|1. ISAIAH'S CHRISTMAS CHILDREN||3|
|3. MEREDITH KLINE: A CRITICAL REVIEW||11|
|4. JONATHAN EDWARDS ON PREACHING||52|
|5. JUSTIN MARTYR||53|
|6. AUGUSTINE ON MERIT||62|
|7. AGAIN, JESUS' SERMON ON THE MOUNT||63|
|9. AUGUSTINE ON CHRIST'S INCARNATION||74|
KERUX is a publication of Northwest Theological Seminary and appears three times each year (May, September, December). Editorial offices are located at 17711 Spruce Way, Lynnwood, WA 98037-7431. Correspondence should be directed to the editor at this address. Subscription rates for one year are: $20.00 (U.S. and Canada); $25.00 (Elsewhere). All remittances should be made payable in U. S. Funds. KERUX is: abstracted in New Testament Abstracts, Cambridge, MA, Old Testament Abstracts, Washingon, DC and Religious and Theological Abstracts, Myerstown, PA; indexed in ATLA Religion Database, Chicago, IL and the Elenchus of Biblica, Rome, Italy.
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[K:NWTS 21/3 (Dec 2006) 3-8]
Understanding the Message of the Prophets
My messages on Isaiah's Christmas children had ended, but I realized that those messages demanded a postlude. An afterthoughtnot so much to extend my comments about the children themselves, but in order to provide something of a wrap for the prophetic perspective about which I have had much to say over the course of the previous six messages.
You may recall in the last couple of messages at least, I made much of the inherent difficulties in hearing and reading the prophets. So formidable are these difficulties that some simply, as a general rule and with the exception of a few golden passages, avoid the prophets altogether. You are not long into any of the prophets before you are face to face with complexities: problematic constructions of languages and images that seemingly defy penetration; obscure names, oblique historical and geographical references.
But even more perplexing than these can be the inexplicable breathtaking changes in mood and emotional direction. One moment the prophet is declaring disaster and the next, without as much as a bat of an eye and in some cases within the same sentence, he is announcing the startling intrusion of divine grace. Not that the note of grace isn't welcomed. Its startling appearance however often leaves us somewhat baffled.
We have endeavored to explain these featuresthese disturbing featuresin our previous messages. We didn't spend much time explaining the first feature, the meaning of the obscure and oblique references, but the meaning for these obscure and oblique references may be found in the deliberately hidden character of the prophets' message. That hiddenness becomes a sort of ministerial extension of what the Lord says to Isaiah in directing him to tell the people of Judah, "Keep on listening but do not perceive; keep on looking but do not understand; render the hearts of these people insensitive, their ears dull and their eyes dim. Otherwise they might see with their eyes and hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and return and be healed (6:9-11)". The prophets deliberately speak in parables. The prophets deliberately speak in obscuritiesand that by design.
We spent much more time on the other features that we've mentioned
this evening. The meaning of the inexplicable changes in mood from wrath to
grace, we located in the inexplicable and totally disarming nature of grace itself.
God's grace comes unexpectedly and undeservedly into this world and upon
his chosen vessels. And that's how it intrudes into the prophets' message.
The meaning of the disconcerting shifts in audience where a word about
Israel's enemies suddenly slips into a word about Israel herself, we located in
the subtle but profound message that not just the Gentiles, the enemies of
the Jews, but the Jews themselves are gathered under condemnation in
order finally that the gospel of salvation through the faithfulness of Jesus
Christ might come to Jew and Gentile alike. This is in keeping with the message
that we finally hear in passages like Romans chapter 3 where Paul makes it clear
that all the world, Jew and Gentile together, is guilty before God (Rom. 3:19);
So far this message has been a summary and a review. And it hardly seems fair for me to get you out on a cold winter's night merely to tell you what you have already heard. Actually, there is another prophetic feature, abundantly evident in Isaiah 7-12, about which we have said nothing thus far. I have in mind the prophets' presentation of time, the prophets' presentation of history, and the apparent anachronistic character of the prophets' message.
You know what an anachronism is. Anachronism means to be out of place historically time-wise, as if someone were to say Julius Caesar lived in the seventeenth century and the Battle of Waterloo happened yesterday. The prophets' treatment of time and apparent anachronisms can be as startling and befuddling as their unexpected mood swings and their sudden shifts in audience. In fact, it is this feature in the prophets' message, the whole matter of their treatment of time and history that invariably causes so much excitement about the prophets for so many. While their treatment of time may seem perplexing to us, it is all too clear to a great many people. But for the prophets, you see, events, if we read them properly, appear to have the ability to reach far beyond their historical setting, touching even the distant reaches of human history and the furthest extent of the plan of God. As the prophets speak, as they preach, as they declare their message, the events about which they speak seem to have the ability to reach far beyond their historical setting, touching even the distant reaches of human history and the far reaches of the plan of God.
We have a sweeping example of this in Isaiah 10 and 11. Picking up
at verse 28 where we began our reading, we find a passage that has not
only thrown commentators, but in actual fact does the service of opening up for
us the prophetic line as far as the historical development of the prophetic vision
is concerned. Verses 28-32 of that tenth chapter, as we have seen before,
belong to a section speaking about the Assyrian threata yet future threat for
Judah. Assyria is mentioned explicitly in this chapter, previously in verses 5, 12,
and 24. When we come to verses 28-32, we would think that we have before us
But we have a problem. We have a problem if we move with this text along this line. For these cities mentioned all belong to the northern and eastern approach to the city of Jerusalemthe cities that were along the route as you make your way south through Benjamite territory. You're coming down from the north through the territory of Benjamin towards Jerusalem in order to make your assault upon Jerusalem which is in the territory of Judah. You get the picture. A southern course for the assault is in view in the mentioning of these cities as the army makes its way towards Jerusalem. But when the Assyrians finally do make their assault (remember this is a prophecy concerning a future assault by the Assyrians), when the Assyrians finally do make their assault (as Isaiah 36:2 tells us), they actually make that assault from the southwest, not from the north but from the southwest and from the city of Lachish, near the boundary of the territory of Philistia. The text in speaking about the Assyrians charts a southern course through the territory of Benjamin for Jerusalem. But the actual Assyrian assault comes from the southwest and from the city of Lachish.
Well what do you make of this? In chapter 10, prior to the Assyrian invasion, Isaiah naturally thought an Assyrian invasion will come from the north, so he wrote it up that way. When the actual invasion did occur, it seems that the Assyrians tripped up even Isaiah and came from the south. How silly of him! So much for prophetic and even biblical infallibility! Now some might not be overly upset by this apparent discrepancy and would say, "North, south, who cares where? It doesn't make any difference. The main thing was the invasion occurred and the Assyrians did in fact make an invasion. Isaiah at least had that much right. After all, neither the Bible nor prophecy is an exact science." The tragedy is that people who talk like this hardly know how destructive they are. In the balance is not only biblical authority and the Bible's infallibility, but the squandering of a golden opportunity to grasp hold of an important feature of the prophet's revelation.
But what, we might ask, is the advance of this combined army doing in a section talking about the advance of the Assyrian army? You see, one of the devices of the prophets is to describe one eventit may be present or pastin such a way as to anticipate a future event. In such a way, you see laid within that event the most future and ultimate of events, the consummation of all things. It is as if in reading an event the prophets are able to see in those events the coming judgment that is sure to come upon all of the worldfuture events laid within present events and even the most future event of all, the end of all things. Therefore, Isaiah sees in the current advance of the Syrians and the Israelites, the future invasion of the Assyrians when he speaks about the Assyrians in this passage, whose invasion is guaranteed by Judah's reliance upon these Assyrians in her struggle against the northern alliance.
But of course you will note, drawing out our considerations
concerning the prophets' estimation of time and history, this is not all that Isaiah is
privileged to see. In verses 33-34, as the tenth chapter ends, he sees a
devastation from which Judah herself cannot and will not be excluded. He sees
devastation that comes to Judah to be sure in the Assyrian invasion, but an invasion
in which Isaiah in turn sees the nation of Judah so thoroughly laid low that
the tree of Jesse is reduced to a bare stump. And it will be many, many years in
the future; and many, many more invasions still before that shoot and branch
will miraculously sprout. You see, in the event current with the prophet, he
sees events that he envisions in front of him in terms of those things that are
future and yet to be realized. It will be many, many years still and many, many
invasions yet before the shoot and branch from Jesse will miraculously sprout
(Is. 11:1-5), and many, many years further still when the perfections of his reign
The prophet's message here, as it deals with time, as it deals with history, lends an immediacy to all these events that are circumscribed. Truly then the prophet's vocabulary presents many instances along this very line. Jesus, himself the prophet, preaches the end of the world in his predications concerning the A.D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem. That is why the prophecies of Jesus concerning the coming destruction of Jerusalem are so hard for us to decipher and understand. He is speaking in those prophecies in prophetic form. He is looking at a near event and he is seeing a yet future event superimposed on that near event; so that when he gives the declaration concerning it, it becomes very hard to sort out what is pertaining to the destruction of Jerusalem and what belongs to the end of the world. And how many exegetes have stumbled over his proclamation at that very point? How many churches have stumbled over Jesus' proclamation of the coming destruction of Jerusalem and what it means concerning the end of all things? And John the apostle, writing the Revelation, will do the same thing as he speaks about judgments that come upon the church and the worldjudgments pertaining to the period in its extensiveness between the first and second coming of Christ. This is the Bible's method. This is the Bible's way of bringing us right up against the ultimate issues and the most conclusive considerationsof pressing upon us the urgency of God's purpose and his call.
The prophets' method of communication by the Lord's design brings near the future distant blessings, but also the coming certain destruction of this world. And it effectively sets before us the question: "Am I, in appropriating the salvation of which the prophets speak, ready for the judgment they announce?" Are you ready?
After all pleasures as I rid one day,
My horse and I, both tired, body and mind,
With full cry of affections, quite astray;
I took up the next inn I could find.
There when I came, whom found I but my dear,
My dearest Lord, expecting till the grief
Of pleasures brought me to Him, ready there
To be all passengers' most sweet relief?
Oh Thou, whose glorious, yet contracted light,
Wrapt in night's mantle, stole into a manger;
Since my dark soul and brutish is Thy right,
To man of all beasts be not Thou a stranger:
Furnish and deck my soul, that Thou mayst have
A better lodging, than a rack, or grave.
The shepherds sing; and shall I silent be?
My God, no hymn for Thee?
My soul's a shepherd too; a flock it feeds
Of thoughts, and words, and deeds.
The pasture is Thy word: the streams, Thy grace
Enriching all the place.
Shepherd and flock shall sing, and all my powers
Outsing the daylight hours.
Then will we chide the sun for letting night
Take up his place and right:
We sing one common Lord; wherefore he should
Himself the candle hold.
I will go searching, till I find a sun
Shall stay, till we have done;
A willing shiner, that shall shine as gladly,
As frost-nipped suns look sadly.
Then will we sing, and shine all our own day,
And one another pay:
His beams shall cheer my breast, and both so twine,
Till ev'n His beams sing, and my music shine.
[K:NWTS 21/3 (Dec 2006) 11-51]
A Critical Review1
As a seminary student, I remember some of us asking Dr. Kline to write a book on Gog and Magog. We appreciated his linguistic study of Har Magedon that strengthened the connections between Ezekiel 37-38 and Revelation 20. Is this the book we've been waiting for all these years? Well, in some ways it is. However, in other ways it is disappointing, as it incorporates a number of deviations from traditional Reformed theology with an otherwise penetrating study of the final Gog/Magog crisis.
Unfortunately, these departures from Reformed theology detract from the Christ-centered character of the gospel. As we will see, Dr. Kline holds to a different view of the divine human relationship per se. This cannot help but affect our relationship with the God-man, Jesus Christ. He also suggests that many Biblical characters merited God's blessings strictly speaking. According to Dr. Kline, while Christ alone merited eternal blessings, these other characters have this in common with himthey did in fact merit something. Thus, the unique nature of Christ's merit is downplayed. Finally, Dr. Kline steals from New Testament saints their joyous (one-in-seven-day) Sabbath rest in Christ through his resurrection life.
