Frustrated Trinitarian

I am a frustrated Trinitarian. Let me explain.


As you may know, the mantra “know what you believe and why you believe it” is a staple of thinking evangelical culture. I agree with it. It’s a needed corrective to a whole host of shortcomings.


Unfortunately, the mantra has its problems. It ultimately perpetuates some of the shortcomings it sets out to combat. The reason – it doesn’t go far enough.


The “what you believe”, it turns out, is typically the body of knowledge that informs a particular tradition’s beliefs. And it’s not actually questioned. It’s assumed.


This means the call to know “why you believe it” is not an invitation to critically engage with a tradition’s beliefs. It’s a call to acquaint oneself with the historical content of a tradition’s beliefs. Big difference.


For some of us…this is not enough.


We realize that to critically engage with our beliefs – to truly know why we believe them – requires us to go behind them. Examine their assumptions. Find their origin. Understand their development. But which ones?


Some are captivated by the paradox of the incarnation, provoked by the implications of atonement theories, enthralled by new ideas about Paul, or invigorated by ancient Near Eastern readings of creation. Me? I was frustrated by a myriad of issues surrounding the doctrine of the Trinity.


“Frustrated by the Trinity?”, one might ask. “It’s foundational to orthodox Christian belief. All one has to do is read the New Testament. The Father, Son and the Holy Spirit show up everywhere. How can one be frustrated by the Trinity? There would be no Gospel without it!”


“Oh. Wait. Is the Trinity an ‘it’ or a ‘him’? The Father, Son and Spirit are ‘hims’…that’s right…so the Trinity has to be an ‘it’? Wait…that doesn’t sound right. God’s not a thing. God’s a person…uh…three persons. This stuff is confusing!”


Let me help. The Trinity is not an “it”. The Trinity is a “him”. Specifically, The-one-simple-God-in-three-eternal-modalities-that-are-the-hypostatic-acts-Father-Son-and-Holy-Spirit-whose-only-distinction-are-their-internal-relations.


This is doctrinal language. It is a way we can speak of our tri-personal God with technical precision. A language and precision absent from the Bible. A language that reveals a disconnect between bible and doctrine.


Given this disconnect, scholar Scott Swain has no choice but to concede, “The Trinity does not present himself to us in the Holy Scripture in the form of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.” Same goes for scholar Fred Sanders when he admits, the doctrine is a “less revealed doctrine” requiring “some assembly.”


To be fair, they both argue the Trinity is a biblically revealed doctrine. Sanders will speak of the “biblical pressure” or “raw material” for the doctrine. Sometimes He’ll spit-and-shine the disconnect with a distinction between a “Primary Trinitarianism” and “Secondary Trinitarianism.”


But in their academically aimed writings, they release the reigns a bit on the problems presented by the disconnect issue.


In Sanders’ book The Triune God, he makes the following refreshingly frank admission: “Indeed, the doctrine of the Trinity stands today at a point of crisis with regard to its ability to demonstrate its exegetical foundation. Theologians once approached this doctrine with a host of biblical proofs, but one by one, many of those venerable old arguments have been removed from the realm of plausibility.”


This disconnect between Bible and doctrine is where my frustration takes root. A frustration fomented by a significant amount of current Trinitarian scholarship.


My frustrations can be summarized around the following doctrinal issues (a partial list):

  • Development Issues
  • Exegetical Issues
  • Coherence Issues
  • Historical Issues
  • Doctrinal Content Issues
  • Trinitarian Glossing Syndrome


It might be helpful to briefly comment on one – development issues. For the average Christian – the kind I teach – much of this will likely be new.


Orthodoxy’s first full blown Trinitarian creed was in 381. The years that led up to that were crammed with political, theological, philosophical, and polemical discourse on God the Father and his relationship to the Son.


During these years there were many brilliant Christians who were not Trinitarians (there still are). Many simply believed that the one God was the Father. Debate often centered around how the Son was “related” to the Father.


Christian bishops and thinkers argued over whether the Son was: from the will of the Father; from the “ousia” of the Father; “in” the Father; or the “likeness” of the Father. As late as the 350’s Basil of Ancyra argued that the Son is “like” the Father not of the “same essence” (being). This is not a Trinitarian friendly view.


During these years, we have Greek philosophical influences exerting pressure on how Christianity wrestled with concepts like “God”, “Logos”, “divine simplicity”, “nature”, “being”, and “person.”


We have top down political pressure being exerted on the Church in order bring unity to the Byzantine empire. Alongside this we have political alliances being formed within the Church to help advance one position over another. The famous church Father Athanasius incited violence against the “opposition”. Some stocked creeds with specific language intended to stick it to the other side.


We have a variety of other factors that are often ignored. Scholar Sarah Coakley points out that the development of the doctrine is set, “within a constellation of considerations – spiritual, ascetical, sexual, social – which the dominant modern textbook tradition has tended either to ignore, or to sideline…”


And shockingly, we have very little discussion on the status of the Holy Spirit who, for a variety of reasons, was given a back seat. One reason, cited by Coakley, was that the Holy Spirit was seen as inciting sexual desires (I’m not making this stuff up).


My frustration arises in a number of ways within the quick sketch provided.


I’m frustrated that in popular level books on the Trinity there is no hint of the severity and breadth of disagreement, nor of the developmental complexity that attended the doctrine. I’m frustrated that some creeds are completely ignored, while others are spun as nirvana experiences of Trinitarian ecstasy. James White says of the Nicaea Creed of 325, “[its] words were the result of the greatest church council ever convened.”


Scholar Lewis Ayres provides a more realistic view of 325: There was a “temporary victory of one side in early fourth-century debate over ouisa language [how the Son is related to the Father], but it does not demonstrate any substantial advance towards a resolution of that debate.”


Even more telling (from Ayres): “The idea that the creed would serve as a universal and precise marker of Christian faith was unlikely to have occurred to anyone at Nicaea simply because the idea that any creed might so serve was yet unheard of. All the bishops at Nicaea would have understood their local ‘baptismal’ creed to be a sufficient definition of Christian belief…”


The creed was essentially ignored for the next 20+ years. And like John 1:1c, was just as easily deployed to support “non-Trinitarian” views as “Trinitarian” ones (I use quotes around these terms because even in the 320’s, a doctrinal view of the Trinity did not exist).


These are but a few of the frustrations that arise out of the issues surrounding the doctrine’s development. Shielding the average Christian from these issues is not a way to foster thinking Christians. It’s not a way to encourage a sincere embrace of the mantra, “know what you believe and why you believe it.” Quite the opposite. It’s a way to endorse ignorance as a virtue, foment frustrated Trinitarians…or worse.


Scott Swain Misrepresents Larry Hurtado in JETS?



I’ve been studying the doctrine of the Trinity for two plus years. I’m obsessed with it. Can’t imagine a more engaging subject. It’s a topic that overlaps many disciplines – patristic studies, church history, biblical theology, dogmatics and philosophy. I love it. It’s a challenge.


My pursuit of the Trinity has included authors as diverse as Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Origen, GNaz, Dale Tuggy, Fred Sanders, James White, James Anderson, Thomas McCall, Scott Swain, William Hasker, Keith Ward, Luke Stamps, Larry Hurtado, Michael Heiser, Alan Segal, Richard Bauckham, Daniel Howard-Snyder, Michael Rea, Sarah Coakley, George Karamanolis, Kavin Rowe, WLC, and more.


To that end, I recently read an article in the March 2017 edition of the Journal of the Evangelical Society. The article is written by Scott Swain, president of Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando. The title: “The Bible and the Trinity in Recent Thought: Review, Analysis, and Constructive Proposal”.


In a section dealing with “the mode of the Trinity’s presence in the Bible,” Swain makes this point:

The Trinity does not present himself to us in Holy Scripture in the form of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. Some, of course, claim this as evidence that the Trinity does not present himself to us in any form in the Bible and that the church’s Trinitarian dogma is the product of later, extrabiblical influences on its thinking, life, and liturgy. Wilhelm Bousset argued that it was only when the church had forgotten its Jewish monotheistic roots that it could, under the influences of its Hellenistic context, affirm the deity of Jesus Christ. The church’s Trinitarian dogma, according to this view, is “a work of the Greek Spirit on the soil of the Gospel,” to use Adolf Von Harnack’s famous description. Martin Hengel and others have undermined Bousset’s sharp distinction between an early Palestinian form of Christianity and a later Hellenized form.


Swain then cites scholars Richard Bauckham and Larry Hurtado as having “further discredited” Bousset’s view:

Richard Bauckham and Larry Hurtado, representatives of what Hengel dubbed the “new history of religions school,” have further discredited Bousset’s theory, demonstrating that the early church identified Jesus with and worshipped Jesus as the one true God of Israel.




What concerns me here is Swain’s representation of Larry Hurtado’s work. Along with Bauckham, Swain cites Hurtado as, “demonstrating that the early church identified Jesus with and worshipped Jesus as the one true God of Israel”. (I’m not dealing here with Swain’s larger point about the work of Bousset).


At the time, this representation of Hurtado struck me as wrong. I’ve read a number of his books, scores of his blog posts, and listened to him multiple times on assorted podcasts. I was certain he never endorsed or espoused this “Jesus is God” view in his published work.


But to be sure, I decided to go straight to the source – Hurtado himself. I contacted him with the following question:

I just read in the March issue of JETS a Scott Swain article. He cites you as demonstrating, and I quote, “that the early church identified Jesus with and worshipped Jesus as the one true God of Israel”. Now, unless I’m mistaken, I’ve never read or heard you make such a claim. Have you ever claimed this in your writings? If so, where? I need to reread the appropriate sections if I have overlooked this.


Hurtado did not disappoint. His answer to my question was clear and precise:

Corby: I too don’t recall making the claim that the early church identified Jesus “as the one true God of Israel.” I’ve noted that the earliest evidence shows the glorified/risen Jesus treated as uniquely linked with God, and as sharing the divine throne, divine name and glory, but also regularly distinguished from “God”. The application of OT “YHWH texts” to Jesus is remarkable (as David Capes showed in his book on the topic). But I myself don’t think that this justifies the sort of statement that you cite.


Hurtado confirmed my suspicions.


But more than that, he actually undercuts the “Jesus as God” point Swain attributes to Hurtado. Hurtado says, “But I myself don’t think that this justifies the sort of statement you cite”. What statement? Jesus is identified “as the one true God of Israel”.


Here is my concern: It appears to me that a highly respected scholar in Trinitarian studies misrepresented the work of another scholar in order to give an additional appearance of credibility to his argument. This is a serious problem.




At this point in the story, I decided to  contact Scott Swain directly. He was gracious enough to private message with me and hear my concerns. He disagreed with my take on his use of Hurtado. And yes, I sent him Hurtado’s response.


I pressed Swain further on the issue and he ended the conversation. I did have a glimmer of hope, however. He said he would seek the opinion of Hurtado directly. I asked him to keep me in the loop. If I am wrong on this, I want to know. I never heard back from him.


Did Swain misrepresent Hurtado? If you think he did, how would you characterize the severity of Swain’s misrepresentation? If you think he didn’t, where have I gone wrong?


Romans 10 Setup – Renovating the Law

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Romans 10 Setup – Renovating the Law




In 10:1-4, we saw that Paul reiterated a desire that his fellow Jews be saved.

  • The problem, of course, is that they stumbled over Christ.


Paul told us that they were ignorant of the way to righteousness.

  • As a result, they established their own way to be right with God.


Their way involved an abuse of the law.

  • They attempted to make the law (and membership badges)…
  • The way to be made right with God.


But Paul argued that Christ is the goal and the finish line of the law.

  • Righteousness comes through Christ, not obedience to the law…
  • Or any other man-made entryway into the people of God.
  • To be right with God is to be right with Christ. Period.


In Deuteronomy 10:5-8…

  • Paul unpacks this “law-righteousness-Jesus” thing a bit more.


Specifically, Paul contrasts:

  • Righteousness “out of” the law.
  • Righteousness “out of” faith.


Before we can dive into Paul’s contrasts…

  • I think it will be helpful to deal with our misconceptions of the law.


We will do this by exposing our Christian caricatures of the law.

  • And we will expose them by looking at two contrasts of the law.



The Law – Caricature 1:

Let’s start with Romans 7:22-23:

  • Romans 7:22–23 (ESV) — 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 25b So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.


Some months ago, we learned in this passage, that Paul never threw the law under the bus.

  • He lamented the fact that the “law of sin” corrupted the law.


In other words, his experience of the law before Christ…

  • Was in the domain of sin.
  • A domain that warped and corrupted the law.


Paul teased this out by discussing the tension he saw with law in his own life.

  • (1) His good intentions with the law.
  • (2) Evil’s grasp of the law (within the domain of sin and death).


N.T. Wright helped us understand this tension.



Good Intentions with the Law:

Of the first, Wright said:

  • “Imagine Paul as a young man praying Psalm 19 or Psalm 119, studying Torah prayerfully day and night, longing to wrap it around him like a cloak, to make it his way of life, his every breath. Not only is there nothing wrong with that; it is exactly what Israel was meant to do” – N.T. Wright.


This reflects the zeal Paul had for the law as a good Jew.

  • The zeal he spoke of in Romans 10:2 that his fellow Jews shared.
  • …I bear witness that they have a zeal for God…


But Paul’s good intentions with the law before Christ…

  • And the experience of his fellow Jews who were also living under the “law of sin”.
  • Didn’t play out as hoped…and it wasn’t the law’s fault.



Evil’s Grasp of the Law:

Under the “law of sin”, the God’s law is under the power of “evil’s grasp”:

  • “But the closer you hug the law to yourself, if you are still ‘in Adam’, the more the law is bound to say ‘But you’re a sinner!’ Worse: it will not only accuse, it will tempt…[and bring death]. It looks as though the law has developed a shadowy copy of itself, a negative identity which seems to be fighting on the side of sin against what the ‘I’ longs to do” – N.T. Wright.


This reflects the condition of the Jew Paul laments over in Romans 9 and 10.

  • The Jew that stumbled over Christ.


The kingdom of darkness – the power of sin and death – corrupted a right relationship with the law.

  • The law itself became the servant of sin and death.
  • As a result, the law became a tyrant.
  • A brutal taskmaster.



Saving the Law – Killing Caricature 1:

But the law was never intended to be a tyrant and taskmaster.

  • It was mean to be a joy and delight.
  • In fact, the law was never the problem.


The law was corrupted by the kingdom of darkness…

  • Of being “in Adam” and being “under sin”.


Why is this important to understand?


Christians look at the law itself as problematic…this is simply wrong.

  • We have caricatured the law to artificially magnify the Gospel.


OT Scholar Christopher Wright calls our mischaracterizations of the law:

“…a distorted theology that tries unnecessarily to gild the gospel by denigrating the law” – Christopher Wright.


Such a view does injustice to a right view of the law.


Look at the Psalmists view of the law.

  • Psalm 119:1–8 (ESV) — 1 Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord! 2 Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart, 3 who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways! 4 You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently. 5 Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes! 6 Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments. 7 I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous rules. 8 I will keep your statutes; do not utterly forsake me!


Again…lets look at Christopher Wright:

“The frequent claims by various psalmists to have lived according to God’s law are neither exaggerated nor exceptional. They arise from the natural assumption that ordinary people can indeed live in a way that is broadly pleasing to God and faithful to God’s law, and that they can do so as a matter of joy and delight.”


Yes…the law could be followed in such a way that it brought “joy and delight”.

  • This will be helpful when we get into Paul’s use of Deut. 30 next week.


But to clarify, Wright follows this with a helpful observation:

“This is neither self-righteousness nor a claim to sinless perfection, for the same psalmists are equally quick to confess their sin and failings, fully realizing that only the grace that could forgive and cleanse them would likewise enable them to live again in covenant obedience.”


This joyful experience of the law was only possible in a grace.

  • In a place outside of evil’s ability to warp and corrupt the law.
  • It was God’s grace that “powered” a right relationship with the law.


And Wright finishes his point:

“Obedience to the law in the ot, as has been stressed repeatedly, was not the means of achieving salvation but the response to a salvation that was already experienced” – Christopher Wright.


Note he says, “a response to a salvation that was already experienced”.

  • This is the crucial bit.
  • The law in the context of grace was a beautiful thing.


Again, the is why the Psalmist can say:

  • Psalm 1:1–2 (ESV) — 1 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.


Remember Paul – “we have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand” (Rom. 5:2).

  • To stand in grace, is to no longer stand “in the way of sinners”.


In this place, the law is a delight.

  • The law is worth meditating on day and night.
  • Even for the Christian.


Do we think the law – the instruction of God – is worth meditating on day and night?

  • If not, why?


The Law – Caricature 2:

The second caricature concerning the law – God’s instruction…

  • Arises from a basic mishandling of how we approach the law.


Generally, there are (from OT scholar Scott Booth/Eric Smith)…

  • Two ways God’s law or instruction can be approached.


It can approached as:

  • (1) Statutory Law
  • (2) Common Law (Ancient Near Eastern Context)


As we unpack these two…

  • It will become readily apparent which one produces the caricature…
  • And which one is in line with Paul’s view of the law.



Statutory Law:

So what is a statutory approach to law?


For purposes of our conversation…

  • The statutory law view is one that literally…
  • Takes the text – the words – of the law to be the law (Scott Booth/Eric Smith).
  • To abide by the law is to literally do what the text says.


Here is an example from the state of Virginia law code:

  • “If any person commit robbery by partial strangulation, or suffocation, or by striking or beating, or by other violence to the person, or by assault or otherwise putting a person in fear of serious bodily harm, or by the threat or presenting of firearms, or other deadly weapon or instrumentality whatsoever, he shall be guilty of a felony and shall be punished by confinement in a state correctional facility for life or any term not less than five years.” (18.2-58)


Couple of questions:

  • So, literally, what is the “law” in this example?
  • What does breaking this law entail?


Let’s look at one more example…just for fun.

  • “If any person, armed with a deadly weapon, shall enter any banking house, in the daytime or in the nighttime, with intent to commit larceny of money, bonds, notes, or other evidence of debt therein, he shall be guilty of a Class 2 felony.” (18.2-93)


Same questions:

  • So, literally, what is the “law” in this example?
  • What does breaking this law entail?


I think we get the point.

  • The text itself is the law.
  • And to abide by the law is to literally abide by the text.



ANE Common Law:

We now need to contrast this with the ANE view of law.

  • So what is the ANE approach to the law?


I great way to start is to take a couple of NT and OT examples of law/instruction…

  • And show how the statutory approach misses the mark.



(1) Our first example comes from Deuteronomy.

  • Deuteronomy 25:4 (ESV) — 4 “You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain.


On a statutory approach…

  • Literally, what is the “law” in this example?
  • What does breaking this law entail?


If the statutory approach is the correct way to approach this law…

  • Does this law have any use outside of Ox users?


On this approach…

  • There doesn’t seem to be a way to delight and meditate on this example of God’s instruction.


Now, let’s look at what happens when we take a different approach.


Let’s take the approach that does not see the text as the literal law itself.

But, instead, lets approach this as if the text is an “application of some specific principal” – Eric Smith.


In other words, on the ANE approach…the law is really a greater principal behind the text.

  • The law is not primarily the text itself.
  • It is just an example of the greater principal – God’s wisdom – played out.
  • The text is just an application of the greater principal.


In taking this approach, we have to figure out what the greater principal is.

  • But…alas…this requires some effort on our behalf!


However, when we do this, we are taking the ANE approach to the law.

  • So let’s see what this looks like.


Fortunately, the apostle Paul is going to help us out with this first example.

  • 1 Corinthians 9:9–12 (ESV) — 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? 10 Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. 11 If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? 12 If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.


Aha…now we can grasp what an ANE/Biblical approach to God’s law and instruction looks like.

  • Given what Paul tells us, what is the greater principal behind the oxen law?



Reflect Time:

So on the ANE approach…Paul’s approach:

  • What we are after is the wisdom of God…
  • The wisdom that is the source of the application found in the specific text.
  • A wisdom that can have an enormous range of application.


This is awesome stuff!

  • Why?


This is how we can delight in the law and instruction of God.

  • And thus delight in God Himself.


Importantly, what happens to this law if we come at it with a statutory approach?

  • Comparatively speaking, it becomes lifeless.
  • Not something we can delight in and meditate on.
  • But something easily corrupted into legalism.


And the worst part?

  • It doesn’t bring us into a deeper contact and appreciation of Yahweh and His wisdom.


BTW – On a side note, taking the statutory approach also does something else problematic.

  • It makes Paul out to be a loose and lousy OT interpreter.



(2) Our second example comes from Peter.

  • 1 Peter 3:3 (ESV) — 3 Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—


So, once again, on a statutory approach…

  • Literally, what is the “law” in this example?
  • What does breaking this law entail?


If the statutory approach is the correct way to approach this law…

  • Does this law have any use outside of wives/women who wear jewelry?


Like our previous example, on this approach…

  • There doesn’t seem to be a way to delight and meditate on this example of God’s instruction.
  • It is just a to-do list one checks off.


In fact, quite honestly…

  • It comes across as a bit controlling and dehumanizing to the wife/woman.
  • “Hey wifey. You’re not allowed to wear that stuff. Take it off and look plain!”


Moreover, any single dude would just blow right through this…

  • Looking for the stuff where Peter talks about guns and ammo.


So, again, lets approach this as if the text is an “application of some specific principal” – Eric Smith.

  • What is the greater principal?
  • What is the wisdom God is displaying behind this text?


To really unpack it, we need to know something about the cultural context.

  • So we have to do some work.


Which, again, is why the easy and lazy way to deal with the law…

  • Is to come at it from a statutory approach.


So what is the cultural context that will help us?

  • Like today, women (and men) back then wore jewelry for a number of reasons.
  • A common one was to demonstrate a certain level of status.


But, unlike today in the west, the jewelry a woman wore…

  • Also represented her value in the economy of marriage.


In other words…

  • It often times was part of the dowry her paternal family gave to her new husband.


This dowry – i.e., the jewelry – demonstrated that the marriage was a “good one”.

  • The marriage brought her husband additional honor and status.
  • And the marriage transaction gave the wife value.


This system of marriage…

  • Was extremely dehumanizing to women and wives.


All of this stuff, then, is the context we need to get at the general principal behind Peter’s instruction.

  • It will help us see God’s wisdom.
  • A wisdom that any person – married/unmarried or female/male – can delight in.


So what is the principal and wisdom behind Peter’s instruction?


For the Christian, there is a new marriage economy.

  • And it does not revolve around the wife finding meaning in the extent of her dowry.
  • Or by the husband finding the wife adequate due to her dowry.
  • Their value and identity are no longer wrapped up in marriage economics.


On an ANE Common Law approach to this instruction of God:

  • Peter actually humanizes the wife.
  • He turns the old economy of marriage on its head.


Very simply…in Christian marriage:

  • The wife’s identity, worth and value are no longer found in…
  • What her father gave…
  • Or what her husband received…
  • Or what she brought to the table.


Her identity and worth are now found in Christ.


But we can’t stop there.

  • If all this is true…the wisdom behind Peter’s instruction is not just for the wife.


It also leverages God’s wisdom against the husband.

  • Is the Christian husband to continue seeing the wife’s value in her dowry or status?
  • Absolutely not!
  • What must happen to him?


But wait…there’s more!

  • If you compare the statutory approach to the ANE approach using Peter’s instruction…
  • You actually make a surprising discovery.


If we take the statutory approach to this instruction…

  • We can actually violate the general principal and wisdom behind the text.


Scott Booth puts it like this:

“By doing the statutory law we could risk violating what Peter is actually instructing; we could actually be dehumanizing towards wives/women/our daughters” – Scott Booth.


In other words, if we say to our wives…

  • Do not wear jewelry or make your hair pretty.
  • What have we done?


We have corrupted the principal, by bringing to the foreground…

  • The act of jewelry wearing.


The point now becomes:

  • “I am pleasing to my husband and a secure in my wifehood because I don’t wear jewelry.”


Doing this bulldozes right over the principal of Peter’s words.

  • Namely, to foreground the beauty of the saved heart!


Or as Peter puts it in the very next verse:

  • 1 Peter 3:4 (ESV) — 4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.


The wife’s new adorning is Christ.

  • This means the husband gets a new adorning too – Christ.


So let me ask you, on an ANE approach…does Peter’s instruction apply only to women/wives?

  • No way!


BTW – Now we can make sense of what seems like an obvious contradiction between Peter’s instruction and any decent study Bible.

  • Peter says, “Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear”
  • NIVZ Study Bible says, “Peter does not forbid wearing fine clothing, jewelry, and going to the salon”.



Saving the Law – Killing Caricature 2:

Now we can begin to kill off this second caricature we make of the law.

  • The statutory approach that sees the text as the


We can now embrace God’s instruction and law…

  • As a source of happiness and delight in God.
  • As a fount of wisdom and principals from God.


We can now see why to grasp God’s instruction…

  • We must meditate on it.
  • Which happens well when we understand its context.


The following clip (just a couple minutes) will be a great way to finish off this lesson:

  • It ties together everything we have discussed.
  • And impresses upon us the need to delight in God’s law…like Paul did.




The bottom line is this:

  • If we don’t love and know the law like Paul did, we can’t know and love Christ like Paul did.


And now that we have exposed our Christian caricatures of the law

  • We are now better equipped to understand this.


We can now navigate Paul’s use of Leviticus and Deuteronomy in Romans 10…

  • Without caricaturing Paul’s talk of the law.


Romans 10:1-4 – Paul’s Desire



Review and Introduction:

Last week we closed out with Doug Moo’s observation:

  • “Israel’s exclusion from God’s people as a result of the gospel does not constitute a departure from the OT. Quite the contrary, Paul here implies: Israel’s stumbling over Christ was predicted in the OT” – Doug Moo.


To help tease this out, we looked at Paul’s personal experience.

  • He witnessed first hand the stumbling of the Jews over Jesus Christ.
  • He witnessed first hand believing Gentiles coming to Christ and being joined to the remnant of Israel.


One example was Acts 13:43-48.

  • Acts 13:43–48 (ESV) — 43 And after the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who, as they spoke with them, urged them to continue in the grace of God. 44 The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45 But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. 46 And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. 47 For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, “ ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’ ” 48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.


In today’s text, Paul takes up again his concern for his unbelieving Jewish brother and sisters.

  • His words are a bit of a reprise of his earlier lament.
  • Romans 9:1–3 (ESV) — 1 I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.


And though Paul restates his concern of their unbelief.

  • We will see that he doesn’t let his concern belittle the severity of their problem.



Paul’s Assessment – The Good News:

Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. 2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God…(vss. 1-2a)


Paul expresses his hope for unbelieving Jews.

  • Meaning, as we have seen, the Jews who are vessels of wrath.
  • The Jews who stumbled over Christ.


He tells us that his “heart’s desire” and “prayer” is “that they may be saved”.

  • He wants them to be joined to Christ the Messiah.


And importantly, Paul actively petitions God on their behalf.

  • He prays for them.
  • Importantly, he hasn’t given up on them.


In fact, Paul tells us that he can “bear them witness” – he can testify…

  • They have “a zeal for God” – a “commendable zeal” of the unbelieving Jews (Doug Moo).


Paul certainly has first hand knowledge of this zeal.

  • Acts 22:3 (ESV) — 3 “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day.


But what exactly does it mean to have “a zeal for God”?


For starters…

  • Paul really was affirming their zeal.
  • He “…does not dispute the authenticity of Israel’s zeal for God” – Tom Schreiner.
  • It was legit and admirable.


Secondly, Paul was acknowledging that the unbelieving Jews were passionately committed to…

  • “…following a venerable tradition of zeal for God that was illustrated in the life of…” many zeal filled Jews of the OT and 2nd Temple period – Tom Schreiner.


Elijah is one such OT example:

  • 1 Kings 19:10 (ESV) — 10 He said, “I [Elijah] have been very jealous [LXX – “zealous”] for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”


Doug Moo sheds more light on this tradition of zeal.

“‘Zeal’ emerged as an especially commendable characteristic in the [2nd Temple] period, when the very existence of the Jewish faith was threatened by foreign enemies and internal unconcern” – Doug Moo.


A great example of this is the Hasmoneans found in 1 Maccabees 2:19-27.

  • A Greek ruler, Antiochus, occupied Israel and its temple.
  • He was forcing the Jews to abandon cultic devotion to YHWH.


Enter Mattathias:

  • 1 Maccabees 2:19-27 – 19 Then Mattathias answered and spake with a loud voice, Though all the nations that are under the king’s dominion obey him, and fall away every one from the religion of their fathers, and give consent to his commandments: 20 Yet will I and my sons and my brethren walk in the covenant of our fathers. 21 God forbid that we should forsake the law and the ordinances. 22 We will not hearken to the king’s words, to go from our religion, either on the right hand, or the left. 23 Now when he had left speaking these words, there came one of the Jews in the sight of all to sacrifice on the altar which was at Modin, according to the king’s commandment. 24 Which thing when Mattathias saw, he was inflamed with zeal, and his reins trembled, neither could he forbear to shew his anger according to judgment: wherefore he ran, and slew him upon the altar. 25 Also the king’s commissioner, who compelled men to sacrifice, he killed at that time, and the altar he pulled down. 26 Thus dealt he zealously for the law of God like as Phinees did unto Zambri the son of Salom. 27 And Mattathias cried throughout the city with a loud voice, saying, Whosoever is zealous of the law, and maintaineth the covenant, let him follow me.


This is the kind of zeal that Paul was commending.

  • And yet, in spite of this commendable zeal, there was a serious problem.



Paul’s Assessment – The Bad News:

…a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness” (vss 2b-3).


Apparently, not all “zeal for God” is created equal.

  • So, Paul qualifies their zeal.
  • He says it is “not according to knowledge”.
  • Obviously a problem.


So, if it isn’t according to knowledge, what is it according to?


Unfortunately, their “zeal for God” is according to ignorance.

  • Paul says they are “ignorant of the righteousness of God”.
  • Spiritually speaking, their ignorance is spiritual blindness.


OK…so what is “the righteousness of God” they are blind to?

  • It is the “activity of God whereby he brings people into relationship with himself” – Doug Moo.


Given this, we can say that Paul’s critique of the unbelieving Jew is that:

  • They lack knowledge of how it is that God puts people right with Him.


Yet, they certainly knew that they needed to be right with God.

  • So the natural consequence of the need to be right with God…
  • With the blindness as to how God made them right…
  • Is that they came up with their own path to righteousness.


Paul puts it this way:

  • They were zealously “seeking to establish their own” way to righteousness.


And what was their way?

  • Michael Bird describes it this way:
  • It was a “…a zeal for God’s law, its correct interpretation, its instruction, its preservation under pagan domination, and even its promulgation to the entire world” – Michael Bird.


And it included having the badges of membership in the people of God.

  • Jewish ethnicity, circumcision, Sabbath observance, etc.


About their way, Bird says:

“It shows a lack of awareness about the Torah’s intrinsic limitations and an accompanying denial of Israel’s own disobedience to the Torah” – Michael Bird.


And their way, plus their ignorance (spiritual blindness) of the right way of God’s “righteousing” activity, had devastating consequences.

  • Paul says, “they did not submit to God’s righteousness”.


When Paul says this he has a very specific meaning in mind.

  • They did not submit to Christ as Messiah.
  • As Paul said last week, this was their stumbling over Christ.


It is Christ who ultimately, is the “righteousing” and saving activity of God.

  • So ignorance of God’s righteousness is ignorance of Christ.
  • Being blind to God’s righteousness is being blind to Christ.


Doug Moo puts it like this:

  • “…the Jews have not recognized the manifestation of God’s righteousness in Christ and have sought rather to establish their own…” – Doug Moo.


Ultimately, this blindness – this misinformed zeal – leads directly to being an enemy of Christ and His church.

  • Paul would know.
  • Philippians 3:6 (ESV) — 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church…


To Saul (Paul before Christ) and any other zealous Jew…

  • Opposition to Christ and His followers was on par with…
  • Mattathias’ opposition to Antiochus.


This opposition to Christ, in fact, is directly behind Jesus’ words with the Pharisees in John 8.

  • John 8:41b–44a (ESV) — 41b We [the Pharisees] have one Father—even God.” 42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44a You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.


Jesus makes the startling claim that:

  • To oppose and reject Jesus – God’s “righteousing” activity…
  • Is to oppose and reject YHWH.
  • Yikes!


To finish out his thought, and make a transition to the stuff of verse 5 and following…

  • Paul makes one further assessment about God’s “righteousing” activity in Christ.



Paul’s Assessment – Christ the Telos:

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes

  • Christ is the “telos” of the law. (Bird)


What in the world does this mean?



Christ and OT:

For starters, Christ’s own words have to be included in any attempts to understand Paul.

  • Matthew 5:17 (ESV) — 17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.


The idea here, according to BDAG is this:

  • Jesus has come to bring the law “to a designed end” not abolish it.


In other words, whatever Paul means, he (as we have said before)…

  • Is not throwing the law under the bus.
  • Jesus didn’t and Paul isn’t.


The OT was the beginning of what Jesus fulfilled.

  • You can’t have one without the other.


So given this quick comparison between Jesus’ and Paul’s words…

  • We can arrive at one clear teaching of Paul.


The OT is necessary to “get” Christ.

“Jesus and Paul…caution us against severing Christ from the law. For he is its fulfillment and consummation and he cannot be understood or appreciated unless he is seen in light of the preparatory period of which the law was the center” – Doug Moo.



Christ and “Telos” – End and Goal:

Doug Moo says:

  • “He is picturing the Mosaic law as the center of an epoch in God’s dealings with human beings that has now come to an end. The believer’s relationship to God is mediated in and through Christ, and the Mosaic law is no longer basic to that relationship” – Doug Moo.


Moo goes on to say:

  • “Paul is implying that Christ is the ‘end’ of the law (he brings its era to a close) and its ‘goal’ (he is what the law anticipated and pointed toward)” – Doug Moo.


And he continues:

  • “As Christ consummates one era of salvation history, so he inaugurates a new one” – Doug Moo.


Whatever relationship righteousness had to the law…

  • It is now found, as God planned, entirely in Christ.


The law’s role in this is over.

  • As Paul says, righteousness comes to “everyone who believes” in Christ.
  • This is the new era.


Michael Bird seems to agree with this take:

“I suggest that the main idea is that the Messiah has brought the law to its intended goal, namely, covenant renewal. By doing so, he terminates the law as the mechanism for relating to God, so that righteousness is now available to all on the basis of faith and not on the basis of performing works of the law” – Michael Bird.


Which he then follows up with:

  • “Christ is the end of the law in the sense that Christ is the climax of the Mosaic covenant by being the agent of the covenantal renewal to which the law itself pointed. The Messiah is the new ‘stone’ for a renewed people of God, made up of believing Jews and Gentiles” – Michael Bird.


BTW – In next weeks lesson, we will seek to redeem the law from Christian caricatures. And come to grips with Paul’s love of the law.

Romans 9:30-33 – God’s Stone of Stumbling


Review and Introduction:

Last week we fully fleshed out God’s purpose of election – Paul’s main thought of Romans 9.

  • We now understand how the Jews who rejected the Messiah were part of God’s purpose of election.


God had always purposed to:

  • Include believing Gentiles with believing Jews.


God had always purposed to:

  • Preserve a remnant of believing Jews to which the believing Gentiles would be joined.
  • And mold all of them together into “vessels of mercy”.


God had always purposed to:

  • Use his judging righteousness against the unbelieving Jews to facilitate Gentile inclusion.
  • This included the destruction of the Temple in 70.
  • This included Paul’s call to the Gentile mission after Jewish rejection.


In our text today…

  • Paul closes out chapter 9 with another question and answer session.



Paul’s Question:

What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. 32 Why?


Paul’s question here is really an implication of all that he has been teaching about God’s purpose of election.

  • His point is made with 4 separate phrases/sentences.
  • We can tease out Paul’s point with a paraphrase of each.


Pauline paraphrase:

  • (1) “Yes…what I’m about to say is accurate.”
  • (2) “The Gentiles were ‘righteoused’ by God through faith even though they didn’t have the law.”
  • (3) “And Israel, who had the law – a tutor to righteousness – failed to reach righteousness”.
  • (4) “How do we make sense of this?”


Paul is pointing out that, because of God’s purpose of election…

  • The believing Gentiles have attained through faith (allegiance or believing loyalty)…
  • The very righteousness (made right with God) that Israel had been pursuing for over 1000 years, and yet failed to attain.


It is this truth that leads him to ask, using our paraphrase,

  • “How do we make sense of this?”



Paul’s Answer:

Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 as it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”


To begin with, Paul points out that Israel’s relationship with the law was off track.

  • They did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works” (vs. 32).


Michael Bird gives some examples of this wrong pursuit:

“…the Torah prescribes regulations for right conduct and for a right covenant standing before God. But…this could be accentuated to the point that covenant righteousness becomes the presumption of those who think they are adhering to the Torah rightly, whether by sacred violence (Zealots), by promoting priestly purity (Pharisees), by revisioning calendrical regulations and cultic purity (Essenes), or by continual sacrifice and temple purity (Sadducees)” – Michael Bird.


And in addition to the above we have also:

  • The idea that righteousness is attained through Jewish ethnicity…
  • Or having the correct badges of membership of the people of God – circumcision, Sabbath observance, etc.


All of these were their wrongheaded attempts to:

  • Try and demonstrate that, “…that they were the true children of Abraham” – N.T. Wright.


Paul covered this same ground at the end of Romans 3 and into Romans 4.

  • At that time, we learned something about the law that will help us here.



Law Review:

N.T. Wright helped us understand how Israel’s relationship with the law was “off”.

  • He suggested that the law was taken by Israel and put to the wrong tune – the tune of works.
  • The law, he said, “was always designed to be sung to the tune called ‘faith’.” – N.T. Wright.
  • Sung to the right tune – faith – the law becomes a beautiful song of worship and gratitude.


So, Paul is telling us now, that because of God’s purpose of election…

  • The believing Gentiles have been given, and are singing the right tune.
  • Yet the Israelites that rejected the Messiah continue to play the wrong tune with the law.


And ultimately, this causes them to stumble.



Stone of Stumbling:

They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame (vss. 32b-33).


With this, Paul now drops yet another brutal truth-bomb.

  • His explanation for why Israel went so off track is itself part of God’s purpose of election.


BTW – Here Paul combines two texts from Isaiah.

  • “The wording is drawn from Isa. 28:16, into which Paul inserts the language of Isa. 8:14” – G.K. Beale.
  • And his, “…joining of the two passages appears…to have been without precedent in early Judaism” – G.K. Beale.


So what does Paul intend to tell us through his unusual use of Isaiah?


Again, Beale can help us out:

“Paul finds in the pattern of God’s dealings with Israel in judgment and salvation a pattern (type) that has come to fulfillment in his eschatological dealings with them in Christ” – G.K. Beale.



So let’s flesh out Paul’s NT use of Isaiah as a pattern found in Christ.


Paul has said the unbelieving Jews have played the wrong tune with the law.

  • This has resulted in severe consequences.


One consequence is that they “have stumbled over the stumbling stone”.

  • They have stumbled over Christ.


And this stumbling has happened as Isaiah said it would.

  • “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame”


God the Father established this stone or rock – Jesus – in Zion (Jerusalem).

  • He did so by raising Christ from the dead and exalting Him to His right hand.
  • And yet, the Jews have rejected Him.


And here is Paul’s point:

  • Christ is the “foundation for the new people of God; the keystone in the plan of salvation. Yet rather than building on that stone, putting their faith in it, Israel has stumbled over it” – Doug Moo.


But the remnant and the believing Gentiles have given Him their allegiance and trust.

  • They “will not be put to shame”.


BTW – “According to the MT of Isa 8:14 God himself will become ‘a stone of offense’” – EDNT.

  • This is yet another instance in the NT where Jesus is associated with the uniqueness of Yahweh.
  • An association that needs an explanation.


The reason all of this is so important to Paul is that he witnessed the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.

  • That is – the stumbling of Israel, and the belief of the remnant and the Gentile.


Paul’s witness:

  • Acts 13:43–48 (ESV) — 43 And after the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who, as they spoke with them, urged them to continue in the grace of God. 44 The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45 But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. 46 And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. 47 For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, “ ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’ ” 48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.
  • Acts 14:1–2 (ESV) — 1 Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed. 2 But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.
  • Acts 17:1–5 (ESV) — 1 Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2 And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” 4 And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. 5 But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd.


Moo will close us out:

  • “Israel’s exclusion from God’s people as a result of the gospel does not constitute a departure from the OT. Quite the contrary, Paul here implies: Israel’s stumbling over Christ was predicted in the OT” – Doug Moo.


We will follow up on Paul’s train of thought next week, as we begin Romans 10.