Results tagged “redemptive history” from Reformation21 Blog

The Sin-Bearing Sufferer of Psalm 38


In Psalm 38, David feels the overwhelming burden of his sin and the corresponding displeasure of YHWH. He feels as if he is a cursed sin-bearer.

1. Awareness of your sin and God's hatred of it

The psalmist is quite aware of two things: the evil of his own sin, and God's great displeasure of it. His conscience is extremely stricken with how offensive his sin is to a holy God, and he has a keen sense of God's chastening hand. Therefore he cries out in verses 1 and 2,

"O YHWH, do not punish me with Your wrath, nor rebuke me with Your burning anger!

Truly, your arrows have penetrated into me, and Your hand has come down upon me."

David is so overwhelmed by the load of his sin that he says in verse 4,

"Because my iniquities have passed over my head, like a heavy burden--they are too heavy for me!"

This word for "burden" (מַשָּׂא) has to do with a load that one carries or bears, but in this case, David no longer can bear the weighty load of his iniquity, which is his guilt. He longs for the burden to be removed--he longs for something or someone else to bear his sin for him!

Verses 3 and 7 are book-ended with the phrase "there is no soundness in my flesh," referring to his awareness that there is no healthy part within him because of his sin. The intense conviction of his sin and God's anger against him are felt so deeply in his soul that he uses expressions of physical pain and anguish. Notice the parallel thoughts in verse 3:

                      A                                                                                 B

There is no soundness in my flesh                              because of Your indignation,

                      A'                                                                                 B'

There is no peace (shalom) in my bones                    because of my sin.

God's indignation that is heavy upon David is on account of his sin, and he can feel it in his flesh, in his bones, so that his sides (literally, his "loins") are filled with burning (v. 7). His strength is swallowed up and his heart is throbbing (v. 10). What is happening? In short his body is affected by the soul. As those made in the image of God, humans are physical-spiritual creatures; our physical and spiritual natures are united in one person. When the soul is greatly afflicted, we can feel it on our bones, and vice versa.

Can you identify with the psalmist? Have you ever felt this way before? It is actually a gift from God to have your conscience plagued by a strong sense of your sin, and God's intense abhorrence of it. This is where the non-Christian differs. Although he or she has a sense of right and wrong which God implanted in them, by the ongoing suppression of truth they sear their conscience. They are dead to God, insofar as they are numb to His hatred of their sin. But the Christian has been awakened to his own evil, and it is a great blessing when God makes us aware of how much He detests our wickedness. The result is that we are driven to an end of ourselves. Thus the psalmist repeats:

v. 6 "I am bowed down, I am bent low to an overwhelming degree (עַד־מְאֹ֑ד)"

v. 8 "I am powerless, and I am crushed to an overwhelming degree (עַד־מְאֹ֑ד)"

As we will see below, awareness of these things are meant to drive us to the mercy of God.

2. Awareness of your isolation and your accusers

The psalmist is also greatly aware of his isolation. As he bears his own sin and God's displeasure of it, those who used to be close to him - his friends and his companions - are now far off (v. 11).

But the psalmist is not totally alone. There is another group that is near: his persecutors who are pursuing David's destruction and seeking his calamity (v. 12). They desire to see David's downfall so that they might boast and exalt over him (v. 16). This is not a small group, but rather his enemies are countless and numerous (v. 19). Ultimately, these enemies seek to capitalize on David's sin and use it as an opportunity to accuse him (v. 20).

It is striking that "to accuse" in verse 20 is literally "satan" (שׂטן) in Hebrew, which is the root for Satan's name in Zechariah 3:1-2, as the accuser of the brethren stands before God to accuse His people of their sin. David's human accusers embodied Satan and his demons' accusations against the people of God.

Perhaps this is the worst part of our fall into sin. Besides feeling isolated from loved ones, the enemy--and his demonic horde, which are many--stand to accuse us before the Righteous Judge. They know (better than us) that God must punish sinners in accordance with His justice. Yet this is the occasion were David waits for YHWH to intervene as his advocate.

3. Awareness of the rescuing, justifying grace of God

How does David respond to these attacks of accusation from his accusers? He "does not open his mouth" (v. 13). Instead, he trusts the Lord to advocate and intercede for him in verse 15:

"Truly, I put my hope in You, O YHWH! You--You will answer, O Lord (Adonai) my God!"

In the prior verses, notice that the psalmist has no answer--no defense--for the accusations and condemnation upon him, both from God, and from his accusers. Thus his only hope is YHWH Himself--that He will answer on his behalf. His hope is that YHWH Himself will be His salvation (v. 22). In this context the word "to answer" means to testify in someone's defense in a court of law. How then can David put his hope in a holy God who promises He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished (Ex. 34:7)?

The title of this psalm in the very beginning is telling. Notice it says right above verse 1 in your English Bible (although it actually is verse 1 in the Hebrew text), "A Psalm of David, for the Memorial (לְהַזְכִּֽיר) Offering." The word zachar, means "to cause to remember" or "to acknowledge," and the word "Offering" is implied.

The Memorial Offering is likely connected to the occasion described in 1 Chronicles 16:1-4 when David had the Ark of the Covenant brought into the tabernacle, and they offered whole burnt offerings and peace offerings to the LORD. "Then David appointed some of the Levites as ministers before the Ark of YHWH to acknowledge (same word, לְהַזְכִּיר) and to thank and to praise YHWH, the God of Israel." (1 Chron. 16:4). So glorious was this occasion of bringing up the Ark of the Covenant into God's dwelling place that David saw fit to ordain worshippers to acknowledge who YHWH is in His faithful, steadfast love. Moreover, "acknowledging" and "remembering" the Name of God is what God Himself commanded to be done when He first revealed His special covenant Name, YHWH, to Moses:

God also said to Moses, "Say this to the sons of Israel, 'YHWH, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, He has sent me to you. This is My Name forever, and this is My Memory (זִכְרִ֖י) from generation to generation.' (Ex. 3:15, my translation)

What does all this have to do with David's prayer for YHWH to intercede for him before his accusers, as he is aware of his sin and God's anger against him? In short, David is looking outside of himself to the character and provision of YHWH to graciously provide an offering and sacrifice that would satisfy and absorb all of God's displeasure, and so vindicate David before his enemies. And this psalm, inspired by the Spirit of Christ (1 Pt. 1:11), was written for all God's people to sing and pray it regularly before Him,

What is most stunning is that God gave Himself to be this provision of grace "by sending His own Son, in the likeness of sinful flesh as a sin offering (when) He condemned sin in the flesh" (Rom. 8:3). It is not just because we have the New Testament that we can tell this is the case. But the very words used for David the guilty sin-bearer in Psalm 38 appear to be used and applied to the righteous sin-bearer in Isaiah 53. It is as if Isaiah had Psalm 38, among other passages, before him when he composed it.

We can't help but notice that what is true of the guilty sin-bearer in Psalm 38, is also true of a righteous sin-bearer in Isaiah 53:

"My wounds (חַבּוּרָה) stink and fester because of my foolishness" (Ps. 38:5)..."I am powerless, and I am crushed (דּכא)" (Ps. 38:8).

"But He was pierced through on account of our transgressions; He was crushed (דּכא) on account of our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and by means of His  wounds (חַבּוּרָה) we are healed. (Isa. 53:5)


"My friends and my companions stand far off because of my plague (נגע)" (Ps. 38:11)

"Yet we ourselves considered Him plagued (נגע), stricken by God and afflicted." (Isa. 53:4b)


"But I am ready to fall, and my  pain (מַכְאֹב) is continually before me." (Ps. 38:17)

"He was despised and rejected by men; A man of pains (מַכְאֹב), and familiar with sickness...However, He Himself bore our sickness and He carried our pains (מַכְאֹב)." (Isa. 53:3-4)


The Son of David became the righteous sufferer, who was also accused by accusers. Yet in His case, unlike David (and you and I), He was completely innocent. How did He respond before His accusers? Twice Isaiah 53:7 has the identical phrase from Psalm 38:13, "He did not open His mouth." Why was the perfectly righteous Son of God silent before His accusers, who ultimately put Him to death on a cross? One, because He was bearing our sin, and if He spoke up, He'd have to say our names. And two, because  (like David) He trusted God the Father to vindicate Him--that is, to justify Him by raising from the dead. But in His case, His vindication was not being acquitted of any guilt, for He had none! Rather, as a righteous sin bearer, He endured on our behalf the wages of sin, which is death (Rom. 6:23). Since He had no sin, His resurrection was His vindication, that is, His justification, by His Heavenly Father declaring Him "not guilty" but righteous. "He was justified by the Spirit" (1 Tim. 3:16). Since He bore the full indignation of God toward our sins, He has been raised from the dead for our justification, as well (Rom. 4:25). Out of love for us, it pleased YHWH to crush Him, when He made His Son's soul sick by becoming the ultimate trespass-offering (Isaiah 53:10). The justification of the One is counted for "the many." No wonder then Isaiah 53:10 prophecies that "the Righteous One shall declare the many to be righteous, since He bore their iniquities."