In this book, Dr. Kline seeks to view God's covenants and their history in light of the final Gog/Magog crisis. Finding anticipations of the Gog/Magog gathering throughout previous covenant history, he seeks to do justice to the biblical-theological perspective of anticipation and organic connection. The connections can be insightful. At the same time, one may ask whether he finds too much anticipation of the Gog/Magog motifs in earlier redemptive-history to the neglect of organic development.
Dr. Kline's general eschatological approach is amillennial. He makes a very strong case for the amillennial interpretation over against the premillennial and postmillennial views (especially in chapter 11). His interpretations of the book of Daniel and Revelation 20 are very helpful in this respect. And his linguistic approach to Har Magedon (as found in a previously published article, printed in Appendix B, 251-70) shores up the connection between the end of Revelation 19 and the end of Revelation 20 (implied in Ezekiel 37-38). Premillennialism has met its match!
Often, amillenialists and postmillenialists are lumped together in opposition to premillennialists. However, Dr. Kline rightly recognizes that the main division is the one that divides premillennialists and postmillennialists from amillennialists. To underscore this distinction, he suggests we label the positions according to the following criteria: do they believe a visible glory-kingdom precedes or only follows the consummation? If one believes the kingdom of glory precedes the consummation, one maintains the "pre-consummation" view. Premillennialists and postmillennialists stand together here; they are both "pre-consummationists." But if one believes the kingdom of glory follows the consummation, one maintains the "post-consummation" view. Amillennialists are "post-consummationists" (171). The idea is a good one even if the terms are cumbersome.
Unfortunately, Dr. Kline uses the terms "upper register" and "lower
register" without defining them. He uses them as adjectives, leaving the reader to
The problem that some people have on this issue is primarily with Dr. Kline applying this terminology to the use of the term "day" in Genesis 1. Dr. Kline has shown from Job and Revelation that the Bible sometimes speaks (more explicitly) from the perspective of heaven in contrast to speaking from the perspective of earth (242).2 He believes that something similar is happening in Genesis 1. Thus, the term "day" in Genesis 1 is simply a description of "day" from the perspective of heaven. It is not a description of "day" from the perspective of earth. Therefore, "day" does not mean 24-hour day by the standards of earthly time. Nor does it allude to any period of earthly time, as the day-age view of Genesis 1 implies.
Whether or not Dr. Kline has proven his point that "day" does not refer to earthly time, his article "Space and Time in the Genesis Cosmology" (Appendix A, 223-50) makes a good case for the so-called Framework view. Along with the six 24-hour day and day-age views, this is one of three positions accepted by his denomination (the Orthodox Presbyterian Church). Here one will also find his exegetical argument that "in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Gen. 1:1) describes the initial creation ex nihilo ("out of nothing"). Thus Dr. Kline disagrees with his former professor of Old Testament, E.J. Young,
Dr. Kline's view that the celestial heavens are created is connected to his unique doctrine of the "Endoxation" of the Spirit. This in turn is the backdrop to his doctrine of the Fatherhood of the Spirit.3 We believe that all of these doctrines are built on limited exegetical evidence, which does not take account of the fullness of Biblical revelation. However, in the balance of this review, I want to focus on Dr. Kline's views of the covenant of works, the Mosaic covenant, Noah and Abraham's merit, and the Sabbath. Thus, I will not deal with Dr. Kline's Trinitarian views here, despite the fact that they are seriously problematic.
In certain respects, Dr. Kline's view of the final consummation resembles a form of Restorationism. Unlike numerous Restorationists, he does not believe that the cultural mandate can bring in the eternal kingdom of God. The cultural mandate (if Adam had kept it perfectly and sinlessly) would only have brought a "Megapolis" (i.e., a huge worldwide theocratic city). Adam would still have needed to wait upon God to transform the "Megapolis" into the "Metapolis" (i.e., the heavenly city from above)4. Thus, unlike some Restorationists, Dr. Kline (presumably) does not believe that human political structures continue into the consummation. However, the question here is: does Dr. Kline teach that the essential nature of the Metapolis has material constituents that are
4 "Man's carrying out of the cultural mandate would produce Megapolis, the global theocratic city, the holy city whose king was the Lord God, enthroned on Har Magedon, the cultic center of the city. And by the glorification of the citizens of the city, the people-temple, God would transform Megapolis into Metapolis, the Beyond-city, the heavenly city" (89).
Hebrews 12:27-28 presses for even greater discontinuity in the consummated state. The heavenly kingdom that remains is not of this creation. To be sure, created beings like ourselves are not entirely out of view, like the angels and Christ (in terms of his human nature) who are now in heaven. But the created habitable arena of Heaven and Earth seems to be. This at least argues for a new creation whose "dust" is transformed to the same degree that the "dust" of our bodies are transformedso transformed that we are of heaven, not of the earth earthy (1 Cor. 15:47-49) Does it seem right for such transformed bodies live in an arena that is "of the earth earthy"? It seems to this reviewer that 2 Peter 3 must at least be read in terms of some kind of metaphysical transformation. Hebrews may press us furtherthe final consummation is the continuation of a heavenly state that already exists above (Heb. 12:27).
For Dr. Kline, the covenant of works is a natural constitution of man grounded in strict justice. He appeals to his particular formulation of the cov-
Also involved in this radical revision of covenant theology is an assault on the justice of God, for entailed in the discounting of the merit of the act of probationary obedience is the setting up of a standard of justice above God and his judgments. To refuse to acknowledge the pure and perfect justice of God's covenantal stipulation of a heavenly reward for the performance of the mandated probation task is to fail to recognize that God's covenant Word is definitive of justice. It is to deny that the name of the Judge of all the earth is Just.
The fallacy of the revisionists' position becomes even more evident when we examine their assault on God's justice with respect to the negative sanction of the covenant, the penalty threatened for disobedience. Indeed, the inescapable implication of their view is that God would be guilty of appalling injustice in his judicial response to man's sin. For if, as they argue, Adam's ontological stature was not such that any good he might do would be worthy of eternal life, then by the same token neither would any evil he might do be deserving of Hell's eternal death. Yet precisely that was God's judgment on man's transgressionthe judgment which in the case of the elect was visited on the Son of God. The denial of the simple justice of the appointed blessing sanction of the Creator's Covenant of Works with Adam thus has as its consequence the turning of the Cross of Christ into the ultimate act of judicial malfeasance. However unintended, such is the evil fruit of the rejection of the traditional doctrine of the covenant of works."
6 Lee Irons, "Redefining Merit: An Examination of Medieval Presuppositions in Covenant Theology," in Creator, Redeemer, Consummator: A Festschrift for Meredith G. Kline, eds. Howard Griffith and John R. Muether (Greenville, SC: Reformed Academic Press/Reformed Theological Seminary, 2000), 253-69.
The classic Reformed doctrine makes a distinction between man's natural state (in which God owes nothing to the creature) and God's voluntary condescension to make a covenant of works with man. This distinction goes back at least to Robert Rollock (ca. 1555-1599) in Scotland and was instrumental in the Reformed theology that followed. We may call this view double benevolence. God was benevolent in creating man. And he was also benevolent in giving him a covenant of works. By contrast, Dr. Kline's view is single benevolence. God, with one act of benevolence, created man and created him in covenant.
Even some 17th century Reformed theologians who believed that God created man in covenant at the moment of creation (Hermann Witsius) believed in double benevolence. They express it this way: that God was not simply benevolent in creating man, he was also benevolent in sustaining him; and most crucially, God would have been benevolent in giving Adam eternal life (if
9 Herman Witsius, The Economy of the Covenants, vol. 1, trans. by William Crookshank (Escondido, CA: The den Dulk Christian Foundation, 1990), 76-82. Witsius summarizes this tension, saying, "Lord, we know that thou art indebted to none, and that there is none who can say to thee, what dost thou, or why dost thou so? That thou art also holy, and infinitely good, and therefore a lover and rewarder of holiness" (I.iv.23, vol. 1, 82).
10 Ibid. " a holy creature, which he necessarily loves from the goodness of his nature, must also enjoy the fruits and effects of that divine love.
XVII. Besides, it is the nature of love to seek union and communion
XVIII. The same thing may be demonstrated in another manner, and if I mistake not, incontestably as follows: The sum of the divine commands is thus: `Love me above all things; that is, look upon me as thy only chief good; hunger and thirst after me; place the whole of thy happiness in me alone; seek me above all, and nothing besides me, but so far as it has a relation to me.' But how is it conceivable, that God should thus speak to the soul, and the soul should religiously attend to, and diligently perform this, and yet never enjoy God? Is it becoming the most holy and excellent Being, to say to his pure unspotted creature, (such as we now suppose it), `Look upon me as thy chief good; but know, I neither am nor ever shall be such to thee. Long after me, but on condition [of] never obtaining thy desire; hunger and thirst after me, but only to be forever disappointed, and never satisfied; seek me above all things, but seek me in vain, who am never to be found'? He does not know God, who can image that such things are worthy of him
Lord thou art holy, and infinitely good, and therefore a lover and rewarder of holiness" (I.iv.16-18 and 23, vol. 1, 79 and 82).
11 See Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, 296.
12 See footnote 8 above.
But Dr. Kline appears to say, "Yes!" Admittedly Dr. Kline says the issue at stake is not whether the obedience offered is proportional to the reward (though he thinks this may be possible14). Still, Dr. Kline continually asserts that Adam would have truly merited eternal life according to God's "simple justice," that is, God's "pure and perfect justice" (64)15. What else is this but "merit" according to strict justice? For Dr. Kline, Adam would have merited eternal life in exactly the same way that Christ did in his active obedience. By implication, Dr. Kline seems to assert that God was bound in strict justice to offer man eternal life in such a way that if Adam had passed the test he would have merited eternal life in strict justice. This opinion, other Reformed theologians have roundly denied. Dr. Kline must assume that previous Reformed theologians have thereby denied the covenant of works. They however would claim otherwise. The following is Turretin's way of maintaining that God is inherently a debtor to no man, while speaking of merit in the covenant of works. "Thus Adam himself, if he had persevered, would not have merited life in strict justice, although (through a certain condescension [synchatabasin]) God promised him by a covenant life under the condition of perfect obedience (which is called meritorious from that covenant in a broader sense because it ought to have been, as it were, the foundation and meritorious cause in view of which
14 Meredith G. Kline, "Covenant Theology under Attack," available at http://www.upper-register.com/ct_gospel/ct_under_attack.html.
15 See larger quote in footnote 5.
Why is Turretin's view not a confusion of the covenant of works with the covenant of grace? On Turretin's view, God's benevolence in giving the covenant of works to Adam does not guarantee to Adam and his posterity eternal life (which it would if it were the covenant of grace). It only sets up the situation (the covenant) in which Adam's posterity may possibly receive eternal lifeon the condition that Adam obeys the covenant. The immediate ground by which Adam received life would have been his own obedience. It was not a covenant of grace because no one else's obedience would have been the ground of God's covenantal reward to him. And he would have had no need of another's merciful work to forgive him for his sins.
Turretin's arguments for the claim that God is not inherently a debtor to man include Rom. 11:35-36,17 Rom. 8:18, and 2 Cor. 4:17. Romans 11:35 (a quote from Job 41:11) states, "Or who has first given to him that it might be paid back to him again?" The text refers to man as he exists in history. It is not speaking about God's first act of benevolence in creating man out of nothing. Thus, it seems to imply that no mere man could possibly deserve anything from God as a result of strict merit.
For the two other texts, Turretin argues "works are destitute of the conditions of true merit they cannot merit anything because they are imperfect and finite, having no proportion to eternal glory (which Paul testifies when he says, `The sufferings of the present life are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us,' Romans 8:18). `Our light affliction, which
17 Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, XVII.v.8, vol. 2, 712.
