grace-foundation-black-compressorI posted this on my Facebook last week and I have decided to keep it for my blog …

Throwback Thursday Theology focuses upon the notion of “balance” and letting the Scripture set your agenda. We often hear from critics when we preach a sermon on God’s grace or love. It has happened this very week. They say we have to “hold everything in biblical balance. We must talk about responsibility and hell to be true to the Bible” (quoting my critic).

I have heard this, as I said, MANY times. But I have learned over the years that these critics have a made up definition of “balance.” Surely the Scripture itself tells us what God himself thinks is “balanced.” I think so anyway.

So I did a little experiment today. I asked the following questions and got some startling answers from the New Testament.

+ How many times does Paul preach about hell?
+ How many times does Luke in Acts mention hell?
+ How many times does the New Testament as a whole talk about hell?
+ How many times does Paul/NT talk about grace?
+ How many times does Paul/NT talk about love?

If you have never done this experiment you will be shocked by the answers. My critics would have you to believe that “hell” occupies a significant amount of biblical teaching. The critics would have you believe that ‘balance’ means devoting nearly, if not actually, a one to one emphasis on grace/love to hell/lost/etc. My friends that is a complete made up believe with not a shred of biblical support.

So if you ask “how often did Paul mention hell in his epistles from Romans to Philemon?” The answer is a big 0!! Yes that is ZERO! There is not a single verse in Paul that has the word “hell” in it.

So if you ask “how often does Acts, with the only sermons in the NT in it, mention hell?” The answer is a big 0!! Yes that is ZERO!!

In fact the entire NT uses the word “hell” a grand total of 14x. That is from Matthew to Revelation, 14x. All but two of those are in the Gospels and several of those are parallel passages themselves and not independent occurrences. James 3.6 and 2 Peter 2.4 are the only texts in the NT outside the Gospels with the word “hell.” I believe in the reality of hell. But it does not look like the NT used it very often to frighten anyone or for any other purpose.

Now are you ready for the biblical balance on grace and love?? Be prepared for some amazement.

If I asked, “I see that the NT uses hell 14x, so how often do the writers speak of grace?” The answer to this is an astounding 123x!! That is one hundred and twenty-three times.

If I asked, “I see the NT uses hell 14x, so how often do the Spirit guided writers speak of love?” The answer is a whopping 232x!! Yes that is two hundred and thirty-two times the NT writers speak of love. By the way if we expand that to the whole Bible the number climbs up to 551 times the Scriptures speak of love.

The Bible exalts, from Genesis to Revelation, the themes of grace and especially love. We cannot be true to the God of the Bible, the Holy Spirit or Word if grace and love are not the foundation of every sermon we preach.

The Pauline notion of balance is Titus 3.3-8. All the action, all the verbs, all the doing is the Triune God’s (Father, Spirit, Son). Baptism in v.5, is not an instrument of Precision Obedience but the glorious work of the Holy Spirit. Goodness, loving kindness, mercy, justified by grace. Paul says in v.8 “I want you to STRESS these things.” Why Paul? “so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good.”

Love. Grace. Mercy. are the basis and ground for obedience. Healthy Christians are planted in the love of God. Obedient Christians are immersed in the grace of God. Faithful Christians are ever conscious of the mercy of God.

We can never scare people into faithfulness. We may frighten them into pathological legalism but we will never scare them into devotion and love for God. Fear is not the offspring of genuine biblical teaching. John says that love casts out all fear in fact.

So to my critics. I am thankful you have been my critic. I have learned that I have not stressed, as Paul directed, God’s love and grace nearly according to the biblical balance. Love saturates the NT 232x. Grace flows from the apostles 123x. Never once did a biblical writer apologize or qualify God’s gracious love rather they exalted it.

Be blessed.

David Lipscomb (1831-1917)

David Lipscomb (1831-1917)

I do no think there is a better time to post this paper delivered to the 2006 Christian Scholars Conference at Lipscomb University than now.  Christians in America from the various political parties have, seemingly, drank from some strange wine.  Just food for thought.

Bobby Valentine
Christian Scholars Conference
Rochester College, June 2006
The Apocalyptic Theology of David Lipscomb
and James A. Harding


Professor Richard Goode has made a plea for “scandalous” historiography on behalf of the citizenship of the kingdom of God.[1]  David Lipscomb (1831-1917) and James A. Harding (1848-1922) were both radical and scandalous. Therefore, I offer this short paper in their honor.

Apocalyptic Framework of Lipscomb and Harding

Martinus De Boer, reflecting on Paul’s apocalyptic theology, states that apocalyptic evokes the idea of “God’s own eschatological and sovereign action of putting an end to this world-age and replacing it with the new world age (the kingdom of God).[2]  Both Lipscomb and Harding lived with just such a radical apocalyptic interpretation of life in the present, a life in which they conceived as being lived in the shadow of God’s in-breaking kingdom.  Such an orientation places Christians within an entirely different age.  Christians are, perhaps, the future on display in the present.  David Lipscomb describes this counter world,

“The Advocate has no faith in Christianity which is only peaceable in perceable [sic] times, when the world is peaceable, or while politicians are peaceable, but when the world gets war like [sic] and blood-thirsty, does just like the world, become warlike and bloodthirsty. The church that acts just like the world in these matters, is not a whit better than the world.  I would like to see the church as God intended it to be. An ark of safety, peace and harmony, even while the world and the kingdoms are engaged in fierce and bloody strife.”[3]

According to Lipscomb and Harding, God’s people are to live in the present fallen age as ambassadors of another age, an age in which the unique ethics of the kingdom are manifest.  This perspective is scattered throughout the writings of both men but is nicely expounded in two key documents: David Lipscomb’s classic book Civil Government[4] and James A. Harding’s article “The Kingdom of Christ Vs. The Kingdoms of Satan.”[5]  For Harding, and to a lesser extent Lipscomb, there is a broad spiritual conflict going on in which the saints have an important role.  It is a conflict between God’s kingdom and Satan’s, between Christians and non-believers and between God’s church and the powers of this age.

According to the general scheme embraced by both Lipscomb and Harding, God created humanity out of his gracious love to enlarge the family of God.  Adam and Eve, as proto-typical humans were to be trained in the art of ruling in order to share the regency with God.  Humanity soon rejected God’s graciousness and sought to establish an autonomous government separate and apart from God. In so doing humans gave God’s good creation over to Satan himself.  The result of such a tragic turn of events is, of course, the evil and suffering that so visibly fills the earth.  Envy, hate and war became the lot of humanity.

Yet God sought to “deliver the earth from Satan, and destroy his hosts.”[6]  God first did this through Noah’s flood and progressively has been reclaiming his creation through Israel and the work of Christ.  Just as the Fall was, seemingly, a decisive moment so Harding believed there would be a decisive moment in which the enemy of God would be singularly defeated.  In a scene that reminds us of Tolkien’s Return of the King, Harding describes the battle,

When the saints are caught up to meet him, Christ comes on with them, to the earth. Then all the kings of the earth gather their armies together, with the beast and the false prophet, to make war against Christ and his army.  The beast and the false prophet are captured and cast into the lake of fire, the first to be consigned to that awful place; then by the sword that proceeds out of his mouth Christ slays all the rest, the wicked that are on the earth . . . Satan is then caught, chained and cast into the abyss, which is shut and sealed.”[7]

Following the defeat of Satan and his hosts the long awaited Sabbath rest of Hebrews 4.9, the Millennium, is established and the poor shall inherit the earth.  The Millennium is not the end however.  The goal of creation is realized when God himself takes up his abode with his sons and daughters on a redeemed and renovated earth.  As Lipscomb would say

The mission of this Church is to rescue and redeem the earth from the rule and dominion of the human kingdoms, from the rebellion against God, and to reinstate the authority and rule of God on earth through this own kingdom. Through and in it Christ must reign until he shall have “put down all rule, and all authority and all power.” Then will he deliver up the kingdom to God the Father, and himself be subject to God, that God ruling in and through his restored kingdom on earth, may be all and in all, the only ruler of the heavens and of the earth.[8]

Or again,

The Holy Spirit came to earth to . . . guide that kingdom to its future growth, to its final and perfect development, when the kingdoms of the earth shall become the kingdom of God and his Christ, when the will of God shall be done on earth as it is in heaven, and when earth itself shall become heaven and God shall dwell  with his people and be their God and they shall be his people.[9]

Harding would agree with this sentiment:

…the earth is God’s nursery, his training grounds, made primarily for the occupancy of his children, for their education, development and training until they shall have reached their majority, until the end of the Messianic age has come; then it is to be purified a second time by a great washing, a mighty flood, but this time in a sea of fire. Then God will take up his abode himself with his great family upon this new, this renovated and purified earth…So it is apparent that the one great, all-including purpose for which we were made, for which we exist, is to be educated, trained, developed, so as to be indeed sons of God; brothers of Christ, heirs of God, who will dwell with their Father forever, and will reign with him.”[10]

It might be helpful for us to graph the Harding’s theology in the following way, sort of a mirror or chiastic structure:



Creation (Eden)                                                                Renewed Earth (God’s Reign)



Israel                                                  Sabbath Rest/Millennium



Incarnation/Age of the Spirit


This structure is not just an end time scenario for Harding and Lipscomb but fills their entire theological perspective.


hardingAvoiding “Adulterous Alliances”

If the present age has fallen into a Satanic quagmire how shall the people of God live?  Christians are those who have voluntarily pledged allegiance to the kingdom of God.  They have been translated out of the old age through their baptism and into a new age.  Members of the kingdom of God will avoid any “adulterous alliance[s]” with the fallen world.[11]  Lipscomb had argued early after the Civil War that there were only three possible positions a Christian could take with regard to the world powers.  He pointed to the first position as that of Isaac Errett and the Christian Standard. This position stated that Christians could fully participate in the world powers but imported Christian values into that sphere.  This position commits the disciple of Christ not only to voting, educating the flock for a specific “Christian” political point of view but also to bearing arms in behalf of the state.  This view had the benefit of logical consistency according to Lipscomb.

The second position Lipscomb stated was occupied by Benjamin Franklin and the American Christian Review.  This interpretation stated that disciples could vote and hold offices among the principalities and powers.  However the disciple is not to urge a particular political point of view or engage in war.  This view Lipscomb rejects as self-contradictory.

The third position regarding the disciple’s relationship to the rulers of this age is that of an alien and sojourner.  In this view the duty of the Christian is simply that of “quiet, cheerful submission to the government . . . in all things that do not contravene the letter and spirit of the Christian religion revealed in the Bible.”[12]

Lipscomb and Harding believed that the “spirit” that inhabits the kingdoms of this age and the kingdom of God were alien to each other and mutually exclusive.  There are many examples that could be called on to testify to this point but I have chosen two chronologically close examples from the late 1890s.  In the late 1890s the United States nearly came to blows with the British Empire over border disputes in South America between Venezuela and British Guiana.  And she did go to war with Spain in 1898.

From 1895 to 1896, under the guise of the Monroe Doctrine, the United States declared it had the authority to tell Great Britain what to do in a dispute with Venezuela.  Lipscomb found it ironic that Americans of all persuasions, Republicans and Democrats, had joined the war wagon in support of the Monroe Doctrine.  The British were to our north in Canada and never injured the United States therefore Lipscomb opined that the English pose no legitimate threat to American national security thousands of miles down in South America.  It was a, seemingly, mindless “Christian patriotism” that caused folks to strike up the war band.   But Lipscomb took a different point of view.  He wrote,

When the leading lights among politicians begin to advocate war in defense of the Monroe doctrine it is high time for the chief luminaries in the church of God to commence preaching peace on earth and good will among men in defense of the doctrine of the Sermon on the Mount. And if the government of the United States decides to go to war to uphold the Monroe doctrine, the disciples of Christ should determine with equal firmness to take no part in the bloody business in order to maintain the principles and spirit of the doctrine of Christ.”[13]

Lipscomb asks rhetorically “Should the Christian patriots of America kill the Christians of England because they are patriots too?[14]

The United States did not go to war with England over the Monroe doctrine.  But  a few years later she did with Spain and the Monroe doctrine did figure into America’s interest in Cuba.  Many humanitarian reasons were put forth as justifications of the war but they rang hallow to Lipscomb,

A claim of unselfish sympathy for suffering Cubans was put forward as the ground of this war; but this was a pretext to satisfy the moral and religious sentiment of the people, and show these latter have some hold on the people, however perverted they may be.  The war will end in conquest.[15]

The real reasons for going to war over Cuba were the same as always according to Lipscomb.  Politicians use war to advance personal agendas.  The rich will use war to make more money.  And it is the poor who will kill and be killed. “Christians have no part nor lot in such affairs.[16]

But the United States had charted a course that was antithetical to Jesus.  When a person embraces the Messiah, Lipscomb wrote, the values of Jesus are also embraced.  “That is what being a Christian means[17] he declared.  Since every Christian is “pledged” to do what Jesus would do if he were present, Lipscomb asks his readers, “Would Jesus join the army of the United States to fight Spain, or join the army of Spain to fight the United States? Would he kill and destroy men?[18]

Though we cannot explore it here, mention should be made of the totally different spirit in Garrison’s Christian Evangelist of the time.  Garrison’s pro-Americanism is so pointed that his biographer, William Tucker, remarked that the “readers of the Christian Evangelist had difficulty distinguishing between his religion and his patriotism.” When the Pope offered to mediate the dispute between the United States and Spain, Garrison wrote, “Our desire for peace can never carry us to that length.[19]  There is a stark contrast between Garrison and Lipscomb and Harding on this issue.

