Friday, February 24, 2017

The Vision (2.24.17): It shall be well with them that fear God



Image: Gathering for worship at CRBC (2.19.17)

Note: Devotion taken from sermon on Ecclesiastes 8:12-17.

Ecclesiastes 8:12 Though a sinner do evil an hundred times, and his days be prolonged, yet surely I know that it shall be well with them that fear God, which fear before him: 13 But it shall not be well with the wicked, neither shall he prolong his days, which are as a shadow; because he feareth not before God.

In Ecclesiastes 8:12-17 Solomon offers comfort and consolation to believers.

He begins by saying there is comfort in considering the distinction between the destiny or end of those who fear God and the destiny or end of the wicked (vv. 12-13).

One’s first thought in interpreting v. 12 might be that the sinner who does evil a hundred times (v. 12a) is identical with one who fears God (v. 12b).

But rightly to divide this verse we must look at its context. The previous verses had been speaking about how sinners boldly persist in their rebellion against God. Sinners mistake God’s patience and longsuffering for indifference (or even non-existence). Since there is often no immediate punishment for sin in this temporal life, they think God must not care, and it emboldens them in their godlessness (see Ecc 8:11). Verse 12 is a continuation of that thought.

“Though a sinner do evil an hundred times….” This is hyperbolic language. The point is not that God will punish him on the one hundred and first occasion of sin! Rather: Though a sinner lack conformity unto or flagrantly transgresses the law of God a hundred times, scores of times, thousands of times….

“and his days be prolonged.” This is another reference to the fact that sometimes wicked men live to be old men and die peacefully in their sleep never receiving temporal punishment for their sins (cf. Ecc 7:15).

In the light of these most obvious injustices that even the dullest observer of this sinful world can easily record, Solomon reminds believers that they are not to be unsettled or disturbed by such things.

Instead, he declares: “yet surely I know that it shall be well with them that fear God, which fear before him” (v. 12b).

I am struck first by the certainty of Solomon’s statement.  It is not, “I am fairly confident…”, or “I am almost completely persuaded…”,  or “I am pretty sure….” He speaks with confidence: “yet surely I know….” This is not weak kneed wavering! Bridges: “This is no bare conjecture or probability…. The firm conviction is wrought in the heart by the Spirit of God enabling us to rest confidently on the word” (Ecclesiastes, p. 203).

Of what does he have this certainty? That God will act with goodness (benevolence) toward those who fear him.

A contrast is made in v. 13: “But it shall not be well with the wicked…..” Do not think that just because wicked men might enjoy worldly success and temporal blessings in this life that the Lord is indifferent to their wickedness.

There is coming for all men a day of judgment, a day of evaluation, which is spoken of in Scripture (cf. Acts 17:31; Rom 14:11; 2 Cor 5:10; 1 Peter 4:4). This is not a day of dread for Christians. Our lives have been “hid with Christ in God” (Col 3:3). We have been given his righteous life.  But it will be a day of dread for unbelievers.

Solomon continues, “neither shall he prolong his days, which are as a shadow.” His temporal existence will not go on forever. One day he will go the way of all flesh and there will be nothing he can do to avoid it.  This present life is like a shadow. It is not the ultimate reality but merely portends that which is to come.
And why is this man placed in the category of the wicked? Solomon tells us: “because he feareth not before God.” He has no awe, no reverence for God (cf. Psalm 36:1; Rom 3:17).
These opening two verses teach us a Biblical truth which the world finds unpleasant and would rather not hear.  It is the truth that not everyone goes to heaven. We are not saved by virtue of existence. It is a rejection of universalism.
No, it tells us that, in the end, there are only two categories of men: there are those who fear God and there are the wicked (those who do not fear God). And there are two different destinies or ends: there are those with whom it will be well with God and those with whom it will not be well (cf. John 3:36; Matt 10:32-33).
Solomon is saying: Don’t be fooled by the mirage of this world’s circumstances. Think of what will be ultimately important.
In the previous passage we talked about men exercising discernment (cf. 8:5b). But in this passage, we are being told that God himself is discerning.  He will not forget to give good to his saints, even if they lack what seems to be good in this life. Nor, will he forget to administer justice to the wicked, even if it seems in this life that he is overlooking it.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Word Magazine #71: Was Jesus a Rabbi?


Image: Remains of a first century synagogue at Gamla in the Golan Heights.


I have posted WM # 71: Was Jesus a Rabbi? In this episode I try to answer a question posed by a student in my NT and Early Christianity class: Was Jesus a Rabbi? Here are my notes:

The Hebrew/Aramaic term rabbi (“teacher”) or rabbouni/rabboni (“my teacher”) is used several times in the canonical Gospels in reference to Jesus. This usage, however, is not necessarily always positive.

Jesus described as a “rabbi” in the Gospels:

In Matthew Jesus is twice referred to as rabbi (Matt 26:25, 49), but the speaker is Judas Iscariot. In Matthew 23:7-8 Jesus chides those who are greeted in the marketplace by the term and instructs his followers not to seek to be called by this title, since they have only one Master (kathegetes) who is Christ.

In Mark Peter twice calls Jesus rabbi, once when he asks if he might build three tabernacles on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mk 9:5) and again when he asks Jesus about the cursed fig tree (Mk 11:21). Aside from Peter, the only other reference to Jesus by this term comes from Judas (14:45). The blind man Bartimaeus also calls out to Jesus using the term Rabboni (10:51).

The term does not appear at all in the Gospel of Luke, perhaps reflecting the Gentile Roman audience for this Gospel.

The term appears in John more than in any other Gospel. It is used once in reference to John the Baptist (3:26). Seven other references are to Jesus.  He is called rabbi by two disciples of John (1:38); by Nathanael (1:49); by Nicodemus (3:2); by his disciples (4:31; 9:2; 11:8); and by the people (6:25). Finally, Mary Magdalene refers to the risen Jesus as rabbouni (20:16).

Analysis:

The term rabbi is not widely or positively used in the Gospels for Jesus. Other than Mary Magdalene’s usage of the term in John 20:16, the term is not used for Jesus after his resurrection. Even Mary Magdalene’s reference is met with something of a rebuff (see John 20:17).

On the Education of Jesus:

Richard Bauckham in Jesus: A Very Short Introduction:

Of his education, we know nothing, and can only surmise that he learned Hebrew, studied the Hebrew Scriptures intently, and listened to religious teachers, from whom he learned such forms of teaching as parables and aphorisms (p. 30).

On Jesus as a Rabbi:

In Jesus of Nazareth Gunther Bornkamm points to the fact that Jesus is presented as a teacher and one whose judgment is sought in disputes about the law “corresponds with the picture of the Jewish rabbi, who is a theologian and jurist at the same time” (p. 96). There is never any mention of Jesus studying with a well-known rabbi (contrast Paul’s claim to have studied at the feet of Gamaliel in Acts 22:3). John records the Jews scoffing at Jesus, “How knoweth this man letters [grammata], having never learned [particle from manthano]?” (John 7:15). Mark, likewise, records that when Jesus began to teach in the synagogue in his home country “many were astonished, saying, From whence hath this man these things?” (Mark 6:2).  Bornkamm, however, notes:

Meanwhile, we must not without further examination read back into Jesus’ time the strict regulations of later rabbinical literature for study and ordination of the scribes. Certainly the respectful title “Rabbi” with which he is addressed is applied rightly (p. 96).

In The New Testament and Antiquity, the Gary Burge and his co-authors ask, “But was Jesus a sophisticated teacher?” to which they reply:

Some scholars have a romantic view of him as a rural village carpenter who offered pithy and simple insights about God. Jesus was indeed a craftsman, but rabbis commonly held such practical jobs. Paul was a tentmaker, and the famous rabbi Shammai was a stonemason. The Mishnah described the law as a “crown,” worn by the teacher, but it could be used to glorify oneself or to gain profit. Instead the rabbi was to have an occupation through which God granted the means to teach (Mishnah, Aboth 4:5) (p. 148).

