KERUX: A JOURNAL
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ISSN 0888-8513 Vol. 8, No. 1
The More Excellent Ministry
2 Corinthians 3:18
This second letter of Paul to the Church at Corinth is marked by a pronounced polemic strain. In this respect it somewhat resembles the epistle to the Galatians. In each instance a serious crisis in the life of the church had evoked it. It is further common to both writings that in certain passages the polemic assumes a sharply personal character. In neither case is this due to any temperamental difficulty on Paul's part to control his outraged feelings, although even if this had been so, much could have been said in excuse of the apostle. His opponents had certainly not been sparing in personalities. He had been represented as a deceiver, as one who preached himself and praised himself. It had been charged that in his quasi-apostolic authority he lorded it over the church, employed his usurped power for casting down instead of for building up, and that, in spite of all this bluff and bluster of prestige, he lacked the ability to make good his pretensions, being indeed weighty and strong in his letters, but weak in his bodily presence, and in his speech, of no account. The insinuation had been
made that Paul himself was aware of the hollowness of his claims because he would not take from the church the support to which, if a true apostle, he ought to have felt himself entitled. He had been held up as a man who by his fickleness, his yea yea, nay nay, betrayed the duplicity of his position. The apostle had not even been spared that meanest of all aspersions—that he was spending money collected for the poor saints in Judea on his own person. His sincerity as a minister of the truth had been called into question. It was charged that, while aware of his subordination to the original apostles, he was disloyal to them, and substituted for their gospel an entirely different one spun out of his own mind. Thus the truth of the very substance of his preaching was challenged.
In this respect again a certain resemblance to the tactics of his Galatian opponents may be observed. The charge in both instances was that he preached "a different gospel." Nevertheless the point of attack had been somewhat shifted. In Galatia the main question had been that of salvation with or without the law. Here in Corinth, on the other hand, the controversy raged around Paul's teaching concerning the Christ. It was with another Jesus that his opponents had approached the Corinthians. No effort had been spared to prove this the true Jesus, by the side of whom the Christ of Paul's preaching was a pure figment of the imagination. Suspicion had been cast on the source of his knowledge of the Savior on the ground that the visions through which it was obtained belonged to the class of wild, fantastic experiences, and that these marked Paul as one beside himself, not merely in this one point, but in the entire tone and temper of his religious life. The exalted, spiritual, heavenly nature, in which his gospel clothed the glorified Christ, was construed as convincing proof of the darkness and incomprehensibleness of the apostle's message. He preached a gospel that was veiled. And over against these elusive and intangible things had been placed the palpable institutions of the Mosaic Covenant, carrying with them the demand for a Messiah correspondingly substantial and realistic in his make-up. This is but an early illustration of the principle which from that time onward has shaped all forms of teaching in the church. For in each instance the
view about the method of salvation is reflected in the conception of the Savior. A certain gospel requires a certain kind of Christ, and a certain type of Christ a certain gospel.
It might have seemed as if the attack upon the apostle had therewith reached its logical conclusion and could not possibly go farther. Still this was not the case. With a curious retroversive movement the issue had been carried back from this point to the question of the personality of Paul, with this difference only—it was now his dignity in office that had been assailed. Paul's office as such was made out to be mean and contemptible. Such a Christ and such a cause could engage one who labored for them only in the weakest and most ignoble kind of service. Paul was not permitted to escape the immemorial stigma reflected upon the minister from the apparent foolishness and weakness of the cross. And the apostle was sensitive, if anywhere, on this point of the nobility and glory of his office. Moral aspersions against his character he might, had it not been for fear of danger to the churches, have passed by as unworthy of notice. But the pride of office was stronger in him than the sense of personal honor. And thus it happens that we are indebted to these disturbers of the Corinthian church, whose names have long been forgotten, for an encomium upon the gospel service, which for power and splendor has no equal in the records of Christian apology. It deserves to be placed beside the song of triumph in the eighth chapter of the epistle to the Romans. As there the apostle is carried on the crest-wave of assurance of salvation, so here he moves with the full tide of enthusiasm over the excellence of his calling. The very words are, as it were, baptized in the glory of which they speak.
Let us briefly examine the several elements that enter into this high consciousness. The form of argument which Paul adopts is evidently determined by the method of his detractors. At the climax of their calumny they had concentrated their attack on the meanness and weakness of his message. Consequently he chooses to defend himself on the same basis by arguing from the glory of the message to the distinction of the bearer. While thus adjusted to the manner of attack,
this method was also in keeping with Paul's innate modesty, still further refined by grace. But there was another tactical motive besides. Paul recognized that by thus approaching the subject a more substantial title to official prestige could be made out than in any other way, such, perhaps, as calling attention to outward results. After all it is not so much by what the minister contributes of himself to the cause of Christ, but rather by what he is enabled to draw out and utilize from the divine resources that his office and work will be tested. It is not chiefly the question whether we are strong in the cause, but whether the cause is strong in and through us. And herein lies the practical value of the argument in its application to the servants of Christ under all conditions. If Paul had staked the issue on the personal factor, then there could be in his testimony but little comfort and encouragement for others, for there are not many Pauls. Now that the subject is dealt with in the other way the apostle's words contain something enheartening for you and me and the simplest, obscurest bearer of the gospel. We are too often told at the present day that the official, professional distinction of the minister is a matter of the past, that it has become purely a question of what is called personal magnetism whether he shall earn success or failure. Paul certainly was far from this opinion. To be sure, to such things as ecclesiastical position or rank he would hardly have attributed much importance. Even the difference between the apostolate and other forms of service in the church seems scarcely to enter into the reckoning here. But within the realm of the invisible and spiritual there remains such a thing as an intrinsic prestige. Paul is conscious of belonging to a veritable elite of the Spirit. I beg you to notice on how large a scale this thought is projected. It gives rise to the conception of a ministry of God's covenant, that is, a ministry identified with an all-comprehensive dispensation of divine grace. Thus Moses was a minister of the Old and Paul is a minister of the New Covenant. To have such a covenant-ministry means to be identified with God in the most intimate manner, for the covenant expresses the very heart of God's purpose. It means to be initiated into the holiest mysteries of redemption, for in the covenant these are transacted. It means to be
enrolled on the list of the great historic servants of God, for in the organism of the covenant these are united and salute each other across the ages. It means to become a channel through which supernatural currents flow. In the covenant the servant is, as it were, made part of the wonder-world of salvation itself. The apostle has embodied this grandiose thought in a most striking figure. "Thanks be to God," he exclaims, "who always leadeth us in triumph in Christ." The onward march of the gospel is a triumphal procession, God the victorious Conqueror, Paul a follower in God's train, burning the incense to his glory, making manifest the savor of his knowledge in every place!
What has been said so far applies to the ministry of the Covenant of Grace under both dispensations. It describes a glory common to Moses and Paul. The Apostle ungrudgingly recognizes that the Old Testament had its peculiar distinction. To be a prophet or priest of the God of Israel conferred greater honor than any secular prominence in the pagan history of the race. Even the ministration written and engraven on stones came with glory. This excellence of the Old Covenant found a symbolic expression in the light upon the face of Moses after his tarrying with God upon the mount, a light so intense that the children of Israel could not steadfastly look upon its radiance. Paul's purpose, however, is not to emphasize what the two dispensations have in common, but that in which the New surpasses the Old. Since the opponents had clothed their attack upon him in the invidious form of a comparison with the Mosaic administration, it was natural for him to take up the challenge and fight out the battle along the same line. Nonetheless the comparison, as followed up by Paul, is startling in its exceeding boldness. A more impressive disclosure of his exalted sense of office is scarcely conceivable. In order to feel the full force of this we ought to make clear to ourselves that not two single persons but two pairs of persons are set over against each other. On the one side stand God and Moses, the reflector of his glory, on the other Christ and Paul. It would be interesting, but beside our present purpose, to consider what it implies as to the nature and rank of Christ, that the apostle feels free simply to put him on a line with God as a fount and dispenser of glory in the New Covenant after no
different fashion than God was under the Old Covenant. Without pursuing this further, we now wish to make the point that the comparison lies not between Moses and Christ, but between Moses and Paul. Than Moses no greater name was known in the annals of Old Testament redemption. Prophet, priest, lawgiver in one, he towers high above all the others. And to Paul, the son of Israel, all this wealth of sacred story gathered round the head of Moses must have been a thousand times more impressive than it can be to us. What an overwhelming sense then of the greatness of his own ministry must Paul have possessed, when he dared conceive the thought of being greater than Moses! "Verily that which has been made glorious has been made not-glorious in this respect by reason of the glory that surpasseth" (2 Cor. 3:10).
The apostle, however, does not give expression to the lofty consciousness in an outburst of unreasoning enthusiasm. He carefully specifies wherein the surpassing excellence of his ministry above that of Moses consists. The first point relates to the contrast between transitoriness and eternity. Putting it in terms of the figure, Paul affirms that the glory of the Old Covenant had to pass away, whereas that of the New Covenant must remain. When Moses descended from the mount his face shone with a refulgence of the divine glory near which he had been permitted to dwell for a season. But his face could not retain this brightness for any length of time. It soon disappeared. Thus what Moses stood for was glorious but lacked permanence. The day was bound to come when its splendor would vanish. On the other hand the New Covenant is final and abiding. The times cannot outgrow, the developments of history cannot antiquate it, it carries within itself the pledge of eternity.
But not only did such a difference actually exist—both Moses and Paul were aware of the state of things in each case. Moses was aware of it, for we are told that he put the veil on his face for the purpose of hiding the disappearance of the glory. And Paul was, since in pointed contrast to this procedure, he professes to minister with open face: "Not as Moses, who put a veil over his face" (v. 13). It was further
inevitable that in Paul's estimation the speedy abrogation of Moses' work detracted from his glory as a servant of the covenant, and that, on the other hand, the enduring character of his own work added greatly to the honor wherewith Paul felt it clothed him and the satisfaction he derived from it.
Time, especially time with the wasting power it acquires through sin, is the archenemy of all human achievement. It kills the root of joy which otherwise belongs to working and building. All things which the succeeding generations of mankind have wrought in the course of the ages succumb to its attacks. The tragic sense of this accompanies the race at every step in its march through history. It is like a pall cast over the face of the peoples. In revealed religion through the grace of redemption it is in principle removed, yet not so that under the Old Covenant the dark shadow entirely disappears. The plaint of it is in Moses' own Psalm: "Thou turnest man to destruction—Thou carriest them away as with a flood" (Ps. 90:3, 5). And something of this bitter taste of transitoriness enters even into the Old Testament consciousness of salvation.
