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Discussing the end of the ages from amillennial and supernatural points of view.

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Confessionalism, Controversy, and the Current Climate

Posted on December 1, 2017 at 1:50 PM

With the simplicity/impassibility issue reaching a new fever pitch, I’m going to add my who-is-this-guy and who-does-he-think-he-is take by giving a very different perspective of the whole thing from a Confessional point of view. This has been my stance since before this all erupted in ARBCA. I was there, in the trenches, watching things unfold. I took this stance then. I take it again now.


First off, I like the 1689 LBC quite a bit. I hold to it, as does our Church. I think it is a good document. Helpful in many ways. God has used it, and when it is used well, it has been a source of unity and help to many churches and individuals.


One of the reasons I like it so much is because of how it came to be. Those involved in crafting it were borrowing directly from at least two other documents: WCF and Savoy. Of course, they felt free to edit and change whatever they wanted in those other documents in order to develop their own. In this way, were they not giving us at least an implicit view of the form of subscriptionism they themselves held?


Another reason I like it is because of how it begins. Everyone knows it starts with Scripture. But there are words that come immediately preceding the controversies in 2.1. Chapter 2.1 is not Chapter 1.1.


I’m talking, quite literally, about the sentence just before it that I want to explore here with you. Incredibly, this is found almost word for word in the big three: 1689, WCF, and Savory. Meaning? This was a foundational teaching for those that so many who have entered the discussion on simplicity/impassibility say they want to follow. All of these Confessions were grounded on these words. But quite honestly, these same words are now, as they have been since the beginning of this controversy, either being ignored or in some cases through ridicule of those who want to follow them, mocked and discarded altogether.


Before I get to them, consider an important point that has been brought up by those taking the so-called “classical” view of these doctrines. Does it not matter even a little to those trying to “modify” 2.1 to know what the Church has meant about things like “without body, parts, or passions?” Of course, this is the same kind of argument most of us use against the “Living Document” view of the United States Constitution. Does not the original intent of the Framers matter at all? And the answer I hope we would all agree is, yes it does. Of course it does!


With that in mind, consider the words that immediately precede 2.1 in all three Confessions. “The supreme judge by which all controversies of Religion are to be determined, and all Decrees of Counsels, opinions of ancient Writers, Doctrines of men, and private Spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Scripture delivered by the Spirit, into which Scripture so delivered, our faith is finally resolved.” One might ask, what was the original intent of such a statement? What did they mean by it?


Did they mean by it that really, when there is a difference of opinion on something, historical theology is to be the final arbiter? How about philosophy? Reason? Experience? A council or board of important people? Some popular writer of today or the past? Private opinion? Some guy's 50 tweets on the matter? Another's several-article blog posts? Or might they have meant exactly what they said? When there is a disagreement, Scripture alone is the final arbiter, and in its sentence alone we rest.


Is your first impulse after reading me say this to respond, “Yes, but…” Do you read this and say to yourself, "Yes, the Bible. Of course! But that isn’t practical in a situation like this, because this just turns into a free-for-all of personal opinion where everyone reads the Bible as they want to. That's the definition of heresy. We need orthodoxy to make that final call." If so, then just know that if that’s what you think, congratulations, you have just become Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox. They don’t believe sola scriptura is actually possible for precisely this reason. Your thought is the foundation of their defense against the very thing you say you believe.


I happen to believe that sola scriptura is possible, but as I taught in a recent sermon on the subject, I actually believe that one’s stance towards the doctrine is moral in nature. You either have it deep in your soul that you want God’s word to rule everything that you believe, knowing that other things really are important, but not the final word, or you don’t. That's sola scriptura. Not solo scriptura. Not "I want to twist the Bible to meet my adenda" scriptura. This is what every confessional person is supposed to not only confess, but love deep within their essence. And it is either there inside of you or it isn’t. I trust God’s word to be able to settle these kinds of matters, not just in its direct teaching on the doctrine, but also on how it is that Christ’s high priestly prayer can become a reality when difference of opinion like this arise in our midst. The Bible isn’t relevant in these matters only where it talks for or against simplicity. More on that in a moment.


Let’s return to the original intent. Do you suppose that those who wrote 1.11 believed that what they were talking about extended to every other counsel, writing, and doctrine of men but their own? Does this paragraph exclude itself? Or could it be, that it was placed here because not only did they know that, in the future, men would differ over its teaching (as we are seeing now with 2.1), but they actually saw, in living color, differing opinions in their own meetings as the very document(s) was being drafted in all kinds of places? Could it really be that such a paragraph which ends one of the great chapters on Holy Scripture ever penned is saying, “Now when you disagree with this document, you must go to the Holy Scripture and let it be your final arbiter?" How much more profound is this to our own current climate to know that this is the sentence literally immediately prior to 2.1?


But brothers, this is precisely what has not happened and continues not to happen with our disagreement on 2.1 (which by the way, to the best of my knoweldge, everyone says they agree with! It isn't the words in the Confession that are the problem, but the history behind them that is the controvery. My point is, we are not dealing here with people who are saying they disagree with the words of the Confession. But you wouldn't know it by the rhetoric flying around).


Is Scripture quoted and cited like a proof-text? Honestly, only sometimes. In fact, when this whole thing first erupted in ARBCA, I was there when a lengthy preliminary paper was given to the Administrative Counsel and we were told to vote on whether to proceed with a position paper or not. I didn't vote no. I didn't vote yes. I abstained. The reason? I wasn’t against such a paper in principle, but there wasn’t a single reference to the Bible made in this preliminary assignment. Not one. So, on grounds that I wanted to be confessional, I abstained. How could I go against one part of the Confession in order to uphold another? It is recorded in the records of ARBCA exactly why I did so. I made them put it there. You can go read it yourselves.


Similarly, it is common to read entire chapters, blogs, journal papers, tweets, and posts that never mention anything at all about God’s word on the matter. Or, if they do, there is nothing even remotely resembling exegesis. It's just proof-texting. How is this being confessional? Does only one part of the Confession matter, but not others? Hence, that was my point then. It remains my point today.


