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Heaven, Hell, Life After Death, Part 1

The following is my Sermon Transcript from October 18, 2009, on the topic of Heaven, Hell and the After-life.

Listen to the Sermon here

Watch the sermon here

Today we begin a new series on the topic of Heaven, Hell and Life after Death.  As we close out our brief and random look at the book of Isaiah, we must address a prominent emerging idea in Isaiah that is remarkably absent prior to his writings.  Isaiah stands as sort of a bridge between Old and New Testaments (as all of the prophets really do) and in Isaiah we begin to see a new stream in revelation, that of the global extent of the kingdom of God.  But before we get to actual texts from the book of Isaiah and other places instructive to our study we need to spend some time laying some groundwork.

Heaven, hell and life after death may be the most myth-filled area of the modern Christians mind.  I hear more “weird” stuff when I listen to Christians talk about these issues.  Funerals may be the place where these ideas run rampant and unchallenged.  Here are some of the ideas I want to challenge, tweak and adjust as we progress through this arena:

  • People who have died have a “freedom” to go wherever they want and can see and keep tabs on events that occur on earth.  “Uncle John is looking down on us”, or “Mom is here with us right now” or “Dad will watch over us and take care of us”.
  • “Heaven” is a geographical location within our present universe
  • Eternity consists of disembodied spirits existing in some ethereal place (often characterized or with the caricature of chubby cherubs flitting about on clouds with harps).
  • We become angels in the afterlife
  • The earth/creation/body is evil and needs to be destroyed (Many believers are essentially gnostics)

Much of the Christian mind has been influenced in this area by comics and jokes, Funeral “myth”-ology, cultural mythology, and tradition.  In this study we want to discover solid Biblical teaching on the issues of heaven hell and the after-life.  So today we will begin with some substructure.  Our task includes identifying and attacking underlying myths and distortions we have about these issues, then reconstructing a solid Biblical theology of heaven, hell and life after death.

Technically area of theology is known as “Personal Eschatology”.  Eschatology (study of the things concerning the end) is traditionally divided into two areas: Personal and General Eschatology.  Eschatology comes at the end of the study of theology as well as being about the ends of all things.  It is placed there logically as well as chronologically.  What we mean by that is Eschatology rests upon other prior and foundational theological issues.  Eschatology builds upon the theological ideas of redemption, resurrection, the nature of man, Ecclesiology and any Eschatology that contradicts or ignores these other foundational issues typically distorts the Bible’s teaching of Eschatology.

So this morning we will begin with some important guidelines which impact our quest to understand these issues:

  • Where will we get our information and what is our source and authority?  – Sola Scriptura
  • What is the ancient context in which these ideas must be understood? – Cosmology and Language

Sola Scriptura
Since none of us has ever been to heaven or hell, nor have we experienced death yet, our experience and the experience of other people is not a valid source of information about these issues.  Science cannot help us as it is based upon empirical (sense perception and observation of repeatable events) observation.  If we are going to get information about these things we are left with revelation, God’s words to us with regard to heaven, hell and the afterlife.  As Protestants we appeal to the Scriptures as our final authority in any dispute over issues of faith.  We define sola Scriptura in this way:  all things necessary for salvation and concerning faith and life are taught in the Bible clearly enough for the ordinary believer to find it there and understand (I failed to note my source, will find and supply it for you…soon).

The following is an excerpt from an article by Dr. Robert Godfrey called “What do we mean by Sola Scriptura?”

Let me begin with certain clarifications so as not to be misunderstood. I am not arguing that all truth is to be found in the Bible, or that the Bible is the only form in which the truth of God has come to His people. I am not arguing that every verse in the Bible is equally clear to every reader. Nor am I arguing that the church — both the people of God and the ministerial office — is not of great value and help in understanding the Scripture. As William Whitaker stated in his noble work: “For we also say that the church is the interpreter of Scripture, and that the gift of interpretation resides only in the church: but we deny that it pertains to particular persons, or is tied to any particular see or succession of men.”1

The Protestant position, and my position, is that all things necessary for salvation and concerning faith and life are taught in the Bible clearly enough for the ordinary believer to find it there and understand.

The position I am defending certainly is what is taught in the Bible itself. For example, Deuteronomy 31:9 states: “Moses wrote down this law. . . .” Moses instructed the people by writing down the law and then ordering that it be read to them “so they can listen and learn to fear the Lord your God and follow carefully all the words of this law,” Deuteronomy 31:9, 12.

