Venn Theology

Charting the overlap of Christianity, Culture, and Communication

Liveblogging Carson: Future of Christianity

It’s presumptuous to talk about the future of Christianity. People do so in two ways – making observations about the world around us and drawing inferences from such observations. Churches are closing in the western world, but the trend of churches and Christianity spreading in the developing world is also likely to continue.

There are smaller and more noticable trends – you’re seeing a new generation of young men and women who want to be theologically enriched, plant churches, etc. A generation that isn’t full of smart alecs – it’s a generation that wants to be mentored. The Don is far more excited about this current generation than he was 15 years ago.

Another way of talking about the future of Christianity is by looking at passages of Scripture that overtly look ahead. Will the world become better because of these Christians? Or will it become worse? The answer of course is “yes”… so in the parable of the weeds Jesus says “let both grow until the end”… the future of Christianity is that both will grow until the end – the church will multiply and go through different phases of regeneration – but there’ll also be genocide, wars, and bad stuff. That’s the future of Christianity.

If you want to have a vast futurist perspective you have to ask “How does Christianity climax?” In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says to store up treasures in heaven, for where your treasure is there your heart will be also – it’s a text calling us not to guard our hearts, but to choose our treasure. Make sure you lay up treasures in heaven. What you value the most is what you fantasise about, and what you invest in. So if you aren’t passionate about the new heaven and the new earth then that’s not where you’ll invest your energy. But if you barely value it, that will not draw your heart. One of the ways you can most fully fan into flame this cherishing of all that belongs to the new heaven and new earth is by studying tonight’s passage – Revelation 21-22:5. Some people are afraid that if we’re too heavenly minded we’ll be no good for earth. Historically the most useful earthly people there are are heavenly minded.

We’re going to examine this passage to discuss the future of Christianity.

Three remarks.

Revelation has only one explicit quotation of the OT, but is saturated with allusions to the Old Testament. There’s scarcely a verse that doesn’t allude to the OT. The better you know your Bible the better you pick up these allusions. It brings all the strands that run through the Bible together, in Christ. The Temple, etc.

One of the assignments the Don likes to give is “detail the number of allusions to the OT in Revelation 21″ – so many of the great themes end up in Revelation 21.

In the wisdom of God, the Bible is made up of various literary genres. This is apocalyptic. Nobody writes this sort of thing today. It’s a dead genre. The closest genre some people can think of, when reading it, that is like it, is science fiction. We’re not going to talk about how to interpret this form of literature.

This particular genre is peculiarly useful for talking about God and heaven. His sister was a missionary in PNG 40 years ago, it used to be very isolated. She was with a tribe that was pre-stone age in its technology. It was a very primitive tribe. Suppose one of those tribals came out and lived with you for five years, and you are a linguist, and your job is to learn their language. You work hard. And gradually you start to speak it fluently. Your job now is to go into their tribe without any illustrative tools, and explain electricity to them. Do you go in and invent a new word – electricity – and say “electricity is like a powerful spirit that travels along hard things like vines…” it starts to get very difficult to explain. It’s not that the people are thick – it’s that they have no categories to think about these things, there’s a whole world of other stuff to do with electricity that you’re not dealing with when you’re scratching the surface like this. When there are no categories you have to speak in analogies… so tell me, how do we talk about the throne room of God. Our experience of God is so abysmally and hopelessly shallow that God uses analogy the closer we get to the throne. This is what happens in Ezekiel. Apocalyptic language uses metaphors, colour, analogy, imagery and concepts from the OT so that you can begin to think what heaven is like – but if you tried to use these as concrete, physical descriptions of reality, you really won’t understand it at all…

What do we find in the text?

What is new – heaven and earth. And then almost immediately – a new Jerusalem. Isaiah speaks of a new heaven and new earth. Peter speaks of a new heaven and a new earth. Other passages allude to it with a similar description but different terminology – like Romans 8…

We’re not to think the new Jerusalem comes down and parks in the new earth – this is a mix of metaphors. One way to think of the new thing is a whole universe, another way is to think of it as a new Jerusalem. In the first place it’s a social vision. This will resonate differently for different people – people who love big cities are going to be captured by the social idea of a big city, others will be captured by the idea of being in the presence of the real king, the Messiah… it’s not a failed city, it’s the new Jerusalem with all the ideals intact. The metaphor changes again – to a bride. If you’re contemplating marriage and your bride is coming down the aisle, do not turn to her and say “my beautiful bride, you remind me of a city”… but here is this city coming down like a bride. A mixed metaphor.

So what does this newness entail? It’s almost beyond our imagination. There are some things that are said, “I heard a loud voice saying God’s dwelling place is now among the people…” This is a remarkable passage. God’s dwelling with the people is a theme used again and again and again in the Bible (eg Leviticus, Jeremiah etc). The language is being ratcheted up, and ratcheted up… God is so much dwelling among us that you have to start saying the result is there is no more sin, and no more effects of sin.

“I am sure, in a crowd this size, that some of you have lost loved ones in the last month, In the new order there is no more death. I am sure there are some among you who are so burdened that you just want to cry, there are no more tears.”

There is almost a heavy handed reintroduction of the words of God. Again, and again. “I am making everything new… write these down… he said to me” – there’s a string of introductions. While the cross represented the “finish” of something, the renovation isn’t complete until the ultimate future when God says “it is done”… Only God, the beginning and end/alpha and omega can make this statement.

The promise of water without cost and without price is an allusion to Isaiah 55 – the water is without price because God paid the price himself.