Still, I want to think the best, and I know that at the end of the day, both sides do cite Scripture. I think it is fair to say that both sides want to claim that this is the teaching of Scripture.


But that’s not the problem. What has been happening and continues to happen is that even though Scripture may be cited, it is not being used as the final arbiter of our disagreements on these matters. Far from it. Rather, we get an almost endless list of arguments about what the original framers meant by certain phrases, or about what the Christian tradition and orthodoxy has “always taught” about a thing. We get long, protracted logical deductions about why they did so. And we get Aristotle, Aquinas, and Dolezal.


To be fair, on the other side, not to be outdone, we get similar things. Lectures and papers on how there was a reaction against this kind of thing early on with Luther against scholasticism. Or how Van Til picked up on it, and now Oliphant and Frame are championing it. OK. Those are important to consider. Most all of us on both sides have done this. But where’s the Scripture in any of that?


And what about this obsession with personally retaliating when others have personally blasted or laid attacks at our doorstep or those at the door of those we agree with? Cheap shots abound, and no one seems to care, unless, of course, those cheap shots are against "me." Meanwhile, we keep on biting and devouring one another. I think Paul may have had a thing or two to say to the Galatians about that.


So again I ask, how are we letting our own Confession solve our problems? And by the way, what that means, again, by its own statement, is how are we letting Scripture solve our problems--God’s word that he has given to us, which is supposedly sufficient for everything we need regarding these very kinds of controversies? At least, that's what we confess.


Just here, I think we need to consider the wisdom of 2.1’s very, very brief treatment of a doctrine that some have been talking about every single day for the past several years, as if there is nothing else in the whole wide world that matters. “Without body, parts, or passions.” Five words.


I realize that this phrase owes its origins to even earlier documents and Confessions. I know that some want us to believe that there has never been any difference of opinion on philosophical matters that underpin them. And frankly, there is much truth to that. Though, at the same time, I not only wonder how that relates to 1.11, but more basically, I wonder what they would say about simplicity in Aristotle’s day, where some could say something like the human soul (which is where the discussion about God started according to one preeminent scholar) is simple and yet has parts or powers? There’s plenty of material out there that shows this incredibly difficult and complicated doctrine has not been universally accepted absolutely identically by everyone in history. All you have to do is go out and read it. But that might mean, you know, reading something we don't already agree with that wasn't written by someone we already have it out for. God forbid.


But that takes me back to five little words. Could not the framers of the Confessions, if they had wanted, made this one doctrine an entire chapter that everyone must confess everything about because it was the most important thing we can think about? Sure. Did they? No. It seems to me the spirit of the thing here is not one of exclusion, but inclusion. Saying little is often done so that those who have quibbles within what might be said, but agree with what is said, can fellowship together. Is this not the very point being made by rewriting two other documents that are outside of your own views, retaining a huge percentage of them, yet changing what you think needs to be changed? Were they not trying to say, “See, we are more like you than not?” Were the Baptists seeking to remove themselves as far from the Presbyterians and Congregationalists as possible in doing this? Or might it have been the opposite?


Of course, none of this solves the actual current debate. For that, there is going to have to be lots more theological, philosophical, historical discussion. There's nothing wrong with that. Did you think my saying we are to uphold sola scriptura meant I think we should discard that? Scroll up. Read again. Return here when you understand. There's also going to have to be a way to do it outside of the bloody internet. This is not the forum for such things. And I fear we are being used by it more than we are using it. And the way it is using us does not appear to be very good. That leads me to this point.


There is going to have something else. Namely: charity, patience, long-suffering, kindness, thinking the best of others, wanting to find a way to come together, and so on. In other words, there’s going to have to be that word that it seems so many Calvinists really don't like all that much: "love." Love that tempers our zeal for truth. Unfortunately, this seems in pretty short supply these days, so I’m not hopeful that it will happen. But who knows? God is still good to each of us every day. If we each internalize just how profound that is, maybe I guy could dream.


But if not, can we at least admit one thing before this goes any farther? If we are so proud of our confessionalism and our zeal to ensure that the Framer’s conceptions that made the five words appear in 2.1 be followed, can we not be fair and do the same with 1.11?


Let me put it bluntly. If we say that we are confessional, but do not carry out in practice what 1.11 tells us about how to deal with this, then we are not Confessional. Plain and simple. If we say that we are confessional because we hold to the Framer’s views of 2.1, while we mock and/or chastise those who want to do what it says in 1.11, then we are not confessional. We make a mockery of our own beliefs, and the greater Christian church, indeed even the very world itself, sees it. There are extremely practical reasons why 2.1 is not 1.1. There are reasons why 1.11 completes the chapter on Scripture.


Furthermore, if we do not start acting like L-O-V-E is not a four-letter word forbidden by the Eleventh Commandment, but a word that God cares about as way we interact with, tweet about, talk about, write about people—that he actually cares as much about persons (indeed, more about them) than he does forms and ideas, then how in the world are we even being Christians? Does not 1 John have anything at all to teach us about this?


Thus, it seems to me that it may not just be the Scriptures that deal with the issues in 2.1 that can help us resolve our problems. I’ve learned quite a bit about an interesting doctrine in the past four years. I continue to refine my thinking, mostly because it is being thrown in my face on a daily basis and I sort of have no choice. But I also like to think about it. This is my God I’m trying to understand better.


But I’ve also learned that we are not doing well at all on an entirely different kind of theological teaching in God’s word. That is, how we deal with one another as brothers for whom Christ gave his life because he loved them so much. That's what 1.11 is supposed to be getting at. Do we even care that our Lord wants his church to be One? Are we so busy hoping that the guy who disagrees with me isn't actually a Christian and therefore I can justify my actions towards him because I'm not violating Jesus' prayer, that we have missed the whole point of what it means to be Christ-followers altogether? This has got to stop. And it has to stop now.


