Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Reflections on Isaiah 53:6,10


In an effort to set up my thoughts and reflections on Isaiah 53, I am going to provide some of the context around what led me both to study it, wrestle with the seeming paradox in it, and finally come to my personal conclusion as to how we should understand the Isaiah 53:6 in the context of the rest of the chapter.

Even before I really made a personally motivated effort to memorize Scripture on my own, I knew these verses. Now, I may not have remembered the exact reference right away, and I knew what verse 5 much better than verse 6, but I could come close to quoting these verses for you. And it was with this in mind that I planned to study Isaiah 53 to teach in Sunday school. In the past I’ve spent weeks on studying a single chapter, but because I didn’t have that luxury this time, I planned on briefly looking at some of less familiar parts of this Messianic prophesy. My goal was to simply wet the appetites of the class into looking back at this passage with a revitalized sense of awe that may have been diminished because its familiarity.

In my grand design, I wanted to end the last few minutes of the class dealing with verse 6 and how we should understand what “the iniquity of us all to fall on Him” means. I had planned the majority of my time with looking at Christ as the once for all sacrifice as contrasted to the ongoing priestly sacrifices, what “His offspring” and “prolong His days” (v.10) means, or even how it is so important to note that “the Lord was pleased to crush Him” and “if He would render Himself (as) a guilt offering” (v.10) showed both the willingness of the suffering servant and the pleasure of the Father.

We began by reading 52:13 – 53:12 out loud, and when we were done, I asked what impressed them or stuck out to them from what we had just read. Now, I thought that someone would bring up something form verse 10, or something relating to the silent lamb before the slaughter (v. 7) and that is where we would begin the lesson. It was a good idea until the first, and only, person to answer my question referred to verse 6 and marveled at how awesome it was that Christ bore all of the sins for everyone whoever lived.

Now I had a problem. This is exactly the issue and mindset that I wanted to deal with, somewhat briefly, at the end of the class. Primarily I wanted to deal with it briefly because of the potential powder keg that discussing my conclusions on this verse might lead to. What I mean is this: at this time, I don’t necessarily believe that Isaiah 53 teaches the doctrine of particular redemption (limited atonement), but I believe that the correct understanding of it would lead one to think along those lines. And from my experience in preaching anything that touches on the doctrine of election, much less on the doctrine of limited atonement, the reaction could be less than hospitable and even cause enough discord as to motivate people to leave the fellowship of our local body. This is not to say that I will not say what the Word is saying in a particular text or situation, but I am very aware that I must be delicate because it is not my place to be so “controversial” as to motivate people to leave be cause of me.

So when the observation was made that this verse said that all people had their sins placed on Christ, and He paid for them all, I reluctantly took the carrot and decided to begin to look into what this verse means in the context of the rest of Isaiah 53. So without further ado, here are my reflections on Isaiah 53:6 when taken in context (specifically verses 11 and 12).

5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being {fell} upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. 6 All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.” (Isaiah 53:5,6)

When looking at these verses, my initial gut reaction is to take them to mean exactly what the words plainly say. Namely, that Jesus bore the punishment for everyone’s sins to bring us all to peace with God because everyone of us have gone astray, but God has caused all of our iniquities to fall on Jesus. I don’t think that I go too by saying that this is the general understanding of the majority of Christians when looking at this verse in the same way. I don’t know if I heard this from someone, or if is simply what I have thought in the past, but these two verses come across almost as the equivalent of Romans 3:23 in the Old Testament. In other words, just as Romans 3:23 (built on the context of Romans 1-3) shows the universality of the sinfulness of man, this verse is portrayed as doing the same thing in the Old Testament.

I had believed that exact thing until studying this chapter for this lesson. It was not verses 5 and 6 that caused me to be up way to late struggling with how to understand it, but it was when looking at these verses in light of verses 11 and 12 that I almost pulled my hair out.
6 All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.

