[K:NWTS 21/1 (May 2006) 11-39]

The Redemptive-Historical Hermeneutic and Preaching1

William D. Dennison, Ph. D.

Introduction: The Present Climate of Discussion

When I was a student at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia during the mid 1970's, the historic Reformed faith was the archimedean point of the institution as a heterogeneous faculty and student body advanced their own convictions and concerns about that historic faith and the direction that she should adopt. In my judgment, supporters of practical theology, systematic theology, and biblical theology seemed to dominate the corridors of the school. Although defenders of each rubric were loyal, articulate, and passionate concerning their own persuasions, faculty and students from each perspective engaged others in civil as well as tense deliberations. From these discussions emerged serious differences and challenges; even so, I do not recall a spirit in which the orthodoxy of each perspective was seriously questioned.

In the present Reformed climate, however, a spirit of peaceful coexistence seems to have fallen upon rocky soil. Particularly, the field of Reformed Biblical Theology has been the object of intense hostility. It is not clear what events have transpired to create this change. Perhaps, the models in evangelism, church growth, and pastoral counseling that gripped Reformed ecclesiology during the 1970's were foundational to the present antagonism. Possibly, the issue is more theological than a particular ecclesiastical model, e.g., the issue of creation, the debate concerning justification, or the understanding of the law. Maybe the problem is quite simple; the Biblical theologian is accused of failing to exegete and apply the Biblical text properly to the everyday domestic, ecclesiastical, social, cultural, and political life of the people of God. Pursuing another direction, could the present theological climate be an atmosphere of personality variants in which arrogance, pride, power, and ego on both sides of the issue has emerged in order to guard one's own theological and ecclesiastical turf? Although it is probable that all these factors as well as others have contributed to the present climate of suspicion and division, it seems that the issue of applying the Biblical text has caused the most friction.

If my assessment is credible, it may be imprudent to place before the church a case for Biblical theological or redemptive-historical hermeneutics and preaching. Furthermore, it may seem irresponsible to support such an approach as the most Biblical approach to the Scriptures and the pulpit. Although I hope for a renewed peaceful coexistence with the opponents to Biblical Theology, I do not believe that I should resist my own Biblical convictions. After all, from my viewpoint, the definition and understanding of Biblical Theology lies within the parameters of the analogy of Scripture found in the Westminster Confession of Faith, i.e., "the infallible rule of the interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself (I:ix)."2 In my judgment, the Confession's statement on the "infallible rule" of Biblical hermeneutics is an essential component of Biblical Theology. For this reason, Biblical Theology has a favorable and positive disposition in the heart of the Reformed confessional tradition.

Terminology: Biblical Theology and Redemptive-Historical

In any theological controversy, the language associated with the dispute seldom maintains a universal understanding. Often both the proponents and the critics seem to speak and write without effectively comprehending what each side is saying. Although this condition seems to describe the present situation, I believe the terminology of Biblical Theology and redemptive-history remains adequate if we define carefully these concepts within the tradition of Biblical and Reformed orthodoxy.

From my perspective, Biblical Theology and the redemptive-historical hermeneutic are inseparable and complementary. As the terms initially appeared in the Reformed world, Biblical Theology referred to a discipline being defined within the theological corpus, whereas the redemptive-historical hermeneutic referred more directly to the exegetical enterprise. Although Geerhardus Vos (1862-1949), the father of Reformed Biblical Theology preferred the phrase "History of Special Revelation,"3 he wrote, "Biblical Theol-ogy is that branch of Exegetical Theology which deals with the process of the self-revelation of God deposited in the Bible."4 Or, as he stated in his inaugural address at Princeton Theological Seminary (1894), "Biblical Theology, rightly defined, is nothing else than the exhibition of the organic progress of supernatural revelation in its historic continuity and multiformity." 5 At least two points need to be stressed from Vos's definition: (1) the place of Biblical Theology in the theological corpus and (2) the record in the Bible of the progressive self-revelation of God.

At the end of the nineteenth century, the four departments of Exegetical, Historical, Systematic, and Practical theology were the typical divisions of the theological encyclopedia.6 Although Biblical Theology was not one of the four branches, Vos understood the discipline as the crown and final product of the various components of Exegetical Theology.7 Even Vos's illustrious colleague at Princeton, the didactic and polemic theologian Benjamin B. Warfield (1851-1921), spoke of Biblical Theology as the "ripest fruit" of exegetics, as the discipline that systemized and organized the work of exegetics. Warfield also expressed his desire to see that every Biblical commentary would include Biblical Theology as the "capstone" of its particular work.8 Although Warfield sifted Biblical Theology through his own "systematic" and "scientific" grid, he realized that the final work of exegetics (Biblical Theology) was to organize God's recorded revelation in history.

If we exclude from Vos's first definition the reference to the discipline within the theological corpus, his second definition is simply an elaboration of the first definition, i.e., God records in the Bible the supernatural revelation of Himself as it unfolds, grows, and matures historically in various forms (language, theophany, prophecy, etc.) as one holistic document. Likewise, Warfield maintained that Biblical Theology opened "a new era in theological investigation by making known to us the revelation of God genetically—that is, by laying it before us in the stages of its growth and its several stadia of development."9 In agreement with Vos, Warfield apprehended that the Scripture recorded a revelation from God that held together as a whole; there was an interdependence and continuity that existed within the revelatory fabric of the Bible from the book of Genesis to the book of Revelation.

Although the theological landscape of the nineteenth century seemed to grasp afresh the various stages and developments of God's progressive revelation by virtue of Biblical Theology, Vos and Warfield simply captured and articulated what the Scripture already taught in the opening verses of Hebrews: "At many times and in various ways, God, in the past, spoke to our forefathers through the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us in His Son (1:1-2a)."10 Or, as the Westminster Confession states: "Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His church" (I.1). The author of Hebrews and the Confession encapsulates the notion of Biblical Theology that Vos and Warfield articulated. Even so, it should be noted that Vos viewed the discipline more from the perspective of an exegete, whereas Warfield viewed the discipline more from the perspective of a scientific systematic theologian. Nevertheless, both theologians provided the seminal understanding of Biblical Theology within Reformed orthodoxy.

Although he stands firmly upon the previous work of Vos and Warfield, Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. wishes to understand Biblical Theology as a method "indispensable for sound biblical interpretation."11 Herein, Gaffin does not wish to focus his understanding of Biblical Theology upon its definition (Vos) or the systematic arrangement of the data (Warfield), although such concerns are not curtailed in his work.12 Rather, one's engagement with the Biblical text is his primary concern. For him, such an engagement always presupposes a hermeneutical method to interpret and understand the Biblical text. In other words, the method of exegesis or interpretation is bound to his view of Biblical Theology. Specifically, the context and text of the Biblical narrative must always be "read in its redemptive or salvation-historical context, understanding the text's subject matter within the horizon of the unfolding history of salvation."13 In this manner, Biblical Theology becomes known as "biblical-theological exegesis (=redemptive-historical interpretation)."14 Moreover, for Gaffin it is important to note that the redemptive-historical interpretation can be viewed in its "broadest" context as the covenant-historical interpretation.15 Unlike those who wish to pit a covenant-historical hermeneutic (begins pre-fall) against a redemptive-historical hermeneutic (limited to post-fall), Gaffin does not wish to suggest that these two concepts are in contention with each other. Rather, Gaffin sees the covenant-historical hermeneutic as an expanded version of the redemptive-historical hermeneutic. Even so, on the basis of where the believer and the church now stand in God's providential history, he correctly prefers the name, redemptive-historical, to describe his method of interpretation as implicit to his understanding of Biblical Theology.

