KERUX: A JOURNAL
Editor: James T. Dennison, Jr.
Assistant Editors: Richard A. Riesen and David L. Roth
1. THE ESCHATOLOGY OF HEBREWS 2:1- 4: A CRITICAL APPRAISAL OF THE THEONOMIC
2. PROVING AND PROVISION AT MARAH..................................................................................................................................................24
3. THE VIEW FROM THE
5. BOOK REVIEWS...........................................................................................................................................................................................56
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Vol. 15, No. 1
The Eschatology of Hebrews 2:1-4:
A Critical Appraisal of the
Lane G. Tipton
The book of Hebrews functions as a parenesis to a group of Jewish Christians tempted to revert to the ceremonial externalism of the Old Covenant. Building upon prior argumentation designed to vindicate the superiority of Christ over angels (1:5-14),2 the pericope under investigation (2:1-4) warns of
1 The central tenet of theonomy is simple: civil magistrates in all ages and places prior to the consummation are morally obligated to enforce both the positive precepts and penal sanctions of Old Testament civil law found in the Pentateuch. For a good summary of the theonomic position, see Greg Bahnsen's By This Standard (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1984), 341-350. For a more extended defense of the position, see Bahnsen's Theonomy in Christian Ethics (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R, 1977); "M. G. Kline on Theonomic Politics: An Evaluation of His Reply," Journal of Christian Reconstruction 5 (1979): 195-221; and No Other Standard (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1991). Other theonomic literature appears in Rousas John Rushdoony's The Institutes of Biblical Law (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R, 1973), and Gary North's Tools of Dominion: The Case Laws of Exodus (Tyler, Texas: Institute of Christian Economics: 1990). Helpful critiques of the theonomic position can be found in M. G. Kline's incisive and probing analysis, "Comments on an Old-New Error," WTJ 41 (1978): 172-80, along with the helpful articles in Theonomy: A Reformed Critique (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1988).
2 More specifically, the argument shows that the Son's role as Mediator of the New Covenant both fulfills and surpasses the angels' role as mediators of the Old Covenant. Thus, the argument moves from a typological form of covenant administration in the Old
the consequences which follow if any ignore such a great salvation announced and attested by the ascended Christ (and his apostles).
The first warning appears in the Old Covenant period, which was mediated through angels, and was accompanied by temporal (i.e., typological)3 sanctions (v. 2). The second warning appears in the New Covenant period, which is mediated through Christ, and was accompanied by signs and wonders, various miracles, and the distribution of the eschatological Spirit (vv. 2-3). Both warnings have an eschatological focus, that is, both warn of eternal judgment against acts of covenantal apostasy. The warning of the Old Covenant occurs as "every disobedience and transgression" receives an immediate recompense; but the warning of the New Covenant threatens a future consequence which obtains if a person rejects such a "great salvation."
In other words, eschatological or final judgment—the climax of covenant history—provides the ultimate focus in both the Old and New Covenant warnings. The real puzzle in the pericope appears in vv. 2-3 and requires careful explanation. Precisely what is involved in the marked shift from the Old Covenant sanctions, which punished every disobedience and made punishment a present reality to the apostate members of the Old Covenant community (v. 2), to the announcement of such a "great salvation," which places punishment in the future for the hearers who reject the message (v. 3)? This essay will attempt to answer that central question.
For pedagogical purposes, we will examine the warnings from three distinct, yet interconnected, points of reference: (1) the Old Covenant; (2) the New Covenant; and (3) the Consummation. To be precise, consummate judgment is the focus in each covenantal order; nevertheless, a three-fold division will help us see the different way in which the Old and New Covenant penalties relate to the consummate judgment against covenant apostasy.
Covenant, which was meditated by angels, to an eschatological form of covenant administration in the New Covenant, which is mediated by the Son. The movement from a typological to an eschatological kingdom (i.e., the movement from typology to semi-realized eschatology) is the fundamental theological perspective articulated in the book of Hebrews.
3 By typological, I mean simply a temporal feature which points beyond itself to an eternal reality.
After developing the argument from the text of Hebrews 2:1-4, we will then examine the problems the text poses for the theonomic thesis. In particular, we will examine the problems in Greg Bahnsen's exegesis of Hebrews 2:1-4, and explore the bearing of the semi-realized eschatology of the passage on the theonomic thesis as a whole.
The Warning From the Old Covenant (v. 2)
We can summarize the first warning along three interrelated lines of thought. The warning derives from the Old Covenant period, which was mediated through angels, and accompanied by temporal (i.e., typological) sanctions. For purposes of clarity, let us take each of the three points in turn, beginning with the Old Covenant period as the redemptive historical context for the first warning.
We can see the need to begin this section of argumentation (Heb. 2:1-4) by an appeal to the Old Covenant for at least two reasons. First of all, the heart of the problem which the hearers face consists in a temptation to revert to Old Covenant externalism, instead of continuing in the New Covenant substance which has arrived in the Son. Given this context, an appeal to the Old Covenant period would find special receptivity in the recipients of the epistle. Second, the argument up to Hebrews 2 consists in a forceful presentation which takes for granted the authority of the Old Covenant revelation, but attempts to prove that Christ both fulfills and transcends that revelation. Christ is the eschatological Son who speaks a definitive word which the prophets of old could not speak (Heb. 1:1-2); and he is the ascended Lord who will return to renew the heavens and earth, something no angel or group of angels could conceive of accomplishing (1:5-14).4 Therefore, given the nature of the temptation facing the hearers and the structure of the argument up to the point of chapter 2, it seems quite natural to expect a reference to the Old Covenant.
We see further confirmation that the redemptive historical epoch in view is the Old Covenant, as well as proof for our second point regarding the mediation of angels, by virtue of the reference to o di' angelon laletheis logos (2:2a).
4 See Geerhardus Vos, The Teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R, 1956), 18.
References to Deuteronomy 33:2, Psalm 68:17, Acts 7:38, and Galatians 3:19 confirm the notion that angels played some role in the mediation of the Old Covenant.5 Note also that the divine passive laletheis ensures that God is still the speaker, but di' angelon shows the mediated character of God's speech through the agency of angels.6
In particular, we learn that the message mediated through angels proved bebaios. This term can mean sure, reliable, steadfast, legally binding, or certain. In juridical contexts, the term acquires a decidedly legal sense. William Lane notes the "most striking feature of v. 2 is the accumulation of juridical expressions ('proved legally valid,' 'every infringement and disobedience,' 'received appropriate punishment')."7 Therefore, added to this Old Covenant arrangement mediated by angels is the idea that it is legally valid and binding on those under its authority.
Notice also that the sense in which the word spoken through angels is legally binding finds elucidation in the following clause: "and every violation (parabasis) and disobedience (parakoe) received a just punishment (endikon misthapodosian)" (2b). The first conjunction in the second clause (kai) is used to demonstrate a general-specific relationship between the clause in 2a and the clause in 2b. In other words, the legally binding character of the word spoken through angels finds specific substantiation in the imposition of temporal sanctions.
Therefore, we have shown that the first warning derives from the Old Covenant, which was mediated through angels and accompanied by temporal sanctions. We have spent only a short amount of space developing this stage of the argument because it is preliminary to the main thesis and uncontroversial for most readers. Therefore, let us move on to the next stage of the argument, where we develop the typological character of the temporal sanctions, which foreshadow impending eternal sanctions.
5 William Lane, Hebrews 1-8 WBC (Dallas, Texas: Word, 1991).
6 Phillip Edgcumbe Hughes, Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1977), 74. Grammatically, di' angelon is a genitive of agency.
7 Op. cit., 37.
The Warning from the Consummation (v. 3a)
Let us now examine the second warning which derives from the consummation, finds expression in both the Old and New Covenants, and will be accompanied by inescapable and eternal sanctions. We will begin by an analysis of the specific way in which Old Covenant sanctions typify the eternal sanctions of final judgment.
In 2:3 the writer shows us the redemptive historical function of the judicial penalties in the Old Covenant (Mosaic) period. As the apodosis8 of the conditional begun in v. 2, 2:3a shows us the proper inference to draw from the presence of temporal, judicial penalties in the Old Covenant, i.e., the inescapability of eternal sanctions against apostasy from the covenant. Inherent in the structure of redemptive history is the dynamic of an Old Covenant type designed to communicate something about its counterpart, the eschatological anti-type. We see such a pattern begun in 1:1-2 regarding the Son as the eschatological prophet, whose office both builds upon and transcends its Old Covenant analogue. This pattern informs the general hermeneutic of the entire book of Hebrews,9 and we see the same hermeneutic applied to the judicial sanctions in the Old Covenant.
Becoming more specific, we see that the idea of escape (ekpheuzometha) becomes future as opposed to a present or past reality.10 This is a significant point, because the future tense suggests that the truth communicated by the judicial sanctions has eschatological implications for the recipients. If the sanctions alluded to in v. 2 are operative in the present situation in the same way that they operated in the Old Covenant situation, then the context would require a present (customary, present-extending-from-past, gnomic) use of ekpheugo. The logic of the argument would then run as follows: if every disobedience received a just reward in the Old Covenant, and the sanctions are
8 The apodosis is roughly the second part of an "if, then" statement. Hence, the apodosis corresponds to the "then" segment of the "if, then" statement.
9 This hermeneutical dynamic clearly operates in Hebrews 1:1-2, 8:5, 9:24, and 10:1.
10 ekpheuzometha (cf. v. 3) is a future active indicative, used in a predictive sense.
more rigidly and effectively applicable today, then you have no hope of escape at this present time. However, the author argues the Old Covenant sanctions mentioned in 2:2 serve a typological and pedagogical function regarding a wholly future consequence which obtains if a person rejects the gospel of Christ. That is the force of the future tense of ekpheugo.
Confirming this argument, we see at the end of 2:1 that we must not "drift away"11 into apostasy. In other words, the contrast in view turns on the fact that apostasy in the Old Covenant received immediate retribution in terms of temporal sanctions. But apostasy in the New Covenant receives delayed retribution in terms of eternal sanctions which emerge at the climax of covenant history.12 The very fact that we can drift away from our covenantal commitments assumes that a disanalagous situation obtains between the Old and New Covenants, since in the Old Covenant order every violation (including drifting away) received an immediate temporal sanction which proved inescapable. In fact, if the Old Covenant sanctions are intended to apply in the same way in the New Covenant as in the Old Covenant, drifting away into apostasy would not be possible without incurring a more swift, certain, and immediate punishment than we find in the Old Covenant period. Therefore, the a fortiori force of the argument cannot refer to the present application of temporal sanctions; the text simply will not allow such an interpretation.
We can find an additional line of confirmation of the same point in Hebrews 10:26-29. Continuation in deliberate sin has as its outcome "a certain terrifying expectation (ekdoche) of judgment, and the fury of a fire which will
11 mepote pararyomen is a hortatory subjunctive which is accordingly used for exhortation. The aorist is a constative which views the action as a whole in summary fashion (cf. Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1996), 753.
12 We need to note that we are dealing in Hebrews 2:1-4 with eschatological sanctions in relation to typological sanctions. The hermeneutic which Hebrews 2:1-4 assumes will require in principle that the Old Covenant sanctions cannot apply in the New Covenant in the same way that they did in the Old Covenant. Passages such as 1 Corinthians 5 confirm this hermeneutic and provide further corroboration against the theonomic error of a presumed continuation of the Old Covenant sanctions as normative for common grace magistrates. In fact, 1 Corinthians 5 (see v. 5) understands discipline in the church in non-theocratic categories (i.e., no death penalty) on account of the fact that Jesus will administer ultimate death sanctions (if repentance is lacking) on the last day.
consume (esthiein mellontos) the adversaries" (10:27). What is the redemptive historical precedent which grounds the certainty of this terrifying display of God's justice against his adversaries? Verse 28 provides the answer: "Anyone who set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or more witnesses." In other words, the Old Covenant, Mosaic death sanctions typify and anticipate the eschatological manifestation of God's righteous judgment against his enemies. The eschatological (i.e., climactic and eternal) focus of the New Covenant death sanction appears in the next verse, where the writer asks rhetorically, "How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved (axiothesetai) by the man who has spurned the Son of God, and profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace?"(10:29). Notice the future tense of axiothesetai plays a key role in the a fortiori force of the argument.13 The significance is obvious: if apostasy occurs under the New Covenant, it will merit a future, eschatological sanction which will consume the adversary. Hence, the death sanctions under the Old Covenant anticipate and typify the New Covenant analogue—the eternal anti-type which remains future and coincides with Christ's parousia (cf. Heb. 9:28).
Even more directly, the same thought emerges in Hebrews 12:25-29. A protasis14 which begins in 25b grounds the warning in 25a. The connecting gar introduces the conditional as proof for the warning and reads: "For if those did not escape (ouk exephugon) when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less shall we escape him who warns from heaven?" The warning from heaven points forward to a time when "once again I will shake not only the earth, but the heavens" (12:26). That the "shaking" in view is final and therefore eschatological is obvious from v. 27: "And this expression, 'Yet once more,' denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things." Hence, the sort of judgment which will occur if a person refuses the one who warns from heaven coincides with the shaking of all things created, that is, the consummate judgment. Hence, it is obvious that the
13 Future, passive, indicative from axioo, which means to count worthy or deserve.
14 The protasis (roughly) is the first part of the "if, then" statement. Hence, the protasis corresponds to the "if" side of the "if, then" statement.