The next words need explanation. The original language is of sonship. In the ancient world, if your father was a baker you became a baker. Your identity as the son was bound up with your genes and your vocation. Your father trained you to be what you were. Your identity is bound up with the fact that your father has taught you, and passed something on. Your identity has been stamped on you by your father. This language has generated all kind of metaphors in Scripture. So Jesus in the beatitudes links peacemaking with being the “sons of God” – in so far as being a peacemaker you’re being sonlike when you act that way. When a king becomes a king he has become God’s son in the reigning axis… obviously there are some attributes of God we can not duplicate, and we should not try. There are communicable attributes – which we can share, and non-communicable attributes – so we can’t be omnipotent, but we can be holy. The ultimate goal of the Christian is to be the son of God in the thickest, richest, way it is possible to be. We will be as much like God as we can be, without having the incommunicable attributes of God – we were made in God’s image – that image will be fully restored, but also completed. The contrast – the cowardly/unbelieving/vile/murderers – will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur.

It is not popular today to talk about Hell – the person who talks most about Hell, in the Bible, is Jesus, and you should not say less than Jesus. There’s another thing about Hell that is sometimes overlooked. There is not a single passage of Scripture that suggests there is a lot of repentance in Hell. Think of the story of the rich man and Lazarus. Somehow the rich man sees Lazarus and Abraham – he’s been completely callous to Lazarus in life, and now the tables have flipped. If you saw Lazarus in heaven don’t you think you’d apologise? And yet the rich man doesn’t. He doesn’t even address Lazarus. He still acts as though he is the centre of the universe. Then he contradicts Abraham and God when they say that a post-death visit won’t convince his relatives. Hell is a place where people are still justifying themselves and shaking their fists at God. Forever and ever they love shaking their fists at God and rejecting him. That’s the alternative to the new heaven and earth. And apart from God’s grace it’s what we deserve.

What is symbolic about the New Jerusalem

Of course, in one sense, everything in these verses is symbolic.

One of the things apocalyptic literature does is mix its metaphors. The best example is in Revelation 4-5. Revelation 4 is to Revelation 5 what a setting is to a drama. The mix of lion and lamb is a series of mixed metaphors. The lion is the lamb. You can do that in apocalyptic. This lamb has emerged from the throne. He’s slaughtered. He has horns. He’s a perfection of kingly authority. He’s the warrior lamb.

“I’ve been in cathedrals in Europe where there’s a picture of a kind of half lion half lamb. It’s supposed to be some picture of this. It’s bizarre.”

You can’t draw apocalyptic imagery. It’s all so mixed. Lambs don’t have brides. They just go out in the field and do it.

The mixed metaphors give spectacular insight about what happens at the last day.

This imagery, especially of marriage, means apostacy can be spoken of in terms of adultery (see Ezekiel 16 and 23 (though The Don said Exodus). The only way we can make sense of the imagery is if we understand that marriage as it should be is a picture of the relationship between Christ and his church.

Some of you are single, and sometimes you feel you’ve been robbed. Let me tell you. An hour or two into eternity in this spectacular unity Christians will have with Christ, that is not compounded by any disgust etc or sin – you will never again think that you have been robbed. The greatest intimacy is still to come. For all of God’s people.”

This is something God himself brings in. It’s not something we can do ourselves.

There’s an array of symbolism – there’s no more sea at the start of 21, you only understand what that means when you understand that the sea was bad in ancient Israel. The sea is bound up with chaos and destruction. It’s not a happy place of adventure and the expansion of the empire. This is not talking about the hydrological features of the new creation, it’s saying there’s no chaos.

The numbers in apocalyptic literature are symbol laden. The numbers here draw allusions to the OT and the gospels. This city is a cube. 1,400 miles long. You’re not going to plop it down literally. The dimensions aren’t in issue – it’s the 12s. All the Old Testament and New Testament people of God will be there. In the OT there’s only one cube – the Holy of Holies. This city is the most holy place. It’s the temple of God. There are no priests who do things for you. This is the very presence of God.

We must see what is missing

We’ve already seen that there’s no sin or death. But in 21:22 there are several things said to be missing – there’s no temple. There’s no need for mediation. There’s no need for a veil. We have access to the most Holy place. There’s no sun or moon – this isn’t talking about the astronomical features – it’s making a symbolic point that the cyclical nature of the old world have past away – night is dangerous, and the gates get shut – but there’s no need for that anymore. There’s no danger. Above all, there is no impurity. Nothing impure will ever enter it.

Have you ever imagined what that would be like? To have no negatives – to never do the wrong thing. Or to have only positives – to be able to love God with heart, soul, mind and strength.

That’s coming.

The basis of our acceptance is what Christ did on the cross – it doesn’t just exchange our guilt for his righteousness. It begins the process of transformation that is eventually finished at the new creation. That’s why Christians throughout the generations have said “come Lord Jesus.” We ong for that purification. The Puritans used to pray that God would make them as holy as a pardoned sinner could be, this side of the consumation.

What is missing is sin.

What is central…

Once you’ve got by the lion/lamb vision, the rest of Revelation speaks mainly of the lamb. The water that gives life comes from the throne. The free flow of the water of life has been secured by the Lamb.

The last detail – what is central? The beatific vision – the vision of God. We will see his face. Christians often look forward to heaven, especially when we’ve lost friends and family who are Christians because we are going to see lost loved ones. There will be renewal of friendships – but none of that is mentioned in these chapters. The consumation is “they will see his face”… even the highest order of angels dare not look at God’s face, they never have, and never will… we will gaze upon his face, and reflect his glory – he will say “look on me and live”… suddenly we get a whole new grasp of the profundity of the truth when we sing that we will be face to face with God our saviour.

And so the church cries “yes, even so, come Lord Jesus.”

