Thursday, September 29, 2016

Word Magazine # 58: Reaction: ESV (2016) "Permanent Edition" Fail

Image:  Crossway has used a "bandwagon" marketing strategy to promote the ESV among Calvinistic evangelicals.

Image:  Here is a parody that appeared on the Confessional Bibliology FB group [Note:  I don't do FB, but I have my sources].  Some other parodies are posted below.

I just posted WM # 58 Reaction:  ESV (2016) “Permanent Edition” Fail.  This episode offers some reaction to and analysis of Crossway’s announcement yesterday (9.28.16) of the reversal of its summer 2016 decision to establish a “permanent text” edition of the ESV. In that announcement, Crossway President and CEO Lane Dennis stated:  “We have become convinced that this decision was a mistake … We apologize for this and for any concern this has caused for readers of the ESV, and we want to explain what we now believe to be the way forward.  Our desire, above all, is to do what is right before the Lord.”

Oddly enough, Crossway had apparently made the decision to establish the “permanent text” of the ESV in emulation of the stability of the KJV (since the 1769 Blayney edition).  They apparently received some heavy backlash for this decision from their constituency.  Indeed, it does seem odd that Crossway made this decision given that  commitment to a modern translation based on the ever shifting modern critical texts of the Hebrew OT and Greek NT must necessarily entail an “open translation” philosophy.

Of course, from my perspective, a stable text of the Bible is indeed essential.  What is key, however, is not a “permanent text” of an English translation but a stable, reliable, permanent text of the Bible in the original languages (the Hebrew Masoretic Text of the OT and the Textus Receptus of the NT).

Here are some sources cited in this episode:

A pdf of my blog article “Three Challenges to the ESV” and the audio version.


Images:  More ESV marketing parodies:

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Word Magazine # 57: Did the Gospels "plagiarize" Pagan Myths?

I have recorded and posted WM # 57 Did the Gospels “plagiarize” Pagan Myths?  Below are some notes from this episode:

I recently stumbled upon a youtube video by a young atheist apologist named Jaclyn Glenn titled “Disproving Christianity:  Jesus is a Lie” (posted in 2013).  I thought it might be worthwhile to offer a brief critique.

Her main argument:  She claims that that Christians plagiarized the life of Jesus from myths of various pagan deities, including:

The Egyptian god Horus,
The Hindu/Indian god Krishna,
And the Persian/Roman god Mithras.

Here are five logical and factual problems with this claim:

1.  She does not use primary sources to make these claims but biased and inaccurate summaries.

She makes reference to only one original source (the Egyptian Book of the Dead for Horus), and that in name only with no direct citations.  Her other references are to either her own summaries of these accounts or to those made by others, all of which are surely hostile to historical Christianity.

For an example of a refutation of Horus/Jesus parallels see this site.

There is a major difference between pagan mythological accounts and the Biblical narrative which are rooted in recognizable reality.

Example:  She suggests that Horus also may have experienced a virgin birth.  This is how the Wikipedia article on Horus summarizes the myth of his origin:
Horus was born to the goddess Isis after she retrieved all the dismembered body parts of her murdered husband Osiris, except his penis, which was thrown into the Nile and eaten by a catfish, or sometimes by a crab, and according to Plutarch’s account used her magic powers to resurrect Osiris and fashion a golden phallus to conceive her son (older Egyptian accounts have the penis of Osiris surviving).
Once Isis knew she was pregnant with Horus, she fled to the Nile Delta marshlands to hide from her brother Set, who jealously killed Osiris and who she knew would want to kill their son.  There Isis bore a divine son, Horus.
This is hardly comparable to the virginal conception in the historical Biblical narratives of Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2.
2.  She makes the unsubstantiated claim that the wide circulation of these myths pre-date Christianity.

In fact, though there were pre-Christian myths of various deities, those in the Western world did not come to know many of them until they were written about by Greek and Roman authors.  Example: Those in the Greco-Roman world would most likely have come to know about Horus not by reading the Egyptian Book of the Dead but by reading Plutarch’s retelling of the Isis, Osiris, Horus myth in his Moralia.  Plutarch lived from c. 40-120 AD.  Those in the larger Greco-Roman world might not have even heard of Horus till long after the Christian movement began and the NT Gospels had been written.