David Lipscomb and James A. Harding believe that the principalities and powers, as represented in the rulers of this age are fundamentally self-serving and idolatrous.  These powers will tolerate religious devotion as long as it does not conflict with the agenda of its self-promoting agenda.  The moment there is a conflict, Lipscomb writes (prophetically!?), the “civil power” will seek to destroy the church “as it sought to destroy it founder.”[20]

Disciples can inoculate themselves from the temptation to “adulterous alliances” through imbibing the Sermon on the Mount.  Both Lipscomb and Harding protested the neglect, and even outright dismissal, of the Sermon on the part of many Christians.[21] Lipscomb is impassioned about the centrality of the Sermon for Christian ethics and doctrine.  He claimed that these few chapters in Matthew “contain the living and essential principles of the religion of the Savior came to establish.”[22]  Stepping up the radical meter here, Lipscomb goes on to say that these values “are given as principles to be practiced, without which we are not and cannot be children of our Father which is in heaven . . .”[23]

KCThe Sermon on the Mount is essential because in it the deep chasm that separates the principalities of this world and Suffering Servant is manifest.  The spirit of Christ pervades the Sermon and is inculcated throughout the New Testament by the Messiah’s apostolic interpreters.

Likewise, Lipscomb believed that there was a corresponding relationship to a disciple’s attachment to the world and discipleship.  This is why both the Protestant and “Romish” establishments want to downplay the centrality of the Sermon for the Christian.  But that is also why it has been embraced as a “rule of life” by such small and insignificant groups as the Quakers, Mennonites and Dunkards.  When the Sermon is lost on the church “the spirit of Christ is driven out of the church and the spirit of the world takes its abode in it.”[24]

Concluding Remarks

A full exposition of Lipscomb and Harding cannot be given in the space and time allowed for this conference. Our recent work, coauthored with John Mark Hicks, Kingdom Come: Embracing the Spiritual Legacy of David Lipscomb and James Harding attempts to offer a deeper excursion of into the radical theology of these men along with how to live this profound Spirituality.

But their theology is not just one of radical separation from the powers of this age.  Rather they understand that God is dynamically working in and through his kingdom people to bring about the ultimate redemption of creation.  Thus the Holy Spirit and Providence figure prominently in these men’s writings (especially Harding).  Through what Harding calls the “Four Means of Grace”[25] (reading scripture, fellowship with the disenfranchised, Lord’s day, prayer) God’s people share the ministry of God in caring for the poor and powerless of this age.

Their faith in the God who is sovereignly intervening in this age fueled lives of incredible sacrifice for the kingdom of God.  They are witnesses against the cultural church of today and silently point us back to the kingdom way.


[1]    Richard C. Goode, “The Radical Idea of Christian Scholarship: Plea for a Scandalous Historiography,” in Warren Lewis and Hans Rollmann, eds. Restoring First Century Christianity in the Twenty-First Century: Essays on the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement (Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2005), 227-242.

[2]    Martinus C. De Boer, “Paul, Theologian of God’s Apocalypse,” Interpretation 56.1 (January 2002), 24.

[3]    David Lipscomb, “Response,” Gospel Advocate 8.42 (16 October 1866), 662.

[4]    David Lipscomb, Civil Government: Its Origin, Mission, and Destiny and the Christian’s Relation to It (Nashville: McQuiddy Printing Company, 1913).

[5]    James A. Harding, “The Kingdom of Christ Vs. The Kingdoms of Satan,” The Way 5 (15 October 1903), 929-931.

[6]    Ibid., 930.

[7]    Ibid.

[8]    Lipscomb, Civil Government, 12-13.

[9]    David Lipscomb, “The Kingdom of God,” Gospel Advocate 45.21 (21 May 1903), 328.  My emphasis.

[10]    James A. Harding, “For What Are We Here?” The Way 5.33 (3 December 1903), 1041.

[11]    David Lipscomb, “An Explanation,” Gospel Advocate 8 (3 July 1866), 427.

[12]    Ibid., 428.

[13]    David Lipscomb, “From the Papers,” Gospel Advocate 38.2 (9 January 1896), 17.

[14]    David Lipscomb, “The Monroe Doctrine,” Gospel Advocate 38.3 (16 January 1896), 37.

[15]    David Lipscomb, “The War and Its Lessons,” Gospel Advocate 40 (11 August 1898), 508.

[16]    Lipscomb, “The Monroe Doctrine,” 37.

[17]    David Lipscomb, “War-Its Spirit,” Gospel Advocate 40.17 (28 April 1898), 269.

[18]    Ibid.

[19]    See the fine study by Charles R. Blaisdell, “The Attitude of the Christian Evangelist Towards the Spanish-American War,” Encounter 50 (Summer 1989): 233-243.

[20]    Lipscomb, Civil Government, 64.

[21]    John Mark Hicks and Bobby Valentine, Kingdom Come: Embracing the Spiritual Legacy of David Lipscomb and James Harding (Abilene: Leafwood, 2006), 36-37, 66.  Cf. James A. Harding, “To Whom Was The Sermon on the Mount Addressed? A Reply to Doctor Holloway,” Christian Leader and the Way 20 (3 April 1906), 8-9; and “Saving Souls, Special Providence, Dr. Holloway,” Christian Leader and the Way 21 (29 January 1907), 8.

[22]    Lipscomb, Civil Government, 133.

[23]    Ibid., 134.

[24]    Ibid., 135.

[25]    See Hicks and Valentine, Kingdom Come, 75-141.

hermeneutics1Regardless of claims to the contrary no one simply reads the Bible.  The Bible is interpreted.  When Christians say that women do not have wear veils, we do not have to greet each other with a kiss, we do not have to lift up hands in prayer, etc we are interpreting Scripture. The question is not if we will interpret the Bible but only will our interpretation be a good one or a bad one.

Christian hermeneutics will always begin as a response to the God of all grace who has done great things.  Christian interpretation will be rooted in the soul that is seeking to reflect God’s glorious image back into the created world around us. Christian biblical interpretation will begin in prayer and will be understood as “an act of worship.”

Thus interpretation that does not begin in prayer and worship and result in the Spirit flowing through us to a vandalized world then we have a right to question if it is a valid hermeneutic or Christian interpretation.

Prayer, Worship and reflecting God’s image these are the beginning points and the ends/goals of interpretation.  I have found the following big picture ideas helpful as a framework for Christian interpretation of Scripture in God honoring ways.


First. The Bible is inspired of God’s Holy Spirit through the words of human beings in specific historical circumstances.  Thus it is literally the word of God and the word of humans.  Thus the text was written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek and not Spanish, English or Southern.  God’s word addressed them in that situation and may not be God’s directive for all time and all places.


Second. Because of the historical nature of revelation we must pay close attention to the historical occasion of the text.  Why was it said or written in the first place? We assess the meaning of words in their historical and literary context if we respect God’s word. I cover this point usually by saying there are two rules for reading the Bible, “Context and Context.


Third. But the Bible is not simply a Hodge Podge of stuff.  The Bible actually has a Story that each historically conditioned text contributes to in some fashion.  The Gist of that Story is this: The Triune God created the universe as an act of love so that created life can have communion/fellowship with him.  Creation Rebelled and vandalized that good creation erecting a barrier between Creator and Creation. And the Triune God is working within creation to redeem, restore and even glorify his creation.  This is the “grand narrative.”


Fourth. That Grand Narrative, story line, is the skeleton on which the various individual and historically conditioned, texts “hang.” Genesis 1-2 and Rev 21-22 are the bookends to the macrostructure of the canon of Scripture. This narrative is broken into Six stages or “Acts” as some call them. They are:

1) God Establishes his Kingdom in Creation (Gen 1-2)

2) Shalom vandalized in the Kingdom – Rebellion (Gen 3-11)

3) Triune God chose Israel by grace alone to bring creation
back into communion with him. Israel was to be leaven in the
rebellious world. Redemption is initiated. (Gen 12-Malachi)

4) The Triune God sends the King thru Israel.  Thru his work in his physical
body, rebellious creation becomes obedient to the will of God and
is redeemed through the death, burial and resurrection of the King
(Matt – John)

5) God’s renewed creation is placed in the world through the church.
Here the values of the King, the values of God, are lived out and
performed on Earth as they are in heaven.  These are the people of
the Resurrection.  They are not of the old fallen order rather they are
in the world to be the seasoning of redemption to, demonstrate what
“Heaven” is supposed to be like.  The Fall is turned on its head in
the church (Acts – Rev 19)

6) The Return of the King. Redemption is consummated and the evil and
corruption that has marred God’s creation intent is fully recognized as defeated
and cast out by the resurrection of the body of Jesus. Vandalism is replaced
with beautification and glorification (Rev 21-22)


This basic outline can reap rich rewards.  Remembering the Grand Narrative of the Bible helps us to see the actual goal of the Bible.  The Narrative points us to the “point.” When we know the goal that shapes our present not just from one command or example but in light of the entire Narrative that is lurching forward by the power of the Spirit toward the redemptive goal of God.  We want to live our lives both individually and corporately sharing in God’s own mission.

Remembering this basic outline in light of prayer and worship and seeking to reflect God’s true image into the world can go a long way towards sound Christian biblical interpretation.

But the goal of this command/instruction is LOVE, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have departed from the these and have turned to meaningless talk. These want to be teachers of the Bible, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm” (1 Timothy 1.5-7)

Orthodox Icon of Daniel

Orthodox Icon of Daniel

“All Spiritual life is the result of the indwelling Holy Spirit.”
— K. C. Moser

My recent reading through Daniel in our daily readings has led to some meditation on the work of the Holy Spirit and living faithfully with God in a pagan environment. Following R. L. Whiteside’s advice in 1923, I let it “season” for a season.

I believe God’s Spirit was far more active among ordinary Israelites in the Hebrew Bible than modern believers dream or imagine. I also think Daniel provides something of a model of living out a Holy Spirit life in an alien culture.

I noticed in my recent reading a string of seven references to a spirit or the spirit of the gods in the life of Daniel spread over a significant portion of his life in exile. A number of these references are in the Aramaic portion of Daniel (Daniel is written in Hebrew and Aramaic).

What is interesting to me is there is no language in Daniel that says to the effect “the Spirit came on him,” or Daniel was “anointed” (the Greek version does however especially in reference to Susanna). It is through “normal” life that the Spirit was working and bringing forth fruit in Daniel. That is there were no flash points as far as the story goes.  He cultivated a life of discipline before the God of Israel and over time he grew in the man recognized by all as one who was endowed with “a spirit of the gods.”  Sometimes we are so addicted to and associate the Spirit with the spectacular that we miss the Spirit in the ordinary mundane rhythms of life.  Indeed it seems his goal of transformation is best served in the mix of the routine. I find this encouraging because my life is pretty ordinary!

Daniel Educated to be a Scholar

The story begins in Daniel’s commitment to God while in land of Mordor! The Spirit works in and thru Daniel’s commitment.

This takes hard work! Daniel, and his companions, were chosen to be slaves in Nebuchadnezzar court. There was the usual handsome requirement (1.4) but those chosen were to be among the best educated Israel had.  Daniel becomes a full fledged scholar. He masters Babylonian literature and language (1.4-6).   They were already “versed in every branch of wisdom, endowed with knowledge and insight” (1.4).  Daniel was not just anyone but had received a significant education while in his native land.

Well versed or not, Daniel and his friends, were required to go to graduate school in Babylon.  Nebuchadnezzar ordered that they be trained in Aramaic (language of Babylon) and literature of the Empire.  So Daniel entered the Babylonian equivalent of Harvard “to be educated for three years” (1.5).

Imagine Daniel pouring over lexical lists learning to read cuneiform.  Soaking up Gilgamesh. Pondering the Poem of a Righteous Sufferer.  Memorizing the Babylonian proverbs and laments. They would learn the ins and outs of the Enuma Elish. Babylonian literature is vast and rich … and Daniel studied it long before archeologists dug it up and fundamentalist teachers decided you should never read anything.