Redemptive-Historical Hermeneutic and the Doctrine of Scripture

We have seen that in Reformed theology the name Biblical Theology refers to its position in the theological encyclopedia, its definition, its organizing task, and its method of interpretation. Concerning the method of interpretation, we have also seen that the redemptive-historical hermeneutic may best describe the exegetical activity of Biblical Theology—a method of interpreting and applying the Biblical text. At this point, it is crucial to understand that the redemptive-historical hermeneutic is connected organically with the historic Reformed view of Scripture. Reformed orthodoxy has held to a high view of Scripture as the authoritative and infallible Word of God. In my judgment, such a doctrine of Scripture cannot be compromised. In fact, I believe it is the constant duty of the Reformed exegete to freely critique his own work in order to remain more consistent to an integral relationship between exegesis and the doctrine of Scripture. Interestingly, the Westminster Confession of Faith provides the directive for this integral relationship. Since the Bible is "infallible," it is logical that the exegete will want to remain within the infallible self-conscious revelation of God in order to understand what God says. The Westminster Confession's statement that "the infallible interpretation of Scripture is Scripture itself" (I:9) is not a platitude of Reformed piety that is declared in order to impress our constituency or those outside our constituency with our high view of Scripture and method of interpretation. Rather, it must be a principle at work in the Reformed exegete. Specifically, the exegete must engage constantly in critical self-examination as to whether his method of Biblical interpretation is in compliance with the authority of Scripture, or to put it another way, is in compliance with the infallible Scripture interpreting the infallible Scripture. This critical analysis has been at the heart of Reformed Biblical Theology and its redemptive-historical hermeneutic; after all, in my judgment, the Westminster Confession's rule of interpreting Scripture is redemptive-historical—it is Biblical theological.

Recently, Gaffin has provided further enlightenment for our understanding of Biblical revelation. He has brought to the forefront an observation that was inconspicuous and subtle in Vos. He has highlighted Vos's position that the Scriptures are God's document concerning His activity (event) and His interpretation of that activity. The sequence is crucial: act (event) precedes interpretation (word).16 The historical activity of God occurs initially independent of the Scripture; then the Holy Spirit, through a chosen human instrument, records the revelatory-activity in written form. Simply, the Bible is the record of God's activity in the process of history. Or, to approach the issue from the other angle, the Bible is God's own interpretation of his own acts—God is interpreting his events when he performs them. More specifically, the Bible is God's own running commentary on the progressive unfolding of his own self-disclosure in history. In fact, the Bible is God's own infallible commentary on His mighty acts (Magnalia Dei). In the Bible, therefore, the record of God's acts and God's interpretation of those acts are united.17 One cannot separate act (event) from interpretation (word). Hence, the Bible declares and interprets God's acts in the continuing life of the covenant people of God.

We have just pierced the inner core of Reformed Biblical Theology and the redemptive-historical hermeneutic; in the Scriptures we have entered into the very fabric of God's historical progressive revelation. Unlike the discipline of Systematic Theology, such an understanding is not a scientific activity of arranging, structuring, or organizing revelation. Rather, Biblical Theology and the redemptive-historical hermeneutic attempts to understand and present the revelation of God's self-disclosure in a manner that is truly consistent with the progressive revelation of God in a particular text as well as in the context of the whole of Scripture. It seems to me that within a consistent Reformed view of Scripture that Biblical Theology becomes the highest branch of theology in the encyclopedia. Why would we want to maintain that Systematic Theology is the highest branch of theology, since it is the operation of a human theologian? The systematic theologian takes the data of Scripture as a finished document and by using the canons of human logic arranges the material of Biblical revelation into logical sequential topics. Likewise, why would some maintain that Practical Theology is the highest branch of theology, since it looks at Scripture from the perspective that the exegete must infer and deduce ethical maxims for the sake of practical living in the believer's present situation? Such a human scientific activity assumes a gap between God's Word and the world in which the believer lives. Although both Systematic Theology and Practical Theology have a positive position in the branches of theology, Biblical Theology and the redemptive-historical hermeneutic are pushing us into the inner fabric of God's own revelation. We are entering into the actual manner of God's self-unfolding revelation of himself. This is not a scientific exercise; we are not attempting to construct or build a theology. Rather, God himself as theologian is confronting us here.18 The absolute integrity of God's self-revelation is the issue for the Reformed Biblical theologian. The Bible is God's theology book to the church. Herein, I am resorting to the literal and simple etymology of the term, theology (theos=God; logos=word or discourse).19 To say that the Bible is God's theology book is equivalent to saying that the Bible is God's Word of God. Theology does not get any better than this! How can it? God is the author; he is the theologian. God has arranged his theology (Word of God) as he performed it in history. Herein, one conforms to God's method, his arrangement, his logic, and his relevance in distinct contrast to conforming to the canons of human logic or the ethical maxims of relevance for a particular era. God's theology discloses his providential plan; we are peering into the unfolding counsel of God's will in time and space. The task of the exegete is to become, therefore, existentially unified into the progressive activity of God's work as God records His theology book.20 Such a task can only be accomplished if the exegete is convicted and persuaded that the Holy Spirit is the final author of the holy Word of God.21 Herein, the spirit of the convicted and persuaded exegete is unified with the Holy Spirit as the Spirit imparts the treasures and riches of God's progressive revelation (e.g., I Cor. 2:6-16; Acts 2: 14-41).

This incredible bond between the Holy Spirit and the spirit of the believing exegete has another dimension. Historic Reformed theology has been emphatic that the Holy Spirit is the person of the Godhead who applies the truth of Scripture to the everyday walk of the believer and the church.22 As we maintain that the Holy Spirit is the author of Scripture and that it is the same Spirit who applies the truth of God's Word to his people, then there is a certain sense that the Bible is itself the application of its own message. In a preliminary manner, permit me to highlight two points here, although later in this essay I will want to enrich and deepen this concept. First, the Bible records an act of God and the Bible supplies its own application of that act. For example, God creates the world and Psalm nineteen supplies an application to the work of God's creation. Or, God resurrects Christ from the dead and the Apostle Paul provides an application of the resurrection of Christ in Colossians chapter three. Second, the Holy Spirit as the author of Scripture has the power to melt, convict, and shape the hearts of readers by the very words He has written so as to cause the human spirit to act and respond. Hence, to speak of the Bible as application does not mean merely that the message of the Bible is relevant to every age; rather, the very words of Scripture are effectual. Directly, the words of the Holy Spirit in Scripture are life. In saying this, clarity and caution must be exercised. As I maintain the sovereign and independent work of God and his Word in the heart of the believer, I am not attempting to truncate the Biblical teaching that the exegete provides an interpretation of the interpretation. In other words, the exegete interprets the interpretation that God has already infallibly given to his own activity. Obviously, I am thinking here of the preacher or the human interpreter of Scripture. Often Philip's engagement with the Ethiopian eunuch concerning the interpretation and understanding of Isaiah 53 is given as the example (Acts 8: 26-40). Moreover, the Second Helvetic Confession (1566) is instructive on this point when it states:

For he that illuminates inwardly by giving men the Holy Spirit, the self-same, by way of commandment, said unto His disciples, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). And so Paul preached the Word outwardly to Lydia, a purple-seller among the Philippians; but the Lord inwardly opened the woman's heart (Acts 16:14). And the same Paul, upon elegant gradation fitly placed in the tenth chapter to the Romans, at last infers, "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10:17).23

As one can see, the Second Helvetic Confession made the distinction between the "inward" and "outward" applicatory work of the Holy Spirit. Indeed the Holy Spirit instructs the people of God inwardly, but God has also decided to instruct the people of God concerning his will through the outward preaching of the Word of God. The Second Helvetic Confession refers to the preaching of the Word as the "usual way of men, delivered unto us from God, both by commandments and examples" (I:7). It is apparent, therefore, that in the context of the human exegete or the preacher, another dimension has been added to our original structure of act (God's activity) precedes interpretation (the Bible). The structure now looks like this: act precedes God's infallible interpretation (Bible), which in turn precedes human fallible interpretation (preacher or exegete).

