Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Empty Phantoms and Brain-Idols

My preaching schedule will have me completing Genesis 1 this Sunday. Since chapters 2 and 3 are ahead, I’m re-reading Herman Witsius’ The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man (1677). It was reading this three years ago that first got me excitedly thinking about preaching through this part of the Bible.

Most of us are familiar with the passage in the creation narrative in which the singular God refers to Himself with plural pronouns: “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth’” (Genesis 1:26).

If you’re an especially observant biblical student, you’ve probably taken note of the other places where this curious singular//plural language occurs: Genesis 3:22; 11:7; 18:1-33; Isaiah 6:8.

Witsius notes several other places where the Creator-God, Who is One (Isaiah 37:16; 44:24; 45:18; 1 Corinthians 8:6), is identified with a plural noun. I include this quote for our edification, since our English translations don’t usually reflect the plural in these places: “It cannot certainly be without design, that the scripture, when speaking of man’s Creator, so often uses the plural number: as Is. liv.5 בעליך עשיך, which literally signifies, thy husbands, thy makers, Psal. cxlix.2. ישמח ישראל בעשיו, Let Israel rejoice and his makers. Nay, requires man to attend to this, and engrave it on his mind, Eccl. xii.1 את־בוראיך וזכר, remember thy creators. It is criminal when man neglects it; and says not Job xxxv.10. איה אלוה עשי, where is God my makers? Which phrases, unless referred to a Trinity of persons, might appear to be dangerous” (Book 1, chapter II, part VI).

The Bible is full of references to a plurality in the one true God. On the same page as the above quote, Witsius reflects on the importance of knowing, confessing, and worshiping God as Trinity: “And it may justly be doubted, whether he does not worship God entirely unknown, nay, whether he at all worship the true God, who does not know and worship him, as subsisting in three persons. Whoever represents God to himself in any other light, represents not God, but an empty phantom, and an idol of his own brain.”

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