Tag Archives: Christian Scripture

A Statement Regarding the Authority of Christian Scripture

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What do I believe with respect to the authority of Christian Scripture?

Well, here are my basic convictions:

  • I believe that the Christian faith is necessarily, intimately, and indelibly rooted in the God-authorized, God-breathed testimony of the prophetic tradition of the people of Israel and the apostolic witness of Jesus, the Messiah, as their testimonies have been preserved in the 66 canonical books of the Christian Bible.
  • Furthermore, it is my conviction that all that can be known about the one, true God with certainty is to be discovered only through this testimony (e.g., God’s nature, intention, will, activity in history, purpose, etc.).
  • Consequently, I believe that the contention of the writers and, where appropriate, editors of Scripture is infallible and inerrant with respect to their intention.

Now, permit me to delineate some implications…

The 66 canonical books of the Christian Bible are as follows: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, The Book of the Twelve (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi), Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1, 2, & 3 John, Jude, and Revelation.

I resist the idea that the contemporary authority of Scripture lies not in God, nor in the ordained authors, but primarily in the text itself, and therefore believe that though textual criticism is a necessary and useful discipline for Christian study, the authority of Christian Scripture does not depend fundamentally on such investigations.

I do believe that the testimony of the prophets and apostles as it has been preserved in the Christian Bible is rooted in events that must be presumed to be historical and provides a God-breathed, God-authorized (and for that reason, infallible and inerrant) theological interpretation of divinely selected segments and epochs of history as well as the God-revealed trajectory of human history.

Of foundational importance to me is the insistence that the authority of the Scriptural text is not an authority to be found in the grammar and vocabulary of the text itself nor is it to be found in the receiving and reading community.

Rather it is to be found in the authority that God entrusted to the prophets and apostles as they were elected, authorized, and inspired by God both to testify to specific historical events and to provide theological interpretations of those events for those who would accept their testimony and put their faith in YHWH (The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God who delivered the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt, the God who became flesh in the person of Jesus, the Messiah).  The authority of the Biblical text derives from its faithfulness to the testimony and teachings of the elect of Israel–i.e., the true prophets and apostles of YHWH.

Scripture's authority derives from its faithfulness to the testimony of the elect of Israel. Click To Tweet

I believe that though the early Christian community was tasked with recognizing the faithfulness of these writings to the testimony and teaching of the prophets and apostles, the community itself did not have the authority or responsibility to author or to authorize these texts.

I believe that the foundational conviction of Christian faith is a trust in the prophetic and apostolic witness to the Word of God delivered to them and entrusted through them to the Church by the Holy Spirit.  However, the interpretation of Scripture and the attempt to discern the intention of the authors and, where appropriate, editors of Scripture necessarily are subjective endeavors.

For this reason, I believe that theological disagreements are healthy and necessary components of Christian community.  What we must agree on, in my view, is not always the theological conclusions we draw, but the conviction that our task, in the Holy Spirit and in Christian community, is to understand and to apply the message intended by the authors and editors as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

Our task is to understand and to apply the message intended by Scripture's authors and editors. Click To Tweet

I recognize that reading and interpreting the First Testament may require a different set of presuppositions than reading and interpreting the apostolic witness of the New Testament.  There certainly will be debate over the nature and extent of those differences.

However, pertinent to this statement of faith is the awareness that First Testament prophecy sometimes predicted future events that, contextually, appear to have been outside of the original intent of the prophets themselves.  This does indicate the possibility of the Holy Spirit utilizing the Scriptural text to say more than the authors and/or editors themselves intended to say.

With that said, I believe that, canonically, this expectation seems unique to prophetic and/or apocalyptic passages.

J. Thomas Johnson – updated 11/02/2016

Comments on the Church of the Nazarene’s Article of Faith on Scripture

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For those who are conversant with the Church of the Nazarene, you may be aware that our General Assembly convened this past June.  One of the many resolutions up for consideration was an alteration to the current language of Article IV of the Nazarene Articles of Faith entitled “The Holy Scriptures.”

A committee was convened (the Scripture Study Committee) to consider possible new language and to make a recommendation to the Assembly with respect to the final articulation of Article IV.  In many ways, the report of the Scripture Study Committee was well received by the denomination generally.

