Friday, July 29, 2011
The Geneva Bible, the first Protestant study Bible, note on the phrase "the end of the law" in Romans 10:4:
The end of the law is to justify them that keep the Law: but seeing we do not observe the Law throught the fault of our flesh, we attain not unto this end but Christ salveth this disease, for he fulfilled the Law for us.
Thursday, July 28, 2011
When I checked the CRBC mailbox before church last Sunday morning I found an interesting collection of items. They included:
• A note from a faithful supporter of CRBC in Indiana who sent his regular monthly contribution along with a $500 gift to the SEED fund. What an encouragement!
• A self-published book on Exodus from the author who would like to see the book reviewed in The Reformed Baptist Trumpet.
• A letter from the pastor of the church in Alabama to which we had sent a contribution to help with a family in that congregation affected by the recent tornadoes in that region. The letter reads:
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Greetings in the name of our blessed Savior and King. Thank you so much for your generous offering sent to help those affected by the tornado. We appreciate the sacrifice you have made in sending it, and we will carefully use it for the relief of those in need. The needs are great as the rebuilding has begun.
We covet your prayers for our congregation to be salt and light in our communities where the spiritual devastation is even greater. We are delighted to know of the work in Charlottesville and if we can ever be of assistance, please call upon us.
Pastor Mark L.
• An encouraging letter from a brother in New York state who reads my “stylos” blog:
I want to write you a note and thank you for “Stylos.” I read it regularly and have profited especially from your posts regarding “text criticism”….
Please keep writing, and I’ll keep reading.
Yours in Christ, T.L.
All these reminded me of the vibrancy of Christ’s ministry through our little flock and the privileges we enjoy of serving him together.
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
Note: There will be no Vision next Thursday, August 4th. The next edition of The Vision will be sent out on Thursday, August 11, 2011.
This message by British Reformed Baptist Pastor Jeremy Walker, titled New Calvinism Considered, is a charitable but discerning critique of the Neo-evangelical Calvinistic resurgence. I highly commend it.
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
While serving in his first pastorate at Soham, Andrew Fuller (1754-1815) wrote the following entry in his memoir on February 5, 1781:
A pulpit is an awful place!—An opportunity for addressing a company of immortals on their eternal interests—Oh how important! We preach for eternity. We in a sense are set for the rising and falling of many in Israel. And our own rise or fall is equally therein involved.
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
In his commentary on Romans 10:3, James Boice uses the following illustration to describe how Paul came to his own righteousness in comparison to the righteousness of Christ (p. 1160):
I have sometimes said it was as if Paul had been considering himself a 100-watt light bulb, surrounded by people who were only 75-, 60-, and 25-watt light bulbs. But, when, Jesus appeared to him, the righteousness of Jesus was like the brightness of the sun. When Paul realized that, he gave up trying to create his own righteousness and instead placed his faith in Jesus, which was the only sensible thing to do.
Monday, July 25, 2011
1. The issue:
Is Paul’s prayer “for Israel [huper tou Israel],” as in the traditional text, or “for them [huper auton],” as in the modern critical text?
2. Comparison of English translations (underline added):
Based on the traditional text:
KJV Romans 10:1 Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.
Based on the modern critical text:
NASB Romans 10:1 Brethren, my heart's desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation.
The unique dynamic equivalent reading of the NIV which follows neither the traditional nor the modern critical text by reading “for the Israelites”:
NIV Romans 10:1 Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.
3. External evidence:
There are three textual variations:
a. The traditional reading (note: which includes the third persons singular of the verb “to be”): huper tou Israel estin
This reading is supported by the vast majority of manuscripts.
b. The modern critical reading: huper auton
This reading is supported by p46, the corrected hand of Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus, and Vaticanus.
c. A slight variation on the modern critical reading (including estin): huper auton estin
This reading is supported by the second corrector of Sinaiticus, P, and Psi
4. Internal evidence:
The modern critical text choice seems to have been made purely on the assumption that the manuscripts bearing this reading are oldest and best. The Textual Commentary note on the traditional reading is particularly speculative, as Metzger conjectures that it “may have occurred when this verse was made the beginning of a lesson read in church services (cf. the reference to Israel in 9:31) (p. 524). John Murray is more reasonable in his support of the modern critical reading: “It is easy to understand how in the course of transmission the longer reading would have been substituted for the simple auton in order to make specific the reference which is unquestionably clear from the context” (Romans, Vol. 2, p. 47, n. 1). With all due respect to Murray, however, if the reference in context is “unquestionably clear” it also seems just as likely that one might have abbreviated “for Israel” to “for them.” Paul clearly is fond of explicit reference to Israel in Romans 9-11 (cf. Rom 9:6, 27, 31; 10:19, 21; 11:2, 7, 25, 26). The traditional reading, in fact, sounds very Pauline.
I see no compelling reason to abandon the traditional text of Romans 10:1. It reflects a typical Pauline expression, and one can easy see how an effort to abbreviate could have entered into the transmission process.
I see no compelling reason to abandon the traditional text of Romans 10:1. It reflects a typical Pauline expression, and one can easy see how an effort to abbreviate could have entered into the transmission process.
I used this illustration on prayer in yesterday’s sermon on Romans 10:1-4, specifically relating to how Paul’s prayer for Israel should stir us toward zeal in our own prayer life.
The wife of the Puritan minister Joseph Alleine (1634-1668) said this of her husband:
At the time of his health, he did rise constantly at or before four of the clock, and on the Sabbath sooner, if he did wake. He would be much troubled if he heard smiths or shoemakers, or such tradesmen, at work at their trades, before he was in his duties with God: saying to me often, “O how this noise shames me! Doth not my Master deserve more than theirs?” From four till eight he spent in prayer, holy contemplations, and singing of psalms, which he much delighted in, and did daily practice alone, as well as in his family.
--From Richard Baxter, et al., The Life and Letters of Joseph Alleine, as cited in Joel R.Beeke and Brian G. Najapfour, eds., Taking Hold of God (Reformation Heritage, 2011): p. 225.
Friday, July 22, 2011
Here's the script for one our new Grace Points devotionals that will run on local talk radio (AM 1260; FM 107.5) August-September-October, 2011:
Welcome to Grace Points, a ministry of Christ Reformed Baptist Church in Charlottesville, Virginia:
Think of a beautiful, pristine, white wedding dress. Then the woman wearing the dress drops one piece of food from her plate and it hits the dress and leaves a stain. When you look at the dress where is your eye going to go? It’s going to focus on the stain.
Now let’s suppose that this dress represents your righteousness before God. And let’s suppose that in your entire life you’ve only transgressed God’s law a single time. Then consider how the Lord with his perfect standard of holiness would look at that one unsightly stain. Just one sin will ruin a sinner.
