Replacement Theology or Expansion Theology?

Dispensationalist theologians often accuse Covenant theologians of promoting “Replacement Theology.”  Some infer that Covenant Theology promotes anti-semitism, since (according to them) Covenant Theology teaches that the Christian church has replaced Israel.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Dispensationalists are correct that Israel and the church are at times separately distinguished in the New Testament.  The New Testament was written (at least most of it) between Pentecost and A.D. 70, when the Temple was destroyed and the Old Testament theocratic nation ceased to exist.  During this period, the apostles sometimes identified “Israel” as the mostly Christ-resisting Jewish community that was distinguished from the community of believers in Jesus Christ (cf. Romans 10:1, 21).

Yet Dispensationalists tend to make too much of this observation, because Christ’s apostles also identified the multi-national church of Jesus Christ by the same terms used in the Old Testament to identify Israel.  What was the apostolic purpose in this, except to drive home the point that the New Covenant church is continuous with the “kingdom of priests” established under the Old Covenant?

For example, Peter wrote that the scattered churches of Christ (1 Peter 1:1) are “the holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9), the same title given to Israel at Mt. Sinai in Exodus 19:6 (“you shall be to Me a . . . “holy nation”).  To make sure his readers didn’t miss the point, Peter heaped together other descriptive terms in 1 Peter 2 — “chosen generation, a royal priesthood … His own special people” — all of which were used in the Old Testament to describe Israel (Isaiah 43:20; 61:6; Deuteronomy 4:20) but which the apostle used to identify the church of God.  Thus Peter plainly and repeatedly identified the scattered, multi-ethnic church of Christ as Israel, now expanded to other nations.

Furthermore, Paul taught that the olive tree onto which the nations have been grafted is the same as existed in the Old Testament (Romans 11:16-18).  Gentiles who were formerly “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise . . . have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:12-13).

The promise of world-wide, multi-ethnic blessings goes back to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Genesis 28:14).  God said “all the families of the earth” would be blessed in Abraham (Genesis 12:3).  And now in Christ, all who believe in God, Jews and Gentiles alike, are the “sons of Abraham” (Galatians 3:7).  The fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant is Christ and His multi-national church (Acts 3:25; Galatians 3:8).

Looking at this from a different direction, Stephen, a deacon in the early Christian church, didn’t think it strange to identify Old Testament Israel as “the church.”  As he prepared to be martyred, Stephen referenced “the congregation (ἐκκλησίᾳ, the Greek word translated “church” throughout the New Testament) in the wilderness with the Angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers” (Acts 7:38).

Thus was Paul right to identify the Christian church as the “Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16).  This fits seamlessly with what the apostle taught earlier in Galatians 3:28-29:  “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  And if you are Christ’s, then you [Gentile believers in Galatia] are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

This is why Covenant Theology says that the church does NOT replace Israel, for the church cannot replace itself.  Rather, the church has been expanded to include all nations (Revelation 5:9-10).

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Do Christians Need to “Forgive Themselves?”

Don't forgive yourselfChristians are often told that we should “forgive ourselves” when we struggle with guilt.  Is this a correct way to believe and speak?

The reason we struggle with guilty feelings is because we have sinned against God, not against ourselves. Psalm 51:4:  “Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight.”  (Cf. also Psalm 32:3-4.) “Forgiving ourselves” is therefore an inappropriate response, really the opposite of what we should do.

Here are the typical problems and weaknesses Christians encounter related to the experience of guilt, as taught in the Scriptures:

(1) we are prone to blaming others instead of admitting our sin (Gen. 3:11-12, 15; 1 Sam. 13:11-12; 15:13-25);
(2) we are prone not to being too hard on ourselves, but rather too easy (e.g., blind to the planks in our eyes, Matt. 7:3-5, 18:28);

(3) we are prone to self-absorption and a lack of humility (Phil. 2:3-8; James 4:10);
(4) we are prone to worry and anxiety (Phil 4:6-7; Matt. 6:25-34; 1 Pet. 5:7);
(5) we are prone to hardening our hearts (Prov. 28:14; Heb. 3:7-13; Mark 8:17);
(6) we are prone to forgetting God (Deut. 4:9, 23; Psalm 9:17; James 1:24-25);
(7) we are prone to being deceived by the Devil and our sin (Gen. 3:4; 2 Cor. 11:3; Matt. 7:15, 24:4; Eph. 5:6; Gal. 6:7; Rev. 12:9; Heb. 3:13; 1 Cor. 10:12-13);

(8) we are prone to unbelief that God has forgiven our sins (Eph. 1:7; Rom. 5:1; John 5:24) and to wallow instead in doubt and fear (Matt. 14:31; Mark 9:24; Luke 5:8, 12:32).

Here are the actions the Bible commends to us when we struggle with guilt:

(1) humble yourself before God and the brethren (James 4:8-10, 5:16; 1 Pet. 5:6-7);
(2) remember Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and is now exalted in Heaven (Acts 5:31; 1 Cor. 15:3; 2 Tim. 2:8);
(3) give thanks to the Lord for the promises of the Gospel (1 Thess. 1:10, 5:18; Eph. 5:20; Psalm 107:1);

(4) pray with confidence for grace and mercy from God, that you may be forgiven, cleansed of unrighteousness, and strengthened to forsake your sins (Matt. 6:12; Heb. 4:16; Psalm 51:7; Isaiah 1:18; 1 John 1:9);
(5) as needed, ask forgiveness and make restitution to any people you have wronged (Matt. 5:23-24; Luke 19:8);

(6) rejoice, for even though sin is inevitable in this life, abundant forgiveness is always available in Christ because of His once-for-all sacrifice on the cross (Phil. 4:4; 1 Thess. 5:16; 1 John 1:9, 2:1-2; Heb. 10:10-17; John 19:30; Eph. 3:20-21; Rom. 10:13);
(7) whenever you’re tempted to doubt the Lord’s forgiveness, remember that He proved His love for you by dying on the cross, and is always faithful to keep His promises (Psalm 103:12; Rom. 5:8; John 15:13; Matt. 1:21; 1 Cor. 1:9; 2 Thess. 3:3; 2 Tim. 2:13);
(8) resist the devil’s accusations, pray for the Holy Spirit to empower you, forget what lies behind, and press onward for Christ (Rev. 12:10; Eph. 5:18, 6:16; Luke 11:13; James 4:7; Phil. 3:13-14).

Conclusion: “forgiving yourself” is unbiblical language and an unChristian concept that grew out of self-esteem theology.  Man’s problem is pride, not a lack of self-forgiveness (James 4:6).  Indeed, Jesus assumes that we already love ourselves (Matt. 22:39), and that it is the spirit of rebellion to love ourselves even more (note Paul’s strong warning to Timothy:  “in the last days perilous times will come, for men will be lovers of themselves,” 2 Tim. 3:1-2.)  The Bible teaches us to forgive others, but never to forgive ourselves.  The entire notion of “forgiving yourself” should therefore be rejected.

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Another Side of the Wine vs. Grape Juice Discussion

Communion Wine & BreadOne aspect of the “Wine vs Grape Juice” discussion that isn’t contemplated nearly enough:  wine is often mentioned in the Old Testament as symbolic of Messianic, New Covenant blessings.

For example, Isaiah, contemplating the blessings of the Messianic kingdom, wrote, “The Lord of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain.  A banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow, and refined, aged wine.” (Isaiah 25:6)

Jeremiah described Christ’s kingdom this way, “They will come and shout for joy on the height of Zion.  And they will be radiant over the bounty of the Lord—over the grain and the new wine and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd.” (Jeremiah 31:12)

Similarly, the prophet Joel wrote concerning the kingdom of the Messiah, “The Lord will answer and say to His people, ‘Behold, I am going to send you grain, new wine and oil,
And you will be satisfied in full with them.’ . . . The threshing floors will be full of grain,
And the vats will overflow with the new wine and oil.” (Joel 2:19, 24)

The prophet Amos also declared, “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who sows seed.  The mountains shall drip with sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it.  I will bring back the captives of My people Israel.  They shall build the waste cities and inhabit them.  They shall plant vineyards and drink wine from them.” (Amos 9:13-14)  See also Isaiah 27:2; 55:1; Hosea 2:22; Joel 3:18; Zechariah 9:17.

It is therefore no coincidence that Jesus’ first public miracle was turning water into wine (John 2:1-11).  This miracle was more than just a revelation of Jesus’ deity — it was a sign that He is Israel’s Bridegroom, the Messiah who had come to usher in the abundant blessings of the New Covenant (“the vats shall overflow with new wine” – Joel 2:24).  The prophesied new era was dawning, and it was time now for God’s people to put their trust in Jesus and believe that He is the one who makes all things new, who gives His Spirit and fulfills the Law with a Gospel that gives life, joy, and freedom.

This is why it became so commonplace for Jesus to eat and drink with His disciples — so often in fact that His enemies accused Him of being a glutton and a winebibber (Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34).  Jesus living on Earth was a never-ending celebration of kingdom blessings!  The King was with His people, and the great joy this brought to everyone (symbolized in the abundant food and wine) is why it was inappropriate for the disciples to fast at that time (Matthew 9:15).

Thus the use of wine in Communion is rooted not only in New Testament language and practice, but also in Old Testament prophecy and symbolism.  Wine in the communion cup is an ongoing testimony that the blessings of the Messiah and the New Covenant are ours (Matthew 26:28), and that Jesus will drink wine with us again in celebration when God’s kingdom is consummated (Matthew 26:29).

This is why it is so inappropriate to use a different beverage in the Communion cup.  It not only damages our connection with the worship of the historic Christian church (which used wine for the first 1800+ years of its existence), it also diminishes the connection between the Lord’s Supper and the messianic promises that Jesus fulfills.  Why would we obscure such a rich treasure of biblical teaching and christological expectation?

See my additional discussion on this topic, “What About Grape Juice in the Communion Cup?”:

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What About Grape Juice in the Communion Cup?

Is the use of grape juice in the Communion cup a legitimate option for Christian churches?

1. Grapes are loaded with sugar and begin to ferment almost immediately after they are harvested.  Because of this, it was highly impractical to keep unfermented grape juice in the days before pasteurization and refrigeration.

2. Wine and unfermented grape juice are two different beverages.  It’s not like grape juice is simply wine without the alcoholic content.  Grape juice undergoes a radical change during the fermenting process.

3. “The fruit of the vine,” as referenced in Communion passages (e.g., Luke 22:18), was according to normal biblical usage a reference to wine, not unfermented grape juice.  Those who argue that Jesus could have distributed nonalcoholic grape juice to His disciples use speculative and contrived exegesis to come to this conclusion (as also in their attempts to exegete John 2:1-11).  There is no reasonable doubt that Jesus often drank wine with His disciples (Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34) and that wine was used at the Last Supper.

4. There is no evidence in the writings of the church fathers that Christians ever called for the use of unfermented grape juice in the Communion cup, and no evidence that the post-apostolic church ever used grape juice for that purpose.

5. There is no reasonable doubt the apostolic church used wine in Communion, especially since the Corinthian Christians who abused the Supper were getting “drunk” (1 Corinthians 11:21).

6. Drunkenness was a problem in New Testament times just as much as it is today.  There were converted drunkards in the apostolic church (1 Corinthians 6:10-11), yet the Christians of that day used wine in the Communion cup.

7. The Scriptures teach that wine is a gift from God to man (Psalm 104:15), and the abuse of that good gift is no argument against its proper use.  The same argument can be made regarding food and sex.

8. The use of grape juice in Communion was virtually unheard of in the long history of the Christian church until Thomas Bramwell Welch invented a process to pasteurize grape juice in 1869.

9. The introduction of grape juice in the Communion cup did not result from learned, holy men studying the Scriptures and reforming the practice of the church according to the biblical pattern, but from churches capitulating to the temperance movement and succumbing to the pietistic commandments of men (Mark 7:7; Colossians 2:22; Titus 1:14).

10. The use of grape juice in Communion exalts man’s reasoning above Christ’s, who instituted the use of wine in the Supper.  We must not be wiser than God.

See my additional discussion on this topic related to wine being biblically symbolic of Messianic, New Covenant blessings:

Conclusion:  All of the biblical evidence points to the use of alcoholic wine in the Communion cup, and the way the historic Christian church understood the Scriptures and practiced Communion points the same way.  Add it all up, and we can rightly ask what right any church had after 1800+ years of unanimous agreement and unbroken practice to change the beverage that Christians use in their worship.  The use of grape juice (a different beverage than wine) in Communion is a recent innovation, a corruption of the universal practice of the church for 1800+ years that is based on speculative exegesis, and capitulation to human reasoning and man-made commandments.  Lacking reasonable Scriptural support to warrant such a radical change in the ordinance our Lord Himself instituted, the use of grape juice in Communion should be rejected.

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What Is the “Perfect” Thing in 1 Corinthians 13:10?

graphe“Love never fails.  But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part.  But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.  When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.  For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face.  Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.  And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:8-13)

A number of well-known evangelical Bible teachers (e.g., Wayne Grudem, John Piper, D.A. Carson, Matt Chandler) interpret the above passage this way:

“The spiritual gifts of tongues, prophecy, and knowledge will cease when the perfect comes.  The perfect is the coming of Christ and the future state, not the completed Bible.  Thus the New Testament teaches that the revelatory gifts of tongues, prophecy, and knowledge will continue in the church until Christ returns.”

I believe this understanding of the text fails because the exegesis doesn’t hold up under scrutiny, as I will seek to demonstrate. 

