Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2 Samuel 24.1 and 1 Chronicles 21.1: Contradiction?

*Notes from a study I did on this alleged contradiction.

2 Samuel 24.1 and 1 Chronicles 21.1: Contradiction?

·      Three ways this has been handled:

o   Harmonize the two accounts

o   The two accounts are contradictory; the Chronicler is seeking to replace the idea in 2 Samuel 24.1 (more liberal view; not compatible with high view of Scripture)

o   Chronicle account is an interpretation of the Samuel account

§  We will look at the first and third ways to handle the issue

·      Harmonized Accounts

(1) “The most probable sequence in our passages runs like this:

-God is angry with Israel's sin (and David's handling of the royal family issues).

-Satan sees his opportunity, accuses them of wrongdoing, and wins approval to inflict David's and Israel's wrongdoing back on themselves.

-God, knowing that the punishment is well deserved, that the example of correction/contrition on David's part will be recorded in Scripture forever as an example, and that He will be gracious 'ahead of schedule' and reveal the site of his temple/crucifixion, agrees to turn David and Israel over to him, for this specific punishment (cf. I Cor 5.5).

-Satan, with this permission from God, moves David to begin the Census.”  Glenn Miller

(2) “[T]he Chronicles account and the Samuel account merely reflect two aspects of the same incident.  Satan was the immediate cause of David’s action, but, theologically speaking, God was the ultimate cause in that He did not prevent the incident from occurring.  In other words, it was actually Satan who instigated the pride and ambition that led David to increase the size of his army, perhaps unnecessarily.”  John J. Davis and John C. Whitcomb Israel: A Commentary on Joshua-2 Kings p. 322

(3)  24:1 This verse indicates that God’s anger incited David to take a census which was not in the Lord’s will, yet 1 Ch 21:1 states that it was Satan who led David to take this wrongful action. The two statements would not be considered contradictory in the ancient Israelite way of thinking. The writer of 2 Sm affirms that God is the ultimate ruler of the universe; every event is subject to His authority. If even king David, despite his strength and intelligence, could be led into a foolish decision, the Lord’s hand is still involved (cp. Ps 76:10). Satan, too, is subject to God’s complete control (cp. Jb 1:6–12). In His position as Sovereign over all, God used one of His created beings—in this case Satan—to bring about judgment on another. People have the authority to resist Satan (Jms 4:7) but David declined to do so, and thus experienced the consequence in the effects of God’s wrath (cp. Rm 1:18).[1]

·      Interpretation: Chronicles interprets the Samuel account

o   “The Chronicler’s version of 2 Sam 24:1 appears, then as an attempt to bring an interpretation to that passage that draws both on the terminology and themes of the biblical sources themselves.  The sense, as the Chronicler saw it, was that David had sinned and, as in the days of old and Solomon’s kingdom after him, Israel was threatened by invasion from their enemies because of the disobedience of their leaders.”  John H. Sailhamer “1 Chronicles 21:1—A Study in Inter-Biblical Interpretation” Trinity Journal  10:1 (Spring, 1989), p. 43

o   Language issues:

§  “anger of the LORD burned against Israel”

·      2 Sam 24.1:  Judges 2.14

·      Similar expression: Judges 2.20; 3.8; 10.7; 2 Kings 13.3; 23.26

o   “As these passages show, when the anger of Yahweh was kindled against Israel, it resulted in the Lord’s giving them over to their enemies.”  (Ibid., pp. 41-42)

§  “satan”: “adversary”-- no definite article thus not the supernatural being known as Satan in the NT

·      Note: “satan” in Job 1-2 and Zech 3.1-2 has definite article (“the satan”)

·      1 Kings 5.4; 1 Kings 11.9-14, 23, 25; 1 Sam 29.4; 2 Sam 19.23

·      “It is more likely, however, that the lack of an article was intended to show that ‘adversary’ in 1 Chronicles 21 was to be distinguished from the being Satan (always written with an article) and associated with Israel’s historical enemies, who are always referred to without the article.”  (Ibid., p. 42)


