Friday, May 25, 2007

Summaries and Themes of the New Testament Books

Matthew – Jesus Christ is the King promised by the Old Testament.
Mark – Jesus Christ announces the kingdom and calls men to be disciples.
Luke – Emphasizes the humanity of Jesus, ministry to the poor and needy, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
John – Eternal life is through faith in Jesus Christ.
Acts – The kingdom of Jesus Christ spread through the ministry of the apostles and the witness of the early church.
Romans – The theology of the kingdom is that union with Christ results in justification by faith alone and sanctification by mortification and vivification.
1 Corinthians – Outposts of the kingdom, or churches, must be united in the gospel rather than divided over false doctrines.
2 Corinthians – Paul urges the church to recognize his apostleship and to unite with him in his ministry.
Galatians – Justification is not by good works but is by faith alone in Christ alone, which issues in godly living.
Ephesians – Jews and Gentiles who believe are one kingdom people in Christ.
Philippians – A clear understanding of the gospel of the kingdom results in a generous heart, willing to give to the cause of Christ.
Colossians – Jesus Christ is better than myths and worldly philosophies.
1 Thessalonians – Bereaved believers should take comfort in the fact that those who die in the Lord are alive with Christ and will be raised again.
2 Thessalonians – Persecuted believers should persevere in the faith, take comfort in the fact that judgment day is coming, and continue to work even though the day of the return of the Lord is near.
1 Timothy – Instructions on how pastors are to lead and organize the church of Jesus Christ.
2 Timothy – Exhortation to pastors to uphold and defend sound doctrine against all heresies and not to be like those leaders who propagate error.
Titus – Instructions to pastors to fight against both legalism and license, standing firm in the gospel of grace.
Philemon – Instruction to Philemon to accept Onesimus now that he had converted to Christ.
Hebrews – Jesus Christ and His Word is better than the Old Testament system; therefore, do not revert to it.
James – True kingdom living loves others in Christ through trusting obedience to Him.
1 Peter – Sufferings and persecutions are to be expected in this life, but the great hope of the Christian is that faithfulness to Christ yields great blessing.
2 Peter – One mark of false teaching is licentious living; therefore, continue in godly living to the end.
1 John – Assurance of salvation comes through obedience to Christ; the disobedient who depart from Christ were never saved in the first place.
2 John – Christian hospitality is important, but do not show hospitality to heretics.
3 John – Christians must show love and support for missionaries.
Jude – Contend for the faith and cling to Christ in godliness while avoiding the libertine gnosticism.
Revelation – Jesus Christ, the true King of heaven and earth, will be victorious over all of the forces of evil; therefore, worship Him and obey Him because a great reward awaits all who overcome.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Grammatical Historical Theological Exegesis

Many exegetes contend for the grammatico-historical method of biblical exegesis, but I am convinced that such an approach comes up lacking. Herman Bavinck rightly insisted that the Scriptures should be read theologically. If the historical aspect of exegesis uncovers identifies the audience and their sitz im leben (life situation), and if the grammatical aspect of exegesis uses the tools of grammar and literary analysis to find the human author’s intention, then the theological aspect of exegesis recognizes that there is only One Author of the Bible. God is the Auctor Primarius; therefore, the Scripture must be interpreted as the expression of one mind.

According to Louis Berkhof, there are several considerations in theological exegesis:

1. The Bible is a Unity. History reflects two kinds of errors: antinomian and nomistic. The antinomians (such as Marcion) rejected the abiding authority of the OT. The nomists on the other hand (such as Baxter) understood the NT to be a new law (nova lex) of exactly the same character as the OT. The proper view is that the OT and the NT form a unity with the same doctrine of redemption: same Christ, same way of justification, and impose the same moral obligations. At the same time, revelation is progressive, such that the New is in the Old concealed but the Old is in the New revealed.

