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Observations on the Scriptures

Observations on the Scriptures                                                                   by Jack Kettler

In this study, we will answer the following questions:

  1. What are the Scriptures?
  2. Why are the Scriptures authoritative?
  3. What are the essential characteristics of Scripture?
  4. Why are the Scriptures to be written?
  5. Why should we search the Scriptures?
  6. Are the Scriptures complete?
  7. What about other sources of alleged revelations?
  8. How should we search the Scriptures?

Introductory Comments:

Today in the Post-Modern era, the experience is set-forth as a test for truth. Experiential testimonials, secular and religious, find use as recruitment techniques to gain members. Approaches such as these play upon human emotions. The Christian must not succumb to this erroneous approach to truth, namely letting experiences guide us. On the contrary, the Scriptures must always interpret and test experience, as well as traditions, spiritual leaders, and even the official theology of a church.

When Jesus said, “it is written,” in Matthew 4:10, He established beyond all doubt that the Scriptures are the authoritative and incorruptible Word of God.  The Old and New Testament is the Word of God, and the believer can be confident that the Scriptures are authoritative and sufficient. Thus, the Bible is the final court of appeal when seeking the truth.

A correct view of Scripture is fundamental to establish a system of sound doctrine. It is vital to have a theory of knowledge-based upon a correct view of Scripture. The Christian must build his foundation of knowledge upon the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.

“A dog barks when his master is attacked. I would be a coward if I saw that God’s truth is attacked and yet would remain silent.” – John Calvin

  1. What are the Scriptures?

They are a body of writings considered sacred or authoritative. The Bible also called Holy Scripture, Holy Writ, or the Scriptures the Old and New Testaments.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism:

Quest. 2. What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?

Ans. 2. The Word of God, which is contained in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” (2Timothy 3:16)

“And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone.” (Ephesians 2:20)

“That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.” (1John 1:3-4)

Quest. 3. What do the scriptures principally teach?

Ans. 3. The scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.

“Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.” (2Timothy 1:13)

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” (2Timothy 3:16)

The first chapter of the Westminster Confession says the Scriptures are:

“The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life…”

  1. Why are the Scriptures Authoritative?

The authority of Scripture flows from the fact that it is God’s Word and declares itself God’s Word. It follows unavoidably that the Scriptures are binding upon the Christian as doctrine and for all of life.

The Prophet Isaiah declares the power of God’s Word when sent forth:

“So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11)

David, in the Psalms, further confirms this truth:

“By the word of the LORD were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth. And, the counsel of the LORD standeth forever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations.” (Psalms 33:6, 11)

Not only is God and His Word powerful and irresistible when sent forth, but it is also crucial to see just how closely God is identified with the Scriptures. A connection like this further establishes that it is the highest authority.

Consider this example from the book of Romans:

“For the scripture saith, whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.” (Romans 10:11)

Notice how the apostle Paul in the book of Romans, says, “For the Scripture saith.” It is significant to see when you consult Isaiah 28:16, whom Paul is quoting in Romans, and you find that it is God speaking.

To appreciate this connection of the wording the “Scripture saith” and “thus saith the Lord,” consider:

“Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.” (Isaiah 28:16)

Then in Romans, we read:

“For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.” (Romans 9:17)

Was God speaking or the Scriptures? If there is any doubt, we know for sure after reading:

“And in very deed for this cause have I raised thee up, for to shew in thee my power; and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth.” (Exodus 9:16)

Exodus 9:16 that it is God that was speaking, whereas, Romans says, “the Scripture saith.” Therefore, it is clear that God and the Scriptures are so closely identified as to be synonymous. In essence, we learn from these examples, “thus saith the Lord God,” and the phrase “the Scriptures saith” are used interchangeably.

As we have seen, the Scriptures are the Word of God. In addition, they reveal His thoughts, His will, and purposes. God is the author, and they rest on His authority.

“So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11)

  1. What are the essential characteristics of Scripture?

The following five passages speak to this question:

“Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish aught from it, that ye may keep the commandment of the Lord your God which I command you.” (Deuteronomy 4:2)

“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” (Psalms 119:105)

“Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.” (Proverbs 30:5-6)

“Whoso despiseth the word shall be destroyed: but he that feareth the commandment shall be rewarded.” (Proverbs 13:13)

“The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand forever.” (Isaiah 40:8)

These five passages set God’s Word apart from the writings of men by the fact that God’s words are “pure,” “a lamp and light,” and are “eternal.” Despising the Word of God by rejecting or altering it, destruction awaits.

In addition, the Scriptures are infallible, they are holy, they are powerful, they are complete, they are understandable, and in them, we find the ordained means of salvation.

“For the scripture saith, whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.” (Romans 10:11)

“Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.” (Isaiah 28:16)

  1. Why are the Scriptures to be written?

The inscription of God’s Word gives us an objective divine standard to determine the truth.

Consider the following passages in God’s Word about this:

“For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning…” (Romans 15:4)

“And Moses wrote all the words of the Lord… And he [Moses] took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people…” (Exodus 24:4, 7)

“Now go, write it before them in a table, and note it in a book that it may be for the time to come for ever and ever.” (Isaiah 30:8)

“Take thee a roll of a book, and write therein all the words that I have spoken unto thee against Israel, and against Judah, and against all the nations, from the day I spake unto thee, from the days of Josiah, even unto this day.” (Jeremiah 36:2)

“Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersover thou goest. This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth, but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou have good success.” (Joshua 1:7-8)

“And the Lord answered me, and said, write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it.” (Habakkuk 2:2)

“Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, what thou seest, write in a book and send it unto the seven churches…” (Revelation 1:11)

God’s Word was to be written so that His people could know how to live in a way pleasing to Him and be able to know right from wrong. Apart from the objective written standard of Scripture, man is left with his own subjective opinions. In addition to the scriptural pattern just seen, there are numerous examples, by biblical writers, to the appeal to what had been previously written.

For example:

“Now, brothers, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, ‘Do not go beyond what is written.’ Then you will not take pride in one man over against another.” (1Corinthians 4:6 NIV)

In the Tyndale New Testament Commentary on First Corinthians, Leon Morris makes the following comment about the above verse:

“‘Not beyond what is written’ was a catch-cry familiar to Paul and his readers, directing attention to the need for conformity to Scripture.” (1)

  1. Why should we search the Scriptures?

We search the Scriptures for the knowledge of God, for truth, to learn our responsibilities, for comfort, to learn how to advance in sanctification.

The testimony of the Scriptures is that they are sufficient. The Scriptures are entirely adequate to meet the needs of the believer. The believer can have confidence in the Scriptures. God’s Words are described as “pure,” “perfect,” “a light,” and “eternal.” Having this confidence is a conclusion drawn from or deduced from the Scriptures by good and necessary consequence.

“For whatever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.” (Romans 15:4)

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” (2Timothy 3:16)

  1. Are the Scriptures Complete?

The Scriptures are complete, and divine Revelation has ceased. When the subject of “the closing of the canon” comes up, this is what is meant. As will be seen, the completion and ceasing of divine Revelation are in the Scripture itself. That is why the apostle restricts the believer to “…not go beyond what is written…” (1Corinthians 4:6 NIV)

The next verse from Daniel is of importance for the subject of the closing of the canon:

“Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy.” (Daniel 9:24)

The terminus or completion of this prophecy is in the 1st Century. Verses in Daniel 9:25-27 say that when the seventy-week period begins, it will continue uninterrupted until the seventy-week period is over or complete. Christ’s death and resurrection made an end to the sins of His people. He accomplished reconciliation for His people. Christ’s people have experienced everlasting righteousness because of the fact that we are clothed in Christ’s righteousness, which is everlasting. The phrase “and to seal up the vision and prophecy” establishes the closing of the canon of Scripture.

  1. J. Young in The Geneva Daniel Commentary makes the following observations concerning “vision” and “prophecy” in the Old Testament:

“Vision was a technical name for revelation given to the OT prophets (cf. Isa, 1:1, Amos 1:1, etc.) The prophet was the one through whom this vision was revealed to the people. The two words, vision and prophet, therefore, serve to designate the prophetic revelation of the OT period…. When Christ came, there was no further need of prophetic revelation in the OT sense.” (2)

Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers is in agreement with E. J. Young on Daniel 9:24:

“To Seal Up.—σϕραγίσαι, Theod.; συντελεσθῆναι, LXX.; impleatur, Jer.; the impression of the translators being that all visions and prophecies were to receive their complete fulfilment in the course of these seventy weeks. It appears, however, to be more agreeable to the context to suppose that the prophet is speaking of the absolute cessation of all prophecy. (Comp. 1Corinthians 13:8.)” (3)

In a similar fashion, in Adam Clarke’s Commentary concerning this same phrase we read:

“To put an end to the necessity of any farther revelations, by completing the canon of Scriptures, and fulfilling the prophecies which related to his person, sacrifice and the glory that should follow.” (4)

Consider the biblical evidence for this:

“Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith, which was once delivered unto the saints.” (Jude 3:3)

“Which was once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 3:3 NKJV)

This verse in Jude is speaking about the closing of the New Testament Canon. What does Jude mean by the phrase “the faith”? Also, notice how this “faith” was delivered (past tense) to the saints.

Simon J. Kistemaker, in the New Testament Commentary of the book of Jude, says the following what the “faith” that was delivered was:

“What is this faith, Jude mentions? In view of the context, we understand the word faith to mean the body of Christian beliefs. It is the gospel the apostles proclaimed and therefore is equivalent to the apostles teaching.” Acts 2:42 (5)

More on the phrase once delivered:

The phrase once [hapax] delivered is important. Hapax means once for all.

In Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, we find this comment concerning hapax:

“Once for all, of what is perpetual validity, not requiring repetition.” (6)

A passage in 1Corinthians sheds even more light on the completion of Scripture:

“For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.” (1Corinthians 13:9-10)

The passage says that something that is “in part” will be done away with when “that which is perfect is come.” What is the apostle referring to when he says that something perfect is coming?

Theologian Gordon H. Clark comments on this:

“There is one phase, not so far mentioned: “When the completion comes,” or “when that which is perfect comes.” This raises the question: Completion of what? It could be the completion of the canon. Miracles and tongues were for the purpose of guaranteeing the divine origin of apostolic doctrine. They cease when the revelation was completed. Even the word knowledge is better understood this way. Instead of comparing present-day extensive study of the New Testament with Justin’s [Martyr] painfully inadequate understanding of the Atonement, it would be better to take knowledge as the apostolic process of revealing new knowledge. This was completed when revelation ceased.” (7)

Clark is on track when connecting the coming perfection with the completion of the Scriptures. The tongues and prophecy of the apostolic era confirmed and bore witness to the truthfulness of that message. Nevertheless, tongues, prophecy, and revelatory knowledge were lacking when compared with the written Scripture. The written Scriptures are far superior to spoken words.

Dr. Leonard Coppes also has relevant comments regarding this section of Scripture:

“This is a clear statement that when the knowledge being given through the apostles and prophets is complete, tongues and prophecy shall cease. Tongues, prophecy, and knowledge (gnosis) constitute partial, incomplete stages. Some may stumble over the idea that “knowledge” represents a partial and incomplete (revelational) stage. But is rightly remarked that Paul distinguishes between sophia and gnosis in 1 Cor. 12:8 All three terms (tongues, prophecy, knowledge) involve divine disclosure of verbal revelation and all three on that basis alone ceased when the foundation (i.e., the perfect) came (10). Verse 11 speaks of the partial as childlike (cf., 14:20) and the perfect as manly (the apostolic is “manly,” too, cf., 14:20). Paul reflecting on those who are limited to these childlike things describes this limitation as seeing in a mirror darkly (12). When the perfect (the apostolic depositum) is come, full knowledge is present.” (8)

Coppes, like Clark, connects the perfection with the completion of the canon.

The following verse provides vital information concerning the completion of Scripture:

“And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.” (Ephesians 2:20)

This verse in Ephesians tells us that the apostles are part of the foundation of the church. The church has only one foundation. The Scripture in John 14:26 teaches that the apostles were taught “all things.” Paul commanded Timothy to “guard the good deposit” of truth in 2Timothy 1:14. This “deposit” was identifiable, or else Paul’s command to Timothy would not make sense. Furthermore, in order to guard it, this deposit could not have been a nebulous association of oral traditions.

“And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shown you, and have taught you publicly, from house to house… For I have not shunned to declare to declare unto you all the counsel of God.” (Acts 20:20, 27)

Since the apostles taught all the counsel of God, there would be no need for further revelation. What can you add to all of the counsel of God? The “good deposit” or the “all the counsel of God” was connected to the apostolic period at the foundation of the church. The authoritative apostolic writings became part of the New Testament canon.

The biblical conclusion is that, after their death, apostolic Revelation ceased. Why? Because of the fact that after the death of the apostles, their special office in the church ceased. The church has only one foundation, not layers of foundations on top of each other, as the “ongoing-apostolic-office” view would require.

Another verse is particularly relevant for the closing of canon during the 1st Century at this point in redemptive history:

“For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” (Revelation 22:18-19)

The book of Revelation is believed to be the last book written in the Bible. It was completed prior to 70 A.D. The passages in Revelation 1:3 and 22:6, 12 are time indicators that point to an early date to this book. Why? Someone may ask. The wording in these texts, such as “for the time is at hand” and “which must shortly be done” provide convincing evidence for an early date prior to 70 A.D. for John’s Revelation. This is because the 1st Century fulfillment of the prophecies within the book are relevant to the dating of Revelation prior to 70 A.D. Therefore, the time-sensitive texts previously mentioned become important indicators pointing towards dating the book in the 1st Century.

In addition, the temple in chapter eleven is shown to still be in existence, also supporting this early date prior to 70A.D. If an early date for the book of Revelation is accurate (which it is), then it allows the book to fit into the period of Daniel’s prophecy. Accordingly, the book of Revelation fits into the period and purview of Daniel’s “seventy weeks.” Therefore, those who argue for continued Revelation do so at the peril of their souls since they are urging men to violate this scriptural warning recorded in the last book of the canon.

Another passage that sheds important light on the penalty for giving false Revelation is in Zechariah 13. The context of this section of Zechariah places it in the 1st Century. See Zechariah 11:13; 12:10; 13:1; 13:7 for proof of this 1st Century setting.

Consider this warning not to add to God’s Word:

“It shall come to pass that if anyone still prophesies, then his father and mother who begot him will say to him; you shall not live, because you have spoken lies in the name of the Lord. And his father and mother who begot him shall thrust him through when he prophesies.” (Zechariah 13:3) (NKJ)

This passage supports the view that prophecy has ended in light of the fact that the death penalty is still to be carried out for false prophetic utterances and is in harmony with Daniel 9:24. The phrase “If anyone still prophesies” makes it clear that prophecy has ended. The death penalty is required for those who give new revelation. Why? Because it is false revelation since God has ceased giving revelation. This is the consistent theme of Scripture. Again, see Revelation 22:18-19; Galatians 1:8, 9; Deuteronomy 13:5 for the penalties and curses associated with violating this prohibition.

Consequently, since there is no fundamental difference between Old and New Testament Revelation, and the source of the revelation is identical, there is no reason to doubt that all giving of new revelation ceased in the 1st Century.

  1. What about other sources of alleged revelations?

The advantage of having an objective written Revelation:

There are other ideas about how God’s Revelation is communicated. In some religions, you have ideas like oral traditions that have been passed down through the centuries or a document that is constructed from memories of numerous individuals who lived over 100 years after the giver of the revelations had died. In other cases, you have revelations where the original revelations translated from an unknown language from “Golden Plates” have disappeared.

Written documents can be studied to see if they are forgeries, whereas oral traditions, disappearing “Golden Plates” taken away by an angel called Moroni or the Uthmanic manuscripts, like the Samarqand Codex, or the Topkapi Codex that were originally memorized by various followers of Mohammad over 100 years after his death cannot be studied. In the case of the Koran, there are no original manuscripts, just the memories of men. In the case of the Mormons, Moroni, along with the “Golden Plates,” are still missing.

Memories may be reliable or not. How can you know? How can you research study and evaluate memories of men long since dead? What process was used to determine false from true memories? How were the memories transcribed, and by whom? Allah, in the Islamic religion, supposedly has the true Koran in heaven. Maybe the Mormon “Golden Plates” are there too. Meanwhile, back on earth, this is not much help.

What about oral sacred traditions?

In brief, in certain expressions of Christianity, there is a view that Christ passed on knowledge to the apostles that were never written, and this information was passed down orally by apostolic succession via bishops and patriarchs and declared valid and of equal authority with Scripture in Roman counsels like Trent. The Eastern Orthodox also have oral traditions similar to Rome.

Traditions may be good or bad. Are the traditions in agreement with Scripture, or do they contradict it or add to it is such a way as to change the meaning of the biblical text?

It is circumspect toward the Word of God to be on guard against tradition in light of what Jesus says:  

“Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they wash not their hands when they eat bread. But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.” (Matthew 15:1-6)

Sacred Oral Tradition Churches uses John 20:30 as a proof text for oral traditions:

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31 ESV)

Supposedly, the signs that were not written were maintained in a growing body of oral sacred traditions. Nothing in the text says anything like this happened. It is an assumption read into the text. Some people remembered some of the things and shared them with others. There is no guarantee that after time, everyone’s memories faded stories faded from everyone’s minds.

Do pictures and icons serve as a way to preserve the oral traditions? Many icons need some explanation. The question can be raised, it the explanation correct? A need for pictures and icons to preserve oral traditions is the admission of the weakness and inadequacy of oral traditions.

The Scripture commands us to remember Scriptures:

“You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.” (Deuteronomy 11:18 ESV)

We are to remember the Scriptures and the stories and events in Scripture.

More on the proof text of John 20:30. Does it provide Biblical evidence for a continuing body of revelations or traditions on a par with written Scripture?