Paul said, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Christ Reformed meets for worship each Sunday at 10:30 am at the Branchlands Professional Building, 1410 Incarnation Drive. You can also listen to worship services Sundays at 10:30 am on this station. Audio links can be found at christreformedbaptist.org.
Thursday, July 21, 2011
We were pleasantly surprised last spring when we ran our one minute “Grace Points” devotional spots on weekday local talk radio (AM 1260; FM 107.5) for 13 weeks. Before the spots ran I kept downplaying our expectations, but in that span the Lord blessed this ministry beyond our imaginings. We had 15 individuals or families visit our worship services who came as a direct result of hearing Grace Points. A couple of them have even stayed around! Doubtless there were many more who heard these devotionals whom we never saw.
Starting in August we are going to be entering a second three month radio campaign. This one will be a little different. We will again be running a new series of one minute Grace Points devotionals but less frequently. We will, however, be broadcasting part of our Sunday morning worship services from 10:30-11:30 am. The radio station will also be running a series of shorter spots to promote our Sunday service broadcast.
Let me ask if you will join us in doing the following:
1. Begin now to pray for those who will hear these broadcasts. It may be that the Lord will again bless us by sending people to visit our services. Pray, however, that these broadcasts will bless those who hear them, even if we never see them at CRBC. The heart of our mission is preaching the gospel and proclaiming the unsearchable riches of Christ. As the “old path” men were fond of saying, “Duty is ours; success is God’s.”
2. Consider giving an above and beyond offering to the SEED Fund (of any amount) to support this work. We will have an update on the SEED fund in next week’s Vision. In the first month since we announced this challenge the Lord has blessed us by allowing us to reach a little less than half of our $10,000 goal. We will be using these funds to support this broadcast. Pray that our needs are supplied.
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
The text of Jude 22-23 is much disputed. The degree of diversity in the transmission of these verses can be measured by the fact that Metzger devotes no less than three pages to them in his Textual Commentary (pp. 725-727). This is about the same amount of space given to discussion of the pericope adulterae (pp. 219-222)!
What are the issues?
A comparison of English translations, the KJV following the traditional text and the NIV following the modern critical text, will be helpful here (emphasis added):
KJV Jude 1:22 And of some have compassion, making a difference: 23 And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.
NIV Jude 1:22 Be merciful to those who doubt; 23 snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear-- hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.
We can highlight two major issues:
1. In v. 22 one issue is whether the participle from the verb diakrino (which can mean both “to make a difference” [to discern or to doubt] should be in the nominative form (diakrinomenoi, as it is in the traditional text), thereby modifying the subjects of the imperative verb, have compassion (BTW, which is written in the traditional text as eleeite and in the modern critical text as eleate), or in the accusative form (diakrinomenous, as in the modern critical text), thereby serving as the object of the imperative verb. Are the recipients of the letter to be discerning as they dispense mercy (no KJV) or are they being urged to have compassion on those who doubt (so NIV)?
External evidence divides as one might expect. The modern text is supported by p72 Sinaiticus A and B. The traditional text is supported by K P and the Majority Text. Metzger dismisses the traditional reading as “obviously a secondary development” introduced by copyists to agree with two nominative participles in v. 23 (harpozontes and misountes). The strongest internal evidence for the traditional reading, however, is the fact that Jude is a book that focuses on discernment (cf. v. 3).
2. In v. 23 the issue is whether there is one imperative verb in this verse (“save” sozete; traditional) or two (plus “have mercy” eleate; modern). The external evidence again divides along typical lines. The modern critical reading is supported by Sinaiticus A and B. The traditional reading, however, by the vast majority of extant manuscripts. Metzger concludes that the modern critical text “appears to be superior to any of the other readings.” He does not address, however, the possibility that the eleate in v. 23 was assimilated (either intentionally or by error) from v. 22.
The texual issues in this verse illustrate the fact that textual concerns in the NT do not have to do with a one or two isolated cases. There are issues that arise in nearly every verse. How do we sort through these issues? Do we receive the traditional text that became the basis of the Reformation era print editions of the Bible in its original languages and the Protestant translations or do we abandon this text for the modern critical one? Jude 22-23 illustrates again that there is no compelling reason to abandon the traditional text and good reason to keep it.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
What were worship services like in colonial America? Here's an excerpt from chapter XV "Sunday in the Colonies" in Alice Morse Earle's Home Life in Colonial Days (Grosset & Dunlap, 1898):
The services were not shortened because the churches were uncomfortable. By the side of the pulpit stood a brass-bound hour glass which was turned by the tithing-man or clerk, but it did not hasten the closing of the sermon. Sermons two or three hours long were customary, and prayers from one to two hours in length. When the first church in Woburn was dedicated, the minister preached a sermon nearly five hours long. A Dutch traveler recorded a prayer four hours long on a Fast Day. Many prayers were two hours long. The doors were closed and watched by a tithing-man, and none could leave even if tired or restless unless with good excuse. The singing of the psalms was tedious and unmusical, just as it was in churches of all denominations both in America and England, at that date. Singing was by ear and very uncertain, and the congregation had no notes, and many had no psalm-books and hence no words. So the psalms were “lined” or “deaconed”; that is, a line was read by the deacon, and then sung by the congregation. Some psalms when lined and sung occupied half an hour, during which the congregation stood. There were but eight or nine tunes in general use, and even those were often sung incorrectly. There were no church organs to help keep the singers together but sometimes pitch pipes were used to set the key. Bass-viols, clarinets, and flutes were played at a later date in meeting to help the singing. Violins were too associated with dance music to be thought decorous for church music. Still the New England churches clung to and loved their poor confused psalm-singing as one of their few delights, and whenever a Puritan, even in road or field, heard the distant sound of a psalm tune, he removed his hat and bowed his head in prayer (pp. 376-378).
Monday, July 18, 2011
The “New Perspective” on Ephesians 4:11-12:
I was reading Peter Master’s booklet “Your Reasonable Service in the Lord’s Work” (Sword and Trowel, 1987, 2011) encouraging the active involvement in service and ministry of all Christians. I agreed with most of what Masters was promoting. I stumbled, however, on his interpretation of Ephesians 4:11-12 (see pp. 14-15).
Masters takes exception with the punctuation of v. 12 in the AV:
KJV Ephesians 4:11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
He would remove the first comma in v. 12, so that the first phrase reads, “For the perfecting of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body.” Removing the comma interprets Paul's point here as meaning not that pastors and teachers themselves are given “for the work of the ministry,” but so that they might equip or perfect the saints to do the work of the ministry.
