Blogroll: Emmanuel Evangelical Church
I read blogs, as well as write one. The 'blogroll' on this site reproduces some posts from some of the people I enjoy reading. There are currently 32 posts from the blog 'Emmanuel Evangelical Church.'
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To begin with, there's a shock in store: The regular sacrifices didn't atone for all sins.
- Atonement was provided in the regular sacrifices for "unintentional" sins, that is, sins involving at least some mitigating factors. This is explicit in e.g. Lev 4:2, 13, 22, etc. A sin offering is required.
- Atonement was provided in the regular sacrifices for "intentional" sins, that is, sins committed deliberately, without mitigating factors. Note e.g. Lev 5:1 (deliberate failure to testify); 6:1-7 (false oath). A guilt (reparation) offering is required.
- No atonement is mentioned in connection with the regular sacrifices for high-handed sins, and indeed the penalty described in numbers 15:30-31 (cut off from the people) implies excommunication, and quite probably death.
Moreover, Numbers 15 strongly discourages any suggestion that we should "take comfort" in the fact that we've "only" committed an "intentional" sin rather than a "high-handed" sin. As Sklar explains (pp. 482ff.), Numbers 15 deliberately omits the category of "intentional" sins, instead mentioning only the "unintentional" and "high handed" categories. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, this passage is concerned to "[underscore] the extreme danger of high-handed sin" (p. 483), which is achieves by making the starkest possible contrast with "unintentional" sin. Second, Numbers 15 is also concerned to highlight the extreme danger of intentional sin, since it is the intentional sinner who is "in danger of apostasy", for "the step from [intentional sin] to [high handed sin] is very quick and easy to take" (p. 484). It does this by omitting the category completed, and so implying that if there are not mitigating factors ("unintentional"), then the sinner is already on the road to high-handed sin and thus apostasy.
So is this is? Is there no hope for the person who has committed a high-handed sin, or his he destined to remain for ever "cut off" from his people? At this point we turn to the most significant sacrificial festival of Israel's year, the annual Day of Atonement Festival.
There's a great deal that could be said about this complex series of ceremonies. To simplify (see Sklar, Leviticus, or the other standard commentaries for more detail), the High Priest offers two pairs of sacrifices: a pair of sin offerings (a bull for himself, and a goat for the people) and a pair of guilt offerings (a ram for himself and a ram for the people). The blood from the sin offerings is sprinkled in the Most Holy Place (the only time in the year that anyone enters the inner room of the sanctuary). In between these two pairs of offerings, he conducts the famous "scapegoat" ceremony, in which a second goat is sent into the wilderness bearing the sins of the people. Alongside the High Priest's access to the Most Ho;ly Place, it is this "scapegoat" element that makes a great deal of the difference between the Day of Atonement and the regular sacrifices.
Notice a number of points about the Day of Atonement ritual:
- The "sin offering for the people" part looks like a high-octane sin offering: (1) the blood is sprinkled in the Most Holy Place; (2) Lev 16:16 is pretty comprehensive in stating that the Priests "shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins." Repeated phrases suggesting a degree of comoprehensiveness.
- However, I'm (tentatively) not sure that this "sin offering" element alone would be enough to atone for anything beyond unintentional sins. After all, sin offerings are prescribed for unintentional sins in Lev 4, and Hebrews 9:7 (which is nothing is not a commentary on the Day of Atonement ritual) highlights that it is (only?) the unintentional sins for which atonement was made by the High Priest when he sprinkled the blood in the Most Holy Place. Something else seems to be required...
- That "something else" is the scapegoat ritual. Notice:
- (1) As Michael Morales points out, the two goats are mentioned together in Lev 16:5 in a way that suggests a connection between them: the sin offering and the scapegoat are two parts of a single ritual, "as if it were one goat accomplishing two different aspects of atonement" (Who Shall Ascend? p. 179).
- (2) In Lev 16:21, when the spacegoat is sent away, two of the comprehensive-sounding terms from v. 16 are repeated in an emphatic way, "all their transgressions, all their sins", as though the scapegoat is "carrying away" the sins for which atonement was made by the sin-offering goat.
- (3) Crucially, the goat is said to "carry all their iniquities to [lit.] a land of cutting off". The goat suffers the fate of being "cut off" from the people that would have been suffered by the high-handed sinner.
- Thus the Day of Atonement ritual seems to accomplish more than the regular sacrifices: it atones not just for unintentional and intentional sins, but also for any other sin - including high-handed sins - that have been confessed and repented of. This crucial fact sets the Day of Atonement ritual apart from all the other Old Covenant sacrifices, and shows us why it was so very significant.
No surprise, then, that in Isaiah 53:8 the Suffering Servant of the LORD is said to be (guess what?) "cut off" for the "transgression" (pesha', the same word as in Lev 16:16, 21) of his people.
Jesus is just like the scapegoat on the Day of Atonement - sent away from the community to be "cut off" and to die in their stead.
There's one more connection to make between the atonement for these high-handed sins and the New Covenant sacrifice of Christ. Let's return to Sklar's article one more time. It turns out that there are seven (coincidence? I don't think so) episodes in the life of Israel that involve high-handed sin (Sklar, "Sin and Atonement," p. 486). They are:
- The golden calf (Ex 32)
- The people's complaining (Num 11:1-3)
- The rebellion after the spies returned from Canaan (Num 14)
- The rebellion of Korah (Num 16)
- The people's rebellion after the Korah-episode (Num16)
- The people's rebellion after setting off from Mount Hor (Num 21:4-9)
- The idolatry at Shittim (Num 25)
In each case, you'd expect the people to be cut off completely by the LORD. But they're not. They survive - albeit with some painful consequences and ongoing lessons in the form of discipline. Apart from the Day of Atonement, is there anything else that accounts for the LORD's mercy to his people in all these circumstances?
