DID JESUS BREAK THE SABBATH LAW?

In John 5 one finds a puzzling statement that seems to suggest that Jesus broke the Sabbath law.  Upon healing a man at the pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath (John 5:1-15), Jesus’ actions stirred intense anger amongst the Pharisees. John 5:18 reads, “Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him because he not only had broken the Sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God” (KJV). Now if Jesus broke the Sabbath law in John 5, he also broke it on several other occasions when he healed individuals on the Sabbath. Jesus healed on the Sabbath Simon Peter’s mother-in-law (Mark 1:29–31), the man with a withered hand  (Mark 3:1–6), the man born blind  (John 9:1–16), a crippled woman (Luke 13:10–17), a man with dropsy at a Pharisee’s house (Luke 14:1–6), a demon-possessed man in Capernaum (Mark 1:21–28), and the incident before us in John 5.

We know from Scripture that Jesus fulfilled the Law of God perfectly in all areas while on earth. He never violated one jot or tittle of God’s perfect Law, which would have included keeping the instructions involving observance of the Sabbath (Matthew 5:17-19). Before giving a more detailed explanation, a short answer to whether or not Jesus broke the Sabbath law is that Jesus did not break the Sabbath law but only the Pharisee’s interpretation of what was meant by Sabbath-keeping.

Context of John 5

As Jesus was in Jerusalem, he passed by the pool of Bethesda. The Master’s compassionate eyes spotted a man who had been lame for thirty-eight years. He was destined to spend his days hoping for a miracle. Jesus commanded the man to take up his bed and walk, which the man did. The fact that Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath, so infuriated the Pharisees they begin to “persecute Jesus and sought to kill him, because he had done these things on the Sabbath day” (John 5:16). To add fuel to the fire, in Jesus’ subsequent discussion with the Pharisees on his healing on the Sabbath, the Jews were enraged even further as they interpreted some of Jesus’ remarks as making himself equal with God. So Jesus had two accusations hurled at him: that he had broken the Sabbath law by healing on the Sabbath and blasphemy because he had made himself equal with God (John 5:18). While Jesus is equal with God, the question before us is how should the accusation that Jesus broke the Sabbath law be understood?

The Purpose of Sabbath-Keeping

When God gave Moses the Ten Commandments he gave the Israelites clear instructions in regard to observing and honoring the Sabbath. On the Sabbath the Jews were to rest, remembering that in six days the universe was created by God and that on the seventh day he rested. The Sabbath was not to be a burden, but (1) was to be a sign of the Mosaic Covenant (Ex. 31:13), (2) a time when the people were to focus on their relationship with God and after a busy week of working, engage in a time of reflection upon the Father’s love, mercy and bountiful blessings to His people, and (3) was a picture of the coming rest of salvation found in the promised Messiah and a future rest in Heavenly Canaan (Hebrews chapters 3 and 4).  God gave specific instructions in the Torah how the Sabbath was to be observed. The Sabbath was for the purpose of benefiting the people, not to be a burden.  However, as the years went by, the religious leaders sought to expand upon the instructions of God regrading Sabbath-keeping, until the focus was no longer on one’s relationship with God and his fellow man but one’s relationship to keeping burdensome man-made traditions and rules.  

The Pharisees and Sabbath-Keeping

By the time of Jesus, Sabbath-keeping was a cumbrance burden rather than being a benefit in the aid of drawing one closer to the Lord and giving rest to one physically, emotionally, and spiritually. To clarify the instructions in the Torah, the Jewish religious leaders created thirty-nine separate categories of what was involved in “correct” Sabbath observance. Within those thirty-nine categories there were many sub-categories. In regard to observing the Sabbath the Mishnah lists these thirty-nine kinds of labor that were not allowed on the Sabbath. [1]   The first eleven dealt with the producing and preparing of bread: sowing, plowing, reaping, binding sheaves, threshing, winnowing, selecting, grinding, sifting, kneading, and baking. The next twelve dealt with the steps in the preparation of making clothing, from the shearing of sheep to the sewing of the garments. These were followed by seven steps in preparing a deer for use as food or for leather. Then followed instructions dealing with writing, building, kindling, extinguishing of fires, and how far one could journey on the Sabbath.

The man-made traditions were oppressive upon the people. A few examples from hundreds and hundreds of these oppressive “laws” will reveal their burdensomeness.  The writing under a painting or an image was not to be read on the Sabbath, for it might result in one turning to idols. [2]   Mud on a person’s clothing could be crushed by a person’s hand and then shaken off, but it could not be rubbed out of the garment. [3]   One could look into a mirror on the Sabbath if it was fastened to a wall, but one could not look into metal mirror not fastened to a wall because one usually removes straggling hairs with it. [4] One may not close the eyes of dead person on the Sabbath. [5]

In regards to healing on the Sabbath, a person could receive medical attention if there were danger to the person’s life; otherwise, healing would have to wait until another day other than the Sabbath.[6] Thus the problem with Jesus healing the man at the pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath; for since the man had been there so long and his life was not in danger, the Pharisees contended his healing could have waited until the next day! 

Jesus and the Law

It has already been established from Jesus’ words in The Sermon on the Mount that he came to fulfill every jot and tittle of the Law. Craig Keener states it well, “The claim that Jesus broke the law is not his but that of his opponents.” [7] It seems clear that the charge brought against Jesus that he had broken the Sabbath law, is not a comment by the Apostle John, but is rather an accusation brought by the Jews against Jesus for breaking their man-made traditions. While Jesus may have broken the Sabbath as was interpreted and understood by the legalistic Pharisees, he did not break the Sabbath as was intended by God. The Pharisees had taken what was meant for good, and made it a burden to where human needs could not be met and compassion extended.  Francis Moloney writes the Jews were “correct in suggesting that Jesus broke their understanding of the Law. Jesus is not abolishing the Sabbath; he is reinterpreting it in terms of his relationship to the Father.”[8] Jesus sought to elevate the law to a new level and demonstrate to the Jews the spirit of the Law which they had forgotten…love toward God and one’s fellow man. The Sabbath was given by God to benefit people and to glorify God. The Pharisees did just the opposite. Their man-made traditions stifled a vital relationship with God and blinded them to compassion needed for their fellowman.  In Jesus disregarding their Sabbath traditions and understanding of Sabbath-keeping, he fulfilled the Sabbath law by meeting human need with divine compassion and bringing glory God.  

Blessings,

Dr. Dan

NOTES

[1] Shabbath 7.2, Soncino ed. of the Talmud, 348, 349

[2] Ibid, 65.

[3] Ibid, 16-18.

[4] Ibid, 16.

[5] Ibid, 13.

[6] Ibid, 77,

[7] Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary, two volumes (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003), 1:646.

[8] Francis J. Moloney, The Gospel of John Sacra Pagina Vol. 4 (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1998), 174.

WHAT IS THE “FALLING AWAY” IN HEBREWS 6?

When it comes to attempting to give understanding to difficult biblical passages, Hebrews 6:1-12 would be at the top of the list of verses, taxing the exegetical capabilities of most expositors.   Of Hebrews chapter six, theologian R.W. Dale writes, “I know how this passage has made the heart of many a good man tremble. It rises up in the New Testament with a gloomy grandeur, stern, portentous, awful, sublime, as Mount Sinai when the Lord descended upon it in fire, and threatening storm­-clouds were around Him, and thunderings and lightnings and unearthly voices told that He was there.”[1]  

The number of interpretations which have been given in seeking to explain these verses for the purpose to help enlighten the student of Scripture, rival the number of stars in the heavens! It is not the intent of this writer to examine the various interpretations that have been put forth, one can find those interpretations elsewhere. Plus, it would take more pages to examine each one than the reader has time to read. The purpose here is a narrow one: to attempt to explain the interpretation that is the most satisfactory to this writer. May it be said, of the most acceptable interpretations of these verses each have their strong points, as well as their weak ones. In difficult passages, an expositor, through diligent study, arrives at an interpretation which doesn’t contradict Scripture, that seems to best fit the context, and seems most satisfactory in the scope of Spiritual understanding. One must admit, one’s Calvinistic or Arminian leanings often colors one’s approach of interpretation.  With all that said, let’s seek to dive into the deep waters of this inspired text.

It is always important to examine the meaning of a passage in its context. To do otherwise can take one down a rabbit trail to paths unknown! It would prove beneficial in one’s understanding of the verses under consideration, to examine the audience to whom the author is writing and some background information that leads up to the text undertaken.

The author’s audience are Hebrew Christians who have made a profession of faith in Christ, but are struggling with lapsing back into Judaism and the sacrificial system. This indicates that Hebrews was written before 70 A.D., before the Temple was destroyed by the Roman General, Titus. Of course, no doubt there were others being addressed, such as those on the verge of making a decision for Christ. In leading up to chapter 6, the author is exhorting these Hebrew Christians not to revert back into an imperfect system that was types and shadows, when Christ is the perfect sacrifice and the fulfillment of the types and shadows the sacrificial system foreshadowed.

Like a skilled debater, in leading up to chapter 6 the author seeks to logically show the supremacy and superiority of Christ over the prophets, angels, Moses, Joshua, and the Levitical priesthood. To these Hebrew Christians, the author is addressing their stunted spiritual growth, and as chapter 5 comes to a close (5:11-14), it is clear he is addressing Christians.  He encourages them to press on to maturity. The author desires to teach them deep truths but they are “dull of hearing” (5:11).  The Greek word is nothros, meaning sluggish, lazy, that which has lost its excitement, has lost its momentum.[2] Their problem was not an imperfect or inadequate message or empty teaching, but their own “dull” hearing. The author tells them they ought to be teachers by now, but instead they are still being taught and stuck on the ABCs of the faith (5:12). The author also tells these Hebrew Christians they should be chewing on strong biblical “meat” but instead they are still drinking milk, which is the mark of babyhood or one who has yet to mature in the faith (5:12-13). In no uncertain terms the author tells them they are still babes (5:13) and they need to grow to mature faith (5:14). They were yet “unskilled” (5:13), the Greek word apeiros meaning they were lacking adequate skill or knowledge, inexperienced, inadequate, ignorant.[3]  The readers were saved, but they were not growing into adulthood as Christians.  

As the reader comes to chapter 6, the author continues exhorting them to move on from being “unskilled” in the “ABCs” of the faith to “perfection” or maturity (6:1). It is clear the author is emphasizing from Hebrews 5:11 to 6:12, Christian fruitage resulting from growth in Christ. That the author is talking to Christians is evident, as he includes himself in those he is writing, using the pronouns “us” and “we” (6:1, 3). A.C. Kendrick writes, “In regard to the condition of spiritual maturity the writer exhorts his readers [in chapter six] to hasten forward, and not linger among the elementary elements of the religious life. He alarms them with the possibility that their backsliding may become irretrievable, but assures them of his better and brighter hope for them.”[4]  They were not to continue laying again the foundation of truths already known such as “repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.” (6:1-2). In these first two verses the author is urging his readers “not to make a stop­over at the commencement of the Christian experience, but to press on into a life of maturity and fruitfulness.”[5]

We now come to the verses which have resulted in so many interpretations. 4 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame. (NKJV)

Is the author addressing here Christians or “almost” Christians? How one answers that question will determine one’s interpretation. This writer contends the author of Hebrews is addressing Christians. In describing the spiritual condition of those he is addressing, he speaks to four characteristic about them.

First, the author says they have been “once enlightened” (6:4). “Enlightened comes from the Greek verb photizo,  which means to give light to, light up, illuminate.[6]  This word photizo also occurs in Hebrews 10:32 where it speaks of the illuminating light from the Lord which “enlightened” the readers and brought about their spiritual regeneration. Those in 6:4 and 10:32 are being acted upon by the “light” from outside themselves; therefore, it seems clear the author is talking about those who have genuinely believed. As well, he says they were “once” enlightened, which is the word hapax, meaning the enlightenment was decisive and “once for all.”[7]   

Second, the author says they “tasted of the heavenly gift.” The word “tasted” comes from the word geuomai, which is often used to speak of one who “learns by experience, to experience something fully; by implication, to eat; figuratively, to experience.”[8] This same word is used in Hebrews 2:9 when it says Jesus “tasted death for every man.”  Jesus did more than just get a “taste” of death, he fully experienced it. It seems clear, the one’s being spoken of here fully experienced the “heavenly gift,” indicating they were true believers.

Third, the author says they “have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit.” Partakers is from the word metochous, which refers to a genuine sharing in or actual participation; a participation in something with someone or partners in a business.[9]  Duane Dunham writes, “In every case [in NT] it refers to an actual participation, a real sharing, not a mere assent or acquiescence to something.”[10] Once again, it seems clear these readers were more than almost-Christians but possessors of the Holy Spirit.

Fourth, the author says they “have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come.” Here again we find the word for “taste” is genuomai, referring to entering into and experiencing something in a real and vital way. These Hebrews Christians had witnessed and experienced the mighty “powers” that accompanied those first century Christians, those “powers” confirming to them the Word of God (Hebrews 2:2-4).[11]

It seems clear to this writer that the four characteristics described of the readers in 6:4-5 indicate those who were in danger of “falling away” were more than just professors of the faith who were not really saved, but those the author is describing are genuine and true believers. Not only were they genuine Christians, they had been in the faith for some time (5:12). They had been Christians long enough they should have been teachers. The problem was that instead of advancing in their faith and maturing in their Christian walk they had lapsed into state of arrested faith and regression. They were yet babes on milk, not “meat” and as a result were in danger of placing themselves in a “fallen away” state whereby it would be impossible to renew them to repentance.

What is meant by “if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame” (6:6)? Let us see if we can’t get to the heart of the matter of what the author is warning.