* (H) = harmonization; (I) = interpretation 

Gleason Archer Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Zondervan, 1982), pp. 186-188.  (H)

Greg Boyd God At War: The Bible and Spiritual Conflict (IVP, 1997), pp. 153-154.   (H)

John J. Davis and John C. Whitcomb Israel: A Commentary on Joshua-2 Kings (Baker, 1989),
            pp. 321-322.  (H)

Walter Kaiser (and others) Hard Sayings of the Bible (IVP, 1996), pp. 240-241.  (H)

John Sailhamer “1 Chronicles 21:1—A Study in Inter-Biblical Interpretation” Trinity Journal  
            10:1 (Spring, 1989), pp. 33-48.  (I)

[1] Cabal, T., Brand, C. O., Clendenen, E. R., Copan, P., Moreland, J., & Powell, D. (2007). The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith (490). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

"Catholic" in the Creeds

* I write a brief piece for our church bulletin every week.  Here are the thoughts from an upcoming bulletin.

A new year is upon us.  A quick note about our bulletin—you will notice that our affirmation of faith has changed.  We will be using the Nicene Creed with occasional weeks perhaps devoted to other ecumenical or Reformed creeds and confessions.  It is good to give public confession to the faith.  We are not mindlessly reciting words.  Rather, we are doing something profound.  We are giving expression to that which defines us.  We are giving verbal allegiance to the truth that shapes the Church and we are confessing our glad submission to it.

There may be one area that some may be concerned about and that is the use of the word “catholic”—“we believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.”  We need to remember that the word “catholic” simply means “universal” and is not indicating the institutional structure of what we know today as the “Roman Catholic Church.”  The Roman Catholic New Testament scholar Luke Timothy Johnson in his book The Creed: What Christians Believe and Why It Matters recognizes this reality and has written some important words on this issue:

Before examining the term [“catholic”] it may be helpful to make the (I hope obvious) point that the creed does not say that the church is “Roman Catholic.”  That term is, indeed, oxymoronic.  It combines the element of universality with a highly particular adjective.  The Roman Catholic tradition (the reader will remember it is my own) may believe the Roman tradition is all-encompassing, but that is simply mistaken.

So to confess our belief in the “catholic church” is simply to recognize the universality of the church—it exists everywhere rather than simply in one place.  Part of our praying for the church in other nations is to also give expression to this catholic impulse.  The church does not exist centrally or primarily in the United States.  Christ’s church exists around the world.  To be sure, this universal church is not always equally pure in doctrine or life but it is, nonetheless, the church purchased by the blood of Christ.

So when you confess your faith in the church’s catholicity today, do not think of Rome, the Pope, or any such thing.  Let your mind move to the universal church—our brothers and sisters throughout the nations crying out to God in the name of Jesus Christ.  Rejoice in the Savior’s love which is nourishing and sustaining the church around the world!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Receiving the Word of God

How do we receive the word of God?  When it is taught or preached what should be our attitude and approach to receiving the word of God?  Acts 17 narrates Paul’s ministry in a number of cities.  In Thessalonica there was persecution because of their preaching.  When Paul and Silas came to the city of Berea they preached the word of God.  Acts 17.11 tells us the response:

Now these [the Bereans] were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica,  for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.

These “noble-minded” Bereans did two things. First, they “received the word with great eagerness.”  They were eager to hear that which was from God.  There was no apathy in their approach to hearing or learning.  They were interested and excited to hear from God.  Second, they went to the Scriptures to examine the truthfulness of what they were being taught.  The loved the authority of the word and examined all truth claims in light of the Scriptures.

By these two marks of the Bereans we can test ourselves.  Do we hunger for the word?  Are we eager to hear from God?  What of today—have you come to hear the word of the living God?  Does that prospect excite you?  What about your authority—do you take all claims and test them by the Scriptures?  Are you developing in your understanding of the Bible to such a degree that you are able to examine the Scriptures to see what is true in what you hear?

