Establishing the Boundaries of a Biblical Worldview

Hermeneutics

If you want to know what’s wrong in the world today, it’s tempting to answer that with a single issue. In reality, there are many things that contribute to the state of the present world.

Not least of these, however, is critical thinking or, rather, the lack of it.

There are some who will make all kinds of excuses why logical thinking should be abandoned or denied. Some do it on the basis that this is “Greek” thinking and we should be “Hebrew” in our thinking, the implication being that “Hebrew” thinking somehow does not demand the same kind of logic. This view of Greek and Hebrew, however, has the wrong point in mind, for this is not the real distinction between Greek and Hebrew thought. It is the outcome of our logical thinking that illustrates our presuppositions, and these are either biblical or they are not.

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“So don’t let anyone pass judgment on you in connection with eating and drinking or in regard to a Jewish festival or Rosh-Hodesh [new moon] or Shabbat [sabbath].” —Col. 2:16

Along with the passage in Acts 10, this section of Paul’s letter to the Colossians is the other alleged “proof” that the Old Testament ceremonial or dietary laws are no longer a moral requirement for those who follow the Messiah.

But also along with the Acts 10 passage, interpreters tend to read their predetermined view into this portion of Scripture. In this instance, the predetermined view says Paul declared the dietary and ceremonial laws were merely a matter of individual choice. You may, or may not, choose to keep them. No one is to be your judge in these matters.

In order to understand this issue, it helps to ask this question: Who is Paul defending in this passage? Is he defending the Torah-keeping Christians from accusations by non Torah-keepers? Or is he defending the non Torah-keepers from the accusations of the Torah-keeping crowd? And what criteria would Paul use in order to figure out which group he should be defending?

By what principle of interpretation, then, can it be said that St. Paul disagrees with what God has previously stated quite clearly.

Here’s the issue: until you figure out your interpretive guideline for the New Testament, all you do is the make the New Testament subject to what Van Til has called “the growing ethical consciousness of man.” When you read the Old Testament, the Torah’s permanence is made known. Read passages such as Deuteronomy 29 (see v. 29) and Psalm 119 if you’re unsure. When you come to the New Testament, the opening Gospel makes no attempt to change this view of the Torah. Read Matt. 5:17ff if you’re not convinced.

But, it is alleged, it is the Apostle Paul (and the writer to Hebrews if it wasn’t St. Paul) who has told us that we are no longer obligated to keep certain aspects of the law—the Torah. We now have freedom of choice. God has untied us from at least some parts of his Torah, and New Testament Christians are no longer bound to the dietary laws, new moons and sabbaths, for example.

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2169809 tops of naked fall trees

Sometimes things are just sitting there staring you in the face. And yet you miss them. Here’s an example. And it’s a problem I created for myself.

I was raised on a KJV version of the Bible. In the 1950s there were not many other options, unlike today. Each verse begins on a new line. Easy to read each verse, and find a single verse to use as a proof-text. But … this is where the problem begins, if you are not careful. You don’t see the ‘bigger picture’ of the context itself.

I have written elsewhere (Col. 2:16: Who Was Paul Defending?) on Colossians chapter 2. In that article, I addressed the question, who was Paul defending. That helps to understand what Paul is saying.

But in reading Col. chapter 2 in the ESV version where the text is in paragraph blocks, all of a sudden Paul’s argument became clear — crystal clear. Consider this:
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The Greek word telos can mean end, purpose, or goal. The teleological argument for God is the argument for design and purpose in the universe.

The word telos appears in Rom. 10:4 as “Christ is the end of the law” in many translations. This is often interpreted as Christ brought an end to the (OT) Law, and NT believers are freed from that law structure.

But if Rom. 10:4 rather refers to the fact that “Christ is the purpose, or goal of the law” then now instead of bringing the law to an end, it reinforces the abiding validity of OT law. Rather than bringing the law to an end, Paul instead explains the purpose or goal of law, which is to be found in Christ. He is the telos of the law.

Trying to get your theology from an English translation alone can be misleading.

A Study in Hermeneutics

Holy Bible

CONTENTS

Introduction
1. The Great Pascha
2. An Alternative View
3. An Inescapable Problem
4. Is the New Testament the Problem?
5. Is John Calvin the Problem?
6. The Myth of Calvinism
7. Is the Westminster Confession of Faith the Problem?
8. What About Daniel 9:27?
9. Did the Roman Empire Change the Law?
10. Two Problems Resolved by Two Testaments
11. The Ceremonial Laws
12. Adding to the Scripture
13. By What Standard?
14. The Doctrine of God
15. Old Testament Promises
16. The Challenge of Islam
17. Conclusion

Introduction

It’s increasingly evident why Christians are not really winning the intellectual war over morality. They certainly win some of the skirmishes, but the war itself is far from over. And it will remain so until the unassailable Word of God is brought to bear on the enemy. Here’s the problem.