In conclusion, let us cry out to YHWH when His hand is heavy upon us because of our sin. Let us rejoice that our Father disciplines those whom He loves, and respond like David:

"I confess my iniquity, and I am sorry for my sin" (Ps. 38:18).

Let us more so rejoice that we do not have to bear the ultimate judgment for our sin--the full displeasure and wrath of God in hell. But this is only because of the Righteous Sin-Bearer, the greater David, who identified with our sin in order to become the ultimate Memorial Offering on the cross.

As His repentant worshippers, we can pray and sing Psalm 38 as we look back to the sin-bearing of the Lamb of God. When He comes again, our Lord Jesus will bring us into His heavenly temple, where as His holy priests we will acknowledge His Name for an eternal Memorial.

Listen to the song "I'm the Problem" (feat. Shai Linne) on acknowledging and confessing your sinfulness, as you look outside your self to God's answer, Jesus Christ.

Tim Brindle is a Christian hip-hop recording artist. He is an M.Div. graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia where he is currently enrolled in the Th.M. program. 

*This post is republished here with permission from Timothy Brindle Ministries.

Read Like an Apostle


The early disciples gave evidence of the concept of Christ as the target of the Old Testament; but, should we read the Old Testament like they did? That is an ever pressing hermeneutical question. I want to suggest that the answer is a resounding "yes!" Consider John 2:13-22 as a case study:

"The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; and to those who were selling the doves He said, "Take these things away; stop making My Father's house a place of business." His disciples remembered that it was written, "ZEAL FOR YOUR HOUSE WILL CONSUME ME." The Jews then said to Him, "What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?" Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews then said, "It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?" But He was speaking of the temple of His body. So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken."

John 2:17 begins, "His disciples remembered that it was written..." This is John's commentary on the thought process of some of Christ's disciples in the first century prior to the writing of the New Testament. The words "it was written" refer to what was already written at that time. John tells us what "was written" and what Old Testament text these disciples were thinking about by quoting Psalm 69:9, "ZEAL FOR YOUR HOUSE WILL CONSUME ME" (see John 15:25 and 19:28 where Jesus applies this Psalm to himself). The disciples were interpreting the Old Testament (independent of the New Testament) during the life of our Lord. John's comment informs us that they started connecting the dots from the Psalms to Jesus while our Lord was on the earth. In other words, their minds were making hermeneutical moves while Christ's zeal for God's temple, his Father's house, was being manifested. As the Word who became flesh manifested himself among men, those who believed in him began to interpret Scripture in light of him (or him in light of Scripture!).

In John 2:22 we read, "So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken." Note first the time when "His disciples remembered that He said this," that is, "when He was raised from the dead..." The resurrection, among other things, triggered the memories of these disciples. Note second what "this" of "He said this" refers to. It refers to what Jesus said as recorded in verse 19, where we read, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." Note third John's comment about what Jesus said. "But He was speaking of the temple of His body" (John 2:21). Note fourth that "they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken" (John 2:22). The "Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken" are not the same thing. The "word which Jesus had spoken" is recorded in John 2:19. The Scripture must refer to the Old Testament. The disciples were interpreting the Old Testament (not only during the ministry of our Lord, but also after his resurrection and prior to the writing of the New Testament, and surely during and after its writing). The resurrection became an interpretive event through which the early disciples "believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken." Just as they began connecting the dots during our Lord's life-unto-death sufferings (John 2:17), so they continued to connect the dots when he entered into his glory, his resurrection (John 2:22; see John 12:16 for the same phenomenon with reference to connecting the dots between our Lord and the book of Zechariah).

Though it is true that we interpret the Bible in our day, it is also true that the early Christians interpreted the Bible of their day-i.e., the Old Testament. Some of their interpretations made it into the New Testament, as illustrated above. Though this does not mean that all of their personal interpretations of the Old Testament reflected the divine intention of the ancient text, it does mean that their interpretations recorded in the New Testament and affirmed by the authors of the New Testament (e.g., John) are infallible interpretations (This is not the same as claiming they were infallible interpreters.), reflecting the intention of God who first gave the text. This is so because "All Scripture [i.e., Old and New Testament] is inspired by God" (2 Tim. 3:16) and inspiration implies infallibility.

It is obvious that interpreters of Scripture today have an advantage over the first-century interpreters mentioned above. We have God's own interpretation of the historical sufferings and glory of Christ-our New Testaments. But I think there is a good lesson for us to learn from the discussion above. When our Lord Jesus was on this earth, the Spirit of God was causing the disciples of Christ to recall texts of Scripture due to the presence and ministry of Christ. What their musings on the Old Testament contained in the New Testament show us is that the Old Testament points to Christ. The early disciples saw this more and more as they contemplated our Lord and the Old Testament. The inspired documents of the New Testament confirm that they were right. Not only was Jesus Christ the promised One, he was that to which the Old Testament pointed (e.g., Luke 24:44ff.). The early disciples did not reinterpret the Old Testament in light of Christ; they interpreted it as pointing to Christ. And our New Testament is God's confirmation that they were right to do so. If it was right for them to do so, then it is right for us to do the same. The Old Testament is not about Christ simply because the New Testament says so. It is about Christ because that was God's intention from the beginning. This is how the early Christians (and our Lord) read the Old Testament. This is how we ought to as well.

The disciples were interpreting the Old Testament as their Lord did (e.g., John 5:39, 45-47). The entire New Testament is based on Jesus' view of himself in relation to the Old Testament. The sinless Son of God saw the Old Testament as that which pointed to him. The authors of the books of the New Testament not only agreed with this assessment, they wrote in light of it. And since the writings of the New Testament are inspired documents, this is also the divine view of Jesus and the Old Testament. In other words, the New Testament is the infallible interpretation of Jesus in relation to the Old Testament. This is no small matter, indeed! Jesus understood the Old Testament to be the Word of God and he understood it as pointing to him. Jesus' view of the Old Testament became the view of the writers of the New Testament. It seems to follow that Christian interpreters ought to follow the lead of Jesus and the authors of the New Testament. Unfortunately, not all agree. But the conclusion seems inescapable. If Jesus viewed the Old Testament as a witness to himself and the authors of the New Testament did as well (utilizing the same hermeneutic as Jesus), then all Christian interpreters ought to follow them.


Richard C. Barcellos, is pastor of Grace Reformed Baptist Church, Palmdale, CA, and Associate Professor of Exegetical Theology at IRBS Theological Seminary. He is the author of Getting the Garden Right: Adam's Work and God's Rest in Light of Christ and The Covenant of Works: Its Confessional and Scriptural Basis.

Retribution and Redemption

Last month, Pope Francis expressed his opinion that the death penalty is unacceptable in all cases. At the same time as he took his public stand, a series of popular opinions circulated online about whether or not the death penalty was to be viewed as valid as a Christian position. The better part of those who were vocal on the Twittersphere, also rushed to state unequivocally that they believe that the death penalty is always an illegitimate form of justice. The prevalent opinion was that the death penalty is, in fact, an inhumane form of civil punishment that the church ought not support. In response to these assertions, some raised appropriate questions concerning how accepted definitions of justice are formed. However, as I watched this unfold, one thought constantly reentered my thinking--namely, why did God sanction the death penalty as a principle of retribution against murder in the anti-diluvian revelation? The burden of proof, it seems to me, is on those who reject the death penalty to explain the purpose of the death penalty as a Divinely sanctioned form of retribution in Genesis 9:5-6. 

When we approach this subject, we have to first recognize that the death penalty has its origin in God's dealings with Noah and those who stepped off of the Ark with him. Immediately after the flood, God said:

"For your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image."

