A Good Understand Have All Those Who Do (Psalm 111:10)

This morning I wrote on Facebook:

As I think through my list of Christians I admire, both in the present and over the last 2,000 years—both the ones close to me and the ones I only hear about or hear from—one thing really stands out to me. God can’t possibly care about how we interpret the Bible, just whether or not we do what it says.

I suppose it would only take George Whitfield and John Wesley to prove that premise.

I returned to my newsfeed after posting those words and found Facebook reminding me that exactly six years ago, I quoted John Wesley as saying:

Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin, and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen; such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven on earth.*

It seems impossible that this was coincidence. Perhaps when the Psalmist wrote, “A good understanding have all those who do,” he did not mean “Those who obey will gain a good understanding,” but “Those who obey prove by what they do that they already understand well.”

*I got the quote from RevivalList.com’s daily email, which did not give a source. I tried to find out where it is from using internet search, but it is quoted without a source so often I could not find the source.

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The Tabernacle and Solomon’s Temple as Figures of the New Covenant

I know I’m probably late to the party and sharing something most of you know, but I got a great picture this morning of how the tabernacle (and Solomon’s temple) reveal salvation in Christ.

First, all the furniture is in the shape of the cross: first the altar and then the bath outside; in the holy place is the showbread on one side and the lamp on the other, with the altar of incense in front of the veil; finally the ark and the cherubim above it in the most holy.

We enter the holy place first by the altar, then the bath. This represents Jesus’ sacrifice and our baptism. When we come into the holy place there is the table of bread and the lamp that lights, which never goes out. This is obviously the light gives us and the communion table where we both remember Jesus’ death and always share a meal with him and one another. The table of incense represents prayer, and in prayer we can enter the holy of holies, to commune with God between the cherubim, which represents heavenly places. We never come into the most holy without the blood of sprinkling, but it is confident access (Eph. 3:12) that we have to the throne by the blood.

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The Elementary (First) Teachings of Christ: Hebrews 6:1-2

In Hebrews 6:1-2 is a list of the foundational teachings of the Christian faith. These are the “first things” of the teachings of Christ, and from these we “go on to maturity.”

The six foundational teachings listed by the writer of Hebrews are:

  1. repentance from dead works
  2. faith toward God
  3. teaching of baptisms
  4. laying on of hands
  5. resurrection from the dead
  6. eternal judgment

As a young Christian, I was not taught a proper biblical foundation, so this list was confusing to me. Now that I am settled on a proper foundation, I know that these teachings are a simple outline of the Christian faith.

Repentance from Dead Works

We have looked at the judgment, and we know that the promise of God is that those of us who turn from wickedness and give ourselves to righteousness can count on God to forget all our wickedness and give us life (Ezek. 18:21-30). It is natural, therefore, that the first step is that we repent of the sin and wickedness that has been in our life before we encountered Christ.

The reason we repent from dead works is because formerly we were dead in our sins. Even our good works were performed in death and apart from God, so we leave the whole of our previous life behind when we repent and follow God. We turn away from the good, the bad, and the ugly, and we turn to follow King Jesus into a brand new life.

Faith Toward God

This could just as well have been first on the list. Finding out about God, his power, his majesty, and the glory of his Son who was born on earth as Jesus the Messiah … it is these things that generally cause us to want to repent. It is faith—our belief in God and awareness that Jesus is his Son—that causes us to fear and repent.

Our faith in God must be through his Son. No one comes to the Father except through him (Jn. 14:6). There is no other name given under heaven by which we can be saved (Acts 4:12). What we must believe about the Son is that God raised him from the dead, thus proving that he is Lord, Messiah, and Son of God (Rom. 10:9-10; Matt. 16:16-18; Jn. 20:31).

Teaching of Baptisms

When you properly understand “God’s sure foundation” (2 Tim. 2:19), there are very few verses in the Bible that are difficult. This is one of them, though the only difficulty is why “baptisms” is plural. I am going to give what seems the obvious answer to me, but the plural here is legitimately puzzling.

