KERUX: A JOURNAL
Editor: James T. Dennison,Jr.
Assistant Editors: Richard A. Riesen and David L. Roth
KERUX is a publication of Kerux, Inc. and appears three times each year (May, September, December). Editorial offices are located at 1131 Whispering Highlands Drive, Escondido, CA 92027-4961. Correspondence should be directed to the editor at this address. Subscription rates for one year are: $15.00(U.S. and Canada); $20.00 (Elsewhere). All remittances should be made payable in U. S. Funds. KERUX is: abstracted in Old Testament Abstracts, Washington, DC and Religious and Theological Abstracts, Myerstown, PA; indexed in Religion Index One, Evanston, IL and the Elenchus of Biblica, Rome, Italy.
ISSN: 0888-8513 September 1995 Vol. 10, No. 2
With this issue, we present a slightly new format. We are experimenting with the placement of notes at the bottom of the page rather than at the end of an article. While this is easier on the reader, it does make typesetting more challenging. Whether we (or you, as subscribers) can afford this luxury remains to be seen. Please bear with us while we sort it out.
The December issue this year will contain a cumulative ten-year index to Kerux. David Roth has generously agreed to compile author, title, book review, book reviewer and Scripture indexes for all the articles which have appeared in our journal. In addition to other indexing and abstracting services (see previous Contents Page), this should make our contents more generally available to all our readers.
Pentecost: Before and After*
Richard B.Gaffin, Jr.
I have been asked to address the question whether the role of the Holy Spirit changed after Pentecost and in doing so to consider Jeremiah 31, John 3, Acts 2, and 2 Corinthians 3-4. In meeting this assignment, without ignoring these passages, I have shifted the focus somewhat. Given the nature of this gathering, I have tried to sketch an overall framework for discussion and so have had to forego arguing at every point as carefully as might be desirable or even necessary.
Historia Salutis and Ordo Salutis
What really happened on Pentecost? What is the significance of that event, variously described in Acts as the coming upon of (1:8), being baptized with (1:5), outpouring of (2:33), gift of (2:38), the Spirit? This is a large question, and I begin by suggesting that clarity in answering it depends, to a considerable degree, in appreciating and not blurring the distinction between the history of salvation (historia salutis) and the order of salvation (ordo salutis)—the distinction, in other terms, between the accomplishment and application of redem-
* A paper, slightly revised for publication here, delivered at the annual meeting of the Dispensational Study Group in Lisle, Illinois on November 17, 1994.
ption, between Christ's once-for-all work and the ongoing appropriation of that work by God's people, the believer's actual experience of its benefits.1
Biblical support for this distinction will emerge along the way. Here we may observe that ongoing application derives its validity from once-for-all accomplishment, not the reverse. Nor does the latter simply exist to facilitate the former. The "main point" of Scripture and the Christian religion—if I may risk putting it that way and without intending to polarize among equally legitimate considerations—is not the Christian but Christ, not our experience but his work, not our needs but God's triune glory. Only where that is appreciated do Christian identity and experience, both individual and corporate, come to stand in a right light.2
If there is a thesis, then, in the rest of what follows here, it is this: The significance of Pentecost is primarily redemptive-historical, not experiential. It is certainly wrong to polarize these two aspects, but the point of Pentecost is not a radically new experience of the Spirit. A contrasting profile emerges so far as the before and after of Pentecost are concerned: From the angle of the accomplishment of salvation (historia salutis), there is a radical, night and day, virtually all or nothing difference. From the angle of ordo salutis, there is essential continuity. Before and after differences in experiencing the Spirit are difficult to categorize simply because Scripture is not all that interested in them; such differences as there may be lie toward the periphery of its teaching.
The Spirit and Christ
1. "The last Adam became life-giving Spirit" (1 Cor. 15:45c). This striking assertion, central to both Paul's christology and pneumatology, is a good place to begin our reflections. It offers, in effect, a one-sentence commentary
1 Throughout the expression ordo salutis has a general sense, interchangeable with "application of redemption." The question of a particular "order" or sequence of logically and/or causally concatenated acts and benefits lies outside my purview here.
2 Where that priority is not maintained or gets inverted—a perennial problem in the church, both in doctrine and life—though we may hold back at some point along the way, we are headed down that convoluted path toward Schleiermacher (and beyond).
on Pentecost and its significance. Though its exegesis remains disputed, several brief observations will have to suffice here. 3
1) This statement, central to the overall argument in chapter 15 for the hope of (bodily) resurrection, functions within the antithetical parallelism of the immediate context between the pre-resurrection, sin-ravaged body and the eschatological, resurrection body of the believer (vv. 42-49).
2) On the one, Christ-as-the-last-Adam side of this contrast, pneuma in verse 45 and pneumatikon in 44a, b and 46 are cognate noun and adjective; they qualify and explain each other.
3) Pneuma here refers to the person of the Holy Spirit, a conclusion resting on a couple of interlocking, mutually reinforcing considerations that appear to me to be decisive.
a) In verses 44 and 46 pneumatikon is paired with psychikon. In the only other place where Paul makes use of this contrast, 2:14-15, he does so in stressing the activity of the Spirit—his sovereign, exclusive work in giving and receiving God's revealed wisdom; pneumatikos (2:15) is the believer (cf. vv. 45) as indwelt, enlightened, motivated, directed by the Holy Spirit.4
In chapter 15, then, later in the same document and with no intervening indications compelling or even suggesting a different sense, pneumatikon similarly refers to the activity of the Spirit. This is further confirmed by Paul's consistent use of the adjective elsewhere (e.g., Rom. 1:11; Eph. 1:3; Col. 1:9).5
3 In particular, I will have to forego interacting with Gordon Fee's diverging exegesis of this verse and 2 Cor. 3:1-7a (most recently, in God's Empowering Presence. The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul [Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994] 264-67, 311-14 and "Christology and Pneumatology in Romans 8:9-11—and Elsewhere: Some Reflections on Paul as a Trinitarian," in J.B. Green and M. Turner, eds., Jesus of Nazareth: Lord and Christ [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,1994] 319-22). Though I share fully his opposition to the sort of functional Spirit-christology argued by James Dunn and others, his insistence that the "whole point" of v. 45 is "soteriological-eschatological" ("Christology," 320) underplays the profound christological and pneumatological dimensions also present—however my own exegesis may need modifying.
4 I take it that the long-standing effort to enlist this passage in support of an anthropological trichotomy (with pneumatikos here referring to the human pneuma come to its revived ascendancy) is not successful and ought to be abandoned; see J. Murray, Collected Writings of John Murray, 2 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1977) 22-33, esp. 23-9.
5 Eph. 6:12 appears to be the only exception.
The resurrection body is "spiritual" not in the sense of being adapted to the human pneuma or because of its (immaterial) composition/substance, to mention persisting misconceptions, but because it embodies (!) the fullest outworking, the ultimate outcome, of the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer; it is, along with the entire creation (v. 46,6 Rom. 8:20-22), our hope of transformed (psycho-)physicality, our bodies, too, enlivened, renewed, and renovated by the Spirit.
b) This conclusion, following from the sense of pneumatikon in context, that pnuema in verse 45 refers to the person of the Holy Spirit is confirmed by the participial modifier, "life-giving" (zoopoioun). The pneuma in view is not simply an existing entity but an acting subject,7 and that distinctive action, moreover, Paul explicitly attributes to the person of the Spirit in 2 Corinthians 3:6 ("the Spirit gives life"—in the contrasting parallelism that stamps this passage too, to pneuma is "the Spirit of the living God," v. 3; cf. as well the "life-giving" activity of the Spirit in Rom. 8:11; John 6:63).
For these reasons, pneuma in 1 Corinthians 15:45 is definite and refers to the person of the Holy Spirit.8
4) "The life-giving Spirit" is not a timeless description of Christ. Rather, he "became" (egeneto) such. The time point of this "becoming" is his resurrection or, more broadly, his exaltation. The flow of the reasoning in chapter 15 makes that virtually certain. It would make no sense for Paul to argue for the resurrection of believers as he does, if Christ were "life giving" by virtue, say, of his preexistence or incarnation or any consideration other than his resurrection. As "firstfruits" of the resurrection-harvest (vv. 20, 23) he is "life-giving Spirit" (v. 45), and as "the life-giving Spirit" he is "the firstiruits."9
6 The neuter singular substantives in v. 46 (to psychikon, to pneumatikon) are most likely generalizing expressions (referring to environments or orders of existence), after which it would be a mistake, missing the flow of the argument (note the explicitly cosmological terms of the contrast, "heaven" and "earth" in vv. 47-49), to read an implied soma.
7 That is an important difference between this description of Christ and the generalization of John 3:6a: "What is born of the Spirit is spirit."
8 Existing English translations ("spirit," lowercase) obscure this.
9 This is not to suggest that his preexistence and incarnation are unimportant or nonessential. It needs, however, to be kept in mind that Jesus' claim, "I am the resurrection and the life" (John 11:25) depends for its validity, strictly speaking, on what is still future at the time of speaking, namely his own (death and) resurrection.
As resurrected, the last Adam has ascended; as "the second man," he is now, by virtue of ascension, "from heaven" (v.47),10 "the heavenly one" (v.48), whose image believers will bear (fully, at the time of their bodily resurrection, v.49; cf. Phil. 3:20-21). All told, then, the last Adam, become "the life-giving Spirit," is specifically the exalted Christ.
5) While it is certainly true that in the immediate context "life giving" contemplates Christ's future action, when he will resurrect the mortal bodies of believers (cf. v. 22), it seems difficult to deny, in light of the overall context of Paul's teaching, that his present activity, also, is implicitly in view. The resurrection life of the believer, in union with Christ, is not only future but present (e.g., Gal. 2:20; Col. 2:12-13; Col. 3:1-4). Christ, as resurrected, is already active in the church in the resurrection power of the Spirit. This is a key consideration for our topic, and we will return to it in greater detail below.
6) It is completely gratuitous to find here a "functional" christology that denies the personal difference between Christ and the Spirit and is irreconcilable with later church formulation of trinitarian doctrine.11 The scope, the salvation-historical focus, of Paul's argument needs to be kept in view. Essential-eternal, ontological-trinitarian relationships are outside his purview here. He is concerned not with who Christ is (timelessly, eternally) but what he "became," what has happened to him in history, and that, specifically, in his identity as "the last Adam," "the second man," that is, in terms of his true humanity.
7) In view, then, is the momentous, epochal significance of the resurrection/exaltation for Christ personally—his own climactic transformation by and reception of the Spirit, resulting in a new and permanent equation or oneness between them. Prior to this time, already even under the old covenant, Christ preincarnate and the Spirit were conjointly present and at work; 1 Corinthians
10 With the immediate context in view, this prepositional phase is almost certainly an exaltation predicate, not a description of origin, say, out of preexistence at the incarnation.