If Biblical Theology is the prime discipline in the theological encyclopedia, then the redemptive-historical hermeneutic is its intimate companion. Simply, the redemptive-historical hermeneutic is interpreting revelation in the manner in which it was revealed. Specifically, God is creator, author, and interpreter of his revelation in the process of redeeming his people. Hence, the redemptive-historical hermeneutic is the most Biblical hermeneutic or method of preaching because it enters into the exact same unfolding pattern in which God himself records his infallible Word and interprets his works.

Redemptive-Historical Preaching and Application

When Biblical Theology and the redemptive-historical hermeneutic enters into the realm of applying the Biblical text in our preaching, we must remain consistent to the continuum revealed in Holy Scripture and affirmed in the Reformed Confessions: event (God's act)? God's interpretation (Scripture)? our interpretation (our preaching, e.g., Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-39). In light of the work of the Holy Spirit, it is imperative that the issue of application in our preaching not deviate from the bounds of this continuum. Simply, we must remain consistent with the coherent and progressive element of Biblical revelation as delivered by the Holy Spirit in the text of Scripture as he applies the work of Christ and the message of the text to the hearts of God's covenant people. From God's performance in history, to the Holy Spirit recording his performance in written form as well as the Holy Spirit applying the written Word of God's performance in the hearts of the church, the continuum is bonded in God's covenant oath and faithfulness in Jesus Christ. The work of the Father and the Spirit is centered upon the Son; the focus of Scripture is also upon the work of Christ (Lk. 24:27, 44-47).

With the continuum in mind, we turn to the issue of application. Specifically, the Scripture knows nothing of moral obedience outside our union with the saving work of Christ in his historical life, death and resurrection as the ground of the imputation of his righteousness to the sinner (justification; Rom. 4:25; 5:19), death to sin in the sinner (definitive sanctification; Rom. 6:6-7), and the continuing sanctifying work of Christ's Spirit in the believer (progressive sanctification; Rom. 6:12-13). In terms of the operation of the triune God of the Bible, history, soteriology, and ethics are inseparable companions; moral or ethical duty and obedience cannot be separated from the historical saving activity of God. For this reason the preacher must not drive a wedge between the Biblical text (as a document of antiquity) and the present stance of his listeners (as the notion of application is frequently used as a distinct tool to bridge the gap between ancient text and present life).24 Moreover, the preacher must avoid the current popular language that maintains that the preacher applies the text to the people while the people are stimulated and inspired to understand that application is something that they do. Often in such a construction, the Reformed preacher, in compliance with the Reformed doctrine of the Holy Spirit, will employ sincerely the Spirit as the One who bridges the gap by applying the text to the believer's will. Although the Reformed doctrine of the Holy Spirit may be upheld, the Holy Spirit is invoked in a construction where the historical discontinuity between the Biblical text and the present historical life of the listener is presupposed. Such a conception fails to take into consideration a more comprehensive redemptive-historical concentration on the work of the Holy Spirit. Hence, within the Biblical and Confessional understanding of the continuum, the interpretation and application proclaimed by the preacher is always to be grounded in the redemptive-historical event performed by God (centered in Christ) as the Holy Spirit interprets the event in his Word. Application in a sermon is never separated from event and God's Word; the preacher is always drawing the congregation into the world of the Biblical text for the Word of God and the saving activity of God in Christ brings power and life! The issue is not to assume a gap or discontinuity between the Biblical text and ourselves which must be bridged by some abstract principle; rather, the issue addressing the pastor is to draw God's people into the saving activity of God's work as a participant in the event recorded in the text, not as a spectator to that event (cf. Ex. 13:8; Hab. 3:15-16; Gal. 2:20-21; the preacher is drawing God's people into the saving work of God as recorded by the Holy Spirit who is also the Spirit who sanctifies God's people).25 In my judgment, the Biblical model is clear: "Good preaching does not apply the text to you, but good preaching applies you to the text." To put it another way, "The preacher does not take the word and apply it to you, but the preacher takes you and applies you to the word."26

The directive should be understandable. The sanctifying Spirit of God accompanies the preaching of the Word as the preacher draws the congregation as participants into the event and the interpretation of the event that the sanctifying Spirit has recorded for the church of Christ. As the congregation sees herself as participant in the event of the text and its interpretation, she sees herself as applying her participation in union with the text (grounded, rooted, and sustained by God's sanctifying Spirit) to the continuing eschatological drama of redemptive-history—to every single situation in which the believer is engaged. In other words, the eschatological drama of redemptive-history found in the Biblical text extends into the continuing life of Christ's church until Christ comes again (we see ourselves in the continuing tension of the "already" and "not yet"). In fact, we live in the same redemptive-historical period as the apostles, i.e., between the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ and his second coming; we live in the eschatological drama of the two ages—belonging and living in "the age to come" while still living in the "present evil age." We are to see ourselves in the same redemptive-historical period as they lived; there is no discontinuity in the sense of living in the same eschatological tension of the "already" and "not yet" as well as the overlapping of the two ages.27 As participants in that same period, the work of the Holy Spirit in the present life of the believer is never separated from the power of God's saving work as communicated in his Word.

For example, returning to Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, the preacher engages the congregation as participant in the event of the text, i.e., like the eunuch, the church is in need of those ordained by the Lord to unfold the meaning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, in this case, as revealed in the event of prophecy to Isaiah, which in turn directs us to the event of the suffering Christ. As Philip engages the eunuch as participant in the prophecy of Isaiah, likewise the present preacher engages the congregation with this event recorded in Acts. In our particular redemptive-historical context, however, the congregation will become a participant in three events in the text (the actual incident of Philip and the eunuch, the prophecy of Isaiah, and the fulfillment of that prophecy in the suffering servant, Jesus Christ). Herein is the salvation of the eunuch; it is in the work of Christ; likewise, herein is the salvation of any sinner! Hence, those who come to an understanding and belief in the gospel of Christ are to be baptized as members of his body. As we live in the continuing eschatological drama of redemptive-history, we know that the Holy Spirit, through the preaching of the Word, will apply the saving work of Christ in the hearts of men. Even in this text, we are observing that the total work of salvation is the complete operation of the triune God. Indeed, the Father has decreed those who are being saved in the efficacious work of Christ's death and resurrection as the Holy Spirit effects God's decree in Christ's redemption to the hearts and daily walk of God's children.

With this initial understanding of the continuum and its relationship to the issue of application before us, I wish to continue in this area by addressing two popular criticisms leveled at Reformed Biblical Theology and the redemptive-historical hermeneutic: (1) the failure to use Biblical examples and (2) the failure to preach imperatives in the Biblical text. Because of the limitation of space, my response to both criticisms will be brief.

Beginning with the criticism of Biblical examples, I contend that most critics of Biblical Theology use Biblical examples as an instrument of aspiration. In this case, the Reformed pastor shapes the application of his message around an ethical or moral ideal (principle) as revealed in the Biblical example: e.g., Abraham's act of faith in offering Isaac, Moses' strength before Pharaoh, David's defiance of Goliath, and Christ quoting Scripture to thwart off Satan in the wilderness. The task of the pastor is to encourage his congregation to pursue or emulate the moral ideal as embodied in the Biblical character (the example) as models or "ideal types." We are to aspire to act and respond in our present situations as they did. In such a model often the language seems confusing enough to suggest that the moral ideal exists as an independent transcendent and eternal moral principle beyond us, and yet, it is parallel to God's existence which he alone is able to embody and conform. For example, just as Christ quoted Scripture to thwart Satan in His temptation, Christ (God) provides the moral example (ideal) for us to thwart Satan by quoting the Word of God in our temptations (Christ conforms to the transcendent principle). When such a presentation is conceived and delivered to the people of God, I believe the Reformed pastor feels uncomfortable with his presentation; he knows something is not right with his model. He knows that there is no independent transcendent principle outside of God and he knows that in light of man's fallen nature that it is impossible to duplicate the actions of Christ in our temptations by Satan. Simply, the pastor knows that the entire body of Christ fails to live up to the aspired model.