I hope God uses this post to this latter end. But if not, at least I will have spoken my conscience about a deep hypocrisy that made itself known to me years ago, that has been occuring, is continuing to occur regularly, is not being addressed hardly at all, and yet is spreading now far beyond my little circles regarding what it means to be confessional.


God Help us.

Psalm 82, John 10, James White, and Mormonism

Posted on May 8, 2015 at 12:35 AM Comments comments (0)

Recently, the Confessing Baptists linked up to a blog from John Samson who in turn introduces us to an excerpt from Dr. James White’s book Is the Mormon My Brother? After commenting on that post, they asked me if I wanted to write an alternative view. So I'm doing that here.

The excerpt focused on Jesus’ citation of Psalm 82:6 in John 10:34. The words in John 10:34 are, “'I said, you are gods'?” (ESV). The part of the verse cited by Jesus in the Psalm reads, “I said, ‘You are gods...’” (ESV). Mormons use this verse to prove two things: 1. A plurality of gods; 2.Their own future participation as in heaven as gods according to the famous dictum by the fifth president of the Latter Day Saints—Lorenzo Snow—who infamously said, “As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become.”1

According to Samson, a main reason to be a Reformed Christian is that, “When the Biblical text is left to speak for itself, within its own context, the truth is clearly seen.” I wholeheartedly concur. And yet, rather than taking the view of Psalm 82:6 that sees these “gods” as human rulers, thereby finding no point of contact with the Mormon, I take a very different view that sees the Mormon as half-wrong and half-right, though on the point where he is half-right he is also half wrong. Well, that’s as clear as mud, so let me explain.

The Mormon is all-wrong to believe that God was ever a man (Jesus became a man, but that isn’t what a Mormon means). He is also all-wrong (and there is confusion on this point in Mormonism) if he believes that man will ever become God.2  The Mormon is correct, however, to see a plurality of gods in the Bible. However, the Mormon takes this in a way that is contrary to historic Christianity (and early Judaism by the way) at an essential point. Historic Christianity has affirmed a plurality of gods while simultaneously maintaining that God is completely, totally distinct from other gods in that He—the only uncreated, eternal God—created them, rules them, and is always sovereign over them.

Unfortunately, before I can turn to Psalm 82, I have to address something first. Perhaps the major hang up many have before ever coming to Psalm 82 is a presupposition about “gods.” Some believe that “gods” are “idols,” and therefore have no real existence. Others think you can’t have other “gods” except in the context of polytheism. The first is easily disproven by the fact that God commands gods to worship him; but imaginary friends, Disney characters, and comic book superheroes don’t worship anything. “Worship Him, all you gods” (Ps 97:7; cf. Ps 29:1-2; 148:1-5; Neh 9:6). “Indeed there are many gods” (1 Cor 8:5), the Apostle says. There is a very real reason why the First Commandment tells us not to have other gods before the LORD. It isn’t talking about idolatry; that’s the Second Commandment. Other gods exist.

But what are these “gods?” The Hebrew term is elohim, the same word that is often used to describe God in the Bible. In the OT, elohim includes demons (Deut 32:17), angels (cf. Deut 32:43 Hebrew with the Septuagint), the “sons of God” (Ps 82:1, 6), and even the deceased Samuel, (though not in a way a Mormon would understand it; see 1 Sam 28:13-14). Demons and angels are, of course, real. But they are not on par ontologically (that is in their essence or being) with Yahweh. He created them. They exist for his pleasure and by the power of his word. They do not usurp him, depose him, or in any other way thwart his sovereign purposes.3

Thus, the term elohim does not describe a unique set of attributes of Yahweh. It simply describes a place of residence, as Dr. Michael Heiser has explained.4  All elohim reside in the spirit-world. If you want to know what kind of an Elohim God is, look to his names. They tell you all you need to know. As you can see, there is nothing here, other than our modern concept of the term G-O-D that demands that “many gods = polytheism.”5  The simple fact is, our Scripture uses the term elohim to describe many types of beings, in both Testaments, many times. These beings do not necessitate a Mormon view of the afterlife, nor do they represent some old polytheism that those nasty intertestamental Jewish scribes forget to scrub out as they were revising their Bible and changing to a monotheistic religion. All of that is nonsense.

If a person can get over this hang-up and realize that you don’t have to become a Mormon or a Liberal in order to affirm that other elohim exist, then you are ready to move into Psalm 82 and John 10.

The first thing to note is the grammar of the citation. Compare the following in the ESV:


Psalm 82:6 “I said, ‘You are gods...’”

John 10:34 “'I said, you are gods'?”

 

See the difference? Well, there is no punctuation in the Greek and yet the wording between John and the LXX (Septuagint) of Psalm 82:6 is identical (ego eipa theoi este). What would therefore justify a change in punctuation?

Psalm 82:6 has a speaker telling someone else, “You are gods...” John 10:34 has Jesus quoting one big lump, “I said, you are gods...” In the former there are two subjects. In the later there is only one. The way the ESV punctuates the English makes you think that Jesus is calling the Pharisees “gods,” that is “human rulers,” and is using Psalm 82 to prove it. Dr. White agrees with me that Jesus is referring to Psalm 82:6. Thus, what we have to do is figure out who the subjects in Psalm 82 are. To figure out what Jesus is actually saying, we have to go back to the Psalm.

Psalm 82:1 is essential to understand, and yet Dr. White shows no familiarity with the most important part of the Psalm for interpreting it correctly. Let’s compare two translations:


(Psa 82:1 ESV) God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:

(Psa 82:1 NAS) God takes His stand in His own congregation; He judges in the midst of the rulers.

 

Notice the differences? Both have both God as the subject. This is correct. “God” here is Elohim. From there, the interpretations diverge radically. In the ESV, God takes his place in “the divine council.” In the midst of “gods” (again, elohim), he holds judgment. In the NAS, God takes his place “in his own congregation.” Elohim (“gods”;) becomes “the rulers [of Israel],” and this is Dr. White’s view. Let’s unpack this a bit.

