Robert Reymond on Mockers of Genesis 3

What follows is a section from the late Robert Reymond’s A New Systematic Theology of the Christian faith. Oftentimes, the fall is presented as a mere silly myth with no real depth to it. Reymond makes an interesting case that there is deep meaning tied to the sin of our first parents, namely, their rejection of the authority of God:

How shallow, then, is the oft-heard mockery of the whole situation in Genesis 3 that ascribes to God a ‘tempter tantrum’ merely because someone committed the picayunish act of ‘eating a piece of apple.’ The transgression of Adam was far more than that; it was at its core the creature’s deliberate rejection of God’s authority and an act of willfull rebellion against the Creator. It was man claiming the stance of autonomy and freedom from God. It was man believing that he had the right to determine for himself what he would be metaphysically (“You will be like God”), what he would know epistemologically (“Like God, knowing good and evil”), and how he would behave ethically (“she took and ate….her husband ate”). It was man heeding Satan’s call to worship the creature rather than the Creator. Authority was the issue at stake, and man decided against God and in his own favor.

(Robert Reymond. A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, Hendrickson Publishers, 1997. Pgs. 446-447).

Distinguishing the Effectual Call, Regeneration, and Definitive Sanctification

Distinguishing between these various aspects of our redemption is a high delight of the soul, whereby we are moved and induced to joyfully praise God for the glorious salvation as we behold the beauty of the salvation He has wrought and conveyed to us in Christ. Thus, the purpose of this short article is to distinguish between three intimately related concepts in Reformed Theology – the effectual call, regeneration, and definitive sanctification. 

The argument is as follows – (1) the effectual call, regeneration, and definitive sanctification are all parts of the same substantial act of God wherein He, effectually and without a mediator, turns the soul of man from sin to Himself in conversion. (2) Though each of these aspects of conversion happen at the same time chronologically, they do admit of a logical order – i.e. the effectual call precedes regeneration which precedes definitive sanctification. In a word, the elect soul is called to life by God in God’s good timing (effectual call), and so necessarily comes to life (regeneration), and is thereby definitively freed from sin in an irrevocable fashion (definitive sanctification). 

The Effectual Call: The effectual call is the converting act of God in the soul considered from the perspective of God’s own evoking power. Evoke comes from the latin evocare which means to call out of. Evoke, therefore, as I use it, refers to God’s powerful calling forth of the individual soul to life and to trust in His Son thereby. As God called forth the world by His own power, so too He calls forth life in the elect soul by the Spirit through the Word of His power (John 11:42-44; Westminster Confession of Faith Ch. 10). 

Regeneration: Regeneration is the converting act of God in the soul, considering the result of the effectual call on the soul itself, wherein it is moved by God from a state of death to that of life. The Bible repeatedly refers to the human soul as born dead in sin; regeneration refers to the fact that said soul has been made alive by God alone and so disposed to see Christ for all that He actually is – in short, glorious and desirable. (Ephesians 2:4-5; Westminster Confession of Faith Ch. 13, 1). 

Definitive Sanctification: Definitive Sanctification is the converting act of God viewed from the perspective of the now regenerated man’s relationship with sin. He is now definitively set free from the sin which formerly enslaved him. Sanctification is derived from the Latin sanctus “Holy.”  Sanctification means to “make holy,” or to consecrate as holy. Though progressive sanctification is a lifelong process of being transformed more and more into Christ’s likeness, definitive sanctification refers to the freedom from sin’s dominion that all believers share in definitively being effectually called and regenerated by God. (Romans 6:18). 

He has called us with the powerful preaching of the Gospel, not only outwardly but also inwardly, according to His own will and pleasure (effectual calling). Through His call, our souls have been made alive. Christ, who was formerly repugnant to us, has become to us the pearl of great price (regeneration). And sin, which formerly reigned over us in such a way that we could never overcome it, nor wanted to overcome it, has been laid to rest by the serpent crushing, bond breaking power of the risen Lord Jesus (definitive sanctification). May His name be praised.

9 Principles for Bible Interpretation

9 Principles for Personal Hermeneutics

Hermeneutics is the science of biblical interpretation. It aims at getting at the Scriptures true meaning. For true Christians, God’s Word is life because it presents to us Christ who is our life. It is of utmost importance, therefore, to interpret the Bible correctly. Below I’ve listed 9 principles for interpreting the Bible that I think are necessary and/or helpful to keep in mind when pursuing the actual meaning of God’s Word. Philosophical Hermeneutics is an interest of mine, so I’m likely to update this post as I continue to think through the subject. That being said, this is more of an ongoing meditation, less an attempt at a doctrinal treatise. 