Whose “face” do we see?
In 1 Cor. 13:12, Paul uses the analogy of a “mirror” to teach the believers in Corinth that when they used the revelatory spiritual gifts of tongues, prophecy, and knowledge, they were only able to “see in a mirror dimly.”  That is, apart from the “perfect” (telios, i.e., completed or mature) source of revelation which was to come, the church in Corinth possessed a dim understanding of God and themselves, just like the use of a poor quality mirror makes it difficult to see one’s face clearly.  The Corinthian Christians “knew in part,” in incompleteness, with lack of clarity, by use of the revelatory spiritual gifts.  “But then” (later, when the completed source of revelation comes) Paul says the Corinthians would see in the mirror more clearly; i.e, “face to face,” with greater perception and clarity, just as a high quality mirror gives a person a clearer and more complete sight of his face than a poor one can.

In verse 13:8, Paul states that the spiritual gifts of prophecy, tongues, and knowledge — gifts which were “childish” in that they served the church in their infancy, and which were “partial” in that they communicated God’s Word to the church in a fragmented way, and permitted the early Christians to understand God’s overall purpose and plan only “dimly” — Paul says that those gifts “will be done away…will cease…will be done away.”  That which provides partial revelation will cease, and that which is perfect (i.e., not morally perfect, but complete) will thereafter provide a far clearer and more comprehensive understanding of God and His will. The clearer and more comprehensive revelation of God’s Word which was to come would allow the Corinthians to look in the “mirror” and see a more perfect reflection of themselves, i.e., see themselves “face to face” (cf. James 1:23-25).  Therefore, the Corinthians were not to boast in childish, incomplete revelatory gifts that would soon pass away, but were instead to pursue love, which will never cease because it is eternal.

Thus 1 Cor. 13:8-13 argues strongly that the gifts of tongues, prophecy, and knowledge have ended, for the church now has the mature and perfect revelation of God, the completed Bible.  No other knowledge about God and our Savior is gained apart from that perfect Word.  If we believe Paul’s teaching and predictions about the aforementioned gifts (that they are by nature childish, incomplete, and passing away), and we believe that the completed revelation of God is the Bible, we must conclude that the early revelatory gifts of tongues, prophecy, and knowledge have ceased.  The fact that this was indeed the testimony of the early and historic church — that those gifts ceased to be part of the church’s experience very soon after the age of the apostles ended — seals the deal.

When Paul later wrote, “Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues” (1 Cor. 14:39), the application of the verse is mitigated by the prediction Paul had just made that the spiritual gifts of prophecy and tongues “will be done away…will cease” (1 Cor. 13:8).  As long as the spiritual gifts of prophecy and tongues (and knowledge) continued to operate, they were not to be forbidden.  But when the “complete” thing comes, the Corinthians understood that those gifts would discontinue, since they were by nature incomplete and childish, and superceded by what is complete and mature (the canon).  This is exactly what happened in the post-apostolic church.  The church — indeed, the Holy Spirit — “put away” the “childish” revelatory gifts of tongues, knowledge, and prophecy in favor of the completed canon (the perfect and inspired words of the Holy Spirit), and the clear, mature, and comprehensive knowledge of God it provides.  The church’s knowledge of God is not perfect in the sense that it is perfectly apprehended.  It is perfect in the sense that it is complete.

Are you saying “knowledge” has ceased from the church’s experience?
People sometimes object to the above exposition this way:  “Paul says ‘knowledge’ will ‘vanish away.’  Are you saying knowledge has already come to an end?  That is absurd.  We still know things and are still learning things, so your interpretation can’t be right.”

This objection is easily answered:

(1) Paul says the spiritual gift of knowledge will vanish away, not knowledge in general.  The spiritual gifts are the main subject of 1 Corinthians 12-14, and in context, it is clearly the gift of knowledge (along with the gifts of prophecy and tongues) that Paul says will pass away.

(2) In 1 Cor. 13:8, Paul cannot possibly mean that “knowledge in general” will one day come to an end, for knowledge clearly continues in the age to come.  “For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:9)  When the apostle says “knowledge…will vanish away,” he can only be referencing the vanishing of the spiritual gift of knowledge.

Does “that which is perfect” refer to the future coming of Christ?
The common contention that the revelatory gifts of tongues, prophecy, and knowledge will continue until Christ’s return is unsupported by the context.  Jesus is not mentioned in 1 Corinthians 13.  Neither are His 2nd Coming or heaven directly referenced.  Paul is talking about “knowing” God’s Word incompletely (via the “childish” revelatory gifts of tongues, knowledge, and prophecy) versus the coming time when Christians will know God’s Word completely (telios = “perfect,” which references completion/maturity, not “moral perfection” or “absolute perfection”).

Paul is saying that the church will go from a childish stage (with the three revelatory gifts providing incomplete knowledge) to a “perfect,” i.e., mature stage (where knowledge will be known completely).  The New Covenant church was in its infancy when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians.  It was one of his earliest epistles, when the revelatory gifts were still in play.  Yet Paul said a time was coming when the church would reach maturity and put away those childish things in favor of knowledge that is complete, mature.  And that time came when the apostles passed from the scene and left us God’s complete, inerrant, infallible, enscripturated Word.

Interpreting “face to face” as a reference to Christians seeing the face of God in the eschaton is unwarranted by the context.  Again, the phrase is connected to Paul’s mirror analogy.  Look into a mirror, and what do you see?  Your face.  Thus will Christians see “face to face” (i.e., will “know” much more clearly and comprehensively) when the “mature” knowledge of God comes.  This is why the “childish” and incomplete knowledge of God that came via the gifts of prophecy, tongues, and knowledge “ceased” and “vanished away.”

A related passage is Numbers 12:6-8:  “Then He [God] said, “Hear now My words:  If there is a prophet among you, I, the Lord, make Myself known to him in a vision.  I speak to him in a dream.  Not so with My servant Moses.  He is faithful in all My house.  I speak with him face to face, even plainly, and not in dark sayings.  And he sees the form of the Lord.  Why then were you not afraid to speak against My servant Moses?”

If Paul is alluding to these verses from Numbers 12 in 1 Cor. 13:12, then God speaking to the church via the gifts of prophecy, tongues, and knowledge is likened to the dark and obscure revelations given to the prophets in Num. 12:6.  Contrasted with these “dim” revelations is the “complete, perfect” revelation (likened to the “face to face” revelations given to Moses) which God was now providing through the apostles, and which Paul insists would eventually supplant the more obscure and “childish” revelations given via the revelatory gifts.

Note that “face to face” is primarily an analogy for clearer and more complete revelation in both Num. 12 and 1 Cor. 13.  It must be so, since Moses didn’t literally see God face to face (he only saw His backside and/or “the form of the Lord”).

Note, too, that the comparison between the prophets and Moses in Num. 12 is not eschatological in nature.  Again, the comparison has to do with the clarity and completeness of revelation, as in 1 Cor. 13.  The messages God gave via the OT prophets (12:6) were not as clear and complete as the canonical Word given through Moses (12:8).  In the same way, the messages God gave via NT prophets like Philip’s daughters and Agabus (Acts 21:9-11) were not as clear and complete as the canonical Word given through Paul and the apostles (Eph. 2:20).

Also note that in both Num. 12 and 1 Cor. 13, special revelation (words from God and the knowledge they provide) is in view.  The contrast is not between the experience of Christians in this present age and the age to come (a concept nowhere indicated in the chapter), but between the knowledge of God attained via one thing versus another.

Paul predicts prophecy, tongues, and the gift of knowledge will “fail…cease…vanish away” when the “perfect” (complete) source of knowledge comes.  And those gifts did vanish away.  The dark sayings, dreams, and visions of the New Testament prophets (Acts 2:17) were no longer needed and soon passed from the experience of the Christian church once the Word of God was completed.  Thereafter the church had everything it needed to know from God concerning Christ (cf. Heb. 1:1-2).  Again, the knowledge of God attained in the completed canon is not perfect in the sense that it is perfectly understood.  It is perfect in the sense that it is complete.

As the Westminster divines rightly concluded:

“Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men unexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of his will, which is necessary unto salvation. Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal himself, and to declare that his will unto his church; and afterwards, for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing: which maketh the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God’s revealing his will unto his people being now ceased.” (Westminster Confession of Faith 1.1)

What about other New Testament usages of τὸ τέλειον?
Some object to the above exposition on the grounds that the “perfect” thing (τὸ τέλειον) in 1 Cor. 13:10 must refer to Christ’s return in glory, especially since Paul uses a related term elsewhere in the epistle to reference the same event.  Here is how the argument is typically presented:

“In a number of New Testament contexts other than 1 Cor. 13, the related words telos (‘end,’ ‘termination;’ ‘last part’) and teleō (‘bring to an end’) are used in relation to the Second Coming of Christ.  This is true in both non-Pauline writings (cf. James 5:11; Rev. 20:5, 7; 21:6; 22:13) and 1 Corinthians 1:8; 15:24.  Since the Second Coming is plainly referenced in these other contexts, and especially in 1 Corinthians, it is more natural to understand 13:10 to mean that the ‘perfection’ will occur at the return of Christ, or if before, when the Christian dies and is taken to be with the Lord (2 Cor 5:1–10).”

On the surface, this argument seems quite reasonable.  Paul does indeed use the related term telos in 1 Cor. 1:8 and 15:24 to refer to the coming eschaton (15:24:  “then comes the end,” τὸ τέλος).  The implication is that since the use of τὸ τέλος in 15:24 is relatively close to 13:10, Paul must be talking about the same thing in both places.  Therefore, the “perfect” thing in 13:10 is the future state.

However, the argument withers and dies when we observe the following:

(1) As already noted, the term Paul uses in 15:24 is τὸ τέλος, which is not the same term he uses in 13:10, τὸ τέλειον.  Telos and teleios are related but not identical Greek terms, telos being a noun, and teleios an adjective.  If (as the argument infers) Paul intends to make an obvious connection between verses 13:10 and 15:24, why does he use different words which are commonly used in different ways?

(2) More importantly, Paul uses teleios (the same word he uses in 13:10) in the chapter between 13 & 15, and this without reference to Christ’s return.  Verse 14:20:  “Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature (τέλειοι).”  In this nearer context (nearer to 13:10 than 15:24), the word teleios (same word used in 13:10) plainly does not refer to the future state.  Rather, it means “mature” or “complete,” the exact adjectival meaning that I believe is found in 13:10.

(3) As well, Paul’s use of teleios in chapters 13 and 14 are in both cases related to a discussion of the spiritual gifts.  It makes far more sense to interpret the apostle’s use of teleios in 13:10 in light of how he uses the same adjectival term in chapter 14, particularly since he is discussing the same subject in both places.  Paul’s use of telos (noun form of the word) in chapter 15 comes in the midst of his discussion of the future resurrection, an entirely different subject.  If we are seeking to understand the precise meaning of τὸ τέλειον in 13:10, does it make sense to skip over 14:20 (where the same Greek word is found) and liken τὸ τέλειον in 13:10 to τὸ τέλος in 15:24 — different words used in different contexts?  No.  Since Paul’s use of teleios in chapter 14 has nothing at all to do with the Second Coming, this is suggestive that his use of teleios in chapter 13 also has nothing at all to do with the future state.

(4) There are other examples in the New Testament of Paul using telios or telos in ways that clearly do not refer to the end of the age and the return of Christ; cf. Philippians 3:15; Romans 10:4, 12:2, 13:7.  For example, Rom. 12:2:  “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect (τέλειον) will of God.”

(5) It’s true that in James 5:11, τὸ τέλος (noun form) may allude to the future state.  Yet James also uses telios (the adjectival form, same word Paul uses in 1 Cor. 13:10) five times in his epistle — twice in 1:4, and once each in 1:17, 1:25, and 3:2.  In none of these uses is the return of Christ referenced.  For example, James 3:2:  “For we all stumble in many things.  If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect (τέλειος) man, able also to bridle the whole body.”

(6) Other New Testament authors use both telios and telos without reference to the Second Coming; cf. Matthew 5:48, 19:21; Hebrews 5:14, 9:11; 1 John 4:18.  For example, Heb. 5:14:  “But solid food belongs to those who are of full age (τελείων), that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”

For all these reasons, I believe the objection is not sustained, and the exposition I have presented above stands.

1 Cor. 13:8-13 is powerful testimony that the fragmentary, revelatory spiritual gifts of prophecy, tongues, and knowledge have passed away from the experience of the Christian church.  The church now possesses all the knowledge of God and His redemption that it needs in the completed Bible.

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Are Reformed Churches Against the Creation of ALL Images?

Bible  StudyWhen Christians are first exposed to the Reformed position on images of the divine Persons, they frequently ask the following question:

“I know Reformed churches are not against ALL images.  My question is, why are you NOT against all images, given the exhaustive list of Exodus 20:4, ‘any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth’?”

Here is my response:

1. Egypt worshiped a pantheon of gods that were associated with the physical universe; for example, Ra (sun god), Horus (falcon-headed god of the sky), Hathor (cow goddess), Menhit (lioness goddess of war), Apis (bull god of fertility), Hapi (fertility god of the Nile), Sobek (crocodile god of the Nile), Apep (serpent god of the underworld), etc.

2. These Egyptian gods corresponded to “heaven above (sky gods) . . . the earth beneath (animal gods) . . . and the water under the earth (river and underworld gods).”

3. Israel made a habit of worshiping these gods of Egypt during their captivity.  They resisted the Lord even while in Egypt when He commanded them to get rid of these idols.  Exekiel 20:6-8:  “On that day I raised My hand in an oath to them, to bring them out of the land of Egypt . . . Then I said to them, ‘Each of you, throw away the abominations which are before his eyes, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt.  I am the Lord your God.’  But they rebelled against Me and would not obey Me.  They did not all cast away the abominations which were before their eyes, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt.”

4. When the Lord brought idol-worshiping Israel out of Egypt and constituted them a nation at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:6), He commanded them to no longer make “any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them” (Exodus 20:4-5).

5. In its historical and religious context, it is clear that the 2nd Commandment language concerning the “heaven above . . . earth beneath . . . water under the earth” had specific reference to the Egyptian gods of those domains that the Israelites had long worshiped, and were still worshiping (Ezekiel 20:8-10).