The Bereans give us a great example of a Scripture-oriented community who love the word of God and know how to use the word of God to test everything by its truthfulness.  May we, too, love the Scriptures and live by the Scriptures in this way.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Heart of God

Does God ever seem remote and distant?  At times we may even think thoughts like these—“He is high and exalted but far removed from our lives.  He takes care of the big things and only interacts with my life when I do something wrong.”  I fear that for many of us we often see our heavenly Father this way.  Recently in reading some of the prophets I noticed some striking imagery about God’s love and care for his people.

In Jeremiah 30-33 there are promises made to Israel concerning the release from exile.  Israel’s sin had brought them to a place of exile but God would again have mercy.  Here are some words which speak of God’s “heart” in the matter.

Is Ephraim my dear son?  Is he a delightful child?  Indeed, as often as I have spoken against him, I certainly still remember him; therefore my heart yearns for him; I will surely have mercy on him,” declares the Lord.  Jeremiah 31.20

God’s heart “yearns” for his people—this is no passive or disinterested deity!  Consider these words which speak of an “everlasting covenant” to be made with God’s people:

I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put the fear of me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from me.  I will rejoice over them to do them good and will faithfully plant them in this land with all my heart and with all my soul.  Jeremiah 32.40-41

That last phrase—“with all my heart and with all my soul”—captured my attention.  That language is used of our requirement to love God (Deuteronomy 6.5; Mark 12.30).  But here the language of heart and soul is spoken of as God’s commitment to us—his desire to do good to his people!  This is a portrait of God’s gracious and tenacious commitment to the good of his people.  Our God is not “half-hearted” in his commitment to love us.  He demonstrates his whole-hearted commitment to love us in sending his only unique Son, Jesus Christ to die for our sins.  The New Testament speaks of these realities in this way:

But God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we yet sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 5.8

Look to Christ and his cross—see the great full-hearted love of God for his people.  In this rejoice and trust—for our God is a God of whole-hearted love!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ

* Notes from a Bible study I did on the virgin birth.

The Virgin Birth of Jesus

1.     Based on just two explicit biblical references: Matthew 1.18-25 and Luke 1.26-38.

a.     Mark 6.3: “son of Mary”

“This is considered by some to be a reference to a tradition that Joseph was not Jesus’s father; their view is fortified by the statement that the townspeople took offense at Jesus.  Generally, when a man in those times was being identified, it was in terms of who his father was.  A man was identified in terms of who his mother was only if his paternity was uncertain or unknown.”[1]

b.     John 8.41: “We were not born of fornication…”

“The use of the emphatic pronoun μες (hemeis) could be construed as an innuendo: ‘It is not we who are illegitimate.’”[2]

c.      Mark does not mention a birth narrative. 

“The tradition that Mark based his Gospel upon information supplied by Peter suggests that Mark may have chosen to include only what the apostle had personally observed.”[3]

d.     John does not mentions a birth narrative.  Starts out his Gospel with a theologically oriented picture rather than purely historical view of Jesus’ birth.

e.     Paul mentions that the Son was “born of a woman” (Galatians 4.4) but does not specifically address the virgin birth

f.      Beware of fallacious reasoning: arguments from silence[4]

2.     Creedal Statements

a.     The Apostle’s Creed (3-4 century)

“I believe in God the Father Almighty; Maker of heaven and earth.
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary…”

b.     Nicene Creed

“…who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary…”

3.     There is no complex debate as to what Matthew and Luke intend to teach.  They both are teaching that Jesus’ conception was the supernatural result of the Holy Spirit’s power active upon Mary who was a virgin.

