Friday, July 31, 2015

The Vision (7.31.15): Take Not Away Thy Bible

Note:  In the closing application to last Sunday morning’s sermon from Nehemiah 8:1-12 on Ezra the scribe reading the law of God to the returned exiles, I shared this anecdote (taken from Joel R. Beeke, Puritan Evangelism:  A Biblical Approach, p. 1):

The Puritan minister John Rogers (c. 1570-1636) once preached to his congregation about their neglect of Scripture.  He imagined what God might say to them:  “I have trusted you so long with my Bible…it lies in [some] houses all covered with dust and cobwebs, you care not to listen to it.  Do you use my Bible so?  Well, you shall have my Bible no longer.”

With that said, Rogers picked up the Bible and began to walk away from the pulpit.

Then, he took on the role of the people and fell on his knees pleading, “Lord, whatever Thou dost to us, take not Thy Bible from us; kill our children, burn our houses, destroy our goods; only spare us Thy Bible, take not away Thy Bible.”

Assuming again the part of God Himself, Rogers replies to the congregation, “Say you so?  Well, I will try you a little longer; and here is my Bible for you.  I will see how you use it, whether you will search it more, love it more, observe it more, and live more according to it.”

May we learn to treasure God’s Word more dearly.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, July 30, 2015

John Owen on Divine Preservation of Scripture

In his treatise “Of the Integrity and Purity of the Hebrew and Greek Text of the Scripture” the Puritan John Owen affirms both the inspiration and preservation of Scripture, noting that God would not have given his Word to his people if he had not also intended to preserve it for them:

But what, I pray, will it advantage us that God did so once deliver his word, if we are not assured also that that word so delivered hath been, by his special care and providence, preserved entire and uncorrupted unto us, or that it doth not evidence and manifest itself to be his word, beings so preserved? ….

Far be it from the thoughts of any good man, that God, whose covenant with his church is that his word and Spirit shall never depart from it, Isa lix. 21, Matt. v.18, 1 Pet. i.25, 1 Cor xi.23, Matt. xxviii.20, hath left it in uncertainties about the things that are the foundation of all that faith and obedience which he requires at our hands (Works, Vol. 16, p. 350).

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Word Magazine # 40: Rejoinder to James White on Ecclesiastical Text.Part One

Last night I recorded WM # 40 which offers a rejoinder and analysis of this screen flow video from RB apologist James White:

As I note in my rejoinder, White recorded this video in response to a FaceBook dust-up with RB Pastor Robert Truelove. Truelove had, I think, charitably and perceptively raised some good questions about how and why Muslims have used James White's presentations advocating the modern critical Greek text of the NT to serve their own apologetic ends in denying the reliability and authority of the Christian Scriptures.  Here is a video that Truelove posted in response to James White:

Clearly, White is becoming more aware of a small but growing movement in some Reformed circles to rethink the adoption of the modern critical text and to take seriously the confessional articulation of the doctrine of the divine preservation of Scripture in chapter one of the WCF and the 2LBCF (1689).  This is leading to a revival of interest in the traditional or "ecclesiastical" text as represented in the Hebrew Masoretic Text of the OT and the Greek Textus Receptus of the NT.


Friday, July 24, 2015

The Vision: Psalm 12:6-7 and Preservation

Note:  Here are some notes from last Sunday’s sermon on Psalm 12:

Psalm 12:6 The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. 7 Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.

Does Psalm 12 support the doctrine of the providential preservation of God’s Word?

I believe the answer to that is “Yes.”  The heart of that comes in v. 6.  God’s word is pure.  It has been made pure by God himself.  It is not an adulterated word.  It is like silver purified in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.  Notice:  It was not left in a state of impurity and corruption for thousands of years until the right scientific knowledge arose to purify it.  It has always been pure.

Though we might grant that the thrust of v. 7 is about the preservation of God’s people (rather than directly about the preservation of his Word) that is not a point unrelated to the doctrine of the divine preservation of Scripture.  Why can God’s people have confidence in his ability to keep them?  Because the Lord keeps his promises.  He keeps his word.  His Word can be trusted in all generations!

The Geneva Bible notes on v. 5 declare:  “Because the Lord’s word and promise is true and unchangeable, he will perform it and preserve the poor from this wicked generation.”

So, the right interpretation of Psalm 12:7 need not be “either it is about the preservation of Scripture or it is about the preservation of God’s people,” but “both, and.”  This is the way Matthew Poole understood it when he said that the meaning of v. 7 is that God’s preservation refers to “either:  (1) the poor and needy, ver. 5, from the crafts and malice of this crooked and perverse generation of men, and for ever. Or, (2) The words or promises, last mentioned, ver. 6.”

There is a joining here of two great and related doctrines. God keeps his Word and God keeps his people.  God preserves his Word and God preserves his people.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Vision (7.17.15): Josephus on the Preservation of God's Word

Flavius Josephus (c. 37-100 AD) was a Jewish military leader and historian who was roughly a contemporary of the apostle Paul.  Modern historians have found the writings of Josephus to be an invaluable source for understanding the religion and history of Israel during Biblical times.  In his work titled The Jewish Wars, for example, Josephus provides a vivid eyewitness description of the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans in 70 AD.

In an apologetic work titled Against Apion, Josephus defends the Jewish people and religion against its pagan critics.  As part of that defense, Josephus describes the meticulous care which the Jews of his day gave to the handling and transmission of the Old Testament Scriptures:

We have given practical proof of our reverence for our own Scriptures.  For, although such long ages have now passed, no one ventured either to add, or to remove or to alter a syllable; and it is an instinct with every Jew, from the day of his birth, to regard them as the decrees of God, to abide by them, and, if need be, cheerfully to die for them.  Time and again ere now the sight has been witnessed of prisoners enduring tortures and death in every form in the theatres, rather than utter a single word against the laws and the allied documents (Against Apion, I.8).

Since Jesus himself and the apostles were Jews, we can imagine that they shared a similar sentiment regarding the Scriptures.  This same spirit is evidenced when Jesus said things like:  “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matthew 5:17).  Such statements provide the vital Biblical proofs which support the doctrine of the providential preservation of God’s Word.

We can rely on the faithfulness of God’s Word, because God has been faithful to keep it.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Text Note: 2 Samuel 24:13 [1 Chronicles 21:12]

I ran across this text and translation issue when preparing to preach last Sunday morning’s sermon on 2 Samuel 24.

The Issue:

The issue here relates to the prophet Gad’s communication to David of the three possibly punishments he might choose in response to his unauthorized census of the fighting men of Judah and Israel.

The traditional Hebrew Masoretic text lists the options as seven years of famine, three months of flight, or three days of pestilence.

This presents a harmonization dilemma, however, with the parallel passage in 1 Chronicles 21:12 which lists the options as three years of famine, three months of flight, and three days of pestilence.

Translations which follow the Hebrew Masoretic text follow it in maintaining seven years of famine.  In addition to the Geneva Bible, the King James Version, and the New King James Version, this is also the reading followed by the NASB.

A number of modern translations, however, change the “seven” to “three,” thus bringing 2 Samuel 24:13 into harmony with 1 Chronicles 21:12. This is true of the NIV and of the translations which follow the English Revised Version tradition, such as the RSV, the NRSV, and the ESV.

External Evidence:

The Hebrew Masoretic text of 2 Samuel 24:3 reads sheba shanim ra-ab (“seven years of famine”).  There are no Hebrew manuscripts that support the reading of “three years of famine.”  The LXX, however, does read tria ete limos (“three years of famine”).

The modern translations which depart from the Hebrew Masoretic text do so on the basis of the conjecture that the LXX represents the original and best reading, even though there are no extant Hebrew manuscripts which support this reading.

The ESV explains its use of “three” at 2 Samuel 24:13 with this footnote:  “Compare 1 Chronicles 21:12, Septuagint; Hebrew seven.”

Internal Evidence:

 Again, the traditional reading presents a significant challenge for harmonization with 1 Chronicles 21:12.  Is this an example of an outright and irrefutable contradiction or error?  Here are some notes from my sermon on Sunday in which I address this challenge:

How do we reconcile 2 Samuel 24:13 with its parallel in 1 Chronicles 21:12, which says three years of famine, paralleled with three months of falling to the foes, and three days of pestilence?  Compare:

1 Chronicles 21:12 Either three years' famine; or three months to be destroyed before thy foes, while that the sword of thine enemies overtaketh thee; or else three days the sword of the LORD, even the pestilence, in the land, and the angel of the LORD destroying throughout all the coasts of Israel. Now therefore advise thyself what word I shall bring again to him that sent me.