Small wonder then that this book of Revelation, in the closing verses, depict the Spirit and the Bride crying out “come” and those who hear crying “come”… The Spirit and the Church still cry “come, and let him who is thirsty, come” – and for all of us – lay up treasure in the new heavens and the new earth.

He who testifies to these things says yes. I am coming soon.



Carson – 1 Corinthians 9 and the law

In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul makes it clear that being a Christian doesn’t mean being a fulfilled Jew – he’s in a third place. He has to flex to reach Jews, and flex to reach Gentiles.

If he saw himself as a Jewish Christian who ignored the law occasionally to go after Gentiles, that would be something different, but he is willing to submit to the law to win Jews.

But that doesn’t mean he’s antinomian – he adds another aspect – “I am under Christ’s law”… the expression here is very rare in the New Testament. He is under Jesus’ authority. But what continues from one testament to the other… if you’re a tripartite distinction person (moral, ceremonial, civil) – then you say it’s the moral law. But if you take that approach you assume that there’s a clear category of moral law.  You either define moral law based on what continues (after the fact) or presume that the moral law is self evident.

Paul can’t be accused of being antinomian because there are constraints beyond which he is not prepared to go. You could try to define moral law by all that continues – so the stuff that constrains Paul. The Don is happier with the a posteriori approach, while sensitive to the dispute.

The point is not merely theoretical – because Paul’s flexibility is driven by wanting to win people to Christ. So, for example, if you’re in a culture that treats Friday as the holy day, can you move church to a Friday as a “sabbath” – you can if you see the day is ceremonial, you can’t if you think it’s fixed. You also can’t if you think the New Testament mandates Sunday. Paul’s point is flexibility for evangelistic purposes. He wants to figure out the outer limit – being under the law of Christ – and go as far as he can to win people to Christ.

The relationship between law and gospel is one of the big questions in Christendom – the trouble with the law one is that there are so many things said about the law in the NT that it’s hard to unite them, and to agree on them, until everybody agrees on the texts. There’s an NSBT series book on Paul and the Law by Brian Rosner which the Don says is terrific. He groups together group after group of texts, there are some passages where the law seems to be obeyed in the New Testament, and in some sense we’re continuing to obey the law. There are other passages where the law seems to be essentially prophetic. Rosner develops seven different categories for the law. The law condemns us, and acts as a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. It also has a function in terms of showing us pictures of Christ. Altogether Paul sees himself as no longer being under the law covenant, but still being under the law of God, through being under the Christ Covenant.

Excursus: The weak are those who think that something is wrong when clearly it is not.

Romans 2

What Paul is arguing is this – those of us who have the law stamps our consciences, but even people who do not have the law in front of them have moral precepts built into their lives. They may not be aligned perfectly with the law of Moses, but Paul is arguing that people of that order do not live up to their own inbuilt standards. They themselves sometimes obey them and sometimes don’t – that shows that because they know it’s disobedience they’ve got a moral code built into their hearts. So that the point is that everybody fails – either at keeping the explicit law of God, or the law of conscience.

If you say to young people “the law of God says” they say “who says” – if you say “the problem with the human race is that we’ve betrayed the one who made us” – they understand relationships and brokenness – it’s better to begin with idolatry and move to the law than the other way around.

These lectures have been about the use of the OT in the NT and most of the time we’ve been talking about quotations or allusions – the last little bit has been about understanding the use/structure of the relationship.

John 12

37 Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. 38 This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet:

“Lord, who has believed our message
    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”[h]

39 For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere:

40 “He has blinded their eyes
    and hardened their hearts,
so they can neither see with their eyes,
    nor understand with their hearts,
    nor turn—and I would heal them.”[i]

41 Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.

The Don says 39-40 seems to be an excursus, it mashes up Isaiah 53 with Isaiah 6.

John understands Isaiah 53 to be verbal prediction, not some sort of typological fulfilment. 39 and 40 are added to affirm that this theme of lostness and being unwilling to hear is already present in Isaiah.


Carson on Jesus and the Law

We kick off in Matthew 5.

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

There is no passage in Matthew’s gospel that has generated more discussion than these four verses. While we might think it’s straightforward there are heaps of questions here…

  • Does Jesus abolish the law and the prophets in any sense (ie later on he makes all food clean)?
  • What does to fulfil mean?
  • Is the essence of Christian righteousness that you obey the commands better than the pharisees do?
  • Can the law be prophetic?
  • How does this paragraph introduce/prepare the antitheses (you have heard, but I tell you…) that follow?
  • Understanding this is essential for understanding how Jesus understands himself in relation to the Old Testament.

By speaking of the law and the prophets Jesus has the entire Old Testament in view. It’s not just the Pentateuch or the Mosaic Code – when it’s in this paired expression you’re talking about the whole Old Testament.

Why has he come? Not to abolish but to fulfil – part of the problem is that we are tempted to think that fulfil must mean exactly the opposite to “abolish” – to make the antitheses as sharp as possible. So it could be accordingly, to “maintain” – but the verb can never mean that. It’s not a completely antithetical statement. He’s come to do something else.

This passage has a long history in Reformed tradition as “to show the true meaning of these laws and perhaps intensify them” – and the expression “law and the prophets” here is something like the moral law. The six antitheses all follow something like the moral law. “I have not come to abolish the moral law but to intensify it, to show the true direction in which it points…” This is the line John Stott takes – but Carson is unconvinced. The text doesn’t seem to be focusing narrowly on the moral law. The front end of the statement puts the whole OT in view, not just the moral law. Everything contained in the law is in view – the category of moral law is bound up in an analysis that breaks all law into three functional categories. The tripartite distinction as the basis for determining what continues into the New Testament probably comes from Aquinas – there’s no passage that establishes these three categories (though they’re occasionally useful). Jesus can distinguish between the light and the heavy laws later in Matthew. Making the distinction the foundation isn’t something you can proof text – because the statement sounds somewhat more comprehensive than the moral law.