In his commentary on the Bible on John 20:30, John Calvin says no:

“30. Many other signs also Jesus did. If the Evangelist had not cautioned his readers by this observation, they might have supposed that he had left out none of the miracles, which Christ had performed, and had given a full and complete account of all that happened. John, therefore, testifies, first, that he has only related some things out of a large number; not that the others were unworthy of being recorded, but because these were sufficient to edify faith. And yet it does not follow that they were performed in vain, for they profited that age. Secondly, though at the present day we have not a minute knowledge of them, still we must not suppose it to be of little importance for us to know that the Gospel was sealed by a vast number of miracles.” (9)

Comments on the things “which were not written”:

The text in John 20:30 says certain things that Christ did, “which were not written.” To use this text for true Revelation not included in the canon but on par with Scriptures is an argument from silence (a fallacy). To say this text provides justification for the beginning of an oral scared tradition on par with the recorded Scripture is reading assumptions into the text. Unfortunately, when a representative from a Christian Church make these type of assumptions, (sloppy exegesis), it provides cover for aberrational religious groups as with the Mormons to follow with even more outlandish teachings.

Another sloppy exegete may cite a passage like:

“And there are also many other things, which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen…” (John 21:25)

In John 21:25, hyperbole is being used as a rhetorical device; thus, the hyper-literalism fails.

Sloppy exegesis strikes again. In a similar way, John, 14:26 can be distorted. For example:

“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you….” (John 14:26)

John 14:26, which deals with Christ’s message, is to the apostles exclusively. Hence, a fallacious interpretation seeks to open the door for continued revelation by leading people to believe that there is still more to the “all things.”

Limitations on the “all things”:

John 14:26 certainly does not mean that Jesus taught his apostles all about the occult and deviant sexual practices. Jesus said many words that are not recorded in Scripture. Jesus probably talked about the weather and thanked his mother for a good meal, and these instances are not recorded. There is clearly a limitation in the “all things” of the passage.

John 14:26 is understood in relation to passages like; “According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue” (2Peter 1:3)

And, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2Timothy 3:16-17).

It is true that not every Word of Christ and the apostles is recorded in the Bible? John even says this “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book” (John 20:30). John follows up this statement in verse 20:30 with an important conclusion that: “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye might have life through his name” (John 20:3, 12).

The phrase in the first part of the verse “are written” is expressing the same truth as “it is written.” If “it is written,” it is Scripture and has been canonized. If it is not recorded in the Bible, it is not Scripture. That is the implicit conclusion that cannot be overlooked.

How do we know if sacred oral traditions are true? Is it because the church says so? How do we know the Word of the church regarding a particular sacred tradition is true? Is it because it is in agreement with sacred tradition? If this were the case, then we would seem to be going in a circle. A circular argument is fallacious and self-refuting.

In Eastern Orthodoxy and Romanism, sacred oral tradition is elevated on a par equal with Scripture. It can be asked, has God revealed all this sacred oral Revelation now? Is oral Revelation complete or not? If not, is this body of Revelation, i.e., “sacred tradition” still expanding? If it is still expanding, how long will these alleged traditions continue to expand or grow? If the sacred oral traditions are written down, what becomes of them? Are they now considered equivalent to the Old and New Testament writings? If so, should the Scriptures be revised by adding them to the Bible as an appendix? Is there a sacred book of traditions? Are there commentaries that explain these “sacred traditions”? If so, are these commentaries inspired? Can every-day men read them? Do we need a special leader to decipher the meaning?

Does this expanding body of revelations or traditions ever contradict each other? It may be said, yes. For instance, the development of Mariology is an example of this. One would have to be dishonest to deny that there are contradictions between the different traditions. For example, Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholics have traditions that contradict each other at various points. The role of “feasts,” “fasts,” “festivals,” the “filoque,” “papal claims,” “original sin,” “purgatory,” the “immaculate conception,” and the use of “icons” are examples of divergent, contradictory traditions. Furthermore, there is much debate and disagreement upon exactly what some traditions mean in the first place.

These examples, by their very nature, are open to endlessly differing accounts and interpretations. Remember a grade school exercise where the teacher gives a sentence to the first student and then that student repeats the sentence to the next and so on until the last student get the sentence and repeats it to the class only to find it is completely different from the start? Oral traditions or stories dependent on memories are inferior and are no more reliable than the child-hood exercise.

What about 2Thessalonians 2:15?

“Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions, which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.” (2Thessalonians 2:15)

In this passage from Thessalonians, Paul is referring to his apostolic message, which was heard and received by the disciples as the “Word of God.”

Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions, which ye have been taught, whether by word, [teaching, preaching] or our epistle [written letter]. (2Thessalonians 2:15)

Paul’s apostolic teachings are described as “traditions” in this passage. Not always, but in this case, the context requires, and Paul wants us to understand that the “traditions” he is mentioning are the Word of God. For an example of traditions that are not Scripture, consider how Jesus mentions the tradition of the elders in Mark 7:3. Christ goes on in the gospel of Mark 7:9 to say that the Pharisees had substituted the commandments of God with the traditions of men.

Evaluating Ancient Documents:

Is it possible to make a final decision on an ancient manuscript being reliable if only one source is available?

In the Christian tradition, there are thousands of manuscripts of the Bible. These manuscripts can be studied and compared with other manuscripts and through conservative textual criticism, eliminate scribal copying errors. The agreement of multitudes of manuscripts is an advantage over a one-source revelatory document. Multiple witnesses that agree are more reliable than one witness is. See Deuteronomy 19:15, and Matthew 18:16. While these two Scriptural references are dealing with criminal conviction and discipline, the underlying principle is valid in ancient manuscript research. As a rule, more copies are better than one. In New Testament textual criticism, the numerous extant manuscripts have always been a recognized advantage.

As Christians, we have the Bible with centuries of textual criticism and very few disputes. Multiple manuscripts that agree is a strong point. In other traditions, ultimately, you must have faith in the word of men since there are no primary source documents. In the end, you have the word of men or the Word of God.

  1. How should we search the Scriptures?

Reverently and submissively, with diligence and dependence on the Holy Spirit.

“These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” (Acts 17:11)

“Search the scriptures; for in them you think you have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.” (John 5:39)

Some human observations:

The strength of the Christian position enumerated above to paraphrase Gordon H. Clark regarding what is known as “Scriipturalism” (all knowledge must be contained within a system and deduced from its starting principles, in the Christian case, the Bible).

“The existence of the Bible, as a book for the people, is the greatest benefit which the human race has ever experienced. Every attempt to belittle it is a crime against humanity.”  – Immanuel Kant

“The doctrines thus delivered we call the revealed or divine law, and they are to be found only in the holy scriptures…[and] are found upon comparison to be part of the original law of nature. Upon these two foundations, the law of nature and the law of revelation depend all human laws; that is to say, no human laws should be suffered to contradict these.” – Sir William Blackstone

“The Bible is worth all other books which have ever been printed.” – Patrick Henry

“Should not the Bible regain the place it once held as a schoolbook? Its morals are pure; its examples are captivating and noble. In no Book is there so good English, so pure and so elegant, and by teaching all the same they will speak alike, and the Bible will justly remain the standard of language as well as of faith.” – Fisher Ames

“We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.” – James Madison

“By removing the Bible from schools we would be wasting so much time and money in punishing criminals and so little pains to prevent crime. Take the Bible out of our schools and there would be an explosion in crime.” – Benjamin Rush

“If we abide by the principles taught in the Bible, our country will go on prospering and to prosper; but if we and our posterity neglect its instruction and authority, no man can tell how sudden a catastrophe may overwhelm us and bury all our glory in profound obscurity.” – Daniel Webster

“Education is useless without the Bible,” “The Bible was America’s basic textbook in all fields,” “God’s Word, contained in the Bible, has furnished all necessary rules to direct our conduct.” – Noah Webster

“It is impossible to enslave, mentally or socially, a Bible-reading people. The principles of the Bible are the groundwork of human freedom.” – Horace Greeley

“The Bible is the only force known to history that has freed entire nations from corruption while simultaneously giving them political freedom.” – Vishal Mangalwadi

“For doctrine.” For thence we shall know, whether we ought to learn or to be ignorant of anything. And thence we may disprove what is false, thence we may be corrected and brought to a right mind, may be comforted and consoled, and if anything is deficient, we may have it added to us. “That the man of God may be perfect.” For this is the exhortation of the Scripture given, that the man of God may be rendered perfect by it; without this therefore he cannot be perfect. Thou hast the Scriptures, he says, in place of me. If thou wouldest learn anything, thou mayest learn it from them. And if he thus wrote to Timothy, who was filled with the Spirit, how much more to us! Thoroughly furnished unto all good works”, not merely taking part in them, he means, but “thoroughly furnished.” – John Chrysostom, Homily 9, commentary on (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

“Knowledge of the Bible protects us and ignorance of it results in a multitude of evils. “This is the cause of all evils, the not knowing the Scriptures. We go into battle without arms, and how are we to come off safe?” (Homily IX On Colossians) “But if we bid you believe the Scriptures, and these are simple and true, the decision is easy for you. If any agree with the Scriptures, he is the Christian; if any fight against them, he is far from this rule.” – John Chrysostom, (Homily 33 in Acts of the Apostles)

“What then? After all these efforts were they tired? Did they leave off? Not at all. They are charging me with innovation, and base their charge on my confession of three hypostases, and blame me for asserting one Goodness, one Power, one Godhead. In this they are not wide of the truth, for I do so assert. Their complaint is that their custom does not accept this, and that Scripture does not agree. What is my reply? I do not consider it fair that the custom which obtains among them should be regarded as a law and rule of orthodoxy. If custom is to be taken in proof of what is right, then it is certainly competent for me to put forward on my side the custom which obtains here. If they reject this, we are clearly not bound to follow them. Therefore let God-inspired Scripture decide between us; and on whichever side be found doctrines in harmony with the word of God, in favour of that side will be cast the vote of truth.” – Basil, (Letter 189, 3)

In closing, may we always be able to say with the Psalmist and Apostle:

“How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” (Psalm 119:103, 105)

“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Titus 3:5).

“To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen” (Romans 16:27).

Notes:

  1. Leon Morris, The Tyndale New Testament Commentary 1 Corinthians, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Inter-Varsity Press, and Eerdmans, 1983), p. 78.
  2. E. J. Young, Daniel, (Oxford: The Banner Of Truth Trust, 1988), p. 200.
  3. Charles John Ellicott, A Bible commentary for English readers, Vol. 5, (London: Cassell, 1882), p. 387.
  4. Adam Clarke, Clarke’s Commentary Vol. 4, (Nashville: Abingdom Press, 1956) p. 602.
  5. Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary Jude, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1987), p. 371.
  6. W. E. Vine, Vine’s Expository Dictionary Of New Testament Words, (Iowa Falls: Riverside, 1952), p. 809.
  7. Gordon H. Clark, First Corinthians, (Jefferson, Maryland: The Trinity Foundation, 1991), pp. 212-213.
  8. Leonard J. Coppes, Whatever Happened to Biblical Tongues? (Chattanooga, Tennessee: Pilgrim Publishing Company, 1977), pp. 59-60.
  9. John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, John, Volume XX, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House Reprinted 1979), p. 280.

Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks. Available at: THERELIGIONTHATSTARTEDINAHAT.COM

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Inspired Songs used in Worship

Inspired Songs used in Worship by Jack Kettler

“Wherever the Psalter is abandoned, an incomparable treasure vanishes from the Christian Church. With its recovery will come unsuspected power.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

In this study, a positive presentation is made that the inspired Psalms are appropriate for worship in the Churches of God. At times in Church history, this was a prevailing position. Today it is a minority view. There are many biblical texts that are relevant. In this, study Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 will be the focus of attention.

“Addressing one another in psalms (ψαλμοις) and hymns (υμνοις) and spiritual songs (ωδαις πνευματικαις), singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart to the Lord with your heart.” (Ephesians 5:19)

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom (σοφίᾳ), singing psalms (ψαλμοις) and hymns (υμνοις) and spiritual songs (ωδαις πνευματικαις), with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16)

How do we understand Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs in the Septuagint? R. Scott Clark explains:

At the top of the Psalms in the LXX were titles or superscriptions. Those superscriptions described each Psalm; they categorized the psalms in four classes or groups:

ψαλμοῖς [Psalms] (2-8, 10-14, 18-24, 28-30, 37-40, 42-43, 45-50, 61-67, 72, 74-76, 78-84, 86-87, 91, 93, 97-100, 107-109, 138-140, 142)

[συνεσις; understanding (31, 41, 43-44, 51-54, 73, 77, 87-88, 141)]

υμνος [Hymns] (5, 53-54, 60, 66, 75)

ωδη [Ode/Song] (3, 17, 29, 38, 44, 47, 64-67, 74-75, 82, 86-87, 90-92, 94-95, 107, 119-133)”

Three of those four superscriptions or categories should seem familiar. Paul invokes them in Colossians 3:16.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom (σοφίᾳ), singing psalms (ψαλμοις) and hymns (υμνοις) and spiritual songs (ωδαις πνευματικαις), with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

Arguably, even though the nouns for “wisdom” or “understanding” are different, we can say that here Paul invokes not just three of the categories but all 4: wisdom, psalms, hymns, and [Holy Spirit-given] songs. He says virtually the same thing in Ephesians 5:19.

Addressing one another in psalms (ψαλμοις) and hymns (υμνοις) and spiritual songs (ωδαις πνευματικαις), singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart….” (1)

Using the Greek translation of the Old Testament (Septuagint), Dr. Scott establishes that psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs are interchangeable.

In the Songs of Zion, author Michael Bushell gives specifics on the use of the three terms throughout Scripture that refer to the Psalms:

“Psalmos…occurs some 87 times in the Septuagint, some 78 of which are in the Psalms themselves, and 67 times in the psalm titles. It also forms the title to the Greek version of the psalter…. Humnos…occurs some 17 times in the Septuagint, 13 of which are in the Psalms, six times in the titles. In 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Chronicles, and Nehemiah there are some 16 examples in which the Psalms are called ‘hymns’ (humnoi) or ‘songs’ (odai) and the singing of them is called ‘hymning’ (humneo, humnodeo, humnesis)…. Odee…occurs some 80 times in the Septuagint, 45 of which are in the Psalms, 36 in the Psalm titles… In twelve Psalm titles, we find both ‘psalm’ and ‘song’; and, in two others, we find ‘psalm’ and ‘hymn.’ Psalm seventy-six is designated ‘psalm, hymn and song.’ And at the end of the first seventy two psalms we read ‘the hymns of David the son of Jesse are ended’ (Ps. 72:20).” (2)

Is it unusual to use three seemingly different words that can mean the same thing?

J. W. Keddie explains the triadic expressions in Scripture:

The Bible contains many examples of triadic expression. For example: Exodus 34:7- “iniquity and transgression and sin”; Deuteronomy 5:31 and 6:1 – “commandments and statutes and judgments”; Matthew 22:37 – “with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (cf. Mk. 12:30; Lk. 10:27); Acts 2:22 – “miracles and wonders and signs”; Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 – “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” “The triadic distinction used by Paul would be readily understood by those familiar with their Hebrew OT Psalter or the Greek Septuagint, where the Psalm titles are differentiated psalms, hymns, and songs. This interpretation does justice to the analogy of Scripture, i.e. Scripture is its own best interpreter.” (3)

For the interchangeable usage of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs former Westminster professor, John Murray provides another profitable entry.

John Murray explains how to understand psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs:

“Why does the word pneumatikos [spiritual] qualify odais and not psalmois and hymnois? A reasonable answer to this question is that pneumatikais qualifies all three datives and that its gender (fem.) is due to attraction to the gender of the noun that is closest to it. Another distinct possibility, made particularly plausible by the omission of the copulative in Colossians 3:16, is that “Spiritual songs” are the genus of which “psalms” and “hymns” are the species. This is the view of Meyer, for example. On either of these assumptions the psalms, hymns, and songs are all “Spiritual” and therefore all inspired by the Holy Spirit. The bearing of this upon the question at issue is perfectly apparent. Uninspired hymns are immediately excluded.” (4)

Historical and confessional perspective on psalm singing from an excellent international musician:

“The councils of Christ’s bride over the centuries have commanded the singing of God’s songs and at the same time prohibited singing the songs of men in worship. As early as the Council of Laodicea held around AD 364, the universal church of Christ declared in Canon 59 “No psalms composed by private individuals nor any uncanonical books may be read in the church, but only the Canonical Books of the Old and New Testaments.” This means it was as wrong to read from the Apocrypha in the public worship of God, as it was to sing a song from men’s imaginations (man created hymns and praise and worship rather than the inspired Psalms of the Bible). The General Council of Chalcedon (from which we get the Definition of Chalcedon) adopted the canons of the Council of Laodicea in AD 451 again prohibiting the use of uninspired songs in the worship of God.”

“The councils of Christ’s bride over the centuries have commanded the singing of God’s songs and at the same time prohibited singing the songs of men in worship.”

As early as the Council of Laodicea held around AD 364, the universal church of Christ declared in Canon 59:

“No psalms composed by private individuals nor any uncanonical books may be read in the church, but only the Canonical Books of the Old and New Testaments.”

“Then in 1547 the Westminster Confession declared the Biblical view of the regulative principle of worship, “But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture.”

