Posts in Theology
On the Baptism of the Holy Spirit

Introduction

Is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit a single event concurrent with one's regeneration or a unique, second-experience—privy only to those who ask in faith—stemming from their conversion, evidenced by speaking in tongues? Unfortunately, one's answer to this theological inquiry determines the locale of his or her seat among the denominational isles. This question is especially pertinent to me. My father came to faith in the Pentecostal Stream. As such, he believes the latter position to be sound doctrine, which has caused him to question the authenticity of one's profession of faith if they cannot claim to have experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit. After years of personal study, coupled with many hours of intense-and-often-heated debates with my father, I have concluded that the baptism of the Holy Spirit describes the act where Jesus Christ, in order to mark the advent of a new dispensation in redemptive history, fulfills his old covenant promise to inaugurate the coming of his kingdom through a unique and unprecedented outpouring of the Spirit on new covenant believers (cf. Acts 2:14-21), thereby purifying, empowering, and purposing people from every nation, tribe, and tongue into a single, unified-yet-diverse community of faith: the church. This permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit is an individually experienced, one-time-event, indiscriminately applied to all who call on the name of the LORD in faith throughout the church age, at the moment of regeneration.

In this post, I will lay out the traditional articulation for the baptism of the Holy Spirit as a second experience through the arguments of renowned theologian and avid defender this position, the late J. Rodman Williams. I will, then, interact with Williams, use relevant biblical passages to express my understanding of this phenomenon, and offer a response to those who claim to have experienced the reception of baptism with the Holy Spirit after their conversion.

Baptism of the Holy Spirit as a Second Experience

According to Williams, every believer is born-again through a supernatural act of the Holy Spirit: "Those who turn to Christ in true faith and thereby enter into a new life in His name may receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."1 However, the baptism of the Holy Spirit (sometimes referred to as "infilling") is a different matter entirely. While the Spirit dwells in all believers, not all believers receive the infilling of the Spirit. These are, in fact, two distinct experiences: one brings new life and salvation, the other, empowerment.

Williams places the Apostles' reception of the Holy Spirit at the command of Christ to "Receive the Holy Spirit" (Jn 20:22) in juxtaposition with their ostensible, later experience of baptism in the Holy Spirit at the Day of Pentecost (Acts 1:5-8; 2:4).2 This, coupled with Peter and John's successful prayer for Holy Spirit to come upon the Samaritans who had previously "received the word of God" (Acts 8:14) and John's disciples who did not immediately receive the Holy Spirit when they believed (Acts 19:1-7), provide further evidence that baptism of the Holy Spirit is not necessary byproduct of one's saving faith. Rather, it is received only through a heartfelt request for God to grant the experience. Williams comments "By persistence in asking, seeking, and knocking, you may be sure that God delights to give the Spirit to the ardent seeker."3 The Apostles expectantly followed the command of their Savior to wait in prayer for the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, setting for believers an example to ask and wait for the same. The reception will be evident, as the baptism of the Holy Spirit is always evidenced by the conferral of the supernatural and phenomenal gifts, i.e., speaking in tongues.

Baptism of the Holy Spirit as a one-time-event

How should one respond to Williams' conclusion, which on the face of it, seems to be self-evident, and biblically substantiated? By exploring the passages mentioned above and setting them in their proper redemptive context, I believe we will arrive at a very different conclusion. Concerning the Apostles' separate receptions of the Holy Spirit, Williams takes the unique temporal context of the dusk of the old covenant and the dawning of the new as the normative pattern in the church age. In a sense, he is correct. This was a distinct, second event.

When John the Baptizer comes on the scene, he announces that he was performing baptism with water to express repentance. This baptism was a type of ceremonial cleansing, but John is clear in explaining that "he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire" (Mt 3:11). Jesus receives John's baptism. Therefore, it is safe to assume that his disciples followed suit. If one is to compare the disciples' experience to our own-as Williams does in his defense-he or she must ask, should all Christians expect to receive John's Baptism of repentance, a Great Commission sanctioned baptism into the threefold Godhead, as well as a third experience of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit? Of course not! John's baptism with water is universally distinguished from the water baptism prescribed in the Great Commission (Mt 28:19), as it precedes it in its covenantal context. It was a place-holder. Believer's baptism corporally enacts the spiritual reality of being buried and raised with Christ. Jesus' prescription comes after his resurrection. The point remains, the one of whom John spoke would institute a new baptism of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.

Under the dispensation of the old covenant, the work of the Holy Spirit primarily occurred within the boundaries of God's covenant people, Israel. God foretold of a new covenant he would make with his people that was not like the old covenant (Jer 31:31-34). In this covenant, he promised to put his Spirit in his people, and this Spirit would cleanse them and move them to follow his decrees and keep his laws (Ezk 36:24-28). This regeneration by- and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is a concurrent act. The New Testament usage of "baptism of the Holy Spirit" describes the act where Jesus Christ abrogates the previous covenant and inaugurates the new. This is how the Apostles viewed this purported "second experience."

In his sermon at Pentecost, Peter does not describe the coming of the Spirit as a second thing believers should pursue. On the contrary, he explains to non-believers that this unprecedented and indiscriminate outpouring is a fulfillment of Joel's prophecy that in the "last days" God would pour his Spirit out on all who call upon the name of the Lord.

Chad Brand explains that, of the seven passages in the New Testament that describe a baptism in the Holy Spirit, six of them point to "the fulfillment of the promise of the gift of the Spirit (John 14:25-27; 15:26-27; 16:7-11), first to the Jews in Jerusalem, then to the Gentiles. Christian Jews and Gentiles are now one not only because they have a common Savior but because they have the same gift of the Spirit (Eph. 2:11-3:6; Gal. 3:28; Rom. 2:9-29; Col. 1:26-27).”4 The inauguration of the coming of Christ's kingdom was ushered in through a unique and unprecedented outpouring of the Spirit on people from every nation, tribe, and tongue.

The Samaritans of Acts 8 receiving the Spirit after Peter and John lay hands on them is distinct not because they receive a unique dispersal of the Spirit. For the remarkable detail in this story is not the timing of the Spirit's falling, but the subjects on whom he fell. This is the point of Luke's recounting of Peter's vision in Acts 10, Cornelius' conversion, and Peter's startling realization that "God shows no partiality" (Acts 10:34-36). He goes on to say, "And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to the Gentiles, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith" (Acts 15:8-9).

The same Spirit that fell on God's people fell on "not his people." For this was part and parcel of the terms of the new covenant: God would have mercy on "No Mercy," and he would say to "Not My People," that they are his people and he is their God (Hos 2:23). Baptism of the Holy Spirit, then, does not refer to a second encounter where believers—only after asking—receive the special empowerment. It refers to "the work of Jesus Christ in which he pours out the Holy Spirit on new believers thereby incorporating them into his (Christ's) body, the church."5

Concerning John's disciples receiving the Spirit after Paul lays hands on them, it often goes without comment that this same group is the only examples of someone receiving the sacrament of baptism twice. Suffice it to say, it is likely that they had not truly believed in Christ but were only privy to the sign of John's baptism without understanding the significance of the one of whom John preached. This explains why, after hearing Paul's articulation of the gospel as an offshoot of John's baptism, they were baptized in the "name of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 19:5) and received the Holy Spirit. John baptized in water, but the one who was greater than he would baptize those who truly repented and believed in the Holy Spirit. Blomberg concludes:

Just as baptism in water was the initiation rite symbolizing repentance and faith in Christ, entrance into the community of believers, and incorporation into Christ's body, so "baptism in the Spirit" referred to that moment in which the Spirit first began to operate in believers' lives.6

