:“There are no more wonderful words in the whole of the Scripture than just these two words, ‘But now.’”[5] Describing the sharpest turning point in redemptive history, Νυνὶ δὲ are undoubtedly two of the most wonderful words in Scripture. For with these words, we turn with the turning of the ages from the fading old covenant era of the law marked by sin, bondage, judgment, and death; and we turn to the enduring new covenant era of the Spirit marked by righteousness, freedom, justification, and life.


3:21     Νυνὶ δὲ χωρὶς νόμου δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ πεφανέρωται μαρτυρουμένη ὑπὸ τοῦ νόμου καὶ τῶν προφητῶν,

This δὲ speaks of a radical contrast, indicating that, the law having done its appointed work (3:19-20), it was “now” high time for the δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ to be revealed in history—“apart from that law.” Taking νυνὶ temporally, not logically,[7] the time is eschatological, like the “fullness of the time” in Gal. 4:4.[8] The main verb πεφανέρωται and the contextual contrast with the period of the law support this. The phrase χωρὶς νόμου[9] probably modifies the main verb rather than the subject, underscoring that this righteousness came with the Gospel. The law’s bearing witness to this righteousness confirms this, taking μαρτυρουμένη ὑπὸ τοῦ νόμου καὶ τῶν προφητῶν as modifying δικαιοσύνη θεο, not the main verb. It is not the manifestation to come witnessed so much as this righteousness-gift itself. The expression το νόμου κα τν προφητῶν refers to the whole OT (e.g., Mt. 5:17; Lk. 24:44; Acts 28:23). Moses bore witness to this righteousness (e.g., Gen. 15:6; Deut. 9:4; 30:12-14).[10] The Prophets bore witness as well (e.g., Ps. 31:1; 142:2; Isa. 51:1-6; 61:8-62:2, LXX; Rom. 3:10-18).

The verb πεφανέρωται recalls 1:17 where ἀποκαλύπτεται is present tense, probably stressing the ongoing nature of the revelation in the Gospel proclaimed. Here Paul deploys the perfect (πεφανέρωται), probably either an intensive or extensive perfect,[11] pointing up a whole state of affairs that came with the coming of the Gospel and the shifting of the ages in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, which state persists in the present age inaugurated by Jesus and his Spirit. The only other instance in the NT of πεφανέρωται comes in Heb. 9:26, which also highlights the shift in ages with νυνὶ δὲ and the manifestation of the Gospel.[12]

Now, the term bearing most on the passage’s meaning—δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ—has been hotly disputed. The δικ- word group and the צדק root and its cognates occur more than 800 times[13] in the OT and NT and have diverse translation values.[14] English Bibles translate the relevant terms variously as “just,” “right,” “justify,” “justice,” “righteousness,”” vindication,” “justification,” and so on.[15] By itself, δικαιοσύνη may be understood as just practice or equitable judgment, as juridical correctness, or as upright behavior in relation to some standard.[16]

This understanding of δικαιοσύνη as uprightness in relation to some standard[17] has been challenged by those who see it as a relational term dependent on the Hebrew root צדק that, it is said, denotes the correctness of actions in social relationships.[18] See, for example, Kasemann’s and Dunn’s commentaries.[19] But Seifrid states that a number of recent studies “have concluded on the basis of both etymology and usage that the concept of a standard or norm is generally associated with the צדק word-group.”[20] While Seifrid’s point holds, Bird probably speaks rightly in saying: “In so far as righteousness relates to God’s people [via the covenant and Torah], the norm of righteousness is then provided by the covenant relationship so that there cannot be any strict bifurcation between a norm and a relationship.”[21] In fact, much of the righteousness language comes in covenantal contexts (e.g., Ps. 89; Isa. 40-66). Therefore, it is not strictly relational, but juridical and moral, coming in a relational covenantal context. 