Babylonian Poetry that Daniel would have mastered

Babylonian Poetry that Daniel would have mastered

Daniel’s Commitment to Humbly Learn

I recall many years ago at IBC sitting in an English literature class when a Bible major classmate voiced an opinion that was shared by half the class apparently.  I have never forgotten the question.  “Dr. Wheeler, why do I need to know this stuff? Why waste time on this? All I need is the word of God.”

Watching David Letterman’s interviews with college students on the streets reminds us that because you go to college or get a degree does not mean a person has learned anything. Sadly many, even those wanting be leaders among God’s people, do what is necessary to “pass” a test. They do not seek to cultivate disciplines that will deepen and enrich the life lived.

But Daniel did not seek to make a passing grade.  Daniel did not set out to get a career that would make money.  We are told instead that Daniel had two goals: gain understanding and live humbly before the God of Israel.  “[F]rom the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before God” (10.12).

Daniel’s discipline resulted in God giving him knowledge and skill in “EVERY aspect of literature and wisdom” (1.17). Daniel was not afraid of the Epic of Gilgamesh nor did he ever say that study hindered his walk with God. Rather the Spirit rewarded his study! Daniel and his friends were recognized as better scholars than the natives!

The Spirit sometimes has rocky soil … resistant soil … to work with however.

Daniel’s Commitment to a Simple Lifestyle

Daniel’s humility before the Lord is readily apparent in his rejection of a luxurious lifestyle that was ultimately rooted in injustice. Even as a slave, Daniel and his companion exiles were given the opportunity to share in the extravagance of the Empire.  The pagan king assigned sumptuous portions from his table to be given to the four Jewish slaves (1. 5).

But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the royal rations of food and wine” (1.8) .  There is nothing in the text that would indicate this was unclean food like pigs.  Daniel and his friends reject the food not because they are ascetics or because it is unclean but because it is from a table that is enriched by injustice.  Daniel will later tell the king, sounding like gentler Amos,

atone for your sins with righteousness, and your iniquities with mercy to the oppressed, so that your prosperity may be prolonged” (4.27).

Daniel embraced a simple lifestyle evidenced by his diet of veggies and water (1.8-16). It was a conscious decision to be countercultural in a radically pagan environment to not be dependent upon the machinery of the Empire but upon the God of heaven to take care of his needs.  And the Lord “allowed Daniel to receive favor” in light of his radical but simple commitment.

Daniel’s Commitment to Worship

Daniel’s quiet and rather ordinary routine included the practice of prayer and praise.  Though there is no indication that Daniel was ostentatious in displaying his piety people seemed to know this was a core rhythm in his life.  After Darius became the ruler of the universe, so to speak, the cadence of Daniel’s life even became the means for trapping him by the pagans. Daniel would have his window,

open toward Jerusalem, and get down on his knees three times a day to pray to his God and praise him” (6.10)

Daniel would “seek mercy” during his prayer (6.11). Few things remind us of our creaturely status as praise.

Outsiders Recognize “a Spirit of the Gods”

Daniel’s humility before the Lord and his commitment to learning and understanding allowed God to put him in places that needed a witness to the Most High God.  It is interesting that it is in the middle section of the book where Daniel interacts with a pagan king and pagan scholars that we find half a dozen references to the Spirit.  These references are almost always from the pagans.  They are pagans. They do not know Yahweh.  But they recognize in Daniel a “presence” that is a “spirit” that shows he has been endowed by the “gods.”  See Daniel 4.8, 9, 18; 5.11-12, 14; 6.3.

Daniel came before me [Nebuchadnezzar]-he was named Belteshazzar after the name of my god and who is endowned with a spirit of the holy gods...” (4.8)

O Belteshazzar, chief of the magicians, I know that are endowed with a spirit of the holy gods ...” (4.9)

You [Daniel] are able, however, for you are endowed with a spirit of the holy gods” (4.18)

There is a man in your kingdom who is endowed with a spirit of the holy gods … because an excellent spirit … ” (5.11-12)

I have heard of you that a spirit of the gods is in you …” (5.18)

Daniel distinguished himself above all the other presidents and satraps because an excellent spirit was in him …” (6.3)

SpiritThe Spirit in the Ordinary

The presence of the Spirit was recognized by those who were “nonbelievers.”  While the pagans say he is endowed with a spirit of the gods, the narrator of the book attributes Daniel’s walk in the pagan world to “an excellent Spirit.”

The references to the Spirit that saturate the middle of the book show that Spirit, the ruah, did not work in Daniel despite his education but because of it. The rhythm of simplicity, dedication to learning (being a disciple), and praise nurtured soil in Daniel that was ideal for the Spirit of God to work.

The ruah uses Daniel’s commitment and discipline to nurture knowledge and wisdom. The story explicitly connects these.

“Soon Daniel distinguished himself above all the other presidents and satraps BECAUSE AN EXCELLENT SPIRIT WAS IN HIM …” (6.3f)

The River of the Spirit in Daniel’s Life

The text then mentions his “faithfulness.”

1) commitment to God choosing simplicity over luxury
2) setting the mind to learn literature and language … that is scholarship
3) consciously cultivating a rhythm of daily prayer and praise
3) faithfulness to these goals
4) found the Spirit cultivating these very things for life in Mordor.

A lifetime of cultivating the discipline of simplicity (refusing the food from the pagan king) and the discipline of study to understand literature revealed in Daniel’s life that the excellent Spirit was there all along. The Spirit did not work because Daniel chose laziness.  The ruah worked in Daniel’s discipline to produce a person that was a blessing even to nonbelievers.

I am excited that Daniel was a full fledged scholar. I am delighted to know such scholarship let other people recognize God’s “excellent spirit” in him (the pagans call it “a spirit of the gods”).  The ruah loves scholarship that seeks wisdom and understanding. As we humble ourselves in prayer and worship we are transformed by God’s own Spirit.  As Jack Lewis once said in class, “ignorance is not a fruit of the spirit.”

Could it be that part of the struggle in Churches of Christ today results from a lack of what Daniel and his friends committed themselves:

Scholarship/Commitment to learn?
Mastering the literature of Mordor?
Becoming fluent in the language?
Adopting something like the “daily office” for prayer and praise?

Cultivating these as Spiritual disciplines

Coupled with “humility” so that even pagans recognize that Excellent Spirit in us? Spiritual growth does not happen by accident. Spiritual maturity does not normally happen by osmosis. If we are seeking a richer, deeper, transforming us into the image of Christ relationship, then perhaps the Daniel way can help us to be open to God’s Excellent Spirit working in the open and receptive soil of our lives.

I do not feel bad, now, having spent so much time reading Gilgamesh

So here is the question for us today … do our contemporary pagans recognize an “excellent spirit” in us? Even if they have no way of articulating correctly a notion of the Holy Spirit do they still perceive “a spirit of the gods” in us?  If not, why not?

17 Oct 2016

Baptism: Work of God, Dripping in Grace

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Acts, Baptism, Church, Faith, Forgiveness, Grace, Martin Luther, Salvation
Ancient baptistry in Avdat in Israel. Note the cruciform shape.

Ancient baptistry in Avdat in Israel. Note the cruciform shape.

Avoiding Unbiblical and Sectarian Extremes

Christians often have seriously flawed theology. Anemic theology can express itself in legalism, sectarianism, and even liberalism.

Baptism is one such subject in which deep flaws occur. Some both within Churches of Christ and without (especially Evangelicals) will claim that baptism is a work of human righteousness.  Some in Churches of Christ do this in order to insist on the “necessity” of baptism.  Evangelicals do it to protect a misunderstood doctrine of grace alone.

Almost certainly the social context of these Christians is the lens thru which they view baptism and not Scripture or the history of the church. Martin Luther once said that “Baptism is grace clutching you by the throat!” Luther believed that baptism was part of “Grace Alone!” That is healthy biblical view.

Scripturally, Baptism is not a HUMAN work.  There is in fact “work” that is done in baptism but it is hardly anything humans can take credit for. The work done in baptism is not by “me” but by God through his Holy Spirit. Thus our flawed, and incorrect understandings, thankfully, do not undermine it.

We are not saved by correct doctrine but by faith in the God of all Grace made visible in the Messiah Jesus. We are not saved by the precision of our obedience. Baptism proclaims that all human work requires a death sentence.  We trust in Jesus. Baptism is GOD’s work, God’s grace and it is “received” thru simple faith, not a flawless doctrine of baptism.

Faith in Jesus is the only requirement for baptism in the New Testament.

Every verse, related to baptism, in the Epistles of Paul or Peter are written to the already baptized not potential candidates for baptism.

These texts are teaching disciples what happened in their baptism.  Not one verse on baptism in the Epistles represent a condition of knowledge for a candidate prior to being immersed. This is an indisputable fact.  We grow in our understanding of the work of God in baptism but there is no requirement to understand anything other than faith in Jesus the Messiah as a condition for baptism.

BaptismBaptism the Work of God, Dripping in Grace

So here is a short “theology” of the Grace of Baptism …

Baptism proclaims our understanding of God’s GIFT of forgiveness, grace and liberation of all thru the only Son, Jesus the Messiah, regardless of the enormity of the guilt, even to those who hands were still dripping with the blood of the Crucified, even to the religious terrorist Saul. “Dripping in grace.”

Baptism proclaims that rebirth is possible. Rebirth. Starting over. Being born again. Born radically from above by God. The fundamental reorientation of our life is not a dream but a reality. The washing of rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit. The old Self is crucified and the raised from the grave in the New Creation. “Dripping in grace.”

Baptism makes repentance a verb and shows the change in how we see ourselves. We now see ourselves as dead to the reign of Sin. Baptism proclaims a vision of the new Self. It is the reference point for all future living under the reign of God. Like our physical birth, it is the day we look back to remember just who we are. Baptism is the ultimate expression that we are not Captain of our own lives and our desperate need for the miracle of a new Self. Baptismal identity is cruciform identity. Christian identity is “dripping in grace.”

Baptism proclaims our promise and pledge to God to be his in word, life and deed. It proclaims our trust, our faith, indeed even our Love for our Lord as any marriage ceremony and ring proclaims our devotion to our wives.  Baptism proclaims our wedding to the Lamb … “dripping in grace.”

Baptism proclaims our union with and incorporation into the Messiah. That is we are grafted into the the Body, the People of God, the Spirit immersed and filled new creation humanity. Baptism is the union of our personalities with the person of Jesus. “Dripping in grace.

Baptism is the proclamation of what life is “about.” It is the archetype of our life, the cruciform pattern, that is pressed into our being. Baptism is the physical enactment of both what happened – the death, burial, and resurrection of the Messiah – and what is meant to happen in our life, that is the putting off of rebellious fallen world allegiances and allowing God to clothe us in resurrection living and values. Baptism is a means, not an “end.” “Dripping in grace.

Fourth century baptistry in Tunisia. Note the cruciform shape.

Fourth century baptistry in Tunisia. Note the cruciform shape.

I believe that baptism is not insisted on arbitrarily as some matter of divine fiat or assertion of sovereignty. It is insisted upon because grace is necessary. God insists on it because we need it in our very souls. There is nothing that could imprint upon our lives the Spiritual truths baptism not only proclaims but accomplishes through God’s own Spirit:

1) we must die to Self to enthrone Christ;
2) we must be cleansed;
3) we must be resurrected into the new creation;
4) we must be incorporated into the people of God.

Baptism changes our lives by the power of God working in us and upon us when we receive his promises in simple faith. Baptism is not magic rather it is grace. We do not have faith in baptism any more than Noah had faith in the ark but rather the faith is in God. Dripping in grace.

See the following passages follow the order of the paragraphs above: Acts 2.14-41, Acts 22.16; John 3.1-21; Titus 3.3-8; Romans 6.1-14; 1 Peter 3.8-22; Galatians 3.26-28; 1 Corinthians 12.12-13; Ephesians 1.22-23; Colossians 2.9-3.17.

Never sell out what God does because some one turns baptism into a sectarian club!!! Do not run from the beauty of God’s gracious work because of some sectarian legalism embraced by some.  Baptism drips with God’s working, powerful, active grace. Recognizing that baptism is a “sacrament” … that is fundamentally a GOD centered moment rather than a HUMAN centered activity … will keep us from turning baptism into either magic or legalism.  Be Blessed.

