Things That Are Above

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Posts Tagged ‘Genesis 3:15

A Call to Repentance

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Last month it was my privilege to preach at Eastside Baptist Church in Winfield, AL, on Genesis 6:5-8. This text functions as a call to repentance, as it gives four reasons why people should repent and turn to God in faith that he will save them by Jesus’ death and resurrection:

  1. Repent because God sees your wickedness (v. 5).
  2. Repent because God grieves over your wickedness (v. 6).
  3. Repent because God will judge your wickedness (v. 7).
  4. Repent because God offers you salvation from your wickedness (v. 8).

My sermon can be listened to here.

Paul and the Faithfulness of God (Part I) (Review Thursday #3)

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Paul and the Faithfulness of God (hereafter, PFG) is N. T. Wright’s 2-book fourth volume in his series, Christian Origins and the Question of God. I thus think it is appropriate to give an honest caveat at the beginning of this series of reviews of this book (a 1600+ page tome deserves extensive interaction): I am a newcomer both to this series and to its author. I have not read the first three volumes in this series (though I hope to read them in the future), and I have only before read (and this past winter, at that!) Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision out of Wright’s seemingly endless body of work. Wright, of course, is (in)famous for being the public face of “the New Perspective(s) on Paul.” Why read this book then? I am reading this book (I have just begun reading Part III) for two reasons:

  1. This book is the fruit of Dr. Wright’s 30+ years of researching and writing on various aspects of Pauline theology. Since I hope to research and write on Pauline theology in-depth during my time in seminary and since Paul’s letters will be a significant part of my preaching ministry as a church pastor, Lord willing, this book will be an important one for me to have read so that I can interact with its arguments.
  2. To quote Dr. James Hamilton, who himself is following the advice of Dr. Thomas Schreiner (both pastors in Louisville, KY, and professors at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary): “even when I expect to disagree … I’ve learned that sometimes you learn most from folks like N. T. Wright.”

In other words, this book’s value is (or at least can be) high both academically and pastorally. Having read Parts I and II, I can attest that PFG is a worthwhile read, both intellectually and spiritually. Because each Part of PFG is long enough to be its own separately bound book, I will review each Part individually. Below is my review of “Part I: Paul and His World.”

The first Part of the four-Part PFG gives us the background and contexts to Paul’s theology, which is treated fully in Part III. Part I alone is over 300 pages long—justifiably so, to Wright: a “reasonably detailed … description of Paul’s multiple contexts—Jewish, Greek, Roman—” is “essential” (xv). Perhaps. Certainly the Jewish background to Paul is helpful because Paul’s theology intersects with that of Second Temple Jews, most notably Jews who were “zealous” as Paul was prior to his conversion. Chapter 2 is rightly the longest chapter of this section. However, nearly 200 pages deal with Paul’s Greco-Roman context. Of these chapters, the fourth on Roman religion and culture seems most superfluous (perhaps in part because Wright himself admits that Peter Rodgers “nudged” him into writing this chapter [xxii]), although I feel like sections 2-3 of chapter five, which are a narrative of Roman history to AD 70, are also overkill. Despite feeling the need to skim read these sections of Part I, on the whole this section of PFG is not only an enjoyable but also edifying read.

Chapter One is Wright’s introduction to the whole book. Wright’s reading of Philemon, Paul’s shortest letter, was on the whole persuasive. Especially beneficial to my own understanding of Philemon was Wright’s contrast of it to a contemporary Roman official’s letter on the same subject (a runaway slave returning to his master). Wright highlighted how Paul turned Roman social custom on its head because of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and this exposition of Philemon motivates me to see even “worldly” aspects of my life (such as college) more clearly and more fully in light of the gospel. For that I am grateful. However, Wright’s passing interpretation of 2 Corinthians 5:21 as referring to reconciliation of people to people rather than of people to God is way off the mark. I am looking forward to reading his full treatment of this verse in Part III so that I can engage his arguments more fully.

