Monday, February 13, 2017
More on Carson Sproul Discussion
Returning to the interview of DA Carson by RC Sproul, which I had commented on and discussed in an earlier post, there are other issues raised in that discussion that is worth examining. While speaking of the rules of correct biblical exegesis, DA Carson gives the following example of how people sometimes misinterpret scripture:
“I have been here in Ligonier teaching a course on Hebrews, and we end up in chapter 13 with ‘Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, and forever;’ and I have heard people tell me, for example, during the days of his flesh Jesus never ultimately refused to heal anybody who approached him. ‘Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, and forever;’ therefore he must necessarily heal today. But then of course you could equally say, Jesus Christ was mortal; ‘Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, and forever;’ therefore he is still mortal. ... But in this particular case ... the first response ought to be, where is that clause found? what precedes it, what succeeds it? ... the immediate context first, then the book context, and then the canonical context. And in that particular context it says, remember those who had spiritual authority over you, remember the outcome of their lives; ‘Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, and forever’. In the context of the whole argument of Hebrews, I am persuaded that it means, you ought to be imitating these godly people who persevered to the end, and died well precisely because Jesus helped them all the way to the end, and shaped them with gospel that is articulated in the book; and the Jesus that did it for them will do it for you too. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is not making some ontological statement about physicality of Jesus or something.”
I see several problems with that exegesis. Firstly, it is not quite accurate to say that Jesus never refused to heal anybody who approached him. Jesus only healed those who had faith. I suppose it could be argued that no one would have “approached him” if they did not already have faith. But still, he struggled with those who did not have enough faith―and could not heal those who had no faith:
27 And when Jesus departed thence, two blind men followed him, crying, and saying, Thou Son of David, have mercy on us.
28 And when he was come into the house, the blind men came to him: and Jesus saith unto them, Believe ye that I am able to do this? They said unto him, Yea, Lord.
29 Then touched he their eyes, saying, According to your faith be it unto you.
5 And he could there do no mighty work [miracles], save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them.
6 And he marvelled because of their unbelief. And he went round about the villages, teaching.
23 Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.
24 And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.
He only healed the Canaanite woman’s daughter (Matthew 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30) after she had manifested extraordinary faith. So it is not entirely accurate to say that Jesus always healed anybody who approached him. Not only those who wanted to be healed needed to have faith, but also those who wanted to heal others needed to have faith. For example, when his disciples could not heal a sick child, he informed them that it had been because of their lack of faith (Matt. 17:19–20).
But returning to the main topic of how to correctly interpret Hebrews 13:8: “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever;” he does not appear to be following his own rules very well. If we look at the immediate context, we find that in the preceding and succeeding verses several different concepts or doctrines are very briefly taught which are not related to each other. Verses 1, 2, and 3 touch on three different concepts that are only loosely interrelated. Verse 4 teaches a very different doctrine from verses 1, 2, and 3, to which it is not related. Verses 5 and 6 teach a different doctrine still, unrelated to the preceding or succeeding verses. And each of the verses 7, 8, and 9 teach entirety separate doctrines which are not related to each other, or to the preceding or succeeding verses. Thus verse 8 stands entirely on its own, and is not directly related to the preceding or succeeding verses. There is nothing in the immediate context that provides us with a clue for its interpretation. We have to look for that in wider context. Here are some clues from the New Testament:
4 John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne;
• • •
8 I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.
• • •
11 Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.
• • •
17 And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last:
18 I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.
17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.
And from the Old Testament we have the following:
19 God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?
25 Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens are the work of thy hands.
26 They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed:
27 But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end.
6 For I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.
All of these verses point to the immutable nature of God. God is an unchangable being. His character and attributes will always remain the same and do not change. He will always remain compassionate, kind, and merciful. He will always be omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. He will always be just. He will always be “no respecter of persons”. He will always be good. He will never be unmerciful or unkind. He will never be unfair. He will never be cruel or unjust. He will never lose his divine power. That is what Hebrews 13:8 is saying in a nutshell. An obvious corollary to that of course is that he will always respond to faith in the same way that he has always done. He is just as willing to heal the sick who approach him in faith today as he has always done. Nothing has changed from that point of view. And his promise to his future disciples was:
16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;
18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them: they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.
These promises are just as good today as they have ever been. Nothing has changed. Jesus is still “the same yesterday, today, and forever”. He is just as willing and able to heal the sick, raise the dead, and perform miracles today as he has ever been. If he doesn’t, it is for the same reason that he sometimes didn’t during his mortal ministry. It was because of their lack of faith. So DA Carson has seriously erred in his exegesis of Hebrews 13:8. He has a thing or two to learn from the Mormons! The Mormons are lucky of course; that is an unfair comparison. Mormons have a lot more scripture than he does. That is why they can wipe the floor with with Evangelical and Reformed theologians as far as biblical exegesis is concerned. Here are some additional thoughts on the subject from the Book of Mormon for those who might be interested (punctuation revised):
7 And again, I speak unto you who deny the revelations of God, and say that they are done away, that there are no revelations, nor prophecies, nor gifts, nor healing, nor speaking with tongues, and the interpretation of tongues;
8 Behold I say unto you, he that denieth these things knoweth not the gospel of Christ; yea, he has not read the scriptures; if so, he does not understand them.
9 For do we not read that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and in him there is no variableness neither shadow of changing?
10 And now, if ye have imagined up unto yourselves a god who doth vary, and in whom there is shadow of changing, then have ye imagined up unto yourselves a god who is not a God of miracles.
11 But behold, I will show unto you a God of miracles; even the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And it is that same God who created the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are.
12 Behold he created Adam, and by Adam came the fall of man; and because of the fall of man came Jesus Christ, even the Father and the Son; and because of Jesus Christ came the redemption of man.
• • •
15 And now, O all ye that have imagined up unto yourselves a god who can do no miracles, I would ask of you, have all these things passed of which I have spoken? Has the end come yet? Behold I say unto you, Nay; and God has not ceased to be a God of miracles.
16 Behold, are not the things that God hath wrought marvelous in our eyes? Yea, and who can comprehend the marvelous works of God?
17 Who shall say that it was not a miracle that by his word the heaven and the earth should be; and by the power of his word man was created of the dust of the earth; and by the power of his word have miracles been wrought?
18 And who shall say that Jesus Christ did not do many mighty miracles? And there were many mighty miracles wrought by the hands of the apostles.
19 And if there were miracles wrought then, why has God ceased to be a God of miracles, and yet be an unchangeable Being? And behold, I say unto you he changeth not, if so he would cease to be God. And he ceaseth not to be God, and is a God of miracles.
20 And the reason why he ceaseth to do miracles among the children of men is because that they dwindle in unbelief, and depart from the right way, and know not the God in whom they should trust.
21 Behold, I say unto you that whoso believeth in Christ, doubting nothing, whatsoever he shall ask the Father in the name of Christ it shall be granted him; and this promise is unto all, even unto the ends of the earth.
22 For behold, thus said Jesus Christ, the Son of God, unto his disciples who should tarry; yea, and also to all his disciples in the hearing of the multitude: Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature;
23 And he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
24 And these signs shall follow them that believe: in my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them. They shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover;
25 And whosoever shall believe in my name, doubting nothing, unto him will I confirm all my words, even unto the ends of the earth.
26 And now behold, who can stand against the works of the Lord? Who can deny his sayings? Who will rise up against the almighty power of the Lord? Who will despise the works of the Lord? Who will despise the children of Christ? Behold, all ye who are despisers of the works of the Lord, for ye shall wonder and perish.
27 O then despise not, and wonder not, but hearken unto the words of the Lord; and ask the Father in the name of Jesus for what things soever ye shall stand in need. Doubt not, but be believing; and begin as in times of old, and come unto the Lord with all your heart, and work out your own salvation with fear and trembling before him.
28 Be wise in the days of your probation. Strip yourselves of all uncleanness. Ask not, that ye may consume it on your lusts; but ask with a firmness unshaken that ye will yield to no temptation, but that ye will serve the true and living God.
33 And Christ hath said, If ye will have faith in me, ye shall have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in me.
34 And he hath said, Repent all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me, and be baptized in my name, and have faith in me that ye may be saved.
35 And now my beloved brethren, if this be the case, that these things are true which I have spoken unto you―and God will show unto you, with power and great glory at the last day that they are true―and if they are true, has the day of miracles ceased?
36 Or have angels ceased to appear unto the children of men? Or has he withheld the power of the Holy Ghost from them? Or will he so long as time shall last, or the earth shall stand, or there shall be one man upon the face thereof to be saved?
37 Behold I say unto you, Nay. For it is by faith that miracles are wrought; and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men. Wherefore if these things have ceased, wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain.
38 For no man can be saved, according to the words of Christ, save they shall have faith in his name; wherefore if these things have ceased, then has faith ceased also, and awful is the state of man, for they are as though there had been no redemption made.