Moses declared to all Israel: “Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. They are not just idle words for you, they are your life,” Deuteronomy 32:46, 47.

Notice the clear elements in these passages:

  1. The Word of which Moses spoke was written.
  2. The people can and must listen to it and learn it.
  3. In this Word they can find life.

The people do not need any additional institution to interpret the Word. The priests, prophets, and scribes of Israel certainly function to help the people ministerially. But the Word alone was sufficient for salvation. The prophets, who were indeed inspired, came very much in the spirit of Micah who said, “He has shown you, O man, what is good,” Micah 6:8. The function of the prophets and priests was not to add to or even clarify the law; rather, they applied it to the people who were sinfully indifferent.

If this principle of the sufficiency and clarity of the Word is true in the Old Testament, we can assume that it is all the more true in the New. The New Testament gloriously fulfills what the Old Testament promises. But we do not have to assume it; rather, the New Testament makes clear that the character of Scripture is to be sufficient and clear. One example of that is found in 2 Timothy 3, 4. Here Paul writes to his younger brother in the faith, Timothy. He writes that Timothy — who was instructed in the faith by his mother and grandmother — has also learned all about Paul’s teaching (3:10). Timothy has been mightily helped by all sorts of oral teaching, some of it apostolic. Yet Paul writes these words to Timothy:

And indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them; and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Timothy 3:12; 4:5)

You see, Paul reminds Timothy that the Scriptures are able to make him wise unto salvation in Christ Jesus (3:15). He teaches that the Scriptures are useful for teaching, reproof (rebuking), correcting, and training in righteousness (3:16). Because the Scriptures have this character, they thoroughly equip the man of God for every good work (3:17). So Paul tells Timothy that he must preach this Word, even though the time is coming when people will not want to hear it, but rather will want teachers to suit their fancy, who will instruct them in myths rather than the truth of the Word (4:1-4).

The force and clarity of the Apostle’s teaching here are striking. In spite of the rich oral teaching Timothy had, he is to preach the Scriptures because those Scriptures give him clearly all that he needs for wisdom and preparation to instruct the people of God in faith and all good works. The Scripture makes him wise for salvation, and equips him with everything he needs for doing every good work required of the preacher of God. The sufficiency and clarity of the Word are taught in this one section of Scripture over and over again. John Chrysostom paraphrased the meaning of Paul’s words to Timothy this way: “You have Scripture for a master instead of me; from there you can learn whatever you would know.”2

From Godfrey “What Do We Mean by Sola Scriptura”

Closely related to our belief about the Scriptures being our sole authority is our idea of inerrancy.  The doctrine of innerancy is simply that we believe that the Scriptures do not affirm anything that is contrary to fact (Grudem, Systematic Theology).  Inerrancy does not mean that the Bible is a scientific source or document.  Ancient man believed things that we now know are not true from a scientific standpoint.  Even though we know that the earth rotates around the sun we still use archaic phrases such as the sun rises and sets.  Ancient man may have believed that but the Bible does not correct that error, in fact seems to affirm that error but in fact it does not. God does not correct every error in man’s thinking in communicating eternal truth to him.  This does not threaten inerrancy.  We interpret the Bible in its appropriate context.  This is important in our study, especially as we try to understand ancient understandings of the universe, that is, cosmology.


Cosmology is the study of the nature and origins of the universe.  Ancient man did not have the same luxuries that we have with regard to gaining knowledge about the universe.  No telescopes, space shuttles, Mars probes and satellites, etc.  Before the Enlightenment era (1500’s or so) man knew only what he could observe with the naked eye and his view of the universe was limited and erroneous.  Our present cosmology is still subject to correction and amending, we don’t conclude that we can’t know things because we don’t know all things.

Ancient man believed in what has been characterized as the “Three tiered Universe”.  The earth was seen as flat, having four corners supported on pillars much like a table top.  The sky had a canopy (expanse or firmament to use Bible terms), a sort of barrier between the water that surrounded the canopy (waters above and below).  This canopy had windows in it that were opened when it rained and the waters above then were able to fall upon the earth.  The sun moon and stars moved about in this “firmament”.  Cosmology developed to include many different levels of heaven, hence Paul refers to a “third heaven” and we retain an idea of the highest heaven would be characterized as the “seventh heaven”.