“Divine council” is the phrase ba adat-el. To the north of Israel, Ugaritic--a cousin language to Hebrew--calls it mpḫrt bn ’il (very similar), and there it always refers to the assembly of the gods.6  Not knowing about the divine council is a serious detriment to any interpretation of this passage. I have yet to see anyone in print argue that we are talking about earthly rulers who has any familiarity with the divine council. But where is this divine council?7  Is it acceptable to use the pagans at Ugarit as paralleling the Biblical idea? Is God coming to earth--to Jewish rulers--or is this scene taking place in heaven?

Psalm 89 confirms the ESV. “Let the heavens praise your wonders, O LORD, your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones! For who in the skies can be compared to the LORD? Who among the heavenly beings is like the LORD, a God greatly to be feared in the council of the holy ones, and awesome above all who are around him?” (Ps 89:5-7). Notice the council idea again. But where is this council? On earth? No. It is in “the heavens” and “in the skies.”

“Who among the heavenly beings” is the phrase “sons of God,” and this takes us back to our verse: Psalm 82:6. The ESV reads, “I said, ‘You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you...’” “Sons of the Most High” is exactly the same conceptually as “sons of God.” The only difference is that instead of Elohim it uses El Elyon (Most High), a common name for Yahweh. The point is, both psalms are talking about a group called the sons of God. These sons are in heaven and existed prior to the creation of Adam and Eve. “[Where were you] when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:7). The context is creation. The sons of God watched God create, because they are heavenly beings, created prior to Adam and Eve.

In fact, there are ten references to “sons of God” in the OT. None of them necessitate a human interpretation. Some of them necessitate a heavenly interpretation (such as Job 1:6, 2:1, and 38:7). In Psalm 82:6, these “sons of God” are the “gods” (elohim) who are in “the divine council.” One final devastating point needs to be made. Elohim is an extremely common term in the OT. It occurs over 2,000 times. In only two other places (besides Psalm 82:1, 6 and John 10:34) has anyone even tried to argue that it refers to humans. But most people do not realize that this argument was destroyed over 80 years ago in a scholarly article that demonstrates conclusively that elohim never refers to living, embodied human beings.8

Summarizing, to try to argue that elohim in this psalm refers to human beings, 1. Shows no familiarity with the divine council, 2. Does not take into consideration parallel passages such as Psalm 89, 3. Argues against the totality of the usage of elohim everywhere else in the Bible (over 2,000 times!).

We might add that the LXX translates elohim as a form of theos (“God” in Greek). At this point, we should ask ourselves a couple of questions. What possible thought would go through Jesus’ mind to tell the Pharisees that they are gods (theos)? When does the Greek theos ever mean “human rulers” (any more than the Hebrew elohim)? The Pharisees want to kill Jesus for blasphemy. How does calling them all a bunch of theoi help him get out of that? If anything, it would exacerbate the problem. Of course, Jesus’ citation does exacerbate this problem, but not because he is so foolish as to tell the Pharisees, “Hey guys, look. I’m a god and you are gods. I mean, that’s what the Scripture says, right? Why can’t we all just get along?” Rather, the Pharisees still want to kill him for blasphemy because he is claiming something much different than either a Mormon or the view represented by Dr. White are saying.9

Contrary to Dr. White, Jesus is not telling the Pharisees that they (and by implication himself) are nothing more than human rulers making bad judgments about him. This view of the “human ruler” does not take into consideration enough that Jesus is trying to justify himself to the Pharisees, not get himself off the hook by putting them on it. The context immediately after John 10:34 has Jesus justifying himself, and that’s all I want you to notice here: “If he called them gods to whom the word of God came-- and Scripture cannot be broken--do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, 'You are blaspheming,' because I said, 'I am the Son of God'? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me” (John 10:35-37).

Jesus’ citation of the Psalm is not to judge the Pharisees as being bad judges, but to explain to them why he can rightly identify himself as “the Son of God.” He isn’t telling them that they are all just sons together, otherwise, they would have put down their stones, picked up their beers, and start sinking Kumbaya. “Thanks, Jesus for clarifying that. We thought you actually were claiming to be a heavenly being!”

Jesus is claiming to be one of the heavenly sons of God. That is the purpose of citing Psalm 82:6. The fact that he is one is what gives him the right to call himself a “son of God” from Psalm 82. He is the Son who “came down from heaven” and “became flesh” throughout John’s Gospel. Son of God is a divine term of heavenly beings. But Jesus is more than one of the created sons of God. Rather, he is “one” with the Father! He is the Unique Son of God—the “only begotten” Son, one of a kind like no other, the one who created all other sons of God, the Eternal Uncreated Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. This is why they still want to kill him, even though they understand exactly what he is saying.

Dr. White raises a couple of objections from Psalm 82 itself about this idea. First, he says that it wouldn’t make any sense to call a heavenly being a prince. “Nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince” (Ps 82:7). White says, “ Such is hardly the terminology one would use of divine and exalted beings!” One wonders what the angelic “prince of Persia” (Dan 10:13), “prince of Greece,” prince Michael (Dan 10:20), and the “prince of the world” (John 12:31) would say about that? Also, the idea here is not that God is telling human men that they will die like men (a completely unnecessary point), but that heavenly beings will one day die like men, being cast ultimately into the lake of fire (Matt 25:41; Rev 20:10).

Some might object that earlier in Ps 82 it describes these elohim as not ruling well. If I had time, I would explain that this is exactly the task God gave to these sons of God, as he set them over the nations (Deut 4:19; 17:3; 29:26; 32:8). Remember, ruling well is exactly what Yahweh himself does throughout the Law and the Prophets, in clear contradistinction to the other gods of the nations. It is because these heavenly beings abandoned their righteousness that “the foundations of the earth are shaken” (Ps 82:5) at this pronouncement of judgment upon them now. That would hardly make sense if God were merely judging the rulers of Israel.