Throughout Hebrews the author warns against drifting away (Heb. 2:1; 3:12; 4:1, 11; 6: 4-6, 11-12), being like a ship that is not secured at the dock and is drifting on the open sea. He warns them to not be dull of hearing, to not be slothful. He has encouraged them about pressing onward to maturity, and cease being spiritual babes. He has implored them not to return to the types and shadows of the sacrificial system, and in so doing devaluing the once-and-for-all sacrifice of Jesus Christ. So, what are they warned to not “fall away” from?

It must be noted it does not say in the original text, “If they shall fall away” (6:6). It is better translated “and having fallen away” (kai parapesontas, from parapipto).[12] The word “fall away” has a variety of meanings. Parapipto comes from para alongside and pipto to fall; to fall alongside. Hence, came to mean to deviate from the right path, to wander; to swerve or deviate from; to stumble, to fall down.”[13]  Since the author quoted from the Septuagint, how did the LXX use parapipto? The Hebrew equivalent of parapipto is defined as “to act as an adulterous woman against her husband” (Numbers 5:12, 27); someone who has deviated from the right path in regard to their marriage vows.[14] In Ezekiel (14:13; 15:8; 18:24; 20:27) parapipto is used as “to act unfaithfully.”[15]  Hence, rather than denoting absolute religious apostasy, which many commentaries contend, the word papapipto, as used by the author of Hebrews, refers to an unfaithful act of sin toward the Lord.[16] 

What was the sin to which the author warns? From the context it seems they were drifting away from the word of Christ (2:1), a persistent sluggishness and lethargy to press on to maturity (5:11-6:2), and an avoidance of fellowship with other believers (10:25) for fear of persecution (10:32-34). Rather than total rejection of Christ, they faced the possibility of falling into a permanent state of immaturity through a willful disobedience and contentment to be spiritual babes.  By their not pressing on to maturity, but instead remaining spiritual babes, they would not be the fruitful Christians the Lord desired them to be. And as long as they were spiritual babes and not pressing onward toward maturity, and contemplating retuning to the Levitical sacrificial system, it would be impossible to restore them to the opportunistic moments of service and blessings resulting from a fruitful life and fruit the Lord had planned and desired for them to experience. It is clear one who doesn’t grow in their faith and remains in a state of babyhood and disobedience will lose opportunities of service and blessings that will be “impossible” to regain no matter how much one “repents.” The author will later use Esau (12:16-17), who sold his birthright for a bowl of soup, as an example of one who lost his opportunity and blessing to be the link in the chain of descendants through whom Christ would come into the world. Even though Esau “repented” and sought it with tears it was an opportunity that had passed and not “renewed” (6:6).  He valued something of greater value than the being in the genealogy of Christ, which he devalued.  The author is warning his readers that those who “fall away” by refusing to press on to maturity and a life of fruitfulness will miss blessings and opportunities that come with faithful obedience and continue growth in Christ.

In their immaturity, by the readers of Hebrews contemplating going back to the Levitical sacrificial system, “they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame” (6:6).  What does that mean? By returning to the sacrificial system, they were reducing Christ’s death to the level of a common criminal’s execution, instead of recognizing it as the once and for all sacrifice He was.[17]  By going back into the temple, they would devalue the sacrifice of Christ. A return to the Levitical system would not only devalue the sacrifice of Christ, it would in effect strip Christ’s death on the cross of redemptive value. Again, a return to the Levitical system would bring shame to Christ, “shamefully” declaring by their actions His death had no more value than anyone else’s death on the cross.[18]  J.B. Rowell insightfully writes, “In going back to the old sacrifices, they had fallen away from the only true foundation for Christian living, and as long as their minds were dominated by the traditions of the fathers, it was impossible to renew them unto repentance, or change of mind toward Christ and a fruitful life showing  forth His praise, ‘for other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ’” (1 Cor. 3:11).[19] A Christian life regressing and fruitless, is a life refusing to show forth His praise, a denying to Christ His rightful place of superiority in one’s life. A Christian’s life either crowns or crucifies Christ!

From the context this sin of unfaithfulness, this state of perpetual immaturity, does not appear to be the “sin” the readers had yet committed, though they were on the verge of it; thus, the warning. This is indicated by the author’s change in the personal pronouns used in verses 4-6. In the preceding verses (5:11-6:3) and the following verses (6:9-12), the author used the first person (“we”) and second person (“you”), but in verses 4-6 he changed to the third person (“those”). This change indicates the author did not regard his readers as having yet committed “having fallen away.”[20] 

Another indication the readers had not yet “fallen away” is that the author confidently says in verse 9, “But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak.” Again, the fact he calls them “beloved” confirms his readers are Christians, as he would not call unbelievers “beloved.” The author is expecting his readers not to “fall away” but to move on to maturity and produce “and bear herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God” (6:7). The author is persuaded his readers will cultivate and produce fruit and not “thorns and briers which will be rejected” (6:8).  The Greek word “rejected” is adokimous, meaning disapproved; used to speak of jewels or precious metals that have not withstood the test of genuineness.[21] As the author states, he is persuaded better things from his readers (6:9) and they will produce fruit that will be approved.  The whole context reveals that the author of Hebrews is not dealing with the question of their salvation, but with the Jewish believers maturing and producing fruit for the One who died for them.  By not “falling away” they will be like the ground that “brings forth” useful vegetation and they will “receive a blessing from God” (6:7).[22]  To not press on to maturity is to miss those blessings and opportunities for service that results from an obedient and fruitful life, and finds the believer producing prickly vegetation of thorns and thistles which are disapproved (6:8).

To further encourage his readers to press onward to maturity and fruitfulness, the author in the closing verses of Hebrews 6 (verses 10-20) tells his readers to keep pressing on to maturity and not to become discouraged in the face of persecution or ridicule. He tells them not to be “slothful” (v. 12), not to lose momentum in growing in Christ. He reminds them not to become discouraged because (1) the Lord has not forgotten their labors (6:10-12); (2) to not be discouraged because God promises are faithful and can be counted on (6:13-18; and, (3) to not be discouraged because their High Priest, Jesus, is their refuge, hope and their forerunner who has opened for them the doorway into the very presence of the Father (6:19-20).

Conclusion

It is evident to this writer that Hebrews six, when taken in context, serves as a warning and an encouragement for believers to continue on to Christian maturity and fruitfulness. The chapter has nothing to do with whether or not one can lose their salvation or that the one’s mentioned in the chapter are only almost-Christians yet not real Christians. Every Christian knows from experience that is possible because of arrested growth to lose opportunistic blessings or chance for service that can be lost and no amount of “repentance” will renew those opportunities. That is the reason for the warning and the exhortation to continually abide in Christ and be a fruitful Christian for our Savior.

While the interpretation of Hebrews 6 as presented here may not answer every question the serious Bible student may have in regard to this perplexing chapter, this writer contends it fits the context, doesn’t contradict Scripture as some interpretations seem to do, challenges and warns the Christian not to remain stagnant in one’s faith,  to press forward in spite of obstacles to maturity and a fruitful life whereby the Christian will experience the opportunities the Lord has for those who grow in Him, and honors and lifts up the once-and-for-all Sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

May each of us cast aside slothfulness, abide in He who is our Vine (John 15), and produce fruit worthy of our profession and which will honor our Savior.    

Blessings,

Dr. Dan

 

ENDNOTES

[1] R.W. Dale, Hebrews, (Boston: Gould and Lincoln, 1871), 118.

[2] Walter Bauer, William F. Arndt, and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 2d ed., rev. F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), 547.

[3] Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, abridged ed. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1979), 80.

[4] A.C Kendrick, Hebrews, (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publishing, 1889), 75.

[5] J.B. Rowell, “Exposition of Hebrews Six: An Age-Long Battleground,” Bibliotheca Sacra 94 (July­Sep., 1937), 6.

[6] Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich, A Greek English Lexicon of the NT  and Other Early Christian Literature, 873

[7] G Abbott-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament (Edinburgh Clark, 1937), 44 

[8] J Behm, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich (Grand Rapids Eerdmans, 1964), 1 675-77

[9] H Hanse, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 2 (1964) 828-32

[10]  Duane Dunham, An Exegetical Examination of the Warnings in the Epistle to the Hebrews,  (Grace Theological Seminary: 1974), 163.

[11] Zane C. Hodges, “Hebrews,” in John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (eds), The Bible Knowledge Commentary, 2 Vols (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, SP Publications, 1983),794.

[12] W Michaelis, “παραπίπτω, in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 6 (1968) 171.

[13] Liddell and Scott, A Greek English Lexicon, 526.

[14] Randall C. Gleason, “The OT Background of the Warning in Hebrews 6:4-8,” Bibliotheca Sacra 155 (January-March, 1998), 62-91.

[15] Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Oxford: Clarendon, 1903), 591.

[16] W Michaelis, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 6 (1968), 171.

[17] Gleason, “The OT Background of the Warning in Hebrews 6:4-8,” 62-91.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Rowell, Exposition of Hebrews Six, 9.

[20] Robert Gromacki, Stand Bold in Grace, (Kress Christian Publications, 2003), 110.

[21] Rowell, Exposition of Hebrews Six, 9.

[22] Gleason, “The OT Background of the Warning in Hebrews 6:4-8,” 62-91

DID PAUL ERR WHEN HE AGREED TO SPONSOR FOUR JEWISH MEN TAKING A NAZARITE VOW?

If one was asked to name a New Testament Christian who is revered and respected for their faith, who is held in high esteem for their sacrifices in the spread of the Gospel, and serves as an inspiration and example of faithful perseverance in the face of persecution, the Apostle Paul would be the name that would most likely roll-off the lips of most people. Paul is considered one of the heroes of the faith. While the New Testament record is clear regarding the hardships and sacrifices Paul made during his missionary journeys, the esteemed Apostle was, like every Christian, a sinner saved by grace. Like us all, Paul had weaknesses of the flesh.

We see an impatient Paul when dealing with John Mark. On Paul’s first missionary journey John Mark is accompanying Paul and Barnabas. The hardships encountered were more than he could bear, so John Mark heads back home (Acts 15:38). Later, when Paul and Barnabas were about to begin their second missionary journey, Barnabas insists on taking John Mark again (Acts 15:37). Paul vehemently disagrees. The contention between Barnabas and Paul was of such a divisive nature that Paul and Barnabas parted ways, with Paul teaming up with Silas and Barnabas teaming up with John Mark (Acts 15:39-40). Years later Paul realizes he may have been a little hasty in his estimation of John Mark, and in his letter to Philemon calls him “a fellow worker” (v. 24). With a conciliatory tone Paul urges Timothy when he visits him to bring John Mark with him, “for he is profitable to me for the ministry” (2 Tim. 4:11). Like us all, Paul at times battled passionate emotions and made decisions not all would agreeably celebrate.

One such decision Paul was faced with in Acts 21 has left many readers of the Acts of the Apostles scratching their heads as to whether or not the esteemed Apostle made the right decision. The question that is often raised in Acts 21 is did Paul make a mistake or did he sin when he submitted to the suggestion of James that he [Paul] join four Jewish men who had taken a Nazarite vow and were still adhering to customs and rituals of the Torah or Mosaic Law?

A little background information will prove beneficial in gaining understanding to what led to Paul joining the four men who had taken a Nazarite vow. Dr. Luke records in Acts 21 Paul’s return to Jerusalem after this third missionary journey. Upon his return, fellow believers received Paul and his companions gladly (Acts 21:17). Luke writes, “And the following day Paul went in with us unto James and all the elders were present; And when [Paul] had greeted them, he declared particularly what things God had accomplished among the Gentiles by his ministry. And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord…” (Acts 21:18-22a).

James and the elders rejoiced with Paul that his mission had been blessed of the Lord with such success; however, they inform him there is a “rumor” that is circulating among the “thousands” of Jews who had become believers in Christ that Paul encourages forsaking the teachings and customs of Moses. Though a multitude of Jews had been saved, they had not come to a full actualization that the shadows represented by the Mosaic Law had been perfectly fulfilled in Christ. A myriad of these Jewish believers still circumcised their children and still observed various customs of the Mosaic Law. Paul is informed that once these Jews learn he is in Jerusalem, they will desire an adequate answer to the circulating rumors.  Luke’s record reads, “And they said to him, ‘You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law; but they have been informed about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs. What then? The assembly must certainly meet, for they will hear that you have come.’” (Acts 21:20b-22).

 Let it be noted that Paul was not insensitive to the deep convictions of his Jewish kinsmen. The Apostle even had Timothy circumcised in order to prevent him from being an offense to the Jews (Acts16:3) and that by having him circumcised more doors would open for him.  What Paul was opposed to was adhering to any part of the Law in hopes by its observance one can find justification before a holy God or teaching the Gentiles they must become “Jews” before they can be saved. There is no indication from the text that James and the elders agreed with what the “rumor” was contending, yet they felt the issue needed to be addressed.  

In an effort to squelch any dissension from arising, James and the elders make a suggestion to Paul. Evidently James and the elders had worked out a solution among themselves a means whereby Paul could by example demonstrate that he was not an enemy of the Mosaic Law.[1] Luke informs the reader of their suggested solution to defusing the situation: “Therefore do what we tell you: We have four men who have taken a vow. Take them and be purified with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads, and that all may know that those things of which they were informed concerning you are nothing, but that you yourself also walk orderly and keep the law. But concerning the Gentiles who believe, we have written and decided that they should observe no such thing, except that they should keep themselves from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality.” (Acts 21:23-25). They assure Paul that their suggestion was not a reversal of the Jerusalem Conference’s decision as found in Acts 15 regarding the Gentiles, but proactive action needed to be taken to keep peace.