“In the following list of those acts that are acceptable worship to God is “…the singing of psalms with grace in the heart.” No songs of men are included but only the songs of God. For the third time in the history of the church spanning some 1200 years of time, the church has declared the worship of God in song to be exclusively the inspired Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs of the Bible.” (5)

Church Fathers on Psalm singing:

“I believe that a man can find nothing more glorious than these Psalms; for they embrace the whole life of man, the affections of his mind, and the motions of his soul. To praise and glorify God, he can select a psalm suited to every occasion, and thus will find that they were written for him.” – Athanasius, Treatise on the Psalms, 296-373 AD

“The Law instructs, history informs, prophecy predicts, correction censures, and morals exhort. In the Book of Psalms, you find all of these, as well as a remedy for the salvation of the soul. The Psalter deserves to be called, the praise of God, the glory of man, the voice of the church, and the most beneficial Confession of Faith.” – Ambrose 337-397AD

“The Book of Psalms is a compendium of all divinity; a common store of medicine for the soul; a universal magazine of good doctrines profitable to everyone in all conditions.” – St. Basil of Caesarea 330-379 AD

Reformation leader, John Calvin on psalm singing:

“Now what Saint Augustine says is true, that no one is able to sing things worthy of God unless he has received them from Him. Wherefore, when we have looked thoroughly everywhere and searched high and low, we shall find no better songs nor more appropriate to the purpose than the Psalms of David which the Holy Spirit made and spoke through him. And furthermore, when we sing them, we are certain that God puts the words in our mouths, as if He Himself were singing in us to exalt His glory.” – John Calvin, Epistle to the Reader, Genevan Psalter (1542)

In line with the ancient Church and Reformation leader, John Calvin, G.I. Williamson persuasively addresses the sufficiency of the Psalter for worship:

“Let us suppose, for a moment, that the Old Testament book of Psalms was not adequate as the vehicle of praise for the New Testament church. Is it not self-evident that, if this really was the case, the first to realize it would have been our Lord? Our Lord did realize that there was a need for a new sacrament. That is why He instituted the sacrament of His body and blood that we call the Lord’s Supper. Yet on the very occasion that He did this, He led His disciples in the singing of a psalm out of the Psalter. And, according to all the evidence that I have seen, the apostle Paul followed his Lord’s example. He did not, himself, write new songs. What he did was to instruct both the Ephesians and the Colossians to sing the pneumatic [spiritual] psalms, hymns, and songs that they already had—something they could easily do because they had the Psalter in their Septuagint version of the Bible. The apostles were inspired men. If there had been a deficiency in the book of Psalms, which they inherited in the Old Testament Scriptures, then they would surely have been quick to realize it. [30] And, realizing it, they certainly could have done something to remedy the deficiency. They could even have given us a book of inspired New Testament songs. But they did not do so. So the argument that new eras of redemptive revelation always bring forth new songs of praise is simply contrary to historical fact.

“[30] Much present day argumentation for uninspired songs is based on the presumption that the Psalter is deficient as the song book of the church of the new covenant. Very different was the view of Calvin, who wrote:

“I have been accustomed to call this book I think not inappropriately, ‘An Anatomy of all the Parts of the Soul’…In short, as calling upon God is one of the principal means of securing our safety, and as a better and more unerring rule for guiding us in this exercise cannot be found elsewhere than in The Psalms, it follows, that in proportion to the proficiency which a man shall have attained in understanding them, will be his knowledge of the most important part of celestial doctrine….It is by perusing these inspired compositions, that men will be most effectually awakened to a sense of their maladies, and, at the same time, instructed in seeking remedies for their cure…There is no other book in which there to be found more express and magnificent commendations, both of the unparalleled liberality of God towards his Church, and of all his works; there is no other book in which there is recorded so many deliverances, nor one in which the evidences and experiences of the fatherly providence and solicitude which God exercises towards us, are celebrated with such splendour of diction, and yet with the strictest adherence to truth; in short there is no other book in which we are more perfectly taught the right manner of praising God, or in which we are more powerfully stirred up to the performance of this religious exercise….here there is nothing wanting which relates to the knowledge of eternal salvation.” (Calvin’s Preface to his Commentaries on the Psalms, pp. xxxviii & xxxix)

The Scottish Reformer, John Knox, echoes the same sentiment: “…there are no songs more meet than the Psalms of the prophet David, which the Holy Ghost has framed to the same use, and commended to the Church as containing the effect of the whole Scriptures, that thereby our hearts might be more lively touched…” (John Knox works, Vol. 4, pp. 164-166).” (6)

Psalms, Hymns and (Spiritual) Songs (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). A Quick Survey by Rev. Martyn McGeown:

“The book of Psalms uses three words to describe the songs in the Psalter (in the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament).

These are ψαλμὸς (“psalm”), ὕμνος (“hymn” [song of praise]) and ᾠδή (“ode” [song]).

In addition, “hymn” in either its noun or verb form is found in Matthew 26:30, Mark 14:26 (Jesus and His disciples sang a “hymn” from the Hallel Psalms, Psalms 113-118, as all agree), Acts 16:25 (Paul and Silas “hymned,” in the dark prison at Philippi, Psalms that these Jewish men had memorized) and Hebrews 2:12 (a quotation from Psalm 22:22).

Therefore, if the Colossians and Ephesians were looking for hymns to sing they had an abundant supply in the Psalter of the Old Testament. The word “hymn” must not be defined as modern people define it but we must allow Scripture to define words for us.

“HYMN”

Psalm 6:1 To the chief Musician [lit. “to the leader in hymns”] on Neginoth upon Sheminith, A Psalm of David. O LORD, rebuke me not in thine anger, neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure.

Psalm 40:3 And he hath put a new song [lit “a new hymn”] in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LORD.

Psalm 54:1 To the chief Musician [lit. “to the leader in hymns”] on Neginoth, Maschil, A Psalm of David, when the Ziphims came and said to Saul, Doth not David hide himself with us? Save me, O God, by thy name, and judge me by thy strength.

Psalm 55:1 To the chief Musician [lit. “to the leader in hymns”] on Neginoth, Maschil, A Psalm of David. Give ear to my prayer, O God; and hide not thyself from my supplication.

Psalm 61:1 To the chief Musician [lit. “to the leader in hymns”] upon Neginah, A Psalm of David. Hear my cry, O God; attend unto my prayer.

Psalm 65:1 To the chief Musician, A Psalm and Song of David. Praise [lit. “a hymn”] waiteth for thee, O God, in Sion: and unto thee shall the vow be performed.

Psalm 67:1 To the chief Musician [lit. “to the leader in hymns”] on Neginoth, A Psalm or Song. God be merciful unto us, and bless us; and cause his face to shine upon us; Selah.

Psalm 72:20 The prayers [lit. “hymns”] of David the son of Jesse are ended.

Psalm 76:1 To the chief Musician [lit. “to the leader in hymns”] on Neginoth, A Psalm or Song of Asaph. In Judah is God known: his name is great in Israel.

Psalm 100:4 Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise [lit. “with hymns”]: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.

Psalm 119:171 My lips shall utter praise [lit. “a hymn”], when thou hast taught me thy statutes.

Psalm 137:3 For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth [lit. “a hymn”], saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.

Psalm 148:14 He also exalteth the horn of his people, the praise [lit. “hymn”] of all his saints; even of the children of Israel, a people near unto him. Praise ye the LORD.

SONG (“ODE”)

Psalm 4:1 To the chief Musician [lit. “to the leader in psalms”] on Neginoth, A Psalm [lit. “a song (ode)”] of David. Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness: thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress; have mercy upon me, and hear my prayer.”

In addition, Psalms 18, 29, 39, 45, 48, 65-69, 75-76, 83, 87-88, 92, 108, 120-133 are all called songs or “odes” in their titles. The titles of Psalms 67 and 76 contain the three words (psalm, hymn and song) together.

So, it ought to be clear what Paul meant (and what the Colossians and Ephesians understood) by “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16).” (7)

Comments:

The texts considered from Ephesians and Colossians are not problems for the psalm-singing churches. As seen, the words psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs are used interchangeably and are referring to the psalms. In addition, as seen, the Bible contains many examples of triadic expression similar to the Ephesians and Colossians texts.

An objection:

On occasion, it has been said that you are not singing the psalms unless you are singing them in the original Hebrew. This argument about singing in Hebrew sounds similar to the Muslims saying you are not reading the Koran unless you are reading it in Arabic.

Counter questions:

Is your pastor reading the Word of God, unless it is done in the original language? If not, how can it be justified not to read the Scriptures in Hebrew and Greek?

Are the psalm-singing churches in sin by using only the psalms? Are they missing out? Missing out on what is a rejoinder. Is there something superior to the psalms? What would that be? What is the songbook that Jesus used?

The Real Issue, Biblical Sufficiency:
The Reformed Churches are committed to the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture. The Psalms are Scripture. Therefore, the Psalms are sufficient. Since the Psalms are sufficient, the psalm singing churches are not missing out.

Do pastors in psalm-singing churches have more opportunity to exposit and offer commentary on the Word of God? Since the psalms are the Word of God, it is normal for the pastor to offer commentary on the psalm-scripture before the psalm is sung.

Without a doubt, there have been some extraordinary human songs composed. The human songs that are faithful to Scripture could be converted into sermons and be profitable. Human composed songs can be used outside of worship. For example, Christmas caroling. Christmas caroling would be similar to street preaching.

In closing:

“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)

Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: http://www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com

Notes:

1. R. Scott Clark, Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs in the Septuagint https://heidelblog.net/…/psalms-hymns-and-spiritual-songs-…/

2. Michael Bushell, Songs of Zion, (Norfolk Press, Norfolk Virginia), pp. 217-218.

3. J. W. Keddie, Why Psalms Only? (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Crown and Covenant Publications), p. 7.

4. John Murray, Song in Public Worship in Worship in the Presence of God, (ed. Frank J. Smith and David C. Lachman, Greenville Seminary Press, 1992), p. 188.

5. Quoted in, How are these Psalms different? By Calvin Jones https://www.patreon.com/calvinjones

6. G.I. Williamson, The Regulative Principle of Worship, Ordained Servant, vol. 10, No. 4, p. 74.

7. Rev. Martyn McGeown, Psalms, Hymns and (Spiritual) Songs, http://www.cprf.co.uk/articles/psalmshymnssongs.html…

For more Study:

A Concise Case for Exclusive Psalmody https://purelypresbyterian.com/…/a-concise-case-for-exclus…/

Exclusive Psalmody: A Biblical Defense Brian Schwertley: http://www.reformedonline.com/…/1503…/exclusive_psalmody.pdf

Psalms or Hymns in Public Worship by Rev. H M Cartwright

Exclusive Psalmody – Traditional or Scriptural? By Rev. Gavin Beers

A Special Exegesis of Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 by Prof. John McNaugher

By Writing “Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs,” Did Paul Really Mean, “Psalms, Psalms and Psalms?” By Stewart E. Lauer

Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16)

Singing the Songs of Jesus: Revisiting the Psalms

Christian Focus Publications

Published in 2010

By Michael Lefebvre

Reviewed by Jack Kettler

Singing the Songs of Jesus by Pastor Michael Lefebvre is a book that delivers on its promise to help the church to revisit the Psalms. Modern day evangelicals often ask, “What would Jesus do?” More to the point, what did Jesus do? During the days of His incarnation, Jesus worshiped His Father, the God of Israel. One of the ways God is worshiped is through songs of praise. What songs did Jesus sing, when He worshiped the Father? The answer to this question is one of the tasks the author takes on in this book.

Pastor Lefebvre draws attention to Biblical material that is often passed over when studying the history of Israel relating to worship. At every point in the history of redemption, Israel’s leaders sang songs before God and the people. The significance of this is often overlooked. Pastor Lefebvre does a remarkable job in chronically how King David was directed by God to oversee the task of creating a songbook for the people of Israel to be used in worship. David’s task involved writing songs, overseeing other composers such as Asaph, organizing choirs and musicians. After David, Solomon continued the task of completing Israel’s songbook.

The preeminence of the king in Israel’s worship of God was an important practice. Not only did David direct the people singing songs in worship, this pattern also applies to David’s Greater Son, who is the Lord. Jesus is our King and is seated at the right hand of the Father. The apostle Paul makes the statement that during worship we are seated with Christ in heaven, specifically; “and made us sit together in heavenly places” Ephesians 2:6. Jesus, our King, is enthroned at the Father’s right hand, and we, through our union with Him, are led in heavenly worship by the King Jesus; “Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee” Hebrews 2:12.

The author makes the case that Jesus, our Kingly choirmaster in the heavenly, leads us in singing praises to the Father. Pastor Lefebvre succeeds not only showing that the Psalms are profitable for doctrine, but they also testify of Christ. They are in fact, the songbook Jesus used to worship the Father. The Psalms were composed for Jesus as our perfect King and song leader.

In this brilliant work, Michael Lefebvre calls the church to once again to sing the songs of Jesus. If the church heeds this call, it will be blessed indeed. It should be the heart’s desire of every believer to conform to Christ in all of our thoughts and deeds. Inevitably, this must also involve conforming in how we worship. Hence, the primary songbook for the church should be the “Songs of Jesus.” This book aims to restore the songs composed for Jesus to their rightful place in His Church. This edifying book should be in the home of everyone who calls himself or herself reformed.

“Wherever the Psalter is abandoned, an incomparable treasure vanishes from the Christian Church. With its recovery will come unsuspected power.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer (End of review)

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The Bible, Boundaries, and Walls

The Bible, Boundaries, and Walls by Jack Kettler

As in previous studies, we will look at definitions, scriptures, lexical, and commentary evidence for the purpose to glorify God in how we live. What does the Bible say about boundaries and borders? Are there modern day applications that we can learn from biblical boundaries and borders?

Boundaries

Thesaurus for Boundaries

Border, verge, rim, beginning, confines, limit, limits, bounds, radius, terminus, landmark, extremity, fence, compass, side, purlieus, hem, frame, skirt, line of demarcation, termination, margin, line, barrier, frontier, outpost, perimeter, extent, circumference, horizon, periphery

“Thou shalt not remove thy neighbour’s landmark, which they of old time have set in thine inheritance, which thou shalt inherit in the land that the LORD thy God giveth thee to possess it.” (Deuteronomy 19:14)

From Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on Deuteronomy 19:14:

“19:14 Direction is given to fix landmarks in Canaan. It is the will of God that everyone should know his own; and that means should be used to hinder the doing and suffering of wrong. This, without doubt, is a moral precept, and still binding. Let every man be content with his own lot, and be just to his neighbours in all things.” (1)

“And I will set your border from the Red Sea to the Sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness to the Euphrates, for I will give the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you shall drive them out before you.” (Exodus 23:31 ESV)

“And the children of Israel heard say, Behold, the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh have built an altar over against the land of Canaan, in the borders of Jordan, at the passage of the children of Israel.” (Joshua 22:11)

“Some remove the landmarks; they violently take away flocks, and feed thereof.” (Job 24:2)

From Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible on Job 24:2:

“Some remove the landmarks, anciently set to distinguish one man’s land from another, to secure property, and preserve from encroachments; but some were so wicked as either secretly in the night to remove them, or openly to do it, having power on their side, pretending they were wrongly located; this was not only prohibited by the law of God, and pronounced an accursed thing, Deuteronomy 19:14.” (2)

“These are the (boundaries by which you shall divide the land for inheritance among the twelve tribes of Israel.” Ezekiel 47:13)

“The princes of Judah are like those who move boundary markers; I will pour out my fury on them like water.” (Hosea 5:10 CSB)

From John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible on Acts 17:26:

“All these are appointed times, and determined by the Creator and Governor of the world:

And the bounds of their habitation; where men shall dwell, and how long they shall continue there the age or distinct period of time, in which every man was, or is to come into the world, is fixed and determined by God; nor can, nor does anyone come into the world sooner or later than that time; and also the particular country, city, town, and spot of ground where he shall dwell; and the term of time how long he shall dwell there, and then remove to another place, or be removed by death. And to this agrees the Ethiopic version, which renders the whole thus, “and hath appointed his times, and his years, how long they shall dwell”; see Deuteronomy 32:8 to which the apostle seems to refer.” (3)

Walls

Thesaurus for Walls

Wall, partition, divider, dam, embankment, dike, ditch, bank, levee, stockade, fence, stone wall, drywall, stone fence, parapet, retainer, rampart, bulwark, palisade, fort, cliff, barricade, floodgate, sluice gate, paling

“The LORD our God also helped us conquer Aroer on the edge of the Arnon Gorge, and the town in the gorge, and the whole area as far as Gilead. No town had walls too strong for us.” (Deuteronomy 2:36 NLT)

“All these cities were fenced with high walls, gates, and bars; beside unwalled towns a great many.” (Deuteronomy 3:5)

“Solomon made a marriage alliance with Pharaoh King of Egypt. He took Pharaoh’s daughter and brought her into the city of David until he had finished building his own house and the house of the LORD and the wall around Jerusalem.” (1Kings 3:1 ESV)

“And he [Asa] said to Judah, “Let us build these cities and surround them with walls and towers, gates and bars. The land is still ours, because we have sought the LORD our God. We have sought him, and he has given us peace on every side.” So they built and prospered.” (2Chronicles 14:7 ESV)

“Now it came to pass, when Sanballat, and Tobiah, and Geshem the Arabian, and the rest of our enemies, heard that I had builded the wall, and that there was no breach left therein; (though at the time I had not set up the doors upon the gates).” (Nehemiah 6:1)

“So the wall was finished in the twenty and fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty and two days. And it came to pass, that when all our enemies heard thereof, and all the the heathen that were about us saw these things, they were much cast down in their own eyes: for they perceived that this work was wrought of our God.” (Nehemiah 6:15-16)

From Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers on Nehemiah 6:15-16:

“(15, 16) – The finishing of the wall is recorded in the simplest manner: first, with a formal specification of the date and time; then in its effect upon the enemies, and as redounding to t he glory of God.” (4)

“He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls.” (Proverbs 25:28)

“In that day shall this song be sung in the land of Judah; we have a strong city; salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks.” (Isaiah 26:1)

“A day for the building of your walls! In that day, the boundary shall be far extended.” (Micah 7:11 ESV)

From Matthew Poole’s Commentary on Micah 7:11:

“These words are variously expounded, but the plainest and most suiting with the letter and history to me seems to be this:

In the day that thy walls are to be built, O Jerusalem, the days shall certainly come, that thy walls, overthrown and razed by the Babylonians, shall be rebuilt; which was first in part fulfilled under Cyrus, but more fully under Darius Hystaspes, and Darius Longimanus, who commissioned Nehemiah to repair the walls of Jerusalem.” (5)

“Blessed are they that do his commandments that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city. For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murders, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.” (Revelation 22:14-15)

Regarding the city, we see here in Revelation, a city that has gates also has walls.

Dictionaries – Easton’s Bible Dictionary – Wall

“Cities were surrounded by walls, as distinguished from “unwalled villages” (Ezekiel 38:11; Leviticus 25:29-34). They were made thick and strong (Numbers 13:28; Deuteronomy 3:5). Among the Jews walls were built of stone, some of those in the temple being of great size (1 Kings 6:7 ; 7:9-12 ; 20:30 ; Mark 13:1 Mark 13:2). The term is used metaphorically of security and safety (Isaiah 26:1; 60:18; Revelation 21:12-20). (See FENCE.)” (6)

The following from Torrey’s New Topical Textbook on walls is excellent:

Designed for separation – Ezekiel 43:8, Ephesians 2:14

Designed for defense – 1Samuel 25:16

MENTIONED IN SCRIPTURE

Of cities – Numbers 13:28

Of temples – 1Chronicles 29:4; Isaiah 56:5

Of houses – 1Samuel 18:11

Of vineyards – Numbers 22:24; Proverbs 24:31

Frequently made of stone and wood together – Ezra 5:8, Habakkuk 2:11

Were probably often strengthened with plates of iron or brass – Jeremiah 15:20; Ezekiel 4:3

OF CITIES

Often very high – Deuteronomy 1:28; 3:5

Strongly fortified – Isaiah 2:15; 25:12

Had towers built on them – 2Chronicles 26:9; 32:5; Psalms 48:12; Solomon 8:10

Houses often built on – Joshua 2:15

Were broad and places of public resort – 2Kings 6:26 2Kings 6:30; Psalms 55:10

Were strongly manned in war – 2Kings 18:26

Kept by watchmen night and day – Solomon 5:7; Isaiah 62:6

Houses sometimes broken down to repair, and fortify – Isaiah 22:10

Danger of approaching too near to, in time of war – 2Samuel 11:20 2Samuel 11:21

Were battered by besieging armies – 2Samuel 20:15; Ezekiel 4:2 Ezekiel 4:3

Adroitness of soldiers in scaling alluded to – Joel 2:7-9

Sometimes burned – Jeremiah 49:27; Amos 1:7

Frequently laid in ruins – 2Chronicles 25:23; 36:19; Jeremiah 50:15

Destruction of, a punishment and cause of grief – Deuteronomy 28:52; Nehemiah 1:3; 2:12-17

The falling of sometimes occasioned great destruction – 1Kings 20:30

The bodies of enemies sometimes fastened on, as a disgrace – 1Samuel 31:10

Custom of dedicating – Nehemiah 12:27

Idolatrous rites performed on – 2Kings 3:27

Instances of persons let down from – Joshua 2:15; Acts 9:24 Acts 9:25; 2Corinthians 11:33

Small towns and villages were not surrounded by – Leviticus 25:31; Deuteronomy 3:5

OF HOUSES

Usually plastered – Ezekiel 13:10; Daniel 5:5

Had nails or pegs fastened into them when built – Ecclesiastes 12:11; Isaiah 22:23

Liable to leprosy – Leviticus 14:37

Often infested with serpents – Amos 5:19

Could be easily dug through – Genesis 49:6; Ezekiel 8:7 Ezekiel 8:8; 12:5

The seat next, was the place of distinction – 1Samuel 20:25

Hyssop frequently grew on – 1Kings 4:33

MIRACLES CONNECTED WITH

Falling of the walls of Jericho – Joshua 6:20

Handwriting on the wall of Belshazzar’s palace – Daniel 5:5 Daniel 5:25-28

ILLUSTRATIVE

Of salvation – Isaiah 26:1; 60:18

Of the protection of God – Zechariah 2:5

Of those who afford protection – 1Samuel 25:16; Isaiah 2:15

Of the Church as a protection to the nation – Song of Solomon 8:9 Song of Solomon 8:10

Of ordinances as a protection to the Church – Solomon 2:9; Isaiah 5:5

Of the wealth of the rich in his own conceit – Proverbs 18:11

(Brazen,) of prophets in their testimony against the wicked – Jeremiah 15:20

(Bowing or tottering,) of the wicked under judgments – Psalms 62:3; Isaiah 30:13

(Of partition,) of separation of Jews and Gentiles – Ephesians 2:14

(Daubed with untempered mortar,) of the teaching of false prophets – Ezekiel 13:10-15

(Whited,) of hypocrites – Acts 23:3” (7)

Comments and observations:

Do walls work?

There are at least 77 walls or fences around the world many that have been built after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City and at the Pentagon. (8)

Great Wall of China

More than 13,000 miles long, the Great Wall of China is often called the longest feat of human engineering. The “Great Wall” is more than 2,000 years old and it took more than 1 million workers to build. The original purpose was to prevent incursions from barbarian nomads in the Third Century B.C.

Israel-West Bank

Israel constructed a 400-mile wall in the West Bank in 2002 after a wave of attacks by Palestinian insurgents. Its 20 feet high, concrete wall topped with barbed wire

Israel’s Southern Immigration Border

Construction on the wall began in 2010 and finished in 2013, costing US$400 million for the relatively small 150-mile wall

Saudi Arabia

In 2014, Saudi Arabia built a 550-mile-long wall with Iraq, a response to the rise of the Islamic State militants sweeping across parts of that country.

Morocco

A 1,700-mile sand wall fortified and surrounded by millions of land mines was built by Morocco in 1975 along disputed, ungoverned territory on its border with Western Sahara.

In conclusion:

Boundaries and borders are approved and sanctioned by God.

God “fixed the borders of the peoples” (Deuteronomy 32:8 ESV) and defined the borders of the Promised Land (Numbers 34:1-15; Ezekiel 47:13-23).

Boundaries or landmarks help preserve property integrity for the owners. In addition to private property owners, this would include individual states and national boundaries.

We are to watch for those who would harm us and defend ourselves (Exodus 22:2–3; Nehemiah 4:14; Esther 8:11; Proverbs 25:26; Luke 11:21).

Walls are necessary for defense and national security. In the modern world, walls are augmented by technology such as satellites, drones equipped with cameras, private security forces, police, and military personnel.

Transcendent or divine walls serve to draw boundaries between God’s people, and those outside of Christ’s Church. These spiritual walls would include church membership and privileges such as the Lord’s Supper to the exclusion of non-believers. It illustrate, in some churches, you have the doctrine of the fenced communion table. In most conservative churches you have control or guarding of who participates in communion. Metaphorically speaking there is a wall.

The Bill of Rights is a bulwark, or a “wall,” metaphorically speaking, against the fed gov and state intrusions.

“And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place.” (Acts 17:26 ESV)

Notes:

1. Matthew Henry, Concise Commentary, Deuteronomy, (Nashville, Tennessee, Thomas Nelson), p. 330.

2. John Gill, Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, Job, (Grace Works, Multi-Media Labs), 2011, p. 500.

3. John Gill, Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, Acts, (Grace Works, Multi-Media Labs), 2011, p. 468.

4. Charles John Ellicott, Bible Commentary for English Readers, Nehemiah, Vol.3, (London, England, Cassell and Company), p. 493.

5. Matthew Poole’s Commentary on the Holy Bible, Micah, (Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, 1985) p. 955.

6. Easton’s Bible Dictionary is in the public domain and may be freely used and distributed.

7. Torrey, R.A., Reverand, The New Topical Text Book, “Entry for ‘Walls,”, 1897.

8. USA TODAY Published 5:01 a.m. ET May 24, 2018

“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)

Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: http://www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com

For more study:

Immigration and Libertarianism https://www.lewrockwell.com/…/immigration-and-libertariani…/

The biblical case for closed borders https://www.washingtontimes.com/…/biblical-case-closed-bor…/

“The Bible is filled with examples of walls that are presented as a positive symbol of law and order. Our word for “city,” from the Latin cititas means a walled, protected space. The Hebrew qiryah, used to denote the cities in the Bible, has the exact same meaning. The people inside the walls were protected and allowed to prosper in peace. Cities where the walls have been torn down or reduced to rubble were unprotected and the result was chaos, lawlessness and misery. The victims of crime at the hand of illegal immigrants in so-called “sanctuary cities” can attest to this chaos, but still our Congress does not listen.”

The Bible and Borders is an excellent treatment border walls for personal and national security https://carm.org/can-christians-support-border-security-ope…

What Does Scripture Actually Say About Our Borders?

Excerpt:

“Do you have locks on your doors? How about on your car? Got a fence so your kids can play safely? Do you have passwords on your computers? How about your bank accounts? Do you protect your credit card numbers? Your Social Security number? How about your medical records? Do you think curbs, guardrails and traffic lines are a good idea, or should people be able to drive anywhere and any way they want? How about security borders at the airport—necessary or optional?” Read more, https://www.charismanews.com/…/72205-what-does-scripture-ac…

Building walls may have allowed civilization to flourish https://www.nationalgeographic.com/…/wall-mexico-trump-boo…/

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What does God say about the death penalty and capital punishment?

What does God say about the death penalty and capital punishment? By Jack Kettler

As in previous studies, we will look at definitions, scriptures, lexical, and commentary evidence for the purpose to glorify God in how we live.

What does the Bible say about the death penalty / capital punishment?

Answer: The Old Testament law commanded the death penalty for various acts: murder (Exodus 21:12), kidnapping (Exodus 21:16), bestiality (Exodus 22:19), adultery (Leviticus 20:10), homosexuality (Leviticus 20:13), being a false prophet (Deuteronomy 13:5), prostitution and rape (Deuteronomy 22:24), and several other crimes. *

Capital offense:

A crime, such as murder or betrayal of God or one’s country, which is so severe that death is a fitting sentence.

The Scriptures:

The first institution of the death penalty is in the book of Genesis.

“Whoever sheds the blood of man; by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” (Genesis 9:6 ESV)

A list of capital offenses listed in the Old Testament Covenant:

False religious activities

· Sacrificing to gods other than YAHWEH – Exodus 22:20

· Passing children through the fire – Leviticus 18:21; 2Chronicles 33:6

· False prophecy – Deuteronomy 13:9

· Necromancy using magic that involves communication with the dead – Leviticus 20:27

· Blasphemy – Leviticus 24:13–16

· Sabbath-breaking – Numbers 15:35-36

Forbidden sexual activities

· Rape by a man of an engaged woman – Deuteronomy 22:25

· Adultery – Leviticus 20:10

· Incest – Leviticus 18:9; Leviticus 20:11

· Homosexuality – Leviticus 20:13

· Bestiality – Leviticus 20:15–16

· A woman who has been engaged to a man and he discovers that she is not a virgin, she may be stoned to death for prostituting herself – Deuteronomy 22:13-21

· Prostitution by the daughter of a priest – Leviticus 21:9

Ten Commandments and case law violations

· Witchcraft, sorcery – Exodus 22:18; Leviticus 20:27

· Idolatry – Deuteronomy 17:1-7

· Murder – Exodus 21:12

· Smiting a parent – Exodus 21:15

· Cursing a parent – Exodus 21:17

· A son who is incorrigible and habitually disobeys his parents – Deuteronomy 21:18-21

· Kidnapping – Exodus 21:16

· Contempt for God’s court – Deuteronomy 17:8-12

· Bearing false witness to a capital crime – Proverbs 19:5; Deuteronomy 19:19

In the New Covenant era, many capital crimes have still mandated the death penalty. For example:

Kidnapping resulting in death, bearing false witness to a capital crime, murder, rape of children, terrorism and mass murder, treason, espionage, and incorrigible sinners, i.e. third-time felons have historically mandated the death penalty.

There is a debate on other capital crimes from the Old Testament listed above and the abiding demands of God’s law. Were the above capital crimes part of the ceremonial or part of the moral law or judicial law? The ceremonial aspects of the law, i.e., the temple and priestly activities passed away in Christ. Did the moral and judicial law pass away in Christ?

How does a society develop a law system that involves retribution for specific crimes?

The reader should consult the magisterial 3-volume work by John Eidsmoe titled Historical and Theological Foundations of Law. After reading this work by Eidsmoe, it is hard to dispute that American constitutional law is undergirded with the Ten Commandments and Old Testament case laws found in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy.

King Alfred the Great of England (849-899) used the Ten Commandments and accompanying case laws in his Book of Laws for England. Today almost universally, the Ten Commandments inspire and continue in the form of modern laws against murder, adultery, and theft. Where did these laws come from if not the Old Testament?

Did Jesus repudiate the Old Testament law?

Jesus said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matthew 5:17-18).

This seems quite clear that the law is still valid. The only question that arises is what is meant by fulfill. Whatever “fulfil” means it cannot contradict the fact that “Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or tittle shall in no wise pass from the law…” as Jesus said.

Additionally, Jesus says “Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:19)

Jesus goes on, “For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death” (Matthew 15:4). What death? Jesus is quoting, “And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death” (Exodus 21:17). Jesus is not repudiating the law. His teaching in Matthew 15:4 is consistent his previous teaching “Think not that I am come to destroy the law… in Matthew 5:17.”

Consider Greg L. Bahnsen’s exegesis on Matthew 5:17-19:

“Matthew 5:17 -19. Nothing could be clearer than that Christ here denies twice (for the sake of emphasis) that His coming has abrogated the Old Testament law: “Do not think that I came to abolish the law or the prophets; I did not come to abolish.” Again, nothing could be clearer than this: not even the least significant aspect of the Old Testament law will lose its validity until the end of the world: “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the slightest letter or stroke shall pass away from the law.” And if there could remain any doubt in our minds as to the meaning of the Lord’s teaching here, He immediately removes it by applying His attitude toward the law to our behavior: “Therefore whoever annuls one of the least of these commandments and teaches others so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven.” Christ’s coming did not abrogate anything in the Old Testament law, for every single stroke of the law will abide until the passing away of this world; consequently, the follower of Christ is not to teach that even the least Old Testament requirement has been invalidated by Christ and His work. As the Psalmist declared, “Every one of Thy righteous ordinances is everlasting” (Psalm 119:160).

So then, all of life is ethical, and ethics requires a standard of right and wrong. For the Christian that yardstick is found in the Bible – the entire Bible, from beginning to end. The New Testament believer repudiates the teaching of the law itself, of the Psalms, of James, of Paul and of Jesus Himself when the Old Testament commandments of God are ignored or treated as a mere antiquated standard of justice and righteousness. “The word of our God shall stand forever” (Isa. 40: 8), and the Old Testament law is part of every word from God’s mouth by which we must live (Matt. 4: 4).” (1)

More on the Matthew text from Bahnsen and Kenneth Gentry:

“Jesus and the Law The decisive word on this point is that of our Lord Himself as found in Matthew 5:17-19. Since the moral demands of God’s law continue to be deemed good and holy and right in the New Testament, and since those demands were from the beginning obligatory upon Jews and Gentiles alike, it would be senseless to think that Christ came in order to cancel mankind’s responsibility to keep them. It is theologically incredible that the mission of Christ was to make it morally acceptable now for men to blaspheme, murder, rape, steal, gossip, or envy! Christ did not come to change our evaluation of God’s laws from that of holy to unholy, obligatory to optional, or perfect to flawed.

Listen to His own testimony:

Do not begin to think that I came to abrogate the Law or the Prophets; I came not to abrogate but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, until all things have happened, not one jot or tittle shall by any means pass away from the law. Therefore, whoever shall break one of these least commandments and teach men so shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:17-19).

Several points about the interpretation of this passage should be rather clear. (1) Christ twice denied that His advent had the purpose of abrogating the Old Testament commandments. (2) Until the expiration of the physical universe, not even a letter or stroke of the law will pass away. And (3) therefore God’s disapprobation rests upon anyone who teaches that even the least of the Old Testament laws may be broken. The underlying ethical principles or duties which are communicated in the minute details (jot and tittle) of the law of God, down to its least significant provision, should be reckoned to have an abiding validity — until and unless the Lawgiver reveals otherwise.” (2)

We can conclude that “fulfill” in Matthew does not mean to abrogate!

How do the principles of God’s law find application in the modern world?

Consulting Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XIX of the Law of God, we find:

“IV. To them also, as a body politic, He gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the State of that people; not obliging under any now, further than the general equity thereof may require.”

How do we understand this?

Of course, something has changed between the Old and New Covenants. In Point IV, the Westminster Confession says that the judicial laws of Israel have EXPIRED. The confession then qualifies this with “not obliging under any now, further than the general equity thereof may require.” In modern parlance, it means that there may be reasons to retain some parts of a particular law by way of keeping a principle contained within the law along with a contemporary application.

What is the confession getting at when it says, “may require?” Are there are binding principles that in some cases are relevant to modern society. Understanding this continuation of biblical principles will open up a completely new way of looking at God’s law.

For example:

“You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13). Who would argue that this law has passed away and has no relevance today? Modern juries still try to determine first-degree or second-degree murder convictions that come right out of the Old Covenant case law. See Numbers 35:22-24 for cases involving unintentional death.

In addition, prohibitions against lying, murder, adultery, stealing are still valid today.

Similarly, consider this passage:

“When you build a new house, you must build a railing around the edge of its flat roof. That way you will not be considered guilty of murder if someone falls from the roof.” (Deuteronomy 22:8)

Modern applications of Deuteronomy 22:8:

Having a fence around your swimming pool. Having your yard fenced in if, you have a potentially vicious dog. Some buildings and apartments have rooftop recreational areas. Of course, you would want some type of barrier or railing for protection of your houseguests.

Bottom line, it is about protecting your neighbor and limiting your responsibility. This passage from Deuteronomy has incredible applications today.

The general equity of the law demands the protection of your neighbor as Jesus taught:

“The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:31)

Therefore, judicial law cannot be altogether invalid since the New Testament sustains its abiding usage by Paul. “All Scripture is useful” (2Timothy 3:16-17), which must include Old Testament case laws regarding capital crimes.

If no part of the Old Testament law continues, then the death penalty for murder must go too.

