truth

Catholicism.

 

I was raised Catholic. Being from an Italian/Irish lineage, I was given ample opportunity to be submerged into the culture and doctrine of The Roman Catholic Church. The traditions, the expectations, the habits, the components of religious duty, all surrounded me…but was never explained to me. I was about 17 or 18 when I begin thinking about god in some fashion. It would not be until I was twenty-one that I was seized by God with His truth being face to face with His Word, the Bible and what it teaches. I then heard about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I remember sitting in that church building, being invited by my neighbor from the dorm, listening, knowing, and affirming that I deserved Hell, I was a sinner, and that Jesus died. I absorbed all of that during my short years in cognitive interaction with The Roman Catholic Church. However, that day I visited that little Bible church in Bozeman, Montana was the day that the pastor mentioned the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The reality of that, and its significant implications, hit me deeply (to put it mildly), and immediately I was given faith to believe and submit to that Lord of Glory. I remember it well.

However, the years prior to that, I was struggling. In so many ways I was lost-angry, frustrated, hopeless. I remember thinking one particular question over and over again, “If Jesus was such a nice guy, then why did the people kill Him?” I could never get an answer to that nagging question from any Mass I attended, any discussion I heard, or any ritual I observed. There was never any sense in which you could really understand what Jesus did in my time attending the Roman Catholic Church, only that He did it. He died, gave His body, laid to rest in a tomb, held by his mother, conferred religion to mankind…all of which was enshrouded in absolute impregnable mystery. That is not for us to know, only accept. The life, death, and resurrection is not for people to understand only accept. The Jesus of the Catholic Church I attended in Kansas City, MO. and the variety of feasts as well was simply acts of response to our religion. Why? I didn’t know. It was never explained. I am convinced that if I were to ask the average Catholic “Why did Jesus die on a cross? Why was He raised from the dead? Who benefits from His death? What does the Bible say about all of these things?” they would not know either.

Pagan religions have one stick to beat people with-mystery. It is mystery that keeps you attending. It is mystery that keeps you giving. It is mystery that keeps you fearful about ever questioning, or simply understanding, the purposes behind the religion. I am convinced that The Roman Catholic Church is a Pagan religion, primarily for that fact. The leadership of Catholicism does not divulge the purposes for its decrees, nor is it compelled to. They cannot tell you why they do what they do. They cannot tell you where they can find Jesus’ words concerning the Mass, Indulgences, or the Rosary. They cannot demonstrate, exegetically, how Peter was the “Papa” and head of the church. They cannot explain how ex Cathedra can be supported in light of Scripture. Thus, like the life of the church itself, it is all a mystery. And that is the way they like it. Furthermore, this is the foundational component to its “unity.” The reality is that the Catholic church is a shell, a crust. The so-called unity found there, that they say Protestants don’t have because we have so many denominations as if proof of our erroneous doctrines, is only external unity because most Catholics cannot explain Jesus Christ or what He has accomplished. So, in order to keep order, they enshroud the Church with mystery and thereby maintain their idea of unity. It is not unity. It is utter chaos. The Apostle Paul taught that the means of unity is the knowledge of the Son of God (Ephesians 4:11-13). Those who do not believe, and thus teach against, what the Scriptures teach about Jesus Christ cannot remain in fellowship with God’s people (Romans 16:17-18). When a church says the same things about Christ, the kingdom, and all that Christ taught, it is unified. That demands extensive knowledge of those things, the very thing Rome despises.

I want to address a few typical considerations that I have heard over the years from Catholics concerning the differences between them and us, those who are termed “Protestants.” Martin Luther and his actions drove a wedge between us that needed to be driven. I praise God for his conscience that led him to stand alone that day in the face of the anger and tyranny of the leadership of the Catholic Church. What a man. But, just what were the teachings that made up that wedge? What was it that compelled this scholarly monk to renounce The Roman Catholic Church in such stark terms? I believe it comes down to a few teachings (although, admittedly, volumes could be, and have been, written):

  1. THE GOSPEL OF THE KINGDOM OF JESUS CHRIST.
  2. THE AUTHORITY OF THE SCRIPTURES.
  3. THE DEPRAVITY OF MAN.

The Gospel of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.

Rome cannot understand the kingdom of Jesus Christ. If we can know a tree by its fruit, then we can surely see this in Rome. Rome seeks to introduce the kingdom to the world by means of subduing people to the Mother Church. Or, to say it another way, Rome wants everyone to “come home.” That is not the announcement of the kingdom. We, those truly born from above, may have to enter eternity by means of a sword. Jesus said,

Matthew 10:34–36

34 “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.