Now put over against this the triumphant song of life and assurance of immortality that fills the glorious, spacious days of the New Covenant, especially where first it issues from the womb of the morning bathed in the dew of imperishable youth. The note of futility and depression has disappeared, and in place of this the rapture of victory over death and decay, the exultant feeling of immersion in the atmosphere of eternity prevail. And this particularly communicated itself to the spirit in which the covenant-ministration was performed. The joy of working in the dawn of the world to come quickens the pulse of all New Testament servants of Christ. Paul felt that the product of his labors, the output of his life, would shine with unfading splendor in the palace of God. Thus also the honor of being a fellow laborer of God first obtains its full rich meaning. It is the prerogative of God, the Eternal One, to work for eternity. As the King of the ages he discounts and surmounts all the intervening forces and barriers of time. He who is made to share in this receives the highest form which
the divine image can assume in its reproduction in man. Neither things present nor things to come can conquer him. He reigns in life with God through Jesus Christ, his Lord.
In the second place, there is a difference operating to the advantage of Paul between the two ministries in regard to the measure of openness and clearness with which they are conducted. Moses ministered with covered, Paul ministers with open, that is uncovered, face. As regards Moses this was that the children of Israel should not perceive the passing away of the glory underneath the veil. Not that Moses acted as a deceiver of his people. Paul means to say that in receiving the glory, and losing it, and hiding its loss, he served the symbolic function of illustrating, in the first place, the glory of the Old Covenant, in the second place its transitoriness, and in the third place the ignorance of Israel in regard to what was taking place. The chief point of ignorance of the people related to the eclipse and abrogation their institutions would suffer. But the symbolism permits of being generalized, so as to include all the limitations of self-knowledge and self-understanding under which the Old Covenant labored. As a matter of fact Paul immediately afterwards extends it to Israel's entire reading of the law, that is, to Israel's self-interpretation and Scripture-interpretation on a large scale. Ignorance as to the end would easily produce ignorance or imperfect understanding with reference to the whole order of things under which the people were living. Everything temporal and provisional, especially if it does not know itself as such, is apt to wear a veil. It often lacks the faculty of discriminating between what is higher and lower in its composition. Things that are ends and things that are mere means to an end are not always clearly separated. Every preparatory stage in the history of redemption can fully understand itself only in the light of that which fulfills it. The veil of the Old Covenant is lifted only in Christ. The Christian standpoint alone furnishes the necessary perspective for apprehending its place and function in the organism of the whole. So it came about that the Mosaic Covenant moved through the ages a mystery to itself and to its servants. According to Paul this tragical process reached its climax when Israel came face to face with him who
alone could interpret Israel to itself. It is not for us to unravel the web of self-misinterpretation and unbelief wrought by the Jews on the ancient loom previous to the appearance of Christ. Paul implies that both causes contributed to the sad result. There was an element of original guilt as well as of subsequent hardening involved. Their minds were blinded. The veil was on the reading of Moses, but the veil was also on their hearts. And the apostle's word still holds true: the veil remains until the present day. It can be taken away only when Israel shall turn to the Lord. Then, and not until then, that ghost of the Old Covenant which now accompanies Israel on its wandering throughout the ages, will vanish from its side. As a double gift of grace it will then receive the treasures of Moses and those of Paul from the hand of Christ.
It is in sharp contrast to all this that Paul describes his own mode of ministering under the New Covenant. He serves with unveiled face, and in this one figure all the openness, the self-intelligence, the transparency of his ministry find expression. The proclamation of the word of the gospel has left behind all the old reserve and restrictions and limitations under which Moses and his successors labored. Its ministers can now speak fully and freely and plainly the whole counsel of God. Paul glories in being able to do this. He uses great boldness of speech. There is nothing to withhold, nothing to conceal: the entire plan of redemption has been unfolded, the mystery hidden through the ages has been revealed, and there is committed to every ambassador of Christ an absolute message, no longer subject to change. Not the delicate procedure of the diplomat, who hides his aim, but the stately stepping forward of the herald who renders an authoritative pronouncement, characterizes his task to Paul's own mind. He discards all human artifice and invention, all unsincere and undignified devices evidently employed by some at the time, as they are still not infrequently at the present time, to render the gospel palatable to his hearers. He scorns, where principles are concerned, all compromise and concession: "Therefore, seeing we have this ministry, even as we obtained mercy, we faint not, but we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the Word of God
deceitfully, but by the manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God" (2 Cor. 4:1, 2).
There is a straightforwardness, a simplicity in preaching, which is proportionate to the preacher's own faith in the absoluteness and inherent truthfulness of his message. No shallow optimism about the adjustableness of Christianity to ever changing conditions, about its self-rejuvenating power after apparent decline, can possibly make up for a lack of this fundamental conviction. Unless we are convinced with Paul that Christianity has a definable and well-defined message to bring, and are able to tell wherein it consists, all our talk about its vitality or adaptability will neither comfort ourselves nor deceive others. A thing is not immortal because it is long-lived and dies hard. Only when through all changes of time it preserves unaltered its essence and source of power, can it be considered worthwhile as a medicine for the sickness of the world. Something that needs the constant use of cosmetics to keep up the appearance of youth is a caricature of the Christianity of the New Testament. Its case is worse than it imagines: it has not merely passed its youth, but is in danger of losing its very life.
In the next place, the greater distinction of the ministry of the New Covenant springs from this that it is in the closest conceivable manner bound up with the person and work of the Savior. It is a Christ-dispensation in the fullest sense of the word. What is possessed by the New Covenant is not the glory of God as such, but the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Moses had a great vision on the mountain, but Paul had a greater one, even as Moses himself had a greater, when he stood with Elijah on the New Testament mount of transfiguration. Paul beholds the glory of Christ as in a mirror, or, according to another rendering, reflects it as a mirror. His entire task, both on its communicative and on its receptive side, can be summed up in his reflecting back the Christ-glory caught by himself unto others. To behold Christ and to make others behold him is the substance of his ministry. All the distinctive elements of Paul's
preaching relate to Christ, and bear upon their face his image and superscription. God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. In the procuring of righteousness Christ is the one efficient cause. In Christ believers were chosen, called, justified, and will be glorified. To be converted is to die with Christ and to rise with him. The entire Christian life, root and stem and branch and blossom, is one continuous fellowship with Christ.
But to say that the gospel is full of Christ is still too general a statement. What the apostle affirms is that it is particularly the gospel of the glory of Christ, and that, therefore, its ministry also has specifically to do with this. Now this is not a mere metaphorical way of speaking, as if it meant no more than that in every possible manner the gospel-preaching brings out and promotes the honor of the Savior. Paul intends it in a far more literal sense. The glory of Christ transmitted by his gospel is an objective reality. It is that which effects the Savior's exalted state since the resurrection. While including the radiance of his external appearance, it is by no means confined to this. Paul reckons among this glory the whole equipment of grace and power and beauty, all the supernatural potencies and forces stored up in the risen Lord. It consists of energy no less than of splendor. Taken in this comprehensive, realistic sense, it is equivalent to the content of the gospel, and determines the nature of its ministry. The rendering, "beholding as in a mirror," admirably fits this representation. As a mirror is not an end in itself, but exists for the sake of what is seen through it, so the gospel serves no other purpose than to bring men face to face with the glory of Christ. It is naught else but a tale of Christ, a Christ in words, the exact counterpart of Christ's person and work in their glorious state. Because of the consciousness of this Paul felt himself greater than Moses, for the partial light that shone on the latter's face has now become omnipresent and fills the New Covenant. Under the Old Dispensation the servants of God saw only from afar the brightness of the Messiah's rising. Now he is visible from nearby, the One filling all in all, occupying the entire field of vision. The humblest of preachers surpasses in this respect the greatest of Old Testament evangelists. He carries a gospel all-fragrant and all-radiant
In the fourth place the excellence of the ministry of the New Covenant is seen in this—that it is a ministry of abundant forgiveness and righteousness. This aspect of it also is intimately connected with the glory of the Lord, although it requires a somewhat closer inspection to perceive this. It should be remembered that the glory possessed by Christ in heaven is, to Paul, the emphatic, never-silent declaration of his absolute righteousness acquired during the state of humiliation. It sprang from his obedience and suffering and self-sacrifice in our stead. It is righteousness translated into the language of effect, the crown set upon his work of satisfaction. Consequently the servant of the New Covenant can attach his ministry of pardon and peace to the glory of Christ. Hence Paul in working out the comparison between Moses and himself with special reference to the question of righteousness reduces the difference to terms of glory: "For if the ministry of condemnation is glory, much rather does the ministry of righteousness exceed in glory" (2 Cor. 3:9).
In a broad sense the Old Testament was the economy of conviction of sin. The law revealed the moral helplessness of man, placed him under a curse, worked death. There was, of course, gospel under and in the Old Covenant, but it was for its expression largely dependent on the silent symbolic language of altar and sacrifice and lustration. Under it the glory which speaks of righteousness was in hiding. In the New Covenant all this has been changed. The veil has been rent, and through it an unobstructed view is obtained of the glory of God on the face of Jesus Christ. And with this vision comes the assurance of atonement, satisfaction, access to God, peace of conscience, liberty, eternal life. For Paul the commission to proclaim these things constitutes no small part of the excellence of his task. As Jesus delighted in announcing release to the captives, in setting at liberty them that were bruised, in proclaiming the acceptable year of Jehovah, so Paul, even more because of the accomplishment of the redemptive work, rejoiced in the ministry of reconciliation. Beautiful to him upon the mountains were the feet of them that bring good
tidings, that publish peace.
The fifth and principal reason why the service of the New Covenant excels in honor, Paul finds in this: that the Christ-glory is a living and self-communicating power, transforming both those who mediate it and those who receive it from glory to glory into the likeness of the Lord. Paul here again has in mind the difference between Moses and himself. Moses' own condition and appearance were only externally and temporarily affected by the vision on the mount. After a while his face became as before. And what he was unable to retain for himself he was unable to communicate unto others. Over against this the apostle places the two facts, first that the servants of the New Covenant are internally and permanently transformed by beholding the image of the Lord, and second that they effect a similar transformation in others to whom through their ministry the knowledge of the glorified Savior comes. In its first part this representation was doubtless connected with the apostle's personal experience. There had been a point in his life at which the perception of the glorified Lord had been for him attended with the most marvelous change it is possible to undergo. The glory that shone around him on the road to Damascus had in one moment, in the twinkling of an eye, swept away all his old beliefs and ideals, his sinful passion and pride, and made of him a new creature, to whom the past things were like the faint memory of some distant phase of existence. And what had happened there, Paul had afterwards seen repeating itself thousands of times, less conspicuously, to be sure, but not on that account less truly, less miraculously. To express this aspect of his ministry he employs the formula, that it is a ministry of the Spirit, that is of the Holy Spirit, whereas that of Moses was one of the letter. The Spirit stands for the living, energizing, creative grace of God, the letter for the inability of the law as such to translate itself into action.
