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Archive for the ‘Genesis’ Category

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I’ve been enjoying Daniel Strange’s For Their Rock Is Not Our Rock in preparation for a session for the iServe Africa second year apprentices. (The fact that it opens with a quote from Bavinck which begins, “We live in a strange world…” is not the only reason I love it.)

In the most recent issue of Themelios (41:1), Kyle Faircloth provides a helpful review of Strange’s work – particularly his dissertation The Possibility of Salvation Among the Unevangelised (published 2006) and his more recent 2014 book Their Rock. However, Faircloth goes on to challenge Strange on the idea that the definitive protoevangelium (first preaching of the gospel) is at Genesis 3:15 (rather than at Gen. 12) and particularly that this pre-Abrahamic gospel provides a source of ‘remnantal revelation’, transmitted, suppressed and distorted within pagan cultures, worldviews and religions. Faircloth’s challenge is not only exegetical and historical but also doctrinal – that the idea that special revelation is mixed into general revelation and that non-Christian cultures are supressing not simply the truth about God in general terms but specifically supressing the remnantal revelation of Gen. 3:15 (the serpent crusher promise) opens the possibility of people being saved in other religions apart from gospel preaching.

Strange makes a rejoinder to Faircloth’s critique in the same issue of Themelios where he clarifies a number of issues. Although I’m not really equipped to add anything to the debate I made some notes of my own in response to Faircloth:

  1. Against the idea that Genesis 12:1-3 is the preferable historical starting point for gospel proclamation over Genesis 3:15 see the excellent points by Glen Scrivener (Genesis 12 – Key to the Old Testament).
  2. Against the claim that no one in the generations from Adam to Abraham could have understood the promise of Gen.3:15 as messianic see Jack Collins, “A Syntactical Note (Genesis 3:15): Is the Woman’s Seed Singular or Plural?,” Tyndale Bulletin 48, who argues from Hebrew syntax that the ‘he’ in Gen. 3:15b would normally taken to refer to an individual. Some have suggested that Eve may have thought that in Cain she has gotten The Man (Gen. 4:1). As Jack Collins notes, “in Genesis 4:25 the woman calls her son Seth zera‘ ’aִhēr (‘another seed [descendant]’) in place of the one slain. That is, she recognises that neither Cain nor Abel could be the ‘seed’ of 3:15: Cain because of his banishment from the Lord’s presence (4:16), and Abel because of his premature death.” To make it even stronger, perhaps Michael Barret is right (Beginning with Moses, p. 128) to translate Gen. 4:1 “I have acquired a man, even Jehovah” which would mean that Eve understood Gen. 3:15 not only as a promise of a human saviour but of the God-man.  Later, the naming of Noah by Lamech (Gen. 5:28-29) is given prominence in the narrative similarly to Cain’s naming by Eve  and again there seems to be something of the sense of anticipation – “Could this be The One to save us?”
  3. Against the suggestion that the messianic/singular understanding of Gen. 3:15 does not appear until the 2nd century AD: Jack Collins (same article) concludes that the LXX translators understood it (rightly) that way in the 2nd century BC. Furthermore, as G. K. Beale and many others have noticed, Noah is presented very much as another Adam, as are Abraham and Isaac and many other later Bible figures (e.g. Samson, Solomon, Uzziah, Job). This, together with the head-crusher theme (cf. Joshua 10:24; Judges 5:26; 9:53; 1 Samuel 17:49) strongly suggests that, throughout OT times, Gen. 3:15 was a very important source of messianic expectation – they were looking for the serpent crusher.
  4. Against the suggestion that this view (seeing Gen. 3:15 as the protoevangelium, understood by the Adam and his descendents as referring to Christ) is not a particularly Reformed/Calvinist view, note the puritan Matthew Henry (1662-1714) on Gen. 3:15: “A gracious promise is here made of Christ, as the deliverer of fallen man from the power of Satan. Though what was said was addressed to the serpent, yet it was said in the hearing of our first parents, who, doubtless, took the hints of grace here given them, and saw a door of hope opened to them, else the following sentence upon themselves would have overwhelmed them. Here was the dawning of the gospel day. No sooner was the wound given than the remedy was provided and revealed… By faith in this promise, we have reason to think, our first parents, and the patriarchs before the flood, were justified and saved and to this promise, and the benefit of it, instantly serving God day and night, they hoped to come.” The early Baptist theologian John Gill (1697-1771) called Gen. 3:15 the “declaration of the grace, will, and work of Christ” (Doctrinal Divinity, ch. 9). Both Henry and Gill pointed to kephalidi in Hebrews 10:7 [“In the heading of the scroll it is written of me”] and understood this to mean that Christ is telling us that he is written about at the beginning of the Law – i.e. in Gen. 3:15 – and specifically that it is written there that he will come to do the will of God – i.e. come on a mission to destroy the devil through his sacrificial death (cf. Heb. 10:7-10).
  5. In support of Dan Strange’s monogenetic (single beginning) view of human origins, culture and religion we might mention:
    1. The clear biblical teaching that all are descended from one man (Acts 17:26).
    2. Dan Strange’s account is actually more focused on the proximity of all humanity to Noah’s family and Babel than on simply on Gen. 3 (in his rejoinder he registers surprise that Faircloth spends so much time there). So to the promise of Gen. 3:15 is added the cataclysmic salvation-judgment event of the flood, the proclamation of the Noahic covenant and then the judgment of Babel.
    3. Supportive evidence in the widespread ancient stories of divine creation and flood (e.g. the animals went in two by two), linguistic echoes (e.g. perhaps in ancient Chinese characters?) and a disproportionate attention to snakes, serpents and serpentine monsters (and dragons) in the mythologies of cultures across the world (e.g. the Leviathan of the Ancient Near East, king dragons of China, Shesha and Vasuki of Hinduism or giant snakes narrated by Pliny the Elder in his Natural History 8:11-13,17).
  6. Against the charge that the remnantal revelation view opens the door to ‘implicit faith’ and members of other religions being saved without hearing the gospel, it is important to emphasise (as Dan Strange is very keen to do in Their Rock and underlines in his rejoinder to Faircloth) that remnantal revelation is a) twisted beyond salvific usefulness and b) always supressed. Actually this is not only an issue for the remnantal revelation view – if those are right (and I think they are) who say that the sermon of creation (Ps. 19:1-6) is a Christological sermon then the truth supressed and faith rejected when we look at the heavens and turn away is also a ‘gospel’ truth which is (perhaps) hypothetically salvific but the point is, again, that it is never salvific because it is always supressed. There is no more chance of someone being converted by remnantal revelation or creation revelation than someone being born without a sinful nature. We are born blind to Christ and eyes are opened as the Word is preached.

So what? Does any of this matter very much. Well perhaps it does in emphasising a) that the promise of the serpent crusher is the fountain of all our gospel hope and b) that it is this serpent crusher whom the world is rejecting (John 16:9).

Serpent crusher

 

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Part 1

Part 2

Now let’s engage some actual Bible passages:

Let us consider the following:
1. In the beginning God created the Earth and gave it to one couple Adam and Eve. They were the sole owners of the planet Earth. Think about it! Given to them by God! That was before the fall of man! That is too much wealth.
2. Then God called Abraham and Sarah and blessed them “…The Lord had blessed Abraham in all things” Genesis 24:1 Abraham had so much material wealth that he had to part ways with his nephew Lot because the pasture could not feed all their animals together. Abraham had over four hundred men working in his ranch, with their families. That is employment. When Sodom and Gomorrah were attacked and Lot captured. Abraham got the news, he took his four hundred servants and pursued the enemy defeated them and recovered all and restored to the kings what they had lost. On his way back he met Melchizedek the priest of God and gave to him tithes of all. The first tither in the Bible.
3. David was blessed materially no wonder he could provide materials to build God such a magnificent house but Solomon is the one who built it .
Then Solomon offered 120,000 sheep and 22,000 oxen in dedicating the Temple. Does this sound like poverty to you?
4. In Jesus ministry there were no offices and office bearers, but there was a treasurer…. Judas! Why? Could it be that Jesus was teaching us something about money in ministry? Yes he was. Money is the mode of exchange in this world….ignore it to your own destruction. Let us rightly divide the word of truth. Money if not put in its proper place can ruin your life…. for lack of it or much of it. So be realistic. Judas misappropriated ministry money. He also said what a woman spent on Jesus was a waste. He sold Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, then committed suicide. Think about it! One of the twelve disciples of Jesus committed suicide!
On the other hand when Jesus was crucified and died on the cross, the disciples ran away. It took two men who had both affluence and influence to reach Pilate and demand for the body of Jesus and give him a descent burial. That was Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus. Where were those poor believers at Jesus greatest hour of need when he could not do anything for himself but needed someone’s help!

