Jeremiah’s Call and Ours.

Jeremiah was born into a priestly family but was called to be a prophet. Whereas the former and kingship were hereditary offices, that of the prophet was not. Although their unique characters are formed by God and are reflected in their respective writings, the truth conveyed was also of God. Judah had been given more years of liberty than Israel because Josiah was used of God to restore the nation back to the law word of the covenant, which when they departed from it they went into captivity to Babylon. His ordination came before he was born, and therefore he was born with a godly purpose. Though relatively young when his preaching began, he would be called to preach to all levels of society, both within the covenanted people, and those outside. 

He was set apart for the work of preaching and writing only that which the LORD had given him. Concerning several nations and kingdoms, he would convey that God would take away both food and shelter, but also for a remnant he would build and plant – ie., shelter and food (1:1-10). We also cannot miss the fact that he called Jeremiah before he was born, so from his very conception he was formed by God in the womb (1:5). The LORD authors the salvation and ministry of all his people before we are born, and the remnant are those who proclaim and live out their calling in the whole of life, before one and all. Before there is true reform, that which is in the way must be uprooted and torn down. It to is part of the word that first must be preached.

Psalm 139:2-4

“You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.” Others may forget us, but the LORD’s knowledge of us is a moment by moment affair. Whether at rest or in motion we are in a constant state of being known. Job asked the rhetorical question – “Does not he see my ways and number all my steps?” (31:4) Jesus has the very same knowledge (Jn. 2:23-5). It is why he told Nicodemus that he must be born again (Jn. 3).

However, It is more than just a recognition of our sinful condition and need of regeneration. It also speaks to his daily involvement in our lives. Our path, our lying down, and all our ways matter to him. We are familiar to him, and he also knows our end. He has a discerning eye on us, and a discerning mind. The one who gave humans the gift of speech knows our words before we speak them. Thoughts, ways, rest and leisure – we are thoroughly known.

Psalm 139:1 

Psalm 139 is a study of God’s all-knowing presence. “O LORD, you have searched me and known me.” (v.1) I am thankful that the ESV has preserved the practice of using all capitals when the scriptures refer to the LORD of the covenant (Dt. 7:6-11). Nowhere in the psalm does David use the common word for God – Elohim. The name also means “I AM that I AM” the eternal one, the one who spoke to Moses from the burning bush. In this name we therefore have both his immanence and his transcendence. The name was used in Genesis, but as Young pointed out, not with the significance it received with the gradual unfolding of the canonical revelation of his redemptive work and judgement in history – see Exodus 3 and 6.

O. Palmer Robertson is still, in my mind, the one who best described the covenant as “a bond in blood sovereignly administered.” (See ‘The Christ of the Covenants’). Young also got to the core of the one covenant of grace. “The essence of the covenant which He made with them was that they were to be God’s people and in turn He would be their God.” (‘Psalm 139’, 12) It is also the name that emphasizes the corporate nature of the LORD’s congregation or church throughout the ages. It was a fuller revelation which came to them in the midst of their bondage, which is a big part as to why the church today misses these deep truths – we have forgotten the bondage that we have been delivered from.

When we confess that the LORD is our LORD we unite with this history as our own. To address God as LORD is a gift, a privilege of grace. Only those who are in a covenant relationship with the LORD can expect to have their prayers heard in mercy and grace. We seem to think that God needs and invitation to conduct this examination, so like Adam and Eve we will just hide and maybe he will go away. It is a fearful thing if he should go away. David confesses a reality that he comes to by grace. Being in the past tense, it is not a stretch to see these words as a confession of repentance – he couldn’t run or walk away from his past like his forbearers also tried to do.

We should be thankful that the LORD conducts this deep search, even of things we hoped to forget, because only such a full knowledge of who we really are, and all we have done, can offer us that shalom or peace that surpasses all understanding. We can forgive ourselves even of those things forgotten, because we have the word of our covenant LORD that as far as the east is from the west, so far are our sins from us (Ps. 103:12). There is only one way to truly know God, and that is to be known by him (I Jn. 4:10). Many religions purport to search for the divine, but there is only one that knows that he must search out us, that to know him is first to be known by him – fully.

Jesus, Judas and the Passover/Lord’s Supper.

Most Christians are aware that the name Jesus means Joshua because he will save his people from their sins (Mt. 1:21). More properly the Christ, Messiah, or Anointed one than a ‘last’ name. Judas is the Greek of the Hebrew Judah – meaning praise, yes, but more (see I imagine a conductor at a theatre, and God is the puppet-Master (Mt. 26:24; Mk. 14:21; Lk. 22:22; Cf. Lk. 17:1-2; I Cor. 15:3), but that is a subject requiring further explanation elsewhere.

“According to the scriptures,” is what we are after – yes (I Cor. 15:4)? Peter adds his part (Acts 2:14-39). Cain, of Judas’s clan, was a man who acquired a wealthy city (Cain-Enoch cf. Gen. 4:16-17), Esau, of his clan would carry on this kind of city building, while his brother was a real heel-raising deceiver (Gen. 25:19-28), and they would be spoken of later (Rom 9-11). Iscariot means ‘man of Kerioth’, which in turn means city. Thus we have at least a double witness –

This brings us to the Passover/Lord’s supper, and why the two are treated as a type of synonyms. Many fail to respect the context of the so-called ‘LORD’s Supper’, because they don’t read the bible the way God asks us to read it. Jesus made clear, in no uncertain terms, that he was celebrating the Passover in the well-known passages (Mt. 26:17-30; Mk. 14:12-26; Lk. 22:7-23; I Cor. 5:6-8, 11: 17-34 cf. Ex. 12:1-27). The ‘this’ of “do this” is in the context of the Passover, and here Jesus gives a defence of covenantal continuity.

The Passover was not ‘abrogated’, rather it was ‘fulfilled’ (cf. Mt. 5:17-20). Therefore, did Jesus partake of the feast of unleavened bread, the Passover/LORD’s Supper? – yes, for the last time on earth – “I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.” (Mt. 26: 18) “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat.” (Lk. 22: 8). ‘The Teacher says, “Where is the guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?”’ (Mk. 14:14) Can you claim to follow only what God commands in worship, and ignore this one?

What about Judas? Again, look to the context. It was necessary that he be there, and drink and eat, for his betrayal would be a covenantal betrayal (Mt. 26:1-16; Mk. 14:11-11; Lk. 22:1-6). “He who dipped his hand with Me in the dish will betray Me” (Mt. 26:23 cf. Mk. 14:20 cf. Ps. 41:9). “Behold, the hand of the betrayer is with Me on the table,” (Lk. 22:21), it was predestined of him (22). He was born to it (Mt. 26:24). “Then Judas, who was betraying Him, answered and said, ‘Rabbi, is it I?’ He said to him, ‘You have said it.’” (25)

The above doesn’t mean it shouldn’t ‘trouble’us. It troubled Jesus (Jn.13:21). Reprobation is ‘stake and potatoes’, fit only for those experienced in handling the word. It troubles me. However, my criteria for biblical exegesis has never been how I feel, or how disturbed I may be within. With Paul, and Calvin, I approach the above topic and now conclude with the former’s words, given to him by the Spirit – “I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart.” (Rom. 9:2) It is what follows that I still struggle with immensely (3).

John Calvin On Prayer


John Calvin (1509-1564) is mostly known for his theology, or for those who hate his theology, there is often an overemphasis on the execution of Servetus, as though Calvin should be the only fallen man who must be perfect. It is too often a cheap hypocritical excuse to not deal with the truth of Calvin’s doctrine. It is on such matters where one sees the importance of taking an historical perspective. When one does so, it is remarkable that this is the only glaring example of inconsistency. No one knew more than Calvin that he was far from perfect, an attitude which he brought to the activity of prayer. Calvin’s doctrine of total depravity stemmed as much from his own self-examination, as from what he observed, but most importantly how he understood the teaching of scripture. It has also been the goal of this writer to see Calvin’s teaching on prayer in the historical context of his time, reflecting on his agreements and disagreements with those who came before him, and as a polemic against the supposed errors of Rome.

Historical Context

There are many who want to look upon prayer and the devotional disciplines in the same way they view religion from an historical perspective, namely to come up with a generic understanding of prayer that will reflect the activity of humans generally. This is not something that Calvin would espouse. Calvin often referred to mystics, philosophers, and theologians who came before him, whether in agreement with some point but more often as a polemic against. Prayer and devotion was in fact a common point of philosophical discussion. Calvin’s first written work was a commentary on the stoic Seneca, who was not alone in criticizing prayer as the “babble that God’s providence, standing guard over all things is vainly importuned with entreaties.” (Inst. XX. 3. 853)

On the other hand, he often concurred with the church fathers, most notably Augustine, that prayer was simple conversation, albeit with reverence for the majesty of God Almighty, but also our Father. Jesus’ example of prayer begins by addressing God as Father (Mt. 6 Lk. 12), because in union with Christ we enjoy a familial relationship. It is also why Christ drew a comparison to the mercy and goodness exercised by earthy fathers, and how much more so with the perfection of the Father (Ibid., 853 ft. 6) Contrary to Seneca, and some calling themselves ‘Christian’, Calvin believed that without the doctrine of sovereign providence prayer was futile. It was more biblical and logical to posit that God predestines the means of prayer as well as the end of fulfillment, than to argue that prayer is profitable if God is not able to fulfill our requests. Though this is not the only reason to pray, it is a part of it, and what the Lord commands us to do, with confidence and thanksgiving.

The Institutes

In his Institutes, Calvin’s chapter on prayer is in fact the longest, eventually leading to a thorough exposition of the Lord’s Prayer. The first thing that Calvin emphasizes is the need for biblical saving faith (Ibid., 850-851). He then listed six reasons why prayer is not superfluous, and which act as prerequisites to biblical prayer. Firstly, we need a holy zeal to seek him with our love and service. Secondly, that anything unholy or distracting must be removed. Thirdly, that we come with an attitude of gratitude. Fourthly, that we approach the Father with confidence because we seek only that which is conducive to his will, as we find it in his word. Fifthly, that we delight in the answers given. Finally, that we give thanks that he has chosen in this way to fulfill his promises to his people (852).

Calvin then posits four rules, or what Wendel rightly calls an ‘attitude’ expressed with four conditions for its propriety. Echoing the second prerequisite above, we must be vigilant to have our minds disengaged “from all carnal solicitudes and cogitations” (Ibid., III.20.5, Wendel, 254). Wendel suggests that since there may be a danger of one viewing Calvin’s four rules in a purely human fashion, Calvin was mindful to turn to the necessary inspiration of the Spirit (Ibid., Inst. III.XX.855). Secondly, that “we must pray at all times” (Ibid., Wendel 254). “’The longing to see the coming of the Kingdom of God and his name glorified’ are all reasons sufficient to justify continual prayers.” (Wendel, 255) It is a mistake to only pray when one is in the mood. (Ibid., 857 Cf. Pss. 32:6; 94:19)

“Thirdly, “’that all those who present themselves before God in prayer divest themselves of all fantasies about their own glory.” (Ibid.) Calvin also wrote of humbly seeking penance (Ibid., 859) Again, it is important to see this word in its historical context. As Luther and others also pointed out, penance, like faith, is not a work that we are then rewarded for exercising, but rather Calvin is quick to guard the biblical doctrine of repentance, so that all is of grace, with no merit if our own. Thus, seeking forgiveness is the most important part (Ibid., 860), with no pleading based on our own merit (861) Finally, trust in the fulfillment of the LORD’s promises is needed. “To ask him for what we do not expect that he will wish or be able to give us is to provoke God to anger. 

Another important emphasis in Calvin concerning prayer is his doctrine of the covenant. “As the covenant begins with a solemn article containing the promise of grace, faith and prayer are required above all things, to the proper keeping of it.” (Lillback, 267). Lillback observed that Calvin saw the covenant motif in the Lord’s Prayer. The two members of Jeremiah 31 are contained in the Prayer, with two graces in the final two petitions. In the plea for forgiveness (Mt. 6:12), we find the two members of the law in the heart, and mercy in forgiveness, coupled with the protection of the Spirit as our aid (Jer. 31:33). Remembering the covenant enables his people to enjoin and entreat the LORD with confidence. Only his covenantal people are able to appeal to the promises of the covenant, while apostates do so in vain (Ibid. 268 Cf. Inst.III.XX.7,14,25 at 631, 639, and 650-651).

Our prayer, then, as in Matthew 21:22, will have to take faith as its guide. For there is no prayer that is pleasing to God but that which proceeds from such an assumption of faith and is founded upon such a certitude of hope.” (Ibid., Inst. III.20.4-12) In addition to his emphasis on the Spirit of God, and a teaching in close association with the doctrine of the covenant, is Calvin’s emphasis upon our union with Christ. Furthermore, the context involved passing on an inheritance of faith to the next generation, so that the saints commonly refer back to their fathers with whom the LORD had covenanted with in the past, looking ahead to their time. 

These all find their fulfillment in Jesus the Christ. “Now, since we have the Lord Jesus, in whose hand the everlasting covenant of mercy is not only made but confirmed to us, then whose name should we rather put forward in our prayers.” (Ibid., 269) Again, it is important to note the historical context that Calvin is interacting with. Rome had posited the belief that we should appeal to Mary or the saints who are past, as though we needed their intermediary compassion to hold sway with the Lord. Calvin responded to this with the biblical teaching that the Lord bids us to come to him directly, that his mercy is offered to us in the same way as it was to the saints who are now in his presence.

One particular aspect of the covenant which Calvin wanted to emphasize, and one that emphasizes God’s grace, is the importance of the promises contained therein. “And we ought carefully to observe the word covenant, by which the Prophet points out the greatness and excellence of this promises; for the promises are more extensive, and may be regarded as the stones of the building, while the foundation of it is the covenant, which upholds the whole mass.” (Ibid., 269 Cf. Isa. 59:21, VIII, iv, 270; CO XXXVII, XV, 351-353) Furthermore, it is the promises of the covenant of grace that gives God’s people their assurance” (Ibid., 269-270), for the promises are ratified and confirmed in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20), and sealed with his blood (Ibid. 270).

Inseparable from the covenant relationship and prayer in Calvin, as with Paul, is the doctrine of our union with Christ, through the Holy Spirit. John’s record of the so called ‘high priestly prayer’ is grounded in this union. At the time this was a doctrine that had been buried every bit as much as justification by faith, but one that also figures prominently in Paul and other of the biblical writers. “Put in simple terms, the doctrine of union with Christ teaches that the Holy Spirit joins believers to Jesus by faith, and that by virtue of this spiritual bond we receive both Christ Himself and all his benefits.” (Ryken in Ed. Parson, 191)

Catechal Instruction

In addition to the Institutes, the subject of prayer, and the Lord’s Prayer in particular also figure prominently in Calvin’s Geneva Catechism. Prayer is the third part of what Calvin deemed essential for every believer, following upon faith in Christ and the obedience consonant with the law. Again, he seeks to reject the place given by Rome to deceased saints as intermediaries, although he affirmed that the assistance of living saints was most valuable (235-238). At #239 Calvin affirms what is called ‘The Regulative Principle of Worship’ which holds that we are only permitted to include in our worship that which is specifically commanded, unlike Luther who believed that anything was allowed that was not specifically forbidden. To this end he stated that words may not be necessary, but that prayer does require understanding and the heart.” (241) It is with sincerity of heart that we are to lay claim to his covenantal promises (241). 

Words alone are not enough (242). Our disposition must be one of humility concerning our poverty, fully acknowledging that the Lord alone is able to provide. (243-244) Indeed, in the Lord’s Prayer we are to pray daily for his forgiveness, and practice the same. Calvin saw six petitions, three focused on the Father, and three focused on our relationship with others, while all are of course to our benefit. There is no room to treat of the whole of Calvin’s teaching on the Lord’s Prayer, either in the Institutes or the Geneva Catechism, and much of it is not unique from a historically Reformed perspective. However, there are a couple of items that are unique to Calvin and those of us who follow with him in the apostolic  tradition. The question is asked, “What do you understand by the Kingdom of God.” (Cat. #268) 

He answered that “It consists chiefly in two things that governs the elect, by his Spirit, and he destroys the reprobate, who obstinately refuse to give up themselves in obedience to him that it may be manifest to all that there is nothing able to resist his power.” Despite the reality of the reprobate, Calvin taught that it is to be the primary focus of the LORD’s people to pray “that the Lord would daily increase the number of believers, that he would enrich them constantly with fresh gifts of his Spirit until they shall be perfected. Moreover, that he would render his truth more luminous, and his righteousness more manifest, by scattering the darkness of Satan, and abolishing all iniquity.” (270)

Furthermore, concerning his will he wrote “That all creatures may be in submission to him and so depend on his pleasure that nothing may be done but by his will.” (271) Calvin was determined to go as far as scripture would lead him and no farther, and this is why he so clearly taught a biblical postmillennial vision of the power of the word to effect God’s will on earth as it is in heaven, with the ministry of the Spirit. This must be a view of the extent of our work, and what it means to be a disciple of Jesus the Christ, not satisfied until the knowledge of the Lord covers the earth as the waters cover the sea (Ps. 57:5; Hab. 2:14).

It is also significant to note that Calvin rejected the idea that the gift of tongues or languages continued. He was emphatic that there was no place for supposed prayer in an unknown language that has no impact on the understanding. That is nothing else, then trifling with God. Therefore, such hypocrisy should be removed from Christians (Catechism, #247). Singularity of heart means praying with confidence, if we are asking according to his will (Ibid., 248-249)We are to pray for the fulfillment of his promises acknowledging the reality that he is our all- sufficient Father, and that we pray in Jesus name alone (250-252). For Calvin, prayer must be lawful, that is, praying according to God’s will for us in his word, and this then leading to his treatment of the Lord’s Prayer (253-256). 

There is another emphasis in Calvin which in part was due to the hegemony of Rome and its teaching. Calvin taught that the whole church needs forgiveness, that none merit salvation, nor is there a purgatory that saints gone by can somehow aid those who follow in spending some of their merit for reduced time there (281). On the other hand, Calvin did see a place for living helpers in the church to aid us in our growth, including assisting us in the matter of prayer. The overarching point in the Lord’s prayer, and indeed in all prayer, is that it be in accord with God’s will as we find it in his word.

Other Writings

In his ‘Truth For All Time’ Calvin wrote what he had originally intended for the Institutes, namely “a brief outline of the Christian faith,” to be followed by his catechism. However, since the Institutes became what it is today, this little booklet took its place. In his teaching on prayer, in this introduction, he stressed firstly, the necessity of prayer (49-50). Secondly the meaning of prayer, which he gave with two points from scripture – “invocation (or request) and thanksgiving.” (51 Cf. Ps. 50:15), laying his greatest emphasis on the Lord’s Prayer (52-59). Finally, he stressed the need to persevere in prayer. The main point to draw on is that prayer be according to God’s word, and accepting of his sovereign providential will. “We let ourselves be governed by the good pleasure of divine providence. In fact, even if we have to go without everything, God will never abandon us.” (60-61)

Calvin’s Prayers Surrounding His Scriptural Exposition

Before moving on to Calvin’s treatment of the Lord’s Prayer, it is helpful to look at his prayers associated with his preaching of the word. The following was his common prayer which he uttered before his expositions. “May the Lord grant that we may engage in contemplating the mysteries of his heavenly wisdom with really increasing devotion, to his glory and to our edification.” (Edwards, 9) One can see four parts to this prayer, which very much reflect Calvin’s overall theology.

Firstly, Calvin’s favourite introductory word was ‘grant’, no doubt because he firmly believed that we only have what we have because the Lord grants it. Secondly, the goal was to have a greater understanding of the mysteries which the Lord may choose to reveal. Furthermore, Calvin understood that the goal was more than intellectual apprehension, for he prayed thirdly, that such knowledge must lead one to greater devotion. Finally, the primary motive was God’s glory and our accompanying edification. Calvin knew that for some the word would condemn them on the day of reckoning, but his goal was the former.

It is also important to note that Calvin had more specific criteria for his praying after his exposition, for he sought to pray for the application and fulfillment by the Lord’s people, of the truths just expounded. In no way ought the concluding prayer be of a common or generic nature. Since the Lord deemed it necessary to give us the whole of the biblical canon, each passage must therefore have something unique to say, or important enough to repeat. 

In Conclusion

Piper and Mathis note well the core of Calvin’s perspective on prayer. “Calvin believed that the Scriptures, especially the Psalms, teach us to combine prayer with our meditations on the promises and providences of God. Calvin therefore linked the doctrine of providence to prayer, stating that prayer was the way to keep trusting in God even in the most bitter afflictions-be it physical or spiritual.” (46) It may be fitting to conclude this brief study with a prayer of Calvin’s, which he wrote in concluding his treatment of the imprecatory Psalm 10:11-18, for he firmly believed that these Psalms were every bit as consistent with the new covenant as are all the rest, as calling for judgment not on personal enemies per se, but God’s enemies as pointed out in his word. 

“It should always be observed, that the use of praying is, that God may be the witness of all our afflictions; not that they would otherwise be hidden from him, but when we pour our hearts before him, our cares are hereby greatly lightened, and our confidence of obtaining our requests increases. Since it is the peculiar province of God to take cognisance of all wrongs, David says that it is impossible for God to shut his eyes when the ungodly are wrecklessly and without restraint committing their outrages.” (Heart Aflame, 22) Amen, so be it!

Works Consulted.

Calvin, John. Institutes, Vol. 1 Ed. McNeil Trans. Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, MCMLX)

___________Geneva Catechism, Ed. Joshua Torrey (Bolton: [Grace For Sinners Books] 2017).

___________Heart Aflame (Philipsburg, N.J.: P & R, 1999).

___________Truth For All Time, (Edinburgh: Banner Of Truth, Trans. Stuart Olyott 2020 [1998]).

Lillback, Peter A. The Binding of God (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001).

McKim, Donald K. Everyday Prayer with John Calvin (Philipsburg, N.J.: P & R, 2019).

Parsons, Burk Ed. John Calvin, A Heart For Doctrine & Devotion, (Lake Mary, FL.: Reformation Trust, 2008).

Piper, John, Mathis, David. With Calvin in the Theatre Of God, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010).

Wendel, Francois. Calvin, Origin and Development of His Religious Thought. Trans. Philip Mairet (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997 [1950]).

Wileman, William. John Calvin: His Life, His Teaching, And His Influence, (Louisville: GLH Publishing, 2019 [1909]).

Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses 

“This unbridled preaching of indulgences makes it difficult even for learned men to rescue the reverence which is due the pope from slander or from the shrewd questions of the laity.” (81) This thesis helps sum up the content of the 95. Although the primary concern was the indulgences, they served to express a collection of beliefs and issues very important to Luther in the context of the beginning of his transformation. The larger context was Germans seeing their resources going to a foreign power while needs were great at home.

They were the subject of “unbridled preaching,” with the rash and grandiose claim of acquiring pardon thereby, with preachers acting like salesman. Luther condemned their actions as reflecting badly on the pope, about whom he also has some unpleasant things to say. The situation was a challenge to learned men seeking to address the concerns of the laity. These preachers were guilty of planting tares among wheat, with the doctrine of purgatory (11), which Luther argues was only created to justify the indulgences, which were preached as delivering souls from it (27-28).

