Thursday, February 02, 2023

The Early Development Of Baptismal Beliefs And Practices

Advocates of baptismal justification and some other views of baptism (e.g., infant baptism) often speak of their views as if they were universally agreed upon in earlier centuries. Some of the groups involved even claim that they belong to an institution that's always held all apostolic teaching in unbroken succession throughout church history, that the institution is infallible, that all or a large percentage of the church fathers were part of their institution, and so forth. So, it's significant accordingly if we see early baptismal theology being more developmental and varied than claims like the ones I just mentioned would suggest. And for those who think there was an early departure from apostolic teaching on one or more baptismal issues, evidence of development and variation in early views of baptism can provide significant evidence for their position accordingly.

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Baptism And Justification In The Odes Of Solomon

The Odes Of Solomon is more difficult to judge than other sources in some ways. It's a songbook, consisting of poetry, and poetic language is often less exact and more difficult to interpret. And the speaker in the odes sometimes seems to change, even within a single ode, and it's sometimes hard to tell who's doing the speaking. For reasons like those, we have to be more cautious than usual in interpreting the document accordingly.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Baptism And Justification In Aristides

Aristides is one of the most neglected of the earliest church fathers. He seldom gets mentioned in patristic discussions, and I don't remember ever seeing anybody bring him up in the context of soteriology in particular. He didn't write much about soteriology, but he did make some comments of significance that are worth discussing.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Baptism And Justification In Polycarp

It's often claimed that belief in justification through baptism was universal among the church fathers, that everybody between the time of the apostles and the Reformation held that view, or something similar. I've periodically responded to that claim over the years, such as here, and I added some other posts on the subject last year. I want to add a few more this year before collecting links to some of these posts in one place for future reference.

Polycarp's Letter To The Philippians occasionally discusses soteriological issues, but not in a lot of depth. For example:

"'In whom, though now ye see Him not, ye believe, and believing, rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory;' into which joy many desire to enter, knowing that 'by grace ye are saved, not of works,' but by the will of God through Jesus Christ….If we please Him in this present world, we shall receive also the future world, according as He has promised to us that He will raise us again from the dead, and that if we live worthily of Him, 'we shall also reign together with Him,' provided only we believe." (1, 5)

The focus is on faith, but he requires works in some sense as well, probably in the sense of works being the fruit of justifying faith. Just before what I quoted in section 1 of the letter, Polycarp refers to how "the strong root of your faith, spoken of in days long gone by, endureth even until now, and bringeth forth fruit to our Lord Jesus Christ". He had noted that justification is "not of works". He connects that comment in section 1 of the letter to 1 Peter 1:8, which refers to believing in Jesus. In that passage, Peter is addressing the present faith of people who are already Christians, so he doesn't have some sort of combination of faith and baptism in view. Polycarp refers, in section 1, to how people want to "enter" the joy referred to in 1 Peter 1:8, so his references to faith and the exclusion of works probably are focused on the beginning of the Christian life at that point. Near the end of Polycarp's letter, he refers again to those who "shall believe in our Lord Jesus Christ" (12). There's no reference to being justified through baptism, being justified in the context of baptism, or anything like that anywhere in the letter. The most natural reading of the references to faith is that they're meant in an unqualified sense, not in the qualified sense of faith accompanied by baptism, faith at the time of baptism, or some such thing.

The letter isn't long, and there isn't much relevant material in it. But what's there leans against baptismal justification rather than in favor of it.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

The Setting Of Justification Excludes Baptism And Other Works

Disputes over justification often focus on what the source in question refers to as the means of justification and what that source tells us is excluded. For example, Romans 3:28 includes faith while excluding works of the law. I've argued many times, such as here, that other factors should be getting more attention than they typically do. The tax collector in the temple in Luke 18:10-14 wouldn't have been baptized in that context, the thief on the cross wasn't baptized on the cross, and so on. The contexts in which people are justified often exclude baptism and other works. We shouldn't just argue over what terms like "faith" and "works of the law" mean in passages like Romans 3:28. We also should take a broad range of other relevant evidence into account, like what I just referred to. What I want to do in the remainder of this post is discuss one of those lines of evidence, one that gets much less attention than it should.

