Monday, April 26, 2010

It’s not all that Hard to Understand Hardening

It has almost been 1600 years since the Pelagian controversy was settled, yet the same questions still seem to arise. Does man have free will? Or, does God impose His will upon men? To understand and answer these questions we must consider closely the story of the Exodus. However, as you will soon discover, as we begin to examine these Scriptures we quickly note quite a few apparent contradictions. Consider the following verses complied by Rick Appelton of Wretched Radio.

God hardened Pharaoh's heart

1. Exodus 4:21 The LORD said to Moses, "When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.

2. Exodus 7:3 But I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and though I multiply my miraculous signs and wonders in Egypt.

3. Exodus 9:12 But the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said to Moses.

4. Exodus 10:1 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials so that I may perform these miraculous signs of mine among them.

5. Exodus 10:20 But the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he would not let the Israelites go.

6. Exodus 10:27 But the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he was not willing to let them go.

7. Exodus 11:10 Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh, but the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he would not let the Israelites go out of his country.

8. Exodus 14:4 And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and he will pursue them. But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD." So the Israelites did this.

9. Exodus 14:8 The LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, so that he pursued the Israelites, who were marching out boldly.

10. Exodus 14:17 I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen.

11.Joshua 11:20 For it was the LORD himself who hardened their hearts to wage war against Israel, so that he might destroy them totally, exterminating them without mercy, as the LORD had commanded Moses.

Pharaoh hardened his own heart

1. Exodus 8:15 But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said.

2. Exodus 8:32 But this time also Pharaoh hardened his heart and would not let the people go.

3. Exodus 9:34 When Pharaoh saw that the rain and hail and thunder had stopped, he sinned again: He and his officials hardened their hearts.

4. 1 Samuel 6:6 Why do you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh did? When he treated them harshly, did they not send the Israelites out so they could go on their way?

Pharaoh's heart became hard

1. Exodus 7:13 Yet Pharaoh's heart became hard and he would not listen to them, just as the LORD had said.

2. Exodus 7:22 But the Egyptian magicians did the same things by their secret arts, and Pharaoh's heart became hard; he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said.

Pharaoh's heart was hard

1. Exodus 8:19 The magicians said to Pharaoh, "This is the finger of God." But Pharaoh's heart was hard and he would not listen, just as the LORD had said.

2. Exodus 9:35 So Pharaoh's heart was hard and he would not let the Israelites go, just as the LORD had said through Moses
So what’s the story; what’s going on here? Does Pharaoh harden his own heart or does God harden it for him? We have some verses which say Pharaoh is to be blamed for his hardening and others which say God is responsible. So which is it?

The answer, without contradiction, is both.

The reason why we might conclude that there is a problem in the Exodus account is because we sometimes act like the Bible was written in English, when of course it was not. So the first step in figuring out this mystery is to look at these verses in their original Hebrew? Let’s see what we find. Consider the following two seemingly contradictory passages, Exodus 8:15 and Exodus 4:21.

Exodus 8:15 “But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said."

The word translated in English as “hardened” in Exodus 8:15 is the Hebrew word kabad, which means:

1. to make heavy
2. to make heavy, make dull, make unresponsive
3. to cause to be honored

Exodus 4:21 The LORD said to Moses, "When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.

And the word translated as “harden” in Exodus 4:21 is the Hebrew word chazaq, which means:

1. to make strong
2. to restore to strength, give strength
3. to strengthen, sustain, encourage
4. to make strong, make bold, encourage
5. to make firm
6. to make rigid, make hard

What we notice then is that when Pharaoh is the source of the hardening, the word kabad is used. And when God is the source of the hardening, the word chazaq is used.

Here then is what we learn from this simple exercise:

Pharaoh’s rebellion was the result of his own wicked heart which he made unresponsive and heavy (kabad) against the Prophet, the Hebrew slaves, and the God of Israel. This was of course according to the plan of God, because as we read in Exodus 7:1-5, God desired that He might deliver His people with great power and by great acts of judgment, so that all of Egypt would know that YHWH is the LORD. In Exodus 14 we see something interesting take place. Pharaoh had finally relented and released the Children of Israel from their slavery when suddenly he experiences a change of heart. Verse 4 gives us the reason for that change. God says, “I will strengthen and encourage (chazaq) Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them...” He did indeed and we know the rest of the story.

What we discover is that Pharaoh hardened his own heart against God, but whenever he was ready to give up, God gave him strength to continue in his rebellion. It’s like God had Pharaoh in the boxing ring and was battering him around until Pharaoh hit the mat. 5..6..7..8..9..and just before the 10 count was up God picked Pharaoh up off the ground, walked him to his corner, gave him a drink of water, and a pep talk. “You’re not quitting on me yet Pharaoh! We are going the distance, all 10 rounds!” You see, God not only wanted the knock-out but He also wanted the points. In Exodus 11:9 God said, ”Pharaoh will not listen to you, that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.” That is exactly what happened isn’t it? God encouraged Pharaoh to stay in the fight so that He might beat him silly until the end of 10th and make His name famous in the entire world.