Old Covenant warnings prefigure the eschatological warning of the New Covenant; the former is provisional and preparatory, while the latter is final and eschatological.
From these observations it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the consummate judgment against covenant breakers is clearly in view from the vantage point of Old Covenant revelation. Old Covenant death sanctions warned against apostasy by applying provisional, temporal sanctions which anticipate on a typological level the corresponding eternal and climactic sanction coterminous with the consummation, from which the apostate can find no escape.
The Warning from the New Covenant (vv. 3b-4)
The contrast between the warning of the Old and New Covenant is striking indeed. The Old Covenant situation warns against apostasy by virtue of an appeal to typological sanctions, which prefigure eternal judgment. However, the New Covenant announces the same eternal judgment, but in a different way. The New Covenant warns against apostasy by referring to a great salvation telikautes . . . soterias (2:3a). This is clear from the context that the inability to escape stems from a disregarding (amelesantes) of such a great salvation. In other words, the impossibility of escape finds its a fortiori force from the emergence of eschatological salvation on the horizon of redemptive history.15
Notice, then, that we see a radical transition from the Old Covenant focus on typological sanctions to the New Covenant focus on a "great salvation." What is the basis for such a transition? 3b tells us that this salvation "was first announced by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard." We will now explore the nature of the warning from the standpoint of the New Covenant in regard to the certainty and inescapability of the wholly future, eternal sanction which awaits all apostates and covenant breakers. The analysis will lead us directly into the warning threatened in the New Covenant period,
15 Cf. Hebrews 9:12, which makes clear the eternal and therefore eschatological character of the salvation in view.
which is mediated by Christ, and was accompanied by signs and wonders, various miracles, apostolic revelation, and the distribution of the eschatological Spirit.
Returning to the question regarding the transition from the Old Covenant focus on the typological sanctions to the New Covenant focus on a great salvation, we need first to determine the rationale for such a transition. As we noted earlier, the transition begins when the salvation archen labousa laleisthai dia tou kyriou upo ton akousanton . . . . (2:3b). Phillip Edgcumbe Hughes notes that "in verse 2 o di' angelon laletheis logos is precisely matched by etis archen labousa leleisthai dia tou kyriou. In both cases laletheis and laleisthai are divine passives,"16 indicating that it is God who speaks on both occasions. Therefore, God has spoken once through angels, and at another time through the Lord.17
A question emerges at this point: What is the temporal reference point of 2:3a? As archen makes clear, this is a reference to Christ's proclamation of kingdom salvation at the time of his earthly ministry.18 Verse 4 then speaks of Christ's proclamation at the time of his heavenly ministry (i.e., as ascended Christ): "God also bearing witness (synepimartyrountos) by signs (semeiois) and wonders (terasin), various miracles (dynamesin), and the distribution of the Holy Spirit, according to his will." Synepimartyrountos is a present active participle,19 which suggests that the time of the action of the participle is contemporaneous to the time of the action of the main verb (ebebaiothe). In
16 Op. cit., 77.
17 It is hard to miss the connection here between God's former speech and his current word through the Son (cf. Heb. 1:1-2).
18 Labousa is an adverbial aorist participle modifying etis and has a temporal use, especially in construction with archen. Laleisthai is an infinitive of purpose. The archen labousa laleisthai construction occurs in Biblical literature only in Hebrews 2:3. Elsewhere in secular literature the precise meaning of the construction is uncertain (Ellingworth, NIGNTC [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1983], 140). The sense seems to be that the salvation which became a reality upon Christ's resurrection was first announced by him during his earthly ministry. In turn, those who experienced Christ's earthly ministry confirmed the truth of the message, based on the resurrection, to the second generation. Verse 4 then has the sense that the witness of those who heard is joined by the witness of Christ as eschatological Spirit.
19 This is a genitive absolute.
other words, the attestation of the truth of the message to the apostles (3b) is concurrent with the witness of the ascended Christ on the day of Pentecost (4a). And both stand in closest continuity with what Christ announced first (archen labousa) during his earthly ministry (3a).
The action described in Hebrews 2:4 clearly refers to the witness of Christ on the day of Pentecost. The reference to semeois te kai terasin is the same kind of language used with reference to the fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:16, 19). Dynamesin is the promise which Christ guarantees to his disciples prior to his ascension (Lk. 24:49; Acts 1:8), and the reality which he provides for his disciples after his ascension (Acts 3:12; 4:7). The distribution of the Spirit (pneumatos agiou merismois) is a clear reference to Christ coming to his church as eschatological Spirit.20 This objective use of the genitive, which renders the meaning as "the distribution of the Spirit," comports with the idea that we receive "the promised Holy Spirit" as the down payment of our inheritance (Eph. 1:14). Moreover, it is Christ who "receives the promised Holy Spirit", and as a consequence pours out his Pentecostal witness (Acts 2:33), which includes the presence of the Spirit (Acts 2:4). When this insight is conjoined with the statement in Paul that Christ has "become a life-giving Spirit" (1 Cor. 15:45), we see that Christ comes to his church as the eschatological Spirit, bringing the fullness of salvation to her as the ascended Lord and Christ.21
Returning to the point at issue then, we see that Christ both speaks the New Covenant word of witness (v. 3b) and attests to that New Covenant witness with signs and wonders, various miracles, and with the coming of the eschatological Spirit (v. 4). The author of Hebrews understands this complex
20 Ellingworth, in his commentary on Hebrews, notes two grammatical options for pneumatos agiou merismois: (1) genitive absolute; (2) objective genitive (taken as referring to the gifts of the Spirit) (NIGNTC, 142). It is possible to take the Spirit himself as the one who is distributed. On this interpretation, the objective genitive provides us with a reference to the Spirit himself.
21 For a fuller discussion of what I here treat in a cursory manner, see Richard Gaffin's excellent discussion of Christ's relationship to Pentecost in Perspectives on Pentecost (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R, 1979), 14-20. Gaffin makes a cogent case for the fact that Christ at Pentecost has become (functionally, not ontologically, of course) the eschatological Spirit as the Lord of the New Covenant. Also, I do not treat the apostolic testimony here on account of space. Gaffin does so adequately in the book just mentioned.
of events as a greater warning than the Old Covenant typology regarding the certainty and inescapability of eternal sanctions. The movement from typo-logy to semi-realized eschatology is the key movement in view.
Let us examine exactly how the salvation attested by the Lord relates to the temporal sanctions operating in the Old Covenant. We have already noted that the temporal sanctions in the Old Covenant typify the eternal sanctions of the final judgment. The question at hand is this: how does the proclamation of salvation by Christ affect our understanding of the Old Covenant sanctions which typify the reality of eternal sanctions? The answer to our question is two-fold.
We begin by noting that the prerequisite for securing the salvation mentioned in v. 3a is a satisfaction of the eternal sanctions which the Old Covenant typified. When Christ entered the world as the Second Adam, resuming the eschatological program (which is now a redemptive eschatological program) on behalf of his people, the central task for him as Mediator consisted in removing the eternal sanctions which stood against all whom he came to redeem. In other words, in order to secure salvation on behalf of his people Christ must in the nature of the case endure eternal sanctions through his death. Christ's priestly work of mediation is clearly referenced in Hebrews 2:9-10, which speaks of him tasting death for his own. Hebrews 2:17 reminds us that Christ as High Priest must propitiate the wrath and anger of God in order to satisfy the demands of justice.
Elsewhere we read that Christ, by his obedience and satisfaction, has obtained an eternal redemption (Heb. 9:12). This is why Christ's sacrifice is explained as occurring "at the consummation of the ages" (Heb. 9:26). That is also the reason why it is appointed for a man to die once, and then comes judgment (9:27). After death comes eschatological judgment. So it is in the case of Christ (9:28a). In other words, the eternal realities of consummation judgment provide the context for understanding the obedience and satisfaction of Christ. Eternal salvation is the result of bearing eternal sanctions and triumphing over those eternal sanctions in resurrection and ascension (cf. Heb. 6:13-20; Gal. 3:10-14; Matt. 27:45-46) . The conclusion we need to see from this line of reasoning is as follows: the eternal sanctions typified by the
Old Covenant sanctions have found fulfillment in their application to Christ in his satisfaction of divine justice on the cross.
This application of the eternal sanctions to Christ represents the first phase of the application of the antitypical sanctions. In other words, the already of the eternal death sanction typified by the Old Covenant counterpart finds its telos in Christ in his first coming to bear sin (Heb. 9:28). This is the rationale for the transition from temporal sanctions in the Old Covenant to great (i.e., eternal) salvation in the New Covenant. This also explains how Christ's obedience and satisfaction displaces and replaces the temporal death penalty issued under the Old Covenant, since Christ bears the reality to which the temporal death penalty pointed. The reality typified by the death sanctions has already arrived in the death of Christ. Hence, we no longer operate on the level of typology, but enter into the domain of semi-realized eschatology, which proves a greater pointer to the eternal reality, because that eternal reality has actually arrived and is no longer anticipated in the modality of typology.
The second phase of the application of the eternal sanctions emerges in the "not yet" dimension of the consummation. When Christ returns a second time, there will be no escape from the eternal sanctions he brings against the apostate and unbelieving. Hebrews 9:28 helps us see the already/not yet dimension of Christ's work relative to the sanctions. Christ's first coming focused on bearing eternal sanctions on behalf of his people in accordance with the semi-realized eschatological framework (9:28a "Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many"). However, when Christ appears "a second time for salvation without reference to sin" (28b), he brings eternal salvation (9:12) to those who eagerly await him.
The corollary of this point is simple: for those who do not eagerly await him, he will bring eternal judgment. If the eternal sanctions are not met vicariously by faith in Christ in the time of realized eschatology, there is no hope for escape from eschatological judgment. At his parousia (i.e., in the time of future eschatology), Christ will enforce and apply eternal sanctions. He will consummately bless his people and definitively punish his enemies. To summarize, we must understand that the already/not yet dynamic of eschatological fulfillment in Christ determines the mode of application for the eternal sanctions which were portrayed typologically in the Old Covenant Mosaic order. That mode of
application is bifurcated: the eternal sanctions befall Christ in his obedience and satisfaction at the beginning of the interadvental period, and they befall all apostates and unbelievers at the end of that period (i.e., the parousia).
Interestingly, the author argues that what we have just explained was confirmed by those who heard (ebebaiothe, cf. 2:3b). This is the same verb applied to the word of angels in 2:2 and applied to the Old Covenant (Mosaic) order. In short, the author argues that the legally binding Old Covenant, mediated by angels, gives way to a legally binding New Covenant mediated by Christ. As such, Christ's warning displaces and replaces the witness of angels regarding the certainty of eternal judgment against covenant apostates. As such, we see once again Christ's superiority to angels as the antitype is superior to the type.22 We also see in the strongest possible way that the legally binding character of the New Covenant, with the God-man as mediator, provides the basis for the fulfilling and surpassing of the Old Covenant order in general, and the Old Covenant sanctions in particular.
Critical Assessment of the Theonomic Thesis
Let me briefly outline Dr. Greg Bahnsen's exegesis of Hebrews 2:1-4 and assess the cogency of his claims. Dr. Bahnsen summarizes the basic thrust of the pericope as follows:
22 We need to remember that bare superiority of Christ to angels is not the main argument here. Rather, the superiority of Christ to angels obtains in terms of the relationship of type to antitype.
23 No Other Standard (Tyler Texas: ICE, 1991), 178.
Notice a few features of Bahnsen's summary. First of all, notice that Dr. Bahnsen makes no reference to the Pentecost witness of the glorified Christ. This is the first hint that he does not allow the category of semi-realized eschatology to inform his understanding of the manner in which the author explains the fulfillment of typological sanctions in Christ. Assuming that the purpose of the summary consists in capturing the basic thrust of the passage, Dr. Bahnsen's summary is inadequate. Second, if Dr. Bahnsen attempts to reason from the immutability of the temporal sanctions in the Old Covenant period to the present application of the sanctions in the New Covenant, he has at least three problems. In the first place, the text does not tell us that the sanctions are immutable; it only says that they are legally binding in a covenant mediated by angels.24 Moreover, even if Dr. Bahnsen were to infer from the mistaken premise that the sanctions are immutable to the conclusion that the sanctions apply in the same way in the New Covenant as they did in the Old Covenant, he would still have a serious problem. His explanation would not account for the use of ebebaiothe in 2:3b as a description of the New Covenanta covenant which fulfills and supersedes the Old. Finally, his summary does not allow the text to explain the way that semi-realized eschatology dictates the mode in which the typological sanctions are fulfilled. His summary could be construed as guilty of making an illegitimate inference from the text, an inference which operates in bare logical categories rather than in solid exegetical categories.
However, let us take a more careful look at Dr. Bahnsen's exegetical argumentation defending his summary:
24 Dr. Steven Baugh pointed out to me that Dr. Bahnsen has slipped in the adjective immutable here. As we pointed out earlier, bebaios refers to a legally binding relationship, but this does not entail that the relationship is immutable. We need to note also that the covenant which is legally binding is a covenant mediated by angels. The New Covenant, contrary to the Mosaic covenant, is mediated not by angels but by Christ (I Tim. 2:5).