The following blog is an excerpt from a fairly long essay I have written in response to the final report of the SSC.  For those interested in the fullness of my response, you can find the complete essay here:

Response to the Report of the Scripture Study Committee 2013 – J Johnson

What I have provided below represents an articulation of my more general concerns regarding the present language of Article IV.

I hope for some, this offering will prove helpful.

Blessings,

J. Thomas

———————————————————

. . . .I want to conclude with my own principle concerns regarding Article IV, and it seems best to begin by quoting the Article here, in full.

4. We believe in the plenary inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, by which we understand the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments, given by divine inspiration, inerrantly revealing the will of God concerning us in all things necessary to our salvation, so that whatever is not contained therein is not to be enjoined as an article of faith.

(Luke 24:44-47; John 10:35; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4; 2 Timothy 3:15-17; 1 Peter 1:10-12; 2 Peter 1:20-21)

My concerns with our present language are these:

(1) Article IV depicts the nearly 1,500 year history of Israel and the massive cultural and generational undertaking of the writing, editing, and re-working of the Tanakh as it finds its final expression in the Apostolic testimony of the New Testament to be little more than a long treatise intended only to tell later believers in Jesus how to escape death and how to live godly lives.

(2) Article IV is excessively anthropocentric in that it relegates Scripture to speaking sufficiently only with respect to personal and corporate salvation.

(3) Our deliberations regarding the language we want to use to confess our dependence on Scripture have traded nuance for utility, in my opinion.

In my estimation, our confession of what Scripture is should have little to nothing to do with the kinds of debates it engenders or the details it forces us to consider.  Whatever the difficulties it causes us, our confession with respect to Scripture should be reflective of the Scripture’s role in the history of the Church, with particular attention to the way it was utilized in the development of the early creeds, and it should be reflective of Scripture’s claims about itself.  These confessions will be complicating, and sometimes impractical, but such is the theological history of the people of faith.

In our article on Scripture, the Church of the Nazarene has made the telos of inspiration and the long history of the Jewish people and the development of Biblical literature a means to a single end—i.e., my, or our, salvation.  Really?  Is that what we want to say?  The utility of Scripture and the authority of Scripture relates only to eternal life?

The Scriptures do not inerrantly reveal the character or nature of God?  The Scriptures do not inerrantly give shape to a metaphysic?  The Scriptures do not provide understandings of history and of the universe that, though not technically necessary for salvation, expand the scope and capacity of human reason and imagination?  This is really a book only guaranteed to be effective in soteriology and ethics?  I don’t think this language adequately reflects the nature of the sufficiency of Scripture in the Church.

In conclusion, I’ll provide an example that I think summarizes the core of the situation that we face as a denomination.  And, in my opinion and with deepest respect for the members of the SSC, far from being an irrelevant diversion in the church, this issue that has been raised by the inerrantist debate is critical to the trajectory we set for upcoming generations.

I was engaged in an online discussion of the story of Uzzah the priest in the books of Samuel.  Many on the discussion thread were wrestling with the ‘interpretation’ offered by the prophetic tradition of Israel that God had struck Uzzah down in response to his attempt to steady the Ark of the Covenant with his hand.

Here is a brief exchange I had with a retired Nazarene minister:

Minister:  This story makes me very glad that we believe that the scriptures are inerrant in things pertaining to salvation! At that time they attributed EVERYTHING to God’s direct hand. We don’t. At least I don’t. Jesus is the final revelation of God. He would never have struck the man dead for trying to help. Personally, I think the poor man probably had a heart attack, perhaps at the thought of touching The Sacred.

Me:   Are you saying that from your perspective the best approach to the story of Uzzah is to reject the prophet’s assumption that God struck him down, and chalk the story up to a misunderstanding based on faulty premises?

Minister: Yes I do. It had too many problems in its portrayal of God. If we believe that God looks on the heart and also that He loves us without measure, I would rather leave this to a misinterpretation of a tragic incident.

Whatever we want to say about the language of inerrancy, however inadequate that language may be, however contemporary and recent much of this debate is, is this really the space we want to delineate for the practice of theology in the Church of the Nazarene?  I am aware that some early hermeneutical models which appreciated the multi-faceted nature of Scripture and endorsed various levels or dimensions of a given text could be seen as supporting a creative end-run around certain surface readings.  But, it seems to me that flat out dismissal of the theological interpretation of the prophetic tradition of Israel is a very recent development in Scriptural hermeneutics.