They also point out that the leading rabbis of the first century were not known by the books they produced but by the number of students (talmid) they attracted. The leading rabbis of Jesus’ day, including Johannan ben Zakkai, Gamaliel, Hillel, and Shammai, like Jesus, left no writings behind, but their teaching was written down and transmitted by their disciples (p. 149).

Conclusion:

Jesus might have been considered a rabbi by some of his Jewish contemporaries due to his natural teaching ability and personal authority, even if he did not formally train at the feet of a well-known rabbi. Still this is not a preferred term for Jesus in the Gospels.  It is also not a term used by Christians in the post-resurrection period to refer to him. Perhaps this came about due to Jesus’ own sometimes harsh critique of the teachers of his day and from the desire to differentiate his movement from that of mainstream early Judaism.


JTR

Charles Wesley Hymn on Effectual Calling: "Oh! For True Repentance!"

I was browsing through the 1866 Psalms and Hymns and noticed the hymn "Oh! For True Repentance" or "Oh! that I could repent" (first line) under the heading "Effectual Calling" (Gotta a love a hymnal that even has such a section!) in S. M. (Short Meter: 6.6.8.6):


It is not in the Trinity Hymnal. A little more looking indicates that it was written by Charles Wesley (1707-1788) (see here). It bears interesting lyrics for the Methodist since it expresses human inability even to repent. "Strike with Thy love's resistless stroke" is a nice expression of irresistible grace/effectual calling. I was taken with the hymn given I am putting together a booklet with the sermons from last year's Keach Conference on "Effectual Calling" (chapter 10 of the 1689 confession). It looks like a hymn worth reviving.

JTR

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Book Finds: Samuel Miller on ecclesiology and the 1866 Psalms and Hymns

I was out running an errand his afternoon and stopped in at a used bookshop where I was pleased to pick up two reasonably priced volumes.

One is Samuel Miller's The Primitive and Apostolical Order of the Church of Christ Vindicated (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1840). It is stained but still a handsome copy:




The other is Psalms and Hymns for the Worship of God (Richmond: Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1866). The spine is damaged but it's a beautiful little book with two sections. Part one has the 150 psalms and part two has evangelical hymns. Some pics:




And, in good providence, out of the psalter hymnal dropped a 1902 series Franklin one cent stamp:



Good day.

JTR

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Trueman: Everyone has a creed


In the introduction to The Creedal Imperative (Crossway, 2012), Carl R. Trueman makes the point that everyone has a creed, including those who deny them:

I do want to make the point here that Christians are not divided between those who have creeds and those who do not; rather, they are divided between those who have public creeds and confessions that are written down and exist as public documents, subject to scrutiny, evaluation, and critique, and those who have private creeds and confessions that are often improvised, unwritten, and thus not open to public scrutiny, not susceptible to evaluation and, crucially and ironically, not, therefore, subject to testing by Scripture to see whether they are true (p. 15).


JTR

Gordon Clark on anti-intellectualism and disparagement of creeds


Image: Gordon Clark (1902-1985)

I ran across this quote in Gordon Clark’s Religion, Reason, and Revelation (Craig Press, 1961):

From the standpoint of Calvinism, anti-intellectualism, a disparagement of creeds, an essentially emotional outlook or a reliance on some ineffable mystical experience is a far more serious error in religion than some unfortunate illustration in popular preaching. It may sound pious to minimize belief in a creed and to exalt faith in a person; but the implication is that it makes little or no difference what a man believes. Religion, I refuse to say Christianity, thus becomes non-doctrinal. This anti-intellectualism, clearly, is a broader theory than faulty psychology; and if faulty psychology conflicts with Christianity at one or two points, the broader theory will conflict at many more—in fact, all points (p. 101).


