Biblical Studies

Why the Bible is Not About You

ebbd7b5e-b3f4-44cc-aea2-2cb73f3570fc_1.758981342fefc76e87d1a0b157caa5c3Joseph and the pit woodcut (The Cologne Bible 1478-80)

Why is the Bible Not About You?
Stephen T. Hague

Now that I have your attention, I could qualify this title by following with, “but it is to you.” This distinction would be the same if we were discussing Shakespeare or Aesop’s’ Fables, or any other great literature, since these are not about us, but were written to us and for us. Well, at least in a secondary sense, since authors most likely have their own contemporaries first in mind when penning their creative whims and wit. And, even though we do find their creations engaging because we identify with the characters and life-situations, and especially their stories, we would not for a minute pause and think, “oh, this story is actually about me,” or “this character is really me.” Yes, the great authors want us to enter into the worlds they create, and to identify with their characters and their topsy-turvy lives, so much like our own, but never so as to confuse the reader with the suggestion that they are actually the characters themselves! Nor that the primary reason they present us with their wondrous worlds is to illustrate our lives for us. There is no direct line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet to some modern analogy. The story was about Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.

Yes, we also find countless (actually 2,930) biblical characters and their life-situations that we can identify with, since this is true of all stories that engage us, because we humanly relate to them personally. Yet, even so, none of these stories are our stories; they belong to their times and places and persons, not to us.  They only do belong to us as ancient and received stories and texts. So, why then do so many teachers of the Bible insist on telling us that all the stories and characters of the Bible are really about us, and inter alia, they are us?[1] Please correct me, but have you ever heard anyone teach the great Old Testament story of Joseph in which eventually you were not told that somehow you are Joseph in the pit (of depression or woes or vanity), or that you are Joseph betrayed by his brothers, or Joseph the forgiver, or . . . . [add any number of other examples here]?

As in all such ways of interpreting biblical stories, these direct analogies draw a straight line that makes the story normative (what should be ordinarily expected in our present lives) for you and for me, and they pile up endlessly into a fragmented pastiche of moral applications that have little, if anything, to do with the original narrative. This unintentionally and ironically makes the actual story itself rather unimportant, or at least secondary. Since this is the most standard way of explaining these ancient stories today, there is no obvious reason for anyone to cry out, “Whoa, slow down here. What is the story of Joseph being sold into slavery to Egypt, by his betraying brothers, really about?”  Really simply, the question is, why did God use Joseph in the way he did? Why was he sold that way, and later imprisoned, and then raised to great prominence in Egypt? Why does his family then all go down to Egypt with Jacob? What connection does it have to the history of later Israel or the promises of God and his works of redemption?

It troubles some people when they hear that the Bible is not a story about them. But perhaps, there can be some consolation to hear rather that it is a word from God to them. After titling this, and writing thus far, I searched online and found that I am not the first to use this title, and so I am not alone in my observations on this (no, I am not giving up my title . . . at least not yet.) There may be many reasons that it disconcerts people to hear a declaration like this, that the Bible is not about them: for example, our individualistic, solipsistic, infatuation with ourselves, lazy habits of reading and poor foundations in basic hermeneutical principles, unbounded freedom for interpreters that allows great creativity in expanding the meaning of texts, and our contemporary pragmatism that treats the Bible as a great self-help source-book to improve on ourselves and our lives. I am not so much concerned here with these, but rather with the interpretive impact of the common assumption that the Bible is a book about me.

Consider Elijah. Is his story about us somehow? The way he depended on God for his food at the Brook Kerith, and the way we are to depend on God in times of need, and how God always provides for his people, therefore we should have more faith and trust God like Elijah? This focus on the similarity between Elijah’s circumstances and our own (drawing a straight line from the historical event to modern applications, makes that event normative for all times, morally prescriptive as a promise of material provision, rather than descriptive of what happened to the man Elijah). On the other hand, we could understand that this story in its context is about the covenant-curse (in the intensification of God’s judgment on Israel) being fulfilled in Israel by a holy Lord (understanding the present context in light of the past covenant-promises and covenant-warnings). Further to that, it is about the opening to the gentiles to be further grafted into the vine of the promises. That the gospel in Gen 3:15, and all the rest of the OT, is for all the nations also points forward to the completion of this in the future. It is not, therefore, a unilateral moral prescription for us today about how to work harder at trusting God for our daily bread, but a description of God’s promissory works of judgment and redemption both past, present, and future.

There is this the principle of ingrafting of the gentiles. The widow thinks her son’s death is due to her sin and she thus blames Elijah’s presence. Elijah is as surprised as the widow, so, he prays. They both knew God had brought it upon her. The prophetic ministry of God’s word is then brought even further to the heathen nation! The healing word comes to the enemy Sidonians, even more importantly, the resurrection word is revealed for the first time in the Bible, and outside Israel, while Israel stood under God’s judging word. God reveals his omnipotence, holiness, and mercy to the heathen. He uses Israel’s disobedience to teach the extent of the covenant-promise. God’s word will not be stopped. His eternal promise is sure, even when the temporal, conditional blessings are withheld. Further, a prefiguration of the reversal of the curse of God on our bodies (Gen 2:17; 3:17-19) is seen in the resurrection from the dead, as are all such miracles in the Bible. They all point back to the “first Gospel” (proto-Euangelion) of Gen 3:15 which pointed forward to the coming of the Messiah who would bring a reversal of the curse of death, while also crushing the deceiving Serpent’s head.

Consider the Gerasene/Gadarene demoniac’s story (in Mk 5 and Mtt 8). This is one of those really dramatic tales in which some two thousand swine are driven off a cliff by the demons Jesus cast out from a possessed man living out among the tombs. But, is this story about us and our struggles with our various “demons”? Is there some moral lesson here about our faith or our deliverances? We received this ancient story from the Apostles and the disciples along with all the other marvelous stories in the NT, but they are not about us. They are written to us and for us, so that we not just receive and accept the story but also that we might believe God and put our trust in the Son of God, since all who believe on him might receive his gift of salvation, a new heart, a new nature, the hope of a glorious future bodily resurrection, and a new heavens and a restored earth. This same Jesus who can still the seas, destroy demons, raise the dead, heal the lame, open the eyes of the blind, is the only One who can also redeem us and his creation, reversing God’s curse on the ground and our bodies. This is a story about the question, “who is this man?” The demons then answered it, shouting loudly that Jesus is “the Son of the Most High God.”

Consider Jesus’ disciples on the stormy sea (Mtt 8:23-27; Mk 4:35-41; Lu 8:22-25). How many times have you heard in sermons and in conversation that “Jesus stills the storms of your life, if you trust in him, if you believe and have sufficient faith in him, etc. etc. . . .” As Sidney Greidanus writes, “since not many of the hearers will find themselves threatened by a destructive storm and on a raging sea for the sake of instant application the storm and sea are spiritualized to ‘storms’ on the ‘sea of life’.”[2] Such exemploristic-moralistic-spiritualized interpretations miss the tremendous significance of the manifestation of Christ’s power in redemption-history: He is Lord even over nature, and this is just a foretaste of the eventual redemption of creation itself! The one particularly vexing need among the ancients in their pagan religions was to find a god who could control nature, and thus the nature gods prevailed. Here, nevertheless, is the Creator-Redeemer God of the OT manifested in the flesh, demonstrating the same kind of power that God did in dividing the sea in Israel’s deliverance. Real continuity with the OT is shown, as well as further marvelous revelation of God in Christ. Jesus alone had power over devils, illness, and nature, as illustrated repeatedly by his various corresponding miracles. Furthermore, we see in such Gospel miracle-narratives that the Creator is the Redeemer, and that his creation matters to him. There is much more that could be developed from this idea, particularly in the area of the continuity of our life now with life as we will know it on the earth for all eternity. For example, our entire lives, relationships, work, and character, are horizontal into eternity. If this was not so, why would Christ take on flesh, heal the sick, raise the dead, and still storms?

Most importantly, we can affirm that these stories are all an interconnected testimony to answer the questions of the disciples and the crowds, “What kind of man is this?” Who is Jesus? These questions are not about us, but about Christ. The focus of the text is therefore Christ. So, what exactly is our relationship to such stories? Do we ourselves have any part in the story? Yes, but not that we are in the story itself. Rather, in response to it, we are being asked to believe the historical testimony left to us by the Apostles and inspired by the Spirit of God – in order that we too might receive him and believe on Christ. This is not a story about us just having enough faith in Jesus and the storms of life will suddenly cease. That is the gravely mistaken message of the popular “prosperity” teachers.

