The All-Dominating Center of Scripture (Ridderbos)

 I’ve been enjoying Herman Ridderbos’ Studies in Scripture and Its Authority.  It’s a collection of six essays Ridderbos wrote on Scripture, including “The Christology of The Fourth Gospel” and “The Biblical Message of Reconciliation.”  Here’s a nice paragraph from “The Inspiration and Authority of Holy Scripture”:

…Scripture is not a book of separate divine oracles, but is from Genesis to Revelation an organic unity, insofar as it is the book of the history of God’s redeeming and judging acts, of which the advent and work of Christ is the all-dominating center and focus. The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy (Rev. 19:10), and Scripture has the power to save by faith in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 3:15). This is the center to which everything in Scripture stands in relationship and through which it is bound together—beginning and end, creation and re-creation, humanity, the world, history, and the future, as all of these have a place in the Scripture. Therefore, there is also a correlation between Scripture and faith, namely, as faith in Jesus Christ. If you take that unity away from Scripture and this correlation of Scripture and faith, you denature Scripture and faith in it; and the authority and infallibility of the Scripture also lose their theological-christological definition and become formal concepts, abstracted from the peculiar nature and content of Scripture.

Herman Ridderbos, Studies in Scripture and Its Authority (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978), 24–25.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Apart from the Law Sin is Dead

 Romans 7 is a rich text that has some very deep truths about sin and the law.  Some phrases that stick out to me are these: “Sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind...” and “…when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died” and finally “…sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me” (Rom  7:8, 9, 11 NASB).  Herman Ridderbos has some helpful comments on these verses:

It is not the law itself, therefore, which is sin.  But sin avails itself of the law as its starting point, that is to say, sin – here thought of as a personified power – gets its opportunity through the law.  For the law forbids sin.  Consequently, when the law comes on man with its prohibition, sin springs into action and awakens in man the desire for what is forbidden by the commandment.  In that sense it can be said that the desires are ‘by the law’ (v. 5).  Thus it can also be understood that sin is ‘dead’ apart from the law, that is, sin asserts itself in man only when the law comes to him with its prohibitions.  Then sin begins ‘to live’ (v. 9), it stirs from its slumbering, its resistance awakens to the power that is bent on bridling it.

What is written in 1 Corinthians 15:56 applies here as well: ‘the strength of sin is the law.’  Without the law sin would not have been able to make men rebellious and lawless.  For this reason it can also be said that sin, starting from the law, deceives man.  By holding up the commandment to man as the end of his liberty and by promising him life in the transgression of the commandment, sin draws man under its enchantment.  It promises him just that which the law appears to take away, and leads him thus into death.

Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology, p. 144.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

The Man of Sin Sitting in the Temple of God

2 Thessalonians 2:4 – a statement about the Man of Sin – is no easy verse to interpret: “He will exalt himself and defy everything that people call god and every object of worship.  He will even sit in the temple of God, claiming that he himself is God” (NLT).  There are various explanations of what it means that the Man of Sin will sit in God’s temple.  Below is a brief summary along with an interpretation I favor.

The preterist view is that 2 Thessalonians 2:4 has already happened in the first century A.D. Jerusalem temple.  The dispensational view is that Paul is referring to a future rebuilt temple in Jerusalem where the Man of Sin takes a seat.  Another interpretation is that “temple of God” could also be “temple of a god” since pagan temples in Greco-Roman cities were common in the first century.  I don’t believe these views are in line with what Paul is saying.  First, in the context of verse 4 Paul is talking about Christ’s return to judge the living and the dead, so it doesn’t make sense to say with the preterist that this happened in the first century.  Second, since Jesus is the final temple of God and God’s people are his temple, we shouldn’t expect a future rebuilt temple in Jerusalem (as the dispensationalists say).  Finally, “temple of a god” makes some sense, but I’m not convinced the Greek text is best translated that way.

One view I’m sympathetic with is that “temple” is Paul’s reference to the church.  He does, in a redemptive-historical way, call the church the temple quite often in his epistles.  Therefore, it’s not a stretch to say the Man of Sin will claim or take some kind  of authority in the church.

A view that I favor even a more is that “temple” is symbolic since Paul is here speaking in apocalyptic terms.  For example, in this text (2 Thes. 2:1-12) Paul is talking about “the day of the Lord” and uses terms like revelation, mystery, breath of Jesus’ mouth, and signs and wonders.  In other words “taking his seat in the temple of God” means the Man of Sin will assume some position of great authority as if he’s god (although he certainly is not!).  Anthony Hoekema put it this way:

“The expression [‘take his seat in the temple of God’] is probably best understood as an apocalyptic description of the usurpation of the honor and worship which is properly rendered only to God.”

Herman Ridderbos spoke in a similar way:

“One must not…fail to appreciate the apocalyptic character of the delineation.  That which is still hidden, which as future event is still incapable of description, is denoted with the help of available notions borrowed from the present.  To sit in the temple is a divine attribute, the arrogating to oneself of divine honor.  No conclusions are to be drawn from that for the time and place in which the man of sin will make his appearance.”

