The “First Resurrection” in Revelation 20

Of primary concern in the exegesis of Revelation 20, and in the millennial debate that surrounds it, is interpretation of the “first resurrection” portrayed in verses 4-6. While premillennialists understand this to refer to the first stage of the general bodily resurrection, most amillennialists see this as representing believers who have died and have entered the intermediate state in heaven while they await the final consummation. This paper aims to show that the amillennial understanding of the “first resurrection” has strong support from both the immediate and the broader context of Revelation 20.   

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New Creation Ministry: Eschatological Implications for Ministry in 2 Corinthians 5:11-21

It is said that in 2 Corinthians we get a unique glimpse into Paul’s heart. He makes himself more personally accessible to his readers in this letter than in any other. He “wears his heart on his sleeve and speaks without constraint, hiding neither his affection, nor his anger, nor his agony.” On the other hand, “it would be equally true to say that he never wrote a more theological letter.” However, when one considers the theology of Romans, the affection in Philippians, and the forceful rebuke found in Galatians, these claims might seem overstated. While Paul’s recounting of his hardships as he boasts in his weaknesses in 2 Corinthians 11 certainly conveys gripping vulnerability, is it accurate to describe this as his most theological letter?

Central to the argument in Paul’s correspondence with the Corinthians, nevertheless, is a deeply theological claim. Paul grounds his heartfelt defense and affectionate appeal to this congregation in an eschatological understanding of redemptive history. In responding to the charges of his opponents, Paul distinguishes his methods and aims in ministry from the so-called “super apostles” (11:5; 12:11). He renounces their “disgraceful, underhanded ways” and refuses to “practice cunning” (4:2). Why? Because the coming of Jesus has brought a new state of affairs into the world that transforms how we should view and relate to one another. This eschatological perspective surfaces throughout the letter but finds clear expression in his classic New Creation text in 5:17.

Paul’s already/not-yet framework of redemptive history influences his method and goals for Christian ministry, as well as his standards for evaluating success or failure in ministry. Specifically, Paul’s understanding that the New Creation has begun in the resurrection of Christ shapes how he approaches calling people to conversion and caring for believers as participants in the New Creation. As a result, he targets the transformation of the heart rather than the conformity of outward behavioral appearances.

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Paul’s Calvinistic Sacramentology in 1 Corinthians 10

While Paul discusses baptism in several of his letters (at least Romans, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, and Galatians), he addresses the subject of communion less frequently. His material containing the Last Supper tradition has drawn much attention (1 Cor. 11:17-34), although even there he introduces the subject of the Eucharist in order to correct abuses in the congregation at Corinth. Less familiar are the comments he makes in 1 Corinthians 10 about the “cup of blessing” and the “bread that we break,” which he describes as a fellowship with the blood and body of Jesus (1 Cor. 10:16-17). This follows statements about the “baptism” of Israel in the Red Sea (v. 2) and their sharing in a form of the communion meal in the wildness (v. 3-4)—all brought into a discussion about food sacrificed to idols. While these comments are secondary to his main concern, they do provide insight into Paul’s theology of communion and of the sacraments in general.

Paul’s intention in this text is not to formulate a systematic sacramentlogy; however, key statements and underlying assumptions in his argument contain implicit theological principles for doctrinal retrieval. At the risk of anachronism, Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 10 entails an essentially Calvinistic understanding of the sacraments. The following interaction with the passage as well as some of John Calvin’s writings aims to demonstrate this.

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Unapologetic: Theological Reflections on Romans 1-2

The first two chapters of Paul’s letter to the Romans are theologically loaded, not only because they represent an essential contribution to Paul’s argument as he begins to teach the gospel message, but also because they have generated much dogmatic reflection and debate on subjects such as General and Special Revelation, the project of Natural Theology, apologetic methodology, the noetic effects of sin, as well as cultural themes related to the suppression of God’s truth (most prominently today, homosexuality). From the First Century to the Twenty-First, this passage has articulated the antithesis between the believing and unbelieving community and has drawn dividing lines among various theological distinctives. More importantly, it has provided the necessary foundation for the church to engage the world with the good news of Christianity.

