Friday, June 16, 2017

The Vision (6.16.17): Grace for Grace

Image: Magnolia, Charlottesville, Virginia, June 2017.
Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 1:15-18.
And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace (John 1:16).
John here declares that the fulness [pleroma] of God which rests in Christ (cf. Colossians 2:9) rests also in us. The “all” here does not mean all men without exception, but all saved men. There is a diving line between men who know, trust, and are united to Christ and those who stand outside of Christ.
Christians are the recipients of something that other men do not receive. By union with Christ they receive his fulness, and, John continues, it is “grace for grace [charin anti charitos].”
What does “grace for grace” mean?  There are at least two possibilities.
First: It may have the sense of a super-abundance of grace, of grace piled up on top of grace. Imagine stacks upon stacks of firewood. We have cord upon cord of grace in Christ. In this sense, it speaks to the grace of salvation.
Matthew Poole:
Nor have we received drops [of grace], but grace upon grace; not only knowledge and instruction, but the love and favor or God, and spiritual habits, in proportion to the favour and grace which Christ hath (allowing for our short capacities).
Matthew Henry:
Grace for grace is an abundance of grace, grace upon grace … one grace heaped on another.; as skin for skin is skin after skin, even all that a man has (Job 2:4). It is a blessing poured out, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.
Second: it may have the sense of grace that is always replenished, supplied, or even replaced by even more grace. In this sense, it speaks to sustaining and sanctifying grace. The Christian never exhausts the supply of God’s grace for God’s ongoing work in his life.
Caution: We must be wise stewards of this assurance and not presume upon it to act in a lawless (antinomian) manner. Indeed, such a false path will not be continuously followed by one who is genuinely converted.
This is the great benefit that has come to sinful men through the Word becoming flesh. Grace for grace, grace upon grace, heaps of grace, a super-abundance of grace. Grace also that sustains us for the living of the Christian life through whatever challenges, whatever setbacks, whatever discouragements we might face.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Book Review: Nicholas P. Lunn, The Original Ending of Mark

I have posted my book review of Nicholas P. Lunn, The Original Ending of Mark: A New Case for the Authenticity of Mark 16:9-20, which appears in Puritan Reformed Journal, Vol. 9, No. 2 (July 2017): 348-351 (read it here or here).

I have also posted an audio reading of the review (listen to it here).


Monday, June 12, 2017

Owen on the Pastoral Benefits of Reflection on God's Decree and Foreknowledge

From the conclusion to last Sunday afternoon’s sermon on God’s Decree and Foreknowledge (from the 1689 Baptist confession, chapter three, paragraph 2):

In 1642 John Owen wrote a treatise with the title “A Display of Arminianism” in which he responded point by point to the objections of Arminianism to the Biblical doctrine of election. The subtitle, in good Puritan fashion reads, in part: “A discovery of the old Pelagian idol free-will, with the new goddess contingency.” Thus, the Arminian idea that God’s decree is contingent or conditioned by man’s response, Owen declared to be a “new goddess,” that is, a “false goddess.”

Chapter 3 is titled “Of the prescience or foreknowledge of God, and how it is questioned and overthrown by the Arminians.” His point is that God knows all things not because he anticipates various contingencies but that he has sovereignly decreed all things.

Owen closes that chapter with a meditation on the pastoral benefits of rightly understanding God’s decree and his foreknowledge:

Amidst all our afflictions and temptations, under whose pressure we should else faint and despair, it is no small comfort to be assured that we do nor can suffer nothing but what his hand and counsel guides unto us, what is open and naked before his eyes, and whose end and issue he knoweth long before; which is a strong motive to patience, a sure anchor of hope, a firm ground of consolation (Works, Vol. 10, p. 29).

Friday, June 09, 2017

The Vision (6.9.17): And the Word Was Made Flesh

Image: Roses, June 2017, North Garden, Virginia

Note: This devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 1:14.

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

John 1:14 is the most important and illuminating statement of the doctrine of the incarnation in Scripture.