11 The personal, parallel distinction between God (the Father), Christ as Lord, and the (Holy) Spirit—underlying subsequent doctrinal formulation—is clear enough in Paul (e.g., 1 Cor. 12:46; 2 Cor. 13:14; Eph. 4:4-6).
10:3-4, whatever their further exegesis, point to that.12 But now, dating from his resurrection and ascension, that joint action is given its stable and consummate basis in the history of redemption; now, at last, such action is the crowning consequence of the work of the incarnate Christ actually and definitively accomplished in history.
It bears emphasizing that this oneness or unity, though certainly sweeping is at the same time circumscribed in a specific respect; it concerns their activity, the activity of giving resurrection (=eschatological) life. In this sense it may be dubbed "functional," or, to use an older theological category, "economic" (rather than "ontological"), or "eschatological," without in any way obliterating the distinction between the second and third persons of the Trinity.
2. 1 Corinthians 15:45c connects closely with Paul's subsequent statement in 2 Corinthians 3:17a: "the Lord is the Spirit." Admittedly, exegesis is even more divided here, particularly as to the reference of ho kyrios. But, in my judgment, the most decisive factors point to ho kyrios as referring specifically to Christ and to pneuma to the Holy Spirit.
Very briefly, 1) beginning at 3:6 the contrast between the old and new covenants controls the flow of the discourse. Within that contrast, initially exemplified, respectively, by Moses and the Spirit (vv. 7-11), in verse 12ff. Christ enters the picture on the one side: the veil on reading the old/Moses is removed/ taken away "in Christ" (v. 14), that is, by faith in him. The reference to Exodus 34:34 (v. 16), in turn, serves to support this christological assertion; to "turn to the Lord" is to turn to Christ.13 On the new covenant side, then, Christ interchanges with the Spirit, in contrast to Moses/the old. Why? Because "the Lord (Christ) is the Spirit." 2) In verse 18 "the glory of the Lord" is pointedly christological, not pneumatological; as they behold/reflect this glory believers are being transformed into "the same image." This glory-image is specifically that of the exalted Christ (cf. in the immediate context "the glory of Christ," as "God's image" in 4:4; see also Rom. 8:29).
12 Cf. 1 Pet. 1:11: The Spirit comprehensively at work in the old Testament prophets is specifically "the Spirit of Christ."
13 Even though translation Greek is involved, "turning to the Lord," in the sense of the Spirit, strikes me as an unusual and even odd notion for Paul; cf. his usage of the verb elsewhere, Gal 4:9; 1 Thess. 1:9.
Here, too, essential, trinitarian relationships are quite outside Paul's purview (the personal distinction between Christ and the Spirit is implicit in verse 17b, "the Spirit of the Lord"). His focus is on Christ as glorified; the "is" (estin) of 2 Corinthians 3:17a, we may say, is based on the "became" of 1 Corinthians 15:45c. The exaltation experienced by Christ results in a (working) relationship between him and the Holy Spirit of new and unprecedented intimacy and oneness. Here they are equated, more particularly, in giving (eschatological) "freedom" (3:17b), the close correlative of the resurrection life in view in I Corinthians 15 (a correlation esp. plain in Rom. 8:2: " . . . the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free . . . ").
3. The resurrection-based equation we have been noting underlies everything that Paul teaches about the work of the Spirit in the church. We will return to that work below, observing here only, as confirmation of the preceding, that for Paul there is no work of the Spirit within the believer that is not also the work of Christ.
That appears, for instance, in Romans 8:9-10. In short compass, "you . . . in the Spirit" (9a), "the Spirit . . . in you" (9b), "belonging to Christ" (9d, virtually equivalent to the frequent "in Christ"), and "Christ in you" (10a—all the possible combinations are used interchangeably; they hardly describe different experiences, distinct from each other, but the same reality in its full dimensions. There is no relationship with Christ that is not also fellowship with the Spirit; the presence of the Spirit is the presence of Christ; to belong to Christ is to be possessed by the Spirit.
This congruence is so, in our experience, not because of some more or less arbitrary divine arrangement, but preeminently because of what is true prior to our experience, in the experience of Christ—because of who the Spirit now is, "the Spirit of Christ" (9c), and who Christ has become, "the life-giving Spirit."14 Elsewhere, for "you to be strengthened by [the] Spirit inwardly" is for "Christ to dwell in your hearts through faith" (Eph. 3:16-17).
14 That Paul does not intend an absolute identity, denying the personal distinction between Christ and the Spirit, is clear later on in this passage: the Spirit's interceding here, within believers (vv. 26-7), is distinguished from the complementary intercession of the ascended Christ there, at God's right hand (v. 34).
4. The statements of Paul so far considered pick up on and reinforce emphases in the teaching of Jesus.15 In John 14:12ff. the imminent departure-ascension of Jesus ("because I go to the Father," v. 12; cf. 20:17) will entail, at the request of the ascended Jesus, the Father's giving the Spirit to the disciples16 (v. 16; cf. v. 26: "whom the Father will send in my name"; 15:26: "whom I will send to you from the Father"). This arrangement was intimated earlier in 7:39: "For the Spirit was not yet, because Jesus was not yet glorified." The before and after of the Spirit's presence in view pivots on Jesus' glorification; the former is a function of the latter. Pentecost17 has the same epochal, once-for-all significance as Jesus' death, resurrection, and ascension.
The promised sending of the Spirit (14:16-17), however, carries with it another promise. "I," Jesus continues (v. 18), "will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you." In context, this almost surely means that the coming of the Spirit in view, as such, involves the coming of Jesus himself. Jesus' departure is not a loss but ''profitable'' (16:7), because the consequent sending of the Spirit is also his own return; in this sense, his going (bodily) is his coming (in the person of the Spirit).18
15 I proceed here on the premise that, with traditioning and the reductional activity of the respective evangelists duly taken into account, they provide us with a trustworthy record of what Jesus (and others) said.
16 It is important to keep in mind that the "you" addressed throughout this passage is not all believers indiscriminately, irrespective of time and place, but those who "were with me from the beginning" (15:27), who "now," at the time of Jesus' speaking, are "not able to bear" the "many things" he "still" has to say to them (16:12). To them, proximately, Jesus fulfills the promise to send the Spirit (20:22) and so, through that sending, to the church in all ages.
17 I will have to leave to the side here the relationship of the "Johannine Pentecost" (20:22) to Acts 2; see my Perspectives on Pentecost (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1979) 39-41.
18 The second coming or, alternatively, his brief, temporary resurrection appearances hardly qualify as this coming, which from the immediate context (vv. 17-23) is at the very least closely conjoined (if not identical) with the imminent (eti mikron, v. 19) dwelling/showing/being of the Spirit (and the Father, v. 23) in/to/with believers, in distinction from the world.
The Spirit, then, is the "vicar" of Christ. As "the Spirit of truth, " he has no agenda of his own; his role in the church is basically self-effacing and Christ-enhancing (16:13-14 esp. point to that), so much so that his presence in the church is, vicariously, the presence of the ascended Jesus.
In a virtually identical vein, the now resurrected Jesus, who, as such, has been "given"19 universal exousia, declares: "I am with you always until the end of the age" (Matt. 28:20). This is best read not, at least not primarily, as an affirmation of divine omnipresence but as a promise of Pentecost and its enduring consequences. Again, the presence of the Spirit is the presence of Christ; Jesus will be with the church to the very end in the power of the Spirit. If it means anything, Pentecost means the exalted Jesus is here to stay, permanently, with his church.
It is hardly an invalid reading of Pauline (or Johannine) theology into Luke-Acts to recognize similar emphases there. The overlap between the close of the Gospel (24:44ff.) end the beginning of Acts (1:3-11) is calculated to show that during the 40 day interim until his ascension, the resurrected Jesus taught the apostles (Acts 1:2) that the recent and impending events concerning him are epochal, decisive junctures in the coming of the kingdom of God (cf. esp. Acts 1:3). He did so by showing that these events are the fulfillment of the Old Testament, which, in all its parts, concerns him (Luke 24:44). The pervasive sense of the Old Testament is christological (v.45). Its overall focus is messianic suffering and resurrection, and—it should not be missed—as the direct entailment of these climatic events (what is also "written"; note the Greek syntax), preaching the gospel to the nations (=the church, vv. 46f.); the Messiah's death, his resurrection, and the church, according to Jesus, form an unbreakable unity in the teaching of the Old Testament.20
To that end (i.e., the worldwide, church-building spread of the gospel, anticipated throughout the entire Old Testament with its unified focus on Christ), the apostles, as witnesses, are to wait for Pentecost (vv. 48f.; Acts 1:5, 8). The
19 That is, power he did not have previously but now does, as a result of the resurrection.
20 Needless to say, the notion of the NT church as an unforeseen mystery in the Old Testament shatters on this passage (not to mention others).
Spirit's coming on Pentecost is as climactic an event, and as essential to the messianic work of salvation foreseen in the Old Testament, as are Jesus' death, resurrection, and ascension.
Peter reinforces that point, in fact it is a major emphasis, toward the close of his (essentially Christ-centered) Pentecost sermon. In Acts 2:32-33, following out of his focus on the earthly activity, death and especially the resurrection of Jesus (vv. 22-31), he closely conjoins, in sequence: resurrection—ascension—reception of the Spirit21—outpouring of the Spirit. The last, Pentecost, is coordinate with the other events, conjoined with them in an especially intimate way; it is climactic and final on the order that they are; it is no more capable of being a repeatable paradigm event then they are. Resurrection—ascension—Pentecost, though temporally distinct, constitute a unified complex of events, a once-for-all, redemptive-historical unity, such that they are inseparable; the one is given with the others.
With this we have come full circle, back, in effect, to 1 Corinthians 15:45. The sequence Peter delineates in Acts 2:32-33, Paul telescopes by saying that Christ, as resurrected and ascended, has become "life-giving Spirit."22
5. Pentecost, then, is an event, an integral event, in the historia salutis, not an aspect of the ordo salutis; Pentecost has its place in the once-for-all, completed accomplishment of redemption, not in its ongoing application. Without Pentecost the definitive, unrepeatable work of Christ for our salvation is incomplete. The task set before Christ was not only to secure the remission of sin but, more ultimately, as the grand outcome of his Atonement, life as well (e.g., John 10:10; 2 Tim. 1:10)—eternal, eschatological, resurrection life, or, in other words, life in the Spirit.23 Without that life "salvation" is obviously not only truncated but meaningless. And it is just that life, that completed salvation, and
21 This reception is not in conflict with what Luke has previously reported: that Jesus already received the Spirit at the Jordan (Luke 3:22) and even at conception (1:35). Involved is a staging or heightening principle that finds its climactic realization in the ascension.