If you go with “to show their true meaning” it’s a really clunky way of saying that – the Greek is used every other time in Matthew to refer to something that has been predicted.  Jesus is coming as the fulfilment of all the predictions of the Old Testament. You have to understand both the “until” clauses to do justice to the passage. Put the two together and you get something like:

In the Hebrew Canon, everything down to the smallest letter everything must be accomplished all the way to the consumation of the age, and on the way there until everything that is predicted is accomplished. So the accomplishment of what’s the ultimate temple/priesthood/resurrection etc. What this presupposes is that Jesus has a fundamentally predictive way of reading the New Testament. Matthew 11:13 – “all the prophets and the law prophecy until John” – the law prophecies. Until John. The things that they prophecy are fulfilled in John’s prophecy – they are brought to pass – nothing in them can be dismissed until everything is, in sequence, fulfilled. It’s a sweeping eschatological vision, where Jesus makes himself the centre of every promise of the Old Testament.

This interpretation gives us some difficulty when it comes to verse 19-20.

The question at this juncture is “what does “these commands” refer to?” If it refers to all of the law of the Mosaic Code, it’s pretty difficult to understand why Jesus says what he says about the food laws, and about the temple. This is one of the reasons why people want these words to only include the moral law. But why then does the passage refer to the entire Old Testament? The Don has argued that “these commands” means different things. It is likely referring to the commands that emerge in the following passages of Matthew.

What Jesus is doing in these antitheses is exemplifying the way Jesus fulfils the law. It’s pretty much exactly the opposite of the way people treat the ten commandments. The 10 Commandments have been regularly treated as containing little nuggets that bring about a vast array of moral teaching, you approach the simple commands of the text and turn them into something to do with intentionality, through the words of Jesus… the structure for getting there is different – we don’t chuck Jesus’ teaching back into the OT as something buried back there, as though Jesus is mining the text, we’re saying the text is explicit and that its moral injunctions look forward to and anticipates more teaching. It’s not quite the same thing. The law anticipates something eschatological. You still get to the same moral place but the way you get there is a bit different. This allows us to make sense of the fulfilment language.

Some people have argued that the Decalogue expresses the mind of God for human conduct before the fall – as either natural law, or the law written on the heart – but these commands are a strange way of expressing yourself in a world that is still perfect, in that sort of world you’d express the commands more positively (you shall love people rather than you shall not kill).

In the new heaven and the new earth when we all have resurrected bodies will there be any signs posted saying “you shall not commit murder”? Probably not – not only will it be physically impossible, but why would you have to go around forbidding something that is essentially unimaginable?

It’s unavoidable to conclude that the 10 Commandments presuppose a fallen and damned world. You don’t need to tell perfect people not to commit murder. This isn’t suggesting that God’s moral standards changed, it’s merely saying they belong in a damned world – so the question then is, is there some way that these commandments look forward to a perfect world. That’s closer to what Jesus is doing. The ethics of the sermon on the mount are the ethics of the culmination brought back in time – that’s the direction the decalogue, and the whole Old Testament points – it points to what Jesus brings. Then it seems that verse 20 makes sense.

In this context the Pharisees were righteous and pious – you’ve got to surpass the righteousness of Joseph, Nicodemus and Simeon. Now you’ve got to understand the Sermon on the Mount functions in different ways – from a Lutheran perspective, the Sermon on the Mount is unattainable, and it drives you to the cross.

Before God we must be righteous – being transformed – which is what happens in the consummated kingdom.

The Beatitudes function as the norms of the kingdom – textually driven by the inclusio, everything is locked under the opening and closing blessings.These are all kingdom of heaven blessings, cast in terms of what it looks like to live that way in a broken world. They ultimately make sense only in where the kingdom ends up – it’s still looking first and foremost in this world. It’s meant to shake up people who are complacent. It’s akin to what people talk about now when they talk about cross shaped lives. The salt and light passage then gets brought into the mix in terms of what it looks like to live like this.


Carson on the Old and New Covenants

Stuff from Q&A

Need to be careful not to be synthesising metaphors, but rather the reality the metaphor describes.

Typology v trajectory – there is some helpful stuff out there about typology, mixed amongst a bunch of other stuff. It’d be a mistake not to use the language because historically it’s the language that has been used, even if it’s been abused…

Jeremiah 31

The classic OT passage on the new covenant. There are others – but this is the big one.

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
    “when I will make a new covenant 
with the people of Israel
    and with the people of Judah.
32 It will not be like the covenant 
    I made with their ancestors 
when I took them by the hand
    to lead them out of Egypt, 
because they broke my covenant,
    though I was a husband to them,”
declares the Lord.
33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
    after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds 
    and write it on their hearts. 
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people. 
34 No longer will they teach their neighbor,
    or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
    and will remember their sins no more.”

The majority of scholars think what is in view here is a renewing of the Old Covenant. Even conservative scholars. There are certainly similarities with the Old Covenant. Though it uses the same terminology there’s a ratcheting up, so that although you have the same language, it means something different. In the context of Leviticus, references to dwelling are tied to the Tabernacle, when it comes to the New Covenant it’s certainly not about the Tabernacle – there’s a change. When you get to the new heavens and new earth there’s the same language but a new intensity.