Baptisms, plural, are a reference baptism in water and in the Spirit (John 3:5). In the letter to Titus, Paul refers to these as “the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit” (3:5). The only confusion on my part is wondering why baptisms need to be plural when the next teaching listed is the laying on of hands, which addresses the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

We need to understand that baptism is not magic, nor does anything happen at baptism unless it is combined with the faith of the one being baptized. Water baptism is, though, the proper response to believing. If you read through Acts, you will see that the apostles did not pray a sinner’s prayer with those who believed the Gospel, they baptized them. They also laid their hands on them to receive the Spirit. The “teaching” of baptism is that we are buried and raised with Christ (Rom. 6:3-5; Col. 2:12), enter Christ (Gal. 3:27), are spiritually circumcised (Col. 2:11-12), and have our sins washed away (Acts 2:38; 22:16; Tit. 3:5) in the water. This is rejected by many evangelical churches, but there are no verses on baptism that contest the ones referenced in this paragraph.

We will discuss the baptism of the Holy Spirit in the next section.

The Laying on of Hands

Though the laying on of hands was used by the apostles and their churches to ordain men to authoritative positions in the churches and to impart spiritual gifts (1 Tim. 4:14), the primary meaning of this foundational teaching has to be the laying on of hands to receive the Holy Spirit simply because it is called a foundational teaching.

The testimony of history is that after the time the apostles, the baptism of the Holy Spirit was not always accompanied by the same miraculous signs that we read about in Acts (8:18; 10:44-46; 19:6). This does not mean, however, that the churches had stopped laying hands on the newly baptized so that they would receive the Holy Spirit. The churches continued to do so, often including an anointing with oil.

The Resurrection of the Dead

A lot of time has passed, and we often take this teaching for granted. We make a bold claim when we say that Jesus will raise us from the grave and clothe us with new bodies. Paul tells us that we are wasting our time as Christians if we do not believe this (1 Cor. 15). It is truly a foundation doctrine.

Not only we, but all of creation, lives in hope of this resurrection (Rom. 8:19-23). A teaching does not get any more central than this!

Eternal Judgment

The final foundational teaching is eternal judgment, for there our eternal destiny will be determined (Matt. 25:31-46; John 5:28-29; Rom. 2:6-8; Rev. 3:4-5; 20:10-15). This judgment will be according to works (2 Cor. 5:10; 1 Pet. 1:17).

This, too, is often rejected by evangelical churches. Evangelicals would not reject these verses if they could get over the teaching that God will send a person to hell for even one sin. This is horribly insulting to God, who has always been a merciful God (e.g., see Ex. 34:6-7 and Ps. 136). God rewards life to those who patiently continue to do good, not just to the perfectly sinless (Ezek. 18:20-30; Rom. 2:6-7). The idea that God punishes for one sin comes from James 2:10, a verse that tells us not to judge one another. God’s judgment is not mentioned there, but is instead described in the passages I have given you here.

If you accept the foundational traditions of evangelicalism, you are not going to understand Hebrews 6:1-2. You have to hold to biblical foundations, where “the sure foundation of God” has “let those who name the name of Christ depart from unrighteousness” written on it (2 Tim. 2:19). Jesus died so that we would be redeemed from iniquity and become zealous for good works (Tit. 2:13-14), so that he would be our Lord (Rom. 14:9), and so that we would no longer live for ourselves, but for him (2 Cor. 5:15). (My blog post on aphesis gives a great picture of what Jesus’ death accomplished for us.) By the Spirit, we no longer live according to the flesh, and thus we do good and are rewarded with eternal life at the judgment (Gal. 6:7-9).

Going on to Maturity

What does the writer of Hebrews mean by going on to maturity? He explains this in the verses right before Hebrews 6:1-2. We have a chapter break there, but was no chapter break when Hebrews was written. “Solid food belongs to those who are mature,” the writer says in the last verse of chapter 5, “those because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil” (NASB).