Taking our brother’s points in turn:

  1. Adam and Eve were given dominion over the living things of the earth (Gen. 1:26-28), given free reign to eat from any plant or tree (Gen. 1:29; 2:16) and given the job of working the garden (Gen. 2:15) but I can’t see anywhere that they were given the earth. The LORD’s making of the earth (and all who dwell in it) means that it is all his (Ps. 24:1-2). If there was an original giving of the earth it was a giving of the earth to the Son. All things were created for him (Col. 1:16). He walked around the garden as the owner. Adam was the priest who’s job it was to be a faithful servant in God’s house, to guard the garden tabernacle, but he was not the owner or builder of the house (cf. Heb. 3:3-6). Adam was indeed appointed king of the world but the biblical idea of a king (in great contrast to the pagan view then and now) was not that the king owned the land and people but that he was a steward, an under-shepherd, serving God’s people in God’s land. A key point in servant leadership there.
  2. Certainly Abraham was wealthy and God’s blessing of him included his wealth. It shows that God is not anti-wealth and it is possible (like Job) to be wealthy and a believer. But in applying all this to those of us who are by faith children of Abraham we need to go through Galatians 3 and see our real blessing there. On the question of tithing and whether Abraham sets a precedent in Gen. 14 see the article by Kostenberger page 3-5.
  3. Solomon is not a great positive example of wealth. Though his wealth was in the first place God-given (1 Kings 3:13), the writer of Kings is subtly but clearly making the point in 1 Kings 10 that what Solomon was doing in terms of accumulating vast amounts of gold and horses is in direct contravention of the Kingship code of Deut. 17. It could even be that the famous number of the beast (Rev. 13:18) alludes to the amount of gold Solomon received (1 Kings 10:14). And then you look at Ecclesiastes. Certainly money is very useful (Eccl. 10:19) – no-one is denying that – but at the end of it all Solomon found all his wealth meaningless and unsatisfying (Eccl. 2).
  4. Our brother makes lots of good points from Jesus’ ministry on the importance of money and using it well for gospel purposes and with proper accountability being aware of the temptations. As we’ve said several times now, we are not against money or using money in life and ministry. There were obviously wealthy believers and those with financial means who supported Jesus in his ministry and who in the early church made their homes available for the church to meet in or supported the mission of the apostles and evangelists. Jesus talked repeatedly about money and we don’t want to avoid the subject. In fact if God moves you to support the ministry of  iServe Africa please do that right now – in Kenya or from overseas. It would be great to be in partnership!

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Thanks to all who have been praying for us on this fellowship. We were reminded today as we worked on Isaiah 6 (cf. Matt. 1; John 12; Acts 28) that we are naturally and deservedly hardened and blind and deaf to the Truth and it is purely God’s sovereign grace that opens our eyes and ears and gives us understanding – so we are in a spiritual battle as we read and teach and discuss these things and your prayers are really welcome… and being answered. Today we were blessed to see some exciting things:

  • From Zephaniah 3:1-13 we saw a God who is not called down by our earnest praying but who comes to dwell with a rebellious people – a people who do not and will not and cannot repent and yet God still gathers a remnant and sovereignly saves and purifies them. (More on Zephaniah here.)
  • In Galatians 2:11-21 we found that gospel doctrine must be accompanied by a gospel culture and saw something of the wonder of union with Christ.
  • All through Acts we found the apostles continually, relentlessly preaching Christ from all the Old Testament Scriptures. (Fidel recommended Edmund Clowney’s Preaching Christ in All of Scripture and you can read chapter 4 of that book here (it’s an exposition of Gen. 22) and a helpful review here.)
  • In 2 Corinthians 6 and Acts 20 we saw the true shape of apostolic ministry and that it has nothing to do with power.
  • Finally Daniel Ledama (PTW/UGBR) mined all sorts of deep and wonderful things about Christ from Genesis 39 – particularly showing how Joseph was both a type of the Saviour to come and at the very same time had the presence of that Saviour with him.

Throughout we were constantly aware of how much we all need to have our eyes opened wider to Christ in the Scriptures and aware of how much blindness and partial sightedness is present within and outside our churches.

And a helpful poster from ACFAR:

DDD - ACFAR

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a-hen-with-chicks-gathered-150x150

Thanking God for another good day in a warm and sticky Kisumu, listening carefully to the Word together. Particular highlights for me:

  • Fidel on Zephaniah 2 – “Perhaps you may be hidden” – as chicks under the hen’s wings – on the day of wrath.
  • A brother pointing out to me the danger of a Judges 2:10 generation emerging – people who have never been taught the gospel because it has been assumed in their churches – who  neither know the LORD nor what he has done for them. What really struck me from this was the parallel between the gospel for the ancient Israelites (what God had done in the Exodus long before any of them were born) and the gospel for us (what God has done in the New Exodus long before any of us were born) – i.e. a historical gospel.
  • Sammy challenging us to listen with trembling (Isa. 66:2) to the Word and let it set the agenda, rather than just using it to serve our agenda – the Word is the Master.
  • Fidel on Spirit-filled preaching – esp. Acts 10:44 – ‘What is the content of our preaching? Is our rhema-ing full of the logos word?’
  • Rogers Atwebembeire (of ACFAR) on Genesis 22 – superb exposition, heart burning as he showed us parallels between Isaac and Christ – the only beloved son, carrying the wood, trusting his father, willing to be sacrificed, delivered on the 3rd day.

“Where is the Lamb?” As I looked at that question my eyes were opened and I suddenly saw all of biblical theology through that verse – Isaiah 53, all the prophets, the whole Old Testament, looking for the Lamb who was to come, until one day John the Baptist says, “Behold, the Lamb”  (Rodgers on Gen. 22:7)

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And a couple of links for hearing the Word in audio:

  • Whole Bible is various English translations – from Theo Vision / Bible.is – here
  • At least portions of Scripture in a fantastic array of different languages including 83 within Kenya alone – assembled by Global Recordings Network – here

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My attention has been captured recently by a theme that I’d not noticed much before but I’m now seeing all over Scripture.

  • Gen. 1:2 – ‘the face of the waters’
  • Gen. 1:9-13 – the third day – the separation of the waters and the dry land – interestingly this is the longest day account with the exception of day 6 (which corresponds to day 3)
  • Gen. 6-8 – the great global judgement is the reversal of Day 3, the elimination of dry land and a return to waters covering the whole face of the earth; the flood ending with the long awaited appearance of dry ground
  • Ex. 14 – in a great sovereign salvation-judgement event the LORD divides sea from dry land (‘dry land’ repeated 4 times) while the Egyptians are destroyed by the sea returning to cover the dry land (this Ex. 14 event later echoed in the days of Joshua and Elijah/Elisha)
  • Job 38 – most of the chapter concerns the limiting of the boundaries of the waters (cf. similarly Ps. 33:7; 104:5-11; Jer. 5:22)
  • Jonah 2 – the prophet is cast into the flood waters and then on the third day cast onto ‘dry land’
  • Matt. 8:21-27; 12:39-41; 16:4 – Jesus is the true and better Jonah who will rise on the third day
  • Matt. 25:37-41 – the final judgement is going to be like the flood of Noah’s day
  • Mark 10:38 – Jesus is going to be ‘baptized’ submerged, like Jonah and like Noah’s generation, under the flood waters of judgement
  • 1 Cor. 15:4 – ‘raised on the third day, according to the Scriptures’ – possibly alluding to ‘The Third Day’, the day when the dry land (salvation) appeared?
  • 1 Peter 3:20-21 – linking the flood and ark to baptism and the resurrection of Jesus
  • 2 Peter 3 – linking the coming of Christ to the initial waters (Gen. 1:2) and the flood (Gen. 6-8)