We now know that this ancient cosmology is incorrect.  God doesn’t correct ancient man’s erroneous cosmology and reveals spiritual truths using this uncorrected cosmology.  To understand the Scriptures we must take this into account.  This doesn’t threaten inerrancy, but ignoring this can distort your understanding of the Bible.  God communicates to man in man’s context.  He communicates using man’s present understanding, choosing not to say “Wait, before I tell you this lets talk about the heliocentric cosmololgy instead of your backward geocentric views.”  God lets ancient man be ancient man and it is anachronism to demand otherwise.

Ancient man believed that the place of the dead was “underneath” the tablet of the earth.  We no longer believe that sheol is an actual place underneath the earth’s crust. In the same way, we reject the idea that there is a place above the firmament that houses an actual throne room where an old guy with a beard sits with fat angels with halos.


Anthropomorphism is an important word you should be familiar with as you read the Bible and as we try to understand God and the things of God.  As with ancient cosmology, God accomodates our humanity in revelation.  He has to, we are limited and He must speak to us in understandable terms.  When we talk to our children we speak to them with vocabulary they are familiar with and we paint pictures to help them understand abstract ideas, and we keep some information from them until they are able to understand, or until they have the maturity to grapple with the idea (eg. we don’t give sexual details to five year olds, we talk about babies coming from God, storks etc.).  Anthropomorphism is a term that simply means “human form”.  In the Bible context we use anthropomorphism to describe God because we are familiar with humanity but God is a little beyond our understanding.  We can’t see Him and He is Spirit.  He is “other” than us.  He talks to us about himself using our language because it is language we understand but we need to be careful to understand that when the Bible says God has eyes, hands, feet, is seated on a throne, has wings, etc., it is not being literal, it is using anthropomorphism so that we can relate.  This will be helpful as well as we explore the Bible’s revealing of “heaven” to us.   Symbol, metaphor, anthropomorphism fills the language of the Bible.  It is important to be familiar with how that works.

The following is an excerpt from the Jewish Virtual Library on the term Anthropomorphism:

An obviously anthropomorphic expression is found in Genesis: ẓelem Elohim (“the image of God”), and there are references to actually “seeing” God (Ex. 24:10–12; Num. 12:8). The limbs of the human body frequently serve as allegorical descriptions of the acts of God as perceived by man. Thus divine providence is referred to as “the eyes of the Lord” and “the ears of the Lord” (very common in Prophets and Psalms); “the mouth of the Lord” speaks to the prophets (both in Torah and Prophets); the heavens are the work of His fingers (Ps. 8:4), and the tablets of the covenant are written by the finger of God (Ex. 31:18). Striking figurative expressions are af (“nose”; i.e., “the wrath of the Lord”), “His countenance” (which He causes to shine or, alternatively, hides), yad, (“hand,” “His right hand,” “His arm,” “His sword”). At times the personification is startlingly extreme: God (or His voice) “walks about in the garden” (Gen. 3:8); He “goes down” in order to see what is being done on the earth (Gen. 11:5; 18:21) or in order to reveal Himself there (Ex. 19:18; 34:5), and He “goes up again” (Gen. 17:22; 35:13); He goes through the land of Egypt and passes over the houses of the Israelites (Ex. 12:12–13); He sits on a throne (Isa. 6:1), causes His voice to be heard among the cherubim who are over the ark of the tabernacle (Num. 7:89), dwells in Zion and in Jerusalem (Ps. 132:13; 135:21); the hair of His head is as wool (Dan. 7:9); Moses sees “His back” (Ex. 33:23). Anthropomorphic expressions abound in the song at the Red Sea (Ex. 15) and in the song of David (II Sam. 22; Ps. 18).

More important from a theological perspective are the anthropopathisms, or psychical personifications of the Deity. Scripture attributes to God love and hate, joy and delight, regret and sadness, pity and compassion, disgust, anger, revenge, and other feelings. Even if one explains these terms as being nothing but picturesque expressions, intended to awaken within man a sense of the real presence of God and His works, nonetheless they remain personifications. The basis for such terms is the conception of God as a Being who wills in a personal (though not exactly in a human) way. This personalized conception of the Deity, in conjunction with the axiomatic belief in His absolute transcendence, leads to unusual boldness in the use of anthropomorphic imagery.