Jubilee Lev 25Here is a mental exercise for us. What do you think might happen on the CofCs of all 12,000+ congregations adopted a lectionary that we all followed for 52 wks. This lectionary would focus on the expository preaching the following texts from the Torah, the former Prophets, Psalms, Prophets, Gospel and select episolary texts. All would be addressed within a single calendar year.  These texts call attention to a major, neon bright, theme in Scripture that is so frequently near the very bottom of priorities with American disciples, that of Justice, Mercy and Faithfulness.  So lets call this A Year of Jubilee.

Jubilee is a world based upon GRACE, pure GRACE, real grace.

The Spirit of the LORD God is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to
the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of JUBILEE,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort those who mourn ...”
(Isaiah 61.1-2)

Exodus 1, The Paranoia of the Oppressor
Exodus 2.11-23, God Sides with the Oppressed
Exodus 20.8-11 & Deuteronomy 5.12-15, Sabbath, Remembering the World that Was, Living for the World that Will Be
Exodus 23.1-13, People of God’s Reign
Leviticus 19.17-18, 33; Galatians 5.14, Love, even Aliens What the Whole Law Hangs On
Leviticus 25, Restarting the World by Erasing the Values of the Fall
Deuteronomy 10.12-21, It’s So Simple a Caveman Can Do it! The Bottom Line of What God Requires
Deuteronomy 15, Redeemed Slaves Make Good Neighbors
Deuteronomy 16.9-12; 26.1-10, Worship! Welcome the Women, the Slaves, the Poor and … the Aliens!
Ruth 1-4; Deuteronomy 23.3, God Loves, Blesses, and Uses the Legally Excluded
1 Kings 17, What the Anti-Kingdom Looks Like
Psalm 10.1-18, Praying with the Poor
Psalm 68.5-6, God of the Poor and Needy
Psalm 72.1-14, God’s Political Platform
Psalm 146.1-10, Creator and Rescuer of the Lowly
Isaiah 1.10-20, What False Worship Looks Like or Why God Does Not Hear our Songs of Praise
Isaiah 5.8-22, Its all about the Porfolio!?
Isaiah 11.1-9; Micah 4.1-3; Zechariah 9.9-10, Make John Deere’s Not Bombs or the Kingdom of the Prince of Peace
Isaiah 58.1-14, What it Looks Like when Yahweh is Our King
Jeremiah 22.13-18, Is this not to Know ME?
Jeremiah 34.8-22, JUBILEE Subverted
Ezekiel 16.49, Why God Really Nuked Sodom!
Hosea 2.16-23; 4.1-3; God’s Covenant with the Animals … Human Sin Rapes God’s Covenanted World
Amos 1.1-2.3, God’s Geneva Convention
Amos 4.1-4, Avarice, Self-Indulgence, Fat Cows
Amos 5.18-27, Churches are Full but God is not There
Micah 2.1-11, When Greed is Kosher
Micah 6.6-8, God’s Heart Values
Habakkuk 1.6-11; 3.16-17, The Enemy is God’s Servant! In Times of Fear the God’s People Live By Faith
Matthew 5.1-11, Profiles of Kingdom Citizens
Matthew 5.38-48, Love from another Kingdom
Matthew 6.7-15, On Earth as in Heaven
Matthew 25.31-40, Jesus’s Doctrine of Judgement
Luke 1.46-56, The Mother of the Son of God’s Song of Reversal
Luke 2.22-24, Jesus, the Ghetto Baby
Luke 4.16-19, JUBILEE, God’s Mission in Jesus
Luke 6.20-26, Jubilee to the Rich, Jubilee for the Lowly
Luke 10.25-37, Parable of the Good “Muslim” … Or when our Enemy is More Righteous than Ourselves
Luke 12.13-21, Rich Fool Misses Jubilee
Luke 18.18-30, What Must I do to be Saved? Embrace Jubilee!
Luke 19.1-10, Embracing Salvation the Jesus Way
Romans 12.9-21, The Poor, as a group, Constitute God’s Elect (David Lipscomb), Compete to See Who Can Honor them Most!
1 Corinthians 11.17-34, God’s Table Honors the Poor
Gal 2.7-10, Remembering the Poor, Exactly What I want to do
Ephesians 2.11-22, The Cross Destroys Nationalism and Racism by Making us One
1 Timothy 6.17-19, Command the Rich
James 2.1-13, Has Not God Chosen the Poor?
James 5.1-6, God Cares about Payday
1 Peter 1.1; 2.11-25, Aliens Stick Out like a Sore Thumb and Just Might be Treated Like Jesus
1 Peter 4.12-19, The Real Mark of a “Christian”
1 Peter 5.5-11, Suffering, the Global Fellowship of Believers
Revelation 18, Its the Economy Stupid, Or God Strikes Back by Bringing Down the Empire Because of Money

I think the kingdom of God just might break thru the dark landscape. A landscape where God’s people often have a difficult time identifying themselves primarily as the advanced guard of God’s new creation rather than as German, Russian, White, Black, Indian or “American.” These texts all function in and shape the ministry of Jesus himself. They need to shape and mold us.

Jesus is Lord of all.  He Lord of all of you and me or none of you and me. Caesar, by any name, is a pompous parody of the genuine King.

Suggested Resources

Marva Dawn, Keeping the Sabbath Wholly: Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, Feasting

Michael Goheen, A Light to the Nations: The Missional Church in the Story of God

Maria Harris, Proclaim Jubilee: A Spirituality for the 21st Century

John Mark Hicks & Bobby Valentine, Kingdom Come: Embracing the Spiritual Legacy of David Lipscomb and James A. Harding

John Mark Hicks, Bobby Valentine, Mark Wilson, Embracing Creation: God’s Forgotten Mission

Christopher J. H. Wright, Walking in the Ways of the Lord: The Ethical Authority of the Old Testament

Ron Sider, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger


OT 1I offer this brief meditation on the unity of the Testaments in honor of Rosh Hashanah we just celebrated (Oct 2-4) and Yom Kippur (Oct 11-12) that reminds us of God’s covenant faithfulness even to the point of the death of his Son on a Roman Cross.

The Law and the Heart

It is not uncommon to hear “New Testament” Christians express (sometimes) amazingly disparaging views of three fifths of the Bible they usually designate the “Old Testament” (the “OT” makes up 76% of the Evangelical Bible).  These views are almost always based upon ignorance of both the contents of the “Old Testament” and more importantly the message of the “Old Testament.”

The First Testament is described as “carnal,” “based upon law (which usually is code for legalism),” “formalism,” and not a matter of the spirit or heart, and other similar terms.  These ideas, they imagine to be NT understandings but are themselves usually grounded in a misunderstanding of things Paul says … in the King James Version.

All of these characterizations are founded on the notion that there is a radical discontinuity between the Testaments with the so called Old Testament being fundamentally about law, works and is essentially unspiritual (with an unbiblical definition of law) and the New Testament is fundamentally about grace, faith and is essentially spiritual.

These notions are demonstrably, false.  If this is the case then what that does is raise the specter of the same kind of gross misunderstanding of Paul himself.  Paul is not contradicting Scripture but sometimes people impose meanings on his words that Paul never imagined. Here  I plan to quote “reams” of Scripture that was inspired by the Holy Spirit … I will focus primarily on those texts that directly call for the “heart” of Israel … To the texts …


Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.  Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments I give you today are to be upon your hearts …” (Deuteronomy 6.4-6)

The Shema is, declared by Jesus himself, the greatest command of all time and all places in either Testament. It is the grounding of all the frequent uses of “heart” throughout the Hebrew Bible.

So I begin with the heart of the law, the Book of Deuteronomy.  Here are a few interesting statistics on this Book of ‘Law.’  Did you know that the word “love” occurs in Deuteronomy at least 21 times.  It is only surpassed by 3 other books in the Bible (and one of those is itself in the “OT”):

Psalms uses “love” 143x;
Gospel of John uses “love” 27x;
1 John uses “love” 35x.

For comparison sake Paul uses the word 14x in Romans and the Acts of the Apostles stands at 0x. So it would seem there is more “love” in the Law of Moses than the Epistle to the Romans! These are startling facts to reflect upon.

The word “heart” occurs in this book of the “Law” a total of 25 times.  I will begin with the most radical texts for those who claim the Old Testament is heartless.

the LORD set his affection on your forefathers and loved them, and chose you, their descendants above all nations as it is today.  Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer …” (Deut 10.15-16)

­“Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, circumcise your hearts,you people of Judah…” (Jeremiah 4.4). I threw this prophetic text in before moving on in Deuteronomy.

The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants SO that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live” (Deuteronomy 30.6)

I begin with few texts above because most “New Testament”Christians who speak so rudely about the Hebrew Bible have no clue these texts are there and imagine that Paul invented the idea of a heart circumcision.  He did not!! These texts are the basis of all the rest …

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.  Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments I give you today are to be upon your hearts …” (Deuteronomy 6.4-6)

Ask now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart …” (Deut 10.12)

So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today – to love the LORD your God and to serve him with all your heart and soul…” (Deut 11.13)

The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul …” (Deut 13.3)

Give generously to him [person in need] and do so without a grudging heart …” (Deut 15.10)

He [future king] must not take many wives or his heart will be lead astray” (Deut 17.17)

The LORD your God commands you this day to follow these decrees … with all your heart and soul” (Deut 26.16)

Make sure there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from the LORD our God …” (Deut 29.18)

When all the blessings and curses I have set before you come upon you take them to heart … return to the LORD your God with all your heart …” (Deut 30.1, 2)

The word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it” (Deut 30.14)

Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you…” (Deut 32.45)

Other examples include but are not limited too Deuteronomy 8:2, 5 & 14

The Law of Moses, from Moses’s own lips, is consumed with Israel’s loving and obeying God from the heart.  The text declares they are to circumcise their hearts … clearly the Torah of God was aimed at the heart of humanity.  Obedience is inherently a matter of heart and never has been simply a matter of ritual legalism. Those who say different have never read it.

Israel was to give monetarily for the Tabernacle as “each person’s heart prompts them to give” (Exodus 25.2). They were not to secretly hate their brothers and sisters in their “hearts” (Lev 19.17)

But ancient Israelites were as susceptible to formalism as any modern Christian. They had to be reminded by Joshua

to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, to obey his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and all your soul” (22.5)

Samuel reminds the people to stop their idolatry but to “serve the LORD with all your heart” (1 Sam 12.20)

OT 2Psalms

The texts can be multiplied into the hundreds my friends. Hardly a Psalm can be read in which the matter of the heart can not be found discussed. What this little exercise has attempted to demonstrate is that the charge that the Old Testament is “carnal” or simply a matter of “law” … both the word “carnal” and “law” being misunderstood is abundantly demonstrated to be patently false from the testimony of the Spirit Scriptures themselves.

I turn to Psalm 119 as a case study. Here the Torah of God is under consideration and the issue of the heart is of central importance.  This psalm is a celebration of GRACE not legalism!!

Blessed are they who keep his statutes and seek him with all their hearts” (119.2)

I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous laws” (119.7)

I seek you with all my heart” (119.10)

“I have hidden your word in my heart that I might sin against you” (119.11)

I have chose the way of truth I have set my heart on your torah” (119.30)

I run in the path of your commands FOR you have set my HEART free” (119.32)

Give me understanding and I will keep your torah and obey it with all my heart” (119.34)

Turn my heart toward your statutes …” (119.36)

I have sought your face with all my heart; be gracious to me …” (119.58)

I keep your precepts with all my heart” (119.69)

Their [the disobedient!] hearts are callous and unfeeling but I delight in your torah” (119.70)

your statutes … are the joy of my heart” (119.111)

My heart is set on keep your decrees to the very end”(119.112)

I call with all heart; answer me O LORD” (119.145)

my heart trembles at your word” (119.161)

The Psalmist shares the same attitude as Paul does. They are inspired by the same Spirit after all!! God’s torah was not means of formalism, legalism, or self-salvation.  It was a matter of the heart and could only be obeyed from the heart.  The psalmist is exceedingly conscious of the need for Yahweh’s love and grace. He has no illusion that he is saving himself!!!

I have strayed like a lost sheep. Seek your servant …”(119.176)

Some Classics from the last book of the Hebrew Bible, Chronicles

I know, my God, that you search the heart, and take pleasure in uprightness; in the uprightness of my heart I have have freely offered all these things …” (1 Chronicles 29.17)

He said, ‘O LORD, God of Israel, there is  not God like you, in heaven or on earth, keeping covenant in HESED with your servants who walk before you with all their heart …” (2 Chronicles 6.14)

[I]f they repent with all their heart and soul in the land of their captivity, to which they were taken captive, and pray toward their land, which you gave to their ancestors, the city that you have chosen, and the house that I have built for your name, then hear from heaven your dwelling place their prayer and their pleas, maintain their cause and forgive your people who have sinned against you” (2 Chronicles 6.38-39)

May the LORD, who is good, pardon everyone who sets his heart on seeking God – the LORD, the God of his fathers – even if he is not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary.” And the LORD heard Hezekiah and healed the people” (2 Chronicles 30.20)

Seeking God from the heart is in fact the critical theme within Chronicles as a whole and places an exclamation point on that theology by being the final book of the Hebrew Bible.  Seek God from your heart and he will be found full of grace, full of mercy, full of love.