Since there is nothing arbitrary about God's revelation, and since we must seek to understand each and every thing that He breathed out in Scripture in context, we must seek to understand the reason why God made this declaration as soon as Noah and those with him stepped onto the newly created world. 

The first important exegetical consideration concerns that which transpired leading up to the flood. In Genesis 6:11-13, we read, "Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. And God said to Noah, 'I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them.'" In one very real sense, we can say that the flood was itself a Divinely appointed typological cosmic death penalty. The Apostle Peter draws out the typology when he explained that the flood was a type of the final judgment (2 Peter 3:5-7). Without wishing to get into debates over global or local flood theories, the point is that God destroyed all flesh from the face of the earth on account of the violence that filled the earth. The depravity of man was so extensive after the table of nations (Gen. 10) that the Lord brought the pre-diluvian world to an end in this watery judgment. 

The second important exegetical consideration is that which regards the heart of man before and after the flood. In Genesis 6:5-7 we read, "the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually...So the Lord said, "I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens." The depravity of the hearts of men is what precipitated the retributive floodwaters. However, in Genesis 8:21, immediately after Noah sacrificed an acceptable sin offering to the Lord, we read, "Lord said in his heart, 'I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done." Here, God makes a starkly different response to the problem of depravity in the human heart. After all, the flood waters could cleanse the earth externally but could never cleanse what was inside the human heart. 

The third important exegetical consideration comes in connection with these first two considerations. In the place of a worldwide judgment, God instituted the death penalty. Knowing that men would continue to act out the depravity of their hearts in murderous ways, God purposed to give a restraining grace to humanity on the whole. God had just entered into covenant with Noah and with all of creation--securing the stage of redemption--and promising His mercy to every subsequent generation of mankind. If one of Noah's descendants had decided to go on a murder spree, the human race and the promise of the coming Redeemer (Gen. 3:15) would have been eradicated. Jesus was in the loins of Noah, so to speak. The nations were also in the loins of Noah. Noah stood as a second Adam, the head of a newly created humanity standing in a typical new creation--though far from being the consummated new heavens and new earth. In order to secure the populating of the earth and to accommodate the goal of bringing about the nations out of which He would redeem His elect, the Lord established the death penalty. 

This is, of course, not the only redemptive-historical rationale for the death penalty. The Apostle Paul tied together the importance of the death penalty in Israel's civil law when he appealed to Deuteronomy 21:22-23 in his theological significance of Christ's death. In Galatians 3:13, Paul cited Deut. 21:23, stating, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree." The hanging of an individual who had committed a crime worthy of death was followed by the public display of the retribution of God. Jesus was treated as the disobedient and rebellious son--as a glutton and drunkard (Matt. 11:19)--and hung on a tree so that we might escape the final retribution of God on judgment day. In short, if there were no death penalty, there would be no redemption. If Christ had not died a criminal's death on the cross, we would suffer the just punishment of our sins for all of eternity. As the answer to Heidelberg 38 explains, "Though innocent, Christ was condemned by an earthly judge, and so he freed us from the severe judgment of God that was to fall on us." The restraining factor of the death penalty ultimately moved to the redeeming factor. As the death penalty served the populating of the nations, so it further served the accomplishment of the atonement. 

While arguments can and will be made either for or against the continuation of the death penalty, these explanations as to its origin and purposes should never be lost on us. To reject or forget them will inevitably lead us to the place where we will ultimately be unable to explain the divine insistence on retributive justice and the history of the work of redemption Scripture. 

Praying Through the Scriptures: Judges 2; Acts 6


Over the years it has been my practice, learned from others, to offer up praises and petitions framed by a passage of Scripture. Some of these passages were read in preparation for preaching, others offered material for meditation in daily devotion; still others were plundered specifically for the purpose of finding fresh material for prayer. As I continue to learn how to pray I have shared a few prayers with my family and friends for their use or adaptation. The Alliance has asked me to share some with you too. Here are the prayers we have considered so far followed by the next prayer in this meditative series:

Genesis 1

Genesis 2

Deuteronomy 3

Joshua 23

Joshua 24; Acts 4

Judges 2; Acts 6: The Covenant Maker

"Father in heaven, you are a covenant-maker. You offer promises that you always fulfill; what you give you never take away; you are utterly trustworthy, and I come to you in worship of your holy name.

But Father, I am covenant-breaker. I am often distracted by the inhabitants of this world; sometimes more loyal to them than I am to you. I try to manage sin, to "handle it," when I should flee from it. While you are ever faithful, I find myself on the edge of abandoning you, and serving the gods of this world. The fact that they are empty of any real promise only makes me ashamed that the temptation is so real. The fact that the danger is real only makes me more desperate for your help. Please forgive me Jesus's sake, for he is the one who resisted all temptation; please help me in your Spirit's power, for he is the one who can deliver me from danger.

I ask this, and then I am emboldened to ask more: in spite of my weakness, and the weakness of others whom I love, I pray that your Word would continue to increase, that the number of disciples would be multiplied greatly, everywhere, and that many who have struggles like my own would become obedient to the faith.  I pray that you would fill us with your grace and power, so that no one will be able to withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which we speak. And in all of this, may your name be lifted high above us, as we ourselves recede into the crowd of your worshippers.

In Jesus's name we ask this, AMEN."

Five Extraordinary Benefits of Pentecost


We are wrapping the 2018 Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology this weekend at Proclamation Presbyterian Church outside Philadelphia. Our theme this year is "Spirit of the Age - Age of the Spirit." As we have been celebrating the exalted Christ's outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost and its implications for our age of history, let me briefly highlight some of the main benefits we now enjoy:

1. By the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, the gospel is unleashed with power from on high. Prior to Pentecost, the gospel was confined to a small cultural and geographical corner of the world. But with the Spirit's coming, the gospel "has gone forth everywhere" (1 Thess. 1:8). Paul could state that the gospel has gone out "in the whole world" and "is bearing fruit and increasing" (Col. 1:5-6). Because of the outpoured Spirit, we who live in lands distant from the original church have heard and believed, and we have a mighty confidence in God for the success of the gospel among those who have still not heard its saving message.

2. At Pentecost, Christ has joined his ministry to the Spirit to advance his saving ministry with great power. Paul makes the stunning statement in 2 Cor. 3:17: "Now the Lord is the Spirit." The point is not an ontological union of the Second and Third Persons of the Godhead but an economical joining in the application of that salvation which Christ has achieved. It was for this reason that Jesus told his disciples, "it is to your advantage that I go away" (Jn. 16:7). Now Christ lives and moves in his people by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit comes "that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith...that you may be filled with all the fullness of God" (Eph. 3:17-19). What a joyous realization that by his Spirit, Christ lives in us!

3. After Pentecost, the Spirit is at work convicting sinners and regenerating their hearts to believe. Jesus taught of the Spirit: "when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment" (Jn. 16:8). Now, the most hardened sinner can be saved through the witness of the gospel, by the Spirit's power to convict of sin and bring to saving faith.

4. Because of the Spirit's coming, believers can and will be transformed into the glorious image of Christ. Whereas Moses would depart from the Lord's presence with a radiant face - only to have that divine imprint fade over time - Christians "beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another" (2 Cor. 3:18). Now, genuine Christ-likeness is not only our goal but the experience every Christian is able to know in growing measure. To be like Jesus! Yes, because of Pentecost.

5. By the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Christ has glorified himself in the world. Jesus told the disciples, "When the Spirit of truth comes,...He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you" (Jn. 16:13-14). Through God's Word, believers in Christ behold the glory of Jesus, seeing in the gospel "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor. 4:6). Even the unbelieving world - which would never have known or cared a crucified Jew named Jesus - has had his glory revealed in the lives and witness of Christ's Spirit-indwelt people. What a thrilling thought! And what a glory-strewn purpose for our lives as people of the Holy Spirit in this world!

We are living in the Age of the Spirit, and thus able to speak of God's truth and grace to the spirit of the age. I hope you are able to join us for this year's PCRT. And I pray that you rejoice at the glorious thing Christ has done in sending the Holy Spirit to be the conquering power of our age.


Always Preach Christ?