I agree that ‘inerrancy throughout’ would have been a poor way to address this fundamental concern and inadequate to the task of expanding the scope and authority of Scripture beyond the telos of soteriology and ethics.  But, I do believe we need to broaden the scope of our understanding of the authority of Scripture in the church before the Scriptures become nothing more to our younger generations than a ‘how to’ guide to salvation and ethical living.  I think we all recognize with the church throughout history that the Scriptures, whatever they are, are more than that.  Perhaps we should discuss how to articulate that appreciation in our article on Scripture.

It’s easy, of course, to criticize, and much more difficult to make a positive contribution.  So, I will conclude by putting myself at risk and providing an articulation of the authority of Scripture in the church that I believe delineates a broader and more historically defensible space in which to explore theology as Christians:

  • The Christian faith is necessarily, intimately, and indelibly rooted in the God-authorized, God-breathed testimony of the prophetic tradition of the people of Israel and the apostolic witness of Jesus, the Messiah, as their testimonies have been preserved in the 66 canonical books of the Christian Bible.

 

  • Furthermore, all that can be known about the one, true God with certainty is to be discovered only through this testimony (e.g., God’s nature, intention, will, activity in history, purpose, etc.).

 

  • Consequently, though the presumptions of the writers and/or editors of Christian Scripture were culturally conditioned and may be demonstrated to be inadequate or even in error, the contentions of the writers and/or editors of Scripture are infallible and inerrant as they have been preserved by the believing community in their final canonical form.

 

The Chosenness of Israel and the Authority of Christian Scripture

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I don’t publish manuscripts of my sermons routinely, but I consider the subject matter of this sermon to be of particular importance.  So, I have included the manuscript text below.  If you prefer to listen as opposed to reading, click the link below for the audio file.

The Root That Supports Us (Ruth 1-4)

The Root That Supports Us (Ruth 1-4)

Rev. J. Thomas Johnson

Heritage is profoundly important to most humans, isn’t it?  Whether we’re talking about ethnic identity or national heritage or family history or even the peculiarities of religious traditions.  In our context those of us who value the United States often communicate this in terms of being ‘proud to be an American’.  Those of us who herald from significant families might swell with pride in being related to prominent persons. And those of us who value our particular Christian tradition might speak of being ‘proud to be a Baptist’ or ‘a Methodist’ or ‘a Nazarene’ or ‘a Protestant’ or ‘a Roman Catholic’ or ‘a Non-Denominationalist’.

As appropriate as it may be to use these designations of ourselves, they also bring with them a danger shared by all contemporary Christians, but especially by those Christians today who herald from non-Jewish or Gentile ancestry.  So long as we are convinced that John Wesley read and interpreted the Christian Scriptures with faithfulness to the intentions of the original communities that produced them, then we can be pleased to call ourselves Wesleyans.  That goes for the labels Protestant, Lutheran, Arminian, or whatever else.  However, we should have no interest in approaching the Bible with the primary goal of supporting the particular interpretation of any post-Apostolic religious leader in the history of Christianity.

Why not?  Because, and I want to say this both unequivocally and carefully, neither the Church of the Nazarene nor John Wesley nor the Anglican Church from whence he came nor Protestantism nor Martin Luther nor Thomas Aquinas nor Augustine nor Francis of Assisi nor Gregory Nazianzus nor Athanasius nor Irenaeus nor any other significant theologian in the history of Christianity is the root that supports us, as Christians.

My particular ethnic or national heritage is not fundamental to who I am presently either.  I am not first and foremost American or Scottish or French or English or Swedish.  These may be some of the roots that sired me and nurtured me formerly, but none of these are the root that supports me as a follower of Jesus.

If any of these relations or designations were taken away, I would not be irreparably damaged.  Why not?  Because in becoming a Christian, I have been grafted into a new and unique heritage, and it is that heritage that is the root that supports me.  It is not that I am not these other things–e.g., an American, a Protestant, a Wesleyan/Arminian, a Nazarene, a Johnson.  But, those designations are peripheral.  None of these are the root that supports me, and if you have followed Jesus today, their like is not the root that supports you either.

Well, what is the root that supports us?  I’m glad you asked.  That question is the title of today’s sermon, and our journey to answer it is a central concern both of the book of Ruth and of the New Testament.  But, we are not going to begin this morning with Ruth.  Instead, we will begin by considering the events of Ruth through the eyes of the New Testament.