There were four Jewish men who had taken a vow, most assuredly a Nazarite vow. It was suggested to Paul that he identify himself with them, pay their temple fee, and purify himself along with them. If Paul would do this, James and the elders felt it would defuse what could become a volatile situation and show that Paul was “walking orderly and keeping the law” (Acts 21:24). Richard Longenecker writes, “In effect, they were saying to Paul, ‘We can accept this gift from the churches and so identify ourselves openly with your Gentile mission, if you will join with these men and identify yourself openly with the nation.’ Thus, they were protecting themselves against Jewish allegations while at the same time affirming their connection with Paul and his mission.”[2]  

Paul agreed to the suggestion. Luke writes, “Then Paul took the men, and the next day, having been purified with them, entered the temple to announce the expiration of the days of purification, at which time an offering should be made for each one of them” (Acts 21:26). It might be noted, since Paul had recently been in Gentile territory, he would have been viewed as ceremonially “unclean,” hence would have needed additional purification in order to partake with the other four.[3]  

One taking a Nazarite Vow took a “special vow” that a Jewish person could make to “dedicate himself to the LORD” (Num. 6:2). Josephus mentions the practice of the Nazarite Vow in his writings.[4]   One who took such a vow would voluntarily give up wine, grapes, raisins, haircuts, and going near dead bodies (Num. 6:3-6). After he grew out his hair, he was to bring a one-year-old lamb and one ram (Num. 6:14). He would also bring food, grain, and drinks to offer (Num. 6:15). Then the priest would offer his offering before the Lord (Num. 6:16). Afterwards, the man would shave his head and offer hair on the fire (Num. 6:18). He would receive back some of the sacrifice (Num. 6:19). The rest of the sacrifice was to be a “wave offering” before God (Num. 6:20). How much Paul involved himself in the all that was involved Luke doesn’t say. Regarding the sacrifice made, it is important to understand that this was not in any way for an offering for the purpose of atonement. Paul clearly understood only the sacrifice of the Christ of the cross can atone for sin. Not every sacrifice in the Jewish system was for atonement; many were for thanksgiving or consecration, as this one was.[5] Also, he would not have been involved in all that was required by those who took the vow because “the minimum period for a Nazarite was thirty days and only seven were involved here” (v. 27).[6]

Here is where the perplexing and sticky question arises: Why would Paul, knowing that the Mosaic system was obsolete, agree to the suggestion of James and involve himself in a purification ritual and an offering being offered for every one of them (v. 26)?  Did Paul violate his own teachings by identifying himself with the vow of these four men? Did Paul exhibit hypocrisy when it appears he did that which he scolded Peter for doing in Galatians 2? Did Paul make a mistake or err in appeasing the Jews? Did Paul sin in yielding to the pressured suggestion of James and the elders? 

In view of the brevity of Luke’s account, no suggestion offered for Paul’s actions is free from difficulty. While it is impossible to know beyond doubt the motives of Paul; however, four observations are considered which can help shed light on this difficult issue.

First, Paul’s actions were a matter of expediency. James and the elders saw a volatile situation that needed defusing, and only Paul could defuse it. Paul was excited as he shared the good news of his missionary successes, and didn’t want that excitement to subside on a misunderstanding. That being the case, his actions may have been for the purpose of keeping a tense situation from becoming worse. Paul clearly did not adhere to any promotion of the Mosaic Law providing man with justification, and knowing that they were living in a transition period when the various elements (civil and ceremonial) of the Mosaic system were passing away and not wanting to be a stumbling block to Jewish believers who were transitioning away from the Law, and not wanting a tense situation to grow worse, one could see how Paul’s actions could be viewed as an exercise of wisdom in seeking to keep unnecessary disputes from arising. As stated previously, we see an example of expediency in Paul having Timothy circumcised.

Let it be added, if the intent of James and the elders, and Paul’s consent to their suggestion, was to keep peace, peace was not the result. “The Jews which were of Asia, when they saw Paul in the temple stirred up all the people and laid hands on him, crying out, Men of Israel, this is the man that teaches all men everywhere against the people and the law…” (Acts 21:27-28). While James and the elders had hoped for peace, “an interruption came from an unexpected quarter and overturned what seem so wisely planned in the interests of peace.”[7] Thankfully, Paul was delivered from the mob when he was arrested and was carried away by Roman soldiers where he was protected from the mob. If Paul’s actions were a matter of expediency, they failed.

Second, Paul’s actions were motived ethnically. Paul by paying the temple expenses involved was exhibiting unity and identifying ethnically with his Jewish brethren who had become believers in Christ. Longenecker clarifies, “To pay the charges for Nazarite offerings was considered an act of piety and a symbol of identification with the Jewish people.”[8]  Howard Marshall writes, “This was an accepted act of Jewish piety; Josephus relates that Herod Agrippa I directed many Nazirites to have their heads shaved, the implication being that he paid their expenses.”[9]  While the act in of itself was no salvific value to Paul, if he could connect ethnically with his Jewish brethren it would serve as doorway into their hearts with his love for his kinsman and open the door to teaching them a more excellent and accurate way (Acts 18:26). Paul, while his mission was first to the Gentiles, was always seeking ethnic solidarity with his Jews kinsman, seems to have performed a Nazarite Vow earlier. Luke records, “In Cenchrea he had his hair cut, for he was keeping a vow” (Acts 18:18). As Frank Goodwin has observed, “Paul’s conduct in this transaction was perfectly consistent with his previous teaching and practices”[10] With Jewish nationalism intense, James and the elders desired Paul to exhibit solidarity with his brethren.

Third, Paul’s actions were evangelistic. Knowing Paul’s burden for the Jews, the reason of his consent was his desire to win other Jewish brethren. Paul was willing to become all things to all men that he might win some. In his own words he stated, “To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (I Cor. 9:22). G. Campbell Morgan writes, “This was not the action of a man politic, expedient, and attempting to manipulate circumstances to prevent a breach of the peace, or a riot in Jerusalem. It was not the action of a man trying to save his own life. It was the action of a man who passionately and earnestly desired to do anything if by the doing of it he might deliver the message of his brethren and win them.”[11]   From reading Paul’s epistles, which provide an x-ray of his heart, there is no question the underlying motive of Paul’s actions would have been evangelistic.   

Fourth, Paul’s actions were erroneous. Many commentators contend that Paul yielded to the pressure of James and the elders and in so doing violated his own convictions. The entire venture seemed destined for disastrous failure from the start. William Kelly doesn’t mince words when he states, “It was a mistake!”[12] Morgan echoes the summation of Kelly, “This was a mistake on Paul’s part. He sought by accommodation, contrary to his own conviction, to gain an opportunity of testimony to his brethren, and he lost his opportunity. His brethren were not won. The teaching of this incident is that love must ever be loyal to truth. To sacrifice a principle for a moment in the hope of gaining an opportunity to establish it afterward is always to fail. We never win an opportunity that way.”[13]  As Matthew Henry summarized, “It is true, this compliance of Paul’s sped ill to him, for this very thing by which he hoped to pacify the Jews did but provoke them, and bring him into trouble.”[14]    

While God is Sovereign and even overrules one’s mistakes, the plan of James and the elders was not a success. The wise God overruled both their advice and Paul’s compliance with it to serve a better purpose than was intended, as the Gospel was advanced as a result.[15] If Paul was in error in his judgment in this incident, one needs to remember, if Peter could fail (Gal. 2), so could Paul. While Paul acquiescing to their suggestion resulted in him becoming a prisoner of Rome for most of the next five years, God used the incident as Paul wrote of the events that happened to him were for the furtherance of the Gospel (Phil. 1:12).

Conclusion

While the details that Luke supplies the reader (though limited) and from the results of Paul’s actions, one could easily conclude that Paul’s decision to consent to the suggestion of James and the elders was not the wisest decision the Apostle ever made. Adam Clarke has stated, “However we may consider this subject, it is exceedingly difficult to account for the conduct of James and the elders, and of Paul on this occasion. There seems to be something in this transaction which we do not fully understand.”[16]  The honest reader must confess there is not enough detail given about the nature of all that was involved in the “vow keeping” ceremony to make a decisive judgment about Paul’s decision. As well, the reader is not informed how much Paul was involved in the ceremony. As previously stated, Paul would not have been involved in all that was required by those who took the vow because “the minimum period for a Nazarite was thirty days and only seven were involved here” (v. 27).[17] Sometimes one can only make decisions on the information that is available at the moment, and that is what Paul did.  Whatever was Paul’s motive and involvement, one fact we can be certain of from all that we know about this hero of the faith, that underlying his decision was how the Gospel of Christ could be furthered. While Christian love must ever be loyal to truth, if one’s motive is to see others come to Christ then Paul is an example of how the Lord can even take what appears to be a “mistake” and use it for the furtherance of the Gospel. If one is to err in judging this incident, it is best to err on the side of respect and admiration for one of God’s most noble servants.  

Blessings,

Dr. Dan

ENDNOTES

[1] John B. Polhill, “Acts,” The New American Commentary Vol. 26, (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1992), 448.

[2] R.N. Longenecker, “The Acts of the Apostles,” Ed. F. E. Gaebelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts Vol. 9, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 520.

[3] Simon Kistemaker, Exposition of the Acts of the Apostles, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), 760. Also see Polhill, Acts, 449.

[4] Jewish War, 2.15.1, 313; Antiquities, 19.6.1, 293–94.

[5] Polhill, Acts, 449.

[6] Ibid, 450.

[7] Charles Ellicott, Ellicott’s Bible Commentary, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House,1971),  907.

[8] Longenecker, The Acts of the Apostles, 520.  

[9] Howard Marshall, Acts Vol. 5, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 364.

[10] Frank Goodwin, A Harmony of the Life of St. Paul, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1951), 121). 

[11] G. Campbell Morgan, Acts of the Apostles, (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1924), 486.

[12] William Kelly, Lectures introductory to the study of the Acts, the Catholic Epistles, and the Revelation,  (London: W.H. Broom, 1870), 164.

[13] Morgan, Acts, 486. 

[14] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary of the Whole Bible Vol. V, (New York: Fleming H. Revel Company, 1930), 278.

[15] Ibid., 278.

[16] Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Holy Bible Vol. V, (New York: T. Mason and G. Lane, 1825), 860.

[17] Polhill, Acts, 449.

 

MELCHIZEDEK: THE FORESHADOWING OF A GREATER REALITY

 (Writers Note: In my previous post MELCHIZEDEK: TYPE OR THEOPHANY?  I wrote on why I contend Melchizedek was a Christophany, he was a preincarnate appearance of Jesus Christ in the Old Testament. Of course, there are an equal number of biblical scholars who see Melchizedek as only a type of Christ. Someone asked me if I would write a post from the position of presenting Melchizedek as a type of Christ and Christ being the antitype or the fulfillment of what Melchizedek foreshadowed. I have always believed one can best articulate their own position on an issue if they understand the opposing position. While my position on who Melchizedek was/is  set forth in the last post, the following is written from the position that Melchizedek was the foreshadowing of a greater reality. The reader having then both sides can make up their own minds. – Dr. Dan)   

         Melchizedek bursts upon the pages of the Old Testament, like a refreshing breeze on a hot summer day. Found in Genesis 14, he appears to Abram (Abraham) after he had returned victorious, though weary, from the heat of battle. Genesis 14:18-20 reads, “And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God. And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all.

         The reader discovers Melchizedek was both a priest and a king, and Abram, recognizing his kingly and priestly character, gave him a tithe of all his “goods.”  However, he vanished from Scripture as quickly as he appeared, his name not reappearing again until Psalm 110, a Messianic Psalm.  In Psalm 110:4, the Lord promises, makes an oath, that the coming Messiah “will be a priest after the order of Melchizedek.” The Messianic Psalm and the author of Hebrews, by calling the Messiah/Christ a “high priest after the order of Melchizedek,” unites the qualities of both an expiatory priesthood and kingly majesty, which was different from the Levitical order where no priest could be a king.  

          The author of Hebrews takes the Old Testament passages (or lack thereof) regarding Melchizedek to skillfully and masterfully weave into a reasoned typological tapestry how the priesthood of Christ is outside the Levitical order, it is of a different sort.  The Levitical order only being imperfect types and shadows, a new order was needed to bring about fulfillment of the types and shadows. The author of Hebrews uses the mysterious priest-king to paint a vivid picture of the qualities and characteristics that would reside in priest-king Jesus Christ, establishing a new order superior to the Levitical order.   

          Ever since the ink on the Book of Hebrews first dried there has been a debate whether Melchizedek and Jesus were/are the same person. A case can be made either way. It can be argued convincingly that Abraham, after his victorious battle, met and gave honor to the preincarnate Christ. In like manner it can be argued convincingly that Melchizedek is a type of Christ, foreshadowing His eternal and perfect priesthood, which was outside the Levitical order.  While many able expositors contend Melchizedek was a Christophany, the purpose here is to give an examination of how the writer of Hebrews usage of Melchizedek was to depict him as a type of Christ.

          Melchizedek has already been mentioned in Hebrews 5:6-11, but here the author turns to a fuller treatment of the subject, based upon the historical account of Melchizedek in the OT. The focus of Chapter 7 is that the Aaronic priesthood was insufficient and that a priest, not of the line of Aaron, was needed. This “great” priest was to not be of the order of Aaron, but of Melchizedek.  A.C. Kendrick articulates well regarding the author of Hebrews using Melchizedek as a type of Christ, writing:

On Melchizedek’ s origin and history, the vail was evidently not intended to be lifted. Raised up for a special purpose, his origin and end shrouded in intentional obscurity, he was brought into personal contact with the father of the Jewish race, that when a change should be necessary in the Jewish priestly order their own annals might foreshadow and justify the proceeding in the exhibition of one before whom Abraham himself, and in him his priestly descendants, had bowed in homage. So at least God has used Melchizedek, and so we may presume he intended to use him, and that to this use the Old Testament narrative was adjusted. Whatever the sacred historian may have known, or not known, regarding Melchizedek’ s ancestry and historical relations, the Spirit of God that presided over the narrative caused just so much to be recorded as answered the purpose of his introduction. He was to be used simply as a type. It mattered not so much what he was as what he appeared.[1]

          In using the historical priesthood of Melchizedek as a type of Christ, the author of Hebrews is showing there is a priesthood older than the Levitical priesthood and of a different sort, whose qualification were different from the Levitical order based on one’s lineage.  In comparison, the priesthood of Christ is of a different sort from the Levitical priesthood, and transcends the qualifications of the old Aaronic order.

