Sympathising with those who Mourn

f-b-meyerFrederick Brotherton Meyer  (1847-1929)

In his impressive and accessible study Abraham: Friend of God, F.B. Meyer, English pastor and evangelist, makes the valuable comment on the way a Christian is to mourn. His comment arises from:

  • The death of Sarah ~ the only woman in the Bible whose age is given at the time of death (127).
  • The dignity of Abraham’s mourning.
  • The first recorded burial in the Bible (Genesis 23:1ff.).

“There are some who chide tears as unmanly, unsubmissive, unchristian. They would comfort us with a chill and pious stoicism, bidding us meet the most agitating passages of our history with rigid and tearless countenance. With such the spirit of the Gospel, and of the Bible, has little sympathy. We have no sympathy with a morbid sentimentality; but we may well question whether the man who cannot weep can really love; for sorrow is love widowed and bereaved ~ and where that is present, its most natural expression is in tears. Religion does not come to make us unnatural and inhuman; but to purify and ennoble all those natural emotions with which our manifold nature is endowed. Jesus wept. Peter wept. The Ephesian converts wept on the neck of the Apostle whose face they thought they would never see again. Christ stands by each mourner, saying, ‘Weep, my child; weep, for I have wept.’

Tears relieve the burning brain, as a shower the electric clouds. Tears discharge the insupportable agony of the heart, as an overflow lessens the pressure of the flood against the dam. Tears are the material out of which heaven weaves its brightest rainbows. Tears are transmuted into the jewels of better life, as the wounds in the oyster turn to pearls. Happy, however, is that man who, when he weeps for his departed, has not to reproach himself with unkindnesses and bitter words.”

Abraham faced Sarah’s loss with dignity and yet with reality. He “went in” in to Sarah’s corpse, but before her dead body he mourned and wept (v. 2). May we grieve the loss of God’s people likewise, for while the Fall made the unnatural natural, Christ’s resurrection has made the natural temporal. Abraham, we note, buried Sarah in Canaan ~ the Promised Land fulfilled in the new earth to come. Even so, come, Lord Jesus, come!

On Thinking And Reading


Evangelisches Stift, Tuebingen

Evangelisches Stift, Tuebingen

Many years ago, during the 1994/1995 academic year to be exact, I had one of those “aha” moments. Perhaps it would not have turned out to be quite the moment, had it not happened amid my wrestling with the inconvenient conflict between the biblical data on the doctrine of adoption and much of what had been written on it in the history of the church, I refer to a conversation with Joachim, a fellow student, in the fifth-floor kitchen of the Evangelisches Stift in Tuebingen: “To be a theologian,” he nonchalantly remarked, “takes as much thought as reading.”

Although the comment, heard in the abstract all these years later, is not exactly earthshaking, it changed my approach to theology, and helped me embrace the leading of the Lord in finding my voice. What is more, it helped with the discerning of the theological calling of others. Some, theologians are more readers than thinkers and, as such, find their concentration in maintaining orthodoxy in the church. Others, are thinkers or processors as well as readers, and are called to renew the theology of traditions and systems.

Of course, the distinction between readers and thinkers is somewhat generalized, and speaks of a difference of degree rather than of kind. Still, there seems to me to be something to it.

The readers are those with an encyclopedic knowledge of authors, book titles, and theological positions. They speak with authority of the past. They guard the heritage, sometimes tenaciously, and tend to be more prolific in publishing. That’s because theirs is largely and helpfully a summarizing of historic happenings and doctrines. The strength of the reader lies in his (or her) dissemination of the findings of others. They grant longevity to the thoughts and writings of the creative minds who have gone before them, but theirs is a trade in the already accepted orthodoxy. Sometimes readers may be deemed creative in their own right, but typically by those unacquainted with the original sources. It is, after all, generally easier for the believer to quote living theologians than dead ones. Still, their quoting of theologians at all is tribute to the success of the readers in opening up outlets for trickle-out theology from the past to the present, and from the theologians to the pews.

As for the thinkers, they are also well read, but their proverbial eggs are not all in the one basket. Perhaps Spurgeon hinted at this when he said, “Read much not many.” This type of theologian moves, ideally by the call of God, beyond reading, thinking, pondering, and contemplating, into the realm of theological integration and formulation. He (or she) advances beyond the repeating of the inherited tradition of theology (for all the good this does), to the biblical renewal of theological traditions and systems. Such theologians combine confidence in the Spirit’s ministry in the church at large, with awareness of the leading of the Spirit within. They generally tend to go unappreciated in their lifetimes, for their contributions are suspected and debated by the scholarly initially, and left undigested for the time being in popular circles. Only later does their creative orthodoxy, once vindicated by Scripture and the consensus of the orthodox, become the accepted orthodoxy and undergo restatement for the sake of digestion in the pews.