The reason that these “hardening” passages are so controversial is that those who deny that God would harden a man’s heart errantly believe that God’s participation in such an act would both implicate Him in that man’s wickedness and cause Him to violate that man’s free will. Neither is the case. As we have seen, God merely strengthens the already hardened heart so that wicked men might act, according to their free will, in such a way as to bring about the ends which God has decreed. He, therefore, takes no part in their sins nor does He violate their will to choose exactly what their wretched hearts already desire. Namely, continued rebellion against God.
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Friday, April 23, 2010

Solus Libri - The 6th Sola

This is my final post in this series of responses to my not-yet-continuationalist brethren who dismiss the possibility that God spoke to and led James King through an alligator infested swamp.

Over the past week since making my position known on this topic I have received a couple comments/questions regarding specific passages in the Bible, which at first glance would seem to refute the continuationalist position that the gift of prophecy is ongoing. They are Proverbs 30 and Revelation 22.

Proverbs 30:5-6

"Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.”

Revelation 22:18-19

For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.

The argument which is being made by the presentation of these verses is plain. If one claims to have received a revelation from the Lord in 2010, and subsequently after the closing of the Canon, then the one who pronounces such a word is “a liar”. These prophets, “so called”, by their prophecies have added to the Scripture and will soon find themselves rebuked and the recipients of every plague contained in the Bible.

Is this true? Is this what the authors intended us to understand from their statements? Let’s see.

Proverbs 30:5-6

The first thing that pops into my head as I consider the argument is this; if the author intended his readers to understand that there would be no more prophetic revelation then how is it that the Sons of Israel ever accepted another Prophet of God? If Agur, being carried along by the Holy Spirit, meant that anything beyond what He was writing was an addition to God’s Word how did the people of God receive the remaining Old Covenant Scriptures, or the New for that matter? Obviously, that was not what he meant; otherwise John would have never dared record the Revelation for us. So what did he intend for us to understand?

Revelation 22:18-19

The reason that this verse is offered as a refuting text is essentially no different than that found in the Proverbs passage. However, because this portion lies at the end of the last book in our Bible it is presumed by those presenting it that their argument is strengthened. Not so. Again one must simply ask the question, “Is this what the author intended for his audience to understand?” What do you think? Did the Apostle intend for his readers to dismiss the Spirit empowering grace of the prophetic gift when he wrote these words down? Are we to believe that John was speaking to any Scripture outside what he was immediately writing? Was he announcing the end of prophecy at this point in his letter; did he even understand that there was a New Testament Canon or that he was closing it? If not what was John endeavoring to communicate?

The Key is Systematic

So what did they mean? If we are to properly understand these passages two things must happen. First, we must not isolate these verses from their context and import our own ideas into the reading. This is what was corrected above when we looked at the passages separately and examined their authorial intent. Second, we must scour the Bible and search for similar declarations to determine whether a system of interpretation is developed. So, let’s take a look at the rest of the inspired Testimony and see what we find.

Deuteronomy 4:2

“You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you.”

Deuteronomy 12:32

"Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it.”

Galatians 1:6-9

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

When we look at these three passages and compare them with Proverbs 30 and Revelation 22 we immediately see the similarities. The portions from Deuteronomy both declare “You shall not add, nor take away” and “You shall not add to it or take from it.” And we see a commonality between the Galatians passage and Revelation 22 as well. Namely, that a curse is upon anyone who alters the message that was delivered. What else do we see? We discover the object which we are forbidden to modify, the commands of God.

So, what Moses was intending for us to understand was that men should not add to or subtract from what God has already commanded. He was not at all concerned about what God may add, by way of prophecy, in the future. No, his principle concern was that the Children of Israel remain obedient to God’s Law alone. He was warning the people to not heap man made commandments upon what God had already established, as the Pharisees would one day do, and not to subtract from what God had commanded and attempt obedience apart from faith.
Let’s now return to the texts in question and ask ourselves why the authors might have included “do not add or subtract”.

Proverbs 30: I believe that Agur was doing nothing more than quoting Moses’ sermon in his Proverb. It’s interesting, don’t you think, that cessationists run to this passage and completely ignore both Deuteronomy 4 and Deuteronomy 12. Why are they not offered as refuting texts against modern day prophecy? The reason they do this is because it is not possible to proof-text Moses like they do Agur. The reason they make their eisegetical mistake is that they are not reading the passage systematically or in the original Hebrew.

"Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.”