As the pastor is caught in this dilemma, he invokes his only recourse; even though it is impossible, Jesus is there to help you with His Spirit. In this case, the pastor believes he has preserved the ethical duty of the believer by baptizing it with the power and assistance of the gospel. He believes that such a construction has solved the dilemma. But there is a serious problem with his construction; this model of example by aspiration is Platonic, and not Biblical.28 This popular and dominant use of example, even within Reformed preaching, seriously flirts with works righteousness. It seems to follow a twofold procedure: you must do as the example has done, and as your shortcomings arise, God will come to your assistance. Sadly, even Reformed preaching seems to be immersed in western ethical theory (especially the dominant ethos of Plato); whether consciously or not, the pastor has laid Plato's ethical model of aspiration over the content of Biblical revelation. Such a confusing synthesis of Biblical revelation with the Platonic model, even as it is unconsciously proclaimed, is a speculative and abstract metaphysical exercise which has no place in God's letter to His church—the Scriptures.

The Biblical directive is different than the Platonic model; in my judgment, the picture presented in Holy Scripture is one of assimilation, not aspiration. Herein, the believer assimilates the life pattern of the Biblical example.29

Specifically, the believer is absorbed, or merged, into the life-pattern of the Biblical example; in fact, this union of covenant bond is so unique that the believer is viewed as a participant in the life-pattern of the example as if it were his own life, i.e., bound in "likeness" to one another (Rom. 6:1-14, esp. vs. 5; cf. Rom. 8:3; Phil. 2:7).30 This binding union can only exist by the sovereign and mysterious supernatural work of God (it exists by grace); man cannot create this union by thinking, saying, or doing it. God alone understands the depths of man's spirit in order to bind spirit to spirit, life pattern to life pattern (I Cor. 2:10-16). Moreover, the concept of assimilation is grounded and exposed in the historical revelation of God's activity (event); there is no life pattern to assimilate without the actual work of God in history in which the believer participates. Since pastors commonly use Christ, the central person of our holy faith, as our example, let us return to Christ's temptation to illustrate my point (Mt. 4:1-11; cf. Mk. 1: 12-13; Lk. 4:1-13).

As the preacher proclaims the message of Christ's temptation, he must grasp its redemptive-historical significance. The event of Christ's temptation in the wilderness is a reenactment of the event of Israel's temptation in their wilderness journey [note the parallels: the event takes place in a wilderness; forty days and nights (Christ) corresponds with forty years (Israel); Christ is tempted as "Son of God" corresponds with Israel's temptation as the "son of God" (Ex. 4:22-23; Deut. 8:5); every quote from Scripture recited by Christ to Satan is taken from the context of Israel's wilderness journey (Deut. 8:3; 6:16,13)]. Where Israel failed as "son of God" in their wilderness journey against Satan, Jesus Christ, the true Israelite, is victorious as the final and perfect "Son of God" in His wilderness journey against Satan. The point of Christ's temptation in the history of redemption is not to provide an example of one who meets the moral ideal, and thus, we are to do and conquer as Christ did in our temptations by Satan. After all, as we participate in the event, we are transposed into the event of Israel's journey; as fallen creatures, we see ourselves in union with Israel, i.e., sinners who cannot in our strength withstand the temptations of Satan. For this reason, God sent His Son to confront the enemy that Israel as well as we cannot conquer. God places His Son in the exact same conditions in history that Israel faced. But this time, since Christ is the perfect and eschatological Son of God, He defeats Satan.31 The message now becomes clear: only in union with the active obedience of Christ is there victory over Satan. The congregation is encouraged (it is imperative) to flee from relying upon their own strength against Satan, and to place their faith alone in the victorious work of Jesus Christ, who alone conquers the Evil One.

In light of the redemptive-historical understanding of Christ's temptation, he is pictured as our example for conquering Satan. There is, however, only one way for us to experience and follow his example. By grace, through faith we are brought into union (participation) with Christ's efficacious obedience in this event as he moves towards the final episode of victory at the cross. So powerful is Christ's victory that the believer is drawn into the humiliation and exaltation of Christ's confrontation and conquest (his life-pattern). The life of the believer is captured and transformed into the example of Christ as he assimilates Christ's life-pattern of humiliation and exaltation. As the Spirit of God makes the application of his own interpretation (Holy Scripture) of the event to the heart of the believer, the believer now experiences the life-pattern of Christ as his life-pattern; indeed, in the sole power of God's Spirit, the believer is following Christ's example.32 Our victory, salvation, and obedience are found only in our union with what Christ has accomplished for us in history.

In light of everything that Christ has accomplished, could the preacher still encourage the congregation to use the Scriptures in our times of trial and temptation with Satan? Has Christ's accomplished victory over Satan negated the necessity for us to use and know God's Word as "the prince" of this world continues to entice the church? Even in light of what Christ accomplished, the church understands that it continues to exist in the eschatological tension of the "already" and "not yet" and that "the prince" of the present evil age is still real. Since we have not yet experienced the total glorification of our existence, we continue to battle the effects of sin in our being (Rom. 7). Again, however, we must be clear on the directive the believer must take here; we are to assimilate the life-pattern of Christ. Indeed, remaining clearly self-conscious of what has already been noted about the text, we follow the life-pattern—the example—of Christ. As Christ quoted the powerful and living Word of God in his humiliation against Satan, likewise, in our state of humiliation before Satan we are to confront him with the Word of God. We adopt this pattern in our union with Christ. The believer now knows, however, that only in faith-union with Christ's all-sufficient power, which is applied to the heart of the believer through the Holy Spirit, is there any hope of following Christ's example. And when the believer fails, there is the constant covenant bond of Christ's salvation and faithfulness that He has already secured the victory for his children. Herein, Christ's activity is not an ideal which we aspire to copy and reach, rather Christ's activity is a life-pattern which is to be followed, knowing that He has already accomplished everything for us (we are to live what we already are in Christ).33 Only in Christ's obedience is there victory over Satan. Herein, there is no hint or confusing language of a transcendent ethical dimension to which God complies and man seeks; rather, the moral holiness and righteousness of God condescends into the creation in God's Son (very God of very God) as his obedience is imputed to the sinner (justification) as a gift of sovereign grace. Through the power of Christ's death and resurrection and the application of that event to the justified sinner by the Holy Spirit, the believer now lives (definitive sanctification) and is required to live by faith (progressive sanctification) the life-pattern of His Savior as his example.

Hopefully it has now become apparent that Reformed Biblical theologians have no problem following the directive of Scripture in Hebrews 11 and I Corinthians 10: 6-13. Of course, the author of Hebrews presents the men and women of faith in chapter eleven as examples to us. But what kind of examples are they? First, one must not fail to presuppose the event of God coming into a fallen creation and implementing His covenant of grace or promise. The faith described in the list of Old Testament saints is nonsense without presupposing the event of God's covenant because one of the main points of the examples are that they embraced the promises of the covenant without receiving its final blessings. Second and more specifically, they are examples of men and women who lived by faith—the faith described in verse one: "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen." This understanding of faith is driven home by the fact that "these [Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah] all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having confessed they were strangers and pilgrims on earth" (vs. 13; cf. I Peter 2:11-12). They were living under the assurance and conviction of an eschatological inheritance that they hoped for and did not see. Third, if we comprehend the context of Hebrews eleven, then we realize that the conditions for these men and women of faith in the Old Testament is similar to the conditions for the believer living between the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ and the promises of his eschatological inheritance in Christ (Hebrews 10:19-39; cf. Eph 1: 3, 2:6; I Peter 1: 3-12). Indeed, the Old Testament saints are models and examples for the New Testament to follow. We are to follow the same life-pattern (a life of faith) as children who live in union with God's covenant oath as he promises our eschatological inheritance. The examples of faith are not examples of aspiration (works), but assimilation (grace). Our living and eschatological faith takes on the exact same pattern; we are called as pilgrims and strangers on earth in which we await the final promises of a blessed inheritance in Christ in the heavenly places.