As I thought about this, I realized something that had not been so clear before. It was the willingness of people to hold not just to the Bible in general, but to the idea in particular that irrespective of what might be taught in the Old Testament, the New Testament now offered a “correction” to the older Testament. By “correction” I mean it has somehow eliminated or altered a teaching in the Old Testament. In the words of Jaroslav Pelikan, “Christians are accustomed to speak of ‘the Old Testament’ and ‘the New Testament,’ the contrast between ‘the old’ and ‘the new’ unavoidably carrying with it connotations such as ‘the superseded’ or at least ‘the updated’.”[1] Lightfoot was not hesitant in declaring that “God made two significant covenants with his people and that the New Covenant has displaced the Old.”[2]

This got me thinking.

Many people are united on this single point: the New Testament supersedes the Old Testament and replaces it with new teaching.


If you think this way of arguing from the Bible is limited to particular groups, consider this. Why don’t Christians generally uphold the dietary laws today? Because they believe that the New Testament somewhere and somehow changes the Old Testament teaching so that the dietary laws are no longer binding on Christians. Now this view is strong in Reformed and other circles, that the New Testament somehow makes changes to the Old Testament.

What is evident in Christian circles, even in Reformed circles, is that the idea of the priority of the New Testament over the Old is the commonly accepted approach in determining theology. Consider this. The Old Testament says children should be given the covenant sign, circumcision. Most Christians agree the New Testament changes this sign to baptism. For Baptists the New Testament offers a further “corrective” to this idea. Those with a Baptistic perspective believe that the New Testament restricts the covenant sign to older believers and it should also be applied to females.

It is not just these two issues, however, that indicate a problem. Most Christians agree that the book of Hebrews offers a replacement to the Old Testament teaching on the ceremonial law.

To put this another way, everyone seems to be in agreement that when the Old Testament says one thing and the New Testament allegedly says something else, then the New Testament is to be taken as the superior authority. It is easy to see that of the two testaments, the New Testament holds a priority over whatever the Old Testament might have taught on these things or anything else for that matter. They can hardly be said to be of equal authority.

Apply the logic and you can soon see how easy it is to argue that none of the Old Testament is binding today unless the New Testament says otherwise. Sound familiar? It should, for many people are united on this single point: the New Testament supersedes the Old Testament and replaces it with new teaching. That is how many people perceive it and argue their theology.
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Footnotes    (↵back returns to text)
  1. Whose Bible Is It? 2005, p. 5.↵back
  2. How We Got The Bible, 3rd ed., 2003, p. 25.↵back

Following their printed debate in “Christianity Today,” Rev. Doug Wilson and atheist Christopher Hitchens went on tour. The outcome was the movie Collision. It’s worth watching.

Wilson’s appeal to the Bible as the only objective source of Truth is the standard appeal of presuppositional apologetics. It’s a good argument.

But . . .

Imagine you’re in the third century BC, and the equivalents of Wilson and Hitchens entertain a similar debate. What Scriptures were available for the “Christian” to hang his hat on? There’s no New Testament canon at this time. Come to think of it, there are no “Christians” at that time either, just Jews-for-Torah. There’s not even an Old Testament canon as we know it. There are some religious writings of the Jews, published in Greek. There is no “authorized” version, but several Greek texts are circulating, and no-one seems concerned that the versions are not exactly identical at all points. Apart from the Torah, nothing much held any kind of authority, such as we give the Bible today.

How would you frame the presuppositional argument at that time? The answer is that you’d use the argument the same way it is used today. But, you would only be able to to use the Torah and maybe the Psalms and Proverbs as the basis for your argument.

Three hundred years later, when Jesus began teaching around the countryside upsetting the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the presuppositional arguments were used by Jesus. He quoted Scripture, and at least one of those quotes is not found in our Old Testament. But he quoted more than the Torah. He used other writings, thereby giving them some kind of stamp of approval.

This is why, when the New Testament documents were proposed some 300+ years after Christ, the only standard that could be used were the Old Testament writings. What other standard was there? Scholars are having trouble establishing this point. Are they really having trouble verifying this? Or is it they don’t like the answer they might end up with?

In a previous e-zine, I quoted the Reformed Confessions in their attempt to justify the 66 books they nominated as Scripture, and their reasons for nominating those books. The real issue in this discussion is one of objective versus subjective. An objective written revelation as opposed to an inward “Spirit” revelation. Having left the historic church out of the question, the Reformers now begged the question: Where did they get their authority from to write up the Confessional standards and hold people accountable to them? A corrupt church at the time made it easy to act the way they did.

The Reformers took it upon themselves to define the Bible in a way that the church had hesitated for 1500 years. The reason for that hesitation is this: no one had finally clarified the standards for determining the canonical books. To do so brings up the thorny question of the relationship of the two Testaments, especially the authority of the OT.

The real collision today, therefore, is not between atheists and Christians. The real collision is between those who hold to a Whole Bible theology on the one hand, and those who hold to a Limited Bible theology on the other. Even though the latter group attempts to use the New Testament to argue why they are Limited Biblicists, their argument still limits the extent of the Bible’s authority in some manner on some issues.

The real collision is among the Christians with a Humpty-Dumpty theology: they can’t put the Bible back together again. Having broken it asunder with faulty ideas about Scripture and revelation, contemporary Christianity cannot put the bits and pieces of the 66-books together. They are just like Humpty-Dumpty, who couldn’t put himself back together again.