The broader context is that something new is taking place (31:29-30). The proverb about sour grapes helps explain the New Covenant, and is explained by it…

29 “In those days people will no longer say,

‘The parents have eaten sour grapes,
    and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’

30 Instead, everyone will die for their own sin; whoever eats sour grapes—their own teeth will be set on edge.”

In this context this proverb (also used in Ezekiel, to slightly different ends) there’s a movement from “tribal representative” structures where certain people function in some mediatorial/educational capacity for the people (ie priests, kings, etc) – no ordinary Israelite could be king or priest – when they went astray they brought down the whole nation. The sins of these fathers – not just genetic fathers – result in generational punishment. The movement is to something more individual, another kind of covenantal structure, that’s why you immediately turn from the “sour grapes” to the New Covenant. These structures have changed in the new covenant – we’re all priests, with no special priests, we’re all prophets, with no special prophets… kingship is transformed in Jesus.

Now how is this picked up in the New Testament…

Hebrews 8

Hebrews 8 includes a quote from this passage in Jeremiah. The quote is introduced like this:

We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by a mere human being.

Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer. If he were on earth, he would not be a priest, for there are already priests who offer the gifts prescribed by the law. They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warnedwhen he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.”[a] But in fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises.

For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another.

And concludes with:

13 By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.

Which makes the argument that the New Covenant simply renews the old fairly hard to justify.

In principle the Old Covenant was made essentially obsolete, but not inaugurated, with the promise in Jeremiah.

1 John 2 makes a slightly less obvious deal of the New Covenant stuff.

18 Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming,even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.

20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. 21 I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. 22 Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.

24 As for you, see that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. 25 And this is what he promised us—eternal life.

26 I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. 27 As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.

Carson is pretty convinced that the false teachers here are proto-gnostics. But it doesn’t really make any difference – they thought they had knowledge/gnosis that gave them an inside line to God. Those who weren’t gnostics didn’t have this knowledge, so what they’re teaching is what differentiates them. Whatever else these proto-gnostics are doing, they’re denying that Jesus is the Christ.

Our job as Christian teachers isn’t to pursue novelty, and to think we’ve got some inner path to God, we ought to be able to see strands and links that go right through church history.

Don’t you understand, you have an anointing from the Holy One. You’ve seen the truth. You don’t need mediating teachers who will unlock some new truth – you’ve already seen the truth. You have the Gospel, and the Spirit – the proto-gnostic stuff was the very nature of the Old Covenant structure. There were certain people with an inside track – they were chosen with special rights, knowledge, responsibilities and a role to say “know the Lord”… but a pastor/preacher in a church today dare not claim that he has a special inside track that makes him a different cut – a priest, a prophet, a teacher – in a way in which others can not be teachers. The way teachers are described in the NT is that they’re exercising a particular role in the body, not holding some special role, but simply part of the body, like a stomach, not with some special track – the teacher’s job is simply to say “this is what the Scripture says”… that is insight that you gain from Jeremiah 31. As soon as someone chucks out an insight that isn’t from Scripture you should be nervous about is. John can say that sort of thing because he understands the New Covenant.

Question: When can you go “this sounds like the Old Testament”?

What the Don is trying to answer here is where does John get this? You could say it’s purely pragmatic, but interestingly he doesn’t simply say you don’t need this lot of teachers because they’re teaching in error – but that’s not his argument, his argument is you don’t need them because you’ve already got the anointing yourself. It’s the mediatorial role he blasts.

Another Question

He is more inclined to see a straight allusion to Jeremiah 31 than a mix of OT allusions including one to Joel 2 (and Acts 2).

Now we’re on to John 3…

Nicodemus is a Pharisee – this doesn’t automatically make him a hypocrite. By and large the Pharisees were respected, devout, pious and generous. Whenever you have a lot of rules you generate hypocrisy. When Jesus says “you are Israel’s teacher” it is almost certainly a title that puts him way up there. He’s a scholar. A professor. Nothing that John says is accidental – so his coming at night is possibly symbolic. We need contextual reasons for any symbolic decisions – so the idea that he’s scared doesn’t seem consistent with his later actions in John. The question is better answered by what John does with night and day – darkness is more likely a reference to confusion or unbelief. It’s not just a chronological marker. The question of light and dark is played out in John pretty regularly. He may be the teacher – but that doesn’t mean he knows very much.

The teacher of Israel calling Jesus “Rabbi” shows he’s got some familiarity for Jesus’ teaching and respect for him. But Carson thinks Nicodemus use of “we” is slightly pompous, and suggests there’s good evidence for that coming…

The logical connection between verse 2 and 3 seems to be an entire change of subject – but there must be a connection. There may be an implicit question in verse 2 about whether Jesus is the Messiah – and Jesus answers that the real concern is how individuals get in. But you’ve got to insert a bit of gear to get there.

Carson thinks Nicodemus is claiming to see something – the kingdom of God and the reign of God in the miracles Jesus is doing. Jesus is answering “you don’t see anything because you can’t enter the kingdom unless you’re born again…”

Nicodemus may have seen the miracles, but he hasn’t seen the kingdom.

Nicodemus isn’t thick – he’s asking a pretty profound question using the same metaphor that Jesus has used – “can you really start over”… but Jesus doesn’t back down. He repeats himself with slightly different expressions.

The most convincing argument about the “water and the Spirit” pairing is based on a comparison between verse 3 and verse 5, removing the common bits.

Being born again=being born of water and the spirit. It’s a parallel. What born again means is born of water and spirit. Water and Spirit can’t be split. This is a very important argument.

The most determinative passage from the Old Testament here is Ezekiel 36.