Finally, one last point should be made. Psalm 82 is about Christ. The last verse says, “Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations!” (Ps 82:8). Well, this Elohim who inherits the nations is none other than the Begotten Son of the Father from Psalm 2, where in the parallels verse we read, “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. (Ps 2:8). He will rule with a rod of iron and a righteous scepter.

These are among the reasons I believe Psalm 82 is talking about heavenly beings, with Jesus Christ as the one who inherits after all the others are dispossessed of their own inheritance. Amazingly, I believe this can be a powerful apologetic to Mormons. This idea has a point of contact with Mormonism. It affirms the existence of other gods. One could even say that Christians will become co-rulers with Christ as they are hidden “In Christ,” as Samuel was after he died. But this is not like the Mormon conception of the afterlife.

Once we show them that they are not completely wrong, we can go to the context of John 10 and Psalm 82 to show them that neither passage is about equating us humans with gods. Rather, it is about God pronouncing judgment upon the created elohim and then Jesus Christ becoming the one who inherits the nations, thereby demanding our allegiance and submission in repentance and faith to the Unique only-begotten Son who alone is One with the Father. That is the greatest claim that Jesus is making to the Pharisees here, and he will prove it in his death, resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of God above all heavenly or earthly powers or authorities. Any who trust in him shall be united with him in his resurrection and share as partakers and joint rulers in his Kingdom forever, without becoming God ourselves.

 

Footnotes:

1. Lorenzo Snow, Teachings of Lorenzo Snow, compiled by Clyde J. Williams, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1984), 1–2.

2. The difficulty here is whether the Mormon is claiming divination (becoming God) or divinization/theosis (the Early Church, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox concept that is close to Calvin’s Union with Christ). Mormons seem to be claiming the former. On Theosis (along with a wrong view of Psalm 82:6) in Orthodoxy see “Theosis: Partaking of the Divine Nature,” Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. 

3. Idols were never thought to actually “be” gods in the ancient world. Rather, they were universally thought to be the dwelling places of supernatural, spiritual entities. As John Frame explains, “In paganism, the relationship between the image and the god is more than merely pictorial, or even representative. Something of the sanctity of the god attaches to the image itself ... In other kinds of paganism, the relation between the image and the god ... may be thought of as a sacramental conduit of divine influence, or as a representation of the divine, in which case the image deserves reverence because of what it represents.” John Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2008), 454.

4. Michael S. Heiser, “Elohim as ‘Gods’ in the Old Testament,” Faithlife Study Bible, John D. Barry, Michael R. Grigoni, et al. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2012), p. 1.

5. See Heiser, Michael, "Monotheism, Polytheism, Monolatry, or Henotheism? Toward an Assessment of Divine Plurality in the Hebrew Bible," Faculty Publications and Presentations (2008).

6. I spend a great deal of time on all of this in my book Giants: Sons of the Gods, an introduction. 

7. In dictionaries it is defined as something like, “The heavenly host, the pantheon of divine beings who administer the affairs of the cosmos. All ancient Mediterranean cultures had some conception of a divine council. The divine council of Israelite religion, known primarily through the psalms, was distinct in important ways.” (“The Divine Council,” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry, & Writings, ed. Tremper Longman and Peter Enns, InterVarsity Press, 2008).

8. Gordon, Cyrus. “אלהים (Elohim) in Its Reputed Meaning of Rulers, Judges.” Journal of Biblical Literature 54 (1935): 139–144. To my knowledge, no one has ever tried to rebut Gordon’s article in a journal.

9 The best defense of this position is Michael Heiser, “You've Seen One Elohim, You've Seen Them All? A Critique of Mormonism's Use of Psalm 82," FARMS Review 19/1 (2007): 221–266.

 

 

 

Non-Biblical Literature and the Bible: Overview and Introduction (The Bible)

Posted on March 9, 2015 at 4:35 PM Comments comments (0)

 

For the complete series, please head over to the Decablog (https://thedecablog.wordpress.com/2015/03/09/non-biblical-literature-and-the-bible-overview-and-introduction-the-bible/).


Overview

 

When I was first asked to do this series, it’s focus was to be only on Ancient Near Eastern Literature and the Bible. But then I started thinking. Because there is an aversion that many have not only to ANE stuff, but even to ancient books closer to the Christian home, perhaps something more basic and broad would be more helpful. So this is going to be a series of posts on non-biblical literature and how to think, well, “biblically” about it. It will focus on ancient literature, with individual posts given to the The_Good_The_Bad_and_The_UglyApocrypha, the Pseudepigrapha, other Second Temple Literature (Dead Sea Scrolls, Josephus and Philo, Mishna, Targums), the Apostolic Fathers, some of the Church Fathers, Gnostic Texts, Ancient Near Eastern Literature, and relevant Ancient World Literature. Don’t know what a lot of this even is? Have no idea why you should care? Never fear. These posts you help give some answers. The final post (an annotated bibliography) to lead you to some good sources to help you begin your adventure. As this is a blog, we can only do the most basic of overviews. This is my attempt to whet your appetite to a whole world you never knew existed. And what an amazing world it is: The good, the bad, and the ugly!

 

Introduction: The Bible

 

If we are going to talk about extra-biblical literature, we should probably begin by contrasting it to the Bible. This will give us a proper framework and grounding to proceed. What makes Holy Scripture unique? It is “Holy,” not because some man or ecclesiastical body said so or because some mere angel communicated the words, but because it is God-breathed (2 Tim 3:16) by the Spirit of God (2 Pet 1:21). It is the word of truth (2 Tim 2:15) spoken by the Word of God (Jer 1:11; Heb 4:12).[1] “Scripture” comes from the Latin for scribe or writing. In this sense, almost any writing can be “scripture,” but they would not “holy.” So the Bible is a collection of books that make up the writings of God. Together, these two words show the uniqueness of the Bible among all other writings of history (be they religious or non-religious). For in the Bible, each text has two authors, with one being the Uncreated Creator of all other things.