We’ll begin by looking at Matthew, chapter 1, verses 1-16.

This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham:

Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar, Perez the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, 4Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, 6and Jesse the father of King David.

David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife, 7Solomon the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah, Abijah the father of Asa, 8Asa the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Jehoram, Jehoram the father of Uzziah, 9Uzziah the father of Jotham, Jotham the father of Ahaz, Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amon, Amon the father of Josiah, 11and Josiah the father of Jeconiah and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon.

12 After the exile to Babylon: Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel, Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13Zerubbabel the father of Abihud, Abihud the father of Eliakim, Eliakim the father of Azor, 14Azor the father of Zadok, Zadok the father of Akim, Akim the father of Elihud, 15Elihud the father of Eleazar, Eleazar the father of Matthan, Matthan the father of Jacob, 16and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah. [1]

Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus’ lineage is interesting for several reasons, but one stands out for our purposes today.  Matthew has highlighted the reality that the kingly line of David, as it culminates in the person of Jesus, is not ethnically homogenous.  Not all in David’s line were children of Abraham through the chosen lines of Isaac and Jacob.  There were non-Jewish people in the kingly line of David.  Matthew was led to point out specifically Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.

Is it as interesting to you as it is to me that Matthew began his interpretation of the Gospel of Jesus by highlighting the reality that the genealogy of Jesus includes Gentiles?  Now, they are Gentile women and not Gentile men, and that is probably significant (we’ll get back to that a bit later), but Gentiles are present nonetheless.  And one of those Davidic Gentiles is Ruth, whose story we have been examining for nearly two months.

What is the inclusion of Ruth and the other Gentiles in the Davidic line meant to teach us, as followers of Jesus?  Well, to answer that question, we must situate our inquiry long before the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, and long before Ruth followed Naomi back to the town of Bethlehem.  We have to return to the days following the events of the Great Flood in Genesis 6-9.  We must begin with the special election of the nation of Israel in God’s plan of salvation, and that’s our first point today:  The Chosenness of Israel.

Genesis tells us in chapter 11 that all of the nations of the earth originally spoke the same language and that these nations eventually came together under a single banner in order to build a capital city of human civilization on earth.  At the heart of that city was to be a tower that would reach into the heavens and be a testament to human accomplishment and cooperation.

When God evaluated this cooperative effort to build what is now known as the Tower of Babel, He decided to inhibit human development by scrambling their one language into many and consequently scattering them across the face of the earth.  Then, out of those seventy dispersing and divided peoples, God chose one human person whose family had settled not far from where the Tower of Babel had originally been conceived.  That person’s name was Abram, and when God appeared to him, God made Him a promise that stands as the foundation of the history of the salvation of humanity.

We find God’s words to Abram in Genesis 12:1-3:

1 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” [2]

Through Abram, God elected a line of descendants, beginning with Abraham’s son Isaac, extending through Isaac’s son, Jacob, and finding fulfillment in Jacob’s sons whom God chose to be the tribal beginnings of a nation–the nation of Israel.   Perhaps more significantly for us, the larger part of Israel’s election as a people was that God chose to reveal Himself to that nation over the course of thousands of years in unique and unrepeatable ways.

Even more, God chose to guide and to authorize the reflections and historical interpretations of that nation through their prophetic tradition and later through the witness of the Apostles of Jesus.  In other words, what I’m suggesting is that God has entrusted His revelation of Himself to the people of Israel, and He has chosen them to be His unique mouthpiece to the rest of humanity for all time.

Of even greater significance still, in the fullness of time God Himself elected to step onto the stage of human history in a quite unexpected way when He took on flesh in the Person of Jesus.  And as confirmation of His special election, calling, and commissioning of Israel, when God took on human flesh the flesh He took on was that of Israel.  The nation God had chosen to encounter in unique and unrepeatable ways, the nation that God had chosen as His unique witness and testifier to the rest of humanity, this was the nation that God entered into in the person of Jesus, Israel’s Messiah.

As Christians we may testify that apart from the name of Jesus there is no other name under heaven given to humans by which we must be saved.  But, Jesus was and is the embodiment of the people of Israel, the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham, and to confess Jesus as the only way to God is at the same time to confess the prophetic and apostolic traditions of Israel as the unique and only spokespersons for the God of all creation.  The root that supports all who follow Jesus are the prophetic tradition of Israel and the apostolic witness of Jesus as they culminate in the Person of Jesus, the Messiah.