Obviously, there are dangers accompanying the callings of both the reader and the thinker: of reading with little processing and of processing with little reading. If the propagation of a historic tradition of theology is the main aim of the reader, then too much processing will be deemed a threat, a challenge to the status quo. If the main aim of the thinker is the destruction of a tradition of theology, then free-wheeling thought in isolation from the Scripture and the worthy findings of history will result. Where both imbalances are left unchecked, Christian theology goes to seed. Among the readers, traditionalism obscures the illuminating light of the Spirit. Among the thinkers, rationalism obscures the illuminating light of the Word.

Since the reader tends to be deemed more acceptable and safer than the thinker, at least in conservative circles, permit me to say a word in honor of the thinker. Many are the attempts to limit his influence by fears of “the slippery slope” and “the thin end of the wedge.” Obviously, there’s epiphanius-epiphanius5enough truth in these expressions to give some grounds for caution, but to shut down fresh thinking on the basis of fear is not a recipe for health in the life of the church. After all, there are cautions the reader would do well to heed. Consider, for instance, Philip Schaff’s reflections on the Greek Father Epiphanius (c. 320-403 A.D.). It reminds me of my conversation with Joachim, and of the need to counter the temptation to fear in the reader and of indiscipline in the thinker:

The learning of Epiphanius was extensive, but ill digested. He understood five languages: Hebrew, Syriac, Egyptian, Greek, and a little Latin. Jerome, who himself knew three languages, though he knew these far better than Epiphanius, called him the Five-tongued. . . . He was lacking in knowledge of the world and of men, in sound judgment, and in critical discernment. He was possessed by a boundless credulity, now almost proverbial, causing innumerable errors and contradictions in his writings. His style is entirely destitute of beauty or elegance.*

God grant us theologians today who digest as well as read. In the balance of reading and processing ~ reading in the light of Scripture and processing in the light of the fear of God ~ lies the path to a creative orthodoxy. Without it our orthodoxy goes to seed. There has to be room for thinkers as well as readers, not least in our conservative Reformed circles.


Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume 3, Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson, 2006), 928.


Did Jim Elliott Get His Counter-Cultural View of Self-Protection from John G. Paton?

As many Christian who have “lost” loved ones to heaven can testify, the early months of bereavement are filled with the sense of the spiritual presence of those we miss, and the remembrance of their words. As mystical as this sounds, heaven may be nearer to us than we know. Certainly, those of faith who have gone before us are described as “a cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1). This description is telling, because it signifies, regardless of the specifics, the ongoing consciousness of those dying in Christ, and, seemingly, their awareness of things ongoing on earth, at least to some degree.

Ironically, Dad, who passed to glory nearly ten months ago, made little of such talk during his lifetime. He loved very deeply, yet so self-contained was he in his temperament and impacted from his youth by “the Blitz” in World War II Britain, that he aired his feelings about personal sorrow more with his his eyes and his actions than with his words. Whatever his own expression of loss, he could hardly argue with ours, especially now that he is our loss!

JohnGibsonPatonOne of the many memories of Dad which has reverberated around my mind is his great esteem for John G. Paton (1824-1907), missionary to the island of Tanna in the New Hebrides. In an age when so many in our Western Christianity have mistaken the consolation of the gospel for the need to be comfortable, Dad held up John G. Paton as an inspiration and an example of surrender to Christ and to his calling on our lives. Specifically, Dad was impressed by Paton’s burial of his wife and child in the same grave shortly after his arrival on Tanna, and of his keeping guard of the grave from the local cannibals.

Blessed by this memory, I’ve recently taken up Paton’s autobiography. There are many matters and incidents on which one could comment: Paton’s views on biblical manhood, prayer for the lost, catechizing, parental discipline, Christianity’s impact on the standing of women, the importance of the Lord’s Day, and the Devil worship among the savages. I take up, however, Paton’s view of his own protection, largely because of the reminder it affords of the view of Jim Elliot and his friends, as mentioned, if remembered aright, in Elisabeth Elliot’s Through Gates of Splendor. Here is Paton’s perspective:

All through that morning and forenoon we heard them [a band of armed men] tramp-tramping around our house, whispering to each other , and hovering near window and door. They knew that there were double-barrelled fowling-piece and a revolver on the premises, though they never had seen me use them, and that may, under God, have held them back in dread. But the thought of using them did not enter our souls even in that awful time. I HAD GONE TO SAVE, AND NOT TO DESTROY. IT WOULD BE EASIER FOR ME AT ANY TIME TO DIE THAN TO KILL ONE OF THEM. Our safety lay in our appeal to that blessed Lord who had placed us there, and to whom all power had been given in Heaven and on Earth. He that was with us was more than all that could be against us. This is strength; this is peace: ~ to feel, in entering on every day, that all its duties and trials have been committed to the Lord Jesus, ~ that, come what may, He will use us for His own glory and our real good! *

Many may differ from Paton, but none may doubt his seeking first the kingdom of heaven. Could it be possible thatJim Elliott, a near fifty years after Paton’s death, Jim Elliot (right), Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, Pete Fleming, and Nate Saint, met their martyrdoms in 1956 under the influence of Paton’s reasoning? It is not at all certain to me that Paton was wrong, nor that the five were either, when, headed to Ecuador, they decided not to take guns for protection from a people known for violence toward outsiders. Certainly, their concern for the eternal destiny of the Aucas (now known as the Huaorani) echoed Paton’s for the cannibals of Tanna. But is this coincidence or an interesting historical connection? Others may be able to shed more light on the matter. Wherever we come down on the issue of force in the cause of self-defense on the mission field especially, we know that both the natives of Tanna and the Aucas got to witness the kingdom before their eyes, and that some repented and entered therein, even though Elliot and his friends never got to see that in this life.