Final Thoughts

The Old Testament drips with grace! If it were a rag and you squeezed it you would be drowned in a river of grace. It is aimed at the heart.  We are to love God with all our hearts. We are to obey with and out of a loving heart.  We are to circumcise our hearts. This is the heart of the Hebrew Bible, the Scriptures that Jesus grew up as a child memorizing, singing, praying and ultimately conforming his own life from his heart before the Father.

There is no problem with the Torah itself or the so called Old Testament. Paul never claimed there was. Paul said the Torah was holy, just, good, source of wisdom, faith, doctrine, and above all Spiritual (Rom 7.12, 14, 16; 2 Tim 3.14-16).

The Hebrews Preacher never made the claim either. He said the problem was fallen humanity, not the Torah (Hebrews 8.8).  People are the problem.  They were the problem in the “Old testament”and they are problem today. People perverted – and still do – the “Old Testament.”  People pervert – and still do – the “New Testament” as well.

Relationship with God was never once in the history of humanity based upon our earning anything.  Relationship with God has always been a matter of God’s amazing and infinite HESED and his amazing grace.

St MosesMoses!

Though Moses’s name appears in the Bible over 800x, I freely and openly confess that I did not hear much teaching about the person of Moses from anyone in Churches of Christ. As I recall Moses was usually brought up in two principle contexts.  First when some one mentioned the Old Testament there were frequent responses like “we are not under the law of Moses.” The second context was use of Moses as a negative example of disobedience to God, usually in the context of discussions of instrumental music.  In fact this second use of Moses while probably not more numerous than the first was the most substantive.  Thus Moses was not a very positive role model in any teaching that I recall within the fellowship of Churches of Christ.

Moses’s Costly Failure at Precision Obedience

The most common idea I knew most about Moses was that after a lifetime of faithfulness he had a costly moment of slippage. Moses struck the rock and God punished him severely (Num 20.1-15). This is the primary story of Moses, sadly, that many know. I take the following from a CofC website:

In Numbers 20:7-12, while Israel was camped in the wilderness of Zin, God told Moses to speak to the rock, and it would yield water. This was a different command for a different event.

In the wilderness of Zin, Moses failed to do precisely as God commanded; he did what He had previously commanded (at Rephadim) and struck the rock. This was not what God wanted. Actually, two sins were committed here, and God explained both.

Moses didn’t believe God. He didn’t do precisely what God commanded.

He didn’t sanctify God in the eyes of the children of Israel.

God punished Moses by not allowing him to enter into the promised land–Canaan. This example shows that just because God previously commanded a thing, it doesn’t mean that He approves of it now. God approves of doing things by faith. He wants us to obey His commands precisely. This is the obedience of faith.

We must worship God in the way that He commands, and He has commanded us to use vocal music.”

This is not an aberrant example of how Moses is presented to many disciples sitting in the pews. The Precision Obedience promoters hold Moses at the rock to show that the Father of Jesus is really a Technical “god.” Moses crossed a technical line and it cost him his reward. As a young person the clear implication to me was if I messed up even a smiggin I would likely end up just like poor Moses, without my reward, lost, damned, sent to hell!

From time to time I heard that Hebrews taught us that Jesus was greater than Moses so we do not pay attention to him. I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that about sums it up. I knew I did not want to be Moses and have a moment of slippage.

I confess I did not understand much of what the Bible says about Moses and what I did know bordered upon slander of one of the greatest men in human history.  Moses was reduced to a sledge hammer for sectarian debates with the Christian Churches/Churches of Christ with little intent to actually understand why Moses did not enter the Holy Land nor the fact that God did NOT take his reward from him but gave him a reward he could neither imagine nor dream.

Hebrews.11.26a-Moses_Suffered_For_JesusDeuteronomy: Moses Suffers Exclusion Because of the Sin of the People!

As Paul Harvey was fond of reminding us there is often “the rest of the story.” Moses cannot, by anyone that loves what the Bible actually says, be reduced to slapping a rock.

In 1995, I was a younger preacher in New Orleans and decided to do a Sunday evening series on Deuteronomy. I do not remember why but I did! Little did I know that series would mess me up and is still messing me up. I ended up calling Deuteronomy “the GOSPEL According to Moses.”

In Deuteronomy, encountered an altogether different take on Moses. I learned that Deuteronomy speaks of the fate of Moses not once but three times and it had nothing to do with striking a rock. Each time Moses, inspired by the Spirit, laments in prayer his exclusion.

When the LORD heard what you said, he was angry and solemnly swore: ‘No one from this evil generation shall see the good land I swore to give your ancestors, except Caleb son of Jephuneh. He will see it, and I will give him and his descendants the land he set foot on, because he followed the LORD wholeheartedly.

BECAUSE OF YOU [on account of you, NRSV] the LORD became angry with me also and said, ‘You shall not enter it, either …” (Deut 1.34-37)

Again Moses lamented in his sermon,

At that time I pleaded with the LORD: ‘Sovereign LORD, you have begun to show your servant your greatness and your strong hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do the deeds and mighty works you do? Let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan–that fine hill country and Lebanon

BECAUSE OF YOU [on your account, NRSV] the LORD was angry with me and would not listen to me. ‘That is enough,’ the LORD said. ‘Do not speak to me anymore about this matter. Go up to the top of Pisgah and look west and north and south and east and west. Look at the land with your own eyes, since you are not going to cross this Jordan” (Deut 3.23-28).

So Moses lamented Again:

The LORD was angry with me BECAUSE OF YOU [on your account, NRSV], and he solemnly swore that I would not cross the Jordan and enter the good land the LORD your God is giving you as your inheritance. I will die in this land; I will not cross the Jordan …” (Deut 4.21)

What is all this “because of you,” “because of you,” because of you?”  Yahweh is not letting Moses in the land because of Israel! Not once but three times the Spirit says these words.  Why had no one ever pointed them out? Why had no one ever said that Moses was not allowed in the Holy Land because of Israel not simply because of a mere slippage at at rock!

There are a couple of possibilities.  First, the promoters of the point of view I was fed simply did to know what Deuteronomy states unambiguously.  Second, sectarianism relishes things to be cut and dried but Deuteronomy muddies the water of salvation by precision obedience by claiming that it was not Moses disobedience at all but “on account of” Israel.  We would do well to meditate upon these words, they are just as Scriptural as Numbers 20.  They are not in conflict with Numbers 20 but they certainly cast that text in such a new light as to reframe it.

But as I became more familiar with the Hebrew Bible, I learned that the rest of the story has a similar view on what happened to Moses.  In the Psalms we read long confessions of sin on the part of Israel.  In one of those communal lamentations we read of Israel’s sin and how it impacted Moses.  In fact it sounds just like Deuteronomy,

By the waters of Meribah they angered the LORD,
and trouble came to Moses
BECAUSE OF THEM [on their account, NRSV]”
(Psalm 106.32)

Was Moses being punished on account of the people in some sense? The language clearly seems to point that way. I had understood that God smacked Moses down because of his technical disobedience. And I thought that Moses failure at Precision Obedience cost him his reward. But Deuteronomy continued to mess up my neat unexamined theology. Moses died outside the Land. I knew this.

song of mosesGod’s Hermeneutic of Grace … and Moses

Yes, Moses died outside the land but that is not the end of the story of Moses. But I did not know anything else about Moses. I did not know the rest of the story was complex and ends not in doom for Moses but in grace more brilliant than the Sun!

Deuteronomy 34, which relates the death of Moses, gives the highest honors to Moses. God personally become tour guide and shows Moses the whole Land. God personally tends to the burial of Moses. And it is declared that Moses was the greatest prophet ever and God knew him “face to face.” I do not think it is possible to exaggerate this praise. Finally it calls Moses “the servant of the LORD” … a phrase that is pregnant with meaning.

But that is not the end of the story of God with Moses. Moses was such an important person in history that, according to that small, and little read book of Jude, Satan tried to steal his body! God either stationed Michael his archangel, or sent him, to protect the body of Moses and fought Satan for it (Jude 1.9).

But that is not the end of the story of God with Moses. See Hebrews does mention Moses. But it does not compare Moses with Jesus. Rather the Preacher compares Jesus with Moses! What the Preacher says Jesus is “faithful to the one who appointed him, JUST AS MOSES also was faithful in ALL God’s house” (3.2-3, 5). Jesus’s faithfulness is compared to Moses’s. This does not work if Moses was not really faithful and lost his reward on a mere technicality. Whereas, I learned about Moses’s Precision DISobedience, the Preacher to the Hebrews stressed Moses’s faithfulness in “all God’s house.” So Moses was faithful.

After all, all prophets in the Bible would be measured by the paradigm of Moses.  “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet” (Deut 18.15ff). The New Testament stresses that Jesus is the prophet that is like Moses.

But the that is not the end of God’s Hermeneutic of Grace with Moses. Returning to Deuteronomy, the land and death “outside” the Land (like Jesus died “outside” the great city). Moses’s prayer in Deut 3.23-27 is incredibly moving. He wanted to go in the land but God refused because he “was angry with me on your account.” God buries the “servant of the Lord” proclaiming him the greatest of all.

But here is the rest of the story in two parts. God woke Moses from the grave and when he opened his eyes he did not see the beautiful cedars of Lebanon but the revelation of the promised prophet “like Moses” Transfigured in all of his glory (Mt 17.1-13).

God had a greater reward for his Servant than the land. He gave him the grace of seeing Jesus in all his luminous glory. And get this … God revealed Jesus to Moses IN THE LAND!

But perhaps the greatest of all compliments that God could give Moses is the penultimate of this example of God’s Hermeneutic of Grace. The Prophet John was shown a vision of God’s people in the presence of the Creator himself. What did John hear the saints singing in eternity? This is actually mind blowing when we think about it beloved.

“And they sing the SONG OF MOSES the Servant of God, and the song of the Lamb …” (Revelation 15.3).

Moses, not Bobby Valentine, not Abraham, not the apostle Paul, John the Baptist, not even Mary the Mother of Jesus, is connected with the Lamb of God in songs of worship to the God of the Universe.  This is simply astonishing.  There is clearly more to the story that Moses struck a rock and lost his reward!

Final Thoughts on the Greatest Human Ever, next to Jesus

Yes, Moses did not enter the land. Was it because Moses broke a technical command or was it because of the people? Maybe it was both. Perhaps there is more to the biblical typology of Jesus being like Moses than we first have imagined. Perhaps Moses “the servant” was also a suffering servant on behalf of God’s people in a sense that he himself did not understand.  Jesus, like Moses, suffered “on account of” the people … you and me.

We have no need to deny Numbers 20 (and I do not). But we are hardly true to the text of Torah, much less the rest of the Bible if that is our primary way of remembering Moses. In God’s Hermeneutic of Grace he did not punish Moses but honored him above all …

1) He buried him personally

2) He placed his archangel in charge of his body

3) He declared him his “servant” (same title that will be used of Jesus!)

4) He declared that he was “faithful in all God’s house”

5) He pulled him from the grave to witness the revelation of the Son of God .. in the promised land

6) He will have all Israelites and all Christians for eternity singing the Song of MOSES …

Yes! God did not cast Moses aside when he had a moment of slippage. The God of the Bible applied an astounding Hermeneutic of Grace to Moses to do more than he could ask or imagine. We grossly misrepresent the Bible and the God of the Bible when use Moses as an example to manipulate and frighten folks.

I can only fall on my knees and worship such an amazing God … the Father of Jesus.



N. T. Wright

Earlier in the summer of this year (2016), the well known New Testament scholar N. T. Wright (or Tom Wright as he likes you to call him in person) was publicly branded as a “heretic” by my good friend, and brother I genuinely love, Greg Tidwell, editor of the Gospel Advocate. I was not sure if mere hyperbole was being used or what.

Being in the position he is in many began to parrot the Advocate.  I publicly asked Greg to explain what he meant by such terminology.  I have never received an explanation.  So I sent out challenges in numerous media and a dozen “Church of Christ” Facebook sites and even personal conversation with those that repeated the charge.  I still received nothing.

So I gave an open ended challenge to any takers:  I will buy representative books by N. T. Wright, allow you to read them and write a review of your honest opinion of them (with no changes made for good or ill by me) to be placed on my blog to be read by thousands of people.  The only requirement was 1) you must deal fairly with the material 2) if you claim there is some “heresy” you must document with title and page number 3) and demonstrate some understanding of the argument (thus no drive by shootings).  Beyond this the writer was free to develop his or her piece anyway of their choosing and say whatever they wanted.

