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Dogmatology Seminar 3

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Andrew Hodge                                                                                  17th August 2005

CMI DOGMATOLOGY

Seminar 3

Introduction to Bibliology; Divisions of the Bible; Revelation

L.P.Chafer "Systematic Theology" Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Dallas Theological Seminary 1948 and 1976: Introduction to Bibliology pp21-36 and Revelation pp48-60

Outline the major themes of the Bible: see notes on Seminar 2. Chafer’s fifteen themes in pp 22-36. “Theme” does not appear to be a recognised Bible division.

Explain the different means which God uses to reveal Himself:

Chafer states (p52) that “God has sought by every available means to manifest Himself, His Works, His Will, and His Purpose”.

God begins with a general revelation to every human being through His creation (Romans 1:19-20) and through the desire that He puts in each individual to know Him (Acts 17:24-28).

The desire to know God can be fostered by the individual as Paul writes to the Philippians (3:8-10) “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, 9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: 10 That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;”.  In order to gain this righteousness and power, Paul had to exercise faith in the One able to provide it in him, and someone had had to tell him of this Good News. Paul was “fortunate” that God Himself took on this privilege.

The way is also open to humanity to enjoy actual fellowship with God Himself in special revelation. Question 1 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism has it: “What is the chief end of man?” And the Answer: “Man’ s chief end is to glorify God, (1 Cor. 10:31, Rom. 11:36) and to enjoy him for ever. (Ps. 73:25–28)”.[1]  Ephesians 4:11-13 goes even further, exposing God’s promise to bring us all into “the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” which is indeed a truly dizzying height. Sometimes we forget that this is God’s purpose for us, and we inhibit His goals by focusing on lesser things.

We must remember that God’s revelation of Himself to us is limited to what He knows we need to know. He has not, and cannot because of its nature, reveal everything there is to know about Himself; limited not only by our finite, created and fallen natures, but also because it is unnecessary for His purposes on earth (Deuteronomy 29:29).

Chafer goes on to further categorise Divine Revelation under seven headings (pp53-60):

            1. God revealed through nature. The world of Adam and Eve before their Fall was likely not to be particularly special to them except as a means of facilitating their life. What made it extremely important to them was that there they communicated with God. After having the various curses pronounced, being ejected from the Garden into a fallen world and having lost the fellowship of God, they would have appreciated the garden’s environment and significance much more.

Fallen man today starts from behind scratch. In a sense he is “sub-human” in a number of ways, one of which is that he never had the original advantage of Adam and Eve appreciating their Creator in His creation. Nevertheless, God still says that mankind is “without excuse” for failing to understand His “eternal power and godhead” through the things that are seen (Romans 1:20) ie even this ‘limited’ or ‘restricted’  view of God can be appreciated by the way that He made us and the creation all around us. This ‘creation revelation’ aught to stimulate someone who has recognised Who God is to live in awe, glorifying and subject to the Being Who Created. Some slide off into the idolatry of pantheism on this account (Romans 1:21-23), but they have failed to distinguish the created from the Creator.

It is entirely reasonable to expect man to reason back to the First Cause when presented with the evidence of Creation; and man is without excuse when he fails to exercise his God-given reason, and he proves he is worthy of judgment when he deliberately chooses to be idolatrous.

            2. God revealed through Providence. “The execution in all its details of the divine program of the ages” (p54). ‘History is His Story’. Scripture reveals the activity of God from eternity past to eternity future, confirmed by the historical fulfillment of every prophecy relating to our past and cementing our hope in the details of that which is to come. There is no fact or finding of modern endeavour, including every branch of the arts and sciences, which contradicts the statements of Scripture.

            3. God revealed through preservation. Christ is not only Creator (Genesis 1:3, John 1:3, Colossians 1:16, Hebrews 1:10, 11:3) but is also the sustainer of that creation (Colossians 1:17, Hebrews 1:3). He also bestows and sustains life, gives eternal life and is Himself that life which He gives. “In Him we live, and move, and have our being” Acts 17:28.