(1) Analogia Scriptorum (Analogy of Scripture) 

The Scripture is a light unto our feet and a lamp unto our path. When God inspired Scripture, He inspired it for the church. Therefore, in its main message it is clear enough for a child to understand. Notwithstanding this general simplicity, there are linguistic, cultural, intellectual, and moral barriers which keep us from understanding each portion of Scripture as clearly as the others. Therefore, when interpreting a difficult passage of Scripture we should look to other Scriptures speaking on the same doctrine or theme in order to interpret the more difficult passages. In a word, we interpret the unclear passages of Scripture in light of the clear passages

(2) Analogia Fidei (Analogy of Faith) 

Just as some Scriptures are not as clear to us as others, so too some doctrines are more clearly revealed than others. The Scripture clearly, emphatically, and repeatedly declares a high and lofty doctrine about itself, for example. It’s doctrine of angels and of the exact nature of heaven, on the other hand, seem more shrouded in mystery. While we should hold to a biblical doctrine all of biblical doctrine tenaciously, we recognize that some doctrines are more clearly, repeatedly, and emphatically revealed than others. Therefore, we should always interpret the less clear doctrines of the faith in light of the more clear doctrines.

(3) Scopus Scripturae (The Scope of Scripture) 

When you hunt, the scope is what you look through in order to shoot rightly at the target. In a similar manner the principle of Scopus Scripturae is a principle that reminds us to aim our hearts and minds at the center of the Bible, Christ (Christocentricity). We are aimed at seeing Jesus in all the Bible.  Likewise, It would be unfitting to study feline (cat) natures in Algebra II, because the scope of the class itself refers to numbers not to cat natures. So too, getting the organizing principle of the Scriptures right is of the utmost importance. The Bible contains a story, a philosophy, doctrine, poetry, and etc; yet, the Bible is not principally a textbook in Metaphysics, nor is it a few good rules you can follow in order to have a good life (though it does present to you a doctrine of the good life), nor is it just a story or drama. Rather, the Bible is a book about Christ (John 5:39) – His glory, His salvation, and how the Father is reconciling the world to Himself through Christ by the power of the Spirit. 

(4) Regula Fidei 

Protestantism rejects an infallible interpreter of the Scriptures outside the voice of God Himself speaking in Scripture. Notwithstanding, there is ample rationale, biblically speaking, to treat as normative the practice of immersing oneself within conversation on biblical interpretation which has gone on in the church for multiple millenia. Though the church is not endowed with the ability of infallible interpretation, she is nonetheless the pillar and buttress of truth (1 Tim 3:15) who has been endowed with the Holy Spirit, who guides her into all truth (John 15:26-27). Christ appointed teachers (Eph 4:11-16), under himself as the Teacher (Matthew 23:8), to guide His people. We ignore them to our own detriment. The principle of Regula Fidei reminds us to interpret the Scriptures in the conversation of interpretation which the church has engaged in for thousands of years. 

(5) Context, Context, Context

Context determines meaning. If I walked up to a friend at church and said, “Friend, you are a pretty cool dude,” and he responded to me, “What are you talking about, I have a temperature of 102!” – he would be taking me out of context. A similar thing happens when we treat the Bible like a series of isolated Bible verses outside the original context in which they were given. Ample consideration, when determining meaning, must be given to historical and linguistic concerns. One must pay attention to the genre of the text under consideration, the audience, and the general flow of the argument or narrative. Failure to do so makes the Scripture like a wax nose, able to be made to say whatever the interpreter wants it to say. Context mediates against eisegesis (putting our own thoughts into God’s Word) and is key to exegesis (Grasping the meaning of the original author in interpretation). The Bible is God’s Word, written through human individuals – therefore ample attention must be paid to it’s individuality as well as it’s systemic unity. 

(6) Logic I: Non-Contradiction 

The maintenance of common sense logic is key to biblical interpretation. Imagine I walk up to you and ask, “What is your favorite color?” “Blue,” you reply. After which I say to you, “I agree, red is my favorite color also.” In the instance of such a reply you would rightly look at me with a face either of exasperation or you would laugh because you’d known I was making a joke. Contradiction literally means “to speak against” and what it means is, essentially, that because two propositions cancel one another out there is no actual meaning to what is being said. That is pretty abstract, so let me make the principle simple. At no point in your interpretation of two different passages are you allowed to hold two different interpretations which cancel one another out. You are not allowed to hold, for example, that it is and is not possible for a true Christian to lose their salvation. The law of non-contradiction (you’re not allowed to hold contradictory interpretations) is absolute and must be upheld consistently in  interpretation. 

