Saturday, July 04, 2015

Word Magazine # 39: Should John 5:3b-4 be in the Bible?

I posted to this evening Word Magazine 39: Should John 5:3b-4 be the Bible?  In this episode I weigh the external and internal evidence regarding this controversial passage on the angel stirring the waters at the pool of Bethesda.  I conclude that the traditional text, which includes these verses, should be affirmed.

One of the strongest arguments in favor of the inclusion of John 5:3b-4 is the fact that it appears in one of the oldest uncial Greek manuscripts, Codex Alexandrinus.  I have also posted a brief study of John 5:3-4 in Codex Alexandrinus here, in which I note some of the peculiarities of Codex A's text of the passage.


Text Note: John 5:3b-4

Image:  Excerpt from John 5 in Codex Alexandrinus (see notes in margin on John 5:3-4)

I.  The issue:

The modern critical text, and translations based on it, omits the account of the angel stirring the water in John 5:3b-4.  The traditional text, and translations based on it, includes this passage.  Compare translations based on the traditional text (disputed portion in bold):

KJV John 5:3 In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. 4 For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.

NKJV John 5:3 In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. 4 For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had.

II.  External Evidence:

Note:  We are dealing here with vv. 3b-4 together but there are some variations, noted below, between vv. 3b and 4 separately among manuscripts.

The traditional text (including vv. 3b-4) is supported in general by the following:

Greek witnesses:  A (though NA-28 indicates that v. 3b is missing in the original but it appears in a corrected hand), C (apparently includes in a corrected hand), K, L (apparently includes v.4,  but missing v. 3b), Gamma, Delta, Theta, Psi, 078, family 1, family 13, 565, 579, 700, 892, 1241, 1424, and the vast Majority tradition.

Versions:  The Vulgate and part of the Old Latin apparently support the inclusion of v. 3b, while the Old Latin (with minor variations) and the Clementine Vulgate support the inclusion of v. 4.  The traditional text is also supported by the Syriac Peshitta and the Syriac Harklean and, in part, by the Coptic Bohairic.

Church Fathers:  Of note is the fact that v. 4 is cited in the writings of the Church Father Tertullian (c. 220 AD).

The modern critical text (omitting vv. 3b-4) is supported by the following:

Greek witnesses:  p66, p75, Aleph, B, C (original hand), D (though it apparently includes v. 3b), T, W [supplement] (though it apparently includes v. 3b), 33 (though it apparently includes v. 3b).

Versions:  Individual Latin mss. f and l (though they apparently include v. 3b), Latin ms. q, the Stuttgart Vulgate (2007), the Curetonian Syriac, and the Coptic.

To help sort out some of the variations on the inclusion/exclusion of vv. 3b and 4, according to the NA-28, compare:

Include v. 3b but exclude v. 4
Exclude v. 3b but include v. 4
Greek codex D
Greek codex A
Greek codex W [supplement]
Greek codex L
Greek codex 33

Individual Latin ms. f

Individual Latin ms. l

Evaluative notes on external evidence:

First, it is obvious that there has been much textual activity around vv. 3b-4, indicating serious early controversy over their transmission.

Second, closer examination of the passage in the online version of Codex Alexandrinus (p. 45 recto, column 2, lines 13-14) indicates that the NA-28 apparatus notes may be somewhat misleading regarding vv. 3b-4.  Though some corrections to vv. 3-4 are included in the margin, these verses seem to be part of the original text of Codex A.  See this study of John 5:3-4 in Codex Alexandrinus.

Third, one might give weight to the fact that two papyri omit vv. 3b-4.  This should be tempered, however, by the following considerations:  (a) the recognition that the papyri evidence, in general, is limited, and it reflects traditions from only one general geographical area; (b) the weighing of the two individual papyri cited here.  Of p66, in The Story of the New Testament Text (SBL, 2010), Robert Hull notes, “The manuscript contains more than 400 singular readings, nearly half of them the result of carelessness in copying, and most of them corrected by the scribe himself” (p. 116).  Of p75, Hull notes “its text is remarkably similar to that of Codex Vaticanus; in fact, p75 and B are more closely related than any other NT manuscripts” p. 117).

