The One Only True & Living God

The One Only True & Living God

The unity of the divine essence states that what God is, only God is. This is a distinct, yet related, doctrine to that of the unity of the divine Persons, which states that the Persons are consubstantial with the divine essence. This latter doctrine flows from the former. Because God is one, creatures ought to worship Him and Him alone, and this one God subsists in three Persons — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The unity of the divine essence is paramount to the argument implied by the greatest commandment, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” (Deut. 6:4-5) The 17th century theologian and philosopher, Hugh Binning, once wrote, “Since God is one, then have no God but one, and that the true and living God, and this is the very first command of God, which flows as it were immediately from his absolute oneness and perfection of being.”

The unity of God grants sufficient reason for why this God is deserving of all honor, praise, and worship. The import of such doctrine is the Judaistical and Christian denial of pagan polytheism. Flowing from Deuteronomy 6:4 are other statements, such as what we find in Isaiah 45:14, “Thus says the Lord: ‘The labor of Egypt and merchandise of Cush And of the Sabeans, men of stature, Shall come over to you, and they shall be yours; They shall walk behind you, They shall come over in chains; And they shall bow down to you. They will make supplication to you, saying, “Surely God is in you, And there is no other; There is no other God.”’”

Incursions of henotheistic thought have made their way into churches, seminaries, and theological resources in recent decades. Henotheism is a species of polytheism, where many gods are said to be subject to one principal deity or supreme Being. Rather than being entirely equal, as with many Eastern polytheisms, henotheism teaches a hierarchy in the divine nature. Proponents of henotheism include the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Norse peoples. More recently, however, the late Dr. Michael Heiser has imbibed henotheistic thought. While maintaining monotheism in principle, Heiser defines monotheism as the belief in a “species unique” deity that presides over other divine beings or gods. In my opinion, this is virtually indistinguishable from the Greeks and Romans who saw Zeus or Jupiter, respectively, as the “king gods” who maintained sway over subjugated divine powers, such as Ares, Athena, or Mars. To adopt this position is to (inadvertently?) drink from the fountain of a fundamental metaphysical compromise, i.e. the expansion of “divine nature” to more than one being.

In other words, to grant a divine nature to beings other than YHWH is to grant that which belongs to YHWH alone.

In this brief post, I want to outline why this view represents a shift away from the clear biblical data that explains why Christians have always confessed only one true and living God.

Defining the Orthodox Position

A main point of confusion in this discussion involves the reality of beings that are often worshiped as gods by erring Israelites and pagan nations. What the orthodox position maintains is not that idols lack any real substance or beings that sit, as it were, behind them. Christians throughout the ages, following Scripture, have overtly affirmed the existence of real beings that are either worshiped directly or indirectly (through manufactured idols) as gods. As the apostle Paul notes, “the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons.” (1 Cor. 10:20)

What is denied is that these spiritual beings habitually worshiped by the pagan peoples are actually “gods” or subordinate “Elohim.” We would, instead, want to say that these entities are “so-called” Elohim, but are not truly so. (1 Cor. 8:5) The Bible clearly states that there is only one true and living Elohim, “But the Lord is the true God; He is the living God and the everlasting King. At His wrath the earth will tremble, And the nations will not be able to endure His indignation.” (Jer. 10:10)

Credal and confessional theology is also clear that there is only one God. For example, the Nicene Creed begins, “We believe in one God…” And the 2LCF 2.1 states, “The Lord our God is but one only living and true God; whose subsistence is in and of himself, infinite in being and perfection…” Furthermore, the Baptist Catechism asks, “Are there more gods than one?” answering, “There is but one only, the living and true God.” (Q. 8)

Are there real spiritual entities other than YHWH that are able to either positive or negatively influence the world? Yes. Are these entities gods? This we strongly deny.

Wrestling with the Biblical Language

Frequently left out of the discussion amongst those who affirm a plurality of gods in addition to YHWH is the element of linguistic device. It is important that we assume the biblical use of analogy, metaphor, and metonymy as we read our Bibles. If we do not make this assumption, we may come away thinking that God has a body, with anatomical limbs, etc., when we read passages as follows, “So I will stretch out My hand and strike Egypt with all My wonders…” (Ex. 3:20) Or, “with the blast of Your nostrils The waters were gathered together…” (Ex. 15:8) Because Scripture interprets Scripture, our reading of these texts must be conditioned by other Scriptural ontological statements, such as, “God is Spirit…” (Jn. 4:24) Or, “God is not a man, that He should lie…” (Num. 23:19) And again, “For I am the Lord, I do not change…” (Mal. 3:6) These passages help us to understand that when creaturely features are ascribed to God, they are ascribed not properly but by way of some improper linguistic device, e.g. analogy or metaphor.

Furthermore, we know that the Bible sometimes attributes divine language to things that are not divine. For example, “But where are your gods (Elohim) that you have made for yourselves?” (Jer. 2:28) Clearly, this text is calling manufactured idols “gods,” which are no gods at all. Other texts indicate the falsity of these feigned deities, such as, “Has a nation changed its gods, Which are not gods?” (Jer. 2:11) And, “For all the gods of the peoples are idols…” (Ps. 96:5) The biblical text denies the true existence of any other Elohim besides YHWH, “They will make supplication to you, saying, “‘Surely God is in you, And there is no other; There is no other God (Elohim).’” (Is. 45:14b) Benjamin Keach is helpful on the name “Elohim”:

His Hebrew name אלהיﬦ, Elohim, when taken properly, belongs to none, but the only true and eternal God, and because it is of the plural number, it intimates the mystery of a plurality of persons in one most simple Deity…”

See also Matthew Poole on Psalm 82,

By gods, or the mighty, he understands kings, or other chief rulers, who are so called, because they have their power and commission from God, and act as his deputies, in his name and stead, and must give an account to him of all their actions.

As we read the biblical text, we need to understand the way the Bible uses language. Scripture often speaks rhetorically, and by way of analogies and metaphors that are designed to make a deeper point. When Scripture speaks of God’s “arm” or “hand,” it means to convey not that God really has arms and hands, but that He is poised to exercise His might, either in judgment or redemption. Likewise, when Scripture speaks of the “gods,” it is using the language of the pagan peoples, oftentimes to set the reader up for a major contrast between these pretended deities and the only true and living God.

Why Henotheism?

So, why the modern interest in polytheistic henotheism?

The answer to this question continues to elude me. Assuming the best intentions, Heiser and others may have just missed the important piece of the interpretive puzzle in neglecting to observe linguistic devices employed by the divine Author. Another possible reason for the embrace of this view is a contemporary desire to “re-enchant” the universe. We live in a materialistic cultural rut that strives to remove any and all reference to the supernatural. Philosophical and scientific naturalism has stripped the world of its vibrant, spiritual excitement. But is this a good reason to adopt henotheism?

There appears to be a move toward a more colorful understanding of God’s creation. This is fine as far as it goes. And I am entirely in favor of recapturing a biblical and classical cosmology that assumes the influence of angels, the negative impact of demons, and so on. However, in our zeal to retrieve a more biblically faithful cosmology, we need to be cautious not to retrieve the pagan perversions of this cosmology often spoken of and condemned in the pages of Scripture. While the biblical record grants the real existence of “so-called” gods, or those who are called “gods” or “Elohim” by the pagan nations, we should stop short of granting to these beings what the Bible clearly reserves for God alone. “There is no God besides Me,” YHWH declares. (Is. 45:5) Imagine the delight of the demons if we granted them the status they so long for!

While it may be exciting for some to think of the universe as being under the sway of a multitude of deities, all of whom are in subjection to a “king God,” the reality stands that YHWH is the only true deity in existence. Alternatively, the classical Christian tradition offers a truly interesting cosmology, full of both holy angels and fallen angels, each of which fall under the supreme Lordship of the one true God. These angels are capable of a number of wondrous abilities, and all such beings are designed to lead us to fear and trust in the only true and living Elohim — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The reality of “principalities and powers” urges us to seek refuge in the only begotten Son our Lord, who for us and for our salvation was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, and through His active and passive obedience defeated the powers of darkness and ordered the holy angels into the service of our redemption.


Why is any of this important?

In John 5:44, Jesus asks the question, “How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God?” The final two words of this sentence are, “μόνου Θεοῦ” (monou theou), from which we get the term “monotheism.” Taking theos to be the common New Testament translation of the Hebrew “Elohim,” we are able to see that our Lord Jesus Himself affirmed the “only-ness” and unity of God. Far beyond the bare theological musings of man, this biblical monotheism is the theology of our Savior. As disciples of Christ, may we follow Him not only in what He did, but also in what He affirmed theologically.

The City of God

The City of God

In the world vs. not of the world. Pilgrims here vs. citizens there. Living in the US vs. our home is heaven. Sojourning in the city of man; looking to the city of God.

In the 5th c., Augustine of Hippo penned his greatest work, The City of God. Some have even termed it as one of the most monumental and influential works within the entire Christian corpus of literature. Rome, the greatest empire the world had seen up to the 5th century, was falling. The Goths had just sacked the mother city, and unmanageable social and economic issues were prevailing over the once-mighty empire. In an empire that had become saturated with the Christian religion, Roman Christians needed guidance. They needed wise counsel—how were they to suffer the loss of this city of man while yet living as citizens of the city of God?

We live in an age that often causes us to wonder how long our city of man will last. The West faces issues uncannily similar to the moral, social, economic, and geopolitical challenges Rome faced in the 5th century. As such, we may be helped by retrieving the mind of Augustine for the sake of informing our 21st-century moment. We will look at three things that will hopefully help us understand our place in the world so that we can be encouraged even when the world does things we don’t want it to do.

We will look, first, at the city of man. Second, we will look at the city of God. And third, we will consider what it means to live in both at the same time as we no doubt do.

The City of Man

The city of man is characterized by three things: sin, suffering, and impermanence.

The origin of the city of man is the first — and thus fallen — creation. In the beginning, God created Adam and Eve, and He commanded them to “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it…” (Gen. 1:28) This is where God sanctioned the human community. And this human community was to fill the earth while worshiping and glorifying the Creator. This would have resulted not only in families, not only tribes but also in cities and nations. These cities and nations were to have God as their God with Adam as their intermediate or representational king.

But it didn’t go this way.

Adam sinned, and all his descendants sinned in him, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned…” (Rom. 5:12) At the point of sin, however, this first creation didn’t disappear. The natural order didn’t just go away. It all remained intact through the mercy of God, though sin was now part of the picture. And this means that men would go on to form communities—families, villages, cities, etc. But all of these institutions would be infected with sin.

One of the first examples we might think of when we consider whole communities affected by sin is the Tower of Babel. There, we see a city full of sinful people in rebellion against God. So, we know humanity went forth after the fall and, in principle, tried to continue the dominion mandate—albeit in a fallen way. Humanity went forth from the fall onward trying to take dominion, trying to fill the earth, trying to subdue the earth—but never able to consummately succeed on account of sin.