 * John G. Paton, Missionary to the New Hebrides, An Autobiography edited by his brother James Paton; reprint ed. (Edinburgh and Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1965), 138-39 (capitals inserted).

Adoption Nuggets (28): Dipping into Metaphorical Theology (10)


Question #4: What impact does the belief that God’s adoption of his people is metaphorical have on the way we understand Paul’s language? 

Our endeavor to clear the ground for a fresh perspective on the biblical teaching of adoption has led us to engage a series of questions. In answering the first three, we have disentangled the filial or familial language of the New Testament relevant to the new birth from that of adoption. Adoption, it is now clear, is the explicit teaching of the apostle Paul alone. His unique use of huiothesia ~ the sole New Testament term for adoption ~  is, we reckon, metaphorical.

This fourth question, vague as it is at first sight, offers us an opportunity to consider what we mean when we say that the language of adoption is metaphorical. The answer is more involved than we might imagine. Accordingly, in the postings to come, we speak of one facet at a time, taking up the following in turn:

The character of the adoption metaphor: How metaphors differ from other figures of speech such as similes.

Summary: It is the fact that adoption is a metaphor which nullifies fears of moving away from a literal reading of the language.

The power of the adoption metaphor: Why Paul makes use of huiothesia on only five occasions.

 Summary: The argument that adoption is not very important in Paul’s theology is based on a want of awareness of how metaphors function.

The substance of the adoption metaphor: Whether it is better to categorize adoption as a model (robust metaphor) or a metaphor?

Summary: The long-established habit of mixing the metaphors of Scripture (notably the new birth and adoption), without explicit exegetical warrant for doing so, can be explained in part by the belief that adoption is more akin to a one-time analogy than to a substantive and coherent framework for understanding the believer’s acceptance in Christ.

The uniqueness of the adoption metaphor: How the character, power, and substance of adoption all confirm the inappropriateness of mixing biblical metaphors and models where Scripture does not do so.

Summary: Establishing this inappropriateness is essential to considering Paul’s language of adoption on its own terms. Such a consideration offers us a chance to exchange some of the muddled exegesis of the past for a view of adoption that is more historically, linguistically, biblically, theologically, and practically aware.

Doubtless, some of this sounds cryptic right now, but I trust clarity will come as we look at each aspect of a metaphorical understanding of adoption in turn, beginning next time with a discussion of the character of the adoption metaphor.


[These Adoption Nuggets were originally written at the request of Dan Cruver, President and Co-Founder of the adoption and orphan care ministry “Together for Adoption.” Go to for further information.].


Writing-225x300In an age of the glorification of the busy, Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s advice about reading has much to commend it: “Read much, not many”! The same may be said of writing—especially in light of the seismic development of the publishing arm of the Christian church.

I think of Jesus, the Savior and Lord whom we follow. His thoughts have filled minds, survived history, and traveled to the uttermost parts of the earth. Yet he never wrote a book by his own hand. This does not mean to say that he opposed writing, for evidently he was an authority on the Hebrew Scriptures (Luke 2:41–52). His Spirit breathed out the best book of all—a book which is about him (John 5:39). Yet, he epitomized the truth that whereas people have souls, books do not. In the process, he laid waste to the idea that greatness must entail an impressive list of high-profile articles or bestsellers. If Jesus spent any time writing in private the truths he later discussed and preached, he certainly did not publish them. He may have written much, but evidently he did not write many. Published writing, it is clear, was not his calling. Greatness, he said, is found in serving (Matthew 20:28; Mark 9:35). Writing is a service, but it is by no means clear that Jesus highlights it to the degree that the Christian community does today. The advent of mass publishing has been a great boon for the ministry of the church and the spread of the gospel, but it is not without its dangers.

First, there are homiletical dangers. The drive to publish can threaten in a pastor’s ministry the primacy of preaching. Whereas once his mornings were taken up researching sermons, now they are occupied with writing chapters. The Lord’s Day comes, and into the pulpit he walks with the draft manuscript. Unspotted by many, however, are the subtle changes this multi-tasking introduces: the exposition is shorn of its dominant thrust and becomes a running commentary; the delivery minimizes space for the Holy Spirit to direct in the moment, and becomes an exercise in reading; and the congregation present in worship to hear a word from God for them becomes a select group of samplers of the forthcoming book. There are spiritual dangers, too. The gravitational pull toward becoming known is real. Making a killing on royalties is very much the exception, but the dream is for free. The hankering for affirmation from one’s peers is more realistic, but is no less of an impediment to spiritual growth if we cease to find our identity and satisfaction in Christ. It is by drinking of him we are refreshed and grow (John 7:37). Accordingly, our plan to publish must factor in Christ’s expectation that we will. Premature publication sows, then, the seed of self-contradiction in later years. This might not matter to us, but it may to those whose thinking we shape. There are few like John Calvin, who write as they read and read as they write, and do so without later reversing their opinions.

Given these considerations, it is important to weigh the opportunity to write in light of the glory of God, the promotion of the kingdom, and one’s own sense of calling. “Publish or perish” may be the mantra of academia, but it’s not a motto for pastors or theologians. Our commitment to God’s truth, the unity of his household, and the primary responsibilities of our specific ministry callings will sometimes mean foregoing opportunities to publish. Reformed theologian John Murray (1898–1975) epitomized this more cautious approach. It mattered to him what he taught Christ’s church, and therefore he labored away in the privacy of his study seeking precision in his understanding of Holy Scripture before going public. Doubtless, temperament and giftedness came into play in this approach, yet there is something to be said for resisting the unspoken pressure to publish, simply because getting into print is deemed essential to greatness (a.k.a., celebrity status).

These convictions are not new, but in taking up the invitation to write for Christianity 21st I am presented with an opportunity to think afresh about the role of writing in Christian ministry. I seek not to bind the consciences of others, but to work out the criteria which justifies the time taken to pen some thoughts amid the cares of the flock. These criteria are not imposed on me from without— either by a wife starved of company, or by an Elder Board seeking to micro-manage! Rather, I drew them up some time ago as a note-to-self about the brevity of life, the primacy of preaching, and the significance of relational commitments. They state that:

  1.  Authorship and publication of theological literature should not take precedence over the call to preach. The primacy of preaching must resist the usurpation of the primacy of publication. Jesus, it is important to remember, came to preach (Mark 1:38), and so did Paul (1 Corinthians 1:17–18).

  2. Authorship and publication of theological literature should not take precedence over the pastoral needs of family, friends or congregation. Published writings can serve the church very well, but God who sees our down-sitting and uprising knows which pieces have been produced at the expense of the people in our immediate care.

  3. The constraints of time, preaching, and pastoral work preclude publishing merely for the sake of it (Ecclesiastes 12:12). Not every sermon warrants publication, or every thought an airing. Write when it is possible and appropriate. The possibility speaks of the illumination of the Spirit and the time available to transfer his insights into the Word to writing. The appropriateness refers to the burden to serve. Let nothing inspire more than God’s glory, the fame of Christ, and the church’s maturing. Theology is important, but don’t publish repeats of what is said well elsewhere. Help fill a lacuna, or offer a fresh interpretation of Scripture.

Hearty thanks, then, for the invitation! I cherish it in my heart and hold this note-to-self in my hand.


This post was first published by Tim J. R. Trumper at


May 2015: Ask the Pastor

TCT [1]

The following are the questions received for this month’s “Ask the Pastor” program. Not all are answered in the hour. Questions phoned in receive priority. The questions indicate an array of callers, ranging from seekers to seasoned believers. They obviously indicate the concerns of those from various theological traditions within Protestantism, and are worth posting because they offer an opportunity to weigh how well we know Scripture and can apply it.

□   Dalda from Radcliff, KY: If a man initiates a divorce then marries another woman, but the first wife continues to believe in the restoration of the marriage, is it wrong for her to still believe that reconciliation will occur?

□   Julie from Lockhart, TX: Is it a sin to drink alcoholic beverages?

□   Gary from TX prayed a prayer for healing. It has been a long time since he prayed, and he still has not received healing. Why?

□   Karen from NY: Her husband recently passed away. She is now questioning if there is really a heaven or an after life.

□   Mary from Durham, NC: John 7:24 tells us not to judge. Are there any Scriptures that tell us to judge?

□   Donna from Elizabeth City, NC is divorced from an abusive husband. Does she have biblical grounds to remarry?

□   Ernest from AL: How can people who don’t love God get up in this world and live?

□   Larry: Why did God call the Jewish people to be His chosen people?

□   Elizabeth from CT: Have we really forgiven someone if we do not want to deal with them?

□   Rose from Pasadena, CA: How do I tithe my tithes when I have no church home but go to various churches because of my work schedule?

      Virginia from AL: What is the will of God and what is it that we are exactly to do?

□   Elizabeth from AL: Is it right for us to hold memberships in two churches at once?

□   Marie from Atlanta, GA, forgave someone, then her wound was reopened. She felt like she had already forgiven. How does she know that she is in the will of God and right in her heart?