If we are to formulate our doctrine of the covenant of works correctly, we must do it in a way that seeks to do justice to all of the evidence, not just part of it. Thus, we must adequately interpret the above texts (plus those quoted in the Westminster Confession, chapter 7, section 1) and integrate them into our doctrinal formulations. Dr. Kline does not do this.
This may be due to the fact that his system has difficulties dealing with a text like Romans 11:35"Or who has first given to him that it might be paid back to him again?" Here Paul implies that man cannot strictly merit anything before God. That is, man cannot measure up to the standard of what would be necessary to strictly merit anything from God. He can't give to God that God should repay him. However, for Dr. Kline, the strictest standard of merit is the covenant of works. Clearly Adam could have kept the covenant of works. Thus, according to Dr. Kline, man could have measured up to the strictest standard of merit possible. Therefore, man was capable of strictly meriting God's favor. As Dr. Kline says, "God's covenant Word is definitive of justice" (64). Dr. Kline seems to imply that there is no strict justice apart from the covenant. To say otherwise, for Dr. Kline, is to put "justice above God and his judgments" (64). By implication, Dr. Kline believes that it is improper to appeal to a standard of strict justice and strict merit (which man can't measure up to) apart from the covenant of works or the covenant of redemption.
However, the historic Church has believed otherwise. It has taught
that God's attribute of justice is not grounded in any of the covenants he has
made concerning man. God's justice is grounded in his own
necessary nature. God's essential justice cannot be grounded in any of his decrees regarding
man, otherwise he wouldn't have been just if he hadn't created man. On the
contrary, God was free to create man or not. God would still have been just if he
had not created man and made covenants with him. Thus, God's necessary
eternal justice cannot be grounded in any of his covenants regarding man. It
If, on the other hand, Dr. Kline simply means that God's covenants always faithfully reveal God's essential justice (which is not grounded in those covenants), I would agree. God's covenants are true revelations of his nature. The question remains: does the covenant of works (interpreted in the light of the whole organic continuum of revelation) reveal that Adam would have merited the reward of eternal life in strict justice? In light of Romans 11:35 (and other texts noted in WCF 7.1), the answer is "No."
Dr. Kline's one last claim is that if Adam's merit was not strictly meritorious, then neither was Christ's. However, the flip side of Anselm's argument in Cur Deus Homo ("Why the God Man?") provides an answer to this question. Anselm asserts that Christ's passive suffering was infinite because of his infinite nature as God. This suggests that Christ's active obedience has infinite worth because he is eternally worthy of the Father's favor. Since he is God, Christ can truly merit our salvation strictly speaking.19 Adam, on the other hand, "merits" out of the self-binding condescension of God.
Thus, while Romans 5 suggests that there is continuity between the two Adams, this does not have to imply identical similarity (even in respect to the type of merit attributed to them). Surely, the "surpassing excellence" of the Son of God would suggest an aspect in which the antitype (2nd Adam) exceeds the type (1st Adam).
19 William Perkins and other Reformed theologians made a similar argument long ago. I am indebted to Andy Vanderhoff for this reference to Perkins.
Dr. Kline argues that Israel's obedience was meritorious. He does this in order to bring together two types of exegetical claims in his system. I will agree with both these exegetical claims, but question his systematic connection between them. The first exegetical claim involves the unique legal arrangement of the Old Covenant. Dr. Kline claims that Paul's quotations of Old Testament texts are not simply a refutation of Pharisaic misinterpretations of those texts, although they involve this. Paul reflects on the Old Testament and speaks of it as an adminstration of works when compared to the fullness of the New Testament and faith. In addition, Paul's claims are reflected in the Old Covenant administration itself. Israel's obedience to the law was a type of Christ's obedience. Her obedience brought blessings and the advancement of God's presence in the land. On the other hand, her disobedience was followed by curse and the retreat of the advancing kingdom of God in Israel. Therefore her disobedience showed: (1) that her obedience was only a type, not the real thing; (2) that she could not earn salvation by works; and (3) that the true Savior had not yet arrived. Therefore, the prophets later look back on Israel's disobedience and contrast it to the obedience of the coming Messiah, the true Israel.
On the other hand, Dr. Kline believes that the Mosaic covenant (which administered this typology) was an administration of the covenant of grace. Here he differs from some of his students such as Lee Irons, who have stated that the Mosaic era was a gracious era, but the Mosaic covenant was not a gracious covenant. In this reviewer's opinion, Dr. Kline is right on both these aspects. But the question remains: does he coordinate these truths together in a way that is internally consistent and coherent? Or does his formulation imply contradictions?
Perhaps the clearest quote in the book where Dr. Kline tries to
reconcile both of the above aspects (i.e., the Mosaic covenant as a covenant of
grace and the typological nature of Israel's obedience) is the following: "The
Old Covenant order, theirs by national election, was one of highest historical
privilege. And while a works principle was operative both in the grant of the
kingdom to Abraham and in the meting out of typological kingdom blessings to
the nation of Israel, the arrangement as a whole was a gracious favor to fallen
There are at least three possible interpretations of Dr. Kline's views. (1) The term "works principle" is used improperly. This arrangement does not involve any merit in the proper signification of that term. Instead the gracious nature of the Mosaic covenant ultimately determines the nature of what Dr. Kline calls "merit" in this arrangement. What he calls "merit" is really a reward of grace. He simply uses the term "merit" to show one area of discontinuity between obedience under the law and obedience under the New Covenant. The obedience of Old Covenant saints was a type of Christ's obedience; the obedience of New Testament saints is not. On this interpretation, Dr. Kline is not denying that the obedience of Old Testament saints resulted from grace just as much as New Testament saints (allowing, of course, for a greater degree of the work of God's Spirit in the New Testament). And the blessings of the land were ultimately grounded in God's redemptive grace as they are in the New. Therefore, Israel's "merit" was not really merit. Dr. Kline just uses this term improperly.
(2) The term "works principle" is used properly. Thus, while the Mosaic arrangement is gracious, the works principle is strictly meritorious. Hence, the Mosaic covenant contains two completely opposite principles. On this view, God gave Israel the law out of his unmerited favor. But from his unmerited favor, he offered Israel a strictly meritorious relationship. Thus, Israel's merit was strictly meritorious even though the overall arrangement was gracious.
On this view, the relationship between God's grace and Israel's merit might be analogous to the relationship between the Father and Son in the work of redemption. The Father sent the Son out of his great love prior to the Son's merit. But the Son's work is still strictly meritorious. Thus, God gave Israel the law out of pure grace just like the Father sent the Son. But Israel retains the land out of strict merit just as Christ earned the final inheritance out of strict merit.
View two could fit with two different approaches to merit. In terms of
the Medieval Nominalist/Realist debate: (a) there is no such thing as strict merit
in distinction from covenant. Thus all strict merit is simply God's arrangement
(3) The "works principle" is closer to the Roman Catholic view of merit, now applied to temporal blessings. God's grace takes away our ill deserts so that we can now merit his favor. The arrangement that enables sinners to be meritors is gracious. But the merit established by it is merit properly speaking. This view can fit with either option "a" or "b" above.
How shall we interpret Dr. Kline? Does he hold to view one, two, or something else? Here is what he writes. "The Old Covenant order, theirs by national election, was one of highest historical privilege. And while a works principle was operative both in the grant of the kingdom to Abraham and in the meting out of typological kingdom blessings to the nation of Israel, the arrangement as a whole was a gracious favor to fallen sons of Adam, children of wrath deserving no blessings, temporal or eternal. The Law covenant was a sub-administration of the Covenant of Grace..." (128).
This statement may be construed to support view #1. God's "gracious favor" is "to fallen sons of Adam, children of wrath deserving no blessings, temporal or eternal." If they do not deserve temporal blessings, then they cannot merit them strictly speaking. This implies that Israel is not parallel to Christ, who deserved temporal (as well as eternal) blessings. Because Christ deserved them, he could merit them strictly speaking. This seems to negate interpretation #2 above. Still, it may not close the case on view #2 altogether.
I ended the quote where I did to show one thing. Kline may be saying that the "Law covenant" is a "sub-administration of the Covenant of Grace" because it gives its temporal blessings as a result of grace, even if this grace was mediated through Israel's obedience. That is, the whole arrangement is gracious. However, the expression "Law-covenant" is a "sub-administration of the Covenant of Grace" also goes with what follows in the quotation. Here the law-covenant serves as a foil to the final administration of grace. The two are contrasted.
The question for interpreting Kline is, does the phrase "Law covenant...sub-administration of the Covenant of Grace" go with what goes before it (in precisely the way that I have suggested above) as well as with what goes after it? Or does it primarily go with what follows? If it goes with what comes before it (in the way I have suggested) and with what comes after it, then Dr. Kline believes that the actual execution of the Old Covenant in Israel was only in relative contrast to the New Covenant. For then unmerited favor determines the specific nature of what he calls "merit" in the Old Covenant. If so he is using the terms "merit" and "covenant of works" imprecisely. (Then the terms "merit" and "covenant of works" are more offensive than their substance.)
However, if these words do not go with what comes before (in the way I have suggested), but primarily with what comes after, then Dr. Kline believes in an absolute contrast between the actual execution of the Old Covenant in Israel and the New Covenant. At least this position implies that an absolute contrast exists between the overall gracious nature of the Mosaic covenant and the "meritorious" element of that covenant. In this case the Mosaic covenant contained an element ("merit") that was in absolute anti-thesis to its own overall gracious nature. This would give the terms "merit" and "covenant of works" their proper significance. But it would not explain how this "merit" could function in a covenant that is essentially gracious. Thus it would appear internally incoherent.
This latter interpretation of Dr. Kline's position appears to be
supported by other elements of the book. First, the unqualified use of the term
"opposite" to compare the Abraham and Mosaic eras or the Old and New Covenants.
He calls "the principle of promise, the opposite of the principle of works that
was operative in the Law" (96). And "the Torah covenant with its `do this and
There is one other place where Dr. Kline holds out some hope that Israel's typological blessings were gracious. Only if Dr. Kline means that Israel's retention of typological blessings (and not merely their original reception) was gracious is this text relevant to this discussion. So we will consider it in that light. Dr. Kline writes, "As an administration of the overarching Covenant of Grace, the Abrahamic Covenant with all its kingdom blessings, whether temporal-temporary-typological or heavenly-eternal, is the fruit of the Son's meritorious performance of passive and active obedience according to the terms of the Father's covenant of works with him" (emphasis mine, 96). However, without further theological distinctions, this seems to contradict sentences that follow. "The introduction of this Law arrangement centuries after the covenant promise to Abraham did not abrogate the earlier promise of grace because its works principle did not appertain to individual, eternal salvation (cf. Gal 3: 17). The works principle of the Law was rather the governing principle in the typological sphere of the national election and the possession of the first level kingdom in Canaan" (emphases mine, 97).
That's like saying, "Typological blessings are gracious, but strict works
in the Mosaic Covenant doesn't contradict this because typological
blessings are not gracious." Without further qualification, this is contradictory. It is
true that Paul (Gal. 3:6-18) distinguishes the instrumental means by which
Abraham was justified and promised the inheritance (by faith alone) from the
instrumental means by which Israel received God's grace to retain the land and
multiply its blessings (obedience to the law). However, this is not precisely the way
Permit me to note some Scriptural counter examples to Dr. Kline's position on merit in the theocracy (so understoodas strict merit). Paul's quotation of Leviticus 18:5 in Galatians 3:10 indicates a relative contrast between the "works of the law" as they were actually practiced in Israel and the new age of the Spirit. Leviticus 18:5 implies that the one who keeps the law will live in the land. But the nature of the law Israel was called to keep indicates that it was not an absolute covenant of works. That law included the ceremonial law. Israelites were required to present sacrifices for their sins. They were required to follow all the purity regulations of Leviticus. When they defiled themselves, they had to seek cleansing.