In I Corinthians 10:6-13, Paul provides an example of warning to the church. In this case, the warning is clear; if we aspire to assimilate the same life-pattern as Israel, i.e., lusting after evil things, idolatry, eating and drinking, fornication, then we will perish as they perished (cf. Heb. 3:1-4:11). Again, one needs to understand the way Paul is using example; he is placing it in the context of event (I Cor.10:7 refers to the incident of the golden calf in Ex. 32:6). In the event of their idolatry, they rejected life in union with the redeeming event of God's exodus (Ex. 32:1, 4b, 8b, 23). As they trade one life of assimilation for another, they will transform their allegiance of assimilation (union with Satan and his kingdom) into a world of aspiration; they aspire to be just like the Egyptians. Paul is very clear to the Corinthians; if they direct their steps in the exact same life style as those Israelites, then they will come under the same eschatological judgment of God.34 Likewise, in the same urgency that the Spirit compels Paul, the present pastor must issue the same warning to his congregation!

Another popular criticism of Reformed Biblical theological preaching is its alleged failure to use the imperative mood of the verb in preaching. Many critics believe that Biblical theologians give more attention to the indicative mood to the neglect of the imperative.35 Specifically, Biblical theological preaching fails to present a "proper balance" between the indicative and the imperative. Again, I am not convinced that the critics of Biblical Theology comprehend the revelatory-structure in which the Reformed Biblical theologian is operating. The Biblical theologian will not submit the indicative-imperative structure of Biblical ethics to the "golden mean" of a pragmatic rendition of Aristotelian ethics, i.e., that the extremes of the indicative as well as the imperative must be opposed for the sake of the "mean" (balance) between them.36 Such an edition of the Aristotelian model placed upon Biblical revelation leads to a formulation which views the indicative as being independent and distinct from the imperative as the imperative is independent and distinct from the indicative. Hence, the Christian life is viewed as a life of being and acting in which each independent and distinct mood of the verb is comprehended and lived in balance. The idea that seems to be portrayed is that the imperative (specific acts of obedience) must be added as a complement to our lives in order to establish the balanced life. The Westminster Confession's position of faith and duty has the perception of faith plus duty (WCF SC Q&A #3). One can see that in this construction, application in preaching is a vehicle to stimulate and demand that the believer live the balanced life. In my judgment, this pragmatic edition of the Aristotelian mean becomes the archimedean point for faith and practice—the model for the Christian life.

As we keep in mind the continuum in Biblical revelation, the indicative-imperative construction is not to be modeled after Aristotle's balanced life in which we are to avoid extremes. Rather, the issue in the Bible is to understand its organic unity; the Christian life is the organic union of the indicative and the imperative. Our Savior is very clear: "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." According to Christ, it is impossible to truly love Him, and yet be totally disobedient to Him. The Christian life is one of faith and obedience. Indeed, the indicative and the imperative are two distinct verb moods; the indicative mood "makes an assertion," or a "statement," whereas the imperative mood is used in making a "command, entreaty or exhortation."37 In Biblical revelation, although they are distinct, they are not understood as independent of each other; rather, they express an intimate union in the life of the believer.38 The theological content conveyed in these verb moods is crucial for understanding and meaning; in fact, it is interwoven in the continuum.

A Biblical understanding of the indicative denotes the believer's ethical existence in faith-union with the powerful redemptive-activity of God (event). Herein, it is common to view the indicative as describing the status of the believer's existence by virtue of the accomplished redemptive work of Christ in history. At this point, however, it is important not to view the indicative as merely descriptive, and therefore, as an abstract grammatical statement of the believer's condition in Christ. Rather, the indicative is descriptive of event (work of Christ) as the event itself possesses power. The believer in the event now possesses the power of God displayed as God maintains clearly the Creator-creature distinction. The power of the event as well as its saving content are applied to the life of God's children, e.g., when Christ died, I died; when Christ arose, I arose (cf. Rom. 6:11; II Tim. 2:11). Indeed, at the heart of the theological content of the indicative is an application component, e.g., the death and resurrection of Christ has been applied to the existence, identity, and status of the believer (he has died to sin and now lives in the newness of life; Rom. 6:8). Interestingly the indicative incorporates the foundation of Biblical application; it not only includes the accomplishment of redemption but it also includes the application of redemption as centered in the efficacious affect of the event. Specifically, God's act is performed; the Holy Spirit in Holy Scripture records the act. Through the power of the Spirit and the power of the living and active Word of God, the efficacious work of God in the event is applied to the believer's life. If we start with man, the process is reversed. The preacher draws the believer into the divine power of the Biblical text that interprets the powerful saving event of God. Simultaneously the power of the Spirit applies the event efficaciously to the existence and status of the believer as his own; such an active event defines the identity of the believer that the Scripture describes by using the indicative mood.

Furthermore, the Spirit who interprets the event (text) is the same Spirit who drives the event into the soul as it encapsulates one's whole being to embrace joyfully and enthusiastically the imperative in response to God's saving work. In terms of the indicative-imperative structure, we are noting that in the imperative the believer is being commanded or exhorted to apply (imperative) what is already applied by grace to his life (indicative). Simply put, since your sin has already been totally crucified to the cross of Christ (indicative), you are commanded not to allow sin to reign in your mortal body (imperative; Rom. 6:8, 12). In the integrated and holistic moral Christian life, there is no imperative application without the indicative application, e.g., we cannot deny the power of sin in our life (imperative) without the power of the cross (event) in our life (indicative).39 Theologically speaking, the two moods of the verbs are inseparable and interwoven.40 Doctrine is life! The same Spirit mediates God's Word and the event into the progressive sanctification of the believer (Eph. 2:10). For this reason, one should never assume that the imperative appears independently in the Biblical text outside a redemptive-historical context (the indicative). Within this revelatory framework, the Reformed Biblical theologian preaches emphatically and passionately the imperatives of the Biblical text. In doing so, he is in compliance with the Biblical model, i.e., the imperative is grounded in the indicative, or the imperative is implied in the indicative. Or, we may say it another way, the imperative flows out of the indicative. Vos put it this way: the indicative effects or is the source of the imperative.41 Whatever states the truth best, one point is clear; the entire work of salvation is the work of the triune God of the Bible—from beginning to end; it is not the work of man.42


In this essay I have attempted to make a brief and preliminary defense that Biblical Theology and the redemptive-historical hermeneutic is the most Biblical way to interpret and preach the whole counsel of God.43 It has been my goal to make this defense in a manner that unfolds and submits the discussion to the very fabric of Biblical revelation as it is disclosed in the manner God presented himself. As we keep in mind the various perspectives on hermeneutics upon the Reformed ecclesiastical landscape, it is not my intent for the redemptive-historical approach to become elitist or intolerant, as some of our critics have alleged we have. Indeed, we will not shy away from our enthusiasm, passion, and conviction for such an understanding of Biblical revelation, but we also understand the necessity of patience and open discussion. It is my personal conviction that the Reformed mind wants seriously to have his entire Christian life under the authority and direction of God's infallible Word. I believe that such a conviction comes from the Spirit of God. As the Biblical theologian holds his convictions concerning his understanding of Biblical revelation, he also realizes that there is a need in the church to sharpen, clarify, and critique the hermeneutical paradigms that occupy the present discussion. Through such a discussion, he hopes that the various proponents of Reformed hermeneutics will do everything within their finite ability to conform the entire theological encyclopedia to the manner in which God does theology in His holy Word to the church.


1 This article should be viewed as the third part in a trilogy by the present author. If one wishes to read the previous articles in sequence, I would suggest that one begin with "Reason, History, and Revelation: Biblical Theology and the Enlightenment," Kerux: The Journal of Northwest Theological Seminary 18/1 (May, 2003): 3-25; and then, one should read, "Biblical Theology and the Issue of Application," in Reformed Spirituality: Communing with Our Glorious God, eds. Joseph A. Pipa, Jr. and J. Andrew Wortman (Taylors, SC: Southern Presbyterian Press, 2003) 119-151.