□   John from NH: Explain in regard to Matt. 11:12 who takes the Kingdom of Heaven.

□   Darlene from Siler City, NC: After a believer dies, does his or her spirit go immediately to be with Jesus?

□   Shirley from Portland, OR: When we die, where do we go? Paradise or Heaven?

□   Solomon: Moses went before God to write the 10 commandments. When his face shone, was it the Shekinah glory of the Lord? Explain.

□   Liesha from Miami, OK: What is the difference between tithing and sowing?



Adoption Nuggets (27): Dipping Into Metaphorical Theology (9)


These dippings are intended to clear away some of the muddled thinking inherited from the historic neglect of adoption. They offer us a taste of the doctrine’s substratum ~ a foundation touched on in passing in some biblical studies of adoption, but consistently omitted from theological and practical treatments. I am offering not a final word on the subject of adoption as a metaphor, but what is  to most readers a first word. I venture into this area not because I have all the answers (nor all the correct ones), but because certain questions need to be posed if the church of Christ is to dig deeper into the doctrine of adoption and to get to the key issues which help us understand the substratum.

In answer to the first question posed, we broke ranks from the assumed legitimacy of conflating the filial terms of Paul and of John (especially). This practice has been typical throughout the history of the church, but it is consistent neither with the authorial diversity of the New Testament (notably the fact that Paul alone uses the term adoption [huiothesia]), nor with the way the theological models of Scripture function.

Since, however, the discussion of the functioning of Paul’s language of adoption is rare (and certainly less than comprehensive), we have taken up a second question; namely, whether the reality of huiothesia is literal or metaphorical. The issues are complex and render dogmatism inappropriate. Remaining open to further light and making no pretensions to have offered a definitive answer, we have drawn what commonalities we can between the two readings (both regard the language of God’s Fatherhood to be divinely inspired and to convey reality), but have gone with the metaphorical understanding.

Accordingly, we come to the third question: If God’s adoption of his people is literal, what does that say of societal adoption? This question was posed hypothetically at the outset of these dippings, pending the outcome of the discussion arising from the previous question. Although we have opted for the metaphorical understanding, there is merit in perceiving how the advocate of the literal reading might answer.

He or she likely considers human practices of adoption evidence of the image of God in man. We adopt, in other words, because we are made in God’s image and after his likeness. On this understanding, God’s image in us is not simply moral (man was created possessing knowledge, righteousness and holiness) but natural. By this we mean that man, notwithstanding his Fall, retains vestiges of rationality, creativity, communality, etc. While his adoptive practices cannot exactly replicate God’s adoption ~ for he is neither God nor upright ~ he nevertheless does adopt. He cannot ordinarily adopt the children which he has brought to birth, as does God, and is not bound by one practice of adoption or another (whether Greek, Roman, contemporary, etc.), and yet he does adopt.

Advocates of a metaphorical understanding surely welcome such reasoning. We question not what the literal reading says of societal adoption, but the assumption that because man adopts, God must have literally adopted to begin with. Admittedly, this parity is simpler to grasp, and is attractive for that reason. Yet it does not answer other upcoming issues relevant to the way Paul uses the term huiothesia, nor does it prove the necessity of equating the communality of God with his act of adoption per se. God is certainly communal because he is eternally triune, and is definitely accepting because he has sovereignly and freely decreed and acted to accept sinners when under no obligation to do so. Yet, since there is nothing in Scripture (explicitly in Paul), so far as I can see, to oblige us to regard the truth of our divine acceptance as a literal adoption, it is feasible to argue that man’s practices of adoption are an unwitting and varying interpretation of his creation in the image of God, rather than a necessity of it. In this regard, the absence of the term huiothesia from the Septuagint and the uncertainty of the adoptive practices of the Hebrews ~ whether enacted essentially or formally ~ is of potential significance. The metaphorical reading, it is worth noting, considers man’s adoptive practices to be a humanly constructed expression of his imaging of God’s communality. Consistent with this, the expression varies from culture to culture and from era to era, some adopting and others not, some in one way and some in another. The apostle Paul for example, living in the first century A.D. and exposed to the Semitic and Graeco-Roman influences of his time, ran under the inspiration of the Spirit with the idea of adoption, using it to explain the believer’s acceptance with God in ways which otherwise would have been impossible, certainly in any substantive or colorful way. We believe him to have spoken the truth of our acceptance with God, but to have done so in a metaphorical way.

For all that we have discussed here, it is doubtless God has more light to shed on the functioning of biblical language. How this light is dispersed ~ whether through other minds, the ongoing recovery of adoption, or the ages to come ~ we shall see. Evidently, we peek through a glass darkly at the present, ever so dependent on the Spirit for his illumination. In this state of tension we proceed next time to answer the fourth question. We shall find, Lord willing, that the study of metaphor casts at least some light on Paul’s use of huiothesia.


[These Adoption Nuggets were originally written at the request of Dan Cruver, President and Co-Founder of the adoption and orphan care ministry “Together for Adoption.” Go to for further information.]