So when we start to see the waters transgressing their boundaries and covering the land we should think ‘Judgement’ and run to the solid rock, the ark, the dry ground of Christ.

solid rock

 

[And for a discussion-provoking reflection on recent flooding in the UK see here.]

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Bernie muluuGuest post from our good friend Bernard Muluuta, pioneering some grassroots work encouraging faithful Bible teaching in Uganda:

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Preaching is fundamental in the growth of the church and bears much fruit in the lives of Christians especially when done faithfully.

There are steps we go through when we get down to preaching or rather prepare to: we pray, study, pray some more, study more, write, pray and finally speak God’s Word to His people.

In our study and preparation, we are encouraged to handle the text right. “Context. Context. Context,” we are reminded, “is key” to understanding the big idea of the text. One other reason why we need to get our context right is because it affects how we apply the text to our hearers. A good understanding of the text and its context will greatly help us to apply the text to the people we are preaching to and show them why the text is relevant to them today and through that we hear God speak to us.

Spotting the context within a verse, chapter or book is good but it is also helpful to see it from the big picture perspective of the whole sweep of Scripture. All through the Bible we run into precedents – events that set patterns, they become a mould other events can fit into or are modelled on. (I don’t think I am the only one who runs into déjà vu moments in Scripture.)

We see patterns (set rolling by precedents) that are repeated in the Bible: the sacrificial system; prophets preaching God’s Word to a wayward people; God’s judgement against the people for their rebellion; the need for a king to lead God’s people; salvation for those who have faith in Jesus Christ.

The patterns have a lot to teach us about God, His character and plans, what He was teaching His people and how deviating from the pattern brought punishment against the people.

But it’s not just precedents and patterns we run into, we also find one-off phenomena – occurrences that happen only once and we are left with no other events to draw parallels to in an attempt to find a good explanation for the event. These are the exceptions.

moses-and-the-burning-bush-the-bible-27076046-400-300In the Old Testament we find events like Enoch walking with God and being taken away (Gen. 5.24), Moses and the Burning Bush (Ex. 3), Joshua and the messenger of the LORD (Josh 5.13), Gideon and the woollen fleece (Jdg 6.36-38). In the New Testament we find Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9), Paul’s shadow and handkerchief healing the sick (Acts 19.11-12).

I point out this distinction because it is easy for us to mistake an exception for a precedent. In preaching some dwell on some of these exceptions and make so much of them more than the text itself intends.  This is reflected in the applications in the sermon as people are told they should walk with God that like Enoch they will be taken away (as mysteriously as he was). Or how like Moses they need a burning bush experience. In yesteryears I have heard (and unfortunately still hear) sermons where people are told that they like Paul should have the power to heal the sick with their shadows and handkerchiefs.

People experience frustration when they hear sermons that turn these exceptions into patterns that are supposed to be happening in their lives but never materialise. It has resulted in Christians who think their faith is weak simply because “these signs are not following them.” (Mk. 16.17-18) Others wonder what is wrong with them if they have not had a “face-to-face” chat with God like Moses did.

We need to be careful as preachers to study the Scriptures right and understand where events fit into God’s salvation story and revelation of Himself. Our understanding of their relevance then and God choosing to reveal Himself in a particular way will affect what we preach as well as how we apply the text to our hearers.

Let us not weigh down the church with expectations and challenges God did not intend for them or leave the church with the wrong impression of what God is communicating.

