Friday, August 03, 2018

The Vision (8.3.18): These things understood not his disciples at the first

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 12:10-19.

These things understood not his disciples at the first: but when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of him, and that they had done these things unto him (John 12:16).

This an important and insightful verse. It is John’s reflection on the fact that at first the disciples (John included) did not understand the significance of everything that was happening during the final days of Christ’s earthly ministry. It was only after Christ was “glorified,” after he was raised from the dead, that these things began to make sense to them.

Notice two things in particular here:

First, it was only after Christ’s resurrection that they “remembered that these things were written of him.” It was only after the resurrection that they began to understand the Scriptures and know how to interpret them.

Second, it was only after the resurrection that they began to understand the spiritual significance of their own actions and those of others: “and that they had done these things unto him.”

This represents a key spiritual theme that is stressed throughout this Gospel: spiritual truths are often only revealed to Christ’s disciples slowly, over time (cf. John 2:18-22; 14:25-26; 20:8-9). Insight only comes through the resurrection power of Christ and the help of the Holy Spirit, so that there are some things that we only begin to understand in retrospect as we look back upon them.

This means that our awareness of the circumstances of our lives, the significance of our spiritual experiences, and our knowledge of Christ, are most often not fully understood in the present moment but only with time, reflection, and prayerful meditation.

The practical message: You likely do not yet fully understand all the things that Christ is now doing in your life, but you will in due time. The encouragement: Do not despair if you are not understanding all things in the present moment.

Calvin observed: “Let us remember that it is a special favor of the Holy Spirit to instruct us in a gradual manner, that we may not be stupid in considering the work of God.”

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Note: The Vision devotional will be taking a summer break over the next couple of weeks. The Vision returns (God willing) on Friday, August 24.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

WM 100: Rejoinder to Mark Ward: 3 Ways to Engage Modern Translation Onlyism

I have recorded and uploaded WM 100: Rejoinder to Mark Ward: 3 Ways to Engage Modern Translation Onlyism (listen here).

A friend called my attention to an article posted to the Gospel Coalition site this week (July 26, 2018), by Mark Ward and titled “3 Ways to Graciously Engage KJV-Only Believers” (read it here).

The article's author is Mark Ward (PhD Bob Jones University) an academic editor at Lexham Press and the author of Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible (Lexham Press).

WM 100 offers a review and critique of the article and closes with a suggestion of three ways to respond to those who suggest Christians should only use modern translations. Here are my notes for those three suggestions:

First: If they are willing to listen and understand, help them to understand the difference between a truly heretical KJV-Onlyist position and a KJV preferentialist position. Help them also to understand those who are Majority Text advocates and Confessional Text advocates. Help them to understand that it is not helpful or charitable to confuse these categories into a mishmash.

Second: Talk about a confessional view of text criticism. Walk them through WCF/2LBCF 1:8. Explain the historical roots of modern text criticism in the Enlightenment. Explain the difference between a reconstructionist view of the text and a preservationist view of the text. Explain how post-modern text criticism is no longer even interested in finding the original text and no one really knows what future editions of the modern critical text (and thus modern translations) will even look like.

Third: Talk about how important the KJV is as a treasure not only for the Protestant Christian English-speaking world, but for all of Western civilization. Suggest that rather than dumbing down the liturgical language of the church we should be lifting it up. Ask them why the KJV is loved in the English department but villainized in the religion department. Suggest they read Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death or T. S. Eliot’s review of the New English Bible (listen here). Explain that using the KJV might just be one small way in which we might swim against the tide of this world.


Friday, July 27, 2018

The Vision (7.27.18): Extravagant Devotion to Christ

Image: Butterfly bush, North Garden, Virginia, July 2018

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 12:1-9.

John 12:7 Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this. 8 For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always.

Here is Christ’s rebuke when Judas complains of Mary pouring out the costly spikenard to anoint the Lord Jesus:

First, he says, “Let her alone” (v. 7a). Leave her be. Do not criticize her for her expression of piety and devotion to me. Is it not striking that Christ defends his worshipping church? The Chief Shepherd protects his sheep from insult and injury.

Second, he says, “against the day of my burying hath she kept this” (v. 7b). Caiphas the high priest had just given a prophecy of Christ’s death that he did not really understand (see 11:50-52). Now, we have Mary taking an action that is bigger than she understands. In pouring out this spikenard she anticipates the day of Christ’s death and the anointing of his body for burial. She is honoring, without knowing it, the crucified Christ.