22 Note the accent, in the verses that immediately follow in Acts 2 (34-36), on the climactic significance of the ascension for Jesus personally.
23 Paul's metaphors for the Spirit as "deposit" (2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5; Eph. 1:14) and "firstfruits" (Rom. 8:23) highlight the inherently eschatological nature of his presence and work in the church.
Christ as its giver24 that is openly revealed at Pentecost.25
The difference Pentecost makes is primarily a difference for Christ. Along with the resurrection and ascension, it marks him out as having received the Spirit, as the result/reward for his obedience unto death (Phil 2:8-9), in order to give the Spirit (Acts 2:33); Pentecost shows the exalted Jesus to be the messianic receiver-giver of the Spirit.
The soteriological "newness" of Pentecost is not, at least not in the first place, anthropological-individual-experiential but christological and ecclesiological-missiological: 1) The Spirit is now present, at last, on the basis of the finished work of Christ; he is the eschatological Spirit. 2) The Spirit is now "poured out on all flesh" (Acts 2:17), Gentiles as well as Jews; he is the universal Spirit.26
Moreover, as such—in its climactically Christ-centered significance— Pentecost fulfills "the promise of the Father" (Acts 1:4; cf. 2:33; Luke 24:49). This identification gives our salvation-historical outlook on Pentecost its full breadth. Pentecost is the fulfillment of that promise at the core of all old covenant expectation, the primeval promise that shaped the subsequent course and outcome of covenant history—the promise to Abraham that in him all peoples would be blessed (Gen. 12:2-3). That is how Paul, for one, sees it: through the redemption accomplished by Christ, "the promise of the Spirit" is at the very least integral, perhaps even identical,27 to "the blessing of Abraham" come to the Gentiles (Gal. 3:14).
All in all—from a full, trinitarian perspective—Pentecost involves the epochal fulfillment of the ultimate design and expectation of God's covenant purposes: God in the midst of his people in triune fullness. Pentecost brings to
24 Christ, not the Spirit, it should not be overlooked, is the active subject on Pentecost (just as John prophesied, Luke 3:16).
25 The event of John 20:22, we might say, provides, redemptive-historically, a "sneak (apostolic) preview" of Pentecost.
26 See Perspectives on Pentecost, 13-41.
27 Depending on how exactly the two purpose clauses are to be related. Note the citation of Gen. 12:3 in v. 8.
the church the initial, "firstfruits" realization of the Emmanuel principle on an irrevocable because eschatological scale.
But, still, what about the experience, undeniable and undeniably remarkable, of the 120 at Pentecost and of others subsequently involved in the rest of the Pentecost event-complex as recorded in Acts (8:14ff.; 10:44-48; 11:15-18; 19:1-7)? The question of experience will occupy us directly, but here I would at least suggest that the inclination to take these experiences in Acts as providing enduring, normative models of individual empowerment, distinct from or even subsequent to conversion, stems from the failure, in effect, to distinguish adequately between historia salutis and ordo salutis.28 Too often Acts is mined for experiential models, as a more or less loose anthology of vignettes from "the good old days when Christians were really Christians." In fact it documents, just as Jesus foretold (1:8) and as Luke makes clear enough, a completed history, a unique epoch in the history of redemption—the once-for-all, apostolic29 spread of the gospel "to the ends of the earth," from Israel to the nations (cf. the parallelism of "Gentiles" and "ends of the earth" in Is. 49:6 cited in 13:47).
In its postapostolic era, the one, holy, catholic, apostolic church is also the truly Pentecostal church. As such, it is not caught up in a (redemptive-historically anachronistic) "Back to Pentecost " nostalgia. Its motto, instead, is "Forward from Pentecost ... in the Christ-conforming power of the Spirit."
The Spirit and the Church/the Christian
1. My emphasis to this point has been on what, as I see it, must be kept primary in the issue before us: the once-for-all, redemptive-historical, christological significance of Pentecost. That emphasis, I now need to be em-
28 In the event-complex of Acts 2:32-33, it is at the very least anomalous to view one event (Pentecost) as a repeatable model for individual Christian experience and the other three (resurrection, ascension and reception of the Spirit) as nonrepeatable, once-for-all events.
29 1:8 is not a promise to all believers or to every generation of the church indiscriminately but proximately to the apostles (the concrete antecedent of hymas in v. 8 is tois apostolois in v. 2). In Col. 1:6, 23 Paul hints at the completion of this worldwide, apostolic expansion of the church through his own ministry—a completed expansion open, of course, to the postapostolic future beyond (cf. the Pastorals, which as a whole are calculated to address this future).
phatic, does not question, nor may it be allowed to eclipse, that the Spirit come at Pentecost is the source of Christian experience; he is in fact the author of rich and profound experiential realities in believers.
In the most summary sort of sketch, "the kingdom of God," now present, at last, through Christ's cross and resurrection, brings with its coming, "righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 14:17). The "fruit" the Spirit produces includes "love, joy, peace," and more (Gal. 5:22-23).
While it would be a wrong, even dangerous, reduction simply to psychologize these blessings, especially the kingdom-shalom and -righteousness in view, neither may a dispositional-volitional-emotional component be denied or suppressed. The Spirit's presence in every believer is (to be) a "filling" presence, an ongoing and all-controlling dynamic that transforms attitudes and actions in every area of life, as Paul for example shows in Ephesians 5:18-6:930—in worship and interpersonal relations within the church, in marriage and the family, on the job. His are the diverse and well-apportioned gifts given for the edification and mission of the church (e.g., Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12:1-11, 28-31; Eph. 4:7-13).31 Negatively, "grieving" (Eph. 4:30) and "extinguishing" (1 Thess. 5:19) this ongoing work of the Spirit in the church are real dangers. All this needs to be dwelt on in a more extensive and balanced way than I do in this paper.
2. At issue, then, is not the church's post-Pentecostal, Spirit-wrought experience (that is clear enough), but whether and, if so, how that differs from the pre-Pentecostal experience of God's people. In other words, broadly speaking,
30 In the flow of the discourse, the four participial clauses in vv. 19-21 expand on "be filled with the Spirit" (v. 18), and vv. 22-6:9, in turn, elaborate the fourth, "being subject to one another in the fear of Christ" (v. 21 ).
31 I will have to bypass the ongoing debate whether each and every one of these gifts is intended to continue on into the postapostolic period until Jesus returns. Fee, for one, is confident that even raising this question is quite wrong-headed, involving us in posing an agenda alien to Paul (e.g., Empowering Presence, 893, n. 20; Gospel and Spirit. Issues in New Testament Hermeneutics [Peabody. MA: Hendrickson, 1991] 75-77). But, within the overall structure of the New Testament canon, what are the Pastoral Epistles as a whole (written to his nonapostolic "successors"), if not his apostolic provision for the postapostolic future of the church? At least those who recognize that the apostolic-postapostolic distinction is imposed on church history by the New Testament itself are bound to wrestle with its implications, in terms of continuities and discontinuities. Cf. Perspectives on Pentecost, 89-116.
the question is in the area of the application of salvation and the ramifications of that appropriation for the individual believer; so far as the Spirit's activity is concerned, is there an (essentially) different ordo salutis before than after Pentecost?
In addressing this question it is critical not to miss or blur the distinction between it and issues of historia salutis, the sorts of redemptive-historical considerations brought to light above. The contrasting profile mentioned at the outset now needs to be spelled out.
From the viewpoint of redemptive history—covenant history in its ongoing, epochal movement toward consummation—there is the most radical contrast. In this respect I will yield to no one in stressing the absolute, "dispensational" difference before and after Pentecost.32 Before Christ—before his climactic coming in "the fullness of time" (Gal. 4:4; Eph. 1:10), "at the end of the ages" (Heb. 9:26; cf. 1:2—there is nothing, nothing of substance, only anticipatory, evanescent (Heb 8:13) shadows cast in advance (Col. 2:17; Heb. 8:5; 10:1). With and after Christ's coming there is everything; he is, without precedent, God's (finally) revealed "fullness" (Eph. 4:13; Col. 1:19; 2:9).
The eschatological kingdom-mystery, previously nothing more than an unseen, unheard object of longing, is now, finally, present (Matt. 13:10-17). (Preincarnate) Christ and the Holy Spirit are surely active throughout the old covenant (e.g., 1 Cor. 10:3-4), but only anomalously, "out of season," in advance, and, above all, on the basis of who the last Adam was to become, "the life-giving Spirit." In the redemptive-historical sense (which is its intended sense, see above), the "not yet" of John 7:39 is to be taken at face value; it is absolute, unqualified.
But doesn't all this necessarily and inevitably result in a correspondingly radical difference in experience before and after Pentecost? So it might without more seem. What we in fact discover in Scripture, however, is essential continuity, a more or less steady-state continuum between old and new covenant experience. Certainly, sharp, categorical epochal distinctions like the Spirit "on"
32 This is the sort of unguarded statement I may well live to regret!
(old covenant) and "in" (new covenant) are difficult to maintain convincingly.33 That is so, it must be appreciated before anything else, just because of the radical, Christ-centered contrast already noted. Basic experiential continuity exists because every soteric blessing whatsoever, before and after Pentecost, has a single, common source; all are based on and flow from, whether prolepticly or retrospectively, the once-for-all work of Christ.
Briefly, continuity is especially clear in the matter of justification. In Romans 4 and Galatians 3-4 the model for the justification of the individual sinner is not, as we might expect and do find elsewhere (e.g., Phil. 3:9), Paul or some other NT believer, but Abraham and David. The inclusion of the latter in Romans is instructive because it shows that the epochal introduction of the law at Sinai makes no dispensational difference; under Moses no less than before, justification is not by the works of the law.
Further, the justification that Abraham epitomizes, for every era of redemptive history since the fall until the consummation, is by faith. That carries with it an additional indication of essential continuity. Faith, as believing (whether prospectively or retrospectively) the promise fulfilled in Christ, does not at some point replace some other way of justification. Those since Pentecost who are "sons of God through faith" are in that respect "Abraham's seed" (Gal. 3:26, 29), and, as such, like Isaac, "children of promise ... begotten according to the Spirit" (4:29-30). The Spirit is the author of faith (and all that proceeds from it), before Pentecost as well as after.
Even this brief sketch shows the continuity that marks both fundamental aspects of the individual appropriation of redemption (which any sound ordo salutis must take into account)—the forensic-declarative side (justification) and the renewing-transforming side (regeneration and sanctification).