Now in saying that the ministry of the New Covenant is a ministry of the glory of Christ and that it is a ministry of the Spirit, Paul is not really affirming two different things but one and the same fact. The glory and the Spirit to him are identical. As we have seen the glory
means the equipment, with supernatural power and splendor, of the exalted Christ. And this equipment, described from the point of view of its energizing source, consists of the Holy Spirit. It was at the resurrection that the Spirit in this high, unique sense was received by him. There the Spirit transformed the Lord's human nature and made it glorious beyond conception. Besides this, the Spirit is with Christ in continuance as the indwelling principle, the element, as it were, in which the glorified life of the Savior is lived. We need not wonder, then, that a little later the apostle gives almost paradoxical expression to this truth by declaring, "The Lord is the Spirit" (v. 17), and that we are transformed from "the Lord, the Spirit." This language is not, of course, intended to efface the distinction between the second and the third persons of the Trinity, but simply serves to bring out the practical inseparableness of the exalted Christ and the Holy Spirit in the work of salvation.
So we begin to understand at least a little of the mystery, how the glory of Christ can communicate itself to and reproduce itself in the believer and transform him. As Spirit-glory it cannot fail to do this, for it is of the nature so to act. Hence also we read elsewhere that Christ "became a quickening Spirit" (1 Cor. 15:45). The main point to be observed, however, is how all this adds to the high conception held by Paul about the honor of his ministry as compared with that of Moses. The minister of the law, the letter, can never taste that sweetest joy of seeing the message he brings incarnate and reincarnate itself in the lives of others. The minister of the New Covenant does taste of this joy: he writes with the Spirit of the living God in tables that are hearts of flesh. This means more than what we sometimes speak of and feel as pleasure in the consciousness of power set free or good accomplished. Paul undoubtedly knew this also, but to confine what he here describes to that would rob it of its most distinctive quality. Paul had the sensation of coming through his ministry into the closest touch with the forthputting of the saving energy of God himself. He was aware that to his preaching of the gospel there belonged an invisible background, that at every step his presentation of the truth was accompanied by a ministry from heaven conducted by the Christ
of glory. His work was for him imbued with divine power, the life-blood of the supernatural pulsed through it. His service, at each point where it touched men, marked the line and opened channels for the introduction of divine creative forces into human souls. So vivid was this consciousness of involvement in the supernatural that nothing short of a comparison of God's word through him with the divine word at the first creation could adequately express it to Paul's mind: "God who said, Let light shine out of darkness, has shined into our hearts for the purpose of our imparting the light of the knowledge of his glory in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor. 4:6).
Nor was this close participation with God in a transforming spiritual process something glorious merely in itself. Paul also took into account its comprehensive effect. When the Apostle says "we all are transformed" (2 Cor. 11:15), it is evident that the statement is not limited to the apostles or preachers of the gospel, but includes, so far at least as the passive experience is concerned, all believers. To the joyous consciousness of exerting extraordinary power there was added the delight of witnessing extraordinary results. There is a note of genuine Christian universalism in this. It was a reason for profound satisfaction to Paul that he needed not stand in the midst of the congregation of God as another Moses, partaking of a light from God in which the others could not share, solitary in his splendor, but that the larger share of what he affirmed of himself had through him become the possession of the simplest believer, a transfiguration of spirit like his own by the beholding of the Lord. Refracted from numberless mirrors the light multiplied and intensified itself for each on whom it fell. Nevertheless even so a measure of incommunicable distinction remained.
Since the reproduction into the likeness of Christ is dependent on and proportionate to the vision of the Savior, and since this vision from the nature of the case is more constantly present to the minister of the Gospel than to the common believer, it follows that in the former an altogether unique result may be expected. So it was undoubtedly with Paul. He had no need of testing the principle in
others; a more direct and convincing evidence lay in its effect upon himself. He was aware of a renewal of the inner man, progressing from day to day, and in which there was observable this law of increase, that the more he did to make Christ known, the deeper the lineaments of the character of Christ were impressed upon his soul. Even the hardships befalling his flesh in the service of the Lord were contributory to this: "We are always bearing about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh" (2 Cor. 4:10). And: "Our light affliction, which is for the moment, works for us more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory" (v. 17). "Therefore we faint not, though our outward man decay, yet the inner man is renewed day by day" (v. 16). Thus the apostle's ministry, while exercised upon others, became unto him an unintermittent ministry to his own soul, ever increasingly assimilating him to the glory of Christ.
Such was Paul's conception of the ministry of the New Covenant. It bears upon its face the marks of the historical situation in which he was called upon to present it. Nonetheless it has abiding validity, for it is drawn from the nature of the gospel itself, and the gospel is the gospel of him who remains the same yesterday and today and forever. Even of the errors over against which Paul placed these glorious views it is in a certain sense true that they are not of one age but of all ages; they lead a life of pseudo-immortality among men. In the Judaistic controversy which shook the early church, forces and tendencies were at work deeply rooted in the sinful human heart. In modernized apparel they confront us still to the present day. There are still abroad forms of a Christless gospel. There prevails still a subtle form of legalism which would rob the Savior of his crown of glory, earned by the cross, and would make of him a second Moses, offering us the stones of the law instead of the life-bread of the gospel. And, oh the pity and shame of it, the Jesus that is being preached but too often is a Christ after the flesh, a religious genius, the product of evolution, powerless to save! Let us pray that it may be given to the church to repudiate and cast out this error with the resoluteness of Paul. There is need for her ministers of placing themselves ever afresh in the light
of the great apostolic consciousness revealed in our text. They should learn once more to bear their message out of the fulness of conviction that it is an unchangeable message, reliable as the veracity of God himself. Grant God that it may become on the lips of his servants truly from age to age a gospel from which the name of Christ crowds out every other human name, good tidings of atonement and righteousness and supernatural renewal; to preacher and people alike, what it was to Paul and his converts, a mirror of vision and transfiguration after the image of the Lord.
Princeton Theological Seminary
Princeton, New Jersey
The Servant and the Serpent*
Meredith G. Kline
Introduction. 1. Compositional Center: A key position is occupied by the fourth vision (Zechariah 3) within the series of seven night visions and within the macrostructure of the book.1
Zechariah's work as a whole is built on a three-hinge framework with Zechariah 6:1-15 as the middle hinge between the two main panels of the overall diptych. Each of these panels in turn is a diptych with its own central hinge, Zechariah 3 for the first panel and Zechariah 11 for the second. A formal feature shared by the three hinge passages, and exclusive to them in the book, is the personal participation of Zechariah himself in the symbolic action. Another is the involvement of specific historical individuals in the episode. Further, coronation is their common theme, all three portraying the commissioning of Messiah to his royal-priestly task. By presenting this theme at each of these key structural points in the book, the formal framework brilliantly highlights "the figure of the coming Christ, ordained to priestly sacrifice and subsequent highest royal glory, the
one who is the central hinge and focus of prophetic revelation."2
Within the structure of the seven visions, Zechariah 3 occupies the center position. It is set apart from the three visions before and after it by the fact that it does not fit into the pattern of introductory formulae that characterizes these two triads (cf. 1:7, 8; 2:1; 2:5; 3:1; 4:1-2; 5:1; 6:1). It is also distinguished from the other six visions by the peculiar features it shares as one of the trio of hinges in the macrostructure of the book. Thus, while the other visions symbolize earthly realities by imaginary forms, actual persons (Joshua and his fellow priests) appear in Zechariah 3. And the prophet intervenes in the fourth vision to forward the action, whereas his role elsewhere in the visions is limited to witnessing the scenes and seeking explanations from the hierophant angel.
The centerpiece position of the fourth vision is accentuated by the chiastic form of the balancing triads on either side, producing an A-B-C-D-C'-B'-A' schema. One aspect of this concentric arrangement has to do with the locus of the divine action in the several visions. The scene of the symbolic drama proceeds from the nations of the world in the outside (A and A') visions, to the land of Judah-Israel in the B and B' visions, to Zion, the theocratic capitol, in the C and C' visions. Then in Zechariah 3, the central D vision of the chiasm, we find ourselves at the holy of holies, the ultimate center of the cosmos where the Lord is enthroned in the midst of his angelic council.
2. Christological Climax: Here at the center of the visions stands the Christ-figure, present as the Angel of the Lord and typified by Joshua in his reinvestment as royal highpriest. And here Messiah's mission of salvation is set forth in the radical terms of its hidden, underlying dimension as a decisive encounter with Satan. The contention revolves about the Lord's claim to the sinful but chosen people represented by Joshua (the Joshua still in his defiled garb at the outset of the vision). And the outcome of the ordeal between the messianic Servant and the diabolical serpent turns on the question of Joshua's fate in the divine judgment: will this representative sinner be condemned and abandoned to the dominion of the devil or will he be
justified and consigned as a holy minister to the service of the God of glory?
Implicit in the third vision were intimations that ultimately Satan was the enemy power threatening the people and kingdom of God and that the coming of the kingdom involved not just an overwhelming exercise of might to destroy the enemy but a working of Spirit-power in the conversion of enemies, transforming them into builders of the city of God. It required a coming of Christ to bind Satan and spoil his house, rescuing the prey from his grasp. All this becomes graphically explicit in the fourth vision. Moreover, the process of spiritual reclamation and transformation is now more precisely depicted as one of justification in the face of Satan's accusations and as one of renewal in the image of the divine Glory. Present also are indications that the victory over the accuser will require the atoning sacrifice of the messianic Servant. In vision four we see ourselves—for we are Joshua—as in ourselves sinners in the hands of an angry God but, as God's chosen in Christ, sinners in the pierced hands of the suffering Servant-Savior.