It is one thing to have a sound theory of preaching; it is another thing to stand behind a pulpit twice a week. Theory can easily fall apart when we meet instances in which we are not sure how to the biblical model of preaching. This is true both when preaching biblical books that do not appear to match the Scriptural pattern of preaching and when consecutive exegetical preaching does not lend itself immediately to preaching Christ.

We must understand the general duty of preaching Christ in relation to different biblical genres. One way to do this is to providing select examples of applying the Apostolic model of preaching to specific texts. The first example below is taken from the Book of James the others come from Psalm 1 and the Book of Amos.

The Book of James does not readily fit the pattern of preaching found in the rest of the New Testament. James wrote little about Christ theologically and practically, mentioning his name only twice. He referred to himself as a bondservant of Christ (Jas. 1:1). He urged believers to be impartial because Christ is "the Lord of glory" in whom they believe (2:1). His teaching sometimes resembles Christ's teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (e.g., 4:11-17. See Matt. 7:1-5 and 6:25-34, respectively), but he does not mention Christ as the source, means, or aim of his teaching in these sections. Reading James is like reading a NT version of the Book of Proverbs. James shows us that we do not need to emphasize the person and work of Christ equally at all times. Emphases in preaching shift depending on the subject matter treated. However, we must preach James as a book in light of the entire canon of Scripture. Only one out of twenty-seven New Testament books lacks the Christological lens of the rest of the New Testament. This results in a ratio of preaching Christ ninety-six percent of the time. Preachers must remember that they will not preach the Book of James in one sitting. This means that they should keep the biblical goals of preaching set forth elsewhere in Scripture in view while preaching James. Multiple sermons on James should expound each passage with a partial view to the rest of Scripture as it bears on each stage of the argument. Doing so makes Christology more inevitable. We should preach James rather than turning the book into a general Bible study in which we cite numerous other passages. Yet we should preach James as Christian preachers even as we would preach Proverbs in this way.

Old Testament preaching presents its own challenges to preachers. In order to preach Christ effectively in Old Testament sermons, preachers must use the tools outlined previously (exegesis, redemptive history, theology, and devotion). I can illustrate these principles by using Psalm 1. Psalm 1 proclaims the blessedness of the man who avoids ungodly counsel and ways because he meditates on God's law day and night (v. 1-2). The result is that he becomes like a stable, well watered, and fruitful tree (v. 3). He is blessed by contrast to the ungodly, who are like chaff driven by the wind (v. 4-5). In summary, God knows (and loves) the godly person as he walks in the right path, but the ungodly shall perish in their way (v. 6). An exegetical sermon should follow the structure of the Psalm, enabling the minister to preach the text. Yet exegesis does not lead to Christ here directly, since the text does not include explicit prophecies or promises related to Christ. Redemptive history takes us farther by pointing us to Christ as the ideal righteous man who obeyed the law of God perfectly. Yet the pastor still needs to warn every man and teach every man to present every man perfect in Christ. Theology demands that Christ is not only the foundation of our justification, but that he is the pattern of our sanctification. The Spirit renews us in God's image in Christ. He uses meditation on God's law, shunning the counsel of the ungodly and not standing in their paths nor sitting in their seats as means of doing so. Christ is the remedy for our sin where we fail and he is the ground of our perseverance and growth in godliness. He also offers hope to the ungodly. Read through Christian eyes, this Psalm becomes a pattern for what it means to walk with God, through Christ, by his Spirit. Exegesis should shape the structure of a sermon on Psalm 1. Redemptive history situates the Psalm in its relation to the covenant of grace. Theology becomes a bridge to devotional application in light of the work of the Triune God for us and in us.

Preaching the Book of Amos illustrates usefully how to apply the biblical model for preaching Christ to the Old Testament. At a conference in which a minister exhorted pastors to preach Christ, a listener asked him how to preach Christ in a series through Amos. He answered that most ministers should not preach consecutively through Amos. Surely this answer is wrong, since all Scripture is able to make us wise for salvation through faith in Christ (2 Tim. 3:15). However, exegesis will not sustain the goals of preaching in relation to preaching Christ through Amos. As with Psalm 1, the text of Amos should provide the structure for each sermon. Yet Amos 1:1-5:3 denounces the people for sin with no call to repentance until 5:4-15. The threat of the Day of the Lord follows immediately (5:16-27). Chapters 6:1-9:10 resumes the prophet's warnings and threats. Only the end of the book (9:11-15) contains a promise of hope through restoring the "tabernacle of David" (cited in Acts 15:16). This is the only clear exegetical handle in the book to lead preachers to preach Christ directly. Retelling the story of redemptive history in every sermon runs the risk of monotony after preaching chapter one. Preaching Christ should never be boring or tedious. Theology and devotion become the primary tools of preaching Christ throughout Amos. Every denunciation of prophets, priests, and kings should lead us to Christ's fulfillment of these offices by contrast. Every denunciation of sin should drive us to Christ. Christians should grieve over their sins against Christ and the preacher should press unbelievers towards Christ. Amos' call to repentance should drive us to the Spirit of Christ, who enables us to respond appropriately. Theology and devotion can turn prohibitions into commands and threats into their corresponding promises. If the King of Ninevah inferred God's mercies from his threats (Jonah 3:3-9), then how much more should God's people infer them from Amos? Preaching Christ from Amos will require every skill in a pastor's toolbox to meet the biblical goals of preaching. Yet, according to Paul, they must do so.

Preaching Christ is not always easy, but Christian preaching must be distinctively Christian in tone and in content. The goals of preaching in general must set the goals for every particular sermon. Ministers do not need to say all that can be said about Christ in every sermon, but they must have the gospel in view at all times. This illustrates preeminently why preaching demands hard work and fervent prayer. The best thing that you can do for your pastor is to pray that the Spirit would so enflame his heart with Christ's glory that he cannot help but preach Christ in all of his sermons.

*This is the ninth post in a series of posts on preaching Christ

Essential Tools for Preaching Christ (Part 1)


Owning a home brings blessings and liabilities with it. While a home can be a good investment it requires maintenance. Homeowners generally have two options in maintaining their homes: they can hire someone to do the work, or they need to get the tools that they need to do it themselves. They need to know how to use those tools as well.

Preachers must develop many tools in order to preach Christ biblically and effectively. It is one thing to know what preachers should do and why they should do it. It is another thing to ask how they should preach. Preaching is a public authoritative proclamation of the gospel, through Christ's ordained ambassadors, through which Christ pleads with sinners to be reconciled to God. Preachers and listeners alike need to understand how this general definition applies to preaching biblical texts. Methods for preaching Christ should include exegesis, redemptive history, systematic theology, and personal devotion. This post gives examples of preaching Christ exegetically and redemptive historically while the posts that follow complete the picture of the preacher's tools through typology, systematic theology, and personal devotion to Christ.

Preachers should preach Christ exegetically. Exegesis refers to an explanation or critical interpretation of a text. John 1:18 describes Christ as the one who exegetes the Father. As Christ interpreted and declared the Father to his hearers, so preachers must interpret and declare Christ to theirs. Christ said that the Scriptures testified to him (Jn. 5:39). Matthew's gospel proves repeatedly how Christ's person, actions, and work fulfilled Scripture. The risen Christ chided his disciples for not believing what the prophets said about Christ's sufferings and the glory that would follow, expounding what Moses and the prophets said about him (Lk. 24:25:27). All Scripture is God-breathed and it is able to make people wise for salvation in Christ (1 Tim. 3:15) because all Scripture testifies ultimately to Christ. Exegesis is direct a direct means of preaching Christ.

Preachers must preach Christ exegetically from the Old Testament by explaining prophecies and promises about Christ. He is the Seed of the Woman who crushed the serpent's head (Gen. 3:15). He is Abraham's seed in whom all the earth would be blessed (Gen. 22:18; Gal. 3:16). He is the Prophet like Moses (Deut. 18:5; Acts 3:22; 7:37). He is David's Son and David's Lord (Psalm 110:1; Matt. 22:45). He is the shoot from Jesse's root who would rule as King (Is. 11:2) as well as the "root out of dry ground" (Is. 53:2) who would obey and suffer as Priest (Acts 8:30-36). He is the Priest whom God crowned as King (Zech. 3:8-10, 6:12-13; Heb. 7). Preaching Christ from the Old Testament exegetically means locating specific signposts that point to Christ directly.