Ultimately, every religious expression is caught in the dilemma between, on the one hand, the theological desire to emphasize the absolute and transcendental nature of the Divine, thereby relinquishing its vitality and immediate reality and relevance, and on the other hand, the religious need to conceive of the Deity and man’s contact with Him in some vital and meaningful way. Jewish tradition has usually shown preference for the second tendency, and there is a marked readiness to speak of God in a very concrete and vital manner and not to recoil from the dangers involved in the use of apparent anthropomorphisms.

However, this anthropomorphic style is frequently accompanied by mitigating expressions indicating reservations. The basic opposition to all such personifications is decisively formulated in the Decalogue. In addition, it finds expression in many verses which maintain that nothing can be compared to God, who has no form or shape, cannot be seen, is eternal and without end (very frequent in the Pentateuch, Former and Latter Prophets, Psalms, Job, and Chronicles). Yet, many of these verses appear to contradict others which describe God in corporeal terms (for example, Ex. 20:4; Deut. 4:15, as against Gen. 1:26; Num. 23:19 and I Sam. 15:29 as against Gen. 6:6; I Kings 8:27 as against Ex. 25:8, and other such examples). These verses emphasize the transcendent nature of the Divine, not in philosophical abstractions but in vivid descriptive expressions. In other places one finds attempts to avoid such personifications and to substitute less daring imagery; if it is said, on the one hand, that the Lord dwells in His sanctuary (Ex. 35:8), and also appears in the cloud over the cover of the ark (Lev. 16:2), on the other hand there are verses which speak instead of God’s kavod (“glory”) or Shemo (“His name”; Ex. 24:16–17; Lev. 9:23; Num. 14:10; Deut. 12:5, 11; 16:2, 6; I Kings 8:11). Some scholars (S.D. Luzzatto and Geiger) argued that the present vocalization of Exodus 34:24 “to appear before the Lord” was emended by the masoretes from original לִרְאוֹת (lirot; “to see”) to לֵרָאוֹת (lera’ot; “to be seen”), to avoid an objectionable anthropomorphism.

There is no evidence of any physical representation of God in Jewish history (in contradistinction to the worship of Canaanite and other foreign gods by Israelites). Even the golden calves of Jeroboam represented, according to the view of most scholars, only a footstool for the invisible God. In archaeological excavations no images of the God of Israel have been unearthed. Biblical Hebrew is the only fully developed language which has no specific term for the notion “goddess.”

Jewish Virtual Library

Intermediate State

Next week we will be covering the term Intermediate State.  Much of our mistaken ideas about “heaven” come from attributing features of the intermediate state to the final state.

Re-commitment to God’s Word

I ended the message with an exhortation to get back to the Scriptures.  If it is our authority and source of knowledge about God and the things of God, we should be much more familiar with it.

Here we are in the fall…preparation for New Year.

Read the Bible from cover to cover.
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15 Responses

  1. Steve you never cease to amaze me with your ability to take tough issues of faith and the Bible and make them interesting and understandable. I continue to thank God for placing Wendy and I in the pews for your sermons. You have raised the bar for preaching and teaching. Thanks.

  2. Pastor Steve,

    Are you saying that there are no appearances (physical) of God (or Jesus Christ) in the Old Testament? Agreeing with Jews on this point seems odd, coming from a Christian.

    Mungo Man

  3. Thanks Margaret, Dan, and Mungo Man for visiting and commenting.

    Dan you are too kind.

    Mungo Man, a couple of comments. First, including the article doesn’t necessarily mean total agreement although it is well written and I don’t find much trouble with it, even though it is Jewish in origin and not “Christian”. I included the excerpt in my transcript though I didn’t read it in my sermon. I found it helpful as a source to the issue of anthropomorphism.

    Secondly, it is not a requirement of the believer to insist on a physical appearance of the Father in the OT. Theophany in the OT is a matter of discussion, not dogma. Some have enough trouble with a physical appearance of the Father that they believe that the “appearance” passages really are Christophanies as opposed to Theophanies. Pre-Incarnation appearances of Christ give rise to their own set of problems.

    I am certainly willing to be corrected on this issue, but are we saying that it is a necessary Christian perspective that God took on human form/flesh in the garden, or with Abraham/Moses? Is God the actual fire in the bush, the actual smoke or the pillar of fire? What is the exact relationship between the actual presence of God and the physical manifestation or expression which is used in each instance? Melchizedek is a perfect example: Is he a man who is used by God as the type of Christ so aptly described in Hebrews? or is it an actual pre-incarnation appearance of Christ? It is hardly clarified so completely as to make it a necessary position. It is also very appropriate to emphasize the transcendence of God in these instances and to question whether we should question whether literalism as opposed to anthropomorphism is intended. When we are told that Moses actually saw the form of Yahweh, must we insist on a physical manifestation, ie. literal back, literal face?