Biblico-theological climax, with focus on Christ, thus coincides with the compositional center of the visions. Remarkably similar to this fourth vision of Zechariah is the middle section of the Book of Revelation. Like Zechariah 3, Revelation 12:1 (or 11:19)-14:20 occupies the central point of an overall seven-member chiasm, and here again it is at the structural center that the depths of the redemptive-historical process are explored and exposed. The preceding apocalyptic visions of the seven letters, seven-sealed book, and seven trumpets display further parallelism to Zechariah. They lead up to the climactic centerpiece of the chiasm with themes and imagery that recall Zechariah's first three visions: The Messiah figure in association with the Glory-council dominates scene and action. He stands in the midst of his persecuted saints and sends forth agents of judgment on the world. These heavenly agents are symbolized as horsemen. Intimations are given that lurking in the shadows of the world's hostility to the church is the primeval leviathan. But, as in Zechariah, it is in the
center-section of the Apocalypse that the conflict of the ages is directly and dramatically revealed as the contention of Christ with Satan over the church. And once more, as in Zechariah 3, it is the role of Satan as the accuser of the redeemed before God's throne that is prominent (Rev. 12:10). And again the messianic man prevails in judgment against the dragon (Rev. 12:5, 9), a victory for the accused saints attributable to the blood of atonement shed by the suffering Servant (Rev. 12:11).
Comparison of Zechariah 3 and Revelation 12 constrains recognition of their common footage in Genesis 3. Further connections between Zechariah 3 and the Genesis 3 context will be noted in the exposition of the fourth vision below, but here we simply cite some major features of Genesis 3 that reappear in both Zechariah 3 and Revelation 12: the emergence of the gospel of salvation in the rebuke-damnation of the devil; the three principals of the redemptive drama—Messiah, his people, and Satan; Messiah's identity as the royal offspring, born of the woman; Messiah's contention with the devil; the two stages in Messiah's mission of vanquishing Satan—his sufferings and the consequent glory. These central visions of the books of Zechariah and Revelation bring us back to the radical roots and fundamental realities of the holy war first announced in Genesis 3:14, 15 and destined to rage on through history from the loss of Eden's holy paradise until its consummatory restoration in the new Jerusalem.
I. The Rebuke of Satan
A. Before Messiah’s Judgment-Seat: Common to all seven visions, as at least their background, is the divine council setting, represented directly by the divine presence (as in visions one, three, four, five and seven) or at least indirectly by agents of the council sent forth on missions (as in visions two and six). But the heavenly scene is most immediately and realistically displayed in this central fourth vision. Here the heavenly court coalesces with the holy throne room on earth, celestial beings whose proper sphere is the invisible, supernal realm appearing alongside the earthly highpriest Joshua. Such an interlink-
ing of heavenly archetype and earthly ectype is what was involved in the non-visionary, external reality of the presence of the Glory-Spirit, the epiphany of the heavenly court, manifested in the Israelite tabernacle or temple.
Towering over the judgment scene, sovereignly directing the proceedings, stands the messianic figure of the Angel of Yahweh.3 He appeared in the first vision both as Judge of all the earth engaged in surveillance of the world powers through his angelic agents (Zech. 1:8-11) and as the Intercessor, effectively pleading the cause of God's oppressed people (Zech. 1:12-17). Here in the fourth vision he is seen in this same dual role; he is the Judge who renders the verdict on the basis of reports from various sources and he also acts as Advocate for the covenant people. His double office of Judge and Advocate is the more remarkable here in that the party he is to judge, accused Joshua, is the same one he proceeds to defend.
As in vision one, it turns out to be the enemy power against whom condemnation and doom are actually pronounced. Here it is the enemy himself. He appears in the vision as a second principal, seen by Zechariah as taking his stand in court4 to oppose (satan) the defendant (hence his name, Satan) with slandering charges (for which he is known as diabolos/devil). The verb satan and the derived noun are used for others besides Satan himself, but the terms clearly refer to the prince of the evil principalities and powers in the prologue of Job, 1 Chronicles 21:1, and Zechariah 3:1, 2.5 Development of the usage of the noun as applied to the devil from an appellative to a proper name should not be misconstrued as evidence that the notion of a personal devil gradually emerged out of some more general concept. We are not dealing with the evolution of a metaphysical notion in the Israelite mind but with the progressive divine revelation of a specific historical entity. The fact of the existence of the personal devil confronted mankind at the outset of earthly history in Eden and it is presented to us in the revelation of that primeval encounter in Genesis 3, with occasional further disclosures concerning him in the subsequent biblical record.
Satan's confrontation with the Angel of Yahweh in Zechariah 3 will be better understood if seen within the pattern of satanic enmity exhibited in the episodes narrated in Genesis 3 and the prologue of Job. But before tracing that dark labyrinth, notice must be taken of the third principal figure in the visionary trial scene—Joshua, the accused.
As the high priest, Joshua represented the covenant congregation. This representative relationship was signified by working into the design of the high priest's vestments a double set of the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. They were engraved on the precious stones located on the shoulder straps of the ephod and again in the gems in the breastpiece (cf. Exod. 28:9-12, 21-29). While representing his contemporary Israelites, the highpriest also foreshadowed the future in that he was a type of the coming true priest-king over the house of God, the mediatorial priest who would bring the people he represented to God through the blood of the everlasting covenant.6
The typological dimension of Joshua's priestly identity becomes explicit later in this vision. But when the scene opens Joshua appears in his capacity as the representative-equivalent of Jerusalem-Israel;7 more specifically, covenant-breaking Israel defiled by sin, for he appears in filthy garments, a shocking deviation from the ceremonial requirement that the high priest enter the heavenly court of the holy of holies in his vestments of holy glory. Though the people of God are thus depicted in old covenant idiom, Joshua is not a symbol for the old covenant faithful only. The messianic significance of Joshua later in the vision indicates that this vision as a whole, like the others for which it is the centerpiece, concerns all the elect of God in Christ, the holy company which attains perfection under the new covenant.
B. Har-Magedon Crisis: One thing that was obviously at stake in this judicial encounter was the destiny of Joshua. Although the specific charges made against him by the accuser are not quoted, they can be surmised from the context. Satan will have pointed to the transgression of the covenant symbolized by Joshua's soiled garments. Apparently he will also have cited the fact that the Lord of the
covenant had himself judged the Joshua-community guilty and had condemned them to undergo the extreme curse of exile, a judgment whereby he repudiated the nation as Lo-Ammi, "Not-My-People." Such an argument by the accuser-prosecutor would account for the subsequent rejoinder of the Angel-Advocate reminding Satan that Joshua was a brand plucked from the consuming fire of God's vengeance (v. 3c), restored to the covenantal status of Ammi, "My-People." Would Satan's charges prevail or would they be overcome by the considerations adduced in Joshua's defense?
But something beyond Joshua's fate was at issue in this court. With subtle indirection Satan was affronting the majesty of the divine Judge, challenging him as to his divine claims and prerogatives. Satan's tactics here are similar to those he resorted to in his opposition to God's servant Job.
As in Zechariah 3 the setting of the Book of Job is the heavenly council on a day when the court was in session (Job 1:6; 2:1). Again Satan is present and assumes the role of accuser of man. That his chief purpose is, however, to offer blasphemous challenge to the enthroned Lord is more readily discernible here. Confronted by God's claim that Job was his loyal servant, a faithful family priest (Job 1:5, 8), a trophy of his redeeming grace, Satan contradicts: No—Job is no true servant. The prophetic gospel-decree of Genesis 3:15 is not being realized in Job or anyone else. God cannot snatch from Satan the prey he seized at the Fall. Job's religious profession is false. He is a hypocrite, using a pretense of piety as the price of prosperity and God is guilty of complicity in this pious fraudulence (Job 1:9-11). God's boast of Job's devotion to him is an empty lie.
The trial by ordeal that follows is designed to test the validity of Satan's accusations against Job and in that sense Job is on trial.8 But clearly the larger issue concerns the truth of the gospel, the validity of God's claim to be the Savior of his elect from Satan, sin, and death. Under contention ultimately is the identity of Yahweh as true God, the God of truth, and so the rightful One to be Judge of heaven and earth.
Job serves then as the champion of God's name. Through Job's trial by ordeal God triumphs in the trial by ordeal between himself and Satan. The vindication of Job is the vindication of the Lord, Job's sovereign Savior. The silencing of Job's accuser is the victory of the divine Judge and his rebuke of Satan.9
The differences between the situations in the Book of Job and Zechariah's fourth vision are only on the surface. To be sure, it is the genuineness of the piety of the family priest Job that is stressed while it is the sinfulness of the high priest Joshua that is conspicuous. But both these priests figure in the accounts as sinners saved by the grace of God. Both are examples of the efficacy of God's redemptive wisdom and program. In Zechariah 3, no less than in the prologue to Job, Satan is then attacking the Lord for accepting the ministry of an allegedly unfit priest at his altar-throne. Posing as a cherub-guardian of the sanctity of God's sanctuary, Satan challenges the presence of Job and Joshua; filthy and false, they defile the holy temple. To challenge them was in effect to call into question the holiness of the God who consorts with such sinners, welcomes their presence and delights in the worship they offer (cf. Matt. 11:19; Mark 2:16; Luke 5:30; 7:34).
Further light is shed on Satan's secret objective in his incrimination of Joshua and Job by the temptation event in Eden. That episode differs from the other two in that Satan there maligns God to man rather than accusing man before God. Once man has fallen into sin, the attack on God gets camouflaged behind surface accusations against the sinners with whom God identifies in redemptive covenantal union. But before the Fall, Satan vilifies the Lord God more openly (Gen. 3:1-5), insinuating that his imposition of the unique prohibitory stipulation was dictated by jealous self-interest and a lack of benevolence (v. lb) and blatantly alleging that the death sanction was a deceptive, empty threat (v. 4).
Exhibited in this behavior of Satan in Eden is what may be called the Har-Magedon-revolt syndrome. Eden was the site of Har-Magedon, "the mountain of meeting," i.e., the judicial assembly of
God and his angels (cf. Ps. 82:1; Isa. 14:13). The proceedings in that heavenly council are the background of Satan's appearance in the garden. A disclosure made to the council that God purposed to create man, like the angels a creature in the divine likeness, crowned with glory and given dominion over the creation (Gen. 1:26; Ps. 8:5-8), evoked in the cherub prince evil emotions—threatened pride, envy, malicious hate. He must thwart the announced development. He must redirect the man-creature's covenantal allegiance from the Lord God to himself. He must challenge the Sovereign enthroned on Har-Magedon. His must be the glory, the power, and the kingdom forever, his throne exalted above all that is called Elohim.