(7) Logic II: Implication 

If all human beings are mortal, and socrates is a man, then it follows by implication that Socrates too is mortal. Humans have this innate ability to draw legitimate inferences on the basis of a limited amount of information. If I didn’t do my laundry the day before and my wife looks at me with a sour face as I wake up in the morning, I can make a probable inference that her sour is a result of my dour performance. If the Bible says that the Holy Spirit is God, the Son is God, and the Father is God, and that there is one God, we legitimately draw the inference of the doctrine of the Trinity. The fact is that the doctrine of the Trinity is just as biblical as the doctrine that, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” even though the former required logical inference and the latter did not. God knew he was writing a book to rational beings and thus what is logically inferred is just as “real” as what is explicitly stated and must be treated as biblical. The Westminster Confession states essentially this: 

“The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture…” (Westminster Confession of Faith 1.6)

(8) Ockham’s Razor 

If you walked outside after waking up from a night’s sleep and saw puddles of water on the ground you would be justified in saying that it probably rained. Though it is possible that martians from mars dumped water into puddles that made it look like it rained but actually it was them, it is highly unlikely and unbelievable that such an event occurred. This same principle applies to Scripture. Biblically, I could interpret the millennial reign of Christ to be preceded by apache helicopters carrying the antichrist from Russia to Hades, because of the imagery I see in the book of Revelation. I may even have a logically consistent system built off of such a doctrine in order to justify my belief; notwithstanding, the belief is unreasonable because I have multiplied complication unnecessarily and without warrant. The principle of Ockham’s Razor, as I understand it, is simply that you do not multiply unnecessary complication without due warrant. To state it more simply, you don’t make the text more complicated than God does.

(9) Thomas’s Scalpel 

Consistent with the principle above, at times the Scripture itself brings forward a complication. Being complex is not necessarily bad (in the Scriptures it is always good). In such a case, our job is not to shave down the complexity of Scripture; rather, our job is to make legitimate and logical distinctions so that we can hold to the complexity of biblical teaching. Because we are not allowed to have contradictions, we must make distinctions. For example, the Bible states and teaches that true Christians persevere till the end and that all who are united to Christ for salvation make it all the way to glorification (Romans 8:28-30). Nonetheless, the Bible also says that some people united to Christ are cut off from Christ (John 15). How do we reconcile the apparent contradiction? Some people say that the latter is hypothetical, that is how they reconcile the apparent contradiction (I think this interpretation violates Ockham’s Razor). As for me, I believe they are united, externally, to Christ’s body the church but not united to Him personally (What Berkhof calls the “Dual aspect of the covenant”). Either way, a distinction is necessary and it is proper for the interpreter of the Bible to use the Scalpel of reason to make such distinctions. (1)

Conclusion

Some of these principles are a bit more practical at the outset than others, so I will finish with a practical program for application drawn from my own experience. Begin by seriously considering the Biblical text in context. Though much can be gained by commentaries on given passages, the Bible itself is it’s own best commentary and much can be gained simply by immersing oneself into the flow of the text. If you do this enough, you’re naturally going to be asking questions of logic which were posed above. “How does this make sense given this?” At that point, you will be engaged in doctrinal formulation and some of the other principles will make intuitive sense as you seek to uncover meaning (the regula fidei, analogia fidei, etc.). So in the first, pay attention to context. And also in the first, pay attention to Christ. All study is in vain if we do not see with the eyes of our hearts the blessed Son of God. The worst error in the world would be to engage in serious study of God’s Word only to miss the essence of the Word, Christ. Be seeing Him in all His manifold beauty! As the Psalm states, 

“My heart overflows with a pleasing theme;

    I address my verses to the king;

    my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe.

You are the most handsome of the sons of men;

    grace is poured upon your lips;

    therefore God has blessed you forever.

Gird your sword on your thigh, O mighty one,

    in your splendor and majesty!

In your majesty ride out victoriously

    for the cause of truth and meekness and righteousness;

    let your right hand teach you awesome deeds!

(Psalm 45:1-4) 


Footnotes

  1. The content for this section, particularly the language of “Thomas’s Scalpel” was derived from thinking through a post that Mark Olivero made on the facebook page he moderates called, “Reformed Thomist.” Credit to him (and to Thomas)!