    Agreeing with any “other” groups is appropriate when it brings clarity, even if they happen not to be Christian. Referring to other groups when they challenge our presuppositions and conclusions is healthy.

  4. I guess I would take a Christophany as a Theophany, of which I believe these were. By using the Jewish reference for an Anthropomorphism you’re weakening the chance of a Christophany, don’t you think? Since a good Jew (Orthodox) would never believe in some human manifestation of God; at least not a Jew since the (say) 2nd century. Now, if you had used a Jewish text that was before Christ (B.C.E.), I would consider that potentially legitimate. Post Christ (C.E.), Jews had to change a lot of their Theology, otherwise, they’d become Christians. The text you quote uses fairly ambiguous anthropomorphic references, but when you get into a text like Jacob wrestling God, you really have to twist things if it isn’t a human wrestling a human.

    Reading the text above reminds me of historians explaining away the plagues of Egypt as “natural occurrences” (natural meaning, not of God, which is ridiculous). I’m probably oversensitive, but I’ll take my chances when defending The Word.

    I would agree with you, on your point of God’s transcendence. We don’t need to ask questions like “How could God be XYZ?” (i.e. the smoke, the fire, the bush) He’s God. Most of Him we will never understand. That’s what makes him God.

    I’m not at all opposed to using “other” literature, be it Christian or Pagan. We should be careful, however, because we may not like where we end up. e.g. Origen has some great quotes but we don’t want to follow him into Platonism. Besides, isn’t there enough good Christian literature to back up a good argument. 2000 years worth, if I’m not mistaken.

  5. The major passages where Theophany/Christophany are possible are the following:

    God walking in the garden Genesis 3
    Abraham with Melchizedek Genesis 14
    The LORD appears to Abraham, three men Genesis 18
    The LORD departs (18:33) Two angels come to Sodom Genesis 19
    Jacob wrestles “a man” Genesis 32

    In each of these passages it may not be necessary to demand theophany/christophany. The passages that are most problematic are Genesis 18-19 and Genesis 32. In both of these passages the person is spoken of as a “man” (Genesis 18:2; 32:24).

    It appears in the Genesis 18 account that you have men and Yahweh present and it doesn’t appear necessary to put Yahweh in human form as the passage distinguishes them: “Then the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, while Abraham was still standing before the LORD” (18:22). In verse 33 the LORD departs. In the next verse we have two angels heading toward Sodom. I can see you might make an argument that the two angels are two of the “men” from chapter 18 who visit Abraham and the third “man” would then be the theopanic figure of YHWH, but it is not “necessary” to do so. The passage does not require this conclusion. The LORD could also be seen as present with the three visitors and not necessarily as one of their company in an ontological sense, meaning he was present but not in human form so there were three men and YHWH. This reading does not violate the text in any way, nor does it violate any theological considerations. He often communicates in this way without the required theophanic expression.

    In the Jacob wrestling passage we again have this strange (if it is a theophany) designation “man” for the person who wrestles with Jacob. It is in Jacobs naming of the place and his characterization of his experience that we draw the conclusion that the man was God in some sort of theophany. But again, it is not a necessary conclusion. We could say that Jacob saw this encounter as from God and that just as he was looking to see his brother face to face as well. In this passage we have an example of this kind of euphemism when in verses 1 and 2 of this same chapter (32) Jacob meets angels of God yet he says: “this is God’s camp”.

    In ancient culture (as in ours) we have many devices that reflect this phenomenon. A qualified and appointed representative is seen as the same as the one represented. Two other passages may be helpful in forming a picture of what I am getting at. In Genesis 22 God speaks to Abraham regarding the killing Isaac (Gen 22:1). Later the voice that stops him from killing Isaac is described as the Angel of the LORD calls to him from heaven in (Gen 22:11). In verse 18 he is praised for obeying Yahweh’s voice. There seems to be no distinction between the voice of the LORD and the voice of the angel of the LORD.