So how will you frame your presuppositional argument? Will you fall back on the Old Testament as the final authority for the New Testament?

Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you. — Deuteronomy 4:2

shrimp mascot the right hand guides and the left hand is holdingThe Interpretative Imperative — the infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself — so sayeth the Christian and Reformed man, yet so often this principle is neglected to make room for the wisdom of man.

The other day I came across this question: “How can the Scriptures be the ultimate standard of truth if their reception, in terms of Canonical authority, is based upon some other standard external to Scripture which is used to prove that Scripture is worthy of being in a Canon which gives us a ultimate standard?”

This question led to someone pointing out that the ‘selective criteria’ for the Newer Testament must be the Older Testament, particularly the ‘Torah,’ which in context referred to the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible). This then led to a discussion on ‘interpretative criteria’ of the Newer Testament.

After several comments and a Bible-verse punch-up, I observed that the very people advocating Scripture as the ultimate standard started to bring in extra-Biblical methods into their interpretative methods.
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Actually, the law is remedy for sin in one important sense. Gen. 3:5 explains that the essence of sin is to “be like God” determining for oneself what is good, evil, true, false, right, wrong, etc. The two testaments offer the “solution” to the problem created by Eve. The OT tells us exactly what is good, evil, right, wrong, true, false so that it is no longer necessary for us to make up the rules that define these things. The NT solves the other part of the “problem” of sin — fellowship with God. Not possible until the guilty are declared not-guilty.

To put the two testaments into any kind of opposition to each other thus destroys God’s remedy for man’s rebellion. If the OT is diminished in any form, to that extent it leaves man as the determiner of what is right, wrong, good, evil, true, false, etc. To the extent that the NT is diminished means the guilty person really has yet to be fully pardoned and complete fellowship with God remain elusive.

Why Do So Many Christians Agree With the Devil?

There are many people who agree with the devil on a major issue. What might surprise you is the number of Christians who agree with the devil on what has to be one of the central tenets of what the Bible teaches. Even many Christian scholars and commentators gloss over this key issue. As a result, many believers are in disarray. For they may not know that what they promote as Christianity is instead the worst idea of Satan himself.

The wrong view is a single idea with huge ramifications. It is as a proclamation that it is not necessary to keep the Old Testament law. Various reasons are given for this: we’re under grace, not law; OT laws were given to Israel and intended for them only; the ‘new’ covenant replaces the old covenant; non-Israelite believers are not signatories to the Sinaitic Covenant. No matter what reason is given, it comes down to the notion that it is not necessary to keep the commandments given in the Torah, the books Exodus through Deuteronomy.

Now no one who promotes this idea is suggesting that murder, theft and adultery, for example, are no longer prohibitions on how people should live. They may be shaky on the idea of the Sabbath, yet strong on the idea that there should be no graven images of God. No one suggests that it is now OK to make your daughter a prostitute. But they hesitate when the gleaning laws are put in front of them as God’s method of helping the poor. There are others who believe stoning for blasphemy is no longer required under ‘Christianity’. Some people do not even accept that the laws of God are obligatory; they suggest the commandments of God are now downgraded to merely ‘good advice’ which we are free to choose or reject.

This idea is not new, but not as extreme as the second century heretic Marcion who claimed that the God of the Old Testament was a lesser and inferior God to the God of the New Testament. Thus, he rejected any notion that Old Testament law should be kept in the New Testament era. He went so far so say that he believed that the God of the Old Testament was an evil creator god that Jesus came to destroy

What concerns us, however, is how they arrive at the idea of which laws of the Old Testament still apply today. But before explaining this, let’s take a look at the central passage of Scripture concerning the origin and nature of man’s rebellion against God.

Genesis chapter three records the episode between Eve and the serpent, the ‘Whisperer.’ In that discussion, the devil proposes that death will not be the outcome of eating the forbidden fruit, but that instead Eve’s ‘eyes will be opened’ and she shall be ‘like God’. Eve, and with her Adam, were thus offered enlightenment or illumination to ‘know good and evil’.

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A Controversial Text Made Easy

torah

The account of the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) has turned out to be a watershed passage in the New Testament. Watershed because if it is often read as a text to show that the Torah is no longer valid for goyim—gentiles. But such an interpretation brings the reader into conflict with the words of the Messiah when he said,

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 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. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:17-20).

If Acts 15 is interpreted as negating the Torah, then the words of the Messiah need to be equivocated. ‘Abolish’ apparently does not mean abolish. ‘Fulfill’ means gentiles don’t need to keep the Torah. And the phrase ‘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’ becomes just an irrelevant portion of the New Testament. Any plain and literal reading of the Matthew passage is quite clear—except to those who think Torah has now been set aside for the goyim.

It is not my intention to exegete Acts 15 for you. That task has been done very well by Tim Hegg, and posted on the link below. I pray all my blog readers follow the link—and enjoy reading a clear and delightful explanation of Acts 15 that doesn’t require mental gymnastics with Matt. 5.

Follow this link. Acts 15 and the Jerusalem Council: Did They Conclude the Torah Was Not For Gentiles?