 

Despite what Rob Bell recently told Oprah about the Bible being a bunch of 2,000 year old irrelevant letters that we need to stop quoting to contemporary people,[2] the Scripture is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17). The Confessions of Faith summarize the Apostle’s thought here as they begin, “The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience...” (LBC and WCF 1.1). But just here, we come to a vital point. Neither the Scripture nor the Confession teach that the Bible is the only useful or helpful book. Rather, the scope of Scripture is narrowly confined in the Confession to being the source and fully inspired presentation of that information we need to know to glory God, to be saved, and to live as righteous people.[3]

 

Obviously, the Bible touches on a lot of other topics. But its purpose is to reveal saving and sanctifying knowledge about the Triune God. So while it may give some helpful insights into somethings like healthy food, biology, or leadership, it is not a diet book, a science text book, or a coaching manual. To put that another way, we rightly read about having a healthy diet, trying to understand the world of quantum mechanics, or figuring out strategies that make good leaders in books other than the Bible. The Bible does not claim to be any of these things, and most people know implicitly that it is perfectly fine to go to books outside of the Bible to learn more about such things.

 

This is an important first insight to have when coming to think about the world of extra-biblical literature. For there are biases that some people have against such literature that they need not have if they just recognize a couple of things up front. First, they already read extra-biblical literature every day: a novel, a newspaper, a blog like this! Well, the ancient world had their own versions of all of these things too. So I’m not asking you to consider something you aren’t already doing.

 

Second, almost none of the books we will look at in the ancient world—be they Christian, Jewish, or pagan make claims of themselves that they are Holy Scripture. Sure, a handful might, just as books like the Koran or the Book of Mormon (which isn't ancient at all) do today, but for the most part, even religious texts are not claiming to be Scripture in the sense we are talking about here. This point can be very helpful in overcoming deeply rooted feelings that somehow to read an ancient book other than the Bible is to commit a kind of spiritual adultery against God’s word. No, it is no more right or wrong to read the Baal Cycle than it is to read Stephen Hawking (books about origins), to read Joseph and Aseneth than it is to read Pride and Prejudice (Romance novels), to read 1 Maccabees than it is to read Foxes Book of Martyrs (history books).

 

In the next post we will look at some apprehensions people have about this literature and suggestions for reading this material.

 

(by: Doug Van Dorn)

 

[1] For the Word of the Lord and the Person of Christ see my previous post here: https://thedecablog.wordpress.com/2014/08/22/christ-in-the-old-testament-part-vi/. The LBC summarizes this in 1.4 saying, “The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself), the author thereof; therefore it is to be received because it is the Word of God.”

 

[2] Here is Mr. Bell’s statement along with some helpful commentary by R.C. Sproul Jr: http://www.cbn.com/cbnnews/us/2015/February/Rob-Bell-Suggests-Bible-Not-Relevant-to-Todays-Culture/, last accessed 2-25-2015.

 

[3] LBC 1.6 says, “for his own glory, man's salvation, faith and life.”


Aronofsky's Crazy, Christless, Covenantless Noah

Posted on August 22, 2014 at 1:20 PM Comments comments (0)


I finally saw Darren Aronofsky’s Noah. After reading all of the reviews, I decided I wasn’t going to give him a dime of my money. I’d watch it on Netflix. Turns out, we were able to watch it for free from Redbox, that is, until I told my wife I wanted the Blueray. She said, “But that’s not free, it’s 32 cents! Is a Blueray really worth THAT?” “Yes,” I said. So, I guess I ended up giving Aronofsky a little over a quarter. I’ll pretend it is going to Redbox instead.


At any rate, the movie was a visual feast, though I was a bit let down after having watched 2012 again (on Blueray) this same week. Will anything ever top that movie for special effects? But Aronofsky’s Noah isn’t about the CAD (Computer Animated Design), for him or for me. Brian Godawa is right, this movie is about subversion. Take someone else’s story and tell it in your own image. That’s exactly what this director has done.


Now, I’ve written books on Noah’s day with the giants, and I’m also a Christian in the Reformed tradition. That makes me (along with Brian), one of three Reformed people I’ve ever seen to have taken the view we do (James Boice being the third). So I’m in pretty small company. Going in, I thought what would bother me the most is his mistelling of the giants, or perhaps the Gnostic worldview that I’ve read about. Turns out, that wasn’t even close. As fun as the giant topic is, there are fouler things than Nephilim in the deep places of the earth!


I like to think of myself as a person who is willing to grant a lot, no make that giganotosaurus amounts of poetic license when telling historically based stories. If a story only has a three pages, and you are trying to fill three hours, then you should have a right to fill in the gaps, so long as you remain relatively faithful to the heart of the story you are telling and the few things we do know about it. I do want to be entertained after all.


So I’m fine with (here comes the spoilers, but hey, its been several months, so that's OK by now, right?) ... Noah and Tubal-Cain becoming enemies, with Noah meeting the Watchers, with Methuselah living alone in a cave, with Noah being a little “off his rocker.” I also found that I was willing to live with, shall we call them, certain historical liberties: Somehow fallen angelic Watchers become giant rock Golems; Tubal-Cain manages to get on the ark, God seems to have destroyed the world because not enough men joined Green Peace (this isn’t worthy of getting angry because it is so absurd, sort of like the same ideas in The Day After Tomorrow), Shem’s daughter giving birth to a couple of babies on the ark that Noah thinks is God’s will for him to kill (because God obviously can’t stand mankind anymore).


Then there were the basic ignorant theological miscues that so many others make: The confusion of Watchers with Nephilim (they aren’t the same); the Watchers are never punished by being chained in Tartarus (even the Greeks got that right), they are redeemed by saving Noah and sent back to heaven; Ham didn’t see a naked Noah, he slept with Noah’s wife; it didn’t happen in a cave, but in a tent; Noah never curses Ham’s son, because Ham never has a son. Even the Adam and Eve as Gnostic figures of light I was willing to swallow for the sake of a movie. These were much more disturbing, because I know that the goal is subversion.