    The angel of the LORD appears to Moses in Exodus 3:2, but it is the LORD who sees and calls out to Moses in 3:4. The text doesn’t seem to be making a distinction between them because there is not functional difference between God speaking directly and the angel of the Lord speaking on his behest.

    Maybe we shouldn’t be attempting to draw hard and fast ontological conclusions from these obviously narrative oriented texts that are theologically more primitive. And it is there that Jewish sources have value to Christians as we tend to read back in anachronistic fashion our more developed theology when it is unwarranted and unnecessary to the meaning of the text.

  6. Steve,

    1st off . . . thank you for reading my post and responding. You’re obviously a very smart and Godly man. Thanks.

    My thought isn’t that these are “possible” Theophany/Christophany. My complaint (I guess that’s what it is) is that we, as Christians should RUN to the possibility of a Christophany in the Old Testament. The Old Testament only makes sense NOW in light of the incarnation of God in the flesh. Yes? Didn’t Christ open the scriptures to the disciples after his resurrection?

    We put on the glasses of the New Testament to read the Old. But instead of doing that, it sounds like you are siding with the Pharisees of today (the Orthodox Jews) and explain away these revelations God has given us of Himself.

    Let me go WAY off the beaten path; Psalms 1. “Blessed is the man” . . . Mostly we consider this a reference to humanity. But I think if you do a little translation work, you’ll see that this word is strictly male. This is a reference to Christ. Surely we shouldn’t but He doesn’t walk in the council of the ungodly or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of the scoffers . . . etc. Why explain this away and not embrace the meaning as seen through the New Testament? Don’t ALL of the OT scriptures speak of Christ? ALL!! These are our Lord’s words, yes?

    I’m sorry Steve, textual criticism applied to the Word (who is a man) limits it (the text) to a simple academic exercise. This isn’t something to be examined, but lived and to allow to change me first, and then the world.

    By arguing that these are only “possible” I think we are caving in to modernism and intellectualism. To quote C.S. Lewis, “Christ said, ‘Take, eat.’ not ‘Take, understand.’” And thank God; it’s about a relationship and not an intellect. Otherwise, I’d go straight to hell!

  7. Mungo Man…you are too kind and I obviously enjoy interchange.

    First, it is not an “either-or.” Understanding the Scripture is both a function of the intellect (mind if we need a Biblical word) yet is not simply intellectual; the Spirit is active in helping us understand the Word. But make no mistake, anti-intellect is not biblical or godly, in fact it is the opposite. Our minds and the appropriate usage of our minds honors God and is an expectation as we approach the Scriptures.

    I think you are absolutely correct that Christ is the centerpiece of the Scriptures, both Old and New Testament. A more magnificent picture of Christ in the OT as the Word cannot be found than in the personification of wisdom in the Proverbs. I don’t believe my approach undermines that at all. Getting the meaning of the text right honors Christ and His presence and the revelation of Him in OT and NT.

    You are right that we view the OT through the lens of the resurrection and the full expression of God in Christ. We still understand the text of the Old Testament in its own context first, and then layer the New back onto it. If we skip this order, we miss exactly what you are seeking to find: the full expression of Christ in the Old and New. We cannot ignore the text and the context.

    I have read and re-read the article I cited from the Jewish Virtual Library and see no difference in their view of anthropomorphism than any standard Christian characterization or definition and usage of these terms. I am not quite sure where your concern is coming from. It actually is quite good. Just because it is Jewish does not preclude it from being accurate as to the issues it addresses.

    I don’t think I used “textual criticism” anywhere in the post or my comments. That is a very specific term that speaks of a discipline that I have not touched in these comments. Having said that, not all textual criticism is bad or wrong. In order to say more I would have to know what you mean when you use the term.

    By arguing that these are only “possible” I am trying to let the text speak for itself without imposing an outside (of the text) assumption to color the meaning of the text. And I also see that Christophany is a valid explanation, just not necessary. That doesn’t undermine the integrity of the text nor does it diminish Christ’s predominance as the Word, from Genesis to Revelation. I don’t think the CS Lewis quote is referring to Bible Study is it??? I don’t know where he says that but if he is meaning Bible study as opposed to the Lord’s Supper then I respectfully disagree with him.

    Finally, our relationship with God is important, and so is what we think about Him. It is not either-or, rather both-and. You are far from hell I think…

  8. Steve, I don’t understand you’re comment: “We still understand the text of the Old Testament in its own context first, and then layer the New back onto it.” Can you explain that? I’m not sure I see where Christ of the Apostles did that.

