Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Mediate, Mediate, Mediate - If you say it fast, it sounds funny, right?

This is my paper on Calvin's view of Christ as Mediator for all time. What I am basically disagreeing with is that he says that the Old Testament fathers and godly KNEW Christ as Mediator. It is long, but hopefully not boring. And it goes to show that I don't agree with EVERYTHING that Calvin says. So there. And here we go...

If man is unable in any capacity of his own to come to the Heavenly Father by his own work and own righteousness, then there must be a Mediator between man and the Heavenly Father who has perfected, imputed and imparted righteousness. The view of God the Father that Calvin has presented in the Institutes of Christian Religion is a view that holds to a completely holy, completely other Deity. Man is incapable of even coming to a true knowledge of God unless He somehow acts in their lives to reveal Himself to them. God cannot and will not have anything to do with sin – He abhors and rejects it. In order then for a fallen world that is tainted and covered with sin to have a relationship with this holy, other God, He has to provide a way for a different covering; a holy, righteous covering that will not be tainted by sin. This covering has come through the life, death and resurrection of the God-man, Jesus. His perfect, stainless righteousness now covers all who believe and trust in Him through faith. Jesus’ act came at a specific time in human history. God, who is outside of time, came into our time and as the Word of God tells us, at the “fullness of time… God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” This news is beyond anything we, who are in time after Christ, can imagine or believe to be possible; however, it does leave a question for what has happened to God’s chosen people, the faithful of the Old Testament, who were before the time of this redemptive act. If one is only able to be reckoned righteous under the righteousness of Jesus, then how are these who lived before Christ able to come to their Heavenly Father? Calvin answers this in several ways throughout 2.6-2.10 – that they had faith not in the acts of the Law, but in the future hope of a Redeemer, that God chose them and communicated completely with them, and that they knew Christ as Mediator. It is the third of Calvin’s assertions that I will hope to show has overstepped boundaries of interpretation and translation.

In the summary of his points on the law, Calvin writes, “There are two remaining points: that the Old Testament fathers (1) had Christ as pledge of their covenant, and (2) put in him all trust of future blessedness.” By the end of this four-chapter discussion, Calvin puts these last two points in to tie together all that he is holding to in concern with the salvation of the Old Testament fathers. It is interesting that Calvin has used the description of a pledge for Christ here, since up to this point, his words have been mingled with the idea of future hope and present knowledge and use of the word Mediator, not pledge. Calvin’s view of the law and interaction with God for the Old Testament fathers has quite a pendulum swing throughout these four chapters. By the end, he is more amiable towards the law as it points to Christ and sees the patriarchs as having “a real participation in God.” However, as Calvin begins to look at the law, he sees it through the lens of Paul, someone who is known for seeing the law as a curse, bringing with it the knowledge of sin. He states that, “In the precepts of the law, God is but the rewarder of perfect righteousness, which all of us lack, and conversely, the severe judge of evil deeds.” To even imagine that the offerings and sacrifices that the law required was a way for redemption to happen was laughable to Calvin. He writes, “In short, the whole cultus of the law, taken literally and not as shadows and figures corresponding to the truth, will be utterly ridiculous.”

The shortcomings of the law are seen because of the New Testament and the better work of Christ. However, I do not agree that this view of the law can be forced upon the Old Testament fathers and their own view of the law. While it may seem ridiculous to take the law as literal, the whole of Israel took the law very literally, and in that literalness it brought about a love for the law. This is why the writer of Psalm 119 can say that those “whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD” are considered blessed. The sacrifices and offerings that the LORD provided to the people of Israel, as a way for redemption, was a delight to them. When the people of Israel returned from captivity, Ezra opened up the law of Moses to them and read from it for days. Their response was one of weeping, worship, and of thankfulness that despite their turning away from the law, the Lord is “ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

Yet, at the same time the law was not only about an action of sacrifice and offering. At the end of the second giving of the law, Moses says, “For the LORD will again take delight in prospering you, as he took delight in your fathers, when you obey the voice of the LORD your God, to keep his commandments and his statues that are written in this Book of the Law, when you turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” There is something in the law that will point the men and women of Israel to love God the Father with more than just mere actions, but with their entire being – heart, soul and mind. The psalmist expresses this when he says, “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” The law did not give the Old Testament fathers free reign to continue sinning, much as the Gospel of Christ does not give us this freedom either. Offerings made without a repentant heart are worthless; likewise our worship and offerings today are worthless if we are not repentant of the sin that is constantly in our lives.

Thus, when Calvin writes, “For what is more vain or absurd than for men to offer a loathsome stench from the fat of cattle in order to reconcile themselves to God? Or to have recourse to the sprinkling of water and blood to cleanse away their filth?” , I think that Calvin has grossly exaggerated the point. Do not we as Christians rely upon the spilling of the perfect blood of Christ now? I cannot imagine that the bruised, bloodied, stricken, smitten body of Christ smelled particularly aromatic while it hung on the cross for hours. In fact, our Savior had even partaken of a last meal hours before this torture that had to be moving through his intestinal system at some part during this time. Sweaty, bloody, beaten – and we believe that this will reconcile us to God? Yes, a resounding yes – because it would not be absurd to believe this, because this is how God has chosen to redeem His people. The law is the same. While it may sound ridiculous to slay animals, sprinkle blood and to find one perfect lamb among thousands every day and year, this is how God chose to reveal His redemption to His people.

In agreement with Calvin, it was not the acts of following the law that brought redemption, but the faith for the future, better Redeemer that was promised to them. Calvin, however, takes this future hope one step further and states that the Old Testament fathers “had and knew Christ as Mediator.” It is because they trusted “in their Mediator, they may freely dare to come forth into God’s presence.” I agree fully with this statement that the Old Testament fathers understood that drawing into the presence of God required a mediator, but I do not think that they held this view to be Christ, at least not the Christ that is revealed to us in the New Testament. When the people of Israel were at Mount Sinai, they feared the LORD and relied on Moses to intercede and mediate for them. The law provided that priests should mediate and make the offerings for the people after they consecrated and purified themselves. All of this was done so that the LORD could dwell in the midst of His people; “I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the LORD their God.” The mediation by the priests was not something that was taken lightly. Somehow by offering an unauthorized fire to God, the priests, Nadab and Abihu, died before God because they were not permitted to offer this fire either because of lack of purity or incorrect timing. The priests took great care to enter into the presence of God. Flippancy, complacency and disrespect were not allowed in this setting. To offer anything before God took not just blood of an animal, but one’s whole heart bent towards God, one’s whole mind concentrated solely on God, one’s whole soul repenting from the sin it contains and turning to God.

Calvin would argue though that this system still required knowledge of Christ as Mediator. He supports this by saying that the godly of the Old Testament knew of Christ as can be seen through their prayers and writings. He states that,
“Hannah, the mother of Samuel, describing the happiness of the godly, already says in her song: ‘God will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his Messiah’ [1 Samuel 2:10]. By these words she means that God will bless his church. To this corresponds the prophecy that is added a little later: ‘The priest whom I shall raise up… will walk in the presence of my Christ’ [1 Samuel 2:35].”
This is an interesting translation that Calvin is giving to these verses. The ESV reads verse 10 as “he will give strength to his king and exalt the power of his anointed.” In verse 35 the ESV reads, “he shall go in and out before my anointed forever.” , The Hebrew word, Messiah, has been translated as “anointed one” here instead. It holds the force of anointed as the “king of Israel, Saul, David and his descendents.” What is interesting is that Calvin, with his translation of Christ, is pointing ahead to the Messiah, Jesus Christ, not to any sort of earthly king for Israel, like David. Calvin has interpreted this passage through the lens of the New Testament in order to show that Hannah’s prophecy is not about a coming king for the present day Israel, but rather she was looking ahead, as all godly people of the Old Testament did, for a Mediator Redeemer that was promised.