Fourth, the conclusion that must be reached, in the end, is that the exclusion of vv. 3b-4, like so many other points of textual difference between the traditional and modern texts, rests primarily on the evidence of two codices:  Sinaiticus and Vaticanus.

III.  Internal Evidence:

In his Textual Commentary [Corrected Ed., 1975], Metzger treats v. 3b and v. 4 separately.

First, he notes that “a variety of witnesses” add v. 3b, speculating they do so, “perhaps in order to explain the reference in v. 7 to the troubling of the water” (p. 209 here and in other references below).  He then adds that the reading is lacking in “the oldest and best witnesses” (citing p 66, p75, Aleph, the original hand of A, and B) and that it includes “two non-Johannine words” [ekdechesthai and kinesis].  Two questions immediately arise for the reader:  (1) How do we know what the “oldest and best witnesses” are?  And (2) How do we know what is and is not within the limits of the Johannine vocabulary?

Second, with regard to v. 4, Metzger declares definitively that it is a “gloss” whose “secondary character” is clear in four ways:

(1) It is absent from “the earliest and best witnesses” (citing again p66, p75, Aleph, and B, etc.).

(2) He notes that there are “asterisks or obeli” that “mark the words as spurious in more than twenty Greek witnesses.”  Note:  The manuscripts he lists here, however, are all relatively late ones:  S, Delta, Pi, 047, 1079, 2174.  Could these marks indicate not that the text is “spurious” (for why then would the verse have been included?) but an acknowledgement of conflict in textual transmission?

(3) “The presence of non-Johannine words or expressions.”  He gives these examples:  kata karion, embaino [of going into the water], ekdechomai [expecting, awaiting], katechomai [to hold fast, to hold back], kinesis [movement], tarache [disturbance, stirring], and nosema [disease].  He adds that the last three three words appear only here in the NT.  Again, we must question how Metzger (or anyone else) is able to define so authoritatively the limits of Johannine vocabulary.  He also displays here circular reasoning.  For if v. 3b is considered authentic, one these words (kinesis) is definitely Johannine.   Is this conceivable for John?  Yes, it is.  Compare his limited use of the term “The Twelve” to refer to the twelve disciples in John 6:67, 70, 71; 20:24.

(4) He notes that since the passage is missing “in the earliest and best manuscripts” it “is sometimes difficult to make decisions among alternative readings.”  This seems, however, to be more of an expression of the difficulty of determining the eclectic modern critical text than an objection to the traditional text.

Edward F. Hills notes that the disputed passage is cited by Tertullian in a theological reference to baptism (see The King James Version Defended, pp. 145-146).  He quotes Tertullian as saying, “Having been washed in the water by the angel, we are prepared for the Holy Spirit.”  He also notes its citation in Didymus (c. 379 AD) and Chrysostom (c. 390 AD).  He notes:  “These writers, at least, appear firmly convinced that John 5:3b-4 was a genuine portion of the New Testament text.”   He adds that the text was also included in the Diatessaron by Tatian (c. 175 AD), “which also strengthens the evidence for its genuineness by attesting to its antiquity.”

How then did the text come to be omitted?  Hills cites a theory by Hilgenfeld and Steck:

These scholars point out that there was evidently some discussion of the Church during the 2nd century concerning the existence of this miracle-working pool.  Certain early Christians seem to have been disturbed over the fact that such a pool was no longer to be found at Jerusalem.  Tertullian explained the absence of this pool by supposing that God had put an end to its curative powers in order to punish the Jews for their unbelief.  However, this answer did not satisfy everyone, and so various attempts were made to remove the difficulty through conjectural emendation.  In addition to those documents which omit the whole reading there are others which merely mark it for omission with asterisks and obels.