  9. Mungo Man,

    Every text must be understood in it’s immediate context before we make connections to other parts of the Bible or in the case of prophecy, the end result reference of the prophecy. The New Testament obviously sheds light on our understanding of the Old Testament ultimately, but each text must be understood in its context first (exegesis) to avoid reading into the text (eisegesis). Even “good” things can be read back into a text but not really be the meaning of the text. For instance, in the spy/Rahab story the cord she uses is scarlet and some have tried to make a connection to the blood of Christ because of the scarlet cord. This seems to me to unwarranted and not part of the text, or the meaning of the text.

    Are you saying that the apostles and Christ used the Scripture in a way that didn’t consider the context? I admit that sometimes their usage of Old Testament Scripture is difficult (not impossible, I mean it takes work) to connect to the original context, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t. We don’t have the freedom to misread the Old Testament text to make it fit a New Testament theme or point, or to force a Jesus reference into all OT passages.

    When Jesus quotes Psalm 110 The point he makes is directly related to the point being made in the text of Psalm 110, and he uses the text to make a point about His authority. It is precisely because of his understanding of the text in its original context of the Old poignantly applied to himself that results in the silencing of the questioners. Misusing the text would have given room for objection, proper usage of the text resulted in further revelation being made clear. Much of the controversy about Jesus’ use of the OT was not his lack of appropriate exegesis, rather that he rightly understands the texts and then applies them to himself.

    The connections between Old and New Testament are made when each text is understood appropriately in context. To layer the NT back on the OT means that the original context of the OT did not “originally” include the NT, it does now, but we need to keep things in place. Ignoring this causes us to fall into a common error that modern man commits in exegesis, the error of anachronism.

    So the red cord in the book of Joshua was simply a signal to the spies, the cord would be red, not blue or yellow. It doesn’t “necessarily” refer to Christ’s blood simply because it is red, and everything in the Bible points to Christ – that might make a great sermon illustration or story, but it isn’t the meaning of the text.

    Isaiah 7:14 has a meaning that is separate from its ultimate fulfillment in the virgin birth of Christ. It is a passage of judgment to the nation (Judah). To simply see Christ here misses one of the elements that is included in this passage for both the nation at Judah’s time and the nation in Christs day: reject the message and messenger and you will suffer the consequences. Christ’s first coming included that judgment message. This emphasis is in the original context, not so much in Matthews usage of it, but I think that Matthew was aware of it, and by using it is implying that message of both salvation and judgment. If we don’t study the passage in context first, we may not make that connection when we layer the New back onto it.

    I see that is exactly how the Apostles and Christ viewed the OT. I don’t think I am saying anything controversial here Mungo Man, I think it is simple hermeneutics. Are you thinking I am saying something controversial or that needs challenge? if so you need to be more specific.

  10. I’m not thinking it’s controversial, Steve. It’s what I was taught and have been doing for years. But the way you put it made me rethink and wonder if I’ve just been following everyone instead of thinking this through.

    I can’t agree with your statement of, “I see that is exactly how the Apostles and Christ viewed the OT.” Things like; “the Rock was Christ.”, “Destroy this temple and in three days . . . “, “as the serpent was lifted up . . .”, “I am the bread that came down out of heaven . . .”, or the veil spoken of in 2 Cor. 3, Christ as the new Adam, Abraham and his two children (one of the flesh and one of the promise), . . . and I’m not even touching the book of Revelations.

    Christ and the Apostles had NO problem reading metaphor into the OT without the context. I would argue that they seem to take all of the OT as a foreshadowing or metaphor (Hebrews argues this at length). Early church literature is full of it, so they must have thought it was alright. You ever read the “Shepherd of Hermes”? That ALMOST became canon. No matter what you think of that book (and it is out there), those early Christians loved to look into the OT and see Christ everywhere.

    “. . . force a Jesus reference into all OT passages” . . . if we can’t find Christ in all the OT passages . . . I’m not sure what we’re doing as Christians except reading a nice history. Perhaps that’s why Christians flinch when they’re told to read Leviticus.

    I don’t see myself as a Paul or John, but why don’t I have that same freedom?

  11. Mungo Man…sorry for the delay in responding.

    You say: “Christ and the Apostles had NO problem reading metaphor into the OT without the context.” This statement is problematic on several levels.

