License Plates

TOPNTCH.  XQQSME.  ZIPNBYU.  ULIV1S.  IH8SCHL.  2FAST4U.  MOVIML8.[1] As I travel across American roads, like you, I have smiled at drivers’ creative statements.  There are times it takes me miles before I figure out what the plate was saying.  At other times, I don’t have a clue.  And, of course, there are those plates whose ideas I could not repeat here but almost cause an accident—I’m laughing so hard!

This past weekend I attended a birthday celebration for a friend.  During conversation with others I reminded one person how much I loved his license plate which reads, TELOS.[2] To my surprise, his wife announced her vanity plate read ARCHE.[3] She told the laughable story of how many folks asked, “Who’s Archie?”  But, frankly, I was thrilled.  In a subtle way, the couple was making a statement of Christian belief.  Their cars mirror their thinking.

ARCHE and TELOS is the double plate hanging on the car bumper of Genesis.  Before one reads the book’s first word, an unspoken assumption must be explained.  Genesis is a book of origins (arche), which initiates (arche) the first principle (arche): the idea (arche) came from The Beginning (arche), creation’s Ruler (arche), Jesus[4].  Genesis is, at the same time, a book of purpose (telos) which has an ultimate goal (telos), whose end (telos) is yet to come, but whose outcome (telos) will carry everything to its fitting conclusion (telos), bringing the original intention to completion (telos), creation’s End (telos), Jesus[5]. The last book in God’s Word, Revelation, explains the first book, Genesis, where Christ declares:

I am the Alpha and the Omega, The First and The Last, the Beginning (arche) and the End (telos).[6]

80’s rock n’ roll exactly mirrors beginnings and endings.  I love a strong, driving downbeat that repetitiously provides the rhythm, the baseline of the song.  Melody must grab my attention, giving my toe tap-ability.  Harmonic complements introduce variation, adding tension.  Then there is the obligatory guitar rift in the middle reminding me of the melody, adding its jazz-like “juice,” heightening the excitement.  The final moments make every part satisfying, tying them together with a concluding flourish.  Once I asked my son why I liked 80’s music so well.  “That’s easy Dad.  You like unity and completion.  Eighties’ Rock is a straight line from the beginning to the end.”[7]

The book of Genesis announces ARCHE and TELOS before it utters a word because Jesus IS The Word.[8] The First Testament declares that The Creator created by His Word.[9] Jesus has “become for us wisdom from God.”[10] God created the heavens and earth by His Wisdom.[11] Jesus is “before all things and in Him all things hold together . . . He is the beginning . . .”[12] Jesus Himself is the beginning and the end.  He is the original intention of The Godhead and Jesus will bring everything back to that original intention.  As Lesslie Newbigin has said, “To have discovered the cause of something is to have explained it.  There is no need to invoke purpose or design as an explanation.”[13] Jesus IS both ARCHE and TELOS.

The application of beginning and end impacts every aspect of our being and living.  Understanding our origins gives meaning to our physical world.[14] Orientation to where we live and how we live allows us to create personal goals.[15] Our world makes sense.[16] Sensibility and meaning holds out a standard for right and wrong.[17] Purpose gives a historical orientation.[18] There are, as Richard John Neuhaus’ journal reminds us, a standard for First Things. If there is a first thing this argues for a permanent thing.[19] Eternal boundaries give us markers outside of ourselves to live with propriety.[20] Folks are looking for answers to the very issues Genesis presupposes.

License plates are personal statements of belief.  Everyone everywhere seeks to explain themselves.  Some use car bumpers to do so.  Tim Morris, a science professor at Covenant College, Lookout Mountain, Georgia, seeks to understand his field of interest with his teaching as a Christian college professor.  In his article entitled, “What Difference Does Being a Christian Make in the Study of the Krebs Cycle?” Dr. Morris explains

Creation is theater. Created reality is not simply the stage or an incredibly complex prop for a story that God is telling; rather, created reality is the gospel story he is telling in time and space.[21]

Creation is “The Gospel,” part of the Good News about Jesus.  My future vanity plate should identify His original Rule, the goal of all things: GENESIS.

No vanity plate yet but Mark still loves Genesis, teaching at Crossroads Bible College, Indianapolis, IN.


[1] Just in case you aren’t sure what these license plates are saying, here is the translation: TOPNTCH “Top Notch;” XQQSME “Excuse Me”; ZIPNBYU “Zippin’ By You”; ULIV1S “You Live Once”; IH8SCHL “I Hate School”; 2FAST4U “Too Fast For You”; MOVIML8 “Move, I’m Late.”

[2] “Telos” (tell-os) is the English transliteration of the Greek word which means end, purpose, or goal.

[3] “Arche” (are-ka) is the English transliteration of the Greek word which means origin, beginning, or principle.

[4]That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.”  John goes on to repeat himself thrice more: “we proclaim what we have seen and heard.” (1 John 1:1-3)  Christ’s rule is understood in Ephesians 1:21; 3:10; 6:12; Colossians 1:16; 2:10, 15.

[5] Jesus said “What is written about me is reaching its fulfillment” (or “end,” Luke 22:37); the end is yet to come (Matthew 24:6, 14).  “Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4) because God’s wrath will come “at last” (1 Thessalonians 2:16).

[6] Revelation 1:8; 21:6; 22:13.

[7] Some of you will note that even the construction of this paragraph reflects a structured order, a beginning and an end.  The explanatory lines about music have two complementary ideas, completed in each case by a gerund phrase.  Literature is about meaning seen through the method together giving a message.

[8] John 1:1-18.

[9] Genesis 1:3, etc. “Let there be . . .”; Psalms 33:6 and 148:5; Isaiah 48:13.

[10] 1 Corinthians 1:30 (NIV).

[11] Psalm 104:24; Proverbs 3:19; esp. 8:22-31; Jeremiah 10:13; 51:15.

[12] Colossians 1:17-18 (ESV).

[13] Lesslie Newbigin. 1986. 1990. Foolishness of The Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture. (Reprint, Eerdmans): 24

[14] Nehemiah 9:6.

[15] Note the strong genealogical connections of place and vocation in sections like Genesis 10.

[16] Psalms 147 and 148.

[17] 1 Timothy 6:10 where money is said to be “the root” or “origin,” “the very beginning of” evil.

[18] Matthew 19:4, 8; John 8:44.

[19] Psalm 119:91.

[20] Jeremiah 31:35-37; 33:2, 20-26.

[21] Tim Morris. “What Difference Does Being a Christian Make in the Study of the Krebs Cycle?”  Pro Rege March 2009, 28.

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