3. A complicating (and enriching!) factor in this whole area of question is Scripture's occasional use of redemptive-historical language for an ordo sa-
33 E.g., in Ps. 51:11 (David's prayer, "Do not take your Holy Spirit from me"), while theocratic endowment may be in the background, the accent is surely on personal indwelling. In a context (vv. 7-12) that reflects intense concern about personal sin, repentance, forgiveness, and salvation, surely more is at stake in this deep, heartfelt plea than the mere loss of official prerogatives and powers.
lutis state of affairs or, alternatively, categories from the ongoing application of salvation for its once-for-all accomplishment. An example of the former is Ephesians 2:5-6: what effects personal renewal and experiential transformation, a radical about-face in "walk"—the main theme of verses 1-10 (cf. vv. 1-3 with 8-10)—is having been "raised up with Christ and seated with him in the heavenlies."34
A striking instance of the alternative—ordo salutis language for historia salutis reality—is the use of pistis in Galatians 3:23, 25. "Before faith came" and "since faith has come" seem to say that there was no faith prior to Christ's coming. But Paul is hardly denying what he has just taught plainly, even emphatically, about Abraham as the archetypal believer (vv. 6-9). Yet, lexically, pistis here would appear to have its usual fides qua sense, referring to the act of believing.35 It is best seen, then, as a metonym for "Christ" ("before Christ came," "since Christ has come").
This usage highlights just how thoroughly key categories of the ongoing application of salvation, like faith, are qualified by and gain their meaning and validity from its once-for-all accomplishment, the unfolding of covenant history to its consummation in Christ. Here Paul uses the term for the exercise of faith to refer to the object of faith (Christ), to show how meaningless that exercise is apart from its object (in a redemptive-historical sense).
With these observations in mind, and the controlling perspective they provide, I will comment briefly on the remaining passages I was asked to address.
a) Jeremiah 31, particularly verse 33, and its use in the New Testament. The law "put within them" and "written on their hearts," associated with the dawn of the new covenant, is not an experience unknown before then. It is present in
34 The notion in interpreting a passage like this, that we become "contemporaries" with Christ is not helpful, particularly if the distinction between redemption accomplished and applied is not kept clear. Union with Christ in his death and resurrection, with all the mystery involved, does not eliminate the historical distance, soteriologically, between the circumstances and conditions of my particular "now" and the "then" of those once-for-all events.
35 Fides quae, "faith" as a body of teaching believed (e.g., 1 Tim. 6:10; Tit. 1:13; Jude 3), hardly fits this context.
Abraham (and others) who "walked by faith and not by sight" (cf. Heb. 11 and, in the case of Abraham, Gen. 26:5). The correlative notion of "heart circumcision" is not only a future (new covenant) indicative (Deut. 30:6) but a present imperative (l0:16; Jer. 4:4), finding its response in the likes of David and other Psalmists (e.g., 1:2;36 19:7-11, 14; 119 passim). To appeal to the fact that in Israel such heart-renewal was not typical, perhaps quite infrequent, is really beside the point. It may not have been typical but it was normative, an integral aspect of old covenant religion realized over the centuries in the true Israel (Rom. 9:6-8), in "a remnant chosen by grace" (11:6).
To argue otherwise, say in terms of a categorical external-internal ("on"/"in") problematic, that Pentecost brings heart-internalization for the first time, not only undermines the unity of biblical religion generally but strikes at the center of Paul's insistence that, before as well as after Christ's coming, there is but one justification, by "faith working through love" (Gal. 5:6). Faith (with its inseparable fruits) that presumably results from something other, and less, than the inwrought, regenerating work of the Spirit is just not the faith of Abraham.
Another instructive example are the references to the cleansed and perfected suneidesis in Hebrews 9:9, 14; 10:2, 22—bound up as they are with the use of Jeremiah 31:33 in 8:10 and 10:16. The writer's point is hardly that subjectively a "good conscience" was nonexistent prior to the time of the new covenant37 (where in the whole of Scripture is there a clearer expression of such a conscience, confident in sins freely forgiven, than by David in Ps. 32:1-2, 5; cf. Rom. 4:6-8). Rather, the subjective category of conscience is in a certain sense objectified; its "perfecting" is a description of what happens, once for all, in Christ's sacrificial death (9:12, 26; 10:10). In contrast to the essentially futile repetitions of old covenant animal sacrifice, his self-sacrifice is efficacious and so provides the basis for individual peace of conscience, before as well as after.
36 Even if torah here (and elsewhere) should have the expanded sense of Israel's "story," law in the narrower sense, as commands and directives, is still included.
37 The NIV's "felt guilty" in 10:2 is especially misleading in this respect.
b) John 3:3ff. I'm inclined to say (although my mind is not finally made up) that verses 3-8 do not bear the sort of weight that Reformed dogmatics, for instance, has put on them. Likely, they are not, at least primarily, a proof-text for the place of regeneration, particularly its causal priority to faith, in the ordo salutis.38 Rather, the birth from "above" is "new" in the sense of being eschatological. It is brought by the coming of the kingdom of God that has (finally) arrived in Jesus; it explicates, and is explicated by, his claim, for example, that he is "the resurrection and the life" (11:25).
Granting such a redemptive-historical, eschatological understanding of this passage, however, does not require calling into question the divine monergism involved in the initiation of individual salvation prior to (as well as after) Jesus' coming. Even if, as appears likely, the new birth in view points to the sending of the Spirit as attendant on the ascension,39 still, along the lines I have already indicated, there was "regeneration" before Pentecost—those, like Isaac, because Spirit-birthed, with the faith of Abraham.
c) 2 Corinthians 3:6ff. This passage, involving us squarely as it does in Paul's much-mooted view of the law with all its attendant complexities, deserves a more careful treatment than I can give here. I hope the following observations, though brief and sketchy, are not entirely unhelpful (recall as well the comments already made above on 3:17a).
1) The letter-Spirit antithesis40 that controls this passage has its primary sense in terms of historia salutis, not ordo salutis. A predictable enough assertion, my reader may be thinking by now, but nonetheless needing to be made.
38 See, representatively, the exegesis of J. Murray, Redemption—Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids Eerdmans, 1955) 98, 103f.
39 Intimated, at least, in the immediate contest by anabebeken (v. 13, note the perfect tense), despite the exegetical difficulties involved (see H. N. Ridderbos, Het evangelie naar Johannes, 1 [Kampen: Kok, 1987] 160-62), and the need for the Son of Man to be "lifted up" (v. 14; the crucifixion initiates the process of Jesus’ glorification, see esp. the use of upsoo in 8:28; 12:32, 34).
40 Note that the antithesis is not absolute; doxa is the common denominator—vv. 7-11 have the highest single concentration of glory vocabulary in Paul's letters (10 occurrences of noun and verb), about evenly distributed on both sides.
One important source of confusion in the debate over law in Paul, it seems to me is the failure to keep clear enough that his "negative" statements, in this passage and elsewhere, address the law's temporary, old covenant function in the history of redemption, but not its permanent place in the ongoing application of redemption, at least not primarily. Here the controlling contrast is manifestly epochal, between the old and new covenants (vv. 6, 14; cf. Rom. 7:6). Ordo salutis implications are not spelled out and so must not simply be assumed but drawn with care.
2) As a generalization, I would propose that while Paul's statements that the law has been terminated and is no longer in force make an epochal, redemptive-historical point (in addition to 2 Cor. 3:3ff., see, e.g., Rom. 6:14; 7:5-6; 9:32ff.; Gal. 3-4), there are other statements expressing its present, even beneficial role in the life of the church, and these concern the individual/corporate application of redemption (e.g., Rom. 8:4; 13:8-10; 1 Cor. 7:19). An already complex state of affairs is further confused by not recognizing that the coexistence of these two strands (the redemptive-historical and the applicatory) does not create a problem. They are compatible, because they are not directly commensurable or contrastable; they are complementary, addressing issues that are certainly related but distinguishable.
3) Taking Paul's use of pistis in Galatians 3:23, 25 as a cue, we may say that, as there is faith (in an ordo salutis sense) before Christ came, as noted above, so, similarly, there is room for law afterward (the "third use" of the law), an inference confirmed by "positive" statements like those just cited in the preceding paragraph.
I am well aware how thoroughly controversial this conclusion is (particularly in a forum like this!). But the following observations will have to suffice here. I agree, as recent exegesis for the most part concludes, that a) nomos in Paul refers, with few exceptions, to the law given at Sinai and b) Israel under the Mosaic law did not think of it as having distinct subsets or experience it as anything other than a seamless whole.
My hope, though, is that exegesis may eventually also reach a consensus— by keeping the historia salutis-ordo salutis distinction clear—that, since the fall, God's law is a dynamic, redemptive-historical entity with shifting elements
around an unchanging core, such that in essential continuity with the Mosaic law, there is law before Moses (e.g., Gen.26:5) and after Christ.41 Something close, if not identical, to a moral-ceremonial distinction is plainly implicit in the prophets (e.g., Isa. 1:11-17) and Jesus (e.g., Matt. 23:23), along with the further intimation, within the broader horizon of his proclamation, that the former is permanent, the latter provisional.
4) Paul's negative statements about the law primarily address its redemptive-historical function. That function is the "pedagogical" (Gal. 3:24-25) point the law makes. What, more specifically, is that point?
The usual answer is in terms of some variant of the law-gospel antithesis. Whatever may be its strengths, however, the disadvantage of this answer is its tendency to blur the historia salutis-ordo salutis distinction. A better understanding, I would propose, one more directly suggested by Paul's theology itself, is found in the indicative-imperative structure of the Christian life (e.g., 1 Cor. 5:7; Gal. 5:25; Col. 3:1-5).42 The relationship between these two factors, constitutive of life in covenant with God, is positive and synthetic. They are inseparable, yet with the indicative, not the imperative, always prior and foundational; the gospel itself stands or falls with maintaining this irreversible priority. The indicative, in a word, is Christ—from the angle of the accomplishment of salvation, Christ in his death and resurrection; in terms of its application, union with Christ, crucified and resurrected, by faith.
The periodization of covenant history present in passages like 2 Corinthians 3:6ff. and Galatians 3:15ff. is the sequence: promise (Abraham)—law (Moses)—fulfillment (Christ and the Spirit). Projecting the indicative-im-
41 Having to argue that "keeping God's commandments" in 1 Cor. 7:19 is limited to Pauline and perhaps dominical commands, with no direct reference to the Mosaic law, sees to me a rather uncomfortable position to be in exegetically, particularly in view of Paul's positive use elsewhere, in parenetic contexts, of elements of the Decalogue, more or less clearly identified as such (Rom. 13:9; Eph. 6:2-3). That discomfort is intensified if we recognize, as is most likely, that "the doers of the law" in Rom. 2:13 is not an empty, hypothetical set seen Tom a pre-evangelical viewpoint but, as an aspect of the gospel (v. 16), describes believers (as they are also in view in vv. 6-7, 10).