2 Others have made this same observation about the relationship between the analogy of Scripture in the Westminster Confession and the discipline of Biblical Theology (see John Murray, "Systematic Theology," in The New Testament Student and Theology, ed. John H. Skilton [n.p.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1976) III: 26, n. 20, and Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., "Systematic Theology and Biblical Theology," in The New Testament Student and Theology , ed. John H. Skilton [n.p.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1976] III: 45). Gaffin's comment is worth noting: "It does not appear to be going too far to say that in `biblical theology,' that is, effective recognition of the redemptive-historical character of biblical revelation, the principle of context, of the analogy of Scripture, the principle that Scripture interprets Scripture, so central in the Reformation tradition of biblical interpretation, finds its most pointedly biblical realization and application" (cf. also his "The Vitality of Reformed Dogmatics," in Vitality of Reformed Theology: Proceedings of the International Theological Congress, June 20-24, 1994 [Kampen: Kok, 1994] 26, n. 19).

3 Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans, 1954) 23. As he reviewed the objections and criticisms to Biblical Theology, Vos expressed that he preferred "History of Special Revelation." John Murray also seemed to prefer the phrase, "History of Special Revelation" (see "Systematic Theology," 18-19).

4 Ibid., 13.

5 "The Idea of Biblical Theology as a Science and as a Theological Discipline [1894]," in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos, ed. Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1980) 15. Vos used this same definition in his article, "The Nature and Aims of Biblical Theology," The Union Seminary Magazine (February-March, 1902): 197; this article has been republished under the same title in Kerux: A Journal of Biblical-Theological Preaching 14/1 (May, 1999): 3-8, esp. p. 6.

6 (See Abraham Kuyper, Principles of Sacred Theology, trans. J. Hendrik De Vries [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980] 630 and Vos, Biblical Theology, 12-13). One may wish to note that A. A. Hodge only mentioned three departments: Exegetical, Dogmatic or Systematic, and Practical—excluding the Historical (Outlines of Theology, ed. William H. Goold [London: T. Nelson and Sons, Paternoster Row, 1872] 51). Although he wished to add a fifth department of Apologetic Theology to the encyclopedia, Benjamin B. Warfield, in his inaugural address at Princeton Theological Seminary (May 8, 1888), articulated and defended an exalted position for Systematic Theology. In doing so, he discussed the relationship between Systematic Theology and the other disciplines, including a positive assessment of Biblical Theology in the entire theological enterprise (Inauguration of the Rev. Benjamin B. Warfield as Professor of Didactic and Polemic Theology [New York: Anson D. F. Randolph & Company, 1888] 22-28; cf. also his "The Idea of Systematic Theology (1896)" in The Princeton Theology 1812-1921: Scripture, Science, and Theological Method from Archibald Alexander to Benjamin B. Warfield, ed. Mark A. Noll [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983] 241-261, esp. 250-253).

7 Vos understood that Exegetical Theology comprises four disciplines. If we begin with man's investigating procedure, then Biblical Theology is the last step: (1) study of the content of Scripture, (2) typical "introductory" issues of the Biblical text, (3) questions surrounding "Canonics," and (4) the study of the actual self-disclosure of God—Biblical Theology. On the other hand, Vos strongly emphasized that the procedure and sequence is reversed from the viewpoint of God's activity (see ibid., 13). Specifically, Vos remarked, ". . . Biblical Theology is that part of Exegetical Theology which deals with the revelation of God" ("The Idea of Biblical Theology," 6). For further insight to the relationship of Biblical Theology and Exegetical Theology, see James T. Dennison, Jr's article, "Building the Biblical-Theological Sermon. Part I: Perspective," Kerux: A Journal of Biblical-Theological Preaching 4/3 (December, 1989): 30-32.

8 Inauguration, 24-25 and "The Idea of Systematic Theology," 252. Furthermore, Warfield expressed this elevated position even in respect to Systematic Theology; he held that Systematic Theology is "founded on the final and complete results of exegesis as exhibited in Biblical Theology" as the later "is the basis and source of Systematics." In other words, for Warfield, "Biblical Theology provides the material for Systematics" (Inauguration, 26 and "The Idea of Systematic Theology," 252).

9 "Century's Progress in Biblical Knowledge [1900],"in Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield, ed. John E. Meeter (Nutley: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1973) II: 12. The article originally appeared in Homiletic Review (March, 1900) 195-202. Relevant to our immediate comments, Warfield further elaborated on the distinction between Systematic Theology and Biblical Theology when he wrote: "If men have hitherto been content to contemplate the counsel of the Most High only in its final state—laid out before them, as it were, in a map [Systematic Theology]—hereafter it seems that they are to consider it by preference in its stages, in its vital processes of growth and maturing [Biblical Theology]" ("Century's Progress,"12).

10 Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. captures the impact of this Biblical text for hermeneutics when he writes, "The clearest, most explicit biblical warrant for this fundamental theological construct [redemptive-historical or Biblical theological hermeneutic] is provided by the opening words of Hebrews 1:1-2a: . . . This umbrella statement, intended to provide an overall perspective on the teaching of the entire document, is fairly applied, by extension, to the Bible as a whole. Note how it captures three interrelated factors: a) revelation as a historical process; b) the diversity involved in that process (including, we might observe, multiple modes and literary genres—as well as, too, whatever legitimate methodologies have emerged, particularly in the modern era, for dealing with them); and c) the incarnate Christ as the integrating omega-point (cf. 2:2-4; 3:1-6, esp. 5-6), the nothing-less-than-last days, eschatological endpoint of the process" ("Redemption and Resurrection: An Exercise in Biblical-Systematic Theology," in A Confessing Theology For Postmodern Times, ed. Michael S. Horton [Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2000] 230).

11 Ibid., 229.

12 See Ibid., 230, 245, n.1.

13 Ibid.

14 Ibid.

15 See Gaffin's, "The Vitality of Reformed Dogmatics," 25-26.

16 Cf. Vos, Biblical Theology, 13; Vos, "The Idea of Biblical Theology," 7; Gaffin, "The Vitality of Reformed Dogmatics," 26. James T. Dennison, Jr. captures Vos's position: "He [Vos] emphatically declares the revelatory character of the mighty acts of God in history. The act is identified with revelation in history. Moreover act is further explicated by word. Hence the mighty acts of God are not abstract moments—they are followed by words of explanation and interpretation. And in the organic continuum of redemptive history, act and word progressively unfold. Acts recapitulate one another; words additionally exegete one another" ("What is Biblical Theology? Reflections on the Inaugural Address of Geerhardus Vos," Kerux: A Journal of Biblical-Theological Preaching 2/1 [May, 1987]: 38).

17 This integration is affirmed by Vos when he wrote: "The relation between Jesus and the Apostolate is in general that between the fact to be interpreted and the subsequent interpretation of this fact. This is none other than the principle under which all revelation proceeds. The N.T. Canon is constructed on it" (Biblical Theology, 325).

18 I want to make three crucial points here. First, as Vos mapped out, I am not overlooking that Exegetical Theology consists of four scientific disciplines in which Biblical Theology is the last discipline (see footnote #7 above). We recall that Vos noted that from the perspective of man's investigation of the Biblical text, Biblical Theology is the last discipline of Exegetical Theology. Herein, Vos is thinking of the typical introductory issues such as textual, literary, and historical criticisms as well as issues dealing with authorship and canonics. On the other hand, Vos was clear that God was not subject to such a scientific procedure. From God's perspective, the order is reversed; Biblical Theology is the first discipline of Exegetical Theology—the Bible is the record of His own self-disclosure in history. Hence, one needs to note that I am attempting to push the discussion into the realm of God's perspective, i.e., Biblical Theology as the first discipline of Exegetics. Second, an analogy to the work of Cornelius Van Til in Apologetics becomes appropriate here. Van Til grounded all ontological, metaphysical, and epistemological issues in the God of the Bible, and therefore, declared that the self-attesting Christ of Scripture is the starting point of Apologetics. In a similar manner, following Vos, I am attempting to ground all introductory textual issues in the God of the Bible, and therefore, declaring that the author of the Bible—God Himself—must be our starting point as we engage the Biblical text. Just as we begin with God Himself in Apologetics, we begin with God Himself in Exegetics. Third, in my judgment, future discussion of Reformed theological prolegomena must take the directive that I am suggesting here. Prolegomena must be pressed back into a pre-scientific understanding of the revelation of God Himself. For this reason, Michael S. Horton's recent project—"an attempt to integrate biblical theology and systematic theology on the basis of scripture's own intrasystematic categories of covenant and eschatology"—provides little advancement in theological prolegomena (Covenant and Eschatology: The Divine Drama [Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002] 1).