It begins: “And the Word was made [ginomai: to become] flesh….” The Word here, again, is the pre-existent Logos. To say that he was made flesh is to say that he became fully a man.

Calvin, however, notes that John, under the Spirit’s prompting, specifically used the word flesh (sarx) to stress the wonder of the divine condescension. So, he writes:

He intended to show to what a mean and despicable condition the Son of God, on our account, descended from the height of his heavenly glory.


When Scripture speaks of man contemptuously, it calls him flesh…. Yet the Son of God stooped so low as to take upon himself that flesh, subject to so many miseries.

Take a moment and just touch your own flesh and consider this fabulous claim: The Word was made flesh!

There were many attempts from the earliest days to deny this declaration. We see this even in the NT itself. Compare John’s references in his epistles to “antichrists” or false teachers who denied that Jesus came “in the flesh” (1 John 4:1-3; 2 John 1:7).

In modern times, many challenges to the Christian faith come from those who deny the full deity of Christ, but in the early days the more common challenge was apparently from those who denied the full humanity of Jesus.
Aside from those who simply denied that the Word took on flesh, there were other distortions that arose in early Christianity:
Apollinarius argued that Jesus had a human body but not a human soul.
Nestorius argued that Christ was two persons in one body: He was a divine person and a human person, but not one person.
Eutyches said that he was one person but that he had only one nature and that one nature was a mixture of divine and human.
A consensus emerged and was affirmed among orthodox (right-believing Christians) that the Christ was fully a man (having both a human body and soul) and that he was one person (contra Nestorius) with two distinct natures: fully God, and fully man (contra Eutyches).
This creedal consensus is reflected in our confession of faith. See chapter 8 “Of Christ the Mediator” paragraph 2 of the 1689 Baptist Confession:
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, yet without sin; 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; 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.
This is likewise taught in the Baptist catechism:
Q 25: How did Christ, being the Son of God, become man?
A: Christ, the Son of God, became man by taking to himself a true body, and a reasonable soul; being conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary, and born of her, yet without sin.
If we want to be faithful Christians, we have to get our understanding of Jesus right. We have to know who this one is to whom we are giving our lives and our allegiance. We honor Christ when we think rightly of Christ.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Bible Translation Discussion

I am teaching an online Survey of the NT class this summer. At the start of the class I require students to read an article I wrote titled “A Brief Guide to English Bible Translations” [Note: The article provides an overview of various translations and provides a list of translations approved for use in the class. To reduce costs, the class is an “open resource” course, so I give the students freedom to make use of their choice of translation, as long as it is not a paraphrase.]. I then have them post to a discussion board a report on what translation they plan to use for the class.

Here is a summary of the preferences reported by students in the discussion board posts from the summer 2017 class (with 30 enrolled students):

Unclear or no reply

The overall preferred translation was the KJV. For KJV users, a common reason offered for use was that this was the version the person had grown up using in their church or family. Examples:

“I will use the KJV because that is the version that I grew up with and am most familiar with.”

“My grandfather believes that the only correct version is the KJV….”

The KJV “is what I grew up using.”

            The KJV is “what I’ve used since I was younger growing up in the church.”

One said, “I’ve grown up learning from this bible.”

Another said this was “my grandmother’s bible” and it might be a good idea “to start passing [it] down to new generations.”

Some noted a preference for the KJV based on its style:

One noted the KJV is “simple and easy to understand.”

Another noted she preferred the KJV because it is the “most poetic.”

While others specifically noted they preferred a modern translation over the KJV due to style:

One noted, “it can be a little daunting and makes for exhausting reading if it’s not in plain English.”
The second most preferred translation was the NIV. Several noted this was the version they owned or regularly used. Students said:

            The NIV is “the copy [I have] at home.”

            The NIV “is the copy I have received and read … most of my life.”

One student noted he had read little of the Bible but received a copy of the NIV “as a graduation present” from his family’s church.

Another said the NIV was the version “my parents got me for Christmas.”

Some noted a preference for the NIV based on style. Comments:

            “I find the NIV much easier to follow, obey, and understand.”

            “I appreciate the simplicity in which it is written.”