35  “For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;

36  and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.

Jesus never gave the illusion that somehow the world would be subdued by His church. He never indicated that the church is the vehicle by which the world is made peaceful. That was not His goal in coming to this earth. By His own words He came to this earth to divide the earth. Jesus purposefully initialized the animosity that would arise between family members because some would believe in Him and some would not. What is the good news in that? It is this: when division does happen, a person can be in the family of the One who will ultimately rule. Compared to the alternative, which is to be judged by Him, it is good news. To be reconciled to Jesus Christ, the Judge (John 5:25-27) is the announcement that true Christians have and Rome does not. The gospel that Jesus Christ preached is the announcement of the kingdom. Indeed, it is often referred to as “the gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 4:23; 9:35; 24:14; Luke 16:16). It is the announcement that Jesus Christ has received a kingdom and He is inviting the world into it (see Matthew 22:1-14). That is not to say that everyone will, or can, enter into it. Jesus Himself said, “For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14). The gospel demands the call to the world to repent from its sins (Matthew 4:17; Acts 17:30-31). The world, which loves darkness (John 3:19), is the recipient of this announcement and is obligated to obey (2 Thessalonians 1:5-8). The heart of the gospel, and the provision for men to enter into Christ’s kingdom is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). This provision, and this alone, is what “merits” man’s entrance into the kingdom. Catholic theology teaches that our works also merit our entrance (Council of Trent, Session VI, Justification, Canons 4, 7, 32). They condemned those who teach that the requirement for entrance into the kingdom was met by Jesus Christ alone, without cooperation from manas heretical (Ibid, Canon 12). In doing so, they condemned Christ Himself because Jesus taught, in context, that man cannot even know how to justify himself nor accomplish it, even by the cooperation of Christ (John 3:1-8). If a man could birth himself physically, then sure, he could cooperate with Jesus Christ for good works that produce eternal life and more of it. But, no man ever cooperated in his physical birth, and no man can cooperate in his spiritual one either.

The Authority of the Scriptures.

The written Word of God has the same authority as the spoken Word of God from His throne (which is not in Rome, by the way). That is to say, God has spoken through His prophets and they recorded what was to be recorded into books and letters and those have been preserved and collected into a mini-library called the Scriptures. The writer of Hebrews wrote that God spoke in many portions and in many ways to His prophets, and ultimately in His Son Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1). This speaking of the Father is what we are after. His speaking was recorded by “men moved by the Holy Spirit [who] spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:20-21). The office of prophet is no longer in the church (1 Corinthians 13:8). Thus, for the Pope to speak a new form of doctrine or liturgy, and to ascribe the same level of authority upon it as Scripture is simply not possible. Thus, in the same vein of Deuteronomy 13:1ff. that person who says that they now speak on behalf of God as if God Himself is speaking in him, or recognizing his own words as His, then that person is to be rejected. God has closed the canon. Surely, if there was ongoing revelation through a prophet, of which the Pope would have to be labeled, then we have the right to test all that he writes and says against the Word of God (all 66 books-see 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22; cf. Deuteronomy 13:1ff.). However, Catholicism admits that, in a very real sense, the canon is not closed. By that I mean that they believe that they have unbroken succession of traditions from the Apostles down to this very day (Trent, session IV, ‘Decree Concerning the Canonical Scriptures’). Not only do they accept the Apocrypha, which has been proven non-canonical internally, but they list them as authoritative and binding. So, the authority of Scripture, which is unique to the Scriptures alone, is now shared with spoken tradition and the Apocrypha (as well as the early church fathers, as they call them). Yet, the Apostle Paul wrote,

2 Timothy 3:16–17

16  All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;

17  so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

What is validated as Scripture, not by council but by the Scriptures themselves, is Scripture. Human tradition and extra-canonical writings cannot, and should never be, placed upon the same level as the written Word of God.

The Depravity of Man

Finally, Rome does not believe in the teaching of Scripture regarding the depravity of man. If they did, they would not anathematize those who teach the mercy of God (Justification, Canons 4, 9, 12). Rome says,

It is furthermore declared that in adults the beginning of that justification must proceed from the predisposing grace of God through Jesus Christ, that is, from His vocation, whereby, without any merits on their part, they are called; that they who by sin had been cut off from God, may be disposed through His quickening and helping grace to convert themselves to their own justification by freely assenting to and cooperating with that grace; so that, while God touches the heart of man through the illumination of the Holy Ghost, man himself neither does absolutely nothing while receiving that inspiration, since he can also reject it, nor yet is he able by his own free will and without the grace of God to move himself to justice in His sight (Ibid, Chapter 5, emphasis mine).