Thus, the very law they kept implied that they were sinners. They had demerited the right to life before God and they needed God's saving grace. This grace even functioned to cleanse defilement from the land. So it was instrumental in giving Israel blessings in the land. The law's atoning sacrifices covered Israel's demerit and turned aside the curse. The ceremonial law was the means by which Israelites returned to the camp, entered the tabernacle, enjoyed the fruits of the land, etc. Israel's obedience was simply the means by which God mediated this grace to her. Thus, Israel did not keep the law as an absolute covenant of works. Even Israel's retention of the land was grounded in the saving grace of Christ to come. In this way it differed from the meritorious works of Adam and Christ.
I would like to suggest the following theological/metaphysical problems with Dr. Kline's formulation. First, merit is impossible after the Fall. God can justly offer a covenant of "merit" to a creature who has not demerited his favor, as he did in the case of Adam. But how can God justly establish a meritorious arrangement with a creature who has demerited his favor?
Second, types are not the reality. Here I will argue that because Israel's obedience was a type of Christ's obedience, it could not be meritorious. Types are both similar to and different from their anti-types. Old Testament sacrifices were types of Christ's propitiatory sacrifice. They were similar in that both involved the shedding of blood. But they were different in that Old Testament sacrifices were not the ground of propitiation. They were not propitiatory in their essential nature. So also, Israel's obedience to the law was similar to Christ's obedience in that both involved some degree of righteous love for God and his law. But they differed in that Israel's obedience could not stand before God's judgment seat without the justifying work of another. Christ's obedience could stand on its own merits. This made it meritorious while Israel's was not.
Since types have similarities to their anti-types, some may ask, why isn't "merit" something Israel's obedience has in common with Christ's obedience? The reason is that the dissimilarity between a type and its anti-type involves precisely that characteristic where the type fails and Christ succeeds. This is obvious enough. Yet this becomes even clearer when we consider it from the perspective of the Old Testament writing prophets. They saw Israel's failure from the perspective of her exile and claimed that in precisely that area where Israel failed, the Messiah would succeed. Israel's failure indicated that point at which she differed from Christ. What Israel failed to do and Christ accomplished was the ground for the coming of the kingdom. This was the prophetic perspective. Israel could not meet the demands of perfect (eschatological) righteousness to bring the perfected (eschatological) kingdom.
This is similar to the relationship between sacrificial types and
anti-type. For both are based on the prophetic pattern of failure and fulfillment. As
This pattern is unfolded in the book of Hebrews with its quotations of the prophet Jeremiah. "For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins" (Heb. 10:4) is the backdrop for the prophetic reversal"their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more" (Heb. 10:17 and 8:12, quoting Jer. 31:34). In Jeremiah's day, the Lord remembered Israel's sin and the curse remained on the people and their inheritance in the land. The temple was defiled and the sacrifices could not propitiate God's wrath. As a result Israel went into exile for her sin. The prophet Jeremiah looks back on this failure. Hebrews implies that this failure resulted from the inability of the sacrifices to take away sin. So Jeremiah predicts a new day when God will remember Israel's sin no more. When this happens, Israel will be placed in a New Jerusalem and its surrounding area will be "holy to the Lord." "It shall not be plucked up, or overthrown anymore forever" (Jer. 31:40). This is an eschatological projection.
According to Hebrews, Christ has fulfilled all of this. For he took away the curse separating God's people from the "eternal inheritance" (9:15). And he brought us to the "more perfect temple, not made with hands" through "eternal redemption" (9:11-12). This is eschatological fulfillment.
This does not detract from the fact that the sacrifice of Christ was the ground of salvation for all the saints of the Old Testament. For the eschatological fulfillment of salvation is the ground for all previous salvation in redemptive history. All previous forgiveness of sins was (to use Kline's term) an "intrusion" of Christ's eschatological sacrifice. All of this underscores one thing: precisely at the point where the type fails, it is not like the anti-type.
Israel's obedience differs from Christ's in that she was disobedient.
And the imperfect obedience of Daniel and other prophets was not sufficient
to reverse Israel's situation. Thus imperfect obedience of any kind is
contrasted to Christ's perfect obedience. The point of difference is clearly
obedience tainted with sin verses perfect, sinless obedience. What is this
difference? Israel's obedience was not sufficient to bring God's kingdom while
Making special reference to Christ's sacrifice, Paul implies something similar when he says, "what the law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin" (Rom. 8:3). The law could not bring in the age of the Spirit because it was weak by the flesh. Israel could not merit the coming of the kingdom. Only Christ's perfect obedience and sacrifice could bring it. Therefore, from the prophetic point of view, Israel was not able to merit at all. She had no true merit just as much as the sacrifices never truly propitiated anything.
From the above, it becomes evident that at this point Dr. Kline's view
of the Mosaic Covenant does not square with Geerhardus Vos's organic
understanding of redemption and revelation. In respect to merit in the Mosaic
Covenant, Dr. Kline's understanding of progressive revelation is more like a
room addition to a house. The Abrahmic Covenant of grace and the redemptive
era prior to Moses is the original house. This grace and redemption continues
to operate in the Mosaic Covenant. However, the element of merit in the
Mosaic Covenant does not organically unfold from this original house of
redemption because its essential nature is not dependent upon redemption. Instead,
for Dr. Kline, the law and its strict merit are built on their own foundation of
strict merit. Admittedly for Dr. Kline, merit as a room addition within the
theocracy would never have existed without the house. For Dr. Kline believes that
Israel would never have been able to merit the blessings of the land, if God had
not given Israel the land by redemptive grace. Still, the merit once established
is strict merit. Thus the law and its merit were added as a room addition to
the house of redemptionin a mechanical fashion. By implication, at this point
Dr. Kline teaches that the development of God's supernatural words and
deeds was mechanical, not organic. Strictly speaking, Israel's
own deeds earned her blessings in the land once God had placed her there by grace. Israel's merit
was a new room mechanically built alongside God's own deeds of redemption.
Here Dr. Kline differs significantly with Geerhardus Vos, who maintained the
organic nature of God's speech and acts throughout redemptive history.
Finally, Dr. Kline's belief in merit in the theocracy may also influence his view that the promises made to Abraham involve a two-level fulfillment, first in the land of Canaan and then in Christ in heaven (98). This view may not seem objectionable in itself because we do see the promises coming to fulfillment provisionally in the land prior to Christ. Thus, previous Reformed theologians have expressed themselves in this manner in an orthodox way. However, Dr. Kline may overly separate the blessings of the typological kingdom in Israel from the final eschatological reality, i.e., the final eschatological blessings come by grace, but the typological blessings are retained by strict merit. We would thus suggest that it is better to say that the promises made to Abraham are fulfilled in Christ, and their final fulfillment in Christ expresses itself provisionally in the types and shadows of the theocracy. In this way, we highlight the types and shadows as intrusions of the future reality. This underscores the metaphysical unity between the theocracy and the kingdom of Christ in an attempt to do justice to the organic nature of redemption and revelation.
According to Dr. Kline there were a couple of other instances where strict merit operated prior to the law. There were two other temporary situations in which a small room of merit was built alongside the house of redemptionin
Special covenantal grants bestowed in return for notable services are attested in the case of others beside Noah. We will take up the case of Abraham at the appropriate point. There were also David (Ps 89:3; 1 Sam 13:14; cf. 1 Sam 16:7; 2 Samuel 5-7) and Phinehas (Num 25:10-13; Ps 106:30). The eternal salvation of these individuals was, of course, a matter of divine mercy and grace through Christ. But it pleased the Lord to invest their exemplary righteousness and outstanding acts of covenantal devotion with special significance so that with reference to a typological manifestation of God's kingdom they prefigured Christ as one who received the kingdom of glory for the faithful performance of the messianic mission stipulated in his eternal covenant with the Father. And in the case of some of these grantees, including Noah, their righteous acts were the grounds for bestowing kingdom benefits on others closely related to them (cf. Noah's householdGen. 7:1), just as in the case of Christ the many are made righteous by the obedience of the One (Rom 5:19) and become joint-heirs with him of his kingdom inheritance" (78-79, emphases mine).
22 "Genesis 22 records another episode in which an outstanding act of obedience on Abraham's part is said to be the basis for the Lord's bestowing on him the blessings of the covenant: `By myself have I sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this thing and
However, he says that it follows the "works principle" which he elsewhere defines as the opposite of grace. This suggests strict merit. If nothing else, it seems to reveal contradictions in Dr. Kline's system. Thus, I will suggest that the element of strict merit implied in the case of Noah and Abraham, as representatives of the "works principle," must be abandoned.
Dr. Kline's argument that Noah merited God's typological blessings is as follows. God promised Noah a reward for his obedience. "Come, you and all your house, into the ark, because I have found you righteous in this generation" (Gen. 7:1). But if this argues for Noah's merit then the following text argues for the saints meriting eternal life: "Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat " (Matt. 25:34-35). Both are rewards granted for obedience. So why is Noah's obedience meritorious and not New Testament believers? There must be another reason.
Perhaps Dr. Kline's reasoning involves the fact that Noah received typological earthly blessings for his obedience, something that New Testament saints do not receive for their obedience. In this way, Noah could function as a type of Christ who brings the eternal inheritance. The argument might run something like this: Israel's obedience was a type of Christ's partly because through various degrees of obedience she received various degrees of earthly
justification by faith, this act of obedience validated his faith (Jas 2:21ff.; cf. Gen 15:6). But from the redemptive-historical/eschatological perspective, Abraham's obedience had typological import. The Lord constituted it a prophetic sign of the obedience of Christ, which merits the heavenly kingdom for his people.
Even if Dr. Kline can show that Noah's obedience is a type of Christ's obedience, he must also recognize that the flood event and Noah's own salvation in it is a type of Christ's salvation of his sinful people (1 Peter 3:20-21). In this way, Noah's unworthiness is at work in him as a member of an event that is a type of Christ. Therefore, if Noah also functions as a type of Christ's merit, Noah's own righteousness cannot strictly speaking be the ground of his salvation. The final ground of that salvation must be the work of Christ himself. Noah is at best a type, not the reality.
Dr. Kline's argument for Abraham's merit is even more complex. On the one hand, Abraham merits blessings because his obedience is the basis of Isaac's participation in the blessings. On the other hand, Abraham represents the faith-promise principle in contrast to the work's principle in Israel. How can Dr. Kline have it both ways, especially if strict merit is involved?
Admittedly, it is not impossible for something (or someone) to
represent two polar opposites as long as it is in different respects. But the point here
is, how does Dr. Kline argue for this from the text? He acknowledges that
Paul's contrast between Abraham and Moses is not a contrast between two
different ways of salvation. Thus, on his view, it is a contrast between two
different ways of receiving the inheritanceone of promise, one of merit.
Abraham's reception of an eternal inheritance is contrasted to Israel's reception of a
temporal inheritance. This appears to be the way Dr. Kline argues (96-97).
Paul then is only denying that Abraham received eternal blessings by works.
However, this undermines any truly redemptive-historical contrast in Paul's words, even if that contrast is relative (and not absolute). For Paul is contrasting two eras in the history of redemptionthe historical era of promise and the historical era of the law. His contrast must respect something they have in common for it to be a genuine comparison. For instance, it makes sense to contrast Susie and John in this way. Susie is a great tennis player and John is a terrible tennis player. "Tennis" is what they have in common. But if you were to say, Susie is a great basketball player, and John is a terrible football player, this does not represent a contrast. For they have nothing in common. That is, there is no common link between them.
Dr. Kline's interpretation of Paul's contrast between Abraham and the law leaves no common link between them. The term "inheritance" may describe both of these blessings, but it doesn't really refer to anything similar between them. Abraham's is a covenant of promise with respect to individual salvation. And Israel's was a covenant of merit for temporal blessings. These are two very different things. Thus, no genuine historical contrast is in view. On this logic, Paul could as easily have shown the law-gospel contrast as it operated within the Abrahamic era itself (without reference to the law). Or he could have shown the law-gospel contrast from the Mosaic era itself (without reference to Abraham).
