A supposal about idols

Exodus 20:22 says this — Then the LORD said to Moses, Speak in this way to the sons of Israel: “You have seen that I have spoken to you from heaven. You shall not make anything to be with Me — gods of silver or gods of gold you shall not make for yourselves.”

The LORD spoke from heaven to give the 10 commandments. This terrified the people who heard it. The LORD then told them by Moses to be impressed with the fact that God has spoken to them, and not to make idols.

My question is “How does the LORD speaking relate to not making idols?”

My supposal (proposed answer) is as follows:

We are to form our understanding about God and his will for our salvation from what he himself has told us in his word. We are not to be inventive when it comes to our theology. We are simply to receive and apply all that God as revealed in his word.

To do otherwise is to make “God” into an idol of our own devising.

The latter part of the text (quoted above) refers to gods of silver and gods or gold. The word “gods” in ancient Hebrew can also be translated “God”. The italicised section “anything to be” is the translator’s guess at how the words that appear in the text might be linked together.

My additional supposal is that the linking words might not be necessary. The LORD probably is saying “You shall not make with Me (out of Me) a God of silver or a God of gold.”

My reason for supposing this can be found in Deuteronomy 4:15-16: “Take careful heed to yourselves, for you saw no form when the LORD spoke to you at Horeb … lest you act corruptly and make for yourselves a carved image.”

The LORD was warning people against making the true God into an idol of their own imagination. People will do this when they do not give God’s word its due preeminence in their thinking. In Exodus 32, Aaron did precisely what the LORD had told Israel not to do. He made a gold calf and told people that this is the LORD who took them out of Egypt.

Our God is self-defined. He has given us his written word in the Bible. That alone is our standard. There  we find all that God has revealed about himself and his will for our salvation.

Of Junia and Andronicus (Romans 16:7)

Romans 16:7 seems to be of great interest to some people for reasons other than the indication it gives that Paul knew and respected them. We are told by Paul that these two people were his relatives, that they were in Christ before him, and that they were esteemed among the apostles.

From things that I’ve read, some people want to believe that Andronicus and Junia (who was most likely a woman) were apostles.  The aim of this belief seems to be that, if Junia were an apostle, then woman ought to be ordained into the teaching ministry of the church.

I think that there are several problems with this sort of inference.

There is the ambiguity of the Greek preposition ‘en’. It can have the force, along with the dative form of a noun, of ‘in’, ‘with’, ‘among’, ‘at’ or even ‘to’.

The word episemos can mean ‘illustrious’ or ‘of note’.

So we have this request from Paul that the church at Rome greet his relatives, Andronicus and Junia ‘who are illustrious (or of note) among the apostles’.

Some believe that Paul means these two were particularly eminent apostles, others say that the apostles thought these two were pretty impressive Christians. The first group thinks Andronicus and Junia were apostles, the other group does not think they were apostles.

Let the fight begin! But I think the effort to sort out the meaning of the preposition etc, though interesting and possibly instructive, would not resolve what I see as the main question.

If Andronicus and Junia were really eminent apostles, don’t you think we would have heard  a little more of them?

The original twelve were prominently identified in the four gospels as particularly chosen by Christ, even though one was a devil. They were called, named, and instructed. They witnessed all that Jesus began to do and teach. They were commissioned to take the good news of salvation to the nations.

After Judas’s death, the choice of Matthias was preceded by a description of the requirements needed before a person could become an apostle of Jesus Christ (Acts 1). Any candidate had to have witnessed the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ (This is why there are no apostles of Jesus Christ today, unless they are 2000 years old). So, after finding two candidates who fulfilled all these requirements, the apostles prayed asking the Lord to indicate which of the two should replace Judas. The lot fell on Matthias.

Paul was called to the apostleship by the direct intervention of the risen Lord Jesus. Paul himself refers to his calling as being one born out of time (1Cor. 15:8). Nevertheless, there are many occasions in the book of Acts where the story of his calling is told.

In short, the apostles of Jesus Christ do not pop out of nowhere. In every case, scriptural evidence is given for the calling — along with details of how, when, and where. This is particularly true of eminent apostles like Peter, James, John and Paul.

For this reason, I do not believe that either Andronicus or Junia were apostles of Jesus Christ.

A few thoughts on Psalm 1

The first Psalm speaks of a happy man. This man is happy because he does no wrong and because he knows God through His word.

Now, if you think about things correctly, you’d realise that this Psalm is not talking about any of us. As Paul say, ‘We all like sheep have gone astray’.

Besides our personal failure to fulfil any of the requirements of happiness as described by this Psalm, there is another difficulty.

The Psalm is only talking about a singular male person. In Psalm 32:2, where it talks of the happiness of the ‘man’ to whom the Lord does not impute sin, the word ‘man’ there is actually the Hebrew word for human beings, irrespective of age or gender.

In Psalm 1, as I said, the word ‘man’ means male, a singular male. The singular male is set in opposition to the many wicked, the many sinners.

In Luke 24:43, Jesus says that the whole Old Testament foretells him. The Psalms are essentially about our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the happy man because he alone fulfilled all the requirements for happiness. He did that for his people. He worked righteousness for them.

Again, when He meditated on the law of the Lord, he saw there his job description. He would live that good life, but as the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, he also became the sinless sin-bearer. Jesus willingly received the condemnation that our sins deserve. The Old Testament temple sacrifices pointed to the death of Jesus for his people.

That is why Psalm 1 can talk about the way of the righteous. Jesus is the way (and the truth. and the life). The Lord God acknowledges that way, and for Jesus’ sake He justifies those sinners who trust themselves to the Son of God who died and rose to save his people from there sins.

