God’s Call for Virgin Skin … Leviticus 19 & Tattoos

Leviticus 19:2 Speak unto all the Congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, Ye shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy….

26 Ye shall not eat anything with the blood: neither shall ye use enchantments, nor practise augury. 27 Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard. 28 Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo yourselves: I am Jehovah.

29 Profane not thy daughter, to make her a harlot; lest the land fall to whoredom, and the land become full of wickedness.

I am going to try and make the case that this portion of Leviticus cannot be dismissed out of hand. Some would like to do so simply because it is Old Testament law. Just this morning I viewed a clip on the “Christian Broadcasting Network,” with Pat Robertson answering a question regarding this passage which finds Pat boldly saying, “We’re not under the Old Testament. Leviticus does not apply to Christians.”  Those who might want to take the Old Testament seriously are inclined to say about this passage that since the whole hair and beard thing don’t apply therefore the prohibition against scarification or tattooing doesn’t apply.

Another problem we confront in seeking to esteem the ongoing validity of God’s word is conflicting hermeneutics. Some denominations have an emphasis on discontinuity so that much of God’s Old Testament word is seen as automatically void unless repeated in the New Testament, whereas other hermeneutical understandings emphasize continuity so that unless God’s Word in the Old Testament is repudiated in the New Testament that Word remains in force today.  Those who believe that the Old Testament case laws, with their general equity application, are still in force are never going to rest comfortably with those who would dismiss God’s earlier word out of hand.

The first thing we must note in this Leviticus passage is that God is giving here instructions for the Hebrew social order. God, being Holy, is forming a Holy community and God is giving instructions to that end. We should all be able to agree that God is still interested in the formation of a Holy community.

God begins by speaking,

Vs. 26a — Ye shall not eat anything with blood

That this remains in force is seen by the Apostle’s communication to the new Gentile believers in Acts 15:20

“19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. “

Vs. 26b — “neither shall ye use enchantments, nor practise augury.”

These were practices of sorcery, occult, or witchcraft. For the community of God to involve themselves in these matters was to make league with God’s ancient enemy, Lucifer.  As such these are forbidden to the people of God. I doubt many Christians today would argue that this law is no longer in force. It clearly is an extension of the first Commandment which prohibits have any other gods before God.

The usage of these kinds of occult indicated a trust in man’s ability to manipulate nature by his power. God would have His people trust Him and Him alone when it came to matters of providence.

Vs. 27  — Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard.

This verse becomes a bit controversial as we consider whether or not this law is still applicable. It seems what is  being gone after here is a prohibition to disfigure one’s hair or beard so that it does not conform naturally to the contour of the head or the face.  In other words, in terms of the head, this would be a prohibition against Mohawks or against Tonsures haircuts. In terms of the beard it would be a prohibition against trimming your beard so that it looks like a giant question mark, or so that it looks like a Batman insignia. The Hebrew word “shachath” indicates that the edges of an existing beard on the face are not to be altered. In other words, the hair on the skin of the face is not to be shaped into an unnatural configuration that is inconsistent with the way God shaped us.

I’m not sure why this law would not still apply for those men who have beards.

Some scholars have offered that this passage needs to be read in conjunction with the fact that the reason that God prohibited this among His people is that often the nations surrounding Israel would involve themselves in this kind of practice and by the weird shapes of haircuts and beard-cuts they would be identifying with their pagan gods.  Other scholars suggest that this kind of behavior among the pagans was often associated with the grieving of the pagans in the context of the loss of loved ones (cmp. Leviticus 21:1ff).

What seems to be underlying this is the idea of a natural order. God gives men hair and beards and that hair and those beards, which are natural unto men, are to be had as unto God.  They were to be worn as God naturally gave it to them, and that is, in the case of hair as the hair fits the head, and in the case of beards, as beard conforms to the contour of the face.

It is interesting that even hairstyle and facial hair fashions are not outside of God’s totalizing law authority. God has a legislating word on these matters. There is nothing here that we should immediately insist is not applicable in our current cultural context. Hair fits the head. A beard naturally extends from the facial contours regardless the length. Rushdoony offers here,

“The relevance of God’s law is a continuing one. Unnatural styles too often warped man’s head and body.”

28a Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead,

Some have noted that the Hebrew word for “flesh” here as reference to the whole person and not merely the body. The thrust of this would be that there are ways that the mind can be scarified via trauma or perverse reading material of various sorts.

Turning to the body, in the ancient world of animism and superstition, this kind of scarification of the body was done in the context of grieving for the dead and was pursued as a kind of honor for the dead. In my lifetime the women folk of the deceased in Papua New Guinea, for example, would cut off finger ends to show proper grieving for the dead.

The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary offers here,

 “The practice of making deep gashes on the face and arms and legs, in time of bereavement, was universal among the heathen, and it was deemed a becoming mark of respect for the dead, as well as a sort of propitiatory offering to the deities who presided over death and the grave. The Jews learned this custom in Egypt, and though weaned from it, relapsed in a later and degenerate age into this old superstition (Isa 15:2; Jer 16:6; 41:5).”