Although the Council of Trent affirms what seems to be a sound understanding of human depravity, by definition of other doctrines, namely sanctification, they deny it. That is, as Paul said, the righteousness that makes one holy is only by faith in Jesus Christ, worked out in us by God who generates obedience in us by His power alone, not with our cooperation (Philippians 3:7-11; 2:12-13; See Romans 1:5 & 16:26). God certainly works in us for righteousness, not to aid our flesh, but to live out the regeneration which comes by His Holy Spirit through His Word by faith (1 Thessalonians 2:13). The depravity of man is not that his innocence is lost by Adam. It is that he hates God, is His enemy and despises righteousness with his whole heart (John 3:19-20; cf. Ephesians 2:1-3; Romans 8:6-8). This is why millions run to the Catholic churches, as well as a multitude of other cults, because of their refusal to submit to the righteousness of God which is by faith (Romans 10:1-4). They build their own set of righteousness, all by the imitation of the righteousness of God, which is in the Scripture, and they do what they think Scripture says (John 5:39-40), but they do it by means of their own depravity. The righteousness to which they attain is not from heaven, but earth, and is therefore condemning, not meritorious.

The most righteous act imaginable is to believe God. The Bible teaches that this act is not possible, either by man, nor in a mixture of his will and God’s (John 1:12-13), nor in any other fashion. The faith that must be in man as proof of eternal life (John 3:15) must be given to man, as a gift (Ephesians 2:8-9), and is not earned. If it were earned, the death of Jesus Christ would not have been necessary. Besides, the promise of the Abrahamic Covenant, which has come to the Gentiles, is only by faith, and not by the fruit of faith which is righteous behavior (Galatians 3; esp. vv. 8-9). Catholic doctrine demands that the sinner must cooperate with God in the regeneration that is required to enter the Kingdom of Christ. However, if that were the case, then the Apostle Paul was wrong when he taught that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor the perishable the imperishable” (1 Corinthians 15:50). That is why the Lord taught that a man must die in order to follow Him (Matthew 10:37-39) and then must be born from above, from God (John 3:3-8; cf. Ezekiel 36:25-27). What could possibly make a Catholic think that he could assist God in this endeavor? God does not remodel a sinner-the sinner must die and be reborn. He must be a “new creation” in order to be acceptable to God and enter God’s kingdom (see Matthew 5:48).

For any person who believes Catholic doctrine, and has believed in the teaching of the Priests, Bishops, Cardinals, and Popes, of centuries past or today, read and re-read what I have written. I am not asking you to become a Protestant. I, as a pastor of Christ’s flock, am instructing you to submit to Jesus Christ by means of repentance from erroneous doctrine and dead works and believing in what He actually did teach-you must be born from God, not man, in order to enter His kingdom.

Biblical (and Unbiblical) Teaching on the History of Head Coverings-pt.2

My previous post on the teaching of head-coverings generated a few responses. At the outset, I want to say that I realize that there are many dear, faithful, Christians who believe wholeheartedly in a woman wearing a head-covering during worship. They are dear people and faithful to the Lord. I am thankful for them. These posts are not directed to any one person, but are meant to clarify, what I believe to be, an erroneous understanding of this passage to such an extent that it is defrauding some of their prize of knowing Christ (Colossians 2:16-23). In an effort to attempting to correct an incorrect teaching, I have written these posts. And, judging by the statistics of the last post, I was right. Of all the blog posts I have written, the last one was, by far, the most read. I have received almost no responses, but that is okay. One response was made by a brother whom I know and I want to address that, because I believe it might help others.

This brother’s statement was that church history contradicted my conclusion that a head covering was not commended by Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:3-16. I want to respond to that comment in a full post because I believe it demonstrates a major problem in the thinking of many. The statement that was made was, “I am not dogmatic on head coverings, however, church history would run counter to your conclusion. Traditionally, women have always worn head coverings until very recently — and that really only in the western world.”