It is through this happy man, Jesus, that the happiness promised to Abraham comes to the nations. By means of the good news of Jesus, miserable sinners can have life instead of death, and joy instead of bitterness. Jesus is that fruitful, flourishing tree — the tree of life.

Footnotes to previous posts

In previous posts, I wrote about the singing of Psalms and the absence of musical instruments in church worship in the New Testament church. I argued that the Psalms were and are the church’s song book, and that use of instrumental music in worship was and should still be regarded as Judaizing; that is, the introduction of Old Testament ceremonial practices into the New Testament Church.

Since writing those posts, I’ve come across some footnotes that relate to them.

In The Baker History of the Church Vol 1: The birth of the Church (AD 30-312), 2004, Ivor Davidson makes the following observation:

There was also singing of “Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” (Eph. 5:19-20; Col. 3:16). The Jewish [sic] Psalter was the primary songbook, and believers found clear images of their Lord, his suffering, and his exaltation in the Psalms … Psalms were read aloud as well as sung, as they were in Jewish worship, and singing in general would almost always have been undertaken without any kind of instrumental accompaniment. Indeed, in later Christian writers there would be a great deal of polemic against musical instruments, which were strongly associated with worldly entertainment (p.118, see also endnote 12, p. 378)

In volume 2 (AD 312-600) of the same series, A Public Faith, 2005, Davidson wrote as follows:

About the actual music of Christian worship we know a lot less then we might wish. So far as we can tell, singing remained unaccompanied virtually everywhere, but the absence of musical instruments did not mean that the aesthetic qualities of worship were treated lightly (p.267).

I’d only add that there is no evidence of the use of musical instruments in the NT itself, and musical instruments were shunned in the early church for that reason, and not only because of pagan usage. The use of instrumental music in worship was regarded as part of the Levitical service that had been abolished in Christ. John Chrysostom, for example explicitly referred to it as being of the ‘child’ phase of the church that Paul mentions in Galatians 3:24-25 when he was speaking against the use of OT practices in the NT church.

The Psalms were and should still be sung because they are God’s word, they speak of Christ (Eg., Luke 24:44 and Hebrews 1-3), and as such they constitute His praise rather than ours.  It is His praise that we are to sing. We should sing the Psalms in our church worship with grace in the heart, unaccompanied by anything but the Holy Spirit who speaks by and with His word.

Cunningham’s comment on conversion

William Cunningham lived a long time ago (1805-1861), but I think he has still some things to tell us today. Cunningham was raised within the Church of Scotland, and was preparing to become a Presbyterian minister when he discovered that he was not a Christian. In one of his later sermons, Cunningham made the following observation about conversion:

It is impossible that such an important change can have taken place upon our moral nature, without attracting our attention, and forcing itself upon our notice … unless a man be conscious of having undergone a great and radical change of moral principle through belief in the Gospel, unless he be conscious that his moral principles are very different now from what they once were, he can hardly have any good grounds for believing that he has repented and been converted.

(‘How to estimate [evaluate/gauge] repentance’, Sermons, p. 34).

 

Have mercy on me, a sinner

Today in church we considered these words from a parable that Jesus told about a Pharisee and a tax collector (Luke 18:9-14). In the story, these two men were praying in the temple.

Of the two, the tax collector got the idea of the temple. It was the place where God assured his people that He was a God who forgives. He forgives wrong doers on the basis of an acceptable sacrifice — one that God had instituted.

The pharisee thought that he had made the grade. He had done sufficient for God to accept him. He had not come looking for mercy; he had come for congratulations. That is why he prayed to himself about his religious activities. Jesus said that these things did not justify the pharisee before God.

The tax collector, the bad guy, had come to understand that he was a lawless person whose bad deeds had offended his God and creator. His words indicate that he understood the temple’s purpose. He said, “Have mercy on me a sinner!”

This was not a request that God should simply overlook the tax collector’s bad deeds. It was a plea that God would act to take away his guilt by an acceptable sacrifice. Literally, the tax collector says, “Make propitiation for me, a sinner!”

To make propitiation means to do whatever is necessary to remove the cause of offence.

On the day of atonement, in the days of the temple, the blood of a bull was sprinkled by the high priest onto a gold plate that was on top of the ark of the covenant. That plate was called the mercy — the propitiation — seat. Propitiation was made by the death of a substitute.

The tax collector recognised that one must die for him if he were to be rescued from the death and judgement that his sins deserved. He was asking God to make propitiation for him.

Our Lord Jesus, who was telling this story, is the answer to that prayer. In Romans 3:24-25 we are told the Christ Jesus, God the Son, is the propitiation for our sins by his death. This propitiation is received by faith. We simply trust that Christ has done all that is necessary to remove our guilt and to reconcile us to God. This is good news.

 

 

 

An old stone church

We worshipped in an old stone church while on holidays. I admit that my prejudices were making me apprehensive. Old stone churches, to my mind, often mean churches where human traditions trump the gospel of Jesus Christ.

11th tas arvo 185.JPG

But I was very pleased to have my prejudices proved wrong in this case.

The Good News of Jesus was much in the forefront. The reality of human sinfulness and our great need for God’s grace in Christ were made clear from the text of the Bible.

More than this, a Psalm was sung — a real Psalm — not just a snippet pinched from a Psalm and repeated over and over again, nor a piece of a Psalm incorporated into a merely human composition. It was a complete Psalm — in a congregation of the Presbyterian Church of Australia! This is something I have grown NOT to expect from a church whose historic practice was (and whose continuing doctrinal position is) to sing Psalms in the public worship of God. The PCA had become to me almost an anti-Psalm church.

So this unexpected occurrence in a old stone church cheered me considerably.