Dr. Marvin Wilson, in his book Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith has written the following:

The question of origins is a question of roots. Since the American public became absorbed with a moving television documentary called “Roots” a number of years ago, many people have been more conscious about their own roots. Considerable interest in tracing family, ethnic, and national ties has resulted in a recent flood of literature on this subject.

At the same time, however, many Christians seem to have little knowledge about their biblical roots. They have never really penetrated the inner world of biblical thought. Christians can converse intelligently about the latest automobiles, fashions, music, and sports, but too few give evidence of a deep understanding of their spiritual heritage. At best, their grounding in biblical soil is both shallow and shaky. Hence, they usually embrace an uncritical conformity to the prevailing spirit of today’s world. As children of Abraham, Christians should be asking, “What does it mean to claim spiritual kinship with Abraham and the Jewish people?”[3]

Because Israel alone is the elect of God, those of us who follow Jesus must necessarily seek to deepen both our understanding and our living in the rich soil of ancient Jewish thought and practice.  God’s elect, God’s chosen, the citizens of the Kingdom of God both visible and invisible, no matter where we live and no matter what our ethnicity are elect in and through the people of Israel.

But, what is the relationship of non-Jewish people to the elect nation of Israel?  Well, this is where our study in Ruth bears much fruit, and it seems likely to me that this question is one of the reasons that Matthew has highlighted the Gentile members of the line of David.  Our first point was The Chosenness of Israel.  Our second now is The Incorporation of the Gentiles.

We recall that early in the book of Ruth, Ruth’s mother-in-law, Naomi, wished to return home to the region of Israel.  Since Ruth’s husband was dead and she herself was a Moabite, Naomi saw no reason for Ruth to remain with her.  But, do you recall Ruth’s response to Naomi?  This is Ruth chapter 1, verses 16-17:

16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”[4]

These words brought Ruth into the nation of Israel, no longer as a Moabite, but now as an Israelite.  She altered her family, religious, and national allegiances.  She forsook her own roots, and sought to be grafted into Naomi’s roots–the people of Israel.  All of the Gentile women in Matthew’s genealogy of the line of David did the same, and it is important that they were all women.

Only women in the ancient world became a full part of the families into which they married.  When Gentile women married into Israel, they were born again into Israel.  And the pattern that Ruth and her compatriots followed has blazed the path that all Gentiles must walk in order to become a part of the kingdom of God.

The Apostle Paul describes this reality poignantly in his epistle to the Christians in Rome.  I’m reading from Romans chapter 11, beginning in verse 13:

13 I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry 14 in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. 15 For if their rejection brought reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? 16 If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches.

17 If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, 18 do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. 19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” 20 Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.

22 Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. 23 And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24 After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree![5]

As Gentiles, we have been grafted into the olive tree of Israel, and Israel is the root that supports all who follow Jesus.  We are not to find meaning and purpose and value in our peculiar Gentile heritages, nor in our national affiliations, nor in our particular religious traditions.  Our roots are in Israel as God has been gracious in Jesus to graft us into the olive tree of His election.  As Paul observed just a few verses later in Romans 11:26:  “26 and in this way all Israel will be saved.”

What does this mean for us, and, perhaps more importantly, why speak of this on Father’s Day?  Our first point was The Chosenness of Israel, and our second was The Incorporation of the Gentiles.  Our third and final point this morning is this:  The Embracing of Our New Heritage.

When God determined to make Himself known to humanity, He did not interact haphazardly or comprehensively with the nations of the earth.  God chose to make Himself known to and through a particular people, and, it seems to me, the Christian Bible insists that God has refused to make Himself known through any other means.  God has chosen Israel as His unique spokespeople, and all who wish to come to God, to learn of God, to encounter God, must come to the God-breathed and God authorized prophetic and apostolic tradition of Israel.  This is, for me, the foundation of canon, and what we need to mean to say when we say that the Christian Bible is authoritative.