42 On this pattern more generally, see, e.g., among other helpful treatments, H. Ridderbos, Paul. An Outline of His Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975) 253-58.
perative pattern onto that periodizing, the promise may be seen as the future indicative, the law, as the present imperative, and the fulfillment, as the present indicative. The fundamental problem with the period from Moses to Christ, then, is that, in terms of the history of redemption, the imperative is present but without the indicative; the indicative is still future. The imperative functions by itself, prior to and detached from the indicative. Or, it could be said, the imperative is based on a present indicative (redemption) that is no more than typological (e.g., Exod. 20:2 & 3ff.). Hence, the sin-exacerbating, killing futility of the law.
That state of affairs, Israel's history, is calculated to reveal human sinfulness and its desperate ramifications, and so the absolute necessity of Christ and his work. Because of sin, the law, itself "holy, righteous, good" and authored by the Spirit himself for righteous living in covenant with God (Rom. 7:10, 12, 14), cannot produce righteousness and life but only condemnation and death. That situation is captured in the midst of the argument in Galatians 3, in as central and controlling as any pronouncement on the law in Paul: "For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would have come by the law" (v. 21b).
But now that Christ, God's righteousness (1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Cor. 5:21) become the life-giving43 Spirit, has come, the anomalous futility of the imperative without the indicative has been removed. Now, after that dark but revealing pedagogy of Israel under the law, the imperative has been given its proper and permanent grounding in the indicative. Now, at last and definitively, life in covenant with God is given redemptive-historical, even eschatological stability.
The stress in this paper has been on the redemptive-historical, christological difference Pentecost makes, and that we must not confuse historia
43 Note the controlling verbal tie (zoosopoieo) between Gal. 3:21 and 1 Cor. 15:22, 45; 2 Cor. 3:6.
salutis apples with ordo salutis oranges. But the question still nags: have I done justice to epochal, before-and-after differences in individual experience of the Spirit? Perhaps not, and I may need to be instructed and corrected in that respect.
It is clear to me, though, that there is one experiential difference—a profound, indeed eschatological one—not mentioned so far and not to be missed. The blessings of salvation that the New Testament believer enjoys—regeneration, justification and all the rest—flow from and are tied to union with the exalted Christ. That cannot be said of Abraham and the rest of the remnant according to grace during their pilgrimage on earth. Our union-privilege, I take it, is at the heart of the "something better" planned by God for old as well as new covenant believers, "so that only together with us would they be made perfect" (Heb. 11:40).
Differences there no doubt are, experientially, between our union with Christ, now exalted, and the covenant bond in terms of which they were regenerated, justified and otherwise blessed. But, so far as I can see, Scripture is not particularly concerned to spell them out. Such differences resist neat, clear categorization and can only be loosely captured by terms like "better," or "enlarged," "greater," "fuller."44 But, for all that imprecision, they are no less real, nor is our privileged New Covenant experience of the Spirit somehow diminished.
44 Comparatives used by the Westminster Confession of Faith (20:1) in describing Christian liberty.
Geerhardus Vos and Eschatology
In Ephesians 1:3 the apostle Paul writes: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ." Here, in this statement, in a nutshell, is the eschatology of the New Testament that Geerhardus Vos wants to help us understand and appreciate. In connection with the first coming of Christ—his life, death, resurrection and ascension into heaven Christ has brought his church to the possession of the blessings of the age to come. The work of Christ has delivered his people from their former existence in which they were dead in trespasses and sins (2:1), and walked "according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air." "But God," Paul says, "being rich in mercy . . . even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ . . . and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus" (2:4-6).
In his article, "The Eschatological Aspect of the Pauline Conception of the Spirit," Vos states the following: "There are two worlds, the lower and the
higher, and it is affirmed of the believer that he belongs to the latter and no longer to the former reality. Each has its own pattern, but the pattern after which the Christian patterns himself is that of the other world, not that of this world (Rom. 12:2). The world has been crucified to the Christian and he unto the world (Gal. 6:15) .... The Christian has his citizenship in heaven, not upon earth, and therefore should not mind earthly things (Phil. 3:19, 20). Being raised with Christ, he must seek and set his mind upon things that are above, not upon the things that are upon the earth (Col. 3:1, 2)."1 The work of Christ has removed the believer's life from the earth to heaven and he has made us participants in the blessings of the age to come. Paul in the rest of Ephesians 1-3 expounds upon the nature of these heavenly blessings. They constitute the believer's call of God in Christ. In his prayer at the end of chapter 1, he prays "that the eyes of the believer's heart may be enlightened so that they may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints." Paul views his ministry as helping the church see and understand the enormity of the blessing which is already theirs by virtue of their faith in Christ, so that they might see that these blessings are the gracious gifts of the Triune God. In response, he hopes that the church would be moved to worship God and be motivated to live the new life that answers to their heavenly calling.
We have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. Paul's emphasis is on what the church already has, the blessings it now possesses by virtue of the work accomplished by Christ at his first coming. This is the eschatological perspective. It was the apostle's ministry to declare and unfold the blessing to them. It is our ministry to do the same. From the Bible there is created in us an interest in eschatology and this creates an interest in studying the writings of Geerhardus Vos whose career was devoted to the exposition of the grace and glory of the end of the ages that has come upon us. As teachers in Christ's church, what Paul was anxious to do among the saints of God, "to enlighten the eyes of their hearts . . . to know the hope of His calling, and the riches of the glory of His inheritance," Geerhardus Vos will help us to do as well.
1 Geerhardus Vos, "The Eschatological Aspect of the Pauline Conception of the Spirit." In Redemptive History And Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos (ed. R. B. Gaffin, Jr.). Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1990, p. 115.
II. Central Concerns
A. The Bible is Central
Vos's writings are extensive and they are difficult to understand. At the outset, it might be helpful to try and summarize what are for Vos the central concerns of his teaching. At the center of all Vos's teaching is a thoroughly Reformed commitment to Scripture. The Bible is God's self-revelation. For man to know anything about God, God must reveal it to him. God reveals himself in nature, but it is in special revelation, even before the fall "that God communicates to us that knowledge of Himself that brings us to the deepest and most intimate knowledge of Him."2 This self-revelation of God culminates in the self-disclosure of Jesus.
This view of the Bible stands against what Vos calls the "destructive critical theories now prevailing."3 In modern criticism of the Bible, the evolutionary view of history prevails and this evolutionary view destroys the Biblical message. In this modern view, Scripture is the product of man's evolving, subjective projections about God and religion. "The Bible is the history of man seeking to supply a religious explanation to his own life and history. This makes the Bible a revelation of men, by men who are in development of their own religious self-awareness."4 In other words, the Bible is only another book. It is ancient Israel's subjective ideas about God. Other people have their ideas—one is no better than another. All people at the various stages of evolutionary development must project for themselves who they imagine God to be, how he is to be worshipped and what ethic to follow. Man's own modern setting determines everything.
2 Charles G. Dennison, "Reformation and Eschatology" (Unpublished paper, n. d.), p. 23.
3 John F. Jansen, "The Biblical Theology of Geerhardus Vos." The Princeton Seminary Bulletin 66:2 (Summer 1974), p. 31.
4 "Faculty Memorial Minutes," Princeton Seminary Bulletin, 43:3 (Winter, 1950), p. 45.
Vos dedicates himself to fighting such an approach. "The Bible is not a story of human progress and discovery in religion."5 He sees the Bible as the objective revelation of the God who is really there (to coin a phrase). The Bible is divine speech that comes with divine authority. God's self-revelation comes in the company of redemptive events. "Word and act always accompany each other."6 Redemptive events and revelation unfold progressively throughout the Old Testament and culminate in the coming of Christ. The coming of Christ is the final event and with it, God speaks his final Word to us. "Progress in revelation resembles the organic process through which out of the perfect germ the perfect plant and flower and fruit are successively produced."7
The Bible is therefore a prize beyond anything the earth can confer. In the Bible God gives himself to us as our inheritance to enjoy, a treasure more desirable than gold yes than much fine gold. In the Bible God gives himself to us for our internal delight. To taste the word is to taste the sweetness of honey and the drippings of the honeycomb (Ps. 19:10). "O taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him" (Ps. 34:8).
B. The Covenant is Central
Throughout Vos's writings is found a thoroughly Reformed exposition of the covenant. Because the Bible is central in Vos's teaching, then also the doctrine of the covenant is central. "The content of God's self-revelation is expressed as a covenant."8 For Vos, because the covenant is at the center of Scripture, then the doctrine of the covenant is the centerpiece of Reformed Theology. Vos singles out the Westminster Confession of Faith because, he writes: "The Westminster Confession is the first Reformed confession in which the doctrine of the covenant is not merely brought in from the side, but is placed in the forefront and is able to permeate at almost every point."9 The first ques-
6 Jansen, op. cit., p. 25, citing Vos's inaugural address.
8 Dennison, op. cit., p. 25.
9 Vos, op. cit., p. 239.
tion and answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism captures the concern of the covenant and its eschatological goal: "Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever." In this famous statement is reflected the covenant refrain in Scripture that states: "I will dwell among you and I will be your God and you will be My people" (Lev. 26; Jer. 31; Rev. 21). The highest end or goal for man is this relationship of mutual possession. That God might be our possession to enjoy. And that we might be God's possession and show it by glorifying him forever.
It is by way of the covenant that God ordains to bring man to the eschatological goal. In the covenant of works made with Adam, as the Children's Catechism states, God promised to reward Adam with life if he obeyed him or to punish Adam with death if he disobeyed him.10Adam has a goal set before him. When sin threatens this goal, then the reward of life is reasserted and extended to Adam on the basis of grace. "God cannot simply let go of the ordinance which he once instituted, but much rather displays His glory in that He carries it through despite man's sin and apostasy."11 Only he who is of clean hands and pure heart who has not lifted up his soul unto vanity nor sworn deceitfully can ascend into the hill of the Lord and stand in His holy place (Ps. 24:4). The gates of the heavenly Jerusalem will only open to the redeemer king who leads in procession all his people who only gain entrance by virtue of their attachment to him.