The term δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ does not occur in the LXX.[22] Nor does an equivalent expression occur in the MT (e.g., ץדק אלהים or צדק יהוה; Jer. 23:6 comes close with יְהוָ֥ה צִדְקֵֽנוּ). The closest expression is δικαιοσύνη κυρίου (only 1 Sam. 12:7; Mic. 6:5) and δικαιοσύνη modified by a personal pronoun (e.g., δικαιοσύνη σου in Ps. 35:7). There are more than a dozen such instances that apply to God. Some occur in parallel with or in contexts of salvation (e.g., Pss. 39:9-11; Isa. 46:12-13; 63:3); some in connection with steadfast love or faithfulness (e.g., Pss. 35:11; 97:1-3; 102:17-18); some in royal contexts highlighting God’s reign over the nations (e.g., Pss. 21:32; 96:6); some in contexts of pleas for vindication (e.g., Ps. 34:24, 28); some in a covenantal context harking back to God’s promises and commitment to his people (e.g., Isa. 41:8-10; 51:1-6); and some in judicial contexts with moral overtones (e.g., Mic. 6:5; 7:9). Oftentimes many of these ideas overlap (e.g., Ps. 39:9-11; 97:1-3; 102:17-18; Isa. 51:1-6; 61:8-62:2); sometimes the texts press toward Rom. 3:21-22 (e.g., Isa. 51:1-6; 61:8-62:2).

Contrary to a common assertion, the righteousness language in parallel with the salvation language does not equate the two; it only shows they are related. Supporting this, the LXX translators never use the σωτ- root for צדק- terms.[23] The OT leaves tension between God’s righteousness as against sin and as providing salvation and vindication. It only, finally, finds resolution in the wake of the work of Christ, when the δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ is manifested and demonstrated publicly in the Gospel.

The first instance of δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ in the NT occurs in Rom. 1:17. The term (or a very similar construction) occurs also in Rom. 3:5, 21-22, 25-26; 10:3 (twice); and 2 Cor. 5:21. Other similar constructions occur in Matt. 6:33; 1 Cor. 1:30; Phil. 3:9; and 2 Pet. 1:1. Apart from Matthew’s use, these other constructions and the 2 Cor. 5:21 use are forensic, an alien righteousness being bestowed in Christ.[24] In Rom. 3:5, δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ really has to mean something like “God’s faithfulness to his own person and word.”[25]

According to Wright, Rom. 1:17, as an introductory statement, “is necessarily cryptic, and needs to be interpreted in the light of what comes later.”[26] Though this is probably stated too strongly, there is wisdom here. The full significance of δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ is only unpacked as Paul’s argument progresses. Yet, at least two textual features in the context point in the direction of a status of righteousness bestowed.

First, δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ being revealed in the Gospel is the reason that “it is the power of God for salvation.” So δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ should not be equated with the power of the Gospel, nor with the Gospel itself, nor with the salvation it brings, which salvation is its effect. It is in (ἐν) this Gospel (Rom. 1:2-4) proclaimed that δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ “is being revealed.” So δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ is distinct, though not separate, from the Gospel andfrom salvation. 

Second, understanding 1:18 as the reason why the Gospel was needed, the context of God’s wrath being revealed against all ἀδικίαν tilts the interpretation toward a status bestowed based on an alien righteousness. If ἀδικίαν flared up God’s dander, the most natural way out would be through a righteousness before God that removes wrath and brings peace (5:1).