Hills also point out that the entire passage shows evidence of having been tampered with by “rationalistic scribes” noting as an example the fact that the spelling of the place name for the pool in v. 2 varies widely.   Compare:

Bethesda:  A, C, K, N, etc. (Majority reading)

Bethsaida:  p66 (corrected hand), p75, B, etc.

Bethsaidan:  p66 (original hand)

Belzestha:  D

Bethzatha:  Aleph, (L), 33, and the Old Latin (the reading adopted by the modern critical text)

Though Hills’ suggestion is worth consideration, the truth is that the reasons this passage came into dispute are now lost to us in the mists of the past.  One might speculate that it concerned disputes over the theology of angels (cf. Col 2:18; Rev 19:10; 22:9).  We will likely never know why the passage came into dispute.

In a commentary published in 1947 Edwyn Hoskyns concluded:

The passage is either a gloss added to explain v. 7, or it belonged to the original text of the gospel, and it was struck out in order to avoid giving support to popular pagan practices connected with sacred pools and streams…. (The Fourth Gospel [Faber and Faber, 1947]:  p. 265). 


John 5:3b-4 clearly has ancient support.  It was known by Tertullian, appeared in ancient codices like Alexandrinus, and was adopted by the majority as the traditional reading.  Its absence is supported by the two major heavyweights of modern text criticism:  Sinaiticus and Vaticanus.  Though it is missing in two ancient papyri, one of those (p66) is notorious for it omissions, and the other (p75) apparently reflects the same stream as that represented by Vaticanus.

The arguments against the text by Metzger seem to rely on circular reasoning. He assumes that Sinaiticus and Vaticanus are “the earliest and best manuscripts” and then reasons that if the passage does not appear in those witnesses it cannot be original.  Likewise, he assumes that any less common vocabulary used in disputed passage must necessarily be “non-Johannine.”

Though there is no clear reason known to us as to why vv. 3b-4 might have been omitted, there is also no clear explanation as to why these words might have been added.  The ancient church clearly accepted 5:3b-4 as authentic, as did the Reformed Fathers.  One wonders if the passage’s exclusion in the modern critical text of the nineteenth century might not have been shaped by an Enlightenment influenced bias against the supernatural.  The comment on John 5:3-4 in The Orthodox Study Bible (based on the NKJV text of the Psalms and the NT) notes that these verses are “often omitted from modern English translations,” but adds, “The role of spiritual powers in the world must never be discounted” (p. 224).

I see no compelling reason to exclude John 5:3b-4 from consideration as part of the legitimate text of Scripture. 

Friday, July 03, 2015

The Vision (7.3.15): Reflections on July 4 and Marriage

If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do? (Psalm 11:5).

What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder (Matthew 19:6).

We ought to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).

Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king (1 Peter 2:17).

There is supposedly a Chinese blessing (or is it a curse?) which states:  “May you live in interesting times.”  These are, without doubt, interesting times (but are not all times equally so?).  As we move toward the July 4 holiday in the wake of the recent Supreme Court ruling on marriage, we have much to contemplate.

What does this mean for believers and churches who now become “conscientious objectors” to the law of the land?   One widely read response article suggested that Christians must now expect “to have to learn how to live as exiles in our own country.”  The idea of believers as “strangers and pilgrims on the earth” does have a Biblical ring to it (cf. Hebrews 11:13).  Some are already anticipating (and advocating) the revocation of tax-exemption for Biblically faithful churches (see this article).

Over twenty years ago, now, I served for two years as a missionary in Eastern Europe just after the fall of communism.  We may have much to learn in the future from believers who lived through those times.  For one thing, when believers married they held two services.  One was a secular service at the local courthouse, so that they might be married in the eyes of the state.  The other was a religious service in the church, so that they might be married in the eyes of God.