For the uninterrupted listing of the nuggets, click at this website on:

TIm J R Trumper/Adoption/Metaphorical Theology


Jesus Is Not Going Away


EusebiusThe following is a wonderful tribute to Jesus. It was written long ago by Eusebius of Caesarea (263-339/340 A.D.) in his Church History. Suffused with love for the Savior, Eusebius’ words have the added benefit of detailing apologetically how Jesus wins in the marketplace of ideas, both then and now. His words are a tonic of rightful pride in Jesus Christ and are a confidence sustainer in the times in which we live. These increasingly resemble the polytheistic days of the first centuries A.D.

. . . Jesus is the only one from all eternity who has been acknowledged, even by those highest in the earth, not as a common king among men, but as a the son of the universal God, and who has been worshiped as very God, and that rightly. For what king that ever lived attained such virtue as to fill the ears and tongues of all men on earth with his own name? What king, after ordaining such pious and wise laws, has extended them from one end of the earth to the other, so that they are perpetually read in the hearing of all men? Who has abrogated barbarous and savage customs of uncivilized nations by his gentle and most philanthropic laws? Who, being attacked for entire ages by all, has shown such superhuman virtue as to flourish daily, and remain young throughout his life? Who has founded a nation which of old was not even heard of, but which now is not concealed in some corner of the earth, but is spread abroad everywhere under the sun? Who has so fortified his soldiers with the arms of piety that their souls, being firmer than adamant, shine brilliantly in the contests with their opponents? What king prevails to such an extent and even after death leads on his soldiers, and sets up trophies over his enemies, and fills every place, country and city, Greek and Barbarian, with his royal dwellings, even divine temples with their consecrated oblations and votive offerings, which are themselves so truly great and majestic, worthy of wonder and admiration, and clear signs of the sovereignty of our Saviour? For now, too, he spake and they were made; he commanded and they were created. For what was there to resist the nod of the universal King and Governor and Word of God himself?

Eusebius, The Church History (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers [Second Series], 1:372-73)

March 2015: “Ask the Pastor”


The following are questions received for this month’s TCT “Ask the Pastor” program. They came in from across North America, evidently from newer and older Christians, from beginners as well as from more seasoned students of Scripture. The panelists are there to serve them all, and do so not as those who know all the answers, but as those who have benefited from the answers of many other students of Scripture along the way. We stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us.  Ultimately, then, there are no silly questions, apart from the ones we fear to ask. Those we answered in the program on March 6 have asterisks. Appended are some of the texts and ideas I offered.  

Donna from King, North Carolina and  Carl from Pulaski, Tennessee: Why isn’t Cain listed in Adam’s genealogy? And why does Adam’s lineage in Gen. 5:13 begin with Seth, excluding Cain & Abel?

Bobbie from Raleigh, North Carolina, Mary Lula from Euclid, Ohio, and Bernie from Georgia: What does the Bible say about cremation? May Christians be cremated?

** Diana from Parish, Tennessee; Vicky from Arcade, New York; Otis from Ahoskie, North Carolina; Carla from North Carolina, and Patricia from Paducah, Kentucky: Is it a sin to be baptized more than once and do you need to be baptized to go to Heaven

Clues: Matt. 28:18-20; Eph. 4:5. Baptism is not necessary to go to heaven, since entrance into heaven is through faith alone. However, an unbaptized Christian is utterly anomalous in the church of the New Testament era. Re-baptism is not a sin, but is unnecessary since baptism signifies a definitive entrance into the church, union with Jesus Christ, and cleansing.

Stewart from Marion, Ilinois: What is the function of Deacons in the church?

Edmund from Macon, Georgia: Is the church perfect (without sin)?

** Donna from Cleveland, Ohio: Is giving in to sin (yielding to the flesh) the same as willful sin?

Clues: James 1:12-15; Galatians 5: 1-25. There is a difference between the proactive pursuit of sin (which is rebellion) and reactions to devilish temptation.

** Ruth from Sun City, Arizona: Please explain the gift of discerning of spirits.

Clues: 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; 1 John 4:1. The discerning of gifts was an extraordinary gift of the Spirit given prior to the completion of the canon. The gift is now exercised normatively in relationship to the understanding and use of the Word (Acts 17:11; Hebrews 5:13-14).

** Chris from Mayford Hts, Ohio: Please explain what it means to live in the Spirit and to worship in the Spirit.

Clues: Worship in the Spirit was referred to by Jesus as an historical development resultant from his work and the gift of the Spirit (John 4:24). The idea also had reference to the office of prophet, whereby a prophet could see things he otherwise could not have seen, and heard things he otherwise would not have heard (Rev. 1:3, 9-10). As regards life in the Spirit, it is likely more accurate to speak of living by the Spirit, thereby indicating that the blessing of the Spirit in Christian living is not isolated from life according to the Word of God which the Spirit has breathed out.