Redemption is not deliverance from the world but redemption of the world: “God so loved the cosmos . . .” We are reminded here, looking back to creation, that God sees his creation as “very good.” It also points forward, in a prefigurative sense, to the eventual restoration of all creation through Christ who is King over all of his creation. These narratives all give us a foretaste of the eventual healing of the world. Simply put, exemplorizing and spiritualizing this storm-narrative fails to convey its redemptive-historical meaning. It also risks presenting another gospel, one that teaches us simply to have more faith than the disciples in the boat during our storms of life, and then Jesus will still the storms for us (however defined). Nevertheless, this draws a straight line of application from the historical context of Jesus at Galilee to our present experience, suggesting this story is somehow normative for all times and thus prescriptive not descriptive, and when it is actually revelatory of who Jesus is. Assuming that the story is normative and about us and our needs, displaces Christ in the text, and by removing the story from its historical context misses the meaning of the text, making it me centered. Accordingly, it most seriously removes the story from its NT context, as well as from the broader redemptive context of the promises of God to Adam and Eve and the Patriarchs through all the ages that the line of the promise would produce one who would reverse the curse on the earth and our bodies. The central concern of this story is reflected in the final question that each of the synoptic accounts record: “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” This question is the concern of the entire narrative of Scripture. Remarkably, it is answered by the demon possessed (discussed above) in the next event (recorded in Mtt 8:28-34 and Mk 5) – the demons understood that Jesus was the Son of God and that he had authority/control over them – when they shouted out, “What do you want with us, Son of God?” (Mtt 8:28).

This is the meaning and application of the many remarkable stories of the Bible, taking them on their own merits and in their own contexts. God the Creator is God the Redeemer – he does not rest from his work of redemption until he sends his Son to complete that work at the end of the age. Then, we will clearly see most fully how our own stories related to, and completed his works of redemption introduced to us in the testimony of the Bible. And yes, our names will also be written in Lamb’s Book of Life. This is our part in the big story.

This is what we might call a Biblical theological reading of the narratives, that reads them as fully as possible within the flow of the whole story, beginning with Creation and the Fall of humanity and ending with complete redemption. The many stories and characters are not normative, or repeatable, history (or just for moral instruction like Aesop’s fables), but rather redemption-history. That is, we know that the acts and lives of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, etc., were lived once and cannot be repeated; they each have profound significance in the progress of redemption-history, but their persons and their life experiences are not ours, even when they have many similarities. We are not them and they are not us. God gave us the record of their lives for a specific purpose of revealing his redemption to us. It follows then that the events and characters and works done in the biblical narrative are not all normative for us today. The resurrected and ascended Jesus does not continue to walk about bodily doing miracles in our midst, as he did in ancient Israel. Nor are we supposed to imitate his works in that regard. There is no unilateral straight line from his miraculous works to us and our works. Indeed, none of his redemptive works are repeatable by anyone, since he alone is sinless Savior. In sum, the key questions these stories explore include: who is God and how is God presently at work? Who is the One promised to bring redemption from the curse? What will he be like? What will he do?

By contrast, moralistic spiritualizing leads us to ask questions of the most popular god of our generation, described so well by Christian Smith as the god of “therapeutic Deism”: “How do these narratives help me to be a better me, or a better Joseph, or a better David . . . .” ad nauseam.

How the Bible is about us

To put it another way, the Bible narrative is a history of our prior family story; it is like the mutually treasured family photo album and family history discovered in the attic of those ancestors who preceded us. We inherited these stories, written and compiled long before we were born. In a similar fashion, the Bible gives us the whole picture of the family story from beginning to end with varying degrees of completion. We also understand from the story itself that it is God’s perfect, revelatory record and interpretation of that story. Most importantly, this story reveals who God is, what he has done, what he is doing, and what he is going to do to redeem his creation. We do have a place in this story as members of the family who have been created by the same God, live in the same world, have the same kinds of problems, and are descendants of those in the recorded story (the biblical canon). This family story is especially focused on the fact that we have all been similarly rescued from darkness in our redemption.

Nevertheless, just like our more immediate family histories and photo albums, we are not personally in the narrative nor in the snapshots before we were born! Our place in our family histories begins of course after we are born. We do not in any real sense live their lives, seek to relive or imitate their lives, and we certainly are not in any sense the same people as our ancestors, and they are not us. We would never confuse the two. Similarly, our personal place in the family narrative of the redeemed begins after the canon of the Scripture was closed at the completion of the New Testament. Why then do we contrarily find so many interpreters insisting that we inject ourselves into the family photo album and family histories, as if we are in some sense them? Perhaps people believe that they can make the family history more “relevant” if we inject ourselves back into the narrative, or edit ourselves into the family photos. Yet, in so doing, they actually remove us from a proper relationship to that family history, since our relationship to it is of those who follow those who preceded. We experience a present continuation of the story as co-heirs of the same history and redemption, as a continuation of God’s redemptive works in the generations that succeed those before the canon was complete. In short, our part of the story is not written in the canon, and we would be amiss to revise the prior written story to include ours. There is not a unilateral line between us and them, as it were. We have a real ancestry in the ancient history of the Bible, but we are not our ancestors themselves! How peculiar we would seem if we read the personal histories and photos of our ancestors and claimed that what is really important is not them, but us, our stories, if by extension we are them and they are us. Put this way, to be blunt, it sounds ridiculous, but this is precisely the way so many teach and read the Bible today.

Surely, we might learn from our personal family history and photo album that a certain Uncle Wiggly became the town drunk, and that we would be warned to be wise and avoid his downfall. But surely we could concede that this was not “the reason” he existed and lived the way he did, so that we might find ourselves in the story or simply to be warned against his choices. Can we not then grant that the same is true of the 2,930 characters in the Bible, and all of their stories – and even more so – since in this case their stories recorded in Scripture show us God’s purposes and will and plans to bring to light his glory before humanity, and to redeem his creation, not just to give us some moral guidance or models for self-improvement. Yes, we have a real connection to all of these biblical characters and their stories in the history of redemption, but we do so as recipients of their stories not as participants in their stories. We do also have similar stories, as sinful recipients of redemption, as those who also believe and receive that redemption. Nonetheless, we are not to be identified as the people in the prior narrative of the story. We have received from them a “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1), and we too are witnesses to our present generation of their testimony, but all the same we are not them. Adam, Eve, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Zipporah, Elijah, David, Bathsheba, Solomon are not you and you are not them. Abraham’s faith is not yours and yours is not his, Joseph’s suffering in the pit is not your suffering, nor your suffering his. You are not promised that God will take you to some palace if you only trust God like Joseph! Yes, in Adam all have died, yet his sin is not our sin (though we do inherit his guilt). Yes, in Abraham we are all counted righteous by grace through faith, yet his faith is not ours and ours is not his. The Gerasene demoniac is not our story; it is his story. Jesus’s story is not our story; it is his story, and exclusively.

Why then do so many insist on reading and interpreting in this way, often leaving us feeling that we must just try harder – like Noah, like Abraham, Job, or like Joseph, or like David or Solomon, or like Jesus – then we will really experience God’s blessing, or presence, or . . . . whatever we might want. Once we work up enough faith like them, then God will take us from our flooding ark of problems to prosperity, deliver us from our pit of depression to the palace, raise us from the ashes of despair to double-fold blessings, going from the sheepfold to the kingship, and from the cross to glory. We are members of a generation of folks raised on this famishing diet of moralizing, and as G.Goldsworthy states it:

“While I certainly do not want to appear to be carping and critical of the multitude of faithful volunteers who prepare curricula and teach them in Sunday Schools, I get the impression that both tasks are often carried on with little or no understanding of the big picture of biblical revelation. Consequently, children are often taught a whole range of isolated Bible stories, each with its neat little application deemed appropriate to the respective age levels. So much of the application is thus moralizing legalism because it is severed from its links to the gospel of grace. By the time many of these children reach their teenage years they have had a belly full of morality, enough, they would think, to last them for the rest of their lives. They thus beat a retreat to live reasonably decent but gospelless lives.[3]

Ultimately, what is at stake here is the Gospel of Christ. Let us then strive together to bring an end to these solipsistic and narcissistic readings of the Bible, specifically by rejecting and challenging their legalistic, moralistic applications that so plague us today. In doing so, let us put to rest the false god of “therapeutic Deism” that rules over these self-help interpretations. Such hermeneutics of “do and don’t” like “so and so” terribly diminishes the great and awesome story of God and his wondrous works of creation and redemption which reveal his glory to us through the narratives and characters of the Bible.[4]

Let us further be done with the prosperity preaching of our generation which puts all of Scripture through the meat-grinding grid of blessings of health, wealth, and success . . . if only we can be an Abraham, a Joseph, a Job, Elijah, or a David in our faith. This prism of prosperity-thinking totally distorts the meaning of the biblical text and should therefore be rejected regardless of how much people get a feeling of blessing or a sense of deeper insight into the text. This may sound too strident in conclusion, but our responsibility to “guard the gospel” must begin in our own house. It is not enough to condemn the Liberal (historical-critical) approach to reading the Bible when we in fact (even if inadvertently) so distort the meaning of biblical texts that what we communicate is a contrary “gospel” of works and not the gospel of grace. Doing so, we totally fragment the biblical story into an endless litany of moral points placed on the shoulders of those already burdened by the weight of their own sense of failure.

The gospel we received from the prophets and the many authors of Scripture, their Apostolic witness, is one that proclaims the story of redemption by grace; it is that of the Christ who is, who was, and who is to come (Rev 1:8) and who came in the flesh to complete redemption by fulfilling the ancient promises of redemption. That redemption is a gift to us of God’s grace, and for which we presently await its fullness – along with the saints of all the ages – to experience at his return the final consummation of the redemption of all creation (Rom 8:18-25). That is our part in the story, the greatest of all stories, since this story gives the true and complete meaning of every story ever told. It will only be then that we will drink together in his glorious presence of his new and everlasting wine, and when we will have many a tale to tell of how he worked out his precious grace to make whole our broken lives.

[1] This may be also called biographical exposition, and could consume the entire career of the expositor with the 2,930 characters in the Bible! The shift from a theocentric/Christocentric to anthropocentric exposition should be obvious.

[2] Greidanus, Modern Preacher and Ancient Text, p. 160.

[3] Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, p. 151.

[4] Having said this, we certainly do not reject biblical ethics, nor do we advocate for antinomianism, but our ethics must be built biblically and in the proper hermeneutical fashion.






Review of Christopher Watkin. Thinking Through Creation: Genesis 1 and 2 as Tools of Cultural Critique.

Christophewatkinr Watkin. Thinking Through Creation: Genesis 1 and 2 as Tools of Cultural Critique. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2017.

As vitally important are the questions of origins and creation in Gen 1-2, often we do not explore their equally valuable theological and cultural implications and applications. With frequent reference to philosophers, theologians, and cultural critics, Christopher Watkin walks us through the labyrinth of philosophical dualisms, that for many people are working models used to understand the universe, while at the same time he deftly dismantles their edifices through exposition of the foundational truths that the triune, personal, loving God created the universe. The dualisms that govern modern perspectives on the world, theories through which the meaning of everything is processed, include the following: impersonal structure/unstructured person; transcendence/immanence; the one/many; function/beauty; facts/values; nature/culture; intellectual/manual work; secular/sacred; nature/culture. Watkin proposes that the biblical creation narrative, rooted in the Creator/creation distinction, tells a very different story, and the only one that can fully address and resolve these dualistic (and totalitarian) theories. I add that they are totalitarian, in that these theories play out in various forms such as Marxism, psychoanalysis, Feminism, eco-theory, and Deconstruction, all of which become ways to think through everything, not just ways to think about everything. Since such theories are all encompassing, and subsume all other theories as well, Watkin proposes that we must articulate the biblical narrative in such a way that we demonstrate that it is the whole story, being true, that explains all other stories. We must not just argue against, we must out-narrate the dualistic alternatives by telling the one true story that encompasses them all. The biblical story is not just a story within a story; it is the story of reality. So, we must stop apologizing for this fact and get to the work of telling the whole story, and particularly why and how all things – everything in life, culture, the universe – have their place only truly within that story. This sounds much like a proposal for biblical theology to me, and a welcome one, to redress the fragmentation of reading the biblical narrative so widespread today in the moralistic, exemploristic, spiritualizing ways people are taught the Bible.

Stressing the fact that a personal God, who is also absolute, created the world, the biblical narrative is one in which love is fundamental and primary. Love and relationships are the bedrock of our universe, since they are rooted in the Triune God. That is, “the universe is not structured simply according to relationships in the abstract, but according to relationships of mutual love modeled on the Trinity” (p. 63).

All the Way Back Home to Shalom

To read the whole essay click here: All the way Back Home to Shalom by Stephen HagueMarch snow 2018

For Julian and Marcus upon their return home March 10[really the 7th], 2018 in hopes that home will always be with, behind, and before them.
And for Lucas who made traveling to Mexico and back home a joy I will never forget.
♥   ♥
In memory of the Contes’ family home (which burned down the day I finished this essay), and which did not destroy their home nor their memories of it.

“Homemaking, like world-building, is a world-ordering enterprise. To turn space into place is to establish normative boundaries that bring a certain kind of order to the life lived within those boundaries.[1]

What if I was to ask you what is the word that most warms your heart, touches on your deepest longings, evokes your riches memories? For me, that word would be HOME. Home to me is the essence of our earthly life, the center, the focus, the foundation of life in this world. And, this is coming from one who loves to travel, and often “get away” from home! “Home” may not be the word that comes to your mind, especially if you had a painful or tragic home-life as a child, or do at present. There is also the feeling, or reality, of homelessness and displacement prevalent in our times. Yet, if you have painful associations with the concept of home, let me suggest for the moment that you put aside those pains and fears and allow yourself to consider the beauty of this word “home.” That is, I suggest, the pain of those who have suffered through childhood is in fact particularly acute because we have an intrinsic understanding of, and longing for, what home should be, for as we are made in God’s image he has made us for home. Therefore, I believe all humans that have ever lived can understand and relate to the pictures I am going to present here on this theme.

To read the whole essay click here: All the way Back Home to Shalom by Stephen Hague

[1] Prediger and Walsh, Beyond Homelessness, p. 53.


The Quest for Spiritual Experience [through asceticism]

For pdf file click here: Quest for Spiritual Experience [through Asceticism]

The linguistic root of “asceticism” is the word askēsis which means practice, training, or exercise and came to be used in reference to spiritual disciplines and self-denials. There have been various forms of asceticism in the major world religions, including “pagan” forms that similarly involve escaping the corrupting world, but as a non-religious salvation or secular “self-improvement.” In ascetic systems, it is typically understood that the things of the world, and even enjoyment of them, are not in themselves simply rejected but are considered a hindrance and obstacle to some perceived higher religious and spiritual objective. The common idea is that self-denials and restraints will give greater freedom and detachment from those obstacles to one’s spiritual and moral health or growth.

  • Christian Asceticism & the Quest for Spiritual Experience

Since asceticism has played such a large role in Judeo-Christian history, we must ask if it has biblical grounds. It might be argued that there are two definitions of asceticism. To simplify these two, we could say that the one definition is life/world-affirming and sin denying, while the other is life/world-denying and sin-denying. The biblical gospel through both the Old and New Testaments is clearly life-affirming wherever it might be argued that it has some kind of ascetical aspects (e.g., Nazarites), and it is never life-denying. If there is a biblical ascetic, it never flows from the presupposition that the created world or human body is essentially bad or evil and thus demands escape. The biblical view is that self-denial of some earthly good is not because that earthly good is in fact bad, but rather that some higher good is needed (as in intensive fasting and praying for a season). That is, the motivation of such denials is not to escape some evil in order to achieve some higher good. Although, there are evils in this world that are necessary for all believers to avoid and escape for their own spiritual good, but it is not for self-justification or self-sanctification. The biblical view is always sin-denying and holiness and life affirming in its totality, or wholeness. Anything we might call a “spiritual discipline” that involves some form of concentrated self-denial or focus, is to be understood in the context of the whole life, and not separate from it, as an escape from it, nor a diversion from it, out of fear of some obstacle to the higher spiritual life. “Praying without ceasing” does not mean that we leave the world and sit forever in church or on a pole, as discussed next.

The other definition, wherever it is found, rests on assumptions of the evil of the world and the body and the consequent necessity of denying and escaping such earthly things for higher (spiritual) purposes (usually related to self-justification in terms of works-righteousness). There were ancient “pole-sitters” (stylitēs) who would sit on platforms on tops of high poles (see illustrations above), and those who spent their lives hiding in caves or monasteries, to escape the corruptions of the world. Underlying much of this form of asceticism is a dualistic view of the universe. Even if the ascetic impulse is not combined with this view of the intrinsic evil of the world and its pleasures, this world is typically perceived as a hindrance to spiritual pursuits and advancement. Thus, in either case, the means of such denials include abstinence and austere disciplines of denial and even self-inflicted deprivations, pains, and various flagellations. Such unbiblical views of human nature, the image of God, the creation of God, human life in this world, and justification and sanctification, make much of these ascetic traditions untenable and counter-productive for Christians.

Super-spirituality and self-righteousness are dangers we always will face in our prideful state, but it can be that such asceticism, ironically, can swiftly open those doors. This is not to say that humility and self-abasement can not come from self-denials (such as intensive prayer and fasting), but the goal is knowing and glorifying God in Christ in order to live in the world, not self-justification by seeking spiritual perfections (to become “spiritual athletes”) or experiences or escape out of the world from corrupting threats. The goal of the Christian life is Christ-likeness, living fully in this world in service to others.

In Christian asceticism, for example, the idea that God is unquestionably prior to one’s family, or other human responsibilities, in terms of one’s life, vocations, and service, leads to the view that it is more spiritual to do missions or evangelism or some other obviously Christian activity than to serve one’s family or “secular” vocation in some capacity. This is perhaps based on Jesus statement recorded in the Gospel of Matthew:

Mtt 10 37 “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 38 “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.

Nevertheless, I believe this is a serious misunderstanding of the nature of Christian service and love, since serving one’s family, or fulfilling some rather “ordinary” vocation or task, may be the very “highest” calling we will ever have, and by loving and serving our families, doing our work well, and serving a vocation, we are indeed fulfilling God’s calling and vocation for us. (In this text in Matt 10, Jesus was addressing those who would forsake or reject him for others, or for something else.) That is, it is not less spiritual to peel the potatoes at home than to do a short-term missions trip. There is also the commonly used phrase, “full-time Christian ministry” that indicates we have not moved past the medieval notions of the separation of sacred and secular. That doing “full-time ministry” is somehow a higher calling than everything else, and that it can even justify abandoning other human, familial, and vocational responsibilities has (inadvertently) caused much heart-ache in people’s lives in the history of the church.

In light of these matters, is such a thing as Christian asceticism possible, and is the idea truly oxymoronic? Historically, Christian’s have attempted to develop and practice various forms of asceticism, and they often drew on both pagan and Jewish forms, but today they draw most readily from Greek and Gnostic traditions.

“The prevalence of asceticism cannot be traced to a single source or motivation. Selective use of the canonical Gospels and Paul, the Stoic ideal of apatheia (“passionlessness”), Platonic dualism, the influence of Essene and other Jewish communal practices and the widespread ascetic impulse in serious circles in the Greco-Roman world all contributed. From no later than the mid-second century, the Protevangelium of James propagated reverence for Mary’s perpetual virginity.”[1]

The important question is, can asceticism contribute to the sufficiency of Christ?

Our sufficiency is in Christ alone; there is nothing we can add to that sufficiency. Spiritual exercises and religious observations may be helpful in some practical ways (concentration and focus in prayer and worship), but ironically they become a serious hindrance to godliness whenever thought to be the path to a “higher spirituality” or spiritual qualifications before God. Very seriously, asceticism can also threaten a believer’s subjective assurance of the objective assurance they have in Christ’s sufficient grace. Works for righteousness always undermine our confidence in the all-sufficiency of Christ Jesus.

Indeed, there are so many movements and people and ideas that would take away from the full sufficiency of Christ, or that would add to the full sufficiency of Christ. These are probably the two most common temptations we sinners often fall for, being frequently restless and discontent and failing to grasp that Christ is absolutely sufficient in himself for us and our redemption, body and soul. There is nothing we can add to his all-sufficiency, but there are so many voices that call us to either diminish his sufficiency (unbelief, Liberalism, many world religions, etc.), or to add to his sufficiency by our own efforts (moralism, legalism, works, higher spirituality, super spirituality, etc.). This is what Paul was addressing at the church at Colossae:

Col 2:8-10 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. 9 For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form10 and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority . .

In conclusion, all such unbiblical notions that diminish or add to the all-sufficiency of Christ in asceticism are completed contradicted and vanquished by the Incarnation and the Resurrection of Jesus, since in both God affirms the goodness of his creation and his purposes to resurrect the body of those he claims as his own people. This is why Paul condemns all those who say “do not handle, do not touch, do not taste” (Col 2:20-23), in order to curb one’s sinful heart, or to sanctify oneself, since these deprivations in themselves have no advantage, power, or value against sinful indulgence. In response to the various deprivations and denials for the higher spiritual life, Jesus said that it is not what goes into our mouths that is a danger, but what comes out of our hearts . . . (Mtt 15:11).

Jesus lived the perfect life for us, though tested and tempted, in the created world, in the flesh, and thus fulfilled in his life the Edenic ideals that Adam failed to accomplish. His power and Spirit alone can sanctify us in heart. Christ’s incarnation and resurrection are the proof that the new creation will be a glorious renewal of all that he has made and all that he has redeemed. And then we will come to fully understand that to be human in itself is to be fully “spiritual,” and it is in being human that we glorify him.

[1]Ralph P. Martin and Peter H. Davids, Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments, electronic ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000, c1997).

For pdf file click here: Quest for Spiritual Experience [through Asceticism]

peanuts and happiness

Notes on the “Image of God” (Imago Dei) and the Attributes of God: “Let us make”

Notes on the Imago Dei and the Attributes of God: “Let us make”
[for complete version with Hebrew terms, see The Image of God and the Attributes of God]

Stephen T. Hague 

Table of Contents

I. Introduction and background 1

II. The three main views of the image 2

III.         The Creator/creature, Redeemer/redeemed distinctions  3

IV. The image of God in the Bible 4

V. The image of God in humans summarized 5

VI. Practical implications of the image of God 6

  1. Creativity 6
  2. Family and community (social) 6
  3. Prophetic and priestly roles 6
  4. Dominion/work/labor/leisure 7
  5. The glory of God is his image 7
  6. The apologetic value of a biblical theology of the image of God 7
  7. The impact of the fall on the image of God 7
  8. The need for redemption to realign and restore the image of God 8

VII.       Westminster Shorter Catechism and the image of God   9

VIII.      John Calvin’s comments on Jesus as the image of God:

IX. Some sources: 9

I. Introduction and background

In the beginning of the book of Genesis, Moses described the creation of humans in the “image and likeness of” God. Many attempts over the centuries have been made to understand what this means, and what bearing this might have on the rest of human life. The following are some notes to define and suggest some possible ways of expanding our understanding that collates various themes from the Old and New Testaments, and therefore these reflections are not based solely on Gen 1:26.

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness;

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֔ים נַֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה אָדָ֛ם בְּצַלְמֵ֖נוּ כִּדְמוּתֵ֑נוּ Gen 1:26

Some call this phrase, “Let us make . . . ,” the “the plural of majesty” (see also Gen 1:26-28; 3:22-24; Isa 6:8). Though this is disputed, and others propose the following:

  • the angels present?
  • the Trinity?

[See The New international Dictionary of Theology (in full version), fnn. 1-2.]

II. The three main views of the image

The debate on definitions is whether/what the substantive, functional, or relational views express as intrinsic (ontological?) elements or as consequential aspects of being made in the image of God. Some argue that aspects of the relational and functional convey consequences of being made in the image of God, not the essence of the image of God itself as it is substantively constituted in humans. For the purposes of discussion, it may be helpful to distinguish consequent from intrinsic, but in reality these categories seem to overlap. Indeed, there are substantive, relational, and functional aspects of the image that interrelate and work to define image of God as it is expressed in human life. The word essence may be what clouds the debate, since to say something is strictly functional or essential, consequential or essential, or relational or substantive, may exclude other options. To state that the image of God is either essential or consequential, may exclude the possibility that being made in God’s image means we are substantively, functionally, and relationally that image. I suggest it is better to state that the image has aspects (attributes) of being relational and functional, that are substantive or intrinsic to the nature of being made in the image of God. For example, some argue a distinction between being made in the image of God and God’s command to have dominion. Nevertheless, could it not be argued that being made in the image of God may intrinsically mean having dominion (among other aspects)? To be made in God’s image is to be co-regent in royal dominion over creation. A tool made for a particular purpose may not be distinguished from its intrinsic nature as a tool: a hammer is made to hammer, that is what it is/does, though we may talk about a hammer’s diverse uses as a hammer, its “essential” nature is functional, relational, and substantive.

The image of God in humans is in substance, essence, and function related to the so-called communicable attributes of God: will, life, intelligence (rationality), knowledge, emotions, love, benevolence, compassion, power, morality, spirituality, personality, self-consciousness, self-transcendence (independence), self-determination, faithfulness, righteousness, holiness, wisdom, goodness, truth, justice, mercy. It is important to note that only God is “infinite, eternal, and unchangeable” (Shorter Catechism) (in reference to all his attributes), and thus only God bears all of the attributes denoted as communicable/incommunicable in any absolute sense, and these all relate to his glory.[3]

God is not an abstraction, but his attributes are expressed in reality/history, and thus God is known through his expression of his attributes. Even though we may discuss in the abstract God’s attributes, we only can do so consistently by considering his expression of those attributes in generals and special revelation. Attributes unexpressed (functionally/relationally) are unknowable.

III.   The Creator/creature, Redeemer/redeemed distinctions

  • The fundamental differentiation of mankind from God, mankind from animals and nature enables believer to know who and what he is. The modern world (particularly materialistic science) cannot determine if man is animal, machine, angel, or devil. This is the root problem of most world religions and philosophies: failure to make the proper distinctions between God and creation. To lack an image of God theology is to lack a foundation to all theology and to life in this world as humans. “The fact that man is the image of God distinguishes him from the animal and from every other creature.”[4]
  • God’s nature: He exists, as one God, omnipotent creator, absolutely distinct from creation: personal/infinite, immanent/transcendent. Presence is absolute and immediate before the fall, absolute though mediate after. That is, God is immanent and transcendent.
  • Human nature: exists as created, one person, body and soul, image of God and sinful nature (complex nature).
    • Some scholars propose that there are bodily aspects to the image of God: classified as “theomorphism” (Von Rad). Van Leeuwen comments:

Early in the century, some scholars considered the image to refer to the human body as physically resembling God (cf. Isa 6:1, 5; Ezek 1:26; Dan 7:9-10), a form of “theomorphism” (von Rad, 145-46). Such a view is too simple. The image is properly understood as referring to the entire human, not a part or property. In recent research, Stendebach discerns two main lines of interpretation of the image. First, humankind is God’s representative upon earth, given the task of dominion over the nonhuman creation. The second model sees humankind as God’s counterpart (Gegenüber Gottes), so that a dialogical relation between God and humankind exists (Stendebach, 1051-52). Both models are valid, in that they express aspects of being “in the image of God.”[5]

    • Others, on the other hand, like J. Calvin understand the image of God as spiritual not physical: “the likeness of God extends to the whole excellence by which man’s nature towers over all the kinds of living creatures”;  right understanding, affections within bounds of reason, senses tempered by right order (Institutes, 1. 15. 3).
  • First Adam was the “crown of creation” in the image of God. The Last Adam is Jesus Christ who is The True Image (1 Cor 15:21-22).
  • Nature in humanity: each person is a unified body and soul, whereas God is one Triunity.
  • After the Fall of humanity, humans became “a glorious ruin” of divided body and soul, dividing God and humankind, etc.
  • Redemption: is the restoration of the damaged image to the perfect image of God in Christ.
  • Salvation is rooted in creation and always highlights the Creator/creation, Savior/redeemed distinctions.

IV. The image of God in the Bible

Gen 1:27  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Gen 9:6 Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.

2 Cor 4:4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (ὅς ἐστιν εἰκὼν του θεου).

Col 3:10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

1 Cor 11:7 A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.

The True image is Christ Jesus:

  1. holiness
  2. righteousness
  3. knowledge (cognizant) (of God, etc. is proper.
  4. will/volition
  5. love and faithfulness

In Colossians, Paul presents a theological exposition of who Christ Jesus is:

  • The image[6]  of God, not made “in the image of God” (1:15a) (contra Gnostics) (cf. 3:10).[7]
  • The firstborn over all creation, begotten of God not created, as pre-eminent over all (3:15b).

The image of God applied to Christ means his consubstantiality with the Father, Christ’s equality, essence, and identity as the Son with the Father. The word “image” in our modern “image based” society tends to connote insubstantiality (copy/fake) in this English word. Note: the ancient church called all Christian pictorial representations icons.

Creation of humanity was the creation of humans in the image of God. Redemption is the restoration, the completion of the image of God in man through the one Man Jesus Christ. The goal of our redemption is to be conformed to the image of the Son. “Redemption is the re-creation of our humanity.”[8] See also Col 3:10.

Rom 8:29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

2 Cor 3:18 And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

2 Cor 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

1 Jn 3:2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

This promise in Romans 8 is intrinsic to the gospel of redemption and renewal of God’s image in us:

Rom 8:19-21 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

  • See NT: Rom 8:29 conformed to his likeness (image,  Eph 4:24; Col 3:10). Redemption is restoration to the image of God in Christ. See P. Hughes, The True Image, J. Calvin,

Reasoning backwards from Eph 4:21-24 and Col 3:10, the image of God restored is that of original true righteousness, holiness, and true knowledge of God. As Raymond notes, in discussing C.Hodge’s views, that the renewed image virtues “are not religio/ethical abstractions, but rather are indicative of right relationships with God and neighbor.”[9]

V. The image of God in humans summarized

  • The image of God is universally present in all humans at all times. It is the defining quality and nature of what it means to be human. To be human is to reflect the glory of God himself. The image of God is therefore the fundamental “contact point” between all people, since we exist as creatures and we can only know each other through the reality of being made in his image.
  • The image of God was not lost due to sin (not obliterated in the doctrine of “total depravity” which refers to moral status before God). Many begin all gospel presentations with the sinful nature of humans, so as to highlight the need for redemption. I propose this is a backwards approach, even if sometimes effective in making people sense their guilt before God. Rather, we should typically begin with creation (in God’s image) as the starting point, the place we begin to outline the history of redemption is where that story-line begins historically.
  • The image of God is not simply a relational quality between man and God (as in Barth/Brunner), but rather substantive of each person’s very nature as a human. Thus, it does not vary in degree from person to person. As noted above, the issue is whether the substantive, functional, or relational views express intrinsic (ontological) elements or convey consequential aspects.
  • However we resolve the relation between intrinsic and consequence (we might argue that the lines are not absolute), the image of God in humans enables them to have true knowledge of God, to show justice towards the neighbor, covenant-faithfulness, to be living beings in relationship (to God and to both animate and inanimate creation), to have real personality, will (choice, determination), communication (love, truth), emotion (affections of the heart), spirituality (worship of communion with God), rationality (logos, mind, knowledge, logic, hermeneutics), morality (conscience), creativity (aesthetics, work, beauty), dignity (personality), goodness (though and deed), value (intrinsic due to image of God), dominion (vice regents, ambassadors, representatives) and authority (derived). As we live for God through Jesus Christ, we come to experience the fullness of our humanity.
  • In contrast to other ANE understandings, the image of God in humans does not primarily convey attributes that stress being created in order to serve the gods, but rather as a dominion of royal co-regency with God over/in the created order. Some suggest this conveys aspects of representation/agency of God himself, in which humans must fulfill God’s purposes on the earth.
  • Importantly, humans can be dramatically distinguished from all other created material creatures, while also being clearly distinguished from the Creator. Considering all the qualities listed above, humans are not beasts, and thus contrary to the widespread assumptions of evolutionary theory, humans are not evolved from the order of beasts who do not bear the image of God.
  • Idols,[10] worshipping images of rocks and trees made in the image of man, become a travesty of cosmic magnitude, for such worship reduces humans to worshiping something even less than what they themselves possess, which is the very image of God itself.
    “To project God in man’s image is therefore a heinous form of idolatry confounding the Creator with the creaturely (Rom 1:23).”[11]
  • Understanding that all people bear God’s image (though they are lost in the darkness of sin and deception, bound to folly and destruction of all that is good), we are thus compelled to evangelize the entire human race. There are none outside the compassion of God for us to seek to reclaim with the gospel of restoration to God and the renewal of the image of God in them through becoming conformed to the true image of God in Christ.

VI.            Practical implications of the image of God

A. Creativity

The aesthetic of the creation-order is the result of the creation of humans in the image of God. The Edenic “cultural commission” was to creatively build God’s kingdom on earth. Mankind’s creative abilities and knowledge were to be applied to having dominion over the created world. In some sense humans are co-creators with God (not ex nihilo, but out of what is there in creation). The dignity of work is thus affirmed. Jesus fulfills the Edenic mandate of work and creativity (Jn 5:17).  Believing the colossal lies of Satan, Adam and Eve introduced destruction and decay, ugliness and grotesque perversions.

B.  Family and community (social)

We were made for HOME and community. Home is the place for sexuality, love, community, learning, and the foundation of the church and society. Fathering/mothering of children in the home reflects God’s creation of Adam and Eve. The home and the church community are the place for the relay of truth and the gospel through language communication and demonstration (see E. Schaeffer’s, What is a Family and other categories). Neighborly love in the home and community is to be the rule. Believing the colossal lies of Satan led to division, alienation, death, and murder.

C. Prophetic and priestly roles

At creation, sinless humankind bowed before and worshipped God. They guarded the sanctuary-garden of the Lord’s presence (see M. Kline, Kingdom Prologue, p 52-56). See Gen 2:15 – the imperative to WORK  (db() is joined with the imperative to GUARD, watch over, stand watch (rm$). The question is: what is man guarding against?  Satan?  Outside forces? To guide creation in God’s way by faithfully administering God’s imperatives?  In sum, to mediate God’s truth to God’s creation, properly interpreting and applying that truth to the created world. Believing the colossal lies of Satan, they failed in this role of conveying God’s truth. See also 1:28 – God’s imperatives to be fruitful, multiply, rule/govern. These were not options of “free”-will choice.

D. Dominion/work/labor/leisure

All creation is under Adam. The heaven’s are the Lord’s, the earth is the dominion of human hands. Work before the fall was intensive and extensive: they were keepers of the Garden. Freedom factor: before fall, after fall (Rom 8:21). Man was free within certain bounds;  outside those boundaries he was forbidden to go. What we usually call the exercise of mankind’s “free will” was really the exercise of mankind’s rebellious will in bondage to sin. The act of rebellion (eating of the tree) followed the volition of rebellion. Free and enabled to work (db() guard (rm$) the garden (2:15) involved being fruitful (three verbs involved: hrp, hbr, )lm [1:28]). This involved having dominion by ruling and governing in the garden over all creation (hdr[1:28]) (see dominion, p. 441). No indolence. Royal connotations?  Ruler of the earth under God. As the Lord tends to his creation his co-regents were to do likewise. “Fathering” and nurturing the creation. The imitation of God: love God and hate the evil one. Glorify God and enjoy him forever.. Thus they were to glorify God in all they did. Believing the colossal lies of Satan, joyous work became toil and sorrow.

E. The glory of God is his image

R.C. Newman correlates the image of God with the glory of God, and the glory of God with the moral excellence of God. As a person’s reputation is found in their image, their image is represented in whoever reflects their image. In this case, God’s image is his glory and is reflected in his creation morally.[12]

Rom 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

2 Cor 3:18 And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

Jn 17:4 I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.

1 Cor 6:20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.

Jn 21:19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

F. The apologetic value of a biblical theology of the image of God

We have deep and true compassion for the lost and appreciation for their creativity (among other things), being made in God’s image. Man, alongside general revelation in creation, is the greatest proof and proclamation of God’s existence and nature (Ps 19; Rom 1). Every person we meet we already know to an incredible degree, since we know how they are constituted. The one primary thing that is new to us in meeting someone, and that encompasses their whole self, is their unique personhood (personality) as made in God’s image.

In terms of the image of God in those being sanctified, the fruit of the Spirit is goodness, virtue, and character, NOT “Worm Theology.” Rom 15:14, “I know that there is much good in you (full of goodness[NIV]), complete in knowledge, and competent to instruct one another.”

G.              The impact of the fall on the image of God

“Before the Fall, we saw ourselves as under God, bearing God’s image and deriving a sense of identity and coherence from God. But now we identify ourselves with creation instead of our Creator. Our whole orientation is downward toward what is less than ourselves, rather than upward toward what is greater. This change of orientation has many psychological results.” D.Keyes, Beyond Identity, p. 61.

Since the Fall, our integration point has been misdirected, misaligned, for it now is not in God himself but in idols, ourselves, and other such futile points of reference. In God, we have an infinite and personal reference point for our own identity and souls, but without a proper relationship to him, we have none that is sufficient for anything. All of the characteristics listed above to define/describe the image of God could be listed here with the deleterious impact of the fall upon them, not obliteration of them but distortion and perversion.

H. The need for redemption to realign and restore the image of God

In God, as those who are redeemed, we have an infinite and personal reference point for our own identity and souls. But, without a proper relationship to him, we have no point of reference that is sufficient for anything. All of the characteristics listed above to define/describe the image of God could be listed here with the deleterious impact of the fall upon them, not obliteration of them but distortion and perversion. This has practical significance in giving significance to all of life; it also gives us a point of reference for every concern of our lives in this world. We do have in Christ an infinite reference point to final integration for our whole being, our whole world, our whole future, our whole eternity. The word integration (often used in Mathematics) is an inadequate attempt in human language to convey the antonym of disintegration (or alienation from self, body, society). For humans, that which makes us whole, complete, full, unified in mind, heart, and character, can only come from the One who made us complete in Eden. The restoration of redemption is to wholeness and shalom, since it is a restoration to the proper relationship to God himself. Yet, how do finite creatures relate to an infinite God? Only through the Incarnate Son. Holiness and wholeness: the telos of God’s purposes. To be holy is to be WHOLE, complete, perfect, unblemished, unmarred. We will be made whole in God’s holy presence. Jesus’ healings of the un-whole and unholy pre-shadowed this new creation reality: the blind see and the lame walk!

VII. Westminster Shorter Catechism and the image of God

Q10: How did God create man?

A10: God created man male and female, after his own image,[1] in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness,[2] with dominion over the creatures.[3]

Q35:  What is sanctification?

A35:  Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace,[1] whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God,[2] and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.[3]

The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter IV: Of Creation

  1. After God had made all other creatures, he created man, male and female,[4] with reasonable and immortal souls,[5] endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after his own image;[6] having the law of God written in their hearts,[7] and power to fulfill it:[8] and yet under a possibility of transgressing, being left to the liberty of their own will, which was subject unto change.[9] Beside this law written in their hearts, they received a command, not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; which while they kept, they were happy in their communion with God,[10] and had dominion over the creatures.[11]

VIII. John Calvin’s comments on Jesus as the image of God:

  1. Who is the image of the invisible God. He mounts up higher in discoursing as to the glory of Christ. He calls him the image of the invisible God, meaning by this, that it is in him alone that God, who is otherwise invisible, is manifested to us, in accordance with what is said in John 1:18,

— No man hath ever seen God: the only begotten Son, who is in

the bosom of the Father, hath himself manifested him to us.

I am well aware in what manner the ancients were accustomed to explain this; for having a contest to maintain with Arians, they insist upon the equality of the Son with the Father, and his ( ) identity of essence, F42 while in the mean time they make no mention of what is the chief point — in what manner the Father makes himself known to us in Christ. As to Chrysostom’s laying the whole stress of his defense on the term image, by contending that the creature cannot be said to be the image of the Creator, it is excessively weak; nay more, it is set aside by Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:7, whose words are — The man is the IMAGE and glory of God. That, therefore, we may not receive anything but what is solid, let us take notice, that the term image is not made use of in reference to essence, but has a reference to us; for Christ is called the image of God on this ground — that he makes God in a manner visible to us. At the same time, we gather also from this his ( ) identity of essence, for Christ would not truly represent God, if he were not the essential Word of God, inasmuch as the question here is not as to those things which by communication are suitable also to creatures, but the question is as to the perfect wisdom, goodness, righteousness, and power of God, for the representing of which no creature were competent. We shall have, therefore, in this term, a powerful weapon in opposition to the Arians, but, notwithstanding, we must begin with that reference that I have mentioned; we must not insist upon the essence alone. The sum is this — that God in himself, that is, in his naked majesty, is invisible, and that not to the eyes of the body merely, but also to the understandings of men, and that he is revealed to us in Christ alone, that we may behold him as in a mirror. For in Christ he shews us his righteousness, goodness, wisdom, power, in short, his entire self. We must, therefore, beware of seeking him elsewhere, for everything that would set itself off as a representation of God, apart from Christ, will be an idol.[13]

 IX. Some sources

  • H.Baker, In The Image of God.
  • Athanasius, On the Incarnation, pp. 22-23. Christ is the True Image (same as P. Hughes in The True Image).
  • Erickson, Christian Theology, pp. 498-517.
  • Keyes, Beyond Identity, “Identity Lost,” pp, 32-40.
  • Raymond, A New Systematic Theology, pp. 425-429.
  • E. Hughes, The True Image (passim).
  • Newman, “Some Perspectives on the Image of God in Man from Biblical Theology.”
  • Sherlock, The Doctrine of Humanity, pp. 29-48, 49-91.
  • Berkhof, Systematic Theology, pp. 202-210.
  • Middlemann, Proexistence.
  • Keyes’ lectures on work
  • Marshall, Heaven is not My Home.
  • Macaulay and J. Barrs, Being Human.
  • A.Schaeffer, Art and the Bible.

[1] The New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis.

[2] Van Leeuwen¸ “Form, Image,” NIDOTTE, vol. 4, pp. 643-648.

[3] Note: there has been much debate about the usefulness of the categories incommunicable/communicable/ (or absolute/relative, transcendent/immanent, negative/positive, moral/natural, immanent (intransitive)/emanent(transitive), because they are only absolute when in reference to God and apply only analogously to humans: “no attribute of God is completely communicable, and there is no attribute of God that completely incommunicable” (Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 156).

[4] Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 206.

[5] Van Leeuwen¸ “Form, Image,” NIDOTTE, vol. 4, pp. 643-648.

[6] ei)kw/n  eikwn€ei)/kw,  e)/oika I. a likeness, image, portrait, Hdt., Aesch. 2. an image in a mirror, Eur., Plat. II. a semblance, phantom, Eur., Plat., etc. an image in the mind, id=Plat. III. a similitude, simile, Ar., Plat. (Liddell and Scot Lerxicon).

[7] See Hughes, The True Image, pp. 3-65. See also Erickson’s critique of Barth’s and Brunner’s existential interpretation of the image of God (Christian Theology, pp. 495-517); Berkouwer, Studies in Dogmatics: Man the Image of God; Newman, Robert C. “Some Perspectives on the Image of God in Man From Biblical Theology,” Research Report # 21, Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute, Hatfield, PA, 1984.

[8] Hughes, The True Image, p. 27.

[9] Raymond, Systematic Theology, p. 428.

[10] See words related to idols and other forms of “representation” (from NIDOTTE): µl,x&, (statue, model, image, H7512);  ha,r“m’ ( mar’eh), appearance (H5260); tynIb]T’ ( tabnît), model or design for something built (H9322); hn:WmT] ( temûnâ), form (H9454)  and ls,P&,, hn:WmT], lm,s&, [H6166], tynIb]T’; lylia‘ (Nothing, H496); µyliWLGI (images, idols, H1658);  hr:vea} (wooden cult-object, pole, goddess, H895); lm,s&, (image, H6166); bx;[; (god-image, H6773); ls,P&, (cultic image, statue of a god, H7181; lysiP;, cultic image, statue of a god, H7178; ls’P;, carve, hew out of stone, dress, H7180);  µl,x&, (statue, model, image, H7512);  rm,T&o (scarecrow, H9473);  µypir:T] (figurines, mask, H9572).

[11] C.F.H. Henry, “Image of God,” The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, p. 546.

[12] Newman, “Some Perspectives,” pp. 15-17.

[13] Calvin, Ephesians, The Ages Digital Library, Books for the Ages, Ages Software, Albany, OR.

Church, parachurch, or why church at all?