Masters then states his preference for the NASB rendering, which reflects this interpretation:
NAS Ephesians 4:11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;
The NIV goes even further by rendering the phrase in dynamic equivalence as “to prepare God’s people for works of service”:
NIV Ephesians 4:11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up
The ESV also offers a dynamic equivalent spin, rendering v. 12: “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”
The Message does the same: “…and pastor-teachers to train Christians in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body…”
The NKJV, as well, removes the comma:
NKJV Ephesians 4:11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,
Masters cites William Hendriksen’s commentary on this text to support his position, noting Hendriksen’s argument that Paul’s point is that “the entire church should be involved in spiritual labor.”
So also, the MacArthur Study Bible note on the phrase “for the work of ministry” explains that this refers to “The spiritual service required of every Christian, not just of church leaders (cf. 1 Cor 15:58).”
The ESV Study Bible, likewise, comments on v. 12: “Those church leaders with various gifts (v. 11) are to equip the saints (all Christians) so that they can do the work of ministry. All Christians have spiritual gifts that should be used in ministering to one another (1 Cor. 12:7, 11; 1 Pet. 4;10).”
The “Old Paths” Perspective:
One wonders, however, if the removal of this comma is justified. Is it justified on grammatical grounds or has this been theologically driven? Does its removal reflect a modern, democratic, egalitarian interest in “every member ministry” and even a subtle anti-clericalism? Does the pastor exercise his ministry by training non-ordained persons to minister? Or is he himself given “for the work of ministry”? No doubt if he exercises his ministry of word and prayer the saints will be equipped. Retaining the comma by no means negates the fact that each Christian is to find avenues for appropriate ministry and service at home and in the church. But has adding a comma also added an emphasis that is less in view here? In the Greek of v. 12 there are a series of three prepositional phrases. Pastor and teacher are given “for [pros] the perfecting of the saints, for [eis] the work of ministry, for [eis] the edifying of the body of Christ.” There are certainly grounds for arguing that Paul intended three distinct description of the work of pastors and teacher, rather than just two.
This is the way that the old Protestant commentators took verse 12. Examples:
John Calvin in his commentary on v. 12 exegetes each of the three phrases independently. He takes “for the work of the ministry” as a specific reference to pastoral labors, adding, “Paul asserts that a ministry is required, because such is the will of God.”
The Geneva Bible, like the AV, includes the comma in v. 12: “For the repairing of the Saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edification of the body of Christ.” The note stresses that the verse shows “the end of Ecclesiastical function” as aiming for the unity of the church.
Matthew Henry comments on all three phrases noting that “for the work of the ministry” might be rendered “for the work of dispensation; that is, that they might dispense the doctrines of the gospel, and successfully discharge the several parts of their ministerial function.” Thus, he sees this phrase as relating directly to the pastors and teachers and not the saints in general.
Matthew Poole, likewise, takes “for the work of the ministry” as a reference to the minister’s work in particular. It is “for the work of dispensation, i. e., for dispensing the word, and all those ordinances which it pertains to them to dispense; and so it implies their whole work.” He even suggests that the middle phrase might be transferred to the front of the verse in meaning so that the work of the ministry is the perfecting of the saints and edifying the body of Christ “both in bringing in new members to it, and strengthening those that are brought in already, in faith and holiness.”
So, we see a divide between the old Protestant translations and commentators and the new. The old include the comma and thereby see the reference to “the work of the ministry” as the word and sacrament ministry of the pastor. The new take away the comma and see “for the work of the ministry” as referring to equipping given to all saints. Masters, a conservative Baptist, sides with the new interpretation. As for me, I find that the old is better.
Saturday, July 16, 2011
Tomatoes ripening in the window.
I love reaching the point in the summer when you actually begin to harvest, preserve, and eat the things you've grown.
Tomatoes still on the vine.
Close-up of bell peppers
Llewellyn has been pickling and canning our cucumbers.
Friday, July 15, 2011
We studied John 10:22-42 in our mid-week study at CRBC this week. We spent some time pondering the meaning of Jesus’ quotation of Psalm 82:6 in John 10:34: “Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, ye are gods?”
In context, we noted Jesus’ declaration of his identity with the Father: “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30). His Jewish opponents certainly took this statement to be blasphemous, taking up stones to stone him (vv. 31, 33; cf. 8:59). The problem they told him was, “that thou, being a man, makest thyself God” (v. 33; cf. 5:18).
Then comes the statement in v. 34. What does Jesus mean by this quotation? How could the monotheistic OT have a statement about “gods”? Why would Jesu make use of it?
First, we need to read all of Psalm 82. It is a Psalm of Asaph. It begins, “God standeth in the congregation of the mighty (el); he judgeth among the gods (elohim).” In context the psalm denounces mighty men who serve as judges in Israel but who pervert justice (v. 2). They are exhorted to defend the poor and fatherless (v. 3). Then, in v. 6 Asaph repeats, “I have said, ye are gods; and all of you are the children of the most High.” He then reminds them that they shall die like men (v. 7). And he calls on God to arise and rightly judge the earth (v. 8). Was Asaph saying that these men were gods? That God is one god among many gods? NO! The cornerstone of Israel’s confession is that there is but one true God (Deut 6:4-5). Asaph is using the term ironically. These unjust judges use their authority corruptly. They have taken god-like power to themselves and used it to abuse the weak.
Now, going back to John 10:34, we can better understand how Jesus uses the quotation. He explains:
35 If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken;
36 Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?
Did Jesus promote polytheism? Did he believe in many gods (theoi) and that he was one among many? Certainly not! He and the Father are one (v. 30). He is drawing an analogy from the lesser to the greater. If Asaph could call some men who were corrupt judges in his day “the mighty” and “gods,” how much more can righteous Jesus rightly take to himself the title of “the son of God” (v. 36)! The Scripture cannot be broken (luthenai from luo: loosed, destroyed, unraveled, undone; v. 35).
Thursday, July 14, 2011
The last few Wednesday evenings in our CRBC midweek meeting I have been reading some excerpts from Peter Master’s booklet “The Power of Prayer Meetings” (Sword and Trowel, 1995, 2011) before our corporate prayer time.
At the close of the booklet, Masters shares five practical suggestions for prayer meetings under the heading “How should we pray?” Here are some notes:
1. We should pray with great feeling and earnestness.
2. We should use direct and plain language.
Our language should be straightforward and not a grand, florid production. On a practical level, in large corporate gatherings it might be good to stand while praying in order to be well heard.
3. There should be many contributors in the church prayer meeting.
Masters encourages as many as possible to pray audibly in the prayer meeting. If the average spoken prayer is about three minutes, then in a 40 minute prayer meeting about 12-15 people might voice public prayers. This means participants should avoid overly long prayers in order to give others the opportunity to pray. Prayers for more “pastoral” concerns should be given by more mature members. Participants are encouraged to come prepared to pray and to be bold in prayer, helping the prayer season to be continuous, without long gaps of silence.