In other words, to go on to maturity is simply to being turning away from evil and doing good. We “practice” this.

2 Peter 1:5-7 also gives an excellent description of going on to maturity:

Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. (NASB)

“For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 8).

At Rebuilding the Foundations.org, you can download my Rebuilding the Foundations PDF for a fuller explanation of all these points.

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“Diligently Preserve” the Unity of the Spirit

Our unity is not doctrinal. Our unity is spiritual (Eph. 4:3). We are not commanded to diligently preserve the unity of the faith, but to “diligently preserve” the unity of the Spirit. Do you have a doctrinal controversy with someone with whom you are united in Spirit? If God accepts both of you, which is the only way you can be united in Spirit, but you are doctrinally divided, then at least one of you is sinning. Maybe you are even intellectually correct on your doctrine, but you are sinning because division is a bad enough sin to eject you from the body of Christ (Tit. 3:10).

“Sound doctrine” has to do with obeying God, not figuring out theological ideas (Titus 2). In 1 Timothy 1:5 we read that the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, a sincere faith, and a good conscience. Then Paul says that some, who have departed from that focus, have gone off into all sorts of wrong things. That is one of the greatest afflictions of the churches today.

If we could stay focused on laying aside sin and the weights that encumber us (Heb. 12), we would not have time for some of the doctrinal controversies we have.

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How the Church Was One: The Only True Source of Unity

The early churches were united as God’s family. Jesus was Lord and the Father was, well, the Father of the family. The one thing to do in that family was to love and obey the Father through the Lordship of Jesus. If you read through the early Church fathers, you cannot miss the focus on the creation of the church through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the love of the saints for one another, and the emphasis on Christians doing their best to be just like Jesus.

When Justin Martyr wanted to explain Christianity to the emperor around the year 155, he wrote about Jesus’ commands, the love of the saints for one another, and the amazing ability of Christians to be joyful when wronged. When the Romans wrote to the Corinthians towards the end of the first century to rebuke them for division, the whole letter was about envy, jealousy, pride, the importance of humility, and the example of the apostles’ humility.

When the churches finally began dividing after 300 years, it was because they had lost their focus on those basics. The first giant divisions were at the 5th-century councils (Ephesus, Chalcedon) over the relation between Jesus’ human and divine natures, things none of us can possibly understand and which are not addressed in Scripture nor the oral tradition from the apostles. Oddly, those wickedly divisive councils are now known as “ecumenical” councils, and the subject of those councils are given the important-sounding name “Christological controversies.” My, how we can dress up the devil’s work in sacred clothing!

Those 5th-century splits were caused by the loss of holiness in the fourth-century churches, which was caused by bringing most of the Roman Empire’s inhabitants into the church. This happened by imperial influence rather than divine. The children of the devil are by nature schismatic. Those who do not have the Holy Spirit cannot maintain the unity of the Spirit (Eph. 4:3; 2 Cor. 6:14-18).

We must not accept the fleshly standard of unity that replaced the spiritual unity of the family of God. We cannot be united by the Bible interpretations of man. I don’t have to argue for that; it is proven to us every day. We must only look around us.

We must return to the only standard that has ever united churches: love of God, love for one another, a life guided by Jesus’s teachings, and mercy for the weak and poor. (Notice that these are also the things we will be judged for on the last day.)

In the video I will tell the story of Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, and Stephen, bishop of Rome. Cyprian cared about unity, and Stephen cared about being right. To this day, those who read of their battle think Cyprian cared about a doctrine, like Stephen did. No, Cyprian’s concern was only unity, and to him the problem was not Stephen’s doctrine, but his willingness to divide over that doctrine. For heresy–the willingness to divide the churches over one’s opinion–to arise in the greatest church in the empire* was the beginning of the end in Cyprian’s eyes. In tears he wrote a letter to Spanish churches expressing his despair; surely the Antichrist was at hand.