4.     Two dangers with the doctrine of the virgin birth

a.     Trivialized as a “Christmas” doctrine

                                               i.     Pulled out with the lights and Christmas tree; then put away again

                                              ii.     Suffers neglect as a holiday ornament

b.     Rejection of the virgin birth of the Messiah

                                               i.     Not simply by those who are skeptical or atheistic

                                              ii.     Redefinition by those who want to retain the name “Christian”

1.     Early part of the 20th century: Fundamentalism vs. Liberalism

a.     Self-confessed liberals rejected a literal virgin birth so as to accommodate itself to “modern” thought forms

b.     Liberalism was a defensive posture suited to deflect the charges of anti-intellectualism

c.      Harry Emerson Fosdick’s sermon in 1922 “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?”

“… those first disciples adored Jesus—as we do; when they thought about his coming they were sure that he came specially from God—as we are; this adoration and conviction they associated with God’s special influence and intention in his birth—as we do; but they phrased it in terms of a biological miracle that our modern minds cannot use.”[5]

2.     Closer to our time: Robert Funk (the creator of the Jesus Seminar) has written of a need for a “New Reformation”—thesis #8 reads[6]:

“The virgin birth of Jesus is an insult to modern intelligence and should be abandoned.  In addition, it is a pernicious doctrine that denigrates women.”

5.     Three broad areas of biblical teaching that intersect with the doctrine of the virgin birth.  Or, in other words, “why we cannot give up the doctrine!”

a.     The authority of Scripture

                                               i.     The issue here is not interpretation.  The doctrine is not obscure.  Everyone understands the meaning of the words and concepts in Matthew and Luke’s birth narratives

                                              ii.     “It is perfectly clear that the New Testament teaches the virgin birth of Christ; about that there can be no manner of doubt.  There is no serious question as to the interpretation of the Bible at this point.  Everyone admits that the Bible represents Jesus as having been conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the virgin Mary.  The only question is whether in making that representation the Bible is true or false.”[7]

                                            iii.     Rejecting the virgin birth of Jesus is to reject the authority of Scripture at this point.

b.     Naturalism versus Supernaturalism

                                               i.     “It is impossible to use electric light and the wireless and to avail ourselves of modern medical and surgical discoveries, and at the same time to believe in the New Testament world of spirits and miracles.  We may think we can manage it in our own lives, but to expect others to do so is to make the Christian faith unintelligible and unacceptable to the modern world.”[8]

                                              ii.     Such a view assumes naturalism.  But why should we as Christians be naturalists?[9]

                                            iii.     The God of Christian theism is transcendent and sovereign—he created all things and upholds all things.  The angel tells Mary: “For nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1.37)

                                            iv.     To affirm naturalism and deny all miraculous claims is simply to worship another god—a false idol.

                                              v.     The virgin birth affirms the miracle-working, transcendent power of our Creator.

c.      The doctrine of Christ and his work of redemption

                                               i.     “In the overwhelming majority of cases those who reject the virgin birth reject the whole supernatural view of Christ.”[10]

1.     Incarnation—God becoming man
2.     Substitutionary death on the cross
3.     Bodily resurrection from the dead
4.     Ascension to the right hand of God the Father

                                              ii.     Virgin birth fixes for us the time of the incarnation

1.     “By means of Mary’s virginal conception, God the Son, without ceasing to be what He is—the eternal Son and Word of God—took into union with His divine nature in the one divine person of the Son our human nature (not a human person) and so came to be ‘with us’ as ‘Immanuel.’”[11]

2.     Jesus was not a mere man born in the normal manner who progressed or evolved into a god-like being.

3.     From the moment of conception he was fully God and fully man.

4.     “The significance of this event should not be minimized.  It indicates not merely that Jesus was God’s Son through the Holy Spirit, but that Jesus was a unique person who was the product of both the divine and the human in a manner unlike any others before or since.”[12]

                                            iii.     Virgin birth impacts Jesus’ perfect purity

1.     The New Testament witness is that Jesus is sinless (2 Corinthians 5.21; Hebrews 4.15)

2.     “Later theological reflection was also to see in the virginal conception the explanation of how Jesus could be born with a human nature not tainted with original sin.”[13]

6.     Millard Erickson’s list of issues that show the significance of the virgin birth[14]

a.     A reminder that our salvation is supernatural.

b.     A reminder that God’s salvation is fully a gift of grace.

c.      Evidence of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ.

d.     Evidence of God’s power and sovereignty over nature.