    First I would challenge its accuracy. Using comparison and typology does not necessarily mean a disregard for context. In fact I have just finished listening to DA Carson expound on three passages used by the author of Hebrews that many have said were contextually challenged and he demonstrates that a proper understanding of the context actually heightened the usage. You can grab those mp3’s here:

    In light of that the challenge is to do better exegesis of the OT where NT authors seemingly “rip” them out of their context.

    Secondly, I would say that using the imagery from the OT in an illustrative way is not a template for exegesis. Paul is not saying that Jesus is that exact rock in a relic manner (lets go find it and make a shrine out it kind of way) he is saying that Jesus is our source: of life, sustenance, guidance, salvation etc. Matthew’s portrayal of Jesus as the new Moses borrows imagery, especially the sermon on the Mount, but it doesn’t change the Moses account or the meaning of the Moses account. How the passage is used doesn’t necessarily mean we ignore the meaning of the original context.

    Third, I am puzzled by your usage of the term “metaphor”. Let’s use the exodus references by Paul in 1 Corinthians 10 as an example. The cloud (God’s shekinah glory and presence), the sea (the crossing of the red sea) the food (manna) and the drink (water drawn from a rock) are real referents. They are not metaphors in Exodus, even metaphors pointing to Christ. We believe them to be real events, real phenomenon. Paul uses these real events and adds the descriptive word “spiritual” to call attention to what you identify as metaphor. Paul is not saying that the rock was not a rock, the water was not water, the sea was not a sea, etc. He is saying that those events in the Old Testament, real events, serve us as an example. They were the people of God who had the real presence and evidence of God among them (as we do with Christ in the Lord’s supper, baptism, etc), and they fell away. You are the people of God, don’t follow their example. In what sense is the rock “Christ”? In the sense that we are made His people by His faithfulness to us in redeeming us and that it is upon the rock of Christ which we stand (and didn’t Israel as well?). So in this same way Christ has demonstrated his saving presence to both the people of the OT and the NT, he provides living water to His people, always.

    We read the Old Testament as a specific kind of history, it is salvation history. The references can point to Christ in an explicit or implicit manner, or are simply supportive of the whole movement of God’s hand towards Christ. To read every passage as explicitly referring to Christ when it is meant otherwise is to misinterpret the passage. Some of those features of “nice” history are in fact just that, historical pins which direct us to Christ. The book of Ruth is a great example. A book that is not understood without heavy historical, ethnic connections and without those connections (understanding the concept of kinsman redeemer etc.) the point of the connection to salvation history is potentially missed. It is important but we don’t see why it is important without context.

    You say: “I don’t see myself as a Paul or John, but why don’t I have that same freedom?” This phrase assumes you are correct in saying that the apostles ignored the meaning of the OT in writing the NT. I don’t think you are correct nor do I think they ignored or violated the context. Nonetheless, we believe that the apostles were inspired writers, which means that God was behind the writings in a unique and special way. We believe in progressive revelation and that Christ expands upon our understanding of the OT, (we see Isaiah 53 in a way Isaiah himself probably didn’t see because the event was ultimately ahead of him), and that the apostles were the instruments of that revelation. They explain Christ to us. We are not inspired, the Spirit illuminates the text for us, but that is a distinction from inspiration. So, no, you do not have the same privilege as the apostles in this regard. They had a special gift.

    Understanding Christ in the OT is at least a two part process: First understanding OT passage in context and appropriately using accepted hermeneutical principles. Second, after adequately accomplishing step one, to “layer” back onto it the fullenss of revelation found in Christ. I don’t think one is achievable without the other. To skip the first step is to miss the meaning you are seeking to find. It ultimately has the potential to distort both Christ and the Scripture.

  12. One of my friends just admonished me that I shouldn’t argue on the internet, because it is impossible to win; and even if you do, you lose. I have obviously done a horrible job at explaining myself because we keep going around the same bush.

    Forgive me for wasting your time, Steve.

    God forgive me for wasting MY time.

  13. Mungo Man,

    Nothing to forgive. On the contrary I find that this kind of interchange sharpens my thinking and forces me to communicate more clearly. I really didn’t view our conversation as an argument, you were kind and straightforward, hopefully your views were strengthened and you were forced to think more clearly.

    Blessings, don’t hesitate to “argue” here….

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The TempleBlog started as my personal blog in October of 2006 with my first post: John Stott – it was a listing of John Stott quotes.

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