Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Review: The Expositor's Bible Commentary

I have been eye-balling the Expositor's Bible Commentary, Revised Edition. This set is an update of an earlier edition that has been condensed (abridged) down to two fairly thick volumes. As I have consulted the abridged edition I have found the writing to be very good and the insight of the writers quite keen. As I have been researching the offering of the Revised Edition, it has come to my attention that I am more interested in some volumes than I am in others; so I went out and bought volume 4 which covers 1 Chronicles to Job. That volume covers a block of Scripture that I have not hit as hard as I would like and that I intend to visit in the near future.

I have read "at" this volume--checking out some comments on key verses that I know are discussed among lay-scholars. Here are my overall initial impressions:

First off, the entire NIV text is included within the commentary. I am not real thrilled about that feature. It probably increases the price of the volume to include a copyrighted Bible translation within the commentary. On the other hand, Zondervan owns the copyright and they also publish this commentary; so what am I complaining about? Probably not price. It certainly makes the volume more thick. I very rarely read a commentary without having my own favorite Bible translation open in front of me. The only time I can think of when I like having the Bible text within the commentary is when I am a passenger in a car and I am reading. My lap is too unaccommodating to hold two books open at the same time. In general, I think including the Bible text, especially from a main-stream translation, to be a waste of space.

I like how the commentary features textual notes; but not on every other word (like the Anchor and the Word commentaries). What notes are included are only those of major interest to an average reader.

The quality of writing is outstanding all through this commentary and from each commentator. The readability, clarity and conciseness of thought are what I see as the most attractive features of this series. As I mentioned above, I found the writing in the Abridged edition of the older set to be far above the crowd. The aim of the comments are to help the reader understand the Bible text. Commentators very rarely, if ever, insist upon a particular slant, of several, to understanding a passage. I found that the writers' main focus is to help readers understand the text. That makes a commentary truly useful.

I appreciate that the commentators are able to include a "Reflection" section after the Comments and Notes. In the Reflections section, the commentator is able to make personal applications and illustrations that are not necessarily originally intended by the inspired writers but are nevertheless appropriate applications to modern Christians.

I noticed there are many charts and diagrams interspersed throughout the volume. I found all of them to be attractively designed and equally helpful. Seeing something graphically presented means a lot to right-brained people like me.

All in all, if a commentator is able to be too detailed or too brief, the Expositor's Bible Commentary writers err on the side of being too brief. As an example, I will offer Job 1:21.

Naked I came from my mother's womb,
  and naked I will depart.
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;
  may the name of the LORD be praised. (NIV)

Commentator Elmer B. Smick (with moderate revisions of Tremper Longman III) observes some interesting technical detail about this verse. There is much theological discussion to be made about this verse. These were words of Job but we are not confident Job had a proper understanding of how reality works. Certainly, Job was unaware of the background story that led up to the terrible events that motivated Job's statement. Smick discusses as much in his commentary; but he does not recognize in writing that there are major theological questions over whether or not what Job said is even true! Here is what Smick (and/or Longman) says: "Here the attitude of Job... is one of supreme faith and total recognition to God's sovereign will. Job does not understand why but he believes that his trouble come [sic] from God." Sorry guys. That's too brief.

If we are truthful, in most of our personal Bible study, we are in a hurry. Rarely do we dive deeply into the Word and really experience it. The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Revised Edition, encourages us to slow down a little while still getting to the main point with very little delay. From my review of Volume 4 of this set, I am confident that all the volumes are very useful to any student of Scripture barring a scholar. The scholar will want more.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Covenant and faith (Genesis 6)

When God created, he created something that was very good. In Genesis 1:31, “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.”

Things went awry when the man and the woman disobeyed God disobeyed God when they ate the fruit of the forbidden tree. We saw God's grace in that event when he found a way to spare Adam and Eve's lives; but they still suffered consequences by being expelled from the garden. Very early in the Bible we should realize that God's salvation is expressed in covenant and is realized in faith.

God used to walk around in the garden and visit with Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:8). God visited personally with the first four humans even after they were driven out of the Garden. God spoke directly to Cain when he was feeling moody about his brother Abel’s sacrifice. God said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Genesis 4:5).