24 “‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. 28 Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people,and I will be your God. 29 I will save you from all your uncleanness. I will call for the grain and make it plentiful and will not bring famine upon you. 30 I will increase the fruit of the trees and the crops of the field, so that you will no longer suffer disgrace among the nations because of famine. 31 Then you will remember your evil ways and wicked deeds, and you will loathe yourselves for your sins and detestable practices. 32 I want you to know that I am not doing this for your sake, declares the Sovereign Lord. Be ashamed and disgraced for your conduct, people of Israel!”

While many first century Israelites were looking for the Kingdom of God and the Messiah, Jesus makes it clear that it’s the new covenant/new birth/spirit stuff that is the ultimate fulfilment of these promises.

The mechanics of being “born from above” might be hard to understand – but the evidence of the change is clear. The resulting transformation of life is the marker of being born again.

Ezekiel is never mentioned in John’s gospel, but there are a number of passages where Ezekiel seems to be in the background.

Jesus also makes an allusion to Numbers 21 – the snakes in the wilderness – in an analogical use of the Old Testament. The people in the Old Testament were complaining about God – who had freed them and provided for them. The criticism of the crowds in the wilderness are echoed in the criticisms of Jesus. But when judgment falls – both then and now, who alone can provide life? Only God. There’s an illusion to the cross here too with the lifted up language which is inevitably and always tied to the cross in John’s gospel.


“Mystery” and the clarity of Scripture

There are 27 (or 28) uses of the word ‘mystery’ in the New Testament – it’s not really like a murder mystery, it’s a question about whether references to Jesus from the Old Testament – like Jesus and the suffering servant passages – were there and unclear, like Jesus’ parables.

The Don speaks for a while about allegory from Galatians 3, suggesting it’s not really bringing an external framework to the text, in Paul’s case, but working with the observations the text leads him to.

Romans 16 – dispensationalists and covenantal theologians differ on “mystery” where both say “amen” to different halves of Romans 16:25-26.

25 Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, 26 but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith — 27 to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.”

So the dispensationalists say “amen” to a new mystery being revealed, while the covenantal theologians get excited about the prophetic writings revealing Christ.

The “hidden, now revealed” thing explains why first century Jews weren’t reading the OT and expecting someone like Jesus.

So why didn’t God make it easier?

An easier version of Isaiah 53:

It will come to pass that the Roman emperor, Augustus, will hold a census for taxation purpose. (Oh yeah, you guys don’t even know what the Roman Empire is – here’s a brief snapshot…). He will be born to a virgin named Mary living in Nazareth. She’ll be getting married to Joseph, they love each other, but this baby will appear…

Really specific prophecy would be much more “believable” – but “boy, there’d be a lot of kids born named Mary and Joseph…” and “if Pilate got wind of this Jewish stuff he’d be asking for a transfer” – if we had very specific prophecies rather than illustrative and compelling prophecies that we don’t recognise without the benefit of hindsight, there’d be all sorts of problems.

It’s important when you preach these Old Testament texts not only to see them in their context, but to see these patterns and trajectories that are fulfilled in Christ, even if the original readers didn’t see them, because that captures the entire message of the text.

Carson on Hebrews 4 and Galatians 3

Moralising sermons have their place – if correctly tied to actual, careful, reading of the Old Testament, and the redemptive history timeline. The New Testament writers draw moral lessons from the OT frequently, in the light of  a developing trajectory – so the theme of Exodus develops through the Old Testament, as does the concept of God’s rest.  Which the author of Hebrews picks up and develops. When the writer picks up this term it comes from antecedent passages in the Old Testament and our job is to understand the background. The trajectory concludes in the new creation.

Historical sequence is important in the development of these trajectories – salvation historical readings of Scripture read Scripture in sequence, you can’t pull passages out of one part of the trajectory and try to read the other parts through them, they have to be placed along this timeline.

Our interests too often define how we approach a text – like we teach on Sundays and the Sabbath when we’re talking about God’s rest (eg from Exodus) – sometimes we shouldn’t touch those hot button issue because they’re not what the text talks about, and also what we’re expected to talk about.

Galatians 3

This chapter has a bunch of Old Testament references. The “seed” argument is interesting. The argument that Jesus is to be found in the “seed” passages of Genesis boils down to the argument from the singular. Even though the word for seed is often used as a collective noun. Paul uses it that way himself – so you can’t argue that he is unaware of this use of seed. We have to probe a little more deeply.

Many people have tried to give an explanation in terms of a trajectory of Abraham’s line – and all of that is true but doesn’t deal with the distinguishing reason that Paul gives – that the original use of “seed” is singular. The best solution the Don has seen in his reading as he prepares a commentary on Galatians is that though the word can work collectively, it does have a plural form both in the Hebrew and the Greek, unlike the word “sheep” in English – which can be plural or singular. So you’re forced to ask the difference between the use of the collective noun and the use of the plural – and figure out if there’s a distinction. There’s no distinction in terms of number – it refers to a plural when used collectively or in plural form. The argument is that you would use the plural form to distinguish one subset from different subsets – so Paul is saying the singular form is significant because you’re talking about one particular kind of seed amongst many – so there’s the seed of Isaac and the seed of Ishmael – but the seed of Abraham, the faith/promise seed is to be distinguished from the other seeds (plural) and this distinction is made through the use of the singular. Or something like that.

The way Galatians 3 has been used most commonly, especially in the Reformed heritage, is to suggest that preaching the gospel starts with law and ends with grace. This reading treats the gospel atemporarily, this method deals with the psychology of conversion – you preach law so that men will cry for grace. But Paul is dealing with redemptive history. There’s an element of truth to this – but it’s not Paul’s point here. Paul explains what law does in the stream of redemptive history. Promise came before law. Because of this sequence you can’t possibly imagine that law replaces/annuls promise. How did Abraham and Enoch please God? These people have to say “by the law” but the law didn’t exist yet. This requires reading everything atemporally – you don’t talk about trajectories – you just have a one size fits all answer, which becomes “the way you please God is by obeying the law”… one of the things Paul does when he rereads the OT as a Christian, that is hermeneutically different, is that he reads the OT texts sequentially, salvation historically.