The word translated as “words” in Proverbs 30:5-6
is dabar. This is the same Hebrew word which is translated as “commandments” in Deuteronomy 4:2. Which means, we may also render Proverbs 30:5 in this way, “Do not add to his commandments, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.” Reading Proverbs 30 that way makes it impossible to import the meaning that it is typically given when dabar is translated as “words”. When Proverbs 30 is approached without its context and without an understanding of the original language the uninformed reader imports “Word” (Bible), in place of “words” and error is introduced.

Revelation 22: I believe that the same thing holds true for John’s usage of Deuteronomy as it does for Agur’s. He was quoting Moses. However, given the literary genre which John was writing in makes this Mosaic quote far more powerful and significant. In the wisdom literature Agur was merely quoting Moses but John was establishing that his testimony was equal with Moses’ testimony. In other words, John was declaring his writing Holy Scripture.

So you see, these passages, Proverbs 30 and Revelation 22, may not be used as a polemic against those who prophecy today, that is unless by their prophecy they are adding new meaning to the Scripture. What is ironic about this whole misapplication of Scripture is that those who misinterpret the “don’t add or subtract” passages find themselves far closer to violating this command than those who they are attempting to correct.

Solus Libri - The 6th Sola

Most are aware of the 5 Solas which were a product of the Protestant Reformation. They are Sola scriptura ("by Scripture alone"), Sola fide ("by faith alone"), Sola gratia ("by grace alone"), Solus Christus ("Christ alone"), and Soli Deo gloria ("glory to God alone"). The 6th Sola (which I have just coined) on the other hand is not a product of the Reformation but of those who allow their tradition to interpret the text. Their mishandling of the Doctrine of Sufficiency has unfortunately led them down a path of rejecting the Gifts of the Spirit and believing that the revelation of God is limited to paper and ink.

By the way, Solus Libri, in case you were wondering means (“by a Book alone”)
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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

You Can’t Have Your Cake and Eat it Too

I’ve been thinking a lot about my latest blog entry since posting it last night. Specifically about those who would reject the continuationalist position yet are willing to say that it might be possible that God may have actually spoken to James King.

Check out the following video for an example of what I am talking about; pay particular attention to 2:31 – 2:44.

Notice that the host, Todd Friel, is quick to say that “[God’s] revelation to us is done. We don’t get that type of revelation anymore.” in one breathe and in the next asks, “Could it have happened?” Does that sound right to you; is Todd’s question in keeping with his previous statements? Either Todd misspoke or he is unaware that his question is inconsistent with his position on Biblical Sufficiency. I tend to think he meant what he said because of comments he made earlier on the Wretched Radio program. Listen here.

Todd goes on to respond to his own question, ”Of course God could have...” but qualifies his answer by pointing out that God speaking to men in this age would “absolutely” and “positively” not be normative.

Clearly, the problem with this position is that if it could be demonstrated that we have evidence of even one instance of extra-biblical revelation, this side of the closing of the canon, then the door to the contuationalist position is flung wide open and Todd’s position is defeated. Whether that revelatory communication is normative or not makes no difference, Todd’s stance cannot afford for it to happen even once. So, Mr. Friel is left with a decision, he must either demand that God did not speak to James King or he must reassess both his view of Sufficiency and pneumatology.
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Monday, April 19, 2010

Does James King Trump the King James?

What an amazing story of a miraculous rescue! While every Christian celebrates Nadia Bloom’s rescue there are many within the evangelical world who have their doubts about what James King allegedly heard or experienced this past week in that Florida swamp.

According to Mr. King, in an interview with Meredith Vieira on the Today television program, Nadia’s rescue was the direct result of his hearing and response to the voice of the Almighty.

“It was very rough. I was prepared. I’ve been in swamps,” said King, who took a GPS device, two cell phones, a Bible, a machete, water, trail mix and a nutrition drink with him. “The Lord told me to follow where the sunrise was, so I went directly east — as much as you can go direct in a swamp.

“I would call, ‘Nadia?!’ and then I’d be praying and talking to the Lord, and the Lord would be directing me. And then one time I said, ‘Nadia?’ and I heard, ‘What?’”

As of this writing I have yet to hear or read an interview in which Mr. King explains exactly how he was “told” to find 11 year-old Nadia. Was it a feeling, a prompting, did he have a vision, or did he actually hear the audible voice of God? These are questions that are yet to be answered. Ultimately his explanation of the method of communication would be inconsequential. For no matter how Mr. King explains it people will still ask, “Did it really happen?” and “Does God speak to people today and does He speak outside of His Word?”

Those who would answer, “No, it did not happen.” and “No, God does not do that.” mount their defenses in the stronghold of the Doctrine of Sufficiency and find their support in the Holy Scriptures. Most often the verses that are used as a proof for this position are 2 Timothy 3:16-17.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

The argument that is offered is as follows: If the inspired Scriptures are profitable for every good work, as Paul tells Timothy, then there is no longer any need for God to speak outside of them; since we now have the Scriptures in their entirety they and they alone are all that is needed to make one wise for salvation and righteous living.