Enoch walked with God and somehow he was able to move to a new existence without having to go through death (Genesis 5:22).
When Enoch walks with God and when God walks with people, they are taking a walk. They are not walking on their way to something. They are just walking around together. That is what a walk with God is. We are walking and I am with God and God is with me.

What God created did not continue to be “very good.” Things did not go well at all. God was very disheartened by how things went.
[Genesis 6:1-7 but especially:] Gen 6:5-7
The LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the LORD said, “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created—people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.”
We should notice a few important features of this text. First off, God did not expect the creation to turn out this way. In fact, God is ready to wipe out something about which he had earlier said was "very good." God is reacting to human actions (Isaiah 9:11-12; Malachi 3:6;Jeremiah 18). God changed his mind. God has always reserved the right to change his mind (Exodus 32:14; Psalm 106:23; 1 Samuel 2:30; Jeremiah 15:6)

God experiences emotion. God is sorry/regrets/repents(KJV) (1 Samuel 15:11). God's experience at the beginning of verse 6 (sorrow) connotes a definite change. When God experienced this sorrow, he was not experiencing it before he "saw that the wickedness of humankind was great on the earth." After God saw what he saw, he changed. He was sorry. Thus, very appropriately, the KJV gives the word "repented."
God grieves. "It grieved him to his heart." Grief is emotional suffering in proportion to intimacy. The Bible is replete with examples of God's grief.
Psalm 78:40; Isaiah 63:10; Luke 19:41-42; John 11:33-35; Ephesians 4:30. In Hosea 11:8-9, God is torn in heart.
Genesis 6:8
But Noah found favor in the sight of the LORD.
That is interesting! How did Noah find favor with God? Was it an arbitrary thing? Recall that God had a soft spot in his heart for King Jeroboam's child.
1Ki 14:12-13
Therefore set out, [said the prophet to Jeroboam's wife,] go to your house. When your feet enter the city, the child shall die. All Israel shall mourn for him and bury him; for he alone of Jeroboam’s family shall come to the grave, because in him there is found something pleasing to the LORD, the God of Israel, in the house of Jeroboam.
Because God saw something pleasing in the child, he was the only person in Jeroboam's family to have a marked grave. The Bible does not tell us what the pleasing thing was that God saw in the boy.

However, the Bible does say something revealing about Noah.
Genesis 7:1
Then the Lord said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you alone are righteous before me in this generation.
Whatever was in Noah in Genesis 6:8 continued all the way to Genesis 7:1. Thus, if Noah's character at Genesis 6:8 had not continued, he would have not been found righteous by the time Genesis 7:1 rolled around! Thus, God's favor in God's sight was not arbitrary. It was a result of something in Noah's character that became even more evident by his subsequent behavior. Noah's obedience is mentioned in Genesis 6:22; 7:5, 9, 16 and 18:17-18.

So, did Noah save himself? Not at all. He entered into covenant with God. God gave Noah a blueprint of the ark he was to build and God stated the terms of a covenant he is making with Noah and his family.
Gen 6:17-18
For my part, I am going to bring a flood of waters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; everything that is on the earth shall die. But I will establish my covenant with you; and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.
The covenant, obviously, is to save Noah and his family from the flood waters. But what would have happened if Noah had said something like, "Yes, LORD. I believe! I have faith coming out my ears! I accept your salvation from the coming flood!" and then, Noah never built the ark? He would have perished with everyone else.
Noah, for his part, needed to build that ark as a means of accepting God's salvation. Noah was not his own co-savior. God was his savior; but Noah still needed to build that ark! If he had not, he would not have realized God's salvation.
First Peter says Noah's realization of God's salvation prefigures the Christian's realization of salvation.
1Pe 3:20-21
... when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ....
Noah's faith resulted in his salvation through water (says Peter). When someone today believes in Jesus, he is also saved through water. Baptism is an appeal to God for a good conscience. Noah did not really save himself by building the ark. Noah was saved by God when Noah obeyed God. A believer today does not literally save himself by being baptized. He is saved by God when he obeys. God's salvation is expressed in covenant and is realized in faith.

The necessity of baptism

This article was originally written on July 2014. I am republishing it here with minimal edits.

Many students of the Bible esteem baptism less than the writers of the New Testament did. They often say, “Baptism has never saved, nor will it ever save, anyone.” The Bible never takes that position anywhere.

