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Archive for the ‘Christology’ Category

4. The Three Basic Phases of the Covenant

We have introduced the three phases of the covenant, from childhood to adulthood to full maturity. Let us look more fully at each of these three phases.

The Bible speaks of the Church as Daughter in this Old Creation phase: Daughter Zion, Daughter Jerusalem, and for converted nations, Daughter Tyre, etc. This is a time of childhood, of immaturity. We think of immaturity as something bad, but it is not. It is a gift of God appropriate for our first phase of life. We have said that the Son has eternally “become” mature, but this also means that the Son is also eternally moving from being immature. There is nothing wrong with such immaturity. It is what being a son means: to look up to one’s father. The Son is eternally immature, being a Son to his Father. He is eternally becoming mature through the Spirit. And he has eternally become mature, so that he is fully like his Father.

We need to remember the difference between created time and the Divine eternity. In time and history, maturation is a process, while in eternity it is a condition.

Thus, in the Old Creation we are like the Son in his Divine immaturity. We are under the Father, who has sent the Son to us as his Angel (messenger) to teach us the rules we are to obey during our childhood: the Law. The Father has sent his Spirit to cause us to grow up into adulthood. He wants us to become fully mature, just as his Son is eternally mature.
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The previous essay on “Monocovenantalism” brought up this matter, so a few comments here. In this area also the mindless militants have perverted the conversation. The notion that the death of Jesus was insufficient for our justification and that we must also have an imputation of His perfect life in order to be declared just is a notion found in none of the Reformed Confessions. It was debated at the Westminster Assembly, with people on both sides, and the Assembly decided to write nothing about it and leave it as adiaphora.

Like American political liberals who find the right to abortion hidden in the Constitution, today’s militants have found this doctrine hidden in the penumbra and interstices of the Reformed faith and are determined to pronounce as heretics anyone who differs from it. Never mind that their behavior makes the entire Westminster Assembly into heretics!

I’m rather dubious about this doctrine myself, since I cannot find it in the Bible. Perhaps it is there by implication, as indeed may be the case. I do think, however, that there are some underlying issues that play into the matter, and these I wish simply to note here.

One issue  is the incarnation. The early church and the Nicene Creed affirm that the incarnation was “for us” as well as “for our salvation.” The Son was not incarnated as man only to save us from sin, but also to “bring many sons to glory.” In other words, the incarnation was planned all along, sin or no sin. God created humanity as a bride for His Son, and it was always going to be the Son who would come into the world and bring His bride to full glory. Notice the Creed:

Who for us men,

          And for our salvation,

Came down from heaven,

And was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary,

And was made man;

          ALSO [etiam] was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate,

          And suffered….

Together with this is the effective rejection of Romans 8:30, where “justified and glorified” are in the same tense. There is present glorification just as there is future justification. As 2 Corinthians 3:18 assures us, we are presently growing from glory to glory. The early church called glorification “deification.” The passages used nowadays to show imputed righteousness, such as the robing of Jeshua in Zechariah 3, are actually about glorification (as is obvious).

God killed an animal to cover Adam’s sin in the garden, and then clothed them in tunics, a royal garment. This “same” tunic of royal rule was stripped from Jesus at the cross and the soldiers cast lots for it.

The “day of atonement” in Leviticus 16 is actually literally the Day of Coverings, plural. Blood covers the Ark-Cover, removing sin, and then the priest is covered in his glory garments.

I lean my hand upon the sacrificial animal, but he does not turn around and put his innocent paw upon me. Rather, he dies and his blood is displayed. That’s justification. Then, however, the sacrifice enters into God’s fiery shekinah presence inside the “altar” (communion site) and ascends up to the throne. That’s glorification.

My robes are white in the BLOOD of the Lamb, not from “imputed righteousness.” The Lord’s Supper displays Jesus’ DEATH to the Father until He comes.

Jesus receives my liability to sin and thus dies, His blood displayed. What I receive from Him is union with His glorification by the Spirit. It is His new life, resurrection and transfigured life, that is given to me. It is the well nigh universal failure of the Reformed faith to take this Biblical data into account that is behind the confusion over justification. Jesus died for me. That’s why I’m forgiven. That’s enough.