Some have suggested parallels between this Supreme Court ruling and the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973.  Though abortion became the law of the land, Christians were able to bear witness to the conscience of the nation regarding the fundamental value of human life.  Will we now have the opportunity to bear witness to the culture of the fundamental winsomeness and beauty of marriage as a one-flesh covenant union between one man and one woman that lasts a lifetime (Genesis 2:24)?

If past experience in other nations is any evidence, the changing of marriage laws will likely not increase interest in marriage, but we will probably see its secular value decline. Already, we have seen many young people choosing cohabitation and having children out of wedlock. This is the new normal for many.

“If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?”   We can continue to be faithful to God’s word.  We can honor the king, so long as that does not compromise our consciences.  We can be witness to this generation.  Writing all the way back in 1996, New Testament scholar Richard B. Hays offered a quotation suggesting the unique challenges (and opportunities) that might come in the future for a Biblical construal of marriage, suggesting it might “become nearly as radical a choice as monasticism, a counter-cultural thing” (as cited in The Moral Vision of the New Testament, p. 374).

We need to learn to speak about Biblical marriage in a pagan culture the way the Church Father Tertullian did when he wrote in the third century (Ad Uxorem, II.8):

Beautiful the marriage of Christians, two who are one in hope, one in desire, one in the way of life they follow, one in the religion they practice.

They are both servants of the same Master.  Nothing divides them either in flesh or spirit.

They are two in one flesh, and where there is one flesh there is also one spirit.

They pray together, they worship together; instructing one another, strengthening one another.

Side by side they visit God’s church; side by side they face difficulties and persecution, share their consolations.

They have no secrets from one another; they never bring sorrows to each other’s hearts.

Unembarrassed they visit the sick and assist the needy.  They give alms without anxiety.

Psalms and hymns they sing.  Hearing and seeing this Christ rejoices.  To such as these He gives His peace.

Where there are two together, there also He is present; and where He is, there evil is not.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Friday, June 26, 2015

Word Magazine # 38: Review: M:28 Bible Study

Note:  I posted to today WM # 38:  Review:  M:28 Bible Study.  Below are my notes for this episode (that I did not always follow) along with links to various sites related to the M:28 Bible Study and to ISI, the organization promoting it. 

Purpose:  I am doing this review in response to a request from a CRBC member who is doing short term mission support service in another country. While there he has encountered missionaries using a Bible study called “M:28.”  He had some negative intuitive reactions to the some of the concepts being used in the study and asked me to look at the material and offer a critique.  This WM is the response to that request.  Hopefully others might find it helpful.

Where does M:28 come from?

If you google something like “M:28 Bible Study” you will be directed to the website for this ministry:

The homepage has the title heading:  “M:28 Global Discipleship Initiative”

I assume that the M:28 name comes from Matthew 28:19-20, the Great Commission, though I could not find a place where this is clearly explained.

On a welcome page, the M:28 is described as an initiative of a para-church organization (ministry or business?) called ISI (International Students, Inc).  The welcome page is signed by Dr. Doug Shaw, President and CEO of ISI.

This led me to the website for the organization.  It is apparently based in Colorado Springs, CO with multiple affiliated persons (staff?) located at various college and Universities across the country where the focus is ministry to international students.  The Virginia page, for example, lists a number of schools where ISI apparently has some ministry to international students including both UVA and PVCC.

One page linked on an alternative website offers a brief history of the organization noting that it began in Washington DC in 1953.  It shifted to “a conference-based strategy” in 1972 and moved to Star Ranch in Colorado Springs that same year.  In the mid-1980s it began to focus on “equipping local church members to reach out to international students on nearby campuses.”  Shaw, the President, joined the organization in 2001.  Another page does list a board of twelve persons, mainly business leaders.

Shaw, howewer, is the only staff member I could find with a profile.  Even that one is a little vague.  For example, it says he has both an earned MA and PhD but it does not say in what field he earned these degrees or where he earned them. Was either degree in theology?