For Paul's contrast to be a genuine redemptive-historical contrast, it
must be dealing with something common to the two eras. The issue of
the eschatological inheritance is central (Gal. 3:18, the historical arrival of
the eschatological inheritance promised to Abraham is not by means of the
law; and v. 14, the promise of the Spirit). Thus, Abraham received the inheritance
to come by justifying grace in relative contrast to Israel's inheritance, which
was mediated to her through her sanctified obedience. However, for this contrast
to hold good, there must be something common between these inheritances.
I would suggest that the point of comparison involves the fact that
Israel's inheritance was a type of the eschatological inheritance. Thus Abraham
and Israel ultimately point to two different ways of receiving the
eschatological inheritanceby grace or by works. The fact that both arguments
Galatians 3 may indicate that Abraham's obedience was not a type of Christ's obedience in any respect. But it certainly implies that Abraham's obedience was not strictly meritorious. Thus, if Dr. Kline's exegesis of Genesis is correct and Abraham was a type of Christ's righteousness in some sense, this must be understood in a way that is consistent with the fact that Abraham didn't actually merit anything. Abraham was at best a type, not the reality. Once again, if Abraham's obedience is typological, Galatians 3 implies that it was not typological to the same degree and in the same respect that Israel's obedience was typological. Otherwise, Paul could not contrast Abraham to Israel in the precise way he does. This further underscores the point that Abraham's obedience was not strictly meritorious. For if Abraham and Israel's obedience were strictly meritorious, then they would both have to measure up to the same standard of strict justice grounded in God's nature. If this was the case they could not be contrasted in the way they are. Therefore, the fact that Paul contrasts them (with Abraham representing the opposite of works) indicates that Abraham's obedience was not strictly meritorious. (And, as we have seen above, neither was Israel's.)
While Dr. Kline only alludes to cult and culture in the book, we must note it because of the importance it plays in his doctrine of the Sabbath.
His point is twofold: (1) the church as an institution is not to be involved in such cultural activities as setting up soup kitchens, etc. Nor is the church as an institution to work to influence political action. (2) The Spirit of God is not specially present in modern day cultures as he was in the land of Israel. Thus, institutions and laws in the theocracy connected to God's special presence do not carry over into modern day cultures. Instead, those elements are fulfilled in Christ's invisible theocratic reign in heaven (presently manifested in the Church).
Dr. Kline thoroughly rejects the doctrine of the Sabbath found in the Westminster Confession. He goes so far as to say, "The advocacy of such a continuance of the Decalogue ordinance of the Sabbath is, in effect, a Judaizing contention" (196). He is accusing the Westminster Confession and the denominations that adopt it of teaching a Judaizing doctrine.
By implication, Dr. Kline also rejects the Continental view of the Sabbath. For he denies that the first day of Christian worship is grounded in the fourth commandment
Let us look at his principal arguments and consider some
counter-arguments from the Scriptures. Dr. Kline argues that: (1) Sabbath rest from labor
is dependent on working in a theocratic arena; (2) the Sabbath is a sign of
the covenant (thus for believers only); (3) the first day of Christian worship is
Sabbath as Rest from Theocratic Work. Dr. Kline teaches that the Sabbath is only for those who live in a theocratic arena. That is, it is only for those engaged in six days of theocratic work followed by a day of theocratic rest. The Sabbath only has significance where cult and culture are interconnected. It only functions when people live in an earthly land inhabited by God's special presence. This was true in the Garden of Eden; it was a holy sanctuary. And it was true in the land of Israel from Joshua to the exile.
According to Dr. Kline, when you practice the Sabbath you are stamping a sign of holiness on the arena to which the Sabbath relates. You can only do this in lands where God's Holy Spirit is present in the physical arena. This is the arena you build up by your work. When you rest, you give that arena rest as well.
Dr. Kline recognizes that the work/rest pattern of the Sabbath is God's own work/rest pattern (Genesis 2:2-3). Here Dr. Kline agrees with the Westminster Confession. However, Dr. Kline differs from the Confession in this: the Confession teaches that the Sabbath is grounded in the essential nature of the created order. Dr. Kline believes it is grounded in the unique presence of God. That is, for Dr. Kline, God's special presence in a land is the only basis for keeping Sabbath. When God's special presence leaves a land, there is no more reason for keeping Sabbath. On the other hand, the Confession teaches that the Sabbath is historically grounded in God's general omnipresence in the world at large.
If the Sabbath is grounded in God's omnipresence, this does not
exclude its rest from taking on theocratic overtones when God is specially
present. That is, the general (non-theocratic) pattern of work/rest can take on
theocratic overtones when God eschatologically intrudes in a land. Dr. Kline does
believe this is true of capital punishment. God's general presence (involving
common grace and man as image bearer) is the ground of capital punishment. But
when God eschatologically intruded in Canaan, capital punishment took on
unique theocratic associations. It was an intrusion of eschatological
punishment. However, when the theocracy expires, capital punishment still remains
(stripped of its theocratic associations)as Dr. Kline insists. By similar reasoning,
Thus the question becomes: does the Sabbath have non-theocratic associations? Is it grounded in creation in general or in the building of a theocratic arena? In other words, is it a creation ordinance for all time or is it peculiar to Adam, Eve, and Israel alone?23 We will seek to answer this question by looking at God's creation of the world.
The original paradigm of the Sabbath is God's own rest from labor. Was God's work exclusively one of building a theocratic arena? It was not. Even Dr. Kline admits that the Garden of Eden was uniquely holy. He believes that (in the cultural mandate) God called Adam and Eve to extend his holy presence throughout the world. This implies that the rest of the world that God created was a common arena. God was not specially present there the way he was in the Garden.
Therefore, much of God's creative work involved building up an arena that was not holy. It was common. God's work/rest pattern was broader than the theocratic work/rest pattern. Therefore, God's work/rest provides a paradigm for working in the common arena followed by rest in relationship to a common arena.
Dr. Kline could object by pointing to the pattern of creation found in Genesis 1. In it, God created spheres (i.e., land, bodies of water, visible heavens); then he created beings to rule over those spheres. They were "kings" over those arenas. So it would seem that when God created spheres, he was creating kingdoms for other creatures to rule over. Thus, God's creative activity was kingdom building activity. Now we admit that God's creation of spheres and rulers may have pointed beyond themselves to the ultimate eschatological rule of God (as well as man). But the arenas created (and their rulers) were not holy. Otherwise those spheres would have been co-extensive with the Garden in their holiness. And Adam would have been called to guard the whole world from the intruding serpent. (Dr. Kline would agree on this point.) The spheres
Dr. Kline also claims that when we keep Sabbath we are putting our stamp of approval on our work, claiming that the work we did was theocratic. This is our word of approbation similar to God's word of approbation at the creation, i.e., "God saw all that he had made, and behold, it was very good" (Gen. 1:31). However, when God declared his work "very good," he was not putting a stamp on it, saying that it was holy. Most of it was common. He called his work "good" in an arena that he made common.
Therefore, when we rest on the Sabbath, we are not putting a stamp of holiness on our work. We are not saying that it was theocratic. On the contrary, just as God rested (one in seven days) when he built up arenas that were non-theocratic, so we are called to rest (one in seven days) after we work in arenas that are non-theocratic. This fits the traditional notion that God's pattern of work/rest is fundamentally a general eschatological pattern in force until the consummation.
Such an approach involves the believer in a vital union with God in his work and rest. As God worked, then rested (one in seven days), we are to work, followed by rest (one in seven days). We are to see our work as an imitation of God and a communion with his past work. That is, we are to see our rest as an imitation of his rest and union with him in his resteven now, resting in Christ and his resurrection-rest.
The Sabbath is not historically grounded in God's creating a theocratic arena. It is grounded in a more general pattern that includes God's creation of both the holy and the common. Thus, the Sabbath is not dependent on the Old Testament theocracy. Dr. Kline's claim that the "continuance of the Decalogue ordinance of the Sabbath is a Judaizing contention" is groundless.
Sabbath as Sign. Dr. Kline argues that the Sabbath is a sign of the
covenant just as circumcision (or the Lord's Supper) is a sign of the covenant.
He concludes from this that unbelievers are only obligated to keep the Sabbath
It follows that, on Dr. Kline's view, there must be only two reasons why the Israelites were commanded to give their slaves rest from labor on the Sabbath (Ex. 20:10; Deut. 5:14). (1) Those slaves were covenant members. As such they were obligated to keep the Sabbath. (2) Even if the slaves were not covenant members, they were laboring in a theocratic arena. While Dr. Kline does not address the above two points directly in the book under review, some of Dr. Kline's students have drawn the following conclusion from these two points: when both these reasons no longer apply in the new covenant, believers are no longer called to give their unbelieving slaves rest from labor. They are allowed to have unbelievers work for them on the Sabbath. Are these two reasons (that slaves may have been believers and that they were doing kingdom-building activity) the only reasons the fourth commandment forbade Israelites from having others work for them on the Sabbath?
Let us consider one example in response to Dr. Kline. Clearly Nehemiah's insistence that Israelites not buy from pagans on the Sabbath (Neh. 13:16-17) makes the first point irrelevant to this implication. For Dr. Kline's claim to succeed, the only point at issue must be that these pagans are working in a theocratic arena. We have shown that a theocratic arena is not essential to the Sabbath. However, this of itself does not exclude the Sabbath from taking on theocratic associations in Israel. Is that what is happening here? All indications steer us away from this conclusion. First, as pagans, the Tyrians in Nehemiah's day were certainly not involved in kingdom activity (building up the kingdom) even though they were working in a kingdom land.
In response, Dr. Kline could claim that these pagans were doing
kingdom-building activity in spite of themselves. If so, this would be inconsistent
with his system. For although I have suggested that slaves might not have
been covenant members (i.e., the Gibeonites, Josh. 9:3, 17-27), this does not
appear to be consistent with Dr. Kline's view of kingdom-building activity. For,
following the example of Adam's priestly task to "guard" the garden, Dr. Kline
seems to believe that only those who are priests (in some sense) can be engaged
Second, we have seen that the most fundamental pattern of work/rest is universal, involving the building of common and holy arenas followed by rest. Thus, Dr. Kline must not only show that the specific work the Tyrians engaged in here took on theocratic overtones, but that their work was uniquely theocratic, limited to a holy arena. (The work of holy war and the priestly tasks in the temple might be some examples.) Only if the Tyrian's work was uniquely theocratic, can Dr. Kline limit Nehemiah's reprimand (for buying from pagans on the Sabbath) to a holy arena. However, selling fish and other merchandise (as the Tyrians were doing) is not uniquely theocratic work. It is something people legitimately practice in common arenas six days a week. Thus, Nehemiah's rebuke of Israel is not grounded in the fact that the Tyrians were doing uniquely theocratic work. Therefore, the false claim that the Tyrians were doing uniquely theocratic work cannot be used to limit Nehemiah's rebuke to the theocracy.
Perhaps Dr. Kline would say that Nehemiah's point is that the Israelites themselves were doing kingdom activity by engaging in trade (and so making a profit). Whether the Israelites have others (pagans) work for them in this process is irrelevant on this interpretation. However, by rebuking the nobles, Nehemiah implicitly rebuked all who bought from the Tyrians. Thus, the text rebukes those who are simply buying from pagans even though they are not working themselves. Some may respond to this point by noting that this was a
25 Ibid., 74.
Finally, Dr. Kline may claim that the Israelites were building up the kingdom simply by acquiring goods that they would consume. Perhaps. But since the Sabbath prohibits work even in common arenas, Dr. Kline would have to show that the specific consumption Israel practiced in this case was uniquely theocratic. If it was not, then the same consumption (when purchased on the Sabbath) is also prohibited in common arenas. Then at best, that consumption takes on theocratic associations in a theocratic arena like capital punishment does when it operates in a theocratic arena. But like capital punishment, it is not limited to a theocratic arena because it is not uniquely theocratic. It follows that Nehemiah rebuked Israel for buying from the Tyrians on the Sabbath even when that buying activity was not uniquely theocratic. Therefore, Nehemiah's prohibition also applies in common arenas.