Does this still apply to today? Are we still prohibited from this kind of scarification for the dead? Well, nothing in the New Testament repeats this case law requirement so does that mean scarification is permissible for Christians?  I believe most Christians would instinctually say, “yes, this law still applies. Christians may not scar themselves for the dead.” Yet, though Christians might agree with that those Christians who would dismiss God’s law would have a hard time justifying their belief that this law remains in force.

Before we get to verse 28b, we should note that so far that what God is doing here is creating a “set apart” (Holy) community (cmp. Leviticus 19:1). The prohibitions given here were all, in one way another, characteristic of the heathen communities surrounding the Hebrew children. All of these prohibitions were to the end that the Hebrews might be a distinct community.

We should note also that this scarification for the dead is making a comeback in the West. Tattoos that are dedicated to the dead are already quite popular among heathens and Christians alike. It isn’t unusual to meet believers who have a deceased relative’s name, or even their portrait on them. I just read an account where a chap tatted himself using his Father’s ashes as ink.

28b — nor tattoo yourselves: I am Jehovah.

God’s people were to have clean skin. This would be in contrast to the heathen nations that surrounded them who often decorated the finished work of God with assorted marring of God’s perfect canvas.

Barnes — Notes on the Bible offers here,

Tattooing was probably practiced in ancient Egypt, as it is now by the lower classes of the modern Egyptians, and was connected with superstitious notions. Any voluntary disfigurement of the person was in itself an outrage upon God’s workmanship, and might well form the subject of a law.

Ah … now the real controversy is afoot given the current popularity of tattoos among even Christian people. These Christian people, who would insist that scarification is not permissible for Christians are likely to be people who insist that tattoos are permissible for Christians. But by what standard? The New Testament, we know, does not speak an explicit prohibition against scarification and so those Christians, who insist that there is likewise no New Testament prohibition against tattooing, are in a pickle. How are they going to teach their children that scarification for the dead is wrong while tattooing is acceptable?

The response might be, “but no one in the West today wants to scarify themselves for the dead.” And my response is, “not yet.”

I think it is clear that this passage wherein God speaks against tattooing remains in force and remains clearly in force for today’s Christians. If the main thrust of what is going on in these individual prohibitions is that God’s people are to be different than the people around them (Holy — cmp. Leviticus 19:1) then that necessity remains today upon God’s people.

What Ellicott offers in his commentary remains just so,

“Nor print any marks upon you.—This, according to the ancient authorities, was effected by making punctures in the skin to impress certain figures or words, and then filling the cut places with stibium, ink, or some other colour. The practice of tattooing prevailed among all nations of antiquity, both among savages and civilised nations, The slave had impressed upon his body the initials of his master, the soldier those of his general, and the worshipper the image of his tutelar deity. To obviate this disfiguration of the body which bore the impress of God’s image, and yet to exhibit the emblem of his creed, the Mosaic Law enacted that the Hebrew should have phylacteries which he is to bind as “a sign” upon his hand, and as “a memorial” between his eyes “that the Lord’s law may be in his mouth” (Exodus 13:9; Exodus 13:16; Deuteronomy 6:8; Deuteronomy 11:18).”

Of course we no longer use phylacteries because God’s law, in the New Covenant, is written on our hearts but we still retain God’s prohibition to disfigure the body either with scarification or with tatting.

Rushdoony chimes in here also in his commentary on the 6th commandment,

“The body must be used under God and kept for his purposes and is not to be defaced. It is significant that the tattoo mark has an origin in religion, in paganism. It indicated two things in pagan societies: one, that the person was a slave of a particular God. Second, that he was the slave of a particular person. A tattoo is a mark of slavery, and it is ironic that it should become so popular for it has always, until fairly recent times, retained that meaning. And slaves were tattooed. This was until fairly recent times, the means of identification, and still is in some parts of the world. But in bible times not even a slave could be tattooed, he was still God’s before he was mans.”

So, what many Christians are eagerly pursuing by way of cultural popularity was not allowed even among the slaves of God’s people.

A fair reading of the New Testament as read as consistent with the word here in Leviticus offers up the same conclusion.

I Corinthians 6:19 What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you and which ye have from God, and that ye are not your own? 20 For ye are bought with a price. Therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.

Again, we see in the New Testament that God is concerned with the body.  In the context of Corinthians the concern has to do with sexual unions between Christian men and harlots, however, the broader contextual concern does not allow us to limit God’s concern with Christian bodies to unlawful unions alone. Our bodies are Temples of God. Just as in the Old Testament God prohibited the bodies of His people being disfigured with tattoos even more in the New and Better covenant are the bodies of God’s people as God’s temple not to be disfigured.

This reasoning is underscored and supported by British Old Testament scholar Dr. Gordon J. Wenham in his commentary on Leviticus

“Man is not to disfigure the divine likeness implanted in him by scarring his body. The external appearance of the people should reflect their internal status as the chosen and holy people of God (Dt. 14:1-2). Paul uses a similar line of argument in I Cor. 6. The body of the believer belongs to Christ, therefore, “glorify God in your body.”

Some might try to argue here that just as the Temple in the OT had beautiful engravings so believers, as God’s temple, can engrave themselves with beautiful tattoos. The problem with this line of reasoning is that God was specific as to what was and was not to be engraved in His Old Testament temple. God’s silence on any engravings upon our bodies, as His temple, should be a silence that silences this type of reasoning.

In future installments we will be considering other aspects of this Tatting issue that is before the Church. For myself, I believe that tatting is a kind of “gateway drug” to other more serious disobedience to God’s explicit word. That some people take the gateway drug but never move on to the use of harder drugs doesn’t mitigate the danger of the gateway drug.


Titus 3:5 He saved us, not by the righteous deeds we had done, but according to His mercy, through the washing of new birth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.

I Corinthians 12:13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body–whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free–and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

In teaching the covenant children on Baptism I often times will us the illustration that Baptism is like God’s branding us with His mark of ownership. I will tell them just as a Rancher might brand his cattle, so God brands us with the mark of Baptism that is indelible to His eyes. When He looks at us He sees that we are marked with His mark and so treats us as His own.

In Baptism we are marked with God’s mark. It is the mark wherein we find our identity. It is the only mark that we need have placed upon us. Indeed, by marking ourselves with other permanent marks it could be easily argued that we are putting marks on ourselves that are in identity competition with God’s mark of Baptism.

In this vein it is interesting that historically tattoos have been used as an identifying mark that one belongs to this or that god. The gods were thought to have required that their people be marked with their mark. Of course, today no one in the modern West would, upon receiving a tattoo, think that they were doing so as a mark of belonging to some ancient tribal deity but perhaps worse yet what being tatted today demonstrates and signals is the god-like power one seizes over one’s own body.  If one views themselves as autonomous beings then they will mark themselves with their own marks. This is understandable but the Christian who has been marked with God’s mark of Baptism should not want to be marked with any other mark.

Not only should they not want to be marked with any other mark they are forbidden to be marked out with any other mark. The Priest class in the Old Testament was not allowed to be tattooed, like the pagans around them,

Leviticus 21:5 They (the Priests) shall not make bald patches on their heads, nor shave off the edges of their beards, nor make any cuts on their body.

This is relevant to those who profess Christ today who resolve to be tattooed because in the New Testament it is the Church and Christians who are identified as God’s Priest class.

I Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

All God’s people today are prophets, priests, and kings under sovereign God, and so all God’s people today, as God’s Priests, are proscribed by God from making any cuts on their body. And why should they want any other marks on their bodies since they’ve been marked by their God in Baptism?

Why this desire, by professing Christians, for a further marking beside God’s mark of Baptism? One wonders if the increase of tattooing isn’t due to God’s people not understanding their identity in Christ. In so many ways Westerners have been separated and stripped from, and of, their Christian history — and so their identity — that perhaps, at some level, the reason body modification is being pursued by Christians so intently is because they are trying to find a meaning that has eluded them. The modern Western man has been deracinated to the point that he no longer is even sure about gender, and is now treated as an interchangeable cog in a vast impersonal machine culture. Given that, it is not a wonder that the modern Western man, be he Christian or non-Christian, is exploring all avenues, including tattooing, to imbue his life with some possible meaning.

Of course, modern Western man does not speak to himself in such terms. He probably couldn’t and wouldn’t articulate his thinking (if he even thinks about it at all) in such a way. For modern man tattooing one’s self is just what people do. Modern man would insist that tattooing doesn’t mean anything except, “it’s cool and it’s pretty and my peers are doing it and I want to fit in.”

However, if Christians who are also Moderns, had explained to them what God’s mark of Baptism means then just possibly they would see that pursuing any other mark, besides the mark of Baptism, would be a pursuing of a counter claim by a different god.





Did God Learn New Information per Genesis 22:12? McAtee contra Vander Zee

Genesis 22:12 And he said, Lay not thy hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything unto him. For now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from me.

“If you read the text (Genesis 22, especially vs. 12) on its own terms — I mean without all the layers of interpretations and explanations — it is really quite astounding. I used to think, and I’ve preached the text this way, that this test was for Abraham’s sake. You know like a teacher might say to you or a prof might say to you, ‘This test isn’t for me, it is for you. It is for you to learn.’ So here, Abraham learns to trust God.

Great Sermon.

Or perhaps little Isaac learns the importance of faith from his Dad’s own obedience. But the text doesn’t say anything about Abraham learning something. What it does say is that God learned something. At the end of the story the Angel of the Lord calls out to Abraham, just as he is about to slice into the thin neck of his son and says, ‘Now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld thy son, thy only son from me.’

It’s those words from God, ‘Now I know,’ that are so astounding and intriguing. God isn’t teaching Abraham anything here, God is learning something about Abraham.

Wait a minute. God learning something?

What kind of God learns something? Evidently the God of this story. The God of the Bible. Of course it goes against everything we think we know about God. God is infinite. God is eternal. God is unchangeable. God knows everything before it happens. We tend to think about God in terms of abstract terms like, omniscience, and immutability and omnipotence. But the Bible is not a set of concepts about God. It’s mostly stories about God and about how God interacts with us and how we interact with God and these stories bring God from the rarefied atmosphere of omniscience and immutability into our world — into the way we live and the way we experience God in our lives.

It’s not that these theological concepts (i.e. — Omniscience, Omnipotence, Immutability) aren’t worth thinking about or that they are not true. It is that they cannot contain the deeply textured, multi-layered mystery, that is God. And that is what these stories try to do and that is why they are so mysterious to us.”

Rev. Len Vander Zee
River Terrace Christian Reformed Church
Lansing, Michigan
Sermon — January 31, 2016

Recent Sermons

Starting at 13:21 and moving through to the 15:57 mark.

Normally, I wouldn’t take the time to correct a sermon by another minister in another Church. Were I to make that my routine I would be spending my life in futility as a modern day Sisyphus. I only take time to dissect this mishandling of the Genesis 22:12 text due to the fact that a couple of the lambs in the flock I serve were in attendance when this sermon was preached and came to me confused about some of what was said.  After I listened to this sermon, I understood why they were confused. Confusing sermons tend to cause confusion.

As such, I intend to unravel the confusion and point out the alarming errors in the quote above. Then I intend to bring it to the direct attention to my young charges while I tell them to stay away from any Church where this kind of confusion is articulated from the pulpit.

1.) Note the implied complaint about reading the Genesis 22:12 text “with layers of interpretation and explanation.”  The Minister seems to be suggesting that unlike all others who heap layers of interpretation and explanation upon the text he is just going to let the text speak by itself.

The problem with this, is that by not reading the text in its context of the whole of Scripture the result is that God is made to be not God. More about that in a minute. For now, let us consider what happens when we do not read texts with layers of proper interpretation and explanation.

Well, when we do not read texts with layers of proper interpretation and explanation what we get is the Roman Catholic Mass. After all, the “layer-less” text finds Jesus saying, “this is my body.” What more proof do we need that the Roman Catholic Mass is true? When we read the text without “layers” then we must conclude that Infant Baptism shouldn’t be done because the “layer-less” text says nothing about Baptizing babies. When we read the text without layers of interpretation and explanation we must conclude that the idea of the Trinity is not true since no text uses the word “Trinity.”  Layer-less texts finds us required to greet the Brethren with a Holy Kiss. Layer-less text would require Christians to embrace some form of Communism since the “layer-less” text teaches that the believers in Acts “had all things in common.”

Clearly we see that the last thing we want in our preaching is “layer-less” texts. One reason we send men to be trained in Seminaries is so that they will learn how to handle texts aright and will understand that all texts must be read in light of all other texts and that the lest clear texts must be layered by the explanation and interpretations of the more clear texts.

To read a text naked, as if no broader context exists is to enter into the realm of subjectivity and eisegesis.

2.) The text does not say “God learned something.”  The text has the Angel of the Lord saying to Abraham, “Now I know …” The fact that the good Reverend here says that the text says that “God learned something,” is instead a layer of explanation and interpretation that is neither faithful to the text nor to the context.

3.) Note the humongous, begging to be noticed, contradiction in the Reverend’s words. First the Preacher insists that God learned something and then within a few sentence the Preacher says that “it’s not that these theological concepts (i.e. -Omniscience) aren’t true.” One finds one’s self screaming at the audio, “Well either God learned something and so never was omniscient or God was omniscient and so can’t learn anything.” Rev. Vander Zee can’t have it both ways.

4.) Rev. Vander Zee emphasizes here the fact that God isn’t omniscient. God learned something he tells us. The idea that God is not omniscient is of course the error of what is called “Free Will Theism.” Free Will Theism is the denial that God is a God who knows all, ordains all, predestines all, and conditions all. Free Will Theism is the anti-Calvinism theology. In Open Theism God is dependent upon man’s choices and God learns along with man. In Open Theism God shares His sovereignty with man so that man and God work things out together.

Now, it is altogether possible that Rev. Vander Zee does not realize he has wandered into this territory.

5.) Notice that the Preacher presents the idea that God learning something “goes against everything we think we know about God.” The clear implication here is that we think we know that God is eternal, infinite, immutable, omniscient, omnipotent, but it may well be the case that those things are not really true of God. We only think we know that. Again, this undermines our confidence in Scripture which repeatedly teaches the non-communicable attributes of God.

6.) Rev. Vander Zee suggests that concepts about God are bad while stories about God are good. Of course it is those very stories that undergird the concepts and teach us that God is eternal (Genesis 1), immutable (I Samuel 15), omnipotent (Job 38-40), omniscient (Genesis 45, 50).