So Satan schemed and his subtle strategy was successful—seemingly, for a second. Then suddenly, heralded by thunder, the King of Glory appeared (Gen. 3:8). A new decree was proclaimed: doom for the devil, reconciliation for God's elect through a second Adam, the destined slayer of the dragon (Gen. 3:14, 15). Henceforth, until the final realization of all God decreed, Satan's Har-Magedon revolt would be a conspiring against this messianic champion set as God's anointed king in the midst of heaven's hosts on the holy mountain. But the Almighty laughs at Satan's raging against the Son (Ps. 2:4). He makes the hostility Satan instigates contribute to the fulfillment of his decree and the redemptive triumph of his messianic Servant (cf. Col. 2:14, 15). Satan's continuance as a factor in human history is permitted according to God's unfathomable counsel so that he can play his guilty part in the crucifixion (Acts 2:23-36), the bruising of the Servant's heel, which by the alchemy of divine grace turns out to be the crushing of the serpent's skull. Well named, the place called Golgotha.
Satan's undertakings in the episodes depicted in the prologue of Job and Zechariah 3 are instances of his ongoing Har-Magedon rebellion, the desperate, irrational, but relentless enmity that finally produces the man of sin, son of perdition. When his role in Zechariah's vision is perceived as part of this continuing undercurrent of antichrist evil, his ultimate point of attack is seen to be not the
defendant but the Judge, not Joshua but the Christ-Angel.
By establishing the fact that Joshua was unclean, unacceptable on the holy hill of Zion (cf. Psalm 15), Satan would demonstrate that God's announced program of redemption had proven a failure. Further, he would make the case that the Angel of the Lord was not worthy to sit as judge in the Har-Magedon council, for in countenancing the priestly service of defiled Joshua he was responsible for the contamination of God's holy courts. The messianic Angel would thus be guilty of the very failing that had resulted in the expulsion of the first Adam from Eden's holy garden and would thereby be disqualified for any future mission as the righteous Servant, a second Adam, a savior of sinners.
Satan repeats here a tactic employed in Eden. In each case it was his own evil presence that confronted a guardian of God's house with the duty of repulsing such an unholy intrusion, and each time Satan's strategy was to divert attention to something else and so maintain his own position at Har-Magedon. Would the strategy succeed with the Angel of the Lord as it had with Adam? The answer was not long in coming.
C. Trampling the Serpent: "Yahweh rebuke you, O Satan" (Zech. 3:2a). The Angel of the Lord dealt directly and decisively with the accuser and his blasphemous challenge. Yahweh's thunderous10 rebuke does more than parry the thrust of the opponent; its effects are devastating.
Similar to the divine rebuke of Zechariah 3:2 is that in Psalm 9. The scene there too is judicial with the Lord seated on his throne judging righteously. He maintains the cause of his people against the enemy by rebuking the wicked nations (v. 5a[6a]), and by this action (whether understood as past or precative) he destroys them, blotting out their name forever, reducing them to perpetual ruin (vv. 5b, 6[6b, 7]). God's roaring rebuke forces the waters of the sea to retreat (Isa. 50:2; Nab. 1:4; Ps. 18:15) and turns to flight the tumultuous onrush of the nations (Isa. 17:13). In Psalm 18:15 (16) God's "rebuke"
against the deep as he delivers his people from the strong enemy (vv. 16ff. [17ff.]) is paired with "the blast of thy nostrils," the phrase used in Exodus 15:8 for God's vanquishing of the leviathan of the deep at the redemption of Israel from Egypt. Since the sea is the realm of Satan from which he brings forth the draconic enemies of the saints (Dan. 7:2ff.; Rev. 13:1ff.), Psalm 18:15 (16) is thematically of a piece with Zechariah 3:2. At times divine rebuke seems tantamount to a destructive curse (cf. Ps. 119:21; Mal. 2:2, 3). Indeed, the rebuke formula found in Zechariah 3:2 came to be used in excretory incantation. In the "Yahweh rebuke you, O Satan," of Zechariah 3:2 we can hear reverberating the primal "Cursed are you" of Genesis 3:14.
The Angel of the Lord's rebuke silenced the accusations, but further it constituted a condemnation of the accuser himself, repulsing him from the station he presumed to occupy in the divine council. It was a scornful repudiation of the devil's pretensions to throne on Har-Magedon.
Here portrayed in advance is the history of our Lord as the stronger One, who by his rebuking of Satan, the deceiver-captor of the nations, sets his captives free. In the accounts of Jesus' rebuking action in the Gospels12 we find the same objects as in the Old Testament references to divine rebuke. Jesus rebuked the roaring wind and waters of the sea, brought them to silence (Matt. 8:26; Mark 4:39; Luke 8:24), and so rescued his perishing disciples. "Who then is this?" The very Creator Lord who commanded the waters to respect his bounds and made the dry land appear. The very Redeemer Lord who divided the sea and made the waters a way of salvation for the Israelites. And Jesus rebuked Satan. He did so when he saw him behind Peter's counsel (Mark 8:33), and again when, repeatedly, he encountered him in his demonic agents, defeating them and delivering their victims from satanic tyranny (Matt. 17:18; Mark 1:25; 9:25; Luke 4:35, 41; 9:42; Acts 5:16; 8:7; 19:12). Jesus is the divine warrior who at last repels Satan's final antichrist attack by the Spirit-breath of his mouth, the rebuking blast of his nostrils (2 Thess. 2:8).
The judicial confrontation of Messiah and Satan depicted anticipatively in Zechariah 3 is presented as actualized in Revelation 12. The dragon's attempt to do away with Jesus fails (vv. 3, 4); the anointed Son ascends and occupies the throne on heavenly Zion (v. 5; cf. Ps. 2:6-9). Assumption of the throne meant warfare in heaven, Messiah-Michael with his angel-agents of the divine court suppressing the revolt of the dragon and his demons (v. 7) and casting Satan, accuser of the brethren, out of heaven, down from Har-Magedon (vv. 8, 9). So began the execution of the messianic Angel's word of judgment: "Yahweh rebuke you, O Satan."
Comparing what is disclosed in the Old and New Testaments, it appears that prior to Christ's exaltation Satan was permitted some kind of access to the heavenly council and was suffered to pose in some way as prosecuting attorney against the saints before God's throne. But with the enthronement there of Christ as priest-king, prevailing in his advocacy of the cause of his own on the basis of his accomplished atonement, Satan's anomalous, attenuated tenure in the divine council was terminated—and his time until final doom was short (Rev. 12:12).
D. Law and Gospel: Like the primeval curse pronounced on the serpent, which was at the same time the primal promise of salvation in Christ (Gen. 3:15), so Messiah's rebuke of Satan in Zechariah 3 was tantamount to a verdict rendered in favor of the Joshua-community (vv. 4, 5). For Satan's assault on God's throne came disguised as a feigned concern for the sanctity of heaven's holy court, a concern expressed in the form of accusations against the sinners God would welcome there. Similarly in Revelation 12, it is as a victory of the redeemed over their accuser (vv. 10, 11) that the Lord's ejection of Satan from the heavenly court is celebrated.
In Revelation 12, the explanation of the triumph of the saints who overcome Satan and his demons is the blood of the lamb. Such is also the explanation for the rebuking of Satan and the dismissal of his charges in Zechariah 3. The principle governing the judicial decision and action of the Angel-Judge is revealed in his amplified repetition of
the verdict-curse: "Yahweh who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you; is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?" (v. 2b, c). Those whom Satan would have condemned were God's elect, and who shall lay anything to their charge (Rom. 8:33a)? The principle that operates in their case is grace, sovereign grace, not works. They were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, foreordained unto adoption according to the good pleasure of God's will, to the praise of the glory of his grace bestowed on us in the Beloved, in whom we have our redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses (Eph. 1:4-7). It is God that justifies; who is he that condemns (Rom. 8:33b, 34)?
In accusing the brethren Satan directs attention to their status in the first Adam, in whom they have transgressed the original covenant of works and become liable to its curse of death. In relation to that breakable covenant all are deserving of a verdict of condemnation and a sentence of expulsion from the holy garden of life and abandonment in the abyss of Hell. Satan would pretend that history was frozen in the situation produced by his success as tempter of the first Adam. He would ignore and would have the court ignore the divine decree announced immediately after the Fall of the first Adam, declaring God's eternal purpose of grace for a countless throng of elect and revealing the opening up of a new redemptive way to justification and life through a second Adam, a serpent-trampling Savior (Gen. 3:15).
The story of the typological kingdom of Israel was an historical parable in which mankind under the covenant of works in Adam was represented by Israel under the law. For according to Jeremiah the Torah-covenant viewed as a grant of the land of Canaan to Israel for a temporal, typical inheritance was another breakable works-arrangement, unlike the new covenant of grace to be made in the days to come (Jer. 31:31). The apostle of that new covenant, the apostle of justification by faith, proclaimed justification through Christ from all things "from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses" (Acts 13:39). "That no man is justified by the law before God is evident," said Paul, "for, 'The righteous shall live by faith,' and the law
is not of faith, but 'He that doeth them shall live in them"' (Gal. 3:11, 12). And again, "For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no more of promise" (Gal. 3:18). It is the typological story of Israel's history under its covenant of works that provides the symbolism of the prophet's gospel for mankind in Zechariah 3.
The half-truth lie urged by Satan is expressed in that figurative idiom: Behold Joshua/Israel standing before the tribunal in filthy clothes, shamefully defiled transgressors of the Torah-covenant of works. Consider the exile—God himself repudiated Israel, drove them out of their inheritance, handed them over as captives to serve the enemy.
The Angel-Judge's rebuke of the accuser is also cast in that typological idiom: "Yahweh who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you." He refers to the elect in Christ, the second Adam, as Jerusalem. To express their predestination to be a holy temple, builded together into a habitation of God in the Spirit (Eph. 1:4; 2:21, 22; cf. 1 Pet. 2:5), he uses the Mosaic formula for God's selection of the location of the temple city where his name would dwell under the old covenant (cf. e.g. Deut. 12:5,11). Employing this typological metaphor, the Angel brings to light the decisive factor the accuser had concealed—God's eternal purpose of grace.
Before the foundations of the world a covenant was sealed in heaven. The Father covenanted to grant the Son a kingdom of glory as the just reward for the accomplishment of an earthly mission. Through incarnation the Son was to undertake the office of a second Adam and fulfill all righteousness in behalf of an elect people, securing for them justification and earning for them title to heaven's glory. By the obedience of this One, the many were to be made righteous (Rom. 5:19) and Satan vanquished.
The Angel-Judge rejects the charge of Satan and proceeds to justify Joshua on the basis of what he, the messianic Angel, was one day to do. He would become flesh and perfectly discharge the office of second Adam in faithfulness to his covenant of works with the Father,
thereby becoming the mediator of a covenant of grace to his redeemed. The salvation-kingdom covenanted unto him by the Father he would in turn covenant unto his people as his co-heirs (cf. Luke 22:29, 30), conferring it on them as a gift of grace, received by faith. Satan is rebuked because he reduced the judicial picture to the dimension of the first Adam and ignored the second Adam. He pointed the finger at Joshua and discounted the Ange1-Judge, the Redeemer-Advocate of Joshua-Jerusalem.
