Josh Philpot

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Westerholm on Justification

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I recently read Stephen Westerholm’s new book, “Justification Reconsidered: Rethinking a Pauline Theme.” It is only 100 pages and easy to digest. Westerholm assesses all of the data in the New Testament on justification/righteousness and settles on the traditional view of justification by faith (as articulated by Augustine, Luther, Calvin, et al.), even in spite of recent challenges from N. T. Wright and James D. G. Dunn. In fact, I came away from the book with the thought that Westerholm is simply arguing for the plain sense of the relevant passages about the doctrine of justification. There is no need for revisionist interpretations. His final paragraph is very helpful: 

“[The traditional view of justification by faith] cannot be dismissed by the claim that the ancients were not concerned to find a gracious God (how could they not be, in the face of pending divine judgment?); or that it wrongly casts first-century Jews as legalists (its target is rather the sinfulness of all human beings); or that non-Christian Jews, too, depended on divine grace (of course they did, but without Paul’s need to distinguish grace from works); or that ‘righteousness’ means ‘membership in the covenant’ (never did, never will) and the expression ‘works of the law’ refers to the boundary markers of the Jewish people (it refers to all the ‘righteous’ deeds required by the law as its path to righteousness). Modern scholars are correct in noting that Paul first focused on language of justification in response to the question whether Gentile believers in Christ should be circumcised. They are right to emphasize the social implications of Paul’s doctrine of justification (what it meant ‘on the ground’) in his own day, and are free to draw out its social implications for our own. But the doctrine of justification means that God declares sinners righteous, apart from righteous deeds, when they believe in Jesus Christ. Those so made righteous represent the new humanity, the people of God’s new creation (rom 5:17-19).”

Written by Josh Philpot

May 19, 2014 at 9:28 pm

Tom Schreiner on the Differences between Biblical and Systematic Theology

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In the new issue of Themelios, Tom Schreiner writes a response to Gerald Bray’s critique of his biblical theology, “The King in His Beauty.” In the first few paragraphs he offers a clear and helpful overview for how biblical and systematic theology differ but complement one another. He also lambasts Bray for totally misunderstanding his book. I was at the panel discussion at ETS last November where Bray’s review was presented, so I’m glad to see Schreiner’s rejoinder here. Many of the attendees at that presentation were likewise confused with Bray’s response. In Schreiner’s own words, 

The fundamental problem with Bray’s review is that he misunderstands both my book and biblical theology. He seems to think that I am trying to write a systematic theology, for he emphasizes that biblical theology is only a prolegomenon to a systematic theology. Here’s the rub: I agree! Systematic theology is a culminating discipline that includes exegesis, biblical theology, historical theology, and philosophy. Bray critiques me as if I were attempting to write a culminating work, a systematic theology, and by doing so he veers off course from the outset of his review. I agree with Bray that Christian theology reaches its apex in systematics. I didn’t think anyone would read my book as if I were trying to compose an alternative to a systematic theology.

Nor is it evident that Bray understands what biblical theology is in distinction from systematics, or perhaps he believes there isn’t any place for biblical theology, because he doesn’t commend it in his review. We need both systematic and biblical theology, for in the latter the story of scripture is rehearsed, the narrative of scripture is unfolded for the reader. Such attention to the historical outworking of God’s plan (the establishment of his kingdom!) ensures that we are reading the scriptures contextually and canonically. For instance, Bray doesn’t devote much attention to the historical unfolding of God’s revelation in his book. But it is clear in reading the NT that the Mosaic covenant was an interim covenant, that it was meant to be in force for a limited period of time. We learn from this that it is imperative to read scripture epochally. We don’t offer sacrifices or wear clothes with only one kind of fabric since such regulations are part of the Sinai covenant, and we aren’t under that covenant since the new covenant has arrived in Jesus Christ.