He provides everything needed for the daily life of those who trust Him – Matthew 6:31-33, Philippians 4:19. Therefore God is revealed through His preservation of all His creation and of His people in particular.

            4. God revealed through miracles. The supernatural nature of miracles testifies to the nature of their Author. Even Satan does the supernatural (2 Corinthians 11:14, Revelation 13:14) although that does not make him into God. Satan’s miracles may seem impressive to those who follow him but will not cause any believer to lose their salvation (although when the time comes [now?], some nominally saved will “fall away from the faith”).

            5. God revealed by direct communication. The Word describes theophanies, visions, dreams and direct verbal communication eg with Moses (Numbers 12:8, Deuteronomy 34:10), Adam, Cain, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, etc. Note it was not until Moses that God required the listening individual to write down what he was told.

All of the modes of communication are valid because they come from God. One method is therefore not superior to another. False prophets prophesy “out of their own hearts” (Ezekiel 13:2-9, Jeremiah 14:13-14) and their prophecies fail because their source is corrupt.

God also communicates directly to His children who are focused on Him in prayer, meditation and reading the scriptures.

            6. God revealed through the Incarnation. Jesus the Christ is God manifest in the flesh (John 1:14, 1 Timothy 3:16) and God the Father ensures we realise this (Matthew 16:16-17, 1 Corinthians 1:24). As the logos of God, Jesus is the living Word of God, the scriptures being the written Word. The logos reveals God as a word reveals a thought, and in Jesus, this is direct and uncomplicated, particularly when Jesus is communicating the Gospel. The picture of Jesus’ death says more than a thousand words about Who Christ is, what we are like and what He did about that.

It is not unreasonable to assume that Jesus Himself was God Who manifested Himself in the scriptural theophanies, and Who said to Philip “he that hath seen Me hath seen the Father” John 14:9.

God is not just revealed by seeing the Son, but also by hearing Him: Hebrews 1:1-2  “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, 2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;” an action that God the Father endorses (Matthew 17:5).

Further, the revelation of God through the Son is a complete revelation: Colossians 2:9  “For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily”. This means that everything that humanity can appreciate about God can be appreciated in Christ. In particular, Jesus reveals to us the power of God (John 3:2), the wisdom of God (John 7:46), the glory of God (John 1:14), the life of God (1 John 1:1-3), and the love of God (John 3:16, Romans 5:8, 1 John 3:16).

            7. God revealed through the Scriptures. The final common pathway of the methods of God’s revelation of Himself to us is largely by (although not limited to) reading His Word. The other forms of revelation described above are extended from the individuals to whom the revelation was given to all generations who subsequently read about them.

It is important to remember that God Himself has undertaken to preserve His word so that what we read today is undistorted , remembered correctly, not forgotten, complete.

God has also undertaken to personally communicate His truth to us as individuals today, so that we can be in no doubt as to what it was that He intended to show us of Himself (John 14:26).

It must also be remembered that God’s revelation of Himself through the Scriptures is progressive (Mark 4:28). Each Book of the Bible builds on those before it, culminating in the last Book, which is the supreme Revelation of all. Therefore the plenary nature of Scripture is established – no part is independent and the interpretation of one requires complete knowledge of all the others. Hence Systematic Theology.

The purpose of God’s Book is God’s purpose. It is not written to be studied to gain knowledge of an all-encompassing Creator; it is written so that man may be “wise unto salvation” (2 Timothy 3:15) and those who study must do so with that knowledge constantly in mind, as sons of God in humility, or else they will not gain the knowledge of God which they seek.

The scriptures are final as well as complete. Jude 3  “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints”. It does not need to be delivered again, it was entirely complete the first time, in the same sense that Christ’s death was “once for all” (Hebrews 10:10). In addition, God prescribes catastrophic penalties for adding to or subtracting from His written Word (Revelation 22:18-19).