"This gaining of eternal life by the Mediator has also a covenant arrangement behind it."12 The covenant of grace is made between the Father and the Son in the Council of Peace. "After the fall man will never again be able to work in a manner pleasing to God except a completed work of God be performed on his behalf. Earning eternal life has forever been taken out of his hands. The obtaining of eternal life thus comes to lie in God as a work that is His alone, in which His glory shines and of which nothing, without detracting from that glory, can
10 Q/A 25&26, Catechism For Young Children (Great Commission Publications), pp. 6-7.
11 Vos, op. cit., p. 245.
be attributed to the creature."13 Preceeding every work of man, is the work of God so that in all things God's glory might be preeminent.
C. God is Central
At the center of Vos's teaching is the Bible. For Vos at the center of the Biblical message is the covenant. And for Vos at the center of all is God. Reformed Theology takes hold of the Scriptures and takes hold of the doctrine of the covenant and finds in these the root idea that distinguishes the Reformed Theology from all other theologies. "This root idea which serves as the key to unlock the rich treasures of the Scriptures is the preeminence of God's glory in the consideration of all that has been created. This explains the difference between the Reformed tradition and all others. In all others, they begin with man and in the Reformed, it begins with God. God does not exist because of man, but man because of God. This is what is written at the entrance of the temple of Reformed theology."14 God does not exist to serve man or to do his bidding or to be man's instrument. Man exists to serve God and to do his bidding and to be his instrument. God who enters into covenant with man and in sovereign grace and mercy saves him from his sin, does so to make us his worshippers.
This distinction is for Vos what ultimately distinguishes true religion from false religion. In false religion, man and his interests and needs are always at the center and God orbits around him. In true religion God and his glory are always at the center. Vos is most discerning in this area. From his treatment of the first four commandments in his book Biblical Theology, to the Jewish/Pharisaical problem of boasting which makes God indebted to man, to the contemporary reduction of all the divine attributes to the love of God, Vos unmasks the blatant reversal of true religion. On the subject of the modern emphasis on love, he writes, "The modern religious subject thirsts for love as such, not in the first place for forgiving, justifying grace. But this in itself is but a symptom of the general abandonment of the Geocentric attitude . . . Love is magnified because at bottom God is conceived of as existing for the sake of man. "15
13 Ibid., p. 246.
14 Ibid., p. 242.
15 Ibid., p. 399.
Found throughout Vos's teaching are these basic commitments. The Bible is central and at the center of the Bible stands the covenant and at the center of the covenant stands God himself. The Bible is God's self-revelation to man. The content of that revelation is the covenant and it is by way of covenant that God purposes to bring man to his chief and highest end, to glorify God and fully enjoy him forever.
III. Adam and Eschatology
It has been said that "the Bible teaches us to define eschatology as everything that happens between the first and second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ." Yet Vos not only helps us to see this truth, but he also shows us how eschatology shapes the whole biblical message. In fact a full appreciation of what takes place in the coming of Christ can only be had by viewing with Vos the sweep of the whole history of redemption.
For Vos, eschatology is not the last thing in the Bible to come into consideration. It is the first thing. All of Vos's insights into Biblical eschatology originate in his understanding of Genesis 2 and 3. In the chapter in the volume Biblical Theology on "The Content Of Pre-Redemptive Special Revelation," Vos contends that God set before Adam in the garden of Eden, an eschatological goal. He points out (a fact often missed entirely) that the garden was not heaven, it was not the dwelling place of God. You know this from the text that tells us that God would come and visit Adam in the garden and would then depart. The garden was not heaven but rather an earthly anteroom, a place of entrance into heaven, a gateway to heaven if you will.16 In other words, Genesis reveals to us that Adam was first to have an earthly/natural existence and then after his earthly task was completed, he would enter heaven and into a heavenly/spiritual existence. This is the divine plan for Adam even apart from the entrance of sin. God's intent is to bring Adam from the lower sphere of the earth, to the higher sphere of heaven. Vos and others see this original scheme of things con-
16 Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1948), p. 27.
firmed in the mind of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 where in speaking of the natural body and the spiritual body, Paul says that Christ as second Adam has brought his people to the possession of the spiritual existence intended all along. God ordained the natural first to be followed by the spiritual.
In the garden, Adam is created in a changeable condition. He is created righteous but he can sin. He is created with life but he can die. A higher state is set before him as a goal to attain. This higher state is represented in the tree of life. In association with it the confirmed state of eternal life would be given. Vos writes: "The tree was associated with the higher, the unchangeable, the eternal life to be secured by obedience throughout his probation."17 Interwoven in Scripture with the possession of eternal life is nearness to God, a dwelling with God in God's own dwelling place, namely in heaven. Dennison puts it this way: "It was the eschatological end that was threatened by sin's intrusion but reasserted in the promise of a new work of God.''18 God will graciously bring man to the goal. God will graciously bring him to heaven and to the possession of eternal life, a condition that can never be threatened or interrupted again.
This perspective helps us to understand the gospel clearly. To believe in Christ is not to be returned to the garden still facing a probation as the Jehovah's Witnesses and others teach. No, the gospel tells us that Christ brings us to the goal of heaven and eternal life that Adam failed to reach.
IV. Old Testament and Eschatology
The eschatological goal for Adam of dwelling with God forever in heaven is the same as the goal of the covenant. The attainment of this goal is the focus of the whole content of Old Testament revelation. The covenant promise from Moses to Revelation appears like a refrain: I will dwell among you and I will be your God and you shall be my people. Eschatological rest is the longing throughout the Old Testament of the people of God. And God in a progressive__________________________
18 Charles G. Dennison, "Thoughts on the Covenant." In Pressing Towards The Mark: Essays Commemorating Fifty Years of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (ed. by C. G. Dennison and R. C. Gamble). Philadelphia, PA: The Committee for the Historian of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 1986, p. 8.
manner leads them to this goal.
The goal is rest. Throughout the Old Testament history, the movement towards this goal progresses and develops in stages. The first stage is one of covenant making and all the initial steps toward the covenant's goal. From Abraham to the borders of Canaan, God has joined with his people to fulfill the promises of the covenant to them.
In the second stage, under the leadership of Joshua, the nation takes possession of the land in the power of God's might. Joshua announces to them that God has given them rest (Josh. 23:1). Yet it soon proves to be only a temporary stage along the way to the goal. In the book of Judges, Israel repeatedly falls into sin, is harassed by enemies, delivered by God through the hand of a judge, only to repeat the cycle again. The loose federation of the twelve tribes leaves much to be desired. Every man does that which is right in his own eyes. There is no king in Israel. Canaan in the time of the judges shows that it is not the permanent rest for the people of God and it cries out and points forward to the need for something better.
The next stage is the monarchy in Israel. Israel wants a king but they are driven by untheocratic motives. God gives them Saul and the experience of failure for a king so that they will next long for a righteous king. David is declared to be a man after God's own heart. David defeats and pacifies Israel's enemies and in 2 Samuel 7 we read that God gives David rest. The covenant is renewed with David promising that a descendant of David would reign forever over an eternal kingdom. Under David and Solomon, the kingdom reaches its golden age. Jerusalem is the capital, the temple is built and government is centralized: all giving a sense of permanence. But no sooner is this pinnacle of Israel's history reached than the slide downward begins. Internal division along with apostasy brings the two kingdoms to destruction and captivity and exile from the land. Once again, this stage manifests itself to be only temporary. The prophets are raised up to keep the nation on track as the covenant people, an earthly representation of the heavenly kingdom of God. When disintegration sets in, the early prophets call for repentance, reconstruction and a return to former Mosaic faithfulness. But with the latter prophets, though they still proclaim a message of reform, now the message begins to shift to a hope that lies in the future. Even when Israel returns from the captivity, though Jerusalem and
the temple are rebuilt and the worship ritual reinstated and the life of the community reformed, still what characterizes the whole period is the failure to recapture the former glory. At this point, the message is given to the nation that a future is coming that will be so glorious that the former glory of Solomon will pale in contrast to it.
The great future is called by the prophets "the day of the Lord", "in that day," "in those days" or "the last days". And for the prophets, this will be the time when what they prophesied will be fulfilled (Jer. 33:14). It will be the time of the coming of the Lord. The time when the blind will see, the lame will walk, the lepers will be cleansed, the dead will be raised and when the captives are set free and the poor have the gospel preached to them. It is the time when a new covenant is established, the new and final/eternal one beyond which nothing better can be conceived.
The prophets see off in the distance the arrival of the last days, the arrival of the eschaton. They see the arrival of the final stage of redemptive history in which the goal of the covenant, the goal of rest, the eschatological goal of communion with God in the heavenlies is finally realized. They see the time when the promise of communion with God in heaven, of the establishment of the everlasting covenant, will be realized, never to be interrupted or threatened again.
Redemptive history moves through stages. Each one is not merely a return to a former state of affairs, but rather, incorporating what has proceeded, each stage moves on to a higher stage, one never seen or realized before, until the final stage is attained.
V. New Testament and Eschatology
The New Testament in general proclaims that the last days of Old Testament prophecy have arrived. The writer of Hebrews declares the biblical view of history (1:1-2). There are but two historical eras to redemptive history. "Long ago" when God spoke to the fathers through the prophets (the Old Testament era) and "these last days" when God has spoken to us in his Son (the New Testament era). For the writers of the New Testament, the church in every generation lives in the same age as the apostles themselves. "The last days" is the pe-
riod of God's final speech to us in his Son. Christ's first coming is his appearance at the end of the ages (Heb. 9:28). Peter speaks in the same way. Christ has appeared in these last times for the sake of you (1 Pet. 1:20). John speaks of the opposition to Christ that is present in his day and will be in the future, as a sign that it is the last hour (1 Jn. 2:18). Paul exhorts the Corinthians (1 Cor. 10:11), to heed the example of judgment that befell Old Testament Israel for their unbelief—"for these things were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come." For the apostle Paul, "the sending forth of Christ marks to him the fullness of times, a phrase which certainly means more than that the time was ripe for the introduction of Christ into the world: the fullness of the time means the end of that aeon and the commencement of another world period."19
From this reading of the New Testament, Vos concludes that the traditional place assigned to eschatology did not do justice to the New Testament revelation. Traditionally, eschatology was understood as the "study of the last things" or "the end times." The things considered under the heading of eschatology then included death, the state of the soul and body between death and the judgment, the millennium, the second coming, the resurrection of the dead, the judgment, and the consummation, the new heavens and the new earth and the eternal state."20 Vos, over against this traditional view, Dennison writes, "rises from his Bible asking if the second coming or the eventual destiny of the soul and body are alone the eschatological focus of the faith. He concludes that they are not. Along side of the future hope of Christ's promised return is the impact of his first appearance in the flesh and his Spirit's descent at Pentecost. His first advent is no less eschatological than his second."21
Vos contends that this is the message of Christ revealed in the gospels. In passages that are familiar to us all, Jesus declares that the promised day of the appearance of the Kingdom of God has come. The Kingdom has come because the King has come. Jesus' first message is: "Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Mt. 4:17). It is very close and in fact already present. In response
19 Vos, Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, p. 93.
20 Dennison, "Reformation And Eschatology," p. 10.
to the Pharisees who ask him when the kingdom of God comes, Jesus answers that the kingdom is in their midst (Lk. 17:21). When Jesus is accused of casting out a demon by the prince of demons he replies, "If I by the finger of God cast out demons then the kingdom of God has come upon you" (Lk. 11:20). When John the Baptist in prison has doubts about Jesus, Jesus tells his disciples to go and tell John what they see Jesus doing. What the Old Testament prophesied would signal the arrival of the great future, Jesus is doing. "Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them" (Mt. 11:4-5).
