Saturday, January 21, 2017

A good name is better than precious ointment

Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on Ecclesiastes 7:1-6.

Ecclesiastes 7 begins:  “A good name is better than precious ointment” (v. 1a).

This parallels Proverbs 22:1 which similarly reads: “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold.”

I remember as a child misunderstanding that verse and thinking it meant it was to your advantage literally to have a meaningful name, perhaps a Biblical name. Of course, that’s not what it’s about.  It’s about your reputation.

John D. Currid gets it right:

To have a good name means that a person is considered a noble, courageous person of integrity. He is one with an upright character. This is worth much more than ‘precious ointment’ or expensive perfume. A good reputation is more abiding than material riches (Ecclesiastes, p. 90).

In 1 Timothy 3:7 Paul says that an elder must have “a good report of them which are without.” He said this knowing that sometimes elders are wrongly maligned.  Paul himself was wrongly accused by his opponents of being greedy, licentious, and contentious. Just look at how he so frequently defends his ministry in his letters or in his speech to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20 (cf., for example, Acts 20:33 when he says, “I have coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel”).

This also reminds us that if we would have a good name, we must not sully the name of another.

Our Puritan forebears trace the root of this moral concern to the ninth commandment:  Thou shalt not bear false witness.  So, the catechism teaches: “The ninth commandment requires the maintaining and promoting of truth between man and man, and of our own, and our neighbor’s good name, especially in witness-bearing.”

We should prize our own good name (though knowing it might be unjustly maligned for the sake of Christ) and also the good name of our neighbor, especially if he is also a Christian brother.  For a good name is better than precious ointment.


Friday, January 20, 2017

The Vision (1.20.17): The House of Mourning and the House of Mirth

Image: Winter scene, North Garden, Virginia, January 2017

Note:  Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on Ecclesiastes 7:1-6.
Ecclesiastes 7: 4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. 5 It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools. 6 For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool: this also is vanity.
The great contrast in the wisdom literature is between the wise man and the foolish man.  Jesus taught about the wise man who built his house on the rock and the foolish man who built on the sand (Matthew 7).  Here the wise man is the one whose heart (the seat of his affections) is in the house of mourning (seriousness, sobriety). And the fool is he whose heart is in the house of mirth (frivolity, superficiality).

Another, yet related, dimension is added in v. 5: “It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools.”

This is also a stock teaching in the wisdom literature.  Do not resist an admonition that comes from the wise. But receive it and profit from it.

Psalm 141:5 Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head: for yet my prayer also shall be in their calamities.

Proverbs 25:12 As an earring of gold, and an ornament of fine gold, so is a wise reprover upon an obedient ear.

Proverbs 27:5 Open rebuke is better than secret love. 6 Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.

Think of David when Nathan the prophet confronted him and said, “Thou art the man!” (2 Sam 12:7).  Did David run from Nathan?  Did he accuse him of treachery?  Did he order his execution?  Did David call for his sycophants to soothe his conscience? Did he call for musicians and arrange a party?  Did he call for comedians to lighten his mood? No, he acknowledged that Nathan had brought him the Word of God. And he repented of his sin (see Psalm 51).

The last verse calls to mind a vivid analogy.  The “song of fools” (v. 5) or the foolish laughter of those who dull their meaningless life through partying and laughing are like crackling thorns under a pot on a fire (v. 6a).

His summary for it all? “This also is vanity” (v. 6b).

Here is a great irony:  Unregenerate men are headed for eternal destruction, but while here, in this life, they most often ignore their plight by escaping to the house of mirth.  Meanwhile, regenerate and godly men, who are headed for the New Jerusalem, while in this life, will frequently go to the house of mourning, in sorrow for their sins and habitual repentance.

May the Lord make us wise, sending us out of the house of mirth and into the house of mourning, so that we might dwell in his house forever.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Robert Truelove reviews the Schuyler Canterbury edition of the KJV

Truelove, pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Georgia, calls this "the best edition of the KJB printed to date." It is a beautiful book.


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Orthodox Study Bible on Mark 16:9-20

The Orthodox Study Bible (Thomas Nelson, 1993) presents commentary on the NT and the Psalms, prepared by the Academic Community of St. Athanasius Orthodox Academy of Santa Barbara, California. The text for the NT is from the New King James Version.   The traditional ending of Mark is included as the authoritative, un-bracketed text.  In the commentary notes, there is the following note at Mark 16:9-20:

Some manuscripts do not include this longer ending. Later traditions testify to several endings. The Church, however, has always regarded this ending as canonical and inspired (p. 129).

The Orthodox view on the text of Scripture is rarely considered by liberal and evangelical Protestants who have embraced the modern critical text and translations based upon it.  The Orthodox have not embraced the modern critical text of the NT (the Orthodox view of the OT is another matter). What is more, they hold not just to the Majority Text, as evident with the ending of Mark, but to the Textus Receptus.


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Larry Hurtado on Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World

I enjoyed listening to this lecture by Larry Hurtado, emeritus professor of NT at the University of Edinburgh, on the distinctiveness of early Christianity in the Roman world.  The lecture was given at the Lanier Theological Library in Houston, Texas on September 10, 2016.  I liked his description of the Parthenon as an "ecumenical" temple and his stress on the exclusivity (intolerance) of early Christians with regard to their refusal to worship false gods, resulting in them being labelled as "atheists." Worth hearing.


Monday, January 16, 2017

Russell Fuller on John Owen and the Traditional Protestant View of the Old Testament

I listened today to the recently posted lecture by Dr. Russell T. Fuller, OT Professor at Southern Baptist Seminary, on “John Owen and the Traditional Protestant View of the OT" (see video above).  The lecture was given at the 2016 Andrew Fuller Conference on the theme, “The Diversity of Dissent.”

Fuller presents a compelling defense of the Hebrew Masoretic tradition as the authoritative text of the Old Testament, over against modern, reconstructionist text critical approaches, as represented in many modern liberal and also evangelical translations of the OT. And he does so on distinctly confessional grounds!

Here are some notes:

Fuller begins with a review of the “forgotten controversy” of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries over the antiquity of the vowel points and accents of the Hebrew Bible.

Traditional Jews and Protestant held to the antiquity of the vowel points and accents, tracing them back to Moses and Ezra.  The controversy began with the rejection of the antiquity of the vowel points and accents by the Jewish scholar Elias Levita and (surprisingly) the Protestant scholar Louis Cappel (Latin:  Capellus).  This was seized upon by Catholics who argued that the OT text was corrupted and proper interpretation only came through the Vulgate and the RC magisterium. Johannes Buxtorf (the elder) and his son Johannes Buxtorf (the younger) defended the traditional Protestant view.  This controversy re-emerged in the seventeenth century with Brian Walton’s Polyglott offering the same challenges and John Owen defending the traditional Protestant view.

Fuller rightly points out that the traditional Protestant view “has been discarded completely by the critical scholars and partly by evangelical scholars.”

While conceding that Owen and his colleagues “stumbled” in some details, he argues that they were correct on three core issues: (1) the preservation of Scripture; (2) the verbal inspiration of Scripture: and (3) the dangers of radical text criticism to Scripture.

The “final statement” of these confessional views were expressed in the Helvetic Consensus Formula (1675) and this view prevailed for c. 50-100 years.  The Baptist pastor John Gill, the Scottish theologian James Robertson of Edinburgh, and the German scholar Oluf Gerhard Tychsen represented a “rear-guard” defense of these views, but modernism eventually prevailed. The Hebrew text of the OT is now seen as corrupted, obscure, and outdated.

Fuller concludes: “We are all Capellian now.”

Nevertheless, he argues that the defenders of the traditional Protestant view were right on the core issues:

On preservation, he argues that the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible should be considered the standard for the OT.  It has been preserved in the Aleppo Codex and the Leningrad Codex.

The antiquity and authority of the MT has been proven by various evidences [Babylonian Talmud and rabbinic literature, versions (like the Vulgate), Masada texts, Qumran texts (Isaiah scroll), LXX revisions, and even NT usage].

