Is the Word of God Impersonal in the OT?

wpid-wp-1433137781246.jpegDenying the Personality of the Word

The assertion that the New Testament does not identify God’s Logos as personal is frequently made by unitarians. A staple belief among unitarians is that the Logos of God was a-personal, but through the influence of Greek philosophical traditions began to be incorrectly identified as a divine personal being. This has been demonstrated to be both exegetically untenable and historically/philosophically wrong (for instance here). There are some unitarians, however, who because of this exegetical and historical/philosophical evidence argue that the a-personality of the Word of God (i.e. the Dabar) is clearly taught in the Old Testament. However, is this true?

Not for the attentive reader of Scripture. Beginning with the book of Genesis, the attentive reader will note that there are instances in which the Word of God is addressed as Yahweh, as the Lord, as God. And God is hardly an a-personal entity. How then can the unitarian assert that God’s Word in the Old Testament is a-personal? Whatever their reasoning is, they are not deriving it from the Scriptures, as the following article aims to demonstrate.

Here are just a few instances of this phenomenon.

The Voice of the Lord

1. In Genesis 3:8, the Holy Spirit says Adam and Eve heard the “sound” of the Lord God walking in the garden. The word for sound is a Hebrew word which is usually translated as voice. This fact is reflected in the King James Version, where the reader is informed of the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden. This voice calls out to Adam and his wife, who are hiding, and reveals their sin, judges them, and promises them redemption through the Seed of the Woman.

Contextually, Hebrews 4:12-13 echoes this narrative and states that the “Word of God” is “living and active” and “no creature is hidden from his sight.” That is to say, the Word (here, logos) of God is living and active, judging the wicked and saving the elect, and there is no one hidden from his sight. Note how swiftly the writer moves from “Word” (i.e. Logos) to the personal pronouns “his” and “him.” Note further  that before him, i.e. the Logos of God, “all are naked and exposed,” even as Adam and Eve were when the Voice of God walked through the garden and confronted them with judgment and salvation. Hebrews 4:12-13 seems to be directly alluding to the Garden of Eden in which the Voice of the Lord, the Word of God, walked among the trees and called out in judgment and salvation, revealing hidden sinners and exposing them completely. [For a devotional treatment of the same subject, see this previous post].

2. In Psalm 29, the identification of the Voice of the Lord with Yahweh himself is impossible to deny. Specifically, verses 5-9 identify the Voice of the Lord as Yahweh, via the use of parallelisms. Thus, the Voice of the Lord is said to break the cedars in v.5a, but in v.5b the Lord is said to be the one who breaks the cedars. The personalization of the Voice of the Lord, moreover, is carried over into the next verse where the personal pronoun “he” refers back to the Lord, i.e. the Voice of the Lord in v.5a. Likewise, vv.7-8 transition from “the Voice of the Lord” in vv.7-8a to “the Lord” in v.8b. The climax of this worship of the Voice of God can be seen in v.9 where the transition is the smoothest. Psalm 29:9 states that: “the Voice of the Lord makes the deer give birth and strips the forests bare, and in his temple all cry, ‘Glory!’” Note that the transition from “the Voice of the Lord” to “the Lord” is even more explicit. Here the writer says that the temple is the temple of the Voice of the Lord. Do a-personal utterances have temples?

The Word of the Lord

1. Throughout the Old Testament, in addition to the Voice of the Lord propositions identifying that Voice as Yahweh himself, there are also verse which clearly identify the Word of the Lord as Yahweh himself. The first appearance of the phrase, for instance, is in Genesis 15, where “the Word of the Lord” comes to Abraham in a vision, and Abraham responds with these words: “O Lord God…” (Gen 15:1-2) Lest any confusion occur, the Scriptures go on to say that “the Word of the Lord” came to Abram and “brought him outside” (vv.4-6). Throughout this passage, the Word of the Lord is identified specifically as Yahweh and he/him/his.

2. Similarly, in Jeremiah 1 we are told that “the Word of the Lord came to [Jeremiah] and said…” (v.4). Jeremiah’s response is clear: “Ah, Lord God! . . .” (v.6) The prophet clearly identifies the Word as the Lord himself, and this is made evident by the following verse, where we read: “But the Lord said to me…” (v.7) Note the transition from “the Word of the Lord” to “the Lord,” a transition which we have already noted in Ps 29. The identification of the Word of the Lord as Yahweh-in-person, i.e. as a Christophany, is made even clearer when we read that “…the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me…” (v.9a)

This Word of the Lord is not a-personal, or even intangible. Rather, the Word is the Lord and he stretches out his hand and touches the mouth of his prophet, Jeremiah.

Concluding Remarks

The Word of the Lord, although primarily a technical formula introducing a prophet’s message as legitimately obtained directly from God, at times designate the Second Person of the Trinity, the Lord God himself: the Logos of John 1. It is simply not the case that the Word of the Lord is a-personal in the Old Testament.

-h.

The Exclusive Way of Salvation

HebrewsSalvation is Only Through Explicit Individual Faith in Jesus the Son of God

[Read: John 17]

In my last post, I wrote about the exclusive nature of the first and greatest commandment. Since then, I’ve finished listening to a debate between Dr. James White and Dr. John Sanders titled Is Knowing Jesus the Only Way to Be Saved? (You can watch the debate here.) and wanted to share some more reasons why “Christian” inclusivism is anti-Christian nonsense.

Firstly, in Jesus’ high priestly prayer recorded in John 17, he says that he has been given authority over all flesh in order to give eternal life to all whom the Father has given him (vv.1-2). Note that Christ does not lack authority over any flesh (i.e. people from all places at all times and under all circumstances). Note, furthermore, that Christ says that this authority has been given to him for the sake of his giving life to a specific class of people among the larger set of “flesh” over which he has been given authority. There is, therefore, no one that is unreached by accident. Christ is Sovereign over all flesh. There are, therefore, no persons who are unbelievers due to some oversight by the Triune God! This is clearly seen to be the case given Christ’s identification of those whom the Father has given to him. Because no one escapes the Sovereign rule of Christ Jesus, all the saved and unsaved are what they are by virtue of Christ the Lord’s Sovereign decree.

Secondly, in the same high priestly prayer of John 17, Christ Jesus defines eternal life as knowing the only true God and his Christ whom he has sent (cf. John 17:3). This means that there are no Christians who do not know God and the Savior whom he sent to die for their sins. To suggest that there are is to contradict Jesus’ words. If one does not know the one true God (i.e. the God of Israel who revealed himself explicitly only to Israel), and if one does not know his Son whom he has sent (i.e. Jesus Christ the Spotless Lamb of God for sinners crucified and raised again three days later), then one is not in possession of eternal life.

Thirdly, lest the inclusivist say “ Ah, yes, but this knowing that Jesus talks about is non-propositional, emotive, mystical…” Jesus anticipates the words of his enemies who argue thus and so says:

“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.” (John 17:6-8)

Jesus explicitly defines knowledge of the only true God and his Son as consisting of names, words, truth, understanding – i.e. propositional revelation. One cannot claim, therefore, that there are people who know God and Christ in some non-propositional way. All men are born with an innate knowledge of God, yes; however, knowledge of who this God is and what he demands of them, knowledge of how they are sinners in need of a divine Savior, and knowledge of that Savior’s coming to live, die, and rise again for the salvation of such sinners – this knowledge only comes through the preaching of the Gospel from the Scriptures.

It is, therefore, only through an explicit knowledge of the  one true God and his Son the Sacrificed Lamb for sinners that sinners can be saved. The tribesmen in the middle of nowhere, in other words, who have not had the Gospel proclaimed to them will not be saved. For faith in the one true God, as I pointed out in my last post, is very specifically identified by Scripture as faith in Yahweh who revealed himself propositionally in the books of Scripture. And, moreover, faith in the Savior comes through the very specific revelation of God in Christ as recorded in the Gospels, as Jesus clearly states.

There is no such thing as Christian inclusivism, brothers and sisters. God is Sovereign over whom he saves. Therefore, those who perish have not perished unjustly or apart from his knowledge. The Triune King of all things does not need an irrational theologian to serve as his public relations consultant. If the tribesmen in the middle of nowhere are not saved, that is God’s prerogative. If they are saved, however, they will be saved through the preaching of the Gospel and not through faith in some unknown deity. Scripture does not identify theological ignorance as a virtue but as an indication that one is on his or her way to everlasting destruction. Don’t be deceived.

Soli Deo Gloria!

-h.

The Part that Dawkins Left Out

DawkyAtheist Richard Dawkins has become famous by hating the One True God who reveals himself in the pages of the Old and New Testament. He, like many other so-called New Atheists, attempts to level the charge of immorality against God. Despite the obvious category errors that such accusations necessarily exhibit, the same old complaints continue to flow from Dawkins and those who follow him. How a creature whose most valued moral sentiments are nothing more than “the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms” (to quote Bertrand Russell) thinks he has the right to judge the behaviors of another person is an inexplicable mystery. How this creature thinks he has the authority to judge the behaviors of God is even more impossible to comprehend! Nevertheless, as I read Scripture some time ago I stumbled into that part of the Old Testament that Dawkins & Co. have left out of their analyses of God’s moral character.

In particular, I was reading through Exodus 22 and came across the following commands.

“You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.

“If you lend money to any of my people with you who is poor, you shall not be like a moneylender to him, and you shall not exact interest from him. If ever you take your neighbor’s cloak in pledge, you shall return it to him before the sun goes down, for that is his only covering, and it is his cloak for his body; in what else shall he sleep? And if he cries to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.” (vv.21-27)

God commands the Israelites to not wrong a sojourner, and to not oppress him. God commands Israel to not mistreat any widow. God commands Israel to not mistreat any fatherless child. God commands Israel to be compassionate to the poor, not demanding interest from him or repossessing the only cloak that he owns. And God promises to pour out his wrath on all those who break these laws.

I’ve never seen an atheist comment on these laws. Why? Perhaps atheists haven’t read them. Perhaps atheists have, in a fit of blind fury and mouth frothing, read past these verses in search of something they could misinterpret as immoral. Perhaps God has blinded their eyes to these words in order that these atheists will continue in their unbelief and hatred of God and so heap up wrath for the day of judgment.

Perhaps their intention is to accuse God of sin, in spite of all evidence to the contrary.

-h.

The Only God Among Flesh: The Gospel According to Daniel

JesusDaniel 2 tells of the trouble king Nebuchadnezzar experienced when he could not remember a dream he had. His scholars and learned men, additionally, are more troubled when the king demands that they relay the content of the dream to him, as well as its interpretation. The matter is humanly impossible, which causes these men to reply:

“There is not a man on earth who can meet the king’s demand, for no great and powerful king has asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or Chaldean. The thing that the king asks is difficult, and no one can show it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh.” (Dan 2:10-11)

Note the words of these men carefully. Firstly, they acknowledge that reading another man’s thoughts is humanly impossible. Next, they recognize that the revelation of the dream and its interpretation can only be known via divine revelation. Lastly, they understand that the dwelling of the gods is not with flesh.

Immediately Daniel enters the narrative and relays the dream and its correct interpretation to the king. Essentially, the dream is a symbolic representation of the course of history from Nebuchadnezzar’s time up until Christ comes and establishes his kingdom. The event, in other words, contradicts the words of the king’s magicians and enchanters in two very significant ways. Firstly, whereas the magicians and enchanters claim that no man can tell the dream and its interpretation, Daniel does exactly that. What is impossible for men to perform is not impossible for God to perform. Not only this, but that which is impossible for “the gods” is a simple thing for the one true God to accomplish. If men do not know x, it is because God has decreed that they should not know x. God is not limited by virtue of his being. In fact, it is because God is God that he can do as he wishes and none can stay his hand or say to him “What are you doing?”

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly (for it reiterates the first point), the Rock cut not by human hands which shatters the kingdoms of the earth is the Son of God, the Word who became flesh. The gods may not have their dwelling among flesh, but God the Son will become flesh, build his church, and place all the kingdoms of the earth under his rule. The very thing which the magicians and enchanters claim is impossible is not only not impossible for Yahweh to perform, it is the very thing which he has promised he would perform. The Word of God will take upon himself a human nature, a physical body of flesh and blood and bone, and his kingdom will have no end.

The unbelieving scholars drew correct conclusions only up to a certain point. When faced with the prospect of the One True God taking on human flesh and dwelling among us, these men reveal just how deeply ingrained their unbelief and idolatry is. And when we enter chapter 3 of the book of Daniel, we see that these men are also hypocrites. For in this chapter they claim that the dwelling of the gods is not among flesh, yet in the next chapter Nebuchadnezzar builds a statue of himself, a giant idol for the people to fall down in front of in worship. If the dwelling of the gods is not among flesh, then why does Nebuchadnezzar create this object of worship, this physical proxy of himself? Why do the magicians and enchanters not protest the building of the statue? Because they are hypocrites. When it comes to receiving the judgment of God through the king’s dream, the magicians and enchanters know that the dwelling of the gods is not among flesh; yet they fall in worship before the statue.

Most significantly, however, in chapter 3 there is a Christophany. That is to say, before the Incarnation of the Word of God we see the Word of God walking amidst the flames of judgment for his people, with his people. And what do the people call him? One like the Son of God, or like a son of the gods. There is some disagreement as to how the phrase should be rendered, but that is irrelevant. For if the person in the fiery furnace is like the Son of God, his presence contradicts the words of the enchanters and magicians. Again, if the man in the fiery furnace is like a son of the gods, then his presence contradicts the words of the so-called wise of Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom. What the gods cannot do, God the One True God, Father, Word, and Holy Spirit accomplishes in sending forth his Son to save his people by passing through the fires of judgment with them.

This one like the Son of God is the same one like the Son of Man: Jesus the Christ, the Word become Flesh. Thus, in Daniel’s book the focus is not on Daniel per se but the Lord Jesus Christ, the Incarnation of the Eternal Second Person of the Trinity. It is precisely by God taking upon human flesh and dwelling among human flesh that God will establish his kingdom and destroy his enemies forever.

Amen.

-h.