Maybe it would have been better if the Antichrist had arisen and brought about the end because we have inherited the heretical attitude of Stephen as something normal. We divide over our opinions, not just at the church level, but even at the family and individual level. Sadly, we do not mourn over this dissection of the body of Christ, the very opposite of what Jesus commanded (Jn. 13:34-35) and prayed for (Jn. 17:20-23).

May God forgive us. Even more so, may he deliver us!

*In the second and third centuries, Rome was known as the greatest church in the Empire for very good reasons, which include both Peter and Paul being martyred there. In letters to Cyprian before Stephen was bishop, the elders in Rome spoke of the “great crime” of falling from their greatness. It was not Stephen who destroyed Rome’s greatness, though. He was martyred, and Dionysius of Alexandria played a large role in cleaning up the mess. Rome’s fall from greatness would happen later. The story of the rise and fall of the Roman church is told in my book, Rome’s Audacious Claim, available wherever books are sold.

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The Judgment by Works: The Most Important Doctrine to Learn from the Early Church Fathers

I wrote the following in a comment on Patristics for Protestants about what is the most important thing to learn from the early church fathers. There are several quotes from the earliest fathers in my comment, but I give you Tit. 2:11-15; Rom. 2:6-7; and Gal. 6:7-9, which says not to be deceived about this, as backing from the Scripture:

We will be judged by our works, and Jesus came so that we would be ready to face that judgment. To me this gets right down to the brass tacks of what will matter on the last day.

Since then all things are seen and heard [by God], let us fear Him, and forsake those wicked works which proceed from evil desires; so that, through His mercy, we may be protected from the judgments to come. For whither can any of us flee from His mighty hand? Or what world will receive any of those who run away from Him? (1 Clement 28)

The Lord will judge the world without partiality. Each will receive as he has done. If he is righteous, his righteousness will precede him; if he is wicked, the reward of wickedness is before him. Take heed, lest resting in our ease, as those who are called, we should fall asleep in our sins, and the wicked prince should acquire power over us and thrust us away from the kingdom of the Lord. (Letter of Barnabas 4)

I exhort you, therefore, that you abstain from covetousness, and that you be chaste and truthful. “Abstain from every form of evil” [1 Thess. 5:22]. For if a man cannot govern himself in such matters, how shall he enjoin them on others? If a man does not keep himself from covetousness, he shall be defiled by idolatry, and shall be judged as one of the heathen. But who of us are ignorant of the judgment of the Lord? (Polycarp to the Philippians 11)

For more such quotes, see Quotes about the Judgment from the Early Church Fathers.

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God’s Plan of Salvation Is Not What You Think It Is

This is the way things are:

Romans 2:6-7: “God will render to everyone according to their deeds. To those who, by patiently continuing to do good seek for glory, honor, and immortality, he will repay eternal life.”

This is the problem with the reality of Romans 2:6-7:

Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

Romans 7:18: “For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, no good thing dwells, for to desire is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.”

This is the solution God came up with:

Romans 8:3-4: “For what the Law could not do because it was weak through the flesh, God did. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, as an offering for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the righteous requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in those of us who do not walk after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”

Titus 2:11-14: “The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearance of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purchase for himself his own special people, zealous for good works.”

Folks, the solution was not to change the judgment, but to change us into those who could pursue glory, honor, and immortality by patiently continuing to do good. The reward for doing so is eternal life. Galatians 6:7-9 states that clearly. By sowing to the Spirit rather than sowing to the flesh, and not growing weary in doing so, we will reap eternal life. This is God’s solution, to deliver us from sin, not merely to overlook our sin. Only those who practice righteousness will experience the righteousness of Christ (1 Jn. 3:7). Both Galatians 6:7-9 and 1 John 3:7 warn us not to be deceived about what they say.