THE ROLE OF CHURCH HISTORY

First, I want to address the fact that women have always worn head coverings until very recently. It is true, as you read through some historical information, that head-coverings were common. However, going about your life without a head-covering was common also. Michael Marlowe has a decent summary of Greek, Roman, and Jewish practices concerning these things here. It would appear that head-coverings were worn by both men and women in public, private, and religious processions. It would also appear that head coverings were also not worn by both men and women in public, private, and religious processions. However, that is pagan life. That does not determine the meaning of Scripture. Best to say that the customs, traditions, of the town of Corinth, at least of many, was to be covered from the head down to below the shoulders, and in some cases, more. They also wore headbands, hats, and scarfs as well, just like today. Many women wore their hair in a braid and “bun.” They often adorned their hair with items such as coins, jewels, and other valuable items (see 1 Timothy 2:9). So, just like today, you have a mixture of practices that come together in the church at Corinth.

Second, as far as church history is concerned, it appears that the confusion over head-coverings also continued. One of the more direct writings on this is Tertullian’s On The Veiling of Virgins. This long letter written around 200 A.D. addresses the practice, and reason, for women to wear a veil (which was not a doily, but an actual veil that included covering everywhere long hair would go). His conclusions are that every woman, married, widowed, unmarried, should have a veil. He wrote,

“It remains likewise that we turn to (the virgins) themselves, to induce them to accept these (suggestions) the more willingly. I pray you, be you mother, or sister, or virgin-daughter—-let me address you according to the names proper to your years—-veil your head: if a mother, for your sons’ sakes; if a sister, for your brethren’s sakes; if a daughter for your fathers’ sakes. All ages are perilled in your person.” Chapter XVI

His conclusions, then, are that a veil aids in modesty for every woman, married or single, during worship and out of worship. It is to be worn at all times, and the more it covers the better. He wrote,

“The region of the veil is co-extensive with the space covered by the hair when unbound; in order that the necks too may be encircled. For it is they which must be subjected, for the sake of which “power” ought to be “had on the head: “the veil is their yoke. [4] Arabia’s heathen females will be your judges, who cover not only the head, but the face also, so entirely, that they are content, with one eye free, to enjoy rather half the light than to prostitute the entire face. A female would rather see than be seen.” Chapter XVII

Thus, according to Tertullian, the veil should reach as far as the hair would go when “unbound.” In fact, he invokes Arabian women as the judges over Christian women in this practice thereby saying that the Arabian women are more modest in their dress than the women in the church.

Therefore, to be consistent, women who believe that they are required to wear a veil, or doily, or something, should, according to the authority of Tertullian, extend that veil to her shoulders and even over portions of the face all day long. To Tertullian, to have your face visible (this is not during worship, mind you) is to “prostitute the entire face.”

If a person were to look at the practice of head coverings through the ages, you certainly would see murals, pictures, and reliefs from the early days of the church to around even the 1700’s with women whose heads were covered. However, as mentioned before, many were also uncovered. It was certainly a practice, custom, expectation, of many through the ages for women to cover their heads (but that was also for men as well). But, this was not just during worship. It was all the time. Further, there was much discussion for the kind and thickness of the veil as well. The assumption from all of this was that Paul, in 1 Corinthians 11, teaches that a woman should cover herself with a physical covering, i.e. a hat, shawl, or linen of some sort, while praying or prophesying. So, even with church history with us, we still come down to, “What does the text mean?”

This brings me to my next point, which is far more important. I can summarize it this way:

Church history is not our hermeneutic.

That is, we cannot interpret the Scripture’s meaning by the practice of the early church, nor the latter church, or any church. We cannot interpret Scripture’s meaning by looking at the habits and practices of the church throughout the ages. The meaning of Scripture is determined by the Scripture. And, Scripture judges church history. What I have found is, unfortunately, some would rather rest in the works and teachings of the fathers and reformers (and excel in the knowledge of their writings), rather than wholeheartedly understand and believe the Scripture…and they do not realize it. They unwittingly act as if the Scripture is unclear and to be doubted and that we need extra-biblical revelation to understand it. I am not saying that we should not learn from the faithful teachers throughout the ages. However, no godly teacher would ever suggest that what he says/writes is on the same level as Scripture.