7.) Rev. Vander Zee misses the point that it is the stories that give us the concepts. Every story has within it a conceptual point to make. One simply can divorce story from concept, or concept from story. We see Rev. Vander Zee extrapolating here concept from story by his errant explanation and interpretation of this story in Genesis 22. We have a story, and Rev. Vander Zee is trying to give a concept (God’s non omniscience) that communicates the meaning of the story. Now, Rev. Vander Zee is not doing the story justice because he has not read it as comparing the less clear scripture with the more clear didactic scripture that teaches that,

“Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please” (Isaiah 46:9-10).

“Who can fathom the Spirit of the LORD, or instruct the LORD as his counselor? Whom did the LORD consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge, or showed him the path of understanding?” (Isaiah 40:13-14).

“Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD” (Psalm 139:4).

“O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways” (Psalm 139:1-3).

“My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand—when I awake, I am still with you” (Psalm 139:15-16).

“Can anyone teach knowledge to God, since he judges even the highest?” (Job 21:22).

“He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit” (Psalm 147:4-5).

“And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever” (1 Chronicles 28:9).

“Do you know how the clouds hang poised, those wonders of him who has perfect knowledge?” (Job 37:16).

“From heaven the LORD looks down and sees all mankind; from his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth—he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do” (Psalm 33:13-15).

“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” (Romans 11:33).

“Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13).

“Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Luke 12:7).

“… for whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything” (1 John 3:20).

Rev. Vander Zee ignores all this context … ignores the explicit statements of Scripture in order to insist that God learned and he does this all the while still affirming that what he denies in this sermon as true, is true.

8.) Rev. Vander Zee claims that terms like “omniscience, omnipotence, immutability, eternality,” are abstract terms that are naughty. The listener is left to infer that terms like “non-omniscience, non-omnipotence, mutability, and non eternality” are good abstract terms that can be proven by bad interpretations and explanations as drawn from Genesis 22.

9.) Rev. Vander Zee says that the Bible is about how God interacts with us and how we interact with God. Unfortunately this is just not true. The Bible is about how God alone does all the saving of a sin besotted people via the God-man keeping covenant as on a bloody Cross. Only then is it about how a sin besotted people respond in gratitude to God’s grace.

10.) Rev. Vander Zee insists that our theological language of omnipotence, omniscience, immutability, and eternality, cannot contain God. However, that the God of the Bible is more than all those does mean He is other than all those. God cannot both be and not be omniscient. God cannot both be and not be omnipotent. God cannot both be and not be immutable. God cannot both be and not be eternal. To insist that He is, is to turn God into a  surd. If Rev. Vander Zee desires to define God as contradiction then he would have to insist, in order to be consistent with His own hermeneutic here, that God cannot be defined as contradiction. If God is contradiction then God is not contradiction.

11.) Rev. Vander Zee appeals to a deeply textured and multi-layered mystery that is God. This is poetic smoke to hide Rev. Vander Zee’s appeal to contradiction to explain God. Again, if we  appeal to the hoist in Rev. Vander Zee’s petard we would have to say that if God is a deeply textured and multi-layered mystery then God isn’t a deeply textured and multi-layered mystery.

12.) Though Rev. Vander Zee may not realize this, when Rev. Vander Zee calls into question God’s omniscience in Genesis 22:12, he, at the same time, calls into question God’s omnipotence. God’s omniscience is based on the foundation of His omnipotence. Because God determines, ordains, and predestines all things therefore He knows all things. It is not possible to be non-omniscient and sovereign and omnipotent at the same time. How does a God, that orders and predestines every detail of all reality and all of what will happen, learn? He can’t. To insist that God learns, the way that Rev. Vander Zee is insisting that God learns, is to put him in direct denial of God’s omnipotence.

13.)  Though Rev. Vander Zee may not realize this, when Rev. Vander Zee calls into question God’s omniscience in Genesis 22:12, he, at the same time, calls into question God’s immutability. If God does not change then God cannot learn for to learn something is to change by going from a state of non-knowing to a state of knowing.

14.) There is not a lick of rationality or intelligence in any of this. This kind of preaching is insulting to the integrity of Scripture, the character of God, and the intelligence of the congregation listening. That likely isn’t the intent of Rev. Vander Zee, but it is surely the result.

Now having exposed the in-congruence in the sermon with the goals of restoring God’s honor and protecting God’s lambs we turn to briefly explain what is going on in Genesis 22:12. In John Calvin’s commentary (a commentary that used to be consulted by CRC ministers) on this passage Calvin offers up that,

“by condescending to the manner of men, God here says that what he has proved by experiment, is now made known to himself. And he speaks thus with us, not according to his own infinite wisdom, but according to our infirmity.”

Calvin thus appeals to the idea that God speaks to Abraham here anthropopathically, which is to say that God is speaking to Abraham in such a way as to attribute a human passion (“now I know”) to God.  More on this anthropopathism in just a bit.