19 Cf. Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, trans. George Musgrave Giger, ed. James T. Dennison, Jr. (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1992) I: 1.

20 As Vos stated: "The circle of revelation is not a school, but a `covenant'" (Biblical Theology, 17). Vos went on to write: "To add `from within Scripture' is essential, for we do not dare to impose upon the divine process and its product a scheme from any outside source. If redemption and revelation form an organism, then, like every other organism, it should be permitted to reveal to us its own articulation, either by way of our observing it, or by our receiving from it the formula of its make-up, where at certain high-points it reaches a consciousness of its inner growth" (ibid., 321).

21 See Westminster Confession of Faith, I:5.

22 See Westminster Confession of Faith, VIII: 8; X: 1-4; XI: 4; Larger Catechism, questions 58 and 59 and Shorter Catechism, questions 29 and 30; Belgic Confession, IX; XXIV; Heidelberg Catechism, question 53.

23 Reformed Confessions Harmonized, eds. Joel R. Beeke and Sinclair B. Ferguson (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999) 12; Second Helvetic Confession, I:6.

24 John R. W. Stott, The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century: Between Two Worlds (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1982), 138. This qualitative distinction between the Biblical world and the modern world is also presupposed in Haddon W. Robinson, Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages, 2nd edition (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001) 27-32, Jay Adams, Truth Applied: Application in Preaching (Grand Rapids: Minister's Resources Library, 1990) 27, 47-55, Sidney Greidanus's, The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text: Interpreting and Preaching Biblical Literature (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1988) 11, and Bryan Chapell's, Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1994) 77-78. For an analysis of Greidanus's book, one should consult Charles G. Dennison's review entitled, "Preaching and Application: A Review," Kerux: A Journal of Biblical-Theological Preaching 4/3 (December, 1989): 44-52. Likewise for a review of Chapell's book, one should consult Gary Findley's "Review," Kerux: A Journal of Biblical-Theological Preaching 11/1 (May, 1996): 37-41.

25 See Charles G. Dennison's "Thoughts on the Covenant," in Pressing Toward the Mark: Essays Commemorating Fifty Years of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, ed. Charles G. Dennison and Richard C. Gamble (Philadelphia: The Committee for the Historian of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 1986) 7-21; cf. also his "Some Thoughts On Preaching," Kerux: A Journal of Biblical-Theological Preaching 11/3 (December, 1996): 3-9, and his lecture delivered at Covenant College on March 2,1998 entitled, "The Bible and Rhetoric." Jay Adams never comprehends this point in Reformed Biblical theological preaching as he delegates its preaching to the realm of "spectator" (Truth Applied, 19-24). For this reason, his criticism seems to be experiential and reactionary rather than a scholarly examination of the transcendental foundations of the Biblical theological corpus on preaching.

26 Both of these quotes come from a sermon delivered by Rev. Charles G. Dennison at Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Sewickley, PA on Habakkuk 3:18-19/Galatians 2:20 on November 19, 1995.

27 Cf. Geerhardus Vos, Pauline Eschatology (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1972) 1-61; Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology, trans. John Richard De Witt (Grand Raids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1975) 44-100; Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. Resurrection and Redemption: A Study in Paul's Soteriology (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1987) 33-74; and William D. Dennison, Paul's Two-Age Construction and Apologetics (Lanham: University Press of America, 1985) 27-53. As Vos put it: "Still we know full well that we ourselves live just as much in the N.T. as did Peter and Paul and John" (Biblical Theology, 326).

28 In the Phaedo, Plato argues that virtue is attained only in the Form world; life in this world is the rational quest for untainted virtue—a transcendent and eternal principle. It should be the task of humanity to aspire to the truth of the ideal although most of us will never attain it because of the vices of the body. Only the philosopher lives within the rational framework to attain the Form world after death (e.g., Socrates). In his Republic, Plato's famous allegory of the cave also illustrates this point. Alasdair MacIntyre does not fail to note this basic structure in Plato's view of virtue. In contrasting the sophist and Platonic view of virtue, MacIntyre writes: "If for Callicles [the sophist who appears in Plato's dialogue, Gorgias] the satisfaction of desire is to be found in domination over a polis, in the life of a tyrant, for Plato rational desire could be genuinely satisfied in no polis that actually existed in the physical world, but only in an ideal state with an ideal constitution [Form world]. Thus the good to which rational desire aspires and the actual life of the city-state have to be sharply distinguished. What is politically attainable is unsatisfying; what is satisfying is attainable only by philosophy and not by politics" (After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, 2nd edition [Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984] 140-141; cf also his, A Short History of Ethics: A History of Moral Philosophy from the Homeric Age to the Twentieth Century [New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1966] 26-56).

29 In discussing the various components of sanctification, John Murray's work is dominated by the term, "pattern." A careful examination of Murray's corpus leaves the reader with the distinct impression that Murray's terminology was deliberate; the moral and sanctifying life of the believer is not an aspiration to be achieved in one's own strength, but a life pattern conformed to the image of Christ (see his, Collected Writings of John Murray [Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1977] II: 277-317). In fact, Murray guards his readers against the concept of aspiration when he wrote: "There is a sense in which to aspire after the likeness of God is the epitome of iniquity" (ibid., 306). I believe that a thorough and careful reading of Murray's discussion on the components of sanctification will disclose a clear compatibility with the direction that I am taking. Moreover, it would be difficult to conceive of his discussion without the influence of his teacher, Geerhardus Vos.

30 My use of the term, "assimilation" is captured by Murray's use the Biblical term "likeness" and its relationship to the term "pattern" (Rom. 6:5; see Ibid., 311). Commenting on Rom. 6:5, John Calvin also captured the idea that I am attempting to convey when he wrote: "The comparison which he [Paul] introduces removes all ambiguity, since our ingrafting signifies not only our conformity to the example of Christ, but also the secret union (arcanam coniunctionem) by which we grow together with Him, in such a way that He revives us by His Spirit, and transfers His power to us" (Calvin's Commentaries: The Epistles of Paul The Apostle to the Romans and to the Thessalonians, ed. David W. Torrance and Thomas F. Torrance, trans. Ross MacKenzie [Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1961] 123-124).

31 Interestingly, in this case, God places Christ as the participant in Israel's wilderness; in fact, Christ assumes their same life-pattern. By grace, and in Christ, God has his Son reenact an event that came under failure and divine judgment in order to rectify the event for blessing and salvation. Herein, Christ's reenactment and participation in the former event turns the event upside down. Christ's participation and salvific life-pattern becomes the ground for the redemption of the remnant in that former event as well as the members of the New Testament church who now participate in Christ's salvific work in the temptation. As Christ's life on earth reenacts many former events, keep in mind that He conquers those of divine judgment, and He fulfills those of divine blessing.

32 In this Biblical understanding of example and application, there is no room for any hint that the believer can claim or can follow the actual steps which Christ took in His victory over Satan. Furthermore, there is no room for a position that such a conception of union with Christ's example dissolves the Creator-creature distinction (see Murray, Collected Shorter Writings, II: 306).