To put it another way, systematic theologians need biblical theology, for otherwise they may make claims that violate the intention and purpose of the texts cited. Biblical theology as a mediating discipline supports systematics. Systematics may stray from the scriptures in constructing doctrines, and biblical theology serves systematics by tying us to the biblical text and by ensuring that we interpret the scriptures in its epochal framework. The structures and themes unpacked in biblical theology undergird (or should undergird) the work of systematic theologians. Biblical theology, like systematics, plays a vital role in our understanding of the scriptures. Let’s take one example of what concerns Bray. He complains that I don’t unpack the Trinity, but he misconstrues my book and biblical theology. The Trinity is central to Christian theology, and any systematic theology that doesn’t make the Trinity prominent is woefully deficient. But I didn’t write a systematic theology, nor am I claiming that the work of biblical theology is a culminating discipline. Still, biblical theology provides the raw materials for the doctrine of the Trinity by showing that the Father, Son, and Spirit are all divine, while also emphasizing that the scriptures teach that there is only one God.

You can read Schreiner’s review of Bray’s “God is Love” here. The contrast between the two reviews is startling.

Written by Josh Philpot

April 22, 2014 at 1:47 pm

R.C. Sproul on Creationism and the Age of the Universe

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A friend sent me this video today (below), in which R.C. Sproul makes the point that having a high view of God’s revelation—both natural and special revelation—means that we can learn from non-believing scientists who are studying natural revelation. He illustrates this by pointing to the Copernican Revolution. Both Calvin and Luther rejected Copernicus as a heretic because of his argument that the earth is not the center of the solar system but revolves around the sun, which they said was contradictory to scripture. In this case the scientist was right and the biblical interpreter was wrong, and thus the church had to admit that they misinterpreted their understanding of scripture with respect to the solar system and reevaluate those texts which pertain to the topic. Sproul says that Christians will get a better sense of the truth from studying natural revelation than we do by ignoring natural revelation. However, if something can be shown to be definitively taught in the Bible (without question) that contradicts another theory that is based solely on natural revelation, then we must stand with the word of God. We can be shown to be a mistaken interpreter of the word of God, to be sure, but we don’t have to face that problem if we believe that both spheres are spheres of God’s revelation and that those spheres are compatible. All truth is God’s truth. If there is conflict, then somebody has to be wrong. But Sproul states that he doesn’t leap to the conclusion that it has to be the scientist because it may be the theologian who is wrong. It also may be that it is the scientist who is wrong and the theologian who is right. There are both fallible human beings interpreting natural revelation and fallible human beings interpreting infallible special revelation.

Written by Josh Philpot

March 4, 2014 at 3:11 pm

Where do we find wisdom?

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Proverbs 8 is a beautiful passage of scripture, although it’s very difficult to interpret. One of the central questions in that chapter is, “where can we find wisdom?” Wisdom is personified in Proverbs 8 as elsewhere in the book and is presented by the author (Solomon, I believe) as an extremely attractive, beautiful woman—Lady Wisdom. So where does one find such an attractive woman? The chapter gives details about finding her and also about the the places where she can be found:

  1. She is “on the heights, beside the way” (v. 2a)
  2. She is “at the crossroads” (v. 2b)
  3. She is “beside the gates in front of the town” (v. 3a)
  4. She is “at the entrance” (v. 3b)
  5. She is “among the paths of righteousness/justice” (v. 20)
  6. She is “at the beginning of Yhwh’s way” (v. 22)
  7. When God established the heavens, she was there (v. 27)
  8. She is “beside him [God], like a master workman” (v. 30a)
  9. She is “before him [God]” (v. 30b)
  10. She is always “rejoicing in his inhabited world” (v. 31)

What can we conclude from this list? Two things: 1) “Wisdom”—Lady Wisdom—is with God, and 2) she is amongst us in the world.

These concepts obviously have to do with God’s presence. Wisdom, therefore, is much like the “angel of Yhwh” in the OT. Wisdom is “with” God (indeed, the personified wisdom is God in some sense), but also in the world at the same time. To grasp wisdom, taking hold of her, not forsaking her, loving her, and prizing her highly (Prov 4:5-9), is to partake in the presence of God himself.

Written by Josh Philpot

December 12, 2013 at 8:00 am

Posted in Old Testament, Theology

The Preface of My Dissertation

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On Friday I will graduate for the second time from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The first time was when I completed the MDiv in 2009, and now four years later from the PhD program. I had the opportunity to write a “Preface” for my dissertation, which I had never done before. So in reflecting on this process, I wrote the following:

This project would not have been possible without the guidance of the many people who encouraged me to pursue a seminary degree, and who were faithful to support me through to its completion. This entire dissertation was written from Spring, Texas while serving as Pastor for Worship at Founders Baptist Church. I am deeply thankful to Founders for allowing me to spend this last year writing. The people of Founders have been truly amazing in their display of love for me and my family. I am especially thankful for Pastor Richard Caldwell for his constant care and support, as well as his interest in my topic.

My interest in Exodus 34 and the episode of Moses’ shining face began with a discussion outside of the office of my supervisor, Dr. Duane A. Garrett, who was completing a commentary on Exodus at the time. He suggested that I write a paper on this passage seeing that it was commonly misunderstood, especially in evangelical circles. My later work on Exodus 34 was generally well received, and so Dr. Garrett suggested that I consider it for my dissertation. I am extremely grateful to him for his support and guidance during this process, and for taking me on as one of his doctoral students.

My doctoral studies began while I was serving with Dr. James M. Hamilton Jr. on the pastoral staff at Kenwood Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. Dr. Hamilton has influenced me pastorally and theologically more than any other person. I am grateful to him for his friendship and love for me and my family, not to mention his keen insight on all Old Testament matters and comprehensive biblical knowledge. Out of all the things I miss about Louisville, I miss serving with Dr. Hamilton the most. Thank you for modeling a strong work ethic, humility, sincerity, and biblical preaching.

My wife, Jenn, has been the constancy one needs when completing a large-scale project. Thank you for your endless prayers and encouragement, and your devotion to me when I grew weary from time to time. Thank you for your love, most of all, and for your commitment to being a godly wife and a mother. You bring more joy to me than you will ever know! And, “The heart of her husband trusts in her” (Prov 31:11).

To our kids, Isaiah, Eliana, and Mikaela, thank you for confirming for me each day that “the light of the eyes rejoices the heart” (Prov 15:30). I am looking forward to having many more mornings and evenings together!

Lastly, I am dedicating this dissertation to my parents, Gary and Pam Philpot. Your influence on me as a young man was a significant blessing throughout. And now, as a husband and father, I am beginning to understand just how important Christian parents are in the lives of their children. Thank you for your prayerful encouragement and loving example of a godly marriage. My prayer is that the Lord would “make his face to shine upon you” (Num 6:25) as you persevere in the gospel of grace.

Joshua Matthew Philpot
Spring, Texas
December 2013

Written by Josh Philpot

December 9, 2013 at 8:00 am

Riches, Honor, and Life

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In 1 Kings 3:13-14, God offers Solomon riches, honor, and long life, although the latter is conditional upon Solomon’s obedience to God’s law:

I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that no other king shall compare with you, all your days. And if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days.

These three benefits are in Lady Wisdom’s hands in Proverbs 3:16 (“Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor.”), and are the “rewards for humility” in Proverbs 22:4 (“The reward for humility and fear of the Yhwh is riches and honor and life.”).

In Christ, the results of a wise life are “riches” in heaven (Matt 6:19-20), “honor” in believing (1 Pet 2:7), and “eternal life” (John 3:36).

Written by Josh Philpot

December 4, 2013 at 9:29 pm

Posted in Old Testament, Theology

Ardel Caneday on Peter Enns and the NT Use of the OT

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At the Credo Magazine blog, NT scholar Ardel Caneday completed a series on the NT use of the OT, and particularly with recent arguments from OT scholar Peter Enns. Enns was dismissed from Westminster Theological Seminary a few years back (he may have resigned; I can’t remember) over the hermeneutical position he took in the book, Inspiration and Incarnation. The articles from Candeday are long but worth the time for anyone interested in the topic, especially the last two which deal with Enns in particular:

On the New Testament’s Use of the Old Testament (part 1)

On the New Testament’s Use of the Old Testament (part 2)

Would Paul Have Made a Good Evangelical? (part 3)

Would Paul Have Made a Good Evangelical? (part 4)

While not dismissing the value of some of Enns’ works on the OT (his Exodus commentary in the NIVAC series is excellent, as are some of his contributions to Wisdom Literature studies), his more recent works have only confirmed why WTS dismissed him (rightly, in my opinion) from their faculty.

Written by Josh Philpot

June 27, 2012 at 3:51 pm

Was Adam for real life?

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As an evangelical Old Testament student I see Tremper Longman’s name pretty frequently. I begrudgingly read his Introduction to the Old Testament as a junior in college but enjoyed it in the end. I also found his commentary on Proverbs somewhat helpful (though not in the Waltke sense).

However, I’m often at odds sometimes with much of what Longman says or writes. For instance, I remember Dr. Gentry dismantling Longman’s thesis in the NICOT series that Ecclesiastes is equivalent to fictionalized biography (i.e. Frame Narrative theory – see Duane Garrett’s refutation as well in his own commentary, 260-65), which I found to be a serious flap on Longman’s part. I also recently came across this interesting little clip of Longman commenting on the historical Adam, which just adds to my disparity:

For Longman, then, Adam’s historicity isn’t really the main point, and shouldn’t really affect our exegesis or theology. But that’s the question: Does Adam have to be an historical figure for the Bible to make sense, like Longman says? And, what are the implications for sin and headship if Adam is not? Biblical theology? Further, what would John Walton say (for those of you who have read his new book)?

Written by Josh Philpot

September 21, 2009 at 11:23 am

Interpretive Challenges in the OT #2 – JPS Translation of Gen. 3:15

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serpent-and-foot-ktWhile reading through my JPS Torah I came across this translation of Gen. 3:15:

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; They shall strike at your head, and you shall strike at their heel.

Notice anything different? I mean, besides the obvious bold and italicized font? At the heart of this problem is whether “offspring” is an individual, referring to a specific child, or whether it is to be taken as a collective singular, referring to many children. The Hebrew term for “offspring/seed” (zera’ – I’ll use the 2 English words interchangeably) is a masculine noun but is somewhat flexible. In Gen. 4:25 it clearly refers to one person (Seth), whereas in Isaiah 41:8 it refers to Israel as a nation. If one takes “offspring” as referring to an individual (as in the Christian tradition), then the following pronouns (in bold) would be “He shall strike…” and “his heel.” If one takes “offspring” as a collective singular then the JPS translation can be substantiated.

How do we figure this out? Well, rather than deliberately retrojecting the NT understanding of “seed” into Genesis lets first argue from the text itself. In the OT, “seed” seems to follow both lines of thinking mentioned above. Since the woman’s seed struggles against the Serpent’s seed, we can infer that it has a collective sense. But since only the head of the Serpent is represented as crushed, we can expect an individual to deliver the fatal blow and to be struck uniquely on his heel. Additionally, biblical Hebrew employs a grammatical gender (“he,” “she”) agreeing with its it’s antecedent. In other words, “seed” is a masculine noun and should thus be followed by masculine pronouns – “He shall strike” and “his heel.” But that only eliminates whether or not the phrase should be translated “she”, which is totally out of the question (but used some older Catholic translations!). The real problem is if it should be translated “they” or “he”. The most impressive evidence against “they” is the Greek Seputagint (LXX), our oldest translation of this text (third or second century B.C.), which translates this phrase with “he” (autos). This is noteworthy given that the Greek antecedent is neuter (sperma), which means that the oldest translation of Genesis deliberately avoided “it” and understood 3:15 as referring to one person (see R.A. Martin, “The Earliest Messianic Interpretation of Genesis 3:15” JBL 84).

Who, then, is the seed of the woman? The immediate seed is probably Abel, then Seth (Gen. 4:25 – “God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel”). The collective seed is the holy offspring of the patriarchs (Gen. 15:5; 22:17). After Genesis we do not hear again of the promised seed until God promises David a seed (2 Sam. 7:12), which should also be understood in both ways. Moving to the NT, the unique fulfillment of this seed promise, however, is Jesus Christ, who comes into the world through the seed of the woman: the patriarchs and David. Paul refers to the seed of Abraham as the individual Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:16) but then also includes the church in Christ as Abraham’s seed (Rom. 16:20; Gal. 3:29).

Conversely, the seed of the Serpent is/are not little snakes, nor demons (since Satan does not father demons), but most likely those who are in rebellion against God. There are the elect, who love God (John 8:31-32), and the reprobate, who love themselves and are of their father, the devil (John 8:44; 1 John 3:8). Each main character in Genesis, then, is portrayed as either the seed of the woman (like Abel and Seth) who carries on God’s promise of Gen. 3:15, or the seed of the Serpent (like Cain) that reproduces the Serpent’s unbelief. In the end, although both individuals will be grievously wounded (“strike” and “crush”), this struggle with the Serpent is ultimately won in the suffering of that Seed (Isa. 53:12; Luke 24:26, 46-47; Rom. 16:20; 2 Cor. 1:5-7; Col. 1:24; 1 Peter 1:11).

Therefore, I believe we can agree in part with the JPS translation (and others) of “they shall strike” and “their heel,” but only if they mean a collective seed and are not simply avoiding the singular notion for fear of adopting a Christian worldview (of Jesus!). The better translation would keep the singular intact, “he shall strike” and “his heel,” which suggests a promised offspring that will project a new spiritual race into this fallen world.

Written by Josh Philpot

April 21, 2009 at 5:57 pm

Interpretive Challenges in the OT #1: Genesis 1:26

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There are many textual difficulties in the OT, to be sure, most of which take lengthy essays or articles to explain. The task in this series, “Interpretive Challenges in the OT,” will be to examine these puzzling texts, survey the conclusions proposed by other writers and scholars, and arrive at a succinct and cogent explanation. Pray for me…

creation_of_adam1

One of the first problems one might face when reading through the Bible from cover to cover (if he or she does that) is the question of who God is addressing in Genesis 1:26. In particular, who is the “us” and the “our” in God’s words, “Let us make man in our image.” Before delving into the text itself I want to briefly summarize the many options proposed to explain the “us.”:

  1. “Us” refers to a various gods in the ancient Near East, and thus perpetuates the mythological origins of Genesis.
  2. “Us” refers to the creation itself, which means that the creation not only has life but personality and will.
  3. “Us” is an honorific plural, much like Elohim (“God”), which is a plural word that speaks of a singular God.
  4. “Us” refers of God’s self-deliberation (a “plural of self-deliberation” was first proposed by Gesenius).
  5. “Us” refers to the Trinity.
  6. “Us” refers to the divine council, i.e. angelic beings in God’s presence.

The first two views can clearly be set aside since the whole aim of Genesis 1 is a polemic against polytheism. The third view is not likely since honorific plurals occur only with nouns (like Elohim, “God”) and not pronouns (like “us”). The fourth view may be discarded on the basis that no other text supports God self-deliberating within himself. The fifth view, however, is another kettle of fish. Traditional orthodoxy has asserted “us” as being a reference to the Trinity. This makes sense theologically on a number of grounds. First, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all identified as Creator (Job. 33:4; John 1:3; Eph. 3:9; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2). Second, it seems that the Holy Spirit is mentioned in Gen. 1:2 – “And the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters.” Third, it would make sense that the Hebrew name for God, Elohim, would be a plural word since the Trinity is three distinct persons.

However convincing the Trinitarian perspective may be, the arguments are flawed to some extent. For instance, while the Spirit is clearly present in creation based on later texts it is hardly possible that Moses, writer of Genesis, had a multi-personed view of God at the time of his writing. Based on the antecedent context the only possibility of a plurality of deity is Gen. 1:2, but even that verse is more likely translated “wind from God” (cf. the recreation in Gen. 8:1 and the “wind” that blows over the waters after the flood). Furthermore, it is against the rules of grammatico-historical exegesis to read the theology of later texts into early ones. While the doctrine of the Trinity is clearly attested elsewhere in Scripture, it is faulty to try and locate ambiguous texts to support that doctrine when they are not clearly present. Be minded, I am not denying the existence of the Trinity nor their role in creation. But based on the text it doesn’t seem like the other persons of the Godhead are mentioned until later revelation.

A more coherent explanation of Gen. 1:26, I believe, is view six; that “us” refers to the divine council/angels. This view is affirmed by most OT commentators (cf. Waltke, Sarna, Wenham, Gentry, and others; contra V. Hamilton, Mathews, Alexander). Waltke (“The Bruce”) notes the contextual support for this view by taking Gen. 3:5 into consideration:

“The Serpent, who becomes identified as Satan in later revelation, tempts the man and woman to eat forbidden fruit to gratify their pride: ‘You [plural] will be like divine beings [Elohim], knowing good and evil.’ Conceivably, Elohim here is another honorific plural for God, but its attributive modifier, ‘knowing’ (lit. ‘knowers of’), is plural.”

Normally, whether a word is plural or singular is decided not only by its form but also by its accompanying modifiers. For example, for the first clause at the beginning of 3:5, “God” (Elohim) and the modifier, “knows,” are both singular, which clearly means Elohim is to be taken as singular. But at the end of the verse Elohim takes a plural modifier, which means Elohim should be rendered, “divine beings”, instead of the usual, “God.” This is confirmed in Gen. 3:22 when God says, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil.” Without understanding the final clause in 3:5 as “divine beings” v. 22 would make no sense. The Serpent knows of the divine counsel, and thus his temptation in 3:5 refers to that very group. Additionally, we must keep in mind that there are  two other passages in the OT that mention God in the plural but do not seem to be referring to the Trinity (Gen. 11:7; Isaiah 6:8). Out of these I think that Isaiah 6:8 is the strongest evidence against a Trinitarian understanding of “us.” In that passage God is surrounded by heavenly Seraphim who constantly bring him praise, and Isaiah hears God asking them, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” (6:8). This is not God self-deliberating, nor is it a reference to the Trinity, but a scene in which God acts jointly with the heavenly court (Seraphim).  In sum, all four uses of “us” in conjunction with Elohim in the OT refer to divine beings and not a plurality of deity (i.e. the Trinity).

But does this mean that Gen. 1:26 says humans are made in the image of God and the angels, and not just God? Far from it! That stance is flawed theologically. Humans are not made in “their” image, but only God’s (1:27 – “his image”). However, when God addresses the angels it does not mean they are taking part in the creation or part of the divine image. Rather, God is the addresser of his court: the addressees. He is the primary actor, so to speak, but acting in concert with the divine beings.

One final point may help my argument, which comes from Psalm 8:5-8:

“Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings [Elohim] and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.”

It has been argued elsewhere that this passage is a commentary on Gen. 1:26-28, to which I agree. Regarding Elohim as noted in this Psalm, it must be maintained that our oldest translation (LXX) has “angels” and not “God” in the first sentence. The writer of Hebrews also goes this route in 2:7. Moreover, throughout the Psalm David refers to God in the second person (“your”). It would be odd for him to suddenly switch (e.g. “Yet you have made him a little lower than yourself“). I believe, then, that David, drawing his thought from Gen. 1:26-28, understood the “us” suffix as referring to the heavenly court and not as a plurality of deity.

To conclude, while interpreting Gen. 1:26 as Trinitarian may be attractive in light of the NT data, this view is textually and contextually flawed. All OT examples of Elohim in the plural refer to divine beings, as well as David’s meditation on this passage in Ps. 8:5-8. A better route would be to see “us” as referring to the divine council/heavenly beings, an interpretation that is justified on solid exegetical grounds and grammatico-historical exegesis. Although this present essay is not exhaustive, my hope is that it has stimulated your thought on this difficult matter and helped you in understanding the text.

Resources:

Bruce Waltke, An Old Testament Theology and Genesis: A Commentary
Victor Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, in NICOT
Kenneth A. Mathews, Genesis 1-11:26, in NAC
Peter Gentry, Kingdom Through Covenant: Humanity as the Divine Image, in The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, Vol. 12 No. 1
Nahum Sarna, Genesis, JPS Torah Commentary
Gordon Wenham, Genesis 1-15, in WBC

Written by Josh Philpot

April 13, 2009 at 12:42 am