Twice “the righteousness of God” comes in Rom. 10:3. Paul witnesses to his fellow Jews’ unknowing zeal for God (10:2). He explains (γὰρ) in v. 3: “The righteousness of God” is contrasted with Israel’s “seeking to establish their own righteousness,” defined in 9:31-32 as a righteousness they sought to establish by “pursuing a law that leads to righteousness,”[27] “as though it were by works”(cf. Phil. 3:9). The law, if done, would result in life (Lev. 18:5).[28] But that was not the aim (τέλος)[29] of the law. Paul explains (γὰρ): “For the goal of the law is Christ for righteousness”[30] (Rom. 10:4).  Thus “they did not submit τῇ δικαιοσύνῃ τοῦ θεοῦ” (10:3). They were ignorant of τοῦ θεοῦ δικαιοσύνην that was the aim of the law, and the δικαιοσύνῃ τοῦ θεοῦ to which they did not submit was “Christ for righteousness.” Interpreting δικαιοσύνῃ τοῦ θεοῦ as righteousness given as a gift (taking τοῦ θεοῦ as a genitive of source) is confirmed by the contrast with “a righteousness of their own” (10:3) and the parallel with “Christ for righteousness.” This usage agrees with a forensic sense of a gift-righteousness in 3:21-22.

Paul’s use of δικαιόω also supports understanding δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ forensically as a status bestowed. The verb occurs 27 times in Paul, 15 in Romans. In the LXX δικαιόω corresponds with צדק and is used consistently as “to pronounce righteous,” “to justify,” or to “vindicate.”[31] While it has a range of meanings in Hellenistic Greek, in Paul, following a common usage in the LXX, it always[32] has a forensic flavor, meaning “to be in the right” or “to be declared righteous.” This usage, not least because of δικαιόω in 3:24, favors taking δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ forensically, not as God’s saving righteousness or covenant faithfulness. Romans 8:33 confirms this interpretation, where a court room setting is clear and where being justified is contrasted with having charges brought against the elect (v. 33) and being condemned (v. 34). However, Seifrid argues cogently that all 27 occurrences of δικαιόω in Paul’s corpus “may be read in terms of vindication rather than the mere pronouncing of a verdict.”[33] So it is important not to reduce the notion of δικαιόω to a merely declarative verdict, losing some of the OT background of the language.

There are four main options for construing the genitive θεοῦ. It could be subjective (God exercises righteousness or faithfulness);[34] possessive (God’s inherent righteousness); objective (a righteousness availing before God); or a genitive of source (a righteous status from God).[35] The possessive and objective do not fit best because this righteousness is a gift received through faith (vv. 22, 24).[36] The two main options, then, are righteousness as a status bestowed and righteousness as God’s action. Although there is ample OT background for righteousness as God’s activity, it does not seem to be the dominant idea here.[37] For, as noted in 1:17, δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ is distinct from the Gospel and salvation. Moreover, righteousness coming through faith as a gift (v. 22) pushes the interpretation toward something actually given rather than something done by God.

Support for this interpretation may also be found in the “reckoning” (λογίζομαι, 11 times in Rom. 4), accounting, and law-court language. In Romans 4, Paul undergirds his teaching that faith is the sole means of justification for Jew and Gentile in 3:27-31: “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness” (4:3). How to understand this reckoning comes clear in 4:4-5 where Paul deploys accounting terms. A status is in view, where the ungodly are counted as righteous. The “before God” law-court imagery (3:20; 4:3) and righteousness as a gift (5:17) confirm this.

3:22     δικαιοσύνη δὲ θεοῦ διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ[38] Χριστοῦ εἰς πάντας τοὺς πιστεύοντας. οὐ γάρ ἐστιν διαστολή,

The δὲ (“even”) focuses attention[39] and specifies the general statement in v. 21. The δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ comes διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, which phrase only occurs elsewhere in the NT in Gal. 2:16. This is a greatly debated phrase, in Galatians as in Romans. Should πίστεως be taken as “faithfulness,”[40] or as “faith”?[41] And what kind of genitive is Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, objective or subjective, or otherwise?