The Bible treats baptism as a condition of salvation. At the end of Peter’s sermon in Acts 2, the people were “cut to the heart.” They asked the apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” (Acts 2:37, NRSV for all references). Notice they are prepared to take action and they want to know what action they should take. Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).

Many evangelicals are troubled with this verse because it lists two actions (repentance and baptism) that smell a lot like “works.” Ephesians 2:8-9 says you don’t have do anything, right? Wrong. The Bible does not teach that salvation is unconditional. It is free (Romans 6:23), through faith (Galatians 2:16) and conditional (Acts 2:38). Baptism is the point at which a person’s sins are washed away (Acts 22:16). Repentance and baptism are works! They do not merit forgiveness of sins; but both are conditions.

One of the main features of the Reformation was a rejection of the doctrine that a person could pay for or do penance for forgiveness of sins. What followed was a general rejection of baptism as a condition for salvation (baptismal regeneration). The primary motive behind the modern evangelical rejection of baptismal regeneration is history and heritage. Since “faith alone” is so ingrained into reformist groups, I expect hostile disagreement on this point. Nevertheless, I will now challenge, as succinctly as I can, the usual arguments against baptismal regeneration.

Analysis of Acts 2:38. This verse could not be more clear, until someone comes along and plunges it into an exegetical fog. Before I explain “the fog,” just read the verse with a little context and think about what that crowd thought Peter meant by his answer.

The usual attack on the plain meaning of Acts 2:38 has to do with the Greek preposition eis. It is typically translated “for” as in “Repent and be baptized... for forgiveness...” (like KJV reads). The meaning of the symbolic sentence “A eis B” (A for B) is “A results in B.” However, in rare cases when context forces it, “A eis B” means “A because of B.” The only reason someone would want to force this meaning on Acts 2:38 is to safeguard the evangelical doctrine of salvation by grace alone. They want us to accept an awkward and contextually unrequired meaning of Peter’s simple answer. Acts 2:38 means repentance and baptism result in forgiveness of sins. If eis ever means "because of" anywhere in the Bible, Acts 2:38 is the only place. Compare Acts 2:38 with Matthew 26:28. "... for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for (eis) the forgiveness of sins." Jesus' blood was poured out for (not "because of") the forgiveness of sins.

Analysis of 1 Peter 3:21. Surprisingly, many people quote this verse as proof that baptism is not necessary for salvation. The verse comes right out and says that baptism saves! The writer compares baptism to Noah’s Ark and the flood. “And baptism, which is prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” I think the argument holds that salvation comes by appealing to God for a good conscience. A good conscience is a conscience without guilt. A forgiven person has been absolved (in God’s view) of guilt. The word “appeal” is powerful. It means baptism is an act of surrender—not merit. “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10). Baptism is “an appeal to God for a good conscience.”

Analysis of 1 Corinthians 12:13 and Galatians 3:27. These verses are often quoted in support of an alternative purpose for baptism. That is, to join a denomination. It is a mistake to argue that “getting into Christ” is the only use for baptism. While baptism saves, God then adds the believer to the body of Christ. Acts 2:47b says, “And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” Baptism adds a believer to Christ because it is part of the process. “The process” is why “faith” results in a person’s salvation. It moves a person to obedience (including baptism) through which, God saves.
Whether or not it makes any sense that a baptism in water could possibly have any role in forgiveness of sins, it is clearly required by the apostles. Will I argue with Scripture or will I obey?

Monday, May 16, 2016

Moses wrote about me (Jesus)

One of the puzzles of Scripture appears in John 5:46. It quotes Jesus as saying, “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.”

Let’s look at some context. In John 5:15-18, Jesus defends his authority for healing people on the sabbath by arguing that God (his Father) works on the sabbath and so, being his Father’s son, he also works on the sabbath. Jesus’ explanation disturbed the Jews such that they wanted to kill Jesus. Jesus responds to the Jews. One of his charges is that the Jews do not correctly read the Scriptures.