The fallacy of Satan's case against Joshua may also be analyzed from the perspective of the relationship of the law to the prior covenant with Abraham. When Paul identified the Torah-covenant as a works arrangement, "not of faith," he had to face the question whether it negated God's promissory commitments to Abraham. The apostle was eager to insist that the covenant of grace confirmed long before was not disannulled by the law so as to make the promise void (Gal. 3:17). Satan, on the contrary, by identifying Joshua exclusively in terms of his filthy garments (i.e., his transgression of the law) insinuated an interpretation of the Mosaic covenant of works as overriding and abrogating the Abrahamic covenant.
In doing so, Satan was suppressing counter-evidence of the continuing validity of the program of grace. Though God had indeed cast off Israel for breaking the Mosaic covenant of works, when the appointed seventy years were completed (cf. Zech. 1:12), he had regathered a remnant from exile in remembrance of his covenant with Abraham (Lev. 26:42; cf. 2 Kgs. 13:23) and with a view to the true fulfillment of that covenant in the eventual coming of Christ from Israel as the promised seed of Abraham. This act of restoration from the Babylonian captivity was in fact a prophetic portrayal at the typological level of the promised antitypical restoration of the elect to covenant fellowship with God as a heavenly kingdom of priests and holy nation, the fruit of the redemptive accomplishment of the second Adam.
What Satan would conceal, the Angel-Judge cited as telling evidence: "Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?" (Zech. 3:2).
From the consuming curse of the exile-judgment God had saved a remnant, like the survivors of the fiery overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah (cf. Amos 4:11). That divine act of redemption attested to the truth that a principle of sovereign grace was operating in the trial of Joshua as the decisive factor that must result in a verdict of justification.
The accusing serpent, he with the power of death (Heb. 2:14), was overcome by divine rebuke because the messianic Servant would give his life as a ransom, the One for the many (Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:45), to redeem them from the lake of fire, the second death (Rev. 2:10, 11; 12:11; 20:6). Joshua overcame in judgment because of the atoning blood of the Lamb, the priestly self-sacrifice to be offered unto God by the Christ of whom the high priest was a type (Zech. 3:4-10), the Judge before whom he stood (Zech. 3:1, 3; 2 Cor. 5:10).
* This study of Zechariah 3 continues the series on Zechariah's night visions begun in Kerux 5:2 (September, 1990).
1. Cf. my study "The Structure of the Book of Zechariah," JETS 34:2 (1991), pp. 179-193 for substantiation of the structural analysis above.
2. Ibid. p. 193. Cf. Kerux 6:1 (May, 1991), p. 29.
3. His designation can be abbreviated to "Yahweh" (v. 2) or "the angel" (v. 3).
4. Cf. Acts 25:18.
5. Cf. Ps. 109:6, where, as in Zechariah 3, the reference is to a prosecuting attorney.
6. Messianic typology is present in all priestly functioning after the Fall that involves the symbolism of atonement, the effecting of reconciliation between God and sinners. In Israel that messianic
aspect of the cult was accentuated by the separation of the chosen Aaronic line to an exclusive priestly office that served as a mediatorial bridge between the rest of the covenant people and God. This special arrangement did not, however, negate the universal office of priesthood that is always the privilege of God's people.
7. Accordingly the decision reached on Joshua is based on the divine election of Jerusalem (v. 2).
8. For an analysis of the juridical framework of the Book of Job see my "Trial by Ordeal" in Through Christ's Word: A Festschrift for Dr. Phillip E. Hughes, ed. W. R. Godfrey and Jesse L. Boyd III (Phillipsburg, 1985), pp. 81-93.
9. Implicit in the presenting of Satan's appeal for a trial by ordeal before God's judgment seat was an acknowledgment that the Lord was the God of truth, the One who determines the outcome of judicial ordeals. Satan thus contradicted his charge that God was not true God in the very process of making it.
10. Cf. Ps. 104:7; Isa. 17:12,13.
11. A pronouncing of this rebuke-curse on the devil is cited in Jude v. 9, whether in allusion to Zechariah 3:2 or its appearance in the Assumption (or Testament) of Moses. If the latter, we would have to assume that this work preserved a true tradition not recorded in the canonical literature about an historical encounter between Michael and Satan on the occasion of Moses' burial. In the former case, the "body of Moses" concept must be understood after the analogy of the body of Christ as a designation of the community under the covenant mediated by Moses (cf. 1 Cor. 10:2), the people of Jerusalem represented by Joshua the high priest. If Jude v. 9 refers to Zechariah 3:2, it clearly identifies the Angel of the Lord by the name Michael. On the other alternative, this identification would still not be contradicted. On either view, what Jude recommends is the recognition that final judicial authority resides in God. The episodes in both Zechariah 3 and the Assumption of Moses involve the idea that whatever claim Satan makes on sinful believers, it is countermanded
by the Lord God's redemptive claim on them.
12. The verb employed, epitimao, is used in LXX for ga'ar, "rebuke," in Zechariah 3:2.
Seminary, S. Hamilton, Massachusetts
Westminster Theological Seminary in California, Escondido
The Gospel of John: An Introduction
James T. Dennison, Jr.
The gospel of the Beloved Disciple, John, the Son of Zebedee, is admittedly different from the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke. But different does not imply separate. The Trinitarian slogan of the church is useful here—"distinct but not separate." John's gospel is distinct but not separate from the synoptics. Or to use a phrase preferred by Geerhardus Vos and other orthodox scholars, John is a part of the "fourfold gospel."
We ought not to be surprised at this. Our high view of Scripture does not require that the inspiration of the Holy Spirit makes each gospel's story of Jesus uniform. John's background, personality and literary interests were different from those of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Yet this does not imply that he contradicts, corrects or otherwise alters the portrait of our Savior found in the other three gospels. Rather he supplements and complements the story of Jesus by means of his own peculiar gifts and interests.
The fourth evangelist does not provide a synopsis of the life of Christ: from (1) birth to death and resurrection (as Matthew and Luke do); from (2) Christ's baptism to his resurrection (as Mark does). John spends forty percent of his gospel describing one week—the most crucial week—of our Lord's life (Jn. 12-20:25). John is preoccupied with the week of Christ's death and resurrection. Surely the Beloved Disciple has provided us with an overall clue to his story of Christ by featuring his death and resurrection! The beginning of John's gospel is not genealogy (Matthew), not godspell (Mark), not angelic annunciation (Luke). John begins with a magnificent paean of the glory of the Son (Word/Logos)—God's only begotten. The Johannine Prologue (1:1-18) wondrously introduces this gospel which soars like the eagle. The Johannine Epilogue (21) poignantly envelops the gospel with the conversation between the eschatological Shepherd and the destined under-shepherd—"Simon Peter, lovest thou me?" "Feed my lambs." In between Prologue and Epilogue, we behold his glory, the glory as of the only begotten Son of the Father, full of grace and truth (1:14).
Theological Features: Christocentric
The theological contours of John's gospel are also thrilling. I will summarize them under the headings Christocentric, Eschatological, Soteriological. John asks his readers to continually reflect on the question, "Who is Jesus?" This Christological question is answered from the Prologue to the Epilogue—he is the Word/Logos, the Son of God, who is God himself. This high ontic Christology explains the centrality of Christ in John's gospel. From 1:1 to 21:25, John will not allow us to take our eyes off Jesus. The central character in John's gospel drama is our Lord Jesus Christ. While this is not revolutionary, we do well to remind ourselves as we read through this gospel that the center of focus is the church's Lord. Who is this Jesus who meets us from the plains of Jordan to the shores of the sea of Galilee? He is none other than the second person of the ontological Trinity incarnate—Jesus Christ our Lord.
John's gospel is an eschatological gospel. Eschatology has to do with a new order, a new age, a new era. This new order/age/era partakes of permanence—that which abides, that which remains, that which is final or eternal. Is the earth eternal? No! Is heaven eternal? Yes! Heaven, then, is an eschatological arena. Is man eternal? No! Is God eternal? Yes! God is an eschatological being.
The fourth gospel tells us the eschatological being—the Son of God—has come in the flesh. He has come from above (from the eschatological dimension) into time and space and the cosmos. Heaven has come down to earth in Christ—the eternal has come into the temporal. The timeless has entered time. A new era has come in Christ. A new order has dawned with the advent of the Son of God. The gospel of John is the gospel of the dawn of a new age in Christ Jesus.
Hence, we come face to face with the eschatological question of the gospel of John. What does Jesus bring? What is the nature of the new age/order/era that Jesus brings? He brings the eschatological dimension; he brings the eternal into the present; he brings the heavenlies to us. This Christocentric gospel is eschatological. Because of who he is, Jesus reveals the dimension which he inhabits—the above in the below. As we read this gospel, we ask not only "Who is Jesus?" but "What does he bring?" The Son of God brings to us the age to come.
Finally, John's gospel is soteriological. Soteriology is the study of salvation. This gospel whose focus is Christocentric and whose goal is eschatological has soteriology as a means to that end. How does Jesus Christ, the Son of God, bring us to the eschatological arena—to the heavenlies? He brings us to the eschaton by saving us. John's gospel brings us face to face with the question, How does this one who is the Son of the Father out of the eschatological arena bring us into that
eternal arena together with him? He takes the initiative with us; he uses his omnipotent power with us; he bestows undeserved mercy (grace) upon us. In short, Jesus saves us.
The Christocentric, eschatological and soteriological aspects of his gospel are emphasized in John's own statement of purpose for the gospel. John tells us (20:30, 31) why he wrote these twenty-one chapters: "Many other signs therefore Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in his name."
You will notice that the purpose of this gospel is Christocentric: "that you may believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God." You will also notice that the purpose of this gospel is eschatological: "that believing you may have life." Not life which we already have; rather life which is from above—life which is heavenly—eternal life—eschatological life. And you will observe that the purpose of the gospel is soteriological—"having life in his name." That is, having life through what he has done in his name to accomplish salvation on behalf of your name.
John wrote his gospel. While an obvious truism, most conservative, Bible-believing readers don't read John (or the Bible) as if it were written by human hands. We are often guilty of thinking the Bible was dropped out of the sky. My point is that John (as all Biblical authors) has a particular literary style. He also has a particular theological viewpoint (reviewed above) which he is attempting to communicate to his reader. This particular theological point of view is served by the particular literary style the Beloved Disciple has chosen.