JTR

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Vision (2.17.17): The Wise Man is Discerning


Note: Devotion taken from sermon on Ecclesiastes 8:1-11.

Ecclesiastes 8:5b: “a wise man’s heart discerneth both time and judgement.”

The overall theme of Ecclesiastes 8:1-11 is that the wise man will be a man of discernment.

One online source defines discernment, in part, as follows:

Discernment is the ability to obtain sharp perceptions or to judge well (or the activity of so doing)…. Within judgment, discernment involves going past the mere perception of something and making nuanced judgments about its properties or qualities. Considered as a virtue, a discerning individual is considered to possess wisdom, and be of good judgement; especially so with regard to subject matter often overlooked by others (Wikipedia!).

Biblical discernment usually involves recognizing that what is important or valuable is not always that which immediately meets the eye.

Think of when the prophet Samuel was sent to anoint one of the sons of Jesse as king:

1 Samuel 16:7 But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.

Think of the prophesy of the Messiah:

Isaiah 11:3 And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears:

And of John’s warning to believers:

1 John 4:1a: Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God.

Part of gaining wisdom is gaining discernment. Part of maturing in Christ is attaining discernment. May the Lord give to his people the ability to exercise godly discernment.


Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Word Magazine # 70: Review: Recovery Version Bible


I just recorded and posted WM # 70: Review: Recovery Version Bible. Below are my notes for this episode:

The Recovery Version Bible

I recently had someone ask me about the “Recovery Version” Bible. I told her I was not familiar with this Bible and would do some research and get back.

At first, I thought she might have been speaking about an evangelical study Bible (using the NIV or some other modern translation) that had notes devoted to addiction recovery (like the NIV Celebrate Recovery Study Bible or the Life Recovery Bible NLT).

A little more looking, however, and I soon found out that the “recovery” in the title did not have to do with addiction but recovery or restoration of primitive Christianity.

I discovered that the Recovery Version of the Bible is produced by Living Stream Ministry (I’ll refer to the Recovery Version Bible as RVB and the Recovery Version New Testament as RVNT), connected with and publishers of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee. Watchman Nee (1903-1972) was a dynamic Chinese teacher who founded an independent “local church” movement that has spread to several other Asian and Western (including the US) nations. I had heard of Nee before and had seen a few of his books on the shelves of Christian bookstores. Witness Lee (1905-1997) was Nee’s protégé who became a leader in the movement and Nee’s successor at his death. Lee was apparently the general editor of the RVB.

An odd copyright note

I wanted to look at a copy of the RVB. The NT can be found online here. I found this rather odd note, however, on the opening page:

We hope that many will benefit from these spiritual riches. However, for the sake of avoiding confusion,
we ask that none of these materials be downloaded or copied and republished elsewhere, electronically or otherwise.
Living Stream Ministry retains full copyright on all these materials and hopes that our visitors will respect this.

So, readers can view the text online but “for the sake of confusion” the material cannot be “downloaded or copies and republished elsewhere, electronically or otherwise”? This is odd.

More on Living Stream Ministry

A quick Google search for “Living Stream Ministry” brought some interesting information, including several sites which raised questions about the theology of Nee and Lee, and the practices of their church movement.  Findings included this “open letter” signed by 70 mainstream evangelical Christian leaders and this 2007 press release about this open letter. The concerns expressed in the open letter center on four areas in the teaching of Witness Lee: (1) doctrine of God (especially the Trinity and Christology); (2) the doctrine of man; (3) the doctrine of the church (“the legitimacy of evangelical churches and denominations”); and (4) lawsuits with evangelical Christians.

Citations are given from Lee’s writings to illustrate concerns.  With regard to the doctrine of the church, the charge seems to be that Lee has disparaged the legitimacy of Christian churches outside his own movement.  Among passages cited are those from the RVNT on Mark 16:18 (describing “apostate Roman Catholic and Protestant denominations”) and Revelation 3:8 (describing the “apostate church … denominating herself”).