So how do those who hold this position, that the closing of the Canon of Scripture silenced God’s voice, respond to stories like this most recent one? I suppose that one might get a hundred different answers from a hundred people asked, anything from “King is delusional!” to “He was listening to a demon.” but there is one answer (which may assume delusion or the demonic) that I hear quite frequently when this topic comes up and it is this specific objection that I would like to address. Invariably, whenever someone claims to have received a message from God, whether it was an audible voice or they simply felt His leading, a skeptic somewhere down the line will inevitably and sarcastically object, “Well, if you heard God speak then you had better write it down and staple it to the back of Revelation.” The point of the remark, of course, is that if God is still speaking to men today then the Canon of Scripture remains open. That is, at least according to their rendering of 2 Timothy 3:16-17.

So, is this true? Does James King’s claim that God communicated with him directly and outside of the Bible contradict the Doctrine of Sufficiency? I don’t think it does.

What I think is often missed when approaching this topic is that not all things that are received by direct revelation carry equal theological weight. One revelation may bear immense theological significance while another may carry little to none whatsoever. Those revelations which carry the most weight I will call inspired Scripture; they are in a class all by themselves and are no longer given. Those revelations which carry less theological weight could be thought of as a reiteration of Scripture or an expression of a scriptural principle that is encouraging or exhortative in nature. These revelations, I believe, are ongoing and given by the Spirit of Christ, however, they will never present novel theology. Those revelations which are non theological could be considered strategic for one’s personal affairs or for corporate direction. Therefore, (leaving Scripture out of the equation) not all revelation is necessary for the Church Universal.

I believe that the faulty logic of the cessationist’s accusation, that prophecy violates Sola Scriptura, may be demonstrated in a couple of ways. First, we do not have all prophecy ever delivered. Why not? If all divine revelation is to be inscripturated then what does one do with those prophecies that were never written down? And second, we see that some prophecy contained in Scripture was personally specific and strategic in nature; these revelations were intended for one or two people and held no bearing on the rest of the Church.

First Objection:

If all “alleged” prophecies which are delivered in this age must be considered on a level playing field with inspired Scripture, as the cessationist flippantly argues, then what is one to do about the possibility of the many thousands of unrecorded prophecies that were received in ages past and which are assumed by an examination of Scripture? I believe that these are questions that the cessationist must answer. Let me explain, we know for instance that there were numerous prophets both named and unnamed in the Old and New Covenant Scriptures yet we have no record of what they actually prophesied. Here are a few examples: There were 70 elders assembled about the Tabernacle in Numbers 11, what did they prophesy? How about Saul, what utterance did he give as he prophesied amongst a group of prophets at Gibeah in 1 Samuel 10? What did those prophets with whom Saul was assembled say? What about Agabus, what did he prophesy outside of what was recorded by Luke? What about Philip the Evangelist's four daughters who prophesied, what did they share and why do we not have any record of their divine revelation? Or what of all the prophecies that were received by those in the 1st Century church before the Canon was closed? Certainly there was divine revelation given to those prophets who were given to the Church and distributed throughout the Body of Christ? So you see, the person who argues that every revelation or prophesy given by God today must be canonized has to account for a thousand revelations that were not recorded yesterday.

Second Objection:

Not all prophetic utterances that we see in Scripture are theological. For instance, what were the theological implications from Agabus' prophecy that there would be a famine in the Roman Empire? How did such a strategic revelation of a famine confirm or expand previous understanding of established doctrine? What about Agabus’ prophecy that Paul would be arrested in Jerusalem? What does that revelation have to do with me living in Tacoma, Washington today? Nothing…it has nothing at all to do with me. These prophecies, while they inform our theology on how the Spirit dealt with and directed the burgeoning Church, contain no theology themselves and are relevant only to those who received them. While one never wishes to argue from what is not written, it is hard to imagine that these prophecies recorded in Acts are all that were ever received by those who were given a prophetic grace.

Okay, considering all that I have written about unaccounted for prophecies, revelation of varying theological degree, and utterances of a strategic nature one needs only to ask themselves if there is room in their Doctrine of Sufficiency for the presence of God’s extra-biblical voice today. I think that it is clear that God speaking to men today, no matter the form of communication, does not encroach upon the sufficiency of God’s Word. We absolutely have everything we need for life and godliness in the Bible. However, it remains the prerogative of the Spirit to speak to whom He wishes to speak, when He wishes to say it, how He decides to deliver it, and to do it without contradiction.

It is for these reasons that I absolutely believe that God responded to James King’s request to direct him to Nadia Bloom. If you disagree and you believe that 2 Timothy 3:16-17 limits God’s children to receiving absolutely everything we need from the Bible, then I’d like to know which verse you might have chosen to navigate that swamp?
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