This blog is not and an attack upon either the GA nor Greg.  It is hoped that it is simply an invitation to the table and discuss this.  That is my own agenda.  Unity is good, biblical, and in fact part of the Gospel itself.

Vincent Eagan is the only person that responded (saved me a lot of money I guess!).  What follows is his “review” of N. T. Wright and two books.

I chose two books Simply Christian and Simply Jesus.  Both are best sellers. Both are representative of the primary teaching of Wright. We have used Simply Christian in university settings with Ambassadors for Christ at the University of Arizona.

It is my prayer that this kind of exercise will do two things. First I pray that it will facilitate genuine dialog between various folks within our fellowship.  Second I pray it will help us to watch our speech and accusations of people.  With this I need to say a word about the word “heresy” and “heretic.”  Simply because a person is an Anglican hardly makes them a heretic.  I do not recall, at anytime, in our collective history Martin Luther, John Calvin, C. S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, James Dobson, etc ever being labeled a “heretic” or a purveyor of “heresy.” Heresy is the denial of a cardinal doctrine of Christianity.  Examples may be the denial of the humanity of Christ, the denial of the deity of Christ, a denial of the sacredness of creation (this one is interesting given the charge of heresy thrown at NTW), a denial of the atonement, etc.  These are examples of genuine heresy.  You are not free to invent definitions as you please.

Finally.  In an effort to accomplish the goals I stated above, I hope there is lively discussion below.  But there will be NO ad hominem assaults on Vincent, Greg Tidwell or anyone else from the right or the left. Such comments will be deleted immediately. Lets keep the atmosphere brotherly and sisterly – you know lets behave like we are actually family – as if we genuinely believe we are inhabited by the Holy Spirit of God.  I do not agree with everything Vincent says and that is part of the point.  Read.  Join the dialog, I plan too.

You can find some of my earlier interactions with N. T. Wright, especially my review of his epic Resurrection of the Son of God here.



VincentRecently, there has been a shift in some in the brotherhood of the Church of Christ to hear denominational speakers and read denominational works. Some brethren have come out strongly against this, while others have defended the practice by saying that something doesn’t necessarily have to be untrue simply because the source is among those we define as “denominational”.

The latest center of this controversy seems to be N. T. (Nicholas Thomas) Wright, a retired Anglican Bishop and well-known Bible scholar. It seems many brethren scurry to get their pictures taken with him to post proudly on their Facebook accounts, as though he were some sort of celebrity.

I was intrigued by this. I am not one to write someone off without first looking into their teachings. That got me into all kinds of trouble years ago when everyone wanted to make Rubel Shelly disappear. Because I myself have been “marked” (which seems to mean to some brethren, “Write the brother up in every brotherhood publication!”) unfairly and slanderously by certain others, I am very slow to do so to anyone else. I am also not one who believes that everything we do or say has to come from “brotherhood material”. Paul used secular and cultural material in his teachings, as did John, and also Jude. Even Jesus made use of the current events and teachings of those with whom he was not in 100% agreement.

In addition, if you are an adult and come to my house for dinner, and I serve you fish, I expect you to be able to spit out the bones. There are many truths we can harvest from denominational sources that are profitable for us to use in teaching truth – we just have to be able to discern when truth ends and opining begins. Then again – we should be doing that with brotherhood sources as well!

My friend and fellow-laborer, Bobby Valentine, saw me struggling to gain an understanding of why some adore and some abhor Mr. Wright, and invited me to read and review two of his books, the review to be published without changes on his blog. The only requirement was that it be done with accurate documentation to any “heresy” I challenged. In addition, he sent me links to several sermons and messages delivered by Mr. Wright to supplement the reading. I did some of my own research as well. I also asked those who seem to abhor Mr. Wright why they do, and must report that none of them seemed to know why they do. They were not able to produce any answer as to what exactly he teaches that they find so dangerous.

Reading two books, researching to the extent I have done, and listening to a few messages does not make me an expert on N. T. Wright. It does appear to mean I’ve done more homework than some. I am fully aware that there are plenty of other works by Mr. Wright out there in which may reside these dangerous teachings that no one seems to be able to put into words … but I have not found them.

The books Bobby Valentine sent me are entitled Simply Jesus and Simply Christian. I liked the titles right from the beginning – I am of the belief that we need simply Jesus, and we should be simply Christian. I don’t know if that’s actually what Mr. Wright intended to convey, but that is what I took from it. I was concerned about the subtitle on “Simply Jesus” … “A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, And Why He Matters“. I’m not convinced we need a new vision – I am all for going back to the oldest vision as that would be the correct one, but perhaps that is what he meant – our current cultural vision of him certainly is not correct.

NTW 1I will start with “Simply Christian“, as that was what he wrote first, and followed it up with “Simply Jesus“. The two need to be in the right order. In this book, Wright makes a bid to answer many of the questions that come up in modern life, and how Christianity answers them. The subtitle is, “Why Christianity Makes Sense”.

I have to admit, I expected an apologetic from the title of the book, but that is not what I got. To some extent, I was let down, because while he laid out the arguments in some cases, he never really summed them up and gave a solid answer to the challenge. I was not particularly moved by what was written, and I didn’t think it was anything like, “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis.

I also saw some level of suggestion that there should be no division over denominational differences. First, it is hard to describe the “Church of Christ” (note that I used a capital “C” for church there) without resorting to making it something of a denomination itself. Often we get questions like, “Are members of the Church of Christ the only people going to Heaven?” It is impossible to answer that in the affirmative without making it a denomination, and a sectarian one at that, since the questioner is not asking about the “church of Christ” – that being the universal church belonging to Christ that God adds all Christians to when they obey the gospel – they are asking about the groups in those buildings that have “Church of Christ” above their doors. Then one has to go a step further and define which is being asked about of those …. do we mean Non-Instrumental vs. Instrumental, One-Cup vs. Multiple Cups, “Anti” (Or, Non-Institutional) vs. Mainline (Or, Institutional), Non-Cooperative, Non-Bible Classes, Non-Located-Preacher, or any one of a dozen more “Nons”?

While viewing it from that perspective, I get Wright’s idea that the petty squabbles should be ignored. However, in some cases, there are very real differences between the teachings (or doctrines) of some denominations, and it appears Wright bypassed coming down in favor of one side or another in many of those cases. It was almost like he wanted to chide Christian folk for getting involved in any debate over doctrine whatsoever, but some MUST be had, since the differences are too distinct to overlook.

It is highly unlikely that any one group has everything right. Wise brethren have said of those issues that we must depend on Jesus’ grace and mercy regarding that which we understood wrong. If that is the case, how can I then turn around and deny that same grace and mercy toward some brother that I feel didn’t get everything right? I am as dependent upon mercy as he is.

On the other hand, there are some teachings that are, for lack of a better word, heretical. Those teachings must be challenged, else we are no longer distinctive, but just a hodge-podge think tank without any true purpose. I do not believe that every doctrine Wright wanted to overlook (example, the Lord’s Supper/Communion/Eucharist, pgs. 153-157) can be accepted.

All that said, the book does raise some understanding and may help to renew the faith of some when they are reminded that when we are Christians, Christianity must stand most outright in all of our thought patterns, so that every important decision we make and every thing that we do exudes Christ and is influenced by him. I especially liked his example of a small window (pg. 151) and how when one stands far away from the window, he can only see a very small part of what is out there. When he comes closer to the window, he can see the big picture …. and in the same way, when the Christian comes closer to God in worship, he will be able to see the bigger picture of living the Christian life.

I would suggest it is a good book for the Christian to read – but I would not count on it as an apologetic to convince the non-Christian. That does not seem to be his purpose, though one might think so from the sub-title.

NTW 2The book “Simply Jesus” suggests by its sub-title that it is, “A new vision…” It is not. It is a vision that may have been forgotten and is definitely not understood by many today (Jesus was a Hebrew …. everyone seems to forget that), but it is an old, vintage view of Jesus. Further, it is one that is needed.

One should not overlook the deep study of certain ideas connected to the cross – propitiation, redemption, atonement, etc. – but in so doing, once can not forget to give even more attention to the man called Jesus, placing him within the time that he lived and the culture in which he existed. If we don’t get the culture, and we miss the historical Jesus, we won’t be able to understand the deeper connections.

Then, even in the midst of being such a “simple” discussion of the historical Jesus, Wright takes on some extremely deep subjects by looking at what Jesus said about them. Examples such as, “When did God’s kingdom on Earth begin?” (pg. 117), and, “Where does God Dwell?” (pg. 132), and, “What did Jesus mean by, ‘It is finished’?” are addressed, among other examples.

I found it interesting that he hinted at a belief that one of the most prominent premillennial doctrines – that of the “rapture” – is far overblown. “Don’t believe everything you read about the Rapture. In fact, don’t believe most of what you read about the Rapture.” (pg. 199) I would have liked to have seen more detail on what Wright himself believes about the second coming and why though.

In all, this is a much better book from an apologetic standpoint. It takes the gospel and puts it in the right setting to be understood. I would suggest this book both for several groups – those who are thinking about becoming a Christian, those who have just become Christians, and those who have been Christians for awhile and have been so bogged down in deep study that it has become a distraction. It will help the latter group to remember what is relevant.

From both books, I perceive that Wright is a good writer. I liked that the books showed his own mind, rather than being heavy with research regarding what others think. Such books are better for understanding an individual’s own ideas and thoughts.

Again, I found nothing deeply doctrinally troubling in these books. I am still unaware of why some find Wright objectionable, other than a, “He’s Anglican, so he’s not on my team!” mindset. Maybe that is enough for some people “of my tribe”. Perhaps this review being published will push some of those people to tell me just what they think is so bad about N.T. Wright. If they can back it up, I welcome their input. Just be aware that I gave plenty of time and asked plenty of naysayers before I finished this article, and not one deemed it important enough to bother with my questins then.

In The Service Of The Mighty King,

Dr. Vincent J. Eagan, III

Evangelist/Writer † † †

I am the Charlotte Biblical Examiner. See my articles at:

I am the Spiritual History Examiner. See my articles at:

The universe itself is the offspring of God’s love. It was not created simply because he had the wisdom and power to do it. The element of love entered into the intention, characterized the execution, and approved the completion of his labors”  (Alexander Campbell)

“[T]he impression prevails in many minds that the earth is to be annihilated. Such is not our belief. There is a vast difference between annihilation and change … This earth will will unquestionably be burned, yet through the process of variation and reconstruction of its elements, God will fashion the earth and heavens anew, and fill them with tenants to glorify His name forever”  (Alexander Campbell)

Introduction: Early Christian Hope

What is the destiny of the material world? If you ask ancient Israelites and early Christians the answer you would receive would be considerably different than the one given by many modern disciples. Modern American disciples are often far removed from the worldview of the Hebraic world of Jesus, Paul and the Way and are much more at home (even unaware) in the dualistic world of Plato and Gnosticism.

The early church, in continuity with the Hebrew Bible and most Second Temple Judaism, held that the bodily resurrection of believers and the redemption of the world went hand in hand. More than simply resting on one text here or there, they pointed to the flow of the entire biblical narrative from Genesis to Revelation was one of the Creator God redeeming his creation through the work of the Incarnate Son.  Incarnation in the flesh, Resurrection in the flesh and the “Resurrection” of the world as the eternal home where God would dwell with humanity was the Christian hope. For more on the early Christian belief on resurrection see my blog article: Heaven (3): Resurrection & the Belief of the Early Church. And Resurrection: A Medley from the Early Church (a series of quotations from primary sources).

Gnosticism in its various shades rejected this hope.  Gone was a literal incarnation. Gone was an actual resurrection of the flesh.  Gone was the re/newed creation.  As a result the nature of cross was changed and everything else about Christian faith.  This battle in the mid-second to the latter part of the third century remains of immense importance. Gnosticism was defeated.  In the Modern world, however, Platonic dualism and neo-Gnosticism started entering into Western Christianity nearly intravenously.

But this article is not on that history. Rather we will look at one text that some continue to hold up, almost as a battle axe, against the entire biblical narrative … 2 Peter 3.1-10.  These folks generally, though not always, return to incorrect translations of 2 Peter to defend their take.  But the text of 2 Peter 3.10 (for example) did not say in the first, second, and third centuries what it does in the medieval text of the King James Version … this is a point we will revisit. Right now we will step back and look at the whole text and the story that it is in.

