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Signs and Promises of God

 

 

Of the sign of the rainbow, Lutheran reminds us that:

“This sign should remind us to give thanks to God. For as often as the rainbow appears, it preaches to the entire world with a loud voice about the wrath which once moved God to destroy the whole world. It also gives comfort, that we may have the conviction that God is kindly inclined toward us again and will never again make use of so horrible a punishment. Thus it teaches the fear of God and faith at the same time, the greatest virtues… Let us, therefore, be reminded by this sign to fear God and to trust Him, in order that, just as we have escaped the punishment of the Flood, we may also be able to escape the punishment by fire.” [Luther’s Works, Vol. 2: Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 6-14, (Genesis 9:20)]

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The Bible and the Gospel

The following is a portion of a recent letter by Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis, referencing the new book Begin:

“When I was a public school teacher in Australia, I remember a ministry group that cam and addressed a school assembly.  They handed every student a copy of the New Testament, plus the Psalms and Proverbs.

“In one sense, I was thrilled to see students receiving God’s Word—but in another sense, I sighed.

“You see, I had already experienced students challenging my Christian faith because of what they were taught about evolution and millions of years in their textbooks.  These teachings were an enormous stumbling block to students at the assembly from even listening to the gospel.  What they had been taught in school undermined biblical authority—to them, the Bible, and its gospel message, could no longer be trusted!

“I sighted when these students received the New Testament because they did not receive Genesis chapters 1-11 that are the foundational history to fully understanding the gospel.  In fact, this history is ultimately foundational to every biblical doctrine.

“Back then, I certainly understood why the New Testament was handed out: the gospel is clearly presented.  However, I also understood from my day-to-day experience that for students, God’s Word had been shown not to be true in the Old Testament (particularly Genesis)—so why should they even bother to read the New Testament?”

 

Question…How much emphasis do we place on the authority of the Bible in order to clearly testify of God’s grace in Christ?  In asking such a question, my intention is not at all, in any way, to cast doubt on God’s imprimatur on the Holy Bible.  The Bible is indeed God’s infallible Word, no question about it!  Yet, I cannot prove this to you or to anyone.

I can say that the Bible is authoritative, inspired, infallible, God’s Word, without error (inerrant), and nothing but the truth (so it is!, and I will), but I cannot prove this to you.  Nor can I convince you, or anyone for that matter, to believe it.  Only God can do that (John 3:5-6; 1 Corinthians 2:14).  Emphasizing the authority of the Bible as God’s Word will not at all ‘change’ anyone from a nonbeliever to a believer.  Only Christ’s Word does this.

Making efforts to show how the Old Testament and the New Testaments are true are indeed helpful, but the nonbeliever will never believe as a result of ‘evidence.’  St. Paul says that faith comes by hearing the Word of Christ (Romans 10:17).

Here is where Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis demonstrate a shortcoming.  Trying to proving the Bible to be true (though the Bible is true indeed) will not convince anyone of its truthfulness.  Nor will acknowledging the truth of Holy Scripture lead to salvation.

Apologetics indeed does have its place.  But believing biblical authority does not then mean forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.  These are only through faith in Jesus.  Ham and Answers in Genesis seem to be coming close to recasting the Gospel of Jesus Christ to believing Scriptural authority.

In other words, a real danger exists of changing the Gospel, the Good News, of sins forgiven through faith in Christ as the only means of salvation to believing in Biblical authority as the means of salvation.

Played out, then, it is not faith in Jesus alone that would save, but faith in the authority of the Bible.  Answers in Genesis, seems to be implying this.

I certainly agree that the teaching of “evolution and millions of years” is eroding the faith of Christians (young and old) everywhere.  And what many are taught in school undermines biblical authority.  Of these truths, I have no doubts.

But to say that a “getting back to Scriptural authority” will save the day, to this I cannot agree.  It will not “save the day.”  Nor will telling people that the Bible is true, though it is.

Rather than trying to convince people that the Bible is true according to experience or by showing evidence for the purpose of convincing them merely that the Bible is true, God’s way of “evangelism” is simply to proclaim His Word.  God’s way of turning hardened sinners from unbelief to belief is by speaking the “no holds barred” Law, convincing sinners of their sin, not by the manner of the preacher, but according to God’s Holy Word.  If this the hearer will not hear, then the Gospel they will not hear either.

In other words, instead of trying to convince unbelievers (or even weak Christians) that the Bible is true, how about just speaking according to the Lord’s Word and having that Word have its way with them.  If they hear, then they will seek mercy and kindness.  To them, then, we can immediately speak the word of forgiveness that they (and we) so desperately need to hear.  If they believe the Gospel, then salvation is theirs.  But believing in the authority of the Bible does not save anyone.  Only faith in Jesus does.

This demonstrates a main difference among Christians, a difference that cannot be ignored.  Though I certainly appreciate and rejoice in all the resources and work that Answers makes available and does, a cautionary word is in order.  It is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ that brings about salvation.  God’s Holy Word does convince of this truth—not evidence, not reasonable arguments, and not “believing” that Genes 1-11 is the foundational history to understanding the Gospel.  According to the Bible, salvation does not depend on believing the latter to be true.  Salvation, however, does depend on what one believes concerning Jesus—who He is and what He did for you!

It is, I believe, a difference in starting point.  Answers seems to suggest that if one believes the authority of the Bible, one will believe in the Gospel.  However, should one believe the Gospel according to Scripture, then one cannot but believe the Bible, should such faith be consistent with that Scripture, for all who will truly acknowledge and believe in Christ will truly and acknowledge and believe His Word (Luke 16:29-31; John 5:24; 8:47).

Such faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it must be said, does not come from believing that the Bible is authoritative for faith and life.  Such faith in Jesus Christ comes from God working faith in the heart through the very Word of God that is proclaimed; God working by means of His Holy Law which speaks against sin and our disobedience, and God proclaiming the Good News of sins forgiven in Christ.

This does not all mean that all who hear the Gospel will believe, nor that all who hear the Law will repent.  We do not know who all will believe and all who will not.  That is not the question.  Rather, God gives His people, the church, the task of preaching against sin and preaching Christ.  Where she does this faithfully, God will bless.  Where she does not, there confusion will remain, and there, God’s people will seek other emphases than the Word alone for creating and sustaining the Christian faith.

Age of 120 years and Genesis 6:3

And the LORD said, ‘My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.’

(Genesis 6:3, NKJ)

How are these words of the Lord to be understood?  With other Bible readers, I always took this passage to refer to the age of man and not to anything else.  That reasoning seemed to make sense, “his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.”

However, Genesis 11 records that the father of Abram, Terah, lived to be 205 years old.  And most of those before him (also recorded in Genesis 11) lived more than 120 years.  Moses, in contrast, did not live as long as those before him, for Moses died at the age of 120 (Deuteronomy 34:7).

One reasonable explanation for the lapse in time between the greater ages of men in the earlier parts of Genesis (i.e. Noah, Terah, etc.) to the decreasing ages of men (i.e. Moses) shortly after the pronouncement of the Lord in Genesis 6:3 might be that the lowering of the maximum age to 120 years was not immediate.  Here, we might reflect on the fall of Adam and Eve in the garden.

The Lord had clearly said, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17).  However, neither Adam or Eve physically died immediately, but they were surely in the “state of death.”  Also, and especially, to be outside of God’s blessing and favor surely does mean certain eternal death.[1]

I had understood these words of our Lord in Genesis concerning the 120 years to be referring to the limitation of man’s age due to his wickedness.  It was a word of judgment.  It made sense to me.  And even today, you hear of few people living over 110 years, let alone over that.  The explanation seemed “to fit.”

Nevertheless, another, and more likely, explanation exists which was recently brought to my attention…

The word of the Lord concerning 120 years is certainly a word of judgment.  But it is not to be understood as a word of judgment with reference to man’s age.  It is word of judgment with reference to how long the wicked of the world had before the coming destruction of the flood.

Note these following verses in Genesis 6:

“Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.  And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.  So the LORD said, ‘I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.’  But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD” (Genesis 6:5-8);

“The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence.  So God looked upon the earth, and indeed it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.  And God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth is filled with violence through them; and behold, I will destroy them with the earth” (Genesis 6:11-13).

The world was corrupt.  The people were wicked.  Judgment was coming…

Genesis 5 records that Noah was 500 years old. Noah and his family (wife, three sons, and three daughters-in-law), totaling eight people, entered the ark when Noah was 600 years old.  This leaves a difference of only 100 years, twenty less than the Lord’s, “yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.”

In other words, the Lord wasn’t speaking of limiting man’s age, but limiting the amount of time before man’s judgment, that is, giving wicked man time to repent, to change his ways (i.e. Sodom and Gomorrah, Genesis 19:12-14; Jonah & Nineveh, Jonah 3:4).[2]

Such truly is the way of the Lord, the way of grace and mercy, to give time to repent, to give time to turn from sin and believe His word and promises, for the Lord says, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ezekiel 33:11).

That time is now, not to wait as those who perished in the flood:

“Scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.’  For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water.  But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.  But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.  The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:3-9).

Thus does our Lord say through the St. Paul the apostle:

“We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain.  For He says: “In an acceptable time I have heard you, And in the day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:1-2).

That the Lord would reveal the coming destruction of the world by flood as in Genesis (or by fire, 2 Peter 3:10ff) is not foreign to Holy Scripture.  That the Lord would reveal such coming destruction by means of giving the amount of time before such an event is also not foreign to the way God works, for the Lord does indeed desire sinners “to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:4).  However, if they do not, judgment is sure to come and will not delay.

LutherOnGenesis6.3


[1] This latter point might be what is truly meant with reference to the Lord’s words, “surely die.”  We might immediately think of physical death, but physical death, though indeed a result of sin, is not the instantaneous, nor the ultimate, consequence, but separation from God is, and all that this means.

[2] In Genesis 19, only Lot, his wife, and two daughters fled the city alive.  The sons-in-law refused to depart.  As for Nineveh, the king and its citizens did repent and were thus spared, though destruction did come later (Nahum 1:1ff; Zephaniah 2:13)

Genesis 1–11 and Ancient Myths

How are ancient myths to be understood in light of Scripture, and vice versa? The article, “Is Genesis 1–11 a Derivation from Ancient Myths? – Answers in Genesis,” helps give an answer.

The question is not only, “which came first?”, but more importantly, “which is true?”  Some would , I suppose, try to redact the various ancient myths with the Bible in order to try to get at the “original” account, but doing so only denies the possibility of the full veracity of any of the accounts.

But as Steve Ham writes, the Bible is either all true or all false.  If the Bible is only part true,  then which part is God’s Word and which is not.  Rather than try to interject and interpose our opinions and thoughts on what the Bible means, or how we are to “take it,” first ask the question, “What does it say?”  What does the Bible say, and what does  the Bible say of itself?

“No One Can Serve Two Masters”

In the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed, Christians everywhere confess, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” These are not meaningless words. Nor are the words empty of meaning. Christians actually believe them. To say them but not to believe them is be a “play Christian,” one who mouths the words, but does not really mean what he says.

But we are no “play Christians.” We are not playing any games when we confess these words of the First Article of the Creed. We actually believe that according to the Bible, God did make heaven and earth. We believe that God created heaven and earth, just as recorded in Genesis, the first book of the Bible, not in the way that macro Evolutionists or theistic evolutionists believe, but exactly in the way God has revealed it. To say otherwise is, really, to call God a liar, and no child of God can do this and remain a child of God. The child of God takes God at His Word and does not follow his own opinions and determinations with the things of God…

Mt06.24-34, Epiphany 8, 2011A.pdf

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