4. Public prayer should be addressed to the Father.
Masters teaches that corporate prayer should be addressed to God the Father. This is the example of Jesus in the “pattern prayer” (the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6:9). He also encourages public prayers to end with “in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior” or some variation on this.
5. All should join in the loud “Amen.”
Finally, Masters encourages all participants in the prayer meeting to join with the one praying in saying “Amen” at the close of each public prayer. Again, Jesus closed the “pattern prayer” with “Amen” (Matthew 6:13; cf. 1 Chronicles 16:36; Nehemiah 5:13; 8:6; 1 Corinthians 14:16).
Let us have the same spirit as the first disciples when they asked Jesus, “Lord, teach us to prayer” (Luke 11:1).
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
Gleanings from chapter five: “The especial duty of pastors of churches” in John Owen’s The True Nature of a Gospel Church and Its Government, Collected Works, Vol. 16 (pp. 74-96):
The first and principal duty of a pastor is to feed the flock by diligent preaching of the word (p. 74).
But a man preacheth that sermon only well unto others which preacheth itself in his own soul (p. 76).
If the word do not dwell with power in us, it will not pass with power from us. And no man lives in a more woeful condition than those who really believe not themselves what they persuade others to believe continually (p. 76).
To preach the word, therefore, and not to follow it with constant and fervent prayer for its success, is to disbelieve its use, neglect its end, and to cast away the seed of the gospel at random (p. 78).
Men cannot preserve that for others which they are ignorant of themselves. Truth may be lost by weakness as well as by wickedness (p. 82).
Vain curiosity, boldness in conjectures, and readiness to vent their own conceits, have caused no small trouble and damage unto the church (p. 82).
Men may and do oftentimes prejudice, yea, betray the truth, by the weakness of their pleas for it (p. 82).
The ordinary means of conversion is left unto the church, and its duty it is to attend unto; yea, one of the principal ends of the institution and preservation of churches is the conversion of souls, and when there are no more to be converted, there shall be no more church on the earth (p. 83).
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
I've been continuing to preach through Romans 9. In the last two messages (The Inscrutible Mercy of God [Romans 9:14-18]; The Impertinency of Man [Romans 9:19-26]), we've rubbed up against the perennial questions of double predestination and equal ultimacy.
In last Sunday's message I spent some time reflecting on Paul's statement in v. 22 that "the vessels of wrath" were "fitted for destruction." This declaration is parallel to Paul's statement in v. 23 that "the vessels of mercy ... he had afore prepared unto glory."
I found John Murray's comments on v. 22 to be interesting (see Romans, Vol. 2, p. 36). He begins: "The vessels of wrath are 'fitted for destruction.' The question disputed is whether they are represented as fitted or prepared by God for destruction or whether they are viewed as fitting themselves for destruction."
He continues with this very nuanced statement (especially the second sentence here): "It may be that he purposely refrained from making God the subject. However, we may not insist that God is not viewed as fitting them for destruction."
He adds, "For these reasons there is nothing contrary to the teaching of the context if we regard God as the agent in fitting for destruction. At the same time we may not dogmatize that the apostle intended to convey this notion in this case."
So, Murray's conclusion is that Paul describes the Lord as actively fitting the reprobate for destruction, but the evidence is not so clear as to lead one to a a dogmatic affirmation of equal ultimacy in Paul.
Saturday, July 09, 2011
I just finished reading D. C. Parker’s Codex Sinaiticus: The Story of the World’s Oldest Bible (The British Library/Hendrickson, 2010) and will be writing a review for the journal American Theological Inquiry. Parker is Professor of Theology and Director of the Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing at the University of Birgmingham, UK. He is also Executive Editor of the International Greek New Testament. Parker is perhaps the foremost academic Biblical text critic in the English speaking world. The book is a companion piece to the Codex Sinaiticus Project (the effort to put the famed codex in digital form online).
Parker’s assessment of Sinaiticus is, as expected, glowing. The book begins, “Codex Sinaiticus is one of the greatest of all books, not only as a Christian production, but within human culture and book technology” (p. 1). He later adds, “It is to Christian books what Hagia Sophia is to Christian buildings” (p. 1).
Parker's book is pitched to the level of a popular audience (e.g., Greek texts are translated or transliterated) and provides the most accessible and up to date views on Sinaiticus scholarship for non-specialists. My forthcoming review will cover the content of the book and offer more detailed analysis. For now, let me share a few gleanings from Parker’s book that I found particularly striking with regard to its role in relation to the contemporary abandonment of the traditional text of the Bible.
Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus have been the heavyweight manuscripts used to undermine the traditional text of Scripture and promote the modern critical text. For example, Sinaiticus, along with Vaticanus, omit the pericope adulterae (John 7:53-8:11) and the so-called longer ending of Mark (Mark 6:9-20). These passages have been bracketed in modern critical texts or (as in the new SBLGNT’s treatment of the PA) buried in the footnotes.
Here, however, are seven observations on Sinaiticus drawn from Parker that might raise questions about the weight given to this work:
1. The origins of Sinaiticus are not known with any firm certainty.
We do not know the origins of Sinaiticus. Parker debunks the notion that it was one of fifty “de luxe” Bibles commissioned by Constantine [an idea stemming from speculation about a passage in Eusebius’ Life of Constantine] (pp. 19-22).
Parker provides an interesting discussion of the so-called “Pamphilian corrector” of Sinaiticus and his possible links to Origen and Eusebius (see pp. 81-85). Parker rightly describes these as “among the most important Christian writers of their age” (p. 85). What he does not mention is the fact that neither was considered fully orthodox. At any rate, the association is speculative and not certain.
Later, in his discussion of the modern “discovery” of the manuscript, Parker notes the assessment of Uspenski, Tichendorf’s “Russian equivalent,” who issued a “bad-tempered” attack on Sinaiticus in 1863 in which he impugned its “heretical origins,” which Parker chalks up to “sour grapes” (p. 140).
He even makes mention of the bizarre claim by C. Simonides in 1862 that Sinaiticus was a forgery he had helped produce. Parker concludes: “The absurdity of his claim to have forged something so indisputably the genuine article must be put down to malice” (p. 152).
At any rate, even this is a reminder that the origins of Sinaiticus are not known with any firm certainty.
2. The dating of this work is not known with any firm certainty.
2. The dating of this work is not known with any firm certainty.
As for the dating of the work, Parker notes the difficulties. The oldest dated Greek Biblical manuscript is from 825. Sinaiticus has no such dating. Parker reviews the basis for making a decision on date based on paleographic evidence and notes the scholarly consensus that Sinaiticus dates to c. 350. Here, however, is his concluding sentence (note the uncertainty of his language): “The best we can say is that the evidence such as it is leads us to believe that Codex Sinaiticus may have been written shortly after the middle of the fourth century” (p. 54).