The ISI website does include a brief statement of faith that does affirm things like the inspiration of the Bible, a Trinitarian understanding of God, etc.

Furthermore, a statement of ISI’s Mission and Core Values does mention cooperation with and dependence upon local churches, though I could find no links to supporting churches.

Back to the site, there is an M:28 background page which indicates that this method has been around in some form for about 20 years (since 1995?).  It also includes some other interesting information about M:28.  Here is the page’s content (with some sections underlined for emphasis by me):

Some 20 years ago, God moved in the hearts of a number of church planters to reconsider the church planting process. They went back to the Scriptures and discovered that today’s western church may have made the process too complicated, and burdened it with western cultural baggage. As they stripped the process down to just the essentials, churches in their spheres of influence began to multiply rapidly. This movement became known as the organic church movement or CPM (Church Planting Movements). It is based on the Discovery Bible Study approach to truth discovery. According to this model (David Watson and others), the Word of God and the Spirit of God are sufficient for anyone to follow Jesus. Anything we give people other than the Word of God (e.g., interpretations, background, theology, definitions, examples, etc.) carries with it cultural baggage which will thwart the natural growth of new churches in their culture.

The foundation of ISI's M:28 Global Discipleship model is the Discovery Bible Study process. Once a spiritual seeker, or a "person of peace" has been identified, we meet with them and go over a simple 4-step bible study. Afterwards, they are encouraged to share truth they have discovered with others (friends, family, acquaintances, etc.) and report back what happened.

After 2-3 weeks of meeting, the group is closed. Group members are encouraged to meet with any additional people who want to join by forming another group with that person and their friends. Many people are ultimately part of two groups.

When a student, or group of students come to know Christ personally, we begin discipleship bible study with them, following the same truth discovery model. The discipleship process is based equally on sharing results of obedience, learning new truth from God's Word, and practicing obedience to new truth for the next step. Key passages are provided for M:28 discipleship bible studies, which can be done one-on-one, in small groups, or even over Skype with returnees.

Let me return to the two underlined sections from this page:

1.  The creators claim that the Western church has made Christianity too complicated and they simply want to strip things down to the essentials.

2.  The creators believe that things like “interpretation, background, theology, definitions, examples, etc.” carry too much “cultural baggage’ and so are to be avoided.

Oddly enough and contrary to this claim, this sounds like a typical, modern Western evangelical approach to the Bible (solo scriptura rather than sola scriptura).    This reflects a primitivism that suggests one can read the Bible with no preconceived notions of tradition or doctrine.  But reading and study of the Bible must necessarily involve theological presuppositions and theological interpretations.  Unless you are going to read the Bible in Hebrew or Greek, for example, you are going to be dependent on the interpretation of the translators!

What is the M:28 method of Bible study?

Let’s turn now to discuss the M:28 Bible Study method.  Now, admittedly I am making these comments based on the brief, sample material shared on the website.  There are apparently longer and more documents that one receives if he goes through their training.

But on the site, one can find a pdf which gives both the “Facilitator Guide” and the “Bible Study Guidelines (also called Group Rules)” (also available as pdfs here).
Let’s look at each of these:

First the “Facilitators Guide”:

1.  The leader is called a “facilitator.” If we are stripping things back to Biblical practice why is he not called a teacher or an elder or a pastor?  What restrictions are there on this role?  Must one be a mature Christian?  Is there a confessional or church membership requirement?  Can a woman lead the study?

2.  Each study session is base on three segments:  connect, discover, respond (and then close with prayer—by whom?  A volunteer?  Does this include non-believers leading in public prayer?).

The connect segment seems designed to be an icebreaker.

The discovery segment focuses on a Bible passage being read aloud twice, retold, and then discussed with the facilitators asking questions like, “What does this passage mean?”