2. The Bible Sometimes has a Mystical Sense. Clement and Origen wrongly defended the view that insisting that every text has a mystical sense. Others have wrongly denied that there is any mystical sense in Scripture at all. But, the mystical interpretation is most appropriate in typological interpretations, prophecy, and in the Psalms. For example, the NT interprets several passages of the OT messianically, showing that whole categories of related passages should be interpreted in like manner. Ephesians five says that marriage is a mystery that throws light on Christ’s relationship to the Church. The physical nation of Israel is a type of Christ and of His spiritual people, etc.

3. The Bible has Implied Senses. When a mere man makes a statement about what he believes, certain implications may follow from his statement by irresistible logic, even though he may not believe those implications because he has not himself seen them. But, the Word of God is different. Because God is the author of Scripture, he knows all of the implications of what he says. Therefore, necessary implications of Scripture must be regarded as the Word of God. Christ himself affirmed and utilized the implied sense of Scripture by countering the Saducees’s denial of the resurrection with text, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” deducing from it by good and necessary implication that there is a resurrection.

Louis Berkhof, Principles of Biblical Interpretation (1950; reprint, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1994), 133-166.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Antinomianism According to Andrew Fuller

In the late 1700’s, the Particular Baptist Andrew Fuller wrote a short tract against Antinomianism, entitled Antinomianism Contrasted with the Religion Taught and Exemplified in the Holy Scriptures. Fuller identified the antinomianism of hyper-Calvinism as being no less dangerous than the heresy of Socinianism, particularly because it borrowed the words of orthodox Christianity and promoted itself under the guise of consistent Calvinism.

In the introduction, Fuller said that the “distinguishing feature of this species of religion is selfishness,” since men are under no external obligation, and since the whole concern of the antinomian is “his own safety.” Fuller said that antinomianism offers security of salvation outside of Christ by giving direct assurance to sinners simply because they assent to propositions. Antinomianism's adherents often spoke of their past sins with no sorrow or remorse, but testified with a sense of pride, certain of God’s forgiveness. Antinomians thought of themselves as heaven’s favorites and of “all unfavourable events toward their adversaries as [God's] judgments for their conduct towards them, and, as it were, an avenging of their quarrels.”

Part one of the tract summarizes the system. Fuller said that antinomianism is “that which is contrary to law” and opposed to its binding authority. Therefore, it overturns the gospel, since without the law, there can be no need of redemptive grace and mercy. The two bases upon which antinomianism explains away responsibility to the law are: 1. the inability of man (in unregenerate antinomians) and 2. the liberty and privileges of the gospel (in those who consider themselves regenerate). Fuller countered the first ground with natural ability and the second ground with Scripture and the sovereign right of God to rule and require obedience of his subjects.

Part two explains how antinomianism perverted the gospel. It perverted election by turning it into a “source of pride, bitterness, slothfulness, and presumption” by leading men to blame God for their neglect of duty. It perverted the atonement too. Fuller said, “If [Christ’s] atonement be considered rather as a victory over the law than as honour done to it – if his enduring the curse be supposed to exonerate us from obeying the precepts – if, in consequence of his having laid down his life, we think more lightly of sin, and imagine [sin] to be a less dangerous evil . . . we are in possession of a scheme abhorrent to the gospel.” Antinomianism perverted justification by teaching that God not only treats us as if we were righteous, but that in justification we actually are righteous in ourselves such that neither God nor we can or should see the guilt of our sins and feel remorse for them. In such a doctrine of justification, there is no recognition of sin and there is no turning from it. It perverted the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints into presumption that gave men bold confidence of salvation even in the midst of their sinful living.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Is "Natural Ability" Legitimate?

Natural and moral ability were clearly defined and distinguished by Jonathan Edwards in his work, The Freedom of the Will. Andrew Fuller then popularized Edwards's views among Particular Baptists, providing them with a theological escape from hyper-Calvinism. Interestingly though, today in my seminar on the history of doctrinal anthropology, a friend of mine challenged the validity and helpfulness of the distinction. He pointed out that a number of solid Reformed theologians have objected to it for very specific reasons. The objectors include L. Berkhof, W.G.T. Shedd, C. Hodge, and A.A. Hodge. Dr. Nettles added to the list by pointing out that both R.L. Dabney and Ian Murray have also taken issue with Edwards's arguments.