In favor of taking πίστεως as “faithfulness,” the main point often made is that “faith” is redundant with πιστεύοντας in the following phrase. But this does not actually seem to be the case. Paul seems to want to highlight the means of being justified (“though faith”) apart from works (3:20, 28) before highlighting that δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ is universally available (“to all who are believing”). These are not saying exactly the same thing. Also against the objective genitive line, the conventional reading cannot explain how faith reveals δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ instrumentally.[42]

In favor of taking πίστεως as “faith,” the following context (especially 3:27-31, focusing on faith versus works; and 5:1, summarizing the previous major section) shows Paul’s burden to highlight how both Jew and Gentile experience δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ apart from works. The faith/works antithesis is so strong in this section, set up in 3:20, that strong contextual features must be present to depart from it. And as Dunn points out, everything Paul has said about “faith” in Romans 1 naturally moves his readers to assume the objective meaning.[43] Furthermore, whenever πίστις acts as an anarthrous head term with a preceeding prepositional modifier, it functions abstractly, favoring Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ as the object of faith.[44]

As Silva notes, “because of the inherent ambiguity of genitival constructions, the phrase πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ must be understood in the light of unambiguous constructions appearing in the context.”[45] It was argued above that there is good reason for seeing δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ as a gift from God. If this is accepted, διὰ πίστεως should be seen as modifying an implied verb “is given” or “coming.”[46] That the gift idea is right is supported by 4:24 (“being justified freely by his grace”) and by further elaboration in 5:17 where“the gift of righteousness” comes with “the abundance of grace.”

The εἰς πάντας in NA27 is supported by p40, א*, A, B, C, P, Ψ, 81, 104, 630, 1506, 1739, 1881 al, Cl Did. Other manuscripts have εις παντας και επι παντας (א2, D, F, G, 33, M, it, vgcl, sy; Ambst).[47] A few witnessess have επι παντας. The external evidence favors the NA27 text with early, quality attestation. The Majority text appears to be a conflation of the manuscript evidence, “producing an essentially redundant and tautological expression.”[48]

So this δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ is “for all who are believing” (εἰς πάντας τοὺς πιστεύοντας). Why? “For (γάρ) there is no distinction”(οὐ ἐστιν διαστολή; cf. 10:12). As Paul has argued up to this paragraph, “both Jews and Greeks are all under sin” (3:9), mouths stopped, unable to be justified by the works of the law (3:20). The present tense πιστεύοντας probably implies that Paul did not think of experiencing δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ as something happening only at the beginning of believing but as continuing lifelong as one goes on believing.[49]

3:23     πάντες γὰρ ἥμαρτον καὶ ὑστεροῦνται τῆς δόξης τοῦ θεοῦ

Paul continues the universal, all-inclusive scope with the subject “all” (πάντες). The γὰρ explains why there is no distinction. The aorist ἥμαρτον should probably be taken as a constative aorist,[50] although gnomic is possible.[51] Paul seems to want to stress humanity’s sinfulness (1:18-3:20), although a connection with sinning in Adam may be hinted at by the aorist (cf. Rom. 5:12).

The verb ὑστερέω occurs 8 other times in Paul (1 Cor. 1:7; 8:8; 12;24; 2 Cor. 11:5, 9; 12:11; Phil. 4:12). Although it can mean to fail to reach something (e.g., Heb. 4:1; 12:15),[52] in Pauline usage it arguably always means “lacking.” Seen in connection with the last use of “the glory of God” in Rom. 1:23, the best translation may be “lacking” τῆς δόξης τοῦ θεοῦ. [53] The sense is that the glory of God’s image was marred and lost through sin.[54] This image is precisely what is restored in consequence of justification (“conformed to the image of his Son” in parallel with “those whom he justified, he also glorified,” Rom. 8:29-30).

3:24     δικαιούμενοι δωρεὰν τῇ αὐτοῦ χάριτι διὰ τῆς ἀπολυτρώσεως τῆς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ·

How δικαιούμενοι relates to what precedes is a syntactical conundrum noted by virtually all the commentators. Sanday and Headlam describe the main options.[55] It is most naturally taken with one or both verbs in v. 23, but this gives the main theme of the paragraph a subordinate role.[56] So some take vv. 22b-23 parenthetically.[57] The nominative masculine plural participle seems to refer to the immediately preceding πάντες. But of course this πάντες also refers to the πάντας of v. 22.