          The writer of Hebrews deals with known facts of the history of Melchizedek; and makes interpretation of the history with typological comparisons from it. Of the facts recorded in Genesis none are passed over, except the gift of bread and wine. Reaching back into Genesis 14 and Psalm 110, at the close of Hebrews chapter 6 the author says of Jesus that He has entered heaven, there to be our High Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.

6:17 Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: 18 That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: 19 Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; 20 Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.

          The focus of the author of Hebrews is to show that the Levitical order was insufficient and imperfect in dealing with man’s sin. What is needed is another order of priesthood outside the Levitical order. Found in Psalm 110, a Messianic Psalm, the Lord promises in 110:4 that the Messiah would establish a new order, one after the order of Melchizedek. The mysterious priest-king is used as a type of the coming Messiah, Jesus being the reality of what Melchizedek foreshadowed.  Yes, this priesthood was introduced by an oath of God: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind ‘You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek’.” God does not swear lightly. He did not introduce the Levitical priesthood that way. This was something new. Christ is the fulfillment the of High Priest, which the Lord took an oath to provide. The priesthood of Christ was not based on legal qualifications, but by an oath from God, who cannot lie.  

          The writer uses the priesthood of Melchizedek as a foreshadowing of Christ (7:1-3). He lifts out elements surrounding the person and character of Melchizedek that foreshadow what Christ would be and do in reality. The writer takes a historical person, and the revealed facts and at times from the lack of historical information (arguing from silence) about him to develop a type or a prefiguring of the kind of Priesthood that is needed to bring man into the presence of God.   The author’s method of exegesis, at times arguing from silence of facts, may seem odd to the Western mind, but biblical scholar Myles Bourke points out that “according to a principle of rabbinic exegesis, what is not mentioned in the Torah does not exist.”[2]  For the writer of Hebrews what is said about Melchizedek and what is not said about him are equally important!

          Richard Lenski writes, “The sudden way in which the scriptures draw back and close the curtain on Melchizedek is the divine way of making him a type of Jesus, the King-Priest, who like Melchizedek, stands alone and unique in his priesthood and is absolutely distinct from the long Aaronic succession of priests.”[3] So the author uses parallels drawn from the story of Melchizedek to highlight the uniqueness of Christ and that His sacrifice is superior and His priesthood is superior to the Levitical priesthood.  What was true of Melchizedek as a matter of historical record was true of Christ in a real and literal sense. His intent is to show the existence of another order of priesthood, older, superior and superseded both the Law and the Levitical priesthood. Again, the writer uses the priesthood of Melchizedek as a foreshadowing of Christ (7:1-3).

7 For this Melchisedec, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him;2 To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace;3 Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually.

          The author argues that Melchizedek, a priest-king, outside the Levitical order, possessed character traits that foreshadowed character traits that the promised Messiah would possess in perfection.  Five positive qualities emerge from the priesthood of Melchizedek: (1) it was a priesthood of righteousness, (2) a priesthood of peace, (3) a royal priesthood (for he was a king), (4) it was personal and not inherited because he has no recorded genealogy, and (5) having no record of birth or death, and his priesthood having no record of beginning or end – he is a picture, type, foreshadowing of what Christ would be and do in reality and with perfection. Melchizedek was a snap-shot of what Jesus would display and possess in perfection. And as Melchizedek was outside the order of the Levitical priesthood, so is the Messiah, Jesus Christ. 

          The author’s goal of stating that Melchizedek’s lineage is unknown is not to say that Melchizedek had no lineage (v. 3), but that it is not recorded and his linage was not the criteria for his priest-king position. His priesthood was not based on genealogy, which was important in the Levitical order.  The author’s point is that the priesthood of Melchizedek stands outside of the line of Levi and Aaron. For many of his original readers, this would have been a most difficult concept to grasp. The priesthood belonged to the Levites. It is almost as if the author wanted to make sure that his readers didn’t miss the point, “He has no genealogy and even if you wanted a genealogy, there is no father or mother recorded through whom to trace his lineage.” The Aaronic priesthood depended on genealogical descent; the priesthood of Melchizedek depended on personal qualifications alone. Melchizedek’s priesthood was based on what he was, not on what he had inherited by genealogy.     

          Melchizedek is used to establish the legitimacy and the dignity and superiority of Christ’s priesthood. Melchizedek is seen as “made like unto the Son of God” (Heb. 7:3). In other words, Melchizedek is the picture/photo of what Jesus is in reality. Those scholars who see Melchizedek as a type, see the phrase that he is like “unto the Son of God,” that Christ is after the counterpart of Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:14), indicating that Christ must be understood as the antitype of Melchizedek. The author makes all the things of Melchizedek’s life typical of certain things in the life of Jesus Christ, Christ being the full reality of what in Melchizedek is only a shadow.  A.B. Bruce explains well the phrase “made like unto the Son of God.” Bruce writes:

The intention is to suggest a parallel between Melchizedek and the Son of God in their respective relations to time. The Son of God as Son of man, like Melchizedek, had both a birth and a death; yet as Son of God He had neither beginning of days nor end of life. And Melchizedek is likened unto Him in this, that his life, so far as the record is concerned, is ” shrouded in the mystery of eternity.”[4]

          What is true of Melchizedek in type, that “he abides continually,” is true of Christ in reality.  There is no record that Melchizedek had neither predecessor nor successor in his office, he appearing to have a continual priesthood. What is said of Melchizedek in type, can be said of Christ in reality, that His priesthood abides continually. Melchizedek’s priesthood only gives an impression of being endless whereas that of Jesus is actually so.

4 Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils. 5 And verily they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the office of the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is, of their brethren, though they come out of the loins of Abraham: 6 But he whose descent is not counted from them received tithes of Abraham, and blessed him that had the promises. 7 And without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better.

          Melchizedek is an order of priesthood that predates the Levitical priesthood by some 400 years, thus it is superior to the Levitical order. Melchizedek priesthood to which Abraham, the father of the nation, gave tribute, paid tithes, and received a blessing. That Abraham paid tithes to him; therefore, Melchizedek was greater than Abraham and greater than his descendants, as they were in his loins.

8 And here men that die receive tithes; but there he receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth. 9 And as I may so say, Levi also, who receiveth tithes, payed tithes in Abraham. 10 For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchisedec met him.

          The idea is clear, Abraham’s descendants are identified in their forefather (corporate personality) and that therefore the Levitical order was in effect acknowledging the superiority of Melchizedek. Levi, who collected the tithe, paid the tithe through Abraham. This is a strange argument to those not familiar with corporate personality,[5] where neither the father nor the children are independent of each other. In Abraham’s payment of tithes to Melchizedek, Levi, and hence the whole order of his priesthood, paid tithes, as well. This reveals the superiority of the Melchizedek order.[6]  

          Bruce sums up the points in which Melchizedek was superior to the ordinary Levitical priesthood. (a) He received tithe from Abraham and was therefore superior to him. Abraham was one of the patriarchs; the patriarchs are superior to their descendants; therefore, Melchizedek is greater than the descendants of Abraham; the ordinary priests are the descendants of Abraham; therefore, Melchizedek is greater than they. (b) Melchizedek is greater than the sons of Levi because they exacted tithes by legal enactment but he did it as a right he personally possessed given to him by no man. (c) The Levites received tithes as mortal men; he received them as one who lives forever (Hebrews 7:8). (d) Levi, to whom the Israelites paid tithes, may be said to have paid tithes to Melchizedek, because he was Abraham’s grandson and was therefore in Abraham’s body at the time Abraham paid tithes.[7] Therefore, since Melchizedek predated the descendants of Abram and Levi’s descendants, there was a priestly order superior to the Levitical order.  

11 If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron?

          The Levitical order being an imperfect order, another new, perfect priestly order was needed. If the Levitical priesthood could have been sufficient to bring salvation to fallen man, there would have been no need for another. However, the imperfect Aaronic priesthood was dependent on genealogical descent; the priesthood of Melchizedek depended on personal and spiritual qualification alone. Melchizedek’s priesthood was outside the Levitical order, being a priest arising who could provide the perfect sacrifice for humanity.

12 For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law. 13 For he of whom these things are spoken pertaineth to another tribe, of which no man gave attendance at the altar. 14 For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Juda; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood 15 And it is yet far more evident: for that after the similitude of Melchisedec there ariseth another priest, 16 Who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life.

          Now there was the Aaronic order of priesthood from the tribe of Levi. To be a high priest in the nation of Israel under the law was, first you had to be from the tribe of Levi, and then of the Aaronic order. The Levitical priest was law-made, without reference to spiritual qualifications; the Messianic Priest becomes a priest because He had inherent spiritual fitness and an inherent right to the office. So, the writer is pointing out that this priesthood of Jesus, was of a higher order of priesthood than was the Aaronic order established under the law. It was outside the Levitical order and before the Law.     

17 For he testifieth, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec. 18 For there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof. 19 For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God. 20 And inasmuch as not without an oath he was made priest: 21 (For those priests were made without an oath; but this with an oath by him that said unto him, The Lord sware and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec:

          It is therefore the argument of the writer of Hebrews that what is needed is a new and a different priesthood and a new and effective sacrifice. He sees in Jesus Christ the only High Priest who can open the way to God; and he calls the priesthood of Jesus a priesthood after the order of Melchizedek. What his priesthood was in shadow, Christ’s priesthood is in reality.

         The author says in verse 18 that there is a “disannulling” or  a “setting aside” of the Levitical order, so as to bring in a better hope and order. The Greek word used here for “disannulling” or setting aside, is athetesis. The word athetesis was used for the official annulment of a decree, the cancellation of a debt owed, or the nullification of a will. Its usage here as a legal term is appropriate for the author’s argument about a change in the priesthood necessitating an annulling of the associated law regard the Levitical order.[8]

          The problem was that all the efforts of the Levitical priesthood and all the sacrifices could not restore man’s lost relationship with God. They only prefigured that there would come One who would be the final Lamb offered…who would accomplish what the Levitical priesthood could not.  It is therefore the argument of the writer of Hebrews that what is needed is a new and a different priesthood and a new and effective sacrifice. He sees in Jesus Christ the only High Priest who can open the way to God; and he calls the priesthood of Jesus a priesthood after the order of Melchizedek, which shall be forever.

22 By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament.

         Jesus became our “surety.” A “surety” was one who performed an act or a task in place of another person; a person who undertakes some specific responsibility on behalf of another who remains primarily liable.[9]  Jesus Christ is our “surety” doing for us what we could not ever do for ourselves. Jesus as our “surety” offered himself as the pledge to pay the debt of our sin on our behalf.  If the first covenant was sufficient, we would not need a “better testament.” The Greek word for “testament” is diatheke, which is a covenant not between two equals but where one of the parties is superior to the other![10]

23 And they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death: 24 But this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood. 25 Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.

          The Levitical order had many priests through the years, but none were able to offer a sacrifice sufficient to save one person. The Priesthood of Christ is eternal and unchangeable. The sacrifices of earthly priests could save no one, but the one sacrifice was/is sufficient to save all. The Levitical priests died, but Christ’s sacrifice is able to save all who will come unto him and he ever lives to make intercession on our behalf. The Levitical priests had to succeed one another because they kept dying (v. 23), but Jesus Christ needs no successor because He ever lives. Christ has an “unchangeable” (v. 24) priesthood that abides forever. The Greek word for “unchangeable” is aparabaton, which can mean permanent or untransferable.[11] The priesthood of Christ is permanent, unchanging, and is untransferable and will never pass to a successor.   As William Plumer has written, “Although the Lord Jesus Christ had many types, yet he had no predecessor; and he has none to succeed him, for he has an unchangeable priesthood.”[12] Christ need not transfer his priesthood to another for His work is complete, his sacrifice perfect in its offering and acceptance before the Father.  

26 For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; 27 Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people’s: for this he did once, when he offered up himself.

          The point of contrast is here clear, Christ has not need, like the Levitical priests, to offer sacrifices for his own sins at all; for he has none; nor like them to offer sacrifices for the people day by day, or repeatedly; for his one offering is forever sufficient. The problem was that all the efforts of the Levitical priesthood and all the sacrifices could not restore that lost relationship. Matter of fact, the priests in the Levitical order had to make sacrifices for themselves. Each sacrifice made by all the priests only prefigured that there would come one day One who would be the final Lamb offered…who would accomplish what the Levitical priesthood could not.  It is therefore the argument of the writer of Hebrews that what is needed is a new and a different priesthood and a new and effective sacrifice. He sees in Jesus Christ the only High Priest who can open the way to God; and he calls the priesthood of Jesus a priesthood after the order of Melchizedek, whose One sacrifice of Himself was the perfect provision humanity longed for. The point of contrast here is clear, Christ has not need, like the Levitical priests, to offer sacrifices for his own sins at all; for he has none. Neither does Christ have to offer sacrifices for the people day by day, or repeatedly; for his one offering is forever sufficient.

28 For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was since the law, maketh the Son, who is consecrated for evermore.

          Under the old order every high priest was mortal, frail, and infirmed. The new priesthood was introduced by an oath of God: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind ‘You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek’.”(Ps. 110:4) God does not swear lightly. In Christ, His Son, we have a perfect priesthood.  What Christ is to His people, He will be to them forever.