Concluding Thoughts

As I stated earlier, my father is one who claims to have received a baptism with the Holy Spirit after conversion, evidenced by the manifestation of speaking in tongues. How would one begin to articulate this doctrine to someone who truly believes they have experienced this "second blessing"? First, I would remind them that Scripture is the canon, the right-rule that governs our understanding of God and this world, and should, therefore, serve as the primary and final lens through which we inspect our experience. Second, I would explain that Scripture teaches that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a single event that occurs at the moment of our Salvation where we are regenerated, cleansed, empowered, and permanently indwelled by him. Third, I would explain the distinction between the baptism of the Holy Spirit (one-time-event) and the filling of the Holy Spirit (reoccurring): the former is the root, the latter the fruit. The filling of the Spirit is subsequent to one's initial experience of the Spirit where they are empowered for specific tasks or purposes.7

In closing, I offer an admonishment that accepting the baptism of the Holy Spirit as a second experience can have disastrous, unintended consequences. It can conflate the seismic covenantal shift from old to new covenant inaugurated by Christ's death, resurrection, and exaltation. It can obfuscate a right understanding of the ordo salutis (order of salvation). It can create a vacuum where one uses their subjective, sensible experience as the lens through which they read Scripture. It can divide Christendom into the haves and have-nots, leading to an air of spiritual superiority. By arguing that tongues are the evidence of true faith, proponents of a second experience may trouble the consciences of genuine believers, resulting in disheartenment, lack of assurance, or worse: humanly conjured manifestations of artificial tongues.

I will end how I began, by asking a question: Is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit a single event concurrent with one's regeneration or a unique, second-experience-privy only to those who ask in faith-stemming from their conversion? After briefly, yet charitably, laying out a defense of the latter position, I interacted with the answers given, surveyed the relevant biblical texts in light of their redemptive-historical context, and hopefully articulated the strength of understanding the baptism of the Holy Spirit to be a one-time event in the life of a believer. I hope, by God's grace, that you will arrive at the same conclusion.

  1. J. Rodman Williams, Renewal Theology: Systematic Theology from a Charismatic Perspective (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 186. ↩︎
  2. Williams, 196. ↩︎
  3. J. Rodman Williams, “Theology Q&A - The Holy Spirit,” CBN.com - The Christian Broadcasting Network, September 25, 2013, http://www1.cbn.com/biblestudy/theology-q%26a-holy-spirit. ↩︎
  4. Chad Brand, “Baptism With/in the Holy Spirit,” in Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, ed. Archie England (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 169–170. ↩︎
  5. Gregg R. Allison, “Baptism with and Filling of the Holy Spirit,” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 16, no. 4 (2012): 5. ↩︎
  6. Craig Blomberg, “Baptism of the Holy Spirit,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. Walter Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1996), 49–50. ↩︎
  7. Allison, “Baptism with and Filling of the Holy Spirit,” 15. ↩︎
A Brief Meditation On Suffering

Variegated Manifestations of Suffering

James writes, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2, emphasis added). I find encouragement in the phrase “various kinds.” In the past, I assumed that the only suffering that counted was religious hardship like martyrdom, getting fired for being a Christian, or being harassed for not seeing the latest raunchy comedy with friends. But James urges us to count it as joy when we meet trials of various kinds. This includes the AC going out in the fever pitch of summer, flat tires on the way to work, paper cuts from your child’s science project, indigestion from the Chinese buffet you had for lunch, or worst of all, a string of sleepless nights with a colicky baby. Whatever form your trials/hardships take, they fall under the umbrella of various kinds.

Rejoice in Suffering

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3–5, ESV).

How do we respond to such suffering? Paul gives the same answer as James: rejoice! As I said, I wrongly believed that the only suffering that counted was that incurred on account of my faith. In contrast to this, James and Paul teach that what makes suffering count is not the type but your response to it. Paul assumes that clueing us in on the purpose of our suffering (i.e., endurance) will help us frame the right response to it.

For the mom who has not slept since Reagan was President, Rejoice! For you belong to a God who never sleeps nor grows tired. And he has promised to be with you always, to never leave you or forsake you. He gives strength to the weary, and sleep to his beloved. Cry if you must, but know that he holds your tears in a bottle, and he will wipe them all away one day. Most importantly, know that he is using this season to shape and form you. He is teaching you that like your child, you are equally as helpless, and need him to feed, protect, and provide for you. He is taking you to a place where you can move beyond cliché Christian platitudes, and into the throes of real, vulnerable, messy faith.

Mind Over Matter?

Rejoice in the midst of suffering: easier said than done, right? Maybe. It depends on how we define “joy.” We must note that Paul does not tell us to rejoice for our suffering, depicting Christianity as a religion of masochism. Rather, he tells us to have joy in our suffering. Keller recapitulates Paul’s exhortation to rejoice while maintaining the balance of rejoicing in our suffering and not for our suffering when he writes:

God hates the pain and troubles of this life and so should we. Rather, a Christian knows that suffering will have beneficial results. A Christian is not a stoic, who faces suffering by just gritting their teeth. Christians “look through” the suffering to their certainties. They rest in the knowledge that troubles will only increase their enjoyment and appreciation of those certainties.1

The foundational tenant of Buddhism is overcoming or lessening suffering (i.e. evil) in this world. Ironically, since the material world is just an illusion, suffering must be categorized as an illusory reality, as it is part and parcel of the created realm. Unlike Buddhism, however, Christianity does not see the world as a temporary holding cell for the not-yet-enlightened. We believe that God created the material world. Therefore, Christians are called to rejoice in our suffering because the material world was good, and will be made new one day.

Suffering in and of itself is a parasitic aftershock of the fall that leaches onto God’s good creation. It stands as a testimony to the reality of evil (ipso facto, all matter). When Jesus relays the signs of the end of the age, he tells his disciples that “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains” (Mt 24:7–8, emphasis added). He speaks of the sufferings we will witness and perhaps endure as the beginning of the birthing process. Paul contributes to this equally puzzling allegory when he writes, “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Rom 8:22). The natural question should be, what is being birthed? Freedom—“creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom 8:21). The road to this freedom, however, is marked in suffering.2

When Christ returns he will bring heaven to earth. As Christians, then, our current mission, the whole reason we are sent into the world, is to open windows of the future-kingdom-life for those engulfed in the darkness of this present age. But we do not overcome suffering by denying the metaphysical or the goodness of this world (i.e., mind over matter).

When you are victimized by the sin of gossip, you can embrace the one who wronged you and speak forgiveness over them. When your neighbor’s dog incessantly exercises his bowels on your lawn, you can pick up his deposits and place them in the trash. When you encounter a child who has suffered at the hands of negligent guardians, you can clothe, feed, adopt, protect, pray, and provide for him or her, as a way of unfurling the effects of the fall.

These examples of suffering (and many others) will no doubt affect us. But encountering suffering in this world is not merely an exercise of mind over matter. Rather it is finding joy in the fact that God is shaping our minds through matter, so that—through our transformed minds—he can affect the material world. The biblical-expectation is that, with the Spirit’s help, we will internalize suffering in such a way that joy in suffering is fueled by our eschatological vision, which will stir up our ever-increasing obedience of faith.

  1. Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You (Purcellville, VA: The Good Book Company, 2014), 112. ↩︎
  2. If you are confused as to why the biblical authors use the analogy of pregnancy and birth pains, I encourage you to ask a woman who has birthed a child if she agrees with this verse: “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world” (Jn 16:21). ↩︎
The End of Protestantism Videos

I got a followup email this week that let me know my review copy of Peter Leithart's new book, The End of Protestantism: Pursuing Unity in a Fragmented Church, is due to be sent out by the end of the week. I'm looking forwarded to reading the book and engaging with the ideas through a review here on the blog. I wholeheartedly agree with Leithart's concern about the fragmentation in the church—the unity of the church is essential to our mission (see e.g., John 17:21-23). However, I'm not sure I'll agree with his suggestions for pursuing that unity. 

In anticipation of the book's release next month, the folks at Brazos Press have developed a great website for the book and are featuring the following videos to give you an idea of what the book will be about. 

The first explains the wordplay in the title. Leithart doesn't just seek to explore the "end" of Protestantism as its conclusion, but also its goal or purpose.

The second explains the rise of denominationalism, as well as the signs that he believes indicate its losing steam.  

Joseph, Daniel, and the New Exodus

The story of God and his people involves historical progression that unfold over time.[1] It has been said that the entire Old Testament corpus is pregnant with the message of the Christ. The seed of the gospel was planted in Gen 3:15, then grew in scope, promise, expectation, and clarity throughout the rest of the Old Testament. For this reason, Mark Dever titles his two volume biblical theology of the Bible on the OT and NT Promises Made and Promises Kept respectively. Dever comments that the “God of Scripture has revealed himself and his saving purposes in a progressive way by stages.”[2] When they speak of progression it is in reference to the fact that God’s plan is developing; unfolding from one epoch to the next (e.g. Abraham to David, David to exile, and exile to the Messiah cf. Mt 1:17). Therefore, we would do well to approach the Scriptures with the presupposition that the progressive narrative flow of the Old Testament must lead to its terminal telos: Jesus Christ (cf. Jn 5:39).

The biblical authors were so steeped in the Scriptures that in virtually everything they wrote one can easily observe the thumb print of the entire biblical tradition underneath. Pennington posits that if we have eyes to see “we can note the way in which the texts of the Bible pervasively pick up and embed earlier texts into later ones.”[3] For example, Ezekiel mentions Noah, Daniel, and Job (Ezek 14:14); Daniel references Jeremiah’s prophecy (Dan 9:2). This was not strictly an OT practice, as there are 343 OT quotations in the NT, as well as over 2,309 allusions and verbal parallels (though allusions are more easily debated).[4] These implicit verbal or thematic echoes to other passages are called intertextual allusions—when an “earlier text is taken up, transplanted, and transformed in a later text.”[5]

Intertextuality is a way for the biblical authors to subtly (or sometimes explicitly) cross-reference other passages or themes in Scripture in order to infuse their own writing with the contours, trajectories, and textures of the initial passage. Not only this, but since these biblical authors did not write merely from their own minds or personal interpretations, but wrote and spoke “as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit,” (2 Pet 1:20) God gathers “together the various partial and progressive communicative acts and purposes of the human authors into one ‘great canonical Design.’”[6] Finally, since God’s revelation is progressive, understanding intertextuality assists us in determining how a particular concept fits in God’s unfolding plan—what Gentry and Wellum have called the “epochal horizon.” They explain that “intertextual connections were developed so that we could understand better the interrelations between earlier and later revelation.”[7]

Mimesis

I believe that the narrative of Daniel 2 mimetically patterns Joseph’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream in order to set the stage for the new exodus promised in the prophets (cf. Jer 16; 30–33; Is 9; 52), which is both realized and inaugurated at the birth of Christ (Mt 2).[8] Allow me to explain.

There is a myriad of intertextual connections in the may that Daniel mimetically patterns his narrative after Joseph’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream. Both were taken from their homes by force at a young age (Gen 39:1; Dan 1:3). Both are said to be handsome in appearance (Gen 41:39; Dan 1:4). Both are called wise men (Gen 41:39; Dan 1:4). Both served in the royal court (Gen 41:40; Dan 1:5). Both are given new names (Gen 41:45; Dan 1:7). Both interact with the “captain of the king’s guard” (Gen 39:1; Dan 2:14). After the professionals had failed, both were given divine wisdom from God in order to interpret the dream(s) of a king (Gen 41:16; Dan 2:48). As a result, both were promoted to positions of power (Gen 41:40; Dan 2:48). Montgomery writes:

Daniel gives all the glory to God in response to the king’s inquiry as to his ability, after Joseph’s example, Gen. 41:8, and denies the power of human wisdom in the premises, as equally, v. 30, any virtue of his own. The humility of Joseph and [Daniel] is capitally depicted as sprung from reverence before God without fear of man, although courtesy to the latter is not ignored.[9]

Lest one accuse me of artificially manufacturing these intertextual connection, I have set the passages from Genesis and Daniel side-by-side in the table below and emboldened the similarities.

Genesis 41:7–8 Daniel 2:1–3, 10
“And Pharaoh awoke, and behold, it was a dream. So in the morning his spirit was troubled, and he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was none who could interpret them to Pharaoh.” Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; his spirit was troubled, and his sleep left him. Then the king commanded that the magicians, the enchanters, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans be summoned to tell the king his dreams. So they came in and stood before the king. And the king said to them, ‘I had a dream, and my spirit is troubled to know the dream.’ …The Chaldeans answered the king and said, ’There is not a man on earth who can meet the king’s demand, for no great and powerful king has asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or Chaldean.’”

One can observe the fact that accounts depict a king awoken from a dream, which resulted in a “troubled spirit.” Both kings called for their professional diviners to interpret the meaning of the dream; but to no avail. Both kings exhibit a heightened sense of dismay when they realize that all their servants are incapable of making clear the meaning of the dream.

Daniel and the New Exodus

With all of the points of connection between Daniel and Joseph, the most important similitude with regards to the thesis of this post is Dumbrell’s observation that “both operated in an Israel that stood before an exodus.”[10] God speaks through the prophet Jeremiah saying that “the days are coming, declares the Lord, when it shall no longer be said, ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt’” (Jer 16:14). In essence, God informs Israel that when they remember his saving acts in the future, he will no longer be remembered by the exodus out of Egypt. Rather, his people will point to the new exodus (out of exile), when he will “bring them back to their own land that I gave to their fathers” (Jer 16:15). The second exodus, when the Lord will restore Israel will be far greater than the first one.

Isaiah also speaks of new exodus. In his final prophesy about Judah (Isaiah 9:1–4), Isaiah speaks of the end to the “gloom of anguish” (cf. Is 8:22; 9:1). In the “former time” God sent his people into exile. But “in the latter time” he will eliminate the darkness with the light of hope. What is this hope? Smith answers: “The first paragraph in this section introduces a future righteous Davidic king who will bring a period of light and peace to God’s people.”[11] While Israel experiences a partial fulfillment of this when they returned to the land God promised them, the prophecy indicates that what happens in Isaiah’s own day was going to be the pattern of the new exodus when the Messiah would come and bring his people into a new and better land of promise. Childs comments, “…Isaiah used the imagery of a new exodus to present the coming of a new eschatological age that would occur simultaneously with the deliverance of Israel from Babylon.”[12]

Joseph, Daniel, and Jesus

In his book, Reading the Gospels Wisely: A Narrative and Theological Introduction, Jonathan Pennington argues that authors of the Gospels shaped their accounts in the narrative form of most of the Jewish Scriptures with the intention of “clearly mimicking these stories, intertextually and figurally explaining the events of Jesus’s life as the goal and telos of the story of God.”[13] Matthew mimics the Joseph/Daniel “promised shaped paradigm” to put Christ forth as the fulfillment of all the types before him. Though there are many passages in Daniel’s narrative that shadow Joseph’s story, this one in particular illustrates Matthew’s parallel account. I have added a column to the previous table to demonstrate the parallels between the three narratives. Again, I have emboldened the similarities.

Genesis 41:7–8 Daniel 2:1–3, 10 Matthew 2:3–4
“And Pharaoh awoke, and behold, it was a dream. So in the morning his spirit was troubled, and he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was none who could interpret them to Pharaoh.” Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; his spirit was troubled, and his sleep left him. Then the king commanded that the magicians, the enchanters, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans be summoned to tell the king his dreams. So they came in and stood before the king. And the king said to them, ‘I had a dream, and my spirit is troubled to know the dream.’ …The Chaldeans answered the king and said, ’There is not a man on earth who can meet the king’s demand, for no great and powerful king has asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or Chaldean.’” “[Magicians] from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.”

All three accounts depict a king receiving a divine message (two receive a dream, one a star), which result in the kings being “troubled.”[14] While they all call for their professionals to interpret the meaning of the sign, the outcomes are varied. In the first two narratives, the kings call for their pagan magicians and wise men who are impotent in divining this mystery.[15] In the third narrative, the king calls on the chief priests and scribes of Israel, who, through God’s revelation, are able to explain the meaning to him. You will notice that there is both continuity and discontinuity in the three accounts.[16]

Because some Hebrew manuscripts treat the second psalm (which lacks a heading) as a continuation of the first,[17] many commentators believe that Psalm 1–the two ways to live–should be coupled with the psalm that proceeds it. The second psalm is typically categorized as a royal psalm; used at the coronation of a new king. This idea is only corroborated by the fact that Psalm 2:7 is quoted four times in the NT to describe Christ’s coronation following his resurrection from the dead (Rom 1:4; Acts 13:33; Heb 1:5; 5:5). After the installation of Yahweh’s everlasting king God says that he will break all hostile nations with a rod of iron and “dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel” (Psalm 2:8–9). The fate of the statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream is relayed in the language of Psalm 1:4 and Psalm 2:8–9 (i.e., the description of the fate of the wicked): “Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, all together were broken in pieces, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found” (Dan 2:35, emphasis added).

As I said, the biblical authors often utilize intertextual allusions in order to infuse their own writing with the contours, trajectories, and textures of the initial passage. I believe Daniel evokes the same narrative points of the Joseph story to hint at the pattern of deliverance. When someone starts a story with “Once upon a time” we expect them to end it with “They lived happily ever after.” In the same way the Joseph narrative sets up the exodus, the Daniel narrative sets up the new exodus, which is inaugurated at the incarnation. The fate of Nebuchadnezzar’s statue depicts the eschatological future of all who oppose Yahweh’s king.


  1. See Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum, Kingdom Through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants, Kindle Edition (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), Kindle Locations 422–4.  ↩

  2. Mark Dever, The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made, Kindle Edition (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006), 12.  ↩

  3. Jonathan T. Pennington, Reading the Gospels Wisely: A Narrative and Theological Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012), 115–6.  ↩

  4. See Walter A. Elwell, ed., “Old Testament in the New Testament, the” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich. : Carlisle, Cumbria, U.K: Baker Academic, 2001).  ↩

  5. Pennington, Reading the Gospels Wisely, 116.  ↩

  6. Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning in This Text?: The Bible, the Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge, Kindle Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 314.  ↩

  7. Gentry and Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant, Kindle Locations 4804–6.  ↩

  8. By mimesis I mean an author’s premeditated emulation of the actions or behavior of either a person or group of people to showcase a similar pattern or outcome in a new context.  ↩

  9. James A. Montgomery, Daniel: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary, ICC (N.Y.: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1927), 162.  ↩

  10. William J. Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel: A Theological Survey of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 391.  ↩

  11. Gary Smith, The New American Commentary: Isaiah 1–39, Vol. 15A (Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2007), 235  ↩

  12. Brevard S. Childs, Isaiah (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000), 479.  ↩

  13. Pennington, Reading the Gospels Wisely, 247 emphasis added.  ↩

  14. To further substantiate this claim, note that the only time you see the word “μάγος” (wise men/magi) in the LXX is in Daniel 2—where the Babylonian king calls his magicians (and others) to interpret the dream. Daniel paints a scene of a king from the East attempting to use his impotent magi to interpret a dream that involves a mystery hidden by God, which was subsequently revealed to Daniel. Matthew reports of men from the East (Babylon?) who followed a star, more specifically his star (cf. Gen 49:10; Num 24:17), in order to come and worship him. Those who were once ignorant of God, now recognize his star and came to worship him, while God’s people were greatly troubled.  ↩

  15. For an excellent treatment of the biblical concept of mystery see G. K. Beale and Benjamin L. Gladd, Hidden But Now Revealed: A Biblical Theology of Mystery (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2014).  ↩

  16. While this is certainly a more tenuos connection, it could be argued that Matthew inverts the Daniellic temporal formula to make another connection. “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon *came to Jerusalem and besieged it*” (Daniel 1:1). “In the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; his spirit was troubled, and his sleep left him” (Daniel 2:1). “In the third year of the reign of King Belshazzar a vision appeared to me, Daniel, after that which appeared to me at the first” (Daniel 8:1). Chapters 1 and 2 of Daniel follow a near-identical pattern. After the Aramaic section of Daniel (chapters 3–7), Daniel returns to using Hebrew in chapter 8, which begins with the same pattern of chapters 1–2—interestingly, the opening line of Daniel chs. 3–4, 7 mimics the introductory formula of chs. 1–2, 8 in the LXX. James M. Hamilton Jr, With the Clouds of Heaven: The Book of Daniel in Biblical Theology (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014), 65 lays out the basic formula used in the openings of chs. 1, 2, and 8 as: in year –> number –> of the kingdom –> to [king’s name] –> king of [place]. This formula operates as a structural transition that signifies the start of a new literary unit. Considering the lack of spacing and vowels in the originals, authors would often use literary devices to signify the end of a section or the beginning of a new one: discourse markers. Notice the way Matthew begins the second chapter of his gospel: “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king…“ (Matthew 2:1, ESV). Matthew inverts the Danielic-formula to reveal the True king (Daniel 2:47)—[king’s name] –> king of [place]–> in year –> number –> of the kingdom. He uses Herod, the ”king", as a temporal marker to announce the birth of Jesus, the King of kings, in his kingdom, Bethlehem of Judea (Mic 5:2).  ↩

  17. See Derek Kidner, Psalms 1–72 (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2009), 66 n. 2.  ↩

Healthy Families Dine Together

My problem with the greater part of contemporary theological publications is that the issues are typically presented in straw-man-like soundbites, diluted to reductionistic dichromatism, in order to pander to the rigidity of their respective constituencies. Thiselton describes this entrenched division as a “dualistic chasm.” He bemoans the fact that “too often, biblical specialists and systematic theologians tend to ‘talk past’ each other on the basis of a different agenda.”[1] Frame concludes that, “Sometimes our divisions of theology and practice are differences of perspective, of balance, rather than differences over the essentials of faith.”[2] We only fuel this burgeoning tribalism when we arm the masses with trite, sardonic quips of thesis and antithesis, thereby fractioning the people of God further through dissension and division.

To be sure, I am not elevating ecumenism over and against biblical fidelity. There are issues that will (and should) divide us (e.g. Trinity—one God, of one essence, who exists in three, coequal, coeternal persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; the full deity and humanity of Jesus; Christ’s bodily resurrection; justification by faith). I applaud Mohler’s push for processing subjects through a theological triage: categorizing doctrine as first, second, and third-order issues. My prayer is that this step toward Christian maturity (cf. Rom 12:18; Heb 12:14) will assist us in viewing denominations not as rifts in God’s kingdom, but as a means to guard the consciences of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Like C.S. Lewis, and Richard Baxter before him, I desire a Mere Christianity. I have always been fond of Lewis’ description of Christianity as a great hallway with many doors leading to different rooms (denominations). He explains that fires and chairs and meals happen in the rooms, and not the hall—the hallway is a place to test out various doors. Lewis proposes some helpful questions one ought to reflect on before choosing a room:

[Y]ou must be asking which door is the true one; not which pleases you best by its paint and paneling. In plain language, the question should never be: “Do I like that kind of service?” but “Are these doctrines true: Is holiness here? Does my conscience move me towards this?”[3]

Upon choosing a room, Lewis offers the guest one final instruction, the one rule common to the whole house: “Be kind to those who have chosen different doors, and to those who are still in the hall.”

As I said, I relish Lewis’ allegory, and yet it has never fully satisfied me. While I agree that fires, chairs, and meals do not belong in the hall, and that they can happen in the rooms, I do not believe they are restricted to the rooms. Why should we sequester ourselves from those residing in other rooms, limiting our interactions to only those who are “likeminded”?

Lewis’ words paint a picture of Christendom as a castle (cf. Jn 14:2). I should like to think that this castle has more than halls with rooms! I imagine an enormous dining room furnished with a sprawling table, adorned with a feast fit for kings and queens. Can we not dine together?

Teaching in a house filled to capacity, the crowd informs Jesus that his family is outside looking for him. In a ground-shattering reply—especially considering the high-priority of family in Semitic cultures—Jesus redefines familial relationships in light of the gospel. He answers them, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:34–35; cf. Jn 19:26). Paul also refers to church as “God’s household” (1 Tim 3:15). Elsewhere he encourages Timothy to treat older men as fathers, “younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters” (1 Tim 5:1–2). All those who are united with Christ constitute a spiritual family, one that transcends bloodlines, class distinctions, gender, ethnicity, race, age, and even theological differences. The church (universal) must think of itself as a family, and healthy families dine together.

As one family living under the same roof, sharing commonality in first-order issues, there are far more things that unite us than divide us. Presuming to be peacemakers, we often try to avoid conflict whenever possible. Yet fear of disagreement should not deter us from dining together. In fact, failing to debate certain subjects might convey that the issues are inconsequential. As Chesterton famously quipped, we must argue! He writes:

If I think the universe is triangular, and you think it is square, there cannot be room for two universes. We may argue politely, we may argue humanely, we may argue with great mutual benefit; but, obviously, we must argue.[4]

James Montgomery Boice relays a story about Donald Grey Barnhouse organizing a lunch with five ministers from differing denominations. He devised a rule that they should only discuss points of agreement during the meal. Afterwards, they could speak about their differences if they wished. Boice reports:

They began to talk about Jesus Christ and what he meant to each of them. The tension abated, and there was a measure of joy as each confessed that Jesus was born of a virgin, that he came to die for our sins, and that he rose again bodily. Each acknowledged Jesus Christ as Lord. Each agreed that Jesus was now in heaven at the right hand of God the Father praying for his church. They confessed that he had sent his Holy Spirit at Pentecost and that the Lord was living in each of his children by means of the Holy Spirit. They acknowledged the reality of the new birth and that they were looking forward to the return of Jesus Christ, after which they would be spending eternity together.[5]

After the meal, when they turned to their differences, they realized that the issues felt secondary—“not unimportant but secondary.” Realizing that they would not agree on some of these issues, they agreed to disagree without denying the fact that they were all members of Christ’s body (cf. Eph 4:5).

What if, after perceiving lines of demarcation between us and those in the other rooms, we fought our instinct to construct walls to protect (read isolate) ourselves? One way to do this is to deconstruct the common narrative that depicts fellow Christians as “good guys” or “bad guys.” True, sound doctrine is essential (Titus 2:1–3:11). And true, there may be some among us who are not of us (1 Jn 2:19). Therefore, we must be vigilant, for wolves sometimes reside with the sheep (Mt 7:15). However, in the name of “maintaining biblical orthodoxy” or “fending off wolves” some God-fearing men and women have been ostracized for holding varied theological opinions on open-handed issues. It is possible to maintain that a particular position is wrong while simultaneously recognizing that it is biblically tenable (e.g. age of the earth, sequence of eschatological events).

God has revealed himself to us in his Word and in his world. At present, we cannot know him exhaustively (cf. 1 Cor 13:12), but we can know him truly. So far as it is possible, we should strive to think God’s thoughts after him in humility; not forgetting Calvin’s lesson that the finite cannot possess the infinite. In the opening pages of his long-awaited systematic theology, Thiselton acknowledges that “Human beings, even philosophers, are finite and even sinful, and they cannot grasp the whole of the infinite. They cannot view reality ‘eternally or theocentrically,’ even granted revelation from God.”[6] Barth also understood that theology has limits. He demonstrated this by using angels to ironically mock himself and his critics. He writes:

The angels laugh at old Karl. They laugh at him because he tries to grasp the truth about God in a book of Dogmatics. They laugh at the fact that volume follows volume, and each is thicker than the previous ones. As they laugh, they say to one another, ‘Look! Here he comes now with his little pushcart full of volumes of the Dogmatics!’—and they laugh about the persons who write so much about Karl Barth instead of writing about the things he is trying to write about. Truly, the angels laugh.[7]

Martin Luther supposedly said that “human nature is like a drunkard trying to ride a horse. He gets on and falls off on the left side. He resolves not to make that mistake again, so he remounts, careful to avoid falling off on the left, and promptly falls off on the right.” I recognize my naïveté, and accept that I will likely be dismounted—either to the right (fundamentalism) or to the left (relativism). For, as Arthur Conan Doyle has observed, “horses [are] dangerous on both ends and crafty in the middle.” And yet, I refuse to give up trying to find balance on this fickle saddle. I want to create as much room as biblically possible to accommodate a potpourri of dissimilar views. I want a munificent yet mature orthodoxy.

When the people of God across denominational lines suspend their differences on tertiary issues and strive to labor together in love—seeking to see his kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven—we answer Jesus’ prayer that we would be one (Jn 17:21–22). I am not insinuating that we should pursue unity through conformity (nor artificial uniformity). As Lewis once remarked, “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.”[8] On the contrary, the unity of the church, which displays the manifold wisdom of God, shines most brilliantly in volitional diversity (cf. Eph 3:10). Furthermore, no one lives in the hall, nor does one sleep in the dining room (cf. 1 Cor 11:21–22). After meals, it is perfectly acceptable (and expected!) for everyone to return to his or her room. To reject the invitation to come and eat (cf. Is 55:1), however, is not only unacceptable, but insubordinate (cf. Phil 1:27; Eph 4:3).

Alas, perhaps I am too Hegelian…


  1. Anthony C. Thiselton, Thiselton on Hermeneutics: Collected Works with New Essays (Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2006), 115.  ↩

  2. John Frame, “A Primer on Perspectivalism (Revised 2008),” June 6, 2012, http://frame-poythress.org/a-primer-on-perspectivalism-revised–2008/.  ↩

  3. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (N.Y.: Macmillan, 1977), 190 emphasis added.  ↩

  4. G. K. Chesterton, The Illustrated London News, 1908–1910, ed. Lawrence J. Clipper and George J. Marlin (Charlottesville, Va: Ignatius Press, 1987), 194.  ↩

  5. James Montgomery Boice, To the Glory of God: A 40-Day Devotional on the Book of Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2010), 148.  ↩

  6. Anthony C. Thiselton, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2015), 2.  ↩

  7. Stephen Webb, Re-Figuring Theology: The Rhetoric of Karl Barth (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1991), 164.  ↩

  8. C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 2002), 292.  ↩

The Lion, the Meat, and the Wheat

Jeremiah tells Israel that if they repent for their sins, God will relent from his judgment of exile (Jer 26:13). He calls the people to circumcise their own hearts (Jer 4:4). However, Moses had already said that only God could circumcise the people’s hearts (Deut 30:6). How can this be?[1]

We must ask: Is it unjust for God to command (and expect) us to do something that we are incapable of doing? By no means! Recognizing this ostensible contradiction, Augustine resolves the tension by parsing out the distinction between natural ability and moral inability. God has graced humanity with both general and special revelation so that we might know him—for we have the natural ability to do so and it is, therefore, our duty believe (cf. Rom 1:18–24). Adam’s sin, which we inherited by virtue of our union with him (cf. Rom 5:12–14), however, has left us with the moral inability to do so. Left to our own devices we will never turn to God because we do not desire him (Eph 2:1–3).

Addressing the unbeliever who rejects the gospel as merely a propositional truth statement coming from a man, Richard Baxter retorted that when the gospel is preached, the unbeliever is no longer in the audience of an evangelist, but hears from God himself. Unlike the hyper-Calvinists of his day, Baxter, swimming in the Augustinian stream, argued that at the preaching of the Word, the hearers are torn, for their flesh aims to reject what the law on their hearts declares to be true. He writes:

God hath a voice that will make you hear. Though he intreat you to hear the voice of his gospel, he will make you hear the voice of his condemning sentence, without intreaty. We cannot make you believe against your will; but God will make you feel against your will.[2]

Ultimately, a denial of the message is not a disagreement with the human messenger, but an outright rejection of the Son of God and his offer of salvation. Since we have the natural ability to respond, God expects us to do that which he created us for (i.e., believe in, thank, and honor him). Yet, due to our sin nature (i.e., uncircumcised hearts), we do not have the moral ability (or desire!) to do so.

A member of my small group gave a fantastic illustration that captures the plight of the human condition. He asked our group to imagine a lion in a cage with two bowls of food set before it: a bowl of meat and a bowl of wheat. He asked, when released from the cage, which bowl will the lion choose? The lion will always choose the meat! In fact, the lion will almost never choose the bowl of wheat. Why so? Is it because he is lacking the ability to eat wheat? No, it is because he does not desire it. In the same way, it is not that humanity is unable to respond to God’s universal call, it is that we are unwilling.

In Matthew 19, Pharisees, coming to test Jesus, ask him about divorce. He explains to them that the normative pattern (“from the beginning”) of marriage was a lifelong covenant between man and woman whom “God has joined together.” They persisted, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” (Matthew 19:7) Jesus answers that Moses allowed for divorce because of the hardness of their hearts (“σκληροκαρδία”). By using this word Jesus alludes to both what Moses and Jeremiah wrote on this issue:

“Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart (“σκληροκαρδία”), and be no longer stubborn” (Deuteronomy 10:16, emphasis added).

“Circumcise yourselves to the LORD; remove the foreskin of your hearts (“σκληροκαρδία”)” (Jeremiah 4:4, emphasis added).

As the aforementioned passages showcase, the hardness of heart that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 19 should be understood as an uncircumcised heart (flesh-heart). In Ezekiel God tells Israel that "No foreigner, uncircumcised in heart and flesh…shall enter my sanctuary” (Ezekiel 44:9, emphasis added).

This past week we discussed the topic of the will in a philosophy reading group I am part of called the Stinklings (and homage to Lewis and Tolkien’s literary group in Oxford). We concluded that calling a will that is morally incapable of responding to God “free” is a misnomer. Our will is by definition a captive will, a will in bondage (Eph 2:1–3). We need a “freed will” (Eph 2:4–5). In order for our will to be truly freed it must be regenerated, recreated, born again, or circumcised. Herein lies the problem: we are incapable of doing this on our own.

In Ezekiel 36:16–37, God explains how he will be faithful to his people despite their unfaithfulness. He brought them to the promised land, and they responded by breaking his commandments (“they had shed blood in the land and because they had defiled it with their idols” v. 18). They evoked God’s wrath with their disobedience. He scattered them among the nations through exile, with the hope that they would repent. God’s name was profaned among the nations wherever they went, for the nations would say “These are the Lord’s people, and yet they had to leave his land” (v. 20). God wanted to display the holiness of his great name, which—because of Israel’s malfeasance—had been profaned. But before explaining what he was about to do, he wanted Israel to know that he acted for his own end, and it was not for their sake.

He, then, proceeded to tell Israel:

I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses…” (Ezekiel 36:24–29, emphasis added).

In these six verses God states nine things he will do for Israel (“I will”). He will: “gather” them, “sprinkle clean water” on them, “cleanse” them, “give” them a “new heart” and put a “new spirit” in them, “remove the heart of stone” from their flesh and give them a “heart of flesh,” put his “Spirit” within them, “cause” them to walk in his “statutes,” restore them to the “land” of their fathers, make them his “people,” be their “God,” and “deliver” them from all uncleannesses.[3] By replacing their heart of stone—a heart that is morally incapable of responding to God—with a heart of flesh, and giving them his Spirit, God will enable and move his people to follow his decrees and keep his laws—that which they were previously unable to do.

This passage in Ezekiel shines a light on this purported inconsistency between Jeremiah and Moses by demonstrating that Jeremiah’s call for the people to circumcise their own hearts (Jer 4:4) is not out of step with Moses statement that only God can circumcise the people’s hearts (Deut 30:6). Jeremiah presents the wretched state of our human condition and Moses provides the answer: God will do what we, who are captive to our sin, are incapable of doing.


  1. I was asked to respond to this purported paradox for an Old Testament class I am taking. The following was my response to the prompt.  ↩

  2. Richard Baxter, A Call to the Unconverted (Lafayette, Ind: Sovereign Grace Publishers, 2000), 12.  ↩

  3. There are five more “I will” statements in the next eight verses, but stopped at v. 29 for the sake of brevity.  ↩

TheologyDavid KakishComment
Grace and Peace. So What?

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 1:7, ESV)

This phrase has been recognized as the standard Pauline greeting—and rightly so, for he uses it in each of his thirteen canonical letters (Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:3; 2 Cor 1:2; Gal 1:3; Eph 1:2; Phil 1:2; Col 1:2; 1 Thess 1:1; 2 Thess 1:2; 1 Tim 1:2; 2 Tim 1:2; Titus 1:4; Philem 3). Unfortunately, as in most things, ubiquity dilutes gravitas. Because it is so familiar to us we often pass over it in our sermons and devotional reading, in the same way we would a salutation at the end of an email (e.g., Sincerely, Best Regards, In Christ). By so doing, however, we take a massive theological sentiment and make it a throwaway line.

In Romans 1:7 Paul closes his lengthy prescript (in Greek Romans 1:1–7 is one sentence) with a benediction—the bestowal of a blessing, a good word. I will draw out three things I think Paul is doing in his standard greeting.[1] Before so doing, however, I would like to highlight what I believe is an oft-missed fact: this is not Paul’s greeting.

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:7, emphasis added).

This is not Paul’s greeting, per se. That is to say, this is not from Paul to the recipients of his letter. He is the mere medium of this greeting that is extended from God (“from God…”) to his beloved on earth . We must not neglect the fact that this blessing resounds from the throne room of God and echoes into his world through his apostle (messenger/sent one), Paul, to God’s people (which includes us!). Jewett elucidates:

The power to grant the content of the blessing, “grace and peace,” derives not from the person uttering the words as they are read aloud in the Roman house and tenement churches, but from the source of all blessing: “from God our Father and [the] Lord Jesus Christ.”[2]

With that, we can move on to the three things Paul is doing with “his standard greeting.”

  • 1) First, as some commentators have suggested, Paul’s use of “grace and peace” echoes elements of the Aaronic benediction, originally spoken over Israel, recited at our church every week at the conclusion of our gatherings—May the LORD be "gracious to you…and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24–26, emphasis added).[3]
  • 2) Second, as is his habit, Paul transforms this exclusively Hebrew blessing and applies it to a mixed group of believers (Jew and Gentile) through layered meaning. Paul not only extends the Aaronic blessing but he also co-opts the standard Greek expressions of greeting and injects it with theological meaning. He combines the standard Greek (“grace/joy” charis) and Hebrew (“peace” šālôm/eirēnē) expressions of greeting to address “all those in Rome who are loved by God.”
  • 3) Third, I believe that “grace to you” is the action whereby God extends his covenantal favor revealed in the Son to all who believe in him (Rom 5:2), and this “peace,” which is flourishing-joy and right relationship with God, is the result of God’s action in us (Rom 5:1). Dunn paraphrases this passage thusly: “May you know the generous power of God undergirding and coming to expression in your daily life.” This, he says, “is a prayer for the unbounded and wholly generous outreaching power of God which makes for humankind’s best well-being.”[4]

In one phrase Paul acknowledges the ethnic diversity of his original recipients, addresses them with the Aaronic-blessing, thereby recognizing her as a continuation of the people of God, or as R.T. France has convincingly argued, “the resurrected Israel”[5], and closes his introduction with a concise presentation of God’s gracious gift in salvation and the peace that results from a relationship with him. Paul expects that this grace of God poured out on all people indiscriminately will result in peace among God’s beloved saints in Rome (and in our churches as well!).


  1. These three points serve as a surface gleaning of the text, and do not in any way represent a concretized, exhaustive list of Paul’s intended meaning. Since the Bible is God’s Word it cannot be exhausted. Therefore, our reading can (and should) be enriched by a variety of approaches.  ↩

  2. Robert Jewett and Roy David Kotansky, Romans: A Commentary, ed. Eldon Jay Epp, Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2006), 116.  ↩

  3. For example, see Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Romans: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, vol. 33, Anchor Yale Bible (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008), 228.  ↩

  4. James D. G. Dunn, Romans 1–8, vol. 38A, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998), 20.  ↩

  5. R. T. France, Matthew:Evangelist and Teacher (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2004), 229–30.  ↩

Calvin on Faith and Hope and the Christian Life

How should we define faith and hope? What is the difference between them? How do the two concepts shape the Christian life? Calvin answers all of the above in his book Instructions in Faith (1537). My soul is lifted when I read Calvin articulate the inseparable, symbiotic relationship between “faith” and “hope.” He takes two seemingly independent melodies (faith and hope) played by separate instruments and weaves them together to create one harmonious, orchestral chorus. He writes:

If faith is a sure persuasion of the truth of God which can neither lie nor deceive us and be neither vain nor false, those who have conceived this certainty surely expect likewise that God will accomplish His promises which, according to their conviction, cannot but be true.

So that, in sum, hope is nothing else than the expectation of the things that faith has believed to be truly promised by God. Thus Faith believes God to be truthful: Hope expects that He will show His veracity at the opportune time.

Hope is nothing else than the expectation of the things that faith has believed to be promised by God. Faith believes God tells the truth; Hope expects God will demonstrate his truthfulness at the opportune time. Faith believes God to be our Father; Hope expects He will always act as such toward us. Faith believes eternal life to be given to us; Hope expects that it shall be revealed at some time. Faith is the foundation on which Hope rests; Hope nourishes and maintains Faith. Because no one can expect and hope anything from God, except he or she will have first believed his promises. On the other hand, it is necessary that our feeble faith be sustained (lest we grow weary and fail). So patient hope and expectation keep faith.

John Calvin On Correct Baptismal Usage

I was pressed on the proper mode of baptism recently by a Presbyterian brother.[1] I listened as he made his protestations and appeals to a myriad of proofs for the legitimacy of sprinkling over and against immersion. After a few minutes, I grabbed my copy of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion.[2] I flipped through the pages of Calvin’s magisterial tome when I found the section I was looking for.[3] Then I began reading Calvin’s section on Erroneous and correct baptismal usage:

But whether the person being baptized should be wholly immersed, and whether thrice or once, whether he should only be sprinkled with poured water—these details are of no importance, but ought to be optional to churches according to the diversity of countries. Yet the word “baptize” means to immerse, and it is clear that the rite of immersion was observed in the ancient church.[4]


  1. The three traditional modes of baptism: pouring, sprinkling, and immersion.  ↩

  2. Anecdote: A different Presbyterian brother once confessed that meeting a Baptist who had read through the Institutes was akin to “encountering a unicorn in the forest.”  ↩

  3. I have always been tickled by Barth’s description of Calvin in Karl Barth, Revolutionary Theology in the Making: Barth-Thurneysen Correspondence 1914–1925, trans. James D. Smart (Richmond: John Knox Press, 1964), 101: “Calvin is a cataract, a primeval forest, a demonic power, something directly down from Himalaya, absolutely Chinese, strange, mythological; I lack completely the means, the suction cups, even to assimilate this phenomenon, not to speak of presenting it adequately. What I receive is only a thin little stream and what I can then give out again is only a yet thinner extract of this little stream. I could gladly and profitably set myself down and spend all the rest of my life just with Calvin.”  ↩

  4. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, vol. 2, The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 1320 emphasis added.  ↩

You Are Not An Exile: Communication Breakdown in 1 Peter 2:11

“Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11, NIV)

“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11, ESV).

Heed this warning: I am about to get on my pedantic high-horse. Still with me? Ok, let’s go. I dislike both the NIV and ESV translation of this verse. For the sake of brevity, I will focus my ire on two points:

  • 1) By translating “Ἀγαπητοί” as “dear friends” the editors of the NIV ignore Peter’s allusion to how this word was used in the OT, and thereby miss his point: the Gentiles have been brought into God’s family, and have become his beloved in Christ.
  • 2) By translating “παρεπιδήμους” as “exiles” the editors of the NIV and ESV evoke false imagery that points back to Israel’s time in captivity, rather than Abraham’s trek to the promised land by faith.

Dear friends

The translation “dear friends” does not do justice to semantic weight God has invested in the word “Ἀγαπητοί.” Of course, one could retort, “Doesn’t Jesus call us his friends (Jn 15:15)?” Yes, and praise God! As Carson explains, Jesus’ friends are the objects of his love (v. 13), and “his friends are informed of his thinking, enjoy his confidence and learn to obey with a sense of privilege and with full understanding of their master’s heart.”[1] But Jesus calls us his “φίλους” (friends)—not “Ἀγαπητοί” (beloved)—and that’s not what Peter is talking about. Peter is bestowing the title “beloved" (i.e., loved by God), the title formerly reserved for Israel, on the new people of God constituted in the church.

Only two verses prior, Peter writes, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light…Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:9, 11, ESV emphasis added).

If you will allow me, I will take these out of order.

  • Chosen Race/People: In Isa 43:20 God promises to provide for his “chosen people” during their exile in Babylon, and later promises a new exodus patterned after their deliverance from Egypt; yet infinitely better. The good news announced in Isaiah (cf. Isaiah 52:7) promised their return to the land (dwelling in God’s presence), forgiveness of sins, reconciliation into God’s grace, a new exodus, a new temple, and worldwide peace and salvation.
  • People For His Own Possession: While not as clear cut as the other allusions, God speaks of Israel as a “people whom I formed for myself” (Isaiah 43:21, ESV), and he calls penitent Israel “mine“ and ”my treasured possession" (Malachi 3:17, ESV).
  • Kingdom of Priests/Holy Nation: The Lord calls Israel “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). In Daniel 7, after seeing ”one like the son of man"(v. 14) receive all authority and dominion, Daniel is told that “the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, forever and ever’” (Daniel 7:18, ESV). In case the temporal emphasis was missed on you, allow me to state that again: The saints of the Most High shall “receive” and “possess” this kingdom forever, forever, and ever. The kingdom they receive is the very same one received by “one like a son of man” (Daniel 7:13–14). Lest we confuse whose kingdom it is, Daniel points out that the saints receive and possess “his kingdom” (Daniel 7:27). Moving back to the background of Genesis, after creating the world, God bestowed dominion on the one in his image and likeness: Adam. So, too, in the restoration of his world, the one like the son of Adam will “exercise dominion over God’s kingdom, which will be held by God’s holy ones, his saints.”[2]
  • Beloved: In the Psalms, David exalts God before the nations for his steadfast love, and asks that God would deliver his “beloved ones” (Psalm 108:6). In Isaiah, God describes Israel as “his beloved” (Isaiah 5:1, ESV).

The Jews saw themselves as God’s beloved, chosen people, whom he made for himself and subsequently linked themselves to these “saints of the Most High” who would receive the kingdom (cf. Acts 1:6). Peter, however, applies the terms formerly used specifically for Israel to this mixed community of Jews and Gentiles. By calling his readers (Jews and Gentiles) “ἐκλεκτόνhis” (chosen v. 9), “βασίλειον ἱεράτευμα” (kingdom of priests v. 9), “ἔθνος ἅγιον” (holy nation v. 9), “λαὸς εἰς περιποίησιν” (people for his own possession v. 9), and “Ἀγαπητοί” (beloved v. 11), Peter informs his readers that God’s kingdom promised in Daniel 7 has arrived, and it is possessed by all the nations of the world. These Gentiles, “were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Pet 2:10; cf. Hos 2:23 and Eph 2:12–13). In fact, as Schreiner points out, “Peter also replicated the exact words of Exod 19:6 in identifying the church as a ‘holy nation’ (ethnos hagion; cf. Exod 23:22, LXX). The church of Jesus is a people now set apart for the Lord, enjoying his special presence and favor.”[3]

Exiles

I began this post by stating my displeasure at both the NIV and ESV translation of this passage, and have only dealt with the NIV thus far. If this was your concern, fret no more, because here I go. Peter has nearly exhausted the bank of unique titles reserved for Israel and spent them to describe the New Covenant community (i.e., the church), which is comprised of people from every tribe and language and people and nation (Rev 5:9). He has situated those who “were not a people” into the people of God by showering them in indicatives (statements of fact). Peter wants these new believers to know what is true of them in Christ before he relays the imperatives (commands) because he knows that what they do flows from who they are—or in this case, whose they are. Furthermore, as Douglas Wilson succinctly puts it, “When the imperatives are placed before the indicative of the gospel, the result is some sort of attempt to earn salvation. When the indicative of the gospel is placed first, the result is the fruit of obedience; obedience to God’s imperatives.”[4] Because God’s gospel brings about the “obedience of faith” (Rom 1:5), the biblical indicatives are almost always followed by imperatives.[5] If the indicatives are lightening, the imperatives are thunder. And this is exactly what we see in 1 Peter 2:9–11.

“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11, ESV emphasis added).

In case syntax isn’t your forte I have emboldened the imperative (command): I urge you to abstain from the passions of the flesh. Notice that this command is interrupted by a metaphor: “as sojourners and exiles.” Schreiner explains that “The language of strangers and exiles is appropriated theologically, signifying that the readers are like foreigners because of their allegiance to Jesus Christ.”[6] And herein lies the problem.

There is a difference between an exile—expelled/taken from God’s land/presence as a result of egregious violations of his covenant (think of Israel in Babylon)—and a sojourner—recipient of a covenant promise who situates his identity in where he is going, rather than where he is (think Abraham). The NIV and RSV/ESV (ESV was a reboot of RSV) are the major translations that use the word “exile,” while NASB has “strangers,” NKJV has “pilgrims,” and LEB has “temporary residents.” The case I am making is that exile is a bad translation, as it evokes false imagery. “παρεπιδήμους” (the word translated “exile”) was not the word used by the LXX (Greek translation of the OT) to describe Israel’s exile (e.g. Jeremiah 36:27 LXX ἀποστέλλω; 4 Kingdoms 25:11 LXX μεταίρω). Peter was not pointing his readers back to Israel and her time in captivity, but to Abraham on his trek to the city of God.

When Sarah died, Abraham went to the Hittites to ask for a place to bury his wife, since he had no property. There he refers to himself as a “sojourner and foreigner” (Gen 23:4) “Πάροικος καὶ παρεπίδημος” (Gen 23:4, LXX). What is mind boggling is that the editors of NIV and ESV have rendered this same phrase in Genesis as “alien and stranger” and “sojourner and foreigner” respectively (see also their translation of the phrase in Ps 38:13).

What’s the big deal? The big deal is that the word “exile” is derogatory, and adopting this word changes the whole meaning of the text. To illustrate this point, imagine if I changed Jesus’ charge to be as “innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16) to “ignorant as doves.” Worse, imagine if I changed “For God so loved the world,” (John 3:16, ESV) to “For God so loathed the world.” One word shifts the entire thrust of the passage.

Biblically speaking, exiles are expelled and barred from their land because of sin—ironically, this is how I often hear this verse used (e.g. We want our country back!, 2 Chron 7:14 prayer events). If we think of ourselves as exiles we will likely conclude that God has left us here on earth—barring us from our forever home with him—because of our sin. Being a sojourn is another thing entirely.

The author of Hebrews tells us that “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:8–10, ESV). In the same vein, Peter calls the church to abstain from gratifying the flesh—which wages war in your soul—by living in faith as stranger/foreigner and sojourner/temporary resident in this world. It is a foolish thing to spend money renovating the kitchenette in your hotel room. You’re not staying! This is what Jesus is getting at when he says ““Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19–20, ESV). When we live with this mentality, and keep our conduct honorable, the evildoers who speak against us at the judgment will be put to shame, since they have witnessed a gospel life in action and have no excuse (see 1 Peter 2:12). All that to say, you are not an exile, you are an alien (not that kind).


  1. D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), 522–3.  ↩

  2. James M. Hamilton Jr, With the Clouds of Heaven: The Book of Daniel in Biblical Theology (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014), 93.  ↩

  3. Thomas R. Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, vol. 37, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003), 115.  ↩

  4. Douglas Wilson, “Indicatives and Imperatives,” Blog & Mablog, October 1, 2012, https://dougwils.com/books/indicatives-and-imperatives–2.html.  ↩

  5. It is generally accepted that the six chapters of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is broken down in two halves: chs. 1–3 (indicatives) and chs. 4–6 (imperatives). Admittedly this is a little too neat, but it is a helpful way to conceptualize the organization of the content.  ↩

  6. Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 120 emphasis added.  ↩