John's problem is the one that all Old Testament prophets, limited to the Old Testament vision of the coming future, would have. Prophetically they saw the arrival of the last day, the final age as one event, consisting of both salvation and judgment. The coming to save and the coming to judge are separated. It is one event but it comes in two installments. It comes with the coming of the first advent of Christ who comes first not to be served but to serve and give his life a ransom for many. "Jesus did not come first to bring the judgment but to bear the judgment. He did not come to strike down the wicked with the spear of retribution but to receive the thrust of the spear in his own side."22 From his pierced side flows blood and water that atones for and cleanses from sin. During this whole period since his first coming, his disciples and the church that arises from their witness through the preaching of the gospel, causes every generation to look on him whom they have pierced. Repentance and faith from among every tongue, tribe and nation, is the result. The judgment is delayed. During this eschatological period, the elect will be gathered to Christ. When this harvest is complete, then Christ will return as conquering King in glory to finally judge the earth. But everything in between the comings of Christ is properly understood as eschatology. It is this consideration that Vos develops so brilliantly.
"Vos perceived that our present life, as life in the kingdom and life in the Spirit is one in which we already participate in eschatological blessedness. Nor
22 Edmund P. Clowney, Living in Christ's Church (Great Commission Publishing, 1986), p. 62.
did he fail to grasp the content of that eschatological blessedness. It is nothing less than the possession of God."23 The benefits of Christ's comings are one piece with the eschatological goal and prize that Christ has attained. Christ by his perfect work in humiliation and exaltation has received the reward. The reward of life, eternal life in the presence of God, forfeited by Adam, is in the last Adam achieved. On resurrection day when the disciples see him again, they will understand that because he lives they shall live also (Jn. 14:19). Jesus tells his disciples that on that day, on resurrection day when they see him again, then "you shall know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you" (Jn. 14:20). Through Mary Magdalene Christ sends the message to his disciples, "I ascend to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God" (Jn. 20:17). The eschatological goal of life in communion and fellowship with God never to be interrupted or threatened again has been realized. Christ has received the promised reward and he does so in order to share the reward with his church. In Christ, we are "children of God, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ" (Rom. 8:17).
Christ's reward is what he pours out upon his church so that the church might be filled up to all his fullness. Grace bestows all this eschatological reward upon us. Thus understood, grace is not unto the possession of eschatological blessing, it is one piece with it. Grace is not unto glory, but rather grace is a piece of eschatological glory. Two images in the New Testament dominate in making this point clear to us. One is that of Christ's resurrection as the firstfruits (1 Cor. 15:20). The firstfruits were the initial part of the harvest inseparable from the rest of the harvest. Christ's resurrection is the beginning of the resurrection harvest that includes all of Christ's people. Vos writes that Paul "views the resurrection of Christ as the beginning of the general resurrection of the saints. The general resurrection of the saints being an eschatological event, indeed constituting together with the judgment the main content of the eschatological program . . . to Paul . . . the eschatological course of events had already been set in motion, an integral piece of the Last things has become an accomplished fact."24
23 Dennison, "Reformation And Eschatology," p. 11.
24 Vos, op. cit., p. 93.
The other figure that demonstrates that our present life in the kingdom is one in which we already participate in eschatological blessing is that of the Spirit as the down payment of our inheritance. The coming of the Spirit to indwell the church is the deposit that secures in advance the whole inheritance (Eph.1:14) that comes to the believer through Christ. The down payment is one piece with the full amount. The Spirit that is poured out on the church is the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. What the Spirit did for Jesus, he does for us. We are already raised with Christ in the inner man at the point of our conversion by the regenerating power of the Spirit. We are yet to be raised in the outer man, in our body, at the coming of Christ. The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead will also raise our mortal bodies. Our full inheritance is reserved in heaven for us (1 Pet. 1), but the down payment has already been given.
Grace describes the manner in which we come to share in eschatological blessing. The eschaton brings the eternal kingdom of God. Grace tells us that we receive that kingdom as a gift. "Do not be afraid little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the Kingdom" (Lk.12:32). The eschaton brings the goal of eternal rest. Grace imparts this rest as a gift. "Come to me all ye who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest" (Mt. l l:28). The eschaton brings the possession of eternal life. Grace bestows eternal life as a gift. "I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish" (Jn. 10:28). The eschaton will bring peace. Grace confers this peace as a gift. "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you" (Jn. 14:27). The eschaton establishes the new covenant. Grace bestows on us all the benefits of that covenant. "This is My body which is given for you. This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood" (Lk. 22:19-20). Grace is not unto eschatological glory, it is one piece with that future glory brought to the believer in his present life.
It is by virtue of union with Christ that the believer has been transferred from this world into the kingdom of heaven, into the age to come. True to his commitment that God and his glory are central, Vos contends that the believer must see that all of his work is preceeded by the work of God. "Only when the believer understands how he has to receive and has received everything from the Mediator and how God in no way whatever deals with him except through Christ, only then does a picture of the glorious work that God wrought through Christ emerge in his consciousness and the magnificent idea of grace begin to
dominate and to form in his life. For the Reformed, therefore, the entire ordo salutis, beginning with regeneration as its first stage, is bound to the mystical union with Christ. There is no gift that has not been earned by Him. Neither is there a gift that is not bestowed by Him that does not elevate God's glory through His bestowal."25 For Vos then, we are only justified because of the justification of Jesus. We are adopted in the adoption of Jesus. We are sanctified in the sanctification of Jesus. We are glorified in the glorification of Jesus. Jesus' history becomes his people's history. Everything that Jesus experiences, he experiences on behalf of his people. He takes upon himself our nature. He becomes sin for us who knew no sin. He is condemned for us and the guilty go free. He dies the death that the sin which he became deserves. We die with him, are buried with him and resurrected with him and ascend with him and are seated with him in the heavenly places. His story is our story.
In his infancy, he flees to Egypt with his parents to escape Herod. Matthew quotes Hosea that it is because "Out of Egypt I will call my Son." Jesus in his history repeats the history of Old Testament Israel. But where Old Testament Israel fails, he succeeds. The exodus that he leads will not end in the wilderness or even in Canaan. But his exodus leads his people from this world into heaven. The work of Christ brings his people out of captivity to sin and Satan and into the freedom of the sons of God—from death to life; from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of God; from this world, the order of existence that arises from the first Adam, sin, condemnation and death to heaven and the new order of existence arising from the last Adam, of righteousness, justification and life. "If any men be in Christ, there is a new creation; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come" (2 Cor. 5:17).
Vos speaks and even diagrams for us this overlapping of the ages.26 The present age continues while by virtue of the death and resurrection of Christ, the age to come has become a reality for believers. The Holy Spirit communicates the blessings of the world above to us. Christ has ascended there and we are ascended there also in Christ. Our lives are semi-eschatological. Our citizenship is in heaven; we are already risen with Christ; our lives are hidden with
25 Ibid, p. 248.
26 Geerhardus Vos, The Pauline Eschatology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1961), p. 38.
Christ in God; we live our whole life before God's throne; yet we live in our flesh and await the day of the full redemption of our bodies.
The church is therefore an embassy of heaven. Those who were once strangers to the covenant promises and were citizens of this world, are now in Christ citizens of heaven and strangers and aliens in this world. We are here upon the earth, but our home country is heaven and our king is Christ. During our temporary stay on earth (1 Pet. 1:17), we are to proclaim the excellencies of him who has called us out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9). To proclaim our King and his excellencies, we are to keep our behavior excellent while we sojourn in this world. Our religion and our ethic and conduct are to conform to our home country. We are ambassadors of Christ through which God entreats the world to be reconciled to him. The church declares the faith, it preaches Christ and him crucified and risen from the dead. It invites the nations of the earth to subjectively appropriate Christ and his work and in him to come into a new existence and to live the new life that arises from being in Christ.
The church's existence is already transferred from the darkness to the light. We are children of light. We are to walk according to the light. The church by virtue of her Savior belongs to the eschatological day. The new creation has dawned and we belong to it. The church is like the birds. When we sit and sip our coffee at five o'clock in the morning and it is still dark outside, the birds are singing away. Why? While it is still dark outside, the birds from their position in the tops of the trees already see the dawn. They already see the light of the sun and feel its warm rays. They are already in the light. In the Savior, the church has been brought into the light. Even while we continue in this dark world, we sing, for we already see the eschatological light, we feel its rays and know of a certainty that we belong to that light. Jesus is the light of the world. He who follows him shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life (Jn. 8:12).
Reformation Orthodox Presbyterian
Morgantown, West Virginia
The Unnamed Woman and Jesus
Mark 14:1-1 1
James T. Dennison, Jr.
She comes—comes to Jesus—comes to Jesus in her anonymity—comes to Jesus in the house of an outcast—comes out of her affection for Jesus—comes to perform a memorial act which will not otherwise be performed for Jesus—comes to be defended by Jesus. She departs as she came—nameless, no identification save her deed and Christ's identification with her. She departs as she came—unnamed, no remembrance save what she does in remembrance of him.
The incident of the anonymous woman in Mk. 14:3-9 appears as the pastrami between two slices of rye—the white icing between two chocolate Oreo cookies. The incident of the anonymous woman in Mk. 14:3-9 is part of a Markan sandwich. Yes, I said a Markan sandwich for the gospel of Mark is chock full of these sandwiches, though his sandwiches will not be found in a local deli. The so-called sandwich technique of the gospel of Mark is a storytelling device in which Mark places a central or inner element between two contrasting or outer elements of a narrative. Notice how he does this in the case of the unnamed woman: she is the center of two contrasting themes—her story, verses 3-9, is central to two contrasting layers, verses I and 2 and verses 10 and
11. In other words, the anonymous woman is the central goodie between two outer layers. Like an Oreo cookie or pastrami on rye.