Preachers must preach Christ exegetically from the New Testament. While this point might seem obvious, it is important to remember how the New Testament reveals Christ. The gospels reveal Christ's person and work through theologically charged history. The rest of the New Testament explains, expands, and applies the truths that the gospels reveal about Christ. The New Testament also provides the interpretive grid for finding Christ in the Old Testament. The New Testament authors used the Scriptures Christologically and they teach us how to do so.

Preachers should preach Christ in light of redemptive history as well. Redemptive history reflects the fact that the Bible has a main point in light of which the biblical story unfolds. Preaching Christ redemptive historically relates every text to Christ insofar as Christ's person and work are the main point of the teaching of the Bible as a whole. Genesis 3:15 serves as a thesis statement for redemptive-history by pitting Christ against Satan and Christ's people against Satan's people. The sacrificial system both before and under Moses explains how Christ would gain victory for his people over sin death and Satan. The Exodus becomes a paradigm for redemption in Christ. The genealogies in 1 Chronicles show the progress of redemptive-history up to that stage.

Typology falls under the category of preaching Christ redemptive-historically as well. A type is a kind of picture that foreshadows something else. It may be ideological or personal. The temple is a type of Christ's body, through which God dwelt among his people (Jn. 2:21). Adam is a type of Christ in his representative character (Rom. 5:14). Melchizedek is a type of Christ's eternal priesthood (Heb. 7). Types move the story of redemptive-history forward by foreshadowing later and greater realities through lesser historical predecessors (Col. 2:17). Every prophet, priest, and king in the Old Testament should direct us to the final Prophet, Priest, and King in the New Testament. Types do not correspond to their antitypes in every respect. Sometimes Christ as antitype excels all types superlatively and sometimes he does so by contrast. Preaching should include redemptive-history to help hearers relate particular passages of Scripture to the broader biblical storyline.

Exegesis and redemptive-history are tools that help us understand Scripture in relation to Christ. Preaching Christ exegetically touches every aspect of Christ's person and work as well as the Spirit's work in applying his benefits to us. Preaching Christ redemptive-historically is more general in scope. It illustrates how Christ's place in God's plan creates the biblical narrative and gives significance to its parts. If we isolate redemptive-historical preaching from other biblical tools for preaching Christ, then it runs the risk of telling a story that believers are not part of immediately. Knowing Christ (and preaching Christ) involves more than imagining that we are part of Christ's story. It involves actual participation in Christ, which comes only through personal union with Christ by faith. Yet exegesis needs redemptive-history. Preaching Christ exegetically alone effectively removes Christ from most of the Old Testament. Exegesis without redemptive-history is like reading road signs without knowing where the road is taking us. However, if preachers limit their methods for preaching Christ to exegesis and redemptive-history, then they will still fall short at points of the biblical definitions and aims of preaching established in the previous posts in this series.

Why Did Jesus Need the Holy Spirit?


As we make our way through the Gospel records, we quickly discover that Jesus needed the Holy Spirit at every step and in every stage of His life and ministry. While the human nature of Jesus was inseparably united to the Divine nature of the second Person of the Godhead, Jesus needed to live a perfectly sinless life in the power and by the grace of the Holy Spirit. It was not sufficient for Him--as the second Adam and representative of a new humanity--to merely live according to His Divine nature. What we need as fallen men is a human Redeemer who would gain a human holiness for His people and would die a human death in their place. As was true for Adam so it was for Jesus--the Last Adam. The Savior needed the Holy Spirit to sustain and empower Him to obey His Father, even to the point of death on the cross (Phil. 2:10).

Jesus needed the Holy Spirit in every act that took place in His life and for the work of redemption. The Holy Spirit had to overshadow the virgin Mary at Jesus' incarnation (Luke 1:35); Christ needed the Spirit at His anointing for public ministry when John baptized Him (Matt. 3:16; Luke 3:22); He needed the Spirit when driven into the wilderness in order to be tempted by the devil (Matt. 4:1; Mark 1:12); He needed the Spirit when casting out demons in order to establish the kingdom of God (Matt. 12:28); He needed the Spirit to enable Him to offer Himself without spot to God as an atoning sacrifice for the sin of His people (Heb. 9:14); and, He needed the Spirit to raise Him from the dead (Rom. 8:11). At every step in the Messianic ministry, Christ relied upon the Third Person of the Godhead.

In his masterful work on The Holy Spirit, Sinclair Ferguson succinctly summarized the various stages in Jesus' life in which the Holy Spirit was at work:

The Spirit who was present and active at Christ's conception as the head of the new creation, by whom He was anointed at baptism (John 1:32-34), who directed Him throughout His temptations (Matthew 4:1), empowered Him in His miracles (Luke 11:20), energized Him in His sacrifice (Hebrews 9:14), and vindicated Him in His resurrection (1 Timothy 3:16; Romans 1:4), now indwells disciples in this specific identity.1

Somewhat surprisingly, while theologians have righty devoted much time to unpacking and systematizing the biblical teaching about the two natures of Jesus, very little has actually been written--in a concentrated way--on the role of the Holy Spirit in the life and ministry of Jesus. In addition to Ferguson's work, there is R.A. Finlayson's collection of short essays titled, Reformed Theological Writings, in which he contributed two short articles--"The Love of the Spirit in Man's Redemption" and "The Holy Spirit in the Life of Christ"--to flesh out the essence of this all-important aspect of Christology. However, it was John Owen, the Prince of the Puritan theologians, who has written what is arguably the most substantial treatment on this subject. In vol. 3 of his works, Owen set out eleven ways in which the Holy Spirit is said to have worked in the life and ministry of Jesus in the Scriptures:

"First, the framing, forming, and miraculous conception of the body of Christ in the womb of the blessed Virgin was the peculiar and especial work of the Holy Ghost...2

Second, the human nature of Christ being thus formed in the womb by a creating act of the Holy Spirit, was in the instant of its conception sanctified, and filled with grace according to the measure of its receptivity...3

Third, the Spirit carried on that work whose foundation he had thus laid. And two things are to be here diligently observed:

  • That the Lord Christ, as man, did and was to exercise all grace by the rational faculties and powers of his soul, his understanding, will, and affections; for he acted grace as a man, "made of a woman, made under the law."
  • The human nature of Christ was capable of having new objects proposed to its mind and understanding, whereof before it had a simple nescience...

Fourth, the Holy Spirit, in a peculiar manner, anointed him with all those extraordinary powers and gifts which were necessary for the exercise and discharging of his office on the earth...4

Fifth, it was in an especial manner by the power of the Holy Spirit he wrought those great and miraculous works whereby his ministry was attested unto and confirmed...5

Sixth, by him was he guided, directed, comforted, supported, in the whole course of his ministry, temptations, obedience, and sufferings. Some few instances on this head may suffice...6

Seventh, He offered himself up unto God through the eternal Spirit, Heb. 9:14...7

Eighth, there was a peculiar work of the Holy Spirit towards the Lord Christ whilst he was in the state of the dead; for here our preceding rule must be remembered,--namely, that notwithstanding the union of the human nature of Christ with the divine person of the Son, yet the communications of God unto it, beyond subsistence, were voluntary...8

Ninth, there was a peculiar work of the Holy Spirit in his resurrection, this being the completing act in laying the foundation of the church, whereby Christ entered into his rest,--the great testimony given unto the finishing of the work of redemption, with the satisfaction of God therein, and his acceptation of the person of the Redeemer...9

Tenth, it was the Holy Spirit that glorified the human nature [of Christ], and made it every way meet for its eternal residence at the right hand of God, and a pattern of the glorification of the bodies of them that believe on him...10

There is yet another work of the Holy Spirit, not immediately in and upon the person of the Lord Christ, but towards him, and on his behalf, with respect unto his work and office; and it comprises the head and fountain of the whole office of the Holy Spirit towards the church. This was his witness-bearing unto the Lord Christ,--namely, that he was the Son of God, the true Messiah, and that the work which he performed in the world was committed unto him by God the Father to accomplish..."11

1. Sinclair Ferguson The Holy Spirit (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1996) p. 72

2. Owen, J. (n.d.). The works of John Owen. (W. H. Goold, Ed.) (Vol. 3, p. 160). Edinburgh: T&T Clark. p. 160.

3. Ibid., pp. 160-161.

4. Ibid., p. 162.

5. Ibid., p. 168.

6. Ibid., p. 171.

7. Ibid., p. 174.

8. Ibid., p. 174.

9. Ibid., p. 176.

10. Ibid., p. 180.

11. Ibid., p. 181.

The word "liturgy" continues to be a trendy--yet often indeterminate--buzzword among young(er-ish) Christians. This is especially so with regard to those who have recently made the shift away from broad evangelicalism and toward historic worship practices of Christendom. Alongside this phenomenon lies the ever present willingness of many professedly Protestant churches to embrace, either in part or whole, the liturgical calendar for the structuring of their worship services. One can see the apparent appeal. After all, many have suggested that the Liturgical Calendar offers a recognition of the organic unity of Scripture centered on the redemptive-historical nature of Christ's saving work and participated in through the corporate worship of God's people. But is this actually the case? Does the Liturgical Calendar enhance or undermine the redemptive historical nature of Christ's saving work? 

Not surprisingly, many Anglicans--at one and the same time--acknowledge the lack of biblical support for a liturgical calendar while insisting upon a pragmatic adaptation of it. For instance, N.T. Wright suggests:

"There is nothing ultimately obligatory for a Christian about the keeping of holy days or seasons. Paul warns the Galatians against adopting the Jewish liturgical calendar (Gal. 4:10)...However, many churches have found that by following the liturgical year in the traditional way they have a solid framework within which to live the Gospels, the Scripture and the Christian life. The Bible offers itself to us as a great story, a sprawling and complex narrative, inviting us to come in and make it our own. The Gospels, the very heart of Scripture, likewise tell a story not merely to give us information about Jesus but in order to provide a narrative that we can inhabit, a story we must make our own. This is one way we can become the people God calls us to be."1

While adherents of the liturgical calendar frequently insist that it aids our experience of the redemptive historical nature of Christ's work, the opposite actually proves to be the case. When we subject ourselves to a temporal recapitulation of Jesus' life and labors--from incarnation to baptism to wilderness testing to death to resurrection to ascension and to Pentecost--we end up undermining the full, rich implications of the once-for-all nature of that saving work. We run the risk of bifurcating the work of Christ. 

In doing so, we can also illegitimately make the Gospel something that we do rather than something done by Christ for us and received by faith alone. Strict adherence to the Liturgical Calendar puts us in danger of forfeiting the privilege that we have to live the Christian life in light of the full realization of what we already definitively possess in union with Christ--rather than seek to fulfill or appropriate it by our own experience.  When one intimates that we have to recapitulate the events of redemptive history in order to live the Christian life, he or she functionally denies those aspects of the Messianic ministry that are foundational to the "already" of our experience as believers. As Roland Barnes notes: 

"The Liturgical Calendar can be spiritually stunting insofar as it asks believers to suspend their living in the light of the finished work of Christ as they march along from incarnation to resurrection and ascension throughout the calendar. The Reformed observance of the weekly sabbath and the regular practice of expository, Christocentric preaching emphasizes that we are now living in the full realization of the finished work of Christ. Each Lord's Day we celebrate the fact that 'He is Risen!' We live each Lord's Day in the light of the triumph of the resurrection and ascension of Jesus."2

To prove this point, I'll share a story. A number of years ago, I was rebuked by a strict proponent of the Liturgical Calendar for preaching a passage of Scripture on the birth narrative on the first Sunday of Advent. His response to hearing that I had done so was, "Not yet!" That example serves to illustrate the hinderance that the Liturgical Calendar can have to our living the life of faith in light of the full realization of what we already have in our union with Christ. When we say, "not yet" to the fulfillment of all things in the finished work o f Jesus, we are in danger of laying aside our privilege of entering in on the application of the benefits of that once-for-all accomplished work.

A consideration of Reformed and Protestant thought on the Liturgical Calendar will also be of use to us as we consider whether we should adhere to it or not. However widespread adherence to the Liturgical Calendar may be in our day in Protestant and Reformed churches, it is far from the majority view of the continental Reformers, English Puritans and Post-Reformation scholastics. The Reformers' aversion to the observation of a liturgical calendar was built on their supposition that the Lord's Day was biblically sanctioned while "holy days" were rooted in the self-righteous Roman Catholic penitential system. In his monumental work, The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures (vol. 5), Hughes Oliphant Old explained:

"Discontinuing the penitential seasons of preparation for Christmas and Easter was one of the first reforms of Reformed Protestantism. This may seem radical to some, but it is at the heart of the Reformed approach to worship. The whole history of these seasons of fasting had been marked by a legalistic asceticism which is far removed from Christian piety as taught in the New Testament. While specifically Reformed churches have been characterized by their avoidance of Lent and Advent, few Protestants find the kind of asceticism implied by these observances consistent with the teaching of Jesus. Most Protestants have found the old observances of Lent and Advent terribly reminiscent of the piety of the Pharisees which Jesus so explicitly condemned. The objection to Lent and Advent is that they overemphasize the penitential dimension of Christian devotion."3

"So, is it wrong for Protestants to focus in a special way on specific elements of Christ's saving saving work during seasons like Christmas and Easter?" This is, no doubt, a question brewing in the minds of any reading this post. At New Covenant, we loosely celebrate Advent with a month long sermon series on the incarnation and the second coming. At Easter, I preach a sermon from a particular passage about the resurrection of Christ. The reason is simple: The birth and resurrection of Jesus are crucial elements of His redeeming work. In that sense it is always spiritually beneficial to give them a focused place in our preaching. Barnes again notes:

"We can celebrate the incarnation during the Christmas Season (Advent), but we do so only in light of the fact that the incarnated Son is now our Risen Lord. We do not enter into worship during the months between Christmas and Easter waiting for a resurrected Savior. We come each Lord's Day to celebrate His resurrection and triumph over sin, death, and hell. At worse the calendar holds believers back from the celebration of the resurrection until Easter, or at best it subdues their celebration. The weekly celebration of the resurrection reminds us that the babe that was born in Bethlehem is our triumphant Lord, that He suffered so that we would be spared judgment for our sins, that the veil of the Temple was rent in two and that we enter in to the very Holy of Holies each Lord's Day as we gather for worship."4

Wherever one falls on the spectrum of adherence to elements of the Liturgical Calendar, we must learn to live our Christian lives constantly in light of the once-for-all atoning death and resurrection of Jesus. We must always live and worship in dependence on the One who ascended to the right hand of the Father and is our great High Priest ever living to make intercession for us. We must live our Christian life in union with the One who cried out "It is finished," even as we anticipate His return. All of our worship practices must coincide with those truths and must be derived squarely from the prescriptive elements of Scripture and the example of the Apostles. To that end, it will be an enormous benefit for us to submerse ourselves in the Scriptures and in the rich repository of Reformed, Puritan and Post-Reformation writings on worship. 

1. N.T. Wright For All the Saints? (New York: Morehouse Publishing, 2003) p. 24

2. An excerpt from Roland Barnes' article, "The Practice of Lent in the Reformed Tradition" in The Confessional Presbyterian (vol. 10) 2014. 

3. Hughes Oliphant Old The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures, vol. 5, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004) pp. 60-61.

4. Ibid.

Christ in Flesh and Spirit


Over the past 150 years or so, there has been a biblical theological development in our understanding of Paul's use of the σαρκ/πνεύμα (i.e. flesh/Spirit) distinction--specifically in relation to the Person and work of Christ. The most significant passage in this regard is Romans 1:3-4. The "ontological view," represented by Calvin, Hodge, Cranfield et al, held that Paul was merely referring to the two natures of Jesus when he wrote that Christ was "the seed of David according to the flesh" and "declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of Holiness through the resurrection of the dead." The "redemptive-historical view," represented by Warfield, Vos, Murray, Skilton, Gaffin and Ridderbos, understood Paul to be referring to two sequential stages of experience in existence--one according to the flesh (i.e. according to the old age) and the other according to the Spirit (i.e. according to the new era of the Spirit). 

In his essay, "The Christ that Paul Preached," B.B. Warfield* set out the "ontological view" of the passage when he wrote:

If we reduce what he tells us to its lowest terms it amounts just to this: Paul preached the historical Christ as the promised Messiah and as the very Son of God. But he declares Christ to be the promised Messiah and the very Son of God in language so pregnant, so packed with implications, as to carry us into the heart of the great problem of the two-natured person of Christ. The exact terms in which he describes Christ as the promised Messiah and the very Son of God are these: "Who became of the seed of David according to the flesh, who was marked out as the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by the resurrection of the dead." This in brief is the account which Paul gives of the historical Christ whom he preached.

In his defense of the "ontological" view, Warfield stressed the truth about the two natures united together in the one Person of our Lord Jesus Christ. While this was representative of the way in which most older theologians read the passage, Warfield also saw a "redemptive-historical" shift in the juxtaposition of the language used in vv. 3 and 4. He went on to explain that he saw something of a redemptive-historical teaching in the passage as well:

Of course there is a temporal succession suggested in the declarations of the two clauses. They so far give us not only a description of the historical Christ, but the life-history of the Christ that Paul preached. Jesus Christ became of the seed of David at His birth and by His birth. He was marked out as the Son of God in power only at His resurrection and by His resurrection. But it was not to indicate this temporal succession that Paul sets the two declarations side by side. It emerges merely as the incidental, or we may say even the accidental, result of their collocation. The relation in which Paul sets the two declarations to one another is a logical rather than a temporal one: it is the relation of climax. His purpose is to exalt Jesus Christ. He wishes to say the great things about Him. And the two greatest things he has to say about Him in His historical manifestation are these - that He became of the seed of David according to the flesh, that He was marked out as the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by the resurrection of the dead.1

Geerhardus Vos explained the "redemptive-historical view" when he wrote:

...As to the one He was "from the seed of David," as to the other He was "out of resurrection from the dead." The resurrection (both of Jesus and believers) is therefore--according to Paul--the entering upon a new phase of sonship characterized by the possession and exercise of unique supernatural power. That this should apply to Christ's body alone, or to the exertion by Chris of somatic power on the bodies of believers alone, while not here expressly denied, is in itself highly implausible. The above interpretation does not, of course, imply that Paul denied the supernatural conception of Jesus by the Spirit. Precisely because speaking of the pneuma-state in the absolute eschatological sense, he could disregard here the previous Spirit-birth and the Spirit-endowment at the baptism.2

Following Vos' exegesis, the late John Murray also held that Romans 1:3-4 was teaching two progressive stages in the redemptive-historical experience of Jesus. He helpfully explained what the shift in the two stages of experience meant for Jesus--and for believers in union with Christ--when he wrote:

Just as "according to the flesh" in verse 3 defines the phase which came to be through being born of the seed of David, so "according to the Spirit of holiness" characterizes the phase which came to be through the resurrection...

...The only conclusion is that Christ is now by reason of the resurrection so endowed with and in control of the Holy Spirit that, without any confusion of the distinct persons, Christ is identified with the Spirit and is called "the Lord of the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:18). Thus, when we come back to the expression "according to the Spirit of holiness", our inference is that it refers to that stage of pneumatic endowment upon which Jesus entered through his resurrection. The text, furthermore, expressly relates "Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness" with "the resurrection from the dead" and the appointment can be none other than that which came to be by the resurrection. The thought of verse 4 would then be that the lordship in which he was instated by the resurrection is one all-pervasively conditioned by pneumatic powers. The relative weakness of his pre-resurrection state, reflected on in verse 3, is contrasted with the triumphant power exhibited in his post-resurrection lordship. What is contrasted is not a phase in which Jesus is not the Son of God and another in which he is. He is the incarnate Son of God in both states, humiliation and exaltation, and to regard him as the Son of God in both states belongs to the essence of Paul's gospel as the gospel of God. But the pre-resurrection and post-resurrection states are compared and contrasted, and the contrast hinges on the investiture with power by which the latter is characterized.3

John Skilton, in his outstanding 1996 WTJ article "A Glance At Some Old Problems in First Peter," appealed to the importance of adopting the redemptive-historical view of Romans 1:3-4 and arriving at a similar conclusion on the difficult exegesis of 1 Peter 3:18-20:

Readers of the NT have been puzzled at times by statements that seem to indicate that our Lord has become something that he already had been before. For example, in Matt 28:18, Jesus says: "All power has been given unto me in heaven and on earth." The reader asks, "Did he not have all power previously?" In Acts 2:36, Peter says: "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made that same Jesus whom you have crucified both Lord and Christ." One inquires, "Was not Jesus both Lord and Christ already?" Other verses raise similar questions. The answer to these questions will be found in a right understanding of 1 Pet 3:18. At the close of that verse Peter writes: θανατωθεὶς μὲν σαρκὶ ζῳοποιηθεὶς δὲ πνεύματι....Flesh and spirit represent two spheres 
of existence or two successive conditions of Christ's human nature... 

 ...Marked off in 1 Pet 3:18, as in Rom 1:3-4, would be two successive stages in our Lord's messianic work. These different stages are reflected also in such verses as Matt 28:18 and Acts 2:36...The second stage, introduced by the resurrection, was "one all-pervasively conditioned by pneumatic powers." The πνεύματι in 1 Pet 3:18 accordingly refers not only to the resurrection, but also to the state of power that followed it.4

While the "ontological view" falls entirely within the realm of the analogy of Scripture and analogy of faith, it does not do full justice to the exegetical construct of Romans 1:3-4. Much more satisfying is the explanation provided by Warfield, Vos, Murray, Skilton, Gaffin and Ridderbos. Understanding the σαρκ/πνεύμα (i.e. flesh/Spirit) distinction in redemptive history helps us understand more of what we have as believers living in the new age (i.e. the age of the Spirit) waiting for the consummation of that age when Christ comes in His glory.   

1. B. B. Warfield, "The Christ that Paul Preached," in The Person and Work of Christ (ed. Samuel G. Craig; Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1950), 73-90. 

2. Geerhards Vos The Pauline Eschatology (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1961) n. 10 pp. 155-156. For a continued treatment of this passage see Vos' chapter, "The Eschatological Aspect of the Pauline Concept of the Spirit" in the Princeton Seminary Biblical and Theological Studies p. 228ff. 

3. John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964) 6. 

No Adam, No Christ!

Preaching through Genesis over the past year and a half has encouraged me to re-open quite a number of significant theological subjects--not least of which is the historical character of the foundational portions of God's revelation. Over the past 150 years, biblical scholars have spilled ink ad nauseam over the question of the historicity of the opening chapters of Genesis (as well as other parts of the Old Testament). Denying the historicity of various portions of Scripture was the backbone of theological liberalism at the turn of the 20th Century. Today, in the biblical studies world, scholars are far more nuanced and sophisticated in the ways in which they deny the historicity of Genesis 1-3. With the rise of studies in Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) literature and complex scientific theories of origins, there is no end to the ways in which its historicity is explained away. 

Today, quasi-evangelical scholars have concocted an amalgamated hermenuetical approach made up of various aspects of Higher Criticism, ANE mythopoetic categories and scientific theories of origin. One can find this amalgamated hermenuetic most notably (or perhaps most notoriously!) in the work of Peter Enns (who continues to spend inordinate time and energy seeking to overthrow the inerrancy and historicity of the foundational portions of biblical revelation). 

Nevertheless, the connection between the creation account and the subsequent redemptive revelation form the internal witness of Scripture to the idea that the historicity and theology of the creation narrative is inseparably linked to the historicity and theology of the redemptive (i.e. new creation) revelation. 

In his Reformed Dogmatics, Geerhardus Vos helpfully illustrated the principle of connecting history and redemptive revelation when he said, "within the narrative of Scripture the creation narrative is interwoven like a link in the chain of God's saving acts. God does not make a chain of solid gold, in which the first link is a floral wreath." Vos developed this thought in the following way: 

If the creation history is an allegory, then the narrative concerning the fall and everything further that follows can also be allegory. The writer of the Pentateuch presents his work entirely as history. Against those that believe in the results of higher criticism, it can perhaps be useful to note that according to the critics who carve the Pentateuch into pieces, Genesis 1 belongs to the Priestly Codex, that is, to the more sober, non-poetic part of the Torah. The same writer who describes the layout of the tabernacle and the clothing of the priests gives us the narrative of creation, and he connects both. Further, elsewhere in Scripture Genesis 1 and 2 are treated as history (Exod 20:11; 31:17; Ps. 8; 104; Matt 19:4; 2 Pet 3:5).1

John Murray, in his Principles of Conduct, also defended the historicity of Genesis 1-3 as over against a supposed mythological or mythopoetic interpretation. He explained: 

That Genesis 2 and 3, for example, is story, but does not represent history, the present writer does not believe. An express attempt to refute such an interpretation had not been undertaken...The historical character of the revelation deposited in the Bible does not comport with a non-historical view of that which supplies the foundation and starting point of that history. It is surely apparent how far-reaching must be the reconstruction of the Bible's representation respecting the history of revelation if we are to reject the historicity of the fall of Adam as the first man. It is the conviction of the present writer that a mythological interpretation is not compatible with the total perspective which the biblical witness furnishes.2

Murray, like Vos before him, proceeded to root his argument in the fact that the rest of biblical revelation adopts a historical approach to Genesis 1-3. 

To state the case positively, the concreteness of Genesis 2 and 3, as historically interpreted, is thoroughly consonant with the concreteness which characterizes the subsequent history of Old Testament revelation. It should be noted that of supreme importance is the fact that Jesus and the Apostles assumed the historical character of the Old Testament, and frequently referred to the historicity of the creation narrative, Adam, Noah, a world-wide flood and the Exodus. In Mark 10:6, Jesus affirmed the historicity of the creation account of Genesis 1 when He said, "from the beginning of the creation, God 'made them male and female.'" When he came to predict the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70, Jesus again affirmed the historical nature of the creation account of Genesis when He said, "in those days there will be tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the creation which God created until this time, nor ever shall be."3

Appeal to how the writers of Scripture viewed the historical character of the creation/fall account of Genesis is, without doubt, the strongest internal-witness argument of Scripture. This point of paramount significance is seen by a brief survey of how both the Old and New Testament human authors of Scripture viewed the creation account:

  • Moses tells us how Adam was created (Gen. 1:26; 2:5-8) and how many years he lived (Gen. 5:5). 
  • The writer of 1 Chronicles traced humanity from Adam to David (1 Chronicles 1 and 2) by means of historical genealogy. If Adam was not a historical being then neither were all the people from Adam to David. 
  • Job likened the hiding of his sin to Adam's covering his sin (Job 31:33). 
  • Luke traced Jesus' genealogy (from Mary) back to Adam (Luke 3:38). If Adam was not a historical being then neither were all the people from Adam to Jesus. Jesus declared that "He who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,' (Matthew 19:4). 
  • Paul explained that the reason for death and condemnation was the representative, imputed guilt of Adam's sin (Rom. 5:12-21). Paul also explained that the external giving of the law was first with Adam and then with Moses. Those who were not given external law from Adam to Moses still had the sentence of death in them because of Adam's sin. Paul explains, "death reigned from Adam to Moses" (Rom. 5:13). If Adam was not a historical being then neither was Moses.
  • Paul explained the solution to our deserved condemnation in the obedience of the second Adam, Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:12-21). He explicitly declared that the first Adam was a "type" of the second Adam. If Adam was not a historical being then neither was Jesus. 
  • The apostle defended the role relation of men and women in the church by the order in which Adam and Eve were created and were tempted (1 Timothy 2:13-14). Eden was the prototype of every subsequent culture. No one can say Paul's teaching was culturally bound because he takes it back to the Garden. He viewed the Genesis account as an accurate historical record of Eden. 
  • The apostle urged the NT church to defend the Gospel by reminding them of the way in which Satan--in time and space--had deceived Eve: "I fear, lest, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ (2 Cor. 11:3)."

Some have responded to the statement "If Adam didn't exit then neither did Christ" by appeal to the continuum fallacy. Ironically, such an appeal is itself a fallacious appeal to logical fallacy. If in historical narratives/genealogies we have explicit statements of generational descent then we have to conclude that it is either A) true (based on the authority of Scripture) or B) untrue. Because of the trustworthiness of Scripture--the variable of variables, in this case--we cannot conclude that part of the genealogy is true and part is untrue. Hence there is no continuum fallacy as there might be with that sort of reasoning where the "inerrancy/authority" variable is not present. 

While some conservative biblical scholars may, in fact, play the "slippery slope" argument too quickly (and even, at times, inappropriately), when the authority of Scripture is brought into the mix, our reasoning is affected in a way that it is otherwise not affected by those things that are not distinctly biblical. For example Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15, makes a number of logical arguments about Christ's resurrection and the subsequent impact it has on our preaching, faith and personal resurrection (1 Cor. 15:14-18). As is true of the connection between the historicity and theology of the resurrection of Christ so too of the historicity and theology of the creation and fall account of Genesis 1-3. 

1. Geerhardus Vos. Reformed Dogmatics. R. B. Gaffin, Ed., A. Godbehere, R. van Ijken, D. van der Kraan, H. Boonstra, J. Pater, & A. Janssen, Trans (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012-12014) vol. 1, p. 161. 

2. John Murray Principles of Conduct (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman's, 1957) p. 9

3. Ibid.

Is Jesus on every page in the Old Testament? According to the title of a recent book, he may be. Is Christ in every sentence (e.g., "tear out the fangs of the young lions, O Lord!" Ps. 58:6b)? Should we employ the exegetical genius, or perhaps lack thereof, to find him in every definite article, specific referent, or conjunction (e.g., "But..." - Eph. 2:4)? Should we employ a certain apostolic hermeneutic that will help us develop a Christocentric lens through which to read the Old Testament?

For the last several years, I have noticed these type of questions being asked. They may take different forms; nevertheless, the substance is essentially the same. Whether one is discussing the grammatical historical hermeneutic, redemptive historical approach, a combination thereof, or the law/gospel distinction, people are desirous to know to what extent Jesus is in the Old Testament.

As I continue to read the debates on this topic, some of which have more recently been centered around a Christotelic understanding of the scriptures, I began wondering something, perhaps, more fundamental to the discussion. How are we allowing uninspired subtitles and versification to influence us?

As a budding Hebrew linguist, there are certain things I prefer when reading the Hebrew Bible. I prefer the MT arrangement of the Old Testament--not the English arrangement. I enjoy reading about redaction theory, source criticism, and looking more deeply at the textual criticism apparatus. One idea that I have always desired was to acquire and read the Hebrew scriptures without the 10th or 11th century invention of the pointing system and without the 12th and 15th centuries versification system. That is a different Old Testament than we read today in our English Bibles, particularly as it relates to arrangement and versification. 

So as we consider the nature and manner of Jesus on every page (in the Old Testament), how do we understand the ebb and flow of the narrative based on our English Bibles? As Paul preached the kingdom of God and his Christ at Rome (Acts 28), he was not contained by subtitles. When Christ confronted his hearers by claiming that the scriptures testify of him (John 5), he wasn't guided by versification exactly as we are.

It seems to me that defining how we are using the Old Testament may be a helpful idea to further narrow the conversation. I am almost certain someone has already mentioned this. Despite my lack of ability to recall other works on this specific idea, I wonder if there is any merit to this suggestion, and if so, how will this help?

Let's use one example. Many of our Old Testament books are in narrative form. Due to the current versification and subtitle listings in our English Bibles, we often follow the headings and verses that were set for us. While that may be helpful to consider and even preach from, our divisions of the narratives sometimes inhibit a holistic view of the story and potentially create an environment where exegetes feel like they are gasping for air to find Jesus. 

Of course one can take that idea too far and not divide the narrative at all on the basis of the understanding that it is one entire narrative and therefore should not be fragmented. That is not my point. There may be certain coordinating or disjunctive conjunctions that indicate a scene change. At that scene change, it may be appropriate to end that section of the narrative. Sometimes that means we must read beyond the subtitles listed in our English Bibles. It may create a longer sermon; it may mean we have to read longer sections of scripture; or it may mean we cannot highlight, to our congregation, the exegetical precision that we would normally in smaller sections of scripture, but if it presents a clearer image of the overall story and thus prepares the way for better exegesis to preach Christ, it is worth it.

Taking the narrative in larger sections may help some of the exegetical gymnastics that can occur to find Jesus under every rock. (By the way, it is acceptable to find him on the rock - Exod. 17:1-7; 1 Cor. 10:1-4). Yes, I believe Jesus is in the Old Testament (Heb. 4); yes, I believe the scriptures point to him as the pinnacle of redemptive history (Luke 24);  yes, I believe the gospel--perhaps I should define that--should be preached in every sermon; but I also believe pastors must be careful in their exegesis. We do not want to misguide our churches toward an inappropriate understanding of seeing Christ in the Old Testament.