John 5:39-47
39 "You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. 40 Yet you refuse to come to me to have life. 41 I do not accept glory from human beings. 42 But I know that you do not have the love of God in you. 43 I have come in my Father's name, and you do not accept me; if another comes in his own name, you will accept him. 44 How can you believe when you accept glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the one who alone is God? 45 Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; your accuser is Moses, on whom you have set your hope. 46 If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. 47 But if you do not believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?"

We are a bit challenged to find where Moses wrote about Jesus.

It is generally assumed by Jewish and Christian tradition that Moses wrote the first five books of the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). The Torah (first five books) never claim internally to be written by Moses, nor does any other Scripture attribute the authorship of the Torah to Moses. Furthermore, there are some blatant internal contradictions to the assumption of Mosaic authorship of the Torah (e.g., Genesis 4:26; 10:14-15; 12:6; 14:14; 36:31; Exodus 6:3; 13:17; Numbers 21:14; Deuteronomy 1:1; 11:30; 32:49. This is a partial list of evidences. I will leave the study of these passages to the reader... or we can civilly discuss them in the comments below).

If Jesus meant that the entire Torah was written by Moses, then we could comfortably cite Genesis 3:15 in which God tells the serpent that the seed of the woman would strike him on the head and the serpent will strike the woman’s seed on the heel.

The most direct Torah passage that seems to prefigure Jesus is Deuteronomy 18:15-22. That passage is all about the qualifications of a true prophet. Moses, in his speech, is informing Israel how they will receive the word of the LORD. They will not go to sorcerers or practice divination in order to learn the oracles of God. No. They will listen to the prophets. First century Jews, naturally, expected the coming Messiah to fulfil the requirements of Deuteronomy 18:15-22. The passage is referenced and applied to Jesus in the New Testament.

Acts 3:22-23
Moses said, "The Lord your God will raise
up for you from your own people a prophet
like me. You must listen to whatever he
tells you. And it will be that everyone who
does not listen to that prophet will be
utterly rooted out of the people.”

Acts 7:37
This is the Moses who said to the Israelites,
"God will raise up a prophet for you from
your own people as he raised me up.”

Is this the passage Jesus referenced when he said, “Moses wrote about me?” Very possibly. It looks like this quote along with most of the book of
Deuteronomy (including chapter 18) was written down by Moses:

Then Moses wrote down this law, and gave
it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who
carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord,
and to all the elders of Israel.
Deuteronomy 31:9.

Jesus was prefigured by Moses. The Jews, who revered Moses, should have recognized Jesus as a prophet like Moses.

Moses wrote the law he heard from the LORD on the mountain (Exodus 24:4) which had to do with the rule of the LORD and with proper treatment of fellow human beings. Jesus was all about that; so we can comfortably recognize that the things we know were written by Moses directly prefigured Jesus, God’s Messiah.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Types and Tokens

Types and tokens in
Romans 8:29-30

Neil Short

When we study Romans 8:29-30, we usually agree that it is not a claim of determination of who will be and who will not be conformed to Christ. It is a determination of what will happen to those who are called (by their choice, Romans 8:5-11). They will be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ and be glorified. God predestines the consequences of the choice to be in Christ or not; but he does not predestine the choice itself.
An easy-to-remember rule on this passage is "It's the plan and not the man." That rule promotes the correct understanding on Romans 8:29-30. It still may be a little difficult to wrap the mind around.
In a recent Facebook conversation, a participant (Adrian Murzac) pointed out the difference between a type and a token. Atype defines something that applies to a group of objects. A token is a particular example within the group. Understanding the difference, I think, really helps us appreciate this Bible passage. Consider a flock of birds as it flies around in the sky like a cloud--almost like a single organism. They fly together corporately. The flock represents a type of bird. Now, focus on a single bird in the flock. That's a token. Consider a school of fish in the ocean that you may have seen on a nature T.V. show. When a shark swims through the school, the school of fish parts and makes a kind of tunnel for the shark to swim through and the shark is unable to catch a single fish in the school. The school of fish is a type while a particular fish in the school is a token.
What God predestined in Romans 8:29-30 is a type of person, not a token (particular) person.
God predestined a people conformed to the image of Jesus (a type of people). He did not predestine any particular individual's choices. Paul never said anywhere that a life choice with eternal-consequences has been pre-made for anybody. That particular choice must be made by the individual person (token). Have you made that most important choice or are you waiting for something?