Notice in this quotation that Dr. Bahnsen sees the intermediate step necessary to make the a fortiori inference (i.e., "the greater gospel"). Hence, Dr. Bahnsen's summary could have at an implicit level a reference to semi-realized eschatology. Is this the case? Not quite. Notice that while Bahnsen sees the step necessary to make the a fortiori inference (i.e., the greater gospel), he misses the rationale for the a fortiori force inherent in the nature of the greater gospel. The a fortiori force of the argument derives from the reality of the initial phase of the application of the eternal sanctions to Christ. As a result of this oversight in Dr. Bahnsen's exegesis, he misses the semi-realized eschatological fulfillment of the typological sanctions in Christ. In other words, Dr. Bahnsen correctly sees an a fortiori argument in the pericope, but he misses the realized eschatology which informs the a fortiori inference.
Notice in the remainder of Dr. Bahnsen's argument we see no evidence of a correction of this fundamental oversight:
25 Ibid., 179.
Rhetoric aside, we see that Dr. Bahnsen's thesis is simply not dealing with all of the evidence and argumentation the passage provides. Let us examine the problems in a bit more detail.
First, by failing to allow semi-realized eschatology substantially to shape his understanding of the relationship between temporal sanctions27 in the Old Covenant and eternal sanctions in the New Covenant period, Dr. Bahnsen has stripped the passage of its eschatological framework. As a result, he advocates the present application of typological sanctions, which Hebrews tells us are fulfilled in the eternal antitype which has arrived in Christ. In short, the eternal sanctions will be applied by Christ himself at the end of the age (not typological sanctions by a magistrate in the present age!). Perhaps Bahnsen's fundamental flaw turns on a failure to distinguish clearly between typological and semi-eschatological categories in covenant history. The basic movement of the argument's a fortiori force, then, is from the domain of typology to semi-realized eschatology.
26 Ibid., 179. In another work, Dr. Bahnsen makes an almost identical argument: "After all, if God has not insisted upon the universal, unchanging justice of the lesser (civil penalties), how much more could we expect that he would relent upon the justice of the greater (eternal penalties)! This would be a perverse reversal of the very point made by the author of Hebrews" (Theonomy: An Informed Response, 131 italics his). In response, we need to note that the penalties of the Old Covenant were not universal. The text states that they served a typological purpose for the covenant community, not a universal purpose of prescribing penalties for crimes. Second, Dr. Bahnsen has construed the Old Covenant sanctions as merely judicial, but the sanctions must be understood first and foremost in terms of typology, and then only secondarily as judicial. Therefore, the justice of the typological sanctions depend on the eternal sanctions to which they are designed to point, and not the other way around. Hence, Dr. Bahnsen has reversed the very point that the author of Hebrews makes. With that being said, we will deal in more detail with the arguments from No Other Standard, since they represent Bahnsen's most mature thought on the subject of Old Covenant sanctions in light of an exegesis of Hebrews 2:1-4.
27 Whether we speak of an eternal sanction (singular) or eternal sanctions (plural) with respect to Christ's obedience and satisfaction, the basic point remains the same: Christ bore the eternal, final, eschatological reality to which the Old Covenant typological sanctions pointed.
Second, notice that Dr. Bahnsen argues that the "eternal is not put in place of the civil; it is argued on the basis of the civil."28 We have seen from ourexegesis that this statement is simply not true. The civil sanctions are subservient to typology,29 and the typological depends in the nature of the case on the eternal. If not, then the typological has no corresponding eternal reality to which it points. Moreover, the eternal does replace the temporal. The eternal sanctions which befall Christ in terms of semi-realized eschatology displace and replace the types (typological sanctions). Dr. Bahnsen therefore argues that the eternal does not replace the temporal on the mistaken premise that the eternal judgment is wholly future, a premise which clearly denies the semi-realized intrusion of the eternal sanctions in the obedience and satisfaction of Christ (cf. Heb. 9:26).
Third, we know from our preceding point that "eternal damnation" cannot be set aside on the basis that it has already befallen Christ who bears the eternal damnation in his first coming, and dispenses eternal damnation at his parousia. In other words, eternal damnation cannot be set aside because of considerations pertaining to eschatological and christological fulfillment, not on account of the abiding socio-political applicability of the Old Covenant, typological penalties. In other words, the eternal sanctions have intruded into time, displacing and replacing the typological sanctions, while simultaneously confirming more certainly the inescapability of God's eternal justice. Eternal damnation is inescapable because Christ has guaranteed by his resurrection the certainty of judgment against all covenant breakers (cf. Acts 17:30) and apostates (Heb. 2:2-3; 10:26-31; 12:25-29). Hence, Dr. Bahnsen once again misses the a fortiori force of the inescapability of eternal judgment, because he fails to consider the centrality of semi-realized eschatology in the author's argument.
28 Dr. Bahnsen also makes a philosophical mistake in his comment that the eternal is argued "on the basis" of the temporal. It is a violation of the Christian theory of reality ever to predicate that the eternal is conditioned by, determined by, or based upon the temporal. Although unintended, this concedes the basic point of Post-Enlightenment historicism, which is Kantian to the core. Moreover, Bahnsen's slip undermines the Van Tillianism which he so passionately and effectively defended elsewhere. Even if the theonomist persists in maintaining the universality and morally obligatory character of the Old Covenant typological sanctions in a New Covenant context, we must warn him of the dangers of this sort of reasoning. It is disastrous to a truly Christian metaphysic.
29 Note that Bahnsen does not understand the civil function as a subset of the more basic category of typology. This, in my opinion, is a fundamental mistake.
These insights help us see perhaps the fundamental hermeneutical difference between the orthodox biblical theologian and the theonomist. The entire Old Covenant Mosaic order is a typological kingdom, which has definite implications for the nature of its sanctions. I have attempted to draw attention to the specific typological function of the penal sanctions within that economy. We need to point out, however, that the debate centers upon a more profound hermeneutical disagreement of which the penal sanctions are merely a case in point.30
But the question now arises, "Is the argument presented from Hebrews 2:1-4 sufficient to undermine Dr. Bahnsen's theonomic thesis as a whole?" Bahnsen himself provides some clear criteria which, if met, he claims would successfully undermine his thesis. They are as follows:
I believe that the thesis set forth in this essay satisfies Dr. Bahnsen's own criteria and therefore undermines the theonomic thesis as a whole. Let me explain why.
First, the special feature (F) which I identified in this paper is the typological character of the Old Covenant sanctions relative to their eternal counterpart. The typological sanctions served as an Old Covenant warning of eternal judgment against apostasy from the Covenant. In my view, this is a clear definition of F. Therefore, the thesis meets Bahnsen's first criterion.
30 See Meredith Kline's Kingdom Prologue (privately published) for a compelling development of the biblical theological hermeneutic of Israel as an old Covenant kingdom distinguished by three traits: (1) national election; (2) typological kingdom; and (3) typological works covenant (i. e., maintenance of dominion over the land in the Typological kingdom depends on the corporate obedience of Israel). Kline demonstrates the hermeneutical significance of redemptive typology in a penetrating and engaging way.
31 Preface to the Second Edition of Theonomy in Christian Ethics (p. xxiii).
Second, I have delineated on principle the intended segment of the law, since the text in view (Heb. 2:1-4) deals specifically and exclusively with the segment of Old Covenant law which pertains to typological sanctions. We learned that the Old Covenant warning regarding the eschatological reality has been displaced and replaced by Christ's New Covenant proclamation of a "great salvation" as eschatological Spirit. Therefore, we have a principial distinction both with respect to redemptive historical epoch and the specific segment of the law delineated. Hence, I have met Dr. Bahnsen's second criterion.
Third, according to Hebrews 2:1-4, typological sanctions provided an Old Covenant warning in regard to the certainty and inescapability of covenantal judgment against apostasy. Because apostasy from the covenant is in view, this is unique to the covenant community of Old Testament Israel. Consequently, I have met Dr. Bahnsen's third criterion.
Fourth, remember that Hebrews 2:1-4 construes the validity of the Old Covenant sanctions in their parenetic function (i. e., regarding the inescapability of eternal sanctions against apostasy). Once the reality to which the sanctions pointed arrives (the eternal reality), the type has served its purpose. We then operate in the modality of semi-realized eschatology, which displaces and replaces the modality of typology. Put differently, the fulfillment of the Old Covenant sanctions, in terms of a two-phase application of the eternal reality to Christ in his first coming and by Christ at his parousia precludes the soundness of Bahnsen's thesis. The Old Covenant sanctions have found semi-eschatological fulfillment in Christ in his first coming (i.e., rendering the believer's judgment as a past event), and will find consummate fulfillment at his parousia (i.e., rendering the unbeliever's judgment a certain, future event). Therefore, the fourth criterion has been met in the sense that if the argument developed in this essay is sound, it would principially undermine Dr. Bahnsen's thesis. Of course, I don't want to rule out the fact that his thesis can be challenged from other exegetical and theological lines of thought.32
32 In this sense, then, I would object to Bahnsen's formulation of the fourth criterion.
Summary and Conclusion
I have not attempted to say everything that needs to be said either about the pericope or its application to the theonomic thesis set forth by Dr. Bahnsen.33 However, I have attempted to sketch the main lines of thought in the pericope in order to discern how eschatology determines the mode of application for the eternal (in relation to typological) sanctions mentioned throughout the book of Hebrews.
I have argued that the writer warns against apostasy by appealing to three distinct epochs in redemptive history. The first warning derives from the Old Covenant period, consists in a warning mediated through angels, and is accompanied by typological sanctions. The second warning derives from the consummation, finds expression both in the witness of the Old and New Covenant, and will be accompanied by inescapable and eternal sanctions. The third warning derives from the New Covenant period, consists in a great salvation announced through Christ, was accompanied by signs and wonders, various miracles, and the distribution of the eschatological Spirit. I argued that with the coming of Christ, the typological sanctions in general are replaced by the arrival of the reality to which they point. This means that the epoch-chang-
33 Bahnsen also provides a second line of argumentation which makes the same fundamental errors as his first line of reasoning. Therefore, I will not scrutinize the argument (on account of space); rather I simply state it and advance a couple of obvious points. "It should also be pointed out that Hebrews 2:2 begins by asserting that 'the word spoken through angels'that is, the Mosaic law (cf. Deut. 33:1ff.; Ps. 68:17; Acts 7:53; Gal. 3:19)was steadfast. The Greek word for this attribute (bebaios) and its cognates is used both in Biblical and secular literature for something which does not lapse, which is permanent, which has secure validity; one ought not to challenge the binding character of something which is bebaios. It is firm and legally guaranteed (see Moulton & Milligan, and Arndt & Gingrich). The word connotes the surety of God's word in the very next verse of Hebrews (2:3), as well as in Romans 4:16; 15:8; 2 Peter 1:19; Philippians 1:7; and Hebrews 6:16 (cf. 9:17). The Mosaic law, according to Hebrews 2:2 then, has a firm and legally guaranteed character; it is steadfast and permanent" (No Other Standard, 179-80). I will note in passing that the New Covenant reality eschatologizes the application of the sanctions to the apostates and unbelievers; it does not negate them. Also, bebaios does not mean immutable, but legally binding in a covenant arrangement. In the present case, the reference is to a covenant mediated by angels (cf, footnote 22). When we keep in mind that the New Covenant is mediated by Christ and is also ebebaiothe, we see that the eschatological New Covenant order in the nature of the case displaces and replaces the typological Old Covenant order.
ing character of Christ's atoning work comprises the first phase of the application of the eternal/eschatological sanctions typified in the Old Testament economy. At his parousia, Christ will enact the second phase of the application of the eternal sanctions against all apostates and unbelievers.
One of the consequences of this position is as follows: anyone who affirms the need to apply and enforce the Old Covenant typological sanctions in the New Covenant period in the same way that they were applied in the Old Covenant situation, tacitly denies that Christ has fulfilled the eternal reality to which the Old Covenant sanctions pointed. That is, he has missed the covenant historical difference between typology and semi-realized eschatology.
The advocacy of the continued application of the Old Covenant sanctions in spite of their two-phase eschatological application to Christ and by Christ implies a denial of their semi-eschatological fulfillment, an error to which the consistent theonomist remains dogmatically committed. Even if the theonomist does affirm that Christ has borne the eternal sanctions which the Old Covenant sanctions typified (which we suppose he must affirm), he does not see the antitype replacing the type. As such, the theonomic position is parallel to a position which would advocate the continuing validity of typological animal sacrifices in spite of the fulfillment of those sacrifices in the antitypical sacrifice of Christ. Clearly, the latter is beset by serious problems, and so is the former.
Proving and Provision at Marah
David J. Klein
Three days from Moses' song to the murmuring of sedition. How shocking this is in the light of Israel's recent history. They witnessed the discriminating plagues in Egypt. They were delivered from slave labor with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, passing through the Red Sea on dry ground. As they reached the other side, they turned just in time to see the walls of water collapse, crushing Pharaoh's army. The whole assembly erupted with shouts of great joy; they sang the song of Moses and the women danced Miriam's dance. Yet three days later, the murmuring of rebellion. What could have produced such a failure of trust?
We have before us an account of God's wilderness proving (in the Old English sense of "testing"). And what kind of trial was it? No doubt it was a physical trial. Three days dwindled Israel's water supply, and without water nothing can live. You can imagine how each day, as the jugs got a little emptier, the song of Moses got a little quieter, and Miriam's dance and timbrel got a little slower, until no more song, no more dance, only the murmuring of rebellion. No doubt it was also an emotional trial. As the Israelites saw water from afar, an oasis in a vast desert wasteland, you can imagine their excitement. They ran to it, kneeling down to drink, expecting it to taste so refreshing and sweet. But as they drank the waterbitterness! Bitterness not only because of the taste, but
because it was the exact opposite of the sweetness they expected.