So, Fuller says, “The MT is the OT.”

To traditional Protestants the “original autographs” and the scriptures of their day were the same.

On verbal inspiration, he notes that the traditional Protestants stressed the inspiration not only of Biblical ideas but of the very words of Scripture.

On the vowels and accents, he notes the traditional Protestants were right to say that this included the vowels and accents, “the power of the points,” whether in written form or as preserved in oral tradition as the proper pronunciation.

The Masoretic tradition (consonants, vowels, and accents) are the “Lydian stone” of the OT against which all versions must be evaluated.

On radical text criticism, Fuller bemoans departures from the Masoretic Text in modern translations of the OT, which give weight to versions like the LXX, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Pentateuch, and even to conjectural emendations.

Sadly, this is true not just of liberal translations (RSV, NRSV, NEB) but also of evangelical translations (ESV, NIV, NLT).

He cites a study that notes variations in the ESV from the MT of the OT:

277 times it follows the LXX;
18 times the Dead Sea Scrolls;
7 times the Samaritan Pentateuch;
26 times it amends with NO mss. support.

And this is just based on the consonantal text.  If vowel and accent changes were included variants would be in the hundreds!

Striking is Fuller’s observation: “If liberals amend [the text] thousands of times, evangelicals do so hundreds of times”!

He sums up (c. 37:15 mark): “Liberals and evangelicals create their own text.  Each translation committee creates its own magisterium.  This is what Owen and others foresaw and warned against.”

Though Owen and his allies erred in some details, they were right of the core issues:  preservation, verbal inspiration, and the dangers of radical text criticism.

JTR Evaluation:

I highly commend this lecture.  Fuller has hit the nail on the proverbial head with regard to the theological issues involved in text criticism of the OT and offers a compelling rationale for defense of the “traditional Protestant” use of the Masoretic Text as the text of the OT.

If you are making use of a modern translation of the Bible (like the ESV) which departs from the Masoretic text, you should pay especially close attention to Fuller’s argument.

I have one question/suggestion:  For the core issues, Why not follow the order inspiration, preservation, translation (as in Westminster I.8), rather than preservation, inspiration, translation?

And I have one significant disagreement.  It has to do with the only reference in the lecture to NT text criticism, and it goes by so quickly it might easily be overlooked.  At the 17:40 mark, Fuller says,

For the NT, Vaticanus, with obvious copyist errors noted, virtually reproduces the NT as given by the apostles. The same could be said for other famous uncial and papyri manuscripts.

This appears to me to be an inconsistency.  If Fuller prefers the traditional Protestant text for the OT why does he not also prefer the traditional Protestant text of the NT, namely, the Textus Receptus, or, at the very least, the Majority Text? When Owen and his contemporaries thought of the “autograph” they thought of the text of their day.  This was not, however, just the MT of the OT, but also the TR of the NT!

Part of his argument here is for the use of extant texts (the Aleppo and Leningrad Codices), over eclectic texts.  But why not the TR as the standard printed text of Protestant consensus?


Saturday, January 14, 2017

Gospel Tracts for the 2017 Chinese Lunar New Year

Pastor Poh Boon Sing of Malaysia has created a new tract (in English) for the Chinese lunar New Year (the year of the rooster) which begins January 28.  He writes:

Dear Brethren & Friends,

The Lunar New Year, celebrated by those with chopsticks-culture (China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Singapore, and other overseas Chinese) falls on 28 January. The celebration lasts 15 days. The eve of the new year, on 27 January, is when family members from far and near gather for the reunion dinner. Students and those working abroad who are unable to return to their family would normally have their own gatherings to celebrate. Here is where churches can forge friendship with them by joining their functions or inviting the lonely ones home. 

The tract for this year is attached. One version of the tract is on an A-4 page. The foldable version may be printed front and back of an A-4 page and cut in half. It would be good to print on bright red paper as that is the auspicious colour for the Lunar New Year. 

I have been unable to upload it to the Gospel Highway website as the host-server is still under repair after severe attacks from hackers.

Or find a foldable version here or here.