The death penalty in history from two notable theologians:

St. Augustine writes in The City of God:

“However, there are some exceptions made by the divine authority to its own law, that men may not be put to death. These exceptions are of two kinds, being justified either by a general law, or by a special commission granted for a time to some individual. And in this latter case, he to whom authority is delegated, and who is but the sword in the hand of him who uses it, is not himself responsible for the death he deals. And, accordingly, they who have waged war in obedience to the divine command, or in conformity with His laws have represented in their persons the public justice or the wisdom of government, and in this capacity have put to death wicked men; such persons have by no means violated the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.” Abraham indeed was not merely deemed guiltless of cruelty, but was even applauded for his piety, because he was ready to slay his son in obedience to God, not to his own passion. And it is reasonably enough made a question, whether we are to esteem it to have been in compliance with a command of God that Jephthah killed his daughter, because she met him when he had vowed that he would sacrifice to God whatever first met him as he returned victorious from battle. Samson, too, who drew down the house on himself and his foes together, is justified only on this ground, that the Spirit who wrought wonders by him had given him secret instructions to do this. With the exception, then, of these two classes of cases, which are justified either by a just law that applies generally or by a special intimation from God Himself, the fountain of all justice, whoever kills a man, either himself or another, is implicated in the guilt of murder.” (3)

In his Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquinas asserts:

“Our Lord commanded them to forbear from uprooting the cockle in order to spare the wheat, i.e. the good. This occurs when the wicked cannot be slain without the good being killed with them, either because the wicked lie hidden among the good or because they have many followers, so that they cannot be killed without danger to the good, as Augustine says (Contra Parmen. iii, 2). Wherefore our Lord teaches that we should rather allow the wicked to live, and that vengeance is to be delayed until the last judgment, rather than that the good be put to death together with the wicked. When, however, the good incur no danger, but rather are protected and saved by the slaying of the wicked, then the latter may be lawfully put to death.

According to the order of His wisdom, God sometimes slays sinners forthwith in order to deliver the good, whereas sometimes He allows them time to repent, according as He knows what is expedient for His elect. This also does human justice imitate according to its powers; for it puts to death those who are dangerous to others, while it allows time for repentance to those who sin without grievously harming others.” (4)

A contemporary analysis:

Capital Punishment by John M. Frame:

“Is there a place for capital punishment in a humane, civilized society? Or is it a relic of our barbarous past, best left far behind us?

It is not hard to develop a case against capital punishment. Perhaps the gut-level argument is the strongest: emotionally, we hate to see anyone die, even a vicious criminal. No one, certainly no Christian, can take lightly the death of another person. And the media have encouraged this understandable — and good — revulsion. When Jimmy Cagney goes to the chair, we identify with him, not with the wardens or even the priest. We are the ones going to the end of the line. We want to save Jimmy because we would like to save ourselves. It is a case of the golden rule. And we sympathize, not only with appealing murderers like the one Cagney played, but even with the heartless characters of In Cold Blood. We don’t want to see anyone die.

The more “rational” arguments often push us in the same direction. What good does capital punishment accomplish? Statistics seem to indicate that capital punishment does not deter crime: where capital punishment applies to a particular crime, it does not appear that the rate of that crime is less than in places where lesser penalties obtain. So why should we do such a hideous thing? Is it finally a simple matter of revenge? And can there be any place for revenge in the laws of a compassionate people?

Thus, for about ten years, there were no executions in the United States. To many, it must have seemed that our society had outgrown its vengeful spirit. Toward the end of that period, indeed, it did seem impossible that we would ever return to capital punishment. When Gary Gilmore begged the courts to let him die, it seemed too many of us that it would never happen; there would always be another legal loophole. And yet it happened! Gilmore did die for his crime. And suddenly, a return to capital punishment as a general procedure is not so hard to conceive. State laws, in fact, have been moving in precisely that direction.

What is this all about? A failure of love? A national frustration over crime, leading to judicial vindictiveness?

Not entirely. There are some persuasive arguments in favor of capital punish­ment. If capital punishment has not been shown to deter crime, this fact may be due to the inconsistent, capricious way in which this penalty has been applied in the past. To many criminals, the death penalty has not been perceived as the certain consequence of their crimes. Further, there are some crimes for which it is hard to imagine any deterrent other than capital punishment: killing by someone already serving a life sentence, killing of witnesses to a crime, etc. And many have found this consideration to be a powerful one: even if executing a criminal does not deter others from commit­ting the crime in question, it certainly deters him. An executed murderer will never kill again.

But is the emotional point that is hardest to overcome. How can we bring ourselves to tolerate a procedure which we really hate — without at the same time dulling that moral sensitivity which has led us to care for the murderer? Many have overcome that emotional objection by an equally valid emotional point on the other side: sympathy for the victim, and sympathy for possible future victims. Charles Bronson in “Death Wish” played a liberal who turned vigilante when his wife and daughter were attacked. And there is that old political crack: “A conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged.”

There is something to that. But we must be careful that our “sympathy for the victim” does not degenerate into the kind of autonomous vengeance so strikingly por­trayed in “Death Wish.” We need firmer ground to stand on.

Most of us have learned the ethic of love, directly or indirectly, from the Bible. Yet the Bible, remarkably enough, endorses capital punishment quite regularly. God himself prescribed the shedding of blood as a punishment for violent crimes (Gen. 9:6), and during the time of Moses God gave to Israel a long list of capital offenses. There is no tension in Scripture, either, between an Old Testament law of vengeance and a New Testament law of love. The Old Testament teaches us to love our neighbor as ourselves (Lev. 19:18) and specifically forbids illegal killing (Ex. 20:13), while the New Testament accepts gratefully the power of the sword exercised by the civil ruler (Rom. 13:1-6; Acts 25:11; Luke 23:41) — when used justly. Scripture knows no opposition between love and capital punishment, or between “Thou shalt not kill” and the legal “shedding of blood.” And that is where the argument must end. The God of love, who taught us all we know about love, has also told us that in a sinful world a com­passionate society must take strong measures to protect the safety of innocent people, to prevent the violent from ruling by terror.

What is too often missing from our moral emotions today is the biblical hatred of sin, the realization of its horror, its utter ugliness in the sight of God. Scripture tells us that a sin, not just murder, deserves death (Rom. 6:23); we all deserve to die. It is only God’s great compassion, which permits any of us to go on living. When God ordains the capital punishment of murderers, this is not some extraordinary cruelty against them; it is merely a picture of what we all deserve in God’s sight. God’s full compassion is seen, not in any sentimental easing of laws against murder, but in sending his Son Jesus Christ to die for all of us who deserve death. To Jesus, even a dying criminal may cry for mercy (Luke 23:42f.) and receive forgiveness, with remission of that eternal punishment which is far worse than anything known on earth. The compassion of society is seen as it recognizes the reality of sin and the need to curb sin’s violent expressions, and as it holds out the gospel of Christ in love, even to those who have despised it. Thus, it will love the victim and the criminal, and it will have a firm foundation in divine justice for making the hard choices that our own sin has made necessary.” (5)

At this point, some dictionary and encyclopedia entries will be profitable for general biblical knowledge:

Easton’s Bible Dictionary – Law a rule of action:

“The Law of Nature is the will of God as to human conduct, founded on the moral difference of things, and discoverable by natural light (Romans 1:20; Romans 2:14 Romans 2:15). This law binds all men at all times. It is generally designated by the term conscience or the capacity of being influenced by the moral relations of things.

The Ceremonial Law prescribes under the Old Testament the rites and ceremonies of worship. This law was obligatory only until Christ, of whom these rites were typical, had finished his work (Hebrews 7:9 Hebrews 7:11; 10:1; Ephesians 2:16.

The Judicial Law, the law, which directed the civil policy of the Hebrew nation.

The Moral Law is the revealed will of God as to human conduct, binding on all men to the end of time. It was promulgated at Sinai. It is perfect (Psalms 19:7), perpetual (Matthew 5:17 Matthew 5:18), holy (Romans 7:12), good, spiritual (14), and exceeding broad (Psalms 119:96). Although binding on all, we are not under it as a covenant of works (Galatians 3:17).

Positive Laws are precepts founded only on the will of God. They are right because God commands them.

Moral positive laws are commanded by God because they are right.” (6)

Surely, much wisdom can be learned from Israel’s judicial courts that were established by God.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia – Courts, Judicial:

“COURTS, JUDICIAL

joo-dish’-al, ju-dish’-al.

1. Their Organization:

At the advice of Jethro, Moses appointed judges (Exodus 18). In Egypt, it appears that the Hebrews did not have their own judges, which, of course, was a source of many wrongs. Leaving Egypt, Moses took the judicial functions upon himself, but it was impossible that he should be equal to the task of administering justice to two and one-half million people; hence, he proceeded to organize a system of jurisprudence. He appointed judges over tens, fifties, hundreds, thousands–in all 78,600 judges. This system was adequate for the occasion, and these courts respectively corresponded practically to our Justices of the Peace, Mayor’s Court, District Court, Circuit Court. Finally, there was a Supreme Court under Moses and his successors. These courts, though graded, did not afford an opportunity of appeal. The lower courts turned their difficult cases over to the next higher. If the case was simple, the judge over tens would take it, but if the question was too intricate for him, he would refer it to the next higher court, and so on until it finally reached Moses. There were certain kinds of questions which the tens, fifties, and hundreds would not take at all, and the people understood it and would bring them to the higher courts for original jurisdiction. When any court decided it, that was the end of that case, for it could not be appealed (Exodus 18:25, 26). On taking possession in Palestine, the judges were to be appointed for every city and vicinity (Deuteronomy 16:18), thus giving to all Israel a speedy and cheap method of adjudication. Though not so prescribed by the constitution, the judges at length were generally chosen from among the Levites, as the learned class. The office was elective. Josephus states this plainly, and various passages of the Scriptures express it positively by inference (see Deuteronomy 1:13). Jephthah’s election by vote of the people is clearly set forth (Judges 11:5-11).

2. Character of the Judges:

Among the Hebrews, the law was held very sacred; for God Himself had given it. Hence, those who administered the law were God’s special representatives, and their person was held correspondingly sacred. These circumstances placed upon them the duty of administering justice without respect to persons (Deuteronomy 1:17; 16:18). They were to be guided by the inalienable rights granted to every citizen by the Hebrew constitution:

(1) No man was to be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law (Numbers 35:9-34).

(2) Two or three witnesses were required to convict anyone of crime (Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:2-13).

(3) Punishment for crime was not to be transferred or entailed (Deuteronomy 24:16).

(4) A man’s home was inviolate (Deuteronomy 24:10, 11).

(5) One held to bondage but having acquired liberty through his own effort should be protected (Deuteronomy 23:15, 16).

(6) One’s homestead was inalienable (Leviticus 25:23-28, 34).

(7) Slavery could not be made perpetual without the person’s own consent (Exodus 21:2-6).

3. Their Work:

Gradually a legal profession developed among the Hebrews, the members of which were designated as “Lawyers” or “Scribes” also known as “Doctors of the Law” (Luke 2:46). Their business was threefold:

(1) to study and interpret the law;

(2) to instruct the Hebrew youth in the law; and

(3) to decide questions of the law. The first two they did as scholars and teachers; the last either as judges or as advisers in some court, as, for instance, the Senate of Jerusalem or some inferior tribunal. No code can go into such details as to eliminate the necessity of subsequent legislation, and this usually, to a great extent, takes the form of judicial decisions founded on the code, rather than of separate enactment; and so it was among the Hebrews. The provisions of their code were for the most part quite general, thus affording large scope for casuistic interpretation. Regarding the points not explicitly covered by the written law, a substitute must be found either in the form of established custom or in the form of an inference drawn from the statute.

As a result of the industry with which this line of legal development was pursued during the centuries immediately preceding our era, Hebrew law became a most complicated science. For the disputed points, the judgments of the individual lawyers could not be taken as the standard; hence, the several disciples of the law must frequently meet for a discussion, and the opinion of the majority then prevailed. These were the meetings of the “Doctors.” Whenever a case arose concerning which there had been no clear legal decision, the question was referred to the nearest lawyer; by him, to the nearest company of lawyers, perhaps the Sanhedrin, and the resultant decision was henceforth authority.

Before the destruction of Jerusalem, technical knowledge of the law was not a condition of eligibility to the office of judge. Anyone who could command the confidence of his fellow-citizens might be elected, and many of the rural courts undoubtedly were conducted, as among us, by men of sterling quality, but limited knowledge. Such men would avail themselves of the legal advice of any “doctor” who might be within reach; and in the more dignified courts of a large municipality it was a standing custom to have a company of lawyers present to discuss and decide any new law points that might arise. Of course, frequently these men were themselves elected to the office of judge, so that practically the entire system of jurisprudence was in their hands.

4. Limitations under Roman Rule:

Though Judea at this time was a subject commonwealth, yet the Sanhedrin, which was the body of supreme legislative and judicial authority, exercised autonomous authority to such an extent that it not only administered civil cases in accordance with Jewish law–for without such a right a Jewish court would be impossible–but it also took part to a great extent in the punishment of crime. It exercised an independent police power, hence, could send out its own officers to make arrests (Matthew 26:47; Mark 14:43; Acts 4:3; 5:17, 18). In cases that did not involve capital punishment, its judgments were final and untrammeled (Acts 4:2-23; 5:21-40). Only in capital punishment cases must the consent of the procurator be secured, which is not only clearly stated in John 18:31, but is also evident in the entire course of Christ’s trial, as reported by the Synoptic Gospels. In granting or withholding his consent in such cases, the procurator could follow his pleasure absolutely, applying either the Jewish or Roman law, as his guide. In one class of cases the right to inflict capital punishment even on Roman citizens was granted the Sanhedrin, namely, when a non-Jewish person overstepped the bounds and entered the interior holy place of the temple. Even in this case the consent of the procurator must be secured, but it appears that the Roman rulers were inclined to let the law take its course against such wanton outrage of the Jews’ feelings. Criminal cases not involving capital punishment need not be referred to the procurator.

5. Time and Place of Sessions:

The city in which the Sanhedrin met was Jerusalem. To determine the particular building, and the spot on which the building stood, is interesting to the archaeologist, not to the student of law. The local courts usually held their sessions on the second and fifth day (Monday and Thursday) of the week, but we do not know whether the same custom was observed by the Great Sanhedrin. On feast days no court was held, much less on the Sabbath. Since the death penalty was not to be pronounced until the day after the trial, such cases were avoided also on the day preceding a Sabbath or other sacred day. The emphasis placed on this observance may be seen from the edicts issued by Augustus, absolving the Jews from the duty of attending court on the Sabbath.”

Frank E. Hirsch (7)

In closing, the influence of the Ten Commandments on Western legal systems:

“Our nation has a rich national tradition of depicting the Ten Commandments on government property. The history of official acknowledgment of the role of the Ten Commandments in American law and culture merely mirrors the “unbroken history of official acknowledgment by all three branches of government of the role of religion in American life.” Presidents, Congress, and the courts have acknowledged the Ten Commandments’ secular impact. The history of the Ten Commandments in the common law dates back to the Ninth Century when Alfred the Great placed them at the beginning of his Book of Dooms. Seven hundred years later, the most prominent jurists of the Protestant Reformation produced systematic legal treatises “basing the various branches of the law on the Ten Commandments. World in the seventeenth century, they deliberately enacted many, and sometimes all, of the Ten Commandments into their legal codes.” Three hundred years later, at the dawn of the twentieth century, “it continued to be widely believed, at least in the United States… [that] divine law, especially the Ten Commandments,” was one of “the ultimate sources of positive law.” Thus, for over a millennium, the Ten Commandments have influenced Western legal codes. Courts have routinely recognized the importance of the Ten Commandments as a source for American legal rules.

At the time of our Nation’s founding, the Ten Commandments were widely understood to have three distinct uses or dimensions -religious, moral, and civic. In fact, “two philosophers of Anglican connection, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, used the Commandments almost exclusively for their civic and moral significance.” setting forth rules governing relations between God and His people and the “second table” as setting forth rules governing relations between the people and each other. At the time of the founding, however, the idea of the moral and civic dimension in the Decalogue was not confined to the so-called “second table.” In his seminal work, The Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes interpreted the “first table” as laying out an entirely secular “law of sovereignty.” Thus, even secular philosophers found a secular significance in those commandments commonly viewed as defining man’s relation-ship to God. The Ten Commandments had widespread influence in early America.” (8)

As noted, the death penalty for murder is right or correct as seen in Genesis 9:6. This law against murder predates the Mosaic covenant. “They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them” (Romans 2:15). From the beginning, God’s law has been stamped upon the human conscious. This testimony of God is what man tries to defeat “…and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” (Romans 1:18)

If you are prejudiced against the Ten Commandments and the accompanying case laws, what do you purpose as an objective standard to put in its place? A majority consensus? Roman law, Greek law, Islamic law? The Judeo/Christian worldview has a solid legal tradition.

As seen from Christ’s teaching in Matthew, God’s moral law and specific binding principles from the judicial law are still in force.

Notes:

1. Greg L. Bahnsen, By This Standard, (Tyler, Texas, Institute for Christian Economics), p. 27-28.

2. Greg L. Bahnsen and Kenneth L. Gentry HOUSE DIVIDED THE BREAK-UP OF DISPENSATIONAL THEOLOGY, (Tyler, Texas, Institute for Christian Economics), p. 40-41.

3. Saint Augustine, The City of God, (New York, Random House), Book 1 Chap. 21, p. 27.

4. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiæ, Unabridged, 1Vol, (Stief Books, 2017), p. 473.

5. John M. Frame, Capital Punishment, Originally published in The New Community, a publication of Community Orthodox Presbyterian Church of Blue Bell, PA, Sept. 1977.

6. Smith’s Bible Dictionary is in the public domain and may be freely used and distributed.

7. Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans, reprinted 1986), pp. 725-727.

8. Greg Abbott, current Governor of Texas, Upholding the Unbroken Tradition: Constitutional Acknowledgment of the Ten Commandments in the Public Square, (William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal 2005), p. 63-65.

“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)

Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: http://www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com

For more study:

* Got Questions https://www.gotquestions.org/

See God and Politics: Four Views On The Reformation Of Civil Government Theonomy, Principled Pluralism, Christian America, National Confessionalism by Gary Scott Smith

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What do we learn about Covenants in Scripture?

What do we learn about Covenants in Scripture? By Jack Kettler

Unfortunately, many believers do not understand the idea of covenant very well. Because of this deficiency of knowledge, the following survey will involve looking at several leading theologians and their writings on God’s covenants that will prove to be invaluable.

This study on God’s Covenants will be in-depth and will utilize some of the best theological sources available.