          These last verses (vs. 26-28) summarizes the author’s argument in chapter 7: (1) Those who served in Levitical priesthood were appointed by the law, but the new priesthood has been appointed by the word of a sworn oath.  (2) The law which appointed men to the Levitical priesthood was superseded by God’s oath which was given after the law. (3) The Levitical priesthood consisted of frail men, but the new priest is the eternal Son. (4) The Levitical priests are characterized as having to continually make sacrifices, but the Son has made One sacrifice, which is forever sufficient.[13]

          As Hebrews chapter 7 comes to an end, the writer’s masterful presentation of Melchizedek as a type of Christ concludes. He has clearly shown that in order for humanity to be provided with a priest who could offer the ultimate sacrifice for the sin of humanity, it must come from another order of priesthood other than the Levitical order. A.B. Bruce states, “It is a great thing for a people to have a Melchizedek at the fountain-head of its history, a man fitted by genuine holiness and righteousness to transact on behalf of his fellow-men with God.”[14] While Melchizedek serves as a type of the priestly order humanity needs, Christ is the reality and fulfillment of all the types and shadows Melchizedek represented.  O, what a Savior.

Blessings,

Dr. Dan

 

ENDNOTES

[1] A.C. Kendrick, Hebrews, (Philadelphia, Pa.: American Baptist Publication Society, 1889), 84.

[2]Myles Bourke, “Hebrews,” The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, eds. Raymond Brown & Joseph Fitzmyer (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990), 932.

[3]  R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews and the Epistle of James (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Publishing House, 1938), 213.

[4] A.B. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, (New York: Charles Scribner’s & Sons, 1899), 251.

[5]  William L. Lane, “Hebrews 1–8,” Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 47a (Thomas Nelson, 1991), 1:69.

[6] Donald Guthrie, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: Hebrews, (InterVarsity Press, 2009), 159-60.

[7] Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, 258-261.

[8] Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Hebrews, PNTC, (Eerdmans, 2010), 265.

[9] William Plummer, Commentary on Hebrews, (Grand Rapids, Mi.: Baker Book House, 1872), 300.

[10] Leon Morris, Hebrews, (Grand Rapids, MI.: Zondervan, 1981), 70.

[11] Bourke, Hebrews, 933.

[12] William Plumer, Commentary on Hebrews, (Randolph and Company, 1872), 302.

[13] O’Brien, Hebrews, 281

[14] Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, 254.

 

 

 

MELCHIZEDEK: TYPE OR THEOPHANY?   

When one reads the Book of Hebrews one discovers the inspired author sets forth the superiority of Christ over all earthly beings, the angelic order, and the Levitical priestly order. The author sets forth, like a skilled debater, Christ’s supremacy over the prophets, angels, Moses, Joshua, the Aaronic priesthood, and the Levitical sacrificial system. It matters not who or what one is depending upon for salvation, Christ is inarguably superior.

The author goes to great lengths in Hebrews 7 to describe Jesus as a superior priest to the Aaronic priesthood, being after the order of Melchizedek. While the Old Testament only mentions this mysterious priest/king in Genesis 14 and Psalms 110, the author of Hebrews uses Melchizedek to develop an extensive argument for the supremacy and superiority of Christ’s Priesthood. Opening comments to Hebrews 7, the able expositor G. Campbell Morgan writes:

The writer turns to the subject of the superiority of Christ to the priesthood of Levi. That priesthood had failed to perfect anything. The right of the Priesthood of the Son was vested with His own Personality. He had an endless life, and this implies the absolute perfection of His nature, and, consequently, the continuity of His Person. The superiority of the Priesthood of the Son consists in that through Him a better hope was given to men through which they might draw nigh unto God, and so ultimately realize perfection.[1]

Without question the author of Hebrews sees Christ as the fulfillment of the types and shadows of the Old Testament, He being the reality of all the OT foreshadowed. In Hebrews 7 Christ is described as a Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. In regard to Melchizedek, the commonly promoted view contends that Melchizedek was a type of Christ.  A.C. Kendrick, who ably advocated the view which identifies Melchizedek as a historical man who was a type of Christ, succinctly articulates the position held by many scholars.

On Melchizedek’ s origin and history, the vail was evidently not intended to be lifted. Raised up for a special purpose, his origin and end shrouded in intentional obscurity, he was brought into personal contact with the father of the Jewish race, that when a change should be necessary in the Jewish priestly order their own annals might foreshadow and justify the proceeding in the exhibition of one before whom Abraham himself, and in him his priestly descendants, had bowed in homage. So at least God has used Melchizedek, and so we may presume he intended to use him, and that to this use the Old Testament narrative was adjusted. Whatever the sacred historian may have known, or not known, regarding Melchizedek’ s ancestry and historical relations, the Spirit of God that presided over the narrative caused just so much to be recorded as answered the purpose of his introduction. He was to be used simply as a type. It mattered not so much what he was as what he appeared.[2]

While Kendrick supports the view held by a majority of expositors, other views have been advocated as to who this mysterious Melchizedek was/is. Two views which most scholars dismiss with varying degrees of comment is that Melchizedek was a Canaanite priest who worshiped a Canaanite god, and the other found in rabbinic literature identifying Melchizedek as Shem.[3] The other view receiving the most support, other than the one identifying Melchizedek as a historical man who was an actual type of Christ, is that Melchizedek was a Theophany/Christophany, an appearance of the pre-incarnate Christ.[4] For those seeking a detailed explanation of Melchizedek being a type of Christ, there are a myriad of commentaries which can be consulted. The purpose here is to give an examination of why this writer contends Melchizedek’s appearance before Abraham was the pre-incarnate Christ.

Before proceeding, a review of Melchizedek in the Old Testament would prove beneficial. We find two brief encounters with the mysterious priest/king in Genesis 14 and Psalm 110.

Genesis 14

Genesis 14 begins with Lot, Abram’s nephew, and others being kidnapped by an alliance of four kings, which attacked a coalition of five kings from the area around Sodom and Gomorrah. When Abram learned what had happened, he forms his own army of 318 of his servants and pursues the “bad guys.” Upon defeating them in battle, Abram returns not only with those kidnapped, but he gathers the possessions that had been taken. The King of Sodom “went out to meet him after his return from the slaughter” (Gen. 14:17), and Abram returns both the captive people and the “goods” that had been taken. Before the king of Sodom can suggest that Abram take the goods for himself, “Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the Most High God. And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all” (Gen. 14:18-20).

Like a falling star suddenly appearing in the darkness of the night, Melchizedek flashes across the pages of the Old Testament and disappears almost as quickly.  A priest of the Most High God, this priest-king approaches Abram on behalf of God, and not the other way around. This illustrates that God initiates the relationship with humanity and not man. Melchizedek brought bread and wine to refresh an exhausted Abram and then blessed him. After the blessing, Abram gave a tithe of all the “goods” which he had to Melchizedek.

Abram’s brief encounter with “the King of Salem” reveals several truths. Melchizedek is no Canaanite priest, John Davis points out that the titles “‘Most high God’ (’ēl ‘elyôn) emphasizes God’s strength and sovereignty, distinguishing Him from the gods of Canaan who were subject to the same weaknesses as their worshipers. [And] ‘possessor of heaven and earth’ is similar to titles used in Daniel 4.”[5]

In addition, Melchizedek blessing Abram and the patriarch giving to him a tithe, reveals Melchizedek is superior to Abram.  Allen Ross insightfully writes, “The words of this marvelous priest surely inspired the patriarch in his anticipation of the promises of God. Herein lies the strength for Abram’s discernment of the Sodomite’s offer: with a fresh reminder of the nature and promise of the Lord, the appeal from the pagan was shown to be nothing more than a confusing digression from the true faith.”[6] Abram’s encounter with Melchizedek affirmed his relationship with the Lord who had called him and assured him the Lord would provide for him in his walk of faith.

Psalm 110

            One doesn’t find the name Melchizedek again, until the pages of the Old Testament come to rest at Psalm 110. The New Testament affirms Davidic authorship of Psalm 110 (cf. Matt. 22:43-45; Mk. 12:36-37; Lk. 20:42-44; Acts 2:34). Being a Messianic Psalm, the coming Messiah was declared to be “a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (Ps. 110:4). In Mark 12:35-37 Jesus applies Psalm 110 to Himself, in which the messianic king was a priestly figure after the order of Melchizedek.[7] Psalm 110:4 prophesizes that with Melchizedek there is found a new and better order than the Aaronic priesthood.  Joseph A. Fitzmyer writes, “In Heb 5 the author applies this verse of Ps 110 to Jesus, undoubtedly understanding it as messianic… Having first introduced Ps 2:7 to establish the risen Jesus as the possessor of regal inheritance, he adds Ps 110:4 to present the Kingly Son of God as one appointed also to an eternal priesthood.”[8]

In Hebrews 7 the author places an emphasis on Christ being our perfect High Priest. Christ is our perfect High Priest after the superior priesthood of Melchizedek (7:4-10). In contrasting the Levitical priesthood with the priesthood of Melchizedek, the writer of Hebrews “uses the incident of Melchizedek’s meeting with Abraham to show the priority of Melchizedek over the Levitical priests. The comparison is primary to the demonstration in 7:11-28 that the priest ‘like Melchizedek’ is superior to the Levitical priests.”[9]

The author of Hebrews selects specific characteristics of Melchizedek found in Abram’s encounter with him, in order to establish the superiority of his priesthood. The commentators who embrace that Melchizedek was an actual historical man and only a type of Christ, contend the author is in many instances arguing from silence; especially when he speaks of Melchizedek being “without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life” (Heb. 7:3). Regardless of whether one sees Melchizedek as a type of Christ or a theophany, Melchizedek is clearly superior to Abraham as he gave a tithe to him and in so doing Abraham acknowledged his superiority. And in like matter, “the sons of Levi” being yet in Abraham’s loins (Heb. 7:5-6), as well, offered a tithe; therefore, giving clear indication the priesthood of Melchizedek was superior to the Levitical priesthood.  The inescapable conclusion regarding Melchizedek, is that the lesser (Abraham) is blessed by the superior (Melchizedek).

Taking all the Bible says about Melchizedek, was he merely a historical man who was used by the author of Hebrews as a type of Christ or was he much more, being a pre-incarnate appearing of the Son of God? This writer is convinced from the preponderance of the evidence that the latter is true. In the appearance of Melchizedek in the OT, it was as if the Father could not wait for the day of his Son’s entrance into the world, and in his appearance before Abram giving humanity a taste of the glories that will be manifested through the New Covenant priestly ministry of His Son.

Reasons Affirming Melchizedek was a Theophany/Christophany

There are many prayerfully and researched reasons why this writer holds to the position that Melchizedek was more than a historical person, but was a Theophany/Christophany. Eleven reasons are presented in consideration of this view.

First, Melchizedek was a king and a priest (Gen 14:18, Heb 7:1). No human in the Old Testament ever held both offices. No king could be a priest, no priest could be a king. Melchizedek held both offices. He was a priest of the Most High God (Gen 14:18, 22). The title “‘most high God” (’ēl ‘elyôn) emphasizes God’s distinction from the gods of the Canaanites, confirming that here the true God is the focus.[10] Abram would have never tithed or bowed to a priest/king who worshipped an inferior god. Only one Man, who was a priest and king, who was a priest of ’ēl ‘elyôn (the Most High God) can claim that identity…Jesus Christ. The New Bible Commentary reads, “Note that Scripture pictures him [Melchizedek] as one who is a king as well as a priest. The combination of these two offices was to be a distinguishing characteristic of the Messiah.”[11]

Second, Melchizedek’s name means King of righteousness. In the New Testament Christ is said to be our righteousness (I Cor 1:30; II Cor 5:21). Only a divine Being could appropriately bear this title. Scripture declares man’s righteousness is but filthy rages (Is. 64:6) and that none are righteous (Romans 3:10), this would include Melchizedek if he were only a man.  One declared  as the  King of Righteousness, in him must resided righteousness.  Again, that title and this quality is only able to be attached to Jesus Christ, who “in him we might become the righteousness of God” (II Cor. 5:21). And righteousness must come before peace.

Third, Melchizedek’s was King of Salem which means King of Peace.  The name of Melchizedek’s city—Salem, meaning “peace,” a word also used in Psalm 76:2 referring to Jerusalem.  Christ, the Prince of Peace; He is our peace (Eph 2:14). Christ made peace with God for us (Rom. 5:11), which no mere man, but only a divine being, could achieve on behalf of humanity. Clement of Alexandria, who contended Melchizedek was by nature the Son of God, wrote of Christ, “What need is there to say that He is the only High Priest, who alone possesses the knowledge of the worship of God? He is Melchizedek, ‘King of peace,’ the most fit of all to head the race of men.”[12] The personal name (King of Righteousness) and the name of his city (King of Peace) are taken to correspond with the actual traits of his character, yet there is only One whose character traits possess both perfect righteousness and peace…Jesus Christ.

Fourth, Melchizedek brought forth bread and wine to serve Abram to refresh him. The symbolism is most apparent. The New Testament is crystal clear, bread and wine are symbolic of the Lord’s broken body and shed blood of the New Covenant (Matthew 26:28). That Melchizedek shared with Abram bread and wine, reveals that Melchizedek, as a priest, offered to him that which had been crushed (wheat to make the bread) and that which the life juices had been squeezed out (grapes to make the wine). While the Old Covenant would prove to be inadequate, Melchizedek provided Abram with the elements, bread and wine, which symbolize the New Covenant. Though Abram was refreshed physically by that which had been “sacrificed,” the bread and the wine which Christ offers is not earthly bread and wine, but heavenly bread, heavenly wine – his own body and blood, which revives us spiritually. In referring to Abram’s encounter with Melchizedek, Jerome wrote that he “offered to Abraham bread and wine, and even then consecrated the mystery which Christians consecrate in the body and blood of the Savior.”[13] Such an act reveal a wisdom in Melchizedek that transcends the knowledge of a mere man.