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tower of babel

Schools, NGOs, even politicians and businesses talk about being guided by ‘Christian values’. We want ‘value-based leadership’. Parents want to inculcate ‘good values’. Churches promise ‘kingdom principles’ which will transform your life.

  • Value (in pl.) one’s principles or standards
  • Principle – 1. A general law; 2. a personal code of conduct

The Bible doesn’t seem to be big on values and principles.

A couple of problems with values and principles:

  1. They are cut free from the story line of salvation history and turned into general truths and laws like gravity. I was reading an otherwise very good book on mission recently which was drawing lessons from the mission of the Apostle Paul. Loads of helpful stuff. But then a friend pointed out the flaw in the argument. It was all about getting principles from Paul which we could then follow to achieve the same results (church planting, church growth) as he had. This is turning a narrative into a set of principles which are then treated as laws which can be tested in the laboratory with the same results every time. What it was not considering was whether maybe the early days of the church in the book of Acts might have been a special point in the story of the history of Israel. Perhaps those days correspond, as a number of commentators have noted, to the early chapters in Joshua – the entry to the land. Even by the end of the book of Joshua and the end of the book of Acts the spectacular explosion of victories and miracles seems to be lessening. So maybe we should not demand exactly the same results as Paul (healing hankies, thousands converted) when we preach the same gospel from the Scriptures.
  2. They are cut free from the person of Jesus. Not always but very often you find that people and institutions that talk a lot about Christian principles and values are much less keen to talk about Christ. It’s understandable. Almost everyone, from all religions and none can sign up to Christian values. Just don’t give us Christ. Christ divides people. And yet he is the spring of all the so-called ‘values’. They are organically connected to him. They are the fruit of his Spirit. And crucially they flow from his gospel. Again and again in the NT letters it is the logic of the gospel which gives rise to the new Christian life. At the last MTC we found in Colossians that it is our death and resurrection with Christ which is the reason why we should put off the old self and evil desires and put on the new Christ-like self (Col. 3:1-11). It is as ‘God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved’, forgiven by the Lord, that we are to love and forgive others. Once you cut values away from Christ then you have cut the flower from the root – it begins to wither and die (witness the UK in the last two years since the prime minister made his ‘Christian values’ speech). They become powerless legalism and hypocrisy and then a redundant nonsense. As John Gray argues very powerfully in Straw Dogs, you cannot maintain Christian values when you have rejected a Christian worldview. The only source of true love and humility is a God of love and humility who has acted in history and is in the business of conforming his people to the image of his Son.

What does this mean for preaching?

Is it ok to preach values from Old Testament texts?

That was the question asked by one of the apprentices at the last MTC. And he answered his own question with a very helpful example from Genesis 11 – the tower of Babel. It’s a text often used to preach on the value of unity:

Nothing they propose to do will be impossible for them. (Gen. 11:6b)

So unity is a great value because it allows us to do more together than we can do alone. Indeed nothing will be impossible for us if only we have unity as a school, a church, a nation…

But as Fidel reported in his recent post (here) the point of the Babel story is the big problem of humanity seeking self-praise, self-sufficiency and security. In this context unity is a dangerous idolatrous evil thing. We could mention the Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) – great marital unity but not in a good cause. Or we could think of Nazi Germany in the 1930s – impressively united. So unity in itself is not a great value. I wonder (come back at me) whether any unity outside of Christ (nationalism, ethnocentrism etc.) is dangerous…

True unity is seen in the Trinity and then in Genesis 2 – the man and the woman became one, “and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:32). And then at the Cross the Second Adam in his death created one new man – Jew and Gentile united to one another and to God (Eph. 2:16). In view of that gospel Paul urges the Ephesians, “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit… one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father…” (Eph. 4:3-6)

‘Principles’ are what the world does – in fact they’re part of what Christ saved us from (Gal. 4:3; Col. 2:20) so let’s not go back to them (Gal. 4:9; Col. 2:8). Let’s just value Christ and see what happens…

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