There are some huge hermeneutical differences between first century Jewish interpretation and a Christian reading of the OT – and this is the foundational point. Once you do this you relativise the law with respect to the Abrahamic covenant, and you launch the project of discerning trajectories – if you read the OT atemporarily to always answer the question with “obey the law” – you’re missing all the trajectories that are culminating in Christ. Reading the text in a way that culminates in Jesus helps you tie all these events to Jesus, and that starts with a temporal reading based on salvation history.

Paul doesn’t start with his dramatic conversion experience when he’s talking to Jewish people – he argues from the Biblical text, he says “this is how the Bible works” – it depends on trajectories. So he says “which comes first, circumcision or the covenant” – sequence is everything. You can see then the importance of this sequencing in Paul, and in Hebrews.

This is different to progressive revelation – which says “things become clearer” because it involves considering sequence/history in hermeneutics.

Systematic theology is essentially atemporal. It answers atemporal questions. It needs to be based and drawn from Biblical Theology. Both are important disciplines, but they’re different. There’s a book called “The Unfolding Mystery” by Clowney that is worth reading. And another one by Vaughan Roberts God’s Big Picture that is worth giving to people. Carson’s The God Who Is There is an “upmarket” version. The audio edition is available for free from the Gospel Coalition. Goldsworthy’s stuff is good. Alexander’s New Dictionary of Biblical Theology is also good.

Carson on the Way of the Master (though he doesn’t call it that) – the Puritan approach, exemplified in Wesley is partly right, though really quite wrong. It’s partly right in the sense that you have to ask yourself why God gives the law at all, why doesn’t he give us the Abrahamic Covenant and the next step is Jesus…  skip a millenium and a half as Jews and just get to Jesus, what would you lose? You’d lose many structures that explain what Christ did when he came, what priesthood means, what kingship looks like, you’d lose the theophanies where God displays his glory, you’d lose sacrifice, the law and its curses – blessings and damnations, and the book of Deuteronomy…  part of the answer is to be reminded that these institutions prepared the way for Christ, not just for the individual, but for the entire history of humanity. He knows full well that we will not properly understand Christ, sin, the atonement, the wrath of God, etc, you won’t understand what Jesus is about, without the Old Testament.

This lecture is well worth listening to when it hits the QTC home page.

We need to present the gospel in categories bigger than what works now – we need to give a good grounding or the gospel will become something cheap. Problem and solution go hand in hand. The solution of the cross only makes sense in terms of the problem it solves. People do need to know they’re lost – this conviction can come quickly, but in the normal course of events, people who are real secularists need to come under the ministry of the word for quite a period of time before they understand the categories the Bible deals with – the book the God Who Is There presents a frame of reference for the whole sweep of the drama. It’s an evangelistic book, that Christians appreciate because it puts the Bible together for them.

The traditional reformed categories of covenant aren’t necessarily atemporal – the categories occasionally emerge out of the synthetic forms of Systematic Theology rather than from a redemptive history framework – but there’s certainly a development of covenant. Carson is more interested in bringing people together rather than pushing them apart in terms of frameworks – usually there’s a way of putting things together that satisfies different approaches to theology – so Carson works well with Keller though he’s a Presbyterian and Carson is a Baptist. Paul Williamson’s book in Carson’s series on Covenantal Theology is good.


Carson on Hebrews 1/Psalm 45


Sonship is used in a bunch of ways – of Israel, angels, the church, the Davidic king, Jesus etc… sonship in Hebrews 1 involves a recapitulation of many of these categories of sonship in the person of Jesus as the ultimate type.

We are sons of God but we are not capable of doing everything that God does – whereas Jesus is the son in that everything the father does, he does too, including the creation of the universe.

If you have a being that can do everything that God does, and whose sonship is expressed along every axis, then implicitly you’re dealing with questions of ontology – if you can do everything that God does – you’re God – that’s why the New Testament writers have different ways of expressing how our sonship is different from God’s. So, for example, Paul makes a distinction by talking about us as adopted sons, others use Greek intricacies, but in Hebrews, Jesus is the son of God in a more ontological sense. It starts with an emphasis on Jesus sonship in line with the Davidic king, his kingness –  and develops.

Psalm 45 has set up a trajectory where there’s a human/divine son of David anticipated, first realised in an immediate sense, but establishing a type that Jesus completes.

We’ve made the word “son” mean the same thing, via systematic theology, everywhere it appears. I’m predicting Don is about to use the word illegitimate totality transfer… (which he coined in his Common Exegetical Fallacies). But he’s just described it instead…

The Davidic rule of Jesus is greater than the rule of angels because it is universal – better than any earthly kingdom.

The word “type” appears in the Greek – but doesn’t refer to the type of typology we talk about.

He just said that a text without a context is a pretext for a prooftext (a famous quote of his). And now he’s again talking about the domain of exegesis being different to the domain of systematic theology – and how words are used in different ways. He cites an example where Philippians 3 talks about sanctification without using the word sanctification, and talks about how some words we use to describe things (eg Trinity) aren’t in the Bible, to make the point that we should be careful with how we use summaries and language based on context and where we’re using them… he says these principles shape how we approach the “sonship” language here…

Carson says, in question time: “I’ve spoken to many of the best preachers going round in the last 50 years, and they say they spend 50% of their time thinking about how to say it well. The problem is that our colleges are churning out people committed to expository preaching and they’re spending 80-90% of their time working on the text and delivering a sloppy sermon with no thought given to how to make the text sing or sting.”