The Respond segment uses application questions that begin, “If this passage is true…” giving room for response for those who do not accept the Bible as true.

Second, the “Bible Study Guidelines” (Group Rules):

The guidelines include instruction to limit discussion only to the passage being read.  What about Scripture interpreting Scripture?

The facilitator is also told “don’t teach” and “Don’t contribute your answer/comment to every question.”  If a “strange” or “wrong” interpretation is given (note the quotation marks) the facilitator is given strategies for redirection, including letting the group develop a “culture of self-correction.”  But what if the group also agrees with the wrong interpretation?

Note: The pdf handout include a note that these questions are adapted from “David Watson’s CPM [Church Planting Movement] Resources.”  David Watson is a former SBC missiologist.

Note:  M:28 includes at least three series:  Discovering God series (evangelism) and the Following Jesus Series and Growing in Maturity Series (discipleship).

Some concerns about M:28:

In the end, I believe I understand why the young man who had been part of our confessional RB church had some intuitive reactions against the M:28 Bible Study method.  Here are several concerns:

1.  M:28 is promoted by a para-church, non-denominational organization with seemingly only weak ties to existing local church ministry.

2.  It assumes that Bible study can be done without interpretation and theology.

3.  It promotes a method of evangelism based on small group discussion meetings.  Is this the NT model?  No.  The NT model for evangelism is based primarily on the means of preaching.

4.  It promotes leadership by non-authoritative facilitators rather than by elders, persons gifted and called to preach and teach the gospel.  It therefore represents a revolt against Biblical, ecclesiastical authority.

5.  By promotion of relativistic and non-directive methods it actually reinforces the ways of this world rather than promoting a Christian worldview, ecclesiology, and authority based on Biblical teaching.

6.  It explicitly rejects the Reformed and Biblical notion of “Scripture interpreting Scripture.”

Conclusion:  God can use whatever means he is pleased to use.  I would not, however, suggest or promote the M:28 Bible Study as a means for either evangelism or discipleship. Contrast the method promoted by M:28 with the models given in Acts where the revealed means of evangelism and discipleship is the public preaching and teaching of the Word of God by appointed officers (not small discussion groups) (cf. Acts 8:31, 35; 9:20, 22; 10:30-32; 13:7).


The Vision (6.26.15): Scenes from 2015 CRBC Vacation Bible School

This week (Monday-Thursday) we completed our annual Vacation Bible School at CRBC.  The theme this year was "The Life and Teaching of the Apostle Paul."  Here are few scenes from the week:

The day began with a "Bible-Bearer" leading the children into VBS.

Each day began with Bible study.

Topics for the week:  Day One:  Paul's Conversion on the Damascus Road; Day Two:  Paul's Three Missionary Journeys; Day Three:  Paul's Trials; Day Four:  Paul's Letters and His Legacy

Singing Scripture and Camp Songs was a big part of the week.  "The Fruit of the Spirit" remains a popular one with the children.

Stephanie O. led crafts again this year.  Here a group puts a model of Paul's ship on a string before it wrecks on the rocks below.

Another craft scene

Recreation time is also always a big hit.

Nothing like a game of "Duck-Duck-Goose"!

Bible lesson review:  Using sentence strips to put the events of Paul's life in order.

Each day ended with lunch on site.

VBS: old friendships renewed; new friendships made.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Vision (6.18.15): Wherewith shall I make the atonement?

“Wherefore David said unto the Gibeonites, What shall I do for you? and wherewith shall I make the atonement, that ye may bless the inheritance of the LORD? (2 Samuel 21:3).

Last Sunday morning at CRBC I preached from 2 Samuel 21.  It is an unsettling chapter.  A famine strikes the land for three years due to King Saul’s sinful treatment of the Gibeonites.  When David approaches them, they demand that seven of Saul’s descendants be killed and their bodies hung or impaled.  David complies.  “And after that God was intreated for the land” (2 Samuel 21:14).

Old Testament commentator Dale Ralph Davis says of 2 Samuel 21:  “No one can evade the raw horror of this scene.  We can only try to understand (up to a point) what is happening” (see p. 223).  These seven men “become, as it were covenant-breakers who stand in the place of Saul.”

Davis adds that if you feel horror at this passage that is a good thing.  That is what you should be feeling.  He states:  “Readers should be aghast.  The text says atonement is horrible; it is gory.  Atonement is never nice but gruesome.”

He recalls all the Biblical sacrifices:

It was all mess and gore.  From the slicing the bull’s throat in Leviticus 1 all the way to Calvary God has always said that atonement is nasty and repulsive.  Christians must beware of becoming too refined, longing for a kinder, gentler faith.  If we’ve grown too used to Golgotha perhaps Gibeah (v. 6) can shock us back into truth:  atonement is a drippy, bloody, smelly business.  The stench of death hangs heavy wherever the wrath of God has been quenched.

The atoning sacrifice of these seven men was an imperfect sacrifice.  The Lord for his own sovereign purposes ended the famine and brought rain.  Yet this was just one broken covenant.  What atonement would be made for countless others, for myriads upon myriads of broken vows?  These were imperfect victims.  These were mere sinful men.  What type of perfect sacrifice would have to be offered to atone for the sins of the whole world?  This sacrifice only brought momentary relief to a time of famine.  What sacrifice could bring about not only temporal relief but eternal justification for sinners?

There is only one verse where the English word “atonement” is used in the AV of the NT:

Romans 5:11 And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.

If you read the context, it is clear that Paul that this atonement has been brought about by the death of Christ on the cross. Compare:

Romans 5:8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

What 2 Samuel 21 points us toward is the mystery and the scandal of the cross.  This is a hard truth and even an impossible truth for unregenerate man to fathom.  The old liberal preacher Harry Emerson Fosdick called it a “slaughterhouse religion.”  I recently saw the atheistic scientist Richard Dawkins in a video railing against any notion that God had to kill his son in order to offer forgiveness. He said something like, “If he is God why can’t he just offer forgiveness without any sacrifice.”  But Dawkins misses the point.  This is not a natural truth.  It is not a human truth.  It is a divine truth and a revealed truth.

NT scholar Leon Morris in his classic work The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross observes:

He is a righteous God, even in justifying the ungodly; and the propitiation which he set forth in Christ Jesus, dying in His sinlessness the death of the sinful is the key to the mystery (p. 278).

David asked the Gibeonites:  “What shall I do for you and wherewith shall I make the atonement….?”

And the ultimate answer comes back:  It has been made in Christ.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeffrey T. Riddle

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Daniell: Tyndale "gave to English not only a Bible language, but a new prose."

Image:  Facsimile of the  full page woodcut print of Matthew dipping his pen in a pot held by an angel, which prefaced Tyndale's translation of Matthew in the "Cologne Fragment."

I’m still enjoying David Daniell’s William Tyndale:  A Biography (Yale, 1994).  In his discussion of Tyndale’s early efforts at translating the Bible into English while in Cologne, Germany, Daniell offers this reflection on how Tyndale’s labors shaped the development of English prose:

Yet something more important is happening; the English into which Tyndale is translating has a special quality for the time, being the simple, direct form of the spoken language, with a dignity and harmony that make it perfect for what it is doing.  Tyndale is in the process of giving us a Bible language.  Luther is often praised for having given, in the ‘September Bible’, a language to the emerging German nation.  In his Bible translations, Tyndale’s conscious use of everyday words, without inversions, in a neutral word-order, and his wonderful ear for rhythmic patterns, gave to English not only a Bible language, but a new prose.  England was blessed as a nation in that the language of its principle book, as the Bible in English rapidly became, was the fountain from which flowed the lucidity, suppleness and expressive range of the greatest prose thereafter (pp. 115-116).

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Death of Herod Agrippa I in Acts 12 and Josephus

Last Sunday afternoon I exposited the account of the death of Herod Agrippa I as recorded in Acts 12:17-25.  In preparation I ran across this helpful compilation by G. J. Goldberg of parallels between the New Testament and Josephus.

The Acts account of Herod Agrippa I's death is indeed nicely paralleled by Josephus' account in his Antiquities of the Jews (see here).

Among details that concur:

1.  Herod had traveled from Judea to Caesarea before his death;
2.  Herod was "arrayed in royal apparel" (Acts 12:21; Josephus says he wore a silver garment which resplendently reflected the sun's rays);
3.  Herod gave a speech and his sycophants praised him as a god;
4.  Soon after the speech, Herod became violently ill and later died.  Josephus says he had a "violent pain" in his "belly" while Luke says "he was eaten of worms" (Acts 12:23).  Luke also adds that he was smitten by "the angel of the Lord" because "he gave not God the glory" (Acts 12:23).

Of note is the way that Josephus' account supports the historicity of Luke's account in Acts.  Luke adds a distinctive theological interpretation, but his account agrees with Josephus in the main details.  This parallel and others like it support the conclusion that Luke was a reliable ancient historian and counters those who would dismiss the historicity of his narrative or suggest that Luke was prone to fabrication.


Sunday, June 14, 2015

David Daniell on Erasmus Legends

I was reading today from David Daniell’s classic work, William Tyndale:  A Biography (Yale, 1994).  I was struck by his discussion of Erasmus’ Novum Instrumentum where Daniell makes reference to the “legend” that Erasmus rushed the work into print and that it was subsequently riddled with errors.  Here, in part, are his comments:

There is a legend that Erasmus worked with Froben his printer at break-neck speed in 1516 in order to get ahead in the market….  The legend, partly resulting from Erasmus’ own explanation of haste, perhaps as a cover for possible errors, has been used to condemn the enterprise; in fact, all the parts of Erasmus’s volumes show care and accuracy (pp. 60-61).

Indeed, the “legend” that Erasmus did his work quickly and sloppily was popularized by Bruce Metzger in his influential works on text criticism and those ideas were then picked up and passed on by others (like D. A. Carson and James White).  I believe that these legends were largely promoted in the modern era in order to undermine the authority of the Textus Receptus.  The first I heard of anyone debunking these Erasmus legends was in the writings of Erasmian scholar M. A. Screech.  David Daniell’s voice can now be added as well.  For more on this listen to the discussions in WM #  25 and WM # 26.


2015 Cove Creek Closing Ceremonies

Today (June 13) was "Championship Saturday" and the closing day for the regular season at Cove Creek baseball park.  I served as head coach of my son Isaiah's "Pirates" team in the Major League (11-12 year olds) this year.  Though we finished the regular season in third place (of three pretty evenly matched teams), we caught fire in last week's playoffs and made it to the championship game today, winning 4-1 over the regular season champion Cubs.  I'm very proud of this team and the way they played today!

I'm also proud of Isaiah who was voted by his peers to receive the "Sportsmanship Award," one of three individual awards given in each league.  This was his second year in a row to win the award, having received it last year in the Minor Leagues. He follows in the footsteps of his older brother Sam who was a four-time recipient of the award during his CC career and his sister Lydia also won this award in the only year she played softball at CC. 

Image:  With championship games completed, the crowd gathers for closing ceremonies at Cove Creek.

Image:  The Pirates (and assistant coaches) celebrate the win after receiving their trophies in the closing ceremonies.

Image:  Isaiah lays a smacker on the championship trophy.

Image:  CC Commissioner John Grisham (and he does a little writing on the side) speaks with boys chosen for the All-Star season following closing ceremonies about the responsibilities of "wearing the uniform" and representing CC.  You can see my son Joseph in the center who gets his first chance to play the All-Stars season this year on the CC U-9 team.