It turns out that there is.
In each case, a mediator intercedes between the LORD and his people, and it is at that point that the LORD shows mercy. Often the mediator is Moses; on one occasion it is Aaron; on another it is Phineas. But always, without fail, a mediator is necessary in order for atonement to be made for a high-handed sin.
Does that remind you of anyone?
I thought so.
There's a beautiful chiasm in Psalm 103. The structure is a little loose in one or two places, but with good reason.
Most obviously, the first half of the chiasm has an additional sub-section in vv. 3-5 which is entirely absent from the second half, perhaps because these verses expound the reasons for praising God (as per the rexhortations in vv. 1-2), but these reasons are so abundantly clear that they don't need to be re-iterated at the end.
Elsewhere, the lengths of the corresponding sections don't always match exactly. But this isn't necessary to establish the structure, especially when there is enough thematic correspondence and matching vocabulary. (There are many more correspondences than those shown; you'll soon spot them if you take a look.)
Some of the matching themes are identified in italics.
Unsurprisingly, the central element focuses on the grace of God in removing our transgressions as far from us as the east is from the west.
One final point, which will be relevant to next Sunday's sermon: In the first half of the Psalm, "all those who are oppressed" experience the working of God's "righteousness" (v. 6); in the second half, it is the "children's children" of "those that fear him" (v. 17). For this reason, this Psalm provides a particularly beautiful way to highlight the way in which God's saving grace is directed towards not only his people but also their children and grandchildren, in keeping with his promises to Abraham (e.g. Gen 12; 17; etc.) fulfilled in Christ (Lk 1; Ac 2; etc.). Thus this Psalm reminds us of the tremendous privilege of raising children within the family of the church as God's children. Children in Christian homes are not little pagans waiting to be converted; they are God's children, and they need to be nurtured in the community of faith into which they have been born and within which God's promised grace extends to them.
With that in mind, here's the Psalm:
1 OF DAVID.
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
All my soul, praise him!
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
2 Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
3 who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
5 who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
6 The LORD works righteousness [tsadiq]
and justice for all who are oppressed.
7 He made known his ways to Moses,
his acts to the people of Israel.
8 The LORD is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love [hesed].
His anger is temporary
9 He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
He treats us gently
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
13 As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.
He treats us gently
14 For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.
Our lives are temporary
15 As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
17 But the steadfast love [hesed] of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting
on those who fear him,
and his righteousness [tsadiq] to children’s children,
18 to those who keep his covenant
and remember to do his commandments.
19 The LORD has established his throne in the heavens,
and his kingdom rules over all.
All God's works, praise him!
20 Bless the LORD, O you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his word,
obeying the voice of his word!
21 Bless the LORD, all his hosts,
his ministers, who do his will!
22 Bless the LORD, all his works,
in all places of his dominion.
Bless the LORD, O my soul!
A handful of thoughts from chapter 2 of Douglas Wilson’s book Standing on the Promises, entitled “The Promises of God to Parents.”
First, a few biblical texts to take a look at:
- Ps 102:25-28
- Dt 5:9-10
- Dt 7:9
- Gen 17:7-9
- Romans 4:13, 16-17
- Ezekiel 37:24-26
- Isaiah 65:23
- Ps 103:17-18
- Lk 1:49-50
- Acts 2:48-49
- Ps 100:5
And then a few extracts from the book:
- "The heart of covenant-keeping is promise-believing. This is why the Bible, from beginning to end, teaches the centrality of faith." (23)
- "Faith without works is dead. Nowhere is this more important ... than ... in bringing up our children in the Lord." (24)
- "The New Covenant is not the result of God scrapping the covenant with Abraham; it is the fulfillment of God's covenant with Abraham." (26)
- "God can make sons of Abraham out of rocks (Mt 3:9). But ... God can also make sons of Abraham out of sons of Abraham." (26-27)
- "A prominent feature of faithful covenant thinking in the Old Testament is the salvation of offspring. The New Testament echoes this language." (32)
- "What does God say about those who are covenantally faithful? What does he say about their children? Their grandchildren Does he promise anything concerning them? The answer is yes." (32)
- "The Spirit was not portioned out with a teaspoon; he was poured out. And as we look forward to an ever-increasing fulfillment of his ministry and work in our world, we can expect (because God has promised it) the restoration of all things. The Holy Spirit will efficaciously and sovereignly regenerate countless generations." (33)
Mark Garcia is giving the first John Owen Society Lecture in Oxford on Monday 20 March. If you're anywhere near Oxford, I'd highly recommend it.
Details online here. Here's an extract from the blurb:
Title: ‘Union with Christ: The Meaning and Promise of a Reformed Idea’
Abstract: Though a rather narrow topic at first blush, the ‘economic identity’ of Christ and the Spirit brings into view an impressive collection of the perennial questions with which theology continues to be engaged. In this term’s John Owen Society lecture, Mark Garcia will engage this topic from the perspective of Calvin’s theology, particularly as it informs his exegesis of Romans and opens up this vast theological expanse. Through a brief analysis of union with Christ and story in Calvin’s theology, Dr Garcia will point to several of the more significant features in Calvin’s model and raise some matters for reflection.
Speaker: Dr Mark Garcia is President of the Greystone Theological Institute. He is a Reformed theologian and pastor with a PhD from the University of Edinburgh in systematic theology and has held academic posts at institutions including Cambridge University, Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, and Reformed Theological Seminary. He is author of Life in Christ: Union with Christ and Twofold Grace in Calvin’s Theology (Paternoster, 2008) as well as many journal articles and essays. His recent research has focused on horrendous evils and the atonement, the theological virtues, the theological ontology of the feminine, and the doctrine of Scripture.
In a previous post, we started to think about the different kinds of sin highlighted in the OT sacrificial legislation, highlighting three broad categories of sin, which (for the sake of shorthand) we called "unintentional", "intentional" and "high-handed". We now need to start thinking in more detail about the differences between these different sorts of sin, since (as we noted) none of these labels is adequate as it stands, and some of them are potentially misleading.
I should highlight at this stage that whereas much of the previous post was heavily indebted to Jay Sklar's article "Sin and Atonement: Lessons from the Pentateuch" (Bulletin for Biblical Research 22.4 (2012), pp. 467-491), this one is more focused on ethical distinctions which I first encountered years ago in an ethics class taught by my friend David Field, and which are found in John Frame's book The Doctrine of the Christian Life.
What makes an action sinful? Well, obviously, it must be wrong - an act of disobedience to the word of God. But there's more to it than that. In order for me to be fully culpable for a certain wrong action, I must (1) know that the action is wrong; and (2) do the action willingly. In technical terms, knowledge (of the moral norm, or rule) and consent (to the moral action) are the two ingredient of moral culpability. If I know the action is wrong, and if I consent fully to the action, I'm 100% culpable for it. To the extent that either of these ingredients is lacking, by culpability is lessened.
Immediately, a clarification is in order. I may be ignorant of a moral norm that I ought not to be ignorant of. In this case, my lack of knowledge is itself culpable. As an illustration, consider what happens if you're caught driving at 55mph through the middle of Southgate, but claim that you didn't know that the speed limit is 30mph on British roads with streetlights in a build-up area. In such a case, the court will (or should) simply say that you should have known, and the penalty for acting in ignorance of the law is the same as the penalty for knowingly breaking it. Ignorance is no excuse.
(Of course, there remains the prior question of whether it is ethically legitimate for the state to own roads in the first place, never mind place speed restrictions on them, but we'll have to leave that for another day.)
However, it's also possible to imagine a situation in which someone's ignorance was entirely non-culpable, at least in relation to human laws and rules. (The situation in regard to divine law is somewhat different, of course, cf. Romans 1.) For example, if I ask my kids to come in from the garden, but they didn't hear because of a plane flying overhead, they're not guilty of disobedience for the simple reason that they didn't know that I had given them an instruction at all.
Now, let's think about these three categories of sins.
First, so-called "unintentional" sins. In view of the fact that knowledge and consent are both necessary for moral culpability, it ought to be immediately obvious that, strictly speaking, an "unintentional" sin is not actually a sin at all. If you didn't "intend" the action at all, then you didn't "consent" to the action at all, and therefore you're not guilty of doing anything wrong. (Indeed, C. Van Dam suggests in his article "The Meaning of bishgagah" that "unintentional" may not actually be the best translation of the relevant Hebrew term.)
However, in practice, things are rarely this simple. Very often, either our knowledge of the norm or our consent to the action is diminished slightly, but is not entirely absent. Such diminishment may occur in a variety of different ways.
Example 1. A man who became a Christian a couple of months ago might simply not know that Scripture teaches us to gather for worship with God's people every the Lord's Day (no one told him, apparently), so he might decide to watch the football in the pub instead. In this case, he's committed a sin, and he should have known (I mean, isn't it obvious? Well, nearly), but his ignorance is (to a certain degree) excusable. (For comparison, the situation would obviously be different for someone who'd been a Christian all his life and still hadn't read enough of the Bible to figure out what he ought to be doing on Sunday morning.) In this case, the man has a degree of (excusable) ignorance about the law itself, and to this degree my culpability for the sin is diminished.
Example 2. I might be replacing tile on a roof, and throwing the old tiles into a skip below. If, unbeknown to me, someone walks out of the house and is hit and killed by one of the falling tiles (as envisaged in Numbers 35:23), then clearly my culpability for the tragedy is a lot less than if I threw the tile at him deliberately. On the other hand, perhaps I'm not entirely non-culpable (hence Numbers 35:24); could I not have been more careful? In this case, I have a degree of (excusable) ignorance about the circumstances surrounding my action (I didn't see the guy coming), and to this degree my culpability for the sin is diminished.
Example 3. Suppose I somehow avoided the tile-dropping tragedy, but nonetheless got into an argument with a fellow builder safely down on the ground later in the day. He threw a punch at me, and in response I pushed him away, perhaps a little harder than strictly necessary to preserve my safety. But tragedy struck again: my friend fell backward, hit his head on the ground, and died later in hospital. (This is the kind of situation envisaged in Numbers 35:22.) I have caused my friend's death, and my actions were not entirely unintentional (I deliberately pushed him), yet clearly my culpability for the resulting tragedy is less than it would have been if I had deliberately tried to kill the guy by jumping on top of him and pounding his face into the ground. In this case, I didn't intend to bring about the event that actually took place, and to this degree my culpability for the sin is diminished.
Readers familiar with John Frame's Doctrine of the Knowledge of God may already have detected here echoes of the three perspectives on an ethical action: normative (rules, example 1), situational (situation, example 2), and existential (intentions, example 3). Clearly there is some overlap and interplay between the categories, but the distinctions are nonetheless helpful. (If you don't know what I'm talking about, then I can only suggest you get a copy of Frame's outstanding book - it's well worth the effort.)
Returning to the "unintentional" sins of Leviticus, they might be best defined as sins in which there are some mitigating factors that limit either our knowledge that the action is itself wrong ("No one told me about the Lord's Day!", example 1), or our consent to the particular action that was performed ("I didn't mean to do that!", examples 2 and 3).
Examples abound in the Bible. Consider Acts 23:1-4. When Paul is struck in the face on the orders of Ananias, he responds, "God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall!" The bystanders are shocked: "Would you revile God's high priest?" But Paul explains, "I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest," appealing to ignorance about the circumstances (John Frame's situational perspective) as a mitigating factor. In this case, it's possible that Paul's ignorance entirely excuses his actions - after all, Ananias was hardly behaving like a High Priest.
Other examples could be cited, such as manslaughter (Dt 4:42; 19:4) or eating of the holy things without realising exactly what they were (Lev 22:14). Something similar is in view in Lev 5, when someone touches an unclean carcass (v. 2) or human uncleanness (v. 3) without realising it at the time (hence the fact that he later "realizes his guilt"), or when someone makes a hasty "rash oath" without fully thinking about the implications (v. 4). Leviticus 4 deliberately covers all the situations when something of this sort happens, as for example "If the whole congregation of Israel sins unintentionally and the thing is hidden from the eyes of the assembly" (v. 13), suggesting that whatever the sin was, there was some diminishment of the people's knowledge and/or consent at the time it was committed.
In each case, the distinctive feature of these so-called "unintentional" sins is clear: there is/are some mitigating factor(s) that diminish one's culpability for the action. It was still wrong, but not as seriously wrong as if it had been done with full knowledge and consent.
Having clarified this definition of "unintentional" sins, the category of "intentional" sins is very easy to define. Intentional sins are those in which there are no mitigating factors at all, either in relation to the person's knowledge of consent. They knew exactly what they were doing, and they did it entirely willingly and deliberately. He lay in bed watching TV all Sunday morning rather than worshipping with God's people; he stood on the rooftop waiting for the owner of the house to emerge before hurling a fistful of tiles at his head; he quite deliberately set out to beat his workmate to death with a shovel.
So what about the third category, "high-handed sins"? Jay Sklar's discussion here is particularly good ("Sin and Atonement," pp. 471ff.). He lists numerous passages that clarify the meaning of the crucial phrase "high hand". It "expresses 'triumph' over an enemy", where the "hand" typically "stands metonymically for the 'power' or 'strength' of a person" (p. 472, Micah 5:9; Dt 32:27; also possibly Ex 14:8; Num 33:3). It can also "[express] 'defiance' or full-scale 'rebellion'", as when "Jeroboam the Son of Nebat ... lifted his hand against the king" (p. 473, quoting 1 Ki 11:26).
The lifted-up hand echoes the ideas of the lifted-up eyes of the man whose teeth are like swords, who devours the afflicted (Prov 30:13-14). "'Lifted up eyes' are listed as one of seven things that the LORD hates (Prov 6:17), and are described elsewhere simply as 'sin' (Prov 21:4)" (p. 473). Similarly, lifted-up hand echoes the lifted-up heart, which is found in "those who forget the LORD their God" (p. 473, quoting Dt 8:14).
Further detail about this third category of sin ("high handed") is found in Numbers 15. A high-handed sinner, we are told, "reviles [gdp] the LORD" (v. 30), where the verb gdp "[describes] a blatant rejection of the LORD as God, most strikingly like Sennacherib King of Assyria who in 2 Ki 19:22 has also "lifted up [his] eyes" against the LORD. Numbers 15 also says that such a sinner "has despised the world of the LORD and has broken his commandment" (v. 31). As Sklar remarks, "Elsewhere, those who 'despise either 'the LORD' or his 'word' are those who sin flagrantly or grossly against the LORD" (p. 474), such as Eli and his sons (1 Sam 2) or the rebellious Israelites in Ezra 9:14. Finally, the penalty of being "cut off" is extremely severe - amounting to excommunication and quite possibly death - and is reserved for the most serious covenant-breaking sins.
You get the picture of that a high-handed sin is: It's a blatant, rebellious sin, committed not only with full knowledge and consent (as with the"intentional" sins described previously), but also with the additional aggravating factors or an attitude of outright rebellion against the LORD himself. Again, Sklar perceptively highlights that many of these sins "are inextricably linked with rejecting the LORD of the covenant" (p. 474) himself. "In short, it is the defiant sin of an apostate ... for which no atonement is possible" (p. 475).
Let's take stock of this analysis of these three different categories of sins:
- Unintentional sins - some mitigating factors
- Intentional sins - no mitigating factors
- High-handed sins - aggravating factors, particularly connected with outright rebellion against the LORD
So how were these different sins dealt with? We saw previously that atonement is available in the regular sacrifices for unintentional sins, while at face value there seems little hope for those who have committed high-handed sins. But what about intentional sins? If you're anything like me, you'll have committed quite a lot of those. Could they have been atoned for under the Old Covenants? Can they even be atoned for through the death of Christ?
We'll take a look at these questions in part 3.
I used to think the OT sacrificial simple was basically pretty simple: if you committed a sin, you humbled yourself before the LORD and sought his forgiveness by going to the sanctuary and offering the appropriate sacrifice. Though there are obvious complexities arising from the different sacrifices required for different situations (e.g. Lev 1-7), which are arranged in various orders at formal services of worship (e.g. Lev 9; 16), the basic fundamentals always seemed pretty straightforward.
I was wrong.
It turns out that I'm not alone. Jay Sklar begins his superb article "Sin and Atonement: Lessons from the Pentateuch" (Bulletin for Biblical Research 22.4 (2012), pp. 467-491) with these words:
"Growing up, I held to a fairly straightforward understanding of how atonement for sin worked in the OT: when Israelites committed sin, they would bring a sacrifice, confess their sin, and be forgiven. But then I began to read the OT more carefully..." (p. 467)
Though it's somewhat comforting to know that your misunderstandings were shared by a guy who now serves as professor of OT at Covenant Theological Seminary, it's nonetheless a little disturbing to discover that you might be missing some significant nuances on a matter as important of how the people of Israel were reconciled to their God. For although there's enough truth in the simple sin-confession-sacrifice-forgiveness model to serve as a half-decent first aproximation, I'm not sure we want to be satisfied with first approximations on an issue as important as this one.
Fortunately, Professor Sklar is on hand to help us on the pilgrimage towards a more biblical and (wonderfully) more comforting and Christ-honouring picture of the OT sacrificial system. If you want to join me on the journey, then read on; if you want to study the map in more detail, you might like to take a look at the references at the end of this article.
Much of what follows in this and subsequent articles amounts to (1) a paraphrasing of the thread of Sklar's argument in the above paper; and (2) an attempt to connect some of the relevant distinctions to the ethical framework articulated in John Frame, Doctrine of the Christian Life (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2008). For the sake of space I won't provide references at every point, but please note that it is to these works in particular, besides the others mentioned below, that these musings are largely indebted.
It might take a few posts to hammer out the details, so let's get started.
We need to begin by recognising that the sacrifices described in the Leviticus 1-7 do not atone for all kinds of sins. Look closely at Leviticus 4:1-2:
"And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 'Speak to the people of Israel, saying, If anyone sins unintentionally in any of the LORD's commandments about things not to be done, and does any one of them....'"
Such "unintentional" sins are mentioned elsewhere in Leviticus (Lev 4:13, 22, 27; 5:15, 18; 22:14), and also several times in Num 15:22-29, a very important passage that we'll return to in a moment. (As it happens, "unintentional" may not always be the best translation of the descriptions of these sins, but it'll do for now.) Suffice it to say that only certain sins can be atoned for by the sin offerings and guilt offerings listed in Lev 4-5. An obvious question therefore arises: What about other sins? Is atonement not possible for them too?
Numbers 15:22-31 seems to answer this question in a shocking way. It begins by explaining (along the lines of Lev 4-5) that atonement can be made, and forgiveness received, for sins committed "unintentionally" (that word again, which, just to remind you, will need significant clarification in due course).
But then comes the shock, which is perhaps best heard from the mouth of Moses himself:
"But the person who does anything with a high hand, whether he is native or a sojourner, reviles the LORD, and that person shall be cut off from among his people. Because he has despised the word of the LORD and has broken his commandment, that person shall be utterly cut off; his iniquity shall be on him." (Numbers 15:30-31)
There is a whole category of sins, those committed "with a high hand", for which (according to Numbers 15) no atonement can be made. The person who sins "with a high hand" (another phrase that will need explanation at some point) "shall be utterly cut off", that is, excommunicated from the community of Israel. Clearly, the experience of being "cut off"entails that the person in question bears not only his sin and guilt, but also the punishment for that sin.
But there is a third category of sins, besides the two mentioned so far (i.e. "unintentionally", and "with a high hand"). Sklar describes these as "intentional but not (necessarily) high-handed sins". I'll shorten it to "intentional", with the caveat that, as with the two previous categories of sin, we'll have to think a little more carefully about exactly what this description means.
Sklar (pp. 478-479) provides a couple of examples from Scripture of these "intentional" sins.
(1) Lev 5:1. "A person who has knowledge related to a crime fails to come forward and testify as a witness."
(2) Lev 6:1-7; Num 5:5-8. "A person swears a false oath."
Clearly, in both cases, these sins are "intentional". They're not described as "unintentional" (Sklar, p. 480), and indeed by their very nature require that the person concerned knew exactly what they were doing. And yet these sins may be atoned for by the appropriate repentance, confession and sacrifice (Lev 5:5-6; 6:4-7).
So then, we have three different categories of sins:
- "Unintentional" (atonement possible through regular sacrifices)
- "Intentional" (atonement possible through regular sacrifices)
- "High-handed" (atonement impossible through regular sacrifices)
This raises a whole host of very significant questions. What exactly are these sins? What actions fall into each category? Was there any possibility of forgiveness for "high-handed" sins under the Older Covenants? What about the New Covenant? After all, if the sacrifice of Christ is a fulfilment of the OT sacrificial system, and that system couldn't atone for certain sins, does this mean that there are certain sins for which Christ's death cannot atone? And finally (just to give you a hint about where we're going), is there anything different about the day of atonement?
- Jay Sklar, "Sin and Atonement: Lessons from the Pentateuch", Bulletin for Biblical Research 22.4 (2012), pp. 467-491 (mentioned above)
- John Frame, Doctrine of the Christian Life (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2008).
- Jay Sklar, Leviticus: An Introduction and Commentary (TNTC; Nottingham: IVP, 2013), especially pp. 42-44, 206-213
- For further (immensely edifying) reading on Leviticus more generally, Michael Morales, Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? A biblical theology of Leviticus (NSBT; Downers Grove; IVP, 2015)
- And for a potentially helpful take on the meaning of bishgagah, C. Van Dam, "The Meaning of bishgagah," in Reimer Faber, ed. Unity in Diversity: Studies presented to Prof Dr Jelle Faber on the Occasion of his Retirement (Hamilton, Ontario: Canadian Reformed Churches, 1989), reprinted with permission by Biblical Horizons, Open Book Occasional Paper no. 25.
There are a couple of different situations in which a church (and in particular the Minister and Elders of a church) might find themselves needing to train and select men for ordained Eldership. Perhaps there's an older man in the church who looks (and lives) like the kind of guy who could serve as an Elder. Or perhaps there's a (younger?) guy in the church who aspires to serve as a Minister, or an evangelist, or a missionary, or some other role in the body of Christ for which ordination is normally required.
In both cases, the initial reaction from the existing Elders and the congregation should of course be great enthusiasm, great encouragement, and so on. For even if the guy is currently not ready for the role, it's nonetheless a fantastic blessing to have people either growing towards the grey-haired maturity that makes ordained Eldership appropriate or aspiring to the life of Christian service that makes ordination necessary.
However, it needs to be emphasised at the outset that the role is a demanding one, and that (especially in the case of those aspiring to any kind of teaching ministry) a great deal of training is likely to be required.
In order to clarify the nature of the demands upon a man's lifestyle, understanding, orthodoxy, and so on, it can be helpful to have some questions to think about, both for the man himself and also for discussion among the existing leadership team and the broader congregation.
I linked previously to a set of questions for prospective Elders and their wives adapted from Douglas Wilson's Mother Kirk. Here's another set of questions, adapted in part from Wilson's, but designed specifically for younger men who are not yet married but who are keen to explore the possibility of ordained ministry at some point in the future.
It should be emphasised that these questions are not just a box-ticking exercise. The task of assessing a candidate for ordained ministry is not completed simply by emailing them a link to these questions and encouraging them to take a look sometime. These are questions that are designed to explore the implications of the necessary Scriptural qualifications for ordained ministry, and they must therefore be taken very seriously. It's perfectly possible that, having reflected honestly and prayerfully on them, either the candidate himself or the existing leadership team may conclude that a promising-looking man is not in fact qualified for ordained ministry, or at least that he's not likely to be qualified for several years.
At the same time, it's important to remember that many enthusiastic young men express a desire to serve in a capacity that requires ordination some years before they are ready for it, and this desire is a very good thing. Indeed, if a man in his early 20s felt a calling to be (for example) an evangelist, it'd be great for him to talk to his Minister and Elders about it, and though he obviously wouldn't be ready to be ordained for several years they wouldn't want to discourage him from pursuing a course of study and a programme of personal development in godliness and maturity that would equip him for such service in a few years time.
In other words, questions like these are to be taken with the utmost seriousness in seeking to decide on a candidate's suitability for ordained ministry, but they're not to be used as a stick for beating up enthusiastic younger men simply because they're not yet the finished article.
With those caveats in mind, here are a couple of relevant biblical texts, followed by a list of questions designed to probe their implications.
"5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you - 6 if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. 7 For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it."
1 Timothy 3:1-12
"1 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. 8 Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. 9 They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. 11 Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well."
1. Have you committed any public sins in the last five years that would cause a serious reproach to Christ, his church, or the gospel if they were to come to light?
2. Do you hold any theological views which might bring you or the church under reproach?
3. Are you sexually pure? Have you used pornography in the last five years? Do you ever allow yourself to fantasize about sex?
4. Are there any areas of life that are normally lawful for Christian, but in which someone could rightly accuse you of excess (eg alcohol consumption, devotion to sport, smoking, etc)?
5. Are you prone to great emotional highs and lows?
6. Would others say you are judicious in the advice you give, or are you prone to extreme advice and overreaction?
7. Do you manage your personal finances with prudence? Do you have any substantial unsecured debts? Could you list your major monthly outgoings and sources of income? Are the latter sufficient to cover the former?
8. In what ways are you planning for your own (and your potential future family's) long-term needs (marriage, children, old age, etc)?
9. Do other people respect you? Why or why not?
10. Are you ready to share your time and resources with strangers? Do guests enjoy visiting your home? Are you able to handle unexpected inconveniences graciously, or do you find them too stressful?
11. Are you able to teach with clarity to Christians and non-Christians with different degrees of understanding and maturity?
12. Can you discern and refute theological error readily?
13. Do you have a solid grasp of the teaching of the Bible and the major themes of Christian theology? Could you summarise the content of every book of the Bible? Could you give a short, off-the-cuff explanation of important Christian doctrines?
14. Have you been drunk in the last five years? Do you "need" an alcoholic drink after work to unwind? If other Christians knew the frequency and volume of alcohol you drink, what would they think?
15. Occasional feasting aside, would others consider you a glutton?
16. Are you ever given to violent outbursts? Have you been in a physical fight in the last five years? Whose fault was it?
17. Are you argumentative or ready to find fault?
18. Do you often think of how you can acquire more money? Do you find it easy to be content with having less than others?
19. Based on how you exercise stewardship of your own resources, would others trust you to manage their resources (eg tithes and offerings)?
20. When you enter a social situation, do you positively or negatively influence the spiritual and relational tone?
21. Do you tend to demand to get your own way in nonessentials?
22. Would others say you are submissive to authority and willing to defer to others?
23. Do you have a reputation for hard work, honesty, and integrity amongst others?
24. If you were to identify your greatest weaknesses as a Christian, what would you say they are? Have you seen any improvements in these areas over the last year?
25. Do you desire to serve in an ordained capacity? How would you feel if it transpired that you were not regarded as suitable for ordination?
26. Are you quick to speak, or are you able to restrain yourself where appropriate?
27. What percentage of the Bible have you read in the last year? How many times have you read the whole Bible in the last five years?
28. When, how, and for how long do you pray?
29. Would you like to be married? If you are already dating or courting someone, have you talked to her about your aspiration to ordained ministry? What was her reaction?
If I ever found myself needing serious advice or consultancy in classical languages, I'd probably head over to Dr Matt Colvin at Classical Services. You might like to consider doing the same.
Here's how he helped me avoid making a fool out of myself (and confusing the congregation at Emmanuel) on the meaning of patria in Ephesians 3:15. I asked whether it means "fatherhood" (so ESV fn) or "family". (It's tempting to make a great deal out of the former possibility, of course, not least in view of the importance placed on "fatherhood" elsewhere in the letter, specifically in 6:4. And the fact that it's so tempting is of course a good reason to be careful before leaping to the convenient conclusion.) He replied:
"It's "family" or "lineal descent, especially on the paternal side", and this usage is consistent with the LXX's instances of the word: Exodus 6:14, 15, 17, 19, 25; 1 Chronicles 16:28; and Deuteronomy 18:8.
"There is, of course, wordplay ("figura etymologica") between the words Pater and Patria in Eph. 3:15. But it's not sound translation to stretch the lexical range of "patria" to include "fatherhood" or the abstract idea of being a father. No instances of such a usage can be found in Greek literature.
"The mistake is, however, very old. It goes back to the Vulgate, which uses "paternitas", and to the Syriac version as well, and was picked up by Luther for his German Bible."
Thanks, Dr Colvin.
Ps 119:9 asks a question, and then supplies the answer.
"How can a young man keep his way pure?
By guarding it according to your word."
The word translated "guard" often refers in the OT to the duty of Priests and Levites at the Tabernacle or the Temple. Their job was to "guard" the Holy Place where the Living God dwelt – to keep out anything or anyone who was not holy, and so to stop the place where God's presence was found from being contaminated by impurity or sin or uncleanness.
Psalm 119:9 takes this theme and applies it to our daily lives. In so-doing, it anticipates one of the great privileges and responsibilities of life in Christ under the New Covenant.
In Christ, all of us have the privilege that was once reserved only for the Priests – to draw near (Hebrews 4:16) to the LORD in worship, and moreover to offer our bodies "as a living sacrifice" to God every day of our lives (Romans 12:1). The presence of the Spirit of God is now found not in a building (the Tabernacle or the Temple), but in the people of God, the body of Christ, the church.
We are therefore a "Temple of the Holy Spirit" (1 Corinthians 6:19); we as a church are those who are "being joined together" and "[growing] into a holy temple in the Lord" (Ephesians 2:21); in Christ, we have the astonishing privilege of knowing and experiencing the presence of the Spirit of God.
We therefore have a priestly duty to perform: just as the Old Covenant priests were called to "guard" their temple, so we are called to guard ours – to keep out from our lives anything impure or sinful or unclean.
And how do we do that? "How can a young man keep his way pure?"
Psalm 119:9 tells us: "By guarding it according to your word."
In the last couple of weeks we've been thinking at Emmanuel about the challenges of raising children in a secular world. This week we're going to be looking (among other things) at the responsibilities of Fathers for the nurture and discipleship of their children.
This can be a daunting challenge, but it's not one that can be ignored. Fortunately, there are a number of practical things you could do as a Father to start moving in the right direction.
One thing you could do is to take a look at one or two good books about raising kids, creating a Christian culture in your home, and so on. Here are some you might want to consider, along with a brief description of the kinds of issues they address.
Noël Piper, Treasuring God in our Traditions. Inspiring practical ideas for developing a godly, Christ-honouring and joyful culture in your home. As pone reviewer put it, "This book reminds us that traditions and patterns woven into the fabric of everyday life can cultivate love for God." A great gift for wives, which husbands will also want to read.
Tedd Tripp, Shepherding a Child's Heart. An immensely practical guide to the challenges and opportunities of discipling children from birth to adulthood.
Douglas Wilson, Standing on the Promises. Subtitled "A Handbook of Biblical Childrearing," this book is a hard-hitting guide to the responsibilities of Christian parents. Covers a broader range of issues than Tedd Tripp, Shepherding a Child's Heart, so is a good compliment to it.
Stuart Bryan, The Taste of Sabbath. An excellent resource for helping your family to embrace and enjoy the blessing of the Lord's Day as God intended it.
Douglas Wilson, Future Men. A great book for fathers to read with their sons to encourage them to develop godly patterns of masculinity modelled on Jesus, rather than the distorted, unbiblical models of domineering masculinity or lazy effeminacy found in the culture around us.
Rich Lusk, Paedofaith. Another great resource for parents keen to think hard about how Christian children should be brought up within a faithful covenant family and church community. A combination of theological reflection on the faith of small children and practical thoughts about Christian parenting.
Douglas Wilson, For a Glory and A Covering. Subtitled "A Practical Theology of Marriage," this book is full of biblical, encouraging, practical words for husbands and wives.
Joseph Boot, Gospel Culture. An excellent introduction to the way in which the gospel should impact the culture around us. Though not specifically about raising children, this book sets the broader theological background for every point at which the church and the world collide.
Here's the handout from a forthcoming seminar at Emmanuel Training and Resources on Eschatology and Public Theology.
In this seminar we continue with our study of Civil Government. Having looked at Calvin last week, we turn this time to a more recent Reformed discussion of the subject, in the company of Greg L. Bahnsen, “The Theonomic Position,” pp. 21-53 in God and Politics: Four Views on the Reformation of Civil Government, ed. G. S. Smith (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1989).
The word “theonomy,” which appears in the title of Bahnsen’s essay, sometimes provokes a mixture of reactions ranging from bafflement through incredulity to outright hostility. The term itself is of course entirely unobjectionable: it is formed from two Greek words, theos (God) and nomos (law), and therefore in principle refers simply to the view that God’s law has practical relevance to human life in general and civil government in particular. In practice, however, the term has come to be associated with some rather heated debates within the (mainly American) Reformed community in the later part of the 20th century, in which there has been a great deal of misunderstanding and mutual suspicion on all sides. (For this reason, I’m afraid to say that this is one subject where you won’t find a great deal of helpful information on the internet.) Our task, as ever, is to cut through the overheated rhetoric and personal animosities, to get to grips with the substantive issues, and to appraise them in the light of Scripture.
As you’re reading Bahnsen, try to identify where you think he might be saying something different from what you read in Calvin last time. Try also to identify where he’s saying the same thing in different ways. If you find yourself preferring one of these authors to the other, try to articulate why.
One final quote to get you thinking:
“Everyone’s a theonomist. The only question is, Who’s Theo?” (Douglas Wilson).
Questions to think about
a. How do you feel about your current civil government? Why?
b. Leviticus 20:10 declares that “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbour, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.” Do you agree?
c. “Christians who try to apply the Bible to politics are no different from Muslims who demand Sharia Law.” Discuss.
1. According to Bahnsen, theonomists repudiate both “secularism” (p. 21) and “the sacred-secular dichotomy” (p. 22). What does Bahnsen mean by these terms? What is his preferred alternative?
2. Read Bahnsen’s 12-point “summary of the theonomic conception of the role of civil government” (p. 23) on pp. 23-25. What do you think of each of these points? Do you disagree with any of them? If so, why?
The section entitled “Christ Presently, Supremely Our King” begins with a brief introduction to the theme of Christ’s kingship before surveying the theme of the Kingdom of God in two numbered sub-points relating to the teaching of (1) Scripture in general (pp. 25-28); and (2) Psalm 2 in particular (pp. 28-30).
3. Bahnsen says that Psalm 2 “[asserts] the eschatological ... and ethical ... character of Christ’s reign” (p. 29). What does he mean by this (pp. 29-30)?
4. In what way(s), according to Bahnsen, is this biblical teaching ignored by “the pluralist political theories of our day” (p. 30)? Do you agree with Bahnsen’s critical assessment here?
5. How, in Bahnsen’s view, should “civil magistrates find the political dictates of God” (p. 31)?
6. How does Bahnsen address the various discontinuities between the Old and New Covenant eras (pp. 31-37). What does this mean in practice for the application of the OT law in the modern world? You might find it helpful to consider the following kinds of discontinuity:
- redemptive-historical discontinuities (pp. 31-32)
- cultural discontinuities (pp. 32-35)
7. How would Bahnsen respond to the objection that the Mosaic Law was only ever intended for Israel, not the Pagan nations of the world (pp. 37-38, 48-50)?
8. Augustine asked, “Without justice, what are states but great bands of robbers?” (p. 43). What did he mean by this? What point is Bahnsen seeking to support with this quotation (pp. 43-44)?
9. How would Bahnsen recommend that Christians today seek to bring about the change he regards as desirable (pp. 52-53)?
For reflection: Read Exodus 22:1-15. How do you think Bahnsen might suggest that these laws should shape criminal justice systems today?
The appendix of Douglas Wilson's excellent book Mother Kirk contains a list of Questions for Elders and the Wives designed as a tool for selection and ongoing accountabbility for Elders within the church. You can find them online here, or (better) you can just buy the book itself.
Saturday 22 April 2017. A conference with Dr Joe Boot of Christian Concern's Wilberforce Academy.
For more information click here.
We're living in a world where evangelists can be arrested for preaching in the street when it's the crowd that's actually stirring up trouble.
We're living in a world where a magistrate can be barred from office for believing that children ideally need a mum and a dad.
We're living in a world where adoption agencies can be closed down for declining to place children with same-sex couples.
We're living in a world where a university student can be expelled and a teacher disciplined for expressing their traditional Christian views on marriage.
We're living in a world where a nurse can be fired for talking about her faith with a patient.
We're living in a world where every year thousands of girls under the age of consent are given contraceptive implants without their parents' knowledge.
We're living in a world where the NHS abortion guidelines proudly declare that "If you don't want to tell anyone, your details will be kept confidential. If you're under 16, your parents don't usually need to be told."
Clearly, raising children in such a culture is going to be a demanding task. Which is why we've begun a series of sermons at Emmanuel entitled Raising Children in a Secular World. Check out the recordings here.
Tomorrow marks the beginning of Lent, a time in the church year that has often been associated with fasting. If this is something you'd like to think about, then you may find it useful to take a look at some of the resources below: