On the 40th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade

On January 22, 1973, the decision of Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion on demand in our country.  Since then, over 50 million American sons and daughters have been put to death under the sanction of our laws.  50,000,000.  That number roughly equals the combined populations of Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

map

Put another way, that number is Lucas Oil Stadium filled to capacity 786 times.

But of course, numbers are only part of the picture.

Often, there is great tragedy in the lives of those who receive (and perform) abortions, such that I myself could not pretend to have experienced.  Behind every aborted child are a man, a woman, and a doctor–real people who walk among us every day, with whom we share our jobs, our campuses, our pews, our homes, and our hearts.  Ultimately, there is no demarcation between “we” and “they” when it comes to abortion.  There are people in your life and in mine who have received abortions; others have been complicit in encouraging or facilitating abortion; and many more have been personally affected by abortion.  Indeed, there is scarcely an American today whose life is not different because of the absence of these 50 million men and women.

What Word from the Lord befits such a day as today?  Two passages spring to mind.

Psalm 82. A Psalm of Asaph.

God has taken his place in the divine council;
     in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
“How long will you judge unjustly
     and show partiality to the wicked?     Selah
Give justice to the weak and the fatherless;
     maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
     deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
They have neither knowledge nor understanding,
     they walk about in darkness;
     all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
I said, “You are gods,
     sons of the Most High, all of you;
nevertheless, like men you shall die,
     and fall like any prince.”
Arise, O God, judge the earth;
     for you shall inherit all the nations!

The Lord God is King and Judge of the universe.  There is indeed a day appointed when every man shall stand judgment before God and receive from Him in accordance with his deeds.  With perfect justice, the Lord will set all things right in the end; and even now He is present and active in judging the lawless and upholding the cause of His people.  With the psalmist, we pray fervently that the Lord’s justice would be enacted in this world, just as we actively seek to employ what power we have to “rescue the weak and the needy… from the hands of the wicked.”  This the Lord commands; this we must do.

1 John 1:5b-6, 8-9

God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.  If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth….  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

There is no man or woman on earth who has not broken the perfect law of God and rebelled against His authority over their lives.  The whole world–every one of us together–has forsaken the Lord and invited His just wrath and condemnation upon us.  But the same Lord, a gracious and compassionate God, has provided salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus for all who repent of their sins and place their trust in Him.  Make no mistake: There is nobody good enough to be beyond the need of salvation by Christ, and there is nobody sinful enough to be beyond the saving power of Christ.  The facilitation, encouragement, and commission of abortion are terrible sins, condemned by God for their scorning of His image; but Jesus has paid the full penalty deserved by all who turn to Him, and He confers upon them a status of perfect righteousness in the eyes of God.  The guilt of abortion is washed away in the inestimable pardon and forgiveness the Christian receives from God by faith.  This the Lord promises; this He will surely do.  Just ask Jane Roe.

The grace of Christ to you.

The Church as God’s Temple 3: One Holy Catholic Dwelling

Ephesians 2:19-22

Our final passage for consideration is found in the Epistle to the Ephesians, and in keeping with his exalted tone and transcendent topics elsewhere in the letter, Paul’s treatment of God’s people as God’s temple is at its most extensive and sublime here.  Following his famous blessing of Christ in chapter 1 and his equally famous exposition of salvation by grace through faith in the beginning of chapter 2, Paul begins to trumpet the glorious inclusion of the Gentiles along with the Jews in God’s plan of redemption.  By his blood, Christ has “made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility… that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body….  For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Eph 2:14-16, 18).[1]  From here Paul rapidly crescendos through three relations, with each surpassing the former in intimacy and privilege:

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.  In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit (Eph 2:19-22, emphasis added).

It is clear that Paul employs dual senses of the Greek word oikos (household/house) as a way to transition from the family description to the temple description,[2] but is it clear that the temple is meant to be understood as greater?  Besides its position at the end and its relatively lengthy elaboration, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones sees ample evidence of this: “The family, after all, is a collection of individuals, whereas when you come to a building… there is a truer merging of the parts….  [T]he child has access to the father, but the child is still outside the father.  But here the idea presented is God dwelling within us, taking up His abode within us.”[3]

Obviously, a comparison of 1 Corinthians 3:9-17 and Ephesians 2:19-22 reveals that the designation of the temple’s “foundation” and the structural role of Christ differ between the two letters.  Though some critics may be tempted to cite such differences as evidence of the non-Pauline authorship of Ephesians, this stance is altogether too narrow-minded in its assumption that Paul could not or would not adapt the metaphorical physical elements in order to emphasize different facets of the true spiritual reality in different contexts.  In fact, given our previous examination of Paul’s dual identification of the “foundation” in 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, we can readily accept such an explanation.  In the same way that Paul laid a foundation for the Corinthians in a true, secondary sense, so the apostles and the prophets (and, by logical extension, the deposit of gospel doctrines which they proclaim) act as the foundation for the church in a true, secondary sense.[4,5]  What then is Paul’s purpose in shifting Christ out of the foundation role here?  Paul’s capital emphasis on unity in this passage leads him to designate Christ the cornerstone, that specific part of the foundation which joins the walls of the structure both to the foundation and to one another.[6]  The shape, angle, and direction of every other piece of the building is ultimately determined to be correct or incorrect by its relation to the cornerstone.[7]  Since all believers (both Jew and Greek) are rightly oriented toward Christ through the same means (salvation by grace through faith), it follows that every believer fits harmoniously into the structure and is thus united to one another through Christ.

In an unexpected linguistic turn, Paul indicates the living nature of the new covenant temple in stating that it “grows” (Eph 2:21)—a term clearly borrowed from the realm of organic development.  In so doing, Paul mixes the imagery of the temple with the imagery of his favorite church metaphor, the body of Christ.  Since the temple can develop ‘organically’ in this passage, we are not surprised to find the body developing ‘architecturally’ later in Ephesians 4:12 (“…to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ”).[8]  To conclude his discourse on unity in the temple, Paul returns to the more familiar ‘building’ language in appropriating the statements just made about the universal church to the local church in Ephesus: “In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Eph 2:22).  Thus the local church/temple is a manifestation of the one universal church/temple, growing toward completion by the addition of individual believers and by cooperation with one another in right relation to Christ.

Conclusion: God’s Presence Has Consequences

Like so many other elements of God’s kingdom during the overlapping of the ages, the eschatological temple of God prophesied in the Old Testament has arrived and, at the same time, is not yet complete.  Paul’s conception of the local and universal church as the temple of God is not merely a thought experiment or a helpful illustration; God has indeed come and made his dwelling among his people by the Holy Spirit, who is building his temple (cf. Eph 2:21-22) and directing his people to build (cf. 1 Cor 3:10).  The glory of the divine presence is neither a vanished antiquity of the old covenant nor a distant prospect of the final consummation; it is a present reality.[9]  Because of this divine presence, the church is holy, set apart for God (cf. 1 Cor 3:17); as Hodge writes, “It belongs to him, is consecrated to his use, and can neither be appropriated by anyone else nor used for anything outside his service without causing it to be profaned.…  It is his house, in which he alone has any authority.”[10]  As an inevitable consequence of this consecration, the church is called to the task of sanctification—of “bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (2 Cor 7:1).  Furthermore, the presence of God is a powerfully unifying presence.  Every believer united to Christ is established on the one and only foundation, aligned with the one and only cornerstone, and therefore also united to all other believers in one structure.[11]

What is our proper response to this magnificent truth?  Let us look to Paul once more:

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:1-5).

The presence of the living God among us—his dwelling, his living temple—cannot be any less than the single most defining and controlling factor in determining our identity and directing our activity, in this world and unto eternity.

Amen.


[1] “[The ‘dividing wall’] may be an allusion to the barricade which in Jerusalem separated the court of the Gentiles from the temple proper, and on which there was an inscription threatening death to any non-Jew who tried to pass it:  ‘No foreigner may enter within the barricade which surrounds the sanctuary and enclosure.  Anyone who is caught doing so will have himself to blame for his ensuing death.’”  William Hendriksen, Exposition of Ephesians (New Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1967), 133.

[2] Ibid.,141.

[3] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Way of Reconciliation (Studies in Ephesians chapter 2; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1976), 336, 338.  Emphasis original.

[4] “Not at all in themselves or because of any intrinsic merit were they entitled to this distinction, but as divinely appointed witnesses and ambassadors who were constantly pointing away from themselves, to Christ….  A parallel would be the fact that Jesus called himself ‘the light of the world’ (John 8:12), but he also called his disciples ‘the light of the world’ (Matt 5:14).”  Hendriksen, Exposition of Ephesians, 50, 147.  Emphasis original.

[5] Much ink has been spilt debating the identity of the “prophets” Paul mentions here as New-Testament-era, Old-Testament-era, or both; since the issue is ultimately tertiary to Paul’s main point in the passage, we will not entertain specific arguments here.  Cf. Hendriksen, Exposition of Ephesians, 142; and Charles Hodge, Ephesians (ed. Alister McGrath and J. I. Packer; Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1994), 95.

[6] Donald Guthrie, New Testament Theology (Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1981), 749.

[7] Hendriksen, Exposition of Ephesians, 143.

[8] Ridderbos, Paul, 431.

[9] Bryan Chapell, Ephesians (ed. Richard D. Phillips and Philip Graham Ryken; Reformed Expository Commentary; Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R Publishing Company, 2009), 132.

[10] Hodge, Ephesians, 97.

[11] “When holiness is the main characteristic, the unity looks after itself.”  Lloyd-Jones, God’s Way of Reconciliation, 344.

The Church as God’s Temple 2: A Consecrated Dwelling

2 Corinthians 6:14-18

(14) Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? (15) What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? (16) What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,

“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
     and I will be their God,
     and they shall be my people.
(17) Therefore go out from their midst,
     and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
     then I will welcome you,
(18) and I will be a father to you,
     and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.”

In the prior chapter of 2 Corinthians, Paul ascends to the heights of theology to proclaim the towering truth of Christ’s new creation wrought by the reconciling of sinners to God through the gracious imputation of Christ’s righteousness (cf. 2 Cor 5:17-21).  As is typical for Paul, a doctrinal address leads naturally to a practical address; so in 6:1, Paul says, “We appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.”  He then quickly turns to a parenthetical excursus about the intense hardships of his ministry, but in 6:14 he returns to his exhortation of the Corinthian church: “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.”  Alfred Plummer traces the origin of the yoke imagery to Deuteronomy 22:10, which prohibits the teaming of animals of different species to pull the plow; thus he says, “Heathen belong to one species, Christians to quite another, and it is against nature that Christians should be yokefellows with them.  They will not walk as Christians do, and Christians must not walk in their ways.”[1]  Commentators agree that this “yoke” relationship is not limited only to marriage (the most natural and most frequently presumed application among Christians) but to various other intimate or binding arrangements with nonbelievers as well.[2]

Paul then names several pairs of opposites to illustrate the radical dichotomy between Christians and pagans.  By way of analogy, “believer” is to “unbeliever” as “righteousness” is to “lawlessness,” “light” is to “darkness,” “Christ” is to “Belial,” and “the temple of God” is to “idols” (2 Cor 6:14-16).  This last comparison is placed at the end specifically so that Paul may elaborate upon it, which is itself a strong case for seeing the antithesis between God’s temple and idols as particularly important among the lot.  As Plummer explains, “The history of Israel had shown with terrible distinctness that God allowed no agreement between His house and idols.…  The absolute incongruity is between God’s sanctuary, in which not even an image of Himself might be put up, and images of false gods.”[3]  Hodge rightly recognizes the additional significance of idolatry as a recurring point of concern for Paul in the Corinthian letters, as the church wrestled with the ethical implications of their participation in pagan idol feasts and festivals.[4]

At this juncture, Paul makes plain the basis for his prohibition and for the church’s essential incompatibility with the pagans: “For we are the temple of the living God” (2 Cor 6:16).  The church is not only at odds with the heathen because of the new creation worked in her by God; the church is at odds with the heathen because of God’s very presence dwelling in and among her.  After stating thus, Paul offers proof of the church’s status as God’s temple by combining a number of Old Testament passages:[5]

I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
rrrrand I will be their God,
rrrrand they shall be my people.
Therefore go out from their midst,
rrrrand be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
rrrrthen I will welcome you,
and I will be a father to you,
rrrrand you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty (2 Cor 6:16b-18).

Beale draws out the significance of the fact that Paul treats the church as fulfilling this Old Testament temple prophecy; this means that “Paul is not merely making an analogy between a temple idea and that of Christians, but that Christians are the beginning fulfillment of the actual prophecy of the end-time temple.”[6]  Paul’s teaching of the church as God’s temple is not an illustration; it is a reality!  Indeed, this is the only way it could hold such immediate and radical ramifications.  Even within his Old Testament quotation, we see once again that Paul’s theology drives him directly to call out its demands upon the life of the church: “Therefore go out from their midst…” (2 Cor 6:17).  Yet even this he follows to its conclusion—that is, to the blessings of sonship and fellowship given to the obedient (2 Cor 6:18).

Paul could scarcely be clearer about the necessary connection of orthodoxy to orthopraxy than he is in the closing remarks to his temple discourse: “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body [sarx] and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (2 Cor 7:1).  Herman Ridderbos observes the connection between the ethical cleansing here endorsed by Paul and the ritualistic cleansing necessary for temple worship and participation in the old covenant.[7]  Commentators hold various views on Paul’s meaning by “flesh and spirit” in this particular instance, since the two are typically cast in opposition to one another in the Pauline epistles.  In light of the preceding phrase’s emphasis on totality (“every defilement”), we favor Plummer’s interpretation of “flesh and spirit” in this verse as a merism signifying the whole person;[8] however, interpretations such as Hodge’s which see more significance in the two terms individually are by no means unacceptable.[9]

Regardless, Paul’s primary meaning in the passage is clear as day: “The presence of God requires the purity of his people.”[10]


[1] Plummer, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Second Epistle of St Paul to the Corinthians (ed. S. R. Driver, A. Plummer, and C.A. Briggs; ICC; Edinburgh, England: T. & T. Clark, 1915), 206.

[2] Says Ladd, “This must refer to relationships with idolatrous pagans of such a sort that it compromised one’s Christian testimony.”  George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975), 540.

[3] Plummer, Second Epistle of St Paul to the Corinthians, 208.

[4] Hodge, A Commentary on 1&2 Corinthians, 542.

[5] For a listing of the potential OT texts from which the quotation could be compiled, see Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, 254-255.  Regarding the general practice of NT writers “[quoting] the Scriptures as saying what is nowhere found in so many words, but what nevertheless the Scriptures clearly teach,” see Hodge, A Commentary on 1&2 Corinthians, 549.

[6] Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, 254.  Emphasis original.

[7] Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology (trans. Richard John De Witt; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975), 262.

[8] Plummer, Second Epistle of St Paul to the Corinthians, 204-205.

[9] Hodge, A Commentary on 1&2 Corinthians, 550.

[10] C. K. Barrett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (ed. Henry Chadwick; BNTC; Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1973), 200.

The Church as God’s Temple: A Dwelling under Construction

In modern Western society, there exists no precise cultural or religious analog to the temples of the Ancient Near East and of the Greco-Roman world.  For this reason, the function and significance of temples for biblical peoples—and most notably the Israelites of the Old Testament—is often lost to modern readers.  Consequently, when the apostle Paul adopts temple language and imagery at several points in his New Testament epistles, the full meaning and import of his remarks are frequently obscured by this cultural distance, which can in turn lead to a tendency among modern Christians to read past such passages without mining their fullest depths.  Perhaps the best known of Paul’s temple references by contemporary churches is his teaching in 1 Corinthians 6:19, where, after denouncing the Corinthians’ practice and tolerance of sexual immorality, he chides, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?”[1]  The modern familiarity with this particular passage and its appropriation of temple language comes as no surprise, given both the hyper-sexual and hyper-individualistic emphases of today’s culture.  However, Paul brings his temple theology to bear in a wide range of contexts in his letters;[2] and, significantly, his direct comparisons of Christians with the temple are more often corporate than individual in nature, identifying either certain local churches or indeed the universal church as God’s ‘temple.’[3]

In particular, three passages in Paul’s letters deserve special attention for their specific identification of God’s people with God’s temple.  With each drawing out different dimensions of this identification within their respective contexts, the overall emphasis is clearly placed on the ramifications of God’s dwelling in and among the churches of Christ, which collectively comprise the temple of the new covenant.

1 Corinthians 3:5-17

(5) What then is Apollos?  What is Paul?  Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. (6) I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. (7) So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. (8) He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. (9) For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.

(10) According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it.  Let each one take care how he builds upon it. (11) For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. (12) Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—(13) each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. (14) If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. (15) If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

(16) Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? (17) If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him.  For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

Throughout the first several chapters of 1 Corinthians, Paul addresses the twin crises of division and poor leadership in the Corinthian church.  It is not surprising that Paul would invoke his temple theology as an argument against the disunity of the Corinthian believers, since the Jerusalem temple had been a key touchstone for the unity and identity of the people of God in the old covenant, as P. W. Comfort notes.[4]  This relation of the Corinthian church to the temple of God comes last in a string of three images which at first may not seem to bear any particularly obvious connections.  The first is that of a field (1 Cor 3:5-9), whereby Paul explains that the various leaders of the Corinthian church are comparatively insignificant to God, who is ultimately responsible for the church’s life and growth.  Paul is clear that he, Apollos, and the other leaders should not be viewed in competition with one another but rather in cooperation and ultimately in submission to their common Master.

Then, within a single sentence, Paul abruptly shifts to another image: “You are God’s field, God’s building” (1 Cor 3:9).  Outside of their shared facility in advancing Paul’s arguments, few scholars note any strong connection between the images of field and building; however, G. K. Beale demonstrates that “the close association of ‘garden’ and ‘temple’ in the Old Testament and Judaism would plausibly have influenced a similar link in Paul’s mind at some level.”[5]  In this image, Paul is the “skilled master builder” who “laid a foundation” for the Corinthian church, a foundation upon which the Corinthians’ present leaders now build (1 Cor 3:10).  In the very next verse, Paul appears to contradict himself by saying that “no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 3:11).  However, one need not rob either verse of its face value in order to reconcile the two statements:  From a redemptive-historical perspective, Christ’s eternal person and completed work had laid the foundation prior to Paul’s preaching activity; but existentially, Paul has appropriated Christ to the lives of the Corinthians through his preaching and teaching among them, and in this sense has “laid the foundation” of gospel truth.[6]  It is upon this foundation—the doctrines of the gospel and ultimately Christ himself—that the leaders of the Corinthian church are called to build, and Paul says, “Let each one take care how he builds upon it” (1 Cor 3:10).  He explains that the value of each builder’s contributions will be tested by fire on “the Day”—undoubtedly a reference to the eschatological judgment which the prophets called the ‘Day of the Lord’—and the builder will receive a reward for works that endure (1 Cor 3:13-14).  For works that fail the test, “He [the builder] will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved” (1 Cor 3:15).[7]

It is only now in verse 16 that Paul introduces the term temple, but a strong confluence of evidence (not the least of which being the direct conjunction of the two images) overwhelmingly points to Paul’s identification of this temple with the building just described.[8]  Here Paul reaches the apex of his argument: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?  If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him.  For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Cor 3:16-17).  The English language is at a natural disadvantage in translation because of the lack of visible distinction between singular you and plural you; but a look at the Greek reveals that all the you‘s in the verses just quoted are indeed plural, referring to the collective Corinthian church.

Why must the leaders of God’s church take such great care as they ‘build’ her?  It is because, in the words of Charles Hodge, “They are engaged in the erection of no ordinary building.  They are not raising up a house for themselves to be constructed of what materials and on whatever plan may suit their taste.  They are building the temple of God.”[9]  Whereas the careless builder will escape with his life, the one who “destroys God’s temple”—as local churches can indeed be destroyed—[10] will himself be destroyed by God in an act of retribution.[11]  “For God’s temple is holy” (1 Cor 3:16); numerous scholars note strong overtones here of the Old Testament association of holiness with danger—“almost like an electric charge,” says C. K. Barrett.[12]  Rather than a mere rhetorical device, Hodge sees this association as a fitting reality, for “God is not less jealous of his spiritual temple, than he was of the typical temple, built of wood and stone by the hands of men.”[13]  Paul goes on to expound the importance of holiness in relation to this new temple in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians, to which we shall turn, Lord willing, on another day soon to come.

The peace of Christ to you.


[1] All Scripture references are taken from the English Standard Version, unless otherwise noted.

[2] With reference to literal temples, Rom 2:22; 1 Cor 9:13 (different Greek word, referring to entire temple area rather than just the holy place); with reference to temple in eschatological events, 2 Thess 2:4; with reference to Christians as temple, 1 Cor 3:9-17; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:14-7:1; Eph 2:19-22; with language of ‘offering’ and ‘sacrifice,’ Rom 11:16; 12:1; 15:16; 1 Cor 5:7; 10:18; Eph 5:2; Phil 2:17; 4:18; 2 Tim 4:6; with language of ‘build[ing] up,’ 1 Cor 8:1; 10:23; 14:4-5, 12, 17, 26; 2 Cor 10:8; 13:10; Eph 4:12, 16, 29; Col 2:7; 1 Thess 5:11; with language of ‘foundation,’ Rom 15:20; 1 Cor 3:10-15; 2 Tim 2:19; with language of ‘building’ (i.e. edifice), 1 Cor 3:9; 2 Cor 5:1-10; with language of ‘house,’ 2 Cor 5:1-10; 1 Tim 3:15; 2 Tim 2:20-21; with language of God’s ‘dwelling,’ Rom 8:9, 11; 2 Cor 13:5; Eph 3:17; Col 1:19; 2:9; 3:16; 2 Tim 1:14.

[3] For this reason and others, a majority of scholars consider the corporate aspect of Paul’s temple theology to be fundamental, with the individual aspect of 1 Cor 6 being essentially an outgrowth of the corporate as it applies to an individual’s conduct.  For an example of this position, see the comparative exegeses of 1 Cor 3 and 1 Cor 6 in Jonathan A. Draper, “The tip of an ice-berg: the temple of the Holy Spirit,” Journal of Theology for Southern Africa no. 59 (July 1987): 57-65.  For a reaction to the alleged scholarly overemphasis of the corporate aspect in Paul’s temple theology, see Nijay Gupta, “Which ‘body’ is a temple (1 Corinthians 6:19)? Paul beyond the individual/ communal divide,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly Vol. 72 no. 3 (July 2010): 518-536.

[4] P. W. Comfort, “Temple,” Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (eds. Gerald F. Hawthorne and Ralph P. Martin; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 924.  The fullest extent of the unifying force of Paul’s temple theology is seen in Ephesians 2:19-22, which is treated below.

[5] G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God (ed. D. A. Carson; NSBT 17; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 246.

[6] As Robertson and Plummer explain, “It is only by admitting some inconsistency of language that the truth can be at all adequately expressed….  Each statement, in its own proper sense, is true; and we need both in order to get near to the truth.” Archibald Robertson and Alfred Plummer, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the First Epistle of St Paul to the Corinthians (ed. S. R. Driver, A. Plummer, and C.A. Briggs; ICC; Edinburgh, England: T. & T. Clark, 1914), 61-62.

[7] Scholars are divided as to whether the building materials in this image are to be understood as doctrines/ teachings or as the lives of those Christians who are taught; since the overall meaning of the image is little affected by it, we shall not press the matter here.  Cf. Robertson and Plummer, First Epistle of St Paul to the Corinthians, 62.

[8] For instance, “The only other place in Scripture where a ‘foundation’ of a building is laid and ‘gold,’ ‘silver’ and ‘precious stones’ are ‘built’ upon the foundation is Solomon’s temple….  Paul also calls himself a ‘wise master builder’… which echoes the use of the same word applied to those who helped build Israel’s tabernacle.”  Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, 247.

[9] Charles Hodge, A Commentary on 1&2 Corinthians (Geneva Series; Carlisle, Pa.: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1978), 58.

[10] C. K. Barrett, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (HNTC; New York, N. Y.: Harper & Row Publishers, 1968), 91.

[11] Robertson and Plummer, First Epistle of St Paul to the Corinthians, 67.

[12] Barrett, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 92.  Cf. Robertson and Plummer, First Epistle of St Paul to the Corinthians, 67-68.

[13] Hodge, A Commentary on 1&2 Corinthians, 59.

“Can God Be Selfish?” Answering Objections to Soli Deo Gloria

Having defined and explored the scriptural basis for Soli Deo Gloria, it is desirable now to address briefly a pair of common objections to the doctrine, which will in turn lead to a more solid understanding of God’s great zeal for His glory and its consequences for His creatures.

The first objection, as phrased by Edwards, is “that to suppose God makes himself his highest and last end is dishonorable to him, as it in effect supposes that God does everything from a selfish spirit.”[1]  This objection comes from common human observation as well as the teachings of Scripture, both of which attest that supreme selfishness and supreme goodness cannot possibly coincide in one soul.  However true this may be for the lowly creature, though, it does not translate to the divine Creator; as a matter of fact, God’s concern for Himself above all else is derived from His divine goodness!  As Piper explains, “God would be unrighteous (just as we would) if he valued anything more than what is supremely valuable.  But he himself is supremely valuable.  If he did not take infinite delight in the worth of his own glory he would be unrighteous.”[2]  In a magnificent turn of phrase, Piper remarks that “God’s esteeming himself supremely is not contrary to his esteeming human happiness, since he is that happiness”; consequently, “Nothing is more loving than for God to exalt himself for the enjoyment of man.”[3]  Indeed, it should come as no surprise that the all-powerful, all-wise, sovereign Creator God would have formed for Himself a world in which His ultimate end coincides perfectly with the greatest benefit of His creatures.

A second common objection to Soli Deo Gloria regards the supposed danger of positing a God who is not complete or fulfilled in Himself, needing the glory given to Him by creation in order to be complete.  Such a God would thus be dependent on creatures.  Bavinck expresses the objection thusly: “Since the world serves as an instrument of his glorification, there is something lacking in his perfection and blessedness.  Creation must meet a need in God and contributes to his perfection.”[4]  Well, in the first place, God’s supposed dependence upon creation or lack of perfection must be rejected outright.  God did not create from necessity but from His good pleasure; and this good pleasure was not constrained to find outlet in creation.  One is wise to note that infinity cannot be improved, and it certainly is not deficient.  In short, the divine fellowship and mutual glorification of the Trinity leave no room to suppose that God should ever be in want.  However, Edwards offers a healthy corrective to such a one-dimensional response:

Though it be true that God’s glory and happiness are in and of himself, are infinite and cannot be added to, and unchangeable, for the whole and every part of which he is perfectly independent of the creature; yet it does not hence follow, nor is it true, that God has no real and proper delight, pleasure, or happiness in any of his acts or communications relative to the creature or effects he produces in them, or in any thing he sees in the creature’s qualifications, dispositions, actions and state.[5]

The key to understanding this two-sided reality is to be found in this: that any glory or pleasure God finds in his creatures was not of their invention but His.[6]  Recalling Romans 11, all things which are “to him” were first “from him” and “through him.”[7]  Therefore, as always, all the glory belongs to God.

We’ve got one more post simmering in the proverbial crock pot for this miniseries on Soli Deo Gloria, but before diving into some juicy implications of the doctrine for our daily lives, it behooves us to pause and make certain that we’re all on the same page.  Is this all making sense?  Is there anything that needs to be explained in greater detail?  Are there other objections to Soli Deo Gloria that ought to be addressed?  Does the biblical evidence hold up?  If you’ve got a question, an observation, a rejoinder, a non sequitur, or a “yo mamma’s so Reformed” joke, I reckon we’d all benefit from hearing it.  So leave a comment below!  (That’s right, you!  Take it personally!)


[1] Edwards, The End for Which God Created the World, ¶ 93.

[2] Piper, Desiring God, 32.

[3] John Piper, God’s Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1998), 169-170. Emphasis added.

[4] Bavinck, God and Creation, 434.

[5] Edwards, The End for Which God Created the World, ¶ 79.

[6] Westminster Confession of Faith, II.II.

[7] Rom 11:36, ESV.

Soli Deo Gloria in the Bible

In our last post, we spent some time defining the doctrine of Soli Deo Gloria as rediscovered by the Reformers.  Of course, the doctrinal formulations of even the wisest or most pious Christian must be rejected if they do not find their basis in the teachings of Scripture.  What follows is a brief survey of biblical texts which demonstrate and undergird the bold claim made by Soli Deo Gloria: that God’s foremost motivation and intention in every work is His own glory alone.

The heavens declare the glory of God,
     and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
     and night to night reveals knowledge.
                                    –Psalm 19:1-2 [1]

To begin, this well-known psalm sets forth the basic principle that God’s glory is reflected in His creation.  It is important to note that the glory on display in creation is not “creation’s glory” in the sense of belonging to or originating from it.  Says Bavinck, “In the created word there is a faint reflection [by comparison] of the inexpressible glory and majesty that God possesses….  It is not beautiful by itself but by participation in a higher, absolute beauty.”[2]  John M. Frame similarly describes the created world as “his finite glory-light.”[3]

Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory,
     for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!
Why should the nations say,
     “Where is their God?”
Our God is in the heavens;
     he does all that he pleases.
formattingissodifficult–Psalm 115:1-3

In this later passage, the psalmist indicates a concern that all glory be given to God, since He alone is worthy of it.  Secondly, the psalmist asserts that the Lord “does all that he pleases”—which is to say, that everything He does He is pleased to do, and nothing He is displeased to do will He do.  These two facts of God’s sole worthiness of glory and His working all things in accordance with His pleasure lay much of the foundation for the doctrine of Soli Deo Gloria, which is indeed a most natural harmony of these two facts.

“I am the LORD; that is my name;
     my glory I give to no other,
     nor my praise to carved idols.”
                                    –Isa 42:8

In this first text from Isaiah, God speaks directly to the issue of His glory and could hardly be any clearer.  It is not to be claimed by anyone but Himself.  God invokes His personal name YHWH as a means of reminding the people what glory is: a perfect emanation of His divine being.  Thus it would be perverse and unfitting for any created being—much less a false idol—to claim glory for itself.

“Bring my sons from afar
     and my daughters from the ends of the earth,
Everyone who is called by my name,
     whom I created for my glory,
     whom I formed and made.”
                                    –Isa 43:6b-7

As a development of the thought in Psalm 19 above, the Lord specifically identifies his creation of humanity as being to the end of His glory.  This naturally bears implications for man’s understanding of his identity and role in creation; those who understand that their creation was ultimately purposed for God’s glory rather than for their own pleasure will certainly live their lives differently than those who do not.  (Note, however, that the principal purpose being His glory does not preclude man’s pleasure as a proximate end, as will be discussed in the following section.)

“For my name’s sake I defer my anger,
     for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you,
     that I may not cut you off.
Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver;
     I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.
For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it,
     for how should my name be profaned?
     My glory I will not give to another.”
                                    –Isa 48:9-11

Just a few chapters later, the Lord reiterates almost verbatim his proscription of glory being given to another from chapter 42.  Additionally, this passage makes use of parallel phrasing and repetition in order to emphasize the prominence of God’s actions “for his own sake.”  Especially noteworthy is the double phrase (“for my own sake, for my own sake”), which is a typical Hebrew means of indicating special veracity, importance, or intensity of purpose.  Though it would not be incorrect for God to describe His divine refinement of the people as being intended for their benefit or occasioned out of His covenant love for them, the emphatic insistence on His reputation, praise, and glory indicates this latter thrust of His intentions to be paramount over the former.

“Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.  And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.  I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.  And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.  I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world.”
                                                                                           –John 17:1-6

With the movement into the New Testament, God’s revelation of His self-glorification progresses through the introduction of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and thus the Trinitarian nature of God.  In His high priestly prayer, Christ clearly indicates a mutual glorification between Himself and the Father—a glorification which, given both the unity and the distinctiveness of the two, is simultaneously self-directed and outwardly directed.  In the words of Piper, “Since the Son is the image of God and the radiance of God and the form of God, equal with God, and indeed is God, therefore God’s delight in the Son is delight in himself.  The original, the primal, the deepest, the foundational joy of God is the joy he has in his own perfections as he sees them reflected in the glory of his Son.”[4]  Notice also that this passage strongly attests the principle of glorification as a manifestation or revelation; Christ’s work on earth was to make the Father known, and the Father’s glorification of the Son involved unveiling the splendor and fullness of Christ’s deity by the resurrection.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
            “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
                 or who has been his counselor?”
            “Or who has given a gift to him
                 that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things.  To him be glory forever.  Amen.
                                                                                       –Rom 11:33-36

As a way of concluding his extended theological treatment in the first portion of Romans, Paul’s awe at God’s incredible work of salvation gushes forth in the form of a beautiful doxology.  After extolling God’s magnificent wisdom and divine transcendence, Paul’s concluding thoughts in the passage constitute one of the strongest biblical proofs for the doctrine of Soli Deo Gloria.  The fact that all things are “from him” (as the Creator and Giver of life) and “through him” (as the sovereign Orchestrator and Provider) naturally entails that all things are also “to him”—that is, purposed ultimately for Himself, His pleasure, and His glory.  God is the most pertinent factor in the existence of creation at every point along the way, from generation to continuation to consummation.  He Himself is the center around which He has set the whole universe to revolve, and at the root of every good work in history is the sovereign self-glorifying hand of God.  It is by virtue of His goodness that the divine agenda of self-glorification prominently includes the provision of immeasurable benefits to His creatures.  In this regard, there are two additional passages worth examining.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.  In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved….  In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.  In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
                                                                              –Eph 1:3-6, 11-14 [5]

Here, as Paul speaks in exalted language about salvation through Christ—with its past, present, and future aspects (those being election, adoption, and inheritance respectively)—he identifies the praise of God’s glory (or His “glorious grace” in the case of verse six) as the end to which all these are directed.  Certainly, the blessings of salvation are inestimably valuable as ends themselves; nevertheless, even these point beyond themselves toward the one great and ultimate end of God’s glory.  If therefore such sublime ends are yet subordinated to the glory of God, what other possible end remains to challenge its priority?

Have this attitude among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed upon him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
                                                                                            –Phil 2:5-11

This passage from Paul’s letter to the Philippians provides an opportunity to review the doctrine of Soli Deo Gloria while at the same time presenting one unforeseen twist to the divine method of self-glorification.  Once again, it could not possibly be argued that Christ’s salvific work was undertaken and accomplished apart from the purpose of blessing His elect.  However, Paul’s emphasis in the passage does not rest ultimately on the benefit of salvation for humans but on the glory of salvation to God the Father and the Son.  Shockingly, in what must be the greatest and most mysterious cosmic irony of all time, Christ “emptied himself”[6] and “humbled himself” in order to bring glory to the Father through perfect obedience as a human being.  (It should be noted that His application of divine wisdom in doing so was itself glorifying to Christ.[7])  On top of that, Paul affords his readers a vision of the end of the age, when God’s purpose of His glory will finally and completely invade the visible world.  The Father will exalt the Son in full, visible splendor; the Son will reciprocate in glorifying the Father; and all of creation will fulfill its ultimate end of acknowledging and revering the radiant glory of the Godhead.

Amen.


[1] All Scripture citations taken from the ESV.

[2] Bavinck, God and Creation, 254.

[3] John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R Publishing, 2002), 593.

[4] Piper, The Pleasures of God: Meditations on God’s Delight in Being God (Portland, Ore.: Multnomah Press, 1991), 38.

[5] Emphasis added.

[6] This is a literal translation of the Greek verb in verse seven, which ESV translates made himself nothing.

[7] John Owen, The Glory of Christ (ed. Hervey Mockford; London: Evangelical Press, 1987), 26-29.

The Chief End of God: Soli Deo Gloria

The fundamental doctrines which guided and distinguished the early Protestant movement are generally called the five “Solas”–namely, Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), Sola Fide (faith alone), Sola Gratia (grace alone), Solus Christus (Christ alone), and Soli Deo Gloria (glory to God alone).  Of these five, the last one may seem a little peculiar.  Compared to the others, the doctrine of Soli Deo Gloria is noteworthy in that no Protestant/Catholic contrast readily presents itself.  How then did this doctrine—which did not quite fit the “protesting” mold due to its lack of uniqueness to the Reformation movement—become elevated by the Reformers to the same iconic status as controversial doctrines like Sola Fide and Sola Gratia?

Through their thorough investigation of the Scriptures, the Reformers rediscovered the theme of God’s glory interwoven throughout the biblical witness as His most preeminent concern and fundamental motivation in every word and deed.  In response to this realization, notes Herman Bavinck, “The Reformed tradition made the honor of God the fundamental principle of all doctrine and conduct, of dogmatics and family, of society and the state, of science and art.  Nowhere was this principle of the glory of God more universally applied than among the confessors of the Reformed religion.”[1]

To reiterate, the importance of the glory of God to both the Christian and to God Himself would not be denied by any stream of the Christian tradition; at the same time, the doctrine of Soli Deo Gloria is not one to which all professed Christians would readily subscribe.  Thus it is beneficial to define the doctrine, discuss its scriptural support, address several prominent objections to it, and examine its practical relevance to the Christian life (each in successive posts).  Of course, as a means of introduction to the doctrine, one would also do well to acquaint himself with a general biblical understanding of God’s glory.

Defining Soli Deo Gloria

Though the Bible includes a number of genres of literature, the ‘dictionary’ genre is not to be found among them; therefore, while readers of the Scriptures may encounter terms like glory with such frequency as to develop general ideas of their meanings, there is much to be gained from seeking to establish a proper definition for such important theological concepts (or, better stated, such significant metaphysical realities).  In the case of the glory of God, the difficulty of constructing a definition is amplified by the fact of its partial incomprehensibility to the finite minds of human beings; in fact, this may be where any accurate definition must start: the acknowledgment that the divine quality of God’s glory makes it altogether too lofty to be captured in full by pen or tongue.  Having granted this limitation, John Piper defines God’s glory as “the beauty of his manifold perfections.  It can refer to the bright and awesome radiance that sometimes breaks forth in visible manifestations.  Or it can refer to the infinite moral excellence of his character.  In either case it signifies a reality of infinite greatness and worth.”[2]  Bruce Milne defines the glory of God in similar terms—“the visible manifestation of God’s being”; he elaborates, “His glory carries us into the heart of all that is essential to his being as God, his divine majesty, his sheer Godness….  His glory refers to that by and in which he alone is God.”[3]

Both of the definitions given above seem to imply two subtly distinct meanings of glory: one an objective, intrinsic quality of God’s being (“moral excellence”; “that in which he is God”) and the other a corresponding outward display of His qualities.  Some dispute has arisen over whether the former understanding of glory as likened to an attribute of God is in fact biblical.  H. P. Smith argues persuasively that the Scriptures only ever speak of God’s glory with the attending notion of manifestation or communication; for the present purposes, Smith’s case is more than satisfactory.[4]  While not altogether abandoning the notion of an internal quality of glory, Jonathan Edwards is careful to distinguish between the two and to emphasize the external aspect as it pertains to Soli Deo Gloria:

The thing signified by that name, the glory of God, when spoken of as the supreme and ultimate end of all God’s works, is the emanation and true external expression of God’s internal glory and fullness; meaning by his fullness what has already been explained; or, in other words, God’s internal glory, in a true and just exhibition, or external existence of it.[5]

Having thus briefly surveyed a number of baseline definitions, it is clear that God’s glory is indeed magnificent and divinely splendorous.  The doctrine of Soli Deo Gloria begins with the notion that God finds no greater pleasure than in His own glory.  As Piper explains, “God’s own glory is uppermost in his own affections….  He puts a greater value on it than on anything else.  He delights in his glory above all things….  He loves his glory infinitely.”[6]  It follows naturally that God’s highest joy would be His highest priority; it also follows that God would be consumed with righteous jealousy were anyone else to grasp at the glory which only He deserves.  Such is the essence of Soli Deo Gloria: that God’s foremost motivation and intention in every work is His own glory alone.  Even at its best formulation, the syntax here may lend itself to some confusion; while the word alone indicates God’s unwillingness to forfeit His glory to another, it does not mean that God’s glory is the only end for which He works.  The fact of God’s glory being His ultimate end does not preclude Him from also having proximate ends for His works; it does however subordinate all other ends to that glory.  As Piper explains, “God has many other goals in what he does.  But none of them is more ultimate than this….  God’s overwhelming passion is to exalt the value of his glory.”

The Westminster Confession of Faith reflects the primacy of glory among God’s divine aims by placing the doctrine of Soli Deo Gloria among the very first expressions of God’s character and activity in the confession:

There is but one only, living, and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions; immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his own glory….[7]

It can rightly be reasoned that such a doctrine would not achieve this prominent placement in such a significant and enduring confessional statement without having been first established on a defensible scriptural basis.  In our next post, we will briefly survey several major texts in which the glory of God can be seen as His predominating motivation and goal across a number of significant biblical contexts.

The Lord bless you and keep you.


[1] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: God and Creation (ed. John Bolt; trans. John Vriend; Reformed Dogmatics Vol. 2; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2004), 434.  To clarify, Bavinck is not here confusing Reformation theology with Reformed theology, nor is the author.  It so happened that the Reformed theologians would retain this particular zeal for the doctrine as Protestantism differentiated.

[2] John Piper, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (Portland, Ore.: Multnomah Press, 1986), 31.

[3] Bruce Milne, Know the Truth: A Handbook of Christian Belief (rev. ed.; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 81.

[4] H. P. Smith, “The Scriptural Conception of the Glory of God,” The Old Testament Student Vol. 3 no. 9 (May 1884): 325-326.

[5] Jonathan Edwards, The End for Which God Created the World, ¶ 265.

[6] Piper, Desiring God, 31-32.

[7] Westminster Confession of Faith, 1646, II.I.