Discuss the relationship between revelation and reason:

The transference of revelation from God to an individual has not only a well defined path, but also the opportunity for pitfalls:

Absolute truth is transmitted from God the Author to His chosen writer

Absolute truth remains as that writer pens words unique to himself which express the truth of what has been revealed

Relative truth occurs when the autographs are copied or translated by men, even when those men are indwelt by the Holy Spirit

Absolute truth returns when the relative truth is interpreted to a saved individual by the indwelling Holy Spirit

Revelation, inspiration and illumination remain the purview of God. Copying, translation, paraphrasing, higher and lower criticism, and all the remaining abuses of Scripture remain the prerogative of Satan and of men.

Using an analogy of light (bearing in mind that all analogies fail at some point): the pure Word shines from God and is faithfully reproduced on a page through the filter of a human writer which colours the original light to a greater or lesser degree, taking away some of its fullness but adding nothing of its own. The Holy Spirit then takes that coloured light and restores its original purity to the heart and mind of a saved individual.

Unsaved men assess the colour but cannot see the purity and want to muddy it for themselves. Some scholars apply techniques of analysis of single Bible books which cause them to think “this writing is not all the same colour” resulting in the heresies of the JEDP for Genesis, Alexandrian vs Byzantine, argument about the writer of Hebrews or the concluding verses of Mark, whether there are one or two Gadarene demoniacs or blind men in Jericho, etc,etc.

Satan takes his own light source – defective in that it has areas of darkness and its whiteness is not pure – and shines it on the original autographs. If the reader is not saved he does not have the capacity to detect that what he sees is corrupted by the light. If the reader is saved but he is wearing someone else’s glasses (popular philosopher or theologian) or is substantially backslidden, he too may not see what God originally intended him to see. The result is the innumerable translations we have today that deviate from the truth of God because the process of revelation in these instances is corrupt. An example is the accommodation of evolution in Genesis 1:2 of The Message “Earth was a soup of nothingness”, and the accommodation of a previous creation in Young’s Literal Translation of the same verse  “the earth hath existed waste and void”.

One of the inbuilt methods of preservation God has put into His Word is that there are no ‘chapters’ similar to Systematic Theology. The fullness of the light of God applies to the whole of His Word; all doctrines pass through all of scripture. It is not possible to dispose of “salvation” by ripping out the chapter with that title, or cause a reader to disregard the significance of Satan because that bit was not printed.

Therefore, after being as verbose as Chafer, the relationship of revelation to reason is that they are both necessary components of the same process, in which God takes the primary and essential role of originating revelation, and man the subsidiary role of making that revelation make sense to himself. Man must guard against his tendency to make his reasoning processes as or more important than the original revelation, for the authority must remain with God.

Chafer makes the point that God’s revelation has inevitably pervaded the thought and morals of ‘Christian’ nations, making it difficult for their people to think outside that envelope eg it is easier for a Muslim to die for his faith because that is part of the system of Islam, more than it is of Christianity as it is expressed today.

Reason as the only method of an attempt at discovering who we are and why we are here will fail (eg rationalism) because there is no root of truth in it, as we are fallible and finite. The outcome is expressed in paganism, idolatry, atheism, pantheism, etc. Strictly speaking no man on earth is devoid of the revelation of God Himself in His Creation, but when man “rationally” decides to ignore or distort this, arriving at God’s truth becomes impossible.

Elucidate the Word of God as speech and as a Person: see 6. above. In addition:

Those who heard Christ speak personally experienced Him both as the Word of God in all its power and purity, and also as a unique human being with personal qualities that distinctly set Him above all others. Jesus as a human lived in Peter’s house, cured his mother-in-law of a fever, loved his brother and his business associates, identified with his occupation and the demands of the authorities on his life, accepted his human failings as a friend, and was still able to name Him as “the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matthew 16:16).

Today, the distinction between the Word and the Person tend to become blurred because Jesus is no longer here in person, and our personal relationship with Him is through the scripture and through the indwelling Holy Spirit. In some respects this gives us an advantage (John 14:12) because Jesus has left us the Holy Spirit which is for all the saved, everywhere, not limited to God in Person at one place. However, we still miss the personal human Presence, and this is a pleasure we shall gain when we shall soon rise to meet Him in the air!