Chapter Two is a comprehensive treatment of Paul’s Jewish background and context. Most helpful were Wright’s historical and sociological overview of Second Temple Judaism. Once again, however, I encounter an unhelpful quirk of Wright’s overall argument. One of Wright’s foundational arguments is that God meant the Jews to be the solution to the problem of sin but because of their own sinfulness Jesus then had to come and serve as the True Israel to rescue the world from sin. I cannot but disagree with this specific argument. As early as Gen. 3:15, we read of God’s plan to save the world (hundreds of years before he even called Abraham to be the first Jew!) through the singular “seed” of the woman, and this hope for a singular Savior is repeated throughout the Old Testament, famously in Isaiah 53. This argument emerges again in Part II and even more extensively in Part III, so I will interact with this theological flaw of the book more fully in reviews of those Parts. On the whole, chapter two was my favorite of Part I, perhaps in part because of the wealth of information I learned about Second Temple Judaism, which is the first century background with which I am most unfamiliar.

Chapter Three is a necessary but thankfully shorter chapter on Paul’s Greek philosophical context. In Wright’s own words, “this chapter is important” because Tarsus—Paul’s hometown—was known for “export[ing]” Stoic philosophers, in particular (199). As a historian, Wright is top-notch. Throughout these chapters on Jewish beliefs, Greek philosophy, and Roman imperialism, I could find nothing wrong with Wright historically. Chapter Three is thus excellent, and Chapters Four and Five, though way too long in my opinion, were also factually sound and will be helpful, I’m sure, in the future, for cultural and historical background to the New Testament.

Wright identifies Part I as the structural foundation of PFG. In the Preface, he depicts PFG as a chiastic staircase, with Parts II and III on the top floor (Part III being the ultimate climax). Chapters One through Five are thus important first steps for understanding Wright’s understanding of Paul (and Paul’s understanding of “the faithfulness of God”). These chapters build a historically sound foundation for the chapters to come. Theological errors, though present, are neither numerous nor threatening to the historical foundation of Wright’s book. I can only wish that this opening section was not so long so that I could get to what I consider the heart of the matter, Paul’s theology, faster. But before Paul’s theology, for Wright, comes not only Paul’s contexts but also Paul’s own worldview, which is the subject of Part II and will thus be the subject of the next post in my review of Paul and the Faithfulness of God.

Genesis 3:15 Throughout the Bible (Review Thursday #1)

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James Hamilton. “The Skull Crushing Seed of the Woman: Inner-Biblical Interpretation of Genesis 3:15.” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 10.2 (2006): 30-54.

Having read two of Dr. Hamilton’s books (God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment and God’s Indwelling Presence), I can testify that this article is as profitable a read as his books and even more accessible. (The link at the top of this page is to a free copy of Dr. Hamilton’s article on his own website.) I highly encourage everyone to read this article for its tracing of the gospel through the first to last books of the Bible.

Dr. Hamilton’s reading of Genesis 3:15 has influenced my own ministry since I first read it in God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment in 2011. In “The Skull Crushing Seed of the Woman,” Dr. Hamilton demonstrates how the whole Bible bears out not only his interpretation of Genesis 3:15 specifically but also of the Old Testament as a whole. To Dr. Hamilton, “the OT is a messianic document, written from a messianic perspective, to sustain a messianic hope” (30). Genesis 3:15 is an excellent text for testing this interpretation of the Old Testament because it gives the first hope of the Christian gospel.

The LORD God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this,
cursed are you above all livestock
and above all beasts of the field;
on your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.” (Gen. 3:14-15)

The bulk of Dr. Hamilton’s article argues that in addition to being the Messiah specifically, the “offspring” of the woman is the people of God generally. Satan “shall bruise his heel,” but his “offspring” will be at “enmity” with the plural “offspring” of the woman (32-41). The children of the devil will oppose children of God. As Dr. Hamilton notes, Jesus himself admits this conflict in John 8 (33). Of course, the seed of the woman who will defeat not only Satan’s children but Satan himself is Jesus the Messiah. In “an unexpected development,” God’s Servant himself will be crushed as he crushes Satan’s head:

Twice in Isa 53 we read that the servant was crushed: first in verse 5, “he was crushed (daka’ in the pual) for our sins;” and then in verse 10, “Yahweh was pleased to crush (daka’ in the piel) him.” Here again the crushing judgment first announced in Gen 3:15 seems to be due to Israel because of its sin, but the servant takes their sin upon himself and is crushed for their iniquity, with the result that Yahweh is satisfied (cf. 53:4, 5, 6, 10, 11, 12). (42)

Praise God that the “crushing” we deserve as natural born offspring of the serpent was taken by Jesus, the perfect offspring of the woman, in our place on the cross! Jesus’ crushed heel crushed Satan’s head and set us free from Satan! By Jesus’ death we go by faith from being the bondage children of Satan to being the adopted children of God! Praise the Lord for his mercy and grace!

Herein lies this article’s devotional value for all of us Christians: in Christ, we can overcome the temptations of Satan as believers. We can fight sin in our lives and overcome it by God’s grace. Luke 10:18-19, Romans 16:20, and Revelation 12 all point to believers’ struggle against Satan in which we will ultimately be victorious because Jesus was victorious at the cross and is returning one day to cast Satan forever into the eternal lake of fire (42-43).

The article, of course, was not perfect. Formatting is a minor issue. SBJT article notes are endnotes rather than footnotes, which makes reading them more cumbersome and more distracting from the main flow of the article’s main text (if you care to read them). In the case of this article, this format was particularly frustrating because many of Dr. Hamilton’s endnotes were quite interesting. For example, Dr. Hamilton’s note on the translation of Hebrews 11:11 is outstanding:

The emphasis on the important line of descent is also attested to in Heb 11:11, though translations usually obscure it. … [T]he text “woodenly” reads, “barren Sarah received power for the foundation of the seed.” In view of the Bible’s interest in the “holy seed,” the statement that “Sarah received power for the foundation of the seed” carries more freight than “Sarah received ability to conceive.” This common rendering of the text obscures all connection to the Bible’s “seed” theme. (48 n. 33)

Having taught Hebrews to the youth Sunday School class two years ago, I can attest that no commentator I used advocated this understanding of Hebrews 11. (David L. Allen came closest to agreeing with Hamilton’s translation because he was the only commentator to whom I had access who maintained the traditional reading of Sarah being the subject of this verse rather than Abraham, but he explicitly disavowed Hamilton’s reading. Nevertheless, an unspecified “some”  do side with Hamilton, Allen notes [551].) Despite Dr. Hamilton’s minority reading of Hebrews 11:11, in the context of biblical theology, in which a single theme is traced throughout Scripture (in this article “the skull-crushing seed of the woman”), his understanding is preferable to others’ translations. (Dr. Hamilton himself notes, however, that the KJV, NKJV, and HCSB translations also concur with his understanding.)

More significantly, the allusions to Genesis 3:15 cited by Dr. Hamilton are unequally persuasive. Many of them serve his argument well, but a few allusions seem stretched. Many of these unlikely allusions appear in the “Broken Enemies” section of his article in which he admits to “loosening … the image of the crushed head of the seed of the serpent in Gen 3:15, but it still remains related” (38-39). Nevertheless, this section does include a compelling argument about 1-2 Samuel being bookended by allusions to Genesis 3:15 (38). Although individual examples Dr. Hamilton gives do not seem, in my opinion, to support his argument that Genesis 3:15 is a foundational messianic text that is alluded to throughout Scripture, most of his examples do, so his argument stands. I highly recommend this article to every Christian to help them gain a better grasp on the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was promised–however faintly–all the way back in Genesis 3:15.

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