Perhaps δικαιούμενοι should not be linked too tightly with any one element. The connection seems looser and more inclusive. The participle agrees with the “all” of vv. 22-23, carries on the main theme of vv. 21-22 with the δικ- language, and flows from what v. 23 says about the state of all. So “being justified” fills out the meaning of δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ that set the agenda for this paragraph. Moreover, the justified are the sinful-and-lacking-the-glory-of-God “all”of v. 23, marked out by faith (v. 22).[58]

God’s justifying is further qualified: it is given “freely” (δωρεὰν), “by his grace” (τῇ αὐτοῦ χάριτι), and “through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (τῆς ἀπολυτρώσεως τῆς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ). Since δικαιόω has been discussed, all that needs to be added here is that the participle is passive—God justifies the ungodly (cf. 4:5). The giving of an alien righteousness is God’s doing, compelled by nothing outside God, given δωρεὰν. It has nothing whatever to do with a one’s works but is entirely τῇ αὐτοῦ χάριτι (see esp. 11:6 where χάριτι and ἐξ ἔργων are antithetical; cf. 4:4, 16; Eph. 2:8; Tit. 3:7). Paul uses χάρις 24 times in Romans. But Rom. 5:15 and 17 are the only other places where χάρις and δωρεὰ come in the same verse. And God’s grace (“unmerited favor”) and gift given there (5:17) is τῆς δωρεᾶς τῆς δικαιοσύνης (objective genitive), the gift of an alien righteousness by the grace and through the obedience of the second Adam (5:15, 19).

The last phrase modifying “being justified” is διὰ τῆς ἀπολυτρώσεως τῆς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ. Schreiner avers rightly that the note of fulfillment in 3:21 suggests interpreting ἀπολύτρωσις (and ἱλαστήριον) in light of the OT.[59] The term ἀπολύτρωσις occurs 10 times in the NT, 7 in Paul (twice in Romans; cf. 8:23). But does it merely mean deliverance, or deliverance through payment of a price? The word occurs in the LXX only in Dan. 4:34, but this does not help with NT usage. 

Morris has argued convincingly that the basic word λύτρον and its cognates in the LXX and its associated Hebrew equivalents “are properly applied to redemption by payment of price.”[60] Of the use of λύτρον and its cognates in the NT, he says that “the words associated with λύτρον consistently express the ransom idea.”[61] The broader thematic theological background for τῆς ἀπολυτρώσεως τῆς ἐν Χριστῷ is surely the exodus tradition (Exod. 12-15), not least as it comes through Isaiah 40-55 where deliverance from exile is described in terms of a second exodus.[62] That this is the likely broader background for Rom. 3:24 is supported by the righteousness language in Isaiah 40-55. So this redemption in Christ Jesus is a second exodus through his death (v. 25),  where deliverance from sin’s penalty (forgivesness, the “negative” side of “being justified”; cf. 4:7) is purchased by Jesus’ substitutionary blood (3:25; 5:9; cf. Eph. 1:7).

3:25     ὃν προέθετο ὁ θεὸς ἱλαστήριον διὰ [τῆς] πίστεως ἐν τῷ αὐτοῦ αἵματι εἰς ἔνδειξιν τῆς δικαιοσύνης αὐτοῦ διὰ τὴν πάρεσιν τῶν προγεγονότων ἁμαρτημάτων

The relative clause beginning v. 25 looks back to “Christ Jesus” (v. 24). Syntactically, the clause enlarges upon how “being justified through the redemption in Christ Jesus” came about: God publicly displayed[63] (προέθετο) Jesus as a ἱλαστήριον. This word has been another battleground for fierce debate. It appears elsewhere in the NT only in Heb. 9:5, where it means “mercy seat”[64] or “atonement cover.”[65] In the LXX, ἱλαστήριον occurs 28 times, translating כפרת in all twenty instances in Exodus and Leviticus.  