But more than a physical trial, more than an emotional trial, the bitter water of Marah represented a spiritual trial that challenged the very heart of God's promise to Israel. At the beginning of the book of Exodus, God heard the groaning of his people and promised to deliver them on account of the covenant he made with their fathers. And from what did God promised to deliver them? Exodus 1:14 tells us: the Egyptians made the lives of the Israelites bitter with hard labor. And as the Israelites left Egypt, they ate the bitter herbs in remembrance of the bitterness of Egypt (Ex. 12:8). Egypt was characterized by bitterness. God's promise to deliver Israel from Egypt was a promise to deliver them from bitterness. And now, after the Red Sea redemption, Israel finds herself drinking from the bitter waters. Do you see the trial? Bitterness in Egypt, bitterness in the wilderness: has God really done anything at all? Beyond physical need, beyond emotional frustration, this trial reaches down to the very depths of faith in the God of Israel.
As the first narrative on the other side of the Red Sea redemption, this text teaches us something important about the character of the wilderness. The wilderness is a place of trial, where the promise of God seems to have come to naught. Though she has been redeemed through the Red Sea, though she has the presence of God in the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, Israel does not yet have the fullness of her inheritance. The wilderness is Israel's already/not yet experience, her semi-realized eschatology. Though definitively delivered, she awaits the consummate rest of the promised land. She has not yet crossed the border into the land flowing with milk and honey. And in the meantime, Israel is confronted with proving trials which seem to call into question the truthfulness of God's promises.
And what did Israel do? She became bitter. The water was bitter and Israel became bitter. The bitter water acted like a catalyst for the bitterness of Israel's soul. Israel tasted not just the bitterness of the waters but the bitterness of forsaking the Lord (Jer. 2:19). God's people, on the other side of their salvation, have become bitter.
You must grasp this because Israel's wilderness sojourn is your wilder-
ness sojourn. Speaking of Israel's wilderness journey, Paul writes, "Now these things happened to them as types, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come" (1 Cor. 10:11). Israel's wilderness sojourn is a type (often poorly translated in 1 Cor. 10 as "example") of the church's heavenly journey. You are the last, the heavenly, the eschatological wilderness community. You are the wilderness community upon whom the ends of the ages have come. You are not between redemption from Egypt and the land of Canaan, but between the realities to which they point. You are between the redemption from the bondage of sin and the new Jerusalem. You have been redeemed from sin, you have the down payment of the Spirit, but you do not yet have the fullness of your inheritance. You have not yet come to the land flowing with milk and honey. Rather, you have proving trials which appear to invalidate God's promise. You find yourself in this life before the Lord returns in a period of trial, in a wilderness where it seems that the promise of God has come to naught and you are tempted to be bitter. Israel's story is your story.
But our text is not only an account of God's wilderness proving, but also of his wilderness provision. God provides a tree to heal the bitterness of the waters. At this point let me encourage you not to make too facile of a jump from the tree to the cross, for if you do you will miss something very significant about our text as well as an answer to a source-critical objection often lodged against it. Many commentators want to reject the unity of our text, assigning verse 25a to one source and verses 25b-26 to another. They cannot see how the verse on throwing the tree into the water relates to the verse on the statute and the regulation to keep all God's commandments. Therefore, they say that the verses came from two different authors and were put together at a time well after Israel's exile.
What I want you to see is that there is an essential unity between the throwing of the tree into the water (v. 25a) and the statute and regulation to keep all God's commandments (vv. 25b-26, which I will hereafter refer to as the Marah statute). What is implicitly pictured in God showing Moses the tree and Moses throwing the tree in the waters is explicitly stated in the Marah statute in the following verses. Both implicitly and explicitly, what is being revealed to us is the requirement for the Israelites' obedience to receive blessing.
God shows Moses a tree. The word translated "show" is a word which means to instruct.1 It is the word from which we get Torah. When the passage says that God showed Moses a tree, what we have is God instructing Moses concerning a tree. We could translate the verse, "God gave Torah to Moses." Even if the translation of "showed" is preferred, God clearly showed Moses the tree to tell Moses what to do with it. Moses then followed God's instruction by throwing the tree into the water and the water became sweet. Note the progression: God gave Moses instruction, Moses followed God's instruction, and the result was healing and sweetness. The whole focus of what happens at Marah is on the effect of obedience to God's word. When Moses follows God's instruction, the result is sweetness. The sign indicates the blessing and healing that comes from being obedient to God's commands.
This, then, is what is explicitly stated in verses 25b-26. The statute conveys the exact same message: if you are obedient to God's commands, God will be your healer. Note here the relationship of works to blessing. This is not evangelical obedience. This is "do this and live" obedience. If Israel is not obedient, God threatens them with the diseases of the Egyptians, the marks of divine curse. The statute hearkens back to the relationship of works to blessing in the garden. As the people are being led to Mt. Sinai where they will receive the yoke of the law and will themselves ratify the law covenant, they are already being prepared for the theocratic principle of inheritance. If the people want to retain the blessings of God, if the people want God to be their healer, they must follow his Torah.
Yet Israel's history in the wilderness is a sad testimony of their inability to keep the Marah statute. This is the generation that fell in the wilderness. They could not keep the commandments of God and God was not their healer. Even once a new generation entered the land, they failed to keep the commandments
1 Most English versions translate verse 25 as "God showed him," because of their dependence on Brown-Driver-Briggs which lists one of the meanings of yrh as "to show," citing this text. But yrh in the Hiphil with the double accusative has the clear meaning "to instruct someone concerning something," so much so that many of the new dictionaries no longer list "to show" as a meaning. For an example, see Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, ed. D. J. A. Clines (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998), vol. 4, p. 291-292. For other passages with the same grammatical construction as ours, where the meaning is clearly God instructing someone concerning something, see Psalms 27:11, 86:11 and 119:33.
of Yahweh and were cast out of the promised land in exile, a type of judgment.
Israel's failure points to the need for a new Israel, an Israel which can be obedient to the commandments of God if God is to be our healer. While the wilderness trial is a type of the Church, it is first and foremost a type of Christ. The obedience required of the Israelites to merit God's healing is fulfilled in Christ. He is the true Israel, "Out of Egypt I called my Son" (Mt. 2:15; Hos. 11:1). In Matthew 4 and Luke 4, it is Christ who passes the probation in the wilderness. This is a recapitulation of the temptation experiences of Adam and Israel. Where Adam and Israel failed, Christ prevailed.
The glory of the new covenant is that the Marah statute points not to what you must do, but what has been done for you. Christ is the one who gives earnest heed to the voice of the Lord, and does what is right in his sight, and gives ear to his commandments, and keeps all his statutes. Hence it is on account of the obedience of Christ that God is our healer.
Did not the Israelites already see this as they looked into the face of Moses and saw a covenant mediator who was obedient to God's command and healed the bitterness for the people? Yet this is the generation that perished in the wilderness, despite Moses' mediation. Despite Moses' obedience and intercession, the bitterness and rebellion of the people made God lay them low in the wilderness. Moses himself could not usher them into the Promised Land (which he himself did not enter). So just as Israel's failure points ahead in the history of redemption to a new Israel, Moses' failure points ahead in the history of redemption to a new Moses. This Savior is so glorious, he is so wonderful, that in his person the typology of Israel and Moses converge. Christ is the faithful covenant mediator who acts on behalf of the people by being obedient to all of God's commandments. He is the one who brings healing to the people. He does this by his resurrection. Christ is greater than Moses because Christ himself drank the bitter waters of Marah on the cross. And because death had no hold on him, he was raised into the new paradise. His resurrection now guarantees our access into the Promised Land.
What then of the tree? Perhaps you thought I was going to leave this out! God did not show Moses a rock, Moses did not put his staff in the water. The reference to the tree is not incidental. The tree is obviously the instrument of
healing. Does not the collocation of tree and healing immediately bring to mind Revelation 22, where in the new paradise there is the tree of life whose leaves are healing to the nations? That which was the future reward held out in the garden, that which is the final provision of the heavenly Jerusalem, is already intruding itself into the wilderness. The tree represents nothing less than the new order penetrating into the old. As Geerhardus Vos wrote, "The kingdom of God, what else is it but a new world of supernatural realities supplanting this natural world of sin." And access to this tree of life comes only via Calvary's tree. The sweetness of heaven, the new heavenly order, comes to us by the work of Christ. His obedience merits for us the eschatological reward of the tree of life. He drank the bitter waters on the cross, he endured the bitter wrath of God, he tasted the bitterness of death, that you might know the sweetness of the forgiveness of sins, the sweetness of sonship, the sweetness of communion with the Father. Christ has taken the bitterness out of your wilderness sojourn, because even now in your wilderness you have access to this tree of life, because of Jesus' tree.
Notice how our text end. God brought them to Elim in the wilderness. It is no doubt a picture of paradise: twelve springs of water and seventy date palms. Elim is the promise that the wilderness sojourn has an end. What gives the wilderness meaning and makes it bearable is its relationship to paradise. And as surely as God has brought Israel to Elim, he will bring his people to the promised land, the new paradise of God.
Mt. Vernon Orthodox Presbyterian Chapel
Mt. Vernon, Washington
The View from the Manse*
Misty S. Irons
* Presented at The Kerux Conference, June 22, 1999 in Westminster, California.
1 Carolyn Simpson, "Dealing With Criticism," in Help! I'm a Pastor's Wife, Michele Buckingham, ed. (Altamonte: Creation House, 1986) 84-5.
The Impossible Ideal
I have never met a seminary wife who looked toward her imminent fate of becoming "a pastor's wife" without some dread. She is not quite sure what she is getting herself into (or, as some may view it, what her husband is dragging her into), but she is sure that whatever it is, it won't be pleasant.
She anxiously discusses it with other seminary wives, and they in turn share with her the stories they have heard. Being the pastor's wife means she will be viewed by the church as an example of what a godly woman should be. As a wife, she sets the example for all other wives. As a mother, her children's behavior will be observed and compared with that of other children. She has to be pleasant and amiable, even on days when she feels lonely or depressed. She has to make sacrifices for the church, even if it means putting herself and her family last. And she will be criticized and scrutinized to no end.
While horror stories convince the prospective pastor's wife that she will be miserable once her husband enters the ministry, the success stories told by upbeat, energetic pastors' wives depress her even more. They seem to have it all together while she, a mere mortal, is doomed to failure and could not possibly live up to the standards set by these spiritual giants.
I remember as a seminary wife attending a wives' fellowship to hear one dynamic pastor's wife speak. She gave us a glowing account of her experience in the ministry, even though she would occasionally mention interesting side notes, such as how her husband worked 60-70 hours a week and quite often was not home in the evenings. And even when he did get a chance to call her during the day, they usually had only five minutes to talk before some pressing engagement forced him to ring off. Though these details raised eyebrows around the room, the speaker appeared to glide over them unphased, as she continued enthusiastically to relate to us one blessing after another about life in the ministry.
We all marveled at this woman's spirituality, asked a few hesitant questions about how she does it, and went away feeling quite certain that we would never make the cut as pastors' wives. I went home that night and promptly started an argument with my husband over how many nights a week he was
planning to spend away from home when he entered the ministry. Another woman later confided to me that she went home that night and cried.
That the prospect of becoming a pastor's wife excites so much fear in people is not a case of getting all excited over nothing. The idea that a pastor's wife is to live up to a higher standard than the average Christian woman seems to be the premise of most approaches to the subject of pastor's wifehood. It was impressed upon me when I was a seminary wife that I needed to start working now on getting my life in order. I was to read this book on marriage or that book on childrearing because as a pastor's wife I would be expected to know these things and to have them implemented in my life. This was not advice that could be shrugged at, or put off, or implemented simply because I wanted a change in my life. Instead I felt like there was an urgency. It was because one day I would be the pastor's wife, and that is when everything would be different. I would have to have my act together. I would have to have the answers. Just thinking about it gave me a foretaste of some of the pressures, anxieties and expectations that a pastor's wife experiences in her world.
The impressions I received back then about what is generally expected from the pastor's wife were not unique to my experience. They are confirmed by the abundance of advice offered to the pastor's wife in books written by and for pastors' wives. To prepare her for life in the ministry, she is given tips on how to improve every area of her life: her marriage, her children, her housekeeping, her budget, her dress, her spiritual life, her ministry, her social demeanor, her friendships. If it is difficult to imagine what kinds of advice could possibly be offered to a pastor's wife in areas of such a personal nature, here are some samplings from just a few of the books I have read.2
There is advice for when the pastor's wife feels her husband is not spending enough time with her (learn to accept his busy schedule, but don't let bitterness or resentment build up, let him know how you feel, but don't get overly upset or emotional). There are personality check-lists to work on (have
2 Jill Briscoe, Renewal On the Run (Wheaton: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1992); Lorna Dobson, I'm More Than the Pastor's Wife (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995); Lora Lee Parrott, How To Be a Pastor's Wife and Like It (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1956); Ruth Senter, The Guilt-Free Book for Pastor's Wives (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1990).
a pleasing personality, don't be dictatorial, have a sense of humor, but don't be the church clown, always display joy and don't get depressed). She receives tips on how to dress (always be properly groomed, avoid striking colors or extreme styles, dress conservatively but don't be drab, nicely but not expensively, attractively but without drawing attention to yourself). She is even instructed on how to answer the telephone ("The proper greeting on the telephone is 'Hello,' with a smile in your voice"3).