What is a covenant? A short definition:

A covenant is an agreement between two or more persons.

The Bible depicts a covenant as a way to define first the relationship within the triune God, and second between God and His people in redemptive history. A notable example of the second case of this is when God said, “And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you” (Genesis 17:7 ESV). This covenant in Genesis was made with Abraham and his posterity.

In historic Protestant Theology, a covenant is an interpretive grid for understanding the Scriptures. As will be seen, covenants play a central role in biblical theology. God’s covenants are the model for understanding how He works with humanity throughout history.

Moreover, covenant theology is the idea that God enters into a contract or agreement with humanity either individually or corporately, and there are agreements and stipulations involved between the parties of a covenant. In Genesis 17:7, the head of a family can enter into a covenant with God that includes their posterity for future generations. This covenantal understanding has enormous implications when considering the first man, Adam, and the work of Christ, the second Adam.

Consider an epic foundational covenant in Scripture:

“Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come” (Romans 5:14 ESV).

From the Romans passage, we see that both Adam and Christ are set forth as the covenantal heads of the human race, Adam is the first head of the fallen race and Christ the second Adam and head of the redeemed race.

Failure to understand the covenantal motif of Scripture is a failure to understand how God relates to man. The evangelist can ask what race a person is part of, Adam’s race or Christ’s race. To have salvation, one must be in the redeemed spiritual race of Christ.

Consider what Charles H. Spurgeon said about God’s covenant:

“ALL GOD’S dealings with men have had a covenant character. It hath so pleased Him to arrange it, that he will not deal with us except through a covenant, nor can we deal with Him except in the same manner. Adam in the garden was under a covenant with God and God was in covenant with Him.” (1) The highlighting of portions of the text is mine.

As seen from Spurgeon, God dealt with Adam through a covenant in Eden. The Adamic covenant is the name of this covenant.

Francis Turretin was a professor of theology at Geneva during the Reformation. Turretin explains what a covenant is:

“A covenant denotes the agreement of God with man by which God promises his goods (and especially eternal life to him), and by man, in turn, duty and worship are engaged…This is called two‐sided and mutual because it consists of a mutual obligation of the contracting parties: a promise on the part of God and stipulation of the condition on the part of man.” (2)

Herman Witsius was a Dutch theologian, pastor, and a leading professor of the seventeenth century. He concurs with Turretin:

“A covenant of God with man is an agreement between God, about the way of obtaining consummate happiness; including a commination of eternal destruction, with which the contemner of the happiness, offered in that way, is to be punished.” (3)

In this study of God’s covenants, we will look the Covenant of Redemption, the Covenant of Works, the Covenant of Grace, the Adamic covenant, the Noahic covenant, the Abrahamic covenant, the Mosaic covenant, the Davidic covenant, and the culmination of all covenants, into the New Covenant in Christ. These covenants will be explained adequately in the following overview.

An overview of the covenants in Scripture:

Theological covenants

“The nature of God’s covenantal relationship with his creation is not considered automatic or of necessity. Rather, God voluntarily condescends to establish the connection as a covenant, wherein the terms of the relationship are set down by God alone according to his own will.

In particular, covenant theology teaches that God has established one, eternal covenant, under different administrations.[1] Having created man in His image as a free creature with knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, God entered into a covenant of works whereby the mandate was “do this and live” (Romans 10:5, Galatians 3:12). “Like Adam, they have trespassed the covenant” (Hosea 6:7) is the classic reference to the covenant of works; Hebrews 8:6; 9:15; 12:24 the reference that explains God’s work of redemption in the Covenant of Grace. [2]

Covenant of redemption

The covenant of redemption is the eternal agreement within the Godhead in which the Father appointed the Son Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit to redeem his elect people from the guilt and power of sin. God appointed Christ to live a life of perfect obedience to the law and to die a penal, substitutionary, sacrificial death (see penal substitution aspect of the atonement) as the covenantal representative for all who trust in him. Some covenant theologians have denied the intra-Trinitarian covenant of redemption, or have questioned the notion of the Son’s works leading to the reward of gaining a people for God, or have challenged the covenantal nature of this arrangement. Those who have upheld this covenant point to passages such as Philippians 2:5-11 and Revelation 5:9-10 to support the principle of works leading to reward, and to passages like Psalm 110 in support that this is depicted in Scripture as a covenant.

Covenant of works

The covenant of works was made in the Garden of Eden between God and Adam who represented all mankind as a federal head. (Romans 5:12-21) It promised life for obedience and death for disobedience. Adam, and all mankind in Adam, broke the covenant, thus standing condemned. The covenant of works continues to function after the fall as the moral law.

Though it is not explicitly called a covenant in the opening chapters of Genesis, the comparison of the representative headship of Christ and Adam, as well as passages like Hosea 6:7 have been interpreted to support the idea. It has also been noted that Jeremiah 33:20-26 (cf. 31:35-36) compares the covenant with David to God’s covenant with the day and the night and the statutes of heaven and earth, which God laid down at creation. This has led some to understand all of creation as covenantal: the decree establishing the natural laws governing heaven and earth. The covenant of works might then be seen as the moral law component of the broader creational covenant. Thus, the covenant of works has also been called the covenant of creation, indicating that it is not added but constitutive of the human race; the covenant of nature in recognition of its consonance with the natural law in the human heart; and the covenant of life in regard to the promised reward.

Covenant of grace

The covenant of grace promises eternal life for all people who receive forgiveness of sin through Christ. He is the substitutionary covenantal representative fulfilling the covenant of works on their behalf, in both the positive requirements of righteousness and its negative penal consequences (commonly described as his active and passive obedience). It is the historical expression of the eternal covenant of redemption. Genesis 3:15, with the promise of a “seed” of the woman who would crush the serpent’s head, is usually identified as the historical inauguration for the covenant of grace.

The covenant of grace became the basis for all future covenants that God made with mankind such as with Noah (Genesis 6, 9), with Abraham (Genesis 12, 15, 17), with Moses (Exodus 19-24), with David (2 Samuel 7), and finally in the New Covenant founded and fulfilled in Christ. These individual covenants are called the biblical covenants because they are explicitly described in the Bible. Under the covenantal overview of the Bible, submission to God’s rule and living in accordance with his moral law (expressed concisely in the Ten Commandments) is a response to grace – never something that can earn God’s acceptance (legalism). Even in his giving of the Ten Commandments, God introduces his law by reminding the Israelites that he is the one who brought them out of slavery in Egypt (grace).

Adamic covenant

Covenant theology first sees a covenant of works administered with Adam in the Garden of Eden. Upon Adam’s failure, God established the covenant of grace in the promised seed Genesis 3:15, and shows his redeeming care in clothing Adam and Eve in garments of skin — perhaps picturing the first instance of animal sacrifice. The specific covenants after the fall of Adam are seen as administered under the overarching theological covenant of grace.

Noahic covenant

The Noahic covenant is found in Genesis 8:20-9:17. Although redemption motifs are prominent as Noah and his family are delivered from the judgment waters, the narrative of the flood plays on the creation motifs of Genesis 1 as de-creation and re-creation. The formal terms of the covenant itself more reflect a reaffirmation of the universal created order, than a particular redemptive promise.

Abrahamic covenant

The Abrahamic covenant is found in Genesis chapters 12, 15, and 17. In contrast with the covenants made with Adam or Noah, which were universal in scope, this covenant was with a particular people. Abraham is promised a seed and a land, although he would not see its fruition within his own lifetime. The Book of Hebrews explains that he was looking to a better and heavenly land, a city with foundations, whose builder and architect is God (11:8-16). The Apostle Paul writes that the promised seed refers in particular to Christ (Galatians 3:16).

The Abrahamic covenant is

1. Exclusive: It is only for Abraham and his (spiritual) descendants. Genesis 17:7

2. Everlasting: It is not replaced by any later covenant. Genesis 17:7

3. Accepted by faith, not works: “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” Genesis 15:6

4. The external sign of entering into the Abrahamic covenant was circumcision. Genesis 17:10, but it has to be matched by an internal change, the circumcision of the heart. Jeremiah 4:4

5. According to Paul, since the Abrahamic covenant is eternal, the followers of Christ are “children of Abraham” and therefore part of this covenant through faith. “Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham.” Galatians 3:7

6. Paul makes it clear that baptism is the external sign of faith in Christ, (“…you were baptized into Christ…”), and that through faith in Christ the believer is part of the Abrahamic covenant (“Abraham’s seed”). This provides the basis for the doctrine that baptism is the New Testament sign of God’s covenant with Abraham.

Galatians 3:26 “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

Mosaic covenant

The Mosaic covenant, found in Exodus 19-24 and the book of Deuteronomy, expands on the Abrahamic promise of a people and a land. Repeatedly mentioned is the promise of the Lord, “I will be your God and you will be my people” (cf. Exodus 6:7, Leviticus 26:12), particularly displayed as his glory-presence comes to dwell in the midst of the people. This covenant is the one most in view by the term Old Covenant.

Although it is a gracious covenant beginning with God’s redemptive action (cf. Exodus 20:1-2), a layer of law is prominent. Concerning this aspect of the Mosaic Covenant, Charles Hodge makes three points in his Commentary on Second Corinthians: (1) The Law of Moses was in first place a reenactment of the covenant of works; viewed this way, it is the ministration of condemnation and death. (2) It was also a national covenant, giving national blessings based on national obedience; in this way it was purely legal. (3) In the sacrificial system, it points to the Gospel of salvation through a mediator.

Davidic covenant

The Davidic covenant is found in 2Samuel 7. The Lord proclaims that he will build a house and lineage for David, establishing his kingdom and throne forever. This covenant is appealed to as God preserves David’s descendants despite their wickedness (cf. 1 Kings 11:26-39, 15:1-8; 2 Kings 8:19, 19:32-34), although it did not stop judgment from finally arriving (compare 2 Kings 21:7, 23:26-27; Jeremiah 13:12-14). Among the prophets of the exile, there is hope of restoration under a Davidic king who will bring peace and justice (cf. Book of Ezekiel 37:24-28).

New Covenant

The New Covenant is anticipated with the hopes of the Davidic messiah, and most explicitly predicted by the prophet Jeremiah (Jer. 31:34). At the Last Supper, Jesus alludes to this prophecy, as well as to prophecies such as Isaiah 49:8, when he says that the cup of the Passover meal is “the New Covenant in [his] blood.” This use of the Old Testament typology is developed further in the Epistle to the Hebrews (see especially chapters. 7-10). Jesus is the last Adam and Israel’s hope and consolation: he is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets (Matthew 5:17-18). He is the prophet greater than Jonah (Matt 12:41), and the Son over the house where Moses was a servant (Hebrews 3:5-6), leading his people to the heavenly promised land. He is the high priest greater than Aaron, offering up himself as the perfect sacrifice once for all (Hebrews 9:12, 26). He is the king greater than Solomon (Matthew 12:42), ruling forever on David’s throne (Luke 1:32). The term “New Testament” comes from the Latin translation of the Greek New Covenant and is most often used for the collection of books in the Bible, can also refer to the New Covenant as a theological concept.

Covenantal signs and seals In Reformed theology, a sacrament is usually defined as a sign and seal of the covenant of grace.[3] Since covenant theology today is mainly Protestant and Reformed in its outlook, proponents view Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as the only two sacraments in this sense, which are sometimes called “church ordinances.” Along with the preached word, they are identified as an ordinary means of grace for salvation. The benefits of these rites do not occur from participating in the rite itself (ex opere operato), but through the power of the Holy Spirit as they are received by faith.” See article online for footnote sources. (4)

After considering the above overview of the various covenants, more time will be spent on the core understanding of a covenant, and in particular, with emphasis on salvation. The Abrahamic Covenant will be looked at in detail.

Charles Hodge, a 19th century Princeton theologian’s thoughts on the Covenant of Grace from his systematic theology, is extensive. In this far-reaching quote, Hodge will focus on the salvation of humanity through His covenant:

“1. The Plan of Salvation is a Covenant

The plan of salvation is presented under the form of a covenant. This is evident,—

First, from the constant use of the words בְּרִית and διαθήκη in reference to it. With regard to the former of these words, although it is sometimes used for a law, disposition, or arrangement in general, where the elements of a covenant strictly speaking are absent, yet there can be no doubt that according to its prevailing usage in the Old Testament, it means a mutual contract between two or more parties. It is very often used of compacts between individuals, and especially between kings and rulers. Abraham and Abimelech made a covenant. (Genesis 21:27.) Joshua made a covenant with the people. (Joshua 24:25.) Jonathan and David made a covenant. (1Samuel 18:3.) Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David. (1Samuel 20:16.) Ahab made a covenant with Benhadad. (1Kings 20:34.) So we find it constantly. There is therefore no room to doubt that the word בְּרִית when used of transactions between man and man means a mutual compact. We have no right to give it any other sense when used of transactions between God and man. Repeated mention is made of the covenant of God with Abraham, as in Genesis 15:18; 17:13, and afterwards with Isaac and Jacob. Then with the Israelites at Mount Sinai. The Old Testament is founded on this idea of a covenant relation between God and the theocratic people.

The meaning of the word διαθήκη in the Greek Scriptures is just as certain and uniform. It is derived from the verb διατίθημι, to arrange, and, therefore, in ordinary Greek is used for any arrangement, or disposition. In the Scriptures it is almost uniformly used in the sense of a covenant. In the Septuagint it is the translation of בְּרִית in all the cases above referred to. It is the term always used in the New Testament to designate the covenant with Abraham, with the Israelites, and with believers. The old covenant and the new are presented in contrast. Both were covenants. If the word has this meaning when applied to the transaction with Abraham and with the Hebrews, it must have the same meaning when applied to the plan of salvation revealed in the gospel.

Secondly, that the plan of salvation is presented in the Bible under the form of a covenant is proved not only from the signification and usage of the words above mentioned, but also and more decisively from the fact that the elements of a covenant are included in this plan. There are parties, mutual promises or stipulations, and conditions. So that it is in fact a covenant, whatever it may be called. As this is the Scriptural mode of representation, it is of great importance that it should be retained in theology. Our only security for retaining the truths of the Bible, is to adhere to the Scriptures as closely as possible in our mode of presenting the doctrines therein revealed.

2. Different Views of the Nature of this Covenant

It is assumed by many that the parties to the covenant of grace are God and fallen man. Man by his apostasy having forfeited the favour of God, lost the divine image, and involved himself in sin and misery, must have perished in this state, had not God provided a plan of salvation. Moved by compassion for his fallen creatures, God determined to send his Son into the world, to assume their nature, and to do and suffer whatever was requisite for their salvation. On the ground of this redeeming work of Christ, God promises salvation to all who will comply with the terms on which it is offered. This general statement embraces forms of opinion, which differ very much one from the others.

1. It includes even the Pelagian view of the plan of salvation, which assumes that there is no difference between the covenant of works under which Adam was placed, and the covenant of grace, under which men are now, except as to the extent of the obedience required. God promised life to Adam on the condition of perfect obedience, because he was in a condition to render such obedience. He promises salvation to men now on the condition of ouch obedience as they are able to render, whether Jews, Pagans, or Christians. According to this view the parties to the covenant are God and man; the promise is life; the condition is obedience, such as man in the use of his natural powers is able to render.

2. The Remonstrant system does not differ essentially from the Pelagian, so far as the parties, the promise and the condition of the covenant are concerned. The Remonstrants also make God and man the parties, life the promise, and obedience the condition. But they regard fallen men as in a state of sin by nature, as needing supernatural grace which is furnished to all, and the obedience required is the obedience of faith, or fides obsequiosa, faith as including and securing evangelical obedience. Salvation under the gospel is as truly by works as under the law; but the obedience required is not the perfect righteousness demanded of Adam, but such as fallen man, by the aid of the Spirit, is now able to perform.

3. Wesleyan Arminianism greatly exalts the work of Christ, the importance of the Spirit’s influence, and the grace of the gospel above the standard adopted by the Remonstrants. The two systems, however, are essentially the same. The work of Christ has equal reference to all men. It secures for all the promise of salvation on the condition of evangelical obedience; and it obtains for all, Jews and Gentiles, enough measures of divine grace to render such obedience practicable. The salvation of each individual man depends on the use, which he makes of this sufficient grace.

4. The Lutherans also hold that God had the serious purpose to save all men; that Christ died equally for all; that salvation is offered to all who hear the gospel, on the condition, not of works or of evangelical obedience, but of faith alone; faith, however, is the gift of God; men have not the power to believe, but they have the power of effectual resistance; and those, and those only, under the gospel, who wilfully resist, perish, and for that reason. According to all these views, which were more fully stated in the receding chapter, the covenant of grace is a compact between God and fallen man, in which God promises salvation on condition of a compliance with the demands of the gospel. What those demands are, as we have seen, is differently explained.

The essential distinctions between the above-mentioned views of the plan of salvation, or covenant of grace, and the Augustinian system, are, (1.) That, according to the former, its provisions have equal reference to all mankind, whereas according to the latter they have special reference to that portion of our race who are actually saved; and (2.) That Augustinianism says that it is God and not man who determines who are to be saved. As has been already frequently remarked, the question which of these systems is true is not to be decided by ascertaining which is the more agreeable to our feelings or the more plausible to our understanding, but which is consistent with the doctrines of the Bible and the facts of experience. This point has already been discussed. Our present object is simply to state what Augustinians mean by the covenant of grace.

The word grace is used in Scripture and in ordinary religious writings in three senses. (1.) For unmerited love; i.e., love exercised towards the undeserving. (2.) For any unmerited favour, especially for spiritual blessings. Hence, all the fruits of the Spirit in believers are called graces, or unmerited gifts of God. (3.) The word grace often means the supernatural influence of the Holy Ghost. This is preëminently grace, being the great gift secured by the work of Christ, and without which his redemption would not avail to our salvation. In all these senses of the word, the plan of salvation is properly called a covenant of grace. It is of grace because it originated in the mysterious love of God for sinners who deserved only his wrath and curse. Secondly, because it promises salvation, not on the condition of works or anything meritorious on our part, but as an unmerited gift. And, thirdly, because its benefits are secured and applied not in the course of nature, or in the exercise of the natural powers of the sinner, but by the supernatural influence of the Holy Spirit, granted to him as an unmerited gift.