All of this indicates that Nehemiah is (at least) referring to a practice that is forbidden to all those who take the sign of the Sabbath upon themselves. They ought not to have others (unbelievers) work for them any more than they ought to work themselves. (Jesus notes the exceptions of necessity and mercy, Matt. 12:1-13.)
The first day of Christian worship is not tied to the Decalogue. Kline's view is that the Decalogue was a unique treaty with Israel. Therefore, "the distinctive first day of the new, dominical week is not a modified residue of the Sabbath day of the fourth commandment" (196).
I would suggest instead the following: the old covenant organically unfolds into the new covenant. The old treaty with the old Israel organically unfolds into the new covenant with the new Israel. Thus, the old covenant documents are the canon of the New Testament Church insofar as they organically unfold in the new covenant. All that is written in the Old Testament is the Word of God and it all organically unfolds into the New Testament. Since this is the case, all that is written in the Old Testament as it organically unfolds in the New (together with the New Testament) is the canon of the New Testament Church. It is artificial to say (with Dr. Kline) that the Old Testament is our "Scripture," but it is not our "canon." As long as we do justice to the true organic nature of the canon (and the organic unfolding of both faith and life norms), this will not lead to theonomy (as Dr. Kline fears). Therefore, I am arguing for continuity between the Testaments in opposition to Dr. Kline's radical discontinuity at this point.
Thus, it will not settle the issue of the Sabbath to say that the Decalogue was a covenant made with Israel. We must ask further, how does each aspect of the Decalogue organically unfold through the Old Testament into the New Testament? In some respects Dr. Kline acknowledges this himself,26 but he does not address Jesus' appeal to the Sabbath commandment as we intend to do here. We will see that Dr. Kline's system has difficulty dealing with Jesus'
When Jesus asks, "Is it lawful on the Sabbath?" (Luke 6:9 and 14:3), he is appealing to the law for his own Sabbath practice as well as that of his disciples. As disciples, Luke intends the Church to follow Jesus' teaching. This implies that the Church is under the authority of the Sabbath commandment found in the Decalogue.
Dr. Kline does not believe this. How can he avoid this conclusion? It appears he must disagree with one of the premises I've suggested above, perhaps the premise that Jesus was teaching his Church how to observe the Sabbath. Presumably, Dr. Kline must say that Jesus was not teaching his future Church how to observe the Sabbath. He was only discussing how the Sabbath should be observed in the theocracy. Dr. Kline must draw this conclusion because Jesus appeals to the Decalogue. And on Dr. Kline's view, the Sabbath stipulated in the Decalogue only applies to the theocracy. So (on Dr. Kline's view) who was Jesus addressing? Apparently, only people living in a theocratic order. Jesus was simply addressing people who lived during his own lifetime, for their Sabbath practice prior to his resurrection. Dr. Kline doesn't say this (nor does he discuss these texts), but this would seem to be the necessary conclusion of his system. Yet this is not the picture we get from Luke's gospel. Instead when Luke presents Jesus' teaching, Jesus is teaching things that his future Church is supposed to follow. And in some instances Luke shows us the Church following these very teachings in the book of Acts. Therefore, I would suggest that when Jesus appeals to the Decalogue for the Sabbath practice of his Church, he is operating under the assumption that the Sabbath commandment in the Decalogue is not restricted to the theocracy.
As we have seen above, Dr. Kline at best can say (on his
assumptions) that Jesus was teaching people during his own lifetime how to keep the
Sabbath. Therefore Dr. Kline cannot support his Sabbath views by adopting
a popular interpretation of Jesus' teaching on the Sabbath. This
interpretation claims that Jesus taught something new about the Sabbath in the new
covenant (in Luke 6:9 and 14:3) that snatches from it the "rest" character of
the Sabbath found in the Old Covenant. But Dr. Kline cannot adopt this
interpretation to support his Sabbath view. For this popular interpretation (for all
An approach similar to the previous one is to say that Christ appeals to what is lawful only to undercut it. This is followed by the assumption that he did this not only for himself, but also for his followers. If so, one must explain why Luke implicitly commends the women who "on the Sabbath rested according to the commandment" (Luke 23:56). They obviously didn't get Jesus' point if Jesus meant to cancel rest on the Sabbath day. For whatever Jesus meant to teach about the Sabbath, he intended his disciples to follow during his own lifetime. Jesus was not simply giving instructions to be followed after his resurrection. If Jesus meant to abolish rest on the Sabbath, he expected the women (as his disciples) to follow his teaching from that point on. If this is the case, these women failed to follow Jesus when they rested on the Sabbath. How then can Luke implicitly commend them?
Clearly Luke's commendation of the women reveals that Jesus' teaching on the Sabbath (whatever new revelation it involved) did not undercut resting on the Sabbath. Instead, Jesus' questions about what is lawful on the Sabbath show that his positive teaching about the Sabbath was organically related to the Decalogue. Thus, the Church is to live by the Decalogue. This is the "third use of the law" common to confessional Reformed theology. This connection between the Decalogue and the Church's practice is substantiated in Luke/Acts. For Jesus' own positive teaching about the Church's Sabbath practice in Luke is picked up in the book of Acts when it refers to the church meeting on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). If someone denies this connection between Luke and Acts, we might askwhat does Jesus' positive Sabbath teaching refer to? There seems to be no other literary reference to it in Luke/Acts than the church meeting on the first day of the week.
I have suggested that Dr. Kline's view implies that Jesus was only
addressing issues about the Sabbath relevant to the theocracy. That is
The above considerations prove either that: (1) Jesus believed he lived in a theocracy and his statements about the Sabbath were only applicable to his own lifetime (which we think is absurd); or (2) Jesus believed that the Sabbath commandment in the Decalogue was applicable beyond the theocracy. The latter option is the only feasible one. And while there are several approaches to this second option, one stands out above the others. Jesus taught that the Sabbath commandment in the Decalogue was relevant to his future Church. While he gave further revelation respecting it, that revelation did not undermine the "rest" character of the Sabbath as it is grounded in the creation ordinance, further (and organically) unfolded in the Decalogue, and confirmed in our Lord's Sabbath teaching.
Sabbath as Creation Ordinance. In the book under review, it appears that Dr. Kline no longer maintains that the Sabbath is a creation ordinance for all time. Certainly Dr. Kline still believes that the Sabbath was instituted in Genesis 2:3. But does it have abiding significance? Dr. Kline has avoided this issue explicitly. He continually qualifies his refutation of the Sabbath as an abiding creation ordinance with his refutation of the theocratic character of Sabbatizing. Have the two become integrally related for him?
Some quotes make this plausible: "
the Christian calendar is of a
different kind than that exhibited by the sabbatical seventh day. Unlike the
latter, whose observance took the form of a symbolic imitation of a divine
paradigmatic event (viz. the Creator's seventh day cessation of work), the
Christian practice of the first day does not involve such re-enactment" (194).
"Further, since the six days of divine work in the creation paradigm (cf. Exod 20:11)
were holy kingdom-establishing activity, so too
must be the six days of work in the
Thus it seems that the very nature of the Sabbath as a creation ordinance cannot be practiced outside of a theocratic setting. This conclusion fits with his approach to Hebrews 4:9. "Continuing the typological Sabbath permanently into the New Covenant age contravenes the teaching of the Book of Hebrews that Jesus has secured the antitypical Sabbath estate (sabbatismos, Heb. 4:9) that still remained to be attained after Joshua brought Israel into the typical Sabbath rest in Canaan (Heb. 4:8)" (195). Does this imply that "remains" in Hebrews 4:9 refers exclusively to its past fulfillment in Christ's resurrection? In this way, Kline would be undercutting the broader eschatological paradigm of "Sabbath" which still looks to the future (á là Heb. 4:11). This broader eschatological pattern (in which "Sabbath" still has a future orientation) has significance for the weekly Sabbath even if Hebrews is not specifically singling out the weekly Sabbath. For it shows that the Sabbath pattern of work/rest that God established at the beginning still has significance for cosmic history even after the theocracy has been abolished. This sequence is still a pattern for God's people and can therefore still be a pattern for our weekly work/rest.
Finally, we note that Jesus appealed to the creation ordinance in Mark 2:27"The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." Since the Sabbath was instituted in Genesis 2:3, Jesus is looking back to this institution. On Dr. Kline's view, Jesus is appealing to a unique theocratic situation. Thus Jesus can only do this because he is observing the Sabbath in the land of Canaan just as he observed the sacrificial system. Jesus cannot be teaching how the Sabbath is to be observed in the kingdom of God. For the kingdom is not theocratic.
However, it is more likely that Jesus is setting forth his relation to
the Sabbath and its practice in the kingdom. This is enforced by the connection
of Mark 2:27 with the following story in which he asks, "Is it lawful on the
Sabbath to do good or to do harm?" (Mark 3:4). The similarity between this
and Luke's positive portrayal of the Sabbath ("Is it lawful?" Luke 6:9 and
Therefore, the connection of the Sabbath in Israel to the creation ordinance, the Decalogue, the covenant people, and the theocracy, does not prove Dr. Kline's view of the Sabbath. At least in the respects suggested above, the first three of these elements can be distinguished from the specific theocratic form in which they may have been embodied in the theocracy. Therefore the Sabbath as a creation ordinance, displayed in the fourth commandment, still binds the Church today, as we are heirs of the fullness of the organic unfolding of that revelation in Christ. We rest in him as we Sabbatize, looking forward to the future eschatological rest, anticipating it even now in him. And what a blessed rest it is!
Dr. Kline wants to make Christ central. And his biblical-theological approach (when separated from its many unorthodox accoutrements) tends more in that direction than his usual opponents (Theonomic Reconstructionists). However, numerous things detract from the centrality of Christ.
First, he has detracted from the Son's unique relationship to the Father (i.e., Dr. Kline's view of the Fatherhood of the Spirit). Second, Dr. Kline has de-emphasized the vital elements of the covenant relationship between God and his people (so perspicuous in Geerhardus Vos) in the interest of defending the (legitimate) forensic elements of the covenant. By arguing against his view of merit, I have implied that some of the ways he views the forensic elements of certain covenants are illegitimate. This may explain his emphasis on the imagery of the text to the neglect of touching his readers with their vital union with Christ.
Fourth, Dr. Kline has a different view of the relationship of God and man (per se), especially in the area of merit. This indirectly affects his understanding of the relationship between the God-man and mankind. It also detracts from the necessity of Christ being God to merit our salvation (in his active obedience).
Finally, in his implicit view of Christ's merit, Dr. Kline has rightly critiqued Daniel Fuller, saying in effect, `If grace is everywhere, then grace is nowhere,' since grace is based on merit, the merit of Christ.27 The same critique might be lodged against Dr. Kline with a different twist, `If merit is everywhere, then merit is nowhere,' because the term looses its specificity when applied indiscriminately to various states of man. Dr. Kline's claim that merit is everywhere and his failure to distinguish that merit from the merit of Christ (with the exception that only Christ actually merited eternal life) is a distraction from the centrality of Christ. It muddies his biblical-theological attempt to exalt the risen Christ as the Lord of Har Magedon.
Hence how greatly are those ministers to blame who in a great measure neglect Christ in their preaching, who insist on morality only, and that in such a manner as to find but little occasion to mention the name of Christ, the Redeemer, and his glorious work of redemption.
"To the Emperor Titus Aelius Hadrianus Antoninus Pius Augustus Caesar, and to Verissimus his son": thus begins the First Apology of Justin Martyr. The Roman Emperor to whom the work is addressed, Antoninus Pius, ruled the imperium from 138 to 161 A.D. His rule is part of the Antonine era which spanned 96-192 A.D. and included the reigns of the following Caesars: Nerva (96-98 A.D.); Trajan (98-117 A.D.); Hadrian (117-138 A.D.); Antoninus Pius (138-161 A.D.); Marcus Aurelius (161-180 A.D.); Commodus (180-192 A.D.). Hadrian ("Hadrianus" in Justin's address above) had adopted Antoninus five months before his death because his chosen heir died prematurely. "His son", Verissimus, is Marcus Aurelius, adopted in 138 A.D. as `son' of the emperor. This formidable triumvirate (Hadrian, Antoninus, Aurelius) comprise the rulers of the world during the heart of the second century of the Christian era.