3. We do not possess the book in its entire, original form.
Parker estimates that the codex originally contained 743 leaves (1486 pages) of which 411 (822 pages) survive in whole or in part, excluding fragments (p. 7).
4. The composition and content of Sinaiticus reflects an open canon.
It is believed originally to have held the entire canonical OT (LXX), along with the Apocrypha (excluding 2 and 3 Maccabbees) and the entire canonical NT, along with two other early Christian books, the Shepherd of Hermas and the Epistle of Barnabas.
Various parts of the OT are now lost (e. g., only Genesis chapters 21-24 survive from that book). The NT and Barnabas are complete but part of Hermas is lost.
If the question of which books to include in the Bible was in flux, so too, no doubt, was judgment as to the text of those books. Clearly, for example, the LXX of the OT was preferred over the MT of the Hebrew. Parker notes that the “biggest challenge to the producers of Codex Sinaiticus was to decide which books were to be included” (p. 29).
5. Sinaiticus is notorious for its numerous corrections.
Parker: “It should be repeated that Codex Sinaiticus is unique among ancient manuscripts in the number of its corrections….” (p. 79). He estimates that there are 27,305 places where the extant manuscript was corrected by later redactors. Imagine how many more there would be if we possessed the entire manuscript?
6. Sinaiticus has several conspicuous copying and omission errors.
Here are some major examples cited by Parker:
a. A problem in 2 Esdras
Again, the beginning of the OT is now mutilated, but the text proper begins in the middle of 1 Chronicles. Parker notes that one finds a puzzling “anomaly” in the manuscript as a large section of 1 Chronicles (14 pages) is reduplicated and then it abruptly resumes in 2 Esdras (p. 65).
A later corrector added a note to give explanation. Parker: “The note tells us that the seven folios (i. e., fourteen pages, of which five are extant) are a repetition of text that has already been copied. The scribe did not notice the confusion. The in-house corrector … did not notice it” (p. 66). He then asks, “How did they miss this piece of nonsense? And how did the scribe copy fourteen pages twice without noticing?” (p. 66).
b. Significant omission in Job:
Parker notes: “It is a good general rule that scribes omitted texts more than they duplicated it” (p. 86). He adds that “the obvious reason” for omission “is a psychological one: copying was quite tedious, and so one wanted to get to the end as quickly as possible: wishful thinking led one to believe one had copied a piece of text when one hadn’t” (p. 86).
In a sidebar, Parker notes that one of the longest omissions in Sinaiticus occurs in the book of Job. A later corrector supplied the missing text “in the bottom margin of Q71-F8r, consisting of sixteen verses, 187 words. The most likely explanation for this is that the scribe missed out on a block of text in the exemplar, perhaps a column or a page” (p. 86).
c. Abrupt ending of John:
Parker notes that “Tichendorf suspected that there was something odd about the last few lines of John’s Gospel. He decided that the scribe stopped dead at the end of verse 24, without adding the usual coronis and subscription. He thought that verse 25 was lacking in the exemplar, and was added by scribe D” (p. 111). He surmised this based on a change in the color of the ink and change of the writing hand. Later modern scholars (Milne and Skeat) used ultraviolet light to confirm that Sinaiticus originally “ended John prematurely” and a later corrector realized the mistake and corrected it (p. 111). Parker calls this “a casual mistake” (p. 111).
7. Sinaiticus and Vaticanus sometimes share in erroneous readings:
The most notorious example of this is at Matthew 27:49 where both include the words, “But another, taking a spear, pierced his side and there came out blood and water” (an insertion of John 19:34).
Analysis: I have cited just six observations on Sinaiticus gleaned from Parker’s study of the manuscript. To sum up: We do not know the origins and date of the work with any absolute certainty. We do not possess the entire book. Its content reflects the fact that its composers were not familiar with (or did not accept) the concept of a closed canon. It reflects numerous errors made in copying that were corrected by various redactors. Among these are significant errors in both reduplication (1 Chronicles and 2 Esdras), omission (16 verses in Job), and insertion (e.g., Matthew 27:49).
Question: Does this undermine the weight that has been granted by modern critical scholarship to Sinaiticus as a witness against the traditional text of Scripture (including the omission of passages like John 7:53—8:11 and Mark 16:9-20)? I believe that it does.
Friday, July 08, 2011
While I'm on the topic of book deals today....
Last Friday-Saturday our family was in Knoxville for a baseball tournament. On the way home Saturday (7/2/11) we noticed the McKay Bookstore on Papermill Rd. off I-40. The parking lot was filled so we dropped in to take a look. Wow! The building is filled with neatly organized stacks and contains wall to wall used books. According to the website, it started as a "free enterprise library" in 1978. There are three locations in TN (Knoxvile, Chattanooga, and Nashville).
While there were plenty of traditional Christianity books, there were at least as many occult and alternative religion titles. I got away with only purchasing a paperback copy of George Marsden's Fundamentalism and American Culture. But it was fun to look around.
They had Eerdman's 12 volume edition of Calvin's commentaries on the NT (at $8 per volume), but I already have Calvin's commentaries.
A friend of mine from Roanoke called me the other day and told me about an unusual find. Zondervan has published a 400th anniversary edition, digitally remastered replica of the 1611 KJV. It has a supple hard cover and is 1312 pages. It includes the OT and NT, but not the Apocrypha, in the original typesetting (even though the first AV printed without the Apocrypha was c. 1629). It also includes the original front matter (i.e., the epistle dedicatory, the translators to the readers, the calendar and table for finding holy days, the elaborately illustrated genealogy of Jesus, a map of the holy land, etc.). My friend pointed out that the packaging has an odd endorsement from Anne Graham Lotz, but I didn’t let that spoil it for me.
Here’s the thing. The book is being sold at Wal-Mart of all places for under $5.00 (you can also order it online here). I went to the local C-ville Wal-Mart yesterday and found three copies on the shelf. I bought two of them (one for myself and one for my fellow elder) for $4.97 each. BTW, this was the first time I had been inside this Wal-Mart in about four years. They had remodeled the place, and it took me about ten minutes to find the book section. I had made a pledge to stop shopping at Wal-Mart in favor of patronizing locally owned businesses, but made an exception to my boycott to pick up this book.
Just glancing at the text, I find that even in the original edition with flourishing script and archaic spellings it reads well. The KJV has undergone several revisions and updates, and the edition in use today is the result of a 1769 revision by Benjamin Blayney. For example, the 1611 edition of Ruth 3:15 reads, “and he went into the citie”; whereas, later editions corrected it to read, “and she went into the city.” Such revisions in later editions pose problems for the divine inspiration of the KJV position held by KJV-Onlyists.
Anyhow, a good book to pick up at a cheap price.