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BMEV, or “Blessed Mary Ever-Virgin,” should not be an issue for any Protestant today, but clamor from various quarters means that we need once again to “get real” with the Biblical data here. Herewith is a reworking of a recent essay on the subject originally published in Biblical Horizons.

Early on in the church it was decided that Joseph must have kept Mary a virgin all her life. Unquestionably this is because sex was considered dirty — we need only peruse the Church “Fathers” to see this over and over. The mother of Jesus could not possibly have engaged in such a disgusting, sweaty, stinky enterprise.

This abysmal notion is ferociously defended by those given over to this idea. It is clear from the Bible that the pleasures of marital intercourse are to be enjoyed, and it would have been sinful for Joseph to deny it to her. There is nothing dirty about sex in marriage. Theologian John Murray, once asked if Mary stayed a virgin, replied to the effect: “Of course not! She was a Godly woman.”
Jephthah’s daughter wept because she was consigned to perpetual virginity. Are we to believe that God rewarded Mary’s faithfulness with a curse!? — denying her the pleasures of a husband and the joys of more children?

Matthew 1:25 is quite clear: Joseph “was not knowing her until she gave birth to a son.” It does not say “never knew her.” The “imperfect” status verb here indicates routine continual activity.

And we may ask why Joseph would have felt any need to keep Mary a virgin. Neither he nor anyone else knew that Jesus was the incarnation of God. Often we hear from the ignorant in certain churches that “Well, if my wife had given birth to God Himself, I don’t think I could touch her sexually after that.” Well, in fact nobody knew Jesus was God incarnate. They knew that he was the promised Messiah, son of David, and savior of the world. They did not know and could not possibly have known that He was God on earth. How could Mary and Joseph ever have dealt with him growing up? How could the disciples possibly have had any kind of relationship with him if they had known He was God on earth?

When Jesus calmed the seas, the disciples wondered, saying, “Who is this that even the wind and waves obey him?” Clearly they did not think Jesus was God. He was a kind of super-Moses, who like Moses could command the sea. It is only after His resurrection that the disciples realized that He was God incarnate.

When Peter confessed, “You are the Messiah, the son of the Living God,” he only meant that Jesus was the promised seed of David, the Messiah. In Psalm 2, the Davidic king is “son of God.” It is only after the resurrection that anyone said, “My Lord and my God!”

So, since all Mary and Joseph knew was that Jesus was a man destined for great things, there is no reason on earth they would have refrained from the joys of sex.

Now, even at the time of the Reformation the hold that this evil superstition had on people was so great that the Reformers did not touch it. I read on silly and uninformed blogs that Calvin believed in the perpetual virginity of Mary. That is not true. A glance at Calvin’s commentaries shows that he says, in Matthew 1:25, that it is impossible to know one way or another [he’s wrong about that — JBJ] and that it is best not to worry about it.

Matthew 12:46-50, Luke 8:19-21, and Mark 3:31-35 record that Jesus’ mother and His brothers arrived to see him. We are assured that “brothers” might mean “relatives,” and though a pointless assertion (since Jesus surely did have brothers), this is indeed lexically possible. In Mark 3:32, however, the multitude reports to Jesus, “your mother and your brothers and your sisters are outside looking for you.” Now, “and your sisters” is absent from some ancient manuscripts. It was the consensus of the United Bible Societies Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (3rd ed., 1971), that “and your sisters” is most likely original. If it had been added later, they argue, it would also have been added in verse 31, where it is only “his mother and his brothers arrived.” Now, “brothers” might mean “relatives,” but “sisters” cannot. “Sisters” means sisters.

Whatever the case may be in Mark 3, we can be absolutely certain that Mary and Joseph began to enjoy sex after her purification from childbirth, and that this pleasure was part of God’s gift to them for their faithfulness and obedience, and that they had other children together. Any other opinion is simply an impossibility from a Biblical and consistent Christian point of view.

It is my hope that the Roman Catholic Church, as it rethinks various issues today, will begin to think more clearly and Biblically about this. They rightly seek to honor Mary, but they do so in a very sadly wrong way.

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The book of Acts presents an informative view of the Church, as well as an informative view of the way in which the Church read the Scriptures. As they saw that all things spoke of Jesus Christ, they also went on to apply those things to themselves. They lived the life of Christ.