Lexicographically, in both Hellenistic and Classical Greek, the word routinely refers to placating.[66] But there is little doubt the OT background is the mercy seat (Ex. 25; Lev. 16). Whether Paul’s audience would have recognized the reference to the mercy seat, Paul certainly made this connection (Heb. 9:5 supports this). Moreover, the mercy seat was the place on the Day of Atonement where sin was expiated and God’s wrath removed.[67] Beyond this, God’s wrath has hung over every head from Rom. 1:18 to 3:20, nothing explicitly addressing this perilous position before a righteous and wrathful God (until “now,” v. 21). The notion of removing wrath is therefore undeniably present, especially given the usage of ἱλαστήριον in Paul’s day.[68] Along with the reference to blood (ἐν τῷ αὐτοῦ αἵματι),[69] an appropriate rendering is “propitiatory sacrifice.”[70]  

This propitiatory sacrifice occurs by means of Jesus’ blood.[71] “Blood” in the OT and NT dominantly refers to violent death or sacrifice.[72] Both referents are doubtless included here in Jesus’ death (cf. 5:9-10), the Day of Atonement looming as OT background (see also Isa. 53:5, 7, 11 with Rom. 4:25). The NA27 editors had difficulty coming to a conclusion about the phrase διὰ [τῆς] πίστεως.[73] The external support is perhaps slightly better for including τῆς, but it is difficult to see why it would have been removed and easier to understand why it would have been added (for clarity). In any case, the sense would not change much. The phrase probably modifies “propitiatory sacrifice,” rather than the verb, the propitiation becoming effective through faith.[74] The faith focuses on Jesus’ blood, his death standing as a part for the whole work of redemption.[75] This is supported by noting that faith is in Jesus in vv. 22 and 26, and by noting the parallel in 5:9 (“justified by his blood”) along with 5:1 (“justified by faith”). Faith in Christ is faith in the Christ of the cross.

Paul then states God’s general aim (εἰς ἔνδειξιν τῆς δικαιοσύνης αὐτοῦ) and the situation calling for it (διὰ τὴν πάρεσιν τῶν προγεγονότων ἁμαρτημάτων ἐν τῇ ἀνοχῇ τοῦ θεοῦ) before specifying his aim in v. 26 (πρὸς τὴν ἔνδειξιν τῆς δικαιοσύνης αὐτοῦ ἐν τῷ νῦν καιρῷ, εἰς τὸ εἶναι αὐτὸν δίκαιον καὶ δικαιοῦντα τὸν ἐκ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ ). God’s demonstrating his righteousness in the propitiatory sacrifice by Jesus’ blood was necessary (διὰ, “because of”[76]) because God’s patience did not give past sins their due as he passed over[77] a proper penalty.

3:26     ἐν τῇ ἀνοχῇ τοῦ θεοῦ, πρὸς τὴν ἔνδειξιν τῆς δικαιοσύνης αὐτοῦ ἐν τῷ νῦν καιρῷ, εἰς τὸ εἶναι αὐτὸν δίκαιον καὶ δικαιοῦντα τὸν ἐκ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ.

Trying to understand δικαιοσύνης αὐτοῦ here in vv. 25-26, noting that the grammar is not the same as in vv. 21-22 (δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ) may signal Paul is thinking slightly differently here. Moreover, the more specific aim[78] of God’s displaying his righteousness in v. 26—“that he might be just even in[79] justifying the one who has faith in Jesus”—points to a cosmic tension. How could the righteous and wrathful God be both just and count as just unjust sinners? The justification in verses 21-24 presents a cosmic crisis. God’s aim to be just even in justifying sinners shows that another nuance of righteousness is warranted here. Verse 25 answers this crisis—the propitiatory sacrifice in Jesus’ blood absorbed the just penalty of sinners’ sins (God is therefore seen as “just”) while providing the way for God to justify the ungodly who trust in Jesus’ blood (4:5; 5:9). The phrase ἐν τῷ νῦν καιρῷ  indicates that this demonstration occurs in the eschatological new age that dawned in the Gospel  (as in 3:21; cf. 8:18; 11:5).