Is this an irreconcilable contraction with 2 Samuel 24 or an inexplicable error?  We need to consider three things:

First, we need to remember that the ancient Hebrews upheld the total infallibility of Scripture and yet saw no contradiction in having the two accounts in the Bible.

Second, we might ponder whether the problem might be in us (in our dullness) rather than in the text.

Finally, we need to consider reasonable explanations that might be given.  The Puritan expositor Matthew Poole is typically helpful.  In his commentary on this passage, he suggests the possibility that Chronicles “speaks exactly of those years of famine only which came for David’s sin” while 2 Samuel “speaks more confusedly and comprehensively” of seven years which might have included the three previous years of famine which came as the result of the sin of Saul (see 2 Samuel 21:1:  “Then there was a famine in the days of David three years, year after year…..”) as well as the present year in which David’s census was taken.  Thus, the seven years of 2 Samuel and the three years of Chronicles might be satisfactorily harmonized. This is also the interpretation offered in the notes to the Geneva Bible:  "For three years of famine were past for the Gibeonites' matter; this was the fourth year to the which should have been added other three years more, 1 Chron. 21:12."


The Hebrew Masoretic text of 2 Samuel 24:13 is to be affirmed.  It is clearly the more difficult textual reading due to the apparent difficulties with its parallel in 1 Chronicles 21:12.  If it was not the original reading, then it is hard to understand why it would have been created.

Advocates of the modern critical Hebrew text would suggest that the LXX preserves the proper, original reading, although no extant Hebrew manuscript supports this reading.  They apparently overlook what appears to be the more likely possibility that the LXX translator was attempting to harmonize 2 Samuel with 1 Chronicles, reflecting the same discomfort expressed by contemporary interpreters.  This decision also represents a glaring inconsistency in the approach of proponents of the modern critical text in that they typically criticize the traditional text for readings based on slight textual support.  Here, however, they adopt a conjectural reading which is only supported by a single versional witness.  


Friday, July 10, 2015

The Vision (7.10.15): Calvin on the Providential Preservation of Scripture

In his classic systematic theological work The Institutes of the Christian Religion, the foundational Reformer John Calvin articulates the doctrine of the providential preservation of Scripture (see Book One, Chapter VIII).

As part of his historical survey of how God has preserved his Word through the ages, Calvin discusses the time when the Greek tyrant Antiochus IV Epiphanes “ordered all the books to be burned” (as recorded in the apocryphal book of 1 Maccabees).  Calvin observes:

….let us rather ponder here how much care the Lord has taken to preserve his Word, when, contrary to everybody’s expectation, he snatched it away from a most cruel and savage tyrant, as from a raging fire.  Let us consider how he armed godly priests and others with so great constancy that they did not hesitate to transmit to their posterity this treasure redeemed, if necessary at the expense of their own lives; and how he frustrated the whole fierce book hunt of rulers and their minions.  Who does not recognize as a remarkable and wonderful work of God the fact that those sacred monuments, which the wicked have persuaded themselves had utterly perished, soon returned and took their former place once more, and even with enhanced dignity?

He later adds:

By countless wondrous means Satan with the whole world has tried either to oppress it or overturn it, to obscure and obliterate it utterly from the memory of men—yet, like the palm, it has risen ever higher and has remained unassailable.

Calvin held not only that God had inspired his Word but that he also had preserved his Word in all ages.  This understanding of the providential preservation of Scripture came to be reflected in the classical Reformed confessions like the Westminster Confession and the Second London Baptist Confession when they affirm that the Scriptures “being immediately inspired by God, and by His singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical; so as in all controversies of religion, the church is finally to appeal to them” (2LBCF, Chapter One, “Of the Holy Scriptures”).  Though traditional and evangelical Christians in the modern age have generally articulated and defended the divine inspiration of the Bible, they have been less confident and clear in their defense of its providential preservation.  Let us be vigilant to uphold both these vital doctrines.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeffrey Riddle