A REFORMATION DAY MEDITATION

Simul Justus et Peccator: A Reformation Day Meditation

By God’s grace I became a teacher this year. This past week, in one day, I taught on the parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee to a 7th grade class, the book of Leviticus to my 9th grade class, and the doctrine of salvation (Soteriology) to my 11th grade class. I was yet again amazed at the thematic and doctrinal unity of the Bible, particularly in it’s presentation of the great doctrine of our salvation: we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone – the great truths we celebrate on Reformation day. 

 The particular focus of the parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee is God’s disposition toward the contrasted attitudes of the two men in question. The Pharisee is proud, self-satisfied, and looks down upon the Tax Collector. The Tax Collector, by contrast, is humbled, contrite, and looking to God for mercy. Though the main point of the parable is tutelage in the humble disposition which pleases God, the actual climax of the parable is found in verse 14: “I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

The word here translated justified is from the same root used by Paul in his extensive treatment of Justification in Romans 3 (dikaios). There the same word is used in answer to the question of how a sinful people can stand before a holy God. At one level of analysis we can say if Luke 18 provides an example of what true, justifying faith looks like through the humbled example of the Tax collector (Sola Fide), then Romans 3 answers the question of how a just and holy God has provided a way that unholy people can justly be reconciled to God. The answer is through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Sola Christus). 

The significance of Paul’s extended dialogue on Justification in Romans 1-5 is helpfully understood in light of the Old Testament context which undergirds and informs Paul’s entire Theology. In Genesis 3 humanity violates God’s righteous requirement and is cast away from His presence. In grace, God promises salvation through the offspring of the woman. To Abram, God focuses the peculiar line through whom this savior will come.

After allowing the offspring of Abraham to go into bondage, God redeems Israel in the Exodus. Through God’s dealings with Moses, the family of Israel is constituted as a national body. As such, he provides them with His law and also a Tabernacle for worship (the tent of meeting). The dramatic tension of the Exodus narrative is heightened when, after the construction of the tabernacle, “And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle” (Exodus 40:35). 

Though the children of Israel are God’s people, they are still unholy and sinful. God will not be approached by the impure. Who can dwell in God’s presence? Only the perfect (Psalm 15); and the mass of fallen humanity, the children of Israel included, were imperfect. The book of Leviticus, the center of the Pentateuch, comes as an answer to the problem of a sinful people dwelling with YHWH, the holy God. In other words, the same problem which Paul is dealing with in Romans 1-5 is the same problem that Moses is dealing with in the entire book of Leviticus. 

Both of their answers to the problem are the same and are helpfully encapsulated by the word atonement. The book of Leviticus is the center of the Penteteuch. And the day of atonement is the center of the book of Leviticus. And just as the Bible is one under God through Christ, so too the Theology of reconciliation and approach is one across both testaments. The manner in which a sinful and estranged humanity is reconciled to a holy God is through the sacrifice of atonement. What Leviticus foreshadows, Christ fulfills.

The goal of atonement is communion between formerly estranged parties (reconciliation). The manner in which this reconciliation is achieved is through a satisfactory sacrifice. The penalty of sin is death and so death is the equal sacrifice given in order to satisfy the claims of justice. The peculiar manner in which this sacrifice is to be understood is encapsulated by the word vicarious. The atonement is a vicarious, satisfactory, reconciliatory sacrifice. Vicarious means “as by substitute” or simply “substitutionary.” When the Hebrew worshiper laid his hand upon the animal he was identifying himself with the animal. When it was slaughtered, he was slaughtered. When its pleasing aroma ascended into the presence of God, he, vicariously, ascended into the presence of God (1), (2).

The Apostle Paul and the author of Hebrews pick up on this atonement theme throughout their writings in answering the question of how a sinful people can dwell in the presence of a holy God. How is it that we are accepted? How is it that we are justified? Their answer is through the once for all sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The goal of Christ’s sacrifice is our communion with God and His glory thereby. Meritoriously, the savior paid an absolutely equal and just satisfaction for His people. And by the power of God He did so as a vicarious substitute (2 Corinthians 5:21). In a real sense, I was united with Christ on the tree and by His wounds I have been healed. The author of Hebrews says that through His once for all sacrifice, the grounds of our acceptance before God has been achieved. What was foreshadowed in the Levitical sacrifices need no longer be performed because Christ, our redeemer, has purchased our redemption. This is what we mean when we confess the Reformation truth Solus Christus. Christ alone. 