Thus, every innocuous decision the pastor's wife makes in her daily life has now been exalted to the heights of spiritual importance. To make her even more paranoid, these detailed instructions for her behavior are coupled with extensive warnings that the church will be looking to her as a spiritual role model and taking note of her every shortcoming. With so many scolding voices sounding off in her head, it is not surprising that a pastor's wife will sometimes be driven to extremes in striving to fit the ideal model. For instance, one poor woman always wore two dresses while she did her housework, a ragged one over a fresh pretty one, so that if a visitor from the church should drop by unexpectedly she could quickly remove the top dress and transform her appearance instantly.4
Another pastor's wife also confessed to extreme behavior. One morning the doorbell rang, and when she looked out the window, she saw two ladies from church standing on her porch, holding a pink wrapped box. They were dropping by to see her new baby. Panicking, she ran to put on her breakfast coat. Then she dashed into the bathroom to brush her hair and apply make-up. Then she ran into the nursery, dressed the baby, and stuck a pink bow on top of her head with a piece of Scotch tape. Finally she ran to open the door, but the ladies weren't there. They had gone home, having grown tired of waiting.5
Another woman says she tries to do it all: "I work full time as both [a] mother of four and at a forty hour [a] week job outside the home. At church
3 Parrott, 89.
2 Wallace Denton, The Role of the Minister's Wife (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1962) 30.
5 Betty Malz, "Unrealistic Expectations," in Help!, 13.
I teach junior high Sunday school, play for worship and also sing, and am in charge of junior church. With that goes the normal calling, youth activities, community, and church activities. I know my husband feels overwhelmed at times too."6
But it's not solely the advice of books that applies the pressure that these women feel. Pastors' wives say that the pressure that affects them the most comes from people in their churches. Many have found that a list of expectations was already in place for them when they first arrived. Because they occupy the special status of being the minister's wife, they are expected to be a role model of a godly woman. "As a pastor's wife I am set up to be an example to the flock," says one woman.7 This expectation automatically makes pastors' wives feel obligated to live up to a higher standard than everyone else. "We think if we are going to have an impact upon lives," says one pastor's wife, "we have to be someone people can look up to and admire."
Since the pastor's wife is in the spotlight, her life is often scrutinized and picked apart by onlookers. Her shortcomings, once discovered, are talked about behind her back. Pastors' wives refer to this situation as "the fishbowl existence," that is, feeling like you are on display in a glass bowl where people can observe your every move from every angle. One pastor's wife complained, "Our church members watch my weight better than I do!"8 Another pastor's wife complained of a woman who liked to sit across from her during church luncheons so she could watch her eatto make sure she does it properly.
Criticism is what can drive a pastor's wife to try even harder to clean up her act. The fewer shortcomings there are, she reasons, the less there is for people to criticize. But by taking this route she pays a heavy price. She will be afraid of being open with others about her weaknesses and insecurities, not only because she fears being gossiped about, but worse because everyone in the church would know how unworthy she really is to be everyone else's role model. To make sure she is not discovered, she must work hard to put up a
6 Internet discussion: Pastors' Wives Support Board (PWSB).
front of happiness and perfection. But deep down she feels insecure and unhappy. Having been placed upon a pedestal, she must struggle each day to maintain her footing lest she be toppled to the ground in disgrace.
Tradition over Scripture
Considering the hardship and ulcers many pastors' wives suffer to live up to such high ideals for their role, it is amazing how little Scriptural support there is to justify the traditional idea of "pastor's wife." I know of only one instance, 1 Corinthians 9:5, when a pastor's wife is specifically mentioned in the Bible. And even there the apostle Peter's wife is mentioned only in passing, and is referred to simply and ungloriously as a "sister."
Yet it appears that tradition has overidden Scripture. Charles Bridges in his book The Christian Ministry even admits that "there is no express letter of Scripture requirement on the subject" of the pastor's wife,9 and yet he goes on to strongly exhort the pastor's wife that it is her duty to share equally in the burdens and responsibilities of her husband's ministry. In fact, Bridges fancies the pastor's wife to be a kind of female ministry counterpart to her pastor husband, though again he has no Scripture to back it up. For he writes, "happy indeed is the pastor, whose partner is thus the mother of his people," and then elsewhere he asserts, "should not the wife aspire to the honour of being a spiritual a well as a natural mother?"10
Other books I have read have also made similar admissions of weak Scriptural proof justifying a special role for the pastor's wife in the church; and yet, like Bridges, they will turn around and start immediately building a list of special requirements for her. But the majority devote little or no attention to finding biblical support for their assertions.
That the expectations placed upon the pastor's wife are unscriptural contributes enormously to her problem in fulfilling them. For since her supposed
9 Charles Bridges, The Christian Ministry (Carlisle: Banner of Truth Trust, 1991 [reprint]) 170, n. 2.
10 Ibid., 171-172.
"role" as pastor's wife is defined largely by tradition, she has no Scriptural boundaries defining how she should and should not be expected to serve in the church. Where do her duties end? No one really knows. And because no one has clearly marked out for her exactly what her role is supposed to be, the bewildered pastor's wifejust to be safe and not offend anyonewill try to fulfill the expectations of everyone around her. One wife explains, "We have our own set of expectations about our role . . . . We have another perceived set of what we think the congregation has of us, a set from our husband, and one from the board [as well as] . . . what our mentors said to us in preparation for life in the ministry."11 By using this strategy of taking her cues from others, the strange result is that the pastor's wife often ends up having more obligations to her church than her pastor husband. At least he has a Scripturally marked-out job description to limit the demands on him.
It seems to me that if we were to follow Scriptural boundaries, everything expected of the pastor's wife that is above and beyond what is expected of Christians in general can be swept away. Like the apostle Peter's wife, the pastor's wife ought rightly to be viewed as nothing more than simply a sister in the Lord. This was my strategy as I entered into pastor's wifehood: to be just another member of the congregation, and to serve as I felt called, not as I felt compelled.
Tradition's Impact on the Church
It is a simple strategy, but determining this course was really the easy part. There are difficulties to be surmounted on the way. One is dealing with the impact that the traditional role of pastor's wife has made my own mind and conscience. As my husband began his ministry, I had doubts about whether I was really doing enough for the church as the pastor's wife. I felt guilty about delegating responsibilities to others that became too burdensome for me. I would look at my shortcomings and wonder if it was really okay for the pastor's wife to be struggling in this or that area. And then I would compare myself with other pastors' wives who seemed to be filling their traditional roles just fine.
11 Dobson, 22.
Why can't I be more like them?
But the primary difficulty is the impact the traditional idea of the pastor's wife has made on the church as a whole. In this regard, I have very little to complain about in my personal experience. The congregation at Redeemer as a whole has always been accepting of me as a sister in Christ, and I have found much freedom there to serve and fellowship comfortably. But there are always those few encounters with people who have made criticisms and subtly challenged the way I view my role in the church. People who weren't satisfied with the amount of hospitality I do. People who didn't understand why I don't participate with my husband in counseling sessions. And those who didn't understand why I haven't taken it upon myself to disciple their wives into godliness.
But my trials have been mild compared to what some have had to face. It is not uncommon for a pastor's wife to walk into a church situation where it seems that the people already view her with an attitude of resentment and hostility, though it seems she has done nothing to provoke it. One pastor's wife who was new to her church said, "I've been accused of doing things that are not right[but] no one tells me what that is. . . I've been accused of not including all the women in the things that we do. But, when I ask them to comethey don't participate. Or, if I ask them to participate or [ask if] they have any ideas for things we might dono one responds."12
I think these negative and hostile attitudes that so many pastors' wives encounter are symptomatic of the strange relationship that people have traditionally sustained with their pastors' wives for so long now. In our church culture, people have come to believe strongly that the pastor's wife should be placed high on a pedestal, but at the same they may also feel somewhat resentful that she's there. It becomes obvious that these mixed feelings about the pastor's wife exist in many churches, when you hear how there are some congregations that criticize their pastor's wife for failing to live up to her role, but then there are just as many congregations that resent their pastor's wife because she executes her role too well. A pastor's wife who is too perfect is a threat. Anyone who is too perfect makes everyone else feel inadequate. How
much more so if it is the pastor's wife who is viewed as setting the spiritual pace for the rest of the women in the church! Of course, it is even worse if the pastor's wife is found to be inadequate. Resentment quickly turns into contempt. Why should we treat her as if she were someone special, when she's no different from the rest of us!
In the typical church scenario, many people respond to the pastor's wife similarly to the way they respond to the law. At first they admire her and strive to live up to her standard, but it isn't long before they begin feeling inadequate, burdened and oppressed. Pretty soon they are looking for ways to lower the standard so they won't look so bad by comparison; hence, they look for her faults, and try to find out what others have also seen of her failures and flaws. When people have been conditioned to view the pastor's wife as someone who sets the standard for the other women in the church, it is no wonder many will respond to her as if she were a walking covenant of works!
In my own experience I have found that throwing off the lofty ideals of pastor's wifehood has had the overall long-term effect of reinforcing a sense of freedom in the church that is consistent with the truths of the gospel. Although at first taking such a route has brought some criticism my way because there were those who thought I was neglecting my role, as time passed it seemed that people got used to the idea of having a pastor's wife who didn't exactly fit the stereotype. I didn't have a great program or ministry set up to help all the women get their lives together. But as a result it seemed that people began to relax more and enjoy the Christian life, because they didn't have the stress of having to measure up to some artificial standard I was setting up for them. I think that the absence of this stress from people's lives removes much of the spirit of competition that sometimes spoils the fellowship among sisters in Christ, and frequently creates problems in the relationship between the pastor's wife and the women in her church.
But I am also aware that in many churches the solution is not so simple. Because of the impact the traditional idea of a pastor's wife has made on the church, even if a pastor's wife is not trying to be a threat to anybody, even if she desires to take the biblical route of just being a regular parishioner in her church, she may still find herself criticized or resented by some.
As distressing and frustrating a reality as this is, I think it may be helpful for a pastor's wife to understand the complexities of her situation. She needs to step back and realize that she has inherited troubles and attitudes that stem from a long-standing tradition in the church that has flourished for years in the soil of bad theology, pragmatic ministry, and overall earthly-mindedness. The problems she faces are symptomatic of the lack of Christ-centered preaching in the church at large.
Role Modeling As Application Bridge
Christians who are not receiving their nourishment from Christ through sound preaching will naturally start relying on people and methodology as a substitute. When a sense of spiritual dullness and discontent comes upon them, they immediately look for a stronger dose of practical instruction to remedy the problem. When people start to feel insecure about their Christian life because it has become static and routine, and then they go to churches where the preacher pounds the pulpit every Sunday and asks, "How is God making a difference in your life?" they begin to panic. They frantically look around for something in their lives they can shake up or improve. They need to assure themselves somehow that they aren't losing their grip on God.
But when the average Christian woman sitting in the pew considers her life and wonders how God could make a difference in her life, what is she supposed to come up with? Well, she could stand to lose a few pounds, she could use more hours in her already hectic day, and she could have a happier marriage. Maybe God is telling her that she is supposed to trust him to help her get her life in order. And so in the spirit of urgency to be assured that God really is making a difference in her life, mixed with some of her own personal discontentment, the Christian life becomes for her a push to have a more perfect life. And who does she turn to for insight into attaining this goal, which has been mistakenly labeled as a "God's will for her life," but the pastor's wife? After all, she is the one who is supposed to be her spiritual role model. It is her job to show the women what it means to live a godly life.
The fact is, once Christians buy into the notion that the only real difference God makes in their lives is the practical difference, the pastor's wife is
doomed. For once people start thinking that the Bible is not about seeing their heavenly life secured in Christ, but is about making Christ relevant to their earthly lives here and now, all kinds of effort needs to be poured into making the Bible's teaching conform to our situations. According to this approach the Bible must be applied, otherwise it is only a dead letter and its theology remains dormant head knowledge; for the Bible is an ancient text with which our modern world can only connect through the building of application bridges. The pastor's wife becomes one of those application bridges. It is her job to show how Jesus is relevant to today's Christian woman. She must bridge the gap between the first century Jesus of Nazareth and the late 20th century modern woman.
The pastor's wife is typically expected to rise to this task by being a role model for the women and showing them how to live the Christian life. But as we have pointed out earlier, the demands that can be placed on her in this regard are conceivably endless. This is because in the application bridge approach, the gospel is supposed to make a practical difference in people's lives, but what that practical difference is can be just about anything. People want to have their lives in order, their checkbooks balanced, their houses clean, their children well-behaved, their Bible verses memorized, their marriages harmonious, and still have time left over to serve gloriously in their churches. They want something that resembles a cross between Mount Zion and the American dream. Thus, it is no surprise that the job description of the pastor's wife so closely resembles the fantastic ideals many people have for how they want God to make a difference for them. To be an adequate application bridge, the pastor's wife must have every practical and visible area of her life in order.
A biblical-theological look at the Scriptures, however, tells us that God has already made a difference in our lives that surpasses anything we could have hoped for or imagined in our own finite minds. The Bible tells us that our life's story has already been played out in the drama of redemptive history and brought to its glorious conclusion in Christ. The real difference is that we have gone from the first Adam to the last Adam, from slavery to sonship, from death to life, from hell to heaven. Thus, this difference between our old life and our new life in Christ is not something we must strive to make real for ourselves. It
is an objective heavenly reality already obtained for us by the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.
But are these just heavenly truths that do us no earthly good? Certainly they do make a difference here and now. For the objective reality of our new life in Christ is something we participate in by faith, hence our earthly life will reflect that difference. Because now that we possess every good thing in Christ, his love, his obedience, his intercession, his forgiveness, we cannot help but enjoy these benefits by bringing them to fruition in our own lives. Nevertheless, our good works are only a shadow, if you will, of what is true and real about us in Christ. Our life on earth draws its strength from and points back to a heavenly reality. To live according to that heavenly reality is what it means to walk by faith.
But when the application bridge approach exalts "changed lives" as the ultimate goal of Christianity, people in pursuit of this goal inevitably end up trying to be sanctified by works. This is because the application bridge model disregards Christ as the mediator between God and man. Instead, works is what sustains and mediates people's relationship with God, for people only feel like God is working in their lives if they see some kind of tangible evidence. And once Christians become caught up in this mentality, they will naturally place a great deal of importance on role models to guide their sanctification. Role models are practical and tangible. They are accessible and provide a standard that people can strive for. If all that interests people is knowing what they should be doing, that is what a role model will tell them. Of course, everyone agrees that Jesus is put forth as our ultimate role model, and it has even become a popular Christian cliché to ask, "What would Jesus do?" whenever one is caught in a moment of indecision, or doesn't know what to do in a particular situation.
However, when Jesus' example doesn't address our situation as women, it is convenient to look to the pastor's wife for the answers. While evangelical Christian women will look to her for practical tips on godly living, Reformed Christians are concerned about where their pastor's wife stands on issues and how zealously she carries out these convictions in her life. Does she approve or disapprove of birth control? Does she send her kids to public school, Christian school, or teach them at home? And what is her opinion on school vouch-
ers? For you see, where Jesus' example is silent, the example of the pastor's wife can fill in the gaps in areas that we think are the real pressing questions of the Christian life.
The obvious problem is that role models can be abused to bind people's consciences with extra-biblical standards. Even the question, "What would Jesus do?" is a question of speculation, calling us to use our imagination to go beyond what is revealed in his life. But it is also interesting to note that although the Bible acknowledges a place for role models in the church, it doesn't teach us to depend on them for our sanctification. It doesn't even teach us to ask, "What would Jesus do?" Instead it teaches us to ask, "What has Jesus done?" Because Jesus has accomplished all righteousness for us, there is no need to busy ourselves with things we must do to make ourselves feel righteous. And since our life is now hidden with Christ in heaven, even on earth we live as those who belong to the world above. Our sanctification is not about mastering this present age or making a better life in it, but about refusing to let it define who we really are.
But people who think the bottom line of the Christian life is simply knowing what they should be doing have disregarded the power of the age to come, and pretend that the power of the flesh to keep the law is a sufficient substitute. Yet how can they reach the heavenly goal of sanctification by using the earthly means of their own efforts? How can they participate in the glories of the age to come by drawing on the resources of this present evil age?
The pastor's wife who is caught up with trying to be the role model everyone wants her to be can become especially caught up in an earthly-minded bondage to this age. For she must lead the pack in the scramble to make the Bible relevant to her life. She must continually have some kind of dynamic spiritual activity in her life to feel good not only about her standing as a Christian, but also as a worthy role model. She must be the most zealous when it comes to practicing application.
But I think that if the pastor's wife is to be any kind of example at all, she should be an example of a person who lives out the gospel, not the law. If she is expected to be a role model, then let her model the truth of God's redemption and not the false gospel of earthly decrees. It is her obligation not to get
caught up in legalism, but to promote by her example the liberty that Christ has purchased for her.
Of course, the passage everyone points to in order to justify their ideas about the pastor's wife is Titus 2. According to this passage, older women must teach the younger women to love their husbands, to love their children, and to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, and subject to their husbands. Most would say Titus 2 proves that women need other women to show them how the Bible applies to their specific female needs, to span the gap between abstract theology and the practical issues faced by the women of their day.
What is overlooked is that the church of Titus 2 was a congregation with a biblical-theological understanding of themselves in Christ. Following the exhortation to the women, verses 11-13 of the same chapter explain why the women ought to conduct themselves in this way: "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of their God and Savior Jesus Christ." So according to this passage, it is the grace of God revealed from above that instructs our conduct in this present age; and it is the hope of the age to come that beckons us to persevere in that conduct.
When the apostle Paul mandated the older women to train the younger women in the ways of godliness, it had nothing to do with an older woman's ability to understand how the gospel can be made relevant to women. This was not a program to meet the needs of women, for the gospel has already met their true spiritual needs in Christ. This was not about self-improvement or feeling better about themselves; nor was it about the older women advising the younger women on whether they should breast-feed or bottle-feed their baby, or which home-schooling materials they ought to be using.
Rather reverence for the gospel, not relevance to a personal agenda, is the point of this instruction. It was about showing the younger women how they in their daily conduct can serve the cause of the gospel; how they as wives and
mothers can adorn the gospel and demonstrate what it means to live for a heavenly hope. These formerly pagan women who were accustomed to a life of ungodliness and sensuality needed the encouragement and instruction of seasoned Christian women in basic areas of life, such as love, purity, and self-control, so that their behavior wouldn't bring reproach to the gospel. And I think it is important to note that these seasoned Christian women whom Paul called into service were the older women of the church; he does not even mention the pastor's wife, let alone ask her single-handedly to bear all the responsibility of this ministry.
At a biblical-theological church, a pastor's wife has a great advantage. The regular dose of Christ-centered preaching, teaching and ministry can pave the way for her to make progress in establishing a role for herself that is not so legalistic and idealistic, but is more suited to her own abilities and gifts. When people start drawing their spiritual strength from the blessed hope of the age to come, it soon becomes apparent to them that what the pastor's wife or any human being can contribute to their spiritual growth is weak and ineffectual by comparison. Why scrape the bottom of a dry cistern, when they can draw from a well that overflows to the satisfaction of their thirst? Suddenly the ministry of the pastor's wife is not so crucial anymore in their eyes; and she in turn is free to serve without always being afraid that she may be falling short of somebody's expectations.
Yet at the same time I think we also need to acknowledge this fact: given the church's long-standing obsession with relevant, pragmatic Christianity, the typical pressures and expectations placed on pastors' wives will sometimes find inroads even into churches that desire to exalt the gospel of Jesus Christ. For legalism isn't just a product of bad theology; nor is it simply an erroneous approach to ministry; it is a condition of the human heart. It takes time to root it out of the church because it takes time to root it out of man himself.
Colossians 2 and 3
But even if a pastor's wife finds herself in a congregation that does not yet understand the full implications of living for the age to come, she can still take heart. For in Christ she already possesses a freedom that cannot be taken from
her. Christ has obtained her liberty from the oppression of earthly laws, when he fulfilled the law for her. She especially must cling to this truth because she has not only the guilt of her own conscience to battle on a daily basis, but must also know how to respond to the demands, the criticisms and sometimes the resentment of others. Every instinct she has will urge her to do whatever it takes to appease her critics and submit herself to their demands, because it is only natural to want to be justified before men. But the gospel says there is no need to panic about being approved by men; God has already approved her in Christ. He has silenced every condemnation pronounced against her when he rose again for her justification. She has already died to this world and its judgments, and her life is now hidden with Christ in God.
According to Colossians 2:14, Christ has "canceled the written code, with its regulations, that stood against us . . . having nailed it to the cross." And in Colossians 2:20-23 the apostle Paul says, "Since you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: 'Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!' These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on the commandments and teachings of men." When we feel reproached, either by the opinions of others or by our own consciences, for not living up to the ideal pastor's wife model, we feel tempted to try to live up to the false standard of godliness that tradition dictates for us. But according to Colossians 2:24, "such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-made religion, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining fleshly indulgence."
I'm not saying that a pastor's wife should never try to improve herself in the mundane areas of her life. I'm not saying that if I were unhappy with the way I managed my time, it would be wrong for me to go out and buy myself a Franklin Covey Planner. But I find there is a difference between buying a planner because I have a personal goal of managing my time better, versus buying one because as the pastor's wife shouldn't I be an example of a wise steward of my time? One approach is exercising my freedom in Christ to profitably redeem the time God has given me in this passing evil age. The other approach is an attempt to be a worthy pastor's wife, to fulfill a law that dictates what is and is not a good pastor's wife, and to avoid the condemnation I will
feel if I fail in this area. As soon as I start thinking I should do something because I'm the pastor's wife, I am striving for and defining myself by an earthly standard. Stress and anxiety is what characterizes this worldly striving; but a sense of freedom comes when we are seeking the things above.
Paradoxically, I find that when I have the assurance of my freedom from the bondage of the law, I am much more enthusiastic about such things as working on my marriage, doing housework and serving in the church. For Paul says that once we are grounded in the indicative of Colossians 3:1-4when we apprehend that we have died and our life is hidden with Christ Godwe are free to live out the imperatives that flow from it, namely submitting to our husbands (3:18), living in peace with our fellow Christians (3:15), and doing our work heartily as for the Lord rather than for men (3:23). Only when the burden of trying to be justified by the Law is lifted do we find strength to serve in the power of the Spirit.
Freedom to Submit
But even if a pastor's wife has found freedom to serve Christ in this way, it doesn't guarantee that her critics will be silenced. What about those situations in which her freedom is judged by onlookers as unfitting behavior "for a pastor's wife"? For example, one pastor's wife who was a newcomer to a small town church said she received constant disapproving looks from the women in the church for wearing a silver ring on her thumb. Though no one said a word to her directly about it, after just two weeks the pressure became so great, she felt compelled to stop wearing the ring. Who can blame her?
Here is where we see another paradox come into play for the pastor's wife who has found assurance of her liberty from the law. For even as she faces this potentially oppressive situation, her sense of freedom in Christ does not need to be hampered. There are times when complying with the demands of her weaker brothers and sisters in Christ can actually be an exercise of her liberty in Christ, provided that she seeks to appease them out of love and not fear.
What is the difference? A pastor's wife who complies with such a demand because she fears the opinions of others will feel like she is forfeiting her
liberty. But if she understands her liberty from the law to be an unforfeitable reality that she already possesses in Christ, she can choose to use her freedom to serve others. She can choose to submit herself to her brothers and sisters so as not to offend their weak consciences.
But then what good does it do a pastor's wife to say that she is free from man-made regulations, but in practice she must submit herself to some of them anyhow so as not to give offense? I think understanding her objective freedom from the law in Christ makes a big difference in this way: If the pastor's wife at the small town church gives up her thumb ring because she feels forced by the people to do so, she will feel as if she is in bondage to their whims. What else are they going to demand of me? she wonders. Then again she may doggedly continue to wear it, as if all of her Christian liberty hung on whether or not she would prevail in this struggle. In either case, her sense of liberty is dependent on what she does or does not do in this situation.
But a firm grasp of the true liberty she already possesses in Christ can set her free from such anxieties. For her freedom is already secure in heaven, and does not depend on her earthly life. If Christ has truly set her free, the choice of what to do with the ring is hers; and the Bible encourages us to use our freedom to serve one another through love (Galatians 5:13). This may mean giving it up so as not to give offense. Or it may mean keeping it out of the same principle of love. The point is, when we are living for heaven, when we know where our true identity lies, even temporary earthly subjection can become simply another way of serving our true Master above.
For a pastor's wife who finds herself in such a situation, one hope she has is that a regular dose of Christ-exalting, biblical-theological preaching and teaching will begin to set people free from the bondage they are under. For those who subject others to bondage are usually under bondage themselves. On the other hand, people who are secure in their identity in Christ will not be threatened by what the pastor's wife is or is not doing. They will have come to see her as a sister and fellow heir in Christ, even as they have come to see themselves.
The Sufferings of the Not Yet
In this presentation I have tried to show how understanding a biblical-theological view of the Christian life frees the pastor's wife from the guilt, the expectations, and the unnecessary burdens placed upon her by the traditional understanding of her role in the church. I have also tried to show how she can function much more comfortably in the church when the congregation also has a Christ-centered understanding of the Christian life. But I do not want to give the impression that a pastor's wife at a biblical-theological church shouldn't have problems, or ever face discouragement, or ever feel stung by someone's critical remark. I certainly wouldn't want to give the impression that through biblical theology, I have found a way to escape all the pains and sorrows that come with being a pastor's wife.
Biblical theology simply does not support such an ideal scenario. Perhaps the most practical lesson I have derived from biblical theology as a pastor's wife is understanding that the glories of the already exist side-by-side with the sufferings of the not yet. Suffering is real and inevitable in this life. Even Christ had to suffer in the flesh, and endure insults, persecutions, misunderstandings and rejection in this life. We who bear Christ's name will not be treated any better. In fact, we are called to bear the same cross as our Lord.
Suffering will come to a pastor's wife, if not for reasons I have already mentioned in this presentation, then simply because her husband, as a gospel minister, battles at the front lines of spiritual warfare. Timothy was exhorted by Paul to endure the hardships of the ministry like a good soldier of Jesus Christ. The woman who is married to a gospel minister will, as a matter of course, have to endure many hardships with him. There is no need for her to bring them upon herself by being a self-appointed martyr for the sake of the ministry; the trials will come to her in due time. She may not feel like her troubles are glorious sufferings for the cause of the gospel: struggling with financial difficulties, battling discouragement, or hearing her husband slandered by others. And when she suffers these things alone, as many pastors' wives do, the hardship can be overwhelming. But when she endures her trials as one whose hope is not found in this life, she does suffer for Christ, because her patience testifies of the hope he holds for her in the world to come.