This essay will be an exegetical-theological reflection on the text, seeking to outline the development of Paul’s thinking and engage some of the discussion that has arisen from his statements. Exhaustive with respect to neither exposition of the passage nor interaction with the secondary literature, this is a modest attempt to present the most salient issues.

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The Necessary Fruit of Justifying Faith: Exegesis of James 2:14-26

Contrasted with Pauline doctrine and cited in the arguments of Roman Catholics, Mormons, and other groups against justification by faith alone, James 2:14-26 has faced difficulty being received on its own merits. Nevertheless, it contains essential Christian theology on the nature and expression of faith. It challenges those who understand belief to be a mere acknowledgement or assent of certain truths, and it presents a sobering call to the life of faith that James describes, with all of its ethical and communal implications.

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Introduction to James

The first of the so-called “Catholic Epistles” in the traditional ordering of the canon, the letter of James has not fared well in the history of interpretation. Nevertheless, this early Christian document provides unique insight into the character of the church during its infancy, and its teaching contains significant representations not only of Christian ethics but of primitive Christian theology.

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“By Faith Unto Faith”: An Examination of the Prepositional Series in Rom. 1:17 in Light of The Pauline Argument

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” (Romans 1:16-17 ESV). These statements are rightly seen as a programmatic expression of the theme of Romans. Here Paul announces his central topic for the letter: the message of the gospel with its implications, applied across ethnic boundaries. Accordingly, an accurate understanding of Paul’s thesis statement is essential to grasping the meaning of this epistle. However, one phrase in these verses has proven to be enigmatic to preachers and commentators alike—that the righteousness of God is revealed ἐκ πίστεως εἰς πίστιν. This prepositional series has been variously translated (“from faith to faith,” “from faithfulness for faith,” “by faith from start to finish,” etc.), and its precise function within the paragraph is not obvious. Furthermore, Paul’s citation of Habbakuk 2:4 naturally provides clarity to this expression (considering that ἐκ πίστεως appears in his quotation as well), but how this text should be rendered and what it specifically contributes to Paul’s point are a matter of debate.

Verse 17 is presented as an explanatory grounding (γὰρ) for Paul’s description of the gospel as the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. The gospel is powerful to save those who believe (πιστεύοντι) because in it the righteousness of God is revealed ἐκ πίστεως εἰς πίστιν. The inferential tie between verse 16 and verse 17 is highlighted by the use of the cognate verb and noun pair πιστεύω/ πίστις. The gospel saves those who believe because it reveals the righteousness of God “by faith.” Moreover, it is the righteousness (δικαιοσύνη) of God that is revealed in the gospel ἐκ πίστεως εἰς πίστιν since the righteous (δίκαιος) shall live ἐκ πίστεως. It is clear that these two verses contain several important (and perhaps technical) terms that require investigation of their usage in this letter. It is also necessary to regard the place this programmatic paragraph takes in the context of Paul’s argument concerning the message of the gospel.

This essay will examine the key phrases of Romans 1:17 in light of their context in the letter with the aim of determining the meaning and the particular contribution of the prepositional series. The various constituents will be considered according to their order in the text, beginning with Paul’s use of δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ. Following a discussion of the syntax of that phrase, the theological import of Paul’s declaration that this righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel will be assessed. Then consideration will be given to the role of the phrase ἐκ πίστεως in Paul’s teaching regarding justification, as well as a provisional presentation of the linguistics of the prepositional series. Paul’s citation of Habbakuk 2:4 will be examined, with particular attention to its connection with ἐκ πίστεως εἰς πίστιν, and then the syntactical structure of the series under investigation will be compared with a parallel text in Romans. The aim is not an atomistic perspective of individual terms and structures but the benefit of both a narrow and a broad lens in exegesis, what is sometimes labeled the “hermeneutical spiral.” To understand Paul’s theology, it is necessary to correctly exegete his presentation in specific texts; to understand those texts, one must understand Paul’s theology. It is desired that this essay is a modest but helpful contribution to that ongoing pursuit.