Sunday, January 22, 2023

God Before Other People

"Being 'under sin' [Romans 3:9] is first and foremost a ruined relation with God. Not, first, a ruined relation with other people….Fix this firmly in your mind, sin is mainly a condition of rebellion against God, not mainly a condition of doing bad things to other people. This is why it is so sad and so pointless when people argue that they are pretty good people, and so don't need the Gospel. What they mean is that they treat other people decently: they don't steal, kill, lie much, or swear much, and they give to some charities. But that is not the main question. The main question is: Do you love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength? Do you love his Son, Jesus Christ? God is the most important person in the universe.…And it doesn't matter what we do for people; if we treat the King of the universe with such disdain, we may know that we are profoundly 'under sin.'" (John Piper)

Thursday, January 19, 2023

A Multipersonal God In Genesis

Than Christopoulos recently posted a good video about the Angel of the Lord in Genesis. And here's another video he recently did with Caleb Jackson about a healing of stomach paralysis with medical documentation.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Updated Recommendations For Bible Study Resources

Here's Denver Seminary's 2023 update for their Old Testament bibliography, and their updated New Testament bibliography can be found here. Steve Hays regularly updated a bibliography of his own until shortly before his death in 2020. You can find that bibliography here. One of the resources he recommended was the Best Commentaries site.

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Protestants Are More Consistent With Matthew 16

Peter isn't just singled out in verses 16-19, which Catholics highlight. He's also singled out in verses 22-23. No other apostle is called Satan. Does it follow that Peter was uniquely Satanic, more evil than anybody else or any other apostle or something akin to that? No. For one thing, Peter can be singled out in verses 22-23 without having any relevant sort of primacy. It could be, and it probably was the case, that Peter was singled out in verses 22-23 because he singled himself out by speaking up. It wouldn't make sense for Jesus to respond to Peter by talking to Thomas. It doesn't follow that Peter was singled out because of being more Satanic than anybody else or some such thing. Since we know in the abstract that something like being singled out in verses 22-23 in the manner in which Peter was singled out doesn't imply primacy in any relevant sense, and the evidence as a whole suggests Peter didn't have the primacy in question (e.g., the evidence we have that Judas was more Satanic than Peter), we conclude that a Satanic primacy most likely isn't being referred to. The passage could be referring to such a primacy, but that possibility isn't a probability. Just as Peter's personality, such as his outspokenness, can explain, and seems to best explain, his being singled out in verses 16-19 without the involvement of something like an additional church office, the same is likely true in verses 22-23.

Protestants apply the same sort of reasoning to verses 22-23 that they apply to verses 16-19. Catholics, on the other hand, are less consistent.

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Does Peter's name suggest papal authority?

Catholics sometimes make claims like the ones I came across in a recent discussion about the papacy: "He spoke to Peter first, and changed his name and gave him the authority specifically. At no other point does God change someone's name and it does not denote new authority and responsibility."

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

The Cumulative Case For The Resurrection Account In Matthew 28:9-10

I've written some posts over the years about some of the reasons we have for believing in the historicity of the resurrection account referred to in Matthew 28:9-10. See here, here, and here. To summarize:

Sunday, January 08, 2023

Isaiah 9 Resources

The first seven verses of Isaiah 9 are highly significant, but usually underestimated, in a lot of important contexts. They have implications for Jesus' identity, how he viewed himself, who he claimed to be, how he was perceived early on, the continuity between the gospels' accounts of his childhood and their accounts of his adulthood, some prophecy fulfillments that are highly evidential, and other significant issues. I've written many posts on Isaiah 9 over the years, and I want to produce a collection of links to some of those posts, so that they can be accessed more easily in one place. I expect to update this post periodically when warranted.

Thursday, January 05, 2023

Angels & demons

From Randy Alcorn:

Question from a reader:

Have you ever been personally aware of being in the presence of demons? Have you ever been aware of a guardian angel doing something on your behalf?

Answer from Randy Alcorn:

[1a] Regarding demons, two things in particular stick out. One was when we were in Egypt, staying with a missionary family. After we’d been there maybe five days, when there was no more jet lag and we’d been sleeping fine, one night Nanci and I were troubled and fitful and unable to sleep all night. It was a heavy presence of evil that was palpable. We prayed quietly, for protection of our daughters and ourselves, and got almost no sleep. In the morning our missionary friends said, “You didn’t sleep last night, did you?” We were surprised, since we hadn’t been making noise. How did they know?

Our friends told us, “We couldn’t sleep either. There are nights here where the demonic presence is so great no Christian can sleep.”