This is God’s plan of salvation. It is to make righteous people out of people who were formerly sinners. Do not receive the grace of God in vain. The grace of God is supposed to re-create you to do good works (Eph. 2:8-10). Yes, you can, and must, receive that grace by faith apart from works, but once you receive it, you must not receive it in vain (2 Cor. 6:1).

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Ravi Zacharias, the Judgment, and the Weakness of Man: A WARNING!

A FB friend commented on new allegations against Ravi Zacharias. I can hardly take it. My stomach is roiling. I knew nothing about this. I can’t even get myself to post the link to the report.

Folks, we are going to be judged by our works. That judgment is IMPARTIAL (1 Pet. 1:17). The righteous are scarcely saved (1 Pet. 4:18). We need to do warfare with our lusts. You cannot serve the flesh and the Spirit at the same time. One will slay you; the other will bring you eternal life (Gal. 5:16). Get help. There is a reason the Bible says that if you are not exhorted daily, you are in danger of being hardened by the *deceitfulness* of sin (Heb. 3:13).

How alarming that last day will be for the lazy!!

My heart is also broken that I have not trumpeted this louder, nor emphasized it to those around me. It is through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God, Paul said (Acts 14), but I would add that it is through many temptations as well. God will always make a way of escape (1 Cor. 10:13), but we have to be brave enough to take it!! Unfortunately, sometimes the only way of escape is to humble yourself not just to God but to men, and indeed to your wife! You can hide your shame now, but on the last day all our secrets will be revealed! (1 Cor. 4:5)

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Substitutionary Atonement: Jesus Died to Change Us, not God

This is something I wrote in a Facebook comment. I would like to hold on to it, and I hope it helps you understand Romans and the whole New Testament.

There is a clear origin in St. Anselm for the idea that Jesus had to die in order for the Father to forgive sin. (In other words, the origin of that doctrine is not the apostles, but from a Roman Catholic who lived in the 11th century.) Before that, as a reader of the church fathers, I do not think that doctrine existed. How could it? God forgave sin all through the Old Testament, and he is continually described as a merciful God. King David even said that God did not want sacrifice but repentance! (Ps. 51:16-17). And again, “to obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Sam. 15:22).

Instead, Jesus died to free us from slavery to sin. God was already merciful. Look at his description of the judgment in Ezek. 18:20-30. Even in the Old Testament, a person who repented and did righteousness could be forgiven and receive life. The problem is that so few of us actually lived righteously. That is Paul’s point in Romans 3 and Romans 7. The problem is us, and the problem is so bad that even a good, perfect, and holy law could not fix us (Rom. 7; Gal. 3:21). But what the Law could not do, God did by sending his Son in the likeness of sinful flesh as an offering for sin (Rom. 8:3). The law could not make us righteous, but the sacrifice of Jesus can make us righteous. Thus, when the Gentiles first believed, the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem remarked, “So God has granted repentance leading to life to the Gentiles as well” (Acts 11:18).

The gift of the atonement, and even of grace, is the power to live righteously and thus receive the ongoing mercy of God, which was always available even under the Old Testament (Ex. 34:6-7). Jesus did not die to change God or cause God to be free to give mercy. Jesus died for us! We were the problem, not God. Look at the description of the atonement in Titus 2:11-14, which describes both grace and the purpose of Jesus’ death. The gift of grace is that sin no longer has power over us (Rom. 6:14).

That is why even after Jesus died for us, Paul says three times that the unrighteous will not inherit God’s kingdom (1 Cor. 6:9-11; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:5). Two of those times, he says not to be deceived about that (1 Cor. 6:9; Eph. 5:6), and the other time he tells the Galatians he has been saying this repeatedly (Gal. 5:21). John tells us not to be deceived that it is only those who are practicing righteousness who have the imputed righteousness of God (1 Jn. 3:7). Yet, we have been deceived about all these things that the apostles warned us not to be deceived about. Why? Because we think Jesus died to change God rather than dying to change us.