If we take this whole situation—fallen man, effects of sin, suffering, impermanence, lack of success, etc.—and we summarize it in one term, it would be “the city of man.” This is how Augustine referred to it. He calls “the city of man,” “the earthly city, which, though it be mistress of the nations, is itself ruled by its lust of rule.”[1] (Emphasis added) The Bible refers to the city of man as impermanent. It doesn’t last. So, the writer of Hebrews says, “For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come.” (Heb. 13:14)

The city of man is characterized by rebellion against God, suffering the effects of sin, and impermanence—it doesn’t last. And everything in this city of man will one day fade. Look how the apostle Paul characterizes the temporary nature of suffering in this city of man, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory…” (2 Cor. 4:17)

The Christian is in a unique position because, at present, the Christian lives in both cities — the city of man and the city of God. The Christian experiences sin, suffering, and impermanence. But the Christian also experiences grace, joy, peace, and righteousness in the Holy Spirit — things that will never pass away, things that characterize the city of God. Things that only God can give. The city of man is the present moral order of man generally. It began at the first creation but was plunged into sin by the first Adam. It is comprised of unbelief, active rebellion against God, suffering, and temporary things that will not last. That’s the city of man. It’s bleak. But the Bible tells us of something better — a city of God, whose builder and maker is God.

The City of God

If the city of man is characterized by sin, suffering, and impermanence, then the city of God is characterized by righteousness, happiness, and eternity.

Scripture speaks of the city of God in several places. In the book of Revelation, it’s called the New Jerusalem. In the book of Hebrews, it’s called the city “whose builder and maker is God.” In Revelation 3:12, we read, “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name.” And, at the end of Revelation, in ch. 21, we read, “Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” So, here the city of God bookends the whole book of Revelation because John is encouraging his audience — the seven churches — with an eternal destiny, life in the city of God.

In Hebrews, the project is similar. There, the author is encouraging his audience to remain faithful to the end because, after all, there is no lasting city here — we look to another

In Hebrews 11, we see that the Old Testament saints were likewise looking for this city of God, “for [Abraham] waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” (v. 10) In Hebrews 12:22, it’s called the “heavenly Jerusalem,” “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem…” In Hebrews 13:14, it is written, “For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come.” And this is our encouragement to follow Christ outside the camp, bearing His reproach. (v. 12)

In Galatians 4, Paul speaks of the city of God, or the heavenly Jerusalem, “the Jerusalem above.” Contrasting the earthly city and the heavenly city, Paul writes:

For these (Hagar & Sarah) are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar—for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children—but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all. (Gal. 4:24-26)

Notice the difference between the two cities. It corresponds to what we’ve said about the city of man and the city of God. The city of man is characterized by sin and suffering, i.e. bondage. But the city of God is characterized by liberty in Christ, joy, and glory, i.e. it is free.

Augustine, commenting on Paul’s words here, says:

This interpretation of the passage, handed down to us with apostolic authority, shows how we ought to understand the Scriptures of the two covenants — the old and the new. One portion of the earthly city became an image of the heavenly city, not having a significance of its own, but signifying another city, and therefore serving, or “being in bondage.”[2]

The old Jerusalem, the one we know on earth, the earthly city, prefigures the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of God. The earthly city, fallen in sin, subject to suffering, and various forms of heartache, was a type that looked forward to the other and greater heavenly city, the heavenly Jerusalem — whose builder and maker is God.

Augustine is writing to Christians who were converted out of the Roman Empire. And the occasion is the sacking of the city of Rome by the Goths. Rome is falling. Augustine takes this two-city image and uses it to essentially say, “As a Christian, your meaning, your significance, your identity was never tied up entirely with Rome. You belong to a greater city. You look to a greater city.”

We know from Hebrews 11 that Old Testament saints looked to this heavenly city. We see glimpses of that in places like Psalm 48, where the Psalmist writes, “Beautiful in elevation, The joy of the whole earth, Is Mount Zion on the sides of the north, The city of the great King.” (v. 2) And in v. 8, “As we have heard, So we have seen In the city of the LORD of hosts, In the city of our God: God will establish it forever.”

The city of God is the new world to which God has saved His people through Jesus Christ. And this means that the church — Christ’s people — represents this city in the here and now. Christ’s people live in both the city of man and the city of God at present.

Living in Both Cities

City of man. City of God. As Christians, we have one foot in each.

In His high priestly prayer to the Father, Jesus says, “Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You.” (Jn. 17:11) Jesus was once in the world, and His people remain in the world. But then, in v. 16, He says, “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” Christ’s people are in the world (in the city of man), but they are not of the world (not of the city of man).

While the church lives here, it is not ultimately from here. Remember, though we were naturally born into this world, into the city of man, we have been born again as Christians. And in this new birth, we are born into the city of God and are thus from the city of God, as Paul says — “but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all.” (Gal. 4:26) Though we live in the city of man, following the new birth, we are no longer of (or from) the city of man. We have been born of the city of God. We have been made a new creature in the new creation, whose capital city is the city of the living, triune God.

What does all of this mean?

Christians have been through a lot over the last 2,000 years. The first time Christians had to struggle with the tension between living in the city of man on the one hand and living in the city of God on the other is, perhaps, the looming destruction of Jerusalem between the years 66 – 70 AD. At this time, if they hadn’t known it before, the Jewish converts to Christ learned that their home was not earthly Jerusalem — they were to look for something more sure, lasting, and stable. As they left earthly Jerusalem for Pella, they illustrated their true hope in real-time. They had to come to terms with the fact that their “home” wasn’t ultimately their home.

But the second major instance in which Christians had to wrestle with living in the city of man and the city of God was during the fall of Rome. It’s the 5th c., Rome has just been attacked by the Goths (pagans), and everything they had known on this earth up to that point was falling apart. Some other times when Christians were forced to deal with this tension would be the Holocaust, when Jewish Christians were persecuted by the Nazis, forced from homes, loved ones, etc.; or the Armenian genocide when the Ottoman Empire murdered probably over a million Armenian Christians in the early 1900s.

The question in the minds of Christians should always be, “How do I live in the city of God even when the city of man is falling apart?” Even in times of prosperity, we should consider this question. How is Hebrews 13:14 real for us? “For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come.”

Here’s how: We trust Christ. We grow in our love for Him. And we labor to know what both of those things mean. Hebrews 13:14a admonishes us, “let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach.” Do we trust Him to follow Him away from the city of man as it’s destroyed by sin, death, and the devil?

Or, like Lot’s wife, will we be so attached to the comforts and pleasantries of the city of man that we look back?

As a church, who are we? Are we an outpost of the city of God in this world? Or are we just another organization in and of the city of man? Could we continue our worship if the city of man went away tomorrow? If everything we knew faded into history, could we still be a church—constant, remaining, set upon the Rock, identified by that heavenly, unshaking city of God?


[1] Augustine, Saint. The Complete Works of Saint Augustine: The Confessions, On Grace and Free Will, The City of God, On Christian Doctrine, Expositions on the Book Of Psalms, … (50 Books With Active Table of Contents) (p. 58). Kindle Edition.

[2] Augustine, The City of God … (50 Books With Active Table of Contents) (p. 615). Kindle Edition.

My Bible vs. Our Bible

My Bible vs. Our Bible

Most of us have multiple Bibles positioned strategically (or not) throughout our homes. When we need a new one, we drive down the street to Mardel or click “Buy Now” on Amazon. Or, if you’re fancy, you might shell out the cash for a Schuyler on We make the purchase, and a copy of God’s Word becomes our possession.

This is one of the privileges of living on the other side of the 15th century, when the printing press was invented; and on this side of the Industrial Revolution, when mass production of just about any product became normal. Christians living before Gutenberg weren’t so fortunate. For them, just about everything they knew about the Bible came through someone they trusted, a priest or bishop, or perhaps an educated seminary professor. The communal aspect of reading and following God’s Word was integral to their identity as Christians. They could not know the Word apart from their relationship with other people.

This is not the case for us. We can pick up one of our many copies of God’s Word and read it by ourselves anytime we’d like. We can listen to the Bible while driving to work. And we can scroll through the Bible on our iPhones. While all of this convenience comes with numerous advantages we rightly relish, there is a drawback. This drawback can be overcome, even while maintaining the unique privileges we have in this age. But if it is to be overcome, we need to be aware of it.

The Bible Is Given by God to the Church

First, I want you to try and put yourself in the shoes of a pre-modern Christian.

You live from Lord’s Day to Lord’s Day. You are devoutly committed to your local church. And you commune with the saints regularly. You do not own a single Bible. The available codices are reserved for monks and missionaries, but not a commoner such as yourself. Everything you know about the Bible has been read to you by someone else. And you’ve been able to memorize a great deal. The words that you do know from Scripture are more precious to you than gold and rarer to you than jewels. You credit the possession of such treasure to the community you gather with week in and week out. Your church explains your survival. As a result, you see your church as a real lifeline. It’s vital. The only Bible you’ve ever seen is at your church. The pastor reads from it every Lord’s Day, and it was produced over the course of a year by a band of monks in a scriptorium a week’s ride from where you live.

It’s the church’s Bible.

On the Lord’s Day, when you attend church, that same Bible is visible at the front of the sanctuary. It never leaves the building. It is the people’s Bible. It might even be said that no one in your village would even know a single verse from Scripture if it weren’t for that one hand-copied Bible at your church. It is read in community, formative of the community, and understood by the community.

Okay, we can stop imagining. By now, I’m sure you get the picture.

It would be very difficult to individualize God’s Word in a society like the one described above. For the pre-modern saint, God’s Word was “our Bible,” not “my Bible.” Not only is this the case historically, but it’s also the case biblically. All of the epistles in the New Testament, even those originally addressed to individuals, e.g. Titus, Timothy, and Philemon (cf. Phil. 2), were intended for the church. The church is tasked with stewarding the Word of God and administering the Word of God through preaching and teaching. On several occasions, apostles Paul and John address “the church” in their epistles.

In 1 Corinthians 1:2, we read, “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours…” This epistle is given to the church of Corinth, narrowly. But it is given to the whole church more broadly. In 2 Corinthians 1:1 we see similar language, “To the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in Achaia…” In 1 Thessalonians 1:1, we read again, “To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ…” And once more in 2 Thessalonians 1:1, “To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ…”

The apostle John, in 2 John 9, writes, “I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us.” In 2 John 1, John addresses “the elect lady and her children,” which is likely a metonymy for the church.

The Bible is given to the church. While this was more culturally obvious before the printing press and the mass production of Bibles, it is a conviction we can and should retrieve even while enjoying our technological advantages. Just because we have “our” Bibles (a blessing to be sure), doesn’t mean we should think of the Bible as belonging preeminently to “me.” It is God’s revelation given to “us,” God’s people, God’s church.

Communal Language in Scripture & Early Creeds

The Lord’s Prayer situates the subject within a communal context. In other words, the person who prays prays with his fellow saints. Look at the first line: “Our Father in heaven…” It begins with the first person, plural, personal pronoun, “Our…” Our Lord assumed His church would pray prayers like this one together. Similarly, the Scriptures themselves were to be read to churches. In 1 Thessalonians 5:27, Paul writes, “I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read to all the holy brethren.”

The Nicene Creed follows this communal aspect of the Holy Scripture. It begins as such…

We believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.

The Athanasian Creed begins in a similar fashion…

That we worship one God in trinity and the trinity in unity,
neither blending their persons
nor dividing their essence.

The Chalcedonian Definition likewise includes corporate language. It begins as such, “Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all unite in teaching that we should confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Both Scripture and the ancient church following the 1st generation of Christians emphasized the communal structure of the Christian faith. The faith, along with the Scriptures from which it derives, belongs to the church and not to any individual or rogue Bible-interpreter.

Scriptural Abuses and Interpretational Accountability

I do not have the right to do whatever I want with the Bible.

One of the major issues with the Romish papacy is that it individualizes God’s Word at the highest political level. The pope, along with the college of bishops, have supreme authority to interpret the Bible. Historical interpretation aside, the small, elite class at the top gets to set the interpretive standard. Unfortunately, in our day, the “prerogative” of the pope has been assumed by pastors and lay people alike. “Me and my Bible” has become the arbiter of biblical meaning for many. Which is to say, it is now in vogue for many to think of themselves as self-made popes!

Though I may have the civil right to do anything I want with the leather and paper that make up my copy of the Bible, the substance of God’s Word is curated and interpreted by a Spirit-filled community, not by any single individual or elite class at the top. And while we must all come to our own conclusions as to what we believe the Bible means, this should not be done apart from the fellowship we have with other Christians, both dead and living. If the Holy Spirit works in me and you, He has worked in other Christians as well.

Since Scripture was and is given to the church and not to any one person, Christians must labor to understand and interpret Scripture within the context of that churchly community — a community of Spirit-enlivened saints.

Once we understand this, we are dutifully bound to humbly submit ourselves to the accountability provided by the “chorus of saints.” (Prov. 11:14; Rom. 12:16) Furthermore, once we grasp the Bible as the church’s book, we are liberated from the modernist burden of feeling as though we need to chart our own orthodoxy or re-invent the theological wheel. God’s people have been plundering the Scriptures for 2,000 years, and we are privileged to ride their coattails. This doesn’t imply a blind reception of any and every theological opinion. But it does mean that the theology and practice of the many, as represented in documents such as creeds and confessions, should hold more sway in our hearts and minds than any novel opinion offered within the last couple centuries.


Is it your Bible? Or is it our Bible?

While in a sense it is your Bible (you own a copy, and all the promises therein apply to you through Jesus Christ), it nevertheless belongs to the one body of Jesus Christ. This realization does two basic things. First, it keeps us accountable to the Holy Spirit as the Holy Spirit works in others beside ourselves. Second, it frees us from the burden of thinking of ourselves as “developers” of new, shiny theological constructs. When accountability is shrugged off for the “new,” and when theological innovation becomes the norm souls are hurt and Scripture is abused.

Scripture is “our” Bible. The saints are united in the interpretational task, and Christ is glorified where His saints dwell with one mind concerning the meaning of the text.

The Cosmic Meaning of the Church

The Cosmic Meaning of the Church

To say churches are in a crisis of meaning is an understatement. Some attend church because of a moralistic impulse. They have been conditioned to believe it’s the right thing to do, though they may not know why it’s the right thing to do. Others go to church because they feel like the church has something to offer, usually emotional support. 

A troubled person can find uplifting sayings in the sermon, instructions for living a more fulfilling life, and comfort in a sea of smiling parishioners. Others attend church but have no idea why. They just haven’t faced the uncomfortable reality that they, perhaps, believe nothing the church says and that they’ve been driving to church from Sunday to Sunday out of sheer habit. Still, a small minority are secure in their church attendance. They want to be there and they know precisely why.

This crisis of meaning stems from a drought of theological understanding, a fault I might attribute to pulpits nationwide. But I’m not looking to blame anyone in this article. Far from it. I want to offer something more constructive. That is, I want to paint a portrait of the church that will help us understand why the church is cosmically and practically significant. But first, we need to begin with the identity of the church.

A Biblical Portrait of the Church

The church is an organism with a divinely bestowed identity and a heaven-entranced trajectory. 

Let me explain…

In Colossians 1:17, Paul is reveling in the mystery of Christ as he writes, “He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.” Christ is the Creator and sustainer of all things. But then in v. 18, he writes, “And He is the head of the body, the church…” When we attempt to understand what the church is, we must start here. The church is “the body,” of which Christ is the head. The “body language” refers to the church’s union with Christ, denoting the marital union of Genesis 2. Illustrating this point further, Paul writes, “For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” (Eph. 5:30-32)

The church, therefore, is in vital union with the Son of God through the gospel of the Son of God. It is an organism that has been brought into a life-giving relation to the triune God through the Mediatorial office of the incarnate Christ. All people who are united to Christ comprise His church. Hence, the historical designation of “universal church.” This church knows no geographical or architectural bounds. It consists of all who have been effectually called and united to the Savior. Apart from this union, a person cannot possess spiritual life, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” (Jn. 15:5)

Those who are grafted into the true vine and thus members of the new covenant are termed “the church.” But since this macrocosmic church is made up of those who have been made alive in Christ through His Holy Spirit, (cf. Tit. 3:5) there is a real communal life that takes place among them. And since these members are scattered all over the globe at any given time, the ordinary way in which this communal life takes place is in localized, microcosmic versions of the universal church.

The local church is a sacred assembly of God’s people in a given area where there are some Christians banded together by a common confession of faith. The presupposition of their local assembly is their membership in the broader body and bride of Jesus Christ, from whom they derive their life. The local church, therefore, is but a visible manifestation of the universal church. (Cf. 2LCF 26.1, 5) People who have been endowed with the virtue of faith because of the gospel are those who receive the gospel. And those who receive the gospel do so precisely because they’ve been freely given a life that receives it. This life, expressive of one’s union with Christ, necessarily manifests in the vibrant religious life of local churches.

For those in Christ, going to church is but an inaugural manifestation of Christ’s own vibrant, resurrectional life in the lives of His people. This alone ought to cast due aspersions upon the crisis of meaning commonly experienced in many churches today.

Cosmic Renewal & the Place of the Church

The divine operation of the gospel is described in 2 Corinthians 5:19, where we learn that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself…” This cosmic redemption occurs through means of and within the church. In Christ, the church constitutes an inaugurated new creation and new nation into which people from all tribes and tongues are gathered. Speaking to the Corinthian church, Paul writes, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Cor. 5:17) And Peter describes the church as a holy nation, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light…” (1 Pet. 2:9)

This nation is, in essence, the new covenant kingdom and world established in the blood of the Lamb. For it is in the death of Christ that He secures the church and rescues her from the dominion of sin, death, and Satan — “Now is the judgment of this world,” He says, “now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” (Jn. 12:31-32) That the church is the initiatory new world into which the redeemed are transferred upon their Spirit-wrought renewal means that the church plays a transitional role between this world and the next. (Col. 1:13)

If the already/not yet distinction was an institution, it would be the church of the living God. This is why the structure of Colossians 1:15-23 is [creation → church → new creation]. I want to suggest that the church is the inter-creational vehicle in which the redeemed begin to exit one world and enter another. The church has one foot in the old world and one foot in the new. This transitional status of the militant church needs to inform how we understand the church’s place between two cosmic realities. 

We might mistakenly conclude, therefore, that once a person is united to Christ and is made a part of His body, the old world no longer matters. This would be a gross error. The church may be between two worlds, but it’s not between two separate and unrelated locations. The new world could accurately be described as the old world remade, renewed, and redeemed. In Romans 8:21, Paul contemplates a renewal of the old world in connection to the resurrection, “the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” The church must continue to take the first creation seriously even as she enjoys and looks forward to the second.

The creation and sustainment of the old world is through Christ according to Colossians 1:15-17, “And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.” And in v. 18, “He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.” Though Christ is the Creator and sustainer of the old world, only the church is said to be His own body. Upon His entering into new, resurrectional life and taking His seat at the right hand of God, Christ begins to bestow that same life upon elect sinners. The project of new creation starts with Christ, and the church is caught up with Christ to participate in His new resurrectional life. There is no place or institution other than the church in which this occurs. The bodily resurrection of the church means the old world will be consummately delivered from the Genesis 3 curse only to participate in the new creational reality commenced by King Jesus 2,000 years ago.

The preeminence of Christ over “all things” follows from His headship over the church which suggests that the church takes priority in the spiritual hierarchy over the first creation. It further indicates God’s purpose of creational renewal in and through an ever-expanding new and holy nation full of restored images of God. The renewal of the divine image of those within the church can be explained only by their union with the exact imprint of the Father’s nature, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Heb. 1:1-4; Rom. 8:29) Thus, the church at present is a seminal new world populated with renewed image bearers of God pilgrimaging toward the consummation of the new heavens and new earth. Hence, in Colossians 1:19-20, there is a reconciliation and renewal of all things through the blood of Jesus.

This [creation → church → new creation] order in Colossians 1 insinuates the present trans-creational position of Christ’s church. The church is the only entity that simultaneously straddles old and new creations. The church touches, sees, smells, hears, and tastes the old world daily. And as she does, she must shine brightly. (Matt. 5:14) But she also participates in new-world realities that are both already and not yet, e.g. justification, adoption, sanctification, and the several benefits that flow from them.


The church is that in which redeemed image bearers participate in new creational life. While this no doubt indirectly implies some practical solutions to present woes, the emphatic reason why Christians ought to find meaning in the church is that the church is united and is being united with God through Jesus Christ. It is the gathering of God’s people called by Christ and formed by His Spirit through means of churchly ordinances. As such, the ritual life of the church consisting of ordinances administered on the Lord’s Day ought to be seen as cosmically significant. If life in the church is participation in the new world, then the ordinances and practices occurring within the church are slivers of heaven intended by God to make us more heaven-like.

Therefore, the worship of the church — particularly on the Lord’s Day — takes on heavenly overtones. The crisis of meaning in contemporary Western church culture is a crisis of identity. What the church is and what the church does is disconnected from the God to whom the Savior reconciles us. And when this happens, “church life” becomes nothing more than an extracurricular activity among many other possible extracurricular activities. But when the church is seen as an organism peculiarly favored by God through Christ intended to result in our consummate delight in God Himself, the meaning of the church is at once understood to be essential to the lives of Christians.


For more relevant material & bibliography see my article, “A Most Meaningful Church,”

Divine Self-Existence & Holy Jealousy

Divine Self-Existence & Holy Jealousy

The doctrine of divine aseity (self-existence) teaches us that God does not depend upon that which is not God in order to be God. God’s “God-ness” isn’t something that He has, it is something that He is. As such, His divinity, perfections, attributes, etc. are not things that He shares with other beings — as one man may share strength in common with another man. A shared property is something that is possessed in part but not in whole. For example, strength can never entirely belong to a single man, since that would mean no other man could have strength.

This is not the case when it comes to God. What God “has” He has entirely. To put it another way: What God is only God is. This is why God, in Scripture, is said to be “jealous.” He doesn’t share what only He is — that which belongs to Him and Him alone.

Scripture fleshes this out brilliantly. One shining example comes within the context of the second commandment, “For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God…” (Ex. 20:5) Consider that text along with the following, “For My own sake, for My own sake, I will do it; For how should My name be profaned? And I will not give My glory to another.” (Is. 48:11)

Divine Self-Existence from Isaiah 42:8

The introduction of Isaiah 42:8 reads, “I am the LORD, that is My name…” This is an important point because it invokes the covenant name of God revealed to Moses in the burning bush, “The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations.” (Ex. 3:15) This name derives from v. 14, the famous, “I AM WHO I AM” designation, which many scholars agree denotes self-existence, i.e. God just is.

The invocation of this covenant name revealing God’s self-existence naturally proceeds to a further implication, “And My glory I will not give to another…” The same point is made in Exodus 20:5, but in different terms, “I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God…” God’s holy jealousy in Scripture is an expression of His self-existent, independent nature — which does not have glory but is glory exclusively. It is not shared with another. God wouldn’t have all the glory if it were shared with other beings. But if God does have all the glory, it follows that it will not be given to anyone or anything else.

Hence, we should not worship anything or anyone other than this God, because to do so is to ascribe divine glory to something or someone other than Him. So, all praise must be directed to Him, “And My glory I will not give to another, Nor My praise to carved images.” This phrase echoes the second commandment, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image… you shall not bow down to them nor serve them.” (Ex. 20:4-5) 

The ground of the second commandment is the aseity of God — He is His glory, and He is all the glory. To share it with another would be to subtract from who He is (an impossibility, to be sure). The sinfulness of idolatry, therefore, consists in the impossibility of God’s glory belonging to anything or anyone else. Thus, when we ascribe the glory of God to something other than God, we also violate the 9th commandment in bearing false witness about who God is, i.e. that He shares His glory when in fact He does not.

Holy Jealousy, Self-Existence, & the Divine Identity of Christ

This divine glory, and therefore holy jealousy, is said to belong to Christ, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (Jn. 1:14) Does this mean that God has violated His rights to exclusive divine glory? Has He begun to share His glory with someone who is not God? Has God rescinded His rule, “My glory I will not give to another”? The short answer is a resounding, no! In light of Isaiah 42:8, the Son’s glory in John 1:14 is an attestation to His divine nature which He has in common with His Father. John does not want us to conclude that God shares His glory with another, but that the Son of God is God Himself.

An appeal to the begottenness of the Son in John 1:14b is an insurance policy to secure his readers from heresy. Far from God sharing His glory with another, the Son is none other than what the Nicene Creed calls “God from God, Light from Light.” The Father, through eternal generation, communicates the fullness of deity in eternally begetting the only begotten Son.

Isaiah 42:8 and the exclusive glory of God — God is glory, and only God is this glory — when paired with John 1:14 presses us to conclude that Christ is indeed YHWH, the same God who revealed Himself to Moses in the burning bush, (Ex. 3:14-15) the same God who issued the second commandment, (Ex. 20:4-6), and the same God who became us to redeem us. (Jn. 1:1-14)

When we think of divine jealousy and the exclusivity of the divine glory, we should be drawn to consider the divine majesty of Christ, the wonder of His incarnation, and the great privilege we have in redemption

Descent & Ascent in Matthew 8

Descent & Ascent in Matthew 8

The macrocosmic portrait of redemption entails our Lord’s humiliation and exaltation. Touching His humiliation, He was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin, and so was endowed with every essential property of humanity, along with the common infirmities or frailties of our nature — excepting only sin. (see 2LCF 8) Concomitant with His humiliation is His exaltation, because even in His humiliation our Lord was reconciling the world to God and defeating the throws of sin, death, and the devil. (2 Cor. 5:19; Col. 2:15) Jesus did this, perhaps paradoxically, in His cruciform sacrifice, when He offered Himself up once for all. It was there when He declared, “It is finished.” (Jn. 19:30)

Following His death on the cross, our Lord’s body was buried and in His human soul, He went to the place of the dead. Quoting John Lightfoot, Dr. James Renihan writes, “The Soul of our Saviour therefore… descended into Hell, i.e. he passed into the state of the dead, viz. Into that place in Hades, where the souls of good Men went.”[1] Acts 2:27, a quotation from Psalm 16, reads, “For You will not leave my soul in Hades, Nor will you allow Your Holy One to see corruption.” Christ’s soul would not be left in Hades, or the place of the dead. Hence, between the day of our Lord’s death and His resurrection, His human body lay entombed and His human soul was in the place of the dead to proclaim the victory of the cross to all those “under the earth.” (Phil. 2:10; Rev. 5:13)

Not unironically, at the low point of the descent the ascent begins. Proclamation of victory under the earth, then proclamation of victory on the earth in the bodily resurrection. Finally, there is a proclamation of victory in glory as our Lord ascends and is seated at the right hand of power. This is the macrocosmic picture — the big narrative. The main event.

But I would like to submit to my readers that there are microcosmic pictures of redemption that occur throughout our Lord’s earthly ministry. It’s as if while He completes the big picture, He’s drawing the big picture on smaller canvases throughout His humble vocation. I’m almost certain that one of these smaller pictures occurs in Matthew 8. And it’s striking…

The Ordering of Details in Matthew 8

The ordering of details in Matthew 8 could not be more telling, but only if we view Matthew 8 as a literary-theological unit rather than a scattershot of disjointed stories. While there are changes in scenery and emphases in ch. 8, these changes occur in a logically progressive way. For example, Jesus descends the mountain in v. 1, in vv. 2-3 He begins healing people. This kingdom theme of healing those in need continues until v. 17. But from v. 17 to v. 18, there is no clear break. “And” is the transitional conjunction moving the reader straight into Jesus’ interaction with would-be disciples. In v. 23, Jesus and His true disciples board a boat, sail through a storm on the Sea of Galilee, and end up amid a bunch of tombs. Jesus scatters a horde of demons out of two possessed men into a multitude of swine only then to return to Capernaum.

The flow of events, therefore, seems to progress from somewhat normative circumstances in Judea, to a storm in the Sea of Galilee (which almost certainly typifies death), to the place of the dead, and then back to Judea.

At this juncture, I want to make a clarification. I am not claiming that the order of events as presented by Matthew is the same thing as the order of events as they historically played out. No doubt the authors of the gospels feel at liberty at times to rearrange the chronology of events for theological effect rather than chronological accounting. This is especially true of Matthew. (Cf. R. T. France, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew) My point here is that the order of events as Matthew presents them under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, whether they reflect the historical chronology or not, are significant and perhaps arranged to make a typological-theological point.

The Significance of Geography

The geography of Matthew 8 is just as important as the ordering of events. Not only do Jesus and His disciples travel from north to south, which may hint at a descent-like movement, but they also travel from the Promised Land into heathen territory — a place often thought to be inhabited by unclean spirits. And this particular location was no exception — the Gergesene tombs.