Edward Gibbon (The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Em-pire) esteemed the reigns of Hadrian and Antoninus Pius as the Golden Age of
But then, why Justin's Apology? Why the need to present a defense (Greek, apologia) of the Christian faith to the emperor? Justin explains: "on behalf of men of every nation who are unjustly hated and reviled" (First Apology 1; Library of Christian Classics [LCC] 1:242). Justin is referring to Christians who were being persecuted in Antoninus's Golden Age. Or were they? Many modern historians are dubious about Justin's alarmist language. According to our modern scholars (echoing Gibbon, et al), Antoninus's reign was "dull", "quiet", "uneventful"no blood baths of executed senators, no civil wars, no iron-fisted social repressionnone of these are recorded during Antoninus's reign. Justin's portrait of persecuted Christians is overblown, his Apology overexcited (so our modern `experts').
Eusebius of Caesarea, whose Ecclesiastical History is the primary source for events in the patristic era, agrees with Justin. He even lists the martyrdom of Telesphorus, Bishop of Rome, as falling at the beginning of Antoninus's reign (138 A.D.). Have Eusebius and Justin manufactured stories of persecution and martyrdom in order to gain attention and toleration for a Christian minority? Strange Christianity that! i.e., deceive in order to survive. It is more likely that the Pollyanna view of Antoninus's reign is manufactured. But more on this below.
Justin is another "Martyr" (Tertullian calls him "The Martyr"), though
his destiny was involuntarily thrust upon him. He was not obsessed with
the martyr's crown as was Ignatius of Antioch (110 A.D.). Justin was born
Some time during the reign of Hadrian, shortly before Antoninus Pius was elevated to the imperial seat, Justin began an intellectual odyssey in search of truth. From his pagan background, he was accustomed to associating truth with the intellect and so his journey took him to the schools of the philosophers. It is this pursuit of philosophical truth which has misled scholars in identifying Justin's conversion as the embrace of "true philosophy". In other words, faith in Christ was a philosophical arrival. Nothing could have been further from the heart (and mind) of Justin. In Christ, Justin found the One who surpassed all pagan philosophies, replaced his "uncircumcised" past and displaced even his Samaritan context. To paraphrase the apostle Paul, united to Christ Jesus, Justin put aside all the "beggarly elements" of his unbelieving past.
Justin details his story of coming to Christ as follows. His search for
truth first took him to Stoicism, the philosophy of fatalistic resignation. Justin
arrived eager to discuss God with the teacher, but the latter refused to
discuss theology until Justin had first completed the entire Stoic curriculum.
Justin moved on to the school of the Peripatetics, so-called because they
walked about when discussing philosophical matters. But the teacher wanted
paid first before admitting Justin to the ambulatory circle. Justin turned his back
on this venal greed as unworthy of genuine philosophy. Next he sought out
the Pythagoreans who based all knowledge on the primacy of
number/mathematics. But they demanded that Justin first study geometry, astronomy and
From Asia Minor, Justin made his way to Rome where he is reputed
to have established a (catechetical?) school. Tatian, of
Diatessaron fame (the first attempt at a "harmony" of the four gospels), is alleged to have been one
of his students. Justin managed to attract the ire of a Cynic teacher named
Crescens who vigorously opposed his Christianity. Eusebius maintains that
Crescens helped secure the death of Justin shortly after the accession of Marcus
Aurelius (161 A.D.). Justin himself states, "I too therefore expect to be plotted
against and fixed to the stake by some of those I have named, or perhaps by
Crescens, that lover of bravado and boasting"
(Second Apology 3; ANF 1:189). Crescens
All sources agree that Justin was executed while Junius Rusticus was Prefect of Rome (162-168 A.D.). Beheaded along with six other Christians, Justin testified to his faith in "the maker and fashioner of the whole creation, visible and invisible; and the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God . . . the herald of salvation" (ANF 1:305). We learn from this trial narrative that Justin had left Rome after his first visit/residence, for he says, "I am now living in Rome for the second time." He even gives his address: "above one Martinus, at the Timiotinian Bath." When asked to abjure Christ and sacrifice to the Roman gods, Justin responded: "We can be saved on account of our Lord Jesus Christ even when we have been punished, because this shall become to us salvation and confidence at the more fearful and universal judgment seat of our Lord and Savior. Do what you will, for we are Christians, and do not sacrifice to idols" (ANF 1:306).
Eusebius is aware of at least eight works from the pen of Justinonly three survive: The First Apology; The Second Apology; The Dialogue with Trypho (ca. 155-160). The apologies may have been written shortly after 150 A.D. because Justin mentions "that Christ was born a hundred and fifty years ago under Quirinius" (First Apology 46; LCC 1:271). Trypho was a Jewish teacher with whom Justin carried on a conversation about the relationship between the Old and New Testaments.
Liberal church historian, Adolf von Harnack, maintained that Christianity was applicationthe application of Hellenistic or Greek philosophy to Jewish-Christian soil. In other words, Christianity is but a more advanced, developed
But how does Harnack's reconstruction comport with Justin's own testimony? Does Justin present his conversion to Christianity as a perfecting of the philosophical odyssey, i.e., Christianity the supreme Graeco-Roman philosophy? Justin writes that in turning from his pursuit of philosophy, he was "possessed" by a love of the Old Testament prophets, the "words of the Savior" and "those men who are friends of Christ." This does not read like a perfecting of philosophy; rather it reads like a full and complete break with pagan philosophy for the Word of God in the prophets, gospels and epistles. This break is confirmed in the Dialogue with Trypho. Justin appeals throughout to the Scriptures; he does not appeal to Hellenistic philosophy. The love of Christ as Savior, as the love of the Word of God, has jettisoned Justin's quest for true (pagan) philosophy. Divine revelation displaces and replaces human wisdoma virtual Pauline echo! The displacement and replacement motif also echoes the redemptive-historical turning point in the ages, i.e., the "fullness of time" (Gal. 4:4) which has brought fulfillment to the promises of the Law and the Prophets in the Gospel of Christ Jesus our Savior. In sum, from the time of his conversion, Justin's method is the antithesis of Christianity and paganism. Viewed in this light, it is not a philosophical synthesis which dominates Justin (Harnack and most textbooks to the contrary), it is the antithetical revelation of God in Christ.
In defending his Christian faith and the Christian faith of his brothers
and sisters in Christ, Justin specifically rebuts the charge of atheism. Disregard
for the traditional pagan gods was regarded by the Romans as "atheism";
hence Christians were deemed "godless". As to the charge of rejecting gods who
are no gods, Justin pleads guilty. But with reference to the one true God, his
Son and his Spirit, Justin confesses that he worships and adores these
(First Apology 6; LCC 1:245). Justin also defends his fellow Christians against the
Recently, a Norwegian scholar named Oskar Skarsaune2, has examined Justin's works so as to explore the Martyr's mind and heart in interpreting Scripture. Shifting the focus away from philosophy (as Justin himself does) to exegesis, Skarsaune reviews Justin's approach to the Bible; more specifically, he considers the relationship between the Old and New Testament in Justin's thought. In short, Justin is a promise-fulfillment biblical theologian. That is, he considers all matters in the Scriptures Christocentricallyespecially as he uses the "proof from prophecy" to show that Jesus of Nazareth is the promised Messiah of the Jewish Scriptures. From Genesis to Revelation, Christological exegesis dominates Justin's interpretation of the Bible. While identifying typological or figurative anticipations of Christ in the former testament, Justin nonetheless argues for a real participation by the Old Testament believers in the grace of God in Christ. Abraham is united to God through Christ by grace; Moses is united to God through Christ by grace; David is united to God through Christ by graceeven as we are united to God through Christ by grace. Salvation in every era of redemptive history has been through effectual union with Christ by grace.
But what difference exists between the former (Old Testament) revelation and the latter (New Testament) revelation? Justin notices two distinctions in particular. First, the ceremonial and impermanent elements in the law are left behind to the believer, while the moral and permanent elements in the law (i.e., the Ten Commandments) remain. "For if there was no need of circumcision before Abraham . . . of feasts and sacrifices, before Moses; no more need is
The second difference is found in the eschatological Israel, i.e., as Paul expresses it, the "Israel of God" (Gal. 6:16). Justin understands the New Testament people of God to be the new Israel. The church as a Jewish-Gentile body replaces and displaces the former (Old Testament) Israel. Justin even forcefully suggests that Gentiles have been substituted for Jews under the new covenant: "we find it also predicted that certain persons should be sent by him into every nation to publish these things, and that rather among the Gentiles [than among the Jews] men should believe on him" (First Apology 31; ANF 1:173). The church displaces the synagogue and temple; the one body of Christ replaces the nation of Israel.
Justin was a Chiliast. From the Greek word chilioi (Rev. 20:2-7), a chiliast is one who believes in the millennial reign of Christ upon the earth for a thousand years. In other words, Justin was a premillennialist, although an historical premillennialist in distinction from a dispensational premillennialist. "I and others, who are right-minded Christians on all points, are assured that there will be a resurrection of the dead, and a thousand years in Jerusalem" (Dialogue with Trypho 80; ANF 1:239). All of which goes to prove that Justin was not right about everything.
In conclusion, I return to Antoninus as promised above. Justin
attests that one factor inducing him to consider Christianity as the truth of God
was the way in which Christians died when persecuted. "For I myself, too, when
I was delighting in the doctrines of Plato, and heard the Christians
slandered, and saw them fearless of death . . . perceived that it was impossible that
But what of Gibbon's halcyon days of the Roman empire under Hadrian and Antoninus? Most historians follow Gibbon in believing there is little or no evidence of hostility to the church in the years 138-161 A.D. And so Justin's testimony is dismissed. But the idyllic portrait of Antoninus's reign is misleading. There is a wall in Scotland, north of Hadrian's famous barrier, which was erected by Antoninus from the Firth of Forth to the Firth of Clyde (ca. 37 miles) in order to keep the barbarians out of Roman Britain. It failed. And there are hints of bloody disturbances elsewhere during Pius's reign, i.e., revolts in Mauretania (Morocco), Germany, Dacia (Romania), Judea and Egypt. There are even suggestions of turmoil in Rome itself.
And there is the rescript of Antoninus preserved in Eusebius's Church History (4.13) documenting imperial enmity against Christianity. Though regarded by most scholars as a Christian forgery, the rescript has the air of authenticity when placed alongside undoubted declarations of Roman suppression of "atheists" (i.e., Christians). Hence we may rightfully be more suspicious of a propaganda campaign to cover up Antoninus's ?infrequent hostility to Christianity, than dubious about the reports in Christian sources of persecution against the church during his reign.
Whatever the truth in this instance, Justin had discovered "the way, the truth and the life." Not even an imperial rescript (if genuine) could deter him from confessing his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christeven if it meant the martyr's crown. "Our Jesus Christ, who was crucified and died, rose again and, ascending into heaven, began to reign . . . There is joy for those who look forward to the incorruption which he has promised" (First Apology 42; LCC 1:269).
Let human merits, which perished through Adam, here keep silence, and let God's grace reign through Jesus Christ.
Not another book on the Sermon on the Mount (hereafter SM)! Nonot another ordinary, predictable, mundane, neo-Puritan, personal or political-agenda based book on the SM. This is a book that takes the text of Matthew 5-7 seriously; that takes Christ in the text seriously; that takes Matthew himself seriously as a narrative theologian; that takes life in the kingdom of heaven seriously.2 It also, unfortunately, takes too seriously higher critical theories of the origin of the SM and the context of Second Temple Judaism (50 or 100 years from now, these theories will be regarded as the junk of the 20th and 21st centuries). But along with Herman Ridderbos's section on the SM in his brilliant Matthew's Witness to Jesus Christ (1958) 25-363 and his chapter "The Significance of the Sermon on the Mount," in When the Time Had Fully Come (1957) 26-43, Talbert's book will be a great help to those who pay attention to the text, in its context, with Christ at the center (as well as the acme or the apex) of the text and life in heaven's kingdom as the existential (experimental/experiential) outcome.