But God also gives us great comfort in the midst of our sufferings. For though there are times when we must suffer hardships and afflictions that only God can give us the strength to bear, we understand that we are participating not only in Christ's blessings in heaven, but also in Christ's sufferings here on earthand that is a glorious privilege. It is through suffering that we identify ourselves with Christ, embrace his cause, and show ourselves to be worthy of his name. And it is through suffering that we also taste the glory of the cross, because just as Christ endured the cross for the joy set before him, so we also learn that even our darkest moments are a window through which we behold the brightness of heaven's hope more clearly.
Keeping that hope in sight, as we serve the Lord here on earth, is what I believe we as pastors' wives need to be encouraged to do, especially in these days when we feel so much pressure to conform to the earthly-minded expectations for our role, and undertake so much stress from the daily grind of the ministry. Only an eschatological perspective can encourage us to see that our trials are really but momentary light afflictions producing an eternal weight of glory, far beyond all comparison.
Sherman Oaks, California
James T. Dennison, Jr.
In the 14th century, Nicholas of Lyra compiled the most famous Biblical commentary of the Middle Agesthe Biblia sacra cum glossa ordinaria. In the preface to his work, Nicholas summarized the famous four-fold sense of Scripture identified with the hermeneutics of the medieval church: literal, moral, allegorical, anagogical. In commenting on Psalm 23:1, which Nicholas translates "the Lord rules me" (following the Vulgate), he adds the following allegorical comment: this verse shows how the mendicant friars (by which Nicholas means his own Franciscan order)this verse shows how Franciscan monks receive all the necessities of life.
Unlike the medieval allegorist, the Reformed exegete begins his study of the Psalter with the magisterial essay "The Eschatology of the Psalter" by the radical anti-allegorist, Geerhardus Vos.1 Vos directs our attention to the theocentric aspect of the Psalms, both devotionally and eschatologically. It is patent that the subjective voice of the Psalmist is responding to God's objective actswhat we may call the magnalia Dei. It is this subjective or devotional reflection on God's mighty acts in history which draws the Psalmist into the unfolding drama of God's program of redemption. Vos remarkably perceives the
1 First published in 1920 (Princeton Theological Review 18:1-43), it is now an appendix to The Pauline Eschatology (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1991) 323-65.
interface between the subjective and the objectivebetween the religiously devotional and the historically eschatological. In other words, the Psalter's devotional attachment to God carries with it a participation in the history of God's saving actsa participation which must, in the nature of the case, issue in eschatological fruition. Possessing the God of the Psalms, devotionally speaking, carries the poet along into the drama of redemption, historically speakingand that devotional, yea historical participation, is eschatologically oriented. Indeed, Vos reminds us, "a redemptive religion without eschatological interest would be a contradiction in terms." The Psalter breathes the air of the eschatological in breathing the air of religious devotion: "whom have I in heaven save thee" (Ps. 73:25); "one thing have I asked from the Lord . . . that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life (Ps. 27:4)"; "and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever" (Ps. 23:6).
Now we may credit Vos for his programmatic approach to the Psalter, yet ask, "How does Psalm 23 fit the program?" The entire Jewish-Christian tradition would reply: a devotional treasure, a religious favorite, a solace well nigh universal and comprehensive. Indeed so! Vos's subjective/devotional element clearly perceived, if not actually experienced. But where is the historical vector? Precisely what historical context gives rise to this pastoral poetry? The medievalists, as the Rabbis before them, groped for a historical setting to Psalm 23 without success. No more successful are Reformation and modern critical proposals for the Sitz im Leben. What then? Does the absence of an explicit historical circumstance remove the Psalm from the realm of history? No more than the absence of a specific historical context for the book of Job renders that book mythological.
You see, Hebrew poetry remains historical though no specific historical setting may be identified. How can I assert that? Because revelation is by definition communicated in history even though we may be unaware of the specific historical setting. To deny this is to open oneself to medieval allegorism; or worse, to reduce the biblical text to myth; or even to reduce the text to the deadly, though all too common, moralism.
Thus, Psalm 23 is eminently historical though the precise historical event eliciting the Shepherd metaphor eludes us. I have described the opening line of the Psalm as a metaphor. Literarily, Psalm 23 is a tightly wrapped bundle of
imagesvivid images, yet images balanced in binary fashion: lie downgreen pastures; leadeth mestill waters; restorethmy soul; leadeth mepaths of righteousness; walk throughvalley of the shadow of death; fearno evil; artwith me; rod and staffcomfort me; preparest a tablepresence of mine enemies; anointest my headoil; cupoverflows; goodness and mercyall the days; dwellhouse of the Lord. The binary sequence of the images intensifies from verdant pastures to the vale of death; from gently flowing water-streams to tense confrontation with enemies; from the Shepherd-Lord's Immanuel presence to the Lord's eternal dwelling house.
This binary literary pattern directs our attention to the poetic structure of the Psalm. And the keen eye of the Hebrew student (with his Hebrew Bible open before him) detects an envelop inclusion enfolding the whole poem: Yahweh roî/bebet Yahweh ("The Lord my shepherd"/"the house of Lord"). The Lord Yahweh at the beginning and the end of the Psalm; the binary imagery enclosed by God himself; the Psalmist enveloped by his Lord. And you will notice the inclusio of the Lord is followed at the beginning and end of the Psalm by a lamedh word: lo (negative particle, v. 1); leorek (phrase of duration, v. 6)Yahweh lo/Yahweh leorek.
There is further structural alignment in the positional phrases: "in green pastures," v. 2 (preposition, beth); "in the house of the Lord," v. 6 (preposition, beth). The beth preposition re-echoes in binary fashion in vv. 3 and 4: "in the paths of righteousness"/"in the valley of the shadow of death."
Next we note the alliterative yoshôbeb and the beth preposition (v. 3, "restores . . . in") matched by yashabtî and the beth preposition (v. 6, "dwell in"). In passing, I note briefly the binary kî clauses (vv. 3 and 4): "for his name's sake"/ "for thou art with me" (personalized imminence theology). But then, the fascinating binary antithesis: salmawet ("shadow of death," v. 4) juxtaposed with hayyay ("life," v. 6). The Divine Pastor is life, not death; in the shadow of death, this Shepherd is life kol-yemê ("all my days") leorek yamîn ("to unending days").
Yet one more binary pattern: conjunction plus plural verb plus pronominal suffix: v. 4we followed by yenahhamunî ("and . . . they comfort me"); v. 6 we followed by yirdepunî ("and . . . shall follow me").
Structurally, literarily, the Hebrew of the 23rd Psalm is a carefully constructed binary patterned poem moving back and forth from the Psalmist to God, from God to the Psalmist (I/Thou; Thou/I); a carefully constructed binary pronoun enveloping close patterns of sufficiency and rest, of refreshment and guidance, of fearlessness and overflowing abundance, of goodness and mercy, of length of days in the house of the Lord. And amazingly, at the center26 Hebrew words on one side, 26 Hebrew words on the other sideat the center of the Psalm kî atta immadî ("for thou art with me"). At the antipodes of the PsalmYahweh; at the very center of the PsalmYahweh immadî. From beginning, to middle, to end, the Psalmist in union with his Shepherd-Lord. The I/Thou pronouns are expressing the mystical union experienced between the Shepherd and his lamb. Yes, the divine Shepherd and his lambfor this Psalm is David's confession that he is a lamba lamb whom God maketh to lie down in green pastures; a lamb whom God leadeth beside still waters; a lamb whose soul God restoreth; a lamb whom God leadeth in righteous paths; a lamb protected by the rod and staff of the Lord; a lamb whose permanent dwelling place is the house of the Lord.
You will notice that the apparently static imagery of the Psalm (lie down in green pastures; leadeth beside still waters; preparest a table) reflects an absolute statean absolute state of possessionan absolute state of the possession of God himself: my Shepherd, thou art with me, I will dwell forever with thee. Permanent possession of the Lord is the Psalmist's sure confidence. The Lord will never be to him other than a shepherdhe will never be a destroyer-tyrant; the Lord will never be to the Psalmist other than immadî ("with me")he will never leave or forsake him; the Lord will never cast the Psalmist away from his dwelling placethe Lord will never dispossess him of his houseno never, not ever.
This present and future prospect is historical and eschatological. It arises from the history of David's experience of God's salvation (like a shepherd saving a lamb); and it participates in the permanent dimension of that relationship eschatologically (like an eternal resident in an eternal dwelling place). In fact, the historical becomes anticipatory of the eschatological, while the eschatological intrudes itself into the historical. David's shepherd experience antici-
pates the eschatological Shepherd, while the eschatological Shepherd intrudes himself into David's experience.
And it is here that we return to Vos's profound essay on the eschatology of the Psalter. If the devotional or subjective aspect of the Psalm is union and communion with God (the sweet mystical union with the Lord: "thou art with me"); and the historical or objective aspect of the Psalm is the permanence of that union and communion (the eschatological union with the Lord: "I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever"); then the Psalm itself displays an embodiment of the divine-human relationship. The divine Shepherd condescends to draw this lamb into intimate, permanent union with himself. The vertical penetrates the horizontal to possess, yea to unite, the soul of the beloved lamb with the heavenly Shepherd, so that between the two there will be present and future never-ending union and communionin the house of the Lord for ever and ever and ever.
But may I suggest something more profound. Consider the paradigmatic embodiment of the divine Shepherd-human lamb in reverse. Consider the paradigm: the Shepherd becomes the lamb; the Shepherd trades places with the lamb. And then consider the paradigm in which the antithesisshadow of death and lifeare reversed: the one who possesses eternal life submits to the shadow of death. Consider the paradigm in which the tables are turnedthe enemies anoint the head with agony and shame, the cup is drained to the dregs. Consider the paradigm in which the subjective and the objective are inverted: the devotional attachment to God is rupturedracked with pathetic separationthe very opposite of union and communion with God; the objective relationship of permanent fellowship recoils in anti-eschatological derelictionthe very wrath of God is poured out in abandonmentdesertion.
Do you see? Now the Sitz im Leben of the Psalm becomes trans-historical because now the Psalm becomes incarnational. Oh, you may identify David as a type of Christ, but you have only flattened David to the level of your horizon. David in Psalm 23 is a display of the life of Christthe life of Christ intruding, uniting, identifying David's own shepherd-life with the Eschatological Shepherd's life. And the antithesis of that life?where the eschatological and the historical intersectthe Shepherd becomes the lamb so that he may die in their place. "I am the Good Shepherd; the Good Shepherd lays down his life for
the sheep" (John 10:11). "Behold, the lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8). "For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall be their shepherd and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes" (Rev. 7:17).
David's sweet binary poem draws David into the mystery of heaven itself. Heaven's mystery that in the fullness of time, what David, shepherd, confessed about the Lord, divine Shepherd; what David, lamb, confessed about a lamb's devotion and possessionthat, that could only be truethat could only be validthat could only come to pass, if the Divine Shepherdthe eschatological Shepherdchanged places with the sheep. A union and communion of Shepherd and sheep which would incarnate the very fullness of Psalm 23.
The Lord Jesus is my Shepherd;
Frances Young, The Theology of the Pastoral Letters. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1994, 170 pp., hardback, ISBN: 0-521-37036-1
As the readers of Kerux are well aware, there is a dire need for redemptive-historical commentaries on the Pastoral Epistles. Whether stripped of their authority by erudite liberals or robbed of their beauty by agenda-driven conservatives, the Pastorals have fallen upon hard times. Frances Young's work does nothing to restore the Pastorals to their exalted position as the last will and testament of the Apostle Paul.
Frances Young is the Edward Cadbury Professor of Theology at the University of Birmingham. His book is one volume in the Cambridge Theology of the New Testament series, whose stated purpose is "to remedy the deficiency of available published material, which has tended to concentrate on historical, textual, grammatical and literary issues at the expense of the theology . . . ." Thus Young's book is not a verse-by-verse commentary, but a survey of topics unique to the Pastorals. Young's chapter titles include: "Theology and Ethics," "God and the Divine Activity," "The Importance of Sound Teaching," and "Duties in the Household of Faith."
Young's book is easy to read, and though stated to be directed at "those who already have one or two years of full-time New Testament and theological study behind them," the average layperson would find little difficulty following Young's thoughts. Young rarely deals with the Greek, nor does he spend much time exegeting specific texts. His strength lies in his acumen of the Greek social structures which in Young's opinion the author of the Pastorals was attempting to preserve. As usual one must sift through the sitz im Leben
philosophy, but Young avoids using typical neo-orthodox language. Young rightly perceives that the overriding motif throughout the Pastorals is the care of the household, and offers valuable glimpses into the average Greek household and its structure and character. Unfortunately he fails to move beyond Hellenism to the oikonomos of the Old Testament, in which both the Temple and the nation Israel stand as the retrospective backdrop for the Pastorals.
Modern Christianity is embarrassed by structure and authority in reference to the church. Yet she typically looks at the authority and structure of the Tabernacle and the nation Israel in a positive light. The twelve tribes surrounding the Tabernacle, each with a designated purpose and under called officers, is a picture that evokes favorable images. Yet how much more should we rejoice in the structure and authority of the heavenly tabernacle as it marches on to the true Promised Land! The Pastorals are glorious books when viewed in the light of the history of redemption.