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Wisdom in Proverbs, Daniel’s Son of Man, the Trinity, and Jesus the Messiah and Son of God

This article argues for the early Christian/Nicene concept of the Trinity (still held among the Eastern Orthodox), that Wisdom in Proverbs should be understood throughout as referring to the Son of God, who is also called the Word, and provides very interesting information about Daniel’s “Son of Man” prophecy based on ancient Ugaritic literature.

I have always been scared to point out that Justin Martyr (died c. 165) accused the Jews of changing the Scriptures to hide prophecies about Christ. His accusations are related to the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures that was the Bible of both Christians and Jews, at least outside Judea. The Septuagint was translated a century before Jesus was born or more, so it represents an earlier text than the Masoretic, from which our western Bibles are translated. The earliest text of the Masoretic we have is from the 9th century A.D. (Septuagint.net does say that the Dead Sea Scrolls, from a similar time as the Septuagint translation, agrees more with the Masoretic than the Septuagint.

I have never dared agree with Justin Martyr that the Jews changed Old Testament texts in response to Christianity. I still think the evidence is flimsy at best, but the following discussion reminds me of the accusation. I read an interesting article the other day. The article is from Logos.com, a trustworthy and orthodox Bible software company. It says:

The Jewish audience reading Daniel understood the implications — the prophet Daniel was describing a second power in heaven — a second being at the level of Yahweh to whom Yahweh himself granted authority. Although we naturally think of the idea of a godhead as distinctly Christian, we have evidence here that the seeds of the idea are found in the Hebrew Scriptures. It’s no accident that Jewish theological writing during the Intertestamental period is filled with references to the “second power in heaven” and attempts to figure out how to articulate what was going on in heaven in light of monotheism. Jewish writers speculated that the “second god” was the archangel Michael, or perhaps Gabriel. Some Jewish writers even wrote that Abraham or Moses occupied that position! For Christians the answer was obvious.

I’ll make this explanation as short as possible. In the early 1900’s, a farmer accidentally found a building that turned out to be a whole city. The city is Ugarit. It dates from around 1200 BC (if memory serves me right). Archaeologists found not just documents, but many tablets. Ugaritic is not much different than Hebrew, and the tablets explain the whole Canaanite deity system. It turns out that Israel took a lot of Ugaritic literature and applied it to Yahweh, the God of Israel, rather than to these Canaanite deities. Even some of the names of the Canaanite deities were applied to Yahweh, just as Abraham got the name El Elyon, God Most High, from Melchizedek (Gen. 14:18-22).

In Ugaritic literature, Baal is the god who rides the clouds. Of course, God had to keep driving out Baal worship among the Israelites throughout their existence. The writers of the Psalms regularly point out that it is Yahweh who rides the clouds, not Baal. Such passages may have been written in direct retaliation to the false deity Baal.

In Daniel 7, though, a different person, the Son of Man, rides the clouds to appear before the Ancient of Days. Only deities ride on clouds, giving rise to the discussion of “the second power in heaven” during the time between the Old Testament and New Testaments. Interestingly, rabbinical scholar Alan Segal says the idea of a second power in heaven was not considered heretical until the second century A.D., the same time that Justin accuses the Jews of changing the Hebrew texts to hide prophecies.

Is that proof they did this? No. It may create a small suspicion it is proof of nothing. I told you all this not to talk about the Jews, but about us. Like the Jews, we have lost much of our understanding of the Word, the second power in heaven, who would come from heaven to be born in Bethlehem and be named Yeshua (Jesus). Daniel 7 does not just announce the Son of Man, a title Jesus applied to himself throughout his time on earth, it announces him as deity. Only deity rides the clouds. Humans do not do so.