Third, he says, “For the poor always ye have with you….” (v. 8). Jesus is not, of course, disavowing proper aid to the poor and needy. This is part of loving our neighbor as ourselves. It is a Christian duty to “do good unto all men” (Gal 6:10).

Christ is citing here Deuteronomy 15:11 which begins, “For the poor shall never cease out of the land,” but that same verse proceeds to say, “therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in the land.”

Christ is saying, yes, in this evil age there will always be the poor and there will always be the duty to minister to them; there will always be the duty to do good to all men, but that is not at counter purposes to devotion to me. These men had the incarnate Lord before them, in the flesh, before his crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. What was called for was not some duplicitous fake-concern for the poor but the present honoring of the Lord Jesus Christ.

There will always be those we can help—till Christ comes again. But we are not to use that high-minded excuse for failure to do the one thing that is needful, to choose the good part, like Mary of Bethany to display honor, thanksgiving, and extravagant devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Friday, July 20, 2018

The Vision: The Scale and the Scope of Christ's Death

Image: Ripening blueberries, North Garden, Virginia, July 2018

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 11:47-57.

John 11:50 Nor consider that it is expedient that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. 51 And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Christ should die for that nation. 52 And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.

In John 11:50, Caiphas the high priest offers an unwitting prophecy about Christ: “Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not.”

What did he mean by that? He was suggesting that Jesus be offered up as a sacrificial lamb, as a scapegoat. We’ll place the blame on him and let him pay the price, so that our freedom can be preserved. It will be a good and to the benefit of many to put this man to death.

We then have the apostle John’s inspired interpretation of Caiphas’ words in vv. 51-52.
John first notes in v. 51 that Caiphas spoke “not of himself.” The sense here is that he was speaking under the Spirit’s direction, even though he did not understand what he was really saying. Calvin says, “a higher impulse guided his tongue.” God can speak even through ungodly men, as he did through Balaam of old (see Numbers 22—23).
John declares the substance of Caiphas’s words: “he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation” (v. 51b). He did not know it, but Caiphas had prophesied the penal substitutionary death of Christ.

Notice John’s further interpretation in v. 52. The death of Jesus will not be “for that nation only, but that he also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.”

John makes clear that Caiphas comprehended neither the scale nor the scope of the benefits of this one man’s death for the many. First on scale: Christ’s death would not merely bring temporal political liberty, but everlasting spiritual liberty. Second, on scope: Christ death would not just be a benefit for Jews in Judea but also for those Jews “scattered abroad” and even for the Gentiles (v. 52).

Calvin says we may infer from John’s words, “that the human race is scattered and estranged from God, until the children of God are assembled under Christ their head.”

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Monday, July 16, 2018

WM 99: Cyril of Alexandria

I have recorded and posted WM 99: Cyril of Alexandria. You can listen here.

Here are my notes for this episode:

St. Cyril of Alexandria, On the Unity of Christ, trans. and introduction by John Anthony McGuckin (St. Vladimir’s Press, 1995): 151 pp.

Life of Cyril of Alexandria:

Cyril of Alexandria (378-444) was the nephew of Theophilus, bishop of Alexandria from 385-412. Upon the death of Theophilus in 412, Cyril, at age 34, became his uncle’s successor. He clashed with Nestorius, bishop of Constantinople over the unity of the person of Christ and the orthodoxy of the title theotokos (“God-bearer”) for Mary, which Cyril supported and Nestorius opposed. This led to the second ecumenical Council at Ephesus in 431, which upheld Cyril’s views and denounced those of Nestorius. Philip Jenkins says Cyril was both “a brilliant thinker” and “an obnoxious bully” (Jesus Wars, p. 58). One of the darkest marks against him in Alexandria was his role in the death of a noted pagan woman philosopher named Hypatia in 415. He also used his political power and muscle to depose Nestorius and send him into exile.