Ambrose (ca. 340–397 AD) asserted that the elements of the Lord’s Supper, which Melchizedek gave and were received by Abram, and in light of that shared “meal” and the titles attributed to him, King of Righteousness and King of Peace, he poses pertinent questions.

Do you recognize Who that is?  Can a man be king of righteousness, when himself he can hardly be righteous?  Can he be king of peace, when he can hardly be peaceable?  He it is Who is without mother according to His Godhead, for He was begotten of God the Father, of one substance with the Father; without a father according to His incarnation, for He was born of a Virgin; having neither beginning nor end, for He is the beginning and end of all things, the first and the last.  The [elements of the Lord’s Supper], then, which you received is the gift not of man but of God, brought forth by Him Who blessed Abraham the father of faith, whose grace and deeds we admire.[14]

While the observance of the Lord’s Supper looks back in remembrance of Jesus’ death upon the cross, it would not be exegetically out of bounds to suggest the shared bread and wine between Abram and Melchizedek looked forward to (foreshadowing) the New Covenant, fulfilled in the manifestation of Jesus Christ.

Fifth, Melchizedek received tithes from Abraham (Gen 14:20; Heb 7:2a). Under Mosaic law, they were commanded to give God one tenth of their possessions. However, Melchizedek’s receiving the tithe was not based on the Law, as it had yet to be given. Larry Overstreet, states, “Melchizedek’s claim is based on his inherent character, so he is superior.”[15] Would Abraham have given a tenth to a mere man inferior to him? In giving him tithes he is affirming the greatness of his king-priest office. As well, the “sons of Levi” who were in the loins of Abram, also gave tithes to Melchizedek acknowledging his greatness and superiority. Melchizedek’s superiority transcended that of a mere man.

Sixth, Melchizedek was said to be “without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of day nor end of life” (Heb. 7:3), and as one who has “the power of an indestructible life” (Heb. 7:16). Many interpreters advocate that this merely means there is no record of his parents, of his ancestry, of his birth, or of his death, given in the Old Testament; this is stated to set up a contrast to the Levitical system where the emphasis was on the priest’s pedigree.[16]

Interestingly, the significance of this kind of word usage is detailed by Jerome H. Neyrey.[17] His studies affirm that the word usage of “without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of day nor end of life” (Heb. 7:3), that gods are described in the Hellenistic literature with the same kinds of descriptive words which are found in the book of Hebrews. Neyrey affirms that “evidence from ancient Greek sources” demonstrate that “it belongs to a true deity to be both ‘without father’ and ‘without mother.’”[18] Concerning Melchizedek, Neyrey contends that “he is presented in terms used to describe a deity.”[19] Neyrey’s study demonstrates that, “Unmistakably, the author of Hebrews intends his readers to understand the figure described in 7:3 as a true deity, completely in accord with the topoi which describe true gods as fully eternal, uncreated or ungenerated in the past, and imperishable in the future.”[20]

Seventh, Melchizedek was “made like unto the Son of God” (Heb 7:3). The phrase “made like the Son of God” (the REB has “bearing the likeness of the Son of God”) is further evidence as to Melchizedek’s identity. The Greek word translated “made like” is the verb ἀφομοιόω (aphomoioo – af-o-moy-ah-o) a perfect passive participle (“having been made like”). The word aphomoioo  in Hebrews 7:3 appears nowhere else in the NT.  The author used a unique word to make a specific point.  The word conveys the idea of one thing expressing itself in or as another. The word translated “made like” means “to produce a facsimile or copy, to express itself in it.”[21]  The word was used to speak of a painter giving expression on canvas an image before him. In the case of Hebrews 7:3, this would mean that Melchizedek was an expression of the Son of God. He was “like” the Son of God because He had not yet as the pre-incarnate Son manifested himself fully as the Son of God as found in the New Testament.  Overstreet correctly points out that “prior to His incarnation, the Son of God did appear to men in the Old Testament in human representations (Christophany, or Theophany), which were exact representations of Him.”[22]

In regard to the author of Hebrews penning Melchizedek being “made like” the Son of God, Henry Morris writes:

No mere earthly king was ever “made like unto the Son of God,” nor was there ever one who “abideth a priest continually.” It is difficult to see how these descriptions could be properly applied to anyone but the Lord Jesus Christ, who came to encourage Abraham in this unique pre-incarnate experience, assuming a human form “like unto” that which He would assume forever when He became the incarnate Son of God. For the first time He founded and implemented forever the priestly order of Melchizedek. The fact that he was “made like unto the Son of God” accords with one of Christ’s pre-incarnate appearances; at His human birth, he became the incarnate Son of God forever. Melchizedek was also said to be a man (Heb 7:4), but the same is true in the case of other theophanies, one of which was likewise manifested to Abram and Lot (Gen18:2, Gen18:22; Gen19:1-24).[23]

J.B. McCaul affirmingly concurs “…that Melchizedek was the second person in the Ever-Blessed Trinity, the Divine angel of the Lord, who continually appeared to the Fathers under the Old Testament dispensation.”[24]

Eighth, Melchizedek as a priest, the author of Hebrews says he “abides a priest continually” (Heb 5:9-11; 7:3). The text states that his “abiding” is continuous. The verb used here, “abides” (μένω meno), is in the present tense, active voice, meaning the continuation is ongoing. William Lane acknowledges that the verb “abides” (meno) “evokes the notion of eternity.”[25] The adjective “continually” is διηνεκής (diēnekēs) and is only used in the New Testament in the book of Hebrews, (here and 10:1, 12, 14), meaning perpetually, continually, forever. Larry Overstreet states that by using this term “the writer of Hebrews is stating categorically that Melchizedek is eternal in his being.”[26]

McCaul adds, “If Melchizedek ‘abideth a priest continually,’ how can it be believed of him that he was a mere mortal? . . . Melchizedek, as the Divine Logos, existed from eternity.’”[27] Melchizedek is said to be still living (Heb 7:8- present tense “keeps on living”). Jesus being outside the order of the Levitical priesthood, which was of the law, and of the order of Melchizedek, which abides continually, one must conclude either there are two eternal priests in the same order or just one eternal high priest who visited Abram and now sits at the right hand of the Father.   If this is correct, Melchizedek would have been more than an ordinary man or simply a type.

Ninth, while the Levitical priesthood ministered to only one nation, the Melchizedek priesthood ministers to all. The Levitical priesthood not only ministered to one nation, the Israelites, it was temporary. However, since the priesthood of Melchizedek is “continual” and superior to the Levitical priesthood, the priesthood of Melchizedek is not restricted to one nation, but has the availability, the accessibility and ability to minister to all. Only one Man is endowed with such traits as availability, the accessibility and ability… Jesus Christ.

Ten, Second Temple writings, which is the period extending from the construction of the temple at the end of the sixth century BC to its destruction by the Romans in 70 AD, speak of Melchizedek as a heavenly figure, even as deity. The first century Alexandrian Jewish Philosopher Philo, accepted the historical reality of Melchizedek and referred to him as the Logos.[28] For Philo, “The Logos is the mind of God in which the pattern of all the visible world is conceived. As such, the Logos has no visible or sensible antecedents.”[29] The term Logos was the term the Apostle John used in John 1:1-3 in describing Jesus, of whom it is clearly stated the Logos was God. And of the Logos, John 1:14 proclaims “the Word (logos) became flesh and dwelt among us.”

Among the writings from Qumran, is found among the Dead Sea Scrolls a fragment known as the 11Q Melchizedek, dated from the early first century A.D. While scholars cannot be definitive about the fragmented document, Fred Horton affirms that Melchizedek is “considered to be a superior being of some sort who will appear at the end of the days to bring atonement for the sons of light and who is the direct opponent of Belial.  [However] we do not have enough of the document left to satisfy our curiosity about how the Melchizedek of Gen. xiv and Ps. cx could become such a figure.”[30]  Joseph Fitzmyer asserts that, “[Melchizedek] is associated with the deliverance of divine judgment, with a day of atonement, with a year of jubilee, and with a role that exalts him high above the assembly of heavenly beings. Such associations make the comparison in Hebrews between Jesus the high priest and Melchizedek all the more intelligible.”[31]

Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, in his writings refers to Melchizedek as “the first priest of God.”[32] Unfortunately, he does not go into detail about what he meant by him being the first priest of God. However, from Genesis 14 one discovers Melchizedek is the first priest mentioned in Scripture, and with him comes the first use of this exalted name for the Lord.  Abram quickly identified El Elyon (the Most High God) as Yahweh (14: 22).

While early extra-biblical writings are not inspired, they do give insight into Jewish views on Melchizedek, which give evidence that he was viewed as more than a historical personage.

Eleven, if one translates Genesis 14:18 literally this is the way it would read: “And the king of righteousness, the king of peace, brought forth bread and wine, and he was the priest of  El-Elyon.” If one was reading the Old Testament and saw Genesis 14:18 translated that way, one would immediately come to the conclusion the text was referring to a Christophany, a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ.

Eleven reasons have been presented why this writer contends Melchizedek is more than a type of Christ, but is an appearance of the pre-incarnate Son of God. Jesus, the Son of God is our great High Priest who has passed through the heavens (Heb 4:14).  Both Melchizedek and Jesus uniquely held the offices of king and priest.  These facts are why many see Melchizedek as the truest type of Christ, while others have seen him and Christ as one in the same. It is clear to this writer that Melchizedek was a Theophany.

While there will always be a debate as to who this mysterious Melchizedek was/is, let us never lose sight of the fact we have a Great High Priest who made ONE sacrifice for our sins forever and, His work finished and complete, has passed into the heavens and He is now sat down at the right hand of the Father (Heb. 10:12). On this point the words of the Prince of Preachers, Charles Spurgeon, shine like a sparkling diamond. They read:

Consider how great Melchizedek was. There is something majestic about every movement of that dimly-revealed figure. His one and only appearance is thus fitly described in the Book of Genesis. We see but little of him, yet we see nothing little in him. He is here and gone, as far as the historic page is concerned, yet is he “a priest forever,” and “it is witnessed that he liveth.” This great man yet further blessed the blessed Abraham, and the father of the faithful was glad to receive benediction at his hands. No small man this: no priest of second rank; but one who overtops the sons of men by more than head and shoulders, and acts a superior’s part among the greatest of them.  So mysterious is Melchizedek that many deeply-taught expositors think that he was an appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ. They are inclined to believe that he was not a king of some city in Canaan, as the most of us suppose, but that he was a manifestation of the Son of God, such as were the angels that appeared to Abraham on the plains of Mamre, and that divine being who appeared to Joshua by Jericho, and to the three holy ones in the furnace. Everything about him is on a scale majestic and sublime.[33]

A Final Word

 Yes, many biblical interpreters regard Melchizedek as a man, a type of Christ. And true, the debate as to his identity will continue. However, after years of study this writer has pitched his tent in the camp with those interpreters who support the view that Melchizedek was an appearance of the preincarnate Christ. The shroud of mystery which surrounds this enigmatic figure seems to disappear when such a position is taken. When the king-priest in Genesis 14 is seen as walking unto the New Testament pages being clothed with the same dual garments of priest and king, the problematic verses in the book of Hebrews in regard to Melchizedek burst forth with the light of understanding and advances with freshness the argument for the superiority of Christ over the Levitical priesthood. The one who shared bread and wine with Abram, is the same One the author of Hebrews declares sustains and upholds the universe by the power of His Word. (Heb. 1:2-3).  O, what a Savior!

Blessings,

Dr. Dan

 

ENDNOTES

[1]G. Campbell Morgan, God’s Last Word to Man: Studies in Hebrews, (Marshall, Morgan and Scott, 1948), 80.

[2] A.C. Kendrick, Hebrews, (Philadelphia, Pa.: American Baptist Publication Society, 1889), 84.

[3] A. Cohen, The Soncino Chumash: The Five Books of Moses with Haphtaroth (London: The Soncino Press, 1983), 69.

[4] A theophany or Christophany refers to a visible manifestation of Christ in the Old Testament.

[5] John J. Davis, Paradise to Prison: Studies in Genesis (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1975), 181.

[6]  Allen P. Ross, Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988), 300.

[7]  Alex T. M. Cheung, “The Priest as the Redeemed Man: A Biblical-Theological Study of the Priesthood,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 29 (September 1986), 271

[8] Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Semitic Background of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 225.

[9] William L. Lane, Hebrews 1-8, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word Books, 1991), 163.

[10] Davis, Paradise to Prison, 181.

[11] Donald Guthrie, ed., The New Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1970), 1203.

[12] Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata, 2.5.

[13] Homilies on the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans, 26; Jerome (340-420).

[14] Ambrose, On the Mysteries (New York: Macmillan Co., 1919), 8.46.

[15] Larry Overstreet, The Superiority of Christ: The Identity of Melchizedek in Hebrews, JBTM Vol. 6 No. 1 (2018), 115.

[16] Homer A. Kent, Jr., The Epistle to the Hebrews: A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1974), 126.

[17] Jerome H. Neyrey, “’Without Beginning of Days or End of Life’ (Hebrews 7:3): Topos for a True Deity,” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 53 (1991): 439-55.

[18] Ibid., 447.

[19] Ibid., 448.

[20] Ibid., 454.

[21] A.T. Robertson, “The Epistle to the Hebrews,” Word Pictures in the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1931), 381

[22] Overstreet, The Superiority of Christ, 113.

[23] See notes on Gen 14:18, Heb 7:3, Henry Morris, The Defender’s Study Bible, (2012).

[24] J.B. McCaul, The Epistle to the Hebrews (London 1871), 75, 80.

[25] Lane, Hebrews 1-8, 167.

[26] Overstreet, The Superiority of Christ, 114.

[27] McCaul, Hebrews, 75.

[28] Philo, Allegorical Interpretation, III, § 80 and 82. The Loeb Classical Library, trans. F. H. Colson (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1956), 354.