After the Seminar I will be able to:

Vindicate why reason needs to be informed by Special Revelation:

In line with the pathway of communication of revelation between God and man, which God initiates and man is subordinate to, man’s reasoning which allows him to understand God’s revelation cannot proceed in a vacuum. Man has to have something to reason about before a satisfactory conclusion can be reached.

Unfortunately men believe that they can come to conclusions without having something concrete to think about eg the conclusion that evolution must be true, having ignored the evidence of God’s revelation all around them (which is both general and specific).

An example where Jesus made an immediate Special Revelation is in Luke 9:46-48  “Then there arose a reasoning among them, which of them should be greatest. 47 And Jesus, perceiving the thought of their heart, took a child, and set him by him, 48 And said unto them, Whosoever shall receive this child in my name receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me receiveth him that sent me: for he that is least among you all, the same shall be great.”  On this occasion, the disciples were reasoning about something unspiritual and earthly and Jesus’ revelation put their reasoning straight. A similar situation occurs in Luke 9:49-50.

God may grant Special revelation so that man can immediately apply his reasoning, or not. For example, Luke 9:43-45  “And they were all amazed at the mighty power of God. But while they wondered every one at all things which Jesus did, he said unto his disciples, 44 Let these sayings sink down into your ears: for the Son of man shall be delivered into the hands of men. 45 But they understood not this saying, and it was hid from them, that they perceived it not: and they feared to ask him of that saying.” Jesus refused to enlighten the disciples because it was not yet time that that understanding was needed. Nevertheless, it was still important that He had said it to them because they would remember it later as an important point in preaching the Gospel.

This illustrates that not only is God’s means and timing of His revelation under His control, but also the process of human reasoning by which He allows us to figure it out.

It should be recognized that the same principle holds for us today - special revelation from the indwelling Holy Spirit illuminates our own reason to keep us on God’s path and, more often than not, away from our own path.

Disprove the neo-orthodox (subjective) view of revelation: the following table from The Moody Handbook of Theology puts various views of revelation into perspective:

THEOLOGICAL VIEWS IN THE MODERN CHURCH
Comparisons Covenant Lutheran Reformed Liberal Neo-Orthodox
Adherents J. WollebiusWm. AmesJ. CocceiusModern adherents M. LutherLutherantheologians J. CalvinA. KuyperB.B. WarfieldModern Reformedtheologians I. KantF. SchleiermacherG. HegelOther liberals K. BarthS. KierkegaardR. BultmannOther neo-orthodox theologians
Features Covenant of works means life through obedience. Scripture alone. Man’s total depravity. Emphasis on human reason and experience. Emphasis on experience.
  Covenant of gracemeans life through faith Faith alone.Believer justifiedthrough faith based on Christ’sdeath. Unconditional election.Limited atonement.Irresistible grace.Perseverance of saints. Bible fallible     Optimistic view of man  Bible fallible: only a witness to revelation  Events of Bible are “myth”

[2]

The movement of neo-orthodoxy was “new” in its time because it held to naturalistic interpretations of scripture (ie denying the supernatural), and “orthodox” in that it accepted the supernatural. Karl Barth combined these two incompatibilities “by divorcing biblical truth from reason and history”.3 It meant that the Scriptures became true if they appeared true to the reader’s human reasoning, quite disregarding the Source of that truth (and human common sense).

The sine qua non  of revelation is that God must be in it. If God is excluded, no revelation. One would think that any course that did not include God was the height of stupidity and pride. So, what’s new?


----

[1]The Westminster Shorter Catechism : With Scripture Proofs. 3rd edition., Question 1. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996.

[2]Enns, Paul P. The Moody Handbook of Theology. Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 1997, c1989.

3Robertson McQuilkin  "Understanding and Applying the Bible"  Revised Edition Moody Press Chicago 1992  p50

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