The Bible is a literary work. That is not all it is, but it is that. The fourth gospel is a literary work. As you read looking for literary
quality, you begin to notice some of John's artistry. This gospel is beautifully written. It has grandeur and pathos, magnificent richness and profound empathy. Here are some of the literary devices John uses in his artistic presentation of the gospel of the Son of God.
A. Dualism. Dualism consists of elements of paired contrast. Examples are: light/dark; belief/unbelief; spirit/flesh; truth/lie; love/hate. The concept of opposites plays a large role in John's gospel. He has chosen this literary pattern to powerfully communicate the drama of opposition surrounding the advent of the Word.
B. Irony: Irony is a literary twist in which two levels of meaning oppose one another in some way. In Jn. 6:42, the Jews are discussing the origin of Jesus. They say he comes from Nazareth (level one); he says he comes from heaven (level two). The irony is that both are true. John joins them in order to emphasize the incarnation. In Jn. 11:49, 50, Caiaphas says it is better that one should die than that the whole nation should perish. At one level, Caiaphas knows all (as he estimates the situation). At another level, Caiaphas knows nothing (as the situation turns out). The irony is that one dies and the nation(s) (ethnos[Greek] = Gentiles) are saved!
C. Misunderstanding. Misunderstanding occurs when a double sense or double meaning is derived. In Jn. 2:19, Jesus says, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up." The audience misunderstands Jesus as referring to the Herodian Temple, when he is actually speaking of his body. "You must be born again" (Jn. 3:3, 4) is misunderstood by Nicodemus to refer to a literal re-entrance into and re-emergence from his mother's womb. Jesus is speaking of the activity of the Spirit and the passivity of the sinner. In the encounter with the woman at the well of Samaria (Jn. 4:10, 11), Jesus says, "If you knew who it is who asks you, you would have asked and he would have given you living water." The adulterous woman replies, "But you have nothing with which to draw." The misunderstanding involves physical versus spiritual water.
D. Metaphor. Metaphors are expressions composed of two levels of meaning which complement one another. "Lamb of God" is a metaphor suggesting sacrifice. "Fountain of living water" is a metaphor suggesting source or origin. Metaphors are loaded with biblical-theological content. As Jesus uses them, the metaphors reveal the eschatological character of his person and work. In redemptive-historical framework, they are retrospective (reaching back to the Old Testament) and prospective (reaching forward to heaven). For example, the metaphor "lamb of God" is eschatological retrospectively. Christ is the eschatological lamb of God because he is the last lamb, the final lamb, the once-and-for-all lamb anticipated in the Passover lambs and in the sacrificial animals of the Old Testament cult. He is also the lamb of God prospectively and eschatologically. Rev. 13:8 describes the heavenly Christ as the lamb slain from the foundation of the world. He is the center of our future eschatological existence. Keep in mind that John's eschatological perspective (embodied, for instance, in his rich use of metaphors) is retrospective and prospective.
I have discussed issues surrounding the structure of the fourth gospel in previous issues of Kerux: "The Structure of John's Gospel—The Present State of the Question," 7/1 (May 1992): 37-42; "From the Librarian's Shelf," 5/1 (May 1990): 47-50. The simple structural outline below is not intended to sidestep the complex issues involved. However, these are best sorted out through interaction with a volume such as Mlakuzhyil's, Christocentric Literary Structure of the Fourth Gospel (1987).
Essentially there are two major sections to this gospel. These two major chunks of the work are enclosed or enveloped by an inclusio. An inclusio is a literary structural device which marks the inclusive framing or bracketing of a work. The inclusio may frame or bracket either the beginning and end of the book or work in its entirety; or it may frame/bracket the beginning and end of a pericope or section of
Simple Outline of John's Gospel
Prologue/Introduction - 1
Testimony of Jesus' Signs - 2-11
Testimony of Jesus' Hour - 12-20
Epilogue/Conclusion - 21
There is a basic symmetry to this outline. What appears in the beginning is balanced by what appears in the end. In between, the body of the work consists of two additional sections—themselves balanced between Jesus' miracles and the arrival of his life-giving hour.
In addition to his literary devices and structure, John's narrative style provides a fruitful method of investigating his story of Jesus. In his Poetics (7.1-7), Aristotle argued that every story has a narrative form (poetics). It is ordered or arranged with a beginning, middle and end. The identification of these elements is an attempt to locate the movement in the narrative—the progress in the story.
It is this progress which provides the drama—the sense of expectancy, the sense of fruition. For example, the wedding at Cana (Jn. 2:1-11) begins with wine running out (v. 3). The story unfolds with the movement of Mary to the servants (v. 5). The story ends with the climactic remark of the headwaiter, "You have saved the best wine until now" (v. 10). John has recorded his narrative so as to dramatically unfold the sequence which climaxes in Christ's miraculous sign. Thus we are enriched by paying attention to the narrative poetics of Biblical stories.
Another narrative device is scene or location. The geographical setting of a story is important. Notice that the wedding in John 2 is set in Cana of Galilee. That location is important to the movement of John's gospel. Suffice it to observe at this point that Cana of Galilee reappears as a setting in Jn. 4:46. As we move through the gospel, we will need to pay attention to setting and shifts in location.
The central narrative element in any story is the plot. Plot is the heart of the narrative—the essential link in the poetics of the account. The classic outline of plot may be recalled from courses in literature. The plot of a story consists of: rising action (ascending line), climax (turning point or the point of release of narrative tension), falling action (descending line) and conclusion (point of relaxation).
At the center of every plot is conflict. If I were to suggest a plot structure for John's gospel, I would reduce it to the conflict between Christ and those who receive or believe on him and those who reject or do not believe on him. The rising action in John's story of Jesus is the increasing hostility of the Jews (in particular) to Christ. The climax of John's narrative is the resolve on the part of Jesus' enemies to put him to death (ironically, this is Jesus' hour—the hour of his glorification). The falling action consists of the post-resurrection encounters with the risen Christ. And the conclusion of the gospel is the Johannine "great commission"—the role of the church in the on-going work of Christ (chapter 21). Plot analysis allows us to begin to sense the movement in the conflict within each pericope (for if the gospel as a whole has a plot, so too does each pericope of the gospel).
A key ingredient in plot development is characterization. By characterization, I mean development/elaboration of character. What attributes does the character possess; what comments does the writer make about the character which enables us to gain insights into his or her personality; what actions reveal character; what dialogues/conversations reflect the heart and soul of the characters? If plot is the body of a narrative, then characterization is the heart of a narrative.
Take Nicodemus as an example of the brilliant Johannine characterization (cf. Kerux 7/2 [September 1992]: 26-29). In chapter 3, Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night. Alone, out of the darkness, Nicodemus comes to Jesus, the miracle-worker. In his encounter with Christ, we have a marvelous dialogue about the new thing Jesus brings—the new birth or birth from above. We leave Nicodemus, the seeker of Jesus, in Jn. 3:21 with Jesus having the last word.
In chapter 7:45-53, the Pharisees are becoming alarmed at the following Jesus has gained among the multitudes. They have denominated Christ as accursed. Nicodemus asks the question, "Our law does not condemn a man without a hearing, does it?" (7:50). For his presumption, Nicodemus is roundly rebuked. We leave Nicodemus, the defender of Jesus, in 7:52 with the critics of Jesus having the last word.
In Jn. 19:38-42, the body of Jesus hangs upon the cross. Nicodemus comes out of the approaching darkness of the Sabbath day—out of the darkness comes Nicodemus into the hall of Pilate to ask—yes, to ask for the body of his Lord. And in the darkness, Nicodemus takes the body down and wraps the body and pours hundreds of dollars worth of spices on the body and lays that precious body in his own new tomb. We find Nicodemus in Jn. 19, the possessor—the claimer of the body of Jesus. In Jn. 19, we find Nicodemus devoted to his dead Lord—lavishing his wealth upon the one who has driven the darkness away from his soul—the one in whom Nicodemus has beheld the light of glory in the birth from above. And, you will notice, we leave Nicodemus in Jn. 19 speechless—for his actions speak louder than words. The last word from Nicodemus is the act of laying the body of Christ in his own tomb. As we pay attention to characterization—even the progressive development of character in John's gospel—we learn even more about the divine working with the dramatis personae.
Biblical theology is that method of Bible study which views all of Scripture in relation to its historic progression. The gospel of John, in biblical-theological perspective, is situated after the Old Testament and before the consummate eschaton. This means that one approaches John retrospectively and prospectively: retrospectively—looking back to the Old Testament; prospectively—looking ahead to glory. Every passage in John's gospel is seen in the light of its relationship with the progress of the history of redemption. This relationship is eschatological—in which the old is fulfilled, the new breaks forth, and the everlasting is anticipated.
Consider the following examples of two biblical-theological patterns which dominate the fourth gospel. First, the Christological formula "I am" (in Greek, ego eimi). Each time Christ enunciates his identity in terms of the "I am" formula, he does so in biblical-theological perspective. The "I am" is retrospective, pushing us back to the Old Testament, especially Ex. 3:14 where Moses is told to inform the children of Israel that he has been commissioned by the "I am" (YHWH). Thus, each of John's ego eimi formulae cast us back retrospectively.
But they are prospective as well. The one whom John denominates "I am" in his gospel meets us at the inception and conclusion of the book of Revelation. This "I am" is the alpha and omega (Rev. 1:8, 17)—the first and the last (Greek, eschatos) (Rev. 22:13). The one who is incarnate in John's gospel is not only the "I am" of the Old Testament, but he is the eschatological "I am"—the everlasting Son of God.
In the fourth gospel, we meet the one who eschatologically fulfills the old covenant; the one who brings the eschatological realization of the new covenant right now; the one who stands in the eschatological arena yet before us—stands in the glory of an everlasting, eschatological arena where we shall see him as he is—as God of gods and Lord of lords.
The second dominant biblical-theological pattern in John's gospel is the displacement pattern. John carefully crafted his gospel to reveal the replacement of the former things and the appearance of all things being made new. John tells us that with the coming of Jesus, the former things have passed away; behold, all things are becoming new. The law came by Moses, grace and truth by Jesus Christ. The hour is coming when the true worshipper will worship neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem. On the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus stood and cried out, "I am the light of the world." Each of these allusions indicates that the Jewish age is over—Jesus has displaced it and replaced it—displaced and replaced it with himself and with his people, the church.