For a similar problem with supposed parallels between Christianity and Mithraism, see Ronald H. Nash’s book The Gospel and the Greeks (P&R, 1992, 2003):  pp. 133-138. Nash concludes that the major problem with this theory is “the fact that the timing is all wrong,” since “the flowering of Mithraism occurred after the close of the NT canon, too late for it to have influenced the development of first-century Christianity” (p. 137).

3.  She ignores the possibility that the influence may have run in the opposite direction.

Pagan articulation of their divine myth may have been influenced by the rising popularity of the Christian Gospels.

4.  She wrongly assumes that there would have been a large gap of time between the life of the historical Jesus and the development of myths borrowed from other religions.

She does not deny the historicity of the life of Jesus.  But she does not acknowledge that the Gospels and other Christian writings were written soon after his life, that they share in wide agreement about the basic facts of Jesus’ life across multiple sources, and that contemporary eyewitnesses might easily have challenged anything that was inaccurate.

5.  It does not make sense to posit that monotheistic Jewish Christians would have borrowed from polytheistic pagan myth to enhance the story of Jesus.

For Israelite hostility to paganism read Isaiah’s attack on idolatry in Isaiah 44 or the Psalmist’s in Psalm 115.  Then read about Paul’s visit to pagan Athens in Acts 17.

 Conclusion:  You may embrace or reject the Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus but to claim that they have their origin in pagan myths is illogical and historically inaccurate.


Friday, September 23, 2016

The Vision (9.23.16): A duty of God’s people toward their spiritual leaders: “Pray for us”

 Note:  Devotion taken from last Sunday morning’s sermon on Hebrews 13:17-19.

“Pray for us” (Hebrews 13:18a).

In addition to obedience and submission to those who have the rule over them (Hebrews 13:17), the inspired author adds in v. 18 another duty which God’s people have toward their spiritual leaders.  They are to pray for them.  Pastors and elders need the prayers of God’s people.  We need your prayers, because we are often on the frontlines of spiritual warfare.  We are often under attack.  Satan likes nothing better than to discourage a man who is in the ministry or to try to remove him from his office and calling.  Just as in battle one force will attempt to take out the officers to demoralize the troops and take away their coordination and leadership, so our enemy loves to attack and discourage the elders.

In 1605 the English Puritan pastor Williams Perkins wrote a booklet titled “The Calling of the Ministry” (reprinted by Banner of Truth in the Puritan paperback titled The Art of Prophesying).   One chapter is titled, “The Scarcity of True Ministers.”  In it Perkins ponders why so few men in his own day seemed to be called to or qualified for the ministry.  He gave three reasons:

First, the contempt with which the calling is treated.  It is always hated by wicked and irreverent men because it reveals their filthiness and unmasks their hypocrisy.  The teaching of ministers is often a fretting corrosive on their conscience, preventing them from weltering and wallowing quietly in their sins—as they would be able to do under other circumstances.  This is why they spurn both the calling of ministers and ministers themselves.  They watch them carefully to latch onto their smallest failures, hoping to disgrace them.  They imagine that by casting contempt on the calling of the preacher they can remove the shame from their own degraded ways.

It is inevitable that they should hate those who are called to the ministry, since they harbor deadly hatred both for the law and the gospel message which they bring, and for the God whose representatives they are…..

The second reason is the difficulty of discharging the duties of a minister’s calling.  To stand in God’s presence, to enter into the holy of holies, to go between God and his people, to be God’s mouth to his people, and the people’s to God … to take the care and charge of souls—these considerations overwhelm the consciences of men who approach the sacred seat of the preacher with reverence and not with rashness…..

The third and last reason is especially relevant to ministry in the NT era, namely the inadequacy of the financial recompense and status given to those who enter this calling….. (in The Art of Prophesying, pp. 94-95).