This can be seen in Acts 4. Peter and John get in trouble for healing a lame man and preaching on the resurrection at Solomon’s portico, and so they are hauled before the Sanhedrin. When they return to the fellowship of the believers and relay their story, the group begins to pray Psalm 2 (vs. 23-31). They explicitly connect the characters in Psalm 2 to the characters at Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus is the Annointed. Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Jews, and the Gentiles are the heathens, nations, and kings and rulers. This much is clear.

What is often missed, however, is that the actual application of this Psalm is not simply to the death of Christ, but to the events that just occurred. The ones gathered against were Peter and John. The “threats” which the Church calls for the Lord to look on in vs. 29 are those threats of vs. 21.

Thus it is quite appropriate for this incident to be followed with the description of the believers holding all things in common. They are of one heart and one soul precisely because they are the one Body of Christ. The giving of the land is the inheritance of the nations, and that they are laid at the apostles’ feet is Christological imagery (Gen. 3:15, Psalm 110).

So the anointed who was conspired against by the rulers and the nations was indeed Jesus, but it is also the Church. We, as the baptized, are all anointed ones, and as we dwell together, we are the one Body of Christ. Our life is Christ’s life, and what is done to us, and in turn what we do to one another, is done to Jesus.

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Baptism is not Christian circumcision. There’s a lot of loose talk to that effect in Presbyterian circles; but it’s not accurate. The old world rite of circumcision was fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Baptism unites us to Christ and therefore makes us participate in the circumcision of Christ. Baptism is not, however, the new world equivalent or fulfillment of circumcision. The death and resurrection of Christ is.

Colossians 2, the only text that comes close to linking circumcision and baptism, actually links circumcision with the cross and resurrection of Christ. According to Colossians 2:8-13,

In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by the putting off of the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your tresspasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him. . .

Baptism unites us to Christ so that we can be said to have died and to have risen with him. But the dying and rising of the flesh of Christ is the circumcision of humanity’s flesh.

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Most modern scholars recognize that behind Arius’s campaign to differentiate Jesus from God was the Hellenistic theological conviction that the high God cannot suffer. Rowan Williams argues that Arius had the right idea about divine suffering, but the wrong idea of God, which “puts the unavoidable question of what the respective schemes in the long term make possible for theology.” One must honestly admit, according to Williams, the “odd conclusion that the Nicene fathers achieved not only more than they knew but a good deal more than they wanted.” (Rowan Williams, Arius: Heresy and Tradition [London: Darton, Longman, and Todd, 198]), p. 22). Now, what does that mean?

The Arians recognized the importance of the genuine sufferings and death of Christ as God. R.P.C. Hanson notes that “at the heart of the Arian Gospel was a God who suffered” (The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God: The Arian Controversy 318-381 [Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1988], p. 121). Unfortunately, they would not (or could not) go the whole way with this insight because they too were under the control of the Greek philosophical impassability axiom. The Arians argued that God must have suffered in Christ, but only a god whose divinity was somehow reduced could suffer. Therefore, the Son was god (theos), but not the one high and immutable God (o theos). He was something of a demigod: created by the high God, but not of the same substance or being as the impassible God.

Although Hanson praises the Arians for not “shying away from the scandal of the cross,” in fact, their own theological program was its own attempt to explain away the scandal of the crucified God. If the Nicene theologians, as Rowan Williams argues, did not fully understand the implications of contending for the homoousios of the Father and Son, they nevertheless rightly emphasized the unity of the one Lord Jesus Christ in such a way that eventually the question of God’s participation in the suffering and death of Jesus would have to be addressed.

We’re still addressing this issue. Many Christians are uncomfortable with affirming that God the Son experienced death as a man (the theopaschite formula). They feel the need to distance God from the suffering of the man Jesus. This is a huge mistake. It’s pretty close to Peter insisting that what Jesus had said about his suffering and death in Jerusalem would “never happen” to him (Matt. 16:22). Jesus pushes Peter aside as a Satan, saying that he does not have “his mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (16:23). Indeed.

God the Son lived as a man, suffered, and experienced death. There is no Gospel if this is not the case.

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