They were contrary to both reason and the scriptures. By “full remission of all penalties the pope means not actually “of all” but only of those imposed by himself.” (20 cf. 25) The pope alone had power over it, even though, contrary to what was claimed by Rome, he did not possess the keys (25-26; 75-76). This is an astounding statement, sometimes missed by those who focus strictly and only upon the sale of the indulgences. At other times Luther seems more favourable still to the pope. Comments like that found at 38, 47-50, 61, 71 and elsewhere, show us Luther’s transition.

Behind all this there is Luther’s desire to answer the question as to how a soul is saved from perdition (32). True salvation was through repentance and not penance or indulgences (36-37). Giving to the poor and needy trumps the buying of pardons (43-45). He could not be clearer than he was at 52 – “the assurance of salvation by letters of pardon is vain.” The preachers were spending more time preaching, that is, selling the pardons, than in teaching the people the word of God (54). “The true treasure of the Church is the Most Holy Gospel of the glory and grace of God.” (62 cf. 68)

There was equal condemnation of the preachers of the indulgences (79-80), and the pope (82), all desirous of building a magnificent cathedral, with some payment for their services, a monument to the pride of the Papal See (83). These were false prophets (92), saying “Cross, cross” when there was no cross (93). It was the preaching of the cross that was Luther’s real burning desire, and so it should have been for the pope and his preachers. The indulgences were as nets, drawing people to purgatory, while the Gospel of “the grace of God and the piety of the cross,” (64-68) was a proclamation of remission.

Augustine on Free Will and God’s Foreknowledge.


The issue is expressed by Evodius in his discussion with Augustine in On Free Choice of the Will, with the question – “Isn’t God the cause of evil?” (Cahn 374) Immediately Augustine drawsa distinction between one who commits evil, and one who suffers evil. The former is moral evil or sin, whereas the latter is what one suffers. There could be any number of reasons for the latter, but these all come back to the primary former problem of moral evil. Augustine first highlights the basic presuppositions brought to the question, and based on these he argues that free will can be compatible with God’s foreknowledge, provided one is clear about the meaning of the terms used, and that revelation takes precedence over reason alone.

Basic Presuppositions.

There are certain basic presuppositions which Augustine posits, leading into these questions, which set the table for his replies. The first one to note, which is part of what is his epistemology, is found at Isaiah 7:9, namely that, “Unless you believe, you will not understand.” (375, 379) One must begin with a belief in revelation, that there are certain mysteries that only God knows, but nevertheless, he reveals to humanity what we need to know, that one might live for him (See Dt. 29:29). It is also important to note that Augustine equated belief with faith, that the latter is in no way contrary to reason or rational understanding and explanation. Therefore, he welcomed the questions, since he himself had been struggling with the problem of evil for many years.

Other biblical presuppositions are the goodness of God, and that he created all things, including humanity, as good. He rejected the Manichean belief in two equal powers – good and evil, which flatly contradicts the biblical revelation. “If you know or believe that God is good – and it is not right to believe otherwise – then he does no evil.” (374) Furthermore, “if we acknowledge that God is just – and it is impious to deny it – then he rewards the good and punishes the wicked.” (374). The second definition of evil above, as what some suffer, at least provides some explanation for some of this “suffering”, since it may be judgment on evil doers, or discipline for saints. Further, God is also sovereign. “We believe that this world is governed by divine providence.” (374) Finally, some suggest that the additional presupposition of God’s omniscience is in part an answer to the first question. Based upon these beliefs the problem arises as to how one might explain the presence of evil, moral evil or sin in particular.

The Cause Of Moral Evil Or Sin Expressed In Two Questions.

 “How is it that these two propositions are not contradictory and inconsistent: (1) God has foreknowledge of everything in the future; and (2) We sin by the will, not by necessity?” (382) Augustine believed that the cause of moral evil or sin, was with humanity in Adam as our representative, choosing to disobey the command not to eat from the one tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:15-17; 3:17-19). This decision must have been voluntary, otherwise the punishment that followed could not be justified. However, the question is then posed as to why God would create a being capable of choosing evil, “since if we had not received it, we would not have been able to sin.” (377) To this Augustine replied that because they/we were free to also choose the good, and that God rewards the choosing of the good, then there would be no free expression of a human’s love for God or others, if in fact they/we were compelled. Since free will is needed to choose the good, this is a “sufficient reason for God to give it.” (378) Therefore, God cannot be held culpable, since they/we were free to choose the good instead of the evil. However, the problem still remains as to how one can believe in God’s omniscience, and human will free.

Free Will and Foreknowledge.

The first question above seeks to get at the ultimate source of evil, and if humans have free will, how can God have foreknowledge of everything. Augustine answers by analogy to one person knowing what another person is going to do before they do it, which also does not make them the cause of such action, in this case, should it come to pass. That there is no doubt that God knows infallibly, does not make him anymore the ultimate cause either. “Thus, we believe both that God has foreknowledge of everything in the future and that nonetheless we will whatever we will.” (383) However, since we can only choose the good after regeneration, Augustine will proceed to show how grace is thus necessary for any, that even faith is a gift (Eph. 2:8-9). In regards to the first question then, God’s foreknowledge is no more the cause of sin, then another human knowing that someone will sin is the cause of that sin. “If you knew that someone was going to sin, he wouldn’t sin necessarily, would he? (384) “Sin is committed by the will, not coerced by God’s foreknowledge.” (384)

God’s Omnipotence. 

There is yet another proposition which comes into play, which Augustine tries to address in his other works, and that is how one reconciles free will and the problem of evil, given that God is also omnipotent. In other words, since God knows that sins will be committed, he either is helpless to do anything about it, or he is all-powerful, but unwilling. Since it is not possible for God to desire evil, and he is all-powerful, the problem would appear to go much deeper. One might take the example of predictive prophecy, the fulfilment of which was a sign of a true prophet. How is such a thing possible unless God predestines the fulfillment, especially when it is believed that God is ultimately behind the prediction? If someone replies we may be willing, but are not able, Augustine responds with what he considers the full definition of what the will is. “It could not be a will unless it were in our power.” (383) Given that God’s foreknowledge is infallible, and his power is greater than any human’s power, many do not see how these propositions can be compatible. Yet, as we have also seen, Augustine and others believe that they are compatible.


This is where Augustine’s doctrine of predestination comes into play. Some believe that the idea of free will absolves God of being the cause of evil, and that he only predestines what he foreknows. However, it is not hard to realize that this is putting the cart before the horse, so to speak. Paul wrote that God foreknows all things because he predestines all things. Predestination is inseparable from foreknowledge (Rom. 8:29-30). Paul argues that before Jacob and Esau were born, or had done any good or bad, he predestined whatever would come to pass. It is ludicrous to argue that his predestination was/is based on what he foreknew, since if humans were free in this sense then God would not foreknow. John makes the point that those who are born again, that is, regenerated, are “born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (1:13)


Some want to suggest that God’s atemporality, that is, that he is not bound by time, is somehow an answer to this problem. One may note Augustine’s treatment of God and time in his Confessions. However, this aspect of who God is misses the point set out in the scriptures, that God is sovereign, and that he condescends, as it where, to speak to us in the temporal context that he created, in order to show that he is sovereign. It means that God is able to use that which is evil, for his own good purposes. There is the famous story of Joseph who suffered under the evil behaviour of his brothers, and how his faith allowed him to take a different attitude toward them. “You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day.” (Gen. 50:20) Even the crucifixion of Jesus had the same dynamics at work. Speaking to his fellow Jews, Peter delivered the following verdict. “Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death.” (Acts 2:23) God could have stopped them, but instead he permitted them to follow their free choice. The foreknowledge was based upon his “determined purpose,” not vice versa. Without God’s grace, humans have free will, but it is only free to do evil, but even so, God is able to use such decisions and accompanying actions for his own sovereign purposes.


I, like Calvin, find substantial agreement with Augustine on the issue of God’s foreknowledge, and humanity’s free will. Frankly, it is a subject which cannot be comprehended properly without first accepting the biblical presuppositions concerning both God and humanity, and the radical nature of the fall. Before the fall, Adam had the freedom to do either good or evil, and we in him chose the evil of thinking that we could be equal with God. After the fall, humans without God’s grace of regeneration, are free only to choose evil. Nevertheless, God is able to permit evil for the sole reason of it accomplishing his sovereign purposes. Many certainly object to this understanding of things, but it does not mean that the argument is not a rational one, based on the premises chosen, the source of which is the revelation given.

Works Cited.

 Augustine, City of God (Garden City, N.Y. Image Books, 1958).

________, Confessions (Markham: Penguin Books, 1982).

Augustine, “On Free Choice of the Will” [Cahn, Steven M., ED. Classics Of Western Philosophy (Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett, 2012)]. 374-389

________, A Treatise On The Predestination Of The Saints. The First Book, 428 or 429.

Gonzalez, Justo L. The Story Of Christianity Vol. I (New York: Harper One, 2010).

Pang, Ann A. “Augustine on divine foreknowledge and human free will.” Revue des Etudes Augustiniennes, 40 (1994) 417-431.

Your Resume And Then Some.

Having a Christian mind in the workplace and one’s job or career is a challenge for many of us. One thing to consider is your resume or cv (curricular vitae). How honest should you be? Personally I am having to think about this as I find myself without a job and needing a new one. Do I tell prospective employers that I was terminated from my last employment because I was diagnosed with asthma? Or do I withhold that information and simply say I have taken a sabbatical to further my education? I have come to the conclusion that I need to do both, because both are true. Call it my puritan training on sins of commission and omission, but what is the value of hiding the reality and applying for a job that I will no longer be able to perform. I think it is better to see the possibilities. In my case it is seeing how my gifts in teaching can be combined with my vast experience and training as a power engineer to help train the next generation. So I am taking the opportunity to turn this time into a sabbatical where I upgrade my training to a 1st class, opening up even more possibilities than teaching, and also having current experience myself as to what it is like to be a student of power gen in  my generation. The fact is I self-studied for most of my PE upgrades, as most of us do.

So, you may not have anything identical with my experience, but what is wrong with telling a future employer, that perhaps you lost your job because of Covid-19, and you have taken this time off to expand your skill set so that you could have more to offer either your old employer, or for a new one? This might even mean choosing to take this opportunity to make that career change you have always dreamed about. Perhaps you have a skill that others need and want, that you could convey online, as many are doing, to enrich the lives and culture you live in. I have been through a lot of job experiences in life, and the ramifications in life that go along with this. I joke that you have not lived until you have been downsized, have no food in the fridge, and you have been evicted from your home. Believe me, this will humble you. I have also been blessed with great responsibility and a six figure salary, and with Paul have learned to be content with both. However, I must say, I would rather the latter, and share what I don’t need.

Some say that there are four things that will severely shake your world – loss of a loved one, loss of a job, loss of a home, or loss of your health. I have experienced all these, and sometimes more than one at once. We have to have a firm belief in the sovereignty of God’s providence, and his love for us his children. Next, we need to see this in the phrase that Paul used – “all things working together,” in other words, get a global view of what is happening to you, there is an inter-relationship of the all things “working together” and not just in isolation, that also speaks to us. Next, do an assessment of your gifts, or a re-assessment, and see if you are not perhaps being forced to expand your fruit bearing in areas you never thought of. Talk to friends and those whom you respect, and get their feedback, but not just one such person, get many, because some people can get you all wrong, including family, or pastors and others in authority, including your parents. Above all pray. The Lord is always praying for us, so you are really just drawing by his side and asking him to help you understand what he has in mind for you.