We, today, feel quite superior to ancient peoples, don’t we?  I mean our scientific understanding of the universe is far more sophisticated and accurate; our comprehension of medicine and biology is vastly improved; our technological advances are light years ahead; and our levels of literacy, education, and access to information have reached unprecedented levels in recent centuries and decades.  If any people in the history of the world have a shot at comprehending the truth of reality, it is us, isn’t it?  In many ways, I expect that that is true.

However, we don’t get to choose to whom God, if there is a God, might reveal Himself.  We don’t get to decide when or how this Being might choose to encounter us.  And, despite our scientific and philosophical and educational sophistication, our access to God and our ability to speak intelligently about Him or to evaluate Him is limited because He has not chosen to encounter us in the midst of history nor has He chosen to reveal Himself to us.  He chose an ancient people and, from our perspective, a people ignorant in many ways.  And that drives us mad.  In fact, it has driven many contemporary people away from God altogether.

The contemporary atheist, Richard Dawkins, has written the following in his book The God Delusion:

“The great unmentionable evil at the center of our culture is monotheism. From a barbaric Bronze Age text known as the Old Testament, three anti-human religions have evolved—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. These are sky-god religions. They are, literally, patriarchal—God is the Omnipotent Father—hence the loathing of women for 2,000 years in those countries afflicted by the sky-god and his earthly male delegates.” —GORE VIDAL

The oldest of the three Abrahamic religions, and the clear ancestor of the other two, is Judaism: originally a tribal cult of a single fiercely unpleasant God, morbidly obsessed with sexual restrictions, with the smell of charred flesh, with his own superiority over rival gods and with the exclusiveness of his chosen desert tribe. During the Roman occupation of Palestine, Christianity was founded by Paul of Tarsus as a less ruthlessly monotheistic sect of Judaism and a less exclusive one, which looked outwards from the Jews to the rest of the world.[6]

Do you hear the disdain?  “A barbaric Bronze Age text…” “Anti-human religions…”  “a tribal cult of a single fiercely unpleasant God.”  The first step that we must take in order to learn of God and to begin to follow after Him is to lay down our arrogance as a people.  We must embrace the reality that the prophetic tradition of Israel and the apostles of Jesus had experiences that were unrepeatable and unique to them alone.

Despite our present sophistication and intelligence, they have experienced something we have not; they have encountered a Being in real time and space that we will not encounter in the way they did until Jesus comes again; and they have been authorized by this Being to speak on His behalf in a way that no one since the death of the Apostles of Jesus has ever been authorized to speak.

The writer of 2 Peter put it this way in 2 Peter 1:16-21:

16 For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” 18 We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.

19 We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. [7]

I do believe that God confirms the truthfulness of these witnesses today through His Holy Spirit.  However, I am also convinced that, in the end, the truthfulness of Christianity rests on our faith in the claim that Israel is the unique God-breathed, God-inspired witness and testifier to the reality and truth of the God of all creation for all of humanity for all time.

The theologian T. F. Torrance has said it this way (from The Mediation of Christ):

. . . .In his desire to reveal himself and make himself knowable to mankind [sic], he selected one small race out of the whole mass of humanity, and subjected it to intensive interaction and dialogue with himself in such a way that he might mould and shape this people in the service of his self-revelation. [8]

And if we are to encounter this God, if we are to know Him in any fashion, if we are to become citizens of the world He is creating, then we must speak the words of Ruth to the ancient prophets and apostles of Israel:

16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”[9]

This is the root that supports us, and this is the heritage which we must investigate, in which we must envelope ourselves, in which we must take pride, and of which we must teach our children, both our natural children and our spiritual children in the faith.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also consider:

J. Thomas’s Statement Regarding the Authority of Christian Scripture

Jews, Gentiles, & the Remnant in Romans 9-11

The Chosenness of Israel and the Interpretation of Scripture series – Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, & 7


 

[1] The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Mt 1:1–16.

[2] Ibid, Genesis 12:1–3.

[3] Wilson, Marvin R. (1989-04-01), Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith (pp. 4-5), Eerdmans Publishing Co – A, Kindle Edition.

[4] NIV, Ruth 1:16–17.

[5] Ibid, Romans 11:13–24.

[6] Dawkins, Richard (2008-01-16), The God Delusion (p. 58) (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Kindle Edition, 4).

[7] NIV, 2 Peter 1:16–21.

[8] Thomas F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ (Colorado Springs, CO: Helmers & Howard, 1992), 7.

[9] NIV, Ruth 1:16–17.