Let me give you an example of another brilliant Markan sandwich. Turn back with me to Mark chapter 5. Find verse 21. Now from verses 21-24, you have the beginning of the famous story of Jairus' daughter. But after pleading earnestly with the Savior to come lay hands on his daughter, Jairus is interrupted by a woman who has been bleeding for 12 years—very interestingly, as verse 42 indicates, she has been bleeding to death as long as the little girl has been living her life. Jesus stops to heal the bleeding woman (vv. 25-34). And as she passes from death to life—from hemorrhaging to wholeness—the daughter of Jairus dies (note v. 35). But Jesus is undeterred because his power knows no barriers—no, not even death itself can endure in the presence of this one who gives life. "Talitha kum!" (v. 41). And the dead is raised up to life at the touch of Jesus' hand.
Do you see Mark's sandwich? He begins with Jairus' plea and the little girl alive (vv. 21-24). He ends with Jairus distraught, the little girl dead, yet raised up to life by Christ (vv. 35-43). And at the center, Mark places the story of a woman dying from hemorrhage, yet healed by the same life-giving Jesus. Two outer layers surrounding a central core. Jairus' daughter alive at the outset—Jairus' daughter dead yet raised to life at the conclusion. And in between, an unnamed woman dying yet given life by healing—all from the miraculous touch of the Lord Jesus.
Now back to the sandwich in Mark 14. Chapter 14 is about Christ's approaching passion—his imminent suffering and death. In verses 12-25, the celebration of the Last Supper is a testimony to his coming death on the cross; in verses 26-52, Jesus prays in Gethsemane that the Father remove the cup of death from him—"Yet not what I will, but what thou wilt." In verses 53-72, Peter denies Jesus three times following his interrogation by the Sanhedrin and the high priest. Chapter 15 will continue the passion narrative with the trial of Jesus before Pilate and the crucifixion of our Lord on Golgatha. The events of Mark 14 are preparatory to the event of crucifixion in Mark 15. From verse 1of Mark 14, we are looking ahead to the death of Jesus.
In the case of our nameless woman here in chapter 14, she is contrasted with the chief priests and scribes who are plotting Christ's death (vv. l and 2);
and she is also contrasted with Judas Iscariot who is plotting to betray Jesus to the chief priests (vv. 10 and 11). The unnamed woman (vv. 3-9) provides a vivid contrast with the scheming of the Jewish authorities and the treachery of one of the disciples. She is sandwiched between two groups determined to destroy Jesus.
Now these outer layer verses (1 and 2, 10 and 11) signal an intensification of the enmity against Christ. Mark's story of Jesus has made it very clear already in chapter 3 of his gospel that the religious insiders—the leaders of the church and synagogue—the church bureaucrats—have been plotting the death of Christ. Now that hour has come! In Chapter 14, the plotters will concur in death for the Son of God; the betrayer will sell the Son of God to death; the disciples will fail the Son of God in the garden of his agony; and Peter will deny the Son of God. Hatred of Christ is coming to a climax in Mark 14. Cowardice is coming to expression in Mark 14.
Plotters of death; a deadly double-crosser; a cup of death; a cross and death. "The Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the scribes; and they will condemn him to death and will deliver him up to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit upon him and scourge him and kill him" (Mk. 10: 33, 34). It is Christ's death which brings the woman with the alabaster flask. Christ's death touches even her.
But she is no death-schemer; she is no death-traitor; she is no death-dealer. No—she is none of these. Rather she is one of a long list of unnamed characters in Mark's gospel who have found life in Christ. There is the nameless leper in chapter 1 whom Jesus healed; the anonymous paralytic in chapter 2, all of whose sins Jesus forgave; the nameless man with the withered hand in chapter 3; the Gerasene demoniac in chapter 5—unnamed; the blind man of Bethsaida in chapter 8—yes, unnamed; and the boy—the unnamed epileptic boy in chapter 9. All these anonymous men found Jesus to be a savor of life unto life. And what of the unnamed women who have found life in Christ. Already I have commented on the woman with the issue of blood and Jairus' unnamed daughter. There is also the nameless Syrophoenician woman in chapter 7—a woman whose little daughter lived because a mother was content with crumbs.
Now this woman of chapter 14. This woman comes to the house of a leper—this woman comes to the house of a leper seeking Jesus. Her focus is
solitary! Not the men reclining about the table; not Simon the host of the table—no, none of these is her object. She has brought a vial for Jesus—she has brought an alabaster vial of the costliest perfume—for Jesus. More than a year's wages has she brought in that perfume. She knows what it costs—she knows its worth. Because of its worth, it is her gift to Jesus. Jesus' life is worth this costly ointment. Jesus' love is worth this gift. Jesus is the object of her gift—her love, her life.
And her gift—her precious, costly, sweet-smelling gift—her gift . . . becomes mingled with his death. Her love-gift becomes a savor of death unto his death. After all, does not Jesus himself say so? Verse 8—"she has anointed my body for burial." This gift for the living is, in fact, an anointing for the dead. It is death which is all around Jesus in chapter 14 and not even this woman can escape its power. The long shadow of a wooden cross casts its dark silhouette backwards over the house of Simon the leper. Death seizes the woman's gift and transforms it into a memorial—a remembrance of the dying Son of God. But this memorial will live. When the gospel is preached, this gift will live on in her memory. When the gospel of the Son of God is preached after his resurrection, her ointment will testify to Jesus who is himself alive forevermore. Her gift is conformed to the death of the Son of God so that it may be transformed by the resurrection of the Son of God from the dead. After the resurrection, her gift memorializes the Jesus who lives and reigns forevermore. This woman—this unnamed woman enters into the mystery of the gospel—the hidden nature of the kingdom of heaven. She—yes, she—enters into the death and resurrection of the Son of God. Anointing him unto his death—she at the same time proclaims this her memorial of his resurrection from the dead.
Her sole object in the house of Simon the leper is Jesus. But in her devotion and affection—yea, in her passion for Jesus—she has become identified with his death and resurrection. Even when all this is not clear to her—even when some of this is veiled to her—even when some of the mystery of the kingdom and its king is hidden from her—nevertheless she possesses Jesus—she possesses Jesus as surely as she pours that costly perfume of pure nard upon his head. And in possessing Jesus, this unnamed woman is pressed down, poured out into his very own death and resurrection.
Now, lest you accuse me of reading far too much into this story—I ask,
what else can be the significance of her very own condemnation and vindication? Is she not conformed to the measure of Christ's suffering when she is rebuked, condemned, accused! "For what purpose has this perfume been wasted?"—And they were scolding her. But though all others oppose and condemn her, Jesus does not! Jesus does not condemn her. "Let her alone. She has done good to me." Jesus is her advocate—Jesus is her defender—Jesus justifies her. Jesus takes the reproach from her. Jesus takes the condemnation away from her. Jesus takes her accusation and vindicates her.
Oh yes! She shall be remembered. Though nameless, she has been identified with the death and resurrection of Christ. Yes! She shall be remembered. For though she is anonymous to us, she has been conformed to the condemnation and justification of the Son of God. Yes, wherever the gospel is preached, she shall be remembered.
This woman in Mark 14 stands in contrast to the plotters and traitors around her. But she also provides a contrast to the disciples—both named and unnamed. We already know the role of Judas Iscariot; but Peter, James and John will go to Gethsemane with Jesus to pray, only to fall asleep and they will fall asleep not once, not twice, but three times (vv. 37, 40, 41). And Peter—Peter will follow to the high priest's quarters only to deny Christ with cursing and swearing not once, not twice, but three times (vv. 66-72). Oh, the other eight disciples are here too—unnamed, but part of the drama. They run away in Jesus' hour of trial; they will prove by their cowardly flight that much of what they have professed is wind—hot air. "We will never forsake you"—but they all run when the soldiers arrest Jesus. "I will never deny you," but Peter dismisses Jesus as a worthless fellow before the cock crows.
"Whoever wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross; and follow me." The disciples run—run from Jesus—run from his cross. It will take a resurrection for them to become loyal followers—no longer cowards, but devout, yea passionate, followers of Jesus. It will take a post-resurrection meeting in Galilee for the disciples to be transformed by the death and resurrection of their Lord. After his death—after he has been raised up he will go before them into Galilee. The disciples will wait till Galilee to be transformed by the death and resurrection of Christ. But this unnamed woman—already she has denied herself, already she has identified with Jesus' death, already she has be-
stowed the expression of her love upon him.
"Whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant." The disciples do not serve—they sleep, they blow hot air, they disappear and curse at the arrest of their master. The disciples do not serve Jesus! It will take a resurrection for them to become servants of the servant. It will take a post-resurrection encounter for them to be transformed by the death and resurrection of the eschatological servant. But this unnamed woman—already she serves; already she identifies with the Son of Man who has come to serve and to give his life a ransom for many. Even now, she confesses, even now, she says, he has ransomed my life!
And so it is that the unnamed woman in chapter 14 becomes the first in a parade of loyal minor actors in Mark's passion narrative. She is the first, but not the last, to enter into the passion and suffering of Christ. Simon the Cyrene will take up Jesus' cross (15:21); the unnamed centurion will stand at the foot of Jesus' cross (15:39); Joseph of Arimathea will take the body of Jesus down from the cross (15:43-45). Each one of these minor characters becomes a participant—they take part in, identify with, the drama of the death of the Son of God.
Other women will come on the first day of the week, other women will come early to the tomb to anoint their Lord. Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James, Salome—they will come when the (old) Sabbath is past. They will come to anoint the dead. He will not be there. The dead one will have risen. A resurrection Sabbath day will have dawned and an angel—an unnamed angel— will tell the women, "Go tell his disciples and Peter, he is going before you into Galilee; there you will see him" (16:7).
The gospel of Mark ends with the resurrection of Christ evident and projected. The disciples of Jesus—male and female—will have to complete the story—the story of faith in the death and resurrection of the Son of God! This is our story—the story of faith like the faith of the unnamed woman in chapter 14. For you see, we too are part of Mark's sandwich. We have been placed between the resurrection of Christ and the resurrection of the dead at his second coming. In this central layer—between the inaugural resurrection and the eschatological resurrection—in between, the disciples of Jesus lovingly, tenderly, passionately identify with his death and resurrection. Disciples of Jesus at the heart and core of the story—lose their lives as Jesus lost his on the cross. Dis-
ciples of Jesus sandwiched at the center of the story—find their lives as Jesus found his at the resurrection. Disciples of Jesus sandwiched between death and resurrection—find themselves beside an unnamed woman, full of love for Christ, condemned by the world, justified by the Savior, satisfied with his death, vindicated by his resurrection.
The unnamed woman did what she did because she loved Jesus. She loved his death and she loved his resurrection. Yes—she comes as she departs—unnamed, anonymous—but she shall be remembered in every place where the disciples of Jesus remember his death and resurrection.