But there was one thing that really, really bothered me about this movie, one thing that I’m just not willing to let slide. That one thing may in fact be at the heart of Aronofsky’s subversion. It was something that actually wasn’t in the movie, and there is no way this was an oversight. It is too central to the biblical story to be “missed.” “Oops! I completely forgot about that part.” No. Perhaps it is my Reformed bent coming out, but perhaps it is also that this happens to be the heart and soul of the Noah story in the Bible.


This is the idea of covenant. And Christ.


There is no covenant in Aronofsky’s Noah, because there is no God who speaks. The God portrayed in this movie is not the God of the Bible, but the God of deism and Islam. (Yes, he is probably also the evil-Yahweh lower-level archon god of the Gnostics, a warrior god bent on nothing but death, but in my judgment, this is so utterly unknown to almost everyone, that it is not yet all the subversive, it just goes over people’s heads altogether). This Noah’s God is utterly, deafeningly silent. Noah’s only reason for knowing anything at all about the future is that he has vague intuitions that are brought on by waking visions and drug-induced trances (perhaps he was actually a Mayan priest?), and magical things happen all around him to confirm his intuitions .


But the biblical portrayal of these events is that God walks, speaks, and talks to Noah. I wonder, how many Christians even see this? Or do they just chock it off as anthropomorphism, due to a basically Unitarian reading of the OT? But in Genesis, this God gives Noah clear, specific directions for how to make the ark. He tells him with words how he and his family are to be saved. And most importantly, he makes a covenant with Noah confirming it all. The covenant is the means by which God’s promise is insured. It is the way relationship is built in the Bible. Is the warp and woof of redemptive history. At the end of the biblical Flood story, God reconfirms this covenant, Noah offers a sacrifice, stipulations and arrangements are made for how God is going to keep his covenant, and the rainbow—which in the movie is just sort of there for no reason (one could, I suppose, interpret it through some gay-pride grid and not take it out of context, because there is no context for it in the movie), just sort of hoverings there like the credits that immediately follow it, as if its purpose is to introduce you to the Magnificent Aronofsky—whose name immediately follows, of course!


One thing that I think even many Christians miss in this covenant making is that in order to have a covenant, there has to be a person on the other end of it. It isn’t like Noah is toasting the sky in the Bible. Nor would he look like a raving lunatic talking to himself. Rather, there is a Person there, walking and talking to Noah and others with whom he makes a covenant. This person is none other than God’s only-begotten Son, who in the NT takes on human flesh, assumes human nature, is born of a virgin, dies for our sins, and is raised from the dead.


But perhaps at just this point, too many Christians have a rather Islamic view of the covenant God of the OT. Is there room for Christ in our own theology? Has our silence of him in this story kind of given Aronofksy a pass on this? Is not the Angel of the LORD, the uncreated being who bears the very name Yahweh, who covenanted with Israel (Judges 2:1ff), forgives her sins (Ex 23:20-21), and is called “I AM” (Ex 3:2, 14), is he not the same God who covenants with all of his people, from Genesis to Revelation?


Certainly there is no room for him in Darren Aronofsky’s subterfuge movie Noah. This is the one thing I can’t forgive him for (unless, of course, he repents). Because this is the heart and soul of everything the Bible tells me to believe. This IS the story of Noah—the only Mediator between God and man, not yet in human form, but nevertheless taking the form of God’s Messenger, comes to Noah, tells him of an upcoming disaster, explains to him how to escape it, and gives him his sure and certain promise that it will be so—through a covenant. This covenant was “cut” when all flesh was “cut off” of the earth, and the animals were cut and bloodied in the pleasing aroma that went up from Noah’s altar after the crisis was over.


This covenant is a type of the greater covenant made in Christ’s own blood when he was cut-off from the land of the living, so that he might make a way for sinners to escape the floody-judgment of God’s wrath, because Christ took that same wrath upon himself so that anyone who trusts in him can be hidden inside of Christ—the New and Greater Ark who saves all inside from the wrath to come. This is the love of God in Christ. This is the Noah movie I still await.

Christ in the Old Testament Series - Introduction (Part I)

Posted on August 18, 2014 at 10:30 AM Comments comments (0)



Introduction (Part I)


I want to look at what I believe is the key to reading the Scriptures properly. It is the key because no matter what other grid Christians may use to make the Scriptures cohere (covenant, kingdom, divine council, dispensations, etc), this one was taught explicitly by the Lord Jesus himself as the one that leads us directly to eternal life. This makes our subject very important. It is also quite fitting for a supernatural blog, because the very idea that a Person could be somewhere before he is born is astonishing (more later in this post).


That key is to see the Second Person of the Trinity throughout the Old Testament. “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life,” he told the Pharisees. But, “It is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39). Yet, it is not enough to read the Scripture with him at the center. We must come to him because of it. He continues, “Yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:40). My hope and prayer is that as we travel down this road, you will be challenged anew to do as Jesus said. Come to him that you may have life.


The series will proceed as follows (links will be added here once they are all online). Part I: Introduction; Part II: The NT Passages and Reflections; Part III: Christ in Prophecy; Part IV: Christ in Typology; Part V: Christ in The Law; Part VI: Christ: The Word of God; Part VII: Christ: The Angel of the LORD; Part VIII: Christ: The Name of the LORD; Part IX: Christ: The Wisdom of God; Part X: Christ: The Son of God; Part XI: Christ: The Glory of God; Part XII: Christ: The Arm of the LORD; Part XIII: Conclusions.


The Emmaus Road


After the Resurrection, two disciples of Jesus were walking from Jerusalem to a small village called Emmaus. They were talking about reports of an incredible event that they did not believe. Some were saying that Jesus had actually risen from the grave. Suddenly, the Lord Jesus himself stood behind them. Prevented from recognizing who he was, he began to scold them for being so slow to believe. The basis? “‘Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:26-27).