7.     How necessary is the doctrine of Christ’s virginal conception?

a.     “Is belief in the virgin birth ‘necessary’?  It is possible to be saved without believing it; saved people aren’t perfect people.  But to reject the virgin birth is to reject God’s Word, and disobedience is always serious.  Further, disbelief in the virgin birth may lead to compromise in those other areas of doctrine with which it is vitally connected.”[15]

b.     “We noted earlier that the virgin birth is not mentioned in the evangelistic sermons in the book of Acts.  It may well be, then, that it is not one of the primary doctrines (i.e., indispensable to salvation).  It is a subsidiary or supporting doctrine; it helps create or sustain belief in the indispensable doctrines, or reinforces truths found in other doctrines… It is quite possible to be unaware or ignorant of the virgin birth and yet be saved.”[16]

8.     Conclusion

a.     “But perhaps most significantly of all, this concept conveys the fact that Jesus is a miraculous gift to humanity, not initially the product of any normal human activity or process.”[17]

b.     “The eternal Son of God, He through whom the universe was made, did not despise the virgin’s womb!  What a wonder is there!  It is not strange that it has always given offence to the natural man.  But in that wonder we find God’s redeeming love, and in that babe who lay in Mary’s womb we find our Saviour who thus became man to die for our sins and bring us into peace.”[18]

     [1] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2013), 681.
     [2] Erickson, Christian Theology, 681.
     [3] Erickson, Christian Theology, 684.
     [4]To make an argument from silence (in Latin argumentum ex silentio) is to express a conclusion that is based on the absence of statements in historical documents, rather than on presence. In the field of classical studies, it often refers to the assertion that an author is ignorant of a subject, based on the lack of references to it in the author's available writings.
Thus in historical analysis with an argument from silence, the absence of a reference to an event or a document is used to cast doubt on the event not mentioned. While most historical approaches rely on what an author's works contain, an argument from silence relies on what the book or document does not contain. This approach thus uses what an author ‘should have said’ rather than what is available in the author's extant writings.  From Wikipedia online:
     [5] Quoted in Bradley J. Longfield, The Presbyterian Controversy: Fundamentalists, Modernists, and Moderates (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 10.
     [6] Funk’s list of 21 theses can be found here: .
     [7] J. Gresham Machen, The Virgin Birth of Christ, 382.
     [8] Rudolf Bultmann, Kerygma and Myth, 5.
     [9] See my blog post “Liberalism and its Naturalizing Tendency.”  Available online:
     [10] Machen, The Virgin Birth of Christ, 391.
     [11] Robert Reymond, Jesus, Divine Messiah: The New Testament Witness (Phillipsburg, New Jersey; Presbyterian and Reformed, 1989), 136.
     [12] Ben Witherington III, “Birth of Jesus” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels edited by Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, and I. Howard Marshall (Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press, 1992), 72.
     [13] Witherington III, “Birth of Jesus,” 72.  Millard Erickson challenges this linkage between the virginal conception and Jesus’ sinlessness since Mary would have been a contributing factor.  He mentions the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying influence so “that there was no conveyance of depravity or of guilt from Mary to Jesus.”  Erickson then adds: “Now if the Holy Spirit prevented corruption from being passed from Mary to Jesus, could he not have passed it from being passed on by Joseph as well?  We conclude that Jesus’s sinlessness was not dependent on the virginal conception.”  Erickson, Christian Theology, 689.
     [14] Erickson, Christian Theology, 690.
     [15] John M. Frame, “Virgin Birth of Jesus” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology edited by Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1984), 1145.
     [16] Erickson, Christian Theology, 689-690.
     [17] Witherington III, “Birth of Jesus,” 72.
     [18] Machen, The Virgin Birth of Christ, 394.