His stress on the one person of Christ was distorted by Dioscuros, his successor at Alexandria, in the so-called “Gangster Synod” or “Robbers’ Council” at Ephesus in 449 which declared one nature of Christ. This “one nature” view (or the monophysite view, from the Greek physis, nature) had been championed by Eutyches (c. 375-454). David Bentley Hart summaries this view: “in the Incarnation, Christ’s humanity was wholly assumed into his divinity” (The Story of Christianity, 126). This meeting was dubbed the second council of Ephesus but due to its errant christology it is not accepted by the orthodox among the great early ecumenical councils. In later church councils, most notably at Chalcedon in 451, a more balanced and well-defined orthodox Christology was articulated which declared Christ to be one person with two natures (true man and true God; the diophysite view). The monophysite view, however, continued and continues to be held in the so-called “Oriental” churches (the Coptic Church of Egypt, the Ethiopian Church, the Syrian Jacobite Church, and the Armenian Church).

This orthodox Christology, is reflected in the Protestant confessions of the Reformation era, including the Second London Baptist Confession (1689). Compare confession 10:2:

Paragraph 2. The Son of God, the second person in the Holy Trinity, being very and eternal God, the brightness of the Father's glory, of one substance and equal with Him who made the world, who upholds and governs all things He has made, did, when the fullness of time was complete, take upon Him man's nature, with all the essential properties and common infirmities of it,9 yet without sin;10 being conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, the Holy Spirit coming down upon her: and the power of the Most High overshadowing her; and so was made of a woman of the tribe of Judah, of the seed of Abraham and David according to the Scriptures;11 so that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion; which person is very God and very man, yet one Christ, the only mediator between God and man.12
9 John 1:14; Gal. 4;4 
10 Rom. 8:3; Heb. 2:14,16,17, 4:15 
11 Matt. 1:22, 23 
12 Luke 1:27,31,35; Rom. 9:5; 1 Tim. 2:5

Cyril’s book On the Unity of Christ (Greek title: Ho heis ho Christos) was composed toward the end of his life and long after the conflict with Nestorius. It reflects Cyril’s mature views on Christology. The book uses a hypothetical dialogue format with questions on Christology posed and answered.

See this post on how the reflections of Cyril likely influenced WCF/2LBCF (1689) 10:3.

Citations below are from the edition translated and introduced by John Anthony McGuckin and printed in the “Popular Patristics Series” from St. Vladimir’s Press.

Here are a few citations:

On the incarnation:

“It follows, therefore, that He Who Is, The One Who Exists, is necessarily born of the flesh, taking all that is ours into himself so that all is born of the flesh, that is us corruptible and perishing beings, might rest in him. In short, he took what was ours to be his very own so that we might have all that was his” (p. 59).

“For God was in humanity. He who was above all creation was in our human condition; the invisible one was made visible in the flesh; he who is from the heavens and from on high was in the likeness of earthly things; the immaterial one could be touched; he who is free in his own nature came in the form of a slave; he who blesses all creation became accursed; he who is all righteousness was numbered among transgressors; life itself came in the appearance of death” (p. 61).

On Christ’s rational soul:

“We must admit, of course, that the body which he united to himself was endowed with the rational soul, for the Word, who is God, would hardly neglect our final part, the soul, and have regard only for the earthly body. Quite clearly in all wisdom he provided for both the soul and the body” (p. 64).

On the term theotokos:

“…if our opponents insist that the holy virgin must never be called The Mother of God, but Mother of Christ instead, then their blasphemy is patent, for they are denying that Christ is really God and Son” (p. 64).

On the authority of Scripture:

“Come, let us investigate the divine and sacred scripture and let us seek the solution there” (p. 72).

On the hypostatic union:

“How wicked they are, then, when they divide in two the one true and natural Son incarnated and made man, and when they reject the union and call it a conjunction” (pp. 73-74).

“Well, Godhead is one thing, and manhood is another thing, considered in the perspective of their respective and intrinsic beings, but in the case of Christ they came together in a mysterious union without confusion or change. The manner of this union is entirely beyond conception” (p. 77).

“My friend, if anyone says then when we speak of the single nature of God the Word incarnate and made man we imply that a confusion or mixture has occurred, then they are talking utter rubbish” (79).

“It was not impossible to God, in his loving-kindness, to make himself capable of bearing the limitations of the manhood” (p. 79).

“He lived as a man with earthly beings, and came in our likeness, but he was not subject to sin like us, but was far beyond the knowledge of any transgression. The same was at once God and man” (p. 89).

On the unity of Christ:

“…if someone has another added to him he cannot be considered one. How could he be? He would be one plus one, or rather one plus something different, and without question this makes two” (p. 91).