[29] Fred L. Horton, Jr., The Melchizedek Tradition: A Critical Examination of the Sources to the

Fifth Century A.D. and in the Epistle to the Hebrews (London: Cambridge UP, 1976), 59-60.

[30]  Ibid., 73.

[31]  Fitzmyer, The Semitic Background, 252, 253.

[32] Flavius Josephus, The Works of Flavius Josephus, trans. William Whiston (New York: Hurst & Co., n.d.).

[33] Quote from a sermon by C.H. Spurgeon, The Man Christ Jesus, April 15, 1885.

WHAT I MISS ABOUT COACHING

For over four decades I had the marvelous privilege and honor to assist and help coach runners at six different high schools (see below). Over the years I have had the honor to work with runners from other schools, as well, who sought me out desiring to reach another level of excellence in their running.  As breathing is natural, running has been a natural part of my life since I was thirteen years old. For me a day without running is like a day without sunshine. Over the years working with runners has been for me a passion; a passion I have sought to pass on to others. Working with runners has always been to me as enjoyable as a hog wallowing in a warm mud hole! It was an extension of my ministry and I loved every second of it. For health reasons, I had to step aside from coaching on a consistent basis… and boy do I miss it.

What do I miss about coaching?

I miss the kids. I miss the best part of the day…being with them. I miss their enthusiasm. I miss their laughter. I miss their horseplay. I miss giving them encouragement. I miss watching them mature as runners and as individuals.  I miss watching them bind together as a team into a family. I miss watching a kids skepticism about what they think they can accomplish, being replaced with confidence that they can reach what was once thought to be an unattainable goal. I miss the reward of watching a kid run a personal best time and the satisfaction it brings them.  I miss the joy of the seeing the beaming smile on a kids face when they climb onto the podium to receive a championship medal hung around their neck, a dream they at one time deemed impossible. Whether it be a new PR or a championship medal, I miss the exhilaration and satisfaction of knowing you have helped a kid create a memory they will carry with them the rest of their lives.

I miss the motivational speeches I gave the kids. I miss sharing with them track stories from my past. I miss watching the needle on a kids confidence meter continue upward, watching their eyes exclaim “I can do it” as they take my words and stories to heart. I miss watching the kids workout and watching them improve. I miss telling them before practice and races that I believe in them and that they can accomplish their goals if they are willing to work hard for them. I miss the nervousness and the anticipation that I felt on meet days.  I miss the handshake or the hug after a successful race. I miss hearing the loud rocking noise on a bus after winning a championship.  I even miss the silence of disappointment after a close loss, as it gave me the opportunity to teach them how to deal with defeat and disappointment in life. I missing teaching them principles from running which can be applied to every area of ones life. I miss, like a father, the pride and satisfaction of watching the runners grow-up over four years from boys to men and from girls to women.

I miss the smell of the outdoors in the fall during cross country season. I miss the smell of the blossoms of spring during outdoor track season. I miss the stifling heat during the summer in preparation for cross country. I miss the bite of the cold of winter in preparation for track. I miss the stuffy smell of running indoor track meets. I miss planning workouts. I miss watching the kids workout. I miss figuring out what workouts a kid best responds, too. I miss a kid flashing a tired smile when they have successfully completed a gut-busting workout, walking way with their tank empty but carrying a bucket full of confidence. I miss watching a kid standing on the starting line, nervous but knowing they are ready to meet the challenge.   I miss the smell of sweaty runners after a race who has just given me their all. I miss the sweat on my arms when placing it on a kids shoulder after a race when they did well or when they suffered disappointment.

I miss the strategy that goes with running and sitting down and devising a plan how an unbeatable runner can be beat. I miss the satisfaction when one of my runners beat an unbeatable runner. I miss the maneuvering of runners in a multitude of events in an attempt to win a team championship. I miss the exhilaration when the maneuvering resulted in us taking home the championship. I miss switching runners on a relay team until I found the winning combination.  I miss breaking out in a huge smile when the right combination breasted the winning tape first. I miss shaking the opposing coach’s hand when we won and when we lost. I miss the musical chatter drifting through the air at a fast food restaurant after a track or cross country meet.

I miss listening to kids problems. I miss praying for and with the kids. I miss helping kids make good decisions. I miss telling kids I am proud of them. I miss telling the kids I love them.  I miss watching kids graduate and go on to be successful and productive citizens. I miss the wonderful people I have met along the way. I miss developing relationships that last a life time. But I am most grateful for the many relationships that the Good Lord has allowed me to enjoy and the many people that have impacted and enriched my life beyond measure and still do. I have truly been a blessed man over the years and still am. It would take the language of angels to express all the thanksgiving in my heart.

Blessings,

Dr. Dan

  

HOW CAN A NATION SURVIVE?

The USA is on life support. If one cannot see Uncle Sam is in Intensive Care, one is not paying attention. Can the USA, or any nation for that matter, survive the “goings on” that we see happening today? Can the USA survive the dark path it is currently on?

How can a nation survive that fails to acknowledge the presence of Divine Providence over the affairs of man and history and instead has chosen itself as the Master of its own fate?

How can a nation survive that has cast aside the biblical principles of morality and common decency which were woven into its foundation, to adopt principles that are morally decadent?

How can a nation survive that has cast aside its heritage and seeks to whitewash its history, not learning from history but seeking to erase it?

How can a nation survive that adopts unbridled passions of man’s lowest and basest desires and unrestrained lusts?

How can a nation survive that applauds when laws are passed that allows the slaughter of babies in the womb and have lost the value of the sanctity of life?

How can a nation survive that is no longer patriotic and has become ignorant of the price that was paid that Old Glory might fly?

How can a nation survive when churches have lost the hunger for biblical righteousness and have adopted the “religion” of tolerance for “peace” over holiness?

How can a nation survive when it labels various people groups as destined to be victims not victors?

How can a nation survive when the citizenry talks more of their rights and privileges and less about their responsibility, duty and obligations?

How can a nation survive when its leaders purposely stir racial disharmony, calling half the population racists and bigots and the other half should be filled with expressive resentment?

How can a nation survive when it embraces a culture of death and violence over order and law?

How can a nation survive when there is more focus on what divides us than what unites us?

How can a nation survive when its leaders don’t realize there is real evil in the world and you cannot negotiate with terrorists?

How can a nation survive when the citizenry no longer trusts its leaders because they have proven themselves untrustworthy?

How can a nation survive when socialism, which has never worked and never will work, is the clamoring chant of the masses?

How can a nation survive when more and more people refuse to work and are kept up by a shrinking work force?

How can a nation survive when massive taxes continue to burden and drain the pockets of workers in order to support unchecked spending?

How can a nation survive when the government continues to spend recklessly with no thought there is a financial cliff up ahead?

How can a nation survive when the good upon which the  nation was founded is now called evil?

How can a nation survive when those who seek a return to moral sanity and to the God to whom we owe alligence, are considered the enemy and labeled as “deplorables?”

 How can a nation survive when Humanism has replaced theism?

How can a nation survive when the criminals have more rights than the victims?

How can a nation survive when life is no longer considered scared and individuals as created in the Image of God?

How can a nation survive when a spotted owl is considered of greater worth than a child in the womb?

How can a nation survive when life is seen as a random act of chance and there is no Intelligent Designer to whom we are responsible?

How can a nation survive when Christians are vilified and the unrighteousness exalted?

How can a nation survive when we have lost a theist worldview to adopt a “man his is own god” worldview?

How can a nation survive which casts aside living with an “otherness” mentality and adopts the ideology that freedom is living as one pleases without restraint regardless of who it harms or hurts?

How can a nation survive when there is a blurring of the distinction between male and female and considers one’s created identity fluid?   

How can a nation survive that exalts sin and shuns righteousness?

How can a nation survive when its citizenry lives in open rebellion before its Creator and declares itself to be autonomous from divine responsibility?  

How can a nation survive when Divine, Infinite Reason is disregarded and man depends solely upon his finite and limited reason?  

How can a nation survive when it embraces the materialistic as all there is and fails to grasp that man has an immortal soul and has a responsibility before the Sovereign of the universe to live responsibly before man and God on his march to eternity?

How can a nation survive when it continues on a destructive path history has shown will result in eventual shipwreck?

History loudly screams out that all nations that have traveled down the path the USA is currently on has not survived, but have found their fate eventually resting atop the dust heap of history. Our nation today is groping in the dark seeking ultimate answers to the plethora of problems that engulf us. However, those answers are not forth coming without answers revealed to us from the God we have ignored, but He indeed is revealed and made known in the person of Jesus Christ. The person and work of Christ is communicated to us in the wonderous story that the Bible unfolds. It is the story of the infinite-personal holy God drawing near to us because he cares and His holy-love calls us unto Himself. The USA will not survive as long as it seeks the ultimate answers to the problems that confront us apart from the reference point of the infinite-personal God himself, who revealed Himself in Jesus Christ. History is altogether against one who thinks otherwise.

Blessings,

Dr. Dan

A PERPLEXING QUESTION RECEIVES A PUZZLING ANSWER

An obscure book of the Bible sandwiched between the pages of the Old Testament which shouts insights for us of the twenty-first century is the Book of Habakkuk. The prophet Habakkuk, a contemporary of Jeremiah, asks a question that I am sure most Christians have asked at one time or another. Written around 612 B.C., the prophet, whose names means to “embrace,” looked around at the corrupt moral, social and spiritual conditions of the southern kingdom of Judah and asked, “How long O holy and righteous God will you let evil run rampant and not judge it? How long O Lord will you be silent in the face of rampant, unrestrained wickedness?” (1:1-4). After all, the prophet reasoned, if God is holy, how can He let sin continue unchecked like a polluted river that has spilled over its banks and is contaminating everything it washes over?

Habakkuk was perplexed, but the answer he received was even more puzzling. The Lord told the questioning prophet that the sins of Judah would not go unpunished. As matter of fact, the Lord told him He was not inactive against evil but was raising up a people called the Chaldeans (Babylonians) who were more wicked than those of Judah who would be used to punish them for their willful departure from their walk with Him and forsaking their spiritual heritage (1: 5-17)

The prophet scratches his head and incredulously asks, “You are gonna do what? Let me get this straight, you are going to use the wicked and cruel Babylonians who worship pagan gods and are more wicked and sinful than the people of Judah to bring judgment upon them?”

Waiting patiently for a clarification from God, Habakkuk is left alone with his thoughts (2:1-3). His being baffled is understandable, for the Babylonians slaughtered people without any remorse, plundered every city they invaded and left nothing but heartache and wreckage behind them. And God was going to use these evil people to bring judgment upon Judah! You got to be kidding? Surely, the prophet misunderstood.

At last, the Lord communicates to Habakkuk these words,” No, you didn’t misunderstand me. I will use people more evil than those of Judah to bring judgment upon their sinful ways. However, the Babylonians will not escape judgment, as I will judge them as well. Just have faith and remain faithful, righteous justice will prevail.”

The prophet stands in awe at God’s power, holy-love, majesty and His just dealings in the affairs of man. Instead of arguing with God, Habakkuk embraces Him in worship and begins to warn His fellow citizens of the coming judgment by a people more sinful and unrighteous than the inhabitants of Judah (Ch. 3). The majority laughed and mocked Habakkuk saying, “We are God’s people. He will not let those more sinful than us bring harm our way.” Very few believed the message of Habakkuk and continued on in their sin and their deliberate departure from God.

Too bad they didn’t listen and repent, for the time came when the words of Habakkuk and the active work of God came to pass. In time the Babylonians invaded the Southern Kingdom (B.C. 605, 598, and 587), slaughtering people, looting, destroying and taking many citizens captive back to Babylon. Judah was left in flaming ruins.  As well, in 538 B.C. the Persians conquered the Babylonian Empire and they passed from the scene as a world power just as the Lord stated would happen (Daniel Ch. 5).  Events unfolded exactly as God said they would.

What relevance does Habakkuk have for us today? We find ourselves as a nation like Judah. We have forsaken the God of the Bible by continually stripping Him from the societal arena. We have defiantly abandoned principles of biblical morality and replaced them with “anything goes.” Those who embrace traditional marriage are mocked. Human dignity and worth is depreciated by abortion, debauchery goes unchecked, greed is rampant, injustice is widespread, perversion is celebrated, good is called evil and evil is called good, and ungodliness abounds.

How can a holy God, who opposes unrighteousness, seem to be silent in the face of such a cesspool of sin and defiance? Would He not be going against His own holy nature if correcting judgment doesn’t visit this nation? Let me offer some thoughts to ponder over recent events that have unfolded — Afghanistan has been overtaken by terrorists – the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, ISIS and other splinter groups.    They are demonic in their evil, ruthless, brutal, beheading individuals, slaughtering Christians and all others who don’t embrace their ideology. Their evil is relentless and they have a fearless passion to bring harm to the USA. Events in recent weeks has breathed into them new life and have embolden them in carrying forth their agenda with renewed vigor and, its seems, with little resistance from the USA leadership who has not the stomach to restrain them.   

With an obviously weak administration currently in Washington, these terrorist groups have no fear of USA leaders, mocking them and spewing forth renewed threats of hatred. (Interestingly, weak kings were in place before the hammer of judgment fell upon Israel and Judah, and the USA certainly has weak leaders in place.) And with the southern borders of the USA wide-open, what is to prevent these terrorists from waltzing across the border into the USA with their destructive agenda. They as well have access to all the military equipment left from the hasty withdrawal by the USA, and have paraded in the streets their newly seized weapons at victory celebrations in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar. The current anemic administration doesn’t seem to grasp the far reaching affects and danger the USA will no doubt encounter as a result the of Afghan debacle The liberals foolishly seem to think the terrorists can be reasoned with through diplomacy and appeasement.  It’s the blindness of Judah all over again.  