The Historicity Of Noah And Abraham

1.  Introduction

This paper seeks to show from a literary and structural standpoint, that the author of Genesis, primarily Moses, sought to write history and theology in this work. It will do so by comparisons between the records of a flood in other ancient near eastern texts, in particular the Epic of Gilgamesh, with that of the period of Noah. It will also seek to show that Noah and Abraham best fit with the late third and early second millenniums BC, and that this can be seen in a comparative analysis with other ANE cultures. It will also be argued that there is a a structural and thematic argument for a unified gospel witness. Finally, it will be posited that there is a certain polemical nature to the writing which shows that the author was familiar with contemporary myths and beliefs.

 2.  Literary Genre And Structure.

Foundational to both the historicity of Noah and Abraham, and indeed to the book of Genesis as a whole, is its genre. Radical critics see the whole as myth, but generally speaking it is the material from Genesis one to the end of the account of Abraham that have received the most attention. This is true even in evangelical and neo-evangelical circles. However, there are any number of clues which show that the author intended to write history. The use of the key word toledot, translated as generations, account, or history speaks to this. Although from the second toledot on the focus is on genealogies, even these also are tied to narrative. The first toledot should in fact give us a broader definition for what the author intended, namely that it is concerned with more than genealogical succession, or with a simple account of this, but rather with a larger history, from the origin of history itself.1

Hamilton draws a parallel in the combination of genealogy with narrative. “The combination of lists (for genealogies) and narrative – such as one finds in Genesis 1-11 – is not unknown in the Mesopotamian world. A late Assyrian dynastic list appears to have followed up its list of antediluvian kings with a literary narrative of the Flood.”2 Sarna, on the other hand suggests that the prose of the flood narrative was originally an Israelite epic, for which he provides what can only be described as very flimsy ‘evidence’.3

Hoffmeier writes the following concerning the biblical flood narrative and the telodoth structure.

The story occupies the entirety of the third toledot in Genesis (6:9-9:28). My treatment above of the toledot formulae as a genre pertains here. That is why I concur with the translations “this is the history of Noah (Cassuto) or “this is the family history of Noah (Wenham), as capturing the essence of the material contained in this unit.4

He adds the following as to composition and structure.

Despite the classic position that the flood story is a literary composite, more recent treatment of the flood narrative has shown the coherence and unity of the story. Wenham’s seminal study has shown that the narrative is arranged palistrophically or chiastically, that is, a passage arranged in a verbal pattern that moves towards the turning point or apex (“God remembered Noah” – and then as the story moves towards resolution, key words and numbers appear in the same place in the second part of the narrative (8:2-19) as they did in the opening section (6:10-7:24).5

After noting Kitchen’s early work comparing the flood narrative with the Atrahasis, he notes the work of Kikiwada and Quinn who “embraced Wenham’s chiastic analysis of the flood narrative and further argued for structural unity of all Genesis 1-11.”6 The account of Abram/Abraham also holds together as a unity, it too is introduced by the genealogy of Terah (11:27-32), and as will be shown later, there is also a literary and structural unity between the so-called primeval history of 1-11, and the patriarchal (12-50).

Garrett notes the chiastic structure as developed by Rendsburg from 11:27 (A) to the genealogy of Nahor 22:20-40 (A’) with the covenant at the core with E and E’ with 15:1-16:16 and 17:1-18:15 respectively.7 Rensburg also “argues that the two sets of linking material (23:1-25:18 and 35:23-36:43) are arranged ‘along parallel lines.’8 Although Garrett himself has a problem with this structure, it is only one among many. Garrett proposes a different structure for the entire book, drawing a parallel to the Atrahasis. With his structure the ‘Genealogy’ of 11:27-32 is viewed as the ‘Transition’ between the ‘Primeval History’ of 1:1-11:26 to the ‘Threat’ of ‘The Abrahamic Cycle’ of 12:1-25:11. This ‘Threat’ and Transition’ format alternates until the final ‘Resolution’ of 46:28-50:26. Garrett’s structure has the added advantage of the historical parallel with Atrahasis, lending support to the time frame of the biblical account.9

3.  Comparative Literature of the Ancient Near East – Noah And The Flood.

3.1.  Introduction.

Much ink has been used in discussions over the historical validity of the flood, including its extent. However, it also serves as a hallmark of the same time period as is found in other ANE texts. As such it serves as the best test case for showing the historicity of its human hero – Noah. By its very nature, if one can demonstrate the parallels, and in the case of the common Epic of Gilgamesh in particular, it certainly would lend support, both in the parallels and the differences, with other stories of that period and before.

The following from Sarna shows how one’s basic presuppositions affects how one will interpret any given data. “The widespread popularity of flood stories, their prevalence among such a large variety of peoples living at different times as well as different places, argues against literary interdependence, a common source, or reference to a single historic event.” On the other hand, someone like the present writer, believes that what he has noted in fact gives evidence of a common historical event.

However, Sarna is convinced, based on no evidence at all, that “popular imagination has been at work magnifying local disastrous floods into catastrophes of universal proportions,” there commonalities are “explained as common human psychological and religious reactions to a given set of circumstances finding expression in a literary stereotype.” 1 What is remarkable here is that Sarna is actually regarded as one of the more conservative treatments of Genesis.

3.2  A Comparison Between Genesis 6-8 And The Gilgamesh Epic.

The following will note the similarities and differences between the Gilgamesh Epic, having the most parallels with the biblical account, and the differences, with the goal of showing how both actually lend support to the historicity of the biblical account, including of course Noah.

3.2.1 Similarities.

1. Sarna notes some basic generic commonalities between the Epic and the biblical account. “Religious man saw in these upheavals of nature the activity of the divine and attributed their cause to man’s angering of the gods. Most frequently, one man and his family, the favourite of the gods, survived the deluge to father a new human race.”11

2. Both are preceded by a divine warning.

3. Both have a command to build a water vessel.

4. Both have a hero who constructs the vessel.

5. Both include other people and animals.

6. The flood comes and subsides by divine initiative.

7. Both land on a mountain.

8. Both heroes send out birds to see if the waters have fully subsided.

9. These heroes offer a sacrifice after the flood.

10. Both receive a divine blessing.

3.2.2 Differences between the two.

1. The most obvious difference between the two is the monotheism of Genesis, and the   polytheism of the Epic.

2. The Genesis account is a word based revelation, whereas the epic is a dream.

3. In the biblical account the cause of the flood, and the need for blood substitutionary redemption, is human depravity. As noted by Hamilton, “right at the beginning there is a clear-cut motivation behind the Flood.”12 In the Atrahasis Epic, believed to be behind the Gilgamesh, it is the noise of the humans that motivates the gods, because they had trouble sleeping.

4. The biblical account, as a counter polemic, views as part of this covenant relationship, the reiteration of the command to be fruitful and multiply (1:28; 9:1, 7).13

5. Another obvious difference between the two is that, in part, the LORD establishes the covenant with Noah and his family alone among humans (6:18). The focus, as always, is on salvation history.14

6. Included with the covenantal motif is the inclusion of seven pairs of clean animals (7:2-3, 8) so we are informed of the kind of redemption that the LORD God has in view, this comes to expression with the sacrifice offered upon their departure for atonement of sin. By contrast, in the Epic, the hero has to offer up a sacrifice for the gods because they are getting hungry, so again we see a scoffing polemic here.

7. If there is the obvious sameness in the building of a vessel, the dissimilarity is in its dimensions. The measurements given to Noah are of an ideally navigable vessel, whereas the Epic’s cube would surely sink. This would tend to reinforce the idea that the Noahic account is real history, whereas the Epic is only myth. Also, the former had three decks, but the latter had seven, lending to the idea of the latter tipping over and sinking.15

8. Another obvious difference is that in the case of Noah there is no mention of helpers in the build, whereas with the Epic, there are helpers who also enter the ark. Yet, they do not build a navigable vessel, but it does focus on their skill and efforts, whereas Noah found grace (6:8).

9. Also, as is common throughout Genesis, the author includes in his genre historical pointers, as it were, which is missing in the myth of the Epic. The Epic is poetic myth, whereas the genre of Genesis is historical narrative.

10. Whereas Noah sent out a Raven first and then a dove, the Epic sends the raven last, after a sparrow and dove. It is more logical and realistic to leave the dove for last as the foul that would travel to the surface of the ground, as opposed to the raven’s mountain peaks, the latter also being more hardy. This again shows that the author of Genesis intended to write true history.16

11. The Genesis account has two sources of water, from above and below, whereas the Epic only has rain, and only for a week. Critics suggest that forty days and forty nights would not be enough, but it is surely more realistic than the Epic, one suspects on purpose.

12. The vessels land at two different locations, with the Ark on one of the mountains of Ararat, while in the Epic on Mt. Nisir.

13. “The Flood narrative abounds with illustrations by which the temporal structure of the plot is confirmed through the use of dates, which state when something happened or how long it lasted. See, for example, in succession 7:11; 8:4, 5, 13, 14.”17

14. Whereas the Epic portrays the flood as universal, the text of scripture depicts the flood as global.18

15. In the Epic the gods fear what has happened and swarm like flies over the offering because they were hungry. It shows how in the Epic the gods are made in man’s image, instead of the stark contrast of the Genesis account, echoing creation.

16. “In the Mesopotamian account, the gods gather around the sacrifice like flies because they are hungry; in the biblical account, Noah’s sacrifice assuages God’s heart with regard to sin.”19

17. “In the Mesopotamian parallels, the heroes shut the hatch themselves. Noah’s salvation is due to divine grace, seen in God closing the door for him.”20

3.2.3.  The Significance Of The Similarities Between Genesis 6-8 And The Epic.

The first thing to note with the above, concerns the date of the Epic, which it is posited as stemming from the 17th century BC in Mesopotamia while even the earliest date for the writing of the book of Genesis would place its composition around the mid- to late- 15th century BC. However, Hamilton notes, quoting from Lambert, with respect to the sending out of birds that there are no known copies of the 11th tablet of the Epic earlier than 750 BC. “So then, ‘the only surviving testimony to the most telling parallel [between the OT and Mesopotamian Flood myths] happens to be later than the biblical account.’”21

Thus, one either works with the date of the event, or the respective dates for the written records of each. If it is fair to posit that the historical event must have occurred in the latter part of the third millennium, then the various accounts may in fact bear witness to the historicity of a common event in that period, which could account for the other similarities. Secondly, however, it is the nature of the dissimilarities that really sticks out. As Currid and others point out, the writer of Genesis clearly also had a polemic objective against the extra-biblical epics, which has also been widely noted in the Genesis account of origins.22

3.3  Summary Of The Primeval Material.

“To sum up on the ‘primeval period, one may note that Abraham is said to come from Mesopotamia (Ur, Haran), an event that may be placed in the early second millennium BC. For 1000 years before, Western Semites are attested in Mesopotamia, especially in the last few centuries of this span. There is no reason to exclude them from the common experiences of life in Mesopotamia, or from the impact of Sumero-Akkadian culture in Mesopotamia (e.g, in methods of literary formulation of common traditions in sundry individual forms). Thus Abraham could be postulated as bringing the basis of Genesis 1-9 and 10-11 (primeval history; ancestry) westward as family tradition.”23

4.  The Historicity Of Abraham

1.  A Shared Genre.

Although it is a common practice to divide the book of Genesis between the primeval history of 1-11 from the patriarchal of 12-50, as we have already seen it is the toledot formula that in fact unites the entire book. This formula, it is argued here, lends credence to there being an overall unity to the book of a genre of historical narrative. This is counter to the evolutionary view of a Longman for example, even though he acknowledges the continuity. In fact, he also acknowledges the consistent use of the waw-consecutive verbal form, as well as a unified theology throughout.

The argument that all of Genesis is a theological history is rooted in the consistent use of the waw-consecutive verbal form, which is the Hebrew form used to narrate past action as well as the appearance of the toledot formula throughout the book. These two features appear to indicate that Genesis 1-11 and 12-50 share a similar genre.24

Nevertheless, he goes on to then dispute this evidence with the following. “That said, there is not only similarity in the intent to speak of the past but also a difference between Genesis 1-11 and 12-50 in how the author presents the past.”25 This writer would argue that there is much more than mere similarity in the structure and genre, it was rather a deliberate decision to convey that the whole is real history. The fact that Longman proceeds to argue his point not from the text but from the presuppositions of a certain scientific perspective betrays the flimsy nature of his hypothesis.26 He, and those evangelicals who follow suit, should take to heart Thomas Kuhn’s warning about scientific revolutions.

Charles Halton, in his Introduction to the three comparative views on Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither, points to the infamous case of Galileo, and he rightly also pointed out the importance of hermeneutics that respects the genre.27 There is no doubt that the very history of genre and structure analysis owes much to men like Gunkel, but as Halton notes, other scholars soon began to divert from some of his basic presuppositions.28 In the afore mentioned comparative study, none of the scholars question the academic credentials of the others, though they differ significantly on the genre, but Hoffmeier, who takes the genre as history and theology, as advocated in this paper, rightly notes that “the dominant scientific worldview has understandably influenced the way Christians read the bible in general and Genesis in particular.”29 He goes on to note the thematic literary connection between 1-11 and 12-52, in the process quoting from D. A. Clines work on the same, which he also develops through the rest of the Pentateuch.

This convenient packaging of Genesis 1-11, however, is an artificial division imposed on the text of Genesis. David Clines has made this point in his thematic overview of Genesis, observing, “There is at no point a break between primeval and patriarchal history.” (The Theme, 84) Indeed, we are actually introduced to Abraham in Genesis 11:27-32, learning of his parentage, his original home in Chaldean Ur, his wife Sarah’s barrenness, and about his migration with his father Terah and family to Canaan, which stalled in Haran. This lack of break between the primeval and patriarchal narratives is likely intentional. In his search for the “theme” of the Pentateuch,” Clines proposes that what unified these five books thematically is the promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3, in which God pledges the patriarchal land, posterity, and a relationship (blessing) with him.30

Waltke, and others, in fact followed this same thematic path in both books cited in this paper, and in his course on Genesis and Judges/Ruth.

It must be admitted by all, that in current studies on the historicity of the Patriarchs, that the scriptural narratives are our sole source. “No external, firsthand source of Moses’ time or earlier explicitly mentions Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, or the latter sons.”31 However, there are “date indicators” which enable us to separate reality from fantasy.32 The following will follow the biblical chronology, highlighting these date indicators, in an effort to show that the time of the events recorded during the time of Noah and Abraham in particular, can be most appropriately dated in the later third millennium to the early second millennium BC.

2.  Semi-Nomad Or Resident Alien.

Wiseman, points to the findings at Ebla to draw some parallels with the history, language, and culture of the Upper Euphrates in the latter half of the 3rd millennium BC. Contra Van Seters, he cites many examples of the semi-nomadic nature of the travels of Abraham in particular, from southern Mesopotamia to Syro-Palestine, and notes the common travels of semi-nomads and merchants in this same area and time frame but then oddly seems to reject the mention of tents as supporting this thesis.33 He even notes that semi-nomads would sometimes take over urban settlements in areas where they settled.34

There is even a possible Ebla reference to Abraham ‘the Hebrew’ (cf. Gen. 14:13, ha’ibri) c2300 BC.35 Nevertheless, from what appears to be theological reasons, he wants to see Abraham more as a “resident alien.” The respect shown him by the Pharaoh, and the pact with Abimelech for examples, would certainly seem to dispute his thesis, but either way, there are historical point markers to typical relationships in the period. It seems odd therefore that he rejects the sister example among the Hurrians, really without any support for this rejection.36

3.  Ur of the Chaldees, Egypt, And Long-distance Marriages.

Kitchen maintains that “Ur of the Chaldees” “is undoubtedly to be identified with the famous ancient city of Ur in south Babylonia (south Iraq).”37 Pastoral groups at this time identified with the closest city, in Abram’s case Haran. Official envoys and merchants also travelled the same routes in the early second millennium. After this time period the flow of traffic was more from north to south. The events of Genesis 12:10-20 were true to the customs at the time, the pharaohs being commonly partial to attractive foreign ladies, as texts for the Middle and New Kingdoms attest.38 Long-distance marriages, such as Abraham’s servant seeking a wife for Isaac, and later Isaac for Jacob, was also a common practice.39

4.  Wider Political Horizons.

The events recorded in Genesis 14 have stirred up great debate, but as Kitchen notes, there are several features that betray the cultural context. Firstly, there are the military alliances.

Such alliances of several kings one may find at all periods where written records are available for the region. However…this kind of alliance of eastern kings was only possible at certain periods. From circa 2000 to 1750 (1650 at the extreme), we have the one and only period during which extensive power alliances were common in Mesopotamia and with its neighbors.40

A second political horizon is the tradition of Mesopotamian kings intervening in Syria, “just as the eastern allies did in Gen. 14.41 Thirdly, “the text of Yakhdun-lim of Mari shows striking affinities overall with the basics of the narrative in Gen. 14.”42 Finally, there is the common practice of night time attacks.

5.  Treaties And Covenants.

It is one thing to think that editorial work was conducted on Genesis and the Pentateuch up to and including the exile, but it is quite another to suggest that it was not in circulation in some form during the time of the events recorded. There was a time when Deuteronomy in particular was treated this way, coming late for the source critics in their dating schemas. However, with the discovery of ancient near eastern treaty documents it quickly became apparent that the understanding of the biblical covenants and treaties, and the Mosaic in particular as the full blown form so to speak, began to emerge. One can think of Kline or Craigie in their treatments.

The same can be said, as we now can show, with the previous covenants as well. Writing in 2003 Kitchen noted that “work in the Mari and Tell Leilan has produced almost a dozen treaties, not yet fully published. In the four or five formal documents available so far, there is a consistent format.”43 It must be stressed that these parallels are with human to human, and not specifically with the LORD and his people, but they are cited here for historical reasons. The following is a comparison chart. See Kitchen’s chart.44

6.  Heirs, Adoption, And Proxy.

“In antiquity, if couples could not have children in the natural way, then substitutes had to be found. In the patriarchal narratives, more than one option was available: adoption of a non-relative or producing a child by another woman.”45 Of course we see this historical context first in Abraham complaining to God that the promise he had given of seed and inheritance would have to come through Eliezar. Then, when this was refuted, he and Sarah decided that they must follow the common practice of a proxy. Kitchen cites ANE cases for both.46

7.  ANE Religion, El, And Monotheism.

The simple forms of patriarchal worship do find parallels among pagan nomads of the ANE. Again, Kitchen cites examples from the beginning of the second millennium. There is even a parallel in name. We read of the LORD (Yahweh) saying at Exodus 6:3 “I appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as El Shaddai (‘God Almighty’) – and by my name YHWH did I not declare myself to them.” Of course we know that the name YHWH appears as early as Genesis 2:4, and rather than buying into a multiple source hypothesis we can see that this chapter elaborates on day six, and in particular the unique close relationship that YHWH has with his own.

However, it is worth noting the action of proclamation. Ross, commenting on Genesis 4:26 believes that here we see not praying as such, but also proclamation.47 So perhaps what we have, with the rise of the ungodly line, an evangelistic purpose, as it were, from the side of the godly. I am mindful of Dr. Waltke’s cautionary note concerning anyone doing a doctorate on the name El Shaddai, but for historical purposes it is enlightening. In any case, the point to be made here is one of historical parallel. “The form of the phrase El Shaddai fits the pattern of the divine names in the Ancient Near East, exactly as is the case with names like “‘El Olam”, “‘El Elyon” or “‘El Betel”.”48 Of course, we also have the occurrence of El Elyon with Abraham’s encounter with Melchizedek at Gen. 14:18-20. Likewise with monotheism, contrary to an evolutionary view of religion, of Israel and her contemporaries, we find monotheism as early as 1500 in the extra-biblical findings.49

8.  Common Customs In The Second Millennium.

Kitchen notes, in parallel with the biblical record, the locations of the Philistines and Canaanites in the second millennium, borne out by both extra-biblical texts and archeological finds, along with the activities of hunting, herding, and caravanning.50 There are many who note, contrary to the older critical view, that camels were also in fact domesticated at this time.51 Mathews built upon the work of Kitchen above, in what this writer regards as the best defence of the historicity of the biblical record for both Noah and Abraham of all the sources cited, in his monumental two volume commentary.

9.  A Unified Covenantal Gospel Witness Proclaimed.

After arguing for the various source materials as pointers to the history surrounding Abraham, claimed in the biblical text, Garrett advocates for what he calls a unified piece specific to Abraham himself, which he calls ‘The Gospel Of Abraham’.

When the toledoth source material, the ancestor epics, the tales, and other extraneous pieces of material are removed from the Abraham cycle, what remains is a structurally and thematically unified piece in four sections. The texts are Genesis 12:1-9; 15:1-21; 17:1-27; and 22:1-19. These four texts are arranged chiastically, with 12:1-9 (A) corresponding to 22:1-19 (A’) and 15:1-21 (b) corresponding to 17:1-27 (B’).52

He will go on to argue that the existence of this unified thread, by referring to Abraham in particular, and this in regard to the promises given in their covenantal context, belies the criticism that there is no real reference to the man in this period. In other words, he is “not simply a composite of material from other sources and narratives.” Furthermore, “if a unified narrative arises from what is left, then it may be assumed that the Abraham source has been discovered.53

It should be reiterated from above, that the very genre and structure of the covenant itself fits in perfectly with the early second millennium BC. After charting the four sections chiastically, he argues that “each of the four sections of the narrative leads into the next.”54 In other words, besides the toledoth structure unifying the entire book, we have a unifying structure of the specifically Abrahamic material artistically put together to show his contemporaneity with the other material lending support to the thesis that this is both historical narrative and theology, which is in harmony with the whole of the canon which sees an organic unity of development of both history and theology, in other words salvation history. “These four texts witness to a single source and that this source had a recognizable structure and message.”55

Garrett points out that he does not intend to draw a parallel to the Gospels of the NT, rather he sees a thematic unity in the Abrahamic material itself, which conveyed the gospel in that time period in a way they would understand. These elements are as follows.

  1. A Promise founded on the birth of a son.
  2. The miraculous birth of the son.
  3. A covenant sacrifice.
  4. A covenant memorial.
  5. Alienation of the covenant community.
  6. A promise of trials for the covenant community.
  7. An eschatological hope for the covenant community.
  8. The inexplicable death of the son.
  9. The resurrection of the son.
  10. Intention and setting.56

From this, the intention and setting of The Gospel of Abraham is clear. It is the evangel, the kerygma, in which Israel in Egypt placed its hopes. In this sense, it is very much a gospel. The covenant, the promises, and the sacred history together form a message of hope for a people awaiting deliverance. The very notion that a Genesis source could formally parallel a New Testament Gospel may seem prima facie absurd. What is implied here however, is not literary dependence but a theological statement of hope, a gospel, in the context of the canon of scripture.57

This writer contends that there is an even more simple gospel thread which runs through the whole of the canon, which begins with the earliest chapters of Genesis, and thus unites Adam with the second Adam, Noah, and Abraham, and beyond.

Waltke and others make the point that from the beginning of Genesis the fact that Elohim occurs in 1:1-2:4a, and Yahweh-Elohim in 2:4b-21 section speaks to his transcendence and then his immanence, and also hence the reason Yahweh occurs in the covenantal contexts. So we also have this occurrence before the events that follow 2:25. The fall is a mix, with Satan, who is obviously estranged from God, uses Elohim (3:1), whereas when it comes to the LORD God walking to meet the humans in the garden we have Yahweh-Elohim (3:8ff.), because again he draws near, in both transcendence and immanence. Then after the judgments we find Yahweh Elohim has shed the blood of an animal or animals, to clothe them that they might once again draw near to him (3:21).

Now, there are those who would say that the idea of a substitutionary blood sacrifice is out of place here, but these same people will also debate what made Abel’s sacrifice acceptable, and why Noah also had seven pairs of clean animals. I think I see something similar perhaps in seeing the author of Genesis, just for fun let’s say Moses, editorializing here, that is, writing with the sacrificial laws in view when he put together Genesis, and thus the earliest gospel witness. Then in the Cain and able story, once again we see Yahweh (note: not Yahweh Elohim) drawing near to Cain and Abel at the time of sacrificial worship, and it seems as though the LORD is extending a hand of forgiveness to Cain but he refuses.

Then with the birth of a new seed of the woman (3:15), we have this expression concerning the name ‘Yahweh’, which seems to contradict the previous occurrences of the name, and which itself seems to contradict Ex. 6:3. Dr. Allen P. Ross, a student of Dr. Waltke’s and professor of OT at Beeson, writes the following in his Creation And Blessing, in regard to Gen. 4:26. “The verb qara, “call” can be used for naming (cf. 4:17, 25), reading, proclaiming, summoning, and praying. Usage of this expression in the Pentateuch supports the idea of proclamation more than praying (cf. Gen. 12:8; Ex. 34:6; Lev. 1:1).”58

Might the author be indicating, in the case of 4:26, that with the parting of the godly and ungodly seeds, with the case of Cain, that this necessitated, on the part of the church at that time, to begin proclaiming the gospel promise of 3:15, that just as the LORD clothed their first parents, even so he would accept a like blood sacrifice, and thus they would be clothed with the LORD’s righteousness. If this seems too much for some, then you need to ask yourself, did Adam and Eve “get saved” or not, or in a different way than Abraham, and the rest of the saints of the OT?

For me, Ross poses an interesting proposition for how far we should go back when considering the background to the Great Commission, that it was in fact the mission later of Israel to take the gospel to the nations, that this is how we should understand the Abrahamic promise that he would be a blessing to the nations, the very same gospel that the writer to the Hebrews says they had (4:2). How else are we to explain the occurrence of the instructions to Noah to include seven pairs of clean animals? How also are we to explain the sacrifice of these animals, and thus the shedding of the blood for atonement, which foreshadows both the fuller law to come, and the once for all finished work of Christ?

Not only so, but what of the cutting of the covenant with Abraham, itself a re-establishment of the Noahic and Adamic where, as per ANE parallels, a curse is visualized with the divided bloody parts, but with the proclamation of the same grace found by Noah (6;8), as seen in the LORD alone passing between the parts. Surely we ought to let the scriptures speak of the blood, and this from the very beginning, even if modern ears so often do not want to hear.

10. Conclusion: A Consistent Polemic.

Hoffmeier refers to the polemical nature not only of Genesis, but the Pentateuch as a whole.

The Torah displays an aversion for myth, and as suggested above, combating the ancient Near Eastern mythologies is overtly and subtly at work in the book of Genesis. Because of this tendency to be anti-myth (that is – accepting the polytheistic assumptions of ancient Near Eastern mythology), could it be that in Genesis 6 we have an ancient (as the term meolam – “of old” suggests) and authentic story, that in the course of time had been mythologized and part of the shared memory of the ancient Near East, but was demythologized for the Israelite audience when recorded?52

Incidentally, he is referring in particular to the story about the sons of God and the daughters of men, and is one reason why I agree with Calvin that what we have here is the men of the covenant having relations with the ungodly seed, explaining also why only Noah, the remnant of the line of promise, is the only one to survive with his family.

On the polemical nature of the flood account Hoffmeier added the following.

It is my contention that the similarities in plot sequence between these two traditions is not the result of direct borrowing, as some maintain (and most recently argued by Finkel), but that both stories independently reflect a memory of one and the same event. I also believe that the text of Genesis could well have been written in such a way as to maximally challenge the prevailing Mesopotamian view of things. Kikiwada and Quinn are on point to propose that “Genesis 1-11 is written in opposition to a Mesopotamian view of things.53

When all is said and done, it remains the case that the conclusion one comes to regarding the historicity of Noah and Abraham, and Adam and the other patriarchs for that matter, rests largely with one’s beginning presuppositions. However, it is the contention of this writer that as far as the evidence from extra-biblical sources goes, the bible is innocent till proven guilty, and there is nothing which can be marshalled to contradict the bible’s own claim to historicity.

End Notes.

1. Kitchen (1971, 2).

2. Ibid., (5).

3. (48)

4. (49)

5. Ibid., (49-50)

6. (51)

7. (114) “Rensburg especially cites verbal parallels between various texts to establish correspondence between them,” for the entire book. (113)

8. (119)

9. (121)

10. (38)

11.(38) Sarna also made a categorical statement of the absence of any scientific evidence of a universal flood, which even in the 70s was hardly conclusive.

12. Genesis, (273).

13. Ibid., (145).

14. Waltke, An Old Testament Theology, (291).

15. Hamilton has seven, six plus the ground floor. Genesis, (282).

16. Waltke, Genesis, (141).

17. Ibid., (139).

18. Walton, (Dict.). Walton believes that the biblical account is also only universal and not global. His motivation is clear. We must maintain academic respectability with empiricists and their naturalism. “It is a weak interpretation that has to invent all sorts of miracles that the text says nothing about.” (321) The text is not only “non-scientific” it is also “pre-scientific.” He is correct about one thing – it is a clash of worldviews – the biblical against the myth of the ANE, and the anti-supernaturalism of secular humanism. In response to Genesis 8:3-5 in particular, Walton makes the following astonishing statement. “Revelation had not altered the Israelite view of the cosmos geography from the typical ancient Near Eastern view.” (322) Again, his primary motive for how he views and interprets the text is clear. “One of the advantages of seeking out views such as this is that they allow us to affirm the truth of the text without getting all tied up in complicated logistical and scientific discussions.” (322)

19. Waltke, OT Theology, (291).

20. Waltke, Genesis, (139).

21. (304) Cf. W. G. Lambert, “A New Look at the Babylonian Background of Genesis,” JTS 16 (1965) 291-92.

22. Against.

23. Kitchen “Context” (6).

24. Genesis, (7).

25. Ibid., (7)

26. Ibid., (7ff.). [Cf. Young]

27. (13-17).

28. Ibid., (17-19).

29. Ibid., (23).

30. Ibid., (24-25).

31. Kitchen, Reliability, (313).

32. Ibid., (315).

33. Wiseman, BibS 134 (125-127).

34. Ibid., (127-128).

35. Ibid., (128-129).

36. Reliability, (316). At the outset it must be noted that the time of the events and the time of writing and later editorial work are obviously not identical. It is not the purpose of this paper to argue for substantial Mosaic authorship, but this is assumed. “’Chaldees’ is a qualification of later date than the pre-Mosaic period; it may have been added between 1000 and 500, precisely to distinguish the patriarchal Ur from possible northern counterparts.”

37. Kitchen adds, “Kupper remarked, ‘It is this constant flux and reflux of people on the move that one may fittingly situate the migration of Abraham, going back up from Ur to Harran, his true homeland.’” (317)

38. Ibid., (319).

39. Ibid., (318).

40. Ibid., (319-320). “What is more, it is only in this particular period (2000-1700) that the eastern realm of Elam intervened extensively in the politics of Mesopotamia – with its armies – and sent its envoys far west into Syria to Qatna. Never again did Elam follow such wide-reaching policies. So, in terms of geopolitics, the eastern alliance in Gen. 14 must be treated seriously as an archaic memory preserved in the existing book of Genesis. Moreover, envoys from Mari went regularly to Hazor in Canaan.” (321)

41. Ibid., (321).

42. Ibid., (321) “Without doubt Yahdun-lim’s firsthand inscription is much more florid a!nd far more “theologically oriented than the essentially plain, almost laconic Gen. 14 report. So, on the usual antireligious criteria against the historicity of theological coloring that biblicists commonly adopt, Gen. 14 should by rights constitute a far more definitely factual and reliable report than Yakhdun-lim’s. Which, of course, runs counter to common prejudice against the historicity of Gen. 14. But that narrative deserves a fairer hearing.”

43. Ibid., (322).

44. Ibid., (324).

45. Ibid., (325).

46. Ibid., (325-328).

47. Creation And Blessing, (169).


49. Kitchen, Reliability, (331-338).

50. Ibid., (336-338).

51. Ibid., (338-339).

52. (158)

53. (157)

54. (159)

55. (161)

56. (163-7)

57. (167)

58. (169)

59. (40-41)

60. (52)

Works Cited.

Adebayo, Faith O. “An Examination of Scriptural and Archeological Evidences for the Historicity of Biblical Patriarchs.” Asian Journal of Humanities and Social Studies Vol. 03 – Issue 05, October 2015 361-366.

Alexander, T. Desmond; Baker, David W., Eds. Dictionary Of The Old Testament Pentateuch (Downers Grove: IVP, 2003).

Anderson, Joel Edmund. Understanding Genesis 6-8: The Story Of Noah’s Flood. (Oct., 23, 2018)

_________, The Genre, Historical Context, and Purpose of Genesis 1-11 (Aug., 3, 2017)

Archer, G. “Old Testament History and Recent Archaeology – From Abraham To Moses, “ Bsac 127 (1970) 3-25.

Benjamin, Don C., Matthews, Victor H. Old Testament Parralles (New York: Paulist, 1991).

Clines, David J. A. The Theme Of The Pentateuch (Sheffield: The University Of Sheffield, 1978).

Currid, John D. Against The Gods (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013).

_______, Genesis Volume 1 (Pistyll: EP Books, 2015).

Filby, F. A. The Flood Reconsidered (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1970).

Garrett, Duane A. Rethinking Genesis (Fern, Ross-shire: Mentor, 2000).

Hallo, W. H. “Antediluvian Cities,” JCS 23 (1970-71)) 57-67.

Hamilton, Victor P. The Book Of Genesis: Chapters 1-17 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990).

_________, Handbook On The Pentateuch (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005)

Hoffmeier, James K.; Wenham, Gordon J., Sparks; Kenton L. Genesis: History, Fiction, Or Neither? Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015).

Jackson, Wayne. Abraham – “A Case of Old Testament Accuracy.” Christian Courier

Kikawada, I. and A. Quinn. Before Abraham Was: The Unity of Genesis 1-11 (Nashville: Abingdon, 1985).

Kitchen, K. A. On The Reliability Of The Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003).

_______, Ancient Orient And Old Testament (Illinois: IVP, 1966).

_______, The Bible In Its World (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 1977).

_______, “The Old Testament in its Context” TSF Bulletin 59 (1971) 2-10.

Leithart, Peter J. “The Abraham Myth” First Things

Longman III, Tremper. The Story of God Bible Commentary Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016).

Lorey, F. 1997 The Flood of Noah and the Flood of Gilgamesh. Acts and facts. 26 (3)

Millard, A. R, and D. J. Wiseman, (eds) Essays on the Pentateuchal Narratives (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbraums, 1983).

Mathews, Kenneth A. The New American Commentary Genesis 1-11:26 Vol. 1A (Nashville: B&H, 1996).

_________, The New American Commentary Genesis 11:27-50:26 Vol. 1B (Nashville: B&H, 2005).

Ross, Allen P. Creation And Blessing (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998).

Sarfari, Jonathan. Noah’s Flood and the Gilgamesh Epic.

Sarna, Nahum M. Understanding Genesis (New York: Schocken, 1970).

Van Pelt, Miles V. (Ed.) A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the Old Testament (Illinois: Crossway, 2016).

Waltke, Bruce K. Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001).

_______, An Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007)

Wenham, Gordon J. Genesis 1-15 Word Biblical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987).

________, Exploring The Old Testament: A Guide To The Pentateuch (Downers Grove: IVP, 2003).

Wikipedia “Gilgamesh Flood Myth”

Wiseman, Donald J. “Abraham in History and Tradition Part I” Bibliotheca Sacra (April-June 1977) 123-30

_________, “Abraham in History and Tradition Parts” Bibliotheca Sacra 135 (July-Sept. 1977) 228-37

Young, Davis A. “The Discovery of Terrestrial History,” in Portraits of Creation H. J. Van Till, et al (eds). (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990).

The Atonement At Leviticus 16.


1. Introduction: The Background Of Exodus And Leviticus 1-15.

Due to the length parameters, this paper will simply assume that Moses is the primary author of Leviticus, and the whole of the Pentateuch for that matter. This writer believes such a position has stood the test of time and the critics. Behind the legislation in Leviticus is the prior legislation in Exodus, in particular that pertaining to the building of the tabernacle and everything associated with it (25-40).

The Lord explained to Moses the importance of the mercy seat and his presence at 25:21-22, the clothing of the priests (28:31ff), the altar of incense (30:1ff), the bronze laver (17-21), and the anointing oil and incense (22ff.). It is in the chapters preceding 16 that we find the details of both the sin (4; 6:24-30) and the burnt (1; 6:8-13) offerings that are offered on the Day of atonement, the latter legislation pertaining to the priests, while the former to the community. It is thus important to note that Nadab and Abihu sinned against known law.

2. The Macro And Micro Structures.

Taking as a given, that Leviticus has the genre of law code or legislation within the larger context of the Pentateuch, which of course also includes historic narrative, the next question is whether one can discern any structure in the book or the chapter on the Atonement itself. The simplest structure for the book as a whole may be that put forward by Mathews as the first of three motifs that are critical to understanding its message. Firstly, he posits chapter 16 as the ‘bridge’ in the centre, thus also lending weight to its importance within the book.

This chapter’s message is critically important for three reasons. First, the chapter occurs in the center of the book of Leviticus. Like a bridge it connects the two halves of the book. Chapters 1-15 describes the rituals of sacrifice and the purity regulations. Chapters 17-27 describe the characteristics of holy living by the covenant community. The effect of the Day of Atonement made sacrifice, purity, and holy living a possibility for another year.1

His second reason for the chapter’s importance, is that it “best illustrates the theological teaching of Israel’s worship of its covenant Lord.”2 Included here one may think of what is known in Reformed Presbyterian circles as The Regulative Principle of Worship, that is, including in worship only that which the LORD commands, for the example of Nadab and Abihu shows what can happen when the law-word of the covenant pertaining to worship is not followed (10:1-2). It was also the one day that one could suffer death for not observing (Lev. 23:28-30). Thirdly, the message given and the rites performed are also “a template for understanding the message of Christianity.”3

Dr. Currid, in his commentary has six divisions for the book, each of which he views as self-contained manuals or directories. One is on sacrifices for Israel (1:1-6:7), two is sacrifices for the priesthood (6:8-7:38), three is a cleanliness code (11:1-15:33), four is the atonement (16), five is a holiness code (17:1-26:46), and finally six is for the funding of the sanctuary (27).4 Of added significance is the structure of this chapter, provided by Currid, who describes it as an adaptation of an earlier work of Rodriguez, also in the Works Cited.5

This chapter has a well-defined literary and conceptual symmetry. It is structured in the form of a well balanced chiasmus, which can be set out as follows:

   ‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses’ (inclusio)

A  Aaron cannot enter the inner sanctuary (16:2)

    B  Aaron’s special vestments (16:3-4)

        C  People supply sacrifices (16:5)

            D  Animals for Aaron, Yahweh, and Azazel (16:6-10)

                 E  Aaron sacrifices his bull (16:11-14)

                     F  Assembly’s goat is sacrificed (16:15)

                         G  Atonement (16:16-19)

                          G’ Atonement (16:20a)

                      F’ Assembly’s goat is sent to wilderness (16:20b-22)

                 E’ Aaron’s closing ceremonies (16:23-25)

            D’ Animals for Azazel, Aaron and the people (16:26-28)

C’ People rest and humble themselves (16:29-31)

    B’ Anointed priest’s special vestments (16:32-33)

A’ Priest may go once a year into the inner sanctuary (16:34)

   ‘As Yahweh commanded Moses’ (inclusio)6

What is the significance of this structure? “Such a detailed structure underscores the truth that Leviticus 16 is a literary and theological unit that is meant to serve as a short directory of the work of the high priest on the Day of Atonement.”7 Currid also posits that the chapter may be “positioned between the Cleanliness Code (ch. 11-15) and the Holiness Code (chs. 17-27)…as a ray of hope to the people of Israel.”8 The hope of being holy comes because the sacrificial system may seem unbearable, so there was set up a relief offered in forgiveness for both sins of commission and omission, as well asconscience. On a more micro level each new subject material is introduced with the phrase “the LORD spoke” (16:1), usually to Moses but sometimes to Aaron or both. The recent judgment that fell upon Nadab and Abihu underscores the need for the following legislation.

3. Liturgical Procession.

3.1  The Order.

The Day of Atonement proceeded with the following steps. 1. The high priest washed anddressed in plain linen (v. 4). 2. He sacrificed the bull for the sin offering for himself and his family (v. 11). 3. He then took the censer of burning coals and incense inside the veil creating a cloud before the mercy seat, so that he would not die in looking at the Glory-Presence (vv. 12-13). 4. He then sprinkled some of the blood on and before the mercy seat seven times (v. 14). 5. He was to then kill the goat for the sin offering for the people and sprinkle it as he did with the blood of the bull (v. 15). This was to make atonement for all the sins of priest and people (v. 16). No other persons were permitted to enter the tent until this was accomplished (v. 17).

6. The high priest was then to sprinkle, splash, or dash some of the blood on the altar outside the holy of holies, of both bull and goat, on the four horns, and seven times on the altar itself (vv.18-19). 7. Only after making atonement in this manner, was he then to take the live goat and perform the laying on of hands and the sending away to the wilderness (vv. 20-22). 8. The high priest was then to change out of the plain garments, bathe again, and put on the typical garments of his office. 9. He was then able to make atonement with the burnt sacrifice, both for himself and the people (vv. 23-25). 10. The bull and the goat sacrificed were then taken by someone else outside the camp to be burned (v. 27). Both the person who took away and released the scapegoat and those who took away and burned the sacrifices were to wash themselves (vv. 26, 28).

3.2  Significance Of The Thematic Pairings. 

The first thing we should note is that the LORD, in this legislation intended to sanctify both space and time. The holy of holies was the most unique place wherein the Glory-Presence was symbolized and sought (A). There was also a sanctification of time, for it was to be entered only once a year at an appointed time (A’). Secondly, Aaron, and any future high priest needed to be properly clothed (B), and Anointed (B’). Thirdly, the people needed to bring the appropriate sacrifices (C), as well as a humble spirit, if they were to find rest (C’). Fourth, animals had to be provided for all (D and D’). Fifth, Aaron must first provide a bull sacrifice for himself (E), and if he was accepted then he was to conduct the closing ceremonies (E’). Sixth, the assembly’s goat is sacrificed (F), and the ‘scapegoat’ is sent into the wilderness (F’). Finally, atonement is made and completed (G and G’).

3.3  Preparation And Celebration.

It is not common in evangelical circles to think in terms of a liturgical calendar, but that is what we in fact have here. The Day was specifically the 10th in the 7th month, both numbers signifying completeness, perfection, and rest. However, more than the Day was specified. The 1st day of the 7th month actually began with a trumpet call to worship (23:23-25), then followed the Day (vv. 26-32). In preparing for the Day, the people were to humble themselves in sorrow for their sin in fasting and prayer, so that the Day was a solemn day of self-examination (vv. 29-31). Then following the atonement made for sin there was joyous celebration during the Feast of Tabernacles (vv. 33-44). Thus, only as they made atonement for themselves and the tabernacle of the LORD, could they then rejoice in their own tabernacles.

3.4  Time And Place.

There is debate as to what it was that Nadab and Abihu had done, but the main point to take from their example is that they did not follow what the LORD had commanded, and so it was important that Aaron and his descendants heed the legislation here given. The first point to be made is that both the place and time were established by the LORD and not left up to men. The latter part of Exodus prepared the place, and the earlier chapters of Leviticus legislated the sacrifices to be made, and now the priests and people were being instructed what to do specifically on the Day. The goal is for God, as their covenant LORD, to dwell in their midst in the Glory-Presence within “the Holy Place inside the veil.” (v. 2)

3.5  The Veil, Door, Or Curtain, And The High Priest’s Apparel.

It is important to understand the significance of the veil or curtain, and how this is also related to the high priest’s normal apparel. The design of both included the tri-colours of the mediatorial offices. These were blue (for the prophetic word), red (for the priestly blood), and purple (for the royal throne), and these were joined in the veil with the symbol of the cherubim. These of course point forward to Christ in his person and work.9  When the high priest, acting as a mediator, represented the LORD to the people he wore this tri-colour apparel, and when they looked at the veil they would also see this. On the Day of Atonement the high priest was first to go forward to represent himself and the people before the presence of God in plain honest humility of the unadorned linen.

The lavish clothes made him look like a ruler, like someone with authority; but now in the presence of God he was stripped of all honor (Wenham, 230). This may very well be the point of the change of apparel. Milgrom (1016) notes a practical side to this aspect of the priest’s activity. Had he worn the elaborate costume it would have become soiled in the ritual and he could not have worn it afterward to offer the burnt offerings.10

“Perhaps a better way of stating the possible significance here would be that the removal of clothes indicated that the high priest represents someone else.”11 In both cases it is the LORD who prescribes. “Thus it is emphatically stressed that the propitiation achieved in the Holy Place is not of human origin (see v. 17).”12 It was the veil that was torn in two when Jesus’ work as the Christ was complete. This might also be the ‘door’ referred to at Revelation 3:20, which gains one entrance to sit with him on his throne (v. 21).

3.6  The Propitiatory Or Mercy Seat And Holy Of Holies.

There has been some debate as to what is meant by ‘the mercy seat’. Some suggest that it simply meant ‘cover’, both as a cover for the ark, and as referring to the covering of sins. However, this is not borne out by the Hebrew word used.

The noun kapporet is from the same root kpr, “to atone,” which indicates that this object was the place of atonement. The importance of the cover was due to its function as the place of expiation, not merely that it covered the ark. As such it was the locus of God’s presence, the site of God’s condescension.13

“As kapporet is related to kipper, which means to ‘sacrifice oneself (itself) for propitiation’, it may well mean ‘the propitiatory cover’ (cf. Rom. 3:21).”14 Moses had earlier made a lengthy note on the mercy seat at Exodus 25:17-22. Both its time and place were sanctified by the Glory-Presence, symbolized by the guarding cherubim.

The notion of a “seat” probably derived from the imagery of God enthroned on or above the cherubim (e.g., 1 Samuel 4:4; Psalm 99:1). The ark is identified as “the footstool” of God, according to 1 Chronicles 28:2. The better translation is “the place of atonement”; in other words, it was the location where the rite of atonement occurred. It was the place where “(God) will meet with you” (Exodus 30:6). When Moses met with the Lord, it was from above the mercy seat that the voice of God could be heard (Numbers 7:89).15

Moses was instructed to tell Aaron that it was the LORD who sanctifies both time and space, that it was not up to him as to when he would approach the LORD’s presence nor where. What follows in this chapter is to tell him how and why. The why was human sin and uncleanness.

The how was through blood atonement. Before he could mediate between the LORD and the people he had to first address the problem of his own sin, and only then could he address the need of the people. In keeping with the whole sacrificial system there is a gradation in the costliness of the sacrifices offered, so for the high priest the cost was the greatest – a bull of the herd. On the other hand, for the people goats would suffice. The order of treatment begins with the Holy of Holies, and as Aaron is here representing himself and the people to the LORD he is to wear the plain unadorned linen of humility.

Just as an altar was not to be made of human fashioned stone (Ex. 20:25), so here he is to add no work of his own, as though somehow he could influence the LORD by his works. On the other hand, when he would finish with the sin offering he would change into his mediatorial robes to represent the LORD to the people. Between this change of garments he was to bathe his entire body, for biblical spiritual worship is a physical exercise, as Paul also noted (Rom. 12:1).

Throughout the ceremony we get the clear message, that without the shedding of blood there is no remission (Lev. 17:11; Heb. 9:22) Another unique requirement for the high priest began with the incense and hot coals, which he was to offer in the holy of holies, which most regard as creating a cloud of smoke so that he would not be able to either see the LORD’s glory, or be blinded by it, as well as being a sweet aroma before the LORD (Cf. Ex. 33:20; Nu. 16:46-50).

3.7  Two Key Sacrifices.

There are two key sacrifices that are offered on this Day, and it is significant as to the order in which they are offered. These two sacrifices are the sin offering and the burnt offering. Although the latter appears first in the book of Leviticus’ teaching and regulations, it is the sin offering which occurs first on this Day. It seems clear that there is a reason for this. The priests garments are changed in between, as well as the bath associated with this change. When the high priest offers the sin offerings for his own sin and then for the people, he is dressed in the plain unadorned linen wherein he identifies with the people, coming humbly in acknowledgment of this sin.

However, when it comes to the burnt offering he switches to the apparel associated with his office in his representation of the LORD to his people. Only as he offers sin for himself first, can he then offer for the people, and both must offer for sin before they can offer the burnt. It would seem that although both are part of the atonement, the first seems to speak to one’s justification, whereas the burnt offering, being the one sacrifice where the entire animal (except for the skin) is consumed, speaks to our sanctification, and how it must consume our entire being, the giving of the totality of ourselves to the LORD.

3.8  A Scapegoat.

The commentaries note four possible understandings of the second live goat. Some suggest that it refers to a location in the desert, but this is not widely held given that there is no evidence of such a place, and it would have no theological or spiritual significance. Others, like Hartley, suggest that Azazel is the name of a goat demon that inhabited the wilderness.

The position is supported by the fact that the expression “for Azazel” in Leviticus 16:8 stands parallel to “for Yahweh,” suggesting that the two parties belonged to similar categories. In this case the two opposing spiritual forces. According to this view, this goat took Israel’s sins away from the congregation into a desolate region, the abode of Azazel, in order to remove completely from the community the evil power generated by Israel’s sins. In returning all these sins to the demonic power, this ritual removed the power of these sins for harm and discord in the congregation.16

This position is highly unlikely for a number of reasons, the main one being that it is completely contrary to the biblical witness as a whole to suggest that a sacrifice is offered to an evil spiritual force. If anything the treatment of the scapegoat is more of a polemic against such a pagan practice.

This view is found in 1 Enoch 8:1 and 9:6, which suggests that he is a goat demon satyr, later identified with the devil himself. This latter view leads some Christians to conclude that Christ’s ransom was paid to the devil. But in Jewish thought the rabbis never said the goat was a sacrifice (indeed, Lev. 17:7 makes clear that no sacrifice was made to a goat demon) or that a gift was paid to Azazel.17

Frankly, Hartley’s view is even more bizarre when he suggests that sins are returned “to the demonic power,” as though these sins are due to the devil rather than humanity. The traditional view, that this goat is offered as a scapegoat, clearly best fits the immediate context, as well as the biblical-theological context of the canonical witness. The second goat symbolizes the taking away of sins so that they would also be forgotten.18

Although the live goat was obviously not a sacrifice, it was a part of the act of atonement.

The priest placed both hands on the head of the scapegoat and confessed “all” the sins of the people (vv. 20-22). The priest stood in for the people, acknowledging the community’s need for forgiveness. The gesture of resting his hands on the animal’s head indicated that the sins of the people had been symbolically transferred from the people to the innocent goat.19

The high priest himself was also part of this community. The two goats of the people’s offering symbolized that they had a substitute, one which was a bloody sacrifice, without defect, unlike the people, who would atone for their sin, that it symbolized the expiation of sin and propitiation of the LORD’s just wrath, thereby effecting reconciliation.

4.  The Gospel Proclaimed And Foreshadowed.

The New Geneva Study Bible states it well concerning the atonement cover or mercy seat and the blood, as foreshadowing the fullness of the gospel to come.

God symbolically revealed the gospel through this cover on the ark. The ark contained the two stone tablets of the law inscribed by the finger of God himself, representing the eternal moral law of God (Dt. 10:1-5). Since all humans have violated this law, the righteousness of God demands death (Ezek. 18:20; Rom. 6:23). God provided the only means of atonement for his chosen people and for their reconciliation to Him – the atoning blood on the ark’s cover. That blood-drenched cover was the meeting point of the holy God with His unholy people. It symbolized the heavenly sanctuary where Christ has entered with His own blood (Heb. 9:12), blood that is efficacious for all the sins of His people, past, present, and future (Rom. 3:21-26; Heb. 9:15).20

Unlike the Aaronic high priests, Jesus did not need to offer a sacrifice for himself, but only for his people (Heb. 7:26-7).

The writer to the Hebrews notes the following connections in the 9th chapter. After introducing the layout and items of the tabernacle (vv. 1-5), he makes the point that once a year the high priest had to enter the Holy of Holies not only to make atonement for the sins of the people but for his own as well. Up to the time of Christ this needed to be performed every year, but with Christ’s sacrifice there remains no more to be made, it being both perfect and eternal. In Christ both body and soul are cleansed, our consciences are therefore forever released from the guilt of our transgressions. It was at the end of the ages or the last days of the old covenant administration that he “appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” (v. 26).

It began with his incarnation, wherein he was made our kinsman-redeemer (Heb. 2:5-18). “In all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” (v. 17) Unlike the Aaronic order, he did not need to offer a sacrifice for himself, but like Aaron he also was called (Heb. 5:1-11). As our forerunner we are now able to enter behind the veil, for he has fulfilled the threefold office as the door of entry to the Glory-Presence itself (6:19-20 Cf. 1:1-4). He has also been made The High Priest with an oath, obtaining “a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He also is Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises.” (7:11-8:6)

The animal sacrifices pointed forward to something more efficacious and permanent (10:1-7 Cf. Ps. 40:6-8). It is here that the author makes his main point with respect to the law, and the new covenant, through what Christ has done. When he states that “He takes away the first that He may establish the second” (10:9), he means by the first the laws pertaining to the sacrifices, and by the second he means the larger will of God, which with the new covenant is now written upon hearts (8:10 Cf. Jer. 31:33). Furthermore, since as our sin atoning sacrifice, he was led outside the camp (Heb. 13:1-13), and as his disciples we are to follow him there bearing testimony to his finished work, proclaiming this gospel, and teaching his people to obey all that he has commanded (Mt. 28:18-20). Paul and John also allude to the Day of Atonement. They wrote of the propitiation provided by Jesus (Rom. 3:25; I Jn. 2:2; 4:10 Cf. Heb. 2:17). Paul and Peter wrote of Jesus taking away all our sins upon himself and carrying them away (II Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13 Cf. Heb. 9:28; Is. 53:5-6).

Rooker nicely summarizes the importance of blood and this Day with the following.

Jesus Christ entered the heavenly sanctuary, of which the tabernacle was but a copy, once for all (Heb. 9:23-24). He entered once for all into the Most Holy Place with his own blood as the sin offering (Heb. 9:12). Indeed, Laubauch believes that Leviticus 16 is critical to the understanding of the concept of the blood of Christ in the New Testament. He observes that the blood of Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 1:2), the blood of Jesus (Heb. 10:19; 1Jn. 1:7), the blood of Christ (1 Cor. 10:16; Eph. 2:13; Heb. 9:14), the blood of the Lord (1 Cor. 11:27), the blood of the lamb (Rev. 7:14; 12:11), occupies the central position in the New Testament thought. The meaning of the blood, he argues, is derived particularly from the sacrifices of the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16).21

“Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb. 4:16 Cf. 10:22)

5.  Conclusion.

The Day of Atonement is a perfect example of the regulative principle of worship – doing only what God commands. There is no ‘natural law’ of true worship. God has given his word so that we would know how we are to approach and worship the LORD. Even the selection between the two goats as to which would be sacrificed is something to be determined by the LORD through lots cast. The need for atonement also extends to the very instruments employed, that being anything associated with the ritual.

Another thing to note is, despite the fact that atonement was intended to cover everything until another year passed, and to include both high priest and people, nevertheless there would always remain a great difference between the Glory-Presence of the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe, and lowly humble sinful humanity, even when forgiven.

Ross, as is his overall approach, nicely encapsulates in one sentence, what one ought to draw from this passage. “The only way of access into the presence of the LORD is by the application of the atoning blood on the mercy seat and the removal of the sins of the penitent by placing them on a scapegoat.”22 The atoning blood both expiates sin and satisfies or propitiates God’s just wrath against the sinner, that the goal of covenant faithfulness and fidelity might be met, that is peace with God and eternal rest.

End Notes.

  1. 137-138)
  2. (138)
  3. (138)
  4. (14)
  5. (359)
  6. (193)
  7. (193)
  8. (192)
  10. Ross, (318).
  11. Rooker, (215).
  12. Kiuchi, (296).
  13. Rooker, (214).
  14. Kiuchi, (295). “Note that the phrase kipper be ad (to make propitiation on behalf of) occurs in 9:7 and 16:6, 11, 17, 24; it appears only in these chapters in Leviticus. Also, the phrase ’aser lo (for himself, 9:8) appears in 16:6, 11.” (293)
  15. Mathews, (140).
  16. Dictionary, (59)
  17. Ross, (319). (Cf. Mathews, 142).
  18. Sprinkle, (112).
  19. Mathews, (142).
  20. (173)
  21. (225)

Works Cited

Alexander, T. Desmond & David W. Baker Dictionary Of The Old Testament Pentateuch (Illinois: IVP, 2003).

Alter, Robert The Five Books of Moses (New York: W.W. Norton & Co. 2004).

Clines J. A. The Theme Of The Pentateuch (Sheffield: The University Of Sheffield, 1978).

Currid, John D. Leviticus (Durham: EP Books, 2004)

Hamilton, Victor P. Handbook On The Pentateuch (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005).

Kalas, David The Gospel According to Leviticus, Finding God’s Love In God’s Law (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2019).

Kiuchi, Nobuyoshi Leviticus (Illinois: 2007).

Mathews, Kenneth A. Leviticus (Wheaton: Crossway, 2009)

Rodriguez, Angel Manuel Andrews University Seminary Studies, Autumn 1996, Vol. 34, No. 2 269-286.

Rooker, Mark F., The New American Commentary Leviticus (Nashville: B & H, 2000).

Ross, Allen P. Holiness to the LORD (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002).

Sprinkle, Joe M. Leviticus and Numbers (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2015).

The New Geneva Study Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995).

Van Pelt, Miles V. (Ed.) A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the Old Testament (Illinois: Crossway, 2016).

Wenham, Gordon J. The Book Of Leviticus (Grand Rapids, 1979)

_______, Exploring the Old Testament A Guide to the Pentateuch (Illinois: IVP, 2003).