Calvin’s translation is poor, but it is his interpretation and hermeneutic that forces this translation. He does not seek to know the original intent of the author of the book of 1 Samuel. He forgets about the context of the books of Samuel as a whole and their focus on the Kingdom of David. He sees only that the promise has come in our Savior Christ, and that this must be the same for all time. It is very hard to say that from these verses, Hannah had any knowledge of what Jesus would actually be and that in her present time as offerings and sacrifices were made, she knew that Jesus was mediating these for her.

It is not that we cannot say that Jesus was also mediating for the Old Testament fathers and godly by enacting his righteousness instead. It is that we cannot know that the people of Israel in the Old Testament knew Christ as Mediator. They had hope in the LORD and His steadfast love. They knew that the LORD God was their Redeemer and had hope for the LORD to redeem his people here on earth. However, from the reactions of the people of Israel when the Redeemer did come to this earth, one can see that they were not ones of expected anticipation. Peter said at Pentecost, “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” The Old Testament fathers and godly people had faith in the future Redeemer, but when the fullness of time came, they did not know their Redeemer, their Mediator, their Christ.

Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960), vol. I.

Koehler, Ludwig and Walter Baumgartner, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Boston: Brill, 2001), vol. I.

1 comment:

  1. In my study on this topic, the Greek term “logizomai” is the English term for “reckon/impute/credit/etc,” (all terms are basically equivalently used) and when I look up that term in a popular Protestant Lexicon here is what it is defined as:

    QUOTE: “This word deals with reality. If I “logizomai” or reckon that my bank book has $25 in it, it has $25 in it. Otherwise I am deceiving myself. This word refers to facts not suppositions.”

    The Protestant Lexicon states this term first and foremost refers to the actual status of something. So if Abraham’s faith is “logizomai as righteousness,” it must be an actually righteous act of faith, otherwise (as the Lexicon says) “I am deceiving myself.” This seems to rule out any notion of an alien righteousness, and instead points to a local/inherent righteousness.

    The Lexicon gives other examples where “logizomai” appears, here are some examples:

    Rom 3:28 Therefore we conclude [logizomai] that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

    Rom 4:4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted [logizomai] as a gift but as his due.

    Rom 6:11 Likewise reckon [logizomai] ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

    Rom 8:18 For I reckon [logizomai] that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

    Notice in these examples that “logizomai” means to consider the actual truth of an object. In 3:28 Paul ‘reckons’ faith saves while the Law does not, this is a fact, the Law never saves. In 4:4 the worker’s wages are ‘reckoned’ as a debt because the boss is in debt to the worker, not giving a gift to him. In 6:11 the Christian is ‘reckoned’ dead to sin because he is in fact dead to sin. In 8:18 Paul ‘reckons’ the present sufferings as having no comparison to Heavenly glory, and that is true because nothing compares to Heavenly glory.

    To use logizomai in the “alien status” way would mean in: (1) 3:28 faith doesn’t really save apart from works, but we are going to go ahead and say it does; (2) 4:4 the boss gives payment to the worker as a gift rather than obligation/debt; (3) 6:11 that we are not really dead to sin but are going to say we are; (4) 8:18 the present sufferings are comparable to Heaven’s glory.
    This cannot be right.

    So when the text plainly says “faith is logizomai as righteousness,” I must read that as ‘faith is reckoned as a truly righteous act’, and that is precisely how Paul explains that phrase in 4:18-22. That despite the doubts that could be raised in Abraham’s heart, his faith grew strong and convinced and “that is why his faith was credited as righteousness” (v4:22). This is also confirmed by noting the only other time “credited as righteousness” appears in Scripture, Psalm 106:30-31, where Phinehas’ righteous action was reckoned as such.