Church, parachurch, or why church at all?

Stephen T. Hague, Aug 2017 (read/print pdf file: Church and parachurch)

Questions: What means did Christ establish


  • for the proclamation and preservation of the
  • gospel in biblical history?
  • for properly organized and structured worship, reception of the Word of God, and the accountability of discipline and discipleship through offices of authority?
  • for properly administering to the needs of the fellowship of believers?

Answer: The visible church of those who profess faith in Christ and live in obedience to his commands. This was true for OT Israel living under a theocracy and monarchy, the same as it is for the NT visible church today. In the OT, the visible church was characterized by the Priests’ administration of the sanctuary worship and application of the Word of God, the Elders and Prophets’ ministry of proclaiming and teaching the Word of God revealed and written, and by the kings’ service of administrating justice by upholding the law of God and defending the nation. In the NT, the visible church is characterized by the (priestly) administration of the Sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Table, the exposition of the Word (prophetic), and the upholding of the law and protecting the people of God through the administration of discipline properly applied to preserve, protect, and restore by the elders. Further protection and service is provided by the ministry of the Deacons. It is often said that the church is a “human institution,” but that is not what it is: it is God’s divinely appointed means to accomplish his work of redemption through Christ of his people and his world. (Acts 2:47; 1 Pet 2:9-10; 1 Cor 1:2; Col 1:24)

A serious question then is, why do so many people today abandon the visible church, and membership in the fellowship, for alternatives (such as “para-churches”)? Some will answer that they do not need the local church, since they are already members of the universal and invisible church. Perhaps they have been deeply scarred in a local church, or they had some very bad experiences there at some point, or they were in a church that was not orthodox, and they left never to return to a visible and established congregation. In all of these cases, it is easy to understand the rationale and justification for leaving a particularly bad situation.[1] The question is, nevertheless, whether it is wise to exclude oneself altogether from membership in the visible church (or to attach to alternative organizations). The local church is the place where our Lord’s Table is celebrated regularly, and where his death and resurrection are remembered and celebrated every Sunday, and where the Word of Scripture is taught consistently and fully, and where structures for training in righteousness (discipleship) are in place, and where the people of God are held accountable to Christ and to one another by one another, and where elders and deacons are called to serve these ends.

Do people often leave the visible church planning to find a better alternative, one of the many more glamorous alternatives (such as “para-churches”), because they sincerely believe the church failed them, and is failing in its mission, because it has so many problems, because there are so many sinners there not living in obedience (2 Cor 11:2-3)? With such claims, the question is do they really believe it will be easier to do the work of the Kingdom outside of Christ’s ordained means and visible institution (to use imperfect sinners living under grace), while working with different sinners in different contexts and structures that do not align fully with a biblical model or precedent?

What does Christ command us to do in the visible church? To remember him. To celebrate his Table of remembrance, to establish proper structure of authority, to obey his commands with accountability, to have his word dwell in us richly, to pray together. How is this possible? The best way, perhaps the only way, to experience the blessings of membership in his universal, “invisible” church is to be a member of his visible church. Indeed, I think it would be difficult to rightly claim membership in the universal church unless we are committed to real people in a real locale in a real and visible church under the real authority of elders and deacons given by Christ to serve the mission of the advancement of the gospel and the Kingdom through the visible body of Christ. In this way, our presence and service in the visible church is evidence (yet, not proof of salvation or a proposal of works-righteousness here) of our membership in the universal church. In this way, our membership in a local body of believers is the acknowledgement that we cannot do this alone, nor would we ever want to. It is also an acknowledgment that we do not create organizations that would supplant or replace the mission given to the church. Our belonging is comparable to the marriage of Christ and the Church, as we are in “subjection” to one another in love; this is only possible if we are actually and visibly committed to one another. Love cannot be expressed fully in isolation from the whole body; it is given in the context of the visible church as the practical place to be a light set on a hill (Rom 12:5; Eph 4:25). We have a unity and a bond of peace before the watching world (Eph 4:3; 5:21-32).

Nevertheless, there are some who say that membership in a local visible church is unnecessary. Actually, I would suggest that the term “invisible” (or universal) church is meaningless without a visible representation on the earth. Otherwise, it is nothing but some abstraction, a concept. So, this is sometimes people’s logic, “Oh, I belong to the invisible church that is universal, and which is by the way unseen (since invisible), and so it is unnecessary that I join a local congregation.” If this be the case, then it must be presumed your church is inactive and non-existent to anyone’s observation from the outside. And, for those who do not abandon the local visible church with such reasoning, it can lead to the rationalization to create something “new,” an alternative to Christ’s institution, to make the Kingdom hope more appealing and exciting, or just more glamorous than our boring edifices and structures and services, or to provide a more biblical alternative to what was seen as mostly dead church traditions or outright unbelief within the majority of denominations.  Yet, scripture teaches that we are to be members of the visible body, interdependent on one another (Rom 13:5; Eph 4:25; 1 Cor 12:12-27).

The so-called “para-church” organizations that proliferated during the later sixties and seventies, and continue today, often were seen as ways to address the perceived failures, lacks, and omissions of the visible church. Indeed, in many cases they were a response to the failed project of the Liberal and mainline churches that for a generation had largely abandoned the gospel. Succumbing to the unbelief of a purely socially oriented gospel, rejecting much of historic Christian doctrine, they bore the fruits of such theology in catastrophic spiritual (and physical) death around the world. In this context it not surprising that “para” organizations developed to seek to redress this state of affairs, but they typically went outside the organized and visible church and became “alongside,” an alternative. Offering what appeared to be exciting new opportunities to serve the Kingdom and the gospel of Jesus, they created focused ministries to the many and various needs of the world, such as evangelism, discipleship, worship, and serving the poor and oppressed. These para-church organizations have done a tremendous amount of good in the world, but too often the cost to our ecclesiology, and the strength of the believing visible church, has not been acknowledged. Since these organizations are not churches, having no official establishment of biblical structures and patterns and protections of the church, they have been subject to the many cultural and social forces prevailing in the broader culture. They have also been subject to all the same trials every organization of humans struggles with, yet doing so without biblical restraints (and training) on doctrine, authority, and morality. They so often supplant the Christ-given visible church’s responsibilities, and forsake proper structures for those of the business model or non-profit models, and in many cases a very-much-for-profit model.  Because they usually lack proper biblical officers, authorial checks and balances, such organizations are governed by strong personalities who can generate tremendous capital and interest around the causes of the organization, sometimes, and much too often, creating a sub-culture prone to the cult-of-the-personality, or sectarian style structures and strategies, and in some cases cultic, or cult-styled, local and national leadership teams. I claim no expertise on these organizations, but my observation over the years is that the most of them focus on the youth and young adults, and often at the local level they are led by the theologically untrained and immature. This being the case, the larger they become, the more insidiously authoritarian they become in order to control the inevitable chaos. To varying degrees they must compete with one another, in strictly business fashion, vying to appeal to the diverse interests of the young in the hopes of gaining new members by offering a product more satisfying than the other alternatives to the youthful yearnings and aspirations of those they recruit. In sum, I hope that this brief reflection on church and para-church organizations stimulates some reflection on the question of what is the church and how we understand those organizations that are not churches and yet which often supplant the church, Christ’s established and authorial means to fulfill his work. The visible church is Christ’s institution called to the Great Commission, to convey the gospel of the Scripture to the world, to train in righteousness, to disciple the nations, to properly celebrate the Lord’s Table, to baptize, and to guard all these things through biblical discipline.

Now, we must also consider that it is possible for the visible building (belonging to a “visible” church) on the street corner can be just as invisible to the neighbors as the so-called invisible church without a building, but that is another matter regarding the (oxymoronic) “dead church.” In this latter case, it is oxymoronic to think that a true church living in obedience to Christ could possibly be dead since they are energized by the Living Christ and his word of the Gospel and the hope of the gospel. If they are truly alive in Christ, and living in love and grace together, the neighbors will know. A visible church that is invisible to all around it has a spiritual problem, even if it is still present as a visible church. We would not say it is not part of the visible church,  only that it is seriously failing in its calling and mission.

In this sense, the visible church and each member is Christ’s “letter to the world” (2 Cor 3:2). As Francis Schaeffer was known to say, in regards to Jesus’ words on love, that the world will know that the Father has sent the Son on the basis of the love they have for one another. This we know will never be perfect, but that is no excuse for our sin, nor our attempts to replace Christ’s institution with something else; it is a recognition that we must live under grace and discipline together as apprentices of the Servant of servants who is teaching us to love God with a perfect love, as we learn to forgive one another with our presently imperfect love. As his disciples we seek to do his will, but we are still in training with much to learn. As someone else put it, we are learning the impossible task (impossible to us on our own) of loving as God loves and to love what God loves. I conclude that the best place, and most difficult, to do this is in the place Christ Jesus himself instituted, and that is his visible church (Eph 1:22-23; 2:16; 4:2-6, 12-13; Col 1:18; 2:19; 3:15). The practicality of this should be evident; the best place to love and serve, using our differing gifts, is in the context of our families and in the family of believers, the visible church. In this way, Christ’s church is to be as a light set on a hill, the salt of the earth (Rom 12:6; 1 Cor 7:7; Eph 4:7-8, 12).

