How to Study the Bible: Theosis, Cornelius, the Christian Confession & Jesus

theword biblepage-781x1024So the goal of it all is the knowledge of God. When Jesus returns, Isaiah says that “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Isa 11:9b). The new covenant will cause all God’s children to “Know the Lord” (Jer 39:34).

All of history, molded and pushed by the hand of God, was meant to lead to Christians knowing the LORD.

And so, my question is very basic. If one of the primary goals of all of God’s dealing with humanity throughout history is the knowledge of God, then shouldn’t we read the scriptures with that question primarily in mind? Shouldn’t we ask as we turn each page, “What does this tell us about God?”

We want to know about how to appoint elders and how to run the assembly and what words to say over a baptism and whether the grape juice really needs to be fermented when we take communion — because we’ve been shaped by very bad theology to believe we’re being tested by a new law that replaced the old law. But long before we ask such questions, we need to understand who God is. And in learning who God is, we’ll learn the right questions to ask.

In fact, if as we’ve seen, Adam and Eve can be priests of God in the Cosmic Temple of Creation, in the very image and likeness of YHWH himself, based solely on knowing the general nature of God, without the revelation of a single law, surely our relationship with God is not best defined by law but by knowledge of God.

That study will trigger some really hard questions, but they’ll be the very same questions that the NT wrestles with — which makes them the right questions.

Acts 15, for example

I mean, take Acts 15. The Jerusalem elders and the apostles had a meeting to decide whether Gentiles had to be circumcised — had to become Jews and comply with the Law of Moses — to become Christians. They seemed to think it was a hard question. And it was. After all, if our relationship with God is all about obedience to laws, how can the Law of Moses not be central to salvation?

But to us, it’s stupidly easy. We were taught, “The Law was nailed to the cross.” Why didn’t the apostles just say so and end the discussion? Why not just say the Law has been repealed and so there’s no need to be circumcised? Why didn’t the apostles just declare that baptism replaces circumcision?

Obviously, their theology was different from ours. And it’s because they had to sort out how God could be true to his covenants and yet Jesus could be the Messiah, resurrected, and in heaven and yet God could have saved Cornelius without circumcision. It required rethinking the Law through the lens of the cross. Not repealing the Law but understanding it in a very different way.

They acted based, not so much on the words of the apostles and the prophets, but because God had revealed his intentions by saving Cornelius without circumcision. Peter declared to the gathered council,

(Act 15:8-9 ESV)  8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us,  9 and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. 

It’s not that the laws have changed but that God is continuing to save based on the hearts of those who approach him. “Faith” is about the heart, and salvation is about cleansing hearts. Peter thus presents his case in terms of the character of God.

Abraham was saved by his faith. Israel was told to circumcise the foreskins of their hearts. David was chosen because of his heart. Therefore, we should not be surprised that God saved Cornelius based on the faith in his heart rather than his circumcision. It’s always been about hearts that resonate with the heart of God.

And suddenly, we see better what Paul means when he says that we are saved by faith in Jesus rather than works of the Law of Moses. He’s not arguing that the Law has been repealed or that we saved by the Law of Christ rather than the Law of Moses, but that we’re saved by faith in Jesus because this has always been the nature of mankind’s relationship with God.

Rather, what ought to be the hard question is why the Gentiles need to believe in Jesus, not just YHWH, God of the Jews.  And this is not because God has changed the rules. It’s because God has revealed more about himself.

Our confession

The apostles interpreted many of the OT passages about “the LORD” (literally “YHWH”) as referring to Jesus. (Going back to the KJV, translations use “LORD” in all caps to mean YHWH, sometimes also translated “Jehovah” in the KJV.)

This was left out of our instruction in Bible class because, at least in part, during the 19th and early 20th Centuries, theology was dominated by a very anti-Semitic Europe. They couldn’t imagine Jesus as YHWH. And yet the language is very clear.

For example, at Pentecost, Peter quotes the prophet Joel,

(Act 2:21 ESV)  21 ‘And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ 

Thumb back to Joel and you find,

(Joe 2:32a ESV)  32 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. 

“LORD” in all caps means YHWH. And Peter says later in the same sermon,

(Act 2:36 ESV)  36 “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”  

This is why Peter says baptism works as it does. Those who “call on the name of the LORD” do so by being baptized “in the name of Jesus Messiah” (Acts 2:38). He calls Jesus “Lord” in a context in which “Lord” means YHWH.

We miss it because we start at v. 38. We assume it’s a new law being announced, not a deeper revelation by God about himself. Indeed, one thing this new covenant does is redefine “YHWH” as including Jesus of Nazareth. It anticipates the Nicene Creed. God the Son. And yet a significant portion of the Churches of Christ is heterodox on this very point.

When we confess “Jesus is Lord,” we’re really supposed to be confessing Jesus is YHWH. How do I know? Read with me.

(Rom 10:9-13 ESV)  9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.  11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.”  12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.  13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Why is it that confessing “Jesus is Lord” leads to salvation in v. 9? It’s because Paul quotes Joel (just like Peter) in v. 13 for the proposition that calling “on the name of the Lord” saves. But Joel said, in Hebrew, “YHWH.”

So what’s my point? I’m not intending to nitpick our baptismal theology so much as our hermeneutics. Because we’ve been falsely taught that the OT was nailed to the cross (which isn’t even what the KJV version of Col 2:15 says. It says “Law.”), we don’t flip back to Joel to see what it is that Peter and Paul are quoting. In fact, we skip over the OT quotations entirely because we can’t imagine how the “Old Law” might add anything to our understanding of God.  And yet it does. You just have to flip back through the pages and read it.

And these examples should teach us a few things about God. First, we learn that Jesus of Nazareth is LORD, not just Lord. He is God the Son as well as Son of God. And that means that one of the best ways to learn about God is to learn about Jesus.

But it also means that the OT says quite a lot about Jesus because it says quite a lot about “the LORD.” (See also this earlier post.) And this explains why faith in Jesus is essential to salvation. Jesus is inseparable from God, indeed, his is God the Son. The God of the OT is in fact Jesus — at least when he is referred to by the Divine Name, YHWH. Deny Jesus and you’ve denied YHWH.

And this is why Paul gave up his life to travel synagogue to synagogue to teach faithful Jews about Jesus — to save them.

Now, if this is giving you a headache, well, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is no easy thing. It’s because God exists far beyond anything we experience that our language and — quite literally — our brains aren’t designed for fully comprehending such a Being. Nonetheless, we don’t have to completely understand the Trinity to understand some of it. And, personally, I find it helpful not to draw sharp lines between God the Son and God the Father. They are not identical. But neither are they distinct. Rather, the lines between them are a bit fuzzy (to use a math term. No. Really. It’s a math term used when lines are, well, fuzzy. Really.)

And I think it’s more important to recognize the overlap — the fuzziness — in their relationship than to define it precisely (as though we could). I just know that Jesus is LORD. But that doesn’t mean God isn’t. It’s, you know, fuzzy. Which is okay.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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11 Responses to How to Study the Bible: Theosis, Cornelius, the Christian Confession & Jesus

  1. Price says:

    I apologize for the rabbit trail but I would question whether the “LAW” was nailed to the cross rather than the penalty of the Law….. I’ve bounced around the concept that while the penalty of the Law has been removed…by faith in Jesus… and some of the Law has been eliminated altogether (sacrifice for sin, priesthood, etc.) there are portions that remain as proper instruction such as the moral laws.. Paul seems to use a moral law found in Leviticus as support for the removal of one of the members in the church at Corinth.. It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. [1Co 5:1 ESV] that appears to be taken from “You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s wife; it is your father’s nakedness. [Lev 18:8 ESV]

    If we understand a command from the first covenant to be the heart of God toward something and it still applies today, then how can we rationalize that certain portions of the Law aren’t still applicable today… Thoughts ?

  2. Monty says:

    Paul’s analogy in Romans 7:1-3 is helpful, I believe. When a married woman’s husband lives, she isn’t free to marry someone else. But if her husband dies, then she is free to marry another. Then Paul writes, ” Therefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God. Verse 6 says, But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of Spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter. Paul sums up his thoughts in chapter 7:24 talking about being in death under the law, when he says “Oh wretched man that I am who will save me from the body of death? He asks this rhetorical question and of course who can save him from the law of sin and death is “Jesus Christ our Lord! I see Romans 7 as commentary on Romans 6 and the bridge of transition from death under the law to dying to the law and then to new life in the Spirit in Ch.8.

    Our baptism as Paul explains in chapter 6 is the transitioning by death(our death to law) by nature of dying in baptism and being raised in new life, married to another(Christ Jesus). Only by our experiencing this baptismal separation from what held us prisoner(bound by law) are we free to marry another(Jesus). The law was powerless to save us from the power of sin. Jesus did what the law was unable to do. The law functioned as intended by bridging us to Jesus as a tutor, where the fulfilment and the transition to another(husband if you will)could legally occur because Jesus fulfilled all the righteous requirements of the law on our behalf.

    These are my thoughts for the moment on this, not firm on my interpretation but believe I’m on the right track. As always I wait to hear what others think.

  3. Dwight says:

    We are called to be under the “perfect Law of Liberty” as saints. We are not restrained by the law, but set free in Jesus. Many look at baptism as law, but it is an avenue and a connection.
    Now many of the moral laws exceeded the Law of Moses, as they were in place before that. Adultery, murder, etc were all sinful before the Law was written down. Now there were some Laws that Jesus persoanally carried forward, but others he didn’t. It can’t be argued that the ceremonial laws were carried forward, because that which the ceremonial laws were based on were changed-the Temple, the sacrifice, the priest, the order of the priesthood, etc. Since there were no more Jew or Greek, then the things that marked those differences like circumcision were changed as well.

  4. Price says:

    Dwight.. I agree that the Ceremonial Laws would be superseded by the newer covenant.. But, my specific mention of Paul’s use of Leviticus 18:8 and the discipline he invoked based on it seems to suggest that the moral laws, perhaps only some (?) are still very much in effect… We do know that this man’s “liberty” was condemned by Paul… Seems there are some boundaries to the liberty …or am I missing something ?

  5. Dwight says:

    No, Price, I totally agree. The law on adultery was a moral law and it carried on as they all did, but then again these laws were basically in effect before they were placed into the Law of Moses. But then again Jesus and the apostles reiterated the moral sins of the Law as sinful as well.

  6. rich constant says:

    you must read Romans as a letter Paul through the Spirit.
    Paul builds on principle on top of principal on top of principal and comes to Romans 9:30 through 10:4…
    Basic understanding = principal
    ROOT precepts of GOD’S JUDGEMENT’S
    BECAUSE OF Covenantal Faithfulness.
    More
    explanation later tonight…

  7. rich constant says:

    sorry about that I got tired, and had to go to sleep.
    although I will get to it. to be sure.

  8. Profile photo of Kevin Kevin says:

    Jay wrote, “First, we learn that Jesus of Nazareth is LORD, not just Lord. He is God the Son as well as Son of God. And that means that one of the best ways to learn about God is to learn about Jesus.”

    To tie together the last post on knowing God and this post about (to know Jesus is to know the father)…
    John 14:8-10
    Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.

  9. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Price,

    Neither the OT nor the Law was nailed to the cross. Our record of indebtedness was nailed to the cross. The KJV mistranslates the verb.

    (Col 2:13-14 ESV) 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.

    (Col 2:13-14 KJV) 13 And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; 14 Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;

    So in fact some of the Law of Moses still applies — which is plain from the numerous commands that Paul, Jesus, and others bind on us. The trick is in knowing how to draw the distinction. It’s both easy and hard. We don’t get to pick.

    I’ve covered this in the past in series on hermeneutics, and am likely going to re-cover some that same material in greater depth shortly.

  10. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Dwight, Price, and Gary,

    I agree that the “moral law”survives the cross, but defining its boundaries is no obvious task. I laid out my views a year or two ago in the series Jesus and Paul on the Hermeneutics of Sexuality. I went through the NT marriage and sex passages and asked how the writer came to his conclusion. Nearly always, he goes back to Gen 2 as an ideal, and sees any variation from a Gen 2 heterosexual marriage as sin. Thus, while Paul and Jesus both, at times, narrow the moral law down to “love your neighbor,” they see Gen 2 as how “Love your neighbor” works out when marriage is the subject.

    There are other reasons that Jesus and Paul use to support their views, but with the except of 1 Cor 5, it always goes back to Gen 2.

    In 1 Cor 5, Paul declares incest — even though a presumably a heterosexual marriage — as sinful, based on Lev 18. This is not based on Gen 2 directly, but Paul is quite clear in his condemnation. Therefore, we know the answer, even if we aren’t entirely sure of his reasoning. But Paul sees no need to prove his case that incest is sin, as even the Gentiles agreed on that point. Nonetheless, we have to take seriously the fact that all the various condemnations of “sexual immorality” and “impurity” in the NT by Jesus, Paul, etc. would have been heard as references to Lev 18. If you use the same word as pre-cross with evidently the same meaning, we have no basis to redefine “sexual immorality” contrary to what Jesus, Paul, and other listeners would have understood. When Jesus condemned “sexual immorality” to a Jewish audience, they heard a condemnation of, among other things, homosexual conduct.

    I’ve not got time to re-debate the issues here, but that’s what I find Jesus and Paul arguing, and so I figure their hermeneutics are good enough for me.

  11. rich constant says:

    Romans chapter 7 verse 14,for those under the law.

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