We have lost one other amazing description of Christ, not to the Jews, but to an overreaction to the Arians, those who held the teaching of the heretic Arius, after the Council of Nicea. That passage is Proverbs 8:22-31. We do not want to apply this amazing passage to Jesus because Proverbs 8:22 says he was created.

This did not cause any trouble to the Christians from the apostles until Arius became a troublemaker in the early fourth century. For 300 years, Christians thought Proverbs 8:22-31 was a beautiful description of the Son of God, Jesus, participating in the creation of all things. They understood “created me the beginning of his ways” to simply refer to incomprehensible birth from within God the Father. Jesus, was, after all, the only-begotten Son (a term used throughout the Gospel of John). He was also “the firstborn over all creation” (Col. 1:15). The “creation” reference in Proverbs 8:22, in early Christian eyes, was simply a reference to his inexplicable generation from the Father before the ages.

The only reason we do not still use Proverbs 8:22-31 as a description of Jesus creating the world with the Father is because Arius wanted to take “created” litereally. Eusebius, the historian, wrote this about the Arian doctrine:

Although it is once said in Scripture, “The Lord created me the beginning of his ways on account of his works” [Prov. 8:22] yet it would do us well to consider the meaning of the phrase and not … jeopardize the most important doctrine of the church from a single passage! … For although [the Scripture] says that he was created, it is not as if he were saying that he had arrived at exist-ence from what did not exist, nor that he was made of nothing like the rest of the creatures. (Against Marcellus, as cited in The Ecclesiastical History of Socrates Scholasticus, Bk. II, ch. 21)

If we can once again understand Proverbs 8:22-31 as a description of the One who was “begotten, not made” before the beginning, we can realize then that Wisdom can be understood throughout Proverbs as being also the only-begotten Word of the Father as well as simply God giving wise advice.

Additional Notes

I explain the early Christian doctrine of the Trinity in a series of pages beginning with The Trinity: Doctrine, Development, and Definition.

Some of the more important prophecies that are in the Septuagint, but not in the Masoretic text, which prompted Justin Martyr’s accusation include (quoted from the Orthodox Study Bible):

  • Ps. 110:3: “I have begotten you from the womb before the morning star.”
  • Ps. 45:1: “My heart overflowed with a good word.”

And one that Justin specifically addresses is Isaiah 7:14, “The virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and you shall call his name Immanuel.” He claims the Jews substituted the word for “maiden,” rather than the word for “virgin,” the word the Greek Septuagint uses. I would argue, though, that the context of Isaiah 7 requires the prophecy to be dual. It is both a maiden in the time of Ahaz having a child named Immanuel and a prophecy of Jesus, God with us, being born of Mary while she was yet a virgin. Again, there is nowhere near enough evidence to support Justin’s claim. What is much more interesting is that the Jews stopped referring to this “second power in heaven” from Daniel 7 after Jesus came and raised up the Christian church. Even the Jews, from Daniel 7, knew that there was a divine Son of Man coming, but they could no longer admit this once Jesus came because it fit the claims of the Christians too well.

It is not that the Jews changed the Scriptures themselves; they changed their understanding of the Scriptures because of the Christians. I want to suggest we do not change our understanding of the Scriptures for Arius the heretic, but go back to knowing that Proverbs 8:22-31 is a wonderful description of our Lord’s participation in creation.

Even worse, because we have mostly forgotten the teaching that the Word of God was begotten of God before the beginning, modern scholars are beginning to argue that “only-begotten” is not the right translation in verses like John 3:16. They want to translate “only-begotten” as “unique” or “only.” This is not a result of good scholarship, but of forgetting the doctrine of the Trinity that was taught until Arius came along and prompted an over-reaction. There is a great article on “only-begotten” that I think a non-Greek reader can understand. It is written by a Baptist theologian: Deep in the Weeds on Monogenes.

Posted in Bible, Dealing with Scripture Honestly, Early Christianity, Modern Doctrines, Roman Catholic & Orthodox, Teachings that must not be lost | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments