Archives for posts with tag: revelation

I always ask the question, “Did God know that most people in the world would not have the original languages of the Bible readily available to them?” And every question that starts with “Did God know…” is answered in the affirmative.

I listened to this talk by Jason DeRouchie given at Bethlehem College and Semenary (ht: Justin Taylor). He gave 7 arguments for the need for understanding the Biblical Languages:

  1. Using the biblical languages exalts Jesus and affirms God’s wisdom in giving us his Word in a book.
  2. Using the biblical languages enables us to observe more accurately and thoroughly, understand more clearly, evaluate more fairly, and interpret more confidently the inspired details of the biblical text.
  3. Using the biblical languages allows us to use more efficiently and evaluate more fairly the best secondary tools for biblical interpretation.
  4. Using the biblical languages fosters a depth of character, commitment, conviction, and satisfaction in life and ministry that results in a validated witness in the world.
  5. Using the biblical languages provides a warranted boldness, a sustained freshness, and a more articulated, sure, and helpful witness to the Truth in preaching and teaching.
  6. Using the biblical languages equips us to defend the Gospel and to hold others accountable more confidently.
  7. Using the biblical languages helps preserve the purity of the Gospel and a joyful glorifying of God by his Church into the next generation.

There are many hindrances to the availability of the Biblical languages. Some I can think of:

  1. While we have had the Bible in one form or another throughout and since its writing, we have only within the past century found enough evidence in the ancient manuscripts to be reasonably sure what was precisely written in the original languages. So they have not been readily available throughout most of history.
  2. The printing press has only been available for a few hundred years now. Most people throughout history have not even had a Bible in any language readily available to them.
  3. There are hundreds of people groups who even today barely have the Bible translated into their language, much less have the education available to them to delve into the original languages themselves.
  4. A significant number of people don’t have the intellectual capacity to learn and understand the original languages. Many are barely literate in their own language.
  5. Of the people who have some education in the original languages, the vast majority don’t think in those languages.
  6. God confused language at Babel for a reason.

Regarding number 5: Scientific American has a short article touching on some research that is being done in the link between language and thought. The language that a person typically uses governs his thought. The example in the article was a 5-year-old Australian aborigine girl who could easily point the way north where a lecture hall of accomplished academicians could not. It reminded me of my mom’s side of the family. Always, they refer to things by their compass directions: “the south bedroom,” “the west field,” “Go to the end of the road and turn north on Kessler Road.” I can’t talk to my wife this way or she would get lost. For her, directions are relative: “the bedroom to the right of the bathroom,” “turn left on Museum Road.” Mastering language means being able to follow the linguistic logic of the references over and against those that one is accustomed to.

Regarding number 6: I’ll deal with this one shortly because it’s in the title. I wanted to make a reference here so you don’t think I just made a provocative statement without talking about it.

What can we make of the fact that A) Studying the Biblical languages is essential and B) The vast majority of Christians are not going to have the spiritual luxury of doing so? I mean, if this were the case then we revert back to dependence on priests for our understanding. We should close our Bibles and not even try to read them because we’ll never quite get it right.

And we indeed need to get it right. Our salvation is at stake if we don’t follow the true gospel. God’s glory is at stake if we don’t get our understanding of Him correct. Judging by the disputes and disagreements between Christians, it is more normal that we disagree on many things than if we agree.

What are we to do? I go back to my original question: “Did God know that most people in the world would not have the original languages of the Bible readily available to them?” We could also ask, “Did God not know that nearly all of the people who profess to follow Him wouldn’t get their theology straight?” So, if we assume that He knows these things we can further ask if He takes this all into account?

This is where we discuss things like the perspicuity of scripture (how clear it is), what is necessary to understand for salvation, and how understandable different things of scripture are. Some factors I see:

  1. Some passages of scripture are more understandable than others no matter what language you use.
  2. Some topics are more understandable than others.
  3. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is necessary for proper understanding.
  4. Some understanding depends on wisdom aside from intelligence.
  5. Some understanding requires great intelligence or education.
  6. Individual levels of understanding depend on personal experiences.
  7. The understandability of some things of scripture depends heavily on cultural influences.
  8. The understandability of most things of scripture depends on our level of spiritual discernment.
  9. God causes a lack of understanding for His perfect purpose.

This is hardly an exhaustive list. But it is these last points that are key to tying Babel with God’s revelation of Himself in scripture and walking away with an assurance that we can know enough well enough.

God caused language to be confused in Babel and then proceeded to reveal Himself through prophets and inspired scripture.

In Babel, the goal of mankind was the exaltation of Man over God and the self-sufficiency of Man. God confused the language of Man so that His revelation to Man would be clear to Man when it came. In other words, Man could not rely on himself for knowledge of God, but had to rely on God to reveal Himself.

We still do. That’s the bridge between Babel and the revelation God gives us in the Bible. Inasmuch as we approach knowledge of God on our own accord, we lack understanding. Inasmuch as we approach knowledge of God by the light and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, we have understanding. Those who lack understanding don’t understand how those who have understanding got it, and they often disparage those who have understanding as though they cannot have understanding. Those who lack understanding typically cannot believe that there is some understanding that they do not possess.

Here is another list (I seem to be into lists today) of how God works with us to understand His revelation:

  1. Obtaining an understanding of scripture is part of our being made perfect as we are sanctified, set aside, for His glory. (Romans 15:14-21)
  2. We are told, clearly enough, to study scripture. The implication is that we can know something from it. (Ephesians 5:17; 1 Timothy 4:13)
  3. We are told that scripture is a sufficient revelation for us. (Romans 15:4; 2 Timothy 3:16)
  4. We are told how to deal with each other in grace as we differ in our understanding. This indicates that God knows that we are going to have slightly differing understandings for a time although we are all brothers and sisters in the faith. (1 Corinthians 8)
  5. God deals with us graciously in our lack of understanding. (Romans 7:15-25; Philippians 4:7)
  6. Although we often get things wrong and disagree, the revelation of God is not open to interpretation. (2 Peter 1:20)
  7. God gives us understanding. (1 John 5:20; 2 Timothy 2:7; 1 Corinthians 2:12; Romans 1:19)
  8. God takes understanding away. (John 12: 39,40; Romans 1:29; 11:25)
  9. It is our desire to understand and our trust in God rather than our own intellectual machinations that give us true understanding. (Hebrews 11:3)
  10. Understanding is not the ultimate goal. (1 Corinthians 13:12; John 5:39-40)

So, seek understanding. Study the Bible. Struggle to get it right. Learn the original languages if you can, but do not despair if you cannot. Understanding comes from God. Trust Him and seek Him above all, and deal graciously with others when you disagree.

Advertisements

To commemorate the four hundredth anniversary of the King James Bible next year, Crossway has commissioned artist Makoto Fujimura to illustrate The Four Holy Gospels, what they call an “illuminated book of the four Gospels.” The video below is a good introduction to this.

Fujimura – 4 Holy Gospels from Crossway on Vimeo.

I’m an artist. I’m not a prolific painter although I can do that, but my medium is music. I love to paint the air with textures of tones and colors of harmony and rhythm. This is beyond the pale of simple melody and orchestration, but a bit on the abstract: imagine the sort of improvisation you might find in jazz applied to the Romantic music of Mussorgsky or Dvorak with some Vangelis thrown in.

Everyone loves to express themselves. Most people express themselves best verbally. Some people express themselves best in nonverbal ways. I can speak well if I’m somewhat scripted, but go off-script and I have trouble saying what needs to be said. Many artists are like this.

Traditional art uses images and symbols that exist already in social discourse in order to convey meaning. It’s not unlike verbal idioms. More contemporary art uses common images to establish new symbols. A view from the inside of a crashing wave can be like a tunnel that gives a sense of confinement and anticipation. An overgrown flower in a pot conveys the absurdity of pretense.

Modern art that has no sociological foundation is almost pointless except that it might convey some raw emotion. Reds might indicate fiery things. Greens might indicate serene things. Generally, modern art combines raw aesthetics with communication on this level. The interesting thing about Makoto Fujimura’s art is that it is rooted in a traditional Japanese style. If you aren’t familiar with Japanese art, then you might miss the traditional aspects of his symbolism that lend greater meaning to the blobs and lines of various colors that seem to comprise his art.

I had a discussion with a man last week, I’ll call him Ned, who was upset with a knowledgeable Bible teacher, who I’ll call Jonas. There was some aspect of theology that Ned didn’t get and asked Jonas about it. He said that the Jonas, as good a Bible teacher as he was, danced around the issue claiming to understand it. I asked what the answer was precisely that the Bible teacher gave. Ned obviously couldn’t repeat word for word what was said, but he was able to convey the general gist of Jonas’ comments. Then he asked me why Jonas just couldn’t admit that he didn’t understand.

From what Ned told me I was able to deduce that Jonas actually gave a good answer and truly understood the issue. What Jonas didn’t understand is that Ned was unable to understand the theological concept at all. And what Ned didn’t understand is that Jonas actually understood and knew what he was talking about.

Human beings in general have a problem with thinking that other people should be able to understand what we understand. Many of us even think that others should know what we know even though they haven’t particularly been exposed to the information. My fellow students at the Bible College I attended were aghast that I had never heard of Steve Green, the well-known contemporary Christian musician before.

Different people understand different things better than other people. One person may understand how to manages workers better than someone who understands resource management better than the first person. So they might function well as a team where the second person plans the work and the first person motivates everyone to do the work. They have a problem, however, if one of them thinks that their area of expertise gives them the edge in dismissing the work of the other. Someone who is good at motivating people to do things, for example, might think that they don’t need to heed the warnings of the other who might suggest applying the workload in a more efficient manner. Or the one who is good at planning resources might balk when the other guy tries to tell him that the people just can’t work a certain way.

But for some reason most people too often get upset when others apprehend the world differently than they do. People get angry when others don’t have the wherewithal to accommodate their sensibilities. I pulled up to a stop sign at an intersection in town once where I needed to turn left. The view to observe oncoming traffic from both directions was obscured by the landscape so I inched forward until I could see. Another man turning left onto the road I was coming from was upset at my position because he had to turn more sharply than he otherwise would have to in order to turn onto the road. He stopped in the middle of the intersection blocking my way, got out of his car, and proceeded to cuss me out for being too far forward. He didn’t understand that that was the only position where the traffic could be safely viewed.

So we too often get upset when others don’t understand what we understand. We also get upset when we think others pretend to understand things that we don’t understand where they actually do understand. We like to think that if we don’t understand something, it can’t be understood. So Ned asked me angrily, “Why can’t Jonas just admit that there are just some things we can’t understand?” So I was left to explain to Ned what I explained just now so that he wouldn’t despise his brother over it.

There are some things that are difficult to convey because very few people can understand them. Sometimes art becomes the means for expressing what would otherwise be inexpressible. A few times in the video, the transcendent nature of art is mentioned. As for having any particular meaning, this is artsy gobbledygook. But it speaks of a general sense of this matter of attempting to express the inexpressible. But this is in some way troubling in the description of Crossway’s The Four Holy Gospels as being “illuminated”. Art usually conveys a general sense of some idea but rarely, if ever, conveys any particular concept. If anything, the words of scripture illuminate the art, rather than the art illuminating scripture.

But the biggest danger of art is the focus on self. Look at the video from about the 5:00 mark. The lady narrating expresses what is most troubling about the art community by about 5:11. The purpose for all that Fujimura does, as she lists it, is to reveal himself; to say, “this is who I am.” The problem that most Christians have with art in this sense is that if the Bible reveals anything about us, even as individuals, it’s that we are not worthy to be revealed except as sinners in need of God. As such, the Bible is here to reveal God in His beauty and glory, not man.

Of all artists, the greatest is God. Even in it’s fallen state, this world as created by God is intensely beautiful. For those who have the Holy Spirit all of creation reveals the Creator. The great literary work that He created is upheld by His creation and formed of the history of his people. While all of creation reveals the Creator, it is the words of scripture that illumine Him to us that we might know to Whom all this creation of His points. Therefore, art that glorifies God never illumines, it points.

We worship God with the artistry of music. But music is merely an art. Music never illumines, it points. I’ve never been in a worship service or known a piece of music that fully reveals God. There are some words of worship, encouragement, or instruction in the lyrics, where there are lyrics, but never a complete revelation. I know songs and hymns with the nuts and bolts of the gospel, but that is the closest I have seen to a complete revelation.

So it is that we can worship with art, but only if we seek to point to the revelation of God. One man talked about artists feeling restricted by Christianity. Look at the video again starting at about 2:45. The man talks about a sense of spirituality among artists, but that they felt confined by Christianity. If the goal of the artist is to use art to draw people away from God, then they will feel confined by Christianity. If their goal is to point the way to God, then they will not feel confined; in fact they will feel freer than they would otherwise.

And it is not art that transcends, but God who transcends. Only when art is fixed on the Great Artist, and our minds are fixed on He who is all-knowing and all-wise, can we truly communicate through the many means given to us.

Steve Hayes at Triablogue wrote a great article recently where he makes an observation about miracles and applies it to some arguments against the “apparent age” theory of the creation of the universe.

“Take the case of Jesus healing the man born blind (John 9). The blind man had some congenital defect which left him blind all his life.