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“Given for You”: A Lucan Theology of Substitution & Atonement

Jesus’ statement in Luke 22:19, “This is my body, which is given for you,” represents the most explicit teaching in the Gospel of Luke of the substitutionary character of the death of Christ. However, some scholars contend that this portion of the pericope is unoriginal to Luke’s Last Supper tradition, being omitted by Codex Bezae (D) and a few Italic and Old Syriac manuscripts. For example, Bart Ehrman writes that the passage “originally said nothing about the atoning effect of Christ’s body and blood.” He asserts that the text in question is inconsistent with the theology of Luke, which, he claims, does not associate substitution or atonement with the death of Christ: “The death of Jesus in Luke-Acts is not a death that effects an atoning sacrifice. It is the death of a righteous martyr who has suffered from miscarried justice, whose innocence is vindicated by God at the resurrection.” Moreover, he maintains that Luke does not assign any redemptive significance to the cross.

This essay is an examination of Lucan soteriology to discover what connection, if any, Luke makes between the death of Jesus and the forgiveness of sins. The primary text considered will be Christ’s Last Supper discourse in Luke 22:14-23. After evidence for and against the longer reading is briefly discussed, the pericope will be read in context with a view to what can be concluded regarding Luke’s understanding of the cross and whether he attributes to it a salvific character. Then this exegesis will be placed in the larger context of Luke’s Gospel and of a Lucan soteriology.

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John 6 & The Pastoral Implications of the Doctrines of Grace

Those who profess the doctrine of unconditional election and the doctrines of grace more broadly cherish them as a comfort and a hope. They hold that these truths humble the proud heart, encourage a believer weak in faith, and provide fuel for the flame of worship. James Boice and Philip Ryken write, “The doctrines of grace help to preserve all that is right and good in the Christian life: humility, holiness, and thankfulness, with a passion for prayer and evangelism.” They view these doctrines as having pastoral implications that are transformative for the Christian life. Examples of authors and pastors expressing this idea could be multiplied.

However, it is clear that not everyone who has come into contact with the doctrines of grace feels this way. Roger Olson, in his recent book Against Calvinism, contends that the Calvinistic understanding of God renders him indistinguishable from the devil. Certainly Olson would not agree with the claim that the doctrines of grace stimulate worship of God! Likewise, one author asserts that Calvinism will have devastating effects on a believer’s spiritual health: “Nothing will deaden a church or put a young man out of the ministry any more than an adherence to Calvinism. Nothing will foster pride and indifference as will an affection for Calvinism. Nothing will destroy holiness and spirituality as an attachment to Calvinism.” In sum, he believes that the “doctrines of Calvinism will deaden and kill anything: prayer, faith, zeal, holiness.”

How can these radically divergent opinions be deciphered? Of course, as is the case with anything regarding doctrine and life, Scripture alone can determine truth from error, right from wrong practice. In the Scriptures, God has given the church a sufficient rule of faith (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Therefore, it is imperative that faithful study of the teaching of the Bible and its implications would decide the matter.

This essay will be an examination of John 6:36-45 as to whether the key tenets of the doctrines of grace are asserted in this text, accompanied by a discussion of the implications of these doctrines for pastoral theology. The first question that will be answered is, “Are the doctrines of Calvinism, broadly speaking, true?” Naturally, the presupposition of this method of answering this question is that if something is asserted by the Holy Scriptures, it is in fact true. The second question follows from the first, “If the doctrines of grace are true, what does this mean for the Christian life?” These questions will not be taken in turn but answered together along the way as the text of John 6 is investigated.

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Assurance & Warning: A Biblical Perspective

There are five passages in the book of Hebrews that have been called the “Warning Passages” (Hebrews 2:1-4; 4:12-13; 6:4-8; 10:26-31; 12:25-29). The meaning and application of these verses have been understood differently by various theological traditions. Of course, warning is not unique to the book of Hebrews, as the rest of the Bible contains similar statements (for example, 1 Cor. 6:9-10; 10:12). Additionally, there are places in Scripture where our salvation is said to have a conditional character to it (see, for instance, Colossians 1:23 where Paul, after describing the promises and assurance of the gospel, hastens to add, “if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel…”). But elsewhere Jesus comforts us by saying that none of His sheep can be snatched from His hand (John 10:28). How are we to understand the Bible’s teaching about assurance and warning?

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