Preferences for other translations were scattered. One said she was using the ESV because this was the version she had, and another noted that a new pastor in the church had just switched church usage from the KJV to the ESV. The lone NRSV user noted this had been the version used in a previous religion class.


I find these responses to be typical of those that I have received from earlier offerings of this course. These responses show that despite the prevalence of modern translations, the KJV still maintains a significant grip as the traditional text for English speakers. BTW, most of the students are younger (under age 30). When many think of the English Bible, they still think of the KJV. Among modern translations, the NIV is clearly the most widely read and preferred. Other evangelical (NKJV, ESV, etc.) or mainline Protestant (NRSV) translations register only scattered acknowledgement.

These findings suggest that Mark Twain’s quip might be well applied to the KJV: “rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” For more on this, see my related 2014 blog post on this topic.


Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Article: "John Calvin and Text Criticism"

I got my hard copy of Puritan Reformed Journal, Vol. 9, No. 2 (July 2017) in the mail yesterday. This issue has my article “John Calvin and Text Criticism” on pp. 128-146 (posted to here). The editorial introduction to this edition of PRJ says the article “deals with the textual basis of Calvin’s preaching and commentaries, and demonstrates that while Calvin initially used the Greek text printed by Simon de Colines, he later came primarily to use the Textus Receptus as found in Erasmus’s Greek New Testament” (p. 1).

In the introduction (pp. 129-131) I cite James White’s rejection of the TR as the “Reformation text” with the claim that Calvin and the Reformers used the TR “by default, not particular choice.” The paper concludes by noting that White’s assessment is “grossly inaccurate: (p. 144). Calvin knew the Biblical languages, was very engaged in textual criticism, may well have examined individual Greek manuscripts and not just printed editions, and was fully aware of most of the major textual issues still discussed today [demonstrated by examination of his commentary on four passages: the doxology of the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6:13b; the Pericope Adulterae (John 7:53—8:11); the “mystery of godliness” passage (1 Tim 3:16); and the Comma Johanneum (1 John 5:7b-8a)].

This article is an expansion of the short paper I gave at the Houston Baptist University theology conference in February 2016. I have previously posted the audio of that paper presentation (which can be heard here).


Tuesday, June 06, 2017

2017 Riddle Family Summer Reading Contest

The 2017 Riddle Family summer reading contest started last Thursday (June 1). We began this annual contest about a decade ago to encourage family reading over the summer. We homeschool, but not year-round, taking a summer break June-August. The reading contest has gotten to be a favorite family tradition. Each year we have a family meeting on the eve of the start date, tweak the rules, post them on a bulletin board, along with a reading sign-up sheet for each family member, and get started. The “prize” is a double scoop of ice cream, usually enjoyed at Chaps on the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville (everyone else gets a single scoop), along with the much-coveted unlimited bragging rights throughout the year, typically generously (if not always charitably) employed by the winner. Our eleven-year old has won for two straight summers, last year reading over 3,000 pages during the course of the two-month contest, so he will be hard to overcome, but we are all going to give it a try.

The Rules

1.  This competition shall be for the members of the Riddle household of North Garden, Virginia.  It shall also include family members who live outside the United States.

2.  This contest shall commence on Thursday, June 1, 2017 and end on Tuesday, August 1, 2017.

3.  Contestants must keep a record of books read with the following information: (1) author; (2) title; (3) publisher and publication date; (4) page numbers; and (5) date completed. Note:  Contestants may read books for the contest which they have previously read, but they may only count half of the pages in the book toward their total. The reading contest will be conducted under the Riddle honor system., which means that we trust each contestant to keep a fair and accurate record of all books read, in their entirety. If someone asks a contestant to summarize any book he lists as read, he must be willing and able to do so.

4.  Books must be at least 100 pages in length to be added to the reading total.

5.  The overall prize will be given in only one category: most total pages read.

6.  The winner will receive a double scoop of ice cream of their choice during a family trip to an ice cream shop after August 1, 2017.  He or she will also have unlimited bragging rights until the summer reading contest of 2018.