Habakkuk learned that the Lord can direct that which men intend for evil and use it to bring about and accomplish His purposes. One can’t help but contemplate the far-reaching affects of the terrorist takeover. Will a people more unrighteous than the USA be used to bring correcting judgment to a nation that has forsaken the spiritual foundation of our Founding Fathers? Surely the Lord will not let a people as wicked, evil and demonic as what we see currently occupying Afghanistan bring harm to the USA, for we are more righteous than they?  That was the thinking of Judah. Judah was wrong. Like those in the days of Habakkuk we can laugh at and mock such a notion, or we can cry out to God in repentance and pray that God will have mercy upon us.

Time will reveal the magnitude of the consequences from the chaotic and confusing events that have unfolded. For certain, these terrorist groups have one goal, which is to bring havoc and destroy the USA. It is time we fell to our knees in repentant prayer that these revived evil terrorist groups can in some way be restrained – if not we are going to be knocked to our knees in devastation.

The message of Habakkuk is clear: those who don’t learn from the past failures of other nations who have forsaken God are destined to experience His correcting hand. If we don’t believe it, just ask Habakkuk and Judah.

Blessings,

Dr. Dan

THE HIGH PRICE PAID BY SIGNERS OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE

This Sunday our nation will celebrate another birthday. It all began on July 4, 1776, when fifty-six brave men put their signature on a document called The Declaration of Independence. This wondrous document is built upon a premise that is all but forgotten in our day, that premise being each person derives their rights from “their Creator,” the “Supreme Judge of the world” (God is mentioned four times — twice at the beginning at twice at the end), and the chief purpose of government is to ensure and protect those rights. The Declaration of Independence only contains 1,321 words, yet it is one of the greatest documents ever conceived and penned by man.

The document, which declared independence from the British, was signed by fifty-six brave men “with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.” The fifty-six men from the thirteen colonies who penned their name on the document, twenty-six were lawyers, nine merchants, six farmers, six physicians, two statesmen, one planter, one surveyor, one shoemaker, one minister, and one printer. Eighteen of the men were under forty years of age, three in their twenties, and the oldest, Benjamin Franklin, was seventy years old. Two who signed it would later become President, two became fathers of future Presidents.

These fifty-six men knew the minute they signed the document they would be labeled as traitors by the British and there would be a price upon their head. They were risking their lives for the cause of freedom. What did it actually cost these men for signing the Declaration of Independence? I am afraid we have forgotten what it cost them. Not one of the signers escaped the battle for independence without suffering some loss or penalty.

Five signers were captured by the British as traitors and tortured before they died; twelve had their homes ransacked and burned; two lost their sons serving in the Revolutionary Army; another had two sons captured; nine of the fifty-six fought and died from wounds or hardships of the Revolutionary War; Layman Hall of Georgia had his property confiscated; George Walton of Georgia was imprisoned; Joseph Hewes of North Carolina died from utter exhaustion from the strain; William Hooper of North Carolina was driven from his home; John Penn of North Carolina had his health wrecked and died in 1780; William Floyd of New York was driven from his home and his property confiscated; Philip Livingston of New York had all his property taken from him; John Morton of Pennsylvania became forsaken by friends and died eight months after the signing; Richard Stockton of New Jersey was dragged from his bed in the middle of the night and thrown into prison; Caesar Rodney of Delaware died from cancer not long are signing; John Hart of New Jersey was forced from his home, his house burned and he lived as a fugitive; Roger Sherman of Connecticut efforts during the battle for independence took a toll on his health and was relieved of many of colonial duties; Lewis Morris of New York was a man of considerable wealth but lost it during the war; Carter Braxton of Virginia lost his wealth and his property seized; Thomas Heyward, Arthur Middleton and Edward from South Carolina were all thrown into prison; Thomas Nelson of Virginia lost his fortune and died in poverty; Francis Lewis of New York had his home burned and his wife taken prisoner; Abraham Clark of New Jersey had two of his sons captured and put in prison; John Witherspoon of New Jersey had his voluminous library burned; Francis Hopkinson of New Jersey had his home taken and became a fugitive; Thomas McKean of Delaware was so pursued by the British that he was forced to constantly move his family; George Ross a minister from Pennsylvania died in 1779 from broken health; William Whipple of New Hampshire developed heart problems which eventually took his life.

More examples could be given of the price paid by the signers of the Declaration of Independence, but a portrait of the noble character of these men is clearly imprinted on the canvas of history. The clothes these men wore were not held together by thread, but by principle, honor and a selflessness that led them to pledge their all for the cost of freedom. They had steel backbones forged in the fires of convictions and courage. These men were brave and  fearless who knew the consequences and penalties that awaited, yet they signed anyway, pledging their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor.

One truth is certain, freedom was and is not free. For that one prize – freedom – these men signed a declaration and suffered horribly. Two-hundred and forty-five years later we must not forget the price paid for freedom nor forget the spiritual and political heritage of the birth of this nation. To forget our heritage is to head down a road that will eventually lead us away from liberty back unto tyranny. In a day when political correctness sees patriotism as offensive, it is a position that will find liberty being swallowed up in the quicksand of weakness and cowardice that will lead to loss of freedoms.

One can’t help but wonder in the day in which we live where so many want something for nothing; who feel like they are owed something without earning it or sacrificing for it; who don’t believe in personal responsibility; who contend there are no eternal principles on which to base one’s life or govern society; would such individuals pay one-tenth the price those 56 brave men paid for freedom and liberty? The answer is self-evident.

As we pause to celebrate the birthday of this Nation, let us not forget the sacrifice and commitment of those fifty-six stalwart men. While our Forefathers battled the British, we today are waging a battle for the very soul of America. It is a battle of greed versus sacrifice, spiritually versus secularism, God versus godlessness, good versus evil, decency versus indecency, right versus wrong, principles versus political correctness, responsibility versus irresponsibility. To the observing eye, that for which the signers of the Declaration of Independence gave so much, appears to be slowly slipping away from you and me.

The freedoms for which our Forefather fought and sacrificed for demands that we never yield to the tyrants of vice over virtue, for when we do, we will discover the brave signers penned their names in vain. May it not be so.

Have a Blessed and Safe Fourth of July

Blessings,

Dr. Dan

SUBJECTIVISM AND TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY THEOLOGY

We are living in a day when in many circles of Christendom, one’s subjective experience is the supreme authority and the objective truths of the Word of God are a secondary authority at best.  By subjectivism is meant that one’s reason and  emotional experience is the only unquestionable truth or reality on which one can build one’s life, and that there is no external or objective truth. Sadly today, the truths of the Word of God have become subservient to one’s changing subjective experience. Subjectivism is elevated to supreme, while sound theology today is relegated to of little importance.  The Christian landscape today is deeply divided between those who embrace the objective truth of the Word of God and those who argue that truth is subjective and there is no objective measuring stick (i.e., the Bible) by which one is to judge what is truth.  In other words, objective truth is not as important as one’s reasoning and subjective experience.

Much of the shallow and erroneous theology we see emerging today can trace its roots back to a man  named Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834), a nineteenth century German theologian.  The average person has never heard of Schleiermacher, yet his ghost still walks the aisles of many churches, teaches in some theological institutions, and influences many preachers’ theological thoughts. Schleiermacher is considered the father of theological liberalism. His influence upon twenty-first century theology is widespread.

Born in 1768 in Breslaw, Germany, Schleiermacher was the son of a Prussian army chaplain. At a young age he was sent to a Moravian boarding school noted for fervent pietism. While the pietism appealed to his religious nature, he began to doubt the Christian tenets of the faith and in time abandoned Christian orthodoxy. At age nineteen (1787) he wrote his parents a distressing letter in which he informed them he no longer believed Jesus was God incarnate and that he had abandoned the belief that “Christ’s death was a vicarious atonement and I cannot believe it to have been necessary.” [1]   Thus, began his departure from orthodox Christian faith to embark upon a path of theological liberalism. He sought to fashion in new language and develop new ideas to replace what he considered were no longer relevant concepts to the current culture…and in the process save Christianity from irrelevance.

In his effort to refashion the Christian faith to appeal to the current culture he diluted its truths. Schleiermacher rejected that the whole of the Bible was inspired and viewed the Bible as a book that “must be treated like all other books.” He pressed to eliminate from the Bible all that referred to the “mystical and supernatural elements,” which included the virgin birth, the miracles of Christ, and even the resurrection. [2]   Since objective truth as asserted to be in the Bible was unobtainable, redemption comes about as the result of a subjective experience apart from any historical event of the past – like the cross or the resurrection.

Schleiermacher elevated one’s subjective experience as authoritative over the objective facts and truths presented in the Bible. For him “religion” was essentially “feeling,” which he defined as “immediate self-consciousness…in and through the Infinite.” [3]   One’s subjective experience (feeling) was authoritative over biblical authority. As well, he taught that sin is the experience of our innate God-consciousness being hindered by the conflict between our fleshy, sensuous nature and our higher spiritual nature. Redemption comes through Jesus Christ by means of His self-communication to awaken man to his unique God-consciousness; redemption being not about the forgiveness of sins, but about a transformation of character. [4]   Schleiermacher believed that Christ set the example by living his entire life in a state of absolute dependence on God; therefore, it is not Christ’s vicarious death and resurrection that saves us, but it is by striving to emulate Christ’s life as the ideal experience of divine dependence. The Church is to be a community where a person’s God-consciousness emerges, bringing about a new relationship in one’s relation to God and to the world.

Let it suffice to say, Schleiermacher’s attempt to reconstruct the Christian faith to make it more palatable to the culture of his day resulted in dramatically altering the doctrine of God, authority of the Bible, sin, the deity of Christ, Christ’s atoning death, the resurrection, and the way of redemption. While the life of Christ was held up as an ideal for humanity to reach, one is to reject the “magical” conception of redemption through the mediation of Christ. Though Schleiermacher had a keen intellect, he could not embrace what by reason he could not rationally explain. Thus, he rejected biblical Christianity even as he attempted to try to repackage it for the culture of the day.

While Schleiermacher’s name may have faded into history and even unknown in the twenty-first century, his ghost still pervades the theological landscape. Today we see Protestant preachers and denominations who seek to repackage the truths of the Bible in language that softens its authoritativeness in order to make it more relevant and acceptable to the culture. One is encouraged to no longer use terms like, “The Bible says, the Bible teaches, the Word of God says, the Word of God teaches.” After all, what is important is one’s experience with God, which is more important than one’s assent to some objective biblical tenets. Once one begins traveling down that slippery slope in the name of relevance and appeasement, one gradually elevates subjective experience as authoritative over the objective truth of God’s Word. And once one embraces elevating subjectivity as authoritative over the objective truth of God’s Word, it will not be long before the Bible is tossed aside and one’s subjective experience will be deemed as authoritative regardless of what God’s Word says. Yet how can one, though, determine the legitimacy of one’s subjective experience if there is no authoritative objective truth whereby the experience is measured?

If one’s subjective experience is authoritative and primary and the Bible secondary in its authority, then there will come the redefining of what constitutes sin. After all, if one’s personal experience trumps the authority of the Bible then one can determine for themselves what is right and wrong. For what constitutes sin is not determined by objective biblical tenets which teach man is a sinner by nature and choice and is alienated and separated from his Creator, but sin is redefined as simply the experience of our innate God-consciousness being hindered by the conflict between our fleshy, sensuous nature and our higher spiritual nature. And since one’s subjective experience is authoritative, then one is the determiner of what is of a sensuous nature. Such reasoning is how one can claim to be a Christian yet adopt a lifestyle that is not only diametrically opposed to the Word of God but pervertedly abnormal to even normative behavior. After all, one is only a “sinner” in the sense one has not had emerge from within their God-consciousness. And the Church is to be community where one can be aided to discover their inner God-consciousness and their needed dependence on God.

Of course, if the Bible is not the Church’s primary authoritative source, then that opens the door to one’s subjective God-experience not anchored in any historical event such as the cross or the resurrection, but only in any experience which brings about God-consciousness in one’s life. If that is the case the virgin birth is not necessary, the cross is not necessary, and the resurrection while important, is not more important than one’s personal experience. The question is asked again, how can one determine the legitimacy of one’s subjective experience if there is no authoritative objective truth whereby the experience is measured?

Yes, to the astute listener there are many “preachers” and denominations today that are channeling the spirit of Schleiermacher in their presentation of the “gospel.” It is a “gospel” that is man-centered not Christocentric. One must be very leery when one hears a preacher or a denomination use flowery words that seek to repackage the Word of God in language that weakens or softens the Bible’s inspiration and authority to make it more appealing to the culture. True, we are living in a changing culture, but we don’t reach the changing world by changing the Word, but by unapologetically proclaiming the unchanging Word. It is proclaiming the objective truths found within the Life-Giving Word of God that are able to breathe life into one who is dead and trespasses and sins.

Paul encouraged Timothy to preach the Word in season and out of season, when it was convenient and when it was inconvenient, when it was acceptable and unacceptable, when it appealed to man and when it didn’t appeal to man. The Inspired Volume holds within it pages the answers to the woes of man – and it is found in the atoning cross of Christ who died for the sins of all humanity. Salvation is not found in a subjective experience that is anchored outside the objective truths of the Word of God which informs that man is in need of a Savior and that Savior is Jesus Christ whose death on the cross was vicarious and His resurrection verifiable. Again, that message doesn’t need to be repackaged or refashioned….it simply needs to be retold!

Blessings,

Dr. Dan

Footnotes

[1] The Theology of Schleiermacher: A Condensed Presentation of His Chief Work, “The Christian Faith” by George Cross and Friedrich Schleiermacher, (University of Chicago Press, 1911),  19.

[2] Dawn DeVries, Jesus Christ in the Preaching of Calvin and Schleiermacher (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996), 99.

[3] Schleiermacher, On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers, tr. John Oman, (NY; Scribner, 1958), 49-50.

[4] R. Niebuhr, Schleiermacher on Christ and Religion (New York: Scribner, 1964), 208.