Keep in mind that the Jordan runs from Mt. Hermon in Lebanon through the Sea of Galilee and picks up on the southernmost side, running on to the Dead Sea further south. To cross Galilee — as Jesus and His disciples did — is to cross the Jordan. Commonly associated with death and life, crossing the Jordan into Gentile territory is a significant detail with a rich Old Testament background. For this reason, it serves a very important typological purpose throughout the Hebrew Bible right up to our Lord’s baptism in Matthew 3. Perhaps it also says something about our Lord’s intent to conquer the whole world, not just Canaan.

Further, one should not miss the watery environment. Water is typically associated with death (cf. Genesis 6-9; Jonah 2). A stormy deluge where the “boat was concealed by the waves” easily hearkens to a similar image. (Matt. 8:24) This is especially the case if we consider the Galilean excursion as a functional crossing of the Jordan into pagan territory.

While Jews may very well have inhabited what’s now the Kursi region, the presence of countless swine suggests a majority-Gentile population.

The most staggering geographical detail in Matthew 8 is the location to which Jesus very-intentionally brings His disciples — the Gergesene tombs. It’s quite literally a place of the dead. One can’t help but consider whether this dark scene anticipates the crucifixion of our Lord wherein He defeats death and the Satanic counsel at “the place of the skull,” or perhaps even His descent to Hades following His cruciform victory. I want to suggest the possibility of both.

These geographical details may seem interesting. But why should we think these specifics have any narratival significance at all? There are basically two reasons for why I think these details are meaningful. The text gives very specific geographical and circumstantial details, and this isn’t an accident. Matthew 8 begins by including Jesus’ descent from the mountain whereupon He preached the Sermon on the Mount. Not only is “the sea” mentioned, but specifics occur on the sea that shouldn’t be passed over. In v. 28, we are told that Jesus and His disciples arrived precisely at “the country of the Gergesenes.” We are told there were tombs there, a site that exists to this day. At the close of the narrative, we find Jesus returning to “His own city,” which was likely Capernaum proper up north. Matthew 8 is an event-filled, geographic-specific text.

Whereas our Lord’s mission was redemptive in nature, it is reasonable to suggest these people, places, and events in Matthew 8 serve a broader redemptive purpose rather than simply being happenstance resulting in interesting Bible stories. Matthew 8 is redemptively and theologically rich.


In Matthew Henry’s commentary on Matthew 8:23-27, speaking of the storm on Galilee, he says the following:

One would have expected, that having Christ with them, they should have had a very favourable gale, but it is quite otherwise; for Christ would show that they who are passing with him over the ocean of this world to the other side, must expect storms by the way. The church is tossed with tempests (Isa. 54:11); it is only the upper region that enjoys a perpetual calm, this lower one is ever and anon disturbed and disturbing.[2]

Henry clearly sees an allusion to “the upper region” and the “lower one.” Between the two, the upper region is altogether more desirable, being calm and peaceful in contrast to the place of the dead. Commenting on vv. 28-34, he writes:

The scope of this chapter is to show the divine power of Christ, by the instances of his dominion over bodily diseases, which to us are irresistible; over winds and waves, which to us are yet more uncontrollable; and lastly, over devils, which to us are most formidable of all. Christ has not only all power in heaven and earth and all deep places, but has the keys of hell too.[3]

Henry draws a straight line from the tombs to the “deep places” and “hell.” John Chrysostom seems to consider the scene at the Gergesenes as a foretaste of a more weighty teaching on hell in contrast to the kingdom of God:

Consider then all these things (for the words concerning hell and the kingdom ye are not yet able to hear), and bearing in mind the losses which ye have often undergone from your love of money, in loans, and in purchases, and in marriages, and in offices of power, and in all the rest; withdraw yourselves from doating on money. For so shall ye be able to live the present life in security, and after a little advance to hear also the words that treat on self-government, and see through and look upon the very Sun of Righteousness, and to attain unto the good things promised by Him; unto which God grant we may all attain, by the grace and love towards man of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and might forever and ever. Amen. (Emphasis mine)[4]

Thomas Aquinas sees significance in the descent from the mountain at the outset of ch. 8. He writes:

It says then, and when he had come down from the mountain. That mountain is heaven; a mountain in which God is well pleased to dwell (Ps 67:17). Hence after he descended from heaven, great multitudes followed him; but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man (Phil 2:7). Or, by the mountain is understood high teaching; your justice is as the mountains of God (Ps 35:7). Since he was on the mountain, i.e., since he led a high life, his disciples followed him. And when he had come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed him. And I, brethren, could not speak to you as unto spiritual (1 Cor 3:1).[5]

There is more work to be done in terms of retrieving the historical exegesis of Matthew 8 to see whether history bears witness to the same observations I’ve tried to make throughout this post. But I do think that there is enough historical precedent to responsibly chart a path forward in elaborating upon the imagery of Matthew 8.


To end, we saw the order of events in the text. I qualified that this order of events could either be chronological or theological (it’s probably theological more or less). Either way, the order is arranged — either by time or by Spirit-wrought theological inspiration — for a redemptive reason. Further, the geography and circumstances of Matthew 8 are enormously insightful in my opinion. Jesus goes from a mountaintop in Capernaum to a hellish landscape on the other side of Jordan, back to Capernaum. Lastly, there is at least some historical precedent for the direction I’m moving in my observations. I do think this is a text that could be further explored in both academic and churchly spheres, and I hope this brief post is but a finger pointing to the riches of this particular chapter.


[1] James M. Renihan, Baptist Symbolics, vol. II, (Cape Coral, FL: Founders Press, 2022), 231.

[2] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 1651.

[3] Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, 1652.

[4] Chrysostom, St. John. The Homilies On The Gospel Of St. Matthew. Jazzybee Verlag. Kindle Edition. Loc. 7089.

[5] Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Matthew. C8.L1.n681.