Again, 2 Thessalonians 2:4 is a hard text.  But I don’t think the preterist or dispensational views do it justice, nor do they align well with other texts.  The temple of God could in this verse be a reference to the church.  That makes some sense.  But for me (and I could be wrong!), it makes the most biblical sense to say that the temple of God is a symbolic way to describe the future Man of Sin taking upon himself divine honor and authority in satanic opposition to God.

One thing that we can all joyfully and confidently agree on is that Jesus will easily, absolutely, and definitively defeat the Man of Sin.  It’ll be no contest!  “The Lord Jesus will kill him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by the splendor of his coming” (2 Thes. 2:8 NLT).

The above quotes are found in Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (p.160) and Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology, p. 520).

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

A Closed Canon

Redemptive History and the New Testament Scriptures   In 1934, Walter Bauer argued that there was no clear line between heresy and orthodoxy in the early church, but since the orthodox were stronger, their views eventually prevailed in what we now call the New Testament (a sort of survival of the fittest).  Bart Ehrman has taken this thesis and run with it.  Similarly, others like Hal Taussig are talking about “A New New Testament” made up of other early religious writings.  These men and their ideas essentially cast loads of doubt on the historic New Testament canon that Christians have always accepted, studied, believed, defended, and died for.

In light of Bauer’s thesis, it’s important to have a biblical and apostolic view of the New Testament canon.  Authentic diversity should not be the standard that leads us; rather, apostolic doctrine is what we Christians should hold tightly.  After all, the apostles are the foundation and Jesus is the cornerstone (Eph 2.20).  We accept the apostles’ words because Jesus commissioned and sent them in his name and by his authority (Mark 3:14, 6:7-13, etc.).  In the Old Covenant there were prophets and prophetical writings; in the New Covenant there are apostles and apostolic writings.  I appreciate Herman Ridderbos’ words on this topic.

“When understood in terms of the history of redemption, the canon cannot be opened; in principle it must be closed.  That follows directly from the unique and exclusive nature of the power the apostles received from Christ and from the commission he gave them to be witnesses to what they had seen and heard of the salvation he had brought.  The result of this power and commission is the foundation of the church and the creation of the canon, and therefore these are naturally unrepeatable and exclusive in character.”

“The closed nature of the canon thus rests ultimately on the once-and-for-all significance of the New Testament history of redemption itself, as that history is presented by the apostolic witness.  All the more, then, the New Testament cannot be qualified fundamentally as a witness to the faith of the early church.  Such thinking not only fails to understand the revelatory nature of the canon, it also destroys the principle distinction between the canon of the church and the subsequent faith of the church.  The closed character of the canon, in contrast, fully preserves this principial distinction between faith and revelation” (Redemptive History and the New Testament Scriptures, p.25).

As I’ve mentioned before, if you’re interested in the study of the NT canon, I highly recommend Michael Kruger’s work – specifically Canon Revisited and The Heresy of Orthodoxy (with A. Kostenberger).  These books, along with Ridderbos’ aforementioned work, are great resources to refute the recent attacks on the NT canon and the emphasis of diversity.

rev shane lems


Ushering In The Kingdom?

Coming of the Kingdom  I’ve heard of church (and para-church) mission statements and flyers that talk about bringing God’s kingdom to this city or that city by cleaning up neighborhoods, reforming city hall, and getting rid of gangs.  While I’m certainly not against those things, I’d argue they are not “kingdom work.”  I’m not comfortable with this type of language for several reasons (i.e. Heidelberg Catechism Q/A’s 83-85).  Herman Ridderbos explains it well:

“[The] absolutely theocentric character of the kingdom of God in Jesus’ preaching…implies that its coming consists entirely in God’s own action and is perfectly dependent on his activity.  The kingdom of God is not a state or condition, not a society created and promoted by men (the doctrine of the ‘social gospel’).  It will not come through an immanent earthly evolution, nor through moral action; it is not men who prepare it for God.  All such thoughts mean a hopelessly superficial interpretation of the tremendous thought of the fullness and finality of God’s coming as king to redeem and to judge.”

“Viewed from the human standpoint, therefore, the kingdom of heaven is in the first place something to keep praying and waiting for with perseverance.  Its coming is nothing less than the great divine break-through, the ‘rending of the heavens’ (Is. 64:1), the commencement of the operation of the divine dunamis (power; Mark 9:1).  The kingdom of heaven is, therefore, absolutely transcendent in its origin, it is the revelation of God’s glory (Matt 16:27; 24:30; Mark 8:38; 13:26, etc).  That is why the doxology at the end of the Lord’s prayer in many manuscripts (‘for thine is the kingdom’) although not originally there, is still the most appropriate formula conceivable to conclude the ‘prayer of the kingdom.’  The kingdom is not only concerned with God, it also originates with him.  Its coming is only to be understood on the basis of his miraculous and all-powerful action.”

In other biblical terms, we can say that just as farmer can’t make the seed grow, neither can humans usher in the kingdom of God (cf. Mk. 4:26-29).

The above quote was taken from pages 23-24 of Ridderbos’ The Coming of the Kingdom.

rev shane lems