To break Genesis 22:12 down more specifically we see that on the surface, as taken as naked without the context of all of Scripture, the text suggests that God went from a state of not knowing something to having learned something new. However, as the Scripture above cites we know that God’s “understanding is infinite” (Ps. 147:5), and that God knows “the end from the beginning” (Isa. 46:10), and that God has foreknown and predestinated us from the foundation of the world (Rom. 8:29–30).  As such, unless we  embrace a hermeneutic of contradiction (which would, at the same time mean that we would not embrace a hermeneutic of contradiction) we cannot allow a conclusion on Genesis 22:12 to mean that God was a good student who had a large capacity to learn.

The solution then is to concede, per Scripture, that because God is omniscient that God knew exactly what Abraham would do with Isaac precisely because God predestined exactly what Abraham would do with Isaac. What happens in Genesis 22 is that which God knew by omnipotence and omniscience He now knows by the demonstration of Abraham’s faith.

Remember, we must think in terms of the literary technique that Scripture repeatedly employs called anthropopathism.  The Bible, written for a human audience, often ascribes to deity those passions, feelings, and emotions of humans so that we might better be able to comprehend.

We speak like this sometimes in our own professions. As a minister, I might say, “Let’s see if we can learn from Scripture what omniscience means,” and then after demonstrating it, as I have in this essay, I might declare to the congregation I serve, “Now, I along with you, have learned what omniscience means by looking at Scripture,” and this even though I knew what omniscient meant before the lesson began.

Therefore Joshua and Sarah, Genesis 22:12 does not mean what Rev. Vander Zee wrongly made it mean.

I Corinthians 4:4 … The God of this age (world).

The god of this age (world) has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

I Corinthians 4:4

When Scripture teaches that “Satan is the God of this world,” what one needs to understand is that Paul is using “world” in a technical fashion. “World” here means “as this world lies in Adam.” It is a truism that as this world lies in Adam Satan is the God of that world. However, what it does not mean is that Satan is over planet earth. To not see that distinction would give us a contradiction with Scripture that teaches that the Lord Christ is in possession of “all authority” in heaven and on earth as well as those passages that teach that the “Lord God omnipotent reigneth.” Obviously St. Paul is not introducing some kind of Manichean dualism by positing two competing Gods … one over things not of this world and one over this world.

Another example of this kind of language is used by John,

 I John 5:19 We know that we are of God, and that the whole world is under the power of the evil one.

What world is John speaking of when he writes that the ‘whole world is under the power of the evil one?”

Well, he is speaking of the world as it lies in Adam and opposed to God. He is speaking of the unregenerate world. We know that the world John is speaking of is not inclusive of Christians who live in the world because John writes that ‘we are of God.’

Neither Paul nor John, are saying that planet earth belongs to Satan. That would contradict passages which speak of Christ as the ruler,

Eph. 1:21  (Christ is) far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church…

Colossians 2: He (Christ) is the head over every power and authority.

So, if this is true of Christ then it cannot also be true that Satan is the God of this age, or the God of this World in the sense that Satan has some controlling ability in this world that rises above God.

So we have before us an example of the necessity of reading and interpreting Scripture in terms of Scripture. It is not proper to locate one verse and then say, ‘see, this proves that Satan is God over planet earth,’ or to say that God rules spiritually but Satan rules non-spiritually.’ We must compare Scripture with Scripture.

What shall we conclude about this. Well, Scripture forces us to say that Satan has been delegated certain authority so it can be fairly said of him that He is God over the people who refuse to bow the knee to Christ and His Lordship.

St. Paul begins to get at this when he writes,

13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves,

You see… formerly they were in the dominion of darkness where the God of this world rules but now they have been rescued by the God who is over the God of this world and are delivered into the Kingdom of God’s dear Son. Notice though, if Satan were the absolute ruler as God of this world or age then God could never have rescued His people from Satan. We see then that the God of this world or age is not to attribute to Satan absolute power over any territory. It merely is to teach that those who are of their Father the devil have Satan as their God.

As an aside, this demonstrates again that there is no neutrality. Either one belongs to the God of this age or one belongs to the Kingdom of God’s dear Son.  One either belongs to the God of this age or one belongs to the God of the age to come.

You may be an ambassador to England or France
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes
Indeed you’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody


Another passage that supports what I am getting at is John 12:31. St. John quotes Christ as saying,

“Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.” And again,

John 14:30 I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me,

John 16:11 Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged.

In the work of the Cross Satan was driven out. He has no power except to those who are of their Father the Devil, but even then, just as with Job, Satan is a permission seeking being in terms of his designs and intent. The Devil is merely God’s attack dog on a long leash.

The Devil does God’s bidding. The Devil may be the God of this Age but he does the work assigned to Him by God. Scripture is replete with examples regarding this. And it is to those examples we turn.

Book of Job

 Judges 9:23

God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem and caused them to treat Abimelech deceitfully,
1 Samuel 16:14
After the Spirit of the LORD had departed from Saul, a spirit of distress from the LORD began to torment him.
1 Samuel 18:10
The next day a spirit of distress sent from God came upon Saul, and he prophesied inside the house while David played the harp as usual. Now Saul was holding a spear,
1 Samuel 19:9
But as Saul was sitting in his house with his spear in his hand, a spirit of distress from the LORD came upon him. While David was playing the harp,
1 Kings 22:21

Then a spirit came forward, stood before the LORD, and said, ‘I will entice him.’ ‘By what means?’ asked the LORD.

So, we see the Devil, evil spirits, do not operate independently of God’s boundaries. The Devil is God’s Devil.

Then there are other passages that says God Himself deceives those who hate him. This passage from Isaiah is quoted frequently in the NT

9And He replied, “Go and tell this people: ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ 10Make the hearts of this people calloused; deafen their ears and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.…

Romans 11:8
as it is written: “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that could not see, and ears that could not hear, to this very day.”
Deuteronomy 29:4

Yet to this day the LORD has not given you a mind to understand, eyes to see, or ears to hear.


God Turned them over …. (3x)

Thes. 2:11 For this reason, God will send them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie,…

So, we see from all this that Satan is not an independent agent. We who are in Christ have no need to fear him or be preoccupied with Him. He is a very real enemy but He is an enemy who has been vanquished. Further, we see that Scripture cannot be appealed to in order to make the Devil out as someone who has a dominion that is outside of God’s dominion. The Devil is God’s Devil and his dominion is held at God’s leisure.

So, dear Christian, as Satan is not literally in charge of planet earth as belonging to him there is no room for surrendering anything in the Cosmos to Satan as if he has right of authority because he is “the god of this world.” Satan is the god of the dung heap, of falsity, of fiat non-reality. He has no hold over this world because in the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, God has and intends to continue to redeem the whole Cosmos so that it is even more than Eden ever was.

The age to come has come in Christ and is rolling back this present wicked age that has the prince of the power of the air as its Captain. This mopping up exercise is fait accompli. The “God of this age” is a grifter and the only weapons he has are smoke, delusion, and intimidation. Greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world.

Satan as “God of this world?” Only in the sense that a rebellious three year old thinks he is the “God of his bedroom,” in defiance of his parents placing him there for discipline.


1.) If we belong to God and are members of Christ’s Kingdom Lucifer is not a being we should be over consumed with. Yes, he exists, as do his lieutenants. Yes, they hate God and the Saints. But greater is He who is within us than He who is in the world as it lies in Adam.

2.) Because of this, there should be a growing confidence that is characteristic of us as God’s people. Do we really believe that as we belong to the Sovereign of the universe that anything can do us harm? The truth here should push us to attempt great things for God… to ask great things from God so that His name might be better known. We are more than conqueror because if God be for us (and He is) then truly opposition is insignificant.

3.) We should be extraordinarily wary of any theology that is consumed with the power of demons, evil spirits, or Satan. On the other hand we should be equally wary of any theology that ignores their reality upon those who belong to the God of this world.

4.) Because of all this we should be a people who fear God so much that we would do anything so as not to be deceived. We should be those who cry out for wisdom and to be delivered from all deception. We should hunger for God’s thinking so that we won’t find ourselves turned over.

5.) We see God’s absolute sovereignty once again. We should be preoccupied with God alone. No need to be preoccupied with the devil’s ability to destroy us if we are preoccupied with God’s ability to keep us.

6.) We are safe from the machinations of the God of this World because of the finished work of Jesus Christ.  As our catechims notes,

He has fully paid for all my sins
with his precious blood,
and has set me free

from all the power of the devil.


So we need to make proper distinctions on this matter. The this “world” distinction is critical. When the scriptures say “My kingdom is not of this world” or “love not the world” or that “Satan is the God of this world,” it is not speaking of the Cosmos or physical world and creation of God, but the “way of the world” or the “philosophy of autonomous worldly men,” or the “world as it lies in Adam.” This is a critical distinction, that is too often lost on many in the Christian community.

John’s Gospel Theme of the Lord Christ as God’s New Temple

In the Gospel record Jesus’ overt teaching and his subtle conduct prepare us for the temple’s removal as both liturgically no longer necessary and spiritually corrupted. John’s Gospel is especially interesting in this regard:  In John 1:14  John presents Christ as God’s true ‘tabernacle.”

‘The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.’

This theme of Jesus replacing  Israel’s religious features recurs repeatedly in his ministry.

1.) John 1:51 —  He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.”

Here it is the Lord Christ, rather than the Jewish temple or High Priest, who is the nexus between heaven and earth as seen in the fact that “the angels of God (are) ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.’

2.) John 2:19-21 —  Jesus answered, and said unto them, Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up again. 20 Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this Temple a building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? 21 But he spake of the temple of his body.

Here the Lord Christ declares His body to be the true temple.