Peter and the Hebrew Bible: “You will do well to be attentive to this …”

Peter, like his Lord, was a student of the Hebrew Bible. Indeed he seemed to soak in a great deal from his Master’s crash course in “Old Testament Theology” recorded in Luke 24.44ff. The Apostle explicitly directs, and lays great stress on, his readers to the words and teaching of the Hebrew Bible.  Indeed we find a remarkably heavy emphasis on the so called Old Testament in 2 Peter (for a thorough analysis see Nicholas R. Werse, “Second Temple Jewish Literary Traditions in 2 Peter,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 78 [2016]: 111-130).

very great promises” (1.4) are almost surely the promises that both Peter and Paul refer in the Hebrew Bible.

we have a prophetic message more fully confirmed” (1.19)

no prophecy of Scripture …” (1.20)

Lord not slow about his promise” (3.9)

in accordance with his promise” (3.13)

And at the head of our text in question, Peter writes, “you should remember the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets” (3.2).

When we step back we see that Peter is indeed a student of the Hebrew Bible and its promises that he believes are necessary for these believers to have a grasp on.

On the day of Pentecost, Peter rooted his entire sermon in the promises of the Hebrew Bible (Acts 2.14-36).  Beginning with Joel, a prophet who stresses the renewal of creation as part of the Messianic agenda (see Do Not Fear O Earth, Animals and People: Joel’s Cosmic Hope of Redemption). In his promise of salvation, Yahweh explicitly addresses the Earth/Soil/Land (2.21), the Animals (2.22), and Humanity (2.23-24).  It is good news to creation when God comes to “judge” the world (cf. Ps 96.11-13; etc, etc, etc).

Peter continues in his Pentecostal sermon by citing David, whom he declares to be a “prophet” (Acts 2.30) citing Pss 16.8-11; 110.1; etc) that Jesus was not abandoned to death and his “FLESH” did not see corruption but was “raised” (Acts 2.31) because “my FLESH will live in hope” (Acts 2.26).  I imagine Peter had vivid recollections while saying these words about the Lord’s flesh and bones body, Jesus presented as living proof he was no ghost (Lk 24.37-40).

In Acts 3.11-26 we find this same Peter continuing to drench his Gospel sermon in the Hebrew Bible.  And like Joel and the Psalms, we find stress on fact that redemption is more than dying and going to “spiritual” existence in heaven! The Peter of Acts 3, also the Peter of 2 Peter 3, also points to the end and also points to the judgment and states as unambiguously as language can make,

so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah, appointed for you, that is Jesus, who must remain in heaven UNTIL the TIME OF UNIVERSAL RESTORATION that God announced long ago through his holy prophets” (v.20-21).

This is nearly an identical stress as we find from Peter in 2 Peter 3, that people want to claim is about the annihilation of the world. But Peter here says (and claims the “prophets” teach) the universal restoration or regeneration.  As Michael Green noted in The Second Epistle of Peter and the Epistle of Jude, Peter’s words in the epistle follow “the same pattern; the destruction of the wicked, the bliss of the saved and the restitution of all things at the return of Jesus Christ (Acts iii.19-23).”  Green notes this was part of “the apostolic kerygma.”

In this opening part I have stressed Peter’s rootedness in the Hebrew Bible precisely because he admonishes us explicitly to “remember the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets” as he introduces the concerns of chapter 3.  Peter believes that he is teaching the same thing the “prophets” were teaching on this matter.  Therefore it is important to know exactly what they taught and Peter’s other uses of the prophets.  From these it is clear that Peter does not understand that the prophet foretold an annihilation of creation but rather a resurrection of the dead and the restoration of everything/restoring all things (cf. Acts 3.21, NIV & ESV).

Throughout our exegesis we will keep the Hebrew Bible in mind just as Peter commanded us.  Peter believes that he is teaching the same thing they taught. Of course Peter could have changed his mind from Acts 2 and 3 to 2 Peter 3.  But I do not think he did.

Peter, the Promise of Return, Scoffers and More Prophets

Peter devotes pretty much the entirety of chapter 2 to false teachers that are likely the same as those scoffing at the promise of Jesus’s coming in 3.4.  Peter relies heavily on our Lord’s brother, Jude, for his chastisement of these “blots and blemishes” (2.13) among God’s people.  If these are the same sort of people Jude has in mind, then there is some sort of semi-Gnostic flavor to these false teachers point of view.  The dispute of Michael with the Devil over the “body of Moses” clearly indicates something along these lines (Jude 1.9).

After doing what Peter tells us to do, that is pay attention to the Prophets, I have rejected the idea that Peter is merely countering the critical notion of the “delay of the parousia.”  Rather there have always been, according to the Hebrew Bible, scoffers that mock the people of God over this or that point but most of the time over God’s coming judgment.

They have spoken falsely of the LORD, and have said,
‘He will do nothing. No evil will come upon us,
and we shall not see sword or famine.'”
(Jeremiah 5.12)

All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword,
who say, ‘Evil shall not overtake or meet us.”
(Amos 9.10)

In Isaiah we note the scoffers actually appear to taunt God,

who [scoffers of v.18] say, ‘Let him make haste,
let hi speed his work
that we may see it;
let the plan of the Holy One of Israel
hasten to fulfillment,
that we may know it
(Isaiah 5.19)

Many more quotes from the Psalms and the Prophets can be reproduced. The unbelief of the scoffers seems rooted in their belief they will not be accountable as in the so called delay of the parousia. The patience of the Lord, a thousand years is like a day and day like a thousand years (and image from the Hebrew Bible, Ps 90.4) is mercy toward even the scoffers.  But in the end they will be accountable because God will put things right! That is what divine judgment is, putting the world right! Their unrighteousness will be removed from the world!

Peter and Three Worlds

In our work Embracing Creation, John Mark Hicks, Mark Wilson and myself, argue that 2 Peter 3 envisions three different worlds (pp. 194-196).  The judgment of the first world is the paradigm or pattern for the judgment of the second world.  We can visualize the text in the following manner

1) First Heaven and Earth (Gen 1-8)

the world at that time was destroyed (apollumi) by water” (2 Pt 3.5-6)

2) Present Heaven and Earth (Gen 9-Rev 20)

the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire” (2 Pt 3.7)

3) Future heavens and earth (Rev 21-22)

the re/newed heavens and earth the home of the righteous (2 Pt 3.13)

The present heavens and earth were the new heaven and new earth that emerged from the world that was “destroyed” in the Flood. The present world will be destroyed (ἀπώλετο) in the pattern set by the demise of the first world. Peter intends us to understand the second destruction in light of the first which is why he uses the same word. A “new” world that was drastically changed by the Flood did in fact emerge.  But the first world was hardly annihilated. It was not a different planet. The fish of the sea did not die.

If we learn anything from Peter’s previous use of the Flood narrative in discussing its parallel to baptism in 1 Peter 3.20-21, it is not that the world or baptismal subject is annihilated, rather they are cleansed! It was purification by the Flood.  On this whole theme see Michael J. Svigel, “Extreme Makeover: Heaven and Earth Edition–Will God Annihilate the World and Re-create it Ex Nihilo?” (Bibliotheca Sacra) 171: 401-417.

Embracing CreationPeter and the στοιχεία

Peter tells us that the “στοιχεία will be loosed/dissolved/destroyed.” There are a number of exegetical and translation issues involved in this short clause.  We must use the two rules for reading the Bible to avoid an anachronistic imposition upon the biblical text.  Whatever Peter means by “elements” (NRSV) he does not mean the list we call the Periodic Table because neither he nor anyone else had ever heard of it! Some do not mind making this word mean what they think it means today in light of 21st century science.  Peter does not, in fact, mean the basic atomic “elements” of the universe (hydrogen, helium, oxygen, iron, etc).

There are a couple possibilities for a historically contextual meaning of στοιχεία. First, and this meaning has biblical support, is that the στοιχεία are the rebellious angelic beings that will be “destroyed” with the return of Christ.  This view finds support in the prophets in Isaiah 24.21-22; 34.3; etc.  The apostle Paul understood στοιχεία as referring to these “spirits” as we can see in Galatians 4.3 and 9 as well as in Colossians 2.8 and 20.  It was a common view among second Temple Jews as we can see also in 1 Enoch 60.12; etc and Jubilees 2.2; etc.  A number of the Church Fathers understood the στοιχεία in this manner.  If this is the correct interpretation then it is plainly not talking about the Periodic Table’s basic constituents of the Universe.  Another possibility, one held by most modern scholars, is that στοιχεία refers to planetary hosts like the Moon, the Planets, etc. This view however does not have to be rigidly separated from the first as astral deities were commonly associated with the planetary bodies in the ancient world.

But Peter does not say “all στοιχεία” nor even “the  στοιχεία” will be “dissolved.”  There is no article in the Greek text.  As Svegil’s notes “This lack of the article may very well indicate that the most severe fiery judgments of the coming Day of the Lord, in which elements are destroyed, will be localized and limited, not universalized and total.” Peter simply says something is going to happen to στοιχεία he does not say it will happen to all.

But what will happen to the στοιχεία? Peter uses a word from luo.  There is nothing inherent in this word or in the context that suggests annhilationism. Translations of “melt” “dissolve” even “loose” are legitimate here.  The same word can be used for untying sandals and hardly means such shoes ceases to exist.  Peter is using traditional language from the apocalyptic portions of the prophets that Peter has already warned us to pay attention too.

Peter in fact seems to have in mind the same kind of refining that the Wisdom of Solomon does when it speaks of judgment and the “elements.”  They are changed/refined like in a smelters furnace but hardly annihilated.

For the elements [στοιχεία] were changed in themselves by a kind of harmony, like as in a psaltery notes change the name of the tune, and yet are always sounds. . . . For earthly things were turned into watery, and the things, that before swam in the water, now went upon the ground. The fire had power in the water, forgetting its own virtue: and the water forgot its own quenching nature” (Wisdom 19.18-21).

It would seem, to me, that annihilationists that envision the entire universe suddenly exploding into nothingness go far beyond what Peter actually says in regard to the the “elements.”

Peter, Fire, and the Day of the Lord in the Prophets

Peter has shown that he not only can refer to, but explicitly quote, a text that talks about weird cosmic phenomena without thinking it was literally the “end of the world.”  In the temple at Pentecost, Peter cites Joel 2 that uses this language

I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.”
(Acts 2.19-20 citing Joel 2.30-31)

Though Peter explicitly cites a “day of the Lord” text in Joel, I do not know of any annhilationist that assumes that Joel believed (or Peter) this cosmic upheaval literally took place at any time, yet Peter said it happened! The sun did not “disappear” and the Moon did not have hematopoietic fluid dripping from it.  Yet the “day of the Lord” in Joel 3.31 must be the same day spoken of in Joel 1.15, a “day of destruction.”

Peter explicitly draws on the prophetic traditions of “the day of the Lord” for describing the fate of the present heavens and earth in 3.10.  The “Day of the Lord” is found in several texts in the Prophets and usually follows the same paradigm.  Peter’s message to his readers contains the major elements of the Day of the Lord from the Prophets.  There are several places we can camp to get a descent grasp on the prophetic message but we will examine quickly the small book of Zephaniah that seems to focus nearly in its entirety on the “day.”  We will find that he includes all the basic elements that Peter mentions.

The Day of the Lord is mentioned explicitly in Zephaniah 1.7; 1.14 (2x); 1.18 and 2.2-3 with further references in chapter 3 without that title.  The day of the Lord is a

+ day of fire

+ day of destruction

Yet we find

+ an inheritance remains

+ the humble are saved

Fire. Destruction. Hope of land. Hope of salvation. All of these are present when we read 2 Peter 3.1-13.  In Zephaniah we find that the scoffers rest “complacently” before the Lord declaring that Yahweh could careless about what is going on.  “I [Yahweh] will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the people who rest complacently on their dregs, those who say in their hearts, ‘The LORD will not do good, nor will he do harm!” (1.12). Zephaniah is dealing with the same kind of people Peter is.  Thus he appeals to the “day of the Lord.”  It will be a day of setting things right in this world.  It will be a day of wrath, distress, anguish, “ruin and devastation” (1.15-16).   It will be a day when “the whole earth is CONSUMED” or “burned up” (NCV) as the prophet says in 1.18.  In fact it will be a day in which there “is no inhabitant left” (2.5).

If we are poor readers of Zephaniah, we would assume that the earth is literally annihilated and that the inhabitants are gone. Yet clearly Zephaniah did not mean that and neither does Peter.  In the wake of fire and destruction on the Day of the Lord there emerges inheritance, preservation of the faithful AND even the praise of the nations!  None of this is possible if the world is literally “burned up” as the New Century Version renders Zephaniah 1.18 and 3.8.