** Ann from North Carolina: What are the rewards in Heaven?

Clues: The rewards are spoken of in many places in the New Testament. E.g., Matthew 5 and 6; 16:27; 25:14-30; Luke 12:33-34; 1 Corinthians 3:11-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 22:12. Yet, we are not told exactly what the reward is other than God himself. The Bible uses such terms as crown, treasure, inheritance, and eternal life; but as 1 Corinthians 2:9 reminds us: “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” We can deduce, however, that the reward will entail size of both responsibility on the new earth and spiritual capacity.

** Janice from Ilinois: When one prays to be saved, salvation comes.  Is it wrong that sometimes pastors ask the person to pray again?

Clues: Only if the evidences of a new birth remain perpetually absent. E.g., Love toward God, Christ, his Word, his people, and a hatred of sin.

Elizabeth from Gallion, Alabama: Is it right for someone to hold membership in 2 churches at once?

Liesha from Miami, Oklahoma: What is the difference between tithing and sowing?

Linda from Canton, Ohio and Faith from Huntsville, Alabama: Is it a sin to get a tattoo? Is it a sin to get your ears pierced?

** Anonymous from Nebraska: Going by I John 3:15 can a person who has had an abortion be forgiven?

Clues: Since the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the only unforgivable sin (Matthew 12:31), the answer must be yes. However, someone forgiven will know a repentance involving a radical commitment such that another abortion is, outside of extreme circumstances, unneeded.

Dennis from Plainfield, Washington: Why was Samuel allowed to come back to speak to King Saul?

Terra from Calgary, Canada: Why did God bring in the Law when the previous Hebrews were under grace?

Julie from Lockhart, Texas: Is it a sin to drink alcohol beverages?

** Vonda from Winston Salem, North Carolina: How is someone born again?

Clues: For the new birth see John especially (John 1:12-13; John 3:1-21; 1 John 2:28ff.). The new birth is one example of the metaphorical clothing of the regeneration of God’s children. We can say that the new birth is from above, solely God’s work, mysterious, issuing in a new nature, and seen in fruits of faith and repentance.

Sam from Van Wert, Ohio: Do you think that Jesus provided enough evidence that He was the Messiah when He was here?

** Janice from Griffin, Georgia: What does it mean to be under conviction?

Clues: “Under conviction” means under conviction of sin. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would exercise a ministry of convicting sinners, thereby pointing to them the necessity of embracing Christ (John 16:8-11).

John from Buffalo, New York: How does one rightly divide the word of truth?

Marilyn from Winston Salem, North Carolina: Will people of Noah’s time and the people of Gomorrah  have to stand before God again for judgment? I have been told that they will be judged again. Is that correct?

Jean from Delroy, Ohio: In the Gospel of Luke, why did John the Baptist have to die?

Shirley from North Carolina: What does Rev. 21:8 when it speaks of the “fearful” ?



Adoption Nuggets (26): Dipping Into Metaphorical Theology (8)

Fundamental Question #2: Is Paul’s Language of Adoption to Be Taken Literally or Metaphorically? (Answered)

Finally, we come to the point of decision. To be clear, we are not deciding whether Paul’s language of adoption bespeaks a reality or not, for as those holding a high view of Scripture we understand it does. Rather, we are deciding whether Paul writes of this reality directly ~ meaning that God has actually or literally adopted us, or indirectly ~ meaning that the language of adoption helps us to speak of our acceptance with God in ways which, apart from this language, would be either limited or impossible.

The literal reading has its attractions. It spares us a number of challenges: first, the impression that because something is metaphorical it cannot speak of reality; secondly, the uncertainty of wondering what the believer’s acceptance is in Christ if it is not, literally, an adoption; thirdly,  the complexity of figuring out what aspects of Semitic, Greek, or Roman adoption Paul had in mind when writing of adoption in Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians; and, fourthly, the need to explain both Paul’s and Calvin’s silence pertaining to the nature of the language of adoption.

After weighing the issues cautiously, thoughtfully, and evenhandedly, I opt, despite these attractions, to stick with the metaphorical understanding I first assumed in print in 1996 and 1997*. Four main reasons preclude a change of mind:

1. The general reason: The literal reading does not guarantee a complete view of reality any more than the metaphorical reading.

Scripture throughout indicates that there is more to God and his ways than has been revealed. Deuteronomy 29:29 states: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever.” Accordingly, the literal reading can only give access to the reality of adoption to the degree God has chosen to reveal it. His understanding of the believer’s adoption remains qualitatively better than ours, for he knows considerably more about it than we do. Thus, the literal reading can give us the pure but not the full essence of what it means to be adopted. The metaphorical reading, by contrast, owns this limitation but goes one step further; namely, to say that it is because the wonder of our acceptance with God is beyond articulation that he has expressed it through the apostle Paul in terms of adoption. Accordingly, it would be mistaken to assume that the literal and metaphorical readings offer us, respectively, high and low views of adoption. Since both views hold to reality we are choosing in actuality between two high views.