Thursday, July 07, 2011
Last evening in our CRBC mid-week Bible study we continued our ongoing study of John’s Gospel by looking at John 10:7-21. One of the verses we lingered over was John 10:9: “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.” This is one of the seven “I am” sayings in John (cf. 6:35; 8:12; 10:11; 11:25; 14:6; and 15:1).
In John 10:11, another of the “I am” sayings, Jesus calls himself “the good shepherd.” The first century shepherd would allow his flock to find pasture during the day and then call them into the safety of the sheepfold at night. He would go before them, and the sheep would follow him (see v. 4). They knew his distinctive voice, and he knew each of them. I recently heard someone who had worked on a dairy farm say that when he was doing that job he knew not only every one of his cows but could even recognize them by their utters! The shepherd had this kind of intimate knowledge of his sheep.
At night the shepherd would even sleep in front of the door to the sheepfold to keep out the wolf or the robber. In v. 15, Jesus says, “I lay down my life for the sheep.” Here is an anticipation of the cross. This is what Jesus did for his flock.
In v. 9, however, Jesus calls himself “the door.” This is an image for the exclusivity of Christ, what theologians sometimes call “the scandal of particularity.” The Reformers called it the doctrine of Solus Christus, Christ alone. Note that Jesus uses the definite article. He is the door, not just a door, or one door among many. There was only one way into the safety of the sheepfold and it was through the door. So, Jesus was saying there is only one way to know the God of Scripture and it is through me (cf. John 14:6).
We live in a world where this is an uncomfortable truth. There are not many ways to know God. There are not many paths that lead to the mountaintop. There is one door. And he is Jesus Christ.
If we really believe this, how will our zeal for knowing Christ be sparked? If we really believe this, how will we look upon those who do not know Christ? How hard hearted we are if we are indifferent their plight!
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff
Note: If you have not yet joined us for our Wednesday mid-week meeting (6:30-7:30 pm) for Bible Study and prayer, why not plan to join us next week.
Wednesday, July 06, 2011
Here are a few more scenes from our second annual CRBC "Puritan" Vacation Bible School, held last week. No fancy props, no Bible study in a box, no recorded music. Just a simple study of the Life of Abraham (Genesis 12-24), Scripture memory, Bible songs, crafts, recreation, and snacks.
Coming down the hall behind the "Bible-bearer"
Listening to the Life of Abraham
I enjoyed teaching the Bible Study each evening.
Musical chairs indoors was the recreation one evening when it rained.
Snacks! Mary S.'s homemade oatmeal cookies and grapes were a big hit one evening!
Tuesday, July 05, 2011
I preached a message last Sunday morning on The Inscrutable Mercy of God (Romans 9:14-18). In the conclusion I made use of a classic quote from the introduction to Spurgeon's sermon, “Divine Sovereignty,” preached May 4, 1856 on the text, Matthew 20:15: “Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with my own?” Here's the quote:
There is no attribute of God more comforting to his children than the doctrine of Divine Sovereignty. Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe troubles, they believe that Sovereignty hath ordained their afflictions, that Sovereignty overrules them, and that Sovereignty will sanctify them all. There is nothing for which the children of God ought more earnestly to contend than the dominion of their Master over all creation—the kingship of God over all the works of his own hands—the throne of God, and his right to sit upon that throne.
On the other hand, there is no doctrine more hated by worldlings, no truth of which they have made such a foot-ball, as the great, stupendous, but yet most certain doctrine of the Sovereignty of the infinite Jehovah. Men will allow God to be everywhere except on his throne. They will allow him to be in his workshop to fashion worlds and to make stars. They will allow him to be in his almonry to dispense his alms and bestow his bounties. They will allow him to sustain the earth and bear up the pillars thereof, or light the lamps of heaven, or rule the waves of the ever-moving ocean; but when God ascends his throne, his creatures then gnash their teeth; and when we proclaim an enthroned God, and his right to do as he wills with his own, to dispose of his creatures as he thinks well, without consulting them in the matter, then it is that we are hissed and execrated, and then it is that men turn a deaf ear to us, for God on his throne is not the God they love. They love him anywhere better than they do when he sits with his sceptre in his hand and his crown upon his head. But it is God upon the throne that we love to preach. It is God upon his throne whom we trust.
Monday, July 04, 2011
Here's the text of a sermon I preached back on Sunday, July 4, 2004:
We live in an era in American history when many are questioning the appearance of Christian symbols in the public square.
“The Marks of Christian Citizenship”
July 4, 2004
Pastor Jeff Riddle
We live in an era in American history when many are questioning the appearance of Christian symbols in the public square.
Maybe you have heard about one recent example of this, as the ACLU threatened to bring a lawsuit against Los Angeles County, California because the county seal contained a tiny cross. Somehow they overlooked the fact that the most prominent figure on that same seal is a representation of Pomona, the Roman goddess of gardens and fruit trees!
The ACLU has argued that the small cross’ appearance might make non-Christians fell unwelcomed, so the County commissioners caved on a 3-2 vote to remove the symbol. We may surmise that in our society today the image of a pagan goddess is more acceptable than the cross.
Many Christians are, rightly, bothered by actions such as these. It seems freedom of religious expression has been taken to mean freedom from religious expression. Still, we as believers should not be discouraged. Try as they might to remove symbols, no one can remove the influence of the church as salt and light or of God’s sovereign rule over the nations.
This morning I want us to reflect on four marks of Christian citizenship. Certainly this list is not exhaustive but merely suggestive of the Biblical witness on the subject of Christian citizenship.
1. Christians are to submit to civil government when it is going about its God-given purpose of restraining evil (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17).
The Bible tells us that God has created three institutions to govern human society: the family, the church, and civil government.
Of these three, the family is the only one created prior to the fall of humanity in sin. It is the basic building block of human society, and it rests on the foundation of marriage between one man and one woman who live in a covenant commitment for a lifetime.
The other two social institutions were created after the fall (after Genesis 3) and their focus is remedy for the sinful human condition.
Jesus himself founded the church (Matthew 16:16-19). It is built on the confession of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God (not on Peter). It is given spiritual authority represented in the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus then commissions the church to go, make disciples, baptize, and teach (Matthew 28:19-20).
The final institution is that of civil government. The purpose of government, according to Scripture, is to restrain the consequences of sin and the fall in the day to day lives of men as they exist in the world.
The Bible tells us that God is a God of order and perfection. In 1 Corinthians 14:33, in response to disorderliness in the church at Corinth, Paul said, “For God is not the author of confusion but of peace.”