3.) John 4:21-23 — 21 Jesus said unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor at Jerusalem worship the Father. 22 Ye worship that which ye know not: we worship that which we know: for salvation is of the Jews. 23 But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in [j]Spirit and Truth: for the Father requireth even such to worship him.

Here the Lord Christ tells the Samaritan woman that the physical temple will soon be unnecessary.

4.) John 7:37 Now in the last and great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying,If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. 38 He that believeth in me, as saith the Scripture, out of his belly shall flow rivers of water of life.

Here the Lord Christ is attending the festival of Tabernacles (cf. John 7:2ff), and he presents himself as the living water. This festival reminds Israel of Moses’ producing  water from the rock (Ex. 17:1-7, Nu. 20:8-13). This event also reflects the promise of the Temple (Zec. 14:8, Eze. 47:1-11).  In John 8:12 the Lord Christ calls Himself the “light of the World,” which reflects the festival ceremony.

5.) In the “I am” debate in John 8:13-59 the Lord Christ appropriates to himself the whole essence of the temple as being the dwelling place of the divine name.  Here we see the Lord Christ, immediately after declaring Himself as the “I am” (8:58) departing from the temple (8:59) which in John’s Gospel serves as his sign that God has departed the temple much as God’s s presences departed the Temple in Ezekiel 10. This departure scene here in John 8 may explain why John does not chronicle the 2nd temple confrontation at the close of Christ’s ministry as is recorded in the Synoptics. For John, when the Lord Christ departs the temple in 8:59 the presence of God has left the Temple.

6.) John 10:22-39

While the Jews are celebrating the Feast of Lights which recalls the re-consecration of the temple under the Macabees, the Lord Christ presents himself as the one who is “sanctified and sent.” Here the Lord Christ comes to the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, which celebrates the Maccabean victory in reclaiming the temple and re-consecrating the altar and temple. The Lord Christ does not enter the temple at this time, but comes only to Solomon’s portico (John 10:23, cp. John 11:56). During this temple celebration the Lord Christ declares Himself to be the one “whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world.”  The Lord Christ shifts the emphasis from the temple to Himself as the one consecrated by God. (John 10:36) The true temple has come. All preoccupations with the old temple are past.

7.) John 12:41 — “These things said Isaiah when he saw his glory, and spake of him.”

Here the Lord Christ quotes Isaiah 6:5 but now we know that it is the Lord Christ who is the Shekinah glory of the temple that Isaiah witnessed.

Peter Walker argues, in his “Jesus and the Holy City,” that the upper room teaching session in John 13-17 reflects a “temple experience” beginning with foot-washing as an initiation ritual (John 13:33f) and ending with “the high priestly prayer” (John 17). Thus it appears “John’s over-riding message is that the Temple has been replaced by Jesus.”

The necessity of a new temple is seen in the fact that the profanation of the place of Gods’ dwelling. So bad is this profanation that the Lord Christ cleanses the Temple both at the beginning and the ending of His ministry. These temple cleansings are not so much an effort at reform as they are a testimony against the present temple cultus. The true temple is testifying against the corrupt temple.

These thoughts taken from Ken Gentry’s
Navigating the Book of Revelation — pg. 99 – 100


Scripture and Light

In the Genesis record, God said, “Let their be light” (Gen 1:3) and that light appears overcoming the darkness, saturating the creation realm with God’s authority.  In Isaiah the Servant of the Lord was promised to be a light both to Israel and to the Nations who were not yet covenanted with God as Israel was,

“I am the Lord, I have called You in righteousness,
I will also hold You by the hand and watch over You,
And I will appoint You as a covenant to the people,
As a light to the nations.” Isaiah 42:6

He says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant
To raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel;
I will also make You a light of the nations
So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Isaiah 49:6

In the Gospel accounts, that Servant of the Lord promised … the Lord Christ is the Redemptive light come to inaugurate a new age, a new realm, and a glorious new day as from the Father of lights (James 1:17). He is the light who enlightens every man (John 1:19) Christ is the new covenant age light that shines in the darkness (John 1:5). The Apostles saw He who was the radiance of the glory of God (Hebrews 1:1) as the glory of the One and only who came from the Father (John 1:1-4). As the age to come Light, the followers of the Lord Christ never walk in darkness (John 8:12). Christ as the Redemptive light of the age to come demonstrated and revealed itself with a white hot intensity at the transfiguration wherein even His clothing became dazzling white (Mark 9:1-4).  In the crucifixion He who is “the Light of the World” is snuffed out and as on cue, the light goes out for three hours Christ (Matthew 27:45). Light is picked up again in John’s Revelation wherein John the Revelator falls as dead as before a super nova God-man (Rev. 1:14-17). Finally, as the Scripture started with light, it forms an inclusio by ending with He who is the light, as it closes with the motif of Christ as the light which illuminates the new Jerusalem.  He who ever was very light of very light remains the light of the world (Rev. 22:4).