11 As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see {it and} be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities.” (Isaiah 53: 6,11 emphasis mine)

The language of “all”, “our”, and “many” may have caused some initial confusion, but in the past I had just understood them to be referring to different groups and had no problem with that. All people are sinful but only those who have faith in Christ will be justified. There is no problem with this because that is the glorious truth of the gospel. However, the problem that I encountered came from fact that the context indicates that those whose sins Christ bears will be justified, but if all people’s iniquities fall on Christ then all would be justified. In other words, then all people everywhere would be saved. Not that I would oppose universalism if the Bible taught it, but it blatantly does not. So how can I understand this in context?

Even though we understand that we are justified and connected to the death and resurrection of Christ through faith, Isaiah doesn’t address that. He simply states that “the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him” and that the “Servant justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities.” So, as I understand it, whether the “all” of verse 6 and the “many” of verse 11 refer to the exact same people or not, neither can be referring to all people of all time because the Bible is clear that many people will be eternally condemned.

My concern was not that this text somehow teaches universalism, my struggle was how to understand this passage consistently so that it said what I know the Bible teaches elsewhere. And the first thing that I was drawn too was the pronouns used throughout the chapter. Isaiah uses “our” (1,4,5), “we ourselves” (4), “we” (5), “all of us” (6), “each of us” (6), “us all” (6), “my people” (8), “many” (11,12), “their” (11) to describe those to whom the action of the Suffering Servant relates.

At first, the “my people” from verse eight seems to be the best clue as to who Isaiah is writing about here. I believe based on Isaiah 52:14 as well as 53:8 that “my people” refers to the nation of Israel, God’s covenant people. But that still doesn’t resolve the “all” verses the “many” problem that we get from verse 6 and 11. And unless “all” refers to all Israel and “many” refers to the number of descendants as related to the rest of humanity, I don’t think that identifying “my people” is the final key to unlocking the who’s who of Isaiah 53. And I say that because of what we know; we know that much of Israel is and was apostate, and we also know that salvation came to the gentiles in Christ. So, my dilemma continues.

After more searching and scouring of the passage for another clue as to what might be the best key for understanding the “many” against the “all” language, I reread and reread the chapter and surrounding context for some help. It wasn’t until after having read it many times that I again noticed that the first possessive pronoun used in chapter 53 was used in verse 1, and it was the word “our”.
“Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?” (Isaiah 53:1)

I believe that it is this verse, this statement or lament of Isaiah, which gives the key to understanding and making sense of the rest of this chapter. And the question that I think is important is this: who is the “our” that proclaimed the message that was to be believed? This is not the nation, it cannot be. The nation rejected God and rebelled against the laws of God and of worshipping and following Him alone from the very Exodus from Egypt. Because of their constant rebellion and hard hearts, God sent prophets who were to call the nation back to the Lord. We also know that there were devout priests and other people who remained faithful to God during the rampant apostasy of their land (see 1 Kings 19:14-18).

It seems best to understand the possessive and inclusive pronoun “our” in verse 1 as well as “each of us” and “all of us” in verse 6 to refer to those people who were proclaiming the Word of the Lord. And for lack of a better way to categorize them, I’ll call them the prophets, even though this group would include more than those who wrote the prophetic books in the Old Testament. Isaiah wasn’t commenting on the general sin of Israel in verse 6, he was referring to the faithful group of prophets who proclaimed the message. Remember, this is the same Isaiah who lamented his own sinfulness before the throne of God,
“Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty." (Isaiah 6:5)

If Isaiah is referring to those faithfully proclaiming the Word of the Lord to the nations when he says “all of us” and “each of us”, then who are the “many” in verse 11? It seems best to understand the “many” in God’s ultimate redemptive sense. In other words, it is not simply the faithful among the prophets of God to Israel and Judah that He will save, but He is the savior of the gentiles too. The prophets knew this well, and that is why Jonah fled; he did not want God to be merciful to the Ninevites, even though he knew that He would be.

So in this case, “many” is actually a larger group than “all of us” is. Everyone who has been justified by faith is included in the “many”, but only Isaiah’s contemporaries proclaiming the Word of the Lord at that time would be included in the “all of us”. I could even be convinced that “all of us” refers to all of the believers of the message, not just the proclaimers of the message, in Isaiah’s time and in all time. And in this case, the “all of us” would include the totality of those chosen by God, and the “many” would refer to their numerical value.

This understanding of who the various groups are allow us to interpret Isaiah 53 consistently in its context as well as in the broader context of the Bible’s teaching on salvation. All of those people who have their sins imputed to Christ will be justified by His righteousness, and there will be many people who come from every tribe, tongue, and nation who receive God’s gracious gift of salvation through Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria

Monday, July 21, 2008

When Debates Go Bad...Very Bad

James White debates Nadir Ahmed (Muslim apologist) in 2008 over whether the New Testament is reliable.

I watched this debate in its entirety, and I can say that I have never seen anything like it. This was infact a non-debate. The reason being that the Muslim apologist refused to stay on subject, answer questions, or follow the debate rules. Furthermore, Mr. Ahmed was asking for evidence regarding the validness of Paul being a "prophet" but would not even listen to anything that James would say.

Truly, the only thing about this debate that is worthy of remembering, at least from the things that Mr. Ahmed said, was this clip of him calling out a member of the audience in very "Jerry Springer-ish" way.


Praise God for the Bible and for men who can keep their composure much better and much longer than I can.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

“I cannot help but stop for just a moment and remind us that it is not a gospel that does not explain to men and to women and to children why they’re under the wrath of God. Don’t tell me that you’ve preached the gospel to someone when you have not followed the apostolic example and explained, first and foremost, that we all stand justly condemned before a holy God. If you have not proclaimed that, you have not proclaimed the gospel.” - James White, 2008 John Bunyan Conference http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=82_3HVNqsTc 2:34 ff.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Baby Steps From Orthodoxy to Heresy

Whenever the Scriptures are misused, it grieves God and all of His children. As one of those children, I initially have a two-fold thought on this matter. First of all, I realize that I am imperfect, quite flawed, actually, and I have misused Scriptures in the past. Worse than that, I am sure that I will misuse Scriptures in the future. I have not done so intentionally, and I will not do it intentionally in the future, but even though I cannot think of a specific example, I am sure that this is a true description of me. The second thought that I have is one of indignation and anger that the Word of God is distorted by careless, immature, or malicious individuals when they use a Scripture to state as a fact what that Scripture, or perhaps even the Scriptures as a whole, does not teach at all.

And it is in the mindset of my two-fold reaction that I hope to address misuses of Scripture. First of all, if I am approached with an example of where I have used a Scripture out of context in order to support a theological conclusion (whether my final conclusion is Biblical or not, it makes no difference), I hope and pray that I will quickly have a humble attitude to investigate the issue to see if I am at fault. And once I become aware of an occurrence of out of context proof texting, then not only will I not use the text in the same incorrect manner, but I will do what I can to rectify my previous use of it in that manner.

My hope and prayer is that my Christian brethren will do the same. However, since we are all sinful, there are verses and issues that will not be given up easily or at all. Even if these misuses of Scripture are for theologically true issues or issues that are false but not at the level of being heretical, it is still a very troubling and problematic activity. If a text can be twisted out of context and accepted to affirm something that it doesn’t, even if that affirmation is not heretical, what is to stop the next person who wants to twist it even further?

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

When I have researched and discussed the issue of female pastors, Galatians 3:28 is the verse that is used, along with other vague references and elusions to women, to argue the point. Furthermore, the passage in Galatians is the primary Scriptural cudgel that is used to bat down the opposing arguments. Proponents of female pastors and elders basically see this verse as washing away the distinctions of men and women as it relates to pastoral ministry. But along with the gender neutralizing application that is taken from Galatians 3:28, those who advocate female pastors from the Scriptures are quick to site the fact that there have been female prophetesses (Ex 15:20, 2 Kings 22:14, Luke 2:36, Acts 21:9), a female Judge (Jud 4:4), and a female member of a prominent husband and wife team that helped Apollos (Acts 18:24-28). However, without the glue of the above interpretation of Galatians 3:28, these examples don’t teach us anything about the role or qualifications of elders in the church, they are simply examples of what women had done under the Law and during the transitional time of the early church. But even the examples of prophetesses in the New Testament are not listed as elders or pastors, and that must not be overlooked or brushed under the rug.

So the question that must be addressed is this: does Galatians 3:28 teach the washing away of gender distinctions in the church, or at least regarding the issue of elders and pastors in the church? My answer is simply and quickly that it does no such thing. First of all, Paul’s letter is primarily addressing the issues raised because of the Judaizing false teachers who were teaching that one must follow the law as well as have faith in order to be saved. Paul’s pronouncement of this idea as anathema in the first chapter is one of the harshest in all of his letters.

So when we arrive at chapter three, Paul is now trying to give a presentation about the correct use or function of the law since following the law has no part in our justification. And it is in the context of the proper understanding of the law that we find Galatians 3:28.
22 But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 23 But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. 24 Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. 26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:22-29)

Verses 24-26 make it clear that Paul is referring both to who can be justified and how they can be justified. And the answer is that there is no racial, class, or gender disqualifiers for justification that occurs by faith. Forgetting that Paul’s parallel statement in Colossians 3:9-11 doesn’t mention a distinction between male and female. Even if Paul would have made the same “neither male nor female” statement, the context in Colossians is about the renewal that believer’s experience who have been justified by faith and not about serving in the church.

Another textual objection raised in this text, but in my experience much less frequently, is that we are all, male and female, “heirs according to promise”. The promise that we are heirs to in Christ is the promise made to Abraham and not one of temporal gifts or service in the church. Being an heir in this sense is saying that we receive the promise that was made to Abraham and passed down through Isaac, Jacob, and the nation is one of salvation (see Galatians 3:6-9).

But one proponent of the egalitarian view made a very wild “logical” continuation of applying Galatians 3:28 “only to salvation.”
“If Galatians 3:28 only refers to salvation, then we would have a difficult time defending the inclusion of the gentiles in the leadership roles of the church. Let me explain what I mean.

What if someone said that only the Jews were to rule, and all the gentiles had to be subordinate? After all, weren’t all of the books of the Bible written by Jews? Weren’t all of Jesus disciples Jews? Jesus never appointed anyone who wasn’t a Jew to a place of authority in the church.

Is that Biblical? It may sound logical because these are the same arguments that have been used against women. But the wall of separation has been taken down in every case.”1

The proof-text that is used here referring to this dividing wall that is broken down and that the speaker relates to the roles of men and women in the church is Ephesians 2:14-16. While the verses do talk about breaking down a barrier and making the two into one new man, the context is about the Jews and the gentiles, not men and women.

One of the explicit qualifications given for the role of elder or overseer is that the person must be a one woman man. The language is clear that the individual must be a man, not simply a person who is devoted to one other person. He doesn’t say that the elder or bishop must be a good looking man, a black man, a white man, a young man, an old man, a Jewish man (Israelite), or a gentile man; he just says that he must be a one woman man.

Galatians 3:28 does not overrule or even clarify the male qualification for being an elder or bishop when Paul announces that there is no “male or female” in Christ Jesus. Paul is responding to the heresy of the Judaizers in Galatia and their insistence that you must add law-keeping to faith, especially circumcision, in order to be saved. And there is no distinction because of pedigree, gender, or social status. Conversely, when Paul wrote to Timothy and Titus, he was giving positive instructions on leading in the church.

We must be careful not to confuse the Scriptures in their application. Even though it is my conviction based up on the Scriptures that it is wrong for a woman to be a pastor or teacher of men, it is not heresy (not by a long shot). That being the case, using Galatians 3:28 as a verse that breaks down gender distinctions when this passage says nothing of the sort can open it up to further abuses. What context is to stop someone from making the positive case for committed Christian homosexual relationships? Of course the Bible explicitly refers to one man and one woman for marriage, but if there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free man, male or female in Christ Jesus, who are we to stop two loving people from being married?

There are always a few baby steps from orthodoxy to heresy, and we must be careful to school the steps of faith that we take by the Word of God in its proper context.

1 Women in Ministry Silenced or Set Free? part 7 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JCUFC1ss-Dw&feature=user

The Good-O-Meter

Okay, so normally these types of videos don't impress me, but this one was different. And I would have done things a little different by adding a person saying "I prayed a prayer when I was a kid" or something like that, but otherwise it was good in showing the imputation of Christ's righteousness to our account.


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