3. Parties to the Covenant

At first view there appears to be some confusion in the statements of the Scriptures as to the parties to this covenant. Sometimes Christ is presented as one of the parties; at others He is represented not as a party, but as the mediator and surety of the covenant; while the parties are represented to be God and his people. As the old covenant was made between God and the Hebrews, and Moses acted as mediator, so the new covenant is commonly represented in the Bible as formed between God and his people, Christ acting as mediator. He is, therefore, called the mediator of a better covenant founded on better promises.

Some theologians propose to reconcile these modes of representation by saying that as the covenant of works was formed with Adam as the representative of his race, and therefore in him with all mankind descending from him by ordinary generation; so the covenant of grace was formed with Christ as the head and representative of his people, and in Him with all those given to Him by the Father. This simplifies the matter, and agrees with the parallel which the Apostle traces between Adam and Christ in Romans 5:12-21, and 1Corinthians 15:21, 22, 47-49. Still it does not remove the incongruity of Christ’s being represented as at once a party and a mediator of the same covenant. There are in fact two covenants relating to the salvation of fallen man, the one between God and Christ, the other between God and his people. These covenants differ not only in their parties, but also in their promises and conditions. Both are so clearly presented in the Bible that they should not be confounded. The latter, the covenant of grace, is founded on the former, the covenant of redemption. Of the one Christ is the mediator and surety; of the other He is one of the contracting parties.

This is a matter, which concerns only perspicuity of statement. There is no doctrinal difference between those who prefer the one statement and those who prefer the other; between those who comprise all the facts of Scripture relating to the subject under one covenant between God and Christ as the representative of his people, and those who distribute them under two. The Westminster standards seem to adopt sometimes the one and sometimes the other mode of representation. In the Confession of Faith it is said,

‘Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by that covenant [i.e., by the covenant of works], the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace; wherein He freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in Him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life, his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.’

Here the implication is that God and his people are the parties; for in a covenant the promises are made to one of the parties, and here it is said that life and salvation are promised to sinners, and that faith is demanded of them. The same view is presented in the Shorter Catechism, according to the natural interpretation of the answer to the twentieth question. It is there said,

‘God having out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life, did enter into a covenant of grace, to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a Redeemer.’

In the Larger Catechism, however, the other view is expressly adopted. In the answer to the question,

‘With whom was the covenant of grace made?’ it is said, ‘The covenant of grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in Him with all the elect as his seed.’

Two Covenants to be distinguished

This confusion is avoided by distinguishing between the covenant of redemption between the Father and the Son, and the covenant of grace between God and his people. The latter supposes the former, and is founded upon it. The two, however, ought not to be confounded, as both are clearly revealed in Scripture, and moreover they differ as to the parties, as to the promises, and as to the conditions. On this subject Turrettin says, 299 “Atque hic superfluum videtur quærere, An fœdus hoc contractum fuerit cum Christo, tanquam altera parte contrahente, et in ipso cum toto ejus semine, ut primum fœdus cum Adamo pactum fuerat, et in Adamo cum tota ejus posteritate: quod non paucis placet, quia promissiones ipsi dicuntur factæ, Gal. iii. 16, et quia, ut Caput et Princeps populi sui, in omnibus primas tenet, ut nihil nisi in ipso et ab ipso obtineri possit: An vero fœdus contractum sit in Christo cum toto semine, ut non tam habeat rationem partis contrahentis, quam partis mediæ, quæ inter dissidentes stat ad eos reconciliandos, ut aliis satius videtur. Superfiuum, inquam, est de eo disceptare, quia res eodem redit; et certum est duplex hic pactum necessario attendendum esse, vel unius ejusdem pacti duas partes et gradus. Prius pactum est, quod inter Patrem et Filium intercedit, ad opus redemptionis exequendum. Posterius est, quod Deus cum electis in Christo contrahit, de illis per et propter Christum salvandis sub conditione fidei et resipiscentiæ. Prius fit cum Sponsore et capite ad salutem membrorum: Posterius fit cum membris in capite et sponsore.”

The same view is taken by Witsius: 300 “Ut Fœderis gratiæ natura penitius perspecta sit, duo imprimis distincte consideranda sunt. (1.) Pactum, quod inter Deum Patrem et mediatorem Christum intercedit. (2.) Testamentaria illa dispositio, qua Deus electis salutem æternam, et omnia eo pertinentia, immutabili fœdere addicit. Prior conventio Dei cum mediatore est: posterior Dei cum electis. Hæc illam supponit, et in illa fundatur.”

See Chapter 4. Covenant of Redemption, p. 359-362. – Chapter 5. The Covenant of Grace, 362-366 – Chapter 6. The Identity of the Covenant of Grace under all Dispensations, p. 366-373” (5)

Louis Berkhof’s observations on the Biblical definition of the Covenant will supplement the above lengthy quote by Hodge and will be of additional importance:

“1. IN THE OLD TESTAMENT. The Hebrew word for covenant is always berith, a word of uncertain derivation. The most general opinion is that it is derived from the Hebrew verb barah, to cut, and therefore contains a reminder of the ceremony mentioned in Gen. 15:17. Some, however, prefer to think that it is derived from the Assyrian word beritu, meaning “to bind.” This would at once point to the covenant as a bond. The question of the derivation is of no great importance for the construction of the doctrine. The word berith may denote a mutual voluntary agreement (dipleuric), but also a disposition or arrangement imposed by one party on another (monopleuric). Its exact meaning does not depend on the etymology of the word, nor on the historical development of the concept, but simply on the parties concerned. In the measure in which one of the parties is subordinate and has less to say, the covenant acquires the character of a disposition or arrangement imposed by one party on the other. Berith then becomes synonymous with choq (appointed statute or ordinance), Ex. 34:10; Isa. 59:21; Jer. 31:36; 33:20; 34:13. Hence we also find that karath berith (to cut a covenant) is construed not only with the prepositions ’am and ben (with), but also with lamedh (to), Jos. 9:6; Isa. 55:3; 61:8; Jer. 32:40. Naturally, when God establishes a covenant with man, this monopleuric character is very much in evidence, for God and man are not equal parties. God is the Sovereign who imposes His ordinances upon His creatures.

2. IN THE NEW TESTAMENT. In the Septuagint the word berith is rendered diatheke in every passage where it occurs with the exception of Deut. 9:15 (marturion) and I Kings 11:11 (entole). The word diatheke is confined to this usage, except in four passages. This use of the word seems rather peculiar in view of the fact that it is not the usual Greek word for covenant, but really denotes a disposition, and consequently also a testament. The ordinary word for covenant is suntheke. Did the translators intend to substitute another idea for the covenant idea? Evidently not, for in Isa. 28:15 they use the two words synonymously, and there diatheke evidently means a pact or an agreement. Hence there is no doubt about it that they ascribe this meaning to diatheke. But the question remains, Why did they so generally avoid the use of suntheke and substitute for it a word which denotes a disposition rather than an agreement? In all probability, the reason lies in the fact that in the Greek world the covenant idea expressed by suntheke was based to such an extent on the legal equality of the parties, that it could not, without considerable modification, be incorporated in the Scriptural system of thought. The idea that the priority belongs to God in the establishment of the covenant, and that He sovereignly imposes His covenant on man was absent from the usual Greek word. Hence, the substitution of the word in which this was very prominent. The word diatheke thus, like many other words, received a new meaning, when it became the vehicle of divine thought. This change is important in connection with the New Testament use of the word. There has been considerable difference of opinion respecting the proper translation of the word. In about half of the passages in which it occurs the Holland and the Authorized Versions render the word “covenant,” while in the other half they render it “testament.”

The American Revised Version, however, renders it “covenant” throughout, except in Heb. 9:16, 17. It is but natural, therefore, that the question should be raised, what is the New Testament meaning of the word? Some claim that it has its classical meaning of disposition or testament, wherever it is found in the New Testament, while others maintain that it means testament in some places, but that in the great majority of passages the covenant idea is prominently in the foreground. This is undoubtedly the correct view. We would expect a priorily that the New Testament usage would be in general agreement with that of the Septuagint; and a careful study of the relevant passages shows that the American Revised Version is undoubtedly on the right track, when it translates diatheke by “testament” only in Heb. 9:16,17. In all probability there is not a single other passage where this rendering would be correct, not even II Cor. 3:6, 14. The fact that several translations of the New Testament substituted “testament” for “covenant” in so many places is probably due to three causes: (a) the desire to emphasize the priority of God in the transaction; (b) the assumption that the word had to be rendered as much as possible in harmony with Heb. 9:16, 17; and (c) the influence of the Latin translation, which uniformly rendered diatheke by “testamentum.” (6)

Herman Ridderbos is considered one of the twentieth century’s most influential New Testament theologians. His views of the covenant will likewise be of significance:

“In the Septuagint διαθηκη is regularly used as the translation of the covenant of God (berith), rather than the apparently more available word συνθηκη. In this, there is already an expression of the fact that the covenant of God does not have the character of a contract between two parties, but rather that of a one-sided grant. This corresponds with the covenant-idea in the Old Testament, in which berith, even in human relations, sometimes refers to a one-party guarantee which a more favored person gives a less favored one (cf. Josh. 9:6, 15; 1 Sam. 11:1; Ezek. 17:13). And it is most peculiarly true of the divine covenantal deed that it is a one-party guarantee. It comes not from man at all, but from God alone. This does not rule out the fact, of course, that it involves religious and ethical obligation, namely that of faith and obedience (Gen. 17:9-10), and that thus the reciprocal element is taken up in the covenant. Still, such an obligation is not always named, and there is no room to speak at all of a correlation, in the sense that each determines and holds in balance the terms of the other, between the promise of God and the human appropriation of it. It is not the idea of parity, or even that of reciprocity, but that of validity, which determines the essence of the covenant-idea.

God’s covenant with Noah, for example, lays down no stipulations, and it has the character of a one-party guarantee. It does of course require the faith of man, but is in its fulfillment in no respect dependent on the faith, and it is validly in force for all coming generations, believing and unbelieving (cf. Gen. 9:9). And in the making of the covenant with Abraham, too, in Gen. 15, the fulfillment of the law is in symbolical form made to depend wholly upon the divine deed. Abraham is deliberately excluded — he is the astonished spectator (cf. Gen. 15:12, 17).

True, in the Sinaitic covenant, the stipulations which God lays down for his people sometimes take the form of actual conditions, so that the realization of the promise is conditioned by them (cf. Lev. 26:15 ff. and Deut. 31:20), but this structural change in the covenant-revelation can be explained in connection with the wider promulgation — it is to extend to the whole nation of Israel — of the covenant, by means of which the covenant-relationship takes on a wider and more external meaning.

It comprises not merely the unconditional guarantee of God to those who walk in the faith and obedience of their father Abraham: it also lays down a special bond constituted by the offer of salvation, on the one side, and by responsibility, on the other side, for those who will not appear to manifest a oneness with their spiritual ancestor. Meanwhile, of course, the fact remains that in all the different dispensations of the covenant of grace, God’s unconditional promise to Abraham constitutes its heart and kernel. Consequently, when the “new covenant” (Jer. 31:33) is announced, one thing is expressly made clear: namely, that the disposition, which is indispensable for the human reception of the covenant-benefits, will itself be granted as the gift of God Himself. In other words, that very thing which in the Sinaitic covenant was so plainly set down as a condition, belongs in the new covenant to the benefits promised by God in the covenant itself. The New Testament concept of διαθηκη lies quite in the line of that development, particularly as Paul thinks of it, as is evident in [Galatians 3 and 4], and in such a place as Rom. 9. That New Testament concept points to a salvation whose benefits are guaranteed by God and as a matter of fact are actually given, because in Christ and through Him the conditions of the covenant are fulfilled.” (7)

Biographical information:

Charles Hodge and Louis Berkhof were systematic theologians, and Herman Ridderbos was a critical New Testament theologian, having worked extensively on the history of salvation and biblical theology.

The goal of the above lengthy citations by Hodge, Berkhof, and Ridderbos is that something will stick out in one of the quotes, thus aiding the understanding of God’s covenants for the reader.

The significance of the Abrahamic Covenant and salvation:

As seen, the third appearance of the covenant in history is with Abraham. This covenant is after the earlier Adamic, and Noahic covenants. The covenant with Abraham is crucial since the later covenants, the Mosaic, and the Davidic covenants build upon the covenant with Abraham.

Like the Adamic covenant, God made a covenant with Abraham that was binding upon him and his posterity.

The importance of the Abrahamic Covenant seen in Genesis 15:17 from the Lutheran theologians Keil and Delitzsch:

“When the sun had gone down, and thick darkness had come on (היה impersonal), “behold a smoking furnace, and (with) a fiery torch, which passed between those pieces,” – a description of what Abram saw in his deep prophetic sleep, corresponding to the mysterious character of the whole proceeding. תּנּוּר, a stove, is a cylindrical fire-pot, such as is used in the dwelling-houses of the East. The phenomenon, which passed through the pieces as they lay opposite to one another, resembled such a smoking stove, from which a fiery torch, i.e., a brilliant flame, was streaming forth. In this symbol, Jehovah manifested Himself to Abram, just as He afterwards did to the people of Israel in the pillar of cloud and fire. Passing through the pieces, He ratified the covenant, which He made with Abram. His glory was enveloped in fire and smoke, the produce of the consuming fire, – both symbols of the wrath of God (cf. Psalm 18:9, and Hengstenberg in loc.), whose fiery zeal consumes whatever opposes it (vid. Exodus 3:2). – To establish and give reality to the covenant to be concluded with Abram, Jehovah would have to pass through the seed of Abram when oppressed by the Egyptians and threatened with destruction, and to execute judgment upon their oppressors (Exodus 7:4; Exodus 12:12). In this symbol, the passing of the Lord between the pieces meant something altogether different from the oath of the Lord by Himself in Genesis 22:16, or by His life in Deuteronomy 32:40, or by His soul in Amos 6:8 and Jeremiah 51:14. It set before Abram the condescension of the Lord to his seed, in the fearful glory of His majesty as the judge of their foes. Hence the pieces were not consumed by the fire; for the transaction had reference not to a sacrifice, which God accepted, and in which the soul of the offerer was to ascend in the smoke to God, but to a covenant in which God came down to man. From the nature of this covenant, it followed, however, that God alone went through the pieces in a symbolical representation of Himself, and not Abram also. For although a covenant always establishes a reciprocal relation between two individuals, yet in that covenant which God concluded with a man, the man did not stand on an equality with God, but God established the relation of fellowship by His promise and His gracious condescension to the man, who was at first purely a recipient, and was only qualified and bound to fulfil the obligations consequent upon the covenant by the reception of gifts of grace.” (8)

Puritan, John Gill explains the Abrahamic Covenant in easy to understand language:

“God made a covenant with Abram, as appears from Genesis 15:18; and, as a confirmation of it, passed between the pieces in a lamp of fire, showing that he was and would be the light and salvation of his people, Abram’s seed, and an avenger of their enemies; only God passed between the pieces, not Abram, this covenant being as others God makes with men, only on one side; God, in covenanting with men, promises and gives something unto them, but men give nothing to him, but receive from him, as was the case between God and Abram: however, it is very probable, that this lamp of fire consumed the pieces, in like manner as fire from heaven used to fall upon and consume the sacrifices, in token of God’s acceptance of them.” (9)

Covenants are not unique to the Bible. Other Near Eastern cultures had treaties and covenants that are similar to biblical covenants.

For example:

Suzerain Treaties & The Covenant Documents the Bible by Dr. Meredith Kline from the Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA:

“Brief Summary of Suzerain Treaties:

In the Ancient Near East, treaties between kings was common. These were treaties drawn up among equals and mostly outlined agreements to honor each other’s boundaries, to maintain trade relations, and return run-away slaves. These treaties are preserved in the Mari Tablets and in the Amarna texts. Also preserved in these collections are treaties drafted between a superior and his inferior. If the relationship was familial or friendly, the parties are referred to as “father” and “son.” If the relationship is bereft of kindness and intimacy, the parties are referred to as “lord” and “servant,” or “king” and “vassal,” or “greater king” and “lesser king.” The greater king is the suzerain and the lesser king is a prince, or a lesser lord in the service of the greater king. The lesser lord is a representative of all the common people who are under the protection of the greater king. He enforces the treaty among the masses.

These Suzerain/Vassal treaties open with two sections: 1) The identification of the Suzerain by his name and titles; 2) The historical survey of the Suzerain’s dealings with the vassal. The purpose is to illustrate to the vassal how much the Suzerain has done to protect and establish the vassal who therefore owes submission and allegiance to the Suzerain. These two sections are referred to as the “Preamble.”

The next section of these treaties list the “stipulations.” What the vassal is required to do is spelled out in principal and detail. This section is often concluded with the requirement that the vassal deposit his copy of the treaty in his temple, where he is to occasionally read and study it to refresh his memory concerning his duties.

The last section of these treaties contains the blessings and curses of the Suzerain. If the stipulations are met by the vassal, he will receive the Suzerain’s blessings, which are listed. If the vassal fails to meet the stipulations, he will receive the Suzerain’s curses, which are also listed.

The Suzerain would keep one copy of the treaty and the vassal would keep one copy of the treaty. A number of ratifying ceremonies were used depending upon the era and culture. But the most widely used rite was that of cutting the bodies of animals in halves and placing them in two rows with enough space between for the two parties of the treaty to walk side by side. As they walked between the pieces, they were vowing to each other, “May what has happened to these animals, happen to me if I break this covenant with you.”

Covenant Documents of the Bible Patterned After Suzerain Treaties:

Exodus 20

(1-2)”Yahweh” is the Suzerain who delivered this Preamble to Moses, the vassal-lord who represents the people under the authority of the Suzerain.

names & titles = “I am the Lord, your God.”

historical prologue = “Who brought you out of Egypt…”

(3-17) Stipulations with selected blessings and curses.

stipulations = the 10 commandments;

blessings and curses = (5b-6); (7b); (12b).