33 In light of our fallen nature, we cannot model the moral perfection, holiness, and righteousness of Christ, but by the grace of God through the Holy Spirit we do assimilate the life-pattern of Christ. At the heart of this life of assimilation is the cross and resurrection of Christ. As the church of Jesus Christ, we are called to live as pilgrims in this world taking up our own cross—a life of suffering (it is impossible to carry Christ's cross). As we assimilate the life of the cross, God exalts His beloved servants. The Christian life is one of humiliation to exaltation, just as the life of our Savior is one of humiliation to exaltation. This activity is a work of God's sovereign grace through the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. Within the dynamic of God's work, the believer now lives as an example of Christ's work. Herein, application is not something additional to what the text says. By the work and sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit, the believer is being drawn into living the pattern of Christ—the believer is being brought into solid union with the saving work of Christ as he takes on the pattern of that saving work (I Peter 1: 2). For example, just as Christ served, we are to serve—we follow the same pattern (Phil 2:1-11). Just as Christ loved selflessly, we are to love selflessly.

34 If we correctly understand the progressive revelation of the triune God of the Bible (keeping in mind the continuum), I think it is fair to say that Paul provides a specific hermeneutical principle here, i.e., one can view the entire Old Testament canon as example for the church of Jesus Christ. If one wishes to see Paul's hermeneutic principle applied among Biblical theologians, I suggest the sermon series delivered by the Rev. Charles G. Dennison on I Samuel to Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Sewickley, PA from August 31, 1997-March, 1998.

35 E.g., Jay Adams writes: "Abhorrence of direct application leads biblical-theological preachers . . . into common ground with many liberals who believe that the use of the indicative alone, to the exclusion of the imperative, is adequate. At best, such preaching is applied (if at all) by implication, and yet, at worst, only by inference. Application becomes the task of the listener rather than the preacher" (Truth Applied, 21). In criticism of a specific weakness in the sermons of Geerhardus Vos, John Carrick writes: "The indicative mood dominates throughout, and he [Vos] scarcely ever utilizes the probing, searching interrogative or the commanding, hortatory imperative. Thus Vos' sermons are characterized by the indicative, but at the expense of the imperative; they are characterized by the descriptive, but at the expense of the prescriptive; they are characterized by the doxological, but at the expense of the hortatory. There is in his sermons a very striking lack of application" ("Redemptive-Historical Preaching: An Assessment," Katekômen [Summer, 2001]: 12). At this point, I wish to bring one further insight before the reader. This present article was written in 2002 as a request from an individual who was sponsoring a book project that has never materialized. Since 2002, the popular attack on Biblical theological preaching with regard to the lack of the imperative has become directed increasingly towards the Dennison brothers (see John Carrick, The Imperative of Preaching: A Theology of Sacred Rhetoric [Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2002] 108-145; idem. "Redemptive-Historical Preaching: A Critique," in Reformed Spirituality: Communing with Our Glorious God, eds. Joseph A. Pipa, Jr. and J. Andrew Wortman (Taylors, SC: Southern Presbyterian Press, 2003) 153-174; Stefan T. Lindblad, "Redemptive History and the Preached Word: Part 1: Introduction," The Banner of Truth [May, 2005]: 22-25; and Stefan T. Lindblad, "Redemptive History and the Preached Word: Part 2: Interpretation," The Banner of Truth [July, 2005]: 17-23. What is disappointing and embarrassing for those making this popular charge is that none of them seem to be aware of the fact that a positive discussion about the relationship between the indicative and the imperative appeared back in 1979 by William D. Dennison (see his "Indicative and Imperative: The Basic Structure of Pauline Ethics," Calvin Theological Journal [April, 1979]: 55-78).

36 See Aristotle, "Nicomachean Ethics" in The Basic Works of Aristotle, ed. Richard McKeon (New York: Random House, 1941) II: 1-9, 952-964. We must be cautious and fair here; I have chosen my wording deliberately (rendition and edition) to be fair both to Aristotle and the position that I am analyzing. For Aristotle, the "golden mean" is a virtue that exists between two extreme vices; the virtuous life is the life of moderation between excess. Herein one lives the balanced life. Many in the western world have adopted, applied, and reshaped Aristotle's construction to fit their own particular interests in moral theory. This applies to our own situation; to emphasize the indicative at the expense of the imperative is excess and not balance (vice), and likewise to emphasize the imperative at the expense of the indicative is excess and not balance (vice). The virtuous Christian life is the life of balance; like the equal weight on a seesaw, the Christian life holds the indicative and the imperative in balance as the golden mean. The actions of the balanced life move the person towards his end, i.e., towards the goal of happiness (in the Christian construct, happiness is found in God). Actions are teleological in Aristotle's construction (cf. MacIntyre, After Virtue, 146-163; idem., History of Ethics, 57-83; and William K. Frankena, Ethics [Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, Inc. 1963] 70-74).

37 J. Gresham Machen, New Testament Greek for Beginners (Toronto: The Macmillan Company, 1923) 20, 180, and J. W. Wenham, The Elements of New Testament Greek (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1970) 11-12.

38 See William D. Dennison, "Indicative and Imperative: The Basic Structure of Pauline Ethics," 55-78, and Ridderbos's, Paul, 253-257.

39 It is within this framework that we must understand such a position that states, "The Bible itself is application." The Bible is not application in itself because one can apply an eternal Biblical principle that appears in Scripture to one's contemporary situation. Rather, "the Bible itself is application" because the event recorded in the living Word is applied to us in order that we may live and persevere in its truth.

40 Murray presented the idea—"the interweaving of the indicative and the imperative" (Collected Writings, II: 280-281).

41 "The Eschatological Aspect of the Pauline Conception of the Spirit," in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos, ed. Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1980) 237.

42 The entire soteriological enterprise comes to the people of God as gift; moreover, the entire soteriological enterprise is the sovereign work of the transformation of the sinner. Just as God is the alpha and the omega, the first and last in terms of his self-identity; likewise our existence of salvation begins in God and it is consummated in God. It is truly an eschatological existence; this personal dimension of our eschatological existence corresponding with God's eschatological identity must not be trivialized. Herein, history, eschatology, soteriology and ethics are interwoven. For this reason, the Biblical theologian refuses to understand obedience and sanctification outside such a Biblical paradigm. Indeed, in line with Calvin's presentation of the third use of the law, the Reformed Biblical theologian will definitely continue to maintain and declare the law as a positive rule in the present life of the believer in order to understand God's will and confirm one's existence in the law. Calvin outlines the problem clearly which must be addressed and confronted in every believer: "however, eagerly they [believer] may in accordance with the Spirit strive toward God's righteousness, the listless flesh always so burdens them that they do not proceed with due readiness. The law is to the flesh like a whip to an idle and balky ass, to arouse it to work" (Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles [Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960] II:7:xii, 361). Indeed, even in this continuing conflict or battle which exists for the believer as he is a pilgrim on earth, Calvin holds that such an understanding of the law is not devoid of the present reign and work of the Holy Spirit as well as the intercessory work of Jesus Christ in the believer. The Spirit as well as Christ's work is fundamental and foundational to the third use of the law. It is this point that the Reformed Biblical theologian will not relinquish; furthermore, it is this point that he attempts to enrich by grounding the third use of the law more deeply in the redemptive-historical work of Christ and His Spirit. In other words, you will only understand the nature of God's will and the confirmation of his law if you understand the death and resurrection of Christ (event) through his Spirit. The full exposition and exposure of the nature of God's will and the truth of His law is at the cross! We must not forget that this is where Sinai is pointing; herein we also invoke the position of Calvin who habitually asserted "that the law has validity only as it is related to Christ" (ibid., 348, n.1). Calvin's own words are so potent here: "In the law and in Christ signify as much as by the law and by Christ, according to the Hebrew phrase" (Commentary Upon the Acts of the Apostles, ed. Henry Beveridge, trans. Christopher Fetherstone [Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1957] I: 543).

43 Cf. Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., "The Whole Counsel of God and the Bible," in The Book of Books: Essays on the Scriptures in Honor of Johannes G. Vos, ed. John H. White (n.p.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1978) 19-28.