“We cannot hope to restore the world if we are constantly reinventing the church.” J.K.A.Smith, You Are What You Love¸p. 178

“There is one body and one Spirit . . .” Ephesians 4:6

The visible church of Christ, is a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure word of God is preached, and the sacraments be duly ministered, according to Christ’s ordinance in all those things of necessity are requisite the same.

Article XIX, The Thirty Nine Articles

The church “hath always three notes or marks whereby it is known:  pure and sound doctrine, the sacraments ministered according to Christ’s holy institution, and the right use of ecclesiastical discipline.”  E.S.C. Gibson, The Thirty Nine Articles of the Church of England, p. 495.

“The congregation is the hermeneutic of the gospel.”
Leslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society, pp. 222-223.

The Confession of Faith, Glasgow:  Francis Orr and Sons, 1856.

Ch XXV Of the church

  1. The catholic or universal church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all.
  2. The visible church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel, (not confined to one nation, as before under the law,) consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion together with their children; and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house of the family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.

III. Unto this catholic church Christ hath given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints in this life, to the end of the world;  and doth by his own presence and Spirit, according to his promise, make them effectual thereunto.

  1. This catholic church hath been sometimes more, sometimes less visible. And particular churches, which are members thereof, are more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less pure in them.
  2. The purest churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error; and some have so degenerated as to become no churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan. Nevertheless, there shall be always a church on earth to worship God according to his will.
  3. There is no other head of the church but the Lord Jesus Christ; nor can the Pope of Rome in any sense be head thereof; but is that antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalted himself in the church against Christ, and all that is called God.

Ch X Of Church Censures

The Lord Jesus, as king and head of his church, hath herein appointed a government in the hand of church-officers, distinct from the civil magistrate.

  1. To these officers the keys of the kingdom of heaven are committed, by virtue of whereof they have power respectively to retain and remit sins, to shut that kingdom against the impenitent, both by the word of censures; and to open it unto censures, as occasion shall require.

III.  Church censures are necessary for the reclaiming and gaining of offending brethren;  for deterring of others from like offences;  for purging out that leaven which might infect the whole lump;  for vindicating the honour of Christ, and the holy profession of the gospel;  and for preventing the wrath of God, which might justly fall upon the church, if they should suffer his covenant, and the seals thereof, to be profaned by notorious and obstinate offenders.

  1. For the better attaining of these ends, the officers of the church are to proceed by admonition, suspension from the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper for a season, and by excommunication from the church, according to the nature of the crime, and demerit of the person.

Below are some summary notes, typically succinct, from a much beloved seminary professor I had way back in time. They remind me of how important and necessary the organization and structure of the visible church really is.

R.Dunzweiler, ST notes for Systematic Theology IV (at BTS)

What is the Church?

In its broadest sense the Church may be defined as follows:

  • the people of God of all ages, from Adam to the last person who will be savingly united to Christ and the benefits of His redemption;
  • all those saved by grace through faith on the ground of Christ’s atoning work;
  • all those whom God has foreknow, predestinated, called, justified, and sanctified;
  • all those who have been born of God, who have become members of God’s redemptive family, who are indwelt by the Spirit of God;
  • the whole body of professing believers in God’s salvation, manifested in local gatherings with their officers and ministers, and carrying out the functions of ministry of the word, right administration of the ordinances, and proper exercise of discipline.

Categorization of the functions of the Church

  1. The prophetic function
  • Preaching
  • Teaching
  • Counseling
  • Reaching out in evangelistic and missionary activity
  • Attempting to influence our society and culture

2. The worship function

  • Assembling for worship
  • Conducting worship services
  • Conducting form ceremonies
  • Administering the ordinances/sacraments
  • Corporate prayer

3. The fellowship function

  • Sharing the understanding of Scripture
  • Sharing Christian experience
  • Sharing hospitality
  • Sharing leisure-time activities
  • Sharing of special social occasions

4. The stewardship function

  • Stewardship of human resources

The scriptural pattern of local church government is:

1. Rulership and oversight and superintendence by bishops-elders-pastors

(1) Bishops-elders-pastors who rule
(2) Bishops-elders-pastors who rule and labor in the Word and teaching

2. Administration of temporal matters by deacons

God has given us this pattern in Scripture, and nowhere do we find a blanket allowance for the institution of some other form or pattern that we might think is better. To the contrary, we find that this pattern has been given to us in order that we may know how to conduct ourselves in the church (I Timothy 3:15).

3. Stewardship of material resources

(1)     Money

(2)     Physical Property

5. The discipline function

6. The civil responsibility function

[1] There are some difficult cases, nevertheless, as in the underground church in Communist China, and Muslim countries, where open church membership with your name on an official roster, can be a dangerous and unwise practice. This is not what I am addressing, since typically these believers associate closely with a local body of believers, though in secret.

On the many who claim to be prophets today, and dreamers of dreams

Jeremiah in Sistene ChapelFor one who teaches biblical hermeneutics, I am cautious to pull a text like this into our contemporary context, since it is from the end of the pre-exilic context of ancient Judah when Jeremiah wrote dire warnings against them for their idolatries and against the scores of people who then claimed to be prophets sent from God. Nevertheless, can we not ask if there is any similarity with our own generation in regards to the countless claims from people of God revealing, speaking, giving further revelation, visions, and prophecies, so many of which have been widely shown as both false and often misleading? (An example that “there is nothing new under the sun.”)

(left)Jeremiah by Michelangelo (Sistine Chapel) 

Does not the principle stand that for anyone to claim a revelation or prophecy from God, and who did not actually receive such (but only imagined or hoped to have received such), they would most certainly be considered a false prophet. In biblical terms, that is. Even if they prophesied something concrete, in a predictive fashion, that happens to occur, and it did not come directly from God, it still makes them a false prophet. Yet, consider the many thousands of people today claiming prophecies, dreams, visions, etc., who have made themselves a laughing-stock with their oftentimes outrageous and patently false claims. At best they are mostly ignored, but at worst they frequently manage to point people away from the actual canon of revelation in the Old and New Testaments to themselves and their seemingly benign imaginings. Many people have even started movements and organizations on the basis of such spurious revelations, but even if they have many followers it does not make them a prophet from God.

In sum, take heed from Jeremiah to all who claim, “The Lord said to me” or “The Lord gave me this dream  . . . or vision.” And, to all who listen to these many self-proclaimed prophets of our times, take heed lest you too are taken captive by all sorts of vanity and delusions that may appear marvelous, but are nothing more than “the visions of their[the prophets’] own minds.”

Jeremiah 23

16 Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. 17 They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’”

   25 “I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy falsely in My n, me, saying, ‘I had a dream, I had a dream!’ 26 “How long? Is there anything in the hearts of the prophets who prophesy falsehood, even these prophets of the deception of their own heart, 27 who intend to make My people forget My name by their dreams which they relate to one another, just as their fathers forgot My name because of Baal? 28“The prophet who has a dream may relate his dream, but let him who has My word speak My word in truth. What does straw have in common with grain?” declares the LORD. 29“Is not My word like fire?” declares the LORD, “and like a hammer which shatters a rock? 30“Therefore behold, I am against the prophets,” declares the LORD, “who steal My words from each other. 31“Behold, I am against the prophets,” declares the LORD, “who use their tongues and declare, ‘The Lord declares.’ 32“Behold, I am against those who have prophesied false dreams,” declares the LORD, “and related them and led My people astray by their falsehoods and reckless boasting; yet I did not send them or command them, nor do they furnish this people the slightest benefit,” declares the LORD.

Jeremiah was not alone in confronting those who claimed to receive prophecy from God.  Ezekiel, as well as a number of other OT prophets, also confronted those who claimed to be prophets:

Ezekiel 13:1-3
“The word of the Lord came to me saying, ‘Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel who prophesy, and say to those who prophesy from their own inspiration, ‘Listen to the word of the Lord!’ Thus says the Lord God, ‘Woe to the foolish prophets who are following theory own spirit and have seen nothing.”

Also, Ezekiel continues this exhortation against false claims of prophecy in  in 13:4-10

“O Israel, your prophets have been like foxes among ruins. 5“You have not gone up into the breaches, nor did you build the wall around the house of Israel to stand in the battle on the day of the LORD. 6“They see falsehood and lying divination who are saying, ‘The LORD declares,’ when the LORD has not sent them; yet they hope for the fulfillment of their word. 7“Did you not see a false vision and speak a lying divination when you said, ‘The LORD declares,’ but it is not I who have spoken?”’”

8Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD, “Because you have spoken falsehood and seen a lie, therefore behold, I am against you,” declares the Lord GOD. 9“So My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations. They will have no place in the council of My people, nor will they be written down in the register of the house of Israel, nor will they enter the land of Israel, that you may know that I am the Lord GOD