John is telling us in his story of Jesus that we cannot go back. We cannot retreat to the former covenant, for Christ has brought us a taste of the world to come. With Peter (Jn. 21), yea, with our Lord himself, we go on to glory. The eschatological glory of the Son is our inheritance and our destiny.
This is John's gospel message. We have beheld his glory, glory of the Father, the glory of the eschaton. That glory is ours now—that glory will be ours perfectly in the not yet. The now and the not yet; the two ages—the present age and the age to come. In Christ, John tells us, the age to come has been incarnate and we can possess it by faith in Jesus' name. That is the glory of John's gospel—that is the glory of the gospel of the Son of God.
Elmer Martens. Jeremiah. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1986, 327 pp., $17.95 paper. ISBN: 0-8361-3405-2.
Martens's commentary is part of the Believers Church Bible Commentary Series. Every book in this series seeks to provide rich commentary written in a style simple enough to be useful to Sunday School teachers, Bible study groups and other interested laypersons. Furthermore, each book in the series is unashamedly committed to being written from a Believers Church (Mennonite) perspective. Martens's commentary is successful in this regard. But does Martens's Jeremiah do more than it claims? Does it also provide discoveries useful for biblical-theological preaching?
Martens has packed a great deal of material into a relatively small volume. All of the material is useful for some religious discipline if not all for biblical theology. Contained in this volume are autobiographical and/or theological reflections on past church leaders and groups: Jerome, Origen, Augustine, Menno Simons, Sir Thomas More, Luther, Calvin, Methodists, Nazarenes, Reformed and Presbyterian
Churches, etc. These are useful for studies of church history, historical theology and for comparisons between current denominations. Martens also takes the time to discuss trends and events. The volume contains a vast range of contemporary material. The biblical-theological preacher is encouraged that with such a broad range of material there must also be something for him.
In reading this commentary one finds a variety of helps that aid the biblical-theological process. For one thing, much help is provided for Hebrew. For instance, throughout the book Martens provides the reader with many rich studies of key words and continually points out Jeremiah's play on words. Additionally, Martens includes a dictionary-like article on wordplay in a glossary at the end of the book. He also identifies specific literary genres. In a more general fashion, Martens identifies each new section as either poetry or prose. In each chapter of the commentary, the author consistently offers a structural analysis, pointing out such items as parallelism, chiasm and inclusio. Furthermore, he includes an assessment of the English translations which best capture the sense of the original. In a similar vein, he gives text-critical help regarding conjectural emendation and regularly compares disputed readings with the rendering of the Septuagint. The serious student is interested in redemptive history as recorded in the original tongue. Thus, Martens's work with the Hebrew helps us to better appreciate the unfolding of God's plan.
Another useful contribution is found in the way the author occasionally focuses on the role each character plays in the drama of God's unfolding plan. In one instance Martens compares the role Josiah played in the discovery of the law scroll (2 K. 22) with the role Jehoiakim played in burning the scroll (Jer. 36). He then explains how these two scroll-acts intensify the drama leading to the coming destruction of Jerusalem. Assessing the roles of certain characters is to some degree connected with Martens's so-called correspondence theory of history. This theory maintains that redemptive history is at the same time both linear and cyclical (compare Vos, Biblical Theology , p. 16). According to Martens, one event or act in
redemptive history may correspond to a similar act in the past or future. In defending his view, he notes a close correspondence between Jeremiah and Jesus. I found myself wishing that in drawing our attention to such correspondences, Martens would have attempted to explain why such redemptive patterns recur. The reader is left to draw his own conclusions.
Of major benefit is the attention Martens pays to geography. Through his attention to geographic detail, the reader never feels disoriented, but becomes a part of what is taking place in the text. The reader always has a sense of where he and the individuals in the story are going. This geographical emphasis makes one increasingly aware of the fact that redemption did occur "in history," and that the God of heaven intervened on earth.
So far, I have mentioned only resources having an indirect influence on biblical theology. Yet this commentary contains more direct help as well. This is especially true of one of the unique features of the book: At the end of each chapter there is an article called "The Text in Its Theological Context." Here Martens references both earlier and later events related to the events of the passage under consideration. These articles help the reader to think both retrospectively and prospectively.
Throughout the commentary there are frequent tidbits helping us to think in a retrospective/prospective fashion. However, caution needs to be urged at this point. The biblical-theological tidbits contained in this book are just that—tidbits!—designed to stimulate our own reflection process. Anyone looking for more than a suggestion will be disappointed. This commentary is well suited for the person who can capture a small idea, then research, run with and enlarge upon that idea. Remember, Martens's book doesn't claim to be a formal biblical theology; more has already been asked of this book than it claims for itself.
The material in this book is laid out exceptionally well. Each chapter provides an overview, followed by an explanation of the text,
followed by two articles, "The Text In Its Theological Context" and the "Text in The Life of The Church." Furthermore, in each chapter the reader is provided with more references for the more technical discussions which are confined to the back of the book. This promotes continuity of thought and prevents the reader from getting bogged down with painstaking detail. Martens helps us see the whole forest and not just individual trees—itself a boon for biblical theology.
Martens approaches the person and work of Christ from several angles. He alludes to Christ's future suffering for the sake of his people, to Jesus as moral example, to Christ's being the ideal future king and righteous branch (contrasted with Judah's evil king), and to his anti-typical identity with Jeremiah as the greater prophet.
Martens remains a conservative Mennonite throughout; still, he effectively utilizes the tools of form and redaction criticism. His Mennonite bias never seems to get in the way of careful exegesis, though he does tend to ride his "pacifist" hobbyhorse into the ground. He speaks much of covenant and of covenants, but appears to be too much influenced by premillenialism. Stating, as Vos did, that covenant is not subject to abrogation, he then applies promises to today's national Israel. He regards Jer. 31:31 as the apex of Old Testament salvation history. He holds that both the Abrahamic and the New Covenant are conditional covenants by nature. He does so by pointing to "loyalty" as the unspoken condition of every covenant.
The reader is drawn to Martens's fascinating discussion of the creation motif in Jeremiah. Martens grounds the validity of God's promise in creation, yet he then allows creation to stand alone without integrating the creation motif with the renewal motif (Jer. 31:31) of new creation/redemption.
This commentary contains a wonderful glossary with many dictionary-like definitions of importance. It includes an annotated bibliography which is quite beneficial. Moreover, it contains many helpful outlines, charts, diagrams and some maps. Occasionally Martens provides newspaper-like headings to various chapters or
portions of chapters. These may assist the preacher with appropriate sermon titles. The commentary would be enhanced with both a subject and Scripture index.
This commentary is suitable for the discriminating student/ preacher who needs little more than tools and a suggestion to get started. In many ways, it is ideal for the young preacher because the overviews, summaries and diagrams bring rapid orientation so as to stimulate assimilation. One may eventually outgrow this commentary; however, it is inexpensively priced in paperback form so that if this should occur it could be passed along to another for their benefit.
Presbyterian Church in America
Trent C. Butler, General Editor. The Holman Bible Dictionary. Nashville, TN: 1991, Holman Bible Publishers. 1450 pp., $29.98, cloth. ISBN: 1-5581-9053-8.
Broadly speaking, the evangelical biblical-theological enterprise is in two parts: the study of the grammar of the sacred text and the study of the history revealed in the text.
Accordingly, if the most important tool in the biblical-theological process is the Bible concordance, then the second most important tool is the Bible dictionary. Since its publication in 1962, The New Bible Dictionary (NBD), edited by J. D. Douglas, has been the one-volume Bible dictionary of choice for evangelical Bible students. A new entry by Holman is designed to replace the NBD.
The NBD is composed of articles by top-notch American and British scholars. The HBD is dominated by American Southern Baptist scholars, though not exclusively. Some of the more notable contributors include (alphabetically): George Beasely-Murray, Donald G. Bloesch, John J. Davis, Laird R. Harris, R. K Harrison, Colin Hemer, Walter Kaiser, Helmut Koester, Ralph P. Martin, J. Ramsey Michaels, Leon Morris and Edwin Yamauchi.
My 1975 edition of the NBD contains no color photographs and just a few black and white prints. The HBD is replete with gorgeous color photos. The HBD offers excellent (NASA generated!) color maps. The HBD's extensive table of contents functions as an index. A more extensive index would be helpful.
Where the NBD followed the long-standing (but irritating!) practice of listing the author of a given contribution only by their initials, the HBD gives the author's full name after each article. Unfortunately, the HBD does not follow the NBD's practice of
providing a bibliography at the end of the article or citations within the article. This may be explained by the fact that the HBD intends to be a popular rather than an academic reference tool.
The NBD is notable for its consistent, generally thoughtful, theological conservatism. The HBD does not show similar reliability. The article "Inspiration of Scripture" says "the infallible theory" is but one choice among others, including the natural intuition, mechanical dictation, general Christian, partial, verbal and dynamic inspiration theories. Donald R. Potts says, "The Bible has no theory of inspiration.... There are elements of truth in all theories." This article might have been written by a turn-of-the-century critic and shows no familiarity with any of the major conservative, evangelical publications on the doctrine of Scripture.
Clark Pinnock's "Bible, Formation and Canon of" disappoints by neglecting the views of Herman Ridderbos and Richard Gaffin. The article "Creation" does not take a position vis-a-vis the evolutionary hypothesis, but does a good job of synthesizing New Covenant teaching on the new creational work begun in Christ. Donald Bloesch's entry "Propitiation/Expiation" gives a helpful summary of the various views of the atonement and the relationship between expiation and propitiation. However, he fails to reject views which deny a personal, vicarious, propitiatory atonement. The article "Election" is Biblical, clearly Calvinistic, and intended to address concerns of Arminian readers. The most interesting article I have so far discovered is Trent C. Butler's "Covenant." However, most scholars of the covenant will probably disagree strongly with his contention that the "New Testament by the use of the Greek Diathke transformed covenant into testament...."
The HBD is dominated by Baptist contributors and this influence is strongly reflected in the article "Church." Unfortunately "Infant Baptism" highlights a few arguments in favor of infant baptism, but rejects them strongly by using misleading caricatures of the Reformed
position. This narrowness will necessarily limit the HBD's usefulness for students outside the Baptist tradition.
Presumably, the primary reason for a major new one-volume Bible dictionary is to account for progress in the increasingly specialized fields of Biblical and theological studies. The HBD does this only unevenly. Many articles seem to be largely directed to those within Baptist circles. Among the numerous articles I read, I did not find a single entry which could be fairly called outstanding. The maps and photographs are probably not enough to recommend spending $29.98 (retail) for the Holman Bible Dictionary.
R. Scott Clark
Walnut Creek Presbyterian Church
Kansas City, Missouri