For example, many times when Paul wanted to teach on the responsibilities of man and woman he did not appeal to customs or practices for authority. He went back to God’s created design. He does this in 1 Corinthians 11:6-9. His appeal is to creation. He did not appeal to a custom for authority. He was actually trying to correct a custom, as a response to the Corinthians’ writing to him (1 Corinthians 7:1). There were some in the church carrying over the practice of the day of head-coverings. And, like today, many women find their entire sense of righteousness and propriety in her head-covering. Some also find it in their church membership, prayers, or singing in the choir. Paul is addressing the fact that some in the church were being factious over the head coverings and, head-coverings, along with other topics, were causing divisive confusion. A woman’s hat is not her true head, her husband, and man in general, is. So, the real question for a godly woman is not, “Where is your head-covering?” The real question is, “How is your heart?”

 

BIBLICAL EVIDENCE

Just glancing through the Bible looking for a statement about “head-covering” you will find very little. There are references to “turbans” (Exodus 28:39, 40, 42; 39:27-29), “veils” (Genesis 24:65-a better translation is “shawl”; Song of Solomon 4:1; 6:7-used in marriage settings), and in Isaiah 3:19-20 there is a reference to “veils” and “headdresses.” These were, no doubt, customary and not commendable as God says that He will, in the day of judgment, remove them along with other items of ornamentation that the women of Judah were coveting (see vv.22-26). Interestingly, in Genesis 38:12-19 the story of Tamar’s treachery contains the fact that since she sat by the road with her face covered, Judah thought she was a prostitute (v.15). Leviticus 13 contains teaching concerning those with skin disorders to be covered and uncovered accordingly. In Deuteronomy 22:5, a man is told to never wear a woman’s clothing thereby making clear distinctions between men and women (which I believe has some bearing upon 1 Corinthians 11). But, I have found no Old Testament instruction for women to veil themselves as a direction from God for worship. To be sure, a woman should have a designation of the fact that she recognizes authority over her (1 Corinthians 11:13-15). However, that is the desire of the heart and will of a godly woman (1 Peter 3:3-6; cf. 1 Timothy 2:9-15). Her submissive heart is demonstrated, not in her hat, but by her “chaste and respectful behavior” (1 Peter 3:2). As King Lemuel wrote, “Let her works praise her…” (Proverbs 31:31).

What does all of this mean? It means that Tertullian’s letter giving directions to virgins, widows, and married women in the churches, does not help us one way or another to interpret the passage. The practice may have been popular, but instructions for the practice of head-covering by the apostles for the women in the church is lacking. Further, as mentioned the other day, the more important issue is not the linen on the head or the upper body. The issue is whether or not a woman loves, submits to, and appreciates the authority (and responsibility) she is under.

Again, Clement, Tertullian, and others may have simply elevated a custom or opinion (Romans 14:1f.) not based upon a clear understanding of Paul’s writings (thereby perpetuating confusion and unnecessary/ineffective restraint of the flesh (Colossians 2:20-23) which was not unusual for the day). It is obvious, as you read Tertullian, that his thinking is flavored with a spiritualistic hermeneutic, not a sound, historical/grammatical one. For example, to verify his hermeneutic, He wrote,

“Herein consists the defence of our opinion, in accordance with Scripture, in accordance with Nature, in accordance with Discipline. Scripture founds the law; Nature joins to attest it; Discipline exacts it. Which of these (three) does a custom rounded on (mere) opinion appear in behalf of? or what is the colour of the opposite view? [2] God’s is Scripture; God’s is Nature; God’s is Discipline. Whatever is contrary to these is not God’s. If Scripture is uncertain, Nature is manifest; and concerning Nature’s testimony Scripture cannot be uncertain.56 If there is a doubt about Nature, Discipline points out what is more sanctioned by God. [3] For nothing is to Him dearer than humility; nothing more acceptable than modesty; nothing more offensive than “glory” and the study of men-pleasing. Chatper XVI

CLOSING THOUGHTS

It is interesting that Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 follows a flow of thought. It appears that Paul is addressing a question that the Corinthian church had about women praying to God. We know this because Paul repeats their question in v.13. He writes, “Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?” Paul’s letter is a response to questions the Corinthians had for him (1 Corinthians 7:1). Thus, it appears that they wrote about a confusion concerning women praying with their head uncovered (He also, just as much, answers the question about men covering their heads during prayer and preaching). The answer is, no. A woman praying or prophesying should not do so without her head covered. He deals with their custom of wearing a head-covering, probably much like the Romans who did so in their pagan rituals, men and women alike [“Archaeological evidence from Rome itself to the Roman East is unambiguous, Oster urges, in depicting the “liturgical head covering” of men when they pray or use prophetic speech: “the practice of men covering their heads in the context of prayer and prophecy was a common pattern of Roman piety and widespread during the late Republic and early Empire. Since Corinth was a Roman colony, there should be little doubt that this aspect of Roman religious practice deserves greater attention by commentators than it was received.” [Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000), 823]. But, the fact that they had these coverings is superfluous to Paul. Why? Because nature itself, God’s design, certainly teaches us that a man with long hair is disgraceful toward Christ, his Head (and, all things originate from God-v.12). And, a woman without it is disgraceful toward her head, man. Please remember, Paul had to correct sexual sins in the church in Corinth, as well as sexual responsibilities and distinctions. This teaching is no different. That is why he is doing it here.