On the incarnation and divine impassibility:

“In his own nature he certainly suffers nothing, for as God he is bodiless and lies entirely outside suffering” (p. 121).

“The Word remained what he was even when he became flesh, so that he who is over all, and yet came among all through his humanity, should keep in himself his transcendence of all and remain above all the limitations of the creation” (p. 129).

“He suffers in his own flesh, and not the nature of the Godhead” (p. 130).

“No, as I have said, he ought to be conceived of as suffering in his own flesh, although not suffering in any way like this in the Godhead” (p. 130).


Cyril of Alexandria was certainly not a perfect man. He was a very flawed man, in the providence of God he was used to articulate an orthodox view of Christology, especially by stressing the oneness of Christ. Though some of his views were distorted by Eutyches and the monophysites, that too was, in God’s providence, corrected. We are less familiar with Cyril but we see his views reflected in our Protestant orthodox confessions.


Friday, July 13, 2018

The Vision (7.13.18): Jesus Wept

Image: Tiger lilies, North Garden, Virginia, July 2018.

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 11:32-46.

John 11:35: Jesus wept.

Here we have another well-loved description of the compassion of our Lord: “Jesus wept.”

We sometimes refer to this as the shortest verse in the Bible—the one that most can recite from memory, along with John 3:16. Of course, the verse divisions were not original but were only added in the age of the printed editions.

In the original Greek there are three Greek words here in 16 Greek letters. In truth 1 Thessalonians 5:17, pray without ceasing, has only two Greek words but in 22 Greek letters.

What is striking is not only the brevity of the verse but what it describes: the shedding of tears by the Lord Jesus Christ.

It is striking because it reveals his true humanity, and so it should be placed alongside others that do the same, whether Luke 2:52, which says “he increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man”, or Mark 4:38 that says he was “asleep on a pillow” while crossing the Sea of Galilee by boat, or John 19:28, which says that while on the cross the Lord Jesus said, “I thirst.” As a true man Christ grew in wisdom and stature; Christ slept, Christ thirsted and hungered. And as a true man, Christ wept when he contemplated not only the death of Lazarus, the pain and grief of those who knew and loved him, but also the sin and misery of the whole world.

Christ was indeed, a true man. Compare Hebrews 2:14-16 which declares that Christ took not on the nature of angels but “the seed of Abraham.”

There is a sense in which it is right to speak of God’s tears, just as it is also right to speak of “God’s blood,” as in God having purchased the church “with his own blood” (so Paul in Acts 20:28 the Ephesian elders).

But we also know that we need to be careful with our words, remembering that Christ is both true man and true God. And that with God there is no shadow of turning; there is no loss; there is no body, parts, or passions.

As Cyril of Alexandria (378-444) put it in On the Unity of Christ: “He suffers in his own flesh, and not the nature of the Godhead” (p. 130).

Christ, as a true man and a true friend, wept over the death of Lazarus.

I often like to cite John 11:35 when I conduct a funeral service and to say that by his tears Christ gave a blessing to all of our expressions of grief. Christianity is not stoicism. We need not strive to be unmoved by the difficult circumstances of life, but to meet them with the appropriate expression of our passions, knowing that we have one who cares for us.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Theological Schizophrenia

At the close of WM 98 I offered two conflicting quotes from the Preface and Acknowledgements to Craig A Carter’s Interpreting Scripture with the Great Tradition: Recovering the Genius of Premodern Exegesis (Baker, 2018), a book I have just begun to read.

First, in the Preface Carter says,

My hope is to overcome the Enlightenment by showing that the Enlightenment movement of “higher criticism” is a dead end, a sideshow, a deviation from orthodoxy, and a movement that is now in the late stages of self-destruction (xviii).

Then, in the Acknowledgements, Carter says,

All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version of the Bible, unless otherwise noted. I use, recommend, and thank God for the ESV Study Bible, which is a marvelous tool for anyone wanting to study God’s Word today (xx).

The contradiction: On one hand Carter (rightly) challenges the Enlightenment influenced modern historical-critical method. On the other hand, however, he chooses to make use of a translation that is the fruit of the Enlightenment deconstruction of the Biblical text (the ESV coming in a direct line from the English Revised Version of 1885, based on Wescott and Hort’s 1881 Greek NT). How is it that conservative and orthodox men can rightly critique the problems with modern theology in areas like the classical theism, but neglect to see those same problems in text criticism?