Deuteronomy

(This entire book of Moses is saturated with Suzerain Treaty language and structure. It is not properly the treaty document itself, but it is based upon such a treaty, making reference to it often. Below are some examples.)

(4:32-40) Historical Prologue language and structure;

(4:44 – 5:21) Stipulations;

(6:4-25) Blessings and Curses;

(8) Reflects all the sections of a suzerain treaty,

(11)” ““

(17:14-20) Reflects the relationship of a vassal king to the Suzerain;

(20) Reflects the language and structure of war-time arrangements between a Suzerain and his people;

(27-28) Curses and Blessings;

(29) Covenant Renewal;

(30:11-19) Classic presentation of Ancient Near East Treaties!

(A question along the lines of “what came first, the chicken or the egg?” Did God see fit to present his covenant to his people in a cultural form developed by Near Eastern empires, or did God’s original pattern for his covenant in Eden inform and form the cultural pattern of the Ancient Near East?)” (10)

Kline’s question can be answered. God’s covenant came first, and God’s original pattern for His covenant in Eden was used to inform and form the cultural pattern of the Ancient Near Eastern treaties. Therefore, biblical covenants were not dependent upon non-Christian sources. Likewise, this is similar to the biblical teaching on the flood and the numerous flood stories in ancient history. The Bible is not dependent upon pagan stories of the flood. The Bible sets forth the true account; the other stories are corrupted remnants of the biblical account.

In conclusion, from the Westminster Confession on the Covenants:

“Chapter VII. Of God’s Covenant with Man

I. The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto Him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of Him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which He hath been pleased to express by way of covenant, (Isa 40:13-17; Job 9:32-33; 1Sa 2:25; Psalm 113:5-6; Psalm 100:2-3; Job 22:2-3; Job 35:7-8; Luke 17:10; Act 17:24-25).

II. The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, (Gal 3:12); wherein life was promised to Adam; and in him to his posterity, (Rom 10:5; Rom 5:12-20); upon condition of perfect and personal obedience, (Gen 2:17; Gal 3:10).

III. Man, by his fall, having made himself uncapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, (Gal 3:21; Rom 8:3; Rom 3:20-21; Gen 3:15; Isa 42:6); commonly called the covenant of grace; wherein He freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ; requiring of them faith in Him, that they may be saved, (Mar 16:15-16; John 3:16; Rom 10:6, 9; Gal 3:11); and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life His Holy Spirit, to make them willing, and able to believe, (Ezekiel 36:26-27; John 6:44-45).

IV. This covenant of grace is frequently set forth in Scripture by the name of a testament, in reference to the death of Jesus Christ the Testator, and to the everlasting inheritance, with all things belonging to it, therein bequeathed, (Hebrews 9:15-17; Hebrews 7:22; Luke 22:20; 1Co 11:25).

V. This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel, (2Co 3:6-9): under the law, it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all fore-signifying Christ to come, (Hebrews 8-10; Rom 4:11; Col 2:11-12; 1Co 5:7); which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, (1Co 10:1-4; Hebrews 11:13; John 8:56); by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the old Testament, (Gal 3:7-9, 14).

VI. Under the gospel, when Christ, the substance, (Col 2:17); was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, (Mat 28:19-20; 1Co 11:23-25): which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity, and less outward glory, yet, in them, it is held forth in more fulness, evidence, and spiritual efficacy, (Hebrews 12:22-27; Jerimiah 31:33-34); to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles, (Mat 28:19; Ephesians 2:15-19); and is called the new Testament, (Luke 22:20). There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations, (Gal 3:14, 16; Act 15:11; Rom 3:21-23, 30; Psalm 32:1; Rom 4:3, 6, 16-17, 23-24; Hebrews 13:8).”

Covenantal theology is inescapable. Have you submitted to God’s covenant in Christ? Alternatively, are you in rebellion?

“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)

Notes:

1. The Blood of the Everlasting Covenant, A Sermon (No. 273) Delivered on Sabbath Morning, September 4th, 1859, by the Rev. C. H. Spurgeon, Spurgeon-Sermons

2. Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, (Phillipsburg New Jersey, Presbyterian and Reformed, 1992), p.574.

3. Herman Witsius, The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man, Vol. 1, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Reformation Heritage Books, reprinted 2010), p. 45.

4. References from Wikipedia, God’s covenants is online at: Wikipedia/Covenant theology

5. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Vol. 2, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans, reprinted 1982), pp. 354-359.

6. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans, 1949), pp. 262, 263.

7. Herman Ridderbos, The Epistle of Paul to the Churches of Galatia, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans, 1953), p. 130-31.

8. Keil and Delitzsch Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans), Reprinted 1986, p. 216, 217.

9. John Gill, Exposition of the Old and New Testaments 9 Volumes, John, (Grace Works, Multi-Media Labs), 2011, p. 286, 287.

10. Dr. Meredith Kline, Notes from lectures of, presented at Westminster Theological Seminary in Escondido, California, Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: http://www.thereligionthatstartedinahat.com/

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What does the Bible say about Spiritism and the Occult?

What does the Bible say about Spiritism and the Occult? By Jack Kettler

As in previous studies, we will look at definitions, scriptures, lexical, and commentary evidence for the purpose to glorify God in how we live. In this study, we will look at two closely related topics, Spiritism and the Occult the Scriptural warnings to avoid such practices.

What is Spiritism?

The Bible clearly forbids Spiritism. God’s people are to make no attempt to contact spirits. Séances and necromancy are occult activities forbidden by God (Leviticus 19:31; 20:6; Galatians 5:20; 2Chronicles 33:6). The fact that Spiritism places the occult under a veil of “science” makes no difference. The Bible tells us that the spirit world is off-limits to us, for our own protection. The spirits with which Spiritism has to do are not human; the Bible says that the spirits of men face judgment after death (Hebrews 9:27), and there is nothing in Scripture to suggest that spirits return to the land of the living for any reason or in any form. We know that Satan is a deceiver (John 8:44). *

What is the Occult?

Occult means, “hidden.” It covers practices that are not approved of by God e.g., astrology (Isaiah 47:13), casting spells (Deuteronomy 18:11), consulting with spirits (Deuteronomy 18:11), magic (Genesis 41:8), sorcery (Exodus 22:8), witchcraft (Deuteronomy 18:10), and Spiritism (Deuteronomy 18:11). Occult practices such as Ouija boards, tarot cards, astrology charts, contacting the dead, séances, etc. are to be avoided by the Christian and Jews alike. **

A selected list of Scriptures relevant to both subjects:

“You shall not permit a sorceress to live.” (Exodus 22:18 ESV)

“If a person turns to mediums and necromancers, whoring after them, I will set my face against that person and will cut him off from among his people.” (Leviticus 20:6 ESV)

“A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit [a medium or a necromancer], or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them.” (Leviticus 20:27)

“There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.” (Deuteronomy 18:10-11)

“And he [Manasseh] caused his children to pass through the fire in the valley of the son of Hinnom: also he observed times, and used enchantments, and used witchcraft, and dealt with a familiar spirit, and with wizards: he wrought much evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger.” (2Chronicles 33:6)

“And when they say to you, “Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter,” should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living? To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn.” (Isaiah 8:19-20 ESV)

“That frustrateth the tokens of the liars, and maketh diviners mad; that turneth wise men backward, and maketh their knowledge foolish.” (Isaiah 44:25)

“And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver.’ (Acts 19:19 ESV)

“Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies.” (Galatians 5:20)

“But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8)

“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” (1Peter 5:8)

Comments:

C. S. Lewis wrote, “The Screwtape Letters,” which contain the dialogues between the demons “Wormwood” the nephew of “Screwtape” his uncle demon. In the preface, we learn there are two equal and opposite errors, and we can fall into concerning devils and demons. One is to doubt their existence, which is what usually happens in the modern world influenced by rationalism. The other is to have an unnecessary interest in them influenced by the New Age movement. The devil made me do it is a cop-out. In contrast, to deny the reality of Satan and his minions is dangerous in light of 1Peter 5:8.

In conclusion:

Consulting with spirit mediums, spiritists, practicing witchcraft, astrology, and magic are sinful rejections of God. Oprah Winfrey says to “find your own spirit.” Oprah’s idea is a contemporary example of a dangerous call to find a spirit medium. In the modern world, these so-called dark arts come in seemingly respectable scientific settings. They are to be avoided nonetheless.

Moreover, these above practices warranted the death penalty in the Older Covenant economy of Israel. Today the church does not wield the power of the sword. However, the church can excommunicate members found practicing these dark arts.

“Then said Saul unto his servants, Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit* that I may go to her, and inquire of her. And his servants said to him, Behold, there is a woman that hath a familiar spirit at Endor.” (1Samuel 28:7)

* Brown-Driver-Briggs on familiar spirit:

אוֺב noun masculine Job 32:19 skin-bottle, necromancer, etc. — absolute ׳א Leviticus 20:27 8t.; plural אֹבוֺת Leviticus 19:31 7t. —

1 skin-bottle, only plural אֹבוֺת חֲדָשִׁים new (wine-) skins Job 32:19.

2 necromancer, in phrase אוֺב אוֺ יִדְּעֹנִי necromancer or wizard Leviticus 20:27 (H; usually translated ‘a man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit or that is a wizard’ RV; but better a man or a woman, if there should be among them, a necromancer or wizard; no sufficient reason for exceptional use of phrase here); וְיִדְּעֹנִי ׳א Deuteronomy 18:11; 2Chronicles 33:6 = 2 Kings 21:6 (where וידענים ׳א); הָאֹבוֺת וְהַיִּדְּעֹנִים Leviticus 19:31; Leviticus 20:6 (H) 1 Samuel 28:3,9; 2 Kings 23:24; Isaiah 8:19 (where repres. as chirping & muttering, in practice of their art of seeking dead for instruction, probably ventriloquism, & so ᵐ5) Isaiah 19:3.

3 ghost, Isaiah 29:4 וְהָיָה כְּאוֺב מֵאֶרֶץ קוֺלֵח וּמֵעָפָר אִמְרָתֵח תְּצַפְצֵף and thy voice shall be as a ghost from the ground and from the dust thy speech shall chirp (so Ge MV Ew De Che and others, but chirping might be of necromancer, as Isaiah 8:19).

4 necromancy אֵשֶׁת בַּעֲלַתאֿוֺב a woman who was mistress of necromancy 1Samuel 28:7 (twice in verse); (> RSJPh xiv, 127 f makes אוֺב primarily a subterranean spirit, and significant. 2 only an abbreviation of ׳בעלתא etc.); קסם בּאוֺב divine by necromancy 1Samuel 28:8, which seems to be interpretation of 1Chronicles 10:13 ׳שׁאל בא inquire by necromancy. (In these three examples אוֺב is usually interpreted as ghost or familiar spirit conceived as dwelling in necromancer; but this apparently not the ancient conception.)

The result of Saul’s sin:

“Then said Samuel, Wherefore then dost thou ask of me, seeing the LORD is departed from thee, and is become thine enemy?” (1Samuel 28:16)

Saul and the Witch of Endor by R. Bickersteth, D. D.

1Samuel 28:7-25

Then said Saul to his servants, Seek me a woman that has a familiar spirit that I may go to her, and inquire of her…

At this period to which the text relates Saul was in great perplexity, owing to the want of someone through whom to obtain counsel from God. The affairs of Israel were at this time in a critical state. Their ancient adversaries, the Philistines, were mustering their forces. The moral degeneracy of Israel served to embolden the enemy. Let us now endeavour to point out some of the practical lessons, which this remarkable narrative suggests.

1. The history forcibly teaches the solemn truth, that a man’s day of grace is by no means invariably co-extensive with his life on earth. It is evident that at least for a time before Saul perished he was left to eat of the fruit of his own way, and to be filled with his own devices. The Spirit departed from him, and at the same time, the Spirit of evil entered in and took full possession of him. After this, there were no further means to be tried for his conversion. The king had outlived his time of opportunity, and God was departed from him. Saul’s day of grace had then terminated; and, whilst you notice this, observe also the steps which led to this consummation: they were a progressive series of resistances offered to God’s Spirit — repeated acts of provocation, the repetition of refusals to hearken and to obey. There are numbers who are emboldened in a course of irreligion from the impression that it will be easy at some future time to turn and repent, and undergo the indispensable change, without which they cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. On this account, it becomes more necessary to repeat the warning that the season for turning to the Lord may pass away, never to return, even before the stroke of death ushers the soul to its everlasting portion.

2. Again, the history before us is instructive as pointing out what act it was on the part of Saul, which challenged his final and immediate punishment. From the narrative, it appears it was the sin of witchcraft. But the peculiarity lies in this, that it was a sin which Saul had professedly abandoned, and against which he had proclaimed open war. Can we err in concluding from hence that sin is then more especially hateful to God when practised by one who knows its nature and has once deliberately purposed to forsake it? To fall back to the indulgence of a sin, which you have once resolved to renounce is a sure way to provoke the heavy displeasure of God.

3. The narrative is full of instruction as to the folly of expecting conversion by miracle when it is not effected by ordinary means. The reappearance of Samuel availed nothing for Saul’s conversion. The reanimated Prophet could not guide the man who had abandoned the guidance of God’s own Spirit. Be not deceived to suppose that if unconverted by what God is doing for you now, you would be converted by any supernatural agency. Your conversion is possible now. It is the province of the Holy Ghost to effect it. Use the means you have. God will give the Holy Spirit to them that ask. (R. Bickersteth, D. D. The Biblical Illustrator, Electronic Database).

In closing:

“So Saul died for his breach of faith. He broke faith with the LORD in that he did not keep the command of the LORD, and also consulted a medium, seeking guidance.” (1Chronicles 10:13 ESV)

“Do not turn to mediums or necromancers; do not seek them out, and so make yourselves unclean by them: I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19:31 ESV)

“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)

Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: http://www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com

For more study:

* Got Questions https://www.gotquestions.org/
** CARM Theological Dictionary https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/ctd.html

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Are you Woke? What is the Woke movement? A fact sheet.

Are you Woke? What is the Woke movement? A fact sheet. By Jack Kettler

An exercise in “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” (Proverbs 27:17 NKJV)

From Barnes’ Notes on the Bible on Proverbs 27:17:

“The proverb expresses the gain of mutual counsel as found in clear, well-defined thoughts. Two minds, thus acting on each other, become more acute.” (1)

What is a definition of Woke?

Woke is a term that has come into the mainstream from what can be called African American English. It is a term, which refers to an awareness of social justice and in particular racial issues. The “woke” movement began in the African American community and the acceptance of black liberation theology, another name for Marxism. The movement has expanded into other perceived social justice areas. In brief, “woke” is the term used to explain an awakening to issues of race, gender, and sexual injustice.

Supposedly historic Christians have been ignorant and in the dark about these issues. In reality, traditional Christians have dealt with these issues as individual sins rather than group rights or identity politics.

Is woke-ism a new fad like the Emergent Church Movement? Promoters of woke-ism are progressively theologically liberal on issues like LGBTQ rights, the environment, and racial inequality, and see themselves as social justice warriors. From the inroads this movement has made into evangelicalism, woke-ism has the hallmarks of faddism.

If you read the Christian contemporary woke leaders it becomes quickly apparent they only have a superficial knowledge of the Bible. Proponents of woke-ism and historic traditional Christian apologetics have substantial differences as proof. Woke-ism operates on assumptions, which are not too be questioned they are supposedly self-evident. If you do not agree with the assumption, you are not “woke.” How convenient and how circular.

Woke-ism made possible by Post-Modern thought:

Up until the mid-twentieth century post, enlightenment or modernist thinking was still dominant. As evident from the ministries like that of Francis A. Schaeffer and L’abri in Switzerland. Christians during this time were concerned with the intellectual validation and defense of the Christian faith.

Postmodernism cannot be better explained than by Gene Edward Veith, Jr.:

“In postmodernism, the intellect is replaced by will, reason by emotion, and morality by relativism. Reality is nothing more than a social construct; truth equals power. Your identity comes from a group. Postmodernism is characterized by fragmentation, indeterminacy, and a distrust of all universalizing (worldviews) and power structures (the establishment). It is a worldview that denies all worldviews (“stories”). In a nutshell, postmodernism says there are no universal truths valid for all people. Instead, individuals are locked into the limited perspective of their own race, gender or ethnic group. It is Nietzsche in full bloom.

Although postmodernists tend to reject traditional morality, they can still be very moralistic. They will defend their “rights” to do what they want with puritanical zeal. Furthermore, they seem to feel that they have a right not to be criticized for what they are doing. They want not only license but approval. Thus, tolerance becomes the cardinal virtue. Under the postmodernist way of thinking, the principle of cultural diversity means that every like-minded group constitutes a culture that must be considered as good as any other culture. The postmodernist sins are being judgmental, being narrow-minded, thinking that you have the only truth, and trying to enforce your values on anyone else. Those who question the postmodernist dogma that “there are no absolutes” are excluded from the canons of tolerance. The only wrong idea is to believe in truth; the only sin is to believe in sin.” (2)

Post-Modern thought gave up on these pursuits, abandoning theological and intellectual precision. The adherents of woke-ism have abandoned historic church confessions and the biblical theology of sin and the need for redemption.

There is nothing in woke-ism literature about repenting from individual sins unless you are white, conservative, a capitalist, and heterosexual. Woke-ism is progressive, a movement of the political and theological left.

Instead, the investigator finds assertions about social injustice that are based upon nothing more than unproven assumptions and appeals to selective data, which are not to be questioned.

As said earlier, if the assumptions are questioned, the critic is dismissed as not being “woke.” The “woke-er” argues in a circle, themselves, being the standard of interpretation. With this spectacular intellectual decline, the stage is set for a massive rise in new cultic groups forming on nothing more than following a slick lip artist leader who can arouse the emotions.

“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)

Notes:

1. Albert Barnes, THE AGES DIGITAL LIBRARYCOMMENTARY, Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, Proverbs, Vol. 6 p.103.

2. Gene Edward Veith, Jr., Postmodern Times, p. 195-196.

Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: http://www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com

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