The word “interpreted” here is diermeneuo. We derive the English word “hermeneutics” from this. Hermeneutics is the art and science of biblical interpretation. In other words, the explicitly taught hermeneutic from the Lord himself was to see him in the OT. This is such an important idea for Luke that he repeats it. “‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and theProphets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:44-45). “Moses and all the Prophets” or “the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms” are two ways of saying “the whole Old Testament.” Christ is found everywhere in the Old Testament.


But notice again the source of Jesus’ consternation. They did not believe the Scriptures concerning him. “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:25-26). To put this more bluntly, Jesus expected that they would read the Scriptures this way. It was not that canonically inspired Apostles were the only ones allowed to interpret the Old Testament with Jesus in mind, because to do so would be a dangerous speculative undertaking for anyone else to attempt, but his expectation was that all of his disciples would have learned by now to read it this way, even as Simeon and Anna had done at his birth when they alluded to Isaiah 8:14-15, 28:16, and 52:8-10 respectively in their blessings of the Christ child (see Luke 2:34, 38).


In the next installment, we will look at several places where the New Testament has just this kind of interpretation.

 

100 Giants

Posted on February 1, 2014 at 10:55 AM Comments comments (0)

This video is consistent with my research that giants were usually between 8-12 ft. tall. I wouldn't say that all of these are true, but I also would not say that all of them are not. Most come from sober local newspaper reporting in the 1800s in America, but there are quite a few that do not. Take a look for yourself.


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Luther's Cyclopes

Posted on January 29, 2014 at 3:40 PM Comments comments (0)

 



Martin Luther, in talking about the absolute impotence of human beings to overcome their own depravity (Gen 6:5), uses a "giant" analogy for those who would believe that their will is more powerful than their bondage to sin.


"We must, therefore, beware diligently of being found among those Cyclopes, who oppose the Word of God and boast of their own free will and of their own powers" [Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 2: Genesis 6:5].


I may read more into this than Luther meant, taking him quite literally when he meant to be taken figuratively. But I've read Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy with an eye on the evil things the giants did and believed, and how Israel was not to emulate these dumb brutes. His seems a fit warning to us, that apart from the grace of God that imposes itself completely against our desires, in order to rescue us who love the darkness and would do anything to stay in it, we would be just like the giants of old. In fact, that's why God destroyed that entire age of flesh in the flood.


Whenever I teach on the topic of freewill, I always make it a point to help people understand that the opposite of freewill is not predestination. The opposition of freewill is a will in utter bondage to sin. The opposite of freewill is human depravity. No one has ever shown this better than Martin Luther. If you've never read it, I highly recommend his classic book The Bondage of the Will.

 

Uploading Journals and Articles

Posted on January 29, 2014 at 12:40 AM Comments comments (0)

 

Today I began what will be a long process of uploading PDFs relating to Giants and the Sons of God (and other related topics). Many of these I reference in the book on giants, so now you can read them for your own study. You can find them under the Og Blog tab at the "Articles" tab.

It will be nice to have these all in one convenient location. Some of these are PDF scans from journals, others are the LOGOS version of the paper turned into a PDF, and still others are typed versions by other people found on the internet. I do believe this last set are accurate, though sometimes the footnoting andheadings may be off.

 


A Sermon on Genesis 6:1-4

Posted on January 25, 2014 at 10:20 PM Comments comments (0)

This is the very first Og Blog post (after the Wecome). It will be something short and yet long. This is a link to the sermon I'm preaching tomorrow on Genesis 6:1-4 called Giants in the Earth (just click the link). I've been preaching in Genesis for a couple of months now, and this "just happens" to be where we are at now. We will be uploading all of the sermons to our church website, which you can find by clicking the link under the "Church" tab (above). This sermon is a kind of a short introduction to the Introduction in the book Giants: Sons of the Gods, but with preaching application mixed in. Enjoy, and feel free to leave a comment.

Welcome

Posted on January 21, 2014 at 8:20 PM Comments comments (0)

 



Welcome to the Og Blog, your source for all things--non hoax--giants, and a bit more as well.


Why the Og Blog?


In Deuteronomy 3:11 we read, "For only Og the king of Bashan was left of the remnant of the Rephaim. Behold, his bed was a bed of iron. Is it not in Rabbah of the Ammonites? Nine cubits was its length, and four cubits its breadth, according to the common cubit." Nine cubits translates to roughly 13 ft. This "bed" was either a bed or a sarcophagus. While it is fallacious to say that because Og slept, either temporarily or permanently, in something this huge that he was therefore a giant, it is not a fallacy to say that Og was one giant dude, because his lineage—the Rephaim—were themselves giants. His gigantism is the reason he is mentioned in the story.

 

He was said to rule in the land of Bashan, or “serpent” in old Ugaritic (the language of the Canaanites). The picture you see above is a screen shot taken from Google Earth. It is of the land of Bashan with Mt. Hermon in the background. Mt. Hermon is the place where tradition has it that the evil Watchers or sons of God descended in the days of Jared (the great grandfather of Noah) and began having giant children with human women. In the foreground is perhaps the most ancient archeological site in Israel—Gilgal Refaim (Wheel of Giants). One day I was searching the wheel, like Indiana Jones of the Internet, and I happened to notice that just above it there was something that looked shockingly like a serpent mount. The more I've searched, the more convinced there is something to this. If so, it could be asold as the wheel and it remains as yet unspoiled by looter or modern archeology.


This blog is an extension of my book Giants: Sons of theGods. It will be a place for me to discuss with you all things giants. But I have more that I want to discuss here, much more. So come back for regular visits and you will be sure to find me talking about many supernatural things in the Bible that are related to the giants.


What makes this blog unique is that I am a Reformed Christian in my eschatology. My view of history is that there are two ages which presently overlap. These are the present evil age (begun at the Fall), and the age to come (innagurated in Jesus' first coming). This means that I’ll try to help put the giants into perspective of Christ’s First Coming at least as much as I'll speak to their relation to the Second.


May the Lord bless you and keep you,


Doug Van Dorn

 




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