Instead of annihilation, in light of the Day of the Lord, we find the emergence of God’s faithfulness to his covenant with the world and Abraham.  Though Israel is subject to judgment along with the peoples, specifically the Philistines, Israel will inherit the land.  “The seacoast shall become the possession of the remnant of the house of Judah … For the LORD will be mindful of theme and restore their fortunes” (1.7).

This is possible because Israel is told to “seek the LORD, seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps on the day of the LORD’s wrath you will be hidden” (2.3).  This is expanded in chapter 3.8-12 were we learn after the earth is explicitly stated to be “consumed” (the language is identical to 1.18) we read in the very next verse these remarkable words.

At that time I will change the speech of the peoples [nations, non-Israelites]
and serve him with one accord …”

This will happen because Yahweh spares his people in his grace.

I will leave in the midst of you
a people humble and lowly.
They shall seek refuge in the name of the LORD –
the remnant of Israel” (3.12)

This will lead, as Zephaniah notes at the close of his book, to the “praise of the peoples of the earth” (3.20).

The Day of the Lord tradition in the prophets does not envision the annihilation of planet Earth.  Even where the explicit language of “burned up” and “no inhabitants left” is given, we see that the prophet did not intend that to be a literal, scientific, statement.

Not only is the world not destroyed but Israel inherits the land! Not only are the people not annihilated they are given new tongues to praise God. Not only is Israel not whipped out but they are saved. This all happens because God judges the world! (So many misunderstand that biblical word too.  As we noted earlier judgment is frequently seen as good news, Ps 96, etc)

Again the same themes from 2 Peter 3.1-13 are present in Zephaniah: the scoffers, the fire, the destruction which leads to inheritance of the land, the redemption of God’s people and the praise of the nations.  When Peter draws on the theme of the “Day of the Lord” he does not mean anything different than Zephaniah or the other prophets for that matter.  He told us to go to them to understand his own use of the term.

On this whole section see John de Jong’s 2015 dissertation, Making Sense of Zephaniah: An Intertextual Reading (PhD, Laidlaw College, 2015)

Peter’s Fire

It is clear that fire did not mean the annihilation of the world in Zephaniah and when we take a close look in 2 Peter 3 we will find that it does not for the apostle either.  Peter’s use of καυσούμενα is rooted in the Day of the Lord traditions.  We have already examined Zephaniah and learned literal annihilation is not part of the “pattern” for that Day.

Peter turns his readers yet again to the prophets, this time to Malachi, in clarifying the purpose of God’s fire or “intense heat.”  Malachi dovetails with what we have seen already in previous texts that the focus is on purification and refinement specifically to the day of the Lord in Malachi 3.2-5 (cf. 4.1—3)

But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years. Then I will draw near to you for judgment …

The Day of the Lord is about judgment, yes, but it is also about refining and cleansing. Yahweh “comes near” for judgment upon the wicked; Yahweh “comes near” to bless the righteous.

Notice also that Malachi demonstrates God’s desire for forgiveness and his patient longing for repentance, and the last verse of the book says that Yahweh “comes near” for restoration and reconciliation and then promises, in the context of messianic prophecy, “I will not come and strike the land with a curse/destruction” (4.6)

Much of Malachi lies behind what Peter is saying in our text. “Mockers,” “the Day of the Lord,” “God’s promise of justice,” “The ‘coming’ of the Lord,” “fire,” “judgment,” “repentance” are all used in 2 Peter 3 and they are all rooted in the authority of the prophets of the Hebrew Bible.

The prophetic literature about the Day of the Lord always includes symbolic imagery, and often it will include cosmic imagery of the whole cosmos falling apart, even though they are simply describing the fall of Babylon or Jerusalem or some other temporal, physical judgment … or as we see on Pentecost to the renewing of God’s covenant not the annihilation of his people much less the world. So we are to be working out of that framework when we are reading 2 Peter 3.

The very use of kauso by Peter implies something besides annihilation.  First the prophets understood the day of the Lord as at of cleansing as with “fuller’s soap.”  Second the word itself, according to Liddell and Scott Greek-English Lexicon (9th edition), implies renovation or renewal (p.932).  This use of “fire” as God’s cleansing and purifying agent is exactly how Peter uses it in his two other uses of the exact same word, and in an eschatological context.

you have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith–being more precious than gold that though perishable, is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1.7, this text combines two words used by Peter in 2 Pt 3, fire and being found)

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4.12)

Fire purifies, tests, and brings glory to God.  It does not annihilate. It rather brings renovation and renewal.

On this section see Craig Blaising, “The Day of the Lord will Come: An Exposition of 2 Peter 3.1-13,” Bibliotheca Sacra 169 (2012): 387-401; and Matthew Emerson, “Does God Have a Death Star? The Destruction of the Cosmos in 2 Peter 3:1-13,” Southwest Journal of Theology 57 (2015): 281-293.

New EarthPeter and the World that is Found

Alexander Campbell wrote nearly 200 years ago that he could not think of a greater hindrance to the cause of Reformation than the 1611 King James Version. This is especially true in the KJV’s translation of 2 Peter 3.10, “the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up (κατακαήσεται).

The KJV is based on late medieval manuscripts that scholars have for centuries known to be frequently inaccurate.  The medieval reading of “shall be burned up” is simply not how the early church ever heard 2 Peter read.  As Al Wolters in a his article “Worldview and Textual Criticism in 2 Peter 3:10,” notes,

With the rise of modern textual criticism, this reading was soon rejected. This was due especially to the discovery and publication of Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus, the two great fourth century uncials, both of which read heurethesetai, “will be found.” To my knowledge, all critical editions of the New Testament text since that of Tischendorf (1872), notably including the landmark edition of Westcott and Hort (1881), have adopted the latter reading, which is also supported by early patristic evidence (Origen) and is now attested by an early papyrus (P72).

No edition of the Greek New Testament has carried the inaccurate KJV reading since the mid-19th century.  Standard modern translations follow the correct reading as we see in the NIV, TNIV, ESV, NEB, REB, NRSV, CEB, God’s Word, HCSB, NCV, NET, etc.

Though Peter does not say that the world will be “burned up” (κατακαήσεται) this does not stop annihilationists from running back to the King James Version in a desperate attempt to prop up Gnostic eschatology.  But what is so interesting is that though men like Robert Haldane, Alexander Campbell, Moses Lard, and J. W. McGarvey all read the KJV, they still did not interpret (as noted in the opening quotes) 2 Peter 3.10 in the manner that 20th and 21st century annihhilationists have done so. Annihilationism is an imposed interpretation even upon the King James Version.

What Peter says is “and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed/laid bare/exposed” (εύρεθήσεται) ” (NRSV, NIV, ESV).  There is a significant difference between saying the world is burned up and the world is disclosed.  Our exegesis up to this point, regardless of the textual variant, has shown that Peter is not talking about the annihilation of the world regardless of the reading. However the medieval reading of the KJV is incorrect and the early church read in their copies of 2 Peter that on the Day of the Lord the world would be εύρεθήσεται not burned up.

But what does it mean for the world to be εύρεθήσεται. Wolters suggests a metallurgical meaning for εύρεθήσεται that fits the refinement imagery we have already noted in this passage. Considered in this way, “its meaning would then be something like ‘emerge purified’ (from the crucible); with the connotation of having stood the test, of being tried and true.”

This is in fact the way Peter uses εύρεθήσεται in his remaining two usages. We have already seen in 1 Peter 1.7 above where the apostle combines heurethe with fire, and and just a few verse away from 3.10 Peter writes “Therefore, beloved while you are waiting for these things, strive to be εὑρεθῆναι (found/exposed/laid bare) by him at peace.” That is, these disciples will emerge from the fiery crucible in a state that is pleasing to the Lord.  The present world will likewise emerge from a fiery ordeal in a state that is pleasing its Creator.

What is eliminated in the Day of the Lord is not materiality nor the cosmos.  What is purged by the fire is Sin and Death. The focus of judgment is not on matter but on unrighteousness that permeates humanity and has polluted God’s good creation. The victory of the Cross and Resurrection are made manifest and God has not surrendered even one particle to the Enemy.

On this section see three important articles: G. A. van den Heever, “In Purifying Fire: Worldview and 2 Peter 3.10,” Neotestamen 27 (1993): 107-118; David Wenham, “Being Found on the Last Day: New Light on 2 Pet 3:10 and 2 Cor 5:3,” New Testament Studies 33 (1987): 477-490; Al Wolters, “Worldview and Textual Criticism of 2 Peter 3:10,” Westminster Theological Journal 49 (1987): 405-413

Peter and the Hope of the World: A Renewed Heaven and Earth the Home of the Righteous

Peter warns the scoffers of his day by pointing them to the Hebrew Bible. Do not mock God’s gracious and merciful patience.  Drawing on the very prophets we are told to “be attentive” to the apostle points to the reality of the Day of the Lord.  They mocked Noah.  They whispered at Jeremiah. They scoffed at Zephaniah, Malachi and the rest. But God judged “the godless” (2 Pet 3.7) and saved both his servants and his creation in the Flood.  The target of God’s wrath in the Flood was not the planet but human sin and the water cleansed the world.

Peter says the great and final Day of the Lord is coming. It will be a day when humans will be put to the test to see what they are made of. God’s people will be purified along with God’s world from all unrighteousness.  Out of this baptism of purifying heat will emerge “in accordance with his promise,” a “new heavens and a new earth” (3.13).

Peter once again explicitly links his words with the Hebrew Bible. Pointing to Isaiah 65.17-25 (but the same reality is spoken of in Amos, Joel, Zechariah, Hosea, and other places) where the great prophet promises that God make his creation “new.”  There is no notion in Isaiah, nor the other texts, of God annihilating his creation.  Rather he makes it “new.” (On the whole notion of “new” and “renew” see my article Explorations on ‘New’ and ‘Renewed’ in the Bible.). Instead we have the very last words in the Hebrew Bible are the promise that Yahweh would not destroy the land! What Peter teaches in 2 Peter 3 is in complete harmony with Paul in Romans 8 and Colossians 1.  The Gospel proclaims the redemption of creation not the annihilation of it.

My critics in the Spiritual Sword have claimed that the early Christian belief in a material heavens and earth that has been redeemed by the blood of Christ is premillennial!  This is absurd! The great irony here is the SS does not know early Christian teaching nor what the premillennialists have taught! Dispensational Premillennialism has been, just like my critics, annihilationists!  John Walvoord, the guru of the premillennialists for a generation writes in his Major Biblical Prophecies on 2 Peter 3,

In view of the tremendous energy locked into every material atom, the same God who locked in this energy can unlock it and destroy it, reducing it to nothing Since the power of God that locked in atomic power can also unlock it, it is possible that the destruction of the physical earth and heaven will be a gigantic explosion in which all goes back to nothing” (p. 414)

Besides the anachronistic “exegesis” in Wolvoord, this is not the view of the ancient church.  This is the view of the Spiritual Sword!

Annihilation is the resurgence of Gnostic eschatology in the modern church.  It is not the hope of Israel in the Hebrew Bible.  It is not the belief of Second Temple Judaism.  It is not the hope of the early church in the Apostolic Father or the Church Fathers. It is not the Christian hope. The resurrection of our bodies from the dead, the “redemption of our bodies,” and creation sharing in the redemption of the children of God is the hope the Bible speaks of.  I know of no early Christian thinker in the first five centuries that held to the annihilation of creation that was not a Gnostic.

Peter teaches the same thing in 3.1-13 that he had earlier in Acts 3.11-26. God holds the resurrected Christ in heaven until the time of “universal regeneration that was announced long ago through his holy prophets” (3.21).

Conclusion: A Translation of 2 Peter 3.10f Reflecting our Exegesis

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then God will come near with a loud noise, and the whole cosmos will be both judged and set free in the overwhelming presence of God, and the earth and everything that has been done on it will be made known. Since everything is to be refined in this way, what kind of people should you be? Conduct yourselves in holiness and godliness, in anticipation of the coming presence of God, since his overwhelming presence will result in both judgment and redemption of all things!” {Bobby Valentine}.

Looking forward to our inheritance as resurrected people with the resurrected Son of Man in his resurrected world.

In addition to the links already present in this article to other supporting arguments you may be interested in reading the following three links:

In Defense of Romans 8: A Response to its Spiritual Sword Critics

Heaven (10): Christ the Creator, Conqueror, and Reconciler of His Cosmos

Heaven (9): A Place for the Resurrected Lord & His Resurrected People – 2

Additional Helpful Sources on 2 Peter 3

Richard Bauckham, 2 Peter and Jude (Word Biblical Commentary)
Peter Davids, 2 Peter and Jude (Pillar New Testament Commentary)
John Mark Hicks, Bobby Valentine, Mark Wilson, Embracing Creation: God’s Forgotten Mission