A few years ago I went to an office building to take care of some business.  When the man at the counter found out I was in the ministry, his face became very grave and serious, and he told me, almost through tears, that he had once been in the ministry.  He did not have to say much more, because I understood.  Indeed, I have met many men who used to be in the ministry.  Some no doubt left because they were not called.  But some have left through grief and discouragement.  Perhaps they lacked the prayers of God’s people to uphold them.

“Brethren, pray for us” (1 Thessalonians 5:25).

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Eliot: Machinery, Society, and Man's End

Image:  T. S. Eliot (1888-1965)

I just finished T. S. Eliot’s essay “The Idea of a Christian Society.” It includes a broadcast talk Eliot did in 1937 as an Appendix. His closing thoughts in the talk on “machinery,” society, and man’s end, brought to mind how this might be applied to contemporary technological advancements (e.g., the internet, etc.).

Any machinery, however beautiful to look at and however wonderful a product of brains and skill, can be used for bad purposes as well as good:  and this is as true of social machinery as of constructions of steel.  I think that, more important than the invention of a new machine, is the creation of a temper of mind in people such that they can learn to use a new machine rightly.  More important still at the moment would be the diffusion of knowledge of what is wrong—morally wrong—and of why it is wrong.  We are all dissatisfied with the way in which the world is conducted:  some believe it is a misconduct in which we all have some complicity; some believe that if we trust ourselves entirely to politics, sociology or economics we shall only shuffle from one makeshift to another.  And here is the perpetual message to the Church:  to affirm, to teach and apply, true theology.  We cannot be satisfied to be Christians at our devotions and merely secular reformers all the rest of the week, for there is one question that we need to ask ourselves every day and about whatever business.  The Church has perpetually to answer this question: to what purpose were we born?  What is the end of Man?

Monday, September 19, 2016

Book Note: George Orwell "A Collection of Essays"

I’ve been on a recent binge of reading essays.  Over the past few months I read two collections of essays from Joseph Epstein (A Literary Education and Essays in Biography).  Last week I finished reading George Orwell, A Collection of Essays (Harvest Books, 1981).

The Orwell book includes 14 essays of varying length, on sundry topics, and from various times in his life.  They include everything from his vivid and sometimes chilling memories of childhood in an English boarding school under the watch of cruel and sadistic caregivers (“Such, Such Were the Joys . . .”) to his reflections on the life and writings of famous men, like Dickens, Kipling, and Ghandi (“Charles Dickens,” “Rudyard Kipling,” “Reflections on Ghandi”) and his reflections on his various personal experiences.  These include his musings on British imperialism drawn from his time as a policeman in Burma (in “Shooting an Elephant”), on his volunteer service in the Spanish Civil War fighting fascism (“Looking Back on the Spanish War”), and his assessment of English patriotism (“England Your England”).  It also includes essays on British popular art and literature (in “The Art of Donald McGill,” “Raffles and Miss Blandish,” and “Boys’ Weeklies”) and his classic essays on writing (“Politics and the English Language” and “Why I Write”).

Orwell is a master essayist.  What makes his writing so interesting and inviting?  Here are at least three reasons:

First, he is a master of the opening line.  Here are a few examples:

Saints should always be judged guilty until they are proved innocent, but the tests that have to be applied to them are not, of course, the same in all cases (“Reflections on Ghandi”).

As the corpse went past the flies left the restaurant table in a cloud and rushed after it, but they came back a few minutes later (“Marrakech”).

As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead trying to kill me (“England Your England”).

From a very early age, perhaps the age of five or six, I knew that when I grew up I should be a writer (“Why I Write”).

Second, he is a master of the arresting observation or statement.  Examples:

All art is propaganda.  Neither Dickens himself nor the majority of Victorian novelists would have thought of denying this.  On the other hand, not all propaganda is art (“Charles Dickens” p. 90).

When one says that a writer is fashionable one practically always means that he is admired by people under thirty (“Inside the Whale” p. 221).

So much of left-wing thought is a kind of playing with fire by people who don’t even know that the fire is hot (“Inside the Whale” p. 239).

The novel is practically a Protestant form of art; it is a product of the free mind, the autonomous individual (“Inside the Whale” p. 241).