A.A. Hodge urged caution in distinguishing between moral and natural ability for a number of reasons. They include:

1. The terms "natural ability" and "moral ability" are not Scriptural terms, and the Bible only teaches that men are unable, never that they are able.
2. The terms have never been adopted in the creed statements of the Reformed churches.
3. The terminology is essentially ambiguous. "The language assures [a person] that he is able in a certain sense, when it is only true that he possesses some of the essential prerequisites of ability. Ability begins only after all its essential conditions are present."
4. The word "natural" is not the antithesis of "moral," since there is such a thing as a "moral nature."
5. The language does not accurately express the distinction intended: "The inability is moral and is not either physical or constitutional. It has its ground not in the want of any faculty, but in the corrupt moral state of the faculties."

See A.A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology (reprint, Carlisle, PA: Banner, 1991), 341-342.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Benjamin Keach's Marrow of True Justification is Back in Print!

Solid Ground Christian Books has done the church a great service in making available Benjamin Keach's work on the doctrine of justification. Baptists have mostly forgotten Keach, but we owe him a great deal. He was the first great writing theologian among the Particular Baptists. He pastored the Southwark church, which was later pastored by John Gill (at Horse-lie-down) and then later by Charles Spurgeon at the Metropolitan Tabernacle. Keach introduced congregational hymn singing and defended the practice of believer's baptism against paedobaptists. He also defended the doctrine of justification by faith alone because of Christ's righteousness alone from the confused Baxterian "half-way house," which made our own personal obedience the ground of justification.

I had to reproduce my own copy of the Marrow of True Justification from microfilm; so, I'm really looking forward to this SGCB reprint, which will be much more readable and will serve as a fine working/study volume.

Here's a brief theological biograpy of Benjamin Keach.

Benjamin Keach (1640-1704) was born to John and Feodora Keach.[1] When he was fifteen years old (1655), Keach converted to Christ under the ministry of Matthew Mead, an Anglican minister, who was a warm evangelical Calvinist free from the taint of antinomianism.[2] But due to the fact that Keach firmly held to believer’s baptism and liberty of conscience, he sought baptism by immersion under the ministry of John Russel, a General (Arminian) Baptist pastor.[3] In 1558, when he was sixteen years old, Keach's church set him apart for the ministry.[4] Though he held Arminian notions of the will for a time, Keach soon became convinced of the Calvinist doctrine of the will, probably sometime after 1668 when the Southwark church installed him as pastor.[5] The doctrines of justification and the covenant of grace undergirded Keach's Calvinist convictions about the will. Austin Walker notes that Keach embraced the Calvinistic doctrine of the human will by coming to a clearer understanding of the doctrine of justification as articulated in John Saltmarsh’s book, Free Grace: or the flowings of Christ’s blood freely to sinners, which was published in 1645.[6] Though Saltmarsh, who was apparently an antinomian, was Keach’s first instructor in these things, Keach himself never embraced antinomian convictions, but always affirmed that both sinners and saints are responsible to obey all of God’s commands. Throughout his career, Benjamin Keach strenuously maintained a defense of warm orthodox Calvinism.

[1] For more biographical information on Keach, see William Cathcart, ed., Baptist Encyclopedia, vol. 1 (Philadelphia: L.H. Everts, 1881), s.v. “Keach, Rev. Benjamin,” 637-638; Thomas Crosby, The History of the English Baptists (London: 1739), vol. ii, 185-209; vol iii, 143-147; vol. iv, 268-314; Michael A.G. Haykin, Kiffin, Knollys, Keach: Rediscovering our English Baptist Heritage (Leeds: Reformation Today Trust, 1996), 82-103; Thomas J. Nettles, The Baptists: Key People Involved in Forming a Baptist Identity, vol. 1. (Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2005), 163-193; Adam A. Reid, “Benjamin Keach, 1640,” Baptist Quarterly 10 (1940-1941): 67-78; James Barry Vaughn, “Benjamin Keach” in Timothy George and David Dockery, eds., Baptist Theologians (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1990) 49-76; Austin Walker, The Excellent Benjamin Keach (Dundas: Joshua Press, 2004), 1-423; Walter Wilson, The History and Antiquities of the Dissenting Churches, vol. 4 (London: 1808), 243-252; Hugh Wamble, “Benjamin Keach, Churchman,” Quarterly Review (April-June 1956): 29-34.