Keller spends 30-35% of his sermon explaining the text, and the rest on application. He’s brilliant, but idiosyncratic. Don’t try to imitate him. If you listen to only one really good preacher you’ll become a terrible clone, listen to two and you’ll become confused, listen to 50 and you’ll be on the edge of wisdom, and possibly be able to find your own voice.

People are interested in the supernatural – the TV guides and the astrology guides – people are keen to order their lives around supernatural stuff. At some point we need to be calling people to organise their lives around Jesus.


One of the dangers of young preachers is that they try to dump all of their study results into a sermon, and give people indigestion. We want to be giving people a polished car, not showing them the workshop.

Carson on Matthew 11

In the NT the word “Christ” never loses its rhetorical and titular force – it’s not just a surname. The deeds to this point, that John recognises – are his teaching, training, and sending of the disciples. When John hears that these are his deeds he has doubts.

It’s not as though John knows his end is coming – it seems he’s relatively comfortable in prison, his disciples can come and go – so why is he discouraged? You have to see in the passage that he’s disappointed in Jesus. Why? Perhaps it has to do with a comparison with Jesus’ mission and how John described it in Matthew 3…

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

Where is the fire? Jesus isn’t the Messiah John the Baptist expected. You can reach the same point by looking at Jesus’ summary of his ministry with references to the OT. He draws every phrase in his answer from the prophecy of Isaiah. We know John knew Isaiah because he identifies himself using Isaiah’s words from Isaiah 35 and 61.

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

All the descriptions of what Jesus is doing are either explicit quotations from two passages in Isaiah, or implicit allusions to what God has done in Old Testament times. The problem is that both the Isaiah passages contain references to judgment, or come in the context of judgment… Jesus knows he’s leaving this reference out, John knows he’s leaving it out, this leaves John in the same unsatisfied predicament.

Jesus’ response is “can’t you see the blessings are here – if the judgment isn’t here yet, don’t stumble on account of me”… one of the big themes in Matthew’s gospel is about how the long awaited kingdom doesn’t come with a bang – but as a seed planted, or leaven added to dough – that’s why the parables of the kingdom paint that picture. The blessings are here – if they are real then one must consider the judgment is real too.

As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus begins talking about John – some of the disciples of Jesus were presumably becoming discouraged about John in the light of him raising these public questions. As the disciples go back, Jesus turns to the crowd and gently rebukes them. They didn’t go to see John because he had no backbone – but because he looked and sounded like a prophet of substance.

John is both a prophet and the subject of a prophecy – from Malachi – the initial line in Malachi (according to the Don) is a reference to John the Baptist, from there on it is a reference to the coming of Yahweh – there’s a prefigure and then a figure. Whatever else John the Baptist is, he’s the Elijah like figure who prepares the way for Yahweh’s visitation. It’s astonishing that Jesus says John is the greatest man that ever lived because he introduced him. Jesus is so great that the guy who introduces him is greater than anybody else who has ever come before.

Jesus can later say that we are all greater than John the Baptist – as a salvation historical claim that plots us in redemption history as post-cross, having greater clarity about who Jesus is, in Matthew 11:12 – making a redemptive history point, not a point about personal greatness.

Carson: Ephesians 4

The quote in Ephesians 4 seems to run in the wrong direction from the OT source.

For many years there was a long debate about whether Mark’s gospel has a strong Exodus theology. Carson thinks the debate was resolved by Ricky Watt – who says that the Exodus themes in Mark are probably drawn from Isaiah, in his vocab – because Isaiah picks up Exodus themes. The linguistic themes aren’t linked to the Pentateuch, but to Isaiah – which brings us to another fact – there are interesting discussions about how the later OT writers use the earlier OT documents. It’s interesting that the NT often quotes the trajectory of the OT – so takes a passage that develops an earlier passage.

The oneness to which we strive in Ephesians 4 is not the oneness of sameness, but the oneness of purpose.

The citation of 8 is followed by an aside explaining what “ascended” means before moving to explain the use of the quote.

Carson thinks the “descended” refers to the incarnation, not a trip to Hell which has been the broad interpretive consensus (ed: I agree). Jesus’ resurrection and ascension vindicate his kingly claim.

Psalm 68, where the quote comes from, is a clear picture of God’s triumph over his enemies. When Paul quotes this text he goes in another direction – rather than the captive taking being an expression of victory, Paul uses it to express God’s giving of gifts to people.

Numbers 8 and 18 – Numbers 8 gives a long list of how the Levites are to be purified – they are “to be given wholly to God” who has “taken them as his own” – in some sense God has taken them as captives in substitution for the first born. Verses 17-18 make an allusion to the Exodus… he has “captured” the Levites and then given them as gifts to his people:

17 Every firstborn male in Israel, whether human or animal, is mine. When I struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, I set them apart for myself. 18 And I have taken the Levites in place of all the firstborn sons in Israel. 19 From among all the Israelites, I have given the Levites as gifts to Aaron and his sons to do the work at the tent of meeting on behalf of the Israelites and to make atonement for them so that no plague will strike the Israelites when they go near the sanctuary.”

This language is deliberate, it recurs in chapter 18.

The Don says Psalm 68 could possibly (and he thinks it is) be a meditation, in part, on these passages.

God captures people through his victories as a gift to others. If that is what Ephesians is doing, it’s not just quoting Psalm 68, it’s reflecting this trajectory that comes from Numbers  – God captures people for himself to pour them out as gifts for his people. That’s what Christ has done (Ed. interestingly it’s also what happens with Paul, and how Paul describes himself)