[1b] Another time, Nanci and I were in Hawaii. We had an interview scheduled at what we thought was a Christian radio station. But the moment we walked in the front door, it took our breath away. There was a dark oppressive spirit in the place, one like I have felt only a few times in my life. (Another place, with exactly the same throat clenching darkness, is outside an abortion clinic.) It turned out to be a New Age station with pictures on the wall of various eastern mystics and religious leaders. We understood why we had felt what we had when we walked in. They wanted to talk about my book—they must have misunderstood what it was about—but all I talked about was Jesus being the Son of God, and how he was the way, the truth and the life, and no one comes to the Father but by Him. (That’s the benefit of a live interview—if it had been prerecorded they would have just tossed the tape!)

[2a] As for righteous angels, I’ll never forget driving too fast as a teenager, looking down at something that distracted me, and then looking up to see all yellow in front of me. I swerved to the right, bumped along in a field, cut back onto the road and saw in my rear view mirror the school bus that had come to a complete stop in front of me. I knew immediately, the situation was impossible—I simply could not have been that close to the back of a school bus, where all I saw was yellow, going at that speed and not have crashed into it. Yet I didn’t. God had graciously delivered me, and I suspect some day I’ll find an angel or two were involved in the rescue.

[2b] My family stayed with the Shel Arensen family in Kenya back in 1989. Shel grew up attending Rift Valley Academy in Kijabe, Kenya. During our visit, Shel told me a story I’ve heard since, about something that happened there in the 1950’s. Herbert Lockyer wrote of it in his book on angels, and I think it’s in Billy Graham’s book on angels too. Shel’s family was living there at the time. He pointed out to us where the events of that night unfolded.

That particular night during the “Mau Mau rebellion,” the ruthless warriors of the Mau Mau tribe gathered to climb the hill up to the missionary school (RVA) to capture and kill the missionary children and teachers, and fulfill their vows by eating the brains of white men, who they considered their oppressors.

Word got out about this plan, but it was too late to evacuate the school or to get outside protection. Desperate phone calls were made and people around the world were called upon to pray for God’s intervention. The night went on, with teachers and children huddled at RVA, praying and fully expecting to be attacked, and likely killed, any moment.

But nothing happened. The warriors never made it to the school, and no one was harmed.

No one knew the rest of the story until sometime later, when a Mau Mau warrior was in jail, and on trial. At his trial, the leader of Mau Maus, who led that attack, was asked, “On this particular night did you intend to kill the inhabitants [of the missionary school]?”

“Yes,” he replied.

“Why didn’t you?”

His answer? “We were on our way to attack and kill them, but as we came closer, suddenly between us and the school there were many men dressed in white, holding flaming swords.” He said he and his warriors were all terrified, and fled down the hill, never to return.

Sure, sometimes God chooses not to answer our desperate prayers exactly as we wish. But how many times has he answered when we haven’t realized he’s moved heaven and earth—and maybe a company of righteous angels—to do it? Had the human warriors not told what they saw, who ever would have known what really happened that night.

Were the gospel titles added when all four gospels were first collected?

Walter Wilson's recent commentary on Matthew refers to the similarities among the titles of the early manuscripts of the gospels (e.g., "The Gospel According To Matthew") and claims that "the inscriptiones [titles] were affixed to all four gospels at a single point during the process of aggregation, that is, when they first began to circulate as a collection, in order to distinguish them from one another." (The Gospel Of Matthew, Vol. 1, Matthew 1-13 [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2022], approximate Kindle location 1208) Earlier, he had written that the title of the gospel of Matthew was "affixed to the document in the early second century CE as a way of both differentiating it from the other gospels and affirming its authenticity as a witness to the apostolic faith." (605) So, Wilson apparently thinks that the titles were applied when "all four gospels" were collected in the early second century.

Tuesday, January 03, 2023

The Seed And The Kingdom

"John [the Baptist] was the last of the goodly succession of prophets and righteous men who had faithfully sown the seed of the word of God but had not lived to see the harvest. Then came Jesus, proclaiming the arrival of the divine kingdom which they had foretold. He came as that kingdom in person, the autobasileia, as Origen so finely put it, the very embodiment of the good news which he brought. He is the Sower par excellence; more than that, he is himself the grain of wheat falling into the ground and dying, so as to produce an abundance of fruit (John 12:24). It is the privilege of his disciples in all generations to reap the harvest that continues to spring from this good seed." (F.F. Bruce, The Gospel & Epistles Of John [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1983], 115)

"Do you not say, 'There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest'? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest. Already he who reaps is receiving wages and is gathering fruit for life eternal; so that he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. For in this case the saying is true, 'One sows and another reaps.' I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored and you have entered into their labor….The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." (John 4:34-38, 12:23-24)