[2] Walker, The Excellent Benjamin Keach, 47-48. See also Matthew Mead, The Almost Christian Discovered, or the False Professor Tried and Cast (London, 1675. Morgan, Pennsylvania: Soli Deo Gloria, 1993).

[3] Ibid., 41.

[4] Nettles, The Baptists, vol. 1, 163.

[5] Ibid., 338. Keach became the pastor of the Southwark church after the Clarendon Code had come into full effect by 1665. This code made it enormously difficult to minister as a dissenting minister and was the cause of much persecution.

[6] Walker, The Excellent Benjamin Keach, 50-51.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Literalism, Allegory, and Typology

In his book, According to Plan, Graeme Goldsworthy differentiates among literalism, allegory, and typology. He distinguishes the church's historical method of interpretation from the literalism that has come to dominate in many corners of evangelicalism. He then distinguishes typlogy from allegory since literalists tend wrongly to call typologists allegorists.


Literalism is the error of "not listening to what the New Testament says about fulfillment." A literalistic approach to interpreting the Old Testament assumes that the fulfillment of a promise can only take place in terms of its exact historical form. It fails to recognize New Testament priority in interpreting the Old Testament and so assumes that "the meaning of history is self-evident." For example, when Hosea 11:1 says, "Out of Egypt I have called my son," literalistic interpreters insist that the promise as it was given in the Old Testament refers only to God's delieverance of Israel from Egypt. They deny that that the Old Testament promise itself has any reference to Christ in spite of Matthew 2:15.


Allegory is reading a hidden meaning into a text without any reference to its historical context. For example, on an allegorical reading of the flood narrative, the boat is Christ, the water is God's wrath, Noah and his family are believers, the dove is the Holy Spirit, the sealed door is the perseverance of the saints, etc. Goldsworthy writes, "If literalism assumes that history is self-evident, then allegory assumes that history is worthless as history." So, the allegorist disregards the story line of the Old Testament and reads systematic New Testament theology into the Old Testament without any regard for Old Testament history. This form of interpretation is entirely subjective.


Typology grows out of the principle of progressive revelation, which recognizes that truth is clarified throughout redemptive history and that prior revelation can and should be colored and interpreted by and in light of subsequent revelation. For example, Abraham was the father of a nation of God's people and he was a blessing to many nations, both in his own time and in subsequent generations of Old Testament history. But the story of Abraham pictured something larger. The New Testament explicitly "tells us that the descendent of Abraham to which all this points is Jesus Christ." Jesus Christ is the head of a company of redeemed human beings and all the nations are blessed through and in him. Abraham was the type and Christ is the antitype. Thus, typology takes into account both the literal history of the Old Testament but at the same time recognizes that that history points to something beyond it. Goldsworthy writes:

"Typology rejects the principle of literalism. The meaning of history, so far from being self-evident, depends on revelation for its meaning. It also rejects the principle of allegorism. History, far from being meaningless, is controlled and interpreted by God in revelation. Typology assumes that all history is God's history, and that God has used a particular part of history along with his word to reveal himself to mankind."

The Protestant Reformers moved away from the allegorizing tendencies of the Middle Ages and sought to employ a literal hermeneutic. A "literal hermeneutic" is different from "literalism." During the Protestant Reformation the words "literal" or "natural" simply meant that the text should be interpreted according to its meaning. But, the Reformers believed that the literal meaning of an Old Testament text is only exhausted after it finds its fulfillment in the New Testament revelation of Jesus Christ.