2 At least, it does so at the fundamental level. The application of the fundamentals fades after Talbert's treatment of the Beatitudes.
3 Cf. his full-length commentary, Matthew (1987) 81-157.
On pages 3-4, Talbert reflects upon the relationship of Matthew to ancient Judaism. In this regard, he indicates that Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism were not the norm until the 2nd century (ca. 135 A.D.).4 If this sounds like a discarded theory of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it is indeed its ghost. F.C. Baur and Adolf von Harnack are revived in what Talbert is suggesting. But we will leave Baur and von Harnack decently interred, consign this section of Talbert to their unlamented and passé biers and move on to something more credible in these pages.
We skip over the pages in which Talbert rehearses the faddish pet theories of our current erareligion is a dynamic of spiritual diversities. Hence we lay our contemporary grid over 1st and 2nd century Christianity and Judaism to find Christianities many and Judaisms many. Diversity of religion and diversity within religions wasVoila!a Jewish and Christian thing 1900/2000 years ago. Neat!! All of which only goes to prove that modern philosophical approaches to culture inevitably become the presupposition for reading 1st and 2nd century approaches to cultureespecially religious culture. This is just more of the same old sophomoric nonsense of making ancients in our own
The useful (as opposed to throw-away) portion of this book debuts on page 10 ("The Context of the Sermon"). Here we discover penetrating work with the structure of the text (the opening of Matthew's gospel to be specific, chapters 1-4), not theories about the sources of the text. But having begun well in this regard, Talbert is hindered by pagan rhetoricians and authors (12f.). Our hopes in exploring Matthew's text and Jesus' words are dashed (actually, endure a bit of a hiatus) once more with irrelevant remarks from Diogenes Laertius, Epictetus, Philostratus, etc. Talbert understands ancient Greco-Roman literatureespecially rhetoricand he uses this material to supply background and insight to the SM. The only problem, to quote Tertullian, is: What has Jerusalem to do with Athens?
Talbert is back on track with page 14. He reminds us to read the SM in sequence with the rest of Matthew's gospel (i.e., from 1:1 to 5:2). What a novel idea! Especially in evangelical and Reformed circles where passages from the SM are routinely used as pretexts for the pastoral hobby horse of the hour; more often, they are twisted to suit the pastoral hobby horse of the hour. We get sermons on pacifism, social do-goodism, sex, abortion (murder), sex, the five easy steps to prayer (from the Lord's Prayer), sex and other assorted banalities, trivialities and irrelevancies which are quickly forgotten. Of course, the congregation has vacated the irrelevancies five minutes from the church door. In pages 10-11, 14f., Talbert is actually leaving us with truly memorable markers found within the text; markers which will not be forgotten, but remembered and cherished the next time one reads (and practices) the drama inherent in the text.
Chapter 3 provides a review of structural suggestions for the Sermon. Talbert reviews the proposals of the heavy hitters in this matter: Dale Allison, George Kennedy, Ulrich Luz, Don Hagner, Jack Dean Kingsbury, Hans Dieter Betz, Michael Goulder, Robert Guelich, Daniel Patte, even Augustine. He then notes: "in spite of the diversity of opinion, about certain things there is a remarkable agreement, if not unanimity" (25). Providing his own particular nuances on this "unanimity," Talbert submits his own structural outline of the sermon (25-26; compare the précis, 147-48).
Chapter 4 broadens the matter of Talbert's subtitle: "Character Formation and Decision Making." It is clear to everyone that ethics is an aspect of the SM. The history of the imbalance in the discussion of this matter would require a book of its own. Suffice it to say, scholars and preachers being sinful creatures, imbalanced treatments of the Sermon's ethics to the exclusion of its eschatology are matched by imbalanced treatments of its eschatology to the neglect of its ethics.
Talbert reads the Sermon primarily as an ethical and character forming homily (29). At the same time, he is not reductionist in doing so ("not reductionist in the sense of reducing it to its ethics [the horizontal dimension]," 31). Instead, Talbert scopes out the Biblical paradigm of "both vertical and horizon-
In chapter 5 ("Is Matthew a Legalist?"), we revisit the age-old problem of grace and works. While Talbert does not use the terms, we are, in fact, using Matthew as a foil for the Augustinian-Pelagian debate. Is a sinner capable of obeying God's law, thereby placing himself in the position of deserving or meriting a reward (Pelagius); or is a sinner wholly incapable of obeying the law of God, thereby finding himself in the position of requiring divine and supernatural grace for beatitude? As classically formulated in the 5th century, this debate is as old as non-Biblical religion and its ethics versus Biblical religion and its ethics; or, to put it yet another way, the age-old conflict between Christian theism and paganism. Talbert affirms the priority of the "divine initiative" (33) in this matter, but he muddies the waters by appealing to E.P. Sanders in support. Sanders is a revisionist scholar who has coined the phrase "covenantal nomism" to describe the Judaism of the 1st century. In other words, Sanders has remade Pharisaic Jews of the 1st century into Protestants of the 16th century (i.e., in the covenant by grace; show the covenant by the works of the law [Greek, nomos]). If Sanders (and Talbert) are correct, one wonders what Jesus and Paul found so objectionable in the Judaism with which they were familiar by up-bringing and personal experience?
In the process of sorting all this out, Talbert introduces the terms
"indicative and imperative" (34)terms now well known to anyone familiar with
The next 100 pages (47-146) deal with each of the sections of the SM in detail. Following his outline (25-26), Talbert takes us through each of the six units of the Sermon. It is this feature which makes the book worth the price. His outlines of structure and delimited units/subunits are superb and stimulating. Pastors and students of the SM will appreciate this break-down of preaching/teaching units. The detailed discussion is inaugurated with a return to the issue of "eschatological blessings" (26). Here is underscored the antithesis between the view that regards the ethics of the Sermon as a works requirement for entrance into the kingdom of heaven and the view that displays the eschatological aspect of the kingdom as a grace initiativei.e., one which joins the soul of the believer and his character/behavior to the arena of the
7 Cf. the full application of this pattern in the sermon by this reviewer, footnote 5 above.
Talbert proceeds to describe the structure and meaning of the Beatitudes (49-54). We learn that the kingdom of heaven is a passive dynamic (future hope) with an active component (present reign of God in Christ). The predicates of the Beatitudes are thus uniformly rooted in redemptive history. Talbert provides citations of Old Testament passages to illuminate Christ's kingdom affirmations of: "the poor in spirit" (Mt. 5:3), "the meek" (5:5), "the merciful" (5:7), etc. Again, none of this language is socio-politico-economic. It is theological, spiritual, eschatological.
With respect to the antithesis in Mt. 5:17-20, Talbert rejects the
suggestion that Jesus is annulling the law and the prophets (a straight forward
reading of the words in the text, against all antinomians and other dismissers of
the "third use of the law", i.e., the law as a rule of present life in the kingdom for
the believer). Rather, accomplishment of the former revelation by fulfillment
is emphasized. Talbert could have buttressed his case here with the drama
of eschatological accomplishment which breaks in with the kingdom Jesus
brings. This provides a more dynamic element to the `fulfillment' than a
static absolutization of the former (OT) truths. Those truths are revealed anew in
the light of the eschatological kingdom of God which Christ both proclaims
(SM, parables, etc.) and displays (miracles, prophetic actions, passion and
resurrection, etc.). This means that the enduring and permanent elements of the
law and the prophets are aspects of the reality of God's character and his
heavenly kingdom. They can no more `pass away' than he or his heavenly kingdom
can `pass away'. It is this dynamic which would have sharpened Talbert's
Locking horns with Hans Dieter Betz, who de-Christologizes and de-soteriologizes the Sermon (66-68), Talbert defends a Christological reading of the Sermon which joins it to the soteriological purpose of the gospel. This reviewer would venture even further than Talbert. In the declaration "but I say unto you", Jesus places himself alongside God himselfan ontological declaration arising from an eternal Father Son relationship. Surely, it is because of that divine and supernatural identity that he saves to the uttermost those graciously gathered into his heavenly kingdom.
Matthew 5:21-48 has been labeled "the antitheses" because it contains contrastive remarks of Jesus about the Jewish traditions heaped upon the law. Here are the famous antitheses on murder (5:21-22) and adultery (5:27-28). Talbert maintains that Jesus is not annulling the law of God; rather he is affirming "the right interpretation of it" (69). Shrewdly, Talbert notes the combination of apodictic and casuistic elements in these antitheses (69-70). But then Talbert reduces Jesus' teaching to the horizontal aspect of human relationships. Admitting that part of the focus in Jesus' statements is on human relationships, Talbert ironically seems to forget his own hermeneutical key with respect to the SM. If the kingdom of heaven or the eschatological vector is the wonderfully indicative element of God's gracious initiative breaking in upon humans, then is not Jesus describing what kingdom-of-heaven oriented behavior in human relationships entails? Is it possible for a person living out of the consciousness of being part of the kingdom of heaven to murder another human being? Surely that would be contrary to the ethos of heaven's kingdom where there is no murder, let alone hatred of heart or despite of person. In the language of the sports world, Talbert fails to "follow through" with his own profound premises.
Throughout the remainder of this book, as Talbert struggles with
the details of the individual units of the SM, he inclines to the horizontal
and neglects the integration of the vertical (eschatological) and the temporal
Yet if we maintain the balance of integrating the two vectors of the SM, Talbert will help us do even better than he does with the doctrine of our Lord's wonderful remarks. And that is what our Savior's original disciples heard, believed, taught and livedas the gospel of Matthew makes all too clear. What Jesus is and says for Matthew is what he is and says to us, the church. That objective kingdom-eschatological drama remainsthough subjective reductionists seek to horizontalize, de-Christologize, de-eschatologize and/or de-supernaturalize the SM.
I stood there much like the stalks and
grain, my feet planted, my hands on
the tin holding it full of the
evidence of this year's crop.
To your vision, I'm sculptured;
my head turned away, I look
over my left shoulder, seized
by whatever has caught me
by surprise. My eyes, which you
can't see, focus on the vast
heavens, grays and whites and storm-
markers revolving, rushing
for me and our world. You're drawn
in behind my hidden eyes and
we brace ourselves for what comes
from beyond the backing, the wall,
the canvas. Something black, a huge
sphere faster than any line-storm
and no further distant than two
rows of corn, a meteor
to which my mind surrenders,
while you're convulsed in horror.
Still, you stay, expecting the
ball to strike and crush us there.
But the wind rushes on us,
the black gust that would break us;
hot blasts explode toward my
face, the furnace singes then
burns my field but brushes by
moving us past Armageddon
to our incomprehensible
prize. Even now I can embrace
the nuclear night.
They are born of God (Jn. 1:13). Whereby is it brought to pass that they should be born of God, who were first born of men? Whereby is it brought to pass, whereby? "And the Word was made Flesh, that it might dwell among us" (Jn 1:14). Wondrous exchange; He made Flesh, they spirit. What is this? What condescension is here, my brethren! . . . for your sakes the Word was made Flesh; for your sakes He who was the Son of God, was made the Son of man: that ye who were the sons of men, might be made the sons of God. What was He, what was He made? What were ye, what were ye made? He was the Son of God. What was He made? The Son of man. Ye were the sons of men. What were ye made? The sons of God. He shared with us our evil things, to give us his good things. But even in that He was made the Son of man, He is different much from us. . . . He came to us, but from Himself departed not far; yea from Himself as God He departed never; but added what He was to our nature. For he came to that which He was not, He did not lose what He was. He was made the Son of man; but did not cease to be the Son of God.