Finally, I need to make one plea. I realize that even Peter had a hard time understanding some of what Paul wrote (2 Peter 3:14-16). This is a more difficult passage. However, it is not difficult because Paul was unclear, since we know that his main thought was to verify that a man is the head of a woman, thus she should have a recognition of that authority over her by maintaining her long hair since that is why God gave it at creation in the first place. The lack of clarity comes in when we believe other sources of information with the faith that we are supposed to give to Scripture (1 Corinthians 1:2-5). We must not approach the Scripture

  • With the thought that other writings are equal to Scripture.
  • With doubt about its veracity.
  • With a sense of judgment over it.
  • With the idea that we can mold it however we want.

We must approach the Scripture with it as our authority-final authority; sufficient authority. It alone determines how we interpret it. It was given as a collection of books written by real men, in real time, with actual revelation from God, written in words on a page, and with absolute truthfulness in all that it contains. When we allow the teaching of men, however godly they might have been (or might be), to merge with the text, we end up clouding the issue. The confusion of inserting the thoughts of men into the pristine text of Scripture is a travesty and we must commit ourselves to the study of the text, and the text alone, for our understanding.

“Thus says the Lord, “Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool. Where then is a house you could build for Me? And where is a place that I may rest? “For My hand made all these things, Thus all these things came into being,” declares the Lord. “But to this one I will look, To him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.” (Isaiah 66:1–2, NASB95)

Challenging Covenantalism: The Covenant of Works-pt. 2

The last post posed a question: “Was there a Covenant of Works?” That is a legitimate question, given the weight that is attributed to this covenant. Since it becomes the foundational brick in the wall of Covenant Theology (CT), it must be examined and identified as true or false. To assume either way is detrimental to the revelation of God and will harm His glory.

We saw last time that CT asserts that God made a covenant with Adam in which if Adam were obedient, he would inherit eternal life. If he were disobedient, he would die. Or to put another way, if he obeyed, he would be blessed. If he disobeyed, he would be cursed. The backdrop for this reasoning is the assertion that the components of covenants are present in the narrative of Genesis 1-2. “the substance of covenant is the stuff that forms the contents of Genesis 1-3” (Meredith Kline, “Two Adams, Two Covenant of Works”, selected readings from Kingdom Prologue, 2000, p.1). These components also are present in the Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) treaties identified in archaeological finds over the years. In comparing those finds, including significant discoveries like the treaties of the Hittites and the Ebla Tablets, with the biblical texts, it is believed that God followed the same pattern as those treaties and covenants as written in the ANE discoveries in the creation of the world.

  • I would like to challenge that assumption and clarify a few things concerning this hypothesis. Specifically, I do not believe that Moses is writing as one would from the structure of ANE treaties. Further, the components of a covenant are not present in the text of Genesis 1-2.

First, it is important that we insert a foundational tenant of Scripture, namely the doctrine of inerrancy. Inerrancy states that the Scriptures, in the autographs, are inspired by God through the instrument of human authors and as such the resultant text is infallible, true, and authoritative. Also, the basis of the inerrancy of Scripture, and the veracity of the resultant copies of those inerrant letters/books, is that God, who cannot lie (Titus 1:2), is the source of the information contained therein. That is, although man may have used sources other than dictation from God (e.g. Luke 1:1-4), the resulting text of Scripture is nonetheless truth and has God as the source of that information. Inerrancy is also claimed by CT as well. Why is inerrancy significant to our discussion? Because, when speaking of covenantal language in Genesis 1-2, A) does history interpret the event of creation, or B) does creation define and interpret history? The only correct answer is B, Scripture, and its account of creation, defines and interprets history. Therefore, let us consider the assertion that all the components of ANE treaties are present in the creation narrative of Genesis 1-2 as patently false. There are a number of reasons, which I will give below, but begin by considering that God did not follow the conventions of culture (of ANE or otherwise) when He established the foundations of the earth. If it is asserted that God’s work in creation followed the pattern of ANE treaties/covenants, then we have committed eisegesis saying that God’s creation work was patterned after ANE cultural norms. Surely, inerrancy cannot be maintained with that assertion since creation came before the Hittites.