[England] resembles a family, a rather stuffy Victorian family, with not many black sheep in it but with all its cupboards bursting with skeletons (“England Your England” p. 267).

Serious writers, I should say, are on the whole more vain than journalists, though less interested in money (“Why I Write” p. 312).

The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude (“Why I Write” p. 313).

All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery (“Why I Write” p. 316).

Third, he is an independent thinker and forthright writer.  He was a socialist who criticized his fellow contemporary liberals who failed to denounce Stalinism (see 1984 and Animal Farm).  He surprises by showing some begrudging admiration for the imperialist Kipling (“Rudyard Kipling”) and raising questions about the motivations of Ghandi (“Reflections on Ghandi”).  While Marxists might denounce Dickens for his “bourgeois morality” Orwell praises him as “a nineteenth century liberal, a free intelligence (“Charles Dickens” pp. 103-104).  Edgar Allen Poe’s outlook, on the other hand, “is at best a wild romanticism and at worst is not far from being insane in the literal clinical sense” (“Inside the Whale” p. 246).  Though clearly not a believer, one picks up on currents of respect for religion, especially Christianity and its influences for good in society, in Orwell.  One example:  In his description of a “certain cultural unity” that existed in the England of his day, he observes:  “All through the Christian ages, and especially since the French Revolution, the Western world had been haunted by the idea of freedom and equality; it is only an idea, but it has penetrated all ranks of society” (“Charles Dickens” p. 103).  One might call Orwell a conservative liberal, a religious unbeliever.  Whatever one’s convictions, he inspires clearer thinking and better writing.


Friday, September 16, 2016

The Vision (9.16.16): Responding to those who reject Confessional Christianity

Note:  I began a new series last Sunday afternoon teaching through the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689).  Here are some notes from the first message:  Are Confessions Biblical?

Some will say they want to be simple Biblicists, free from a systematic approach.  Some will denounce all so-called “man-made” systems.  They declare they want, “No creed but Christ, no book but the Bible.”

These overlook several important facts:

First, human beings have a tendency to think in orderly ways.  This is the way God has made us.  We are “meaning-makers.”  Our desire to see things in an orderly way reflects the fact that we were made in the image of a consistent and orderly God (see 1 Cor 14:33).  Though our reason has been tainted by sin (total depravity) we retain a rational capacity.  A confession of faith, rightly used, is not an attempt to impose a system on Scripture but to make sense of or to systematize what Scripture teaches.

Second, those who dismiss all systemic approaches to Scripture also dismiss the fact that God intended the Scriptures to be clearly understood by those who read them.  Rejection of creeds and confessions is a rejection of the doctrine of the perspicuity (clarity) of Scripture.

Those who denounce efforts at a systematic and meaningful approach Scripture have the burden of explaining why God is more glorified by disorganized and contradictory thinking than by organized and harmonious thinking.  Many of those who denounce clearly defined systems are in fact operating with highly developed systematic doctrinal interpretations that are merely left unspoken and unwritten.  Their problem with a confession like the 1689 is not with the fact that it is a human interpretation of Scripture but that it contradicts their own human interpretation of Scripture.

The eighteenth century Particular Baptist leader Andrew Fuller (1754-1815) wrote:

The man who has no creed has no belief; which is to say the same thing as an unbeliever; and he whose belief is not formed into a system has only a few loose, unconnected thoughts, without entering into the harmony and glory of the gospel.  Every well-informed and consistent believer, therefore, must have a creed—a system which he supposes to contain the leading principles of Divine revelation (“Creeds and Subscriptions,” in The Complete Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, Vol. 3 [Sprinkle Publications, 1988]: p.  449).

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Monday, September 12, 2016

Book Review: Why Four Gospels?

I posted to my book review of David Alan Black, Why Four Gospels?  The Historical Origins of the Gospels, Second Edition (Energion, 2010):  106pp.  The review appeared in Puritan Reformed Journal, Vol. 6, No. 1 (January 2014):  pp. 288-291.

I also posted an audio version of the review to