“When Jesus restores his sight, this doesn’t merely affect the future. It also, or so it seems to me, erases any physical trace of his past affliction. An ophthalmologist, examining the man after Jesus cured him, would be unable to detect the fact that this man ever had that particular birth defect. So it doesn’t merely change the present. It also changes the evidence of the past.”

He correctly notes that this isn’t an argument for Young Earth Creationism (YEC) per se:

“Critics object to mature creation (or “apparent age”) on the grounds that this would implicate God in a web of deception. Deceptive appearances.”

And, “I don’t cite this as a positive argument for YEC. I merely cite this to question a facile objection to YEC.”

To be sure, many good YEC-ists make the same argument. Ken Ham wrote as much and his Answers in Genesis organization holds the same position.

I have two observations to make regarding this matter. One is that Steve Hayes observation regarding miracles implies an understanding of Creation that has not been much investigated and the second is that this understanding of Creation is helpful in drawing our attention to a reason God may have for making things appear other than what they are.

Many Christians have not thought in depth about the nature of creation given that God is eternal and creation is not. It’s not too difficult to get the idea from Genesis 1 that God created everything and then left it to go on as it will without his interacting much with it.

 

 

God is here represented by the large red dot. His act of creation is represented by the red arrow. The large blue dot is creation. And subsequent blue dots are the progression of creation from event to event on into the future with the blue arrows representing causal relationships.

The problem is that other scripture revelas that God didn’t simply create once and from that point on allow natural cause and effect takes its logical course. Even if he did, God, being omniscient, would know what would happen given the details that he created initially. So he could easily fix the details to cause what he wanted to happen. But we know that God not only created “In the beginning” but he sustains his creation (Heb 1:3) and creates constantly (Psalm 139:13) and provides for his creation (Job 38:41). I suggest that Genesis 1 was given to us as a pattern to follow. God didn’t need a whole week to create. He could have created all things instantly. But not only did God create all things, he also created all causal relationships:

 

 

I present this as a more accurate understanding of God’s creation.

As a parenthetical, I often vilify existentialism as a false worldview. I do this because it speaks directly against God’s creation of this world. For a picture of existentialism, imagine each blue dot with a blue arrow going to a cloud of red dots. That’s existentialism. It’s the idea that the things of this world control the things of the spiritual which is backwards and opens up the door for the denial of absolute truth that pervades popular philosophy. Back to the discussion:

Steve Hayes observes that a miracle “doesn’t merely change the present. It also changes the evidence of the past.” In the terms that I am employing here, a miracle interrupts the causal relationship between events and replaces the history we remember with a history that never happened, and apparent history. The history that never happened was indeed created by God although it has no real place in time and space.

 

 

The green causal chain is the new one created by God. As it is, there is no “replacing” of a real time line with a new one since God creates even the causal relationships. It is a miracle precisely because he creates an event that is uncaused by anything in this world.

This is the point at which the argument can be made that God doesn’t deceive. I would agree that this is a very valid argument. God doesn’t deceive. In fact, he is clear in scripture that something miraculous has happened. But I suggest that God is up to something else.

We might expect unbelievers to pursue naturalistic causes to explain miraculous accounts. But here we have even creationists arguing that what the Bible indicates is a divinely caused event, when viewed naturalistically, would be a deception of God.

As one who has studied physics in some depth, I have long thought it strange that beginning of the universe cosmologies often fell short in calculating the effects of special relativity on the universe at large in the early stages. To be sure it has been considered to some degree, but temporal passage tends to get evened out on a macroscopic scale where extreme forces don’t warrant. That is to say that scientists talk about the universe aging relatively uniformly where there is reason to think it hasn’t. As far as YEC cosmology goes, Dr. D. Russell Humphreys has taken gone the direction I’ve always wondered about and provided a viable YEC cosmology, involving a “white hole” that produced the rest of the universe at a greatly accelerated rate compared to that of the earth, that aptly explains the history in starlight.

But as I have explained, while his cosmology requires an economy of the miraculous, it is largely dependent on natural physics. That is, in order to avoid calling the history already present in the light arriving to earth of the deep universe a practice in deception by God he has resorted to mostly natural explanation.

My final observation is to ask the question: If God tells us what he did and we observe something different using naturalistic assumptions, why do we think God is deceiving us? Rather, is it not an opportunity to trust what God has said regardless of whether he created the universe using a white hole or not? So I contend that perhaps it is possible that he has created a history that hasn’t happened in the natural course of our powers of observation. He has indeed created the stars as signs. Interestingly, the miracles Christ performed on earth were done to provide signs of his authority according to scripture (John 2:23; Acts 2:22,43).