The personal and pastoral ramifications of these great doctrines of faith alone, grace alone, and Christ alone cannot be overstated. Though Reformation day is certainly a day where we rejoice in being our freedom from Roman oppression this relief is superseded by the relief and joy we experience at having been freed from the terror of the wrath of God (Romans 5:1). In addition to this, we also rejoice at the full assurance of heaven upon death that we as Protestants confess in accordance with the clear teaching of Scripture. 

As I taught the eleventh graders the differences in the doctrine of salvation between Catholics and Protestants I was reminded of the great Protestant teaching of assurance of heaven upon death. Because Jesus has paid a perfectly equitable legal penalty for my sins, and because of the assurance that I have by God through the Gospel by faith, I can know, with certainty, that upon my death I will be with king Jesus in paradise. The beauty and glory of the Gospel, as well as a polemic against Roman Catholicism’s doctrine of purgatory, is contained in the assurance of pardon that the thief on the cross receives from Jesus in his final hour. 

After living a life of sin and iniquity, and after having formerly reviled Christ along with the other thief he was crucified with, God the Holy Spirit through the preaching of Jesus caused a sin-laden man to repent and believe in Jesus. You recall the man? In his final hour he was converted. And with a mustard seed of faith He pleaded with the Lord Jesus for forgiveness. He had no hope of salvation in his own personal work. His strength, knowledge, prestige, or person were brought to nothing on that cross; he had nothing in his hands to bring to God for acceptance. He simply looked upon the Saviour and said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” The Lord Jesus’s response to Him was simple yet paradoxical, “And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.’”

The logic of Reformation Theology, indeed all of Calvinism, is contained in the exchange between Jesus and the thief on the cross. If the trait of empathy be of any use it is at this point in the narrative. The drama of the analogy between the thief on the cross and our natural condition in sin cannot be overstated. I am the thief. The Bible says that according to my natural condition apart from grace I am of sin alone. Spiritually I am like the man born blind. Spiritually I am the leper healed by Jesus. Spiritually I am dead and vile. Wicked, erring, unclean am I in Adam. And yet my Saviour looks upon my humble plea for salvation that He himself caused and proclaims back to me, “Justified. Accepted. Reconciled.” and through His work, the inheritance of heaven is mine. 

You see the beauty of the paradox don’t you? The same parched mouth which bore my sins even unto death proclaimed me justified. The same hands which were stretched out and pierced came to hold my outcast hand when I was undeserving. And the heart which was pierced was borne by the one whose soul proclaimed “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” While we were at our worst, Jesus gave us His best (Romans 5:8). And so I can say with Luther, simul justus et peccatores. I am at one time sinful and yet justified. I am justified by no work of my own but by simply receiving the Savior (Sola Fide). The righteousness I receive is on the basis of His finished work alone (Sola Christus). And the manner in which I receive that faith, indeed the totality of that finished work is by grace alone. It is because of this grace that I have full assurance that upon my death I will immediately enter into the fullness of heaven’s joy. I am assured, because it is finished and the price has been paid. Upon my death I will be with my Lord who bled and loved me. Indeed, all things are mine through Jesus Christ my Lord. This is the hope of the Gospel. This is why we celebrate Reformation day. 

Soli Deo Gloria,

Patrick Steckbeck

  1. Anything true and good in this section was received from Michael Morales in his book, “Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord.” I highly recommend the book. https://www.amazon.com/Who-Shall-Ascend-Mountain-Lord/dp/0830826386#:~:text=%22Who%20shall%20ascend%20the%20mountain,%2C%20indeed%2C%20of%20life%20itself.&text=Under%20the%20Mosaic%20covenant%2C%20the,temple%2C%20its%20priesthood%20and%20rituals.

2. It is hard to overstate the importance of “Vicariousness” in the Theology of the Bible. Though Theologians generally talk about vicariousness with reference to the atonement, the same phenomena undergirds all of Paul’s Theology of “Union with Christ.” In Scripture, the believer is placed into a spiritual union with the Lord Jesus such that we are made progressively more holy and are, in a real sense, seated with Him in the heavenly places (and much more!).

Thomistic Metaphysics (Podcast)

This segment is a part of the broader discussion which focuses particularly on the Metaphysics of Thomas Aquinas. Thomas’s Metaphysics is thick and, at first, hard to understand; yet wading through his thought is well worth it. Thinking Metaphysically is, according to Thomas, the highest form a thought Philosophy can manage.