What about the Biblical picture of humanity? The Bible presents a very realistic picture of the human condition. That is to say that it takes the consequences of sin seriously. The Bible says that the natural human tendency is not toward order and goodness and mutual concern. The natural human tendency is toward unbridled and unrestrained pursuit of self-interest, even at the expense of others. Without divine restraint our natural human tendency is toward chaos and disorder. We get a picture of this in the days of Noah, when “men began to multiply on the face of the earth” (Gen 6:1), and we are told, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (6:5). God’s response in the days of Noah was just to wipe the slate clean, save for Noah and his family. What God also did was set in motion a plan in which he would call out Abram and create from his seed a covenant people from whom would come a blessing for the nations (Gen 12:1ff.).
Just because they were God’s chosen people did not, however, eradicate the problem of sin in the covenant people. The Bible describes their slavery in Egypt, their Exodus under Moses, and their Conquest of the Promised Land under Joshua. But the people’s problems do not end after they arrive in the Promised Land. We get a vivid picture of the human social tendency toward chaos at the end of the book of Judges: “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (21:25). In response to this disorder, the people cried out for a king.
This leads in the book of 1 Samuel to the description of the establishment of a human king or human government for the covenant people. Samuel was the last Judge and he set up his sons to rule in his place, but they were worthless men (1 Sam 8:1-3). The people come to Samuel and say, “Now make us a king like us to judge us as like all the nations” (v. 5). Samuel sees this for what it is—a rejection of God’s rule over them, and so he prays (v. 6), and the Lord answers and tells him: “Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them” (v. 7).
What we see then in Scripture is God’s provision of civil government in order to restrain the influence of sin in human society. It is clear that God has not meant this to be the permanent solution. That task will be realized in the mission of the church as it preaches Jesus.
What is the attitude toward civil government that we find in the New Testament? There are two premier passages that we can turn to find the answer. The first is Romans 13:1-7:
Romans 13:1 Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. 4 For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. 5 Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God's ministers attending continually to this very thing. 7 Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.
What do we glean from this passage? First Christians are called on to be subject to (hupotasso, submit to) those in civil authority (v. 1). For Christians, “submission” is not a dirty word. It is the natural posture of Christians.
We are first and foremost submitted to the will of God: “Therefore submit to God” (James 4:7). We see this principle of submission operative in every institution ordained of God. In the family wives are to submit to husbands as to the Lord, and husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the church (Eph 5:22, 25). Children, likewise, are to obey their parents, and parents are not to exasperate children (Eph 6:1-4). In the church, believers are to submit to one another in the fear of God (Eph 5:21). In Hebrews 13:17 we read: “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.” And so, here in Romans 13 we read that Christians are to submit themselves to the civil authorities, because they recognize that these authorities have been ordained by God for their good and for the good of their fellow countrymen.
How terrible it is to see a marriage where this principle of submission has broken down. A husband and wife at odds with one another, battling and competing with one another. How terrible also to see a church where the members do not show proper respect for the God-ordained roles that each part has in the whole. How sad to see a church where there is no submission to the recognized leaders but rebellion and assertion of rights.
And, I think, Paul would also say, how terrible it is to see those who take the name of Christ and yet who show no respect for the civil authorities that God has ordained to govern human society. Just because one is a believer does not mean that he is beyond the reach of civil law. Christians should be model citizens in their desire to obey and conform to the civil law. We should, in fact, see it as a part of our obedience to God. Are you a Christian contractor? Then, this means you should be scrupulous in conforming to building codes. Are you a Christian employer? Then this means you should be scrupulous in conforming to the civil laws that govern the right and fair treatment of employees.
I think what Paul sees is that most civil law is there merely to see that men conform to the basic moral principles that God has revealed and written on the hearts of men: that it is wrong to steal, to bear false witness, to kill, to do harm to ones’ neighbor, etc. Christians should be even more scrupulous, because we know where these kinds of laws have their true origin. This is what Paul is saying in Romans 13:3.
In v. 4 Paul even goes so far as to call the civil authority “God’s minister (diakonos) to you for good.” Paul continues in v. 4 to describe another role that has been given to civil government in the divine economy of God. As God’s minister, civil authorities act as “an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.” Earlier in this verse, Paul says, “he does not bear the sword in vain.” Civil government is given the right by God to use physical force to punish evil doers.
This has at least two practical applications. In the first place, this verse tells us that God has ordained that civil government is given the authority to punish those individuals who break the civil law. Some Christians even see it, under some extreme circumstances, as justifying capital punishment.
In the second place, this verse tells us that God has ordained that civil government is given the authority to take up arms in war. With all due respect to all those who come from the peace church movement, I think this verse means that Biblical Christians cannot be absolute conscientious objectors. The writer of Ecclesiastes said long ago, there is “a time of war, and a time of peace” (3:8). Certainly we can look back on events like WW2 and say that there was a time when God ordained that this nation take up arms to punish evil doers. This is something that Christians do only reluctantly. In fact, in later Christians theology there would develop the “just war” theory to guide believers in determining the grounds for deciding whether they would submit to the civil authorities in this matter. Just War theory held that there must be:
A. Jus ad bellum: a just reason to go to war
• Just cause
• Right authority
• Right intention (last resort; probability of success; results in peace)
B. Jus in bello: just conduct within war
• Discrimination (non-combatant protection)
In his 1983 essay “Who is For Peace?” Christian theologian Francis Schaeffer wrote:
This is why I am not a pacifist. Pacifism in this poor world in which we live –this lost world—means that we desert the people who need our greatest help.
Let me illustrate: I am walking down the street and I come upon a big, burly man beating a tiny tot to death—beating this little girl—beating her—beating her. I plead with him to stop. Suppose he refuses? What does love mean now? Love means that I stop him in any way I can, including hitting him. To me this is not only necessary for humanitarian reasons: it is loyalty to Christ’s commands concerning Christian love in a fallen world. What about that little girl? If I desert her to the bully, I have deserted the true meaning of Christian love—responsibility for my neighbor. She, as well as he, is my neighbor.
Paul says in v. 5 that Christians are to be subject to the civil authorities not only “because of wrath but also for conscience sake.” We should obey the civil authorities and its laws, and we should respect its God ordained use of force not only out of fear of punishment for wrong-doing, but most importantly because our informed Christians conscience reminds us that the civil government is ordained of God and it serves as God’s servant for our good and the good of our fellow citizens.
Apparently Paul knew of some who thought that being a Christian meant that one should withdraw from the world entirely. Maybe there were some who thought that if one were a Christian he should have nothing to do with the civil and secular government. Perhaps some of these, in their zeal for Christ, were saying that Christians should even stop paying their taxes. But Paul will have none of this (see v. 6: “For because of this you also must pay taxes….”). In fact, in v. 7 I think Paul is echoing the teaching of Jesus on this topic. You’ll recall that the Pharisees once tried to entangle Jesus is a debate about paying taxes (see Matt 22:15-22) and he said: “Render (apodote) therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (v. 21). Paul begins v. 7 with an echo of Jesus’ words: “Render (apodote) therefore to all their due.” Fear and honor are to be given to those in authority, not because of who they are, but because of the Lord who has established them in their places to restrain the evil of men.