Unfortunately while Young recognizes the call of the Pastorals for structure and authority, he is somewhat embarrassed by it. Young points out that the world of the Pastorals is a world foreign to our own modern, democratic individualism. But Young is clearly uncomfortable with that old world. He sees the need for authoritative teachers to maintain sound theology in the church, but seeks to avoid a return to the rigid authoritative arrangement of the Pastorals. In a section dealing with the theological problems of the pastorals, Young comments:
Thus Young's dilemma is how to preserve the importance of the Pastorals while at the same time demythologizing them for our modern democratic worldview. His solution to this dilemma is to encourage the modern church
to adopt the character qualities of the different members of the Pastoral household "while discovering new ways of exercising those qualities in practice" (p. 155).
Young is a liberal. While the book is amply footnoted, there is little interaction with conservatives and none with any orthodox Biblical Theologians. But one can sympathize considering the dearth of Biblical Theological material on the Pastorals available. As with good liberals Young often comes amazingly close to the type of biblical-theological insights from which preachers might glean. He writes, "The present life of the community is 'between the times' we might say. The eschatological tension of Paul and the gospels has been simplified, but it is still there." Unfortunately Young concludes that the eschatology of the Pastorals does "not make sense as Pauline theology, but they do have a theology of their own" (p. 73). And while he rightly recognizes the over-eschatology that characterized the detractors in Ephesus, he barely mentions the biblical eschatology of the Pastorals given in response to this problem. One would be encouraged to study Philip Towner's work on this subject (The Goal of Our Instruction: The Structure of Theology and Ethics in the Pastoral Epistles, 1989).
Young waits until the end of the book to explain what he has assumed throughout the book, that Paul could not have written these letters. These closing sections do not match the careful thought and analysis of the rest. Young's critiques of Pauline authorship have been well refuted by commentators such as George Knight. Young brings nothing new to the table in this 200-year-old debate.
The conservative evangelical church and the Reformed community have done a rather poor job in heralding the important place of the Pastorals in the history of redemption. Conservatives often are just as embarrassed by the authoritative tone and focus on church structure. Only by seeing the Pastorals as the last stage in the history of redemption will these books be recognized as the jewels on top of the New Testament crown. As in the second half of Exodus, here is the construction of the Tabernaclethe dwelling place of God. But now we are dealing with his permanent dwelling place! Here is the last Moses giving his last will and testament to the eternal covenant community.
Here is Paul's upper room discourse: Paul in the image of Christ declaring his dying words of love and perseverance to his beloved church.
Authority and structure in the Pastorals can only avoid the embarrassment of liberalism and the agendas of the conservatism when church authority is seen in union with Christ; Christ the Master, yet servant of all; Christ who comes in power and glory yet serves as host at the great wedding banquet.
I would recommend this book only as an addition to an adequate collection of works on the Pastorals, but would warn the reader not to expect any groundbreaking scholarship or exegetical insights into any particular text. It can be useful in getting a feel for the unique perspectives of the Pastorals vs. the other New Testament books, and for obtaining insights into the early Greek household.
It may be time for those so gifted to step up and fill the need for quality commentaries on the Pastorals; commentaries that see these books in the light of the history of redemption.
Darrell L. Bock, Luke, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994, 412 pp., cloth. ISBN: 0-8308-1803-0.
With the completion and publication of his massive two-volume commentary on Luke,1 Darrell Bock has emerged as an influential evangelical voice in the field of Lucan studies. The present work, which is less technical in its outlook than Bock's larger two-volume work, is a volume in the IVP New Testament Commentary series.
1 Darrell L. Bock, The Gospel of Luke, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, 2 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1994, 1995).
At the outset, it is important to note the focus of this series and of Bock's volume on Luke in particular. According to its editor, this series was specifically designed to facilitate the homiletical efforts of pastors in moving "from the text to its contemporary relevance and application" (p. 9). Bock himself states that, in contrast with his two-volume work, "this work focuses on relevancy" (p. 12). While the pursuit of relevance need not be a bad thing, depending upon how one defines 'relevance' and where one seeks for it, such pursuits often run the risk of reconstructing the text as a product of contemporary concerns rather than letting the text speak for itself. Whether Bock manages to make the text of Luke's gospel 'relevant' while at the same time avoiding the imposition of contemporary agendas upon it is a question to which I will return at the close of this review.
As one reads this work, it becomes obvious that Bock is very well read in the Old Testament background to Luke, particularly in reference to the Christology of Luke.2 Bock's work also displays a thorough knowledge of Jewish tradition at the time of Christ, and he provides many helpful background comments in this regard. There is also a good deal of useful material for readers who are interested in the conceptual parallels and differences between Luke's gospel and the Mishnah, Talmud, and Jewish apocryphal writings. Though the work does not contain indexes, there is a fairly representative bibliography of the most important works available on Luke in English.
With regard to Bock's development of the theology of the text, one will find occasional insights that are helpful (see my further comments below). On the whole, however, the theological development of the text is uneven and often lacks penetration. Although Bock frequently references the Old Testament, he seldom develops the theological significance of these references. To take but one example, while commenting on Jesus' use of Malachi 3:1 in Luke 7:27 (p. 138), Bock observes that the prophet's language recalls the Old Testament image of the Shekinah glory going before the people Israel and preparing
2Bock's doctoral dissertation, which he completed at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, focuses upon the Old Testament background to Luke's Christology. It was published by Sheffield Academic Press in 1987 under the title Proclamation from Prophecy and Pattern: Lucan Old Testament Christology (Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series 12).
the way for them. Despite his recognition that 'Exodus imagery' is present, Bock fails to develop the thought or even attempt to discuss how it relates to the eschatological exodus of Christ.
Bock's treatment of Luke's infancy narrative is also thin, even though he lists Raymond Brown's work in this area in his bibliography. Somewhat more encouraging is Bock's treatment of Luke's account of the Parable of the Sower (p. 148). Bock rightly recognizes that the parable does not refer to various stages of sanctification among believers, and that there are only two classes of people in view in the parablebelievers and unbelievers, with the former being exclusively identified with the good soil. Nevertheless, in his subsequent attempts to make application of the text, he fails to be consistent with this insight and ends up urging believers not to let "life's worries" choke out their fruit, thus applying to believers a text that he had previously identified with unbelievers.
Lest readers of this review be misled, it should be noted that there are places where Bock does develop the theological implications of Luke's allusions to the Old Testament and to specific Old Testament texts. On the temptation narrative in Luke (p. 82), Bock notes Luke's Two-Adam Christologya point which Fitzmeyer missesand in general his discussion is clear and helpful, even though the theme of eschatological probation is wholly missing. Likewise, Bock's discussion of the cloud symbolism at Christ's Transfiguration (p. 174) and the relation it has to the founding of a new age and a new Israel is insightful, though brief. Especially helpful is Bock's suggestion that the central section of Luke's gospel (i. e., Luke's travel narrative in chapters 9:51-19:44) builds upon the 'deuteronomistic critique' of the nation Israel that is found in the books of first and second Kings.3 This helps to explain the frequent echoes in Luke's gospel of the Old Testament miracles and ministries of Elijah and Elisha.
3 The prophetic critique of nation Israel given in the books of Samuel and Kings has been called the 'deuteronomistic' critique because it is a critique of Israel conducted on the basis of the theology set forth in the book of Deuteronomy. This theme in Luke is explored in detail by David Moessner in his book The Lord of the Banquet: The Literary and Theological Significance of the Lucan Travel Narrative (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989).
As one reads through Bock's work, it is encouraging to note occasional references to Lucan scholars who are working within the newer traditions of narrative theology and literary analysis (i. e., Luke Timothy Johnson, Joel Green, David Moessner, Robert Tannehill). Nevertheless, it cannot be said that Bock's approach to Lucan theology shares the emphases of these newer approaches.4 Generally speaking, Bock's approach reflects the cautious and conservative approach to redaction criticism found in the writings of scholars such as I. Howard Marshall.5 Still, one must acknowledge that Bock is at least aware of the developments in narrative theology,6 and this is a step in the right direction, especially in view of the fact that conservative evangelical scholarship has tended to overlook the contributions that a narrative approach to Scripture contains for those who are committed to the redemptive-historical unity of Scripture.
A brief caveat is in order here concerning Bock's general theological commitments. Although Bock refers to himself as a 'progressive dispensationalist,' he still shares certain key emphases that link him with more classical forms of dispensationalism. For example, while Bock rejects the classical dispensational distinction between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven, he retains the more central dispensational tenet that Israel is still a chosen nation awaiting millennial fulfillment of God's promises to it. Though there are a number of examples in Bock's commentary that might be chosen to illustrate this, one of the clearest appears in his remarks on Luke 6:13. After noting that Jesus' selection of 12 disciples 'mimics the structure of Israel,' Bock hastens to add that 'the point is not that this new group of disciples is intended to replace Israel permanently . . . the Twelve represent something new and something parallel to Israel' (p. 119, emphasis his). After reading this comment by Bock, I was re-
4 An excellent survey of the elements and methods used in the narrative approach to Luke's theology can be found in Luke Timothy Johnson's article on Luke-Acts in the Anchor Bible Dictionary.
5 For a useful survey of the various paradigm shifts that have occurred in Lucan studies in this century, see the article by Charles Talbert, "Shifting Sands: The Recent Study of the Gospel of Luke," Interpretation, October 1976, pp. 381-95. See also Talbert's more recent review article on Fitzmeyer's commentary in The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 48, 1986, pp. 336-38.
6 Bock explicitly states in his preface (p. 12) that he has tried to interact with Luke Timothy Johnson's commentary on Luke.
minded of a similar statement that I personally heard him make at a 1996 meeting of the Far West Region of the Evangelical Theological Society (held at the campus of Westminster Seminary in California). At this meeting Bock compared the relationship of Israel and the Church in God's revelational economy to that of two computer chips. According to Bock, the first 'computer chip' in God's program was Israel, alongside of which a second computer chip, the Church, was later placed, so that both Israel and the Church continue today as joint-heirs of the Old Testament promises. It is difficult to see how this way of construing Israel and the Church is any different in substance from that of the classical dispensationalism upon which Bock seeks to improve.
The issue of Bock's premillennial commitments naturally leads into a discussion of Bock's eschatology. Premillennial eschatology tends to shift the weight of eschatology toward Christ's Second Coming, regarding the latter as the pivot upon which the whole of eschatology turns. One is not surprised, therefore, to discover that Bock's approach to eschatology has a decidedly futuristic emphasis to it, an emphasis that is underscored by the fact that references to eschatology in Bock's work focus on that which is chronologically last in history. In this respect, Bock's commentary is more or less typical of the majority of conservative evangelical commentaries in print today. Rather than being the all-controlling and decisive impetus for Luke's interpretation of redemptive history, eschatology for Bock is merely one theological topic among others. Indeed, for Bock soteriological topics occupy the center stage, and eschatology is pushed to the periphery. Such is the price that must be paid for adopting the reductionistic view of eschatology that Bock's commentary displays.
This is not to deny the fact, of course, that all theological topics are important. However, as even more liberal scholars like Werner Kummel have shown,7 there is no substantive difference between Luke's approach to eschatology and that of Paul, and there can be no doubt that Paul recognized the priority of eschatology for all of theology (1 Cor. 15:44-45). To de-prioritize eschatology in Luke, therefore, is to do fundamental violence to his theology as a whole.
7 Werner Kummel, "Current Theological Accusations Against Luke," Andover-Newton Quarterly, 16 (1975) 131-45, especially pp. 141-42.
Of more immediate concern for the readers of Kerux, however, is the way in which the loss of eschatological perspective in Bock's commentary impacts his approach to 'contemporary relevance and application.' Here I return to the question of the relationship between Bock's quest for relevancy and the text of Luke's gospel. Lurking in the background of Bock's approach to contemporary application is the dubious methodological distinction, springing forth from the womb of Enlightenment historiography, between what the text meant for the people of Luke's own day and what it means for us now. Thus at various points in Bock's commentary one finds him reconstructing the text in terms of the presently relevant rather than attempting to draw his readers up into the eschatological life and drama of the text itself. One notable example of this is the recurrent stress that Bock places upon the relevance of Luke for the 'multicultural' world in which we presently live. Indeed, Bock asserts at the outset of his commentary that 'one could make a case that Luke is the most pluralistic of the gospels, so that it is tailor-made for the modern world' (p. 16). This note is sounded throughout the opening chapters of Bock's commentary. At times it is difficult to escape the impression that among the many useful theological purposes that the gospel of Luke serves for Bock, one may include an anti-racist agenda and a biblical model for relating to those of 'different gender' (p. 24).
To sum up, Bock will be useful for those who are looking for a fairly inexpensive commentary that provides helpful background material for understanding New Testament practices, especially those of the Jewish community contemporaneous with the ministry of Christ. There are also occasional theological insights to be gleaned from this commentary, as well as a host of Old Testament references to the background of Luke's gospel. These are the strengths of this commentary. However, if one is looking for a truly eschatological approach to the text of Luke, one will have to look elsewhere.8
8 Although very brief, E. Earle Ellis' little work Eschatology in Luke (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1972) contains some helpful insights, especially chapter three, which is titled "The Conceptual Framework of Luke's Eschatology."