Second, the components of a covenant/treaty are not present in Genesis 1-2. The general components of the covenant of works are usually listed as preamble/prologue, contractual parties, stipulations, blessings for obedience, curses for disobedience, and concluding remarks usually calling upon witnesses to the agreement. Michael Horton, author and host of White Horse Inn, a Christian radio show from a Reformed perspective, also describes a “typical” covenant arrangement and attributes that back into Genesis:

" In addition, the literary elements of covenant-making seem to be present in the Genesis narrative, especially as interpreted by the rest of Scripture. Even in Genesis 1-3 we recognize the features of a covenant that we have delineated: a historical prologue setting the stage (Genesis 1-2), stipulations (2:16-17), and sanctions (2:17b) over which Eve and the serpent argue (3:1-5) and which are finally carried out in the form of judgment (3:8-19) (Michael Horton, God of Promise [Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006], 90).

Kim Riddlebarger, professor at Westminster Seminary California and pastor of Christ Reformed Church, Anaheim, CA., lists them in summary form as:

“Although the term “covenant of works” does not appear in the creation account, all of the elements of such a covenant are clearly present in Eden. First, there are two parties involved (Adam and his creator), with God sovereignly imposing the terms of this covenant upon Adam and his descendants. Second, there is a condition set forth by God as spelled out in Genesis 2:17–“but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Although this condition comes in the form of a specific prohibition (if you eat from the tree you will die), it can also be framed as a positive theological principle which describes the very essence of this covenant: “Do this [i.e., obey by not eating] and live.” Third, there is a blessing promised upon perfect obedience (eternal life) as well as a threatened curse (death) for any act of disobedience. If Adam obeys his creator and does not eat from the tree, then he will receive God’s promised blessing–eternal life. But should Adam eat from the tree, then he will come under the covenant curse–which is death (Westminster Seminary California, blog, http://wscal.edu/blog/entry/3608, accessed 9/4/2012).

 

If we simply use these writings as our starting points, we will discover that the ideal of the Covenant of Works is, in fact, the philosophy of man and not a true explanation of what God actually did.

First, Michael Horton indicates that the entire narrative of Genesis 1-3 fits into the ANE structure. Unfortunately, he does not seem to comprehend that the creation of the world and the cosmos does not fit into covenantal/treaty structure.  Although Moses wrote during the time when the Near East was not ancient, creation occurred before ANE culture. When these things are read into the biblical text, the text is treated as some literary piece and not actual history. Such is the common failure of CT.

Second, Dr. Riddlebarger, who has done much to confuse the Scriptures, states that if Adam would obey God, he would receive access to the Tree of Life. Once eating the fruit, he would then live forever. It is further stated that Adam is on a kind of probation to prove his obedience. There are a few problems with that teaching, however. Most CT teachers repeat Genesis 2:17, “…but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” Along with this verse is the usual statement that this indicates a kind of test for Adam. In fact, this “condition” becomes the hinge pin for much in CT. Adam failed to maintain the condition by breaking the covenant, and thus he died as per this verse. The converse, they reason, is also true. If Adam does obey, then he will receive blessing. One glaring problem is the fact that the biblical text says in the previous verse, “The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely…” (v.16). Adam already had access, free access, to any other tree in the garden, including the Tree of Life. In fact, both eating of every other tree in the garden and not eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil are all under the umbrella of a “command” (v.16). It is just as much a command to eat freely as it is to not eat. This is also verified by the fact that the Tree of Life needed to be guarded from Adam and Eve after the fall (Genesis 3:24). He did, in fact, have access to that tree even after his disobedience! The reasoning with CT is that if Adam exhibits perfect obedience to the command (the stipulations of the “covenant”), then by not eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil he will then, in time, be able to have access to the tree of life, by the sheer fact that he will still be alive to do so. This conditional existence of Adam, according to CT, is the basis for the rest of their assumptions in theology. However, there were no conditions in the garden, and thus there was nothing for Adam to agree to. This is not a contractual agreement between two parties. In fact, is was not a “royal grant” either since God does not promise to benefit Adam in the least. Adam was already blessed, already possessed life, and already walked with God:

Let me reiterate. Adam already had free and unhindered access to the tree of life (Genesis 2:16). There was no condition, whatsoever, for Adam to be able to go up to that tree and take of its fruit and eat. He was already given free access by the Creator.

This is crucial to realize. Since there was no contractual condition for which Adam must attain, then there was no covenant. Since there was no covenant, this arrangement in the garden does not follow ANE treaty structure, or anything of the sort. God’s work in creation is simply an expression of His will. To assert and teach that Adam’s eating of the tree of life is based upon not eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is to 1) miss the actual words of the text, 2) misrepresent what God has done in creation, and 3) diverge from sound biblical revelation on the matter, and thus maintain an apostate position, thereby harming the church for whom the truth of Scripture belongs (1 Timothy 3:15).

Third, CT also asserts that God would bless Adam if he obeyed, and curse Adam if he did not. That is not true. As already stated, God already blessed Adam (Genesis 1:28). He already had life (Genesis 2:7). In fact, the restriction to the tree of life post-fall indicates that he would have been confirmed in some kind of perpetual physical life that could be sustained forever. That is not to say, however, that he would have inherited “eternal life” such as we have in Christ (i.e. partaking of the divine nature – 1 Peter 1:3). We know this because God indicates that if Adam and Eve, in their punished, fallen state, would have eaten of that tree, they would have been confirmed in that state. The tree itself, having properties that sustained and strengthened (see Revelation 22:2; cf. Ezekiel 47:12), did not possess the quality of eternal, divine, life since Adam and Eve would have been sustained in their fallen condition if they would have eaten of that tree. Therefore, to say that if they would have obeyed, they would have satisfied the covenantal agreement with God and would have been given access to the tree of life so that they would live eternally is false. Adam already had access to the tree of life (Genesis 2:16). Adam and Eve were already blessed of God (Genesis 1:28a). The tree of life simply perpetuated physical life forever, which is not the same thing as the quality of divine life that CT attributes to it.

In none of these arrangements do we see conditions placed upon the man. God did not say, “Adam, if you obey Me, I will give you to eat of the tree of life.” He already had access to that tree under no grants or conditions. God simply created the tree for Adam and his offspring. Nor did He say to Adam, “If you obey Me, I will bless you.” God had already established a blessed state for Adam and his wife. There were no conditions, and thus no covenant. The text of inspired Scripture indicates that God blessed them (Genesis 1:28) and that was not contingent upon obedience. They already had it! It was the will of God. Once again, since nowhere in the text is there indication of conditions for blessing or access to the tree of life, then there is no covenant. Covenants are based upon conditions. Even unilateral covenants, such as with Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3; 17:4-6), require a certain attainment of righteousness, albeit provided by Jesus Christ. However, all we have in the actual text of Scripture in Genesis 1-2 is God creating and giving freely to the man, the woman, and their children of His provision without cost or covenant. To say that the command to not eat from the tree presupposes a covenant is reading into the text to a detrimental degree. If anything, the command of God to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was a demonstration of the desire for Christ-like obedience from Adam since he was made in the image of God. How? Because the obedience would have been generated from love and subjection to the Father in the same way that the Son loves and subjects Himself to the Father (John 15:10; 1 Corinthians 11:3). Again, love does not need a law (Galatians 5:22-23). This is why Luke describes Adam as a “son of God” (Luke 3:38).

Since the influence of CT is widespread, especially throughout the Young, Restless, and Reformed people, there needs to be accountability for the mishandling of Scripture in such a fashion as is demonstrated by Covenant Theology. From beginning to end, it is not based upon proper exegesis of the actual text of Scripture, but rather the philosophical musings of men throughout the centuries which have dealt a harmful blow, overall, to the Scripture. Although the gospel itself was recovered by the Reformers, the need to continue a reformation stands. There needs to be a recovery of the authority of the Scripture once again. This authority is only understood and perceived through a hermeneutic of the grammar of a text and the historical context in which the text exists. Once the foundation of CT is laid down as truth, the Scripture cannot hardly be recognized since, by and large, its veracity and literality is compromised many times over, especially in such areas as creation, and eschatology. Both the beginning and the ending of God’s Word suffer a harmful blow by the likes of CT to the degree that we do not understand from whence we came, nor for what we have to look forward. Let us truly “keep reforming” and return to a proper, text-centered, study of God’s holy, inerrant, and precious, Word.

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