2. The biblical reason. The metaphorical reading is consistent with the nature of Scripture.

On the one hand, the divineness of Scripture indicates that God is able to speak forth his truth, and that he has initiated both the revelation of his truth and the manner of it. Simply stated, God has accommodated his revelation to our finite capacities. This proverbial baby talk helps us, then, to understand God’s truth in ways we would not be able to otherwise. In this light, metaphors function as one of God’s ways of speaking to us in our own language. On the other hand, the humanness of Scripture reminds us that although the metaphor is chosen and inspired by God, it is drawn from our earthly realm. The Spirit breathed out on holy men who were located in particular times and places, societies and cultural milieu. In the mystery of the inspiration of Scripture there transpired a concurrence of God’s will and man’s experience, in which the believer’s acceptance with God (known fully only to God) became couched in terms of adoption (practiced in society by man). Thus, we may say that Paul’s language of adoption is both top down (from God) and bottom up (from man), in that order.           

3. The textual reason: Too much weight has been placed on Ephesians 3:14-15 (“I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named”).

Paul prays to the first person of the Godhead by means of his personal name, “the Father.” To him he attributes the naming of either  “every family” or “all fatherhood” (pasa patria) in heaven and on earth. Clearly, the Fatherhood of God is original or archetypal and thereby the source of the derived or ectypal fatherhood of man. While God’s Fatherhood is above and beyond, prior to and determinative of, human fatherhood, there is nothing in the text to insist that God’s Fatherhood must of necessity be taken literally. Writes T. F. Torrance, “there is certainly a figurative or metaphorical ingredient in the human terms ‘father’ and ‘son’ as they are used in divine revelation” (The Christian Doctrine of God, One Being Three Persons [Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1996], 157). The name “Father” helps us speak of the first person of the Godhead in a way more informative and colorful than the description of him as unbegotten or unproceeding. It also guards us from thinking of God as male. The name “Father” is rather intended to express the priority, love, security, and care of the first person of the Godhead than an engendered relationship toward his children. That is why God is revealed in Scripture as Father, and yet his love is also expressed in maternal ways. Were this all a literal rather than a metaphorical reality, we might be tempted to think of God ~ dare I say it ~ in transgendered terms. When, however, we understand the reality of God and his children to be metaphorically expressed, we also discover how God can function as Father to children who are at one and the same time both born to him (John) and adopted (Paul) by him.  This is highly unusual in the literal realm, but clearly possible when understood in terms of two juxtaposed metaphors.

4. The Literary reason: Arguments from silence used to support the naive-realist literal understanding are not strong.

For Paul, the critical point is that the Father and the adoption of his sons is real, not how they are real. Paul’s point is rather that we should believe on the Son for acquaintance with the Father, than that we understand how the language of Fatherhood works when we can call God Abba.

It is more challenging to explain why Calvin attaches no literary category to the language of adoption, when, obviously, he was very familiar with various biblical figures of speech, and was not shy in identifying them (e.g., similes). At least three explanations are possible: First, that we are yet to come across a place in Calvin’s corpus where he clearly enunciates a metaphorical understanding of the language of adoption; secondly, that he simply overlooked explaining how the language of adoption functions; or, thirdly, that he believed adoption to bespeak a literal reality. If this third explanation turns out to be the case, then evidently I have taken the unusual step of differing from our hero in the faith.      

Reflecting on these four reasons for the metaphorical reading of Paul’s language of adoption, I do not doubt that there are questions to answer and points to clarify. We’ll come to some of these at least. It is sufficient for now to underline as we close two essential truths which must not be forgotten. Firstly, that Paul’s language of adoption is inspired by God even if taken from a human practice, and is therefore top-down first and bottom-up second. Secondly, that Paul’s language of adoption is expressive of reality, even though couched metaphorically. In other words, Paul speaks of our acceptance with God other than in terms of actual literal reality, but only in order that he may write of the reality of that acceptance at all. In the purposes of God, the language of adoption enables Paul to extol the wonders of the believer’s acceptance with God infallibly, powerfully, and colorfully!

In response to such a revelation we can but say, all glory be to God! The “How so?” we will come to again.


* Tim [J. R.] Trumper, “The Metaphorical Import of Adoption: A Plea for Realisation. I: The Adoption Metaphor in Biblical Usage,” Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology 14:2  (Autumn 1996), 129-145.

Tim [J. R.] Trumper, “The Metaphorical Import of Adoption: A Plea for Realisation. II: The Adoption Metaphor in Theological Usage,” Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology 15:2  (Autumn 1997), 98-115.


[These Adoption Nuggets were originally written at the request of Dan Cruver, President and Co-Founder of the adoption and orphan care ministry “Together for Adoption.” Go to for further information.]

For the uninterrupted listing of the nuggets, click at this website on:

TIm J R Trumper/Adoption/Metaphorical Theology