6. Thus the 2nd Commandment was never intended as a general decree forbidding the creation of every sort of image, but a two-imperative law that forbade 1) making images of beings that are worshiped; and 2) the worship of those images.

7. That the 2nd Commandment forbade the creation of all images of the God of Israel is obvious, as clarified in Deuteronomy 4:15-18, and also in the Golden Calf incident, where the Israelites exhorted Aaron to “make us Elohim that shall go before us,” and then referred to the image as “Yahweh” and “your Elohim that brought you out of the land of Egypt” (“the Lord…your God,” Exodus 32:4-5), for which they were severely judged (Exodus 32:27-28).

8. Thus God’s people are forbidden to create images of the God they worship.  This is why Reformed Christians are not against the creation of all images in general (and are certainly not opposed to art), but are especially opposed to the creation of images of the three persons of the Trinity.  Indeed, God Himself commanded the creation of the bronze serpent (Numbers 21:8-9, though see also 2 Kings 18:3-4) and the various images used in the Tabernacle (Exodus 25-27), but at no time did He ever ordain images of Himself to be used (cf. Deuteronomy 4:10-18).

9. Thus John Calvin:  “God is opposed to idols, that all may know He is the only fit witness to Himself.  He expressly forbids any attempt to represent Him by a bodily shape . . . We must hold it as a first principle, that as often as any form is assigned to God, his glory is corrupted by an impious lie” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1:11).

10. This is why Reformed confessions such as the Heidelberg Catechism do not forbid the creation of all images without exception. “Q97: May we not make any image at all?  A: God may not and cannot be imaged in any way; as for creatures, though they may indeed be imaged, yet God forbids the making or keeping of any likeness of them, either to worship them or to serve God by them.”

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Why Did John Calvin and the Reformers Forbid All Images of the Divine Persons?

One question I am frequently asked as a Reformed pastor is why I believe all images of the divine Persons of the Trinity are sinful.  This is my reply.

Heidelberg CatechismHistorically, Reformed and Calvinist churches have taught that all images/statues/paintings intended to represent Jesus Christ (and the Father and the Holy Spirit) are violations of the 2nd Commandment:  “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them” (Exodus 20:4-5a).

Thus John Calvin:  “God is opposed to idols, that all may know He is the only fit witness to Himself.  He expressly forbids any attempt to represent Him by a bodily shape . . . We must hold it as a first principle, that as often as any form is assigned to God, his glory is corrupted by an impious lie” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1:11).  See also Heidelberg Catechism Questions 96-98; Westminster Larger Catechism Question 109; and 2nd Helvetic Confession Chapter IV.

So, no images of Christ at all?  Not in church?  Not in public nativity scenes?  Not even as art?  Yes, that is the teaching of the Reformed confessions, and I am persuaded from Scripture it is the correct one.  Here’s why:

1. The 2nd Commandment forbids not only the worship of man-made images of beings regarded as divine, but also the creation of such images.  “You shall not make for yourself a carved image.”  The tendency is to run this statement together with what follows (“you shall not bow down to them nor serve them”) to conclude that it is only the worship of such images that is forbidden.  Yet the commandment has two imperatives and expressly forbids the making of such images exactly because it is in the nature of man to fall down and worship what he considers to be divine.  Jesus our Lord is in heaven, and He is to be worshiped by faith.  He is not to be imaged.

Many Christians say that it’s not sinful to make images of Christ (or other so-called gods), just so long as we don’t worship them.  Yet this conclusion doesn’t follow from the 2nd Commandment, and is not supported by Scripture.

If it was theoretically okay for the Israelites to make graven images of God or so-called gods as long as they did not actually worship them, why in Deut. 4:15-18 does God command the Israelites to “take careful heed to yourselves, for you saw no form when the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, lest you act corruptly and make for yourselves a carved image in the form of any figure: the likeness of male or female, etc.”?

Notice that God says acting “corruptly” is evidenced not just in the worship of graven images, but in the creation of them.  Why is the making of such images in itself sinful?  Because God says that a graven image, an image of the unseen God or any other so-called god, is innately “a teacher of lies” (Hab. 2:18).  This is why Moses completely destroyed the golden calf, and ground it into powder.  This is why in Deut. 7:25, God commanded the Israelites to utterly destroy every Canaanite idol when they went into the land: “You shall utterly detest it and utterly abhor it, for it is an accursed thing.”  The image is evil and accursed in itself, because it lies to us.  This is why it draws us into lying, accursed worship (kissing icons, kneeling before images, praying while staring at images, etc.).  And this is why we are not to make or possess images of God (including the incarnate Christ) or other so-called gods.

2. Many say, “The sin’s not in the thing, it’s in my heart.  There is nothing innately wrong with images of Christ, it’s how men abuse them that is sinful.”  This type of argument would certainly apply in the case of things like alcohol and dancing.  The Bible teaches that wine is a gift from God (Ps. 104:14-15), and nowhere does the Bible prohibit dancing.  It’s true that people frequently abuse those things (just as they abuse other good gifts from God like food and sex), but the abuse of a thing is no argument against its proper use.  It is Pharisaism, man-made religion, to say all drinking of alcohol and all dancing are innately sinful.

However, in light of the plain and repeated teaching of Scripture, the above argument is misapplied in the case of graven images.  “The sin’s not in the thing, it’s in my heart” is a false dichotomy when applied to the creation (and ownership) of images of the unseen God or other so-called gods.  Again, according to God Himself, the sin is in the image itself.  This is why the Israelites were commanded to “burn the carved images of (the Canaanite) gods with fire . . . for it is an abomination to the Lord your God” (Deut. 7:25).  The images themselves were abominations, hateful things to God.  This is why the 2nd Commandment specifically forbids both the creation of such images and the worship of them.

3. The apostles walked the Earth with Jesus, and even though they wrote extensively about Christ, they did not leave behind any images of the Lord, nor did they even describe His earthly appearance.  We can be sure that if these early eyewitnesses had thought it was important for the Christian church to have an accurate image of Jesus in His humiliation, they would have provided it.  But they didn’t.  This means that no one knows what Jesus looks like, and all images of Him are nothing more than figments of human imagination.  Thus if a man draws a picture and says, “This is Jesus,” he is telling us that what he has invented in his mind and created with his hands is the Son of God, and that is impious deceit, a gross corruption of His unique glory.  There is no essential difference between pointing to an icon or statue of an imaginary person and saying “this is Jesus,” and Aaron referring to the golden calf as “the Lord (Yahweh).” (Exodus 32:5).

4. Images of Jesus can only capture His (imagined!) human nature.  Christ’s divine nature is impossible to reproduce, and thus the deceitfulness of the image is compounded, for the incomprehensible glory of the enthroned Son of God is unrepresented.  Zacharias Ursinus, the primary author of the Heidelberg Catechism, said that this seems to revive the ancient heresy of Nestorius, who taught that the human and divine natures of Jesus were separate things.

5. Christianity is a religion of faith. It focuses on “things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Christians worship the unseen God and His unseen Son seated in the unseen Heaven, mediated by the unseen Spirit.  Unauthorized images of Christ add nothing beneficial to this religion of faith, and serve only to tempt the faithful to take their minds off “things above” (Colossians 3:2) and focus on the creations of human hands.  Such images tempt us to idolatry, the very thing we are to guard ourselves against (1 John 5:21).

6. Christians today need to be especially clear about these matters, given the growing number of popular films that portray Jesus.  As well-made as “The Passion of the Christ,” “The Jesus Film,” “Jesus of Nazareth,” and “The Son of God” may be, they violate the 2nd Commandment in that they are riddled with graven images of an imaginary Christ, leaving in their wake a mental image of Jesus that is a gross corruption of the true Christ.  We must especially resist the idea of using such films to promote Christian evangelism.  Faith comes by hearing the word of God (Romans 10:17), not by watching graven images set to film.

7. Are Reformed churches against the creation of all images?  This is a frequently-asked question, and the answer is no.  Heidelberg Catechism Question 97 speaks to this:  “May we not make any image at all?  Answer: God may not and cannot be imaged in any way; as for creatures, though they may indeed be imaged, yet God forbids the making or keeping of any likeness of them, either to worship them or to serve God by them.”  The 2nd Commandment forbids the making of images of beings regarded as divine, whether it be the true God or a saint or some pretended god (for example, the various sky, animal, river, and underworld gods the Egyptians worshiped, which are referenced in “heaven above . . . the earth beneath . . . the water under the earth”).  God did not forbid the making of all images.  He forbade the making of images of beings the Israelites had made a habit of worshiping while they lived in Egypt (Ezekiel 20:5-9).  That this prohibition included any and all images of the God of Israel is obvious, as was demonstrated in the golden calf incident, where the Israelites exhorted Aaron to “make us Elohim that shall go before us,” and then referred to the image as “the Lord (Yahweh) . . . that brought (us) out of the land of Egypt,” a terrible sin for which they were severely judged (Exodus 32:1-5, 27-28).

As Ursinus concluded, “God ought not to be represented by any graven image, because He does not will it, nor can it be done, nor would it profit anything if it were done.” (Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, p. 883)

“What profit is the image, that its maker should carve it?  The molded image, a teacher of lies?” (Habakkuk 2:18)

“I am the Lord, that is My name. I will not give My glory to another, nor My praise to graven images.” (Isaiah 42:8).

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