So “God’s righteousness” here must refer primarily to God’s inherent righteousness that, among other things, judges sin in accord with his character and word (cf. 3:5, where the meaning of δικαιοσύνην αὐτοῦ is similar).[80] Although some commentators take δικαιοσύνης αὐτοῦ as “covenant faithfulness” or “saving justice,”[81] the focus really must be on God’s distributive justice because of these clauses: διὰ τὴν πάρεσιν τῶν προγεγονότων ἁμαρτημάτων ἐν τῇ ἀνοχῇ τοῦ θεοῦ. Inasmuch as God is inherently righteous and will judge the world (Rom. 3:4-6), his apparent laxity with sins called his righteousness into question, as would his justification of the ungodly were it not for the cross. And inasmuch as God’s whole aim in all he does is to display and uphold his glory (references strewn everywhere in Scripture), Piper goes deepest (in heeding Scripture’s whole context and total witness) in explaining God’s righteousness as his unswerving allegiance to uphold the honor of his name.[82] And if God’s inherent righteousness moves him to always act according to his character and word, this would include his covenant faithfulness and saving justice, though these are not the foci here.

From the discussion above, there is sufficient reason to take πίστεως Ἰησοῦ  in v. 22 as “faith in Jesus.” So here τὸν ἐκ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ, without parallel in the NT, should be taken as “the one who has faith in Jesus.” The construction οἱ ἐκ νόμου in Rom. 4:14 may in a sense be its antithesis.
Summary and Application

We began by observing the punch Paul’s powerful Gospel packs. After considering the central text of Romans in some detail, we end here as well. For there always exists, until the last day, a need for the revealed “righteousness of God.” Since all have sinned and are lacking the glory of God, if God is going to fulfill his promises of old to his people and to this world, he must provide a way for the ungodly to be accepted into his presence and family, whether Jew or Greek. He has done this by providing an alien righteousness in Christ for all who believe. But since this gift is given freely by his grace, not dependent on works, a cosmic crisis ensues. God’s righteousness is in the dock—where he himself has placed it—and through the redemption and propitiation in Jesus’ blood, it stands vindicated as just even in justifying the ungodly. What glory and wisdom in the cross! What ineffable grace! Small wonder then that Paul was not ashamed of this Gospel: it is the power of God to save ungodly people to the uttermost! Oh the depths of the riches!

Massive implications follow from this great gospel paragraph for all sorts of human cares and concerns: for race relations, for marriage muddles, for childrearing difficulties, for Christian nurture, for counseling conundrums, for psychological challenges, for ecclesiastical infightings, for seating arrangements, for the demands of love, for the pretensions of pride (corporate and individual), and much, much more. But one always stands atop the rest—the vertical dimension. That is, the perennial problem of sinful men and women justly judged and estranged under God’s righteous wrath. We must never forget what this paragraph addresses first: the horrible condition of humanity in Rom. 1:18-3:20 before God.

The so-called New Perspective on Paul, for all it virtues, tends to start and stay too much in the horizontal plane, whereas Paul starts with the vertical dimension, lives and moves and has his being there, and then deduces horizontal implications. And there is all the difference in the world! A right understanding of the righteousness of God revealed in the context of righteous wrath saves the Church from ten thousand errors in doctrine and practice. And so, though Luther’s view is often derided and dismissed in the world of academics, this exegisis affirms that Luther was right: what is revealed in Rom. 3:21-26 about the righteousness of God is the article by which the Church stands or falls. May God give his blood-bought, colorful bride, made up of Jew and Gentile, the courage and conviction to be unashamed of this Gospel.

Bibliography and Footnotes