So 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 Why not just say the Law has been repealed and so there’s no need to be circumcised?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.
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.