The “local church” organization (I’ll call it the Living Stream Ministry Church, LSMC), then, appears to a restorationist movement, with questions about the legitimacy of other churches, and especially denominations, outside their circle.

I also visited the website for the LSMC in Charlottesville, which modestly calls itself “The Church in Charlottesville.”  The picture on the opening page looks like it came from a retreat and shows it to be a group primarily consisting of young people (I would guess many are students at UVA or elsewhere), with many Asians or, possibly, internationals.

The doctrinal statement has 8 bullet points and seems to reflect a general non-denominational, Arminian evangelicalism theology.

The FAQ page notes that they do not belong to a denomination but have fellowship with other churches (presumably, however, only with other LSMC churches). It also notes their exclusive use of the RVB and speaks in glowing terms of Nee and Lee, even comparing Nee to Wycliffe, Tyndale, Luther, Bunyan, etc. It is interesting that there is no explicit listing of the names of any church officers (pastors, elders, deacons), though it is noted that the church treasures “apostles, prophets, evangelists, and shepherds and teachers (Eph. 4:11).” Do they believe that the office of “apostle” still exists today?

Getting a hard copy of the RVB

After reading the online copyright note for the NT and wanting also to read the OT of the RB, I thought I might try to order a hard copy. On Amazon I discovered that the entire RB is quite expensive ($129 for the hardback and $99 for the softback!), though there were less expensive paperback versions of the NT alone.  I also discovered that Living Streams will send a free copy of the NT, so I requested one and got it in the mail about a week later.

This review comes from my examination of that text.

A Brief Review of the RVNT

As we will see the RVB is really a study Bible with copious notes, written by Witness Lee giving the LSMC interpretation. This review will not be extensive but suggestive of the content.

First, the front matter and introduction (“A Brief Explanation”):

The title page says the text was translated by The Editorial Section of Living Stream Ministry.

It adds that the outline, footnotes, charts, and references were written by Witness Lee.

The print version also has a copyright warning against transmission in any form without permission.

The first edition was printed in 1985 and the revised edition in 1991.

In the “Brief Explanation” it is noted that the RVNT “attempts to avoid biases and inaccurate judgments.”  It is also states that a proper translation requires not only a proper understanding of “the original language” but also “the divine revelation in the holy Word.”

It has a high view of the RVB noting it is the apex of past study and understanding. Both the translation and the notes are the “consummation” and “crystallization” of two thousand years of previous study.

In its desire to recover “the original Greek text” it makes used of the NA 26th edition of the Greek NT, with some departures.

Text:

As noted, the “Brief Explanation” states that the translation accepts the modern critical text and a restorationist perspective. A glance at the text of the RVNT, however, shows that it is a mixed text with readings from the TR and the modern critical text. Examples:

Examples of readings following TR in RVNT
Doxology of the Lord’s Prayer included: Matt 6:13
Mark 16:9-20 included with no bracket. Footnote at v. 9: “Many ancient MSS omit vv. 9-20”
John 1:18: “only begotten Son”
John 5:3b-4 included. Footnote at v. 3: “Some MSS omit this last part of v. 3 and all of v. 4.”
John 7:53—8:11 included without brackets. Footnote at v. 53: “Many ancient MSS omit 7:53—8:11.”
Acts 8:37 included. Footnote at v. 37: “Many ancient MSS omit this verse.”

Examples of readings following modern critical text in RVNT
Mark 1:12: “as it is written in Isaiah the prophet”
Mark 9:44, 46: Omit verses. Footnote at v. 46: “Some MSS insert v. 46”; see also footnote at v. 48.
1 Tim 3:16: “He was manifested in the flesh”
1 John 5:7b-8a: CJ omitted with no footnote
Rev 16:5: “who is and who was, the Holy One”
Rev. 22:19: “tree of life”

Translation:

The RVB website provides examples of readings.

My surface impression is that just as the text is "mixed" (with TR and modern critical text readings) so the translation is "mixed," in that it combines Tyndale/KJV and modern readings.

Notes:

Each book is preceded by an extended outline. The notes are extensive, often swallowing up and eclipsing the text. One might well call the RVNT a NT commentary that provides the text of the Bible, rather than a study Bible.  Given that this is the only approved translation for use in LWMC churches one wonders why there is not more confidence in simply printing the text of the Bible itself without the extensive notes.


Image: sample pages from the RVB showing proportion of text (above) to notes (below).


Problems with notes relating to ecclesiology at Matt 16:18 and Rev 3:8 are cited above.

Another major issue with the notes and accompanying charts is the dispensational pre-millennial theology reflected in them. With dispensationalism also comes other issues like the law, the church, etc.


Image: a chart on the kingdom of heavens and the kingdom of God from the RVNT


Image: a chart on eschatology from the RVNT

Overall:


Though it has existed since 1985 I was unaware of the RVB until this year. As the review indicates, I do have some serious concerns about this translation and cannot recommend its regular use. It has a mixed text in the NT and I am not in agreement with the theological viewpoint of the notes. I also do not think it would be safe to attend a church that would require exclusive use of this translation of the Bible.

JTR

Note: After completing my review, I also ran across these two reviews of the RVB by Murray Grindlay.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Peter Hitchens on the sexual revolution


This week I finished reading Peter Hitchens’ (brother of Christopher) book The Cameron Delusion (Continuum, 2010; first published as The Broken Compass, 2009). The book’s main focus is to lament compromise in the Conservative party in the UK, especially seen, according to Hitchens, in the rise of David Cameron, and its adopting of positions little different from the Labor party. There’s also plenty of insightful commentary on other things.

In a chapter on shifting views on sexuality, Hitchens makes the point that Orwell’s vision of totalitarian government being sexually repressive in 1984 is less on target than Huxley’s vision of it exercising control by pandering to meaningless sensuality in Brave New World. So, he observes: “Sexual license, narcotic drugs and endless diverting entertainment, followed by swift and painless euthanasia when the faculties fail, dispense with the need for the thought police” (p. 101).

Interesting too is his related argument that the 1960s “sexual revolution” was, in fact, a revolt against real freedom of thought and, especially, against the orderly worldview of Christianity:

So, the sexual revolution is, by a great paradox, a revolution against political consciousness, discontent, and rebellion. The sexual revolutionary climbs over the barricades and straight into bed with someone he is not married to, and quite possibly someone of the same sex. He is not seeking the overthrow of the existing order. He is seeking the existing order’s permission to pursue pleasure at all costs. The idea that sex is necessarily connected to reproduction and parenthood is repulsive and shocking to him. He is also engaged in a war against continuity, a rejection of his parents’ lives, and a rejection of guilt. And guilt, as Sigmund Freud did so much to show, can most easily be avoided by ensuring that actions previously viewed as guilty become normal and general.

This is why the sexual insurgent eventually finds himself ranged against all the outer defenses of Christian civilization—the canon of literature, classical music, and representational art, traditional architecture, modest dress, and seemliness of all kinds, restraint in speech, decorum, and manners in general. All these embody or imply Christian mythology and Christian ideas about guilt, penitence, redemption, and conscience. Conscience allied with absolute morality and sustained by religion, is the source of guilt. This is why, sooner or later, the Western sexual radical is bound to attack Christianity, because it is his own religion and the basis of the guilt and self-restraint which he wishes to discard. He may simultaneously be happy to give sympathy to other religions, but this is because they are practiced by migrants whom he sees as allies against the monoculture. It is also because he did not meet these faiths in his childhood or learn them from his parents, and so does not feel that they bind him as Christianity would, if he accepted it.

He may take some years to arrive at this direct anti-God position, since first he will have been busy smashing the outer fortifications of Christian sexual morality—disapproval of pre-marital and extra-marital sex, prohibitions on abortion and divorce, misgivings about homosexuality. But once these are out of the way the inner fastness of Christian beliefs lies exposed, and open to attack….. (pp. 102-103).


JTR