The truth is that we live in a rebellious and anti-authoritarian age. We live in a generation that believes the best thing to do is to question authority. The spirit of this age works its way into our homes and into our churches and it works its way into the hearts of believers in the way they look at and respond to those in civil authority. The political scientists tell us that America is a nation almost equally divided between reds (Republicans) and blues (Democrats). There is a rebellious and anti-authoritarian spirit that can creep even into the hearts and minds of believers. I saw just yesterday a table on the downtown mall selling t-shirts that had obscene things to say about President Bush. This may be the way world-lings act, but it is unbecoming for believers. By the way that goes just as well for those who vehemently disliked Clinton when he was in office. If you cannot respect the man, then you must at least respect the office. The Christians does this, because he knows that “the authorities that exist are appointed by God” (v. 1).
Now if you know Paul and his life, you find his words truly amazing if not contradictory. Why? Because this same Paul who urges that Christians submit to the governing authorities (which for him was the Roman Empire) was also continually getting into trouble for creating disturbances for preaching the gospel.
This leads us to a very important point: Christians are not to submit to government when its actions are contrary to the commands of Jesus.
There is a rich Biblical tradition on this.
The Hebrew midwives were ordered to kill the male Hebrew children, but in Exodus 1:17 we read: “But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the male children alive.”
The three Hebrew youths in bondage in Babylon were ordered to worship the image of gold set up on the plain of Dura at the pain of death by annihilation in the burning fiery furnace. This is how they responded to King Nebuchadnezzar:
Daniel 3:16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17 "If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. 18 "But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up."
And in the New Testament, we recall when Peter and the apostles were warned to stop preaching Jesus, they responded: “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
One thinks here also of the persecuted church. Certainly there are believers all over the world this morning who love their countries and their peoples. They would love to be obedient to Paul’s words in every way, but their governments will not allow them to worship the Lord Jesus Christ in freedom. Just this week we have seen pictures from the Sudan about persecuted brothers. Go to persecution.com and read accounts from the ministry of “The Voices of the Martyrs.” Read Nina Shea’s 1997 book, In the Lion’s Den, offering eyewitness accounts of believers suffering for their faith in Vietnam, China, and throughout the Islamic world. Certainly these brothers have found that, like the apostles, they must obey God rather than men.
In 1 Peter 3:17, the apostle says, “For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.” In other words, if you are going to suffer at the hands of civil authorities, do it for the right reasons.
Finally I want to reinforce this first mark by reading another passage that speaks in perfect harmony with Paul’s words, this time coming from Peter in 1 Peter 2:13-17:
1 Peter 2:13 Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, whether to the king as supreme, 14 or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men -- 16 as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. 17 Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.
2. Christians are to pray for those in authority (2 Timothy 2:1-2).
Christian citizens are commanded to pray for those in authority:
1 Timothy 2:1 Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.
We are called upon to pray for those in authority. This assumes that believers are committed to prayer both privately and corporately. It also assumes that we pray for leaders indiscriminately. Paul does not say, Pray for Christian politicians. In fact, all the political authorities of his day were pronounced pagans. There were no Christians in governing authority. Yet Paul urged prayer for them all the same. Why? Because God can make anyone, even a non-believer, to be the instrument by which he accomplishes his will.
I think of the way in which the prophet Isaiah was inspired to speak of the Persian King Cyrus:
In Isaiah 44:28, the Lord “says of Cyrus, 'He is My shepherd, And he shall perform all My pleasure, Saying to Jerusalem, "You shall be built," And to the temple, "Your foundation shall be laid." '”
In Isaiah 45:1, we read, “Thus says the LORD to His anointed, To Cyrus, whose right hand I have held—To subdue nations before him And loose the armor of kings, To open before him the double doors, So that the gates will not be shut:”
Compare also, Isaiah 45:13: “I have raised him up in righteousness, And I will direct all his ways; He shall build My city And let My exiles go free, Not for price nor reward," Says the LORD of hosts.”
That God was able to use the pagan Cyrus to open the doors out of exile for his people to return to Israel and rebuild the temple, ought to inspire us to pray for anyone who is in a position of authority that God might use him or her for good.
One of the most stunning landmarks in Budapest, Hungary is a statue of St. Gellert that overlooks the city from the cliffs of Gellert Hill over the Danube. In his hands are a cross, stretched out over the city. Gellert had been the first Christian missionary to the Magyar people. He died a martyr; nailed in a barrel and rolled off that cliff into the Danube. All during the communist era that statue stood as a fitting reminder that despite the rule of godless men, God was still on the throne.
3. Christians are to be salt, light, and leaven in the surrounding culture (Matthew 5:13-16; 13:33).
Christian citizens in a secular society are to be like salt, light and leaven. Jesus himself introduces these figures. What does it mean? First, it speaks of a small, perhaps to the visible eye insignificant group, which has an impact far beyond its size.
This is the role that Christians have always played in this nations. Why is it that America is a nation where human rights are respected and where religious freedom to granted to all? Because of the influence of believers. We as the people of God have a vital role to play in this culture. We are here to teach our culture the revealed truth of God’s word. We must not compromise that word or this culture will be like a ship adrift without a rudder.
Poet and hymn writer William Cowper once wrote in his poem, “Expostulation”:
When nations perish in their sins,
‘Tis in the church the leprosy begins:
The priest whose office is, with zeal sincere
To watch the fountain, and preserve it clear,
Carelessly nods and sleeps upon the brink,
While others poison what the flock must drink
Do not doubt for one moment the vital role of churches like ours as salt and light in this culture.
4. Christians are not to place their ultimate hope in any civil government, but they are to seek a heavenly country (Hebrews 11:13-16).
First, I want to tell you that I love this nation. I was never more patriotic than when living abroad. I truly came to appreciate so many things about our society that I had taken for granted. But as much as I love this nation, it is not where my ultimate hope rests (see Hebrews 11:13-16). Like the patriarchs of old, we seek “a heavenly country.”
This is not an American church. We will not in this church wrap the Bible in the American flag. I am grateful for this nation. I pray that should the Lord tarry it last for many more years. But I have no assurance it will last forever. My hope is in a kingdom that will last forever: God’s kingdom established in Christ.
We are like a diplomatic mission. Paul says that we are ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor 5:20). When you visit an American embassy, you are on American soil. And, in a similar way, when you enter the church you enter an outpost of the kingdom of God. Now it is far from the real kingdom. But it represents the kingdom of God here on earth.
Today we give thanks for this nation. We pledge to be good citizens who are submitted to our civil government, who pray for it, who work for its improvement, but who reserve our ultimate allegiance for a jealous God who will not share his glory with another (Isaiah 48:11).
God bless America! To the glory of God!